July 2003 Archives

I thought it'd be fun to burn some more processor cycles, so I whipped up a Most Commented-On Posts page that lists the 50 posts with the most comments. It's based on a method by Lynda over at ScriptyGoddess, and there's plenty more cool stuff over there if you fellow bloggers want to take a look.

David Bernstein over at the Volokh Conspiracy writes about what he calls the Palestinians' "suicidal fantasies":

In my view, the fact that the Palestinian public has apparently made the release of cold-blooded murderers its first priority--ahead of the security fence, new settlement activity, travel restrictions, employment in Israel, and a host of other concerns that do not involve releasing cold-blooded murderers--shows that the Palestinian public is not yet ready for a peace agreement. The average Palestinian in the street apparently still sees blowing up children in a pizzeria as heroic resistance, and as long as that is true I see little hope for a lasting peace agreement.
He's right about that, but I think he's misjudging the motives of the Palestinian public. The Palestinians are being manipulated by their leaders (and the leaders of some Arab nations), many of whom don't want the conflict in Israel resolved. David notes that the Palestinians are only a thorn in Israel's paw compared to Iran, al Qaeda, and (potentially) Pakistan, but as long as the Arab despots of the world can keep twisting it they can prevent those civilized nations that are sympathetic with the Palestinians from wholeheartedly supporting Israel.

The Palestinian public is continually deluded by its leaders, just as most Arabs have been for decades; the Arab rulers depend on this delusion to stay in power. If the conflict in Israel is ever resolved, these dictators will have to either address the real problems facing their people, or find another scape-goat. It's not a fantasy for them, it's a strategy -- but it's still suicidal.

I sure hope someone is working on combining these two news stories:

1. A 2000-year-old jar of cream has been discovered in an archeological dig in London. The cream still shows prints from the fingers of a hypothetically beautiful Roman babe.

2. Canadian scientists have developed a new method for extracting DNA from fingerptints. Good work, Canada.

This probably won't get reported anywhere else, but I expect we're less a year away from the birth of the first Rome clone, as I'm going to call them. Soon we'll be able to clone some Visigoths too, and I'll name the eldest "Clonan the Barbarian".

Naturally we'll make them fight each other in our cloned Colosseum.

Oscar Jr. is onto something with his idea of "comment squatting". However, I'd like to expand on that; we need a whole new paradigm for comments!

As it is, the comment sections on blogs that have them act like a single thread on a message board. If there are a lot of commenters things can quickly get confusing and disorganized, or even degenerate into flame-wars. That's no good! In fact, most of the big-name bloggers refuse to allow comments on their sites for just this very reason.

What to do? My proposal is simple: replace the comment thread with an entire message board dedicated to that single post. Users could create threads on the board for different sub-topics, thereby preventing confusion. The blogger could even appoint administrators for the boards to help him keep things civil.

Most blogs would only need a single Master of Comments, since most of us don't get enough feedback to really have to worry about administration. As for the big boys, I have no doubt that Glenn, Steven, Eugene, and the rest could find dozens of suitable volunteers, with minimal extra effort on their own parts. Andrew already has something of the sort going; he's got an assistant to handle and publish comments that readers email to him.

What about clutter? you ask. Easy, I reply. Most blogs dump everything more than 7 days old off into the archives; when a post moves off the front page the associated forum could simply shut down, if desired. Lock it, delete it, or even migrate each individual thread into a large master-blog-forum where it can live or die on its own. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, in a sense, hundreds of little blogs already act as comment sections for the top dogs; why complicate matters? People like interactivity! Introducing a forum-based comment section would lower the cost-of-entry for would-be commenters, and potentially increase the utility of blogs to casual readers who would like to respond but don't want to take the time to set up a blog of their own.

I don't think the software yet exists to manage forums in the way I've described, but that's a mere technicality; there's great forum code out there that can be adapted easily enough. As blogs become journalism the Crowd will want to get more involved, and most of the major blogs are, in a way, less interactive than print publications that run letters to the editor. This new vision for comments -- or something like it -- is essential for the next stage of our blog-olution.

I wrote a response to Bill's post earlier this week on another hurdle that blogs must overcome before they supplant journalism: they've got to make money. Without revenue, blogs will continue to churn out quality punditry, but little true reporting.

What do these people have in common? They're both named Charles Taylor.

What do they not have in common? The guy on the left is "president" of Liberia and has been indicted for all sorts of war crimes. The guy on the right is my population genetics professor at UCLA who I hope to have on my PhD dissertation committee, and has not been indicted for even a single war crime. Both have worked in Africa, but the guy on the left spends his time brutally oppressing an entire country, while the guy on the right applies artificial life simulations to important humanitarian causes, like controlling malaria.

By digging beneath the surface, it's often possible to make this kind of astounding differentiation, despite initial similarities. Even though both men are named "Charles Taylor", one is a vicious killer and the other is a brilliant scientist. Sometimes certain groups will try to "sex up" surface similarities because they don't want you to recognize the underlying differences; it's important to carefully examine claims that two people or groups are equivalent.

Homework: Can anyone think of any real-world examples of this sort of deception, perhaps relating to American politics or international relations?

Class dismissed.

Donald Sensing discusses two essays about Public Displays of Patriotism (PDPs); the first by Trent Telenko, and a response by Sgt. Stryker. Trent disparages those who feel "oppressed" by PDPs, and then Stryker takes him to task, writing that many vets don't like ostentatious displays of patriotism either.

I mostly want to respond to Stryker by reminding him that those who have served in America's military probably have a much keener, more focused sense of patriotism than the rest of us will ever know; I can certainly understand why many PDPs may appear gaudy and exhibitionistic in their eyes. I imagine that a cop watching Law & Order or an astronaut visiting Space Camp feels similarly.

Still, if I may speak for all the patriotic Americans who haven't served in the military: we're trying our best. We want to honor you, we want to honor our country, and we generally try to do so as well as we know how. I'm sure that putting a flag up on my front porch seems childish to the men who draped the Stars & Stripes over Saddam's statue in Baghdad, but it's all I've got.

The Democrats have long insisted that they will not offer a candidate to replace Governor Davis, and that Davis has the full support of the party. I've written about Davis' lack of honor and the difficult strategic issues that each party as to deal with; despite the DNC's formal line, here's the trial balloon I've long-expected the Democrats to float: "2 Democrats in Congress Urge Feinstein to Enter Recall Race".

Two Democratic members of Congress publicly urged Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday to join the race to replace Gov. Gray Davis, ending what had been a united effort by Democratic elected officials to stand with the governor in the recall election.

The statements came from U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Cal Dooley (D-Hanford).

Both said that, although they oppose the recall, Democrats need someone to vote for in case Davis loses. ...

"It is no secret that Gov. Davis is in trouble, and I seriously doubt that he can survive the recall effort," Dooley said in a statement. "We, as Democrats, need to get behind a strong candidate.

"It is unfortunate that the recall effort qualified for the ballot," he added, but "it is foolhardy for Democrats to gamble that Gov. Davis can pull this out."

There is no way that Gray Davis is going to survive the recall election as governor. Although the Democrats seem to be in suicide mode all around the country, I will be astounded if the party holds its current line; I expect they're waiting to see how this proposal plays out in their focus groups.

Many people see Democratic Senator Feinstein as a lock to win, if she runs, but I'll go out on a limb and predict that she won't. She has expressed contempt for the recall petition concept itself, and is getting a bit old to start a vigorous campaign. On the other hand, the campain will only be 59 days long, and it's likely to be her last opportunity to run for higher office.

The Israelis are building a 300-mile-long wall around Jerusalem to protect themselves from Palestinian terrorist attacks from the north and south. While meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday, Bush expressed "concern" about the wall. Four days ago, President Bush met with Palestinian "Prime Minister" Mahmoud Abbas and called the wall "a problem".

It seems like the real problem is that Palestinian kids keep jacking up on crack, strapping on bombs, and blowing themselves up at Israeli birthday parities.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, whom the Bush administration has snubbed in favor of Mr. Abbas, says the barrier is a new "Berlin Wall" that will divide Palestinian areas into ghettos.
East Berlin was a ghetto because its government made it that way. Arafat and Abbas are the Palestinian government. Do the math.

Jails have walls. Zoos have walls. Not every prisoner is dangerous, nor every animal, but you don't want them just wandering around, especially when it's hard to tell the difference. Palestinians aren't prisoners or animals, but many of them are devoted to wreaking as much havoc in Israel as possible. Unfortunately, it seems like the Israelis are forced to wall themselves in because President Bush would prefer that they make peace with the lions rather than hunt them down and kill them.

I highly recommend Setting the World to Rights' Short History of Israel for anyone who feels that Israel and the Palestinians share equal blame for the current situation, or who simply wants to know more about the recent history of the region.

Steven Den Beste is right, I am surprised to find Master of None added to his slowly-rotating blogroll. (There's got to be something that rotates slowly, and doesn't carry lots of other connotations, that I could have used as a metaphor, but I can't think of anything that fits. First I had "blog rotisserie", but that implies I'm being cooked; galaxies rotate slowly, but they're huge and have billions of stars.)

SDB finished his post with "[DWL!]", so I'll just thank him here for pointing some new eyes in my direction. Thanks! I'm flattered.

Those of you with the new eyes: welcome! Make yourselves at home. Take yer shoes off and relax; I'll try to think of something entertaining... let's see... where'd that dancing monkey go? Anyway, take a look around, comment on everything, and ya'll come back now, y'hear?

I've used my incredible mental powers to look into the near future, and Frank J's worst nightmare is about to come true.

I suggest you stock up on bananas.

It has been brought to my attention that my night color scheme sucks. If anyone out there is willing to take a look at the style-sheet and suggest some alternate colors, I will be your best friend forever.

John Callender at Lies writes that many advocates of the battle in Iraq see our invasion as a direct result of 9/11. This is true. He goes on to say, however, that because there as been little evidence of a direct relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda (he might say no evidence) that this reasoning cannot be used to justify the invasion.

However, there can be no denying two facts:
1. Saddam did have direct relations with other terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. He funded terrorist attacks within Israel, and facilitated these groups' operations all around the world.
2. Saddam's oppression of the Iraqi people was a part of the vast swamp that encourages and contributes to the Arab Muslim terrorist mindset. If, as many leftists claim, such terrorism flourishes due to repressive dictators that the USA has propped up, eliminating one of those dictators directly addresses one of the "root causes" the leftists are so fond of.

Furthermore, don't forget that after the US entered WW2, our first step in Europe was to invade Morocco. Why would we do such a horrible thing? What did Morocco do to us? For strategic reasons, Morocco was a sensible place to start our counter-offensive against the Germans in North Africa. Similarly, Iraq was the low-hanging fruit among our enemies (and they were our avowed enemy); even if I concede a lack of direct connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, there's no shortage of indirect connections.

Even though different people had different motivations, they all led towards the same intent: topple Saddam Hussein. Some of those motivations may have been selfish, or logically flawed, or noble, or anything, but the cumulative effect of them was widespread and irresistable. Though different people may have had different reasons, everyone agreed on what had to be done, and so it was.

My own personal reasons are based on the overall War on Terror, and so I justify our battle in Iraq on those grounds. The liberation of the Iraqi people is an important step towards our victory in the greater war; not merely because I think everyone deserves to live free (although I do), but because until the Arab Muslim world is free we will continue to be in danger.

The post originally said "Monaco", but as SDB points out, I meant "Morocco". No wonder my Google search for the date we invaded Monaco turned up nothing.

On June 25th, 2003, CNSNews ran a story about a member of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition who called NASCAR "the last bastion of white supremacy". NASCAR fans were furious of course, but this is Standard Operating Procedure for Jackson's group: he calls people and companies racists and then waits for them to pony up the dough to shut him up. In point of fact, NASCAR was a "platinum sponsor" of Ranbow/PUSH's annual conference, having donated more than $250,000 in recent years.

So, did NASCAR bend over and take it, as Jackson no doubt expected? Hardly. CNSNews is now reporting (no permalink) that NASCAR has cut off all funding for Rainbow/PUSH. My hope is that this is the beginning of the end of Jackson's shake-down game.

As I wrote in the comments of my "Separate But Equal" post yesterday, there are a lot of people who profit greatly by holding blacks down. No, it's not corporations or rich white men. Think: who gains the most from racial politics and stirring up ethnic divisions? Could it be millionaires like Jesse Jackson, who have built their careers up by crying "racist" at every opportunity, and have built their fortunes by exploiting the cause of common men? Perhaps.

Why not link to another story you've all probably read already? Economist Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy briefly explores the potential costs and benefits of establishing a market for betting on when terrorists will strike. Basically, Tyler thinks that the main danger of such a market would be an excess of accurate information that might lead to panic.

Tyler is quickly becoming one of my favorite Conspirators, and he has written some excellent posts on macroeconomics as well.

More by Glenn Reynolds of course. I try not to read Instapundit until I'm done with all my other sites, because otherwise I'll have a hard time thinking of something to write about that hasn't already been done.

I always hesitate before linking to blogs that are vastly more popular than mine; I mean, what are the odds that you're reading this, but managed to miss SDB's defense of his previous strategic overview of the War on Terror?

His critics are calling him a raving lunatic-idiot, and there are only two cases in which a person will resort to such ad hominem attacks: when the person being attacked is so obviously in the wrong, and their position so clearly devoid of merit, that there's just no reason to respond rationally; and when the attacker has no logical, coherent ammunition of his own. Clearly the attacker would always like his listeners to assume the former, but more often than not that's just a bluff, and the true situation is actually the latter.

SDB uses a lot of words, but the real meat is near the end:

Many on the left are still spending their time mooning those of us over here who've been advocating war. And it's becoming apparent that they are frustrated by the fact that it doesn't seem to be having any political impact.

They're also deeply worried because we advocates seem to be getting a lot more attention. For instance, in the Yglesias comment thread, Peter Jung says, "Den Beste is a raving psychotic, and it is alarming that someone of his ilk is allotted space on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal."

When someone tries to use a strategy which is dictated by their ideology, and that strategy doesn't seem to work, then they are caught in something of a cognitive bind. If they acknowledge the failure of the strategy, then they would be forced to question their ideology. If questioning the ideology is unthinkable, then the only possible conclusion is that the strategy failed because it wasn't executed sufficiently well. They respond by turning up the power, rather than by considering alternatives. (This is sometimes referred to as "escalation of failure".)

Attempts by the leftists to show how emphatically they oppose war don't seem to be having any impact. Invective and ridicule has failed to discredit those of us who have been advocating war. (And that's puzzling, too. In college, denouncing someone as being "conservative" would instantly discredit them and silence them. Why hasn't that been working in the debate about the war?)

So they're turning up the intensity of the ridicule and invective. If they can somehow find the right magical ad hominem characterization for their opponents, the opponents will vanish and take their dangerous messages with them. (So if "conservative" doesn't work, maybe "psychotic" or "racist" will.)

By refusing to consider the idea that they might need to engage in cogent debate on the issues, including making attempts to present credible alternatives, they're taking themselves out of the game.

Welcome to Real Life, where sincerity alone counts for just two things, and Jack just left town.

Wow, it's pouring outside. It may be no big deal to you easterners (anyone who lives more than 10 miles from the Pacific), but it's pretty amazing to me. I was getting ready for bed, minding my own business, when a crash of thunder cascaded through house; I could feel the earth tremble beneath my feet.

I paused, and looked around. The heavenly barrage hadn't been preceded by a flash of lightning, and I quickly felt ridiculous when I realized I was watching expectantly for one to follow. Nothing. Mostly silence; raindrops falling in my new aluminum gutters.

Good thing I didn't wash my car. That's how life is sometimes, isn't it? Metaphorical junk piles up everywhere, and you've got to deal with it, right? Ah, screw it; do it tomorrow. Or the next day. Or just wait a while and maybe it'll rain and all get washed down your shiny new gutters.

Although I'm not a geek... well... maybe I'm am little geeky. I give you:

The Degree Confluence Project which seeks to visit every integer latitude and longitude degree intersection on earth and photograph each location. I need a digital camera and a GPS receiver. Unfortunately, it looks like most of the civilized world has been done already. Good thing I live in Los Angeles. (Via Mutated Monkeys, who inspired this post.)

The Wooden Periodic Table of the Elements which is an actual table with receptacles for collecting every (known) element. The creator has samples of every element with a half-life of greater than 1 year. Yes, I'm jealous.

Geocaching, the sport where YOU are the search engine. People hide stuff at GPS locations and then post the coordinates to the site, allowing you to go find them. Yet another reason to get a GPS receiver.

Action Squad, the website of a Minneapolis-based urban adventure team. They sneak around old buildings, caves, mental hospitals, &c., and photograph their missions. It reminds me of my undergraduate excursions through the steam tunnels under UCLA. Hey Matt, do you still have the map we made of the tunnels?

Debuting the new Education category, here's a fun little item about a new high school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in New York.

"This school will be a model for the country and possibly the world," Principal William Salzman said in an interview at the facility that will boast a new science lab, 60 laptop and desktop computers donated by IBM, additional classrooms and a new cafeteria.

Salzman, a former Wall Street executive, was most recently assistant principal of guidance and business information technology at Brooklyn's Automotive HS.

Salzman said Harvey Milk will be an academically rigorous school that follows Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's mandatory English and math programs. It will also specialize in computer technology, arts and a culinary program.

"This is a not a touchy-feely situation," Salzman said. "We intend to have 95 percent of our students go on to college. We have a lot of talent coming into the school. We want to steer these kids in the right direction."

I think this is a great idea! If the school works out well, maybe we can create a whole parallel society for those people. They can have their own bathrooms and water fountains, their own special sections on the bus, and their own seperate neighborhoods. It'll be fabulous.

Via Drudge I see that blacks want their own schools, too. Gosh, they complain no matter what we do.

Candace and Cypren have a couple of posts up about guns, and so as a public service I went and found an op-ed by Steven D. Levitt, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, who writes that swimming pools are more dangerous than guns.

What's more dangerous: a swimming pool or a gun? When it comes to children, there is no comparison: a swimming pool is 100 times more deadly.

In 1997 alone (the last year for which data are available), 742 children under the age of 10 drowned in the United States last year alone. Approximately 550 of those drownings -- about 75 percent of the total -- occurred in residential swimming pools. According to the most recent statistics, there are about six million residential pools, meaning that one young child drowns annually for every 11,000 pools.

About 175 children under the age of 10 died in 1998 as a result of guns. About two-thirds of those deaths were homicides. There are an estimated 200 million guns in the United States. Doing the math, there is roughly one child killed by guns for every one million guns.

Thus, on average, if you both own a gun and have a swimming pool in the backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.

We've got to stop the swimming pool industry, they don't even have a flimsy amendment to stand on! Studies have shown that swimming pool manufacturers specifically target the most vulnerable members of our society with their deadly product. How many precious little ones must be sacrificed on Poseidon's altar? Won't someone please think of the children?

Summer fun, or backyard killer?

Thanks for the link, Ankfray Ajay. I don't think this post will get as many hits as "No More Hot Teacher/Student Sex", but we'll wait and see.

I've determined that I'm not a geek. You may think it's strange that I'm getting a PhD in artificial intelligence and still don't consider myself a geek, but let me explain.

I like technology, but I'm not enamored with it. I don't have a laptop, and I have no real desire to get one so I can blog from Starbucks. I have a PDA, but it's several years old and the batteries aren't even charged. My cell phone is a three-year-old Nokia that doesn't have a color display or digital camera, and can't download ringtones. I did build my own computer, but I hate fiddling with it. I know very little about Linux, and have no desire to install it on anything: not my PC, not my Xbox, not my PS2, not my microwave.

I liked Blade Runner and Snow Crash, but thought they were both overrated. I haven't read Fark in months (too long), and I haven't read Slashdot in over a year. Not since I started getting into blogs, anyway. Oh yeah, I do have a blog, but I don't think that qualifies me as a geek just by itself.

I do know that there are only 10 types of people in the world: those who know binary and those who don't. I don't play first-person shooters anymore (although I did write Quake Superheroes, and I'm using the Q2 engine for my PhD work), and I haven't liked a real-time strategy game since Age of Empires 2. And I hardly played that.

I don't download music. I don't use IRC. I don't have a network of any kind set up in my house. I've only been to a couple of LAN parties, and I got bored pretty quick. I did use an exclusive-or in the title of a recent post, however.

So what am I? I'm an engineer. Now, some engineers are geeks, and some geeks are engineers, but they aren't equivalent. The geeks I know revel in technology, but many of them have no real desire to understand it or create anything of their own. The engineers that create the technology the geeks adore are probably geeks themselves, but not all engineers fiddle with gadgets and gizmos.

I haven't quite pinned it down yet, but I think of myself as a philosopher-engineer. That's why I got into artificial intelligence; I want to understand the human mind, language, culture -- the building blocks of humanity. I considered going into psychology, but after taking several psych classes (undergraduate and graduate level) I realized that it's a very soft science, if it's science at all. I want to quantify intelligence, but psychologists just want to hypothesize endlessly.

I respect geeks, and I know a lot of them, but it's just not who I am. Sure, the toys are fun, but to me they're only a tool for studying the deeper issues of existence, and not an end unto themselves.

Via Donald Sensing, read this touching account of a 9/11 widow's visit to the troops in Iraq.

Also, to stand in contrast to the pathetic limousine leftists we're all so used to, I'd like to recognize Robert De Niro, Kid Rock, Rebecca and John Stamos, Wayne Newton, Gary Sinise, Lee Ann Womack, and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders for also visiting the troops. For more info on who is participating in various USO tours to support our soldiers, check out the USO Tours and Events page. It looks like Blockbuster Video is partnering with USO as well.

Yes, this information will affect how I spend my money.

I don't know what this means, but The Turth Laid Bear's Blog Ecosystem ranks me #196 when sorted by visits per day, and #664 when sorted by in-bound links. So, possibly Master of None is more popular with non-bloggers than with my fellow bloggers? Of possibly you people need to get off your lazy butts and put up links to me?

Ah, just kidding, I'm in a feisty mood today. And I'm trying to avoid going to work. But, I really should go. Sigh. Stupid work, be less worky!

I do get a lot of hits from Google searches though (because I use lotsa big words). More analysis of the traffic/link question by Oscar Jr.

Don't forget my linking policy! If you link to me, I double-plus-good guarantee that I'll link back to you! But wait, there's more! If you act now, I'll also send you, absolutely free, one of the hundreds of stray cats from my neighborhood! You only pay shipping. For international orders I'll throw in a couple of crows so that your new pet arrives well-fed. You'll also be enrolled in the Stray of the Month club, at no additional charge.

Ok, so Dean Esmay gets a stalker, Xrlq gets a stalker... what about me?! Aren't I stalk-worthy? I write lots of inflammable things, too! Someone better start stalking me right quick, or else.

Pathetic Earthlings notes that if the turnout for the recall election is low (if a lot of Democrats stay home, for instance), the next governor of California will be even easier to recall; a recall petition needs a number of signatures equal to 12% of the votes cast in the last election for that office.

Personally, hoever, I think turnout for the recall election will be huge.

PrestoPundit has more, and thinks that Proposition 54 will end up being even bigger than the recall. Prop. 54 would amend the state constitution to prohibit government from collecting racial information except in certain limited areas, such as public health.

Check out Wikipedia's list of Latin phrases, a bene placito! You're certain to find a Latin phrase to fit just about any situation:

-- Get a speeding ticket? Dura lex, sed lex! The law is harsh, but it is the law.
-- Honey, do you know where we are? Terra incognita! Unknown land!
-- Hey beautiful baby, how's it going? Noli me tangere. Touch me not.
-- Afraid of dogs? Cave canem. Beware of the dog.
-- Can't quit blogging even though it's 2am? Cacoethes scribendi. An insatiable urge to write.

And because I'm so generous, you'll each get to enjoy a random Latin phrase every time you visit Master of None during the daylight hours -- just look near the top of the page. (There are enough special treats for the night-owls already.)

The coup in Sao Tome that Bill Hobbs called attention to has collapsed, according to Strategy Page (no permalink).

July 23, 2003: The military junta signed an agreement with a 30-strong
group of international mediators, allowing the reinstatement of the elected government. The platoon of diplomats came from Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Congo, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Portugal and the United States were led by Congo-Brazzaville foreign minister Rodolphe Adada. President Menezes flew back that night, accompanied by Nigerian President Obasanjo. - Adam Geibel
Who cares? The former Portuguese colony is/was a stable democracy (what's a coup now and then?), non-Muslim, and sits on top of an ocean of oil.

Bill Hobbs has a good piece on blogs becoming journalism rather than merely reforming journalism, and he makes some good points.

Now I believe that blogs will increasingly become journalism. Right now, most news-oriented blogs are punditry rather than reporting, though some of the better blogs do sometimes provide original reporting. I've done original reporting here, most often related to the state budget and tax debate over the last four years, digging out and reporting facts and data ahead of the mainstream media on many occasions. I suspect over time bloggers will increasingly add original reporting to their blogs to go with the large helping of punditry.
What's the big difference between punditry and reporting? Reporting on anything other than your own everyday activities takes time above and beyond what is required to merely type the first thousand words to pop into your head. Therefore, reporting takes money.

Before blogs can become journalism, someone is going to need to develop a profitable business model. Maybe Andrew Sullivan has done so, but I suspect people who want to read news are going to want to read a site with the quantity and diversity of information that can be found in major newspapers, and not simply what can be assembled by a single person, no matter how talented. Perhaps the Tech Central Station format paradigm offers more, but I don't think they have enough money to put reporters in the field, and they publish mostly punditry anyway.

So, while yes, I do agree that blogs have a great deal of potential, they face many of the same difficulties that all internet concepts face: how do you get the money to take the idea to the next level?

Check out the comments section of Bill's post to see his idea for a business model.

I missed "Blog for Iran" day a few weeks ago (July 9th?), and I wish I'd had this story to relate back then. Not to be over-dramatic, but I won't use any names.

There's a guy who has been visiting our church for the past couple of months who just recently emigrated from Iran to America. He's Muslim, and a doctor, and most of his family is still back in Iran. One of our church members met him at a garage sale and invited him to come to church the following Sunday, and you can imagine our surprise when he actually came. He's very nice and friendly, and is always eager to share stories from Iran and to answer all the myriad of questions I ask him.

So last Sunday morning I noticed that he was recording the entire service on a digital camcorder -- not just the sermon, but the singing and announcements, everything. I nudged my neighbor and asked, "Hey, I wonder why he's recording the service?"

My neighbor responded, "He burns the video to CD and then sends it to his family in Iran."

Now, this fellow is not a Christian; he's certainly very interested and asks a lot of questions, but it's still amazing to me that he would take such a big risk just to expose his family to the gospel. I asked him later what would happen if his family is caught with video of an American church service, and he told me that they would probably be thrown in jail and have all their property confiscated.

I've asked him a lot more questions of course, especially about the recent uprisings against the mullahs. He says that the Iranian people really want America to get invovled, and that he personally doesn't think that the resistance against the government can succeed without American military intervention.

I'm going to try to talk him into writing a guest piece here on Master of None, so watch for it.

According to Rush on the radio this morning (on my 5 minute drive to work), Senator Daschle is furious that Senator Rockefeller was soft pedaling on the controversy they're trying to stir over the mention of Nigerien uranium in President Bush' state of the union address.

Reportedly, Daschle told all the reporters covering Democratic party members that they were not allowed to talk to anyone except himself, Senator Reid, or Senator Graham about the uranium. They should not report any statements by any other Democrats about the topic.

No news online to fact-check this yet, but keep your eyes open.

Still no more on this particular angle, but here are some more Democrats taking a softer line on the "16 words".

Ok, just for fun I'm going to put up a Java chat room. Once you click on the link below the chat room will open, and you'll be logged in as "guest". In order to change your name (which I suggest you do), type in a new name in the upper left box and then hit enter. If you don't hit enter your name will not be changed.

It would be cool to chat with some of you, so, check it out. Who knows when I (or anyone else) will be in the chat room, however.

Click here to chat.

Having proven quite successful at applying my astounding mental abilities to a former president, I will now attempt to read the mind of the current White House resident. (And for you leftists, I can prove I'm telepathic because after reading the first sentence you're sarcastically thinking, What mind?)

Many conservatives, such as George Will in the WaPo are questioning President Bush's conservatism, and Will mentions four specific areas in which Bush has shown himself to be rather liberal: engaging in "nation building"; spending prolifically; shrugging at judicial activism; and ignoring social conservatives. So what's with that?

Perhaps Bush realizes that the war on terror is the nation's top priority, and he's willing to hedge on these other issues to ensure that he is elected to a second term rather than some pacifist Democrat. Although, as SDB points out, it won't be easy for a future president to reverse our course in this war, he might think it's important enough that he's willing to sacrifice some other pieces of his agenda.

If my inkling is true, then watch for a right-ward swing once he begins his second term. Bush has already made it known that he would prefer there not to be any Supreme Court resignations before the 2004 election, and so far it looks likely that his desire will be fulfilled. Once his second term is locked up, and the war on terror is further along, political considerations may fall by the wayside and his true conservatism may shine through.

Just a theory; my psychic powers aren't perfect, you know. Thanks to The Angry Clam for the link.

I've written about some problems with the concept of public education, and I'm very pleased to read on Opinion Journal that the District of Columbia is poised to begin a voucher program. Amazingly, Democrat Diane Feinstein is on board, but some other Senators who had previously voted in favor of couchers have changed their minds.

Back in 1997, both Republican Arlen Specter and Democrat Mary Landrieu voted for D.C. vouchers, though the move was later vetoed by Bill Clinton.

But now, at the moment of truth, with a president in the White House who has made clear his eagerness to make such a bill a reality, Sens. Specter and Landrieu upset a critical Appropriations Committee vote by switching from yea to nay. What makes their flip-flop especially nasty is that this move to undercut choice to the overwhelmingly black and Latino students of the district comes from two white senators who each chose private schools for their own children.

Even a child can spot the contradiction. Outside the committee's meeting room last week, nine-year-old Mosiyah Hall, a D.C. public school student himself, politely asked Sen. Landrieu where she sent her own children to school. "Georgetown Day," came the response, a reference to one of Washington's most exclusive private schools. Mosiyah's mother says an obviously agitated Sen. Landrieu then came over to a group of local mothers to explain that a voucher would be no help for them here, because even with the $7,500 voucher this bill offers, they still couldn't afford Georgetown Day.

"It was an ugly moment," says Virginia Walden-Ford, head of D.C. Parents for School Choice and one of the moms demonstrating.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the government has no business being involved with education. Not the federal government, not the state government, not even the local government (although that would be the least objectionable).

Vouchers are a step in the right direction, but ultimately the education system will need to be privatized if it's ever going to produce capable and effective workers and citizens. Government does almost everything poorly and inefficiently. It's not any one person or party's fault, it's just the nature of the beast. Washington DC, spends more per student than the highest-spending state ($15,122 for DC, $12,454 for New Jersey, $8,521 average for America), yet DC students are the worst readers in the country -- even worse than non-native English speakers from Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa! California's school system is all screwed up too, and not for lack of funding.

The government bureaucracy has failed, and demonstrated that it is incapable of handling the essential task of educating the next generation. Won't somebody think of the children?

Continuing my streak of commenting on questions Megan from Page Three asks: should Christians get involved in politics? Her comments aren't working (switch to Movable Type), so you all luck out and get to read my thoughts here.

It's an interesting question, and I have a pretty simple answer. Yes, Christians should be involved in politics, but churches should not. As Christians we have to deal with the social structures that are around us, and as I've written before, God intends government to be a tool for good. We have a responsibility to ensure that everyone maintains the liberties and free-will that God has given us. Arguably, as individuals we also have the prerogative of advocating specific policies that we reasonably believe may serve to affirm those who choose good and dissuade those who choose evil. (This prerogative carries a burden, as well, since the results of every policy may not be as clear or obvious as we initially believe.)

Churches, however, were instituted by God for a specific purpose:

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
This charge applies to individual Christians, of course, but the local church as an institution exists wholly for this purpose. When a local church takes sides in political issues it alienates those who disagree, and pushes them away from the gospel over purely carnal concerns.

In my opinion, local churches should stay entirely out of the political arena. Yes, even when it comes to that issue, and that one.

It's an interesting question, especially phrased in that way (since we're all evil). My initial reaction to the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein was happiness; it seemed like a reasonable emotion, considering that justice demanded their death. I'm still glad they're dead, but Megan brought up an interesting passage from the Old Testament, and from that I found:

Ezekiel 18:32
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD . Repent and live!
The whole chapter is about justice and punishment, and the gist of it is that God wants everyone to repent of their evil actions rather than be punished. Meting out punishment is described as a regrettable necessity, despite the fact that God loves justice.

So, I'm re-evaluating my reaction. Yes, I'm glad that justice was served, and I'm glad that those two monsters won't be able to murder, rape, and torture anyone else ever again. They got what the deserved. Perhaps my lack of compassion is due to my near-certainty that neither one of them would have ever repented. Whatever the reason, I need to temper my thirst for justice with compassion, even for the worst of humanity.

In the comments section of my "A Brief Defense of Suburbia" post, Jody writes several times and mentions his fear/certainty that a continuously expanding suburbia will lead to the "depletion" of natural resources and available land. However, his concept of depletion is an economic myth that's used by various dooms-dayers to manipulate the masses.

The following explanation can be applied to almost any non-renewable resource, such as land, oil, or diamonds. (Renewable resources, such as trees and animals, will obviously never be depleted. Yes, animals can become extinct, but that's not because they're "used up".) I am not an economist, but I play one on TV. If you'll note the title of this blog, I'm not a master of anything, but the following views on depletion are economic and logical fact.

The myth of depletion is simple to state: if we don't force people to reduce their consumption of resource X, eventually all the X will be gone. This is false. It is true that if there is a finite supply of X that it can eventually be consumed, but it is not true that it is necessary to force people to reduce consumption in order to prevent depletion.

Consider oil. As the readily available supply of oil dwindles, the price of oil will start to increase due to free-market principles of supply and demand. This increase in price will have many effects.

1) People will use less oil, because it's more expensive. Thus the mere increase in price will reduce consumption all by itself, without any need for government coercion.

2) Suppliers will start hoarding. As prices rise, suppliers will observe that their oil will be more valuable in the future than it is today, and so they will begin to hoard their supply for the future (with each supplier making the determination of when to hold and when to sell based on their own costs). If too many start withholding, then others will start to sell as the price gets even higher. There is no need for cooperation between suppliers (and in fact cooperation cartels are always bad in free markets). Suppliers will act to ensure that they are able to reap the benefits of future scarcity, and thus there will always be some supply remaining to be had at some price.

3) New sources will become economically viable. There's lots of oil everywhere, but most of it is too hard to get to and isn't worth pumping. For example, there's far more oil under the ocean than there is under the dry land -- unfortunately, except for the parts of the ocean right near shore it's very expensive to utilize. However, as prices rise, sources of oil that aren't worth drilling now will suddenly become profitable, thereby increasing the available supply.

These three factors together will ensure that humanity will never "run out" of oil, or any other non-renewable resource. What about land? Good question. Apparently, there's more than 70 sextillion stars out there, I'll bet some of them have some nice real estate. Maybe even oil!

I never liked Bill Clinton -- aside from being a scummy and lousy president, he's also largely responsible for the build-up of terror through the 90s. But, as they say, he's a brilliant politician. More than anything he's concerned about his legacy, and secondarily he wants to get back in the White House; his comments to Larry King last night reflect his mastery of the political field, and should put the seven dwarves vying for the Democrat nomination to shame.

KING: While I have you both here, let me get in just a couple of quick questions about the day's events, starting with President Clinton. What did you make of the killing today of Saddam Hussein's two sons?

CLINTON: Well, I think it's good news for, you know, trying to get the situation under better control there and I'm really happy. I'm happy that, you know, that the military did their job, as they always did, and, do, and, you know, those guys were pretty foolish not to give up, I think, but that's not the first stupid mistake they've made. And I hope that it will give the Iraqi people some sense of reassurance, and I hope it will reduce the number of attacks on our men and women over there who are still working trying to pacify the situation. I think it's got to be on balance, quite good news for us.


KING: President, maybe I can get an area where you may disagree. Do you join, President Clinton, your fellow Democrats, in complaining about the portion of the State of the Union address that dealt with nuclear weaponry in Africa?

CLINTON: Well, I have a little different take on it, I think, than either side.

First of all, the White House said -- Mr. Fleischer said -- that on balance they probably shouldn't have put that comment in the speech. What happened, often happens. There was a disagreement between British intelligence and American intelligence. The president said it was British intelligence that said it. And then they said, well, maybe they shouldn't have put it in.

Let me tell you what I know. When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for. That is, at the end of the first Gulf War, we knew what he had. We knew what was destroyed in all the inspection processes and that was a lot. And then we bombed with the British for four days in 1998. We might have gotten it all; we might have gotten half of it; we might have gotten none of it. But we didn't know. So I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say you got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change, not just continued sanctions.

I mean, we're all more sensitive to any possible stocks of chemical and biological weapons. So there's a difference between British -- British intelligence still maintains that they think the nuclear story was true. I don't know what was true, what was false. I thought the White House did the right thing in just saying, Well, we probably shouldn't have said that. And I think we ought to focus on where we are and what the right thing to do for Iraq is now. That's what I think.


CLINTON: I think the main thing I want to say to you is, people can quarrel with whether we should have more troops in Afghanistan or internationalize Iraq or whatever, but it is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks...

DOLE: That's right.

CLINTON: ... of biological and chemical weapons. We might have destroyed them in '98. We tried to, but we sure as heck didn't know it because we never got to go back in there.

Emphasis mine. Ok, so what's Clinton up to?

a) He's protecting his legacy. The A-#1 most important thing to Bill Clinton is ensuring that history remembers him as a great president, not a screw-up. Since, as I asserted above, he bears a lot of the responsibility for not knocking out al Qaeda ten years ago, and is also responsible for most of America's dealings with Iraq after the first Gulf War, he doesn't want Bush being called a liar when it comes to WMD. Why? Because Clinton fired lots of cruise missiles into Iraq over the years, and if Bush is lying now then it must mean that Clinton was lying back then.

b) He wants back into the White House; Bill wants Hillary to be the next President of the United States. It's not likely that Hillary is going to run in 2004 (unless Bush really starts to look politlcally vulnerable), and so Bill is working as subtly as he can to undermine the current crop of Democratic wanna-bes. He much prefers a Bush victory to a Democratic victory, because Hillary can't wait till 2012 to run.

c) He's staking out sensible foreign policy ground, just in case. If Bush starts to look weak over the next six months, Hillary will jump into this election and sweep the seven dwarves aside. As popular as Dean is, he can never win the presidency with his crippling pacifistic views (except with regard to Liberia, I suppose), but if Clinton can let the politlcal midgets do the dirty work of tearing Bush down and then have Hillary jump in at the end....

I'd love to know what Terry McAuliffe and the other folks at the DNC are thinking. I don't think they're quite as resigned to losing in 2004, and Clinton keeps sucking the wind from their sails.

Part of the reason why I don't take college ranking systems too seriously is because UC Berkeley is consistently placed near the top of every list. And they put out drivel like this.

Politically conservative agendas may range from supporting the Vietnam War to upholding traditional moral and religious values to opposing welfare. But are there consistent underlying motivations?

Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:

  • Fear and aggression
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Terror management
  • Go read The Angry Clam's take on the matter, and then grin wistfully at his picture from the Good Old Days.

    The Berkeley authors manage to lump Hitler, Mussolini, and President Reagan together, and then toss in well-known conservatives Stalin, Khrushchev, and Castro for good measure. Bah, go read the whole thing, it's very condescending. Oh no, we're not saying conservatives are simple-minded, they're just less "integratively complex".

    Conservatives don't feel the need to jump through complex, intellectual hoops in order to understand or justify some of their positions, he said. "They are more comfortable seeing and stating things in black and white in ways that would make liberals squirm," Glaser said.
    Or maybe we're just smarter than you, and your pathetic leftist "brains" can't even comprehend our mental processes.

    From Reuters, House Takes Aim at Patriot Act Secret Searches.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to roll back a key provision, which allows the government to conduct secret "sneak and peek" searches of private property, of a sweeping anti-terrorism law passed soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    The House voted 309-118 to attach the provision to a $37.9 billion bill funding the departments of Commerce, State and Justice. It would be the first change in the controversial USA Patriot Act since the law was enacted in October, 2001.

    The move would block the Justice Department from using any funds to take advantage of the section of the act that allows it to secretly search the homes of suspects and only inform them later that a warrant had been issued to do so.

    Supporters of the change say that violates both the U.S. Constitution and the long-standing common law "knock and announce" principle -- which states the government cannot enter or search private property without first notifying the owner.

    Ah, I love common law arguments. Hopefully this move will demonstrate good faith to some of the more paranoid political factions.

    I'm not a big fan of starting new government programs or increasing social spending, but there is one particular need that I believe our society should be willing to invest more money into: care and treatment of the mentally ill. Clayton Cramer has a very touching, personal account of his brother's struggle with schizophrenia, and the many instances in which society failed to properly recognize and treat his condition.

    Clayton launches from his brother's case and argues persuasively for a drastic expansion of the public mental health system; not only does compassion demand that we care for those among us who are truly incapable of living on their own, but it is essential for public safety as well.

    For almost 20 years now, people calling themselves "homeless advocates" -- meaning that they call themselves advocates for the homeless, not they themselves are homeless -- have tried to use this tragedy as variously, an indictment of capitalism, Ronald Reagan, or the heartlessness of various city governments. It is clear, from surveys of the homeless, and from my own experience with my brother, as well as talking to and helping homeless people for more than 20 years, that this tragedy is mostly the result of a well-intentioned effort that started in the 1970s, to make it difficult to lock up mentally ill people against their will. ...

    So far, I've mostly focused on the suffering of the mentally ill. But there's another side as well -- the danger to our society when people with a limited grasp on reality wander the streets. Let's face it -- most people in this county wouldn't spend $50 to save a homeless person from freezing to death. If you want to appeal to the masses, you need to point out to them the public safety side of this tragedy.

    The places change, the victims change, but the tragedy keeps repeating. A month or two ago, it was at a church in Fort Worth. A month before that, it was Buford Furrow shooting kids in Los Angeles. Last year, Russell Weston Jr. murdered two police officers at the U.S. Capitol. There's a common element to all these tragedies -- all the killers were clearly mentally ill months to years before they started shooting people. These three recent high-profile cases draw the picture in blood.

    Ok, so it wasn't exactly my greatest moment, but it was an event that was instrumental in my decision to start blogging. I thought I had lost the picture forever -- Yahoo pulled the story down before I could save the image, and Google hadn't cached it (thanks for nothing, Google). But this afternoon, thanks to Google, I was able to find a site that had saved the image locally.

    I'm the devastatingly handsome fellow in the brown jacket who is having his civil rights viciously infringed. Not shown: me totally flipping out and chopping the heads off of like 150 anti-war pansies.

    Go read the account of my first (and possibly last) protest.

    Sigh. The LA Times reports that California Democrats are drawing out the state budget crisis to increase their party's power.

    SACRAMENTO — In a meeting they thought was private but was actually broadcast around the Capitol on Monday, 11 Assembly Democrats debated prolonging California's budget crisis to further their political goals.

    Members of the Democratic Study Group, a caucus that defines itself as progressive, were unaware that a microphone in Committee Room 127 was on as they discussed slowing progress in an attempt to increase pressure on Republicans to accept tax increases as part of a deal to resolve the state's $38-billion budget gap. ...

    Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman John Campbell (R-Irvine) said he listened to about 20 minutes of the meeting on the squawk box in his office.

    "It sounded like they were hoping to create a crisis at some point to further their political gains in other areas," he said. "I thought that was outrageous." ...

    "They were worried that if the Legislature appeared to have dealt with the budget crisis, the initiative may not play well," he said. "This is very surprising, considering they are in charge."

    After about 90 minutes, a staffer interrupted to alert lawmakers that their meeting was not private at all:

    "Excuse me, guys, you can be heard outside," an unidentified staff member said.

    "Oh [expletive], [expletive]," Goldberg said.

    "The squawk box is on," the staff member said. "You need to turn it off right there."

    "How could that happen?" Goldberg said.

    Hopefully this gives Californians some insight into why our state is so screwed. I haven't seen much reporting on this yet, but it should get play in California at least.

    The Washington Times reports that a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by the NAACP blaming gun manufacturers for gun violence in New York. The lawsuit wasn't dismissed because it's baseless and absurd, but rather due to a "technicality". A "technicality" is when you lose a case because of the "law".

    Unfortunately, the case wasn't thrown out for any of the reasons that I would have liked. Rather,

    Judge Weinstein wrote in his ruling that the NAACP proved its members suffered "relatively more harm from the nuisance created by the defendants through illegal availability of guns in New York." But, he added, the civil rights group did not "show that its harm was different in kind from that suffered by other persons in New York."
    The suit cost gun makers more than $10 million to defend against, and they won't be recovering that money from the NAACP. I'm not a big fan of tort reform such as many people have proposed (restricting lawsuits, limiting real damage claims, &c.) but I do think that losing plaintiffs should almost always be obligated to pay their opponents' legal costs.

    According to the WaPo, Mel Gibson's upcoming release "The Passion" left some members of an elite preview audience in tears.

    Yesterday when the lights came up, many in the audience -- who were required to sign a confidentiality agreement before being admitted to the screening room -- were in tears. Some were sobbing, we hear.

    "Heartbreaking," Michael Novak told Gibson. "The Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty called the movie "a tremendous depiction of evil." MPAA President Valenti was perhaps the most enthusiastic. "I don't see what the controversy is all about," he told fellow audience members. "This is a compelling piece of art. I just called Kirk Douglas and told him that this is the movie to beat."

    Well it is a compelling story, and based on a best-selling book.

    Some people who weren't allowed into the movie weren't as enthusiastic.

    The influential Anti-Defamation League, which monitors incidents of anti-Semitism, has been especially critical, pointing out on its Web site the long historical relationship between passion plays and attacks on Jews: "ADL has serious concerns regarding Mr. Gibson's 'The Passion' and asks: Will the final version of 'The Passion' continue to portray Jews as blood-thirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of Jesus? Will it correct the unambiguous depiction of Jews as the ones responsible for the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus?"
    Everyone reading this should know that I'm a huge supporter of Jews and Israel, &c., but I'm not exactly sure what the ADL wants. Would they be satisfied with a portrayal of 1st century Jews as described in the New Testament of the Bible, or would they only be appeased if the movie shows Jews from a politically correct 21st century perspective?

    It was only a matter of time. UC eyes surcharge for rich students. Next thing you know, the state will start charging rich people more to ride the bus. Why should rich people get to borrow library books for free? Why should rich people pay the same for trash pickup as poor people? In fact, I think rich people should have to pay a poll tax to vote; why not, they can afford it!

    Regent Matt Murray, the lone student on the 25-person governing board, said he supports a surcharge and lashed out at the state's Republican legislators who have resisted tax increases intended to offset the budget deficit.

    "Given the ridiculous nature of the budget situation and the limited options the university has, I think it is wise to pursue the idea," he said. "The goal is to make sure the university is accessible to all kinds of students of all kinds of backgrounds."

    Hold on, is the goal to raise money to deal with the "ridiculous" budget situation, or to "make sure the university is accessible to all kinds of students of all kinds of backgrounds"? Obviously the only way this plan would affect accessibility is if it makes the UC system too expensive for certain "rich" people to afford. But that undermines the whole "they're rich, they can afford it" "argument" brought up earlier in the article. I can see why this proposal is so attractive to California leftists: they get to raise extra money for the government at no political cost to themselves, and they get to socially engineer the composition of the University's student body.

    I'm not terribly surprised that Matt Murray is a Moron (he's the co-founder and president of the Berkeley American Civil Liberties Union).

    Sigh, I'm reduced to using Reuters "scare quotes".

    This Telegraph article about Tony Blair's visit to China indicates that China intends to help with the North Korean problem.

    Mr Blair held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao and said: "They made it clear they would continue to work for a peaceful solution to this issue and one that does definitively put a stop to North Korea's nuclear weapons programme."
    Not exactly a strong or verbose offer of assistance, but at least China is now acknowledging that it does have a stake in the matter.

    I am certainly not an expert on the creation and expansion of American suburbia, and Mark Aveyard sounds like he knows what he's talking about. However, I disagree with some of his implications.

    You wouldn't have the suburbs if the federal government hadn't provided guaranteed loans en masse to people who otherwise could not have afforded them.
    Very likely, but as I've written before, popular capitalism is an essential building block of democracy; the development of the modern mortgage system and the creation of tax breaks for home owners are two of the major factors contributing to the popular capitalism we Americans take for granted.
    The expansion of roads is, of course, part of zoning policy, so it's meaningless to say that smart growth proponents want to "use zoning" for their ends, as if the expansion of roads over the shouts of property owners doesn't constitute a zoning practice or something powerfully analogous to it.
    It's similar, but municipalities pay for property when they seize it to build a road, as is required by the 5th Amendment. On the other hand, many courts have ruled mere "re-zoning" of property is not a legal "taking", and any property value lost to the owner does not need to be paid for by society -- as long as the property in question retains some economic use.

    Suburbs may be aesthetically unpleasing (although I like them, personally), but they also greatly lower the price of admission for the American dream. In the process, they serve to strengthen democracy and facilitate cooperation and coexistence among an ever-increasing population.

    We are a common law nation, ruled by a sovereign populace which decides for itself -- by millions of private actions and interactions -- where and how its liberty should be limited. Such common law is not, and cannot be, written down in full; rather, our legislators and judges seek to codify the commonly accepted principles of "just" and "unjust" that emerge spontaneously from our society.

    No person or group sat down one day and decided that the best way to determine the facts when a person is accused of wrongdoing is to have the accused stand before a jury of their peers; instead, the concept of trial-by-jury came about over the course of hundreds of years, mutating, morphing, adjusting, until it was widely recognized as the fairest and most effective method for enforcing justice. Likewise with many of our society's critical building blocks: democratic elections; seperation of powers; judicial enforcement of contracts; judicial review of laws; private property rights; freedom of speech, religion, and assembly; freedom to keep and carry weapons; freedom of parents to raise their children without government interference. Many of these principles we take entirely for granted, but they are by no means universal. As Americans, the right for an individual to keep property and to have exclusive authority over its use is natural and ingrained, but where did the concept come from? Common law.

    Our legislatures and courts are supposed to craft our laws with deference to the common law principles that are embodied first in our Constitution, and secondarily in the shifting opinions and actions of the population as a whole. That's why I believe many traffic regulations are unjust: if they are broken routinely by a majority of drivers, then that itself is an indication that the regulations are not in line with the will of the people. Laws that are held in contempt by the people are, under common law, unjust.

    Sometimes the last two principles I mentioned are in conflict. Consider the difficulties facing the RIAA as it tries (ineffectually) to stem the tide of music sharing. They argue that when people trade music over the internet it costs them CD sales; on the other hand, music traders claim that they buy more music than they had previously, and that sharing on the net actually increases public awareness of many bands who would otherwise not be noticed. Either or both of these may be true, but neither touches on the crux of the matter. The music industry owns the copyrights of the music being traded, and as such they have sole authority to determine how that music is used and distributed. The public as a whole doesn't want to honor those copyrights, and the RIAA believes that these millions of people are criminals. Under current definitions, they are, but these millions of people form the foundation for the common law that governs our society.

    Eventually, one side will lose. Society cannot tolerate the stress of such mass criminalization, especially if the RIAA begins enforcing its property rights through the judicial system. While the music industry is in the right as a matter of written law, society itself is the ultimate arbiter of how that law is written. Copyrights were instituted as a bargain between creators and society: society will enforce your exclusive rights to your intellectual property for a limited amount of time, and in return that property will enter the public domain after the copyright expires.

    The system has served us well for quite a while, but technological changes may have generated such a shift that society no longer feels the bargain is fair and equitable. Copyright terms have been extended many times, and with the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 works are protected for the life of the author plus 75 years, or plus 95 years if the work was created for a corporation. (Since the law was created shortly before Mickey Mouse was destined to enter the public domain, it's often called "The Mickey Mouse Protection Act".) That's an incredibly long time, and it's hard to argue that such a long period is necessary to encourage creators to invest the time, money, and energy to required to develop new and innovative ideas. Would artists suddenly stop creating if their works were only protected for, say, 20 years? I doubt it.

    Likewise, the internet has made it easier than ever to distribute intellectual property. Society reasons that if copying a TV show onto a video cassette is acceptable, why should copying a song onto a hard drive be any different? It's a rhetorical question, and the massive use of online file-sharing services demonstrates that a great number of people have reached the same conclusion.

    This conflict has been brewing for several years, and may finally be coming to a head. Its final resolution won't come from a judge or legislature, even though the opening acts may well be played out in a courtroom or capitol building. Society as a whole will decide that copyright in its present state is valuable and equitable enough to keep around -- and will reflect that in its actions -- or copyright as we know it is doomed.

    Personally, I suspect that the our current concept of intellectual property will be torn down and rebuilt anew. The form of that future bargain between artists and society will be determined over time.

    Mark Aveyard points out that file sharing systems are already adapting to the lawsuits.

    Because the US has been urging him to resign his "presidency", Charles Taylor of Liberia says that our country has "blood on its hands". Then again, he offered to step down two weeks ago and reneged. Seems like that's happened a few times now.

    Taylor said he did not know if the U.S. would require his departure before their arrival in Liberia.

    "I don't understand why the United States government would insist that I be absent before its soldiers arrive," Taylor told a meeting of Liberian clerics. "It makes a lot of sense for peacekeepers to arrive in this city before I transit."

    Maybe it's important because we don't want you to suddenly change your mind again once everything is peaceful?

    So what's the deal with Africa? Conventional wisdom ascribes the near-perpetual civil wars to ethnic divisions and tribalism, but I just read a fascinating paper titled "Why Are There So Many Civil Wars in Africa? Understanding and Preventing Violent Conflict" which argues persuasively that such heterogeneity may in fact be beneficial, if proper democratic institutions can be developed.

    The authors, Ibrahim Elbadawi and Nicholas Sambanis, suggest that there are three main factors hindering Africa's development: heavy dependence on natural resources, a lack of democratic institutions, and a lack of political freedom. The dependence of Africa's economy on natural resources is important because such resources can be easily looted by rebels, and tend to concentrate geographically in the territory of a handful of ethnic groups. Little can be done to diversify Africa's economies, however, until there is significant economic growth away from agriculture and mining.

    That economic growth will come about once the last two problems are solved: the need for political freedom and democratic institutions. The authors claim that based on their statistical analysis, political freedom isn't required for a ethnically homogenetic nation to prosper, but Africa's fractured cultures make it a necessity. (On a side note, America's broadly diverse population also flourishes under a strong democratic system; Europe's weaker democracies are floundering with an influx of immigrants.) Past attempts to introduce political freedoms in Africa have failed because they did not construct institutions that practically allowed Africa's various ethnic groups to bargain politically and reach acceptable compromises.

    Such institutions are the critical building block. They must be created with Africa's tribal culture in mind, and the authors suggest giving major ethnicities formal political recognition. In my own mind, a federal-type system would seem ideal; using America's political system as reference, imagine the bicameral Congress of an African nation composed of a Senate wherein each tribe is equally represented, and a House built of representatives from geographically-based districts all of nearly equal population. There are certainly significant details that need to be worked out during the process of creating such a government -- which tribes get representation, for instance -- but such a bicameral system should allow both the large and small tribes to reach a concensus.

    As economic development takes hold, the opportunity cost of civil war rises. As employment rises, fewer men are available for fighting, and there are fewer grievances to fight about. What disagreements still exist can be resolved peacefully though the democratic institutions in place. The important thing to realize is that economic developement follows political development, and not the other way around. Siphoning money from rich nations into Africa won't solve anything if there aren't significant political reforms first. And once the political reforms take place, Africans will have no use for our money; they will prosper on their own.

    Clayton Cramer gives an example of how graft and corruption run rampant in Africa.

    Update 2:
    Via Donald Sensing, here's an excellent two part description by Vessel of Honor of Charles Taylor's ties to Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson, and al Qaeda. It's almost too incredible to believe.

    Some people at my work are unfamiliar with widespread social conventions. Let's review.

    1. When entering an elevator, don't immediately turn around and stop as soon as you cross the threshhold, especially if there are ten other people behind you. Move to the back of the elevator so everyone else doesn't have to walk around you. If you have to get off at a nearby floor, get on last so that you don't have to push everyone else out of the way. Finally, if an elevator is crowded you may need to stand close to another person; however, when the elevator empties and it's just you and me left, you don't need to keep standing directly next to me. Thanks.

    2. One easy way to know if a conversation is over is when both you and the other person say "goodbye" or "see you later". You may be completely insane if you often find yourself saying things like this:

    "Ok, great then, see you later, how's it going?"

    Normally this will be met with a blank stare, because I won't be able to comprehend what just happened. Are we done with the conversation, or are we still in the middle of it? Are you starting a whole new conversation with my retreating back?

    3. Don't turn off the lights just because you are leaving the room. If there are still a half-dozen people inside, they will probably want the lights to remain on. One way to determine if there are still people in the room other than yourself is to simply remove your head from your butt and look around.

    The UC Regents have decided to prohibit faculty members from engaging in sexual or romantic relationships with their students. Naturally, every department has it's own take on the new policy.

    The astronomy faculty says they may have trouble handling their telescopes without student assistance, possibly hindering the discovery and exploration of new black holes. The biologists shouldn't have any difficulty with their bacteria-ridden microscopes, however.

    As always, the electrical engineers are worried about their short circuits. Computer scientists are worried that the pigeonhole principle will lead to crowding as the number of available holes declines, but they've always got tail-recursion to fall back on.

    The paleontologists don't mind, since they tend to prefer old bones anyway. The physics department frets that it may have to stop assuming there's no friction when solving rigid body problems, but the chemists say they've got some fluid in their testtubes that might help.

    The economists don't care, since they'll still end up paying. The historians say they've never noticed the issue, and the English department doesn't think it's very penetrating. The cunning linguists are still tongue-tied.

    The Psychology department wants to put the students through more tightly controlled experiments before being bound by the new policy. Pediatrics obviously objects, as do the oral biologists.

    Thanks for the link, Fred K. As I promised, you have exclusive linking rights to this post -- no one else is allowed to link to it. To you new visitors: most of what I write isn't humor, but check it out. And hey, leave a comment!

    If anyone cares, the California governor recall situation just got even more complicated.

    Everyone assumes that when California voters decide whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis, they'll also be deciding who would succeed him if, in fact, he is ousted.

    However, two words in the state constitution -- "if appropriate" -- introduce another bizarre element into the recall saga. It's at least possible, although by no means certain, that when Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante calls the Davis recall election, he could block voters from choosing a successor and thus declare that he, and only he, would become governor should voters dump Davis.

    So, there probably will be a recall election based on the number of petitions that have been turned in, but:

    a) There may or may not be a simultaneous ballot to choose his successor.
    b) Even if there is such a ballot, if a Republican wins then the Democrats have a credible claim that the results should be thrown out and that the current Lt. Governor should take over instead.

    France takes itself too seriously. As silly as the whole "freedom fries" meme was a few months ago (I actually had a chance to buy some at Knott's Berry Farm), the French tend to make up whole new words just to avoid having to borrow from English. The latest lexicological victim is "e-mail", which the French want to replace with "courriel".

    The Culture Ministry has announced a ban on the use of "e-mail" in all government ministries, documents, publications or Web sites, the latest step to stem an incursion of English words into the French lexicon.

    The ministry's General Commission on Terminology and Neology insists Internet surfers in France are broadly using the term "courrier electronique" (electronic mail) instead of e-mail - a claim some industry experts dispute. "Courriel" is a fusion of the two words.

    "Evocative, with a very French sound, the word 'courriel' is broadly used in the press and competes advantageously with the borrowed 'mail' in English," the commission has ruled.

    Good luck with that.

    Tony Blair and the British government want special treatment for British illegal combatants.

    The British government has said it would be unacceptable for Moazzam Begg, 35, and Feroz Abbasi, 23, to be denied a fair trial, and has said it has "strong reservations" about such a military tribunal.

    Britain is opposed to the death penalty and the Blair government said it would raise the strongest possible objections to any chance of capital punishment being applied in the Britons' cases.

    The Brits have proven their friendship time and again, and I would have no problem releasing these prisoners into their custody. Although that would probably mean that the prisoners would get lighter treatment than they would if tried by a US military tribunal, if the Brits want to spend some of the friendship-capital they've earned on their behalf, I think we should smile and hand them over.

    When other countries complain that their citizens aren't getting the same treatment, and when we refuse (for example) to hand the French illegal combatants over to France, it won't be hard to justify: sorry, that's only for our allies.

    Meanwhile, we've released 37 prisoners from Gitmo. I hope the civil libertarians are taking note. (Noticed via Drudge.)

    I would have more sympathy for Democrat cries of frustration over supposed Republican autocratic behavior in various legislative bodies if the Dems didn't respond like such whiny babies. It's not like any of this is new, they're just mad because they aren't the ones in power at the moment. Don't worry, you'll get your chance again in a few decades.

    I've been toying around with PHP and created a new color scheme for the blog at night. You'll be able to see it between 6am and 8pm PST; please let me know if it sucks and/or causes your eyes to bleed.

    There might be a few other goodies hidden around, as well. I can't believe I stayed up this late.

    Here's a WaPo article that describes rising anti-Semitism in France, and the frustrations than many French Jews are feeling.

    The alarm bells first started ringing for Zenouda in October 2000, as he watched television coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Place de la Republique shouting "Death to the Jews" and other anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slogans. That month, five synagogues were firebombed and there were attempts against 19 other synagogues, homes and businesses.

    The official response, he says, was "glacial silence," followed by rationalizations. Many officials denied there was any pattern or meaning to the unrest. Others portrayed the violence as either the isolated acts of troubled Arab youths or street brawls in which both sides were equally to blame. And in his view, everyone appeared to hold Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hard-line policies ultimately responsible. A controversial letter by Socialist Party adviser Pascal Boniface suggested that politicians concerned with reelection ought to pay more attention to Muslims, who outnumber the Jews by 10 to 1.

    "I was shocked," recalls Zenouda, who had voted Socialist all his life. "I felt like I was passing from being a Frenchman who happened to be Jewish to being a Jew who lived in France."

    I'd like to personally invite every Jew currently living in France to come live in America; if France doesn't want you, we do.

    (Link via Instapundit.)

    Here's an edited transcipt of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech before the US Congress, via The Independent. You can read the whole thing, but I want to point out a few paragraphs that illustrate that Tony Blair really does understand the world situation, and really is America's friend and ally.

    The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defence and our first line of attack. In some cases, where our security is under direct threat, we will have recourse to arms. In others, it will be by force of reason. But in all cases to the same end: that the liberty we seek is not for some but for all. For that is the only true path to victory. ...

    There is no more dangerous theory in international politics today than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitor powers, different poles around which nations gather.

    Any alliance must start with America and Europe. Believe me if Europe and America are together, the others will work with us. But if we split, all the rest will play around, play us off and nothing but mischief will be the result of it.

    We are part of Europe - and want to be. But we also want to be part of changing Europe. So don't give up on Europe. Work with it.

    It is not the coalition that determines the mission but the mission, the coalition. But let us start preferring a coalition and acting alone if we have to; not the other way round. True, winning wars is not easier that way. But winning the peace is. And we have to win both.

    Excellent. America is really fortunate to have such a committed friend in Tony Blair and the UK. As Blair points out, our coalition is strong because we share the same mission. He is a worthy recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded to him today.

    Via the LA Times and Rough & Tumble, California's first lady seems to understand how all the rest of us feel:

    California First Lady Sharon Davis offered a glimpse Wednesday into how she and her husband, Gov. Gray Davis, have reacted to the recall campaign against him, equating it to "finding out you have cancer."

    "It's terrible news, and you think, 'My gosh, what am I going to do?' " she said. "Very few people say, 'I'm going to go home and die. What I'm going to do is fight it.' "

    On second thought, maybe she doesn't realize that her husband is the cancer we're all fighting against. Pathetic Earthlings uses the same article to question Gray Davis' manhood, and rightfully so.

    In more California news, Official to Sue Over Budget Impasse. Fantastic.

    California's superintendent of schools is expected to ask the state Supreme Court today to break the legislative impasse over how best to resolve a $38-billion budget gap because continued gridlock will threaten the education of 6 million schoolchildren.

    A spokesman for Supt. Jack O'Connell said Wednesday that officials would use an argument similar to one that recently led the Nevada Supreme Court to grant Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn's request to intervene in that state's budget debate.

    The court set aside Nevada's constitutional requirement that a two-thirds legislative majority be achieved before a budget can be passed. California has the same requirement.

    "It's very much based on the Nevada ruling," said Rick Miller, spokesman for O'Connell. "He thinks it is his obligation as superintendent to do everything in his power to make sure schools are properly funded."

    Mere words cannot express my frustration and my antipathy for the Democrats in California. If the courts can overturn the freaking state Constitution that gives them power then there's absolutely no limit to what the courts can do. If the courts decide that the legislature can ignore the Constitution and pass a budget with a simple majority, you can bet that the Dems are going to hike every tax in sight, and tack on a few more just for fun.

    Part of me hopes it happens, because I think the fallout would sweep the Democrats out of power. Meanwhile, however, California gets even more thoroughly screwed. The only responsible and practical solution to our state's budget problem is to cut spending, but that's not even on the table. The "best" we can hope for is to borrow money and finance our debt, thereby punting the problem a few yards downfield and hoping that it just goes away.

    I'm considering running for Governor with the slogan "Cut, cut, cut." If the recall goes through it only costs $3,500 to get on the ballot, and I think I'd have a shot!

    Update 2:
    Eugene Volokh thinks O'Connell's lawsuit is a sure loser.

    I'm not sure what the purpose of the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research is; apparently, they're the guys responsible for telling us when recessions begin and end, but not until more than a year after the fact. That's like turning on the TV and getting yesterday's weather report. Yippie. Anyway, they've decided that the 2001 recession began in March and ended in November; that's what I remember reading last year, as well. (How can I get this job? Someone please hook me up.)

    Bill Hobbs notes that the timeframe makes it obvious that it wasn't "Bush's Recession" as the Democrats are fond of saying; even though it started near the end of Clinton's term, it wasn't his fault either.

    The 90s boom, the 2001 recession, and the subsequent recovery are all more tightly linked to market cycles and world events than to the policies of either Clinton or Bush. It's arguable that Reagan's policies from the 80s overheated the economy and led to the 90s and the recession, but neither recent president can really be credited (or blamed) for any of it.

    In America, we love to pin everything on whoever is President at the moment, but the fact of the matter is that the President really doesn't have much power over the economy. Even Congressional actions tend to have effects that are delayed by several years. As I mentioned in my previous post about a political opinion poll, the economy is the #1 issue for voters leading up to the 2004 election; of the areas mentioned in the poll, the economy is also the one area where the President may have the least actual power.

    I'm sure everyone has read about the carnage that took place in Santa Monica this afternoon. I go to the 3rd Street Promenade all the time, and it's hard to imagine such an awful thing happening so close to home, at a place I can easily visualize in my mind's eye: 3rd and Arizona.

    Please don't read the rest of this post the wrong way. I'm really pissed off at the old man driving the car, Russell Weller, and I'm pissed off that "he hugged and smiled at people who picked him up from the police station." How dare he?

    But I'm scared, too, not that I could be hit by a crazy driver, but that somehow, some way, it could have been me driving that car. It could have been me responsible for taking 8 lives, and possibly ruining hundreds more. I don't have any idea what caused the driver to do what he did, maybe he just figured Arizona Ave. was open like it is 6 days a week, maybe his foot slipped, maybe he's old and senile -- any of those things could happen to me some day.

    In a totally different situation, I felt similarly about Saddam and his murderous thugs. I consider myself a pretty good person, but I see evil inside my soul sometimes. If I had been Saddam's son, would I have had the moral clarity to shoot my dad in the back of the head at the first opportunity, or would I have had a merry old time reaping the fruits of oppression? Murder, theft, rape, torture -- we all have the slightest inkling in the back of our heads from time to time, but we push it away and avert our gaze. But it's there, inside each one of us.

    God help me not to live 86 good years and then commit such an atrocity.

    It really bothered me last year when I realized that after all the blood and money we spent overthrowing the Taliban and establishing order in Afghanistan, the American military wasn't going to destroy the pre-existing warlord power structure. The various warlords control their territory and people using mercenary armies, and they pay for the mercenaries with drug money, primarily heroine.

    I am pleased to read on Strategy Page:

    July 7, 2003: Uzbekistan scientists have discovered a naturally occurring fungus that destroys poppy plants. Such a fungus could be used to destroy large poppy crops used to support drug gangs in Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations. This would change the economies and military situations in many countries, especially Afghanistan.
    Good work, Uzbekistan -- I didn't even know you had scientists.

    (Heroine is made from poppies, if you weren't aware. So are morphine and other opiates.)

    Robert Hanson writes How To Live in a Simulation as a guide to happy living, given the near certainty that we're all currently living in some sort of Matrix-like simulation. To summarize:

    If you might be living in a simulation then all else equal you should care less about others, live more for today, make your world look more likely to become rich, expect to and try more to participate in pivotal events, be more entertaining and praiseworthy, and keep the famous people around you happier and more interested in you.
    Uh, that's sounds like how most people already live.

    (Thanks, GeekPress.)

    Is there a functional difference between believing that we live in a simulation and believing in God(s)?

    Best of the Web Today points to a Washington Times article which indicates that the Saudi royal family is starting to fire and ban jihad-loving, al Qaeda-sympathizing Wahhabi clerics in the wake of the al Qaeda suicide bombings in Riyadh two months ago.

    I suppose this is good news, but wouldn't it be even better if there was some hint of actual religious freedom, rather than just a switch to state religious tyranny that's more to our liking? After all, American approval of friendly dictators is supposely one of the Arab street's prime grievances against us. Taranto looks at these moves as "halting steps toward joining the civilized world", but in the civilized world the government doesn't tell you what is and is not accepted religious doctrine.

    So yes, I'm glad that our staunch allies in Saudi Arabia are firing the most anti-American clerics, but not as glad as I'd be if the Saudi government fired all the clerics and took their mitts out of the religion business entirely. Iraq, even under Saddam Hussein, has had one of the most religiously free governments in the region, and I hope now that a truly free nation is being established there will be some concrete moves away from state-sponsored/-mandated Islam.

    Three months ago, Time Magazine ran an excellent interview with Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Although I'm sure that many non-Christians cringe when they read about Christian missionaries lining up by the hundreds to spread the gospel to Arab Muslims, this interview might give you a new perspective.

    "No one is going to flip a switch and make Iraq a Christian nation. America is not a Christian nation; it's a mission field. Conversion can't come at the point of a gun. I think this is a true test, in a post-modern, post Cold War age, of how America is going to establish a model for the recovery of freedom. Religious freedom has to be at the center and foundation of that freedom. If Iraq were to be established in a way that religious freedom was honored, it would stand out from its neighbors in the area."

    "It would be an appalling tragedy if America were to lead this coalition and send young American men and women into battle, to expend such military effort, to then leave in place a regime that would lack respect for religious liberty. I think one of the major Christian concerns, and one of my personal concerns, is to see religious liberty, religious freedom," take a prominent position in "the vision of freedom that America holds up to the world."

    Why does Gray Davis have money sitting around to fight the recall effort? Does anyone know? He's hiring lawyers and petition gatherers and such, but where's the money coming from? Did he have money left over from his last gubernatorial campaign? If so, is he allowed to just spend it on anything he wants, or what? Maybe all the money he's spending has been donated since the recall effort was started, but that's not the impression I've gotten. It must cost quite a bit of money to hire all those people, and I haven't heard about any fund-raising for that specific purpose.

    I'm not suggesting anything illegal, I really want to know. Can he roll the "Davis 2002" campaign money over to this new effort? Why didn't he spend all that money last year, anyway? He couldn't have imagined he'd need it again. Unless he was planning to run for president or something.

    Anyway, I'm just curious. Any ideas?

    Someone over at Disney had a really bad idea: making movies based on Disneyland's more popular rides. If someone had presented this idea to me I would have told them they were nuts. What a cheesy, stupid idea. I know everyone loves Pirates of the Caribbean the Ride, and everyone would be sure to be disappointed by whatever lame movie got based on its "premise".

    And, I would have been wrong. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was actually lots of fun and very subtle at times. The plot made me think a bit and held together tightly. The actors were all convincing, and Johnny Depp was magnetic; I couldn't take my eyes off him; in a very heterosexual sort of way, mind you. Keira Knightley is beautiful, and I'm probably going marry her; her face is incredibly expressive, and I could hardly take my eyes off her, either. I want to marry an English girl with good teeth, and hope my kids grow up with cute little English accents.

    The costumes and scenery were immersive, and the CGI that was used for the skeleton pirates was masterfully done. There were wenches, piles of gold, walkings of planks, deserted islands, piles of gold, cannons, swordfights, parrots, monkeys, freaking skeleton pirates, and piles of gold everywhere. The dialogue and background provided enough allusions to the ride to keep me alert, but not so many that it came off as cheesy or pandering (unlike references in the recent Star Wars movies to the earlier trilogy).

    The plot was a little twisty, and it worked really well. There were a few moments where the characters seemed to be taken aback by the stereotypes they were playing out, but there wasn't any slapstick or campiness to distract from the piratey atmosphere.

    One surprise came early on, before the movie even started: a preview for The Haunted Mansion, apparently based on the ride by the same name. On the severe downside, it stars Eddie Murphy, who hasn't made a decent movie since... since... hold on, I'll think of one... uh... ok, 1988. The preview was amusing, but I think the movie's going to be pure slappity-slap-slap. Oh well. Maybe I'll be wrong again.

    The Diablogger, Mark Aveyard, has a good post up that warns of the slipperly slope that gapes before us if we buy into that argument that:

    a) Some people P are more likely to perform behavior X because of genetic predisposition.
    b) Therefore, the way society views P and X should be based on that genetic predisposition, and not wholly on the effects and consequences of X on their own.

    That way lies legal confusion. If the goal of law is to protect people from the dangerous and harmful effects of other people's actions, then it shouldn't matter why a crime was committed, only that it was, in fact, committed and that it did cause harm to another party.

    Some very dangerous behaviors are unquestionably based in genetics, such as psychopathy. Does that mean that society should not act to protect itself from psychotics? Clearly not, and even when a murderer is acquitted due to insanity he is locked up for "treatment" (despite the fact that his malady is entirely untreatable).

    The law makes a distinction between motive and intent. If I want your money and decide to rob you, my motive is to get money. However, when I then pull out a gun and shoot at you, my intent is to kill you. If I didn't use deadly force and only threatened you, my intent would have been different even though my motive would have been the same.

    Motive should play no part in sentencing, only intent should count. It doesn't matter why you threatened me or why you shot me -- my hair color, race, clothes, money, attitude, revenge, or genetic predisposition? Irrelevent. Judges, juries, and lawyers can't read people's minds, but they can determine intent based on observed actions.

    Note: that's not to say that motive is irrelevent when considering the morality of an action or behavior. More on that later, perhaps.

    Bill Hobbs mentions that the Christian music industry is appealing to its listeners' moral values in an attempt to curb music sharing.

    I'm not heavily involved myself, but some of my close friends are deep into the Christian music scene here in LA (and local independent music in general). We've talked about pirating and what the various bands they know think of the practice, and the answer has been pretty much unamimous. Of the dozens of Christian bands that my friends know, every single one of them prefers the additional exposure that pirating brings to whatever marginal revenue is lost in sales.

    I go to shows occassionally, and I remember specifically telling my friend who took me to see Eleventeen: "I'd better not tell Josh that you burned me a copy of their last CD."

    He just laughed. "He doesn't care, he'd probably be glad to hear that I like them enough to make you listen. Now you're here at the show, and paying for that."

    Yesterday I went to Lighthouse Christian Bookstore in Long Beach, and I was stunned that all the music I was interested in was $6-$8 more than it is at Tower Records. It used to be that you couldn't find any of the indie/Christian stuff anywhere but at a Christian store, but that's not the case anymore; I wonder if they'll be able to stay in business?

    Motivated by Donald and Bill, I'd like to solicit as many opinions as possible: is speeding morally wrong? If so, always? Or under what circumstances? Please be as brief or as detailed as you like, but I want everyone to leave a comment!

    Aw man, Donald beat me to the question and discusses whether or not speeding is sinful. But no one has commented on his post except me, so, everyone comment here!

    Most people who believe that abortion should be legal don't consider themselves "pro-death", but what about people and groups who condone and support coerced and forced abortion? Well, China's communist government has been forcing women to abort their "unauthorized" babies for over 20 years. China denies that forced abortions are a part of their population control policy, but admits that "there may have been isolated abuses by overzealous local officials, but that these were strictly unauthorized."

    From the 2001 House hearings I linked to above:

    Some of us were skeptical about whether UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] was really the right organization to ensure against coercion in China. UNFPA officials had consistently defended the Chinese family planning program against accusations of forced abortion and forced sterilization, even long after other observers had concluded that these abuses did occur. Judging from this unhappy experience, we worried about whether UNFPA officials would recognize coercion when they saw it. But hope triumphed over experience, and the then Administration supported the new agreement.

    Today's testimony suggests that, after 3 years, the new arrangement is not working. Our lead witness today, Josephine Guy, just returned from one of UNFPA's 32 model counties. She will testify and present videotaped evidence of forced abortion, of the destruction of houses belonging to families who have had unauthorized children, and of similar abuses that have been associated with the People's Republic of China population control program. Other witnesses will testify that this new evidence is consistent with the history of the program and with the current situation in the rest of China.

    So, now in 2003, Congress is preparing to strip funding from UNFPA, and pro-choice advocates are going nuts. I guess they don't have a problem with women being forced to abort their babies. Doesn't sound very "pro-choice" to me.

    And then there's people who just don't get it:

    Other family planning groups like Population Communications International have expressed concern about the wider impact of defunding the UNFPA.

    "From an international development point of view, it's going to tie the hands of a lot of really important work that's being done," said Michael Tatu Castlen, the group's executive vice president. "UNFPA not getting money from the U.S. government has already crippled them, but the people who they give money to are in danger of being crippled further."

    Duh. The whole point is to tie the hands of the people doing the "really important work" of dragging women into filthy clinics and sucking their babies out with a vacuum.

    Go read the speech President George Bush delivered on Goree Island, Senegal, on July 8th, 2003, posted on Opinion Journal.

    Too bad the liberals are distracting the country from Bush's trip to Africa by complaining about 16 words from a speech six months ago.

    Bill Hobbs and Donald Sensing both link to this Charles Krauthammer piece which explains liberals' willingness to use force in Liberia but not in Iraq thusly:

    What is it that makes liberals like Dean, preening their humanitarianism, so antiwar in Iraq and so pro-intervention in Liberia? ...

    They all had a claim on the American conscience. What then was the real difference between, say, Haiti and Gulf War I, and between Liberia and Gulf War II? The Persian Gulf has deep strategic significance for the United States; Haiti and Liberia do not. In both Gulf wars, critical American national interests were being defended and advanced. Yet it is precisely these interventions that liberals opposed.

    The only conclusion one can draw is that for liberal Democrats, America's strategic interests are not just an irrelevance, but a deterrent to intervention. This is a perversity born of moral vanity. For liberals, foreign policy is social work. National interest - i.e., national selfishness - is a taint. The only justified interventions, therefore, are those which are morally pristine, namely, those which are uncorrupted by any suggestion of national interest.

    Hence the central axiom of left-liberal foreign policy: The use of American force is always wrong, unless deployed in a region of no strategic significance to the United States.

    Bill and Donald both seem to imply that liberals' aversion to using force is based on a belief that America is bad. Maybe I'm putting words in Bill's mouth, but Donald says directly:
    I think it is the Left's belief, no longer subject to empirical analysis, that America is bad for the world. Actions, whether military or not, that enhance America's national self interests are therefore anathema. If old "Engine Charlie" Wilson's motto was, "What is good for General Motors is good for America," the Left's motto runs perversely: "What is good for America is bad for the world." ...

    In their mind, America is an imperialist nation, imperialist in many forms - economic, cultural, linguistic and especially militarily. If America's gross transgressions are to be corrected, then America's national power must be turned away from promoting America's national interests. Hence, America's armed forces can be used only for reasons that do not serve its interests.

    I don't dispute that some liberals view America this way, but I don't think that most do. Hey, I'm as cynical as the next guy, but Charles Krauthammer has a better analogy when he compares foreign policy to social work. I don't think that most liberals want to hurt America; rather, they think that our nation should act more like a world judge or referee rather than a participant. We have the most power, and we should use it to enforce fairness, not to promote our own interests.

    The backbone of liberal ideology is arrogance and elitism, and this perspective on foreign policy follows directly (and strikes me as very European). America should act as the third world's daddy, because we're smarter, richer, and just better in general. It's not fair for us to use our power to our own advantage, and as a judge would we should recuse ourselves from any situation that presents us with a "conflict of interest", such as Iraq. On the other hand, we're allowed to intervene in Liberia precisely because we have nothing to gain; we can be neutral and fair and calm the squabbling children.

    Steven Den Beste has a few fascinating posts on nuclear proliferation, and Iran and North Korea specifically. In the most recent post, he briefly describes the nuclear-acquisition precedent that has been set over the past decade, as it relates to our desire to deter our enemies:

    That establishment of a deterrent will be part of Bush's calculation. The decision on those attacks, should it come to that, will in part be based on the consequences specifically of those cases. But it will also be based partly on whether it's necessary to establish an object lesson for other nations who might be contemplating the same thing.

    The big problem here is India and Pakistan. They did the same thing and succeeded, and it's not likely at this point that there's going to be any significant attempt by us to try to force either or both of them to disarm again. Indeed, Israel is perhaps an even more important case. They represent a positive example to those attempting to develop nukes, by showing that once you've done so, you probably won't be forced to disarm again.

    South Africa did, but that was pretty much voluntary. If it had refused to, it's not clear the kind and extent of pressure which would have been applied.

    A lot of pernicious precedents got set in the 1990's; part of why we're in a mess now, and part of why things have gotten as bloody recently as they have, is that we're having to change the perception of those precedents. That means in some cases we're having to perhaps use a stronger military response than might otherwise have been needed, because we need to set an example for the future. That's going to be part of Bush's decision this time, too.

    SDB doesn't mention it, but I think he knows that the nuclear cat is out of the bag, so to speak. He's right, it is difficult to enrich fissionable materials -- and it's especially difficult to hide the process -- but India and Pakistan did it handily enough, and it's only getting easier. In time, maybe a decade or two at most, every country that wants to have nuclear weapons will be able to either build them or buy them, that that will fundamentally alter the balance of power in the world.

    Conventional military force serves as the ultimate recourse (and foundation) of diplomacy, but nuclear weapons give their owner near complete immunity from conventional warfare. In order to win a war you need to put troops on the ground, and any army is vulnerable to a single van (or ambulance) carrying a nuclear device. North Korea and Iran are making big gambles by trying to construct nuclear weapons, but if they are successful they will win major victories: although the United States may be considering military options against their hostile regimes now, if and when they acquire nuclear weapons that possibility will be essentially off the table. Just as nuclear weapons deterred the United States and the Soviet Union from all-out war for 40 years, these rogue nations will successfully deter the United States.

    What then? Iran will buy itself virtual immunity for its support of Hizbollah and its encouragement of terrorism around the world, particularly against Israel. The need for nearly-plausible deniability will vanish, and the marginal cost for stopping each of their terror attacks will increase greatly for the United States and Israel. How many busses will need to be blown up before Israel can retaliate, knowing that it risks nuclear escalation? Alternatively, what if Iran slips a device to some terrorist group that then uses it to blackmail Israel? (It's unlikely that Iran would attempt to blackmail Israel or the US directly, since such blackmail would invite immediate nuclear retaliation by either country.) A terrorist group that's hiding within Israel and can't be found won't be deterred by nuclear weapons.

    Blackmail is a way of life for the North Korean government. They've been using the threat of a conventional infantry/artillery invasion over the DMZ into Seoul for 40 years to force the world's powers to buy them off. The North Korean government would have collapsed long ago without the oil and food they've extorted from the United States and others over the decades. Now that those payments have nearly stopped, the North Korean government is on the brink of implosion and believes that if they are able to attain nuclear weapons they'll be able to force us to acquiese to their preposterous demands. It's unlikely that they would be crazy enough to resort to direct nuclear blackmail, but their standard threat of conventional attack becomes much more difficult to thwart if it's backed by nuclear weapons

    Not to mention the fact that North Korea has recently tested missiles that could deliver a warhead to Japan. Japan doesn't have nuclear weapons (because the US bears the primary responsibility for Japan's defense), but if North Korea gets them then Japan will insist upon it. China certainly wouldn't like to face a nuclear-armed Japan, and so China has an added incentive to defuse the North Korean situation.

    However it plays out, the world gets much more complicated and the United States will be in a weaker position than it's in today. Total nuclear proliferation is only a matter of time, and I hope that someone is giving some thought as to how the world will operate once every nation has nuclear capability.

    It's an interesting thought experiment. If everyone has nuclear weapons then conventional forces may become entirely obsolete. Any conventional attack could immediately escalate to nuclear, so what would be the point of maintaining an army? It could make the world very peaceful, but it could also result in an unstable equilibrium -- like a soda bottle balanced on its mouth, it's steady, but a single wobble could bring the whole system crashing down. Unless some new technology is created that can nullify ground-delivered nuclear weapons (as opposed to mere missile defense), it's hard to see how the current world order can hold sway for much longer.

    I wanted to add that there's a race on between nuclear proliferation and the spread of democracy and freedom. Democracies don't go to war with each other as a general rule, even when they have nuclear weapons. It's the dictators that we have to be scared of. So, if democracy can spread more quickly than nuclear weapons do, everything should be peachy. It just doesn't seem inevitable to me.

    Donald Sensing has written a good amount (including his MS thesis) on the subject of human free will, but I have another question: does God have free will?

    On one hand, if God is all-powerful and reigns supreme over the entire universe, then it seems logical to conclude that he has free will. But on another, subtly compelling hand, can God lie? Could Jesus have sinned while he was on earth, and simply chose not to? Or, because of his divine nature, would it have been impossible for Jesus to murder, rape, steal, or disbelieve? If God is perfect, then in any given circumstance he must perform the perfect action. Can multiple actions be equally perfect? Considering that God knows the ultimate result of any action he may take, it doesn't seem likely that any two alternate decisions would end up with the exact same level of holiness.

    Perhaps it would be impossible for God to lie, by definition. Whatever God says is True; anything that disagrees with God is False. Any decision God makes is Perfect, by virtue of the fact that he made it. That sort of reasoning (legitimate as it may be) does not easily extend to Jesus in the flesh. Living as a mere man, Jesus voluntarily decided to restrict his power and his actions, even though he had the authority to take whatever he wanted and to kill whomever he pleased. Looking at Jesus doesn't necessarily give us a true picture of God's behavior. Absent these assumed restraints, could Jesus have succumbed to Satan's temptations?

    It would be hard to believe that I have a more free will than God himself has. If mankind was created in God's image, then we must share his essential attributes, and he ours.

    Via CNSNews, Daschle reveals his true colors.

    Daschle claimed the Bush administration and the Republican leadership in Congress have "abandoned Latino families and our Latino neighbors."

    "The progress we've made over the course of the last several years has been set back," Daschle said. "So we're announcing today that we are redoubling our efforts in working in this partnership with our Hispanic leaders to see that every Latino has a chance to make a better life and to contribute to the life of this country." ...

    "We believe that every Latino who wants to serve in government at the highest levels ought to have an opportunity to do so," he stated. CNSNews.com asked Daschle later if that opportunity would be extended to Miguel Estrada. The Hispanic attorney's nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has been blocked for months by a minority of senators, composed entirely of Democrats, despite Estrada having the support of a majority of senators. Daschle tried to shift the blame for his party's actions back to Estrada. ...

    "He has been unwilling to be forthcoming about his background," Daschle explained, "[and] to release the documents that would give us a better understanding of his position on many issues."

    Excellent. The Democrats' real Hispanic Agenda is not to ensure that every Latino who wants to be part of the government has the opportunity, but to ensure that Latinos who hold the right positions (as determined by Daschle) have that opportunity. Thanks for clarifying that.

    This probably won't be a terribly profound observation to anyone deeply involved in the blogosphere, but it strikes me that blogs are an exceptional metaphor for life. You try to do something every day -- interesting, productive, entertaining, silly, anything. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you do it alone even though you really wish someone else was along for the ride. Sometimes it's meaningless to you, but it touches someone else deeply. Sometimes you pour your heart out and the world shrugs.

    What have you done for me lately? Whatever you do or write or say today will be gone in a week. Oh sure, Google's All-Seeing Eye has filed it away somewhere, and Indiana Jones might dig through your archives for a golden nugget he's heard rumors of, but the past is past. The world moves on -- ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

    You've got to always press on, looking for some new witticism, something Important that no one else has noticed, or at least a story that makes you smile. The river of time washes 7 days ago over the waterfall at the bottom of the screen, but if you swim fast enough you can beat the current. Check the news, check the blogs, what's going on today? Hey, look around, maybe something funny happened to you on the way to your keyboard.

    Writing is history. That is, the only history that exists is what gets written down. Is there a Deep Thought on the tip of your brain? Better write it down, because tomorrow it'll be gone and you won't even remember that you lost something. Write it with a pen or pencil, write it with bits and bytes, write it with a camera or microphone. Bind it, post it, burn it to CD. Your kids will want to know what you were like Back In The Day, and you want to have more than a high school graduation photo to show them. What if they could not only read your mind, but travel through time and see what you were thinking about on July 11th, 2003? Yeah, I had some crazy ideas back then. You know, we'd be great friends even if we weren't flesh and blood.

    EconoPundit is competing in this week's New Blog Showcase over at Truth Laid Bear. Steve's submission notes that since FDR's administration the Democrats have built their constituency through what is (essentially) a nefarious form of bribery -- they buy our votes with our own money. They take $1 from our pockets, waste 50 cents, and spend the other 50 cents on inefficient nonsense that we wouldn't buy for ourselves if we had the choice. Oh, right, and then they tell us it's "free".

    The more money the government has, the more power it has. As I've noted in the past, the solution to government corruption isn't so-called campaign finance reform; power corrupts, and the only way to reduce the corruption within the federal government is to reduce its power.

    Thanks to Candace over at 5corners I have looked into the future and learned the manner in which my feeble life will be extinguished.

    You will be sucked dry by a leech. I'd stay away from swimming holes and toilet bowls, and stick to good old cement and chamber pots.

    Toilets, eh? Looks like I've already defeated my nemesis! Actually, I'm pretty relieved; there are worse ways to go. Like I could've been doomed to death by 100 leeches or something. That would totally suck.

    Edward Gorey was a brilliant and psychic man, and he can reveal the horrible fate that awaits you as well... if you dare!

    "I guess Incinerator finally met his match!" Dry Martini scoffed, lighting his cigar from the flaming hair of the chain-bound villain struggling at his feet. The rest of Justice Inc. stood around their vanquished foe and joined Martini's hardy laugh while Dogzilla barked in unison. The sun was just touching the horizon, somewhere -- not that the horizon could be seen from anywhere inside the City.

    The Adjudicator only scowled. "Victory was certain," he mumbled, "but will the check clear?" The wail of sirens approached and the superheroes were quickly surrounded by festive blue uniforms, guns holstered and topped by broad grins. A wide man in a brown trench coat stepped forward and held out his badge, carefully avoiding the muck that pooled in the alley.

    "Good work Jude," a voice scratched from beneath the man's lowered fedora. "All tied up nice and neat, and with minimum structural damage," he finished up with a glare towards Captain Careener, who threw back his head and laughed.

    "Structural damage is the Captain's forte!" the blue-helmeted muscle proclaimed.

    The Adjudicator smiled and pulled out the Clipboard of Justice. "It's always a pleasure to serve the public, Detective Johnson. Please sign here." Despite the preceding scuffle, the papers were immaculate; Jude took pride in keeping everything in order, unlike some other teams he could name.

    Johnson signed the forms in triplicate while Dry Martini and Opposite Woman loaded the Incinerator into the back of a metal-lined cargo van. The prisoner struggled, but as long as Opposite Woman held him his fearsome powers were impotent. The cops kept their distance until the doors slammed shut and Martini remarked, "Keep the chains, boys."

    With screeching tires the police were gone; once the last cop was out of sight, Justice Inc. began walking back towards the Fell Suburban. Everyone trudged silently except for Opposite Woman, who proclaimed half-heartedly, "I sure am glad we parked so far away."

    The Adjudicator winced in anticipation and gingerly lifted some garbage cans out of his path, but Dry Martini only grunted. He normally didn't have much patience for Opposite Woman's bland sarcasm, but it looked like the only thought on his mind at that moment was finding a dry cleaner for his tux. Trashy alleys and firey soot were not his preferred battlegound.

    The Count and the Fell Suburban were where they left them, and as they approached the jet-black monstrousity The Count unlocked the doors from the inside and they all piled in.

    "Shotgun," the Captain announced, shoving Jude aside.

    The Adjudicator shrugged wistfully; "Not in the middle," he proclaimed, and everyone scooted around to make room. The windows were darkened and nearly opaque to protect The Count, and once the doors were pulled shut the team relaxed in dim, air-conditioned luxury.

    "Ten thousand dollars!" The Count exclaimed, once they were all inside, turning around to face the rear from the driver's seat. "Hey, why all the glum faces? The police dispatcher just said that the mayor raised the bounty on Incinerator to ten gees!"

    "Bark!" said Dogzilla, and everyone's faces brightened up (except for Opposite Woman's).

    "That'll just about cover my cleaning bill," Dry Martini said, giving his top hat a rap against the blackened suburban window. Jude knew he'd probably toss out the whole tux just as soon as they got home, and he was surprised the gentleman could tolerate the filth for so long.

    "It'll do more than that," The Count began excitedly. "We can get the Steps of Justice painted and bring our handicapped bathroom up to code!"

    "Even though the building was grandfathered out of some regulations, I'll feel better once we're in compliance," The Adjudicator said, brightening futher. "Criminals can't fight crime."

    Captain Careener turned back from the front seat and said seriously, "It'll play well with the ladies, too, and they're my forte. The Freedom Force has been all over the papers and the City's asking, 'What have you done for me lately, Justice Inc.?' Well how about when we just pounded Incinerator, huh, City? How about that?! Now gimmie some sugar, baby!"

    The Captain and Martini exchanged high-fives, and Opposite Woman began crying. "I'll just stay home," he said, and everyone laughed, clapping him on the back.

    "We'll have a splendid night on the town!" The Count said. "Just as soon as I finish the paperwork. Forms don't sign themselves, you know. I'm getting some new business cards printed up, too."

    "You can't change your name again," The Adjudicator interrupted. "We all like The Count; it's already been decided."

    The Count started the engine and pulled away from the curb. "I don't like being stereotyped. How about 'The Actuary'? Or 'The Actuator'? Or even just something a little less gothic."

    The Fell Suburban roared into the twilight.

    As I wrote yesterday, it's virtually certain that there is going to be a special election to recall California's governor, Gray Davis. Taking that as a fait accompli, both the Democrats and the Republicans are in panic mode trying to figure out how to play the cards they've been dealt.

    Democrats: The Democrats are in a tough position. They have two options: 1) give all the party's support to Gray Davis and try to prevent him from losing the recall vote; 2) ditch Davis and give all their support to a different Democratic candidate. If it were obvious that Davis is going to be recalled, option (1) would probably be the way to go; the Democrats could lay all the blame for the economy squarely on Davis and sacrifice him on the politlcal altar. Since I do think it's inevitable that Davis will be gone, I think this option is the Democrats' best hope for holding the governorship. On the other hand, if they think that Democratic voter turnout will be high enough and strong enough to prevent Davis from being recalled, then they'll probably go with option (2). This would allow the party to avoid accepting any blame for the financial crisis, and would avoid a major split between Davis supporters and the rest of the Democrats. A 3rd option would be a mix of (1) and (2), but I don't see how the Democrats can support both Davis and another candidate; "Vote not to recall Gray Davis! But, if he is recalled, vote for this guy!" Unfortunately for the Democrats, California Code 11381 (c) prevents Davis from running as a candidate to replace himself.

    Republicans: The major challenge facing the Republicans is to put their focus on one candidate. There's no primary, there's no straw poll, so the various [potential] Republican candidates will need to agree among themselves on how to winnow the field. In big-ego politics, that won't be an easy thing to do. The Republican party can limit itself to supporting a single person, but there's nothing to prevent Arnold or Bill Simon (sigh) from running with their own money, for example. The recall election gives the governorship to whoever wins a plurality of votes, no matter how small that plurality is, so if the Republicans split the conservative vote 2 or 3 (or 5) different ways it's likely that Davis will be recalled and replaced with some random Democrat.

    I expect that the election will hinge on these organizational issues, even more than on the campaigns themselves.

    My main toilet was 100% clogged for about 3 days. I tried plunging it, but to no avail. I let the water in the bowl sit for a whole day and it didn't drain a single inch. I went to the store to buy Drano, but the back of the bottle says that it's not for use in toilets. The problem with using Drano in toilets is that the Drano can't get to the clog due to the trap design; I knew that if I could find a way to deliver the Drano to the clog, I'd be home free.

    Note the winding path that the water has to follow when the toilet is flushed.

    What to do? I thought of 3 options:
    1. Pour in lots of Drano. If I could fill the bowl with Drano it would overflow into the trap below. This would probably take quite a bit of Drano, and I only bought one bottle.
    2. Use a length of rubber hose to get the Drano through the trap. By pushing the hose down into the drain of the toilet and through the trap, I would be able to then pour the Drano down directly into the pipes. I expect that this would have worked quite handily, but I didn't have a suitable hose.
    3. Apply the one bottle of Drano that I already had, and then plunge it down to the clog. I knew this would be the easiest method, but also the most dangerous. Drano's active ingredient is sodium hydroxide and it has a pH of around 13; if you've got enough to fill a bathtub, you can dissolve a whole human body in a few hours and it'll go right down the drain.

    I decided to go with option 3. Normally when you plunge a toilet you want to try to pull the clog towards you (i.e., you use more force pulling the plunger up than pushing it down), but since I wanted to move the Drano to the trap I did the opposite. Insert Drano; plunge plunge plunge. Within a few minutes, the drain was clear! Huzzah!

    As an added bonus, my toilet was incredibly clean from all the Drano sloshing around inside. In the future, I may use Drano to clean all my hard surfaces.

    Some people don't seem to understand that the 1st Amendment protects us against censorship by the government. There is no such thing as "corporate censorship". If the owner of a radio station doesn't want to play your music, it's not censorship; rather, it is the epitome of free speech: the radio station owner has the right to choose what speech he or she facilitates. It's astonishing to me that Senator John McCain thinks there is censorship involved because a set of radio stations decided not to play the Dixie Chicks' music.

    While Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he disagreed with Maines' sentiment, the fact that giant radio groups could ban a group's music because of a political statement was an ``incredible, incredible act'' that serves as an example of how radio industry consolidation is causing the ``erosion of the First Amendment.''

    What troubled McCain and several of the other senators is not that a decision was made to keep the band off the air but rather that the decision was made in a corporate headquarters miles away from the station to stop playing the group's music.

    Wait, so, is McCain upset because the Chicks' music wasn't played? He seems to imply that with his fallacious invocation of the 1st Amendment. But then in the next paragraph it sounds like what he is really objecting to are ordinary property rights. It's troubling to him that the owners and/or managers of the radio station don't live close to the station itself? That's like objecting to the color McCain paints his house in Arizona because he spends most of his time in Washington DC. He owns it, he can paint it whatever color he wants, and his geographical location is completely and entirely irrelevant.

    Just for clarification: the 1st Amendment gives you the right to speak, but not the right to be heard. No one can stop you from saying whatever you want, but no one is required to listen or facilitate your speech. I haven't watched any of Michael Moore's drivel or read any of his nonsense, but that doesn't mean I'm censoring him. Similarly, Glenn Reynolds hasn't linked to any of my brilliant and insightful essays, but that doesn't mean he's censoring me -- it just means he's a cruel, selfish person.

    I'm Michael, not Mike. Oh sure, some people call me Mike; most of the time I don't even notice, although I really don't like the sound of it. In my head, to myself, I'm always Michael.

    Names have power. The power to name something is the power to define its very essence. Consider all the energy that goes into labelling different philosophies and ideas: it's not "discrimination", it's "affirmative action"; it's not "anti-life" vs. "anti-choice", it's "pro-choice" vs. "pro-life"; it's not "terrorist", it's "militant". When it comes to people, names in our American culture don't carry the same direct denotations that they have historically, but even still most people know what their name means at its root. Michael means "Who is like God?" Good question.

    Knowing someone's name gives you a certain intimacy, and a certain sense of power. You know their name, and you know them. You aren't strangers anymore, you're acquaintances. You may pass by hundreds, even thousands of unknown faces on the street, but the next time the two of you meet there will be at least a nod or smile of recognition.

    At times, this power makes me a bit uncomfortable. When I approach a girl and try to strike up a conversation, I never know if I should get her name at the beginning or at the end. Trying at the beginning seems awkward to me. Hi, I'm Michael, what's your name? It's much easier and more natural for me to start a conversation by talking about the place we're at, or whatever is going on around us. Plus, asking a girl's name at the outset is offensive to me: an overly intimate act, a forceful attempt to transform a stranger into an acquaintance without so much as a by-your-leave. Exchanging names isn't an incredibly significant event, but imposing that expectation on a stranger feels like a not-quite-benign form of emotional rape.

    So my normal strategy is to engage the conversation using circumstantial observations and questions. Make a few wry remarks, share a laugh or two, and then once the conversation starts to drift I introduce myself and ask for a name in return. Once the Other lets you in a little through conversation, sharing names is part of the natural progression.

    Most of my friends and acquaintances don't know my middle name. There's nothing embarrassing about it; it's a fine name. Sometimes people ask and I demur, I try to change the subject and avoid telling them. Why? I don't exactly know, but there's some inkling inside me that tells me to hold something back. Don't let anyone know too much about you, it says. The subject rarely comes up (because who really cares about middle names, anyway?), but even with life-long friends I get uncomfortable at the thought of revealing that corner of my identity. It's meaningless, useless, mere trivia -- but it's mine.

    Wow, the leaders of the Davis recall petition are halting signature-collecting operations two months before the deadline!

    David Gilliard, director of the recall group Rescue California, said that at least 1.2 million voter signatures have been gathered, well more than the 897,000 that by law are needed for a special election that would be nearly unprecedented in the country. Only one other recall election against a governor has ever been staged, and that was in North Dakota in 1921.

    "We're done," Gilliard said. "I have no doubt we'll have enough valid signatures for an election." ...

    Even Davis, who once scoffed at the recall's chance of reaching the ballot, is sounding resigned to an election. "If the people want me to present my credentials one more time, I have no fear of the electorate," he told reporters Monday.

    He should be afraid, considering that although many politicians are showing rising poll numbers, Davis is stuck at 38% approval, 51% disapproval. Not coincidentally, polls also show 51% of Californians are in favor of recalling the crooked governor. Of course, Davis' confidence is all bluster -- if he really isn't afraid of the electorate, then why has he spent thousands of dollars hiring signature gatherers away from the recall movement and busied them with nonsense anti-recall petitions that carry no legal weight?

    His only real hope of surviving the recall now is to try and delay the vote until March. The Democratic Primary for the 2004 Presidential election will be held in March, and he rightly believes that Democratic turnout will be higher if the recall is on the March 2004 ballot rather than the October 2003 ballot. So, rather than bravely facing the electorate, Davis and his campaign people are exploring their legal options and trying to find a way to derail the recall process via court challenges and bureaucratic manuvering.

    Well that's all expected, I suppose. I can certainly imagine a Republican governor doing the same thing... but not an honest, honorable governor of any party. Exploiting legal technicalities to prevent or delay the recall is dishonorable when it's clear that the recall movement is operating in good faith and openly following the spirit of the relevant laws. I imagine that Davis and his cronies will be able to find or invent some legal details that will call the legitimacy of the recall effort into question (in some people's minds), but the fact of the matter is that everything has been above-board from the beginning.

    For example, one of Davis' complaints is that many petitions were downloaded off the internet, filled out (properly, one would hope), and then mailed to the petition organizers. What's wrong with that? Petitions are supposed to be marked with the name of the county they are circulated in, and Davis thinks that it's not sufficient to have the downloaders write their county name on the petition once they printed out, since in some sense the petition is being "circulated" via the internet. That's the type of word game that Davis is resorting to for his legal challenges; totally insubstantial and entirely process-related.

    Gray Davis is scum. I'm glad that he's getting tarred and feathered now, because he had presidential aspirations and I don't know if our country could have survived such a corrupt and self-serving administration.

    I almost missed a rather large news item today: Microsoft is going to stop granting its employees stock options and instead begin giving them actual stock. As a result, the company will also expense these stock grants against their income, drastically cutting their profit on paper. If you're not aware, companies that give employees stock options generally don't subtract the value of those options from their income when determining expenses; a company that pays its workers partially with stock options rather than cash can eliminate huge costs from their budgets, boosting profits artificially. Essentially, using stock options to pay employees is tantamount to a giant pyramid scheme.

    Bill Parish has been all over Microsoft for using this tactic, and wrote in 1999:

    The fundamental problem is that Microsoft is incurring massive losses and only by accounting illusions are they able to show a profit. Specifically, Microsoft is granting excessive amounts of stock options that are allowing the company to understate its costs. You might ask yourself, what would happen to Microsoft's stock price if the public suddenly realized that they lost $10 billion in 1999 rather than earning the reported $7.8 billion? If 80 percent of its stock value or roughly $400 billion is the result of a pyramid scheme, one might also ask what kind of effect this could have on the retirement system. It is also important to note that this is a relatively new situation that did not occur before 1995. Microsoft has always been a highly valued stock and that might have been justified prior to 1995.

    This situation is not about stock valuation, product quality or whether or not Microsoft has monopoly power in its markets. Nor is it part of a pro or anti-Microsoft movement. This situation is instead a shining example of financial fraud and corruption enabled by bad government policy. If not quickly and aggressively addressed, we will all be losers as credibility in our financial markets is destroyed.

    Sounds kinda prescient, doesn't it? Now that Microsoft is going to (supposedly) stop these financial shenanigans -- and even pay a dividend -- what's going to become of the company? Bill Parish has claimed that Microsoft would be losing money rather than showing a profit if it wasn't paying salaries with options, but it's clear that the company's managers don't expect that to be the case now that the policy is changing.

    All of this comes in the wake of President Bush's dividend tax cut, so perhaps Microsoft is on the leading edge of the new optimal equilibrium that will take shape under this tax structure.

    Via Drudge, a mouth-watering story about a zoo-keeper who possibly barbequed his animals.

    He has already been fined for roasting pot-bellied pigs during a drunken barbeque.

    But now police in Germany are looking into the fate of a host of missing animals.

    They include a small buffalo, rabbits, donkeys, goats, racoons, parrots, a wild boar and even three Shetland ponies. ...

    "The suspicion is monstrous. Was the zoo also his personal larder?" the newspaper asked.

    If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?

    Pseudononymous blogger Philippe de Croy states as fact his opinion that President Bush's credibility is particularly poor in the wake of revelations that Saddam Hussein probably did not buy "yellowcake" uranium from Africa. Even the New York Times doesn't assume outright that the President's reference to African uranium was wrong (much less a lie).

    "There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa," the statement said. "However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made."

    In other words, said one senior official, "we couldn't prove it, and it might in fact be wrong."

    Separately tonight, The Washington Post quoted an unidentifed senior administration official as declaring that "knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech." Some administration officials have expressed similar sentiments in interviews in the past two weeks.

    So, it looks like the President and the CIA might have been mistaken. It's understandable that President Bush wanted to play this angle up during this State of the Union address, and I haven't read any evidence to suggest that he knowingly lied about it. The situation doesn't sound particularly nefarious to me. Even still, let's say take the worst case: he die lie. Where does that leave us?

    Well, it wouldn't have been an unimportant, inconsequential lie about something as minor as oral sex, and so I could understand the American people questioning the purpose behind it. That's not the issue Philippe pursues, however.

    Internationally, though, this will not wash. I am sure some countries will continue to provide us with ample respect and cooperation in any case because they regard it as so strongly in their interest to do so. But at the margin the cost in credibility will have to be high. I should think that most countries -- their people and their leaders -- will look back at the war on Iraq and remember the incredulous indignation we heaped upon those who would not go along with us. Then they will look at what came out afterwards and conclude that we are clowns or worse. They will not focus on what we claimed that was true. They will focus on what we claimed that was false. This is natural.

    Let me put it this way: Imagine events occurring over the next five years that would make international respect and cooperation urgently valuable to us. It isn’t particularly difficult, is it? Now given the state of the record on Iraq, is George Bush the man you would want to send forward in those circumstances to make promises and representations abroad?

    I don't think Philippe understands that all the cooperation we receive and should expect to receive from foreign countries is based on intersecting interests. The betrayal of France and Germany over the past six months proves this point powerfully; they had every reason to respect our past friendship and cooperate with us out of loyalty, but because their own national interests did not align with ours they chose to stand in opposition.

    On the flip side, Britain and Australia were staunch allies in every sense of the word. However, they didn't line up shoulder to shoulder with America because they owed us favors or because they respected President Bush's integrity, they fought by our side because their interests line up with ours. And because our interests are aligned -- and have been for quite a while -- there is a sense of brotherhood between our three nations.

    Loyalty and friendship are built on common goals. Philippe and others who believe like him think that once we have loyalty and friendship, the goals will become aligned, but that's putting the cart before the horse.

    I've been reading lots of speculation about the 2004 election, and I want to comment briefly on why the Constitution will never be amended to eliminate the electoral college and allow for the direct popular vote to select the president.

    The amendment process requires a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress to make the proposal, and this proposal must then be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures. Since there are currently 50 states in the Union, all it takes is 13 states to bury a proposed amendment.

    Under the electoral college system, states with low population have a number of electoral votes disproportionate to their size, and their populations clearly have a significant interest in maintaining this power. Wyoming's 3 electoral votes give the state 0.558% of the total 538, even though its population of 498,703 is only 0.173% of the total population of the country (288,368,698). Wyoming's electoral power (and representation in Congress, incidentally) is more than 3 times higher than it's population should warrent under a purely democratic system. As a result of this math, every state that possesses a number of electoral votes below the median would be harmed by the elimination of the electoral college, and so no such amendment could ever pass. In fact, as more people shift to urban coastal cities, the relative power of the depopulated states increases.

    Hey, that's undemocratic! Why yes, it is. But then, a lot of our Constitution is undemocratic, and specifically designed to protect minorities from the tyrannical rule of the majority. In this case, the minority in question isn't racial, but geographic.

    I heard about this story from Rush while I was driving to work, and I thought I'd share it with you in case it doesn't get picked up anywhere else. Apparently, Georgica Pond, one of the most expensive and exclusive areas in East Hampton, New York, has been overflowing with water due to record rainfall this season and flooding the basements and septic tanks of the many rich liberals who live nearby.

    Unfortunately for the normally-environmentally-conscious residents -- like Steven Spielberg and Martha Stewart -- there are some protected birds that live on the narrow strip of sand that separates the pond from the Atlantic Ocean, and it would be illegal for the town to drain the pond, regardless of the damage that's being done to the mansions on the shore. However, despite the environmental regulations, and despite the potentially immeasurable harm that could have been caused to the Piping Plovers, a few nights ago someone had the audacity to cut a channel into the sandbar and allow the water from the pond to drain.

    "I'm furious that someone would have the audacity to take it on their own to open up an outlet," said East Hampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

    Board of Trustees Clerk James McCaffrey said he and his wife, Nancy, who live near Georgica Pond, got up around 5 a.m. Tuesday after smelling something rotten. It was the newly exposed pond bottom. "She came back and said, 'The pond is out,'" he said. "I said, 'you have to be kidding.'"

    McCaffrey called town environmental officials, who called East Hampton Village police. They called the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    "Whatever way they did it, I don't know," McCaffrey said. "I don't think any machinery was brought onto the beach. I think it was a task force of a number of men or a number of women. I don't know which."

    I have a sneaking suspicion that either the McCaffreys' basement and septic tank weren't flooding, or they know exactly who was involved in the caper. It's interesting to note that when all that needs to be sacrificed to save some spotted owls are some blue-collar jobs and some lumber there's one set of rules, but as soon as basements start flooding in the Hamptons, well, those Piping Plovers are screwed.

    I should have posted this earlier, since it's far more local: Malibu beach-access fight pits cash against hoi polloi. By law in California, there is no such thing as a private beach. Nevertheless, rich liberals like David Geffen and Barbara Streisand do their best to deny access to the common folk. They're all about property rights when it's their property.

    Continuing the topic of Love and Marriage, here's an excellent post by Cypren that expresses much of the frustration that I experience myself.

    Via Megan at Page Three (who flatters some of my recent posts, although I am not a five-point Calvinist), here is a very long article about marriage by Mike McNichols that explores in plodding detail the legalistic way that many Christians look at marriage. Our society leads us to give a great deal of weight to a piece of paper issued by the state that says "you're married", but in reality that's not the point. Getting married doesn't require a ceremony or government recognition, and in fact a great many people are functionally married and probably don't even realize it (such as Ed Weathers from my previous essay).

    In case you didn't see it on the Drudge Report, take a look at the Government Information Awareness project. It's quite entertaining. I haven't been able to find home phone numbers for anyone yet, but I suppose it's only a matter of time.

    So is this type of project a good idea? Well, all the information being posted is in the public domain already, it's just a matter of organization. Whether it's a good idea or not is basically moot, since it's already being done. The question really is, should society remove "personal" information from the public domain or somehow secure it?

    Most people rely on a form of "security through obscurity" for their personal protection -- as long as no criminal has a specific reason to seek them out, the chance that they'll be a victim is pretty low. Public figures are by definition not obscure, so how are they to protect themselves? One argument is that they shouldn't be able to protect themselves, because they're supposed to be serving the public good and are, in essence, our employees. Maybe, but the fact of the matter is that publishing the home address of a Supreme Court Justice exposes him or her to far more potential danger that I would be exposed to if my home address were published.

    It's impossible to please everyone, so no matter what policies a public official implements there are bound to be violently-inclined crazies who will be eager to take a swipe at a fat juicy target if the difficulty of locating crucial information is low enough. It's hard to justify suppression of speech on the grounds of potential danger, though, so I'm not sure what solutions exist. Senator Dianne Feinstein's solution is to carry a concealed weapon, but thanks to some gun-control nuts (such as Senator Dianne Feinstein) that option isn't available to all of us.

    I know everyone is wondering where I've been for the past three days, and you probably assume that I've been partying like crazy. That's an easy assumption to make for anyone who knows me, but in actuality I've been working all weekend. In fact, let's see... today is the 29th day in a row that I've worked.

    On the plus side, all the managers were on vacation for the 4th of July, so I was actually able to get some work done. Now that it's Monday we're back to the three hours-of-meetings-per-day routine (no joke). It's amazing to me that managers at a technology company don't understand how engineers work. Meetings suck my life force, and it can take a considerable amount of time and concentration to get back into the engineering groove; by the time I'm actually being productive again, it's time for another meeting.

    So, I look forward to working on the weekends; come to think of it, I'd happily trade weekends for having Thursday and Friday off, as long as management kept a regular schedule. It's very frustrating to be kept from doing real work due to meetings and administrative nonsense, even when it's only the necessary amount of nonsense. At times like this, however, when there are [counting on fingers] 8 managers for every 3 engineers on the project, it gets to be a bit suffocating.

    I've managed engineers (before all the recent layoffs) and it's really not hard to coax productivity from productive people: give them clear, unwavering directions; leave them alone; repeat.

    I created a new page that lists the 10 Most Recent Comments made anywhere on the blog. There's a link to it on the left under Site Info.

    I love it when people leave comments, so do it!

    I've written before about the total depravity of mankind, and so the question naturally arises: if humans are inherently and thoroughly depraved, why is there good in the world? That's a good question, and the answer is the existence of what is called "common grace".

    "Grace", in a theological sense, refers to a favor or blessing that God bestows on us and that we do not deserve and have not earned. Most often, Christians talk about "saving grace" -- that is, the grace that God shows us through Jesus Christ that allows us to be forgiven for our evil acts. We do not earn forgiveness by doing good things to "balance" out our evil; rather, God forgives us freely by his grace. Saving grace is available to all mankind, but some people do not accept it, and thus do not reap the benefits of God's benevolence.

    However, there is another type of grace that God gives to all humanity called "common grace", and this grace is the root cause of the goodness that we can see in ourselves and in the world around us. Common grace is manifested in many ways; some are very simple and direct, while others are more subtle. The most obvious example of common grace is creation itself; if you acknowledge the existence of God, then no matter how you believe he brought the universe into being, the fact that he did so at all is a result of his common grace. Likewise, the physical laws of nature that govern our universe are both an effect of common grace (because of creation), and the proximate cause of many forms of common grace that we experience. The earth provides us all, believer and unbeliever alike, with food, clothing, shelter, and everything else that makes life possible. As with saving grace, some people may choose to reject common grace (e.g., by taking their own life). Most people, however, accept God's common grace without a conscious thought of its origin or an acknowledgement of its existence.

    God created the church (and local churches individually) as his instrument for spreading saving grace to humanity. God uses churches to reach people with his saving grace. In a similar manner, God instituted governments to administer much of his common grace. Some governments are corrupt and ineffectual (as are some churches), but those that function properly bring the benefits of God's common grace to their people: peace, safety, prosperity, productivity, liberty.

    Romans 13:1-7
    1. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
    A ruler or government fulfills God's purpose when it punishes those who do evil and commends those who do good. Although every government I can think of extends itself beyond this simple mandate, these dual responsibilities should form the foundation for a just and proper nation. Consider also that the first few verses give governments considerable discretion in administrative matters; Paul was writing to Christians living under a rather oppressive Roman empire, and we should step very carefully when we consider overthrowing an authority that God has set up. (Nevertheless, taken in context I believe it's clear that when a government ceases to implement God's common grace it loses its legitimacy, but that's a discussion for another day.)

    On the 4th of July, the day we celebrate the founding of these United States of America, it's important to be thankful for the grace that God has shown us by allowing us to live in the freest and most prosperous nation that has ever existed on the face of the earth. Not one of us has earned this privilege, and most of us inherited it through the circumstances of our birth. It is by God's grace that we live freely, speak freely, worship (or not) freely, assemble together freely, hold property securely, and pursue happiness with fewer restaints and more opportunity than any people ever have before us.

    In Luke 12:48 Jesus says, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." We in America have been given a great deal; we have not earned it, but it was given to us freely by God because of his grace. God expects us to use our freedom and power wisely, justly, and generously as an instrument of his common grace.

    I love Google's special picture days; here's their image for the 4th of July.

    If you've got a few minutes to kill, I highly recommend checking out the Stickman Murder Mysteries.

    Well, it's not really a "truce" when one side doesn't stop fighting, is it? Nevertheless, the "peace process" is succeeding, because people say it is. Let's take a look at how the terrorists and the Israelis are acting, now that everything's so peaceful.

    In an early morning raid, Israeli troops killed a local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militia linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement,
    Oh no, the Israelis are killing people! No, wait...
    when an arrest turned violent in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya, the army said. The man killed was identified as Mahmoud Shawer, an assistant to Ibrahim Mansour, the militia leader in Qalqiliya, who was arrested.
    So they were trying to arrest a militia leader, not kill anyone. I assume the assistant tried to resist and got shot.
    About 30 gunmen from Al Aqsa and another armed group were among thousands marching in Shawer's funeral. A speaker from the militia promised revenge within 24 hours.

    Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Arafat, called Shawer's killing an "assassination" and accused Israel of trying "to bring us back to the cycle of action and reaction."

    Maybe there's a difference between an assassination -- which would have been a violation of the cease-fire -- and an attempt to arrest a criminal.

    Anyway, what have those Palestinians been up to?

    Also, Palestinians fired four anti-tank shells at the isolated Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip late Wednesday, wounding four Israelis. In response, Israeli soldiers closed for six hours a key intersection on the main Gaza road.
    Hmmm... that doesn't sound like an attempt to enforce the law, that sounds like a terrorist attack to me! In response, Israel fired artillery into a Palestinian residential area, right? Oh no, they stopped traffic for a while while they searched for the terrorists.

    Gosh, the situation is so morally ambiguous! It's hard to tell who's the good guys and who's the bad guys!

    Donald Sensing has a great essay up about God, Life, and Liberty, but I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that.

    The Law of Moses defined freedom in two ways. On the one hand, the law defined what was forbidden. On the other, it stated what was obligatory.

    There is always a tension between the forbidden and the mandatory. But the Bible seems clear that human freedom is found somewhere between the limits of what must not be done and what must be done. With no limits there is no freedom because there is no orientation on God. Without obligations there is no justice. Without prohibitions there is no community. When either individuals or societies attempt to ignore either prohibitions or obligations, bondage results. Falling into slavery is easy, staying free is hard. Jefferson said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The reason is that the natural state of human beings is not freedom, but slavery.

    Some people expect freedom to mean that there are no boundaries, no limits, but that's not the case. For example, if everyone were free to kill on a whim, how free would we as a society really be? I could go on, but I basically agree with everything Donald wrote, so just go read his essay.

    I've been very busy today because everyone wants to leave for the 4th of July weekend. We had some errors pop up during our testing last night and I've been spending the day trying to track down the cause, while everyone just wants to hit the road ASAP. Fine.

    A problem arises, however, when management insists that, although they don't know what is causing the error, they know it's a problem with the software because the hardware never fails. Sigh.

    I tell them what I think is causing the problem, but they don't believe me. It's not like I'm as smart as them, after all, or else I would be in management. So I spend 4 hours demonstrating that I was, in fact, correct, and then another 2 hours documenting the problem so that they can understand what needs to be done to fix it. One of our EEPROM memory units has a failure and needs to be replaced. I get back to the office from the lab and hey, everyone has gone home.

    The best part is that I get to come in over the weekend to fix everything.

    I don't understand the concept of "civil unions". Supposedly they're meant as a compromise relationship that would allow gays to get the benefits of marriage without using the same name, right?

    Well what's to prevent me from civilly unioning with my roommate to get free health coverage from his work and to save money on taxes? Or, for that matter, what's to keep me from unioning with a family member or a business partner for similar financial reasons? Once the financial transaction in question is completed, we could simply dissolve the union, thereby freeing ourselves to form other unions as it became advantageous.

    Would civil unions convey legal spousal privilege? If so, then criminals could simply union to avoid testifying against each other. Likewise, such privilege could be used by parents unioning with their children to cover sexual abuse. The list of potential problems seems endless to me, and I don't see any clear criteria that could be used to draw a line.

    It would certainly be absurd to require two people to somehow prove that they're gay before allowing them to enter a "civil union". Most states allow for minors to get married with their parents' permission, and so I see no reason to think that children would not be allowed to enter into civil unions, possibly even without parental consent. If a girl can get an abortion without parental notification, then why can't she get civilly unioned? Similarly, parents are not allowed to marry their children, but does a civil union necessarily require or expect there to be sexual activity between the two partners? If not, then there's no reason not to allow parents to union with their kids.

    The complications go on and on, and any inclusions or exclusions will end up being entirely arbitrary. The well-defined structure of marriage has been the building block of civilization for all of known history; creating an institution of "civil union" would necessarily undermine that order. Proponents may or may not admit it, but I think that undermining the current social fabric is one of their main intentions.

    Via many sources (and specifically Drudge and The Washington Times), the results of a poll by the Center for the Advancement of Women show that a majority of American women (51%, margin of error 3%) believe that abortion should be prohibited or limited to extreme cases, such as rape, incest, or life-threatening complications. This is quite a jump from the 45% who felt that way in 2001. In 2003 only 30% of women believe that abortion should be readily available, down from 34% in 2001. Further:

    The results, announced with a series of women's responses to issues such as domestic violence and affirmative action, found that fewer women — 41 percent — consider protecting abortion a top priority, an 8 percent drop from 2001. Of the 12 top priorities, keeping abortion legal was second to last, beating only the percentage of women who want to increase the number of girls participating in organized sports.

    It goes without saying that these changes are probably related to demographic shifts, and reflect that younger women tend to view abortion with far more aversion than baby-boomers do. 100 years from now, I think we'll look back at the 40 million babies killed in America over the past 30 years with disgust and revulsion.

    As an additional note, it's not often reported that although blacks make up only 12% of the population they account for one-third of abortions. According to BlackGenocide.org, 3 out of 5 pregnant African-American women will abort their child. Where's the outrage from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? [crickets]

    Democrats are complaining because Republican state legislatures are redrawing Congressional districts. The WaPo article acts as if this is some new strategy:

    "This is a political strategy we haven't seen before," said Tim Storey, redistricting analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "People who study this area can't find any case in the last 100 years of mid-decade redistricting without a court order."
    Ah, but the key word here is "mid-decade". It's accepted practice to gerrymander districts after the decennial census, and Democrats are mainly peeved because they're out of power and the Republicans want to redistrict now rather than wait another 7 years.
    In an era in which most congressional districts are drawn to guarantee safe seats for one party or the other, Colorado bucked the trend after the 2000 Census. The state's new 7th Congressional District was designed to be a political tossup, with one-third of the voters Republican, one-third Democratic and one-third unaffiliated.

    Sure enough, the suburban Denver district produced the closest House race in the nation last fall. After several recounts, Republican Bob Beauprez won the seat by 122 votes out of 162,938 cast.

    Yippie, a close House race. And that means what? No one says, but it's taken for granted that it's a good thing.

    The whole concept of gerrymandering by state legislatures is fascinating to me. One the one hand, legislatures always draw horribly contorted district borders that are specifically designed to dilute their opponents' voters and yield close races that are nevertheless guaranteed wins. It's a rather delicate balancing act -- if you win but the vote isn't close, then you wasted too many of your own voters, but if you lose then the result is even worse. It seems very undemocratic on the surface, until you remember that the state legislature is itself a democratically elected body. I'm not sure where that leaves us.

    Consider that before the 17th Amendment, state legislatures selected Senators for their state; members of the House of Representatives were elected directly by the people, but Senators were not. However, with the 17th Amendment and the current state of gerrymandering, the situation has almost reversed itself. State borders cannot be modified, and so Senators are elected directly by the people they represent, while the state legislature fiddles with the Congressional districts and in effect selects the party of the Representative that holds each seat.

    According to The European Court of Human Rights, Britain is guilty of a serious human rights violation because it didn't carry out a vigorous enough investigation into a murder 14 years ago.

    The court did not award damages or order a fresh investigation. However, the Government was told to pay £30,000 towards legal costs incurred by Mr Finucane's widow, Geraldine, who brought the case. She alleged that there had been "no proper, effective investigation" into the death of her husband.

    Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention says: "Everyone's right to life shall be protected by law." Article 1 requires governments to ensure that people within their jurisdiction can exercise their convention rights.

    The court has said this means that there must be some form of effective official investigation when individuals have been killed as a result of the use of force.

    That's totally insane.

    Hey, that guy's driving recklessly and the police aren't anywhere to be found! Help, help, I'm being oppressed!

    I have no idea whether or not Britain will pay this wacko fine, but they may be obligated to do so by treaty. This is exactly why the United States should never ever ever sign any of the nutso transnational treaties that Europe scribbles out every few years like the International Criminal Court or Kyoto. All the Euro-bureaucrats want to do is get their feet in the door so they can start meddling with things.

    Fortunately, it looks like Bush is taking the issue seriously. Effective July 1st, 2003, the United States has cut off military aid to 50 countries that have so far refused to agree to exempt American citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

    No, shoo, bad bureaucrats!

    The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Alabama Supreme Court must remove a Ten Commandments monument that sits in front of the courthouse because they think it violates the separation of church and state.

    "If we adopted his position, the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court's courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench," the three-judge panel said.

    "Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises."

    Perhaps the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals is unfamiliar with the Ten Commandments decorations at its superior court, the Supreme Court of the United States.

    It seems impossible to draw a hard line in the sand and say "This is when life begins." Conception? Birth? Most people think it's sometime in between. Via Matt D. (and via talk radio this morning on the way to work), here's an article in the Independent about using eggs from dead female unborn babies (or fetuses, if you prefer) to conceive children. Thus, someday a child will be created whose mother was never born.

    Scientists announced yesterday that they have been able to remove immature ovaries from four-month-old foetuses. The theory is that they can then be stimulated in the test tube to go through the later stages of development before the creation of fully mature eggs.

    Look, science can do a lot of things, but just because something is possible doesn't mean that it should be done. I hate to succumb to Godwin's Law so early in this post, but Nazis performed all sorts of interesting medical experiments on Jews and other concentration camp prisoners, but just because they gathered new data and made scientific discoveries doesn't mean that their "research" was justified. No one likes falling back on the Nazi argument, but it's an argument of extremes; if a position can be used to justify creating babies from the eggs of aborted babies, then such a position can be used to justify just about anything.

    Françoise Shenfield, an ethicist at University College London and a former member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, also voiced concerns about where this sort of research was leading.

    "I would be very troubled by this not only for ethical reasons but for psychological reasons, because what is the public going to think about where the eggs come from?" Dr Shenfield said. ...

    "The authority does not consider the use of tissue from this source to be acceptable for infertility treatment. But the authority does allow the use of foetal material to produce eggs for research provided that it is taken only with full, explicit consent," she said.

    Roger Gosden, a leading fertility specialist working at the Jones Institute in Norfolk, Virginia, said the ethical issues centre on the issue of informed consent - the foetus cannot give its consent.

    Yeah well, aborted babies don't give consent either, so what's the difference? Again, see Nazi Germany for reference. The whole issue is disgusting to me, as are the people involved.

    Here's a WaPo article built around some rather disaffected and discouraged soldiers manning a police station in a bad Baghdad neighborhood.

    "U.S. officials need to get our [expletive] out of here," said the 43-year-old reservist from Pittsburgh, who arrived in Iraq with the 307th Military Police Company on May 24. "I say that seriously. We have no business being here. We will not change the culture they have in Iraq, in Baghdad. Baghdad is so corrupted. All we are here is potential people to be killed and sitting ducks." ...

    He once sat at a desk outside, then moved indoors. "Let the Iraqis guard the gate," he said, next to a sandbagged window.

    The way Pollard sees it, the Iraqi police should be taking the risks, not his 13 reservists at the station.

    "It's not fair to our troops to build a country that's not even ours and our lives are at risk," he said. "They've got to take control. They may have to kill some of their own people to make a statement that we're back in control. No doubt." ...

    The neighborhood is dangerous, he said, and fighting crime here might require twice the 86 police officers they still have. But of the 86, he said, at least half should be dismissed for corruption or ineptitude.

    "This is a crooked cop sitting here," he said, pointing to a major who didn't understand English.

    He walked through the station, leaning into a room with two officers busy at a desk. "Here's a room where they're acting like they're doing real important paperwork," he said. He walked outside to a balcony where three officers were sitting on newspapers and a green burlap sack, one with his shoes off. "This is a couple more lazy cops, sitting down when they should be outside," he said. They all greeted Pollard with cold stares, forgoing the traditional greetings that are almost obligatory in their culture.

    I'm sure there's much more to this story than the paper reports, but it sounds like poor leadership among the American soldiers to me. It's discouraging to read about such low morale among troops that have been in Iraq for barely more than a month, but maybe that's to be expected when we are forced to rely so heavily on reservists who are torn away from their ordinary lives.

    Nevertheless, people aren't having their ears cut off for travelling without the proper papers and children aren't being executed and tossed into mass graves, so I still call it an improvement. It will take years to get all the details sorted out. Surely the author, Anthony Shadid, must know this, but he managed to find the worst in the situation anyway,

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