December 2003 Archives

I've written about comment paradigms before, and discussed some reasons the high-traffic sites don't want to bother with comments at all.

But what if a site owner could charge commenters $0.01 per comment? Using technology like BitPass it would be possible to configure Movable Type in such a manner. By restricting access to the comment CGI script and requiring the commenter to enter a BitPass login, the owner of a busy site could make a few bucks a day, at least. Heck, most people would probably be willing to pay $0.10 or more to leave a comment.

Charging to leave comments would also eliminate much of the hassle involved. People would be less likely to post spam, and even though the cost-per-comment would be low flame wars would get expensive. When people have to spend money (even small amounts) to access a service, they're generally more careful and conservative.

I'm hardly the first one to come up with this idea, but I became aware of the BitPass technology through an email from Bill Hobbs (who's moving to www.billhobbs.com soon). Here's a draft document from BitPass explaining how to charge access for scripts. It's the wave of the future, folks.

In honor of the upcoming new year (2004, what an uninspiring number), I'd like everyone to share their earliest memory. When? Who? What?

Mine is 1981, sometime between December 7th and December 21st. I remember holding out four fingers, looking at them, and deciding that four was an exceedingly great age to be. My parents had just told me that I'd be having a little brother born soon, and I was looking forward to that. We were riding in our blue Blazer, driving on some long curved road in the desert... I think. It was sunny, and everything outside looks yellow in my memory.

I have vague recollections of the house we lived in before I turned two, but it's hard to say if they're real or not.

Instead of multilateral, I propose a new word that more accurately represents the intended meaning: evilateral. The point of "multilateralism" isn't just to get more countries involved, it's to get the evil folks on board.

I just noticed that the debate I started is continuing on blogs I've never been to. (HT: Kevin at The Smallest Minority.)

I've been busy painting all day. I'm redoing my living room, and I'll put up pictures when I'm done. Gotta paint over the 60s'era wood paneling.

Meanwhile, Candace passes along the perfect late Christmas gift. Gotta go check Ebay....


Happy New Year!

Here's a perfect example of why we need to maintain Coalition control of Iraq, and not turn the country over to the UN or the Iraqis too soon.

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro — Jailed former President Slobodan Milosevic (search) and another U.N. war crimes suspect won seats in Serbia's parliament as an extreme nationalist party swept weekend elections, according to results released Monday.

Vojislav Seselj's (search) Serbian Radical Party, which supported Milosevic's Balkan war (search) campaigns in the 1990s, won 81 seats in Sunday's ballot for the 250-seat parliament — far more than the pro-Western groups that toppled Milosevic three years ago, the state electoral commission said.
It looks like the Serbian Radical Party won seats mainly due to the economic difficulties in Serbia since the war and the appearance of corruption in the pro-West coalition that's ruled the country for the past few years.
After campaigning on a platform of defiance to the West and accusing the post-Milosevic leadership of corruption, the Radicals have also focused on the devastated economy and from deep anti-West feelings generated by the NATO bombing of Serbia for its crackdown in Kosovo in 1999.

Milosevic, who presided over four Balkan wars, has been on trial at The Hague since February 2002 on 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide. Seselj is accused of allowing paramilitary troops under his control to murder and torture non-Serbs during the Balkan wars.

The Ba'ath party must be entirely rooted out and disposed of before our coalition leaves Iraq. We must guarantee that anti-west radicalism has no place in the newly rebuilt country, despite the tough economics that always follow military defeat.

I know you must often wonder: what is polyamory? Well here's a (nonsensical) guide: "Polyamory - What it is and what it isn't." Aside from being awkwardly written (avoiding some common contractions, but using one in the title, for instance), the essay is dull and boring. Plus, it's not based the slightest bit in reality. Anyway, what is "polyamory"?

Polyamory has been defined as the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity. Synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical, and intentional, non-monogamy. Because those descriptions are somewhat clumsy, the term Polyamory was coined in the late 80's by a pagan Priestess, Morning Glory Zell, and defines a range of different lifestyle alternatives. In most cases, but not all, this involves some sexual or at least intensely intimate sensual behavior.
Let me summarize: you have sex with lots of people, but there won't be any complications if you all love each other.

The authors purposefully confuse all sorts of different meanings for "love".

Polyamorists say that love is an infinite, not a finite commodity. An example of this is with children. When my oldest daughter was born, I loved her with every ounce of my being. When my son was born, I found that I didn't have to give them half a love each, I could love them both fully. My third child is loved as much, if not more, than the other two.
It's absurd to assert that people love their children in the same way they love their spouse/whatever. You may as well say "I love pizza and I love hamburgers; in the same way, I can love both Jill and Heather." There are all sorts of different kinds of love, as I think we're all well-aware.

The authors also appear to have no understanding of what love really involves.

This also applies to friends - when you meet someone new, you don't have to think about who you are going to drop off to make them fit. As a woman said when explaining why she chose polyamory - "I refuse to accept the myth that I have to stop loving one person before I start loving another."
There's only so much time in the day. I'm sure we've all lost contact with friends due to lack of time. It's absurd to think a person could invest the amount of time necessary for a truly intimate loving relationship with a large number of people. In fact, most humans can't even maintain one healthy relationship (judging from the divorce rate).

And then, "falling in love".

Polyamorists say that love should be unconditional, rather than the monogamous proposition that "I will love you on the condition that you will not love anyone else" - "forsaking all others" is how it usually is put. And as shown by history, monogamy and marriage are no safeguards against falling in love with someone else.
And there's no way we can possibly control our feelings, is there? We're doomed to fall in love with other people and destroy our marriages! Except, of course, that loving someone is far different from "falling in love" (as we say). Loving someone involves a conscious choice, whereas "falling in love" is merely an emotional phenomenon.

The authors blather on a bit and then try to refute the idea that polyamory might displease God by quoting two atheists.

It is sinful - God doesn't like it.

"Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others." Oscar Wilde Chameleon.

"Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error." George Bernard Shaw

The sinfulness and wickedness of sex is based on the assumption that God doesn't like sex. This poison has its roots in Ancient Assyria, and the religions of Mythra and Zoroastrianism, which first put forth the idea of "the obscenity of the flesh." The sex drive, being one that cannot be denied, becomes a rich source of implanted guilt and shame, used to manipulate and degrade the individual. Therefore any sexual (natural) feelings need to be accompanied by shame, and therefore kept secret.

Of course, there's no real indication that God dislikes sex, so they're beating up a straw man. As they note, much of the Bible was written by polygamists. However, the authors aren't advocating polygamous marriage, they're advocating committment-free sexual liasons. The Bible makes it pretty clear that God wasn't thrilled with the idea of polygamy (see Solomon's downfall and Paul's instruction that church elders have at most one wife), even though he doesn't condemn it, but polygamous marriages laid responsibilities on all parties involved identical to the responsibilities in monogamous marriages. They weren't sexual free-for-alls.

Ok, there's a bunch more stuff I won't address directly. It's repetitive.

Their last point is the most absurd. After discussing jealousy at great length, they then ask an apparently rhetorical question that implies monogamy has no biological basis.

If monogamy is so natural and hardwired, why is there such a large relationship industry - the "How to make it right" of magazines, books, TV shows, marriage guidance, etc.?
Hm, could it be because we want successful monogamous relationships, but have trouble making them work? Maybe because we keep "falling in love" and never make a real decision to actually love someone in spite of our frequently fluctuating emotions? Could it be because nonsense like this polyamory paper twists and distorts people's understanding of love?

(HT: Random Walks.)

Others have speculated on the likelihood of terrorist groups transforming into mere organized crime syndicates as they struggle to raise money (Steven and Wretchard for two, although I can't find the links), and now it looks like there's evidence that it's happening.

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has become deeply involved in international drug trafficking, using the money to buy arms and, possibly, radioactive material for use in a so-called "dirty" nuclear bomb, senior U.S. officials say.

The seizure earlier this month of boats carrying heroin and hashish, and operated by al Qaeda-linked persons, has brought to light an al Qaeda drug operation that has grown tremendously since the September 11 attacks, the sources say.

"Bin Laden does not mind trafficking in drugs, even though it's against the teaching of Islam, because it's being used to kill Westerners," said a defense official who asked not to be named. "He has allies and associates who are not members per se, but who move products for him and take drugs and buy arms and give the arms to al Qaeda."

I'm not pro-drug -- and drug legalization and regulation are complicated issues in their own right -- but if terrorists start turning more of their energy towards drugs then that means they'll spend less time trying to blow things up, right? On the other hand they'll have more money to play with, which would increase their terror capabilities.

Personally, I expect the former. As terrorists get involved more heavily is standard organized crime they'll gain a huge incentive to avoid attention and not rock the boat. They may want money now to fund attacks, but eventually they'll just start wanting money for itself, to support burgeoning hedonistic lifestyles like all drug lords the world over. They'll start fighting amongst themselves for money, territory, and power, and just like the Mafia they'll do everything possible to escape the attention of law enforcement -- getting raided, arrested, or caught with bombs is bad for business.

Additionally, the drug-running industry is pretty crowded already, and if terrorist groups start stepping on toes the lesser criminals may start giving us some useful tips they may not have bothered with before. Greed corrupts the best of us, and I have no doubt that greed will foster competition and conflict between terrorist/criminal groups who once cooperated due to a common enemy or a shared ideology.

Oh no wait, my mistake.

Planes from dozens of countries landed in the provincial capital of Kerman with relief supplies, volunteers and dogs trained to find bodies and survivors in the debris.

U.S. military C-130 cargo planes were among them, despite long-severed diplomatic relations and President Bush's characterization of Iran as being part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea. ...

The United States arranged an airlift of 150,000 pounds of food, water and medical supplies. Four military planes flew into the country from Kuwait.

So an Iranian city is flattened by an earthquake and we send relief supplies... if I remember correctly, Iran's leaders were dancing with the Palestinians after 9/11. Huh.

Now, I completely support sending this aid. There are some good pragmatic reasons to do it, even apart from humanitarian concerns. First, the Iranian people tend to look on America pretty favorably and offering help in this tough situation reinforces their opinion. Second, it's a nice reminder to the Ayatollah that our armed forces are just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

"The reception was beyond expectations," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jeff Bohn, who was on the first plane. "The warmth that the Iranian military and civil-aviation workers gave us was truly incredible."
The Iranian people like America. I've got a friend at church from Iran, and I hope to post a Q&A with him soon.

Howard Dean says he'll back whichever Democrat wins the nomination.

Dr. Dean repeated his promise to support whichever Democrat wins. "Any of them are better than what we've got right now," he said.
Really? Al Sharpton would make a better president than George Bush? C'mon.

Speaking of movie scripts, Aaron Haspel has a nice disection of how Hollywood protrays the business world.

The anti-business movies deal overwhelmingly with schlock purveyors: yellow journalists (Citizen Kane), swampland peddlers (Glengarry Glen Ross), penny stock hustlers (Boiler Room), shady aluminum siding salesmen (Tin Men), and out-and-out gangsters (The Godfather). It's a Wonderful Life gestures half-heartedly toward the notion of quality as good business, as in the scene where Mr. Potter's rental agent lectures him on how all the nice houses in Bailey Park are killing his real estate business. But mostly it's more people vs. profits hoo-rah.

In a "pro-business" movie like Executive Suite, our hero, William Holden, is the research chief for the furniture company, and in his big speech, as he ascends to the chairmanship, he tells the board that the company will never sacrifice quality, profits be damned. That it might actually be more profitable to manufacture good furniture does not cross the screenwriter's mind.

Incidentally, if I ever hear an executive of a company I own stock in say "profits be damned", I'm going to immediately sell.

Most people don't understand capitalism, and think profits are evil. The root of the misunderstanding is that many people want companies to be "nice", but companies don't exist to benefit humanity any more than you as an individual do. Companies consist solely of the assets of people who have invested (shareholders), and those people expect their money to be used for their own benefit, just like you expect your money to be used for your benefit. As Neal Stephenson hammers home in his excellent
Cryptonomicon, people who invest in corporations are interested in one thing: increasing shareholder value. Every corporate executive should realize that increasing shareholder value is the only moral use of company assets.

Individuals should be charitable and generous with their own money, but no one has any business giving away money that belongs to other people.

Update:
Plus, the very existence of profit (absent monopolies and other market distortions (which are never entirely absent)) demonstrates that a company is providing a beneficial service to its customers as well as it's shareholders. As I explained here, trading in a free market is generally profitable for both parties -- otherwise one of the parties would refuse the trade. The economy isn't a zero-sum game; wealth is created through trading by redistributing resources to those who value them most.

Update:
Director Mitch notes that there just aren't any good bad guys left. But there's always someone richer than you to be jealous of!

It's been a slow holiday season here at Master of None, mainly because I've been taking advantage of the vacation to do a little writing on the side.

What really got me motivated is an excellent book by Stephen King called On Writing.

I can't recommend it highly enough; I read the entire 300 page paperback in one afternoon. The book contains a short biography, and then Mr. King gives a bunch of style tips and tons of examples.

Most of it isn't revolutionary, but he really got me thinking. I don't think I'm cut out to write novel-length fiction, but I whipped out a rough draft of a movie script yesterday afternoon that has real potential. I'm showing it around to some friends in the industry right now, and I'm pretty excited.

I also just finished Wolves of the Calla, which was pretty good. My favorite Stephen King book is still Wizard and Glass, though.

Next on the stack of books: The Brothers Karamozov.

One of the most fascinating results of the liberation of Iraq is the newfound potential for religious freedom in the Middle East; many Christian missionaries are already there, or on their way.

Some people seem to dislike the idea of witnessing to Muslims, but if you affirm free speech and free religion then there's really no basis for objection.

I was reminded of this topic because Mike at Fly Over Country left on a missionary trip to Beirut today, and I imagine that's a dangerous place to share Jesus Christ. Keep him, and the hundreds of other missionaries in the region in your prayers.

Matthew 9:36-38

When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Chris over at Interesting Times posts some Dean numbers from Google but makes "absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning". Fair enough, considering that they're based on the number of searches performed on Google for the names of the various candidates. Go take a look, I can't quote his graphics here.

In the same spirit, I like to track the lines over at Tradesports to see what the gamblers -- the folks who put their money where their mouth is -- think of the situation. The following graphic shows that Dean is far-and-away the favorite to win the nomination.

Compare that with the numbers from three months ago:

If I were one of the candidates spending my own money on a campaign, I'd use this market to bet against myself to offset my expenses in the event of a loss. (Which may be illegal, but oh well.)

It's perhaps interesting to note that over the past three months, while Dean's odds of winning the Democratic nomination have been improving, the odds that President Bush will win re-election have also been rising.

But don't worry, these numbers don't mean anything. Heh.

I'd like to say thanks to everyone who's been linking recently. I try to maintain a constant level of spectacularity at all times, but it's more fun when other people read it! And special thanks to the generous folks who've hit the tip jar.

Christmas isn't a story, or even the beginning of a story. Jesus existed long before he humbled himself to take human form as a baby in a manger.

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Jesus' birth was rather the beginning of the end of God's creation, the first of the final steps towards the fulfillment of God's plan and purpose for mankind.

Most people look on Christmas as a happy time, and indeed it is, but many may not truly understand why. It's significant that Jesus lowered himself to our level and lived as a man:

Philippians 2:5-8

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!

But Jesus didn't only come to give us an example of humility and to teach us how to live together in peace. He came to fight and defeat, utterly and forever, the forces of evil and rebellion.

Jesus' coming -- Immanuel, "God with us" -- was a joyous occasion, but Jesus life was not a happy life. Isaiah prophesied of the messiah:

Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

How could it be otherwise? Surrounded constantly by sin and evil (as are we, but how insensitive we become!), he was rejected by his closest friends and family, thrown out of towns, chased by bloodthirsty mobs, and finally captured, tortured, and executed as a humiliated criminal for crimes he had never committed.

As I said, Jesus' life was not a happy life, but it was a joyous life -- happiness and joy are not at all the same. While happiness comes from our fleeting circumstances, joy can live in us continually because joy is based on our hope of the future. When Jesus was suffering and dying -- and perhaps Satan thought his own victory was at hand -- the world looked bleak, but just around the corner were the most joyful, triumphant words ever spoken.

John 19:30

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is finished. With those words, the Son of God announced victory over sin, and death, and evil. The battle is over; all that's left is to wrap up some loose ends. There's a victory feast, a huge celebration planned in Heaven, waiting for us, and our only job is to invite our friends and bring along as many as want to come.

Donald Sensing has a post denouncing the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (in response to a post by Rosemary on Dean's World), specifically American use of nuclear weapons as a response to the detonation of a nuclear device in an American city by terrorists. The term "Mutually Assured Destruction" isn't really apt anymore (and Rev. Sensing doesn't use it), because there are no other nations (Russia included) with the power to annihilate the United States. What MAD has morphed into is a promise to respond to a nuclear attack with the maximum possible force, rather than "proportional force". We have no desire to trade cities one-for-one with terrorists; as soon as they show a willingness to nuke us, game over -- we will respond with enough force to end the war immediately.

Rev. Sensing claims such a response would be immoral, but this quote makes me wonder if he understands MAD:

I reject a nuclear response that seeks simply to lash out at presumed enemies and make Arabs suffer for suffering’s sake. Killing just to kill would not be warranted even under such grievous circumstances.
There are two parts to MAD: the threat, and the follow-through. The threat is intended to convince our enemies that using nuclear weapons against us simply isn't worth it. Terrorists can't get nukes without the aid of some rogue nation (as Rev. Sensing points out -- North Korea or Iran, most probably), and the threat of MAD should serve to deter those nations from helping the terrorists.

It sounds like what Rev. Sensing most objects to, then, is the possibility that we'd actually follow through on the MAD threat if we were nuked. We've never had to before, but there's no guarantee that the threat itself will deter everyone forever. The threat itself is brilliant and costs no lives, but if we're ever nuked we'll be put in a tough position. Do we retaliate with overwhelming (non-proportional) force, as we threatened to do, or do we back down? If we back down, our future threats will be powerless and we won't have any means to deter future nuclear attacks. If we don't back down, and we actually obliterate a city or two in the nation(s) we determine were involved, we'll be responsible for killing a great many people who were only peripherally involved in the attack against us.

However, contrary to what some of Rev. Sensing's commenters claim, such retaliation would not be "murder" or "revenge" -- such terms have no meaning in war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed when we nuked Japan, but that action probably saved millions of lives (Japanese and American); it wasn't murder it was a strategic use of force calculated to end the war, and it did. Furthermore, since the utility of the threat wholly depends on our willingness to make good on it, it's not revenge to respond to an attack in the exact manner we guaranteed we would. If a thug pulls a knife on a cop, and the cop tells the thug to drop the knife or he'll shoot, it's not "revenge" for the cop to shoot the thug if instead of dropping the knife he charges to attack.

Far from being immoral, MAD is the only moral policy I've ever heard of that has a chance of deterring nuclear attacks against the United States. Rev. Sensing proposes some other possible methods in his post, but they'd all take years to implement, and would do nothing to prevent future nuclear attacks in the mean time. Rev. Sensing's proposals are all excellent long-term policies (most of which we should be doing now), but such possibilities will not be sufficient to deter our enemies from using nuclear weapons against us. You can't correct a child's behavior by threatening to send him to military school in ten years.

Update:
Rev. Sensing has updated his own post in response to mine. First, I'd like to say that I'm sure he's more familiar with MAD than I am -- it was his characterization of deterrence as mere "lashing out" that made me wonder.

By rejecting the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent, Rev. Sensing seems to leave no real purpose for their existence at all. We certainly won't use them pre-emptively, and if we won't use them in retaliation either then there's no reason to have them. We can't even threaten to use them if our enemies know we will never follow through.

He describes many dire consequences that may follow from our retaliatory use of nuclear weapons, and he's probably right about many of them. But are those possible consequences worse than seeing another US city nuked by terrorists? I'm not sure that's the case.

We could continue to deter Russia and other nuclear nations with the rest of our arsenal, and withdraw our soldiers from around the world if need be. It would obviously be a Bad Thing all around, but would it be worse than losing another US city to another nuke?

Would our retaliation prevent another attack? No guarantees, but it could sure motivate some of our enemies to clamp down on the terrorists in their midsts right quick. If not -- if they're determined to fight a nuclear war -- then we have no alternatives anyway.

As for furthering the cause of Christ... I'll have to consider it. Off the top of my head I can't think of an effective nuclear deterrence policy that would also win people to Jesus if it had to be used. War in general doesn't tend to turn people to Christ, but does that mean we should never fight? Some pacifists say so, but their positions aren't convincing.


Merry Christmas...

Glenn Althauser, of Boring, Oregon, claims to own the world's tallest living Christmas tree.

The logger, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 135 pounds, really needed a chopper. His tree is 160 feet tall and 21 feet around at the base.

"My wife, Grace, who died of cancer 10 years ago, kind of pushed me to do it," said Althauser, who is now 75 and still takes a chain saw to the occasional tree. "Grace looked into hiring someone to climb that Douglas fir to string up lights. But that was going to cost me $9,000.

"Being a tightwad, I didn't want to do that. So I rented the helicopter. It took the pilot 15 minutes to do the job, but he charged me for a whole hour. I remember very well. He charged me $400."

How seriously does he take his record?
"So, I will continue to make my claim until someone challenges me and proves me wrong," Althauser said. "Then I guess I will have to eat crow. Whatever."
"Whatever" indeed!

I know I saw another Google Christmas image earlier this week, and I'm sure I saved it... but now I can't find it. Alas! Still, here's the one they're showing now:

Update:
Here's two more.

Note how they make a progressive scene? The "O" gets hauled away, and then the snowmen make a new one from a snowball. I bet there are some frames I missed, anyone got 'em?

In Candace's comment on "Banishing the Ugly" she brings another metaphor to mind.

Humbly, Michael. It's nice to at least feel understood, even more so to feel that one's words resonate with another.
Words are the bait, and ideas are the hook. What does anyone want more than to know and be known? As Paul wrote, knowing is the essence of love.
1 Corinthians 13:11-13

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I wish I could tell you everything I'm thinking (whoever you are). I wish you could know every stray thought that flitters through my mind. I've loved before, and felt the deeply painful need to know and be known, to lay myeslf utterly bare before some other miserably flawed human being and to be loved in return for exactly who I am. It's a longing that sex offers to fulfill, but cannot. God's perfect fellowship will complete it someday, but even when Adam walked in the Garden with his creator God knew it wasn't good for him to be alone.

I know a lot of beautiful women, but what catches my eye more quickly and surely than a pretty face is a knowing glance or tiny smile that tells me she gets it. Some off-hand remarks or inside jokes -- some strung-together words -- that show we're on the same page, that prove my thoughts aren't bouncing off the surface but penetrating the dark, secret place wherein she hides.

Wise counsel; subtle wit; easy laughter; sly, sparkling glances that scream I know! -- these are love to me.

Words are the bait, ideas are the hook. Take a look around, you might find something you like.

Will Baude says that premarital sex is virtuous:

I think it's generally unwise for people (particularly people who view monogamy as generally desirable and divorce as generally undesirable) to get married before they've begun having some sort of sexual relations.
Although he says "some sort of sexual relations", it's pretty clear from further text that he's referring to sexual intercourse itself.
The second part of Ms. Morse's view that I think is bad is her view that sex ought to be kept between spouses, or that sex's job is to bring spouses closer together. I think this is a cause-effect confusion.

Sex shouldn't be used to bring people close together-- it should be used to help us find people with whom we're compatible enough to be or grow close. (And marriage, as I said earlier, isn't always relevant to this closeness-- plenty of pairs unmarried people love each other as much or more than plenty of other pairs of married or ex-married people. Especially in a world where some of these unmarried people are legally forbidden marry the other unmarried the people they love.)

I've heard this argument before, and I'm not at all convinced. First of all, go read my dissection of a non-married love relationship which very clearly is not as intimate as a marriage; your mileage may vary, but I expect that the vast majority of "long-term relationships" are quite similar (maybe even many marriages?).

Secondly, I find it very easy to learn a great deal about women without having sex with them, or even "dating" them. I'm not particularly fond of the whole modern concept of "dating", for a whole host of reasons. To keep it short: I don't think it's possible to build a healthy relationship on romantic emotions. The foundation of dating is romance, and as most of us are probably aware it's quite easy to become attracted to someone we wouldn't particularly care to be friends with. Physical and emotional lust are powerful forces, and we're often eager to be tricked into thinking we actually love someone when it's all just emotional smoke and mirrors.

As I've written before, my strategy is pretty simple:

Mostly, I just live my life and try to make myself into a person that will be "A One" for the type of girl I hope to attract. I've probably got a long ways to go, but I'm working on it.
Dating and sex obscure and confuse the real issues involved with finding a mate in ways that "mere" friendship doesn't. Dating and sex lead to jealousy, lust, pride, selfishness, materialism, conflict, impatience, manipulation, cruelty, resentment, and uncountable other complications. Friendship has its pitfalls as well, but is generally much freer from such distractions.

Friendship allows me to see a woman for who she truly is, when she's not trying to impress anyone; friendship lets me be myself without needing to make an artificially-sculpted good impression. Dating, on the other hand, is all about creating a pretty show, complete with scripted dialogue and special effects. You tell me which is more conducive to really getting to know someone.

Mr. Baude writes further:

Marrying somebody without knowing whether they behave in a good or evil manner in bed is like marrying somebody without knowing what their favorite book is, or what their religion is, without knowing what they think constitutes moralvirtue [sic]. These things are too important, and too central to our very identies, to simply hope that they will work themselves out later like the question of whose parents get the first Christmas.
I agree it's an important issue, but there are a myriad of similarly important topics that are discussed before marriage, but deferred in action until afterwards. How will the children be raised? How will we spend our money? Who will work at what job, when? All of these are critically important issues to a marriage, and all of them (including sex) should be discussed frankly and openly beforehand. But I see no reason to doubt that the question of sex, just like the others, can be explored effectively and sufficiently without actual implementation.

Update:
I'd like to add that, although I've heard many married couples express regret over extra-/pre-marital sexual escapades, no couple who has waited has ever told me that they wish they hadn't.

Judges have already taken over the jobs of legislators, so why not generals as well?

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon must stop forcing servicemen and women to take the anthrax vaccination against their will, unless President Bush signs a special order, a judge ruled Monday. ...

The judge ruled that the anthrax vaccinations fell under a 1998 law prohibiting the use of certain experimental drugs unless people being given the drug consent or the president waives the consent requirement. ...

Sullivan [the judge] rejected the government concern that military discipline would be harmed if courts intervene between soldiers and their military superiors.

Anthrax vaccinations hardly seem "experimental" to me, but at least the judge referred to an actual law rather than just making up some new "right" on the fly. Presumably the point of the law is to put the President on the hook for any subsequent negative effects of the treatment... but isn't that implicit if the President, as commander-in-chief, has his officers administer the vaccines? Maybe my problem is more with the law than with the judge, come to think of it.

If the President has the power to order soldiers to their deaths in combat, and we trust his officers' judgements on that, shouldn't we also trust his officers to administer potentially dangerous medical treatments? I guess we do -- we just want an explicit authorization from the President so we can hang him later if we want to.

Candace muses on why she writes, and she speaks for more people than just herself, whether she realizes it or not.

Writing jerks the hopes and dreams of our imaginations into the Real World and shoves them into people's faces. It's hard to say whether words or weapons have done more to set the course of history, but maybe the distinction isn't that important. "The pen is mightier than the sword" misses the point: words are weapons, and every strung-together collection is another battle waged to banish the Ugly and to conform the world to our peculiar vision.

GeekWithA.45 rants against complacent gun owners who "don't vote like they own guns". He has a lot to say about gun politics in New Jersey, but his most significant statement is something that I've thought myself on several occasions:

The problem is that "gun crime" is on the verge of undergoing a sea change from predators using guns to take what they want, be it life, limb or property, to "gun crime" being defined as any of a myriad of minor violations of rules that have no real bearing on anything beyond themselves. In some corners of the USA, the level of discipline and awareness required to lawfully retain your arms and stay out of jail far, far exceeds what is natural and just.
I don't consider myself a "gun nut", but I do believe that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to liberty; my recent experiences with Hawthorne Police Chief Stephen Port have raised my level of awareness on the issue.

Heed my words: over-legislation will be the downfall of democratic government. When there are too many ineffective laws people (rightly) begin to lose respect for their government. God's purpose for governments is simple: punish those who do evil, and encourage those who do good.

[HT: reader S3, who sends me lots of great links.]

I'm right by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and I'm pretty sure there's an earthquake happening (11:20am). It doesn't feel very strong, but it's been rolling for about a minute now. At first I thought I was just getting dizzy for some reason, but then everyone in the lab looked at each other and we knew we all felt it. Sometimes they move heavy equipment around in the building, but it doesn't roll like that. More news as it happens!

Update:
I just talked to some outside people, and there was definitely an earthquake. I called my brother at home and he said he didn't feel anything, but then he noticed that both the chandeliers were swaying.

Here's a page about the Richter scale that's used to measure the magnitude of an earthquake. There's no way for me to make an estimate of magnitude, since I don't have any idea how far away the epicenter was.

However, here's a description of the Modified Mercalli Scale of Earthquake Intensity, and based on the text I'd say that the intensity of this earthquake at my location was a IV.

I. People do not feel any Earth movement.
II. A few people might notice movement if they are at rest and/or on the upper floors of tall buildings.
III. Many people indoors feel movement. Hanging objects swing back and forth. People outdoors might not realize that an earthquake is occurring.
IV. Most people indoors feel movement. Hanging objects swing. Dishes, windows, and doors rattle. The earthquake feels like a heavy truck hitting the walls. A few people outdoors may feel movement. Parked cars rock.
V. Almost everyone feels movement. Sleeping people are awakened. Doors swing open or close. Dishes are broken. Pictures on the wall move. Small objects move or are turned over. Trees might shake. Liquids might spill out of open containers.
VI. Everyone feels movement. People have trouble walking. Objects fall from shelves. Pictures fall off walls. Furniture moves. Plaster in walls might crack. Trees and bushes shake. Damage is slight in poorly built buildings. No structural damage.
VII. People have difficulty standing. Drivers feel their cars shaking. Some furniture breaks. Loose bricks fall from buildings. Damage is slight to moderate in well-built buildings; considerable in poorly built buildings.
VIII. Drivers have trouble steering. Houses that are not bolted down might shift on their foundations. Tall structures such as towers and chimneys might twist and fall. Well-built buildings suffer slight damage. Poorly built structures suffer severe damage. Tree branches break. Hillsides might crack if the ground is wet. Water levels in wells might change.
IX. Well-built buildings suffer considerable damage. Houses that are not bolted down move off their foundations. Some underground pipes are broken. The ground cracks. Reservoirs suffer serious damage.
X. Most buildings and their foundations are destroyed. Some bridges are destroyed. Dams are seriously damaged. Large landslides occur. Water is thrown on the banks of canals, rivers, lakes. The ground cracks in large areas. Railroad tracks are bent slightly.
XI. Most buildings collapse. Some bridges are destroyed. Large cracks appear in the ground. Underground pipelines are destroyed. Railroad tracks are badly bent.
XII. Almost everything is destroyed. Objects are thrown into the air. The ground moves in waves or ripples. Large amounts of rock may move.

Update 2:
Apparently the quake was a 6.5 and located in central California (which is why it felt weak here, but lasted so long). Just remember you heard about it here first!

Update 3:
The epicenter was right outside the town of Paso Robles, California. I hope no one was hurt, and I particularly hope that Good Ol' Burgers wasn't damaged. That place has the abolute best bbq chicken sandwich in the world; just ask for the Yard Bird.

The world is getting fatter -- which is great for me because it cuts down on competition and improves my relative position -- and it's time for someone to do something about it! Who will save us? The government, naturally. Kim du Toit (who has also given me some great gun-buying advice) sums up my feelings rather well, but unfortunately I can't quote much of what he wrote because I try to keep this site family-friendly (for all the kids who love reading about artificial intelligence, international politics, and theology).

Green Eggs and Ham, in Latin.

Fool

When I'm with you
My thoughts are scattered in the wind.
Words that seemed eloquent in my mind
Become meaningless prattle.
Your motions, your answers,
Make me feel awkward and simple.
I am but a child,
But I know that you are no more.
I try to read your every glance,
I search out meaning in every syllable you speak;
I waste away my hours remembering
One smile,
One look,
One touch --
Trying to figure out what it all means.
Sometimes I'm afraid it doesn't mean anything at all.
So now you know that I'm a fool
Because I might send you a flower,
Or I might write you a poem.
Life is too short to be wise;
Maybe you could love a fool.

10/24/98

In response to my "An Open Letter to Hawthorne Police Chief Stephen Port", Barry left a rather poetic comment about why he doesn't want anyone to carry concealed weapons. In part:

If I were to take a live, armed weapon and carry it on my person, in public, it would eat away at my sanity just as if it were emitting lethal radiation. To know that I carried an instrument of sure and certain death on my person, available and ready to be pulled out and used at a moment's notice to possibly kill...a child. A homeless person. An innocent.
Lots of other commenters jumped on him, probably for two reasons: they thought his fears were irrational, and they thought the language he used was a bit over the top. I also think Barry's fears are unfounded, but I'm sure that his beliefs are widely shared by a minority of the general population. Many people simpy don't like guns, and wish they'd all go away.

Barry defends himself later on, and has now responded at greater length on his blog, Inn of the Last Home. Apparently, lots of people on other blogs were attacking him, or at least disagreeing with him in a determined and forceful manner.

I would feel uncomfortable carrying a loaded weapon. Very uncomfortable that I would possibly have the means to end a person's life within arm's reach. That doesn't mean I'm going to do it, or would ever be tempted. Just that fact makes me uncomfortable.

I also would feel uncomfortable knowing that anyone on the street, in the theatre, at a restaurant, at the supermarket could be carrying a loaded gun on their person. And here's why - despite training, despite temperament, despite the best of intentions: I don't trust you. That's simply it, I don't trust you. I don't trust a person who is not a licensed law enforcement officer of some kind - someone who, by virtue of their job, I would assume they have proper gun training - to carry a weapon. You may be a great person, love your kids, go to church, would never pull a gun in anger at another person - you may be supremely confident of that fact in your own mind, but I'm not. To me, you would be just as likely to be the one sticking up the fast-food clerk as the one defending him, or - in your possibly untrained and excited state - could be the one who with the best of intentions attempts to intervene but misses and hits someone else. Or you could be the one who gets pissed off at me in traffic and, instead of the flipping me the finger you pop off a few rounds at my back window.

I understood Barry's fears before, and this later explanation reinforces my earlier comprehension. Barry doesn't trust anyone (except, apparently, for some reason, police officers) and doesn't want anyone to carry lethal force around with them.

The problem is that it's precisely because of this lack of trust that other people choose to carry weapons. I sure as heck don't trust the people around me either, which is why I want to have means available to defend myself from them. In particular, the very people most likely to hurt me (violent psychos) are the people least likely to be restrained by laws prohibiting concealed carry.

All you have to do is watch the news and you'll see stories every single day about nuts shooting up schools, churches, movie theaters, bus stops, hospitals, work places, &c. That scares the crap out of me when I think about it! The police don't show up to draw chalk outlines until it's all over, but if I were there and I had a gun there might be something I could do. Maybe not, depending on the circumstances, but maybe yes. At least I'd have the best possible chance.

Furthermore -- and more importantly -- my right to carry a weapon does not in any way depend on Barry's comfort level. As I wrote yesterday, the freedom to keep and bear arms is the foundation of liberty. Without the means to exercise physical force it's impossible to be free: you're a slave to anyone who can overpower you. Others can like it or not, but that's morally irrelevant. Those who think like Barry would prefer to live a perfectly safe, perfectly enslaved life than a life filled with both freedom and the risk that inescapably accompanies it.

Bertrand Russel writes about obsessive love (in relation to Fitzgerald and Nabokov), and it reminds me of a previous thought I'd had: that no man is complete without some unobtainable love.

Those two authors write mostly about obsessive romantic love (or lust), but their characters stand for far more than mere sexuality (or even humanity). All men and women need an object of desire -- moral, spiritual, philisophical, material? -- to yearn for and strive after, knowing it can never be obtained. This is the essence of tragedy, and the foundation of greatness.

No one accomplishes anything great by aiming at the attainable. Greatness is achieved in incremental steps, to be sure, but the ultimate goal must stand forever out of reach or it's not even worth the effort. Greatness springs from tragedy; tragedy puts the accomplishments of life into scale, and reveals their greatness.

As a banal example, consider the SAT. If everyone received perfect scores, what significance would the test have? It would tell us nothing about anyone's abilities, intelligence, knowledge, or determination. Tragedy serves the same purpose; by highlighting the failures and disappointments of life, success can be elevated to the level of greatness. By striving for impossible goals, through obsession with the unattainable, a man is stretched to his fullest extent and his greatness can be rightly judged.

I mentioned last month that Dell is closing their Indian tech support centers, and Jay Solo has a great example of exactly why.

Maybe IBM should pay attention and consider Dell's experience before deciding to move many of its employees overseas. I'm not against companies finding cheaper labor (in fact I expect it, as a shareholder), but if cheap labor results in shoddy products then it isn't going to be profitable, and that's what counts.

I'm proud to announce that my "An Open Letter to Hawthorne Police Chief Stephen Port" was selected by the Watcher's Council as last week's best blog post in the entire world by a non-Council-member, receiving 333% more votes than the second-place entry. I'm glad to have these fellows watching those wascally weasels for us, so I'm adding them to the blogroll.

Thanks also to all the other people who have noticed my plight and shown their support. Lots of people linked to that post -- as well as to the various other nonsense I write here on a minutely basis -- and it's a great pleasure to interact with you all: makeoutcity.com; Deltoid, even though he thinks I'm foolish; AlphaPatriot and other supportive Bear Flag League folks like Xrlq, the Angry Clam, Patterico, Absinthe & Cookies (of course!), and Baldilocks; Say Uncle, who's got us all in check; The Smallest Minority; Hunter Amor; Who Tends the Fires (someone's gotta do it); John Hayes; Miller's Time; Hell in a Handbasket (sounds like California); Today I Blog, Tomorrow I Sleep; murdoc online.

There are a lot of other people who've linked to me recently, and I appreciate it; I only have so much time in the day to read blogs, but I'm sure I'll get to you shortly. I cycle through all my referers every few days (and come on, it's not like you come here every day either!).

There's been a lot of speculation that the United States wants to use information from Saddam to blackmail France, Germany, Russia, and others into being a bit more amenable to American foreign policy. The idea being that those nations wouldn't want it widely known that they were in bed with Saddam and actively working to help him.

It sounds like a good theory, but if it's true then why is President Bush undercutting Saddam's credibility?

But many, including President Bush (search), are doubtful Saddam will spew forth much truth.

"I wouldn't trust a word he said," Bush said in an interview with ABC News this week. "He's deceived and lied to the world in the past. He's not going to change his stripes. And I wouldn't hold much account to the word of Saddam Hussein."

One possibility is that this statement was made as part of blackmail deal in exchange for cooperation from the Weasels, but I don't think that's likely since the statement also reduces the power of future accusations based on Saddam's knowledge.

Here's a tip for bloggers (particularly those who use Movable Type).

As most computer users know, the [tab] key can be used to move between fields and links on a webpage. If you go to any page and hit [tab] repeatedly, you'll eventually cycle through every selectable item and get back to where you started. The order that you visit each item is called the tab index order, and each item has a number called a tab index. Basically, these numbers start at 1 and go up to whatever the total number of items is on the page.

If you don't specify any tab indexes on your page (and you probably don't), then the browser will try to figure out what order to go in by itself. Sometimes this works fine, but sometimes it doesn't. Movable Type blogs have a particularly annoying feature in that when you hit [tab] from the main comment text box, you're taken all the way up to the first link at the top of the page rather than to the submit button, which is probably where you want to go after you finish typing your comment.

This can be fixed pretty easily, and here's how. In your comments template (you know how to find that, right?) do a search for the word "form", and you'll find the form that's used to submit comments. There are five (or more) input tags in the form, and what you want to do is add a "tabindex" attribute to each one, indicating the order in which you want to be able to tab through them.

For example, here's how mine look (notice the tabindex attibutes, in bold):

<form method="post" action="http://www.mwilliams.info/cgi-bin/mt/mt-comments.cgi" name="comments_form" onsubmit="if (this.bakecookie[0].checked) rememberMe(this)">
<input type="hidden" name="entry_id" value="1139" />

<table border=0 cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0><tr>
<td width=180px align=left valign=top>
<label for="author">Name:</label><br />
<input tabindex="1" id="author" name="author" /><br /><br />

<label for="email">Email Address:</label><br />
<input tabindex="2" id="email" name="email" /><br /><br />

<label for="url">URL:</label><br />
<input tabindex="3" id="url" name="url" /><br /><br />
<!-- Security Code Check -->
<input type="hidden" id="code" name="code" value="12" />
<img border="0" src="http://www.mwilliams.info/cgi-bin/mt/mt-scode.cgi?code=12" align="left"> Enter anti-spam<br /> code below:<br />
<input tabindex=4 id="scode" name="scode" /><br /><br />
<!-- end of Security Code Check -->

</td>
<td valign=top>
Remember personal info?<br />
<input type="radio" id="bakecookie" name="bakecookie" /><label for="bakecookie">Yes</label><input type="radio" id="forget" name="bakecookie" onclick="forgetMe(this.form)" value="Forget Info" style="margin-left: 15px;" /><label for="forget">No</label><br style="clear: both;" />
</td></tr></table>

<label for="text">Comments:</label><br />
<textarea tabindex="5" id="text" name="text" rows="10" cols="50"></textarea><br /><br />

<i>Only press the "post" button once -- it's slow, but don't worry.</i><BR />
<input type="button" tabindex="8" onclick="window.close()" value=" Cancel " />
<input type="submit" name="preview" tabindex="7" value=" Preview " />
<input style="font-weight: bold;" tabindex="6" type="submit" name="post" value=" Post " /><br /><br />

</form>

You'll probably want to apply the same fix to your individual archives, since there are comments there as well.

If you look at my comments, you can use the [tab] key to see how this all works. It's a minor usability issue, but it does make leaving comments a little more convenient for your readers.

Someone with more historical knowledge than I have (Donald?, SDB?) please comment on the effect the UN had on the Cold War. Was it beneficial or detrimental for the United States? Would we have been better off without it? Would the Cold War have been fundamentally different without the UN in the picture?

Dick Morris has some insight into the structural problems facing the modern Democratic party; most of his observations are commonly known, except for one I hadn't considered before:

Their [the far-left Democrats] ascendancy is paralleled by the solidification of the Democratic minority in Congress, cemented in place by the 2001 reapportionment in which GOP leaders drew district lines to concentrate Democrats in Democratic districts and keep Republicans and independents in marginal areas.

The result has been an inoculation of Democratic congressmen against defeat in general elections. But, with huge numbers of Democrats in their districts, they do have to fear primary contests, particularly on the left. This realization impelled the election of California’s Nancy Pelosi as minority leader and marks the House Democrats’ move to the left and to irrelevancy.

I can see how redistricting could lead to a minority party electing more extreme candidates, as majority and independent voters are siphoned into seperate districts. Since Congressional reapportionment only takes place once every ten years, the Democrats will face tough primaries that will empower far-left candidates for quite a while, even if Howard Dean loses ignominiously in 2004.

In a particularly adroit politlcal move, Governor Arnold has uses his executive power to authorize more than $3 billion in funds to be paid to cities and counties who lost money due to the re-lowering of the car tax.

Saying he had no choice, Schwarzenegger invoked a provision in the state's budget law and unilaterally ordered the money sent to local governments that stand to lose millions in revenues from a canceled increase in the state's vehicle licensing fee.
This is a brilliant move. The Democrats (in state and local governments) had been positioning themselves to blame local budget gaps on Arnold, pointing out that he had promised to make up the money normally paid to local governments after he cut the revenue from the car tax. Of course, under normal circumstances the governor doesn't have the power to move money around like that, and the blame for any shortfall belongs entirely with the state legislature. Nevertheless, local municipalities were gearing up to blame Arnold for cuts to everything under the sun in what promised to be an epidemic of Washington Monument Syndrome.

Arnold has cleverly turned the tables; by using authority given by the legislature to the previous governor, Grey Davis, Arnold has come through for the local governments and made good on his promise. Naturally, Democrats in the legislature are not pleased.

Legislators have taken a dim view of the new governor's move, saying the money will have to be made up in additional budget cuts. Schwarzenegger said in Sacramento that $150 million in cuts have already been made and revenue projections are $1.8 billion higher than previously expected.
Additional cuts? That's not a bug, that's a feature!

I've got two main recurring dreams that pop up every several months or so. I've had them as long as I can remember.

Chased by robots: Pretty standard -- I'm being chased by robots, sometimes down alleys. Generally the robots look like guys in trenchcoats with all black for faces (like the Nazgul in the LoTR movies). They've got glowing red eyes and lasers. Sometimes the robots aren't actively chasing me, but rather following my every move at a distance, just out of sight. I don't think they want to harm me, they just want to ask some questions and somehow hurt a lot of other people with m answers. Sometimes I think the chief robot is a demon, and when I think about that in my dream it really scares me.

Slopeworld: This one's a bit stranger. In the dream, the whole world is an incredibly steep slope, almost a vertical cliff. There's no top and no bottom, it just stretches in every direction to infinity. Buildings stick out of the slope and have floors that are perpendicular to gravity. Everyone gets around by riding on these giant birds (like the ostriches in Joust), but if you want to go downhill all you really have to do is jump. This dream generally has a lot of flying in it, because I tend to fall off the slope of the world and tumble down.

Apparently the fellows at WETA had some problems writing their battle simulator: the soldiers kept running away.

"For the first two years, the biggest problem we had was soldiers fleeing the field of battle," Taylor said.

"We could not make their computers stupid enough to not run away."

Richard Taylor is the special effects designer, and I highly doubt that any of the software engineers would agree that they spent two years making their system "stupider". I'm very familiar with such simulations (they're related to my Ph.D. field, after all) and I have no doubt that the programmers had to spend some time tweaking the numbers, but if they had to actually remove functionality (or in some other way make the software "stupider") to get the result they wanted, it was probably due to time or budget constraints.

(HT: GeekPress.)

The song "Twelve Days of Christmas" always bothered me because it felt unstructured. I don't care that it's nonsensical (which it is), but I was annoyed that the nonsense didn't seem to fit together. Fortunately, Snopes has cleared up one of my major complaints.

Some misinterpretations have crept into the English version over the years, though. For example, the fourth day's gift is four "colly birds," not four "calling birds." (The word "colly" literally means "black as coal," and thus "colly birds" would be blackbirds.) The "five golden rings" refers not to five pieces of jewelry, but to five ring-necked birds (such as pheasants). When these errors are corrected, the pattern of the first seven gifts' all being types of birds is re-established.

Although Snopes doesn't note it, the first seven days of Christmas are in the old year (December 25th - 31st), and the last five days are in the new year (and represented by people). Now that's pretty interesting, and I'm sure it has some sort of significance and isn't merely a coincidence.

Donald Sensing mentions that web-hostile Bill O'Reilly thinks the internet needs to be made "safe for democracy", but that opinion belies a profound misunderstanding of democracy. As the Iraqis are discovering, democracy doesn't need to be safely provided for: democracy itself constructs a safe environment to exist within by making it hard for the elites to hold power, and by distributing power to the masses.

Democratic power is primarily established by the right to keep and bear arms, and secondarily by the rights to private property, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of association, &c. These rights are the foundation of a liberal democratic society, and they don't need any external management to protect them. Naturally, the self-styled "elite" would like to administrate these rights -- for the benefit of all! -- but top-down interference actually ends up making democracy and freedom less secure, rather than more. The "elite" are well-aware of this fact, and they seek to make us all less free so as to accumulate power for themselves. It's fine that they try (that's the essence of competition), but it doesn't mean they're right or that we should let them succeed.

I've written before about the increasing average marriage age, and FoxNews reports that:

The average age at which American women are having their first child has climbed to an all-time high of 25.1, the government said Wednesday.
There are a lot of factors, and I'm glad to see the dramatic reduction in teen pregnancies which I think is largely attributable to abstinence programs.

What really caught my attention, however, was that the main FoxNews page linked to the article with the text "Preheating the Oven".

In an amazing coincidence, the world is getting fatter as it's getting richer.

The WHO believes there is a world-wide epidemic: "Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with more than 1 billion adults overweight -- at least 300 million of them clinically obese -- and is a major contributor to the global burden of chronic disease and disability." Indeed, some say that "epidemic" is simply not a big enough word to describe the size of the overweight problem. "The word 'epidemic' doesn't even do this justice. It is one of the most profound medical crises we've had in generations," said Eric Topol, chief of cardiology at a US clinic in Cleveland. ...

We are not being killed off by an obesity epidemic, although many people are plumper. In the developed world, work has become less physical and food is more abundant. We are living longer, healthier lives. However, there are some negative cultural factors. Too often snacking has replaced the family meal and kids are getting less exercise as parents drive them everywhere, too fearful to let them walk the streets.

Naturally, this "epidemic" prompts many fascists to cry out for government intervention, but what's the point?

For thousands of years the prime struggle of humanity was to kill enough food to feed your family. Thanks to technology, we're past that, and the genes that once served us so well are starting to fall into disrepute. Our bodies don't need to use calories so efficiently, and storing fat for later no longer yields a useful survival advantage -- in fact, it may make you less able to survive. The solution isn't to force people to eat better and exercise more if they don't want to, the solution is to wait.

Within a few generations the fattest genes will be weeded out of the population as fat people die earlier and have fewer children. The problem -- with respect to the human population as a whole -- is self-correcting. Those of us born with less efficient metabolisms will have more kids and pass our genes on, and in a few hundred years humans may all require the 4000 calories a day we Americans love to shovel down our gullets.

Contrary to popular misconception (no pun intended), the so-called "morning-after pill" is not an "abortion pill". Generally, it works the same way standard birth-control pills do: by preventing conception, not (generally) implantation.

Conception occurs when a sperm fuses with an egg to create a zygote, and this is the stage at which most pro-lifers believe life begins. Implantation occurs when a zygote implants itself in the tissue lining of the mother's uterus. Under normal circumstances, it's fairily common for conception to occur without being followed by a successful implantation, and the zygote is subsequently lost during the woman's period.

No one who accepts common birth-control pills (which occasionally do fail to prevent conception, but then succeed in preventing implantation) can reasonably object to the "morning-after pill" on the basis that it "causes abortions". That said, some conservative groups still object to the pill, ostensibly for health reasons.

It doesn't make sense to approve over-the-counter access to a high dose of this drug, when a lower-dose [birth control pills] cannot be obtained without a medical exam, physician oversight and prescription, said Wendy Wright, CWA's [Concerned Women for America] senior policy director.

That's a very reasonable argument, but it already seems silly to me that so many drugs are so heavily regulated. I'm not a doctor -- but I play one on TV -- and maybe birth-control pills do require physician supervision, but it seems unlikely to me considering how widespread their use is around the world. Most of the CWA's objections appear to be pretty feeble, and I'm not sure what their real motivation is. I suspect that since their donors are pro-life (and possibly ignorant of the details I mentioned above) the organization feels pressured to find some reason to object to the pills.

Nevertheless, I find myself agreeing with Planned Parenthood on this issue (amazing, I know).

"Wider access to emergency contraception will prevent hundreds of thousands of unintended pregnancies and abortions every year," said Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt. "There is no scientific basis for denying...over-the-counter availability," she added. ...

The group also said its research indicates that widespread availability of EC could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions each year in the United States.

800,000 fewer abortions in America each year would be an astounding achievement, and well worth the minor potential health concerns raised by CWA.

I've written about creative punishments before, and Florida is implementing what appears to be a useful program requiring DUI convicts to install breath-alcohol recognition devices in their cars that prevent them from driving while intoxicated.

The penalty will be imposed on drivers convicted of multiple DUIs, as well as first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent or more or with a child in the vehicle at the time of the offense. ...

Offenders will pick up the tab for the device: $75 for installation and $67.50 for monthly monitoring and calibration of the machine.

Apparently many states have similar programs -- which is great -- but I'm not too keen on federal involvement in what appears to be a purely local matter.

All 50 states are required by a 2000 federal law to have similar programs in place or risk losing some of their highway construction money.

I particularly like the fact that the offender has to foot the bill himself. I don't know how effective the programs are, but since the state isn't paying for it I'm not too concerned.

I think a similar principle could be used to craft punishments for other crimes. For instance, people convicted of violent sexual assault could be castrated. If that's too grusome to mandate, perhaps allow lighter prison sentences for offenders willing to accept alternative punishments that are cheaper for society, and more effective in preventing recidivism.

Some may argue that such an approach to justice could create a slipperly slope leading towards Saddam-style torture, but I don't think that would be a large concern as long as the right to a public trial-by-jury is preserved.

Donald Sensing is entirely correct in writing:

I'll add a thought that I have not seen anywhere. In all the discussions about how Saddam's trial must be fair and the outcome just, surely I am not the only one who thinks that justice cannot be served by any verdict except guilty.

Saddam must be found guilty and there must not be any possibility of finding otherwise. Yes, I know this sounds repulsive to tradtional American virtues of law and courts. But Saddam's case is truly unique. before you hastily rush to comment, stop and really think through what a "not guilty" verdict would mean, and what it would engender.

Saddam's guilt is absolutely unquestionable, and the verdict, to be just, must be foregone from the beginning. So reaching a verdict is not the real issue of the trial. Fully exposing Saddam's deeds to the Iraqi people and the world is the point. Enabling the Iraqi people to face their horrors so they may grow out of them is the point. Discovering the truth of Saddam's ties to nations and international agencies that propped him up is the point.

The trick, though, is in getting Saddam to give us the information we want, and it's hard to imagine him spilling all the beans if he knows there's a guaranteed noose after the 20 questions, no matter what. Part of the trial will revolve around all sorts of "international law" issues that won't add up to much, and the rest will be bargaining between the Iraqis (and the CPA) and Saddam over how much info he'll give them.

I expect he'll be forced -- through mild forms of torture -- to incriminate himself, and his captors will probably hang the life-in-prison carrot in front of him the whole way to give him some incentive to cooperate. I don't think the CPA will let the Iraqis use hard-core torture techniques, and I don't think the Iraqis will let him escape execution (not that the CPA would want him to).

As you know, I enjoy the images Google uses to commemorate significant days. Today is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, and Google celebrates with:

Were I To

Were I to try to write
A song to make you sigh, I might;
A rhyme sometime to make you mine,
A verse to make you curse, or worse:
A laughing line to hide behind.

Were I to summon muse and whim
With stroke of genius, stroke of pen,
To sear your eyes with trembling tears,
To touch your soul, to take you whole,
To bury fears and burn your ears --

Were I to let my fingers race
Across your spirit's tender place,
I'd win and woo and love and use you.
Were I to... but not tonight.

I went for a long walk tonight. I run and walk every day, generally several miles, but I went out late tonight just to clear my head. I don't know why it feels cluttered... maybe that's not even it. I've got an idea for a story, but I don't feel like writing. There's plenty of news, but I don't feel like reading. I don't want to do anything, and yet there's time to fill.

I had a few cookies for dinner, some salami, and some stone-ground mustard my cousin sent me in a nice basket to congratulate me for passing my preliminary exam. I wanted to share it with someone, but she isn't here. By this time next year I'll probably be Dr. Williams, and I'll get baskets of food from all sorts of people and pile them high in my livingroom. I'll eat salami and mustard for weeks.

One of the things I love about walking at night is finding a dark street and watching the moon-shadows. At first you think your eyes are playing tricks, but if the moon's full enough it'll cast shadows. Once you know what you're looking for, you can see the moon-shadows even when a streetlight dares to interrupt the darkness. They get dim in the bright orange light, but they don't disappear entirely. The moon casts shadows even during the day, but the sunlight hides them. That's too bad. I bet most people don't even know about moon-shadows.

I've got a really good idea for a story, but I don't think I'm going to write it. I write a lot of nonsense that I don't mind sharing, but this idea is so good I think I want to keep it to myself. I could write it out, and you'd laugh and cry and look deep into your soul, but I don't think I will. If I put it out in the sun it might fade away, but if I keep it wrapped in darkness I'll always have it with me.

In the first of what I expect will be a long line of critical pronouncements, Iraq's new foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, has denounced the UN for failing to help rescue his country from Saddam Hussein. No matter how Kofi Annan tries to spin it, he's going to have a hard time denying the Iraqis the moral high-ground they've earned over decades of oppression.

Taking a harsh view of the inability of quarreling members of the Security Council to endorse military action in Iraq, Mr. Zebari said, "One year ago, the Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable. ...

It was not immediately clear how the accusatory tone of Mr. Zebari's speech affected the closed-door discussion over the United Nations' role in Iraq that followed, but Secretary General Kofi Annan, the first to emerge from the hall, appeared taken aback.

"Now is not the time to pin blame and point fingers," he told reporters. Saying that Mr. Zebari was "obviously entitled to his opinion," Mr. Annan said that the United Nations had done as much for Iraq as it could under the circumstances and was prepared to do more.

What circumstances, pray tell? Oh right, the circumstances involving huge (illegal) weapon and oil contracts between Saddam Hussein, France, Germany, and Russia. Naturally, there wasn't anything the UN could do to oust Saddam considering that two of the permanent members of the Security Council were actively working to keep him in power. That's precisely the problem with the UN. International organizations only work when all the participants share the same goals.

What's more, no organization can make any credible claim to authority when history has shown time and again that it will cut and run as soon as it's threatened.

Mr. Annan led off the open session of the council with a speech drawing from his report last week that ruled out a swift return of the United Nations to Iraq because of the bombing of its Baghdad headquarters in August and continuing attacks on diplomats and relief workers. ...

Mr. Zebari took issue with these steps, saying that Iraq could guarantee the United Nations whatever security it needed to return sooner and noting the importance of having the organization back in Baghdad.

"Your help and expertise cannot be effectively delivered from Cyprus or Amman," he said.

The UN is an ineffectual debating club and a playground for murderous dictators with no more moral authority than its most corrupt veto-wielding member and no more democracy than the most tyrannical warlord who appoints a representative.

Here's a list of handy Tagalog phrases, for when you visit the Philippines.

Gun scholar John Lott suggests that the murder rate in Baghdad is lower than the murder rate in Washington DC. He explains why, and gives some convincing data to support his numbers and show that that numbers used by hysterical critics are vastly (and deliberately) inflated by up to 3000%.

This despite the fact that Iraqis can own machine guns, and are in the middle of a guerilla war.

Update:
Tim Lambert thinks Lott is full of it, but Mr. Lambert's analysis seems to leave a lot to be desired as well. For instance, he bases his numbers on the single month with the most gunshot deaths, rather than an average number. He also seems to think that every dead body ends up in the city morgue, which is nonsensical.

Anyway, in a city where residents routinely fire automatic weapons into the air to celebrate birthdays and soccer games, statistics about gunshot deaths alone won't get anyone very far in determining a murder rate.

I'm glad to see that the story about Affirmative Action bake sales is still alive in the media, and that more sales are happening all the time at colleges around the country. What's the deal, you ask?

Want to buy a cookie? If you are a white male, that'll be $1; for white females, 75 cents; blacks, 25 cents. The price structure is the message.

Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race. ...

The cookie rebels are doing the one thing political correctness cannot bear: revealing its absurdity and laughing in its face. They are not merely speaking truth to power; they are chuckling at it.

Wendy McElroy -- a self-described feminist writer whom I really enjoy reading -- has links to stories about reactions to the bake sales held at many different colleges. I'm vaguely aware of what the Bruin Republicans at UCLA do, and if my memory serves me correctly they held an AABS themselves that was (surprise!) shut down by the administrators.

Affirmative action may have had a place in the past, but it's time has come and gone. Those who profit by using affirmative action to distribute benefits are fighting a losing battle.

Matt Drudge reports (as a snippet on his front page):

Michael Jackson will return to his Neverland Ranch on December 20th for the first time since police raided his home in November. Upon his arrival home he'll tape a TV documentary that will 'clear up his image' and 'help pay his legal bills' as the footage will be sold to a TV network.
This is a perfect chance for Michael Jackson to just keep his mouth shut. No conceivable TV documentary could "clear up his image" at this point -- all it'll do is feed the fires that are already licking at his heels. His best bet is to shun the public and try his best to fade into obscurity, not to go on TV once again to explain how it's perfectly normal for middle-aged men to sleep in the same bed with teenage boys.

"President Bush told Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview that the Iraqi leader should face the 'ultimate penalty' for his legacy of violence in Iraq." The use of that dodgy phrasing reminds me of the orders given by a cartoon super-villain regarding the captured hero: "take care of him!". You mean, like, kill him?

Couldn't President Bush say the magic words? Or is it not good politics?

Maybe I'm overly bloodthirsty, but I think just about everyone we can find from Saddam's family should be rounded up and handed over to the Iraqis. Even though I can imagine a thousand ways in which, for instance, Saddam's daughters may have been victims of his brutality, it's pretty hard for me to fathom that they weren't also accomplices in his evil. His sons certainly were.

Saddam Hussein's oldest daughter told Al-Arabiya television network Tuesday the family of the former dictator will hire the best attorneys it can find to fight for her father.

In a phone interview, Raghad Hussein, 35, told the Arabic-language channel that the family believes Saddam was drugged after he surrendered to American troops.

"This is not our father," she said. "This is not how he would act."

Raghad said the family hopes that there will be a government in Iraq that is fair and not under the domination of the United States.

I hope there's a fair government in Iraq, too, and I can't wait till they get their hands on you.

(HT: Bill Hobbs.)

Eugene Volokh is looking for:

... items that match all of the following conditions, and I'd love some help, if any of you would be kind enough to provide. Which items (products or processes) satisfy all these criteria:
1. They were unknown to people in ancient Rome circa 150 B.C.
2. They could be manufactured with then-existing technology and then-available raw materials.
3. They would be at least modestly useful in that era.
4. Even a nontechnically minded person today -- say, a smart 12-year-old -- would know how to make and use them.
5. Their absence would be pretty clearly visible.
He lists a few, and here's two of my own: scissors, and the saddle. Scissors were supposedly invented by Leonardo di Vinci, and until the Sarmatians developed the leather saddle in the 4th century AD animals were ridden bareback or with just a blanket.

Update:
Also:
- Sliced bread (20th century).
- The frisbee (20th century).
- Buttons (13th century).
- The hoisting gear (15th century).
- Copyright (15th century).
- Sliderules (17th century). Most 12-year-olds now can't use one, but my dad could when he was 12.

I was just reading through the transcript of Howard Dean's December 1st appearance on Hardball, and some (more) of his answers caught my attention.

MATTHEWS: Who should try Osama bin Laden if we catch him? We or the World Court?

DEAN: I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. I’m happy...

MATTHEWS: But who would you like to, if you were president of the United States, would you insist on us trying him, since he was involved in blowing up the World Trade Center, or would you let The Hague do it?

DEAN: You know, the truth is it doesn’t make a lot of difference to me as long as he is brought to justice. I think that’s the critical part of that.

Somehow, I don't think letting the UN try Osama Bin Laden for 9/11 would prove to be very popular, which is probably why Dean tries to dodge the question. Even the dodge -- that he doesn't care what happens -- is pretty repulsive to me.
MATTHEWS: How about Saddam Hussein? Should we try him in criminal and execute him...

DEAN: Again, we are allowing the Bosnian war criminals to be tried at The International Court in The Hague. That suits me fine. As long as they’re brought to justice and tried, and so far we haven’t had to have that discussion because the president has not been able to find either one of them.

MATTHEWS: Is the president as commander in chief-is the president as commander in chief responsible for other failure to catch bin Laden? I mean, he is six foot eight. He’s on dialysis and he’s riding a mule. Why can’t we catch-why can’t we catch this guy?

DEAN: I think there are some real problems in our intelligence community, and I think there have been for a long time. And I also think that something went terribly wrong on our way into Iraq. Whether it was the president not being candid or whether it was his advisers misinforming him or whether it was information from the intelligence community that wasn’t complete. But there are some really serious problems in the United States government’s ability to process intelligence, and I wish I could answer that question. We need to fix that. That’s where the problems are in finding bin Laden.

We can't catch Bin Laden because he's probably dead; kidney dialysis and hiding in snowy caves don't mix. As for Saddam Hussein and our pitiful intelligence community... oh yeah.


License to Drive

I have an acquaintence -- let's call him "T" -- who had been receiving diability payments from his "job" for over a year because he found a psychiatrist to write him a note claiming he had a psychological malady called "stress" that prevented him from working. I don't know the exact nature of T's "stress", but seeing as how it stemmed from managing a retail clothing store I find it hard to believe that it kept him from doing any sort of work for over a year. Nevertheless, due to California's absurd workers' compensation system, his employer had no choice but to continue paying T while he sat at home drinking and playing video games.

This type of forced coverage of nonsensical claims is part of what makes California so unattractive to employers, and refomring the workers' compensation system was one of Governor Arnold's top campaign priorities. Republican state Senator Ross Johnson is introducing a bill to implement some changes, and is particularly targeting intangible psychological claims.

Claiming a psychological injury is already the most-difficult kind of disability to prove. But Johnson says because the pain is literally all in the workers' mind, they should have to offer better proof that their employer caused it.

Psychiatrists don't like the sound of that. They say it smacks of discrimination against their field.

Uh, yeah. I'm not a psychologist, but I play one on TV and I've taken a good number of graduate-level psychology classes. The field is 50% BS and 50% "we don't know what it means, but when we do A we get B". Heck, maybe that makes it 100% BS. Anyway, the point is that I have no problem discriminating against a field that has just about as much legitimacy in my mind as palmistry. I'm exaggerating, but you get my point.
His bill would also restrict the reasons for which a worker might claim a stress disability. Pressures that are common to all fields of employment, for example, would not be allowed as cause for a psychological injury. A worker also could not be compensated for a psychological illness that arose from the stress of disciplinary action, job transfer or being fired.

"It is equally sensible to ensure that the everyday stresses we all experience in the workplace do not give rise to a claim for benefits," Johnson said.

Well, duh. It's an unfortunate sign of the decadence of our culture that this even has to be said and coded into law.

Strangely, the California Psychiatric Association doesn't approve of the bill, which would drastically reduce their prestige and clientele.

"We felt that it would create an incentive for an intrusive investigation of patients that would increase costs without benefiting the worker," Hagar [the director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association] said. "Psychiatric injury already has a higher burden of proof. And the bill seems predicated on the assumption that there is some sort of evidence of over-utilization of psychiatry, which is absolutely untrue.

"And, it is discriminatory against the field and against the patients who have legitimate injuries."

The problem is that workers are being unfairly benefitted at the moment; this bill tries to level the playing field, and reduce the cost to businesses of absurd claims. Hopefully, those with "legitimate injuries" will still be able to get treatment. However, people like T who get stressed out from folding clothes and adding up numbers should be prevented from leeching off the system.

Every news site has quoted reactions to Saddam's capture from people around the world. Some of them don't seem to be too pleased:

But in Tikrit, police broke up a pro-Saddam protest by hundreds of university students who chanted: "With our blood and with our souls, we will defend you, Saddam."
I hope they get on with shedding their blood and souls as soon as possible.

Much like Saddam himself, I bet it's all talk and no walk. Some reports indicate that the Islamofascists are starting to realize they look like impotent fools, and that realization is critical to winning the overall War on Terror.

It's simply impractical to physically fight every single Islamofascist on the planet. As some Europeans have suggested, what we need to do is look at the "root cause" of "why they hate us" and try to solve the problem indirectly. Our opponents would have us address these root causes by changing our own behavior and adjusting ourselves to the desires of our enemies (i.e., they want us to surrender). That's clearly a losing strategy, since I don't think most freedom-loving Westerners want to live under Islamofascist regimes ruled by murderous thugs.

The other way to address the so-called root causes of terrorism is to force the Islamofascists to change their view of the world. We ask, "Why do they hate us?" and then, "How can we change their minds?". We answer: not by changing ourselves and submitting to their maniacal demands, but by completely demolishing and restructuring their worldview.

Part of that demolishion project is tearing down the fantasies they've built to protect their egos from the crushing weight of cultural failure. Islamofacists like to see themselves as brave, devout holy-warriors fighting at the command of god against the godless infidels. They believe that if they practice a pure form of worship, god will give them ultimate victory.

If they're religion is right, then god will surely do so. As an American, however, I'm skeptical that the Islamofascist vision for the future is really divinely-ordained. In order to take apart the fantasy they've built, we need to attack it from every angle and demonstrate that it cannot be true.

The battle for Iraq serves many of these purposes. First, the Iraqi army was easily defeated, despite the strong rhetoric coming from its high command. Most of the units didn't even fight, knowing that resistance would be futile. Second, the great Saddam Hussein himself was captured while hiding in a dirt pit; he had two AK-47s and a pistol but didn't fire any of them, preferring to be taken peacefully into custody than to go out fighting.

Saddam wasn't victorious, and in the end he wasn't even brave. Some will claim that he wasn't really Muslim, but judging from the reaction of the Muslim world to his capture his devestating defeat is having the effect we desire. All that's left is to hand him over, humiliated, to the people he once oppressed, and for them to judge him and execute him like the now-powerless scum he is.

Update:
The New York Times has some quotes from some Iraqi leaders who spoke with Saddam:

"The most important fact: Had the roles been reversed, he would have torn us apart and cut us into small pieces after torture," Mr. Chalabi said. "This contrast was paramount in my mind, how we treated him and how he would have treated us."

Mr. Rubaie said: "One thing which is very important is that this man had with him underground when they arrested him two AK-47's and did not shoot one bullet. I told him, `You keep on saying that you are a brave man and a proud Arab.' I said, `When they arrested you why didn't you shoot one bullet? You are a coward.' "

"And he started to use very colorful language," he said. "Basically he used all his French."

"I was so angry because this guy has caused so much damage," Mr. Rubaie added. "He has ruined the whole country. He has ruined 25 million people."

"And I have to confess that the last word was for me," he continued. "I was the last to leave the room and I said, `May God curse you. Tell me, when are you going to be accountable to God and the day of judgment? What are you going to tell him about Halabja and the mass graves, the Iran-Iraq war, thousands and thousands executed? What are you going to tell God?' He was exercising his French language."

French? How apropos.

The Hawthorne Chief of Police Stephen Port has denied my application for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and I'm going to deliver a Public Records Act Request this afternoon to gather information for a possible lawsuit. According to the text of the law, it looks like the Hawthorne Police Department will have ten days to make the records available (or at least to make a determination as to their availability). Ten calendar days from now is Christmas, but as you can imagine I'm eager to see that my rights as protected under the national Constitution and the constitution of the State of California are enforced.

Update:
I submitted the PRAR without much fanfare, and had my brother go with me to witness it. Now we'll see what happens....

Lots of politicians blasted the proposed terrorism futures market last summer, mainly because they didn't understand it. But if there's one thing even harder to predict (and more expensive to get wrong) than terrorism, it's the weather -- and weather futures are proving very popular among weather-dependent industries.

The weather futures market allows companies to hedge against weather that will adversely affect their business. For example, a company that sells heating oil will have a bad year if the winter is warmer than normal, but they can offset those losses by buying warm-weather contracts that pay off as the temperature rises. In a sense, it's a form of distributed insurance without all the overhead of dealing with an insurance company. The net effect is that when the weather is good you make less profit (because you get stuck with losing contracts), but when the weather is bad you lose less money. This serves to smooth out the cash-flow of your company, which any businessman will tell you is a Good Thing.

Apparently, weather futures are also accurate predictors of the weather:

Energy companies often have access to in-house or private weather forecasters, and a futures market gives them incentive to act on, and thereby reveal, such information in weather futures pricing, natural gas futures analyst Vishu Kulkarni said in a report.
Now imagine some possible uses for a terrorism futures market. The owners of a high-profile potential target could buy contracts that pay off if their property is destroyed, thus saving their business and helping them rebuild. This would relieve a lot of pressure from the public (which is otherwise left holding the bag), and will serve to "insure" against events no insurance company would want to touch. The costs and payoffs would be entirely market-driven, and could operate with very low overhead.

What's more, by giving people with inside knowledge a way to make money off their information, they'll have an incentive to reveal it. That may sound macabre, but the government offers rewards for information on terrorist activities already, and this would be no different. Of course, once a contract for a particular date and location went up in price, law enforcement could begin working to thwart the threat, thereby reducing the odds the contract would pay off. That effect would lead to some interesting interplay, and I'm not sure how it would shake out.


Haha, Loser!

I was just out for a walk, and I've decided on a new motto: "Roll dem bones!" Between yesterday and today, several rather large gambles have concluded, and they've reinforced my generally risk-perverse view of the world.

I've come to realize that most people vastly overestimate potential negative consequences when they make decisions. Most people seem reluctant to do anything unless they're virtually guaranteed success, but most of the time the consequences of failure are really rather benign. You apply for a job, you get rejected. You send a story to a magazine and don't get a response. You ask a girl out, she says no. Big deal.

Most of these "consequences" aren't even materially important -- they're all about what people may think of you if you fail. I guess I just don't care what most people think of me. I've written about the power of apathy before, and I still believe it. You win some, you lose some. The only way to keep from losing is not to play.

I'm not waxing philisophical because my recent risks turned out badly; on the contrary, I'm quite pleased. I just want to remind myself at times like this, when things are going well, that even if they had turned out differently it wouldn't really matter. I might be disappointed, but I wouldn't regret having taken the chance. In fact, in hindsignt, I can't think of a risk I've regretted taking, even when I've lost. Them's the breaks.

While we're on the topic of mottos, here's another: Everything's negotiable. Everything. The price of airline tickets, grades in school, pay at work, relationships, everything. You just need to talk to the right person. You may not always get your way in the end, but just because there's a rule written down somewhere doesn't mean there isn't someone with the authority to break it. That's why the old maxim -- "It isn't what you know, it's who you know." -- is abolutely true. The clerk at the front desk will tell you there aren't any rooms, but if you can get to the manager it may be a whole different story.

Here's a list of DVDs I want. This isn't a list of my favorite movies -- many of them I haven't even seen. This is just a list of DVDs I'd like to get that I don't think I already own.

I don't want to overly belabor a minor semantical point, but I think Mr. Lutas is incorrect in asserting that the development contracts we're handing out in Iraq aren't spoils of war (as I claimed here). He says:

The war was only incidental to the contracts from a political point of view (as opposed to national security). ...

A spoil of war must, of necessity, be coming out of the hide of the defeated power. If the money is coming out of the pockets of taxpayers in the winning countries or interested neutrals, it might be pork, it might be a political payoff, but it is not a spoil. The term spoil implies that a party is despoiled (dictionary.com defines this as "To deprive for spoil; to plunder; to rob; to pillage; to strip; to divest"). This is a linguistic necessity. But who has been despoiled? Where did the money come from? To speak of spoils of war in Iraq implies that the US is robbing Iraq. That is not true and requires too much explanation to be of any practical benefit other than misleading propaganda.

But take a look at the definition of "spoils" on Dictionary.com and you'll see that definition 1b is "Incidental benefits reaped by a winner...". That's basically what I said, and that's what TML said as well.

Anyway, I don't want to get caught up on a turn of phrase. I don't see anything negative about calling the contracts "spoils"; I think it's just being honest. We're reaping some economic benefit from the war, and we're deciding who we're going to share with -- the Iraqis are getting more benefit than anyone else.

I've been working on my slides a lot since last week, which is why posting has been pretty light. My exam is tomorrow at 2:30pm, and I've got 70 slides ready to go. I'm supposed to cover them all in around 45 minutes....

Anyway, life should be back to normal tomorrow afternoon. I know it's been a tough week for all of you, too, since I haven't been posting 800 times a day, but don't worry.

Lots of our "allies" are pissed off that we're not going to cut them in on the reconstruction action going on in Iraq. I expect this will be the big news in the blogosphere today, and I'm sure lots of other people will have a lot of comments.

The White House staunchly defended Wednesday the Pentagon's decision to bar companies from countries opposed to the Iraq war from bidding on $18.6 billion worth of major reconstruction contracts in that country.

But nevertheless, the European Union said Wednesday it would examine whether the United States violates world trade rules with its decision.

"I think it is appropriate and reasonable to expect that prime contracts for reconstruction funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the Iraqi people and those helping with the United States on the difficult task of helping to build a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq," White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search) told reporters. ...

The ruling bars companies from U.S. allies such as France, Germany, Russia and Canada from bidding on prime contracts because their governments opposed the American-led war that ousted Saddam Hussein's regime. Countries that contributed troops and supported the effort -- such as Italy, Africa, Micronesia, Spain, Japan, Rwanda and Afghanistan -- will be able to bid on prime contracts.

I don't know of any country named "Africa", and I wasn't aware that Afghanistan sent troops or supported the effort in any material way. Still, it sounds perfectly reasonable on the surface. After all, hasn't the world been clamoring for the countries who "made the mess" to "clean it up"?

The Canadians actually raise a cogent objection:

"If these comments are accurate ... it would be difficult for us to give further money for the reconstruction of Iraq," said Canada's deputy prime minister John Manley. "To exclude Canadians just because they are Canadians would be unacceptable if they accept funds from Canadian taxpayers for the reconstruction of Iraq."

Steven Hogue, a spokesman for Prime Minister Jean Chretien (search), said Canada has contributed more than $190 million to the rebuilding effort.

I don't know if their money is being used independently from these contracts, or what the deal is. Still, it does seem a bit unfair in that light.

Naturally, some US politicians are completely blind to reality.

"This totally gratuitous slap does nothing to protect our security interests and everything to alienate countries we need with us in Iraq," Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
We've already shown that we don't need them, and they've already shown that they don't want to help us. I don't see how this contract issue changes anything.

In modern warfare, these types of rebuilding contracts are the closest thing to "spoils" that exists. With capitalism, it's understood that wealth isn't only gained by taking it from other people -- it's generated by economic activity. The rebuilding in Iraq will provide jobs for millions of people, and create a huge amount of wealth, and there's no reason to share it with countries who opposed us every step of the way.

Update:
TM Lutas disagrees and says that reconstruction contracts aren't "spoils".

If I run a car body shop and get into a car accident I might offer to do the work in my shop and not go through insurance. Essentially I'm repairing (and perhaps improving damage from prior accidents) what I fixed from my own pocket. On net, am I any better off? No reasonable analysis would find it so. I incur expenses in parts, labor, wear and tear on my fixed assets, and in the end the repaired/improved car drives away and I get no benefit other than the insurance company doesn't hear about it.

No. The real spoils of the Iraq campaign is not from reconstruction contracts. The spoils of the campaign are in taking one country out of the non-integrating gap and pushing it into the functioning core where they will increase their contribution to global human wealth and create a politico-military situation that not only denies terrorists haven in Iraq but makes them uncomfortable in neighboring countries.

Just because these contracts may not make the war profitable in total doesn't mean that they aren't "spoils" in a sense. The contracts are going to make some people a lot of money, otherwise they wouldn't be controversial.

The freedom we've brought to Iraq and the integration of Iraq into the world economy will have vast economic benefits for Iraqis and others around the world, and by limiting these contracts to people we like we're effectively "divying up the spoils". Obviously not all the benefits of liberation will be economic, but even reductions in terrorist attacks and Islamofascism can be measured in dollars and cents.

I just wrote a super-long and excellent post on James Taranto's "Roe effect", and then @#$%(&#@!(& Internet Explorer crashed before I could post it. It's been doing that recently, and I don't know why.

I took some statistics from Barna Research and prochoice.org and determined that:

- The "average American woman" has slightly more than 0.5 abortions.
- Christian women have an average of between 0.105 and 0.220 abortions each.
- Non-Christian woman have an average of between 0.695 and 2.735 abortions each.

The data's there, but I'm not going to type it all up again. The largest source of error comes from deciding who is a "Christian", and Barna gives two results -- 85% of people classify themselves as Christians, but only 41% of people actually hold Christian beliefs. Prochoice.org says that 18% of women who get abortions call themselves Christians.

My conclusion: Mr. Taranto's Roe effect definitely has some statistical basis, and it's very likely that the large percentage of anti-abortion youngsters is due in part to the fact that people who are against abortion have more children than people who are in favor of abortion. I only wish I'd thought of the idea myself.

Twenty years ago a movie named Blade Runner -- ostensibly about human-like robots rebelling against their masters -- adroitly confounded the near-certainty we all hold of our own memories. In the end, the question was: how do you know that you're not just a replicant, with implanted false memories of a childhood that never existed?

Now, new research is continually showing that human memory is incredibly malleable, and that we're wide to doubt ourselves, no matter how clear our memory may seem.

"We can easily distort memories for the details of an event that you did experience," says Loftus. "And we can also go so far as to plant entirely false memories - we call them rich false memories because they are so detailed and so big."

She has persuaded people to adopt false but plausible memories - for instance, that at the age of five or six they had the distressing experience of being lost in a shopping mall - as well as implausible ones: memories of witnessing demonic possession, or an encounter with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. Bugs Bunny is a Warner Brothers character, and as the Los Angeles Times put it earlier this year, "The wascally Warner Bros. Wabbit would be awwested on sight", at Disney.

Elizabeth Loftus' research has obvious implications for the reliability of eyewitness testimony. And it was as a result of her findings that in 1994 she co-wrote her book, The Myth of Repressed Memory, and took a strong stand in the recovered memory debate of the 90s, for which she was reviled by those who claimed to have uncovered repressed memories of abuse - alien, sexual or otherwise.

In Memento we all pitied Leonard Shelby, who had no long-term memory and couldn't remember anything that happened more than a few minutes in the past. But really, how much better are our own memories? They're mostly amalgamations and approximations of real events, all jumbled together and distorted by perspective, time, conscious desires, and self-delusion.

I've been trying to bring the exclamation "solid!" back into the common vernacular, and it's good to see James Lileks hopping on the bandwagon with today's non-Bleat. Since he's being lazy and not archiving anything (and still getting ten gazillion hits) I'll reproduce the pictures he posted from a circa 1943 card he claims teenagers would have sent to each other.

Solid! Although, to tell the truth, I'm not really sure what "You send me solid!" means. I can think of a few possibilities, but they don't seem like things you'd put on a greeting card.

I only wish I could still find cards that began with "Look here, chick!"

Everyone may know this already, but the difference between chiefs (heads) of state and heads of government wasn't always clear to me, so I'll give a brief tutorial (inspired by an article reporting on the visit of the Chinese Premier (who is the head of the Chinese government, but not the head of state)).

In America, the President is both the chief of state and the head of government, but in many countries the two offices are divided. In modern times, the main function of the head of state is to serve as a individual human representative for the nation as a whole, and the office is often non-political. Heads of government are administrators that wield government power and handle the management of the country. When most Americans think of things our President does as part of his job, we think of the duties of a head of government. In many countries the actual head of state has little real power, unless he is also the head of government.

In the UK, the head of state is the King or Queen, and the head of government is the Prime Minister. Technically, the Prime Minister is appointed by the monarch to administrate the country, but the monarch always appoints the head of the party who wins the most votes in the Parliamentary election. I'm told that this isn't a requirement, but no one really knows what would happen if the Queen decided to ignore an election and appoint someone of her own choosing.

France is somewhat of an anomaly; the head of state is a President who is elected to five-year terms (changed from seven years in 2001), and the head of government is the Prime Minister, who is nominated by the legislature and appointed by the President. The current President of France, Jacques Chirac, doesn't have a majority in the legislature, and thus is forced to appoint a Prime Minister from an opposition party. Since France's office of President has some political power of its own, this split between the head of state and the head of government leads to all sorts of complicated political power struggles.

Chiefs of state are always given much more elaborate treatment when they travel than heads of government are, even though they often have far less power. For instance, it's my understanding that when the Prime Minister of England Britain visits America he's greeted by the Vice President, rather than the President himself (although he will obviously meet with the President later). The Premier of China is the head of the Chinese government, which makes it unusual that he's being received with as much pomp as is apparently the case.

President George W. Bush may have stripped down White House protocol in keeping with a time of "war" but Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will get "spectacular" treatment Tuesday, complete with a 19-gun salute, an official said.

Wen will arrive at the presidential mansion for a South Lawn ceremony only offered during this administration to visiting heads of state, a senior administration official said.

Then he and Bush will hold talks in the Oval Office before sitting down to lunch.

Some observers have commented that Wen's reception will fall short of that accorded by the Clinton administration to the last Chinese premier to visit Washington, Zhu Rongji in April 1999.

Clinton and Zhu held a joint news conference, and appeared together at a sparkling White House black tie dinner similar to those held for heads of state, with an A-list of guests from politics, academia, the arts and entertainment. ...

A 19-gun salute will crack overhead, two blasts fewer than the 21-gun volley offered to heads of state, but much more than the average foreign head of government can expect at the White House.

Premier Wen won't be hosted by President Bush, but rather by Secretary Powell, which is more appropriate.

I'm encouraged to read that Japan intends to send peacekeepers to Iraq. Although the story says that America criticised Japan for only sending money and not troops during Gulf War I, that's a lot more than many nations sent. (I don't remember the US being critical, considering we designed their pacifist Constitution, but I was pretty young then.)

The dispatch, expected to begin over the next month, will involve elements of Japan's land, sea and air forces.

According to media reports, 600 ground troops will be sent, along with armored vehicles and up to six naval ships, including destroyers. Eight aircraft, including three C130 transport planes, will also be deployed.

The total number of troops would be about 1,000. ...

The troops will stay for six months to one year, and, as defensive measures, carry rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other arms that Japanese peacekeepers have never used, reports in most major newspapers said, quoting unnamed ruling party sources.

In the meeting with ruling party executives earlier Tuesday, Koizumi stressed the need for Japan to live up to its international responsibilities, "instead of just talking about them," according to the Kyodo news service.

Japan is one of the richest nations in the world, and generally a strong ally of the United States. I'll be glad to have them involved in rebuilding Iraq, and I think it will be beneficial to the world (particularly East Asia) if the Japanese become more active militarily.

At 2am last night I sent in another version of my slides for my preliminary oral examination, and I haven't heard back from my advisor yet. I don't know if that's good or bad. He's giving a final exam today from 11:30am to 2:30pm, and if I were in his position I'd save my slides and read them during the final, so maybe that's what he's doing.

I think the slides I sent him last night are far superior to the slides I sent him last week, due in no small part to his criticisms and comments. I hope the current instantiation will be clear, detailed, and interesting enough to pass muster.

Update:
This just in: my advisor gave the go-ahead for my presentation Thursday before even looking at my newly-revamped slides. Yay!

I generally disapprove of the government using tax money to create incentives for people to do things the government wants them to do. That's why I support a flat tax, even though there are potential difficulties that might prevent the elimination of all current deductions.

Anyway, I was reading the provisions of the new Medicare law and one incentive struck me as particularly misplaced:

It will provide benefits for coordinated care for people with chronic illnesses, and will increase payments for doctors administering mammograms in hope that more are given.
It is perfectly proper for patients to factor in the cost of treatment when they're considering seeing a doctor or having a test. The problem here though is that this incentive is paid to doctors, who will presumably recommend more mammograms simply because they're paid more by the government to perform them! In a non-subsidized system, doctors would make profits by pricing their services to best take advantage of their patients' economic demand. However, when patients pay nothing for medical service, doctors can charge the government anything they want... which is why the payements allowed for certain procedures are limited by law.

By increasing payments to doctors for mammograms, Congress rightly expects that doctors will encourage more of their patients to have them performed, whether they're medically necessary or not. Thus, it's Congress who has made the medical decision, not a patients or doctors. This is exactly wrong, and it's an excellent example of why the government shouldn't be meddling in what should be private affairs.

The main reason why posts about religion get so many comments is that the issue of spirituality is the most important question that every human faces. No matter what your beliefs are, you must admit that your answers to:

1. Is there a God?
2. Does he expect something from me?

... are the most important decisions you'll ever make.

If I'm wrong about Christianity, I want to know.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

I've talked to some people about God actually gotten the response: "I don't know, and I guess I don't really care." Anyone who says something like that shows that they don't really understand the question. If God exists, and if he has expectations for us, we'd be foolish to ignore them. We may not like what he wants us to do -- we may not even like him -- but only a fool blinds himself to reality for momentary pleasure.

On the other hand, if God doesn't exist, or if he doesn't care what we do, then we'd be foolish to spend our lives trying to please him. If religion really is just the opiate of the masses, we'd be suckers to buy into the illusion and waste our lives on a fantasy.

If someone is apathetic about God, it means he's already answered one of those two questions with "no", or he's a fool. If it's the former, it's important that he recognize the significance of his decision; if it's the latter... well, more than religion, I think ignorance is the opiate of the masses.


It's my birthday,
so there.

Democratic Spending Cap

Some Republican lawmakers have come up with the idea to replace FDR's picture on the dime with Ronald Reagan's. The project seems unlikely to proceed, considering that Nancy Reagan is opposed.

Nancy Reagan voiced her opposition Friday to an attempt by Republican lawmakers to put Ronald Reagan's likeness on the dime in place of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"While I can understand the intentions of those seeking to place my husband's face on the dime, I do not support this proposal and I am certain Ronnie would not," the former first lady said in a statement released Friday.

"When our country chooses to honor a great President such as Franklin Roosevelt by placing his likeness on our currency, it would be wrong to remove him and replace him with another," she said. "It is my hope that the proposed legislation will be withdrawn."

Just because there's one face on coin now doesn't necessarily mean it should be that way forever, but I understand where Mrs. Reagan is coming from. Personally, my biggest objection would be that President Reagan isn't dead yet, and I don't think we should go to such lengths to commemorate someone who is still alive. It's unseemly.

My alternative proposal is to mint an entirely new 18-cent coin to bear Reagan's image. We could then phase out the dime later. A change system that used 1-cent, 5-cent, 18-cent, and 25-cent coins would be 17% more efficient than our present system. The average number of coins needed per transation would be reduced from the current 4.70 to a mere 3.89!

Ideally, we should eliminate the penny entirely and round all final figures to the nearest nickel. Unfortunately, the big zinc-mining states would never go for that (zinc is the major component of pennies).

This CNN story makes it sounds like women are very high maintenance travelers.

The NYU survey found that the top three amenities women "must have" to be productive on the road are a mini-bar, brand-name bath amenities and spa services.

Earlier this year the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne, Australia welcomed women with the "Business Pamper Package," which included skin care products and use of the fitness and business center.

Other hotels from Stockholm to the U.S. are also throwing in regular yoga sessions for their female business travelers.

I got some bad news this morning... my Ph.D. advisor didn't like the slide presentation I prepared for my preliminary examination next Thursday. Judging from the very long and detailed email he sent me, it's total garbage. I was pretty surprised, because a couple weeks ago he seemed enthusiastic about the prospectus my presentation is entirely based on. So, I've got to redo the whole thing this weekend.

It's kinda depressing. I had a few things I wanted to write about today, but I feel completely drained of energy. I don't want to be at work, I want to go home and take a nap and then start working on my new presentation. Blah.

Mark O'Keefe quotes me and the site in his article "Do All Religious Paths Lead to the Same God? Bush Remark Renews Old Debate" in relation to this previous post.

Update:
Bill Hobbs points out that Bush was probably making a political statement rather than a theological one, and I think he's right. Although he caught some flak from the religious right for his statement, the fallout was far less severe than if he had given the opposite answer. That's not to say that Bush may not really believe what he said; in fact, I'd have to say that he probably does, since I've found him to be pretty honest in general. He could have demurred from the question as irrelevant or too theological, and probably not gotten much of a reaction from anyone.

I've noticed that when I write about religious matters, lots of people comment; posts about other issues, such as politics, current events, economics, blogging, writing, &c., don't get the same response. If you look at the page of most-commented-on posts, about 20 of the top 50 posts are related to religion.

I don't really write this stuff just to get comments or attention from people, but I am curious as to why you all respond the way you do. Is it because my writing on religious matters is more compelling, more controversial, more informed? Or is it because the topic is more interesting than others? In other words, do those posts get more of a response because it's a topic I'm good at writing about, or does the topic itself just draw more of a response? I hope I'm phrasing the question clearly.

This just in: politician does something in an attempt to earn the approval of voters.

... asks Barry at the Inn of the Last Home. More specifically, he gives us a scenario: "If a friend is walking towards a cliff, do we or do we not have a responsibility to stop them?" I think there's some relevant information missing, so let me fill in the blanks in various ways and then give my answer.

First, whether or not I have a responsibility to stop my friend from walking off a cliff, I would stop him. Even if I were convinced that doing so violated his rights and individual sovereignty, I would stop him -- out of selfishness, if for no other reason. My life would be less enjoyable without my friend around, so I'd want to prevent that. Plus, I might feel guilty if I let him die, and people would probably look down on me for it.

That said, does such a responsibility exist? If so, are we only responsible to protect our friends from themselves, or do we have a responsibility to protect strangers as well?

I don't know if the "friend" relationship is the best angle from which to attack this problem; "friendship" is not very specific, and people all have different definitions of the term. For example, there are certain relationships with built-in responsibility, like parents and teachers. A parent obviously has a responsibility to prevent his child from harming himself.

But the "friend" relationship is generally understood to be a relationship between equals, with neither holding formal dominance over the other, so that's the assumption I'll make. Generally, it must be bilateral -- that is, I cannot be your friend if you are not my friend. I may like you, or even love you, but we're not friends unless we both agree on it. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a relationship between equals. (1)

In that light, let's reconsider the situation above. I see my friend acting in a dangerous way that's likely to result in harm to himself; this is Uncertain Situation 1, but let's assume I have a responsibility to stop him. Under this responsibility then, and without any selfishness on my part, I then begin to restrain his actions to protect him. If he doesn't object, then the problem is solved. If he does object, then I am in Uncertain Situation 2. If I persist through US2, my friend may eventually object so strongly that he breaks off our friendship, thus freeing me of any possible responsibility as his "friend".

The difference between US1 and US2 is that in the first case my actions against my friend are really more "advice" than "restraint". My actions may make it more difficult for my friend to carry out his harmful behavior, but he's still free to accept or reject my position. In US2, the question is whether or not I have a responsibility to actually prevent in fact the harmful actions of my friend, despite his objections. Even in US2, however, he is free to ultimately reject my position by renouncing our friendship. This difference is thus a matter of magnitude, rather than a matter of kind; both situations reduce to the same question: should I give potentially unwelcome advice to my friend when he is acting dangerously?

The question of advice seems much less controversial than the question of actual restraint, and by making this reduction I believe the matter is greatly simplified. Additionally, this reduction feels correct intuitively. Some may object to (1) above, and argue that friendship can be unilateral, but I think that would go against the common perception. This argument is also based on the assumption that my friend is acting rationally, and that's another issue entirely. Is it ever rational to hurt yourself? Clearly yes, e.g., if you're protecting someone else.

Therefore, my conclusion is that the question of real restraint doesn't come up in friendships, since the relationship can be dissolved at will by the person being restrained. What about "our fellow man" more generally? Well, protecting people from themselves has generally led to tyranny.

Update:
Jim's comments remind me of a verse.

Proverbs 27:6
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Two news stories about free expression caught my eye today. The first is a ruling by a UN tribunal in Rwanda that hateful words are a war crime.

NEW YORK — With a trio of guilty verdicts yesterday, the U.N. tribunal for Rwanda has established that men armed only with words can commit genocide.

Three Rwandan media executives were convicted by the international tribunal of committing and inciting genocide, war crimes and persecution in a case that will set a precedent for the new International Criminal Court.

Their weapons: the government-sponsored radio station known as "Radio Machete" and "Hate Radio" and a weekly newspaper whose agenda was the extermination of the country's Tutsi majority.

I don't know exactly what statements were made by these three "journalists", but it's certainly possible that their speech was instrumental in aggravating the dangerous racial situation in Rwanda and in leading to the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in 1994. Nevertheless, it appears (and I reserve the prerogative to change my mind if further information comes to light) that their speech would have been protected in the United States. It's illegal to threaten violence against a specific person or group, but merely advocating the massacre of a group is protected speech. America has communists, nazis, the KKK, anarchists, &c., all of which advocate breaking various laws.

At least one of these men did more than simply speak, however.

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role on the station's board of directors and, separately, for distributing weapons used to kill Tutsi civilians.
That kind of direct involvement makes him an accomplice to murder.

The other story comes out of New York University: "Keep the Sex R-Rated, N.Y.U. Tells Film Students".

In October, a film student at New York University pitched an idea for her video-making class: a four-minute portrayal of the contrast between unbridled human lust and banal everyday behavior.

Her professor approved. The student, Paula Carmicino, found two actor friends willing to have sex on camera in front of the class. The other students expressed their support. But then the professor thought he should double-check with the administration, which immediately pulled the plug on the project.

What's more, university officials said they would issue a written policy requiring student films and videos to follow the ratings guidelines of the Motion Picture Association of America, with nothing racier than R-rated fare allowed, according to Ms. Carmicino and her professor, Carlos de Jesus. The association says R-rated films may include "nudity within sensual scenes."

NYU is a private university, and is no more bound by the First Amendment than the UN tribunal in Rwanda is. That makes it interesting to wonder, however, whether or not a public university would have been compelled to allow the project. I'm not a lawyer, and so I can only speculate on how such a dispute might be resolved, but in my opinion such a project should be allowed. Why? Consider a hypothetical student who wanted to create a religious film, but was restrained so as to not offend his classmates.

"But she's creating pornography with public money!" you might say of Paula Carmicino, if she went to a public school. That woudl be true. However, because of the First Amendment she would (likely) have the right to do so, as long as the the school was providing resources for other types of film as well. If this is objectionable, my feeling is that the real problem isn't with expression that's "too free", but rather with the use of public resources for creating films of any sort, and with the use of public resources for education.

Here's a spiffy chart that tells us how much each state gets in federal spending for every dollar its citizens pay in federal taxes.

The federal tax burden falls much more heavily on some states than others, according to a new analysis of federal fiscal operations. Comparing the federal tax burden by state with an adjusted set of the Census Bureau’s most recent data (2000) on federal expenditures by state, Tax Foundation senior economist Scott Moody has ranked states in order of which got the best deal in 2000 from Uncle Sam’s tax and spending policies. ...

Factors influencing the shifting of federal dollars include the location of people who receive Social Security, Medicare and other substantial federal entitlements, the location of federal employees, federal procurement decisions, and grants to state and local governments.

"Federal employees" also includes military personel, which probably explains why New Mexico has the best ratio of any state, receiving $2.03 from the feds for every $1 its citizens pay in federal taxes. Connecticut -- the richest state in the Union, if I remember correctly -- has the worst ratio, receiving only $0.62 for every $1 sent to Washington, DC. The capital itself gets a whopping $6.49 in spending for every $1 paid, but that's not surprising considering that it's the center of government.

My own state of California was ranked 38th in 1990 and 40th in 2000, receiving only $0.89 and $0.86 per $1 in those years respectively. In 2000, Vermont was the median state, receiving $1.08 per $1 taxed; that the median is over $1:$1 indicates that more than half the states are getting more out of the system than they put in... a phenomenon strangely similar to how the income tax hits individuals. (HT: The House of David.)

Here's a table showing what percentage of income tax comes from various groups of earners, along with what percentage of total income is earned by that group (data gathered from the IRS via Rush's website, 2001).

Income Group% of Total Income Earned% of Total Income Tax PaidEarned:Paid Ratio
Top 1%17.53%33.89%1.93:1
Top 5%31.99%53.25%1.66:1
Top 10%43.11%64.89%1.51:1
Top 25%65.23%82.90%1.27:1
Top 50%86.19%96.03%1.12:1
Bottom 50%13.81%3.97%0.29:1

Of course, these numbers only reflect taxpayers; there are probably millions of low-earners who don't file taxes at all. How much do you have to earn to be in the top 50%? If you're filing jointly, you and your spouse need to earn a combined $26,000 or more to be in the upper half -- and have the privilege of subsidizing the lower half of the spectrum to the tune of approximately 4:1.

I'm skeptical of Donald Sensing's description of Jesus' instruction to "turn the other cheek" as an admonishment to resist oppression. Here's the passage in context:

Matthew 5:38-42
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
It seems very clear to me that Jesus is not advocating resistance or even civil disobedience. This passage comes right after the Beatitudes, where Jesus says "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

Rev. Sensing writes:

In the culture of the day, backhanding someone was a gesture of contempt. It was how you treated someone who was beneath you in class and status. To give someone the back of your hand was to say by gesture, "Remember your place! I am superior to you!" It was how a father rebuked his son, a brother his sister, a husband his wife and a master his slave or servant.

That being so, Jesus’ advice to turn the other, or left, cheek to be struck is loaded with symbolic meaning. It is certainly not advice to be submissive to evil. It has at least two loaded meanings:

- I deny that I am inferior to you and I demand you acknowledge me as your equal by striking me a forehand blow, and

- as your equal, I have the right to strike you back.

Turning the other cheek actually could well have been Jesus’ admonishment to the people under oppression by the Romans and class structures to stop being passive and start resisting, but never to be the aggressor and to provide an opportunity for the oppressor to ponder the evil of his ways.

It's not that I disagree with Donald's conclusions, I just don't think this passage is implying what he says it does. Taken in context with Jesus' other teachings, I don't see any way to infer that he was advocating any resistance to Roman power. Jesus' main concern was spiritual warfare, and he never seemed to worry about physical oppression on this fallen earth.

The use of the word "also" seems significant to me as well, since it implies "in addition to" rather than "instead of".

Update:
Donald posts more, and comments on my post here as well.

My main disagreement with him isn't on whether the social order should change (it should) but rather on the method. Let's look at Ephesians 6 for more insight.

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

First, consider the slaves Paul writes about. Does this passage imply that slavery is good? Of course not. But Paul also doesn't tell the slaves to flee -- rather he instructs them to serve their masters in a Godly way, so as to be examples of goodness. Liekwise, masters were reminded that they too had a Master in heaven who would hold them accountable. Paul's focus wasn't on changing the social order, but rather on changing the hearts of those involved.

Secondly, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our battle isn't against this world order -- the sinful world we live in is only a symptom of the greater spiritual illness that infects our species. Fighting to change the system isn't bad, but treating the symptoms directly is ultimately useless if the disease isn't cured. Only by fighting in this spiritual battle can hearts be turned to Christ, and the material world will follow. All the equipment Paul lists is spiritual in nature, and this is the front where the real battle for souls is fought.

Thirdly, Paul himself was a prisoner of the oppressive Roman Empire, and he never railed against it. On the contrary, he took every opportunity to work within the system and to subvert the hearts of those he came into contact with. In the book of Acts, he says that while he was held prisoner in Rome many of the emperor's personal guards listened to him and became Christians. Eventually, Paul was put to death for his beliefs, and he never resisted the fate God had in store for him (in fact, he counted it a joy). If he had fought, he might have brought about some change to the government system, but at what cost to the cause of Christ?

Finally, we know the end of our world and everything in it: destruction. The day will come when every man and woman will stand before God to be judged, and on that day our civilization will come to an end. There's no purpose in trying to save it, because it will eventually pass away. The only things of any value are people, because people last forever.

Injustice is bad, oppression is bad, and the Bible constantly warns those in authority to use their power for good, but if we Christians allow ourselves to be distracted from our spiritual war by the battles of this world, we're falling into a trap.

Update 2:
Some further thoughts:

1 Corinthians 7:20-24
Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
Paul says it here pretty clearly: if you can relieve oppression, it's good to do so -- but don't be overly bothered by it. He recasts the physical situation in spiritual terms, and points out that no matter what our earthly circumstances are, they're of far less consequence than our spiritual standing before God.


Yay for Megan!

In the grand tradition of self-congratulatory, incestuous award presentations, Wizbang! is hosting the 2003 Weblog Awards. I joke, but I think it's a great idea. There are tons of categories, so go take a look and nominate your favorite blogs.

Apparently you can nominate yourself, but who would sink to such depths? Even if your blog could be reasonably nominated for, say, Best New Blog of 2003, Best Conservative Blog, and/or Best Ecosystem Large Mammal Blog, it would be quite gauche to put yourself forward for such an honor. On the other hand, if some loyal readers were to generously choose to take a few minutes to nominate your blog, that would be an entirely different matter.

Whatever R. Kelly may have done [he's accused of having sex with a minor and video-taping the act -- MW], his lawyers make some compelling arguments on the legal issues surrounding his defense.

By alleging that the illegal acts happened between November 1997 and February 2002, Kelly's attorneys argue, the girl could be anywhere from 13 to 17 years old. If she was 17 at the time, she would have been old enough to consent to sex.
It sounds as if there's quite a bit of reasonable doubt built right into the charges, if the police investigators themselves admit the act could have happened at a time when the girl could have legally consented.
Further, they argue, such a large window of time makes it impossible for Kelly to mount a fair defense.

"It's no secret that Mr. Kelly is a well-known musician, who frequently travels," the motion states. "By failing to narrow the date of the charged defense, Mr. Kelly is wholly deprived of the opportunity to bring an alibi defense."

Another good point. There's reasonable doubt that a crime was even committed, and the accusation is so vague that there's no way to defend against it.
The attorneys also raised questions about the law that allows for a man to have sex with girls 17 and older but illegal to videotape such acts with girls 17 and younger.

"It is illogical, irrational and disproportionate to subject one to a criminal conviction for taking pictures of conduct that does not otherwise violate the law," they said.

This is an issue I've raised before with regards to nudist camps, and it does seem like a logical flaw in our justice system. Furthermore, the criminal penalties for taking or possessing pornographic pictures of children are often more harsh than the penalties for statutory rape, which is absurd. (Each picture taken/possessed is generally treated as a separate offense.)

Our society obviously has the responsibility and desire to protect our children from exploitation (which is why we don't allow minors to "consent" to sexual activities, even if they want to), but the laws on these matters need to be reformed and unified to present a coherent and consistent framework for punishing criminals and discouraging criminal behavior.

Do you notice anything strange about Haward Dean's comments on Hardball last night?

JOSEPH NYE, DEAN, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Governor, let me take you back to foreign policy. ...

NYE: In Iran?

DEAN: Iran is a more complex problem because the problem support as clearly verifiable as it is in North Korea. Also, we have less-fewer levers much the key, I believe, to Iran is pressure through the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons. We need to use that leverage with the Soviet Union and it may require us to buying the equipment the Soviet Union was ultimately going to sell to Iran to prevent Iran from them developing nuclear weapons. That is also a country that must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons much the key to all this is foresight. Let’s act now so we don’t have to have a confrontation which may result in force, which would be very disastrous in the case of North Korea and might be disastrous in the case of Iran.

Perhaps Dr. Dean can inform me as to the location of this Soviet Union he refers to. I seem to remember an empire by that name, but it was defeated last century.

If President Bush had made this error, you would have read it on the front page of the NY Times.

Plus, his proposed Iran policy is moronic. America is supposed to cough up money to buy all the nuclear materials the world can produce to potentially sell to Iran? Please. Such a policy would create a whole new market for nuclear materials, and give poor nations an even greater incentive to develop the technology.

(HT: Rush on the radio.)

I don't link to many items Glenn Reynolds posts about -- because what are they odds you come here before going there? -- but he's got a few stories up that particularly interest me.

- Michael Novak applauds President Bush's speaking ability.

- Yet another study (this time from Canada) that shows gun restrictions don't reduce violent crime.

- A post by Bill Hobbs (that I somehow missed) which says that self-employment is replacing many lost jobs. This has been one of Bill's common themes: specific jobs may be permanently "lost", but they get replaced by new jobs in other sectors. Sometimes totally new sectors that didn't even exist before.

- Lots of links on nanotechnology.

Although I believe people do have a right to provide for their own defense -- and thus have a right to keep and carry some sorts of weapons -- I'm not opposed to all weapons restrictions. For instance, an argument that may support my right to carry a concealed handgun may not have much weight when I start building a nuclear device next-door. But why not? If my neighbor has a nuclear device of his own, I'll need one too to deter him. Right?

Well, I don't think so, and here's why. As fine a job as many police forces do, their primary purpose isn't to prevent all crime, but to increase the cost of committing crimes. In contrast, an individual's (rightful) primary purpose (if they so desire) is to completely prevent all crimes against their person and their family. The police simply cannot be everywhere all the time, ready to prevent every conceivable crime, and it's not even their job to do so. Most police are under no legal obligation to intervene if they see a crime in progress (link anyone?). Their job is to reduce aggregate crime; although they do that by catching specific criminals, police very rarely actually stop a crime in progress.

Extrapolate those thoughts about the police to the government as a whole, and I think you'll see where I'm going. We as individuals grant some of our right to use force to the government and entrust it with the authority to reduce crime (and even fight wars) on the large scale. It's more efficient and more effective to field an Army division than to field 20,000 individuals. When it comes to large scale violence, the government always knows where, when, what, who, &c., and is generally able to respond within a useful timeframe.

Howver, when it comes to small-scale violence, the police are generally nowhere to be found till after the fact, and it's impossible to envision any alternative system. For that reason, individuals must retain the power and authority to protect themselves from small-scale violence. I know what's happening to me, because I'm there.

Of course, crime-prevention is only half the story behind the 2d Amendment -- the right to keep and bear arms is also important because the populace should have the power to protect itself from a tyrannical government, by force if necessary. So should I have the right to own a nuclear weapon to deter the feds? Well, considering the massive infrastructure that would be required to maintain a useful weapon and delivery system, this option is probably entirely impractical (except perhaps for Bill Gates).

A decent argument might be made for arming state troops with nuclear weapons, but is there really a point? When it comes down to it, the American military is made up of common citizens from all parts of the country, not tribe-or ethnic-based conscript units as are found elsewhere in the world. Our best protection from a military coup or a tyrannical government is the simple fact that our soldiers and officers wouldn't obey an order to nuke their own city. Unlike in many parts of the world, the government is made of us, and there is no real them. Sure, there are ideological differences, but none of them are fixed across time, and most families have members from just about every side of the spectrum.

So-called "liberals" who want to restrict individuals from owning small-arms are living in a fantasyland in which an omnipresent, omnipotent, benevolent government solves all our problems. On the other hand, some libertarians I know who advocate completely unrestricted weapon rights are missing the point of liberty also: are you less free now than you'd be if all your neighbors had nuclear weapons?

TM Lutas has a great possible explanation for why we aren't super-sizing our military in response to increasing international threats. It's a question I've wondered about myself, and his explanation sounds very plausible. I won't steal his thunder by quoting it all directly!

Eugene Volokh reiterates why he doesn't allow comments on his site. I agree that they can be a hassle (imagining the volume of comments he'd have to deal with), but I'd like to point again to a new comment paradigm I described several months ago, to widespread acclaim apathy.

Bill Hobbs writes about a particularly perverse attempted-application of the Commerce Clause in whicih some plaintiffs argue that when states use tax-incentives to lure businesses they're purposefully distorting interstate commerce for their own advantage. Apparently, the plaintiffs want the Supreme Court to rule that its unconstitutional for states to compete for business in this way; Bill has a lot more details, and the end result is that such a decision would essentially force all states to adopt identical tax structures.

One of the strengths of our federal system of government is that each individual state can act as an experiment in government -- many different possibilities can be tried, and the least successful states will become uncompetitive until they reform. Federalism is an application of competitive market principles to government, and it's for this reason that many economic capitalists are also strong supporters of "states' rights". Uniform national-level standards eliminate this competition, and thereby eliminate one of the primary engines of improvement that our founders built into our Constitution.

In truth, I think the Commerce Clause should be drastically scaled back, and that states should be given far more autonomy to make their own laws and compete with each other economically and socially. A huge step towrds this end could be taken by repealing the 17th Amendment and restoring the states' representatives to our national government: the United States Senate. If the power of state governments were more stongly protected, they would have more leeway to experiment with policy without interference from the national level; this in turn would foster competition, and lead to greater productivity, liberty, and happiness for all the citizens of our country.

I've written before about how some of President Bush's poor economic decisions have bothered me, but it's good to see that he's planning to eliminate the tariffs he imposed 20 months ago against foreign steel.

It's fascinating to me that every time I turn on talk radio the host is discussing news and issues from from the internet. Bill Hobbs has written about blogs becoming journalism (and I've commented), and in a large way journalism is being shaped by the net as well. Internet news sites are far more mainstream than blogs -- of course -- and the fact that traditional media is starting to "link" back to the net is strongly indicative that we're in the last phase of the news revolution. Surveys show that in 2003 more Americans say the internet is an important source of information than say the same about television, radio, newspapers, or magazines.

Since radio is no longer the top-tier medium it once was, radio producers are less reluctant to credit internet sources than television producers seem to be. Television news shows will direct viewers to the network's website, but I've never seen a show mention the Drudge Report (for instance) except when they're doing a story about internet media itself. Likewise, I've never seen a sit-com mention a website as an offhand pop-cultural reference. Nevertheless, television is losing audience hours to the net at a dramatic rate.

Television executives have more to fear than a future filled with gross-out reality shows. The Internet is rapidly eroding television viewing hours and emerging as a powerful information medium in its own right, according to a study being released today by the University of California-Los Angeles.

In the same way that television eclipsed radio as the primary medium for entertainment and information, the Internet poses a major threat to television.

"The thing that's easy to prove is that Internet users watch less television," said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of UCLA Center for Communication Policy, which conducted the study. "What we've been trying to see is does their Internet time come out of television time? The early indications are pretty clear that it does." ...

Internet users watched about 4.8 fewer hours of television each week than non-users. And the decline in TV viewing hours grows more dramatic as Internet users gain experience. Internet veterans watch about 5.8 fewer hours of TV than non-users.

With the rise of streaming media and high-bandwidth connections in peoples' homes, it seems clear that the days of television as the Big Man on the media Campus are numbered. How will we know when we've reached the turning point? Television shows will start "linking" to websites they don't own, just as radio shows do.

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