August 2004 Archives

Some readers didn't believe me when I wrote last week that John Kerry is getting desperate, but maybe they'll believe someone with more insider knowledge.

Dispirited Democrats -- prominent senators, top fundraisers, even a few Kerry confidants -- have told the candidate, who is in Nantucket, that high-level changes are imperative. A few very well-connected Democrats report something will occur in the next few days. One person who might assume more control is Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton and a respected public-relations figure, but one who has almost no experience in the high-stakes world of presidential campaigns. Another possibility: veteran Democratic politico John Sasso, currently at the Democratic National Committee.

If there is a change -- Sen. Kerry privately is said to be "bouncing off the walls" in frustration -- it has to be imminent as the eight-week campaign is in full swing by Labor Day. "We have 48 hours," acknowledges an insider.

Further, it appears that lack of network coverage (as opposed to cable news coverage) is reducing the conventions' visibility (as I suggested):
The decision by the major television networks to trim their convention coverage is sharply reducing the number of viewers who see these political events, Harvard's Shorenstein Center reports. A survey during the Democratic convention noted that millions of potential viewers were lost, and the same is likely this week.

None of the three biggest networks, for example, aired any of last night's coverage.

In 1976, each network carried more than 20 hours of convention coverage for both parties, but that has steadily declined to about three hours this year.

ABC, CBS and NBC argue the former comprehensive coverage isn't necessary because cable TV fills that void. But the Shorenstein Center points out one-fifth of households don't have cable. And particularly critical is that "inadvertent" viewers -- those who channel surf -- do so much more on broadcast networks than cable channels. Even many cable viewers, the study found "habitually monitor the network channels but do routinely check to see what's being telecast on CNN, Fox or MSNBC."

Yeah so, I sometimes know what I'm talking about.

(HT: kf.)

Although I think it's mean and pointless to hurt a helpless creature, I don't really care what people do to their own animals. There shouldn't be any criminal punishment for hurting an animal you own, and if you hurt someone else's animal you should be prosecuted similarly to any other form of property crime.

An 11-year-old Indianapolis girl faces legal trouble after witnesses told Indianapolis police she intentionally mistreated a kitten Saturday night by swinging it in the air with a cord tied around its neck.

The girl was arrested on a Class A misdemeanor charge of torturing or killing a vertebrate animal. Animal Care and Control officials said in a report that the animal had to be euthanized because of injuries to its neck and its poor health.

The incident happened in the 2300 block of North Moreland Avenue around 6:30 p.m. An Indianapolis police officer who arrived to investigate also reported seeing the girl slam the kitten onto a wagon and heard the kitten cry out, according to a report.

The story doesn't indicate if the child owned the animal or not, but it's pretty absurd to criminally charge an 11-year-old.

My real concern in cases like these is that torturing small animals is part of the terrible triad of childhood behaviors, along with pyromania and bedwetting, that are common among psychopaths and sociopaths. According to Mindhunter author and former FBI agent John E. Douglas, something like 80% of serial killers displayed two or three of these behaviors by age 12. Certainly not everyone who does these things will become a serial killer, but there are other dangers associated with such mental pathologies; this girl should probably be put under psychiatric monitoring for a while, and her parents should be taught to look for other signs of future trouble.

Based on the awesome transcripts I've perused of the RNC convention speeches so far, I'm not surprised they weren't carried on television. Had they been, everyone would now be a Republican. Check out Rudy's:

I don't believe we're right about everything and Democrats are wrong about everything.

Neither party has a monopoly on virtue.

But I do believe that there are times in our history when our ideas are more necessary and important for what we are facing.

There are times when leadership is the most important.

On September 11, this city and our nation faced the worst attack in our history.

On that day, we had to confront reality. For me, standing below the north tower and looking up and seeing the flames of hell and then realizing that I was actually seeing a man a human being jumping from the 101st or 102nd floor drove home to me that we were facing something beyond anything we had ever faced before.

We had to concentrate all of our energy, faith and hope to get through those first hours and days.

And I will always remember that moment as we escaped the building we were trapped in at 75 Barclay Street and realized that things outside might be even worse than they were inside the building.

We did the best we could to communicate a message of calm and hope, as we stood on the pavement seeing a massive cloud rushing through the cavernous streets of lower Manhattan.

Our people were so brave in their response.

At the time, we believed we would be attacked many more times that day and in the days that followed. Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said to Bernie, "Thank God George Bush is our President."

And I say it again tonight, "Thank God George Bush is our President."

On September 11, George W. Bush had been President less than eight months. This new President, Vice President, and new administration were faced with the worst crisis in our history.

President Bush's response in keeping us unified and in turning the ship of state around from being solely on defense against terrorism to being on offense as well and for his holding us together.

For that and then his determined effort to defeat global terrorism, no matter what happens in this election, President George W. Bush already has earned a place in our history as a great American President.

Imagine any Democrat (ok, just about any) being even half as conciliatory towards Republicans.

And Senator McCain's:

My friends, we are again met on the field of political competition with our fellow countrymen. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis we have these contests, and engage in spirited disagreement over the shape and course of our government.

We have nothing to fear from each other. We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, and promote the general welfare. But it should remain an argument among friends who share an unshaken belief in our great cause, and in the goodness of each other.

We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always. Let us argue our differences.

But remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy, and take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals, and our unconquerable love for them.

Our adversaries are weaker than us in arms and men, but weaker still in causes. They fight to express a hatred for all that is good in humanity.

We fight for love of freedom and justice, a love that is invincible. Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong.

Do not yield. Do not flinch. Stand up. Stand up with our President and fight.

We're Americans.

We're Americans, and we'll never surrender.

They will.

These were some powerful exhortations, and it's sad that very few people got to see them.

Reuters "news" editor Todd Eastham responded by email to a National Right to Life Committee press release:

Eastham's email read as follows: "What's your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?"
How obliviously evil! The parents "don't want" the children, therefore the children should be killed. With that logic and morality the strong can justify killing just about anyone we want, right?
Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee's legislative director, called it "sad but revealing to see an editor for a major news service so casually and gratuitously express such blatant hostility to both the Bush administration and to the right to life of unborn children.

"Apparently, Mr. Eastham feels strongly that abortion is necessary to prevent the birth of children who will otherwise snatch some bread from his mouth," said Johnson. "We can only wonder at how such vehement opinions may color Mr. Eastham's reporting or editing on subjects such as abortion and the Bush administration."

Nah, I'm sure his twisted morality and idiocy don't affect how he edits "news" stories or selects stories for publication.

Anyway, on the plus side, I really like the concept of "oblivious evil" and I think I'm going to use it more frequently.

I love the short story format because just about any tale worth telling can be told well in 10,000 words or less. Sure, some sagas can be told in greater detail over thousands of pages, but the key components can always be collected and conveyed in a short story.

Even looking back to humanity before writing, oral histories were generally just verbal short stories. I'm not aware of any culture that passed down novel-length stories orally. For one thing, that wouldn't really be possible, and for another there just isn't any point. Even if a story started out that long it would get abridged and cut down quickly. The short story is the elemental structure of human culture.

John Kerry should take note of President Bush's finesse.

TROY, Ohio — President Bush said opponent John Kerry's (search) service was "more heroic" than his during Vietnam, in an interview shown Saturday on NBC News.

"I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets," said Bush, who served in the Texas Air National Guard (search). "He was in harm's way and I wasn't. On the other hand, I served my country. Had my unit been called up, I would have gone."

Is there any better possible position to take? Of course, flying fighter jets is pretty dangerous, and Bush's unit was actively fighting in Vietnam when he signed up even though it wasn't by the time he began flying.

Not just thugs but morons, too. Here's the text of the letter in the photo (which is courtesy of Ryan Sager at Miscellaneous Objections).


We want to express our heartfelt apology and deep sorrow over our government's invasion and continued occupation of your country. We are painfully aware of the enormous suffering it has caused - the killing, wounding, and harassment of so many Iraqi children and adults; the deaths and injuries to combatants on all sides; and the destruction of Iraqi infrastructures leaving millions without adequate water or power, homes or food.

Please know that we who have signed this letter and countless other Americans are deeply opposed to this aggression that has been carried out in our names.

We understand that words of sorrow and apology are not enough, and that as people of the United States we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to peacefully pressure our government to stop this war, end the occupation, make full reparations, and work in cooperation with the Iraqi people to repair the terrible damage that the war and occupation have caused. We pledge to you that we will make every effort to live up to this responsibility.

Finally, we want you to know that it is our sincere desire to live in peace with the people of Iraq. We believe it is possible for relations between our two countries to be based on honest and respectful dialog, a willingness to resolve our conflicts by nonviolent means, and a shared commitment to our common humanity and the sacredness of all life.

[Idiotically yours,
The American Left

P.S., Once John Kerry gets elected we'll be sure to have Saddam released and back in power ASAP.]

(Oops, almost forgot to HT Glenn... like he needs it... when's the last time he linked to me, eh? Only when I whore myself out for his benefit... he's lucky I'm too lazy to hit the backspace key a few times.)

You people disgust me. Grow up. You claim to be about peace and equality, but then you gleefully pull these kinds of shenanigans? If Bush really were Hitler you would've faced soldiers with machine guns, not cops with plastic handcuffs and Polaroid cameras. You're pathetic brutes. You're nothing more than thugs masquerading "patriotic dissidents". Your ideas are morally bankrupt and you know you can't win through honest debate so you resort to vandalism and intimidation. You're going to lose, and I'm going to love it.

One of the most entertaining aspects of working with engineers is that whenever anything breaks -- no matter how mundane -- dozens of people will circle around to offer advice on how to fix it. If a door hinge wobbles or a swivel chair lever bends everyone will stop doing their real work until someone comes up with a good way to do the repair. Only a few people will stick around to implement whatever solution is agreed to, however, because thinking of the plan is the fun part. I like to be the guy who actually does the fix.

I'm not intimately familiar with former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, but I know he's a potential Secretary of State for the potential President Kerry. I know he was in favor of overthrowing Saddam but skeptical of our policy of preemption. I know he predicted an easy military victory and a difficult after-war scenario. Today he's claiming that the situation in Iraq is not going well that the administration "simply has no plan for Iraq any more".

I don't think that's true, but I think Richard Holbrooke is a pretty smart guy. So let's go back to 2002 -- before the war -- and look at some of the dire predictions for what Iraq-after-Saddam might be like. These quotes are from a debate moderated by Mr. Holbrooke; he doesn't necessarily agree with all these speakers, but their predictions indicate just how much worse Iraq could be than it is.

Mr. Holbrooke himself feared:

I think Saddam has to be dealt with, and I would support an international coalition willing to deal with it. But the talk of unilateralism and the talk of preëmption have gravely weakened our case....

Well, we did get an international coalition with dozens of countries. He also asked:

But, the last time out, Saddam launched thirty-five or forty Scud missiles against Tel Aviv; the Israelis did not respond, because the elder President Bush begged and convinced them not to. They've said that this time around they will respond. Now, if our military cannot destroy and degrade Iraq's ability to do that at the outset, and the Israelis do respond, what will the Arab states do? Will it metastasize from a U.S.-Iraqi war into an Arab-Israeli war, or will the other Arab countries sit it out? Particularly Egypt, Syria, and Iran—what will they do?

Iraq did launch a couple of missiles into Israel this time around -- if I remember correctly (?) -- but nothing much came of it. They were shot down before hitting the ground, I believe. Israel stayed uninvolved, and this disaster scenario was avoided; I'd say that's a big success. The debate discussed this possibility for quite a while, and their fear appeared significant.

Mr. Holbrooke then asked:

Several critics of the Administration's policies, including Senator Kennedy and former Vice-President Gore, have said this week that this is a diversion from our efforts on terror, our efforts in Afghanistan. Musharraf himself, who was here in New York two weeks ago, said that he would not want Pakistan to participate in any action against Iraq. He's already (a) the indispensable leader for the American effort in Afghanistan, and (b) on a very tight rope himself. How would a war in Iraq affect the situation in Pakistan, if at all?

But the fighting in Iraq didn't hinder our activities in Afghanistan very much. We could do more there, certainly, if we were willing to spend more money (which maybe we should), but our weak engagement isn't the result of the war in Iraq. Furthermore, Musharraf wasn't thrown out of power and Pakistan is still mostly cooperative.

On the topic, Isabel Hilton said:

Once the war in Afghanistan began, for instance, Kashmir became much more volatile and tense, and since then we have nearly had the world's first nuclear war twice. Now, those are not separate narratives, nor will this be. You can say, "What does it matter to Pakistan if America invades Iraq?" Well, what matters is that it generates another huge distraction in which more trouble can be made. And there is a great deal of trouble waiting to be made.

There's been no nuclear war between Pakistan and India. She continues:

Once the doctrine of preëmptive war is out there, then, first India, clearly, but many other people, could say that this is ideal, thank you. All these conditions are met. And all the conditions that the Administration has listed, as far as Iraq is concerned, can be met in several other situations. These cases can be made.

Neither India nor Pakistan has invaded the other. In fact, the idea that America's preemption somehow motivates or encourages other countries to be preemptive is absurd. Countries don't rely on justifications or precedence like that to make decisions. They do what's in their best interests and go as far as they think they can successfully. No country has ever withheld its hand against its national interest just because they lacked a precedent.

Leslie Gelb predicts some potential good results from the war, but warns that it's a huge gamble.

At the same time, it is a terrible roll of the dice. And it could unleash a terrible anti-Americanism, and a fanaticism, an active fanaticism, even beyond what we've seen. So I'm in favor of doing it, for all the reasons you've heard time and again, but this is, I think, potentially the most momentous decision of our adult lifetime.

It is/was a large risk, but no terrible anti-Americanism has been unleashed. Nothing more terrible than we've seen in the past, anyway, what with Palestinians dancing in the streets after 9/11 anyway.

Lawrence Wright says that we don't just have to show strength in the Arab world, we need to encourage liberty, which he doubted we'd do.

It's not just because we didn't beat the hell out of them enough the first time and the second time and the third time. We simply don't trust those people to elect their own governments and follow our example. We're afraid of the people. And until we arrange ourselves in that part of the world in a friendly way and understand what they're after and explain to them what we stand for and show them that we stand for it by encouraging civil society and democratic governments in their own countries, we're never going to have friends—real friends—in that area. We'll only have tyrants that we pay for.

But that prediction hasn't come true either. Sure, Iraq's democracy is still young, but we didn't just install a new strongman in Saddam's place.

Isabel Harris was afraid of how the war itself would play out:

Nor is it clear to me where this war will be fought. The last one was fought in the western desert; will this one be fought in the cities? If it's fought in population centers, is there a limit to the number of Iraqi civilian casualties that this war will produce?

There was city fighting, but casualties were pretty low.

There are, as I'm sure you know, various projections for how Iraq should or might go in a post-Saddam world. The one that appears to be favored by the Administration is, as it were, a new version, but a cleaner and more friendly version, of the strongman: another general.


One of them says five hundred thousand American troops and five years to stabilize, eighteen months before the constitutional convention and the election. Well, I can't see that happening. If that's the price, I can't see it being paid.

Nope again. Only about 150,000 troops, some from other countries, and the democratic experiment is proceeding according to plan. Maybe more troops would have been useful, but we didn't go that route.

If Saddam is to be overthrown in order for there to be a similar set of arrangements with a different man, then I think that many of the consequences that we have laid out in our Jeremiah-like way are more likely. If you forget a democratic, stable Iraq, which we would all clearly like, financed by renewed oil flows and so on and so forth. It's a question for me still as to whether the American Administration really wants that.

Apparently it did.

Jeffrey Goldberg then lays out some potential difficulties with the Turks and the Kurds.

So let me put it this way. One very smart Kurdish leader I spoke to in Washington a couple of weeks ago said this: "If we're smart, we'll march to Baghdad. If we're dumb, we'll march to Kirkuk." Kirkuk, of course, is the oil center in the north that the Turks are very keen on having. If they march on Kirkuk, the Turks are going to see that as a signal; the Turks will come in, and then it'll be a bloodbath.

R.H.: We need to underscore that for all of you. If the Kurds do anything in the line that Jeff's suggesting, the Turks, and this has not been reported in the papers here, but it's quite clear that the Turks will send troops into the northern part of Iraq, there's no question about it.

I'm not sure if the Kurds met the criteria for this prediction -- whether they marched on Kirkuk or not -- but either way, here's another bad thing that didn't happen. There were some reports of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, but not very many, and they're not there now.

Leslie Gelb goes on:

Iraq really could turn into a bloodbath. The scenario that the Shiites could decide to take vengeance against the ruling Sunnis is not at all far-fetched. And, if that happens, that triggers terrible things throughout that region. That's big business. You've got to think about the deals you want to try to make with the different factions in Iraq now, and begin to think of how you're going to try to apportion power, and begin to prepare Americans and other countries for the postwar commitment. It's a big deal if you want to avoid the most negative kinds of consequences. And this has not been done.

There was no Shi'ite massacre of Sunnis, and America has dealt with the various factions very well.

Here at home, we'd have to assume that what we do in Iraq could well trigger more terrorist attacks against us. I pray it doesn't happen, but responsible policy demands that we plan for it. Nothing has happened on that front.

As if there were terrorists who just weren't sufficiently motivated to attack us, but would have been once we invaded Iraq. Anyway, there haven't been any successful attacks at home since we invaded Iraq, although I do agree that the Department of Homeland Security is pretty pathetic and a lot more could be done.

Lawrence Wright must be happy that this prediction was wrong:

Well, the view from the Middle East is that we go in and knock off Saddam—our history is we bang somebody on the head and then we go home. And the Administration is trying to sell this "Marshall Plan" idea. Oh, come on. You know, nobody believes it. ... Our history gives nobody any confidence that we are going to stay there and clean up the mess that we're going to create. And we will create a huge mess, because Iraq is a fractious country of five thousand years of contending ethnic groups.

People believe it now. We're staying, and we're working on the mess.

I think that the Iranians are going to take advantage of the chaos. I think that the Turks are naturally going to try to protect their interests, and this whole entity will be pulled apart, and there will be this chaotic vacuum that we will then be responsible for.

Well, the Iranians are making trouble, no question, but they haven't pulled Iraq apart yet. There's no chaotic vacuum, except in a few isolated towns.

Jeffrey Goldberg concludes the debate with this fear:

I mean, we're feckless, and we're cheap, and we have the attention span of fleas when it comes to rebuilding countries we invade or countries we try to aid. But I don't know the answer to that. I mean, that's up to Congress, that's up to the Administration, that's up to the people there as well. It is a tough one. It is a tough one; but it is not a reason to not act for our own national security.

Weak, cheap, fickle... that's how the world saw us too. But hopefully not anymore.

Last week was incredibly strange, and only now do I have the time (ha!), focus, and perspective to do justice to this bizarre tale.

It all started last Monday. I was showered, dressed, and just about ready to step out the door and go to work when I heard noises coming from the library near the back of the house. I glanced down the hall and saw that the door was closed, which was unusual enough even if it hadn't been muffling the sound of someone talking to himself and, to the best of my ability to discern, packing his suitcase.

There was a final zip as I approached the library door, and as I reached down to open it the door swung open away from me. Behind it was a short, stocky fellow with a cowboy moustache, a newsboy hat, blue jeans, and a nondescript brown overcoat. Trailing behind him in his left hand he pulled a small, wheeled, leather case, and he held a sheaf of papers in the crook of his left arm.

"Good morning!", he said, and sneezed. "Good-byes are the most awkward part of this, let me tell ya."

"Who are you?" I asked, backing away as the stranger emerged from my now-disheveled library into the hall. "How did you get in here?"

"You invited me, of course," he said, walking quickly towards the front door while I stood fixed in place, stunned. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder. "Don't worry," he said with familiar intonation, as if he'd had this conversation before. "Everything will make much more sense tomorrow. For now, I've got a plane to catch."

The stranger opened my front door and started down the steps and I ran towards him to watch his departure. A taxi was waiting in front of my house and the stranger dragged his case towards it and handed it over to the driver. In my bare feet I followed him down my driveway and grabbed his shoulder, but he shrugged me off before turning around. "What's going on?" I asked.

The man sniffled and sneezed again, covering his mouth with his hand and then reaching out to shake mine. I took it instinctively and he laughed. "The name's Sherman," he said, and then glanced down at our grasping hands. "And that serves you right." He sniffled again and ducked into the cab. As the car was pulling away he lowered the window. "I was suppose to remind you of something, but I can't remember what. Huh. Anyway. see you tomorrow! Thanks for the money!"

I stood in front of my house for a while, trying to figure out what it all meant, but there was nothing for it. I returned to the house, checked my cache of emergency money and found everything in place, and then headed off to work. I briefly considered calling the police, but the man was gone, so what was the point? That night I double-checked all the doors and windows and placed chairs in front of all the entrances. No one could get in without making enough noise to wake me up, especially not a fat old man. Nevertheless, I slept with my contacts in.

Tuesday morning I sprang out of bed and looked down the hall to the library: the door to which which was, again, closed. The chairs were still in place in front of the doors, and the windows were closed, so I was pretty sure a draft hadn't blow the library door shut. I strode over to it and grasped the knob, took a deep breath, and flung it open. Sherman was back, lying on a cot in the center of the floor.

"Hey, you, Sherman!" I said, "Get up!"

The figure rolled over a couple of times and then sat up and stared at me. "Oh, hi Michael. I guess it's just about time for me to leave."

I laughed. "Oh no, you rushed out yesterday, but I want to know exactly what's going on now before you 'catch another plane'," I said. "How'd you get back in? I blocked all the doors."

Sherman rubbed his eyes and squinted a few times before answering. "Yesterday, eh? Well it looks like you beat me up today, anyway. I didn't think you were such an early bird."

By now I was getting pissed and I gripped the doorknob to keep from waving my arms. With great deliberateness I asked, "What is going on?"

Sherman sniffled a few times and rubbed his nose before answering. "Explanations are the most awkward part of this," he started, but I cut him off.

"I thought good-byes were the most awkward part."

He looked at me for a few seconds before replying. "Nah, good-byes are easy, I just run out the door and disappear. Anyway, ask your questions. Oh, and I'm gonna need some money apparently."

I scowled. "Apparently I already gave you money," I said, but he shook his head.

"Yeah, today, you probably will. I don't like to steal if I can avoid it," he said.

"So who are you?" I asked. "And why are you in my house?"

"I'm Sherman, as I must've told you yesterday, and I'm staying here because you invited me."

Now it was my turn to shake my head. "I never did."

He smiled, "Not yet you haven't, but you haven't given me any money yet, either."

"Why should I do either?" I asked.

"As for the second, because I have something priceless to sell you. As for the first, well, because I'll answer your questions, satisfy your curiosity, and leave you always wanting more," he said with a grin, and sneezed. "As for why I'm here, in the grand scheme of things, well, I'm an applied historian."

"That's an oxymoron," I said, almost smiling despite myself, and Sherman laughed.

"Yeah, I'm glad you appreciate it, that's probably why I decided to stay with you. Really though, I'm a time traveler."

"Oh, of course, that's excellent," I said. I'd always wanted to meet a time traveler.

"I saw on your blog that you've always wanted to meet a time traveler, so I figured I could stay with you for a few days while I'm passing through," he explained. "You said you saw me leave yesterday, which means my stay is almost done -- from my perspective, anyway. But don't worry, you get plenty in return from me over the next few days."

"If you're a time traveler, where's your time machine?" I asked.

Sherman rolled towards his leather case and rummaged for a few seconds before pulling out a device about the size of a cell phone. He glanced at it and then handed it over to me. "It's charging," he said.

It looked like a cell phone, but the number pad was different and there were a few other controls whose uses weren't immediately obvious. I pushed a few buttons and symbols flashed across the screen, but they didn't mean anything to me. Before I could experiment more Sherman reached up from his cot and swiped it out of my hands. "It's charging, but it could still send you back several hours and that would screw up my schedule."

I squinted at him. "Why do you need a schedule if you've got a time machine?" I asked.

Sherman sighed. "It's broken," he said. "It won't hold a full charge. I can only travel two days at a time and then I need to stay put for a day."

"Two steps forward and one step back," I said.

He replied, "Two steps back and one step forward, but yeah, same general idea. Anyway, I'm not entirely stranded, but this does make my mission more difficult. I originally got stuck ten years in the future from now and I've been inching my way backwards ever since."

"Where -- or when -- are you going?" I asked.

He smiled. "Everyone asks that, but then everyone guesses. If you had a time machine and were on a mission to the past, what would you be going to do?"

"That's easy, I'd be going to kill Hitler."

He nodded. "Sure, sounds pretty easy, right? Anyway, something like that. I already explained all this to you tomorrow, so for now can you just give me a few thousand dollars so I can start looking for flights?"

I considered. "Flights leaving yesterday?" He nodded. I continued, "I have some emergency cash, but I thought you were going to sell me something. Have you got something super-cool from the future, like a laser gun or a robot?"

"Actually, I had all sorts of neato stuff when I came back, but I've given most of it away already. What I sell now, mostly, is newspapers," he said and pulled one free from the sheaf of papers by his case. "Here's the Wall Street Journal from this coming Friday, if you're interested."

I glanced at the paper he was waving and rubbed my jaw in thought. "How much do you want for it?"

He shrugged. "How much have you got? It's hard for me to make money because I can't deposit it in a bank in the future and have it accessible in the past. Plus, currency goes reverse out-of-date pretty quick if people pay attention to the printing dates and signatures and stuff. So, a few thousand ought to be enough to get me a plane ticket yesterday and to cover my expenses for a bit."

"Anyway, it'll pay for itself, right? I'll just need to move some money around and buy some stocks...." I mused.

"Sure, sure, that's up to you. It shouldn't be hard to make money with a newspaper from three days in the future."

So I fetched my wad of cash from the bedroom and bought the paper before calling in sick to work. Sherman said he couldn't spend all day talking because he had to do some final repairs on his time machine before leaving the previous day, so I spent my time researching and trading and trying to make the most of my speculative opportunity.

He didn't come out all afternoon, or most of the evening, but before I went to bed I knocked on the library door. The flickering blue light that leaked beneath it stopped and Sherman peeked through. "I'm kinda busy, what is it?" he asked.

"Well, since tonight is your last night here, by your reckoning, I figured I should say good-bye and that I hope you enjoyed your stay." I said.

He sniffed and rubbed his nose before responding. "I suppose so, thanks. Yes, it was quite nice. Very comfortable. Don't worry though, we've met before, in your future and my past. Although, based on your surprise, I take it I'll never see you again, even though you'll see me."

I slept in later Wednesday morning and checked on my trades before considering whether or not to mention this all on my blog. I could write up a lot of juicy stories with my future-news, but where to begin? And should I mention Sherman at all?

Before I could decide, the man in question was up and wandering around the house. He saw me sitting at the computer and held up his hands as if to ward me off. "Don't say anything! This is right around when people start telling me about my future, and I don't want to know yet! You didn't come banging down my door, so I gather I'm not leaving for a little while, so just let me get some caffeine in me. I've got to remember to tell you to get some coffee; diet soda is a poor substitute."

"You're going to forget," I told him, and followed him into the kitchen.

He nodded, "Of course I will, otherwise there'd be coffee, wouldn't there? And there isn't any." He gestured around the room before grabbing a soda from the fridge and popping it open. "Time travel takes a lot out of you Michael, that's for sure. I can't survive without my Vitamin C, eh?"

I smiled, "You got that from me, didn't you?"

"And you got it from the Simpsons, but for Homer it was Vitamin G, for 'gas'."

I took a soda for myself and asked him, "So what else are we going to talk about? How uh, long have you been staying with me, anyway? Maybe I could get some coffee today...."

He chugged the soda and then said, "Why should we waste time having a meta-discussion about discussions we'll have in your future, when we could instead be talking about things of actual substance?"

"True," I conceded. "Like your mission? Aren't you afraid that if you tell me too much it'll change history or something?"

"Nah," he said. "I won't tell you much about the future for that very reason, but I'm going back in time, so I can tell you everything you want to know about my mission. Unless you have a time machine -- which you don't, right? -- it can't hurt anything."

We meandered into the living room and sat down. "But yesterday you told me you were going to kill Hitler, and yet, in my time line, you must've failed."

He shook his head and sneezed. "No no, I'm not going to kill Hitler, I'm going to save Hitler. We already sent someone back to kill him, and that didn't work out well at all, so I'm going back in time to prevent Jack from killing Hitler. And I'm obviously going to be successful, despite my broken time machine."

I responded, "Well, someone is going to be successful, I guess, maybe not you."

Sherman nodded.

"But what happened when Jack killed Hitler?" I asked.

Sherman rolled his eyes. "Everyone thought it would be a great idea, obviously, to kill Hitler, but as it turned out without Hitler to drive away all the scientists Germany got nuclear weapons before anyone else, and, well, you can guess how that turned out."

"Oh," I said. "But how do you know? I mean, is there an alternate history or something?"

He shook his head again. "That's not how it works. There's just one history. Time isn't exactly linear though, so, uh... in a way, the 1960s are currently screwed up due to Hitler's assassination, but the effects haven't reached you here yet, this far up the timeline."

"So the changes take... time... to propagate through uh, time?" I asked.

"Changes take meta-time to propagate, yeah. And if I don't save Hitler before the changes reach the future, there won't be any future to send me back!"

"But you are back, so you must succeed!"

"Or someone does. Or the changes just haven't caught up to me yet."

"Weird," I said.

"Yeah, I'm just an applied historian, not a temporal engineer. I don't know all the details. It's like magic to me, which is why I'm having trouble fixing my time machine."

I thought for a few seconds. "Maybe someone at UCLA could take a look at it, I'm a student there."

"No way," he said. "Even if anyone would believe I'm a time traveler do you think they'd help me fix my machine and then just let me take it? Plus, they might figure out how to build one, and the last thing we need is someone from now wandering up and down the timeline."

"Oh, well excuse us," I said. "I'm just trying to be helpful."

"I've got more repairs to do," Sherman replied and stood up. "It would be helpful if you could get me some AA batteries."

"The time machine takes batteries?"

"No, it collects and stores time directly, as I explained tomorrow, but my Discman takes AAs."

So I went to the store for coffee and batteries, but didn't see Sherman until the following morning.

I took Thursday off work and figured that this would be my last chance to talk with the man from the future; the paper he'd given me was from Friday, so that was probably when he would first arrive. I was already up when he awoke to the smell of the coffee brewing. Not really my thing, but it sure seemed to excite Sherman.

He rushed into the kitchen and waved his hands at me. "Don't say anything! Don't tell me about my future!" he said, but I cut him off.

"You already warned me about that yesterday," I said.

"Oh great, thanks, now I know something we'll talk about tomorrow! Don't tell me anything else. Since you didn't barge into my room this morning I figure I'm not leaving yet, and that's all I need to know."

"But I want to continue our conversation!" I told him and poured the coffee. "See, I even bought coffee for you, and batteries."

"Hold on!" he said. "Are you trying to tell me there's no coffee yesterday? Argh!" he groaned and rubbed his head. "I am just about out of batteries though, so thanks."

"Yeah sure," I said. "The newspaper has already paid for itself, by the way."

"Good, good," he said, gulping down the caffeinated beverage. "I can't live without my Vitamin C!"

"I know," I replied, and he shook his head with dismay.

"You can see why it's hard for me to build meaningful relationships," he said. "It's constant deja vu for someone; fortunately, I've got a bad memory."

"Maybe it would be easier if you stayed in one place longer," I suggested.

"Nah, I've tried it. People start wanting to know too much about their future and they can't keep their mouths shut about mine. At least this way I can't tell or hear about more than a few days in either direction."

"So your time machine runs off pure time?" I asked, hoping to prompt him with the knowledge he'd given me yesterday.

"That's right," he answered, surprised for a second. "It absorbs time from its surroundings. Not enough to be noticeable without sensitive meta-temporal instruments, of course, but while it's charging time does pass more slowly for several miles around it in every direction. Normally, of course, we charge them away from populated areas, but...."

"But your time machine is broken and won't hold much of a charge, so you're only able to travel two days at a time, right?" I finished for him and he nodded before pouring another cup of coffee. "So with one day's worth of charge you can travel two days through time?"

"Something like that, but they don't charge linearly."

"Time isn't linear," I said.

"Right, and if it could hold a full charge I could charge it for one year and travel 5,000, plus or minus. As it is, I don't want to wait around charging it and then have to pass through all that time one day at a time if the charge doesn't stick. I tried it before, and it was a waste of uh, time. I may try bigger jumps if I can get the flux capacitor stabilized, but, who knows."

I leaned forward and sneezed before asking, "Wait a minute, flux capacitors are real?"

Sherman laughed. "Well, by my understanding they were named after a device in a fictional movie from the mid-1980s as a sort of homage, but essentially yes. That's where the time is stored up and released to make the jump. Plus, a small amount is converted to electricity to power the display and the integrated digital camera."

"So are you ever going to return to your own time? When is that, anyway?" I asked.

"If I get my rig working, then sure. Otherwise, it's along crawl back to the future moving at only triple time."

"Two days forward, then wait a day to charge, then two more forward," I said to show I understood, and he nodded.

"I should get back to my repairs. Thanks for the coffee."

Friday morning when I woke up the house was empty. I checked everywhere, but there was no sign of my time-traveling guest. "Of course," I said to myself. "He hasn't arrived yet." I had a lot to do that day to prepare, but I wasn't feeling very well at all. First I called in sick to work again (this time for real) and then I posted a "Time Travelers Welcome" note on my blog. At least then Sherman would know where and when to go. Then I walked to the convenience store and picked up a Wall Street Journal and some diet soda to replace the stocks Sherman had depleted / would deplete. I didn't care much about the coffee, but I bought some more just in case I ever ran into more time travelers. It's important to be hospitable.

I waited around all day for some sign of him and there was finally a knock at my door while I was watching the Simpsons on my TiVo. I paused it and opened the door, and sure enough there was Sherman, moustache, cap, leather case, jeans, overcoat, and all. "Hey, come on in," I told him and swung the door wide before sneezing all over him.

"Ugh, thanks," he said and pulled his case up the steps behind him. "Where should I put my stuff?"

I led him to the library and helped him get settled. "By the way, my name's Michael," I said. "And you're Sherman."

He nodded and threw off his coat. "I know you from your blog, and we've met before. I presume I'll tell you all about myself over the last few days."

"That's right!" I said. "And all about your mission to save Hitler!"

"Yeah, yeah," he said and collapsed into the library's leather easy chair.

"Do you want some coffee?" I asked. "Gotta get your vitamin C."

"Vitamin C?" he asked.

"Caffeine," I explained. "Like Vitamin G is gasoline, from the Simpsons. Homer. Uh, that's all you need to know."

Sherman nodded. "I just want to go to sleep," he said. "I've been traveling all day and I'm pretty exhausted. How about if we save all the questions for yesterday?"

"Sure thing," I agreed. "By the way, here's a newspaper if you're interested. I'll just leave it here on the shelf."

"I know the drill," he said and rubbed his eyes. "You leave a newspaper here and I sell it back to you a few days ago for thousands of dollars. How'd that work out for ya?"

"Fantastic," I said. "I'll let you get some rest."

I moved to close the door, but then hesitated. "Since I won't see you again for a while, my time, I guess I should say good-bye."

"Good-byes are always the most awkward part of time travel," Sherman said.

"After explanations, anyway," I replied, and he smiled.

Saturday morning he was gone again and the library had regained its normal appearance. Even now, looking back, it's hard to believe this all really happened. I've still got the newspaper, but it's old already, and I remember buying it last Friday so it's easy to explain away. I guess the only way I'll ever know for sure is if I happen to meet Sherman again sometime during the next decade.

Bill Hobbs has written a lot about the small business boom, but I'm not sure how to take advantage of it. When one expects big business to do well one invests in the stock market, but how can I leverage my optimism towards small business to make money?

In general, I reject the idea that there are "men's issues" and "women's issues" -- as if some topics are off-limits to one gender or the other. Typically, modernly, it's men who are barred from topics that we can't possibly have an intelligent opinion on, but historically the discrimination has worked both ways. Actually, let me rephrase: I do believe there are certain areas of life that can best be handled by people of a certain gender, but since we're just talking about politics here and people of both genders get to vote, I don't think either gender should attempt to reserve certain domains as their own territory. Attempts at such labeling are generally intended to shut down debate by undermining the legitimacy of those with opposing views.

But let's look at some so-called "women's issues" and see how they may influence female voters.

"If President Bush or Senator Kerry wants to move more undecided women voters and bond more deeply with them, they have to start paying a little more attention to the issues that matter in these women's daily lives," said Meredith Wagner, executive vice president of public affairs at Lifetime Television.

According to Wagner, the prevention of violence against women and the promotion of equal pay and women's health are the issues likely to impact the female vote in the presidential election.

So there we have three things that are supposedly (according to this "expert") important to women, and by even naming these issues the expert entirely sidesteps the question of whether or not the government should be meddling in these areas at all.

First is "the prevention of violence against women", but is this a federal issue at all? Aren't the vast majority of violent crimes handled at the state level? Shouldn't states be concerned with preventing violence against everyone, not just women? The only real way I see for the federal government to get involved here is to more vigorously protect our Second Amendment rights, but I get the feeling that isn't what Meredith Wagner means.

Second is "the promotion of equal pay", which many would argue isn't a proper function of government at any level. Being a capitalist nation, why should the government get involved in what people are paid? As long as workers (male and female) are free to accept and reject jobs and negotiate for their wages, any action by the government will end up reducing liberty, not enhancing it.

Third is "women's health", which is generally a euphemism for abortion. Again, this may properly be an issue for the states, but if people want the federal government involved there's no guarantee that the majority (even the majority of women (except maybe old women)) would agree with those women who would use this euphemism. Those who tout "women's issues" probably wouldn't see the widespread banning of abortions-of-convenience as "women's health".

So really, what have we got? These "women's issues" look pretty irrelevant and insubstantial to me. Are these really the concepts that motivate female voters? I certainly hope not.

If anyone can think of some politlcal "men's issues" (irrelevant and insubstantial or not) I'd be very curious to see them.

John Kerry's campaign must be getting desperate; that's the only reason I can think of for why they'd perform a publicity stunt like this built around exploiting the grievous wounds of a real war hero.

The furor over John Kerry's Vietnam war record isn't going away. Press reports say former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) will try to hand-deliver a message to President Bush in Crawford, Tex., on Wednesday -- asking Bush to specifically denounce TV ads run by anti-Kerry Vietnam veterans.

Cleland, a political ally of Sen. John F. Kerry, reportedly is going to Bush's ranch with former Army Green Beret Jim Rassmann, who credits Kerry with saving his life.

Cleland lost both legs and his right arm in the Vietnam War, and it wouldn't look very good to leave him waiting outside the ranch gate -- in full view of the TV cameras.

Next up, Senator Kerry challenges President Bush to a spider-eating contest -- perhaps a more comfortable endeavor than answering a direct question about Cambodia. Nevertheless, we won't know for certain that the Kerry campaign is doomed until they introduce a cute, tow-haired little boy in a futile attempt to boost ratings.

James Lileks on recording history:

The last story I read while watching Gnat concerned a homeless man who spent his time on a huge oral history of New York, interviewing other residents of the demimonde, jotting down graffiti. His book had more than 9 million words, a great number of which were illegible to anyone but the author. Quotidian though the details may have been, an exhaustive account of New York’s long-lost details might be of interest to modern eyes, no? Pity it probably ended up in the trash bin after he died. Who would save a nutter’s jottings? And why?

It's one small loss that speaks of a million others. Reading Mitchell’s work you can’t help but imagine the thousands of people who passed on the street while he sat inside talking to his subjects, taking notes; the workers in the tall towers up the street, the men under the paving stones fixing pipes, the sailors on the tugboat whose whistle could you hear, faintly, when someone opened the door at the right time. The pieces are like grains of sand that somehow describe a mile of beach.

Welcome to the internet, but its even better -- billions of nutters jotting down their stories in their own words. If you think there's a lot of crap on the net now, just wait. I envy the historian a millennium hence who gets to wade through all this dreck looking for a few gems.

The inestimable Wendy McElroy comments on public breastfeeding (and just two weeks after me!) and writes quite sensibly:

The case for breastfeeding on public property is stronger than on private property. Public venues are not governed by clear ownership rules. Thus, the argument that breastfeeding is natural and healthy may sway whatever process determines that property's use. ...

By contrast, private property has clear ownership rules; the owner should determine what is acceptable behavior by customers or visitors. That's why there are "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service" signs. Control of access comes with ownership and it applies no less to a business than it does to a home. ...

Private property has been under attack for decades by those who claim that owner who "inappropriately" denies access to his property is violating civil rights. For example, an owner who refuses to serve women customers is said to violate their "right" to non-discrimination.

But no valid civil right entitles anyone to benefit from another person's possessions, from another person's time and labor. No one has a civil right to access someone else's property without the owner's consent. To demand such a "right" is an uncivil act that strips away one of the main protections of a peaceful society: namely, the line dividing what is mine from what is yours.

And anyway, why does anyone need to get all huffy about it?
Breastfeeding is natural and our society undoubtedly overreacts to naked breasts. But the winner-take-all approach of extreme advocates only acts to polarize society on a problem for which reasonable solutions can evolve. When done with some discretion, public breastfeeding is becoming socially acceptable with many businesses accommodating the shift.

Breastfeeding need not devolve into cultural warfare. The issue will yield to courtesy, common sense and a bit of respect for the other person's rights.

Just remember that you heard it here first....

Mrs. Noggle has a great no breastfeeding here logo.

You've probably heard that the War on Terror is a "fourth generation war", and if you're like me you've wondered what that means. So here's a UPI piece that explains the four generations of war, briefly. I've also heard them described as:

1. Massed manpower;
2. Massed firepower;
3. Maneuver;
4. Asymmetric.

Which linking style do you use and/or prefer?

1. Data from shows that 14 of the top 15 donors give to leftist 527 groups.

2. Data from shows that 14 of the top 15 donors give to leftist 527 groups.

3. Data from shows that 14 of the top 15 donors give to leftist 527 groups.

4. Heh.

I generally go for #3 myself. I like to write links that are summaries of what I'm linking to -- I think it's helpful to Google, too.

On a note related to the above link, check out the top contributing organizations that give to 527 groups. They're all leftist. Not that this should be a surprise to regular readers.

Why do modern humans tend to value intelligence more than strength? Probably because almost any task that can be performed by a strong man can be performed equally well by two average men working together; contrariwise, there are many tasks that can be performed by a smart man but cannot be performed by any number of average men working together.

Tools are great, and can serve to multiply strength (a hammer) and intelligence (a calculator), but the creation and use of tools relies mostly on intelligence. Thus, smart men can use tools to convert intelligence into strength when necessary, and in the necessary form. Unlike lions, for instance, we aren't stuck with teeth and claws -- we can trade a sword for a hammer almost instantly.

This modern situation is a boon to women -- as a particular group -- because women tend to be just as smart as men, but much weaker. Without tools, women are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to strength, but with tools the genders are much more equally capable. Still, biology being what it is, men and women perceive each other very differently without taking tools into much account.

Tools are also the foundation of capitalism at the archetypical capital investment. They can be passed on to children and they allow families to build wealth over generations (counting artificial structures such as houses and fences as tools, which seems reasonable). As such, tools are essentially physical manifestations of intelligence -- stockpiles of smartness we can save for later and use over and over again, and even share with others.

Tim Wu, guest-blogging at Lessig Blog, wonders if "certain members of the federal judiciary [are] actually highly intelligent robots?". I think the answer is clearly no. Even presuming the existence of "strong" artificial intelligence (which I do not believe in), building such an AI into robotic form would serve little purpose. To the best of my knowledge, federal judges don't do anything other than write long boring papers, so there's no real need for them to have bodies at all. If some federal judges are artificial intelligences rather than humans, they're probably contained in traditional computer-shaped forms, rather than in complicated robots.

If you're not a military guy -- as I'm not -- you may be interested in this (ugly) chart of American military awards in order of importance. Included are the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, which were the main impetus behind my search, since John Kerry wants me to vote for him based on his possession of those two awards.

John Callender reminds me that John Kerry also has a Silver Star.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream" has been stolen. Please remain calm and pass any clues you may find to me via email.

Why is it that the people who are most eager to be publically nude are generally the last people anyone would want to see with their clothes off?

This week marked a first: A political e-mail with skin pictures. Upon opening the "Axis of Eve" e-mail, we were greeted with a photo that showed the torso of a young woman holding up her skirt to reveal red undies with the words "Weapons of Mass Seduction" across the front.

Sound good? Then any Republican perv planning to attend the New York convention won't want to miss the Sept. 1 "Mass Flash" planned by Axis of Eve. More than 100 women will add to the political discourse by simultaneously showing their underpants. Among the slogans to be revealed in the process "Give Bush the finger." NOW must be so proud.

I've got a feeling these women aren't going to be particularly attractive specimens.

Actually, now that I've given it some thought, it makes sense. Women are taught that they should be valued for their appearance, and the ones that are so valued quickly learn to limit the supply so that their value stays high. Women that aren't valued for their appeance have to flood the market in order to get any utility from their looks at all.

I haven't been feeling well for the past several days. I don't know why. I'm not sick, I'm just very moody and grumpy. I've been feeling angry and snapping at people for no real reason. Yesterday I went to the Getty Center and the crowds of tourists were driving me nuts by blocking walkways with picture-taking and so forth, but what else could I have expected? Eh. It's probably nothing. I haven't been eating differently or sleeping less or anything. I've been exercising just as much. I can't think of anything I've been doing differently recently, but for whatever reason I'm not feeling well. I'm sure it'll pass.

Sometimes I'm afraid that the best that can be hoped for is to find someone you can just barely tolerate who can just barely tolerate you in return.

It's been a difficult couple of weeks with a couple of very needy friends, and last night at least one situation came to a head in a disappointing way.

Oh no wait, I just got a call from the hospital. Yay, it gets worse.

Alan Keyes has an idea for "slavery reparations" for modern descendents of slaves. (Eugene Volokh and Paul Caron comment.) Basically, Ambassador Keyes wants to exempt blacks from paying income tax for 50 to 60 years. I think this would be a bad idea for all sorts of reasons, but that's not what I'm writing about.

In a previous post on interracial marriages I noted that:

African-American men had white wives 2.65 times more often than black women had white husbands. In other words, in 73 percent of black-white couples, the husband was black. For every 1,000 black women who were married, there were 1,059 black married men.
But consider that Keyes' plan would create a financial incentive for men of all non-black races to marry black women! Assets and income could be transferred to the wife's name, and the children would all be tax-exempt!

Take a look at Dale Franks' election market watch in the right column of the QandO blog. It looks like there's an excellent opportunity for arbitrage for an enterprising investor. At the moment, the "Republicans hold in Senate" plus "Republicans gain in Senate" contracts are trading for a cumulative 64.7 on the Iowa Electronic Markets, while the "Republicans keep Senate" contract on TradeSports is at 77.5.

To make money you'd want to short sell "Republicans keep Senate" on TradeSports and buy "Republicans gain/hold Senate" at IEM.

Note: all of these contracts pay 100 if their conditions are met, and 0 otherwise. So, by following my advice, you would make 12.8 for each Tradesports/IEM pair of contracts you bought, no matter which party won control of the Senate.

Unfortunately, IEM has a $500 account balance maximum, which makes the scheme hardly worthwhile -- who wants to go through all the hassle of setting up and funding an account just to make $60?

It seems incredibly disingenuous to me for leftists to criticise the right's complaints about media bias as mere "whining". In American politics the media is generally seen as the referee and scorekeeper, and if they're biased in a particular direction that would appear to be a highly relevant factor in how the game is played.

So the question really is whether or not the media is biased, right? If it is, then complaints about the bias are legitimate and substantial, not mere whining. And all the evidence suggests that not only is the mainstream media incredibly tilted towards left-favorable coverage, but they know it and intend for their coverage to help "their side".

Just a note to any time travelers: If you ever pass through my timeline feel free to stop by. I'll be happy to put you up for a night or four, and I'll stock plenty of coffee!

My friend Mike Northover points me to this Economist article about realistic rewards, which says that in upcoming years the stock market is likely to fail to meet investors' expectations.

However, a study by Martin Barnes, an economist at the Bank Credit Analyst, a Canadian research firm, concludes that, at best, the average return over the next ten years is likely to be half that over the past half century.

His sobering forecast is based on two assumptions, both very reasonable. The first is that, because of lower inflation, company profits are unlikely to rise by more than 5% a year over the next decade, a bit slower than the average of 7% a year over the past 50 years. In the long run, profits tend to grow in line with GDP, and America's nominal GDP is thought likely to grow by around 5% a year over the next decade (3% real growth plus 2% inflation). Although profits have outpaced GDP over the past couple of years, this is unlikely to continue because pre-tax profit margins are nearly at their highest in 35 years. And since firms now operate in a world of greater competition, profit margins are, if anything, more likely to fall than to rise.

Mr Barnes's second assumption is that there is little scope for a sustained rise in the valuation of shares. The S&P 500 is currently trading at around 18 times historic operating profits. That is far below its ratio of almost 30 at the peak of the bubble, but still higher than its 50-year average of 15. Mr Barnes's “optimistic” scenario assumes that the p/e ratio stays flat over the next decade as a whole and the S&P 500 rises in line with profit growth of 5% a year. Adding in dividends, this would give an average annual return of 6.7%. That implies an average real return of only 4.7%, compared with almost 10% in the half century to 2000. However, history suggests that there is a risk that the p/e ratio could fall over the next decade. In an alternative scenario, Mr Barnes assumes that the p/e ratio reverts to its historic average of 15. If so, the annual return would be a measly 4.7%.

However, my intuition (ha!) suggests that emerging markets like China and India have huge population bases that will inevitably increase the wealth of the world over the next few decades. It'll be profitable to invest there, and American companies will get their hands into the pot as well, making it profitable to invest here.

Here's a shoddy interview by Deborah Solomon with a professor of economics at Yale named Ray C. Fair whose models predict that Bush will win in a landslide. More interesting even than the econometrics and the research is the unescapable bias of the New York Times interviewer. The first thing to notice is the headline (admittedly not written by the interviewer).

Bush Landslide (in Theory)!
Whew, only in theory! What a relief! [Upon reflection, it may be that since the "!" is outside the "()" it applies more directly to the "Bush Landslide" than to the "in Theory".]

Ms. Solomon's statements are in italics.

As a professor of economics at Yale, you are known for creating an econometric equation that has predicted presidential elections with relative accuracy.

My latest prediction shows that Bush will receive 57.5 percent of the two-party votes.

The polls are suggesting a much closer race.

Polls are notoriously flaky this far ahead of the election, and there is a limit to how much you want to trust polls.

Fine and good so far, and quite interesting.
Why should we trust your equation, which seems unusually reductive?

It has done well historically. The average mistake of the equation is about 2.5 percentage points.

As if the simplicity/complexity of the model is in any way related to its accuracy. Professor Fair responds to the question Ms. Solomon would have asked, if she knew what she was talking about.
In your book ''Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things,'' you claim that economic growth and inflation are the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on the election?

Historically, issues like war haven't swamped the economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the chances that Bush loses are very small.

But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.

We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.

I can imagine that Ms. Solomon is getting quite frustrated by this point. Professor Fair keeps returning to the data despite her efforts to convince him that his methods aren't aesthetically pleasing.
It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.

I will be teaching econometrics next year to undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is applied to all kinds of things.

Ms. Solomon doesn't seem to understand that the accuracy of the data demonstrates that the model is meaningful, regardless of whether or not it seems "complex" enough for her satisfaction. In reality, her frustration illustrates that the model is mathematically simple but conceptually complex -- she refuses to comprehend it because her intuition tells her that other things should be more important than they apparently are.

Professor Fair's next response is classic.

[Snip some divergence.]

Are you a Republican?

I can't credibly answer that question. Using game theory in economics, you are not going to believe me when I tell you my political affiliation because I know that you know that I could be behaving strategically. If I tell you I am a Kerry supporter, how do you know that I am not lying or behaving strategically to try to put more weight on the predictions and help the Republicans?

I don't want to do game theory. I just want to know if you are a Kerry supporter.

Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am a Kerry supporter.

I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.

I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to explain voting behavior.

This is sure to be another stumper for a journalist -- someone saying something just because it's true, despite it's potential political implications? Unfathomable.
But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful.
And there, my friends, you have the essence of the journalistic bias against reporting Bush-favorable news, in black and white.

(HT: tjic and Clayton Cramer.)

Alexander Hamilton is one of my favorite Founders. Go read that Wikipedia entry for a little insight into early American politics, including duels. Max Boot claims there were 16 duels between 1795 and 1807 to settle political disagreements. "The most famous was the one on July 11, 1804, in which Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Hamilton. (Imagine Dick Cheney plugging Robert Rubin.)" If you're so inclined, you may also enjoy Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton.

Eugene Volokh presents an example of why interpersonal relationships are important. The details are related to academics, law school, developing relationships with professors, and getting letters of reference, but the principles are universally applicable. Who will a professor think more highly of: a student who gets 100% on tests but never talks to him, or a student who gets 90% on tests but asks questions, sticks around after class, and goes to office hours? Ultimately, which student is more likely to be successful?

Grades are important, but when dealing with humans you must always remember: it's not what you know, it's who you know. There are a million other people who know the same things you know, but how many of them know the same people you do? Thinking of the Olympics, the world's greatest swimmer may live in Tibet, may have never seen a swimming pool in his life, and may not ever discover his ability because he's in the wrong place to use it. Similarly, you can be as smart as you want but if you can't connect your abilities with the people who want to use them, your abilities are worthless.

This is true in business, school, personal relationships -- everything. You wonder why so many terrible movies get made? Because the writer knows producers who trust him well enough to make a movie that will at least break even. Why bother wading through thousands of scripts by unknowns when they can churn out dependable money-makers with the people they've already got? It may sound foolish, but it works.

Likewise, there are a lot of engineers at my job, but the ones who make an impression and get ahead aren't always the most technically competant. Don't get me wrong, you've got to be sharp, but you don't have to be the best technically to get noticed. Remember, every job is a sales job, even if you're just selling yourself. And the way to make sales is to make friends, to talk, to ask questions, to go out of your way to help others, and to let them help you in turn.

It took me a while to learn all this. As an undergrad I was a passive student who didn't much care for interacting with the people in my class or my professors. I finally started wising up when I applied for grad school and started relating lessons I'd learned in the Real World to academia. Then I began really appreciating and considering those relational lessons as work and academics fed into each other. Now, I have a determination to build relationships in every area of my life, because relationships are the keys to success.

Churches are financed by donations from their members, and are generally prohibited from engaging in business enterprises to make money (except on a small scale, such as car washes or bake sales). Lots of people give lots of money (and time, and energy) to my church, and just as new people frequently join, existing members occasionally leave. What's odd is when they ask for a refund.

It should be pretty clear that, as a practical matter, a church can't make a practice of refunding money to unsatisfied members or former members. Where would the line be drawn? If someone has been a member for 50 years should they be able to get all their donations refunded if they decide to leave? Although money is fungible and it would be possible to give refunds on a small scale, it would be impossible to fairly extend the practice to others once the ice was broken. (Not that many people would ever ask for such a thing, no matter how dissatisfied they were.)

As a theological matter, I don't think God gives refunds. In reality, we never give God something that he didn't first give us, and nothing we give to him can ever measure up to the gifts he's given to us merely through creation. I think most Christians would agree with this. The benefits we should expect from giving are spiritual, not material.

However, I can imagine that if a person leaves a church after giving money for a long period of time it can feel like they're abandoning a financial investment, but that's really the wrong perspective. When we give money to a church we aren't "buying into" anything or building equity. The money is given away, and it's no longer ours, and we get nothing in return. The church serves everyone equally, regardless of how much they give or how much they need, and no special favor or regard is obtained by giving a lot. For the most part, very few people know who gives how much -- generally just the treasurer, for tax purposes; our pastor doesn't know who gives what (although I'm sure he can make reasonable guesses, but so can anyone).

Apparently, God also doesn't finance cars.

For anyone *cough* who happens to think that Christianity is repressive towards women, consider this passage on the essence of an excellent wife and marvel at her industry, compassion, and wisdom.

Proverbs 31:10-31

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 "Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

An excellent conversation. (HT: Dean Esmay and De Doc.)

In my second "pyramid"-related post of the day, here's the first blogging pyramid scheme I've seen. It's not designed to make money, but to to inflate Google rankings -- the currency of the blogosphere. I don't think I'm going to participate, but if you decide to join just remember where you heard about it....

I posted this a while ago but it got lost when the server crashed. Since I find myself wanting to refer to it in conversation, I'm rewriting my conception of the social hierarchy. This ordered list represents who's higher than whom in the social pecking order, in descending order of power, based on common understandings of success and desirability.

1. Top 1% of men.
2. Top 10% of women.
3. Next 9% of men.
4. Next 40% of women.
5. Bottom 90% of men.
6. Bottom 50% of women.

If you consider this representation I think you'll find it interesting, even if you want to quibble about the numbers. Note that the least desirable half of women are below all men, but the most desirable half of women are above most men. Other divisions are possible, with finer gradations, but this conveys my intentions well enough.

During a recent re-viewing of The Empire Strikes Back I was struck by the fabulous wealth of Lando Calrissian -- owner/ruler of Cloud City, an enormous mining operation on a remote gas planet. He was far wealthier and more powerful than any real person has ever been (other than in a capacity such as President or Pope wherein a person exercises the power of a larger organization that's independent of the administrator), ruling over a population of millions of employees and the enormous resources of a floating city, complete with space ships, droids, a military, and so forth. And yet, when the Empire shows up he's forced to kowtow before an even greater power, because in the Star Wars universe he was still a rather small fish.

The difference between Lando Calrissian and Bill Gates is that Lando lived in an enormously larger pond. Even though he was far richer than Bill Gates, he was far from the top of his societal wealth/power pyramid. In the Star Wars universe the galaxy had millions of populated planets, with an unknown population that must have numbered in the quadrillions. With such a large base it's not inconceivable that Lando could scoundrel [That's not a verb -- Ed.] his way up to a position of such power in a relatively short period of time

I like the term, and I got it from this post by Randy Paul at Beautiful Horizons about the British government deciding to allow information gained by torture in other countries to be used to identify suspected international terrorists.

The court ruled that the British government can use evidence obtained under torture outside the country when deciding to detain indefinitely foreign terrorism suspects, unless Britain was involved in the torture or encouraged it. The same material can also be considered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which hears appeals by these suspects against indefinite detention. Much of the evidence before this commission is heard in closed proceedings to which the detainees and their lawyers of choice have no access. Instead, they are represented by security-cleared lawyers appointed by the government. Under the Convention Against Torture, to which Britain and more than 130 countries are party, evidence obtained under torture is inadmissible in “any proceedings” before a court. But the majority in the Court of Appeal said today that because the Torture Convention is not part of British domestic law, the Home Secretary has no obligation to enquire about how information from third countries was obtained when he certifies foreign nationals as suspected international terrorists.
Mr. Paul notes that information gained from torture can be rather unreliable, but is that critically important if the government is only certifying that a person is suspected to be a terrorist? I'm not aware of the consequences of this official certification of suspicion, but it doesn't sound the same as an actual conviction for terrorism.

Mr. Paul claims that there's a moral obligation to refuse to consider evidence gained by torture, but is that true? Certainly using such information is not morally equivalent to actually performing the torture -- unless the user has an arangement with the torturer sufficient to make the user an accomplice. Perhaps a rejection of all such evidence is required to eliminate the temptation for such arrangements? Though information obtained by torture may be unreliable that doesn't make it useless; should innocent people be risked just because investigators don't want to pursue a torture-tainted lead?

The Human Rights Watch report continues:

In his dissenting judgment, Lord Justice Neuberger made clear the consequences of the majority’s decision, stating that "by using torture, or even by adopting the fruits of torture, a democratic state is weakening its case against terrorists, by adopting their methods, thereby losing the moral high ground an open democratic society enjoys."
But I disagree. The "case" against terrorists is that they want to kill us, which is completely independent of whether or not we use torture. We don't fight terrorists because we think we're morally superior (although we are), we fight them to protect our own lives. The moral high ground is nice to have because it makes us feel warm and fuzzy, but it's incidental to the underlying cause of the conflict.

It's important to understand the difference between a judicial proceeding and an executive action. I'm not at all confident in my understanding of the UK government, but as it applies to America there's a world of difference. For example, the President can delegate his authority to detain enemy combatants to a commission which may then consider evidence and make rulings as a Presidential proxy. This is very different from a judicial court that derives its authority from Congress, precedent, and the Constitution. Keep this in mind as you read the comments.

Men's Health mentions a research study claiming that counting calories is a waste of time.

Researchers in the USA have discovered that counting calories can be a waste of time, because foods with the same calorific value can be absorbed at different rates.
That's likely to be true, but the experiment was under very controlled conditions with very limited sets of food (shakes, almonds, and pasta). I really like the format of the website, because on the same page as the article Dr. Toni Steer, from the magazine, comments in a distinct space:
While this is interesting research from the City of Hope Medical Center, the bottom line is that the total number of calories eaten do count. ...

You need to look at the big picture. If you are eating 500 calories more than you need each day it doesn't matter how much spicy food, coffee, meat and almonds you eat, you'll see the pounds pile on.

That tends to be my perspective as well. I count calories every day -- taken in and burned through exercise -- and in my experience it's the most effective way to gather information on your metabolism.

Also in my experience, most people who count calories lie. I know fat people who claim to eat very little -- it's not my fault I'm fat! -- but when I watch them it's clear that they're not really adding the numbers up right. I know it's easy to forget to count a cookie here or there, or an extra helping of potatoes, but those forgotten bites are exactly what's preventing them from losing weight.

I'm curious as to historical norms for polygamous marriage, and it's hard to find sources. Here's a page about polygamy in the New Testament, but it focuses more on the religious/moral issues than on information about how polygamy worked.

For instance, are two women who are married to the same man considered to be each others' "wives", or sisters-in-law, or what? If the man dies is there any persisting relationship or obligation between the women? Depending on the culture and the laws of inheritance, if one wife or child inherits does she or he have to support the children of the other wife? Based on the longer life spans of women I imagine these situations were quite common. I bet it varied from culture to culture, but if anyone has any links I'd appreciate it.

(I'm told that my earlier post on polyamory is amusing.)

The most frustrating thing about blogging is writing something, getting little attention, and then reading something very similar a month later that gets wide notice. It's not that anyone is "stealing" ideas from anyone else, it's that it's getting harder to break into the top tier of internet writers. Or maybe I'm just not that great.

In part one I noted that some industries -- such as rap music production and pornography -- are built on sexism. It's ironic that the same groups who tend to push sexual harassment laws are also the strongest supporters of public, ubiquitous sexuality. Now, a writer's assistant named Amaani Lyle who worked on Friends is suing because the writers she worked around engaged in sexually suggestive banter in her presence. Gee, did she ever actually watch the show?

David Bernstein writes about Lyle's case and makes similar points to mine.

The very concept of brainstorming, which is based on the spontaneous contribution of ideas and has provided the first spark of inspiration for many great (and not-so-great) works, would be seriously compromised in any workplace, classroom, or studio if everyone had to self-censor for sexual content before throwing out a thought. It doesn't seem like much of an exaggeration to predict that the drying up of new, edgy, and provocative art would not be far behind.

Moreover, the Lyle case cannot be reconciled with the First Amendment. Surely, if the Constitution protects the speech rights of for-profit pornographic website operators, as the United States Supreme Court has recently reminded us it does, it also must protect the casual, if not always classy, discussions of creators at work. Otherwise, we risk sacrificing productive banter, discussion, and debate in deference to whatever subjective notions of propriety and good taste the most sensitive person in earshot may have.

More generally, if the Lyle opinion is allowed to stand, any Californian whose job involves dealing with controversial matters that raise issues potentially offensive to some people -- AIDS education, abortion counseling (pro or con), civil rights and affirmative action and much more---will be at risk of a harassment lawsuit. The only out provided for defendants by the California Court of Appeals is to prove that any "offensive" comments are made "within 'the scope of necessary job performance,'" a determination that, as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh notes, will necessarily involve vague and subjective perceptions of what speech is "necessary" to any particular job.

Look ladies, if you're offended by the men at your job the answer isn't to sue, it's to go get a different job -- and maybe be a little smarter as to what industry you get involved with. As a general rule, men are pigs. Some hide it better than others, but I absolutely guarantee you that the men you know talk and act very differently when you're not around. If you happen to interact with them in a sexually-themed environment you shouldn't be surprised at what you get.

(HT: VC.)

Says a man who re-enacted Jesus' cruicifixion, "You have to do things to shock people." Really? Why is that? What's the attraction in shocking people? It's pretty obvious that the only goal is to get attention, not to spread a useful message.

FoxNews is reporting that the American Airlines terminal at LAX has been evacuated.

Passengers were evacuated and departure flights halted Monday at a Los Angeles International Airport (search) terminal after a man slipped through security without being properly screened. ...

"All we know is that this person was not properly screened, but we also know that he did not run away from the screening station," said Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for the TSA.

The man may not have known police were looking for him, she said.

So some guy randomly wandered past security? Is this really rare, or is it just rare for it to happen and be noticed?

Let me admit up front that I don't claim to know the details of God's purpose for your life -- but I'm sure he has one. Since 90% of success is just showing up, I thought it might be valuable to explain the basic, overarching themes that will inevitably form the foundation of God's purpose for you. God will reveal the details to you himself through various means, but I can guarantee that they will be consistent with the framework below.

We all want to know why we exist, and when I talk with children (and many adults) they often have extremely self-serving, shallow understandings of what God wants to use them for. Among the common claims are that God wants them to, e.g., help animals, be an artist, raise their children, be a teacher, be happy, and so forth. None of these things are bad, but if they are components of God's will for a person's life they are very small ones. Most of these things are entirely unimportant and have no eternal value whatsoever, and even raising kids is often done with very little conception of how it is that God wants children to be raised. Most of the things that people think are important parts of their purpose in life are, in fact, completely worthless garbage (Psalm 14:1-3).

So then, what is important? What things have eternal value? Well there isn't much that's going to be around for eternity (Revelation 21), but we will be. Each and every human being was created for eternity, which is a concept that's hard to grasp. Eternity means more than "for an unlimited amount of time", because time has no meaning in eternity -- we are spiritual beings who exist outside time itself, and are only temporarily bound to this present creation (Philippians 3:20-21). We are all destined for eternity, and God has given us the choice of how we want to spend it. Despite the evil we do -- and the eternal death we earn by it -- God offers us eternal life instead, if we are willing to accept it (Romans 6:23). Lest anyone think God to be cruel or unjust, this eternal life is offered to everyone as a free gift that does not have to be earned by human goodness (Ephesians 2:8-9). How? It's amazingly simple: we must admit our evil to God (1 John 1:9) and accept Jesus Christ's death as a substitutionary payment made on our behalf (Hebrews 10:14). Those things that are of eternal value all relate to this most critical decision.

Let's consider the Great Commandments and the Great Commission to see what things Jesus considered important enough to command us to do. First, the Great Commandments:

Matthew 22:24-40

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Next, the Great Commission, the last known words that Jesus spoke before returning to Heaven:
Matthew 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[to] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

From these two passages we can glean five important purposes that undergird the plan God has for your life. By aligning yourself to these principles you will fulfill the "showing up" that is 90% of success.

First and foremost, we were created to woship and love God. It is the first commandment. Our relationship with God is completely individual and does not depend on any other human. God deals with us each personally, and unlike the Jews of the Old Testament we do not require priests to act as intermediaries for us -- Jesus Christ now serves as a permanent high priest, bridging the gap between a perfect God and sinful men (Hebrews 7:11-28). We worship God through a life of love, praise, humility, service, intimacy, hope, and faith. As the primary building block of our created purpose, worship is interleaved with the others pieces I'll consider below.

The second principle is fellowship, between God and man and among men. The idea of fellowship is fundamental to both the Great Commandments and the Great Commission, as it's impossible to love either God or men without knowing them, and it's likewise impossible to go and teach. We are brought into fellowship with God when we accept Christ's death as payment for our evil actions and thereby obtain forgiveness, and we are brought into fellowship with other men when we are taught by other Christians and we in turn teach others. The Bible calls the church (and local churches individually) "the body of Christ", and every Christian is designed to be a part of it and to thrive in a particular role (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Just as an eye or an ear alone is worthless without the rest of the body, a lone Christian cannot fulfill the purpose God has for his life. Therefore, if you want to be used by God you must be a part of a church and in fellowship with both God and other believers. In fact, it is impossible to be right with God if you are not right with men (1 John 4:20).

Third is commonly referred to as discipleship -- that is, teaching and learning. We are commanded to "go and make disciples", and in order to do that we must be disciples ourselves. God reveals truth to us -- we do not "discover" it ourselves or create our own conception of what truth is -- as an act of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), who is God. The Holy Spirit generally reveals truth through study of the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:16), through other members of the church (Proverbs 19:20), through prayer, and through our experiences. It's easy for us to project our own desires onto any of these and thereby allow ourselves to believe that whatever we want is also what God wants for us, but when we're honest with ourselves we can generally discern the difference. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to understand what we believe and to be able to explain it to others (1 Peter 3:15). The single best advice I can give to anyone who wants to grow in their relationship with God is to read the Bible daily and to be frequently in prayer. Don't expect messages written in the sky if you're presently neglecting the most straightforward way God has created to speak with you: his written Word.

Fourth is service -- that is, we are designed to serve each other. This service falls into two major categories: evangelism and ministry. Evangelism is targetted at unbelievers, to whom nothing is more important than hearing about and believing in Jesus Christ. Ministry is service to other believers, and generally revolves around fellowship and discipleship -- although, for example, playing music can be a form of ministry that facilitates worship through song. As eyes, ears, hands, feet, and so forth in the body of Christ, we each have a purpose to fulfill within the fellowship of believers (the church), and we've each been given different abilities (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). When we use these abilities to support each other, teach each other, protect each other, provide for each other, and encourage each other to do good (Hebrews 10:24-25) we fulfill an essential part of God's purpose for our lives.

Fifth and finally, the second component of service is evangelism. Jesus commands us to "go and make disciples", and there's no such thing as a secret Christian. It's impossible to please God if you're unwilling to obey him, and in fact most people who struggle don't really have an obedience problem, they have a love problem (1 John 5:2-3) -- that is, they don't really love God as much as they may think they do. We can say anything we want, but the truth is revealed by our actions. Likewise, we claim to love our unbelieving family and friends, but we're then hesitant to share the truth with them about their eternal destiny and their one hope for escape through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We don't want to offend, we don't want to risk friendships, and in the end we'd prefer to be comfortable than to do the work God has commanded us to do. Consider the fact that God loves our family and friends far more than we do, and when we refuse to share the Good News with them we are deliberately thwarting God's purpose and acting as his enemies rather than his children. We are commanded to love our fellowman, and Jesus said that:

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

He gave up his life to restore us to fellowship with God, and yet we are often so reluctant to sacrifice the tiniest bit of convenience to share his love with others. God's purpose for your life will absolutely encompass a mission field and a group of people God intends to save through you.

The rest is just details. Where does God want you to live? Where does God want you to work? Who does God want you to marry? What does God want you to eat for lunch? Mere trivia. Once you structure your life around the five principles above all these other decisions will fall into place as God reveals his day-to-day plan for your life. Do you want to do something "big" for God? Then start by doing these "small" things (Matthew 25:21). Each task builds upon what came before it as God prepares you not just for the rest of this life, but also for eternity. God doesn't intend his plan to be a mysteryto you, and he is constantly working to reveal himself despite the clouds of distraction that tear our gazes away from him. As Jesus exhorted his followers:

John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

(See also: The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.)

Apparently quite a lot.

So what are the ingredients of a sexy name? For boys, a good name will contain vowel sounds made at the front of the mouth, such as 'e' or 'i' sounds; names with fuller, rounder vowel sounds such as 'u' tend to score lower. So pat yourself on the back if you're called Ben... but if your name is Paul you might have to work harder to snare a date.

The opposite is true for girls, Perfors found. Women with round-sounding names such as Laura tended to score higher than those with smaller vowel sounds. "Unfortunately for me, Amy is one of the bad names," Perfors laments. ...

Predictably, guys with the names deemed most masculine tended to score highest. Names were generally judged masculine because they contained strong consonants such as 'b' and 'k'. But girls scored higher when they had either a very feminine or a strongly masculine name; names judged to be somewhere in the middle scored worst.

The finding seems say that guys need a rugged name to impress the ladies, whereas being a tomboy is cool for girls. "So much of our culture says that tomboy stuff is ok, but wimpy guys are not," Perfors says.

Perfors argues that the discovery that vowel sounds can influence a person's perceived attractiveness is the more interesting finding, because it seems to be a subconscious effect. Experts, including the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, have previously argued that vowel sounds are arbitrary building blocks with no intrinsic meaning.

Fortunately, "Michael" has both "i" and "k" sounds, which probably also explains why it has been one of the most popular boys names for decades. Naturally, there are other factors as well (the Catholic Church led to many millions of "Mary"s, for example), but it seems most implausible to me that anyone could believe that something as fundamental to humanity as name sounds could be entirely arbitrary and devoid of low-level meaning.

(HT: GeekPress.)

MIT is offering a wide selection of courses online -- for free! -- and calling it OpenCourseWare. What a fantastic educational resource. I'm going to brush up on my electrical engineering.

I'll probably explore this in more depth later, but let me just say right now that anyone who thinks they can live a godly life without belonging to a local church is a fool. I'm always amazed at how God uses my church family to bless and support me, and I'd never be able to be the man I am without them. I'm not any sort of super-saint, but I recognize that almost every time God uses me he's able to do so because of the godly people he's put around me.

More here.

The US is moving overseas troops home, and it's about time. We don't need so many troops stationed abroad anymore, we only need weapons caches in strategic locations. We can then fly the troops in at a moment's notice, much more easily than we could 50 years ago when these bases were first established. It'll be cheaper, and the soldiers will be a lot happier. Plus, despite the Bush administration's assurances:

The Bush administration has been re-evaluating the US military's global posture almost since its first days in office. Senior Pentagon officials emphasised that the move was not intended as a punishment for Germany's lack of support in the Iraq war.
I say ha.

GeekPress links to a fascinating article about neuroeconomics, and what particularly interests me are the various experiments the author describes. Experimental economics is itself rather new and exciting, and I did some reading about it for one of the lectures a few weeks ago at the Cato conference. One of the most interesting experiments is the "ultimatum game", described thusly:

One is the "ultimatum game," which involves two subjects—researchers generally recruit undergraduates, but if you're doing this at home, feel free to use your own kids. Subject A gets 10 dollar bills. He can choose to give any number of them to subject B, who can accept or reject the offer. If she accepts, they split the money as A proposed; if she rejects A's offer, both get nothing. As predicted by the theories of mathematician John Nash (subject of the movie "A Beautiful Mind"), A makes the most money by offering one dollar to B, keeping nine for himself, and B should accept it, because one dollar is better than none.

But if you ignore the equations and focus on how people actually behave, you see something different, says Jonathan D. Cohen, director of the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior at Princeton. People playing B who receive only one or two dollars overwhelmingly reject the offer. Economists have no better explanation than simple spite over feeling shortchanged. This becomes clear when people play the same game against a computer. They tend to accept whatever they're offered, because why feel insulted by a machine? By the same token, most normal people playing A offer something close to an even split, averaging about $4. The only category of people who consistently play as game theory dictates, offering the minimum possible amount, are those who don't take into account the feelings of the other player. They are autistics.

Even more interesting than this seeming irrationality is the simple "dictator game", in which the person who starts with the money can keep as much of it as he wants with no consequences. Participants still tend to give the other player around $4, despite the fact that they could keep all $10. There are many variations on these economic games and I think we can learn a lot from them, but it's hard to find funding for any experiments that would actually create incentives on the same scales that people face in their real-life economic decisions (accepting or rejecting a job offer, for example).

I work with kids at my church and they can be frustrating sometimes, but it sounds like the American soldiers in Iraq have it a bit tougher (May 12th, 2004).

While the payroll thing was going on inside, outside as we pulled security, kids mobbed us annoyingly. They try to sell us high quality knives and sunglasses that have fallen off Halliburton trucks or were stolen from other soldiers. I bought two DVDs with the name "Ballone" handwritten on them in black pen. Then they bug us to give them stuff. Their English is getting better too. "Mister, Mister, gimme gimme." I got fed up with it and was telling one kid, "All you kids know how to say, is 'gimme this, gimme that.'" to which he replied, "Gimme shit. You my bitch." I was nonplussed. Another kid pointed at my chest, saying "what's this?". Thinking he was asking me about my ammunition, I looked down and he flipped my nose. So I tried out some of my grappling moves we learned at Fort Drum on him. This didn't phase them so I just kicked a few kids in the shins and threw rocks at another. Any ideas I ever had of coming back to Iraq to help with education were killed on the spot. What these kids need is a good spanking and to go to bed with no dinner. Wait, they already get that every day. What the hell am I doing messing with kids? I thought the infantry was all about running around in the woods, trying to kill enemy soldiers, not being made the bitch of a band of unbathed sandal-wearing eight-year-olds. When I was discussing this with one of the guys in my platoon later that night, he said, "That was your first time in town? Ha ha! I don't mess around with the kids anymore. When we go into town, we take sling shots and paint balls. Fuck those kids. This one kid I hit was wearing a man-dress and was pissed, he thought I ruined it. He was yelling, 'Fuck you! You my bitch! Suck my cock!', but once we showed him it was paint that easily washed off, he was all, 'You my friend!'. Fucking kids."
American kids are pretty "gimme gimme" themselves, but not quite as foul-mouthed or aggressive. At church.

My dad was a Marine. Marine Corps Moms posts a retrospective by LtCol George Goodson, USMC retired, on his experiences as a casualty officer.

One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, “You’ve got another one, Colonel.” I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call I have no idea why and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person’s address and place of employment.

The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman’s Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father’s schedule.

The Business Manager asked, “Is it his son?” I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, “Tom is at home today.” I said, “Don’t call him. I’ll take care of that.” The Business Manager said, “Aye, Aye Sir,” and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII.”

I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, “Is Mr. Smith home?” She smiled pleasantly and responded, “Yes, but he’s eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?” I said, “I’m sorry. It’s important, I need to see him now.”

She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, “Tom, it’s for you.”

A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, “Jesus Christ man, he’s only been there three weeks!”

I've written before that although I'm generally sympathetic to drug legalization on civil liberties grounds, I'm skeptical that such a huge change would actually be beneficial to individuals or society as a whole. One of the reasons why I'm unsure is that I can see the effect that legal drugs -- such as cigarettes and alcohol -- have on people I know, and I can see the costs they impose on society in general.

I like the idea that everyone should be able to do whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, but in most cases it's impossible to prevent hurting others, due to a confluence of harmful choices. For example, a person who smokes and also votes for public health care is trying to pass along the cost of smoking to me and other non-smokers. These two choices combined make for a very bad policy that restricts more liberty than either one would alone -- each alone may, in fact, be arguably good. (Not that I'm a fan of socialized medicine, but if everyone took care of their health and didn't engage in harmful activities, it could work.)

So when it comes to cases like this woman being sent to jail for smoking around her kids, I'm not very sympathetic. Even though it appears that the legal rationale for jailing her is that she's in violation of a custody agreement (she agreed not to smoke around her kids), the judge "upheld the order in January, citing medical evidence of the effects of secondhand smoke on children". Medical evidence would be unnecessary if the custody agreement were as well-defined as the article makes it sound. (Or maybe the judge is just throwing it in for free.)

The unintended externalities that could be caused by drug legalization are an example of the potential dangers of idealistic libertarianism (CC). I'd like to move in that direction -- from where we are now -- but I'm wary of moving too far, too quickly.

(This post feels like it's rambling, so I'm going to stop here.)

I know it's purely anecdotal, but I've had much better experiences buying things from small right-wing websites than from small left-wing websites. The righties are always happy to let me return things or exchange sizes if necessary, but the lefties often refuse or don't even return emails. I don't know if my experiences are representative of anything, but it seems to me that right-wing capitalists give much better customer service than left-wing socialists, and are nicer to boot.

I'm working late tonight... is there anyone out there? I'll talk about whatever you want!

Worked till 4am last night and now I'm trying to drag myself in this morning....

Here's a disturbing bit of information: US pensions are bankrolling terrorists.

Average Americans are unknowingly funding terrorism through investments made by their public pension systems in companies that do business in terrorist-sponsoring nations, according to a new report issued by the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C.

Through analysis of investment portfolios, the Center found that America's top 100 public pension funds hold nearly $200 billion worth of stock in companies that operate in countries listed by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism.

The report, entitled, "Terrorism Investments of the 50 States" reveals that these pension systems invest in 101 companies that do $73 billion worth of business with designated terrorist regimes. The countries included in the report are Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria and North Korea. The former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was also featured in the report. ...

He added that pension funds have "gone to considerable lengths to remain indifferent" to this critical situation and "many of them cannot identify to this day within their own portfolios what companies they are holding that have these sorts of ties."

No wonder economic threats and sanctions are rarely effective. I'm surprised this is legal, though I know little about the intricacies of the pension set-ups. Are these investments purposeful and direct, or indirect through layers of parent and child companies, or what? I'd like more information on this matter.

I'm posting this mainly so I can point Orin Kerr or one of the other Conspirators to my question, which is brought to mind by Professor Kerr's post on the Patriot Act and domestic terrorism. He writes that many people have mistaken understandings of the Patriot Act, particularly as it relates to "domestic terrorism". He then goes on to explain what it actually means, and responds to Dahlia Lithwick using a quote of hers:

Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't "sound[] as if it's directed . . . toward effigy-burning, or Greenpeace activity[.]" It's an interesting irony, though; a number of the claims that the Patriot Act chills speech are based on the erroneous belief that this statutory definition is a criminal prohibition. Strange, isn't it?
So here's my question. If a law is widely misunderstood by the public and actually does chill speech -- even though perhaps it wouldn't, if it were properly understood -- can it run afoul of the First Amendment? Is a law's actual effect important, or are the only relevant effects those that follow rationally from a proper understanding of the law?

Orin Kerr responds via email:

I am not a 1st Amendment expert, but my understanding is that the answer is generally no. The Courts look to the actual language of the law, not how it has been understood by the public.

Why are there so many a-holes? Is there anything we as a society can do about them? My impression is that in the past, if you were an a-hole you'd get beat up a lot and eventually learn how to be nice, but these days it seems like a-holes are protected by law and rewarded with attention. Am I right in thinking that, like packs of animals, humans need to beat the crap out of a-holes in order to keep them in line, and by refusing to do so we're stuck dealing with the consequences?

I know there are all sorts of non-violent approaches to dealing with a-holes, but do they work? Simple discussion sure seems not to -- it just validates the a-holes' sense of self-righteous self-importance. Nothing's better for bringing someone down a notch than getting beat down in public. We're social creatures, and violence is an important part of how we relate to each other and send messages about the social structure.

That's one of the obvious problems with the internet, as many have pointed out previously. There's no way to beat up the a-holes.

Test your reflexes. Via michelle.

Two interesting stories that bump up against each other: radical life extension and mothers who expect lengthy lives tend to produce sons. I've talked about the first many times, including some speculation on how society would change if we lived drastically longer lives. The second says:

Mothers who think they have longer to live are more likely to give birth to boys than girls, a survey of British women shows. The finding backs up the long-held theory that women may unwittingly be able to influence the sex of their unborn child.

Sarah Johns from the University of Kent asked 609 first-time mothers, who had already given birth, to guess when they thought they would die. By subtracting the mother's age, she then calculated the number of years each woman thought she had left to live. The results are reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society1.

As the number of perceived years left rose, so too did the chance that they had had a son. Every extra year on the clock increased the odds of producing a male by 1%.

Oddly, it may also be that having a baby boy causes mothers to think they'll live longer than mothers who have girls. Still, it's an interesting correlation. If everyone starts living much longer, will girls become more rare? I certainly hope not!

Of course, once we have radical life extension we'll probably also be able to select the genders of our children... would that be acceptable if the ratio of men to women got dramatically skewed? As I've noted before, countries and cultures with more men than women tend to be seriously screwed up.

Nicholas Kristof describes a nuclear terror scenario and then writes:

That is what I find baffling: an utter failure of the political process. The Bush administration responded aggressively on military fronts after 9/11, and in November 2003, Mr. Bush observed, "The greatest threat of our age is nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists, and the dictators who aid them." But the White House has insisted on tackling the most peripheral elements of the W.M.D. threat, like Iraq, while largely ignoring the central threat, nuclear proliferation. The upshot is that the risk that a nuclear explosion will devastate an American city is greater now than it was during the cold war, and it's growing.
What he doesn't seem to realize is that the resources needed to combat black market nuclear proliferation are completely different from the resources needed to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which are in turn very (although not completely) different from the resources needed to secure Afghanistan, and very different from the resources needed to suppress North Korea. One aspect of the War on Terror that's been very advantageous for our side is that there have been a lot of targets to go after that don't all require the same approach.

For example, we used mostly light infantry and special forces in Afghanistan because of the rugged terrain. We used a lot of armor and air support in Iraq. If we have to fight in North Norea we'll let the South Koreans do the ground-pounding and we'll provide sea security and air support from a few carrier battle groups (which are handy to have in the area to keep China on her toes as well). Stopping black market nuclear proliferation is mostly a job for the intelligence agencies, with support from special forces when necessary. Stopping open nuclear proliferation (which is pretty rare these days) is a job for diplomats, at which they've already been quite successful.

Note also that these resource limitations are useful for understanding why we went into Iraq when we did: because we had the capability, and it was an opportune time. We can't use those same resources for fighting black market nuclear proliferation, because that's not what heavy armor does. However, when the time is right, we will use those resources to provoke change in Iran and Saudi Arabia (not necessarily with direct military action).

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty amazed at how well our military planners foresaw some of these eventualities and structured our forces to allow for all these different scenarios. I know a lot of changes have been made in the past few years to optimize our forces, but our broad range of capabilities is still very impressive.

(HT: Hugh Hewitt.)

One of the biggest drains on El Segundo's economy is the "lunch outsourcing" problem -- people who drive in from San Gabriel or Riverside and bring their own lunch to work rather than visiting one of our fine local establishments. Sure, bringing a lunch can be cheaper and tastier, and importing food creates jobs in poorer, rural areas, but just think of all the restaurants and convenience stores near work that suffer! They're just trying to make a living, and the importation of cheap food -- whose makers often aren't even paid for their labor -- undermines the social fabric of our local economy.

Next up for synthetic relationships: cuddle parties. So yeah, sometimes it's hard to find someone to cuddle with, but is this "latest craze" any less bizarre than the above-linked imaginary girlfriends?

It's not about sex and all about the touchy-feely experience of snuggling up to perfect strangers wearing pajamas.

The grab fests are called cuddle parties, and since they started in New York in February, hundreds of people have paid $30 each to touch and embrace others in intimate gatherings.

Everyone needs to be cuddled, especially in lonely New York, say creators Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski who say it's a good way to meet new and interesting people.

Everyone needs to be cuddled... so let's cut out all the preliminaries and get right to it! I'm sure you'll feel amazingly fulfilled the morning after.
Curiosity is a big driver for people who attend cuddle parties, and it is a better way to meet people than going to a bar, getting drunk and spending the night with someone just because of the need for some affection, she said.
If that's the only alternative you can think of, that's pretty sad.

This kind of story is actually a little comforting to me, because it indicates that I'm not the only person having trouble establishing a meaningful relationship. On the other hand, it's disheartening to see just how desperate and lonely it's possible to get. I think many of the problems my generation has with intimacy come from the divorces of our parents -- but that's for another post.

I don't doubt all the scientific studies that show the benefits of breastfeeding... but I don't want to watch.

More than two dozen mothers staged a breastfeeding "nurse-in" at a Starbucks Corp. store in Maryland over the weekend in an effort to get the world's largest coffee shop chain to adopt a policy allowing breastfeeding in all its U.S. stores.

Lorig Charkoudian, who organized the event, said on Tuesday that she began her quest a month ago when she was nursing her 15-month-old daughter at the store in Silver Spring, Maryland, and was asked by a Starbucks employee to cover up with a blanket or breastfeed in the bathroom.

Is that really so unreasonable? Furthermore, is it healthy to be chugging espresso while nursing? Look, I know it's natural and all -- yippie -- but am I the only one who's a little uncomfortable when some woman whips it out and stuffs it in her baby's mouth? Or am I being unreasonable?

I've always been partial to Law & Order myself, but GeekPress points to a story claiming CSI is influencing juries by raising their expectations.

Prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges call it "the CSI effect," after the crime-scene shows that are among the hottest attractions on television. The shows —CSI and CSI: Miami, in particular — feature high-tech labs and glib and gorgeous techies. By shining a glamorous light on a gory profession, the programs also have helped to draw more students into forensic studies.

But the programs also foster what analysts say is the mistaken notion that criminal science is fast and infallible and always gets its man. That's affecting the way lawyers prepare their cases, as well as the expectations that police and the public place on real crime labs. Real crime-scene investigators say that because of the programs, people often have unrealistic ideas of what criminal science can deliver.

So when will computer science become sexy? Probably never... that's why I always say I'm in artificial intelligence rather than be more generic; AI usually gets a more curious reaction than plain old boring CS.

If forensic scientists think their field is misunderstood, just imagine how I feel. Not only is every media depiction of computers or software almost total fantasy, but artificial intelligence may be the most incomprehensible -- and therefore magical -- science/art known to man.

If you're looking for something fun to try, check out Bonsai Kitten. It really works, and it's got the Mr. Miyagi Seal of Approval.

The Cost of Abortion to My Generation

Modoc County, California, issues more concealed weapon permits than Los Angeles County, despite having less than one-fiftieth the population -- and the place is a shooting gallery, right?

Cantrall and about 270 fellow residents of this sparsely populated corner of northeastern California routinely carry concealed handguns. When it comes to packing heat — at least legally — no other county in the state surpasses Modoc.

According to state Department of Justice statistics, about one in 29 residents here has a concealed-weapons permit. That compares with one in 800 residents for the rest of the state.

Modoc County issues almost as many permits as Los Angeles County — which has more than 50 times more people. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has approved only 377 permits, mostly for judges, prosecutors, public defenders and retired federal agents. ...

Records kept by the state attorney general's office indicate that violent crimes occur here at less than one-third the rate in Los Angeles County. According to FBI statistics, there was only one homicide in Modoc County from 1993 through 2002. Sheriff Mix says the county averages about one "questionable death a year, including suicide."

Gee, do you think there's a connection? Nah, that's just too simplistic.

(HT: Al Rantel on the radio.)

For my own reference, here's Aubrey de Grey's site on Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.

SENS is a detailed plan for curing human aging. SENS is an engineering project, in the same way that medicine is a branch of engineering. The key to SENS is the appreciation that aging is best viewed as a set of progressive changes in body composition at the molecular and cellular level, caused as side-effects of essential metabolic processes. These changes are therefore best thought of as an accumulation of "damage", which becomes pathogenic above a certain threshold of abundance.

In a piece about how John Kerry's four months in Vietnam have driven a two-year presidential campaign, Mark Steyn echos a point I made in my previous post on this topic. He writes:

The one thing the Democratic Party owed America this campaign season was a candidate credible on the current war. The Democrats needed their own Tony Blair, a bloke who's a big socialist pantywaist when it comes to health and education and the other nanny-state hooey but believes in robust projection of military force in the national interest.

John Kerry fails that test. If you wanted to pick a candidate on the wrong side of every major defense and foreign policy question of the last two decades, you would be hard put to find anyone with judgment as comprehensively poor as Mr. Kerry: total up his votes and statements on everything from Grenada to the Gulf war, Saddam to the Sandinistas, the Cold War to missile defense to every major weapons system of the 1980s and '90s. He called them all wrong.

There's a reason John Kerry talks more about his four months in Vietnam than his twenty years in the Senate. If only the American left could field a man with Tony Blair's capabilities -- actually, I'm sure such men exist, but they'd never be able to win in the primaries.
But that's not how the Democratic Party muscle saw John Kerry. Since the notion of a credible war president wasn't important to them, they looked at the war on terror merely as a Bush wedge issue to be neutralized. And they figured their best shot at neutralizing it was Lt. Kerry on a Swift boat.
Well put. The Democrats aren't actually concerned with winning the War on Terror, they're just interested in making sure that a Democrat gets elected president. Everything else is just details.

(HT: Donald Sensing.)

Dahlia Lithwick has a good New York Times editorial about how the criminal justice system is basically incapable of resolving acquainance rape accusations, a point I've made before. She writes:

Rape shield laws prohibit the use of an accuser's prior sexual history to undermine her credibility, with rare exceptions. These laws were urged by feminist reformers in the 1970's because until that time the central inquiry in rape cases was whether the accuser was a tramp who, essentially, "asked for it." Cordoning off her sexual past from public scrutiny was vital, and in classic "stranger in the bushes" cases it made good sense. Who cares whether a woman had sex four times that night? No assailant had the right to force a fifth. But the problem in acquaintance rape cases - centered as they are on nuanced questions about the accuser's consent and the defendant's understanding of that consent - is that the legal inquiry does come down to whether she asked for it. Almost literally. And all the evidence of her sexual behavior - in this case the physical evidence implicating the accuser's other encounters that week - thus becomes highly relevant.

This well-intentioned reform in our rape laws has led to two unappealing alternatives: Either the defendant's legal presumption of innocence is flipped on its head, since rape shield laws unambiguously deny him access to potentially exculpatory evidence, or - as a practical matter - the woman's sexual history goes on trial regardless, permitting humiliating public scrutiny often likened to a second rape.

Ms. Lithwick then goes on to criticise the media for hyping the case to monumental proportions, but I think that's a futile effort. The media exists to make money, and there's money to be made in publicizing celebrity rape trials. Period. (Anyone who thinks the media's main goals are the pursuit of truth or to inform the public are delusional.)

The law is a blunt instrument, and not well-suited for every task to which we may like to apply it. In acquaintance rape cases the truth is difficult to discern, and often even the accuser and the accusee aren't sure what really happened. So what's the best way to resolve such accusations? If the evidence is sketchy a jury must acquit, but that doesn't mean individual members of society can't make up their own minds and shun whichever party they feel to be in the wrong. The situation is magnified in spectacle trials because of the high profile, but the principles are the same.

And, of course, if you don't want to be raped or accused of rape, don't hang out in secluded areas with strangers. That'll go a long way towards reducing your risk. It's not your fault if a car full of racing teenagers runs through a stop sign and smashes into your vehicle (as I heard happen the other day, and then saw the wreckage), but if you don't wear your seatbelt you're a fool.

(HT: VC.)

Via Insty, TalkLeft has an excellent example of how questionable some cases -- including rape cases -- are. This is the type of thing that makes me reconsider my support for the death penalty in its current state. Of course, sending a man to jail for 17 years for a rape he didn't commit is hardly much better.

Proverbs 22:13

The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside!"
or, "I will be murdered in the streets!"

Dear Snakestrike,

Or should I say, Janet? In case you didn't guess, the Boss was furious when he found you'd jumped ship! When Carl the Intern told him about it he threw him in the flea pit! I've never seen anyone survive that many flea bites before; luckily the Boss pulled Carl out before the queen could get to him.

So what's life like on the outside? I bet you don't have to wake up at 5am anymore when it's your turn to polish the fleet of evil motorcycles. Heck, you're probably driving a Honda Civic instead of an evil vehicle of any sort, and I'm sure it gets better mileage without all the armor plates and heavy machine guns. I know I'd miss playing with the smokescreen, but it'd be nice to go more than 50 miles on a tank.

Gemstone told me you found a job waiting tables, and I bet you're great at it, what with your incredible speed and all. I'm so jealous... I wish I could get a regular job, but I don't think I'm qualified for much more than dropping heavy objects with superhuman accuracy. Maybe I could be a deliveryman or something?

I'd love to get my own place, with a swimming pool that isn't full of piranha, sharks, giant squids, crocodiles, or any other deadly creatures. Or acid. Gemstone says you're sharing a two-bedroom apartment -- which is a step down from our island fortress, I'm sure -- but you've got to admit there's better freeway access and more nightlife.

We should keep in touch, even though you're retired. I know the Boss wants to hunt you down, drag you back, and beat you like a rented mule, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends still, does it? It's just not the same here without you; you could make bearable even the most evil and tedious mission!

Anyway, email me back sometime. I won't tell the Boss where you are, I promise.

The Bombardier (Fred)

In a bizarre conclusion to a disturbing story, Mary Kay Letourneau is reuniting with the now-20-year-old man she abused almost a decade ago.

After spending seven years behind bars, Mary Kay Letourneau (search) will legally be allowed to see the former student she was convicted of having sex with.

A judge on Friday approved the motion lifting the no-contact order between Letourneau and Vili Fualaau (search), with whom she had two children.

If you remember, Letourneau was only sent to jail after she violated the terms of her parole by continuing to have sex with Fualaau after her first conviction, and after having two children by him. Just more irrationality regarding children and sex. I don't imagine she would have treated as leniently the first time if she were a 35-year-old man abusing a 12-year-old girl.
“I've been waiting for a long time for this to happen — for her to come out," Fualaau said on NBC's the "Today" show Friday. "And now that I — now that she is out now, you know, I'm really excited to see her.” ...

Fualaau said he's looking forward to getting together with Letourneau and their children to see if they can have a life together.

Does anyone out there see this relationship ending well? I can't imagine a more dysfunctional "family" -- and I'm sorry, but I feel compelled to use quotes. The abuser will almost certainly turn into the abusee now that her former victim is older, and I shudder to think of the consequences for the children. Can Letourneau even get custody of their two kids (or her four other kids by her former husband, who moved to Alaska) after being convicted of sexually abusing a child? Does it matter that her former victim is still "in love" with her (again, more quotes)? Should a 20-year-old be given custody of his (likely) 8-year-old children?

The whole thing is almost too weird for words.

I wrote a lot about the Bible and money, and now I'd like to write a bit about how people often conflate their views of God and money. Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Note that there's nothing wrong with money itself, but rather with the love of money. Jesus also recognized the competition for worship between God and money.
Luke 16:13

"No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

Money is a powerful tool because it represents the value we create for the community around us and it can be exchanged with other people to get them to do what we want. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't know how to build a couch, so when I need a couch I work, get paid, and then trade my money (which represents my labor) to someone else in exchange for a couch (the product of their labor). It's an excellent system, and far more efficient than direct bartering. After all, I build satellites, and it's hard to trade satellites for food or housing. Money that is gained dishonestly is obviously tainted, but money that is earned through honest labor is worthy of respect because it represents that the earner has contributed to the well-being of his fellow man.

So money is a tool, and as such it increases the capabilities of its owner. I can't drive a nail into a plank with my bare hands, but I can do it easily if I've got a hammer. The reason people tend towards loving money should be pretty obvious: we tend to love ourselves quite a bit, and we take an immense amount of pride in the wonderful things we can accomplish. Love of money is fundamentally love of self. Look at what I've earned, look how powerful I am, look at everything I can accomplish.

People who love money tend to view God in the same way: as a tool. They think that if they say the right words (prayer) or act in certain ways (e.g., going to church) then God will do what they want him to do. To many people, religion is all about manipulating God into giving them what they want. Why? Because at the root they love themselves, and even their religion is all about them. These people see God as a genie in a bottle and think that if they rub him the right way he'll pop out and grant their wishes. After all, that's how money works.

Loving money -- and the power it brings -- warps our view of God. Rather than loving God and seeking a relationship with him, we try to enslave him. Rather than realizing that he is the master and we are the servants, we reverse the roles. Unlike money, which is a tool, God has his own purposes and his own desires, and he wants to use us to accomplish them, not vice versa.

So instead of valuing money as a tool to be used towards loving ends (e.g., feeding our families), we value money as an end in itself for the power it gives us; instead of loving God as a relational end in itself, we see him only as a tool. Again, the roles are exactly reversed: money takes the place of God and becomes an idol, and God takes the place of money as a tool. As with most modern idolatry, love of money is all about putting ourselves at the top of the pile because we trust ourselves more than we trust God. We think that if we've got enough power we can accomplish whatever it is we need to do, and we won't have to trust God for anything. Unfortunately, as they say, you can't take it with you.

The reaction from many on the left to accusations by some of John Kerry's former fellow-soldiers is quite instructive. Most leftists seem to think it's no big deal if 10%/50%/90% (whatever) of the people you served with think you're a lying traitor (which is essentially what the charges amount to). In my opinion, it's quite significant that so many of Kerry's former associates think he's unfit to be President -- these people knew him well, and saw how he behaved under pressure and without interference from campaign handlers. Compare that to the reactions of the same people to the possibility that George Bush didn't show up for some training exercises, and their derision for the rest of Bush's service record.

The idea that "it's a wash" (as one commenter wrote) just because it's he-said/they-said is nearly delusional. It seems to me that many leftists are in a state of total denial, bolstered by polls and media coverage, and I'm sticking to my prediction that George Bush will win in a landslide in November. This attack by Swiftboat Veterans for Truth is devestating, and now that Kerry has the official Democratic nomination watch for more ruinous revelations from his past of this same sort. There's plenty of material, from his 20 year Senate career to the recent Democratic primaries, and we're going to see and hear it all. Leftists hoping for similar revelations about Bush are likely to be disappointed; all those cards were played in 2000, including the most devestating: his DUI.

Never forget that the Clintons are manuvering the DNC towards a meltdown of monumental proportions. Kerry has, tellingly, kept Terry McAuliffe at the helm of the organization, and McAuliffe is wholly owned by the Clintons, who want nothing more than for Hillary to run in 2008. They're likely stoking the flames by building up the hopes of the Democratic faithful, but watch for later positioning that will allow the Clintons to pick up the pieces after November 2nd and remake the party in their own image. Frankly, I think this will be a good thing, for the Democrats and for the country.

The expected response by leftists is, of course, that I'm the one being delusional. Well, there's no way to know for sure for a few months, so I'll just say "we'll see". Maybe I'm wrong, but I think the Democrats are due for the kind of fundamental realignment the Republican party went through in the early 1990s -- but of a much larger magnitude because the Dems have been stagnant for more than six decades. It's exciting to watch, and once the dust settles I expect the left to be more (more, but I don't know to what degree) libertarian than what is considered "modern liberal". I can envision a future in which I'm torn between the parties because the left actually has rational positions on important issues and isn't held hostage by the loons.

A friend told me a story about a couple of con men working a scam at the temporarily closed Montebello DMV. Apparently they made some shirts that said "DMV" on the front and stood outside the building posing as driving test administrators. Although the facility was closed, people who didn't know better were lining up outside to pay $20 to drive around the block a few times with the fake instructors, who then gave them a certificate and told them to come back in six weeks for their license. This went on for over two weeks before they were recently arrested.

In what must be a surprise for leftists, the two most recently arrested (would-be) terrorists in America are Arab Muslims.

To be fair, other non-Arabs are listed later in the article as terrorists -- but I didn't find any non-Muslims. I'll make the obligatory (and true!) disclaimer that not that all Muslims are terrorists, but it sure does seem that all terrorists are Muslim.

Here's an interesting tidbit that may give some insight into John Kerry's perspective on free speech and private property.

In Washington, Kerry spoke to minority journalists at their quadrennial Unity convention. He was "warmly accepted throughout his speech and he drew big applause with his comments about the lack of minority journalists and ownership of television stations and newspapers,"'s Darrell Bowling reported. "He says when he's president he would make sure to bring in an FCC chairman who would fight to increase minority ownership of broadcast outlets."
Personally, I don't think it's the government's place to get involved in what kinds of people should own media outlets and what kinds shouldn't. I can hardly think of a worse matter for the government to meddle with; what's next, regulating the racial distribution of clergy?

I'm assuming I'll write more on this topic: men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam say he's unfit for command.

A veterans group seeking to deeply discredit Democrat John Kerry's military service will charge in the new bombshell book UNFIT FOR COMMAND:

"Kerry earned his Silver Star by killing a lone, fleeing, teenage Viet Cong in a loincloth."

"And if Kerry's superiors had known the truth at the time, they would never have recommended him for the medal."

The book also claims to detail how Kerry personally ordered the slaughter of small animals at a small hamlet along the Song Bo De River. ...

George Bates, an officer in Coastal Division 11, participated in numerous operations with Kerry. In UNFIT FOR COMMAND, Bates recalls a particular patrol with Kerry on the Song Bo De River. He is still "haunted" by the incident:

With Kerry in the lead, the boats approached a small hamlet with three or four grass huts. Pigs and chickens were milling around peacefully. As the boats drew closer, the villagers fled. There were no political symbols or flags in evidence in the tiny village. It was obvious to Bates that existing policies, decency, and good sense required the boats to simply move on.

Instead, Kerry beached his boat directly in the small settlement. Upon his command, the numerous small animals were slaughtered by heavy-caliber machine guns. Acting more like a pirate than a naval officer, Kerry disembarked and ran around with a Zippo lighter, burning up the entire hamlet.

Sounds pretty damning, and I can see why they waited until after the convention to start hitting Kerry with this stuff. Does the Kerry campaign deny any of the claims? Nah, they'd rather complain about the process.
"They hired a goddamn private investigator to dig up trash!" charged a top Kerry adviser traveling with the senator late Tuesday. "This is pay for play... How low can they go?"

Kerry supporters are comparing the effort by the veterans to the Arkansas State troopers tell-all against Bill Clinton.

Maybe so, but the troopers were telling the truth, and so may be these Vietnam vets.
The book, set for release next week, hit #1 on the AMAZON hitparade after the DRUDGE REPORT revealed details of the book -- a book the Kerry camapign believes is the"the dirtiest of all dirty tricks ever played on a candidate for the presidency."

The Kerry campaign is planning to vigorously counter the charges and will accuse the veteran's groups of being well-financed by a top Bush donor from Texas.

From what I can determine, the "top Bush donor from Texas" is a guy named Perry, and he gave $100,000 towards this effort. Sure, that's a lot of money, but it's nothing compared to the $15 - $20 million given to the Democrats by George Soros. Pay-for-play indeed.

I say 2028. Whoever will be elected in 2028 is probably between 25 and 30 right now, which are prime blogging ages. Maybe my estimate is overly optimistic though, since I suspect younger age cohorts have an even higher rate of blogging.

Of course, it may be that blogging becomes so powerful that present-day presidential hopefuls start blogging to improve their political chances, in which case the date may be even earlier -- say 2020, although that seems awfully aggressive to me. I doubt it will be much before then, however, because the older crop of aspiring presidents are already in office somewhere and locked into the current way of doing business.

Clayton Cramer quotes from some articles about the transgendered deception, as he calls it, and relates some pretty disturbing stories. I'd only like to add that one of the saddest facets of transgenerism is what many transsexuals call the "50% rule": that is, that 50% of transsexuals commit or attempt to commit suicide. There aren't a lot of major studies that I can find, but it's apparently conventional wisdom among transsexuals is supported by some data, as the linked-to site discusses.

Some may be quick to claim that these suicides are caused by a society that refuses to accept the transgendered, but isn't is more likely that a person who would want to undergo irreversible surgery to change his gender is already pretty disturbed? Wouldn't he be better served by counseling than by pandering to his psychosis by validating his self-destructive impulses? One of the tragedies of modern anything-goes morality is that people who really need help are dismissed as simply living an alternative lifestyle; it costs lives and ruins families.

All I know is that I haven't seen a man trapped in a woman's body since before I was born.

Some readers have criticised the attention I drew to John Kerry's miserable Senate attendance record earlier this year, but it's looking more and more relevant all the time.

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has criticized President Bush's response to the 9/11 Commission report, insisting that he would do a better job of fighting the war against terror.

But according to the Republican National Committee, Kerry missed most of the public hearings when he sat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence between 1993 and 2000.

One of those hearings, the RNC indicated, happened about a year before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States and focused on warnings of possible terrorist strikes and how those warning should be handled. In all, the RNC researchers discovered, Kerry missed 38 of 49 public hearings during the eight years he served on the intelligence panel.

John Kerry's complaints about President Bush's decisions regarding intelligence ring a little hollow.

I call laws that are or will eventually be impossible to enforce impossiblaws. Take, for instance, the recent FCC ruling that Voice-over-IP technology must be tappable by law enforcement.

Internet phone carriers such as Vonage should set up their systems so U.S. law enforcers can monitor suspicious calls, the Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites) tentatively ruled on Wednesday.

By a vote of 5-0, the FCC (news - web sites) said "voice over Internet protocol," or VoIP, providers should be subject to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which ensures that law enforcers will be able to keep up with changing communications technologies.

The law does no such thing as ensuring that law enforcers will be able to keep up, all it does it force technology to retard itself.
... the FCC will accept further public comments before making its ruling on VoIP final.
Final. I love it. How long do you think this "final" ruling will even be relevant? How long will it be before distributed VoIP technology renders traditional telecommunication companies obsolete? How long until the FCC will be completely powerless to enforce any of its rulings, because technology will have simply slipped past like a ghost on a dark night?
Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

I suppose this is more art than science, but it's art that looks like science, so... take a look at Brotron Labs and check out Greg Brotherton's atomic weapons, combat robots, and scientific apparatus. Very cool. I hear he's built laser cannons out of vacuum cleaners as well.

I'm playing around with Google's Orkut community software, and it's pretty cool. It's basically like Friendster, except much less annoying (from what I can tell so far). I recommend giving it a try... searching through the "communities" for topics of interest can be a little addicting.

For example, here's a list of communities I've joined so far.

2nd Amendment
A.I. Programming
America Rules!
American Politics
Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Life
Artificial Thinking
Back To The Future
Big Trouble In little China
Bill Murray
Bruce Campbell
Calvin and Hobbes
Cato University
Christian Friends
Christian Singles
Christopher Walken
Computer Science
Concealed Firearms
Dungeons & Dragons
Election 2004
Eliza Dushku
Embedded Systems
Fallout 2
Free-Market Capitalists
Girls with brains
Hip Guys for Hot Geeky Girls
Indiana Jones
Late Night with Conan O'Brien
Law & Order
Lord Of The Rings
Military Technology
Monty Python
No more Communism
Old School
Orkut's Most Beautiful People
reversi / othello
Roleplaying Games
Save Ferris!
Sherlock Holmes
Shining Force
Short Fiction
Sixteen candles
South Park
Star Wars
Stephen King
The Art of War
The Dark Tower
The Goonies
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Princess Bride
The Simpsons!
UCLA Engineering
Unfortunate Events
Venice Baptist Church
What's she trying to say?
Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
Will Ferrell
Women Who Wear Skirts
Worshippers Of Eris

It's interesting that so much study as been done on detecting deception, but there is little serious scholarship on how to get away with a lie. Maybe they're two sides of the same coin, or maybe it's that we're so good at lying that there isn't much room for improvement.

People don't seem to be very good at spotting deception signals. On average, over hundreds of laboratory studies, participants distinguish correctly between truths and lies only about 55 percent of the time. This success rate holds for groups as diverse as students and police officers. "Human accuracy is really just barely better than chance," says DePaulo.
Deception is a really fascinating arms race, especially considering that it's the main flaw with just about every game-theory-based explanation for cooperation. It's always slightly more expensive to catch liars than it is to lie.

(HT: GeekPress.)

(I think this is #2, anyway.)

First off, I love how public financing of elections is considered to be "clean", as if people spending their own money is somehow "dirty". The whole notion that there's even a problem with campaign spending is absurd, considering that Americans spend about as much on federal elections each election cycle as we do on Barbie dolls. As Edward H. Crane of the Cato Institute argued before the Senate in 1997,

Why is it that Donald Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, or Gary Trudeau, the liberal cartoonist, can lavish virtually millions of dollars of support toward a candidate they support or against a candidate they oppose? And is it bad that they can do so? Of course not. They are part of a healthy open democracy, whether one agrees with them or not. If the answer is that it is because they are in the media and are therefore protected by the First Amendment that they can employ massive resources for and against candidates, then we are misreading the First Amendment. The First Amendment applies to everyone in this room and, indeed, everyone in this country. The media do not have rights that the rest of us don't have.

More importantly, the so-called solutions that are being proposed by advocates of campaign finance reform address essentially nonexistent problems. Yesterday USA Today, a great champion (as is most of the major media) of campaign finance reform, breathlessly reported that $260 million had been raised through "soft dollar" contributions in 1996. Let's see, isn't that about $1 per American? For this we want to infringe our rights to spend money as we see fit to promote political views we hold? Americans spend about as much on Barbie dolls each election cycle as we do on federal elections. Who are the self-appointed arbiters of American politics to say what is too little, enough, or too much to be spent on politics?

Limits on monetary expenditures are limits on speech. Pure and simple. Spin it any way you like, but by prohibiting a person from spending money to support a candidate you are severely limiting their ability to speak on behalf of their candidate -- speech requires spending money -- and no speech is more important than political speech.

Bubba at Southpaw gets to the heart of the matter:

I realize there are cogent arguments against such public funding, but I think we all admit that the root of problems in politics is political favors. Common sense and human nature makes it naive for anyone to think that a politician won't feel beholden to his or her campaign donors.
But he misses the correct solution. Rather than limiting speech, why not limit the power of the government to perform political favors? And how could that be accomplished? By limiting the power of government, period.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: as long as the government has the power to take money from one person and give it to someone else, people are going to find ways to influence politicians and get special favors. The only way to eliminate corruption in government is to drastically reduce the power of the government. No one will want to bribe an official who doesn't have the power to pay back the bribe with political favors.

What's particularly disturbing is that some groups, like Democracy Matters, are trying to change election laws with the express purpose of influencing the results of elections.

Advocates of public financing of elections have also argued that such a system would increase the number and diversity of candidates for office. And indeed that is precisely what has happened in Arizona. The Clean Elections Institute data show that there are more candidates running for office than before the implementation of the new system, and among these candidates are increased numbers of women and minorities.

With all of this true, it is hard to believe that in a few years time the substance of Arizona politics will not change as well. On one hand traditionally under-represented groups will possess a stronger voice in the legislature and in the executive branch. On the other hand the influence of private money on the political process will be reduced. It is too early to claim victory, but the evidence to date strong suggests that the Democracy Matters tag line - Change Elections, Change America - may well correspond to what happens when elections are publicly funded.

I don't care how many people of any particular group run for office or get elected to office, and changing election laws to give advantages to certain groups over others is, frankly, outrageous. Affirmative action was a bad idea for business and education, and it's certainly a bad idea for the democratic process. Absent public financing no one is locked out from an election because of their race, gender, religion, or anything else (except age for the young, and nation of birth for Presidential campaigns). If we truly want a nondiscriminatory society we need to realize that inequalities are inevitable when people are allowed to exercise their own free will.

This morning I had another run-in with the dreaded Penniers. We've all seen them: the top-hatted older gents with the sextants and theodolites who meander around accidentally dropping pennies.

I watched the fellow this morning take a few measurements from the back of his El Camino before setting out across the street -- barely waiting for the walk signal. Halfway through the intersection he reached into his pocket, ostensibly for a stick of gum, and a penny fell out right onto the street! I don't think any of the other passersby noticed, but when the Pennier reached the opposite curb he turned back and gave the penny a stern glance, as if to assure himself that it had fallen in precisely the right location. He crossed back to his car when the light changed and gave the penny a little nudge with his foot on the way, and when he passed me on the sidewalk he threw me a vicious glare.

As the children's rhyme says, "Find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck, \ because you will have played an important role in thwarting the copper droppers' plans for world domination." Everyone learns this as a kid, but many of us forget the critical second line just because it doesn't rhyme or flow as nicely as the first. Nevertheless, I knew what I had to do.

Once the Pennier drove off I waited a few minutes and then crossed the street myself, watching warily in every direction lest he come back just to run me over. When I reached the diabolical penny I was faced with a conundrum. If I took it they'd know immediately and come back to drop another, but if I simply dislodged it from its resting place perhaps they wouldn't notice as quickly. So with a flick of my ankle I kicked the penny approximately 14 inches towards the center of the intersection, and even managed to reverse its polarity in the process.

Only a minor victory, I know, but I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of my good luck for the rest of the day.

Some readers have wondered why I hate light rail in California, and I've come across an article in the LA Times that perfectly illustrates the reasons for my revulsion. Unfortunately I can't find the article online, but it's titled "Panel Derails Vote on Rail Line", and it's found in the August 2nd, 2004, edition of the California section, Orange County edition.

Transportation officials rejected a proposal Friday to let Orange County voters have a say on whether to move forward with the controversial CenterLine project -- a $1-billion light-rail system that would connect neighboring towns. ...

Board member Miguel A. Pulido, a supporter of the rail line, led the opposition, arguing that a ballot measure would be an unwise gamble because voters would probably reject the project.

"It would be a terrible mistake... by voting to put it on the ballot, we kill the project," said Pulido, who is mayor of Santa Ana.

He suggested that voters who would not benefit from CenterLine -- a rail line that would connect downtown Santa Ana to John Wayne Airport -- might not appreciate its value, and vote against it.

Honestly, I can hardly believe the arrogance of some of our elected officials. Here's a guy actually coming out and saying that he's against the democratic process because he predicts that he won't like the results of the vote. Why even bother running for mayor next year, Mr. Pulido? If you don't think people will vote for you, why not just declare yourself dictator-for-life?

So the Orange County Transportation Authority is going to go forward with a project they know isn't popular with the majority of the people paying for it. Obviously the voters who won't benefit from the rail line will vote against it, and why shouldn't they? Why should they pay for something that benefits someone else? Screw you, you arrogant prick.

One of my more interesting discoveries at Cato University was that many of the younger attendees rejected the existence of natural rights. This rejection is intellectually honest, particularly for atheists, but still abnormal for libertarians who generally consider such rights (life, liberty, and property, as first argued by John Locke) to be axiomatic. Some think that natural rights are ordained by God, and others think they flow from the "natural order", but few deny that they exist at all. Without natural rights, it's hard to argue that a government that respects life, liberty, and property is "better" than one that doesn't, because there's no way to define "better".

The rejection of natural rights by some of my fellows led me to consider the question further, and I've come up with a new (to me) approach to the issue from a very primitive "might makes right" perspective. Note that, as a Christian, I don't wholly subscribe to these notions, but they are consistent in result with my own beliefs and with the traditional "natural order" arguments I'm familiar with.

Essentially: natural rights are those liberties which are easier to protect than to take away. For example, it's difficult for government or individuals to control what I think, and it's easy for me to resist or ignore any laws restricting my thoughts; therefore, freedom of thought is a natural right. On the other hand, it's easy for an individual or government to thwart my alleged "right" to have someone else pay for my health care. Thus, the first is a natural right, and the second is not.

Now certainly sufficient force can be applied to create any "right" one may desire, but force is in limited supply and can't be used for everything. Witness the former USSR, and how difficult it was to use force to restrict private property rights. On the contrary, in America very little force is required to protect private property rights.

This argument doesn't claim that anything that can be accomplished by force is moral, but rather that anything that can be easily accomplished by force (or without any force at all) is acceptable. Deciding what is a natural right, using this structure, does not require a belief in God or in any particular "natural order", it only requires that it is possible to reach agreement on what things are easy and what things are hard to accomplish by force.

I'll file this under "entertainment" rather than "politics" just because it's so hilarious. "Hollywood Liberals Say Most Americans Agree With Them."

Hollywood celebrities attending the Democratic National Convention in Boston this week declared that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with their liberal political views. ...

But [Rob] Reiner added that liberals are now mobilizing and eventually will achieve success against the prevailing conservative juggernaut.

"We (liberals) don't even have to be on a level playing field. If we are on a slightly less level playing field, our ideas are so much more appealing to the public than theirs," Reiner explained.

Right, but "appealing" doesn't equal "possible". Sure, if socialism worked I'd be all for it. Why not? Plenty for everyone; no one has to work too hard; sign me up. I'm sure it sounds great to millionaire movie stars who have absolutely no concept of what money is worth or what it means to work for a living.
Actor Ben Affleck said at a DNC celebrity panel discussion on Wednesday that America's political views are solidly to the left.

"If you polled all people in America, probably 65 percent of people would align themselves with the Democrats," Affleck said at the panel discussion titled "Funny But True: Important Issue in 2004."

Hey Benny, there actually are polls of people in America, and surprisingly the numbers don't line up with the leftist tripe you're normally surrounded with in Hollywood.
Affleck believes that conservatives place so much pressure on the media to cast them in a positive light that it skews the objectivity of the news.

"Most reporters, too, some of whom are Democrats, too, bent over backwards to say, 'Well I have to be fair, so I have to endlessly play up the Clinton blow-job story,'" he said.

Some? Some?! "When asked who would be a better president, the journalists from outside the Beltway picked Mr. Kerry 3 to 1, and the ones from Washington favored him 12 to 1. Those results jibe with previous surveys over the past two decades showing that journalists tend to be Democrats, especially the ones based in Washington." Yeah, maybe "some".
Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore says public opinion polls prove that the American people side with the left. ...

"They are up at six in the morning trying to figure out which -- you know -- minority group they are going to screw today -- the hate that they eat for breakfast," Moore said. "Our side, we never see six in the morning, unless we have been up all night," he added.

Holy freaking crap I hate this guy so unbelievably much. He should know by now that we conservatives don't believe in "group" identity; we try to screw each minority member individually. It's not normally necessary to wake up as early as he thinks, however, since most minorities are so lazy and don't get out of bed until noon unless it's the first of the month.
"Hollywood is not an evil empire within. It is human beings, tax-paying citizens that are not defined by their vocation nor their geographical location," [Janeane Garofalo] said.
I'd love to see the tax returns from these movie stars. Why do I get the feeling that they shelter most of their income from taxes rather than gleefully bending over for dirty Uncle Sam?

Is it true that politicians really can't admit making mistakes without disasterous results? Does anyone have any examples of a politician actually admitting a mistake -- either in a legislative vote or an executive decision -- and then being forgiven or castigated?

I obviously think it would be a good idea, and I bet the majority of Americans agree. The Fair Tax Act of 2003 got a fairly good reception from the people who heard of it, and maybe the time is now ripe to actually get it passed. Eliminating our income tax structure would be a bold move, just the sort of fundamental reform that could launch America (and President Bush's popularity) into the stratosphere.

A domestic centerpiece of the Bush/GOP agenda for a second Bush term is getting rid of the Internal Revenue Service, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

The Speaker of the House will push for replacing the nation's current tax system with a national sales tax or a value added tax, Hill sources tell DRUDGE. ...

“If you own property, stock, or, say, one hundred acres of farmland and tax time is approaching, you don’t want to make a mistake, so you’re almost obliged to go to a certified public accountant, tax preparer, or tax attorney to help you file a correct return. That costs a lot of money. Now multiply the amount you have to pay by the total number of people who are in the same boat. You can’t. No one can because precise numbers don’t exist. But we can stipulate that we’re talking about a huge amount. Now consider that a flat tax, national sales tax, or VAT would not only eliminate the need to do this, it could also eliminate the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) itself and make the process of paying taxes much easier."

Iraq has a flat tax system, as do many of Eastern Europe's fastest growing economies. I say it's time for America to join them in the 21st century.

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