August 2003 Archives

I'm going to Missouri for a few days for Frank Williams' funeral -- my grandfather. He passed away this week at the age of 81, peacefully.

Frank Williams was a pilot, and he said that he never expected to die in bed at a ripe old age. He survived two plane crashes, and he thought that's how he'd go. His wife, my dad's mother and my grandmother, was a pilot herself and died in a plane crash when my dad was 12 years old. (My grandfather remarried to a wonderful woman, who I have always thought of as my grandmother, and who I love very much.)

My grandfather was a pretty amazing man. He was a construction contractor and invented a revolutionary kind of quick-drying cement. He was also a farmer, a rancher, and a businessman. He worked hard, with his hands and with his mind; he raised a good family.

I was never as close to him as I would have liked to have been because he lived so far away, but a couple of years ago my brother and I spent a week with him and grandma at their house outside Springfield, Missouri, and I got the chance as an adult to get to know how incredible he was. There's a difference between knowing your grandparents when you're a child and they're just a vague mental concept -- people you visit every year or so who like to show you pictures of your parents when they were young. But as an adult I could really appreciate my grandfather's years of experience, his intelligence, and the solid determination he brought to every aspect of his life.

I'll miss him, but he's encouraged me to be an awesome grandfather, if and when I have the opportunity.

SDB updates us on the status of the negotiations with North Korea. The situation sounds somewhat promising, if China is really starting to get on board with us.

The real point of no return will come this December. Without food and fuel shipments from outside, the already-widespread starvation will be greatly heightened come winter, when the mean temperature in Pyongyang is below freezing. If Kim's regime hasn't collapsed or been dismantled by then, I would put my money on a January climax.

Cruz Bustamante is running for governor of Aztlan, in California. I really hope this story hits the mainstream news, because it looks pretty devestating to me.

LOS ANGELES — California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search), the grandson of Mexican immigrants who counts improving race relations among his biggest pursuits, refused Thursday to renounce his past ties to a little-known Hispanic organization considered by critics to be as racist as the Ku Klux Klan.

Instead, Bustamante, who is running to be governor of California, praised the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, or MEChA (search), and said he still supports it. ...

MEChA's motto is "for the race, everything. For those outside the race, nothing." Critics say affiliation with that kind of group could spell political ruin for a white candidate and are upset that little attention has been paid to Bustamante's relationship with the group. He belonged to MEChA while attending Fresno State University in the 1970s. ...

According to the organization's constitution, "Chicanas and Chicanos must ... politicize our Raza [race] ... and struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlan."

Aztlan (search) is the area that is currently the southwest United States, but Mechistas claim Aztlan is their homeland to be returned to Mexico and the group says white Americans who currently govern these areas must be removed from power.

Uh, yeah. He only moderately supports turning California over to Mexico. That's like "moderate" Nazis, "moderate" Klansmen, and "moderate" communists.

The problem isn't solely that he was a member of the organization in his youth, 30 years ago, but that he still refuses to renounce its racist, treasonous agenda even now. "Liberating Aztlan" from America is just as treasonous a goal as was held by the South before the Civil War. Is it possible that California could elect a governor who wants to secede from the Union?

I've seen Fox run some articles on the issue, but nothing on Drudge, the LA Times (big surprise), the WaPo, the NY Times... or really anywhere else. Oh right, except my beloved blogosphere! Instapundit has a couple of posts about it, and so does Clayton Cramer.

A lot of people read and linked to my recent post about the statue of Lenin in Seattle, and some of them took issue with my disgust. I'm writing this post to clarify my position on communists: I don't like 'em.

People more knowledgable about Russia than I am claim that the millions of dead that can be attributed to communism in the 20th century weren't really Lenin's fault. Fine. I don't really buy it, but I don't want to argue about it because I don't care. Lenin may have been a "moderate" communist, but in my mind that's like being a "moderate" Nazi.

I don't think Lenin was well-intentioned; he and his fellow communist revolutionaries were acting to increase their own power, at the expense of millions. But you know what? Again, I don't care. Lenin may have been a poor, misguided Father Frost. There were certainly millions of Nazis who were well-intentioned, too. Intentions count for nothing, when your actions cause massive destitution, death, and destruction.

The whole concept of communism is against everything I stand for. God, liberty, personal dignity -- all these are anathema to a communist. Communism subsumes free will to the tyranny of the group, violating the very essence of what it means to be human.

Not only that, but communism is generally merely a front for fascism. Most communist leaders are more concerned with remaking society according to their pleasure than they are with helping the proletariat. Promoting "the good of the people" is a ruse, an incredible deception designed to garner support from the masses that the communist leaders hope to dominate.

Many leftists in America (and socialists around the world) really like the idea of communism. They seem to think that although it's been an unquestionable failure every time it's been tried, the idea itself is sound. It'll work, it just needs a little more tweaking. They're wrong, and either evil or self-delusional. Yes, evil. That's a good word to describe someone who believes that utopia can be built by oppressing freedom and eliminating dissent.

To me, communists are worse than Nazis. I won't eat with a communist, I won't let a communist into my home, and I won't converse with a communist about anything other than the evil of their beliefs. I certainly wouldn't display a statue of a communist revolutionary in my city.

Everyone is marginalizing Arafat, even his own terrorists!

JERUSALEM — Yasser Arafat (search) asked militant groups Wednesday to halt attacks on Israelis, the Palestinian leader's first public attempt to restore calm following the collapse of the armed groups' unilateral truce.

But a Hamas (search) leader rejected the call, while Israel, which has tried to sideline Arafat from the peace process, dismissed it as empty rhetoric and said the army would keep rounding up terror suspects and hunting down their leaders.

That's the problem with the Palestinians: there isn't anyone in charge. It's impossible to for Israel to negotiate a "peace process" when there isn't anyone on the other wise with the authority to negotiate. If Arafat and Abbas can't control the terrorists, then there really isn't any reason to sit down and talk with them, now is there?

And that's all a part of the terrorists' plan, of course. They don't want peace without the destruction of Israel, so it's in their interests to undermine those who do want peace. If Arafat and Abbas don't have the power (military and political) to control the terrorists, then they're useless figureheads.

I guess the terrorists only like Arafat when he's his normal, evil, self.

Once upon a time there was mean, fat king who loved nothing more than vast, sumptuous feasts. Lamb, veal, duck, venison, pheasant, caribou, sloth, spotted owl... the premier kitchen of the realm prepared his meals to his precise specifications, and no appetite was left unsatisfied. No, not merely unsatisfied -- unsatiated.

However, the corpulent king began to grow distressed. The bountiful banquets that once brought him such pleasure began to taste bland and boring. His chefs redoubled their efforts to find the most succulent beasts, the freshest vegetables, and the most stimulating spices -- but all of their attempts fell on tasteless buds.

The king fell into a deep depression, and refused all sustenance. His chefs tried everything to stir him from his melancholy, but even the most scrumptious sweets would drive the king to gasps and coughs. "I am a man of refined tastes," he exclaimed. "I cannot eat such filth."

Losing his expansive luster and driven to desperation, the king marshaled his fading will to live and announced a competition. "My chefs have failed me," he told his people. "Their food was not fit for sloping swine, but perhaps they will be. Consequently, there is a vacancy in my court that needs to be filled, as do I. Any man who can prepare a meal that is truly fit for a king will be lavishly rewarded."

The king's command attracted would-be chefs and were-in-fact charlatans by the cup, quart, and bushel. Day and night the aspirants toiled in the king's extravagant kitchens, presenting him with course after course of comely cookery such as the world has never known. But the king's malaise would not be dispelled, and he wasted away, surrounded by mountains of decaying delicacies.

One by one the rejected, dejected connoisseurs drifted away. Conceding defeat, they fled, fearing that they too might end up feeding the king's zoo after snatching defeat from the jaws of misery. The king despaired, but he retained one final resort. "If my enormous wealth can not buy my satisfaction," he said, "I have but one thing left to offer. If any man can gratify my culinary lusts, I'll give to him my daughter!"

The king's daughter was a beautiful young lady, who fortunately did not take after her father's gluttonous ways. Word spread quickly though the land that anyone who could renew the king's taste for life would marry the princess, and be made heir to the kingdom. Who would answer the call?

Every chef who heard the new pronouncement scoffed. "The king has eaten all there is to eat," they said. "Every animal, every plant, and every fungus has passed his palate; nothing remains to entice him from his ennui."

Every chef -- but one. One man who could not be tempted by wanton wealth, but only by the love of a kind and generous princess. "All those who have come before me," the man told the wan king, "were mere pretenders to the gastronomic throne; I am the master. If you are willing, I will prepare a savory extravaganza that is certain to satisfy."

"By all means!" the king commanded. "But how will you accomplish such a feat of a feast? Look around! I am surrounded by the comestible corpses of your predecessors."

"Fear not, O king," the confident cook replied. "I, and I alone, possess the secret ingredient that will titillate your tongue and resurrect your vanquished vigor. No no! You must sample it for yourself when I am finished. And then we will discuss the princess."

The king waited in eager anticipation while the cook prepared secretly in the kitchen. He dismissed all offers of assistance and labored alone, but his job was quickly completed. Smiling triumphantly, the cook ascended to the king's banquet room and presented his masterpiece: a delicious pie, still steaming from the oven. Without a word the king devoured the dessert -- every last crumb of crust and fleck of filling.

His plate sparkling, the king proclaimed, "I feel new life in my bones! Quickly, bake me another!"

"And my reward?" the chef inquired. The king demanded that his daughter be brought forthwith.

But the princess could not be found! In her quarters was the meager message: "I will not be fed to your ravenous maw."

"I'll give you anything! Money, power; all that I have and more! Anything you want! Sustain me, and all that I have is yours," begged the king of the cook. "Or else, I die!"

But the cook replied, "You have nothing left that I desire."

It bugs me when opponents deliberately talk past each other in an attempt to confuse listeners and avoid the real issues. It's distracting, and doesn't actually further the discussion. Of course often times the purpose of such misstatements isn't to encourage legitimate debate, but simply to generate soundbites and make indirect ad hominem attacks on your opponent.

Nowhere is this practice more prevalent than in the debate about abortion, and it's typically the pro-choice crowd that misstates the arguments of the pro-lifers. For example:

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), derided McCorvey's motion as a "sad anti-choice publicity stunt" in a June 17 statement.

"Instead of leaving private medical decisions up to a woman and her doctor, anti-choice forces want the government to decide," Michelman said in the statement. "This case shows the extreme lengths to which they will go to overturn our constitutional right to choose."

Where to begin?

1. Pro-lifers don't get away with labeling their opponents as "pro-death" or "anti-life", or even "pro-abortion".

2. Michelman states that the position of pro-life advocates is that the government should be involved in people's private medical decisions, when that isn't the crux of the matter at all. To an opponent of abortion, the critical issue is that a fetus is a human being, and as such should not be killed without a cause more substantial than mere convenience. It has nothing to do with a lack of respect for the privacy of the mother, or with a desire to interfere with her private medical decisions. To a pro-lifer, the decisions to have an abortion isn't private, because it necessarily involves another person: the unborn baby.

3. Both sides in the debate label their opponents as "extreme"; that's pretty typical for politics these days.

4. Michelman states that there is a Constitutional right to an abortion, but that's precisely the question that is at issue here. The Supreme Court created that right by its interpretation of the Constitution, and that interpretation is at the center of the controversy. To assert that such a right is guaranteed by the Constitution and to then use that right as an argument in favor of the interpretation that created the right is disingenuous and deceptive.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that we have much more biological information available than we had 30 years ago, there is no legitimate debate about the facts of abortion being held in America. The pro-choice side has little incentive to engage in actual debate as long as their position is entrenched in law; their motivation is to maintain the status quo, and they know that recent polls have shown they would lose the debate if they were forced to make substantial arguments.

If Arnold was really slick, he would turn down campaign contributions entirely. It's not like he needs a few more million dollars, and it would generate great publicity. He has said several times that he won't be beholden to special interests and that he's rich enough that he doesn't need anyone [else] to buy the election for him, so why doesn't he stand on that and make a huge issue out of it?

This SFGate article (via Rough & Tumble, and awesome source for California political news) gives us some insight into the various campaigns.

Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger is getting the financial help he promised he would never need in his race for governor as California business interests poured $788,000 into his campaign committees over the weekend.
Again, why bother? That's spare change to him, and the publicity that turning away all money would generate would be incredible. Typically, rich candidates don't want to look like they're buying office by spending all their own money, but in this particular case it wouldn't be a bad thing.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante received a $321,000 contribution from one of the state's leading Indian gambling tribes and Peter Ueberroth, a Republican businessman running as an independent, raised $368,600 in the past few days.
Bustamante is owned by the gambling industry and Mexico, everyone already knows that. It's interesting that Ueberroth raised more money than the Lt. Gov., considering that he's not generally considered a major candidate.
Gov. Gray Davis, fighting to fend off the Oct. 7 recall, raised $353,000 over the weekend, including contributions from two longtime Democratic donors who had been appointed by the governor to state positions.
And then there's Davis, who gives people jobs and then takes kick-backs to fund his political career; a crooked form of re-investment, I suppose.

Unfortunately, the article barely mentions Tom McClintock. Bill Simon has already pulled out of the race, and McClintock will probably give up soon as well. Without Simon running it's conceivable that McClintock could get the plurality he needs to win, but it would still be a long-shot and staying in will increase the odds of Bustamante ceding the state to Mexico.

On the other hand, maybe it would be in the Republicans' best interests to leave the state with a Democratic governor if the alternative is a liberal Republican. If Arnold doesn't end up taking the conservative fiscal positions that are necessary to turn the state around, then the "R" next to his name will only serve to allow the Democrats to evade the blame for our dismal situation.

Bill Hobbs rightfully laments the fact that a "real journalist" referred to his blog writings but didn't provide his readers a link to Bill's original material, or even a name for the source he was citing and criticizing.

Yes, that's lame. Not only is it standard operating procedure to cite sources, but it's good form.
There are only a few reasons why a writer wouldn't want to cite a source, and none of them are very flattering. Either the writer is trying to deceive his readers, or he is supremely arrogant. (Silence, Candace.)

However, Bill shouldn't get discouraged. This current crop of journalists is a dying breed; all the journalists and writers of the future are probably maintaining blogs of their own at this very moment.

Chris Noble over at The Noble Pundit has functionally agrees with my position on the usefulness of education, but takes issue with my foundational explanation (after saying a bunch of nice stuff about me).

He then continues on to assert that man is inherently evil and that we are so because we are selfish (among other reasons). I disagree.

For a long time, I have believed that man was inherently good. We didn't always act on our goodness, but by and large, we were good. I've spent the last three or four days trying to reconcile man's goodness with his actions and have actually, to an extent, readjusted my position. Man isn't born pure and then corrupted. No, man is born in a neutral state (tabula rasa) and everything from there on is acquired by a form of education or conditioning.

The idea that a human mind is born as a "blank slate" onto which anything can be written by the pen of experience was first advanced by one of my favorite philosophers, John Locke. However, modern cognitive psychology does not support such a belief, and Steven Pinker recently published a quite convincing refutation of the theory, titled "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature". (Pinker is also a brilliant linguist; although he is a disciple of Chomsky, he does not appear to share Chomsky's socialist/communist politics. In "The Blank Slate" Pinker condemns the horrendous application of the blank slate concept by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.)

There is no denying that environmental factors influence human psychological development, but that development does not occur in a biological vacuum; human brains are inherently wired for certain behaviors that do not vary under any set of controls (such as language). Pinker elaborates in great detail, and although I do not concur with all of his materialist beliefs I still highly recommend the book. For more on "The Blank Slate", please refer to this entry on Everything2.

Chris then goes on to describe a sort of "social evolution".

One of the underlying assumptions of this position is that the basics of being human - those first things we learn after we're born - are subject to Darwinian evolution. Traits that are good for mankind, like societies, religion, conscience, and laws will expand and evolve. Traits that are bad, like racism, murder, and theft will eventually wither away to near extinction (I'm not crazy enough to believe that they will ever die off entirely).

However, social evolution is quite a controversial subject, and there is no scientific support for Chris' assertions that racism, murder, and theft are bad from a survival standpoint. There are a great many circumstances in which racism, murder, theft, rape, deception, psychosis, and many other despicable behaviors are quite beneficial to an individual and his genes. Consider the animal world that is ungoverned by culture, and you will see instances of all of these. One of the most fascinating problems in artificial intelligence is explaining how culture can work to suppress these clearly beneficial strategies. I have mentioned a few papers on the topic previously, but no one has yet devised a sustainable scenario that explains the suppression of cultural free-riders. (The issue is quite complicated, because those individuals who act to punish free-riders incur a cost to do so that isn't distributed back to the society as a whole -- creating meta-free-riders.)

Chris then goes on to discuss the many benefits of selfishness.

Capitalism has been far and away the closest to the ideal economic system that has ever been devised by mankind. It does more to provide for our needs than any of the other variations of control economies have. Capitalism is based on people selling what other people want. But why do some people sell their time, their labor, or their resources to others?

Because they're selfish. They think that whatever the buyer is offering, be it cows and chickens in the ancient barter systems or cash in the modern economy, is worth more than the item that their selling. They want to possess the most possible value because it will give them the best standard of living. They don't care a whit about the other party involved; they're acting on pure selfish, hoarding motives.

He's quite right. As all of my readers should know, I'm an ardent capitalist. However, I think Chris misses the underlying issue: capitalism is the most efficient economic form precisely because humanity is selfish; capitalism balances my selfishness against yours.

However, if no one were selfish, capitalism and competition would be a waste. If everyone could be trusted to function altruistically, the ideal structure for society would be either anarchy (assuming broad information flow) or benevolent dictatorship. A society of altruistic anarchists could certainly out-produce a society of selfish capitalists, but as the old joke goes: "A smart blond and the tooth fairy are walking down the street, and they see a penny. Who picks it up? The tooth fairy, because the smart blond doesn't exist." Immediate families often operate as altruistic anarchies -- and they function quite efficiently -- but the structure doesn't scale, due to selfishness.

So although I agree with Chris that capitalism is the best we can do, that best is predicated on humanity's selfishness and inherent evil.

And freedom is best protected by those who are reasonable and selfish about their freedom. For a reasonable and selfish person will understand that to protect the most individual freedom, it is necessary to have equitable rules for all.

Be selfish for the common good.

Freedom would be best protected by an altruistic society, but unfortunately that don't exist and never will -- because we're evil.

How many outsiders are aware of the giant statue of Lenin standing in Seattle's Fremont Square? As the author of this 2001 article notes:

Imagine a statue in Westlake Plaza of Hitler, who stoked ethnic and class hatred to inspire extermination of six million Jews. Unthinkable. Yet, under the insidious, value-neutral rubric of "provocative art," Seattle proudly displays a larger-than-life sculpture of a man equally abhorrent. ...

Respected historians agree Lenin laid the ideological groundwork for 50 million to 100 million murders in the name of 20th-century Communism. Still, some local media observers have suggested our Lenin is cloaked in "ambiguity" and the statue deserves a pass because he inspired solidarity among our Wobblies in their heyday, or because a democracy-promoting fragment of the Berlin Wall has been considered for installation nearby.

Dirty commies.

Candace says (among other things) that this is the biggest Lenin statue left in the world, and if that's the case maybe it's in the right place.

Some people have asked for my "Just Say No to Commies" image that pops up occasionally, and here it is.

Update 2:
But what do I really think about communists?

I think the deal with the Ten Commandments monument in Alabama is getting kinda silly.

"What this federal judge [Thomson] has said is that we cannot acknowledge God," Moore told Fox News earlier Friday. "My battle is not with the justices of the court, my colleagues, my battle is with the federal government, who has come in and told us how to think, who we can believe in."
Not exactly. The judge said you had the move the monument to a less public area. I don't agree with his reasoning or his conclusion, but he certainly didn't tell you what to think or who to believe in.
On Friday, about 100 protesters moved from the steps of the judicial building to a sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse, where Thompson works. Some ripped to pieces and burned a copy of Thompson's ruling. Demonstrators also held a mock trial, in which Thompson was charged with breaking the law of God.

"We hold you, Judge Thompson, and the United States Supreme Court in contempt of God's law," said Flip Benham, director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

God's law to do what? Display the Ten Commandments in front of all courthouses? The melodrama really isn't convincing anyone; I guarantee it.
Thompson's order gave the option of moving the monument to Moore's office. But Khan said she asked Moore during a deposition about moving it to his office and he said the monument was too heavy.
That's just amusing, because I understand the monument is quite large.
An organizer of pro-Moore demonstrations, Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, said Friday the demonstrations will continue.

He said five protesters will kneel in front of each of two exits from the building to keep the monument from coming out.

"Our message is clear. We are going to peacefully block the way if they try to move it," Mahoney said.

Well, that's in the best civil-disobedience tradition (which I don't particularly approve of, in general).
One of the demonstrators, retired Birmingham school teacher Murray Phillips, said she knows the monument will probably be gone from the rotunda soon.

"I'm upset, but I'm not surprised. At least I am going to be able to say to my grandchildren that at least I tried to do something," Phillips said.

This is the problem. You tried to do something that was obviously going to be completely ineffectual. Not only was it ineffectual, but it's making you (and me, and God) look silly. Now, I happen to agree with the protesters' position: I don't think the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment should be interpreted (through the 14th Amendment) as forbidding state governments from establishing religion. The 14th Amendment does project the Free Exercise Clause onto the states, but it's not clear that the Establishment Clause fits into the same framework. Nevertheless, that's the law.

We need to ask ourselves: what are these protesters trying to accomplish? They are pushing symbolism over substance. Just as the Moonies want to get rid of crosses in an effort to promote "religious unity", these Christians want to erect (or maintain) a monument to promote Christianity. In both cases, however, they've got the cart before the horse.

Putting up a monument to the Ten Commandments isn't going to convince anyone of anything. It's not going to lead anyone to Christ. It will only accompish two things (which are probably these protesters' true goals):
1. It will reinforce the protesters' self-righteousness, and give them a feeling of having "done something".
2. It will irritate, annoy, and rankle the non-Christians who face it.

Both of these motivations are built on pride, and neither one of them is spiritually profitable. First of all, Christians should not pursue political agendas merely to make ourselves feel good and powerful. Sure, it can be satisfying -- and that satisfaction is based on a lust for power and validation.

Secondly, irritating, annoying, and rankling non-Christians is not an effective way to show them God's love. I imagine we all know people that piss us off, and as they become more and more bothersome we tend to listen to them and care about them less and less. I'm not saying that we shouldn't stand up for what is right, but I am saying that forcing kids to pray in school or prohibiting gay people from having sex isn't going to have any spiritual benefit, for anyone.

These types of protest are a troubling waste of time and energy. The more confrontational you become, the more resistance you will face. In order to be effective ambassadors for God, we need to be subtle and enticing. Jesus never forced anyone to listen to him, and we don't need to either. On the contrary, Jesus lived under a far more oppressive government, and he made absolutely zero effort to reform it. Why? Because change begins in the heart, not in the courthouse.

The message of God's love and justice is compelling, and more often than not we Christians are responsible for its ineffectiveness. Some people will listen, and some will not, but we are not called to do any convincing or coercing. That's the Holy Spirit's job; he works on the hearts of men and women, calling them to God. We are only messengers.

According to the Mississippi Supreme Court, only the mother of an unborn child has the right to kill that child.

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court, in a decision criticized by one of its members as an assault on Roe v. Wade (search), held Thursday that a fetus is a "person" under state law and wrongful death claims can be filed on its behalf. ...

Presiding Justice Jim Smith, writing for the court, said Thursday's ruling in the lawsuit brought by Tucker had nothing to do with abortion. He said doctors performing abortions are still protected by Mississippi law.

"Tucker's interest is to protect and preserve the life of her unborn child, not in the exercise of her right to terminate that life which has been declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court," Smith wrote.

That strikes me as a little odd. Even the pro-choicers seem to recognize the incongruity of the decision.
Sondra Goldschein, state strategies attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said she was troubled by the court's definition of a fetus as a "person."

"Anytime the fetus is recognizable as a person it chips away at the foundation of Roe," she said.

She's certainly correct, and I suspect that was exactly the purpose intended by some of the people behind the lawsuit. It's the same type of end-run that gun-control advocates try to pull by passing registration laws and limits on magazine capacities. I don't disagree with the decision, but I would vastly prefer it if our legal system weren't so convoluted.

I've read some strange ideas from "Christians" before, but this has got to be one of the weirdest.

Capitol Hill ( - An interfaith group founded by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon is spearheading an effort to have Christian ministers remove crosses from their churches, calling them a symbol of oppression and perceived superiority. Mainstream Christian leaders call the request "outrageously bigoted." ...

"We have realized that, as expressions of faith, there are certain symbols that have stood in the way," Stallings said. "The cross has served as a barrier in bringing about a true spirit of reconciliation between Jews and also between Muslims and Christians, and thus, we have sought to remove the cross from our Christian churches across America as a sign of our willingness to remove any barrier that stands in the way of us coming together as people of faith."

The real barrier that prevents Jews, Christians, and Muslims from unifying is that they hold profoundly different religious views. I don't think it's the physical crosses themselves that offend Jews and Muslims (those who are offended, anyway), it's the beliefs that the crosses symbolize. Are they proposing that the beliefs be removed for the sake of some sort of religious "unity"?

Maybe this story is just too bizarre to even bother responding to.

By popular demand, I am going to enlighten you plebeian plebs on the new-fangled way to use punctuation. I started doing it myself during junior high school, and although my teachers couldn't appreciate my brilliance I'm glad to see that it's actually catching on in some hip engineering circles. Behold!

Which of the following is correct?
1. I took my girl out to see "Oklahoma!"
2. I took my girl out to see "Oklahoma!".

If you said (1), you're living in the 90s! Maybe you didn't notice, but this is the future baby, and in the future we don't count punctuation that's part of a quote as part of the sentence that contains that quote!

This next example should help solidify the matter.
1. Did you see last night's episode of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
2. Did you see last night's episode of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"?

Sentence (1) is for losers. You're not a loser are you?

"Hey wait," you ask. "What about dialogue?" Easy as cake. As long as the whole sentence is contained in quotes, you're fine. Don't be ignorant.

What about names that start with small letters, like French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin? Only commies have names that start with small letters. Here in future America, we capitalize what we want, when we want. De Villepin? He can take it up with the UN.

In the future, we also remove extraneous periods from acronyms. Get used to it.

Update 050425:
Eugene Volokh writes about quotation marks more than 18 months later.

Light Rail in Los Angeles is a joke. I took a whole Saturday a few months ago to ride the length and breadth of our rail system, so I can speak from experience.

First, the train doesn't go where anyone wants to go. I can take it to Downtown LA, but if you're familiar with LA you'll know that there's no reason to go there. Where people want to go is West LA, the Valley, the South Bay, and to the various hellish (but affordable!) eastern suburbs.

Somehow, I live within four block of a train station. I thought it would be fun to ride around and see the city, so I bought a ticket, waited 30 minutes for a train to arrive, and was on my way. Oh, what fun.

If you're not familiar with Los Angeles traffic patterns, let me tell you that Saturday is not a light traffic day; there are no such things. Saturday merely redistributes the traffic to different hours. Late morning and early afternoon on Saturday are the pits, so I was hopeful that by riding the train I could get around more quickly than I could in my car. Not so. Even if you discount the 20 minute walk to the station and the 30 minute wait for the train, it took me more time to get to the Valley (via downtown) than it would have taken to drive. The trains are slow, and infrequent.

So did I save money? Not likely. Even discounting the fact that my taxes subsidize the ticket prices, it would have been cheaper to drive. Plus, the system works on an "honor policy"; there are ticket machines that spit out tickets in exchange for money, but there aren't any gates or guards that actually check tickets. I rode the train for some five hours without seeing anyone other than myself actually purchase a ticket. I think it's strange that many riders could apparently afford gold chains and expensive electronics, but not a few bucks for a train ticket.

Not only does the train go nowhere useful -- slowly and expensively -- but the ride was thoroughly unpleasant. My fellow travelers were loud and obnoxious; the train was loud and vibrated a lot; the windows didn't open and there was no air-conditioning; &c.

Altogether, our light rail system is a horrendous waste of money. Here's an article from 1996 that briefly discusses the corruption and ineptitude involved in its construction.

Even better, here's an op-ed by Wendell Cox, who was a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission in 1980 and who authored Proposition A, which funded LA's light rail projects.

My belief in the value of rail was strengthened by Commission staff and consultants who generally suggested that a rail system was the antidote to traffic congestion and air pollution in the Los Angeles area. Since that time I have migrated to the opposite view, based upon the now considerable experience with new urban rail systems in the United States.

Don Pickrell's seminal US Department of Transportation study in 1989 was the first to systematically evaluate urban rail relative to its objectives and showed generally that ridership fell far short of expectations and that costs were routinely much higher than planned. Since that time, transit agencies have become much better at projecting ridership, largely by producing much more modest predictions --- evidence that expectations can be achieved if only you aim low enough.

The problem of cost escalation, however, remains as intractable. Rising costs made it impossible to deliver the rail routes promised by Proposition A, so in 1990 the voters approved Proposition C to finish the job. During the period, the cost of the Los Angeles to Long Beach light rail line ("Blue Line") escalated from $140 million to nearly $900 --- admittedly part of the increased costs were attributable to system enhancements. But it is unlikely that the Commission would have approved building the Blue Line if it had known the eventual cost. Now, with rail system costs far higher than expected, there is simply no money left to complete most of the promised system, as the Commission's successor, the MTA, has placed a moratorium on further rail construction. The bottom line is that after spending more than $5 billion building rail in Los Angeles, things are worse than before construction started --- MTA bus and rail ridership is 25 percent below the patronage recorded on the bus only system in 1985. The rail system, which carries barely 15 percent of MTA riders is rising toward $400 million annually and will be equal to one-half the annual operating cost of the entire bus system. It is no wonder that the Bus Riders Union has sought legal recourse to limit this distortion.

But the failure of new urban rail in the United States has far more fundamental roots. Despite tax referendum claims that rail can carry the same number of people as up to 12 freeway lanes, no new urban rail system in the US has materially impacted traffic congestion. Indeed, traffic congestion is increasing faster in the rail cities than in the non-rail cities. New light rail lines carry, on average, only 20 percent the passenger volume of a single freeway lane, and subway systems (like the Red Line) average only 40 percent. Even so, less than one-half of rail riders are attracted from cars, with most riders having been forced to transfer from bus routes that previously provided more direct trips.

Just go read the whole thing, before I quote it all.

The Los Angeles light rail system is costing taxpayers around $500 million annually by now (that was written in 1999); for the price of light rail for one year we could add new lanes to freeways that people actually use. I know, it's a revolutionary thought.

Well, not today, but on this day 92 years ago. What brilliant plan did the lone thief come up with? He simply walked in and carried it out under his clothes.

I've (barely) seen the Mona Lisa myself, and I can assure you that it's much more securely guarded now. As secure as anything in France can be, anyway.

Here's a good French joke:
Why did the French plant trees along the streets of Paris?
So the Germans can march in the shade.

Tyler Cowen mentions (but doesn't link to!) a NYTimes review of a recent book about how women negotiate, titled "Women Don't Ask".

Most of what the review discusses tracks with typical stereotypes, but one hypothesis stood out to me:

Consider pay. One study found that male graduates of an Ivy League business school negotiated for a 4.3 percent higher starting salary than they were initially offered, while female graduates negotiated for just 2.7 percent. If the first offer was the same for each, say $35,000, this would amount to a $560 advantage for the men.

Over time this advantage could snowball. If men negotiated a 2 percent raise each year and women accepted 1 percent, after 40 years the annual salary would be $79,024 for men and $52,987 for women — nearly a 50 percent gap. The cumulative gap over a career would exceed $440,000.

Professor Babcock and Ms. Laschever [the authors] speculate that much if not all of the male-female gap in earnings can be explained by women's aversion to negotiating.

Fascinating, if true.

Americans worship education. Perhaps more so the left than the right, but a great many people of all persuasions believe that the best solution to any problem is education. War? Education. Drug abuse? Education. Poverty? Education. Crime? Education. Racism? Education. Terrorism? Education. Don't get me wrong, education can be quite effective in treating some of these problems, but education alone isn't the cure-all that many people make it out to be.

Some have said that the solution to the War on Terror and the fighting in Israel is to educate the participants. If by "educate" you mean the almost complete tear-down and reconstruction of the Arab Muslim death-cult culture, then you may be right; that's not likely to happen through what we normally consider "education". Books, schools, and teachers, can change the direction of a society over generations, but that would do us little good at the moment. Aside from the practical problems of actually delivering education to the Muslim fanatics who hate us and want to kill us.

The idea that education will eliminate poverty is a myth. It will possibly work for a single individual, but there will always be a poorest 10%, no matter how wealthy they are. The poorest employed Americans live better than anyone lived 200 years ago, and yet we still consider them "poor" and debate about how to solve the problem of poverty. Education may raise the economic tide, but it will never bring everyone to the same level (thankfully).

Most drug abusers know that their addiction is ruining their lives, and even before they got hooked they knew of the potential danger. Would more education have helped? Perhaps. But it's likely that they made their decision in spite of the information available to them. They wanted to do it, and they did it.

Racism wasn't beat back by educating whites. The tide of racism and discrimination in America was turned by empowering blacks. I've written before that voting is not a right, but the power to vote can be a mightily effective tool for defeating real oppression.

Education won't make people do good; people are naturally evil. We do good things from time to time, but overall we act from selfish motives and do pretty much exactly what we want, even when we know better. Even if education tends to reduce violent crime (which is more tightly correlated with poverty, I suspect), I know plenty of educated people who lie, cheat, and steal on a regular basis. The Enron and WorldCom frauds were perpetrated by highly educated people; and don't forget politicians.

Education is a good thing -- heck, I'm working on my PhD -- but it won't solve all the world's problems. Sometimes people need to be forced to do what's right. I'm not talking about victimless crimes and that sort of thing; I'm pretty libertarian, and I don't think that everything I believe to be morally wrong should also be illegal.

Consider World War 2. Neither the Germans nor the Japanese were going to surrender until they were utterly defeated. We could have negotiated and talked with them endlessly while China was being raped and pillaged and the Jews were being herded into poison gas showers, and nothing would have come from it. "Educating" our enemies at that time meant firebombing their cities, and that form of education actually worked pretty well. The War on Terror will be won with a combination of combat and education -- but education alone could not do it. Same goes for the fighting in Israel.

Education is more effective at preventing problems that at solving them. Even better than education, however, is freedom. Free nations don't go to war with each other. Liberal values (true liberal values, not the values that most leftist Americans espouse) and democratic institutions are the best guarantors of international peace. Education and freedom are correlated, but not identical. Leftists in America use education to indoctinate children and make them dependent on government, for example, rather than assisting them to actually be free.

I'm not against education -- far from it -- but I think the matter needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Just because it's "for the children" doesn't mean it's going to work, and if it doesn't work it doesn't matter that it's more peaceful and nobody gets hurt.

There's a heated and informative discussion going on over at Hobbs Online about the nature and future of the Israeli/Palestinian war. Here's my most recent comment (slightly edited post hoc):

There may be numerically many Palestinians who want peace, but the majority of them do not, if the poll numbers I cited are even remotely accurate.

It's a war. Don't misunderstand my position: I don't merely want peace, I want Israel to win. Firstly, I don't think there will be peace until one side or the other has a decisive victory. Look at history. No one ever gives up fighting until they have to. Given that, I want Israel to be the winners, and the Palestinians to be the losers.

As long as the conflict stays low-level, it's never going to end, because no one will win.

Yes, it sucks that innocent people are getting killed, but you're living in fantasyland if you think the fighting is just going to stop without victory by one side or the other.

There's an immense difference between purposefully targeting civilians, and accidentally killing civilians while targeting soldiers. It's widely accepted that if soldiers hide among civilians, and those civilians are killed while the soldiers are being attacked, the attackers are not responsible for the civilian deaths. The soldiers who hide among the civilians are directly responsible. That's how war works.

Similarly, the WTC was not a military target, it was a civilian target. There were no military units hiding among the civilians there. Arguably the Pentagon was a military target, and I think it's kinda odd that the plane that hit the Pentagon wasn't shot down. But then, at that point, we didn't realize that we were in a war.

In WW2 the fighting didn't stop until our opponents had no other choice. The carpet bombing of German cities and the nuking of Japan weren't incidental to our victory, they were essential. If the Palestinian terrorists did not have the support of the Palestinian people, they could not carry on their fight, any more than the German and Japanese armies could have continued fighting on their own.

If you want true, lasting peace, you should be pushing for a quick and clean victory for Israel.

Uh oh, Hamas says the cease-fire is over. I hope they don't start blowing up buses! Oh wait, they were already doing that during the cease-fire.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel killed a senior Hamas political leader in a missile strike Thursday, two days after a suicide bombing of a bus in which 20 people died, including six children. Hamas, along with Islamic Jihad, formally abandoned a truce declared eight weeks ago.
Formal, informal, whatever. No one is really in charge of these groups, and no one can really negotiate for them with any authority.

I think Cox & Forkum understand the Palestinians pretty well.

Today sorta marks the 141st anniversary of the now-traditional 8 hour workday. Before the industrial revolution, most workers labored for 10 to 12 hours a day -- they must have been engineers.

French laws are way ahead of our tradition, however, with their legally mandated 35 hour week. What does it cost the French taxpayer to pay government workers the same for 35 hours of productivity as they were previously paid for 40 hours? Quite a bit: around 30 billion francs in 2001. I can't even imagine the total cost to the French economy when private corporations are factored in.

35 hours a week isn't even a job, it's more like a hobby. Like blogging. Not that anyone spends that much time writing for their blog, I'm sure.

In a speech given to supporters at UCLA's Ackerman Hall, California Governor Gray Davis unveiled his new, streamlined, coordinated strategy for beating the recall. It looks like there are three main components.

1. He "accepts" criticism for past "mistakes", without making any apologies. I use quotes because I'm not sure what it means to "accept" criticism -- does that mean he has merely heard it, or that he has considered it valuable, or what? And "mistake" isn't the word I would use for his deliberate abuse of government authority to further his own power. He specifically says that he doesn't apologize, and only to a politician does that somehow equal "accepting" criticism for "mistakes".

"I know that many of you feel that I was too slow to act on the energy crisis," the Democratic governor said. "I got your message, and I accept that criticism."

Davis also acknowledged that he "could have been tougher in holding the line on spending" during state budget surpluses. But he said most of the increases went to education and health. "I make no apologies for that," he said.

Oh yes, maybe I shouldn't have spent vastly more money than we had, but it went towards a good cause! This is the cry of Democrats everywhere, as if simply because a cause it "good" it should be funded by government, with money that doesn't exist.

2. He takes credit for non-accomplishments.

"The Republicans say this recall is about ousting me for past problems," he said in a 19-minute speech televised live around the state. "But my friends, we are getting over our past problems. California did not go dark. I signed a budget. The schools are getting better, and our economy will turn around."
Well gosh, considering that we live in the richest nation on earth I'm sure glad you managed to keep the freaking electricity on! Woohoo! And wait, what's that? You signed a budget? Amazing! And only two months after the constitutionally mandated date! Schools are getting better? Why are they so horrible in the first place? Certainly not because of corrupt bureaucracy and your pandering to the teachers' unions!

This angle is particularly weak for Davis. Sure, the whole country was in a rough period, but no other state is as deeply in the hole as California, and Democrats bear the whole responsibility for that. Ridiculous reliance on taxing the rich led to a budget surplus in the good years, and a huge deficit in the bad years. However, states like Tennessee that rely on a sales tax that spreads the tax burden evenly, are still running a surplus. Go figure.

I've read that one-third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy, but I would hope that a state government that finds itself in a similar situation would have more sense than your typical lottery winner.

3. He shovels the blame onto other people. Such as:

Davis reiterated his criticism of the energy companies, saying federal investigations proved his claim that California was "victimized by a massive fraud." But he said he had "refused to give in to the pressure to raise rates" and pointed out that the lights have stayed on in California for 2 1/2 years -- while power failed throughout the northeastern United States, the Midwest and parts of Canada last week.
Unbelievable. The whole reason there was an electricity problem in the first place is because of regulated rates. We "deregulated" some aspects of production (and, incidently, demand infrastructure investments by electricity companies) but then we refuse to allow them to even break even on their investment. So yes, energy companies did screw us two years ago, but: a) Gray Davis let them, and signed absurd long-term contracts, and b) the source of the problem can be traced directly back to the Democrats in charge of California for their half-hearted "deregulation".

Who else is to blame? Oh come on, that's an easy one.

Davis repeatedly attacked Republicans, saying the recall campaign is part of an "ongoing national effort to steal elections" that the GOP can't win. The governor said it started with the House of Representatives' impeachment of President Clinton and continued into the 2000 dispute over the Florida election results in the presidential contest.

Davis included recent fights in Colorado and Texas over congressional districts as evidence of the GOP "trying to steal" additional House seats. He said Republicans who want to oust him "don't give a rip about past mistakes" and want power.

Clinton: impeached for lying under oath. If you or I had done it, we'd still be in jail.

Florida election results: Bush would have won without Supreme Court intervention under every reasonable scenario.

Congressional districts: Gerrymandering is a strange practice, but hey kids, everybody's doing it! The Democrats are just complaining because they don't have the majority in those state legislatures anymore, and that means they can't gerrymander the districts the way they want. Oh, and who's anti-democratic? Certainly not the state legislators who fled the state so that the duly elected government ground to a halt.

So then, do Republicans want power? Of course! Because they think they can do a better job of running California than Gray Davis has. Is the recall election a "power grab"? Sure, you can call it that. It's an opportunity to put a stop to the disasterous mismanagement of 13% of America's economy. A weak California drags down the whole country, but a strong California will help improve everyone's fortunes. That's a good reason to want power.

I wonder if everyone else has been getting the same spams that I've been getting for the past few days? Let's see what's in my inbox (there was more of course, but here's a good sample):

02:47:46 AM Re: Details 98kb
02:44:23 AM Mike Is tomorrow good? 1kb
02:37:59 AM Dave Is tomorrow good? 1kb
02:37:43 AM Re: Thank you! 100kb
02:27:26 AM Re: Re: My details 100kb
02:17:28 AM Re: Wicked screensaver 99kb
02:07:44 AM RGMITTS@EQUIVA.COM Your details 99kb
01:57:09 AM Re: Thank you! 101kb
01:47:38 AM Re: Re: My details 99kb
01:37:44 AM Re: That movie 102kb
01:28:53 AM Veronica Hotass I hate the crowded walk between classes, guys alwa... 2kb
01:27:53 AM Re: That movie 102kb
01:23:37 AM Barnes & Barnes & -- Discover Great Savings on Ne... 9kb
01:17:30 AM Your details 98kb
01:07:05 AM Your details 103kb
12:56:45 AM Re: That movie 99kb
12:50:02 AM Jillian Sexy Blondes! 4kb
12:46:46 AM Thank you! 101kb
12:36:30 AM Re: That movie 102kb
12:26:42 AM Thank you! 103kb
12:15:55 AM Re: Thank you! 102kb

Not nearly as bad as it could be!

Yes, I know they're from a virus, and I should have made that differentiation. Do emails sent by viruses count as "spam", or is that word reserved for unsolicited marketing emails? I don't see much difference. They both use programs to send emails to a wide audience that doesn't want them, and they both hope that you'll click through.

Based wholly on a recommendation by SDB, I sent off to Amazon and ordered all six Excel Saga DVDs, and I've been watching them for the past week or so. Based on a manga by Kohshi Rikudou, the story revolves around a trio of characters named after three Tokyo airport hotels. And it just gets weirder from there. Fortunately, two of the characters are pretty cute, and the third is the cool super-villain we all wish we could be.

Oh yeah, the main characters are the bad guys, I suppose. They're members of ACROSS, an ideological organization whose purpose is to take over the world. But, since the populace wouldn't be able to handle such a huge change right away, they're going to start by taking over Japan. Of course, they wouldn't want to bite off more than they can chew, so it's prudent to begin with a single city.

I'm only through the first five epidodes so far, but there's aliens, hitmen, main characters dying left and right (and being brought back to life, because otherwise the story would suffer), dog/cat stew, bottomless pits, zombies in unusual places, and more absurdity than you can shake a futon beater at. Kohshi Rikudou is actually in the story, as is the director, and Excel talks directly to the viewers so much that it really draws you in.

It's a blast of hilarity, and there are handy cultural notes that come on the DVDs and can be shown while you're watching that help explain some of the Japanese in-jokes that I probably wouldn't get otherwise. I really want to hurry up and finish the series of 26 episodes so that I can watch it again; there's a lot I'm sure I missed the first time through.

Plus, there's no nudity, so you can show it to your kids or grandparents.

So, all that said, let me now try out my new Amazon Associate link code. I bought mine used off Amazon and got a pretty good price; I don't know if you can get to used stuff through the link below, but you should check that out -- I saved more than $60 buying used. I looked on Ebay, but there weren't any good deals there. Maybe you'll have better luck, but Amazon worked great for me.

I've written about the War on Drugs before, and while I don't (yet?) buy into the idea that all drugs should be legalized, I do think that the status quo is incredibly damaging to American society. Consider this Justice Department study that reports on differences in incarceration rates for blacks and whites.

( - One in every three black American men faces the possibility of imprisonment during his lifetime - a disproportionately high figure when compared to white males, according to a new Justice Department study. ...

But the Bureau of Justice Statistics report reveals that a black child born today faces a strong likelihood of spending at least some time in prison. Black men had a 32.2 percent chance of going to prison in 2001, while white males had a 5.9 percent chance and Hispanic men had a 17.2 percent chance. ...

"The police tactics tend to be more focused on neighborhoods where you are more likely to arrest an African American man for a low-level drug offense than if we were to concentrate those resources in a suburb," Ziedenberg said.

"Whites and African Americans use drugs at pretty much the same rate," Ziedenberg added. "We enforce the drug laws more in urban communities, and then we arrest people, and then we convict people, and then they end up in prison."

If laws exist, they should be enforced geographically proportionally to where they are violated. Experience shows that urban neighborhoods tend to have more crimes of all sorts than suburbs do; even if blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate (perfectly reasonable), I suspect that there is more drug-related gang activity in urban areas, and more drug sales.

Either way, the gangs and the illicit drug sales are intimately related to the War on Drugs. As the Marriage Movement notes, there is a correlation between unwed childbearing and the number of black men in prison, and the breakdown of the family is one of the greatest social issues facing America today. (Black families are particularly disrupted by the War on Drugs, but families of all races are in trouble.)

Of course, one simple solution is for people to start obeying the law. Whether or not "over enforcement" exists in black communities will be irrelevent if blacks stop breaking the law.

Mychal S. Massie, a member of the conservative black leadership network Project 21, said many blacks must change their outlook if they're going to reverse the high rates of incarceration. He remains skeptical of substance abuse programs and emphasizes personal responsibility instead.

"It does not have to do with being poor, being black or it being a residual effect of slavery," Massie said. "It has everything to do with not being responsible in one's behavior and our being a country and a system of laws, and we must abide by those."

Good advice for everyone, of every race. Nevertheless, our nation needs to revisit our drug laws, and consider some drastic reformation. That may mean wholesale legalization, or something entirely different, but the current system is contributing a great deal to one of the most pressing social crises of our day.

Or maybe incarceration is linked to the weather? Of course, the closer you get to Canada, the fewer blacks there are, so I don't know if any of these statistics actually mean anything.

I'm going to add a few new blogs that I've been reading for a little while to the roll on the left. I'm sure that a link from me won't increase their traffic a great deal, but I'd like to call attention to some of the good stuff I've seen recently.

The Tocquevillian Magazine -- A good "radical right-wing reactionary" site based on the philosophies of Alexis de Tocqueville. Today they've got pics up of the UN bombing in Baghdad.

The Blog of Chloë and Pete -- I found them before Glenn did, so there. I was searching on the name "Chloë" because I think it's cool, and if I have kids I want to give them names with umlauts. There doesn't actually appear to be a Chloë on the site, but the author (Jessica) is is pretty entertaining.

Opinions You Should Have -- Brilliantly titled, and quite funny. Parody and satire, delivered fresh to your door, and aimed at my favorite targets.

The Noble Pundit -- Writes about looking for a job and how the internet really has changed the job market significantly. Lots more good stuff.

Stupid Evil Bastard -- Good commentary on tech-related news, and a name that's fun to say!

Ghost of a Flea -- Moved to Movable Type a couple of months ago and I kinda lost track, but stupid me! He's from Canada, but it's ok because he likes guns. I want to learn that, too.

Ok, more later. The Batphone's ringing and I've gotta run. To the lab!

FoxNews reports that the Justice Department has approved the procedural changes necessary for the special election, after a federal judge threatened to postpone the recall over concerns that the voting rights of minorities might be violated. Yet another federal judge said he would rule by midweek on whether to postpone the election due to the use of old punch-card voting machines. Uh, if punch-card machines aren't legal, then should we invalidate every election for the past 200 years?

Last week, a third federal judge ordered Monterey County not to send absentee ballots overseas because he's considering postponing the election.

Here's a clue for these federal judges: take a clue from the Bush Administration and butt out.

One interesting note is that a spokesman for the California attorney general seems to indicate (correctly) that it's in the best interests of the public for the election to go forward as planned.

Doug Woods of the state attorney general's office, representing the secretary of state, argued that the ACLU was merely speculating about what might happen Oct. 7 in terms of error rates or other problems with the punch-card machines.

Woods said the speculation does not outweigh the public interest in having the election go forward.

The state AG, Bill Lockyer, is a Democrat (as are all of California's constitutional officers), and he has vociferously opposed the recall from the beginning. I guess I'm overly cynical, but it's unusual to see a public official in California separate their official role from their private agenda.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is severely under-blogged. Yes, the show is absurd and emasculating, but come on... a) it's hilarious, b) sign me up. Carson can rework my couture, and Thom can eviscerate my house and start from scratch.

I have a Bible study at my house every Monday night, and after we're done we watch the previous week's episode of Queer Eye. Last night I learned that I need more color: more color in my pants, and more color in my house. I also learned to apply pomade from the back of my head to the front, and not front to back as I had been doing. Plus, Ted taught us how to make creme brule, which is one of my favorite desserts.

There's plenty of great coverage elsewhere of the details, and I just want to make a couple observations.

First, the UN's policy of moral compromise and appeasement towards Arab Muslim extremists has failed to protect them. It took a bombing to make the Saudis sit up and take notice of terrorism; they thought that if they supplied the fanatics with money and moral support that they could export the terror to other regions. After the Saudi bombing, however, the kingdom began a more serious crackdown on the Wahabi imams who were instigating much of it. It remains to be seen whether or not the UN will examine itself and ask "why do they hate us?" or if they will simply blame the US.

Unfortunately for the UN workers, UN operational policy is largely determined by France, Russia, and China, and until those countries get hit directly they may not have much motivation to change their positions merely because of attacks on UN personel.

2. It's strange that terrorists would attack the UN, considering that the UN doesn't really do much to interfere with their agenda. The UN was most likely attacked because it's high-profile, and it was a fairly soft target. The Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters are surrounded by military units and have secure perimeters that are virtually immune to this sort of truck bombing. Sure, a bomb could damage or destroy a gate and a few soldiers, but there's no way to get to the civilians inside.

Will the UN request coalition military protection? Will the UN ask to relocate to within the CPAs secure areas? Will the CPA grant such a request? I suspect the answer to all three is "yes".

The WaPo has a distressing article about the problems facing people with AIDS in China, and the same problems of corruption and ignorance face African AIDS victims as well.

Government officials steal money that's intended for use in treating AIDS patients, and even when sick people are able to get medicine they are rarely able to stick with the strict regimen required for the drugs to be effective. AIDS "cocktails" often make their recipients very sick, particularly at first, and each dose needs to be taken at precise time intervals. Many illiterate rural patients don't understand the possible side-effects of the medicine and simply stop taking them when they start to feel worse. What may be even more shocking to many Americans is that the patients often don't have access to accurate time-keeping devices that would even make it possible for them to follow their doctors' instructions.

The AIDS epidemic facing third world nations has not been caused by greedy drug companies, but rather by the corruption of their own governments, and the failure of their own economies. AIDS is just one symptom of even several larger, more fundamental problems that will need to be addressed before any quantity of medical care will prove sufficient to stem the tide. They need free markets and free governments, and they need to break free of the stifling mysticism that dominates their worldview.

This is the third in a series on rights, power, voting, and utility.
Part 1: The 19th Amendment -- Good Idea?
Part 2: The "Right" to Vote, and Utility

With all the discussion of the costs and benefits of allowing women to vote, it's natural to ask the next question: why do we need democracy at all? If society could be more prosperous had women not been allowed to vote, then perhaps they shouldn't have been allowed to do so. The problem then, however, becomes a question of who gets to set the goals, and who gets to define "prosperous" (since we're not merely talking about monetary prosperity, but utility, and utility is different for everyone).

Historically, the people who have gotten to define "prosperous" have been people with hard power. Hard power represents the ability to use physical force to compel others to conform to your desires, and is often manifested in the form of armies and weapons, real estate and capital, and the knowledge and desire required to apply these tools to disagreeable circumstances. America wasn't able to break free from England purely by the virtue of our natural rights to freedom and liberty; rather, these rights and our desire to possess them motivated our forefathers to use their hard power to overthrow English rule. It's often said that we "have" a right to this or that, but unless we have the hard power available to seize and defend that right, it's little more than a rhetorical construct.

God may grant us the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but unless we have the hardware to back it up we're likely to have those rights taken away in fact. Our natural rights are not rights that are enforced by God, but they define the extent to which it is permissible to use force against each other, and they define who is right and who is wrong in such conflicts. If you attack me without provocation, God is not likely to intervene to stop you -- but he will sanction my use of hard power in self-defense. (SDB writes a little about hard power as it applies to relations between countries.)

The power to vote is not hard power, but soft power; votes only have meaning as long as those with the hard power respect them. If you look around the world, internationalists want to replace the hard power of armies with the soft power of UN negotiations, international courts (ICC), environmental treaties (Kyoto); however, dictators and strongmen continue to subjugate their people through the use of hard power, and generally show no respect for soft power unless it happens to coincide with their wishes -- take Saddam's treatment of the myriad UN resolutions, for example. Soft power can only be used successfully when those who possess hard power restrain themselves.

As I wrote in part 2, above, voting is not a right; as such, if you are forbidden the power to vote you are not being inherently wronged, as long as your true rights are not being violated. Using force merely to gain the power to vote is not morally acceptable. However, it's uncommon for societies with a single voter (a king), or a small, select group of voters (feudalism, or an oligarchy) to respect the rights of those without hard power of their own.

This situation sets up a rather interesting conflict, assuming those with hard power want to respect the natural rights of those without. Those with hard power can set up social institutions (democracy, courts, &c.) to ensure that everyone's natural rights are protected, but if those soft power structures overstep their bounds they will become burdensome, and they may eventually be overthrown. This perspective views democracy and other forms of soft power as grants from those with hard power who have an interest in respecting the rights of the powerless.

Soft power structures show their true strength over time, as they manipulate the foundations of hard power. For example, the 2nd and 3rd Amendments attempt to permanently diffuse the concentration of hard power, on the basis of the natural rights to private property and self-defense. These words don't factually eliminate the hard power that could oppress you, but over time they work in the minds of men to change their thoughts, and to further ingrain the respect for you rights that led those with power to restrain themselves in the first place. Soft power must entice and coerce hard power, subtly influencing over time.

Democracy has proven to be quite adept at manipulating and controlling those with hard power. America's military is the most powerful force that has ever existed on the planet, and if its generals were able to wield that power at their own discretion they would rule the world. But America's military is under civilian control, and that control is passed on every few years without involving the use of hard power. This principle is not merely written in our Constitution, but is ingrained in the hearts and minds of every man and woman who carries a rifle or drives a tank. They possess hard power, but they restrain its use because of their committment to the powerless.

Was our initial government in 1788, after the ratification of the Constitution, democratic? Yes, although only a limited group of people was allowed to vote. Under our modern system, many more people are allowed to vote, but still not everyone: children, convicts, non-citizens, the insane, the unborn(?). Are we democratic? Certainly. There is clearly a range of suffrage that is allowable under democratic rule, and over time we have moved along that spectrum -- but I don't expect that we will ever move to total suffrage, because those with power (hard and soft) don't think that granting the power to vote to those without it would lead to a better government.

Do children, convicts, non-citizens, the insane, and the unborn have the rights to life, libery, and the pursuit of happiness? Each of those groups of people has their power limited for different reasons, and many would argue that some have rights and others do not, for whatever reason. At the root level, however, the question of granting soft power to these groups comes down to that of the interests of those who currently wield power. And we say no. We may or may not recognize and respect their rights (if they exist, which is a separate issue), but we don't grant them power because we don't think it would be in our best interests They do not possess hard power of their own to use in seizing soft power.

Our nation is free and prosperous as a direct result of our respect for each other's natural rights. Economic liberty and social freedom have given us a tremendous amount of hard and soft power, and we use that power to create wealth and raise our standard of living, as well as to (hopefully) spread the values that have led to our success. Our experience has shown that rights are more likely to be respected when power is diffused as widely as possible. In response to part 1, a commenter wrote that by recognizing the rights of women (and by granting them soft power?) we have attracted the best and brightest women from around the world, and that they add immeasurably to our prosperity. Our foundational ideas hold that when rights are respected, economic and cultural success follow behind.

Making fine cultural adjustments is difficult and error-prone, as in general we decide against it. It may be the case that granting women suffrage has been a net loss, but it's so difficult to calculate -- and the gross benefits are so obvious -- that the nation (and those with power at the time) decided to err on the side of further diffusion. We do restict the power of some groups based on what most believe are rather clear criteria, but those circumstances are limited and (except for the unborn) mostly non-controversial.

So why democracy? Because democracy tends to diffuse power more successfully than any other form of government, and diffuse soft power limits the interference of those with hard power by subtly manipulating their goals and desires, thereby increasing their respect for the rights of the powerless.

Accoding to WaPo, Arnold is trailing Bustamante in the recent California Field Poll. Donald Sensing thinks that Arnold is facing an uphill battle. However, there are still two conservative republicans in the running that are polling in the single digits.

If Simon and McClintock pull out and add their 17% to Arnold's, the race will look much different. I suspect that McClintock at least will withdraw in a few weeks; Simon doesn't strike me as realistic or humble enough to resign that easily.

It's important to note that people may say they prefer these conservatives over Arnold in a poll, but most of them know that their preferred candidates can't actually win the election. They might vote differently once the ballot is actually sitting in front of them.

Don't buy the spin!

I did pretty well at the blackjack table in Vegas this weekend, so I thought I'd share the basic blackjack strategy I used to win. It's not uncommon knowledge, or particularly difficult, but it will reduce the house advantage to less than 1%. Here's a picture of the plastic card it's found on:

Blackjack is the only game I do well at, and it's the only table game that's close to even -- but only if you play it right. I saw people buying insurance and holding 16s all night long, and losing money left and right. Ultimately, it's all in the luck of the draw, but you have to do your part to maximize your chances and reduce the house's edge.

I'm off to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with... my family. Yes, the dreaded family vacation. Oh well, it should be fun, considering that I haven't been to Vegas in years. I'm not a big gambler, but I like looking around and eating at all the buffets. Mmmm.

Anyway, while I'm gone go check out the *Best Of* archives and leave some comments. I'll be back sometime Sunday, I reckon.

I'm back! At no point, in the net or in the gross, for any individual game or overall, was I ahead by a single penny all weekend. Except blackjack, I suppose. Fortunately, I don't like gambling that much and I stuck with the low-stakes games and tables.

There's a really nifty new machine that they didn't have when I was in Vegas four years ago that lets you play 100 hands of draw poker at once. You get dealt a single hand, and then select which cards to hold. The other 99 hands start with your held cards, and then each gets filled in from its own deck. It's a fascinating game, and it illustrates perfectly just how much the odds are stacked against you. If the rate of return for the game is set at 99% per hand, you can lose money very quickly playing 100 hands at a time.

Meanwhile, there are new hotels. The old-new hotels (like Excalibur) are really starting to show their age, and the new ones seem much more uniform inside than I remember hotels being. Most of the casinos have the same exact games, and the decor isn't as interesting to me as it used to be.

We stayed for two nights, and by this morning I was really ready to head home. We hit a touch of traffic on the 15 by Barstow, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared.

Home again, home again, jiggety gig.

Everyone has probably seen the results of the recent California Field Poll released today, and reported by fair and balanced FoxNews.

LOS ANGELES — A new statewide Field Poll released Friday shows that 58 percent of Californian voters now favor recalling Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search), a seven point increase over the last Field Poll in July.

Everyone with any sense has known that Davis' recall has been inevitable from the moment it was certified, and this significant 7 point increase just cements the issue.

"It's really, really bad for him," a top statewide Democratic strategist told Fox News. "Because he's been leaning on people all week saying polls showing him in trouble are wrong. Well, what's he going to say now when almost every newspaper in the state on Friday will carry this poll?"

What's Davis going to do?

Top party strategists said Davis urged Democrats not to endorse Bustamante so early because he and his top aides feared it would send a signal that the party had abandoned the governor.

The governor has worked aggressively behind the scenes, Democratic strategists said, to raise money to defeat the Oct. 7 recall. Those fund-raising efforts would have suffered dramatically, Davis argued, by a strong show of support for Bustamante.

He doesn't lay out a comprehensive plan for California's future. He doesn't try to inspire us. He doesn't call on the legislature to scrap the old budget and start over with greater fiscal responsibility and less spending. He doesn't admit any wrong-doing with respect to the energy contracts he signed two years ago. He doesn't take any blame for the horrendous debacle he's made of California's economy. He doesn't recognize his mistakes and show us he's learned anything from them. No.

After all, the problem has nothing to do with him; the problem is simply that he hasn't raised enough money yet! Raising money to further his political ambitions is pretty much all Davis is good at, and now that he's faced with a monumental problem it's what he falls back on. But he's got another strategy as well:

Democrats say Davis has been betting that the media will pound actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is running for the governor's seat as a Republican, and that his image will suffer as the campaign drags on. Strategists also say Davis will appear in public as often as possible to remind Democrats that he's their leader in Sacramento and that the recall is an assault on the entire Democratic Party.

Since he has no vision or leadership ability to display, maybe he'll get lucky and his chief competition will get buried by a hostile press.

I hope that all the elected officials in Sacramento recognize this recall as an assault on the Democratic way of doing government. As Ann Coulter discovered reading old issues of American Prospect and pointed out in this excellent piece,

In June 2002, the liberal American Prospect magazine was hailing California as a "laboratory" for Democratic policies. With "its Democratic governor, U.S. senators, state legislature and congressional delegation," author Harold Meyerson gushed, "California is the only one of the nation's 10 largest states that is uniformly under Democratic control." In the Golden State, Meyerson said, "the next New Deal is in tryouts." ...

California is, in fact, a perfect petri dish of Democratic policies. This is what happens when you let Democrats govern: You get a state -- or as it's now known, a "job-free zone" -- with a $38 billion deficit, which is larger than the budgets of 48 states. There are reports that Argentina and the Congo are sending their fiscal policy experts to Sacramento to help stabilize the situation. California's credit rating has been slashed to junk bond status, and citizens are advised to stock up for the not-too-far-off day when cigarettes and Botox become the hard currency of choice. At this stage, we couldn't give California back to Mexico.

Democrats governed their petri dish as they always govern. They buy the votes of government workers with taxpayer-funded jobs, salaries and benefits -- and then turn around and accuse the productive class of "greed" for wanting their taxes cut. This has worked so well nationally that more people in America now work for the government than work in any sort of manufacturing job.

Coulter is rather colorful, but she makes good points. All 8 of California's constitutional officers are Democrats, the legislature is nearly two-thirds Democrat, both of our Senators are Democrats, and most of our Representatives are Democrats.

Even though it's politically correct to say "well, both parties do it"... not so fast! California Republicans can't wipe their noses without Democrat approval. If Republicans in California share any blame for our current problems, it's only in that they haven't been aggressive enough in opposing the Democrats' leftist agenda. This is what you're voting for when you vote for a Democrat. I hope this serves as a warning for the rest of the country. The Democrats got every item on their wishlist in California, up until a month ago -- and just look where it's left us.

Donald Sensing discusses an article by Nicholas Kristoff, and as a part of that discussion he posts an excerpt from his Master of Divinity thesis.

I see two world views among parishioners. There is the religious world view, reserved mostly for use during Sunday school and worship. This world view includes miraculous happenings, angels and demons, God and Satan. Sin results in penalty, virtue in reward, and God dispenses both. God's power is understood as absolute and unfettered. The theoretical foundation of this religious world view is classical theism.

The other world view, scientific materialism, is equally present among parishioners. It is used outside church. This world view is bereft of supernatural beings or events. God is not so much absent as unnecessary. Cause and effect are mechanistic: physical event "A" results in physical event "B." Penalties and rewards occur in a different scheme. Lung cancer results from smoking, not sin. Wealth comes not from righteousness, but from prudent manipulation of resources in a comprehensible economic system.

These world views are not readily compatible. The dissonance between them is reflected in the most important aspects of church life. How a congregation grapples with them affects its growth or decline, its ministries of compassion and justice, and its retention of youth, to name just three examples. The problem is made more acute by the fact that scientific materialism is useful every day of the week, while theism "works" almost exclusively on Sunday mornings.

He says he's going to write more on the topic later, and I look forward to reading it. However, I don't agree that classical theism and scientific materialism are incompatible, and I'll try to explain why.

The real key to blending classical theism with scientific materialism is recognizing that when God acts, it's rather subtle, and most of the time he works through natural occurances. If you smoke, God doesn't give you cancer; if you happen to get cancer, it's not due to a direct act of God. Rather, God designed the universe in such a way that people who smoke tend to get cancer. People who eat lots of protein tend to get strong, but that's not because eating protein pleases God, who then disrupts the normal flow of the universe to hand out big muscles.

In fact, as you study the Bible and God's teachings, it becomes abundantly clear that most of his instructions stem directly from a scientific, rational, economical perspective. God's wisdom is built around living successfully within the world as he created it, as well as living in a way that pleases him. Reading through Proverbs will give you a lot of practical wisdom, such as:

Proverbs 6:6-11
Proverbs 6
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.

9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest-
11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.

Jesus gives us a lot of valuable, worldly advice as well.
Matthew 5:25-26
"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
God doesn't intend us to be so spiritually-minded that we're no earthly good. Through out the Bible we are taught how to live in the world, while at the same time always keeping in mind that God created us and designed us in a specific way and for a specific purpose. We live in the world, but we are not of the world. Consider:
Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Whose portrait can be seen on you? Pleasing God doesn't require us to ignore logic, reason, and the world around us; on the contrary, we cannot be effective servents if we aren't firmly grounded in reality.

When I saw the headline, I thought it would have been really awesome if it were true: Iraqis Offer Tips Over U.S. Blackout. Unfortunately, at least from the tone of the AP reporter, most of the tips were rather snide.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis who have suffered for months with little electricity gloated Friday over a blackout in the northeastern United States and southern Canada and offered some tips to help Americans beat the heat.
Finally those uppity Americans who spent hundreds of lives and billions of dollars to rid us of the monster responsible for our terrible infrastructure are getting what they deserve.
"Let them taste what we have tasted," said Ali Abdul Hussein, selling "Keep Cold" brand ice chests on a sidewalk. "Let them sit outside drinking tea and smoking cigarettes waiting for the power to come back, just like the Iraqis."
That's right. After all, why show sympathy or support for those who have given so much for your benefit, when you can instead take advantage of an opportunity to revel in their misfortune.

The tips aren't exactly revolutionary, either.

SIT IN THE SHADE. Many Iraqis head outside when the power's off. "We sit in the shade," said George Ruweid, 27, playing cards with friends on the sidewalk. Of the U.S. blackout, he said: "I hope it lasts for 20 years. Let them feel our suffering."
Thanks, that's fantastic.

I have a suspicion (based purely on my general negative opinion of the journalists in Iraq) that the reporter found the most insulting and provocative people in Baghdad in an effort to stir up controversy. He must have been irked with the headline writer for coming up with such a neutral title. What about "Iraqis gloat over benefactors' misfortune"? Or "Allah takes revenge on infidels, say Iraqis"?

Personally, I hope that the Iraqis get their infrastructure fixed as soon as possible. The faster it's over the better. I can't wait to get my hands on their precious, precious oil.

Much like He-Man and Skeletor, Frank J and Glenn R are locked in an eternal battle, the conclusion of which will determine the fate of the entire blogosphere. However, also like He-Man and Skeletor, it's not exactly clear that these two fellows actually operate within a very large universe. I mean, they each had a half-dozen buddies and spent most of their time fighting over a musty looking, run-down castle. The Sorceress was pretty hot, though. (Actually, not so much.)

Anyway, the point is that although Glenn R is vastly more powerful than Frank J, they're both Prince Adam to the real media He-Mans. They're squabbling brats fighting over the last gulp of puppy, while the adults are feasting on delectable monkey-marrow stew.

I've gotten emails from both sides soliciting my allegiance, but like the wily Swiss I'm going to have to stay neutral for the time being. Then, when the moment is right, I'll stab them each in the back, neatly severing their spinal cords and seizing control of the blogoverse for myself -- also like the Swiss.

Let's keep that last part a secret for now. [Don't worry, no one's reading this nonsense anyway -- Ed.]

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is continuing to refuse to remove the Ten Commandments monument he set up in front of the Alabama state judicial building. What strikes me as particularly hard to believe, however, is the alleged cost of his refusal.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of Montgomery, who ruled the monument violates the constitution's ban on government promotion of religion, had said fines of about $5,000 a day would have been imposed against the state if the monument were not removed.

Moore pledged to ask the Supreme Court to overrule Thompson and said the promised fines would add to the approximate $125 million the state has already spent defending the monument's place. The state is spending $25,000 a day of taxpayers' money on the case, Moore said.

According to the State of Alabama State Government Finances website, the state's total general fund revenue for FY 2001-2002 was only $1,189,000,000. There's no way they spent $125 million on this lawsuit over the past 4 years.

I emailed the link to Eugene, and he thinks the amount is pretty unrealistic as well. And he links back to me -- thanks! The Volokh Conspiracy was my blogging inspiration.

Eugene and his readers have proven that the FoxNews story is incorrect, and he cites this episode as an example of how good blogs are at fact-checking.

Update 2:
For my thoughts on more recent developments, see Christians Waste Time, Goodwill, and Neglect True Mission.

Dean points to an excellent marriage resource site and blog, Marriage Movement. They're pro-marriage, but probably not exactly what you'd expect from your preconceptions.

Check out their manifesto, with lots of footnotes and references.

A guy named Ken writes in the comments section of this post over at Oblivion that:

Point 3: Yeah, we need to keep the government out of education... That way every podunk school board in certain states can vote to teach creationism and throw science out the window. This is where I completely disagree with the conservatives. There needs to be a national standard for education at elementary and secondary levels. There should be a damn national core curriculum and a national standardized test. It's not government money (or lack thereof) ruining schools, it's teachers unions and lazy parents.
Who gets to determine these national standards? Why, Ken of course! Not those morons from other places with other ideas! Naturally. After all, Ken knows he's smarter than they are, so he -- and people who agree with him -- should be empowered to set the education standards for everyone! Who knows what crazy things parents will teach their kids without his intervention!

(Teachers' unions and lazy parents certainly don't help the situation.)

On the other hand, I have a different perspective. I think that education should be entirely privatized, and that the free market should determine what kids are taught. Parents, and kids, want to succeed in life, and they will naturally design and select schools that help them do so. There's no need for anyone to impose outside standards; in fact, as with all socialist proposals, the attempt to impose high-level government control will certainly fail.

I'm really amazed that anyone still buys into this socialist garbage. There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that the solution to America's education problem is to tighten government controls. The government has been in charge of education for nearly a century, and it has been a consistent failure. Every socialist experiment around the globe has crashed and burned. Why does anyone think that socialism will work for education? It's mind-boggling.

I'd just like to point out that SARS hasn't wiped out the human race... yet. Even SARS Watch seems to have lost interest.

Hopefully the chicken littles of the world will take note.

Lileks and Josh Marshall mention Stinger missiles this morning. Josh points to a NYT article that says:

Intelligence agencies say Al Qaeda already has dozens of missiles, many of them American-made Stingers left over from the war in Afghanistan in the 1980's when the United States supplied them to Afghan guerrillas seeking to oust Soviet troops from their country. Hundreds of other surface-to-air missiles are reported to be circulating on the black market.
That's true, but it's not the whole story. Stinger missiles do have a pretty long shelf-life, but the ones we gave to the muhajadeen in Afghanistan are more than 20 years old. According to what I've read in various places, most of these old missiles won't work properly.
More importantly, the consumables in the Stinger system degrade over time. Those given to the mujahedin were transferred in 1981, making them twenty years old. Batteries for electronics and liquified gases for coolant both will escape or run flat. While batteries might be easily replaced, the act of doing so will involve 'unsealing' a missile round, modifying it, and repackaging it. While this is not impossible, it is not easily accomplished either; at least, not in such a way that the user can be relatively sure the missile will function. IR seekers are extremely sensitive to damage, contaminants, and other environmental hazards.
Which isn't to say that they aren't a threat at all, but we should be careful not to overstate it.

Naturally, Strategy Page has much more about knocking down airliners.

Larger airliners, like the Airbus's, and 757s, 767s and 747s, have not been brought down because these missiles were not designed to take on aircraft with such large and powerful engines. While these missiles were originally intended for use against jet fighters operating over the battlefield, the reality turned out to be different. The most likely targets encountered were helicopters, or propeller driven transports. These aircraft proved to be just the sort of thing twenty pound missiles with 2-3 pound warheads could destroy. Against jet fighters with powerful engines, the missiles caused some damage to the tailpipe, but usually failed to bring down the jet. This was first noted during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, where the Egyptians fired hundreds of SA-7s at Israeli A-4 light bombers. Most of the A-4s, with their 11,187 pounds of thrust engines, survived the encounter. Larger jets, like the F-4 and it's 17,000 pound thrust engines, were even more difficult to bring down. Smaller commercial jets, like the 737 or DC-9 (each using two 14,000 pounds of thrust engines) have proved vulnerable. But a 757 has much larger engines with 43,000 pounds of thrust, and the 747 is 63,000. Moreover, the rear end of jet engines are built to take a lot of punishment from all that hot exhaust spewing out. Put a bird into the front of the engine and you can do some real damage. But these missiles home in on heat, and all of that is at the rear end of the engine. ...

They won't be using any of the Stingers the U.S. gave out in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The custom battery packs in those missiles gave out in the 1990s. It's a lot easier to get Russian missiles, and fresh batteries for them.

There's more, look for the August 14, 2003, entry. Hey Jim, get some permalinks.

Here's an awesome example of how capitalism creates value. Those who claim that America got fat and rich by exploiting others don't understand economics at all.

Google points out that it's Alfred Hitchcock's birthday!

And wow, did you know that Google is a calculator? It can even do unit conversions.

(Calculator pointed out by GeekPress.)

This is the second in a series on rights, power, voting, and utility.
Part 1: The 19th Amendment -- Good Idea?
Part 3: Why Do We Need Democracy?

There's no such thing as a "right to vote". There's the power to vote, but no-one has a natural, God-given right to vote. We have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but none of those require or imply the right to vote. An absolute dictatorship could respect our God-given natural rights, and be entirely just. For instance, most families don't operate as democracies, and yet most families respect these basic rights.

One my my friends (I hope she's still my friend) responded to my earlier post about the 19th amendment and said that she doesn't want to apply economic principles to civil rights. However, economic principles apply to every human endeavor, whether we recognize it or not. No one needs to come put a price tag on your forehead for there to be a cost associated with the rights and powers you enjoy. That cost is there automatically, regardless of your approval, and economics is merely the study of the costs and benefits associated with everything humans do.

Costs and benefits often aren't monetary -- generally economists refer to "utility" to describe how valuable something is to a person. Love and affection, the power to vote, $1000, clean air -- all of these items have utility to people, and different people will value them differently. When it comes to the power to vote, I hypothesized that if you were to walk up to a random guy on the street and offer him a 20% permanent raise in exchange for his power to vote, he'd probably sell it to you. Most people don't vote, and many who do don't take it very seriously. If Joe Shmoe won't sell his vote for a 20% raise, maybe he will for 50%, or 100%, or 1000%. There's a price, you just have to find it and be willing to pay it. Some people may place infinite value on their power to vote, but I doubt there are many such people -- especially if you separate the power to vote from the natural rights we hold so dear.

With all that understanding, it's quite reasonable to wonder whether or not giving women the power to vote was a wise idea. I agree that it has moral value, and we gain some utility as a society from that good morality, but does that moral utility out-weigh the utility of every effect that has arisen because women can vote? It's possible that that moral utility is more valuable to you than anything else, but I doubt that's the case.

The question is whether or not our present circumstances are overall better or worse than they would be if women had never been given the power to vote. Yes, there is some degree of utility that arises from the moral good that was done in granting women that power, but that utility is not of infinite value.

For instance, the War on Drugs would probably not exist if women couldn't vote; the War on Drugs costs us billions of dollars a year and incarcerates millions of otherwise-innocent people. It also encourages a lot of violent crime associated with the black market. On the other hand, the War on Drugs probably reduces drug use, and reduces the societal costs associated with that. So, your opinion of the War on Drugs can influence your opinion of the total utility gained or lost when women were given the power to vote. There are many other issues that have been affected by the 19th Amendment, and all of them should affect the way you value the power of women to vote.

Courtney has some links to the conversation going on at Dean's World. In the comment section there she promised a post on the subject herself -- but so far, nothing!

Continued in part 3, "Why Do We Need Democracy?"

Dean Esmay explains some of the thinking during the early suffrage movements.

It's fashionable to look at demographics and try to draw conclusions, but it generally doesn't work very well. Donald Sensing points to one example, wherein a writer named Spengler claims:

Which brings us to the threat of radical Islam. "You are decadent and hedonistic. We on the other hand are willing to die for what we believe, and we are a billion strong. You cannot kill all of us, so you will have to accede to what we demand." That, in a nutshell, constitutes the Islamist challenge to the West.

Neither the demographic shift toward Muslim immigrants nor meretricious self-interest explains Western Europe's appeasement of Islam, but rather the terrifying logic of the numbers. That is why President Bush has thrown his prestige behind the rickety prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And that is why Islamism has only lost a battle in Iraq, but well might win the war.

Donald has written about demographics and Israel before, and I've commented.

Demographics always indicate that the poor and oppressed are eventually going to take over the world. Why? Because poor people have more kids than rich people. That's just the way it is. Somehow, the the rich and powerful manage to stay in control anyway.... I'm not dismissing demographics, but I do think such arguments need to be taken with a grain of salt. The situation is never as clear as it looks from raw population numbers.

As the poor and weak gain power and wealth, their growth rate drops and their priorities change. Rich people want freedom, stability, and trade -- not violent revolution. Radical Arab Muslims aren't going to take over the world, because if they ever have that kind of power they won't be Radical Arab Muslims anymore.

The whole cut-n-paste paradigm is pretty cool, but I think we need a new function: "swap". Swap would allow the user to highlight something and then swap the highlighted stuff with whatever is in the clipboard (a concurrent paste and cut, for you systems people). With our current abilities, it takes a cut, a paste, another cut, and another paste, to swap two items. With the power of swap we could simply cut, swap, paste. Think of all the time we'd save!

This CNSNews article about a proposed tax increase in Alabama contains a bunch of good examples of tricks that tax-advocates use to talk people into handing more of their money over to the government.

The complicated Riley tax package relies on tax decreases for some constituencies, coupled with big tax increases for others. The package includes tax increases on income, sales, services, property, corporate profits, insurance premiums, mortgages and deeds, and cigarettes.
Without knowing any more details, it's pretty easy to figure that the raw number of people getting income tax decreases is higher than the raw number of people getting income tax increases. That is, the poor will be paying even less taxes than they do now, and the rich will be paying more. How many of you have ever gotten a job from a poor person? (Government employees, put your hands down.)

Non-smokers and non-home-owners are happy to raise property taxes and cigarette taxes. Ignorant people are happy to raise taxes on corporations, because they don't understand that every single dime taxed from a corporation comes from the public's pocket. Basically, the majority votes to raise taxes on the minorty.

"This is the first revenue package we have seen that addresses the state's critical issues in education funding shortfalls, infrastructure development and building the kind of quality of life that we advocate is essential for economic development," said Buckalew.
Everyone wants educated children, but most seem blind to the fact that the government is terrible at education. Infrastructure development is actually a reasonable use of public funds, but "quality of life"? What does that even mean? How does a government "build quality of life"?
The tax increases "will be a net job creator," Buckalew said, giving the state a better public and higher education system.
The only way tax increases can create jobs is if they create government jobs; every government job is paid for by the public, and generates no new wealth. In a very real sense, government jobs are negative jobs that cost the community more than they put back in.
Fiscal conservatives contend that the state hasn't done enough to trim the bureaucracy and refinance state debt. But Buckalew disagrees, saying the state is having the most trouble funding education, teacher health insurance costs and the prison system.

Riley himself has warned that Medicaid prescription drugs, nursing homes and state troopers will also face cuts without new tax revenue.

"Go tell someone in a nursing home: 'I'm sorry we have budget problems; go find other arrangements,' '' Riley told Alabama's Times Daily.

That's called Washington Monument Syndrome -- if we cut one more penny out of the budget we won't be able to afford to keep the Washington Monument! Oh no! The ploy is normally based around dire warnings that cutting the budget will force the state to fire police officers and firefighters, close schools, starve children, and toss old people out onto the street. It's entirely absurd, of course, because there are generally an uncountable number of pork projects that can be cut long before it becomes necessary to empty the jails or start forced euthenizations.

Careful observers will note that there are never budget items that can be reduced or cut in real dollar amounts. If an item gets a smaller increase than the bureaucracy hoped for, that's considered a cut. We wanted 5% more money, but we only got 4%! That's a 1% budget cut! At least according to spend-happy liberals and the media. Most people know intuitively that their government is wasteful and inefficient, but to bureaucrats it's unthinkable that their personal government fiefdom could actually shrink just because they don't need so much money to perform the tasks they've been given.

These tricks and distortions are the same types of rhetoric you'll see Democrats haul out every election cycle to try to manipulate the gullible and the foolish. Keep your eyes open.

Chip Taylor comments and says I'm wrong about the job issue. I did treat the issue a bit too shallowly, and I agree with him that not every government job is a gross drain on society (although on net, when you consider the public sector job it is replacing would be more efficient, most government jobs are a loss).

It's nice to see a report about a thwarted attempt to sell a surface-to-air missile to terrorists inside the United States.

It's odd to try and imagine the news coverage that might have resulted if the September 11th attacks had been foiled by good intelligence work. I doubt that many news organizations would have taken the situation seriously enough to speculate that thousands of lives had been saved by capturing a few Muslims with pilot certifications.

If this guy had actually been able to smuggle a missile into the States and someone had taken down a civilian jet with it, the economic impact alone would have been enormous, even aside from the hundreds of lives that could have been lost.

I'd like to retract my previous assertion that Glenn Reynolds hates me, and note that he has generously given me a permalink on his sidebar. Thanks Glenn!

This is the first in a series on rights, power, voting, and utility.
Part 2: The "Right" to Vote, and Utility
Part 3: Why Do We Need Democracy?

Call me old fashioned, but women voters? What planet are we on? Beam me back up to the mothership.

As Dean Esmay notes, it's been 83 years, and what have women really done for us? Prohibition -- good move. That worked well. Oh sure, it was ratified before women could vote, but it was their idea. Let's see... that's pretty much it.

Let's be serious here though and really consider. Are we as a nation better off having given women the power to vote? I agree that from a moral perspective it was the right thing to do, but I don't think the issue is that black and white; there were substantial groups of women opposed to granting women suffrage.

If you told me, Michael, the country could have a 20% higher standard of living if we were to go back in time and start again as a monarchy, I'd say "sign me up!" I think most people would be willing to trade their vote away for a substantial salary increase. Any individual would sell their vote for the right price, so it's not unreasonable to speculate on the costs and benefits of women's suffrage.

Each individual woman has more freedom than she would otherwise have had, and each individual man has less power than he would otherwise have had -- at least as far as voting goes. But women tend to vote socially and economically liberal, so it's possible that men have more freedom now than they would have had if women had not been allowed to vote, simply because women may have voted for more civil liberties than men alone would have. However, it's also possible that women's liberal voting tendencies have reduced our freedoms, considering that modern "liberals" aren't really all that concerned with maintaining liberty. Similar hypotheticals can be set up with regard to the economy.

It seems likely that if women had not been given the power to vote, more conservative/libertarian laws would have been enacted than actually have been. Women are big supporters of the War on Drugs, for example, and big social spenders. Therefore, those who hold conservative/libertarian positions would probably have a government more to their liking if women had not been given suffrage.

I'm not a historian, but I play one on TV, and if you look through history you'll realize that the position of women in America is really an aberration. Through out every culture, through out all time, women have never been as free and powerful as they are in the United States right now. In an absolute sense, giving women equal social power was an act of indulgence for men; women are physically weaker than men, and in might-makes-right societies that weakness translates directly into social subjugation. It's quite reasonably arguable that the power of women in America is against the "natural order" of the world, and it would be difficult for any materialist to disagree.

I expect that most people who are reading this believe that women's suffrage is a Good Thing. I hope that none of my female readers have taken offense to this topic. Even though I agree that women have God-given equality with men, I'm not convinced that giving them equal social power has resulted in a net gain for society -- or either men or women separately.

Please leave your opinion. Your concept of "gain" may be purely monetary (what we might normally call "standard of living"); it may include freedoms and liberties aside from the power to vote itself; it may encompass foreign policy; it may involve deep philisophical or religious issues. In any event, please define what you consider to be "gain", and then tell us if we made the right decision.

Continued in "The 'Right' to Vote, and Utility".

Steve Antler over at Econopundit posted a nifty little "sermon" (as he calls it) on Sunday about social justice as a good. I like his analysis, and it makes me feel better about myself as well!

Here's the idea. We can't avoid wanting more than we can afford, because that's part of our biological makeup. This means we can't avoid wanting more social justice than we can afford, because social justice is a good and we always want more goods than we can afford.
Interesting, but it obviously doesn't negate the importance of limiting ourselves to the optimal amount of affordable social justice, and no more.

Just a quick link to the story on FoxNews: Former Human Shield Faces Thousands in Fines.

Yes, I do love it. I'd rather she face the headsman's axe for providing substantial aid and comfort to our enemy during a time of war, but alas.

I love economics, but I'm not that interested in the numbers of any particular issue. If you're like me, I recommend that you check out the archives of The Angry Economist; from the article titles you can find some pretty fascinating topics, followed by clear and intuitive explanations. Good stuff.

Jackie over at au currant asks, what pain?

I know I can't help getting older, every second of every day, but sometimes I feel like I'm getting crotchety as well. I prefer to think of myself as "grounded in reality", but still....

I'm friends with a lot of high school kids at church, and nearly every week someone is falling in love with someone else, and they've always got to tell me all about it. If not at church, then later online. I listen, and smile, and nod. Oh he's so great, we're perfect for each other, we're going to get married. You know how it goes. Isn't he so awesome?

For some reason (see title) I feel compelled to point out that no, in fact you will not get married and live happily ever after. How do I know this? Because you're 15 years old, that's how. You'd fall in love with a tree stump if it could listen to your stories without wandering off.

Oh no, you don't understand, we're in love! What can I do but sigh? Look, most marriages fail. I imagine that the failure rate for high school relationships is something like 95%. In my mind, I'm concerned for these kids, I don't want to see them all broken-hearted and hurt... but maybe it's futile. who knows.

In a month or so we'll talk again. Oh Michael, you were so right. He's such a jerk! Yes, I know, he's 15 too. Welcome to real life. Still, I feel complicit in stealing a little bit of innocence that I wish they never had to lose.

Hey, thanks to whomever dropped the fins into the tip jar a couple of days ago! Every bit helps defray the costs of hosting, &c. It's much appreciated. Don't feel shy to leave your email address or website when you tip!

GeekPress points to a rather long list that purports to summarize the many attempts to prove that God exists. Of course, the list is flippant and humorous, but the point is fair. Can it be proven that God exists?

Well sure, but as I've written before, not by us. If God exists and wanted to prove his existence he could certainly do it, but he hasn't done so. Therefore, either he doesn't exist, or he doesn't want to prove it. Which is it?

Hebrews 11:1-2,6 -- Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. ... And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

It might seem like a convenient out, but the fact of the matter is that God requires us to come to him by faith. There is quite a bit of evidence that God is real, but that same evidence can be interpreted in many ways, and it doesn't constitute "proof". It's very unscientific, I know.

Why would God do this? I can only speculate, but it might have something to do with free will. If God wanted to compel us to behave in certain ways (to believe in him or not, or anything else) then he could do so, but instead he has endowed us with the power of self-determination. Consider: if there were incontrovertible proof that God existed, wouldn't that be nearly the same as compulsion?

Most of the non-Christians I know (even atheists) agree that if it could proven to them that God exists and wants them to do such-and-such, they would do it. That may or may not be the case (consider those who met Jesus face-to-face and still rejected him), but they agree rationally that when confronted with proof, acceptance is the only reasonable action. However, God doesn't want to force us into choosing him, he wants us to love him as a response to his love for us.

This line of thinking is one possible component of the truth, and there are many others, but in the end it comes down to free will. God wants us to choose him out of our own free will, not because he makes the decision inescapable.


Even though the futures market for terrorist attacks got shot down by Congress, it's good to see that some people in the government (the State Department, even!) are still coming up with some good ideas. WaPo has an article about the State Department's new Arab language magazine, Hi.

Hi is a new magazine funded by the State Department, published in Arabic, targeted at Arabs ages 18 to 35 and sold on newsstands in more than a dozen countries. It costs consumers about $2 a copy. It will cost American taxpayers about $4 million a year -- minus whatever advertising revenues it can generate.

"This is a long-term way to build a relationship with people who will be the future leaders of the Arab world," says Christopher W.S. Ross, special coordinator for public diplomacy at the State Department. "It's good to get them in a dialogue while their opinions are not fully formed on matters large and small."

The magazine doesn't mention any political issues, and is pure pop-culture fluff. As some critics in the article note, the Arab world is already innundated with American pop culture, so I'm not exactly sure how much of an impact this new magazine will have..but we'll see.

I think it's a good sign that the government is trying something new, rather than just sticking with the same old stuff. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but $4 million a year isn't a lot to spend to find out. You should all know how big a supporter I am of the military, but just imagine the cool psy-ops stuff that can be done on the cheap, for the price of a single tank.

Plus, the beautiful baby on the cover is pretty hot; she reminds me of Eliza Dushku. Mmmm.

Everyone who wants to run for governor of California has to have their papers filed by 5pm tomorrow. That means $3,500 and 65 signatures, plus a few other forms. So far, it looks like the major players will be:

- Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)
- Bill Simon (R)
- Cruz Bustamante (D)
- John Garamendi (D)

... and a bunch of other random people. It just doesn't feel right, does it? There's something missing: a realistic Democrat candidate. The Dems have got to be writhing in agony over the prospect of uniting behind Bustamante, a virtual political nobody. They've got to be trying every trick they know to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but Feinstein seems intent on not running, and it's hard to imagine any other California resident who could challenge Arnold.

Still, I've got a feeling there's a bit more drama to be had before the deadline tomorrow.

Now, we've had our share of boring vice presidents, but at least we don't live in Liberia. "President" Taylor is promising (again, again, again) to step down, and is offering to turn control of the country to... Vice President Blah. If Vice President Blah expects to actually get that promotion, he needs to learn a lesson from American politics and keep the current president from hogging so much of the limelight -- and maybe even convince him to resign over the debacle he's made of the government.

Is this story a parody, or is it for real?

Gun control activists nationwide are pressuring newspapers to stop accepting legal classified advertising of firearms for sale by private citizens. Advocates of gun owners' rights said Thursday that anti-gun forces apparently aren't content with ignoring the Second Amendment and now want to ignore the First Amendment as well.

"The issue is not guns, but the way guns are sold," claimed John Johnson, coordinator of the so-called National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Loophole, in a press release Wednesday. "In an age of increasing concern for public safety, we find it difficult to defend a newspaper's part in the private sale of firearms by unlicensed sellers without a criminal background check of the would-be buyer."

The campaign acknowledges that it is completely legal for private citizens to sell guns to other private citizens but wants to use privately owned newspapers to inhibit such sales.

"We recognize that classified ads for guns are perfectly legal under federal and [your State] state law," the campaign writes in a sample letter for activists to send to newspaper publishers. "But just because something is legal doesn't mean that it is good policy."

How is doing something that's perfectly legal a "loophole"?

Sure, the National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Loophole is legally allowed to advocate the restriction of my 1st Amendment rights, but is it good policy? I can think of a few other holes that need to be closed.

I'm pretty much done arguing about Iraq. Should we have deposed Saddam Hussein? Is the world a better place now than it was at the beginning of 2003? Is the world a safer place now than it was at the beginning of 2003? Was the Battle for Iraq a valuable component of the War on Terror? The facts are quite evident, and the answer to all these question is "yes".

There are still plenty of people who disagree, but I'm convinced there's no further use arguing with them. If they had open minds and were willing to look at the evidence -- free from their prejudices -- they would already have done so. You don't argue with someone over whether or not the sky is blue, you just point up at the sky.

Proverbs 23:9
Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.

Proverbs 27:22
Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him.

Because I'm such a helpful, good-hearted person, I've performed an arduous service for Glenn -- despite his cruelty towards me. I'm sure it can be quite burdensome for someone of his stature to sort through his permalinks and remove the detrius, so I took it upon myself to do so for him (with the aid of a little scripting).

I found 14 blogs in his sidebar that have either not updated for over a month, or have announced their retirement. I didn't include sites that merely moved to new locations, or whose servers didn't respond. To the best of my ability, I can guarantee that these 14 blogs are no longer maintained. (Apologies in advance if that's not the case, for any one of you.)

Armed Liberal
Dan Hartung
Sarah Eve Kelly
Brink Lindsey
Allen Prather
Joel Rosenberg
The Safety Valve
Sour Bob
Will Warren
Tony Woodlief
Jay Zilber

If Glenn needs help finding new blogs to replace these, I'm sure I can help him think of some.

None of you may care, but I like to do some Real Reporting when I have the opportunity.

I've heard though sources that Boeing has just signed contracts to deliver a fourth XM Radio satellite to orbit in 2005, and 8 more ICO Global Communications satellites to orbit by 2007. That's good news for the SoCal aerospace industry, which has been pinning its hope for the next few years on DoD projects, rather than civilian.

The WaPo reports on an idea being floated in Anne Arundel, Maryland, to punish misbehaving students by requiring their parents to come to school with them.

Students who break the rules in Anne Arundel County public schools may one day face a punishment that, for the typical kid, is far worse than detention: having to bring Mom or Dad to school with them for a day.

The idea -- essentially to embarrass students into good behavior without making them miss classroom time -- came from a task force of 20 Anne Arundel parents, teachers and educators working to revise the Code of Student Conduct. A draft of the group's proposals was presented to the county school board yesterday, and final approval of the code is due early next year.
I love alternative punishments, and I think that using public shame as an incentive for kids to behave properly is a great idea. After all, that's how the real world works. You do something stupid or rude, and people ridicule you. Peer pressure is essential for the survival of society; in fact, one of the greatest abnormalities of sociopaths is their apathy towards social mores.

One of the greatest flaws of our public education system is that public schools are nothing like real life. Each student only associates with others in their age group, and the social hierarchy is completely artificial -- based on looks, style, and presentation rather than any actual abilities or merit. Sure, some people in the real world get by on these things, but most of us don't.

I'm not a big fan of home-schooling, for many of reasons, but one advantage that it does have is that home-schooled kids tend to interact much more with people of widely varying ages. Diverse interactions can be had in other settings as well, and they're one of the chief social benefits of belonging to a church, in my opinion.

I've made my first $4 blogging! From someone who really shouldn't be tipping me at all; but thanks!

Part 1.

Ok, I haven't been following the gay-bishop story much, because I guess I just don't care. Those Episcopalians... sigh. I mean, it's hardly news these days when some "Christian" group does something that totally spits in God's face, right?

I wrote before about how many of "Rev." V. Gene Robinson's quotes implied to me that the whole bishop thing was really all about him, and not at all about building up his church or glorifying God. Some people thought I was taking the quotes out of context, or twisting them. Fine.

But hey, take a look at today's Bleat (like you haven't already).

This story has irritated me from the start, and it has nothing to do with Rev. Robinson’s sexual orientation. The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else: that’s what it’s all about, at least for me. Marriages founder for a variety of reasons, and ofttimes they’re valid reasons, sad and inescapable. But “I want to have sex with other people” is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake. There's a word for people who leave their children because they don't want to have sex with Mommy anymore: selfish. I'm not a praying man, but I cannot possibly imagine asking God if that would be okay. Send them another Dad, okay? Until you do I'll keep my cellphone on 24/7, I promise.
I had no idea that this guy had left his wife and family. Lileks has some more on marriage in general, which lines up with my own thoughts.
Heard an interview with Rev. Robinson this afternoon, and he used a phrase that set my teeth on edge: he referred to partnerships as “life-intentioned.” A wonderful weasel word, that: intention. The escape hatch is built right in. It’s as if the intention to stay together is equal to the expressed promise to stay together. But it’s not. Everyone had a faithless lover who did you wrong, and usually blamed everything but free will. It just happened, you know. Wasn’t intending to cheat, but . . . it just happened, okay?
In my mind, the fact that this guy broke his vow to God to honor and cherish his wife is way more important than the fact that he's gay. What scum.

Today is possibly the first day in my entire life that I am the only member of my family in California. It's kinda lonely. I've spent months away from Los Angeles, but now it feels like home itself has packed up and gone on vacation.

Everyone likes concrete exit strategies, and no one likes vague, endless wars. So how will we know when the War on Terror is over? I think there are a few specific events that must take place before we can make a declaration of victory.

1. Elimination of radical Islam as a political power. This means the Wahabi rulers of Saudi Arabia will have to go, the mullahs in Iran, the crazies gaining power in Pakistan, the Ba'athists in Syria, &c. They aren't united under Islam in the same way that the USSR was united under communism, and so it won't be as straight-forward as when that evil empire collapsed. Nevertheless, just as communism was eradicated as a world power, so too must be radical Islam.

2. Capture/elimination of terrorist leaders. You know who you are. We have to track them down and take them out of circulation. Seize their assets, break up their organizations.

3. Resolve the Palestinian problem. There are a lot of ways this can play out; I would prefer that the Palestinians all go back to Jordan, Egypt, and Syria where they came from and that Israel be left alone. However, even if the situation is resolved with Israel being utterly destroyed, this condition will be satisfied.

4. The above goals all play a role in leading towards functional Arab democracies. Capitalism, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and free elections will ultimately do away with the vestiges of the Islamic death-cult, and hopefully leave in its place a vibrant, peaceful Middle East.

As SDB has pointed out several times, our government can't just lay out these conditions and make them public. Hey Saudi Arabia, you're next! Meanwhile, help us round up these terrorists, please.

Update 2:
Then again, maybe they will lay it all out. I love you, Condi.

No, not pirate ships -- even better! Soviet fighter jets buried under the Iraqi desert, picture courtesy of the best darn foreign aid organization ever, the United States Department of Defense.

A U.S. military search team uncovers a Cold War-era MiG-25 Foxbat interceptor, the fastest combat aircraft today, buried beneath the sands in Iraq. Several MiG-25 and Su-25 ground attack jets have been found buried at al-Taqqadum airfield west of Baghdad. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. T. Collins.

Maybe there's WMD hidden in the cockpit! Nah, if there were WMD anywhere we'd have found them by now.

I'm not Episcopalian, and I really don't have much to say about their new gay bishop. I do want to point out, however, that many of Rev. V. Gene Robinson statements illustrate that his top priority isn't glorifying God or edifying the church, but advancing his own particular agenda.

The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop told Fox News Wednesday that he hoped the church would be strengthened by his confirmation, not split in two. ...

Robinson told Fox News Wednesday morning: "I don't want those people to leave. I've done everything I can to reach out to them ... letting them know I want them to be a part of my church."

For Robinson, the whole matter seems to revolve around him and what he wants, rather than around what the Bible teaches or what is best for the church. His attitude does not reflect the character attributes that I would desire for someone in spiritual leadership over me.

So, I put in a tip jar. So what? Does that make me a greedy, selfish, presumptuous, pompous, fool? Hardly! It makes me a good little capitalist! In fact, I dare say that if you don't have a tip jar on your blog you're a filthy dirty communist, or maybe even a hippie.

Really though, if anyone ever actually drops me a dime (minimum contribution $1 -- Ed.) I'll probably feel so warm and fuzzy inside that my physical form will convert directly into 6.5x10^18 joules of energy.

Ok, check out this article by Ralph Peters on how the bombing in Jakarta shows that we're winning the War on Terror. It's ok in some respects; yes, the fact that terrorists are reduced to bombing hotel lobbies instead of flying passenger jets into skyscrapers is good. He goes on to laud the Indonesians' apathy towards terrorism, but claims that they now recognize that the threat of terrorism cannot be ignored. I think my previous post refutes that.

Anyway, the main reason I am pointing out this article at all is because of this sentence:

Certainly, Indonesia has a strong minority of Muslim fundamentalists - as the United States has millions of Christian fundamentalists - but none of the country's major religious organizations has established ties to terrorism.
As a writer, Ralph Peters should recognize the power of words, and should also be aware that the same word can mean different things in different contexts. Just because the label "fundamentalist" is applied to both groups of Christians and groups of Muslims doesn't indicate that there is any similarity between the groups. "Fundamentalist" is a modifier which indicates that the group in question places great importance on the foundational tenets of their beliefs; the foundational beliefs of Christians and Muslims are radically different, and so the parallel Ralph Peters draws is entirely nonsensical.

More than that, it's quite insulting to me as a Christian -- even though I don't really consider myself a fundamentalist. He makes the comparison to imply that because there are groups with the "fundamentalist" label who don't blow people up for fun, it's absurd for anyone to think that Indonesians have terrorist sympathies just because many of them are fundamentalist Muslims. However, it's precisely fundamentalist Muslims who have been blowing up planes, buildings, ships, and themselves, for decades now. Fundamentalist Christians sure haven't been, and it's ridiculous that Ralph Peters would try to garner credibility, honor, and respectability for Muslims by trading in on Christianity's reputation.

(Link to Ralph Peters from Bill Hobbs.)

The bombing of a Marriot hotel in Jakarta is one of the top news stories (along with Europe's heatwave...), and so it might be instructive to recall how Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri reacted after the October 12, 2002, bombing of a nightclub in neighboring Bali.

Megawati Sukarnoputri is passionate about her garden. But when two powerful bomb explosions killed more than 180 people on the resort island of Bali on Oct. 12, the Indonesian president dropped her pruning shears and attended to the duties of state. Well, at least for a little while.
The following day she made a rare statement to the media condemning the attacks. Then she flew to the disaster site and briefly toured what remained of the Sari club, where the larger of two blasts rocked the Balinese town of Kuta. Within hours, however, Megawati had returned to the confines of her private residence in Jakarta – and wasn't heard from again the rest of the week. "She's confused," one of her senior advisers told NEWSWEEK. "She may lack the capacity to lead." ...

She has gone back and forth on information from her own intelligence agency on Al Qaeda's ties to local groups. And, most recently, alarms sounded by foreign governments that Indonesia had terrorists in its midst went unheeded. "[Former dictator] Suharto left us two big problems to deal with – one is corruption, and the other is midgets for leaders," says Jusuf Wanandi, chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. "Megawati is weak so she does not dare [do anything]." ...

Washington isn't alone in its frustration: Megawati has also ignored warnings from her own people. Muchyar Yara, spokesman for Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency, acknowledged to NEWSWEEK that his agency learned last year that – two senior associates of Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef, had visited a terrorist training camp on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2000. "We gave a warning to the government," Yara said, but nothing was done.

The world should take note. Ignoring terrorism won't make it go away. Consider the recent terror attacks in Saudi Arabia as well -- there's hardly a more terror-friendly people than the Saudis, but their support for al Qaeda hasn't prevented them from being targets as well.

Most nations seem to think that if they keep a low-profile the War on Terror doesn't really have to involve them. Good luck with that. Personally, I'd rather take the fight to the enemy and kill them on their own turf than sit around at home and wait for them at come to me while I'm surrounded by my family and friends.

France is filled to the brim with angry Muslim immigrants -- how long can it possibly be before there's a significant terrorist attack on French soil? What about Germany? In more repressed parts of the world terror attacks are a way of life: Russia, India, and China have problems all the time that rarely make international headlines. Are they all connected? Well, the troublemakers are almost all Wahabi Muslims; do the math.

There have been a lot of viruses going around recently, so here's a couple of handy software packages that will let you scan your system for intruders.

- TrendMicro's Housecall is a web-based antivirus scanning service that will download and run through your web-browser. I prefer it to many other systems because it's all done online and there's never any need to download updates or new virus databases.

- Lavasoft's Ad-aware is available for free download, and it will detect all sorts of hidden advertising software that programs like Kazaa will install on your system without you even knowing it.

Anyone else have any free system utilities to recommend?

- Allen Glosson recommends Zone Alarm from Zone Labs as a great, free, firewall system. I use it also, and it's easy to use and quite effective.

Yep, the new president of the UN Security Council is... Syria. Whatever else the UN is, it's not a democratic institution in any sense of the word. Most of the delegates are appointed by dictators whose only real goal is to use the UN to prop up their own corrupt regimes. It may be a useful forum for diplomacy, but anyone who expects anything more than mere words to emanate from that bunch of jokers is living in fantasyland.

(Thanks BotW.)

I don't like it. Sure, a DNA match is statistically more certain than a name and eye-witness identification, but the movement towards indicting suspects by their DNA leaves me with an unsettled feeling. As I've asked before, where does it end?

The New York Times said city officials will review DNA evidence from hundreds of sex crimes committed years ago, seeking indictments even when the suspects' identities aren't known, as a way of beating the 10-year statute of limitations.

The first 600 cases will involve crimes committed during 1994, but officials said they believe DNA-based indictments will allow them to arrest suspects no matter how far in the future.

Statutes of limitations are important for a great many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it can be impossible to defend oneself against an accusation of wrongdoing that was committed many years previously. Witnesses and investigators die or become unavailable; evidence can be lost of corrupted; memories fade or change over time.

Perhaps DNA acquisition, storage, and analysis procedures are completely rock-solid, but they aren't intuitive to the average layman. I saw John Smith steal my purse. Yes, that's his picture. Everyone can understand such testimony, and everyone has the carefully developed intuition that is required to discern truth from fiction. That's not the case with DNA evidence. Jurors would need to place their entire trust in the invisible and complex scientific process that handles DNA matching, and that's difficult to do. DNA is mere evidence, and evidence can be lost or tampered with -- words from a real human being who tells what he saw will always carry more visceral weight.

It's important for trials to be open and public, and one aspect of that openness is simplicity. Laymen need to be able to understand the entire chain of reasoning and evidence that leads to a suspect's arrest, trial, and judgement, or the public will lose faith in the system. Consider the pre-cogs in Minority Report -- even if they were correct 100% of the time, society would never tolerate such an opaque justice system, nor should it. It is eminently preferable that some criminals go free than that the public either blindly accepts an inscrutable legal system (ahem!) or loses faith in the system entirely.

I've written about campaign finance reform before, and the stories about the Democrats' miscalculations and shortcomings keep piling up.

Bush again is spurning public funding in the 2004 primary, and he is shattering his money-raising pace of four years ago.

Democrats say they cannot compete in such a climate. And it's not just 2004 they worry about. The nation's new campaign finance law, which greatly rewards a candidate who can gather piles of $2,000 checks, strongly favors Republicans. That advantage seems unlikely to vanish in 2008 and beyond, several analysts say. ...

The nine Democrats seeking the 2004 nomination are in a bind, party activists say. Even if they choose to abandon public financing and the spending limits that go with them, they can raise nowhere near the sums that Bush is hauling in, these sources say. Some of them contend that only a Democrat with considerable star power and nearly universal name recognition -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), perhaps -- will be able to compete under the rules Bush is writing.

The recently enacted McCain-Feingold law bans unlimited "soft money" contributions to national parties, depriving Democrats of a key source of cash from unions and Hollywood figures. The law limits donations to presidential candidates to $2,000, and Republicans have far more supporters able and willing to give that amount of money than do Democrats. ...

"Republicans may be relishing this moment in 2004," Baran said, "but I think they will be breaking out in a sweat if Hillary becomes a candidate in 2008." It takes a politician with strong appeal to his or her core constituents to do what Bush is doing, he said.

And yet the Democrats are the "party of the people", right? Even though they get most of their money from mandatory labor union dues, and rich elites like Hollywood movie stars and trial lawyers? Although the WaPo article focuses on the $2,000 limit, the fact is that Republicans lead Democrats in fundraising at every level except for contributions of over $100,000.
A report released yesterday by the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, found that, contrary to common perceptions, Republicans have a big advantage over Democrats in donations from small donors, while Democrats are king among only the biggest.

The study, analyzing donations during the 2002 campaign cycle, found that those little guys giving less than $200 to federal candidates, parties or leadership political action committees contributed 64 percent of their money to Republicans. By contrast, those fat cats giving $1 million or more contributed a lopsided 92 percent to Democrats. The only group favoring Democrats, in fact, were contributors giving more than $100,000.

The Democratic elite view themselves as an aristocracy that governs and exploits the masses for its own benefit. It's all top-down. The masters foment discord and anger among the subjects to keep themselves in power. Maybe people are catching on.

Donald Sensing writes a good bit about marriage and divorce. Check out the comments as well, there are some great thoughts in there.

Allow me to plug my previous post on marriage.

I decided to add a new category to Master of None: *Best Of*. Note the stars -- they're important because they highlight exactly how great these posts are.

This new category is necessary because most of what I write is nonsense. Many readers don't seem to mind consuming the mental equivalent of watered-down soda-fountain Diet Coke, but for my more discerning guests I recommend checking out *Best Of*. It wasn't easy selecting just a handful of the uh... 584 posts I've written in the past three months to feature so prominently, but I went through all the archives and used my best judgement. Until I got tired of watching MT rebuild over and over, at which point I stopped.

Chip Taylor has written a few posts about the expense of imprisoning criminals, and I'd like to ask a question:

Would justice be hindered if non-violent, non-injurious crimes were not punished with incarceration?

Perhaps interpretation of the 8th Amendment has eliminated so many other potential punishments that we're forced to use imprisonment for everything, but this need not remain the case. For example, public floggings have a long history of use in every part of the world, and could be performed under proper medical supervision such that no permanent injury would be inflicted. Non-violent offenders could also be subject to terms of indentured servitude, and could thus contribute to society during their punishment.

Even aside from my opinion that many non-violent crimes shouldn't be "crimes" at all, completely restructuring our punishment paradigm could save us a great deal of money, and perhaps further the execution of justice, as well.

I've written about Davis' under-handed attempts to thwart the recall election previously, and via Drudge I see that he's setting up another legal challenge. Unless I'm misunderstanding the article, it appears that Davis wants the California Supreme Court to invalidate part of California's constitution.

Arguing that October's recall election would result in chaos, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and his supporters say they will ask the California Supreme Court today to delay the vote until the March 2004 primary and also place Davis' name on the ballot. ...

In Davis' petition, his attorneys say that the governor should be allowed to have his name on the ballot as a replacement candidate -- separate from the issue of whether he should be recalled.

The Democrats are challenging part of a state constitutional provision that provides that if an elected official is recalled, the candidate who receives a plurality of votes will be the successor. But the law also states: "The (official) may not be a candidate."

"The governor has a right to be on the ballot," said Michael Kahn of San Francisco, one of the lawyers bringing the suit on behalf of Davis.

Of the 18 states that allow recall elections, California is one of only four states that bar the targeted officer from being on the ballot.

The California Supreme Court doesn't have the power to invalidate any part of California's constitution, and the only way this lawsuit could possibly succeed is if the court oversteps its bounds as the Nevada Supreme Court did last month.

Davis could have filed suit in the federal courts, which would at least have had the authority to invalidate parts of the state constitution -- although I doubt they would have had jurisdiction in this case, any more than they did in the Nevada case, which they refused to consider.

SDB writes about how xenophilic cultures prosper, while xenophobic cultures stagnate.

Cultural cross-pollination, like genetic crossing, leads to stronger cultures. The best of several cultures may combine. But many in times past and now have felt that this was evil, and have resisted it. ...

This almost unique cultural pride in xenophilia and openness has been one of the great advantages of the people of the US and one of the major reasons why the US has become rich and powerful. It's the reason why we are more racially and culturally integrated than anyone else, and one of the big reasons why we're now the most powerful nation in the world.

I agree with him (of course), and so it's interesting to speculate on what the end result of this cross-polination will be. Our world has not reached an equilibrium cultural state; there are still many distinct cultures, even among developed nations. However, as communication becomes cheaper and travel becomes faster, the world will continue to shrink and it is inevitable that earth will eventually be culturally homogenous. It may take 1000 years, but frankly I think it will take less than 100.

If, as SDB argues, America owes its current rate of advancement to the exchange of ideas between various cultures, then it depends on a resource that will eventually be depleted. Once the world becomes homogenous, it will also become stagnant. Communication and travel will continue to get faster. What can be done?

On the planetary scale, I don't think there's any way to prevent this phenomenon, and so to preserve the advance of our civilization it is necessary to think beyond the mere planetary. If the speed of light truly is an insurmountable barrier, then physical distance can only thwart this effect when population centers are separated by years of travel that technology can never reduce or eliminate.

If humanity is able to spread to the stars, it is conceivable that cultural heterogeneity can be preserved indefinately, either through continual expansion to new star systems or simply due to the immense distances between settlements. The time required to pass people and information between systems would probably limit humanity to a slower rate of advance than we are currently experiencing, but that rate would still be much preferable to the inevitable stagnation that faces us if we remain concentrated solely on earth. Likewise, war under such a scenario would be nearly eliminated -- individual planets would be culturally homogenous, and star systems would be so far apart that interstellar warfare would be almost unthinkable.

With all these benefits, I'm astounded that the leftists of the world aren't pressing for greater space exploration. Environmental pollution would become a thing of the past, as would overcrowding, refugees, American imperialism, war, cultural homogeny -- all their favorite causes could be eliminated!

Then again, if none of their concerns are actually held in good faith but are actually mere scapegoats for their own ideological failures.... It's ironic that capitalistic space exploration will likely be the eventual solution to all the problems that the left holds so dear.

TMLucas at Flit responds that information overload will prevent cultural stagnation. I understand his point; there will always be too much culture for any one person to absorb. However, it isn't necessary for a single person to grok an entire body of understanding in order for that body to be considered a unified "culture".

Although there will remain a great many vibrant sub-cultures on earth for as long as the population is large enough to support them (and for as long as genetic variation produces people with varied interests), the underlying fabric of human existence will continue to mix and smooth. At some point, an arbitrary threshhold will be crossed and the whole earth will belong to a single, stable equilibrium culture.

President Bush is spending the month of August based out of Crawford, Texas, on what his aides call a "working vacation". This isn't really news, since he's vacationed at his ranch for years, but it always makes me smile. You see, the White House press corps hates Crawford.

The press corps that followed Bush to Crawford, 60 strong, holed up in an uncomfortably muggy gym while pressing Administration officials for information on the President's activities. Temperatures soar frequently to over 100 degrees in "broiling parched Crawford, Texas."

"The press corps likes a cool ocean breeze and maybe even a cold beer," said Shields. "Presidents Reagan, Kennedy, and Clinton all vacationed near the sea, and thus spared themselves a churlish press corps."

Even the President himself acknowledged that his choice of vacation destination was not the press's. "I know a lot of you wish you were in the East Coast, lounging on the beaches, sucking in the salt air," he said to a group of reporters in Crawford. "The national media will hate it," Bush told Republican Senators, "but I'm going where it's 98 degrees average temperature, day and night."

Well, I'm not a geek, but I finally broke down and bought myself a digital camera: the Nikon coolpix 2100. I bought a used one for a decent price, and then I spent all afternoon taking pictures of everything in sight. It came with a puny 16MB compact flash card (which holds 42 1600x1200 images), but I have a 256MB card that I bought for my PDA (which I never use) that can hold nearly 700 pictures.

What's that? You want to see 'em?

Obligatory self-portrait
Too cute for mere words
Here comes trouble

It's pretty cool, and maybe I'll have an opportunity to use it to do some real reporting sometime. I'll carry it around, just in case; Pulitzer, here I come.

I have a lot of friends who are native Spanish speakers, and when I listen to them talk together the sheer quantity of sound amazes me. I speak a little Spanish myself, but I can't speak or comprehend as quickly as my friends can; it can take me a considerable amount of time just to formulate and enunciate proper sentences. One of the aspects of Spanish that frustrates me is its sheer inefficiency. For example, consider the following common sentences (which I'll translate with Babelfish because I'm not that confident of my Spanish):

¿Dónde está el baño? (7 syllables)
Where is the bathroom? (5 syllables)

¿Tiene usted hambre? (7 syllables)
Are you hungry? (4 syllables)

Sus zapatos se arden. (7 syllables)
Your shoes are on fire. (6 syllables)

Un mono gigante está estando parado detrás de usted. (19 syllables)
A giant monkey is standing behind you. (11 syllables)

As you can imagine, if a giant monkey actually were standing behind you, you'd want to know as soon as possible. Those extra 8 syllables could mean the difference between life and muerte. Spanish can save syllables relative to English in some situations -- some verb conjugations do not require explicit subjects that are necessary in English, for example -- but most of the time it takes longer to say the same thing.

The problem is, English is hardly ideal either. Many of our most common concepts take two syllables to express (such as "maybe" and "I am"). But why think small? Sure, we can create contractions and short-cuts ("I am" goes to "I'm"), but we're still being inefficient -- let's make a whole new language built on phonemes rather than entire syllables!

There are 24 consonent phonemes and 14 vowel phonemes (in English, not all sources agree), giving us a total of 38 unique sounds to work with. (Need a review of phonemes?) An efficient language could assign the 38 most common concepts to these phonemes, and the 1444 next-most-common concepts to phoneme pairs. Not every pair or every sequence would be pronouncable, but most of them would be, with practice. What takes an entire sentence to express in modern English could be related with a single word in my new phoneme language!

The question then would be whether or not the human brain can generate or comprehend a faster, more efficient spoken language. Frankly, I doubt that it can. Even though our brains are highly specialized natural language machines, translating audio waves into mental concepts is incredibly difficult, and possibly the most complex operation our brains perform. The only other function that comes close to it in sheer processing power is our vision system.

See what kinds of nonsense I come up with when I go on vacation?

I'm going to Palm Springs for two days, and will return Sunday. Blogging will resume then, or Monday. My brain is just about empty, so hopefully this little vacation will give me some new things to think about. I pour out my soul for you people!

Meanwhile, check out the "More Blogs" section on the left. There are probably some folks there you haven't heard of, but that doesn't mean they aren't any good! Go try something new.

On CNSNews I see that North Korea is ready to hold multilateral talks, which basically means they're folding.

As opposed to the Iraq situation -- in which all the world insisted that the US act "multilaterally" -- most of the usual suspects wanted America to handle North Korea on its own. Why? Because North Korea needs to extort someone in order to survive, and the world would prefer that America handle the pay-off all on its own.

Up until now -- possibly -- North Korea has refused to meet with anyone but the United States, and the US has refused to deal with North Korea without involvement from the other regional powers like Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan. President Bush has been roundly criticized for this strategy, with many of our "allies" warning that our stubbornness could set the unstable North Koreans off and trigger another devastating land war.

However, Bush stood firm; it was a bit of a risk, but it appears that he's called their bluff and that they're ready to engage other nations in addition to the US. That's good, because it means that they've given up on the idea that America is going to resume sending them free oil and food. They might try to extort their neighbors, but they'll have a tough time manipulating the Chinese government, which doesn't much care about what its people or the international community think. The South Koreans have been bribing the North for decades, but I think that the US can bring enough political pressure to bear that it won't happen this time.

Best case: the North Korean government collapses from within as food and oil run out. The conscript army goes home. The UN swoops in and lets China or South Korea take possession of the territory and administer it under UN authority.

Middle case: The world gives in to North Korea and starts sending them food and oil. This isn't a good solution, as millions of North Koreans will continue to starve. The situation would still have to be resolved at some point, and this middle case only delays the inevitable.

Worst case: The government orders some sort of military attack before it collapses. Possibly a land invasion of Seoul, possibly missile strikes at Japan, possibly both. The last thing China wants is a greater US military presence in the region, so China might be forced to invade North Korea from the rear to end the battle decisively. Everyone loses.

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