October 2003 Archives

It was a warm, wet night, in a late Los Angeles October. The afternoons still felt like summer, but once the time changed back to its dreary winter slumber the nights felt long and dark. The sun set, the air cooled, and thick fog rose up from the ocean and crept ashore like clockwork; by midnight the atmosphere was dank, and reminded Wes of his imagined Sleepy Hollow. There was no clip-clop behind him of a pursuing Headless Horseman, but each time a car raced past above on Pacific Coast Highway he flinched, and pulled his burden closer around his shoulders for shelter.

Wes didn't need light to find his way across these familiar sands -- he'd been here many times before. The beach was smooth, the summer's footprints worn away by autumn's neglect, except for the trail he sought. There it is! Wes sighed, forlorn. Every year he came, and every year he hoped beyond hope that he wouldn't find them. The tiny footprints ran east, parallel to the lapping surf he couldn't see through the fog; in his mind it was a hot, clear afternoon. He wasn't alone; families lounged around him, children laughed and played in the waves, and his beloved Beatrice walked beside him.

"We'll bring our children here someday," she said, snuggling close and whispering in his ear. Wes squeezed her hand in reply. The water sparkled, the sky was bright, and everything was right in the world. Beatrice pulled away and smiled. "Want to go swimming?"

Wes shook his head silently, and almost stumbled before shifting the weight on his shoulders and continuing his trudge along the empty beach. Empty, except for the memory of Beatrice and the footprints she had worn into the sand, so many years ago. He followed them into the dark fog, and caught his breath when they suddenly turned seaward.

There, in the sand, where he knew they'd be, but hoped they wouldn't… a white sun dress and a straw hat. She threw them off at his feet and danced into the water. He dropped to his knees and pushed his burden into the sand. Tears welled up in his eyes as Wes reached down and clutched the thin fabric. He took it up gingerly, slowly, and buried his face in the folds of cloth that still smelt like woman, like vanilla, like summer, like love.

Once his tears slowed, he left the dress in the sand; he knew he couldn't take it with him, and he couldn't bear the thought of not finding it next year, still fresh. He took the straw hat and inspected it closely; it had caught a few strands of her hair, and Wes pulled them gently free and shoved them in his pocket.

Then he looked up. The footprints turned towards the sea, and he sighed again. This was always the hardest part. Wes shook his head – he didn't want to go swimming, but he grabbed hold of his offering by the arm and stood up, trembling.

Slowly, he dragged himself alongside Beatrice's trail. In her footprints he could see her dancing steps, her twirls and leaps and she plunged into the grasping ocean. The water surged as he approached, but only reluctantly revealed itself through the mist. Wes looked at the sand beneath his feet, willing himself to the water's edge, but no farther.

"Beatrice!" he yelled, hoarse, and again, "Beatrice, my love!"

The waves fell back, and revealed a girl lying on the wet sand. As always, he shuddered, but held himself back. She was pale, and cold, but when she turned her eyes up towards him there was still a certain fire that beckoned him into her embrace. How he longed to feel her arms around him once again! But no.

Beatrice pushed herself to her feet and approached. "My darling," she whispered. "How I miss you, I'm so lonely. My heart aches without you."

Wes shook his head and looked away. "No, dear Beatrice."

"Come with me," she sighed. "Come into the water." She stood now at the very boundary of the world, the thin line of damp sand that separated land and sea, life and eternity.

"No."

Her eyes darkened, even as her outstretched hand faltered. "Then why have you come, my love? Only to torment me?"

Wes shook his head, and pulled his burden forward. With a grunt he hefted the slumbering man into his arms and held him out. "For you."

Her eyes shifted again. "My dear Wesley, it's you I long for."

"I can't, Beatrice, I can't," Wes replied. "Take him, please."

The pale figure of a woman pursed her lips and held out her arms. "When will it be our time?" she asked, and she accepted the offering.

Wes jerked his hand back as he brushed against the cold, wet flesh of his beloved.

"Am I that hideous to you?" she asked quietly.

"No," he said, and stepped back from the edge. "I'll be back."

"I know you will," she whispered, turning towards the water, weighed down but gliding over the sand, leaving no trace of her passage other than the prints left long ago.

"I love you!" Wes cried out over the ocean, as fog fell into the void of Beatrice's wake; the only reply was a mighty, crashing wave that lunged up onto the sand as if to swallow him, but he quickly made his escape.

I know everyone is eager to see some pictures of the haunted house I've been working on, and I'm happy to oblige. Posting may be sparse tomorrow because I'll be busy doing last-minute decorations, but the S4 should keep you occupied.

Here are two shots from the front -- that's my friend Rob standing by the light pole, and his daughter Marley running in the background.

The main structure is built around three EZ-Up awnings, and the walls are made from black plastic tarp and PVC pipe. There's lots of staples, tape, rope, and pipe holding the contraption together. We've got the entire building wired for electricity for our lights, music, and fog machines. It may look like a bum's mansion in the daylight, but once all the effects are going it's really pretty awesome. While we were working on it yesterday, some teenagers walked past and I overheard them saying, "That's the scariest haunted house I've ever been in; I'm not going in this year, no way."



I love the special pictures Google puts up on the holidays. Here's their Halloween offering:

a while back I posted a link to an article in the NYT about Farm subsidies and their effect on the production of food in this country. The important points, for this post, are:

1) Before the mid-1930's, farm economics meant that, for farmers, if the price of corn went down, they would grow more instead of less in order to individually be able to make as much money as they would have at the original price/quantity. As this excess quantity was difficult to transport or sell in its normal form, it was converted to whiskey, and after a while we had, I would say, a serious alcohol problem here.

2) Between the mid-30's and 1972, farm production was kept at a lower level through a system of farm loans and a government operated "ever normal granary"

3) After 1972, due to food riots, the Nixon administration ended the ever normal granary, and instituted straight farm subsidies. Since then, food production has increased just as it did in the past, but now instead of whiskey it the excess is largely converted into things like high-fructose corn syrup. We produce 500 calories more per person per day, and we consume 300 of them ourselves.

I bring this up again because, if this is really the way farm economics is going to work for us, there is someplace else for this excess corn to go: ethanol. We're already growing too much, and farmers are just going to grow as much as they can at whatever price, unless it goes to 0. If what they're turning it into isn't helping (as I drink my third Vernors of the day), then maybe it can/will eventually be used for something arguably much more useful. Maybe this is old news, or uninteresting, but it would be interesting to me to see us go to a third age of corn, from liquor to sugar to fuel.

I posted a bunch of links to space elevator information many months ago, and I'm quite a fan of the idea. SDB tries to rain on my parade, but I've read some papers that address his main concern.

So you got your elevator crawling up the kevlar ribbon, and like the elevator in the building, it is not only forcing itself and its passengers "up", but also "sideways". To reach the classic geosynchronous orbital altitude, you not only have to pick up a lot of altitude, but also several kilometers per second of lateral velocity. ...

The lateral force on the lower end of the ribbon is a design problem for those who design the anchorage, but it's not really too bad. They can deal with it. The anchorage will be designed to transmit that force into the earth itself, where it can be ignored.

Unfortunately, the lateral force this applies to the counterweight is a pernicious problem which is not so easily solved. Remember our weight hanging from a string? Try pushing slightly on the string. The weight starts swinging, right? That's what's going to happen here.

Yes, but there are ways to deal with that problem. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I play one on TV, and my buddy Robert Cassanova (sounds like a soap opera name, doesn't it?) assures me that the physics is a-ok.
"Technically it's feasible," said Robert Cassanova, director of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts. "There's nothing wrong with the physics."
In fact, the biggest problem is most peoples' minds isn't balancing the counter-weight, it's building the cable, as SDB mentions near the end of his post.
Which is all well and good, except that I've given it a lot of thought, and I can't see how you could even get one ribbon connected. I can't figure out any way you can actually build this system.

You can build an anchorage. You can put the counterweight into space. How do you connect the ribbon between them?

In the next article I'll explain why that's a tough problem.

I look forward to reading his analysis, but I've seen plans that sound plausible to me. He may shred these ideas tomorrow, but I may as well tell you what I've seen so far.

The cable won't be made from kevlar; the material-of-choice will be carbon-fiber nanotubes. The cable won't be strung (or hung?) all at once, but will be laid incrementally.

Getting the first space elevator off the ground, factually, would use two space shuttle flights. Twenty tons of cable and reel would be kicked up to geosynchronous altitude by an upper stage motor. The cable is then snaked to Earth and attached to an ocean-based anchor station, situated within the equatorial Pacific. That platform would be similar to the structure used for the Sea Launch expendable rocket program.

Once secure, a platform-based free-electron laser system is used to beam energy to photocell-laden "climbers". These are automated devices that ride the initial ribbon skyward. Each climber adds more and more ribbon to the first, thereby increasing the cable's overall strength. Some two-and-a-half years later, and using nearly 300 climbers, a first space elevator capable of supporting over 20-tons (20,000-kilograms) is ready for service.

"If budget estimates are correct, we could do it for under $10 billion. The first cable could launch multi-ton payloads every 3 days. Cargo hoisted by laser-powered climbers, be it fragile payloads such as radio dishes, complex planetary probes, solar power satellites, or human-carrying modules could be dropped off in geosynchronous orbit in a week's travel time," Edwards said.

Using a laser beam to boost the climbers into space is doable, said Harold Bennett, president of Bennett Optical Research, Inc. of Ridgecrest, California. "If you do it right, you can take out 96 percent of the effect of the atmosphere on the laser beam through adaptive optics," he said. The strength of the pulsed laser beam is less than the intensity of the Sun, so birds, airplanes, or human eyes wouldn't be affected, he said.

A lot of great (kooky?) minds have worked on this concept, and so I'm hopeful that SDB's skepticism is misplaced. Wikipedia has more.

Bill Hobbs has a good summation of the current spurt of economic growth that'll leave the lefties singing "Springtime for George Bush, and America!" The GDP grew at an astounding 7.2% annual rate in the 3rd quarter of 2003, the strongest showing in a doublepluslong time.

Want to know what's going to be in the LA Times on Wednesday? Just listen to talk radio on Tuesday morning. Apparently, the reports that Davis turned away federal help while peoples' homes burned is true.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), whose home was destroyed by fire Monday, said federal legislation that would smooth the way for the military to use its helicopters to fight fire on public and private land is being stymied by private companies that lease firefighting planes to state governments.

Throughout San Diego County, in the early phase of the most destructive fire in its history, homeowners had looked skyward for tankers and helicopters but didn't see any.

"The only chance to stop the fire was aerial tankers early on Sunday morning, backed by bulldozers, and that's what didn't happen," said Richard Carson, an economics professor at UC San Diego and an expert on public policies involving disaster response, including large-scale brush fires. ...

San Diego-based Navy helicopters, routinely used to fight fires on military property, were prepared to battle the Cedar fire on Sunday but remained grounded because state officials said the Navy pilots did not have appropriate training. The helicopters were flown to the Ramona airport, but pilots were denied permission to drop water as the fire began its march south and west.

The firefighters insist that Davis didn't cause any delays, but their union was one of Davis' most fervent supporters in the recent recall election.
"It's one thing to get the plane," she said. "It's another thing to get them ready to fly in California airspace…. As we develop the specific chronology, we will be able to show that there was no delay in the process. We think the facts will support that all efforts were taken."
I'm no firefighting-pilot, but I play one on TV; everyone wants the pilots to be safe, but is it really such a challenge to get into the planes/helicopters, fly over the fires, and drop water? Apparently, these military assets are used to fight fires on federal land (in California!), so why aren't they qualified to fight fires on adjacent state land? We all want our firefighters to be safe, but when there's a huge emergency sometimes greater risks need to be taken.
But Hunter said the "firefighting bureaucracy" tends to be slow to act and that officials are reluctant to criticize other fire officials.

Hunter said other members of Congress from Western states have been frustrated when asking state officials to request aerial tankers and helicopters from the U.S. military.

"There's a reluctance among the firefighting bureaucracy at the state and federal levels to use military assets until they exhaust the last of private companies," Hunter said.

He said he has teamed with a congressman from Colorado to seek a change in federal law that would speed the process of getting military craft to fight fires. The private companies that lease and operate aerial tankers are opposed to such a move, Hunter said.

Oh, maybe that's the problem -- Davis owes some buddies some favors. He wants to land a cushy consulting job once he's ousted from government, and he can't (ahem) burn all his bridges just because he's on his way out. It's a pity about the thousands of homes and dozens of lives, but c'mon people, get some perspective!

Overheard in the halls:

"I wish they'd put out those fires. I'm kinda losing interest, and I want to wash my car."

If you've ever read a checkout-line magazine, you already know all the dating tips in existence. There's only 5 or 6, then they start repeating themselves. Nevertheless, every one of us knows that as soon as the words "Dating Tips For ..." pass before our eyes, we're hooked. Like a train wreck, or a car crash, or a dozen midgets tied spread-eagle to the hubcaps of a tractor-trailer, you just can't turn away. Maybe this list will have a new secret that'll hook me up!

Maybe!

- Dating Tips for Men, by a man.
- Dating Tips for Women, by a man.
- Dating Tips for Women, by a woman.
- Someone send me dating tips for men, by a woman, and we'll be done.

I'm sure that Saddam's generals have just started coordinating with al Qaeda in recent months, and that there wasn't any such contact until America invaded.

WASHINGTON — A senior member of Saddam Hussein (search)'s ousted government is believed to be helping coordinate attacks on American forces with members of an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

Two captured members of Ansar al-Islam (search) have said Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is helping to coordinate their attacks, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ...

Al-Douri is No. 6 on the most-wanted list of 55 Iraqis and was vice chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council. He was one of Saddam's few longtime confidants and his daughter was married to Saddam's son, Uday (search), who was killed in a raid by U.S. forces in July.

Of course, the US government has taken every report of possible Saddam-al Qaeda ties and blown them way out of proportion.
Kurdish officials have long alleged that Saddam's government helped Ansar, but U.S. officials have said they haven't yet found definitive proof of that.
Oh.

I recently wrote, "We love the truth because our parents' generation is perpetually obsessed with style over substance, and most of the time they tell us that there is no real truth." Here's a perfect example.

WASHINGTON — A new left-wing think tank — the Center for American Progress (search) — unveiled itself Tuesday as the Democratic vaccine to what center supporters say is a plague of conservatism now dominating America.

"We think the debate has been unbalanced in the country," center president John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton, told Fox News. ...

"The conservative movement has really built up an infrastructure of not just ideas, but the ability to kind of get out there and do the kind of hard communications work to sell to the American public," he added. ...

Podesta insists that conservative institutions like the Heritage Foundation don't have better ideas, but are merely better at marketing. He said he is confident his center can take over the marketplace of ideas with notable innovations such as a big media staff that will push the center's thoughts onto the Internet, television and radio.

I think his perception of reality is incorrect, and many people seem to agree with me. The difficulty they're facing isn't that people don't know the their ideas, it's that people don't like their ideas. The Democrats tried this spin in 2000, 2002, and 2003, all to no avail.
Many Americans say they believe the media are already skewing left of center, and Washington doesn't suffer a shortage of liberal-leaning thinkers perched inside established halls of research.

The real challenge for liberals and Democrats, then, may not be getting their voices heard, but getting control of the White House and Congress, which most frequently frame the discussions.

As long as Republicans control both, Democrats say, few places exist in Washington for their ideas or marketing strategy to take hold.

Yeah. Al Gore's new cable news channel is built around the same theory, and I think both of these ideas will fizzle because of their shaky foundation.

Update:
Eugene Volokh has more along the same lines with regard to a proposed liberal radio show hoping to compete against Rush and Sean Hannity.

Nice framing: It's not that lots of American people choose to listen to conservative talk show hosts -- it's that the conservative message is being jammed down their throats. Vivid metaphor; too bad it doesn't quite match the reality.

Of course, "jammed down their throats" is a metaphor. But metaphors are used for a reason; while the speaker expects that readers realize the statement is figurative, the speaker's hope is that the reader accepts the underlying premise behind the figure of speech. When we say someone is a wolf in sheep's clothing, we don't literally mean that he's a large land mammal related to a dog, wearing wool. But we do mean that he's a figurative wolf (i.e., someone dangerous) wearing the clothes of a figurative sheep (i.e., someone unthreatening). "Jammed down their throats" figuratively means "forced onto people who aren't really willing to hear it." And that is nearly the opposite of how radio actually works -- people who really believe that this is how right-wing talk show hosts have gotten their influence are just deluding themselves.

Someone named Dikran Armouchian has been arrested for setting a fire in the Angeles National Forest (thanks, SDB's reader). Google doesn't turn up a hit for his name, and there's not much more information available at this point.

Can anyone place the origin or nationality of the name?

Update:
In the comments, Francis W. Porretto says the name is Armenian, and this page of Armenian names lists "Dikran" as a good first name for an Armenian baby boy.

Along similar lines as my previous post about college kids becoming more conservative, my mom passes along a US News article titled "The good-news generation" (beware of pop-ups!). John Leo discusses some of the qualities of Generation Y (the Millennials) -- members of the cohort born between 1977 and 1994, which I am proud to belong to.

Now the focus is almost entirely on millennials, 78 million strong and the largest birth cohort in American history. Speaking at the American Magazine Conference last week in the Palm Springs, Calif., area, Clurman described millennials this way: They are family oriented, viscerally pluralistic, deeply committed to authenticity and truth-telling, heavily stressed, and living in a no-boundaries world where they make short-term decisions and expect paradoxical outcomes. (The sense of paradox means that every choice results in some good consequences, some bad: Air bags save lives but kill people, too.) ...

Yankelovich and other researchers have been picking up a renewed emphasis on family for years. The yearning for a good marriage is a dominant value among millennials, Clurman says, and 30 percent of those surveyed say they want three or more children. Indeed, one research company, Packaged Facts and Silver Stork, recently predicted a 17 percent increase in the U.S. birthrate over the next 10 years. ...

Millennials are apt to trust parents, teachers, and police. Apparently they are likely to trust presidents, too. A Harvard poll released last week reported that President Bush has a 61 percent favorability rate among American college students. This may not mean much. The millennials are not a very politically active generation. But they are clearly able to resist programming by their professors, 90 percent of whom seem convinced that Bush is either Hitler or a moron.

I agree with all of Mr. Leo's conclusions, but he doesn't mention one thing that's particularly obvious (to me): Millennials are they way we are largely due to rebellion against our Boomer parents' approach to life. We love 'em, but we don't want to be like them in a lot of ways.

To many in my generation, the Boomers seem terribly unserious and preoccupied with fantasy rather than reality. There's a reason why the peace-nik protests of 2003 looked a lot like those from the 1960s: they were the same people. We yearn for strong marriages because far more than half of us have seen our parents divorce. We want kids and families of our own because we think we can do it right. We love the truth because our parents' generation is perpetually obsessed with style over substance, and most of the time they tell us there is no real truth.

Mr. Leo paints an encouraging picture, and I'm excited to find out whether he's right or not.

In response to this post about adults getting more involved in Halloween, my friend Craig passes on a Time Magazine article titled "Boo, Humbug! Call me a Scrooge, but why can't adults leave Halloween to the kids?" by Michael Elliott. Mr. Elliott writes a lot I disagree with (and some I don't), and I don't think he gets Halloween, any more than he gets the reasons behind the current wave of Francophobia sweeping the America. But anyway, let's take a look at what he says.

Still, if companies want to sell even more masks, lanterns, witch hats and the like, good luck to them. It's the gullible consumers who fall for the pitch whom I detest — the employees who insist on decorating sensible cubicles with orange and black streamers and littering the office with bowls of candy, the folk who dress up and throw pumpkin parties at country clubs, the hundreds of thousands who will come to work next week in costume. Chris Riddle is the Halloween trend spotter at card-and-decorations giant American Greetings, which estimates that 25% of the American work force will observe Halloween in some fashion this year. "It's a release," Riddle says of the way people deck out their suburban yards, "a way to say, 'I can still act like a kid.'"

That's my problem. Halloween, for me, is the gaudiest example of the infantilization of American culture. It's up there with other classics like McDonald's Happy Meals or Hollywood's post — Star Wars decision to concentrate on making kids' films for grownups. These aren't just the mutterings of an old curmudgeon. I like parties as much as the next guy (so would you if you'd grown up in a house where the Messiah was considered light entertainment), though I've never quite seen why you needed a specific date on the calendar as an excuse to let your hair down. There's a larger point. In time, infantile societies become degraded, unable to meet the realities that face them.

However, in the article I linked to in my previous post, York University history professor Nick Rogers points out that, "The notion that Halloween is simply for kids is a misconception based on the centrality of trick-or-treating in the 1950s, when there was an attempt to take the mischief out of Halloween and 'infantilize' it." So perhaps Mr. Elliott should be rejoicing that adults are de-infantilizing the holiday? After all, if his main objection is that the holiday is too childish, then one of the best things he can hope for is that Halloween will return to its more historical role as a community-wide harvest festival. Of course, most communities don't actually harvest anything anymore, so it's only reasonable that the holiday take on a different focus. I hate to break it to him, but adults have worn masks and dressed up in costumes for thousands of years, all around the world and in every culture, and such behavior is not generally seen as uniquely childish. That perception appears to be the product of late 20th-century America, more than anything else.

Further, I fail to see the connection between Happy Meals, "Star Wars", and the infantilization of culture. Happy Meals provide parents a cheap and easy way to feed their kids, and give the kids a fun toy; the food may not be healthy, but that has nothing to do with infantilization. Would he rather that kids be forced to eat gruel from a burlap sack with a shard of glass for a spoon?

"Star Wars" is a great movie, and nearly everyone in my generation loves it (even Europeans I talked to while traveling) -- so what's his point? Does he object to "Star Wars" and similar films because he thinks they cause his so-called infantilization, or because they cater to it by entertaining people without *gasp* literature?

How did cultural infantilization creep up on us? In The Disappearance of Childhood, a wonderful little book first published in 1982, Neil Postman, a New York University professor who died this month, identified a shift from a culture based on literature — on reading — to one based on the image. In a preliterate world, there's no distinction between children and adults. Look at a Bruegel painting, and you see adults eating, drinking, groping, necking, together with their children. Literacy changed all that. Reading has to be learned; it separates the world of the child from that of the adult. But children can absorb images — from TV, say — just as easily as their elders. Postman worried that a postliterate culture would be one in which barriers that protected children from the perils and temptations of the outside world would be torn down.
Oh brother. So, Halloween is connected to Happy Meals and "Star Wars", which in turn keep people from reading, which leads to illiteracy, and the infantilization of the culture. Ok, got it.
Halloween shows that the process works in reverse. We now have to be worried not just about children acting like adults but about adults behaving like children. That doesn't mean adults have to be serious all the time. It does mean that they should recognize when it's time — and what it means — to grow up and let the kids run their own holiday.
Sorry, in my world the kids don't get to run their own anything, because they're kids. I think it's important to separate the roles of children and adults, and I think that adults should be in charge of everything -- and I'm surprised that Mr. Elliott thinks otherwise. Even if adults don't dress up, who do you think is buying all the costumes and candy? Who's going to build the haunted houses for the kids to creep through? Who's going to walk the little ones door-to-door collecting treats?

Do I really need to expound on the bizarrely out-of-context Bible quote at the end of his article?

When it comes to the infantilization of culture and adults acting like children, I think there are far better targets than Halloween. Mr. Elliott briefly mentions TV, but doesn't mention the vast quantity of nonsense that inhabits most of our airwaves -- of course, New York intellectuals have railed against TV for years, so maybe he wanted to try something new. Or maybe that position is just wearing thin, considering that there are some truly great shows on TV these days. Similarly, there are a lot of terrible movies, but there are also some great ones. Oh yeah, there are some pretty awful books too, and some are even considered "classics".

If one wants to discuss the infantilization of culture, why not mention professional sports? Why not mention the sensationalism that runs rampant through our news organizations? Why not mention the grocery workers who are striking because they think putting boxes on shelves entitles them to $40,000 a year and free health care? Why not take the whiny, self-righteous Bush-haters aside and explain to them that there's more at stake right now than the next Presidential election? Why not condemn the welfare state that exists solely to create a childish constituency who will vote in favor of its own expansion?

Mr. Elliott may just not like Halloween -- and that's fine -- but he shouldn't try dress up his personal opinion as high moral virtue built on care and concern for our collapsing civilization.

Two guys walk into a bar. The second one says to the first one, "Oh, you didn't see it either?"

Top that!

Here's a page with a nifty diagram explaining how forest fires spread.

Fire's spread looks fractal (no surprise).

Finally, here's a page with lots of forest fire information, and even some simulations! [Update: the simulations are lame!]

I haven't really seen anyone else discuss this (surprisingly), but if terrorists wanted to attack Southern California setting forest fires would be one of the easiest and most effective methods. Even if our current blazes were set purposefully, I doubt it was done by Islamic terrorists though, because no one has come forward to claim credit.

Furthermore, it just doesn't seem like such an attack would fit the "style" of Islamofascist death-cultists. A lot of damage has been done, and the fires are a major disruption to California's economy, but there have been fairly few deaths. As such, the threat of arson just doesn't create the type of "terror" that Bin Laden and his cronies go for. Setting forest fires isn't a direct attack on the economy or on symbols of the economic system, doesn't target democracy or democratic institutions, doesn't make people afraid to leave their homes; in general, fires don't have the sort of widespread emotional impact that the terrorists long to foment.

Nevertheless, these fires will still cause property damage on the same order-of-magnitude as the 9/11 attacks, though with far fewer deaths.

Over the decades, the United States has developed dozens of different types of nuclear warheads, for many different uses. Some are dropped as bombs, some are fitted to inter-continental ballistic missiles, some are designed for artillery shells, and some are even used on air-to-air rockets. For a (complete?) listing, check out "Designations Of U.S. Nuclear Weapons" and "UNITED STATES: Nuclear warheads and applications".

Donald Sensing has some interesting speculation on how the world might be different if Germany had one the Battle of the Marne in 1914.

All of these effects, reverberating to this very day, may be argued to have resulted from the allied victory at the Battle of the Marne. Had the allies lost that battle, I think one may make a good case that none of the following would have occurred:
- The rise fascism in Italy and of Nazism in Germany,
- The rise of a communist Soviet Union, although the Czar would likely have been deposed eventually (more likely, would have become a figurehead monarch along the lines of Britain’s)
- World War II in Europe, and probably not in Asia. Japan would still have had imperial ambitions, but they would not have brought the world into conflict, and perhaps not the US.
- Hence, no Cold War and none of its attendant ravages
- A much less powerful United States, but one still secure and free
- No communist China
- No Vietnam War
- No Korean War
- No free and democratic Japan
- No Holocaust
- Hence, no establishment of the state of Israel
- Hence, no history of war, conflict and terrorism in the Middle East
- No Iranian Islamic revolution,
- Hence, no rise of modern radical Islamism
- Hence no 9/11/01 attacks.

Of course I expect that this short list is neither exhaustive nor non-debatable. This is a thought experiment, after all. Add that science and technology would have progressed in wildly different ways and pace, as well, so perhaps no space race or moon landings (yet) nor medical MRIs nor even perhaps any personal computers (again, yet).

Particularly with regard to Nazis, the Holocaust, and the existence of Israel I think Rev. Sensing is probably correct; and the specific wars he mentions (Vietnam and Korea) would not have happened without the USSR.

Rev. Sensing is far more knowledgable about history than I am, but European land wars had been going on for centuries; there's no reason to think that yet another wouldn't have followed WW1 if Germany had been victorious rather than France. Furthermore, without the peace enforced by the United States as a result WW2, it's virtually certain that in the 90 years since WW1 there would have been 2 or 3 more wars fought between the European powers.

Marxism and communism got a big boost from the USSR, but the memes were already out there just waiting to take root. If they hadn't found fertile ground in Russia, it would likely have been somewhere else. Would that have led to a similar Cold War? Who knows, maybe not, but it would still have led to opposition by the United States.

It's not likely that the nation of Israel would exist without the horrific events of the Holocaust, but even without their Jewish scape-goat the Arab/Muslim nations of the world would likely be terribly backwards. Yes, foreign rule and support for dictators has contributed to the condition of the Arab states, but it's not just the Arab Muslims who are having problems. The Muslim religion is much less malable and compatible with the advance of civilization than other major religions appear to be (as Donald himself has pointed out).

Finally, I doubt that America would be much less powerful than we are now. The details of our rise to world supremacy would be different, but our power is largely the result of two factors: our vast natural resources, and our attitude as a people. The exact circumstances that motivated our involvement with the world would likely be different, but the existence of the modern, military-industrial American powerhouse seems inevitable. Unless, of course, we were to lose some major war that occured in this alternate history.

I just heard on KFI 640 that Governor Davis "wants your homes to burn!" because, apparently, he has refused to request the use of military fire-fighting planes that are stationed in Southern California. One of our Representatives (I missed the name) arranged for the Air National Guard to fly the water-dropping planes, but Davis said no.

Flipping through the stations as I was driving to work, someone on KABC 790 said that the the forest service stopped performing controlled burns in the San Bernardino National Forest in the early 1980s because of complaints from environmentalists. The speaker also said that the forest density is much higher than it was hundreds of years ago, because the Indians used to start fires from time to time that would never get put out, and we put out all the fires that are started by lightning. Combined with the recent dung beetle infestation that has killed a lot of trees, he said that the whole forest could go up in smoke. I hope not.

FoxNews says that more adults are celebrating Halloween than in the recent past -- and being sexy about it.

It's not a surprise to me, based on my experience with high school kids, but apparently college students are becoming more conservative. Despite the fact that the vast majority of college professors are registered Democrats (cache), this new survey reveals that:

Perhaps surprisingly, 31 percent of college students identify themselves as Republicans, while 27 percent call themselves Democrats and 38 percent independent or unaffiliated.

"College campuses aren't a hotbed of liberalism anymore," Glickman said. "It's a different world."

The general population is significantly more Democratic -- about 36 percent of Americans consider themselves Democrats, 27 percent Republicans, 20 percent independents or third-party loyalists, and the rest have no preference, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. ...

Sixty-one percent of students approve of Bush's performance on the job -- higher than the president's overall national approval ratings, which have dipped in recent months and now stand at 50 percent in a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

I'm going to ask one of my high school-age friends at church to write a little bit about the political views of his peers; we've discussed the topic, and he might be interested in putting his thoughts down on uh... paper.

Meanwhile, as has been mentioned before, abortion is losing acceptance among women. Demographics seem to be turning against the so-called "liberal" Democrats, and it will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Most likely, the Democratic party will pull righward to track the population, but we'll see.

Tyler Cowen -- who drew my attention to this survey -- links to the survey itself.

If anyone is interested, here are some satellite photos of the California wildfires. All links go to photos with resolutions of 1 kilometer per pixel, but from those pages there are links to photos of 4x and 16x the resolution. (The 250m/pixel pictures are spectacular!) The fires and smoke are clearly visible; very neat.

- 10/28/03 -- True color.
- 10/27/03 -- True color.
- 10/26/03 -- False color.
- 10/26/03 -- True color.
- 10/25/03 -- True color.
- 10/23/03 -- True color, 500m/pixel.

Note all the smoke pouring west into Los Angeles proper, ugh.

Update:
Now Drudge has up satellite photos too! Copycat.

Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on mutually assured destruction, the nuclear deterrence policy that kept us safe during most of the Cold War. What's more, it explains how the policy has changed over time, and gives some interesting details that I wasn't aware of relating to our current stance with Russia and other nuclear powers.

SDB writes a bit about using Bayesian networks to fight spam. I use the same tool for filtering my email that he does -- POPFile -- and it does work incredibly well. Furthermore, you may have noticed that I installed an anti-spam filter for the comments section here that is also built around a Bayesian network. It doesn't work perfectly yet, and some comments are hidden (not lost) due to the software mistakenly thinking they're spam, but it's getting better.

Go read more about Bayesian networks, and rejoice in one of the first truly widespread applications of artificial intelligence in everyday life.

It always amuses me when the self-appointed guardians of free speech choose to censor others themselves. It's not that Reuters don't have the right to prohibit religious groups from advertising on its property, but that it chooses to exercise that right seems hypocritical to me. Just imagine Reuters' reaction if, say, President Bush refused to speak to them because he felt they have an anti-American bias.

Many people see Jesus as a man of love and peace -- which he was -- but he also taught many very difficult lessons that were/are not always easy to accept. All of the following are quotes of Jesus speaking.

John 8:47
He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

John 14:6
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Luke 9:57-62
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59 He said to another man, "Follow me."
But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60 Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good bye to my family."
62 Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Matthew 5:10-11
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Luke 6:27-36
27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

Luke 8:19-21
19 Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."
21 He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

Luke 12:49-53
49 "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Luke 14:25-27
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

Luke 20:20-26
20 Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. 21 So the spies questioned him: "Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. 22 Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
23 He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 24 "Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?"
25 "Caesar's," they replied.
He said to them, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
26 They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent.

Despite the anti-smoking laws that prevent Californians from smoking in almost any commercial establishment, Los Angeles is covered in smoke this afternoon. It's giving me a terrible headache, and making a lot of people sick. What's worse, however, is that hundreds of homes in the Greater Los Angeles Area have already burned to the ground, and the "firestorms" aren't under control yet. Worst of all (for Southern Californians) is that dozens of sections of freeway are closed, and much of the city has ground to a standstill. Even in West LA (which is a good 50 miles from the nearest fire) traffic is crawling and the air is thick with smoke.

The past few years have seen some of the worst brush fires that I can remember, largely due to a shortage of Fall rain, I think. I've heard rumors that environmentalists have been complaining about the controlled burns that are often used to keep the brush to acceptable levels, but I don't know if such claims can be substantiated.

Here are some pictures from FoxNews.

I just wanted to remind people that the idea that America was a major supplier of weapons to Saddam Hussein and Iraq is a myth.

Name one weapon in the Iraqi arsenal that was made in the United States.

I have offered that challenge to dozens of so-called anti-war activists who claim that the U.S. armed Iraq. According to these protesters for "peace," George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan supplied Iraq with tons of weapons.

None have been able to name the specific weapon – missile, bomb, fighter, tank or shell – that is U.S.-made or has U.S. equipment installed in it. None have been able to name any specific weapon system. ...

The fact is that Saddam owes billions to France, Russia and China for weapons purchases. Clearly, Iraq is buying more weapons from Paris and Beijing despite a U.N. arms embargo. Perhaps one reason why Paris, Moscow and Beijing oppose a war in Iraq is because they would lose their best customer.

The propaganda spun by the far left that the U.S. armed Iraq is false and backed by no facts. The so-called anti-war types are more interested in slamming Bush than stopping a war. None have been able to name one American-made weapon in the Iraqi arsenal.

Everyone seems to buy into this myth, but the facts of the matter are pretty simple: even when we were ostensibly "allied" with Iraq during the 1980s, America was never a major supplier of arms to Saddam Hussein. From what I've seen, the most that can be substantiated is that America sold $200,000 worth of weapons to Iraq between 1972 and 1990, out of a total of $40 billion spent by Iraq during the same period. For more myths, check out StrategyPage.

I just saw "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and it was pretty good. Quite predictable, in general, and the lighting was way too dark. It's easy to make anything look scary when it's pitch black.

Jessica Biel is gorgeous, and she did a pretty good job carrying the film. Horror movies are almost the only genre that commonly stars a woman in the lead role, and Ms. Biel performed as well as could be desired.

What more is there to say? The chainsaw scenes weren't as disturbing as the drug-deal-gone-bad near the beginning of "Scarface", but they were still pretty gruesome. Maybe I'm getting old, but I don't really enjoy watching people getting chopped up like I think I used to. Or maybe movies are just more graphic now, and I don't like it.

Anyway, don't forget to set your clock either forward or backward, as appropriate. Good night!

I just discovered that October is Domestic Violence Month, so I want to take this opportunity to mention a problem that isn't very widely recognized: in 40%-50% of domestic violence cases, men are the victims of violence committed by women. A great deal of attention is given (justifiably) to violence that men perpetrate against women, but the fact of the matter is that men are almost as likely to to be victims of domestic violence as women are.

I have some sources here to back up this claim, and they have interesting statistics (that mostly agree with each other). The most comprehensive data appears to come from a study performed by Straus & Gelles, which concludes that some degree of violence occurs at a rate of 113 man-against-woman incidents per 1000 couples per year, and 121 woman-against-man incidents per 1000 couples per year. As well, men and women are both about equally likely to strike the first blow. Overall, men and women were victims of violence at about the same rates, but the violence against men was 50% more likely to be "severe" -- a level that includes being attacked with an object (as opposed to fists), being "beat up", being threatened with a gun or knife, and being attacked with a gun or knife.

Two other sites with similar themes but slightly different numbers: Oregon Counseling, and the Equal Justice Foundation. The later claims that:

1. Women are three times more likely than men to use weapons in spousal violence.
2. Women initiate most incidents of spousal violence.
3. Women commit most child abuse and most elder abuse.
4. Women hit their male children more frequently and more severely than they hit their female children.
5. Women commit most child murders and 64% of their victims are male children.
6. When women murder adults the majority of their victims are men .
7. Women commit 52% of spousal killings and are convicted of 41% of spousal murders.
8. Eighty two percent of the general population had their first experience of violence at the hands of women.
Update:

FoxNews cites a study which claims that female sex offenses are much more common than people realize, but that men who are victimized rarely report it. Perhaps they're ashamed, or perhaps they don't think it's a big deal, even though the behavior they are subjected to qualifies as a sex offense.

As I am on vacation in a place with no television, I have been unable to watch the last two games of the world series. But I have seen that the Yankees have lost both games, by a total of three runs, and in neither game have they pitched their best reliever, Mariano Rivera - arguably, the greatest reliever in the history of baseball.

Rob Neyer, who writes one of my favorite columns over at espn.com, talks about it here. I'm not going to get into the specifics of the situation, as Neyer does an excellent job, but I do want to talk about the use of closers in general in baseball.

Ever since the institution of the save rule in baseball, managers seem to be obsessed with not using their "closer" unless it is a save situation. To earn a save in baseball, the pitcher has to come into the game with a lead of 3 runs or less, and not give it up, while finishing the game. They have to pitch at least one inning. A pitcher can also earn a save by pitching 3+ innings to end a game. Typically, this means they pitch the 9th inning with a lead, and will not start the 9th unless the team has a 3 run or smaller lead.

The practice of managers saving their best pitchers for some of these situations is ridiculous. While I will not do the math here, it seems obvious that you do not need your best pitcher to protect a 3 run lead for one inning. It also seems obvious that, in a tie game, you may want to use your best pitcher anyway to prevent your opponent from scoring, and you may want to use him even if you are losing if it's the world series and he has all winter to rest. Managers, however, seem hamstrung by the save rule itself, as if it was designed to tell them how to use their closers. Joe Torre, the manager of the Yankees, very often uses Mariano Rivera for more than one inning to get the save, which is a rarity today, but I can't remember seeing him in a game-tied situation, and I've often seen him pitch with a large lead when he was unneeded. While I am unfortunately not a big-league manager, even if you feel the need to follow tradition in the regular season for closers, you have to treat the world series differently. Torre does it, but he does not go far enough, and in this case his reluctance may have cost the Yankees the title.

Following up an earlier poll of Americans' belief in the supernatural, here's another.

LOS ANGELES -- An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and that heaven and hell exist, according to a new study. What's more, nearly two-thirds think they are heaven-bound.

On the other hand, only one-half of 1% said they were hell-bound, according to a national poll by the Oxnard-based Barna Research Group, an independent marketing research firm that has tracked trends related to beliefs, values and behaviors since 1984.

There's a bunch of stuff in there about what people believe Heaven and Hell are like, but what's interesting to me are the contradictions that the poll found.
"Americans don't mind embracing contradictions," he said. "It's hyper individualism. They're cutting and pasting religious views from a variety of different sources — television, movies, conversations with their friends. Rather than simply embrace one particular viewpoint, and then trying to follow all the specific precepts or teachings of that particular viewpoint, what Americans are saying is, 'Listen, I can probably put together a philosophy of life for myself that is just as accurate, just as helpful as any particular faith might provide.' "

Pollster George Barna, a former minister who founded the research group, noted that one out of 10 born-again Christians — those who believe entry into heaven is solely based on confession of sins and faith in Jesus Christ — also believe in reincarnation, which violates Christian tenets. Nearly one in three claim it is possible to communicate with the dead, and half believe a person can earn salvation based on good deeds even without accepting Christ as the way to eternal life.

Many who describe themselves as either atheistic or agnostic also harbor contradictions in their thinking, Barna said. He said that half the atheists and agnostics surveyed believed that everyone had a soul, that heaven and hell existed and that there was life after death. One in eight atheists and agonistics believe that accepting Jesus Christ as savior probably makes life after death possible.

That is... most people are just flailing around in the dark, without any substantial confidence when it comes to what may (or may not!) be the most crucial question of existence.

(Found via Drudge.)

I'm playing in a few fantasy basketball leagues, and it's got me thinking about fantasy sports in general. We have had an argument in one of the leagues(which hasn't started yet due to lack of players; if you're interested e-mail me); the argument in the end boiled down to "should fantasy sports, by the categories used, actually reflect the skills of the players". To me, the argument seemed ridiculous; In any sport other than baseball, ALL of your players statistics are heavily influenced by who is on their team, so trying to balance a category to reflect skill is meaningless. Plenty of Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz get drafted highly, not because they are among the best players but because, hey, someone has to play. Fantasy Baseball obviously follows the same rules, as leagues normally count RBIs or runs scored, but it could at least theoretically be entirely team-neutral performance (and, of course, super-boring).

Since fantasy sports don't always reflect real life skill, putting together a fantasy team has a lot more to it than just knowing who is good, and is mostly about understanding the players relationship to the rules of the league. In most fantasy football leagues, you aren't worried about individual categories, as scoring is done by "points": six for a touchdown run, four for a TD pass, 1 for every 10 yards receiving, etc. I don't like this as much because you have no need to balance your team, just find the guy at each position who scores the most points. It also suffers (to me) from a lack of control and predictability, since touchdowns are rare and hard to predict, but compose a large percentage of the scoring.

Fantasy Baseball and Basketball on the other hand are based entirely on categories - you have to try to put together a team that will not only score the most points, but will score them in the right places. I prefer basketball to baseball, for a few reasons. One, a common baseball category (stolen bases) is dominated by very few players, only a couple of whom are useful in other categories as well - in the last couple years the person who picked first or second was able to win the league do to this imbalance. Second is the fact that, since to me baseball is a science, using meaningless categories like RBIs and runs and batting average (ugh) drives me nuts, and forces me to learn a bunch of information I don't really care about.

Fantasy Basketball, on the other hand, is great (maybe I like it because I tend to win). There are a ton of meaningful (or at least useful in-game) statistics; leagues tend to have 8 or 9 different stats, none of which are routinely dominated by one player. Building a team takes a lot of different considerations, as drafting only the best player available can leave your team imbalanced, to get crushed in multiple categories regularly, or short certian key positions (point guard and center being the hardest to fill adequately). And unlike football, there are enough games that you can use past games as a predictor to try to find players worth adding from the free agent pool.

Cypren points to to a CNN story titled: "Iraqi official says limited German, French help won't be forgotten".

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A top Iraqi official attending an international conference on raising funds to rebuild Iraq warned Thursday that France and Germany's limited donations would not be forgotten.

Ayad Allawi, the current head of Iraq's U.S.-appointed governing council, said he hoped German and French officials would reconsider their decision not to boost their contributions beyond funds already pledged through the European Union.

"As far as Germany and France are concerned, really, this was a regrettable position they had," Allawi said. "I don't think the Iraqis are going to forget easily that in the hour of need, those countries wanted to neglect Iraq."

Which, of course, is part of why certain countries wanted us to fail. They already had profitable arrangements going with Saddam, and now they have to deal with an entirely different government, which isn't turning out to be too fond of the former tyrant's business partners. (His most recent partners, anyway, considering that the US did business with Saddam's regime in the 80s.)

I just bought by parents a new computer from Dell on the Dell website. When I had originally configured it, and tried to send my parents a link so they could just buy what I had configured, it didn't work, so I had to do it again about a week later. When I re-did it, I went through dell small business instead of their regular home user site. The exact same computer was over $200 less.

I believe this is well known about Dells site; I knew about it beforehand but had forgotten and just got lucky that my parents couldn't buy the first PC. But this isn't how the internet is supposed to work! I'm supposed to be able to go to places like pricewatch or just search around the web and find myself the best price. But places like amazon.com and airlines have been price discriminating for a while on the internet. As retailers are able to gather more and more information about us, price discrimination on the internet is growing rapidly.

There is an article in last weeks Economist about this very subject. Unfortunately it's in their premium content section, but I can link to the paper they site, "Privacy, Economics and Price Discrimination on the internet", by Andrew Odlyzko.

Price discrimination is much more difficult for goods than it is services - theoretically a secondary market for Dell computers could open up, if I bought a ton from dell small business and tried to sell them at some middle price point. Heck, this type of reselling is big news right now, when it comes to perscription drugs. But this can't happen for airline tickets due to federal law about who's name has to be on the ticket, and services are impossible to resell - look at the price discrimination (scholarships) at Universities for a good example.

The real difficulty of price discrimination is that people loathe it. The idea of paying more than someone else had to drives people nuts. So the key is to either find a way to make it acceptable (such as the aforementioned scholarships), mask or protect it with laws (airlines), or hide it. From the economist:

They already discriminate in the non-electronic world: petrol stations, for example, charge more in some parts of town than in others. But two techniques look likely to flourish: loyalty clubs, which extract additional information from members and give them discounts; and “bundling”, or the offering of packages of services, partly in order to make it harder for consumers to compare the prices of individual components.

I just installed an anti-spam filter for the comments on my site. It was written by James Seng, and uses a Bayesian network to detect probable spam -- just like many popular email filters. We'll see how it works. I don't get a lot of spam here, so it may take some time to train it. Meanwhile, I won't have it actually filter anything, so no comments will be lost.

No, I cannot resist adding artificial intelligence to everything, whenever possible.

Although I'm sure this will come across as just more bias on my part, some comments made in response to a post by Bill Hobbs really seem on-point to me. Bill wonders why lefty-type bogs don't seem interested in supporting Operation Give (the non-political, blog-started toy drive for Iraqi children), and his commenters (from both sides) express a lot of opinions on the matter. What strikes me is just how incredibly bitter, angry, mean, rude, and spiteful some people on the left seem to be.

Plunge, the administrator for Chief Wiggles' site comments that:

A while ago, I invited bloggers from the left to read the Chief's blog and, if they liked, to post a link.

That was a big mistake. The Chief's blog is a journal and was never meant for heavy debate. While the bloggers themselves were extremely kind, even when sceptical, I can not say the same for their readership. I have never read such hateful comments towards our country, the soldiers, the Chief directly and his family. I quickly ended the invitation, thanked the bloggers that participated, and tried to forget the whole thing.

In response, a commenter named smilink writes of his experience trying to collect toys at his work, Hewlett-Packard.
I'm working at Hewlett-Packard. I put up some very nice posters about the toy drive, with permission, and they were *all* taken down down the very next day by anonymous a**holes.

I have gotten *zero* toys from this place, and that includes the 14+ people in my own department. On the other hand, my local bar has donated over 5 boxes worth of stuffed animals and school supplies. Even chronic drunks are more generous than liberals with an agenda.

People depress the crap out of me sometimes. And Plunge, your experience is not unique. For people with the 'moral high ground' the liberals I meet these days are some of the nastiest a**holes I've ever seen.

Obviously not all leftists are like that, but I am constantly amazed by the bitterness and wretchedness that seem to consume many of the hard-core left.

StrategyPage (an awesome military news resource, with no permalinks) posts some numbers that show that although the US spends far more money than any other country on its military, when purchasing power is taken into account the differences shrink (a little).

October 22, 2003: Global defense spending is generally thought to be concentrated in the United States, and a handful of other countries. This is generally true. If you take just money spent on military items, the lineup looks something like this (as a percentage of global defense spending, in year 2000 dollars);

United States 43 percent
Japan 6
United Kingdom 5
France 4
China 4
All Other Nations 38.

However, if you take into account Purchasing Power Parity (or PPP, the relative cost of common goods in different countries), those nations with lower costs (like China and India), loom larger.

United States 31 percent
China 13
India 6
Russia 5
France 3
All Other Nations 62.

Nations that spend little cash, but have cheap local costs (food, housing, payroll), like Iran and Pakistan, all of a sudden have larger defense spending (Iran is now about six percent of U.S. spending, and Pakistan about four percent.)

The post also points out that good training and leadership are critical to the effectiveness of any military, and I imagine that poor training can cost just as much as good training. Poor leadership can actually cost more than good leadership, depending on how corrupt your leaders are.

According to the logs, there have been a lot of visitors recently -- but there aren't that many people leaving comments. What's up? If you read my stuff, you owe me comments, it's as simple as that.

Or contribute to the Make Michael Rich Foundation, it's up to you. Everyone else is plugging their worthy causes, so I may as well toss my hat into the ring. Unlike some some other charities I know, I absolutely guarantee that every cent you donate will go directly towards making me rich (except for Amazon's $0.15 handling fee -- those Michael-hating humbugs). Why spread your donations out across thousands of people, when you can focus on making me rich? You can make a difference!

SDB has a great essay up about the North Korea problem, and in it he gives a concise (!) explanation of America's Cold War nuclear deterrence policy (which I've commented on previously, slightly objecting to one of SDB's earlier positions; I either misunderstood what he was saying before, or he's rethought it and now agrees with me).

In that case, the Bush administration would have to publicly and formally renew a basic tenet of Cold War deterrence policy: any nuclear blackmail will be treated as if a nuke had actually been used, and the response to any such threat will be maximal.

During the Cold War, nuclear blackmail was one of the dangers. What would we do if the Hotline phone rang and the voice in the handset said, "Pull your forces out of Germany or we'll nuke Pittsburgh"? The strategists wrestled with that, and ultimately concluded that only deterrence could prevent such a thing. Thus it became American doctrine that if we received such a phone call, then the President would "push the button" (or at least consider doing so). Understand that I don't mean that it would happen ten seconds after hearing such a thing; there'd be time for diplomacy, and an attempt to deal with the situation via lesser means. But in the final resort, if we really faced such a demand, then it was publicly stated that American doctrine was to launch every nuke we had. No "proportional response", no city-trading-duel, no waiting to see if Pittsburgh really did get vaporized before launching. It was important that this be public because like any deterrent its real purpose was to make sure that the situation didn't arise at all. Since the Soviet leadership knew that was American doctrine, they couldn't be at all sure that we wouldn't really do it if they made that phone call, and it never happened. ...

We'd also have to establish a new doctrine, and this would be more controversial and politically risky. The doctrine would be that if anyone set off a nuke in our territory and no one claimed responsibility, or if a terrorist group claimed responsibility, in that case we'd also obliterate NK. No questions asked, no excuses listened to, no attempt to determine if the nuke had been sold by NK, no delays, no nothing. Under this doctrine put in place after an NK nuclear test, if any city of ours was destroyed, NK would be destroyed as soon thereafter as we could manage. That's the only way we can limit the danger that NK would surreptitiously sell one or more nukes to someone like al Qaeda.

That's the spirit of what I said before, although he says it more clearly and at greater length.

The only disagreement I have with what he's written is his characterization of evil.

Deterrence is a real moral problem. In some cases it's the only way to bring about the best possible case, but the only way you can have a deterrent is by being willing to commit tremendously evil acts. Is it immoral to be prepared to do evil things if through your willingness and preparation you avoid the need to do so and also prevent someone else from doing the same evil thing? Regardless of whether it's moral or not, that's what we'd have to do.
I don't think that nuclear deterrence is evil, even though we're threatening to obliterate the innocent people who live in a (presumably non-democratic) enemy country. In fact, even if we were put in a position such that we had to carry out the threat, our actions wouldn't be evil. Yes, millions of people who were not directly involved in the decision to threaten/attack us would be killed, but the morality of it seems very similar to the morality behind felony murder laws (which vary state-by-state, but are all pretty similar).
The felony murder rule is as old as this country. It's designed for instances where two people go to rob a bank. The getaway driver waits in the car-the robber goes in and shoots the teller-prosecutors can charge both with first-degree murder. ...

Under the state's felony murder rule, a person can be charged with murder if someone dies while the person is committing or attempting to commit a felony like arson-even if the death is accidental. Prosecutors don't have to prove intent, an element usually required for a first-degree murder conviction. ...

In Colorado, the felony murder law says the death of anyone during a serious crime or the "immediate flight" afterward makes everyone involved in the original crime guilty of murder -- no matter who did the actual killing or when.

Felony murder laws lay the responsibility for any deaths that occur during the commission of a felony at the feet of the criminal, even if he doesn't intend to kill anyone. An unarmed man tries to rob a bank, the security guard shoots at him, misses, and hits a customer, killing him -- the would-be bank robber is guilty of felony murder.

Similarly, if America is threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons, and we respond, the deaths that result are fully the responsibility of the people who provoked us to self-defense. Our policy of deterrence is not evil, any more than the bank guard in the above example was evil.

We're all familar with the stall tactics used by Saddam Hussein in the years leading up to the recent invasion of Iraq by the United States and our allies. He played every trick in the book to slow down inspections, mislead investigators, lay false trails, and at the same time preserve either actual WMD, or the infrastructure needed to produce them.

So I wonder, is Iran playing a similar game? Obviously, no one is taking Iran's compliance with requests for documentation at face value -- not even the UN or the IAEA -- especially considering the rhetoric coming out of Tehran.

Basically, there are traces of highly-enriched, weapons-grade uranium on some equipment in Iran, and Iran says the equipment was contaminated when they bought it. What country did the equipment come from? Iran says it doesn't know, since it was bought through third-parties. (Un)fortunately, that pretty much blocks any attempt to verify Iran's claims.

The agency needs to match traces found inside Iran to isotope samples from the country the contaminated equipment came from as a way of testing the assertion that enrichment to weapons levels took place outside Iran. If the samples do not match, arguments by the United States and its allies that the high enrichment took place inside Iran as part of an arms program would be greatly strengthened.
Without knowing where the uranium supposedly came from, there's no way to verify that claim with actual data, and there's no way to demonstrate that the enrichment wasn't likely to have been done in Iran.

Dick Morris asks a sensible question: Why is this nation with among the world’s largest oil reserves seeking to develop nuclear power if not for a bomb? They don't need it for electrical power, since they've got enough oil to last them for centuries.

If Iran gets the bomb, do we seriously believe that the concept of deterrence will effectively preclude its use? What is to prevent the logic of the homicide/suicide bomber from functioning at the nation-state level? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that the Iranian ayatollahs might, indeed be willing to sacrifice the faithful in Tehran to obliterate the infidels in New York, London, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles?
Personally, I think that deterrence will be successful at preventing a nuclear holocaust, but I wouldn't be surprised if we're forced to prove our resolve by actually using a nuke or two in response to a threat of nuclear blackmail. Still, as Mr. Morris says, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Iran will be willing to use nukes without warning -- although likely against Israel rather than America, for simple logistical reasons.
Iran yesterday defiantly showed off six of its new ballistic missiles daubed with anti-US and anti-Israel slogans in a move sure to reinforce international concern over the nature of its nuclear programme.
DUH!
The Shehab-3, which means "meteor" in Farsi, underwent final tests this year and has a range of about 810 miles, putting Israel and US bases in the Gulf within striking distance. It is based on the North Korean No-Dong and Pakistani Ghauri-11 medium-range missiles.

Israel suspects Iran's theocratic leadership may be planning to arm the weapons eventually with nuclear warheads. Yesterday's show of military prowess will do nothing to dispel US and European suspicions that Iran has ambitions to build an atomic bomb.

If you're trying to convince your wary, worried enemies that you're not a threat, parading around ballistic missiles painted with prayers for their death isn't a good tactic.

Here's a really spiffy government-run National Atlas of the United States. I love maps, and I could spend all day on this.

Dean Esmay is fightin' some girls, and links to a rather insightful interview with with Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. Ms. Simmons describes some characteristics of the "hidden culture of [passive-] aggression in girls", and although I'm not a girl myself, I have worked with a great many girls of all ages at church and have witnessed many of the bullying tactics she mentions.

Girls feel that in order to be "nice"- something most parents and teachers expect from girls-they cannot be in open conflict with others. They must be "friends," at least externally, with everyone. As a result, girls often repress their anger or allow it to emerge in indirect or covert ways. ...

Because females are expected to be caretakers in our society, the challenge of negotiating the impulse to anger and the obligation to sacrifice one's needs for others is significant. In my interviews, girls told me that expressing anger would result in the loss of their relationships with others. The prospect of solitude terrified them, and it was, moreover, a major violation of their caretaking roles. "Nice" girls, they told me, have lots of friends. They don't get in fights. As a result, much of girls' aggressive behavior goes underground. The fear of confrontation makes anger a circular issue that increases the scope of the conflict and causes girls to use relationships with each other as weapons against each other. Although the weak will more often be preyed upon, relational aggression targeting has less to do with an external characteristic than with a conflict that has not been addressed directly and openly.

I don't agree with all her conclusions, but I think she's on the right track in examining this sociological phenomenon. I've seen boys get into fist-fights and go home laughing together, and I've seen girls quit coming to church because they've been ostracized and closed out socially by their peers. Nothing is universal, of course, but this sort of passive-aggressive behavior seems more common among girls and women than among boys and men.

Perhaps this dynamic can help partially explain why adults relate the way we do. It seems to me that there are lots of male-only groups and activities, but not many female-only. When groups of friends form, it seems like the men form the core, and the women join peripherally -- either as girlfriends/wives, or as single women who latch on to a group of guys. I have a lot of girl friends who seem to spend most of their time hanging out with men in groups (not in dating scenarios), but I'm not aware of large groups of women that hang around together (of course, I'm not a woman, so I may not have much visibility). Two or three women may be "best friends", but are there groups of 5-10 women who do everything together? Such groups of men are very common.

There are clearly other factors as well -- it's always important to consider the influence of mate-selection when discussing social patterns, for instance -- but is it possible that large groups of women simply aren't socially stable? Please give me your opinions, especially you women who may think this is all a bunch of nonsense.

Samizdata gets the following email:

Dear Mr Micklethwait

I am writing a concise statement of ancient rights as part of a longer publication.

I want to include all the most important Common Law rights: life, liberty, property, family life, fair trial in open court, Habeas Corpus, trial by jury etc.

I cannot find a comprehensive list anywhere. Do you know of one please?

Regards,

Richard Marsden

I started writing a lengthy comment, but then realized that I've got my own blog! So, let me take a crack at it.

I think that most of our civil rights can be derived from the right to own property -- when you "own" something, you have the right to use it, and the right to exclude others from using it at will. Property rights (and the ownership of our own bodies) can cover almost everything we like as Americans:
- freedom of speech,
- freedom of thought,
- freedom of religion,
- freedom of self-defense,
- freedom to work,
- freedom to trade,
- freedom of association,
- and, in some ways, the right to privacy (though not as it is often believed).

Naturally, my exercise of my rights can interfere with your exercise of yours, and the details need to be worked out. How do we do that?

Criminal law is the system that society has at its disposal when it needs to curtail your civil rights because your exercise of freedom is impinging unacceptably on others. Under commonly recognized principles, the important aspects of criminal law revolve around the understanding that depriving someone of his civil rights is a serious matter, and should not be done lightly or easily. Taking away someone's rights should be be difficult, but civilization has recognized that such power is necessary in order for society to function.

So we've got:
- trial by jury (perhaps the most important),
- the right to be presented to the court (habeas corpus),
- the right to a speedy trial (and the duty to enjoy that right),
- the right to confront the accuser (even in rape cases),
- the right to the presumption of innocence,
- the right to commensurate punishment,
- the right to remain silent and not testify against yourself,
- &c.

Notice, there's no right to vote, although democracy is a good way to protect our rights. All that common law really comes down to is "leave me alone, and I'll return the favor."

The Washington Times reports that American Airlines is turning a slight profit. That's good, and what I would expect. Does this mean that they'll start paying back the $900 million in cash plus additional loan guarantees that the people of the United States gave the company two years ago? Not likely.

I'm not saying that it should be paid back, necessarily. I've wavered over whether or not the post-9/11 bailout of the airline industry was a good idea, but I tend to think it wasn't. Yes, many airlines would have gone out of business, but that would have been a good thing. It's not like the planes would just vanish, or even stop flying (most likely); the horribly mismanaged and poorly organized relics of the past century would likely have been reorganized and rebuilt using the more successful business models of Southwest and JetBlue.

One of the biggest advantages held by the later two airlines is that they only fly one or two types of plane. Pilot, air crews, and mechanics are normally only trained and certified on a single type of aircraft, and the older airlines' wide variety of different planes tends to push their labor costs through the roof. Having a variety of planes can save money if the most efficient plane for each length journey is always used, but such theoretical savings are never realized. On the contrary, the large fleets are not flexible enough to allocate planes in an optimally efficient manner, and they are terribly expensive to maintain. Planes and crews may sit idle because they are not compatible with each other.

Plus, the old airlines are built around business travellers, and with the tightened belts of the past few years even business travellers are scouring the web for cheap tickets.

In general, I think that we as a society need to be willing to let giant corporations fail, rather than bail them out. By my understanding, one of the reasons Japan's economy has stagnated over the past 15 years is because of government bailouts of unprofitable companies -- I certainly don't want America to meet that same fate. Failing companies will hit the stock market in the short-term, but once their assets are reallocated and restructured the economy will be better off from the gain in efficiency.

Partial-birth abortions will be illegal, as soon as Bush signs the bill that the Senate passed 64-34 yesterday (the House passed it a month ago). In theory, this law will prevent up to 5,000 abortions of convenience each year (since, as Bill Hobbs notes, the AMA says the procedure is almost never medically necessary; Donald Sensing says that physicians have testified for years that the procedure is never medically necessary).

Considering that I view abortions of convenience as murder, I would have preferred if the federal government had stayed out of it and left it to the states (which generally prosecute murderers), but my affection for federalism is outweighed by the thousands of lives that will potentially be saved. Furthermore, many similar state laws have been struck down:

The measure is similar to, but somewhat more detailed than, a Nebraska state law that the Supreme Court struck down by a 5-4 vote three years ago. That ruling had the practical effect of nullifying 30 state laws. Up to that time, Congress had been trying unsuccessfully for five years to enact a similar proposal at the federal level.

My lamentable Senator, Barbara Boxer, has this to say:

California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who helped lead opposition to the bill, called it "a very sad day for the women of America."

But, of course, she's only considering women who are already out of the womb, and has little concern for the women who will now not have their brains sucked out by vacuums and their bodies dismembered.

Along the same lines,

But an abortion rights supporter said the ban "will bring an end to providing the best and safest health care for women."

It will bring an end to the mass-murder of thousands of children. Physicians all seem to agree that this procedure was never medically necessary, so it certainly can't be required for the best and safest health care for anyone. Congress concurs:

In drafting the new national measure that has now passed, Congress wrote lengthy findings that contradict the Supreme Court's conclusion that abortions using the procedure banned by the bill are sometimes medically necessary to protect a woman's health. "Congress finds that partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother," the bill's preamble says.

The problem is that the abortion-rights people don't seem to understand that they're arguing a different point than most people are conerned with.

"This dangerous ban prevents women, in consultation with their families and trusted doctors, from making decisions about their own health," said Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Most Americans don't see abortion as a private issue that only affects the mother, no matter how much abortion-rights advocates want to spin it that way. They purposefully misstate the pro-life position, which is that an unborn baby is a human being, and that as such the medical privacy concerns of the mother are inconsequential compared to the right of that other human being to live. As I wrote in that earlier post:

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 decision to have an abortion isn't private, because it necessarily involves another person: the unborn baby.

For a really excellent scientific explanation of why unborn babies (from conception) are alive, and are "real" human beings (without any reference to religion), I highly recommend "Life: Defining the Beginning from the End".

And finally, "Who, after all, could consider a fetus as life unworthy of living, once they've held its hand?", asks Sydney Smith, a family physician, and author of MedPundit.

Yay, I finally got some nifty PNG graphic libraries to compile into the Quake 2 source code, and now I can generate PNG images as output files for my PhD dissertation project. The text maps I was using previously were a real pain to read, and the new color-coded pictures look really cool.

Want to see? Well, ok! The image is pretty small (32x32); each color represents one of 4 tribes that can control a sector of territory, and its resources; a black sector is not controlled by anyone.

This image was taken from the very early stages of a simulation run, and the control patterns are basically random. However, after the tribes have some time to learn and grow, I hope to see territorial boundaries emerge around food concentrations, just as would happen with tribes of real humans. The tribes will learn to use simple language constructs to coordinate their members' activities (such as attack, defense, and mating), and will then compete for resources in the simulated world.

Time for bed!

Someone dropped a really nice tip in the tip jar yesterday. Thanks a bunch! Basically, it'll go towards my hosting and bandwidth costs.

If you decide to tip me, for whatever crazy reason, you should send me an email. That way, you can get special treatment when Michael's World Order takes over and it's time to hand out favors. Plus, if I make you laugh, make you think, or piss you off, you owe me money.

There seems to be quite a disparity in the ideal age to be successful at different sports. Tennis players seem, often, to thrive before they leave their teens, especially in the womens ranks; They're almost all done by 30. Good golfers barely get started by the age of 30. Baseball players may become "professionals" out of high school, but they rarely reach the major leagues before the age of 23 and statistically, most reach their peak at 27. Basketball players may start in the NBA at 18, but the cream of the crop is always over 21, and often much older. The NFL has draft rules keeping younger players out of the league, but 23 is a pretty good base age for beginning success in the league.

It seems the main difference is in the skills and development needed to play the different sports. Of the ones I listed, tennis and golf seem to be the outliers - tennis relies on speed, agility, and endurance, and does not require fully developed adult strength (especially for the women) - golf requires, more than anything else, accuracy. Football, Baseball, Basketball, seem to fit in the same group, as they all require more strength; Baseball again requires precision and accuracy that can only be developed over time; In the NFL, quarterbacks age more like baseball players than the other skill positions or defensive players.

These are only the sports I know the most about; I wonder what other sports age patterns are like. Soccer seems like it could have younger players succede, rugby probably not. Gymnastics and figure skating seem at the surface to be similar to tennis, but I think that is largely due to their amateur-olympics popularity.

Peoples bodies change throughout their lives, and people are better suited for different sports at different ages, though they normally need to have developed their skills over time (no jumping sports). I'd be interesting in seeing how much this is applicable to employment in non-physical professions.

David Bernstein gives a truly horrific account of the funeral of his girlfriend's mother, who was Jewish and lived in Israel. Apparently, Israeli law requires that a state-sanctioned, orthodox rabbi preside over all funerals (despite this not being a requirement of Jewish law), and Mr. Bernstein describes in detail how oppressive and obfuscated the ritual was, and how upsetting the entire experience was for himself and his girlfriend.

Apparently, the ceremony I saw was typical. I suspect that many rabbis in Israel don't explain anything because they want the public to be ignorant. They rely on this ignorance for their political power. For example, the Orthodox rabbinate insists on having a monopoly over marriages and funerals even though there is nothing in Jewish law that requires, or even suggests, the presence of a rabbi at these functions. In Jewish law and tradition, a rabbi has no greater authority or privileges than any other observant individual. For the Israeli rabbinate to demand the continuation of its monopoly makes no sense under Jewish law, a fact that Israelis of my acquaintance are not aware of. To take another example, many otherwise non-religious Israelis, especially Sephardim, go to "special" rabbis for blessings; there's one famous for helping infertility, one for serious illness, etc. Others go to kabbalists, who basically add religious mumbo-jumbo to traditional fortune-telling scams. The organized rabbinate should discourage such anti-Judaic nonsense, but as far as I can tell the situation is quite the opposite.

In Israel, then, the rabbinate functions something like, from what I've read, how the pre-Vatican II Catholic clergy often apparently functioned: as intermediaries seen to be necessary for ritual, who mumble ancient prayers and follow ancient customs that no one really understands, and that no one bothers to explain. (Though I suppose Israelis at least understand some ancient Hebrew, unlike Catholics who didn't know any Latin.) Anyway, the Catholics have democratized (and translated) their rituals, but still use priests as intermediaries, and that's fine for Catholics, but it's completely against Jewish tradition for rabbis to establish themselves in that role. Rabbis are supposed to be teachers, helping the laity understand and follow traditions, not obscuring what they are doing the way the rabbi at the funeral did. For example, I noticed that the rabbi followed at least one superstition that I felt dishonored the deceased, and in fact made me a little ill. Had the family been asked, I'm sure they would have told the rabbi not to do it, and adhering to such superstitions are in any event contrary to Jewish law.

The rabbi's obscurantism, adherence to superstition (or, more precisely, pagan superstitions), failure to learn or inquire about the deceased at all (he had to ask her name at the gravesite!), combined with the utter sexism of the service, and the lack of familial participation in it except at the rabbi's command, really distressed me.

This sort of formalistic insistence on incomprehensible ritual isn't uncommon for Judaism or Christianity (at least), and was one of the principle motivations for the Reformation. In fact, Jesus made similar complaints about the rabbis of his time, as well.
Luke 11:46, 52-54
46. Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
53. When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54. waiting to catch him in something he might say.
That's quite a powerful indictment of chief religious leaders of his time, and we should always be on guard of any leaders, civil or religious, who try to control us through the claim and exercise of special privilege.

Modern Pretestant ecclesiology largely lines up with Mr. Bernstein's description of the proper role for Jewish rabbis. Pastors and leaders exist to teach, guide, and serve, but hold no special spiritual authority under God and wield no peculiar power. As a Christian, my relationship and fellowship with God are not dependent on any other human being; no one has any power or authority to dictate spiritual rules or laws to me, or to speak in God's name and command my obedience. Rather, God speaks to me specifically and individually, and my relationship with him is wholly sufficient without any human intermediary.

Christian churches are conglomerates of individual believers, each is solely accountable to God for their actions. God uses such a group of believers as a corporate body to do his will in the world, and all such organizations need leaders in various capacities, but those in leadership roles are required by Jesus to be the most humble -- they are servents, not masters.

Mark 10:42-45
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
This goes against human nature, of course, and there are a great many so-called spiritual leaders who do not live by these principles.

Randy Barnett over at the Volokh Conspiracy posts a short excerpt from a Libertarian Alliance article about "The Mystery of Fascism" that illustrates how the familiar left-right political spectrum is pretty nonsensical when applied to reality.

From 1912 to 1914, Mussolini was the Che Guevara of his day, a living saint of leftism. Handsome, courageous, charismatic, an erudite Marxist, a riveting speaker and writer, a dedicated class warrior to the core, he was the peerless duce of the Italian Left. He looked like the head of any future Italian socialist government, elected or revolutionary. ...

Given what most people today think they know about Fascism, this bare recital of facts is a mystery story. How can a movement which epitomizes the extreme right be so strongly rooted in the extreme left? What was going on in the minds of dedicated socialist militants to turn them into equally dedicated Fascist militants?

Mean Mr. Mustard wrote an an excellent article on fascist China six months ago (before he quit blogging) that explains it all pretty clearly. He discusses how no nation has ever really been "Marxist", and that all communist states quickly morph into de facto fascism. To quote at length:
Marx's glorious proletarian revolution was supposed to take place in advanced industrial countries. That's why it was called a proletarian revolution, because the revolution itself was to be the result of the vast majority of the population becoming urban wage laborers, who would systematically exploited for profit at the hands of the capitalist class. For Marx, the idea that a communist revolution could take place in an undeveloped country was madness. Marx and Engels both wrote exhaustively about the need for societies to undergo the developmental phase of bourgeois capitalism, because it was those processes that would create an advanced industrialized system, which only then could be transferred into the hands of the proletariat, which by that time would constitute nearly the entire population.

For all that's wrong with that theory (and any discussion as to just how wrong it is would take up much more space and time than I intend to use right now), it's undeniable that Marx was indeed right about at least one thing: any communist revolution undertaken in a country that had not reached a certain level of technological and industrial advancement was doomed to failure, and to be marred by the worst kinds of violence and oppression that would make the evil capitalist oppressors look like pikers. Marx was perfectly right about communism not working in underdeveloped countries (he just happened to be ass-backwards wrong about why it would work in developed countries).

He and Engels stated many times in plain, unambiguous language: any revolution undertaken in pre-industrial countries would fall back upon the same system of a small elite controlling development and oppressing the vast majority for their own gain. Furthermore, the only way the revolutionary system would be able to be maintained was through large amounts of violence.

Sound like any countries you know of? ...

Gregor has said that if you go to China today and try to talk about "Marxism," the people will look at you like a child molester.

What features characterize Chinese government today?

- Single party, undemocratic rule with a single charismatic leader, meaning a figure who is held to be essentially infallible.
- A corporative system of representation, in which people are assigned representatives according to their special interest associations, such as soldiers, teachers, students, business people, etc.
- An organizing principle of nationalism as the rationale for the government's legitimacy.
- A strong emphasis on industrial development.
- Sweeping reforms of the military and educational systems to make them more effective in the ultimate goal of China reasserting its international prominence.

What kind of program is this? It's one that correllates remarkably close to the fascist program for development begun by Mussolini in the 30's. For all intents and purposes, China today is a fascist nation.

Go read the whole thing, and you'll have some good insight into why the hard left and the hard right in America look so similar. They're after different things (sorta), but they both want to control you and tell you how to live. There's not much functional ideological difference between Castro, Kim Jong Il, and Saddam Hussein.

I've written about love and marriage quite a bit; I expect to get married someday and I have a lot of thoughts on the matter. I have fears and anxieties about both love and marriage, and it's good to put all my thoughts out in text so that I can keep track and make sense of it all.

I also look for as much advice as I can find on the matter, and Donald Sensing typically has some good pointers; yesterday he wrote out some of the direction he gives when counseling people who come to him and want to get married, and he gives some excellent advice, but he discounts the fear involved in making such an immense decision.

Many men, however, claim that men avoid marriage, or get married later than otherwise, because divorce laws are stacked against them. To which I say, maybe so, but why on earth would a man get married with one hand on the ejection seat? When men and women get married with some level of expectation that the marriage will fail, then the prophecy sadly can become self-fulfilling.
It's true that such expectations can be self-fulfilling, but ignoring such fears and pretending that divorce will never happen certainly doesn't protect you. Divorce is an ugly fact of life, and there are lots of statistics that demonstrate that fact and reinforce my fears.

My parents are divorced, and it's something that I never want to put my kids through. Heck, I've broken up with girls and that's something I never want to go through again, if I can help it. I can only imagine how much more traumatic divorce would be, and then when you kick in all the financial and social costs... ugh.

Donald seems to advocate never marrying someone unless you're absolutely sure you trust them, but people change and are inherently not trust-worthy. Men get older and buy Ferraris and trophy wives; women get bored and lonely, or whatever. Who knows. The point is, no one can be completely trusted. Christians have nearly identical divorce rates as non-Christians (possibly because Christians get married younger, on average; and I don't know if that accounts for divorces that occur before they became Christians). It's scary. I agree that I would never enter into marriage with the "we can always get a divorce if it doesn't work" attitude, but doesn't it make sense to consider all the possibilities?

I suppose, in the end, all you can do is try to love your spouse in a Christ-like manner, and leave the rest to God. Maybe that's what Donald means -- there's no use worrying, you can only do your best. Maybe. I know I want to get married, so it's not like I have to be talked into it, but it's still a jittery prospect.

Want to learn about craps? May as well learn from Fat Tony! The site's pretty good -- Fat Tony explains all the bets and gives you the odds, so it's pretty easy to tell where the smart money is. He's even got a craps session flowchart!

When I was in Vegas last weekend, craps was by far the most fun game I played. The table looks pretty intimidating at first, but it offers some of the best bets in the casino and is really a lot of fun. You've probably passed by before and wondered why everyone was yelling and jumping around, but it's because there's just nothing better than when it's your turn to roll dem bones!

I've talked about the Fed, and I've talked about gold, but now I want to talk about an assumption that I think is maybe a stretch. Specifically, the assumption that the money we use is Fiat, that its value is based only on the word of the bankers or the Fed.

I learned about the real bills doctrine in college; one of my main sources, here, is an article written by one of my UCLA professors, without whom I likely would not have graduated. So I may be biased. But I would like to talk about it anyway, because I think the real bills doctrine is important, even if many economists believe "The dead horses of economic theory have a habit of suddenly springing back to life again, which is why it is necessary to beat them even when they appear lifeless."

The basic tenent of the real bills doctrine is that, with or without gold, the Fiat money we use today actually does have backing; You can have money that is backed but inconvertable. The main result of this concept is that "money issued in exchange for sufficient security (usually short-term commercial bills) will not cause inflation."

Of course, this does not address the problem that inflation sometimes IS caused by central banks, but it is only because they issue it without sufficent security. The federal reserve actually does hold assets, just like other central banks, and it is against this that it issues federal reserve notes. The Feds balance sheets identifies them as "Collateral Held Against Federal Reseve Notes". So if the money is fiat, why the backing?

Money is not Fiat. The fed holds assets against the notes it issues, as backing, including but not restricted to gold. Money's value is not based on scarcity, or the word of the bankers. When banks fail to take a sufficient amount of assets in to back newly printed money, inflation results. This is not due to the fiat nature of modern money but due to the way it is backed; Under the gold standard or anything else, banks can print more money and cause inflation, the backing is irrelevant.


I do not wish to reproduce the whole paper here in my post. But I believe it is important for people to read it, as it is not particularly long.

There are other issues here though. As I've said before, the gold standard and money convertability does us no good, if convertibility can be suspended. If someone can suspend it for a weekend, they can spend it for a million years. The government has suspended convertibility before, and even if the gold standard was reinstated, it would do it again. The real bills doctrine admits that inflation is going to occur if money is issued without sufficent security. So, even if the real bills doctrine is true, and all money is backed but inconvertable, we still have to deal with danger that the fed isn't going to actually do it's job, or, in other countries, that the government is just going to go on a printing spree and stuff its pockets with the excess. Unfortunately, so long as there are governments, this risk exists. The gold standard doesn't protect us from eminent domain. It doesn't protect us from the goverment revaluing the dollar overnight, after they find a few billion dollars in their bedstands.

I'm getting off topic now (remember, money is backed!), but I imagine the only way that a gold-standard could be safe is if money was actually made of gold. Otherwise, there is nothing stopping governments from re-valuing their currency vs gold. Of course, then the alchemists would all become government employees. Or, amazingly, at the first sign of crisis the government would change the rules.

Mike just said I'm biased, but I don't think I am. It's just that, in most major ideological matters, I've already analyzed the evidence and made up my mind. If being "unbiased" means being unsure and constantly wavering, then I'm not unbiased I guess. But to me, once the information has been gathered and considered, and a decision has been made, it's not "bias" for me to be confident that my position is the correct one.

I am generally open to new evidence and willing to consider other positions if the situation warrants it. For example, I used to be totally against the War on Drugs and took a very libertarian position, but I've since reconsidered and I'm not really sure what the best policy would be, even though I know the status quo is incredibly harmful. Likewise on other issues, such as using public money for space exploration.

So yes, I'm generally pretty confident in what I believe, and I think that I've got a good amount of logic and evidence to support my positions. I also like to think that I'm open to new ideas and to changing old ones, but I'm not going to jump on every bandwagon or concede that every contrary position is rational and worthy of real consideration.

However, Mike assures me that this wasn't the meaning of "biased" he intended, and that he really does think I have "a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment".

There is a timeline of the history of the area which is the modern state of Israel on the BBC. While I have no evidence of it's accuracy (the BBC is, after all, liberal), going through it there are a few points or "facts" that I find interesting:

First, it appears that as zionist immigration steadily increased to the area, groups such as Irgun Zvai Leumi bombed quite a few people in an attempt to get the British mandate palestine declared a Jewish state.

Second, it appears that in 1947, the British turned over control of the area to the UN, largely due to too many of their people being bombed. The UN created a proposal to divide the area into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish residents were 1/3 of the population and owned 6% of the land, but they were to get 56% of the area. Strangely, the "palestinians" rejected this, though it passed a UN vote, and it was never implemented because hostilities broke out.

Third, the hostilities that began seemed to have been largely precipitated by the newly declared Israelies. The palestinians appear to have largely fled, due to events such as Deir Yassin. The advancing Israelies did have to deal with five arab nations armies, and was victorious. I guess I am not surprised that a nation formed in violence would continue to suffer from that problem today.

I admittedly have never known much of the history of Israel pre 1967, or maybe 1964 with the formation of the PLO. This timeline by the BBC seems to be missing some important information, such as the deep, ancient hatred the Arabs hold for the Jews. They even have statements that I don't understand, such as here:

Palestinian and Arab representatives rejected this and demanded an end to immigration and the safeguarding of a single unified state with protection of minority rights. Violent opposition continued until 1938 when it was crushed with reinforcements from the UK.

I know there are plenty of people out there who are anti-semite (democrats) and pro-love+good (republicans), and i'd love to hear their takes on this, or what I am missing. I'm obviously treading in dangerous waters here, but I would like to know what the BBC got wrong. As one of my heros may say, "You're a lucky, lucky boy 'cause you know why? You get to drink from, the fire hose! "

I love maps, and I love drawing maps; one of my favorite passtimes as a kid was designing floorplans for my future dream home. Here's a site called House Plan Guys that has a searchable database of really neat house plans. One of my favorites so far is "Spanish style house plan 61-199".

Update:
This Spanish style plan is pretty cool too. I love the covered balcony off the second floor study -- very Scarface-esque.

Best of the Web has a piece about anti-semitic Democrats that supports my earlier argument that Senator Lieberman will not be able to win the Democrat nomination because he is Jewish.

Update:
Fixed the BotW link.

It took the FBI 5 weeks to find some box cutters that Nathaniel Heatwole hid aboard two Southwest Airlines jets, despite an email he sent to federal authorities alerting them to his actions. Aside from the obvious security concerns, this brings to my mind the really nifty concept of attractors and strange attractors, and is an excellent example of an attractor in real life. What's an attractor?

The basic idea behind an attractor is that a dynamic system will tend toward certain states as time goes on. The simplest form of an attractor is the point attractor. Consider a normal pendulum, it doesn't matter where you release it from, it will always come to rest in the same position, perpindicular to the ground. This state is the attractor for the system.
From another story, it appears that the box cutters were simply hidden in a compartment in the airplane bathrooms. We've all seen the compartments, I imagine; there are several panels in those bathrooms that all look removable. But we've never opened them, and have probably not even wondered what they're for. Heatwole told the authorities exactly which planes to search, but it still took them 5 weeks to find the knives because they were hidden outside the areas the searchers were attracted to, for whatever reason.

Strange attractors are like normal attractors, except that they're chaotic. Chaotic systems never revisit a point they've been to previously, so you may wonder how such a system could have an attractor at all -- well, it can't, but it can have a strange attractor. A chaotic system may never return to an exact previous position, but it can go to a position that's similar to a previous position (and much depends on how you define "similar", which in turn depends on the system in question).

Human behavior is (arguably) chaotic -- it's immensely dependent on initial conditions, and tiny changes in our inputs can yield drastically different outputs. If I happen to get a piece of dust in my eye, I may twitch, stub my toe, decide not to walk to lunch, and avoid getting hit by a car. Nevertheless, humans often behave in ways that are very similar to their past behavior, and we are often quite predictable. Our patterns, movements, thoughts, and life can be seen together as a giant strange attractor that represents the most likely state of our being and that describes our operational progression through time.

Consider your movement patterns through your house. There are probably several areas where you spend the vast majority of your time -- such as the bed, the couch, the bathroom, the computer -- and the rest of your house may be rather sparsely visited. How often do you peer into the crawlspace under the floor, or go up into the attic? How often does the crevice behind the fridge see the light of day? How often do you open that cabinet over the oven? Maybe once a year, or maybe less than that.

If you were to draw a map of your house and trace your movements over the course of a month, you'd probably see that 75% of the floorspace was completely untouched, and that 95% of the volume enclosed by your house did not ever contain a human being. We look at the corners of our rooms from time to time, but we never go up into them. You see the ceiling every day, but when was the last time you touched it? Even when we lose something and we say we've looked everywhere, we know that's just a turn of phrase. We haven't looked under the carpet, or behind the shelves, or inside the TV. But we shouldn't have to, because our car keys are not going to be inside the TV -- that location isn't a high-frequency part of the strange attractor that represents the movement of our keys.

Similarly, thousands of people rode the Southwest jets over the 5 weeks the box cutters were hidden in the bathrooms, but no one found them because no one ever opens those compartments. They're 6 inches from your head when you wash your hands, but a million miles away conceptually.

Similar strange attractors can be found in almost everything, if you want to search them out. Consider the various ideologies that divide humanity, and that 90% of people believe in one of maybe a half-dozen religious systems. There are all sorts of reasons, but the system is so complicated and chaotic that it's impossible to fully describe. In all likelihood, no two people hold exactly identical religious beliefs, but the vast majority are similar enough that they can be easily clustered into just a few buckets.

Strange attractors are everywhere, and by recognizing and studying the attractors that describe our own behavior we can get a better understanding of how we are, and why we are.

I'm on the leadership board at my church, and the confluence of business and spirituality is an interesting phenomenon to me. Via Donald Sensing and Josh Claybourn, here's a fascinating Forbes Special Report on Christian Capitalism that investigates several different aspects of modern Christian churches, from the structure and history of "megachurches" to (generally awful) Christian video games. An excellent series of articles that I highly recommend to anyone interested in how churches look in the 21st Century.

There's a lot that can be said on this topic, but I don't think it's difficult to summarize my thoughts: Christian churches need to operate in the world, even though we aren't of the world. Methodologies and programs need to be malable and dynamic, even though the gospel of Christ is unchanging and the message remains the same. Using technology and business-savvy to spread God's Word is no different in spirit than when Jesus fed the crowds who came out to listen to him with fish and bread, or when he sent his followers out to the surrounding towns, two-by-two, to share his good news.

I went to Knott's Scary Farm last night with one of my friends, and it was quite an interesting experience. I'm a big fan of Halloween, and I make the pilgrimage to Knott's at least once a year to meander through their mazes, fake fog, minimum-wage monsters, and mildly thrilling rides.

It's generally a lot of fun, and the mazes are always the main attraction; you can ride Supreme Scream and Ghostrider any day of the year, but Malice in Wunderland, Carnival of Carnivorous Clows, and the rest, are only available for one precious month. Malice has always been my favorite, but this year it felt repetitive and lackluster, and I have to award top honors to Carnival and this season's new entry: The Asylum. Vampires are pretty cool, and surprisingly, Lore of the Vampire was one of the best mazes this year; in the past it's been pretty lame, but they spruced it up quite a bit. I've always wanted to like it, but it never really came together before. Vampire was also one of the most heavily-staffed mazes, and there were only a few rooms that felt empty and unmanned.

Most of the scares and thrills consist of guys in masks jumping out at you or swinging down at you from the ceiling, and after a few hours it started getting a bit stale this year. The park wasn't crowded, but it felt like it wasn't fully-staffed either. For example, the highlights of Blood Bayou (often one of the best mazes) have traditionally been the guy who slides out from under a bed to grab your legs, and the chainsaw maniac near the end that chases screaming girls into corners and makes them cry. But this year, neither position was filled, and when we came out of the maze I saw the chainsaw guy just standing around on one of the pathways talking to his buddies. I imagine it's pretty hard to keep tabs on the cast members, with all that's going on, but I thought it was pretty lame.

If you go, I highly recommend the caramel apples (only $3), and the giant pixie stix (only $0.50!). It's critically important to maintain an epileptic blood-sugar level if you expect to hit every maze in just a few hours. Speaking of epilepsy, what's with that stupid magnetic flashing-light jewelry they're selling at amusement parks these days? The slogan on the booths says "Draw more attention!", but the people who clip the plastic jewels to their lips, ears, foreheads, eye-brows, clothes, nipples, &c. don't really look like they need more attention. They look like they need me to sock them in the face.

Good times, good times.

This is a (fictitious?) set of journal entries written by my friend Christina Casillas and submitted to the Second Annual Spherewide Short Story Symposium.



June 21
Today is exactly the week after school let out. I'm so glad because I got to graduate as a junior. I had all my credits, so I got to graduate early. I'm so excited because mom actually let me go on a road trip…. Well, sort of. I'm on the Greyhound Bus on my way to see my dad iin Colorado cause my "new" family drives me crazy. I think this will help or at least the clean air will. When my parents were together we all lived in Santa Monica. It was 13 years ago that my parents divorced, I was just about to turn 4. Now I live with my mom, her husband, Tom and Joey, their daughter in Beverly Hills. Joey is 8 years old and very annoying. Anyways…. We all live in mom's "dream house" which just happens to be the same size of the White House! Tom is some producer or something for Fox Studios. We don't really "click"; actually I don't click with any of my family members. And I can admit I can be a bitch, all girls can be. I'm not perfect and that's where my family disagreements come from. Only time I'm really happy is reading, eating, sleeping or with my best friend Emma or with my grandma, who is my dad's mom. Well, my transfer is coming up so I'll write later, don't worry I always have thoughts to write. Bye.
Lynn

10:30PM
I'm still on the bus; we are now in fabulous Las Vegas!! It's my first time here. I'm pretty excited, sort of. What is there to do? Well it's not like we're stopping anyway, I guess I'll just look. I feel bad for the driver; she has to stay up the whole time. I wouldn't be able to do that. For the last hour I've been looking at the other people on the bus. It's mostly older people; they're probably going on vacation or visiting their families. There is a boy and a girl who are my age on the bus. They are probably getting eloped. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do that…. Maybe my boyfriend would. Oh yeah, I havenn't written about my boyfriend. His name is Shane. He's almost 2 years older than I am. We met through one of his friends who went out with Emma. We've been together for about 1 year, 7 months and 21 days… but who's counting? HA! He took me to prom when I was a freshman, sophomore and this last prom I took him. The first year I went to prom with him was the first for lots of things. I drank for the first time at the after parties and we did it for the first time too. I've always promised myself to wait for the "one" or until marriage, but I felt like this guy is the best thing that's happen to me. It was so fun, beautiful and magical. Ever since then we can barely be apart. Usually a girlfriend wouldn't be apart from her boyfriend for the whole summer, but not me. Shane and I trust each other. He would never cheat on me. I'm getting really tired, so I'll write tomorrow. Bye…again.<
Lynn


June 22
This morning when I woke up (from a terrible sleep), I found out that we were just entering Colorado. It's really beautiful. Right now, we are driving through tunnels and can only see the mountains that are painted green, which surround us. Our next stop is Georgetown. I remember last year my History teacher talked about his high school road trip. He stopped in Georgetown when him and his friends got lost. They ended shopping and staying over night. He said that the best thing about Georgetown was the delicious ice cream. YUM! I hope that they have Cookies'N'Cream.
Last night I had a really weird dream. Shane and I were walking along the beach when all of a sudden it was just desert, no shore at all. It reminded me of the Sahara desert or the desert in Star Wars when Luke was going to be pushed in that monster with the mouth in the sand. Anyways…. While we were together I tried to kiss him, but it hurt, like a bee sting or something. I woke up afterward and couldn't remember any other part of my dream.
Right now I'm listening to my CD's. I'm always happy when I listening to my CD's. The CD I'm listening to right now is the soundtrack to Almost Famous. I love that movie. I wish I could be like Penny Lane and just meet cool bands and be free to tour with them and go anywhere and everywhere! But I wouldn't let them all bone me. I got some principles in life, you know. I'm a Christian girl. I guess that's a little messed up though, since I'm not a virgin, but I really think its love. Mom doesn't know, but I'm not that close to her, so why should I tell her? It seems like I only come into her attention when something bad happens. She never congratulates me or says anything close to a positive jester. Ugh! Okay, well I'll write later, I want to look out the window more. Bye!
Lynn

4:00pm
Hello…..again! Guess what! They did have Cookies'N'Cream!& It was some of the best Ice Cream I have ever eaten. Yum! My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Picture me looking like Homer Simpson drooling over a doughnut in front of all these strangers on this bus. They also had some pretty cool shops. I went into this antique jewelry shop. I wanted to buy the whole place, but thanks to some of mom's wonderful spending money, I got to get a few things. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that I got someone's number along with that delicious ice cream. He is almost as delicious looking actually. But don't worry I'm not cheating. We talked a little and what a ca-winky-dink…. He lives in Littleton. That's outside of Parker City where my dad lives. We exchanged numbers (I gave him my cell number), but I doubt he'll call. By the way, his name is Flynn. Cool name, huh. Well, I'm going to take a nap; I'll probably be at my dad's by tonight. Bye.
Lynn

June 24
Good morrow! I love that line. Last night my dad forgot to pick me up at the bus station, so I ended up taking a cab to his house, which took forever to find. The perverted driver was too busy looking down my shirt in the mirror that he forgot to keep track of the miles, so when he dropped me off I just gave him a 10. When I got to my dad's door I had to ring the bell about 5 times. At last some fake-boobs lady answered the door. At first I thought I was at the wrong house but then I saw my dad zipping up his pants down the hall and I knew I was at home. God, how embarrassing…. For me! And what made everything worse was he sayinng "Oh, Betsy (what kind of name is that?) This is ah, ah, my daughter, Lynn." Well screw you too dad. He didn't even apologize for not picking me up. What a dick! Maybe I should stay in a hotel this whole time because it looks like Betsy will be coming here just as much as any other horny old fart would. Later, after Betsy left I snuck into his kitchen to get some midnight grub. Houston, we have a problem! No food! Just some Coors and what looked like Chinese food. Yuck! So I called for Pizza. I didn't even worry what time it was; if I didn't eat I would die!
This morning when I woke up I was hoping to talk to dad, but instead I found some money on the fridge and some sappy note. I just took the money. My plans were to take a shower and grub a little, but I remembered that there was no food, so I decide shower and then head to the closes Jumba Juice. After my shower I grabbed my bag, my camera, dad's money and my cell with Flynn's number (just in case I was extremely desperate). My first stop was at a mini-mall where I found a Jumba Juice. I got my regular order: Razzmatazz with Femme Boost and Pizza Bread for protein. That's when I remembered that I was supposed to call mom last night, so I called right then. Boy was she excited to her from me. I told her about my ride on the bus and the Cookies'N'Cream. She asked if dad remembered to pick me up. What do you think I said? "Of course." I hate when she yells at him, she's not even married to him anymore. She said that Shane called right after I left and asked for me to call him. So once I got off the phone with mom I did.
He was so excited I had to put the phone like a foot away from my ear because he was so loud. Hahaha! It's awesome having a boyfriend who is excited to get a phone call. I love him! I really do love him. Anyways, I continued my day by walking around, going to a skate park, and ended up renting a movie and getting some Mexican food. I rented two movies, "Me, Myself and Irene" and "Life as A House". Both movies are very good. I really like Jim Carrey. He's very funny. But there is no competition with Hayden Christensen who is the troubled son in "Life as A House". He sure is yummy. Hehehe! So, right now I am watching the news. Who knew it was on as late as 2 in the morning! Oh, I just heard the door close, so dad must be home. Hopefully his pants are on. Well, I'm going to go to bed after I say goodnight to dad. Bye.
Lynn

June 27
The last two days have been pretty boring, good thing dad has satellite. When all your friends are gone, you always have TV. Dad still hasn't apologized for forgetting to pick me up, but he did say we'll "hang out" this weekend…yeah, sure. I went on dad's computer yesterdayy and went on-line and talked to Emma and Shane. They both miss me a lot, or at least that's what they told me. Maybe they are relieved that I'm gone, maybe they were getting tired of my stories of why I hate my life and my mom and Tom. But other than that they haven't been doing much either. Emma said that her family will be going to Palm Springs for a week and can't wait to see all the hot studs. I love Emma! She is always there for me, no matter what. Out of all the friends I have, she's the one who listens to every word I have to say, even when I complain. I hope she does have fun. Shane seemed to be a little quiet, hopefully nothing is wrong. He said that his parents have continued to fight. I feel bad because usually I'm his support; his over night stay and sometimes have to act like his mother. When we first starting going out his parents were so happy, but it just started to fall apart after their careers started to take over their lives. I told Shane that I loved him and that I'd call him this weekend.
Guess what! Guess who called! FLYNN! Yeah, so, Flynn and I are suppose to go out and he is going to "show me the town" on Friday night. I hate to admit it, but I'm excited. I can't even remember the last time Shane took me out. We just usually stay at his house while his parents are working and we watch MTV or what ever is on HBO. Maybe it would be nice to get out again. I hope we have fun. Flynn is a very nice guy actually…
Flynn: "Hey there beautiful!"
Me: "Hey?"
Flynn: "It's me, Flynn, the guy who served you the Cookies'N'Cream."
Me: "Oh hi! How are you?"
Flynn: "I'm good, how are you? I hope you are very good 'cause I want to show you the town on Friday."
Me: (wow!) "Ok? That would be fun just as long as I buy you Ice Cream this time. Hehe."
(I felt like such a dork!)
Flynn: "Well, that wasn't in my plan…. But okay."
Me: "Well, what was your plan?"
Flynn: "I wanted to take you to our huge bookstore. And then….."
Me: "What! How'd you know I liked books?"
Flynn: "I could tell when you were looking at the ice cream. You were concentrating so hard. Plus, I can read people easy."
Me: "Cool! Well, then it's a date."
Flynn: "Okay, then I'll pick you at 7."
The rest of our conversation was pretty much about our past including old loves, families and friends. Flynn is already attracted to my life. I don't want to sound conceited, but I can so tell. When I talked and shared and complained he listened and I didn't feel dumb at all. I feel accepted, and you know what he is a Christian too. But in a way I do feel guilty. Shane, oh Shane. I love him, plus it's not like I'm giving my heart to Flynn. Oh well, it's summer, I'm going to have fun with or with out guilt on my shoulders. Well, I'm tired, so I'll write after my date. Ah! What should I wear? Excitement is running through my blood. Bye!
Lynn

June 27 (12:30)
Well, I guess that it really is the 28th. So the date was good. We went to this giant bookstore, there had to be like a million books. Of course I bought some, about 5! Okay, I admit, I'm a bookworm. After the bookstore we walked around. They have a mall, isn't as big as the Beverly Center, but it was decent. There were all the trendy stores: Pac Sun, Hot Topic, Gap, and Wet Seal. I bought some clothes. Gees! I must sound like a spoiled brat. Well, I'm not this is my hard earn money, well and some of mom's money. Flynn and I talked more about himself as we traveled through this small town. We actually have some stuff in common. He is a little over a year older. He loves T.V and music. He's a Christian boy, always a plus. Hehehe. That's just some of the stuff. I told him about Shane and our relationship, he seemed to be cool with it. I think I'm falling for him though. Wait! What?! I can't be falling for him. I still love Shane. Wow, okay I need to think about this. Well, we are going out again tomorrow. We might head to skate park to meet his friends; he said he took the whole week off. Shane never did that for me. Okay, I need to stop comparing these two. Well, I'll write later tomorrow.
Lynn

June 31st
Hi! Flynn is over right now. We're waiting for the pizza to arrive. We are going to rent some movies since dad's out for the afternoon/evening. I'm actually enjoying my time here, thanks to Flynn. Imagine what it would be like if I didn't know anyone and it was just me, dad, and Betsy. YUCK!!! No way would I have survived. So yesterday I met Flynn's friends, they are very nice. I think we might catch up with them at a party tomorrow. This is sort of random and I hate that I'm about to admit this, but I actually miss mom. I never really have until now; we've been apart for like a week or more. Yeah, so I'm a little bored. I wonder what Emma and Shane are up to. Well, I'll write you later.
Love,
Lynn

July 2nd
Hello. I'm not in a good mood. I got my period. I hate this. I don't enjoy it, especially since I'm on vacation. What a bummer! So the other night was fun with Flynn. We ended renting "10 Things I Hate About You" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". I love those movies. We had lots of fun, we ate cookie dough, ordered more pizza after finishing that first one we ordered. I haven't talked to Shane or Emma since like last week. I miss them. Oh yeah, so let me continue about last night. So, we watched the movies and ate a lot of food, and then his friends called him and told us about a party that was near the high school. We got to the party at like 10:30 or so. It was fun. I met a lot of students from Columbine High. Some were there when the shooting happened; some knew people who were there at the time. All of them were really nice and funny and open for any conversation. I actually shared some of my stories about my Los Angeles experiences. They were really amazed by the one story of me going to a party at this guy's house I didn't even know and meeting all these people and then forgetting their names the next Monday at school. That party was like a week after Prom. After sharing all my "amazing" stories Flynn and I went on a walk around the block and while we were under the moon he looked in my eyes and said:
Flynn: "Can I Kiss you, cause I really want to?"
Me: "Um, I have a boyfriend."
Flynn: "Okay. I totally respect that."
Me: "Well, I have a question too."
Flynn: "Yes?"
Me: "This one kiss won't matter, right?"
And you know what? I went on my tippy toes and kissed him. It was nice. I have kissed any guy other than Shane for like 2 1/2 years. Flynn's lips were warm and soft. It's funny but at the time I was wondering if he used Chap Stick. Aren't I silly sometimes? Oh my goodness. Was that considered cheating? I'm not going to worry about it…. Not until I get home. I can do this, right? Well, I'm going to go.
Love,
Lynn

July 10th
Wow, it's been a while, like a week or more. I've been really busy, with Flynn. I keep thinking that I'm falling in love with Flynn. I talked to Shane yesterday, he's doing fine. He said that him and Emma are hanging out together. I'm not worried though. I trust them. I mean they wouldn't do that to me. I'm too nice. Okay, well now I'm starting to worry. Okay, I'm going to go call Emma to see how she is and if she sounds different. Love you!
Love,
Lynn

July 12th
Yeah, so, it's been boring. Flynn has been busy with work and school. I need a job. Where should I look? I'll go to the mall here and check out what they have to offer. Yeah, so lately I've been feeling really awkward around Flynn. And I feel bad about cheating. This is so inappropriate. I have no idea what to do. And I keep getting the answering machine when I call both Shane and Emma. I'm so scared that there's something going on between them. Maybe I deserve it, I mean I'm cheating so it cancels out, right? Oh gosh, this reminds me of my mother. "Two wrongs don't make a right." How annoying is that motto. What should I do? Okay, I'm going to go to the mall; I'll be back later to write some more.

5:45 PM
Hi again. So I went to the mall and filled out a few applications and I actually got a job. It's at the clothing store Forever 21. I met the manager and she was really nice, and I told her my situation and how I'm only here for a month and half more. My first day will be next Thursday. So I'm really excited. I have to call Flynn, Shane, Emma and Mom. She'll be so excited and proud of me. Honestly, it's really hard to get a job and it's even harder for me to do something and hear mom tell me how proud is of me. So while I was at the mall I met some girls who worked there and they seemed really nice. They all go to school at the University Of Colorado, but they were on vacation. You know what?! They knew Flynn. They went to school with him in high school. We talked about him and I told them how we met. It was a little weird and unexpected, but they told me that I shouldn't get attached because he is a player. Hahaha! My little, innocent Flynn…. a player??? Yeah, okay, sure. Well, we all exchanged numbers and might even hang out this weekend. How very exciting! Oh, so I really need to call Shane and Emma, I'm starting to get worried about those two. They are acting so weird. Okay, talk to you later.

Lynn

July 13th
Today I am so bored. I have nothing to do. I have a few days before my first day at Forever 21. I'm really excited about that. I called Shane last night. He is doing well. I told him how much I missed him and he said the same thing. But our conversation was very awkward, I guess:

Me: "Hey Babe!"
Shane: "Hey… ahhh..Cutie."
Me: "How are you? I miss you so much? What have you done to keep yourself occupied while I was gone?"
Shane: "I'm doing good, I miss you too." (I sensed a little hesitance) " I haven't done anyone…ahh… I mean anything since you've be been gone."
(NOTE: of course I was really suspicious, but I didn't say anything!!!)
Me: "hmm…. Oh, I'm surprised, you're always busy when I'm around." Shane: "That's because I have to try and make time for everything else while I'm with you. Now that your not here, I just have everything else, which isn't all that exciting."
Me: "Oh, so how's work? Has there been any big parties since school let out?"
Shane: "Um, work is okay, it's boring, but all work is. There was this one really cool party last weekend. I was full of teenyboppers, graduates, college kids, and loaners. I didn't really enjoy it since you weren't there, so I hung out with Emma most of the time."
Me: " How is Emma? I need to call her, I miss her a lot too. Do you guys hang out a lot?"
Shane: " She is doing good. She works a lot, but we try and hang out every once in a while. I mean, we only have each other when you're not here. We usually go to the promenade or movie or what ever."
Me: "Fun! Okay, well there's someone clicking in, so I'll talk to you later."
Shane: " Okay, you better get that. Love you!"
Me: " Love you too!"
Shane: " Bye."
Me: "Bye bye!"

There is an interesting article here in the economist about the current monetary system and the gold standard, and specifically problems we are facing now which may be directly related to a lack of trust in central bankers.

Drudge points to a nifty report on battlefield laser weapons, and the report briefly mentions a very interesting question:

Are military computers and commanders ready for entirely automated weapons that deliver instant, lethal blasts of energy and can be retargeted in seconds? Lasers under testing for air defense already offer that capability. Fully automated firing on offensive targets is a short step behind.

"When you develop the capability to track, target and destroy something in a second, then the temptation to remove humans from the decision cycle becomes very great," said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based defense think tank.

Our emerging use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles controlled largely by computers brings up this same dilemma: how comfortable are we taking decisions out of the hands of humans, and putting them in the hands of computers? If we don't do it now, once our enemies start to let ultra-fast computers run their battles we may not have any choice.

One intermediate step may be the introduction of true neural control technology. Once the sensors and controls of a remote vehicle can be piped directly into a human's brain, the time required to execute operational decisions will be drastically reduced. A human will never be fast enough to target a laser weapon on an incoming artillery shell (a defensive use), but for offensive uses it might be possible to keep a human in the loop. Considering that laser weapons are line-of-sight, we're likely to have enough strategic warning of their use that we'll be able to plan ahead to counter them. However, once space-based lasers are in play that can destroy major targets (like buildings or city blocks), we'll probably be forced to turn all of our military systems over to tactical and strategic computer control.

You've watched and waited in eager anticipation, and the day has finally arrived... the Second Annual Spherewide Short Story Symposium is here! (Here's the first.) Well, ok, not exactly annual....

Same general guidelines as last time: write a fictional short story, post it to your blog, and send me the link. Halloween is just around the corner, and I think it'd be fun for everyone to write a scary/thrilling/creepy/eerie story in honor of the occasion. Send the stories and links to me by Tuesday, October 28th, and I'll publish the Symposium on Friday, October 31st. As always, I won't be too picky -- if you don't want to write a scary story, that's fine; however the muse strikes you.

Last time we had 16 authors submit more than 2 dozen stories, and everyone had a blast. There's no grading or scoring, and you'll only receive feedback if you set up comments for yourself, so it's low-pressure. The point is simple: to encourage people to write, and to create a forum for sharing our stories. The S4 is open to everyone, so encourage your friends to send in a submission.

I'm constantly amazed at the clever ideas that pop up on the internet. A couple of recent ones I've discovered are both based on the concept of anonymity. A few months ago I first heard about mailinator.com. The concept is simple; when you sign up for something where you think you may get spam, but they force you to use a valid e-mail address, give them a mailinator address. Anyone can check any address they want. You check your madeup address, get your activation code or confirmation number or whatever, and never have to see the spam you inevitably accumulate. I love it.

Another, more ridiculous site is here. A website dedicated to anonymous (and humorous, and probably 90% made up) confessions. this is a good one.

I am very interested in the repetition of history, especially in the repetition of ideas. Two of my favorites are brought up every so often, one by the Right and one by the Left.
The first is the concept of the statistical bell curve as applied to human populations, normally in terms of IQ or some other measurement. Its most recent occurence was in the mid-1990's, reflected in books such as "The Bell Curve", and used to justify things like cuts in social spending, often with reasoning such as "they're poor because they are dumb, they are beyond help".
The second is typically a tool of the left, or of other environmentalists, and is sometimes referred to as simply the carrying capacity of the earth. A recent bestseller on this subject is "The Population Bomb". The concept here is typically doom and gloom - the earth is running out of stuff (food, ninja turtles, whatever) or there are too many people or both, and we're all gonna die for our arrogance.

I'm going to talk about the second one today, partly because I think my liberal leanings are wearing out my welcome on this blog, and partly because it's one of my all time favorite topics.

In 1798 (kind of before 1997), Thomas Malthus wrote his "on the Principle of Population". It is arguable if his ideas were new at the time (a Venetian named Ortes is often credited with preceding Malthus), but they have undoubtedly been repeated since. He postulated that population grows, typically exponentialy. But agricultural production grows linearly. So, you draw a snazzy graph, and the exponential curve eventually crosses the agricultural line and, well, people eat their feet or something. He obviously had a lot more supporting information, but this is the argument at it's heart.

The obvious problem with his analysis is he completely ignores any exponential gains that can be made in agricultural production through technological innovation. Amazingly, Ehrlich does the same in "The Population Bomb". His argument is essentially the same. The thing that worrys me about all this is how often (and in what large numbers) people buy into these re-hashed or warmed over failed ideas. Heck, I worry myself about what bizarro truths I've taken hook, line and sinker; maybe the Fed really is run and owned by an international banking conspiracy!

There is one final aspect of the concepts created by Malthus and rewritten by Ehrlich that I'd like to touch on. Assuming the Universe, or at least the matter and energy in it, are finite, the idea of a limited carrying capacity is essentially true, and there really can be too many people. Unfortunately, people like Malthus or Ehrlich seem to always predict we'll hit the limit in the next week or so. What is that limit? If we can't move to other planets, how many people can really live here? Will we cram them in all underground? Eat a lot of Soylent green? Should we even take living conditions into account, is that even important? I bet if we all could photosynthesize we could cram a lot of people just on the surface.

Update:
Ehrlich even wagered on his predictions, and lost.

Hey all, I'm home. I know some of you missed me more than others -- ahem -- but that's ok. I just finished reading all of Mike's posts, and he did a really great job while I was gone. The male Britney thing was a little unnecessary, but to each his own. I prefer this image, myself:

As for Vegas (,baby, Vegas), I had a great time. There's nothing more fun then rollin' the bones with your pastor and winning $15 -- except for the other guys I was playing with who won $100. Craps was pretty good to me, but blackjack was cruel and vicious, and let's not talk about any of the video poker machines.

Aside from gambling, I went water-skiing and wakeboarding on both sides of Hoover Dam, and I'm wiped out. My whole body is sore. The wakeboard is wicked fun, and if I went more than once a year I think I'd be pretty good on it.

I took a bunch of pictures, and I'll probably post one or two next week, once I get some rest.

Oh yeah, when I got home my internet connection wasn't working. I spent an hour on the phone with tech support (after finally finding a number for them that wasn't out of service), and after they escalated my call they told me that there's an area-wide outage. Gee thanks, did we need to trouble-shoot for an hour? Eh.

I'll have more to say tomorrow or something. My brain hurts; I fell on the lake a few too many times, I think. Hopefully Mike will stick around and keep writing, but he keeps threatening to quit because it's "not [his] thing", but whatever. It's not like he has anything better to do except make the same arguments on IRC.

Ok, I'm off.

I saw this article in forbes about the health benefits of sex. I can't say I'm particularly surprised at their findings. Strange that an act at the center of out very existance would have physical and psychological benefits. But aside from my mormon friends all dying of prostate cancer, there was one part of the article I really liked. At the end:

"I see it in pro football players," says Eid. "They use Viagra because they're so sexually active. What they demand of their body is unreasonable. It's part of playing football: you play through the pain." This type of guy doesn't listen to his body. He takes a shot of cortisone, and keeps on going. And they have sex in similar fashion."

It's pretty common knowledge that football players do terrible things to their bodies, I guess I should have known they'd also be destroying their penises. The article uses the word scarring. Ow. Of course, if it was with our Britney lookalike, I guess I could understand.

There seems to be some misperceptions about the gold standard, so I'm going to try to talk about the good and bad of it, and maybe explain why we will never never ever go back to it, ever, never ever. Maybe after a nuclear war or captain trips, but I would be surprised if it was before that.

The gold standard in this country was begun in 1900, with the Gold Standard Act. Before that we used a bimetallic system, but it was basically a gold standard as little silver was traded.

This only lasted until 1933, when Roosevelt outlawed private gold ownership. After WWII, the Bretton Woods system was put in place - it set a fixed global exchange rate for gold, I think at $35 an ounce.

That ended in 1971, when Nixon ended it, and since then there have been no formal links between currencies and any commodity.

A gold standard, at its heart, prevents a rapid increase in the money supply, and the inflation associated with it. If the government prints a bunch of bills, there will be more supply than demand for money, and people will eventually start turning it in for gold until the treasury has none left.

The problem here is that there is more than one factor that causes inflation. There are 4:

Supply of money increases
Supply of goods decreases
Demand for money decreases
Demand for goods increases

I'll just quote a real economist here, stolen from about.com:

Economist Michael D. Bordo explains:

"Because economies under the gold standard were so vulnerable to real and monetary shocks, prices were highly unstable in the short run. A measure of short-term price instability is the coefficient of variation, which is the ratio of the standard deviation of annual percentage changes in the price level to the average annual percentage change. The higher the coefficient of variation, the greater the short-term instability. For the United States between 1879 and 1913, the coefficient was 17.0, which is quite high. Between 1946 and 1990 it was only 0.8.

Basically, economies of the world were way more unstable under the gold standard, as governments and central banks had control over absolutely nothing. The gold standard prevents long term inflation, and does nothing else. It does not allow for changes in exchange rates between countries due to relative economic changes, it does not allow for any central control of the money supply (other than maybe through alchemy). The only argument for a Gold Standard seems to come from fear that the government or central bank in charge can't be trusted to keep inflation low. If you don't trust them to keep inflation low, why do you trust them to stay on the gold standard even if they went back?

An interesting knight ridder piece from a couple of days ago here with a choice quote at the beginning:

WASHINGTON - Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he's in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

This article may be complete fluff, I don't know - I'm sure every pundit with an agenda in there will either call it baseless and ridiculous, or use it as more "proof" we don't know what we're doing. While I personally think things in Iraq and Afghanistan could be worse (it could be raining), the political infighting about it and other things seems to be gathering steam. Another choice quote:

At one point, the senior official said, Bush himself asked how bad it was.

"This isn't as bad as (George) Shultz vs. (Caspar) Weinberger, is it?" he asked, referring to a legendary Reagan administration rivalry between the heads, respectively, of the State and Defense departments. One top official nodded in reply and said it was "way worse."

Again, not necessarily meaningful or true, but an interesting comparison. Of course, Reagan is god or something last I checked, so thats maybe a good thing to be compared to.

As I sit here listening to Lewis Black, I came across this article that made me proud to be an American. Singapore is finally allowing the Rocky Horror picture show to be played there...after 30 years. Now, you can argue the merits of Rocky Horror all you want, but I'm glad to live in a county that, at least more than most other countries, doesn't give a crap what you watch or do.

But, of course, this also makes me think of all the ridiculous things we can't do, either due to the law or society or both. Not that I'm working hard to fix any of it (unless drinking newcastle alone at home on a thursday helps, I don't know), but I can still complain, since this is america!

Quick question. A girl at work asked me yesterday how guys can tell if a girl is interested. Signals, etc. I told her they write their phone number down and tape it to my face. I wasn't much help. So now i'm curious - what are these signals? I'm pretty sure men are completely oblivious to anything, but I'd like to hear what people say on both sides.

I hate dating. Now, obviously, if you read my Monogomy post, you'll realize i'm currently a special case, but I've always hated dating. I luckily never really had to ask a girl out for the first 23 years of my life (please, no death threats), but the actual post-phone number process is almost as bad as trying to get it in the first place. Michael's plane-chick notwithstanding, once you've sifted through the piles of fake phone numbers or women who gave you your phone number for no apparent reason cause you'd never call them in a million years unless you opened your own seaworld, you have to actually go on a date. But you won't be dating a real person, you're dating an actor. They may not get paid, and they may not even know they're an actor, but thats what they're doing nonetheless. And as much as I think I'm always just myself, there is no way it is true because sometimes, girls actually want to go on second dates.

I'm not sure when this whole everyone-is-fake-and-stupid thing actually started, but I feel it's reached epidemic proportions. It's reflex. It's probably universal, and could probably go back to "three amoebas were sitting in a bar, and damnit, the amoeba chick went home with the jerk amoeba, what the heck is wrong with the world". No mention of the jerk amoebas huge pecs and chisled chin, of course. He was probably gay anyway.

My question is, I guess, is this really universal? Does everyone think everyone is fake? Does everyone think everyone but they are fake? Or that just the opposite sex is fake? I've stated my belief - everyone is fake by reflex. Not maybe as fake as the hot-ass Britney Spears guy, but fake.

A large part of economic analysis is based on the concept of utility. Utility is, basically, something that people all try to maximize. It's an amalgamation of money, happiness, whatever the heck ever that people individually want. It is assumed that people have complete information about what maximizes their own utility, and probably are equally well informed about what to do to get what they want. They're basically omniscient. This is all complete bullshit.

My favorite example of how people aren't maximizing any kind of utility, because they don't have a clue what is going on, is their ability to access risk. People are afraid to fly, but they drive every day where they would be hard pressed to find a common behavior that is more unsafe. Piles of people freaked out when anthrax hit, when a whopping four people died. People were wearing SARS masks...but I'm not sure how bad an idea that is, in some places masks may be a good idea all the time. The point is people don't have a friggan clue. People from Beverly Hills high seem to have a high rate of cancer, perhaps due to an oil rig next door. How do you even begin to access a risk like this anyway, much less on an individual basis? Now, you can argue that part of "utility" is peoples psychological well being, so their perception of the risk could be more important than the actual risk, but then you'd have to measure people's psychology. Good luck.

I have no point.

Not surprisingly, I watched basically every minute of every game in both the NLCS and ALCS this year. Today I saw a pretty exciting game 7 between the BoSox and Yanks, and I saw a few good things and a few bad:

Good: Joe Torre leaving Mariano Rivera in for three innings, and putting him in in a tie game. The whole concept of a one inning closer drives me nuts. And anytime I see a manager put in his top closer with a three run lead, I want to beat him with a stick. A lot of times a manager won't put his closer in in a tie game (oh no, he might not get a save!), but this is the playoffs, so smart decisions happen. Unless you're Grady Liddle.

Good: the best thing about playoff baseball, as I stated before, is pitcher use. While this is not something you'll ever see in the regular season, this game featured five starting pitchers - Clemens, Mussina and Wells for the Yanks, and Martinez and Wakefield for Boston. You have to let it all hang out in game 7's, and for the most part both Managers did this. And Mussina, I have to say, was awesome in his first relief appearance ever, especially when he first came in with runners on first and third and 1 out. He gave up 0 runs.

Good: Mike Timlin. He pitched something like 10 innings in the ALCS, and gave up 0 runs. Even Mariano Rivera gave up a run in the postseason. Pitchers typically have an advantage in the postseason - you get to start your best pitchers more often, and you have a lot better advance scouting for a playoff opponent. Sorianos struggles at the plate are a good example of advance scouting taking a player out of the game. But even with those advantages, Timlin was awesome.

Bad: Grady Liddle leaving Pedro in. I know that he asked Pedro how he felt, and let him make the decision, but making that decision is the Managers job. All anyone talked about that game (and that series) was how Pedro felt, what was his velocity, etc etc, and while he had pitched a great game to that point it seemed obvious he was in trouble with a capital T. And while the Redsox had had bullpen problems during the year, they had everyone on their roster available since it was game 7. Either way, it didn't work out, so it's easy to second guess. All I know is when he left him in, I immediately called my brother to see if he was watching the Yankees inevitable comeback.

Bad: Joe Torre: Again I'm second guessing a manager, but I still don't get his moving Jason Giambi to 7th in the batting order. While I don't believe that batting order significantly matters, I still don't see why you would do that in a friggan game 7. Seems like a move that could easily backfire.

Oh, and in regards to my last baseball post no one read: I'm a waffle. I can't root for the Yanks. Go Marlins!

I'm a big fan of the federal reserve, and the fiat monetary system that we have in place, regardless of how I sound in some of my other posts. Regardless, the fed, more than anything in this country other than the Kennedy assasination, is the focus of a large amont of consipracy theories. Here is a page typical of the federal reserve conspiracy myths - I'm not going to debunk them now, though I will say that fact #1 is my favorite.

I bring this up because, unlike most conspiracy theories, I don't feel I have an answer to a lot of these questions or points. The main reason I like The Fed is that here, unlike in most south american contries, we don't end up with the government overtly printing more money as a nice little substitute for taxation. It's tough to be fully behind a system that even Allan Greenspan isn't actually for; he seems to be in favor of a return to the gold standard, but perhaps that's changed in recent years. Regardless, the whole situation is fascinating to me due to how complex it is, and how difficult it is to really say who is in control of the fed, and what kind of long term effects on wealth in this and other counties the fiat system has. Maybe I'm just a little drunk. Hey, at least I posted something on my weekend.

Oh, another good site, here . Short and sweet and much less crazy than normal. I'll post later on why I disagree with any of this, but I think anyone who lives in this country should understand the arguments against the fed.

I've seen a lot of statistics recently about how no one knows who any of the democratic candidates are, or that the democrats are floundering, or the democratic party will be dead soon. I find it kind of funny, because it reminds me of the way things were when I first started following politics seriously. I was fifteen, a rabid republican, but I did have some idea about one of the democratic nominees, someone named Paul Tsongas. Of course he didn't end up being nominated, that Bill Clinton guy did. He was going to get waxed anyway.

But in the end, he didn't. Now everyone and their mom has been talking about similarities between this upcoming election and the 1992 one, because of the Father-Son issue. But I think the state of the democratic party, and its nominees, is just as similar, and just as important. Really, selling the democrats short before they even nominate someone, no matter how ridiculous any or all of their candidates seem, would be a mistake.

I'm sure everyones already seen this, but I got this great link to a Britney lookalike which needs to be seen to believed.

As many of my strange and wonderful friends have said...dang, oh well...I'd hit it.

I have a fun dillema. My girlfriend does not particularly believe in monogamy. At the same time, she doesn't actually act on this belief. I don't really have any concerns either way about monogamy...being in this situation is, theoretically, every guys dream, right? Eat your cake, have it too, etc etc. Only two problems with this:

To make it work in my favor, it seems I'd have to lie to any girl I dated

I'm really, really good at lying, but this just isn't something I can lie about

I guess the obvious solutions are "stop being an idiot" or "find a girl who doesn't care", but I thought I'd broach the issue and maybe see what people thought about the morality or "correctness" of the whole thing anyway. Is monogamy or being monoamorous the only way to go? Does anything else make sense? Is my little problem entirely a societal construct?

The idea of capitalism as a moral system, or the most moral system, is very strange to me. But first, I think it's important to say that what would happen in an actual capitalist economy is hard to say for certain, because it's never happened.

One of three things would have to happen for actual capitalism to occur. They all have to do with government. While government is political and capitalism is economic, all political systems end up distorting whatever economic systems they try to have in place. In my opinion, true, free market capitalism will not occur without either:

One-World government

No Government

All the governments of the world scrapping all regulation of trade, and internal regulation of markets.

Obviously condition 1 is not going to happen, and even if it did who's to say that government would actually give a shit about capitalism. The other two options are also pretty unlikely. Capitalism, at least pure capitalism, is not going to happen.

But is this bad? I don't blame the governments for not caring about capitalism, because capitalism does not care about them, or us. It doesn't care about anyone. Economic systems are at their heart amoral - the government’s application and manipulation of these economic systems is what would truly determine any systems morality.

Let’s look at the United States. Probably the closest thing to a capitalist economy in the world today, but that doesn't keep the state from seriously distorting the markets. Some examples:

Patents and copyrights (these, sadly, have nothing to do with capitalism)
Fiat money and a monopoly on the printing and issuing of money.
Corporations as legal entities, equivalent to a person
Eminent Domain
Trade embargos, tariffs, and subsidies of domestic products (especially farming)
Income Tax
Favorable tax status or other business incentives

My favorite one on this list, and one I've been thinking about a lot, is Corporations as legal entities. This has been the norm in this country for about 100 years, and thanks to the golden state of Delaware the rules and costs of incorporation are...lax, at best. But what kind of effect would this have on capitalism? Capitalism is besotted with non-market problems referred to as "externalities". Pollution is the most common and recognizable market externality, often referred to as part of the "Tragedy of the commons". No one owns it, so no one wants to pay to keep it clean. How this relates to corporations as legal entities is that most people do not make a significant amount of money through pollution, but some corporations can and do. While the government makes some efforts to regulate or internalize the externalities through pollution payments and the like, for the most part even if the Corporation violates these rules, only the corporation is liable, not the people who actually made the decisions, as the corporation is a legal entity.

I make no claims that this is the wrong way to do things, or that this is somehow immoral. But the next time you think to complain about political correctness or people not taking responsibility for their actions, think about whom else in this country doesn't take responsibility.

A lot of these problems are fixable; a few are not. Either way this says almost nothing about the overall morality of any system. How can socialism be less moral than capitalism, as it is practiced here? How much of the redistributed wealth was earned only because of government regulations or rule in someone’s favor? Who's to say? There is a pretty strong argument for "poor people are bad for the economy and for society". Does capitalism in its purest form solve these problems? I haven't seen it. That doesn't, of course, make Socialism right, or any kind of redistribution of wealth (even if the wealth was just printed by the government anyway...). But it doesn't make either system, or any system (federalism, communism, I don't care) less or more "Moral".

If we meet on a plane and then flirt through the whole flight, that's cool. Then, if you give me your phone number, I'll probably call you and see if you want to go to Knott's Scary Farm -- a guaranteed fun time. This is your cue to tell me that no, we can't hang out, because you have a boyfriend. But take note: you should have considered mentioning that during the two hours we spent talking on the plane, or perhaps when I asked for your number.

I was talking to my brother earlier about the supermarket workers strike, and he had a pretty choice quote:

"Why the heck are they striking, man? They've already struck gold!"

This was in response to some of the wages that these people were making; While obviously not everyone is paid the same (I'm living proof some people get paid less!) even some of the middling pay rates were higher than anything my english-major brother was making as either skate park manager or "Cabana Pat, the backyard concierge".

Of course, I don't think these strikes are about wages, but benefits, and this is where it gets kind of hairy. I have no idea how much their benefits are changing, but I do know that the cost of medical benefits in the last few years have gone completely insane, and this is a big problem for business in california, as well as the workers, and "something" needs to be done about it. My first response is to deregulate em all and let the market sort em out, but that isn't always the best solution.

No one is free while others are oppressed. A bumper sticker I saw on the way back from dinner just now. A nice sentiment, pretty innocuous on its own - but it was followed by three other stickers:

Peace is Patriotic

War is not Theater

No attack on iraq

Individually, I have no problem with any of these stickers. I supported the attack on Iraq, but there were plenty of compelling reasons not to go, or not to do it the way we did. Peace can perfectly well be Patriotic, and War really isn't theater, as much as CNN and FOX might hope it would be. I'm confused, however, at how the person driving this car ever expects to be free, if freeing the people of Iraq is not to be accomplished through warfare. Praying real hard? Ninjas? Maybe if everyone had smallpox there'd be no more hate. I don't know. But I do know that there are plenty of oppressed people out there, and while they may have peaceful methods of freeing themselves, we don't have many tools at our disposal other than warfare to free foreign peoples.

Maybe they thought these people were already free, and that now we're oppressing them, but I hope they aren't that dumb. Maybe they don't want to be free, so oppression is quality stuff to them. I don't know. But I find it entertaining nonetheless.

Monopolies are bad! This is what I've learned my whole life. The Trustbusters are heros! Anti-Trust legislation protects us from evil monopolists, who are the antithesis of capitalisim, and singlehandedly destroy market efficieny. Good thing we have the government, as they protect us from them.

These are all things I believed, at least until I was 16 or so. But now I've realized that plenty of Monopolies are government created. Copyrights and patents, as we've talked about, are government created monopolies. But my new favorite government monopoly is the monopoly on printing money.

The gold standard is long dead, and currently the whole world works on a fiat monetary system. By some appearances this has had a lot of benefits - the buisness cycle has been more stable, and we haven't seen depression-type collapses (which had happened somewhat regularly before that, if at a lesser scale than the 30's). But there are other structural changes, such as to the banking system itself, that can probably carry as much credit as any fiat system. But the fiat system does guarantee governments a monopoly on money, one they admittedly had before that but not for the whole history of the country.

The fiat system, while working semi-acceptably here, do not serve the people, they serve the governments. Especially when the government has control over the printing of new money. Got debt? Print more cash. Oh, I'm sorry, "increase the money supply". It's free taxation. More money in circulation, everyone elses devalues. You're the government, you put the new money in your pocket. Its like you just taxed the people the difference between the old and new values of their money. Sound impossible? Look at South America.

I'm not going to propose any kinds of solutions to this here, or even say for sure it's a problem. There is still competition in money; China is causing problems because they refuse to change their exchange rate. But its all between governments, and is monopolistic per state.

Basically, the message I've gotten from the government is Monopolies are bad unless they don't understand it (Microsoft), control it themselves (money), or grant it (copyrights). The government is not, unfortunately, any kind of friend of capitalisim or the free market. While this is not the best example of their anti-market practices, I believe it counts as at least one. I can list off piles of them later.

In this year's baseball playoffs, there are four teams remaining: The Cubs, Yankees, Redsox and Marlins.

I've decided I hate all four teams and none deserve to win. At work, Frank and I have been actively rooting for a game 7 of the world series meteor or something. Or maybe Don Zimmer will go crazy again and actually succede in taking not only Pedro Martinez, but every other player on all four teams completely out of action, by maybe killing them or something. Hey, it could happen.

None of these teams deserve a title. The Marlins won in like, 1997, when they bought a championship and then prompty dismantled their team. Slimy owner Wayne Huzienga (I'm not even going to try to spell that right) then complained that no one came to see the newly dismantled Marlins, and he eventually sold the team.

But it gets better! The Marlins are now owned by someone even Slimier, Jeffrey Loria. Mr. Loria, until last season, owned the Montreal Expos, who are now referred to as the Anywhere-But-Montreal Globetrotters. This is a team that actually played "home" games in both Montreal and Puerto Rico. Just in case your geography is lacking, those places are not close. Though they are all millionaires, so maybe they do have homes in both places.

When Loria sold the Expos to MLB (they have no actual owner now) part of the deal was he got to have the Marlins. The Expos were in such a sorry state the league is working hard to move them somewhere else, due to all sorts of complaints like "canadian taxes are too high", "there are no fans" and "We don't speak canadian". But their main problem, no fans, seems to have been largely caused by Mr. Loria. There aren't even English broadcasts of Expos games IN MONTREAL. How do you have fans who can't even watch you? But my favorite part of all this is when Mr. Loria took over the Marlins, he totally stripped the Expos. He took everyone associated with the team other than the players (though he tried to do that too). He took the equiptment from the training rooms. I'm pretty sure the toilet in his house came from Olympic Stadium. So he, and his team, are flat out. Can't root for them.

The Redsox may be worth rooting for - they haven't won in a long time (since 1918!), and they have had a lot of really heartbreaking moments over the years. Heck, they've lost 4 game 7's of the world series since their last win. Thats tough. But they have two things going against them. First, they have the Curse. Sure, it's a myth, yadda yadda, but regardless they sold the greatest baseball player of all time (maybe second greatest at this point - more later). Not only did they sell him, but they sold him to finance a Musical. Not only did they sell him to finance a Musical, but they sold him after he had won TWO GAMES of the world series, the last they won, as a PITCHER. Babe Ruth, best hitter ever. The second reason is their ridiculous Cowboy up slogan they've taken on this year. It makes me want to retch evey time I hear anything about it. And they don't Cowboy up anyway, they're a bunch of pansies. Manny Ramirez going towards Roger Clemens, with his bat? After a pitch that wasn't even inside! Pedro Martinez trying to bean someone. I hate them. So they're out.

The Cubs. I don't really have much to say about the cubs, other than their best player was shown to be a cheater but got away with it with his goofy smile and broken english. This team just doesn't seem ready to me, so rooting for them seems destined for heartbreak anyway (I've had enough of that, I root for the A's and the Tigers). And Big Sluggers in MLB today drive me nuts. Body armor, prancing around, cry if a pitch is vaguely inside. Cubs have the biggest one of those left in the playoffs. They're out. Mark Priors awesomeness isn't enough to make up for Sammy. Oh, and Dusty Baker, argh. Don't get me started.

Finally, the Yankees. Uh, I shouldn't even need to explain this one. They're evil. But in the end, I think if anyone has to win of this group, it should be them. I mean, they've won 26 times, whats a 27th? Changes nothing. New Yorkers won't be any more insufferable. Derek Jeter won't be any more overrated. But the best part is that I read that if they win it this year, George Steinbrenner will turn over more control to his kids. Less George = a win for everyone! Go Yanks!

My East Coast Connection tells me that Los Angeles transit workers are striking again, and this time it mechanical. So now we can't buy food or ride the bus. Whatever. The transit folks striked in 2000, and no one cared; I doubt this time will be any different.

Very few people ride mass transit in Los Angeles, when compared to cities like New York and... uh, other mass transit cities. Almost everyone drives cars, and luckily freeways can't go on strike (although they can get clogged with traffic).

I'm 100% in favor of workers being able to strike, and I'm also 100% in favor of companies being able to fire striking workers if they think that's the most profitable way to go. Workers who are truly underpaid and getting a raw deal shouldn't have any problem wringing concessions from their employers, because their employers will be forced to hire other people at market price to do the same work. If, however, employers are able to fire the strikers and replace them with cheaper labor, then the strikers were in fact overpaid -- just let the market handle it.

Of course, MTA (Metro Transit Authority) workers are nearly as well protected as direct government employees; they can strike forever with very little chance of being fired. That protection distorts the market, and it means that they will likely end up getting paid more than they're worth. But only if anyone notices they've stopped coming to work.

As I've written before, mass transit in Los Angeles is a joke (specifically light rail, but similar arguments can be made for other forms as well, to lesser degrees).

In one of my favorite weekly sports columns, Tuesday Morning Quarterback Gregg Easterbrook mentions (invents?) a very interesting concept for Football: The Maroon Zone.

Everyone knows what the Red Zone is - the area between your opponents 20 and the end zone where you NEED to score, or you suck. The Maroon Zone is the are between your opponents 40 and 30 where drives go to die. If you do not get a first down and get out of that area, you're stuck. It's a little too far for a field goal; A turnover on downs gives your opponent good field position; A punt is pathetic.

Football statistics don't normally interest me much - with a 16 game season the sample sizes tend to be small, and teams don't all play each other so lots of the statistics seem skewed by who your competition was. Regardless this seems like a great concept, and something I'll be sure to look for next time I watch football. Greggs column in general has really improved my grasp of the game, and changed what I find interesting. Look for his sections like "stop me before I blitz again" or "High school play of the week", they're great, even though I don't always agree with his statistical analysis.

FoxNews reports the results of an intriguing poll of Americans' views on the supernatural. What's really fascinating are the demographic belief gaps -- they reveal a lot about how some different groups think.

The national poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation (search), shows that about a third of Americans believe in ghosts (34 percent) and an equal number in UFOs (34 percent), and about a quarter accept things like astrology (search) (29 percent), reincarnation (search) (25 percent) and witches (24 percent).

There is a gender gap on many of these subjects. Women are more likely than men to believe in almost all topics asked about in the poll, including 12 percentage points more likely to believe in miracles and eight points more likely to trust there is a heaven. The one significant exception is UFOs, with 39 percent of men compared to 30 percent of women saying they accept the existence of unidentified flying objects.

Is this cultural, or biological?

The generation gaps are even more interesting:

Young people are much more likely than older Americans to believe in both hell and the devil. An 86 percent majority of adults between the ages of 18 to 34 believe in hell, but that drops to 68 percent for those over age 70. Similarly, 79 percent of young people believe in the devil compared to 67 percent of the over-70 age group.
I suppose if I were that close to finding out the truth, I might prefer to hold certain beliefs over others. Will these young adults change their minds as they get older, or does this difference represent a significant sea-change that could have a profound effect on our nation over the coming decades?

Now then, how about an ideological gap?

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they believe in God (by eight percentage points), in heaven (by 10 points), in hell (by 15 points), and considerably more likely to believe in the devil (by 17 points). Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they believe in reincarnation (by 14 percentage points), in astrology (by 14 points), in ghosts (by eight points) and UFOs (by five points).
Each side can snicker at the gullibility of the other.

The report has more information and some more questions, so you might be interested in reading the whole thing.

Work Hobbies: noun -- what you do at work when you're not actually working. May include talking, complaining, and gossiping about fellow workers and supervisors; surfing the internet, checking email, and blogging; playing minesweeper, solitaire, or other easily concealed games; talking on the phone; or walking around aimlessly while holding something in your hand that looks important.

Dean Esmay asks a question that prompts me to wonder: is it more important that strangers praise your accomplishments, or that your intimates love and respect you?

Bureaucracy -- the word sounds French because it comes from the French word bureaucratie. Donald Sensing has a great description of the problems currently facing France, and most of them are due to the strangling grip on power that the French government officials wield , and exercise with near autonomy. Rather than serving the people, the French bureaucracy exists to serve itself and the state.

He quotes Harvard Professor Stanley Hoffman, who is generally optimistic about France's future (more-so than I):

There are, of course, huge problems still. There is nothing scandalous about the attachment of the French to the thick social safety net built after World War II by an extraordinary coalition of Gaullists, Socialists, Communists and Christian Democrats. But its financing, in a country whose population is aging, will require either higher taxes — bad for business and unpopular with all — or serious cuts — opposed by almost everyone.

The biggest issue is the reform of the state. It remains a formidable bureaucratic tangle of regulations, led by a very narrow élite educated in a small number of monopolistic grandes écoles. It is true that society has emancipated itself in considerable measure from that spider's web, that the state provides public services of great quality (such as a splendid public transportation system) [surely a great overstatement of social services’ quality in light of 15,000 dead in France from last summer’s heat wave - DS], and that the efforts of the European Commission in Brussels to introduce some competition into national public service are beginning to bear fruit. Nevertheless, the size and habits of the French bureaucracy pose two huge problems. The system of higher education is in many ways perverse (separation between the élitist grandes écoles and overcrowded universities; separation of teaching and research). The other problem is what makes a drastic reform of this system almost impossible: the state is, in fact, colonized by its employees and their unions, who resist change fiercely. A government that confronts them head-on is sure to fail, a government that tries to co-opt them will not get far. Change, here, will come — but slowly.

In America, we still view our nation as an amalgamation of individuals -- America has no meaning or existence apart from you and me. Bu Donald notes that in France, the state is an entity unto itself with its own interests to serve, which may or may not coincide with what the population wants. Rather, the government elite sees its role as forcing what is best onto the populace, who are too base and common to recognize it for themselves.

Whether you're inclined politically left or right, you're probably thinking that that's just the sort of thing we see here in America, but to a lesser degree (vastly less, in my opinion, but still there). When you give power to the government, it starts to take on a life of its own. Because of this tendency, I believe two things are critically important for a successful nation: government must be kept as small as possible, and must remain responsive to the people it serves.

As for the first, I'm a Republican because I think that party is the most inclined towards small government. President Bush isn't exactly an exemplary model, but I'm willing to let some of his more ostentatious spending slide due to the rather precarious nature of the world at this moment. A non sequitur? Perhaps, but there are more important things at the moment than fighting against his ridiculous prescription drug plan. Government should be small, and that means taxes should be low. The less money government has to spend, the less power it has; I'm not about Laffer-optimal taxation, because I don't want to maximize government revenue, I want to minimize it.

Secondly, both parties need to be more responsive to the people. The recent recall in California should stand as a stark reminder to our political class that, no matter how many years you've lived off the public dole, you can be taken down in an instant if you displease us. We can't recall you from every position, but you'd better remember who you're working for. I've been harping on gerrymandering a lot this week, and I think such corrupt districting is currently one of the biggest obstacles to responsive government.

The other major obstacle is our own bureaucracy. It's not as bad as France's disgusting, bloated, job-for-life debacle, but sometimes I'm afraid we're approaching that. Just consider the DMV; the last time I went in there, the lady behind the desk acted like she was doing me a favor for deigning to renew my license. In some sense, it's important for our bureaucracy to be apolitical, but it shouldn't be so independent that our workers are totally unaccountable to the people we elect to represented us. We all know that there's a huge amount of waste in our government structure, and our leaders should have the power to clean house when they need to. I'm convinced that we could eliminate 50%-75% of federal jobs without suffering any reduction of service.

I don't think that America is anywhere near the situation France is in, but I do think we need to be careful. As the French and other Europeans are so eager to remind us, we should be willing to learn from them -- we should learn what not to do. Big, powerful government doesn't work. It looks alluring on paper; many of the "liberals" in this country present some truly appealing ideas, but most of them can never work. Many of the "liberals" in this country know that their overt plans are doomed to fail, but that's fine with them because their real plan is to simply accumulate and wield power. Look to France for the ultimate end of that road -- you've been warned.

In my last entry I "quoted" Earl Weaver. I stole the quote from this article on ESPN.com. But if you go there, you'll notice that quote is no longer on the page. Earl is no longer considered part of the top 10 list of managers or coaches flipping out. Heck, he's not even on the honorable mention list. I had read this article this morning and had seen it; When I connected to my computer at home, I still had the article open, and Earl was there! Relieved to discover that I wasn't crazy, and that I could steal that great quote, I began to think about what ethical problems there may be with changing stuff you publish online with no indication you changed it.

Obviously, this article isn't that important. Maybe they pulled the quotes because they were completely fabricated (good thing I used em!). Anyway it's a list and a fluff opinion piece, not real news in any sense of the word. But websites seem to do this all the time, go in and change and edit articles or news with no indication that they did so, other than what might exist in the wayback machine. Hmm, seems Earl isn't there.

Magazines can't retract things or change them without new editions, in fact in no medium before the internet could you just change it and hope no one saw the original version. Is this ethical? I don't really know. While on one hand I don't see the purpose of announcing you made changes, it does seem kind of underhanded to just cover up your mistakes with no acknowledgement. Also, what if the changes are due to some totally different reason? Political or social pressure on a website to censor an article? If you don't keep an archive, you'll never be able to show what you saw was really there before. I don't know, perhaps it doesn't matter at all, but it really bothers me for some reason.

Baseball is probably the greatest sport in the world for statisticians, math fanatics or just people who love to over analyze things. Not only does it have a ton of statistics, but unlike most other sports the statistics can often be used as a predictor of future performance for individual players, regardless of changes to the team as a whole. This is because each player, while on a team, has to perform certian tasks (pitching and hitting) on their own. So while Karl Malone, now playing with Shaq and Kobe on the Lakers, cannot be expected to do as well statistically, moving Barry Bonds to another team in baseball should have no effect on his statistics, outside of park effects, which are also measurable.

Baseball also has an advantage over other sports in this regard because of sample sizes. A regular starter could have 650 plate apperances a year, a pitcher could pitch well over 200 innings. Teams play all of the other teams (at least the ones in their league) and while not every influential factor is controlled for it is much closer to perfect than any other major sport.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're an elitist as well as a math freak) the most common, popular, whatever baseball statistics, such as RBIs, Runs, Batting average, and Strikeouts, are also the least meaningful. While there is a cottage industry for meaningful statistics, a quick-and dirty look at baseball can show you that on base percentage and slugging percentage are the most meaningful offensive statistics. A pretty good estimation of a players offensive value can be derived from the sum of these numbers (referred to as OPS). The product of these numbers is slightly better, but not nearly as easy to calculate by a quick glance, so OPS is normally used.

OPS is useful because it is teammate-neutral, and because it looks at all the possible results of every plate appearance. Your RBI or Runs total is partly a factor of who hit behind or before you; Your batting average does not take into account extra base hits or walks. My favorite example of the problems with batting average is the obsession with the .300 hitter. Trust me, a guy who bats .300, almost never walks, and almost never gets anything other than a single is hurting your team. And there are a lot of these guys in Baseball. Which leads me to the last thing I love about baseball statistics; The fact that baseball experts, columnists, and the such have such a problem with the statistical analysis. They slowly adopt sabermetric ideas (I see OPS mentioned all the time now in articles), but constantly rail against it due to the lack of subjectivity involved. Sometimes they are right; For example, there aren't very good methods yet for measuring defensive performance, so offense is very much emphasized by sabermetricians as being more important.

Finally, one of my favorite managers, Earl Weaver, has been somewhat vindicated by sabermetrics. There is a famous incident where Earl blew up in a radio interview:

Announcer: (A fan) from Frederick, Md., wants to know why you don't go out and get some more team speed.

Weaver: Team speed, for Chrissake, you get (expletive) little fleas on the bases getting picked off trying to steal, getting thrown out, taking runs away from you. You get them big (expletives) who can hit the (expletive) ball out of the (expletive) ballpark and you can't make any (expletive) mistakes.

Announcer: Well, certainly this show's going to go down in history, Earl. Terry Elliott of Washington, D.C., wants to know why you don't use Terry Crowley as a designated hitter all the time.

Weaver: Terry Crowley is lucky he's in (expletive) baseball, for Chrissake. He was released by the Cincinnati Reds, he was released by the (expletive) Atlanta Braves. We saw that Terry Crowley could sit on his (expletive) ass for eight innings and enjoy watching a baseball game just like any other fan, and has the ability to get up there and break one open in the (expletive) ninth. So if this (expletive) would mind his own business and let me manage the (expletive) team we'd be a lot better off.

Announcer: Well , certainly you've made your opinions known on the fans' questions about baseball, Earl, but let's get to something else. Alice Sweet from Norfolk wants to know the best time to put in a tomato plant.

Anyway, I love baseball.

Every day, everyone finds things that they consider ridiculous (Michael, I'd say, finds more than the average person; I probably do too). Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of the things that are deemed ridiculous are very strongly believed in by someone else.

I, personally, believe in a lot of ridiculous things. I think anarchy could actually be a viable form of government; I think that the government of this country doesn't really represent the people; I think that the people are, often times, not worth representing. I believe baseball is actually a great sport, and not boring in the least; I believe that people should be accountable for their actions; I believe that property is theft, property is liberty, and property is impossible, all at the same time.

These thoughts or stances don't amount to much - I'm sure I could list every thought I've ever had and they'd be ridiculous to somebody. But to me, when someone feels a thought is ridiculous, it means they would never ever consider it, or think about it for more than a second. They may argue about it, discuss it for hours or days or years or a lifetime, but that is very different from actually considering it, or believing for a second it could be true.

I'm at work, and was just referred to as "king hater" by someone here. It's a nice little nickname I've picked up. I'm told I disagree with everything. Not true (or possible), but I don't often see the point in talking and discussing with people about things I agree with them about. It's really just an exercise in considering. I have my mind made up about very few things, and I lack conviction in most of those anyway; It's not one of my strengths.

Hmm, another entry with no conclusion. You can take from this a homework exercise - find someone to argue a point, and take the side you wouldn't normally take. Actually research it, actually try to convince not only your opponent but yourself. Almost no issues are black and white. Try to find the grey.

Eliminating the gerrymandering of representative districts is no easy matter, but the guy who initiated the recall movement in California, Ted Costa, is spearheading a (state) constitutional amendment that will attempt to mitigate the more egregious instances.

"People are hurting in California, not just because of Gray Davis, but because of the partisan gerrymandering and lack of leadership at the top," said Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who's heading up the effort with Mr. Costa.

The proposal would allow state legislators to submit redistricting maps for review by a court or nonpartisan panel. The panel would be required to choose the plan that keeps cities, counties and communities together with the fewest fragments.

Critics complained that the 2000 redistricting process saw the approval of a map where communities were splintered in the name of protecting incumbents. Only one of the state's 53 congressional seats was seriously contested in the 2002 election, according to the 2004 Almanac of American Politics.

"Right now, we have a bipartisan gerrymander in California," said Mr. Costa, chief executive officer of the People's Advocate, the Sacramento-based conservative anti-tax group founded by the late Paul Gann.

"Under our plan, both parties, instead of being all lovey-dovey, will have a chance to put their platforms before the voters, and you'll have a real election with real issues," he said.

I don't know how keen I am on having retired judges involved in districting, but I don't have an immediately better alternative. The results of such a plan certainly couldn't be worse than the partisan hack job most states end up with under current methods, and if the measure is successful in California it may spread elsewhere.

Note: Republicans hold a majority of state legislature seats now -- for the first time in decades -- so my objection to gerrymandering isn't based on my loathing for the Democrats who dominate California's Assembly and Senate.

Eugene wrote a little bit about Martha Stewart's legal predicament, and points out some errors in a Slate piece about the issue. What's of real interest to me, however, is that he writes near the end that:

Finally, it turns out that the core issue -- whether false statements of fact are unprotected when they're not fraudulent attempts to make money, defamation of particular people, or false statements to the government (e.g., perjury) -- is indeed not fully resolved. ...

Rather, the strongest First Amendment argument for some protection even of knowing lies is that in some contexts (a) courts shouldn't be trusted to decide what's true and what's false, and (b) the risk of error in such decisions might be enough to deter even true speech. See New York Times v. Sullivan, which suggested that even knowing lies about the goverment can't be punished at all; compare State v. Davis, 27 Ohio App.3d 65 (1985) (affirming conviction for knowingly making false statements in a political campaign) with State ex rel. Public Disclosure Comm'n v. 119 Vote No! Committee, 135 Wash. 2d 618 (1998) (striking down a law banning false statements said with actual malice in election campaigns).

So, I'm not clear on the issue. Does the 1st Amendment protect "harmless" lies, or would a federal law prohibiting all lies (in a content-neutral manner) be constitutional? It would be unenforcable, sure, and bad policy, but even aside from those issues I would be astounded if such a law would be allowable.

I have a hard time respecting environmentalists, but it's not because I want to pave the earth. I love clean air and water, fishies, owls, and all that sort of thing. What I don't love is environmental-mysticism masquerading as science. The Bay Institute, a Marin Country-based organization "Dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the San Francisco Bay Watershed, from the Sierra to the Sea" has recently "graded" the San Francisco Bay on various ecological criteria and found it wanting -- a result surprising to no-one, I suspect.

The San Francisco Bay is getting an ecological report card today -- and it doesn't look good. But there's hope behind the C's, D's and an F, according to the nonprofit environmental group that graded the bay's health. ...

The bay's grades -- one B, three C's, three D's and an F -- were based on historical conditions, environmental and public health standards, and restoration targets, according to the institute.

Ah, yes... why do I get the feeling that the Bay Institute itself determined these "restoration targets" based on their own agenda, and that these targets were in fact the driving force behind many of the bad grades? The Bay Institute itself admits that the bay is doing well in some areas:
"The destruction of San Francisco Bay's unique environment has in some cases been halted or even slightly reversed," said Grant Davis, Bay Institute executive director. ...

"Fish and wildlife populations that were crashing now appear to be stable. Many people are working to protect and restore habitat, improve water quality and use resources more efficiently. But progress is slow and needs to be accelerated," Davis said.

Why is that? Because otherwise their "restoration targets" cannot be reached!

So what's causing the problems? People want to use the fresh water that historically flowed into the bay for other purposes, like growing food.

Tina Swanson, fish biologist and member of the science team working with the Bay Institute, said decades of diversions of Sacramento and San Joaquin river hwater to growers and cities have taken a heavy toll on native aquatic species in the bay.

Historically, during rain and snowmelt, the fresh river waters have flowed into the bay and out the Golden Gate. The rush of the rivers creates a special mixing zone where the freshwater hits the salty ocean water, providing an important nursery for many estuary species, scientists say.

"The bay suffers from a permanent drought because so much water is diverted from its watershed," said Swanson. The species are not recovering from the steep decline they experienced over the last several decades, she said.

And so, some species of fish are becoming rare in the bay -- or are disappearing altogether -- because we humans need to use fresh water to grow food. Well, there's not much that can be done about that, is there? Water isn't free, and growers try to keep costs down by not using more than they need to. Water management in California is taken very seriously, and is a complex issue that I don't claim to understand perfectly, but I don't think that a great deal of water is being wasted.

So what does the Bay Institute hope to accomplish with this report card? I don't know, because they don't say; all I can infer is that they don't want us to grow so much food, and that they don't think there should be so many darn humans all over the place.

In a frightening trend, monkeys are learning to directly control robots with their minds. Seriously though, this is one of the coolest things I've ever read.

Monkeys with brain implants were trained to move a robot arm with their thoughts, a key advance by researchers who hope one day to allow paralyzed people to perform similar tasks.

A series of electrodes containing tiny wires were implanted about a millimeter deep into the brains of two monkeys. A computer then recorded signals produced by the monkeys' brains as they manipulated a joystick controlling the robotic arm in exchange for a reward -- sips of juice.

The joystick was later unplugged and the arm, which was in a separate room, was controlled directly by the brain signals coming from the implants. The monkeys eventually stopped using the joystick, as if they knew their brains were controlling the robot arm, Duke University researcher Miguel Nicolelis said. ...

"It really opens the possibilities, and it reduces the amount of time. Previously, I had thought it might be five to 10 years before we could apply this to humans. I'm getting more optimistic now, I think in a couple of years we may be doing the real clinical trials."

The implants remained in the Duke monkeys for 2 years showing they can be used for extended period. Over time, the monkeys' brains adapted to treat the robotic arm as if it was their own limb, Nicolelis said.

Thus, it is a virtual certainty that I personally will someday control some sort of robot [army] with my thoughts alone.

The LA Times (and others) is claiming that the grocery workers' strike is causing turmoil and confusion, but I went shopping last night and didn't really notice anything was amiss. Could it be that huge numbers of picketers and protesters only show up when there are journalists and cameras around?

Shoppers in Southern California arrived at their local supermarkets Sunday to buy groceries, only to find turmoil as thousands of union workers picketed the region's three largest chains. ...

"Support our picket lines! Don't shop at this store!" sign-wielding clerks yelled out to customers pulling into the parking lot of a Vons in Eagle Rock.

Picketing workers discouraged many customers from entering the stores, leaving aisles mostly deserted. Those who crossed the picket lines to shop found a few clerks fumbling with the store's cash registers.

"It's very bad in there," said Sondra Alcantara, as she lifted her bags into the back of her SUV at the Eagle Rock Vons. "The guy didn't know what he was doing," she said, adding that he tried to give her change twice.

Yeah, there's no way that non-union workers could possibly provide the level of service we're used to at our grocery stores. I mean, it takes intense training for a half-dozen people to stand around talking instead of opening a new check-out station just because there are 10 people in line. Give me a break.
Workers walking the picket lines at stores around the Southland said they were disappointed that things had come down to a strike, but they insisted that they were prepared to hold out for as long as it took to preserve their health care and pension benefits, which the companies are intent on rolling back.

"I get paid 80 cents above minimum wage," said Gina Guglielmotti, a floral clerk overseeing locked-out workers at a Pasadena Ralphs. "People just don't realize what we're fighting for. They think we're ungrateful. But we want to stop the constant degression of wages."

It's possible that the work you perform isn't worth as much as you think it is. Also, I've never heard of a grocery union worker making that little. I know people who work at and manage grocery stores, and no one makes that little there unless they've just been hired. The LA Times does give some hard numbers:
UFCW negotiators are seeking hourly wage increases of 50 cents the first year and 45 cents each of the following two years. Veteran clerks and stockers now earn as much as $17.90 an hour. Meat cutters, the highest-paid union employees, earn up to $19.18 an hour. Baggers earn up to $7.40 an hour.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the store owners think they can get a better deal than that for what amounts to unskilled labor. Here are some more numbers, and while the average wage isn't $15 an hour, it's far above the statutory minimum.

I feel pretty much like one shopper who ignored the strikers outside his favorite store:

Indeed, although most people appeared sympathetic to the strikers, yelling out support or honking their horns, some gave them a thumbs down or called them names as they passed by.

"The gravy train is over," yelled one man, as he strode from the Eagle Rock store, not wanting to be interviewed.

Somehow, I have a feeling this strike will have about as much effect as the transit worker strike in 2000: no one will care.

I was reading an article in the New York Times today that someone sent me, here which talks about the well-publicized "obesity epidemic" in this country. It approaches it in a much different way than what I had read and seen up till now. The gist of the article is that the obesity epidemic seems to coincide with a radical change in our country's agricultural policies. Between the 1930's and 1972, the government tried to smooth out food prices by offering farmers loans with their corn as collateral when the price of corn was below a set price. The Farmer could either hold onto his corn until the price went up, and then sell it and pay the loan back, or he could just give his corn to the government and then keep the money from the loan. The government kept any corn it got and stored it in its own granary, and would sell it when prices went up, often at a profit.

This was all done because, during the depression (and before) farmers would overproduce. If prices fell, farmers would try to grow more in order to keep the same income, which would in turn depress prices further.

In 1972, due to various factors, food prices began to rise to a point where people began to stage food protests. The Nixon administration then changed the rules to just straight farm subsidies, to avoid anything close to a food shortage ever again.

Now, relative to 1972, farmers produce about 500 calories more per person today, and we consume 300 of those each.

The most interesting assertion in the article is that portions are larger now because it is much cheaper and easier to just increase portion sizes, and use that as a competition point, than it is to compete on price. This of course is due to the ridiculous supply of food, which is a direct result in the rules changes in 1972.

Anyway, I haven't summarized anything in quite a while, so sue me. Read the article, you might just learn something.

A few weeks ago I was talking to Michael about intellectual property (specifically, patents and copyrights) and proposed that these things are artificial and probably completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, when challenged at the time I was unable to formulate any kind of an argument, other than, in effect, "just because something seems to have always been a certian way, or because you can't really concieve of how else it would work, doesn't mean it's correct or even necessary." Pretty weak, and not at all descriptive of how we would expect things like "innovation" or actual investment in new technologies to happen without patents, or for art and other activities, copyrights.

I've thought about the issue quite a bit more, and have not come up with any definitive answers. I have, however, put together some points of focus, questions that need to be asked, etc - organizing the problem and, I think, making the solution to the problem of "no IP" a bit easier to eventually get to.

Copyrights and patents are not that old. I believe the first patent law wasn't enacted until 1623, and the Statute of Anne was enacted in 1710. To say there was no innovation, or investment, or creation of works that would today be worth copyrighting before 1623 or 1710 seems to be incorrect. These facts don't really make any statement about the validity of copyrights or patents; You could just call them "advances in business technology" or something similar if you wanted, but I think it does demonstrate that the advance of technology does not grind to a halt without these concepts in place.

In effect, copyrights and patents are a state-created monopoly for a set period of time. But the necessity of this action has yet to be proved in any way. No one seems to think monopolies are good, so why would ones created by the state be different? Companies that create original products or works still have a period of monopoly - however long it takes for someone else to copy everything about it. In some cases, they are uncopyable - you can distribute all the CDs you want of a band, but you'd be hard pressed to form your own band, performing the songs off the CD, and draw the same crowd to your concert. For businesses, your monopoly would last as long as you could keep your invention secret, through obsfucation or trade secrets or anything other than government coercion. While I don't think that would last very long for most things, that doesn't mean that there would be no profit to be made, even after someone tried to copy you. Plenty of companys continue to compete in businesses where nothing they produce or do is covered by any IP laws, but they still find a way to profit.

I think a good (or at least popular) example of what may happen in the modern age without patents would be the software industry. Software patents are a very recent invention, and have been fraught with problems since their inception. Before their conception (at least in the US), we didn't have a shortage of creativity, new algorithims, etc, and the industry flourished. Perhaps it was just a young industry that, once it "matured" needed stronger IP laws. And of course they still benefited from copyrights if not from patents. But there is still no evidence that these things are needed. You do not need a copyright to sell people support for the software you make, nor do you need a patent on one-clicking or something equally ridiculous to compete in the marketplace. These are small examples and there may be a flood of instances where nothing would have been done without strong patent or copyright law, but I haven't heard of it.

Patents and Copyrights are, (unfortunately?) not universally recognized. The US has worked hard to push our IP laws on other countries, but it is far from complete. One statement Michael made was that places like China, who have weak to nonexistant copyright laws and patent laws, don't create anything. In regards to art, or other copyrightable material, that seems wrong. But most asian artists are forced to make their money through tours, personal appearances, and corporate sponsorship as opposed to CD sales. I cannot say if this is "good" or "bad", but I do not see a lack of innovation. With patents in china, while it is obvious they are behind technologically, I do not think it is fair to blame a lack of patent IP when looking at a huge, largely rural still communist contry in comparison to the western world. Historically, china produced a ridiculous amount of important technology, well before patents were in place. 40 years of communism, not patents, seems a much easier target for any blame on Chinas technological development.

The point of all this is really just an intellectual exercise, of course - plenty of people have said the same things I say here better. But they need to be said, and said again. Intellectual property is completely artificial, a relatively new concept, and, I'd say, unproven in its merits. The experiment to prove its merits is beyond me at this moment, but suffice to say development and creativity happened on a large scale before copyrights and patents, and I'd be hard pressed to believe it would cease if they went away tomorrow.

Reno is pretty nice. Yesterday it was freezing cold, today it's blazing hot, and it's been bone dry the whole time. Supposedly Reno gets rain and snow in the winter, but I doubt I'm going to see any.

I went to a casino called the Silver Legacy last night, and the first thing I noticed about Reno casinos is that they're a lot smokier than casinos in Las Vegas. Maybe the places in Vegas (,baby, Vegas) have newer ventilation systems, who knows.

I played nickel video draw poker for 3 hours, intent on winning the $212 progressive jackpot with a royal flush. I got within 1 card of a royal flush 4 times in those 3 hours, and I drew 5 4-of-a-kinds (which each paid 125 nickels). Overall, I was down $25 after three hours. By those odds, I would need to play around 30 hours to expect to get the jackpot, at a cost of $8 an hour -- not a very efficient use of my time, and not very profitable.

I tried my best, and I failed. The lesson here is: never try.

Today: look for a buffet. Mmmmmm... buffet. The best buffet I ever had was at the Aladdin in Las Vegas, and I highly recommend it. I don't know if we'll find something that nice here, but we'll give it a shot.

One thing I like about President Bush is that he's not afraid to try to clean up the garbage America has left lying around the world for far too long.

WASHINGTON — Eager to please a key Florida constituency, President Bush directed his secretary of state and his Cuban-born housing secretary Friday to recommend ways to achieve a transition to democracy in Cuba after 44 years under Fidel Castro (search).

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Housing Secretary Mel Martinez (search) will chair a panel that will "plan for the happy day when Castro's regime is no more and democracy comes to the island," Bush said during a Rose Garden ceremony.

"The transition to freedom will present many challenges to the Cuban people and to America, and we will be prepared," the president said.

Bush also said the United States would step up enforcement of existing restrictions against the communist regime, such as a ban on tourism by Americans, and crack down on the trafficking of women and children in Cuba. The United States also will launch a public outreach campaign to identify "the many routes to safe and legal entry" for Cubans who try to flee their homeland, he said.

Yeah yeah, "eager to please a key Florida constituency" and such, but still -- action is action. I approved of Clinton's bombing of al Qaeda in the 90s, even though he only did it to distract us from Monica and I knew it would be ineffectual.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Iranian ex-judge, peace activist, lawyer, and genuine freedom fighter (not terrorist) Shirin Ebadi.

"We hope that the prize will be an inspiration for all those who struggle for human rights and democracy in her country, in the Muslim world, and in all countries where the fight for human rights needs inspiration and support," the committee said. ...

"This prize gives me the energy to continue my fight," Ebadi told a news conference in Paris without the head scarf required under Islamic law. She said she would go to Oslo to receive the $1.3 million prize at the Dec. 10 ceremony.

"It's a great honor to receive this prize. It's not because you're a Muslim that you can't respect human rights, so all real Muslims should be really happy with this prize," she said.

11TH WOMAN, THIRD MUSLIM

Ebadi is the 11th woman to win since the Nobel prize was founded in 1901, the first Muslim woman laureate and the third Muslim winner -- after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1994 and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978.

And a far better choice than those two murderers.
Iranian state media reported the award without comment, and reaction otherwise reflected the split between President Mohammad Khatami's reformist government and powerful hard-liners.

"This prize carries the message that Europe intends to put further pressure on human rights issues in Iran as a political move to achieve its particular objectives," Amir Mohebian, an editor of the hard-line Resalat newspaper, told Reuters.

Good, I'm glad you got the message.
But Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a leading reformist, said the award was "very good news for every Iranian" and a sign of the active role played by Iranian women in politics.

Although the methodology looks questionable to me, Harris Interactive conducted an "online" survey of teens and asked them what they thought about file sharing.

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Oct. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Results of a new Harris Interactive® survey show that two-thirds (66%) of American teenagers (13-18 years old) oppose fining individuals who offer copyrighted music online for other people to download while about one in ten teens (13%) believe that people who offer copyrighted music on their computers for others to download should be fined. Half of teens (52%) strongly oppose such fines and two in ten teens (21%) neither support nor oppose the fines. ...

In addition, the poll found that most teens believe that sharing and downloading of copyrighted music should be legal. Three quarters (78%) of them feel that sharing (letting other people download music from them) should be legal. Additionally, 74% of teens said that downloading copyrighted music files from the Internet without paying for it should be legal.

Why am I skeptical of the results? Well, online surveys tend to be bogus, since the respondents are self-selected (only people who are interested tend to answer polls they come across online), but near the end of the article it says:
This Harris Interactive survey was conducted online within the United States between September 17 and 22, 2003 among a nationwide cross section of 642 respondents aged 13-18 years old. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, urbanicity and region were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
I don't know what this means; if the sample isn't self-selected, and the survey just happened to be done online with an actual random sampling of teenagers, then maybe the results are ok. It's not clear, however.

But, if the results are meaningful, then the modern concept of copyright is doomed, because these kids will be making policy in 20 years. I'm not saying this is good or bad, but it seems inevitable to me.

(Thanks MD.)

GeekPress links to an article about "urban tribes". What are they?

These aren't just friends--they're superfriends. Whether it's a leaky faucet, a broken-down car, a cross-country move, or just lunch, Trautman's group is there, blurring the line between friendship and kinship with gestures large and small. The core group--seven men and women all in their early 30s, including a doctor, a few teachers, and a scientist--volunteer together for political candidates, share gourmet meals, and even vacation as a gang every August. "We've become sort of an urban family," says Trautman.

Groups like Trautman's--less social circles than quasi-familial clans, with their own customs and rituals--are increasingly common, says San Francisco journalist Ethan Watters. They've grown out of well-documented societal change: Where once people got married after high school or college and began building families in their early 20s, men and women today are as likely to stay single for years. According to the 2002 census, the median age at first marriage has risen to 25.3 for women, the highest ever, and 26.9 for men.

In his new book, Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment, Watters writes that men and women are now structuring the long stretch of single years by gathering in tight-knit clusters--the "urban tribes" of his title. More than casual groups of friends, these are entities that form over time, eventually taking on a life of their own. Often there are rituals, like weekly dinners, yearly group trips, and elaborate theme parties. Many members say there are enough events on the group calendar to fill seven nights a week.

It's an interesting phenomenon, but nowhere is it mentioned that churches have historically played a similar role in people's lives, and these "urban tribes" are not an entirely new development. I recommend reading the entire article, because you'll probably realize that you yourself are a part of such a tribe.

Rather than a new social construct, I think that the formalization of the term really just serves to recognize something that's been happening since urbanization really took off after the undustrial revolution. Real extended families are no longer as likely to live together (or even near each other); humans crave society and company, and so these quasi-families have cropped up to fill that traditional role.

Is anyone else having problems with the Opinion Journal website? It's causing Internet Explorer to come to a screeching halt and crash on my computer. I've emailed their support address with the information, but I don't know if it's just me.

SDB gives a great description of gerrymandering, and I'd like to draw attention to my earlier post on the topic, and my observation that the 17th Amendment -- together with modern gerrymandering -- has nearly reversed the roles of the House and Senate.

Consider that before the 17th Amendment, state legislatures selected Senators for their state; members of the House of Representatives were elected directly by the people, but Senators were not. However, with the 17th Amendment and the current state of gerrymandering, the situation has almost reversed itself. State borders cannot be modified, and so Senators are elected directly by the people they represent, while the state legislature fiddles with the Congressional districts and in effect selects the party of the Representative that holds each seat.
In the 2000 election, 392 of 399 House incumbents won reelection (98%), but only 23 of 29 incumbent Senators retained their seats (79%). No single election is definitively representative, of course, but I believe these numbers are pretty standard.

According to Time Magazine, terrorist chief Yasser Arafat has stomach cancer, and it couldn't have happed to a nicer fellow. The best part is that Arafat is trapped in his Ramallah compound, and if he leaves (for surgery or anything) Israel will likely exile him and never let him return.

The best thing for everyone (except maybe Arafat) will be for the Palestinian leader to die as quickly as possible. With Arafat out of the way, it's possible that the Palestinians and the Israelis will be able to work out a lasting peace of some sort.

I blame Clinton.

I haven't seen any news articles to this effect yet, but I imagine that the success of the recall and the election of Arnold have caused car sales in California to temporarily plummet. Why? Because the tripling of the Vehicle License Fee ("car tax") went into effect October 1st, 2003, and Arnold has vowed to repeal it.

As it stands, the VLF is 2% of the value of the car, but once it is discounted again (assuming Arnold follows through) it will be reduced back to 0.65%. So, for example, a family considering buying a new $20,000 sedan will pay a VLF of $400 if they buy now, but only $130 if they buy... next month? Next year? No one knows, and so I imagine no one is buying.

There's a strong push in California to eliminate the VLF entirely, but with the budget deficit that's another $2 billion Arnold would need to cut from elsewhere. I'm not holding my breath.

One of my highly-placed friends in the Department of Homeland Security just leaked a picture to me of John Ashcroft's new Citizen Awareness Program, or "CAP". Apparently, Ashcroft thinks he'll be able to find terrorists more easily if he can tell them apart from citizens by using spy satellites -- he's planning to issue these ballcaps with barcodes to "real Americans". My friend says they'll be for "our own protection" at first, but after the "election" of 2004 Bush is going to make them mandatory!

This isn't going to work, I don't think. Looking around my apartment, I can't even keep this place vaguely decent, so I definitely don't have time to be updating a blog. But now that I've had a bit to drink I guess it's time to sit down and try. With Ahnold now The Gubernator, I think about how he potentially could be, for me, the closest thing to a perfect candidate I've seen in any election for a while, as he appears fiscally "conservative" and socially "liberal" (I'll explain the quotes in a later entry; suffice to say I find both titles ridiculous). His stances (or lack thereof) in this campaign made me think a bit about why I do not identify with either the Democratic or Republican party, even though I imagine most people I know would peg me as a Democrat - to me, both partys are trying to control our lives in unacceptable ways.

The Democrats want to control how we deal with each other. Political correctness, legislated charity (welfare, etc), some of which may have an arguably useful social purpose, but all of which has a political purpose. They try to form their utopian society through the engineering of society on a whole.

The Republicans want to control how we live our private lives. Now-defunct sodomy laws, the war on drugs, prayer in schools. I'll put in things like video game and television violence and/or sex here too, even though people now associate that with Joe Lieberman - trust me, he may be a democrat, but he's not a "liberal".

Interestingly, both partys for the most part (or maybe just in my mind) have developed a reputation of trying to fight, or at least lessen, the control the opponents have on their chosen aspect of society. But it seems, at least in this obviously Beamtenherrschaft age, that were sliding slowly into more and more state control, regardless of any recent changes or setbacks. The state will always strive for more control, and has not, in my opinion, come close to representing the will of the people in a couple hundred years. Not that thats a bad thing.

Continuing the series, Strategy Page has a post up about the "feminization" of the military (no permalinks).

October 5, 2003: There is a growing feeling among U.S. generals and admirals that the "feminization of the military" which took place during the 1990s has done serious and long lasting damage. This has expressed itself in many ways. The marines, which successfully resisted the worst aspects of feminization (training male and female recruits together in boot camp, lowering standards to accommodate women's different physical and psychological capabilities, forcing NCOs and officers to insure that women succeeded whether the women were capable of some jobs or not) are seen as the one service that successfully integrated more women into its ranks. But the marines took a lot of political heat for doing things their way, particularly when Bill Clinton was president. ...

Perhaps the most galling sign of a growing problem appeared when the Air Force recently ran an opinion survey among cadets at the Air Force Academy. Some 40 percent of the cadets, both male and female, felt that the physical and psychological differences between the sexes made complete acceptance of women in the military unlikely, ever. Among male cadets, twenty percent felt that women don't belong at the academy at all. The survey showed that the longer cadets were at the academy, the more cynical they became about all the rules and regulations in place to make sure women are "treated equally."

Bill Clinton has been raising funds and making campaign appearances for a lot of Democrats, but I'm not really sure why they're always so excited to have him come aboard. Here are a few pictures I collected off the web of Bill Clinton campaigning with various people who then went on to lose -- often spectacularly and surprisingly -- possibly due to the Clinton Kiss of Death.


Bill Clinton campaigns with doomed California Governor Grey Davis, 2003.



Bill Clinton campaigns with Vice President Al Gore, who lost the 2000 presidential election.



Here's Bill Clinton with Walter Mondale, who spectacularly lost Paul Wellstone's Senate seat in 2002.



Bill Clinton in Florida with Democrat gubernatorial cadidate Bill McBride, who beat out former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno [corrected] for the nomination, but then lost the election to Jeb Bush in 2002.



Bill Clinton campaigns with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as she runs for governor of Maryland, a heavily Democrat state, but she ends up losing the election to Republican Bob Ehrlich [corrected].



Bill Clinton and terrorist Yasser Arafat share a special moment. Ok, so Arafat hasn't lost any elections (you have to hold elections before you can lose them), but he sure has come down in the world over the past few years. He's now holed up in a mostly-destroyed office building, waiting to be exiled or assassinated. Update: Arafat has stomach cancer, so apparently Bill Clinton did have a positive effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after all.

Well, the recall is over, so let's see how my predictions panned out. My last minute "out on a limb" guess was:

- Recall Grey Davis: 70% yes, 30% no.
- Arnold, Bustamante, McClintock: 50%, 28%, 20%.

According to the Secretary of State (ha, what does he know?!) my guess for the first part was way off, but for the second I was pretty close -- most significantly, Arnold almost did get a majority, and he got more votes than Davis did (via those voting "no" on the recall itself)!

Shall GRAY DAVIS be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?
Votes Percent

Yes 4,337,066 55.2
No 3,531,967 44.8

Leading Candidates to succeed GRAY DAVIS as Governor if he is recalled:
Candidate Party Votes Percent

Arnold Schwarzenegger Rep 3,677,005 48.5
Cruz M. Bustamante Dem 2,415,693 31.9
Tom McClintock Rep 1,010,469 13.4
Peter Miguel Camejo Grn 211,038 2.8
Arianna Huffington Ind 42,404 0.6
Peter V. Ueberroth Rep 21,913 0.3
Larry Flynt Dem 15,305 0.3
Gary Coleman Ind 12,614 0.2
George B. Schwartzman Ind 10,856 0.2
Mary Cook Ind 9,974 0.2

Grey Davis is out, Arnold is in. Bob Mulholland, Democrat political operative, says that any governor in office would have been recalled, but he's insane -- Arnold and McClintock, the two conservatives, combined for almost 60% of the replacement votes. Mr. Mulholland says that President Bush should be worried, but it's hard for me to fathom why a Republican president should be scared when a heavily Democrat state overwhelmingly throws out a Democrat governor and a majority of voters vote for a Republican candidate.

The Democrats are threatening to sue already, citing complaints about finding polling locations and that sort of nonsense. Woopie.

From what I'm seeing, Prop. 54 -- which would have prevented the state from collecting most racial information -- has failed, but no hard numbers yet. That's too bad, but maybe the preliminary prediction will turn out to be wrong.

There's lots more news elsewhere, and I'm sure you don't need me to tell you where to go!

Yes, I have a huge grin on my face. I love California, and I'm really enthused. I know dozens of people who have left the state over the past few years because of the economy and everything else, and I really think this may be our chance to turn things around. It'll take a while to fix the state, but hopefully we can get on the right track now.

Update:
Cruz Bustamante concedes defeat, but says "we'll have more to say about the recall soon enough." I presume he means lawsuits, but uh, maybe he means he's just going to keep talking about it.

He's spinning the election as a victory because Proposition 54 was defeated, claiming that a law which would prohibit the government from knowing your race would somehow be discriminatory. Only in Democrat bizarro world.

And now Mr. Bustamante is naming a bunch of Indian tribes and leaders to whom he is thankful for their support. No, I don't think those are slot machines in the background.

What a sad, delusional concession speech.

Update 2:
Grey Davis is giving a much more gracious and relevant concession speech than Cruz Bustamante did. I'm so glad to see his backside, but it's hard to not feel sorry for him.

Megan reminds us that this October 3rd was Jonathan Edwards' 300th birthday. The name is probably familiar to everyone, but if you can't quite place him, maybe this will help:

Scholars say most Americans know just one thing about Edwards: he once preached the terrifyingly famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Yet at this tercentennial, many are discovering the instrumental role he played in shaping the institutions and culture they take for granted. ...

Born on Oct. 3, 1703, Edwards came of age in New England as a Puritan theocracy was giving way to a revolutionary democracy. Through this titanic shift, Edwards' writing and preaching bridged two worlds of thought: one of Calvinist trust in a sovereign God, the other of burgeoning Enlightenment trust in the powers of science and sheer reason.

With help from itinerant preacher George Whitefield and others, Edwards revived a waning Calvinism with a vengeance by rigorously defending orthodox doctrines and leading his sometimes resistant flock to tearful conversions in the 1730s. But it was Edwards' ability to understand and incorporate the cutting-edge of science and philosophy that made him a formidable intellect on the international stage and ensured him a spot among the standouts of Christian history.

If you want to read the sermon for which he is famous, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", I highly recommend it. It's renowned for a great many reasons, and no matter what your beliefs are it is an amazing piece of work and history.

I've written about women at war previously; as I've said before, I don't think there are any good reasons for allowing women to serve in combat positions, and there are plenty of very compelling reasons not to.

I came across a post on a site called Equity Feminism that notes that when women recruits are held to the same physical requirements as men are, their injury rate increases by more than 100%.

Great Britain used to train men and women separately, with different requirements, but many women soldiers finished basic training without the abilities needed to perform their jobs. In 1998, the army began holding women to the same standards as men, and this change in policy resulted in the discharge rate due to training injury for women to rise from 4.5% to 11%, a jump of almost 150%. [Update: medical discharges for men were below 1.5%, according to the source BBC article.]

Regardless of anyone's opinions on the matter, women simply cannot attain and maintain the same physical abilities than men can, and as such they make inferior combatants. As I've written, in some circumstances (such as in Israel) every fighter is necessary -- perhaps because the population is small, or the war is particularly large. America is not in such a situation, and we have the luxury of keeping women out of combat roles in our armed forces. This policy improves the quality of our military in numerous ways (as I've outlined in my previous postings), and also serves a valuable social function.

Famed talk show host Wally George has passed away in the hospital. He had just completed the 20th year of his show, "Hot Seat", which ran on KDOC in Los Angeles.


Picture taken from the LA Times.

Most of you are probably not familiar with George's show, but his style of "combat TV" (as he called it) really set the stage for confrontational talk shows of the present day.

At the height of its popularity in 1984, "Hot Seat" was a must-see for college students, who waited six months for tickets and hours for a choice spot among the 80 audience seats, where they waved U.S. flags and chanted, "Wah-lee!" on cue. George engaged guests whom he called "liberal lunatics" and "fascist fanatics," including 1960s drug guru Timothy Leary and Tom Metzger, a white supremacist leader.

George called his delivery "combat TV," a phrase he used in an autobiography published in 1999. Johnny Carson, referring to the show's choreographed hysteria, once called George the William F. Buckley of the cockfighting set.

"Hot Seat" hit its stride in late 1983 when avowed pacifist Blasé Bonpane, there to oppose the U.S. invasion of Grenada, erupted in anger over George's taunts, flipping over the host's desk before storming off the show. A clip of the altercation aired on national news programs.

It's a great, hilarious, entertaining show, and reruns are still showing on channel 56 (KDOC) in Los Angeles at 12:30am, Tuesday through Saturday (that is, Monday through Friday nights).

I hate linking to the BBC, but I can't find the story anywhere else.

So, China is expected to launch its first manned space flight within days. Thanks for the pointer, Matt.

There aren't many details, but in my opinion this is a momentous occasion. The space race between America and the USSR was driven by politics, and even though it's long over many of the technological breakthroughs of the past decades are the direct results of our massive space program. The USSR can't even maintain its committments to the International Space Station now, and with no real rival the United States' vision for space has stagnated.

China's entry into the space-faring community is political as well -- the space club is even more exclusive than the nuclear club, and China is aiming for the moon. Such programs capture the minds of the world, and attract scientists from all over who want to get involved in cutting-edge research. The immediate space projects will stay secretive for a while, but the peripheral work may be open to all comers; if China is smart, it will leverage the prestige of this endeavor counter America's dominance as the world's brain-drain.

What's more, I can only hope that if America's space superiority is seriously challenged we'll rise to the occasion and kick our butts back into gear. I want to go to Luna and Mars myself, and NASA sure as heck isn't going to get me there unless I stow away on board a rover. I have no doubt that private industry can out-compete China's communist party.

[You may also be interested in contributing to the X Prize (it's tax deductible).]

Bill Hobbs reports that this Thursday is the first birthday of the Bush Bull Market, and he points to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article which says:

• As of Friday's close, the Dow Jones industrial average has risen 31.4 percent since Oct. 9, 2002.
• The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 32.6 percent.
• And the technology-loaded Nasdaq composite index is up a stunning 68.8 percent.
Those gains rival historical norms, including the robust annual growth rates of the 1990s market boom.

The stock market recaptured $3 trillion in value of the $8.5 trillion that was lost between March 2000 and October 2002, according to the Wilshire 5000 index. And the rebound is worldwide. This means that, barring a calamity of epic proportions, the stock market will end its dreadful drought by posting positive numbers for calendar 2003, the first since 1999.

Bill and Dean Esmay (in the comments) blame the Bush tax cut, which is reasonable, but don't discount the positive economic impact of the War on Terror. Good stuff!

Bill O'Reilly has quite a few interesting stories up on his site now, including an interview with Condoleezza Rice, and a piece about Mel Gibson's upcoming movie, The Passion. Plus, an interview with Arnold.

Now it's only fair for Mr. O'Reilly to have me on his show. Or at least link to me!

Cypren says there are no more heroes running for political office who can keep their noses clean (along with Francis, in the comments), but I don't think such people have ever existed. In any social system -- democracy or depotism -- the people who rise to power tend to share similar characteristics. They have strong personalities, they're outgoing, clever, subtle, manipulative, and they have ambition. These are all powerful attributes and they will lead a person to great success, or to great failure. By their very nature such people will not tolerate any middle ground.

The people we see rise to power tend to be so endowed, and only come to our attention because they are great successes already. Sure, they may lose an election for president or governor, but they're already great successes by the standards of the world. The huge numbers of people with these qualities who never fall into the public eye are not middle-class professionals -- they're gamblers, criminals, con men, used car salesmen, and petty politicians (but I repeat myself).

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that every politician has a closet full of skeletons. Such people take risks, and suffer the consequences when they lose. It's hard to climb a mountain and never fall down; if you don't want to fall, you don't climb mountains. That's not to say that their failures are excused by virtue of their personality traits; we all have traits that incline us more towards certain failings than others, and we are all responsible for avoiding the temptations that accost us each individually.

One may also ask: why is it that most politicians are rich? Some are born into it, but again, is it really so surprising? Anyone who is a viable candidate for a major political office must have traits that would also allow them to be successful in that great American endeavor, making money. That's not to say they have business savvy -- there are plenty of other ways to make money. But I, for one, wouldn't elect a poor man to office. If you can't handle your own finances, stay away from mine.

So what does this mean? That character flaws are unavoidable and unimportant? Not at all. If a smart, ambitious, good person could be enticed into running for office, that would be excellent. But consider: every office requires someone smart, and no one who is unambitious will run... but what role does goodness play? There's so selection factor that encourages good people to run for office, and so they don't. Maybe there should be, but people just don't seem to care. Goodness is a bonus, and every other issue is non-negotiable.

Thanks to Donald Sensing for pointing out this excellent Bill O'Reilly interview with Bruce Willis, who just returned from Iraq after touring with his band and playing for the troops there. Mr. Willis has offered a million dollar reward to the people who "get" Saddam Hussein; active duty military personnel cannot collect such bounties, but he has said that if US forces get Hussein that he'll donate the money to charity.

It's also great to read in the interview that Mr. Willis really understands what the battle in Iraq was about.

O'REILLY: Did the weapons of mass destruction controversy bother you at all?

WILLIS: I don't think that's what it's about. I think this is about a war on terrorism. And it's about trying to stabilize Iraq. Stabilize the Middle East, which, God knows, could use some stabilization. And it is about a war on terror. I don't -- I don't know. Maybe people have a short memory, but the memory of those people forced to jump out of the World Trade Center will forever be etched in my memory.

Bill O'Reilly points out some other celebrities who have gone over to Iraq to perform for the troops, and Mr. Willis responds to the many celebrities who haven't.
O'REILLY: Now, in the world that you live in, the show business world, you're in a minority here by going over there. I have a list of some other stars who have gone over there. Drew Carey went over, Roger Clemens went over, Wayne Newton, Paul Rodriguez, but most of it is sniping at the government, and even at the military. They say we support our military, but every two minutes you hear another negative coming out of there. How do you react to that?

WILLIS: I would like to -- I would like to suggest that anybody who is, as you say, sniping at the government to, you know, go over there themselves and see what I saw. I didn't hear one complaint from anyone in the military over there, and these guys are out there living in the dirt. They had great spirits, great morale. Had the opportunity to walk through Walter Reed hospital yesterday and see some of the, you know, some of the young kids who had come back.

I've written before on why I'm not a Libertarian, and SDB goes in a similar direction as he explains why property rights are not the panacea that Libertarians claim. He writes that Libertarians are misguided and narrow in thinking that the enforcement of strong private property rights would eliminate the need for government regulation, and he argues that such a system would merely transfer power from the Executive and Legislative branches to the civil courts, leading to paralysis.

I think that those who argue that "property rights" can solve the problem are deceived by the assumption that it is shared or public ownership of the commons which is the root of the problem. Based on that, they reason that if they can just eliminate shared or public ownership, by somehow converting it into direct private ownership, then the commons will eliminated and therefore can no longer be spoiled. But in fact a commons doesn't necessarily involve ownership at all. A commons is defined by effects. The question of who formally owns the commons may not matter, and there may not be anything involved for which "ownership" even makes sense. ...

But in all these cases, even if property rights somehow did solve the problem, it doesn't actually eliminate government involvement. It just means that instead of the Executive and Legislative branches participating about equally with the Judicial branch in dealing with it all, the Judicial branch would gain exclusive control. Instead of those things being handled through passage of laws and writing of regulations enforced by the courts (and sometimes nullified by them), it would only be decided by judges presiding over a vast swarm of civil suits.

This is all true. If there were some sort of super-court with infinite capacity, objectivity, and speed, such a lawsuit-based system could conceivably work. Maybe someday in the future when we're all born with implanted microchips that track our every activity, computers will be able to instantly calculate the cost each one of our actions has on everyone around us, and will automatically transfer pennies back and forth between accounts. Nice, considerate people will make a profit, and rude, annoying people will have to pay the price for each person they inconvenience. Sounds like a Libertarian paradise, right? I'm sure they'll be first in line to get the chips inplanted.

SDB says that Libertarians are deceiving themselves, but deep down I bet many are thinking: "good, I wish society would grind to a halt!" It's wasteful and inefficient, true, but civilization actually turns out to be much more efficient than anarchy, which is the only alternative. What's more, anarchy isn't stable. All it takes is one guy with a gun and a bit of persuasive power, and all of a sudden you've got a chief. A little bit of fighting, and you've got a warlord, then a king, then an emperor. Anarchy is unsustainable, because there's always someone stronger than you who wants to tell you what to do.

So if we've got to have a society with imperfect, selfish, violent people (try to find some people who aren't), I think democracy is a pretty good way to go. Your town is unlikely to be plundered in a democracy, and it's unlikely that your wives and daughters will be enslaved. Sure, a bunch of leftists will try to take your money and use it to chase fantasies like universal health care, but they don't come with guns, and they're generally polite about it. [Polite lefties? -- Ed.]

Update:
Francis W. Porretto examines the topic with a larger economic perspective, and brings up some very interesting big-picture points. In a sense, I believe (as an engineer) that all forms of regulation will eventually lead to a "next problem" to be solved, but deregulation can lead to problems as well. We'll never have a perfect solution, but we can iteratively approach optimality through experimentation.

How do you know what’s true, and what’s just a slippery film of imagination, running slick across the surface of deep reality? Life’s a prismatic rainbow, swirling, whorls of color – but it only takes a spark, a tiny flame of eternal Truth, to ignite your fancies and hurl them into the endless sky.

She says Yes, she says No. It’s all a show. Yes is a fleeting vapor, a ghost, an ephemeral wisp, a cry that fades into the night. You hold your breath and stop your heart, and if you’re very still you can hear Yes little longer. No is a mountain crag, a great gulf, fixed, between Paradise and Sheol; you see the land that flows with milk and honey, but No won’t dip a finger into her sparkling streams to slake your thirst or quench your fire.

Vanity, vanity. Dark things dwell beneath the surface, or so I’m told. Skip a stone and twist the pattern, imagination ripples – what if, what if? What if all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players? You’re the extras, I’m afraid. I know, because you’re gone, and the show still carries on. I sit and type all night, and where are you? Exit, stage right. Relax, sit down, you’re not on again until tomorrow morning.

Here’s a match, let me get that for you. What’s that you say? I’m the second assistant understudy for the man who stands in back with look of perpetual surprise? That’s an amusing thought, indeed. It’s time to skip another stone.

If you play with fire, eventually you're going to get burned.

I saw "School of Rock" Friday night, and it was a blast. It's not a typical Jack Black vehicle -- it's rated PG-13, and most of the characters aren't even that old -- but he still brings quite a bit of humor to an otherwise run-of-the-mill kids comedy.

The plot isn't particularly deep, and you've seen it 100 times before, but what makes the movie really shine are the performances of the kids, who are almost all outstanding. Hard core rock gives the movie a lot of energy, and Jack Black harnesses his own obvious passion and makes you really believe he's pouring it into a class-full of elementary-age kids.

Despite the overall theme of "sticking it to the man", the movie is funny without being bitter or terribly angry. Black's character rails against authority a few times, but at a very mild level that young kids can appreciate; in the end everything turns out warm and fuzzy, including the parents and the school principal.

Even though you'll see the ending coming a mile away, "School of Rock" will leave you smiling. I couldn't turn my eyes and ears away from the closing credits, and when I left the theater I was grinning and playing air guitar.

Don't believe the LA Times staff writers when they claim that the last minute, anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct by Arnold are just the result of the paper giving every candidate the "scrutiny they deserve"? And hey, those reports that Arnold admired Hitler? That's just standard operating procedure! Do you really think the LA Times is objective, or do they have an agenda of their own?

Times Editor John S. Carroll rejected the argument that the newspaper has an agenda against Schwarzenegger, noting that the paper had written comprehensive articles that detailed the arguments for recalling Davis, the large contributions received by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante from Indian tribes and the minimal income tax payments made by former candidate Arianna Huffington.

"We have treated all the candidates with the scrutiny that they deserve, including Schwarzenegger," Carroll said.

"I expected criticism," he added, "but I'd rather have criticism for publishing it than the personal guilt of withholding it from the voters. We're in the business of publishing news, not sweeping it under the rug."

Interesting! And yet, when former LA Times reporter Jill Stewart wanted to run stories about Governor Davis' violent temper and multiple instances of physical abuse that sent at least one staffer to the hospital, well, those just weren't newsworthy. (Unfortunately, the LA New Times is now defunct, thanks to yet another LA Times hatchet job, so this link goes to a reproduction of Ms. Stewart's article on Free Republic.)
Long protected by the news media, the baby-faced Davis has been allowed to move higher and higher in public office despite his history of physical violence, unhinged hysteria, and gross profanity.

Perhaps you are among the millions never told of Lieutenant Governor Davis's widely known penchant for physically attacking his own staff throughout his career, from his days as chief of staff to ex-Gov. Jerry Brown to his long stint as state controller to his current job.

Davis's hurling of phones and ashtrays at quaking government employees and his incidents of personally shoving and shaking horrified workers -- "usually while screaming the f-word with more venom than Nixon," as one former staffer reminds me -- bespeak a man who cannot be trusted with power. Since his attacks on subordinates aren't "domestic violence," I need a lexicon that is more Dilbertesque. I propose "office batterer" for your consideration as you observe Davis in his race for the top job. ...

"I guess Gray's biggest lie," says his former staffer, "is pretending that he operates within the bounds of normalcy, which is not true. This is not a normal person. I will never forget the day he physically attacked me, because even though I knew he had done it before to many others, you always want to assume that Gray would never do it to you, or that he has finally gotten help."

On the day in question, in the mid-1990s, the staffer was explaining to Davis that his quest for an ever-larger campaign chest (an obsession that, employees say, led Davis to routinely break fundraising rules by using state government personnel and other resources to arrange political fundraisers and identify sources of money) had run into a snafu: a major funding source had dried up. Recalls the former staffer, "He just went into one of his rants of, 'Fuck the fucking fuck, fuck, fuck!' I can still hear it ringing in my ears. When I stood up to insist that he not talk to me that way, he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me until my teeth rattled. I was so stunned I said, 'Good God, Gray! Stop and look at what you are doing! Think what you are doing to me!' And he just could not stop."

Perhaps the worst incident was Davis's attack four years ago on a woman we'll call K., his loyal executive secretary in Los Angeles who acted as chief apologist for his violent "incidents."

K. refuses to discuss the assault on her with the media but has relayed much of the story to me through a series of interviews with a close friend. On the day in question, state Controller Davis was in a purple rage because an employee had rearranged framed bond-sale notices on his office walls. When K. entered his office, he shouted, "Fucking pictures!" and violently shoved her out of his way, according to employees who were present. K. ran out, broke down in sobs, and was briefly hospitalized at Cedars Sinai for a severe, stress-related dermatologic reaction.

According to one close friend, though K. suffered an emotional breakdown, she refused to sue Davis, despite the advice of several friends, after a prominent L.A. attorney told her Davis could ruin her. According to one state official, K., protected by civil service, was allowed to continue working under Davis from her home for three months "because she refused to work in Davis's presence." (Checchi's campaign needs a copy of the tape recording Davis left on K.'s home telephone, in which he offers no apology but requests that she return to work, saying, "You know how I am.")

There's more, go read the article. The LA Times didn't think any of that was important enough to report -- maybe because it didn't happen in 1975, but in the mid 1990s.

When Arnold is accused of "groping" by some anonymous women, why, that's front page news! But in 1999 when former campaign worker Juanita Broaddrick accused sitting President Bill Clinton of rape, the LA Times ran the story on page 16 and led with a denial by Clinton's lawyers.

Get a clue, LA Times; this is why you'll never be counted with the NY Times or the Washington Post. Those papers are liberal, but they're not completely disconnected from reality.

If you've never read anything by Stephen King, but you kinda feel like you want to, I strongly recommend The Dark Tower series, starting with The Gunslinger. The second and third books -- The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands -- are good, but not as good as the first book. However, the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, is one of my favorite books of all time. I like it as much as Crime and Punishment.

The series isn't what someone unfamiliar might expect from Stephen King; it's not horror, it's an adventure story. The plot is very simple, and mainly driven by the memories of the main character, Roland, the Gunslinger. The series was inspired by a poem by Robert Browning named "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came", the title for which was taken from a line in Shakespeare's King Lear.

The Gunslinger's ancient world is passing away; his kingdom lies in ruin, his friends and family murdered by the Man in Black. All Roland can do is hunt down the destroyer and take revenge.

[Note: that Amazon link goes through my associates account.]

A lot of people accuse America of being imperialistic in some form, and while I think it's clear that the US isn't out to conquer territory, we are certainly determined to spread our culture of democracy and freedom, and to engage the world economically. Call it "cultural imperialism" if you will, or even "economic imperialism", but just because it's easy to slap on the label doesn't mean our agenda for the world isn't in everyone's best interests.

It's not an easy topic to open and close in a blog post, but let me just point to Japan, Germany, and the Philippines. They're all generally liberal democracies, they're all on their feet economically (the Philippines more than Japan, and Japan more than Germany), and they were all essentially conquered by America. The wars were different, and for different causes, but all three nations turned out rather well, in the end.

I'm hoping Mike will write a bit and compare American imperialism to that of some ancient empires, such as the Greeks and Romans. If you're interested in some of the tactics Rome used to control its subjects, take a look through the "Outlines of Roman History". Here's an excerpt about the destruction of Carthage, after the city had already given in to Roman demands to disarmed itself and give up hostages to ensure the peace:

Siege and Destruction of Carthage (B.C. 146).—Never was there a more heroic defense than that made by Carthage in this, her last struggle. She was without arms, without war ships, without allies. To make new weapons, the temples were turned into workshops; and it is said that the women cut off their long hair to be twisted into bowstrings. Supplies were collected for a long siege; the city became a camp. For three long years the brave Carthaginians resisted every attempt to take the city. They repelled the assault upon their walls. They were then cut off from all communication with the outside world by land—and they sought an egress by the sea. Their communication by water was then cut off by a great mole, or breakwater, built by the Romans—and they cut a new outlet to the sea. They then secretly built fifty war ships, and attacked the Roman fleet. But all these heroic efforts simply put off the day of doom. At last, under Scipio Aemilianus, the Romans forced their way through the wall, and the city was taken street by street, and house by house. Carthage became the prey of the Roman soldiers. Its temples were plundered; its inhabitants were carried away as captives; and by the command of the senate, the city itself was consigned to flames. The destruction of Carthage took place in the same year (B.C. 146) in which Corinth was destroyed. The terrible punishment inflicted upon these two cities in Greece and Africa was an evidence of Rome’s grim policy to be absolutely supreme everywhere.
Now that's what I call imperialism! Kill the men, haul the women and children back home as slaves, plunder everything in sight, and tear down every building so that no two bricks lie atop each other. Ah, the good old days! The only weapons we have now are Britney Spears, Coke, McDonald's, democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and capitalism.

I've been thinking a little more about the to-do over Rush's comments on ESPN -- it's not that I really want to, but I can't escape it. The one thing that stands out to me is that these comments weren't spontaneous, they were scripted out days in advance in collaboration with the other panelists and the producers. The on-air conversations are planned ahead of time; each member comes up with their own lines, and the group then tries to work them together into a cohesive whole.

ESPN had a chance to prevent Rush from saying what he said, and they had a chance to allow him to say it and to then rebut his position. There were, in fact, two black fellows on the show with Rush at the time. (Sorry, I don't know any of their names.) But obviously no one had a problem with Rush's comments during pre-production.

ESPN should have stood by Rush, since they were complicit in his actions. The producers thought his words were acceptable at the time, and they should explain their reasons to the public.

My friend Mike Northover is going to be posting a bit for a while as my guest, as the mood strikes him. We'll see how it works out. We always get in arguments about stuff, but he's a pretty smart and reasonable guy; he has interesting ideas, and he knows more about economics than I do, since that's his major. He'll tell you more about himself.

Eugene writes about why he has no responsibility to blog about the Plame affair, and I totally understand where he's coming from.

If I ran the Institute for Reporting Governmental Scandals, which raised funds and paid me a handsome salary on the premise that it evenhandedly reported governmental scandals, then you might well tell me "Taxi! Take me to the Valerie Plame Affair," and I might feel a responsibility to say "Yes, sir, that'll be $2.40/mile." But the blog isn't that Institute, and it isn't my paid job -- governmental scandals aren't even my main area of hobby specialty (I think I've covered very few of them, in part because they require one to keep up with a lot of facts and commentaries, both the originally reported ones and the new items that are written every day, often on subjects that don't interest me, and with the pretty high standard of care needed when one is throwing around accusations of criminality). So, no, I don't feel responsible to give you a lift wherever you want to go just because you insist on it.

Remember, people are suggesting that various people who blog for fun have a responsibility not just to express their views on a subject, but to invest the considerable time and effort needed to acquire well-informed views on the subject, and to maintain them as the story develops, and also to risk embarrassment if it turns out that their judgment isn't well-informed enough and their accusations prove unfounded. No, thanks. That kind of socially pressured blogging isn't what I signed up for.

That's why I don't write much about artificial intelligence or computer science. When I do, I have to get it right, because that's my field of expertise. But the pressure to get it right and say something important and interesting makes blogging feel like work. That's not to say that I don't enjoy my work -- I do -- but that's not what I write about here.

The title of this blog is Master of None, and one of the two meanings behind it is that I make very little claim to know what I'm talking about. That's not to say I don't think I'm generally right, or that I don't think my opinions are reasonable and justified, it just means that I am not an expert about most of the things I write about. I'll argue with you about our disagreements, but I acknowledge that I'm not an authority on many of these topics (despite the fact that I play one on TV).

If I wrote about my ongoing efforts to adapt the backpropagation through time learning algorithm to a continuous, non-discrete input stream, and some moron showed up and started calling me a "tool" in the comments, then I'd have to defend myself and my work, and I'd have to make sure I was right. As long as I stick to writing about the application of fictional morality systems to international relations, it's all just fun and games.

I'm still right, of course, but I couldn't care less if you want to wallow in ignorance by disagreeing with me.

With all the carping Democrats do about Bush over the popular and necessary actions he has taken with regards to prosecuting the War on Terror, it's a shame that they miss some some of his truly offensive actions. The Bush Administration is refusing to take a position on illegal aliens obtaining US identification. This is a real security issue, as well as an economic issue, but the Democrats don't want to take advantage of it, so Bush gets away scott-free.

Bush administration officials yesterday angered lawmakers by refusing to take a position on illegal aliens obtaining U.S. driver's licenses and avoiding questions about its decision to recognize Mexican identification cards. ...

Critics say the cards issued by the Mexican Embassy are easily falsified and used by illegal aliens to establish residency.

Stewart Verdery, Homeland Security assistant secretary, was asked directly whether states should issue identification cards to people who are in the United States illegally.

"I am not aware that the department or administration has taken a position on that," Mr. Verdery said.

A frustrated Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, responded: "It seems to me the administration had better get a policy, pretty quick."

Mr. Verdery told the panel yesterday the card can be "reliable in some cases," which committee Chairman Christopher Cox, California Republican, called a conflicting statement and a "problem."

"I can't imagine anything more unclear than for Homeland Security to say it may be good sometimes," Mr. Cox said.

Hopefully Republicans won't by shy about criticizing this kind of absurdity; if Gore were in office, mainstream Republicans would be all over him.

The impartial, nonpartisan press sure does love to beat on Republicans.

First up, Arnold's apology for innapropriate behavior is getting major play.

Schwarzenegger said: "Yes, it is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful but now I recognize that I offended people."

"Those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize because that's not what I'm trying to do," he said.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that six women it interviewed said the Republican actor touched them in a sexual manner without their consent on movie sets and in other settings. The Times said the unwanted fondling and groping allegedly occurred as far back as 1975 and as recently as 2000.

I've been to parties where there's an awful lot of touching going on, and people are so doped up they're really incapable of giving permission for anything. I have no idea what the circumstances are surrounding these allegations, but I find it pretty easy to believe that a rich movie star and bodybuilder has been to much crazier shindigs than I have. Accusations of wrongdoing from 1975 seem pretty irrelevent to me, but 2000 is a lot more recent.

Is it a character issue? Yeah, it is. Arnold sounds like a ritzy-er version of President Clinton, although so far no one has accused him of using the Highway Patrol to harrass his victims. In my mind, this character flaw is a big minus, but Arnold still a thosuand times better than Grey "Vending Machine" Davis or Cruz "Slot Machine" Bustamante. I mean, it's not like Arnold has raped anyone or lied under oath. Besides, he married a Kennedy; this type of behavior shouldn't surprise anyone!

I think women can see through this pandering nonsense, and that's all it is. The press and the Democrats are trying to manipulate women, but I doubt they'll be successful.

Entry number 2 is all the hub-hub over Rush Limbaugh. I read on Drudge last night that Limbaugh resigned from his new job at ESPN, and that the National Enquirer is alleging that he has a drug abuse problem. I like Rush; I don't agree with him on everything, but I like him. So what's did he say to get in trouble?

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said on Sunday's show. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
That doesn't seem racist to me; if anything, Rush is accusing the sports media of being racist. Oh right, that's probably why the media reacted so violently and pushed this non-issue to the fore. It's a shame. I couldn't care less about football, but I know that this job was one of Rush's lifelong dreams, and I'm sympathetic.

And the drugs?

Talk-radio titan Rush Limbaugh is being investigated for allegedly buying thousands of addictive painkillers from a black-market drug ring.

The moralizing motormouth was turned in by his former housekeeper - who says she was Limbaugh's pill supplier for four years.

Wilma Cline, 42, says Limbaugh was hooked on the potent prescription drugs OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone - and went through detox twice.

If those allegations are true, then Rush certainly broke the law -- a dumb law, but still a law. I can only hope that the media will investigate the countless other celebrities who abuse prescription drugs just as vigorously. This seems to be an easy trap for famous people to fall into, but it's disappointing nonetheless, if it turns out to be true.

Bill Whittle has an essay up called "Power", and in it he praises America and challenges our country to face up to our historical mistakes.

I never ceased to be amazed at the United States of America. My love for this country is so deep and so wide that I am often accused of being blinded to her many faults. And, to be fair, I can see how it would appear so.

But that is not the case at all. My enormous love and respect for this nation does not come from a belief that she is perfect, unblemished and incapable of error. Precisely the opposite. I love her because she remains an example of what we can aspire to, down here among the Damned Human Race. I love her because she tries to be good; she wants to be. And I love America because I see that America learns from her many mistakes.

America has certainly made many mistakes, but I think our greatest short-coming is that we constantly underestimate ourselves. It's somewhat excusable, since the rest of the world underestimates us too, but you'd think we'd have learned by now.

There are many examples of this failure of vision -- from our reluctance to engage al Qaeda in the 1990s, to our fear of truly free trade -- but the most glaring was our overly drawn-out conflict with the USSR during the Cold War. I'm no historian, but I play one on TV, and from what I've read there was really no possibility of us losing militarily to the Soviets after the time of the Vietnam War. The Soviet nuclear program was a charade, with incredibly few working missiles and warheads; the condition of the Soviet ground forces was pathetic compared to the US Army, particularly once we switched to an all-volunteer force.

Not only could we overpower the USSR militarily, but we had momentum on our side thanks to our superior economic system. The planned economy of the Soviets simply could not compete with American capitalism; as a result, we also left them in the dust technologically.

Much of this was known or guessed by our leaders, but not until Reagan demanded "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" did anyone have the balls to call the Soviets' bluff. Once Reagan pushed the arms race into overdrive and all the cards were on the table, the USSR quickly folded and crumbled into dust. From outside, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics looked like a mighty fortress, but the innards were really nothing more than a bunch of termites holding hands.

We spent decades coddling horrendous dictators and indirectly oppressing millions of innocents; this was the price for of miscalculation. In the end, all it took for us to win was a little daring, a little confidence, and a challenge to the world to put up, or shut up.

The current War on Terror is a similar beast. Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and Iraq -- our enemies are all weak, sniveling failures, who hope to bluff and bluster their way into dominance over a world they did not create, and in which they do not belong. America sucked it up for a while out of fear and cowardice, but now that we've thrown off our self-imposed shackles and come into the light, the cockroaches are fleeing into the shadows.

StrategyPage points to a page listing some excellent games and game mods created/paid for by the US military for training purposes. Some are available for free download, and the others all appear to be available for purchase. Note: these are all unclassified; there are plenty more classified games, particularly dealing with submarine warfare and the strategic use of nuclear weapons.

This is the kind of work I hope to get involved with once I finish my PhD in artificial intelligence.

Forgive me if this is just plain too geeky, but I started playing Temple of Elemental Evil last night and it gave me the urge to apply the D&D alignment system to world politics.

In D&D, moral alignment is described along two axes: the first includes "lawful", "neutral", and "chaotic"; the second is "good", "neutral", "evil". So a person or organization has an alignment with two components, one from each set, and there are 9 possible combinations. For example, "lawful good" or "chaotic neutral". If someone is neutral along both axes, they are "true neutral". Please refer to this post for more specific information on D&D alignments (I wrote it for reference).

With regard to "international law" and the interests of the United States, America can be seen as a neutral good actor. We tend to give lip-service to organizations such as the UN, but we really don't seem to care that much whether they go along with us or not. And from my perspective, our country is generally trying to do good.

Our diplomatic enemies, such as France and Germany, are lawful evil. They don't have the military or economic power to challenge us directly, so they fall back on international legal institutions such as the UN to thwart America and to further their own goals. Since they're willing to leave vicious tyrants in place for the sake of stability, I have no problem categorizing them as evil.

Saddam Hussein was pretty clearly chaotic evil. Sure, he used the legal system in his own country to control his people, but from everything I've read that system was pretty arbitrary. Saddam's laws were designed to keep people terrified; the populace could never be certain who would be the next to be dragged off to jail and tortured. And of course, Saddam had no respect for "international law" either.

Kim Jong Il does seem pretty insane, but I think that's by calculation, so I wouldn't categorize North Korea as chaotic neutral; it's more like neutral evil. They tend to use the UN and treaties when it suits their purposes, but they abandon them just as quickly when it doesn't. The concentration camps and threats of nuclear blackmail put them pretty firmly in the Axis of Evil.

As for Britain, they're more lawful good than we are. Tony Blair has to be concerned with respecting the UN because so much of his population does (and dislikes America). The UK is trying to do good, and it is trying to do so within the legal framework of the world, such as it is. Blair was willing to bend a little to help in Iraq even without (yet another) UN resolution -- because it was a good cause -- but it made him uncomfortable.

The terrorists and al Qaeda are, of course, practically the epitome of chaotic evil. Their whole purpose is to destroy the existing social structure of the world, and to bring about the end of America and the dominance of the "infidels".

Update:
Yes, I'm being mean to people in the comments here who say innane things. I know, I know -- I'm normally such a polite fellow, but it's kinda fun to indulge just this once.

In D&D, moral alignment is described along two axes: the first includes "lawful", "neutral", and "chaotic"; the second is "good", "neutral", "evil". A person or organization has an alignment with two components, one from each set, and there are 9 possible combinations.

Here are brief descriptions of how people from all nine alignments will tend to behave.

Lawful good -- You like law and order, and you try to obey the law at all times while working for good causes. Stereotype: the good, honest judge; Superman.

Lawful neutral -- Whether the consequences are good or bad, all that matters to you is that the laws are obeyed. Stereotype: the obsessive-compulsive district attorney; Robocop.

Lawful evil -- You work within the law to accomplish your own evil ends. You may be honorable, in the sense that you keep your word, but you are solely concerned with looking out for yourself. Stereotype: evil corporate lawyer.

Neutral good -- You don't really care whether the law is obeyed or not; you're mostly concerned that the results are good. Stereotype: Batman.

True neutral -- You don't care what happens, as long as balance is maintained and no one bothers you. Stereotype: no such people exist; stoners.

Neutral evil -- You don't care what aeffect your actions have on others or how you fit into society, as long as you get what you want. Stereotype: most criminals.

Chaotic good -- You dislike law and society, but still try to do good. Stereotype: Robin Hood.

Chaotic neutral -- You try to sow disorder and chaos wherever you go, without any regard for good or evil. Stereotype: sociopaths, psychotics.

Chaotic evil -- You try to undermine society and order, while working to bring about your own evil agenda. Stereotype: just about every supervillain.

[This post is mainly for use as a reference, in case I want to refer to D&D alignments later.]

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