September 2003 Archives

Adam writes about finding "The One", and I want to add my $0.02.

However, we all need love. We want people who care what happened today. We want people who know what we’re saying. We need people to talk to, cry on their shoulders, cry laughing with, to be down with, and to be pick us up. The extrapolation of this is the need for “The One.” It is an instinctual, spiritual, and insurmountable need and drive to seek out a person who fulfills those needs and desires. We hope to find that person. Hope is closely related to the opportunity available to you and your experiences. Whether acknowledged or not, it is most people’s hope to realize and hold to the person they recognize as their partner, their best friend, their soulmate, “The One.”
I don't, personally, think there is a "The One" that needs to be found. I think that there are probably a great many women with whom I could build a happy, successful marriage. Even still, it's not easy to find "A One" (or however you'd want to say it).

I generally try not to go too far out of my way. If I'm going to find someone who will decide to love me, she's probably going to be in the same types of places that I go to myself. She won't be identical to me -- I hope -- but she'll probably share some of my interests; I'm not likely to meet her at a rave or a strip club, for instance.

Mostly, I just live my life and try to make myself into a person that will be "A One" for the type of girl I hope to attract. I've probably got a long way to go, but I'm working on it.

The Spherewide Short Story Symposium got a mention on an MSNBC page yesterday called Blogspotting. That's pretty nifty, although I haven't seen any hits coming in from it.

A Cincinnati woman was jailed for contempt of court when she failed to show up to testify against a man she accused of raping her.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Patrick Dinkelacker charged the North Fairmount woman with contempt of court Friday, saying he wanted to send a message: Not showing up for court - even if fearful of retaliation, as the woman claimed - makes the justice system useless.

The woman said she was dragged into woods near her home and raped by a stranger in July.

Michael Lindsey, 25, of North Fairmount, was charged, but when the woman failed to show up for three hearings, Dinkelacker dropped the charges. Lindsey's attorney says his client is innocent.

Prosecutors and police will talk to the woman about the case after her release from jail.

"It is up to the victim; this is not a case we can prove beyond reasonable doubt without her testimony, which is typically true in rape cases," Allen said.

Considering the social stigma that follows even the accusation of rape, I think it's critically important that the legal system work to protect alleged perpetrators from false, or frivolous, complaints. Rape is a very serious crime that carries more negative connotations even than murder; it's difficult to prove and difficult to disprove, and I suspect that wrongful rape convictions far outnumber wrongful murder convictions.

The "reasonable doubt" standard is often hard to make when it comes to rape, even when all parties involved know that the man in guilty. Prosecutors are often left with little more than evidence of arguably-consensual sex, and a he-said she-said story; in certain circumstances, it may be obvious that the accused is guilty, and prosecutors may spin insubstantial evidence to a sympathetic jury to get a conviction that isn't justified by the law.

On the flip side, when a man is cleared of rape charges, there's always the suspicion that he was let off on a technicality, and his reputation is irreparably tarnished.

In such a climate, it makes a lot of sense for men and women to choose their acquaintances, friends, and romantic relationships very carefully. As I've mentioned before, I work with children at my church, and I'm doubly careful to be very conscious of who I allow myself be alone with.

(Also via Drudge.)

Via Drudge and Bill Hobbs, I discover that Wesley Clark has a substantial vision for the future: faster-than-light travel.

"I still believe in e=mc², but I can't believe that in all of human history, we'll never ever be able to go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go," said Clark. "I happen to believe that mankind can do it."

"I've argued with physicists about it, I've argued with best friends about it. I just have to believe it. It's my only faith-based initiative." Clark's comment prompted laughter and applause from the gathering.

Gary Melnick, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said Clark's faith in the possibility of faster-than-light (FTL) travel was "probably based more on his imagination than on physics."

While Clark's belief may stem from his knowledge of sophisticated military projects, there's no evidence to suggest that humans can exceed the speed of light, said Melnick. In fact, considerable evidence posits that FTL travel is impossible, he said.

"Even if Clark becomes president, I doubt it would be within his powers to repeal the powers of physics," said Melnick, whose research has focused on interstellar clouds and the formation of stars and planets.

Well, it's just about as plausible as universal health care and the UN. I recommend we divert all our resources from those doomed endeavors to researching space travel.

1. ... have super strength, or super speed?

2. ... be able to read minds, or be the greatest orator to have ever lived?

3. ... be a vampire or a werewolf?

4. ... give up the internet, or give up solid foods?

And now for a post-debate update of my earlier post on gambling for governors. Since last Wednesday's candidate debate, Arnold has surged ahead in the polls.

The poll said 63 percent of probable voters said they would cast ballots to recall Davis, while only 35 percent would vote against recall.

In regards to the second part of the ballot, the poll said Schwarzenegger had the support of 40 percent of those polled. Lt. Gov Cruz Bustamante was at 25 percent; Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, had 18 percent; Green Party candidate Peter Camejo 5 percent; and Arianna Huffington, 2 percent.

It looks like my earlier predictions were, in fact, too conservative. I predicted that the recall would succeed with more than 60% approval, but now I wouldn't be surprised if it goes above 70% once election day actually arrives. I expected Arnold to win with a small plurality, but with those kinds of numbers he might actually pull off a majority, whether McClintock pulls out or not. Why? Because many McClintock-ites will change their minds and vote for Arnold at the last minute, and many "non-likely-voters" -- who are discounted by pollsters -- will possibly turn out to vote for the action star.

So what do TradeSports bettors think on September 29th?

Compare that with the numbers from September 24th:

You can see that Arnold has gained more than 18 points, Bustamante has lost 18 points, and the "recall fails" contract has dropped by nearly half, to just 15%. The poll numbers certainly influence the prices placed on these contracts, but these valuations go to show that the Davis camp in wrong in thinking that:

"The Gallup poll is a joke," said Peter Ragone, spokesman for the Californians Against the Costly Recall. "There isn't a public poll, private poll, or poll amid friends and families in this state that is consistent with those numbers. It has no impact on us."
It's also interesting to read that a great many Californians are rushing to buy new cars before the vehicle license fees go up 300% on October 1st. That timing has got to be hurting Davis.

[And note: I'm not affiliated with TradeSports in any way, nor do I gamble.]

Everyone's making buttons for their websites to show their support for various and sundry causes, so I decided to jump into the fray with some pro-capitalism graphics. I'm no artist, but I play one on TV, and I think these 120x40 pixel gifs are perfect for displaying my belief that capitalism is the best -- and most moral -- economic system known to man.

McGehee suggests in the comments section of my previous post that if juries [corrected] are good enough to try criminals, maybe they're good enough to approve or reject legislation as well.

So how would a system of "legislation by jury" work? I don't think it would be that hard. Transfer the power to write bills to the executive branch, and then set up a system for randomly selecting registered voters to either approve or deny every such proposal that comes down the pipe.

Objection: Some bills require technical knowledge to understand.
Response: Maybe bills that are that complex are bad, ipso facto. Bills should be no more than 1 page in length, and should only deal with a single issue.

Objection: Empaneling a nationally representative jury would be a nightmare.
Response: Maybe, if you expected the jury to actually discuss the bill, as a trial jury does. But with modern technology it would be trivial to set up a computerized system that would allow 1000 or 10,000 randomly selected citizens to vote via the internet.

Perhaps ranther than abolishing legislative representatives, it would be better to simply require a randomly selected jury to approve any laws that the legislature passes.

Our bicameral Congress was founded with these ideas in mind. The House of Representatives was supposed to serve the restraining, close-to-the-people function, but over time that principle has been eroded.

I first read that Republicans are trying to get Dennis Miller to run for office in California from Mr. CalBlog, and now I see another story linked from Drudge. Miller seems like a smart, articulate, thoughtful man, and I'm at least open to the idea of him running for office. I just watched "Bordello of Blood", and he's great against vampires -- always an advantage for a politician.

The article from Drudge lists a few liberal celebrities who are considering running for office as well, but the list seems pretty lackluster to me. Not in star-power, but in intelligence.

(Actor Kelsey Grammer and tennis star Martina Navratilova are among those who have talked about opening political careers in recent weeks.)

"You know all of the people on 'Friends' are going to be available. They are making $1 million an episode. Most everybody knows who they are," says Martin Kaplan, director of the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, which studies the intersection of politics and entertainment. "All this drives home the idea, I think a false one, that you don't need any particular skills or background to be a senator or a governor. All you need is ambition and fame."

I've heard all of these people speak extemporaneously, and they all sound like idiots. I'm sure there are some intelligent, liberal celebrities, but these folks aren't them. In fact, come to think of it, the most politically vocal liberal celebrities tend to be the most innane. Maybe that perception is just a byproduct of my disagreement with their views, however.

In general, who would I like to see running for office? I don't think military officers make great politicians. Nor doctors, even though they're well-educated. I think that a legal education is beneficial for a politician, but people who go into law just to make money probably don't make the best public servants. Academics shouldn't get into politics, because they're too far-removed from reality.

I think that non-academic historians (are there such people?) might make good politicians. Maybe intelligence officers. Entrepreneurs, engineers [Pure vanity! -- Ed.], economists.

All those jobs carry potentially disadvantagous baggage as well, but just as Bill Hobbs notes about journalists, I think it's important for politicians to have some education and job experience in fields other than politics itself. Take Grey Davis for example: he's been in California politics for 30 years. When a reporter asked Arnold if he thought he had enough political experience to be governor, Arnold replied: "If you want political experience, just stick with Grey Davis." Everyone got his point.

So who do you want to see running for office?

Isaiah 66:2

"Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?"
declares the LORD.

"This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word."

Am I the only one who thinks men are funnier than women? I don't think so. Susie over at Practical Penumbra lists some of her favorite funny bloggers and notices that they're all men. She says it's odd, but is it?

All the funniest comedians are male, in every media -- stand-up, TV shows, movies, books, you name it. When women are in the comedy genre, they usually play the straight "man", putting up with the male comedians' nonsense with a sigh and a shrug. Furthermore, most comedies are aimed at men, and those demographers know what they're doing; I bet that female-targeted comedies bomb in the box office. Can you even name one? Ugh.

To get closer to home, I don't know any funny females. I know women who think they're funny, and occasionally they are, but they can't compete with my funny male friends. Most of the time though, they don't even try. Women like to think they have a good sense of humor, but those that do normally show it by their ability to get the good jokes, not their ability to tell them.

So I have a question: am I missing something? Maybe men and women have difference types of humor, and in most male-dominated social settings the male humor dominates; since I'm male, maybe all my experiences are tainted by that domination, and I never get to see women being funny amongst themselves. Does that happen? When women are alone, are they funny in some way that's appreciated more by women than be men?

That seems like the most logical explanation to me. Women are -- for whatever reason -- less socially aggressive, and since humor is often an aggressive behavior women may tend to have their humor subdued when there are men around. But that still doesn't account for why women comedians aren't funny in artificial settings such as stand-up comedy and movies.

I don't know anything about Salman Sharif other than that he ran a violent resistance group that planned and executed a nearly-successful assassination of a prominent politician. Doesn't sound like a very nice guy, does he? Well his target in 1996 was Uday Hussein.

It was obviously against the law of his country for Sharif to attempt to kill Uday, but I have a rather hard time condemning his actions; Uday was responsible for thousands of deaths in the past, and would certainly be responsible for thousands more in the future. Uday hadn't broken any laws -- his word was the law -- nevertheless, I believe that an attempt to kill him was morally justified. It wasn't attempted murder, it was attempted justice.

Someone please help me make a distinction between Salman Sharif, and Paul Hill. I want to be able to, but I'm having trouble. Yes, it sounds like Paul Hill was a little crazy, but let's isolate his intent from his motive. He may have been motivated by "God telling him what to do", but his intent was to kill people responsible for murdering babies, so that they couldn't murder any more.

[Note: even if you're pro-choice, consider how you could draw a distinction without resting on your belief that an unborn baby is not a human.]

Let's say I went to a movie theater, and the people behind me won't quit talking, even after I ask them to. In fact, they're sneaking beer into the theater and carrying on amongst themselves continuously. I go to the manager, and he refuses to give me a refund or to do anything about the people behind me. The manager says that they've already emptied the registers of cash; the theater is "closed" and we're in the last show of the night. He offers vouchers to another movie, but I refuse to ever return to the theater, so those are no good to me.

Would it be wrong for me to extort the manager by threatening to call the police, the state health department, and the ATF if the manager doesn't refund my money by any means necessary (including from his own pocket)? Every theater is certain to have multiple health hazards that would require clean-up before the establishment could pass an inspection, and there are minors consuming alcohol on the premisis -- it's not as if I'd have to lie about anything.

I like symmetry, and it pleases me aesthetically that much (most? all?) of the universe is conceptually symmetrical. For example, addition and multiplication are commutative and associative:

x + y == y + x
x * y == y * x
x + (y + z) == (x + y) + z
x * (y * z) == (x * y) * z

It always bothered me that division and subtraction weren't commutative and associative, until I realized that neither of those operations is truly a fundamental mathematical concept; both are combinations of two other operations. Subtraction is addition with negation, and division is multiplication with inversion. Thus, conceptual symmetry is maintained.

Please understand that the symmetry I'm talking about is very high level. Addition is symmetric, and so is capitalism -- you put work into the system, you get benefits out. Socialism is so awkward and absurd to me because it attempts to break this natural symmetry by disconnecting work from reward, and it fails for just that reason. I hope my meaning of conceptual symmetry is clear from these examples, because I'm not sure I can define it more rigidly at this juncture.

Conceptual symmetry depends a great deal on how we humans connect and relate concepts together. If a concept does not balance symmetrically, then it is generally the case that the concept is not well-formed, and does not represent reality. SDB gives a perfect example of a malformed concept when he writes that:

There's the old saw about the irresistible force and the immovable object and what happens when the irresistible force is applied to the immovable object. (The question turns out to be nonsense. It's logically impossible for both to exist in the same universe, so it's logically impossible for them to ever meet. Therefore it makes no sense to discuss what would happen if they did.) In our universe it turns out that every force is irresistible and no object is immovable. Any object, no matter how massive, will respond to any force, no matter how small. The response may be miniscule, but it isn't zero.
It's an interesting mental exercise to consider what would happen if an irresistible force met an immovable object, and the question may appear symmetrical on the surface. The fact that the question is actually nonsensical within our universe, however, demonstrates that the concept behind it is not actually symmetrical. Force and mass are entirely different concepts that cannot be symmetrically related by the "moves" operation.

(Here is an interesting mental exercise: what if there were immovable objects? It would require some sort of universal static friction. Such a universe would not have Newton's three laws of motion. Another, even more difficult exercise: imagine a world in which addition and multiplication were not commutative. (You can't do it.))

Dean points to a fun little quiz that will help you decide who to vote for in the California recall election. There are 12 questions, with blind policy snippets from each candidate (you don't know who said what). You select the policy statement that most matches your own, and at the end you find out who you should vote for.

Unsurprisingly, I got 9 points for McClintock, and 3 points for Arnold. This might be helpful to someone who knows nothing about the various candidates (i.e., a lot of Californians). As I mentioned previously, I have two liberal democrat friends who thought Bustamante was slimy, and ended up deciding to vote for McClintock (absentee).

Bill Hobbs points to a sad and sickening tragedy that happened in a Nashville nursing home last night.

Seven elderly people died in a fire at a Nashville nursing home late last night and 20 were critically injured from burns and smoke inhalation. The building had no sprinklers because it's an old building that was built before sprinklers were required by law. Okay. But what I want to know is: Why would a company that operates nursing homes put frail elderly people to live in a building without sprinklers? What were they thinking?
The answer to Bill's question is pretty simple: the owners of the nursing home predicted that they would make more money that way. The company must have thought that the chance of a deadly fire times the cost of such a fire (in damage and lawsuits) would be less than the cost of housing the elderly folks somewhere else or of adding sprinklers.

Of course, there's also the fact that the elderly people and their families should have noticed that there were no sprinklers in the facility. The absence of sprinklers lowered the safety of the facility's residents, and that lowered safety should have been taken into account by the company's potential clients. Maybe they didn't notice, but the opportunity was there, and a lack of sprinklers is easy to see if you're looking for it.

But most people probably wouldn't think to look for such a thing; most people are probably rationally ignorant about such safety concerns. That is, they are ignorant about such details on purpose, because it would be impossible for every person to know every possible safety measure that should be in place at a nursing home. Or in a car, or a plane, or anything. Because of this rational ignorance, people entrust the government with the responsibility of regulating certain aspects of life. The public can then rest assured that not everyone is ignorant, and that in fact there are some people who dedicate their careers to ensuring the safety of old people in hospitals.

It sounds like the building in question did satisfy the existing regulations. Perhaps the tragedy that occurred is an acceptable loss to society, perhaps not. That's what democracy is about. I expect the relevant regulations in Nashville to be strengthened, if this tragedy gets wide coverage.

One of the consequences of capitalism, and freedom in general, is that each individual bears the majority of the responsibility for their own welfare. In a socialist society, no one is responsible for anything -- everything is provided by the state. The system breaks down, though, because when no one is responsible, no one does anything. There's no incentive.

On the other hand, in a free society everyone is responsible for themselves. If you don't have any food, you have to get a job. Sure, someone might be charitable towards you, but there's no legal obligation for anyone else to support you. In a totally free society, anyone could build a home for old people however they wanted, and each potential client would be wholly responsible for verifying the safety of the establishment. Same for restaurants and their food, and for cars, &c. The benefit of such a society would be that you could open any type of business you wanted, and you could pretty much do whatever you wanted to do -- as long as you were willing to face the potential consequences afterwards.

But you might find yourself spending most of your time testing every hamburger you eat for E. coli, since there would be no regulations to protect you. A free society may be able to take corrective action through lawsuits after a problem (such as a fire in an unsafe nursing home), but there would be little it could to to prevent such problems.

It's pretty easy to see that some non-zero level of regulation is beneficial to society. Where is that level? That's where capitalists and socialists disagree. Personally, I'm happy to know that the food I eat has been prepared to some minimum health standard, and that I'm not likely to get sick and die. Sure, most restaurants might cook good food anyway, even without regulations (it's good for repeat business)... but then, one might expect most nursing homes not to burn down, either.

Do you ever find yourself forced to endure some mindless, boring drivel that feels like it goes on for ever and ever? Maybe it's in school or at work, or maybe one of your friends tells those lame stories that never end and doesn't have a punchline or a point.

Well now you can add your own punchline to any statement or story with one simple phrase! I call it the universal punchline, because anything that comes before it automatically becomes funny when you follow up with... under the sheets!

Here's an example.

Boss: We need to get that PCI analyzer card working again.
You, in your head: Under the sheets!
Co-worker: Yeah, I don't know what's wrong with it; it isn't coming up.
You, in your head: Under the sheets!
Boss: Maybe we just need a new card. Ask Harry.
Co-worker: Ok, I'll see if I can grab him after lunch.
You, in your head: Under the sheets!

With this simple trick you can keep your spirits up through the most boring staff meeting or sensitivity training session. Even SDB's [brilliant, insightful -- Ed.] essays can be spiced up!

SDB: The solution to the "two body problem" is elegant and satisfying. But if there are three bodies, that can't be done.
You, outloud, surprising your co-workers: Under the sheets!

Give it a try! If someone is telling a boring story, just start saying Under the sheets! every time they pause. It may not work for every sentence, but eventually it will; everyone will start laughing and the guy will have to stop his useless babbling.

Judicious and generous use of the universal punchline will make your life better, and make you a better person. Just make sure you know when to say it outloud, and when to keep it to yourself.

I love Tradesports and the market it represents. Who is more likely to know the odds for any particular event than people who've got money riding on it? They've got a section for betting on politics, and I like tracking the action; when the volume is high enough, I think that these odds give a good representation of reality.

Let's take a look at a few interesting samples. Note that with perfect information, the "Bid" column would add up to 100%, since the contracts for each question are all mutually exclusive. They generally don't, and they usually add up to less than 100%; this reflects that the bettors are conservative with their uncertainty, and are bidding less than they think the contracts are actually worth. (The opposite holds for the "Ask" column.)

[I've never bet on Tradesports, and am not affiliated with them in any way.]

First up, the question on everyone's mind: what's going to happen with the California recall?

For some reason, Bustamante's odds have gone up significantly today -- in anticipation of the debate tonight? Arnold has improved slightly, and the big loser has been the "Recall Fails" contract. High trade volume -- it's not looking good for Davis. Expect some action here after the debate.

Next question: who will be the Democrat nominee for president?

Too bad I didn't get a screenshot of this question last week, because the "Field" contract skyrocketed when Wesley Clark declared his candidacy (and Hillary jumped a bit, too). Both "Field" and Hillary are falling as Clark's shine wears off, but Dean doesn't recover any of the ground he lost when Clark declared. Very high trading volume on all the contracts except McCain.

And finally, will George W. Bush win the 2004 presidential election?

High volume, and no change. In fact, this contract hasn't changed much in value since I've been watching -- it's been around 66% for months. I wonder if this constancy speaks more loudly than his fading poll numbers?

Polls and bets reflect different things, though, and it's important to keep that in mind. A poll shows what percentage of people (for example) want President Bush to win, whereas these contracts show what percentage of people think Bush will win.

Opinion Journal is on a roll today; Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, as a great piece about the voucher system being proposed for Washington DC.

Lenin once said that he would rather have everyone in Russia die of hunger than allow free trade in grain. ...

Allowing parents to choose the school that is best for their children is a sensible and compassionate idea for educating Americans just as grain markets would have been for feeding Russians. It took decades for the Soviets to recognize that collectivized farming was a terrible idea; maybe this week the Senate will realize that collectivized education is just as bad.

Ah Lenin, that moderate communist.

Arnold outlines the economic policies he would implement as governor in a Opinion Journal op-ed. It all looks great to me. I like Tom McClintock more on other issues, but I could certainly live with Arnold's economics.

[I have two liberal Democrat friends who recognize that Cruz Bustamante is slimy and crooked; they told me they could never vote for him. But they didn't like Arnold either, and I learned today that they both ended up voting (absentee) for McClintock. Isn't that odd? Go figure.]

And now back to the show: Here are Arnold's four main economic points.

- First, on taxes, I believe that not only should we not raise tax rates on anyone in California, but we have to reduce taxes that make our state uncompetitive. I married a Kennedy and I have always believed that President John F. Kennedy was absolutely right when he said in 1962 that "when taxes are too high, there will never be enough jobs or enough revenues to balance the budget." ...

- Second, the California state budget should not grow faster than the California family budget. We need to put teeth into a spending limit law through a constitutional amendment that caps state budget growth. ... California does not have a taxing problem, it has a spending problem. I will also create savings from outmoded and inefficient government agencies. ...

- Next, the worker's compensation system needs an overhaul. When I have asked business people around the state what is restraining their ability to expand here, they cite high taxes and unbearable workers' compensation costs. Businesses in California pay workers' compensation costs that are more than double other states.

- Fourth, I am a fanatic about school reform. To attract world-class, 21st-century businesses, we need a world-class education system. ... If schools are systematically underperforming, we will expand choice options for parents with charter schools and enforce public school choice provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

It's a good start.

Passed on by my friend, The Art of Controversy, by Arthur Schopenhauer.

Controversial Dialectic is the art of disputing, and of disputing in such a way as to hold one's own, whether one is in the right or the wrong - per fas et nefas. A man may be objectively in the right, and nevertheless in the eyes of bystanders, and sometimes in his own, he may come off worst. For example, I may advance a proof of some assertion, and my adversary may refute the proof, and thus appear to have refuted the assertion, for which there may, nevertheless, be other proofs. In this case, of course, my adversary and I change places: he comes off best, although, as a matter of fact, he is in the wrong.
One of my favorite strategems:
Stratagem I
The Extension. - This consists in carrying your opponent's proposition beyond its natural limits; in giving it as general a signification and as wide a sense as possible, so as to exaggerate it; and, on the other hand, in giving your own proposition as restricted a sense and as narrow limits as you can, because the more general a statement becomes, the more numerous are the objections to which it is open. The defence consists in an accurate statement of the point or essential question at issue.
Then there's always this classic:
Stratagem XIV
This, which is an impudent trick, is played as follows: When your opponent has answered several of your questions without the answers turning out favourable to the conclusion at which you are aiming, advance the desired conclusion, - although it does not in the least follow, - as though it had been proved, and proclaim it in a tone of triumph. If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the trick may easily succeed. It is akin to the fallacy non causae ut causae.
There's lots, lots more, and you know it has to be good because it's translated from German.

Daniel Drezner has made a good start of considering how blogs may fit in to academic writing. The key issue is the need for peer review. Blogs have comment sections, but there's no way to verify that any of the commenters know what they're talking about.

A really ambitious goal would be to implement a mathematical reputation system that could centrally store blogger/commenter reputation ratings by subject. It would work as such:

1. A blogger writes an entry and selects a subject matter category (and possibly one or more sub-categories). Example: Law -- Intellectual Property

2. A commenter gives the entry a score (and leaves some commentary), and the reputation database stores that scoring instance. Example: Author: John Smith; Rater: Bill Williams; Subject: Law; Sub: Intellectual Property; Score: +1

3. Other commenters may then comment on the original article, or on the comments written about the article. All these ratings are stored in a central database.

4. Here's the fun part. The central reputation server will perform clustering analysis to recognize groups of like-minded scholars (within each subject area), based on their exchange of comments and ratings. By analyzing the patterns of clusters, approvals, and disapprovals, it should be possible to properly weight the comments and ratings of each person involved in the system. That's why it's important to store an entire rating transaction, and not merely the score that's given: the weight of the score will be dependent on the reputation of the one doing the rating (within the subject matter in question).

The reputation system should have several qualities:

1. It should be difficult for a single person to manipulate someone else's reputation significantly in a short period of time.

2. Reputations should change slowly over time.

3. Scores by from raters with high reputations should be weighted much more strongly than those from raters with low reputations. Perhaps exponentially.

4. High scores given between people in the same cluster should count for less than high scores given from outside the cluster.

5. Low scores given between people from different clusters should count for less than low scores given from inside their clusters.

If everyone started at zero, it wouldn't take long to build up a database of scores that accurately reflected the knowledge and experience of the participants. The essential component would be performing proper clustering within each subject area, and getting enough people involved to collect a representative sample.

Ok, buckle up.

- Daniel Drezner says that a reader of his who wrote to the Sacramento Bee about the censoring of Dan Weintraub got back a nasty email. I got back an email myself:

Dear Mr. Williams: Thanks for the e-mail. I thought you might find it interesting to know that the Sacramento Bee was founded in 1857, so The Bee has been around for a many years. Tony's upcoming Sunday column will be a follow up to last Sunday's column. Stephanie Christensen, Admin. Asst.
Uh, ok. (?)

- Tiny Little Lies on terminology:

I was just reading about the idiotic deal in California, where they're giving illegal aliens drivers' licenses. I find it highly amusing that they call these people "undocumented aliens."

It occurred to me that we should be just as kind to other criminals. For example, burglars are "temporary residents without papers," and rapists are "undocumented boyfriends."

- Adam the Single Southern Guy calls for a national blogger association. Count me in!

- Future Pundit Randall Parker writes about carbon nanotubes, but doesn't mention space elevators!

- Grouchy Old Cripple Denny Wilson posts a chain letter that looks too good to be true. And looks suspiciously like the Democrat Party fundraising mail I get.

- Iain Murray laments the loss of British virtues. Take note, America.

- Ross, The Bloviator, considers no-fault medical malpractice. It sounds like a bad idea at first, and Ross concludes that that first impression is correct.

- Eric the Viking Pundit trashes class warfare but good, with nice quotes from all over.

- Candace thinks Bush is cute, but even more fascinating, she discusses the possibility of women stopping menstruation entirely.

- Megan tells us how she went from right, to left, and mostly back to right again.

- John Callender thinks Bush is finished. We'll see! Maybe it's all part of some sort of brilliant scheme!

Ok, I need some help here. These questions are purely hypothetical.

Suppose Boy A and Boy B are friends, and both like Girl A. Girl A likes Boy A, but doesn't like Boy B. Boy A wants to go out with Girl A.

1. Does Boy A need Boy B's permission to go out with Girl A? Do the facts that Boys A and B are friends, and that Boy B likes Girl A imply that if Boy A is a "real friend" he won't go out with Girl A without first asking Boy B?

2. Suppose Boy A does ask for Boy B's permission, but Boy B refuses. Can Boy A then go out with Girl A, or would doing so prove that he isn't a "real friend" to Boy B?

My own position is that if Girl A likes Boy A rather than Boy B, then Boy B will just have to deal with it. His feelings may be hurt, but if he were to interfere in Boy A's relationship with Girl A, then Boy B would be the one who wasn't being a "real friend".

Furthermore, if Boy A is required to ask Boy B for permission to go out with Girl A, I think that shows a profound lack of respect for Girl A, on both the boys' parts. Girl A has made her decision, and she likes Boy A. For the boys to have some sort of external negotiations over her based on their own relationship reduces Girl A to a commodity, a mere object.

I can understand that Boy A would be concerned for his friend's feelings, but Boy B has no claim on Girl A. If Boy A restricts his involvement with Girl A based on the desires of Boy B, doesn't that dehumanize Girl A?

R. Alex responds. He thinks it's all dependent on "emotions" or something (whatever those are). If so-and-so feels such-and-such with a certain magnitude, then everything changes. That's fine, and it's probably the right answer. But I'd feel more satisfied if we could draw a bright line and really quantify everything.

Here's the test of President Bush's address to the UN. Some excerpts:

By the victims they choose and by the means they use, the terrorists have clarified the struggle we are in. Those who target relief workers for death have set themselves against all humanity. Those who incite murder and celebrate suicide reveal their contempt for life itself. They have no place in any religious faith, they have no claim on the world's sympathy, and they should have no friend in this chamber.

Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children without mercy or shame.

Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground. All governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization. No government should ignore the threat of terror, because to look the other way gives terrorists the chance to regroup and recruit and prepare. And all nations that fight terror as if the lives of their own people depend on it will earn the favorable judgment of history.

The former regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq knew these alternatives and made their choices.

On another very important topic: sex slavery.
There's another humanitarian crisis spreading, yet hidden from view. Each year an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across the world's borders. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as 5, who fall victim to the sex trade. This commerce in human life generates billions of dollars each year, much of which is used to finance organized crime.

There's a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable.

The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life: an underground of brutality and lonely fear.

Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others. And governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.

I like his closing (emphasis mine):
The founding documents of the United Nations and the founding documents of America stand in the same tradition.

Both assert that human beings should never be reduced to objects of power or commerce, because their dignity is inherent. Both recognize a moral law that stands above men and nations which must be defended and enforced by men and nations. And both point the way to peace; the peace that comes when all are free.

We secure that peace with our courage and we must show that courage together.

May God bless you all.

Dean Esmay links to an article by Jerome Zeifman and agrees with his conclusion:

With Democratic propaganda spreading widely, at least one prominent conservative, Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, now is advising the White House to be prepared for the introduction of impeachment resolutions. Based on my own experience with impeachment politics, I agree with his advice.

In my case, I believe that political parties that thrive on demagoguery destroy themselves. These days I fear that the Democratic Party that I have known for 60 years now may be close to extinction.

There's a world of difference between introducing impeachment proceedings and actually executing an impeachment, much less getting a conviction. I don't think that Mr. Esmay or Mr. Zeifman believe that President Bush could actually be ousted from office, but it does look like they believe that a Republican-dominated House might actually impeach him -- which I think is absolutely impossible. What's more, there's no reason to believe that the Democrats could regain a majority in the House in the forseeable future.

Maybe they are only referring to the "introduction of impeachment resolutions", and not their actual passage. I agree that such a move would be convincing evidence that the Democrat party is determined to self-destruct.

I could browse on StrategyPage's message boards all day long.

As a new home-owner, it's nice to read from Bill Hobbs that the recent surge of house construction hasn't created a "real estate bubble". In the early 1990s, Southern California property value was depressed pretty severely due to an over-supply of new houses being built by developers on speculation. Buyers didn't materialize, and new houses sat vacant for months, pushing down the prices of real estate all across the state. So are all the new homes being built now creating a similar effect? Apparently not.

The most recent Census Bureau numbers show one key measure of new homes available for sale as low as it's been at any time in the last 40 years — a 3½-month supply at the current sales rate.

Homeowners can take some comfort from that. The biggest regional housing busts of the last 25 years — Texas in the 1980s and Southern California and the Northeast in the early 1990s — shared a common characteristic: a huge number of unsold new homes that depressed home values for everyone. As the Texas real estate market was about to tank, for example, the supply of unsold new homes nationally stood at a record high — nearly 12 months' worth.

Before I bought my house in the South Bay (south of LAX airport, in Los Angeles) I considered buying in the Westside, but decided against it partly because of this fear. Real estate values in the Westside had risen about 70% in the 18 months before I was looking to buy, and I thought it would be ridiculous to jump into a market like that. Plus, thousands of new apartments and condos were being built in nearby Playa Del Rey at an old industrial site. I don't expect the Westside to start appreciating significantly soon, especially considering that interest rates are going to rise for a while.

There is also new residential construction planned on the current site of the Los Angeles Air Force Base (near where I live), and I am concerned about the effect those additional units may have on local property value. Hopefully the generalities in this article will apply to this specific circumstance.

Donald Sensing directs us to help Chief Wiggles send toys to Iraqi children. Here are the details:

Some no no toys:

- Any guns of any kind
- No violent action hereos
- No violent toys
- No barbie dolls or dolls skantily dressed
- No toys that shoot something, no projectiles
- No water guns

Lets just keep it simple, simple toys, just the basics, these kids have

Some other items that are nice are pencils, pens, paper to draw and color on.

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, brushes, combs, etc.

Nice stuffed animals, other items.

Just use your good judgement, and if you are unsure, contact a local muslim group for help.

Here is the mailing address to send items to:

Chief Wiggles
CPA-C2, Debriefer
APO AE 09335

As an addendum to my rant against pro-fat people, here's a weight loss tip: switch to diet soda.

In 1997, the average American drank 1.5 12-ounce servings of soda per day -- more than 200 calories, depending on the soda. Teenagers and twenty-somethings drank 2 servings per day, for 300 calories or so. An average American in 1992 consumed 3642 calories per day (that seems too high to me), so a young adult drinking two sodas a day is getting nearly 10% of their calories from that sugary source.

Such a person could [simplification] lose 10% of their weight by switching to diet soda. Plus, it's better for your teeth.

Oh fine, so the title doesn't make sense. It made me laugh.

Bustamante has been ordered to return $4 million given to him by Indian tribes.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A judge on Monday blocked Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) from using millions of dollars raised by an old campaign committee for his recall election bid, even if the money is spent on ads ostensibly opposing an initiative on the same ballot.

Sacramento County Judge Loren McMaster ordered the more than $4 million raised by Bustamante's campaign committee before voter-approved campaign spending limits were in place to be returned to that old account. From there, the money could be returned to donors.
That's interesting, because it seems to tie into my much earlier question of "Where Does Gray Davis Get His Money?".

It doesn't look like you can roll money from one campaign into another. This is important, because if you could spend left-over money that was originally donated to campaign A on later campaign B, it would be impossible to enforce donor limits. Someone could give money to campaigns A and B, and then campaign A could fold and transfer all its money to campaign B; the donor could end up giving twice as much as allowed.

I'm not generally in favor of campaign finance restrictions, even though repealing the laws in place would help Democrats more than Republicans.

As I start to write this, I'm not planning on making fat jokes, so if one creeps in, forgive me. I used to be overweight as a kid and a teenager, but I took control of my lifestyle when I was 18 and lost around 70 pounds over the course of a few years. I did it the old-fashioned way: by changing my diet, and by exercising. I don't have a lot of sympathy for fat people who act like they can't help being fat.

So then, "Overweight workers say they're often overlooked".

''This is one of the only groups where an employer could say, 'We don't want fat people,' and get away with it,'' said Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing. ''Fat people are still targets. Professional comedians can still make fun of them, and fat jokes are still being passed around.'' ...

Protests by groups like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance as well as a flurry of recent lawsuits have led to greater awareness of the problems the overweight face in the workplace. Some of the lawsuits seek to create new legal ground by arguing that obesity ought to be seen as an impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For the vast majority of fat people, their "disability" is not primarily physical: it's mental. The fat that hinders their activity is merely a symptom of their lack of self-discipline.

Yes, some people are biologically more inclined toward being fat than others -- so what? Some people are more likely to get addicted to alcohol than others, but when someone does become an alcoholic we still know it's their fault. Same with being fat. If your arm gets blown off by a terrorist, you're disabled. If you simply can't muster up the willpower to resist stuffing your face with creamy lard, you're just addicted to food. Also, comedians will make fun of you, because they're insensitive.

Unlike racial discrimination -- and even religious discrimination -- discrimination based on being fat is entirely within your control. It would be absurd to tell a black guy to lighten his skin (and it wouldn't gain him acceptance even if he did, *cough*Michael Jackson*cough*). But if people make fun of you for being fat, or for not knowing how to read, or for terrible body odor, or for having no sense of style... there's something you can do! Lose weight, get hooked on phonics, use deodorant, watch "Queer Eye".

Sixty-one percent of Americans are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, the CDC says 35 percent are moderately overweight and 26 percent are obese. The findings, from a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, sounded an alarm when they were released in 2000, but the hubbub did little to change poor perceptions of overweight people or spur the creation of new laws.

Maybe the problem here is that so many Americans are fat. Don't you all realize that the Europeans are making fun of you? There are only two options: bomb Europe, or lose some weight. I'm impartial.

Look, America, I understand that food is yummy. Sometimes I want to eat a whole truckload of cheesecake, and it's really hard to resist. But guess what? I don't eat it. Sometimes I feel like sitting around on the couch all day, eating Fritos and watching the Simpsons. But guess what? I marshal my mental faculties, throw off the lethargy that so easily besets me, and I go out for a walk, or a run, or I lift some big metal plates up over my head. It's takes about 30 minutes. Then I go back and lie on the couch, watch Simpsons, and eat fruit or something.

While there is little data available detailing the extent of size bias, Deidra Everett, secretary of the New England Chapter of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, believes there have been a few changes in society's view of the overweight. ''Society has changed its image a little when it comes to smaller large people [huh? maybe "small or large"],'' Everett said. ''It is more accepted now that a woman can be a size 12 through 18 and still be fit. Also, in the media, the whole extreme leanness [trend] is not as popular as it was six or seven years ago. So, the media is trying to show that curves can be OK.''

No one has a problem with luscious curves, the problem is when your whole body is just one single curve. This is commonly called a "sphere", and it doesn't count as an affirmative answer for when people ask you whether or not you're "in shape".

At most workplaces, she said, little has changed. Everett, who, at 36, weighs 460 pounds and is 5 feet 10 inches, knows firsthand. She said prospective employers have pursued her aggressively over the phone, and then suddenly changed their minds after meeting her. Stunned by her appearance, the recruiter will scan her body, pausing at the fattest part, and then look away.

''Eventually, they'll get back to your face and give you this nervous smile that says, 'Oh, dear!' They don't know where to look. They become flustered and there is not a lot of eye contact,'' she said. ''I can't understand how people can be so judgmental without knowing who I am. It makes you feel terrible.''

Yes, people are mean. Heck, I've been mean in this very essay. I'm an anti-fattite, I guess. Until the Museum of Tolerance adds that new fat wing they've been planning, I recommend that if you find yourself in situations where people can't even look at you without becoming flustered and uncomfortable, you're probably too fat.

You should consider that maybe the problem isn't the genetic predisposition of humans to use peer pressure to discourage harmful behavior -- maybe the problem is you. Give in to the peer pressure. The negative, "terrible", feelings you're experiencing may be for your own good.

I was never as fat as Deidra Everett, but I suffered social consequences when I was overweight. Which do you think helped more?

1. "Hey baby, yeah I'm fat, but you'd go out with me if you weren't so judgemental without knowing who I am. It makes me feel terrible. Help me advance fat acceptance."

2. Lose weight.

If you guessed #2, you're right. You can't control what other people think, but you can control how fat you are. Instead of wasting time making pro-fat organizations, go to the gym. Stop eating twinkies. As our corporate masters say, "Just Do It".

Donald Sensing links to a post on CalPundit in which a commenter writes:

But in this same vein, I have friends in the Silicon Valley -- highly-trained computer programmers -- who've been unemployed for two years. The San Jose Mercury News Sunday employment insert I saw a month ago was a mere 6 or so pages ... mostly filled with ads for health care workers (nurses, yes, but also LOTS of low-paid CNAs and the like). There were essentially NO ads for high-tech workers. Everybody says, "Well, it's cyclical, it'll come back." But my friends are all pretty nervous right now, knowing as they do that India is cranking out programmers -- GREAT programmers -- like bottle caps ... and they can, ALL of them, as easily work from Bangladore as from Scotts Valley. And that, of course, is precisely what's happening: companies are beginning to hire their software needs from subcontractors in India, or opening their own offices there.
This is a common misconception. I have no doubt that computer programmers in Silicon Valley are having problems finding work -- the dot-com boom is gone, and there are probably far too many programmers in that region for the remaining tech companies to support. However, almost every anecdote I've heard about outsourced, foreign programmers has been negative.

Far from being "GREAT" programmers, most of the code that I've seen come back from Indian chop-shops and the like has been rather mediocre. Even worse, the management of the Indian outsorucing companies is generally considered to be spectacularly poor -- even corrupt -- and it can be a nightmare trying to communicate technical ideas and problems with non-technical, non-native English speakers located half-way around the world.

Here's a thread on Fog Creek's forum that tells a similar story. This is not to say that non-American programmers are each individually poor, but the good ones usually move to America where the pay is higher. The costs of organization and the logistics of distant communication often end up outweighing whatever money is saved by hiring cheap labor.

Furthermore, it's important to consider what type of technical work you're talking about. If you're interested in dealing with the federal government in any significant capacity, you're pretty much going to have to be US-based for security reasons. This means that Microsoft, for instance, couldn't outsource much work to foreign companies, even if they wanted to.

There's no doubt that foreign programmers are competition for programmers in America, but they fill a specific niche in the market. Just as some manufacturing has moved out of the country, some services will move out of the country as well. As that happens, American wages will drop, and more jobs will be retained. It's the nature of the world, and Americans are always on the cutting edge. Keep ahead of the technology curve and you won't have problems finding work.

But if you're an unemployed computer programmer, I'd bail out of Silicon Valley ASAP.

Once upon a time... -- no.

It was a dark and stormy night... -- no. It wasn't stormy, and nights in the City of Angels are never dark, even when you're standing in line for a "midnight" showing of The Breakfast Club, which is where we find our hero for the evening.

He thinks in quotes, because the face on his watch is smiling 12:30. They haven't seated anyone yet, and the hipsters lined up around him in the alley off Santa Monica Boulevard are getting antsy. As antsy as you can be when you're smoking long, unfiltered menthols and trying to sustain a buzz so you can enjoy your weekly hot beef injection of 80s kitsch.

Our hero smiles to himself, but then reconsiders. His friends were supposed to meet him yesterday at 11:15, but they haven't called and here is waiting. Instead of smiling, he folds his arms across his chest and tries to look both angry and condescending.

The three girls in front of him are pretty cute, and the one on crutches is wearing a Thundercats t-shirt. That was a good show.

"I hurt myself all the time," Cheetara tells her friends. "When I was like, 5 or something, I had the hugest crush ever on this boy at school, Billy something, I think. I was like, playing with him or something -- not like that! -- and I totally fell out of his tree house. I was so embarrassed. It was humiliating." The other kittens laugh and Cheetara flicks her butt over her shoulder. Our hero catches her eye for a second when she glances back to see where it lands. Did she smile? I think so.

He turns away before she does and finds the sparkling cigarette lying in a dry pool of motor oil. He almost smiles again, imagining the oil bursting into flame, but the sparks die and he shrugs.

Behind him is a couple, a man and woman. He's pretty fat, and looks Jewish; she's a short Asian girl, very plain. Her nylon-girded arm is threaded through his camo jacket, but they aren't talking or even looking at each other. Just staring straight ahead. The toe of her Converse is sitting on top of his boot in a strangely intimate manner.

One of the hipsters farther up the alley jumps out of line. He's wearing blue jeans and a red flannel vest, and he starts yelling, pointing at everyone. "Don't you ever talk about my friends! You don't know any of my friends. You don't look at any of my friends. And you certainly wouldn't condescend to speak to any of my friends. So you just stick to the things you know: shopping, nail polish, your father's BMW, and your poor, rich drunk mother in the Caribbean." There's a few claps, a little applause, and the Bender-wannabe slips back into line, secure in the knowledge that his friends think he's solid.

The line starts moving, and our hero sighs out loud. He hopes that everyone around him knows that he didn't come here alone on purpose; it should be obvious that he's waiting for someone. But then, maybe it's cooler to come alone than to be stood up. Whatever, who cares what these wastoids think. On the way in he grabs a movie schedule. Resevoir Dogs next week. That'll sell out.

Our hero bravely elbows past the concession stand and takes a seat midway down on the right. His friends might still show up; he may as well save them seats. Otherwise they'll figure out he's angry, and then he'll have to deal with it. Screw that, he's not going to put up with all the false apologies; it's easier to just pretend he doesn't care. So he saves a couple of seats.

The Thunderkittens sit down behind him, laughing about something. Our hero turns his ears around to listen while he stares off into space.

"Oh my God, he's totally looking for us, look!" one of them says.

"Wow, the contents of my bag are suddenly super-interesting," says another, and they all giggle.

"He's going down the other aisle, don't look," the first voice commands, but our hero does anyway. A grandpa dressed all in black, mid-forties, shaved head, some sort of hip goatee. He strides up and down the left aisle, looking over the crowd, and then turns back up to the rear of the theater.

"Hey," Cheetara says, tapping our hero on the shoulder, "if he comes down here, tell him these seats are taken or something." He turns back and smiles.

"You don't want to sit next to him," one of the girls says seriously. "He'll totally talk through the whole movie." Then she laughs.

"Yeah," number three injects. "And he totally stutters too, he won't even get like one sentence out, but he'll be talking the whole time." They all laugh.

"That's my dad, he's probably looking for me."

"Oh. My. God." Cheetara says, and they all burst into laughter. "I'm so sorry!"

"I'm kidding," our hero says, and turns back forward. That was pretty smooth, they're busting up behind him.

He sees his two friends walking down the far aisle towards the front of the theater, carrying popcorn, cokes, candy, each talking on their cell phone and staring at the ground.

"Look," Cheetara says behind him. "They're a cute couple."

One of her friends laughs. "Is he straight?" Giggles.

Our hero waves his arm in the air. "Over here!" he calls. The girls laugh even harder.

"Yeah right!" Cheetara exclaims, but they all shut up when our hero's friends look up and walk over, scooting into the seats beside him.

"Are you mad?" his friend asks, hanging up his phone. "No reception in here."

"Whatever," our hero replies with a shrug, and he turns to look at Cheetara with a grin.

At that, the Thunderkittens burst into prayer. "Oh my God."

"What's going on?" the friend asks, but no one answers.

Another flannel-clad pseudo-Bender runs down the aisle with a paper bag and jumps on stage. "We're really glad you're all here, considering they released this shit on DVD last week. We schedule way in advance, and the DVDs usually screw with attendance. Any of you buy it yet? No? Don't bother. There's no specials, no interviews, no extra scenes. Bullshit. Anyway, everyone knows movie soundtracks these days are a joke, but tonight we're drawing for the soundtrack from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It totally kicks ass, I know, calm down, seriously. Ok, here we go, who has 014503?"

Our hero is 014505, and he winces when he sees the fat girl who was in line in front of him bobble to the front, apathetic.

The movie ends the way it always does. The jock leaves with the basket-case, the princess leaves with the criminal, and the nerd leaves with the smug sense of self-satisfaction that comes from writing something you think is profound.

Our hero grabs Cheetara's glance. "See you next week maybe," he says. "Resevoir Dogs."


He turns and joins his friends, walking up the aisle. The girl takes his arm and pulls herself close. "Are you mad?"

"I said 'whatever'," he replies.

"Do you forgive me?"

"I don't care."

Maybe "fool" is too strong a word, but that's what comes to mind. Check out this comment thread over at Quiet Here.

The problem I have with most "liberals" (i.e., leftists) is that although they aren't purposefully fascist, they seem to think that they can bring about an "ideal" society -- utopia -- by forcing people to behave properly. Christopher, who writes in the comment section (and blogs here), isn't ill-intentioned, but he doesn't want to face the reality that many of his positions are untenable, and many of his policies are impossible to implement; in the attempt to create the utopia he desires, he would instead bring about the wholesale elimination of the freedoms he values. Example:

And about getting what you deserve, i'm sorry but i don't agree at all. people do what they have to do to support a family. It doesn't mean that they decided that they wanted to get paid less. They decided that a meager meal was better than no meal. But it doesn't mean they don't deserve better. I'm not asking for Government intervention, I just want to see corporations that actually care about their employees in a more than superficial way. I really need to know, do you look at Enron or WorldCom or the New York fucking Stock Exchange and not get upset? I mean, these are the businesses we trust. Besides what workers get paid, isn't there something, some kind of justice that needs to take place with these guys? And I don't mean slap on the wrist now enjoy the bahamas kind of justice, I mean you fucked over a lot of people and now you're going to pound-me-in-the-ass-prison justice. Shouldn't that happen? Why isn't it?
He wants companies to "care" about their workers, and he's willing to throw executives into "pound-me-in-the-ass" prison if they don't "care" enough. (Note: the criminals at Enron and WorldCom are being prosecuted, as far as I know).

I use scare-quotes around "care" because what he really means is that he thinks workers should get paid more. But workers agree to work for a certain wage when they agree to take a job; maybe they'd like to earn more, but if no one is offering to pay them more then by definition they don't "deserve" more. If you have a job, then both you and your employer have agreed to the wage you're paid. You can ask for a raise and leave if you don't get it, but the idea that you somehow "deserve" more is pure fantasy. Christopher's solution? Not government intervention! Just throw the executives in prison.

Christopher accuses me of arrogance, but what I am is realistic. Sure, it would be nice if everyone were paid a million dollars a year, right? Except that if they were, a million dollars wouldn't be worth anything anymore, and people would still be poor.

Striving for perfection is noble, but it's important to be able to accept the fact that sometimes reality will not match up to your ideals. Not because people are "mean" or don't "care enough", but because the numbers just don't add up. In such cases you can either attempt to force reality to fit your idealistic fantasies, or you can compromise and try to make the best out of the circumstances that you face. It's tempting to never give up your ideals and to go down in flames (cf. European socialism), but in the end all you end up with is charred remains (cf. the former USSR).

If you are wise enough (and humble enough) to resist this temptation, you can compromise your ideals and take what you can get, make the best of your situation; reality is a harsh mistress, and you won't get everything you want.

It is, of course, Talk Like a Pirate Day. I didn't mention it earlier because I figured everyone knew. It's on my calendar. To celebrate, do the rest of your posting today with the pirate keyboard.

Donald Sensing points to a piece by Ralph Peters in which Peters discusses the candidacy of Wesley Clark (not too favorably). Something else Peters notes is that Senator Joe Lieberman is the only solid Democrat on the ticket, a position I agree with.

I earlier wrote that I didn't think a Jew could win the Democratic Primary (and I still don't), but with Dean's ascension it's clear that Lieberman is too conservative to be nominated. That's unfortunate, because Lieberman would probably make a good president; he's the only one of the Democrats that I would trust with our national security.

Philip Plait debunks the notion that when Galileo crashes into Jupiter on September 21st, 2003 (this Sunday) the plutonnium it is carrying will set off a fusion reaction and turn Jupiter into a star. Yes, I'm serious.

Bill Clinton and the Illuminati were planning to light up Jupiter at the turn of the millenium to welcome the Antichrist, but that didn't pan out.

George W. Bush tried to set it off at 13:13, January (the 13th month of this presidency) 13th, 2001. Again, to usher in the age of the Antichrist; again, no go.

Unfortunately for the Antichrist, it doesn't look like Galileo will do the trick, either.

SDB writes that pipsqueek nations with nukes could deter the US from attacking them by threatening to sneak a nuke into one of our cities. But wouldn't the very act of making such a threat trigger an all-out nuclear attack by America against them? That's the guiding principle behind the policies of Mutually Assured Destruction and nuclear deterrence.

If a nuclear-armed pipsqueak nation saw indications that we were seriously contemplating such an attack, or saw us actually begin such a buildup, they'd either privately or publicly threaten us with massive consequences unless we backed down. They wouldn't threaten our troops; they'd threaten our cities.
Our only options would be to back down, or to go nuclear immediately. If we're still following MAD, we'd choose the second option. The point of MAD is to prevent any nation from blackmailing us with the threat of nuclear attack, and forces them to either just do it or keep their mouth shut.

Let's say you buy a new car, and that one week later a truck kicks up a rock that cracks your windshield. That would suck, but no big deal -- it's only a little crack.

Three years later, the crack as extended across the whole length of your windshield. "Time to get that fixed," you say to yourself. You spend $200 to have the windshield replaced, and the car looks great. You can even see pedestrians and stoplights!

But then, two weeks after getting your windshield fixed, you're parked at work and a golf ball from the neighboring driving range smashes into your new window, shattering it. Are you happy? Probably not. You talk to the manager of the driving range, and he offers to have the windshield repaired, at his expense.

That's good, but you're still miffed. If the ball had hit your windshield two weeks earlier, you could have saved $200! Or... if you had procrastinated just a little longer. But you couldn't do it. Your friends pressured you into getting it fixed now. Everyone was doing it, after all.

When the repairman comes to replace the windshield, he can see how recently it was installed and asks how much you paid. "$200." He laughs. Don't worry, this time you're getting the good stuff, he assures you.

What's the lesson here? Procrastination pays off, just stick with it.

BruceR over at Flit argues that Bush chose poorly by attacking Iraq before North Korea.

You can make a reasonable argument on logistical grounds that, with the conventional military forces it possessed, the United States can invade and subjugate one medium-sized country every three years at the moment. Action against Iraq in 2003 inhibits action anywhere else until at least 2006. Bush, in other words, could reasonably hope to pick one country off his "Evil" list in his first term. A logical criterion for such a decision would be the country that posed the greatest threat. It's becoming increasingly likely that, to paraphrase Indiana Jones, Bush "chose poorly." Iraq was clearly little threat at all, in retrospect.
However, which country "poses the greatest threat" is not the only critera that can be used, nor it is the best one. It was politically possible to attack Iraq, whereas in 2002 it would not have been possible to attack North Korea. Not only that, but the resources we'll need if we get into a fight with North Korea will be totally different than the resources we are using in Iraq.

For the fighting in Iraq, and the occupation, we are mainly relying on special forces, infantry, and heavy armor. In contrast, our participation in North Korea would be largely limited to air and naval support (plus the 2ID that's stationed there, but they probably wouldn't advance into North Korea).

South Korea has a sizable military of its own that could be used to fight on the ground, and it's unlikely that China would be pleased by a larger American troop presence. Our fighters and bombers would be used to support the South Korean soldiers, for strategic bombing, and the launching of cruise missiles. Our naval forces would be used for launching missiles, and for blockading North Korea's ports (which they rely on for food and fuel shipments).

BruceR may be correct in thinking that North Korea has always been a bigger threat to us than Iraq, but the circumstances would not have favored attacking North Korea instead of Iraq. (Even aside from the fact that North Korea doesn't appear to be as enmeshed with terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.) Additionally, our presence in Iraq uses different forces than would be used in North Korea, and so our operations in the Middle East will not hinder our response to North Korea, should one become necessary.

A post by the self-proclaimed King of Fools titled "Caucasian Club" reminds me of my own frolic into racism when I was in high school. I went to a 90% black high school that had clubs for every race under the sun, except white people.

The "Young Black Scholars" club was one of the largest. So I went to our vice principal and told him that I wanted to start a "Young White Scholars" club, and that I wanted him to sponsor it (he was white also). He was almost apoplectic at the prospect. Although he found the idea amusing, he wouldn't sponsor it or allow it; among the reasons he gave: he was afraid we'd get beaten up or harrassed. I pointed out that his fears were fundamentally racist (didn't he think black students could tolerate a white club?), but to no avail.

Ultimately, a friend and I founded the "Junior Entrepreneur Club of America" instead. We were the only two members, and our only activity was to sell Domino's pizza by-the-slice during lunch. We made about $200 per day in profit (for 45 minutes of work) for about two weeks, and then the school shut us down because the cafeteria complained that we were hurting their sales, and they didn't want to compete with us.

Those two anecdotes (along with my post on secular humanism in schools) might help explain why I think the public school system is a miserable failure -- it's awash with racism, socialism, and ignorance.

In a comment to my "Proselytization and Free Speech 2", Les says:

I'd be very interested in hearing more about what Secular Humanist viewpoints you feel the public school systems are promoting. While I largely don't have a problem with Secular Humanism myself, I do agree that schools should try to concentrate more on facts and knowledge than the promotion of specific belief systems.
I think that secular humanism has become the de facto theology of public education. There may be an organized effort to bring this about by leftist intellectuals (not that they're secretive about it), but I doubt most teachers even realize it, care, or think about it. I'll present a simple example, that I think will illustrate my point.

In 3rd grade, my class was forced to sing "Greatest Love of All" at a school show. Some lyrics:

I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my need
A lonely place to be and so I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed at least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all inside of me
The greatest love of all is easy to achieve

Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all

To a Christian, that's all nonsense -- even blasphemous. My teacher, Mrs. Hall, probably thought it was a great song for building kids' self-esteem. She didn't say "and if you think loving others or loving God is more important than loving yourself, you're an idiot", but that's the message that is implicitly conveyed. She wasn't trying to undercut Christian teachings (and in fact this was a Lutheren school!), but she did so nevertheless. Secular humanism is so pervasive among educators that no one even notices.

In contrast, try to imagine a public school class singing about loving God and loving other people.

Cypren comments quite extensively.

To attempt to teach children that science holds the answers to everything in life is to blatantly lie to them, a violation of everything for which an educator should stand.

Of course, propose an argument like this and you'll often hear things such as, "no credible scientist questions the veracity of , so we're not going to put it in the same basket as a bunch of religious teachings," and they're quite right--because in their minds, scientists' credibility depends precisely upon them not questioning certain venerated assumptions. In the days of old, scientists were precisely those people who studied the world around them and drew conclusions they could prove, speculated upon that which they could not, and often did so in defiance to the rule of the established religion threatened by uncovering of the facts. Modern science, however, has become almost pseudononymous with the secular humanist worldview, and is now, itself, the establishment, ruthlessly ridiculing and suppressing new theories and discoveries which challenge its hallowed assumptions of ultimate human supremacy. Truth is no longer important if it interferes with belief.

Sydney Smith, a family physician, of MedPundit, writing on Tech Central Station:

Who, after all, could consider a fetus as life unworthy of living, once they've held its hand?

Via Dean Esmay, who is pro-choice but believes that surveys indicate that support for abortion -- even among women -- is fading fast. As technology advances, the evil of abortion becomes clearer and clearer.

Yeah, it's not a pleasant subject. The federal government is finally taking some legislative action to curtail the widespread epidemic of rape in the American prison system.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which drew bipartisan support and was passed unanimously by Congress yesterday, establishes a system of grants and reforms that will cost $60 million a year. The centerpiece is an annual survey by the U.S. Department of Justice that will be the most sweeping study ever made of sexual assault in prisons, congressional sponsors and criminal justice experts said.

"It's been a long, strange battle, but I think everyone has come to understand that a prison sentence in the United States should not include rape as added punishment," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, (R-Va.), a House co-sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.).

Well, it's a start. The reason I'm posting about this, though, is because Canada has a different take on the issue.

Mackintosh said yesterday the province will consider purchasing flavoured condoms for prisoners some time in the future after first consulting with health officials. The majority of the contraceptives, he argued, would be given to inmates when they are released.

"If there's clear and convincing evidence this type of condom is an effective part of an AIDS strategy, I'd be ill advised to overrule the health experts and jeopardize the health of Manitobans," Mackintosh told The Sun. "The department is going to work with public health to look at this further."

Nice spin, but any way you look at it, some of the fruity flaves would still be distributed to cons behind bars.

Maybe I'm missing something, who knows. Are convicted murderers allows conjugal visits in Canada? Maybe the condoms are for that purpose, but if that's the case it seems like the woman coming to visit could simply bring her own condoms. The only reason to hand out condoms in jail is to facilitate prison rape.

(Via Best of the Web.)

I've traveled all around the country, and when people find out I'm from Los Angeles they'll often ask about our earthquakes. Sure, we get earthquakes every decade or so, but they last for about 30 seconds and generally don't do much more than knock stuff off shelves (unlike earthquakes in poor countries, where shoddy construction can lead to thousands of deaths). Earthquakes can even be fun!

I'd rather get an earthquake every decade than hurricanes every year.

Max at Dead Ends replies and says that hurricanes are more fun than earthquakes. Maybe... I'd love to find out! The best would be an earthquake during a hurricane... with a volcano! Someone call Steven Spielberg, it sounds like an Oscar-winner to me.

Beth's original response to my "Jews for Jesus" post.
My response to her response: "Proselytization and Free Speech".

Beth comments further and says that she dislikes the idea of proselytizing. I don't mean this to be sarcastic at all: do all attempts to change people's minds about philisophical issues bother Beth, or is she only bothered when it comes to what she sees as "religion"?

A lot hinges on the definition of "religion", and that's why I normally refer to "belief systems" instead. An atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, or what-have-you wouldn't like their world-view characterized as "religion", even though those belief systems fall into the same category as Christianity or Islam (as SDB has explained).

So does Beth think that no one should ever try to convince anyone of anything, or are only certain topics off-limits? If so, does only "religious" proselytization bother her, or does the proselytizing of people with non-"religious" systems of belief bother her as well?

This is important to me, because I believe that our public school system (as one example) pushes a secular humanist world-view that is, in fact, essentially religious. Similarly, there is a group of people that would push this belief system on our entire society, while on the surface only advocating the removal of "religious" influence. The failure to recognize and acknowledge that secular humanism is a "belief system" akin to any religion is disingenuous, in my opinion.

This is not to say that Beth holds any of these views -- I'm simply expounding my thoughts on the matter. It's a fascinating topic, and I hope she does write what she thinks about Christianity in the Middle East at some point, as she indicated she might.

You don't believe that Democrats are elitist? Get a load of this.

"When my daughter was born, I got an 18-year term," Clinton joked. "It's a darn good thing we didn't have a recall provision. Our decisions didn't always suit her, but she turned out well."
The citizens of the United States of America are not children, and politicians are not our parents -- they're our servants.

So General Wesley Clark is running for president. I listened to Clark talk to Alan Colmes on the radio while I was in Missourri, and he sounded spectacularly ill-informed; I don't think he will be a credible candidate, and I doubt he will be able to derail Howard Dean's momentum or dislodge Dean's hold on the Angry Left.

Nevertheless, what's particularly interesting to me are the reports that the Clintons are involved in supporting Clark's candidacy. Bill Clinton spoke very highly of General Clark at a recent New York fundraiser.

Guests who attended U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's strategy session / fund raiser Sunday night at her Chappaqua, N.Y., mansion say that both she and her husband repeatedly hinted that she was ready to run for president in 2004.

Mr. Clinton kicked off a wave speculation by identifying the "two stars" of the Democratic Party as his wife and Gen. Wesley Clark - a major snub to the nine announced Democratic candidates currently seeking the White House.

That's quite curious, isn't it? It's well-known that Hillary wants to be president; most pundits seem to believe she'll wait to run in 2008 so she doesn't have to face a popular incumbent, but if Bush's position looks weak then she may be tempted to jump into the pathetic Democrat field in 2004. The only reason I can imagine Clinton grouping Hillary with Clark is if they are planning on running together, with Clark as the vice-presidential candidate. Back to FoxNews:
While sources told Fox News earlier that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton would serve as Clark's campaign co-chairman and numerous other Arkansas-based supporters of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were also lending a hand in the campaign, the senator's office told Fox News late Tuesday that she had not agreed to serve on the campaign.

Clark aides later said they had miscommunicated with Clinton's office and no determination had been made about her participation. Bill Clinton had urged Clark to enter the race, but neither he nor Gore is expected to take sides in the primary fight.

It sounds to me like the Clintons are throwing Clark into the ring as a placeholder for Hillary, in case she later decides that she has a chance to beat Bush. If she jumps in later, Clark will defer to her and accept the vice-presidential berth on the Hillary 2004 ticket, and Hillary will be in place to reap the benefits of the organizational infrastructure that Clark and his people are building now. (Not that the Clintons don't have an organization; they do, and many of their people are mobilizing in Clark's campaign.) It takes time to build up such an organization, and with Clark's in place Hillary can put of making a decision for a while longer.

College students should borrow as much money as they can get their hands on. It's possible to take out student loans now from Sallie Mae at around 3% interest or less, and you don't need to make any payments until you graduate. I know several beginning freshmen who are wary of going into debt, but there are many compelling reasons to do so.

First, borrowing money at 3% is literally free money. You can drop it in a mutual fund until you graduate, pay the loan back, and keep all the capital gain for yourself. Even if you're afraid the stock market is going to crash again, you could make money on 5 year treasury bills (remember, no payments until graduation, and often no interest).

Second, the time of an average college freshman is worth little more than minimum wage. Some 19-year-olds I know are working two jobs, day and night, for a couple hundred bucks a week, rather than borrowing money and working one job. It hurts their performance at school, and leaves them perpetually tired and busy. If they were to borrow a few thousand dollars a year, the payments they would eventually have to make on the loan would be trivial -- their salary after graduation will be substantially higher than minimum wage.

Both of these factors are caused by the difference between the value of the time of a high school graduate, and the value of the time of a college graduate. To an employer, the time of a college graduate is worth far more than the time of a high school graduate; to the student in question, their time is best spent on their highest priority activity -- school, and then work after graduation. By borrowing money, the student can trade an hour in the future for 2, 3, 4, or more hours in the present.

Such trades could lead to better performance at school, more leisure time, a better social life, and any number of other benefits that may even translate into higher earning potential in the future. What's more, the student could die before graduation, thereby gaining full use of this extra time without paying a penny for it.

Beth over at Mutated Monkeys writes about "Getting Along", partly in response to my earlier post about "Jews for Jesus". She says that Jews for Jesus uses deceptive claims to woo Jews to Christianity, but the instances she mentions only seem deceptive to her because of her own system of beliefs, which is itself the topic of discussion to Jews for Jesus.

I don't know much about the organization, and they may in fact advocate theology that I would disagree with, as well.

Mainly, I wanted to address one sentence of Beth's:

So here's where I stand: I support perfect freedom of religion, so long as the religion in question doesn't want to impose its beliefs on me, either by trying to convert me to it, or by intertwining the religious and the secular into law.
There are two separate issues here that she conflates unjustifiably. On one hand, I too would not approve of any religion (or person) imposing its beliefs on me; on the other hand, mere proselytization cannot be properly characterized as "imposition" of beliefs.

Along with freedom of religion and freedom of speech comes the freedom to attempt to convert others to your beliefs through peaceful proselytization. Beth appears to advocate proscribing such activities, and doing so would require abridging one of these fundamental freedoms.

Here is an earlier essay about "Religious Freedom" emerging in the Middle East, and the role of Christian missionaries.

I am pleased to announce the first ever Spherewide Short Story Symposium! As you may know, I enjoy writing short stories and I think the short story format is underappreciated. Shakespeare suggested that brevity is the soul of wit, and the short story's strengths all stem from that central principle: it's short!

Anyone can write a short story. If you think about it, every time we talk to our friends and tell them about something funny that happened to us on the way to work, we're telling a short story. Every story that's worth telling can be told in short story form -- indeed, many books could be improved by cutting out the excess dross.

You are all invited to submit a short story to the Spherewide Short Story Symposium. There won't be any judging, per se, but as the name of the event suggests, I would love to foster discussions about the stories that are submitted.

How to enter: Simply write a short story and send me the link (mw at mwilliams dot info, include "[S4]" in the subject, please). Write about anything you want, fact or fiction, but preferably submit something that hasn't been previously published. I'll take submissions for a week, ending next Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003, and then publish a set of links to all the stories I've received. If the response looks like it will be particularly strong, I will set up an MT blog for hosting the stories and for facilitating discussion.

Tell your friends! And if you're considering writing a story, don't get discouraged if you don't think the quality level of your writing is "good enough". The purpose of this exercise is to take an hour and write something for the fun of it.

Donald Sensing has an awesome essay up about bin Laden's pathetic/non-existent plan for world-domination.

I've watched half-a-dozen episodes of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", and I've picked up a few good tips.

1. Shave downward, after taking a shower. I used to shave upward, before my shower, and this was quite a change. I still don't feel like I get as close of a shave now that I shave with the grain of my beard rather than against it, but the whole process a lot easier on my skin. No bleeding or razor burn.

2. Don't be afraid of colors. I used to buy muted, even drab couture, but the queer guys have inspired me to go with a little more color. Not as much as Carson, but I've moved beyond dull earth-tones. As Thom says: don't match, coordinate. I've bought some more interesting and lively patterns with some brighter primary colors, and it's actually kinda fun to pick out clothes now. I still pretty much go linearly through my clean shirts, but at least I give more than a minimal amount of thought to how the end product looks.

3. Accessorize. This is my next step. I have a watch that I really like, and it's turned me on to perhaps buying another in a different style and color; then I could change things up a bit by wearing different watches on different days! I also want a pair of sunglasses, but I haven't been able to find any I like yet. I don't think I'm going to do much accessorizing beyond that. Actually, my mortgage agent had a huge gold ring with his initials in diamonds, and it looked pretty pimp... but nah.

4. Shoes. I can't even tell you how many times girls have told me that the first things they look at when they see a guy are his shoes. I have decent shoes (better than a year ago), but Queer Eye has inspired me to take it to the next level: the level beyond tennis shoes. I like my Vans and Converses, but I think I can find some comfortable, classy shoes that look a little more formal and a little nicer. New shoes, along with a couple simple accessories, should really help to accent my new, colorful look.

Queer Eye is a strange show. On the one hand, it can be a bit emasculating; the whole show is based around reforming a man to make him more feminine. But on the other hand, I should use scare quotes around "feminine"; it's only lazy, pseudo-macho, scruffy men who would reject the idea of sprucing themselves up a bit so that they can be more appealing to women.

Take from it what you will. My problem is that I've always wanted to look "cool", but I never really knew how. Now I feel more confident going into any clothing store I see and trying on anything that catches my eye. Well-dressed salespeople used to intimidate me -- but no longer. The little bit of knowledge I've gleaned from a handful of gay guys has freed me to explore my own sense of style with less hesitation, and it's a blast.

Arnold and his wife, Maria Shriver, had a joint appearance on Oprah -- part of an effort to subtly defend against the idea that Arnold is a "woman-hater". It was all very routine for a "behind the scenes" look at a political candidate.

What stood out to me the most was what Shriver said she desired for her children:

The couple also told about raising their children and the fact that each has to do their own laundry and help clean the dishes. "We want to raise kind, polite grateful children," she said.
For many parents I know, the qualities they desire for their children are more along the lines of success, happiness, and self-esteem. It is impressive to me that Shriver's desires for her children are not wholly self-focused. Kind, polite, and grateful... what more could a parent ask for?

Strategy Page has a brief article describing how Japan has supplied North Korea with WMD capability (look for 9/15/03). Some through illegal smuggling, some through legal chemical and equipment purchases. Japan tries to shift blame for the policy to its major trading partner, South Korea.

It looks like Japan, as much as South Korea and China, was depending on the US for safety from whatever North Korea was going to threaten.

What do "msblast", "Mars", "Bertrand Cantat", "Marie Trintignant", "Christopher Walken", "Adolph Christ", and "Los Angeles" have in common? They're all, apparently, on Friendster.

I initially resisted, but peer pressure and curiousity overcame my trademarked apathy -- I've joined Friendster. I'm still not exactly sure what the point of it is; in my mind the system presents a fascinating social experiment, and I'd love to get my hands on their database of interconnections.

I only have 4 direct-link "friends" right now, but I've got 83,031 people in my "personal network". If you aren't familiar with the system, Friendster lets you search through your friends' friends' friends, through at least 4 levels (from what I've been able to determine). I've already discovered one person in my network whom I am linked to through two entirely different chains of friends. Both chains are rather long (4 links), and having a common meta-friend isn't really surprising, statistically. I'm confident that I'm linked to the girl in question even more closely than Friendster knows.

Friendster allows you to search through your personal network by the interests that people put into their profile, and a search for "Christianity, capitalism" gave me quite a significant number of hits (many for "anti-capitalism"). I've messaged a few random people, and asked for a few introductions, and have explored most of functionality of the system. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it, if anything.

As I mentioned above, despite Friendster's attempt to keep everything on-the-level, there is still quite a bit of tom-foolery going on. Which is to be expected, considering that we are still talking about the internet here. As much as I love Los Angeles, I don't think the city really qualifies as friendship matieral. Even still, Friendster is likely accumulating an extensive set of associations between people, and it would be fascinating to get my hands on the raw data and perform some analysis.

Aside from the marketing potential, the sociological data alone would be invaluable. Unlike the networks formed by instant messaging software users (who do not normally fill out their profiles, since they spend most of their time talking to established acquaintances), the people on Friendster are almost all looking to meet new people in real life, and their demographic information is thoroughly fleshed-out and readily available.

If anyone reading this is on Friendster and wants to add me, just look me up by the email address given on my about page.

A 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered that California's special recall election be halted.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal appeals court postponed California's Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election, ruling Monday that the historic vote cannot proceed because some votes would be cast using outmoded punch-card ballot machines.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals withheld ordering the immediate implementation of its decision, allowing a week for appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ted Costa, head of the Sacramento-based Peoples' Advocate, one of the groups that put the recall on the ballot, said an appeal is certain.

"Give us 24 hours. We'll get something off to the Supreme Court," he said.

It seems inevitable that the Supreme Court will accept the case, but I have no idea how it will rule. I don't expect the Court to be overly sympathetic with the old-voting-machine argument, considering that a majority of the justices stopped the endless recounting in Florida in 2000. Nevertheless, the drama continues.

I've written about "Names, Power, and Intimacy" before, and the topic has come to mind again as I've been linking recently to the work of fellow bloggers and other types of writers.

When responding to my post about detecting uranium, Clayton Cramer called me "Mr. Williams". It was mildly discordant to me, because I don't really think of myself as "Mr. Williams"; it's a very formal style of address amongst peers these days, but still comes across as quite classy.

I often refer to Eugene, Glenn, SDB, Bill, Donald, and many other bloggers by their first names, and I have wondered if that's impolite considering that I don't really know them other than through the internet and their writings. When writing, I'll generally establish a person's identity by using their full name and a link, and from that point forward I'll use their first name. I realize it's overly familar, but the option of "Mr."-ing and "Ms."-ing everyone feels far too aloof.

So, as far as my blog-protocol goes, I've decided to operate as I would in "real life". If I have exchanged emails with someone or otherwise interacted with them other than through blog posts, I will generally refer to them by their first name, just as if we had met at a social function. Otherwise, I will use their full name and -- if required by the structure of my post -- their appropriate title and last name.

This is not to say that I find this arrangement ideal; I do not. As I wrote in the above-linked essay, I think it would be quite enjoyable and proper to return to more formal modes of address. Nevertheless, it feels awkward to do so myself, and I generally choose not to. Perhaps this feeling of awkwardness is the result of my informal blogging style; if I were writing an acedemic paper or a newspaper article I would certaily revert to the formal mode.

Megan writes a little bit about being single, and I want to expand on that and talk about being alone.

For most people, it isn't easy being alone. I'm not talking about being in a romantic relationship or having plenty of friends and family, I'm talking about being able to be content without anyone else around to entertain you.

Being alone can often cause depression, and the typical, modern source of comfort for both aloneness and depression is television. TV may distract you from the fact that you're alone, but it doesn't actually relieve the depression. Reading books and surfing the web fit into a similar category, in my opinion, and are neither substitutes for actual human interaction, nor healthy coping strategies for feelings of loneliness. All three of these -- TV, books, the internet -- relieve aloneness by providing a false sense of presence. None of them is bad, but using any of them as an emotional crutch can cause you to miss out on one of the greatest, most empowering feelings imaginable: being totally alone, and perfectly content.

Being able to be comfortable while alone is one of the most difficult abilities to acquire in life, and many people never achieve it, or even think about it. Most people are constantly seeking affirmation, approval, attention, compassion, empathy, and community with others -- these can all be positive and enjoyable, but addiction to other people is a weakness and a vulnerability.

If you ever watch children interacting with each other, it's easy to notice how dependent they are on the opinions of their peers. Adults are no different; perhaps a bit more subtle, but a keen observer will see the same desires at work: needs for power, affection, and attention. For kids it may be toys, for adolescents it may be clothes, and for adults it may be jobs, cars, houses, or fame. People who derive their self-worth from the opinions of others are easy to manipulate, rarely satisfied no matter what their circumstances, and ill-at-ease when they're alone.

So how does one become comfortable with just oneself? It's not easy. For me, I'm never really alone because I always have God with me. Is my belief in God merely another emotional crutch, akin to television and the like? Some would certainly make that argument. However, it's largely pointless for me to discuss, since if my beliefs are correct then there isn't any way for me to escape God even if I wanted to. If my beliefs are wrong, then deluding myself as a way of coping with aloneness is the least of my problems. And anyway, I know plenty of Christians who can't stand to be alone, despite their belief that God is with them.

So if television, books, and the internet are mere distractions, what is a worthy occupation for alone-time? I think that constructive activities are the most beneficial, and the typical "get a hobby" advice is quite appropriate. I spend some of my alone-time working on my PhD dissertation (not enough), as well as other forms of writing (some of which gets published here). I also like to go for walks and runs around the neighborhood, and I like to lift weights. Physical activity is good for mental health, and there's no better drug than endorphins!

It's not easy to be happy and alone, but I think the effort is well-worth it (insofar as I can claim to be successful at it). For instance, there's no need to fear public speaking if you're indifferent to your audience's response! In a sense, what I'm advocating is a form of apathy, but not entirely. I often act in ways I hope will please the people around me, but I do so because I want to, not because I feel any need for their approval. My apathy frees me to act however I want to act; sometimes people like it, sometimes they don't. It's an honest, fearless way to live.

It might seem that attaining such apathetic freedom could lead to selfishness and arrogance, because the social mores that bind most people won't apply to you anymore. That appearance is deceiving. Apathy doesn't create selfishness and arrogance, it only reveals the selfishness and arrogance that were already there, hidden by social pressure. In truth, gaining the ability to be comfortable while alone will allow you to discover genuine compassion, understanding, and fellowship, by eliminating the false pretenses that dominate most peoples' lives.

I've been asking Eugene Volokh to write about property rights and intellectual property for months, and he's finally done it! He argues that intellectual property rights are just as valid a concept as tangible property rights. That's not to say that the existence of intellectual property is good policy, but he thinks the idea is reasonable.

On the other hand, I think that in the digital age intellectual property can be reduced down to the allowing of ownership of pure numbers. For that reason, I think that intellectual property is ultimately doomed.

For my musings on the subject:
1. Ownership -- how can anyone "own" digitally-encoded information? Anything encoded digitally is just a binary number, and how can anyone own a number?
2. Ownership 2 -- more on the same topic.
3. Common Law and Copyright -- can "everyone is doing it" justify violating copyright laws?

Eugene Volokh has been posting quite a bit about the idea of Jewish Christians, and he's been getting a lot of email, it seems. I don't really have much to say on the matter, other than that as a non-Jew I generally agree with Eugene's position -- accepting Jesus as the Messiah is no more divergent from traditional Jewish beliefs than are the beliefs of Reform Jews. It appears to me that many Jews define themselves by their non-acceptance of Christianity (as do many atheists, for example).

I have a lot of Jewish friends and acquaintances, and we occasionally talk about religion -- in a sense. The vast majority of the Jews I know are entirely secular and non-observant, except when they indulge their older family members. They often express curiousity about my beliefs and are interested in discussing philisophical issues. The main difference between my secular Jewish friends and my secular non-Jewish friends is that when I invite a Jew to come to church and check it out themself, they are astounded at my suggestion. It's quite impossible for them to set foot inside a church, you see, even out of curiousity, because they're Jewish.

I have brought this post back up to the top because David Bernstein has some interesting thoughts on the matter over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The answer is at least in part that Jews have a residual distrust of Christianity born of centuries of oppression in Europe, both by the official church (which, for example, encouraged the Spanish Expulsion/forced conversion and then tried to ferret out hidden Jews via the Inqusition), and by local priests and ministers (who, for example, often fomented pogroms on Christian holidays through anti-Semitic sermons in church). ...

I've explained this to Christians, who typically get offended. But that's not true Christianity!, they protest. Moreover, whatever the sins of European Christiandom against Jews, American Christianity has arguably if anything overall been philo-Semitic. All true. But I'm talking about deep-seated, inherited cultural fears, not objective analysis.

Note that this is not analogous to anti-Semitism. Inherited distrust or whatnot of Christianity does not mean that Jews dislike Christians, or think ill of them, or even want them to stop practicing Christianity.

I'm not convinced that this is completely un-analogous to anti-Semitism; I've met plenty of Jews who do dislike Christians, do think ill of Christians, and do want Christians to stop practicing Christianity. Certainly not all Jews are not, but some Jews are anti-Christian in an analogous way. Just as, of course, many non-Jews are anti-Christian, and many Christians are anti-whomever. My point isn't to single out Jews, but to say that just about any negative religious prejudice is "analogous" to anti-Semitism.

[Note: I'm not sure about this idea of brining old posts back up to the top by re-dating them. Thoughts?]

“I’m not going in there”, the tall kid said, leaning against a flickering streetlight across the road from the Monster House. He edged away from the street and put the concrete light post between his body and the dark, dilapidated structure.

“Don’t you want to see the body?” the skinny kid asked in his whiny, high-pitched voice. “I’ve already been in there a dozen times today; there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Yeah right, you went in the Monster House,” Tall responded in a huff. “Everyone knows it’s got monsters in it.”

“That’s why we call it the Monster House, yeah, I know,” Skinny said. “Monsters. Look, there aren’t any monsters, not in the Monster House, not anywhere. I’ve been in there today, and it’s an established fact.”

“Where’d the body come from then?” asked Tall, loosening up and settling into the argument, but still hunkering behind the pole.

“How should I know? What am I, a cop?” Skinny asked, brandishing his flashlight. “Look, I’ve got a flashlight, and a crowbar. If there’s any monsters inside we can blind ‘em and crack ‘em on the head.”

Tall broke into a grin and sighed. “It’s not like monsters are real, anyway,” he said, without coming out from behind the streetlight.

“Uh, no,” Skinny replied, grinning back. “Besides, it’s not like you’re the first person I’ve shown. Like I said, I’ve seen the body a dozen times, easy.”

“With who?” Tall demanded.

Skinny sighed, and began ticking their friends’ names off on his fingers. “Shorty, Stupid, Football, Spanish, Brainy, Bully; you know, practically everyone.”

“Why didn’t you call me before then?”

“What am I, your travel agent?” Skinny replied. “Look, do you wanna go or not?” Tall nodded, and Skinny continued, “Well then let’s go.”

Skinny led the way across the street with his flashlight and crowbar swinging at his sides. Once his feet touched the property of the Monster House he slowed a bit and waited for Tall to catch up. Tall stuck close behind Skinny as they walked up to the porch and faced the front door.

“Go ahead,” Skinny commanded, “Push it open. It’s not locked.”

Tall hesitated and swung his head back and forth, looking at everything but the door itself. Skinny nudged him with his elbow, and Tall reached out to grab the knob. He leaned forward to test the door, but it wasn’t even latched and it creaked open under his weight.

Skinny flicked on the flashlight and cast the beam into the darkened building. “It’s empty,” Tall said, pushing the door all the way open. The flashlight slid across the bare walls and floors of the Monster House. “There’s no furniture or anything,” Tall exclaimed. “Where’s the body?”

“Inside, get inside,” Skinny urged him. “We don’t want anyone to see us from the street, you know.”

Tall stepped inside and took in the surroundings. “No monsters, either.”

Skinny laughed under his breath. “What am I, a liar? There’s no such thing as monsters. Grow up.”

“It’s just an empty house,” Tall whispered. “Where’s the body? Someone must have dumped it here, or something. They must’ve figured no one would ever find it. Is it a skeleton? I’ve never seen a real skeleton.”

“If it was a skeleton I would have said ‘Come see the skeleton’, wouldn’t I? It’s that way, through the hall over there,” Skinny gestured to their left and motioned for Tall to lead the way. Tall straightened up and snuck over the hardwood floor to the hallway Skinny’s light was illuminating.

“Maybe you should give me the light,” Tall turned and said, “if I’m going to be in front.”

“Fine, here.” Skinny handed it over. “There’s no monsters though.”

“I just don’t want to trip,” Tall replied, and moved into the hall.

“Just go to the end room,” Skinny ordered him, and they walked past a row of open doorways along the left wall.

The door at the end of the hall was closed; Tall pushed against it with the flashlight, but it wouldn’t budge. He looked back at Skinny, who shrugged, and then turned the knob. The door opened with a tiny creak, and Tall shined the light into the black room, revealing a large pile in the far corner.

“That’s not one body!” Tall exclaimed and turned to let Skinny in. As Skinny entered the room he swung the crowbar and hit Tall in the side of the head, knocking him to the floor.

Rick Rescorla is my hero. Here's a quote to live by:

You should be able to strip a man naked and throw him out with nothing on him. By the end of the day, the man should be clothed and fed. By the end of the week, he should own a horse. And by the end of a year he should own a business and have money in the bank.
Rick Rescorla was killed while evacuating more than 2600 Morgan Stanley employees from the South Tower of the WTC before it collapsed.

Lileks has a typically great post up commemorating 9/11. I want to briefly address an experience he relates from summer camp, 1968.

It was 1968. On the night before the last day of camp, a counselor named Charlie Brown interrupted our sunset meeting by the shores of White Bear Lake to tell us the news: Russia had launched their missiles and they would destroy America before the night was out. It was time to get right with God.

Silence; crickets; small sobs. I’m sure no one thought much about Jesus right then. We thought about Mom and Dad and Spot and our room, where we really, really wanted to be right now, with the familiar smell of the goldfish bowl, and -

Charlie Brown guided us through some prayers. We all said Amen, and I’m sure for some it was the least heartfelt Amen we’d ever said. Then Charlie Brown said he had made up the story. Russia hadn’t launched the missiles. But what if they had? Were we right with Jesus?

That's the impression many adults today have of Christianity. I can't blame them; that sort of bizarre knife-twisting can easily leave a kid scarred for life. Lileks wasn't traumatized by it (or isn't anymore?), but the experience certainly had a profound effect on him -- and not for the better, as Charlie Brown probably intended.

I've talked to many people who have had similar experiences, either at a church or at a religious school, or even at summer camp. It's profoundly saddening to me; I work with children, and it's hard to even express how important each one of my kids is to me. The thought that something I say or do may drive one of them away from God is a heavy burden.

Matthew 18:6
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

So I'm playing Jenga [Maybe not the best game for 9/11 -- Ed.] tonight with one of my kids from church, and she utters one of my common exclamations when she almost topples the tower.

"You got that from me!" I tell her.

"Probably; I'm around you so much."

"Yeah, I suppose you are."

"Too much!"

"Too much?"

"No... not enough."

See, that's why it's worth it.

Some of the most fascinating phenomena I've read about are the natural nuclear reactors that the French discovered in Oklo, Gabon, in 1972. A search on Google for "natural nuclear reactors oklo" yields hundreds of hits. Here are some highlights. From Yucca Mountain Project:

Deep under African soil, about 1.7 billion years ago, natural conditions prompted underground nuclear reactions. Scientists from around the world, including American scientists have studied the rocks at Oklo. These scientists believe that water filtering down through crevices in the rock played a key role. Without water, it would have been nearly impossible for natural reactors to sustain chain reactions.

The water slowed the subatomic particles or neutrons that were cast out from the uranium so that they could hit-and split-other atoms. Without the water, the neutrons would move so fast that they would just bounce off, like skipping a rock across the water, and not produce nuclear chain reactions. When the heat from the reactions became too great, the water turned to steam and stopped slowing the neutrons. The reactions then slowed until the water cooled. Then the process could begin again.

Scientists think these natural reactors could have functioned intermittently for a million years or more. Natural chain reactions stopped when the uranium isotopes became too sparse to keep the reactions going.

From Nulcear Garden:
When more than a 'critical mass' of uranium containing the fissionable isotope is gathered together in one place there is a self-sustaining chain reaction. The fission of uranium atoms sets free neutrons that cause the fission of more uranium atoms and more neutrons and so on. Provided that the number of neutrons produced balances those that escape, or are absorbed by other atoms, the reactor continues. This kind of reactor is not explosive; indeed it is self-regulating. The presence of water, through its ability to slow and reflect neutrons, is an essential feature of the reactor. When power output increases, water boils away and the nuclear reaction slows down. A nuclear fission reaction is a perverse kind of fire; it burns better when well watered. The Oklo reactors ran gently at the kilowatt power level for millions of years and used up a fair amount of the natural Uranium-235 doing so.
Both of these sites point that that:
Once the natural reactors burned themselves out, the highly radioactive waste they generated was held in place deep under Oklo by the granite, sandstone, and clays surrounding the reactors’ areas. Plutonium has moved less than 10 feet from where it was formed almost two billion years ago.8

Today, manmade reactors also create radioactive elements and by-products. Scientists involved in the disposal of nuclear waste are very interested in Oklo because long-lived wastes created there remain close to their place of origin. ...

The radioactive remains of natural nuclear fission chain reactions that happened 1.7 billion years ago in Gabon, West Africa, never moved far beyond their place of origin. They remain contained in the sedimentary rocks that kept them from being dissolved or spread by groundwater. Scientists are studying Yucca Mountain to see if the geology there might play a similar role in containing high-level nuclear waste.

Beyond the sheer fantasticness of such a natural occurrence, the Oklo nuclear reactors demonstrate that it is possible to safely store nuclear waste products for significant periods of times.

Apparently, some journalists for ABC News managed to smuggle depleted uranium into the Port of Los Angeles today in a shipping container from Jakarta, Indonesia.

The ABCNEWS project involved a shipment to Los Angeles of just under 15 pounds of depleted uranium, a harmless substance that is legal to import into the United States. The uranium, in a steel pipe with a lead lining, was placed in a suitcase for the shipment.

"If they can't detect that, then they can't detect the real thing," explained Tom Cochran, a nuclear physicist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which lent the material to ABCNEWS for the project.

Cochran said the highly enriched uranium used for nuclear weapons, would, with slightly thicker shielding, give off a signature similar to depleted uranium in the screening devices currently being used by homeland security officials at American ports.

Is Tom Cochran's assertion correct? The best comparison I can find online between enriched uranium and depleted uranium is on the Canadian National Defence website.
In nature, uranium exists as a mixture of three isotopes --- U-238, U-235, and U-234. These isotopes of uranium have different weights, but each has 92 protons in its nucleus. Uranium isotopes differ in weight because they have different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. The isotopes U-238, U-235, and U-234 are present naturally in the proportions of 99.28 percent, 0.72 percent, and 0.0055 percent respectively. ...

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) defines depleted uranium as uranium in which the percentage of the U-235 isotope by weight is less than 0.711 percent. The military specifications designate that the DU used by the American Department of Defense contain less than 0.3 percent U-235. In actuality, DoD uses only DU that contains approximately 0.2 percent U-235. ...

The enriched uranium used in nuclear reactors contains about a 3 percent concentration of this isotope. Enriched uranium is also used in nuclear weapons. ...

Because of the high percentage of U-238 and its slow decay rate, naturally occurring uranium is, in fact, one of the least radioactive substances among unstable isotopes on the planet. DU can be up to 50 percent less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium depending on the degree of depletion. The material generally used by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium.

Based on this information, I calculate that 3% enriched uranium is approximately 275% more radioactive than 0.7% natural uranium, and 687% more radioactive than 0.2% depleted uranium. Using arbitrary units:

99.28x +0.72y == 100 (natural uranium)
99.8x + 0.2y == 60 (depleted uranium)

Solve for x and y, the radioactivity of U238 and U235 respectively, and you get:

x == 0.446
y == 77.446

The radioactivity of enriched uranium is:

97*0.446 + 3*77.446 == 275.6

So, enriched uranium is about 7 times more radioactive than depleted uranium. But, uranium isotopes primarily emit alpha particles, and alpha particles can be shielded with a sheet of paper.

All uranium isotopes are primarily alpha particle emitters. These alpha particles travel only about 30 micrometers in soft tissue and, therefore, are unable to penetrate paper, glass, or even the dead superficial layer of skin. The gamma emissions of uranium are rather low.
This fact makes all forms of uranium rather difficult to detect from a distance, considering that background radiation is always present. Uranium doesn't emit a great deal of gamma radiation above what is present in the background, either.
In the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists the authors tried to estimate the possible external gamma-radiation levels on the battlefield by assuming that 100 tons of depleted uranium had been distributed uniformly over a one-kilometer-wide strip along 100 kilometers of the "Highway of Death" between Kuwait City and Basra, a city in southern Iraq. The average dose for someone who lived in the area for a year would be about one mrem - or about 10 percent of the dose from uranium and its decay products already naturally occurring in the soil. The dose rate immediately around a destroyed vehicle could be about 30 times higher. But even that figure would only add about 10 percent to the natural background radiation.
So, is Tom Cochran correct? It looks like it. Although enriched uranium is up to 7 times as radioactive as depleted uranium, it only takes a tiny bit of lead to drastically attenuate radiation exposure. A mere 0.5mm of lead can reduce radiation exposure by a factor of 1000, depending on the energy level of the particles in question. Considering all the work that goes into finding uranium deposits, I don't have trouble believing that we couldn't detect this shipment of depleted uranium -- and that we'd be hard-pressed to detect enriched uranium under similar circumstances.

Clayton Cramer disagrees, based on U235's greater emission of gamma radiation. That's fine, as far as it goes, but as Tom Cochran claims that shielded U235 would "look" very similar to depleted uranium to the various radiation detection devices. I am not a physicist, but my dad is and he confirms that lead-shielded enriched uranium would look pretty much the same as lead-shielded depleted uranium -- that is, it would look like lead.

Update 2:
I oringally wrote "U238" in the first update in places where I meant U235, as Clayton Cramer points out in his update (and in the comments here). That mistake/typo/whatever did severely confuse my point, and make me look stupid. Sigh.

I'm aware that U235 emits gamma radiation, and the point of this post was to say that, from what I've read and from what my dad has told me, it would not take a significant amount of lead shielding to attenuate said radiation.

I linked to a site in the post that talks about attenuating gamma radiation, and indicates that less than a millimeter would be needed to reduce exposure by a factor of 50 to 1000. I don't know whether that level of attenuation would be sufficient to disguise the presence of U235, and Mr. Cramer indicates that it would not.

Here's an awesome tool for converting documents from one format to another: TOM Server: Document Conversion. Most importantly (for me), it can convert Word documents into PDF files, and postscript files into anything other than postscript. It can also convert remote documents, via their URL.

Formats available:
Unknown, acme, acrobat, au, binary, binhex, dvi, excel, gif, html, jpeg, latex, macbinary, mail, mif, mpeg, msword, multipart, pdf, pict, pilot-doc, pkzip, png, postscript, powerpoint, ppm, ps, quicktime, rtf, sun-raster, tar, text, tiff, uue, wav, web, word, wordperfect, wp5, xwd.

Check out also.

As the British realized in 1776, nothing grabs Americans' attention quite like taxes do. I think we're in the midst of another tax rebellion, and the recent rejection of huge tax hikes by the citizens of Alabama was the most recent battle. In 2002, a ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would have eliminated all state income tax was narrowly defeated, but will be re-proposed in 2004. In July, 2003, the Nevada Supreme Court intervened to raise state taxes when the legislature refused to do so. A similar scam was tried in California, but was rejected; despite California's huge deficit, our legislature refused to raise taxes (at least the Republicans did).

There are many more such stories; many states are considering initiatives such as the one that failed in Massachusetts in 2002, and eventually one such attempt will pass. Once a single state income tax is eliminated via ballot initiative, I expect that many others will follow. The Fair Tax Act of 200X won't be far behind.

Well, at least an idea I had for a post today.

Gnat ate all her chicken, and inquired: “what’s for dessert, father?” (I love that. Sometimes she calls me “Papa,” which makes me feel like Kindly Gepetto; when she calls me “Father” I feel like a Victorian patriarch.)
As I was going to write, I want my kids to grow up with English accents and call me "father". I'm not sure how I'm going to work it yet... I could marry an English girl with good teeth, or I could just hire an English nanny maybe.

I have a feeling that this is a futile plea, but if anyone out there is familiar with the Quake 2 source code and willing to help me, please drop me a line. I'm using the Quake 2 graphics/physics engine for my PhD dissertation, and I'm having some problems with one of John Carmack's collision detection functions.

Specifically, in the SV_AreaEdicts_r() function in sv_world.c, there is a loop as so:

for (l=start->next ; l != start ; l = next)
next = l->next;
check = EDICT_FROM_AREA(l);

if (check->solid == SOLID_NOT)
continue; // deactivated
if (check->absmin[0] > area_maxs[0]
|| check->absmin[1] > area_maxs[1]
|| check->absmin[2] > area_maxs[2]
|| check->absmax[0] < area_mins[0]
|| check->absmax[1] < area_mins[1]
|| check->absmax[2] < area_mins[2])
continue; // not touching

if (area_count == area_maxcount)
Com_Printf ("SV_AreaEdicts: MAXCOUNT\n");

area_list[area_count] = check;

The problem is that sometimes, somehow, the variables l, start, start->next, and l->next are NULL. I can't figure out why. The pointers should create a circular linked-list. Note: I did not write this code, or the code that builds the linked list. I think John Carmack wrote it.

It appears that the problem stems from some of my entities colliding with the worldspawn entity and with each other, but I don't have any idea why these collisions would create these bad pointer problems.

I have reverted back to the baseline Q2 engine source code; whatever it causing the problem is in my gamex86.dll code (probably?!)... but I have no idea where to look.

In my dream world, this plea for help spreads across the internet, and John Carmack emails me with a one-line code fix.

Senator John Cornyn makes some excellent points about the need for a clear procedure for the re-establishment of Congress, should an attack or natural disaster wipe out a majority of our federal legislature. However, he is incorrect in saying that there is no such structure (perhaps unsatisfactory) currently in place.

This commitment to federalism and national representation has a cost, however: Under the majority quorum requirement, terrorists could shut Congress down by killing or incapacitating a sufficient number of representatives or senators.

Our ability to ensure Congress would be able to continue to function under the current constitutional restrictions is woefully limited. States have power to allow their governors to appoint senators in cases of vacancies, and 48 states have elected to do so. But the Constitution provides no immediate mechanism for filling vacancies in the House, nor for redressing the problem of large numbers of members in either chamber being incapacitated.

Vacancies in the House can be filled only by special election. That takes months to conduct, for reasons of mechanical feasibility, democratic integrity, and the rights of military and other absentee voters.

What's more, it is impossible to address the problem of incapacitated members. If 50 senators were in the hospital and unable either to perform their duties or resign, they could not be replaced. The Senate could be unable to operate for up to four years.

This is a serious concern of course, and I think it is worthwhile considering amending the Constitution to further address this possibility. However, Article V of the Constitution does provide a clear, legal, and democratic method for re-constituting Congress, should such a need arise.
Article V

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; ...

The states maintain the power to call a Constitutional convention, without the need for Congressional approval or involvement. Such a convention could revise the Constitution as necessary, even to the extent of appointing new Senators, Representatives, and Executives. In theory, the power of such a convention would be unlimited, since it could rewrite the Constitution itself.

A Constitutional convention could be messy and problematic, and it may in fact be desirable for us to amend the Constitution to provide a simpler, more limited solution. However, Senator Cornyn is mistaken in thinking that the Senate, or any branch of our government, could be constitutionally crippled for years at a time.

Most people pretty much take language for granted, and don't even think about it unless they're confronted with someone doesn't understand them, and can't be understood by them in turn. In such a case, we say that the other speaks "a different language" than we do, but what does that really mean?

Does the other have incomprehensible thoughts in their head that we can't understand? No; internally, all (normal) people think in pretty much the same manner, with the same general streams of consciousness, and the same general methodology. There are cultural differences, some of which relate to language, but the underlying structure of human thought it fairly universal. The difficulty that arises with someone who speaks a different language is merely that although we could understand the thoughts and ideas of the other person, we can't correlate the sounds they are using to the ideas they are trying to relate. (Incidentally, how do children correlate the language they hear with the reality that surrounds them when they initially learn to speak? That's a rather large open problem for neurologists, psychologists, and computer scientists.)

Attempts have been made to create language-independent representations for the foundational level of thought, and one of the most well-known is called CD: Conceptual Dependency. The purpose of conceptual dependency structures is to represent a concept at a fundamentally low level; this representation can then be processed by a computer, or can be translated into any human language.

It isn't as simple as it sounds! For example, here is a slide excerpted from the PowerPoint presentation I linked to above. It displays a (possible) representation for the sentence "Jan kicked the cat.".

Yes, sentence examples in artificial intelligence are always mildly violent or sexual. Draw your own conclusions. This graphical depiction of a conceptual dependency isn't simple to explain (view the presentation), but that should give you the flavor. CD is very versitile, and any concept that can be expressed in spoken or written language can be built into a dependency structure.

So what? Well, these structures can be encoded digitally and fed into a computer program that can analyze them and extract meaning from them. For example, many pieces of software have been written that use CD to read short stories, and then answer questions such as "Who was the main character?" "Why did the knight kill the dragon?" and that sort of thing. Some systems can even read stories, and then generate their own stories based on what they learn from their reading. "Generate a story about bravery." (The stories aren't usually very good.)

What's more, CD can serve as an intermediate step in language translation. Rather than building a X*X translation engines that can translate every X language into every other, 2X engines can be built: X to translate a language into CD, and X to translate CD into each language. The idea doesn't work perfectly yet, but the concept is sound.

Human language is a fantastic tool for sharing the information that's otherwise trapped inside our brains, but don't be fooled into thinking that language is the same as thought. Thought and language are closely related -- and most people actually do think in streams of language -- but by isolating them we can reach a greater understanding of their interaction and operation than we can if we are forced to consider them together.

Is it just my site, or does Technorati not know how to count? It will often find new links to Master of None and display them, but it won't actually add them to the tally at the top of the page. I've been at "42 Inbound Blogs, 86 Inbound Links" for ages, despite the fact that new blogs link to me, and blogs with existing links will often create new links.

Ah well, it's still a pretty nifty tool, and I visit everyone I find who links to me. Generally, I'll also add a link back to you on my sidebar, even if you "only" link to a post of mine and don't blogroll me.

Particularly new blogs! I'm thankful to all the established bloggers who were willing to link to me when I was getting started, and I'm happy to pass that favor along (for what it's worth). If you want me to link to you, all you have to do is post something related to my interests and call my attention to it... or even easier, link to me.

From the Sacramento Bee, the quote speaks for itself.

EAST LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Gray Davis on Sunday said he was "just joking around with someone in the crowd" when he remarked a day earlier that "you shouldn't be governor unless you can pronounce the name of the state."
Yeah, a Republican would get away with that, for sure.

Via Al Rantel and Rough & Tumble.

Apple has sold 10 millions songs through it's iTunes service, most of them to James Lileks. They've even posted a $19 million profit for the 3rd quarter of this year.

10 million songs in over four months doesn't sound particularly impressive to me, considering that 1 million were sold in the first week. Compared to the hundreds of millions (billions?) of songs that have been swapped for free in the same period, and the billion-dollar music industry, 2.5 million songs/dollars per month is a drop in the ocean.

I haven't used the service, but I'm hardly their target audience (I don't buy or download music). Unlike other music sales services, Apple has been rather forthcoming with their figures, and they aren't pretty.

In the first day April 28th iTunes sales were at 200,000 per day. By May 5th CNet were reporting that sales had topped 1,000,000 meaning 140,000 songs were been sold per day. By May 14th this figure had fallen to 125,000. While figures published in the The NY Times on May 28th translate the figure into 100,000 per day.

The decline continued from there. 5 million tracks had been sold by June 23rd meaning the average daily sales had now hit 89,000. The figure hit 6.5 million on July 22nd translating into 52,000 sales per day.

There have been about 45 days since July 22nd and 3.5 million songs sold -- about 80,000 per day -- so maybe things are picking up. A lot depends on profit margins, but it's hard to see iTunes as a real source of revenue for a $5 billion corporation until it starts bringing in 10 or 20 times as much money.

John Fund over at Opinion Journal has a good article up about "Indian Givers", and the effect of Indian tribes on California politics.

Pain is exactly what Mr. Burton and the California Legislature may inflict on California's economy this week as they scramble to push through radical legislation that's designed to maintain their shaky hold on power. If ever California voters need to pay attention to what lawmakers are doing in their name, it's this coming week.

Tyler Cowen over at the Volokh Conspiracy gives some reasons why movies don't cost more on a Saturday night. But, in Los Angeles at least, they often do.

There are many theaters in Los Angeles that have variable ticket prices for different movies on different days at different times. Prices for different movies at the same time and day can be different, as can prices for the same movie on different days at different times.

Two examples are The Bridge in Westchester, and the ArcLight in Hollywood. At each there is a large scrolling display screen that gives the current ticket prices for each upcoming movie showing. It can be confusing, and most of the time you don't know how much a movie is going to cost you before you arrive (yeah yeah, unless you do research).

All of these theaters have student tickets, however, that provide quite substantial discounts and address some of the price effects that Tyler mentions. For example, a Friday night movie at The Bridge might be $15 normally, and $8 for students.

This may be old hat, but I had an interesting thought about the interplay between the concentration of wealth and fertility. It's well-known that as people get richer they tend to have fewer children, and to have them later in life. The natural result of this correlation is that over generations, wealthy families will dilute their resources much more slowly than average and poor families.

(Of course, many poor parents leave nothing to any of their children, but ignore the technicalities for the moment. There is probably a threshold level of wealth that must be met for children to receive anything from their parents, and the existence of such a threshold would further heighten the concentration of wealth effect.)

For example, consider two families, A and B, with equal wealth but differing fertility. Family A has 2 children every 33 years, and family B has 3 children every 25 years. After 100 years, the latest generation of family A will have 8 members (2*2*2), and the latest generation of family B will have 81 members (3*3*3*3). The wealth of the progenetors of family A will be far less diluted than the wealth of the progenetors of family B.

After 100 years, the aggregate wealth of family B may be greater than that of family A, simply due to its greater number of productive members. However, assuming that any member of either family is able to generate an equal amount of wealth on their own through working, the difference in wealth between any two individuals will be attributable to what they inherited from their ancestors. The concentration of wealth for family A will certainly be greater, and each individual member of A will be wealthier than each individual member of B.

Additionally, the members of these families will probably not care about their family's aggregate wealth, especially in the case of family B where the 81 great-great-grandchildren are unlikely to even know each other, much less be willing and able to wield their combined wealth toward any profitable end.

Aside from every other social and economic factor that encourages the concentration of capital, it appears that simple arithmetic creates a positively reinforced cycle that leads to the concentration of wealth. Even assuming equal-wealth starting conditions, differences in fertility will lead to differences in wealth, over time.

Should churches be patriotic? I definitely don't think that a church should take a partisan political position, endorse candidates, or be involved in non-relevant issue advocacy, but does standard run-of-the-mill patriotism have any place at church?

One of the most direct references Jesus makes to our responsibilities to the state is really more of a challenge to give over to God everything that we owe him.

Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

The focus of Jesus' teaching here isn't on what we owe the nation -- give Caesar what belongs to him -- but rather that we should be giving God that which bears God's image: ourselves. Nevertheless, if flying an American flag were required by law, then churches would be obligated to follow that law, under this teaching. However, in America we're free to display patriotism, or not, however we see fit.

As I see it, there are two main factors to consider. First, God has laid upon government certain responsibilities; a just government that fulfills those responsibilities and works to spread God's common grace is pleasing to God. In the book of Romans we see a picture of how we as Christians should submit to a just government.

Romants 13:1-7
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. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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. 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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
I believe that these principles give government wide latitude, and that it's pretty clear that liberal democracy (as much as I like it) is not the only form of government that can meet with God's approval. In this passage, we are commanded to respect the authority that God has placed over us -- and considering the condition of the Roman Empire at the time, it's hard to really complain about most governments these days.

If a country and its government fulfill the responsibilities that God lays upon it, then we should be thankful, both towards God and towards the people who -- in a sense -- minister God's common grace to us: our government officials, our soldiers, our police and firefighters, our road workers, &c. Although all of these people are human and make mistakes, and even do evil intentionally, they are part of the system that God has put in place as his agent of common grace in the world.

As an American, countless men and women have given their careers and their lives to protect my freedoms and to provide God's grace to me, often unwittingly. I think it's fitting for me to be thankful -- first to God, for putting me in such an amazing time and place, but also to the men and women whom he has used to provide so richly for me. Just as we should be thankful for the teachers and servents God uses to administer his saving grace, we should be eager to recognize those who administer God's common grace.

However, that first consideration may sometimes conflict with this second: the purpose of a church is to spread God's message to people who haven't heard it, and to teach them about God. There are many people who don't like America (specifically), or their government in general, no matter where they live. Such people need to hear about God as much as anyone, but they may be turned away by displays of patriotism that they see as offensive.

Some people in some countries have excellent reasons to despise their government; some people in some countries may despise their government for foolish reasons. This question is not for the church to decide -- the church is called to spread God's message of love and forgiveness, not to make political disciples or patriots.

These two principles may live together in harmony under many circumstances, but when they clash I think it's clear that the first must give way to the second. It is fitting to give thanks publically for what God has done with a nation, but it is not required. What is necessary is that no mere worldly, temporal distractions cause anyone to reject the spiritual calling of God.

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

So I went to Toys 'R' Us this afternoon to find a rad gift for this girl from church who invited me to her birthday party tomorrow. Hmmm, Legos... everyone loves Legos. Wait! What's this? Mini Star Wars Legos? Collect them all?! Well ok, if you insist.

Guess what I did this afternoon. Go ahead.

It appears that the "vanishing text" problem in Internet Explorer is very common with the default Movable Type templates. A great many MT sites have the same symptoms: text disappears and reappears when highlighted, or when the window is scrolled.

I finally fixed it, with some aid from Cypren and the internet (click here for details); the problem appears to have a single source: absolute positioning. Go through your CSS and eliminate every "position: absolute" attribute, and your problem will be solved. It looks like IE doesn't like large floaters.

You'll probably do well to replace the "position: absolute" attributes with "position: relative", and then use tables to lay out your page. Replace every <div id=???> tag with <td id=???> and the appropriate table and rows, and you should be fine. Yes, using tables is cheating, but if IE doesn't want to play nice then there really isn't another option.

I applied the fixes to my comments windows and archives as well, so let's hope I got everything. Let me know if you still see any strange artifacts with IE, or any other browser.

I've written before about the school voucher program that's been proposed for Washington DC, and as of today it's one step closer to reality. Obviously, I'm in favor of the idea; vouchers are possibly the only way to reinvigorate our public education system, because they put it in in competition with private education. Competition forces everyone to improve, and along with some (hopefully minimal) regulations, I expect the program to be a resounding success.

That is, if the Senate passes it. You see, the Congress has direct control over what goes on in the Capital, and although the House has just passed a version of the bill, the Democrats in the Senate are threatening a filibuster. Surprisingly, there are at least two prominent Democrat Senators who are in favor of the program:

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the measure Thursday by a party-line 16 to 12 vote, though Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a longtime voucher opponent, joined Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., in crossing over and supporting the provision.

Senate Democrats hope to kill the measure on the Senate floor with a filibuster.

It's hardly a "party-line vote" when a quarter of the Democrats on the committee break ranks, but whatever.

The Democrats' filibuster fall-back is getting to be quite annoying, isn't it? More than that, there is some brewing controversy over the constitutionality of the filibuster used as a device to permanently block majority rule in the Senate, particularly in executive contexts, such as approving Presidential nominees.

This is not to say that all filibusters raise constitutional questions. There is a long history of their use in the legislative context, and they can serve a legitimate purpose by not foreclosing debate on legislation prematurely. But in the executive context, when presidential appointments are at issue, filibustering appellate nominees is an unprecedented, though still not necessarily unconstitutional, step. If employed merely to guarantee a reasonable and limited period of debate before proceeding to an up or down vote, a brief filibuster might pass constitutional muster. But in the cases of Estrada and Owen, when the filibuster is being used not to debate, but to kill their nominations by denying the majority its right to consent to them, serious constitutional issues arise.

Yes, the Constitution permits the Senate to set its own rules. But that is hardly a blank check entitling the Senate to amend the Appointments Clause by raising the confirmation bar from simple majority to super majority, to aggrandize power by upsetting the balance between the congressional and the executive branches, and to threaten the independence of the third branch, the federal judiciary. The conclusion is inescapable. Whenever Senate Democrats, a minority of the body, filibuster judicial nominations, obstruct an up or down vote, and deny the majority its right to consent to the appointments, they subvert the Constitution.

I'm not sure why I thought 2 was a quarter of 14...?

I know it's not particularly profound, but I like girls. I'm not (just) talking sexually. I really like being around women, from little girls to old ladies. It's hard to explain, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

Women are utterly fascinating. I love eavesdropping on girls talking to each other about "girl stuff"; some of it's so odd and nonsensical, but I feel like it gives me some insight into the otherwise impenetrable female mind. I want to understand how women think, and what they think about; it's like some sort of quest.

I like it when I'm talking with a girl, and she just carries the conversation away on some random tangent. This blog is mostly devoted to you all listening to me, but in real life I'm a pretty good listener myself, and I can listen to a woman go on for hours without losing interest. To tell the truth, most of the time I'm not that interested in what she's saying exactly, but on what her words reveal about her. That makes it sound like women are some sort of science project to me, but that's not it.

I want to grok women. Why do they do such strange things? What do those mysterious looks mean, those almost imperceptible glances that disappear in a blink as soon as I notice them? What do girls think about when they're alone? Do they know what I'm thinking about them?

I love girls with expressive faces. I love it when girls get excited about things, like going out somewhere new, learning some bit of trivia, or just talking on the phone. I love girls that like to play games, and play to win; I love girls that want me to try my hardest, and will keep playing no matter who's winning. I love how girls look when they're too happy to contain themselves, and I love the furrowed brow when they're deep in thought.

I love girls that know when to be girly, and who revel in their femininity. Sometimes it's all about business, but sometimes that business is flirting and laughing and brushing up against me while we walk. I love it when a woman makes herself pretty just for me. I love women who let me open the door for them sometimes, and don't complain if I want to pick up the check.

I'll probably never really understand women, but I'm grateful for the many females in my life, young and old. You make the world a much more interesting place, a more beautiful place, a more livable place. I think about you, I miss you when we're apart, and I'm eager to see you again. Your smiles and frowns move me and touch my heart, and you know there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you.

No, this isn't a political post about being sick and tired of Democrats or Palestinians or France or the UN... I'm literally sick and tired. I think I've got a head cold or something, and I'm doped up on Extra Strength Tylenol Flu, so I'm drowsy to boot. Oh, and I've got a ton of work to do today, so I can't even go home and sleep.

I feel like I've got lots of insightful things to say, but my brain is apparently clogged with snot. Mmm. Sorry, kinda gross.

Anyway, if you're looking for something to read, and you're sick and tired of politics and pandering punditry, may I recommend perusing some of my Short Fiction? Oh, and you can hit the tip jar if you feel compassionate enough to help offset my staggering bandwidth costs, or if you want to fund my impending Tylenol addiction.

It looks like the music industry is starting to face reality: the optimal price for its product has fallen. Universal is cutting its wholesale price and pushing retailers to cap prices at $12.98 per CD.

Universal hopes the actual retail price of most of its CD will end up about $10 or less, comparable to the $9.99 retail price (search) that music fans enjoyed in the early 1990s, at the height of a price war between the recording companies. ...

Universal's current wholesale price for a CD album is $12.02, with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $18.98. Under the new pricing structure, the wholesale price would be $9.09.

I wonder if the music stores will go for it? Such a pricing scheme would cut their profit from $6.96 per CD to $0.90 -- if these numbers are correct -- and it's hard to imagine volume increasing by the (at least) 700% required to make up this marginal revenue difference.

The world's largest recording company hopes retailers, who have suffered as industrywide music sales dropped 31 percent the last three years, will follow its lead and pass on the savings to consumers. ...

"Our new pricing model will enable U.S. retailers to offer music at a much more appealing price point in comparison to other entertainment products," said Jim Urie, president of Universal Music & Video Distribution. "We are confident this pricing approach will drive music fans back into retail stores."

Well, I don't know about that, but it's certainly a good start. Simple economics has finally forced the music industry to adapt to the changing market; these drastic price cuts reflect their reluctant understanding that their stranglehold on music production and distribution is weakening.

The recording industry blames its sales slump largely on illegal music swapping over peer-to-peer networks and is expected to take legal action against hundreds of suspected file-swappers this month.

But industry critics say the record companies have, for more than a decade, ignored the effects of soaring CD prices on sales. They also contend the artistic quality of music has deteriorated.

"This is something that the industry has failed to address ... You could make downloading music go away tomorrow and the industry would still face challenges," said Sean Baenen, managing director of Odyssey, a consumer marketing research firm in San Francisco.

"All the data suggests that quality and price are major factors to the equation."

Not only that, but anyone who's been watching the stock market for the last few years should realize that music sales aren't the only thing that's been down 30%. Get a grip folks; even if file sharing has cut into your revenue (which is debatable), it's certainly not the only factor.

On another music-related note, I went to see Eleventeen at the Troubadour last night, and they were predictably awesome. The played a short set, but from what I heard it's because there were label scouts in the audience and the band only wanted to play their best stuff. There were also an extraordinary number of beautiful babies in the crowd -- possibly also due to the label presence. To the girl in the blue t-shirt and red hip-huggers: I love you.

I expect that in the future, most bands will reap most of their revenue from touring and performing live shows, and that they'll end up giving recordings of their music away for free. The social construct of intellectual property is on the decline, and I expect it to largely fade away as technology makes it ever-easier to share bits and bytes of raw, digital data. I'm not saying this is good or bad, but I think it's inevitable. The music industry as we know it may be the first major victim of this societal sea change, but it won't be the last. Movies, even books, will be forced to make more of their money from presentation rather than content -- at least as long as people are required to physically change location to engage in certain experiences.

Essentially, technology enchances competition, and that increased competition will drive profit and prices down, across the board.

Paul Hill was scheduled to be executed at 6pm Eastern time for the deaths of John B. Britton, an abortion provider, and his security guard, James H. Barrett. [He was executed at 6:08pm.] I find myself in a moral quandry, which is unusual.

I generally see the world as fairly black-and-white, and I don't often have trouble formulating an opinion that I can support with facts and reason. However, with regards to this case, I'm unsure. I've written about abortion before, and I believe that an unborn baby is a human being. That belief and understanding leads me to view abortion as "killing", and as such abortions may only be morally justified in the same ways that other killings are -- self-defense, for instance, if the pregnancy threatens the mother. Abortions of convenience are equivalent to murder.

That being the case, I find it hard to condemn Paul Hill's act, even though I want to do so. It doesn't seem wise for pro-life advocates to gun down abortion providers, but I can't help feeling that they deserve it. Not only have abortion doctors callously committed murder for profit in the past, they are incredibly likely to murder again in the future, by their own profession.

The murder of unborn babies is legal, and this must play into my reasoning somehow. It's not my place to execute judgement on anyone; that role belongs to God, and he has delegated much of that earthly authority to the government. But if our government fails to act justly, then what? Hypothetical analogies are easy to come by: if you saw someone being raped or beaten, would you feel morally justified in going to their aid, even if the law prohibited it? Of course you would, but it's a strange hypothetical because it's hard to imagine that such a heinous crime would be legal, or that rendering aid in such a case would be illegal.

Additionally, violence isn't the only potential solution. Being that we're in America, pro-lifers have the option of pushing their agenda through legal, non-violent means; we clearly have that responsibility, but does such action abrogate or mitigate our responsibility to protect those who are being murdered?

I concede that the issue of punishment is best left to God and the government, and should be handled through the legal and political system. However, the other side of the coin is the moral imperative of preventing the murderers from claiming more victims. Is it morally sufficient to throw my hands up and be content with the the status quo and whatever slow political change can be wrought? Or, when faced with the prospect of countless millions of future murders, do my beliefs compel me to more direct and immediate action (not necessarily violent)?

Here's an interesting legal hypothetical. Suppose Paul Hill had been sentenced to life in prison rather than death. What if a Constitutional amendment were ratified in the future that made abortion legally equivalent to murder? Could Paul Hill then appeal his conviction and sentence based on the idea that he was preventing future murders? What if he had killed Britton while Britton was in the act of performing an abortion?

Former generals don't tend to make good presidents. (For the life of me I can't find a list of which American presidents were generals first... stupid internet. Anyone know? There are at least 10.) While I was driving through Missouri late at night last weekend I heard Gen. Wesley Clark talking with Alan Colmes on the radio, and I was amazed by his lack of coherence and overall absurdity.

Some people are speculating that Clark will jump into the 2004 race -- and there's even a movement to "draft" him. I listened to him and Colmes talk and take calls from listeners for an hour or so, and Clark's grasp of issues struck me as spectacularly poor. He didn't understand our income tax system, he didn't understand the War on Terror, he didn't understand the operational facts of the battle in Iraq, he didn't understand much of foreign policy, he didn't understand environmental issues and our dependence on oil, &c. I'm not saying this because I disagreed with the positions he voiced (although I did), I'm saying it because he sounded like he was spouting Democratic talking points that he didn't really have any knowledge of.

Clark contradicted himself several times, sputtered, floundered, and forced Colmes to rescue him from more knowledgable callers. It was truly painful to listen to. Anyone who thinks that Clark can mount a credible campaign is delusional. Clark may have excellent military command ability (although I doubt it, based on his direction of the war in Serbia), but he has little compehension of political issues, and it shows.

Daniel Drezner has some links and discussion about Wesley Clark over at the Conspiracy.

In a comment to my earlier post about dismantling the terrorist leadership structure, TM Lutas (from Flit) wrote that:

Well, yes and no. You're right that taking out leadership is the way to win the war on terror but the real leadership that ultimately has to be destroyed is the one that creates the religious framework that creates the terrorist structure.
I'm not sure I agree.

It appears to me that the whole religious aspect of the Western Civilization vs. Arab Muslims conflict has been built up artificially, and that the hostile (largely Wahabi) Muslim imams are nothing more than tools used by the Arab power-brokers to incite their Muslim foot-soldiers. The "Arab street" may see America as the Great Satan, but I bet those in power in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, and elsewhere are much more pragmatic. They want to maintain their power, and they prop up the Muslim death-cult as a means of furthering this goal.

If that's the case, then the critical component to winning the War on Terror isn't targeting this religious infrastructure. Even though the terrorists are using Islam against us in a powerful and effective manner, there isn't any real need to confront their schools, mosques, and religious leaders directly -- these aren't the fundamental forces driving our opponents. Arab/Wahabi Islam will have to be taken apart and rendered harmless for ultimate peace and prosperity to be secured, but I expect that such dismantling will occur naturally (and quickly)once the Arab despots are deposed and disposed of.

I love Halloween. It's probably my "favorite" holiday of the whole year. Sure, Christmas has that whole Jesus thing going on -- Easter, too -- but Halloween is by far the most interactive holiday in our culture. Scary decorations and costumes, candy, running around the neighborhood in the dark... those pagans sure knew how to have a good time!

As of yesterday, there are 60 days until All Hallow's Eve, and many stores already have some displays set up. It's strange that anyone would be stocking up on ghost-shaped Peeps this soon, but they sure are tasty. Decorations are also out for perusal and purchase, but I normally refrain until the post-Halloween sales fire up in November.

That being the case, my friends and I have hundreds, even thousands of dollars of Halloween paraphenalia in storage that we bought last year in anticipation of this year's extraveganza. Every year we spend a week or more constructing a haunted house, and every year is better than the one before. It's great fun, and a good number of various people from church help out from time to time.

As for me, there's nothing scarier than evil little girls. I'm not sure why exactly, maybe it's from early exposure to "The Shining". Those two sisters are seriously creepy. Needless to say, I'm already making arrangements to dress up some of the kids from church as scary undead children.

Strategy Page has a fascinating post with some operational details of the recent al Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia. There aren't any permalinks, but the post I'm referring to was made on September 1st, 2003.

In the aftermath, several things became obvious. First was that the Al-Qaeda attackers used men on foot to force the gates. This had not been done in the past. The other two attacks, on the US Army headquarters of the Saudi National Guard Modernization Program and the Khobar Towers bombing, car or truck bombs had been used, but there was no associated ground assault.
This is why it's important to knock out terrorist leaders (as Israel is doing when dealing with Hamas), rather than treat terrorism as a law enforcement issue and intercept individual terrorist acts. Leadership and coordination are what win wars, and if we want to win the War on Terror we must dismantle the infrastructure and the intellect that supports it.

Everyone loves polls! But unfortunately, not everyone understands polls, how they work, and what kinds of standard parameters can routinely be used to bias their results. For example, consider this recent poll by Rasmussen Reports that attempts to gauge voter preference for various politicians in the upcoming 2004 presidential election.

September 2, 2003--As a Presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton attracts more Democratic votes than other contenders but still trails President Bush 48% to 41%.
If the Democrats nominate Senator John Kerry, the President leads 45% to 36%. Against Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Bush leads 45% to 34%. Senator Kerry formally announced his candidacy earlier today.

The national telephone survey of 1,499 Likely voters was conducted by Rasmussen Reports August 29-September 1, 2003. Margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Rasmussen Reports measures the economic confidence of consumers and investors on a daily basis. As part of this process, we measure, employment, job satisfaction, interest rates, and more.

Anyone familiar with political polling will recognize one huge problem right off the bat: political telephone polls should never ever be taken on weekends. Why not?
So I called one of my old polling friends, Republican Ed Goeas, who worked with me years ago in Christine Todd Whitman's tax-cutting 1993 gubernatorial victory in New Jersey. Along with Democrat Celinda Lake, Goeas publishes the highly-regarded Battleground Survey. He told me to be careful about reading the polls. For one thing, it really matters if polls are conducted during the week or over the weekend. He told me that "political pollsters don't poll on the weekends. They prefer Sunday night through Thursday night. Weekend results are just not reflective of where a given race really is."

Goeas explained that more Democrats are found at home on the weekends, especially blue-collar Democrats. He added that "anyone who spends 20 to 30 minutes during the weekend talking to some pollster is not normal."

So the results of the poll I linked to above are basically worthless. Not only was the poll taken on a weekend, but it was taken on Labor Day Weekend -- certainly any standard weekend effects will be amplified during one of the biggest vacation periods of the year. Such a significant choice of dates can't have been a mistake, and I doubt I'll trust anything put out by Rasmussen Reports in the future.

(Link to poll via Drudge.)

Never one to pass up the opportunity to do some actual reporting, I'll give you the obligatory-blogger-impression of airport security from my recent trip to Missouri. The security was mostly brisk and professional, and there were officers everywhere... ah heck, let's just cut to the chase.

Want to know what I found in the stall of the men's restroom at LAX?

Airport food-service ID badges. What's really odd though is that even if it makes sense for Jose to take off the badge on the lanyard while he's using the bathroom, why did he remove the tiny rectangular name-tag from (presumably) his shirt?

Update & Correction:
Some commenters have written that "MICROS" is the name of a food-service computer system that helps waiters keep their orders straight, and that this badge isn't likely to give access to anything other than the computer system at some nearby airport eatery.

Oh well! On one hand, my find is less impressive... but on the other hand there wasn't a terrorist plot taking place in the mens room. Too bad my first Instalanche was built on a non-story.

I'm back from Missouri. My grandfather's funeral was somber and beautiful, and I had an excellent time getting together with some family members I hadn't seen in 15 years.

I have to say, my cousins are extremely awesome. Some of my older cousins have kids, and their kids are awesome too. In many cases, I had no real relationship with some of them before this trip, and it was amazing to discover all sorts of little things about them (such as the fact that we all like Simpsons and Law & Order).

We played cards late into the night after the funeral, and talked about random stuff. I know it shouldn't surprise me, but it turns out that most of them are online pretty regularly; I'm really looking forward to chatting with them in the future, and hopefully staying in contact with them much more than I have in the past.

We met together at our grandparents' house just outside of Springfield, Missouri. It's amusing to me -- I flew from Los Angeles to Kansas City, and then drove to Springfield, and the total travel time was over 13 hours. (You can fly into Springfield, for triple the price.) Although it's barely over 1000 miles, my grandparents live as far away as Tokyo, time-wise.

I took almost 300 pictures, and I'll probably post some of them soon. Meanwhile, here's a family portrait that includes everyone who was there for the funeral. Most of you won't recognize it, but we're re-enacting the last family portrait that was taken there on Grandpa's staircase in Christmas, 1987.



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