Remembering the price of freedom

There are a lot of good Memorial Day posts and this one quotes Reagan's 1986 "Price of Freedom" speech, and has a sad photographic reminder that not everyone "celebrates" Memorial Day.

It's a day simply to remember those who gave their lives for this country.

Traditionally, American presidents go to Arlington Cemetery for the Arlington Memorial Day wreath laying ceremony. Not so this year with President Obama, who decided not to attend -- a decision which upset many veterans. A CBS piece is defensively titled "Obama Not the 1st President to Miss Memorial Day at Arlington," and stresses that while he wasn't going to Arlington, he would attend a Memorial Day Ceremony at a national cemetery in Illinois. Except he didn't attend that one either. Bad weather caused him to cancel. Instead (so goes the story), he "will meet instead privately with military families." So I guess we should be glad he at least allegedly found time to allegedly observe something -- even though it seems like it's pulling teeth for him to do anything.

Via Glenn Reynolds, Roger Kimball offers a decidedly bleak view:

On this Memorial Day, when we pause to commemorate the sacrifices of the brave men and women who served in the American military to help keep us free and strong, it is worth thinking as well about those whose visceral reaction to the United States is arrogant and impatient loathing. It is not an edifying, though it may be an empowering, thought.
I think Kimball is right. This president gives every indication that he's simply uncomfortable with any sort of patriotic event or military display, and would like to avoid them to the maximum extent possible, or get away as soon as possible.

Yet, he's supposed to be the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, right? Is he uncomfortable with that too?

Or is it inappropriate to pose sarcastic rhetorical questions about the president on Memorial Day?

In all honesty, don't know what's appropriate anymore.

But this morning I went to the Yankee Air Museum's Memorial Day Commemoration & Pancake Breakfast Fly-in Drive-in at the Willow Run airfield in Ypsilanti, where I saw aerial displays and speakers in keeping with the occasion. Far from displaying a visceral reaction to the United States of arrogant and impatient loathing, they reminded the crowd that freedom is not free, and remembered the ultimate sacrifice that others had made.

I took a few pictures.







posted by Eric at 03:11 PM | Comments (2)

What good are friends if they don't hold your feet to the fire?

Thaddeus McCotter is a congressman from a neighboring district, and I saw him speak at a Tea Party rally in Plymouth on April 15. I have a video of some of his speech somewhere, and were I better organized I could upload it which I found and uploaded to YouTube so readers can judge for themselves the man's sincerity, and support for the Tea Party principles of smaller government, and reigning in out-of-control spending.

With that it mind, I was taken aback when I saw a report that McCotter supports the bailout of union pensions:

Michigan Congressman Thad McCotter, R-Livonia, is one of just nine Republicans nationwide to co-sponsor legislation that seeks to bail out union pension funds and put taxpayers "on the hook for $165 billion in unfunded union pension liabilities," according to Americans for Limited Government. McCotter is also the only Michigan U.S. House member from either party to co-sponsor the bill, H.R. 3936, which was introduced by North Dakota Democrat Earl Pomeroy and has 43 total co-sponsors.

One former co-sponsor, Republican Mike Pence of Indiana, removed his name from the bill in late April, and Americans for Limited Government is asking the remaining co-sponsors to do likewise. ALG sent an open letter specifically to the nine other Republicans -- including McCotter -- whose names remain on the bill.

In a news release, ALG President Bill Wilson noted that "labor bosses" spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" to support President Barack Obama, the Democrat majority in Congress, and the nine Republican co-sponsors. Wilson also accused the unions of having the "audacity to try to cash in on their political investment" by passing the bill and loading the liability onto taxpayers who are already "struggling to fund their own retirements."

Why would he do this?

The answer may be simple. Money. Which of course often dictates political survival:

Records from show that McCotter has received more than $870,000 in total funding so far this election cycle, with at least $78,000 of that coming from political action committees run by labor unions. A few examples include the Teamsters ($2,000), Laborer's International Union of North America ($5,000), AFSCME ($1,000), United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners ($2,500), Longshoremen's Association ($2,500) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($2,000).
What this shows is how much power the unions have. Standing up to them can be fatal even to an otherwise sincere economic conservative politician's career.

As one of the purposes of the Tea Party movement is to hold these people's feet to the fire, I thought this was worth a blog post. I wouldn't have bothered had I thought McCotter was a political hack, except I really don't think he. I like to think that I'm a good judge of character and the man struck me as a deeply thoughtful, and as someone who sincerely believed in the Tea Party movement and opposes wasteful spending.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed worth going through my disorganized camera dump files, and as I was lucky enough to find the McCotter video I shot at the Plymouth Tea Party, I thought I'd upload it to YouTube.


Unless my perceptions are wrong, Thaddeus McCotter is a good guy as opposed to the usual political hacks in Congress, and I think he wants to be part of the solution.

We all have our failings, and Michigan is a union state which has been in dire economic straits for a long time. Considering that even some devoutly conservative Michigan Tea Party activists have been willing to overlook their principles when it came to auto industry bailouts, I don't think a congressman who does something similar should be adjudged irredeemable.

Instead, I think the Tea Party-supporting Thaddeus McCotter is a classic example of someone whose feet should be held to the fire.

After all, the bad guys (and true political enemies) are generally hopeless; it's only good guys and friends whose feet can be held to the fire.

posted by Eric at 12:08 PM | Comments (14)

King Canute is in over his head -- a mile deep!

A lot of ink has been spilled over the fact that a lot of oil has been spilled -- and continues to be spilled -- into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion.

President Obama was here in Ann Arbor not long after the explosion, and he said this:

Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them.
That was reassuring to the students who were graduating, and they applauded. The problem is that it's more complicated than cleaning up the oil spill, because they haven't been able to stop it. And they might not be able to, because the oil is gushing from a blowout under 5000 feet of water.

There's an old expression that you can't get blood from a stone. The government cannot command the impossible -- whether from an evil corporation or from nature itself.

Charles Krauthammer sees Obama as King Canute attempting to command the impossible, while continuing to labor under the belief that a great speech can solve everything. But other than delivering another speech blaming the oil companies and Bush what can he do? Command the oil to stop gushing?

Krauthammer asks, "Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place?" and notes the major role of environmentalists in pushing these operations further and further out -- to places so precarious than when disasters occur (which they inevitably will), they're so much harder to fix. As to the federal government, it is clueless:

The federal government can fight wars, conduct a census, and hand out billions in earmarks, but it has not a clue how to cap a one-mile-deep out-of-control oil well.

In the end, speeches will make no difference. If BP can cap the well in time to prevent an absolute calamity in the Gulf, the president will escape politically. If it doesn't -- if the gusher isn't stopped before the relief wells are completed in August -- it will become Obama's Katrina.

That will be unfair, because Obama is no more responsible for the damage caused by this than Bush was for the damage caused by Katrina. But that's the nature of American politics and its presidential cult of personality: We expect our presidents to play Superman. Helplessness, however undeniable, is no defense.

Moreover, Obama has never been overly modest about his own powers. Two years ago next week, he declared that history will mark his ascent to the presidency as the moment when "our planet began to heal" and "the rise of the oceans began to slow."

Well, when you anoint yourself King Canute, you mustn't be surprised when your subjects expect you to command the tides.

No wonder there's such a chorus of outrage emerging from the left.

They actually believed in magic. If there's one thing more ridiculous than being King Canute, it's believing in King Canute.

MORE: It seems quite obvious that if BP is able to stop the gusher, Obama will claim credit for it.

If not, well, there's always the tried-and-true game of blaming Halliburton!

UPDATE (May 30, 2010): Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and a warm welcome to all!

Comments appreciated, agree or disagree.

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

Why can't I own my own stuff?

Much as I have been enjoying Linux, one of the biggest hassles I have had (more in some distros, and less in others) has been in the video streaming department. I previously discussed the Flashplayer problem, and a way to work around it, but the main reason for these problems is not technology per se, but licensing. Linux is free, Open Source software and that poses quite a problem in the video department. Sure, there are plenty of codecs that can be installed and configured later, but building them into the distributions is impossible because of licensing laws.

Anyway, in the course of looking at the problem I kept stumbling onto something that I find downright creepy. Glenn Reynolds had mentioned it a little while back, and the piece he linked is something I keep running into in these discussions.

I keep kvetching about how things are getting to the point where your computer is not yours.

Well, it turns out that your camera is not yours.

...there is something very important, that the vast majority of both consumers and video professionals don't know: ALL modern video cameras and camcorders that shoot in h.264 or mpeg2, come with a license agreement that says that you can only use that camera to shoot video for "personal use and non-commercial" purposes (go on, read your manuals). I was first made aware of such a restriction when someone mentioned that in a forum, about the Canon 7D dSLR. I thought it didn't apply to me, since I had bought the double-the-price, professional (or at least prosumer), Canon 5D Mark II. But looking at its license agreement last night (page 241), I found out that even my $3000 camera comes with such a basic license. So, I downloaded the manual for the Canon 1D Mark IV, a camera that costs $5000, and where Canon consistently used the word "professional" and "video" on the same sentence on their press release for that camera. Nope! Same restriction: you can only use your professional video dSLR camera (professional, according to Canon's press release), for non-professional reasons. And going even further, I found that even their truly professional video camcorder, the $8000 Canon XL-H1A that uses mpeg2, also comes with a similar restriction. You can only use your professional camera for non-commercial purposes. For any other purpose, you must get a license from MPEG-LA and pay them royalties for each copy sold. I personally find this utterly unacceptable.
I find it unacceptable too. We now live in a digital world. Computers and cameras are basic tools for being able to function in that world. And to the extent they are not ours, we are peons. Serfs. Whether I go out and spend $500 or $5000 for a camera, that damn camera ought to be mine. And the pictures I take with it are mine.

This sucks big time. But most users are not worried, because the MPEG-LA lobby is holding off on enforcement until 2015. So you can go right ahead and have your YouTube videos and you don't have to worry that they might not be yours, because the camera you made them with wasn't yours.

It's as if they're deliberately leading everyone into an open corral, to be closed later. All cameras, and all video editors and players are encumbered by this restriction:

And no, this is not just a Canon problem (which to me sounds like false advertising). Sony and Panasonic, and heck, even the Flip HD, have the exact same licensing restriction. Also, all video editors and official media players come with similarly restricted codec licenses! Apparently, MPEG-LA makes it difficult for camera manufacturers, or video editor software houses, to obtain a cheap-enough license that allows their users to use their codec any way they want! This way, MPEG-LA caches in not only from the manufacturers and software providers, but also artists, and even viewers (more on that later). Maximizing their profit, they are!

Recently, MPEG-LA extended their "free internet broadcasting AVC license" until 2015. So until then, users can use a licensed encoder (x264 doesn't count, in their view this makes both the video producer AND every random viewer of that video *liable*), to stream online royalty-free, as long as that video is free to stream. However, what's "free to stream"? According to one interpretation of the U.S. law (disclaimer: I'm no lawyer), if you stream your video with ads (e.g. Youtube, Vimeo), then that's a non-free usage. It's commercial video, even if you, the producer, makes no dime out of it (and that's a definition and interpretation of the US law that even Creative Commons believes so, if I am to judge from their last year's "what's a commercial video" survey). MPEG-LA never made a distinction in their newly renewed license between "free streaming on your own personal ad-free homepage", and "streaming via youtube/vimeo". For all we know, they can still go against Youtube/Vimeo for not paying them [extra] royalties (to what, I assume, they already pay) for EVERY video viewed via their service, or go against the video producer himself.

And then there's the other thing too: Both Youtube and Vimeo use the open source x264 encoder to encode their videos, as far as I know. Youtube's version is a highly modified x264 version (forked, I believe), and Vimeo's is a much more vanilla version (since their company has fewer C/C++ engineers than Youtube). Vimeo is probably in even worse situation because they offer their in-house encoded x264 MP4 videos for free download too, prompting users to download these x264-created videos, and break their license agreement with MPEG-LA for using unlicensed videos with their [licensed] decoder installed on their PC! Since we know for a fact that x264 is breaking the MPEG-LA license agreements (because their devs didn't license it with MPEG-LA), can this make Vimeo, myself the video producer, AND every of these millions of viewers, liable, in the eyes of MPEG-LA?

Is this kind of licensing even enforceable? Possibly no. Am I panicking for nothing? Quite possibly, yes. But I still don't like the language of the license and the restrictions it opposes.

In my opinion, while the current MPEG-LA execs still seem to have some small common sense, there's nothing protecting us from changing their current somewhat-common-sense execs in 5 or 10 years time, with some bat-shit crazy ones. Their license agreement is so broad, that ALLOWS for crazy lawsuits against 99.999% of the population (most people have watched a Youtube video, you see, even if themselves might not even own a PC).

Think about it.

I have been thinking about it. For two days now. And the more I think about it, the more worried I become.

Worried enough to return to something I said in a previous post:

...Software is one of those gray areas between property and freedom, and the waters are further muddied by the fact that it's a form of speech. So, copyright law applies, and Microsoft and Apple are therefore fully justified in licensing and selling their software, as well as (as I must grudgingly admit), use the power of the police to thwart those who violate their property rights. This is problematic, though, especially when they want to go further, and insist on finding property rights in things which are embedded in Open Source software. Wars can result from such stuff, and it is wise for everyone to remember Hemingway's and MacArthur's warnings about "undefended wealth."

Moreover, when property rights are found in something, and those rights yield great profits, they can become expansionist and hegemonic, and greed can set in. When that happens, it is not always clear whether the hegemony was caused by a need for greater profits or by the philosophy that wealth has to be defended. Which is why a leading cause of the Civil War was not so much slavery per se, but its expansion into new territory. (As well as the obnoxious idea that free blacks were not free, but should be liable to become property.)

Fortunately, we're not talking about the ownership of human beings here, but there is a similar philosophical disconnect, with antithetical attitudes.

Some people think they own what others think is not theirs to own. The corporations which constitute MPEG-LA think you do not have the right to do what you want with your own property, because they think that part of it is theirs.

This problem is not going to go away.

posted by Eric at 05:59 PM | Comments (2)

Tom Ligon At Balticon

Details here. Tom announced his presence here:

I'll be giving one of the opening talks at the Balticon Science Fiction Convention this Friday, May 28, at 9 PM, near Baltimore, MD. This will be an updated version of the talk I've given before. I won't have any earth-shattering news, but I will have my recently-overhauled Farnsworth fusor and photos of the construction process. Details are available below.
A little late notice I admit. I haven't been keeping up this week.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

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

DISCLOSE my ass!

Congressman Tom Price has a piece about HR 5175, the so-called DISCLOSE Act. This is the Democrats' retaliation for the Citizens United case, which ruled that there is still a First Amendment right to produce political films and held McCain-Feingold unconstitutional.

Apparently, though, they want to get tough on bloggers and make them register and fill out disclosure forms, pay fees, and have their speech generally restricted:

Under the DISCLOSE Act, certain incorporated entities would be restricted in how they can exercise their free speech rights. There is an exemption for some in the media sphere like newspapers, TV news, and the like. However, there is one driving force in today's public debate that is NOT exempt. Bloggers will not have the same exemption provided to other media sources. Never mind that the Supreme Court's opinion in the Citizens United case stated, "Differential treatment of media corporations and other corporations cannot be squared with the First Amendment."

For many bloggers to exercise their free speech rights, they would have to jump through the same onerous new hoops as many businesses, nonprofit groups, and even such threats to democracy as your local chamber of commerce. If this sounds like an absurd overreach by one party in power, I invite you to take a look at their government takeover of health care, taxpayer-funded bailouts, and general hostility to private sector economic growth.

I'll tell you how I'll deal with it if it passes. I will simply defy it. I will refuse to register with or disclose anything to any government board or entity. So, I am sure, will countless other bloggers. The massive resulting civil disobedience would cause them to either back down or look ridiculous, and if they tried actually enforcing this nonsense they'd look even more ridiculous.

But in a way, I hope they keep this sort of stuff up.

People tend to vote when they get pissed. Even little people. And they're not going to be in the mood to vote for a party that is acting more and more like the party of Hugo Chavez.

posted by Eric at 06:19 PM | Comments (3)

Confidential Doctor-patient relationship? Or suspect criminal conspiracy?

In the Drug War front, the situation in Mexico may have become completely uncontrollable, but not to worry! Our drug enforcement agents are continuing to launch raids on doctors in this country and charge them with overprescribing pain meds. The legal system being the way it is, a charge of overprescribing now translates into racketeering, conspiracy, money-laundering, etc. In other words (in a clear message to other dorctors), if you write a prescription that the DEA thinks you should not have written, you could go to prison for life!

Currently, there's quite a ruckus over a Kansas physician who does not hesitate to treat large numbers of pain patients, some of whom allegedly resold the drugs on the street. So the doctor is being prosecuted.

HAYSVILLE, Kan. -- The Schneider Medical Clinic was once open seven days a week for as many as 11 hours a day. Patients, scheduled 10 minutes apart, often waited hours for an appointment.
OK, right there I see a problem. With that kind of high-volume practice (which will most likely increase under Pelosicare), it would be nearly impossible for doctors to get into the kind of detailed patient policing that the DEA seems to be pushing for by way of these high-profile prosecutions.
Today, its doors are shuttered and the couple who ran the clinic are in jail, charged with allegedly operating a "pill mill" linked to 56 overdose deaths.

But Dr. Stephen Schneider and his wife, nurse Linda Schneider, are getting some high-powered help: An advocacy group for chronic pain patients has taken over their criminal defense.

The New Mexico-based Pain Relief Network hopes to mount what it vows will be a landmark federal case over prescription painkillers.

"It has all the elements we want: an innocent doctor, destroyed vulnerable patients, a wonderful legal team with heart, a family that really hangs together -- right in the Heartland of America. I couldn't ask for more," said Siobhan Reynolds, the network's president.

Reynolds likened the federal indictment against the Schneiders to other high-profile prosecutions of physicians nationwide that it contends have spooked doctors from treating chronic pain patients.

The Schneiders were indicted in December on federal charges including conspiracy, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, health care fraud, illegal money transactions and money laundering. They have vehemently proclaimed their innocence.

Fortunately, there is still a jury system, so the DEA can't imprison doctors merely on their say-so.

But regardless of whether Dr. Schneider is convicted, a message is clearly being sent. Even some of the chief state prosecutors are alarmed.

...experts say high-profile prosecutions of pain management specialists has since spooked medical providers from writing pain medication.

The National Association of Attorneys General, alarmed by stepped up enforcement, sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005 saying they were exerting "a chilling effect" on the willingness of physicians to treat pain patients. It was signed by the attorneys general of 29 states.

The shuttering of Schneider's clinic has been felt by some of his former patients. Eight held a news conference Tuesday to complain that medical providers have repeatedly refused to treat them out of concern that they could be subjects of similar prosecution.

Roy Ralstin suffers from an enlarged heart and has been out of his high blood pressure medication for a week. He said he can't find anyone to treat him or his wife, Jennifer, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

The couple have called 133 doctor offices, all of whom refused to see them after finding out they were Schneider's patients, Jennifer Ralstin said.

"They are taking away our freedom to be pain free," Jennifer Ralstin said.

Freedom to be pain free? Tell it to the judge!

The prosecutor in this case, Tanya Treadway, has a long history of antagonism towards pain activists, and she actually tried to charge Siobhan Reynolds with "obstruction of justice" for putting up a billboard defending Schneider and a PRN video about the conflict between drug control and pain control -- activities which constitute free speech.

So eating away at a patient's right to medicate pain and the right of a doctor to treat a patient as he sees fit may in fact be the whole idea. A patient's need for pain meds has to be balanced against what is considered in the best interests of the "Drug War." Patients who need pain meds must necessarily become suspects.

If you think I am exaggerating, just read what one of the prosecution's experts says:

Dr. Doug Jorgensen, a Massachusetts pain management specialist, testified that the number of patients was "beyond excessive," and the sheer volume would make it difficult to monitor patients. He also said prescription refills were given to patients whose urinary screening tests showed they were not taking their pills, a sign the drugs were being sold.
I'm sorry but patients are not suspects. Testing the urine of patients to monitor whether they are taking their pills is downright Orwellian, and I would not go to a doctor who did that. Nor, I suspect, would most people. Which means that the drug war bureaucrats probably have a plan in mind to make patient urine testing mandatory.

For all I know, such a provision might even be buried somewhere in the thousands of pages of the Pelosicare "law." (In any event, you can be sure that in the near future, dissenters who behave like, say, Joe The Plumber can expect to see their once-confidential prescription records leaked to the media by common bureaucrats.)

posted by Eric at 11:30 AM | Comments (7)

Weird fetishism for the Constitution

In a post about the police raid in which a 7 year old girl was accidentally shot by an officer, I missed a horrifying detail which makes the incident more egregious. The SWAT team fired a flashbang grenade into the room in which the girl was sleeping. As if that wasn't bad enough, the building was a duplex, and they fired it into the wrong unit:

According to the Detroit Free Press, the police say they had information that their suspect, 34-year-old Chauncey Owens, was armed. He was a suspect in a homicide. If Owens were on a killing spree, knowingly fleeing police, or holed up in the house with hostages, it may have justified using a SWAT team to apprehend him. But it doesn't appear that Owens presented that sort of imminent threat. Police had spotted him earlier in the day outside of the house. It's difficult to understand why the police didn't confront him then or the next time he left. Instead, they waited until the middle of the night to conduct a volatile raid on a duplex, putting everyone inside the property in jeopardy. Geoffrey Feiger, the attorney for the Stanley-Jones family, alleges the police weren't even aware the building was a duplex, and only obtained a warrant for the upper apartment after the raid.

The Stanley-Jones family says the police should have known there were four children in the building. They say there were toys strewn about the yard, and that a cousin warned the police shortly before the raid after seeing police approach the house. I'm not sure it matters if the police knew or not. If they didn't, they should have. And if they did, they shouldn't have used the aggressive tactics. SWAT teams are at their best when they're defusing already violent situations, not when they're creating new ones.

I agree with Radley Balko, who goes on to discuss the use of flashbang grenades:
Though touted as "non-lethal," flashbang grenades have caused a number of deaths and serious injuries. The devices set off a wave of intense light and sound designed to stun everyone inside of a building long enough for police to enter and secure the premises. They're indiscriminate. Their intended effect is to cause injury to everyone near them. That means they're effectively a form of punishment on people who have yet to be convicted of any crime. And that includes innocent bystanders as well as suspects. And they are explosives, which means there is a very real risk of injury and destruction. Flashbangs have caused second- and third-degree burns, and ignited fires that have consumed houses.

The night of Aiyana Stanley-Jones' death, police shot a flashbang grenade through the window of her home. Her family says it landed on the couch where she was sleeping, ignited the blanket laying over her, and set off flames that began to burn the girl just before she was shot. (The autopsy hasn't yet been released.)

The fact that a grenade was fired into the wrong apartment is horrifying enough in itself (because it shows how callused police have become), and if it in fact set fire to the girl, I hope her family ends up owning what's left of the squalidly dysfunctional Detroit Police Department.

But what worries me even more is the routine deployment of flashbang grenades against people who have not yet been charged but who are merely accused (of non-violent, victimless crimes), as well as innocent third-parties who are accused of nothing at all.

Flashbangs detonate with a blinding flash of light and a deafening explosion. Their function is to temporarily stun people in a targeted building until police or military personnel can get inside. Though the weapons are marketed as non-lethal, there have been a number of incidents in which they've set homes on fire (some resulting in fatalities), caused severe burns, or confused police officers into thinking they were coming under gunfire, causing them to open fire themselves.

But even when used and executed as intended, flashbangs cause injury by design, and when used by law enforcement, that injury is inflicted on people who have yet to even be charged with a crime, much less convicted of one. In most cases, the crimes that precipitated the raid are consensual and nonviolent: They're drug offenses.

Clay Conrad, a criminal defense attorney in Houston, criminal justice specialist, and author of the book Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine, has tried to challenge the use of flashbangs in the service of drug warrants. "It's just an assualt," Conrad says. "These things are designed to blind and deafen. They produce a shockwave of 136 DB or more. You're intentionally injuring people."

Under what legal theory are police allowed to simply injure people with these devices? Simply because they have a search warrant? The Fourth Amendment allows police to conduct "reasonable searches" upon probable cause:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Perhaps I'm taking my constitutional literalism too far, but I don't see any reference to or authorization of flashbang grenades there. I'm wondering how it is humanly possible to imagine that a constitutionally authorized "reasonable search" could countenance firing an explosive device into an occupied home with sleeping kids.

Any idea what the founders might say? Balko opines that federal constitutional challenges to these devices may soon be forthcoming, and I certainly hope so, because I think it's a slam dunk that they're not contemplated by the Fourth Amendment.

That is, if the Fourth Amendment still means anything, which a growing chorus says it does not. If you think that by "growing chorus" I refer only to conservatives, think again. It is very typical these days for leftists to express pure, undisguised disdain for the Constitution and for those who believe in it. A perfect example was recently provided by one of Salon's great constitutional scholars, who condemned what he called "weird fetishism for the Constitution on the right."

I can live with that. If it's a "weird fetish" to think that a Fourth Amendment reasonable search does not contemplate firing flashbang grenades into residences with sleeping children, then OK. I'm a weird fetishist. I've been accused of worse things.

UPDATE: If this post by Randy Barnett is any indication, I may be more a constitutional textualist than a constitutional literalist. That may well be, but I still don't see how firing grenades into a window of an occupied residence falls within the definition of "search." (Reasonable or otherwise.)

Via Glenn Reynolds.

I studied Con Law in law school, where they did their damnedest to disabuse me of the idea that the words the founders wrote might actually mean what they say.

Instead, the focus was on applying precedents that dictated when doctrines like the "strict scrutiny" and "rational basis" tests should be applied. I always liked the elegant simplicity and the plain wording of the Constitution, but quite frankly, "Constitutional Law" as it was taught put me to sleep.

No really. It was as if some series of committees had spent countless years reworking the Constitution to fit the needs of bureaucrats.

posted by Eric at 12:56 PM | Comments (3)

How Many Has She Tricked?

Why do beautiful women get cheated on so much?

"Beautiful women are prey to men who want to use their beauty to elevate their own status. Because of their beauty they're used to being adored, and they are flattered by guys who go completely goo goo for them," explains relationship expert, Dr. Gilda Carle, who has treated many celebrities.

The problem is that those guys often don't see beyond their beauty and they don't like it when they wake up one day and see a real person, who has a real problem one day, whether it's a cold or emotional needs. This type of man looked for a woman to make up for his own ego deficiencies, and when he can't get enough of that, he looks elsewhere.

"Beautiful women may doom themselves to becoming cheating victims because they themselves have want a "charismatic and attractive love mate." They're often attracted to "narcissistic men." Think Tiger, Jesse, K-Fed for Britney, Tony Romo for Jessica Simpson.

Let me see if I get this. Beauty is no insulation from dysfunction. Giving or receiving.

Assuming you want to keep up with all this on a more mundane level you might like Cheater's Confessions. About 3 or 4 new ones every hour during waking hours. About 6AM to 1 AM EST. Their confessions run 51% male and 49% female. And you can vote and comment on them without registering. Sentiment mostly runs against the cheaters, but it is devastating to out and out scum. After reading a few you can see a pattern. The pattern of what is probably the most destructive behavior in any relationship. Dishonesty. And out of that we get juicy anonymous public confessions. Yum.

Below are some books on the subject to get you started or finished as the case may be. Which reminds me of some sage old advice. "A man is not complete until he is married and after that he is finished." OTOH if you are very lucky.....

Is It Still Cheating If I Don't Get Caught?

The Art of Cheating: A Nasty Little Book for Tricky Little Schemers and Their Hapless Victims

With more here.

H/T Instapundit and Extra Good - whose home page is Not Safe For Work.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 10:33 AM | Comments (1)

And they can't be fired!

Here's an incident epitomizing the stubborn bureaucratic recalcitrance which has the most of the country in a deathlock and which fuels the Tea Party Movement. A notorious (and famously incompetent) Philadelphia principal who presided over the racist attacks on Chinese students -- and who was found not even to be properly credentialed to be a principal -- had resigned her job in seeming disgrace.

But -- it turns out she's still working for the school district! Well, you know, "working" should be in quotes, for she actually is not working. But she is being paid $124,000 a year by the taxpayers.

Former principal LaGreta Brown is gone from troubled South Philadelphia High School but remains on the School District payroll at $124,000 a year, officials confirmed.

Brown's resignation was announced by school officials on May 13 - but that apparently applied only to her principal's position, not to her employment.

She is still employed by the district, currently off from work as she uses up a combination of personal and vacation time. On June 1, she is to report to either School District headquarters or to a regional school office, where she will handle a yet-to-be determined job.

"An assignment has not been given yet," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

At the end of next month, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman will decide whether Brown remains employed by the district, he said.

Brown's resignation came on the same day that teachers at the school were preparing to hold a no-confidence vote and The Inquirer was pressing questions about her lack of a state principal's certification.

She had been widely criticized for her handling of the violence that erupted at the school on Dec. 3, when groups of mostly African American students attacked about 30 Asians.

The assaults sent seven Asian students to hospitals, triggered a one-week boycott by 50 students, and spurred formal inquiries by the district, the state Human Relations Commission, and the U.S. Justice Department.

On May 13, as teachers gathered to consider the no-confidence measure, Ackerman traveled to the school to meet with staff. District officials said then that Brown had previously agreed to step down at the end of the school year, but that the questions about her certification prompted her to resign immediately.

Yeah, well big deal! Even the worst government bureaucrats cannot be fired, because they belong to powerful government employee unions with ironclad contracts, and armies of lawyers at their disposal to march into court end enforce their damned "legal entitlements."

Of course, I don't live in the Philly area anymore. Not that that changes anything. The same ruling class runs things here. Actually, the Inquirer story reminded me of a report in the Mackinac Center's Michigan Capitol Confidential about the sweetheart union deals that educrats have even in this impoverished state. Naturally, the taxpayers know little or nothing about the details. Their only role is supposed to be to work in order to pay whatever the unions demand.

In the Port Huron Area School District, about 70 percent of the $106 million operating budget goes towards paying employees covered by current collective bargaining agreements for teachers and a few other employee groups. Yet few people know what is in these or other school labor contracts.

Teacher salaries in the district are determined by a single salary schedule that grants automatic pay raises based solely on an employee's years on the job plus additional pedagogy credentials. New teachers who meet minimal performance standards are granted "tenure" after four years on the job, which is almost a lifetime job guarantee regardless of effectiveness. Tenured teachers are evaluated once every three years, but neither these evaluations nor the performance of their students affect how much they are paid.

Port Huron teachers get automatic annual pay raises ranging from 3 to 10 percent as they progress through the time-on-the-job "steps" of the salary schedule. All teachers, regardless of their position on the step schedule, receive a 2 percent annual pay increase as the entire salary schedule grows by that amount. The vast majority of teachers in Port Huron receive a base salary between $57,579 and $71,972; the average amount was $66,604 in 2009.

In addition, the district pays $13,961 annually for teacher health insurance plans, regardless of whether the plan is single, two-person or family.

It goes on and on, for people who enjoy reading about things like the generous pension plans (similar to the ones that have bankrupted California).

I think it's high time that government employee unions be made illegal.

Maybe something like that should be placed on the ballot, for no legislature would ever dare pass it. That's because unlike the unelected union employees who really run things, elected legislators are timid creatures who actually can lose their jobs and therefore live in mortal fear that they will be fired.

But suppose for the sake of argument that such a thing did make it onto the ballot and passed. Wouldn't the government unions simply pressure their lackeys in the court system to declare the measure "unconstitutional"?

Yeah, yeah, I know. Another rhetorical question.

(Next I'll be asking whether we 're living in Greece...)

posted by Eric at 06:16 PM | Comments (4)

"This incident will be reported."

Nothing like getting a good morning scolding -- especially from an operating system. All I did was enter a very simple command

sudo fdisk -l

Which is only supposed to read the fdisk output (showing the layout of the hard drive). Anyway, because poor little Eric wasn't logged in as root (even though I am root and Eric), the system got very snappy with me. And not just snappy, but snappy in a tendentiously philosophical manner:

We trust you have received the usual lecture from the local System
Administrator. It usually boils down to these three things:

#1) Respect the privacy of others.
#2) Think before you type.
#3) With great power comes great responsibility.

[sudo] password for eric:
eric is not in the sudoers file. This incident will be reported.

Chagrined at the possibility of being reported to myself, I wondered just who the "we" are. Some code writer in some fantasy world somewhere who thought this up, I guess. It's actually funny. What I can't decide is whether the overall intent is broad enough to encompass satire. I certainly hope the author is not serious, but even if he is, I guess things could be worse. He could be working for the government!

posted by Eric at 11:56 AM | Comments (5)

Outraged over outrage itself!

Back from a well-deserved vacation, Glenn Reynolds said this:

It's amazing, though, how much more relaxed I am when I'm not being exposed to the latest outrage on the Internet . . . .
That made me feel less crazy. Sometimes it feels like being online means round-the-clock exposure to constant "latest outrages." And there is always a latest outrage, for outrages never cease. They never have and they never will. While it seems that there is a lot more to be outraged over now than in the past, if I look back over my seven years of blogging, I can see that there were constant outrages -- every one of which was the latest outrage at the time.

Unfortunately, in blogging these outrages tend to be called "content." Sometimes, I worry that the cumulative effect might not be good for one's mental or physical health. But OTOH, if there were no "latest outrages," what would that do to the quality of life?

Not that I should worry about that. People being what they are (and, if you write about politics, this administration being what it is) there will always be plenty to be outraged about. There will never be a shortage of outrage. Pessimists don't have to worry about "peak outrage" or anything like that.

Knowing this helps provide perspective, and allows me to not feel obligated to write posts about each and every outrage to come along. What I still have trouble with, though, is what I'll call "competitive outrage," which in turn fuels what I'll call "the outrage cycle." An incident will happen (because incidents always do happen), and it gets picked up by one outraged person or another, and then, depending on how many people become outraged (and the degree of influence possessed by those who are outraged) the incident goes from being an underreported incident to the "latest outrage," Outrage Of The Day, or even Outrage Of The Week. If you're blogging, no matter how sane you might think you are, this creates pressure to say something about it. The pressure is compounded by the fact that there are some people (self-appointed outrage-meisters, if you will) who believe it is their job in life to tell other people that they should be outraged. It's one thing to be outraged about something, but if there's one thing I cannot stand, it is the feeling that I have to become outraged on someone else's say-so.

The problem for me is that I really, really detest that pressure, and after all of these years I find myself much less tolerant of it than I was when I started blogging, so I end up reacting not to whatever the original incident was, but to other people's outrage over it. My reaction often takes the form of not blogging about something, and instead getting really pissed off. I become, well, outraged -- over outrage. Outrage being the direction outward of anger, I worry that being outraged over outrage but remaining silent about it might constitute the direction inward of anger. Is there such a thing as inrage? I hope not.

Because if I were to be judged by busybodies in the outrage industry, it might appear that I don't get outraged enough. As if there's such a thing as being outraged enough!

Why, I couldn't possibly be outraged enough!

I should probably try harder.

posted by Eric at 10:15 AM | Comments (6)

Free Book

Ed Driscoll notes that J. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night is available for free download.

"Just look at TV news or read a newspaper," Schulman said. "Plot point after plot point is identical. In my 1979 novel I have General Motors go bankrupt -- General Motors then files for bankruptcy. I have Europe issue a common currency in my novel called the 'eurofranc' -- the European Union then goes and issues the 'euro.' In my novel I have a European Chancellor, based in France, accuse the U.S. President of having the monetary policies of a banana republic -- then the President of the European Union -- also based in France -- slams U.S. plans to spend its way out of recession as 'a road to hell' and says President Barack Obama's massive stimulus package and banking bailout 'will undermine the liquidity of the global financial market.' The copycat nature of all these plot points and dialogue" -- says Schulman -- "could not be more obvious!"
You can read the Amazon reviews at:

J. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night

Note: there are only about 12,000 more copies available for download. Don't wait if you want a free copy.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 04:17 AM | Comments (2)

Family Feud

There is a Drug War going on in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. As you might expect, it is not going well.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico-- Authorities battling drug traffickers in this violent border city have begun to suspect that their efforts to impede the flow of drugs into the U.S. has fostered demand--and turf wars--on their own territory.
Dang. Fighting drugs only spreads them. Which reminds me of a personal anecdote. About 15 or 25 years ago when the police in America decided they were going to drive drugs and drug gangs out of the big cities I said the result would be an infestation of drugs and gangs in our towns and villages. I told this to a police officer back then (on FIDO Net). He said I was nuts. Unfortunately, I had the last laugh.
... authorities also see an unintended result of the crackdown: Traffickers, unable to get some drugs to Americans, began to sell them in Ciudad Juarez. That has left the city of 1.3 million people--once mainly a transit center for drugs--with a pattern of mounting crime similar to that of the U.S. cities where drugs are headed, namely killings at street corners between gangs vying to be the town's principal drug dealers. Even in cases when drugs begin flowing back across the border into the U.S. again, some amount remains destined for local consumers.

"What we're seeing is a retail market here in the city," says Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, who has run the city since 2007 and was there when the soldiers arrived. "The killings you're seeing now are one gang going after another to sell [drugs] here."

The trend hasn't gone unnoticed across the border. "What you have to understand is that if drug traffickers can't get cocaine across the border, rather than having it sit in a warehouse where they risk losing it, they'll distribute it locally," says Joseph Arabit, who heads the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's operation in El Paso.

Isn't that comforting. The DEA knows exactly how this works. And they support the drug war why? Green energy. i.e. it is a jobs program and heaven knows they will not work against their own interests. And what is that interest? It certainly isn't either ending the Drug War or stopping the flow of drugs.
In response to rising violence between drug cartels over cross-border trade in Ciudad Juarez, President Calderón sent 5,000 more soldiers into the city in early 2009. Seizures of marijuana continued to fall, as did homicide rates, which dropped from about nine a day earlier in the year to two per day, according to estimates by the city. City leaders were cautiously optimistic; for a short time, violence in Ciudad Juarez appeared to have been calmed.

Then homicide rates suddenly skyrocketed, to 12 a day, the highest level in the city's history. The year ended 2009 with about 2,750 drug-related homicides, up from 1,600 the year before.

"We didn't understand what was going on," says Mr. Reyes, the mayor.

Mr. Reyes should have consulted with the experts at the DEA. They witnessed roughly the same thing in the USA about 15 to 25 years ago. The one thing the drug warriors seem really good at is redeploying policies that are known, tested, and guaranteed not to work. As opposed to redeploying policies that are known, tested and guaranteed to work. A man has got to protect his phony baloney job.
Mexican federal officials say there are signs the violence in Ciudad Juarez, which has claimed 996 lives so far this year, has peaked.

Analysts say any such hopes are probably premature. One reason: Blood spilled by this year's turf wars won't be forgotten quickly, gang members say, meaning the fighting in Ciudad Juarez could continue even if the government succeeds in reducing drug sales and transit.

"The Aztecas have killed our families, friends and kids," says Nicolas Sosa, a leader of a Ciudad Juarez gang called The Artistic Assassins, in a jailhouse interview. Mr. Sosa said he didn't see an end to the violence anytime soon.

Our experience with alcohol prohibition in America is that it takes 15 to 25 years for the internecine warfare inspired by prohibition to die out. The clock starts as soon as we stop being stupid. The beginning of the end of stupidity could begin as soon as Nov. 2, 2010 in California.

Here is a catalog of some of the stupidity as reported in 1997! -

Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure

It is not like we didn't know.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon at 03:46 AM | Comments (3)

when tales become narratives, look out!

In a comment to an earlier post, commenter Gringo said,

I like hearing your computer tales.
Talk about asking for it.

If it's tales you want, it's tales you'll get!

So onto the latest tales. I have now installed and tried out innumerable Linux distributions in various old computers, and thanks to the tricky but invaluable GRUB loader, I can choose from among them at bootup. When I began with these experiments I only had two Compact Flash memory cards (a 128Meg and a 256Meg), which would only allow one very small Puppy or Slax distro on each. I truly love Puppy, as it is brutally simple, easy to configure, and does the job without no muss nor mess. The three variations I've tried are your basic Puppy, the slightly more elegant Lupu Puppy (an Ubuntu-hybrid mongrel), and a charming new distro called Quirky, which I absolutely love. It's basic, user-friendly, and does what you tell it to do.

As anyone who has installed Linux into a computer with another OS knows, double or triple or quadruple booting requires the installation of a pre-boot loader, and the most common one is the GRUB. On bootup, it gives you a list of available operating systems, and you select the one you want with the arrow keys, hit Enter and it will boot. At least, so you hope. The problem with GRUB is that the latest version (GRUB2 -- which is what you'll get with Ubuntu) is not designed to be user-edited with ease the way the older one is, but instead has to be updated with commands, which is fine except when it fails to detect new installations or displays them incorrectly. When I added new systems after having installed GRUB2 along with Ubuntu, this failure to detect them forced me to go to a lot of trouble.

Not so with Quirky. It lets you take total charge of GRUB from start to finish, and it shows you the GRUB display entries when you install it, as well as any time afterwards. Now, if you're installing "competing" versions of Linux, none of this is a huge problem, but if you are trying to keep Windows, watch out! Windows is extremely fussy about the GRUB loader, and adding other operating systems is a great way to make Windows crap out. That's not because Windows self-destructs, but typically because the GRUB loader orders it to boot from wherever it is, whereas Windows only knows to boot from wherever it was. The result -- no Windows! -- can be a huge deterrent to the casual Linux user who thinks he can just install Ubuntu and keep Windows. Judging from some of the threads I've read, many a wannabe Linux user has been reduced to a sobbing "Mommy I want my Windows back!" status (something I suspect may perfectly well be intended by the Windows closed source narrative community).

To illustrate the nature of the problem (and this is assuming there are still any readers with me), if we return to my ten dollar salvage yard computer, once I was armed with a new 8 Gigabyte Compact Flash card I decided to do two things:

  • install as much Linux as possible on the CF card; and
  • add as many Linux distros to the existing 30 Gigabyte hard drive -- while preserving the previous owner's ridiculously fussy Windows XP system.
  • Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment, but I managed to do both, and I feel duty-bound to report that adding Linux distros to the Windows hard drive was far more difficult than dealing with what should probably be called the flash-card-in-hard-drive-drag. The only difficulty I had with the flash card resulted from the Ubuntu GRUB2's failure to recognize Puppy as an operating system (something that would not have happened the other way around, btw) and insistence on booting Ubuntu without even showing the GRUB2 loader. I was able to fix this by booting into Puppy from a CD, then editing the GRUB2 "TIMEOUT" comment. Following that I installed Vector Linux on another partition, and thus I have a triple bootable "hard drive" made from flash memory. All three (Puppy, Ubuntu, and Vector) make the salvage yard computer run like a champ. (I had to add RAM for a few dollars, though, as the existing sticks were insufficient as well as error prone.)

    Here's an inside view of the Compact Flash card impersonating a hard drive inside my computer:


    The hard drive was much more complicated, because I wanted to make a full installation of Slackware (never an easy task -- especially when the machine has an NVDIA video card, as this one does), and I not only had to fight with the bad RAM, but I had to make room on the hard drive, which was complicated by the fact that this particular tyrannical and unconventional Windows installation dominated the entire drive in a most infuriating manner. It was divided into two logical drives, the first of which ("C") had Windows on it, and while the second ("D") at first appeared only to be a backup system, it actually was also the Windows boot drive, and could not be deleted, because it had NTDLR and boot.ini -- which XP has to have to start up. So, those two "drives" had to be left intact, with space created between them for new Linux partitions. Doing that and installing Linux OSes on them did not create Linux boot problems, as Quirky's easily configurable GRUB loader saw them with no problem, just as it saw Windows with no problem. However, just because the GRUB loader knows where Windows is does not mean that Windows knows where it is, and when I added new partitions between newly shrunken Windows partitions, the partitions' numbers changed. So, at bootup, the GRUB loader tells Windows to go find itself with this command:

    find --set-root --ignore-floppies --ignore-cd /ntldr
    chainloader /ntldr
    That orders Windows to fire up its boot.ini file, but it does not change the information in the boot.ini file, which orders the Windows XP system (once in Partition 2, but now in Partition 4) to simply start itself up. So you have to edit the boot.ini, assuming you can figure out which partition Windows is now actually in. It gets crazy because the numbers are not what they might appear to be. In my case, the Windows system was now on Partition 4, but the boot.ini file ordered Windows to boot on Partition 2 -- where it no longer was. Worse yet, it appears to be on Partition 5 even though it is not! That is because when new partitions are added, they are assigned numbers in the order they are added regardless of their actual order on the drive. For those who have to have a picture, how the partitioned drive "looks":


    What had been Windows drive C now says it's 5, looks like 2 and is actually 2, and what had been Windows drive D now looks like 5, says it's 2 but is actually 4. (The boot.ini is supposed to reflect what Windows "should" see under the newly reordered system, and had to be edited accordingly.) And of course, when dealing with hard drives with GRUB, you also have to remember that zero is one! Maddening.

    Had I wiped the hard drive completely and started over, the whole thing would have been far less painful, but I just wanted to be able to keep an unwanted XP system alive. Not just so I could say I did, but to prove to my ultimate satisfaction that Windows is not in charge and does not "rule."

    There is clear tension between Windows and Linux, and this touches on a political and philosophical issue that fascinates me, which is the tension between freedom and property.

    I wrote about "Narratives." Well, it just so happens that Windows and its supporters have one Narrative, and the Linux community has another.

    I'll call it the Property Narrative versus the Open Source Narrative. And yes, there are many features about it that evoke that thing that I hate most of all, the Narrative Of All Narratives which we call the "Culture War." I don't think it's much of a stretch to observe that the "war" between closed and open source exhibits classic Culture War features. Yet fortunately, it does not divide itself neatly between "left" and "right," because when there is tension between property and freedom, it's tough to analyze that way. Moreover, some of my favorite right wing bloggers are Linux users (Clayton Cramer, for example).

    What appeals to me about Linux is the idea that what is inside (and runs) your computer is not owned by someone else. Software is one of those gray areas between property and freedom, and the waters are further muddied by the fact that it's a form of speech. So, copyright law applies, and Microsoft and Apple are therefore fully justified in licensing and selling their software, as well as (as I must grudgingly admit), use the power of the police to thwart those who violate their property rights. This is problematic, though, especially when they want to go further, and insist on finding property rights in things which are embedded in Open Source software. Wars can result from such stuff, and it is wise for everyone to remember Hemingway's and MacArthur's warnings about "undefended wealth."

    Moreover, when property rights are found in something, and those rights yield great profits, they can become expansionist and hegemonic, and greed can set in. When that happens, it is not always clear whether the hegemony was caused by a need for greater profits or by the philosophy that wealth has to be defended. Which is why a leading cause of the Civil War was not so much slavery per se, but its expansion into new territory. (As well as the obnoxious idea that free blacks were not free, but should be liable to become property.)

    Geez, I'm getting off topic, as I only wanted to talk about installing Linux, which is completely harmless, right? And free! We all like freedom, right? No one wants to be a slave to some big company, right? Or is that sentiment akin to Communism? I hate to sound like a Commie just because I'm a Linux/Open Source lover, and I don't see why freedom has to come off sounding like Communism. All I want is the right to use this software without encroachment from the people who would argue that my right to use this software constitutes an encroachment. It's not as if I'm saying that private property is theft, but it's as if the closed source people want to say that free open source property is theft.

    Hey, installing freedom* is a challenge.

    * "Freedom to install" might sound more palatable. Even Friedmanesque.

    UPDATE: Odd that I would be mentioning the Culture War in the context of Linux crossing the left/right divide, because a funny thing happened on my way to downloading Fedora. The Fedora download site was absolutely jammed solid, and after a half an hour I only had a measly 2% of a 654 Megabyte download, so I thought to check the Fedora mirror sites. I couldn't help seeing Liberty University (founded by Jerry "Blame The Homos" Falwell and home to leading anti-gay crusader Matt Barber) listed right there, with exactly what I wanted (the latest Fedora Live CD). It's not every day that Liberty University has exactly what I want, but this being Sunday, it occurred to me that Liberty U might not be one of the nation's leading Linux geek download sites and that I might get lucky. So I started the download and it just streamed right through -- at a screamingly fast rate of 20 minutes for the whole thing. I must give credit where credit is due. (Fortunately, it is not my responsibility to worry over whether Liberty and its servers violated the Sabbath -- or worse yet, helped enable a cultural degenerate like me who thinks Linux is cool because of some disgusting freedom fetish).

    I'm telling you, it's creeping Cultural Marxism!

    posted by Eric at 01:20 PM | Comments (7)

    posted by Simon at 12:40 AM | Comments (0)

    The Narrative People

    Last night I watched a movie about Rwandan genocide that made me sick. Especially the scene showing hapless UN soldiers who had been ordered to withdraw being confronted by the doomed Tutsis they refused to protect. The Tutsis were already surrounded by gleeful Hutus waving machetes while gloating in anticipation. One Tutsi leader begged a UN officer to shoot his people first so that they would not have to endure the slower and more painful death by hacking. When the officer refused to do that, the man begged him to at least take pity on the children and shoot them. Obviously, the officer refused, and he said, "I am sorry, I cannot help you." (Interesting play on the word "help.")

    A more savage and disturbing irony was that the UN troops did at least help the white people escape. It's as if that's what they were there to do. Along the lines of

    "We might not be able to stop black-on-black genocide, but we can save the white people."

    Of course, the Clinton administration was in power, and doing nothing about Rwanda while saying they were doing everything they could was the official position. It was also the official position that what was happening was not genocide. Oh, no. Genocide meant Nazi Germany, which we cannot allow to ever happen again. And the best way to make sure genocide never happened again was to not call genocide genocide.

    So, even though the Clinton administration knew -- and I mean specifically knew -- about the "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis," orders were given to ignore it, and above all to not use narrative-spoiling words like "genocide." This made it easier not only to ignore the genocide, but to do things which actually helped enable it:

    the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term "genocide," for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing "to try to limit what occurred." Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.
    The trouble with the word "genocide" is that it automatically triggers the "NEVER AGAIN" narrative (as well as the additional "Something Must Be Done" narrative). Hence the word could not be used.
    The story of U.S. policy during the genocide in Rwanda is not a story of willful complicity with evil. U.S. officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to happen. But whatever their convictions about "never again," many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen. In examining how and why the United States failed Rwanda, we see that without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices. We also see that with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken off the table early on--and with crises elsewhere in the world unfolding--the slaughter never received the top-level attention it deserved. Domestic political forces that might have pressed for action were absent. And most U.S. officials opposed to American involvement in Rwanda were firmly convinced that they were doing all they could--and, most important, all they should--in light of competing American interests and a highly circumscribed understanding of what was "possible" for the United States to do.
    It's bad enough that genocide did in fact happen again, and while this is to the eternal shame of the Clinton administration, it shows how easily these things are enabled, and turned off and on, by the simple Narrative mechanism. The Narrative controls everything. So in order to justify doing or not doing something the Narrative People have only to make the right adjustments in the Narrative. Even the Nazis had to do this, because killing people becomes much easier when people are not people. Jews were subhuman like rats, and when someone is less than human, then killing is not murder of a human being.

    Obviously, Clinton's Narrative People could not say that Tutsis were less than human as a justification for ignoring genocide or saving only the white people (because that would have been racism), so they had to make the adjustment by simple editing out the G-word.

    In what I think is a true classic of rhetorical gobbledygook, here's Clinton's spokesperson Christine Shelley, explaining why she is unable to use the word genocide to describe the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis:

    So now that the Narrative People have admitted it was genocide, what are the implication to "NEVER AGAIN"? That narratives just come and go?

    And who precisely are the Narrative People?

    I worry that most of us either are narrative people, or have a tendency to become narrative people, because in the broad sense Narrative is simply an agreed upon story.

    That Which We Want To Be True.

    Or more specifically:

    Words Which We Want To Believe Are True.

    All of us want certain things to be true, so there is enormous temptation to believe in what we want.

    At the risk of what is.

    I don't mean to imply that all Narratives suck, though, because some Narratives are actually true. The problem with them is that if you're a real Narrative Person, they don't have to be true. It's just that for a Narrative Person, truth is not pursued for its own sake, but as a helpful factor in assisting the Narrative.

    Narratives tend to become bandwagons, and once that happens, those who take issue with them are considered "enemies" by those who believe.

    If you're uneasy with Narratives and don't like Narrative People, what do you do where it comes to politics? If you pick one side or the other, is it fair to say that you should be duty-bound to honor that side's Narratives? I don't think it is fair, but I have learned that questioning people's narratives is no way to get ahead in politics or in life.

    (I probably should shut up now and go back to the comfort of configuring operating systems. No Narrative there; things either work or they don't. There's something addictive about that. OTOH, Narratives are the operating systems of politics, and I guess they're at least as addictive... Um, until they crash.)

    posted by Eric at 02:03 PM | Comments (3)

    A Republican You Can Believe In

    H/T Vanderleun at American Digest

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

    Rand Paul on the CRA
    Interviewer: But under your philosophy, it would be OK for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworths?

    Paul: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part--and this is the hard part about believing in freedom--is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example--you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things. . . . It's the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.

    Rand is 100% correct- while the public provisions of the CRA are laudable, the government has no right to tell anyone what they can't do with regards to their own private property when they aren't directly injuring someone. Segregation is ugly, but even uglier is putting a gun to people's heads and telling them they can't discriminate on this basis or that. That has led directly to our current awful race-based spoils system. The proper response to offensive behavior is boycotts. If someone opens a restaurant with a sign saying "Whites Only" you should refuse to eat there. You should not bring a gov't truncheon to beat him into submission to your views, any more than if someone says "That Obama sure is an idiot."

    Why does our democratic republic prosper? The answer lies mostly in the fact we are a marketplace of ideas, moving closer and closer to essential truths through constant free debate and accumulation of knowledge. For a very long time it was widely believed the races and sexes and sexual orientations had radically different capabilities. As late as the 1950s racialist theories held wide sway, and as late as the 1970s homosexuality was still officially considered a mental disorder. We have moved past all that, not by government fiat against crimethink but through the exercise of free speech.

    Some claim this is an issue of rights, but your rights don't extend to forcing other people to do things they don't want to. You have the right to pursue happiness; that says nothing about forcing me to pass you the baton on your way. Racists get to pursue happiness too, in their flawed and hateful way. And again, economics comes into play here. If I don't serve, rent to, or hire qualified minorities and you do, I have inflicted an economic penalty on myself and you will prosper while I falter as a result of my ignorance.

    By saying various behaviors that do not injure people are illegal, you are essentially saying people are only allowed to do what the government says they can do (as opposed to being able to do anything that does not injure someone else, with government as the enforcer of your rights against injury). That is inconsistent with liberty, and a slippery slope to the kind of majoritarian tyranny that has led to mass graves in the lifetimes of many alive today.

    The most pernicious effect of all this is on the minority communities themselves. Economies grow and quality of life improves because a free market economy creates incentives to better serve your fellows, thus creating efficiencies. To the extent we remove or reduce those incentives, we also reduce the resultant improvement in our lives. Because of quotas, a typical scenario in many cities involves a company bringing in a minority figurehead who literally does nothing but prove the company is "minority-owned." How much qualification do you think that job requires? What incentives does that create? What lesson does it teach minority communities?

    Much the same can be said of "affirmative action" programs in college admissions to "promote diversity." What they are actually promoting is incompetence. When you tell a group of people "Hey, it's not your fault you don't achieve as well, here let us even that out with some extra points" you are also reducing incentives for the group as a whole to improve relative to other groups - their lack of achievement is no longer being penalized, but instead subsidized. As with all subsidies, that will change the decisions individuals make -- when you subsidize failure, you get more failure. And at the same time, you are telling others "Sorry, it doesn't matter that you achieved success, we are taking Person X who achieved less because his skin is a different color" which is not just anti-meritocratic but makes that innocent person a victim of racial discrimination.

    The most ironic thing in all this is that today, we have as much racial discrimination as in the 1960s -- as blessed by statute as Jim Crow, in the name of equality, and widely supported. We are no more a meritocracy than we were before the CRA. These programs only replace "bad" racism by individual choice with "good" racism enabled by gov't, a path fraught with danger as government programs never seem to end, and "good" is always in the ever-shifting eye of the beholder.

    posted by Dave at 04:48 PM | Comments (2)

    Matt Barber and Andrew Sullvan care deeply about your sexual desires!

    Looks like it's "I TOLD YOU SO" time.

    In a post not long ago, I noted that gay activist busybodies and anti-gay busybodies both share a similar mindset where it comes to privacy in matters of human sexual freedom. They don't like it:

    There are gay activist busybodies who don't believe in leaving people alone, and they are assisted by anti-gay busybodies on the other "side."

    Andrew Sullivan typifies the mindset of the former.

    I mentioned the American Family Association, and Americans for Truth About Homosexuality as among the strange allies of gay activists, and to that list I would now add Matt Barber (who was once again kind enough to email me and let me know how strongly he feels).

    Writing in (where else?) WorldNetDaily, he argues that lesbianism is a relevant factor in considering someone "for any public service," because it's a character issue, and homosexuality is immoral:

    Media, here's your question: "Solicitor Kagan, do you identify as a lesbian?" Ms. Kagan, your answer is simpler still: "Yes" or "no."

    Pipe down, lefties. Yes, it is relevant. Most liberals would disagree, but despite "progressive" protestations to the contrary, character does, in fact, matter. A majority of Americans still consider sexual morality - or a lack thereof - a pertinent factor in contemplating one's fitness for any public service - chiefly, perhaps, a lifetime appointment to our most supreme earthly court.

    Notice that by conflating lesbianism with immorality and bad character, he creates the impression that a majority of Americans consider lesbians unfit for public service. Barber, of course, thinks they are, and he considers lesbians (and all homosexuals) to be inherently immoral people who should therefore not be allowed to hold office. He has a right to his beliefs, but his attempt to impute them to the majority of Americans is simply delusional.

    But as to caring deeply about the sexuality of others, he finds common ground with Andrew Sullivan, whom he cites with approval:

    Although the mainstream media refuse to do their job, some in the homosexual-activist press are stepping-up to fill the vacuum.

    Homosexual blogger Andrew Sullivan, for instance, writing in The Atlantic, opined: "In a free society in the 21st century, it is not illegitimate to ask [whether Kagan is gay]. And it's cowardly not to tell."

    Andrew Sullivan and those who think like him care deeply about whether people are gay, and so do those in the Matt Barber brigade.

    It seems to me that as fewer ordinary Americans care deeply about these things, the people who do care deeply will become ever louder.

    What I can't decide is whether I should keep deeply ignoring them in the hope they'll go away.

    posted by Eric at 02:54 PM | Comments (3)

    Examining The Drug War
    remember prohibition.jpg

    House Bill H.R. 5143 is touted as a review of Criminal Justice in America. According to the summary its purpose is:

    National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010 - Establishes the National Criminal Justice Commission. Directs the Commission to: (1) review all areas of the criminal justice system, including federal, state, local, and tribal governments' criminal justice costs, practices, and policies; (2) make findings regarding such review and recommendations for changes to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, reduce recidivism, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice at every step of the criminal justice system; (3) consult with government and nongovernment leaders, including the United States Sentencing Commission; and (4) submit a final report on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations to Congress, the President, and state, local, and tribal governments and make such report available to the public. Expresses the sense of Congress that the Commission should work toward unanimously supported findings and recommendations.
    The Senate Bill, S-714, mirrors the House version word for word. Which means that the likelihood of passage is strong. No fiddling with reconciliation.

    So what is the bill really about? Here is a clue.

    When Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, proposed creating such a commission, his idea quickly attracted wide support. It is a rare cause in Washington that has the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the A.C.L.U. and the Marijuana Policy Project.
    This is really a chance for our Federal Government to take a look at the Drug War.

    So how about a look at our government. Specifically the anti-marijuana caucus in Congress.

    The members of this new anti-cannabis caucus in the Congress are: Dan Burton (R-IN), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), John Mica (R-FL), Aaron Schock (R-IL), Mark Souder (R-IN) and Michael Turner (R-OH).
    That was from the summer of 2009. Where are they now? Souder is on his way out of Congress. And Rep. Issa seems to have at least opened his mind if not changed it altogether.
    Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced the original legislation last year which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January and awaits action by the entire Senate. The bipartisan House companion, introduced by Reps. William Delahunt (D-MA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), was introduced in April.
    Why a change of heart for Issa? I have no way of knowing. My guess? They want to spend the $50 bn a year or so that the Drug War costs the country on something else. Maybe reducing the deficit? We can only hope.

    H/T Retired police detective Howard Wooldridge at Citizens Opposing Prohibition

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 01:17 PM | Comments (1)

    Spain's Green Jobs Program A Disaster

    Has Tom Friedman heard?

    There's always been a fundamental error in the notion of "growing" a "green economy" -- you don't create efficiencies by purposely introducing inefficiencies, you destroy them, reducing productivity and by extension GDP. Contra Friedman's longstanding premise that "green technology" is some sort of burgeoning new growth sector, these programs are virtually guaranteed to harm economic growth, not spur it.

    The payoff for environmental inefficiencies is of course only in externalities -- things that are explicitly non-economic benefits. That's why properly understanding AGW is so important: unless there are truly massive external benefits to carbon mitigation (and there are not; even proponents admit the bulk of the unreliably predicted effects would happen no matter what we do in the future) there's no point to these massively destructive subsidies.

    posted by Dave at 07:46 AM | Comments (3)

    More minimalist Puppy Love

    Remember the computer I bought at the salvage yard for ten bucks?

    I'm on it right now, running Puppy Linux on the 128 Megabyte Compact Flash card, which I plugged into one of these:


    The computer's BIOS is tricked into believing that the flash card is a primary Hitachi hard drive.

    Once again, the simplicity of all of this is breathtaking, and there is no noise except the CPU fan.

    The flash adapter cost 99 cents, and the flash card was just something I had lying around, leftover from an old digital camera I no longer use.

    The bottom line is that for almost nothing, I have a super fast, solid state PC.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I hope the geekier readers will forgive my amazement, but I have long been accustomed to thinking of computers as expensive propositions involving machines with hard drives and operating systems that actually cost money, that have to be maintained with anti-virus, and worried over. This instant, on-the-fly, almost disposable computing is forcing me to go through a mental readjustment, and it is changing the way I think about computers.

    posted by Eric at 01:53 PM | Comments (4)

    A Scientist In Congress?

    Watts Up With That reports on a primary race in Oregon.

    Art Robinson ran in the GOP Primary to represent the Oregon in 4th Congressional District. Wise Republican voters selected Dr. Art Robinson to represent them in the November 2010 Congressional race against Democrat Peter DeFazio.

    I saw an online video by Art Robinson at the 4th International Climate Change Conference explaining why he is running. He wants to being some scientific rationality to the discussions on issues in Congress, especially climate change. "Let's have at least one real scientist in Congress," he said.

    Dr Robertson is an expert on energy and founder of the Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine. He is widely known for his petition signed by more than 31,000 American scientists exposing human-caused global warming as a fraud.

    It wouldn't hurt to have more than a few engineers (those well versed in the practical applications of science) in Congress either.

    Another list of scientists who are not convinced about man made global warming catastrophe can be found here: The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud**And those who are too fearful to do so

    and for those of you not familiar with the other side (it is not warming much and there will be no catastrophe) of the controversy may I suggest: Understanding The Global Warming Hoax: Expanded And Updated

    If you want to help Art win the seat against DeFazio visit Art Robinson For Congress.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 07:37 AM | Comments (1)

    What About My Profits?

    Retired police officer Howard Wooldridge meets up with some big time illegal pot growers (inadvertently) and finds out what they fear. Hint: it isn't the police.

    I spent my second week of the Oregon speaking tour like the first... speaking to various groups, media etc. The most memorable question of the tour came from a guy in Coos Bay in SW Oregon. He asked what would happen to the price of pot, if California legalizes it this fall.

    The price would fall hard I replied, though I admitted to not being an expert. I later learned the questioner and several of his friends were big-time illegal growers.

    Which brings up something I have been saying for years.
    Drug prohibition is a price support mechanism for criminals and terrorists
    And yet my anti-price support (it is socialist) anti-terrorist friends on the right are the staunchest friends of prohibition. Maybe it is just another deal like the case of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) a staunch champion of abstinence education and traditional family values. Who recently got caught cheating on his wife with a staffer. The staffer Tracy Jackson interviews Souder on a (pulled - and possibly restored) YouTube video.
    In the November 2009 abstinence video, Jackson introduces Souder this way: "You've been a longtime advocate for abstinence education and in 2006 you had your staff conduct a report entitled 'Abstinence and its Critics' which discredits many claims purveyed by those who oppose abstinence education."
    It has been reported that their get togethers have been going on for four years. Which would mean the affair was ongoing when the video was made. Another case of a "the rules are different for me" politician.

    Well back to pot. How is the California initiative polling? By a 56% to 42% margin California voters favor legalizing marijuana. As Officer Wooldridge has told me in one of his weekly e-mails (roughly), "prohibition will be over five years after the first state legalizes." To get his weekly updates contact Howard.

    H/T Radley Balko at Instapundit

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 08:06 PM | Comments (2)

    Everybody Draw Muhammed Day

    This is why I subscribe to Reason. In the face of murder and violence and threats against the practice of free expression, the only acceptable answer is defiance.

    In unrelated news, multiple sources report hearing a clanking sound from Nick Gillespie's pants when he walks.

    posted by Dave at 11:15 AM | Comments (1)

    Voluntary compliance is for your own good!

    To my consternation, I just learned via an email from a friend that incoming students at UC Berkeley are being asked to provide DNA samples. Voluntarily, of course:

    Instead of the usual required summer-reading book, this year's incoming freshmen at the University of California, Berkeley, will get something quite different: a cotton swab on which they can, if they choose, send in a DNA sample.

    The university said it would analyze the samples, from inside students' cheeks, for three genes that help regulate the ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folates.

    Those genes were chosen not because they indicate serious health risks but because students with certain genetic markers may be able to lead healthier lives by drinking less, avoiding dairy products or eating more leafy green vegetables.

    OK, it's voluntary, right? And even though this is a government-run University, no one is being forced, which means no libertarian should care, right?

    That's easy enough for a 55-year old libertarian to say. But thinking back to when I was eighteen, I didn't have access to the kind of 20/20 hindsight I have now, and I might have thought "How cool! Now I get to know all about my genetic health risks!"

    As to invasion of privacy, banish the thought! This is all confidential, and no one will be able to find out which student's information pertains to whose. Except the stated purpose of this project is to soften the students up for what's coming:

    The testing will be voluntary and confidential, with no one at Berkeley knowing which sample comes from which student.

    Each freshman will get two bar code labels, one to put on the sample and one to keep. After the genotyping is complete, the results will be posted on a Web site using the bar code identification, so only the person who provided the DNA sample will know whose it is.

    "In the decade ahead, the new genetics is going to penetrate everyday medical practice," said Mark Schlissel, dean of biology at Berkeley. "We wanted to give students a sense of what's coming, through genes that can provide them with useful information. I think it's one of the best things we've done in years."

    But some bioethicists say the whole idea of genetic testing outside a medical setting is troubling....

    To which I would add that the whole idea of sharing medical results outside a medical setting is troubling. Once your DNA is in your medical records -- and especially once the medical records can be accessed by government bureaucrats at will under PelosiCare -- the busybody mischief by Berkeley professors will look like child's play. All of our DNA will become subject to investigation via computerized database search engines, whether at the behest of law enforcement looking for suspects, government-run healthcare providers who want to butt into our lives in order to "help" us, or of course our friends at the IRS.

    The implications are Orwellian, and I worry that the kids are being softened up when they're too young to fully understand and think things through.

    Moreover, this fits into a disturbing pattern of policy implementation I have noticed over the years. First, people are asked to do something "voluntarily" (like, for example, cutting off your dog's nuts or switching over to the "right" lightbulbs). Once people become accustomed to doing such things voluntarily, they quite naturally become unsympathetic to those recalcitrant few who don't. And the good citizens will then be quite willing to support new laws, with criminal penalties for not doing what every good citizen should.

    posted by Eric at 10:51 AM | Comments (4)

    Some accidental shootings are just the breaks!

    Recently I wrote about the tragic accidental shooting of an innocent grandmother by a carjacking victim who happened to be a concealed carry permit holder, and who fired at the carjacker. At the time I said this:

    Imagine if the same criminal had robbed a police officer who was inside the same house, and managed to carjack his police car. If the officer gave chase and opened fire, would he be facing charges? I doubt it. And if he did, the news media would not be blaming "the bullet."
    It appears that they are planning to charge the carjacking victim (who is in jail) with homicide and the family wants him charged with murder.

    A few days ago, Detroit police accidentally shot and killed a seven year old girl during a raid. A civil lawsuit has been filed, and while the attorney claims it wasn't accidental, no one is calling for criminal prosecution of the police officer whose bullet killed Aiyana Jones.

    In either of these cases, the legal standard ought to be the same, right? So why are they so quick to jail and charge a civilian who shoots at a carjacker and hits someone else, but when a police officer mistakenly shoots an innocent person during a raid, that's just unfortunate?

    I think there is a double standard here. My question is, should there be?

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

    Running better, on next to nothing!

    This is my first post written on a solid state computer. I am running the elegantly minimalist Puppy Linux from a 128 Megabyte Compact Flash card inserted into the IDE adapter I bought (described and pictured here) which fools the laptop's BIOS into thinking that there's a real hard drive there. It's shockingly quiet, and frankly, I didn't think it would work. (As Sigivald warned, "many of the very cheap flash-to-IDE adapters are at best flaky and persnickety at booting - even when they swear they're bootable.") This thing just booted right up with no need to do anything to the BIOS.

    Even more amazingly, I have a ridiculous old clunker Gateway (Solo 1150) landfill laptop which I was ready to throw away because it was completely useless. The hard drive had failed, and it would not boot with nor recognize any hard drive, and I tried five. Plus, the cd-rom was broken, and it was too old to boot from the first generation USB ports. No way to get anything in there. Almost as one those deliberately futile afterthoughts, though, I tried the CF drive, and that hopelessly dead computer suddenly booted right up! I was dumbfounded, for it will not recognize any hard drive. As to what could be going on, I'm clueless.

    All I know is that I am very impressed with this solid state business. I realize that flash memory deteriorates over time, but then, so do regular hard drives.

    This seems almost like revolutionary technology. So clean, so quiet. No moving parts. Downright spooky.


    By the way, I tried the 128 Megabyte CF card only because I had it lying around and wished to experiment. Puppy is a small scale, highly efficient OS, and 128 Megs is the absolute minimum size drive required.

    This whole thing is so pared down as to be almost, um, survivalist in nature.

    Yet it not only works, it is faster. And the battery is discharging more slowly.

    It actually seems better.

    If someone had told me about this, I would have been skeptical. But seeing is believing.

    MORE: Yet another advantage of running Linux generally, and Puppy particularly:

    Detective Inspector Bruce van der Graaf from the Computer Crime Investigation Unit told the hearing that he uses two rules to protect himself from cybercriminals when banking online. The first rule, he said, was to never click on hyperlinks to the banking site and the second was to avoid Microsoft Windows.

    "If you are using the internet for a commercial transaction, use a Linux boot up disk - such as Ubuntu or some of the other flavours. Puppylinux is a nice small distribution that boots up fairly quickly. It gives you an operating system which is perfectly clean and operates only in the memory of the computer and is a perfectly safe way of doing internet banking," van der Graaf said.

    I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense.

    posted by Eric at 12:06 AM | Comments (7)

    The Conservative Position

    Commenter Forgotten Man at The Belmont Club had this to say about how to win the battle in Afghanistan:

    ...things like opium growing and Heroin production need to be stopped.
    Yes. Of course. We have been working on stopping it for 96 years so far and real soon now we will have success.

    Or we can do the Conservative thing and return to the Status of drugs that obtained before the Progressives tried to "improve" the situation with their anti-drug laws.

    It is always amusing to see "Conservatives" spouting the rhetoric of Progressives. Funny thing is that Progressives see the stupidity of their former policies. Which I suppose makes Conservatives reactionaries ("if Progressives are for it I'm against it") when it comes to the drug laws.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)

    We still have the Constitution, right?

    From time to time, my attention is drawn to an American political philosophy I consider downright scary, and that is "Declarationism." What scares me is idea is that the Constitution is not actually the supreme law of the land (even though it plainly states that it is), but that it is actually subordinated to the Declaration of Independence. Never mind the fact that the Declaration was never intended to be the law of the land, much less having authority over the Constitution; the "Declarationists" believe, simply, that the Declaration of Independence is the ultimate trump card, to which everything else is subordinated. The problem with that is what the Declaration did was to set out the philosophical justifications of the founders for the right of a people to overthrow tyranny and establish self government. Beyond that, it doesn't get into the specifics. But never mind that! The Declarationists fill in the blanks, with a rather far-fetched (IMO) claim that the Declaration does more than it did, and that it actually establishes what they call "Natural Law" and subordinates everything (including the Constitution) to it.

    Defining and spelling out "Natural Law" is beyond the scope of this blog post, but suffice it to say that they have defined it and spelled it out. I see it as a dangerous potential power grab, and I worry that these people are well organized, and that (if we assume some of their their political endorsements reflect that they are not mere fringe), they might be actively seeking power. While I believe in working with political coalitions, I also don't want to help give political power to people whose philosophical belief is that are possessed of some divine right (and that is what we're talking about here) to make an end-run around the Constitution by invoking "Natural Law." I will never forget a debate I witnessed between some of the leading proponents of Natural Law in which they dismissed the well-established constitutional doctrine of states rights and federalism out of hand. There were, in their view, some things the states had no right to do, and legalizing abortion was one of them. (Ditto same sex marriage; neither the states nor the federal government have the right to legalize it.) Natural Law via their view of the Declaration nullifies the actions of the state legislature, or even of the federal government, and of course, "it" would also overrule even legally adopted amendments to the Constitution. Getting rid of Roe v. Wade would (in their view) not solve the problem, because of the pesky "states rights" doctrine. But never mind! Federalism is overruled by Natural Law! As they and only they understand Natural Law.

    A lot of people are talking about what will happen "when the shit hits the fan," but many of the comments to this post that Glenn Reynolds linked yesterday reminded me that there are some people on the right who very much want the shit to hit the fan.

    What sort of person actually wants the shit to hit the fan? Who would want national bankruptcy, insurrection in the streets, civil war? Are they serious? Or are they just guilty of political hyperbole and sounding off? I certainly hope it is only the latter, but my worry is that because power abhors a vacuum, there might be power seekers with extreme views who realize they'd never be voted into office by any American majority, and whose best hope lies with a seizure of power.

    Ah, but the Constitution does not allow that, right? That depends. If the Constitution is subordinated to the Declaration, and the Declaration means Natural Law, and if Natural Law means whatever the Natural Law activists want it to mean, then a Natural Law dictatorship (run by a select few who can divine the true meaning of Natural Law) wouldn't be theoretically unimaginable.

    I'm sure this is all paranoia on my part, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

    MORE: I emailed a close friend with my concerns, and he replied,

    I think there are very few people who really want to see America hurt so it can theoretically rebound in a purer state again, in the sense that they plan to vote or maneuver politically that way. I think they're mostly blowing off steam. The sense of urgency and distress is real, but I doubt the big talk is. Just my opinion, but maybe I'm a Pollyanna.
    My usual fallback position is that "well, we still have the Constitution to protect us," but what about the people who think the Constitution is "undeclarational"?

    posted by Eric at 10:16 AM | Comments (15)

    Seven years! (And they said it wouldn't last!)

    This blog is now seven years old.

    And lo and behold, the "Culture War" has not only not ended, it's become virtually impossible to define. Which makes my "work" easier and harder at the same time.

    That silly thing at the top still says "End the Culture War by Restoring Classical Values." It was meant as tongue-in-cheek, as gentle satire, but sometimes my tongue gets stuck in my cheek, and I take myself and others too seriously.

    What I have learned in these seven years is that "End the Culture War by Restoring Classical Values" only means that this blog is in constant need of Restoration. Indefinitely a work in progress.

    Many thanks to everyone who has visited these pages over the years.

    (I include readers, friends, enemies, critics, commenters, lurkers, jokers, voyeurs, and anyone else I might have left out -- which is about as inclusive as I can get!)

    posted by Eric at 01:21 PM | Comments (11)

    Is It His Katrina? Nyet!

    When I saw Glenn Reynolds' link to a post titled "Is it His Katrina Yet?," I assumed that it would be about the disastrous flooding in Nashville. Instead, it was about the oil spill. William A. Jacobson documents a horror story of "bungled permitting, delays in response, and understating the impact" and asks,

    What will it take for it to be His Katrina? Waddaya think, Brownie?
    Once I realized that Nashville flood was not the Katrina Professor Jacobson was talking about, I thought "How many Katrinas do we need?"

    The answer, obviously, is that Obama will never have a real Katrina, no matter what happens or how incompetent his administration's response. That's because Katrina -- and all disasters -- can be blamed only on the right wing. If it's a natural disaster, it's from Global Warming, which is a result of uncontrolled corporate greed (or, as in the case of Katrina, right wing racist genocide.) If OTOH, it's a man-made disaster, it's also a result of uncontrolled corporate greed. (By definition, uncontrolled denotes right of center, and evil.)

    As to government-created disasters, by definition they are impossible under liberal governments, because liberalism by definition is about helping people, not harming the environment or enabling corporate greed. Anything that goes wrong is because the right wing either set in motion the events that created it, or thwarted the liberal attempts to intervene.

    From this analysis, it also follows that any disaster that might happen under this liberal administration had its roots in the failures of the previous administration, and was thus "inherited."

    Thus, it is not Obama's Katrina. By definition such a thing is impossible.

    posted by Eric at 01:00 PM | Comments (2)

    I bought more than I bargained for. Or did I?

    I'm wondering about the ethics surrounding hard drives. I don't mean legal ethics so much as personal ethics. I have bought a variety of computer parts on ebay and in a local building material salvage yard, and I seem to have this uncanny knack for winding up with hard drives just loaded with personal information which simply should never have been mine to see. Like compromising photographs, resumes, school, personnel files, even social security numbers, home addresses, bank account information. It is shocking, and it makes me feel "dirty" just seeing it. I'm an honest person and I would never use any of it to harm anyone, but still.... People don't realized how careless they are. And some of them ought to know better. A few weeks ago I bought a laptop hard drive said to have been pulled from a "working laptop." Yes it was, and it was a complete system, loaded with files, correspondence, chat dialogues and intimate photos of the former user, a teenage girl. I wiped and reformatted it, then cloned an older smaller drive onto it. The girl can consider herself lucky I'm not a stalker.

    So much for drive one.

    Next, yesterday I bought a nice Pentium 3 machine at a local salvage yard for ten bucks. Which is next to nothing considering it turned out to be a very usable machine. I thought I was buying it for parts, as it looked dirty and funky, and stuff was rattling around inside, so when I got it home I opened up the case to take an inventory. Nice 30 Gig removable hard drive, good sound card, NVIDIA PCI video card, network card, and one of those kickass ASUS motherboards which are great for overclocking. The rattling around was caused by loose RAM which had been taken out, so I figured it probably wouldn't work, but what the hell. I put it back together, plugged in a monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse, and network cables, plugged in the power cord and turned it on. Windows XP started right up. Everything worked. I would never name names, but it's just crammed with years of a lawyer's professional and personal files, confidential information about clients, cases, and loan applications, even including his wife's social security number and credit information. I don't know what to do. I would contact the guy, but he might get mad. At me! I didn't do a damned thing except gamble ten bucks and push a button.

    Then there's the computer I'm working from right now. It's an old clunker laptop sold on ebay for parts because it was inoperable and gave RAM and "hard drive not found" errors. The reason for the RAM error was that one of the sticks of RAM was bad (or incompatible) and the reason the hard drive was not found was because someone had forgotten to stick the adaptor onto the pins, so it wasn't hooked up. The "parts" computer turned out to be completely usable, so now I feel guilty about unwittingly invading the privacy of a chemical engineer from India whose entire recent life is on that drive (photographs, resumes, immigration documents, and complex stuff I don't understand). Obviously, I should wipe or reformat the drives and/or delete the personal stuff, and my goal is to continue my Linux comparisons. But I'm grappling over basic ownership theories here. Who owns this stuff? I bought it, so in theory I would be the "owner." Of what? The drives? What's on them? Do I own the operating systems? Do I now "own" the photos? Someone else's work product? Am I invading people's privacy? And suppose there was illegal stuff in there? Would I own that too? Or would I merely "possess" it without "owning" it? I like to think Ownership is fuzzy. So are the moral issues:

    Sales between individuals pretty much always include the software, whether or not it's actually legal, and it would be naive to ignore the value. If you build a new PC and you go out and buy Windows XP and Microsoft Office (OEM versions), you've just spent a few hundred dollars on software. If you purchase a used computer or receive a hand-me-down which has this software installed, even if it's Windows 98 and Office 97, you can get right to work. Again, I'm not preaching about morality here and I don't really understand the legal issues involved in using software that's licensed to the original owner, I'm just reporting how things are. I would say the cheapest you can legally obtain a copy of Windows XP and Microsoft Word for (not the full office) is still over $200 if you build your own PC.
    Anyway, if my experience had been limited to one compromised hard drive, I might not have thought it worth a post. But this is three in a row now -- each one containing a lot of personal information which should never have been seen by a stranger, and which I am sure the respective owners would never have wanted to be seen.

    It really seems like such a no brainer. I thought everyone knew that you don't make available the contents of your hard drive. In fact, it's so basic that I doubt there's a single reader of this blog who does not know that. So what's with three in a row? A teenage girl I can understand, but an attorney? An engineer?

    If only I enjoyed being a voyeur!

    posted by Eric at 02:57 PM | Comments (7)


    I was reading the comments at this Victor Davis Hanson piece and came across an interesting set of observations on the state of the economy.

    14. Foobarista

    As for the "gray market" in California, I'm convinced that regulators - and politicians - are well aware of its existence and don't want to touch it. My wife sells small businesses and pretty much never sees a little, cash-heavy business that doesn't pocket most or all of the cash - even in otherwise regulated areas like restaurants and dry cleaners.

    The sad thing is that my wife occasionally runs into American-born blacks or whites who want to buy a business and whose heads explode when they realize that nearly everything is under the table, and that operating a completely legit business would mean you simply wouldn't make enough money to operate because the market prices in the "grayness" of the market players. Immigrants of all sorts are far more comfortable with these arrangements and often prefer it.

    And any business involving lots of manual labor? They're completely under the table, not because the owners are paying sub-minimum wages - the workers are often decently paid - but because regulations and taxes make it impossible to operate legally. And since few American-born people are willing to work under the table, illegals are pretty much the only ones hired.

    April 11, 2010 - 10:06 pm

    Which explains the title of this post. When the government hand becomes too heavy people no longer use it. And it is not just the people who sell labor. It is also the people who buy it.
    15. tryingtodorightthing

    I work in law in the San Fernando Valley and can tell you from personal experience that the Los Angeles County Building Code Enforcement does not inspect nor enforce laws such as illegal converted garages or the related building codes. The inspectors will act as if they are going to inspect and then just refuse to do so. I have made complaints of very serious conditions such as exposed wires, gas lines illegally re-routed and the such with no action by the city.

    April 11, 2010 - 10:11 pm

    That is how you make a third world country. You regulate everything with a heavy hand. If you want to be profitable in such an environment you have some choices. Bribery is one. Ignoring the rules is another. The next comment makes that point.

    You're my neighbor. (In a general sense - I live also in the SFV) and you're talking about MY neighbors. (In the specific sense! The house to my right has two illegal 'apartments' in the back yard - the one to the left has a 'converted' garage.) I look at houses and they all have unliscensed contruction. No one cares. The law is a joke. No - worse - the law is predatory. You would actually be in legal trouble if you tried to OBEY the written laws.

    April 12, 2010 - 1:47 pm

    So who is bypassing the state? Some very nice people.
    20. Les Hardie

    Dr. Hansen: I and my upscale neighbors are all scofflaws. We live in a village in the Santa Monica mountains just west of Topanga. Most of us are professionals,others academics, scientists, businessmen, some cops and firemen. RE prices are high, but the area is semi-rural--a lot of horses, atvs, trucks, chainsaws. People here are well educated but pride then=mselves on being tougher than city people. Most are still Democrats. But everybody tries to avoid any gov't permitting. The view is that between the county and coastal, nobody can build a dog house, much less a room addition, so f***them and do it anyway. Judges and lawyers do major remodels without permits; pools and spas, sheds and barns, these projects are regularly done subrosa. More than a complete lack of trust that the government will be fair and reasonable, is a belief that govt has no right to tell us what we can and cant do on our property (at least on a small scale). It seems to be a version of "don't tread on me!" It may be the salvation of Ca when those who espouse the regulatory state realize how bad it is in practice, and take real steps to get it off our backs.

    April 11, 2010 - 10:39 pm

    The next commenter is not so optimistic about the situation in terms of people believing in the regulatory state on the one hand and avoiding it at all costs on the other.

    The problem is that those who espouse the regulatory state will never realize how bad it is in practice. When liberal social theories don't work its always because they weren't executed correctly or because of some outside influence. It's never because the theories were wrong-headed or flawed from the outset.

    April 12, 2010 - 10:30 am

    And of course every one who has watched Star Wars knows the final outcome:
    Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
    Conventional wisdom at its finest.

    There are over 170 comments to that post so I'm sure there is more information along the above lines. Not to mention thread drift and thread jacking. I leave it to the reader to ferret out more useful stuff.

    Now about the Drug War Black Market.....

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 05:37 AM | Comments (8)

    erased from the national debate?

    While the "What is being gay?" poll I created in an earlier post did not mention bisexuality specifically, it was hardly my goal to erase the concept from discussion.

    Especially when I saw Eugene Volokh's discussion of "bisexual erasure" (in the related context of Elena Kagan -- whose sexuality seems undetermined):

    ....the great majority of women who are not purely heterosexual are actually to some degree bisexual. For instance, Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality 311 (1994), reports that 3.7% of all women report having had both male and female partners since age 18 and only 0.4% report having had only female partners since age 18. Even looking at just the last five years, 1.4% of women report both male and female partners, and only 0.8% report only female partners.
    Via Glenn Reynolds, who opines that the Kagan nomination seems to have inspired a "national conversations" on sexuality. Which it has. As to what sexuality, that remains to be seen.

    What I want to know is, will the b-word be a part of this national conversation?

    Although many of bisexual women cited in the study above would call themselves lesbian or gay, are they really? Or are they just going along with social mores that require them to say they are something other than bisexual? Are people getting tired of this yet?

    I can't help wondering how many people really don't care about Elena Kagan's sexuality, and I mean really don't care. Not just in the tolerant "it's OK if she's gay," "not that there's anything wrong with that" sense, but not caring in the sense of genuine disinterest.

    Volokh cites a brilliant (IMO) Stanford Law Review article titled "The epistemic contract of bisexual erasure" by Kenji Yoshino. (PDF file.)

    Because determining the merit of this position requires a more precise definition of "bisexuality," I generate and defend a provisional definition of bisexuality as the ability to feel more than incidental sexual desire for both sexes. Using this definition, I look at what the major sexuality studies say about the incidence of bisexuality and homosexuality in the population. Two things are surprising about such an investigation. First, to my knowledge, no one has previously made such a systematic comparison. Second, when such an investigation is actually made, it reveals that each of the major sexuality studies demonstrates that the number of bisexuals is greater than or comparable to the number of homosexuals. This suggests that bisexual invisibility is not a reflection of the fact that there are fewer bisexuals than there are homosexuals in the population, but is rather a product of social erasure.

    Having demonstrated erasure in Part I, I seek to explain it in Part II. I suggest that erasure occurs because the two dominant sexual orientation groups--self-identified straights and self-identified gays-- have shared investments in that erasure. It is as if these two groups, despite their other virulent disagreements, have agreed that bisexuals will be made invisible. I call this the epistemic contract of bisexual erasure. To support the existence of such a contract, I adduce evidence that self-identified straights and self-identified gays both deploy the same three strategies of bisexual erasure: class erasure, individual erasure, and delegitimation.

    I think he's absolutely right. If you think about it, the rule becomes a self reinforcing sort of invisibility. As bisexuals are capable of sexual attraction to either sex, most of them tend to settle into heterosexual relationships, because of social norms. Once this happens, society tends to assume heterosexuality, and the inquiry ends. As to bisexuals who fall in love with members of their own sex, well, they're simply considered gay, and the inquiry ends. As most people are into monogamy or at least serial monogamy, this means that as a practical matter, a bisexual tends to be in either a gay or straight relationship -- which makes him either heterosexual or homosexual. A claim of bisexuality falls on deaf ears. The vast majority of bisexual men I have known have been in heterosexual relationships, and they would never admit to being bisexual, because if they did, they would be considered "gay but in the closet" and their claim to heterosexuality would be forfeited. In most areas of this country, the cultural consequences are not what anyone would visit on a beloved partner, or on a stable relationship -- especially one with children. So bisexuals are straight, and unless they make public damning admissions or are caught dabbling with their homosexual side, they remain straight.

    Thus, a bisexual cannot "come out of the closet" in the ordinary sense of the term -- not, at least, as a bisexual. A claim to being bisexual is simply not heard or taken seriously. In the event of any outright declaration of bisexuality society conspires to favor a gay default position, as fewer penalties attach to an admission of bisexuality by an ostensibly gay person than the same admission by an ostensibly straight person. Thus an "open" bisexual is tolerated by both sides as being gay -- if "closeted" (meaning "dishonest") -- but never tolerated as straight.

    Bisexual means gay.

    To many people, that ends the inquiry. But once you posit the existence of bisexuality, it is profoundly illogical, and becomes tyrannical. I think this tyranny is reflected in the emerging trend toward sexual inquisitions by bi-intolerant gay activists, as in the case of bisexual baseball players:

    The alliance's rules say that each World Series team can have no more than two heterosexual players. According to the lawsuit, a competing team accused D2 of violating that rule.

    Each of the three plaintiffs was called into a conference room in front of more than 25 people, and was asked "personal and intrusive questions" about his sexual attractions and desires, purportedly to determine if the player was heterosexual or gay, the lawsuit alleges. The alliance has no category or definition for bisexual or transgender people in its rules, the plaintiff's attorney said.

    At one point during the proceedings, the lawsuit alleges, one of the plaintiffs was told: "This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series."

    The alliance ruled the three men were "nongay," stripped D2 of its second-place finish and recommended that the three players be suspended from participating in the World Series for a year, according to the suit.

    But had these same men been discovered to be bisexual in the world of professional (as opposed to "gay") baseball, gay activists would not be calling them bisexual. They would be gay. And no doubt oppressed because of it!

    I think it's a racket. As I remarked,

    Sexual freedom never quite got off the ground.

    It was drowned in the bathtub by activists.

    But whether you think it's a racket or not, as Kenji Yoshino notes, it is steadily being undermined by the undeniable existence of bisexuals. Hence the collusion by all "monosexuals" to erase them:
    The first investment monosexuals have in bisexual erasure is an interest in stabilizing sexual orientation. The component of that interest shared by both straights and gays is an interest in knowing one's place in the social order: both straights and gays value this knowledge because it relieves them of the anxiety of identity interrogation. Straights have a more specific interest in ensuring the stability of heterosexuality because that identity is privileged. Less intuitively, gays also have a specific interest in guarding the stability of homosexuality, insofar as they view that stability as the predicate for the "immutability defense" or for effective political mobilization. Bisexuality threatens all of these interests because it precludes both straights and gays from "proving" that they are either straight or gay. This is because straights (for example) can only prove that they are straight by adducing evidence of cross-sex desire. (They cannot adduce evidence of the absence of same-sex desire, as it is impossible to prove a negative.) But this means that straights can never definitively prove that they are straight in a world in which bisexuals exist, as the individual who adduces cross-sex desire could be either straight or bisexual, and there is no definitive way to arbitrate between those two possibilities. Bisexuality is thus threatening to all monosexuals because it makes it impossible to prove a monosexual identity.

    The second interest monosexuals have in bisexual erasure is an interest in retaining the importance of sex as a distinguishing trait in society. Straights and gays have a shared investment in this because to be straight or to be gay is to discriminate erotically on the basis of sex. Straights have a specific interest in preserving the importance of sex because sex norms are currently read through a heterosexual matrix: to be a man or a woman in contemporary American society is in part defined by one's sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex. Gays also have a particular interest in sex distinctions, as homosexuality is often viewed as a way to engage in complete sex separatism--that is, as a means of creating single-sex communities that are bonded together erotically as well as socially and politically. Bisexuality endangers all of these interests because it posits a world in which sex need not (or should not) matter as much as monosexuals want it to matter. Indeed, bisexuals and asexuals are the only sexual orientation groups that have at least the capacity not to discriminate on the basis of sex in any aspect of their lives.

    Damn that's good. I think that the problem will grow in direct proportion to society's tolerance of (and destigmatization of) homosexuality, because bisexuals will eventually learn that while they might not be able to win the label war, the label war can be defeated by their increasing ability to not care about the labels. Call me gay, call me straight, threaten to not let me be gay, threaten to not let me be straight, sticks and stones, nyaah nyaah. etc.

    The more these things don't matter to some, though, the more they matter to others. Especially activists.

    I don't mean to oversimplify or skip over such a brilliant article (which I highly recommend reading in its entirety), but I loved the author's conclusion:

    The logical approach of the article may be read as compensation for the often parlously imprecise terms in which debates about sexuality in general and bisexuality in particular are conducted. Yet the fact that it may also be read as overcompensation is important. Sexual identity has always struck me as a kind of illogic, given that sexuality is such a powerful solvent of identity, a modality that expands the consciousness through shock and surprise. If this is right, then bisexuality may be the sexual identity that best reflects the oxymoronic nature of all sexual identity, insofar as bisexuality, too, is a contradiction, a class and its own dissolution. This may explain why explanations of bisexuality that seek to tame bisexuality within the bounds of Cartesian reason will always feel anxiously incomplete.

    But this has consequences for the law, which is often a project that privileges such reason. It may mean that if we are concerned about the "logical" regulation of sexuality as failing to respect sexuality's fluid and narrative nature, we might do worse than to begin by looking at the sexual identity--bisexuality--that best represents that nature. Properly harnessed, bisexuality's destabilizing force may be a powerful means of contesting that regulation.

    While I have long thought this was common sense, it renews my faith to see it put in such articulate and academic terms.

    If I had more time, I might ponder the implications to the gay marriage debate.

    I mean, what if it's another example of monosexual collusion with an ultimate goal of monosexual triumphalism? While bisexuals are already allowed to marry if they do so in a heterosexual manner, it has never been demanded that they actually be heterosexual, even if is assumed. But would same sex marriage have the consequence of increasing the pressure on everyone to publicly declare one form sexuality or the other, and choose "sides" -- the way mixed race people feel pressured to decide on a race? It might work in the short run, but in the long run more and more people won't care, so there won't be any need for the "erasure" discussed by Kenji Yoshino, any more than there'd be any point in reactions (grounded in identity politics) by the people claiming to have been wrongly erased.

    Might it be that there's a cyclical struggle between good and bad invisibility, in which the old, "bad" invisibility (grounded in people wanting threatening things to be suppressed) spawns temporary reactions like identity politics? If the result is that more and more people cease to care, ultimately might that lead to a good form of invisibility? Akin to true color blindness? I realize that to many people, race still matters greatly, although many people become indignant when sexuality is compared to race (because it's supposed to matters in a different way), but I think it would be nice if these things did not matter.

    Attempting to make bisexuality invisible is a paradox, because unlike the suppression of homosexuality in the past, bisexuality is being erased under the auspices of tolerance for homosexuality. Yet tolerating total homosexuality while suppressing partial homosexuality is not only contradictory, but it implicitly promotes a brand-new form of intolerance of non-conformity.

    In the name of tolerating non-conformity, we will stamp out all non-conformists?

    While I couldn't make such nonsense up if I tried, I think efforts to erase bisexuality are ultimately doomed.

    posted by Eric at 01:54 PM | Comments (6)

    Best protection against sinister invaders

    One of the fringe benefits of having a dog like Coco is never having to worry about terrifying incidents like this:


    ANIMAL COMPLAINT, DRAKE ROAD: Residents called police because they were trapped in their home by a temperamental squirrel.

    The squirrel was desperate to get in the house, according to the residents. The squirrel kept jumping at the garage door and would run at the residents any time they opened a door.

    No way would Coco ever allow a squirrel to terrorize me in my own house. She patrols the yard relentlessly, always on the lookout for the slightest hint of squirrel trouble. She thinks these animals are deliberately taunting her by their very presence, and is highly sensitive to the defiant, tail-flicking behavior in which they engage. She is certain that the latter is intended as a blatant display of bigoted anti-dog triumphalism (this is not just Coco's conspiracy theory, btw), and she takes it very personally.

    She is so anti-squirrel that I have refrained from telling her about this news incident. Look at what happened not long ago -- just outside the window!

    After all, Ohio is not that far away.

    posted by Eric at 10:59 PM | Comments (3)

    To the left of Obama on gay marriage. (The list grows...)

    Roger L. Simon has a very thoughtful piece about Laura Bush's support for gay marriage.

    Yes, that Laura Bush. The former first lady. Barack Obama is now to the right of her on this issue.

    She proclaimed that support in her characteristic well-mannered, low-keyed fashion on Larry King Live. (Okay, nobody's perfect.) I even had the suspicion that her husband agreed with her, but for political considerations didn't say so.

    What does this mean? Traditionally a woman like Bush would oppose gay marriage, but she has stepped outside that "tradition," seen the situation objectively and come to a different conclusion. I think it's interesting that the supposedly liberal Barack Obama has not been able to reach this conclusion or to perform any action that would indicate that he had. Meanwhile, the supposedly antediluvian Dick Cheney has expressed his support for same-sex marriage.

    This of course begs the question of what is conservative and what is liberal. One of the things I always liked about Roger is that he doesn't get hung up on such words:
    So what are we to think? Who is the "progressive" and who is the "conservative"? And what do these words mean? Well, not much to me, as I have said.

    Everything is in flux. These days those who identify themselves as "liberals" are on the run because the lynchpin of their ideology - increased government spending - is bankrupting the world economy. I certainly agree with this analysis as do, according to the polls, most voters. But will this always be so? Not necessarily. At some point, governments may stop spending money and come out of bankruptcy or near bankruptcy. This will probably take a while, but then where will we be? Our infrastructures will likely be in sore need of repair. At that point many of us may feel it's time for governments to start spending money again. How inconsistent of us. But that's life. Things change.

    Which brings me back to gay marriage. The world has changed on this issue and is continuing to change. As Laura Bush points out in her interview, it's a generational thing. Younger people in our culture don't consider homosexuality such a big deal. Same-sex marriage is also no big deal to them. Indeed, it has already come to pass. Our cities are filled with gay couples who are de facto married. Almost all of us know some of them. Many of us have them in our families. No social calamities have occurred that I know of, at least not from gay people living together.

    We have real problems. That is not one of them, not even faintly.

    I have long had reservations about gay marriage (mainly because of privacy concerns -- which also extend to government jurisdiction over marriage generally), but I cannot understand how it is that this issue became such a huge threat to activists on one side, and the be-all and end-all it is to the activists on the other.

    What delights me about Laura Bush's remarks is the damage it will do to the ridiculous and ongoing culture war narrative.

    MORE: The anti-gay commenters at FreeRepublic are trying to get me to change my mind about gay marriage. (Well, so did Matt Barber, but I'm stubborn.)

    posted by Eric at 08:29 PM | Comments (3)

    Jewish Anti-Semitism. Is such a thing possible?

    That's what I wondered when I read about a disgusting children's event in Berkeley, in an article titled "Middle School Brainwashing: Would MLK Approve of Holocaust Denial and Anti-Semitism?" The event features a notoriously anti-Semitic rapper named Lowkey, and one of the most viciously anti-Israel activists in the world -- a man named Norman Finkelstein who condemns what he calls "the Holocaust Industry" as propaganda by powerful Jewish groups to somehow "immunize Israel from criticism."

    My worry is that the reason he gets away with promoting such hatred is simply because he happens to be Jewish. At the very least, this makes his complaint that the Holocaust Industry seeks to immunize Israel from criticism disingenuous.

    Then there's the Israel hating "Middle East Children's Alliance":

    The event sponsor, MECA, has a twenty-year history of supporting anti-Israel activities. A lowlight on its long list of unsavory behavior: last year MECA was among several humanitarian organizations that participated in a Viva Palestina convoy bound for the Gaza Strip. The convoy handed over one million dollars in cash and other supplies to ... Hamas.

    I contacted Martin Luther King Middle School for more information, and I was told that free tickets have been provided to all of the school's students. The school will not be providing any supervision.

    Allowing such a venomously anti-Israel rap artist and a notorious Holocaust denier to perform in front of impressionable students -- at a taxpayer-funded school! -- is a dangerous precedent that should distress any freedom-loving American and Israel supporter. We are aware of the brainwashing folks like Finkelstein spread at the university level. Now the leftists are trying to poison your much younger children.

    I lived in Berkeley for years, and I have long been familiar with Barbara Lubin, who is the architect of that treacherous organization and its latest poisonous masquerade.

    She has repeatedly been to Baghdad and visited Saddam Hussein at various times during the Iraq War, and I think she hates Jews. But because she is Jewish, that's impossible, right? And of course, because I am not Jewish, according to the Rules of Identity Politics, I have no right to discuss this concern!

    Of course, in Lubin's case it might just come down to basic psychology. Something perhaps as simple as hating her parents:

    In October, Lubin flew through the no-fly zone from the Baghdad airport, which had just been bombed by American fighters, to the Basra airport, which was bombed shortly after she landed. "There was no problem with air traffic control," Lubin says with a laugh. "We were the only civilians flying in the no-fly zone."

    In more ways than one, Lubin has journeyed a long way from the home of her parents. "I grew up in a right-wing Zionist home in Philadelphia," she recounts. "When someone asked for the salt to be passed at the dinner table, inevitably, someone would say, 'Is it good for Israel?' We gave money to Israel so that we would have a place to go when 'they' came for us."

    The woman is a real piece of work. Here she is at a pro-terror rally, with some friends:

    Anyway, I don't like to get into arguments with shrill activists, so I wasn't going to write a post about this at all. But when I emailed M. Simon and mentioned my concerns about identity politics, he replied,

    Discuss it. The hell with PC.
    Simon happens to be one of those Jews who doesn't hate himself. (I guess that's considered Satanic in some quarters.)

    I think it's especially disgusting that this "anti-Zionist" hate-fest would be held at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, especially because of what Martin Luther King said shortly before his assassination:

    When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.
    But if they're Jews, are they immune from that criticism?

    I don't see why. Any more than Barbara Lubin or Jane Fonda should be immune from being criticized as traitors to the United States because they happen to be Americans.

    posted by Eric at 12:14 PM | Comments (9)

    The bullet did it. End of narrative?

    A horrible carjacking in Detroit resulted in the tragic death of an innocent grandmother, but the headline and the focus of the front page story in today's Detroit Free Press is on a bullet. They really make it stand out too.

    Geraldine Jackson was happy her granddaughter was back from the South. To welcome her back to Detroit, the 69-year-old was cooking a celebratory soul-food feast on Wednesday in her home on the city's northwe --


    It sped through the walls of Jackson's house and hit her.

    The meal went unfinished.

    She was dead.

    A robbery victim nearby had fired his gun at his mugger; the bullet that pierced the modest home on the 18400 block of Vaughan was a stray.

    If you relied solely on that story, you would tend to think that the victim was way out of line in the way he used his gun.

    Was he? According to The Detroit News, there may have been an exchange of gunfire between the carjacker and the victim:

    The 65-year-old then shot at the thief. The bullets traveled a block away, police believe, and struck Jackson under the right arm and the stomach.

    Police are also investigating whether the car thief fired any shots.

    Detroit Police spokeswoman Sgt. Eren Stephens said the case will be given to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office. Police are questioning the carjacking victim but no arrests have been made.

    Police are looking for the carjacking suspect.

    I hate it when I can't get the facts from a front page story and have to resort to Google, but that's what happens in cases involving the "let's blame the bullet" narrative. Anyway, a local Fox News account says the suspect has been arrested:
    This all started when police say a man was checking on a vacant house on Evergreen in Detroit. Another man barged into the home and robbed him at gunpoint. That armed suspect then hopped into the robbery victim's truck and took off, but he did not get very far. He was clipped by a car, struck a tree and then took off running.

    The robbery victim happened to have a CCW. He chased after him and starting shooting at the suspect. Tragically, the bullets intended for the suspect instead pierced the wall of Geraldine's house.

    Geraldine's daughter tells us her 69-year-old mother recently survived heart surgery only to randomly be struck and killed by stray bullets.

    We are told the robbery suspect has been arrested.

    Not all of the accounts use the word "carjacking" but this one does:
    Sgt. Eren Stephens tells The Detroit News the woman was hit in the chest Wednesday afternoon by a bullet from the gun of a 65-year-old man, who minutes earlier had been robbed then carjacked.

    Police tell WJBK-TV the man had been taking care of a vacant house a block away when another man robbed him at gunpoint, then ran outside and jumped into the victim's truck and took off.

    The robbery victim started shooting at the truck.

    Police are searching for the man suspected of the armed robbery and carjacking.

    And this story confirms that the robber/carjacker was arrested, and also reports a crucial detail -- that shots were exchanged between him and his victim:
    the victim, Geraldine Jackson, was hit by a stray bullet after two men began shooting at each other outside her home.
    OK, this would make a great law school exam question, but for one thing: it is impossible to know the facts. Based on what I have read, I cannot say what happened. (Actually, not being able to ascertain the facts might make it even better as a law school exam question.)

    If it turns out that the victim was using lethal force after the crime had already taken place, then he might not have been within his rights. But I stress might -- because in some instances lethal force may be used to recover property, and if this carjacking is ongoing in nature, it's not quite the same thing as retaliation. Moreover, the guy was driving like a madman (one account says he already struck another car), and the victim may have acted both in fear of his own life and in order to protect others. So it's not quite the same thing as if someone breaks into my house and then runs out the door with my stuff, and I run down the street and shoot him a block away. In any case, if I were to go running after him and he started shooting at me, I would be allowed to return fire.

    What is being completely missed, though, in any of these discussions, is something everyone who goes to law school learns in basic criminal law.

    The felony murder rule.

    The felony-murder doctrine provides that if a homicide occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, the homicide is a form of murder.
    While Michigan has abolished the felony murder rule, it has retained it in the case of carjackings. However, to prove first degree murder, intent to kill is required, so whether this would be first degree murder would depend on whether or not the armed carjacker in fact exchanged fire with his victim. If he didn't, then it would still be second degree murder:
    intending to kill or do great bodily harm or knowingly creating a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or such harm would be the likely result of his/her actions.
    But for whatever reason, the focus here is not on the carjacker (who by any standard is the primary, if not the only wrongdoer) but on his law-abiding victim who was found himself in a very dangerous position through no fault of his own.

    The focus ought to be on the criminal, but they're acting as if he's irrelevant.


    Imagine if the same criminal had robbed a police officer who was inside the same house, and managed to carjack his police car. If the officer gave chase and opened fire, would he be facing charges? I doubt it. And if he did, the news media would not be blaming "the bullet."

    Of course, I'm so cynical that I suspect that if it turns out that the carjacker did in fact fire shots at the victim, it won't be widely reported. And even if it turned out that the grandmother was killed by one of his bullets fired from a gun he feloniously possessed, the blame would still be on The Bullet.

    But let's suppose for a moment that there had been no bullets involved, but that instead the grandmother had been struck and killed by the vehicle as it was being driven at breakneck speeds by the same carjacker. Would "The Bumper" that crushed through her chest be blamed?

    (I guess that was another cynical rhetorical question. Narratives seem to invite them.)

    posted by Eric at 09:58 AM | Comments (10)

    Reality Check
    homes being foreclosed.jpg

    Dr. Housing Bubble is looking at the state of the real estate market. It is not good. Not good at all.

    Let me start with a quote that explains the above chart.

    The ultimate sign of housing distress is foreclosure. This should be obvious. So for all the talk of a housing recovery I point to the above chart. Today, as in right now, we are in record territory for the number of homes in foreclosure. 14 percent of all U.S. mortgages are in some form of foreclosure.
    So are things actually improving? Would the government lie to you? No and yes.
    ...foreclosure filings are still at record levels. In fact we are heading to a 3.5 to 4 million foreclosure year in 2010! This is somehow a positive thing for the market? People forget that foreclosures happen because of underlying economic issues. If everyone was making big bucks and homes were going up in value then we wouldn't have this problem. Just look at the number of foreclosure filings back in 2005. Roughly 60,000 to 70,000 per month. Last month we hit 367,000+ which was an all time record. When foreclosure filings get back down to more normal levels, then we can say the housing market is improving.
    If the numbers are still rising then things are not improving. No matter what the government says.

    So who is making the housing market these days (providing loans)? I'm sure you can guess. But no need for guessing. There are answers.

    96.5% of all originated loans are now government backed. Remember Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their epic continuing losses?
    The housing market has been nationalized. As in bought by the government. I suppose it is better than outright theft. That comes later when taxes have to rise to pay for the "fun".
    Banks are moving on current REOs (the small batch that they have) and pumping this up as good news but the 90 days plus foreclosure number is still trending up. How is this magic done? We've talked about it above. You simply don't move on delinquent homeowners. You ignore actual losses. You mark your assets to fantasy valuations.

    In total the housing market is in worse shape today than it was a few years ago.

    So that may explain why the economy seems to be trending up. A LOT of home owners are living rent free. Why does that make any sense at all? Two reasons come to mind. One is that if the banks had to acknowledge their losses they would be failing. Which is to say the banking system is kaput. Another reason is that a property with people living in it will be better maintained than one that is vacant.

    Now about the nationalization of the mortgage industry.

    The bailouts have been one large transfer of wealth to the banking sector. Remember that the bailouts were brought about under the guise of helping the housing market and keeping people in their homes. None of that has happened. Ironically the only thing that seems to keep people in their home is when they stop paying their mortgage! If that is the strategy we have arrived at after $13 trillion in bailouts and backstops to Wall Street we are in for a world of problems.
    Yes we are.

    May I also suggest reading Foreclosures, Auctions, and Banks Obscuring Financial Data by Dr. Bubble.

    My guess is that Europe is in no better shape. And that does not even take into account the coming collapse of the Chinese real estate bubble.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 01:26 AM | Comments (0)

    La Raza

    La Raza means The Race. And some people call Tea Partiers racist.

    The gentleman in the video wants to take back the lands stolen from Mexico. In 1848. The war that started in 1846 was over whether Texas could join the Union ( Mexico was against it) and what the boundary with Mexico would be. I have a word of advice to La Raza in Greek. Molon labe.

    You can read what Presidet US Grant had to say about the war in: Ulysses S. Grant : Memoirs. Short version: he thought it was wrong for the US to go to war with Mexico and called the US Civil War punishment for our transgressions against Mexico. I note that President Grant did not offer the territory back to Mexico. Wrong it may have been but it was a fait accompli.

    The speaker in the video is a piece of work. He doesn't like Jews. He does like underage girls.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 05:17 PM | Comments (4)

    Moconology for those who want to moconomize

    Zombie has a great PJM post about the fatwa head-butting attack on Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, and I share his indignation, not only over the attack, but over the fact that people in the room cheered. People who believe in killing people for expressing ideas of which they disapprove are enemies of civilization itself. The only way to fight them is by defying them.

    Zombie concludes by issuing an appeal for defiance, and he mentions "mocons" as one of the most efficient forms of cyber blasphemy ever devised:

    If you're as outraged by this ever-escalating terror campaign against artists as you ought to be, remember to disseminate and repost any and all images of your choosing from the Mohammed Image Archive, which (as noted in my earlier post) contains just about every picture of Mohammed ever created.

    For maximum blasphemy, start using mocons (Mohammed Icons) instead of smiley-faces:

    Mohammed (((:~{>
    Mohammed as a pirate (((P~{>
    Mohammed on a bad turban day ))):~{>
    Mohammed with sand in his eye (((;~{>
    Mohammed wearing sunglasses (((B~{>
    Mohammed with a lit bomb in his turban *-O)):~{>
    The devil mo ]:~{>
    Mohammed with a nuclear bomb in his turban. @=(((:~{>
    Mohammed being shot by Starship Enterprise =-o * * * (((:~{>
    Mohammed sees a Danish (or Swedish) cartoonist !((((8~{o>

    Mocons are the most efficient way to digitally propagate the maximum amount of Mohammed imagery per byte.

    So go ahead! Be a moconologist! Or would that be a moconomist?

    Promoting free speech in the face of those who would kill to stop it is in the best interests of civilization.

    UPDATE: If you like mocons, do not miss the ultimate emoticon experience from Trifecta (with Bill Whittle, Scott Ott, and Stephen Green).

    Especially if you have an "asterisk" (or even an ass not to risk),

    Via Glenn Reynolds, who explains:

    It's simple: Bill Whittle asks a question about US politics and the Trifecta crew responds by drawing a simple emoticon. Easy, right? Check it out and comment....
    It's one of the funniest things I've seen. Seriously (!)

    posted by Eric at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

    What is gay? Mind if I ask?

    Amidst the hubbub over Elena Kagan's sexuality (or lack thereof), there's a question which isn't being asked by anyone, which I would call the question about the question.

    What is gay?

    Think it's easy to define?

    I'd be willing to bet that if you polled most people, their answers would vary. Even the readers here might give different answers to the following questions:

    What is being gay?
    The public acknowledgment of one's homosexuality
    Being in a sexual relationship with a member of the same sex (whether acknowledged or not)
    Having ever had sexual relations with a member of the same sex (whether acknowleded or not)
    Having ever been in a homosexual relationship in the past
    Having ever had so much as a single homosexual sexual encounter
    Being attracted to occasional members of both sexes (regardless of actual experience)
    Having ever been sexually attracted to any member of the same sex
    Looking "obviously gay" regardless of actual sexual practices
    Being exclusively heterosexual or sexually abstinent despite having had same sex attractions
    Being exclusively homosexual
    Any of the above
  free polls

    The point here is not to grind an axe or start an argument, but to point out the difficulty posed by asking whether someone is gay. There's a long Wiki post about the term, and the closest thing to an actual definition seems to come from the American Psychological Association:

    "Sexual attraction, behavior and identity may be incongruent. For example, sexual attraction and/or behavior may not necessarily be consistent with identity. Some individuals may identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual without having had any sexual experience. Others have had homosexual experiences but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Further, sexual orientation falls along a continuum. In other words, someone does not have to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but can feel varying degrees of both. Sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime-different people realize at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual."[20]
    So what does that mean? Is whether someone is "gay" to be determined by the individual, or by others? Who gets to decide these things? Isn't that relevant? At some point, a certain number of people make the decision to call themselves gay, or acknowledge to themselves that they are. So in that respect, it's like deciding that you're a member of a certain church, or an atheist. Or is it more like being Jewish, where you're born with the "Jewish-ness" whether you believe in the religion or not? I'm one of those people who believes in maximum individual freedom, and I come down against the strictly determinist view of these things, and while I do think some people are "born that way," it is wrong as well as tyrannical to insist that all are. Allowing self definition to be the only definition, though, is problematic, because just as people can say they are straight and be lying, people can also say they're gay and be lying (as was alleged in the case of a Philadelphia politician who said he was gay). But even there, what and where is the lie? While we would normally think of it it as a lie for someone to not do what he says he does do, or to do what he says he does not do, in cases involving inner thoughts, how is this to be determined? Is a bisexual person gay? If so, if gay includes bisexual while straight does not, is that not both illogical and hegemonic? Could a celibate person legitimately claim to be gay? Or bi? Or straight? Or have such people by being celibate forfeited all claims to having a sexuality? Again, who gets to decide what these people are, and what it is that constitutes honesty or dishonesty? And how? Are we to literally invade their minds?

    So "Are you gay?" is a very easy question to ask.

    But what is being asked is not so easy.

    Damned if I know.

    What I do know that simple logic -- and simple fairness (if that matters in politics) -- dictate that the question "What is gay?" ought to be settled before the "Are you gay?" question is asked.

    MORE: Please note that in light of complaints, the poll was revised to include an additional choice:

    Being exclusively homosexual
    That would probably not describe many of those who consider themselves gay.

    My apologies to those six people who already answered! Please feel free to answer again.

    (I think this illustrates the difficulty of the question, though.)

    posted by Eric at 10:24 AM | Comments (9)

    madly not caring

    Anyone remember the rumors about Condoleezza Rice? While I thought they were silly at the time, I can't stop my thoughts from wandering back to not that long ago:

    The Enquirer described its article as "the ultimate guessing game among Hollywood fans - trying to figure out which big-name stars are gay". The report went on: "According to the buzz among political insiders, it's an open secret that . . . Rice is gay."

    The piece quoted an unnamed "in-the-know" blogger as saying that during her years as provost of Stanford University in California, Rice was "completely out as a lesbian and it was not a scandal, just a reality". The paper referred to reports that in 1998 Rice bought a house with a "special friend", another unmarried woman, a film-maker named Randy Bean.

    It was far from the first time that she had been linked to lesbian rumours. In a recent biography of Rice, Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent, noted that Bean, described as a "liberal progressive", was her "closest female friend". It was Kessler who discovered from a search of property records that Rice and Bean owned a house together.

    Rice does not comment on her private life, and she is not an elected official, so her sexuality has never been a campaign issue. But the gay community has long been troubled by her association with conservative Republicans opposed to gay marriage, and with evangelical Christians who regard homosexuality as a sin.

    At one point last year Rice was regarded as a possible Republican candidate in the 2008 White House race. Yet most commentators agreed that she was reluctant to run, and a Washington Post columnist concluded that she was "the longest of long shots", as it indeed turned out.

    The columnist Chris Cillizza made no mention of Rice's sexuality, and it took an internet reader named Anne Roifes to remind the Post that high journalistic standards sometimes miss the point.

    "It is widely believed in gay circles that Condi is a lesbian," Roifes commented. "That could be one reason she will not run."

    Etc. I didn't have to scour the Internet to find the above as it came directly from a footnote in Rice's Wiki biography which says this:
    in a Gallup poll from March 24 to 27, 2008, Rice was mentioned by eight percent of Republican respondents to be their first choice to be Senator John McCain's Republican Vice-Presidential running mate, slightly behind Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.[74] There was speculation that she was not chosen as a Vice-Presidential candidate because of rumors that she was a lesbian, which could have soured evangelicals to the ticket.[75]
    OK, just as I don't care about Elena Kagan's sexuality, I also didn't and don't care about Rice's. It isn't my business -- any more than their personal religious views are my business. Just as one's view of the unknown is between the person and his intimate associates (and between him and whatever higher powers he may or not believe in), one's sexuality is no one's business other than whomever he might or might not want to have sex with. Or not.

    I realize that sexual and religious activists on both "sides" would disagree with me (as they insist that these things are their business), but what I want to know is this: Is there still an unwritten rule that being gay -- or even being rumored to be gay -- should be a bar to high office?

    Otherwise, what is this debate about?

    If so, how does the "rule" work? How is it to be enforced?

    How high of an office is high office?

    And considering that there are rumors about everyone (including George W. Bush), should rumors count too?

    This whole Kagan thing should be fascinating to watch. So far, the debate seems to involve not so much whether she is gay, but who will "out" her if she is. Unless I am mistaken and she is outed in a positive way by gay activists, the push seems to be to force the Republicans to try to out her in a negative way. That way, the left can claim she's a victim of right-wing bigotry, whether she's gay or not.

    The irony is that there are a lot of people who don't care either way, but for obvious reasons their voices will not be heard in this, um, "debate." That's because people who don't care tend not to be loud about what they don't care about, and if you think about it, it would sound contradictory (even a little insane) to yell, "I'M MAD AS HELL BECAUSE I DON'T CARE!"

    Count me among the insane.

    posted by Eric at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

    Doing The Conservative Thing

    I'm still waiting to see a Conservative stance on the drug war:

    "We should do the conservative thing and go back to the way things were before Progressives screwed it up with their ideas of prohibiting plants and plant extracts in order to gain moral uplift."
    Conservatism these days is not a thought out ideology. It is just a series of conditioned reflexes.

    The idea that government can provide moral uplift either directly or by contracting out the job is non-sense on stilts. The incentives are wrong. Of course the other conceit is that by either macro or micro policies including a series of punishments and rewards the government can produce a producing economy.

    But real economies are different. The real economy is really a series of blind amoebas searching out higher concentrations of useful nutrients. i.e. What job needs to be done. Can I do it at a profit? Are there higher profit opportunities available? Are the rewards commensurate with the risks? What is the opportunity cost? What to do about low profit potential but vital support functions?

    You know. The kinds of things government doesn't like to think about.

    Any way, with government there is no incentive to solve a problem. The incentive is to get more money to solve a problem. Every year. As it is with economics. So it is with morality and culture.

    This rant inspired by something from The Other McCain.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 03:59 AM | Comments (1)

    Happy Birthday, Salvador Dalí!

    I can't make the celebration at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, but Salvador Dalí would be 106 today.

    In his honor, I thought I'd scan in a couple of images which don't seem to be on the Internet anywhere.

    This one is from 1974 and is titled "Transformation." Unfortunately, the entire image is a bit too large for the scanner screen, but this is pretty close.


    From the caption:

    The "coherent" argument against what appears as "logical reality" is surrealism, a reality just as logical to the point where just for this it was declared "in the service of the revolution." The consequence of this was that many mistakenly embraced communism with the deep disagreements and delusions that characterized the whole group. The liberty of surrealism was the antithesis of an imposition of socialist realism and anathemas from all sides condemned the "transformations" of so many of them.
    Dalí was anti-communist, of course, which got him officially kicked out of the Surrealist movement. Quite an achievement for one of the greatest surrealists of all time, and Dalí thought it proved he was more of a surrealist than his antagonists.

    The second scan relates to a painting lavishly titled "Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid (Homage to Crick and Watson) (1963)." It is of the cover of 1963 brochure prepared by M. Knoedler & Co. for the exhibition of the painting:


    Inside, the brochure contains Dalí's explanation:

    At a time when the titles of pictures are rather short (i.e. "Picture No. 1" or "White on White"), I call my Hommage to Crick and Watson: GALACIDALACIDESOXIRIBUNUCLEICACID. It is my longest title in one word. But the theme is even longer: long as the genetical persistence of human memory. As announced by the prophet Isaiah -- the Saviour contained in God's head from which ones sees for the first time in the iconographic history his arms repeating the molecular structures of Crick and Watson and lifting Christ's dead body so as to resuscitate him in heaven.
    Hope they saved some Dalinian DNA somewhere.

    Celebrate transformational DNA surrealism!

    posted by Eric at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

    You Can Already Count The Cost

    The recently passed Health Care initiative is already raising medical insurance costs.

    Letting young adults stay on their parents' health insurance until they turn 26 will nudge premiums nearly 1 percent higher for employer plans, the government said in an estimate released Monday.

    The coverage requirement, effective starting later this year, is one of the most anticipated early benefits of President Barack Obama's new health care law. Many insurers have already started offering extended coverage to families who purchase their coverage directly. And employers say parents have flooded their benefits departments with questions.

    Raising costs for people is a benefit? George Orwell would be proud.

    And about the promise of the health care bill according to Obama?

    After decades of struggle and a year of debate, health reform is now law in America.

    What does it mean for you? It means an end to the worst insurance company abuses, new rules that treat everyone fairly, and more choices and affordable health insurance for millions of Americans.

    I guess affordable means higher priced. See what I mean about Orwell?

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 04:13 AM | Comments (0)

    The Andrew Sullivan/American Family Association Identity Politics Alliance Against Privacy!

    Not that the world was wondering, but I don't give a damn about Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan's sexuality. And while I don't like her liberal, anti-military philosophy, that would typify anyone of her background, many of whom would be worse. So I haven't felt especially compelled to write about her.

    Until today, that is. The culture war has reared its ugly head, and activated all sorts of busybodies who care deeply about things like the sexuality of their fellow citizens. I would like to think that we are moving past such concerns, and I think most people have.

    Most, but not all. There are gay activist busybodies who don't believe in leaving people alone, and they are assisted by anti-gay busybodies on the other "side."
    Andrew Sullivan typifies the mindset of the former. A gay identity politics activist to the hilt, he believes that all gays have a weird sort of communitarian duty to either out themselves, or else be outed (and that Barack Obama is using the Kagan nomination as a way of driving gays into the closet). From a piece titled "So Is She Gay?"

    It is no more of an empirical question than whether she is Jewish. We know she is Jewish, and it is a fact simply and rightly put in the public square. If she were to hide her Jewishness, it would seem rightly odd, bizarre, anachronistic, even arguably self-critical or self-loathing. And yet we have been told by many that she is gay ... and no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively.
    Actually, the American Family Association is delighted to do Andrew's bidding.
    In a blog post for the far-right American Family Association (AFA) today, Bryan Fischer comes right out and says that the media should pointedly ask Kagan, "Are you a lesbian?" And if she is, according to AFA, she shouldn't serve on the court:
    It's time we got over the myth that what a public servant does in his private life is of no consequence. We cannot afford to have another sexually abnormal individual in a position of important civic responsibility, especially when that individual could become one of nine votes in an out of control oligarchy that constantly usurps constitutional prerogatives to unethically and illegally legislate for 300 million Americans.

    The stakes are too high. Social conservatives must rise up as one and say no lesbian is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. Will they?

    Americans For Truth -- a group "devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda" -- also put out a statement saying that Kagan needs to answer, "Are (or were) you a practicing homosexual or do you consider yourself homosexual (gay)?" Last month, Focus on the Family also said that it would not be open to a gay Supreme Court justice.
    So there you go. From opposite "sides" in this blasted culture war comes the same, equally bigoted question.


    Such concerns are what drive identity politics.

    Your sexuality is their business.


    If this is what passes for politics, I wish I could opt out.

    MORE: Glenn Reynolds takes a close look at Kagan, and finds her to be a surprisingly good pick -- especially considering the alternatives. Well worth reading.

    As to the argument over whether she is gay, and whether she has the right to any privacy, Glenn linked this discussion in Mother Jones which raised some good questions about the motives behind this inquisition. (Basically, she's an unmarried woman who looks like a stereotypical lesbian -- and it appears that if she didn't invoke the stereotype, no one would be asking.)

    I realize that Andrew Sullivan is not alone in suggesting that inquiries about the sexuality of public office seekers should now be a legitimate focus, but I don't like it. Such questions easily lend themselves to being petty and tyrannical in nature, and are irrelevant to public service.

    It's not as if we were in the 1950s when questions like "ARE YOU NOW, OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN, A HOMOSEXUAL?" were asked, and I don't recall Justices Alito or Roberts being quizzed about what might have ever turned them on.

    Should they have been? If so, where do we draw the line? Should all candidates for all public offices have their sexuality vetted? And how far should such vetting go? Should we be asking about what age virginity was lost? Whether there has been loyalty to partners? Whether pornography was used? About specific sexual tastes? ("Are you or have you ever been bisexual?" Have you any fetishes?" "Have you ever taken part in any sexual activities which might be termed bondage or sadomasochism?" "Have you ever participated in anal sex?" "Please state whether you were on the top or the bottom.")

    I realize the above is far from inclusive (doubtless the government screeners could come up with something more comprehensive), but is this the way we want to live?

    Is privacy over?

    posted by Eric at 07:07 PM | Comments (9)

    Your home is your castle, and your computer is in your home. Right?

    Last night I stumbled onto a problem which provided a perfect illustration of how computers are challenging traditional notions of property -- of what is and what is not yours.

    What happened was that I tried to pay a simple YouTube video in Slackware, and the Firefox web browser would not play it unless I installed the Adobe Flash Player plugin. Yes, there is one available for Linux, but installing it is hellish (it gave me some trouble in Ubuntu, too), and many users complain that it either does not work well, or does not work at all. This complaint is typical:

    Flash player on Ubuntu DOES NOT WORK PROPERLY!!





    At some of the Linux user forums, the comments are even more irate. They deeply, deeply hate Adobe. I have to say that I have never been much of an Adobe fan, even in Windows, as I can't count the number of times the Adobe reader has crashed my system simply because I tried to open a blasted PDF file. (Ever wonder why so many bloggers thoughtfully warn readers that a link is a PDF file?) Constant updating, and the updates often involve aggressive marketing ploys with pitfalls for the unwary.

    Anyway, getting into the Adobe Flash Player stuff annoyed me, because Linux is based on Open Source.

    Adobe is not only open source, in many ways it is at war with Open Source, and at war with Linux.

    Mike Slinn, an independent software contractor, puts it kindly:

    The Linux cadre of developers is large, and encompasses many experienced Java developers. They tend to be senior, and are quite influential in the developer community. The lack of solid Linux support from Adobe has been a key reason that most of those key technologists have not adopted the technology. Flex and Flash simply don't work effectively in their primary development environment.

    Adobe was originally built on the strength of OEM sales (remember Postscript printers?) and more in recent years has targeted graphic designers with products like Dreamweaver and Illustrator. The PDF franchise continues to do well, and is primarily targeted at business users. Before Macromedia merged with Adobe, their product line resembled the Adobe product line in many ways, and some products competed head-to-head. Although Macromedia purchased JRun, the first commercial servlet engine, it was embedded into Cold Fusion and new feature development has since ceased. Cold Fusion marketing has walked the line between a promoting a tool for quick and easy web development for non-technical people and providing powerful features in a proprietary package. Traditionally, however, neither Macromedia nor Adobe has not addressed the developer market in a significant way. Until recently, this has been a wise decision.

    Designers and developers are very different. They differ in their training, world views, interests and purchasing patterns. Designers are right-brained, are usually only semi-technical and purchase software products and upgrades regularly. Developers are left-brained and very technical; it is difficult to sell tools to them. Like most engineers, developers often prefer to build tools themselves, or to use readily-available free tools. Developers have embraced open source because it gives them control over the tools they use. Designers and business users do not generally share the same opinion of open source.

    Reading between the lines, I see tension between the for-profit Adobe, and the Open Source environment of Linux.

    I especially enjoyed the accompanying photo:

    linux - Live free or die.jpg

    If this earlier piece in the Electronic Freedom Foundation is any indication, Linux users are right to be fearful of the Adobe Flash Player.

    The immense popularity of sites like YouTube has unexpectedly turned Flash Video (FLV) into one of the de facto standards for Internet video. The proliferation of sites using FLV has been a boon for remix culture, as creators made their own versions of posted videos. And thus far there has been no widespread DRM standard for Flash or Flash Video formats; indeed, most sites that use these formats simply serve standalone, unencrypted files via ordinary web servers.

    Now Adobe, which controls Flash and Flash Video, is trying to change that with the introduction of DRM restrictions in version 9 of its Flash Player and version 3 of its Flash Media Server software. Instead of an ordinary web download, these programs can use a proprietary, secret Adobe protocol to talk to each other, encrypting the communication and locking out non-Adobe software players and video tools. We imagine that Adobe has no illusions that this will stop copyright infringement -- any more than dozens of other DRM systems have done so -- but the introduction of encryption does give Adobe and its customers a powerful new legal weapon against competitors and ordinary users through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

    Recall that the DMCA sets out a blanket ban on tools that help "circumvent" any DRM system (as well as the act of circumvention itself). When Flash Video files are simply hosted on a web site with no encryption, it's unlikely that tools to download, edit, or remix them are illegal. But when encryption enters the picture, entertainment companies argue that fair use is no excuse; Adobe, or customers using Flash Media Server 3, can try to shut down users who break the encryption without having to prove that the users are doing anything copyright-infringing. Even if users aren't targeted directly, technology developers may be threatened and the technologies the users need driven underground.

    What worries me is that our computers are being systematically taken over by entities over which we have absolutely no control. Like the entertainment industry, and the hated RIAA. Philosophically, I don't consent to them getting their mitts into my stuff. Yet the irony is that I probably have given them all sorts of power over my computer, simply by clicking "Agree" in order to make things work. I don't like it, nor do a lot of other people and it's one of the reasons I think it is very important to be up and running on Linux. It's one of those WTSHTF ("when the shit hits the fan") things that's worth having.

    Like having a gun.

    For now, I solved the irritating Adobe Flash Player issue in Slackware by installing the Greasemonkey add-on, and then simply running a wonderful script I found here. It plays beautifully. For now, at least. (Until the corporate copyright cops decide to force YouTube to submit totally to Big Hollywood dumb-down dhimmitude, or whatever it's supposed to be called.)

    All I wanted to do was play this:

    It wasn't my fault that it turned into such a big deal, but sometimes even little annoyances touch on matters of principle.

    posted by Eric at 12:30 PM | Comments (6)

    Hey man, cut me some SLACK!

    I realize that this is not the forum for bragging about silly accomplishments, but after spending nearly two insanely difficult days of trying this and trying that, I was finally able to get my Broadcom 4318 wireless card (the BCM43xx chipset is notoriously difficult, and that's in the "easy" Linux distros) to work in Slackware Linux version 13.1.

    Big deal, you say?

    Consider these words from a real geek (not a dilettante like yours truly):

    Slackware is becoming a real favorite for me. It's fast, nimble and rock solid. However, I have a HP Mini 100 with a Broadcom 4312 (rev.01) wireless card. If you know anything about this card you know this is bad news....real bad news. But I decided to write this article to create some encouragement to those of you who are ready to leave Linux because you cannot get wireless going. It is possible, but it may not be easy. One thing for sure is worth it.

    Not only is Slackware a more difficult distro to work with, it does not have many of the fancy tools that you get with other distros. You may be able to add them, but in reality it all is easier to work with from the command line. The Broadcom 4312 is notorious for being a real problem, almost impossible. In fact on the Linux wireless site the wireless support is supposed to not work, says it is in "progress". This at least explains why I wanted to try it because I figured it was possible but...had to see.

    To say it isn't supposed to work is an understatement. It's fiendish, and the number of different opinions and approaches are daunting to say the least. Every Slacker has a different tale to tell about how he did it, and none of them are the same.

    Basically (this is in the new, "post-ndiswrapper era"), you have to download the following:

    - the Linux BCM 43xx driver from Broadcom (which comes with misleading instructions);

    - firmware drivers from Slackbuild repository;

    - something called the BCMxx-fwcutter, the Slackware version of which can be downloaded here;

    - the Wicd Network manager (available from Slackware, but which doesn't come preinstalled).

    All of the above have to be installed and configured by hand with command lines, as Slackware is not a GUI-based world. But knowing the command lines and figuring out where to install the files, where to copy them, experimenting to see which modules and dependencies have to be associated and de-associated, over and over until you get it right -- none of that can start unless the drivers are installed and compiled. Following all of the instructions as carefully as I could, I kept getting a very annoying error message. I know you just can't wait to see it, so here it is:
    make -C /lib/modules/ M=`pwd`
    make: Entering directory `/usr/src/linux-'
    CC [M] /root/hybrid_wl/src/shared/linux_osl.o
    In file included from /root/hybrid_wl/src/shared/linux_osl.c:19:
    /root/hybrid_wl/src/include/linuxver.h:23:28: error: linux/autoconf.h: No such file or directory
    make[1]: *** [/root/hybrid_wl/src/shared/linux_osl.o] Error 1
    make: *** [_module_/root/hybrid_wl] Error 2
    make: Leaving directory `/usr/src/linux-'
    root@cocoru:~/hybrid_wl# make
    KBUILD_NOPEDANTIC=1 make -C /lib/modules/`uname -r`/build M=`pwd`
    make[1]: Entering directory `/usr/src/linux-'
    CC [M] /root/hybrid_wl/src/shared/linux_osl.o
    In file included from /root/hybrid_wl/src/shared/linux_osl.c:19:
    /root/hybrid_wl/src/include/linuxver.h:23:28: error: linux/autoconf.h: No such file or directory
    make[2]: *** [/root/hybrid_wl/src/shared/linux_osl.o] Error 1
    make[1]: *** [_module_/root/hybrid_wl] Error 2
    make[1]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/linux-'
    make: *** [all] Error 2
    That makes about as much sense as a lot of the MSM nonsense I have ridiculed in this blog, but the difference is that at least in the geek world, errors can be corrected, and it turns out it was a coding error emanating from Broadcom. To get rid of it, you have to open the modules and alter the code, and only then will it compile. A guy in Liverpool was nice enough to explain:
    In your source directory in the file hybrid_wl/src/include/linuxver.h change line 23 from "#include " to "#include " and rerun make clean then make.
    Was I ever delighted to see it install. But then the real work began, of painstakingly configuring the rest. Making the firmware and the damnably difficult BCM43xx-fwcutter work, which took forever, and had to be accomplished largely by trial and error, and by imitating what other people said had worked for them. But what works for others does not work for everyone else, and part of the reason is that there are so many BCM43xx chipset versions. It's a horror story.

    I was just about ready to call it quits when I tried again something that had been tried and failed before, when I suddenly saw an alert flashing on the WICD, and to my utter amazement, instead of the "no networks found" that it had been displaying for a day and a half, my neighborhood networks were listed!

    I cautiously tried my own router, it asked for the password, and I'm on!

    I decided to write post about this in case people are wondering whether I died and went to Hell, and in case anyone else wants to try this.

    Back to what this guy said:

    One thing for sure is worth it.
    Escaping from such self-inflicted torture is an accomplishment of sorts. A bit like getting out of Hell. So you could say it is worth it in that way. Plus, I'm sure it's an invaluable learning experience. And when you're done, you feel as if you really own your OS and your computer.

    I'm writing this running Slackware, logged into my router on my front porch.

    As the following links were all very helpful, I thought I would share them:

    MORE: A screenshot:


    posted by Eric at 04:56 PM | Comments (2)

    The Shape of Things to Come?

    Glenn Reynolds spots something intriguing:

    "RASMUSSEN: 55% of Colorado Voters Favor Immigration Law Like Arizona's. Once again, I think this is a sign of media-narrative weakness, given the overwhelmingly negative coverage given to Arizona's law."

    That's a very good point. I can't remember seeing an issue like this where media was so against and public was still for it.

    Over the past 20 years, there have been two conflicting trends - while legacy media circulation/viewing was declining, their influence was actually growing because (much like the telephony market) while the Internet didn't generate as much revenue-per-bit it did vastly increase the number of bits reaching end users. I would bet the average proportion of the population who is likely to see a given NYT op-ed is considerably higher today than in 1970 - but somewhat lower than in 2005, because recently the legacy media losses have started to become as much a function of readers selecting viewpoints as choosing electronic media over print. Notice the WSJ was the only print media to add subscribers last cycle and is actively moving to compete with the NYT, PJM seems to be doing well, and Fox's domination of cable news has become so ridiculous they now vie with USA for the top ratings in all of cable.

    Have we now reached a point where the power of legacy media left-liberals is beginning to collapse to the point they no longer affect public opinion much? This could be a watershed moment.

    I suspect viewpoint selection in news consumption is self-reinforcing, i.e. as people right of center begin to realize the MSM leans left they increasingly stop utilizing it. Since developing political opinions (there is, apparently, no cure for this condition, only palliative care), I rarely ever watch local Chicago TV news anymore, because it's always like it was the 5 minutes I watched after last night's Lakers game: glowing coverage of gun control efforts, a new nanny-state initiative, vague cluck-clucking about how the economy is forcing people to turn to crime, the identity politics crisis du jour, and all with subpar production values, even in a major metro area.

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

    GOP Ousts Senator

    It looks like the impotent, racist, violent, Tea Party folks have ousted Senator Bob Bennett in Utah.

    Republican Senator Bob Bennett was thrown out of office yesterday by delegates at the Utah GOP convention in what represents a stunning defeat for a once-popular three-term incumbent who fell victim to a growing conservative movement nationwide.
    Ah, yes. The growing conservative movement. No mention of the Tea Parties which is not strictly Conservative in the current political sense. It could more accurately be described as a Fiscal conservative movement.
    Bennett's failure to make it into Utah's GOP primary -- let alone win his party's nomination -- makes him the first congressional incumbent to be ousted this year and demonstrates the difficult challenges candidates are facing from the right in 2010.

    Bennett survived a first round of voting yesterday among about 3,500 delegates but was a distant third in the second round. He garnered just under 27 percent of the vote. Businessman Tim Bridgewater had 37 percent and attorney Mike Lee got 35 percent.

    "Don't take a chance on a newcomer,'' Bennett had pleaded in his brief speech to the delegates before the second round of voting began. "There's too much at stake.''

    Bennett's endorsements by the National Rifle Association and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney did little to stave off anger toward the Washington establishment from delegates.

    I especially liked Bennett's "Don't take a chance on a newcomer" statement. I am looking forward to the wailing and gnashing of teeth come this November.

    Fox News has this rather juicy bit on the prospects for the less than fiscally conservative politicians in Washington.

    Bennett isn't the only Republican lawmaker in trouble as other moderate candidates across the country find themselves being abandoned by GOP voters in favor of those backed by Tea Party activists, such as with Senate races in Arizona, Kentucky and New Hampshire.

    In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist decided to run for Senate as an independent rather than face an almost certain primary defeat at the hands of Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio, Florida's former state House speaker.

    DNC Chairman Tim Kaine emphasized the Tea Partiers' role in recent primary politics.

    "This is just the latest battle in the corrosive Republican intra-party civil war that has resulted in the Tea Party devouring two Republicans in just as many weeks," Kaine said. "If there was any question before, there should now be no doubt that the Republican leadership has handed the reigns to the Tea Party."

    As you can see Fox is not afraid to mention Who Done It.

    And yeah Democrats. The Tea Party is destroying the Old Republican Party. It is changing it from a mainly socially conservative party to a mainly fiscally conservative party. Which is to say a more libertarian party.

    So what is happening in other states? Real Clear Politics has a few words.

    In Arizona, Sen. John McCain is in a tough primary fight against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a conservative talk-radio host. In Kentucky, Rand Paul, the son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is gaining momentum in his challenge against the GOP establishment's pick of Secretary of State Trey Grayson to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.

    In New Hampshire, former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is battling three Republican challengers to fill the seat being vacated by Republican Judd Gregg.

    So how about some words from noted leftist site Fire Dog Lake?
    ...while in the short term, the now lame-duck Bennett might be freed up for a vote with Democrats here or there, over the long haul Republicans will now be even more frightened that, if they don't move hard to the right, they will suffer the same fate. Illogical as that may sound, the Bennett ejection holds a powerful message that the far right of the GOP has taken over.
    So fiscal conservatism is now a far right concern? Haven't they heard about what is happening in Greece?

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 06:19 AM | Comments (1)

    Are we losing our freedom? (And other rhetorical questions....)

    From Scott Ott comes a good rhetorical question about a New York Times editorial:

    Does the New York Times really crave a society in which the federal government can restrict the constitutional rights of citizens who have committed no crimes?
    To which I would add another rhetorical question: "Is the Pope Catholic?"

    For some time, the Times has been pushing for people placed on the no-fly list to forfeit their Second Amendment rights, and this editorial is only the latest manifestation.

    In June of last year, the Times argued that citizens' rights under the Second Amendment were not rights at all, but merely "an odd divergence in federal law":

    The new statistics, compiled in a report from the Government Accountability Office that is scheduled for public release next week, draw attention to an odd divergence in federal law: people placed on the government's terrorist watch list can be stopped from getting on a plane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from buying a gun.
    And I asked what now appears to be a rhetorical question:
    Has a fundamental constitutional right now become an odd divergence?

    What is an odd divergence from the American tradition of freedom is the watch list itself, but the reason people have acquesiced to it is because of its emergency nature and the fact that it is not supposed to take away fundamental constitutional rights. Like the right to keep and bear arms.

    Or free speech.

    Would the Times consider it an "odd divergence" that "people placed on the government's terrorist watch list can be stopped from getting on a plane or getting a visa, but they cannot be stopped from writing or speaking"?

    I guess that's a rhetorical question too.

    By the way, according to the ACLU, the Terror Watch List is million names long.

    And growing.

    Up 32% since 2007, according to USA Today. And that's despite the fact that the war on terror is being downgraded. As there's no such thing as Islamic terrorist anymore, I wonder about something...

    Who qualifies under the new rules?

    (I should probably stop asking rhetorical questions.)

    posted by Eric at 11:58 AM | Comments (14)

    Elitist roots oppose change

    After some seemingly intractable hard drive partitioning problem (occasioned by the stubborn refusal of the GRUB-2 loader to accept partition changes), I finally managed to install and configure Slackware linux on this older Dell laptop. That's in addition to Ubuntu -- so now that I have straightened out the GRUB loader (with which Slackware has "issues," as it uses the LILO bootloader) I am now capable of triple booting Windows XP, Ubuntu 10.04, and the all-spanking new Slackware 13.1.

    is often called "the anti-Ubuntu" as it is notoriously newbie-unfriendly. If you don't like working in a terminal and entering endless lines of code, then Slackware might not be for you. It appeals to the hacker ethos, though, and Slackware users think of themselves as a community. I learned Linux on Slackware in the 1990s, and I thought it was the best. But since then, I haven't really kept up with the times.

    And the times they are a changin!

    These days (in no small part because of Ubuntu), Linux is just about ready for prime time. It is so easily configurable now that anyone who can use Windows can install and use Ubuntu. It is Linux for the masses.

    Predictably, this has resulted in longtime Linux geeks getting snarky, and no group more epitomizes the longtime Linux culture than the Slackware geeks (aka Slackers). They're not even nice to newcomers to Slackware, as evidenced by this reply to a perfectly innocent question about a software packet manager application:

    I wonder if anybody has ever tried it on Slackware
    > and what your opinion is.

    My opinion is that only a n00b would be wondering about that for
    Slackware. We don't need no stupid package manager like that for Slack,
    and a real Slacker would know that.

    Bugger off and go bother the n00b distro newsgroups, n00b.

    "Ubuntu" -- an African word, meaning "Slackware is too hard for me".


    Such racist elitism is so shocking that I'm feeling guilty about returning to my "roots" and wondering whether I should ever have installed the time-consuming (but for some strange reason emotionally satisfying) Slackware.

    As someone who resolutely opposes culture wars in their various manifestations, I would hate to be seen as an elitist Slacker!

    DISCLOSURE: This is my first blog post from Slackware.

    posted by Eric at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

    Hammering Small Business

    The Taxprof quotes from CNN:

    An all-but-overlooked provision of the health reform law is threatening to swamp U.S. businesses with a flood of new tax paperwork.

    Section 9006 of the health care bill -- just a few lines buried in the 2,409-page document -- mandates that beginning in 2012 all companies will have to issue 1099 tax forms not just to contract workers but to any individual or corporation from which they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a tax year.

    The stealth change radically alters the nature of 1099s and means businesses will have to issue millions of new tax documents each year.

    Right now, the IRS Form 1099 is used to document income for individual workers other than wages and salaries. Freelancers receive them each year from their clients, and businesses issue them to the independent contractors they hire.

    But under the new rules, if a freelance designer buys a new iMac from the Apple Store, they'll have to send Apple a 1099. A laundromat that buys soap each week from a local distributor will have to send the supplier a 1099 at the end of the year tallying up their purchases.

    The bill makes two key changes to how 1099s are used. First, it expands their scope by using them to track payments not only for services but also for tangible goods. Plus, it requires that 1099s be issued not just to individuals, but also to corporations.

    Taken together, the two seemingly small changes will require millions of additional forms to be sent out.

    So what happens in reality? Fewer items get expensed so tax collections go up. Not counting business that goes underground.

    Sons of bitches. This new Health Care Law needs serious fixing. I propose repeal. The first step in that process is to Repeal Congress.

    H/T Instapundit

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 12:50 AM | Comments (1)

    It's Always About Greed

    I was reading a report on the market meltdown and came across this comment:

    it' always about greed.
    The funny thing is that there don't seem to be significant numbers of people asking their employers for lower pay. Nor does there seem to be a voluntary movement of any size of people willing to pay higher taxes. Well excepting Public Employee Unions who hope to benefit from higher taxes. Haven't they heard that greed is bad? I have never seen the government exception to the greed "rule" propounded. Maybe it is just one of those things that everybody knows. I guess the main political division in the country is between those who think government greed is good and those who are of the opposite opinion.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 05:40 PM | Comments (3)

    People who want to be left alone are racists! And Jacobins!

    As I have pointed out in a number of posts, what I most like about the Tea Party movement is that it consists of largely of people who want the government to leave them alone. That's a new phenomenon in American politics, because traditionally, political activists tend to be people who want to tell others what to do. That is why they enter politics. But the American people have finally wised up to the fact that the only way to defeat activists is by becoming anti-activist activists.

    In a long intellectual criticism of the Tea Party Movement in The New York Review of Books (titled The Tea Party Jacobins"), University of Chicago professor Mark Lilla explains that wanting to be left alone is the driving force behind what he calls the "libertarian mob":

    Many Americans, a vocal and varied segment of the public at large, have now convinced themselves that educated elites--politicians, bureaucrats, reporters, but also doctors, scientists, even schoolteachers--are controlling our lives. And they want them to stop. They say they are tired of being told what counts as news or what they should think about global warming; tired of being told what their children should be taught, how much of their paychecks they get to keep, whether to insure themselves, which medicines they can have, where they can build their homes, which guns they can buy, when they have to wear seatbelts and helmets, whether they can talk on the phone while driving, which foods they can eat, how much soda they can drink...the list is long. But it is not a list of political grievances in the conventional sense.

    Historically, populist movements use the rhetoric of class solidarity to seize political power so that "the people" can exercise it for their common benefit. American populist rhetoric does something altogether different today. It fires up emotions by appealing to individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power. It gives voice to those who feel they are being bullied, but this voice has only one, Garbo-like thing to say: I want to be left alone.

    A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.

    Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.

    Obviously, Lilla does not believe in the right to be left alone, and thinks that someone simply has to be telling us how to wipe our asses. To his way of thinking, you'd have to be estranged, aimless, and juvenile not to want help with such things.

    What he misses about the Tea Partiers is that they're sophisticated enough to understand why ordinary activism has failed, and why they are not being left alone. Simply electing the right people to political office cannot fix the problem of entrenched bureaucracies which were designed to be politically bulletproof, and which basically dictate terms to the legislators whose job is to pass legislation endlessly expanding their power, while increasing the size and scope of their irreversible demands on taxpayers' money.

    And I do mean irreversible. Just get elected to even the lowest city council and try cutting staff positions or wages. They're unionized and they will simply take the city to court, where enforcing the terms of their union contracts is a legal slam-dunk. As to government pensions (which drain huge amounts of money), they are more of a legal entitlement than Medicare or Social Security, because the latter are not "entitlements" but acts of Congress which can in theory be revised or repealed. Government pensions are legally enforceable obligations. People who are legally owed money will demand and get it, regardless of whether the people who have to pay it ever consented to pay it, and regardless of whether they want to be left alone.

    The Tea Partiers have seen past the game of pretending the legislature really runs things when in reality they are obsequious scriveners for unelected elites. Unlike conventional politicians, this "libertarian mob" is actually willing to say "no more" to the bureaucratic ruling classes and mean it.

    This scares the crap out of them.

    posted by Eric at 03:33 PM | Comments (4)

    "Some people ain't made for small-town life"

    Last night I attended a remarkable production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town". Written at the peak of the 1930s (before World War II had started to seep in and draw that period to a close), it's a classic portrayal of small town life which poses profound questions about life, death and eternity. The minimalist scenery (two ladders, a couple of movable tables and chairs) provide a perfect backdrop, for they leave the audience's imagination free to wander.

    It's been called a Norman Rockwell-like portrayal, but that's a bit misleading, because it is and it isn't. (Of course, depending on whom you ask, even Norman Rockwell is and isn't.)

    The town has its secrets, such as the dark side of the alcoholic choir director who committed suicide. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Subtextual Analysis from PostModernist U to spot it, either.

    The one outsider we meet is Simon Stimson, the church choir director, whose nameless "troubles" drive him to drink. (Some critics have speculated that Simon Stimson's "trouble" was his repressed homosexuality.) All through the first two acts, he remains a silent, accusatory presence. His neighbors gossip about him; some worry about him. But most avoid him. "I guess I know more about Simon Stimson's affairs than anybody in this town," says the town doctor. "Some people ain't made for small-town life. I don't know how that'll end; but there's nothing we can do but just leave it alone." How it ends, we later learn, is in Stimson's suicide.
    Whether he is gay or not isn't the point so much as the fact that the town has its secrets, and not everyone is happy there. The audience really doesn't need to know what unbearable secret drove the man to drink, or to take his life.

    What I do find fascinating about the unstated subtext is the way the poor man has evolved over time -- from a character whose dark secret could not have been mentioned to a 1930s audience, to being acknowledged by many as a "gay character," and finally, in a modern, gay Orwellian twist, to being relegated back into the closet where he belongs in the interest of avoiding negative gay stereotypes!

    Imagine what the author would think were he alive today. As it was, he "suffered from severe writer's block while writing the final act." During that time, he was having an affair in Zurich with another man:

    Although Wilder never discussed being gay publicly or in his writings, his close friend Samuel Steward is generally acknowledged to have been a lover. Wilder was introduced to Steward by Gertrude Stein, who at the time regularly corresponded with the both of them. The third act of Our Town was famously drafted during a brief affair with Steward in Zurich on their first meeting.
    Steward was an interesting character (a professor, a writer, and a tattoo artist) who died at age 85 in 1993 in Berkeley. From an interview with Steward not long before his death:
    Keehnen: You were also lovers with Thornton Wilder at one point.

    Steward: Yes. Thornton Wilder was afraid of sex, and unfortunately I was put in the position of outing him, but I never did it until after he had died. We were lovers in Zurich. He was very secretive about his homosexual inclinations, but they were definitely there. We had quite an experience. Thornton always went about having sex as though it were something going on behind his back and he didn't know anything about it. He was more than a little afraid of it, I think.

    Well, considering that the guy was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, "coming out" in the modern sense would have had disastrous consequences, and had he done so, it is highly unlikely that he would have gotten a second Pulitzer Prize for "Our Town," and thus it would most likely not have become the enduring American classic that it did. It might never have been written, and had the author outed himself, the play would probably have been regarded with suspicion, and not performed much if at all. As it is, the only instance of it ever being censored was by Soviet occupation forces in Germany in 1946:
    In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."
    I'm not sure why the Russian occupiers -- hardened Stalinists at the time -- would have been concerned with German suicides or German mental health at all, unless they feared suicidal attacks. And it's tough to imagine how anyone could watch the play and decide on suicide, much less suicide of the kamikaze or Jihadist variety. (At any rate, I didn't see any obvious al Qaeda recruiters standing outside the theater when I left.)

    I often criticize the pro-censorship 1930s, but another remark by the playwright's lover reminded me that it's a mistake to see the censorship that thrived during that period as being unique or singular as so many modern people are prone to do. People on the "left" side of the Culture War tend to see the 1930s as an awful thing that has been defeated and overcome by the wonderful forces of modern liberation, while people on the "right" see the period as epitomizing what they champion as "traditional values." As Steward makes clear, censorship is not merely a "traditional" 1930s value, but it is always with us!

    Censorship, he says, is "one of those things ingrained in the American spirit":

    Keehnen: In 1936 you were fired as a teacher for writing Angels on the Bough, a book deemed "questionable." Are you shocked by the slackening of censorship over the past 57 years?

    Steward: That particular college was under the control of an autocrat who was a fundamentalist, at least in his narrow-minded viewpoints. Personally, I'm not shocked because I never believed in any sort of censorship. We've always had a struggle between those who want to say everything and those who want to say nothing. Currently, we are fighting a more subtle form of censorship called political correctness. You even have to say it correctly or you're damned. It's nothing but an extension of McCarthyism. But censorship just seems to be one of those things ingrained in the American spirit, and I deplore it.

    Damn that's good. And things are worse today than they were in 1993 when he said that. (Today you can't even call an Islamic terrorist an Islamic terrorist, although you can call the Hutaree militia "Christian terrorists.")

    And if you think that's startling, Steward also says we had more freedom during the repressive 1930s than during the liberated 1990s!

    Keehnen: Was there more behavioral freedom in the 1930s with social restrictions or in the 1990s with community limitations, assimilation, political correctness, etc.?

    Steward: Owen, that is one of the great paradoxes of the twentieth century, but there was much more freedom in the 1930s under the umbrella of ignorance.

    To say something like "ignorance is freedom" sounds positively.... Orwellian. Except it isn't. (Especially when "freedom" is used as sleight of hand to take freedom away.)

    In the right context, almost everything is offensive to someone.

    The truth sucks.

    (But some truths suck more than others, etc.)

    posted by Eric at 11:32 AM | Comments (1)

    Graphic Content

    From Reason Online which excerpted this quote from Radley Balko.

    SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family's pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.

    They found a "small amount" of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.

    So smoking pot = "child endangerment." Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone's safety.

    Just so we're clear.

    The video is quite graphic so sensitive dog lovers should avoid it. You sensitive human lovers should be outraged.

    Now about that war on some plants.

    Yeah. Yeah. I know. Shit happens. But you have to ask yourself - "Is this the kind of shit I want happening over small quantities of pot?" And if not, how do you justify the rest of our National Pot Prohibition Policies? And then once you have the National argument sorted what about your State and Local Governments? Because you get to pay for it. Final question: "Is The Game Worth The Candle?"

    H/T Instapundit

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 05:24 PM | Comments (7)

    A contagious form of mental illness

    Roger L. Simon looks at the "mystery" (yes, they're actually calling it that) of the man (Faisal Shahzad) who traveled to Pakistan and "learned bomb making at a terrorist training camp."

    Once there, according to investigators, he traveled to the lawless Waziristan region and learned bomb making at a terrorist training camp.

    In court papers, investigators said Shahzad returned to the U.S. on Feb. 3, moved into an apartment in a low-rent section of Bridgeport, then set about acquiring materials and an SUV he bought with cash in late April. They said that after his arrest, Shahzad confessed to rigging the bomb and driving it into Times Square. He also acknowledged getting training in Pakistan, the filing said.

    So what's the mystery? It looks like a pretty straightforward case of radical Islamic terrorism. No mystery at all. But for reasons that I cannot fathom, it has now become politically incorrect to mention the radical Islamic motivation of terrorists in any way. Carried to extremes, this causes clowns like New York's Mayor Bloomberg to go through ridiculous song-and-dance.routines in which anything except radical Islam is blamed; Bloomberg actually speculated that Shahzad might have been "somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health care bill or something."

    Yeah, we all know the Tea Partiers can't wait to blow up Times Square and head back to Pakistan.

    Roger speculates sarcastically about what religious motivation might be behind the Pakistan training camp,

    What were they teaching there? Zen Buddhism?

    There is little doubt that "political correctness" has become a disease that should be listed in the DSM IV.

    No, it's perfectly rational to suggest that al Qaeda-trained terrorists might as well be Tea Partiers. After all, Bill Clinton recently compared the latter to Timothy McVeigh, and it isn't much of a step to substitute Osama bin Laden -- whose training camps might as well be run by the Tea Parties.

    Unlike most of the mental illnesses listed in the DSM IV, this one is contagious. And it spreads to the highest levels.

    posted by Eric at 04:01 PM | Comments (3)

    Give Us The Money

    With shouts of "Give Us The Money" and "We Need The Cash", public employees demonstrate in Springfield, Illinois.

    Nothing could make it more obvious after a demonstration like this that there is a war going on in America between government and the people over who is going to be the Master and who is going to be the Servant. Who will be on the leash and who will be on top.

    The American Thinker has more.

    H/T Jccarlton at Talk Polywell

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 02:55 PM | Comments (2)

    The Wolf Of Velvet Fortune

    The Beau Brummels

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

    Free to argue or not

    Much as I love thoughtful comments (even by those who disagree with me), one of the problems that plagues me is when commenters jump on me by playing GOTCHA games, misreading what I said, putting words in my mouth, or even attributing to me positions I never took or beliefs I do not hold. This happened over the past couple of days, and I was so disgusted that I just didn't feel like blogging.

    Too much work.

    Writing is that way. If you start worrying that anything and everything you say might be misinterpreted, jumped on, or used as an invitation to start an argument (which is not why I write), it becomes a distraction, and makes writing feel more like a nuisance instead of the creative, introspective process I want it to be. I write to find out what I think and as a release, and I am often engaged in a dialogue with myself. If someone comes along with a goal of starting an argument, then it makes me feel that the post I wrote was not a release, but only created more work for myself in the form of an argument. Arguments remind me of litigation, and I hate litigation. It is the worst sort of drudgery imaginable, and if a post I wrote creates that sort of work for me, then I end up wishing I hadn't written it. I can ignore people's attempts to start arguments, and I have every right to do that, but that does not prevent the distraction phenomenon from setting in and influencing what should be a totally spontaneous process.

    But let no one think I am talking only about the reactions of conservative commenters to the post I wrote about Barack Obama's commencement address. Far from it. I can't even compare and contrast male and female genital cutting without activists weighing in and telling me that I need to "do more research about FGM and MGM before making statements about how supposedly different they are." Must I really? Can't I just say what I think? (But at least the "conservative" versus "liberal" positions are less clear on genital cutting issues, so I'm relatively "safe" there.)

    Another, more egregious example took the form of leftist comments to a post I wrote about the raid on the Hutaree militia, in which I said the following:

    Assuming they are crackpots, they still have the same constitutional rights as everyone else, and I hope for the sake of the rest of us that they are being respected.
    That seemed pretty moderate and reasonable at the time. But it drew howls of outrage.
    "...they still have the same constitutional rights as everyone else"

    To sell pipe bombs?

    Right. Like I said that.

    Or this:

    Look at what lengths you'll go to defend these homegrown terrorists.
    And from the same commenter:
    And oh yeah...way to defend potential cop killers. They're terrorists and should be treated that way.
    I defended them? All I said was that I hoped their constitutional rights were being respected. And left-wing ideologues saw that as an opportunity to start an argument. Arguments are of course a complete waste of time with ideologues, because they come there to attack, to score points, and above all to win, not to exchange ideas with a goal of mutual discovery of the truth.

    Anyway, I would have forgotten all about my Hutaree post, except it's now looking as if the concerns I expressed about their constitutional rights hit pretty close to the mark. And that's what the judge thinks:

    The United States is correct that it need not wait until people are killed before it arrests conspirators. But, the Defendants are also correct: their right to engage in hate-filled, venomous speech is a right that deserves First Amendment protection...

    The Court reviewed all exhibits, testimony, and proffers, and finds that each Defendant produced sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption in favor of detention. The Government fails to persuade the Court, by a preponderance of the evidence, that there are no conditions that will reasonably assure the Defendants' appearance in Court as required. The Government also fails to persuade the Court by clear and convincing evidence, that there are no conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of the community, if Defendants are released.

    From Archy Cary (after quoting the judge):
    So, the nine members of group profiled by the Department of Justice and the MSM as representing an imminent right-wing extremist danger have been released on bond by a judge who surveyed the evidence and concluded that the government hadn't made the case that the Hutarees represented a clear and present danger to "the safety of the community." Instead, they appear to be most guilty of shooting off their mouths - a practice still protected, in most cases, by the First Amendment.

    Here's the question the MSM needs to ask, but won't: Was this flamboyant raid primarily driven by political rather than law enforcement motives?

    Via Glenn Reynolds.

    I don't know what considerations drove this raid, but the government will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they actually did something beyond shooting off rambling paranoid conspiracy theories, or spouting the sort of anti-police rhetoric which was considered trendy in the Black Panther Party's heyday.

    So once again, they still have the same constitutional rights as everyone else, and I hope for the sake of the rest of us that they are being respected.

    Glad I can still say that.

    posted by Eric at 12:27 PM | Comments (4)

    "we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down" (part II -- the teardown)

    In an earlier post which I wrote after seeing Barack Obama's commencement address (in which he advocated civility), I worried about the president's failure to condemn the relentless campaign to falsely smear dissenters as racist, and concluded with a rhetorical question:

    ...while I am glad the president said that "we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down," and "you can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it," in light of his failure to condemn the relentless false charges of racism -- which are making it impossible to "maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate" -- I am stuck having to wonder about something.

    Does he truly believe in the lofty goals he espouses?

    Or is he just a good speech-maker?

    Well, in light of a news item I found via Ann Althouse, it appears the president has given his answer. By insulting the Tea Partiers with a derogatory term:
    Three days after he decried the lack of civility in American politics, President Obama is quoted in a new book about his presidency referring to the Tea Party movement using a derogatory term with sexual connotations.

    In Jonathan Alter's "The Promise: President Obama, Year One," President Obama is quoted in an November 30, 2009, interview saying that the unanimous vote of House Republicans vote against the stimulus bills "set the tenor for the whole year ... That helped to create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans."

    Whatever happened to "we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down"?

    Perhaps the president has concluded that since we can't expect to solve our problems, we might as well just tear each other down!

    Or maybe (as I suspected) he just thought it was a nice line for a speech.

    posted by Eric at 11:09 AM | Comments (1)

    Coalition Building

    Politics 101:

    The politics of a coalition is dominated by the least committed member of the coalition.

    In response to the comments at Eric's And if you're against socialism but not a conservative, then what?

    Edited for clarity.

    posted by Simon at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)


    Eric at Classical Values repeats the old saw:

    "the Right is looking for converts and the Left is looking for heretics."
    I always thought the left was looking for lunatics.

    Preferably well educated lunatics:

    George Orwell: "Some things are so stupid, only an intellectual could believe them"

    Looking for converts implies that Republicanism is faith based. There is in fact a big belief problem in the US. So is belief in a Supreme Being the problem? No. How about hatred of abortion and gay marriage? Nope. It ain't even the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Nope. It is the belief that Cultural Conservatives are reliably in favor of limiting government spending and thus favor smaller government. Cultural Conservatives make Cultural Issues the litmus test of Conservatism (if you are OK on abortion your spending record doesn't matter). And thus we get politicians like Mike Huckabee. Huckabee is proof positive that blind support for cultural conservatives is no panacea. In fact it is probably counterproductive.

    And yet in comments around the 'net the idea that only cultural conservatives are reliable fiscal conservatives (you can find an example at the Classical Values link above) is widespread. Nice idea. If only it was true then all Republicans would need is a Jesus Test. Or a "Sincerely Held Religious Belief Test" if you prefer.

    The Republicans have two problems in this area. Too many Cultural Socialists in the Party and too many Economic Socialists. My (often repeated) stance on this issue is simple (Clever for a Simon. No?) - Just Say No to Socialism. Government is no more capable of creating a moral people than it is of creating a wealthy people.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 09:05 AM | Comments (2)

    Does making an alliance with Stalin make allies Stalinists?

    Anyone remember when being against Bush was the litmus test for liberalism? These days, it often seems as if being against Bush has become a litmus test for conservatism.

    The old rule used to be that "the Right is looking for converts and the Left is looking for heretics." Now it seems to be the other way around.

    This is all so screwy. Conservatives would do well to remember that it takes a coalition (including independents) to win. What I cannot understand is why conservatives were so welcoming of any and every potential ally when they had power and yet now that they are out of power (and most need to win it back) they've replaced the big tent with ideological suspicion.

    For years, I was quite accustomed to saying whatever I thought about whatever issue I wanted. But since the election of Obama, I find myself holding my tongue, as the fallout from that one event caused a major attitude shift on the right which has had the result of transforming people like me from useful idiots to ideological suspects. Yet I have not changed my mind on any issues.

    Especially the damned Culture War, which pits people against people based on their lifestyles and individual characteristics, and which posits that the values of the 1930s are more "traditional" than any that came before it.

    But being in a coalition means sometimes having to put up with people with whom you disagree, and with whose lifestyles you don't like. It would be nice if everyone could shut up, but I think it's a little unreasonable to expect the likes of Michael Savage, WorldNetDaily, and Alan Keyes to shut up and get along. But I guess if they won't shut up, why should I have to?

    I guess don't want to be in their tent any more than they want to be in mine. What the hell, though. If we want to get relativistic about these things, didn't the United States make an alliance with Stalin to beat Hitler?

    I have no philosophical problem with such an alliance (which of course ought to work both ways). But having to pretend Stalin was a good guy, and a force for democracy, that would have been too much.

    Something about the American character, though, lends itself to thinking of our allies as "good" -- even if they are not. So, if such Machiavellian alliances must be made, isn't it better to avoid such misunderstandings in advance?

    posted by Eric at 04:16 PM | Comments (4)

    And if you're against socialism but not a conservative, then what?

    What do you do if you hate socialism but don't like conservatism? Unfortunately for me, I have found myself in that predicament ever since the election of Barack Obama. Oddly enough, no one seemed to care when Bush was president, because in those days people who disliked socialism more than they disliked conservatism were considered generally useful to the conservative cause. Now unless you're a gung-ho, blood-red-meat-dripping, WorldNetDaily-loving, capital-C conservative, you're suspected of being some sort of deviationist.

    As to how it is possible to deviate from a cause you never embraced, I'm not sure, but the comments to an earlier post served as a reminder that there are plenty of conservatives in search of conservative heresy. No doubt they will find plenty of it here, as I have never claimed to be a conservative. I especially abhor the WorldNetDaily/Michael Savage/Alan Keyes wing of conservatism, but sometimes I play games with myself and imagine that they aren't "real" conservatives. Which is silly, because those types are the first to come along and say that I am the one who is not a real conservative. If they are, fine. Let them have the label. I don't want it, and I never have.

    So where does that leave me?

    Politically homeless? Nothing new there.

    posted by Eric at 12:25 AM | Comments (19)

    Building a better Beta world

    This post by Ann Althouse reminded me of something it only touches on by implication, but which is a major reason I tend to loathe politics.

    From the discussion of the Alphas and the Betas (of Huxley's Brave New World):

    Are the Alphas superior? They have to work so hard and wear grey... I'm so glad I'm a Beta. Betas don't think they're inferior! They are less intelligent though.
    Sometimes I think that most of what we call "politics" consists simply of Alphas trying to convince Betas that they can actually be Alphas, if only they vote for the right Alpha leaders! It's a total con routine, played by both sides, and it relies on convincing the Betas that they are not what they are, by Alphas who know the dirty truth. And in another variation, the Betas are always encouraged by the Alphas to think that their leaders are actually Betas, just like them, while the "real" Alphas are the malevolent leaders of the poor duped Betas on the other side. Alphas on both sides pretend to be Betas, accuse each other of being Alphas, while Betas imagine that by voting for the right Alphas, they're better Betas than the other Betas, and they might even be "good" Alphas. It goes in endless circles -- much to the delight of the Alphas.

    Such disgusting and invasive thoughts make me want to drink in the hope they might go away.

    posted by Eric at 08:22 PM | Comments (1)

    Dangerous to whom?

    Funny that I was just saying the Internet is all messed up, because after reading a post that Glenn Reynolds linked about the Tim Burns congressional race in Pennsylvania, I wanted to know a little more about the candidate, so I clicked on the web site.

    I can't see it, because it's been blocked (by my Trend Micro anti-virus) for the following reason (in big red letters):

    This Web page has been identified as Dangerous.
    Here's a screen shot:


    Of course, being that I'm also a Linux user, a silly thing like that won't deter me, so I merely booted up the Linux laptop and up it came.

    The lesson is that Linux users don't have to worry for the most part about things like viruses.

    Or even fake virus-mongers who go around reporting web sites as being "dangerous." (Which maybe they are, to the people reporting them.)

    Almost makes me want to send the guy some money without knowing anything more.

    LATER: Looking into Tim Burns' candidacy, I found him to be strongly in favor of economic freedom and self sufficiency. Here's his campaign statement (which has so far managed to survive the anti-virus blocking):

    "We need to get away from looking to the government to solve all of our problems. Instead we need to force them to solve theirs. We need to stop the bailouts and handouts, and need to balance the budget and ensure that our children will inherit a strong America, not a bankrupt one. I know how to create jobs, make a payroll, meet a budget, and stay out of debt. I am running to restore this forgotten, commonsense value to Washington."
    Sounds good to me, and I also learned that Scott Brown is campaigning for him.

    And while that alone would have been enough to justify sending him money, the idea that sneaky activists may have somehow gotten his website to be blocked as dangerous made me to decide to contribute

    UPDATE: I checked again at 8:58 p.m., and the site is no longer blocked by Trend Micro.

    posted by Eric at 03:01 PM | Comments (0)

    All messed up

    While I haven't seen any news stories about it, today looks like a bad day for the Internet. Google has been down since this morning, with occasional brief periods of being up (although loading very slowly) Blogspot blogs are mostly dysfunctional, as is YouTube. Yahoo has been working though, and so do the non-Blogspot blogs.

    This may just be in my area, but I'm totally clueless. If anyone knows anything, feel free to share.

    posted by Eric at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

    Spilling Oil

    Al Fin has an article on natural oil spills. He links to a Science Daily piece on oil seeps in the Gulf of Mexico.

    ScienceDaily (Jan. 27, 2000) -- Twice an Exxon Valdez spill worth of oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico every year, according to a new study that will be presented January 27 at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

    But the oil isn't destroying habitats or wiping out ocean life. The ooze is a natural phenomena that's been going on for many thousands of years, according to Roger Mitchell, Vice President of Program Development at the Earth Satellite Corporation (EarthSat) in Rockville Md. "The wildlife have adapted and evolved and have no problem dealing with the oil," he said.

    Oil that finds its way to the surface from natural seeps gets broken down by bacteria and ends up as carbon dioxide,...

    So how much oil was spilled by the Exxon Valdez? About 260,000 bbls. At 5,000 bbls a day it would take about two months to equal the Exxon Valdez. And another two months to equal the natural oil seeps in the area.

    So how about some math?

    Say we have 5,000 bbls a day spread along 100 miles of coast. That is 50 bbls per mile. Every day. At 42 gallons per bbl that is 2,000 gallons per mile or about .4 gallon per foot. Not too bad for one day. If it goes on for a couple of months not good immediately. A lot of wild life will be killed. And then as time goes on bacteria will start eating the oil and the food chain will blossom.

    If the oil spreads more - that is good. If a lot evaporates - good. If a lot can be captured before it reaches the coast - good.

    Of course if more drilling and mining of oil was allowed on land the chances of an accident at sea would be reduced relatively if not absolutely (oil consumption is still rising).

    The desire of the ultra greens for a risk free civilization is increasing the risk that we will wind up with no civilization. Fools.

    Cross Posted at Power and Control

    posted by Simon at 01:49 AM | Comments (2)

    "we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down"

    Although I was in the audience watching Barack Obama's speech yesterday, I was too exhausted last night to write about it.

    But maybe that's not fully accurate, now that I've slept and I'm not exhausted, I still don't want to write about it. As I said yesterday, I thought he made some good points about civility. I just wish he had gone further, especially because he is in a position to do so. And if he means what he says about civility, then he should not be ignoring a very serious problem involving incivility. He'd be better off not bringing up the subject.

    In his speech, he noted that this country has always been a contentious place:

    ...I think it's important that we maintain some historic perspective. Since the days of our founding, American politics has never been a particularly nice business. It's always been a little less gentile during times of great change. A newspaper of the opposing party once editorialized that if Thomas Jefferson were elected, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced." (Laughter.) Not subtle. Opponents of Andrew Jackson often referred to his mother as a "common prostitute," which seems a little over the top. (Laughter.) Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson have been accused of promoting socialism, or worse. And we've had arguments between politicians that have been settled with actual duels. There was even a caning once on the floor of the United States Senate -- which I'm happy to say didn't happen while I was there. (Laughter.) It was a few years before. (Laughter.)
    No disagreement there. And I also agree with him that the debate over the proper size and role of government has been with this country from the start:
    The point is, politics has never been for the thin-skinned or the faint-of-heart, and if you enter the arena, you should expect to get roughed up. Moreover, democracy in a nation of more than 300 million people is inherently difficult. It's always been noisy and messy, contentious, complicated. We've been fighting about the proper size and role of government since the day the Framers gathered in Philadelphia. We've battled over the meaning of individual freedom and equality since the Bill of Rights was drafted. As our economy has shifted emphasis from agriculture to industry, to information, to technology, we have argued and struggled at each and every juncture over the best way to ensure that all of our citizens have a shot at opportunity.

    So before we get too depressed about the current state of our politics, let's remember our history. The great debates of the past all stirred great passions. They all made somebody angry, and at least once led to a terrible war. What is amazing is that despite all the conflict, despite all its flaws and its frustrations, our experiment in democracy has worked better than any form of government on Earth. (Applause.)

    On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a republic or a monarchy?" And Franklin gave an answer that's been quoted for ages: He said, "A republic, if you can keep it." If you can keep it.

    Well, for more than 200 years, we have kept it. Through revolution and civil war, our democracy has survived. Through depression and world war, it has prevailed. Through periods of great social and economic unrest, from civil rights to women's rights, it has allowed us slowly, sometimes painfully, to move towards a more perfect union.

    Fine words, eloquently and sincerely spoken. I was there, and the man couldn't have sounded more sincere. (But OTOH, maybe I shouldn't call eloquent people eloquent if they are some race other than white, lest I be accused of racism.)

    What followed was an explanation of his view of the proper role of government, with which I disagree. But this is a basic philosophical disagreement and readers are well aware of what I think. So I'll spare myself and everyone else another rant.

    I want to focus instead on what he said about the importance of being able to have a civil debate:

    So, yes, we can and should debate the role of government in our lives. But remember, as you are asked to meet the challenges of our time, remember that the ability for us to adapt our government to the needs of the age has helped make our democracy work since its inception.

    Now, the second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. (Applause.) These arguments we're having over government and health care and war and taxes -- these are serious arguments. They should arouse people's passions, and it's important for everybody to join in the debate, with all the vigor that the maintenance of a free people requires.

    But we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. (Applause.) You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody's views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. (Applause.) Throwing around phrases like "socialists" and "Soviet-style takeover" and "fascist" and "right-wing nut" -- (laughter) -- that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.

    Now, we've seen this kind of politics in the past. It's been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation's birth. But it's starting to creep into the center of our discourse. And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized. Remember, they signed up for it. Michelle always reminds me of that. (Laughter.) The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning -- since, after all, why should we listen to a "fascist," or a "socialist," or a "right-wing nut," or a left-wing nut"? (Laughter.)

    It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

    While I agree with most of that, there is a notable omission. A very painful one.

    It is certainly true that people use phrases like "socialists," "Soviet-style takeover," "fascist," "right-wing nut," and "left-wing nut" to characterize each other, and that name-calling does not assist (as he says) "maintain[ing] a basic level of civility in our public debate." I think it speaks highly of him that he is trying to advance civil dialogue, and I don't doubt that he meant what he said sincerely. But there was a huge omission. A tragically missed opportunity.

    Bad as the phrases he listed are, and much as they close the door to the possibility of compromise, undermine democratic deliberation, and prevent learning, none of them come remotely close close to a particularly malignant form of vilification that has now become a cancer in our democracy, and that is the false charge of racism.

    Why couldn't he have mentioned that when the opportunity was perfectly presented? There he was, talking to an audience of overwhelmingly young people about to embark on their lives, many of whom voted for him, and most of whom no doubt look up to him. Why couldn't he have suggested that maybe it isn't the greatest idea to routinely level the charge of racism in political debates? Surely he must realize that calling people racists "closes the door to the possibility of compromise" and "undermines democratic deliberation, and "prevents learning" since after all, why should we listen to a racist?

    The omission is so glaring that here I am a day later I am still upset about it. What upsets me is that the man gave a really good, inspiring speech, and he just sounded so sincere that...well... "tragic" is the only word that comes to mind.

    After all, this was a speech about the need for civility. In such a context, I simply don't know how to explain the president's failure to condemn what I think is the most malignant form of incivility in American political discourse today. And because I do write this blog (in which I have spent seven years trying to be civil, but not always succeeding) I thought I should say something rather than just forget about it and write him off as a cynical hypocrite who condemns only some forms of incivility.

    I was also inspired to write this because I liked what the president about listening to opposing views being essential for effective citizenship:

    Still, if you're somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you're a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. (Applause.) It is essential for our democracy. (Applause.)
    With that in mind, I would suggest that the president might try reading what
    James Taranto
    said last week about false charges of racism:
    They won't give it up. "Are Tea Partiers Racist?" asks a headline, apparently written under the mistaken impression that this hackneyed charge is still provocative. The subheadline reveals that the story doesn't even speak to whether the tea-party movement is racist but rather makes a more modest claim: "A new study shows that the movement's supporters are more likely to be racially resentful."

    Well, what do you expect? If politicians and media personalities want to stir up resentment around the question of race, what better way than by badgering people with false accusations of racism?

    I can't think of a better way.

    And while I am glad the president said that "we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down," and "you can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it," in light of his failure to condemn the relentless false charges of racism -- which are making it impossible to "maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate" -- I am stuck having to wonder about something.

    Does he truly believe in the lofty goals he espouses?

    Or is he just a good speech-maker?

    posted by Eric at 06:46 PM | Comments (9)

    Too Good Not To Link

    The cost of inaction:

    Rudd has created a Department of Magnificent Uselessness in response to a crisis that never existed and against which he will take no action. This is absolutely beautiful.

    Hey Tim, just be thankful you aren't paying Gavin Schmidt's salary too.

    posted by Dave at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

    The president's umbrella policy sucks!

    President Obama is in town today to speak at the University of Michigan's commencement ceremony. (Something that was hard not to notice, as I live a block and a half from the stadium, and the commotion upset Coco.)

    I don't know what it means to true believers in the new One World Religion of Environmentalism, but I thought I should report that it is raining, and there have been thunderstorms this morning. Coco absolutely refuses to go outside.

    A local news report bearing the headline -- "Storms dampen graduation: 'Numerous thunderstorms' coming through Ann Arbor as Obama commencement dawns" -- was nice enough to feature this picture (which allowed me to stay inside for the time being):


    According to the report, the students are getting drenched, and the Weather Service was unavailable for comment:

    The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook early this morning for Ann Arbor, warning that "numerous thunderstorms" are headed toward the region.

    Officials issued a statement at 4:24 a.m. indicating that the storms could produce pea-sized hail with brief heavy rainfall and wind gusts up to 40 mph. But the statement also said the storms were "not expected to be severe." The National Weather Service was not immediately available for comment this morning.

    A light rain started at Elbel Field by 6:10 a.m., where about 200 U-M grads have lined up so far, and a university official used a speaker system to advise people to take shelter under a breakfast tent.

    "What you don't want to do is stand near a pole because this storm does have lightning. So stay away from poles," the official told students - though the storm front should only last 30 to 60 minutes.

    By 6:30 a.m., it was pouring, and everyone at Elbel Field was gathered under the shelter.

    Umbrellas are not allowed in the stadium during commencement.

    No umbrellas?

    I wonder if they'd let me in if I called mine a parasol.

    Anyway, I don't know how to interpret the auspices. Considering that angry Latinos were walking all the way from Detroit to demonstrate, perhaps the god Tlaloc decided to weigh in. OTOH, there are a lot of people of Scandinavian descent in this area (including yours truly), and perhaps their collective irritation started Thor rumbling.

    Anyway, the weather is notoriously fickle, and it the storm could lighten up or get worse. If the sun breaks out, I'm sure someone will think that's an omen of some sort, as weather has, you know, become a major religious issue.

    Regardless of what the gods have in store for the lightbringer, I have to feel a bit sorry for the poor students:

    Umbrellas ought to be a human right.

    MORE: I went to the stadium and watched the president's speech, which is on CSPAN. He defended the role government, and issued a call for civility.

    I thoroughly disagree with his view of the role of government, but I thought he made some good points about civility. The Latinos outside were making a lot of noise, while the Tea Partiers were quiet, and it was obvious who could benefit the most from his lecture.

    AND MORE: For the past half hour someone has been flying over my house with a plane tugging what is either an anti-abortion protest sign or else a spoof of some sort.

    Here's the plane:


    And here's the sign it was tugging (I couldn't get them both in the same picture):


    I'm still thinking about what it might mean.

    (I've probably been struggling with the meanings of things for too long.)

    posted by Eric at 08:26 AM | Comments (2)

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