June 2003 Archives

I enjoyed the beach bonfire that I went to on Saturday so much that I built my own fire pit this afternoon! $20 will buy you a lot of bricks at Home Depot... around 500 pounds, actually. I hauled them into my backyard, assembled them in a pit-like formation, and I'm ready to go!

Marshmallows -- check.
Wood -- check.
Skewers -- check.
Lighter fluid -- check.
Garden hose, just in case -- check, and mate.

I had my first bonfire tonight, and I roasted marshmallows to perfection. The fire pit worked excellently, and it's probably the coolest thing I've built in a while. There's something primal about cooking over an open flame -- I'm a pyro, anyway -- and I expect to make good use of my new pit this summer. If anyone wants to come over for a real caveman BBQ, just say the word!

I saw "28 Days Later..." last night, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The premise was a little far-fetched, but that's expected when you lay down your $7.50 for a horror flick. I'm not going to summarize the plot, and I'll try not to spoil too much, but you may want to stop reading if you don't want to know what happens.

Ok then. Far-fetched premise: a virus that's passed through the blood turns humans into mindless killing machines (zombies, if you will) 10-20 seconds after infection. Not likely. The infected people then spend most of their time lounging around, waiting for uninfected people to walk by so they can infect them. What's with that? Why don't the zombies fight and eat each other? No explanation.

The movie isn't scary in the traditional horror sense, but it is rather spooky. The opening scenes with Jim wandering through an empty and deserted London are eerie, and the zombies' appearances are sudden and startling. The cinematography is excellent at times, but distracting at others, and borrows somewhat from "Evil Dead 2" and the like.

The end is a bit cheesy, but there really wasn't much else that could be done considering the hopeless situation the characters were in. The first half of the movie should have been doubled, and the second half should have been eliminated. Overall, I'd recommend the movie; although it isn't incredibly scary, it's spooky enough to give kids nightmares.

Bill Hobbs and the WaPo notice that the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act is going to hurt Democrats a lot more than it's going to hurt Republicans. Just as I said two months ago.

Bill rightly mocks the Democrats for being so foolish, but let's not forget that both parties have already formed numerous groups to funnel soft money to their campaigns despite the new law. I hate useless laws. It's a huge waste of time and money to pass laws that will have no effect, and it's detrimental to society. People should respect the law, but in order for that to happen there must be laws that are worthy of respect -- above all else, laws should be enforceable.

With Glenn off on vacation for a few months (I hope he doesn't have an unfortunate accident), I humbly recommend that you all set your start pages to Master of None -- but only if you want to know the news two months in advance. If you don't want me to spoil the surprises of the future for you, then set your start page two months deep in my archives.

I've written a lot recently about marriage and kids from my 25-year-old male perspective, and Courtney has jumped in from the other side.

It's nice to see there are girls like her out there, even if she lives in a far-distant land.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah have all agreed to a three-month suspension of attacks against the "Zionist entity" (a.k.a., Israel), but it sounds to me as if their main motivation is to simply catch a breather. Israel has been knocking their leaders off left and right, and one of the many conditions of the cease-fire is that Israeli security forces can't continue assassinating terrorists. Meanwhile, suicide bombers can strike with impunity while these three organizations deny responsibility and association.

SDB expects another terrorist attack within 4 days, so I'll take days 5-8. Anyone else want to jump in the pool?

One of my friends sent me this article from the Economist about the dangers of ties between corporations and government. It's an interesting piece, and although I don't agree with it completely it makes some good points.

Ministers and business bosses do, of course, share some goals: they both want faster economic growth, and they often both want jobs to be created or, in the common political parlance, “protected”. So the urge to co-operate is powerful, by ministers acting as salesmen abroad or slanting regulations, tax breaks and subsidies to promote desired outcomes at home. It is not always corrupt or self-serving or distorting, and is often done with honourable motives. But it still ought to be avoided, for five main reasons. ...

Third, interventions are never neutral. Money or privileges are given to one group at the expense, directly or indirectly, of others or of taxpayers in general. Even within an industry, the interests of the firms consulted may differ from those of other firms. Efforts to even things up just add to the costs.

This third reason is entirely true, but as Donald Sensing has pointed out, redistributing wealth is just about all governments can do. Every economic policy, including anti-trust prosecutions which the author here lauds, serves to move wealth from one group to another.
There is no single, big solution to campaign-finance abuse, interest-group influence or corporate privileges. As Mr Rauch wrote in his 1999 book “Government's End”, what is needed is a panoply of incremental changes: pressure to scrap corporate welfare; ...
It's important to remember that corporate welfare (such as agricultural subsidies) is sometimes a part of policies that extend beyond wealth maximization. For instance, it would not be good for America to be too dependent on foreign food supplies if we get into a major war that could disrupt shipping or damage our relationships with the nations selling us food.
... reforms to make tax systems neutral rather than preferential; ...
That certainly sounds nice, assuming the author is talking about a flat tax or something like it.
... more use of competitive contracts for public programmes to discourage their capture by particular interest groups; ...
We should privatize as many government employees and programs as possible and break the stranglehold the unions have on our bureaucracy. Look at the problems France is facing right now, and imagine America in another few decades.
... a more robust attitude by politicians to corporate pressure; ...
You can't change human nature, as the author recognizes earlier in the article.
... laws seeking to reduce the need for campaign money by handing out free advertising time on television; ...
What the heck?! Everything was making sense up to this point. Who gets to pick which issues/candidates get this "free" air time? And who ends up paying for the "free" air time? Moronic.
Without that Sisyphean effort, governments will just be crushed. And so, eventually, will be the freedoms both of capitalism and democracy.
Nonsense. Corporations are not self-existent entities with their own will and agenda. Corporations are owned by members of the democracy, and in fact more American citizens now own stock in public corporations than have at any time in the past. If anything, democracy is moving into corporate culture more quickly than corporations are moving into government.

I had a very productive day today!

I slept late and then lifted weights for an hour or so. I am varying my workout regime so that my muscles don't get too accustomed to the same exercises over and over, and that's really been helping my strength.

Then I went in to work and solved a tricky hardware problem that the hardware people couldn't figure out. I mostly work with software and programming issues, but I get involved with the hardware from time to time. The air conditioning in the lab our unit is in is set differently on the weekends than during the week; the humidity was higher than we expected, and this caused some condensation on the inside of the test equipment that we don't normally have. The condensation shorted some circuits, and the shorts caused unusual voltage fluctuations. I'm a genius!

After solving all the problems at work (ha, right) I went to school to do some research for my Ph.D. I found a bunch of nifty articles in the Artificial Life journal -- and even better, I found them in PDF format. I emailed the articles to myself and completed that mission in record time.

Off to KFC for lunch. I sat there and drank soda and read for an hour and a half, and then went to my friends' house to play Starfarers of Catan. It's not the most fun game, but it's fun to hang out with friends for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Then to the beach for a bonfire with s'mores! Mmmmmm, s'mores. I ate too many s'mores and probably undermined all the exercise I got this morning. Gotta wake up early to go running before church tomorrow, I guess.

Anyway, that's why there weren't any updates today! Toooooooooo busy being productive.

Looks like a good day for writing about responsibility.

Chante Mallard has been sentenced to 60 years in jail for murdering Gregory Biggs and then tampering with the evidence. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the case by now; the evidence she tampered with was Gregory Biggs' body, which became embedded in Mallard's windshield after she struck him while driving under the influence of numerous substances. Biggs didn't die immediately, however, and Mallard drove home with him still half through her windshield, parked her car in her garage, and left him there for several hours until he died. Mallard then called up her ex-boyfriend and his cousin who helped her "tamper the evidence" into a nearby park. She wasn't caught until several months later when a friend reported that she had joked about the incident at a party. Doctors declared that Biggs would have lived had he recieved prompt medical care, but Mallard decided it would be more convenient to let him die.

Her lawyer claims that she isn't a horrible person, but frankly I'm hard-pressed to think of a more callous act. A pre-mediated murder is less scary to me, because at least it's targetted against a specific individual. Mallard was just driving along, hit some random guy, and purposefully let him die; that could have been me!

"She could have saved him," said Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Christy Jack. "Doesn't that speak volumes about her character? Doesn't that speak volumes about the atrocity of this crime?"
Yes. Yes it does.

To those who argue so strenuously for the legalization of various drugs, consider this:

Mallard, who admitted she had been drinking, smoking marijuana and doing the drug ecstasy the night of the accident, said drugs had ruined her life and she wanted to get treatment.

Dale Buss writes a bit about the Today's New International Version of the Bible, whose central feature is its usage of "gender neutral" phrasing.

In the TNIV New Testament, many masculine singular pronouns have become generic and plural. For example, here's how NIV renders Hebrews 12:7: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" But TNIV translates that passage this way: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their parents?" The new version, goes the critique, loses the crucial reference to God as Father.

Similarly, in Luke 17:3, translators changed "If your brother sins, rebuke him" to "If any brother or sister sins against you, rebuke the offender." The problem, critics say, is that "sister" isn't found in the original language, nor is "against you," nor is "offender." And on and on.

In my opinion, this translation is just another bit of historical revisionism. In many (even most) specific instances, there's no theological problem with interpreting a given passage in a gender neutral manner. God deals with both his sons and daughters in pretty much the same manner; we are to rebuke both our brothers and sisters who sin. Adding "against you" and "offender" to Luke 17:3 changes the meaning far more than adding "sister".

It comes down to a matter of accuracy. Are you interested in what the Bible actually says, or are you interested in what you want it to say? What's the problem with reading a literal translation and then applying these gender neutral interpretations where appropriate? It's dangerous to corrupt the actual text by incorporating what are, after all, merely our interpretations of its literal contents. In fact, this is one of the principle objections that my non-Christian friends raise with regard to Christianity: they think of the Bible as merely a collection of human writings. If we allow ourselves to take such liberties with the translation, they aren't far wrong.

Senator Strom Thurmond died last night at the age of 100, and he certainly did have an interesting life. He made some bad choices that are rather significant in hindsight, but he seems to have done his best to correct them, which is more than many people can say.

He served as a governor, a senator, and a circuit judge, thereby touching every branch of our government. He also landed in France on a troop glider on D-Day at the age of 41 and was highly decorated for his military service. I can't imagine a more fulfilling and interesting life.

People need to take responsibility for themselves. I find it particularly disgusting that our nation's supposedly most mature citizens are doffing the responsibility for their lives by lobbying and cheering for ludicrously expensive government entitlements, the burden of which must be borne by their children and grandchildren. You may be "the greatest generation" to some, but this selfish foolishness highlights a widespread moral and economic failure on your part. You're supposed to be wise, you're supposed to be an example to we who are following after, but instead you wield your political power not to help or guide us, but for your own comfort and enrichment. Shame on you all. Imagine how great a boon you could have been to your families and your country; instead you're becoming a resented burden.

In 1 Corinthians 12:14 Paul writes: "After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children." In some circumstances the situation will be reversed, and I realize that it's not always due to failure on the part of the parents. Nevertheless, the general principle stands. The new $400 billion health care entitlement that Congress just passed moves me to pity -- it is a stark example of how the greatest among us have fallen short of the prize they should have obtained.

Given that we are where we are, what is the proper solution? In 1 Timothy 5:4 Paul writes further: "But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God." First note that this verse is speaking specifically about women who have lost their husbands; it was expected that older men would be able to care for themselves. We are instructed to care for our family, particularly our parents and grandparents, and the primary responsibility for that care falls on the children and grandchildren.

A few verses later, in 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul continues: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Once the parents themselves have failed, the responsibility does fall onto their immediate family. Only when the immediate family will not or cannot carry the load does the responsibility transfer to the community as a whole.

How does this translate into public policy? It's not a simple issue. Would it be proper (or constitutional) to force families to bear the financial burden for their older members? Probably not. But the current situation is economically and morally unsustainable. Perhaps this lack of clarity should serve as a general indication that the government should not be involved in the area at all.

Glenn writes a bit about the job market, specifically within the tech sector. Unfortunately, he forgot that I wrote about it myself 5 days ago. He must have forgotten, because I'm sure he checks my site every day.

The Supreme Court ruled today that a California law that retroactively removes the statute of limitations for sex crimes is unconstitutional. Basically, the statute of limitations for sex crimes previously said that a prosecution had to be brought within 7 years of the crime, or else it could never be brought. The recent California law temporarily suspended that restriction and only required that a prosecution be brought within 1 year of when the victim filed a police report, which could be done any amount of time after the alleged abuse occured.

Statutes of limitations are important because it can be impossible to mount a defense against accusations of wrongdoing that may have occured in the distant past. Witnesses die and move away, memories fade and change over time. Realize, once an accusation is made and a prosecution has begun, there is no time limit on how long it can take to complete. If the suspect flees justice he can still be tried and convicted in absentia. Statutes of limitations only prevent accusations from being brought too long after the fact.

It may or may not be good policy to lengthen or eliminate the statute of limitations that applies to sex crimes, and that is still within the power of the California legislature, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it cannot do so retroactively for crimes that have already been committed.

This CNN story indicates that the statute of limitations for sex crimes in California is 3 years, not 7 as I said previously.

Interesting exchange between myself and John Callender over on this thread at Lies.com. What a great domain name!

No, I don't think Bush lied. Sigh. Try and keep up with me, people.

Bill Hobbs has a good perspective on the recent ricin discoveries, and points out that finding WMD in Iraq will be a constant trickle, not a flood. He's right, of course; it's unlikely that Saddam dug a single giant hole and threw everything in.

Update 2:
Bill Hobbs earlier post of his links to an in which he describes just how Saddam may have dug a giant hole to hide all his WMD. I knew I had that image in my mind from somewhere. Nevertheless, while it certainly would have been possible, it looks like Saddam decided not to put all his poisonous eggs into one basket and instead had his "nuclear mujahadeen" take their work home.

My brother Nick is is in Japan, and he has posted some interesting pictures from his travels. I'll share a couple.

This is a water pagoda, and I want one.

What's it for? I wish I knew. Do you boat over to it and then hang out and drink tea?

Here is the ferry that took him to to the island with the water pagoda.

It looks like a ferry designed by a Japanese tour-operator who wanted his European guests to feel right at home, and also was insane.

According to Center for Disease Control, the birth rate in America has fallen to its lowest point since a recent peak in 1990.

The birth rate was 13.9 per 1,000 persons in 2002, a decline of 1 percent from the rate of 14.1 per 1,000 in 2001 and down 17 percent from the recent peak in 1990 (16.7 per 1,000), according to a new CDC report, "Births: Preliminary Data for 2002." The current low birth rate primarily reflects the smaller proportion of women of childbearing age in the U.S. population, as baby boomers age and Americans are living longer.

There has also been a recent downturn in the birth rate for women in the peak childbearing ages. Birth rates for women in their 20s and early 30s were generally down while births to older mothers (35-44) were still on the rise. Rates were stable for women over 45.

The results "primarily reflect[] the smaller proportion of women of childbearing age", but there has "also been a recent downturn in the birth rate for women in the peak childbearing ages". I think it's unfortunate that people are getting married later and trying to have children later.

Men are becoming more and more afraid of committment, and women are spending decades building up careers only to discover that they've missed their chance to have children without medical intervention.

Mel Gibson has written/produced a movied based around the crucifixion of Jesus Christ entitled "The Passion", set to be released in 2004. From what I've read, the movie is a historically accurate depiction of Christ's last hours, and includes graphic visual scenes of the crucifixion itself.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League of America (ADL) charges that the version of the screenplay that they've read is "replete with objectionable elements that would promote anti-Semitism." I haven't read what they've read, but it's clear that the movie will show some Jewish people doing some pretty bad things to Jesus.

In its statement, the ADL contended that Gibson and his collaborators "must complement their artistic vision with sound scholarship, which includes knowledge of how the passion accounts have been used historically to disparage and attack Jews and Judaism. Absent such scholarly and theological understanding, productions such as 'The Passion' could likely falsify history and fuel the animus of those who hate Jews."
The ADL wants Gibson to take historical anti-Semitism into account, apparently to such an extent that the accuracy of the movie would be compromised. However, I don't know what changes Gibson could make that would please the ADL.

Either the movie portrays Jews as participating in and encouraging the crucifixion, or it portrays Jews as (in some way) resisting the crucifixion... and thereby pro-Christ. There certainly were Jews who didn't want Jesus to be crucified -- we now call them Christians, and they believed that he was the Messiah. Would the ADL be happier if Gibson focused on them?

Revisionist history always bothers me. The French would love for everyone to forget how eager the Vichy government was to appease the Nazis. The Catholic church would like to pretend the Inquisition was just a bad dream. Americans would like to spin the Vietnam War as purposeful and necessary. The list goes on and on. Every organization, race, culture, and even every individual has done things they'd prefer they hadn't; it's not always necessary to drudge up the dark corners of history, but sometimes it is.

Really though, would the ADL prefer that the Jews hadn't accused Jesus of blasphemy and crucified him? I'm not even clear what alternative history they're pushing.

I know Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf is probably responsible for lots of Iraqi soldiers dying unnecessarily, but he was still extremely funny. It looks like he's been taken into custody despite earlier reports that he had been killed or committed suicide. He's not on the fabled deck of cards, and I've heard that he had tried to surrender previously but had been turned away by coalition forces. Maybe he's not such a bad guy.

Some famous quotes:

"There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never!"

"My feelings - as usual - we will slaughter them all"

"Our initial assessment is that they will all die"

"No I am not scared, and neither should you be!"

"Who are in control, they are not in control of anything - they don't even control themselves!"

"We are not afraid of the Americans. Allah has condemned them. They are stupid. They are stupid" (dramatic pause) "and they are condemned."

"The Americans, they always depend on a method what I call ... stupid, silly. All I ask is check yourself. Do not in fact repeat their lies."

"I can say, and I am responsible for what I am saying, that they have started to commit suicide under the walls of Baghdad. We will encourage them to commit more suicides quickly."

"Lying is forbidden in Iraq. President Saddam Hussein will tolerate nothing but truthfulness as he is a man of great honor and integrity. Everyone is encouraged to speak freely of the truths evidenced in their eyes and hearts."

"I triple guarantee you, there are no American soldiers in Baghdad."

Of US troops: "They are most welcome. We will butcher them."

"We will welcome them with bullets and shoes."

"We are in control. They are in a state of hysteria. Losers, they think that by killing civilians and trying to distort the feelings of the people they will win. I think they will not win, those bastards."

"They're not even [within] 100 miles [of Baghdad]. They are not in any place. They hold no place in Iraq. This is an illusion ... they are trying to sell to the others an illusion."

"We will kill them all... most of them."

"They are nowhere near the airport ..they are lost in the desert...they can not read a compass... they are retarded."

"They are not in Baghdad. They are not in control of any airport. I tell you this. It is all a lie. They lie. It is a hollywood movie. You do not believe them."

"NO", snapped Mr al-Sahaf, "We have retaken the airport. There are NO Americans there. I will take you there and show you. IN ONE HOUR!"

"Yes, the american troops have advanced further. This will only make it easier for us to defeat them."

"They fled. The American louts fled. Indeed, concerning the fighting waged by the heroes of the Arab Socialist Baath Party yesterday, one amazing thing really is the cowardice of the American soldiers. we had not anticipated this."

"They think we are retarded - they are retarded."

"The midget Bush and that Rumsfield deserve only to be beaten with shoes by freedom loving people everywhere."

"Rumsfeld, he needs to be hit on the head."

"Even those who live on another planet, if there are such people, would have condemned this action before it started."

The old location for this site is currently the #1 Google hit for a search on "jack of all trades master of none". A search on "master of none" yields the old site as #2 and the current site as #4.

Courtney wonders whether the currently paralyzed liberal mass in America will eventually move towards the radical leftists, or the libertarian hawks.

I say: neither. The greatest mass of committed liberals (those who elected Bill Clinton, for example) is made up of baby boomers who are too set in their ways to ever escape into this dimension I affectionately call "reality". They will continue to cling to whatever scraps of power they can get ahold of, but their tenure as a mainstream ideology is finished.

The future of liberalism belongs to the largely libertarian youth. They don't really identify with the Republicans (too conservative on [some] social issues) or the Democrats (too economically socialist) and they're waiting in the wings, ready to come into their own over the next couple of decades.

The baby boomers will have their last hurrah as beneficiaries of the all-powerful AARP and then die. They will not go gently into that good night, and they will struggle vainly to drag the rest of us down with them. But they won't ever change. Vietnam is their eternal yesterday, and the USSR will always be their vision of a slightly-flawed paradise.

I don't go to libraries much anymore. Ten years ago, when I was in high school, it was still necessary to make the trip for research purposes, but these days I can find everything I need on the internet. If I want to buy a rare book I don't have to search very hard: I can have it delivered right to my door by Amazon with a few clicks of my mouse.

I went to the central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library a couple weeks ago, and most of the people there were standing in line to borrow free DVD movies, not books. One of the patrons remarked to me that it was brilliant of the library to expand its services by loaning out movies, but why? Merely to perpetuate the library's own existence? There are plenty of Blockbusters around, and I really don't see why my tax dollars should support an institution that loans out movies for free.

I'm told that in the far distant past, before mega-bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders, the library was the only place in town to find anything other than the currently most popular best-sellers. In such an environment, libraries have a purpose. In the modern world, however, I really don't see the point. Books are cheap and widely available to everyone, and I think the era of the public library should come to a close.

An 11-year longitudinal study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute has been halted 3 years early because its findings are particularly clear and striking: finasteride, a drug currently used primarily to fight baldness and enlarged prostates, reduces the chance that a man will develop prostate cancer by 25%.

Prostate cancer afflicts 221,000 American men each year, killing 29,000, and the only treatment is to remove part or all of the prostate which often leaves the patient impotent and incontinent. Finasteride drugs, such as Propecia and Proscar -- which are already approved for sale by the FDA -- could greatly reduce the number of men afflicted with this disease, saving thousands of lives per year and millions of dollars in medical costs.

Men with a history of prostate cancer in their family are particularly at risk for developing it themselves. There appear to be few side-effects to the treatment (except maybe growing more hair).

Allen Glosson posted a good deal more information in the comments section, go read it. He points out that there are several available treatments for prostate cancer other than surgical removal, but all of these generally lead to sterility and often to impotence and incontinence.

I command you to go buy this t-shirt. (No, I didn't make it, but I wish I had.)

Lileks describes (tangentially) what I believe to the the future of computing: the computer as an appliance.

Buy this box, and you can record TV anytime. Buy this box to go with it, and you can watch anything on your TV on your computer, even if the TV’s in the basement and the computer’s upstairs. Buy this box, and all the music on your computer can be played on any stereo. Buy this box, and the music goes in your car. Buy all these boxes, turn them on; they find each other and they know what to do. Here, let me take your photo with this nice new white camera. Click: it’s in your computer. Okay, take this remote, point it at the TV, press “photo,” arrow-key down to the album we just made. They’re your photos on the big TV downstairs for the family reunion. Beats the old slide-projector, eh?
Eventually, computers will be fast enough that no one will think about processor speed. Storage will be so cheap as to be practically free, and no one will consider the size of a hard drive. &c. Computers will become black box appliances that operate in an expected and intuitive manner, and will function as desired without elaborate trouble-shooting.

The desktop computer is a vastly more complicated system than anything else a person is likely to own, and it's no surprise that it's taking decades to reach the level of simplicity and reliability that people expect from microwaves and televisions. Artificial intelligence, my field of expertise, is integral to making this vision a reality. We're still a long way off, but I doubt my grandchildren will ever have to upgrade a home computer system.

No one upgrades (or even repairs) a TV, you just throw out the old one and buy a new one. The technology continues to improve, but it's transparent to the consumer, and that's how computers will be in the not-too-distant future.

We've heard a lot about the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, but what's the difference? It appears to come down to one essential question.

The Shia say that Imam must be appointed by God; that appointment may be known through the declaration of the Prophet or the preceding Imam. The Sunni scholars say that Imam (or Caliph, as they prefer to say) can be either elected, or nominated by the preceding Caliph, or selected by a committee, or may attempt to gain the power through a military coup (as was in the case of Muawiyah).

The Shi'a scholars say that a divinely appointed Imam is sinless and Allah does not grant such position to the sinful. The Sunni scholars (including Mu'tazilites) say that Imam can be sinful as he is appointed by other than Allah. Even if he is tyrant and sunk in sins (like in the case of Muawiyah and Yazid), the majority of the scholars from the schools of Hanbali, Shafi'i, and Maliki discourage people to rise against that Caliph. They think that they should be preserved although they disagree with the evil actions.

The Shia say that Imam must possess above all such qualities as knowledge, bravery, justice, wisdom, piety, love of God etc. The Sunni scholars say it is not necessary. A person inferior in these qualities may be elected in preference to a person having all these qualities of superior degree.

Saddam is/was a Sunni, so his supporters didn't think it necessary for him to be sinless -- or particularly knowledgable, brave, just, wise, pious, or loving. Lucky for him, I guess.

Glenn is a big fan of possible plans to share the revenue from Iraqi oil sales with every Iraqi citizen in a sort of "dividend" program, but I'm not convinced.

As a hypothetical scanario, what if every Iraqi is paid $1000 per year as their share of the oil wealth? First, that would grossly undermine the value of the currency, since such payments would be higher than the average Iraqi income. (The CIA gives 2001 Iraq a per capita GDP of $2500, but I suspect the median income is far less.) Would such payments really increase buying power of the recipients? I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that that it would simply raise numerical wealth.

Secondly, the proposal is very socialist at heart. I understand and sympathize with the inclination to allow "ordinary" Iraqis to share in the oil wealth that was for so long used purely for the enrichment of Saddam's thugocracy, but it seems clear that the best way to accomplish this goal is to privatize the oil industry and then allow shares to be publically traded within a free market.

Bill Gates has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which he discusses email spam and the measures that Microsoft is taking to fight it. (As a side note: I wonder whether or not Gates wrote it himself, and if so, how many checkers did it pass through afterwards? I have no reason whatsoever to doubt he wrote it, but I'm truly curious.)

Before discussing technological issues, Gates says that Microsoft has filed "15 lawsuits in the U.S. and U.K. against companies and individuals alleged to have sent billions of spam messages in violation of state and federal laws." That's pretty interesting. Although I'm skeptical of Microsoft's motives in general, unless there's more to this story it sounds like a good thing all around. Microsoft surely incurs costs associated with spam that runs through its corporate systems, plus Hotmail, and the lawsuits will end up benefiting end-users as well.

Gates then briefly mentions some "machine learning" "smart" systems that Microsoft is developing to help blocking software recognize spam before passing it through the system. Extracting meaning from language is one of the most difficult things a human can do, and thus one of the holy grails of artificial intelligence. I'm sure this is fascinating research; say what you like about Microsoft, but they spend more money on research than many universities.

Gates then talks a little about how Microsoft is working together with some other major companies to fight spam at different levels, and I think that's great. The only part of the op-ed that mildly distersses me is where Gates begins talking about government regulation.

A key to eliminating spam is establishing clear guidelines for legitimate commercial e-mail. With industry and consumer groups, we are developing best-practice guidelines to help responsible companies understand how to reach their customers without spamming them. Congress could help by providing a strong incentive for businesses to adopt e-mail best practices. Our proposal is to create a regulatory "safe harbor" status for senders who comply with e-mail guidelines confirmed by an FTC-approved self-regulatory body. Senders who do not comply would have to insert an "ADV:" label--standing for advertisement--in the subject line of all unsolicited commercial e-mail. This would enable computer users either to accept ADV-labeled mail or to have it deleted automatically.
It would be very beneficial for companies and individuals to adopt voluntary standards, but I don't like the idea of Congress or the FTC enshrining those standards into law. Aside from free speech issues that might render such standards unconstitutional, the bureacracy is ponderous and technologically incompetent -- in the long run the internet would only be harmed by the inevitable heavy-handedness of the federal government.

Two Supreme Court decisions have been handed down from on-high by the great, wise, robed-ones. On one hand, I'm disappointed that racial discrimination was found acceptable in theory by a majority of justices, but on the other hand I'm pleased that it appears that a large part of their justification rests on the states' roles as "laboratories for experimentation to devise various solutions where the best solution is far from clear."

For a democracy to survive, it's essential that every individual be treated equally under the law. Each citizen gets one vote, regardless of race, gender, religion, appearance, political affiliation, &c. I find it hard to believe that the Supreme Court would approve of a policy aimed at building a "critical mass" of Senators, Representatives, or Justices of certain races or religions -- but apparently the interest of the government in "promoting [racial] diversity" is compelling enough to affect universities.

It's good to give states the freedom to experiment with law and policy, and I understand the Court's deference to such a principle. However, I believe the time for such experimentation on thsi issue ended when the 14th Amendment was ratified by 28 out of 37 states in 1868. Sure, it took some of the rest of the states a little while longer to catch up (Kentucky ratified it in 1976), but I'm pretty sure everyone is on board by now.

Drudge points to this Observer article which claims that we might have got Saddam and one of his sons with a Hellfire missile. The article is dated tomorrow, Sunday June 22nd, 2003, and says that we struck a convoy Saddam may have been riding in late "last week" -- which probably means within the last couple days. DNA tests are in process.

Mark Steyn is hilarious. The Telegraph requires free registration, but please do yourself a favor and go read. Thanks to Glenn for the pointer.

As I've said before, California's constitution requires a 2/3 majority in the legislature to increase taxes; Republicans make up less than 1/2 of the legislature, but more than 1/3, and so it's impossible to raise state taxes without Republican approval. Despite our state's current budget deficit (or because of it?) the Republicans have utterly refused to consider raising taxes at all, insisting instead that the shortfall be eliminated by spending cuts.

This is perfectly reasonable, since in the past four years the rate of population growth with inflation was 21%, government revenue increased 28%, and spending increased 36%. Even when population growth and inflation are accounted for, the increased revenue should have been more than enough to allow for a tax cut without touching services -- but no, instead the Democrats in control of the state increased spending by a ridiculous 36%. The budget shortfall is entirely due to this irresponsible spending.

[Deep breath... mumble... stupid Democrats....] Ok, so, the Democrats can't raise taxes because of the Republicans, and can't cut spending because they need the money to buy votes from their constituencies. What to do?! Well, if you can't raise taxes, just raise "fees" instead!

The Democrats in the legislature along with Governor Gray Davis just tripled our car tax! Oops, excuse me, I mean car fee. "The fee on a new Chevrolet Impala purchased for $24,920, for example, will rise from what would have been $162 to $498 in the first year of ownership." Yes, that's per year, every year.

The Republicans are furious over the issue, and argue that the "fee" can't be increased without legislative approval, which would require a 2/3 majority.

"The state is not entitled to that money," said Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), speaking to reporters in the lobby of the attorney general's office, where he filed proposed ballot initiatives to roll back the tax rate to $1 or abolish it altogether. "They are breaking the law by taking it."

If McClintock is able to get hundreds of thousands of signatures needed in the coming months, his measures will be on the ballot in November 2004.

McClintock accused the Davis administration of exploiting a clause in the state Constitution that makes it extremely difficult for opponents of the tax to stop the state from collecting it until the appeals process has been exhausted in a court challenge. That could take years.

"They know it is an illegal act but the Constitution prevents injunctions to prevent collections of the tax, so they know they can get away with it for the next several years," he said, adding that Peace's argument that the tax hike is legal is "absolute horse manure."

So there's another ballot initiative in process to accompany the near-certain recall of the governor who 83% of people disapprove of, mainly due to this sort of financial mismanagement. Hopefully these two populist movements will, together, be able to break the stranglehold the Democrats have had on this fine state for decades.

Here's a quick pointer to Clayton Cramer's excellent series on How to Become Wealthy. All very sound advice, but not all easy to implement.

Not that I'm particularly prescient or profound, but it's kinda neat to read a real journalist echo something that I wrote yesterday. Of course, many blogs were all over this angle days before me.

Many ideas have been floated, and many people are speculating on the nature of the next big media revolution. The internet is an amazing tool, like the printing press, but most media websites are still built around the same paradigm as print newspapers. We've got a neat new tool, but the users haven't reached its full potential yet.

Anyway, I wrote all that to say that I was pleased to discover that each time I reload the Washington Post site, I am greeted with a different picture of Potter fans mobbing a bookstore.

Seperation of church and state is fine and good, but what happens when religious teachings yield better results than secular programs?

In a nutshell, [Byron] Johnson [of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society] found that those who completed all three program phases were "significantly less likely than the matched groups" to be either arrested (17.3% vs. 35%) or incarcerated (only 8% vs. 20.3%) in the first two years after release.

Here's how spiritual conversion reads in academese: "Narratives of IFI members revealed five spiritual transformation themes that are consistent with characteristics long associated with offender rehabilitation: (a) I'm not who I used to be; (b) spiritual growth; (c) God versus the prison code; (d) positive outlook on life; and (e) the need to give back to society."

All this, no doubt, will be profoundly discomforting to those who like the results but don't like the religion; a similar program in Iowa is already being sued by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. But the question is joined: Can you achieve the positive social outcomes of faith-based programs if you strip out the faith?

As I've written before, President Bush uses Powell and Rumsfeld to good-cop/bad-cop the world into doing what he wants. Rumsfeld plays the bad cop hawk and gets everyone all in a tizzy, and then Powell comes in and makes nice. In the end, Bush takes a position somewhere between the two and everyone thinks it's a compromise, but in actuality they're all working together and Bush ends up with the exact result he wanted from the very beginning.

So, when the Palestinian Authority hears Powell call Hamas an 'Enemy of Peace' they'd better take notice.

Powell met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem and then pressed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas not just to reach a cease-fire with Hamas and other militant groups but to eliminate their capacity to attack Israelis.

"The enemy of peace has been Hamas, especially over the last two weeks," Powell told a joint news conference with Sharon. "As long as they have ... a commitment to terror and violence and a desire to destroy the state of Israel, I think this is a problem we have to deal with in its entirety."

It's significant that Powell said this during a joint news conference with Ariel Sharon. Some conservatives in the US have recently begun to question Bush's committment to Israel, but this statement should remove their doubts.

The "roadmap to peace" is just a ruse, folks, aimed solely at revealing the fact that the Palestinians really have no desire for peace. Don't believe me? President Bush pulled the exact same trick with the UN earlier this year. All the posturing at the UN wasn't meant to get the French et al on board with us, it was meant to prove once and for all that they have positioned themselves as our enemies.

It's very fashionable to decry President Bush as a moron, but I think he's shown time and time again that he plays a very subtle game, and holds his cards close to his chest.

This post by Meryl Yourish illustrates my point. She recognizes the evil of the Palestinians, but she doesn't realize that the "road map" is a red herring and isn't meant to succeed in the way most people expect. It's not meant to lead the Palestinians and the Israelis into peaceful co-existance, it's meant to highlight who the real bad guys are.

A lot of people are saying that we're in a "jobless" recovery, but that depends entirely what industry you're in. It's true that a lot of white-collar jobs are moving overseas (to India particularly), and that many blue-collar jobs are continuously being replaced by machines, but here in Southern California one industry is gearing up for major work and hiring like crazy: defense contractors.

I consult at two major aerospace companies, and both firms have been running huge job fairs recently, trying to attract engineers and scientists; the situation is the same at many other Southern California defense contractors. I know mediocre engineers and poor scientists who are landing jobs for upwards of $80,000 a year. There's gotta be a catch, right? Well sure, you need to have security clearance, and for much of the defense work around here that means that you have to be an American citizen.

The aerospace/defense industry in Southern California took a major hit in the early 1990s and switched over to civilian operations; then when the recession hit a couple years ago the floor fell through in the civilian sector as well. With the war on terror, however, government work is just starting to pick up, and there's a shortage of qualified people even given Los Angeles' deep technology pool.

Workers go to the companies with work to be done, and it's not uncommon for engineers in Los Angeles to have worked at two or three of the major companies in the area. They get hired for a handful of years, and then when a competitor beats out their company for a big contract they get laid off and hired by the competitor. It's a good situation all around: it keeps workers in the area; keeps salaries and other costs down; and concentrates other valuable resources, such as security clearances.

The process of obtaining a security clearance from the government can cost upwards of $50,000 and take years to complete, so it's understandable that companies looking to hire engineers for defeense work will value workers with clearance very highly. If you want to ensure that you'll have a job for the rest of your life, go get an M.S. or Ph.D. in electrical engineering and then find a company that will sponsor you for clearance. The jobs won't be moving overseas, and I doubt that world peace is going to break out any time soon.

Lotteries are a tax on the stupid, and they tend to be sharply regressive; poor people buy the bulk of lottery tickets. Donald Sensing mentions a lottery scam email he received and then correctly notes that all lotteries are scams.

The California lottery has a rate of return of around 12%. Slot machines in Vegas generally return 98%+ of the money you put into them, and they've got flashing lights and spinning wheels. As you can imagine, state governments make a killing off lotteries... but the money goes towards education, right?

The California lottery raked in $2,910,000,000 in 2002... that's around $100 per California resident -- including children. With a payout of 12%, the education system should have gotten around $2.5 billion from the lottery, right? Well, actually, the law says that only 34% of lottery revenue has to go towards education, and in 2002 that came to around $1.1 billion.

34% to education, 12% to lottery winners, and the rest goes into the irresistable black hole of California's bureacracy. Oh well. At least it's a voluntary tax.

Lileks goes on a brief rant about fax machines, and I've got to agree wholeheartedly. Why is it that they're all different? In some you put the paper-to-be-faxed face up, and in some you put it face down -- which is which is anybody's guess.

At least "modern" fax machines use real paper instead of rolls of tissue paper. I use scare quotes because it's hard for me to see any fax machine as "modern".

I had to fax some documents to/from my car insurance agent a few days ago. Can't you just email them to me? Email? What's that? I'll just go to your website. Website? You can't get insurance over our website. I think we have a website....

I can buy GM and hog futures over the internet, I can make all the arrangements to travel to Japan for a year on the internet, I can auction off my used harware on the internet, I can write all this stupid nonsense on the internet, but to get car insurance I have to use a fax machine?

Well, I've got to try out all this fancy new Movable Type stuff, so here's a post that's not really about anything.

Please let me know what you think about the site design and layout. I'm not really sure if I'm going to keep the calendar or not... it looks cool, but what's the point exactly? Yeah, come to think of it, bye bye calendar.

It looks like I picked a good day to do my moving, since not a lot happened. Most of my favorite blogs were pretty light on the punditry, and even the real news sites were a bit slow. Whiteness studies?

I like the gold and blue scheme (UCLA, yay!) and I tried to keep the layout simple. There are so many templates to fiddle with, I'm sure I missed something somewhere and that some link will take you to a really ugly and unreadable page. Sorry 'bout that. Let me know, and I'll try to fix it.

If you've read this much, then you're probably a fellow blogger who has linked to me in the past. Thanks! Pretty please redirect your link(s) to http://www.mwilliams.info/. I can watch you on the Blog Ecosystem, so don't think I won't notice!

Finally, I'd like to thank all the little people who made this possible. Without the gnomes' ingenuity these magical computing machines would never have been possible. The dwarves were irreplacable miners and craftsmen. I never could have developed this simple, yet elegant, color scheme without the help of the fairies. Thanks you guys!

Well, here we are at the new location. The old has been left behind... make way for the new!

Of course, it may take a while to get everything ship-shape around here, but I know you'll all be understanding. Meanwhile, I'll be much obliged if you would redirect your links and update your blogrolls!

(Yes, both of you!)

Bill Hobbs writes that Laffer Associates, the firm founded by the creator of the famous "Laffer Curve" of supply-side economics fame, is moving from San Diego to Nashville because Tennessee doesn't have an income tax. Sucks for us Californians, but oh well.

Bill quotes a site that sums up the idea behind the Laffer curve and supply-side economics quite well:

The curve suggests that, as taxes increase from low levels, tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It also shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point (T*) would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue. Eventually, if tax rates reached 100% (the far right of the curve), then all people would choose not to work because everything they earned would go to the government.

In theory, there's an "optimal" tax rate such that if the rate goes either up or down, government revenue will go down. The rate is "optimal" in the sense that it maximizes government revenue, but may not be optimal from other perspectives (such as burden on the economy, for instance).

In his update at the end of the post, Bill makes an important point: many conservatives want to shrink the size of government, and try to enact tax cuts in order to do so. However, if we're currently taxed at a rate above the optimal rate, government revenue will actually rise when taxes are cut.

Ideally, from my perspective, taxes would be cut down past the government-optimal point and government revenue would then continue to fall. My own optimal point is different from the government's; I don't want to maximize government revenue, I want to maximize my freedom and quality of life. I believe that eliminating many functions of government would benefit me greatly, and so my optimal tax rate is lower than the Laffer optimal rate. For more of my opinions on the matter, see this previous post.

In a sense, a tax rate below Laffer's optimal is "benignly sub-optimal", since the lesser government revenue isn't due to harm inflicted on the economy (and should actually benefit the economy as a whole). "Lost" government revenue that's caused by a tax rate that's too high, however actually reflects a real economic loss.

ABORTION: Clayton Cramer links to an affadavit recently written by Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. "Jane Roe" from Roe v. Wade (1973). In it, she decries her former involvement with the abortion industry and gives some rather graphic descriptions of the two decades she spent working in abortion clinics.

I worked in several abortion facilities over the years. In fact, I even worked at two clinics at the same time, and they were all the same with respect to the condition of the facilities and the "counseling" the women receive. One clinic where I worked in 1995 was typical: Light fictures and plaster falling from the ceiling; rat droppings over the sinks; backed up sinks; and blood splattered on the walls. But the most distressing room in the facility was the "parts room". Aborted babies were stored here. There were dead babies and baby parts stacked like cordwood. Some of the babies made it into buckets and others did not, and because of its disgusting features, no one ever cleaned the room. The stench was horrible. Plastic bags full of baby parts that were swimming in blood were tied up, stored in the room, and picked up once a week. At another clinic, the dead babies were kept in a big white freezer full of dozens of jars, all full of baby parts, little tiny hands and feet visible through the jars, frozen in blood. The abortion clinic's personnel always referred to these dismembered babies as "tissue." Vetrinary clinics I have seen are cleaner and more regulated than the abortion clinics I worked in.
There's lots more in the affadavit. She talks about how she only met with her lawyers twice, never stepped into a courtroom, and found out the results of the court case through the newspaper. She claims that the abortion industry (as she calls it) exists only to make a profit, and cares nothing about the women whose lives are devestated.

What's the difference between an abortion clinic's "parts room" and one of Saddam's mass graves? Saddam killed children against their parents' wishes? The children Saddam killed were larger, and spatially separate from their mothers?

More than 35 million babies have been killed in America since 1973.

MOVING: It looks like I spoke too soon. Despite the fact that Verve Hosting's signup form told me that mw.biz was available, it turns out that it's not a legal name. I was surprised they said it was, but I thought I could rely on their information. It looks like I'll actually be moving to mwilliams.info or something like that. We'll see.

It's rather hard to pick a domain name.

PROFILES: This morning I randomly came across the profiles of two very different men: Duane 'Dog' Chapman, and Paul Bremer.

Duane Chapman is the bounty hunter who just captured Andrew Luster (what an ironic surname), the heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune who was convicted of drugging and raping three women and then skipped out of town.

Paul Bremer is the Viceroy in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and arguably the most powerful American outside the United States in over 50 years.

MINORITIES: According to the WaPo, Hispanics are now the nation's largest minority. Well, the largest racial minority, anyway. I expect that men are the largest minorty overall, since very slightly fewer than 50% of the people in the country are male.

The new census figures also show that Latinos accounted for half the country's population growth in the two years after the 2000 Census was taken. ...

The Hispanic population is growing rapidly because of high birth rates and immigration. Immigration accounted for more than half the recent Latino population increase, census officials said.

Despite the heavy influence of immigration, another census report released today said three in five Hispanics are born in the United States.

So, half the Hispanic population increase is due to immigration... what percentage of that half do you figure is legal immigration? Uh huh.

The good news is that Hispanic immigrants tend to assimilate well into the greater fabric of American culture; one-third of Hispanics marry non-Hispanic whites, for instance.

Following up on the post below, Allen Glosson writes in the comments:

For a somewhat more pointed view about reforming the FDA, you might also see http://www.stopfda.org, in particular the essay about "Consumer Rape".

The story I like the most about the FDA involves Beta Blockers. Back in 1984, Dr. Kessler proudly announced that the FDA had approved Beta Blockers to treat high blood pressure and that the approval would save 17000 lives each year. What he didn't tell us was that Beta Blockers had been approved in Europe in the mid 1970s and approval was sought with the FDA back in 1977. The FDA took 7 years to approve a drug which had already been shown effective in European markets. Thus, the FDA had willfully and deliberately allowed over 100K people to die needlessly while they dotted i's and crossed t's in the approval process.

Do we still believe that the FDA saves lives? I for one, do not.

Incredible, and damning.

TAX GIVE-AWAY: Everyone's complaining about the $400 billion bribe that Bush is offering to old people in exchange for their votes, but no one has any outrage left for the ridiculous child tax credit that's paid to people with children. Under Bush's new plan, an average family of four will see their taxes cut by $1600. An average family of one -- like me -- will see their taxes reduced by a lot less. I can't even find a source on the web that will tell me how much I'll save... every article gives numbers for "a family of four" that will save "ten gajillion dollars!"

What this setup means is that single people and people without children are subsidizing tax breaks for married people and people with children. The situation hardly seems fair. Families with children consume more public services, not less, and there's really no reason that society should create a financial incentive for people to have children. The problem is that, as Donald Sensing points out, politicians "take money from the demographic groups of people who vote less and give it to the groups who vote more."

Most people either have children, have had children, or plan to have children in the future, and so they think it's great that at some point they'll benefit from these tax breaks. I plan to have children someday, too, but I'm critical enough to realize that the child tax credit really is nothing more than a bribe that's so entrenched that it's never going to go away, regardless of how unfair and unbalanced it may be. (Some might make the same claim about tax-deductable mortgage interest, but this is a very different issue. As I've mentioned before, promoting property ownership is a valid interest for a democratic society to promote because it strengthens the sense of individual ownership of the society.)

I favor a flat tax rate with a poverty-line deduction of, say, $20,000, and deductions for charitable giving. I would also favor -- as an alternative -- a flat consumption tax. The current income-based tax structure is nothing more than a social engineering tool that those in power use to manipulate and control the population.

PARABLES: I love writing short fiction although I'm not really very good at it (yet). One of my dreams is to be able to write parables that teach important truths using simple, everyday allegories -- like many of Jesus' teachings and like Aesop's fables, for instance. The parable is a powerful teaching tool because it helps the listener translate an abstract philosophy into concrete terms which he can later extrapolate from -- abstract to concrete and back to abstract again. In the funneling process some of the initial abstraction is stripped away, but the student reconstructs it later on his own thereby enhancing learning even further.

Mark Aveyard has posted a tidy little parable by CK Chesterton that illustrates the difficulties that can arise from situations in which it is much easier to destroy than to create, when the majority agrees on the means but not the ends.

Bill Hobbs has a post with a great letter from Allen Glosson of St. Louis, Missouri, who gives a good description of the difficulties drug companies face trying to recoup their R&D costs by selling their drugs under patent. Drug patents last 17 years and...

It takes about 15 years for the entire drug approval cycle to be completed, previously leaving only 2 years for the drug company to recover all of its R&D costs.
Bill suggests that the "patent clock" shouldn't start until FDA approval is granted, but a) 17 years seems like a very long time to go without generic substitutes, b) what about drugs that never get approved? Sounds like it would create a new disincentive construct that might change the dynamics of the whole industry in some unforseeable ways.

But on to the real issue at hand. Allan writes further:

Currently, the drug can't be sold to anybody until after the FDA finally approves it. If you've ever read the writing of cancer patients, slowly dying, desperate for that new drug begging with the drug company and the FDA to allow them one more shot at life, you'll know that the FDA process is deeply flawed.
The Food and Drug Administration essentially has veto power over all new medical drugs and devices, and is controlled by a lopsided set of incentives that tends to make it overcautious -- the repurcussions are far worse for the FDA if it mistakenly approves of a treatment that turns out to be dangerous than if it mistakenly delays or fails to approve a treatment that is actually beneficial, even if the number of lives lost in each case is equivalent. The fact that the FDA can prevent sick people from voluntarily assuming the risk of unproven (but potentially beneficial) drugs has undoubtedly claimed thousands or even millions of lives.

The best proposal I've read was put forward by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and suggests that the FDA's veto power be eliminated and that unapproved treatments be made available under medical supervision and with clear warnings of the potential risks involved. The FDA would continue to serve as a state-run evaluator of treatments, and drug companies could choose to seek FDA approval if that approval was sufficiently valued by the public. Competitive market forces would then take hold in the medical industry, bringing costs of production down and thereby lowering prices all around. Additionally, and even more importantly to some, a greater number of treatments for a greater number of diseases would become available for use, which could save an uncountable number of lives above and beyond those saved by the lower prices.

RITUAL: Courtney went to a Catholic funeral and mentions how she loves the ritual. I'm a protestant (Baptist, technically, I suppose) and I can totally see where Courtney is coming from. My mom's side of the family is Catholic, and the rituals are quite impressive and do give a sense of weight that is often not encountered in protestant churches and services.

Most protestant churches (at least in Southern California) are more populist than Catholics are and aim to be accessible to non-Christians who come to visit. I sometimes enjoy the substance and symbolism behind ancient rituals, but they make the average man-off-the-street feel uncomfortable and out of place. Rituals are impressive, but they can make God seem unapproachable and distant rather than immediately and intimately close. God is powerful and awesome, but he is not aloof; the whole point of Jesus coming to earth was to bring mankind into an intimate relationship with God.

Over the past 5 years, my church has really tried to eliminate any ritual or formality that might prevent a visitor from being able to listen to God's message. Our goal is have a church such that if a visitor feels uncomfortable it's because of the message, not because of the religious trappings.

In response to Courtney's post, Zach points out that there are rather significant doctrinal differences between Catholics and protestants. The Catholic church has done a lot of good through the centuries, but as with most organizations with tightly centralized power structures, they've also done a lot of evil. Aside from huge spiritual questions such as transubstantiation and praying to saints, this organizational issue alone sets off warning lights in my libertarian-ish brain.

God knows that mankind is flawed and falls short of his perfection, and in the Bible he instituted a power structure for the church that would serve to dilute the selfish motivations that take over from time to time, even the best of us. Individual churches should govern themselves independently as God leads them, rather than receive central direction from an earthly authority. Ultimate leadership within each church should not rest with any one man, but should be divided among several elders. Read 1 Timothy and Titus for details.

THE RING: I just watched The Ring and it was quite good. I'm still a bit creeped out, which is why I'm up surfing the net rather than in bed sleeping. The end has a bit of a twist that really makes the movie stand out, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a good thrill.

Nothing is as scary to me as eerie little girls. The Shining is a perfect example, and there are plenty of others. There's probably some deep psychological explanation, but my psychologist ex-friend isn't talking to me anymore, so I can't ask her.

Ok, now I am going to go to bed -- I'm just rambling.

CONSTITUTION, SCHMONSTITUTION: California's constitution requires that the legislature pass a budget by June 15th. That's the law. Over the past 25 years only 4 on-time budgets have been passed, and this weekend marked yet another failure by our pathetic state legislature. Via Rough & Tumble I found this San Francisco Chronicle article which describes some of my feelings quite well.

Deadline day and nary a lawmaker in sight.

As the final hours ticked down toward the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget Sunday night, a canvass of the state Capitol failed to uncover a single lawmaker tucked away in an office, crunching numbers or making deals. ...

"When they want your vote, they say they are going to work for you. Why aren't they working now?" said Sergio Jimenez of Baldwin Park in Los Angeles County.

Jon Boice of Potrero Valley (San Diego County) labeled the lawmakers' absence disgusting.

"What are we paying them for?" he wondered as he left the gallery overlooking the empty Assembly chamber.

Democrats blame the Republicans. The state constitution requires a 2/3 majority to pass tax increases, and the Republicans in the legislature have determined that they will not vote for to raise taxes under any circumstances. Republicans blame Democrats for years of over-spending, but Democrats are unable to cut their precious social programs and reduce their union bribes without alienating their masters. So, we're pretty much stuck.

Tourist Jeff Peterson has a good point when it comes to legislators being away from the office:

"There is no accountability," Jeff Peterson said. "I'm not really sure we're better off when they are here or gone."

The WaPo has an article about a man named Charles T. Sell who is refusing the anti-pychotic medication which would make him mentally competant enough to stand trial. What's interesting is that the crimes he is accused of aren't violent in nature -- he's a dentist who has been charged with Medicaid fraud. The Supreme Court has just ruled that since he isn't a danger to himself or others, and hasn't been charged with any violent offenses, forcibly medicating him against his wishes does not "significantly further" an "important" government objective, and would not be "medically appropriate".

The vote in the Supreme Court was 6-3, and I really have no problem with it; I'm pretty much neutral. Justice Bryer does raise one issue that causes me some distress, however:

The U.S. government indicted him on charges of Medicaid fraud in 1997, but courts have found him to be so mentally ill that he is not competent to stand trial. Those courts have agreed with government doctors who say the only hope of rendering him competent is to administer anti-psychotic drugs -- by force, if necessary -- but Sell, citing the drugs' sometimes debilitating side effects and his own constitutional rights, has refused. ...

During the arguments on in March, Justice John Paul Stevens noted that Sell has already been confined longer than he would have been if convicted on all counts of the Medicaid fraud indictment.

Society has no compelling interest in further prosecuting this man, guilty or not. It's a tremendous waste of government resources to pursue this issue any further, and Charles T. Sell should be released immediately based on his non-violent condition and the time he has already been imprisoned. The prosecutor in charge of the case, however, feels differently.
But Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben, arguing for the government, told the court that Sell has himself to blame for his extended stay behind bars, since he is one of only a handful of people who have ever litigated their refusal to be medicated to such an extent.

"Most individuals accept the fact . . . that medication is the appropriate, medically sanctioned way" to get better for trial, Dreeben said.

The Supreme Court has just ruled that the "fact" Dreeben refers to is actually false.

GOOGLE: I love Google's special picture days. Happy Father's Day!

MYSTERY WEEKEND: I took three kids from church to Knott's today, and we had a blast. I'm totally wiped out. Was there any news today? I don't know, I guess I'll check tomorrow.

We call it "Mystery Weekend" because the kids don't know where we're going to take them until we get there. In the past, it's also been known as "Misery Weekend", but not this year! Knott's wasn't too crowded (and there were lots of hot chicks there, which always makes time fly). We went on every water ride the kids were tall enough to ride, and every coaster the kids were brave enough to buckle into. We had ice cream dots, tons of candy, won stuffed animals... everything you can imagine. It was super fun.

Now, it's time for bed. I hope I can get up early enough tomorrow to run a few miles before church, because I feel extremely fat tonight. We went to Hometown Buffet for dinner. Argh.

Don't forget, tomorrow is Father's Day! Go get your dad something nice, and tell him hi for me.

FRIDAY THE 13TH: Happy Friday the 13th! I hope you all had a scary evening. I had some friends over and we watched Halloween 1 & 2, which is always fun. Classic thrillers, and they really defined the genre. Nothing comparable even existed until Scream came out 16 years later.

Anyway, time for bed. I'm taking some kids to Knott's Berry Farm early tomorrow morning, and I need to get my beauty sleep. I don't think there will be much posting... possibly in the evening.

Bill Hobbs mentions a plan to have our country driving hydrogen-powered cars by 2020. Fine and good. He then goes on to say:

If she's right, and if it works, the nation would be free of dependence on imported oil by the year 2020. Think of how that would change our foriegn policy toward the Middle East. No need to coddle the Saudis!
However, this does not reflect economic reality. We are not "dependent" on foreign oil now -- we can, however, buy oil from the middle-east and ship it to America more cheaply than we can drill and process our own domestic oil. Why? Labor costs and the burden of environmental laws.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing (I'd rather the Saudis despoil their desert wastes than pollute our own country), but that's how it is. The White House claims that two-thirds of the oil we use goes towards transportation, but that doesn't exclusively include cars and trucks. Even if we could reduce our oil consumption by 50%, what effect would that have on our use of foreign oil?

The oil market is global, and the cost of consumption is based on the cost of production plus the cost of transportation. Once that total cost per barrel is known, it doesn't matter where the oil comes from when purchasing decisions are made. If we cut consumption by 50%, what will happen is that we will stop buying the most expensive half of the oil that we buy now, and the most expensive oil we use is produced domestically. I can't find a source online for this at the moment, but I'll keep looking.

Cutting total oil consumption would have an effect opposite to what most people expect -- on a percentage basis we would use more foreign oil than we do now because the absolute amount of domestically-produced oil that we would consume would go down. The only way to lower our use of foreign oil would be to lower the cost of domestic production and then let market forces handle the rest.

Donald Sensing quotes this BBC article which says that Israeli Army radio...

. . . has been reporting that the forces are now under orders to "completely wipe out" Hamas.

The radio said everyone from the lowliest member to Sheikh Ahmad Yassin - the crippled spiritual guide of Hamas - was a target.

In the comment thread for that post, Barry wrote:

I hope that the Israelis know the difference between actual Hamas members and their families - I know that women and children have been used and are still used as terrorists, but the fewer non-card-carrying Hamas Palestinians killed the better.

Personally, I'm not sure that hope is realistic. The Palestinian people need to have their will to fight completely broken. They're brainwashed by the Muslim death cult, and it might take quite a bit of killing to shake them out of it. I'm not saying it's a pretty thing, but it might be necessary.

Massive civilian deaths would have been counter-productive in Iraq, since most of the population didn't like Saddam and wanted him gone and was more than eager to surrender. If, however, Palestinians are more like WW2 Japanese and Germans they might require a bit more "convincing". Don't get me wrong, I'm not eager for bloodshed, but I'm trying to be realistic.

This poll of Palestinians taken in September, 2002, is not very encouraging. Here are some stats:

- 52% oppose peace negotiations with Israel. - 73% are pessimistic of a reaching a peaceful settlement to the conflict. - 66% are opposed to the Oslo agreement. - 80% support the continuation of the al-Aqsa Intifada. - 53% believe that the Intifada will achieve its object. - 65% support suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians [the poll question specifically mentions civilians].

These poll numbers support my belief that the Palestinian people themselves are a part of the problem, and need to be cowed.

Read more of my thoughts on Arafat the terrorist and the real cost of suicide bombers.

I don't get it. I get a spam email that tells me my secret admirer has sent me a message. Oh goody! Eager, trembling with anticipation, ecstatic at the prospect of having a secret admirer, I double-click and open the email...

ARGH MY EYES! Why, dear God, why must I be subjected to such a puketastic image!?

[deep breath]

What do these companies gain by trying to trick me into opening such things? If I wanted to see pictures of "cum soaked teens riding the pony" then I would probably be willing to open an email with that title. However, if I'm like the vast majority of people and would rather gouge my eyes out than even contemplate such a thing, I won't visit the website even if they trick me into opening their horrid visual regurgitant. I just can't imagine anyone getting taken in by the false subject, seeing the picture, and then thinking "hey that's pretty great, sign me up."

I HATE COMPUTERS: I know that I'm a computer science graduate student, but sometimes I hate computers. Like tonight. I have a picture of me standing on top of the stupid Palais de Justice in stupid Paris, and I said I'd scan it and post it, but my stupid printer/scanner dealie doesn't want to scan. It'll print all day long, it loves to print, but when I tell it to scan the stupid computer tells me the stupid scanner isn't connected. However, since I've now spent eight years studying computer science, I know this to be false -- if the stupid printer can print, then the stupid scanner can scan.

I reinstalled the stupid software. Same situation. Fan-stupid-tastic (imagine another word there besides "stupid"). So, no one gets to see the view from the roof of the Palais de Stupid except me.

BUFFY: I'm sure everyone is already aware of this, but Buffy season 4 came out yesterday. Man, I loved that show. Lucky for me I don't have to order the DVDs from Amazon -- I've got an inside connection that I met through ebay who gets me DVD sets at cost. Yay for me!

Via the LA Examiner, here's a UPI article based on an interview with James Marsters, who played Spike on the show. He was my favorite character by far, and some people have even said I look like him (which I gather is a complement, from the girls I've talked to).

I've got a thing for vampires, but then, who doesn't? They always dress cool, and sometimes they'll totally flip out for no reason.

It's not uncommon to read a news story about a suicide bombing in Israel causing something like 5 deaths and 30 injuries. Most of the time we focus on the few people that are killed without really thinking about the injured survivors, but even when victims survive their lives are often ruined.

X-rays taken from victims of suicide bombings reveal pieces of metallic fragments embedded in their skin, muscles, organs and bones, says Dr. Michael Messing, who visited the victims of suicide bombings while at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Suicide bombers pack their bombs with nails and other objects so even survivors of suicide bombings will suffer from the bomb's effects.

"They're trying to maximize the number of people they kill and injure," said Messing of the terrorists.

These bombs, which Messing says are sometimes funded by Palestinian authorities including Yasser Arafat, are packed with spikes, nails, screws, nuts, bullets, mortar, ball bearings and even rat poison. ...

"[The Palestinians'] goal is to do as much damage as possible and destroy functional life where they fail to actually kill. Their result is that often those who live and their relatives suffer much more than those who die," he said. ...

Messing said one of the victims he saw while in Jerusalem had around 300 individual metallic fragments within his body. The metal fragments, measuring from millimeters to centimeters, were imbedded in the young man literally from head to toe, he said.

"Several of the fragments penetrated into his vital organs. He sustained a punctured colon, a collapsed lung, and a lacerated liver and kidney. I could actually feel the nails under his skin where they had burrowed and lodged," Messing recalls.

Not only do survivors suffer grievous physical injury, but often worse:
Suicide bombers could be endangering the lives of people from beyond the grave by passing on hepatitis or blood-borne diseases to survivors, a science magazine reported on Wednesday.

Israeli doctors have found fragments of bone from a suicide bomber embedded in a 31-year-old woman who survived the attack. The fragments tested positive for liver disease hepatitis B. ...

"As a result of that case, all survivors of these attacks in Israel are now vaccinated from hepatitis B," Braverman told the magazine.

The biggest fear is finding HIV, which causes AIDS.

Yasser Arafat is a terrorist, and there will be no peace in Israel as long as he in alive. Here are a few illustrative quotes, mostly taken from www.iris.org.il.

"Our law is a Jordanian law that we inherited, which applies to both the West Bank and Gaza, and sets the death penalty for those who sell land to Israelis.... We are talking about a few traitors, and we shall implement against them what is written in the law books. It is our right and our obligation to defend our land."

"When we stopped the Intifada we did not stop the Jihad to establish Palestine with Jerusalem as our capital.... We know only one word: Jihad, Jihad, Jihad.... We are at conflict with the Zionist movement...."

"The Israelis are mistaken if they think we do not have an alternative to negotiations. By Allah I swear they are wrong. The Palestinian people are prepared to sacrifice the last boy and the last girl so that the Palestinian flag will be flown over the walls, the churches and the mosques of Jerusalem."

"All of us are willing to be martyrs along the way, until our flag flies over Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine. Let no one think they can scare us with weapons, for we have mightier weapons - the weapon of faith, the weapon of martyrdom, the weapon of jihad."

"I say once more that Israel shall remain the principal enemy of the Palestinian people, not only now but also in the future."

"Cooperation and understanding between the P.L.O. and the rejectionist organizations is what will lead to the speedy retreat of Israel from the occupied territories in the first stage, until the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. Only a state like that can then continue the struggle to remove the enemy from all Palestinian lands."

"The jihad will continue... You have to understand our main battle is Jerusalem... You have to come and to fight a jihad to liberate Jerusalem, your precious shrine... No, it is not their capital. It is our capital."

"The goal of our struggle is the end of Israel, and there can be no compromise."

"You are the generation that will reach the sea and hoist the flag of Palestine over Tel Aviv."

"Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations."

"The victory march will continue until the Palestinian flag flies in Jerusalem and in all of Palestine - from the Jordan River to the Meditteranean Sea and from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat."

"Palestine is onle a stone's throw away for a small Palestinian boy or girl."

It looks increasingly likely that California's Governor Gray Davis will be recalled and a special election will be held either this November or next March. Some 900,000 signatures are required for the recall to make its way to the ballot, and organizers claim to have more than 500,000 already -- with months to go before the September deadline. This is a good thing; no matter who replaces Davis it's sure to be an improvement.

Despite his 24%-27% approval rating, Davis isn't counting himself out yet. He's the dirtiest political fighter that I've ever seen, and he's coming up with some rather underhanded schemes to stay in office. He's in a tough position: if the recall petition gets the required number of signatures, then there is no way to prevent the recall from appearing on the next ballot. It's not a competition -- there's no "counter-petition" that could, given any number of signatures, prevent the recall from going to the ballot. And Davis knows that if the recall proposal is put to the people, 83%-86% of them will vote him out of office.

So what can he do? Well, apparently there are only a limited number of companies available to be hired to circulate petitions, and Davis is trying to hire them all so that the recall proponents can't use them. Hey, that's pretty sneaky! What's really unsettling, however, is that Davis is also circulating a pro-Davis "petition" and getting people to sign it by tricking them into thinking it's the recall petition.

"The Davis carriers ask people 'Have you had a chance to sign the Davis petition?' They leave the impression with people that they've signed the recall petition, so voters then decline to sign the real recall petition when it's offered to them because they think they've already signed," Costa complains. "I believe that's fraud. For sure it's gutter politics." ...

Meanwhile, those who sign the "Davis petition" aren't really signing a petition, defined by Webster as "an entreaty" or "a request" for something. All the Davis document says is that signers don't want the recall.

Gray Davis is total scum. I could link to hundreds of different scandals he's been involved in, but here's five:

Davis accepts kickbacks from Oracle.
Davis abuses Coastal Commission to do favors for friends.
Davis admits to questionable fund-raising practices.
Davis gives prison guards 30% raise in exchange for $2.6 million in campaign contributions.
Davis' advisors owned stock in companies California bought overpriced electricity from.

ISRAEL: The Wapo has a set of pictures up from Israel today, where a Palestinian terrorist blew up a bus full of Israelis, and then the Israeli army fired a couple missiles at some Hamas leaders who were stopped in traffic. It's an awful thing to have open warfare in the streets, but I find it very hard to muster any sympathy for the Palestinians. There's a big difference between Israel attacking terrorist leaders and operators and Palestinians blowing up busloads of innocent civilians.

I do know that if I looked out my window and saw this every week, I'd be scared as hell.

THE SUN IS A MASS OF INCANDESCENT GAS: SDB explains that slightly less than half the earth is lit by the sun at any given time and near the end he gives a list of assumptions that he used to simplify the problem. Most of the assumptions are fine with me because they represent local earth conditions (altitude, weather, imperfect shape of the planet, &c.), but one of them sticks out: he treats the sun as a point light source rather than as a disk, and I think that incorporating this assumption changed his answer.

Think of the point on the equator on one side, just at dawn, and at the other side, just at dusk. They're the two points on the equator which are both lit which are furthest apart. The light arriving at those two points isn't parallel. Those two points plus the sun itself form an isosceles triangle whose base is the diameter of the earth (about 7900 miles) and height is the distance to the sun, about 93 million miles). Do the math and what you find is that there's a difference just shy of .005 degrees between the two, and that means that the sun is actually illuminating just slightly less than 50% of that circle. In order for it to be exactly 50%, those two light beams would have to be exactly parallel, and the light source would have to be infinitely far away.
I agree, except that the sun is a disk approximately 0.5 degrees across when viewed from the earth. This changes SDB's reasoning because the man standing at the sunset will be looking at one edge of the sun, while the man standing at the sunrise will be looking at the other, opposite edge, and those two edges will be 0.5 degrees apart.

The rays of light can be parallel for both viewers at the same time, or come in at an angle even greater than 90 degrees. In fact, slightly more than half the earth is illuminated by the sun at any given time, and this would be true no matter how small the sun appeared in our sky, as long as it's larger than a point.

LAST... FINAL... EVER: I'm off to take my last final, possibly ever. It's hard to be motivated considering that it doesn't really matter how well I do as long as I pass... but I still want to get an A because I'd like the professor to be on my dissertation committee next Fall. Anyway, posting will pick up later today, I expect.

The news recently has made me yawn. There's got to be another country with oil we can invade or something. What's up with North Korea? Quit stalling! Cable news ratings are sinking, it's time for another war.

Ugh, I feel so sick for some reason. I had a sore throat for a couple of days, and it's gone, but now my head is just stuffed full of snot. I want to go home and die, but instead I'm here at work. Ugh. My final went well, however.

There's a sound coming from downstairs, and then it's silent. A moment later you hear the unmistakable creak of your front door opening and closing. Your heart starts to beat faster and you ask yourself, Who the hell is that?

You take a deep breath and try to steady your nerves as you slowly reach for the 9mm you keep in the drawer next to your bed. You sigh with relief when your fingers find it, and you pull it out and quickly clutch it to your chest. The heft is reassuring. You sit still and try to take stock of the situation.

Footsteps approach from the hallway, coming towards your room. I'm not the only one with keys, you realize. It could be a family member or a friend. It could be a murderer, too. But you wait a bit longer, not wanting to make a terrible mistake.

Your bedroom door opens in the darkness to reveal a formless silhouette. "Freeze!" you shout, holding the gun out at arms length as all the cop movies you've ever seen race through your mind. "I've got a gun!"

The figure freezes for a moment, and then flips on the light. You blink a few times and then sit there astonished. You don't know who the intruder is, but he's standing there in your bedroom doorway with a gun in one hand and an empty sack in the other, smiling.

"Who are you?" you ask, incredulous at the invasion of your home and the jaunty manner of the unknown man who is now pointing a gun at you.

"Robber," he says, looking around. "Where do you keep the good stuff?"

"What? Look, you're not getting anything, now put your gun down," you say, trying to sound as serious as possible.

"Of course," he responds. "I'll be happy to. After you. Would you mind filling my sack here up with any jewelry or cash you having lying around?"

Just then you hear the sirens outside and the sound of dozens of feet bursting into the house downstairs. "The cops are here," you tell the robber.

He shrugs and puts his gun in his pocket just as the first officer arrives. "I called them myself," he whispers to you conspiratorially from across the room.

The cop pushes the robber into the room and points his gun at you; "Drop it!" he commands, and you do. "Alright, what's going on here?"

The robber begins, "This guy pulled a gun on me, that's why I called you."

"Is that right?" the officer asks, turning towards you.

You're nearly speechless but you nod. "He broke into my house! He pulled a gun on me! Look at him, he's a robber. He's got a sack to carry off all my stuff!"

The officer looks back and forth between the two of you. "Well, I don't really see the need for violence," he says, and picks your gun up off the floor. "It seems like we should be able to reach an amiable and mutually beneficial resolution."

The robber nods sagely, but you exclaim "What are you talking about?! Aren't you going to arrest this guy?"

The officer gets a pained look on his face for a moment, but it clears. "Look, it's easy to get all confounded trying to figure out who started what and whose 'fault' things are, but let's not get bogged down. How about this: give the robber half a sack of valuables and then he'll be on his way."

The robber smiles agreeably. "Naturally," he says, "a half-sack would be quite sufficient. There's really no need for this to get out of hand."

"That's absurd! He'll just want another half-sack tomorrow!" you tell them both, and they look quite surprised by your reaction.

"We need to find a compromise - " the robber begins.

"... a process that will result in solution that's agreeable to both parties..." the officer starts explaining to you.

"No! No! Listen, I'm not giving anything to this robber under any circumstances!" you shout over them until they fall silent.

The officer sighs. "Try to understand his perspective. No? Very well. Look, I'll let you guys sort it out yourselves and come back tomorrow."

The robber nods and waves to the officer as he leaves. Once the cars pull away from the front of your house he smiles again before pulling the gun from his pocket and turning off the lights.

I had a dream last night that I just can't get out of my head. I'm sure it won't make any sense when I write it down, but I don't want to forget it -- and even though these words may not mean anything to you, next year they might be sufficient to remind me of the dream.

It starts out and I'm at summer camp. There's some sort of large gathering in a common room, and I'm standing in the back, watching, rather than sitting in the rows of chairs with the other kids. The back row of chairs is empty except for two girls who I don't know: one is mostly formless but I get the impression she has straight blond hair; I can see the other clearly and she has curly brown hair.

I'm not really listening to whatever is being said, and so I'm caught by surprise when all the kids get up to leave. The two girls I'm watching file out last and kinda look at me as they go by, but I don't say anything. Then the room is empty and I get a really sad feeling like "idiot, you should have said something".

The dream then cuts to an outdoor scene, and everyone is filing back into the room. Maybe it's a dining hall now, it's hard to say. I'm still focused on these two girls. I go in after them, and then the dream cuts to everyone leaving the room again, only this time the two girls stay behind with me and we start talking. I really like both of them, and they both seem to like me, but I know that the blond one isn't right somehow. I fall in love with the curly-haired girl, but I'm not supposed to -- it's not allowed for some reason. The three of us are sitting on a bench (like a park bench, except indoors) with me on the right, the blond girl in the middle, and the curly-haired girl on the left.

I've got my arm around the blond girl and she's leaning against me, but we can see that it makes the curly-haired girl jealous, so the blond girl stops leaning on me and leans on the curly-haired girl and puts her legs up in my lap. The curly-haired girl is still not happy, and this bothers me. The blond girl is great and all, but I'm only with her because I'm not supposed to be with the curly-haired girl, and we all know this. So the blond girl gets up and leaves me with the curly-haired girl, who I then put my arm around. She's soft, and has beautiful hair.

After that, the three of us are friends. I learn (from a note that they leave me) that the curly-haired girl's name is Kennedy, and the blond girl's name starts with an "A" and her last name starts with a "V", but I can't read the writing clearly. The note is taped to the rear license plate of my car, which is white. After reading the note (which is covered in little pink and purple hearts drawn with sparkle-pen) I realize that I need to tow my car.

I've got a giant tow-truck there ready to go. I have trouble climbing into it because it's so high, and I have to do a chin-up to get onto the sideboard. I start driving away but I realize that I'm leaving both the girls behind, so I stop. I look out the window of the huge truck and see the two girls standing... with Jaime Kennedy.

Apparently, the curly-haired girl named Kennedy got tired of waiting for me, and Jaime Kennedy stole her away. A.V. is sad for me because she knows that curly-haired Kennedy and I are meant for each other, but at the same time she's happy because now she knows she'll get me. Although it makes me feel really guilty to do so in front of A.V., I try to explain to Kennedy that she can't possibly go out with Jaime Kennedy for obvious reasons. I'm not sure how effective I am, however, because at this point I woke up.

The dream left me feeling very melancholy. I knew I could be happy with A.V. -- who I did like a lot -- but I also felt like I missed out on someone very important to me.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF FRANCE: Instapundit posts a letter from his Paris correspondent Claire Berlinski in which she mentions a large amount of security around the Palais de Justice ("Palace of Justice") due to the TotalFinaElf corruption trial that's going on there at the moment.

I don't have much to say about the trial, other than "duh".

But I do want to tell you a little story about the Palace of Justice. When my brother, myself, and one of our friends travelled in Europe in the summer of 2001 (we got home less than a week before 9/11) we visited the Palace of Justice in Paris, largely because the name sounds really cool. We had to walk a ways to get there, and when we arrived it was around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon -- the place was utterly deserted.

There was a security guard at the pedestrian entrance who made us walk through a metal detector, but once we were inside the huge and ornate structure we were amazed that we appeared to be the only people there. A few people in suits walked past us on the ground floor, but once we went up a few staircases we were all alone. Every door was unlocked and every room was empty. It was very surreal, like we were in Tel'aran'rhiod.

At first we were worried that we were in some forbidden area and that we'd get thrown into some Parisian jail and left for dead, but after wandering for a while we became convinced that there was no one to discover our presence anyway. We found several concealed spiral staircases that led up to various storage (?) cells (mostly filled with boxes and rubbish), and a few bolted doors that led to various parts of the roof. The doors were only bolted from the inside, however, and we were able to easily make our way out onto the top of the building using conveniently placed ladders.

We didn't have digital cameras with us, but we did take a lot of pictures from top of the palace (which I will scan, if I can find them). The Eiffel Tower was clearly visible from one angle, as was the Seine River. We felt like cat-burglers escaping from Justice League of France. Eventually the sun went down and the novelty wore off.

When we left, even the guard who had been at the main gate had gone home.

I like libertarian ideas in some respects -- I believe that the government which governs least also governs best. The point of government is to prevent people from interfering with my life, and to leave me alone. That's pretty much it.

So why aren't I a Libertarian? Well, most Libertarians' foreign policy is far too isolationist for my tastes. I believe that one of the only essential mandates for government is to protect me, and in order to do that it may sometimes be necessary to have an active foreign policy (such as with Iraq and Afghanistan).

I tend to be more socially conservative than most libertarians... not because I want the government to meddle in my private life, but because, for instance, I consider abortion to be murder. Most Libertarians are pro-choice, but if they believed that abortion was murder they probably wouldn't be. I'm also not sure that legalizing drugs will solve as many problems as most Libertarians do, and I see some value in having laws that restrict freedom in order to prevent activities that have a very high likelyhood of causing damage or injury.

For instance, many Libertarians I know are against drunk driving laws, on the grounds that it's already illegal to run someone over with your car -- they think there's no reason to punish someone unless they actually hit someone. In my mind, this is like saying that it shouldn't be illegal to fire a gun into a crowd of people; we've already got laws against shooting another person, but if you don't hit anyone then what's the problem?

Libertarian ideas are nice, in theory, but in reality I don't think they completely pan out. There is a great advantage to social order and central government or else it wouldn't exist; the trick is in finding a balance of power between the group and the individual. I do think that in some ways our government has too much power, but most of my complaints could be solved by drastic tax cuts that left other laws untouched. That said, I'm very grateful to all the brilliant Libertarians out there who are fighting the good fight against excessive government, and more often than not I'm right there with you.

Amazingly, Mark Aveyard has just posted a rather elegant fisking of pro-choice Libertarian Arthur Silbur. What excellent timing! You'd almost think we planned it.

Update 2:
I want to briefly clarify my stance on abortion. Abortion is killing a human being, but in some cases killing is not murder.

No, not the movie... the city! I've cleared out a few links from the left that I don't really visit, and I've added links to the LA Examiner and LA Observed. I love Los Angeles, despite the stupidity of Californians in general, and these two sites help keep me informed of local happenings.

Everyone knows the LA Times sucks.

I wonder how many of our Senators and Representatives would vote in favor of ratifying the Constitution and its various amendments (each individually) if they were put up for votes right now?

Everyone has heard about the Muslim woman in Florida who refused to take off her veil for a drivers license photo. Well, despite the ACLU's best efforts, a Florida judge has rejected her request to have the photo taken with the veil in place. Fine. This is pretty clearly the right position to take.

What's particularly interesting to me is what James Taranto notes from the side bar in the CNN article above:


Saudi Arabia: Women aren't allowed to drive
Iran: Women wear a traditional chador, which does not cover the face.
Egypt: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
United Arab Emirates: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
Oman: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
Kuwait: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
Qatar: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
Bahrain: Women do not cover their face in I.D. pictures
Jordan: Women can drive if their faces are covered but do not cover their face in I.D. pictures

So, in the headquarters of Islam -- in Mecca itself -- women aren't even allowed to drive. Spiffy. In that long list of other Arab Muslim countries women are not allowed to cover their faces in ID pictures. Sandra Kellar is trying to claim that her religious rules should take priority over our secular laws, but in point of fact the very clerics who preside over her religion wouldn't allow her to drive a car, which would make her complaint in this case pretty much moot.

Translation: shut up, Sandra Kellar (a.k.a., Sultaana Freeman); shut up ACLU. Quit bothering us with all this nonsense and quit wasting our time with trivialities. If you want to be taken seriously, then concern yourselves with serious issues.

Zimbabwean President for Life Robert Mugabe is beginning to sound a little like someone else we know.

Some news reports in southern Africa had suggested the 79-year-old despot, who has run Zimbabwe since independence 23 years ago, was considering standing down and handing over power to a government of national unity as part of a deal brokered by South Africa.

But Mr Mugabe scotched any such suggestion.

"I don't want to retire in a situation where people are disunited and where certain of our objectives have not been achieved," he said.

"It would be nonsensical for me, a year after my election, to resign."

So obvious was the electoral fraud in last year's presidential election that the poll has been dismissed as flawed by the United States, the European Union and MPs from the southern African region.

But Mr Mugabe said: "As long as there is that fight, I am for a fight . . . And I can still punch." ...

Mr Mugabe mocked the claim of the MDC [opposition party] that it was organising the "Final Push".

"The Final Push has failed totally if it was meant to be a push at all . . .," he said.

"On the contrary it has been a push in reverse.

"So who has pushed who? It was just some drama staged for the G8, but a drama in which the main characters have failed to impress anybody." ...

"The actions are blatantly illegal in that they are aimed at an unconstitutional removal of the country's head of state," he said.

"I hope . . . the British and the United States embassies realise that as they sponsor the MDC and instigate it, they are doing so in order to achieve an illegal objective . . . and I warn their instigation cannot be tolerated forever by my government."

This guy is as brutal as the come, and I hope there's a JDAM with his name on it.

LINKAGE 2: Following up the post directly below, I'm adding a couple of new sites to my blogroll at the left. As I said, my general policy is that I'll link back to anyone who links to me, and I'm particularly happy to link to other small-ish sites.

Especially when they say nice things about me! Aimless, for instance, asks where all the intelligent men like me are in real life. I can only speak for myself, and very often I don't know where I am. But I know where you're going... to the blogroll!

Jane, the Social Reject tossed me a link as well, despite her 37 years of rage and venom. If she's only 37 years old, then that's her whole life! Maybe my link will cheer her up. She says she doesn't like conservatives, fundies, and pro-lifers, but she linked to me anyway... wait a second, she really really hates morons, so maybe she hasn't read much of my site yet.

As a moderately new blogger who likes to get linked to by my big brothers and sisters, I've tried several approaches to getting noticed. Mind you, I mostly write this blog for fun and to hone my writing skills and imagination, but it's fun when other people read it and so I do whore myself out in a few ways. So, how to get read and how to get links? I mean, aside from good writing -- I'm going to try to stay within my realm of experience.

1. Be female. Ok, so I'm cynical. I haven't tried this, but it seems to work pretty well. If you want a scientific explanation, read up on negative frequency dependent selection. There are fewer female bloggers than male bloggers.

2. Post comments on other sites. Most big sites don't have comment boards, but many moderately popular blogs do, and the big boys often read the comments. Specifics? Well, I've gotten lots of refers from comments I've made to Mean Mr. Mustard and Donald Sensing. There are plenty of others, but those are two of my favorites. You can write a few sentences and then mention that you're going to write a post about it; people may click through to see what else you have to say.

3. Email posts to bloggers you think might be interested. This is tricky, and in my experience only works around 10% of the time even with moderately-sized targets, and even when the post you've written is particularly relevant to whatever topic the blogger is writing about that day. This approach works best when you correspond with other small bloggers -- write an email to one of your peers and ask them for their opinion. They'll often be happy to discuss the issue and then you can link to each other and share your combined readership. This is what community is all about, anyway, not just getting links from the big-leaguers.

4. Post pictures. I want to get a digital camera so I can start posting more pictures -- people like to see what's going on, and with a camera you can do real reporting. Take some good pictures of a protest (for example) and you're almost guaranteed to get a few links. You'll need to set up some image hosting service for this to work, but that's not too hard. Man, this trick is almost too good to share.

5. Some bloggers say that in order to get popular you need to "find your niche", but that's just not my thing. It may be true, and worth trying, but from the get-go I determined that this site would be wide-ranging and esoteric. It's in the title!

6. Tell your friends -- I have a good number of non-blogging friends who read my site. Links aren't everything, and you'll probably enjoy yourself more if a dozen friends read what you write than if a hundred strangers do.

7. Link to everything. Some people are stingy with their links -- which makes sense if they're a valuable commodity -- but when you're just getting started there's really no reason not to link to everyone in sight. I remember how happy I was when someone first added me to their blogroll. So blogroll the sites you read, for certain, and when you post put up links to any website that might have inspired you to write what you did. Link as much as you can, especially to your peers. I link to everyone I see who links to me or one of my posts.

Continuing from the two previous posts (one, two), Bill Hobbs sent me an article by Ed Weathers in which Weathers disparages marriage as an artificial social "institution" and really -- in my mind -- misses the entire point.

I live with a woman who is not my wife. Her name is Gail. We share the same bed, and occasionally we make love to each other. We have been doing this for 7 years. At least once a week, Gail and I look at each other, shake our heads, reach out to hold hands, smile and say how lucky we are to be living such a pleasant life. Honestly. We do. You can ask her. ...

Last week, for the five hundredth time, a friend asked me, good-naturedly, "When are you two finally going to get married?"

I gave him the answer I always give to that question: "Never."

Sometimes I'm asked the question differently: "So why don't you two get married?"

Again I always answer the same way: "Why should we? There's absolutely nothing marriage can add to our life together that would make it any better." ...

[snip lots of stuff about how marriage was "designed" to oppress women, "certain colors", and "certain castes", as well as to "suppress the fun of sex"...]

It's not just that marriage is unnecessary, I believe, it's that it's actually harmful. It replaces choice with compulsion. It makes that which should be voluntary, compulsory. ...

Things are clearer for Gail and me, and for others who live together. We know why we're there on Sunday afternoon, reading the paper on the sofa, looking at each other occasionally and smiling. It has nothing to do with covenants and courts. We're there because we like each other best. And we'll be there as long as we both shall love.

Whew, long quote, go read the article.

Ed's is not a new view, and I've heard it before. For all intents and purposes Ed and Gail are married. You don't need to have a big ceremony in a church or a piece of paper from the state to be married; by common law both church and state will recognize their marriage after 17 years, even if they might frown upon it.

What makes his view sound childish to me (aside from all the absurdities I snipped about oppression) is the end where he says "It has nothing to do with covenants and courts. We're there because we like each other best. And we'll be there as long as we both shall love." If that's all he wants, then fine, but you have to admit that an intimate relationship must -- by necessity -- be somewhat limited where there is no commitment.

How much of your life would you be willing to share with someone who may decide on a whim that they don't like you best anymore and that it's time to leave? I wonder if Ed and Gail have joint bank accounts. Do they jointly own property? Do they have children? These are the things that put strain on relationships and that require self-sacrifice and tenacity and commitment above and beyond mere emotion.

Only when we go through trials and tribulation with someone is a friendship really tested, and only then does real love show its worth. Ed seems to see no value in a relationship beyond the extent to which it fulfills his emotional lust, but commitment and partnership take a relationship beyond that. Consider other relationships with financial involvement, such as business partners. Only a fool would go into business with someone or invest money with someone who was unwilling to assume contractual obligations that extend beyond how fun the partnership is at any given moment. How much more so for people having children together? Entering a relationship is voluntary, and voluntarily assuming compulsory obligations is what adults do.

I have a great many acquaintances and surface relationships which exist out of convenience: people I go to class with, work with, see at conventions and conferences, you name it. But there's no real substance to those relationships because there is no shared living. Ed claims that he and Gail are "living together", but I wonder how "together" they really are? How together can it possibly be if there is no commitment beyond "I'll stick around as long as it's fun"?

I will certainly never plan my future on the shifting sands of human emotion.

Thanks Bill for linking to this post, and for rightfully acknowledging the shredification.

Just to expand briefly on my earlier post -- it's important to me that love is a decision rather than an emotion. Free will is one of man's highest attributes, and if love is nothing more than a series of chemical interactions then its worthless.

BIZARRO WORLD: The liberal left is getting increasingly frustrated by their diminishing power, but they blame it on the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy rather than consider the possibility that their ideas are simply losing traction with the American citizenry. As their screeches become more deafening, sometimes it can be rather difficult to understand what they're thinking. So let's go for a ride to the Land of Make-Believe, a.k.a., the "Take Back America" seminar.

Jeff Faux, distinguished fellow at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, lashed out at the culture of talk radio during a panel discussion entitled "Shrubbed: The Radical Project of George Bush."

"I turn on the radio, and I hear these talk shows with right wing drunks calling in, and I ask myself, where are our drunks?" Faux said.

I found one!
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, charged that "Rupert Murdoch [and his] cronies" are "stifling our messages and keep our messages from being heard, and when we get them out, they are drowned in a sea of lies."
Maybe she's forgotten about ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, and all the liberal media outlets. Oh, that no one watches, right. Maybe they're being stifled by stupidity and pompousity.
Maude Hurd, president of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), said liberals have been "bushwhacked" by the president.

"George W. Bush has pushed so many right wing proposals through Congress that many progressives have begun to despair," Hurd explained. "Bush's endless demands for tax cuts for millionaires are so willfully blind that he reminds me of a substance abuser," Hurd added.

Well, you can't cut taxes for people who don't pay taxes. Nice pun, by the way, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.
[Callahan] told the audience that she once asked former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall how it felt to be able to pass environmental regulations during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations without much opposition.

"I asked: 'What was it like when you were running the Interior Department, and you all created the Endangered Species Act, you protected amazing lands, you did these new and insightful and far-reaching things to protect our natural environment?" According to Callahan, Udall answered: "Basically, if you could think it up, you could do it."

Now that's a great method for governing, bureaucrats who can do anything they can think up. Swell.

WOMYN: Via various sources I see that Women's Action Coalition is planning a "performance protest" during which

One by one, over 250 women will condemn the Bush Administration for destroying our basic American freedoms. Each charge will be answered by a scream of rage and resistance, fury and frustration.
Gosh, a bunch of whiny, screaming, emotional women -- play to sterotypes more, please. Will there be a special segment where female comedians make jokes about menstruation and how hard it is to find a boyfriend? Why not have a cry-a-thon or a mass ovulation or something?

Whatever. I have no doubt that Ashcroft's boot will strike quickly to crush this intolerable dissent and get these girls back to work making babies and doing laundry.

Here's a great picture of some Palestinian peace protesters:

Washington Post

Oh no wait, they're protesting against peace. My mistake.

MIDNIGHT MOVIE: Anyone who's in Los Angeles should make plans to come watch Rosemary's Baby tonight at midnight at the Nuart on Santa Monica Blvd.

Sure, it's directed by Child Rapist Roman Polanski, but it was made before he started raping children -- at least as far as can be proven.

Anyway, email me if you're coming. I have no idea how many (if any) of my readers are from Los Angeles.

My apologies to all those Googlers who came to this site after searching for "jessica lynch nude naked". There are no such pictures here. A while back I was getting hits from people looking for nude pictures of Shoshana Johnson as well. They must have been terribly disappointed.

But thanks for stopping by!

I had a pretty interesting discussion with one of my friends over lunch today about the nature of love and the meaning of marriage. I'll try to distill it down into a few paragraphs, but as the conversation was a couple of hours long that may not be easy.

The main difference in perspective can be explained thusly: for her, loving someone is the same as being "in love" with someone; for me, being "in love" is a mere emotion, and actually loving someone is a decision to act in a certain way. Emotions are fickle (at least mine are) -- they come and go seemingly at random, and are hardly under our control, if they are at all. Emotions are governed largely by chemistry; it's difficult for our will to subjugate our emotions. A great many people don't even see any value in controlling their emotions, and our culture encourages us to pursue happiness on these grounds.

If it feels good, do it. Listen to your heart. How do you feel? This is how most people seem to view love, and I think that this view is intertwined with our cultural construct of dating and has a heavy influence on marriage. People look for someone who makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I call this "emotional lust". The essence of lust is the desire to use someone else to fulfill your cravings, and although it usually refers to physical desires I think it's equally applicable to emotional needs as well. It's generally acknowledged that men make many decisions based on physical lust, but it's not widely recognized that women tend to make many decisions based on emotional lust. As I said, our culture actively encourages this perspective.

Therefore, when a couple is "in love" and emotionally involved and intimate, they decide to get married based on those emotions. They ride high for a while, but eventually those emotions come to an end. It's basically inevitable. People are highly adaptive creatures, and eventually the spouse becomes a part of the environment and the highly charged emotional energy that was there at first dissipates. Clearly, marriages that are based purely on physical lust cannot be expected last, but for some reason people expect emotional lust to be different. The median American marriage lasts 7 years.

What, then, is the alternative? Approach love as a decision, rather than merely as an emotion. There is nothing wrong with the emotional aspects of being in love, but it's important that there be more to a relationship than just those emotions -- repeat after me: emotions are fickle and they don't last forever. Once the emotions are gone, many people find themselves stuck with a person they aren't even friends with. Since those emotions were the foundation of the relationship, it's over.

However, when you decide to love someone, and you make a committment to stick by them, work together, and share each others' lives regardless of circumstance, then the relationship is built on a more certain foundation. When emotional lust does not control, then the focus of love can be on the other's well-being rather than on merely satisfying your own cravings.

Many people view dating as a means of fulfilling their emotional lust. Being with anyone is better than being with no one, because at least you aren't alone. The most important thing about any person you date, then, is how they make you feel. Only when the feelings begin to drain do other components come to the fore: is there a spiritual and intellectual connection? Do the math: many friendships last a lifetime, but very few marriages do. Why is that? You may think it's because marriages are a lot more demanding than most friendships, and that is exactly right. There is no way that any human being can live up to our expectations and desires, and if you try to lay all that on your spouse you are bound to be disappointed.

Finding a spouse should be like finding a best friend, and indeed I believe that ideally friendship should come before love. It's hard (ok, impossible) to avoid falling "in love" with people sometimes, but it's important not to let those feelings take over a budding friendship. It's very easy to fall in love, but it can be very difficult to get out later. Being "in love" is a wonderful feeling, but it won't last and it's no basis for a permanent relationship.

AJAR: I haven't written a lot of fiction recently, but I had a silly little idea on the way home tonight. It's called Ajar, and it's up over at The Forge (if the permalink doesn't work). Do people really get divorced because their spouse leaves the window open?

So she leaves it open?

She doesn’t leave it open, she gets up after I fall asleep and opens it.

She opens the window while you’re asleep.


And you get cold, or what?

I just can’t sleep with the window open. It’s cold, it’s noisy – you know.

So you talked to her about it?

I tried to. I mean, I told her several times that I can’t sleep with the window open. It’s like she doesn’t even listen.


And it’s not just the window. Sometimes she leaves the bathroom door partly open, too.

Well, that seems unnecessary.

Exactly, I don’t want to deal with that for the rest of my life.

Apparently not.

Like I said, I’ve tried talking to her about it. I love her and everything, really, but this just isn’t going to work out.

But you still love her?

Oh, yeah, you know, she’s great, mostly. It’s just that, well, I just don’t think we’re meant to be.

Too many open issues.

Right. Like the drawers in the kitchen. Sometimes when she gets a knife or whatever she pushes the drawer closed and it doesn’t go all the way. She leaves it hanging open, like, an inch! It’s so annoying. She doesn’t even notice. All the cabinets, doors, windows, everything.


See, I think it’s some sort of escape thing. Like, psychologically. She wants to leave herself a way out.


Right. She knows it’s not working too, and psychologically she’s trying to escape.


Well, you have to look underneath the surface sometimes, to get to the root of the problem.

WHERE'S WALDO?: The search in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction continues, but it appears that many former Saddam scientists still aren't talking.

"Their questions are the same as yours," [one of Saddam Hussein's chief chemical warriors, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Alaa Saeed] said. " 'Do you know of any documents or inventory of chemical agents? Any stockpiles? Any production programs? Any filled munitions? Do you have any idea where these weapons are?' I am ready to give them all the information I have. But the answer is always the same: 'No, no, no.'

"I tell them there are no hidden chemical or biological weapons," he said. "Maybe there is some other group, like the SSO [Hussein's ruthless Special Security Organization] or the Mukhabarat [the Gestapo-like intelligence agency], who have done it. I don't know. That is not my responsibility."

A U.S. intelligence official in Washington said Tuesday that senior Iraqis in custody have provided little useful information.

Strange stuff. They can't really believe that Saddam is still around, can they? It's hard to imagine that all the higher-ups are still toeing the party line. Maybe they're afraid of prosecution for war crimes, but it seems like one or two could be offered immunity for some decent information.

If there are WMD in Iraq, then someone knows where they are. Unfortunately, those who know are probably among the ex-Baathist Sunni Arabs who are currently still fighting against the coalition forces. If the captured scientists have any reason to fear, it's because of these armed remnants who may still be able to reach their family members in Iraq.

(Link to the LA Times article via Rough & Tumble.)

DRUG LEGALIZATION 2: Danny O'Brien over at Blog O' DOB agrees with my concerns with the prospect of drug legalization.

Understand that while there are moral arguments both for and against legalizing various drugs, I don't think the government should be involved in any way in moral positioning. The only values that government should advocate are morally neutral: interfere with my life as little as possible, and protect me from the interference of others.

Donald Sensing points out that the Palestinians have a bomb that can potentially destroy Israel as a Jewish state, and it's attached to their kids! Yes, that's right, the dreaded population bomb.

Right now there are four million Muslims in Israel/West Bank/Gaza. Jews outnumber them by a mere 800,000. At current growth rates of each (see end notes), in 14 years the ratio will be reversed: 6.7 million Muslims and 6 million Jews.
One problem with projections based on growth rate is that they often don't take into account the fact that growth rates change a great deal over time, particularly as overall wealth increases and decreases.

If a workable peace is established in the region, I expect that Palestinian growth rates will decrease as their standard of living increases. It's also hypothetically possible that the Jewish growth rate would increase with added security (more people might have kids), but that's pure speculation.

Additionally, growth rates tend to drop as population density increases, so there will be a leveling-off effect over time.

So yes, I do agree that there is a population issue that the Jews must face, but I'm not convinced it's as dangerous as many make it out to be. Demographics is a tricky subject, and it's hard to make accurate projections.

ALWAYS SAVE YOUR WORK: I mentioned this post about the Nanog gene and radical life extention over at Setting the World to Rights before, and I wanted to put the link up again because the comments are rather interesting.

One commenter says that once we can create backups of ourselves death will not be permanent, but this is intuitively fallacious. Creating copies or backups of oneself clearly would not obviate death. Another commenter pointed out that a copy would be no different than an identical twin, and wold not really be you, even though they might be just like you.

Even if the copies are fungible to other people, you yourself would still be dead. Same goes for transporters in Star Trek.

Addtionally, I don't expect that we will never be able to back-up a human.

DIABLOG: Mark Aveyard and I had a chat last night about movies (and other stuff) and it's up at his site, The Diablogger. I love the concept, and it was fun to be the first diablog he's done in a while.

At least he kept my dating success rate out of it.

HALF EMPTY: I try not to bore you all with too many personal musings, but tonight my glass is definitely half empty rather than half full. Just wanted to share.

In Britain we can see a perfect example of why socialism doesn't work. Healthcare is "free" in the sense that it's paid for by taxes, but apparently some people (such as fat people and smokers) are putting more strain on the system than it can bear. The government has responded by proposing "healthy lifestyle contracts" that doctors would encourage their patients to follow as a part of treatment.

Naturally, this "oppressive" proposal had fat smokers up in arms.

Claire Rayner, president of the Patients' Association, branded the proposal to ask smokers and overweight people to sign healthy lifestyle contracts as "oppressive and obscene".

She said the implication of the plan was to blame people for their own poor health and suggest that they would have to pay more for healthcare because they had brought their illness on themselves.

Ms Rayner said: "This is a nasty middle class document. It's the Tuscan bread and olive oil set telling people they can't eat pizzas and burgers.

She's right about one thing: this does represent the tax-payers telling the poor that they need to take better care of their health. But, that's unfair! Well, it would be, except for the fact that the tax-payers are paying for the medical care these others consume. If I were paying for my neighbor's car, I would certainly insist that he take good care of it and not waste the money I was spending.

You can't have liberty and socialism. It's just not possible for people to live however they want and have society pick up the tab by subsidizing the cost of dangerous behaviors. Because of economic realities, you have to pick: either you have freedom to make dangerous decisions and bear the cost for yourself, or society picks up the tab for everything bad that happens but also has the authority and power to make many decisions for you.

When a child lives at home with his parents, he necessarily lives under their rules. He can't just destroy stuff or leave food or dirty clothes everywhere because it puts impossible strain on the people providing for him. When a child grows up and lives on his own, he (eventually) learns to minimize harmful behaviours due to the cost of dealing with the aftermath. Same with healthcare and lifestyle, socialized jobs and productivity, you name it. There's a liberty/security trade-off that cannot be avoided.

There's a movement afoot to legalize many types of currently illegal drugs (particularly marijuana) on civil liberty grounds, and I'm generally sympathetic, even though I have never used any illegal drugs and I rarely drink alcohol. The basic idea behind the movement is that if someone wants to use drugs, even dangerous ones, it's no business of government as long as no one else is hurt. It is also argued that if drugs are legalized then the black market and all the crime associated with it will evaporate because the premium prices will disappear when large, legal, corporations take over production and distribution.

Both of these justifications are plausible. I don't like the government involved in peoples' personal lives, and I do think legalization would quickly undermine the vast drug cartels that smuggle illicit substances into our country and wreak havoc all around the world. But. I don't think that anyone has a clear and complete understanding of how legalization would affect our society and economy.

Civil libertarians may argue that it's irrelevant, but consider what demographics would be most likely to increase consumption of currently illegal drugs. Who would these newly-formed drug companies target with their product? Alcohol has a rather high penetration rate and is often abused... what effect would wide-spread "moderate" LSD or cocaine use have on society? (Can such drugs even be used in "moderation"? Doubtful.)

It may be argued that even if drug use is legalized it will not become wide-spread, but economic theory does not support that belief. Right now illegal drugs are expensive and difficult to acquire, but if they are legalized the price will drop by a factor of 10 or more and they will be available at every corner store. It's absurd to think that this change in market conditions will have no effect on consumption. Will the productivity lost by increased hard drug use be offset by the money saved in law enforcement and gained through taxation? I'm skeptical. And do we really want our government raising money by taxing addictive substances, and thereby gaining an incentive to get more people hooked? (This is why I'm against tobacco taxes and why I think the tobacco industry scored a huge win with the structure of its lawsuit settlements with the states.)

As with all things, a balance needs to be found that maximizes liberty and minimizes the cost of that libery to society. Perhaps alcohol should be legal and LSD should not, perhaps marijuana should or should not be. I don't think the answer is as clear as the legalization-ists would have us believe, but I also think that the status quo needs some serious reconsideration.

PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Peace between Israel and the Palestinians doesn't seem likely as long as:

The conviction that no way can be found for Israel and the Palestinians to coexist is strongest in Morocco (90 percent), followed by Jordan (85 percent), the Palestinian Authority (80 percent), Kuwait (72 percent), Lebanon (65 percent), Indonesia (58 percent) and Pakistan (57 percent).
The numbers come from this International Herald Tribune article. It goes on to say,
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who chairs the Pew project, called these results "very disheartening, and very dangerous, frankly."

"I hope that this is temporary and that, if there are some improvements in the situation because of the peace process, it will change," she said. "There is no way Israel is going to disappear. We will just have to find some way to mitigate those feelings."

Well, it's not temporary -- these aren't new numbers and there's no reason to expect that they're transient. Albright seems to think that the "peace process" might change the Palestinians' minds, but how can there be such a process if 8 in 10 Palestinians think there's no way to coexist with Israel? Who would embark on any sort of process that they believe is futile?

As Albright said, there's no way that Israel is going to disappear. There's also apparently no way that the Palestinians are going to give up their desire to eradicate Israel. That's a stalemate that can only be resolved when one side loses, and the sole accomplishment of the "peace process" so far has been to ensure that neither side can be defeated. The Palestinians can't realistically threaten Israel's military, and Israel can't bring its full power to bear against the Palestinians due to the political pressure of the "peace process".

Until and unless one side has its will to fight broken by defeat, there won't be peace in the region. When two parties have mutually exclusive goals, the only way there can be peace is if one of them is defeated. The externally imposed "peace process" is just prolonging the agony leading up to the inevitable hot war and raising the stakes for both sides. Neither can back down and they can't both win, so it's just a matter of time.

(Thanks to Opinion Journal for the pointer to the article.)

GOLD: Just go read Lileks. He's got the dirtiest joke that's ever been on TV, and it's from the Tomacco episode of the Simpsons... one of my favorite. No, I won't just blockquote it here, go read it for yourself. Go go go.

As if you need me to tell you to go read him.

LINKAGE: Donald Sensing has posted some small blogs that have been linking to him, and I'm among them. Thanks Don!

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO ME ON THE WAY HOME...: While I was driving home from work just now I saw a guy on the street driving my old car! I sold my white '91 Ford Escort almost exactly three years ago, and I was quite taken aback to see it again, same license plate and everything. Naturally, I decided to follow the guy home. Turns out he lives one block away from me.

CALIFORNIA POLITICAL THEORY: As summarized by Al Rantel: If it moves, regulate it; if it keeps moving, tax it; if it stops moving, subsidize it.

NANOG: SettingTheWorldToRights has a post up about the newly-named Nanog gene, and goes in pretty much the same direction with it that I did. They seem to be in favor of using stem cells from babies killed for reasearch, whereas I am not, and they take our human form as accidental, but that's par for the course.

They focus mostly on the prospect of radical life extension, but I think that the elimination of degenerative disease will come more quickly.

YOU TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: Donald Sensing explains why paying taxes is a legal obligation, but not a moral duty. All the better for having read it right after depositing my federal tax refund check.

HEY BIG SPENDER: I like Bush a lot, and I think he's going a great job as president... for the most part. Whether through pure skill or through skill mixed with luck and timing he and his team have handled the Iraq/UN situation brilliantly -- not only achieving our immediate goals of fighting terror and oppression against a visible enemy, but also managing to throw some light into the dark recesses of international diplomacy where our "allies" have lay hidden, plotting against us for years.

Of course, his dad performed decently in the foreign policy realm as well. Bush II has managed to pass some nice tax cuts (in contrast to Bush I, who raised taxes despite his famous "read my lips" promise), but I'm still not completely satisfied. Andrew Sullivan points to a Peter Beinart article that criticizes many of the president's policies, and although I don't agree with most of the criticisms (such as "the Bush administration seems to believe that, as the most powerful country on earth, the United States should both dictate the rules of the international system and exempt itself from them" -- I entirely agree with the Bush administration), in one area Beinart is dead on: Bush needs to review agricultural subsidies.

Let me briefly explain what a subsidy is. Take cotton: for every pound of cotton grown in the US, the government pays the grower 72 cents. Without this money (or some amount), it would not be profitable to grow cotton in the US, and the industry would move out of the country. It costs one-third as much to grow cotton in Africa, for instance. If the subsidy was removed American jobs would be lost (from the cotton industry), but there would be a net economic gain because the cost of cotton products would go down (when the cost of the subsidy is factored in). Subsidies are bad for our economy. Not only that, but this subsidy is also bad for Africa, because African growers can't compete in the cotton market with our growers, who can sell the cotton at a lower price, due to the subsidy.

What's the benefit? In theory, we as a nation don't want to be wholly dependent on foreigners for essential goods, such as cotton, oil, food, steel, and the like. So it makes sense from a national security standpoint to subsidize some industries so that they don't disappear entirely. However, agricultural subsidies are often more pork than anything else, and at the very least the entire process should be reviewed and zero-based anew every year to prevent corruption; they've continued to grow under Bush, however, as they have under all past presidents.

A TALE OF FOUR SERIES: I'd like to briefly compare and contrast four recent movie series, each of which has had two out of at least three movies released. They are all designed to target the same general demographic, and all have huge budgets, but only two of them are really living up to expectations.

Star Wars: Taking the most recent movies as part of a new trilogy (episodes I through III), the general concensus is that they pretty much suck. Nifty new (ostentatious, gaudy) special effects and digital production don't make up for awful acting and absurd plotlines. Let's look at how The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones compare to the first three based on ratings from Internet Movie Database and RottenTomatoes:

Star Wars: 8.8/10, 95% fresh
Empire Strikes Back: 8.7/10, 98% fresh
Return of the Jedi: 8.1/10, 79% fresh

The Phantom Menace: 6.6/10, 63% fresh
Attack of the Clones: 7.3/10, 63% fresh

Those are significant drops in approval, and anecdotally I think most people would agree that George Lucas' most recent forays into writing and directing were less than spectacular. No big stars in leading roles, unless you count Ewan McGregor.

The Matrix: The first movie was obviously huge (8.5/10, 86% fresh) (although I wasn't a huge fan... it was good), but apparently the second isn't being as well received (7.5/10, 75% fresh). Not only that, but Donald Sensing notes that its box office receipts are plummeting much more quickly than expected. Decent star-power.

X-Men: The first movie came out in 2000 and was ok, but nothing spectacular (7.3/10, 80% fresh). The second came out in 2003 and was much better than most people seemed to expect (7.8/10, 88% fresh). The special effects were good, but there was also something known as a "plot". The characters had as many as two (even three!) dimensions, and the world wasn't completely black and white. Additionally, there were a good number of big stars.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring was pretty amazing (8.9/10, 95% fresh), and The Two Towers was excellent as well (8.8/10, 97% fresh). Again, good special effects, good acting (mostly), and a few moderate-size stars.

The first two series are struggling (some may disagree with regard to The Matrix, but box office receipts don't lie), and the last two are flourishing. I don't think many people expected much from the X-Men franchise when the first movie came out, and although people had high hopes for LoTR there was a prevailing sense of dread that the the beloved series would be butchered in production (as Star Wars was).

So what sets the last two series apart? There are a decent number of movie stars in each, they all have big budgets, they all have special effects, they all have boatloads of promotion... even Hugo Weaving is spread between them evenly. So what's the deal?

X-Men and LoTR are based on amazingly powerful prior works, and Star Wars and The Matrix are not. There are obviously hundreds and thousands of books and comic books that came out contemporaneously with X-Men and LoTR, and most of them failed and disappeared. That these two works survived long enough to be made into movies demonstrates their underlying fitness. In contrast, Star Wars and The Matrix were thrown immediately into the same entertainment niche with these proven contenders and will likely fall by the wayside, just as their earlier paper competition.

What's the lesson? Maybe Hollywood needs to consider that the same qualities that make for a good book also make for a successful movie. Special effects and promotional tie-ins will get people in for the first weekend, but ultimately a good story is what people are after. Conflict, character development, background depth, mystery, risk.

X-Men and LoTR had leading characters die (Boromir and Jean Grey). Star Wars killed off Qui-Gon Jinn (who was introduced for the sole purpose of killing off, it seems) and The Matrix has an invincible main character. In both, the heroes fight against robots who are killed by the hundred, but who cares? That's like killing Nazis -- no one sees the enemy as significant, they're just cannon fodder. In LoTR the orcs at least have some personality, and the Black Riders are actually pretty scary and cool. Their history as corrupted human kings gives them some weight, and Sauron's flaming eye is downright evil.

Magneto is more of a tragic hero than a villain, and the audience can relate to his desire to protect mutants, even if his methods are dangerous and destructive. There's a complex interplay between good and evil that's not seen in Star Wars -- the evil Jedi don't really seem that evil based on what we see on screen -- or The Matrix. Even though the evil in LoTR is very clear-cut, the conflict and struggle among and within the Fellowship is enough to sustain the feeling of apprehension and mystery (aside from the fact that we all know how it ends).

I certainly don't want anyone to take away from this the idea that movies should only be remakes of previously successful stories (argh, no!), but I think movie-makers could learn a lot from reading a few books.

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