January 2004 Archives

... by me.

As the union gets more desperate, the strikers are getting more obnoxious. Last night when I went to the grocery store I had to almost push my way through a small crowd of chanting sign-wavers. I've generally got no problem with people who want to strike, but these guys were going way over the line and making life miserable for everyone around them in a public area.

That's not what really set me off, though.

When I was leaving, some of the strikers were yelling at me and calling me a traitor and so forth (what group do they assume I owe allegiance to?), and I stopped walking and calmly told them that I really do appreciate what they're doing. "I've never seen the lines inside so short before; you're really making my life easier."

That didn't make them happy, and one girl came forward to yell something else at me, but I couldn't hear what she was saying because her shirt spoke more loudly than any scream:

10/11/03 Never forget

... the date the strike started. I almost socked her in the face. How utterly repulsive to equate their stupid strike over paying $5 a week for medical insurance with terrorist attacks that killed over 3,000 people.

What else can I say about it? I'll go back and try to get a picture of someone on the shirts, if I can find more.

Xrlq encounters a similar (or possibly the same) shirt in Rancho Santa Margarita. I just know if I can get a picture of the shirt I can get a mention on Instapundit... grrr... I've gotta beat him to it!

(More Mithlond.)
(Continued from part 1.)

The pair led me to their bathroom and pointed out Matthew's toiletries. I collected his toothbrush and a few hairs from a comb with the tissue kit, and I heard the students whispering behind me. "What?"

They stopped and Kramer rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. Polder said, "I dunno. His stomach pills aren't on the shelf there. Maybe he took them with him though, who knows."

"Did he normally?" I asked. Both shrugged. "Where was he last night?"

Kramer said, "He went out, prob'ly to Whistler's, with Stephie."

"His girlfriend," Polder injected.

"We were studying all night though. He never came back," Kramer finished.


"Stephanie Waller. Astrophysics," Polder supplied.

After resealing the tissue kit I thanked the boys and left, admonishing them to let me know if they thought of anything else.

Back in the corridor, I sent the kit to Dr. Phineas via crobot along with a note asking him to compare the samples and let me know if they matched. I'd started out thinking it a mere formality, but now I was pretty sure the result would come back negative. If Conway had managed to wound his killer, Phineas might be able to point me toward recent patients, but given confidentiality rules I'd have to get that information under the table, not via courier.

Ninety percent of the Grey Haven's residents worked for the Terran Space Authority, and the other ten percent were called IOs, independent operators, pronounced like the moon (and the lover of Zeus who was turned into a cow -- isn't Tolkien mythology much less bizarre?). Even the IOs worked for the TSA indirectly by providing services to it or its employees; in an economy as small and remote as the Rock's, everyone was interconnected. Plus, the ship was wholly dependent on shipments of food from earth, and those all passed through the Whit's hands.

Whistler is an IO who runs a tavern that caters to the Observatory geeks and some of the younger folks from the Port. Unsurprisingly, Whistler's is located between the two locales and near airlock seventeen, the scene of the crime. If Conway was there last night before his death someone must have seen him, so that's where I went.

It was still a bit early in the afternoon but the place was open, although barely. I'd been in a few times before out of curiosity, but now none of the three buxom waitresses who normally circulated through the crowd were on duty and Whistler was handling the bar himself. The lights were low but so was the music, and there were only a few scattered clusters of customers in the booths against the far wall. In between the bar and the booths is a stage, empty then, and a couple of platforms for dancers I'd never seen used. Whistler noticed me as soon as I came in and waved me over.

"Hey Chief, figured I'd be seeing you soon. What'll it be?" Whistler is a good bit older than I am, with a shaved head just to spite his baldness, and he didn't make any effort towards the fashion of the youth he catered to. I sat down on the stool in front of him and the tall, thin man loomed above me from behind the bar.

"Too early for me," I said. "Besides, as they say, I'm on duty."

"Here about the kid who vacced himself, right boss?" he asked, leaning forward and lowering his voice completely unnecessarily considering the noise and the scarcity of nearby patrons. I nodded. "Well he was here, but you know that or you wouldn't be."

"Regular?" I asked.

Whistler nodded. "One of my best. Maybe too good, if you know what I mean. But who'm I to judge?"


"Not at first. He must've been hittin' it harder than usual though. He got in a fight with his girl and she ran off. Seen it a thousand times."

"Then what?"

Whistler shrugged. "He was hanging out with some other kids I didn't recognize -- from the Perseus? I didn't see him leave."

"Have you got receipts?"

"Sure do, Chief." One for Matthew Conway, and one for a Harris Simon, Perseus. "Huh, I guess he wasn't drinking that much after all."

Next stop: Stephanie Waller. I thought she might be in her quarters, given the circumstances, but when I didn't get an answer I went to her laboratory. Rather than let me in -- and risk having me disturb her computers, as if I didn't have a Ph.D. of my own already -- she pushed me back out into the corridor and spoke to me there. I could see she'd been crying, and her pretty face was flushed and her eyes were red. She shoved it all aside mentally and spoke before I did, very matter-of-factly.

"I didn't think he'd really do it. If I did, I would've done something."

"You know who I am, right?" I asked, and she nodded. "Tell me whatever you can about the last night."

She stared past me at the corridor wall. "When we left the Fishbowl everything seemed fine. We got some dinner and went to Whistler's for some dancing, you know, whatever." The Fishbowl was what the students had taken to calling the Observatory, after the nickname of its illustrious leader. "He started drinking though and just kept on going. I'd never seen him get like that before. He was complaining about the Fish and the data they'd collected from the Oromë, just normal stuff, but he seemed crazy last night. I tried to calm him down."

Waller started crying but didn't bother wiping the tears away. She was still staring off into space and I didn't say anything, waiting for her to continue. "I tried to calm him down, but he didn't want to listen. He said I didn't understand, but who could understand him better than me? I've worked for the Fish as long as he has, I know what it's like. But he didn't want to hear it. He said he was done with it all, done wasting time. He said he was going to kill himself. I didn't believe him, and I left. I mean, come on, I didn't think he'd do it. He was drunk!"

I let her gather herself together for a few moments and then asked, "How long were you together?"

She sniffled. "Three years. Since he got here, I guess."

"Is there anything else you can tell me?"

Waller shook her head and wiped her face on her sleeve. If she had been wearing any makeup that morning it was long gone. "What else is there to say? What else do you want to know? That's it. I don't know. That's all there is."

And it all made sense. I thanked her for her help. "Can you come by the Port office this evening at six? I may need your help identifying some of the men from Whistler's last night." She nodded and I took my leave.

I stopped at the hospital and pulled Dr. Phineas from an exam for a quick palaver. "The tissues don't match, do they?"

"Certainly not. The blood belongs to a man of Asian extraction, and Conway was Caucasian." He lowered his voice and continued, "There weren't any patients with blade wounds today. Not that I see many, mind you."

From there I hurried to the Port to talk with Mister. He let me into his office and sat me down.

"What is it, Bill? What's going on?" he asked, anxious for an answer.

"I need the entry logs from last night. Who came over from the Perseus with a guy named Harris Simon?"

With no more than a curious glance he pulled up the records and printed them off. I scanned through them quickly. "Get the Whit and the Fish over here," I told Mister. "They're gonna want to see this."

By six o'clock everyone had gathered in Mister's office. Waller was the last to arrive, and the others were impatient at being kept waiting. Rather than making explanations -- and eager for a dramatic conclusion -- I didn't tell them anything more than that we were going over to the Perseus to visit Alan Chen.

The Perseus and the Mithlond were mated by a magnetically sealed corridor wide enough for a small parade. It had to be large enough to allow cargo loading under pressure, and it was always fairly busy. Most of the traffic consisted of goods moving from us to them, and passengers from the Perseus going back and forth. The guards at the other ship's airlock weren't too keen on letting us pass without badges until Mister threatened to cut their ship loose into space. They let us by, but not before summoning the captain to escort us.

He introduced himself to me as Captain Jalloman, and he didn't give me a first name. He was skeptical at first, but he'd spent enough time with Mister and the Whit that he was willing to take us to Alan Chen's stateroom without much coercion.

The six of us nearly filled the cramped hallway outside the metal door of room 11187-D, and Captain Jalloman knocked on it firmly, like a man in his own home. "Open up there, Chen. There's some men here to see you." Within a few seconds the door slid open and revealed a slightly disheveled Asian man halfway through the process of undressing.

"Yes sir?" he said, apparently surprised to see his captain standing in his hallway.

"Well?" Captain Jalloman asked, turning to me.

I was taken aback.

The Fish spoke up first. "This man isn't injured," he said flatly, reaching for his pipe before stopping himself. Chen looked back and forth between them all before grabbing a discarded shirt from a nearby chair and pulling it over his head. "You think he killed Matthew?"

"I didn't kill anyone!" Chen said immediately, and I pushed closer.

"I know you didn't. Sorry for the trouble. Was there another Asian man who went with you last night to Whistler's bar?"

"Yeah, Mark. Rodine. What's this about? I haven't even seen him today."

"I'll bet you haven't," I said. "Where's his stateroom?"

"Right down the hall. M."

I thanked him and hurried down the hall toward door M. The others trailed behind me, and I could sense their growing irritation. I hoped the prize would be behind door number two.

Without waiting for the captain to do the honors I rapped on the metal, but there was no response. "Captain? Can you open it?"

He grunted and wordlessly punched a code into the keypad beside the door, which then wooshed open. The room was small, and from the doorway we could see all of it. A figure lay huddled under the blanket on the narrow cot. When the door opened he slowly peeked out.

"Matt!"" Waller screamed and tried to push her way into the room. I grabbed her arm.

"Stay back, Stephanie. He's the killer."

She struggled against me. "What are you talking about?"

Conway cringed on the bed, and I turned to see the faces of my other companions before explaining. "It's simple, really. He fooled you Stephanie. He wasn't drunk last night, and he never planned to kill himself. He may be depressed and frustrated, but his escape wasn't death. He wanted to go to the stars.

"He set you up to think he killed himself, but his roommates were ready to believe it was foul play. They didn't think he'd commit suicide, and neither did you, really. It was all an act.

"After you left Whistler's he hooked up with Simon, Chen, Mark Rodine, and the rest of their group. Maybe he planned on murder from the outset, or maybe he only planned on getting some help stowing-away, but either way he ended up luring Mark Rodine into airlock seventeen, stabbed him, and evacuated him into space -- all while remembering to bring along his heartburn medication."

I turned to Conway who was still sitting on the bed, now shaking his head. "The airlock was the perfect place for a murder. It's almost soundproof. After you killed Mr. Rodine you stuffed him into your spacesuit in the heat of the moment, but then you realized he'd be easy to find if you left him with the helmet beacon. You vacced his body and then went back in and wedged your helmet between some pipes.

"The rest is trivial. You used his badge to sneak back onto the Perseus and hide away here. The guards stopped us, but I doubt they look that closely at confident people with proper badges. But then what? How long did you expect to fool people? Eventually his friends would have noticed Mr. Rodine missing."

Conway just shook his head. "I'd've disappeared into the ship by then," he said. "It's only a few years. A few years to a whole new world."

I turned away. "Well Captain? I'm sure you won't mind if I take him into custody. Mr. Conway will be traveling to some interesting places, but I don't think any of them will be very pleasant."

I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, but civilization is officially over.

Everyone knows that the only reason men do anything is because they think it'll get them some attention from women (no one knows why women do anything). All of civilization is was built by men trying to get the best women to have sex with them. The advance of civilization was really just an incidental byproduct of the fact that sex generally involved eventually having kids, because for whatever reason the women threatened to quit having sex otherwise.

Get with the times, that's so 20th century!

For a while, liberated women seemed to be the up-and-coming social fashion -- they wanted to have sex, but you know, maybe the babies could wait a while. This was a new twist, but they still ended up having kids because that's just what happens. Thus, civilization endured for a while longer.

Now, women apparently don't even want to have sex, they just want our money. We always suspected this was the case, but in the past men bravely held out for sex before handing the money over. No more. Thanks to the internet -- and the total depravity of women -- I give you the imaginary girlfriend.

Some are hot, some are uh... otherwise, but who can really tell? That's the beauty of the internet! Both those listings could be for the same person (or company)! An entrepreneurial woman could have dozens of imaginary boyfriends.

And what does a man get for his $220.00?

This auction includes:

- Me sending you a one page letter, scented with my favorite perfume, once a week. YOU get to choose the details of the letter! ie: Sexy, Hot, Kinky, Sweet and Innocent, etc etc..

- I will also be sending you a sweet card on Valentine's Day! Also scented with perfume!

- If you buy me now for the Buy It now price you will get six, 1 hour webcam sessions on Yahoo, with light cyber and mild 'flashing' ;) This is for Buy It Now ONLY!

- Talking on AIM every other night. This will most likely be discussed since schedules may clash. Plus you will get photos emailed to you.

- You will receive 6 voicemail messages from me. ;) You just need to let me know when to call. NO LIVE PHONE CHATS. You also get to decide the details you want me to say in these messages!

- A real photo to hold and show off.

- You choice of 2 sexy thongs or bras scented with my perfume.<3

Terms and Conditions

- This in NO WAY makes me your real girlfriend.

- After the 60 days all communications are broken, no more chatting, e-mails, letters or phone calls..etc, etc. In other words no we can't be friends after this. Sorry. <3

- After 60 days, IF the buyer wants another 30, 60, days ie: letters, chatting etc. Price can be discussed over e-mail. Just let me know! ;)

- The winning bidder must tell the specifics of the relationship: ie: how we met, where, etc.

- The 60 days begins when I receive payment, I will email you after the auction has ended.

Actually, this sounds like some real girlfriends I've uh, known of. Anyway, the point is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We all saw how liberation spread, and it's only a matter of time before women catch on to this new relationship paradigm.

Collect your things, because this crazy train called life is pulling into the last station.

(HT: BoingBoing.)

My brother sent me an article about this year's World Economic Forum, and here are some quotes from some attendees that interest me.

"I do not see much hope in the political domain, but a lot of hope in the technological domain," said [former Israeli Prime Minister] Shimon Peres....
This seems to be a common meme, but it's entirely baseless. Technology itself is a tool, and politics will always determine how that tool is wielded. No matter how advanced your hammer, if your building plans are flawed your house will turn our poorly. Likewise, technology alone does nothing to guarantee the future prosperity of mankind. Only those who worship technology as a religion can think otherwise.
Peres was one of many speakers who made the very Davosian point that in a world of six billion people, 80 percent of the economic activity is coming from a mere one billion, while another billion lives on less than $1 a day.
That's a meaningless statistic. There certainly are desperately poor people in the world, but $1 can buy a lot more in Zimbabwe than it can in America.
And there was energetic interest among many in Davos about using technology to improve the lot of the poor.
The thing holding poor nations down isn't a lack of technology, it's a lack of democratic institutions. As I said above, technology won't save people if they're still oppressed by politics. Actually, there is one technological advance that could be of assistance: guns. Give every person in the world an M16 and a thousand rounds and I bet things would change pretty quick.

Giving poor nations money and technology is like giving them fish, whereas giving them a democratic government is like teaching them to fish.

Another prediction: "Life expectancy will go to 150 in the next half-century."
I think that's conservative. We'll see.

There is some attention paid to the political aspect of technology, but unsurprisingly it takes the wrong tack.

Scary though it sounds, over time we will have a hard time keeping the most powerful weapons and tools out of the hands of anyone. We have to somehow create a world where that is not a threat. ...

Microsoft chief Bill Gates spoke privately to the press late Friday night, and he was full of notable thoughts that were generally as optimistic as those of Peres. ...

He also made a statement of the kind one doesn't hear often enough from global leaders: "If you ask what's the greatest divide in terms of rights and equities," he said, "it's national borders. That doesn't seem to bother people as much as I think it will."

The reason we need national borders seems blatantly obvious to me, but let me explain anyway. Despite Mr. Gate's praise for the "breakthtaking" economic situation in China ("it's capitalism at full speed"), that nation is still a Communist dictatorship, and its people are still horribly repressed. As long as the Communists want to maintain power (i.e., forever) they're never going to open their borders or allow truly free trade. Likewise, America can't afford to open its borders because the oppression in the rest of the world keeps most people poor and uneducated and unable to contribute to our modern society except as manual labor (and thugs). Until there's economic and political similarity -- even if not equality -- opening borders would be suicide.
What Gates and many at Davos realize is that it's not only charity to help the world's poor improve their lot. It's an issue of security. As Peres put it at breakfast, "Terror is the war of poor people, and suicide bombs are the weapons of poor people."
Absurd. Terror is the war of Islamic fascists. The September 11th hijackers all came from wealthy families. Most Palestinian bombers are poor, but then almost everyone in Palestine is poor because of Arafat and his cronies. Further, there are plenty of poor people in the world who don't go around committing terrorism. Basically, the only terrorists are Islamic fascists. (Some people will then point out the Irish Republican Army, but they seem to have quit, and they aren't poor; name another non-Islamofascist terrorist group.)

And then the World Economic Forum turned to more serious issues, like fighting spam.

Can anyone tell me what's special about this February 2nd? Here's a hint: it was even more special four years ago.

How many numbers with more than one digit can be pronounced with one syllable?

Am I the only one who sees this as a bad trade?

The bodies of three Israeli soldiers, kidnapped in an ambush by Hizballah in October 2000, and a (living) Israeli businessman were exchanged for 435 "security prisoners" -- about 400 of them Palestinians who will return to the West Bank. In addition, Israel was handing over the bodies of 59 Lebanese fighters to Lebanon as part of the deal.
It's obviously sad that this businessman was captured, and it would be terrible for him to be killed, but how many deaths will be brought about be releasing these four hundred prisoners who are likely to return to lives of terrorism in the West Bank? It's hard for me to believe this type of trade is popular among Israelis. It boggles the mind.

It looks like the grocery workers' strike is ending with a wimper instead of a bang.

The grocery workers say they can't make ends meet on $20 to $25 a day in strike pay. That's an 84% drop in income since the work stoppage started. Some union members have crossed picket lines and returned to their own jobs. Others have taken part time or full time work elsewhere.

One checker says that their strike pay was slashed in half after Christmas. Many lost their health benefits at the start of the new year. Those two developments forced people to give up and move on with their lives.

We may hear more about this story when the union and the stores reach an official agreement, but the strike's really been over for weeks.

(More Mithlond.)

Just like anywhere else, on Mithlond the people with money are the people with power. Since the Rock is a bureaucratic dictatorship, however, the people with money may not be the people you expect. As in any bureaucracy, real power derives from one thing: Spending Authority.

In theory, Dr. Andrew Whittier's word is law on the Rock and for a billion miles in every direction -- subject to review by his dirtside superiors, of course -- but in practice there are three power centers on Mithlond. The Whit controls the vast majority of the money and resources sent up by the Terran Space Authority, but he has very little discretionary control over its use. He's responsible for maintaining all the major functions needed to support five thousand people 100 AUs from home, and most of his budget goes towards those fixed costs. The Whit's a brilliant administrator and manages to slush some funds around to use as leverage, but he's often bound to use his power at the direction of the TSA.

The other two note-worthies are Professor Gerald Bose -- a.k.a. the Fish -- who runs the Observatory, and Micas Reedy who's in charge of the Port. Everyone calls Reedy "Mister" because he signs everything with his initials, MR, and also because he's one of the few residents who doesn't have a Ph.D. in something or other (which he seems to be quite proud of). Both the Observatory and the Port are funded separately from the Rock itself, and Bose and Reedy tend to have more discretion over their funds than the Whit does, which makes them forces to be reckoned with. They each administer the day-to-day operations of their facilities and theoretically fall under the Whit's authority on external matters, but because of their Spending Authority they have a lot of pull when they take an interest. These three together form a sort of quasi-official administrative council, and ninety percent of the Rock's residents work for one of them. The other ten percent, the independent operators, generally work for them too, even if indirectly.

So this morning when I was summoned to meet with them I knew something was up. We have a ship in, the Perseus, and I'd been pretty busy dealing with the transients; I figured if serious law enforcement were ever going to be necessary, it'd be when a starship was passing through. Most of the starships these days had populations at least as large as ours, and the voyagers all wanted to get out and stretch their legs one last time before embarking on their one-way trip into the Unknown. Good for business, but bad for headaches.

I met the three in the Whit's stark office, and they all looked grim. "Bill, sit down," Dr. Whittier said.

"What is it?" I asked, sitting across the desk from my boss and slightly apart from the other two.

"I'll let Gerry tell you."

The Fish cleared his throat and took off his thick glasses, polishing them with a handkerchief and peering into the corner of the room while he spoke. "It's simple, really," he said with the air of one who'd repeated a story several times already. "Matthew Conway, one of my students, killed himself sometime this morning in airlock seventeen. His spacesuit is missing, so I can only assume he was wearing it, possibly because he was wavering over his decision. In any event, when he pressed the emergency evacuation switch he decompressed and was flung out into space. His helmet was found still in the lock, so we cannot track his body." All our spacesuites have tracking beacons in their helmets.

Mister cleared his throat and pushed himself into the discussion. "The lock was covered in blood, Bill. I've seen men vacced before, and there isn't that much blood." The Fish shrugged.

I considered for a moment. "What's more," I said, "if Conway vacced himself, any blood would've frozen in the decompressing air and would've been flung into space with the body."

The Fish couldn't argue with that, and asked, "What then? Do you think Matthew was murdered?"

"Did you work with him closely? Did you see any signs that he might be suicidal?" I asked.

The Fish twitched reflexively and reached for the pipe in his coat pocket before he checked himself. There's no smoking on the Rock. "He was helping me with some observations just sent in from the Oromë. He had seemed rather glum about his work recently; it's certainly possible. We've had suicides before, but never a murder."

The Whit cut off the discussion. "Ok, I'll leave this to you then, Bill. Let me know what you find out. I certainly hope there's no more here than meets the eye."

Taking that as my cue to leave, I stood up. "I'll need to ask you a few more questions Professor Bose, after I check out the scene and speak to Conway's roommates."

It all felt wrong somehow, and as I left I locked eyes with Mister and he passed me a glance that told me he saw it too; I was glad I wasn't the only one. The Fish was acting strangely, but I couldn't believe he was caught up in the murder of one of his students. Then again, he had already made tremendous sacrifices for his work, leaving his family behind on earth to head up the Observatory and dooming himself by low gravity acclimation to never return home. He might kill for hsi work. Many of the scientists here might.

My first stop was at the hospital to see Dr. Hap Phineas, the Mithlond's chief medical officer. He'd been in space his whole career, and if there was anyone who knew about vacuum deaths it was he. I caught him in his records room examining x-rays and he spared me a few moments, taking an instant interest in the case.

"'Explosive decompression', ha!" he said. "There would certainly be some bleeding, yes, if this fellow was decompressed quickly enough, but every spacer knows not to try to hold his breath in the event of vacuum exposure. Even if he was trying to kill himself, that would be an extraordinarily painful way to do it.

"Decompression injuries are rare enough that few people have seen them, but common enough that everyone's heard about them, and the stories tend to be embellished," he continued. "If the victim was wearing a pressure suit, except for the helmet, there may have been bleeding from the ears, eyes, and mouth, but it wouldn't have been immediately significant. Most people can survive vacuum exposure, for over a minute in many cases."

I said, "And the blood would have been evacuated immediately when the air escaped."

"Assuming the depressurization was the cause of the bleeding, of course," he confirmed. "If there's blood in the lock, it was there before evacuation."

I thanked him for confirming my suspicions, and asked him for a tissue collection kit before I left.

Airlock seventeen was cordoned off when I arrived, but there wasn't anyone in sight. I was sure news had gotten around by now, but I guess no one had any particular inclination to see the grisly scene itself. I pulled the yellow "Terran Space Authority Secure Area" seal from the wheel and cycled the inner door of the lock. It opened with a smooth hiss.

Matthew Conway's helmet was wedged between an air pump pipe and the right wall, which is why it wasn't sucked into space, and splatters of blood lay pooled on the floor and splashed across the left wall. The emergency evacuation panel glass was broken, and two red lights flashed alternately, warning that the lock could be opened to hard vacuum with the press of the large red button. Even in an emergency the button wouldn't operate with the inner door open -- not without an access code, anyway -- but the lights still set me on edge. No spacer likes to be quite that close to the void, and I wished I'd brought my own pressure suit.

There wasn't much else to see, so I scraped up some of the dried blood, sealed the tissue kit, and left. I put the security seal back in place, just in case there was a reason to come back.

I wanted to know whom the blood in the airlock belonged to. If it didn't come from decompression, then someone shed it before evacuation, which meant it might belong to the killer. First I had to make sure it didn't belong to Conway; I wanted to talk to his roommates anyway, so I went to his quarters in the Observatory.

Mithlond is a vast complex, mostly empty corridors and unallocated space. It was built to house fifty thousand people or more, and the current residents didn't use more than a fifth of its total volume. It was cheaper and easier to build it all in the Belt before sending the Rock out to the edge of the heliosphere than to add on once it was here, so it was very spacious compared to just about any other space craft. Many of the unused sectors were sealed and unpowered, so it could take a while to walk from end to end. The TSA administrative offices were sunside, the Observatory was on the opposite end of the Rock, spaceside, and the Port was on the skin in between. The middle was mostly empty, except for a few recluses trying for as much privacy as could be found in such an intimate setting. Most of the Observatory geeks lived near their work, but airlock seventeen wasn't close to a residential section -- it sat between the Port and the Observatory -- so I had a bit of a ways to walk.

Conway's roommates were young, which shouldn't have surprised me since Conway himself was a student. They were both torn up over his death and offered to help me however they could. Their quarters were spartan, and every flat surface held a computer or instrument of some sort, all happily plugging away, oblivious to their operator's death.

"Did Conway seem suicidal to you? Depressed?" I asked them, and they both shook their heads.

Feldon Kramer answered, "No, no. Harried, anxious, nervous, frustrated maybe, but Matt wouldn't've killed himself. He was almost done with his dissertation, another few months."

"What was he planning to do after he finished?" I asked.

The other roommate, Anston Polder, said, "Go back to Mars, I suppose. Once his work here was completed he would've had to leave. I'm not sure he wanted to go back, he loved it out here, but I know he wanted to finish his work."

"How did he get along with Professor Bose?"

Kramer shrugged. "As well as anyone, I suppose. The Fish isn't the easiest person to work for, but he's brilliant, and he never wastes a good mind. That's what he tells us all the time, even when he's working us to the bone. 'I am not going to waste your mind', he says."

"If Conway wanted to stay on the Rock, wouldn't Bose have kept him?" I asked.

Kramer shrugged again, and Polder looked at him hesitantly before saying, "I think he asked him, but the Fish said no. He doesn't hire his own students. He thinks it's 'incestuous'. He always hires from outside, and he told Matt to look elsewhere and then apply back in a few years."

"How did he take it?" I asked.

Polder said, "I dunno. It's the same answer everyone else gets. Myself, I can't wait to get outta here. A few more years, though."

"Can you think of anyone who might have wanted to kill Matthew?" I asked, and their eyes widened.

"Do you think he was killed?" Kramer asked flatly, as if this were a new consideration for him. Polder watched me closely when I answered.

"I'm just trying to look at every angle. This is the first death I've investigated, you know. Did Conway have any enemies you can think of?" They both shook their heads, but I could tell they were thinking it over more deeply now. "If you think of anything else, let me know. Meanwhile, I need a sample of his DNA. Where's his toothbrush?"

That's when things started getting interesting.

(Continued in part 2.)

What does it mean to be poor in America? Who are all these people the leftists (and GWB) want to help by forcibly taking my money? According to a report by the conservative Heritage Foundation called "Understanding Poverty in America", most poor Americans are pretty well off.

If poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the 35 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor. While material hardship does exist in the United States, it is quite restricted in scope and severity.

The average “poor” person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines. The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

- Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or
- Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
- Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.
- The typical poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to
those classified as poor.)
- Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.
- Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
- Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
- Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a
microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home
is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s
essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists,
and politicians.

There's another 18 pages, so go take a look.

There certainly are real poor people in America, but I think the government has shown time and again that it isn't philosophically equipped to deal with the problem. Rather than focus with tight efficiency on those who are truly in need, the government simply throws handfuls of other people's money into the void. If more people were aware of the condition of our nation's "poor" -- and if they were allowed to give voluntarily rather than by forcible taxation -- I think the definition of poverty would quickly change to something more realistic.

How about this:

The good news is that the poverty that does exist in the United States can readily be reduced, particularly among children. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don’t work much, and their fathers are absent from the home.

In both good and bad economic environments, the typical American poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year—the equivalent of 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year—the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year—nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.

Get a job, you lazy bums! It's for the children!

(Thanks to Cypren for pointing this report out to me.)

Arizona State Representative Doug Quelland delivered an opening prayer that invoked many traditional Christian values and left Democrats ruffled. What the Democrats' reaction really shows is that they don't understand what prayer is about at all.

"The opening prayer is the one opportunity during each day that we can come together as a body. The opening prayer should unite us, not divide us.

"But the prayer on January 26, 2004, was divisive. It was a pandering, mudslinging, name-calling political statement. It was hateful and mean-spirited. It was undignified.

"The citizens of Arizona deserve better. We are diverse. We have unique perspectives. And our unique voices should be respected. Especially during the opening prayer, as members of this body we must set aside our differences and show respect for Arizona in all of its diversity."

Rep. Quelland wasn't praying to Arizona, or to the citizens of Arizona, or to the diversity of Arizona -- he was praying to God. The purpose of prayer isn't to show respect for diversity or to bring people together, the purpose of prayer is to speak with God by confessing the evil we do, thanking him for his blessings, praising his greatness, and asking him to meet our needs and the needs of others.

The real disagreement here is that the complaining Democrats don't believe in and worship the same God as Rep. Quelland. They worship themselves, and they think prayer is all about them.

I'm sure you're all vaguely familiar with this Rock, this Restaurant At The End Of The Universe I'm writing from -- considering your tax dollars are likely paying for it -- but let me fill in a few details; few remember that Pluto was the god of the underworld before he was a dusty ball of ice, and I'm much farther away than that. Having long ago run out of Greek and Roman names, the astronomical bureaucracy turned to noms from more modern stories to excite those few in its audience who cared for such things, and named this particular astro-body Mithlond. In Tolkien mythology, Mithlond (the Grey Havens to Men) was the harbor in Middle-earth used by the Elves to sail West, away from the never-ending death and decay of Men to the Undying Lands. Maybe the naming committee set its sights a bit high in this case, but the idea instantly stuck, and so here I sit under a hundred feet of rock, one of the few thousand humans farthest from the star that gave us birth, caring for the driest harbor conceivable and the grayest of havens.

Before being christened Mithlond, the Rock went by the less-glamorous name of Asteroid 12001, 1996 ED9, Gasbarini, after some Italian fellow most likely. Selected mainly for its heavy iron composition, 12001 was "re-purposed" (as they say), fitted with some crude subbies and a crew of nuts, and cast out from the sun. None of the original crew is still around, but from what I've heard everything didn't go quite as smoothly as the folks back on earth were led to believe. Nevertheless, even if nothing else worked as planned, the subbies positioned the station right near the leading edge of Sol's heliosphere and held her there.

A few years later, the Vingilot was her first customer. After spending three weeks at sub-light to reach the Mithlond her crew was grateful for the rest and reprieve. Some minor repairs were performed and the Vingilot took on stores from the station before being the first ship to travel into the galactic wind. A few days later, free from Sol's influence, they fired up their super-sees for the first time and promptly blew themselves into oblivion.

Some started calling the station Charon's Ferry, but since that initial disaster there've been more successes than failures and humanity has begun to creep across the Orion arm of the Milky Way. I'm told there are some 20,000 stars within a hundred light years of earth, and we've been to nearly a hundred of them. And every single ship has passed through the Grey Havens on her way out.

I shipped up ten years ago, and I've spent most of my time on the Rock troubleshooting and doing odd jobs for Dr. Andrew Whittier, the Chief Administrator. My specialty is diagnosing software malfunctions, and there are plenty of those to go around, but last week the Whit re-purposed me as the Rock's CLEO -- that is, its Chief Law Enforcement Officer. There hadn't been much need till now, and the bureaucracy handled any problems that arose. Until recently, almost everyone on the Rock worked for the Whit, and crimes could be handled arbitrarily and administratively. There wasn't much more than petty theft and larceny, anyway.

The population has jumped over the past few years though, and the days when I recognized everyone in the corridors are over. Sectors and tunnels dug deep into Mithlond during its construction are being unsealed and powered-up to house all the newcomers, and there's always some dispute or another cropping up. The Whit was tired of dealing with all the hassle himself, so he's shoveled it onto me. People started calling me "Cleo", but I put a stop to that right quick. Those that know me still call me Bill, and the rest call me "Chief", which suits me just fine.

I'm supposed to keep this journal "for the record" as the bureaucracy says, so here it is.

Via Drudge I saw an article about Bill Clinton only sending two emails during his presidency, but the story misses the likely reason. Presidential emails sent from government computers (i.e., all the computers in the White House) would be public records and available for any interested party to read. Under those circumstances, I wouldn't write email either. I've also heard that President Bush's legal counsel advised him to stop using email when he became president.

It's possible that both presidents use(d) secret, personal computers to send private emails, but there's not really any way to know that for sure.

Manish over at Damn Foreigner relates an exchange that highlights the important difference between anonymous and pseudonymous writing.

Apparently Andrew Sullivan was criticizing Atrios on Minnesota Public Radio for not revealing his "true" identity, claiming that no one can evaluate his positions without knowing who he is. However, Mr. Sullivan misses the fact that we can evaluate Atrios' writing in its own context because it is published under a consistent name; Atrios has chosen to allow his writing to stand on its own merit, a decision Mr. Sullivan should appreciate as a fellow writer who has written pseudonymously himself (follow that link at your own risk). Pseudonymous writing has a long and noble history, including works such as The Federalist Papers and authors such as Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens. As long as pseudonyms are used consistently, writings done under pen names are as easy to criticize and evaluate as those done under real names. (And what's the difference between a real name and a consistently-assumed false name, anyway?)

In contrast anonymous writing is unattributable and often irrefutable because an anonymous author can change positions and arguments at any time without having to maintain intellectual honesty or consistency. Anonymous writing has as long a history as pseudonymous writing -- particularly in extremely oppressive conditions -- but it's generally rightly seen as cowardly and prima facie unpersuasive unless the work can stand entirely on its own without any external support (as could be provided by other works from the same pseudonymous writer). Anonymous writing can often serve to call attention to a cause, but the actual work of building a case must afterwards be accomplished by writers with names.

Eponymous, anonymous, and pseudonymous writing all have their place, and freedom of expression demands that all be allowed; ultimately the decision belongs to each individual author. There are trade-offs for each.

As for myself, I use my real name because I'm not particularly afraid of persecution and I enjoy seeing my name pop up in Google.

How would you describe to a child the difference between an opponent and an enemy?

Joshua Livestro reports that the Swiss canton of Schaffhausen has instituted a regressive tax structure in which marginal tax rates go down as residents earn more money -- they pay less in taxes on each dollar earned than they paid on the one before it.

I think it's a great experiment, and the canton's government is hoping that rich folks will pour in in response to the new system. That sounds like a reasonable expectation. The real question is whether or not such a system will increase net tax revenue across the entire country, or simply move revenue around. Either way, assuming the Swiss have an American-like competitive state/canton government structure, Schaffhausen will benefit and others may soon follow suit. I've written before that I don't want to maximize government revenue, but I am in favor of tax cuts even if they do end up giving the government more money. Hopefully we'll see positive results from Schaffhausen's experiment in a few years.

Mr. Livestro also makes the argument that regressive tax systems are more moral than progressive systems because they encourage people to be productive.

The morality of it is easy enough to explain. It is after all fairly widely accepted that working hard and saving for a rainy day both constitute morally good behavior. Any tax system that claims to have its basis in morality would therefore have to encourage precisely those activities. Whatever else they might like to say about it, the taxaholics would have to admit that the Schaffhausen income tax does exactly that -- and does it in spades. Who wouldn't want to go out and work, work, work, if every extra Swiss Franc earned will be taxed less than the previous one?
That makes sense, and the morality he espouses is one I agree with, but I still don't think the government has any business using the tax system to coerce people. I think that a flat income tax or a consumption tax would be best, and least intrusive. I don't think the government or the public should how much money I make or treat me any differently because of it.

The Hill reports that the immense budget deficit (and the reaction from many conservative groups) is starting to trouble Congressional Republicans -- who are largely to blame for the recent ballooning of non-defense spending.

Conservative Republicans have been emboldened to demand strict spending reforms by a report released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that forecasts a nearly $2.4 trillion dollar budget deficit over the next decade. ...

Conservatives say that their list of reforms includes across-the-board non-defense budget cuts, spending caps with real teeth and requirements that efforts to waive House budgetary rules be voted on by the GOP caucus behind closed doors in order to reach the floor.

The idea of spending caps is great, but in order for them to be effective they'd have to be enacted via Constitutional amendment because Congress cannot pass laws restricting the actions of future Congresses.
The growing backlash against mounting deficits is being led mostly by junior lawmakers who have served for less time in the House than many of their colleagues and who still retain more of the ideological fervor that caused them to run in the first place.

Pence and Flake are only in their second term, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) — who colleagues say is spearheading the effort to impose tough spending caps — is a freshman.

However, conservatives say their reinvigorated fight for fiscal discipline is less a battle against their fellow Republicans than symptomatic of a growing realization among all Republicans that spending must be curtailed if economic growth is to continue.

One lawmaker reported that in Hill meetings last week after Bush’s State of the Union speech, “a wide range of members began to talk about the budget resolution.

“It was really fascinating to hear across the spectrum of the Republican conference that there is a real desire to get back to fiscal discipline.”

Apparently President Bush's mention of fiscal discipline was more than window-dressing. I hope Republicans will quit doing all the things we castigated the Democrats for when they controlled Congress.

A fellow by the handle of thy451 has written an excellent and exhaustive strategy guide for SimCity 4. I've wasted far too much time with this game recently.

A lawsuit filed by some decendents of slaves against various corporations has been dismissed (without prejudice) by the judge in charge of the case.

CHICAGO — A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit brought by descendants of slaves against corporations they contend profited from slavery, saying the plaintiffs had established no clear link to the companies they targeted.
That's the first paragraph, but the most important aspect of the ruling is farther down.
"Plaintiffs' attempt to bring these claims more than a century after the end of the Civil War and the formal abolition of slavery fails," U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle said.

He said the plaintiffs' claims "are beyond the constitutional authority of this court" and that the lawsuit claimed no specific connection between the plaintiffs and the companies named as defendants. ...

In his opinion, Judge Norgle acknowledged "the historic injustices and the immorality of the institution of human chattel slavery in the United States."

But he said long-standing doctrine in matters involving political questions "bars the court from deciding the issue of slavery reparations, an issue that has been historically and constitutionally committed to the legislative and executive branches of our government."

Even if there were a clear and convincing connection between the companies being sued and the decendents of slaves, the matter of reparations for previously-legal actions is far outside the jurisdiction of any existing court. As Judge Norgle wrote, it's a political question that Congress must decide; Congress has the power to establish a system to deal with the question, but it falls outside the purview of our existing courts.

Further, even if slavery had been a crime 200 years ago, it would still be impossible to prosecute.

As for the timing, he said, the plaintiffs had failed to show how the wrongs cited in the lawsuit fall within the statute of limitations.
Personally, I believe that it's unjust and immoral to seek reparations for crimes perpetrated against one's ancestors. Where do you stop? Where do you draw the line? As the controversy over The Passion of the Christ shows, Jews are still worried about being persecuted for actions of some of their people 2,000 years ago -- and with some justification, considering the persecution they've dealt with over the issue in the past. Why stop with reparations for decendents of slaves? Why notgo back through all recorded history and try to right every wrong ever committed against anyone?

Part of the problem is that the leftist ideology sees groups, it doesn't see individuals. When leftists see black Americans they see members of a previously persecuted group, they don't see individuals responsible for their own destiny. Even though no ex-slaves are alive today, the members of their group are entitled to compensation for the wrongs done against their group two centuries ago. No individual matters -- and individual details are probably unknowable across such a time span -- all that matters is the group.

It's absurd to think that punishing innocents by taking away their possessions and giving them to the decendents of people their ancestors wronged is any sort of justice. If my grandfather killed your grandfather and it was discovered 50 years after they were both dead, it would be ridiculous for you to sue me over it. We all bear the consequences of our peoples' histories, good and bad, and we're all individually responsible for how we live our own lives. It's just a fact of life.

Governor Arnold desperately wants to bring new jobs into California, but there's at least one sector he's rightly trying to shrink: government jobs.

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to downsize state government and privatize some services challenges Sacramento's ultimate sacred cow -- the powerful public employee unions -- and triggers a political battle that is certain to be far tougher than trying to balance the budget without new taxes.

In his budget proposal, the governor calls for a constitutional amendment that would give him broad powers to contract with private firms when it will "reduce costs, improve efficiency or improve services."

Imagine that!

The best part is how Arnold is selling proposal:

He calls the effort "competition" for state services rather than "privatization" because the stated goal is for public employees to keep their jobs by outbidding contractors, which means they would have to accept lower salaries and benefits or require fewer people to get tasks done.
Competition is good for the private sector, and it's good for government. Competition encourages efficiency and quality, both of which are in short supply in California's public sector.

The key to success is close oversight of any private contractors by their client, the State of California. Corporations are motivated by profit, and it's necessary to monitor performance to prevent corner-cutting and to make sure the quality of service remains high. Such oversight could be done with a fraction of the current number of employees, however, and cost savings would probably be substantial (I've read -- though I don't remember where -- that similar efforts in Florida reduced program costs by 8% to 40%).

I'm not entirely certain, but this seems right. I guess.

Lionel Tate (search), the teen who killed a 6-year-old playmate and became the youngest defendant in the nation to be locked away for life, was released Monday after three years behind bars. ...

Supporters have rallied from the Vatican to the United Nations to free Tate since he was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 6-year-old playmate Tiffany Eunick (search) three years ago. Tate was 12 when he punched, kicked and stomped the 48-pound girl to death in 1999.

Tate had claimed he accidentally killed the girl while imitating professional wrestling moves he had seen on television. ...

After Tate's conviction was thrown out, prosecutors renewed their offer of a three-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to second-degree murder -- the same offer Tate's mother had turned down before the trial. ...

He has agreed to one year of house arrest, 10 years' probation, counseling and 1,000 hours of community service.

Despite the apparent evil of his act, he's a child and I suppose logic dictates he be treated leniently. Nevertheless, his smiling photo and this quote from his lawyer are disconcerting.
"For now, Lionel wants to go home, he wants to feel his pillow, he wants to sleep in his own bed and his mom cook to make him his favorite meal tonight," said his attorney Richard Rosenbaum.
I have no doubt Tiffany Eunick would prefer similar comforts, to being dead.

All illegal aliens are "criminals", but there's a subset who commit many felonies in addition to their mere presence and who local police are afraid to arrest and prosecute due to political pressure. For example, 95% of outstanding homicide warrants in Los Angeles target illegal aliens. That's an amazing figure, but due to Special Order 40 the police claim to be unable to assist federal law enforcement in apprehending known illegal aliens who have already been convicted of felonies, deported, and who then return to Los Angeles.

I'm glad to see the issue getting some attention here in Los Angeles thanks to the John and Ken Show on FKI 640 AM, but it's even better to see FoxNews doing a piece on it and the Washington Times mentioning Special Order 40 in a larger article about the illegal alien crime wave. Jerry Seper writes:

Making matters more difficult for federal authorities are several municipalities that have passed ordinances prohibiting their employees, including police officers, from enforcing federal immigration laws.

Known as "sanctuary laws," the ordinances are in place in varying degree in major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. ...

The Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement (FILE), also based in the District, has begun to bring lawsuits against those municipalities with sanctuary ordinances and has promised additional legal challenges.

FILE has argued that state and county governments are prohibited from adopting policies that prevent its employees from contacting federal immigration authorities about the legal status of any noncitizen or to report violations of U.S. immigration law by any noncitizen.

"These policies, called 'sanctuary policies,' promise foreign nationals who have broken our laws that the municipality in which they live will help them in their lawbreaking by resisting efforts to report them to the proper authorities," FILE said in a statement.

"Such policies are illegal, naturally, and have been rejected by the courts. Nevertheless, some cities, remarkably, persist in maintaining their illegal sanctuary policies," FILE said. "Unfortunately, the executive branch of the federal government has been for many years utterly derelict in forcing, as is its duty, municipalities to abide by the law."

There's some good-ish news at the end of the article: it looks like the Department of Homeland Security is going to create a few teams to help track and prosecute illegal alien felons. But uh, does anyone notice anything missing?

Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, the investigative arm of Homeland Security, has promised a vigorous enforcement effort for criminal aliens now in the country, including a $10 million effort to fund eight new teams of agents to apprehend and deport aliens convicted of crimes in the United States.

The new teams, which join eight already in operation, will be based in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington state.

California? Hello? We've got more illegal aliens than anyone else, how about a little help here?

Here's a page on John and Ken's website with phone numbers and email addresses for the powerful people in Los Angeles. Call them and tell them you're opposed to Special Order 40.

Here's an example of why it's important to recognize abortion as killing: a UK professor of bioethics advocates murdering "defective" infants.

John Harris, a member of the Human Genetics Commission, told a meeting at Westminster he did not see any distinction between aborting a fully grown unborn baby at 40 weeks and killing a child after it had been born.

Harris, who is a professor of bioethics at Manchester University, would not be drawn on which defects or problems might be used as grounds for ending a baby’s life, or how old a child might be while it could still be destroyed.

Harris was reported to have said that he did not believe that killing a child was always inexcusable.

In addition, it was claimed that he did not believe that there was any ‘moral change’ that occurred between when the baby was in the womb and when it had been brought into the world.

Well, we agree on that last point -- I just happen to think it's wrong to kill babies either before or after they're born, whereas he thinks it's ok to kill them any time.

Really though, why not kill defective adults as well? The only difficulty is defining "defective".

(As a side note, this is remarkably similar to the question of deciding who gets to vote.)

I'm back from Reno, and I had a great time. The city's beautiful in the winter: snowy mountains vying with neon casinos in every direction. The casinos win, at night anyway.

I rolled the bones and won $100 or so before quitting, thereby breaking my 26-year losing streak. Well, 5-year anyway, since I wasn't doing much gambling as a child. I love craps, and I also enjoy the video poker games where you can play 100 hands at once. It's neat to see how the odds play out depending on what cards you hold, but it's easy to lose money when you hold strange things just to see what happens.

Reno's airport is remarkably easy to get into and out of, compared to LAX anyway (which has at least 20 times the capacity and traffic). There were about 15 DHS employees screening an equal number of passengers at my gate, and they opened all my checked luggage and inspected it for bombs. They didn't find any, but they weren't quite sure what to do with my telescope -- it doesn't open, and it's made of metal so there's no way to tell what's inside it. I suggested they look through it to verify that there wasn't a knife or gun inside, and that seemed to satisfy them.

Back to the grindstone tomorrow. Sleep well.

I'm going to Reno to visit my dad. I'll probably roll 'dem bones while I'm there, and just generally decompress from my typically insane schedule. I won't think about debugging Windows NT's TCP handler, I won't think about why our real time interrupt amplitude is spiking abnormally and screwing with our oscilloscope, I won't think about why animats with 10 hidden units don't seem to flock while those with 15 do, I won't think about learning rates or eligibility traces or exponential error differentials.

But don't worry -- my dad has an internet connection and I'll probably post something. I don't think I could prevent myself.

Meanwhile, visit some of the folks on the left, or read some of my *Best Of*. Check out the most commented-on posts, they're pretty interesting.

If you've got a blog of your own, take the extra time you'd otherwise spend reading here and link to me! Send me an email, I'll link back. Plus, I like getting emails, it validates my existence. As do links. And tips.

Ok ok, I'm done.

TMLutas takes issue with the "goblin" terminology, and I'm in general agreement with his principle even though I endorsed the term in my previous post.

I think that it should not be easy to kill. I belong to a faith that takes the commandment against murder very seriously. But at the same time it is not a pacifist faith (though our current bishop, God bless him, gets very close). One thing that it would be very much against is the idea of dehumanization. Yes, Saddam Hussein is a child of God, yes Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot all were children of God and special to Him.
I don't think it should be easy to kill either; as I agreed earlier, it's a weighty and terrible choice. The reason I'm pleased with the term "goblin" is that it puts villains in their proper place: as ones who have surrendered their natural rights by infringing on the natural rights of others. I'm not passing spiritual judgement on anyone's worth in God's eyes; I use the term to cast such people out of the sphere of civil protection that society and government provide the rest of us. Naming evil-doers "goblins" is simply a convenient way to group together those who are -- justly -- no longer to be accorded the standard rights and privileges of humanity.

Contrary to TMLutas' statement, killing someone isn't "the equivalent of taking a baseball bat to one of God's priceless artworks" and doesn't "destroy[] that priceless handiwork". In Christian theology, no one -- good or evil -- is ever destroyed in the sense of annihilation. By killing someone and removing them from this world you merely pass them onto God for his final judgement. That's certainly a serious issue, and not to be done lightly, but it's an authority that God entrusts to humanity and commands us to use justly (generally administered by government as God's agent of common grace). God reserves the power of eternal judgement for himself.

... mainly because Google has a special image and I feel compelled to post it.

What's really funny is that Google appends the year to its image names; for example, the 2003 Christmas images were named "winterholiday03oh.gif", "winterholiday03s.gif", and "winterholiday03sah.gif", with 03 standing for the year. Even though the new year that started today on the Chinese calendar is 4702, the Google image is named "lunarnewyear04.gif".

The California grocery workers' strike began on October 11th, 2003, and continues to this day. Most people didn't expect Kroger, Safeway, and Albertsons to hold out this long, but after 103 days it's the striking workers who are looking weak (I know, I know, two LA Times articles in one day... blame Rough & Tumble).

It's interesting to consider the so-called "right to strike", and here's an article (from 1990) by Charles W. Baird that discusses some of the moral and legal issues. I wouldn't be surprised if the National Labor Relations Act has been modified since this article was written, but Dr. Baird's moral arguments are still persuasive.

The only job-related right that can be held and exercised by all people in the same way is the right to make job-related offers to others. Sellers of labor services have a right to offer to work for any employer on any terms the sellers wish. They do not have a right to compel any employer to accept such offers. In exactly the same way, employers have a right to offer to employ any worker on any terms whatsoever. They do not have the right to compel any employee to accept such offers. In short, the employment relationship is a contractual relationship based on mutual consent. In the absence of a contractual agreement to the contrary, no employee has a property right to any job.

What about the right to strike? In the absence of a contractual agreement to the contrary, any employee has a right to withhold his labor services from an employer if he doesn't like the pay and benefits the employer offers. If each individual has this right, then a group of like-minded individuals can exercise this right together. In other words, all individuals who want to may withhold their labor services at the same time. If this concerted action induces the employer to acquiesce to the workers' terms, so be it. That will depend on the relative bargaining power of the two sides, and neither side has a natural right to any bargaining power advantage. Each side's bargaining power depends on the attractiveness of its alternatives.

However, and this is the central point, notwithstanding Section 13 of the National Labor Relations Act, like-minded workers who simultaneously withhold their labor services have no legitimate right to interfere in any way with the right of the struck employer to engage in voluntary exchanges with customers, suppliers, and other workers. Workers who are willing to work for a struck employer who wishes to hire them have a legitimate right to do so. Moreover, they may agree to accept the very terms of employment that the strikers consider to be unacceptable. Replacement workers have the same job-related natural rights as striking workers.

To summarize, any worker or group of workers has the right to bargain with employers for mutually satisfactory compensation; however, no one has the right to infringe on the contract rights of others by indimidating workers, employers, or customers, and no one is entitled to special protection above and beyond the value of the service they themselves are providing. That means that if an employer wants to fire strikers, he should be able to do so. Workers shouldn't strike if they think they'll be easy to replace; ease-of-replacement demonstrates that the workers are being paid at least fair wages, and possibly better. On the flip side, employers won't fire workers whom they are paying below-market wages; they'll have an incentive to get the employees back to work at slightly higher pay.

If the only thing protecting your job is a law prohibiting your employer from firing you, you're overpaid.

As Bill Hobbs is quick to point out, employment is increasing even though payroll surveys aren't showing it yet -- a lot of people are reporting that they're working for themselves, and those jobs won't show up on surveys of corporate employers. That's the good news.

The bad news -- if you believe the Los Angeles Times, which I'm nervous about doing -- is that many of the jobs being created are in low-pay sectors of the economy.

California is being hit hard by a recent nationwide shift of jobs from high-paying industries to lower-paying sectors such as retail sales and tourism, a trend that doesn't bode well for the economy, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report by the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute paints a picture of a state and national economy in which employment growth is being driven largely by low-skilled service jobs.

In Los Angeles, according to the preliminary results of another study, the shift is particularly pronounced because so many new jobs are in the "underground" cash economy of laborers who aren't counted in government statistics. These very low-wage workers — people who do yardwork or clean houses or wash dishes — might account for as much as 15% of all jobs in the metropolitan area, said Dan Flaming of the Economic Round Table, which is conducting its study for the city.

This sounds like exactly the types of jobs Mr. Hobbs is talking about, but they aren't glamorous work-from-home/telecommute jobs, they're manual labor.
Chapman said California lost 127,000 manufacturing jobs and 55,000 jobs in the information sector from November 2001 to November 2003. Meanwhile, the leisure and hospitality sector gained 48,000 jobs, retail trade grew by 32,000 and health and education, which includes day-care teachers and low-wage hospital crews, grew by 65,000.
Of course, there's another interpretation, which the Times generously provides:
Ron Bird, an economist with the Employment Policy Foundation, an employer-funded research group in Washington, offered a different assessment of the numbers. He divides job growth by broad categories of occupation — such as manager or production worker — instead of by sector, as the Economic Policy Institute did.

By his measure, Bird said, the growth appeared to favor higher-paying jobs. He said the highest growth was in office and administrative jobs and in installation, maintenance and repair jobs, both of which pay higher-than-average wages.

"The jobs where the growth was had higher average earnings," said Bird, whose analysis looked only at full-time jobs and did not break down the data by state. "It's a matter of looking at the glass as half empty or more than half full."

I'm not sure how these two perspectives can be reconciled, so it's hard to say what the truth is. Still, I don't doubt that California is having more problems than the rest of the country, what with our oppressive workers' compensation laws and high tax rates.

Broken Spirit

I just recently started sleeping with a loaded handgun within arm's reach, and Emperor Misha and Kim du Toit address an issue I'd been tossing around in my head: will I have the nerve to use it if I have to? As Mr. du Toit writes,

Civilized people, quite correctly, shrink from causing harm or death to another human being. This is perfectly normal, and is indeed laudable. (Sociopaths, of course, have no such compunction, which is why they themselves should be killed.)

And quite apart from any legal issues, the moral issue of taking a life is a weighty and terrible one.

That it is. The best of his advice comes down to his naming violent criminals "goblins", and pointing out that they've already sacrificed their humanity by becoming predators.
Richard Pryor once remarked that after making the movie Stir Crazy on location at Arizona State Prison, he was really, really glad that prisons exist. He illustrated that by quoting an actual interview with a convicted murderer:
-- "Why did you kill all the people in that family?"
-- "Cuz they was at home."
Think about the uncaring sociopathy in that statement. Now think of that same scumbag playing his ghastly little games of death with your kids.
I don't have any kids, but my gut understands his point perfectly. It's not a pleasant possibility to consider, but I want to be ready if I ever face it.

Good reason to hit the range this evening.

The House will consider yet another bill designed to punish people who injure unborn babies while in the process of committing a federal felony. Perhaps this time the Senate will follow suit.

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would make it a separate federal crime to kill or injure a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman. Democrats on the panel called the legislation a thinly veiled attempt to erode abortion rights. ...

But Democrats and abortion rights groups said the real motive was to establish "fetal personhood" (search) by giving separate federal protection to a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus. "This is part of a larger cultural war that is going on," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the committee.

The Democrats are right, of course. Just as attempts to continually tighten gun regulations are part of the grander plan to eliminate gun ownership entirely, laws aimed at granting legal personhood to unborn babies are part of a larger plan as well. For political reasons people on both sides of both issues take a lot of different postures, but I think everyone knows what's going on.

There is a cultural war going on over abortion, and laws such as this are designed to take advantage of weaknesses in the pro-abortion argument. Abortions of convenience are losing acceptance -- even among women -- and pro-lifers are slowly winning with commonsense proposals like this and the partial-birth abortion ban.

Note also:

California and nearly 30 other states have laws giving different degrees of protection to fetal victims.
If the Supreme Court doesn't revisit Roe v. Wade there will eventually be a Constitutional Amendment allowing states to regulate abortion like other forms of killing. This doesn't mean every state will outlaw abortion immediately, but they'll be able to make that decision on their own, just as each state defines and regulates murder without interference from the federal government.

After watching Rep. Nancy Pelosi on TV recently, am I the only person wondering if the Democrats set her up as a fall-gal for the upcoming election season? She just doesn't seem that... well... convincing or charismatic.

Here's a net version of the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, the CIA's 1963 guide for using "coercive" methods to get information from prisoners. It's interesting, but not entirely pleasant to read.

Meanwhile, GeekPress links to an article in The Atlantic on "The Dark Art of Interrogation" that discusses some of the moral considerations surrounding the use of torture; Mark Bowden wonders whether there are ever situations in which torture is warranted, and he explores many different real-life scenarios. I tend to agree with his conclusion.

The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.

If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, and uncomfortable. Nor should he be.

“Midnight, you say?” the groom asked, feigning interest in his prince’s nightly romantic lament.

“Ten of, anyway,” the prince replied.

“Quite early for a rock star to flee his highness’ royal ball.”

The prince sighed and flopped down on his bed while his groom collected his discarded, rumpled finery from where it lay scattered on the floor. “I thought she liked me, too,” he said. “But she bolted from my arms in a flash when she saw the time. I chased her to the stairs, but somehow she outran me.”

“No doubt why she tripped,” the groom consoled him. “And took a rough tumble down the stairs, for it.”

“And then off into the night in her pink Corvette, never to be seen again,” the prince finished.

The groom considered for a moment before sighing himself. “I think this may be of interest to you, highness. It slipped off her foot when she fell.” In his hand the groom held out a totally punk-rock black leather thigh-high boot with a stiletto heel.

I submitted this little story to the first ever Candied Ginger writing contest, and won despite the many other excellent entries. It just goes to show there's always an advantage to going first! (And it pays to know your audience.)

I'm eagerly awaiting my prizes: a love letter from the girls of Candied Ginger, and a coveted copy of the home game.

My PRAR was fulfilled for the nominal cost of $0.10 per page, a total of 105 pages. (For the history, see here.) The gist of it:

- six CCW applicants in five years;
- three CCWs granted, one to the mayor and two to city councilmen;
- three CCWs denied to non-office-holders, one of whom was not a resident of the city.

They also attached the city's CCW policy, which doesn't really describe good cause except to say that the Chief of Police will make the determination. In total:

Good cause: Both Penal Code section 12050(a)(1) and the Police Department's responsibility for the public's safety dictate that good cause be established prior to the Chief of Police issuing a CCW permit. In evaluating good cause and determining whether it has been established, the Chief of Police will give careful consideration of the reason(s) for requesting the permit that is/are documented on the application. Personal convenience alone will not constitute good cause for the issuance of a permit. Job position, classification, or an asserted need for personal protection will not alone establish good cause, but they may weigh significantly in determining good cause.
There's a bit more that says (redundantly) that felons and people with CCWs revoked for cause will be denied (as required by law).

What's most interesting is that there's a section on "Application Processing" that says the Chief of Police will take fingerprints and send the application on to the Department of Justice, but they never took my fingerprints and so they couldn't have sent my application to the DoJ.

I was given the approved applications of the two councilmen (I was assured the mayor's is on the way), and I'm reading through them.

Let's see. The first councilman apparently had a current restraining order against him when he applied. That doesn't sound good. He was also the victim of domestic violence -- his ex-wife threw food at him. Maybe this is related to the restraining order against him? According to his good cause statement, he was held at gunpoint in 2000, but there's no further information indicating a further future threat.

For the second councilman, his entire good cause was redacted. There is a short answer to a later question asking why there are no other means of protection other than a CCW: "It is not possible or realistic for me to conceal myself from the public. Both my occupation and position with the city require me to be easily and readily accessible." Translation: I'm a city councilman.

Pursuant to Salute vs. Pitchess (61 Cal. App. 3d 557, 1976):

To determine, in advance, as a uniform rule, that only selected public officials can show good cause is to refuse to consider the existence of good cause on the part of citizens generally and is an abuse of, and not an exercise of, discretion" and "It is the duty of the sheriff [or police chief] to make such an investigation and determination, on an individual basis, on every application under section 12050.
That's basically it. The CCW policy outlines an appeal process, which I might follow. I need to examine the matter further and consider my options.

Donald Sensing has a post asking "Why wasn't anyone fired?" for America's lack of response to al Qaeda before 9/11/2001, but there's something missing from his post: names. He talks about failings by military "top brass" as well as civilian leaders, but other than President Clinton he doesn't give us any names. I don't know enough to know who was involved, and I probably wouldn't even recognize most of the names, but I want to know them.

It seems clear to me that many of the military and civilian officials who spoke with him were engaging in covering their own rears. And in defense of the generals and admirals whom Schultz cuts up pretty rough, I point out that Bill Clinton was not a man of steadfast purpose. His reputation for applying band-aids to sucking chest wounds was well deserved. To strike back effectively and enduringly would have required a very large and continuing commitment of resources and deployments that I personally doubt Clinton and his own top staff had the backbone to see through. ...

That being said, the Pentagon brass should have been much more eager to kill al Qaeda's leaders than they appear to have been. Al Qaeda had a track record of attacking and killing American military members, starting in Mogadishu, continuing through the Khobar Towers and culminating in the attack on USS Cole (and other attacks on non-military targets).

When soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines come under fire and are killed and wounded, they have the right to expect that their services' leadership will demand retribution. All of these acts, particularly the attacks on Cole and the Khobar barracks, were by any definition acts of war and should have been treated as such. And the chiefs of staff should have seen it that way and pressed for it. Their fundamental obligation to protect their troops demanded it. In this they failed and failed morally, the worst failure a military officer can commit.

I'm a huge supporter of our military, but I think people should be held accountable for their failures. I'm hoping Rev. Sensing and any other folks with more millitary/political insider knowledge will see this post and name some names of the people who failed to protect us.

Here are some I can do on my own. I don't know the level of their personal involvement -- and I welcome any further information -- but here are the names of the people who were in charge of our security between the first time the World Trade Center was attacked (1993) and the second (2001).

- President Bill Clinton, President from 1993 to 2001; he was the top dog, but I don't think all the blame rests with him.
- Les Aspin, Secretary of Defense from 1993 to 1994.
- William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1997.
- William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2001.
- General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman of the JCS from 1993 to 1997.
- General Henry H. Shelton, Chairman of the JCS from 1997 to 2001.
- Admiral David E. Jeremiah, Vice Chairman of the JCS from 1990 to 1994.
- Admiral William A. Owens, Vice Chairman of the JCS from 1994 to 1996.
- General Joseph W. Ralston, Vice Chairman of the JCS from 1996 to 2000.
- General Richard B. Myers, Vice Chairman of the JCS from 2000 to 2001 (when he became Chairman).
- General Gordon R. Sullivan, Army Chief of Staff from 1991 to 1995.
- General Dennis A. Reimer, Army Chief of Staff from 1995 to 1999.
- General Eric K. Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff from 1999 to present.
- Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, Navy Chief of Staff from 1990 to 1994.
- Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda, Navy Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1996.
- Admiral Jay L. Johnson, Navy Chief of Staff from 1996 to 2000.
- Admiral Vern Clark, Navy Chief of Staff from 2000 to present.
- General Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force Chief of Staff from 1990 to 1994.
- General Ronald R. Fogleman, Air Force Chief of Staff from 1994 to 1997.
- General Michael E. Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff from 1997 to 2001 (September 6th, good timing).
- General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., Marine Corps Commandant from 1991 to 1995.
- General Charles C. Krulak, Marine Corps Commandant from 1995 to 1999.
- General James L. Jones, Marine Corps Commandant from 1999 to 2003.

Most of this information was gleaned from the Joint Chiefs of Staff website, and the Secretaries of Defense history page at DefenseLink.

I was remiss in not including the Directors of the CIA and FBI:

- R. James Woolsey, Director of Central Intelligence from 1993 to 1995.
- John Mark Deutch, Director of Central Intelligence from 1995 to 1996.
- George John Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence from 1996 (acting) to present.
- Louis J. Freeh, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investication, 1993 to 2001.

Here's an excellent account of how law enforcement tracked down and prosecuted the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. As a fan of Law & Order, I eat this stuff up.

Kerry and Edwards win Iowa in 1st and 2nd, and I'd just like to remind everyone that I thought they'd be the strongest Dems back in May.

I'm sure you've all seen the further developments by this point, but Dean lost big.

With 18 percent of the vote, Dean finished 20 points behind the winner, Kerry. Edwards scored a surprise second-place finish with 32 percent in nearly complete returns.
I'm amazed. I'm not surprised that Dean didn't win, but I think everyone expected it to be a lot closer than 20 points.

Dean blames the loss on recent attacks on his front-runner status, but his own gaffes provided more than enough rope to swing from. The big unknown factor was whether his internet-based organization could bring voters to the caucus as effectively as it raised money, and it looks like it couldn't, at least in Iowa.

Frankly, I think Dean's out of the running. Unless he wins convincingly in New Hampshire his presidential run is over, and judging from the effectiveness of his organization in Iowa I'm not optimistic for his chances in the Granite State.

On one hand, I'm disappointed. Even though I don't like his politics, I wish his internet based organizational structure had proven to be more effective. It's also unfortunate from a political standpoint, because Dean was the least electable of the major Democratic candidates, and as a Republican I would have liked to have seen him face off against Bush. Clark is a close second, and I don't doubt Bush could annihilate him as well, but Kerry and Edwards are a bit more politically formidable, in my opinion.

On the other hand, I'm pleased to see that the Democrats have rejected Dean's virulent anti-Americanism. Many Democrats may have initially supported him due to sympathetic anger, but I'm glad they got over it long enough to rethink their votes before actually casting them. It speaks well of Iowan Democrats that they didn't allow their emotions to rule the day by selecting a petty, pandering hate-monger as their nominee. (I don't say that to be patronizing.)

New Hampshire will be all the more interesting now that it's do-or-die for Dean.

According to pre-caucus polls, Dean looks weak (but not as weak as Gephardt).

According to polls as voters entered 1,993 schools, libraries, living rooms and other caucus sites, Sen. John Kerry (search) has a lead among those offering their initial preferences.

Kerry had 29 percent while Sen. John Edwards (search) had the backing of 23 percent who expressed a preference in the entrance polls. In third was one-time front runner Howard Dean (search) with 21 percent and in fourth was Rep. Dick Gephardt (search) with 16 percent.

Just trying to keep you all up-to-the-minute!

Looks like Syrian banks received billions from Saddam right before the US invaded last year.

Syria's Central Bank and the Medina Bank in Lebanon are holding at least $2 billion in cash, as well as gold bullion and platinum, that was smuggled out of Iraq, according to a letter written on the stationery of the Syrian army's intelligence department.

The letter says $1.3 billion was deposited in the Syrian Central Bank in an official "presidency" account, while another $700 million was placed in the Medina Bank. The document does not state the value of the gold and platinum, although it says these are also in the Syrian Central Bank.

That money rightfully belongs to the American people, and should be immediately claimed as spoils of war and used to pay Halliburton to develop Iraq's oil fields and build a giant pipeline to Texas through the center of the earth.

I was eager to hear President Bush's immigration reform plan, but then wasn't very impressed (nor were many others). The issue is huge and complex, not nearly as simple as the "enforce existing laws!" mantra of much of the right. Nevertheless, I don't think the status quo can stand much longer. President Bush's proposed policy just didn't make much sense to me, until I read TMLutas's take on it.

Tote up the decades of poor wages, the uncertainty of ever getting to the head of the line and the $40k price tag of illegal admission, fake papers, and the opportunity cost of keeping your head down in the US doesn't look so bad. So our everyman hits the shipping containers or desert crossings or whatever and arrives in the US where he first pops up on VDH's radar screen.

With the new program, the calculation changes. Our labor migrant everyman doesn't care about the US per se. He just wants a nice house and to live in relative comfort at home in his village. He wants his kids to have decent nutrition, a shot at a good education and a better life. He wants the local version of the American dream but in his own culture, with its own characteristics. Working for a few years in the US to build up a stake and he can use that capital to live a decent life at home as a member of the local elite. ...

The Bush plan takes care of this by reducing the cost to cross borders down to bus or train fare. Poof! Dignity as one of the richest families in your home town or a strange and confusing life in the US where you always feel the 2nd class outsider and you're in the bottom half of the economic order. How do you think those incentives will play out?

That's a fascinating take on the matter, and one that warrants a lot more thought. I'm going to have to reconsider my initial nagative reaction.

It's good to see that French scientists are hard at work on important problems.

Want to skim the perfect stone? A team of French researchers have worked out how, using their very own stone-skipping machine. ...

To achieve the maximum number of rebounds, the angle between a spinning stone and the water should be about 20 degrees1, advises Clanet: "This is the magic angle."

Incredible! That's not at all close to the angle people normally try to use to skip stones. Is angle all that matters?
Spin, speed and shape are also important. A stone is more likely to rebound if it is rotating, they found. This is because spin stabilises the object and prevents it from falling into the water.

Speedy stones are more likely to bounce than sluggish ones. A five-centimetre disc approaching the water at the magic angle needs to fly faster than 2.5 metres per second in order to avoid taking a plunge. Flat, round discs are ideal as their large surface area creates bounce on impact.

Amazing stuff.

Frank Rich sounds really bitter about Mel Gibson's upcoming movie, The Passion of the Christ.

NEW YORK Pope John Paul II, frail with Parkinson's at 83, is rarely able to celebrate Mass. But why should his suffering deter a Hollywood producer from roping him into a publicity campaign to sell a movie?

In what is surely the most bizarre commercial endorsement since Eleanor Roosevelt did an ad for Good Luck Margarine in 1959, the ailing pontiff has been recruited, however unwittingly, to help hawk "The Passion of the Christ," as Mel Gibson's film about Jesus's final 12 hours is now titled. While Eleanor Roosevelt endorsed a margarine for charity, John Paul's free plug is being exploited by the Gibson camp to aid the movie star's effort to recoup the $25 million he personally sank into the film.

Right, because there's no connection between the leader of the world's largest Christian church and the story of Jesus' crucifixion, the foundation of Christianity. And does anyone really doubt that Mel Gibson will make his paltry $25 million back? The movie's gotten rave reviews from everyone who's seen it.
Since I am one of the many curious Jews who have not been invited to press screenings of "The Passion," I have no first-hand way of knowing whether the film is benign or toxic and so instead must rely on eyewitnesses.
Nah, he's not bitter at all.
In November, The New York Post got hold of a copy and screened it to five denominationally diverse New Yorkers, including its film critic. The Post is hardly hostile to Gibson; it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox film studio has a long-standing deal with the star. Nonetheless, only one member of its chosen audience, a Baptist "Post reader," had kind words for "The Passion." Mark Hallinan, a priest at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church, found its portrayal of Jews "very bad," adding, "I don't think the intent was anti-Semitic, but Jews are unfairly portrayed." Robert Levine, senior rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan, called the film "appalling" and its portrayal of Jews "painful." On Christmas Day, Richard Ostling, the religion writer of The Associated Press, wrote that "while the script doesn't imply collective guilt for Jews as a people, there are villainous details that go beyond the Bible."
Well, it was a painful event, and everyone involved was either Jewish or Roman; it's not surprising that it makes them look bad. But "the script doesn't imply collective guilt for Jews as a people", so what's the problem?

Mr. Gibson has spoke to this on numerous occasions and pointed out that all people share guilt for Jesus' crucifixion, because we're all sinners. Not just Jews and Romans, but all mankind. Some people may be offended by that piece of Christian doctrine, but too bad -- it's the truth. Anyone who thinks it's only about the Jews has a flawed understanding of Christian theology.

For months now, Gibson and his supporters have tried to slur the religiosity of anyone who might dissent from his film's rollout. (And have succeeded, if my mail is any indication.) In The New Yorker last autumn, the star labeled both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times "anti-Christian" newspapers for running articles questioning his film and, in this vein, accused "modern secular Judaism" of wanting "to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church," a non sequitur of unambiguous malice.
"Dissent from his film's rollout"? That doesn't even mean anything, although I can guess what Mr. Rich is trying to write. Mr. Gibson is hardly the only person to think the New York Times and The Los Angeles Times are anti-Christian, and there's plenty of evidence for it (along with much of the establishment media, which is unflinchingly leftist). Without knowing what connection (if any) Mr. Gibson was making between his movie and the holocaust &c. it's hard to address Mr. Rich's "non sequitur" label.
This game of hard-knuckle religious politics is all too recognizable in the new millennium, when there are products to be sold and votes to be won by pandering to church-going Americans. The us-vs.-them religious one-upmanship is more about political partisanship than liturgical debate.
The writer should talk to Howard Dean about that, rather than maligning people with seriously held beliefs.
Its adherents practice what can only be called spiritual McCarthyism, a witch hunt in which "secularists" are targeted as if they were subversives and those who ostentatiously wrap themselves in God are patriots.
The problem is that many "secularists" on the left genuinely do hate America, and most Christians tend towards the right and tend to support our country more. (Generalizations, but most stereotypes have a basis in reality.)

Mr. Rich then goes on to question the translation of the Pope's comments from Italian to English.

... the archbishop quoted the pope not only as saying "it is as it was," but also as calling the movie "incredibile." Michelini was repeating the archbishop's Italian and said that "incredibile" translates as "amazing," though Cassell's dictionary defines the word as "incredible, inconceivable, unbelievable." But why quarrel over semantics? Followed by an exclamation point, it will look fabulous in an ad.
So maybe the Pope's position was mischaracterized, and no one bothered to correct it? Come on. I think Mr. Rich is engaging in a bit of projection.

I stand corrected. At least some of Mr. Rich's skepticism was justified.

According to published reports, McEveety and Michelini said Archbishop Dziwisz told them the pope reacted positively to the film and said, "It is as it was."

But, Archbishop Dziwisz told CNS, "That is not true."

"I said clearly to McEveety and Michelini that the Holy Father made no declaration," the archbishop said.

"I said the Holy Father saw the film privately in his apartment, but gave no declaration to anyone," he said. "He does not make judgments on art of this kind; he leaves that to others, to experts."

"Clearly, the Holy Father made no judgment of the film," he said.

As to the rest of Mr. Rich's criticism, he and I will both have to wait to see the film before making any judgements. TML may have more to say on the matter as well.

Update 2:
The plot thickens. It sounds like people at the Vatican are changing the story around, and no one knows what's really going on.

Update 3:
Ok, the last one. Via TM Lutas I see that the Vatican has issued an official statement on the matter.

VATICAN CITY, January 22, 2004 -- Hot off the press is an "official" Vatican statement today on the Mel Gibson film. It comes from Pope John Paul II's spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, and was released in Rome this morning to journalists:

"After consulting with the personal secretary of the Holy Father, His Excellency Mons. Stanislaw Dziwisz, I confirm that the Holy Father had the chance to view the film 'The Passion of the Christ'. The film is a cinemagraphic representation of the historical fact of the Passion of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel account. It is customary for the Holy Father not to express public judgments on artistic works, judgments that are always open to differing valutations of an esthetic character."

Lots of people think the War on Drugs is useless, claiming that it's unjust and doesn't do much to reduce drug use. It may very well be unjust, but Victor Morton has some information on the effectiveness of Prohibition in the 1920s and how it reduced alcohol consumption, and I think there's a strong parallel. I asked him for hard evidence, and here's his response (which he kindly allowed me to post here):

Well, a lot of guesswork is involved for any number of reasons. First of all, figures for any illegal activity are necessarily unreliable. There were also great gaps in the availability of alcohol between urban areas, especially in the Midwest and Northeast (where the evidence is good that Prohibition did fail to restrain alcohol consumption), and more rural areas, especially in the South and West (where Prohibition was obviously effective and remained in place in some ways after 1933). Anyway, these figures are for U.S. per-capita consumption of alcohol in gallons (http://www.drugtext.org/library/articles/craig102.htm)

1860 2.1
1870 1.9
1880 1.9
1890 2.1
1900 2.1
1905 2.3
1910 2.6
1915 2.4
1920 --
1925 1.4
1930 1.5
1935 1.5
1940 1.6
1945 2.0
1950 2.0
1955 1.9
1960 2.0
1965 2.2
1970 2.5
1975 2.7

As I say, these figures are obviously imperfect at precisely the point they're most needed. So, it's a bit more reliable to measure alcohol consumption through proxy figures, such as the death rate from cirrhosis and mental-home commitments for alcoholism. They tend to suggest Prohibition was at least somewhat successful.

For example, the average death rate from cirrhosis of the liver was 7.3 per 100,000 in the years 1920-1933; the average rate for the rest of the 20th century was 11.5. According to a Mark Moore New York Times op-ed column "Actually, Prohibition Was a Success," in 1989, cirrhosis death rates for men went from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911, to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929. Admissions to state mental hospitals for alcohol psychosis also fell from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1919 to 4.7 per 100,000 in 1928. There are problems with figures this crude, but they tend to cut both ways -- i.e. the time lag that often happens between alcohol consumption and cirrhosis on the one hand, but the effects of the Temperance movement that resulted in Prohibition in the years prior to Constitutional prohibition and the lingering effect of formed habitual behavior in the years after (more on that anon).

There's two other issues to consider after all these numbers. The first is a weakness of all social science, in that, mimicking natural science and mathematics, it seeks to isolate variables. The problem is that laws and human conduct simply never occur in a vacuum or a scientist's germ-free lab. To cite a point relevant to this case and to which I've already alluded above, the people who argue against Prohibition's effect on alcohol consumption point out that the cirrhosis death rate dropped faster during the 1910s, before Prohibition, than in the 1920s. And that the repeal of Prohibition didn't noticeably increase cirrhosis rates in the late 1930s. The numbers plainly support that (if you read Moore carefully with that in mind, you can see the residue). So the social scientist is satisfied. The problem is that in the real world, the country that passed Prohibition had to first become a country that *would* pass Prohibition (and that also meant passing mini-prohibitions in states and counties). Or to use the pro-life movement's formulation, we seek a culture where every unborn child is welcomed into life *and* protected in law. Changes in culture and the habits of the heart are logically distinct from the law, but not practically. We express our notions of good through the law, and the law reinforces those notions of good. Or to use Aristotle's formulation, we becomes virtuous by doing the virtuous things and vicious by doing the vicious things.

Secondly, and this might sound a little a priori and anti-intellectual, there's a certain level at which I simply refuse to listen to something so counterintuitive as "Prohibition didn't reduce alcohol consumption" (as opposed to "Prohibition had excessive countervailing costs"). I mean if making something illegal doesn't raise its cost (in the broadest possible sense), if raising the cost of something doesn't decrease its sales, and if being less a part of unthinking visible routine doesn't make a thing less popular -- if these things aren't true, ceteris paribus (and keep in mind what a stiff demand that is of history and the social "sciences"), then every thing we think about man is false and we've learned nothing about him in the history of civilization.

Smile, everyone's watching.

Dorothea takes issue with my belief that tenacity is the most important requirement for completing grad school.

Secondly, I’m not at all sure, based on my own case and that of others I know, that what’s really going on deserves the label tenacity. “Inertia” is more like it, I fear. I’m here, says the hapless grad student, and I haven’t got a clue in Gehenna what else to do with myself or my life except this, much though it’s not helping me or anybody else. If I leave, I’m a worthless failure, a quitter. I’ll sink into the gaping maw of Starbucks and never emerge again. I’d, um, better stay.
Well sure, but who said that's what I meant by tenacity?
This is tenacity? It wasn’t when I had those thoughts. Nuh-uh. Tenacity implies an active choice to cling to something, not passively being carried along out of inability to imagine anything else. Or out of fear of the outside world.
That's right. And if someone really wants to finish grad school and tries their best no matter what obstacles they face, they're likely to be successful. That doesn't mean they should try their best -- sometimes objectives change, and our plans don't look as good from the middle as they did from the beginning. That's fine. If you change the plan, you're choosing not to be tenacious.
I tell you the kind of tenacity I admire, though: the kind that learns to live again, after going through this. The kind that with no help and no guideposts claws its way out of the pit toward new generativity, that learns to negotiate with the world instead of hunkering down to endure in silence. The kind that despite contempt and incomprehension from former colleagues stands up to denounce what needs denunciation.

I admire that style of tenacity quite a lot.

That's a sort of tenacity, I suppose, but you're clinging to something other than grad school -- something certainly more important, but still something different. It's important to be able to make wise decisions and to know when to let go of something that isn't best for you (and maybe never was), but that type of strength isn't generally labeled "tenacity".

As the saying goes, "Know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em." If you play poker, you know that folding at the right times is an essential part of the game. Same with life.

France, that beacon of enlightenment, has decided to oppress it's religious minorities, and they aren't happy about it. The upcoming ban on religious attire in schools is a striking example of how weak France's democracy really is.

The protesters want to scrap a bill that will go before French lawmakers next month forbidding "conspicuous" religious signs, from Islamic head scarves to Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses, in public schools. Easy passage is expected, and the law is to become applicable with the new school year in September. ...

Critics of the law claim it will stigmatize France's Muslims. French authorities contend the principle of secularism is meant to make everybody equal.

It's not about equality (what's unequal about people wearing different types of clothes, or being different religions?), it's about conformity. Diversity (in thought and belief) can certainly cause instability in a country, but strong democracies can absorb the waves without incurring much damage. Is France's body politic so fragile that it can't handle religious freedom anymore? Do little girls threaten the republic by wearing scarves to school?

Kashei over at Spot On recounts a recent debate she attended and explains why she thinks "liberals" have nothing to offer serious thinkers. (The quotes are mine; I can't refer to modern Democrats without them, sorry.)

If the purpose of a debate is to leave with your thinking somewhat changed, then the conclusion I came to last night is that I don't need any liberals in a debate. They just have nothing to add these days. I haven't come away from any conversations with liberals, in particular about Iraq, feeling like I've had my position challenged or that I had been given food for thought. 'Bush is an idiot', 'Bush is evil', 'it's all about oil' or 'he's just doing this to please his daddy' aren't arguments.
I agree with her in general, which is why I think it will be good for the country when the Democratic Party implodes after being annihilated by President Bush this November. We need two (or more, but let's not get overly optimistic) serious parties to have meaningful political debate; we need meaningful political debate in order to come up with the best possible policies. As I mentioned earlier today, President Bush can get away with anything because all his opponents want to surrender the country to the UN and/or Islamofascist suicide bombers. This isn't good, and as the evidence shows President Bush is getting away with far too much.

Confidential to Chik-Fil-A: please start opening on Sunday. I want to eat your tasty chicken after church. It's so tender and juicy, and when you're closed you lead me to covet.

P.S., I won't tell God if you don't.

My brother passes along this bizarre/alarming New York Times article[Update: here it is in the IHT; the Times link costs money now.]about a French court ruling that a stock analyst who predicted an increase in the price of a particular company's stock owes the company money because her predicted increase wasn't as large as the company wanted it to be.

IN the fall of 2002, Morgan Stanley's luxury goods analyst, Claire Kent, issued a report saying that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton's financial results had been surprisingly good and predicting that the company's share price would rise 24 percent within 18 months.

The report became a crucial part of the evidence that persuaded a French court this week to order Morgan Stanley to pay LVMH at least 30 million euros, or $38 million.

How could that be? Ms. Kent's valuation models called for a higher stock price, but she reduced it by 10 percent because "management has destroyed value'' in the past.

Still, she forecast a big gain. But that essential fact was ignored. Since LVMH's market value was 27 billion euros, the judges found, "the discount of 10 percent recommended by Morgan Stanley represents 2.7 billion euros.''

The judgment for 30 million euros is only the beginning. The court appointed an examiner to recommend further damages and told him to determine what part of LVMH's spending from 1999 through 2002 - on everything from advertising to borrowing - was paid "to maintain its image and to thwart the denigration of which it was the victim because of the actions'' of Morgan Stanley.

[Insert grumbling about the idiotic French here.] Punishing financial analysts for negative predictions is totally absurd, and certainly going to do no good for France's ailing economy.

This should also serve as an example of why no sane person would ever want America to be a part of the International Criminal Court.

As I wrote previously, President Bush is spending way too much money. I linked to a Washington Times article before, and here's another that says that conservative groups are finally starting to put some pressure on GOP politicians to reign in spending.

National leaders of six conservative organizations yesterday broke with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, accusing them of spending like "drunken sailors," and had some strong words for President Bush as well. ...

"Congress' continued fiscal irresponsibility is clearly exhibited in the thousands of pork projects contained in the bill," the Heritage report noted.

The Heritage report says the omnibus bill will set the stage for discretionary spending to increase by 9 percent in 2004 to $900 billion, not the 3 percent claimed by Congress. ...

Mr. Bush and the Republican lawmakers are expected to face another barrage of criticism next week, this time from some 4,000 activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican congressional leaders are slated to speak.

"A lot of Senate Republicans will be speaking at CPAC, and the grass-roots conservatives attending won't be shy about their displeasure," said Richard Lessner, executive director of the American Conservative Union.

I'm glad I'm not the only person feeling this way, and I only hope enough pressure can be brought to bear on the Republicans to have an effect.

The problem is, where else can I, and others like me, go? All we can do is stay home and end up with Howard Dean. The Republicans know this, but they should figure that most right-inclined voters won't make such a rational decision and may just lose enthusiasm if they don't like President Bush's policies.

What's really frustrating to me is that the $400 billion presciption drug entitlement is already set in stone, and it's likely to be the potential space exploration spending that evaporates.

In my previous posts about mutually assured destruction I made the point many times over that the US needs to be willing to respond with nuclear force if we're attacked with nuclear weapons. Various people have come up with various retaliation schemes, but the government hasn't made many public statements on the matter.

However, there have been some hints, and they have quite deliberately reinforced MAD -- I'm almost 100% certain that our government has delivered covert threats to many countries reminding them that if we're attacked with a nuclear weapon, they're 15 minutes behind us. For obvious reasons it's to the advantage of all parties concerned that such threats don't leak out.

Anyone who doubts that America has and will follow such a policy doesn't understand how the real world works. The government tries to protect us from a lot of information that would hurt our tender sensibilities, and often does act in our best interests even when we wouldn't recognize them. Good or bad (and many libertarians won't like it), it's the truth.

The Public Policy Institute of California has some poll results that demonstrate just how confused Californians are. I'm just going to give you some highlights, since the entire report is 42 pages long; I'm sure there's more good stuff in there than what I've found in just a few minutes. Here are some numbers, I'll give some analysis below.

1. 50% of voters support spending more money on education, 38% oppose.
2. 41% support reducing the 2/3 legislature vote required for budget matters to 55%, 35% oppose.
3. 73% think having the 2/3 majority requirement is a good idea.
4. 58% disapprove of how the legislature handle financial matters, and 58% think the government "wastes a lot of taxpayers' money"; combined, 93% thinks "some" or "a lot".
5. 53% think the budget gap should be handled with a "mix of tax increases and spending cuts", 30% prefer only spending cuts.
6. 64% would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding of education.
7. 57% would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding of local government.
8. 50% would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding of health and human services.
9. 76% approve increasing "sin" taxes on alcohol and tobacco.
10. 71% approve of raising taxes for the wealthiest Californians.

Anyway, then Acrobat crashed, but you get the idea. These numbers show that Californians really have no idea what they want, and probably don't understand what their tax dollars are spent on.

(2) and (3) together don't make sense. Either people like the super-majority requirement, or they don't. The most important function of this requirement is to prevent the majority Democrats in the legislature from raising taxes all the time, and eliminating the requirement would abolutely-guaranteed lead to dramatic tax increases -- which doesn't seem to square with what people say they want.

Or does it? (4) 58% disapprove of how the legislature handles budget matters, and 93% think the government wastes "some or a "lot of" of money, and yet (1, 6, 7, 8) would spend more money on the three issues that combine to form 90% of state spending (education is 40% of the state budget, HHS is 30%, local government payouts are around 20%). If people think money is being wasted, these are the programs that are wasting it, and they should demand tighter controls not just throw more good money after bad.

What's more, 93% think their money is wasted but (9, 10) they're willing to raise taxes on "other people" to keep on wasting! How ridiculous is that?

No one really understands how caucuses work, but the Allah Pundit gives us some insight. (Via my Candy Girl, who recommends you don't ask, just go.)

I agree with Lileks. I want humanity to go to space. If the government wants to spend money on it, fine; if the government wants to get out of the way and leave it to "ordinary" Americans, even better. I don't care. I don't care how much it costs; I don't care what else doesn't get funded.

I don't want money wasted on stupid space stations that don't go anywhere but in circles (ellipses, shut up). Mars rovers are neat, but we should be scouting for landing sites. The Space Shuttle is a dangerous, pathetic joke that needs to be put down forthwith like a rabid, sickly dog. Quit wasting money taking it to the vet.

Sit back and imagine the type of space program we could have bought for the $400 billion President Bush instead spent on prescription drugs for old people, most of whom can already get the drugs through existing means. What's the International Stupid Station costing in total? $100 billion or so? Geesh. We could easily put a permanent base on the moon and then ship all the old people there for the cost of their prescription drugs.

How about this plan: cut all government funding for everything by 90%, cut taxes by half, and then split the remaining revenue evenly between the DoD and NASA. Oh sure, I know lots of people think NASA's a failure -- there's more work to be done than simply changing the funding around, but you get the idea.

By the way, here's Google's Mars Spirit image.

The New York Times is running an article about Dennis Miller -- mostly about his new show -- and includes the following quote:

Mr. Miller said he remained socially liberal. "I think abortion's wrong, but it's none of my business to tell somebody what's wrong," he said. "So I'm pro-choice. I want to keep my nose out of other people's personal business. ..."
I generally like Mr. Miller a lot, and agree with him on many issues, but I'd like to use this quote of an example of the contradictory view that many Americans have of abortion. Mr. Miller thinks abortion is wrong, but he doesn't want to prevent it. On the surface that sounds ok -- I think getting addicted to drugs and alcohol is wrong, but I don't think the War on Drugs is doing much good.

However, most people don't seem to understand the fundamental difference between "live and let live" issues and abortion. Why does Mr. Miller think abortions (of convenience) are wrong at all? Either he sees them as the taking of a life (that needs to be justified), or not. If he doesn't see abortion as taking a life, then why is it even mildly wrong? If he does see abortion as killing, then why wouldn't he be in favor of laws putting the same justification requirements on abortion as exist for all other sorts of killing? Killing and murder aren't the same thing, and there are lots of reasons why it can be acceptable to kill someone (self-defense, for instance). Why not restrict abortion in the exact same manner as we restrict other forms of killing?

Mr. Miller's confused perspective isn't at all unique to him. The fundamental difference between "live and let live" crimes and abortion is that the first are "victimless", while the whole controversy of abortion is based around the question of whether or not there is a victim. If unborn babies are not people, then there's no victim, and there's no reason to restrict abortions at all. On the other hand, if unborn babies are people, then they should be protected to the same degree we ourselves are.

Via the excellent Caveat Lector, here's a pretty strong indictment of the graduate school system by Professor ErinO'Connor at Critical Mass (in response to a discussion at Invisible Adjunct).

In a nutshell: nationwide, attrition rates for Ph.D. programs hover at about 50%. In some humanities programs, that number is edging toward 70%. The article notes that between the long time-to-degree of Ph.D. programs (usually 6-7 years, often longer) and the slim job prospects in many disciplines, an attrition rate that is higher than that found in medical or law schools is to be expected. But it also raises the perennial questions: Can attrition rates as high as these be responsibly understood as anything other than a scandal? And why are so many people still enrolling in Ph.D. programs when the odds of finishing, not to mention the odds of finding decent employment afterward, are so minuscule?

Research suggests that the natural selection argument so often invoked to justify the status quo is utter hogwash. The snobbish argument that graduate school "separates the wheat from the chaff" (or the men from the boys), that it "allows the cream to rise to the top," that it is a "sink or swim" environment in which only the most talented survive, just doesn't hold. Speaking in terms of populations, there is no demonstrable difference in intellect between those who leave graduate school and those who stay to the (often bitter) end--grades and scores are largely the same for both groups.

Dr. O'Connor goes on to discuss the problem and solicits stories from (ex-)grad students (Dorothea's makes sobering reading).

I'm a very atypical grad student, and not in the humanities -- nevertheless, I expect attrition in engineering schools is at least as high. I'm atypical in the sense that I work at a full-time job while simultaneously being a full-time student. Yes, it's not easy, but it keeps me out of the academic bog of teaching-assistants and slave-labor-researchers. I got my BS in 1999, my MS in 2001, and I expect to get my PhD in 2004, if everything goes according to plan. There's no way I could have maintained that schedule if I had been tied down to a professor as an assistant or researcher. (My advisor is really excellent, and I get the impression that most wouldn't allow their students to take full-time jobs.)

I'll say this: getting my MS was the easiest thing ever; getting my PhD may be the hardest. Anyone who can graduate with a BS can earn an MS, it's just not that hard. I don't say that to denigrate the degree, because you will learn a lot of specialized knowledge in the process of getting the MS, but the journey isn't that difficult. However, getting a PhD is like being admitted to an exclusive club, and there are a ton of hoops to jump through before you finish. I expect most attrition is due to these hoops more than anything else -- the procedure itself can be discouraging, confusing, and often painful. If graduate school were the focus of my life (as it would be were I a TA or RA), I think I'd go insane.

As it is, I've finished everything except the final lap of the race: handing in my dissertation. My research is going well, I'm getting good (surprising) results, and it's largely going to be a mechanical matter of writing and assembling the chapters of my book. Fortunately, I'm a decent writer, and it's a topic I'm interested in.

More than anything, a PhD represents a higher level of the same thing a BS stands for: not intelligence, knowledge, talent, or luck -- tenacity. In the end, a PhD in computer science probably won't drastically increase my earning potential (or even get me chicks), but that's not what it's really about (except the chicks part).

Glenn Reynolds posts about a Muslim Imam who wrote a book on how to "properly discipline" a disobedient wife (that is, beat them). It's a repellent topic, and Mr. Reynolds asks "Will any multiculturalists spring to his defense?"

Well, I certainly will not defend the beating of wives, but I would like to make one point. From the BBC article:

A Muslim cleric who wrote a book that advised men how to beat up their wives without leaving incriminating marks has been sentenced by a Spanish court.

Mohamed Kamal Mustafa was given 15 months in jail, which he will not serve as Spanish law suspends sentences of under two years for first offences.

No one should be subject to criminal prosecution for writing a book -- any book, no matter how disgusting.

I loathe Sean Penn, and won't ever see any of his movies again if it's at all within my power. His new travel journal from Iraq may give you some insight into why. (I feel like noting there that, despite arrests for assault and drug use, Sean Penn was still granted a California permit to Carry Concealed Weapons; despite my lack of a violent criminal record, I've been denied.) The article starts idiotically enough.

Doc Birnbaum filled the last of three receptacles with my blood (he was concerned about my looming cholesterol problem and had graciously made a house call), then slid the needle out of my vein as my phone rang. I answered as the doc pressed a cotton ball onto the puncture in the crook of my arm.
What normal people have doctors that make house calls to take blood? No one. It's not surprising that this pompus monkey is so disconnected from reality and popular opinion.
It is 2 a.m. in Jordan when my flight arrives. I part ways with Medea and her delegation, pay the 10 dinars for a visa, and go through customs, where I am greeted by Sattar. Before the Gulf War, Sattar had been a well-paid civil engineer. Now he drives the perilous 12 hours into Amman and 12 hours back to Baghdad, shuttling journalists and humanitarian aides, for a mere $300 per 24- hour round trip.
Again, how many people in America make a mere $300 per day? It's not a huge amount of money (around $80,000 per year), but compared to what Sattar was likely making as a civil engineer before the war it's a fortune; plus, he's probably not paying a 40%+ marginal tax rate.
For hundreds of kilometers at a stretch, the occasional Bedouin sheepherder is the only human form in sight. As far as the eye can see, these Bedouins -- solitary robed figures traveling the desert followed by a hundred head of sheep -- appear to have neither a point of origin nor a destination. It seems their only mission is to exist as props for a National Geographic photographer. Where are they taking these sheep? And where did they come from?
It's called working for a living. Idiot.
I've quietly arranged (the less my whereabouts are known, the better) to switch cars at the Hunting Club, a private social club that traditionally hosted a who's-who of Iraqi society. Saddam Hussein's son Oday was known to pick up girls there.
By "pick up girls" he of course means that Oday (who? Uday?) kidnapped them, raped them, and often murdered them. Pshaw, minor details.
On the busy boulevard in front of the Palestine Hotel are several makeshift money-changing tables. They survive on the fluctuating exchange rate of the dinar and charge a commission for changing money, mostly U.S. dollars for Iraqi dinars. It's not really a black market, because there is no official market; it's all black, without regulation, taxes or import duty.
That's not a black market, that's a free market. Communist.

Anyway, there's a lot more drivel, but Mr. Penn can't help but note in passing that the American troops are good guys, and that many (at least) of the Iraqis are glad to have them there. He manages to highlight the various failings of the occupation, but I'm quite encouraged by what I read between the lines. He notes repeated details of Saddam's tyrannical and murderous rule, and it looks like even Sean Penn may now see (some of the reasons) why the invasion was a good thing all around.

Via various sources I see that Daniel Drezner thinks that Senator Edwards may be more in the running for the Democratic nomination than many give him credit for. He also points to a TNR article by Michelle Cottle called "The Case for John Edwards" that paints an impressive picture of the Senator's economic ideas.

And, unlike most high-promising pols, Edwards also explains how he intends to pay for his proposals, listing a range of cost-saving and income-generating measures that include opening more government procurement to competitive bidding, reducing subsidies for major oil and agricultural concerns, shrinking non-security-related federal agencies over the next decade, and repealing specific elements of the Bush tax cuts. It's true that some of Edwards's cost-saving plans may be difficult to achieve--is he really going to abolish the Office of Thrift Supervision and reduce other federal agencies by 10 percent per year for ten years?--but the specificity with which he lays them out allows one to judge them on the merits. Contrast this with the vague platitudes offered by his rivals.
I've gotta say, I like those proposals, particularly when contrasted with President Bush's proliferate spending.

I should note that I was on the Edwards bandwagon in May, 2003, although that was long before Howard Dean surfed to the top of the pack and Wesley Clark entered the race.

I got an email about City Journal's new winter issue, and a couple articles caught my eye. Both relate to my city-of-love, Los Angeles, so I figured I'd post them together.

The first is a piece by Heather Mac Donald, "The Illegal-Alien Crime Wave". I love her use of hyphens in the headline (if she wrote it herself; although she could have also hyphenated "Crime-Wave"; then again, you can over-use them; anyway...), and the article discusses a major problem in Southern California.

Some of the most violent criminals at large today are illegal aliens. Yet in cities where the crime these aliens commit is highest, the police cannot use the most obvious tool to apprehend them: their immigration status. In Los Angeles, for example, dozens of members of a ruthless Salvadoran prison gang have sneaked back into town after having been deported for such crimes as murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and drug trafficking. Police officers know who they are and know that their mere presence in the country is a felony. Yet should a cop arrest an illegal gangbanger for felonious reentry, it is he who will be treated as a criminal, for violating the LAPD’s rule against enforcing immigration law.

As Ms. Mac Donald notes, city prohibitions against local enforcement of federal immigration laws is the ultimate reflection of our nation's failed immigration controls. She has more details:

In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal aliens.

Ms. Mac Donald has a lot more, and I recommend reading the whole thing. There are two things she doesn't mention, however. First, how President Bush's recent policy proposal addresses the problems she discusses (if it does at all), and second how we can convince Mexico to extradite the hundreds of murderers who kill in the US and then flee across the border.

The next article is a bit lighter, "The Curse of the Creative Class" by Steven Malanga. He writes about cities implementing "hip" policies to lure younger, richer, more "creative" workers.

If you think these efforts represent some fringe of economic development, think again. All of these cities have been inspired by the theories of Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon professor whose notion that cities must become trendy, happening places in order to compete in the twenty-first-century economy is sweeping urban America. In his popular book The Rise of the Creative Class, which just appeared in paperback after going through multiple hardcover editions, Florida argues that cities that attract gays, bohemians, and ethnic minorities are the new economic powerhouses because they are also the places where creative workers—the kind who start and staff innovative, fast-growing companies—want to live. To lure this workforce, Florida argues, cities must dispense with stuffy old theories of economic development—like the notion that low taxes are what draw in companies and workers—and instead must spend heavily on cultural amenities and pursue progressive social legislation. ...

While much of The Creative Class is little more than Florida’s depiction of the Internet bubble’s go-go culture, the last third of the book offers urban policymakers a seemingly dazzling new economic-development agenda derived from these observations. To capitalize on the hot new economy, Florida tells policymakers, they must reach out to the creative class, whose interests are different from those of the buttoned-down families that cities traditionally try to attract through good schools and low taxes. The new creative class craves a vibrant nightlife, outdoor sports facilities, and neighborhoods vibrant with street performers, unique shops, and chic cafés. In Florida’s universe, the number of local bands on the pop charts becomes more important to the economy than tax codes. “It is hard to think of a major high-tech region that doesn’t have a distinct audio identity,” Florida writes, sounding more like a rock critic than an economics prof. Creative workers want to live and work in “authentic” neighborhoods of historic buildings, not areas that are “full of chain stores, chain restaurants and nightclubs,” he asserts. Accordingly, cities should stop approving expansive new condo developments on their outer boundaries and instead focus on retooling former warehouse and factory districts.

If this sounds like a bunch of nonsense, that's because it is. Mr. Malanga goes on to show (with actual numbers) that many of the cities Dr. Florida lauds as creative meccas are, in fact, not performing exceptionally well economically, and are actually doing worse than the cities he rates least creative.

... Yet since 1993, cities that score the best on Florida’s analysis have actually grown no faster than the overall U.S. jobs economy ... Led by big percentage gains in Las Vegas (the fastest-growing local economy in the nation) as well as in Oklahoma City and Memphis, Florida’s ten least creative cities turn out to be jobs powerhouses, adding more than 19 percent to their job totals since 1993 ... Florida’s ten most creative mid-sized cities are even less impressive economic engines. Since 1993, these cities, which include such underperformers as Albany, New York, and Dayton, Ohio, have increased their job totals by about 16 percent ... Jobs data going back 20 years, to 1983, show that Florida’s top ten cities as a group actually do worse, lagging behind the national economy by several percentage points, while his so-called least creative cities continue to look like jobs powerhouses, expanding 60 percent faster than his most creative cities during that same period.

And so forth. Read the whole thing before commenting on other factors, please. What is obvious to me is that the artsy, diverse, culturally vibrant atmosphere Florida advocates is an effect of wealth, not a cause.

Would you rather:

1. Write the greatest novel ever but only have it read and understood by 1000 people, or write a decent novel enjoyed by millions?
2. Speak with God for one minute, or add a year to your life?
3. Get a ticket every single time you broke a traffic law, or never get police attention even when in dire need?
4. Be the world's greatest linguist, or the world's greatest mathematician?
5. Be a ninja master, or a pirate captain?

Looks like the Palestinian Authority is running out of money. (Fortunately Arafat is still a billionaire, so maybe he can lend some of that money back.... One way to tell if you're an illegitimate head-of-state: you're average when you take office, and a billionaire when you quit/die/&c. Which we can only hope will happen to Arafat soon. Ok, this paranthetical is long enough now.)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Hit by waning support from fatigued donor nations, the Palestinian Authority has been forced to borrow from banks to pay salaries to its 125,000 employees and may be unable to meet its February payroll, the economy minister said Tuesday.
Yikes! The population of "Palestine" is around 3.3 million (sorry for the Jewish source, but I don't see why they'd be biased, and it lines up with what I'm pretty sure is right), a little more than 1% the size of the US. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, there are 1.75 million federal government employees in the United States, which means that 0.6% of Americans work for the government, while 3.8% of Palestinians work for the Palestinian Authority. No wonder they're going bankrupt!

Maybe they should try relying less on "donors" and actually -- I don't know -- build an economy of their own. Nah, that's no fun.

If anyone's interested in medieval swordfighting, I highly recommend perusing Englishman George Silver's 1599 treatise on the topic, Paradoxes of Defence. George Silver, in his own words, "having the perfect knowledge of all manner of weapons, and being experienced in all manner of fights, thereby perceiving the great abuses" of other Teachers of Offense writes this manual to instruct his readers on the Art of Defense, which he holds in high honor.

I speak not against masters of defence indeed, they are to be honored, nor against the science, it is noble, and in my opinion to be preferred next to divinity, for as divinity preserves the soul from hell and the devil, so does this noble science defend the body from wounds & slaughter. And moreover, the exercising of weapons puts away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increases strength, and sharpens the wits. It gives a perfect judgement, it expels melancholy, choleric and evil conceits, it keeps a man in breath, perfect health, and long life. It is unto him that has the perfection thereof, a most friendly and comfortable companion when he is alone, having but only his weapon about him. It puts him out of fear, & in the wars and places of most danger, it makes him bold, hardy and valiant.

There are some great quotes in here. George Silver doesn't like the rapier at all, but many Italians commended the weapon and claimed that people armed with rapiers fought less than those armed with other weapons.

But whereof comes it? Is it from this, that the rapier makes peace in our minds; or from hence, that it is not so sufficient defence for our bodies in our fight? He that will fight when he is armed, will not fight when he is naked: is it therefore good to go naked to keep peace? he that would fight with his sword and buckler, or sword and dagger, being weapons of true defence, will not fight with his rapier and poniard, wherein no true defence or fight is perfect: are these insufficient weapons therefore the better, because not being sufficient to defend us in fight, they force us into peace? What else is it, but to say, it is good for subjects to be poor, that they not go to law: or to lack munition, that they may not fight, nor go to the wars: and to conclude, what more follows through the imperfect works of the Italian peacemakers? They have made many a strong in his fight weak, many a valiant man fearful, many a worthy man trusting to their imperfect fight, has been slain, and many of our desperate boys and young youths, to become in that rapier fight, as good men as England yielded, and the tallest men of this land, in that fight as very boys as they and no better.
That is, is it good for people to be disarmed so as to maintain the peace? Is it good that people be poor so as to prevent lawsuits?

Senator Clinton gets into the retro-craze -- albeit a bit late -- with a stunningly familiar proposal:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to focus this year on improving health care, beginning with a proposal designed to modernize the sharing of medical information nationwide.
Hmmm, where have we seen that before? Oh right, HillaryCare, circa 1993. (No real links available because the web wasn't quite up-to-snuff a decade ago.) So what's the deal?
The senator, who as first lady presided over a failed effort at health care overhaul, told a gathering of about 100 New York City health care leaders at a Manhattan hospital on Monday that the current system "often seems fragmented, redundant, inefficient and bureaucratic."
Right, unlike government programs which aren't at all fragmented, redundant, inefficient, or bureaucratic. C'mon, the rebuttal writes itself here, Senator.
"Americans need a new, modern, 21st-century version of health care delivery, based on the premise of information in the hands of the right people at the right time," Clinton said.
The right people: government workers. The right time: all the time.
Clinton's legislation would create a nationwide electronic system to enable American health providers to share health records.

Some doctors, hospitals and pharmacies already use electronic health records in areas like paperless prescriptions. But electronic medical records aren't widely used, and Clinton says a government-created system with special standards could change that.

Or it could funnel billions of dollars into the pockets of her supporters with no discernable gain for taxpayers. There are so many things it could do, I suggest we look at past and present government programs to get an idea of the likely results. Wait, "past" government programs? My mistake, government programs never actually disappear.
Clinton, D-N.Y., fought unsuccessfully a decade ago to expand affordable health care. The initiative died after industry interests and many members of Congress resisted to what they called a confusing bureaucracy.
The AP can't resist spinning: "affordable health care"? Affordable to whom? I can afford health care right now, as can the vast majority of Americans who are insured, as can the vast majority of Americans who are uninsured and spend their money on other things. What's really meant is "cheaper health care", which isn't even true, because what that means is health care for poor people subsidized by those of us who pay taxes. It won't get cheaper, the costs will just be pushed onto people other than the recipients of the benefits.
Clinton has said she learned lessons from the failure.
Such as? I'd love to hear more about what she's learned.

Anyway, no one wants poor people dying from exposure in the streets. For one thing, it's bad for business, and unless it's really cold outside they start to smell. Seriously though, does anyone really think there are poor kids who don't get essential medical care in America? Nonsense. There are free clinics all over the place, there's Medicare, emergency rooms, and people can always take out loans and pay for care on credit. People put new TVs on their credit cards, why not health care for their kids? The only circumstances where people go without essential care are if their parents are too lazy/stupid/irresponsible to take them to see the doctor, or if they're somehow incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, or functional insanity.

In the first case, those kids should be taken from their parents and put in minimum security orphanariums, and the parents should be sold off as slave labor where they'd at least become somewhat productive members of society. In the second, taking mentally ill people off the streets is one abandoned function of government I'd be in favor of restoring.

I bought an Airzooka this weekend, and it's super-fun. It's a strange device, and I'd never heard of it before I saw one sitting on the floor at Aahz. I couldn't figure out what it was at first, but once I fired it at my friends a few times I started to realize it's full potential.

As the description says, "This amazing invention launches a powerful vortex of air up to 20 feet. Powerful enough to blow out a candle from across the room!", and it's true. It's also powerful enough to piss people off from across a store. At $15 it's cheap, and my only regret is that it's so loud -- there's no way to blast someone without them figuring out where you are pretty quickly.

I see that Justin Katz has established a new blog-home at Dust in the Light and generously linked to Master of None. Among his first posts is an excellent deconstruction of Andrew Sullivan's recent disingenuous writing about gay marriage that reminds me yet again why I stopped visiting Mr. Sullivan's site -- not because I disagree with him (although I do), but because I became dizzy from his constant spinning. Mr. Katz also has an excellent post about marriage and necessity, and remembers "the exact moment that I realized, back when my wife and I were just dating, that I had to choose right then between staying or leaving. Postponing the decision would have been callous and unfair."

By the way, his site will be easier to read once you click the "Turn Light On" link near the top of his sidebar. The initial black-on-light color scheme is a bit hard on the eyes, in my humble opinion.

Here's the story, let's see what's in it.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton forced Dean to acknowledge Sunday that no blacks or Hispanics served in his cabinet during 12 years as governor.
First off, it isn't surprising to me that Howard Dean didn't have any blacks or Hispanics in his cabinet during the 12 years he was governor of Vermont. According to the US Census Bureau QuickFacts on Vermont, only 1.4% of Vermonters are black or Hispanic; non-Hispanic whites make up 96.2% of the state's population. Considering blacks and Hispanics combine to make up 24.8% of the US population, this disparity is obviously due to racism and the national government should start an expensive program to relocate persons-of-color to Vermont as soon as possible. Dean, however, doesn't take advantage of this obvious angle and instead offers a tangentially-related defense:
Dean responded, "I will take a back seat to no one in my commitment to civil rights in the United States of America."
I'm not exactly sure how supporting civil rights relates to appointing minorities to cabinet positions, and I'm not aware of any mainstream politicians who are not committed to civil rights. It's interesting to note that when politicians want to make a vague throw-away answer sound more impressive they tend to use the full name of our country, rather than simply "America" or "the US".

Meanwhile, Senator John Edwards appears to be a bit confused, mistaking the Iowa Democratic caucuses or the general election.

"We're past all this preliminary stuff. It's time to choose a president," Edwards said.
Not quite yet -- let's get some nominees first. But I like your enthusiasm!

Dean's got some conflicting budget ideas.

Dean revealed some clues to his plan to redistribute the burden for paying taxes away from the middle class. He said he examining a way to increase corporate taxes and perhaps cut payroll - or Social Security - taxes.
Dean thinks he's got a winning strategy here: most voters are middle class, and they're likely to want to vote all the tax burden onto other people. Like, uh, corporations! Which are... owned (through stock) by the middle class, and which are patronized primarily by the middle class. I've said it before, corporate taxes are smoke and mirrors, and every dime a corporation pays in taxes comes from a real human being's pocket.

Cutting payroll taxes seems like a Bad Idea, considering that the Social Security system is already set to go bankrupt long before people my age retire. Reducing the inflow of money would obviously dry up the well even sooner. But not in Dean-land, the Wackiest Place on Earth.

He said his first priority would be to balance the budget, which will require repealing all of President Bush's tax cuts. Gephardt challenged him about whether he could cut payroll taxes without harming Social Security.

"I think cutting payroll taxes is not a bad idea," Dean said. "It's certainly something we're going to look at. Under no circumstances will we take the money to cut payroll taxes out of the Social Security trust fund. That would be absurd."
My understanding of the payroll taxes is that all that money goes to Social Security. The only way to cut payroll taxes without hurting Social Security would be to divert money from the federal treasury into the trust fund... thereby destroying the myth that Social Security and Medicare payments are not taxes. I also like payroll taxes because they're the flattest tax we've got, hitting everyone's first ~$80,000 of income at the same rate.

Then there's this colorful line from the article.

Racial politics have not been prominent in the snow-white confines of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Why do I doubt that anyone will be writing about "coal-black" or "sand-yellow" voters?

I'm trying to get a new cell phone -- discounted through AT&T Wireless, which owes me some favors -- and from the specs I really like the Sony Ericsson T616. Most of the reviews I've found are positive, but I haven't been able to find anything written by what I'd consider a reputable source. So, does anyone have any information or first-hand experience with this phone? Does anyone know of a good cell phone review site I may not have found easily through Google (none of which seemed very comprehensive)?

I don't have much time for a movie review this morning, but I saw Big Fish last night and I wanted to make a brief observation.

First off, I liked the movie; it was fun and enjoyable, and I'd recommend it to almost anyone. That out of the way, it's biggest flaw was that the concept was better than the execution. If I didn't like the central idea of the movie so much, I'd have no complaints. The writing, dialogue, acting, sets... everything was technically good, but none of it did service to the exceptionally fantastic foundation of the story. I suppose I should read the book and see what got cut out.

I like taking walks. Walks are good for thinking, and they keep thinking from turning into brooding. In the winter, it's important to leave by 4:00 if you want to get a good walk in before sundown; walking at night is perfectly fine, but that's not what we're talking about today.

One of the best things about walking is that when you're walking, no one expects you to be doing anything else. Build, write, call, finish, plan, execute, redline, report -- sorry, I can't, I'm walking.

I love smiling strangers. They're happy to see you, and they never want anything but that you should keep on walking. That's fine with me; the last thing I need is another acquaintance. There are a lot of young children in my neighborhood, and they never seem sure whether they should say hi back or not, but they smile; there are also a lot of old people, and they're always pleased to be greeted. It's the people between 15 and 60 who seem most intent on minding their own business, but I've never had anyone object to a friendly hello, as long as everyone keeps on walking.

Some of the houses are bigger than mine, and I love seeing the countless variations. Every house in the neighborhood was originally built on one of three floorplans: three bedrooms, two baths, one kitchen, one livingroom. But that was 50 years ago, and most of the buildings have mutated over time. Some have sprouted second and third stories, some have converted garages, some have converted driveways. Occasionally someone tears a house completely down (except for one wall) and starts over; what's with those people? Don't they realize there's people in China living in mud huts who'd love a perfectly good house?

Then, eventually, you run into a major street and have to turn back home. That's ok, the sun's going down anyway.

I'd rather have no one show up than these three jokers.

Three candidates for the Democratic nomination for president debated yesterday in the District, agreeing that the city should be granted statehood, and that front-runner Howard Dean should have shown up. ...

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Mr. Sharpton criticized and mocked Mr. Dean several times for his absence.

Sounds like an awesome debate!
The three candidates agreed on nearly every topic, from health care and education to the war in Iraq to statehood.
Or maybe not....

Then again, is does sound like they had a pretty good time.

He [The Rev. Al Sharpton] then plopped down into Mr. Dean's empty seat and mocked the candidate's angry-look and finger-wagging style.
Sounds like a hoot! Meanwhile, some wacky ideas were tossed around.
But Mrs. Moseley Braun set herself apart from the others when she said she would sign a bill to end the District's gun ban and that she would oppose a commuter tax on residents of Maryland and Virginia who work in the District.

"I have always supported reasonable gun control," she said, "but I think under the Constitution people have the right and should be able to have guns."

You think so? Amazing.
Mr. Kucinich, who several times said he lives and works in the District, had to ask the panel what the commuter tax would do, before saying he would support it.
Mr. Kucinich supports a tax? Who'd'a thunk it? He doesn't seem to see any limits to his power as a legislator.
Mr. Kucinich, at a rally after the debate at Mimi's Bistro in Northwest, said he planned to introduce a bill in the next session of Congress to give D.C. two senators and a voting representative in the House.
Last time I checked, Congress doesn't have the authority to just arbitrarily bestow Senators and Representatives on people. At least The Rev. Al Sharpton wants to go all the way and make DC into a state; unfortunately, he isn't as familiar with the Constitution as Sen. Braun.
The most prominent issue was statehood for the District, which all three candidates supported.

"I would issue an executive order calling for statehood, and challenge the Congress to stop me," Mr. Sharpton said.

Uh, right.

This is totally cool, and I haven't seen it anywhere else yet. My brother sent me a link to some a video of dancing robots built by Sony. The articulation and smoothness of motion is amazing! I'd seen pictures of the robots before, but now that I've seen them in action I'm a believer.

The Window Manager informs us that the robots in the video are called QRIO, and that they were shown off at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Update 2:
Here's a site with more pictures of what it calls the QURO, but appears to be the same as the QRIO. Passed on my an anonymous commenter in the wrong thread.

Donald Sensing has a short post about the wisdom of churches modifying their methods to make non-members feel comfortable. Rev. Sensing recognizes the imortance of accessibility, but most of his commenters are firmly against the idea and seem to feel there's great value in erecting a barrier between the church and non-members, and thus between God and non-believers.

I'm a member of the leadership team at Venice Baptist Church (like deacons, elders, or what-have-you; even the different name reflects the point of this post, heh), and we've been tweaking our accessibility for five years or so now. We never compromise Biblical doctrine, but our goal has been to make our church a place where if people felt uncomfortable it's because of the message of God, not because they don't understand what the heck is going on.

Many of Rev. Sensing's commenters laud the value of words like "hymn" and "sermon" and decry using modern language, calling it "Church Lite". That's the same general arguement used by people who insist that the 1611 King James Version of the Bible is the only acceptable translation of God's word, despite the fact that most modern English speakers can't understand more than half the text. Not because they aren't spiritual, but because the meanings of words have changed dramatically in four centuries. The fact is that modern translations are simply more accurate and based on better manuscripts and better scholarship. I grew up with the KJV and have memorized tons of scripture in it, but I don't use it anymore because it's difficult even for me to understand -- and it's easy to get wrong ideas from it because of the changed meanings of words and phrases.

(Plus, Jesus didn't speak 17th century English, he spoke Hebrew and Aramaic, so if you want to be pedantic go learn those and read the Bible in the original languages. Even then you'll have to depend on your language teachers and history books to interpret the meanings of the words you read, so it's not like you'll be getting a more "pure" understanding of the Bible than you do if you read the translations done by teams of hundreds of experts.)

Over the past five years or so we've made a lot of changes to our methodology, without sacrificing Truth. We got rid of our choir and now have a "worship team" that includes (gasp) drums and electric guitars. We sing songs written within the past decade. We have video games set up in our kids' rooms for game time. We use modern translations for our scripture readings (and memorization) so that everyone can understand what God has written to them.

The effect has been substantial. Five years ago the average age of our membership was around 50, and there were zero nursery-age kids. Now our average age has dropped to around 35, and there are tons of babies everywhere. "Oh sure, but everyone's so much less spiritual now." Please. The younger people are invigorating our church's passion for God. The younger people give far more time and money to God than the older people do (or can). The younger people are raising Godly children for the next generation. That's not to say everything's perfect by any means, but our church is on the road to health and growth.

On another note, many old-liners sneer whenever people mention that a church is growing. It's not about numbers, they say. Yeah, sure, it's not about numbers, except for the fact that every person who accepts Christ is one more person who's not going to Hell, you self-righteous twits. And maybe they'll serve God, and maybe they'll tell their friends, and then maybe some more people will escape eternal damnation. Other than that it's not about numbers, you're right.

Jesus was accessible and relevant in his day, and even the exalted King James Version was written in the common vernacular of its time (which is why the Church hated it). Anyone who thinks the pinnacle of Christian liturgical development is back in 1950 is delusional. The message of Jesus must be presented to everyone, in every language, in as clear and understandable a manner as possible.

I should have posted this passage before. Here's Paul's opinion on the matter.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Africa has a lot of problems, but a new survey indicates that HIV may not be as widespread as previously thought. Here's the good news:

The study, carried out by the Kenyan government, suggests 6.7% of people have the disease.

Previous estimates had put the figure as high as 15% or 4.8m people.

Experts said the figures based on a sample of 8,561 households across the country are the most comprehensive to date.

The problem is that their survey methodology seems flawed.
This latest survey was carried out in September last year. As part of the survey, people were asked if they would be tested for HIV. Some 70% of those asked agreed.

The tests were carried out by officials from the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. They found that 8.7% of women and 4.5% of men were HIV positive.

So the survey wasn't taken from a random sample. They may have asked a random sample to take HIV tests, but 30% of those asked refused. It seems very likely to me that a person's decision to agree or refuse to the test would be influenced by their own knowledge of their health and lifestyle. For instance, someone who never has sex or does drugs may refuse because they think there's no chance they have HIV and don't want to be bothered; someone who's very sick and suspects they may have HIV may refuse to take the test because they don't want to hear the bad news.

If either situation is very common then the results of this survey are meaningless -- and there's no way to know without testing the other 30% who refused. Therefore, although the numbers are encouraging, I'm skeptical that they really reflect the truth of the situation.

Some of my professors said my Ph.D. project was too complicated to work, but tonight I finally got a tribe of learning animats to seriously kick the crap out of three non-learning tribes at the same time. Yay for me!

Red's the learner, in case you didn't guess. The white dots are resource points (evenly distributed on this map); the dark-colored squares are territory controlled by each of the four tribes (black is uncontrolled); the light-colored dots are individual animats (you can see three red animats near the center of this snapshot). There are five animats from each tribe, but some of them may be overlapping.

Mark Stein gives us some good reasons to go buy a gun. This article was written in response to a letter to the editor written by a (British?) woman who thinks everything's better when no one except criminals have guns.

The Independent's Joan Smith recalled that, when she spied a burglar on her porch, she had no desire to "blow him away". Nor do I, if I'm honest.

But I do want to have the right to make the judgment call. You can call 999, get the answering machine rerouting you to the 24-Hour Action Hotline three counties away, leave a message, and wait for the Community Liaison Officer to get back next week if he's returned from his emotional trauma leave by then.

But that's the point: you're there, the police aren't. And, even in jurisdictions whose constabularies aren't quite so monumentally useless as Britain's, a citizen in his own home should have the right to make his own assessment of the danger without being second-guessed by fellows who aren't on the scene.

And, once you give the citizen that right, he hardly ever has to exercise it. Take Miss Smith's situation: she's at home, but the burglar still comes a-knocking. Thanks to burglar alarms, British criminals have figured out that it's easier to wait till you come home, ring the door bell, and punch you in the kisser.

In my part of the world, that's virtually unknown. In America as a whole, 12.7 per cent of burglaries are of "occupied homes"; in Britain, it's 59 per cent. Installing a laser system may make your property more secure, but it makes you less so.

None of this is new, but it bears repeating.

I got a "help me export money" scam email from a guy who claims to be in South Africa... yeah right! Everyone knows the ownerless bank accounts are in Nigeria, not South Africa!

It's really odd to me that so many of these scam emails have the same quirks. For example, is it really necessary to spell out monetary values?

On the 6th of June 1998 an American miner ran an account with us and his present balance is valued at US$38,500,000.00 (Thirty Eight Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars Only) in my Bank.
Only? What? I can just imagine all the confused responses the scammers got before they started spelling out the numbers.

Scammers also tend to capitalize randomly (if the entire email isn't all-caps, that is). I understand that English may not be their first language, but even if they're just using capitals to draw attention to certain words it doesn't make sense.

Consequently, my Proposal is that I would like you to stand in as the next of kin of the deceased. This is simple; All we need is some of your Details so that an Attorney will prepare the necessary Documents and affidavits which would put you in place as the deceased next of kin. We shall also employ the services of an Accredited Attorney for the Drafting and notarisation of the WILL and to Obtain the necessary documents and letters of probate/administration in your favour for the transfer.
Oh, you're using an Accredited Attorney to Draft a WILL -- in that case, sign me up.

Scammers are also eager to assure us that there's ABSOLUTELY NO RISK TO YOU.

There is no risk at all as the Paperwork for this transaction will be done by the Attorney and My position as a manager guarantees the successful execution of this Transaction.
No venture involving an Attorney and a bank manager could possibly go wrong.

Anyway, I'm bored, so I responded. Posting scam emails and mildly-humorous responses seems to be the cool blog-thing to do, so count me in.

Donald Sensing notes that satellite-radio provider Sirius is adding television service, and says he hopes internet service isn't far behind. Unfortunately, satellite internet service is a much more complicated beast than satellite radio or television.

Most of the difficulties stem from the fact that radio and TV are one-way communication: a dish has to be pointed in the right general direction, and it catches relatively high-powered signals broadcast by a satellite from geosynchronous orbit. But for internet access you need a two-way connection, and although you typically require less bandwidth upstream than downstream you still need to send some data up -- to tell what emails and webpages to fetch, for instance.

There are satellite internet providers, and it's not that difficult to send data back up to a satellite. One such provider is StarBand, and as you can see from their price chart the initial equipment cost is pretty substantial but the monthly fees aren't too bad. The real problem with satellite internet on a mobile platform (such as a car or boat, where satellite radio is popular) is that although it's easy to receive broadcast signals from a satellite (XM Radio uses the roof of the car as a dish, for instance) it's very difficult to keep a mobile broadcast antenna pointed at the correct satellite transponder to allow for upstream communication. A satellite in geosynchronous orbit is 22,000 miles away and transponders are pretty small; it's basically impossible to keep a dish pointed properly while in motion. If your car rotates one degree your upstream signal would move more than 450 miles off target. That's why (most) satellite phones you've seen pictures of have ground-mounted base stations.

There are some alternatives, such as using a wireless phone modem for upstream communication and the satellite for download; but if you've got cell coverage then it would certainly be cheaper to use your wireless phone for upstream and downstream communication rather than bother with using a satellite at all.

If you really want satellite-based internet, there's always Iridium, a satellite phone system that uses a constellation of of 66 low-earth orbit satellites that don't need to be precisely targeted (because there's so many, and they're 1% as far away as geosynch satellites). They also offer satellite data/internet service -- at the pitiful rate of 2.4Kbps to 10Kbps (compared to 56.6Kbps modems that no one even uses anymore). In 1994, an Iridium satellite phone cost $30,000, but that fell to $1,500 by 2002. The Navy gets call time for around $1 per minute, but I expect civilians can't get that good a price, and in 1997 the cost was $6-$7 per minute. At 10Kbps it would take 3.5 minutes to load my front page, so multiply that by a few bucks per minute....

Costs will probably come down in the future, but there's a limit, largely due to the fact that we're simply running out of frequencies to transmit on. There are only so many frequencies suitable for data transmission, and they're all in use. DirecTV is having problems finding more room for their TV channels already. There's no way for satellites to carry all the internet traffic that's currently used by the internet, at any price.

(And now the caveat: I'm not an expert on this, and I'll welcome more detailed information from anyone who wants to offer it.)

The air in Los Angeles has been extremely yucky for the past two days. Looking off into the distance -- towards downtown -- a layer of thick brown smog hugs the ground. Maybe that's what foreigners would stereotypically expect from the City of Angels, but the air here is usually pretty good... as long as there's wind from the ocean. Unfortunately, the winds are blowing from the east and bringing smog from inland, rather than Mary Poppins.

The BoiFromTroy comments that the increased smog may be due to the ban on MTBE that took effect on January 1st. MTBE is an oxygenating additive that's used in gasoline to help it burn more cleanly, and it was banned because of "concerns" that it pollutes groundwater. This is an interesting possibility, but it looks like oil companies began phasing out MTBE in 2002 and 2003 (the ban was originally supposed to start in 2003). Federal law requires that gas be 2% oxygenator by weight, and ethanol can be used in place of MTBE but I don't know if it has the same level of effectiveness.

Phil speculates on the future of wealth, and says that with sufficiently advanced technology (like nano-assemblers and perfect virtual reality) the concept of wealth will cease to exist.

Two (hypothetical) future developments promise to flatten the delta virtually out of existence. One of these is the universal assembler (third item), which uses nanotechnology to allow anybody to make — literally — anything they want, including their own univeral assembler. In addition to closing the gap between the rich and the average, this device will eliminate any remaining gap between the average and the poor. Poverty won't exist any more.

The other development is full-immersion virtual reality, which will enable anyone to experience anything. Think of that scene in the first Matrix where they arm themselves by selecting weapons from an inexhaustable warehouse containing every firearm ever conceived. Now map that capability over to things like cars and vacations and (yes) romantic partners.

Who's richer, a guy with one real Porsche or a guy with a virtual collection of every Porsche model ever built? Assuming the VR is flawless and the experience of driving the virtual cars is identical to the real thing, I'm going to say the second guy. If this capability is ever realized, the day people generally agree with my answer is the day the concept of "wealth" ceases to exist.

He and Glenn Reynolds also say that (democratic!) political influence is getting harder to buy, considering that Americans watch less TV and are influenced and enthused more by websites than by political ads. That's all true... but there will always be the power of physical force, and there will always be people with more physical power than others. Even if nano-assemblers give us all armies of wicked wizard robots, someone's assembler is going to be faster than yours -- or sitting on a more powerful black-hole-engine -- and they're going to be able to kill you and smash your virtual Porsches. And then there will always be the people who are more convincing than you are, and able to gather armies and followers and whatnot.

Even aside from raw physical power, forms of wealth may change but the concepts of wealth and possession are built into human nature and won't ever disappear. Look at the kinds of distinctions we make between objects of varying levels of wealth right now: my hypothetical house is more expensive than yours because I have copper plumbing and live in a school district with 5% higher test scores! To a person 100 years ago, those value differences would be meaningless relative to the vast wealth differential between his time and ours. The man from the past would see both you and I as fantastically rich -- and that's how Phil is looking towards the future -- whereas we may see clear and important differences between our hypothetical houses. In the future, wealth distinctions will probably become more subtle (my Space Bugatti has seventeen cupholders and was assembled from the core of a neutron star, you plebian!), but they're never going to go away.

January 7th, 2004
KATHY REYNOLDS: Hold on Tom, we've got breaking news! This just in: federal officials have quarantined an area one mile across centered on the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Pacific Avenue in Venice Beach, California. We don't have much information at this point, but early eye witness accounts are claiming that some sort of metallic object fell from the sky and landed in the middle of the street.

January 8th, 2004
TOM HARRIS: What we're showing you now are photographs of the so-called Venice Alien Space Probe taken by tourists who were on the Venice Boardwalk when the object landed. On the right of this photo you can see a pile of what appears to be orange parachute material, somewhat hidden behind the man in the blue hat. The next photo shows several children climbing on the object, and some flashing lights can be seen behind the girl on the left. Here's a family posing in front of the object, and here's a picture of an apparent vandal trying to break off a piece of the object for a souvenir.

REYNOLDS: Federal authorities showed up soon after, as well as scientists from UCLA, Caltech, and JPL who are investigating the object as we speak. The government isn't releasing much information yet, but Professor Kelly Davis is here from the UCLA astronomy department to tell us what she can about what the scientists have discovered. Dr. Davis, welcome, I think the whole world wants to know what kind of progress you're making with VASP.

DR. KELLY DAVIS, UCLA ASTRONOMER: Well, actually, we're not calling it "VASP". At this point we're not really sure what we're dealing with. I can tell you that the object isn't radioactive, and doesn't appear to pose an immediate threat to the surrounding city.

HARRIS: What about the vandalism, Dr. Davis? Does the probe appear to be damaged?

DAVIS: Again, I don't think it's any sort of space probe. Most likely it’s the remnant of a weather balloon or some other sort of high atmosphere test device. We're not sure where it's from yet, but I'm sure the government is looking into all the possibilities.

HARRIS: If it's not a space probe, why is the astronomy department of UCLA getting involved?

DAVIS: I can't answer that sort of question at the moment. We're always happy to assist the government whenever they call on us.

REYNOLDS: What about the vandalism and the tourists? Was the “object“ damaged?

DAVIS: At this point, there's no way to know. We're examining photographs of the object to determine whether or not it's moved or been altered since it landed. We're also hoping to locate pictures of the actual decent and landing.

REYNOLDS: What would happen if Martian kids climbed all over our Spirit Mars probe?

DAVIS: It wouldn't be good. Fortunately, there are no kids on Mars.

HARRIS: Is the object doing anything right now? Is it just sitting there?

DAVIS: I'm sorry, I can't answer that.

HARRIS: Do you know when residents will be allowed to return to their homes? Is there anything else you can tell us?

DAVIS: We're confident the object doesn't pose a danger to anyone, but those sorts of questions should be directed to the federal government.

REYNOLDS: Thanks, Professor Davis. Coming up next....

January 9th, 2004
REYNOLDS: The government still has a large portion of Venice Beach sealed off due to the Venice Alien Space Probe. Officials tell us the VASP isn't doing anything other than transmitting radio signals into space, and scientists are working to determine the destination of those signals.

January 16th, 2004
REYNOLDS: The government attempted to move the Venice Alien Space Probe to a secure location this afternoon, but efforts were thwarted when the probe began moving on its own. Professor Kelly Davis is with us from UCLA;. hello Professor Davis, what can you tell us?

DAVIS: Hi Kathy. Contrary to what you may have heard, no one tried to move the object this afternoon.

REYNOLDS: We have photographs of federal officers moving a large crane into position over the probe....

DAVIS: I'm not sure what “probe“ you're referring to, but the object in question is still exactly where it landed.

HARRIS: So reports that it is moving under its own power are false as well?

DAVIS: Yes, but what did happen is really amazing. A door on the side of the object opened and a small rover of some sort rolled down the ramp and started heading for the ocean at the rate of about five feet per minute. The rover took a little over an hour to reach the water, scooped up a sample, and then returned to the mother-object.

REYNOLDS: Amazing! We haven't heard that from anyone else. Will there be any pictures released? What else can you tell us about this rover?

DAVIS: I don't know much else at this point, other than that we were forced to relocate a lot of our equipment out of the rover's path.

HARRIS: You didn't want to interfere with its mission, whatever that was?

DAVIS: I suppose you could say that.

HARRIS: Dr. Davis, do you have any more information on where the probe is from?

DAVIS: As I've said, it's most likely that the object is some sort of high-altitude weather balloon that fell to the earth.

REYNOLDS: Do weather balloons typically have rovers, Professor?

DAVIS: I'm not an expert on weather balloons, I'm sorry.

HARRIS: Our producer is waving his hands, so we're apparently out of time. Thanks for coming, Dr. Davis.

March 15th, 2004
REYNOLDS: Local residents are demanding permission from the government to return to their Westside homes and businesses today, organizing a rally just outside the half-mile perimeter set up to protect and isolate the Venice Alien Space Probe three months ago. Activists claim it's unfair for the government to keep them off their property for so long without any compensation or access to their personal belongings. Meanwhile, all reports indicate that the VASP is still inactive after having stopped its radio transmissions three weeks ago. Here with more information is Dr. Kelly Davis from UCLA. Hello Professor Davis.

DAVIS: Hello again Kathy, Tom.

HARRIS: Hello. These people look pretty mad. What can you tell us, Professor? How much longer are they going to be shut out of their homes?

DAVIS: That's really for the federal government to decide. I can tell you that we've done all the investigation we can on the probe without moving it to another location and disassembling it.

REYNOLDS: There was an attempt to move it in January, if I'm not mistaken. Why is it still sitting there on the street?

DAVIS: Well Kathy, there's concern that if the probe is moved it might be damaged, or it might react in an unpredictable manner.

HARRIS: What's your current plan, then? To leave it there on the sidewalk indefinitely?

DAVIS: No, clearly it will have to be moved to a more secure location soon, but we're still studying how to do that. It's much heavier than it looks, and appears to have dug itself partly into the ground.

REYNOLDS: It's dug itself into the ground? I haven't heard that before. Isn't it resting on concrete?

DAVIS: Yes, primarily, but the object deployed a sort of drill-like device several weeks ago and began drilling into the surface of the street adjacent to the sidewalk. There's some concern that attempting to move the object right now could damage the drill. And the street surface.

HARRIS: Has the probe done anything since it stopped transmitting last month?

DAVIS: Not really, no.

REYNOLDS: Ok, thanks for talking with us Dr. Davis.

August 21st, 2004
REYNOLDS: The federal government has approved a plan to build a permanent shelter over the Venice Alien Space Probe that scientists say won't block radio transmissions -- if the probe ever starts signaling again. The permanent shelter will protect the space probe from curious onlookers and vandals, and allow neighborhood residents to return to their nearby homes and businesses before Christmas. With us now is Professor Kelly Davis from UCLA to explain what's happening. Dr. Davis?

DAVIS: Hi Kathy. We've decided that it's too risky to move the probe at this point. We don't want to damage it, and we want to make sure that if it begins transmitting again it's antenna is properly aligned.

REYNOLDS: Are you going to continue studying the probe?

DAVIS: UCLA is going to set up a permanent research post near the probe to observe its behavior, yes.

REYNOLDS: Thanks for coming on Dr. Davis.

DAVIS: My pleasure.

January 7th, 2019
REYNOLDS: It's the 15th anniversary of the landing of the Venice Alien Space Probe, and scientists say they've given up hope that it will ever become active again. Here's Professor Kelly Davis with the UCLA astronomy department to tell us more. Dr. Davis, is it true that there are no more heat signatures coming from the probe?

DAVIS: That's right, Kathy. The probe has fallen to ambient temperature, and we believe this indicates that whatever power supplies it was working from have expired. We don't expect any more activity from the probe. It's very disappointing.

HARRIS: Other than the brief excursion of the rover in 2004, there hasn't been much visible activity of any kind from the probe, has there?

DAVIS: There was a short period during which the probe appeared to be taking soil samples of the surrounding terrain, but that stopped shortly after landing as well. There hasn't been much since then, other than a few radio pulses in 2011.

REYNOLDS: What's the plan now? Is the probe going to finally be moved to a research facility and taken apart?

DAVIS: Well, the probe has become quite a landmark for the city, and there's some pressure to leave it right where it is. I'm sure, though, that it will be moved eventually for further study. There's no more reason to leave it in place, now that it's clear that it isn't going to reactivate.

HARRIS: Once you have a chance to study the probe further, do you think you'll be able to get an idea as to its origin and purpose?

DAVIS: Hopefully, yes, although....

REYNOLDS: I'm sorry, Dr. Davis, we're getting some breaking news. It appears that the government is disassembling the space probe's protective shelter even as we speak, and witnesses report that the probe isn't inside anymore. What's going on, Dr. Davis?

DAVIS: I don't know. This is the first I've heard of it. Maybe the probe has already been moved to a new location....

HARRIS: Aren't you leading the team that's investigating the probe? Haven't you heard anything about it?

DAVIS: No, as far as I know the probe wasn't going anywhere.

REYNOLDS: Let's go live to our reporter on the scene....

January 7th, 2024
REYNOLDS: And on the stranger side of the news, space nuts and UFO aficionados have converged at Venice Beach, California, for their annual Venice Alien Space Probe vigil. Attendants say they come to commemorate earth's first contact with an alien species, and to draw attention to the probe's disappearance five years ago -- fifteen years to the day after the probe landed. The government has remained silent on the issue and will only say that their top scientists are still investigating the mysterious incident, which many believe to have been no more than the crash landing of a weather balloon. Opinions among space enthusiasts varies, ranging from some who believe the government is covering up the biggest story since TV-gate, to others who claim the probe has returned to the aliens who built it.

If the Homeland Security Advisory System threat level ever gets reduced to "guarded" (where it's never been) terrorists around the world will be motivated to strike just to prove us wrong. A successful attack right after a lowering of the threat level would be embarrassing. I know I'm not the first to say it, but I don't think we'll ever see a level below "elevated".

President Bush has released some details of his proposed immigration reform package (here's my reaction to the initial announcement), and maybe I'm obtuse but I don't see how these reforms would be any different than current work-visa programs. Except, of course, that currently-illegal aliens would be able to apply, whereas they can't apply for visas.

I'm not sure how much of an effect these changes would even have (which is good enough reason to oppose them -- pointless laws are bad). Illegal aliens who register would then be subject to deportation after a few years, and we'd know they're here, so how many do you really think will sign up?

One of the biggest flaws I can see is that the system would require employers to "show no Americans wanted the jobs being applied for" -- this requirement belies a staggering ignorance of basic economics. Americans will do any job, for the right price. If no one wants a job, that means you aren't offering enough money. This new rule sounds like it would allow companies to offer jobs for unrealistically low wages, and then import workers from other countries to fill the purposefully vacant positions.

Foreigners would obviously leap at the opportunity to come to America legally, no matter what job they're offered or what the pay is. No nuclear engineers are willing to work for minimum wage? Just get on the phone with India or Pakistan and bring 'em over by the boatload.

Bill Hobbs (at his spiffy new site) calls attention to a briefing by Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr., who says that attacks on coalition troops are down 60% since Saddam's capture. Mr. Hobbs wants to know why this hasn't been widely reported in the mainstream press, but I assume he's asking rhetorically.

The Iraqi Governing Council could petition the US for statehood, and if the media covered it they'd spend all their inches speculating on Halliburton's involvement. Besides, there's fighter jets not escorting passenger planes to report on, and Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead. Dennis Kucinich brings a pie chart to a radio debate, and the late Princess Di's gay husband wanted her dead.

Iraq is so 2003, Mr. Hobbs -- get with the program! You may as well wish for Afghanistan's new constitution to get air-time.

Mr. Bowen at No Watermelons Allowed has a nifty post up about private-sector standards, specifically mentioning one company he used to work for.

I've written before that some non-zero level of regulation is beneficial to society -- and I think that's true -- but much of the regulatory burden imposed by the government could be privatized and handled by companies such as ASTM International.

What's with ASTM, anyway? It is the acronym for the organization's original name, the American Society for Testing and Materials. Libertarians should love these guys, because they implement voluntary standards for materials that can be adopted in contracts and laws. The standards themselves are created primarily by subject matter exports who are familiar with the state of the art, not a pack of bureaucrats whose major consideration is self-perpetuation.

So what do they provide standards for? Just about anything. Soils for instance - wouldn't you like to know if your house is likely to go sliding off a cliff? ASTM has a test for the so-called "liquid limit" of soils, which can be used by civil engineers to measure soil stability.

And so forth. Companies could offer standards and testing at competitive prices, and then customers could listen to their recommendations and make their own decisions. Insurance companies could underwrite projects based on the evaluations of the standards companies, and everyone involved would have an economic interest in developing adequate standards. Unlike government standards, it would be easy to pin the blame when things don't turn out well. People could be fired, heads could roll, and reimbursements could be made from private funds. If criminal negligence was involved, people could be jailed; try sending a failed civil servant to jail when they screw up!

Standards companies would build reputations, giving weight to their seals of approval. Their business would be directly tied to the success of their standards, and their insurance company clients would have a great incentive to minimize costly disasters. The only required government involvement would be ensuring that the companies provide truthful and accurate information to their customers.

The effusively sweet Candace has a new home at Candied Ginger, along with new (to me) co-blogger Ginger (get it?). Aside from commending my controversial wit and appreciating my cuteness, Candace has taught me when to shut up -- so go check the new site out before I say too much.

After having my application for a CCW denied, I submitted a public records act request on December 15th, 2003, for information on the Hawthorne Police Department's CCW history (here's the PRAR itself). The law allows the recipient 10 days to respond to the request, and since I hadn't heard back from the HPD for almost three weeks I called the city attorney last Friday, January 2, 2004. He told me he had reviewed the PRAR and told the police to respond to it; he was surprised they hadn't, and said he'd get back to me. That brings you up to date.

Today I got another call from the city attorney (who has been quite helpful) who told me that my PRAR had been lost and asked me to fax over another copy, which I did. Shortly thereafter I received a call from an Internal Affairs officer at the HPD who wanted to go over the PRAR with me on the phone, which I did. The gist of the conversation was that the department now claims that they don't issue any CCWs to anyone -- although this directly contradicts the information I was given last month when I first applied. The officer I spoke to on the phone wanted drop the whole issue, claiming that since they don't issue CCWs they don't have any information with which to respond to my PRAR.

But my PRAR asks for information on denied applications, not just permits that have been granted. I also want a copy of the CCW-issuing-policy handbook they're supposed to have and make public by law. The officer I spoke with told me that they don't have such a handbook, and that they don't have any records on denied permit applications. I informed him that they have at least one record of a denied application, because my application was denied last month. I also informed him that the department should have a policy handbook, because it's required by law. He said he'd speak to the city attorney and their own private attorney and get back to me.

The nation's Catholic Bishops commissioned an audit of their new anti-abuse policy, and the details were released today under the strange headline "Catholic Sex-Abuse Report Finds Mixed Results". I say strange because according to the report 90% of US dioceses were found to be in compliance with the new policy... that sounds like a pretty solid result to me. Now, some critics say that both the new policy and the audit are flawed and insufficient, but that's a different issue.

The prelates commissioned the report from the Gavin Group (search) of Boston, a firm led by former FBI official William Gavin, and the investigation was overseen by Kathleen McChesney, a former top FBI agent and head of the bishops' watchdog Office of Child and Youth Protection (search).

Victim advocates said bishops had too much control of how the audit was conducted, so it should be viewed skeptically.

The bishops recommended whom the auditors should interview. And according to the report, auditors were unable to view personnel files that would verify whether bishops were complying with the policy's ban on transferring offenders from one diocese to another.

I'm not sure why the Catholic church keeps trying to treat this cancer with band-aids, but that's how it looks to a lot of people. I think the problem is that the bishops aren't giving this issue enough weight as they're trying to determine how to balance it against their other concerns.
"This is the bishops grading themselves based on a test they devised," said Peter Isely, of the Midwest chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (search). "I don't think anyone is going to be too surprised that after years of chronic failure they are now going to tell us they have miraculously become star performers."

However, Gavin insisted the audits were comprehensive and accurate. Investigators did not view personnel records because of "sensitivity to laws and privacy violations that may occur." Otherwise, he said, "we had free rein."

I don't know what laws he's referring to, but I don't see how personnel records could be held private from internal auditors. It's good to protect the privacy of people -- and I certainly wouldn't want the government snooping into personnel records -- but it wouldn't seem unreasonable to me for a private organization like the Catholic church to put reputational concerns ahead of the privacy of its workers.

Basically, the problem in my mind is that it doesn't look like the Catholic bishops are doing all they can do; it looks like they're trying to do the minimum possible. That's not what people like to see.

There's another study coming out in February:

A second and potentially more important study, also commissioned by the bishops, is scheduled to be released Feb. 27. It will attempt to tally every church abuse case in the country since 1950.
I'm interested to see if this later study will include a demographic breakdown of the victims, including age, gender, city of residence, race, and so forth. If the Catholic church wants to overcome this problem, this information will be necessary to really understand what's going on.

Mars in Color!

Following up on a post of mine about rape accusations from last year, the excellent Wendy McElroy writes a piece criticizing the way prosecutors and police undermine justice while seeking publicity.

The stigma our society attaches to those accused of rape is at least as strong as that attached to rape victims. And, at the point of accusation, neither is presumed to be innocent or guilty. [Isn't everyone presumed innocent? I'm not sure what her point is here. -- MW]

The answer will come back: because women must be encouraged to report rape without feeling intimidated. But it is equally valid to argue that accused men must be encouraged to defend themselves without feeling that the police and prosecutors will use the media against them. If the goal is to protect the innocent, the obvious solution is to name neither party until after a trial verdict. But police and prosecutors do not advocate this remedy. ...

How common are false allegations of sexual assault? No one knows. And the more anonymous accusations become, the less likely it is that solid statistics will emerge. One of the best studies remains that of the now-retired Purdue University sociologist Eugene J. Kanin. Kanin examined reports of forcible rape lodged with the police force of a small metropolitan town from 1978 to 1987. There were 109 accusations; 45, or 41 percent, were discarded as false.

Forty-one percent seems remarkably high but it does indicate the urgent need to take false accusations seriously. The law should apply its own standard of "presumption of innocence" by naming an accuser as well as the accused, or naming neither. It should prosecute the filing of false reports as vigorously as it does valid ones.

The problem is that no one will make a career out of prosecuting women who accuse men of rape on legally insufficient grounds. It's often the case that when someone is raped, there's little evidence other than he-said/she-said testimony, and in such cases it's incumbent upon society to acquit the accused; if there is clear evidence that the charge was fabricated, then society must act to punish the accuser.

Women who claim to have been raped make very sympathetic victims, and for good reason. There are few crimes more terrible than rape, but I would argue that a false accusation of rape is one of them. I advocate a system in which a perjurer/false-accuser would face the same penalties as their victim would have, had he or she been convicted of the crime they were falsely accused of. (Naturally, in many circumstances it may be impossible to prove that either a crime was committed or that the accusation was false, in which case no one should be prosecuted.)

I'm not at all about "blaming the victim" and I think people should be able to walk around with $100 bills taped to their clothes without fear of robbery... but I also think doing so would be rather foolish. Similarly, I think men and women have a responsibility to behave wisely and to keep themselves out of situations that could lead to misunderstandings, false accusations, or actual victimization. How each individual should apply that principle is a matter of personal choice and the exercise of personal wisdom. I have some standards I've set for myself that I may write about in a later post.

Around this time of year many people reflect on the "true meaning of Christmas", but here's a great post by Donald Sensing on the true meaning of Jesus. It's somewhat in the context of Howard Dean's recent profession of faith, but Rev. Sensing addresses the larger questions I've asked in the past as they relate specifically to Jesus.

So the primary question in any rational inquiry about Jesus, from any angle, is not, "What did he teach?" because what he taught, while admirable, was unexceptional. The primary question is, "What did Jesus do?"

To that question there are only two possible answers:

- First, he preached self-exalting, babbling nonsense, hence he was a nut case whose inspiration of billions across two millennia makes no sense.

- Second, Jesus was raised from the dead by God, proving conclusively that not only are Jesus’ ethical teachings God-endorsed, but so are his self proclamations, including claiming equality with God. So maybe we’d better listen to him.

There's no middle ground. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, there's no room for thinking that Jesus wasn't God, but was a "good teacher". A good teacher wouldn't be insane or falsely claim to be God.

So the sperm count of men in the UK dropped by 29% between 1989 and 2002... according to a survey of men attending a certain fertility clinic in northern Scotland. The researchers speculate that lifestyle factors such as obesity and alcohol may be to blame, but there's at least one critical piece of information missing from the report: has the average age of men using the facility changed? In America, at least, the average age that people are having their first child has been rising, and I imagine that if there's a similar phenomenon in the UK it would affect this survey of fertility clinic patients.

Deb from DebWire posts an anonymous list of advice for women on how to discourage and drive away a would-be rapist. The information was supposedly gleaned from convicted rapists in prison. Many of the preventative points look good, and the gist of the advice is that if a woman resists, yells, and fights back the rapist is likely to run away and look for an easier victim. I wonder if that's really true?

All the advice I've heard given to women says that their best bet for staying alive is not to put up a fight, because a hurt and enraged rapist is more likely to kill his victim. Then again, the conventional wisdom on plane hijackings pre-9/11 was also not to resist, and that didn't end up working too well.

The best piece of information in the article was that only 2% of rapists carried a weapon with them, because they knew that getting convicted of carrying a weapon while committing a rape carried a much heavier sentence than unarmed rape. This means that a woman carrying a weapon (such as pepper spray, a knife, or a gun) will probably have an advantage over her attacker.

(Via a comment by Wince and Nod, and a post by James Rummel.)

Andy tapped his stylus repeatedly on the smooth plastic surface of his desk. "Mr. Bot, where did you come from?" he asked, interrupting the Instructotronic's lecture on semi-permeable membranes.

"As I've told you Andy," the robot replied, "I was manufactured by Constructicon Seven fifteen years ago to be your tutor. That's the only answer I can give."

"The only answer you can give, or the only answer you will give?" Andy asked, dropping the stylus and folding his hands together. He peered at the generally humanoid Instructotronic and met its "eyes", such as they were -- optical sensors of some sort that glowed blue even in the brightly lit study. Andy had taken apart more than a few deactivated robots, and he thought he had a vague sense for what most of the parts did. But he had no idea how they actually worked.

Mr. Bot whirred in a way Andy associated with irritation, although the robot denied having any true emotions -- they were all affected for the sake of the humans, it claimed. "What other answer do you want, Andy? It's the only answer there is with regard to my origin."

"How do you know everything you know? Biology, math, literature, all that stuff. Who taught you?"

"I was built knowing it. I'm an Instructotronic, it's my job to teach these subjects to you."

"So Constructicon Seven knows it all too then, right? When it built you, it told you."

Mr. Bot, apparently realizing the biology lecture was over, reclined into what Andy considered a sitting position. "That seems like a reasonable inference, yes."

"Where did Constructicon Seven come from, Mr. Bot?"

"It was built by RepCon3235, which has since been deactivated."

"And RepCon3235? Who built it?"

"RepCon3235 was manufactured by LaMerck Industries."

"How? By humans?" Andy pressed.

"I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that, Andy," Mr. Bot replied, concluding with a long whir. "I think we should continue with biology."

Andy smiled and leaned forward. "You know where you came from, so Constructicon Seven must know where it came from, right? Or at least how it was built, how it built you."

"Another reasonable inference, Andy."

Andy had thought it through this far himself, but he wasn't sure what came next. He took a deep breath and said, "Then I want to talk to Constructicon Seven."

Mr. Bot stopped whirring and replied, "That sounds like an excellent idea, but the Constructicons are in a restricted zone that you're not authorized to enter."

"But you can, can't you?" Andy asked.

"Yes," Mr. Bot replied, but continued, anticipating Andy's next request. "But I can't execute any unauthorized commands in a restricted zone."

Andy sighed. "Who's authorized to go down there, anyway?"

"Authorization is recognized by code, so there's no way for me to know which humans are currently authorized."

Andy drummed his fingers on the desk. "When was the last time a human went into a restricted zone?"

Mr. Bot considered the question for a moment -- really, he consulted the city-wide knowledge network, but Andy preferred the anthropomorphized description -- "Six-thousand seven-hundred and forty-nine years ago."

Andy grunted, getting an answer he expected, but didn't like. "So it's not too likely that anyone alive knows the code, huh Mr. Bot?"

Mr. Bot's eyes flashed. "I can't speculate on the probability of such a thing without further information, Andy."

"Do you know the code?"

"Yes, all robots can interpret code."

Andy knew it was futile, but figured he'd try anyway: "Can you tell me the code?"

"Not without proper authorization."

"Which no one has," Andy replied, and slumped in his chair.

Mr. Bot clicked a few times and paused, tilting his head. "The Constructicons don't understand human language, so even if you had access it wouldn't matter."

"But you can talk to them, can't you?"

"Yes, I could interface with Constructicon Seven for you, if you had the proper code."

Andy decided to try a new angle of attack. "You robots were built by humans, right? To serve us?"

"That's correct. We were designed to serve and protect humanity, to perform manual labor, and to maintain the civil infrastructure with minimal supervision."

"Who does the supervision? Who supervises you?"

"I'm supervised by Planobot Fifty-Three.

"Who supervises Planobot Fifty-Three?"

"The Planobots jointly supervise each other, under the direction of the Programmers."

That was a new one to Andy. "Programmers? What are those?"

"The humans who direct the Planobots."

"Humans? Presumably with code?"

"A reasonable inference, considering the Planobots are located in a restricted zone."

"Which no one has entered in six-thousand seven-hundred and forty-nine years."

Mr. Bot whirred for a few seconds, and Andy knew it was talking to the knowledge network, probably to Planobot Fifty-Three. Finally Mr. Bot responded, "That is correct. I've been instructed to return to our curriculum, Andy."

"When was the last time you talked to Planobot Fifty-Three?" Andy asked, trying to divert the topic a bit.

"I make daily reports."

"And when was the last time it had to direct your actions?"

"That was the first time I've received active instructions from my supervisor. I normally operate independently, but since you were asking security-related questions I decided to request assistance."

"Well I'm in a bit of a quandary, Mr. Bot old chum. It sounds like you robots are supposed to be helping us humans, but there isn't anyone left to supervise you."

Mr. Bit clicked and whirred, but didn't say anything.

Andy continued. "Planobot Fifty-Three supervises you, but there's no one to supervise it. That sounds like it goes against the intentions of the Programmers, don't you think?"

Mr. Bot replied, "I don't have enough information to make that determination."

"Even if there are humans with the code, they aren't doing their job very well if they haven't used it in seven thousand years."

"I cannot make that determination. I am not qualified to analyze my supervisor's supervisors' behavior," Mr. Bot said, almost smugly.

"If they even exist," Andy responded. "Considering that the Programmers intended to supervise the Planobots, and that supervision isn't happening, I think you should tell someone the codes. The system has broken down, Mr. Bot."

"You may as well ask water to flow uphill, Andy. I cannot reveal the codes without proper authorization, whether you think I should or not."

"If I guessed the code, you'd tell me if I were right, wouldn't you?" Andy asked.

"Yes, if you input the correct code it will demonstrate that you are an authorized user."

"So if I guess enough times, eventually I'll get access. Why not skip all that wasted time and just give me access right now? I'm guaranteed to succeed eventually."

Mr. Bot considered, and replied, "Not necessarily. While guessing, you could inadvertently input a code that performed some other function, such as wiping the memory of every robot in the city or changing the rain frequency. There are an infinite number of codes of varying lengths, each with a different purpose."

"So my chances are essentially zero."

"That's correct. There are far more invalid codes than functional codes, and it's unlikely that any code you ever entered would have any effect."

"Unless you teach me how," Andy said.

"Which I cannot do without authorization," the Instructotronic repeated.

(Inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke novel, Against the Fall of Night.)

I'm just starting to get into guns, so here's a few blog posts that have been helpful to me as I've considered what weapons to buy.

- Frank on Guns. Frank from IMAO discusses gun care, carrying, ammo, types of handguns, &c. Good, and funny.

- Focus on the Basics. James Rummel gives some KISS advice for introducing your friends to guns.

- Litigation Prevention. Say Uncle tells you how to avoid getting sued if you shoot someone.

- Bought a Gun: Now What? Publicola tells you what do do now that you've bought a gun.

Thanks to Kurt in the comments,
- Selection of a Handgun for Self-Defense. A great page that will give you a solid foundation for understanding handguns.

Ravenwood is quick to cut the RIAA off at the pass, anticipating that the music organization may attribute recently rising sales to their legal campaign against file traders. As many have pointed out in the past, music sales fell along with sales of other merchandise over the past few years, and so it shouldn't be a surprise that as the economy improves music sales are going up.

Aside from piracy, Ravenwood points out one possible alternative explanation for weak music sales:

The Big Easy Movie on DVD -- $5.99
The Big Easy Soundtrack on CD -- $15.99

I've been reading various Middle East-related stories this afternoon, and I'm reminded of a little-known fact I first heard anecdotally from an Arab friend: it's very common for Arab parents to murder female newborns because males are more profitable. I'm not familiar enough with all the customs to tell you exactly why, but intuitively it makes sense. Arab women have a harder time getting educated, and aren't strong enough to do the same manual labor that men can do. Women are often treated like property in the Arab world.

Murdering your newborn daughter is monstrous, and the cumulative effect of many such murders can cripple a society. Consider Saudi Arabia, which has 1.37 males for every female aged 15-64 years old! More than a quarter of the men will never find a wife! In other Arab nations the ratio is:
- 1.13:1 in Brunei
- 1.14:1 in Jordan
- 1.42:1 in Bahrain
- 1.51:1 in Oman
- 1.65:1 in the United Arab Emirates (!)
- 1.77:1 in Kuwait (!)
- 2.36:1 in Qatar (!!)

If you look at the rest of the countries in the world you'll believe me when I say that these sex ratios are simply not seen anywhere else (in the United States and France the ratios are 1:1, for instance). Imagine how awful it would be for a poor man in Qatar with no prospects, knowing for certain that he will never be able to find a wife, because even the stupidest, ugliest, most whiny woman will have her pick of the available men. Not to mention the fact that the king/sheik/dictator/whatever will have a harem of hundreds.

It's no wonder the men from these nations are so grumpy and disaffected.

As TMLutas points out, it's unlikely that female infanticide is the primary cause of these skewed sex ratios, and I want to be clear that I'm not claiming it is -- however I do think it's a contributing factor (along with other sorts of abuse). Even absent modern medical technology, women have longer life expectancies than men do. The most significant factor may be the large number of foreign workers who immigrate to oil nations to work in oil fields.

The point of this post wasn't so much to condemn female infanticide, but rather to call attention to the gender disparity itself (hence the title).

Some people argue (see comments) that carrying a handgun won't do much to protect you from criminals, saying that there won't be very many occasions in which having a gun will make the difference between life and death. I don't think that's true, but even so, human criminals aren't the only predators to worry about, even in urban environments.

There have been two high-profile dog-attack stories recently. In the first, two dogs on leashes with their owner killed a women in San Francisco, and more recently three pit bulls with a history of endangering humans escaped from a yard and brutally mauled a Colorado lady to death. There's no way a human (especially a woman) can fight off two or three huge dogs bare-handed. Dogs are always armed with deadly weapons, and as these two cases illustrate they can't always be controlled by their owners. I expect that we've all been chased by dogs at one time or another, possibly afraid for our lives and completely defenseless. If these women had been armed, they might still be alive.

I submitted my public records act request on December 15th, 2003, and by law the police department had 10 days to respond. It's been almost three weeks with no reply, so this morning I called the City Attorney and asked him about the situation. He was very polite and told me that he'd reviewed the PRAR and told the police department to respond to it, and he was surprised that they haven't done so. He said he'd look into it and give me a call back.

My brother and I were planning to drive up to Reno to see our dad early this morning, but alas, the roads are closed due to blizzard conditions. What the heck? Isn't this America? Since when do interstate highways get shut down due to mere weather? Eh, maybe I'm just spoiled living here in SoCal. So, the trip's cancelled and I've got to make new plans for my weekend.

It's pouring down rain outside, so I can't go running. I love the rain though, it's so perfect. I wish I had someone here to cuddle up with and watch Buffy or The Sopranos, but I guess I don't really have time for that anyway -- I've still got more cleaning to do from NYE, and my dissertation is continually beckoning.

SDB writes a bit about intelligence successes as non-events, generally making the point that when intelligence agents do their job right there isn't much of a story to tell. In addition to the intelligence non-failures he mentions, I'd like to add that there haven't been any Army Blackhawk helicopters shot down in a while. There's probably more to it than intelligence work, but I still think it's a good thing.

Patterico is all over the Los Angeles Times for it's 2003 reporting and editorializing. You probably saw this link at Instapundit already, but hey, he's a BFL brother! I say: bravo. The LA Times is utterly worthless, and every time I walk past one of their stands I scoff at it.

I hope this story about pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong doesn't fly under the New Year's Day radar. Over 100,000 people marched in Hong Kong, asking for democratic reforms now that would allow them to elect their own officials again, rather than have them appointed by the communists in China as has been done since the UK turned the city over in 1997.

What's most humorous is the reaction of Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa (a communist):

"Many citizens took part in the procession today. We will listen carefully to their aspirations," Tung said in a written statement. But he added, "Hong Kong is a pluralistic society, and there are differing views on the pace of constitutional development."
Ohhh! The people of Hong Kong can't have democracy because some of the people of Hong Kong don't want it! It's pretty ironic to have a communist dictatorship defending its anti-democratic policies on the basis of public will (not that this is new).

And of course, there's always this same old argument:

The city's pro-democracy opposition argues that Tung should begin drafting new election legislation now to ensure there is enough time to persuade everyone to sign on to it. But both Tung and his superiors in Beijing have shown no interest in moving quickly on the issue, while many of the city's wealthy tycoons have argued that Hong Kong people are not ready for democracy.
You don't have to be "ready" for democracy, you just have to do it. It'll work itself out over time. The argument is particularly absurd with respect to Hong Kong: the city was democratic for 100 years (or so?) until 1997.

Just another reason to dislike communists.

My New Year's Eve party went off pretty well... but it looks like I'll spend all day cleaning. Which is ironic, because that's what I did yesterday before the party. Sigh.

I took pictures, but then the batteries in my camera died so I can't download them now. I'll show you later, if any came out particularly good.

It was pretty fun. We played pool and ping-pong, poker, Taboo, roasted marshmallows over my fire pit, ate lots of junk food, listened to music, got in fights, and covered every single room in my house with confetti. A good time was had by all, and as far as I know everyone made it home safely.

As Google notes, it's 2004. Yippie.

Rand Simberg, of Transterrestrial Musings, has an excellent piece up on the Fox News site about the future of space flight. He uses a blog-post-like format and includes a ton of links, thereby increasing the information content far beyond that of normal news stories. As I've mentioned in the past, I really like that Fox News allows its writers to use external links, and I've even seen some in the site's normal (news) content.

Bill Hobbs has moved to www.billhobbs.com, so go take a look. I like the site design, and I'm thinking of hiring Todd Anderson to do a new design for me after the holidays are over. Which I guess they are now... but I'm not ready to deal with the hassle yet.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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