October 2004 Archives

More on the FEC complaint against John and Ken.

In a complaint to the Federal Elections Commission, the National Republican Campaign Committee accused radio station KFI-AM (640) co-hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of "criminal behavior" for attacking Rep. David Dreier, R-Glendora, and endorsing his Democratic opponent, Cynthia Matthews.

By criticizing Dreier's positions on immigration, promoting a "Fire Dreier" campaign and making on-air appeals for voters to elect Matthews, the NRCC said, the hosts gave Matthews an unlawful corporate, in-kind contribution of more than $25,000.

"This behavior is illegal and must be appropriately punished," the NRCC charged, noting violation of the law carries a penalty of fines and jail time.

How utterly ludicrous... the idea that anyone in American can face criminal prosecution for advocating the defeat of an elected official! Disgusting. Totally repulsive. Why not contact the NRCC and tell them what you think?
Mailing Address

National Republican Congressional Committee
320 First Street, S.E
Washington, D.C. 20003

Phone Numbers

NRCC Main Number, (202) 479-7000
News Media Inquiries, (202) 479-7070
Campaign Assistance, (202) 479-7050
Information on Contributing, (202) 479-7030
Legal Compliance Questions, (202) 479-7069

Here's a link to the actual complaint. Go ahead and read it, but keep in mind that John and Ken have invited David Dreier onto their show numerous times, and he refused.

The French are becoming more Americanized every day it seems.

Despite the perception that the French are rude and scoff at American tourists, the country some Yanks love to hate apparently doesn’t return the bad feeling. Les Français continue to snap up, or at least reluctantly accept, all things américaines.

"Every time I go back, I am astounded by how much more prevalent American culture is," said Roy Caldwell, a French professor at St. Lawrence University (search) in New York.

So is it time for Americans to quit France-bashing? Or does that country's ongoing obstruction on international affairs warrant our continuing displeasure?

My mom is on the school board in my district and we frequently discuss the incredible harm inflicted on our public education system by teachers' unions. The thing is, I know a good number of teachers that I like personally, but the socio-political structure of the various unions is focused on one thing: not educating kids, but enriching and protecting teachers. Which is what you'd expect! Everyone is out for their own good. The problem is that our public education system as it stands now doesn't create an incentive structure to harness that innate selfishness and use it to benefit our kids.

There are two ways to redirect selfishness. The first is religion, or any other system that promises deferred, intangible rewards in exchange for surrendering present self-enrichment (like communism). This approach works very well if you can get everyone to play along by the same rules; unfortunately(?), history shows that you can't force a whole society to conform, and religion creates an unstable equilibrium wherein those who cheat the system can reap all the benefits without paying any of the costs. A system can only bear so many "free-riders" before it begins to break down.

The second way to redirect selfishness tends to be far more stable and better able to resist cheaters: competition, the foundation of capitalism's prosperity. Unlike religion, competition doesn't reward free-riders because in a purely competitive system (which exists only in theory) there are no free-riders. Each person earns the rewards of his own labor, and no one is forced or coerced into supporting his cheating neighbor. Competition leads to a stable equilibrium because cheaters are removed from the system and don't drain resources from those who choose to participate.

The reason, then, why teachers' unions are harmful to children is because their whole goal is to eliminate competition among teachers. Unions are, to the best of my knowledge, uniformly opposed to merit pay and insist that teachers' salaries be tied to seniority rather than performance. Unions are also against school vouchers or any other system that would allow parents to decide where their child goes to school. If parents are allowed to direct the "public" money that pays for their childrens' education (it's not really "public" money, it's their tax dollars) then teachers' performance will be implicitly evaluated by parents and reflected in their school choices. As Ed at Captain's Quarters explains about the National Education Association:

The efforts at educational reform have unnerved union leaders due to the [Bush] administration's determination to hold schools responsible for their performance -- a philosophy that threatens to undermine the ridiculous "tenure" model that makes removal of ineffective teachers an almost impossible task.

But what they truly fear is an effort to implement a school-voucher plan that would for the first time create a competitive market for educating the children of working families instead of just the richest families in America. Competition would either force public schools to reform themselves and their evaluation processes or face obsolescence. Good teachers, of course, could find work in a boom of private-school openings that vouchers would create or negotiate better conditions for themselves at the public schools that would want to hang onto them. The effect of the NEA's opposition to change is to protect the least competent among them, a fact not lost on several teachers I know personally.

The only way to truly reform our education system is to eliminate the socialist model currently in place and to introduce at least rudimentary competition that will weed out the incompetents.

Our contradictory laws on various sexual permutations have finally led to a (state) court case that may begin unraveling the issue of crossed consent and pornography ages.

LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) -- The lawyer for a man convicted for videotaping consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend argues that the former high school teacher should not have been prosecuted under a child pornography law.

Todd Senters, 31, was convicted last year for manufacturing child pornography after his roommate found the tape in their apartment and turned it in to authorities. Senters was put on probation and required to register as a sex offender.

In briefs filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court seeking to overturn the conviction, Senters' lawyer James Martin Davis noted that state law allows people age 16 or older to have consensual sex.

I guess the reason this topic interests me so much is that it's an incredibly clear example just how specious a great deal of modern morality is. We want to have everything both ways, but eventually all such internally inconsistant constructs begin to break down.

So what do you think is the proper resolution (for this court, and overall)? Raise the age of consent to 18? Lower the child pornography age to 16? Keep the current system and leave enforcement to prosecutorial discretion? In the past, fear of social ostracisation served to suppress immoral behavior and there was little need for legal involvement, but since we now live in a blameless society we seem to have no choice other than criminal prosecution.

(HT: Orin Kerr.)

One of features of the blogging is that it's easy to pretend that nothing you write really matters. It's easy to approach every situation from an aloof, unemotional vantage point that assumes all your readers will be detached as well -- or at least not intimately involved with the topic at hand. That's not always the case, however, as two comments to my earlier post about Gordie Bailey illustrate. I wrote that Mr. Bailey, a Colorado University freshman who died from alcohol poisoning, was responsible for his own death because he was an adult who freely chose to engage in harmful activities to impress his friends. I never really considered that anyone involved in the event could come across my post, but I recently received two comments, one from one of Mr. Bailey's best friends and one from his step-father. They wrote:

Michael-
First of all, a death of someone as special as Gordie, whom you never had the privaledge of meeting, should be mourned, not criticized in a negative way towards him. If you have any clue how offending it is to someone like me who was one of his best friends to hear some heartless fucking asshole critiquing whether it was his death was his fault or not. It hurts. Who the hell are you to try and call my friend out for drinking too much. I am in a fraternity, I am a pledge, I understand how peer pressure works. Not just peer pressure, but FRATERNITY pressure. Can you say the same? Why don't you get a life and mind your own damn business, if you have a problem feel free to call me out on it.

Posted by: Bradley at October 18, 2004 10:36 PM

I understand your "job" is to be on the unpopular side of an issue to foster conflict, so I take your comments as intended. I admire you sir if you educated your kid(s) before they went off to college to the fatc that they are totally responsible for their actions, even if it is after only 30 days on campus, and they have not yet learned their tolerance for hard alcohol chased with wine finished in 30 minutes if they want to join the "band of brothers" because they typically drank beer, and they are trusting people thinking no one would do them harm as that was the way their high scholl friends treated them. Unfortunately, most of us parents aren't as foresighted as you, and most of us, even today, do not know you can die of alcohol poisoning. You do a great service to us all to blame it on the 18 year old freshman. That way we, society, don't have to change things, except tell our kids that alcohol can kill, not just while driving a car. I wish we could all truly be as smart as you appear to be. Thanks for simplyfying the answer to our problems.

Michael Lanahan

Posted by: michael lanahan at October 28, 2004 03:52 PM

I stand by my earlier position on the matter, but I feel bad about inflicting additional pain on people who loved Mr. Bailey. Was my first post wrong or irreponsible? Was I out of line?

I think alcoholism is a huge problem in our country (and around the world), and it doesn't do anyone any good to shift blame off the drinkers. In the first post I closed by saying, "I'm sorry to say so, Mr. Lanahan, but Gordie's death was meaningless" -- and it was meaningless in the sense that, despite Mr. Lanahan's claims, neither the university nor the fraternity should bear any legal responsibility for Mr. Bailey's death or learn any "lessons". However, if we as a society choose to rightly attribute blame rather than attempt to shift it onto others, perhaps Mr. Bailey's death can serve an an example to other young adults and scare/encourage them to take responsibility for their own lives.

Igots is a former-engineer/current-law-student and he's got an amusing/disturbing account of a police ride-along. My brother is in the process of becoming a police officer, and it sure sounds like interesting work... at least based on accounts like the one above and Law & Order.

Two interesting pieces that illustrate how John Kerry's presidential campaign is dragging the media down with it. First, Kerry Spot has a source inside the Bush campaign who says that the President, with regards to the 380 tons of explosives story, is going to present America with a choice:

The campaign is going to avoid the Russian angle and go with the straightforward, “As the facts mount in this story, American people have a choice between believing Kerry-NYTimes-CBS or believing Bush and the Troops.”
Secondly, Dick Morris makes the connection Mike Wallace wanted to avoid at all costs and links "60 Minutes" with "60 Minutes 2" (starring Dan Rather).
Beyond our inability to determine the truth of the Times story lies the sense of dirty tricks that comes from a last-minute journalistic accusation — made even more heinous by the CBS News' now-exposed plan to break the story 48 hours before the polls opened on "60 Minutes." Voters will easily recall how the same show fell for forged anti-Bush documents and tried to palm them off on us just last month.
"60 Minutes 2" is the show that fell for the forged documents, and Mr. Wallace -- host of "60 Minutes [1]" didn't want to get entangled in that debacle... too bad I guess.

(HT: Power Line.)

Maybe I'm slow, but I'm only now realizing that I need to add Orson Scott Card to my sidebar. Here's a piece he wrote earlier this month about John Kerry's ignorance of science and his absurd position on abortion.

I was amused when Kerry said, during the second debate, "I believe in science."

That was a pretty clear contrast with George W. Bush, who believes in God.

The real difference in their faiths is that George W. Bush has actually read the Bible and gone to church, so chances are he knows something about what Christians believe about God.

Unfortunately, John Kerry has no idea what scientists believe about science.

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out in a sharply reasoned essay ("Anything to Get Elected"), Edwards's recent statement, "When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again," does not overlap with actual science at any point.

It's religion, pure and simple. And it's not really faith in science. It's faith in money spent on science. And, of course, faith in the gullibility of the American voter.

And regarding Mr. Kerry's position on abortion -- which I've dissected previously -- Mr. Card writes:
From the second debate between Bush and Kerry, when Kerry was asked about abortion:

"KERRY: I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.

"But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that." ...

What I want to know is how you can possibly legislate anything at all that does not involve taking your personal belief about what is right and wrong and punishing those who don't go along.

Did John Kerry not vote for the notorious "hate speech" laws? Didn't he decide that certain words and ideas were so evil and loathsome that people who say them while committed a crime should receive extra punishment?

Didn't John Kerry support the ban on peaceful demonstrations anywhere near abortion clinics? Didn't he impose his beliefs on those who hope to save innocent lives by kneeling and silently praying in front of abortion clinics, when he voted for the law that allows them to be arrested for that? ...

So in his worldview, only religious people are forbidden to impose their beliefs about right and wrong on others. As long as you have no religion behind you, you can force your beliefs about right and wrong on anybody you want.

(HT: Greg Staples.)

PLO Terrorist-in-Chief Yasser Arafat has left Israel for medical treatment in Paris (where else?).

It will be the first time that Mr Arafat will have left his compound in Ramallah in nearly three years.

Israeli officials had already confirmed that Mr Arafat would be allowed to travel overseas to receive treatment.

Israel has never prevented Arafat from leaving Ramallah, they've just said that if he leaves the country he won't ever be allowed to return. This statement doesn't indicate to me that their position has changed, and if Arafat survives I doubt Israel will let him back in. It would probably be best for Israel and the Palestinians for Arafat to die.

Update:
For a first-hand description of Arafat's predation on the Palestinians, read this account by Issam Abu Issa, founder of the Palestinian International Bank. (HT: Power Line.)

Update 2:
Apparently Israel has promised to let Arafat return.

Instapundit guest host Megan McArdle posts about a problem she's having getting a driver CD for her mom's Hewlett Packard Officejet 5510, and someone from HP reads her post and arranges to solve the problem. You've got to be kidding me.

As much as we try to get along with and work with Russia, it's important to remember that Russia is not our friend in the way Britain, Australia, and Poland are.

Russian special forces troops moved many of Saddam Hussein's weapons and related goods out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S. military operation, The Washington Times has learned.

John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, "almost certainly" removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad.

"The Russians brought in, just before the war got started, a whole series of military units," Mr. Shaw said. "Their main job was to shred all evidence of any of the contractual arrangements they had with the Iraqis. The others were transportation units."

What effect will this new revelation have on the election? Who knows... if it gets reported it'll probably be influential.

Update:
Russia denies involvement.

Could this article about small hominids use the word "hobbit" a few more times?

In this Captain's Quarters post about explosives in Iraq, Captain Ed Morrissey quotes a New York Sun article that uses an abbreviated form of Thomas Lipscomb's first name.

One of our favorite movies is the film Alfred Hitchcock made in 1940 called "Foreign Correspondent." It's about how civilization's enemy in what became World War II sought to manipulate a peace movement dubbed "well-meaning amateurs" and through them, the press. We wouldn't want to draw exact parallels to the Vietnam era - or our own wartime drama today - but we couldn't help think of it as we read Thos. Lipscomb's dispatch, issued on our Page 1 yesterday, on how the communists in Hanoi were viewing the activities of John Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Decidedly odd for a modern writer, no? Anyway, for those who are interested, here's a list of first name abbreviations. If yours isn't there, make one up and leave it in a comment. A thousand years from now, this post will likely serve as an authoritative historical record on names in the early 21st century -- so make your mark.

I'm still around, it's just been a crazy couple of days. Work is really busy, and I've been trying to leave early because there are tons of errands to run to prepare for my annual Halloween haunted house. Believe it or not, every Home Depot in the western US is out of the black plastic sheeting I need to build the walls of the maze... apparently they shipped it all to Florida because of the hurricanes. Fortunately I've found another supplier, and I'll spend most of this evening trying to make that acquisition.

Last night was beautiful. We got a dozen or so feet of rain and I sat at home reading about vampires, playing Evil Genius, and talking on the phone. EG is really fun so far; it's similar to Dungeon Keeper, except that you get to send your evil minions out into the world to wreak havoc, steal money, and execute nefarious schemes. Meanwhile, you build an underground island fortress to defend yourself from the various secret agents the world governments send after you. The perfect game for a Republican.

I've got a few things to write about, but I don't really think I can contribute much to the political discussions beyond making easy observations that other, more popular writers are already making. I'm on pins and needles over the election, and I'm planning to spend Election Eve at a Bear Flag League party in Westchester. I've never been to an election party before; this is the first Presidential election that's happened since my church moved our kids' program off of Tuesday nights, and I'd been working there for years and years. It's all very exciting, and I'm really looking forward to the price of oil dropping and the market improving once the votes are finally tallied (whenever that is).

You know you've been reading too much Tolkien when you read the Arab name "Kadhim" and mentally pronounce it "ka-THEEM". And if you understand this post then you've been reading too much Tolkien as well.

Lest anyone think this current presidential campaign is particularly nasty, consider the history of mudslinging.

History shows that these sorts of unsupportable attacks and seemingly childish antics are not new to the election game. Candidates for all sorts of public office have engaged in name calling and public denunciations of their opponents from America's earliest days as a democracy.

Not even one of our most admired founding fathers was safe from personal attacks. According to a BBC news article, during the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson was "accused of favoring the teaching of 'murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest,'" by his opponent.

Perhaps one of the most venomous elections was in 1828, when John Quincy Adams was running for President against General Andrew Jackson. According the same BBC news article, Adams was "nicknamed 'The Pimp' by the campaign of his opponent…based on a rumour that he had once coerced a young woman into an affair with a Russian nobleman when he had been American ambassador to Russia."

In response, Adams' supporters came out with a pamphlet which read: "General Jackson's mother was a common prostitute brought to this country by British solders! She afterwards married a mulatto man with whom she had several children of which number General Jackson is one!!"

Then, there was the relentless slander and ridicule that Lincoln endured. According to an article in the Bradenton Herald, his opponents made fun of his "slang-whanging stump speaker" style, Newspapers made fun of his looks ("a horrid looking wretch"), and cartoonists pictured him in racist scenarios. One man from Georgia proclaimed that Lincoln planned to "force inter-marriage between children - that 'within 10 years or less our children will be the slaves of Negroes.'"

Merely two decades later, during Grover Cleveland's election in 1884, Cleveland, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was accused of fathering an illegitimate child, according to a Scripps Howard News Service article. Cleveland's supporters in turn called his opponent a liar.

By the 1950's, with America's red scare shadowing over much of the country, sympathy with communism replaced sex scandals as the most vitriolic accusation one candidate could hurl at another. Scripps Howard News Service article reports that Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy even accused the entire administration of President Harry Truman of harboring communists.

My friend Mike Northover pointed me to an Economist article from 2003 that attempted to explain away Europe's lagging productivity and living standards as merely a love of leisure, but recent Nobel Prize in Economics winner Edward C. Prescott says that Europeans work fewer hours than Americans simply because they're taxed more. Writes Professor Prescott:

Here's a startling fact: Based on labor market statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Americans aged 15-64, on a per-person basis, work 50% more than the French. Comparisons between Americans and Germans or Italians are similar. What's going on here? What can possibly account for these large differences in labor supply? It turns out that the answer is not related to cultural differences or institutional factors like unemployment benefits, but that marginal tax rates explain virtually all of this difference. I admit that when I first conducted this analysis I was surprised by this finding, because I fully expected that institutional constraints are playing a bigger role. But this is not the case. (Citations and more complete data can be found in my paper, at www.minneapolisfed.org.)

Let's take another look at the data. According to the OECD, from 1970-74 France's labor supply exceeded that of the U.S. Also, a review of other industrialized countries shows that their labor supplies either exceeded or were comparable to the U.S. during this period. Jump ahead two decades and you will find that France's labor supply dropped significantly (as did others), and that some countries improved and stayed in line with the U.S. Controlling for other factors, what stands out in these cross-country comparisons is that when European countries and U.S. tax rates are comparable, labor supplies are comparable.

And this insight doesn't just apply to Western industrialized economies. A review of Japanese and Chilean data reveals the same result. This is an important point because some critics of this analysis have suggested that cultural differences explain the difference between European and American labor supplies. The French, for example, prefer leisure more than do Americans or, on the other side of the coin, that Americans like to work more. This is silliness.

Again, I would point you to the data which show that when the French and others were taxed at rates similar to Americans, they supplied roughly the same amount of labor. Other research has shown that at the aggregate level, where idiosyncratic preference differences are averaged out, people are remarkably similar across countries. Further, a recent study has shown that Germans and Americans spend the same amount of time working, but the proportion of taxable market time vs. nontaxable home work time is different. In other words, Germans work just as much, but more of their work is not captured in the taxable market.

I would add another data set for certain countries, especially Italy, and that is nontaxable market time or the underground economy. Many Italians, for example, aren't necessarily working any less than Americans--they are simply not being taxed for some of their labor. Indeed, the Italian government increases its measured output by nearly 25% to capture the output of the underground sector. Change the tax laws and you will notice a change in behavior: These people won't start working more, they will simply engage in more taxable market labor, and will produce more per hour worked.

There certainly are cultural differences that may account of some of the productivity gap (and the varying tax rates), but people are people. As marginal tax rates rise, the value of working an additional hour drops while the cost of working an additional hour continues to rise.

Bob Woodward of the Washington Post has published a series of tough questions he planned to ask Senator Kerry about the battle of Iraq. He says he was told he would get a chance to interview the Senator, but that Mr. Kerry and/or his people decided to back out. Even without Mr. Kerry's responses the questions are excellent and worth reading.

I'm sick of having to deal with all the people who apparently despise the Establishment but have no problem living fat, lazy lives afforded by same. I met a communist at a party who said he hated money, but then refused to open his wallet and give me his. Why? He then said he didn't need money because he could come to my house and steal food any time he wanted. I invited him to try, but advised him that I'm heavily armed and that I'm not likely to get many opportunities to shoot a communist.

So yeah, I'm pro-Establishment. I know which side my bread's buttered on, and if you're smart you do too. Is the Man perfect? Nah, but he's easier to change from the inside than from the outside, and it's sure a lot more fun to take control of your destiny than to just whine and complain all the time about how unfair life is.

I'm just another brick in the Wall, and I'm proud of it. The Wall holds out all sorts of nasty evil things that want to kill me, my family, and all my friends.

Wired has a news story about a "new approach" to prisoners' dilemma, but despite the acclaim in the article the "strategy" is insignificant -- that it works is an artifact of poorly phrased rules, not of a useful advance in philosophy.

Proving that a new approach can secure victory in a classic strategy game, a team from England's Southampton University has won the 20th-anniversary Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma competition, toppling the long-term winner from its throne. ...

Before Southampton came along, a strategy called Tit for Tat had a consistent record of winning the game. Under that strategy, a player's first move is always to cooperate with other players. Afterward, the player echoes whatever the other players do. The strategy is similar to the one nuclear powers adopted during the Cold War, each promising not to use its weaponry so long as the other side refrained from doing so as well. ...

Teams could submit multiple strategies, or players, and the Southampton team submitted 60 programs. These, Jennings explained, were all slight variations on a theme and were designed to execute a known series of five to 10 moves by which they could recognize each other. Once two Southampton players recognized each other, they were designed to immediately assume "master and slave" roles -- one would sacrifice itself so the other could win repeatedly.

If the program recognized that another player was not a Southampton entry, it would immediately defect to act as a spoiler for the non-Southampton player. The result is that Southampton had the top three performers -- but also a load of utter failures at the bottom of the table who sacrificed themselves for the good of the team.

It's a gimmick, plain and simple, and it works for the same reason parts of the USSR looked prosperous to Western visitors: it's easy to push one guy to the top if you're willing to sacrifice 59 others. The organizer of the competition, Graham Kendall, explains why Southampton's results are meaningless (from my perspective).
Kendall noted that there was nothing in the competition rules to preclude such a strategy, though he admitted that the ability to submit multiple players means it's difficult to tell whether this strategy would really beat Tit for Tat in the original version. But he believes it would be impossible to prevent collusion between entrants.
This collusion strategy obviously wouldn't beat Tit-for-Tat if multiple entries weren't allowed. The only reason the collusion worked is because there's no cost associated with sacrificing one player to move another ahead in the rankings; allowing multiple entries that are scored separately makes it trivially easy to break the game. What would be far more interesting would be to allow as many entries as desired, but to then rank each team by the average score of all its entries. In such a system, Southampton's strategy would be a clear loser, just as communism always is.

(HT: GeekPress.)

Robert used to be pro-choice but is now pro-life, and here's why. (HT: Donald Sensing... is he back?)

Francis W. Porretto shares his explanation for why leftists appear to be so unhappy.

Leftists don’t start from the Aristotelian notion of happiness as the consequence of a life well lived. They regard happiness as a right that can be distributed and defended by political action. This clashes rather starkly with the Jeffersonian conception of a right to pursue happiness through one’s individual initiative. Clearly, if happiness can be distributed by the State, no pursuit is required, nor ought it to be.

Blended with this is the Marxian attitude toward freedom. In Marxian thinking, freedom is the absence of tension or conflict. Since tension and conflict are the concomitants of desires yet unsatisfied, every unslaked desire, no matter how small, destroys one’s freedom. This is particularly true in a capitalist social order, where, for Smith to achieve the overwhelmingly greater part of his desires, he must labor in the service of others that they might first achieve theirs.

The unfree cannot be happy. The more conscious they are of their bondage, the less happy they are. When the requirement that one work for what one wants is classed as bondage, the matter becomes incapable of successful resolution.

Excellent.

Update:
Yeah, they're a little unhappy.

Frank K* envisions a presidential debate that would be almost as entertaining as mine. Or maybe more entertaining. Well, his is longer anyway. Not like that. Ok, I'm stopping now.

* Because Frank is totally whipped.

Wacky Hermit offers her perspective on encouraging people to vote (without linking to my earlier post!) and likens democracy to the fair division problem (which is fascinating in its own right).

My view on the matter is colored by my experience with fair division, which was the topic of my Master's paper. In fair division, where a "cake" is divided up fairly among a bunch of players, the players are all assumed to have a "value system" (measure, for those technical math junkies out there) by which they determine the value of any given piece of cake. As part of the rules of fair division, players' value systems are not questioned or challenged. If a player says that piece of cake is 30% of the entire cake, that's what it is to that player, even if someone else thinks it's 20% and another thinks it's 50%. If you start requiring players to value a piece a certain way, it throws off the fairness of the algorithm.

Likewise I leave each voter's measure of the candidates to their own devices. If you want to base your vote for a candidate on which is alphabetically first, on how much he pays for his haircuts, on the aspects of Venus in conjunction with Jupiter, on the basis of numerological analysis of the book of Hosea or the fact that he came to your town before the election and the other guy didn't, that's your prerogative. I can think you're stupid for doing it (that's my right), but I can't take away your right. The law says that if you are a citizen, you have a right to vote. Period.

Except that laws don't create rights, they only recognize the rights that God (or nature, if you're a libertarian) gave us. And voting isn't a right. I've said it a million times: democracy can be a useful tool for protecting liberty, but democracy is not a requirement for liberty. Our society prevents all sorts of people from voting because we believe they would make poor decisions: children, the mentally impaired, felons, non-citizens, people in comas, and so forth. Wacky Hermit doesn't say whether or not she would support truly universal suffrage, but if voting is a right in the same way as are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" then what alternative is there? (Except perhaps for felons.)

I've written a lot about women in combat, and my general position is that allowing women to serve in direct combat positions is unnecessary and would be harmful to morale and performance. (At least peruse my previous posts before just jumping in with "no it wouldn't!".) Considering the Abu Ghraib travesty, no one should dispute that mixed-gender units in any context can expect to face difficult disciplinary situations as well.

So I'm really curious as to why the military is starting to push civilian leaders to allow women closer to the front-line.

The Army is negotiating with civilian leaders about eliminating a women-in-combat ban so it can place mixed-sex support companies within warfighting units, starting with a division going to Iraq in January. ...

"When that policy was made up, there was a different threat," said Lt. Col. Chris Rodney, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "We imagined a more linear combat environment. Now, with the nature of asymmetrical threats, we have to relook at that policy."

Col. Rodney cited the fighting in Iraq as typifying the new threat whereby all soldiers, support or combat, face attack by rockets, mortars, roadside bombs and ambushes.

"Everybody faces a similar threat," he said. "There is no front-line threat right now."

That sounds disingenuous to me, because there are certainly some roles that face a higher likelihood of direct combat than others. I'm just not sure what the motivation is -- why are military planners attempting to reverse a millenias-old understanding? Do they expect it will actually improve our military capability? Is it pure politics? An internal power struggle? Budget woes?

Or not.

(HT: Reader Jim C.)

Baldilocks writes that she feels sorry for Mrs. Kerry.

It might seem a bit presumptuous for a woman who has had to occasionally “bleg” to feel sorry for a billionaire, but I do feel sorry for Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Her first husband, Senator John Heinz, died a fiery, horrifying death. It’s very obvious that she loved the guy.

Her late husband’s friend, Senator John Kerry, comes to her emotional rescue and marries her, but he’s not the man her husband was. Then her second husband does something that—from appearances—she really doesn’t want him to do: run for president.

In that run, Mrs. Kerry has to be constantly inundated with the reminder of what she has lost, personified by her husband’s opponent and his wife: a man and a woman who obviously love each other.

My own thoughts aren't directly related, but living in Los Angeles I know a large number of leftists, and in my experience the farther left someone is the more bitterness, anger, and regret they've got shashed away. Maybe my sample size is small, maybe leftists just reveal more angst, and maybe I'm biased, but I think a general perusal of the present election cycle will support my thesis. (And many others have taken the same position.) I know few leftists would appreciate my pity -- so I won't offer it -- but I do wish them all the best, and all the happiness this world can provide.

Here are John and Ken's California proposition voting recommendations for 2004. In summary:

Proposition 63: No
Proposition 64: Yes
Proposition 66: No
Proposition 67: No
Proposition 68: No
Proposition 69: Yes
Proposition 70: No
Proposition 71: No
Proposition 72: No
Measure A: No
I like their positions, and this is probably how I'm going to vote.

The various Harry Potter books are being translated into Latin and Ancient Greek.

Mr. Wilson, the Potter translator, is no stranger to this objection; he's been asked more than once by sniffy fellow classicists why he would bother with such a frivolous project. His answer is as refreshing as it has been, by his account, effective in silencing the critics. "I did it for the money," he announces cheerfully. That's an answer that makes sense in any language.
I prefer Green Eggs and Ham myself. Perhaps with a different syntactical construction it will be clear whether or not the ham is green as well as the eggs.

I just had lunch with Leslie Dutton from the Full Disclosure Network and we talked about politics and the art of blogging. FDN is trying to get connected into the blogging community and is in the enviable position of having a huge library of original content that will probably be of interest to Californians of all stripes who want to know, as they say, "the news behind the news". There was also talk of doing a show with me and some other SoCal bloggers, and I'll let you know if anything develops.

Is there any doubt about who's winning the culture war?

Kerry adviser Mike McCurry said it's important in the final days of the campaign that voters "get a better sense of John Kerry, the guy."

That means the Democratic senator is spending some of the dwindling time before Election Day hunting, talking about his faith and watching his beloved Red Sox. ...

"The fact that Senator Kerry is a person of faith is something that might help voters who are undecided," McCurry said.

Kerry has been explaining it more in recent weeks as he campaigns in socially conservative areas like rural Ohio. At a town hall meeting Saturday in Xenia, he talked about taking his rosary into battle during the Vietnam War. "I will bring my faith with me to the White House and it will guide me," Kerry said.

None of these things are popular with the people who really want to vote for Kerry, and he wouldn't be bothering with all this posing if his actual positions and beliefs could get him elected.

I stubbed my whole entire foot this morning on an axe handle while I was running. I don't think it's broken, because I can move my toesies, but it still hurts.

Alexander Hamilton is one of my favorite Founders, but I'd never heard that he purposefully missed Aaron Burr when they dueled.

One of the stories that appears there was also covered in the Nov. 24, 1801, issue of the actual New York Post: the death of Hamilton's 20-year-old son, Philip, in a duel with a political rival, George Eacker. Upon Eacker's challenge, the program recounts, Philip "went for advice to his father, who told him dueling is honorable, but killing is immoral. Therefore young Hamilton should waste his shot."
Hamilton himself would die under eerily similar circumstances less than three years later. Vice President Burr was Hamilton's bitterest foe; in the disputed presidential election of 1800, Hamilton had intervened successfully on behalf of Jefferson, whom he regarded as the lesser of evils.

In 1804, when Burr was seeking the New York governorship, a letter appeared in the Albany Register describing Hamilton's "despicable opinion" of Burr. This prompted Burr to demand a duel. Hamilton didn't want to duel, so he "tried to placate Burr with an elaborate discussion about the 'infinite shades' of meaning of the word 'despicable,'" writes historian Joanne Freedman in the New-York Journal of American History. Burr found Hamilton's attempt at nuance "evasive, manipulative, and offensive," and the two men met, with pistols--the same ones that had been used in Philip Hamilton's duel--on July 11.

Hamilton followed the same fatal advice he had given his son, deliberately missing Burr on his first shot. Burr's shot mortally wounded Hamilton. The exhibit ends with "The Duel," which features the original pistols, Hamilton and Burr's correspondence prior to the duel, Hamilton's farewell letter to his wife, and Kim Crowley's life-size bronze statues of the men, commissioned especially for the exhibit, which depict them as they were the moment before they fired--10 paces apart, with Hamilton's gun pointed slightly off target.

Was he expecting Vice President Burr to miss on purpose as well? Was this a common practice at the time? I'll have to do some reading, but perhaps Clayton Cramer can enlighten us.

Update:
Mr. Cramer emails:

I don't know if intentionally missing was COMMON or not. I will tell you that there was a distinct difference between European notions of dueling, and American notions. European duels were, indeed, often attempts to establish one's character, including courage. Duels in Europe were often fought with swords, although pistols were not unknown. If the goal was to establish one's courage, then there was no need to actually kill the other person; just having them demonstrate a willingness to put themselves in harm's way was enough. Sad to say, if this had been COMMON in European duels, there would not have been the need for so many governments to outlaw dueling, and to make serious efforts to stop the practice.

It is hard to tell for sure, but European travelers visiting America had the impression that Americans took this matter a bit more seriously than just honor. Captain Frederick Maryatt of the Royal Navy (and a celebrated fiction writer of his time) visited America in 1837, and described the problems of slander and libel laws that were not adequately enforced, and what this did to encourage dueling:

"And where political animosities are carried to such a length as they are in this exciting climate, there is no time given for coolness and reflection. Indeed, for one American who would attempt to prevent a duel, there are ten who would urge the parties on to the conflict... The majority of the editors of the newspapers in America are constantly practicing with the pistol, that they may be ready when called upon, and are most of them very good shots.... But the worst feature in the American system of duelling is, that they do not go out, as we do in this country, to satisfy honour, but with the determination to kill." [Frederick Maryatt, edited by Jules Zanger, _Diary in America_ (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1839; reprinted Bloomington: Indiana Univesity Press, 1960), 195-6]

As you might expect, my book _Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform_ (Westport, Conn: Praeger Press, 1999) has a bit to say on this subject.

It feels a bit futile to just comment on Drudge links all morning, but here's another one that sticks in my craw, or raises my hackles, or something. The Vatican has decided that what's good theology for some is not good theology for all. I'm not a Catholic, but I think it's absurd the way the Vatican refuses to take a significant stand on the most critical issues of our age.

Balestrieri submitted a query to the Congregation several months ago, asking if someone who publicly supported abortion rights would be guilty of heresy and incur what the Church calls "automatic excommunication."

Di Noia, the Congregation's undersecretary, referred the request to Father Basil Cole, a canon lawyer in Washington.

Cole provided a response which said that if a Catholic "publicly and obstinately" supports the civil right to abortion despite knowledge of the Church's teaching, that person commits heresy and "is automatically excommunicated."

Balestrieri asserted that Cole's letter was proof that the Vatican was on his side. But Di Noia said: "His claim that the private letter he received from Father Basil Cole is a Vatican response has no merit whatsoever."

"I thought I was advising a student who was working on a project. I referred him to a reliable theologian on the matter. I was acting in my capacity as a theologian trying to be helpful to a young person," he told Reuters.

"I had no idea his aim was actually to build a heresy case against John Kerry or against anyone else. I feel that we have been instrumentalized," Di Noia told Reuters.

So... is Cole's theological position valid or invalid? Why does the motivation of the questioner matter in any way? He's only trying to establish doctrinal fact. If public support for abortion is heresy, wouldn't that cover prominent Catholics? Or do they get some sort of special indulgence for political reasons? I gladly defer to Martin Luther's position on that matter.

I'll file this under "Entertainment" because it's hardly worthy to be "News".... Via Drudge, Peter Jennings admits that he's biased and that the ideal reporter shouldn't think.

"I'm a little concerned about this notion everybody wants us to be objective," Jennings said.

Jennings said that everyone -- even journalists -- have points of view through which they filter their perception of the news. It could be race, sex or income. But, he said, reporters are ideally trained to be as objective as possible.

"And when we don't think we can be fully objective, to be fair," the anchorman said.

Mr. Jennings is troubled that people want journalists to be objective, but says that "reporters are ideally trained to be as objective as possible". Huh? And the solution is for journalists to think less?
Jennings gets questions about a CBS report on Bush's National Guard service, for which CBS news anchor Dan Rather later apologized and said the story was a mistake. He's also asked about Sinclair Broadcasting's decision to air a controversial documentary on Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam war record. Another big question regards an ABC internal memo from the political director suggesting that reporters need not "reflexively" hold both sides of the presidential election "equally" accountable.
Right. Airing an admittedly biased documentary is equivalent to airing programs that claim and aspire to be objective news, but are actually packed full of partisan propaganda. Get a clue.

Despite the claims of idiotic groups like Rock the Vote, I've come to the conclusion that low voter turn-out is a good thing. If most people are too preoccupied with living their lives to learn about issues and go vote, that means they're safe and wealthy. Ignorant, maybe, but that they can afford to be speaks of their nation's success.

If such a person gets an inkling to vote and decides to banish their ignorance and contribute to the political process, fantastic. But I'm not at all certain that such a decision is morally commendable or should be encouraged. Politics is an overhead cost associated with society and government, and as such it should occupy as few of our resources as possible.

As for this present election, if you're still undecided then please consider staying home.

What is your perception of divorce? In response to my post about John Kerry's divorce, commenter Jill wrote:

Wake up....think....now do it again. Divorce is not a brand of dishonor, or a failure, or a smear or even a mistake. It is two people who make a smart decision to part ways once it is clear they don't like/love/care/whatever about each other any longer. Nobody knows what goes on between two friends, two married people, a child & a parent, etc. Don't base any judgements concerning a serious contemplation of who you want to be the next president on information you have no access to, nor should you. Further, the term "separation" means you live your life alone, date, and either return to your original marriage or remarry or remain single. It's just that simple.
If two people swear oaths to stay married and together for the rest of their lives and then don't do it, it is a fact that they have failed. Also, what's interesting and what most people may not realize is that marriage vows are not normally made to each other, but to God and to the assembled witnesses; thus, even if both husband and wife want to split, they don't have the authority to release each other from their vows. Breaking vows is dishonorable by definition.

In the Bible God does lay out a few circumstances in which he permits -- but does not encourage -- divorce, but the criteria is not "once it is clear they don't like/love/care/whatever about each other any longer", whatever that means. Marriage shouldn't be based on emotion, which is fleeting, but on love and committment that surpasses mere externalities.

Here's another example of an un-careful statement by John Kerry coming back to bite him.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Last summer, John F. Kerry refused to cross a police picket line and address the US Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston. Last night he rode in a motorcade that crossed two Florida police picket lines en route to a get-out-the-vote rally in vote-rich Orlando. ...

One of the pickets, Officer Paul Bruning, said the union notified Democratic officials in Miami last week of its plans to picket Kerry both at Orlando International Airport and at the Barnett Park Recreation Center.

''It's not against John Kerry; it's our mayor that's treating us poorly," Bruning said. ''Boston police were at an impasse for two years, and after he refused to cross, they had a contract in two weeks."

On June 26, the day before he had been scheduled to address the mayors' conference, Kerry told the Globe: ''I don't cross picket lines. I never have." Nearly a month later, on July 22, a state-appointed arbitrator settled the dispute by awarding the Boston officers a 14.5 percent raise over four years.

It's not like I care about picketers in general -- I cross picket lines at every opportunity -- but couldn't John Kerry at least attempt to live up to the positions he claims to hold? Note also that this article is from the Boston Globe, one of the most Kerry-friendly papers in the known universe.

Update:
Clayton Cramer writes a bit about the violent history of labor unions, which is part of why I have very little sympathy for union workers.

There's been a lot of chatter in the 'sphere about Senator Mark Dayton closing his Washington DC office, particularly from the guys at Power Line who deride the Senator as a coward despite his explanation of the situation. Mr. Dayton writes:

My concern was not about my own safety. I accept whatever risks come with the job I was elected to do. Whenever the Senate has been in session, I have been in Washington and my office has been open. When the Senate returns to session after the election, I will be back at the Capitol.

For now, however, the Senate itself is closed. I considered it irresponsible and immoral for me to return to the relative safety of Minnesota and leave my Washington staff exposed to unacceptable risks, of which I was aware and they were not.

Some have said, from their own safety far away from Washington, that my action sends the wrong "message." My staff are not "messages." They are real people, named Jack, Chris, Laura, Demian and Delta. Most of them are young, and many are the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of Minnesotans. Their lives are precious, and they are my responsibility.

That sounds pretty reasonable to me. The Senate could have stayed in session, but decided not to, so the senators went home. Why is it terrible or cowardly for their offices to close?

Proverbs 10:19
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Proverbs 11:12
A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.

Proverbs 17:28
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

I just replaced the five-gallon water bottle on the cooler at work that was empty before I got there. During the process, the bottle slipped and crushed my right index finger, making me bleed my own blood. Nevertheless, I refused to surrender to my aqueous adversary and completed the dangerous operation with minimal further casualties. Was it worth it? Someone else would have surely replaced the bottle eventually, and I could have been spared this grievous injury. Fortunately for humanity, my kind and generous nature is irresistable. I've been informed that my Purple Heart is in the mail.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan actually thinks Saddam's oil bribes had no effect on their recipients.

Iraq tried to manipulate foreign governments by awarding contracts - and bribes - to foreign companies and political figures in countries that showed support for ending sanctions, in particular Russia, France and China, the final report by the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group said earlier this month.

But Annan said it was "inconceivable" Saddam's activities could have influenced policy in the countries concerned.

"I don't think the Russian or the French or the Chinese government would allow itself to be bought..." Annan said.

"I think it's inconceivable. These are very serious and important governments. You are not dealing with banana republics."

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

This is the kind of story that I can't believe anyone falls for, and yet.... MonsterP and the AP claim OREGON TEACHERS KICKED OUT OF BUSH SPEECH FOR SHIRTS SAYING “PROTECT OUR CIVIL LIBERTIES (sic). All that's in the AP story is:

Three Medford school teachers were threatened with arrest and escorted from the event after they showed up wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Protect our civil liberties." All three said they applied for and received valid tickets from Republican headquarters in Medford.

The women said they did not intend to protest. "I wanted to see if I would be able to make a statement that I feel is important, but not offensive, in a rally for my president," said Janet Voorhies, 48, a teacher in training.

MonsterP says:
Thursday’s event in Oregon sets a new bar for a Bush/Cheney campaign that has taken extraordinary measures to screen the opinions of those who attend Bush and Cheney speeches. For months, the Bush/Cheney campaign has limited event access to those willing to volunteer in Bush/Cheney campaign offices. In recent weeks, the Bush/Cheney campaign has gone so far as to have those who voice dissenting viewpoints at their events arrested and charged as criminals.
First off, I highly doubt there's no more to this story than meets the eye. What's on the backs of the shirts, for instance? Furthermore, rallies aren't a forum for protesting, they're a forum for showing support for whomever is rallying. People can protest outside, of course. People who won't leave when asked may be arrested, but that goes for rallies of any political persuasion. As for arrests at pro-Bush rallies, the same AP story reports that:
Two protesters were later arrested in Jacksonville, the historic Gold Rush town where Bush was spending the night. A few hundred people were demonstrating peacefully, but police moved to disperse the crowd after a few protesters put their hands on police officers, said Paul Wyntergreen, the Jacksonville city administrator.
If you attack police you're lucky if all you get is arrested.

Commenter jez points to an interesting article that describes recent abortion trends and claims that the recent economic troubles led to an increased number of abortions.

In total numbers, 7,869 more abortions were performed in these 16 states during Bush's second year in office than previously. If this trend reflects our nation, 24,000 more abortions were performed during Bush's second year in office than the year before (or three years before in the first three states). Had the previous trends continued, 28,000 fewer abortions should have occurred each year of the Bush era. All in all, probably 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than expected from the earlier trends.

How could this be? I see three contributing factors: ...

What does this tell us? Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues; they form one moral imperative. Rhetoric is hollow, mere tinkling brass, without health care, health insurance, jobs, childcare, and a living wage. Pro-life in deed, not merely in word, means we need a president who will do something about jobs and insurance and support for prospective mothers.

Basically, Professor Lewis B. Smedes argues that we need to improve economic conditions to reduce the number of abortions, which sounds like a great idea to me. I obviously disagree with his prescription of government provided benefits, however, since such programs eventually lead to lower standards of living, not higher. And anyway, wouldn't an even better way to reduce abortion be to simply make it illegal? That would cut out 95% of abortions immediately. (Or hey, say 90% -- pick a number, it would be high.)

Prosecutor and fellow Bear-Flagger Patrick Frey has written an excellent op-ed advocating a vote of "no" on California Proposition 66. It's a bit graphic, so don't read any further if you've got a weak stomach -- nevertheless, the graphic descriptions are necessary for understanding the incredible seriousness of the issue.

Proposition 66, the initiative to modify the Three Strikes law, is named the "Three Strikes and Child Protection Act of 2004." This name is bitterly ironic, as the proposition will seriously jeopardize public safety, including the safety of children. It will release many hard-core, lifelong violent criminals, including some of the worst inmates in California's prison system.

For example, Joseph Noble is a sexual predator with a 26-year criminal history of sexual offenses against young girls. In a typical case, Noble tried to force a seven-year-old girl to orally copulate him, and then choked her until she lost consciousness. He told police that he had fantasized about raping and murdering two-year-old girls. He once wrote a private note, found by sheriff's deputies, which said:

I have an incredible lust for young, tiny, innocent virgins. Sadistically raping or sodomizing a beautiful young girl gives me incredible pleasure. Their screams of agony are music to my ears, as I brutally mutilate their undeveloped tiny genitals for hours at a time.
Noble is currently serving 25-to-life for indecent exposure. At his trial, he admitted that he still has violent sexual fantasies about children, saying, "on a magnitude of evil, [masturbating in front of others] is nothing compared to what I'm capable of." The judge who sentenced him said that Noble "has all but promised he is going to re-offend." But if Proposition 66 passes, Noble's 25-to-life sentence will be converted into a three-year sentence, which he has already served.
Mr. Frey also explains that the proposition is being bankrolled by a millionaire named Jerry Keenan for the primary purpose of freeing his son Richard.

Oooo, it might rain tomorrow. How exciting! Good thing I didn't wash my car two weeks ago.

The academic dress of Oxford University is pretty complicated, but sounds like it could be fun.

I'm not sure how much to believe, but this Mainichi Daily News article about abortion in Japan is enough to make me sick.

It is common knowledge that abortion has long been one of the most popular forms of birth control in Japan, largely because it's such an enormous money-spinner for those who perform the procedure that they have fought tooth-and-nail to prevent proliferation of alternative means. ...

With abortion so common, there's a thriving business in the disposal of the trade's waste products, not to mention the fabulous amounts of money spent on buying absolutions or offering prayers at the numerous temples devoted to mizuko, the name the Japanese give to aborted babies that translates literally as "water children." ...

Also suspected of making a packet out of aborted fetuses are uglier elements of the beauty business, according to Tokudane Saizensen.

Placenta beauty treatments are hot in Japan for their purported beneficial effects in combating the effects of aging and menopause.

I won't even quote the worst parts of the article, it's just too disturbing. Is this the future of America envisioned by abortion "rights" activists?

An... inventor(?) in Japan claims to have developed a cell phone ring tone that will enlarge the breasts of women who hear it.

Hideto Tomabechi -- who first made headlines in Japan almost a decade ago after he cured brainwashed members of the AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult that unleashed deadly sarin gas on the Tokyo subway system -- claims to have developed a tune for ring tones that promises to increase the breast measurements of those who listen to it.

And Tomabechi's brainchild for better busts has boomed, with chest challenged chicks swarming to transfer data to their own phones.

"I listened to the tune for a week expecting all the time that I was being duped," says Chieri Nakayama, a 19-year-old pin-up model, tells Shukan Gendai. "But, incredibly, my 87-centimeter bust grew to 89 centimeters! It was awesome!"

How does it work?
"Most would think it's a lie, but the techniques involved in the process have been known for some time and are the result of research I carried out in the '80s and '90s," Tomabechi tells Shukan Gendai. "I use sounds that make the brain and body move unconsciously. It's a technique involving subliminal effects."

Tomabechi claims that techniques exist to provoke movement in a certain part of the brain that reacts to sounds and light.

"It's a part of cognitive science. I suppose you could call it a kind of 'positive brainwashing,'" he says. "Sound waves travel in patterns that can be properly re-played."

He does it using... cognitive science! In layman's terms, just think of it as "positive brainwashing".

If increasing your breast size isn't your bag, baby, then you might want to try one of these other ring tones instead.

It's an old adage that many illnesses are all in the mind, but if the counselor's claims are correct, the key to having a huge set of breasts could be the same. Tomabechi says he's already got plans on the drawing board for ring tones aimed at improving memory, increasing attractiveness for the opposite sex, making hair sprout and quitting cigarettes.

The October 2004 issue of Popular Mechanics has a fascinating article about mining the moon for helium-3, which can be used to generate electricity via fusion. According to the article, deuterium-helium-3 fusion gives off protons, which can be easily converted directly to electricity with an efficiency of around 70%. The author of the article, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, suggests that mining helium-3 from the surface of the moon provides humanity a compelling -- and profitable -- reason to return to space.

In an earlier post I wrote that the idea that we'll ever "run out" of oil is absurd, because market forces will act to increase exploration and technological innovation as oil prices rise. Commenter TRE pointed out that we don't have to completely run out of oil before our economy will feel the effects of rising prices, and he's right of course, but I think his claim that we're already facing oil depletion is unsound. Alan Greenspan agrees.

Oil prices closed at a record of $54.76 per barrel on Thursday as fears about supplies in the United States and the possibility of attacks on oil pipelines in the Middle East have sent the price of crude to record levels in dollar terms.

Greenspan, however, noted that even with the recent jump, energy prices are still only three-fifths as high, after adjusting for inflation, as they were at their all-time peak in February 1981.

He said this means that the overall impact on the economy should be lower this time around than during that period, when the oil shocks of the 1970s and early 1980s were enough to push the country into a series of recessions.

Greenspan said that so far this year, the rise in energy has probably trimmed the gross domestic product (search) by about 0.75 percentage point, far less than the shocks of two decades ago.

However, Greenspan warned, "Obviously, the risk of more serious negative consequences would intensify if oil prices were to move materially higher."

However, he said he believed that existing technology and improvements spurred by the increase in prices should be sufficient to "ensure the needed supplies (of energy) for a very long while."

As the first paragraph notes, the main reasons oil prices are high today are fear and war, not depletion -- and even these prices aren't that high by historical standards.

Maybe others have thought of this before, but consider how the Electoral College mitigates the effects of voting fraud. No matter how many fake voters are registered in a state, all the fraud can do is turn that state's electoral votes to the other side. Fraud thus needs to be much more decentralized than it would need to be if we elected a president by popular vote, since in that case massive fraud in a single place could more easily swing the balance of the whole election.

Is it really necessary to create categories for people to fit into for the sole purpose of then raising awareness and acceptance of that category? Or do "scientists" have too much time on their hands? Why do some people want to parade their particular sexual quirks as if the rest of us care?

Apparently, One in 100 adults [is] asexual.

About one percent of adults have absolutely no interest in sex, according to a new study, and that distinction is becoming one of pride among many asexuals.
Right, because obviously any trait that puts someone in a minority should elicit pride.
Bogaert's analysis looked at responses to another study in Britain, published in 1994. That study was based on interviews of 18,000 people about their sexual practices.

It offered respondent a list of options. One read: "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." One percent said they agreed with the statement.

That response level is close to the percentage of gay people in the population, which is around three percent, the New Scientist report says.

One percent and three percent aren't that close together when you've got a sample size of 18,000. And anyway, what's the point? One percent is also close to the number of left-handed people with blonde hair.
A 1994 survey, published by The University of Chicago Press, found that 13 percent of 3,500 respondents had no sex in the past year. Forty percent of those people said they were extremely happy or very happy with their lives.
There are lots of reasons someone may be happy to not have sex other than being asexual. Maybe some people are actually waiting to have sex until they get married.
"If asexuality is indeed a form of sexual orientation, perhaps it will not be long before the issue of 'A' pride starts attracting more attention," New Scientist says.
Why? Because the media decided to stir up conversation about some pointless categorization?
Activists have already started campaigning to promote awareness and acceptance of asexuality, it reports.
If people aren't aware of something, they can't be unaccepting, can they? Does anyone really sit around and think about how much they dislike people who don't have sex? Why should sexuality even be a topic for acceptance or unacceptance? Isn't it a personal matter that's best left out of the public eye?
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network has an online store that sell items promoting awareness and acceptance on asexuality.

Among the items is a T-shirt with the slogan, "Asexuality: it's not just for amoebas anymore."

Who cares? And the same goes for every other sexual-orientation. I just don't care. What does bother me is seeing big signs at work announcing "National Coming Out Day". I don't want to know anything about the sexual preferences of my co-workers. I don't want to know who's gay, I don't want to hear about the sexual escapades of straight people either. I just don't care.

If you and I are friends, then of course I'm happy to talk about sex. That's fine, because friendship is a different type of relationship than exists between me and the public at large. If I don't know you, I don't want to know where you stick your stuff, or don't stick it, or anything.

Update:
Clayton Cramer agrees.

For the people who were too lazy to actually watch last night's debate, I've used Microsoft Word's AutoSummarize tool to condense the candidates' points into ten sentences each. (Transcript.)

BUSH: My opponent talks about fiscal sanity. You voted to increase taxes 98 times. Most health care costs are covered by third parties. We're expanding veterans' health care throughout the country. If you have a child, you got tax relief. If you're married, you got tax relief. If you pay any tax at all, you got tax relief. We've increased funds. The people I talked to their spirits were high. I think people understand what she's saying.

KERRY: 82,000 Arizonians lost their health insurance under President Bush's watch. This president has turned his back on the wellness of America. President Bush has taken — he's the only president in history to do this. He's also the only president in 72 years to lose jobs — 1.6 million jobs lost. Once again, the president is misleading America. It works. The president just said that government-run health care results in poor quality. The jobs the president is creating pay $9,000 less than the jobs that we're losing. Well, again, the president didn't answer the question. Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may.

So there you have it. For a more humorous summary of Kerry's positions, I refer you to the Grouchy Old Cripple.

NZ Bear's new-fangled link tracking ecosystem thingy reveals that the number of people linking to me has shrunk since 040817, which makes Link Whore Panda a sad panda. In order to rectify this situation I suggest you link to one of my recent brilliant posts, such as this piece on Special Order 40 or uh... hm... maybe I haven't written anything but crap lately. Ok, nevermind.

My brother Nicholas -- who wrote a couple of posts here a long time ago -- has started his own blog. His second post points out that, relating to matters of life and death:

To have a consistent and sustainable perspective on questions related to the morality of life and death in modern America, one must develop a single, coherent account for at least the following four political issues:

o Capital punishment
o Euthanasia
o Suicide
o Abortion

To those I might also add animal "rights", mainly because there appears to be a strong connection between those who think killing babies in utero is morally neutral and those who think killing animals is evil. More peripherally, the questions of self-defense and the right to carry weapons also relate to life and death.

Ok, so I've got my note sheet here in front of me. I started scoring the questions as I've done in the past, but I quickly realized that it was pointless -- President Bush beat Senator Kerry like a rented mule.

First off, I thought Bob Schieffer's questions were quite good. A couple of them were real gut punches, like his question to Kerry about refusing to change Social Security and his question to Bush about Roe v. Wade. I haven't read all the other blogs yet, but I imagine some of them will give Mr. Schieffer a hard time for set-ups like the "backdoor draft" question he tossed Kerry, but overall I thought he did a fine job.

Bush hit a homerun with nearly every question he answered. Unfortunately, he avoided a couple, diverting from jobs to education (which are related, sure) and one other that I can't recall at the moment. He got in a few excellent points, however, particularly his call for a market solution to health care and his excellent defense of the proposed Marriage Amendment. His answer about faith was much better than Kerry's, particularly because Kerry had just finished telling us how his faith wouldn't influence his decision-making (with regards to abortion). Bush handled the flu vaccine question well -- that one surprised me, but he knew what was going on even if he couldn't remember the company's name that screwed up the production. Bush repeatedly called attention to Kerry votes that contradict Kerry's currently claimed positions. I thought Bush was great in the second debate, and this time he was even a bit better, using more of Kerry's words and votes against him. (Although I liked the format of the second debate much better.)

As for Senator Kerry, he stumbled around quite a bit. I was surprised to hear him quote from the Bible three times and even use scripture to justify his decision not to legislate against abortion. I thought it was hilarious when he accused Bush of changing the subject on the third question, and then immediately and explicitly changed the subject himself. Every time Kerry said "but first let me go back to the previous question..." I wanted to pull my hair out. That's so annoying -- stay in the time limits, and move on. Once again Kerry kept declaring himself to be more fiscally conservative than Bush, which is ludicrous. I find it hard to believe anyone who cares about keeping government small is going to vote for Kerry (not that Bush is really much better). It was also hilarious when he was defending abortion as a "Constitutional right" and started listing off amendments. He said he wouldn't appoint judges that would overrule the first or fifth amendments, "or any other rights the courts decide on... uh, I mean that are in the Constitution" -- referring to Roe v. Wade, and directly acknowledging that the right to an abortion comes from judges, not the Constitution. That's freaking brilliant. Also brilliant: pointing out that Cheney has a lesbian daughter -- how classy. Kerry also mentioned Reagan at least once, and then closed with "my fellow Americans... God bless America", which is lifted directly from Reagan. On the plus side, he managed to only reference Vietnam once.

I hate the stupid hand motions the candidates do in these debates. The closed-hand thumb-pointing thing Kerry does is idiotic. The friend I was watching with said that she liked that Bush was always looking at Kerry when Kerry was speaking because she thought it demonstrated that Bush was being attentive, and I agree. She also said that Bush may have been looking hard to try to intimidate Kerry, which may also have been the case. Either way, the President clearly beat the Senator in the visual department tonight -- too bad he didn't wear his Bush Blue power tie.

So, will it make a difference? Was anyone watching? Who knows.

I just noticed that a few people have contributed to the Make Michael Rich Foundation over the past few days via the tipping links on the left -- thanks a bunch! Of course, we've still got a long way to go before Michael can join the ranks of the leisure-political class.

I noted before that John Kerry hasn't released all his military records and speculated that he was hiding something (as others have, as well). Well, uh, maybe I was right.

An official Navy document on Senator Kerry’s campaign Web site listed as Mr. Kerry’s “Honorable Discharge from the Reserves” opens a door on a wellkept secret about his military service.

The document is a form cover letter in the name of the Carter administration’s secretary of the Navy,W. Graham Claytor. It describes Mr. Kerry’s discharge as being subsequent to the review of “a board of officers.” This in itself is unusual. There is nothing about an ordinary honorable discharge action in the Navy that requires a review by a board of officers.

According to the secretary of the Navy’s document, the “authority of reference” this board was using in considering Mr. Kerry’s record was “Title 10, U.S. Code Section 1162 and 1163.”This section refers to the grounds for involuntary separation from the service. What was being reviewed, then, was Mr.Kerry’s involuntary separation from the service. And it couldn’t have been an honorable discharge, or there would have been no point in any review at all.The review was likely held to improve Mr. Kerry’s status of discharge from a less than honorable discharge to an honorable discharge.

A Kerry campaign spokesman, David Wade, was asked whether Mr. Kerry had ever been a victim of an attempt to deny him an honorable discharge. There has been no response to that inquiry.

If Kerry were dishonorably discharged, unearthing it now would be a perfect "October Surprise" for the Republicans.

I also mentioned that Kerry and his wife haven't released their complete tax records, and now we can see why: on over $5.5 million of income in 2003 the Kerrys paid a mere $840,500 in taxes -- that's just 15.2%. The Bushes had around 1/7th the income of the Kerrys but paid 28% in taxes.

(HT: James Taranto for the military records pointer.)

Did anyone else hear the rumor about John Kerry claiming to have received a call from Christopher Reeve after the last debate? Supposedly Reeve called to thank Kerry for supporting embryonic stem cell research, but at the time Kerry claims to have received the call Reeve was already in a coma. Reeve didn't go into a coma until Saturday, though, and the debate was Friday night, so it's possible that Kerry's timeline (whatever it is) works. I can't verify whether or not Kerry even made this claim, or when, so basically I'm just asking for information.

It strikes me that genius is largely random, and the quantity of genius within a population is based mostly on functional density. Intelligence is certainly somewhat genetic, and education is certainly based on culture, but genius is somehow different than either of those and more than a mere combination of personality traits. There appears to be a lot of luck involved, and a suitable person must be in the right place at the right time in order to perform feats of genius -- and then everyone benefits. The best way for society to take advantage of this situation is not to institute a eugenics program or to inflict mandatory grad school -- not to try to increase the number of suitable people -- but rather to increase the number of "right places" and "right times" by fostering liberty.

Eh, maybe that's obvious. Consider the contrast between America and Europe. Both are wealthy areas, but America produces and attracts far more geniuses than does Europe, despite Europe's larger population. Why? Because America has more liberty -- and thus more functional density -- than Europe. To argue differently, can anyone name any geniuses who were related? (And who didn't work together, which would make it harder to prove they were both geniuses and neither was just along for the ride.)

Is there such a thing as a bad tax cut? Well, yeah, particularly if it distorts the natural market. Referring to the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004,

How much will this all cost? The bill’s sponsors claim it will cost the Treasury nothing. For every tax dollar given away—around 140 billion of them, in all—another will be clawed back, they say. The bill does close some loopholes and tear down some tax shelters. Many of the giveaways are also supposed to be temporary. But tax cuts, even ones with expiration dates, rarely die—some enterprising politician usually finds a way to make them permanent. Assuming that happens this time, the bill will only add to America’s fiscal difficulties.

Those fiscal problems are making many economists uneasy. But not all are as fatalistic as Mr Buiter. Indeed, some still hope for fundamental tax reform in the United States. For them, the true burden of taxation is not the money it levies but the economic decisions it distorts: decisions to work, save and invest. They hold up the tax reform Ronald Reagan passed in 1986 as an example of how to broaden and streamline the tax code, removing its distortions and freeing it from special interests.

Now, I don't believe tax cuts "cost" anything. The money doesn't belong to the government, it belongs to us, so a tax cut isn't an expenditure. I think the whole first paragraph there is fluff, but I quoted it for context because I think the second paragraph is important. The distortions created by our tax structure are bad for our liberty and bad for our economy. (And that includes things like the child tax credit, the mortgage interest deduction, and the charitable donation deduction.) What we need is not just a cut in taxes, but a vast simplification of the tax structure, which is one major reason I'm in favor of either a flat tax or a national sales tax.

Here's an absurd story from an absurd place: Northern California. Apparently, the city of San Jose has decided to surrender to a pack of coyotes.

Residents in a gated community just outside San Jose (search) are howling mad: They say they're being terrorized by a family of coyotes (search) that has moved in, and they're getting no support from the city to get rid of them.

Neighbors said the coyotes follow people home, skulk around garages and have even stalked local children. ...

In a suburban setting, coyotes like these can create a dangerous situation. But city council members voted against allowing residents to trap the coyotes out of what one council member called his deep respect for all life.

"I shouldn't just go out and just eradicate the environment, that's just not a natural state of events because we were not given the power to do that," said San Jose City Councilman Forrest Williams. "And I feel strongly about life in the sense that, from a spiritual perspective, thou shall not kill, that's just a commandment that I live by."

Who wants to bet that Forrest Williams is pro-choice? Killing coyotes is bad, but killing babies is a-ok.

Next up, who wants to bet that Forrest Williams is anti-gun? It's fine for wild coyotes to prowl around a neighborhood, but can you imagine the outrage if one of the residents decided to start carrying a rifle to protect himself and his family?

Ok, so there's voter fraud in Colorado, but the news story leaves out a critical piece of information.

With just 21 days left until an election in which every vote will count, the 9News I-Team has uncovered voter registration fraud that could cause chaos on Election Day for hundreds, possibly thousands of Colorado voters. ...

Some voter registration application forms are completely bogus. Others belong to legitimate voters, who have had one or two facts changed that could affect their registration when they show up at the polls November 2nd. Tom Stanislawski registered to vote six years ago. But this summer, someone signed him up again and changed his party affiliation. "My concern would be I'd walk in November 2nd and be unable to vote," he said.

From which party to which party?
Some of the registration drive workers earn $2 per application or about $10 an hour. One woman admitted to forging three people's names on about 40 voter registration applications. Kym Cason says she was helping her boyfriend earn more money from a get-out-the-vote organization called ACORN or Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN works with low or moderate-income families on housing issues. Cason said her extra registrations earned her boyfriend $50.
ACORN claims to be nonpartisan, but c'mon -- just do a Google search and you'll find that they regularly protest along side ANSWER and other Stalinist/socialist/communist groups.

So how come the political parties involved in the fraud aren't named in the news story? I find it hard to believe the reporters didn't bother to check. Is there anyone out there willing to bet me money that less than 90% of the fraud involves actions helpful to the Democrats?

Once again Frank J has narrowly averted the most grim future imaginable. It could only have been worse if it were in, say, a grotto.

In contrast to the ChatNannies hoax, some scientists are actually producing useful artificial intelligences -- for instance, to analyze terrorist networks.

The lab has built simulations of Hamas and al-Qaida by dumping newspaper articles and other publicly available information about the organizations into a computer database. A program then takes that information and looks for patterns and relationships between individuals. It finds weak and strong figures, power brokers, hidden relationships and people with crucial skills.

Then another program can predict what would happen if a specific individual were removed from the organization. After Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March, the program correctly predicted he would be succeeded by hard-liner Abdel Azziz Rantisi.

Three weeks later Israel assassinated Rantisi as well. Carley's lab predicted that Hamas political director Khaled Mashaal would succeed him, and posted its pick on the Internet.

This time, Hamas declined to reveal who had taken power for fear he too would be assassinated. But eventually it became known that Mashaal was indeed the one.

At that point, Carley said, "we were told to quit putting such predictions on the Web" by federal officials.

If I were interested in academia I'd love to do a post-doc at CASOS, the lab that generated these results. There's interesting work in industry too, though, that I'm looking into.

(HT: GeekPress.)

(My earlier posts on ChatNannies.)

Commenter Tom reports that a fellow named Andy Pryke has followed up on the original New Scientist article and met with Jim Wightman, the ChatNannie creator, and Duncan Graham-Rowe, the author of the article.

In short, when Mr. Pryke and Mr. Graham-Rowe arrived at Mr. Wightman's house he let them chat with a variant of Alicebot and claimed it was his own creation. Although Alice is one of the best chat bots around, it's nowhere near good enough to pass a Turing test. Mr. Wightman also attempted to answer some questions and to show his visitors his "about 1 million" lines of source code, but the power mysteriously went out. Darn!

The whole situation is really laughable, and I'm only posting more about it because I like to be right -- and I particularly like to rub it in when people are not only liars but jerks as well.

I just got some comments from my advisor on the most recent draft of my dissertation, and he was very positive! Among other things, he said that this draft didn't put him to sleep like my earlier ones, so that's a definite improvement. I've still got to come up with a few extensions with significance, but it sounds like I'm getting pretty close to being done. Yippie!

Saudi Arabia is apparently struggling with the decision of whether not women should be allowed to vote.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Women may neither vote nor run in Saudi Arabia's first nationwide elections, the government announced Monday, dashing hopes of progressive Saudis and easing fears among conservatives that the kingdom is moving too fast on reforms.
The Saudis have far different standards of "progress" and "reform" than we Americans do, but I asked a over a year ago.
As Dean Esmay notes, it's been 83 years, and what have women really done for us? Prohibition -- good move. That worked well. Oh sure, it was ratified before women could vote, but it was their idea. Let's see... that's pretty much it.

Let's be serious here though and really consider. Are we as a nation better off having given women the power to vote? I agree that from a moral perspective it was the right thing to do, but I don't think the issue is that black and white; there were substantial groups of women opposed to granting women suffrage.

Similarly in Saudi Arabia, some women are opposed to voting.
Some women considered the move yet another indignity in a country where they need their husbands' permission to study, travel or work. But others said they wouldn't trust themselves to judge whether a candidate is more than just a handsome face. ...

Many women in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, have balked at getting the ID cards — introduced three years ago — because the photographs would show their faces unveiled.

There are really two questions to answer. First, is there a right to vote? Second, will allowing women to vote make Saudi Arabia a "better" place (presumably as defined by the Saudis).

The answer to the first question is no -- there is no right to vote. Voting is merely a tool that's incredibly useful for protecting liberty. It would be theoretically possible to have a perfectly free and just society under the rule of an absolute monarch. Unstable, perhaps, but possible, and therefore voting is not a right in the same way that, say, free expression is.

The answer to the second question is more complicated, because I don't know much about what Saudis want from their government. I suspect that many Saudis want to maintain a repressive theocracy, in which case allowing women to vote probably isn't a good idea. However, if they want to move towards a more liberal, free, and wealthy society, allowing women to vote would probably be a step in the right direction.

Unlike early 20th century Americans, modern Saudis have very little liberty, so their first nationwide election is likely to increase freedoms all around, whether or not women participate (if it's implemented honestly, of course). Still, as a tool for creating freedom they would probably do well to enfranchise as many people as possible.

Here's a story with some info on the status of Representative John Linder's proposal to eliminate the IRS and institute a national sales tax.

In what should be a surprise to no one, members of the UN Security Council are opposing US efforts to put trade sanctions on Sudan as a response to the ongoing genocide.

PADAK, Sudan — America is on a lonely mission to end the crisis in Sudan.

The United States is pushing for U.N. sanctions against the east African nation. But U.S.-sponsored resolutions have met resistance in the U.N. Security Council — particularly from China and Pakistan, which have major oil deals in the African country. Algeria, which is a fellow Arab league member, also is an obstacle.

All together now: it's all about oooiiiillll! Oh, but wait, it's not the US after oil so it doesn't matter.
According to the World Health Organization, between 6,000 and 10,000 people are dying each month from disease and malnutrition in the camps. The United States is making the crisis in Darfur one of its top priorities on the African continent. Natsios said USAID has three major reconstruction projects underway — Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.

The United States gives more than 70 percent of all aid to Darfur — more than all other countries combined. The assistance goes to agencies like the World Food Program, which then delivers it to hard-to-reach places.

70%? Don't tell Senator Kerry that or he'll expect us to cut back.
The Sudanese government says the situation in Darfur is improving and officials have made it easier for aid groups to get into the country. But while the United States presses for more action and the United Nations studies the issue of whether genocide has taken place -- something the United States determined a month ago -- 1.5 million Sudanese living in squalid camps wait; 10,000 of them die each month.
Good job, UN, keep on studying. Only 10,000 people died between America's decision and now, so there's no real hurry.

Working on the weekend is weird. I feel like I'm in one of those zombie movies where everyone is gone but me, and any moment the living dead are going to pop out and eat my brain. I just took a walk about the industrial park where my work is, and it's got a very post-apocalyptic vibe. No one's around, lots of heavy machinery sitting idle, flocks of pigeons everywhere, ruling the roost for a couple of days while the humans are gone.

It's a bit depressing, but on the plus side I thought of a great name for a band: Apocalypso! Unfortunately, other people thought of it a long time ago... just like most of my ideas. Oh well. Time to go home.

I'm in one of those moods where I don't want to do any of the things I can think of doing. I don't really want to call anyone, though I'd probably go out if someone called me. I want to read, but I just finished The Grim Grotto and so it's hard to switch gears and read something else. I want to work on the new novel I'm writing, but the words aren't coming as fast as my brain is working. I want to just sit and stare at the wall for a while, but then I get jittery and can't stick with it. I'm not hungry, and I had to force myself to eat lunch. I got an Ultimate Pollo Bowl from El Pollo Loco; it's pretty tasty, but it left me feeling bland. The message light on my phone is blinking, but I think I'll wait till Monday to check it. There's no one else here, so it can't be urgent, right?

I want something exciting to happen. Exciting, yet not depressing or challenging in any way. Something that's not a mixed blessing, but just a plain old straight up blessing. Something that I didn't plan for myself. Like, it'd be cool to find a treasure map. If I had a GPS I might go geocaching, but I don't. I could go buy one, but that would violate rule three. I could start an Action Squad, but I'm more in the mood to just join one. Starting things take energy, and would again violate rule three. I just want something to happen out of nowhere, is that too much to ask?

Let's see... I could get a grail diary or some other important package in the mail, that would be nice. I could get a mysterious phone call, or even a call from someone I haven't heard from in a while, or even a telegram. I could get a letter from a publisher who wants to buy my last book... that technically would violate rule three, but since the work has already been done it's practically like finding treasure. Hmmm... what other kinds of surprises are there besides phone calls, letters, and finding things on the street? Well, someone could just walk up to my door, but that rarely happens.

Anyway, I bet lots of people want surprising and exciting things to happen to them. I could try to surprise someone else, but I don't have any good ideas at the moment for doing so. If anyone out there wants to be surprised, let me know what kind of excitement you want and when you want it and I'll do my best to make it happen.

I like personal stories about Supreme Court Justices, and Power Line points to a moving profile of Clarence Thomas.

A Thomas friend who talks frequently with the justice said Thomas keeps a list in his head of who was for and against him during his confirmation hearings. "It hurt him a lot, I'll tell you," said this friend, who would speak only if not named to preserve his relationship. "And he's still bitter." ...

Thomas went on to discuss his experience at Yale Law School, and how he felt rejected by the "pretty people," the bourgeois blacks. "I was left thinking he feels incredibly uncomfortable in his skin," the former clerk said. "It was almost like a person who didn't feel attractive, who didn't feel accepted."

Everyone feels like this at some point, I think. I don't imagine prominent people just sit around all night glowing with pleasure over their accomplishments.

Now that was one of the best debates I've ever seen. I liked the format much better than that of the first debate; the questions were far superior, and it was much more confrontational. The only question that felt particularly unfair was the last one to President Bush in which a lady asked him to name three mistakes he had made over the past four years. It was a fine question, but when Senator Kerry answered it he should have offered up some mistakes that he -- the Senator -- had made over the past four years, not simply taken the opportunity to attack Bush again.

First off, the President had a much better performance than he did in the first debate, there can be no question about that. He was more confident, more passionate, more collected, more clear, and more on the offense. There must have been a calculated decision to avoid mentioning France's and Germany's announcements that they would not help in Iraq no matter who is elected president, but aside from that omission I think Bush did very well. He also could have mentioned that Saddam was bribing members of the security council to oppose America, but again, there must have been a conscious decision to avoid that for fear of alienating our precious "allies".

Senator Kerry did very well also. There were a couple of instances in which he avoided answering or veered off on a tangent -- such as the question about the environment and the one about Iranian nukes -- but he hasn't had any trouble being concise, which many people expected. Obviously I don't agree with many of his positions, but his attacks on Bush's lack of fiscal discipline were well-placed... if only there were any hope that Kerry would do better. He spoke tough about the war on terror, but he focused on Bin Laden too heavily; I think most Americans realize that OBL and al Qaeda are just one aspect of the greater war. He also twisted like a pretzel to avoid the abortion-funding question, but in the end I think his position was pretty clear, as was the President's.

Although neither candidate really means it, I was amazed to hear them fighting over who would be tighter with my money. I'm not a fan of child tax credits (people with children use more government services, not less) but that a Democrat is offering to cut taxes on anyone is astounding, and a clear sign that old-style socialism is dead, in word anyway. Of course, Kerry's federal health care program plan gives lie to the hope, but then Bush is hardly better on that score what with the recent prescription drug zepplin. Bush claimed that aside from Homeland Security and the War on Terror, discretionary spending grew at only 1% per year -- is that right? I think he may be fudging the numbers somehow, but I'm sure some other blogger will dig into it.

Overall, I think America has two clear choices. In the past people (generally on the fringes) have claimed that the Democrats and Republicans are nearly identical, but in 2004 I think the candidates have laid out starkly contrasting visions for America. The decision we make as a nation will send profound reverberations ringing through history.

Check out Hugh Hewitt's scorecard for more detailed information on all the questions.

The parents of Gordie Bailey are understandably upset that their 18-year-old son died from alcohol poisoning during a fraternity "initial function", but who bears the most responsibility?

On the evening of Sept. 16, Gordie Bailey and 26 other Chi Psi pledges were blindfolded and left in the woods near Gold Hill. They were told to drink vast amounts of Ten High whiskey and Carlo Rossi wine, according to police.

By the time the pledges were driven back to the Boulder fraternity house, police said, Bailey was "sick and visibly intoxicated."

By 11 p.m., fraternity members carried him to a couch and gave him a metal bucket. ...

Shortly before 9 a.m., Bailey was found face down on the floor next to the couch and could not be revived. An autopsy shows that he died from alcohol poisoning with a blood-alcohol level of 0.328 percent.

In my opinion, Gordie Bailey is solely responsible for his own death. Unless someone used force or the threat of force against him, mere peer pressure is not nearly enough to shift blame away from the drinker. I have no doubt whatsoever that the members of the Chi Psi fraternity are pathetic, low-life scum, but Bailey was an adult and knew exactly what he was getting himself into the whole way down the line. You don't drink that much by accident, you do it to impress your newfound "friends" and to get as drunk as possible.
The family has not yet decided whom to name in their suit, Berg said, but are considering the fraternity, the individuals involved and the university.

"We still don't see leadership from the university," said Lanahan, Bailey's stepfather. "They have not proposed any change in the system - but the system is killing our kids."

Your kids are killing themselves. Wake up to reality.
Lanahan said he hopes the fraternity will release the results of its investigation into his son's death. So far, Chi Psi has said it will not release the records.

"If these things remain secret," Lanahan said, "then Gordie's death meant nothing at all."

I'm sorry to say so, Mr. Lanahan, but Gordie's death was meaningless.

Did anyone else notice that Senator Kerry has shifted from "I've got a great plan for Iraq that I'm going to lay out to the American people" to "I have laid out my plan for Iraq to America, and I know my plan has a better chance of working"? The only thing missing is, like, the actual plan itself. Shouldn't that go somewhere between A and B?

I can't wait to see Senator Kerry's response to the news that his good buddies in France, Russia, China, and the UN bureaucracy were all paid by Saddam to oppose the US. Notably absent from this article is any mention of Germany -- good for them, if true. Another article implicates a few anonymous American companies, and I'd certainly like to know their names.

The discovery of American school emergency plans in the hands of a terrorist in Iraq (where there is obviously no connection to terrorism) may have led to the recent government alert that schools should be aware of terror threats. In case you missed the first story:

A man arrested by U.S. authorities in Iraq had a computer disk in his possession containing a public report downloaded from a U.S. Department of Education Web site on crisis planning in school districts, including San Diego Unified.

The man was described as an Iraqi national with connections to terrorism and the insurgency that is fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. Officials in San Diego said the man's intentions were unknown.

San Diego law enforcement officials said there was no indication of any terrorist plot against schools in San Diego or elsewhere in the country. They did not publicly release the information because there appeared to be no threat. The information was relayed to the San Diego FBI office last week and then to the school district Friday.

Nah, that's not threatening. He was probably just working for Osama's school-building program and he needed a few pointers. In case one of Osama's schools were attacked by terrorists. Or something.

Anyway, what does the government say we should do to help prevent terror attacks at home?

In particular, schools were told to watch for activities that may be legitimate on their own — but may suggest a heightened terrorist threat if many of them occur.

Among those activities:

_ Interest in obtaining site plans for schools, bus routes and attendance lists;

Unless the person interested in obtaining such plans is a terrorist in Iraq -- then there's no threat at all.

I think that killing someone for monetary gain or for the sake of convenience is an abhorent practice. I am opposed to the strong killing the weak on a whim, and I'm strongly in favor of finding alternatives to such violence. But I think sending a killer or his hitman to jail is the wrong remedy.

As a citizen and a lifelong member of the Christian faith, I will do everything in my power to persuade others that convenience-killing is wrong because I am firmly convinced that persuasion, not legal action, is the only proper and the only truly effective way to limit such killing.

I am unalterably opposed to killing on demand. This is a battle over human life. It must be won the only way it can ever be won, by persuading people who are considering killing others that the taking of human life is terribly wrong. Although I am personally opposed to killing, I reject the idea that killing can successfully be outlawed entirely -- but I believe it must be made rare by persuasion rather than by trying to impose criminal penalties.

Or something like that.

I'm working on a new book, and I've been using the word "coolie" in a way totally different from it's racist slang definition. I didn't remember at first that the word already existed; I'm using to refer to people who live in a neighborhood called The Cooler. It makes perfect sense in context, but do you think the word is so strongly-typed that I should change the slang in my book?

Ok, the comments are working again, thanks to my site admin Daniel (huzzah!). Comments made in the last few days were lost, but fortunately for America and the galaxy as a whole my brilliant articles were not affected.

Clayton Cramer posts a rough outline of his next book, "The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions: Mental Illness, Deinstitutionalization, and Homelessness". As I've written before, I'm no fan of new government programs or statism, but I think our society made a big mistake when courts took the power to institutionalize the mentally ill away from state legislatures on the basis of civil rights. Mr. Cramer agrees and explains how we got where we are -- and hopefully his future book will suggest where we should go from here.

Alcohol and drug abuse are not the only layers of complexity on top of mental illness. Sometimes mental illness leads to criminal behavior. In the late 1990s, a rather strange character showed up at the church we attended in Rohnert Park, California. Jim had been sleeping in the fields on the edge of town with his dog, getting around by bicycle with a little trailer for the pooch. Our pastor had previous experience with mentally ill people, having worked in a homeless shelter, but this man did not quite fit the mold.

Jim did not have an obvious drug or alcohol problem, and he told a story of governmental oppression that for the first five minutes, I could not immediately discount. His kids had been taken from him. His wife was locked up in a mental hospital. It was all a vast conspiracy against him! The more I talked to him, however, the more apparent it was that his thought processes, while not completely chaotic, were scattered and confused. Then he showed me the paperwork that had taken away his children. Jim was so confused in his thinking that he did not realize what that paperwork showed.

Jim's wife had been confined to a mental hospital, apparently because of physical abuse of their children. Jim's parental rights had been terminated—-apparently permanently—-by a court order in another county some months back, because Jim had been showing hardcore pornographic films to his five year old and his three year old, then molesting them. Why had the county not prosecuted Jim? The documents provided no information, but it seems likely that the prosecutor realized that a successful prosecution would require two small children to testify against their father—-having already lost their mother to mental illness. Under the best of conditions, this would have been a hard case to win in court, and it would certainly have been traumatic for the children.

Obviously, Jim was potentially a hazard to other children. In 1950, his mental illness would have earned him a commitment to a state mental hospital for the criminally insane. Even without the necessity for a criminal conviction, a judge would certainly have committed Jim against his will based on the testimony of a psychiatrist. Not today. Instead, Jim wandered the streets, telling his tale of woe. The best that we could hope for is that his mentally disordered thinking would be obvious enough to prevent anyone from putting their children at risk from Jim.

Having recent first-hand experience with the mentally ill, I can say with confidence that despite my love of liberty there are some people who simply should not be allowed to roam free, for their own safety and for the good of society.

I caught the first half on the radio in my car and the second half at my friend's house. There's not much to say... the Vice President walked away with it. It's odd to me that he would have been so certain about not meeting Senator Edwards and yet mistaken, but otherwise I think he did a great job. He could have done more to point out that the "huge corporations" Edwards loathes are actually owned by Americans -- specifically Halliburton.

It was a bit odd that the VP surrendered so much time on a few answers. That's unusual for political debates, but in general I think it's smart to be concise rather than to keep talking just to fill space. That's what Edwards did several times, jumping from topic to topic, and it was annoying. Despite Cheney's restraint, the debate still went 10 minutes over its alloted time.

Consider this passage on idolatry.

Isaiah 44:12-20

12 The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
13 The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in the form of man,
of man in all his glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine.
14 He cut down cedars,
or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
15 It is man's fuel for burning;
some of it he takes and warms himself,
he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
he makes an idol and bows down to it.
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
"Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
"Save me; you are my god."
18 They know nothing, they understand nothing;
their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
19 No one stops to think,
no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
"Half of it I used for fuel;
I even baked bread over its coals,
I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
Shall I bow down to a block of wood?"
20 He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
"Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"

Shall I bow down to a block of wood? Sounds like a ridiculous proposition, doesn't it? Few modern Americans practice this type of explicit idolatry, but we certainly worship all sorts of other things that we've created -- jobs, families, relationships, wealth, power, fame, recognition, and so forth. Many people live and die for these, but are they much different than blocks of wood?

Many block-worshippers will be quick to argue that the Christian concept of God is no different, that we've created an intangible God in the shape we prefer to suit our own purposes. This is an interesting argument, but it doesn't account for the fact that the God of the Bible commands us to do things that are often against our best interests, individually and corporately. Still, it could be said that Christianity commands behavior that promotes the survival of Christianity, which is why it has been so successful.

One who views God as an artificial construct generally reverts to worshipping the only thing he has that he didn't create: himself. In the end, all the other blocks of wood I listed above come down to a love of self. No wonder so many people are so unhappy and frustrated in life... if your god is yourself, you're bound to be constantly disappointed.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is pissed at John Kerry's snub, and so is Candace, who points out that Poland has a history of bravery.

Two days ago, John Kerry bluntly dismissed the contribution of the Polish forces in Iraq as insignificant. I think over those words with pain again today as I reflect on what I've learned: it's not the first time the Polish have been utterly dismissed by the powers that be. Sixty years ago today, after the death of 17,000 insurgents and 200,000 civilians, Warsaw surrendered to the Nazi army, and the story was all but forgotten.
And, you know, solar-powered flashlights.

I'm not big on tattoos... I generally dislike the theory, and I generally dislike the implementation. However, if I were to get a tattoo, I might do this.

Isaiah 44:1-5

1 "But now listen, O Jacob, my servant,
Israel, whom I have chosen.
2 This is what the LORD says-
he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant,
Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
5 One will say, 'I belong to the LORD ';
another will call himself by the name of Jacob;
still another will write on his hand, 'The LORD's,'
and will take the name Israel.

I've finally found an answer to a question that had been nagging me for quite a while: how can it be legal to pay someone to have sex on camera, but illegal to pay someone to have sex otherwise? Attorney Lawrence G. Walters explains:

The answer begins with a man named Hal Freeman, a legend in the realm of adult filmmaking back in the early 80’s whose productions included a film called Caught From Behind, II. For years, adult films were shot in secret locations, which always changed to avoid the eye of law enforcement. The concerns were serious – in California, pandering carries a minimum three-year sentence with no possibility of probation.

Despite these concealment efforts, Mr. Freeman was charged and convicted under California’s "pandering" law, because he was paying individuals to perform sex acts on camera.1 The filming was done in private, and all models consented to the acts depicted in the film. There was no allegation that the movie was obscene. His attorneys sought to convince the courts that the First Amendment prohibited the application of pandering laws to the creation of adult materials, even though they might appear to apply. Ultimately, Freeman won the case, and the California Supreme Court decided that pandering laws could not be used as a tool to impose a system of governmental censorship of erotic materials.2 Specifically, the court held, "[E]ven if Defendant’s conduct could somehow be found to come within the definition of "prostitution" literally, the application of the pandering statute to the hiring of actors to perform in the production of a non-obscene motion picture would impinge unconstitutionally on First Amendment values."3 An appeal to the United States Supreme Court resulted in a ruling that the outcome turned independently on construction of California law, and thus the Supremes refused to get involved.4

So paying for sex is bad, unless you videotape it -- everyone got it? Oddly, the situation is exactly the opposite when it comes to child pornography. In approximately 39 states it's legal for an adult to have sex with a 16-year-old, but if the activities are recorded then the adult can be sent to prison for more than 15 years. Perhaps this labyrinth indicates that our society has a screwed up, irrational, perspective on sex.

So John Kerry brought an illegal pen to the debates... big deal, right? Not really I guess, but it's yet another bit of dishonesty in a long, unnecessary, pointless string of deceptions. I'm sure he knew the debates rules, so why did he bring a pen in his pocket? Why did he lie about Christmas in Cambodia? Why did he lie about helping the CIA and getting a magic hat? Why did he lie about throwing his medals over the White House fence? Why did he lie about being at the armistice signing at the end of the first Gulf War? None of these things are huge -- not like lying about war crimes during the Vietnam War -- and none of them would help him much, even if they were true. So what's the point? Many of these claims were trivially easy to falsify. Why does John Kerry feel the need to pad his impressive resume with silly lies?

Everyone has probably already seen this CNSNews exclusive report claiming to have discovered documentary evidence that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and extensive terrorist connections.

Iraqi intelligence documents, confiscated by U.S. forces and obtained by CNSNews.com, show numerous efforts by Saddam Hussein's regime to work with some of the world's most notorious terror organizations, including al Qaeda, to target Americans. They demonstrate that Saddam's government possessed mustard gas and anthrax, both considered weapons of mass destruction, in the summer of 2000, during the period in which United Nations weapons inspectors were not present in Iraq. And the papers show that Iraq trained dozens of terrorists inside its borders.

One of the Iraqi memos contains an order from Saddam for his intelligence service to support terrorist attacks against Americans in Somalia. The memo was written nine months before U.S. Army Rangers were ambushed in Mogadishu by forces loyal to a warlord with alleged ties to al Qaeda.

Other memos provide a list of terrorist groups with whom Iraq had relationships and considered available for terror operations against the United States. ...

The senior government official and source of the Iraqi intelligence memos, explained that the reason the documents have not been made public before now is that the government has "thousands and thousands of documents waiting to be translated.

"It is unlikely they even know this exists," the source added.

October surprise? Hm, if this were orchestrated by the Bush Administration, don't you think it would have come out before the first debate? And wouldn't it have been leaked to a more prominent news agency?

God is more concerned with making me righteous than with making me happy. Righteousness comes from a right standing with God; happiness -- as most people think of it -- comes from being surrounded by pleasant circumstances. Interestingly, even though God never promises us pleasant circumstances, many people seem to feel that they are owed happiness by God despite the suffering endured by the most Godly men and women throughout history (see Hebrews 11, particularly the end).

A happiness-centered worldview is really a self-centered world view, and it naturally prevents us from having a right standing before God, which requires humility. Even Jesus, God himself, suffered for the cause of righteousness, so why should we expect any less? In fact, James wrote that it is precisely this suffering that God uses to create within us the righteous, Christ-like qualities that he values more than happiness.

James 1:2-12

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

A person who is spiritually mature will have a greater passion for personal righteousness than for personal happiness, and will consequently obtain both righteousness and happiness -- a happiness that comes not from mere circumstances, but from the joy of having a right relationship with God.

Scaled Composites has claimed the Ansari X-Prize today with SpaceShipOne's second successful flight in two weeks, so it's fitting to think about some other similar prizes that could usefully stimulate the advance of technology and/or civilization more generally. If you had the money, what type of prize would you set up? Personally, I want an affordable flying car. I'm sure I can think of something better in a few minutes, and I'll update this post when I do. Remember, there's no point in making a prize for something that's already likely to be incredibly profitable, like developing a cure for cancer.

I super-duper hate pigeons. They're basically rats with wings. Unfortunately for Woodridge, New Jersey, crazy-lady Ania Nowak loves "all feathered critters".

They fly in every day by the hundreds, crowding power lines and rooftops, dropping feathers, waiting for their next meal.

They are pigeons (search). And for four years they have not gone hungry, thanks to Ania Nowak and her mother, who pour birdseed by the bucketful into a fountain-sized feeder every day outside their Woodridge, N.J. (search), home. ...

Neighbors who'd like to barbecue in their backyards say the chubby birds are raining — literally — on their parade.

"Very bad, very bad, very bad," said Sansevere of the Category 3 storm of pigeon poop that she and her neighbors are regularly forced to duck. "My grandson got it on his arm, my granddaughter got it on her face two weeks ago ... all over her face and hair. I can't take this no more, I can't."

Nowak says town law entitles her to a single birdfeeder. But neighbors complain that the hundreds of pigeons she draws soil their yards, roofs and sidewalks, creating a health hazard.

"It's a known fact they cause disease and germs and everything else, and it's not like they're contained to her area," said neighbor Rich Amberg. "They are loose throughout the whole neighborhood here." ...

"It has nothing to do with birdfeed," Nowak said. "I'm not stopping because I stand up for my rights. It's a matter of principle. It's a matter of my constitutional right to have one birdfeeder."

If the government won't help, can't somebody call the mafia?

I can't find a "neutral" article on California SB1313... just numerous pieces labeling it the "Pedophile Protection Act", which sounds pretty accurate to me. WorldNetDaily explains the effect of the recently passed bill (and signed today (I think) by Governor Arnold, though I can't find a news story):

Under existing criminal law, anyone who regularly comes into contact with children is required to report an instance in which there is reason to believe a child has been molested or abused, Ackerman points out.

Typical mandatory reporters include pastors, priests, church volunteers, teachers, school volunteers, and medical personnel.

But the bill, SB1313, would eliminate mandatory reporting for anyone who can be characterized as a "volunteer."

That means a Sunday school teacher, for example, would not be required to report her knowledge of a pastor's molestation of children.

Critics say the bill also eliminates mandatory reporting in cases where children are having sex with each other, and severe emotional abuse may no longer be a reportable event at all.

Sounds like a bad idea to me. Meanwhile, amidst all the justified outrage aimed at the Catholic Church for harboring child abusers,
Ackerman, while working for the United States Justice Foundation, persuaded the California Attorney General's office to issue a written opinion to the California Medical Board that affirmed the requirement of reporting for anyone who comes into regular contact with children as part of professional duties.

The report, following a petition by more than 10,000 people, presented evidence that Planned Parenthood had seen over 30,000 children in California, but not one instance of reporting to law enforcement could be found.

Planned Parenthood is an evil organization.

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolutions has a little analysis of how some betting markets reacted to last night's presidential debate. My executive summary: no effect. That pretty much lines up with my own reaction to the debate: it was very close, with perhaps a slight edge for Kerry, but no minds were changed.

What's interesting about watching the markets is that the share prices are one step removed from the bettors' opinions. That is, people don't bet based on who they thought did a better job, they bet based on how they estimate everyone else will evaluate the candidates' performances. So with the markets split close to 65/35 in favor of Bush that doesn't mean he's expected to win 65% of the popular vote, it means that the bettors think there's a 65% chance that he'll win the electoral vote by any margin.

This is an always-incomplete list of people I'd like to meet, mostly for my own reference. If I ever do meet any of these people I'll include some notes. In no particular order:

Victor Davis Hanson
Antonin Scalia
George W. Bush
Vince McMahon
Zell Miller
Ranulph Fiennes
Mark Steyn
Spengler

(Last updated 060223.)

I don't shop much or spend a lot of money on frivolous things, but if I'm ever a millionaire there are two luxuries in which I will indulge. I'll wear new socks every day, and sleep on a new pillow every night. What about you?

Candace from Candied Ginger has pointed me to a Washington Post article by Eugene B. Rumer that explains why Russia is "Not Another Soviet Union", despite Vladimir Putin's recent undemocratic moves to consolidate power.

Russia is joining the ranks of nascent dictatorships, and Vladimir Putin is the executioner of Russian democracy. Right? Wrong. Russia is not a dictatorship, and the political system Putin is trying to reshape is not a democracy. In its transition from the Soviet Union, it never got there. More important, before we lament the passing of Russian democracy and put the blame for its demise on Putin, let us consider our own record of dealing with Russia since the Soviet breakup and how the Russians themselves might see that record.

The notion that Russian democracy is dying or dead because of Putin's proposed reforms is no more accurate than the idea that Russia was ever a democracy. The bloody confrontation between Boris Yeltsin and his parliament in 1993, the patently unfair reelection campaign Yeltsin waged against his Communist opponent in 1996, and the equally skewed parliamentary election campaign of 1999 are just a few examples of Russian democracy in action that do not pass the "you know it when you see it" test.

I don't know this Rumer fellow, but Candace knows more about Russia than a girl-shaped genetic recombination of James Bond and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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