June 2004 Archives

Consider the following scenario.

A man and a woman have sex, and the woman gets pregnant. There are four possiblities.

1. Both the father and the mother want to abort the baby.
2. Both the father and the mother want to keep the baby.
3. The father wants to abort the baby, but the mother refuses.
4. The mother wants to abort the baby, but the father refuses.

Cases 1 and 2 present no problems. If both parents are in agreement, then they both get what they want.

Cases 3 and 4 are more interesting. Under the existing legal system, the mother gets her way, no matter what -- but is this just? (Setting aside the injustice of abortion itself. I want to focus, rather, on the numerous legal inequalities between men and women, which generally turn in womens' favor.)

Abortion is different from adoption, because if the mother wants to carry the baby to term but doesn't want to care for the baby the father has the legal right to take sole custody. But before the baby is born, he or she is entirely in the mother's power. What this means is that once the woman is pregnant she has many different ways to sever her legal obligations to the baby, but the father has none. If the mother chooses to give birth and the father doesn't want to be involved society will still force him to pay child support.

It's easy enough to say that the man made his choice when he decided to have sex with the woman (and, being opposed to abortion, that's my stance), but if you're in favor of abortion rights is it fair that only the mother has the ability to disentangle herself from the unwanted baby?

What alternatives are there? I don't think many people would be in favor of giving the father an equal voice in the decision to have an abortion. Should the father have the right to force the mother to have an abortion, or the power to prevent her from having one? Certainly not the former. Being opposed to abortion, I'd be happy to support the latter, but I doubt many who support abortion would agree.

So what then? I think that the father should have the right to insist that the mother make another choice. Either she has an abortion, or she relinquishs all claims to future financial support for the child. If the mother chooses not to have an abortion, she should bear the full responsibility for her decision. Once pregnant, women have all the "choice" and men have none.

What say you? I'm particularly interested in how a libertarian would view this topic. For myself, I think this horrible dilemma is an indication of the problems with abortion itself -- the difficulty only arises because of the twisted rationalizations required to justify killing babies.

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword. (10mb, but you won't regret it.)

This comic is brilliant. I've you've ever wanted to know what it's like being a grad student, look no farther than PhD Comics.

"Grad student feeding cycle"
"Who wants to marry a grad student?" -- and following
"Deciphering Academese"
"Things to do while waiting for your experiment to finish"

I can't even count the number of times people have repeated to me the myth that eating beef raised with hormones for added meat has contributed to modern children hitting puberty younger than children did in the past. (Here's an earlier post on a related topic: "Marriage and Pregnancy").

The truth of the matter is a bit more mundane. There are several factors that lead to earlier puberty among modern first-world humans, and the major ones are:

1. More food. There's plenty of food to go around, and studies show over and over that heavier kids reach puberty sooner. Why? The several-years-long process requires around 400 extra calories per day for boys and around 300 for girls, and that's quite a lot of energy.

2. Better nutrition. Related to number 1, the body requires a sufficient supply of various vitamins and minerals, and American kids today eat better than kids ever have before.

(Incidentally, 1 and 2 also explain why people are taller now than they were in the past.)

3. Television. Television? Maybe. More specifically, kids who watch more television tend to be heavier and have less exposure to natural light.

Children who watch a lot of television produce less melatonin, new research suggests - the "sleep hormone" has been linked to timing of puberty.

Scientists at the University of Florence in Italy found that when youngsters were deprived of their TV sets, computers and video games, their melatonin production increased by an average 30 per cent.

“Girls are reaching puberty much earlier than in the 1950s. One reason is due to their average increase in weight; but another may be due to reduced levels of melatonin,” suggests Roberto Salti, who led the study. “Animal studies have shown that low melatonin levels have an important role in promoting an early onset of puberty.”

The article also notes that other studies have shown correlation between watching TV and earlier sexual experiences.
Commenting on the research, Alessandra Graziottin, director of the Centre for Gynaecology and Medical Sexology in Milan, said the results were very interesting and plausible. She told La Repubblica newspaper: “US studies have shown that the greater the exposure to television, the earlier the age of sexual experience, including teenage pregnancies.”
Perhaps the effect isn't merely the result of the sexually-charged programs on TV, but is also related to our biochemistry.

(HT: GeekPress.)

Wanted: Someone to serve a 10 year jail sentence in place of a famous rapper. Pays $700,000 per year.

Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, the rapper currently serving a prison sentence stemming from the famous Sean "Puffy" Combs/P. Diddy shoot-and-run case from 1999, is getting $7 million from Island/Def JamRecords, still a division of Doug Morris's Universal Music Group — all still owned by Vivendi.

That's right: Barrow's reward for his prison sentence is $7 million. He's releasing his first record from prison on August 10. It's called "Godfather Buried Alive," and will be issued on his very own label, called Gangland Records. Isn't that great?

Is it a coincidence that Combs/P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean John, Broadway star and marathon runner, also has a deal at Island/Def Jam? Maybe. ...

There was a lot of complaining about the Clintons getting so much when their deals were announced. So far, I haven't heard a peep over a convicted felon getting $7 million. I guess all those struggling singers, writers and rappers who can't get deals will now feel compelled to commit crimes.

I think so-called "hate crime" laws are stupid. A murderer/rapist/thief shouldn't be punished any more or less severely because he was a racist or sexist. It's not illegal to be racist or sexist, so it doesn't make any sense to punish people more severely for criminal actions that stem from those motivations. Further, aren't all crimes "hate crimes" in a sense? If the offender doesn't hate the victim because of his race or gender, then there's generally some other reason. And if not, are crimes with randomly selected victims somehow less horrible?

And that's why I'm not a fan of genocide charges, such as are likely to be brought against Saddam Hussein. I don't care if most of his victims were of one ethnicity or religion, and I don't see why that's relevant. What's important is that he murdered hundreds of thousands -- even millions -- of people, all of whom have worth as individuals, not merely because they fit into some group or another. Would Saddam's crimes have been less atrocious if he had murdered without regard for race, religion, or gender? Not at all.

His motivation may have been to kill Shi'ites, Kurds, women, Jews, and so forth, but the actual crimes of which he is guilty are simple: countless individual acts of murder, rape, and torture. If he needs to be charged with some large over-arching crime, call it mass-murder, not genocide. But they should name as many specific victims as possible and create an accurate record of his offenses against real live human beings, not ethnic groups.

Commenter Cob writes:

After all if someone spray paints a building, what's the big deal? Is there no difference in degree if someone draws a swastika on a synagogue or write's 'kilroy was here' on a subway train?

Of course there is a difference and the difference is real and significant.

No, there should be no legal difference. Don't use "of course" to try to score rhetorical points by assuming we're in agreement when we're not. The only difference may be that a synagogue is likely private property, whereas a subway train is likely public property. (There may be a moral difference, but we're not talking about morality here, we're talking about what types of laws are good policy. All laws should be viewpoint-neutral.)

Eugene Volokh on hate crime laws.

This hasn't been a big national story, but the alleged gang-rape of a teenaged girl by three boys at a party -- one of whom is the son of an Orange County assistant sheriff -- has been pretty closely watched here in Southern California. The details are pretty simple: the girl passed out at a party and the boys then videotaped themselves having sex with her and sodomizing her on a pool table. Straight-forward, right? Nope, there's been a mistrial.

Why? The alleged crime is on video tape, but rape is inherently hard to prove and guilt hinges entirely on the state of mind of the woman involved, which is impossible to prove scientifically (until we get magical time-traveling mind-reading machines). Our system of justice doesn't require scientific proof, it only requires "reasonable doubt" proof, but even that's hard to come by when it's one person's word against another's (or three others).

The main reason for the wide range of opinions, said the juror named Michael, was that much of the evidence — including the videotape and testimony from medical experts — could be viewed from either the prosecution or defense point of view.

"Ambiguity ran rampant through the entire case," he said. "I would understand why some people could view [the incident] as a crime. I could understand why some people would view this as a misunderstanding. That's basically why we had a mistrial."

The potential for a misunderstanding is rather high when the girl admits that she had sex with at least two of the boys willingly within the week before the alleged rape. There was also some controversy over whether the girl was actually unconscious at the time of the video taping, or whether the whole event was a staged attempt at making a porno, as the girl had previously indicated she wanted to do.

So what does this mean? That promiscuous girls can't be raped? No. But it does mean that promiscuous girls will have a very hard time proving that they were raped. The crime of rape exists entirely within the victim's mind, and she has to somehow convince other people of what she was thinking at the time it happened. (Similar to theft, where the owner of an object may or may not have agreed to transfer ownership to another person.) Sometimes this is relatively easy, because there will be evidence of a struggle or a known hostile relationship between the woman and her assailant. (Even then, the attacker can claim "role-playing", and how can one prove otherwise?)

But in this case, given the girl's past behavior, I don't think it would have been possible for these boys to have been convicted, nor should it have been. If she was raped, that's terrible, but it would have been even more terrible for the three boys to have been wrongly convicted based on emotion and the weak evidence available. There's no question that they had sex with her, but there's no way for her to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it wasn't consensual -- and her lifestyle created that doubt. For example, if she had been a non-intoxicated virgin and had brought up witness after witness to testify that she had intended to wait to have sex until she was married, it would have been a lot easier for the jury to believe that she didn't consent to the activities in the video tape.

As an addendum, isn't this quote by the spokeswoman of the district attorney curious?

"It would take pretty strong information for us not to refile," said district attorney spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder, adding that no decision had been made.

"Sometimes, when you present evidence to a different jury, they come up with a different decision. I wouldn't put too much stock in what one jury has to say," she said.

Since when should one not attribute significance to the decision of one jury? How many juries are needed? I suspect the DA might have felt differently if he'd gotten a conviction.

Open up that Golden Gate!

It seems like today's Supreme Court ruling that the detainees being held at Guantanamo must have access to US courts could pose major problems for the War on Terror, as well as for more conventional future wars. How is our military supposed to manage foreign military prisoners if each one must be given a lawyer and access to courts thousands of miles away? Justice Scalia apparently agrees with this objection (starting on page 26), and Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog agrees with my interpretation.

I think Congress and the President should draw a line in the sand and ignore this decision. The Constitution doesn't give sole authority for interpretation to the Supreme Court; that's a power they've taken on for themselves. The other two branches of government should be equally interested and equally involved in applying the Constitution, and they should respond to this order with a unified "Make us."

The other two related decisions handed "down" today (love the terminology) are a bit more complicated to parse, and aren't as interesting to me.

Much more (in agreement) from Eugene Volokh.

I love huge pieces of equipment. Prompted by a story about Canada's "Trillion Dollar Tar-Pit" (HT: Newsfeed), here's a link to a site about Extreme Machines, like shovels, trucks, and bulldozers.

Everyone knows about "Take Your Child to Work Day", but it's summer now and the lady who runs the convenience store near here is bringing her kids to work every day. My first thought was that the poor kids must be bored out of their minds, but my second thought was that they're learning what it takes to run a business, and the experience will serve them incredibly well in the long run. She has them operating the cash register and stocking shelves, and I'm sure that they're involved in all the behind-the-scenes work as well.

While their friends are wasting their summer away, these kids are learning some useful skills and bonding with their family. I hope they have a bit of time to relax, as well, but I think it's their unemployed friends who are missing out. I hope I can involve my kids in my work, when I've got 'em.

My friend Nathan pointed out an interesting factoid to me last week at dinner. Although the Pharisees were the weakest of the three major (and innumerable minor) Jewish sects in the first century, most of Jesus' instructions and admonitions are framed using their views as a point of reference. The other two groups, the Essenes and the Saducees are only briefly mentioned in the New Testament. This is even more curious because the Pharisees eventually gained prominence after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and modern rabbinic Judaism is entirely descended from their teachings. It's almost as if Jesus knew who his future audience would be.

It makes sense for other reasons, as well. Jesus' own teachings most closely related to those of the Pharisees, and he rarely disagreed with their positions except to accuse their leadership of hypocrisy for not following the spirit behind their rules and regulations.

Reading the Wikipedia entry for Pharisees (and another, strangely, here) is an interesting endeavor in its own right because of the way the author presents the conflict between Jesus Christ and his primary political and religious opponents. The author portrays the Pharisees as a more "liberal" sect of Judaism, which is an interesting characterization considering that their prime organizaing principle was that the laws God had laid down should be applied strictly and in great detail to every Jew, rather than, as was often intended, just to the priesthood or under certain circumstances. To the Pharisees, the law itself supplanted the Temple as the means by which man related to God, particularly after the Temple's destruction. The Pharisees created their own, more restrictive, views of God's laws. As the author writes:

The idea of the priestly sanctity of the whole people of Israel in many directions found its expression in the Torah as, for instance, when the precepts concerning unclean meat, intended originally for the priests only were extended to the whole people (Lev. xi.; Deut. xiv. 3-21); or when the prohibition of cutting the flesh in mourning for the dead was extended to all the people as "a holy nation" (Deut. xiv. 1-2; Lev. xix. 28; comp. Lev. xxi. 5); or when the Law itself was transferred from the sphere of the priesthood to every man in Israel (Ex. xix. 29-24; Deut. vi. 7, xi. 19; comp. xxxi. 9; Jer. ii. 8, xviii. 18). ...

The same sanctity that the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem claimed for their meals, at which they gathered with the recitation of benedictions and after ablutions, the Pharisees established for their meals, which were partaken of in holy assemblies after purifications and amidst benedictions . Especially were the Sabbath and holy days made the means of sanctification,

From Temple practise were adopted the mode of slaughtering and the rules concerning "ta'aruvot" (the mingling of different kinds of food) and the "shi'urim" (the quantities constituting a prohibition of the Law). Though derived from Deut. vi. 7, the daily recital of the "Shema'," as well as the other parts of the divine service, is a Pharisaic institution, the Pharisees having established their Chavurah, or league, in each city to conduct the service.

Likewise, the author's characterization of Jesus' opinion of the Pharisees seems a bit off.
Only in regard to intercourse with the unclean and "unwashed" multitude, with the 'am ha-areẓ, the publican, and the sinner, did Jesus differ widely from the Pharisees (Mark ii. 16; Luke v. 30, vii. 39, xi. 38, xv. 2, xix. 7). In regard to the main doctrine he fully agreed with them, as the old version (Mark xii. 28-34) still has it. Owing, however, to the hostile attitude taken toward the Pharisaic schools by Pauline Christianity, especially in the time of the emperor Hadrian, "Pharisees" was inserted in the Gospels wherever the high priests and Sadducees or Herodians were originally mentioned as the persecutors of Jesus (see New Testament), and a false impression, which still prevails in Christian circles and among all Christian writers, was created concerning the Pharisees.
That's an interesting allegation that I've never heard before, but then considering that I'm included in "all Christian writers" I suppose that's to be expected. I'm incredibly skeptical. Matthew 23 is particularly instructive.
Matthew 23, selections:

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'

8 "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. ...

23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. ...

33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

That's pretty strong and thorough condemnation, not just of the Pharisees, but of all the Israelites who believed and followed them. God's love and passion for his people, the Jews, is magnificently displayed near the end of the passage, and it's clear that Jesus' rejection of their legalism is rooted in his desire for them to be truly holy.

I hadn't planned to write more about John Kerry's divorce, but it looks like it's suddenly becoming a major campaign issue. As always, I'm ahead of the curve.

I always wonder if crazy people know they're crazy? It's the archetypical catch-22. For the record: I have no reason to suspect that I'm insane.

I don't think anyone is out to get me. I don't hear disembodied voices telling me to do anything. I have no urge to do anything out-of-the-ordinary that other people don't do. I dress normally, work, go to school, and generally fit into society just fine.

If I ever do go insane, I'll be able to look back to June 27th, 2004, and know that the trip wasn't yet underway.

Recent calls for greater civility among legislators ring hollow in my ears. The politicians call for more "bipartisanship" and less hostility, but it appears to me that these public rows aren't themselves the problem: they're just the visible symptoms of the underlying animosity that's building in our country -- perhaps more strongly among our representatives than among ourselves, I can only hope.

Vice President Cheney's recent suggestion that Senatory Leahy "fuck off" wasn't made because the VP forgot how to be civil, but because Senator Leahy has spent the last few weeks accusing the VP of serious felonies and then expected that the two would still be on friendly terms.

Cheney said yesterday he was in no mood to exchange pleasantries with Leahy because Leahy had "challenged my integrity" by making charges of cronyism between Cheney and his former firm, Halliburton Co. Leahy on Monday had a conference call to kick off the Democratic National Committee's "Halliburton Week" focusing on Cheney, the company, "and the millions of dollars they've cost taxpayers," the party said.

"I didn't like the fact that after he had done so, then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream," Cheney said. "And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms. And as I say, I felt better afterwards."

Civility is for opponents, not for enemies. Everyone reading this knows I'm biased against the Democrats in general, but that bias isn't "prejudice" because there's plenty of evidence available on which to base judgement. It should be clear to everyone that the political tactics the Democrats are using as the minority party are far dirtier than anything the Republicans did when they were out of power. Beyond all the "minor" issues like their attempts to block judicial appointments and to talk down the economy, the Democrats are purposefully undermining the War on Terror for their own political gain.

Do you doubt it? Well here's anecdotal evidence! Lileks notes the following among his friends (and I've noticed the same among mine):

I ask my Democrat friends what they’d rather see happen – Bush reelected and bin Laden caught, or Bush defeated and bin Laden still in the wind. They’re all honest: they’d rather see Bush defeated. (They’re quick to insist that they’d want Kerry to get bin Laden ASAP. Although the details are sketchy.) Of course this doesn't mean they're unpatriotic, etc., obligatory disclaimers, et cetera. But let's be honest.
Isn't that sentiment the very definition of putting politics above country?

Many on the anti-war left actually are anti-American, can that be denied? And they uniformly support the Democrats. Can anyone then argue that Democrat politicians aren't influenced by their anti-American donors and constituents? You'd have to be naive, or think the rest of us are.

Some on the left actually are enemies of America, and when leftist politicians do their bidding to undermine the War on Terror, they become enemies of America as well. I think the Vice President's advice to them is right on target.

There appears to be some confusion over the exact phrasing, if that is of interest to you.

Update 2:
And here's some civility from the left. Losers.

Glenn Reynolds asks why social conservatives aren't "all over" Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for his blatant attempt to facilitate rent-seeking by the music industry.

Well, I'm a social conservative, and I've written about the issue before in "Common Law and Copyright", "Music Industry Starts to Face Reality", and Pornographers Are Smarter than the Music Industry". I've even sent links to Mr. Reynolds! Has he noticed?

So, I'm hereby "all over" Senator Hatch for this oppressive bill. It's dumb, unenforceable, and doomed to eventual failure. Good enough?

StrategyPage reports (on June 25th, 2004, no permalink) that the Ba'ath Party made their final grasp for power, and it was a big bust.

In the last 24 hours, several hundred armed men made attacks against government police and security forces in the cities of Baghdad, Baquba, Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul and Mahaweel. Over a hundred Iraqis, and three Americans died, over 300 people were injured. This was the long anticipated "big offensive" by the Baath Party and al Qaeda forces to topple the interim Iraqi government and stop the elections planned for early next year. Five car bombs also went off in Mosul. All the attacks occurred in Sunni Arab areas.
Time is pretty much up for these dead-enders, and they know it. The incoming Iraqi government won't be nearly as soft-handed as we Americans have been. Good.

Further, on June 21th, 2004, SP posted some statistics on the murder rate in Iraq, with and without counting terrorist activities.

The anti-government violence in Iraq is causing a annualized death rate of 15 per 100,000 population for terrorist activities alone. That compares to a murder rate in the United States of 5.6 per 100,000. European nations have an average rate of about four per 100,000 (although some West European nations are below two per 100,000, while Russia is 20 per 100,000.) Some nations are particularly violent. South Africa has a murder rate of 59, and neighboring Namibia is 45. Colombia, in South America, was over 50 a few years ago, but is now down to the 30s because a crackdown on armed militias. The Middle East tends of have low murder rates, with Turkey having a rate of 2.3. Israel also had a rate of 2.3, until the Palestinians began their terrorism campaign in late 2000. The deaths from suicide bombings and other attacks doubled Israel's murder rate to about 4 per 100,000, although that has been coming down in the past year.

But Iraq has become accustomed to a high murder rate. Saddam's police forces were the cause of many murders, and as far back as the 1970s, the official murder rate was 12 per 100,000. The coalition forces and Iraqi security forces have gotten the non-terrorist murder rate down to about five per 100,000. This, combined with the deaths caused by terrorists, produces a rate of about 20 per year. The murder rate in Washington, DC, is over 60 per 100,000.

According to the the BBC, the murder rate in Los Angeles in 2002 was a bit less than 20 in 100,000 (658 murders with a population of around 3.5 million). The rate dropped 23% in 2003, and is rising slightly again now. It doesn't sound like Iraq is doing too badly!

(More data on 2002 murder rates.)

"Rent-seeking" is a technical economic term that doesn't mean what most laymen might expect, but that when understood can illuminate a large portion of our political and economic system.

The political left is generally more fond of empowering the government than the right; most people are willing to admit this, no matter what their own political persuasion, but they see the effects of it differently. Someone on the left will think a powerful government is important because it allows the public to care for the needs of the poor and to provide for the public good. A leftist generally won't understand why anyone on the right would think this to be a bad or scary prospect, but an explanation of "rent-seeking" may reveal the bogeyman those on the right are afraid of.

Simply put, rent-seeking -- in the negative sense -- is the use of political power to force others to pay you rent for the use of something that doesn't belong to you -- imagine me setting up a toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge. This would naturally be illegal, but the problem with large and powerful governments is that lobbyists push for (and get) laws enabling them to do exactly this sort of thing.

For instance, when the government pays subsidies to domestic sugar producers and imposes high tariffs on sugar imports, sugar consumers end up getting ripped off -- we pay not just for the subsidies (through taxes), but we pay more for the sugar itself because of reduced competition. The government essentially allows the sugar industry to set up a toll booth on our borders, and charges us for the privilege. (And the rent-seeking hurts poor foreign sugar producers even more.)

Kelley L. Ross wrote an excellent essay called "Rent-Seeking, Public Choice, and The Prisoner's Dilemma" which opens with the quote: "If you rob Peter to pay Paul, you've already got half the vote. -- Aegyptophilus." That's why rightists fear an unlimited government that isn't restricted in what it can do. "With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money." Money is used to buy votes, and those votes are used to transfer more money to the people who vote the "right way".

No matter who runs the government, Republicans or Democrats, the system will be abused. It's immoral, but it's inevitable. Power corrupts. The way to reduce the corruption in government is to reduce the power of government. As is becoming increasingly clear to those who didn't believe it at first, so-called Campaign Finance Reform is entirely useless. It isn't reducing the amount of money being spent, and it isn't even limiting how and when ads are used. Michael Moore's stupid new movie is one giant attack ad against President Bush, and it's completely outside the scope of CFR. Do we need yet another law to cover movies? Then what, a law against newspapers? Blogs? It's absurd.

Reduce government power, and you reduce the incentive for people to lie, cheat, and steal to get their hands on that power.

I'm no "animal lover", although I certainly like animals... for eating! Haha, anyway, Governor Arnold is proposing to save money by allowing animal shelters to kill strays sooner than they can now. Current law requires shelters to keep an animal for at least six days, and the new law would ease that to three days.

Schwarzenegger has told the state Legislature that the changes could save local governments that operate shelters up to $14 million. ...

The waiting period has caused overcrowding and forced some shelters to kill off animals simply to make room for new ones, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.

"Because of space limitations, the shelters are being forced to euthanize animals who are otherwise highly adoptable immediately after the holding time," Palmer said.

And that's the key. The new law doesn't require animals to be killed after three days, it just allows the ones who won't be adopted to be killed. Many of these unadoptable animals are probably old, and have diseases or injuries.
"There is no organized constituency of cats and dogs, but certainly the pet owners of America will find this reprehensible," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.

"Cats and dogs are like mom and apple pie," she said. "Don't mess with the pets. Most people prefer them to other people."

Uh, what? Only crazy people prefer their pets to other humans. Pets are property. I like my car and my house, and some people like their dogs and cats. Fine. Rationally, they're the same exact thing.

What do these supposed "most people" want to happen? Do they want to maintain the status quo, where adoptable animals are killed to make room for others? Or would they prefer animal shelter budgets to be expanded by billions of dollars, and for all these stray animals to be raised by the government? Or what? I just don't see how this poposed change is worse than what we've got now, from any perspective. These same "most people" would probably object to feeding the disposed-of animals to the homeless!

Then again, I don't condone throwing kittens out of moving vehicles. (HT: Dean Esmay.)

Good grief. I can't believe it's June 25th. Already. (And admitting that makes me feel like an old geezer.) There's certainly nothing uniquely profound about wondering where the time has gone, but just because the wondering isn't unique doesn't mean it isn't profound.

When it comes down to it, all life is is time. We perform various tasks and transform the time we're given into other things: money, friendships, families, contentment, despair, college degrees, books, paintings, music, video games... hundreds of people concentrate their energies on converting their time into pop-up ads, and hundreds of others trade their minutes in for hits on a bong, I mean, blog.

Some people are more efficient at it than others. We all get the exact same amount of time each day (although a disparate number of days, to be sure), but two people of the same age often vary widely in their happiness. One man converts his time into joy much more efficiently than another. Perhaps he invests his time into something that will cost him happiness now but yield him greater happiness in the future. The other may think, why bother? He knows the future may never come, so why should he gamble that it will by putting off what happiness is available in the present? Which man is more cautious, more conservative? The man who thinks he'll have endless tomorrows to be happy, and plans for them, or the man who knows he is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes"?

I hate hearing someone wish their time away. "I wish I was 16/18/21!" "I wish I was done with school!" "I wish it was Friday!" "I wish it was summer!" Don't worry, it will be, soon enough. How much time would you wish away? Would you fast-forward past Monday through Friday? September through May? 0 through 16?

Every night I agonize before I fall asleep, wishing that the day would never end.

I'm using some new technology: Gmail and Firefox. I need to start migrating off my UCLA email address since I'll be finishing school there soon (please), and I was tired of IE and Mozilla. So let's see how it goes, hm?

My new email address is plasticATgmailDOTcom.

I've been thinking some more about Kim Sun-Il, Paul Johnson, and Nicholas Berg, and considering a question posed to Blackfive by one of his readers regarding the South Korean.

Emil J. asks me what should South Korea do?

Emil, South Korea should double the number of troops they are sending and include some ROK Marines. I've spent some time training with ROK Marines and they are tough and professional.

Sure, but first maybe they should have lied to the terrorists, promised them whatever they wanted, and then created an opportunity to meet them and kill them.

Why should we negotiate in good faith with this kind of scum? No honorable adversary would take it as precedent and fear our dishonesty. We need to fight dirtier. We need to stop worry about "bringing them to justice" and realize that hunting terrorists down and killing them is justice enough.

(HT: Hugh Hewitt.)

Sam at Hammorabi (an Iraqi blogger) agrees:

Now Mr Iyad Alawi and his government need to take certain action as urgent as possible. First the capital punishment should not only be to the terrorist but to those who assists them by any way at all and sever punishment for those who keeps silent about their places or activities. The other thing is to execute them in public. Those who kill should face the same destiny by the same method. The other important thing is to impose a curfew on all areas where terrorist hide and attack. There are special areas like Falluja and Baquoba should have Military rulers and military curfew with strict sanctions and no reconstructions or ordinary services until they clear themselves from the sin of the terrorist. More strict action from the coalition needed now to isolate Falluja before the 30/6/2004. It needs complete blockade now and attacks for the terrorist sites. Zarqawi days counted and he know that soon
(HT: Citizen Smash.)

Bryan Henderson has written a great after-action report of his struggles against leftist oppression at Princeton Senior High School. As Dean Esmay notes, the left and the right have swapped oppressor/oppressee roles over the past century without much notice.

I can only guess at how vilely the reactionary left (mainly among the students) would respond to such a challenge at UCLA.

(HT: Sondra K.)

Almost every adult in the world can speak and comprehend speech, but most of us have no understanding of or appreciation for quite how amazing and complex this capability is. I'm not a linguist, but I've studied a lot of linguistics as part of my AI research and I'm constantly impressed by how intractable the problem is. Some people have made completely incredible and impossible claims regarding computers and language, but for the most part we really have no idea how the human brain does what it does.

Much of the difficulty in language stems from the need to disambiguate words and phrases that can have multiple meanings. Human language is incredibly redundant; there are a hundred ways to say the same thing, and any given word or sentence can have a hundred different meanings. Our brains learn (over the course of years, but still at a startling rate) how to perform these tasks, but we're still not able to teach (program) our computers to do the same things. (And I doubt we ever will be.)

Neal Whitman, who apparently is a linguist, presents an excellent example of just how confusing language can be. AI is a long way from being able to learn/generate/comprehend this type of result (other than with a rule-based approach, which is impractical), and we need more than an accumulation of baby steps to get there -- we need some dramatic breakthroughs that will radically change the way we think about natural language processing, because I think we're on an entirely wrong track.

I've said it before (somewhere) and I'll say it again: anyone who complains about budget deficits but isn't willing to radically reform social security is a hypocrite. The system simply isn't sustainable, as the numbers continually prove.

Simply, even using CBO's more optimistic technical assumptions, Social Security remains unsustainable: unable to pay promised future benefits given current levels of tax revenue. The report concludes that "unless taxation reaches levels that are unprecedented in the United States, current spending policies are likely to result in an ever growing burden of federal debt." ...

On top of that, the CBO achieves much of its savings by assuming lower benefit payouts in the future. That is, the CBO expects Social Security to become an even worse deal for younger workers in the future. Imagine what would have happened if some politician had suggested that we could buy a few more years of actuarial solvency by slashing Social Security benefits. Would Matsui or Kennelly be celebrating?

The report does not address Social Security's many non-financial issues: unfairness to working women and minorities, the lack of property rights, or the drain on national savings -- all of which provide further arguments for reform. In fact, in the end, the biggest reason for reforming Social Security is not a question of getting the lines to cross on a budget chart. It's about giving Americans ownership and control over their own money.

The types of benefits that Cass Sunstein thinks of as "rights" can only be realized by those in the present if they're willing to finance them on the backs of their children. As I've written before, I find the behavior of many members of America's older generations irresponsible and despicable.

I'd love to live in a refurbished Catholic church. We'd have to pull out the pews and such, but I dig the stained glass, stone walls, and the general artistry. If it's good enough for God, it's good enough for me.

I can understand why many parishoners are upset over losing their churches, but that's part and parcel with belonging to a huge, centrally-planned church, the administration of which the members have very little say over. Even if the members at the closed churches had given more, attended more, or whatever, the decision on which buildings to sell was probably entirely based on such mundane details as property value and location.

I think Cass Sunstein is missing an important aspect of property rights when he claims that they can't exist without the rule of law. He writes:

What Holmes is saying here is that even though property is exchangeable, it doesn't arise from value; it's a creation of law. And that's simply a matter of fact. With these sixteen words, Holmes captured much of the legal realist critique of laissez-faire -- and a key part of legal thinking between 1890 and 1930. A system of free markets isn't law-free; it depends on law. Property rights, as we enjoy and live them, are a creation of law; they don't predate law. ...

Roosevelt insisted that no one is really opposed to "government intervention." Those who complain about "government" depend on it every day of every year. Their "property rights could not exist" without its assistance (which costs a lot of money). And he believed that further "intervention," designed to protect decent opportunities (recall the right to education and the right to be free from monopoly) and minimal security, could be necessary to protect not equality but "individualism."

Do property rights not exist without laws and government to enforce them? Not at all. A "right" is, after all, something that I myself, as an individual, am morally entitled to defend using physical violence. The world is certainly a more peaceful and pleasant place to live if we all agree to solve disagreements and to respect each others' rights without the use of violence, and laws and government are established to facilitate that. But the rights themselves are endowed to humanity by our Creator, and do in fact predate any institutions we build to aid in protecting them.

Even if you believe that morality is a purely human construct, it still makes much more sense to say that the desire to more easily defend fundamental "natural" rights led to the creation of government, rather than vice versa. It is nonsensical to argue that laws predate rights; even anarchists believe in morality, and rights flow from morality.

Clayton Cramer has some further thoughts. I'm not a libertarian either (although I also have libertarian sympathies), but I think that Mr. Cramer and Mr. Sunstein both miss the point that governments with the power to redistribute wealth will always degenerate into doing it poorly, to the detriment of all, no matter how well the system works at its inception. That's just a function of bureaucracy, and of the fact that there are only so many high-quality individuals available to put into government jobs. It's impossible to design a system so well that it can efficiently govern a huge number of people with only mediocre civil servants. And, given the evidence, it's apparently not efficient to pay bureaucrats in such a way so as to attract the best among us.

Update 2:
Iain Murray agrees that Mr. Sunstein has it backwards.

Eugene Volokh wonders "What's with those Jewish people?".

Why do some people think that it's more polite to say "Jewish people" than "Jews"? I've heard some people say that "Jews" is somehow considered rude, and "Jewish people" is better, but I just don't see why.
I've wondered about this myself. Perhaps it's because Judaism is a hybrid of race, ethnicity, and religion, and such hybrids aren't common? Maybe in some cases the speaker doesn't know exactly how to express that he's referring to the religious characteristics of Jews in some contexts, and their racial characteristics in other contexts.

Along the same lines, is it acceptable to call Jews "Hebrews"? Why are people from Israel called "Israelis" rather than "Israelites"?

People are generally very sensitive about political correctness when it comes to Jews, for understandable reasons. I'm sure that plain old anxiety over causing offense is at least partly responsible for the awkward phrasing, as if to say "You aren't a Jew to me, don't worry; you're just a person who happens to be Jewish."

David Bernstein elaborates.

Here are some quick thoughts on the news items from the past few days I wanted to write about, but couldn't.

Saved!: It's as if David Duke wrote a comedy for blacks and Robert Byrd found it satirical and light-hearted rather than offensive.

To everyone who has denounced my railing against rail: ha ha!

Encouraging travellers to switch from cars and airlines to inter-city trains brings no benefits for the environment, new research has concluded.

Challenging assumptions about railways' green superiority, the study finds that the weight and fuel requirements of trains have increased to the point where rail could become the least energy-efficient form of transport.

Engineers at Lancaster University said trains had failed to keep up with the motor and aviation industries in reducing fuel needs.

They calculate that expresses between London and Edinburgh consume slightly more fuel per seat (the equivalent of 11.5 litres) than a modern diesel-powered car making the same journey.

The car's superiority rises dramatically when compared with trains travelling at up to 215mph.

Q: What do you call a sack of crap without the sack? A: Michael Moore. He's not just full of it. Plus, he really needs to shave his neck and jowls, because he isn't fooling anyone. My only curiousity about his "documentary" is how well it will play with the American public. How stupid are we? I want to find out. Are we smarter than the terrorist-abettors at Cannes? Almost certainly. Will Richard Clarke's confession get enough airtime to completely undermine the premise of the movie, as it should? RAFO.

The Drudge Report is more ideologically neutral than the major "news" outlets, according to UCLA and Stanford. Who knew?

Is America finally getting wise and pressuring the Saudis to clean up their own backyard? Saudi Arabia has been the nesting ground for terrorists for decades, but the princes can't hide behind their oil as easily now that we've got Iraq under out belt.

... maybe it was all a wonderful dream!

Well the site's back up. The server harddrive crashed, and my blog databases were on the part of the disk that was destroyed. The most recent backup is from 5/14, so about five weeks of priceless material is gone! I sincerely hope that civilization can withstand the loss. Cypren tells me that he's instituted a new, nightly backup system, so this shouldn't happen again. He also tells me that if it weren't for the hacking attempt last month there wouldn't even be a backup from May, and I'd've had to go back to April.

On one hand, I feel like I should be really disappointed to lose all that material, but on the other hand I don't really think the past month was one of my best. So it goes. The most frustrating part will come when I want to link back to something I know I wrote, but I can't find it. That will suck.

Actually, it looks like Google still has all the old entries cached. Does anyone know how long they'll be stored there for? I suppose I could spend a hundred hours recreating all the lost entries.... Well, at least if there's one I really want it's not completely gone, the ghost of Master of None is still lingering, like the memory of an amputated limb.

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