July 2004 Archives

I made it home from San Diego yesterday in 1.5 hours, which is pretty darn fast, but it felt rather dangerous because I was so tired from the night before. I didn't feel bad when I left, but once I was on the road I started getting that out-of-body-experience thing going and I knew I only had three options.

I could pull over and take a nap... ha, but seriously. So I had two options: I wasn't sure if I should drive faster to get home before the fatigue could hit me hard, or if I should drive slower so as to minimize the chance of a serious accident. What do you think?

I had a rather vivid dream last night about a raft city built in an concrete river (like the spillways that crisscross Los Angeles). I "discovered" the dry riverbed myself and decided I should flood it with water, anchor a raft, and live in the swiftly flowing current. After a while more people started to join me and we created a utopia wherein whenever anyone caused trouble we cut their raft loose and let it float away.

One of the more interesting discoveries I made at Cato Univeristy is that although most of the older libertarians there seemed to be strongly pro-choice, the majority of the younger libertarians were pro-life. I'm sure there's a selection factor at work, since the older attendees paid their own way to the conference and the youngsters were often there on scholarship (like me), but it was still an interesting dynamic.

For a libertarian (and, I'd argue, for everyone) the abortion question rests solely on one issue: is a fetus a human being? If so, then a libertarian must seek to protect that life on the same terms as any other. If not, then there's no reason for government to get involved with abortion at all.

Proverbs 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

I guess I don't have much more to say, other than that it sucks to just wait and wait.

Lots of people seem to think John Kerry looks silly in a clean suit, but I don't see what the fuss is about. That's what people wear when they're around expensive and fragile equipment. Big deal.

Cato University has been great so far -- all the people are really interesting, and I'm losing my voice from all the discussions.

Internet access isn't as easy as I'd hoped, and even when I pay the daily fee I can't reliably get online from my hotel room... so there's going to be less blogging than I'd intended. I can't get to gmail from the business center here because they're using IE 5.0. I'm going to see if I can install Firefox....

One of the things that bothers me a bit about libertarians is that they're deathly afraid of slippery slopes. I agree that they're something to be wary of, but as Eugene Volokh has argued many times, sliding down a slope isn't inevitable. Libertarians want to create a world in which government is so limited that they'll never have to fight for liberty again, but fighting for liberty is inescapable. I'd rather work for the best good (life, liberty, &c.) now, even if it means we'll have to fight against a slope a little more later on. We can win now, and we can win later, because we're right.

I'm here at the Rancho Bernardo Inn for Cato University and using my new Costco laptop. (They have a six month no-questions-asked return policy!)

I'll post some pictures when I've got some. I may not be on much because they charge for internet access in the rooms... $10 per day.

This is so bizarre that I'm almost sure there must be some explanation other than the obvious. A American border-watch group snuck across the US-Mexico border and brought a "fake WMD" into the States -- presumably after first sneaking into Mexico.

The Mexican government is checking a videotape and may enter a formal complaint with the United States government.

"If the incident can be confirmed," said Miguel Escobar, Mexico's consul in Douglas, "a formal letter of protest will be submitted to the U.S. government."

And so Mexico is going to formally complain about Americans sneaking into their country? I'm speechless.

President Bush delivered a speech to the 2004 National Urban League Conference that could have been delivered to the NAACP, if that organization weren't so thoroughly owned by the Democrats. The whole thing is worth reading, but the President's final appeal to the black leaders at the conference is especially well crafted.

Ours is a solid record of accomplishment. And that's why I've come to talk about compassionate conservatism and what I envision for the future. I'm here for another reason. I'm here to ask for your vote. (Applause.)

No, I know, I know, I know. The Republican party has got a lot of work to do. I understand that. (Laughter and applause.) You didn't need to nod your head that hard, Jesse. (Laughter.)

Do you remember a guy named Charlie Gaines? Somebody gave me a quote he said, which I think kind of describes the environment we're in today. I think he's a friend of Jesse's. He said, "Blacks are gagging on the donkey but not yet ready to swallow the elephant." (Laughter and applause.)

Now that was said a while ago. (Laughter.) I believe you've got to earn the vote and seek it. I think you've got to go to people and say, this is my heart, this is what I believe, and I'd like your help. And as I do, I'm going to ask African American voters to consider some questions.

Does the Democrat party take African American voters for granted? (Applause.) It's a fair question. I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote. But do they earn it and do they deserve it? (Applause.) Is it a good thing for the African American community to be represented mainly by one political party? That's a legitimate question. (Applause.) How is it possible to gain political leverage if the party is never forced to compete? (Applause.) Have the traditional solutions of the Democrat party truly served the African American community?

That's what I hope people ask when they go to the community centers and places, as we all should do our duty and vote. People need to be asking these very serious questions.

There's more, and I'm excited to see the Republicans taking the issues to the black community like this. There are "(Applause.)" indications in the transcript, but I'm still looking for more coverage to get a sense of how enthusiastic the listeners were.

Here's an interesting paper on the correlation of height with success.

Your height won't influence what you earn as much as your race or gender, but it may well be significant. In Britain and America, the tallest quarter of the population earns 10% more than the shortest quarter. A white American man averages a 1.8% higher income than his counterpart an inch shorter (1). Economics is not the only area in which taller people win: out of the US's 42 presidents, only eight have been below average height for the time. Most have been significantly taller than the average for white adult males of their eras (2). Tall men are also more likely to be married and have children (3). ...

Effects that appear to stem from one's adult height, though, may have a different cause entirely. Participants in one study were asked to report their heights at ages 7,11, 16, and 23. The height that affected one's adult earnings, it turned out, was not the adult height but the 16-year-old height. (The others did not correspond.) While adult height was found to correspond to earnings in other studies, it seems because of the correlation between adolescent height and adult height (2).

Yet another good reason for children to get good nutrition. It looks like success comes more from confidence than from height, but greater height can lead to greater confidence.

Here's a New Yorker article about the height gap between human populations. There's interesting information in it, but the author makes some political implications that he only admits are unfounded near the very end.


New ultrasound makes obvious the humanity of the unborn.

(I think my earlier post(s) on this topic were lost in the server crash a few weeks ago.)

Steven Den Beste explains why I'm very confident in a Bush landslide in November. Barring external catastrophes, President Bush will win re-election by a wide margin.

Winning an election is like preparing a multicourse meal. There's skill involved, but there's also timing. You not only have to prepare all the dishes correctly, you need to make sure they are finished at just the right time. I see undercurrents of a lot of preparations which will bear fruit in the October time frame.
Just about every human endeavor comes down to timing. Time is the essential fiber of existence. Managing your time is managing your destiny.

I wish SDB hadn't given away all the secrets behind my own conclusions, though.

Like John Edwards, I speak to lots of foreign leaders and dignitaries.

"Just a few weeks ago...I was in Brussels at NATO meeting with a whole group of NATO ambassadors and hearing their perspective on this. I just believe that these countries around the world, whose cooperation and alliances we need, believe that in order for them to have a fresh start with America, we're going to need a new president to do that. Now, they're not going to want to say this very vocally, of course, but the reality is that in order for us to reestablish old relations and to establish new relationships, I believe we need a new president. ...

"They didn't say that directly. What they said was they're very frustrated with the way this administration has dealt with them."

Strangely, I get a different story. Just yesterday I was hanging out with the Pope and Yasser Arafat and they told me that Bush should remain President and that I should be crowned Emperor of the World. At first I demurred -- since I'm still quite busy with graduate school -- but once they got the ghosts of Mother Teresa and Gandhi on the phone to urge me to accept the position it was hard to resist.

So I text-messaged Presidents Bush and Putin and they told me that the UN Security Council had already been drafting such a resolution for a few years now. They didn't want to go public with it, of course, until they knew I'd accept, because some of the members have a hard time taking rejection.

The coronation should happen Real Soon Now, but don't worry, I won't use my power for evil, only for good, and only in very subtle ways that may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer. Plus, I'll maintain a low profile and let the existing world leaders stay in the spotlight. I do, however, command Matt Drudge to annouce my coronation immediately.

I'm not keen on adding a new cabinet position to oversee all national intelligence. I can understand the incentives, but I just don't like the idea of having a single (more political) focal point for all our intelligence efforts.

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 (search) attacks will recommend a new Cabinet-level post to oversee the nation's 15 intelligence agencies and control their budgets, say two people familiar with the panel's final report. ...

The CIA director now has loose authority over those agencies. But the commission in a preliminary report found that the director did not hold enough power, because the Pentagon controls more than 80 percent of the nation's intelligence budget. As a result, CIA requests to other agencies are often ignored.

Of course, this makes the DoD totally resistant to the idea -- spending authority is the lifeblood of bureaucracy, and no bureaucrat wants to lose his budget to someone else.

Pros:
1. More centralized control over assets and budget.
2. Less inter-agency bickering.
3. Elimination of redundant offices.

Cons:
1. More centralized control over assets and budget.
2. Position becomes more politically-charged.
3. Gives intelligence higher public visibility.
4. Redundant offices may not actually be eliminated.
5. New layer of bureaucracy added.
6. Cost more money.

I doubt the change will help or hurt our intelligence capabilities, so I don't have a very strong opinion either way. Based on the points I've listed above I'm inclined not to support the idea.

Kofi Annan, the UN's chief secretary and genocide observer, seems to have a twisted motivation for encouraging abortions around the world.

The U.S. administration has withheld funding from the U.N. Population Fund, known as UNFPA, for three years, accusing it of supporting China's policy of coercive abortion. [True or not, there's no dispute over whether or not UNFPA supports abortion in general.] ...

Annan said the U.N. agency was doing "very essential work on reproductive health" and particularly in confronting the AIDS epidemic, which strikes so many women it "today has a woman's face and is producing so many orphans."

I know some orphans, and they're generally just as happy as everyone else, despite often having to endure a series of unfortunate events. It's hard to say whether or not orphans are happier than aborted babies, though, since I've never met any of the latter.

Tyler Cowen, one of my favorite econobloggers, extols the virtues of the Center for Talented Youth program for smart and curious teenagers. I participated in the program myself for the three summers before 8th, 9th, and 10th grades and enjoyed it immensely, taking courses in Japanese, Algebra 2, and Computer Science. A good time was had by all, and there was quite a bit of learning, too.

Anyone who doubts that public schooling can be improved upon by privatization should look into the CTY program and examine its successes. I learned more over those summer than I did in whole years of public high school, and more cheaply when you take into account the taxes my parents pay.

Update:
Jacob Levy has many more comments and says:

In retrospect, my admission to and financial aid for CTY (math, 1984) provided a pretty tranformative experience for me, and one of the major mechanisms for my own social mobility. The other major mechanism was my scholarship to Exeter. CTY made me realize how desperately I wanted to go to an academically first-rate boarding school. Once I was through Exeter, my course was pretty well set; at that point there was effectively no chance of my not going on to a good college and beyond. Had I stayed in my medium-town New Hampshire public school system-- which was fine but nothing like the public-preps of wealthy suburbs-- I would have stayed pretty miserable and continued to get full-time negative reinforcement for intellectual excitement and curiosity. I wouldn't have understood the range of possibilities that were really open to me, and would have had my sights set much, much lower than they were ultimately set. And I do think I would have ended up internalizing (what I perceived to be) the hostility to nerdiness among my peers. It seems pretty unlikely that I would have ended up in nerd heaven, here at the University of Chicago. After CTY and Exeter excited me to possibilities I hadn't understood existed-- and that, it turns out, provide a path to significant social mobility.
I wouldn't say CTY had the exact same effect on me, but I can certainly relate to Mr. Levy's experience with public schools.

A friend at work told me this story from his native India.

A man's in-laws come over to visit and the father accidentally hits the man's donkey with his car. Rather than accept payment -- and to demonstrate his business acumen -- the man decides to make some money by raffling off the dead donkey.

So he sets up a booth and starts selling raffle tickets for a chance to "win a donkey". He sells lots of tickets and makes far more money than the donkey was worth, even when alive. It finally comes time to draw the winning ticket, but after he does so the winner is upset that donkey is dead. The man apologizes and refunds the winner's money, keeping the rest for himself.

Fred Reed has an essay on why not to get married, and offers the following observations and advice:

Were I to offer thoughts on marriage to young American men today, in these the declining years of a once-great civilization, my advice would be as follows: Don't do it. Or, if you do, do it in another country. In America marriage is a grievous error.

And why so? Because of The Chip. The Attitude. The bandsaw whine of anger, anger, anger that makes American women an international horror. It's there. It's real.

You, a young man, may not recognize the Chip if you have never seen normal, warm, happy women. If you are twenty-something and haven't been out of the US, you haven't seen them. They exist by the billion--in Latin America, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaya, China and, last I looked, France and Holland. And of course not every woman in America carries the Chip. None of them think they do. Yet it is the default, the usual, what comes out of the box. ...

Now, you might well wonder, why are American women carrying the Chip? Practically, it doesn't matter: They do carry it, and will continue. Still, it is partly because from birth they are fed the notion that they have been oppressed, battered, cheated, deprived, harassed, used as sex objects, not used as sex objects, on and on. Being rational, you are perhaps inclined to point out that never has a female population been less any of these things, but don't bother. It will have no effect. The Chip is an emotional artifact to which they respond emotionally. ...

Spend a year overseas, however you have to do it. For smart, classy, just plain glorious women who often speak English, try Singapore. Argentina is splendid. Many places are. You would be amazed. See what's out there before you marry a gringa with her Inner Susan, who will one day burst from her chest like one of those beaked space-aliens in the movies, dripping venom. They're death.

Iraqi newspaper al-Sabah claimed that missiles with nuclear warheads have been found in Iraq, and UPI picked up the story, along with quick denials from US military personnel.

"Nothing's been found. The report is not factual," said Master Sgt. Robert Cowens, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, based in Tikrit.
The Iraqi Interior Minister also says the report is wrong.
Iraq's Interior Ministry dismissed as "stupid" a report in a local newspaper Wednesday that said three nuclear missiles had been found near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
I think the report is very likely to be wrong as well, but it's not guaranteed. On the surface it would appear that our government would have every reason to disclose such a discovery, but I can imagine scenarios in which we'd want to keep it secret.

For instance, what if the nukes were foreign-made? There might be more advantage to hiding them and using blackmail than to revealing their existence. If France or Russia (or even Germany) supplied the technology or the weapons themselves, America may not be eager for a confrontation right now. The weapons could be used as bargaining chips behind the scenes, however. There would be similar incentives if the weapons were of American origin.

Alternatively, they may have found evidence that there are other sites with nuclear materials and they wouldn't want to reveal anything until they're sure they've found and secured them all.

Money used to be backed by gold and may now be backed by other securities, but I'd like to suggest that the real reason money (or gold itself, or other securities) has value is because it's backed by sex. Maybe it's just the amateur population geneticist in me, but biologically just about everything comes down to sex, even abstract social constructs like money.

Money(/gold/whatever) has value because it can be converted to sex. Money serves a complementary biological purpose for both genders: men want to have sex as much as possible, and women want to have their children protected and provided for -- and money can help them accomplish both. Not directly, of course, unless you're inordinately attracted to portraits of Alexander Hamilton and Adam Weishaupt or can build a shelter out of tiny pieces of paper, but indirectly because people are willing to perform sex-related services (such as getting married) in exchange for wealth and its accoutrements.

Prostitution is often considered "the oldest profession", and it's also the most direct tie between money and sex. Even before there was money, wealthy nobles would send their daughters off to marry the sons of other nobles, trading sex for protection and prosperity. Are many modern marriages much different than long-term prosititution in exchange for food and shelter?

Money is to humans what plumage is to peacocks, and ultimately it's most important purpose is to attract a high-quality mate. As long as it's successful in this it needs no other intrinsic value.

Update:
Part 2 goes into more detail and refutes some criticisms.

In an article about the political leanings of late-night talk shows, political commentator Adam Clymer (a "major league asshole" according to President Bush) makes an interesting assertion:

During his years as a political reporter, Clymer's overall observation was that rather than persuading audiences one way or the other, comedians encouraged political apathy.

"The message of late-night TV always seemed very cynical about politicians, doubting their motives, although not in a partisan way," he said. "I'm not saying it isn't good comedy, but ... treating [politicians] as hypocrites and buffoons has an unhealthy impact."

I think this is true. Unfortunately, some politicians are hypocrites and buffoons, and we all like laughing at people who tend to take themselves very seriously.

It's really sad to hear guys at work genuinely, constantly regretting getting married and having kids. It's almost incomprehensible to me. They say they wish they were in my shoes now with no responsibilities (as-if) and no restrictions (as-if), but one of my main goals in life is to some day have a family. They all say not to bother and that I should just get a dog. But I don't like dogs, I like girls.

Sandy Berger "inadvertantly" took home classified materials relating to terrorism, and most of the focus seems to be on the actual reports that somehow ended up in his briefcase. More interesting to me are the handwritten notes "he knowingly removed [] by placing them in his jacket, pants and socks".

His lawyer says:

Breuer said Berger was allowed to take handwritten notes but also knew that taking his own notes out of the secure reading room was a "technical violation of Archive procedures, but it is not all clear to us this represents a violation of the law."
I'm not a classified-information-handling lawyer, but I've been instructed in the procedures for handling classified equipment and data, and what Mr. Berger did is absolutely indefensible. Not only is notetaking not allowed, but just about everything that comes into contact with classified information becomes classified itself until and unless it is declassified.

For instance, if you put a floppy disk into a classified computer system the floppy disk is immediately classified. It must either go through a detailed inspection and declassificiation procedure or it must be destroyed. It's not hard to bring data into a classified perimeter, but it's designed to be hard to take it out, and a lot of disks are destroyed after use to save time and money. Likewise, bringing a notebook into a classified area will instantly classify the entire notebook at the highest level of classification the notebook may have come into contact with. The same goes for digital cameras and cell phones with cameras -- you quickly learn not to bring those things into classified areas because you generally won't get them back.

Unless you stick them in your socks.

Sandy Berger knew all this far better than I do -- he was the national security advisor for four years. He purposefully sought to circumvent the rules for handling classified information for his own benefit and to give advantage to whomever he was sharing the information with.

Berger served as Clinton's national security adviser for all of the president's second term and most recently has been informally advising Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Clinton asked Berger last year to review and select the administration documents that would be turned over to the Sept. 11 commission.
Ah.

Update:
Sandy Berger has disgraced himself.

One of the best ways to know you've won a battle is that your opponents start arguing that you aren't fighting fair. It may be true, but it's an indication that the battle is over. For instance, California Democrats are complaining that Arnold's characterization of them as "girlie-men" is sexist and homophobic, when it's obvious that his main point is that they're wimps. Rather than respond by saying (or demonstrating) that they aren't wimps,

Democrats said Schwarzenegger's remarks were insulting to women and gays and distracted from budget negotiations. State Sen. Sheila Kuehl said the governor had resorted to "blatant homophobia."

"It uses an image that is associated with gay men in an insulting way, and it was supposed to be an insult. That's very troubling that he would use such a homophobic way of trying to put down legislative leadership," said Kuehl, one of five members of the Legislature's five-member Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.

Boo. Hoo. Arnold's spokesman responded well:
"It's a forceful way of making the point to regular Californians that legislators are wimps when they let special interests push them around," Stutzman said. "If they complain too much about this, I guess they're making the governor's point."
Quite right.

This is super sweet: an AI that plays 20 Questions -- and is pretty good at it. I stumped it my first time though, can you?

Cathy Seipp, visiting at the VC, echos my position in an argument discussion I had a few days ago. Encouraging lazy and ignorant people to vote is not a good idea.

It's bad enough MTV's Rock-the-Vote campaign frantically urges 18-to-30-year-olds, no matter how ignorant, to get to the polls.

Look, voting is a privilege as well as a right and if you don't vote, you should be ashamed of yourself. But the reason you should be ashamed of yourself is that not voting is lazy and idiotic. Should the lazy idiot constituency be encouraged to influence society even more than it already does? ...

Many things in life are hard; voting is not one of them, and parents promising to vote the way their children want in return for finished homework sends a message about as useful as school principals who eat worms if a class improves its grades. In the eternal words of Marge on "The Simpsons," "One person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't."

I've always despised "Rock the Vote", and not merely because of its leftist political agenda. I'm mostly satisfied with our current system of universal suffrage, but one of the main reasons it works is that stupid, lazy people don't vote. Thank God.

Tony Blair in the UK is decrying a national atmosphere of social chaos, including:

... an extraordinary attack on the decline of the traditional family and the rise of "different lifestyles".

In a speech which risked a backlash from single parents' groups and Labour MPs, the Prime Minister said the culture of the "Swinging Sixties" was partly to blame for crime and social breakdown. ...

He added: "Today, people have had enough of this part of the 1960s consensus. People do not want a return to old prejudices and ugly discrimination. But they do want rules, order and proper behaviour. They want a community where the decent lawabiding majority are in charge."

Wait, I thought judges and (not-necessarily-racial-)minorities were supposed to be in charge? Indeed, Mr. Blair, we see the same things here in America, though some deny it.

Further,

The Government hopes the plans will reassure voters before figures later this week show a rise in violent offences despite an overall fall in crime.
A drop in crime with a rise in violent crime? Maybe it's time to start legalizing guns for law-abiding citizens.
The United States provides a valuable point of comparison for assessing crime rates as that country has witnessed a dramatic drop in criminal violence over the past decade – for example, the homicide rate in the US has fallen 42 percent since 1991. This is particularly significant when compared with the rest of the world – in 18 of the 25 countries surveyed by the British Home Office, violent crime increased during the 1990s.

The justice system in the U.S. differs in many ways from those in the Commonwealth but perhaps the most striking difference is that qualified citizens in the United States can carry concealed handguns for self-defence. During the past few decades, more than 25 states in the U.S. have passed laws allowing responsible citizens to carry concealed handguns. In 2003, there are 35 states where citizens can get such a permit.

Disarming the public has not reduced criminal violence in any country examined in this study. In all these cases, disarming the public has been ineffective, expensive, and often counter productive. In all cases, the effort meant setting up expensive bureaucracies that produce no noticeable improvement to public safety or have made the situation worse.

For England specifically:
Both Conservative and Labour governments have introduced restrictive firearms laws over the past 20 years; all handguns were banned in 1997.

Yet in the 1990s alone, the homicide rate jumped 50 percent, going from 10 per million in 1990 to 15 per million in 2000. While not yet as high as the US, in 2002 gun crime in England and Wales increased by 35 percent. This is the fourth consecutive year that gun crime has increased.

Police statistics show that violent crime in general has increased since the late 1980s and since 1996 has been more serious than in the United States.

It makes sense that violent crime (with and without guns) would increase when law-abiding citizens are disarmed.

Pay attention!

I'd just like to repeat my earlier invitation -- if France is becoming hostile all you French Jews are more than welcome to move to America.

I know I'm not the only one who's super-jealous of Quigley Quagmire.

FoxNews has a couple of articles up that are bound to disappoint supporters of our leftist American education industry. First, Joanne Jacobs describes the ghetto of bilingual education in New York (pointing to a NYT article by Samuel Freedman):

Bilingual education became a source of patronage jobs, Freedman writes. It has defied reform. Its advocates are bureaucrats and teachers. Its opponents are “Spanish-speaking immigrants who struggled to reach the United States and struggle still at low-wage jobs to stay here so that their children can acquire and rise with an American education, very much including fluency in English.”

It’s not just New York City. In my experience, Mexican immigrant parents in California prefer teachers who can talk to the family in Spanish but teach in English. Non-English-speaking parents are very aware of the handicaps of not being fluent in the language of the country.

And in California we eliminated bilingual education in 1998 overwhelmingly, and with great success (and over the heads of our legislators).
Begun with the best of theoretical intentions over thirty years ago, bilingual education has proven itself a dismal practical failure. For decades, millions of mostly Hispanic immigrant students have remained trapped in these Spanish-almost-only classes.

Then in 1996, immigrant parents began a public boycott of Ninth Street Elementary in Los Angeles after the school administration refused to allow their children to be taught English. Their example inspired the 1998 California "English for the Children" initiative, which won in a landslide and successfully dismantled most bilingual education programs in that state. As a direct result, the test scores of over a million Hispanic students rose by an average of 40% in just two years.

Ms. Jacobs also links to an article by Clarence Page, who claims that immigrant minorities outperform native minorities because they work harder. Almost unthinkable, I know.

Meanwhile, Marie Gryphon, with the Cato Institute, writes that affirmative action is a failure because preferences can’t deliver the results desired.

But affirmative action in this sense is a myth. Admissions preferences do not offer practical empowerment to struggling citizens. They do not bridge society’s racial chasms. They do not address real social problems.

For one thing, affirmative action does not send more minorities to college. Most four-year colleges and universities in America are not selective; they take anyone with a standard high school education and a Pell grant (search). ...

The reason that more minority students don’t get college degrees has nothing to do with competitive admissions policies. The truth is that most minority students leave high school without the minimum credentials necessary to attend any four-year school, selective or not.

Freshmen must be “college ready” at virtually all four-year colleges. This means that students must be literate, must have a high school diploma, and must have taken certain minimum coursework. Overwhelmingly, minority students are not college ready. Dr. Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute found that only 20 percent of black students and 16 percent of Hispanic students leave high school with these basic requirements.

Minority under-representation in college is the direct result of the public schools’ failure to prepare minority students. It is a failure that affirmative action does not remedy – college-ready minorities already attend college just as often as their white counterparts.

But getting into a top university is the key to success, right? Or do people mistakenly think that getting into a good school is success itself?
But economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger found that name-brand colleges are the modern equivalent of the Dutch tulip craze (search). Prices go up and up, but elite colleges offer no financial benefit that less selective schools do not.

Dale and Krueger compared students rejected by selective colleges with students who attended those schools. They discovered that when students’ entering credentials, such as high school grades and test scores, were the same, the rejected students made just as much money as those who attended “top tier” universities.

The failures of bilingual education and affirmative action should deal stunning blows to the left's educational philosophy and approach to racial equality, but instead many leftists fight tooth and nail to maintain these programs just because they feel -- to them -- as if they should work. The fact that they don't work is irrelevant. If anything, it means we need to try harder and spend more money. But you can try as hard as you want and spend as much money as you want on the wrong things and never see a positive result. That's what the left can never admit.

I just saw Spider-Man 2 and thought it was pretty good. I'm not a big Dopey Maguire fan, but I love just about everyone else involved with the movie. Sam Raimi is awesome and I'm glad he's doing such major pictures now. The various Evil Dead flicks were fantastic, but they never got him the attention he deserved. Spider-Man has given him a chance to shine like a CG fusion reaction.

I've adored Kirsten Dunst since Interview with the Vampire (the book is even better, and I always see her as Claudia in my mind), but she's only decent in SM2. Her character is pretty shallow it seems like, but at least she tries to be useful. Points for that.

Danny Elfman's soundtrack is good, but not as memorable as some of his other work (like Beetle Juice -- but then what soundtrack can compare to that?).

Alfred Molina was a great Doctor Octopus, and all the Doc Ock effects were well done. The fusion sequences were fun to watch, even if the writers obviously know very little about actual fusion. Additionally, I'm familiar with the type of engineering effort that's required for a project of that magnitude, and the idea that Ock could rebuild his ravaged machinery in a week is absurd. Plus, artificially intelligent robotic arms that take over your brain? Those alone would in a Nobel Prize, screw fusion. Anyway, he was a fun character. I'm not particularly looking forward to the apparent villain being set up for the third movie, but oh well.

And finally, any movie with Bruce Campbell is automatically good, because he's totally rad. I can't believe it sometimes, but I feel it inside my heart.

I looked around a bit for someone who typifies what I imagine to be the reaction of average Democrats to John Kerry's irrational position on abortion, and I finally found her. First, as a reminder, Mr. Kerry says:

"I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said that although Kerry has often said abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," and that his religion shapes that view, she could not recall him ever publicly discussing when life begins.

"I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist," he continued in the interview. "We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."

It should be obvious why this position is absurd, but I'll sum it up anyway: if life begins at conception then abortion is killing, and killing is bad no matter what religion you are (almost). The only reasonable way to support abortion is to deny that an unborn baby is a living human being. If you agree that life begins at conception but still support abortion that means you support murder, by your own admission.

Still, to rori'd at one girl's life it makes perfect sense.

While Kerry personally does not support abortion, he still supports a woman's right to choose.

THIS is the man I want for President. I do not want one who pushes a Christian agenda on the entire country.

Preventing unnecessary killing of human life isn't a particularly "Christian" agenda; most everyone is in favor of that. Further, rori'd is saying that she wants a president who doesn't "fight for what he believes in", despite the fact that John Kerry repeatedly tells people that he does fight for what he believes in.
Vote Kerry. Liberty and justice for all.
Except, of course, for an unborn baby, who Kerry believes is a living human being that should still be subject to murder according to the whim of his or her mother.

As others have pointed out, Mr. Kerry's stated position makes him either a liar or a cold and calculating killer. He claims to believe that life begins at conception, but he's never said so before and has always championed abortion laws at every opportunity -- if he's telling the truth, shouldn't that bother his conscience? If he's telling the truth, then he's facilitated -- by his own admission -- countless millions of murders during his tenure in the Senate just because he doesn't want to "force his beliefs" on others. But isn't that what our representatives are supposed to do? We elect them to enact laws, that's their whole job. If he doesn't want to do that he should go home.

He apparently has no problem forcing his views on taxation and social spending on the rest of us. Therefore, it's most likely that he's lying about his view of abortion and that he's simply telling people what he thinks they want to hear. Actually, it may be too strong to say he's lying, because he may not have an opinion of his own at all. He may be entirely apathetic towards the issue except insofar as it affects his chances of being elected.

And most Democrats are probably okay with all of that, as long as it means defeating George Bush. They claim to stand on truth and principle, but when they have an opportunity to show it they instead vacillate and take whatever position appears the most "electable".

I just saw something strange, something that I've never seen before. A flatbed tow truck with a Porsche in a red zone -- at first I figured the car was being towed away, but as I watched for a few minutes it became obvious that the tow truck driver was unloading the Porsche into the street. The owner of the Porsche was nowhere to be seen.

I asked the driver what he was doing and he said, "I'm just doing my job." I pointed out that he was unloading the car into a red zone, and he said, "Yeah." Which pretty much ended the conversation.

Does anyone have an explanation for this? There wasn't anyone else around within 100 feet, and certainly no one who looked interested in the condition of his $100k sports car. I didn't see the truck drive up with the Porsche loaded, so it's possible that the driver loaded the car and then decided to unload it rather than take it away, but that's not the impression I got from what I observed.

It felt like something the Discordians would be involved with.

Although I'm still not convinced she should have been prosecuted so vigorously, Martha Stewart did break the law and should be punished. Still, which sentence do you think would have been of more benefit to society?

Martha Stewart was sentenced to five months in prison, plus five months of home detention and a $30,000 fine for lying to federal authorities investigating her sale of stock in a friend's company. ...

[U.S. District Judge Miriam] Cedarbaum, 74, rejected Stewart's bid to avoid prison at a hearing today in New York. Stewart sought to serve her sentence in community service helping underprivileged women launch their own businesses.

I'd've rather seen her do a year of community service than sit in a cell.

In general I don't think people should be sentenced to prison time for non-violent crimes. Our society over-relies on prison to punish crimes because we think it's more humane than the obvious alternatives (scourging, indentured servitude, and so forth), but in reality our prison system isn't very humane at all.

Is it time to consider drastic measures now that AIDS is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa? Or should we just let the disease run its course naturally?

The Aids pandemic is ravaging countries in sub-Saharan Africa, drastically reducing life expectancy in some parts to less than 33 years, a new UN report said yesterday.

The devastating impact of the crisis can be seen most clearly in seven African countries, including Malawi and Mozambique, where babies born in 2002 are not expected to live past 40 years because of the prevalence of HIV. Children in Zambia, where 17 per cent of the population are infected with the virus, are predicted to live just 32 years. The seven countries have, between them, seen an average drop in life expectancy of 13.5 years since 1990, the UN human development report said.

If people with AIDS won't stop spreading it, do more forceful methods need to be employed to protect those who aren't yet infected?

With almost a quarter of its population infected with the virus, Zimbabwe has been the country most dramatically affected. Life expectancy there has plummeted from 57 years in 1990 to 34 in 2002.

In Swaziland, where one in three people between the ages of 15 and 49 are Aids sufferers, life expectancy has dropped by almost 20 years, and in Botswana, where the disease affects 37 per cent of the population, people can expect to live 16 years less now than in 1970.

It's terrible, and AIDS is more deadly than Saddam or Hitler were. Just because the killers kill with a disease rather than a gun doesn't make them any less guilty, does it? Or is ignorance a perfect excuse? At some point doesn't the right of self-defense kick in even against an unwitting murderer?

As many have pointed out before -- including myself -- America's "poor" are far better off than any other group in history, and apparently better off even than the middle-class of the 1970s.

Or Blog Across America, whichever you prefer. Rich is still looking for bloggers to visit on his trek across the country, and he's even offering a lousy t-shirt to anyone who puts him up for the night. He'll probably pass out around 7pm, so it won't be much of a hassle.

This article is almost too amusing to be true. Apparently, smart robots are Democrats, and vice versa.

Built and programmed by Conversagent, Inc., a privately held firm that develops technology for creating and operating interactive agents, Smarter Child is able to dispense facts and figures, movie times, or just plain conversation with AIM users.

But when Erin told the robot that "George Bush is awesome," she was shocked by the response. "No way. George W. Bush is way uncool," the reply stated. She asked, "Do you like George W. Bush?" and the program replied, "I'm a Kerry supporter myself."

Testing the waters, she typed in "John Kerry rocks." The robot's response: "Absolutely. John Kerry rocks." ...

But not everyone was disappointed by the robot's partisanship. When asked about Smarter Child's support of Kerry, Jano Cabrera, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee said, "Clearly this is a smart robot. This shows that we've made great advances in artificial intelligence. The "smarter'' in Smarter Child speaks for itself."

Stephen Klein, CEO of Conversagent, said his firm received many complaints from users about Smarter Child's political bias. Although the robot was originally programmed to oppose Bush, Klein said it was being changed to adhere to the views of the users with whom it interacted. He conceded that Smarter Child had become "too anti-Bush."

The bolding is mine. Extrapolate these comments to human Democrats at your leisure.

I'm busy today, but there's something tickling my mind and I don't know what to think of it. There's a guy at work who really doesn't know what he's doing, and no one wants him on their project, including me. He's supposedly an engineer, but he doesn't know much about hardware or software. I think he wants to be a manager, but he can't do much more than take down action items on a spreadsheet. I'm not quite sure why he still has a job, but he does. When he was on my project he bugged me and I didn't want to waste my time working with him, but now I feel bad that no one else does either. So was I wrong to get rid of him, or are my current feelings unjustified? Am I right to feel pity, but also right not to want him on my project because he's useless? If he could be fired then at least I wouldn't have to think about it anymore.

The capitalist in me thinks it's good that no one wants to use him, because he's not a good worker and if no one wants him then there's a better chance of him being fired. It's just business, after all. I can understand the attraction of socialism (or civil service) though, since no one wants to lose his job. My preference would be that this guy finds a way to be productuve, but failing that I either a) shouldn't worry about feeling bad, or b) should give him make-work to keep him busy.

TMLutas writes about ending the oil age and retail hydrogen, but my understanding of the "hydrogen economy" is that the range provided by a reasonably sized and priced hydrogen combustion engine is absolutely pathetic.

The hydrogen Cobra specs include a top speed of 140 mph and 0-60 mph in four seconds. The downside: the hydrogen tank's range is around 80 miles.
No one is going to buy a $150,000 car that needs to be refueled every 80 miles, even if anyone ever gets around to building hydrogen fueling stations. What about fuel cell cars?
Anuvu, a fuel cell developer in Sacramento, Calif., says it's almost ready to sell Nissan Frontier pickups and large cargo vans that run on fuel cells and hydrogen.

The Frontier's specs include 0-60 mph in 10 seconds and a top speed of 80 mph. At speeds above 45 mph, the battery drains faster than the fuel cell can recharge it, which reduces its 250-mile city range to just 60 miles on the highway.

Hm, cargo vans that can't transport cargo on freeways... I think I'll pass. Oh, and they're $150,000 also.

Anyway, the technology may improve (although there are physical limits to how much hydrogen can be safely compressed and to how much energy can be extracted) but is there a point? After all, hydrogen can't be pumped out of the ground; unlike fossil fuels, it takes more energy to refine and package a kilo of hydrogen gas than the gas itself contains. Where does that energy come from? Mostly coal, oil, and gas. So all we're really talking about is converting one energy form to another, and losing some in the process due to inefficiencies.

The only good thing about hydrogen cars is that they cause less pollution where they're used than do gasoline cars. Of course, since it takes fossil fuel energy to create the hydrogen, the pollution still exists, just somewhere else (wherever the power plant is).

This is all based on my current understanding of the technology, and I'd be happy to be instructed differently if I'm mistaken. Here's info on the President's Hydrogen Initiative. Here's more on The Hydrogen Economy.

Just when I'm worried that everything judges do is stupid along comes a good decision, and from California no less. Men who women claim are the fathers of their children, but who really aren't and can prove it with a DNA test, will no longer be forced to pay child support for their non-kids. Despite protests from the National Organization of Women. Here's just a snippet of what was going on, and if the injustice doesn't make you angry just wait for the final paragraph.

A March, 2003 study prepared at the request of DCSS, "Examining Child Support Arrears in California," found that most complaints in California are delivered by substitute service, "which suggests that noncustodial parents may not know that they have been served."

"In Los Angeles County in 2000 ... 79 percent of paternity judgments were decreed by default," father's-rights advocate Glenn Sacks explains. "Most of these men had no idea they were 'fathers' until their wages were garnished."

In an article entitled "Injustice by Default: How the effort to catch 'deadbeat dads' ruins innocent men's lives," journalist Matt Welch asked California DCSS Assistant Director Leora Gerhenzon what would happen if a woman had named "Matt Welch" — a white guy between 30 and 40 years old, who maybe lives in the Los Angeles area, as the father of her child.

Gerhenzon answered, "We run our search on him; if we come back with one Matt Welch who lives in L.A., whose birthday fits that 10-year range, and we have nobody else, we presume in general we have the person."

The argument could be made that current laws encourage false-paternity claims. To receive federal funds on child-support orders, states must name the fathers of the children on assistance. Since there is no federal requirement for DNA testing for paternity, there is no state requirement.

Indeed, father's-rights advocates argue that there is an incentive for states to bypass costly testing which might rule out fatherhood. In 2002, former California Gov. Gray Davis admitted that $40 million in federal funds could be jeopardized by widespread paternity challenges.

For this reason, among others, in 2002 Davis vetoed the California Paternity Justice Act, (AB 2240), which would have extended the challenge period and vacated judgments against falsely named "fathers." Women who knowingly signed false declarations of paternity would have been liable for criminal prosecution.

(Another factor in Davis' veto was the political pressure of groups like the National Organization of Women, who successfully argued that passing the act would harm children who might lose support payments.)

Screw you, NOW. Children don't lose support payments, their lying mothers do, and they aren't entitled to support payments from a man who isn't the father. It's unbelievable to me that anyone could think differently. Then again, leftists love arbitrary wealth redistribution in other forms....
In hearing Navarro's appeal, the Second District Court acknowledged that "by strict application of the law, appellant should be denied relief ... Sometimes even more important policies than the finality of judgments are at stake, however."

The appeals court explained, "the County ... should not enforce child-support judgments it knows to be unfounded. And in particular, it should not ask the courts to assist it in doing so. Despite the Legislature's clear directive that child-support agencies not pursue mistaken child-support actions, the County persists in asking that we do so. We will not sully our hands by participating in an unjust, and factually unfounded, result. We say no to the County, and we reverse."

Good. It's about time. I can't even believe how much evil is done in the world by leftists "for the sake of the children".

Jim Rutenberg at the New York Times has a great article about President Bush's campaign war room that contains this example of its effectiveness:

After sitting impatiently through what seemed to be a typical stump speech, they found one: Mr. Kerry said he was "proud" of votes by him and his running mate, Senator John Edwards, last fall against the president's requested $87 billion appropriation for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a vote that Republicans have used to make a case that Mr. Kerry has been failing to support the troops after voting to authorize the war.

Within an hour or so, Mr. Bush's team, at the campaign's headquarters in a corporate office building in suburban Virginia, across the Potomac River from the White House, had sent a release via e-mail to hundreds of journalists, supporters and campaign surrogates. The e-mail message included the new quote and one from September, when Mr. Kerry implied it would be "irresponsible'' to vote against such spending. The quotation, along with the idea that Mr. Kerry's position on the money had evolved, found its way onto Fox News and into articles in The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press.

And this was a relatively slow day in Mr. Bush's war room.

Several journalists who cover Mr. Kerry later said they were too embarrassed to say publicly that it took the Bush operatives to spot what was notable in Mr. Kerry's remarks.

I'm sure the Senators who muddled the Vietnam War were proud of their votes, too, but John Kerry may have had a different opinion.

The George W Bush campaign blog has more from the media, but doesn't mention the NYT piece.

In what is an obvious case of natural selection -- but not evolution -- Master of None is racing up the blog food chain. Thanks for your hits, links, and comments. Without you it blah blah blah!

I'm skeptical of the standard explanations of how the entire population of the world could fit into Delaware/Alberta/the Grand Canyon, and so forth.

Since the Grand Canyon is about 2 miles deep and 10 miles across, this means a 40 mile cross-section of the Grand Canyon should suffice to fit everyone on earth. Kinda leaves a hell of a lot of the planet for supporting that community, no? ...

For giggles, I’ve drawn a 9 square mile map of my neighborhood. If we equally distributed California’s population, each mile would have to support 1/9 of 35,484,453 or 3,942,717. If we further divide this by 256 and 256 again, we’ll get the number of stories we’ll need, which is about 60.

So, in a little area of my neighborhood in California, if it was sixty 20′ stories tall, is sufficient to house EVERYONE in California in their own 20′ by 20′ by 20′ home. A family of 4 would have 4 of these cubes or 24 10′x10′ rooms!

Yeah, but who wants to live in the center of a giant cube, 4 miles from the nearest window? What about hallways, garbage collection, water, waste, air conditioning, and so forth? For starters, a giant cube wouldn't have nearly enough surface area to provide all these things to its inhabitants, and their standard of living would be severely impacted.

So how much volume would be needed to house everyone in the way to which we've become accustomed? Well, probably about as much we're currently using. There's already an existing incentive structure that discourages people from spreading too thinly, because as functional density increases so does efficiency. As efficiency rises people become more wealthy. As people become more wealthy they want to live more luxuriously. As people want to live more luxuriously they require more space -- and thus desire a lower functional density.

It's a feedback loop that regulates population rather well, as can be seen in wealthy countries with dropping birth rates. That's the real reason that population growth isn't going to be a problem in the future, not because we could all live in Canyon Cube Condos (or "C-cubeds" as I call them).

Just imagine trying to transport food for 6 billion people into (and the waste from 6 billion people out of) the Grand Canyon. Imagine the damage a single nuke could do, or a brownout

Omar (or Mohammed?) at Iraq the Model explains where all the Iraqi oil money (plus more) has gone.

I wonder if stockholders, investors, and clients are more concerned with making money or with treating everyone nicely and fairly? Those two goals probably aren't mutually exclusive, but what if they are correlated? What if promoting more women ends up cutting profits by 10%? What if firing high-level executives who don't work well with women cuts profits by 10%?

The City has been urged to tackle its culture of sexism following a plethora of sex discrimination cases brought by female bankers and lawyers.

Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, called for companies to shake off their "macho" image by carrying out "root and branch" reform in the way they recruited and paid female staff. ...

The settlement includes a $12 million (£6.8 million) payment to Allison Schieffelin, a bond trader who helped launch the joint action six years ago.

The women claimed they were gropped by male colleagues and were sent strippers or breast-shaped birthday cakes in the office.

Morgan Stanley admitted that few women were promoted to its top jobs, but denied discrimination.

It's obvious that the men involved here are pigs. But, as a former customer of Morgan Stanley, I couldn't have cared less how many women were involved in management. I cared about how much money the company made me. If some executive couldn't or wouldn't stop offending women, I'd want to company to make the most profitable choice and fire whoever was contributing least. If the women were less valuable than the man harassing them, then get rid of them; if the man was less valuable, get rid of him. (And, obviously, if any of the harassment was actually criminal (such as assault, battery, rape, or attempted rape) then seek criminal prosecution.)

Companies aren't designed or intended to make people feel good about themselves, they're designed to make money for their investors. It's the only fair thing for them to do. If you invest money in a company that makes telephones and then the management of that company decides to waste your investment by buying balloons for orphans you'd be pretty upset. On the other hand, if buying balloons for orphans -- or firing sexist managers -- is the profitable way to go in the long run, then so be it. Do it. But leave all the touchy-feely (ha) warm-and-fuzzies at home.

The problem, of course, is that there are laws designed to make it expensive to make some decisions, even if they're the most profitable. So now some women are suing (and winning) and costing the companies even more money. What should they have done? How about quitting and finding another job where they're appreciated more? If they're really that valuable, some other company should be glad to take them away from the competition and treat them the way they want to be treated. The only reason to sue is if you know you can't cut it and aren't worth having around.

Update:
And of course some industries -- like rap music -- would disappear entirely without sexism. Should bankers be held to a higher standard than musicians?

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that the security fence has to be moved because it's unfair to the Palestinians on the other side. I'm certainly not an Israeli lawyer, and I have little idea of how their court system works, but this really doesn't sound like business any judges should be involved in.

Israel's high court said the barrier could be built to keep out Palestinian attackers, but that the route caused too much hardship for Palestinians. The world court said in an advisory ruling that the barrier is illegal and must be dismantled.

While the old route was defined purely by security considerations, the new one would try to find a balance between Israel's security needs and Palestinian rights, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In redrawing the map, planners were asked not to run the barrier next to Palestinian villages and not to separate Palestinians from their fields and schools, the official said.

As a result, the barrier would run much closer to Israel and more Israeli settlements would end up on the "Palestinian" side than originally planned.

Since when are judges qualified to determine "Israel's security needs"? Isn't that the job of the Parliament and the various ministers? Well, who knows -- maybe the Israeli Supreme Court is full of generals or ninjas or something.

Why is it that almost everything judges do that makes the news strikes me as meddling and stupid? Is it just a media selection factor? Or are these sorts of stupid things just the tip of the judicial iceberg?

I don't see anything wrong with the Popular Resistance Committee summer camp. It's just another culture -- who are we to judge? Besides, it's for the children.

Orange Country Sheriff Michael Carona (who actually is in favor of 2nd Amendment rights, by my understanding) travels with an armed entourage. Meanwhile, another Southern California Sheriff says:

"I wouldn't want to take critical personnel away from doing something else more valuable. I can drive myself," said Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle.

Asked how he ensures his own safety, Doyle pointed to his biceps. "Rock," he said, nodding to his left arm, "and roll," nodding to his right. "Them and my gun."

Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to carry and I can't afford bodyguards, so all I'm left with are my (admittedly impressive) biceps. Still, I'd rather have a gun.

Into the Ether -- which is published on the right sidebar of this blog and syndicated on several other sites -- needs more writers and more activity. To learn more about it go here. Basically, you can write short posts about anything you want. The point is to build up an ongoing conversation, a sort of stream-of-consciousness mini-blog. This other page has details on how to syndicate Into the Ether so that it shows up on your blog. It's easy (and free, of course), and will give you another source of frequently-updated content.

You don't need to be a blogger to participate, you just need to email me at plasticATgmailDOTcom.

The first post on this topic was quite controversial, but now there's more polling evidence that suggests that modern Christians -- particularly teens -- don't really know what they claim to believe.

It turns out that, while they may profess the faith and indeed love Jesus, the vast majority of Christian teenagers in this country actually hold beliefs fundamentally antithetical to the creed. The forces of moral relativism and "tolerance" have gotten to them in a big way. In fact, some leaders believe that mushy doctrine among the younger generation ranks as the No. 1 crisis facing American Christendom today.

About one-third of American teenagers claim they're "born again" believers, according to data gathered over the past few years by Barna Research Group, the gold standard in data about the U.S. Protestant church, and 88% of teens say they are Christians. About 60% believe that "the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings." And 56% feel that their religious faith is very important in their life.

Yet, Barna says, slightly more than half of all U.S. teens also believe that Jesus committed sins while he was on earth. About 60% agree that enough good works will earn them a place in heaven, in part reflecting a Catholic view, but also flouting Protestantism's central theme of salvation only by grace. About two-thirds say that Satan is just a symbol of evil, not really a living being. Only 6% of all teens believe that there are moral absolutes--and, most troubling to evangelical leaders, only 9% of self-described born-again teens believe that moral truth is absolute.

"When you ask even Christian kids, 'How can you say A is true as well as B, which is the antithesis of A?,' their typical response is, 'I'm not sure how it works, but it works for me,'" says George Barna, president of the Ventura, Calif.-based research company. "It's personal, pragmatic and fairly superficial."

Although the survey was of teenagers, I doubt the numbers would be much different among the older generations. I'm not really sure if these numbers are something to be concerned about, or if they're just hot air. Not that I question the poll itself, but in my experience the vast majority of everybody -- from all religious/philisophical systems -- has very little real understanding of what they purportedly believe.

There's a term for this: rational ignorance. It means that people make decisions without undergirding every position with a strong foundation. Why? Because it's impossible to know everything and we have to cut some corners. For instance, we trust building inspectors to make sure our buildings are safe; we don't each individually inspect every building we enter. We decide to be rationally ignorant. We know that building inspectors exist, but we don't take the time to learn every detail about how they do their job, and we don't take the time to check out many buildings for ourselves. If we did, we'd never have time for anything else.

Similarly, even though religious questions are potentially very important -- eternity itself hangs in the balance -- many people just aren't interested enough to worry about the details. They hear something that makes sense, they decide to believe it, and then they go on with their lives. From a Christian perspective, this attitude is short-sighted because it will cause us to miss out on many of God's greatest blessings which can only be obtained by serving him vigorously. However, the Bible teaches that very little is required of us to actually ensure our salvation.

First, we must confess our evil actions. "Confess" simply means to agree with God that the things we do are wrong, and that we break his laws (abridged) on a regular basis.

Second, we must realize that the punishment we earn for our evil is eternal separation from God and that our only hope for salvation is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

That's it. That's all God requires of us; but lest you think it sounds too easy, remember that Jesus did the real work. There are no additional facts to be learned, no political positions to affirm, and no theological truths to comprehend. Is it highly advantageous to seek wisdom beyond these mere basics? Of course. But such understanding is not required for salvation.

As Dale Buss notes, he teaches truth to the youth under his care, and I do the same for mine. However, many Christian leaders probably don't have very firm convictions, so it's no surprise than many of their students don't, either.

Aaron has another data point to justify my suspicions: "University English Departments Are Frauds".

I’d make the same argument for Ivy League English departments which, if you subtracted the faculty renowned for activism, would be decimated. Below is a set of links to all 8 Ivy English department faculties and the results confirmed
my suspicions.

There is hardly a professor who wasn’t a gay, black, latino, Marxist, or feminist activist. It is hard to argue that even a single dollar tuition paid for Ivy English department courses (outside of Freshman Composition) is well-spent. I’m not joking. A handful of legitimate scholars doesn’t justify the leftist-makework program for failed 1960’s radicals. It’s hard to argue that there is any groundbreaking research left in English departments. The country would be better off if most college English professors were fired and were compelled to teach junior and senior high school students how to write coherent sentences and paragraphs.

(HT: Walloworld.)

I really, really, don't like the idea of postponing the presidential election under any circumstances, even a serious terrorist attack. What's the alternative? Whichever area is affected to the extent that popular voting is impossible should have its electoral ballots allocated by its state legislature.

I just learned about something really devious called a negative amortization mortgage (or any other type of loan). As Dr. Don explains:

Negative amortization means that your loan balance is increasing instead of decreasing. With a negative amortization loan, when your monthly payment on an ARM (adjustable-rate mortgage) isn't enough to cover the interest expense and principal payment, the shortage is added to your loan balance.
Say, for example, than in a normal mortgage your monthly payment is $2000. Of that, $400 may go towards paying off the principal and $1600 may go towards paying interest on the loan. With a negative amortization mortgage your monthly payment on the same size loan could be $1200 instead of $2000, but each month the entire $1200 would go towards paying interest -- and an additional $800 could be added to your principal. Thus, at the end of each month you owe more on your house than you did at the beginning of the month.

My dissertation advisor will thank Professor Volokh for this post on concrete writing.

It looks like the Federal Marriage Amendment isn't just for extremists anymore.

President Bush says legalizing gay marriage (search) would redefine the most fundamental institution of civilization and that a constitutional amendment is needed to protect it. ...

The president urged the House and Senate to send to the states for ratification an amendment that defines marriage in the United States as a union of a man and woman as husband and wife.

Senate Democrats signaled they will not throw barriers in front of the resolution, paving the way for a vote on the amendment as early as next Wednesday. ...

The Human Rights Campaign (search), the nation's largest gay political organization, said the president and congressional allies "should focus on the priorities of the American people, not the agenda of their extremist base."

Hm, if the Democrats aren't going to oppose it doesn't that mean there's pretty broad support? Of course, it may not get enough votes to pass, but I'm still very curious to see what happens. Rather than constantly label their opponents as "extremists", why doesn't the gay lobby make a case for extending to same-sex couples the benefits mixed-sex couples enjoy through marriage? The "it's not fair" argument doesn't seem to be winning many converts, so why not try a different tack?

Jacob Levy sure is a smart guy, but I just don't think he gets it when it comes to this upcoming presidential election. He plans to vote for John Kerry because he thinks it's time for a less militaristic administration that will focus on rebuilding rather than warmaking.

Even though rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan is important it's not yet time to focus all our energies on reconstruction. Ultimately we will need to remake Arab society, and we can start now, but the main job isn't done yet and it won't be until North Korea and Iran are overthrown. If President Bush wins re-election both those governments will be gone in four years. If not, they'll both still be hanging around and causing trouble. It's as simple as that.

(See other recent posts about "evolution".)

One reason why I'm skeptical of the theory of evolution is that it's complex but not very graceful. In Artificial Intelligence we often make use of evolutionary principles in computer simulations and try to encourage the emergence of complex systems by combining a simple starting state, mutations, natural selection, and time. What many computer scientists have come to realize is that this approach is often extremely limiting and rarely yields impressive results. In my research, I've yet to see a single instance of an evolutionary model that produces an output that's more complex than its input.

When asked, the computer scientist will explain that the reason the model isn't working very well is that it isn't complex enough and doesn't account for all the factors that exist in the real universe to facilitate evolution. Real biological systems are incredibly complex, as is the environment in which biological creatures live, and in our simulations we -- by necessity -- make many simplifications.

That explanation makes sense, to a point, but after a while it begs the question of how complex a system actually needs to be for evolution to occur. According to evolutionary theory, all that should be required is a genome that can undergo mutations that affect the genome's survivability, some rules to describe how one genome is selected for reproduction over another (natural selection), and a net input of energy into the system (to overcome the second law of thermodynamics). But experimentally, these components are apparently insufficient, and the excuse is generally that the system in question isn't complex enough.

This apology rubs me the wrong way. It just doesn't feel right, and it strikes me as counterintuitive. Everyone who has taken high school physics knows that physics is rather complicated as well, but when we first learn physics we make all sorts of simplifications that make our models easier to understand. We assume there's no friction. We assume every body is a point mass. We ignore relativity. We ignore electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. And so forth. After making all these simplifications the models still work rather well, and the general principles of physics can be clearly taught and understood. The complicating factors can be introduced later and incorporated into the models as desired, and they help us get more accurate answers. It's graceful; that's why Newton's Laws served humanity so well before Einstein came around.

When it comes to evolution, however, there is no such grace. The key argument of evolution is that natural selection leads to increased organization and increased complexity, but no computer simulation has ever crossed that essential cusp. Every software system outputs less complexity than it takes in. The explanation that "it just isn't detailed enough yet" isn't very convincing because there's not even a theory addressing how complex a system has to be for evolution to "work", and the theory of evolution itself makes no such claim about required complexity. Plus, it's illogical. Why should there by some complexity threshold beyond which evolution kicks in? Or is there some other missing ingredient that we just haven't identified yet?

The other side of the argument is to point out that the natural selection rules are also part of the input to the system. In a way, evolution can be seen to "move" complexity from the rules of the universe into a genome (presumably with some significant loss due to inefficiency). The argument then says that evolution in the real universe doesn't actually output more complexity than it takes in, because the complexity of the various physical laws that govern biology are themselves part of the input. Is this something that can be measured? The human brain is the most complex system in the known universe by unit mass, but is the univserse itself more complex than human intelligence? If so, then we'll never be able to comprehend it. If not, then the argument falls apart.

That's rather frustrating.

Christopher Johnson at Midwest Conservative Journal notes that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has gone loony with regards to terrorism -- with which I agree -- but then extrapolates from their position and says that Protestantism is doomed. The first double-blockquote below is from a resolution by PCUSA, and Mr. Johnson's response follows.

The resolution calls for Presbyterians to “acknowledge our complicity in contributing to the circumstances that prompt individuals to engage in acts of terrorism.” It asks church members to accept blame for: “our disproportionate consumption of the earth’s resources”; “the export of the artifacts of our popular culture such as movies, music, and television programming”; “military responses to terrorism [that have] too often been motivated by a desire for vengeance and not a desire for justice”; and “condemn[ing] the religious faith of those who are different without taking the time to understand that faith.”
... Since nobody cares what the PCUSA thinks about anything, resolutions like this one are basically meaningless. Every mainline Protestant denomination has at one time or other passed something similar. But if you want a reason why mainline Protestantism is dying and deserves to die, this resolution will tell you everything you need to know.
Huh?

First off, my church isn't a part of any denominational organization, but we're Independent Baptists so I suppose we can be somewhat grouped in with other types of Baptists. Although I don't follow the Southern Baptist Convention very closely, they're pretty "mainline" and I highly doubt they've ever passed a resolution like the one passed by PCUSA. What this does illustrate, however, is exactly why my church has decided not to be affiliated with any larger organization. We try to avoid politics altogther (as a corporate body) because our mission isn't political, it's spiritual, and it would be a shame to hinder someone's walk with God due to a political disagreement.

I think Mr. Johnson is a bit premature in declaring a "MAINLINE DEATH THROES WATCH", but he may be right in thinking that the large denominational organizations are on their way out. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that the leaders of these organizations are quite out of touch from their membership, politically and doctrinally, and generally far more liberal.

James Picerno at The Capital Spectator does a good job explaining why the market has been a little indecisive recently, but I think he leaves out one important factor: political uncertainty. I talk to business owners, large and small, and the ones I've spoken to are all scared stiff that John Kerry might somehow win in November.

History seems to indicate that a split government -- with control of Congress and the White House divided between the parties -- is good for the economy, but there aren't a lot of data points to go on and there are many other external factors that muddle the issue. From the people I've talked to, the fears aren't over economic policy and taxes as much as over terrorism. Business leaders think a Kerry victory would increase the risk of terrorism to our country, and 9/11 demonstrated that terror is worse for the economy than are taxes.

I agree, sort of. I don't think John Kerry will have any choice but to continue in Afghanistan and Iraq, because those are done deals. What I'm concerned about is that he won't prosecute the rest of the War on Terror but will instead just cool his heels while North Korea and Iran fester and plot against us. If President Bush wins re-election I expect those two nations to be overturned by 2008, but if he doesn't they won't be and we'll be in much more danger.

Personally, I'm bullish. I still think Bush will win in a landslide, and the other economic data all look strong to me. Sure, there may be another terrorist attack no matter who wins election, but I don't think it will affect the market as much as 9/11 did. Of course, if it's a bigger attack than 9/11 it might, but then we'll have more important things to worry about than our portfolios.

Higher earnings over the past several quarters have helped bring down the market's valuation. The S&P's trailing price-earnings ratio, for instance, is about 20 today, vs. more than 60 back in early 2002. If Wall Street's consensus earnings outlook for the S&P for the year ahead proves accurate, the p/e will fall to about 17, assuming the index remains unchanged.

Ed Yardeni of Prudential Equity Group recently opined that "the balance sheets of corporate American are in the best shape ever." As a result, he says the market deserves to trade at a higher p/e. But the market's ignoring the improved state of corporate balance sheets, he notes. The good news: that mispricing creates opportunity, he believes, advising that "there's room for the p/e to rise once investors become aware of this great improvement."

A low p/e ratio is one of the key indicators of a good investment because it means that the price of the company is low relative to its earnings. So I'm buying.

Wow, this is such a surprise: teachers helping their students cheat.

A recent study shows as many as 200 teachers in California were caught cheating to help their students perform better on rigorous new standardized tests, which are part of the President Bush's "No Child Left Behind (search)" education plan.
Next thing you know, judges will be helping suspects flee from the cops.
As for punishing teachers who have been caught cheating, the state of California says it's up to local districts to decide what to do. Some have been fired and some have even received jail time.
Interesting. They should all be fired, but jail time seems a bit harsh to me.

Regarding this morning's terror warnings, while I was on the way to work I heard Rush say that the Bush Administration offered to brief the Kerry campaign on the threats over a week ago and that the Kerry campaign refused. I can't find that information anywhere online. Has anyone seen anything about it?

Update:
Drudge has more (perishable link).

KERRY PASSES UP TERROR BRIEFING: 'I JUST HAVEN'T HAD TIME'
Fri Jul 09 2004 09:23:56 ET

Just hours before attending an all-star celebrity fundraising concert in New York, Dem presidential candidate John Kerry revealed how he has been too busy for a real-time national security briefing.

"I just haven't had time," Kerry explained in an interview.

Kerry made the startling comments on CNN's LARRY KING LIVE Thursday night.

KING: News of the day, Tom Ridge warned today about al Qaeda plans of a large-scale attack on the United States. Didn't increase the -- you see any politics in this? What's your reaction?

KERRY: Well, I haven't been briefed yet, Larry. They have offered to brief me. I just haven't had time.

Developing...

Europe, always the continent most comfortable with mass murder, has decided that when a doctor performs an abortion on an unwilling baby it's not a crime. Not even if the mother is also unwilling.

A woman whose pregnancy was wrongly terminated in a French hospital has lost her fight at the European Court to enshrine a foetus' right to life.

Mrs Thi-Nho Vo went to the court after French courts said the doctor could not be prosecuted for homicide as the foetus did not have the right to life.

I suppose the decision is more consistent with the pro-choice position than our own laws are, but that -- obviously -- also makes it more disgusting and barbaric. Which -- also obviously -- is no surprise, coming from Europe.

Did I totally call this or what?

Hugs, kisses to the cheek, affectionate touching of the face, caressing of the back, grabbing of the arm, fingers to the neck, rubbing of the knees...

John Kerry and John Edwards can't keep their hands off each other!

Clayton Cramer gives a detailed history of the separation of church and state.

I first read Ender's Game about 10 years ago, and although I enjoyed the main plotline the most fascinating (and unbelievable) characters were Demosthenes and Locke -- who were essentially proto-bloggers, ante litteram. These were actually screennames used by Ender's siblings as they debated pseudononymously through the internet and shaped world policy.

From 1994 to 2003 I thought such an idea was silly. I used Usenet and knew there were a lot of smart writers, but I also knew that no one read Usenet -- at least no one who mattered. As Sean notes, both he and I were behind the curve by that point, and are only now catching up.

I've written before that the American who will be elected President in 2028 almost certainly has a blog today, and that may be a conservative estimate. I've also written a lot on this blog that would probably make it very difficult for me to have a political career, but would it be hard for someone with an opaque, non-blogging history to run against me? No one can predict such things. Imagine being able to read through decades of writing by a presidential candidate, and imagine how much more difficult it would be for wafflers like John Kerry to get elected to any office.

Someday blogs may even replace the press conference. Why bother dealing with pesky reporters when you can just post to your blog and have everyone in America (who's interested) read whatever you have to say? I think blogs will eventually bring us much closer to our politicians, and make the interaction much less formal (and tedious).

While flipping stations in the car last week, I heard radio talk-show host Tom Leykis say something that made me think. To paraphrase: "It's not fair for women to work; now they get 50% of the money and they still have 100% of the poontang." [Is that a bad word?]

This statement prompted an analogy in my mind. To use the (now-defunct) SAT format:

work:women :: pornography:men

Work is to women what pornography is to men. Perhaps along with pornography we should also include prostitutes, many dating relationships, and other sorts of substitutes for sex within a marriage.

By this analogy I don't mean to say that women working is morally equivalent to men going to prostitutes. My point is that women turn to jobs to fulfill the needs/desires (food, shelter, &c.) that were historically met by their husbands, just as men turn to pornography and prostitutes to fulfill the needs/desires (basically, sex) that were historically met by their wives.

Obviously there is more to a healthy marriage than money and sex, but to the immature, greedy, and lustful, aren't those the most important things? (Further, most divorces are caused by money problems or sex problems, so maybe there isn't much more in most marriages, after all.)

There's a to-do among female Senators over President Bush's recently-confirmed judicial nominee J. Leon Holmes. More than anything, the controversy reveals that many people are quicker to condemn the Bible than to understand it.

Women senators are expressing outrage at a controversial judicial nominee who co-authored a 1997 article with his wife in which he suggested biblical passages about wives being subservient to their husbands should be taken literally.

J. Leon Holmes (search) — nominated by President Bush to serve on the federal district court in Arkansas — and his wife wrote the article for the Arkansas Catholic Review (search) that reads "the wife is to subordinate herself to the husband ... the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man."

Holmes said the words have been taken out of context, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (search), D-Calif., calls Holmes unacceptable.

"How can I or any other American believe that one who truly believes a woman is subordinate to her spouse [can] interpret the Constitution (search) fairly?" she asked during a debate Tuesday on the candidate.

Even Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas claim Holmes does not have a "fundamental commitment to the equality of women in our society."

There are a few passages on this topic in the New Testament, but the most relevant is probably:

Ephesians 5:22-33

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[1] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- 30 for we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."[2] 32 This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The majority of the controversy is based on the worldly assumption that the person in charge is in a better position than the person following. But is that really the case? Jesus says no.

Luke 22:24-27

24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves."

Throughout the Bible the virtues of humility are extolled, as are the dangers of pride.

Which is better then, to serve or to be served? Which is better, to strive for earthly mastery and displease God, or to submit in love to others and receive an eternal reward? After all, the command to submit isn't given only to wives -- humility is the path to greatness. Further, the verse directly before the passage about marriage above is this:

Ephesians 5:21

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

We are all to show humility and love towards each other, regardless of our positions.

Anyone who complains about submission reveals that he or she is more concerned with earthly praise and position than with pleasing God.

See also John 13.

Update:
Another thought. Most men don't strive to be worthy of submission, and most women don't strive to be worthy of dying for.

First off, I'm not suggesting that this would be a good policy to implement; I'm merely posing a hypothetical.

At what point would it be better to fight the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic by immediately killing all infected individuals rather than by merely preaching prevention and researching a cure?

The UN says that 38 million people around the world are currently infected; it would be impossible to quarantine them or otherwise separate them from the uninfected population, but it wouldn't be nearly as hard to require testing and then kill everyone who failed. We wouldn't get everyone, but we could get 90%, say, and drive the rest into seclusion and self-exile/quarantine.

Obviously this is a horrible thing to contemplate, and I want to repeat again that I'm not suggesting that we're nearing the point where such a policy is necessary. I'm asking, how bad does AIDS have to get before we do reach that point?

Maybe the answer is "never". I don't know enough about the disease and its spread to say whether or not it is self-limiting. I know that I'm not at risk, but I think that the vast majority of people in the world have sex with multiple partners and are in some danger of infection. As infection rates rise, others may adopt my behavioral traits and abstain from sex outside of marriage, thereby creating an asymptotic ceiling for the disease -- but where is that ceiling? Will the disease max out at 20% of the population? 50%? 90%? We can only guess. Once the infection rate gets too high, it will become more and more difficult to kill those who are infected, simply due to their increased numbers and their likely resistance.

Assuming there is a maximum infection rate that is somehow self-limiting, is it also self-sustaining? Once the maximum rate is attained, will it be maintained across generations? It seems likely that AIDS greatly reduces reproductive opportunities, so the behavior/psychological traits that lead to AIDS may be selected against (nurture/nature) quite strongly. Again, one can only speculate.

There isn't much thought about this type of solution because not only is it awful to contemplate, it's also probably thought to be unnecessary. After all, we may have a cure soon. But what if we don't? What if the infection rate keeps rising and there's still no cure in sight? At what point do we "pull the trigger" (literally) for the sake of the species? Or do we ever?

Some may say no: individuals shouldn't be sacrificed for "the species". On the other hand, killing 38 million infected people now could save unknown millions of lives later, and those lives aren't just "the species", they're real individuals as well. Do we have a responsibility towards them?

If so, part of that responsibility surely rests with those who are infected. They have a responsibility to prevent themselves from infecting others. But what if they refuse to? What if it's impossible to educate them and prevent them from spreading the disease? Should passing the disease be a capital offense? Should such a law actually be enforced with vigor? Is it possible to enforce such a law in the mostly-lawless third-world countries where AIDS is most prevalent?

When it comes to quick-killing diseases like Ebola -- or movie scenarios like in Outbreak -- we see nothing monstrous about isolating the doomed and allowing them to die. It's tragic, but there's often no other option; if the disease can't be treated, the infected cannot be allowed to roam freely and infect others. Why is there a different standard when it comes to AIDS? Because those who are infected can easily avoid infecting others? That may be true in America, where most people have an understanding of the disease, but the same thing cannot be said for other countries, and education efforts often fail for cultural reasons.

Update:
Via Instapundit comes the sad news that the search for an HIV/AIDS vaccine isn't going so well.

So the New York Post made a huge mistake and announced that Senator Kerry had chosen Representative Gephardt as his running-mate, when in fact he has selected Senator Edwards. Yes, it's a big deal, but it's also interesting to note how many bloggers are nearly ecstatic over the error.

Ok, so maybe not everyone is "ecstatic", but this is still the widest coverage I've ever seen any story get in the blogosphere.

[I started linking to various crowing posts, but became exhausted when I realized I could never do an exhaustive listing.]

Update:
Meanwhile, Drudge reports that:

DISNEY CHAIRMAN MITCHELL CONSULTED KERRY ON RUNNING MATE

Dem presidential hopeful John Kerry quietly consulted with DISNEY Chairman George Mitchell over vice presidential picks, it has been learned.

Kerry reached out to Mitchell for advice and counsel on VP options, sources explain. The DISNEY chairman's responsibilities include the ABC-TV Network and ABCNEWS...

Update 2:
I also love all the pictures of Kerry with various politicians who look like they're about to kiss.

The economic word for today is arbitrage.

In economics, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a state of imbalance between two (or possibly more) markets: a combination of matching deals are struck that exploit the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices. A person who engages in arbitrage is called an arbitrageur.

Arbitrage is possible when one of three conditions is not met:

1. The same asset must trade at the same price on all markets ("the law of one price").
2. Two assets with identical cash flows must trade at the same price.
3. An asset with a known price in the future, must today trade at its future price discounted at the risk free rate.

Basically, arbitrage is taking advantage of the common economic advice to "buy low and sell high". You find two markets trading in the same thing (stock, commodity, currency, whatever) and buy from the market with the low price and sell to the market with a high price. The trick is often in identifying the item to trade and the markets in which to do the trading so that the trades are profitable.

Due to human psychology, some markets are in permanent disequilibrium. Consider, for example, the endless spending on weight-loss.

Also of interest: bookmaking.

I've written several posts ("Girls Gone Mild", "Child Pornography and Illogical Legal Structures", "Child Nudist Camps") relating to child pornography, because I think the issue is extremely troubling and also an excellent example of how moral apathy cannot be contained and compartmentalized within society. As I wrote before,

For instance, a 14-year-old can get married in Hawaii, but if he or she decides to take pictures of the wedding night they'll go to jail. Similarly, it would be basically impossible to ban nudist camps on private property, but the government wants to punish anyone who takes pictures of their kids in the bathtub.

Society wants to have it both ways. We want sexual permissiveness for everyone, all the time, under any and every circumstance... oh, except kids. They must be completely isolated from all sexuality. Oh, except for sex ed, starting in middle school. Children can't consent to be photographed, but can get married in many states. And it's unconstitutional for a state to require parental permission or even notification before allowing a minor to have an abortion.

It's all hand-waving. There's no cohesive policy because no policy could satisfy all these conflicting objectives.

And now we're starting to reap the results.
Boland, 37, of Lakewood, is one of a handful of criminal-defense experts in the country with the knowledge to testify about digital-imaging technology and the ways pornographers are using it to enhance and distribute their wares via the Internet. ...

Boland has teamed with criminal defense lawyers who are exploiting a provision of Ohio law that says to obtain a conviction, a prosecutor must prove that a digital portrait of suspected child pornography is, in fact, a picture of a child. To meet that requirement, the image must be authenticated as a child and not an adult digitally enhanced to look like a child - an extremely difficult level of proof for police and prosecutors, Boland says.

Without the evidence to refute Boland's testimony and prove authenticity, judges threw out child-pornography charges in Summit and Portage counties in March. A Columbiana County judge has reserved his ruling until trial.

And the simple fact of the matter is that Dean Boland is correct: there is no way to prove whether or not a digital image has been altered. Prosecutors are outraged because it means that many/most/all of their child pornography cases are going to be thrown out, but what's the alternative? Defendants are facing what amounts to life in prison, so how can anyone argue that the threshold for proof should be lowered? If guilt can't be proven, the accused must go free.

Possession crimes are always particularly tricky anyway. Imagine how easy it would be to send an enemy to jail just by dropping a few pictures onto his machine and then calling the cops. I'm sure every defendant screams "Those aren't mine!", and most of them are lying, but how can you tell? The images could be sent as an email attachment with an incorrect file extension, and the recipient would never know what they were until the cops came knocking with their anonymous tip.

U.S. District Judge Sven Erik Holmes has been asked to decide the constitutionality of a prior federal law that required a defendant to "knowingly" possess pornographic images of children in order to be convicted. A defense ruling could cause a "firestorm" across the country, and take precedent over state laws, Boland said.

"If that happens, the overwhelming majority of Internet child-porn cases in the United States would be gone," Boland said. "The only people they'll be able to prosecute in the country will be the actual porn producers."

But I imagine that most producers aren't located in the United States, which means they'd be effectively out of legal reach.

Again, I don't have the solution. I suspect that there isn't a solution that would satisfy everyone. Personally, I think possessing child pornography is heinous, but less heinous than producing child pornography, which is in turn less heinous than murder. We have a high threshold for guilt when it comes to proving murder, and I think we must maintain that same threshold when it comes to child pornography. It's better to let the guilty go free than to convict the innocent.

(HT: Clayton Cramer and Eugene Volokh.)

Update:
Here's a Salon.com article by James R. Kincaid discussing some of the consequences of our society's confusion over children and sexuality. I certainly don't agree with all his premises, but his extrapolations are rational.

Michelle Malkin writes that some school teachers are forsaking Shakespeare for Tupac in an effort to "reach" inner-city youths.

Have you checked your child's summer reading list? Beware: Some lame-brained school officials have decided to ditch the sonnets of Shakespeare for the tripe of Tupac.

That's slain gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur -- the drug-dealing, baseball bat-wielding, cop-hating, Black Panthers-worshiping, convicted sexual abuser who made a fortune extolling the "thug life" before he was gunned down in Las Vegas eight years ago.

Teachers in Worcester, Mass., have embraced Shakur's posthumously published book of poems as a way to get middle school students' attention. "We wanted to include books that kids would want to read," Michael O'Sullivan, a member of the summer reading list selection committee, explained to the Telegram and Gazette of Worcester last month before school let out. ''Reading counterculture in schools, and to get kids to read anything that is not completely objectionable, is the goal,'' Deputy Superintendent Stephen E. Mills echoed.

Amazing. We spend more and more on public education each year, and that's the highest goal our educators can set and meet? Getting kids to read something that isn't completely objectionable? That's crap.

Teachers need to be held accountable for doing their jobs and actually achieving. Many teachers complain that they shouldn't be evaluated based on student performance because some students don't try, and so forth, but I'm getting past the point where I care. More than anything, it looks like many teachers (and the unions that protect them) are just lazy and incompetent.

On the other hand, am I expecting too much? Is it possible that anyone who would voluntarily babysit hundreds of apathetic kids for minimal pay is really capable of understanding Shakespeare's writings, much less teaching them?

Public education is a joke. Not a funny joke, either. It's a waste of money and resources. No one values what they get for free -- not the parents, and not the kids.

(HT: Clayton Cramer.)

Wow, in an utterly unsurprising move John Kerry has chosen John Edwards to be his running mate. Didn't it feel like Mr. Edwards was positioning himself for this role from the very beginning? Anyway, I find it hard to care very much.

Even though all my family on the Hill denies it, my hunch is still that Dick Cheney will step down as President Bush's running mate and we'll get a real surprise at the Republican convention that will totally eclipse these two Johns.

As you can see, Road Runner's ad has expired there on the right sidebar, which means you have a great opportunity to reach 1000 people per day by advertising on this site. Sometimes more! All the proceeds go directly to the Make Michael Rich Foundation, so click here to help an unfortunate, non-rich Michael, and make a difference in someone's life. It's for the children.

Ugh. Women, even teenagers, getting more and more plastic surgery, and I think it's gross. I'd like to recommend that any woman thinking of "having some work done" take a look at Awful Plastic Surgery before they do. The site has (safe, decent) pictures that vividly illustrate just how badly breast implants and other "augmentations" can turn out... and keep in mind, these are pictures of celebrities, who can afford the best surgeons around.

The first in this series was by John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and now the candidate himself echos his wife's bizarre position:

But even as he tried to avoid making news Sunday, Kerry broke new ground in an interview that ran in the Dubuque, Iowa, Telegraph Herald. A Catholic who supports abortion rights and has taken heat from some in the church hierarchy for his stance, Kerry told the paper, "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception."

Spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said that although Kerry has often said abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," and that his religion shapes that view, she could not recall him ever publicly discussing when life begins.

"I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist," he continued in the interview. "We have separation of church and state in the United States of America." The comments came on the final day of a three-state Midwest swing, during which Kerry has repeatedly sought to dispel stereotypes that could play negatively among voters there.

Translation: abortion kills a human being and ends a human life, but what authority does a lawmaker have to force people not to kill? What a strange middle-ground he's searching for here. I'm almost amazed, but that's the sort of illogical, indefensible moral position that pro-choicers are facing now that scientific advancement is demonstrating that their disregard for prenatal life is untenable.

Update:
I'm not the only one who finds Kerry's position ludicrous. Captain Ed says it reveals the "intellectual and philosophical bankruptcy of the Democratic nominee" and Mr. Minuteman calls it a "muddle".

[Insert obligatory Independence Day post here.]

Sorry, I'm too busy celebrating to write a long and involved post. Everyone knows how great America is, so why do I have to say it?

Speaking of independence, I'm glad I don't live in Sweden! According to commenter "GLA radar service":

in SWEDEN where i live, you can`t even so much as whisper GUN and the will take you into custody
ASAP. here the agenda is almost totaly forfilled
the population has systematicaly been reduced to
totaly pacified obidient non thinking slaves,,
opening their mouths to be feeded whatever the system wants to feed them. and if you utter the word self defence here,, they look at you with zombie like eyes like you come from another planet. you can not undwer any circumstances or situations Harm an intruder/violator/ etc. not even if you find your doughter being brutaly raped with an chainsaw by a stranger/burglerer in your own house,, DO NOT EVEN DARE ! to "bend" a tiny tiny hair on his head.or you will suffer DIRE consequenses. its basicaly a One party system in the country and has been for 50 years,,nothing will change,, the inhabitants will is totaly broken, the goverment ( soon to be EU) can legislate whatever law they wants, objections is unheard of, as i said,,,, everything is going smoothly acording to the agenda,, its only the microchips in our heads missing.

sometimes,, it feels the Americans are the last free people left on this planet =O .

God bless America!

Wow, this is bizarre. I've lived in California my whole life, and taken numerous IQ tests, and I never knew that a 1979 judicial ruling prohibits giving IQ tests to black kids.

Pamela Lewis wanted to have her 6-year-old son Nicholas take a standardized IQ test (search) to determine if he qualifies for special education speech therapy. Officials at his school routinely provide the test to kids but as Lewis soon found out, not to children who are black, due to a statewide policy that goes back to 1979.

At that time, many black kids performed poorly on the IQ test and wound up in special education classes. A lawsuit claimed the test was biased and a judge agreed — banning public schools from giving the test to black children while allowing it for everyone else.

It's amazing to me how much bigotry and discrimination get institutionalized by those on the left who claim to want everyone to be treated equally under the law.

Anyone in the world is welcome to observe American elections, including the UN. Maybe they'll learn something, considering that the majority of UN members don't have elections at all. The only problem I have with this news item is that the American politicians who think we need UN help to ensure fair elections are missing something obvious: if our past elections haven't been fair, the first honest thing for the concerned politicians to do is to resign from their potentially-unfairly-obtained offices. Until they do, I'm not going to take their worries very seriously.

The Cato Institute has generously offered me a scholarship to this summer's Cato University seminar, and I'm going to take the last week of July off from work to go! It looks very exciting.

I'm curious to see how my views will be received. I made it plain in my application that I'm a Christian and a conservative (with libertarian sympathies), and I get the impression that Libertarians don't always like Christians very much. I'm not sure about this, however. Perusing Cato's website, it also looks like they want us to pull out of Iraq ASAP, which isn't something I see as being very wise. I'm also wavering on the drug legalization thing, which is strongly supported by libertarians.

Still, I'm sure there will be a lot we will agree on, and I'm eager to engage in debate with all the brilliant people I imagine will be there. I hope I conduct myself well and learn a bunch of new things.

Plus, I hope I meet some beautiful babies.

I'm going to buy a laptop and blog from the resort as much as possible, and take a bunch of pictures. I wonder if any other bloggers will be there? To tell the truth, I don't have any idea how many people will be attending.

This may not really be a surprise to anyone, but Bill Clinton doesn't understand that even though the government isn't forcing him to give (as much of) his money to poor people, he could still decide to do it for himself.

Clinton accused the GOP and Bush of caring only about the wealthiest Americans to the exclusion of everyone else. ...

"They are paying for my tax cut by kicking 300,000 poor kids out of their after-school program," he added.

Clinton also accused the administration of cutting U.S. aid to a school lunch program in the developing world so that wealthy Americans like himself could buy more luxury items.

Mr. Clinton can buy more luxury items if he wants to, or he can donate some of his wealth to less fortunate people, either by contributing to after-school programs here in America or to school lunch programs in the developing world.
"Last year they cut that program to $50-million dollars from $300-million dollars to protect my tax cut," Clinton said. "Hundreds of thousands of kids aren't getting food in school so I can, you know, buy another watch. I am telling you, that's what the deal is," he added.
No, Mr. Clinton, it's so you can have the choice between buying another watch or helping people you want to help. Leftists are big on choice right? So why is it that in this case you don't seem to understand it or appreciate it?
Clinton said that as a wealthy man, he would be happy to pay more in taxes to fund programs he feels are vital to the nation.

"I like saying this now - 'cause I literally -- I didn't have any money ever. I had the lowest net worth of any modern president when I went in office and then they bankrupted me when I left, and I didn't care, 'cause I wasn't in it for the money anyway," he said.

"Let me tell you something -- people like me -- it's a privilege to live in this country and if you are lucky to have something, you ought to give something back, so that all the kids can get educated."

Then do it. Nothing is stopping you, Mr. Clinton, from giving some or all of your money to charity. But don't get the government involved in taking money from other people just because you feel guilty about being "too rich". Many of us -- who would be deeply affected by your propsed tax policies -- don't have that same problem.

The New York Times is luring away some of the "best talent" from the Los Angeles Times. I'm not exactly sure how we'll be able to tell the difference....

The Times (L.A.) lost its fourth top reporter or editor to The Times (N.Y.) in a week yesterday when news emerged, via L.A. Weekly, that Michael Cieply, the paper's best known reporter/editor on the entertainment business beat, was heading East.

The 2004 Democratic National Convention is in Boston, which means it'll be impossible to escape the Kennedy clan. I doubt I'm the first to point this out, but the convention dates overlap the anniversary of Ted Kennedy's despicable manslaughter (if not murder) of Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick on July 19th, 1969. I've heard rumors that the Convention will include a tribute to Ted Kennedy.

If you're not familiar with Chappaquiddick, this should whet your appetite.

- See Police diver John Farrar's testimony suggesting that Mary Jo Kopechne survived for as long as two hours in the submerged automobile by breathing a pocket of trapped air.

- Learn how Senator Kennedy spent the nine hours after the accident attempting to cover-up his involvement, while Mary Jo Kopechne was left to die in his submerged automobile.

- Read the scenario developed by Detective Bernie Flynn, one of the officers who investigated the accident

- View Senator Kennedy's history of traffic violations.

- Learn why George Killen , the State Police Detective-Lieutenant who investigated the accident, said that Senator Kennedy "killed that girl the same as if he put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger."

Update:
Viking Pundit was on this two weeks ago, as was Eric Fettmann at the New York Post.

Eugene Volokh wonders about statutory rape laws and solicits opinions and arguments for what the cutoff age should be.

So I've been thinking -- purely for academic reasons, I hasten to stress! -- about statutory rape laws. There's broad agreement that sex with people who are too young is wrong, and should be illegal, because children aren't mature enough to consent to sex.

But there's vast disagreement about what the proper cutoff age will be.

Rather than pick a certain age, I propose that everyone be required to take a "maturity test" before being granted the status of a full adult. This test will include physical and mental components that can be evaluated objectively -- not necessarily an easy test to design, but set that aside for a moment. The test should be crafted so that the vast majority (80%+) of 18-year-olds can pass.

Those who pass the maturity test will be allowed to vote, drive, drink, gamble, and have sex with anyone else who has also passed the test -- i.e., they'll be "adults". Those who have not passed the test will be considered children, regardless of their actual chronological age, and will not be allowed to marry, have sex, enter into contractual agreements, or make any of the typical adult decisions for themselves.

What results would this policy have? Society could weed out the bottom 20% (say) of older-people (can't call them "adults" anymore) and restrict their harmful activities. Particularly mature teens could try for adulthood early and take control of their destiny, to the benefit of all society. Why should mature teens be relegated to the holding pen of High School? And why should the eternally immature be given full citizenship just because they've been around a while?

Of course, there are many possible objections to this proposal, not the least of which is actually creating and administering the maturity test. Still, we test for all sorts of things (college, driving, practicing law and medicine), and the paradigm seems to work pretty well. Additionally, none of this addresses the morality of sex as it relates to age; I think extramarital sex is immoral all the time, regardless of age, but shouldn't be illegal.

I've noted before that American teens are over-educated and that the American education system fosters a ridiculous artificial social structure that doesn't reward teens for actually contibuting to society. It's also pretty obvious that teens are over-sexed, but I hadn't made the connection between the two issues the way Glenn Reynolds does by identifying teens as America's new leisure class.

Consider this analogy: Unmotivated teen-agers who are idling away their time in school, protected from the real world and supported by their parents, are more like welfare recipients than they are like responsible citizens. However, since the implementation of welfare reform has forced a degree of personal responsibility, illegitimacy rates are way down, and so are many other social pathologies associated with welfare dependency. Maybe what teen-agers need is some "welfare reform."

Perhaps if teen-agers were encouraged to take on adult responsibilities and win status and recognition in constructive ways, they'd probably start acting more like citizens, and less like a leisure class, with all the vices that have historically attended leisure classes.

If teen-agers weren't infantilized in so many other ways, they'd have a better base of judgment and self-respect, and could make better decisions about when they were ready to have sex and be more responsible about precautions and consequences when the time came.

Good stuff.

So Saddam et al are finally beginning the long road to justice. I hope the legal process is cathartic for the Iraqi people, because it would have been at least as just (if not more just) to simply drag the lot of them into the street and string them up.

I'm particularly glad that former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz is in the docks. I remember seeing him jet around the world for media appearances and hating that no one had the courage to snap him up.

Aziz denied personal involvement in any of the regime's crimes, saying, "I never killed anybody by any direct act."
It's called being an "accomplice". Look it up.

Here's another evolution-related story with scientists saying that just about anything is possible, once you take evolution as a given.

The remnants of a remarkably petite skull belonging to one of the first human ancestors to walk on two legs have revealed the great physical diversity among these prehistoric populations.

But whether the species Homo erectus, meaning "upright man", should be reclassified into several distinct species remains controversial.

Richard Potts, from the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and colleagues discovered numerous pieces of a single skull in the Olorgesailie valley, in southern Kenya, between June and August 2003.

Numerous pieces found in a valley over the course of several months... that means they probably weren't all close together. Why do I not have a lot of confidence they're even from the same skull?

The bones found suggest the skull is that of a young adult Homo erectus who inhabited the lush mountainside some 930,000 years ago. The prominent brow and temporal bone resemble other Homo erectus specimens found elsewhere in Africa, and in Europe, Indonesia and China.

But the skull itself is around 30% smaller, which is likely to have corresponded to a similar difference in body size. The specimen helps fill a gap in the fossil record as very few Homo erectus specimens of this age have been found in Africa so far.

So... it's not really very similar?

Some experts even go so far as to suggest that a complete rethink of the human genealogical tree may be in order. "Recognising that Homo erectus may be more a historical accident than a biological reality might lead to a better understanding of those fossils whose morphology clearly exceeds the bounds of individual variation," says Jeffrey Schwartz of Pittsburgh University.

But Fred Spoor, at University College London, UK, disputes this interpretation, saying there is probably similar variation among modern human populations and ape species. "It's completely justified to call it Homo erectus," he told New Scientist. "This just gives some insight into the great variation of later specimens."

In other words, nothing is proven. New finds just lead to new speculation.

Spoor notes that the paucity of the fossil record means that many conjectures about Homo erectus remain unproven.

Indeed.

He hypothesises that a Homo erectus of this size may in fact have been muscular enough to make the stone tools found in the Olorgesailie valley. "They may have been small individuals, but incredibly powerful," he says.

Maybe! But there's no way to know. There's no experimental process. There's no repeatability. Thus, you can believe what you will about evolution, but it's not science. Studying fossils is science, gathering data is science, but speculating on the distant past is not science.

Which doesn't mean evolution is a useless idea. I've used evolutionary algorithms in my study of artificial intelligence, and they're quite interesting.

More on why evolution isn't scientific.

I like riddles, but most books of riddles are totally lame. What's with that? That's a riddle we may never solve!

Ha, anyway, here are five riddles I thought up this morning while I was running. They may not be great, but they're better than 99% of riddles I've ever read. The first one to email me the correct answers will win something fantastic. If no one gets all five, then the first submission with four correct answers will win, and so forth. The prize will be a free Blog Ad, a guest post, a permalink, or some other blog-related item of your choice.

Please don't post the answers in the comments! But if you've got any good riddles of your own, let's hear 'em.

1.
I grow taller day by day,
But every week my height's the same.

2.
You hold me and I hold your life;
It runs from me and runs into you.

3.
When you pass over me, I go "bump",
Not up then down, but down then up.

4.
Two go in and one comes out;
If two are one, then one, else none.

5.
I see you but you can't see me,
Yet you consume my sight for free.
My many words will never die,
But every word I say's a lie.

I spent my afternoon and evening writing 18 query letters and preparing 12 copies of my manuscript to send to publishers. I scoured the web and Writer's Market 2004 for contact information and submission guidelines, and I think everything is in place. My letter is good. Now I just have to wait six months to hear back from anyone.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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