November 2003 Archives

If stem cell research eventually results in a way to radically extend the length of human life, how would our soicety change? Let's assume that it's cheap enough for everyone to afford (although you may argue that some group of elites would try to restrict access). Perhaps a constant supply of the drug is needed to stay young forever, or perhaps it's a one-shot deal. Either way, people just plain stop dying from natural causes -- but bullets and car crashes can still be lethal, of course.

So how would society change? I'll toss out a few ideas without a lot of justification (some seem obvious to me, others are mere speculation).

1. Political jobs would all be term-limited.
2. Income tax would be eliminated in favor of a wealth tax.
3. People would either stop driving, or would drive tank-like vehicles (which would be financed on 100-year terms).
4. The price of real estate would increase, at least until the supply expanded through space exploration.
5. Medical doctors would be almost entirely replaced by biologists and gene therapists.
6. Denists would need to find a way to make our teeth last longer... unless the stem cells let us grow new teeth. Maybe we'd all get artificial teeth implanted into our jaws.
7. Depending on how the stem cells worked, fertile women might become scarce. Unless the stem cells would differentiate into egg cells women would still lose their fertility in just a few decades (by running out of eggs), while men would stay fertile their whole lives. This could lead to the rich and powerful men using their influence/power to attract all the women young enough to bear children. Some women already sell their eggs and even carry babies for other people, and that would probably become more widespread.
8. Interest rates would change. Would they move up or down? I think down, because people would be willing to settle for lower returns on their money since they'd have much more time to accumulate wealth.
9. Following #8, all financial business would become more risk adverse.
10. Space exploration would be done almost entirely by robots, until space travel was nearly 100% safe.
11. Of course, people would need to leave their houses less in general, since most people would working from home (or wherever they want to be).
12. Suicide would become the number 1 cause of death.
13. We'll discover a whole host of new medical problems that can't be solved by stem cells.
14. Likewise, we'll discover a bunch of new mental diseases.
15. The vast majority of people would never be able to retire.
16. What about marriage and divorce? Would everyone eventually end up divorced at some point? Would anyone get married anymore? This may depend on #7.
17. Prison sentences would get longer.
18. Depending on #7 again, the population might increase much more quickly than current rates. People might be expected to sterilize themselves, and there may even be laws put into effect for population control purposes, depending on #4.
19. What if stem cells in the brain cause humans to revert back to their pre-adolescent mental abilities -- without concrete reasoning?
20. People would change their hobbies around, resulting in scads of awful poetry and artwork.

Just a friendly reminder that submissions to the First Annual Blog Scavenger Hunt are due December 1st!

As you can imagine, I don't like the idea of harvesting stem cells from fetal tissue. Fortunately, it looks like there may be another source of stem-cell-like cells: ordinary white blood cells.

A small company in London, UK, claims to have developed a technique that overturns scientific dogma and could revolutionise medicine. It says it can turn ordinary blood into cells capable of regenerating damaged or diseased tissues. This could transform the treatment of everything from heart disease to Parkinson's.

If the company, TriStem, really can do what it says, there would be no need to bother with conventional stem cells, currently one of the hottest fields of research. But its astounding claims have been met with bemusement and disbelief by mainstream researchers.

TriStem has been claiming for years that it can take a half a litre of anyone's blood, extract the white blood cells and make them revert to a "stem-cell-like" state within hours. The cells can be turned into beating heart cells for mending hearts, nerve cells for restoring brains and so on.

The company has now finally provided proof that at least some of its claims might be true. In collaboration with independent researchers in the US, the company has used its technique to turn white blood cells into the blood-generating stem cells found in bone marrow.

Therapy based on stem cell regeneration will possibly be able to cure the effects of every disease currently known to man, including cancer and aging. Human trials are underway.

So lets say we're all eventually given the option of living forever in perfect health, barring death by unnatural causes. Would you take the pill?

I posted some information on how to apply for a CCW permit in California, and mentioned an ongoing effort by Jim March to liberalize (in the real sense of the word) California's permit laws; via email, Mr. March sent me a pretty disturbing PDF file that contains clippings from LA Times articles detailing some abuses of the current system.

Celebrities, politicians, and millionaires are the only people granted CCWs by many (not all) of the issuing authorities in California, and it's nearly impossible for "normal folks" to get the permits that are readily supplied to these privileged few unless you're fortunate enough to live in a city with a fair-minded police chief. For instance, anti-gun Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer fight tooth and nail to enact as many national gun restrictions as possible, and yet they both have permits to carry concealed weapons and they both employ armed bodyguards. Apparently there are different standards for the "elite" and for the rest of us. It's obviously important that they be able to defend themselves from criminals, but shouldn't we all have that right? [Corrected; used to say "should we all..." and it looked like I took the opposite position -- MW.]

As I've mentioned before, President Bush is increasing federal spending far faster than Bill Clinton ever did, even when the War on Terror tand other defense-related expenditures are factored out. The new prescription drug entitlement is just another brick in the wall, and even the conservative Washington Times is taking note: "Spending escalates under GOP watch".

Nondefense spending has skyrocketed under Republican control of Congress and the White House, and critics say the outlays will hit the stratosphere with the passage this week of a drug entitlement for seniors.

The Congressional Budget Office reported that nondefense spending rose 7 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, nearly double the 4 percent discretionary spending caps that President Bush insisted Congress honor.

Since Mr. Bush took office in 2001, nondefense spending has leapt 13 percent — 21 percent if spending on the war on terrorism is included.

President Bush seems to be trying to pull our country out of a recession in the same way Reagan did in the 80s: cut taxes, increase spending. But the millenial recession wasn't nearly as severe as the one Reagan faced, and all the indicators show that it's way past over -- it's time to tighten our belts.

Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the Bush record on spending has been a major disappointment.

"My impression of Bush is that I've never seen him give a speech in which he says government is too big and we need to cut costs," Mr. Edwards said, pointing out that President Reagan vetoed 23 bills in his first three years in office, while Mr. Bush has yet to unsheathe his veto pen.

As I've also said before, we're seeing one of the great disadvantages of a united White House and Congress: everything gets through. No one wants to rock the boat and endanger their own projects, so they just sign whatever's put in front of them. One of the advantages should be that the President gets to appoint judges to his liking, but President Bush hasn't really fought for any of his rejected nominees.

As for the so-called $400 billion prescription drug entitlement, I don't think anyone will be surprised when the projected cost turns out to be low by at least 1 order of magnitude.

Brian M. Riedl, a budget analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said mandatory government spending on entitlements such as Medicare will reach 11.1 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, a record high. That number will climb exponentially, he said, once seniors begin getting government-paid drugs in 2006.

"Congress often underestimates entitlements by a lot," Mr. Riedl said. "By our calculations, it will cost $2 trillion between now and 2030."

That's assuming that the program never is expanded, he said, an unlikely scenario.

When Congress created the Medicare program in 1965, the projected cost in 1990 was $9 billion. The true cost, after several expansions that came with low-balled price tags, was $67 billion, 7.4 times higher.

Entitlements are so hard to eliminate once they're created, because their beneficiaries want to stay on the gravy train -- and eventually they feel entitled to my money. When costs swell, the money will have to be raised somehow, either through conquering more oil-rich nations (kidding) or by taxes.

"We hope that this is not the legacy of the Bush administration," Mr. Schatz said. "We hope these will be aberrations that will be corrected in coming years."

A senior Republican congressional aide said many conservatives on Capitol Hill are hoping that is the case. If it isn't, Mr. Bush and the party will have some explaining to do to their political base.

"There's only so long we can be told [by the White House], 'Just keep waiting for spending restraint,' " the aide said. "Eventually you develop a credibility problem. There's a point where people say, 'We've heard that for five years and nothing's happened.'"

The legacy of President Bush will almost certainly be the War on Terror, but I really do think it's valid to worry about the future of the Republican party. Someone has to dig their heels in for low spending, and if it's not the Republicans then I'm afraid America could still end up like Europe.

Matt Drudge has a ton of details about President Bush's secret trip to Baghdad. I think it's pretty cool, although my earlier prediction was that he wouldn't travel to Iraq until next summer as part of his presidential campaign. This was far better, however, and shows an astonishing level of concern for our troops in the region.

Some may say it was a political stunt, but I think the initial secrecy of the trip works against that. If Bush were going just to score political points, he'd want the trip to be more high-profile and better timed in the campaign cycle. I still think he will go again next summer, but this trip was probably not primarily motivated by politics.

Here's another story from the groundbreaking ceremony for the LAAFB.

The mayor of Hawthone (the city where I live) was one of the speakers, and one of the major players in getting the land-swap to happen. He put a lot of work into it, and should get a lot of the credit for the revolutionary deal.

During his speech he went on for a while about how difficult some of the meetings were between the officials at various levels of government, and then he made a joke: "I think we should all get medals of valor and purple hearts for sticking with it, even when times were tough." Now, this seemed particularly inappropriate to me considering we were at the Air Force Base and half the people in the audience were service members. There were probably people there who had earned those medals through great sacrifice, and if I had been one I might have gotten up and walked out.

James 1:17-18

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for such a warm and beautiful day. It's been a long year, but we're almost to the end of it and you've shown yourself faithful every step of the way, in every detail of my life.

Thank you for my family, and that my brother can be home with us over Thanksgiving. Please take care of my dad and step-mom who are up in Reno now, and thanks for letting them buy a house and find a place they really like. Thanks for my mom and step-dad here in Los Angeles, all my brothers, even though they're frustrating sometimes. Thank you for our health and happiness, and all the good circumstances you've blessed my family with. Please comfort my grandmother in this holiday times for the first year she's facing them without my grandfather. Work in the lives of my family to bring them to a saving knowledge of your son.

Thank you for my job and my ability to go to school, help me to work hard and honestly in everything I do, and to make the most of every opportunity you give me. Thank you for all the success you've given me, none of which would have been possible if I was working under my own power. Thank you for giving me tenacity and determination, and a modicum of wisdom. Help me to be wise and generous, caring, compassionate, gentle, kind, and humble in spirit. I have nothing to boast about, because every good thing I have is a gift from you. Use it all to glorify yourself.

Thank you for my amazing church family, who have always been there for me even when my real family hasn't. Thank you for my friends, my small group, my pastor, and all the people I serve with. There's nothing more enjoyable than serving you with people I love, and it's a great blessing to be a member of Venice Baptist Church. Give our leadership wisdom and humility, and keep us from making any decisions or pursuing any course of action other than according to your will. Thank you for all the wonderful kids and college students I get to work with. Thank you for all the wise advisors you've given me to keep me on the right path. Help our church to be a blessing to our community, to those in every kind of need, spiritual and material. Show your love for the world through us.

Thank you for my country, and all the tremendous blessings that come from being an American. Thank you for all the people who make the country possible, from the soldiers to the politicians, all working as ministers of your common grace to the world. Thank you for our President Bush, all our Senators and Representatives, the Governor and Legislature of California, the Mayor and Councilmen of Hawthorne, and everyone who labors to make the country run smoothly. Give them all wisdom and self-control, show yourself to them and make your will clear; give them to courage to do what's right. Protect our soldiers all over the world, and give them peace of mind and comfort even when they're in danger. Comfort their families as well, and give them courage. Use all these people to preserve the peace, and restore it, and to punish evildoers and protect the weak and the innocent.

Lord, I know that my innermost desires are evil and destructive, thank you for lifting me out of the pit of my own sin and depravity. Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to live and die as a sacrifice, to pay the penalty for my sins. Thank you for reconciling this sinner to you, for adopting me and making me your son. Thank you for loving me even when I hated you, and for calling me to be your own. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who lives within me and seals me, who sanctifies me and empowers me to do your will. Thank you for your word the Bible that teaches me, guides me, and corrects me. Thank you for the glorious hope you've given me that surpasses all earthly troubles, the knowledge and security that even when this world passes away, your love for me will never pass away. Thank you that nothing I do can ever make you love me less, and thank you that I don't have to work to earn your love, and that nothing I do can make you love me more. Give me the strength and humility to serve you all my days. Forgive my rebellion, my pride, my impatience and selfishness. Give me the power to overcome my base desires and to be an example of Christ's love to the world. Protect me and preserve me, use me however you will but never leave me. I am yours, bought with a price and redeemed from slavery to eternal freedom; no words of thanks will ever be enough to profess my love for you.

Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O LORD ,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 O LORD my God, I called to you for help
and you healed me.
3 O LORD , you brought me up from the grave;
you spared me from going down into the pit.

4 Sing to the LORD , you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

6 When I felt secure, I said,
"I will never be shaken."
7 O LORD , when you favored me,
you made my mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.

8 To you, O LORD , I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 "What gain is there in my destruction,
in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD , and be merciful to me;
O LORD , be my help."

11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Even though it's becoming a common construction, it doesn't make sense to say, e.g., I'm going to try and do it. One doesn't "try and do something", one "tries to do something". The error becomes apparent in different tenses, where verb conjugation gives sentences entirely different meanings when "and" is thus used incorrectly.

Wrong: Billy tries and scores a goal.
Right: Billy tries to score a goal.

Wrong: I'm going to try and pass the class.
Right: I'm going to try to pass the class.

Wrong: Saddam tried and hid his weapons of mass destruction.
Right: Saddam tried to hide his weapons of mass destruction.

Wrong: We're all trying and doing our best.
Right: We're all trying to do our best.

&c. I often see this strange construction in official documents, journal articles, news reports, and obviously in everyday speech. I'm sure I've used it before myself (eek), but henceforth I'm going to try and not.

SDB has a plausible take on how the War on Terror could turn nuclear if things go poorly. I've written about our use of nuclear deterrence in the past as well, and I agree that we're still playing kids' games with the Islamofacists because we're trying to keep the stakes as low as possible. If anyone sets off a nuclear weapon, the world will become a very ugly place -- but America will still come out the winner, as awful as it may be.

I went to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Los Angeles Air Force Base this morning, and it was a pretty exciting event. There was a ton of free food... oh yeah, and the actual groundbreaking and such. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take any pictures with my digital camera, but I'll write down my impressions anyway.

First off, let me tell you all the important people I met: Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Jane Harmond; Mayor Guidi of Hawthorne (who I already knew); Lt. General Brian Arnold, the base commander; Bill Ballhaus, formerly president of Boeing Satellite Systems and now president of The Aerospace Corporation, the company that manages many of the government aerospace projects in the region; Nelson Gibbs, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics; plus assorted pastries and sandwiches. I was hoping our new governor might be in attendance -- since keeping the Air Force Base lines up with his goal of keeping jobs in California -- but I guess he was busy.

The LAAFB was first constructed some 50 years ago, and without the major renovation that began today it was pretty likely that the base would have been condemned and moved to Arizona or New Mexico in the next round of closures, starting in 2005. Knowing that, the cities of El Segundo (where the base is actually located) and Hawthorne (the adjacent city, where I live) developed a revolutionary land-swap deal to help pay for the construction of new base facilities.

The land-swap worked like this: the Air Force sold a portion of its land (which was located in El Segundo) to developers; El Segundo ceded the land to the city of Hawthorne in exchange for property taxes for 30 years; the Air Force will now use the money it raised to build new facilities on an adjacent piece of Air Force property that is currently sparsely developed. Los Angeles city and county are also kicking in some minor money. In the end, a lot of gimmicks and magic tricks finalized a convoluted deal that basically lets the Air Force sell some land to pay for the renovation itself.

Why is it important to keep LAAFB? Mainly because of the Space and Missile Systems Center that's responsible for all the cool missile and satellite technologies that are crucial for maintaining America's military superiority. The AFB can't do it alone, and works very closely with civilian contractors in the Los Angeles region like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Raytheon, and many others. If the SAMS Center moved, it would lose close contact with these corporations, and it's unlikely that the corporations (mainly their employees) would be eager to relocate east.

More selfishly, I'm glad the project is proceeding because I don't want to move anywhere, and I like my job. Moreover, it would be bad for the city and community if the thousands of high-paying jobs the AFB supplies were eliminated (or moved). That said, I've never seen my Democrat representatives stronger on national defense than when they're working to protect a base located in their districts. Everyone loves national defense when it pumps billions of dollars a year into the pockets of people who can vote for you. This isn't necessarily a great effect, and I'm sure it leads to inefficiencies, but on the whole the military is one spending program I heartily approve of, and if its spending power can buy votes which in turn work to keep it strong, so be it.

I've seen the question tossed around before, and James Taranto says the following, in the context of quoting President Bush:

Last week in Britain, a reporter asked President Bush if "Muslims worship the same Almighty" that he does. Bush replied: "I do say that freedom is the Almighty's gift to every person. I also condition it by saying freedom is not America's gift to the world. It's much greater than that, of course. And I believe we worship the same god." The Washington Post reports that the president's ecumenism prompted a kerfuffle among evangelical Christians. ...

Bush is right. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all monotheistic religions, united in the belief in a single God. (Muslims often call God by the Arab name Allah, but then so do Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews.) The three religions conceive of God differently, and Muslims and Jews do not share the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. A Christian may well believe that Islam's conception of God is wrong, but if you believe in only one God, it makes no logical sense to describe a fellow monotheist as worshipping a "different" God.

To an unbeliever, that may be a perfectly satisfactory answer -- since he wouldn't believe in any God, the details are inconsequential. It's true that as a monotheist I believe there is only one God, but it doesn't follow that anyone else who is also a monotheist worships the same God I do; the alternative is that they don't worship God at all, but rather a construct of their own imagination. For example, someone who woships a rock or a tree and claims it is the one and only "god" may also be a monotheist, but the characteristics of their "god" are entirely different from the characteristics of mine; we may both be monotheists, but at least one of us is wrong in believing that our god is the one and only.

Similarly with Muslims and Christians. Both are monotheists, but the two concepts of "god" are so completely divergent that they cannot both be true, and both "gods" cannot exist as conceived. At least one of the religions is wrong (and both think it's the other guys', whereas unbelievers think it's both).

Typically, only unbelievers (and functional unbelievers) are willing to make the claim that Jehovah and Allah are "the same". Why? Because they don't believe in either, and it's convenient and "enlightened" to lump everyone together. Why quibble about differences between two imaginary beings?

In the next day's Best of the Web, Mr. Taranto continues:

A Bush supporter's conception of Bush's "constitutional makeup" is utterly at odds with that of a Bush hater. Not all conceptions about Bush are equally true; Paul Krugman, for example, is totally wrongheaded, while this column generally is the model of verity. But whether Krugman is writing about him or we are, George W. Bush is the same man.

By the same token, to say that all monotheistic religions worship the same God is not to say that they are all equally valid. Indeed, since Christianity and Islam make competing claims about the nature of God, it would be logically incoherent to argue that both are true. Yet to say that they worship the same God does not contradict either religion's claim to be the one true faith. As to which religion is true, that is beyond the scope of this column.

Mr. Taranto is still not seeing the big picture, because he isn't recognizing what Christians and Muslims see to be fundamental attributes of their gods.

To carry my rock-god and tree-god example further, if I believe that some specific rock is the only god, and you believe some specific tree is the only god, it's meaningless to say that we both believe in the same "god" just becuase we both believe there's only one. If you're right, then the rock I believe is god is really just a rock and my god doesn't exist; I'm so fundamentally wrong about tree-god's nature that I'm worshipping something entirely different, something that isn't real.

The belief that there is only one god is one fundamental characteristic of that god, but not the only fundamental characteristic.

The Muslim claim that they worship the "God of Abraham" is fallacious; the origin of the Muslim religion can be seen in its modern symbolism: Allah was originally the fertility-/moon-god of Muhammad's tribe, and Islam carries the crescent moon symbol even still. In my (limited) experience, most Muslims are not aware of this aspect of their history, but it is pretty well supported by official Islamic historical records.

Update 2:
Donald Sensing gives more details, with all of which I concur. ["with all of which I concur"? ick -- Ed.]

I have no idea whether or not this pseudononymous account is true, but GeekPress links to a story by a self-proclaimed mafia programmer who sets up and runs illegal book-making operations in New York City. The narrative is interesting, but what stood out most to me was near the end:

The fact remains that I could be pulling in $150,000 as a programmer on the open market. But I make a third of that. So why am I risking a prison sentence or the potential of a lifetime in witness protection for a job that doesn't make me all that rich? Simple: When you start making a lot of money, you get noticed by the biggest bullies on the block - the cops and the IRS - and I don't want that. I like living below the radar. I sublet a friend's apartment and pay his utility bills with money orders that I purchase at the post office or at one of those check-cashing storefronts. Because I get paid entirely in cash, I don't fork over any taxes. When you get right down to it, I'm an idealist. I don't condone the actions of the US government. By refusing to pay taxes, I withhold my financial support. And, truth be told, I like mobsters. They're more willing to accept you at face value. They aren't hung up on college degrees, or where you live, or how many criminal convictions you have.
The police and the IRS are, in a sense, the big dogs on the block, and this final paragraphs illustrates that they're performing their jobs adequately. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of law enforcement isn't to completely eliminate crime -- it's to make crime unprofitable, in the aggregate. People such as "Simson Garfinkel" may still break laws due to "principle", but that's because their sense of profit is non-standard; the satisfaction they get from breaking the law is more "profitable" to them than the money they're sacrificing. Most people, however, are in it for the money, whatever it happens to be.

When society outlaws some behavior, it attempts to increase the transaction costs of that behavior and thus render it unprofitable. The purpose of law enforcement is to make the cost of breaking the law times the chance of getting caught and convicted higher than the benefit of breaking the law times the chance of getting away with it. That an illegal bookmaking operation is forced to give better odds than can be found in legitimate gambling (according to the story), and that the operator makes less money than his skills would otherwise earn, is a testament to the effectiveness of law enforcement.

Similarly, consider the War on [Some] Drugs, which props up street prices for chemicals that are relatively cheap and easy to manufacture, and thus arguably reduce their consumption. That's the theory anyway, and as long as prices are kept high enough it'll work. Obviously there are other factors involved in this form of prohibition, and as with any law society needs to weigh the costs and benefits of the law itself (but that's a different issue).

On the other hand, think about the enforcement of traffic laws. Because of the way they're enforced, it's obvious that most traffic laws are designed more as a source of revenue than for the protection of the public. For example, the vast majority of drivers decide that the benefits of speeding outweigh the costs of getting caught; almost everyone speeds. The explanation for this is pretty simple: everyone sees their time as valuable and not-to-be-wasted driving more slowly than necessary, and everyone knows there's only a miniscule chance of being caught in any particular instance. Thus, laws against speeding are ineffective and disrespected, and everyone knows it. The only reason they're kept around is to provide revenue for cities -- in a sense, they're an arbitrary, randomly collected tax. For this reason, I think speeding laws are unjust. If society really thinks it's important for people not to speed, we need to vote to increase the penalties enough so that the laws will be effective, even with sparse enforcement. For example, if the penalty for speeding was spending a year in jail, I expect speeding would be reduced dramatically.

Of course, this will never happen because no one thinks speeding is a big enough problem to punish effectively. We live in a democracy, where social right and wrong are defined (generally) by the will of the majority. If the majority doesn't believe speeding is worth discouraging effectively, and speeding laws are widely ignored and disrespected, there's no moral compulsion to obey them -- because the laws themselves are unjust. I believe we have a moral duty to drive safely, but the more restrictive legalistic details depend on the form of government any particular individual happens to live with.

In contrast, consider illegal book-making. According to the story, accepting 5 illegal bets in a single day is a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison. That level of punishment (times the level of enforcement) apparently leads to such ventures being unprofitable, which in turn indicates that society takes the crime seriously. Therefore, we have a obligation to obey the otherwise morally neutral restriction of our freedom (not that I think it's a great restriction).

SDB has a great post up that explains how the FDA is the root of many American health care problems, from unnaturally expensive drugs to the illegality of some "miracle cures".

The approval process is so long and so involved and requires such a mountain of data to be collected, that it is massively expensive. The total cost for development and approval can exceed $100 million per drug. And a lot of money can be consumed during the testing and approval for drugs which are ultimately rejected.

Pharmaceutical companies have to recoup that cost, and the money can only come from sales of drugs after approval. That's why drugs which are still under patent are so expensive compared to generics after patent expiration. Generics are priced based on a markup over manufacturing and distribution costs, whereas drugs under patent are priced to amortize the cost of development and regulatory approval, as well as to amortize the money spent on other drugs which were rejected.

The amortization premium paid by Americans is all the greater because most other nations in the world "free ride" on American drug development. (The majority of that development is done here, even by European pharmaceutical companies.) They pay something like the generic price even for drugs still under patent, letting the US alone pay the amortized development cost. When it comes to nations like Zambia and Botswana, I think it's reasonable, but not for nations like Germany and the UK. There's no excuse for them not paying their share of the development costs, and the only reason they don't is that we let them get away with it. If other wealthy nations did not free-ride that way, the drug companies could spread the amortized cost over a larger number of sales and reduce the price we Americans pay.

See my previous entries about the FDA, if you're interested in some specific examples of when the FDA's over-cautious policies have cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

I just wanted to say thanks to all the people who have been visiting recently, and especially to everyone who's been leaving comments and hitting the tip jar. Some of the discussions have been really great, and I feel like I've learned a lot in the process.

Over the past few weeks hits have been averaging over 1000 per day, which is pretty incredible. Even with the recent Instalanche factored out, it's been over 800 pretty consistantly. Of course, most of those hits may be from just a couple of people who like to point out when I'm an idiot, but that's ok!

Meanwhile, be sure you check out the First Annual Blog Scavenger Hunt, which I hope will serve to bring exposure to a lot of new (to me) blogs, and increase cross-linkage between different communities. The political punditry blogosphere (in which I'm most active, I suppose) is really dwarfed by the vast multitude of blogs clustered around other topics and hobbies, and I hope the Scavenger Hunt will be an opportunity to interconnect.

I wrote about outsourcing software to other countries with cheaper labor, and now it looks like Dell is having problems with its tech support call center based in India. What looks good on paper doesn't always turn out well in real life.

After an onslaught of complaints, computer maker Dell Inc. has stopped using a technical support center in India to handle calls from its corporate customers.

Some U.S. customers have complained that the Indian technical-support representatives are difficult to communicate with because of thick accents and scripted responses.

I was purusing the Washington Times and came across an article that says some Democrats don't like President Bush's most recent political ad. Fine and good; one could hardly expect them to. What caught my eye however was that the AP reporter who filed the story used the title "Miss" when referring to Republican National Committee spokesman Christine Iverson.

"We have no doubt that Senator Daschle and others in his party who oppose the president's policy of pre-emptive self-defense believe that their national-security approach is in the best interests of the country," RNC spokesman Christine Iverson said. ...

The ad will air through tomorrow in Iowa, and then might run again in New Hampshire during the next Democratic debate in December, said the RNC's Miss Iverson.

She said the party plans to run ads in conjunction with the Democratic debates, but the decision hasn't been made whether to run the current ad or new ones supporting the president.

I don't see "Miss" or "Mrs." used very often these days, with "Ms." being the preferred marriage-neutral title, and I thought it was noteworthy.

Additionally, Miss Iverson was referred to as the "spokesman", despite the fact that she's a woman; this is the appropriate job title, although the more politically correct "spokeswoman" or "spokesperson" is now universally common.

A similar transformation can be seen with the ascension of "their" as a third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun. It is correct to instruct that "Each student must submit his own report.", but modern gender-neutral usage has made the incorrect "Each student must submit their own report." widely accepted. English has no proper third-person gender-neutral pronoun, but there are other ways of eliminating gender, if it's greatly desired. For instance, "All students must submit their own reports." is acceptable.

To conclude a story I first mentioned two months ago: "Girl abandons Caucasian Club effort".

The girl who tried to start a Caucasian Club at her California high school has abandoned the effort and transferred to another school, driven away, her parents say, by the harassment and name-calling she suffered from other students.

Lisa McClelland, 15, left Freedom High School in Oakley and began attending another secondary school in the Liberty Union High School District several weeks ago, said her mother, Debi Neely.

Note the ironic name of the school: Freedom High School, part of the Liberty Untion School District. She did her best, though.
Lisa met with a cool reception from school administrators when she produced a petition with 250 signatures in support of a Caucasian Club in September.

Her principal gave her the go-ahead to move through the chartering process, but she was unable to find a faculty adviser, a requirement for forming a club.

It's a shame that no faculty member had the spine to sponsor her organization.

Rush's site has some interesting statistics from a Robert Samuelson column in the Washington Times (which I can't find) on the new prescription drug entitlement our Congress has just tacked onto Medicare. It looks like seniors don't even want it.

Robert Samuelson, who is one of my favorite columnists, is in the Washington Times. He's an economist. He says given all of the excitement you think that passing a Medicare drug benefit would solve one of the nation's pressing social problems. It won't, he says pointedly. But you wouldn't know that from politicians in the news media. They treat the elderly’s problems in getting drugs as a major social crisis. You would know it if you'd read a government survey of Medicare recipients in 2002. It asked this question. "In the last six months, how much of a problem, if any, was it to get the prescription medicine you needed?" The answers were, 86.5%, not a problem. 9.4%, a small problem. 4.2%, a big problem. This a government survey of Medicare recipients! And only 4.2% say it's a big problem! And we are creating the largest entitlement in 40 years to solve a big problem for 4.2%, not of the population, but of the Medicare population. Which is why I have been saying lets fix it for those people - 86.4%, it's not a problem. That's why we're not hearing from them on the phones here calling and complaining at me for standing in the way of something they need. It's not a problem. Prescription drugs are not a problem. It is a manufactured Washington politician problem, to advance the expansion of government conceptually and realistically. Now, let's put some numbers to these percentages, okay? Let me give you the percentages again. Numbers are hard to follow on the radio. Medicare recipient survey, 2002, federal government did the work. 86.5% getting drugs not a problem. 9.4%, small problem. 4.2%, a big problem. Medicare has 41 million beneficiaries. Even 4.2% represents about 1.7 million people. We are creating the nation's largest entitlement in 40 years to serve the needs of 1.7 million people. ...

One thing the government survey doesn't say is whether the problems of this 1.7 million people reflected high drug costs, doctors' reluctance to write scripts or something else. But most people can somehow afford their prescription drugs. Now, in 1999, about 30% of retirees had insurance from former employers. About 20% had government coverage, mainly from Medicaid and the department of veterans affairs. Another 25% bought insurance, called Medigap or had some other coverage. For the very poor without coverage, pharmaceutical companies provide free or heavily discounted drugs. Nobody designed this. It's a flawed and messy hodgepodge that on balance works, though. It works.

My biggest frustration with the Bush administration is its proliferate spending. Does Bush really think old people are going to start voting Republican if he gives them money? Please. I know a good number of older folks, and their political affiliation is pretty well set in concrete. My grandmother wouldn't vote for a guy with an R behind his name if he was running against the Marquis de Sade - D.

Eugene Volokh asks:

So how come the Writers Guild of America and the Authors Guild, organizations for professional users of words, have what seems to be a mispunctuation in their names? (I'd have thought it would be the Writers' Guild, or conceivably -- though I wouldn't much like it -- the Writer's Guild, if they want to stress that it's an organization for each individual writer.) Is there some complicated labor union movement background here that I'm missing? Or are they just trying to make sure there's work left for the Proofreaders' Guild?

UPDATE: Some people respond saying that it's just the plural, not the possessive. But that's the question -- should you just have the plural, or the possessive of the plural?

This is an issue I've dealt with before, and I think the answer's the same. "Writers" isn't being used as a possessive -- the name isn't saying the guild belongs to the writers -- it's being used as an adjective. What type of guild is it? It's a writers guild. Similarly for "authors".

Consider some other examples. Dr. Seuss wrote books for children: childrens books. Those books may have also belonged to children, and thus been "children's books" as well. Likewise, Saddam Hussein kept childrens prisons -- the prisons didn't belong to the children, that's just who he kept there.

When we were making signs for our childrens ministry at church (Rockstars) the signs were printed as "Rockstars Children's Ministry" -- likely leading to the confusion of no one, but still mildly annoying to me when I think about it.

Update, revisted:
Ok, now I'm more sure of this post again, thanks to Heather's comment and reference to the Chicago Style Manual.

My handy Chicago Manual of Style says:

7.27 "...Chicago dispenses with the apostrophe only in proper names...or where there is clearly no possessive meaning."

That example looks incredibly familiar, and in fact I think it's identical to the example I saw several months ago; unfortunately, if I got this idea from the CMS, I can't find an open-access version of it online anymore. However, the FAQ says this:
Q. Would the phrase “The Board of Trustees meeting” be considered an attributive noun? Or should possession be indicated with an apostrophe? Thank you for your assistance.

A. Better to write “board of trustees’ meeting.” When it is a matter of drawing the line between the possessive (or genitive) form and the attributive (adjectival) form, CMS generally sides with the former, adding the apostrophe unless there’s no possessive meaning or unless it is a matter of an official, published form that does not carry the apostrophe. See paragraph 7.27 in CMS 15 for examples. ...

Q. My husband owns a production company with his brother. The name of the company is Deep-Dish Pictures. The brothers would like to state on their video jacket that the film is: A PEPPERONI BROTHERS FILM. No one in the production company can agree if it should be: A PEPPERONI BROTHERS FILM, A PEPPERONI BROTHER’S FILM, or A PEPPERONI BROTHERS’ FILM. [Company and surname changed for this forum.] Please help!!!! Thanks!

A. It should be “a Pepperoni brothers film” because “Pepperoni brothers” is functioning as an adjective (it is a film by the Pepperoni brothers; compare “employees’ cafeteria,” a cafeteria for employees). “Pepperoni brothers” can also function possessively: I saw the Pepperoni brothers’ first film last year.

As with much else in English, it looks like there may be many correct variations.

Not a lot of information, but via Drudge I see that Geuda Springs, Kansas, has passed a an ordinance requiring households to purchase ordnance.

GEUDA SPRINGS, Kan. — Residents of this tiny south-central Kansas community have passed an ordinance requiring most households to have guns and ammunition.

Noncomplying residents would be fined $10 under the ordinance, passed 3-2 earlier this month by City Council members who thought it would help protect the town of 210 people. Those who suffer from physical or mental disabilities, paupers and people who conscientiously oppose firearms would be exempt.

"This ordinance fulfills the duty to protect by allowing each individual householder to provide for his or her protection," said Councilman John Brewer.

Interesting. I think it's generally wise for people to be armed, but I don't think government compulsion is a great idea.

Here's a topic I don't know much about, but that was brought to mind by General Wesley Clark's recent recent comments about President Bush's history with alcoholism.

"I'm not running to bash George Bush. A lot of Americans really love him," said Clark.

"They love what he represents, a man who's overcome adversity in his life from alcoholism and pulled his marriage back together and moved forward," added Clark.

I think that's true, and the statement reminded me of a problem I read about a while ago: alcohol abuse in the military. As a general, Mr. Clark may have seen first-hand the effects that alcohol abuse can have.
Twenty-one percent of service members admit to drinking heavily -- a statistic the military hasn’t managed to lower in 20 years -- but service officials are determined to change that.

“If you look at heavy use of alcohol, drinking a lot in a short span of time, we tend to have a higher prevalence than the civilian community,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Talcott, an Air Force psychologist. Young military people between 18 and 25 also tend to do more heavy drinking than their civilian peers, he noted.

Speaking only in terms of medical care and lost time at work, alcohol abuse costs DoD more than $600 million each year, said Navy Capt. Robert Murphy, a medical corps officer. DoD spends another $132 million a year to care for babies with fetal alcohol syndrome -- sometimes-serious health problems related to their mothers’ heavy drinking. ...

Recent civilian studies have turned up some frightening statistics, Murphy said. Thirty-one percent of all occupational injuries are alcohol-related, as are 23 percent of suicides and 32 percent of homicides.

I hope the abuse-prevention programs the article mentions have some positive effect.

Ananova reports that the number of people living with HIV in the UK increased 20% last year, but doesn't indicate whether or not this is the result of a greater number of infections, or improved health care.

Overall, the number of people living with HIV in the UK went up from 41,700 in 2001 to 49,500 in 2002. ...

The number of heterosexual cases picked up in the UK increased from 147 in 1998 to 275 in 2002.

Overall, there were 5,711 people newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2002 - expected to rise to 6,400 when all reports for the year are received.

Of these, 3,305 were heterosexually acquired and 1,691 were among gay and bisexual men.

So heterosexual infections increased over 4 years, but what about the 1-year period between 2001 and 2002?

A 20% surge in HIV infections over a single year is huge, and I don't think it can be accounted for as a natural fluctuation. My intuition tells me there are so many more people living with HIV largely because they aren't dying from AIDS, thanks to better health care. I'm sure the number of infections has risen as well, though, simply due to population increase.

At some point, the various anti-war-ok-we're-really-just-on-the-other-side folks are going to realize that the more they cry wolf when there aren't any wolves, the less effect their cries are going to have. Everyone likes free speech, and when people complain of government intimidation I get concerned... at first... but after a while, the complaints themselves become evidence that there's no oppression going on. If the kids were smart, they'd try to build some credibility just in case there ever is a wolf.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators and has advised local law enforcement officials to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counterterrorism squads, according to interviews and a confidential bureau memorandum.
Uh oh! "Suspicious activity"! Like what?
F.B.I. officials said in interviews that the intelligence-gathering effort was aimed at identifying anarchists and "extremist elements" plotting violence, not at monitoring the political speech of law-abiding protesters.
Oh, violence. Please, like that ever happens at peace protests.
The initiative has won the support of some local police, who view it as a critical way to maintain order at large-scale demonstrations. Indeed, some law enforcement officials said they believed the F.B.I.'s approach had helped to ensure that nationwide antiwar demonstrations in recent months, drawing hundreds of thousands of protesters, remained largely free of violence and disruption.
It sounds like the FBI's plan is proceeding exactly as they claim to intend: preventing violence, while allowing patriotic, America-loving dissent.

Nevertheless, the ACLU is concerned.

"The F.B.I. is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred, and I have a serious concern about whether we're going back to the days of Hoover."
The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred? Gee, I wonder how that came about? It wouldn't have anything to do with the American Civil Liberties Union getting involved in terror issues, would it? Not that there aren't real concerns, but this type of nonsense eliminates the credibility of serious warnings.

Furthermore, the executive director of the ACLU should know that although civil disobedience for a just cause may be morally acceptable, many forms of disobedience are illegal, and thus perfectly legitimate concerns for law enforcement officers.

The article closes with another non-point by the ACLU mouthpiece:

Critics said they remained worried. "What the F.B.I. regards as potential terrorism," Mr. Romero of the A.C.L.U. said, "strikes me as civil disobedience."
So... is Mr. Romero saying that no civil disobedience is potential terrorism? The key word here is potential, and Mr. Romero has already claimed that the line is terribly blurred.

You know what, I just thought of something scary. What if the left sounds shrill and idiotic because the government has already abducted all the smart dissenters?

But it's too late, thanks to Senator Tom Daschle, who is almost directly responsible for dozens of California dead.

Congress revised the regulations that govern the management of the millions of square miles of federal forest land in the United States, making it easier to thin brush and trees that often create wildfire conditions -- as seen recently in Southern California. Before these changes, environmental reviews and legal challenges could prevent logging and thinning for years (except in South Dakota), even though most responsible authorities recognized the need.

Congress approved legislation yesterday that lawmakers said would reduce the risk of wildfires in national forests by speeding removal of overgrown brush and diseased trees, especially near homes and towns. ...

The measure would limit appeals and environmental reviews so forest-thinning can be completed within months rather than years. The combination of dry underbrush and legal opposition had turned some Western forests into tinderboxes, supporters of the bill said.

"Lawsuits and red tape have led to inaction, and inaction has led to millions of acres that are destined to burn so hot and move so fast that communities have no choice but to evacuate," said Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican.

What's really interesting is that Senator Tom Daschle has opposed all such revision for years -- as a sop to environmentalists -- except for special legislation he slipped into a spending bill in 2002 that exempted his home state of South Dakota from the regulations.
The fallout from this year's forest fires [Note: this was written in 2002, and is referring to fires in Nevada -- MW.] is accomplishing wonders -- such as the sight of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle running into the protective arms of the Republican-controlled Forest Service. Quick, someone get water to revive the Sierra Club.

Last week, Mr. Daschle slipped language into a spending bill that would exempt his home state of South Dakota from key environmental laws. "The fire danger in the Black Hills is high," said Smoky the Bear, er, Mr. Daschle, and this legislation will "avoid costly, time-consuming lawsuits" and "get the forest thinned and property protected."

Well, knock us over with a chainsaw. We are thrilled that the nation's top Democrat now agrees that environmentalist obstruction is behind today's Western fires. And far be it from us to question his motives. But a few uncharitable folks are pointing out that South Dakota Junior Senator Tim Johnson is fighting for his political life against GOP Congressman John Thune.

This spring Mr. Thune tried to insert a similar South Dakota cleanup measure into the farm bill -- hoping to pre-empt deadly fires. But Messrs. Daschle and Johnson, at the bidding of environmentalists, let it die. Now that fires are raging back home, however, Mr. Johnson is taking a political beating and so the pair are trying to convince voters it was their idea all along.

That was written in 2002... it's too bad Senator Daschle didn't exempt California as well, or we might not have had dozens killed and thousands of homes destroyed last month. So-called "environmentalism" kills people.


The largest international "aid" scheme in history is coming to an end today, reports the BBC (HT: Bill Hobbs). I love that the BBC refers to the oil-for-food program as a "scheme".

The programme was, quite simply, the most ambitious experiment in aid ever undertaken by the United Nations.

It became a test of the organisation's capacity to shield ordinary people from the potentially catastrophic impact of sanctions aimed at a political elite.

And that's why sanctions never work: they hurt the poor, oppressed population, while the political elite ride high on the hog. The oil-for-food scheme was designed to try to prevent that, but there were dozens of reports in the 1990s (and now, lots of proof) that most of the money was diverted away from the poor, and into Saddam's vaults.
The spending will not suddenly stop though.

The American-led coalition has renegotiated almost all of the contracts and re-employed most of the local staff.

Ordinary Iraqis probably will not immediately notice the difference though.

There is just more than $4bn still left in the bank and the new trade ministry will gradually wind down the programmes over the next seven months.

The coalition official co-ordinating the handover, ambassador Stephen Mann, said whatever happens after that will be up to the new Iraqi Government to decide.

Sounds perfect, to me.

Donald Sensing points to a nifty new ad hoc invention -- designed by an Army sergeant stationed in Baghdad -- that can warm up injured people three times faster than commonly used hospital devices: it's called the "Chief Cuddler".

As the 25-year-old ward master, from Yorktown, Va., for the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) of the 28th Combat Support Hospital, from Fort Bragg, N.C., which is currently deployed in support of Operation Iraq Freedom, Irby said they needed something to warm patients who have lost a large amount of blood.

The result is a makeshift blue cardboard box, which resembles a young child’s playhouse, but it is more commonly known to staff at the 28th CSH as the “Chief Cuddler.”

“We receive critically-injured patients who often suffer from mass amounts of blood loss,” Irby said. “With blood loss the patient’s temperature will start to drop. With this drop in temperature the patients lack the ability to stop the internal bleeding.”

I love this kind of thing. Bravo.

Bill Hobbs emailed me a link to another article (in addiction to the one in my previous post)on the the religiosity of America (is that a real word?) based on a study by the University of Michigan. The researchers have some data, and they attempt to explain what they see as some of the underlying causes.

About 46 percent of American adults attend church at least once a week, not counting weddings, funerals and christenings, compared with 14 percent of adults in Great Britain, 8 percent in France, 7 percent in Sweden and 4 percent in Japan.

Moreover, 58 percent of Americans say that they often think about the meaning and purpose of life, compared with 25 percent of the British, 26 percent of the Japanese, and 31 percent of West Germans, the study says.

Fair enough. Why?
Some possible reasons cited for the results: (1) Religious refugees set the tone long ago in America; (2) religious people tend to have more children than non-religious groups; and (3) the U.S. has a less comprehensive social welfare system, prompting people to look to religion for help.
(Numbers mine.) The first 2 seem like valid possibilities to me, and (2) and (3) are particularly interesting.
“Secularization has a powerful negative impact on human fertility rates, so the least religious countries have fertility rates far below the replacement level, while societies with traditional religious views have fertility rates two or three times the replacement level.” As a result, those with traditional religious views now constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.
This is well known, and many people have written that religion is an advantageous trait in social evolution for this reason, among others (such as promoting group loyalty and cooperation). As I've written before, free-riding problems tear apart all known social contract scenarios, and perhaps religion is advantageous because it warps the cost/benefit analysis of believers.

As for (3):

Another possibility for the high degree of religiosity in the U.S. is that the nation has a less comprehensive social welfare safety net than most other economically developed countries, leading many Americans to experience the kind of existential insecurity and economic uncertainty characteristic of highly religious populations.
Ha, right. America is the richest nation in the world; we export charitable giving all over the planet, and just because we don't have a "comprehensive social welfare safety net" (read: socialism) doesn't mean that anyone's going hungry. You can eat in America for less than $1 per day.

What's interesting is that the article doesn't address any of the costs of religion, which may not be strongly felt in America but which can be powerful disincentives in other parts of the world. For example, hundreds of thousands of Christians are killed around the world every year because of their faith. (Ok, I'll try to find a source to support that, later.) Perhaps America is more religious because we have more religious freedom and tolerance than other industrial nations?

Symbolic Victory

Jacob Levy asks an interesting question which I'd like to involve myself in only tangentially.

Suppose that a state legislature forbade recognition of, or even (on the model of the polygamy statutes) criminalized, marriages between persons at least one of whom was known to be infertile. Suppose that it did so for the stated purpose of affirming the societal commitment to marriage's cerntral function as the primary site of childrearing.

Would such a statute be constitutional (under the federal or most state constitutions), according to the jurisprudential theories of those most strongly opposed to the Massachusetts case?

(All spelling/grammar mistakes are his.)

Rather than address the legal issue (or the gay-marriage issue), I'd like to disagree with anyone who believes that the primary purpose of marriage is to have children. That's a commonly-held conservative/Christian position (apparently), but I think it's absurd. For one thing, the first mention of marriage in the Bible says nothing about children whatsoever.

Genesis 2:18-25

18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,

"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

I find it difficult for any Christian to argue that marriage is all about having kids.

What's a family? A family is a husband and wife. You don't need children to be a "family" -- a husband and wife are a family all on their own. Children are great, and get added into the family later, but the primary and most important familial relationship is that between the husband and wife. In all cases their first loyalty should be to each other, not to their parents, not to their children, not to their siblings.

Husbands and wives should always be in public agreement on every issue, all the time. That doesn't mean that there won't ever be internal disagreement and discussion, but a unified public front should always be presented to all outsiders, with no exceptions. "Outsiders" include children and other family members, as well as friends, and everyone else. Each partner should subordinate all their other earthly relationships to their marriage.

If the purpose of marriage isn't children, what is it? Well, the passage above makes it pretty clear: the purpose of marriage is provide helpers to assist each other in serving God.

"Singles Seek Financial, Legal Perks Offered Marrieds" says this FoxNews article; it mentions a lot of the standard issues with cohabitating couples and same-sex couples &c., but none of those apply to me. What I'd like to comment on here is the fact that single people are essentially forced to subsidize the families of married people, which I think is economically unfair.

Singles get smaller capital gains breaks when they sell a house than married couples, and spouses don’t get taxed on inherited estates. Also, according to Coleman, married persons get paid more on average for the same job during the same length of service when spousal health benefits are factored in.

"We need to encourage employers to create single family workplaces, provide cafeteria-style benefits," he said. Under such a plan, health care money not used for a spouse or child "could go toward an elderly parent, or maybe [toward] putting a domestic partner on the plan."

Or better yet, just pay me cash for the healthcare costs of the wife and kids I don't have.
William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota, said the complaints sound a bit foolish and selfish.

"The single person in the workplace is resenting the fact a parent gets time off to tend to a sick child. Give me a break," he said.

Yeah, that's right! Why should I give you a break? Are you saying it's fair that someone gets extra time off just because they have a kid? That's totally incidental to the workplace, and it's fundamentally unfair to people without children who'd also like a personal day.
But Doherty said not all relationships should be treated equally under the law.

Marriage is not a lifestyle choice, but a "public commodity," critical for the survival of the human race, he said, adding that it deserves special supports and incentives.

"If there is no next generation, we are gone, we are dead," he said.

If there's no next generation, I don't see how that affects me. It sucks for the non-existent next generation, I suppose, but why should I care? Anyway, it's absurd to think that people will stop having kids... and if they can't afford them, maybe that's a good reason not to have them.

People with kids get child tax credits, public education, and public healthcare, all at the expense of people without kids. People with kids are a greater drain on our common infrastructure, and kids are destructive and disruptive. If anything, people with kids should pay more taxes.

However, since I hope and expect to have kids of my own one day, my complaints are mostly hot air. I don't think the current system is fair, but since most voters have kids there's no way it's ever going to change. Eventually I'll have kids too, and then I won't want it to change either. Still, it's an obvious socially-motivated redistribution of wealth, which I'm generally against.

I'm sure others have commented on President Bush's speech in Whitehall Palace in London, but I haven't been surfing much today and I want to write a bit about it myself. There's an awful lot here, and I'm going to try to isolate some of the most significant points.

First, I think the President's opening jokes were pretty pithy.

It was pointed out to me that the last noted American to visit London stayed in a glass box dangling over the Thames. (Laughter.) A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me. (Laughter.) I thank Her Majesty the Queen for interceding. (Laughter.) We're honored to be staying at her house.
President Bush then goes on to list some Britons who were very influential in American history, and talks about some of the many things our nations have in common.

The President then gets in a little dig at France.

President Wilson had come to Europe with his 14 Points for Peace. Many complimented him on his vision; yet some were dubious. Take, for example, the Prime Minister of France. He complained that God, himself, had only 10 commandments. (Laughter.) Sounds familiar. (Laughter.)
That's significant; even though it's a minor joke, you know the diplomats around the world are taking it very seriously.

And the UN and multilateralism?

America and Great Britain have done, and will do, all in their power to prevent the United Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance and inviting the fate of the League of Nations. It's not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions; we must meet those dangers with resolve. ...

Our first choice, and our constant practice, is to work with other responsible governments. We understand, as well, that the success of multilateralism is not measured by adherence to forms alone, the tidiness of the process, but by the results we achieve to keep our nations secure.

Translation: the world is welcome to help, but we're not going to get tangled up with procedural delays just for the sake of "cooperation".

The President lays out our long-term goals for the Middle East region.

... And by advancing freedom in the greater Middle East, we help end a cycle of dictatorship and radicalism that brings millions of people to misery and brings danger to our own people.

The stakes in that region could not be higher. If the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export. And as we saw in the ruins of two towers, no distance on the map will protect our lives and way of life. If the greater Middle East joins the democratic revolution that has reached much of the world, the lives of millions in that region will be bettered, and a trend of conflict and fear will be ended at its source.

Those paragraphs are the strongest declaration I've yet seen on the subject; the Middle East will be democratized, so get on board or get out of the way.

Diplomatically and honestly, President Bush then accepts some blame on behalf of America for our past actions that propped up some of the dictators he now wants to eliminate.

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.
But now...
Now we're pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.
I think President Bush is right to admit the mistakes of our past, and to indicate that we're changing our ways. The complaint of past wrongdoing by America was always one of the left's most powerful talking-points (despite it's irrelevance to the present war), and I'm glad the President addressed it.

Things in Iraq are going well, despite hostile news reports.

Since the liberation of Iraq, we have seen changes that could hardly have been imagined a year ago. A new Iraqi police force protects the people, instead of bullying them. More than 150 Iraqi newspapers are now in circulation, printing what they choose, not what they're ordered. Schools are open with textbooks free of propaganda. Hospitals are functioning and are well-supplied. Iraq has a new currency, the first battalion of a new army, representative local governments, and a Governing Council with an aggressive timetable for national sovereignty. This is substantial progress. And much of it has proceeded faster than similar efforts in Germany and Japan after World War II.
As for Israel and Palestinian Authority:
We seek a viable, independent state for the Palestinian people, who have been betrayed by others for too long. (Applause.) We seek security and recognition for the state of Israel, which has lived in the shadow of random death for too long. (Applause.) These are worthy goals in themselves, and by reaching them we will also remove an occasion and excuse for hatred and violence in the broader Middle East.

Achieving peace in the Holy Land is not just a matter of the shape of a border. As we work on the details of peace, we must look to the heart of the matter, which is the need for a viable Palestinian democracy. Peace will not be achieved by Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, who tolerate and profit from corruption and maintain their ties to terrorist groups. These are the methods of the old elites, who time and again had put their own self-interest above the interest of the people they claim to serve. The long-suffering Palestinian people deserve better. They deserve true leaders, capable of creating and governing a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leadership -- that is, Arafat -- is preventing democracy from taking hold, and perpetuating the misery of the Palestinian people. European and Arab leaders are also responsible for supporting terror against Israel.
Arab states should end incitement in their own media, cut off public and private funding for terrorism, and establish normal relations with Israel.

Leaders in Europe should withdraw all favor and support from any Palestinian ruler who fails his people and betrays their cause. And Europe's leaders -- and all leaders -- should strongly oppose anti-Semitism, which poisons public debates over the future of the Middle East. (Applause.)

Many of the President's points we're softly-spoken, but his intentions are very aggressive. It's interesting that he didn't mention Saudi Arabia, but he did put the finger on Iran and North Korea, and particularly criticised some unnamed European leaders for their obstruction and tepid cooperation.

The speech was strong and passionate, and I hope it makes waves around the world.

Here's a blog game that'll be fun, and give some exposure to some less well-traveled blogs: The First Annual Blog Scavenger Hunt. The idea is simple: I write up a list of topics, and you find a blog post somewhere that discusses each topic. You can't use any individual blog for more than one topic, and you can't use any of your own posts. Further, honor demands that you not take any action intended to initiate a post on a topic for the express purpose of using it as an answer. Got it?

The deadline will be Monday, December 1st. Answers will count even if the topics are discussed facetiously, and they don't have to match the list word-perfectly; use your best judgement. Of course, no post related to the contest itself can be used as an answer. All answers must be links to blog posts, not any other type of website.

Once you've finished your list (or gotten bored), post the topic list along with your answers on your blog and send me a link with "[bloghunt]" in the subject. I'll post links to all the participants, along with my own answers, after the deadline.

If you think you're too busy to play, just print out the topics and fill them in during your normal browsing. (And look, no cheating by stealing links from other people; it's just a game.)

Here's an example:

1. Bush is a liar.
Answer: George W. Bush: The Top Ten Lies at

Here are the topics you have to find:
1. A plea to get the attention of Glenn Reynolds.
2. George Bush is controlled by the Council on Foreign Relations.
3. Drinking diet soda makes you fat.
4. Each season of Survivor is better than the one before it.
5. The first president of the United States was really Adam Weishaupt.
6. Getting bullied can be good for kids.
7. Circuses are lame.
8. Water: Tap vs. Bottled.
9. Pros and cons of digital cameras.
10. Everyone should be investing in gold, because it's going to dramatically increase in value.
11. A funny thing happened on the way to the....
12. A personal story about a power outage.
13. Paper towels vs. blow-dryers.
14. Why I changed my cell phone service.
15. Ninjas vs. Pirates: which is better?
16. How to get free stuff from a company.
17. A depressing story about being broken up with.
18. Here's a great Movable Type trick!
19. The Democrat and Republican parties are the same.
20. I'm think I'm turning into a werewolf/vampire/&c.

The always-humble Megan would like it known that this idea was 15% inspired by her suggestion that we share a blog-themed birthday party.

Are apologists for communism morally equivalent to holocaust deniers? I say yes.

Let's say Michael Jackson is completely innocent of all the charges against him: he's still shown some of the most phenomenally bad judgement I can imagine. There's four great examples in this single article.

Number 1: Nutso conspiracy theory.

"These characters always seem to surface with a dreadful allegation just as another project, an album, a video, is being released," Jackson said in the statement.

Sneddon dismissed Jackson's claims, saying the investigation had been underway for months.

"Jackson himself, I believe, has said this was all done to ruin his new CD that was coming ... like, the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music," Sneddon said.

What really needs to be said? Even if some kid wanted to hurt Jackson's career, why would the police go along with it and actually file charges if they couldn't find any evidence during their 14 hour search of the Neverland Ranch? Who even knew he was coming out with a new album? Maybe I'm just way out of the loop, but I sure didn't. Only a celebrity could come up with an egocentric explanation like that.

Numbers 2 and 3: Strange bedfellows.

It has been a tumultuous year for Jackson, whose talents as an entertainer have been eclipsed by his bizarre personal life. In February, he spoke in a British television documentary of sometimes sharing his Neverland bedroom with young boys.
?!?!?!?!!??!! Why would you do that and risk looking like a child molester, if you weren't actually a child molester? Why would you want to, and even if you did want to (for non-molestational reasons?!), why would you actually do it, knowing how it would look? And then, why would you go on TV and admit it like it was no big deal?! I can't possibly use enough question marks and exclamation points here to properly express my flabbergastedness.

Number 4: Superbaby.

In November last year, Jackson stunned fans in Berlin by dangling his barefoot baby from a hotel balcony.
I can't believe this wasn't some sort of crime. What if he had come to the balcony with a gun shoved in his kid's mouth? This incident is even more completely insane than the previous 3, and that Michael Jackson didn't even notice shows that he's criminally dangerous and should probably be locked up. What's to stop him from jokingly crashing his car into a hospital or laughingly taking a few potshots at a school?

I like some of his old songs; I even feel sorry for whatever mental problems he has that inclined him towards all the radical surgery he's put himself through. But look. At some point, I've got to stop feeling sorry for the millionaire Peter Pan and start getting concerned that he's a criminally insane lunatic.

Maybe he is insane, and he really can't control his behavior, but that's all the more reason to lock him up. Maybe his traumatic celebrity childhood is to blame -- who knows? Who cares? He may have a great excuse, but that's no reason to let him keep menacing the world.

Here's a new twist. Let's say your kid was dying of cancer and you had no way to pay for the treatments. Michael Jackson comes along and says he'll pay for everything, and your son will live... but you have to let him molest the boy later. Sure, in reality there may always be other sources of charitable funding, but a desperate parent may not know enough to find out, and may be really short on time. Even if you're against the idea and would rather let your son die, what if he insists on taking the chance?

It's been a very busy 24 hours. Yesterday at around this time I left work early to go home and prepare an early Thanksgiving feast for some friends. We did it pot-luck style and everyone brought something great -- so it's not like I did all the work -- but I did reconfigure my living room into a large dining area and then prepare 7 pounds of mashed potatoes. Peeling potatoes isn't fun, but eating potatoes sure is. Plus lots of turkey, way too many pies, too few rolls, and all the other stuff you'd expect. A good time was had by all.

This morning: up bright and early and off to the DMV. I'd moved since I got my license (7 years ago), and the renewal notice had been lost in the mail (surprise!). Since it expires on my birthday (December 7th!) I figured I should get that taken care of. Fortune conpired in my favor, and I had another errand to run at the DMV as well. I arrived at 9am, waited 2.5 hours, required less than 5 minutes of assistance, and then left... late for work. They need a triage desk that seperates people by how long they're going to take to help.

I've got a stack of anomalous bills that I've been putting off dealing with, so I brought those along to do over lunch. Mysteriously, several companies decided to cash my checks without then crediting my accounts; there's a good business model for you. Naturally, none of the customer service people / blood-sucking vampires know anything about such strange occurrences. They'll be happy to do something, however, if I can kindly have my bank fill out a bunch of forms and fax them back and forth for a while. Yeah, right, I'm sure the people at the bank don't have anything else to do than deal with my creditors.

Oh yeah, and my car is almost out of gas. But! One thing it's not out of is tangy orange-pineapple slurpee, because spilled a giant one on the floor.

A World Tribune article says the US is deploying 20,000 troops to the Syrian border. I don't know anything about the World Tribune, and the link looks perishable.

The United States has deployed 20,000 troops along the Syrian border after Syria failed to stop militants from crossing into Iraq.

As late as October, U.S. officials said hundreds of Islamic insurgents were crossing into Iraqi from Syria. They said Syrian authorities had failed to respond to U.S. appeals to stop the flow of insurgents.

U.S. military officials said the U.S. troop presence was bolstered beginning in September and has resulted in a significant drop in infiltration from Syria. The U.S. troops are based in the Iraqi province of Anbar, Middle East Newsline reported.

So, is there a "flypaper strategy" to lure would-be terrorists to Iraq, or not? Maybe the plan with this deployment isn't to discourage the influx, but rather to deal with it west of Baghdad. Maybe it's all just smoke and mirrors.

As I've written about many times before, love is more than an emotion, and marriage is more than just living together. Marriage is a business and economic arrangement, as well as a spiritual arrangement. In it's Godly form, marriage may be absolutely perfect and without any need for external strengthening, but since we're all sinful people and we live in a sinful world it shouldn't be a surprise that the institution of marriage has been adversely affected to such a point where it makes sense to me for Christians to enter "prenuptual contracts" -- despite their supposed intention of never ever divorcing under any circumstance.

That's the attitude I intend to bring to my marriage as well, and yet statistcs show that Christians get divorced at the same rate as non-Christians. It seems foolish to be unprepared for such an eventuality, no matter how remote you may judge it to be. Even aside from any monetary matters, what about the children? If, for example, my (hypothetical) wife were to cheat on me and run off to Bermuda, I wouldn't want her to come back and use the court system to then steal my kids away to raise them in a hedonistic lifestyle.

The argument that "planning for failure makes it more likely to occur" may be of some influence, but divorce is already so prevalent that it seems like a moot point.

So then, what kinds of provisions make sense for a Christian prenupt? My main concern would be that in the event of a divorce, Christian principles should govern the proceedings rather than the civil court system. To that end, the major stipulation I would advance would be that both people agree that any and all disputes are to be resolved by some third-party Christian leader (such as their pastor) or group of leaders, and that both resolve to be bound by such arbitration. The trick is in finding someone you both trust, of course, but that shouldn't be too difficult for a couple planning on getting married.

With this one simple protection, the vast majority of my anxiety would be relieved, and it's hard to contemplate anyone seriously objecting to such an agreement (since it seems to fall in line with the principles Jesus laid out for conflict resolution).

I'd really like to know what Donald Sensing thinks on the matter.

S3 (who really needs to get his own blog) sent me a FoxNews article on an issue that's very troubling to me, unjust child custody laws. The article is mainly focused on Britain, but most of the problems it discusses are present in America as well. Adequate fathers deserve equal access to their children.

It's often the case that fathers are caught in a Catch-22. Since the father is typically the major income-earner of the family, he doesn't spend as much time with the children as the mother does. This leads to two results: first, judges award primary custody to the mother because the children are more closely "bonded" with her; second, the father is stuck paying for raising the kids, even though he doesn't get to be with them. Frankly, this is an absurd predicament.

I believe that it is a father's responsibility to provide for the welfare of his family, but once the family is broken up (depending on the circumstances, of course) that responsibility needs to be reconsidered by the authority in charge of the divorce proceedings. I've read of cases in which the father is forced to financially support the mother and children, while being denied custody and even legally-enforced visitation. The court is forcing the man to continue fulfilling his fatherly-husbandly obligations even after the divorce, but just imagine the outcry if the court also forced the mother to continue cooking his meals and having his babies. (Don't get all huffy -- financial support is as much a fatherly responsibility as having babies is a motherly responsibility, take 'em or leave 'em.)

My parents divorced when I was 10, and in retrospect I'm incredibly grateful that the judge awarded them joint custody of me and my brother. I really want to get married and have kids, but this is one of the aspects I dread. Presumably, when I find a woman I want to marry I'll be 100% confident that this could never happen to me, but I know there's no certainty. It's scary.

Finally, I'd like to applaud FoxNews' website; it's the only major news outlet I know of that puts lots of links to outside sources in its stories. In this case, it links to a group called Fathers-4-Justice that looks pretty interesting (although I don't agree with their position that grandparents have an inalienable right to visit their grandchildren).

Donald Sensing has a typically excellent essay on Justice and Compassion that I suggest you don't miss.

Many leftists think that the right is hard-hearted and cruel towards the poor (and maybe some on the right are), but that's largely because the left thinks the government should be used to force everyone to be compassionate. Rev. Sensing explains why this doesn't work, and is, in fact, tyrannical.

Compassion makes a very poor guide for justice. Compassion can exist only when there is no right to receive it. A judge, for example, cannot be justly compassionate. For a judge to show compassion for one party to a case is to treat another party unjustly. Showing compassion to a burglar by an unwarranted light sentence is to rob the victim’s family of their rightful claim that the burglar will be fairly penalized. And it puts at risk larger society, which has the right to expect that burglars will not soon be turned loose to rob again.

Similarly, compassion for the victim’s family that leads to an overly harsh sentence - life in prison, for example, for a first offense when no one is injured - sets aside the rightful claim of the convict that his punishment will be consonant with the crime. Likewise, society has a rightful claim not to bear the burden of supporting him for a lifetime for commission of one, non-violent offense.

The fact that different groups have different interests that must be sometimes balanced and sometimes found to be right or wrong is what seems to escape many churches’ proclamations about public policy. The pronouncements tend to be personal compassion writ large, into state policy, then to be coercively enforced.

Sometimes I crack myself up. Ahem.

Dan Weintraub points to an interesting essay by Glenn Ellmers, the main thrust of which is that the California legislature needs some serious restructuring -- to which I couldn't possibly agree more. Mr. Ellmers suggests tripling the size of the Assembly (from a mere 80 members to 240 members) and making the Senate a true Senate, with representation by county rather than be population.

I would support both these ideas; unfortunately the Senate proposal has already been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a series of judgements known as the "reapportionment cases" (Baker v. Carr & Reynolds v. Sims). These rulings determined that although inequality was purposefully built in to our national Constitution and Republic, each state was required by that same Constitution to apportion its state legislature seats strictly according to population. Apportionment by county is now forbidden, thus denying states the same structural protections that our nation enjoys from the tyranny of the majority that pure democracy tends towards.

Beginning with a series of cases better known as the "Reapportionment cases," the "Federal Analogy" was denied to the States and the Court instead demanded that "The seats of both houses of a bi-cameral legislature must be apportioned on a population basis (Reynolds v. Sims)" and demanded that there should be "One person, One Vote." For justification the Supreme Court twisted the so-called "Equal Protection Clause" of the 14th amendment. The Equal Protection Clause simply means that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law and were thus entitled to "One Person, One Vote." But, as Justice Harlan's dissenting voice pointed out, the equality clause has nothing at all to do with the States power of choosing "any democratic method they pleased for the apportionment of their legislatures."

Further, as we learned, "One person, One vote" was not built into the United States Constitution. Instead it was unequal representation that was built in. The dissenting opinion of Justice Frankfurter demonstrated this knowledge when he wrote that equal representation, "has never been generally practiced. . . It was not the English system, it was not the colonial system, it was not the system chosen for the national government by the Constitution, it was not the system . . . practiced by the States . . . [and it was not then] practiced by the states today."

At the highest level, I believe in democracy, but when it comes to specifics I think it's important that the freedom and liberties of minorty groups be protected as well, which is why I vastly prefer the republican form of government to the purely democratic.

Correspondant S3 points out an NRO article by John Derbyshire that claims America is the last Christian nation -- a claim made largely to contrast America with increasingly irreligious Britain. For myself, I don't think America is particularly Christian in practice, even if many consider it to be so in theory. Still, I suppose the argument could be made that it's the "most" Christian nation on earth at the moment.

Frankly, however, I don't know enough about world politics to be that certain. My understanding is that there are some fervently Christian third-world countries, such as Nigeria (?) -- although that may be more in theory than in practice as well. I've heard that South Korea has a lot of Christians, and sends out a lot of missionaries, but I don't know what effect those Christians have on their country. I simply don't know enough about foreign politics to say whether or not Christians have more influence in America than they do anywhere else.

I'm very curious to see whether or not Christianity takes hold in Iraq, now that the people's freedom of religion is finally recognized.

The Governator

The Bible talks a lot about faith, and hundreds of books have been written on the subject. The results of this survey might prompt someone to ask: how can I be sure that my faith is genuine? That's a good question, and God gives us a good answer.

Faith is more than mere knowledge, and more than plain belief. For example, I may know that a chair is going to hold me up were I to sit in it, and I may say I believe that it will -- but if refuse to sit down I don't have faith. Faith is putting our belief and knowledge into action.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Faith is not built entirely on logic, reason, and facts. You can't prove it; on the contrary, once something is proven there's no need for faith. Logic, reason, and facts can be important for confirming our faith, and reinforcing what we believe, but in the end they alone will be insufficient if we want to know God. Our limited, human minds are incapable of comprehending God in his full glory, and to bridge the gap between partial knowledge and full certainty requires faith.

How do we know, then, if we've got genuine faith?

I John 5:1-5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is love for God: to obey his commands. Obedience is hard, because in our sinful state we often don't agree with what God wants us to do. We may not understand the purposes behind his commands or what he's trying to accomplish in our lives and the lives of people around us.

When I think of faith, I always remember an incident with one of my little brothers. He was 4 years old at the time, and wanted to play with a set of shears I was using to cut cardboard. They were sharp and spring-loaded, and far too dangerous for a child to play with, so I told him no. He cried like you wouldn't believe, because he really wanted to play with those shears. I knew it wasn't a good idea, but he simply couldn't understand it. The analogy is obvious: we're the little children, and sometimes God's plan for us is quite different than our own. Do we throw a fit, like spiritual infants, or do we obey what God our father has commanded us?

It's easy to obey when someone tells us to do something we want to do; the real test of love is obeying God when he tells us to do something we don't want to do. Do we have faith that God's way is better than ours? Do we trust him to lead us in the right path? Or do we rebel and do our own thing? God gave us that option when he gave us free will, but when we disobey God we're basically saying that we know better than he does what's good for our lives, and we tell him to get lost.

James 2:14-18 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

Such faith isn't faith at all -- it's just words. Real faith is an action (just like real love, incidentally). Faith isn't something you feel, faith is something you do.

While driving home tonight, what little sympathy I had for the grocery workers' strike vanished when I heard on the radio that the Stanlinist group International ANSWER has joined forces with them in the "racist, criminal war against workers." Some news: the strikers stopped picketing the Ralph's grocery chain and decided to concentrate on Vons and Albertson's; unfortunately for them, the three grocery companies saw this coming, and put a secret pact into action to share revenue. People are pouring into Ralph's, and some of that money is going to the other two chains to support them while the strike continues.

I'd like to speak directly to the workers: you've lost. You've been on strike for a month, and you've been out-maneuvered every step of the way. From the reciprocal lock-outs at the beginning to the revenue-sharing plan now, you're getting beaten like a rented mule. I know that many of you are just trying to make ends meet; you're trying to save free healthcare for your kids; you're hard-working and honest. It doesn't matter.

See, you're not fighting against other folks who stock shelves all day, you're fighting against an army of lawyers, accountants, scientists, businessmen, and marketeers with one simple unified goal: maximize shareholder value. The nature and origin of your plight (such as it is) is irrelevant. No one cares if you want more money, free healthcare, or sharks with friggin' lasers on their heads.

These corporations have hundreds of officers who devote their lives to maximizing shareholder value. They've got banks of computers that spew out reams of paper, covered in numbers that tell them how to screw you over; those stacks of numbers are fed into even more computers, and those computers determine the prices of every piece of inventory, including you. They know what you're worth, and it doesn't matter how much you want to get paid. They've got scientists with beakers of bubbling liquid, smoke, test tubes, bunsen burners, and those cool electric doodads with the sparks that shoot up into the air between the two metal spikes. I don't know what these scientists are for; they're probably working to genetically engineer cheaper and more efficient bag-boys -- then what are you going to do?

Here's the thing: it's almost Christmas, and little Timmy and Susie are going to want more under the tree than a pile of picket signs. People are starting to care less and less about your marching and chanting. Plus, it's starting to rain. Take the hint -- go back to work. Be thankful you have jobs, because I know what it's like to not be able to find work. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I think $40,000 a year is pretty decent for putting boxes on shelves, and if you have to buy your own health insurance, well, join the club.

And if you want to hedge your bets, buy some stock in your companies. Then you'll be a shareholder yourself, and you'll have all those capitalists working for you instead of against you. That's the only way to win, otherwise you're just a pawn. Pawns don't win, even kings don't win -- they've just pieces that get moved around and stuck back in the case when the game's over. Only a player can win.

I don't know much about the situation, but my esteemed co-Bearflagger Justene Adamec is being sued by Infotel (these guys? they look French [they're Canadien! -- Ed.]; these guys?) for something some commenters wrote on her site in response to this post about Infotel scamming her.

Anyway, McGehee and the other Bearflaggers are all over this, so I'm going to go back to work. I just wanted to note the incident, and lend my moral support.

A startling number of "born-again Christians" apparently hold heretical beliefs.

All told, 81% of Americans firmly believe in some type of life after death, with 9% considering it a possibility and only 10% believing that death brings utter finality, the survey found. And while 43% of respondents said that Christianity is their passport to glory, 15% say that they will get to heaven because they "have tried to obey the 10 Commandments." Another 15% expect to gain admittance because "they are basically a good person." Among the others, 6% believe that God is letting everyone in, no matter what.

Verily, this optimistic and expansive spirit is prevalent among born-again Christians. Earlier Barna surveys found that 26% of born-agains believe it doesn't matter what faith a person has because religions teach pretty much the same thing. Its recent survey found that 50% believe a life of "good works" will get you through the Pearly Gates. "Many committed born-again Christians believe that people have multiple options for gaining entry to Heaven," explains firm president George Barna. "They are saying, in essence, 'Personally, I am trusting Jesus Christ as my means of gaining God's permanent favor and a place in heaven--but someone else could get to heaven based upon living an exemplary life.'"

Besides rejecting the notion that Christianity is the only way to heaven, a large portion of born-agains (35%) do not believe that Jesus experienced a physical resurrection, according to Barna surveys. A majority (52%) reject the existence of the Holy Spirit as a living entity, and 45% deny Satan's existence. In the meantime, 33% accept the concept of same-sex unions, 10% believe in reincarnation and 29% think it's possible to communicate with the dead, a belief shared by a third of the population, which is very good news for the séance industry, if not for the keepers of the orthodox flame.

What does Jesus say on the matter?

John 14:6
  Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Luke 13:22-30
  Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
  He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'
  "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'
  "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
  "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'
  "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."

Dean Esmay says this is why he renounced Christianity, and I respond here.

Candace at 5 Corners writes about speaking up and defending one's views in public settings, and she points to a great oral report delivered in a college graduate class by Kashei of Spot On. Both writers are women, and I have a question: do women find it harder in general to speak up in public settings and to disagree than men do? Is it totally gender-neutral, or are there social forces at play that make women more reticent?

As for myself, I have no problem being disagreeable -- some would say I revel in it. I like to play devil's advocate and will often argue for positions I think are wrong or absurd, just for the rhetorical joy of defending the indefensible. I like using dirty tricks, and I enjoy debating face-to-face even more than through writing. Nothing gives me more ignoble pleasure than defending something ludicrous and then telling my opponent that I really agree with them, and that they could have won by arguing XYZ.

Anyway, I've heard that girls and women are raised to be more pleasant and agreeable than men, and to avoid open confrontation and conflict. Do you women think that's true? Does that affect your participation in public debates when disagreement is expected and respected? Does it affect your reaction to private discussions, disagreements, and debates?

I love good conversation, and I particularly enjoy women who are willing to argue with me (without getting emotionally invested in the argument). For me, debate is a game, and I generally don't care if I win or lose -- but that's not how most women seem to see it. Women often seem adverse to friendly (even heated) debate, and only want to argue when there's a real object of contention -- which they've already made up their mind about.

Anyway, I'm sure you see where I'm going with all this. I want to get a better understanding of how women view debate, public/private discourse, disagreement, and argumentation.

Geek Press points to 20 things that only happen in movies, but the list isn't that great. I'm sure I can come up with better ones. (And if I don't, I can just delete my attempt before posting it.)

1. Any computer system can be hacked in 60 seconds.
2a. Phones always ring during a break in conversation...
2b. ... and the call is always relevant to the scene...
2c. ... and there's no call-waiting.
3. No one ever thinks of a better come-back to an insult the next day.
4. If you meet someone and arrange to go on a date, you'll offer to pick them up tomorrow at 8 but never exchange addresses or phone numbers.
5. Rogues are always lovable and endearing.
6a. All combat is eventually resolved hand-to-hand.
6b. The bad guys attack one at a time.
6c. Small, fast people can beat up large, strong people.
6d. When you punch or kick someone, they go flying across the room.
7. Stalking a woman makes her fall in love with you.
8. The dumbest, most annoying, most bumbling character will be a white male.
9. Breaking the rules always turns out well.
10. Anyone can jump a 10 foot chainlink fence with minimal effort (unless a dog is in pursuit).
11a. Getting thrown through a window is merely a minor annoyance.
11b. Likewise falling down stairs.
12. All offices have windows.
13. 95% of computers are Macs.
14. Cars are always clean, even if they're old and busted.
15. Pedestrians are never hit during a car chase.
16. Getting shot once anywhere by any gun will knock you down.
17a. Old people are amazed and confused by the antics of young people.
17b. White people are amazed and confused by the antics of black people.
18a. Caves and tunnels will never be pitch black, but will always be lit by concealed, indirect lighting.
18b. If you turn off the lights in a room at night, lights outside a window will turn on.
19a. It's easy to chop off a head or limb with one blow...
19b. ... and to cut through armor...
19c. ... and to jump onto a horse while wearing armor...
19d. ... and to run around in armor.
20. Animals are invulnerable.
21a. Kids are smarter than adults.
21b. Kids can drive cars.
21c. Kids can beat up adults using karate.
21d. Kids are always good judges of character.
22a. High school students are 25 years old...
22b. ... and still wear their backpacks on one shoulder.
23. Only bad guys smoke (these days).
24. Ugly people are just beautiful people with dumpy clothes and bad haircuts.

Not that these are all new or original....

Maybe it's just me, but...

In the spirit of the season, How Not to Eat Lunch:

1. Drive across town to different building to do work, but then be told that you're too early.
2. Go to El Pollo Loco; order something on the giant menu, but then try to explain exactly what that item is to the guy at the register. Hint: it's got chicken in it, and tortillas.
3. Get salsa, for some reason. This is critical.
4. Spill salsa in car, because the little plastic tubs are not salsa-tight.
5. Drive to work, carry dripping lunch to building.
6. Remember that you left your badge in the car.
7. Return to car, get badge, return to building.
8. Start eating lunch.
9. Spill salsa everywhere, particularly on every piece of clothing you're wearing, including at least one sock.
10. Go to afternoon meetings, act like nothing happened.

If anyone is interested in information about various state concealed weapon laws, you need to check out They've got detailed information for every state.

If you want some California-specific info, check out Jim March's new blog, Capitol Truth; Mr. March is a long-time California activist who has been working hard to get us shall-issue laws that would require local law enforcement officers to issue CCW permits to all qualified applicants, rather than just to celebrities and their families and cronies.

This isn't specifically about "Law & Justice" per se, but I wanted to link to a pre-Lawrence article from The Advocate that has some personal stories about some of the current Supreme Court Justices. The Justices and the Court fascinate me, and it's a little voyeristic to be sure, but oh well. The context of the article is speculation on what the court will decide to do about Texas anti-sodomy laws (it ended up striking them down).

For more (professional, some personal) information about the Justices of your choice, read these short biographies. (Via Eugene Volokh.)

I'd been meaning to point out Director Mitch's excellent blog, The Window Manager, for a while, and since he's recently joined the Bear Flag League this is a good time to finally get around to it. What's a "window manager"?

"Window Manager" is a Japanese phrase for someone who has a fairly high level job with nothing to do - except look out the window.
He's a marketing guy, and has some great posts about a field we all like to think we know intuitively, but probably don't.

Justifying my existence, or Marketing 101 - Market Analysis
My 2004 Org Chart -- Looks familiar.
Searching for Emerging Markets
How the Government Measures Poverty -- Don't miss this one.

In response to my previous post on this topic, and historian Fred Kagan's Opinion Journal article, commenter Owen Johnson wrote the following analysis and gave me permission to post it in its entirety.

Since the mid-80’s I have been deeply involved in the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, network-centric warfare, asymmetric warfare, IW and IO, and all the rest. The groups I worked for and the teams I lead were primarily responsible for evaluating these concepts and assessing and projecting the threat posed by potential adversaries — both States and "non-state actors" — to our military when operating according to these principles. We were widely considered to be among the preeminent experts on these matters in the US Defense community.

I therefore read Mr. Kagan’s article with interest, and while his history is quite good, the conclusions he reaches based on it are, to me, mostly puzzling. I can’t help but feel Mr. Kagan has been reading a different literature on the "RMA" than I ever did, and understands it a different way. Indeed, he says: "The problem with the current vision of military transformation, therefore, is not that it relies on the concept of a revolution in military affairs, but that it does not properly understand that concept."

I would contend that the shoe is actually on the other foot. Of course, it is easy to be confused about this, as all of these concepts were — and I suspect still are — highly contentious and ill-defined, no matter what has been said in various "authoritative" government publications. As always, there is a disconnect between what the thinkers think and the doers do, but never was it so great as in the so-called RMA during the 1990s. I suspect Kagan has read too much into what he’s read and what the military leadership has been saying it wants to achieve, and not enough into what is and has been actually happening. Much of what he writes does [sort of] apply to the military of the Clinton years, when weak leadership and concepts like "force preservation" were allowed to take precedence over concepts like "winning". These factors perverted much of the debate on evolving military doctrine and clouded what it did not pervert. But the actual effect they had I think has been overstated. And I’m not sure Mr. Kagan appreciates the change that the debacle of the Kosovo Campaign made in the operational military, and how those changes were reinforced by the lessons of 9/11.

Nor do many of Kagan’s historical "lessons" apply under the conditions obtaining today and for the foreseeable future [which is about 2030]. His conclusions are redolent with the thinking of several generations ago. It appears he doesn’t appreciate exactly how our doctrinal writings and debates were and are absorbed and interpreted by our real and potential adversaries, be they the Chinese, the [then] Soviets, or Al Qaeda. There has been a longstanding joke in my profession that we have fully crippled the Chinese military by selling them so completely on the RMA — the joke within the joke is that this is substantially true. Nor are the Chinese alone in this predicament. Much of the world believes some astounding things about the US military, crediting us with things we can’t do while blithely unaware of what we can do; being utterly confused by the conflicts within and between US doctrinal debates and political debates; confusing commentary with policy and policy with operational doctrine. In short, we do things in a particularly noisy, messy, and apparently disorderly fashion, giving our adversaries — and sometimes our allies — ample scope to read all the wrong things into what they see. Thus, the history Kagan quotes can be misleading when applied to the current conditions; it rather appears to me that we have confused Kagan almost as much as we have confused the Chinese and the Russians.

Overall, I don’t think Kagan appreciates the very profound differences not just in technology [which is probably wider than he allows] and in the way that technology is employed, but most importantly in the way the US military has learned to think and operate. In some very important ways, the US military has been changing the rules of warfare faster than the other guys can learn the old rules. By the time they think they understand what we’re doing, we are doing something different and surprising. This isn’t "NCW" or "RMA" or even "IO" [though the Russians in particular claim it is] — it’s mainly good ol’ seat-of-the-pants adaptation and flexibility, fed by a technology development cycle that produces innovations roughly twice as fast as the rest of the world can assimilate them. Kagan does not understand this; in fact he turns reality on its head by arguing that; "Since technology inevitably becomes less expensive as it proliferates and as time goes on … the situation for America's would-be adversaries will only improve in this regard."

Yes, it does improve in an absolute sense, but the point Kagan misses is that it has, for more than 20 years, been improving faster here. Buying technology and capitalizing on its capabilities, especially in a military sense, are different things, and is not something that can be exported. This one reason that the militaries of the world are substantially father behind us now than they were during the first Gulf War, despite all the technology we have sold them.

Next, Kagan suggests we are vulnerable to a kind of doctrinal leapfrogging: "Much of America's tested doctrine has been published, much can be deduced from the CNN coverage of America's most recent wars. Once again, America's enemies can start from the position of proven success that the U.S. armed forces achieved, and build from there."

What history really tells us is: no they can’t, because they build more slowly than we innovate. And the people best positioned to be able to build as Kagan suggests are those we are very unlikely to go to war with [e.g. Britain and Australia; Japan and Germany, if they finished rearming.] This may change over time, but that time is measured in decades not years; if we were to stagnate today, the rest of the world might catch up in 20 to 30 years. But we are not stagnating yet.

Nor do I think Kagan well understands the point of what Rumsfeld’s so-called "transformation" really is. At this pint, I’m not sure I understand it perfectly myself, as I left my profession in early 2002 and have been somewhat out of the loop on DOD policy since then. But I suggest that it isn’t as unbalanced as Kagan thinks. It’s not about our military doing "one thing superbly well" and therefore "presenting [the enemy] with only one threat to defeat". It is about doing whatever it wants to do very well and very quickly, whether that be by land, air or sea. It about maximizing flexibility and initiative and striking power, not about air-power vs ground or sea power, or PGMs vs infantry vs armor.

Finally I can’t close without mentioning two of Kagan’s statements that he uses to buttress his points; the first of which I don’t recall being the case and the second of which I find almost bizarre. I mention these not to nit-pick, but because they cast a disturbing light over Kagan’s reasoning in general.

The first statement is: "During the Kosovo operation Slobodan Milosevic withstood the American air attack right up until it became clear that a ground attack might follow--and then he surrendered." I was rather in the thick of the assessment of that conflict, and I don’t remember that. I recall exactly the opposite — that Clinton absolutely ruled out ground forces and that Milosevic "surrendered" because he largely accomplished what he’s set out to do [he thought] and decided it was a good time to give in, fully expecting to remain in power for a long time to come. His mistake was underestimating his internal opposition, not Clinton or NATO. Those of the US military I talked to, or read opinions from, viewed the campaign as an embarrassing debacle, due to Clinton’s blunders and General Clark’s mismanagement.

The second statement is: "America is suffering badly now from having an army that is too small." This sounds like a sop to the antiwar press; how exactly are we "suffering badly" from the size of our army? [It is the Navy that is most severely undersized but we are not suffering from that yet, although we might someday and naval personnel certainly are right now.] Yes, there have been casualties in Iraq, but the fact of the matter is that Americans in Iraq are being killed at roughly the same rate as they are in Oakland, CA. When the casualty rate in a war zone approximates that of a mid-sized city, either the city is very very bad, or the war is going extraordinarily well. And while leftist commentators and Baathist sympathizers sincerely want America to be suffering badly, I see no objective evidence of this whatever. Thus I’m surprised that Kagan, whom I take to be neither a leftist nor a sympathizer, would say it. It smacks of a long and disingenuous — almost dishonest — reach to support a his conclusions by any means, including dragging in a left-wing canard without evidence or elaboration. This is not something I would think a man sure of his arguments would have to resort to.

Now I’m not myself convinced that Rumsfeld’s vision is perfect, or even the best possible, but I think he understanding is much sounder than Kagan’s and I assert that the situation itself is much better than Kagan paints it.

I'm dreaming...

As the 2000-year-old man once observed: "Tragedy is when I bang my thumb, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die."

Brian Micklethwait has more, and is quite correct in saying that if you want to be the life of the party, just start dragging out the tragic horror stories from your past. People eat it up, because haha! their life doesn't suck as much as yours.

In response to a post over at One Hand Clapping about electoral vote shifts due to population migration, I commented that I expect President Bush to win in 2004 by a "landslide".

Joel Thomas said that although he thinks a Bush victory is likely, he doesn't think it'll be a landslide; he predicted a 6-10 point win for Bush in the "popular vote".

He may very well be right about that spread, but I wasn't thinking of the "popular vote" -- which I put in quotes because it's not even a real thing. There is no popular vote for President, there are only 50 state-wide elections to select electors, who then cast their votes for President. When I predicted a landslide victory for GWB, I was thinking of the electoral college, where I think he will receive more than 400 votes. I would consider this a landslide, just as Reagan's 1980 victory was a landslide -- 489 electoral votes and wins in 45 states is tremendous, even though he only received 51% of the "popular vote".

Single Southern Guy Adam H. has a new weekly feature he's calling the Kissing Booth that he claims is a "collection of the blogosphere’s best articles on relationships and the people involved in them!" It's pretty cool... lots of dating tips... but no midgets that I could see.

As for actual kissing booths: do they really exist? I've been to lots of fairs, and I've never seen one. Not that I was, you know, looking that hard. I'm just saying, I think they're a myth. Anyone ever actually see or patronize one? Or work at one?

Frankly, I think I could make a lot of money if I started one, once word of mouth got around.

Preeminent military historian Fred Kagan has a long and excellent piece that details some of his concerns with Donald Rumsfeld's vision for the US armed forces. Until I read this, I was a supporter of Rumsfeld's policies (not that I'm an expert on such matters, although I play one on TV), but now I'm not so sure. I imagine the victory in Iraq will teach our defense officials some of the lessons Mr. Kagan points to, and I'm glad there are so many smart people thinking about the subject.

In this world, anything is possible. The U.S. might win a future war relying solely on air power, for the first time in history, with no American or local ground forces involved and no meaningful threat of their deployment. That possibility cannot be excluded. The Rumsfeld vision of military transformation, however, does not pursue that as a possibility; it relies on it as a certainty. By focusing all of America's defense resources on the single medium of air power, Mr. Rumsfeld is betting America's future security on the conviction that the U.S. armed forces will be able to do every time what no military to date has ever been able to do. In doing so, he is greatly simplifying the task of those preparing to fight the U.S. by presenting them with only one threat to defeat.

TM Lutas discusses net-centric warfare, and has a good reason for why he thinks the US can maintain a permanent advantage over the countries we're likely to fight against.

People unfortunate enough to not live in Los Angeles probably don't know [... or care -- Ed.] how fascinated we are by rain. I work in a closed lab, and I noticed that it was raining this afternoon when I went outside for a break; when I returned and told everyone I was met by a chorus of "ooooo"s and "ahhhh"s. "Is it raining hard?" "Is there lightning?" "Is there thunder?" "Is it drizzling or raining?" "I'm going to go look, I'll be back."

For most Los Angeleans, the second thing that comes to mind when they see water falling from the sky (after the awe disappates) is that it's going to screw up traffic. It'll take twice as long to get home, mostly because we don't know how to drive in the rain. We drive as if it's not raining at all, until we crash into something hard and die. Then everyone behind us gets delayed by our wreckage, and pissed off even further. Once they finally navigate around the accident site, it's common practice to curse the dead for not dying at a more convenient location, and to then jam the gas pedal to make up for lost time.

The next morning, all anyone will be able to talk about is how much it rained. "My car was completely soaked!" "Traffic was awful, there were crashes everywhere." "The air sure is clear this morning!" "Look, I brought an umbrella!" Not that it will do much good since it won't rain again for months, but good show!

What makes a good commando? More than just mental and physical toughness, apparently. Recent tests have shown that special operatives who can handle the stress of tough situations the best all have something in common: elevated levels of a hormone called neuropeptide-Y (or NPY). (No permalink, look for November 6th, 2003 entry.)

Candidates, many of whom were already experienced infantrymen, were put in situations where they were tired, had little sleep, and then given difficult chores to accomplish in a short amount of time. Those who were best at this were selected, and the selections proved accurate. Similar selection and training methods continued after World War II. But now blood tests of these elite warriors, compared to regular infantrymen, shows that it's all in the blood. More specifically, the elite warriors have highly elevated levels the hormone neuropeptide-Y (or NPY). Not much is known about NPY, although it appears to be a natural relaxant. Produced in the brain and intestine, NPY is also involved with appetite control, heart function and the quality of ones sleep. If you are one of those people who just naturally have a lot of NPY, you tend to be cool under pressure and very capable of handling stress. We all know people like this. But if you want to be a successful commando, you really need NPY. This is because even commandos generate large quantities of the stress hormone cortisol when under pressure. Without NPY to handle the cortisol, you will be just as stressed out and exhausted as a normal person. It's not normal to have a lot of NPY. But a commando is more than some buff, aggressive guy with a lot of NPY. While there appears to be a lot of blood and brain chemistry issues going on here, there are also the more traditional items like motivation and physical fitness. But these have always been easier to measure. In the future, it looks like more blood tests will also be part of the selection process. Another spin off from this research will probably be an attempt to create drugs that will give all soldiers the same advantages. Troops have been taking ability enhancing drugs for nearly a century. Amphetamines have been the most popular, as sheer fatigue has long been a major, and often fatal, problem on the battlefield. But dealing with stress is nearly as big a problem. An effective anti-stress pill would be welcomed on the battlefield, for it would increase chances of survival in an often fatal occupation.
The benefits of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals are amazing to me.

In response to my post about my lack of nude Jessica Lynch pictures, Juliette writes:

I do agree that young people should take a lesson from what is happening to Ms. Lynch. And yes, a woman suffers in greater measure than a man for her past when the spotlight is shined on her.

This is the way it is, but that the way it should be? Of course not. And I say that, in the case of Ms. Lynch, we should start here and now in our own little corner by not casting any more stones at her than we did at Arnold Schwarzenegger. To paraphrase our Governor-Elect, Ms. Lynch hasn’t lived her life to become the subject of a media frenzy, nor should she have.

I wonder about that. If I have sons and daughters, I fully expect that I'll hold them to different standards (not higher or lower, precisely) because of their genders. As it relates to the example of Ms. Lynch, I would strongly disapprove of my daughter posing for nude pictures, but I would be mostly indifferent to similar behavior by my son. Why? My reactions would be based on how their actions would be perceived by the rest of the world, and it's clear that a man posing nude elicits mostly "eh, who cares", while a woman posing nude becomes a dehumanized object of lust.

Because of these differing reactions from society, it's only logical and reasonable for parents to expect different things from their children, based on gender. The issue of posing nude is only one aspect of this difference, and there are many more, some of which are biologically-based and likely impossible to change in society as a whole. Men will always lust over pictures of nude women more than women will lust over pictures of nude men. You may argue that it's not fair, but it's a fact of life.

The issue of gender roles has been beaten to death many, many times, but I thought I'd throw this out there.

Many inventions have created entirely new social situations; two examples that come to mind are telephones and elevators. Both devices led to new social conventions and new types of encounters that were previously nonexistant or incredibly. What other such inventions can you think of?


Not that I really keep track of my hit counter (hahahaha... ahem), but I noticed that hits are up today. If you don't know, it's often possible for me to see what search terms people use on Google (or whatever) when they are directed to my site. Apparently, people are still under the mistaken impression that I have pictures of Jessica Lynch nude, which I most certainly do not.

The recent surge of interest is probably motivated by the story that Hustler pornologist Larry Flynt has purchased such pictures, supposedly paying a six-figure price so that he could gallantly prevent their publication.

According to the story, Lynch posed for the pictures -- taken by some others in her unit -- before they were deployed to Iraq. Hopefully this serves as a warning to all the young ladies out there: dumb things will come back to haunt you.

Next time you're attacked by a bear (video), just remember the words of Stephanie Boyles:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Let other Girl Scouts make bird feeders out of Clorox bottles and glue together little birch-bark canoes - Troop 34 in Alaska is learning to trap and skin beavers. In a practice that has angered animal rights activists, the girls are killing the beavers as part of a state flood-management program.

"We think it sends a very, very bad message that when animals cause a problem you kill them," said Stephanie Boyles of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Beavers build dams, dams cause floods. What would PETA like the poor girls to do? Host a sensitivity seminar for the beavers to teach them that building dams threatens humans' natural habitat?

Out of good taste, I'm going to refrain from making any of the obvious jokes about Girl Scouts, beavers, dams, &c.

Pornographers -- or as I like to call them, "pornologists" -- are more market-savvy than music executives, judging from this article describing the present woes of the "adult publishing" industry and the adjustments its making.

NEW YORK - After 35 years in the business of titillating and offending, pornographer Al Goldstein says his magazine can't compete anymore. The audience is just as large, he says, but the Internet has transformed the product and its delivery. ...

Goldstein said circulation woes throughout the field show "we are an anachronism; we are dinosaurs; we are elephants going to the bone cemetery to die. ... The delivery system has changed, and we have to change with it if we want to survive." ...

Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who says his company has succeeded in the new marketplace, agrees that magazines are a dying breed.

"This past decade has been very, very bad for men's magazines and it could become worse," he said by phone from his office in Los Angeles. "I'm not going to say it's going to become extinct because some people will always want to feel that magazine in their hands, but it's never going to have the impact it once had."

Porn isn't completely analogous to music -- anyone can produce porn but (supposedly) good music is harder to come by. Nevertheless, it's amusing to me that the porn industry is scrambling to stay ahead of the technology curve, while the more more highly-respected music industry is still hanging onto its prehistoric business model.

James Pinkerton explains why I didn't like The Matrix or the recent Star Wars films.

Remember that allegedly climactic battle scene in "Phantom," when the good robots fought the bad robots? Or have you forgotten it already, because it's hard to care about machines fighting machines? As H.G. Wells, who knew something about sci-fi, once observed, you can put a familiar person in a strange situation, or you can put strange person in a familiar situation, but you can't put strange into strange -- because nobody will relate, nobody will care. ...

Don't get me wrong: I like a computer-generated images. But by now, thanks to computers, it's possible for a filmmaker to depict anything, and make it look, well, real. So now the challenge is to make people care about what's being depicted. And such caring requires a sense of scale and proportion. That is, one can show the Big Bang of the universe, or the Big Whimper, for that matter, but if it's just a bunch of constellations and gas clouds or whatever, then the viewer might as well be looking inside a kaleidoscope. What's needed, to make the depiction entertaining to human beings is another human -- or at least a mammal -- in the scene somewhere. Man is the measure of all things, said Protagoras, and so narrative-conscious filmmakers need a damsel in distress, or at least a cute puppy in trouble. If there's no danger, then there's no drama. Essential to suspense and adrenalin-rush is the feeling that bad things could happen to those we identify with; somebody, or something, needs to be rescued. Enter jut-jawed hero, the Seventh Cavalry, the Bush Doctrine, or what have you.

The Wachowskis forgot all these fundamentals of storytelling in the second "Matrix." Remember that fight between Neo and the 100 or so Agent Smiths? It was neat for awhile, but then, when Neo got tired of beating them all up, he simply flew away, like Superman. So much for any sense of Neo's limitations, any sense that he was in actual danger.

Mr. Pinkerton also impresses me with his correct use of double hyphens and spacing (" -- ") to create a proper emdash. Note: one hyphen alone is not enough indicate a break in sentence structure, and if you don't use spaces then it just looks weird and confusing.

Bill Hobbs has a great example of how reporting can be unbalanced, even when it's true. He discusses the Battle of Midway and explains that if the press only reported the loss of the carrier USS Yorktown, Americans at home might have become dismayed. When you know that 4 Japanese carriers were also destroyed, however, it's clear that Midway was an amazing victory for America and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.

Bill also has some incredible pictures of the Yorktown sinking, and of a newspaper front page announcing the US victory. Neither sight is likely to be seen these days.

Cool: my vacuum cleaner has a "shag" setting. Now if only I had shag carpet....

Not: There's an express elevator at work with it's own call button that's meant to be used when you're in a hurry, but lots of people press its button along with the regular button (that summons one of the other 5 elevators) and just take whichever elevator comes first. Of course, this completely defeats the purpose of the express elevator, since it spends most of its time going between floors for no reason. It's tragic.

Candace points to a NY Times article I somehow missed that claims Saddam tried to avert war at the last moment.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 — As American soldiers massed on the Iraqi border in March and diplomats argued about war, an influential adviser to the Pentagon received a secret message from a Lebanese-American businessman: Saddam Hussein wanted to make a deal.

Iraqi officials, including the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, had told the businessman that they wanted Washington to know that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction, and they offered to allow American troops and experts to conduct a search. The businessman said in an interview that the Iraqis also offered to hand over a man accused of being involved in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 who was being held in Baghdad. At one point, he said, the Iraqis pledged to hold elections.

Some may find it troubling that we decided not to deal with Saddam Hussein at this late date, with our troops massed on the borders. In some ways, it may appear that we should have taken advantage of any opportunity to avoid war, and some may criticise the Bush Administration for apparently ignoring this contact. However, such critics would be mistaken.
In interviews in Beirut, Mr. Hage said the Iraqis appeared intimidated by the American military threat. "The Iraqis were finally taking it seriously," he said, "and they wanted to talk, and they offered things they never would have offered if the build-up hadn't occurred."
This is the crux of the matter. Because it is very expensive in lives, money, and time to build up a military presence as we did for the Iraq invasion, our military needs to be an effective threat, not merely an effective weapon. Our enemies need to realize that once our boots are on the ground, it's too late for anything other than complete capitulation, which the Iraqis were not willing to accept.
He said that when he told Mr. Obeidi that the United States seemed adamant that Saddam Hussein give up power, Mr. Obeidi bristled, saying that would be capitulation. But later, Mr. Hage recounted, Mr. Obeidi said Iraq could agree to hold elections within the next two years.
Once we were positioned, we were committed to achieving complete victory. The only concession we could have accepted would have been if Saddam had surrendered himself to the United States and Iraq had opened itself up to immediate US military occupation (including disbanding its own armed forces). That was our standard for victory, and that's what we obtained through combat; no lesser outcome could have been accepted.

Why not? Well, as Grand Moff Tarkin famously observed in Star Wars in reference to the Death Star, "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battlestation." He formulated what is known as the Tarkin Doctrine: Rule through the fear of force, rather than force itself. Sure, he was working for the evil Emperor Palpatine, but his logic is sound. Using force is simply too expensive to be done lightly, and an army (or a Death Star) can only be one place at a time. But an army can threaten a great many places at once, if it has forces in reserve that are ready to be deployed.

Furthermore, we can't be predictable and allow our enemies to manipulate us. If we allowed Saddam to talk us into withdrawing short of total victory once we were in place, what would prevent him from simply changing his mind again as soon as our troops were gone? Then we'd have to build up for another 6 months, only for him to perhaps give in a bit more later. Our other enemies would see that the line of real danger was very away from our verbal threat, and thus the power of our threat would be greatly diminished. The next time we threatened to use our military, our opponent would know that he could avoid giving in to us until we were actually on his doorstep aiming our kick.

That would be a completely untenable foreign policy. Once a threat is made, and our opponent refuses to surrender, we must then follow through on the threat. That's the only way to ensure that our verbal threats are taken seriously; anything less would hamstring our diplomats and tie up our military in endless for-show deployments, costing lives and money.

It's not at all surprising to me that Saddam and his cronies saw they were doomed and wanted to talk their way out of it at the last moment. But I'm very glad we didn't let them, because if we had we would have returned to the status quo of 1999, and left ourselves in a far weaker diplomatic position.

I just want to take a quick moment to point out that Ralph Nader is mistaken.

MADISON, Wis. - Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader (news - web sites) called Democrats "chronic whiners" for continuing to accuse him of spoiling the 2000 presidential election for Al Gore (news - web sites).

"They should realize that the retrospect on Florida concluded Gore won Florida," the consumer activist told the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday. "It was stolen from the Democrats. And they should concentrate on the thieves and the blunderers in Florida, not on the Green Party."

As CNN (and many other news organizations) reported in 2001, George W. Bush would have beaten Al Gore in Florida under any reasonable recount scheme.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A comprehensive study of the 2000 presidential election in Florida suggests that if the U.S. Supreme Court had allowed a statewide vote recount to proceed, Republican candidate George W. Bush would still have been elected president.

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago conducted the six-month study for a consortium of eight news media companies, including CNN. ...

Using the NORC data, the media consortium examined what might have happened if the U.S. Supreme Court had not intervened. The Florida high court had ordered a recount of all undervotes that had not been counted by hand to that point. If that recount had proceeded under the standard that most local election officials said they would have used, the study found that Bush would have emerged with 493 more votes than Gore. ...

Suppose that Gore got what he originally wanted -- a hand recount in heavily Democratic Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties. The study indicates that Gore would have picked up some additional support but still would have lost the election -- by a 225-vote margin statewide.

At the end of his Daily Bleat, Lileks mentions the recent al Qaeda bombing in Riyadh and says:

And it makes me wonder: They stick the shiv in the ribs of their richest and most enthusiastic backers.

What makes them this confident?

But that question presupposes that there's a high-level organizational force directing and organizing these recent attacks. Mr. Lileks may have been speaking rhetorically, but if anyone thinks that Osama Bin Laden is lounging in a cave, watching satellite TV, and pulling terrorist strings anymore, they're mistaken.

Combined with the attacks on the Red Cross and the UN in Baghdad (and the earlier bombings in Saudi Arabia), the only real possible conclusion is that there simply isn't anyone in control anymore (if there ever was). At it's strongest, al Qaeda was a sort of terrorist venture capitalist that financed and trained killers around the world, but often the plans and projects themselves were instigated and led by locals. OBL may have given some ideological direction (such as prohibiting attacks on Arab oil infrastructure), but it's doubtful that he ever had much authority (such as the power to stop terrorist attacks, if he so chose (as Arafat has done in the past in Israel)).

No, the attacks we're seeing now aren't motivated by confidence, they're the death-throes of fragmented terror cells around the world. I doubt that many attacks are really the work of any organization that can legitimately called "al Qaeda" -- the name has grabbed international recognition, and I imagine that every otherwise-unaffiliated Muslim terrorist uses it just to assure that his attacks get attention and reinforce the myth. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride, the name is used for effect and cover, nothing more.

As many others have speculated, the targets of these recent attacks were likely chosen for 2 reasons: they're "soft" targets and thus easy to hit, and they'll scare people by their randomness. That's the difference between a "military operation" and a "terrorist operation". Militaries (even guerrilla forces) select targets and make attacks for the purposes of damaging enemy forces and acquiring material assets. Terrorists just blow up whatever's handy to show their power, and then make demands; the point isn't so much what gets blown up, as long as it's something that will get attention for the terrorist's cause.

I had more, but it was rambling.

Click me.

Here's a nifty tool you can use to keep track of how your Senators and Representative vote: VoteNote.

Each week (that Congress is in session) you will receive:

- Key votes by your two Senators and U.S. Representative.
- Links to send e-mail to your members of Congress using pre-addressed forms.
- Upcoming votes for your review and links to offer e-mail input before they vote.
All you need is your zip code (to locate your Representative), and an email address. I signed up, and I can't wait to see how my three leftist delegates are representing me!

Found via

"Where have you been?" Tercil asked with a sullen glare, crossing his arms and tilting his head back to look up.

I've been working on some other things.

"I see," he said.

It's not like I've forgotten about you.

"You've left us all in quite a fix here, you know," he replied slowly. Every word was spaced out, distinct from its neighbors, laborious. "Ansel has vanished, Lilith is dropping babies into boiling water, and I think it's way past time Valerya and I split from our little party."

Don't worry, I'm on top of it. It's not like you can get bored.

"Right, time is supposed to mean nothing to me, I know," he said. "But I've learned differently."

That's sorta the point.

"It is? That's the point?"

No, not the point. Nevermind. Look, just don't worry, I'll get back to you in a little while.

Tercil kicked at the sidebar, but to no avail. "It's this blog, isn't it?" he asked. "It takes up all your writing time."

Partly; plus I've got my PhD to work on.

"Yeah, meanwhile I get pounded on by invisible monsters and Valerya gets tormented by dark, mysterious forces."


"And what's with the third-person point-of-view?" I asked, before catching myself. So that's how he wants to play it?

That's right.

Surpressing my amazement, I replied flatly, "Go ahead, read my mind -- everyone else does."

From somewhere behind me, Valerya spoke up for the first time. "What about me?" Tercil always got to tell his side of the story, and I wanted a shot at it. Oh.

Hey Valerya, how's it going?

Tercil raised his eyebrow in that irritating way of his, so I decided to ignore him for the time being. Instead, I turned my devestating smile towards the author. "It's nice to finally talk with you."


"I'm curious: what's going to happen when we leave Gareth Volno?" I asked, tilting my head in what I hoped was an alluring manner.

You'll have to read and find out, I'm afraid.

Tercil jumped in -- "You don't know yet, do you? That's why you're stalling."

I rounded on him. "We're the ones leading the adventure," I said. "It's character-driven, not plot-driven, so maybe it's our fault."

But Tercil was not amused. "You made her say that!" he accused, quite unjustly.

Maybe it was the dark, mysterious forces.

"If you're going to mock me, then I'm leaving," Tercil replied, but Valerya rolled her eyes ever-so-slightly.

"You'd rather go sit in a Word document?" she asked him.

"I'd rather get some action of our own than be trotted out for filler on some website," Tercil replied. "Still, it's nice to stretch my leg a bit."

How's it feeling?

"A little stiff. Is it going to get better?"

It's not looking likely, no.

Tercil sighed. "Great."

Valerya flopped down onto the ground and gazed around. "This place isn't so bad, really."

Thanks, it's nice to have visitors. You're welcome to visit any time; him too, I suppose.

Tercil moved to stand next to Valerya and put his hands on her shoulders. "Don't you think this is dragging on just a bit?"

Everyone's a critic.

"I'm pretty familiar with your other work," Tercil responded. Valerya turned her face up at him and scowled.

Fine then, off you go; I'll see what I can do about your boredom. Go on you two, out!

I had been struggling for a few weeks with some strange behavior I was getting from my dissertation project. I developed my software using the GPL'd Quake 2 engine, and I was surprised when it started crashing unexpectedly and displaying all sorts of weird artifacts. John Carmack and his cohorts are great programmers, and I knew there weren't bugs like this in the commercial game... but I also knew that I hadn't touched any of the code that was throwing me memory violations.

So I spent a few weeks debugging, and didn't get anywhere. I excised the entire collision system and reduced the frequency of fatal errors, but the system still wasn't stable enough to run for more than a few hours. Plus, I really want to use the collision system.

Most of my changes were to the standard data structures, particularly edict_s (which I use to represent my animats -- my artificial creatures). I added a three-dimensional array to keep track of each animat's world knowledge -- one dimension holds the "layers" of knowledge (like food locations, enemy locations, unexplored territory, &c.), and the other two dimensions represent the XY coordinate plane of the world. The world is a square 2048 units per side, and I didn't want the arrays to be that large, so I collapsed the XY plane into a 32x32 grid of "sectors", with each sector being 64x64 units in size; my knowledge array could then have 32x32 entries per layer (0 - 31 in each dimension), rather than 2048x2048.

Because of this granulation, however, I needed a routine to translate an animat's real coordinates into its sector coordinates, so I wrote the following:
#define GRIDX(x) ((int)x->s.origin[0]/C_GRIDSIZE)

#define GRIDY(x) ((int)x->s.origin[1]/C_GRIDSIZE)

Those macros take the X or Y coordinate of animat x and then divide it by C_GRIDSIZE, which is 64. No problem! Except... near the edges of the map it's possible for an animat to nudge itself slightly past 0 or 2047! The knowledge array in the animat structure only goes from 0 to 31, but occasionally these macros would return -1 or 32, or even worse! When I would then try to write to the array, I wasn't writing into the knowledge map at all, I wrote to other locations in the animat structure!

Sorry for all the exclamation points, but it's no wonder I was seeing strange behavior. I just changed the macros as such:
#define MIN(a, b) (a<b?a:b)

#define MAX(a, b) (a>b?a:b)

#define GRIDX(x) MIN(MAX(((int)x->s.origin[0]/C_GRIDSIZE),0),C_XMAX-1)

#define GRIDY(x) MIN(MAX(((int)x->s.origin[1]/C_GRIDSIZE),0),C_YMAX-1)

Everything seems to be quite stable now, and I'm going to leave it running overnight just to be sure. The lesson is: always bounds-check your arrays!

Tyler Cowen constantly brings up interesting topics, and today he gives us a preview of a paper he's writing about the difficulty of predicting the distant future.

Lately I've been working on a piece on the so-called "epistemic problem" in philosophy. Many critics argue that the long-run difficulty of predicting the future means that we should not be "consequentialists," namely concerned with the good (or bad) consequences of our actions. Utilitarianism, of course, is one form of consequentialism. Here is an explanatory paragraph from my current draft:

"To view the point in its most extreme form, what if John bends down to pick up a banana peel? If nothing else, this action will likely affect the identities of all his future children, if only by changing the timing of future sex acts by a slight amount (Parfit 1987), or by reconfiguring the position of John’s sperm within his testicles. And a different set of people will, in many cases, cause the world to take a very different path. We need only postulate that some individuals, or some leaders, play a significant role in shaping what happens. We can multiply this kind of conundrum in numerous directions. If Hitler's grandmother had bent down to pick one more daisy, European history would have taken a very different (and hard to predict) path. One extra sneeze from one caveman, millennia ago, probably would suffice to change the entire course of world history. Given the workings of genetics, and the importance of individual identities, virtually all small changes in initial conditions will have very large effects in the long run. Furthermore we do not have a very good idea of how those effects will play out."

It's interesting to think about, but I have a hunch that the question itself isn't of much consequence. Mathematically, chaotic effects average themselves out over time and form strange attractors. For instance, the details of history might have been different without Hitler, but the big picture could still be similar to what we've ended up with. Certainly, the universe is a chaotic place with plenty of "good luck" and "bad luck" to go around ("luck" being a term for unpredicted consequences), but it's still rational to play the odds.

From a philisophical standpoint, our social and psychological systems wouldn't be built around consequentialism if it didn't work in the short-term (across the span of a human life, say). Our actions get reinforced by their consequences (whether we attribute credit/blame correctly, or not), and we adjust -- and it appears to work. The question then is, do our actions actually change the probability distribution of the various possible outcomes? Statistics suggest that they do, e.g., college graduates earn more money than high school drop-outs.

If one wishes to consider the more distant future -- beyond the span of one's own life -- then there is definitely a lot more chaos to take into account. But humans know this intuitively, and very few people make decisions based on how they want to shape the distant future. Some people pay lip-service to caring about future generations, but such claims are generally distractions that conceal more immediate concerns.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court says that gay sex isn't adultery.

The court was asked to review a divorce case in which a husband accused his wife of adultery after she had a sexual relationship with another woman. Any finding that one spouse is at fault in the break-up of a marriage can change how the court divides the couple's property.

Robin Mayer, of Brownsville, Vt., was named in the divorce proceedings of a Hanover couple. She appealed the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that gay sex doesn't qualify as adultery under the state's divorce law.

In a 3-2 ruling Friday, the court agreed.

The majority determined that the definition of adultery requires sexual intercourse. The judges who disagreed said adultery should be defined more broadly to include other extramarital sexual activity.

So, what's your take on the matter, from a legal and moral standpoint? Does this affect the line that's drawn for male-female sexual activities and adultery?

My initial take on it is that female-female sex is different from male-male sex, am I wrong? Sure, you may think that all combinations are equally unfaithful emotionally, but are they all adultery?

Eugene Volokh says that the ruling applies to all nongenital sex and not just oral sex, for what it's worth. I think the moral aspect of the question is more interesting than the legal, however.

Everyone knows that Republicans are greedy and hate the poor, while Democrats love them and want to help them... right? Well, not according to The Catalogue for Philanthropy's "Generosity Index 2003". As Opinion Journal notes,

In news sure to depress those for whom Republican stinginess and antipathy for the less fortunate is an article of faith, the Massachusetts Catalogue for Philanthropy has just released its Generosity Index 2003, which ranks states not just by how much their residents give per capita but also by how much they give relative to what they earn. As reader Gabriel Openshaw pointed out to us, the resulting index shows that the top 20 states all went for George W. Bush in the 2000 election--while 15 of the 20 least generous went for Al Gore. Maybe, he suggests, the difference is that those in red states are more generous with their own money while those in blue states are more likely to be generous with other people's money.

Michael asked me to talk about the iraq debt situation, which by some reports could measure as large as $350bn dollars. To me, the solution seems pretty straightforward - they need to be largely, if not completely forgiven.

The only argument I've heard against the forgiveness of the debt is that it will set a bad precedent for future lending to other iffy regimes, such as perhaps china, or any place that may make a future transition to democracy, but I feel that iraq is an extremely unique case due to over a decade of economic sanctions and the nature of its regime. But there is an important point, in that there are no international rules for this sort of thing. The paris and london clubs will write down or reschedule payments on iraqs debt for sure, but they will base it entirely on the iraqis ability to pay, not whether or not they should have to. Perhaps, as I said, iraq is too unique to set a precedent of any kind, But rules do need to be set, internationally, regarding loans to recognized bad regimes, perhaps as part of UN sanctions, stating that loans debt will not carry over to any replacement government.

As for the argument for forgiveness have eveything to do with iraqs ability to develop economically - they would be crippled by the reckless spending of an obviously screwed up government. And the limbo situation that exists now, with no definitive answer on the loan forgiveness, is killing new investment in the country - expedient forgiveness would definitely help the transition. If the situation is similar to anything in recent history, it would be Germany after WWI. Then, Keynes and others argued for debt forgiveness for similar reasons; You all know what the lack of debt relief ended up like. Without debt forgiveness I am hard pressed to believe the new iraq will succede.

Ever hear the term "abortion industry"? Maybe not, but almost $500 million is spent on abortions each year. Some abortion proponents are probably involved because of their true beliefs on the matter, but a great many are lured in because of the vast sums of money that can be made off the grief of panicked women.

Carol Everett was involved in the abortion industry in the Dallas/Ft.Worth, Texas, area from 1977 untill 1983. As director of four clinics, owner of two, Ms. Everett was responsible for the clinics' daily operation. ...

Q. What is the governing force behind the abortion industry?
A. Money. It is a very lucrative business. It is the largest unregulated industry in our nation. Most of the clinics are run in chains because it is so profitable.

Q. How much money were you making in the abortion industry before you quit?
A. I was getting a commission of $25.00 on every abortion I "sold". In 1983, the year I got out, I would have pocketed approximately $250.000. But, in 1984 we expected to be operating five clinics, terminating about 40,000 pregnancies, and with that projection I planned to net $1 million. Money, Money, Money - that's where my heart was.

Q. Why do you refer to "selling" abortions?
A. The product, abortion, is skillfully marketed and sold to the woman at the crisis time in her life. She buys the product, finds it defective and wants to return it for a refund. But, it's too late. Her baby is dead.

Q. In what way is the woman deceived?
A. In two ways - the clinic personnel and the marketers must deny the personhood of the child and the pain caused by the procedure. Every woman has two questions, "Is it a baby?" and "Does it hurt?" The abortionist must answer "NO". He/she must lie to secure the consent of the woman and the collection of the clinic's fee. The women were told that we were dealing with a "product of conception" or a "glob of tissue". They were told that there would be only slight cramping, whereas, in reality, an abortion is excruciatingly painful.

Read the rest of Carol Everett's Q&A if you've got the stomach for it. I'd recommend not, unless you want to learn how babies were "re-constructed outside the uterus to be certain all the parts have been removed" and how the parts were then "disposed" of.

One of the hidden secrets of the abortion industry is that 33% of its victims are black, even though blacks make up only 12% of the general population. has more details, and has some history of the "Negro Project" initiated by Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger.

Planned Parenthood’s founder and matriarch, Margaret Sanger in the 1930s ingeniously promoted her ideology that the "unfit" should be prevented from reproducing, "by force if necessary." Since the economic plight of many Blacks placed them and their families in the position of living in an environment that Sanger believed breed "unfit" individuals, her organization zeroed in on the "Negro" population. Establishing the "Negro Project," Sanger and her cohorts set out to push their birth control agenda which as she writes "is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives" (The Pivot of Civilization written by M. Sanger)

In November 1939 a "Negro Project" leader feared that the project would be in "a great danger" of failing because "the Negroes think it a plan for extermination." Therefore, "let’s appear to let the colored run it ...." (Gamble memo "Suggestions for Negro Project" excerpted from pamphlet issued by the African American Committee, A.L.L.) Sanger later wrote him back saying, "We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population ..." She goes on saying that use of the Negro minister would effectively "straighten ... any rebellious members." (Letter from Sanger to Gamble, excerpted from pamphlet issued by the African American Committee, A.L.L.) "With social service backgrounds, and engaging personalities" the "hired ... Colored Ministers" would "propagandized for birth control ... "through a religious appeal." To help maintain control, the colored ministerial staff would be carefully controlled. "A project director lamented ‘I wonder if Southern Darkies can ever be entrusted with ... a clinic. Our experience causes us to doubt their ability to work except under White supervision’." Through her Negro Advisory Council, Sanger’s dream of discouraging "the defective and diseased elements of humanity" from their "reckless and irresponsible swarming and spawning" has been successful. (Excerpts from Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood)

Apparently, Sanger's project is working quite well. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots from Margaret Sanger, to the "Negro Project", to the modern Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (Here is Planned Parenthood's fact sheet on their founder, which addresses some of these issues, and puts some quotes in a different context.) Although some may claim that American blacks have more abortions than American whites because they tend to be poorer, I'm not sure that's the case. For instance, abortion rates are similar in rich and poor countries -- that may not translate well into America, but it could be indicative. If anyone has a breakdown of abortion rates by socio-economic class, I'd love to see it (I can't find one).

So where does all this money go? Surprisingly, only a few million dollars are given directly to political candidates each year (the vast majority to Democrats), but much more is spent on issue ads promoting "the freedom of choice". I particularly like a quote from an ad mentioned here.

A fifth television ad asked "what will we tell children? . . . That we had the right to choose, but that right is lost? Will we tell them we had control of our bodies, our lives? They never will."

And the new tagline: Abortion, it's for the children!

Click me.

Lileks has a lengthy Matrix 3 review up (in which he blasts Harry Knowles, of AICN fame), and he describes something many people noted about the series: it tries very hard to build a secular spirituality, but falls amazingly flat without any concept of God.

I took away something else from the Matrix trilogy: it is a product of deeply confused people. They want it all. They want individualism and community; they want secularism and transcendence; they want the purity of committed love and the licentious fun of an S&M club; they want peace and the thrill of violence; they want God, but they want to design him on their own screens with their own programs by their own terms for their own needs, and having defined the divine on their own terms, they bristle when anyone suggests they have simply built a room with a mirror and flattering lighting. All three Matrix movies, seen in total, ache for a God. But they can’t quite go all the way. They’re like three movies about circular flat meat patties that can never quite bring themselves to say the word “hamburger.”
One of the best ways to view the Matrix trilogy is to deconstruct it (argh) and examine what it really says about our culture. As Lileks describes, every note it strikes is philisophically discordant, and every morale pontification is conflicted and contradictory.

I haven't seen number 3, but the orgy scene in number 2 stands out particularly. Zion is the philisophical culmination of secular culture, with free, crazy sex, but Neo and Trinity don't partake -- instead they go off on their own and ick up the screen for 5 minutes. It's as if the writers really wanted an orgy, but then decided that a bilateral love scene would be more fulfilling... for some reason. Why?

As Lileks asks, why did the humans bother fighting the robots, rather than submit to the Matrix? What could they hope to accomplish, other than to eventually, after hundreds of years, raise their civilization back up to the level they could instantly experience in the machines' simulated world? There's an innate understanding that humans shouldn't be the slaves of robots, but within the mythos of the movie, why not? If there's some fundamental human dignity at stake, what's the source? Why struggle, fight, and die, just so your kids can be more miserable? What's wrong with living in a pleasant illusion?

The movies don't answer that question other than with some hand-waving, because they simply can't -- and modern secularism don't have an answer either. Survival of the fittest and evolution are praised academically, but no one wants to carry them to their logical extremes. Why bother helping the Iraqis, rather than just nuking them and taking their oil? They're obviously less fit than we are, and eliminating them would be good for the species. Doubly true for Afghanistan, since they don't even have oil. Nukes are cleap, compared to soldiers.

Why worry about healthcare for the poor? If they can't compete, let 'em die. Instead of an expensive medical system, we could form a Corpse Patrol to keep the dead bodies off the street. Abortion? Who cares! If a fetus can't fend for itself, too bad. Same for the handicapped, the insane, and so forth. Why try rehabilitating criminals? Just shoot them. Sure, some might be innocent, but on average we'll improve the population by weeding out as many deviants as possible.

All of these ideas are ludicrous, of course, but try to explain why from a secular standpoint. Social contract? Do you think society would fall apart if we let all the poor die? Nonsense, that was the policy of civilization for thousands of years. Besides, as long as it would be economically valuable to have a supply of poor people, capitalism would work to preserve them without the need for government intervention. (If you comment, please make sure your secular argument isn't simply a variation on the "social contract" idea.)

The point is that without God -- without some supernatural imposition of value from the outside -- a human is instrinsically worth nothing beyond his usefulness. And useless humans are therefore worth nothing. Most people (except extreme environmentalists) reject these conclusions, but with little rational basis. As Lileks said, we want the benefits of God, but we want to create him ourselves, to suit our purposes. We want to "discover" what "'God' means to me" and such. But a human-created God cannot reciprocally give value to his creator, and any philosophy built on such a construct will ring entirely hollow.

Donald Sensing writes about "The Metrosexual Jesus" and the feminization of lots of things (in reference to Kim du Toit's recent piece on the same topic). Read the whole thing, but the part that's particularly on-point to me is Donald's criticism of the modern church.

As children in Sunday School we see our first pictures of Jesus as the good shepherd (see above, for example). They are wildly inaccurate. They show a Zest-fully clean Jesus with his Breck-shampooed, blow-dried hair, in a spotless, Bill Blass robe, carrying a little lamb on his shoulders. This is an inoffensive, domesticated Jesus, a tamed Jesus who looks good. This Jesus is a poster boy for people who think that Christian faith is supposed to make them popular. But if this wimpy, smarmy, gender-confused, television-evangelist-looking Jesus ever told you, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (cf: John 10:11), you’d laugh out loud in derision. And if it ever occurred to you that your life was literally in his hands, you’d cry in despair.

A good shepherd Jesus would have grubby clothes that were torn and tattered, perhaps bloodstained. He would clip his hair short because it would be constantly dirty. Soot and sweat would be streaked across his face. His hands would be grimy. His aroma would prove he is unacquainted with Ban Roll-on. The type of fellow who can do the work that shepherding requires is not the kind of fellow any of us would invite home to meet mother. Good shepherds don’t appeal to persons of refined sensibility. ...

When King David was just a lad, he volunteered for single combat with Goliath. David was a shepherd, a tough guy, alert to dangers. He stood before King Saul. Saul denied David the right to confront Goliath in single combat because David was so young.

But David said to Saul, "I have been keeping my father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. I have killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them. . . .
That’s what good shepherds do.
There's lots more, and it's good stuff.

Bill Hobbs emails me a link to an interesting report released yesterday by The Pew Research Center titled "The 2004 Political Landscape: Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized". There are 9 major parts to the report, and I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, but "Part 8: Religion in American Life" alone provides some interesting tidbits.

America remains an intensely religious nation and, if anything, the trend since the late 1980s has been toward stronger religious belief. Eight-in-ten Americans (81%) say that prayer is an important part of their daily lives, and just as many believe there will be a Judgment Day when people will be called before God to answer for their sins. Even more people (87%) agree with the statement "I never doubt the existence of God."

Clearly, views on these three statements are highly related, and when these three questions are combined into a single indicator of religious intensity, fully 71% agree with all three statements, while just 7% disagree with all three. Both of these figures are slightly higher than was the case 16 years ago, when 68% agreed with all three statements, and 5% disagreed with them all. With more people at each end of the spectrum, somewhat fewer Americans express mixed views about their religious beliefs today (22%) than was the case in the late 1980s (27%).

These trends probably reflect the ascension of the Millennial generation, which tends to be much more conservative than its Boomer parents.
Growing religious intensity also is seen in how Americans, especially self-described Protestants, characterize their religious faith. In the late 1980s, 41% of Protestants and 24% of the population overall identified themselves as "born- again or evangelical" Christians. Today, 54% of Protestants describe themselves this way, and evangelical Protestants make up the largest single religious category (30% of the population).
Although, apparently under-30s are identifying themselves as "Protestants" less than they did 15 years ago, with a drop of 52% to 45%. However, as the study goes on to note, this may just be a shift away from denominational identification, and not a shift towards secularism.
Moreover, younger generations are becoming much more religious as they age. Fifteen years ago, 61% of people in their late teens and twenties agreed with all three religious statements. Today, 71% of people in these generations ­ now in their thirties and forties ­ express this level of strong religious faith. Over the same period, the percentage of Protestants in this age group identifying themselves as born again or evangelical has risen from 41% in the late 1980s to 55% now. As a result of these gains, people in their 30s and 40s today are considerably more religious than their 30-to-49-year-old counterparts were in the late 1980s.
The study goes on to describe some striking differences between the religious beliefs of Democrats and Republicans that weren't present in the late 80s.
Over the past 15 years, religion and religious faith also have become more strongly aligned with partisan and ideological identification. Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to express strong personal religious attitudes in 1987 and 1988; the same percentage in both parties affirmed the importance of prayer, belief in Judgment Day and strong belief in God (71% in each). But over the past 15 years, Republicans have become increasingly united in these beliefs, opening up a seven-point gap between the parties (78% vs. 71% of Democrats).
Finally, the report contradicts an earlier poll showing that abortion is losing acceptance among women. That poll found that a majority of 51% of women believe that abortion should be prohibited or limited to extreme cases, such as rape, incest, or life-threatening complications. The Pew study says that:
Most Americans (57%) say they oppose changing the laws to make it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, while 36% are in favor, and there have been only slight changes in public opinion on this question over the past sixteen years. While abortion is a significantly more divisive issue today than was the case in 1987, most of the partisan and religious divisions were firmly in place a decade ago, and have changed little since. ...

A small gender gap over the abortion issue in 1987 has gradually disappeared, as support for stricter abortion laws among women has fallen by eight points (women used to be somewhat more conservative than men on this issue.) The change among women has occurred primarily among older groups. Sixteen years ago fully half of women age 50 and older favored stricter limits on abortion, today just 35% in this age group say the same.

Perhaps the difference is in the phrasing of the questions, because otherwise I can't explain it. The Pew results themselves go on to contradict these findings.
Liberal Democrats are the only major demographic or political group where a majority does not agree with protecting the rights of the unborn in almost all cases (only 44%). Among religious groups, nine-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (91%), 61% of non-evangelicals, and 74% of white Catholics hold this opinion, compared with 53% of seculars.
So, which is it? Those numbers seem to indicate that there's a strong majority in favor of protecting the rights of the unborn, but the results of the earlier question say that there isn't a majority in favor of making abortions more difficult to obtain. It's hard for me to imagine confusion over such an issue, but what other explanation is there?

I'll take a read through the other 8 sections when I have time. It looks like there's a goldmine statistical information in there (which I love), and it'll probably be fodder for later posts. If any of you write about any of the other sections, let me know and I'll link to it.

Have you ever noticed that kids don't really have socially-recognized "personal space"? We seem to acquire it as we get older, but we certainly aren't born with it. If you know the parents of a baby, for instance, it seems generally accepted that you can touch the baby as much as you want -- you can pull his hands and feet, tickle him, poke him, even pick him up, and he has no say in the matter. He may start crying, but often the parent will then try to soothe him so that you can touch him again. If you think about it, it's quite odd.

As kids get older, more verbal, and more self-aware, they eventually start telling adults and their peers to leave them alone, to quit touching them, talking to them, looking at them, &c. Anyone with kids or siblings has seen or experienced the "tell him to get his finger off my side of the seat!" argument and the ever-popular "tell him to stop looking at me!"

Even still, kids as old as 7 or 8 want to be picked up, tossed in the air, and flown around the room. Maybe adults would too, except we're too big. That's the stage when "personal space" really becomes entrenched: the child is old enough to want control over who invades their space and when, but they still want to be picked up and played with -- only eventually they're too big. Maybe they see it as some sort of rejection, or maybe it's just the parents saying "you're too big [old?] for that now".

But it would be pretty cool if there were giants to carry me around and throw me up in the air.

Drudge links to a nice article on The Hill (which gets a permalink) that discusses the lessons that the Democrats are taking away from their recent gubernatorial losses. In my opininion, DNC chief Terry McAuliffe deserves far more blame than he's getting, and few of the Democrats quoted really seem to have a handle on the issues that are costing them elections.

"Terry McAuliffe is out there on his own agenda, which does not involve the South," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the only black member of his state’s congressional delegation.

"It does not involve African Americans to the extent that they need to be. There are some real organizational problems at the Democratic National Committee that need to be corrected if in fact this party is to ever regain a majority status in Washington."

That's for sure. The main problem is that McAuliffe is most likely in bed with the Clintons [eek, an apt and disgusting metaphor -- ed.] and doing his best to prevent any Democrat other than Hillary from winning the Presidency. Either that, or he's totally incompetant. It's hard to tell based on what I've seen of him, since he's pure rhetoric and spin whenever he's on TV.

McAuliffe goes on to say that there was nothing anyone could have done to protect the states they lost, and his supporters blame state and local organizations for failing to raise money and get out the votes.

As for California?

California’s Oct. 7 recall had been a "perfect storm," they said, combining voters' widespread antipathy for Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) fame and fortune, and many conservatives' support for a centrist over a right-winger to make it impossible for Democrats to hold onto the governorship.
Lots more blame gets thrown around in every direction, but I think Senator Zell Miller (who I really like) might be onto something:
Last week, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) endorsed President Bush and lambasted his party for turning its back on the South. Miller maintained that national party leaders could not campaign for Southern candidates because it would hurt the candidates' odds.
He's certainly right that campaigning in the South by party leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle would have hurt the candidates -- and why is that? Could it be because there's a huge disconnect between the party elites and the party members?

This disconnect is starkly evident in the choice of location for next year's party convention: Boston. Massachusets is heavily liberal, and there's little political benefit to be gained by holding the event there.

In contrast, consider that the Republicans are holding their convention in New York, the most liberal city in the country, but one which has elected Republican mayors and which might just be possible to sway to the right in the aftermath of 9/11 (and the Democrat's reaction to it). If the Republicans can even up the votes in New York City, then it may be possible for them to win the whole state (update New York is somewhat conservative), and virtually guarantee a Bush victory in 2004. If Grey Davis had been recalled and Arnold elected before the convention was set, I bet they would have held the convention in Los Angeles -- taking a risk to put a huge piece into play.

The Green River Killer has plead guilty to 48 murders, but Gary Ridgway is far from the worst serial killer in history. I'm not going to excerpt any details -- that BBC article is just a brief overview of serial killers in general -- but if you're looking for a really depressing read, google for "Pedro Alonso Lopez" (or read his Court TV site).

If you're interested, here's a federal list of controlled substances. Oxycodone (the primary ingredient of OxyContin) and cocaine are both Schedule II narcotics, for example.

A Colorado judge has ordered a mother not to expose her daughter to "teaching... that can be considered homophobic."

Cheryl Clark, who left a lesbian relationship in 2000 after converting to Christianity, was ordered by Denver County Circuit Judge John Coughlin to "make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic."

Dr. Clark filed her appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals last week.

Her former lover, Elsey McLeod, was awarded joint custody of the child, an 8-year-old girl who is Dr. Clark's daughter by adoption. ...

"Elsey never adopted this child. It's an egregious situation because the court is giving custody to someone who is not related to the child and has not adopted the child," Mr. Staver [a lawyer with Liberty Counsel] said.

The judge awarded joint custody, despite the fact that the former lover did not officially adopt the child.

Mathew Staver, a lawyer speaking for Dr. Clark, goes on:

"The mother is a Christian, and that's a major part of her lifestyle," he said. "She would be prohibited from reading her daughter Romans 1 or anything in the Bible on sexual fidelity in marriage, going to Bible study, or listening to a sermon on marriage or fidelity."
The judge's order seems to be atrocious, absurd, and in clear violation of the 1st Amendment as well as common parenting rights.

Eugene Volokh comments and notes the "best interests of the child" standard that courts use in custody decisions. Under general circumstances, it's for the parents to decide what is in the child's best interests, but when parental custody itself is involved, it gets much more complicated. What about when the child's "best interests" conflict with the parent's Constitutional rights? Among many other things, Eugene says, "But what this means, I think, is that sometimes the parents' constitutional rights should prevent a judge from rendering a decision that he thinks is in the child's best interests."

Yeah, this bothers me. Secret trials are not ok with me, unless the defendant waives his right to a public one. I hope the Supreme Court looks into it.

TMLutas at Flit concurs with my assessment of SDB's space elevator skepticism -- namely, that such skepticism is not warrented, and that the science and technology are available to make the project work.

Candace wishes she was ten again, and sometimes so do I. There were so many books and movies that I loved as a kid, but when I've reviewed them as an adult I've been underwhelmed. It may not seem as intellectual, but the same goes for video games.

So, what lost treasures would you like to recapture from your youth? Did anyone else ever read The Three Investigators series, or Encyclopedia Brown? How about Yogi's First Christmas, which I remember watching several times a day as a toddler? A little closer to age 10, there's Monkey Island 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. The Black Cauldron. The Secret of NIMH.

Of course, there are a lot of other things I loved as a kid that are still great, but I wish I could still enjoy them all.

Daniel Weintraub says that Arnold's ready to unveil a spending cap that he'll present to voters in March. Many people on both sides said that a Republican governor would have no chance enacting his policies when opposed by the Democrat-controlled legislature, but by going directly to the voters Arnold will bypass the legislature and use his massive popularity to push through his agenda.

The limit, drafted by Assemblyman John Campbell and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. President Jon Coupal, would cap spending growth at the rate of inflation plus population growth and dedicate any excess revenues to paying off the deficit and building a reserve that would grow to 10 percent of the general fund. The idea is to smooth out the ups and downs in the growth in government and provide a buffer for bad economic times. Any revenue beyond what was needed for a 10 percent reserve would be rebated to taxpayers.

If you're familiar with the California budget debacle, you'll know that the cause of our shortfall wasn't a lack of revenue, but reckless spending. There are only 3 numbers you need to know to back up this assertion:

1. 21% -- Over 1998 and 2002, the population growth rate and inflation combined would have led to a 21% budget increase to maintain 1998 levels of service.
2. 28% -- Between 1998 and 2002, state revenue rose 28% (faster than population and inflation combined, you'll note).
3. 36% -- From 1998 to 2002, state spending increased by 36%, far faster than population and inflation together, and far faster than revenue.

21%, 28%, 36%. If the Democrats in control of the state had increased spending along with population and inflation, we'd be sitting on a huge budget surplus right now. If they had merely increased spending with the increase in revenue, we could at least have broken even. But instead they spent far more money than was taken in, and have left our great state with a ridiculous, humiliating, shortfall.

That's why spending limits are necessary: we just can't trust the legislature not to go crazy withour money. Bill Hobbs points to this white paper he wrote about Tennessee's Taxpayers Bill of Rights that also gives a great history of the modern Tax Revolt, starting with California's own Prop 13 in 1978.

This SacBee article informs me that the legislature will need to approve the proposed amendment by 2/3 in order for it to show up on the March ballot.

It would take a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to put a spending cap on the ballot as early as March. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene in special session Nov. 18, the day after Schwarzenegger takes office.
The initiative/amendment processes in California are somewhat confusing, and I get mixed up sometimes.

"Teen Bomber's Dad Condemns Palestinian Militants" says the headline, and I'm glad to see that he's not blaming Israel. Unfortunately, the majority of Palestinians support the ongoing intifada that has claimed so many lives, and blame their misery on the Israelis rather than on their own leaders. Arafat and his terrorist cronies are using the Palestinian people as pawns in their own game, and until the Palestinians realize that they're going to continue suffering.

From my earlier post (based on this September, 2002, poll of Palestinians):

- 52% oppose peace negotiations with Israel.
- 73% are pessimistic of a reaching a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
- 66% are opposed to the Oslo agreement.
- 80% support the continuation of the al-Aqsa Intifada.
- 53% believe that the Intifada will achieve its object.
- 65% support suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians [the poll question specifically mentions civilians].
Get a clue. Sometimes the best option is to surrender, particularly when your opponent is a democracy whose people would be more than happy to let you live in peace and prosperity.

The VRWC flexes it's muscles and forces CBS to pull its Reagan documentary.

The flap over the $9 million miniseries, which was set to air on Nov. 16 and 18, began late last month with a story published in The New York Times revealing portions of the script that were unflattering to President Ronald Reagan and former first lady, Nancy.

That led to a firestorm by Republican-based political groups and Reagan supporters, some of whom threatened to boycott CBS and the products advertised during the program.

The Media Research Center (search) asked major advertisers to review the script and consider not buying commercial time on the show.

In an unusual move, CBS officials said last week that portions of the movie were unfair and the film was being re-edited.

It is rare for a network to substantially rework a completed film just weeks before it is scheduled to be shown.

As soon as CBS made the decision to cut portions of the film, director Robert Allan Ackerman opted out of the editing process and lead actors James Brolin and Judy Davis — who were to play President and Mrs. Reagan — refused to do any publicity interviews for the miniseries, according to a report in Newsweek magazine.

Senator Zell Miller has a new book coming out titled "A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat", and the Washington Times posts three excellent excerpts:
1. How Democrats lost the South
2. 'Able Democrats, but left-wing all the way'
3. In pursuit of an American Churchill

Senator Miller was twice elected governor or Georgia and served there from 1991 - 1999 (after serving 16 years as lieutenant governor). He was then appointed to a vacant Senate seat in 2000 and has served there for the past 3 years. He has said he will not seek election in 2004 when his term expires.

I respect Senator Miller a great deal, not only because his positions are closer to mine than are most Democrats', but because he is a rational, intelligent gentleman who doesn't pander and manipulate for political purposes. He has been a strong supporter of the War on Terror and of President Bush, and has even announced that he's going to vote for Bush in 2004 because of his disaffection for his own party.

I recommend reading the excerpts above, and the book sounds quite interesting itself. I suspect that Senator Miller speaks for a great many Democrats who have started seeing their party in a new light over the past decade. The Democrats would serve America well by following the lead of Senator Miller rather than Howard Dean, and the real story of 2004 will not be the immediate presidential election, but rather the party dynamics that will either splinter the Democrats and allow them to be reborn, or will give their radicals enough of a mandate to cling onto power for 4 more years.

But how far beyond? Jay Manifold discusses the potential limit of civilization, and links to another article on the same topic titled "The Physics of Extra-Terrestrial Civilization". Lots of somewhat-reasonable speculation, that's fun to think about.

Personally, I'll be quite surprised if we ever find extra-terrestrial intelligence, and I'll be only a little less surprised if we find ET life of any sort (after all, if there's any life, then there's probably intelligent life somewhere). Rather than waste time searching for such things, I think we should concentrate on getting as many people off the planet ASAP.

Howard Dean is certainly free to oppose President Bush's policies, but I object to his spokesman's characterization of that opposition.

Dean spokesman Jay Carson said that while his candidate violently disagrees with Bush on most things, "He agrees with him that his younger days were his younger days - and he's going to leave it at that."
I don't think it's appropriate for any presidential candidate to "violently disagree" with the leader of our country. Although I'm sure the term was used figuratively, I think that Mr. Dean should rein in his people a little bit.

Donald Sensing mentions that Iraqis will soon have a flat-tax system that's more fair than the American system. He then discusses the idea of a flat tax, and argues that all deductions should be eliminated, particularly deductions for charitable giving and interest paid on mortgages -- but I don't think his arguments take everything into account.

Despite pushes by several prominent politicians and organizations in America to establish a flat-tax system here, the idea has hardly got off the ground. The article cited blames both parties for being to wedded to the home-mortgage deductions and the deductions for charitable contributions.

Obviously, I have a vested interest in the latter myself, since contributions to churches are deductible. But dadgummit, "flat-rate" means flat rate. If the system is ever implemented here (fat chance, I know) then its only hope to survive is to have no exceptions.

I don't see why having two deductions would threaten the survival of a flat tax; there's a potential slippery slope, but I don't see slippage as inevitable if the flat tax is implemented via Constitutional Amendment.

Furthermore, I see no possibility for enacting a flat tax that doesn't incorporate a deduction for the interest home-owners pay on their mortgage. Donald says:

As for the mortgage-interest deduction, that needs to go too, and I own my home and benefit from it. The main objection to its elimination is that home values would plummet if the deduction is removed.

But what that really says is that the presumed tax savings are really ephemeral because the deduction is inflating home prices. So you have to pay more than the home is worth because of the deduction. That means that the deduction is skewing prices and hiding the true value of homes, and that alone is sufficient reason to eliminate it, IMO.

However, various studies (link, link, link, for example) show that eliminating the interest deduction would have very little effect on home values, and the effect would be temporary. Most taxpayers are not in the highest tax brackets, so their deductions are relatively modest.

That may very well be the case (and I hope it is), but I think it would be impossible to convince voters; trying to do so would ultimately doom any attempt to pass a flat tax.

As for charitable giving, Donald notes that:

Actually, I have little reason to be very sorry to see the charitable deduction go. After all, the average rate of giving to churches by Americans is very low, about 2-3 percent at best in oldline churches, maybe a little higher (but only a little) in evangelical ones. It frankly begs credulity that an income-tax deductions is driving such giving. (In fact, it begs credulity that anything is driving such a giving rate, but that’s a topic for another rant.)
However, while the average rate of charitable giving may be 2-3 percent, in my experience the standard deviation is quite high -- that is, 75% of people give less than 1% of their income, and 25% of people give more than 10% of their income. Eliminating the deduction for charitable giving would obviously not hurt the former group, but gifts from the later group (which gives the majority of the money) would be hurt quite badly. I think these numbers are fairly representative of the situation at my church.

My proposal is to enact a flat tax with these two deductions through a Constitutional Amendment that gives Congress the power to eliminate the deductions in the future, but not to expand them into any other areas. Sure, the courts may eventually stretch whatever language is used, but I think this would be a good starting point for the flat tax concept, and it would be a major step forward in the tax revolution.

No discussion of flat taxes is complete without mentioning the Fair Tax Act of 2003 which actually got quite a large number of co-sponsors in the House, but only couple in the Senate. Go take a look, and follow the instructions to write to your legislators telling them to support the law.

It's November, just like that. One second it's a late-summer Halloween, and the next it's Autumn. I woke up this morning and it wasn't 80 degrees outside... it was cold, and wet. I'm not sure I like it yet; I feel Lileks-melancholy over the season, but inside I feel warm and cheery.

I want to be sitting in front of a fire sharing stories, curled up and surrounded by all the people I love. Eating hot chocolate chip cookies. But, alas....

Many thanks to the kind gentleman who contributed to the Make Michael Rich Foundation over the weekend. The proceeds are going towards bandwidth, hosting, and handsome Bear Flag League merchandise.

You're the warden of a maximum security prison, and there's a national disaster that kills unknown millions of people and completely isolates your prison from civilization. Most of your guards flee to find their families, and you're left in a tough spot. You can't maintain the prison and its population by yourself, and if you leave then all the prisoners will die from thirst and starvation in short order. If you start releasing prisoners, the "safe" ones you let out will probably force you to release their friends as well. You yourself may not be in any immediate danger from the prisoners you release to fend for themselves, but you're pretty sure that some among the population will quickly return to preying on the weak and innocent, particularly in a society that's been disrupted by calamity. What do you do?

Does a guy have to be more attracted to a girl to be motivated to ask her out than a girl has to be to a guy to accept such an invitation?

While we're on the topic of required reading (and while I'm getting cheap and easy posts off the brilliance of others), allow me to point you to the complete text of Patrick Henry's famous 1775 speech, "Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death". While you're at it, read some background on the speech and why it was given, and see some pictures of what the gathering may have looked like.

Since I greatly fear than many of you will not go read the entire speech, allow me to quote the final paragraph.

It is in vain, sir, to extentuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Many in his audience were loath to take up arms and fight, but after his challenge what man could remain impassive and unmoved?

If you've got the time and energy, I highly recommend reading through Brian C. Anderson's article titled "We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore". It presents a fascinating and (honestly) awesome account of the ascension of conservative views in the media, largely due to the increased ease-of-access brought about by the internet, and good old capitialism. I'll quote a few paragraphs to whet your appetite, but really, do yourself a favor and go read the whole thing.

Adds Bernadette Malone, a former Regnery editor heading up Penguin’s new conservative imprint: “The success of Regnery’s books woke up the industry: ‘Hello? There’s 50 percent of the population that we’re underserving, even ignoring. We have an opportunity to talk to these people, figure out what interests them, and put out professional-quality books on topics that haven’t been sufficiently explored.’ ” Bellow puts it more bluntly: “Business rationality has trumped ideological aversion. And that’s capitalism.” ...

All these remarkable, brand-new transformations have sent the Left reeling. Fox News especially is driving liberals wild. Former vice president Al Gore likens Fox to an evil right-wing “fifth column,” and he yearns to set up a left-wing competitor, as if a left-wing media didn’t already exist. Comedian and activist Al Franken’s new book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is one long jeremiad against Fox. Washington Post media critic Tom Shales calls Fox a “propaganda mill.” The Columbia Journalism School’s Todd Gitlin worries that Fox “emboldens the right wing to feel justified and confident they can promote their policies.” “There’s room for conservative talk radio on television,” allows CNN anchor Aaron Brown, the very embodiment of the elite journalist with, in Roger Ailes’s salty phrase, “a pick up their ass.” “But I don’t think anyone ought to pretend it’s the New York Times or CNN,” Brown sniffs.

But it’s not just Fox: liberals have been pooh-poohing all of these developments. Dennis Miller used to be the hippest joker around. Now, complains a critic in the liberal webzine Salon, he’s “uncomfortably juvenile,” exhibiting “the sort of simplistic, reactionary American stance that gives us a bad reputation around the world.” The Boston Globe’s Alex Beam dismisses the blogosphere with typical liberal hauteur: “Welcome to Blogistan, the Internet-based journalistic medium where no thought goes unpublished, no long-out-of-print book goes unhawked, and no fellow ‘blogger,’ no matter how outré, goes unpraised.” And those right-wing books are a danger to society, grouse liberals: their “bile-spewing” authors “have limited background expertise and a great flair for adding fuel to hot issues,” claims Norman Provizer, a Rocky Mountain News columnist. “The harm is if people start thinking these lightweights are providing heavyweight answers.”

Well. The fair and balanced observer will hear in such hysterical complaint and angry foot stamping baffled frustration over the loss of a liberal monoculture, which has long protected the Left from debate—and from the realization that its unexamined ideas are sadly threadbare. “The Left has never before had its point of view challenged and its arguments made fun of and shot full of holes on the public stage,” concludes social thinker Michael Novak, who has been around long enough to recognize how dramatically things are changing. Hoover Institute fellow Tod Lindberg agrees: “Liberals aren’t prepared for real argument,” he says. “Elite opinion is no longer univocal. It engages in real argument in real time.” New York Times columnist David Brooks even sees the Left falling into despair over the new conservative media that have “cohered to form a dazzlingly efficient delivery system that swamps liberal efforts to get their ideas out.”

Mr. Anderson also mentions an earlier topic of mine, America's youth are becoming more conservative than their parents. (Thanks for the pointer, Mr. Hobbs.)

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