November 2005 Archives

Despite recently admitting that he accepted bribes and resigning from Congress in disgrace, it's worth remembering that more than 30 years ago Randy Cunningham was an ace fighter pilot who put his life repeatedly on the line for his country. Wretchard's commentary is poignant:

They were two different days, separated by 32 years. The grandfather paradox argues that the past exists independently of the present, that it remains graven in the mind of God, beyond our power to alter -- or to besmirch. Whatever Randy Cunningham did in later life, it remains true that on the tenth of May, 1972 ShowTime 100 would shoot down two MIGs, then a third. ...

A man can redeem himself from past disgraceful acts by doing good later in life, but disgraceful acts later in life are rarely excused on account of good done earlier. It's sad to see a hero fall, even when he's brought down by his own hubris.

So I like mixing my metaphors, so what? Today is the 12th anniversary of the singing of the Brady Bill by President Clinton and David Kopel has posted a sobering history lesson full of reasons why we shouldn't trust the left and their crusade to disarm us.

Much of the support for the "Brady Bill" came from the claim--which was demonstrably false--that the bill would have prevented John Hinckley from buying the guns he used to shoot President Reagan and Press Secretary Jim Brady.

Most significant is Mr. Kopel's reminder of the hoped-for Brady II law.

Almost immediately after passage of the "assault weapon" ban, Handgun Control, Inc. (which later renamed itself "the Brady Campaign"), announced "Brady II." Brady II would make permanent the handgun purchase waiting period which was set to expire in 1998, and would limits handgun purchases to one per month. The bill would also require all states to set up handgun licensing systems, with possession of a handgun permitted only to persons who pass federally-mandated safety training. All handgun transfers would be registered with the government.

Brady II would require every owner of a "large" ammunition clip to be licensed the same way that the federal government licenses machine gun owners. Simply to retain the magazines currently owned, a person would have to be fingerprinted, and pay heavy federal taxes. Brady II would also lower the ten-round limit to six rounds. As a result, the owner of a Colt .45 pistol and the standard seven-round magazine for the gun would need to go through the federal machinegun licensing system.

Under Brady II, anyone who owned at least twenty guns or 1,000 rounds of ammunition would be required to obtain a federal "arsenal" license. Licensees would be subjected to three unannounced police inspections per year. Persons who were required to have a license but did not obtain one would of course be subject to whatever enforcement action the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms deemed appropriate.

For purposes of defining an "arsenal," firearms, firearms parts, and ammunition clips would all count as a "firearm." In other words, if a person owned three rifles, three handguns, two ammunition clips for each gun, and set of disassembled spare parts for the rifles and the handguns, he would have an "arsenal" consisting of at least 20 "guns." A thousand rounds of ammunition also count as a so-called "arsenal." So the hundreds of thousands of target shooters who pick up a pair of bricks of rimfire ammunition for $15 every few months would also become the owners of "arsenals."

One of the main reasons to oppose all gun restrictions is that it is the stated intent of those who propose such laws is to eventually ban all private gun ownership.

Once again science confirms what everyone already knows: caffeine makes you smarter.

The caffeine found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate stimulates areas of the brain governing short-term memory and attention, Austrian researchers said on Wednesday.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans performed on the brains of 15 subjects who had just consumed caffeine equal to that found in two cups of coffee showed increased activity in the frontal lobe where the working memory is located and in the anterior cingulum that controls attention.

"We are able to see that caffeine exerts increases in neuronal activity in distinct parts of the brain going along with changes in behavior," said Austrian researcher Dr. Florian Koppelstatter of the Medical University Innsbruck.

Plus, if you stop taking it you get headaches and mood swings.

This is the kind of brilliant idea that should make its inventor a millionaire: a high-frequency buzzing device that drives away teenagers but is inaudible to most adults.

The device, called the Mosquito ("It's small and annoying," Stapleton said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he said, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away. ...

A trip to Spar here in Barry confirmed the strange truth of the phenomenon. The Mosquito is positioned just outside the door. Although this reporter could not hear anything, being too old, several young people attested to the fact that yes, there was a noise, and yes, it was extremely annoying.

"It's loud and squeaky and it just goes through you," said Jodie Evans, 15, who was shopping at the store even though she was supposed to be in school. "It gets inside you."

I must be getting old to love this idea so much.

(HT: Slashdot.)

Full Disclosure just posted a video blog featuring yours truly (and a couple other people you might recognize) about the Valerie Plame controversy. Snazzy. I actually look pretty good in the video.

I seem to be writing about abortion a lot recently... go figure. Roger Pilon has an excellent explanation of why Roe v. Wade should be overturned and the issue of abortion returned to the states. It's really pretty simple:

And so the basic substantive question was clear: When does the right to life begin?

On that question, the Constitution is indeed silent--mostly. Here's why. We would all agree, I hope, that if a doctor took the life of a baby one day after birth, it would be infanticide--murder. Thus, states that protected older babies but not younger ones would doubtless be subject to equal protection challenges, at least, and would probably lose. But if taking the life of a baby one day after birth is murder, what is the difference if the act is performed one day before birth? It strains credulity to suppose there is any real difference. Well, what of two days before birth--and so on down the line? It's impossible to draw a principled line at which to say, precisely, that this is where the right to life begins. The court's trimester taxonomy in Roe was its own invention, entitled to no more constitutional support than anyone else's opinion on the matter.

And so we come to the jurisdictional question: Who decides? And on that the Constitution is not silent. Whether we believe that the right to life begins at conception or at some point over the next 270 days, we all believe, I hope, that it begins at some point along that line. We all agree, that is, that there is some point at which abortion amounts to murder. We just can't agree about where that point is. And so we're faced with a classic line-drawing problem, not unknown in other areas of the law, but here involving the criminal law and, therefore, the general police power--the power that belongs, under the Constitution, to states.

Legislatures and Congress should be drawing lines, not the courts.

My wife, who knows quite a bit about Arab culture since her dad's side of the family is from Iraq, has a post about the significance of al-Zarqawi being cast out from his tribe and family.

This. is. huge.

al-Zarqawi has been disowned by the Bani Hassan.

Let me repeat: This. is. huge.

I was astounded when I read this. For one to be disowned by their own tribe means they have shamed their ancestors and have committed the gravest of unpardonable sins. For an Arab to be disowned by his own clan and tribe means that he is only worthy of taking his own life outside of tribal boundaries, left to face Allah on his own without the help of his ancestors. (I do not believe in that mysticism, just to clear up any misconceptions).

Basically, the Bani Hassan are saying that al-Zarqawi is only worthy of a shameful death, alone in the wilderness. Back in ancient times, the only way of survival was to stay within one's tribe/clan. Socio-economic and socio-political landscapes were all determined by tribal ties and ancestry. The Arab culture truly believes the saying that "there is strength in numbers." To be alone in the desert meant a lonely death; to be within a tribe meant an honorable existence. ...

What's even more shocking is that they list al-Zarqawi by his given name, thereby stripping him of his "warrior" status. That in itself is a severe insult and public humiliation. When an Arab warrior would prove himself in battle, he would frequently receive a new name to denote honor and command respect. In this case, Al-Qaeda has taken that tradition and twisted it, using names traditionally reserved for battle feats to pander to their own pride at being terrorists. The fact that the Bani Hassan listed Zarqawi by his given name is uber embarrassing and tells society that Zarqawi is worthless and not deserving of any respect. Honor and family are everything in the Arab world (the non-terrorist part) and to be stripped of both of those publicly is a sentence worse than death.

Islamofascism can't help but eventually implode as it turns on itself, and I think it goes without saying that President Bush's flypaper strategy in Iraq has helped hasten its demise.

Mark Kleiman and Cathy Young both have thoughtful defenses of the idea that criminal justice needs to take into account not just deterrence and incapacitation (to prevent future crimes) but also retribution. Says Mr. Kleiman:

I share the glee that I assume most of my Blue friends will feel at the prospect of Augusto Pinochet finishing out his life behind prison bars. ...

Note, however, that if putting Pinochet away is justified, it must be on some basis other than deterrence or incapacitation. Perhaps it's time to rethink the place of retribution as a legitimate goal of criminal justice policy. Making what remains of Pinochet's life as miserable as possible is something owed to his victims. It proclaims that what he did was wrong, that the victims did not deserve their victimization, and that they were important enough to be worth revenging.

Why should it be so hard to see that, and to apply it to more ordinary cases?

I've long held a similar view that the purpose of the criminal justice system should be to punish wrongdoers and that any peripheral effects (such as bringing "closure" or reformation) are just icing on the cake.

(HT: Eugene Volokh.)

My brother sent me this Fortune article about the growing popularity of anime in the United States and what it might mean for the American and Japanese economies.

From Pokemon to Full Metal Panic, the anime industry is doing everything the rest of show biz isn't: embracing technology, coddling fans—and making a killing. ...

None of this means that Western culture is going all-anime. Ledford acknowledges that interest seems to bubble up, then fall back a bit before growing again. Certainly the aging of the Pokemon generation—the first to have widespread exposure to anime at a young age—should help.

Some in the world are in a panic over American "cultural hegemonization", but this article illustrates that Americans are rabid consumers of culture as well as producers. As my brother pointed out, little could be better for Japan's economy that greater openness and connection to America.

What could be more horrible than reading the pathetic justifications offered by "mothers" for their abortions?

An 18-year-old with braces on her teeth is on the operating table, her head on a plaid pillow, her feet up in stirrups, her arms strapped down at her sides. A pink blanket is draped over her stomach. She's 13 weeks pregnant, at the very end of the first trimester. She hasn't told her parents. ...

"It was a lot easier than I thought it would be," she says. "I thought it would be horrible, but it wasn't. The procedure, that is."

She is not yet sure, she says, how she is doing emotionally. She feels guilty, sad and relieved, all in a jumble.

"There's things wrong with abortion," she says. "But I want to have a good life. And provide a good life for my child." To keep this baby now, she says, when she's single, broke and about to start college, "would be unfair." ...

A high school volleyball player says she doesn't want to give up her body for nine months. "I realize just from the first three months how it changes everything," she says.

Kim, a single mother of three, says she couldn't bear to give away a child and have to wonder every day if he were loved. Ending the pregnancy seemed easier, she says — as long as she doesn't let herself think about "what could have been." ...

Amanda, a 20-year-old administrative assistant, says it's not the obstacles that surprise her — it's how normal and unashamed she feels as she prepares to end her first pregnancy.

"It's an everyday occurrence," she says as she waits for her 2:30 p.m. abortion. "It's not like this is a rare thing."

Amanda hasn't told her ex-boyfriend that she's 15 weeks pregnant with his child. She hasn't told her parents, either, though she lives with them.

"I figured it was my responsibility," she says.

She regrets having to pay $750 for the abortion, but Amanda says she does not doubt her decision. "It's not like it's illegal. It's not like I'm doing anything wrong," she says.

"I've been praying a lot and that's been a real source of strength for me. I really believe God has a plan for us all. I have a choice, and that's part of my plan." ...

His first patient of the day, Sarah, 23, says it never occurred to her to use birth control, though she has been sexually active for six years. When she became pregnant this fall, Sarah, who works in real estate, was in the midst of planning her wedding. "I don't think my dress would have fit with a baby in there," she says.

The last patient of the day, a 32-year-old college student named Stephanie, has had four abortions in the last 12 years. She keeps forgetting to take her birth control pills. Abortion "is a bummer," she says, "but no big stress."

The perceptions of these women were formed in our modern environment of quick and easy abortions of convenience. The self-styled "abortionist" featured in this article claims to have killed more than 20,000 babies during his career, and takes pride in his lack of frustration with repeat customers like Stephanie -- but then why should he get frustrated when he's making $750 a head?

Three abortions before lunch and three more after: The appointment book is always full.

Never forget that abortion is an industry.

I'm sure I'm not the first Republican to say so, but I'm glad that former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has resigned for taking bribes, and I hope he goes to jail. There are few greater betrayals of the public trust than accepting bribes, and Cunningham directly endangered national security by taking bribes from defense contractors. Good riddance.

After months of insisting he had done nothing wrong, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham tearfully acknowledged taking $2.4 million in bribes, saying: "The truth is I broke the law."

The eight-term Republican and former Vietnam fighting ace pleaded guilty to graft Monday and resigned, admitting he took money mostly from defense contractors in exchange for government business and other favors.

"In my life, I have had great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame," a tearful Cunningham said after the plea. "I can't undo what I have done but I can atone."

But Cunningham, who could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing Feb. 27 on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, and tax evasion, may not be the only person ensnared in the case. Prosecutors have indicated they have more than him in mind.

He should be ashamed, because his behavior was disgraceful.

It strikes me that since many criminals turn to crime out of laziness, and many lazy people spend all their time watching television, there may be a correlation between crime-time and Prime Time. Is there less crime when high-rated shows that cater to young males are playing new episodes? Is crime generally lower when television ratings are higher? If so, then perhaps it would be a good use of public funds to discover and subsidize the kinds of shows that criminals tend to like.

I can't think of anything more grisly than babies who survive an abortion only to be murdered upon delivery. From Britain:

A GOVERNMENT agency is launching an inquiry into doctors’ reports that up to 50 babies a year are born alive after botched National Health Service abortions.

The investigation, by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH), comes amid growing unease among clinicians over a legal ambiguity that could see them being charged with infanticide.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which regulates methods of abortion, has also mounted its own investigation.

Its guidelines say that babies aborted after more than 21 weeks and six days of gestation should have their hearts stopped by an injection of potassium chloride before being delivered. In practice, few doctors are willing or able to perform the delicate procedure.

For the abortion of younger foetuses, labour is induced by drugs in the expectation that the infant will not survive the birth process. Guidelines say that doctors should ensure that the drugs they use prevent such babies being alive at birth.

In practice, according to Stuart Campbell, former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s hospital, London, a number do survive.

“They can be born breathing and crying at 19 weeks’ gestation,” he said. “I am not anti-abortion, but as far as I am concerned this is sub-standard medicine.”

As far as I'm concerned, it's murder. As I've said before, improving medical technology will eventually make the evil of abortion undeniable.

The number of terminations carried out in the 18th week of pregnancy or later has risen from 5,166 in 1994 to 7,432 last year. Prenatal diagnosis for conditions such as Down’s syndrome is increasing and foetuses with the condition are routinely aborted, even though many might be capable of leading fulfilling lives. In the past decade, doctors’ skill in saving the lives of premature babies has improved radically: at least 70%-80% of babies in their 23rd or 24th week of gestation now survive long-term. ...

Doctors are increasingly uneasy about aborting babies who could be born alive. “If viability is the basis on which they set the 24-week limit for abortion, then the simplest answer is to change the law and reduce the upper limit to 18 weeks,” said Campbell, who last year published a book showing images of foetuses’ facial expressions and “walking” movements taken with a form of 3-D ultrasound.

Read the article, it even has some statements from "fetuses" who survived abortion and magically transformed into adult humans.

Thanks to my lovely wife for passing along this picture of Cindy Sheehan waiting for someone, anyone, to show up for her book signing.

Now that she's been divorced by her husband and dumped by the left, maybe she should start dating others in similar circumstances, like Michael Moore.

Idempotent: An operation with no side-effects. Mostly used in math for things like identity matrixes, and used in C programming to describe functions that don't modify anything in the caller's scope other than by-reference parameters.

My brother sent me this video from Japan in which a dozen 5-year-old girls strap meat to their heads and get chased around by some sort of giant lizard. Thanks Google!

Along with the left's lament that there are more people in jail now than ever, even though crime is dropping (gee, think there's a connection?), it's amazing how simple logic rarely comes into play in the politics of law enforcement. In Britain, officials are encouraging more women to report rape but are also concerned that their conviction rate is falling.

RAPE attacks are increasing rapidly in England and Wales, but the number of cases that end in a successful prosecution has fallen to a record low.

According to government figures published yesterday,only one in eighteen rapes reported to police ends with the suspect being punished, although government ministers have pledged to increase the number of convictions. ...

It is the fall in the conviction rate to 5.6 per cent which will cause most disappointment to the Government, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and police. They have succeeded in encouraging more and more women to come forward to report rape but still too many cases never get into court.

The women who are least likely to come forward are the women who know that their case will be the toughest to prosecute. Encouraging more rape victims to report is, of course, a good idea, but it will also tend to push the conviction rate down. However, putting more rapists in jail is good, even if the process results in a lower conviction rate overall. I suppose there's some conviction rate that would be so low that it would be wasteful, but I don't know what it would be.

From an article about apportioning blame for rape:

Although the number of rapes reported to the police has gone up in recent years, the number of convictions has stayed constant, producing a dramatic drop in the conviction rate from 33 per cent in 1977 to just over 5 per cent today.

If the number of convictions has really stayed constant despite far more reportings, that's a strong indication that many of the additional reportings are false claims... but this possiblity isn't even discussed due to the twisted logic of law enforcement politics.

Just about everyone has seen this already, but I feel like I have to mention that ex Canadian Defense Minister Paul Hellyer says UFOs are real and warns that America might be trying to start an intergalactic war. Yes, for real.

A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”

By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.

On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

So, be warned. Bush = Space Hitler.

My brother pointed me to a fascinating and lengthy list of human archetypes on a page hosted by some sort of nonsensical spiritual healer. So, ignore the source of the information but peruse the dozens of detailed descriptions she gives for different kinds of people. The first use for the list that comes to mind is as a primer for creating characters for a book or movie.

I believe that many rape accusations are completely spurious and that women who falsely accuse men of rape should be thrown in jail, but I'm not sure what to make of the idea that "drunken consent is still consent".

WOMEN who are raped while drunk face losing the chance to bring their attackers to justice after a legal ruling on the eve of new licensing laws.

A High Court judge yesterday threw out the case of a student who claimed that she was raped while drunk and unconscious on the basis that “drunken consent is still consent”. ...

The prosecution in the rape case had said it could not go on after the woman admitted that she could not remember whether she gave consent or not or whether sex had taken place. The jury at Swansea Crown Court was told: “Drunken consent is still consent.” ...

She told the jury that she had no recollection of events but insisted that she would not have agreed to sex with the man.

If you have no recollection, and there are no other witnesses, merely insisting that you wouldn't have wanted to have sex with they guy shouldn't be enough to support a rape prosecution. However, it seems like there's a world of difference between being drunk and being unconscious. If a woman is drunk and gives consent, then that's consent and there's no rape, even if she regrets it the next morning. But an unconscious person can't consent to anything, and if it can be proven that the woman was unconscious at the time of sex then that should be considered rape (unless she gave consent beforehand or there are other unusual circumstances).

Those on the left's fringe (though they tend to overshadow the rest of the left) enjoy comparing President Bush to Hitler and so forth, so let's hope they devote some attention to examples of real fascism.

Russia moved Wednesday to impose greater government control over charities and other nongovernmental organizations, including some of the world's most prominent, in what critics described as the Kremlin's latest effort to stifle civil society and democracy. The lower house of Parliament gave preliminary approval to legislation that would require tens of thousands of Russian organizations to register with the Ministry of Justice, impose restrictions on their ability to accept donations or hire foreigners and prohibit foreign organizations from opening branches in Russia. The legislation could yet be significantly revised, but if it is approved as now written it would force organizations like the Ford Foundation, Greenpeace and Amnesty International to close their offices in Russia and re-register instead as purely Russian organizations - something the legislation, in an apparent contradiction, appears to disallow.

The government in Moscow must be getting pretty shaky if they're afraid of actual unrest.

Some of the bill's supporters defended it as an effort to bring order to the registration of 450,000 nongovernmental organizations. But others said it was aimed at preventing foreign efforts to support political opposition movements, like the one that swept to power in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" last fall.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Russians do move to sweep their government clean of the ex-Communists and other strongmen who have taken it over. I just hope they don't end up ceding their East to China.

Unlike the "cool mom" who got sentenced to 30 years in jail for having sex with a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, a "cool teacher" received no jail time after having sex with her 14-year-old student. See? I told you the 30-year sentence was excessive.

A female teacher pleaded guilty Tuesday to having sex with a 14-year-old student, avoiding prison as part of a plea agreement.

Debra Lafave, 25, whose sensational case made tabloid headlines, will serve three years of house arrest and seven years' probation. She pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery. ...

The boy told investigators the two had sex in a classroom at the school, located in Temple Terrace near Tampa, in her Riverview town house and once in a vehicle while his 15-year-old cousin drove them around Marion County.

The best part? Prosecutors apparently bought the defense's argument that Mrs. Lafave was simply too attractive to be sent to jail.

After Tuesday's hearing, Lafave's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, said the plea was "a fair resolution of this case." Asked how she felt afterward, Lafave said "tired."

Fitzgibbons said in July that plea negotiations had broken off because prosecutors insisted on prison time, which he said would be too dangerous for someone as attractive as Lafave.

It doesn't really sound fair, but at least I won't have to worry about ever being sent to prison.

(HT: James Taranto, again!)

In response to the earlier story about Chris Matthews excusing evil as a "different perspective", Mr. Matthews sent an email to

I told the students that my way to deal with terrorists was to do what Golda Meir did after the killing of Israeli athletes at the Olympics: track them down and kill them one by one and be rough about it.

I don't know why the reporter chose to ignore my clear statement was the appropriate response to terorism, why he chose to skip to my strong belief that we need to get behind this massive hatred we're facing in the Muslim world.

Check with the University for confirmation. I was invited by the political science students. I'm pretty sure they taped it because that had an audi-visual person there putting on my microphone.

Anyway there were many witnesses who can recall what I said if somebody asks.

Chris Matthews

So it appears that his earlier quotes were taken out of context.

(HT: James Taranto.)

New research indicates that the Ortho Evra birth-control patch can significantly increase the risk of stroke for young women. Johnson and Johnson has placed a new warning on the packaging and is supposedly considering a recall. If you or your wife are using the patch, you'll probably want to talk to your doctor (or your lawyer, since there are certain to be lawsuits filed and awards handed out).

Thursday's warning comes four months after reports that patch users die and suffer blood clots at a rate three times higher than women taking the pill.

Citing federal death and injury reports, The Associated Press found that about a dozen women, most in their late teens and early 20s, died in 2004 from blood clots believed to be related to the birth-control patch, and dozens more survived strokes and other clot-related problems.

20-year-old women shouldn't be having strokes, and a 300% increase is huge. As much as I dislike the FDA, there often doesn't appear to be much incentive for drug companies to be honest in their dealings with the public.

In addition, an internal Ortho McNeil memo shows that the company refused, in 2003, to fund a study comparing its Ortho Evra patch to its Ortho-Cyclen pill because of concerns there was "too high a chance that study may not produce a positive result for Evra" and there was a "risk that Ortho Evra may be the same or worse than Ortho-Cyclen."

Last week, in response to questions about the Ortho McNeil memo, company spokesman Michael Beckerich said in a written statement that "decisions to fund studies are based upon scientific merit."

Drug companies should be required to release such information to the public, but once the truth is known the FDA shouldn't prevent people from taking risky drugs if they want to. In many cases, risky drugs can save more lives than over-protective government policy.

I heard on the radio this morning (KFI) that in the wake of the recent alarm over Muslims praying at a Giants game New York is going to add a special Muslim prayer area to the stadium. The original controversy started when:

The men said they looked for a clean area to pray, near the ticket scanners, but not in the way of incoming fans. They chose what looked like a concrete wall, in sight of stadium workers and others.

But the men said they didn't find out until yesterday from the media that they had prostrated themselves in prayer near the main air duct and food preparation area. That area has since been fenced off.

"It had everything to do with where they were and nothing to do with who they were," said Special Agent Steve Siegel of the FBI's New Jersey office. "You had concerned fans who walked by and saw these gentlemen proceed to an area that was not normally traveled. They alerted security guards. ... We'd rather follow 10,000 leads that go nowhere instead of miss the one that might go somewhere."

Right, and if little Jimmy wandered into the food prep area I'm sure he also would have been grilled on his relationship with Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.

"You know the blind sheik?" Khalifa said one agent asked him, referring to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted of engineering the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"I said to him that's not even a smart question. You guys took my ID. You know I'm 27. When was the blind sheik around? I was 14, 15?"

These Muslims were definitely detained in part because their attire and actions made them look suspicious, and I don't really have a problem with that. It's a fact that 99% of terrorists are young Muslim males. Sorry.

Anyway, I'll be curious to see how New York football fans deal with a Muslim prayer area in the stadium. Maybe Christians can get a chapel installed, too.

The world's tyrants were thwarted last week in their efforts to take over the internet using the UN as their willing proxy. As I wrote before the process concluded, fascist governments know the free flow of information is a threat to their power and they want to strangle it before it undermines them completely.

Paul Volcker's recent report on the United Nations Oil for Food scandal taught us a great deal about how the U.N. works. Ten billion dollars worth of Iraqi oil was illegally smuggled to adjacent nations. Saddam Hussein collected $229 million in bribes from 139 of 248 companies involved in the oil business and $1.5 billion in kickbacks and illegal payments from 2,253 firms out of 3,614 providing humanitarian goods under the U.N. program. The U.N., which supervised and controlled the Oil for Food program, did nothing about any of it. ...

Indeed, last Tuesday Mr. Annan took action to reinstate U.N. Deputy Director Joseph Stephanides, who was fired six months ago for illegal bidding procedures. It seems that Mr. Annan didn't think what had happened in the Oil for Food program was really that bad after all. Or to put it our own perspective, Dennis Kozlowski stole $600 million from Tyco and got eight to 25 years in prison; Kofi Annan supervised more than $12 billion in international theft and will stay in his job.

All of which explains why allowing the United Nations to be in charge of running the Internet is a very bad idea. ...

Old Europe and the despotic nations want exactly that--international Internet content control. And they have convinced the EU establishment that U.N. control of the Internet would be just and appropriate. The last United Nations World Summit on the Internet--held in 2003--concluded that "governments should intervene . . . to maximize economic and social benefits and serve national priorities." The report of the U.N. Working Group on Internet Governance says it would have "respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, " explaining that meant "multilingual, diverse, and culturally appropriate content" on the Internet.

And what is "culturally appropriate" content? If your nation is a free society--America, Ireland, Australia--a free and unregulated-content Internet is a good thing. For dictatorships and state controlled societies--the former USSR, China or Cuba--it is a catastrophe, for allowing citizens free access to information puts your government at risk. And if you are in between--a socialist government like France or Germany--U.N. control is a good thing because government control is always better than unregulated markets.

The internet is a great machine for change and it's only a matter of time before those who benefit from the status quo make serious efforts to thwart it. Fortunately, I think they're already too late.

Wikipedia's entry on WGS 84 indicates that the most widely used global reference frame is only valid through 2010, but it doesn't say why.

The World Geodetic System defines a fixed global reference frame for the Earth, for use in geodesy and navigation. The latest revision is WGS 84 dating from 1984, which will be valid up to about 2010.

Does anyone know if this is correct, and if so, why?

Anyone with a basic understanding of economics knows that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch". Even if it's free to you, someone is paying for it. Unfortunately most environmentalists have an increadibly weak grasp of economic principles, which is why we get stupid ideas like biofuels.

THE drive for "green energy" in the developed world is having the perverse effect of encouraging the destruction of tropical rainforests. From the orang-utan reserves of Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. And surging prices are likely to accelerate the destruction. ...

Rising demand for green energy has led to a surge in the international price of palm oil, with potentially damaging consequences. "The expansion of palm oil production is one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction in south-east Asia. It is one of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet," says Simon Counsell, director of the UK-based Rainforest Foundation. "Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people."

Duh. Biofuels will always cost more than they're worth. Why? Because once you harvest the biomass that has already grown naturally (such as rainforests) you have to plant something else, nurture it, and harvest it, all of which costs money and energy. In fact, it almost always costs more energy to grow and harvest biomass than you get back when you burn it. The only advantage of biomass fuels is that, like using hydrogen for fuel, they allow you to shift the waste product from the exhaust pipe to the fuel production location, which can be far away. Unfortunately, the people who live in that far away place will now have to deal with your polution, and the net result is generally more total pollution than you started with.

Similarly, think of the effect American environmentalists have had on the Middle East. Environmentalists won't allow our country to drill for oil because of the pollution, so we have to buy oil from the Middle East. Middle Eastern dictators, however, couldn't care less about the environment so they drill in the cheapest and dirtiest ways possible. The end result is that we in America pay more for oil than we have to, and we shift the modest pollution we'd cause by drilling here over to the Middle East where it's magnified a hundredfold -- not to mention the pollution caused by the supertankers that bring us the oil.

The majority of environmentalist policies cause more harm than good, and the people who are harmed the most are the poor and those who live under tyrannical dictatorships.

America's performance in Iraq is apparently prompting our allies to doubt whether we could defeat China head-to-head.

The overwhelming assessment by Asian officials, diplomats and analysts is that the U.S. military simply cannot defeat China. It has been an assessment relayed to U.S. government officials over the past few months by countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. This comes as President Bush wraps up a visit to Asia, in which he sought to strengthen U.S. ties with key allies in the region.

Most Asian officials have expressed their views privately. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has gone public, warning that the United States would lose any war with China.

"In any case, if tension between the United States and China heightens, if each side pulls the trigger, though it may not be stretched to nuclear weapons, and the wider hostilities expand, I believe America cannot win as it has a civic society that must adhere to the value of respecting lives," Mr. Ishihara said in an address to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

I certainly don't know enough to say either way, but this doesn't sound right to me. Anyway, this is certainly yet another side-effect of the flypaper strategy in Iraq that we're using to lure in terrorists. We may be meeting that strategic goal, but to most people it looks as if we can't crush the resistance.

In light of all the recent hullabaloo by Democrats accusing President Bush of lying about weapons of mass destruction, I wonder what Saddam Hussein will say about the matter when it comes up in his trial?

1. Saddam will simply refuse to talk about WMD or to say anything substansive.

2. Saddam will continue to insist that he did have WMD and that we just didn't find them.

3. Saddam will say he never had WMD and that he was just trying to trick the world into respecting him.

4. Saddam will admit that he thought he had WMD but was actually deceived by his scientists.

Number 4 is most likely the truth, but Saddam will never admit it because it will make him look like a fool. I don't see how any of 2, 3 or 4 can do anything but hurt the Democrats, and 1 doesn't do anything to help them.

Although I think Stanley "Tookie" Williams, multiple murderer and founder of the Crips gang, should be executed regardless of his supposed "redemption", I fail to see how he can possibly have met even the lowest threshold for forgiveness. Since being sentenced to death for the murders of Albert Owens, Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang and Yee-Chin Lin in 1979, Williams has continually refused to admit his guilt or to assist investigators in dismantling the gang he founded. How can there be any sort of redemption without repentance?

Law enforcement officials, however, have told the governor that they don't believe in Williams' redemption because he has refused to admit that he committed the murders and has declined to participate in "debriefing" sessions with corrections officials about gang members.

Williams has said that even though he formally renounced gang life in 1997, participating in the "debriefing" sessions would make him a "snitch."

"Despite the overwhelming nature of the evidence against him, and despite the nonexistence of any credible defense, Stanley Williams steadfastly refused to take any responsibility for the brutal, destructive and murderous acts he committed. Without such responsibility, there can be no redemption, there can be no atonement, and there should be no mercy," says the filing by the district attorney, which was signed by John Monaghan, assistant head deputy district attorney, and Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren.

Cooley's letter to Schwarzenegger said that since Williams founded the Crips in 1979, the gang "has been responsible for literally thousands of murders in Los Angeles County alone."

Good riddance. The only regret society should have is that it took 25 years to execute this monster.

For all our technology and wealth, there's one advantage that the terrorists have over us: moral clarity. Sure, they're completely evil and insane, but at least they think they're right. Many of our leftists, like Chris Matthews, don't seem to get it (bolding mine).

Four years after 9/11 and the "crazy zeitgeist" that permeated the United States, most Americans have still not learned to know their enemies instead of just hating them, U.S. political journalist Chris Matthews says. ...

"The period between 9/11 and Iraq was not a good time for America. There wasn't a robust discussion of what we were doing," Matthews said.

"If we stop trying to figure out the other side, we've given up. The person on the other side is not evil -- they just have a different perspective."

As Clayton Cramer points out, their "different perspective" is one that allows them "behead[] a bunch of teenaged girls because they attended a Christian school in Indonesia".

Sally B. Donnelly reports that battalion commanders with experience on the ground in Iraq have told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they want more troops, in contrast to what the top brass has been saying, but she doesn't mention that this "shortage" could be an integral part of President Bush's "flypaper" strategy.

According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Army and Marine officers were blunt. In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat.

There are about 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, a number U.S. commanders in the region plan to maintain at least through the Iraqi national assembly elections on Dec. 15. But the battalion commanders, according to sources close to last week's meeting, said that because there are not enough troops, they have to "leapfrog" around Iraq to keep insurgents from returning to towns that have been cleared out.

It may be the case that allowing openings for terrorists is part of the strategy. If we sent another 100,000 troops to Iraq and clamped down hard, the thousands of foreign terrorists we've killed might not have decided to come to Iraq at all. The President is constantly referring to Iraq as "terrorist flypaper"; even though the terrorists don't comprehend that they're being lured to their deaths, I don't think we should be so naive. I'm not saying I think this is the greatest strategy ever, and the short-term appearance has certainly hurt the President's popularity, but I think the strategy is at least reasonable and it has the potential to work profoundly well.

Drudge is running the headline "Happy Holidays: GM to Cut 30,000 Jobs, Close 9 Plants" with definite implications as to the unfairness of it all, but this sort of creative destruction is exactly what makes America's economy so strong, and the fact that you'd never see such a headline in Western Europe should tell you everything you need to know about their economic weakness.

General Motors Corp. will eliminate 30,000 jobs and close nine North American assembly, stamping and powertrain plants by 2008 as part of an effort to get production in line with demand and position the world's biggest automaker to start making money again after absorbing nearly $4 billion in losses so far this year. ...

The 30,000 job cuts represent about 9 percent of GM's global work force of about 325,000 people.

"The decisions we are announcing today were very difficult to reach because of their impact on our employees and the communities where we live and work," Wagoner told employees. "But these actions are necessary for GM to get its costs in line with our major global competitors. In short, they are an essential part of our plan to return our North American operations to profitability as soon as possible."

Assuming Wagoner knows what he's talking about, his actions fall squarely into the realm of reasonable and responsible management. He has a duty to the owners of the company -- the millions of shareholders -- to handle their investments profitably. As for the economy itself, eliminating these jobs is a double-win, because not only will less manpower be wasted on unneeded effort, that same manpower can be redirected towards useful endeavors -- a minus is turned into a plus.

And yes, I've been laid-off before, I work in aerospace!

Been working like mad on the last phase of my dissertation, but I think I'm finally getting close. My advisor wants me to finish by the end of the (calendar) year, so I'm really pushing it. I spent most of the weekend neglecting my wife, buried away in my office writing, and I expect much of this week will be spent likewise. It's kinda sad, but my first thought upon having a three-day work week (due to Thanksgiving) is that it'll give me more time to work on my dissertation. Sigh. I can't wait to be done with the thing.

No matter what you personally believe about the origin of our universe you must agree that the Vatican's chief astronomer is unfamiliar with the Bible. Says the Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory,

"If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly."

Rather, he argued, God should be seen more as an encouraging parent.

"God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity," he wrote. "He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves."

Basically, I have no idea what that even means. It's fluff. God "continuously creates" the world, but that doesn't count as "intervening"? It's just foolish nonsense. No matter what you believe about the universe, I hope it makes more sense than that.

Job 38:1-11

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:

2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?

3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.

5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-

7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels [a] shouted for joy?

8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,

9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,

10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,

11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt'?

In a response to the unfortunately sparse coverage of the witch-hunt targeted at former Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Ken Tomlinson, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has struck back in his defense against CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz. Some of the accusations against Tomlinson revolve around his support for a news show developed by the Journal in an attempt to keep the network from careening off the leftmost edge of reality, so the editors know whereof they speak.

The real story is that Mr. Tomlinson was a rare political appointee who took seriously CPB's mandate to pursue balanced programming. As even Mr. Konz concedes in his report, under federal law CPB is required to review "national broadcasting programming for quality, diversity, creativity, excellence, innovation, objectivity and balance." And he also concludes that "CPB's actions were consistent with their responsibilities under the Public Telecommunications Act of 1992."

Most nominees to these broadcast boards enjoy the perquisites of the job and do nothing. An avowed conservative, Mr. Tomlinson sought to restore balance to a PBS lineup he saw as skewed left, especially the "Now" program with Mr. Moyers that had become the cornerstone of PBS's public-affairs lineup in the wake of 9/11. Moreover, he did so openly, appearing everywhere this spring to make his case. He was similarly open about his support for the Journal program. ...

Some of our friends think it was a mistake to attempt a show on PBS given our opposition to its funding over the years. And let's be clear: We haven't changed our minds. If there ever was a need for PBS, there isn't now in a world of hundreds of TV channels. But as long as PBS exists, we don't see any reason that its prime time public-affairs programming should be a satrapy of Bill Moyers and a single point of view. If Mr. Tomlinson made a mistake, it was in believing that "public broadcasting" is supposed to represent all of the public.

Most people probably don't care a whit about public broadcasting, which I suppose is yet another reason for it to be abolished, but if we've got to have it I don't think it's wrong to expect it to actually be objective rather than to spew leftist propaganda.

Quick, call the UN!

Anyway, the Los Angeles Times has an interesting, if shallow, article about the discovery of a mass grave containing 45 members of the Mayan royal family. I love history, so if anyone can find any other articles about this site I'd love to read them.

Archeologists excavating the ruined Guatemalan city of Cancuen have stumbled across the remains of what they believe is one of the pivotal events in the collapse of the Maya civilization — the desperate defense of the once-great trading center and the ritual execution of at least 45 members of its royal court.

An enemy as yet unknown not only wiped out the royal dynasty about AD 800, but systematically eliminated religious and cultural artifacts — in effect, killing the city and leaving it abandoned to the elements, according to new research announced Wednesday.

The archeological team found dozens of remarkably preserved skeletons piled in mass graves, as well as other artifacts, indicating what the lead researcher described as "a war crimes scene."

After the siege of Cancuen, cities in the western Maya lowlands in what is now Guatemala were abandoned, most within 20 to 30 years, the researchers said. The displaced populations moved to the east and north, where they eventually depleted local resources and faded away.

"This was a critical historical moment, like the assassination of [Austrian] Archduke [Franz] Ferdinand [which triggered] World War I," said archeologist Arthur A. Demarest of Vanderbilt University, whose team discovered the charnel house this summer. "It set off the domino of Classic Maya collapse."

Time to go learn more about the Maya civilization!

I just wanted to share that I've bought six 20-ounce bottles of Diet Coke over the past couple of weeks and won three free 1-liter bottles! Supposedly the chance of winning is 1-in-6, so it looks like I'm beating the odds. Since three liters is over 100 ounces, I've gotten 220 ounces for the price of 120 ounces -- a spectacular 45% discount! This really makes my day.

I can't think of a worse idea than giving the UN control over the internet. I mean, c'mon... seriously. Despite what should be the obvious absurdity of it all, Claudia Rosett explains some of the many reasons why the Tyrannical Dictator's Club shouldn't get to regulate the net.

As usual, the U.N. for reasons sadly unrelated to actual performance, is styling itself as the champion of the poorest people, in the poorest countries. (This is the same U.N. that still hasn't repaid or even apologized to the people of Iraq for the billions worth of their national assets that were grafted, stolen and wasted under U.N. supervision in the Oil for Food program). In the face of mounting public concern over the Tunis summit, Secretary-General Kofi Annan betook himself recently to the pages of the Washington Post to argue that the main aim is "to ensure that poor countries get the full benefits that new information and communication technologies--including the Internet--can bring to economic and social development." Mr. Annan concluded with what I suppose was meant to be a clarion call: "I urge all stakeholders to come to Tunis ready to bridge the digital divide," etc., etc.

What Mr. Annan evidently does not care to understand, and after his zillion-year career at the U.N. probably never will, is that for purposes of helping the poor, the problem is not a digital divide. It is not the bytes, gigs, blogs and digital wing-dings that define that terrible line between the haves and the have-nots. These are symptoms of the real difference, which we would do better to call the dictatorial divide.

In free societies, all sorts of good things flourish, including technology and highly productive uses of the Internet. In despotic systems, human potential withers and dies, strangled by censorship, starved by central controls, and rotted by the corruption that inevitably accompanies such arrangements. That poisonous mix is what prevents the spread of prosperity in Africa, and blocks peace in the Middle East, and access to computers, or for that matter, food, in North Korea (which is of course sending a delegate to Tunis).

But never mind the realities, as long as Mr. Annan and his entourage see an opportunity for more U.N. turf, job patronage, global clout and funding (including the prospect of a "ka-ching" for the U.N. cash register every time someone logs on). Leading the charge, with policy documents posted on the U.N. information summit site, are such terrorist-breeding blogger-jailing regimes as those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, and such millennial pioneers of backward motion on free speech as Belarus and Russia. China's rulers, who have recently been availing themselves of modern technology to censor the Chinese word for "democracy" out of Internet traffic, and to track down and punish its users, have been toiling away to add their two cents to this summit. Sudan, better known for genocide than free speech, has registered to set up a pavilion. Were Saddam Hussein still in power in Iraq, as Mr. Annan tried to arrange, the odds are good that a front company for his regime, with U.N. blessing, would be setting up a booth in Tunis as well.

The UN can't even manage a single office building. I can't believe my tax dollars are still paying Kofi Annan's salary.

I generally believe that the way to deal with speech you don't like is to counter it with more speech you do like. Limits on speech almost always cause more harm than good, but I sympathize with Hungarians and Austrians who believe that Communist symbols and holocaust denial (respectively) are beyond the pale of public discussion. Considering the millions of deaths attributable to Communists and Nazis I can understand why the people most damaged by those ideologies would want to suppress their resurgence. Still, I tend to think that it would be better to fight bad speech with good speech rather than coercive government force.

Eugene Volokh agrees, as I figured he would.

So now that Jessica and I are married we're trying to donate our RV to charity for the tax write-off. Yay. The towing company was supposed to haul it off yesterday between 11am and 1pm, but the guy brought the wrong size tow-truck, apparently not realizing that a "Dodge Sportsman RV" is not a sportscar. Fine. So they rescheduled for today between 12pm and 2pm, but when 2pm rolled around there was so sign of the truck so I called the towing company again. Their tow-truck got a flat tire. I'm not kidding. Supposedly they're going to actually show up to tow off the RV today between 4pm and 6pm, but I'm not holding my breath.

I think Mark Steyn may be my favorite columnist because he finds brilliant, pithy turns of phrase that perfectly capture my positions on just about everything. For instance, in his essay on "Big Government, Small Citizens":

This is the paradox of “social democracy”. When you demand lower taxes and less government, you’re damned by the left as “selfish”. And, to be honest, in my case that’s true. I’m glad to find a town road at the bottom of my drive, and I’m happy to pay for the army and a new fire truck for a volunteer fire department every now and then, but, other than that, I’d like to keep everything I earn and spend it on my priorities.

The left, on the other hand, offers an appeal to moral virtue: it’s better to pay more in taxes and to share the burdens as a community. It’s kindler, gentler, more compassionate, more equitable. Unfortunately, as recent European election results demonstrate, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: once a fellow’s enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about the broader societal interest; he’s got his, and if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he’s dead, it’s fine by him. “Social democracy” is, in that sense, explicitly anti-social.

Somewhere along the way these countries redefined the relationship between government and citizen into something closer to pusher and junkie. And once you’ve done that, it’s very hard to persuade the junkie to cut back his habit. Thus, the general acceptance everywhere but America that the state should run your health care: A citizen of an advanced democracy expects to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, hundreds of movies at the DVD stores and millions of porno sites on the Internet, but when it comes to life-or-death decisions about his own body he’s happy to have the choice taken out of his hands and given to the government.

I'm going to add him to my list of people I want to meet.

If your state had a problem with serial killers selling their art for profit I don't think you really need to be worrying about the limits of free speech, you need to be figuring out why your serial killers haven't been executed yet.

BOSTON (Reuters) - An online auction of artwork by a serial sex killer triggered outrage in Massachusetts on Tuesday where lawmakers proposed to block criminals from profiting on what they called "murderabilia," setting off a debate on free speech rights of prisoners.

A colored pencil sketch of Jesus Christ kneeling in a desert by Alfred Gaynor, a serial killer serving four life sentences for sodomizing and choking to death four women, went on sale on Tuesday on a Web site operated by a prisoner advocacy group.

It was one of nearly 300 artworks offered for auction through December 18 on The Fortune Society's Web site. If sold, nearly all proceeds from the work entitled, "A Righteous Man's Reward," will go to Gaynor, the group said.

Massachusetts' main problem is that it doesn't have a death penalty (source: If you execute serial killers then you don't have to worry about their speech.

A comment from Sandi has led me to reconsider the whole issue of women and humor.

What you haven't noted is that women are programmed by their "fathers and fathers fathers" as little girls to laugh at mens inferior juvenile humor when we do NOT think they are funny at ALL. Men tell tell jokes mostly at womens expense which are only funny to men (because they hate/envy women too - like you) I'm sorry that in life, women didn't find you funny (found you boring instead) and they think you're a retard. It sounds like a bunch of moron women and men brought you up so of course you wouldn't be exposed to anyone that had anything to offer because they certainly wouldn't have anything to do with you. Good heavens knows it certainly burns your ass when women like Margret Cho murder crowds all over the country. I suggest shock treatment and a sex change maybe you won't be so venmous. Thanks. Bye bish.

Anyone who cares about the future of Europe should read Mark Steyn's take on the doom of France (free registration required).

It’s remarkable to me how many European commentators cling to the old delusions — mocking Bush for being in thrall to his own Texan version of Osama-like fundamentalism. I look on religion like gun ownership. That’s to say, New Hampshire has a high rate of firearms possession, which is why it has a low crime rate. You don’t have to own a gun and there are sissy Dartmouth College arms-are-for-hugging types who don’t. But they benefit from the fact that their crazy stump-toothed knuckle-dragging neighbours do. If you want to burgle a home in the Granite State, you’d have to be awfully certain it was the one-in-a-hundred we-are-the-world pantywaist’s pad and not some plaid-clad gun nut who’ll blow your head off before you lay a hand on his $70 TV. That’s the way it is with religion. A hyper-rationalist might dismiss the whole God thing as a lot of apple sauce, but his hyper-rationalism is a lot more vulnerable in a society without a strong Judaeo-Christian culture. American firearms owners have a popular slogan: ‘If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.’ Likewise, if you marginalise religion, only the marginalised will have religion. That’s why France’s impoverished Muslim ghettos display more cultural confidence than the wealthiest enclaves of the capital.

Cultural confidence. I like the term. Just because you want to get along and co-exist with everyone doesn't mean they feel the same.

Yeah! What's cooler than partying with your mom? Nothing I can think of! Anyway, the so-called "cool mom" who hosted sex and drug parties for her kids and their friends is going to jail for 30 years. Seems excessive to me, considering that there are no allegations of violence that I'm aware of.

An Arvada mother tearfully apologized Monday and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for hosting sex-and-alcohol parties for teenagers.

Silvia Johnson, 41, pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of sexual assault, and nine counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Prosecutors said between 2003 and 2004, Johnson held 15 to 20 parties at her home and gave teens alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamines. She also confessed to having sex with two of the teenage boys.

If she had been prosecuted for distributing the drugs I suppose I could support a sentence of 10-15 years, but "contributing to the delinquency of a minor"? C'mon. Of course, most of the sentence is probably due to the sexual assault charges, the victims of which were 15 and 17. Yes, that's super creepy and disgusting, but last time I checked even 15-year-olds know all about sex, and most of them are doing it.

I don't know the details of the assault charges, but considering that armed robbers and violent rapists tend to get less than 10 years in prison it's hard to see how this sentence is justified.

I know that not everyone in America is fortunate enough to be a native English speaker, but if you can't speak English then you shouldn't work at the Post Office.

I myself am not very gifted in the language department so I completely sympathize with people who have a tough time with English, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to require customer service people to know how to communicate with their customers. I've been to the same Post Office Jessica is referring to, and I think I've had the same cashier, but back when she was in training. The employee training her had to demonstrate to her how to physically take my driver's license from my hand and then how to return it to me because the woman seemed utterly incapable of performing even his simple task. At the time I was pretty confident she was mentally retarded. Which is fine, but again, she's probably in the wrong career path.

The Wall Street Journal has published a list of quotes by lont-time contributor Peter F. Drucker who recently passed away. His insights will be valuable to anyone who is interested in understanding the philosophy behind successful American capitalism. A taste:

From "How to Save the Family Business," Aug. 19, 1994: Family members working in the business must be at least as able and hard-working as any unrelated employee. In a family-managed company, relatives are always "top management," whatever their official job or title. On Saturday evenings they sit at the boss's dinner table and call him "Dad" or "Uncle." Mediocre or lazy family members are therefore--rightly--resented by non-family co-workers, and respect for top management and the business as a whole rapidly erodes. Capable non-family people will simply not stay, and the ones who do soon become courtiers and toadies. It is much cheaper to pay a lazy nephew not to come to work than to keep him on the payroll.

In a post about the winners and losers of last week's elections, John Fund cites a statistic that should scare Californians who just rejected Arnold's attempts to decrease the stranglehold of unions on the state:

For now, the unions are flush with victory and their success in humbling Mr. Schwarzenegger. But their victory may be a Pyrrhic one if it accelerates the flight of California private-sector jobs and capital to other states, taking the source of much-needed government revenue at the same time. Even the most powerful economic engines can rust. Take New York City, which today has the same population it did two generations ago but a total of 30% more government workers. During the same period, the number of Fortune 500 headquarters in New York City has dwindled to 30 from 140. When the unions win too much political clout, the overall economy inevitably suffers.

I love Los Angeles, but I worry about the city's long-term viability.

Jane Galt, a generally pro-choice libertarian sort, has a great essay about abortion and responsibility that parallels most of my own opinions on the matter.

If I don't use my birth control correctly--if I forget a pill, don't notice my patch has fallen off, use a petroleum-based lubricant that dissolves latex, or decide to go without a condom or my diaphragm "just this once"--am I responsible for the pregnancy that results? Damn straight.

If paying attention to really rather simple instructions, which are included right in the box, is truly beyond your abilities, then you need to be in a state home where you can be taken care of like the mental infant you are. This is not to say that everyone who has an accident is a mental infant--it seems like every third morning I forget either my asthma pills, or my inhaler, and yet I have my own apartment and student loans and everything. But if I have an asthma attack because of this, it's my own damn fault. I can't blame anyone else, or the universe, for something that I could easily have prevented with a little more care.

Given those rates, it seems safe to say that at least 80% of couples who got pregnant while "using" birth control are responsible for what happened to them.

Then, of course, there are the people who unintentionally got pregnant while not using birth control--although I don't see how you can call this "unintentional". It's rather like "unintentionally" getting fat while eating supersize McDonalds meals three times a day.

... I think that responsibility does matter. If you knowingly take a risk, and something happens, society rightfully does less to help you avoid those consequences than if you were just touched by the fickle finger of fate. And intuitively, people are, and I believe will remain, far more horrified by the woman who is on her fourth abortion because she just can't be bothered to use birth control consistently, than by that 1-in-200 woman who found out, the hard way, that she's one of those lucky few who just don't respond well to the pill.

The most offensive aspect of abortion is that many women use it as a form of birth control. Jane Galt has more thoughtful posts about abortion if you scroll through her archives towards the future.

I really think that the Senate should consider Judge Alito's whole record, and the White House should vigorously defend his positions, which are shared by most conservatives. This is the battle conservatives want to fight. We want to convince our fellow Americans that the principles espoused by Judge Alito are right and worthy of their support.

Although Judge Alito's conservatism has not been particularly evident in his legal rulings, it was abundantly clear in his job application 20 years ago.

"I believe very strongly in limited government, federalism, free enterprise, the supremacy of the elected branches of government, the need for a strong defense and effective law enforcement, and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values," he wrote.

"In the field of law, I disagree strenuously with the usurpation by the judiciary of decision-making authority that should be exercised by the branches of government responsible to the electorate," he added.

The document also provides the clearest picture to date of Mr. Alito's intellectual development as a conservative.

"When I first became interested in government and politics during the 1960s, the greatest influences on my views were the writings of William F. Buckley Jr., the National Review, and Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign," he said. "In college, I developed a deep interest in constitutional law, motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment."

Unfortunately some Republicans are shying away from the discussion and attempting to avoid confrontation.

A leading Republican involved in the nomination process insisted that this does not prove Judge Alito, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, will overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion a constitutional right.

"No, it proves no such thing," said the Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "In fact, if you look at some of the quotes of his former law clerks, they don't believe that he'll overturn Roe v. Wade."

In contrast to the sentiment underlying that equivocation, I believe that the majority of Americans can be convinced that the states should be allowed to handle the abortion issue without federal intervention. I believe that conservatives can win this fight head-on, and that we'll never have a better opportunity to pick it. Rather than trying to obfuscate and dismiss Judge Alito's beliefs, the Republican party should stand behind them and convince the American people that more power should be returned to the democratic branches of government.

I don't understand the big to-do about drones flying over American cities. UAVs that can hover, track and perch will be America's first line of defense against radiological and chemical weapons. Even aside from terrorism concerns, police use helicopters to follow criminals all the time, and at exorbitant costs. These UAVs will be far cheaper than manned helicopters, more capable, and safer for pilots and civilians on the ground. They'll be quieter, use less fuel, and won't unionize. It's a winning combination for everyone.

For more information on some commercial fixed-wing UAVs that are also seeing plenty of military use, check out the AeroVironment's product line.

I've mentioned before that I'm not a geek because despite my degree in computer science I'm not really an obsessive technophile. Even though I'm proficient, I don't really enjoy digging around in my computer, and I'm never the first one one the block to adopt new technology. Part of it comes down to my cheapness frugality, but I also get really frustrated when things I buy don't just work right.

Over the weekend I finally purchased a Firewire card and ordered an external DVD writer, the Sony DRX720UL/T, which got good reviews everywhere and came with some bundled Nero software. I resisted buying a DVD writer for so long because I was too lazy to figure out all the different DVD formats and so forth, but now that I've got a digital video camera and a family to record I suppose it's about time I figure it out.

Following up my discovery of Google's SMS service, Bob Roth pointed me to another similar service (that he works for) called 4INFO that has even more features. Pretty handy for when you're standing in Fry's and trying to figure out if their prices are any good.

Here's a good bandwidth test that will evaluate your internet connection, courtesy of Stanford University.

I absolutely have to pick up a copy of Peter Schweizer's new book Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy. In an interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez for the National Review Online he gives us a taste of the goodies therein:

Michael Moore is constantly trying to prove his and the Left's moral superiority, so he says things about himself that are patently not true. He's pathological about it. How else to explain that he's loudly proclaimed no less than three times that he doesn't invest in the stock market because it's morally wrong while quietly picking up shares in a whole host of companies. A portfolio that includes Halliburton, Boeing, and HMOs doesn't fit the bill so he lies about it. I think he assumed that no one would poke around and investigate. When it comes to the MSM he was correct in making that assumption. ...

Nancy Pelosi bashes everyone who doesn't allow unions to call the shots. Everyone that is except herself. It's takes an amazing amount of gall to accept the Cesar Chavez Award from the United Farmworkers Unions while using non-UFW workers on your Napa Valley Vineyard. It takes the same to praise the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union and take massive sums of money from them all the while keeping them out of your Hotel and chain of restaurants. But again, I think Pelosi correctly assumes that no one in the media will challenge her on this. ...

I didn't go through Bab's trash. All the info in the book was obtained legally and ethically. Streisand's annual water bill of $22,000 to keep her lawn green is relevant because she made it relevant: She's constantly lecturing ordinary Americans about the need to cut back on our consumerist culture. Maybe if she turns off the taps she'll have some legitimate grounds for making the claims she does. ...

Noam Chomsky thinks he's the Moses of this age and even those on the Left who don't agree with him on everything accept his moral authority. But Chomsky is a socialist who practices capitalism, and an anti-militarist who has made millions off of Pentagon contracts. Wonder what his followers would think of that? Then there is his constant lecturing about "tax gimmicks" and "tax shelters" that "the rich" use to avoid paying their "fair share." He must have forgotten about that when he set up his tax shelter. ... I give credit to Chomsky for responding to my questions. His excuses were something to behold. No wonder he teaches linguistics. It's amazing how he twists his words. By the way, he said it was okay to criticize other rich people for setting up trusts and setting one up himself. After all, he explained, he's been fighting for poor people his whole life. ...

I'm not sure that most people take Franken seriously, but the media most assuredly does. He professes to be more than a comedian. He claims to be a political analyst and apparently wants to be a U.S. senator. (His former writing partner says he really wants to be president. Yikes!) His vicious attacks against conservatives as racists are not meant to be funny. He really does think that we're bigots. So questions about his absolutely abysmal record when it comes to hiring minorities should be exposed. (For those who want a hint, less than one percent of his employees have been black. That's a worse record than Bob Jones University, which Franken claims is "racist.")

And so forth and so on. Given my own experience with leftists, I'm only surprised that the book was kept to a slim 272 pages. In response to the argument that "we're all hypocrites":

Yes, we are all hypocrites and I talk about that in the book. But liberal hypocrisy and conservative hypocrisy are quite different on two accounts. First, you hear about conservative hypocrisy all the time. A pro-family congressman caught in an extramarital affair, a minister caught in the same. This stuff is exposed by the media all the time. The leaders of the liberal-Left get a complete pass on their hypocrisy. Second, and this is even more important, the consequences of liberal hypocrisy are different than for the conservative variety. When conservatives abandon their principles and become hypocrites, they end up hurting themselves and their families. Conservative principles are like guard rails on a winding road. They are irritating but fundamentally good for you. Liberal hypocrisy is the opposite. When the liberal-left abandon their principles and become hypocrites, they actually improve their lives. Their kids end up in better schools, they have more money, and their families are more content. Their ideas are truly that bad.

Pretty much!

There are some transitive verbs with very few acceptable direct objects. For instance, the only thing to suborn is perjury, and the only thing to foment is rebellion. Can anyone think of any others?

Why is it that the concept of "privilege" has been created to shelter communications between lawyers and clients and doctors and patients, but the contents of a person's own journal or diary can be used against him in court? I bet more public figures would keep diaries for the sake of history, like President Lincoln did, if they knew their own words couldn't be subpoenaed as evidence.

Using cell phones to monitor traffic is an excellent example of how reducing privacy can lead to increases in efficiency and productivity.

Several state transportation agencies, including those in Maryland and Virginia, are beginning to test technology that allows them to monitor traffic by tracking cellphone signals and mapping them against road grids. The technology highlights how readily cellphones can become tracking devices for companies or government agencies - a development that troubles privacy advocates.

These new traffic systems can monitor several hundred thousand cellphones at once. The phones need only be turned on, not in use. And sophisticated software now makes it possible to discern whether a signal is coming from, say, a moving car or a pedestrian.

State officials say the systems will monitor large clusters of phones, not individual phones, and the benefits could be substantial. By providing a constantly updated picture of traffic flow across thousands of miles of highways, they argue, cellphone tracking can help transportation agencies spot congestion and divert drivers by issuing alerts by radio or on electronic road signs.

One estimate in the article is that such a system could reduce congestion by half in some circumstances, resulting in incredible gains for individuals and for the economy. The downside is that the government, or some private corporation, could track the movements of large aggregates of people in real time -- and perhaps even specific individuals. Any given person can simply turn off their cell phone to avoid being tracked, but that choice brings its own costs. In the end, no one will be able to have it all.

I don't know how most people define "frequent", but I fly a few times per year and don't belong to any frequent flyer programs... am I missing out on something big? I've heard, somewhere, that frequent flyer miles are the second most in-use currency in the world, second only to the US dollar, but I've never come across a plan that really sounds like it would be worth the effort to join. Are my flights just not frequent enough?

Gary at Marginal Revolution has a piece about the true value of frequent flyer programs and gives several examples of major airlines being saved from or financed through bankruptcy purely to preserve the value of their frequent flyer programs for the credit cards they're tied to.

# When United entered bankruptcy, BankOne (since acquired by JP Morgan Chase) provided $500 million in debtor-in-possession financing. The bank needed the airline to survive because their most profitable credit card product is the United Visa. JP Morgan has now stepped up as a major provider of United’s bankruptcy exit financing.

# American Express pre-paid the purchase of $500 million worth of Skymiles to try to keep Delta out of bankruptcy. Again, an airline was kept afloat because it was needed to sustain a credit card business.

# American Express required that Delta make its first action in bankruptcy a request to the Court to reaffirm its frequent flyer obligations, just as United had done in its first bankruptcy action.

What's more, when spun off as an independent corporation, a frequent flyer program can make more money than the airline it's tied to. There's something strange going on here; hopefully someone can figure it out.

For you real frequent flyers, here's a cool Yahoo tool that lets you find the cheapest places you can fly from where you are. Change the airport code it find cheap fares from anywhere to everywhere.

I love statistics, so I'm facinated by these two applications of statistics to the future of human civilization. First up, the Doomsday Argument, which uses statistics to demonstrate that humanity must be close to extinction.

The Doomsday argument was conceived by the astrophysicist Brandon Carter some fifteen years ago, and it has since been developed in a Nature article by Richard Gott [1993], and in several papers by philosopher John Leslie and especially in his recent monograph The End of The World (Leslie [1996]). The core idea is this. Imagine that two big urns are put in front of you, and you know that one of them contains ten balls and the other a million, but you are ignorant as to which is which. You know the balls in each urn are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 ... etc. Now you take a ball at random from the left urn, and it is number 7. Clearly, this is a strong indication that that urn contains only ten balls. If originally the odds were fifty-fifty, a swift application of Bayes' theorem gives you the posterior probability that the left urn is the one with only ten balls. (Pposterior (L=10) = 0.999990). But now consider the case where instead of the urns you have two possible human races, and instead of balls you have individuals, ranked according to birth order. As a matter of fact, you happen to find that your rank is about sixty billion. Now, say Carter and Leslie, we should reason in the same way as we did with the urns. That you should have a rank of sixty billion or so is much more likely if only 100 billion persons will ever have lived than if there will be many trillion persons. Therefore, by Bayes' theorem, you should update your beliefs about mankind's prospects and realise that an impending doomsday is much more probable than you have hitherto thought.

Followed a decade later by Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument.

ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

As Tyler Cowen points out, there are problems with both arguments since we have no reason to believe we are "random samples" of humans from which legitimate generalizations can be drawn.

If you haven't read many math articles you may not be familiar with Paul Erdős, which is your loss.

Although he was famous and the recipient of many awards, worldly goods meant little to him; and as a philanthropist, he donated most of the money he got from awards or other sources to people in need and various worthy causes. He spent most of his life as a "vagabond," travelling between scientific conferences and the homes of colleagues all over the world. He would typically show up at a colleague's doorstep and announce "my brain is open," staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom he (Erdős) should visit next. His working style has been humorously compared to traversing a linked list.

As his colleague Alfréd Rényi said, “a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems,” and Erdős drank plenty of it. After 1971 he also took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, who bet him $500 that he could not stop taking amphetamines for a month. Erdős won the bet, but complained that mathematics had been set back by a month. He complained, "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." The bet won, he promptly resumed his habit.

He had his own idiosyncratic vocabulary: he spoke of "The Book," an imaginary book in which God had written down the best and most elegant proofs for mathematical theorems. Lecturing in 1985 he said, "You don't have to believe in God, but you should believe in The Book." He himself doubted the existence of God, whom he called the "Supreme Fascist" (SF), but accused the SF of hiding his socks, Hungarian passport, and the best equations. When he saw a particularly beautiful mathematical proof he would exclaim, "This one's from The Book!". Other idiosyncratic elements of Erdős' vocabulary include: children were referred to as "epsilons"; women were "bosses"; men were "slaves"; people who stopped doing math had "died"; people who died had "left"; alcoholic drinks were "poison"; music was "noise"; and, to give a mathematical lecture was "to preach." Also, all countries which he thought failed to provide freedom to individuals as long as they did no harm to anyone else were classified as Imperialism and given a name that began with a lowercase letter. For example, the U.S. was "samland" (after Uncle Sam), the Soviet Union was "joedom" (after Joseph Stalin), and Israel was referred to as "israel." For his epitaph he suggested the saying "Finally I am becoming stupider no more" (Hungarian: "Végre nem butulok tovább").

Truly a strange and invaluable man. Also of interest may be the Erdős number: because Paul Erdős published more than 1500 articles, most with co-authors, modern mathematicians keep track of the degrees of authoring that separate them from his prodigious record (similar to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon).

Wow this is sweet, Google has a free SMS query service that lets you get quick answers to common questions from your mobile phone. They even have a handy wallet-size tip sheet in case you forget how to use the service. Keen!

Larry Kudlow had a great post about the boiling competition between Microsoft and Google -- and between Google and everyone else -- that speaks very highly of the American economy.

Google is the elephant in boardrooms all across America.

You can’t turn a single newspaper page these days without coming across yet another story about Google barreling headfirst into some new industry. As discussed here last Thursday, Google has its sights set upon many of the market’s major players, including Meg Whitman’s eBay. You’d have to be living in a cave not to know that Google’s ravenous appetite knows no bounds. The company shows no imminent signs of losing its grip on its ace-in-the-hole advertising model, and is moving full speed ahead, bursting through fences and into the backyards of established industries including book publishing, telecommunications and software. ...

Look at what Bill Gates had to say about Google in Sunday’s New York Times. "This is hyper-competition, make no mistake," Microsoft's chairman and Chief Software Architect said. "The magic moment will come when our search is demonstrably better than Google's." Looks like Google has ruffled Mr. Gates’ feathers doesn’t it? ...

As I’ve written here before, "our resilient free-market capitalist economy continues to be the envy of all our neighbors. We have the greatest workers and the greatest companies in the world. The formidable combination of low tax-rates on capital, deregulation, strong productivity, Schumpeterian “gales of creative destruction” spawned by bold entrepreneurs who continue to reshape our prosperity, along with record wealth creation and low unemployment, have all conspired to turn the U.S. into the single greatest economy in the world."

Despite predictions a decade ago about a perpetual Microsoft hegemony, it looks like our capitalist system has managed to give rise to some considerable competition, which is good for all of us.

Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have an insightful article in The Weekly Standard that outlines an amazing number of programs that Republicans should consider advocating in order to build a truly unassailable majority. I don't agree with all their implementation details, but I think they identify a great many problems that (inevitably) big-government conservatives could address that would open the party's tent and expand the base.

How did things reach this pass? One difficulty, as a host of delighted Democrats have pointed out, is that a party ideologically committed to a small government may be ill-equipped to run a large one. Many honest small government conservatives aren't interested in overseeing programs that they would prefer to see slashed or abolished, so their place has been filled by an assortment of cynical operators, for whom the only guiding principle is to keep Republicans (and themselves) fat, happy, and securely in power.

But a larger problem is that even the more idealistic aspects of the GOP program--Bush's vision of an "ownership society," the pursuit of a politically risky Social Security privatization plan--have been ill-suited to the present political climate, and to the mood of the American people. It's not just that the American people have shown little appetite of late for dramatically shrinking the scope of the federal government, or taking more economic responsibility into their own hands--it's that there's shrinking support for such goals among reliable Republican voters.

I am a small-government Republican, but since it seems that most of the country wants a somewhat-large government it makes sense to think about how to make the best of that situation. Even though I don't think large government is the best tool to use, many people do, and the Republican party needs to offer up some solutions that appeal to the voters and that do the best that can be done with the smallest government people will accept.

Given that voters apparently want the government meddling in their lives, I think we Republicans can come up with some better policies than those from the left, and Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam take a good stab at it. Their conclusion is that Republicans should adopt the British Tories' theory of "And" conservatism:

So today's Republican party should be in favor of helping recent immigrants get ahead and slowing the flow of illegal labor--in favor of providing a helping hand to the hard working poor and cutting subsidies to the idle and shiftless--in favor of a tax policy that favors the working class and the productive rich. Above all, it should be in favor of limited government, and in favor of using government's considerable power to shore up the institution that makes a limited government possible--the beleaguered but resilient American family.

Critics will carp that such a party would be trying to be too many things to too many people. But there's a term for a party that attempts this feat and succeeds: a majority party.

Last time I checked the "And" theory isn't working very well for the Tories, but there's a lot in this essay that's worth considering.

(HT: Michael Barone.)

"The pen is mightier than the sword", so what's the most powerful word?

You are bidding on a vintage Christian Dior hat!

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer, says that the CIA is fundamentally unserious about maintaining cover for its agents.

• Fact: The vast majority of CIA officers overseas operate with little to no cover and have done so since the foundation of the post-World War II clandestine service in 1947. Most case officers posted abroad carry official cover, which usually means they serve as fake diplomats. The use of official cover allowed the agency to grow rapidly in the 1940s, when panic about Soviet expansionism was real and America's experience with espionage and global secret services was small. Developing an agency weighted in favor of nonofficial-cover officers would have been vastly more difficult, time-consuming, and not necessarily useful for a CIA aimed overwhelmingly at massive covert-action programs that did not require officers to be particularly stealthy in their daily routines.

Today, operational camouflage is usually shredded within weeks of a case officer's arrival at his station, since the manner, method and paperwork of operatives is just too different from real foreign-service officers. (Even if the CIA really wanted to fix this inadequate verisimilitude--and it does not--it probably couldn't reconcile the differing demands and bureaucracies of the two institutions.) Minimally competent foreign security services know a great deal of what occurs inside U.S. embassies and consulates since these institutions are completely dependent upon local employees--the State Department calls them "foreign-service nationals"--who, through patriotism or coercion, often report on the activities of their employers.

Regarding Joseph Wilson and his "covert" wife Valerie Plame:

angley's systemic sloppiness--the flimsiness of cover is but the tip of the iceberg of incompetence--has repeatedly destroyed agent networks and provoked "flaps" with some of our closest allies. A serious CIA would never have allowed Mr. Wilson to go on such an odd, short "fact finding" mission. It never would have allowed Ms. Plame potentially to expose herself by recommending such an overt mission for her mate, not known for his subtlety and discretion. With a CIA where cover really mattered, Mr. Libby would not now be indicted. But that's not what we have in the real world. We have an American left that hates George W. Bush and his vice president so much that they have become willing dupes in a surreal operational stage-play. You have to give credit to Langley: Overseas it may be incompetent; but in Washington, it can still con many into giving it the respect and consideration it doesn't deserve.

Disheartening to someone who cares about American security and likes to think that someone is actually on top of things.

Multiple-murderer Andrea Yates gets another trial because the psychiatrist who testified that she was mentally sound when she killed her five children mistakenly hypothesized that she might have gotten the idea to do so from an episode of Law & Order.

Andrea Yates, who was convicted of murder in the drownings of her children, will have to be retried, Texas' highest criminal court ruled today.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that threw out Yates' murder convictions because of mistaken testimony by a prosecution psychiatrist. ...

The First Court of Appeals in Houston overturned the convictions last January because of testimony from prosecution psychiatrist Park Dietz, who said Yates was healthy enough to know what she was doing.

Dietz also suggested that Yates got the idea for the murders from an episode of a television show for which he consulted. However, it turned out no such episode existed.

Who cares where she got the idea from? What does that have to do with anything? How ridiculous.

The only interesting thing about the Panther Cheerleader sex-in-the-bathroom-not-really story is that the girls lost their jobs because of their embarrassing conduct.

An ex-Carolina Panthers cheerleader charged with giving police a false name during her arrest at a bar has denied accounts that she was having sex with another cheerleader in a restroom stall.

Renee Thomas, 20, also accused of hitting a bar patron, is charged with giving a false name and causing harm to another, a third-degree felony punishable by probation or a jail term of up to five years. The second cheerleader, Angela Keathley, 26, is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. ...

The cheerleaders were not in town to perform at the game, and the team said both were fired from the TopCats squad for violating a signed code that bans conduct embarrassing to the Panthers.

Someone let me know when an athlete is fired for "embarrassing conduct"... not that mere assault could possibly embarrass most athletes.

Given the best opportunity in years to begin dragging our state back from the brink of destruction, California voters appear to be balking. I'm very discouraged to see every proposition I backed losing except for, at this moment, Proposition 75 which will protect the dues of union workers. Ah well; in the end that may turn out to be the most important proposition on the ballot.

Update, the next morning:
Nope, they all failed. Good job California. Sigh. Someone was telling me about some great tech jobs in Idaho.... Turnout was a miserable 42.6 percent, which means that if enough Republicans had felt connected to the issues and interested in changing the status quo we could have passed every proposition handily.

I won't fall into the Democrat's trap of blaming the "stupid" voters or attributing these losses to "bad communication". I honestly think Californians either like the way things are, don't want to improve their lot, or don't think it's possible. So it goes. We have to do more convincing, I suppose.

The only good news is that my mom won re-election in our local school board election. Congrats!

(HT: Patterico.)

... which isn't bad, as long as the ships belong to the other guy. In 1982 CIA scientists learned from a defector that the Soviet Union was intending to steal some software systems for operating its trans-Siberian natural gas pipeline. With President Reagan's approval they slipped some malicious code into the software and caused the largest non-nuclear man-made explosion in history.

"Reading the material caused my worst nightmares to come true," Weiss recalled. The documents showed the Soviets had stolen valuable data on radar, computers, machine tools and semiconductors, he wrote. "Our science was supporting their national defense."

The Farewell Dossier included a shopping list of future Soviet priorities. In January 1982, Weiss said he proposed to Casey a program to slip the Soviets technology that would work for a while, then fail. Reed said the CIA "would add 'extra ingredients' to the software and hardware on the KGB's shopping list."

"Reagan received the plan enthusiastically," Reed writes. "Casey was given a go." According to Weiss, "American industry helped in the preparation of items to be 'marketed' to Line X." Some details about the flawed technology were reported in Aviation Week and Space Technology in 1986 and in a 1995 book by Peter Schweizer, "Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union."

The sabotage of the gas pipeline has not been previously disclosed, and at the time was a closely guarded secret. When the pipeline exploded, Reed writes, the first reports caused concern in the U.S. military and at the White House. "NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based," he said, referring to North American Air Defense Command. "Or perhaps it was the detonation of a small nuclear device." However, satellites did not pick up any telltale signs of a nuclear explosion.

"Before these conflicting indicators could turn into an international crisis," he added, "Gus Weiss came down the hall to tell his fellow NSC staffers not to worry."

This sort of counter-espionage helped strangle the Soviets' spy apparatus by casting all their stolen technology into doubt, contributing to their ultimate economic downfall. Alas, the Soviet turncoat who provided the information that made the sabotage possible was discovered and executed by the KGB in 1983.

A pair of stories from China illustrate how freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand-in-hand. Many conservatives (especially Christians, like myself) advocate moral positions that I generally agree with and are eager to ban sexually explicit material; however, when a government has the power to decide who gets to say what, it's generally easier to ban Bibles than to ban pornography.

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced a Protestant minister, his wife and her brother to prison terms of up to three years for illegally printing Bibles and other Christian publications, one of their lawyers said.

The conviction of house church minister Cai Zhuohua, 34, and his family by the Beijing People's Intermediate Court came days before U.S. President George W. Bush arrives for a state visit.

In atheist China, printing of Bibles and other religious publications need special approval from the State Bureau of Religious Affairs. Bibles cannot be openly bought at bookshops in a country long criticized overseas for intolerance of religion.

And from the second story:

BEIJING (AFP) - China's media watchdog has launched a monitoring system to step up surveillance of illegal websites with sexual and violent content.

The General Administration of Press and Publication has already issued warnings to 53 websites that provide downloads for pornographic games, the communist party mouthpiece People's Daily reported Tuesday.

The 14 games included "Lives filled with the blessing of sex," "Love the sisters" and "Artificial young girls," it said.

The move was launched in a bid "to safeguard the order of the Internet, purify the web environment and to protect the physical and mental health of the youths," the report said.

Even though freedom can be used for disgusting, evil purposes, God created humanity with free will for a reason: he wants us to choose to do right. If we try to take that freedom away from other people we diminish their God-likeness and we risk giving others the power to restrict our preaching of the gospel.

I'm an expert on catching dropped soap in the shower and I'm always getting emails and phone calls from people asking for tips. Well, having superior natural abilities is important, such as lightning fast reflexes and a killer instinct, but the determining factor is generally technique. Most novice soap-catchers try to grab the soap from the top as it's falling, with one of two results: either the soap gets clubbed to the ground by the flailing hand, or the fingers actually do grasp the soap but fail to get a grip and the soap goes shooting out in some random direction. Fools!

The only way to reliably, safely catch falling soap is from below! Simply cup your hand and gently position it under the soap. The slippery devil will land gracefully in your fleshy bowl, and once you've arrested its momentum you can curl your fingers around it to maintain possession -- but only after the soap is securely nestled in your palm!

Yeah suckers, I voted according to the California proposition voters' guide I wrote two months ago! Take that, forces of tyranny and evil!

Meanwhile, Todd Zywicki points to an article by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt about why economists don't vote.

Why would an economist be embarrassed to be seen at the voting booth? Because voting exacts a cost - in time, effort, lost productivity - with no discernible payoff except perhaps some vague sense of having done your "civic duty." As the economist Patricia Funk wrote in a recent paper, "A rational individual should abstain from voting."

The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim. This was documented by the economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter, who analyzed more than 56,000 Congressional and state-legislative elections since 1898. For all the attention paid in the media to close elections, it turns out that they are exceedingly rare. The median margin of victory in the Congressional elections was 22 percent; in the state-legislature elections, it was 25 percent. Even in the closest elections, it is almost never the case that a single vote is pivotal. Of the more than 40,000 elections for state legislator that Mulligan and Hunter analyzed, comprising nearly 1 billion votes, only 7 elections were decided by a single vote, with 2 others tied. Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many more people vote, only one election in the past 100 years - a 1910 race in Buffalo - was decided by a single vote.

But there is a more important point: the closer an election is, the more likely that its outcome will be taken out of the voters' hands - most vividly exemplified, of course, by the 2000 presidential race. It is true that the outcome of that election came down to a handful of voters; but their names were Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. And it was only the votes they cast while wearing their robes that mattered, not the ones they may have cast in their home precincts.

I met dozens of economists (and economics majors) at UCLA, none of whom voted. I'm sure there are thousands of such economists in the country who don't bother to vote.

But wait a minute, you say. If everyone thought about voting the way economists do, we might have no elections at all. No voter goes to the polls actually believing that her single vote will affect the outcome, does she? And isn't it cruel to even suggest that her vote is not worth casting?

This is indeed a slippery slope - the seemingly meaningless behavior of an individual, which, in aggregate, becomes quite meaningful. Here's a similar example in reverse. Imagine that you and your 8-year-old daughter are taking a walk through a botanical garden when she suddenly pulls a bright blossom off a tree.

"You shouldn't do that," you find yourself saying.

"Why not?" she asks.

"Well," you reason, "because if everyone picked one, there wouldn't be any flowers left at all."

"Yeah, but everybody isn't picking them," she says with a look. "Only me."

And that's the point! Economists' group-think has politically castrated their profession. Each individual economist is too smug to vote, but wait... those thousands of votes actually could affect an election! Since economists tend to be conservative/libertarian leaning, their smugness reduces the chances that the policies I prefer will get enacted.

John S. Cooper has a fascinating account of the presidential election of 1876 in which Rutherford B. Hayes arguably stole the presidency from Samuel Tilden through electoral college shenanigans and back-room dealings. I never learned in history class that 19th century American politics was filled with such corruption -- assuming the essay is substantially true.

Rutherford Birchard Hayes' victory over Samuel J. Tilden in the election of 1876 was the closest in our history. In fact, many people consider the man inaugurated in March 1877 was not the winner at all. In the Electoral College, only one vote separated the two candidates, still a record for the closest election. It is how those votes were won that created a constitutional crisis and threatened to start another civil war. ...

When the election was over, it looked as though the Democrats had indeed won by an electoral vote of 204-165. But late on the election night, a democratic state chairman wired the New York Times asking nervously for the latest totals from three states (Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina) saying "Please give your estimate of electoral votes secured for Tilden. Answer at once." A Republicans editor, John Reid, wired other Republican leaders that if "...they want to know the electoral vote, that means they are not certain they have won. If they are still in doubt, then we can go on from here and win the election."

Read it all. I love history.

I still want one of these Elite Wicked Lasers, but now I want the 125mW model.

Release the energy of a star in the palm of your hand as a coherent beam of light, leaving nothing but a scorching path of destruction in its wake! Eye protection is highly recommended. Only : $559.99

Spies should be executed:

Four persons arrested in Los Angeles are part of a Chinese intelligence-gathering ring, federal investigators said, and the suspects caused serious compromises for 15 years to major U.S. weapons systems, including submarines and warships. ...

The ring was led by Chi Mak and his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, along with Mr. Chi's brother, Tai Wang Mak, and his wife, Fuk Heung Li, officials said.

Key compromises uncovered so far include sensitive data on Aegis battle management systems that are the core of U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers.

China covertly obtained the Aegis technology and earlier this year deployed its first Aegis warship, code-named Magic Shield, intelligence officials have said.

The Chinese also obtained sensitive data on U.S. submarines, including classified details related to the new Virginia-class attack submarines.

Officials said based on a preliminary assessment, China now will be able to track U.S. submarines, a compromise that potentially could be devastating if the United States enters a conflict with China in defending Taiwan.

Mr. Chi, an electrical engineer, also had access to details on U.S. aircraft carriers and once was aboard the USS Stennis. A Pentagon report made public earlier this year said China's military is building up capabilities to attack U.S. aircraft carriers.

China also is thought to have obtained information from the spy ring that will assist Chinese military development of electromagnetic pulse weapons -- weapons that simulate the electronic shock caused by a nuclear blast -- that disrupt electronics.

It also is thought to have obtained unmanned aerial vehicle technology from the spy ring.

China is not our friend and we shouldn't trust them. Security leaks like these cost America billions of dollars and certainly contribute to thousands of potential deaths, not to mention potential military defeat. The spies should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

In the face of continuing rebellion, Jacques Chirac is talking tough and sounding a lot like a local "cowboy" we all know and love.

The violence came in open defiance to a warning by French President Jacques Chirac who pledged to clamp down on the troublemakers.

Chirac emerged from an emergency meeting with top members of his Cabinet on Sunday to tell his nation that the "absolute priority is to reestablish security and public order."

"The law should have the final say, and the republic is determined to be stronger than those who want spread violence and fear. Those people will be apprehended, judged and punished."

I know 13 years is a long time, but I still can't help feeling a little smug when I think back to how the French responded after Los Angeles' Rodney King riots. (HT: Kyle Haight in the comments to an earlier post.)

Back in the 1990s, the French sneered at America for the Los Angeles riots. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported in 1992: "the consensus of French pundits is that something on the scale of the Los Angeles riots could not happen here, mainly because France is a more humane, less racist place with a much stronger commitment to social welfare programs." President Mitterrand, the Washington Post reported in 1992, blamed the riots on the "conservative society" that Presidents Reagan and Bush had created and said France is different because it "is the country where the level of social protection is the highest in the world."

Meanwhile, am I the only one wondering if all the battles Muslims are fighting around the world may be their own fault? Maybe they need to learn to be more tolerant.

Every few decades or so the French feel the need to riot through the streets and burn their country to the ground... all that's left is to whip out the guillotines and let the heads roll.

ACHERES, France (AP) - Youths armed with gasoline bombs fanned out from Paris' poor, troubled suburbs to shatter the tranquility of resort cities on the Mediterranean, torching scores of vehicles, nursery schools and other targets during a 10th straight night of arson attacks. ...

The violence - originally concentrated in neighborhoods northeast of Paris with large immigrant populations - is forcing France to confront long-simmering anger in its suburbs, where many Africans and their French-born children live on society's margins, struggling with unemployment, poor housing, racial discrimination, crime and a lack of opportunity. ...

Arson attacks were reported in the Paris region and outlying cities, many known for their calm. Cars were torched in the cultural bastion of Avignon in southern France and the resort cities of Nice and Cannes, a police officer said.

Arson was reported in Nantes in the southwest, the Lille region in the north and Saint-Dizier in the Ardennes region east of Paris. In the eastern city of Strasbourg, 18 cars were set alight in full daylight, police said. ...

By daybreak Saturday, 897 vehicles were destroyed - a sharp rise from the 500 burned a night earlier, police said. It was the worst one-day toll since the unrest erupted Oct. 27 following the accidental electrocution of the two teenagers who hid in a power substation, apparently believing police were chasing them.

I just hope the sixth republic isn't an Islamic Republic. Seriously though, these are the jokers who had the nerve to lecture us about peace and justice? It won't be long before they'll need their own UN peacekeeping team.

In a result that I find to be both groundbreaking and inevitable (based on my earlier musings about law and technology), a panel of Florida judges has ruled that the source code behind a device used to create criminal evidence must be disclosed to the defense team.

A three-judge panel in Sarasota County said that a defense expert must have access to the source code--the secret step-by-step software instructions--used by the Intoxilyzer 5000. It's a simple computer with 168KB of RAM (random access memory) that's manufactured by CMI of Owensboro, Ky.

"Unless the defense can see how the breathalyzer works," the judges wrote, the device amounts to "nothing more than a 'mystical machine' used to establish an accused's guilt."

This is completely rational since there's no other way to prove that the device hasn't been tampered with by police and that it's working as was intended when when it was certified for use as evidence. Similar reasoning requires that the internals of any hardware/software system should be made available to the defendant of any criminal case in which such a system plays an evidentiary role. For example, if a person is put on trial for embezzlement and an accounting balance sheet is used as evidence, the defendant should insist on access to the source code of the accounting software in question to ensure that it hasn't been modified to falsely incriminate him.

The right to examine source code used to generate evidence is necessary to remove reasonable doubt from criminal cases -- and the more technology involved in the case the more inherent doubt it creates. Such a right will make it harder to prosecute information-based crimes, and will also further endanger the (already doomed) protections enjoyed by intellectual property, but I don't see any alternative since any properly positioned defendant can otherwise so easily claim to have been framed by malicious software.

(HT: Eugene Volokh.)

Dorrance Smith, former head of the Iraqi Television Network, has an essay outlining the collaboration between terrorists, al-Jazeera, and the American news media.

On April 11, Jeffrey Ake, an American, was taken hostage in Iraq. Video of him in captivity was shown on al-Jazeera on April 13. A short time later six American networks--ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC--aired the same video, a vivid example of the ongoing relationship between terrorists, al-Jazeera and the networks. Last week, al-Jazeera showed video of a helicopter being shot, bursting into flames and trailing smoke as it fell to the ground. It also aired video of the lone survivor being forced to walk on a broken leg and then being shot by the terrorists, one of whom said, "We are applying God's law."

As the war continues, more hostages will be taken and acts of murderous violence committed--leading to more videos for al-Jazeera and the networks. Isn't it time to scrutinize the relationship among al-Jazeera, American networks and the terrorists? What role should the U.S. government be playing? ...

While I was in Iraq in 2004, Al-Jazeera was expelled from the country by the Iraqi Governing Council for violating international law. Numerous times they had advance knowledge of military actions against coalition forces. Instead of reporting to the authorities that it had been tipped off, Al-Jazeera would pre-position a crew at the event site and wait for the attack, record it and rush it on air. This happened time after time, to the point where Al-Jazeera was expelled from Iraq. The airing of the Ake video, however, demonstrates that it can still operate on behalf of the terrorists even from outside the country. ...

In addition to being subsidized by Qatar, Al-Jazeera has very strong partners in the U.S.--ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Video aired by Al-Jazeera ends up on these networks, sometimes within minutes. The terrorists are aware of this access and use it--as in the Ake case--to further their aims. They want to reach the American audience and influence public opinion.

The arrangement between the U.S. networks and Al-Jazeera raises questions of journalistic ethics. Do the U.S. networks know the terms of the relationship that Al-Jazeera has with the terrorists? Do they want to know?

Terrorists use the murder of innocents as a currency to purchase airtime on American news networks. The money the networks make as a result is soaked in blood.

Although I don't have any problem with billionaires tromping around the world in wide-body private jets, it does strike me as spectacularly disingenuous for any such billionaires who are environmentally conscious to excuse their excess by appealing to their "net impact" on the environment.

On the road, Sergey Brin and Larry Page have owned environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. In the air, they apparently prefer something roomier.

Google Inc.'s two billionaire founders, both 32 years old, will soon be cruising the skies in a Boeing 767 wide-body airliner. They bought the used plane earlier this year, Mr. Page says. ...

The purchase of a wide-body jet for personal use might seem at odds with the Google founders' support for environmental causes. The company gives employees $5,000 if they buy hybrid gas-electric cars, for example.

Mr. Page, in response, notes a recent investment that Mr. Brin made on behalf of the co-founders and Mr. Schmidt in a $550-million fund to help finance projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. "We've worked very hard to make sure our [net] impact on the environment is positive," Mr. Page says.

It's nice that billionaires can have their cake and eat it too, but does their wealth really give them the right to condemn the rest of us for purchasing the highest level of convenience, safety and cleanliness that our meager incomes can afford? Which is more extravagent and luxurious: buying a jumbo jet, or being able to offset that jet by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on pet projects?

In my experience, this sort of calculation is pretty common among celebrities and other leftist "limousine liberals" who want to "save the world" so long they can find a way to excuse themselves from obeying the facist, busy-body rules they make for the rest of us.

Time Chapman has posted a revealing internal Senate email from one staffer to a group of others. The bolded text is from the original email.

Well… Here we are. The end is drawing near, and since it’s been so long, I wanted to check in with you all and confirm your priority lists. Please send me an updated list of priorities. Remember, we will start at the beginning of your list and fund down until we run out of money. So if you spend big… you’ll likely only get one or two projects. Please respond to this e-mail even if your list has not changed, so that I can be sure that your Senator’s needs are being addressed. Hope all is well. If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail or call.

As Mr. Chapman points out, there's no mention of not spending some of the money or of using any of it to offset the costs of Hurricane Katrina.

(HT: Instapundit.)

In my first post about abortion and responsibility I discussed some of the profound inequities that arise when fathers are allowed no input into the decision over whether or not to have an baby. Women cannot be forced to face the consequences of their actions by being required to care for a baby, but men are routinely forced to financially support children they never wanted or were tricked into conceiving. Women can abort or put a baby up for adoption and men are essentially powerless to either protect their child or to absolve themselves of responsibility. Despite our culture's dogmatic support of women's "choice", men have none.

Along these same lines, Cathy Young has an excellent article about a man's right to choose and how men and fathers should fit into the abortion controversy.

Advocates of "choice for men" have a point when they charge that there is a certain hypocrisy in these declarations [that it's biology's fault that women have the upper hand], now that the link between sex and procreation has ceased to be binding for women. "We are no longer being truthful when we chide the male defendant: 'It took two to make the baby,'" writes Fred Hayward. "It might have taken two to conceive an embryo, but thanks to legalized abortion, only one person controlled whether or not the baby was made."

Some maverick feminists agree with this view. Karen DeCrow, an attorney who served as president of the National Organization for Women from 1974 to 1977, has written that "if a woman makes a unilateral decision to bring pregnancy to term, and the biological father does not, and cannot, share in this decision, he should not be liable for 21 years of support ... autonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice."

Yet, by and large, feminists and pro-choice activists have not been sympathetic to calls for men's reproductive freedom. "If there is a birth, the man has an obligation to support the child," says Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "The distinction with respect to abortion is the physical toll that it takes on a woman to carry a fetus to term, which doesn't have any translation for men. Once the child is born, neither can walk away from the obligations of parenthood." (Actually, a woman can give up the child for adoption, often without the father's consent, and be free of any further obligation.)

Indeed, on the issue of choice for men, staunch supporters of abortion rights can sound like an eerie echo of the other side: "They have a choice -- use condoms, get sterilized or keep their pants on." "They should think about the consequences before they have sex." (The irony is not lost on men's choice advocates or pro-lifers.)

Unlike Cathy Young I'm opposed to the vast majority of abortions anyway, and the gross unfairness of the status quo as she describes it merely underscores the moral vacuity required to justify legalized abortions of convenience. I hope that this unfairness will ultimately be resolved by the outlawing of most abortions, and I think Miss Young identifies one way in which technology might help bring about that cultural shift.

Some day, perhaps in our lifetime, science will add a new wrinkle to these issues. Reproductive technology will have advanced to the point where the fetus can be taken from the womb early in the pregnancy, with no more medical risk than an abortion, and incubated until it becomes viable. Will the law then allow the man to petition for custody of the unborn child if the woman doesn't want it? Will he be able to sue her for child support afterward? Will many feminists argue that it's an intolerable violation of a woman's reproductive freedom that her child should be brought into the world without her consent, let alone that she should be stuck with the bill?

It's just too bad that so many people have to die in the meantime.

Paul Hsieh from GeekPress just emailed me to ask about how happy I am with my purchase five months ago of an elliptical machine. I used to be an ardent runner, doing 12-15 miles per week, but my knees started hurting and after hearing horror stories from other runners I decided I needed to switch to a lower-impact exercise routine. So I bought the cheapest elliptical machine from my nearest Wal-Mart (under $150) and stuck it in my garage in front of the TV.

For the past five months I've used it 3-4 times per week for 30 minutes at a stretch, and it's been great. I put it together myself and the only shortcoming I noticed was that it required a generous drenching with WD-40 before it would run smoothly. The factory greasing wasn't sufficient to keep the machine from squeeking and rattling, but the WD-40 did the trick.

In use, I don't think the digital display is very accurate. It says that exercising for 30 minutes at one of the highest tension settings only results in me burning 12-15 calories, which I think it's low by a factor of 20 or so. A good rule of thumb is that running a mile burns around 100 calories, and the elliptical machine is quite a bit harder than running and utilizes far more muscle groups. The digital odometer and speedometer may be the roots of the problem, since after 30 minutes they show me having gone a mere 0.6 miles. Anyway, your mileage may vary... literally.

Having used my el cheapo model for five months, I don't see any reason buy a more expensive model. Mine doesn't have electronically variable tension or allow you to program "tracks" like some others do, but you can adjust the tension manually any time you want -- why pay hundreds of dollars more for a machine that does it for you? Mine seems to be holding up well under regular use, and I have no reason to believe that it won't last a few years.

Here's an excellent page with information about how to adjust a chocolate chip cookie recipe to achieve different results, such as chewier, crispier, fluffier, cakier, and so forth. Very handy.

My recipe is pretty simple. Start with:

1 cup sugar
1.5 cups brown sugar
1.25 cups butter
2 eggs

Mix that all together and then add:

1 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp vanilla
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt

And gradually stir in:

3.5 cups of flour
12 oz of chocolate chips

Bake at 400 degrees for 9-10 minutes. I make large cookies, and this recipe comes out chewy and flat. Mmmmm.

Former Congressmen Pat Schroeder and Bob Barr have written a column in the Washington Times decrying Google's new Google Print service that allows users to search through the full text of books, many of which are still under copyright protection. Setting aside the gross unfairness of continual copyright term extensions (which now protect a work for 70 years after the creator's death), the principle analogy used in this article to criticize Google is pretty weak.

Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt has argued the "fair use" provision in copyright law allows Google to scan copyrighted books and put them on their Web site without seeking permission. He compares this to someone at home taping a television show and watching it later. Taped TV show are watched in millions of households every night and is quite legal; rebroadcasting that show to make a buck is not.

So would Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Barr feel more comfortable if Google Print were only available to Google shareholders? If that were the case, then no "rebroadcast" would be occuring, since the material would only be being used by those who made the copies.

The basic problem here is that, as rich as some people have gotten by selling intellectual property, it seems inevitable that technology will eventually make it impossible to protect intangible forms of ideas. I'm not sure whether this change will good or bad, but it's really only a side effect of technological advancement that in many other ways brings about unambiguous good, and I don't think there's any going back. The software and music industries are dealing with it, the movie industry is starting to deal with it, magazines and newspapers are adapting to survive in the new environment, and there's no reason to expect the publishing industry to be exempt.

I'm amazed to find myself on the same side of an issue as Kweisi Mfume, former CEO of the NAACP, but I'm even more amazed that other leftist politicians (of every color) are so disguistingly racist.

Three of Maryland's top Democrats -- including the two leading candidates for governor next year -- declined to repudiate comments by black Democratic leaders who said racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele are fair because he is a black conservative Republican. ...

But Kweisi Mfume, who is running for senator, yesterday outright condemned the comments by his fellow black Democrats.

"Racially tinged attacks have no place in this campaign for U.S. Senate," said Mr. Mfume, who has chided his party's lack of support for his campaign. "If they did, I could very well be the object of public racial humiliation, based on my skin color, by people who don't like my politics."

"Black bigotry can be just as cruel and evil as white bigotry. There are too many bigots in too many places," Mr. Mfume said, repeating a common refrain from his speeches.

These "racially tinged attacks" against Michael Steele include pelting him with Oreo cookies (to indicate that he's "black on the outside, but white on the inside"), calling him an "Uncle Tom", and equating him to a house slave because he isn't a leftist Democrat.

Despite Mr. Mfume's proper condemnation, there may still be some confusion among his staffers.

Even the spokesman for Mr. Mfume's campaign said pelting Mr. Steele with Oreo cookies and calling him an "Uncle Tom" are simply "pointing out the obvious."

"There is a difference between pointing out the obvious and calling someone names," Mfume spokesman Joseph R. Trippi said Tuesday.

Some other Democrats have come out against this blatant racism, such as Delegate Dereck Davis and U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn; I suppose these two deserve the modicum of praise due to all of us who aren't racist bigots.

For the record, Joe Trippi says that he was misquoted, and based on his phrasing it's pretty clear that he was.

Two days ago I received a call from reporter S.A. Miller of the Washington Times — he asked me if I condoned throwing Oreo cookies at Lt. Gov Steele or calling him an “Uncle Tom”. My immediate response was that such attacks “were dispicable and have no place in American politics — that such attacks were repugnant”

You can not find that quote in either of two Times stories on the subject.

Miller later in the interview asked me if race would be an issue — I said that civil rights and discrimination were obvious issues that mattered and that there was a diference “between stating the obvious and calling someone names” — and used a recent controversy over a fundraiser for Gov. Erlich as an example of something that was obviously an issue and not name calling.

Following up on my list of Los Angeles neighborhoods, here's a listing of Wikipedia entries of Los Angeles area freeways:

- The 10, the Santa Monica Freeway
- The 90, the Marina Freeway
- The 91
- The 101, the Hollywood Freeway
- The 105, the Century Freeway
- The 110, the Harbor Freeway
- The 210, the Foothill Freeway
- The 405, the San Diego Freeway
- The 605
- The 710, the Long Beach Freeway

Also important, Los Angeles area traffic information.

Wikipedia has an excellent set of entries on neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles, but there isn't a single index that points to all of them. So here's a list of the districts in the Greater Los Angeles Area that I find interesting; some are cities on their own, and some are sections of Los Angeles or other cities that have distinct individual identities for local area residents. I've lived in many of these areas, and if there are others that you think are important then let me know! (Also see my entry about Los Angeles area freeways.)

- East Los Angeles
- South Central
- South Bay
--- Beach Cities
--- Palos Verdes
- The Valley
- Westside
--- Brentwood
--- Century City
--- Culver City
--- Mar Vista
--- Marina Del Rey
--- Palms
--- Playa Vista
--- Santa Monica
--- Venice
--- Westwood

The California proposition numbering scheme may be of interest to other California residents. Ballot proposition numbers may appear to the casual observer to change randomly every year, but there actually is a system.

If all these warnings are not daunting enough, one must remember that until 1982, proposition numbering began with 1 for each election. Following the November 1982 General Election, propositions were numbered consecutively. This numbering scheme will begin again with Proposition 1 in the November 3, 1998, in accordance with Elections sec. 13117, as it is a ten year rotation.

That Los Angeles County Law Library link above also contains a list of links to every California proposition from throughout history.

The Daily Breeze has another article up about the November 8th election, this time going into more detail about the issues facing the incoming Wiseburn School Board.

The west Hawthorne-based system has already rebuilt Anza Elementary from the ground up, and it has plans to rebuild Dana Middle School. But rising construction costs will leave little money to reinvent Cabrillo Elementary.

In addition, local development is expected to create more than 1,300 new addresses in the years ahead, leaving Wiseburn's leaders to decide whether they want to expand enrollment or restrict the number of out-of-district permit students, who now account for about a third of the total population.

And then there's the local campaign to secede from the Centinela Valley Union High School District by adding a high school.

It's all very exciting local politics, and the plans bode well for property values if everything goes as expected.

Based on the recent acquisition of Weblogs Inc. by America Online, my blog, Master of None, is worth more than $120,000. Any takers? If you act fast I'll give you a 50% discount off the retail price.

My blog is worth $120,811.56.
How much is your blog worth?

(HT: GeekPress and TNL.)

The case of Chester D. Turner is a perfect example of how a database of criminals' DNA can help solve past crimes and prevent future ones. Californians passed Proposition 69 in 2004:

The new law, officially called the DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act, is expected to add the genetic data of 1 million people to California's databank over the five years, making it the largest state-run DNA databank in the country.

The law, approved by 62 percent of the state's voters in the Nov. 2 election, allows police to take DNA samples from every adult and juvenile convicted of a felony and from all adults arrested for specific felonies such as sexual assault and murder. In 2009, the law will be broadened to enable police to gather DNA data from anyone arrested for any felony -- ranging from residential burglary to murder -- whether or not they are ever charged or convicted with a crime.

Does this raise privacy concerns? As I've written in my series about the future of law enforcement, I don't like the idea of police robots scouring the sidewalks for DNA from spit and then mailing tickets to the offenders. But California's current law is limited to felons (and suspected felons, which is more troubling, granted), and may assist in revealing and prosecuting monsters like Chester D. Turner.

A former pizza deliveryman accused of being one of the city's most prolific serial killers was ordered Tuesday to stand trial on charges of murdering 10 women, two of whom were pregnant.

Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders ruled during a preliminary hearing that there was sufficient cause to believe Chester D. Turner committed the slayings that occurred from 1987 to 1998.

Turner, 38, is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in an unrelated rape case. Pounders set a Nov. 15 arraignment date.

Turner's DNA was matched to sperm cell evidence from the bodies of all the victims, said Carl Matthies of the police department's scientific investigations division. The likelihood of the genetic profile belonging to someone other than Turner was one in one-quintillion, Matthies said.

It doesn't look like the DNA database authorized by Proposition 69 was involved in making this connection, but I don't have any doubt that once the system is implemented it will yield similar results.

If we're going to kill baby seals for their fur, we may as well eat "the veal of the sea".

My mom, Jo Anne Kaneda, and the other incumbent school board members on her slate have received an excellent endorsement for their re-election from the Daily Breeze, the South Bay's most important newspaper. Not that many of my readers will be eligible to vote in this election on November 8th, but it's still pretty exciting for us.

Do you want to make more money? Of course, we all do! Clayton Cramer links to an article about a study that appears to show that church attendance leads to increased wealth.

"Doubling the frequency of attendance leads to a 9.1 percent increase in household income, or a rise of 5.5 percent as a fraction of the poverty scale," Jonathan Gruber of the economics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in his study.

"Those with more faith may be less 'stressed out' about daily problems that impede success in the labor market and the marriage market, and therefore are more successful," Gruber wrote in the study, which was released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

I haven't read the actual study -- so it may merely show correlation rather than causation, as Mr. Cramer assumes -- but the language chosen by Mr. Gruber implies otherwise. The bolded phrase above says "leads to", which implies that his study demonstrated more than correlation; researchers are generally careful to distinguish (or they should be, at least). I may track down the paper itself when I have the time.

For more on the silliness of calls for "unity", I refer you to Mark Steyn's recent column on the virtues of confrontation.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, on this week's whirlwind tour of the Great Satan, the Prince of Wales "will try to persuade George W Bush and Americans of the merits of Islam…because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since September 11". His Royal Highness apparently finds the Bush approach to Islam "too confrontational".

If the Prince wants to take a few examples of the non-confrontational approach with him to the White House, here's a couple pulled at random from the last week's news: the president of Iran called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". Kofi Annan expressed his "dismay".

Excellent. Struck the perfect non-confrontational tone. Were the Iranian nuclear programme a little more advanced and they'd actually wiped Israel off the map, the secretary-general might have felt obliged to be more confrontational and express his "deep concern".

In Sulawesi, Indonesia, three Christian girls walking home from school were beheaded.

"It is unclear what was behind the attack," reported the BBC, scrupulously non-confrontationally.

In the Australian state of Victoria, reports the Herald Sun, "police are being advised to treat Muslim domestic violence cases differently out of respect for Islamic traditions and habits". Tough luck for us infidel wife-beaters, but admirably non-confrontational Islam-wise.

The main difficulty the Left faces is that they are afraid to confront anyone or anything because their ideology prevents them from convincing themselves that any position is better than any other. Self-contradictory, I know, which is why they have such a hard time writing coherent policy or getting elected.

Richard Miniter has an excellent article debunking the common myth of "suitcase nukes". He goes to great lengths to explain why they don't exist, never existed, and are not a real terrorism threat. To steal his conclusion:

For now, suitcase-sized nuclear bombs remain in the realm of James Bond movies. Given the limitations of physics and engineering, no nation seems to have invested the time and money to make them. Both U.S. and the USSR built nuclear mines (as well as artillery shells), which were small but hardly portable--and all were dismantled by treaty by 2000. Alexander Lebed's claims and those of defector Stanislev Lunev were not based on direct observation. The one U.S. official who saw a small nuclear device said it was the size of three footlockers--hardly a suitcase. The desire to obliterate cities is portable--inside the heads of believers--while, thankfully, the nuclear devices to bring that about are not.

The essay also provides a fascinating glimpse into Russian and American nuclear security.

Despite recent cries from Democrats that President Bush nominate a Justice who "unifies" America, I haven't been able to find any mention of such a criteria in the Constitution. Aside from that, I'm not even sure why anyone thinks a Supreme Court Justice should be expected to "unify" Americans, considering that they have almost no public role and shouldn't be making decisions based on popular positions or inclinations.

"In 1990, a Democrat-controlled Senate unanimously confirmed Judge Alito as a circuit judge," Mr. Frist said in a statement dispatched 27 minutes before President Bush announced his selection. "I hope that my colleagues will give his nomination a fair opportunity this time as well."

Moments later, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee, took to the ramparts opposite Mr. Frist.

"It is sad that the president felt he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America instead of choosing a nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor, who would unify us," he said. "This controversial nominee, who would make the court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and from the American people."

Senators and Representatives certainly make no attempt to "unify" any citizenry who aren't in their legislative districts, and their success at "unification" is measured only once every few years when there's an election. I've never heard a politician standing for election claim that he's hoping to "unify" the electorate and receive 100% of the vote, or 90%, or even 80%. Even presidential candidates often write off entire states as unwinnable. Why should Supreme Court Justices be expected to "unify" anyone?

It's nice for everyone to be in agreement, but in politics the likelyhood of such comity is inversely proportional to the importance of the issue at hand. Even after 9/11 it barely took a month for Democrats to begin undermining the President, and many of their constituents agreed with them; however, enough disagreed that the Republicans were able to gain a majority in the Senate, thus meeting the Constitutional requirement for decision-making.

Even aside from the absurdity of applying the "unity" standard to Supreme Court Justices, "unity" is a fabricated goal generally advocated by those who can't cross the 50% + 1 line that's needed to get their agenda enacted. For some reason, calls for "unity" always assume that the majority should yield to the minority for the sake of fraternity rather than the other way around. If Senator Schumer wants America to be unified behind a Supreme Court nominee, then why doesn't he surrender his ideology and lead his peers in support of Judge Alito? If he's unwilling to do so, they why should he expect the President to surrender his ideology when making a nomination?

I like the general thrust of the tax reforms being proposed by the President's special commission. They sound like a step in the right direction towards simplification, even though they don't go far enough towards a flat tax to make me ecstatic.

Under the plan, most deductions, credits and other tax breaks would be eliminated along with much of the paperwork and equations that baffle taxpayers under a drastically simplified income tax. ...

Under one plan, individuals would pay no tax on dividends paid by U.S. companies and exclude 75 percent of their capital gains from taxation. Under the second plan, all investment income would be taxed at 15 percent.

Both proposals would abolish the alternative minimum tax, a levy originally drafted to prevent wealthy individuals from escaping taxation but increasingly reaching into the middle class. They also would eliminate federal deductions and credits for mortgage interest, state and local taxes and education, among others.

The advisory commission would replace those withdrawn tax breaks with simpler benefits, including three savings plans that supplant dozens currently available for retirement, medical expenses and education.

Removing deductions for state and local taxes is important because these deductions enabled local governments to set tax rates with little consideration for their impact on citizens, since they'd be paying the money to the feds if not elsewhere. It also makes a lot of sense to simplify the number of savings plans available; it's a matter I've been interested in recently, but I can't even figure out plans exist, much less how to take advantage of them properly.

Bush set certain limits on the panel, requiring that the new plans collect as much tax money as the government collects now.

The proposals also had to retain the progressive system that taxes wealthier taxpayers at higher rates than poorer individuals and families. They were also required to recognize "the importance of homeownership and charity in American society."

Hopefully a simpler tax code will evnetually allow for a lighter tax burden without all the political wrangling, but President Bush was smart to leave that battle for the future. This tax reform commission hasn't had a high profile up till now, but if the President can make these changes happen they will make a significant contribution to his legacy and to America's future.

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