February 2004 Archives

I just saw The Passion of the Christ, and I don't have anything to say about it.

Ok, I've thought about the movie more, and now I have a few things to say. This won't be a review, and it will certainly contain spoilers -- if you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want any of the details given away, stop reading.

First of all, none of the violence really connected with me. I've never been hurt like that, I can't imagine what it would be like, and it was just so far beyond my experience that it seemed surreal. It's unlikely that Jesus was scourged as severely as was depicted, because no one could survive that kind of massive pain and blood loss without going into shock and passing out. I don't doubt there were sadistic Roman torturers who might have done such a thing, I just don't think it happened quite that way in this instance because he survived long enough to be crucified.

The two scenes that impacted me the most weren't directly related to the violence, but to two peripheral character I could really identify with. The first was in the temple when Jesus was being judged and Peter denied to the crowd that he knew him. Jesus looked up at him at just the right moment, and I could feel the same shame inside that Peter must have felt. How many times have I been in the same situation? Denying Christ by my words or actions whenever circumstances get a bit uncomfortable?

The second scene was when the Romans conscripted Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry his cross. Simon was understandably reluctant to get mixed up in the apparently awful affair and yelled to the watching crowd, "Just remember I'm an innocent man, forced to carry the cross of a condemned man!" This precisely wrong assessment drove home to me the reality of the situation. Jesus was the only innovent man there, and he was carrying the cross for all of us.

I'll probably go see the movie again in a while, but not immediately. It's well conceived and well executed, and accurate enough to give a viewer familiar with the back-story a full appreciation of Jesus' last hours. Some of the sequences were unnnecessarily long for notably Catholic reasons -- for instance, Mr. Gibson dragged on Jesus' march to Golgotha so that he could include all seven stations of the cross. I'm sure there were other instances as well that I couldn't recognize, since I'm not Catholic, but they didn't detract much from the movie.

The Passion made me think, and I'm not done thinking about it yet. I may have more to say later.

I'm making excellent progress on my PhD. I've posted a screenshot and some slides, but here's a new treat for you: an exciting PhD movie! It's 1.5MB, so I may not leave it up on the server for very long (at least a week or so though).

In it, you'll see four tribes of animats learn to compete with each other for territory. When it starts, each tribe is moving in a random, uncoordinated fashion, but by the end of the movie there are very clear borders and combat zones.

The whole movie is seven minutes long, so you may want to watch it at high speed. Please leave comments! I've been working on this for months now, and I'd love to answer questions or anything :)

Why yes, I do.

It looks like the grocery stike has ended, and the evil corporations got most of what they wanted and made some token concessions.

Current members probably wouldn't have to make regular contributions to help pay for their healthcare coverage for at least two years, as the union had feared, the sources said.

The supermarkets agreed to add millions of dollars to the healthcare fund's reserves, they said. But in a victory for the supermarket companies' bid to stem rising healthcare costs, their regular per-employee contributions to the healthcare program would be capped at a set dollar limit, the sources added.

They said current workers would not get raises over the three years of the contract. But employees would get two lump-sum payments, the sources said. ...

The main solution for the stores, it appears, is the two-tier system giving new hires less compensation. The employee turnover rate is relatively high in the grocery business, so those new, lower-paid hires could be in the majority within a few years.

So current employees (probably) get free health care for another two years, and no raises for three years. New hires will get paid less and and will have to (probably) contribute to the costs of their health care.

It looks like a complete loss for the union, in my opinion. The corporations still have to bear with the costs of the strike and the upcoming price war, but the strikers got almost nothing of what they wanted, despite their perseverance.

The union not only accused the chains of overstating the Wal-Mart concern, it claimed the markets were threatening to destroy one of the last U.S. jobs available that could provide middle-class comfort without requiring years of higher education.
Welcome to reality.
Just hours before the grocery strike was settled Thursday, presidential contender Sen. John F. Kerry joined a small throng of striking grocery workers on the picket line at a Vons market in Santa Monica, throwing his support behind their cause and describing them as heroes in their fight for access to affordable healthcare.
... no matter who you have to blackmail into buying it for you.

It's very common for illegal aliens to commit a crime such as murder (95% of outstanding homicide warrants target an illegal alien) and then flee to Mexico. California prosecutors can ask for extradition, but Mexico won't extradite anyone who may face the death penalty. However, once the Mexican authorities are aware of a crime that was committed in California, they may decide to prosecute it themselves, get a conviction, and then impose a rather light sentence (by American standards). For example:

Another example involves Mario Abendano Chaidez who shot and killed 17-year-old Francisco Barajas Lopez in Los Angeles on November 8, 1989 . The murder occurred after Chaidez lured Lopez out of his house to ask him about Lopez' telephone calls to Chaidez's daughter. After a brief conversation, Lopez walked away from Chaidez and was shot in the back of the head.

Chaidez then fled to Mexico where he was acquitted of murder then tried and convicted of manslaughter. Chaidez ultimately served two years in custody before being sentenced to an additional eight years in which he was required to serve time on weekends only. In California , Chaidez would have faced a murder charge and a possible sentence of 35 years to life.

The problem is that under current California law, if the criminal returns to the state we can't prosecute him for the crime anymore -- he's already been convicted in Mexico. (This isn't because of the double jeopardy prohibition in the Constitution.)

The end result is that prosecutors are wary of seeking extradition because they're often afraid that the request will be denied and that they'll then lose any opportunity to get a conviction later because Mexico will try the case itself (and give a lenient sentence).

Somewhat confusing, I know. California Assembly Bill 1432 seeks to amend the controlling statutes to allow authorities to prosecute suspected felons even if they've already been tried in another country. If it passes, it would likely lead to more extradition requests because it would remove one of the major disincentives. It doesn't mean more extraditions would be granted, but at least if criminals return to America we'd be able to go after them.

On an unknown date, Chaidez re-entered California before being arrested on a warrant for the 1989 murder in October 2002. Due to current California law, Chaidez's warrant was quashed and his case was dismissed. If Chaidez is arrested again and convicted of a felony, the three-strikes law and the five-year sentence enhancement for a prior serious felony conviction would not apply under the present law.

Annoyingly, one of my senators, Dianne Feinstein, is a co-sponsor of the bill that poposes extending the "assault weapons" ban. Her arguments in favor of the extension, however, are completely vacuous.

“Over the past 10 years, however, the assault weapons ban has worked. It has dried up the supply of these weapons, and their use in crime has dropped by two-thirds. It would be a grave mistake to allow these weapons to once again flood our cities' streets.”
But has the reduced supply actually reduced crime? No one makes that claim.

The Million Mom March also has some pointless statistics about assault weapons.

Assault Weapons: Key Facts

- Assault weapon bans work. In 1989, when President Bush stopped the import of certain assault rifles, the number of imported assault rifles traced to crime dropped by 45% in one year. After the 1994 ban, there were 18% fewer assault weapons traced to crime in the first eight months of 1995 than were traced in the same period in 1994.

So what? Was there less crime, or did criminals simply start using other guns?
- Although assault weapons comprised only 1% of privately-owned guns in America, they accounted for 8.4% of all guns traced to crime in 1988-91.
Again, so what? What are the statistics now? Is any of the reduction of crime over the past decade or so related to the AWB? If there were any such evidence you can bet the ban's proponents would be pointing it out.

The ban is nonsense, and hasn't saved a single life. All it does it restrict liberty, cost us money, and waste our legislators' time.

Today's entry in My Utmost for His Highest is really excellent. I bought copies of the little devotional book for all my friends this Christmas, and I started going through it again myself on January 1st. If you're looking for a handy way inject a little more of God's Word into your daily life, I highly recommend it. Of course, nothing is a substitute for reading the Bible itself.

The book is also online, but it's better for me to hold an actual book in my hands than to sit in front of the computer screen for yet another few minutes. Nevertheless, quite a valuable resource, and here's the entry for today.

The Impoverished Ministry of Jesus

Where then do You get that living water?
—John 4:11

"The well is deep"—and even a great deal deeper than the Samaritan woman knew! ( John 4:11 ). Think of the depths of human nature and human life; think of the depth of the "wells" in you. Have you been limiting, or impoverishing, the ministry of Jesus to the point that He is unable to work in your life? Suppose that you have a deep "well" of hurt and trouble inside your heart, and Jesus comes and says to you, "Let not your heart be troubled . . ." ( John 14:1 ). Would your response be to shrug your shoulders and say, "But, Lord, the well is too deep, and even You can’t draw up quietness and comfort out of it." Actually, that is correct. Jesus doesn’t bring anything up from the wells of human nature—He brings them down from above. We limit the Holy One of Israel by remembering only what we have allowed Him to do for us in the past, and also by saying, "Of course, I cannot expect God to do this particular thing." The thing that approaches the very limits of His power is the very thing we as disciples of Jesus ought to believe He will do. We impoverish and weaken His ministry in us the moment we forget He is almighty. The impoverishment is in us, not in Him. We will come to Jesus for Him to be our comforter or our sympathizer, but we refrain from approaching Him as our Almighty God.

The reason some of us are such poor examples of Christianity is that we have failed to recognize that Christ is almighty. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment or surrender to Jesus Christ. When we get into difficult circumstances, we impoverish His ministry by saying, "Of course, He can’t do anything about this." We struggle to reach the bottom of our own well, trying to get water for ourselves. Beware of sitting back, and saying, "It can’t be done." You will know it can be done if you will look to Jesus. The well of your incompleteness runs deep, but make the effort to look away from yourself and to look toward Him.

Representative Corrine Brown made some incredibly racist remarks yesterday, and her apology today shows that her understanding of racial and ethnic issues is only skin deep.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (search) apologized Thursday for remarks she made a day earlier when she said Hispanics and whites "all look alike to me."

Brown made the statement during a Wednesday briefing on Haiti with Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega (search), a Mexican-American, and the Florida congressional delegation. During the meeting, attended by about 30 people, Brown sat across the table from Noriega and launched an attack on President Bush's policy on Haiti (search).
Rather than really apologize, she uses the word "apology" but then tries to justify her earlier epithets.
"The State Department delegation that came to meet with us did not include any females or people of color. Given the racial makeup of the people of Haiti, who are 95 percent of African descent, I felt the delegation and the delegation's position were callous and out of touch with the needs (cultural and otherwise) of the Haitian people," she wrote.
So... black Americans will be more "in touch" with the needs of Haitians than white Americans simply because of their skin color? That's totally absurd. It's as if the US didn't want to deal with the UN because Kofi Annan is black. Ludicrous.

It's sad to see that racism is alive and well in America.

It sure is terrible that the US is acting unilaterally and alienating all our good buddies in Europe. Too bad there's no way for us to make new friends.

The Republic of Georgia plans to be a close ally of the United States and its giant neighbor Russia will have to live with that fact, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said in an interview yesterday.
But Georgia is such a small country! Their opinion can't possibly count.
Mr. Saakashvili said his country was sending 500 troops to supplement the 200 soldiers it already has in Tikrit, Iraq, and noted that the United States is training two Georgian military brigades and a counterterrorism force that could be deployed at home or abroad.
It counts 700 troops-worth more than France's, anyway.

A commenter named Jackie on Howard Dean's blog explains where things went wrong.

This whole "Phases" concept reminds me of an old episode of South Park, where gnomes steal people's underpants. The kids catch them and, naturally, want to know why their underpants are being stolen. The gnomes explain:

Phase I: Steal Underpants
Phase II: ???
Phase III: Profit.

I feel like we're much the same...

Phase I: Create enormous grassroots network with energy, passion and progressive ideals
Phase II: ???
Phase III: real change

Phase I seems like a step in the right direction, but nobody seems to know how the heck to connect the dots to get to phase III, and it's clear that there's something special needed to get from one to the other.

Sounds like the dotcom bubble, as many others have observed. Heck, maybe this connection to South Park isn't new at all, but it made me laugh.

The monkey is out of the closet, and politicians of all stripes are struggling to shove it back in. Too bad no one has the guts to actually deal with the problem.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (search) has touched off a political firestorm with his call for benefit cuts in Social Security and Medicare for future retirees.

Greenspan told Congress that soaring budget deficits from out-of-control entitlement programs could lead to a "very debilitating" rise in interest rates and threaten the economy in coming years.

Meanwhile, in fantasyland:
Democratic front-runner John Kerry (search) said the way to address the deficit is to roll back tax cuts for the wealthy and "the wrong way to cut the deficit is to cut Social Security benefits. If I'm president, we're simply not going to do it."

Democratic presidential contender John Edwards (search) called it "an outrage' for Greenspan to call for cuts in Social Security while at the same time endorsing making Bush's tax cuts permanent.

Bush said Social Security benefits "should not be changed for people at or near retirement."

If we ignore it, maybe it'll go away! Or at least we won't be in office when the monkey starts hurling poo all over the livingroom.
Greenspan noted that projections show the country will go from having just over three workers supporting each retiree on Social Security to 2.25 workers for every retiree by 2025.

"This dramatic demographic change is certain to place enormous demands on our nation's resources — demands we will almost surely be unable to meet unless action is taken," Greenspan said. "For a variety of reasons, that action is better taken as soon as possible."

He said taking action now would mean that people still working would have time to adjust their retirement savings plans to deal with smaller Social Security benefits.

Greenspan said at some point the country needed to face the fact that the government has promised more in entitlement benefits than it can afford to pay. He said the problem was even worse for Medicare because it was impossible to estimate what types of costly medical advances will be available in coming years.

In response to my assertion that it would have been more just if God had allowed Jesus to live and humanity to perish, Donald Sensing writes:

I don't agree with this at all because it uses a fallen, sin-ridden concept of "just" and justice. God is just, no doubt, but on his terms, not our own. God's justice is gracious rather than judicial because God's justice redeems and saves rather than condemns. In God's justice we do not get what we deserve, which is sort of the whole point of the Jesus story.
I think this is just quibbling over semantics; I think Rev. Sensing and I agree foundationally, but he's not using words the same way I am.

A distinction is generally made between God's justice and his mercy; God is always just, but apparently only sometimes merciful. For instance, all humanity has the opportunity to go to Heaven, but when someone continually rejects that opportunity God eventually abandons him to his fate. See also numerous examples in the Old Testament in which God executed rather swift judgement without any opportunity for repentance. There's a lot of context necessary to understand Romans 9, but consider verse 15:

Romans 9:15

For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

To say that "God's justice is gracious" because "it saves rather than condemns" isn't really accurate. We aren't redeemed because of God's justice, we're redeemed because of his love and mercy. Justice would give us what we deserve -- death -- but because of love and mercy we are given life. Jesus' death was the supreme display of God's mercy, and his sacrifice allowed us to escape God's justice.

I'm not a big fan of government censorship, but people who like Howard Stern who say "if you don't like it, turn it off" are missing an important point.

Stern routinely criticizes the government's indecency policies, saying they are arbitrary and fail to reflect that anyone who finds his material objectionable can simply change the channel.

"I could blow my stack. I'm trying to be cryptic," he said. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what's going on. They are so afraid of me and what this show represents."

Mr. Stern has a very romantic view of himself, but the fact of the matter is that the airwaves are owned by the public, and we shouldn't have to "turn it off". We own the frequencies, and we license them to you.

There seems to be an idea floating around that treaties can trump the Constitution. Eugene Volokh even mentions it here. Now, of course, there's no telling how activist judges of the future may interpret the Constitution (which seems to be Mr. Volokh's fear), but from a direct reading of the text it's hard to see much cause for concern. Paragraph 2 of Article VI says:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
Thus, "laws of the United States" and "treaties" are put into the exact same category, as is appropriate. The former are proposed by Congress and signed by the President, and the latter are proposed by the President and ratified by the Senate -- there's no reason to think that either should have more authority than the other.

Further, even if one were to somehow conclude that treaties could be used to nullify portions of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments would be immune. Why? Because the authority of any treaty would rest here in Article VI, and when amendments are passed they override any pre-existing Constitutional obstacle to their enforcement. Just as the Thirteenth Amendment invalidated portions of Article IV, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments would have to be held to invalidate any interpretation or use of the treaty clause that opposed their enforcement.

In a surprising (to me) decision, the Supreme Court has decided that it's perfectly acceptable for states to discriminate against religious minorities by witholding scholarship funds from religious students that are otherwise available to everyone else.

The court's 7-2 ruling held that the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister. That holding applies even when money is available to students studying anything else.
So I assume a state would be allowed to deny scholarships based on race or gender also, right? Or at least to people who plan on majoring in racial or gender studies?

The First Amendment should be construed so as to prevent the government from taking any notice of a person's religion, and should prevent religion from being the basis for any government decision. That means that just the government should not favor the religious above the secular, it should not deny benefits to the religious that it provides to the secular.

I don't know if this problem plagues other Internet Explorer users, but have you ever noticed that you can "disable script debugging" in the Tools->Internet Options->Advanced menu as many times as you want, but it won't stick? Well I found the solution in Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 224926.

To resolve this issue, use the following steps:
1. Open Visual InterDev 6.0.
2. On the Tools menu, click Options.
3. Double-click Debugger to expand the branch, and then click General.
4. Under Script, click to clear the Attach to programs running on this machine check box.

This behavior is by design.

It looks like some younger Palestinian terrorists are hoping to wrest some control away from Arafat.

The Revolutionary Council of Yasser Arafat's dominant Fatah faction meets today for the first time since the start of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, with some members hoping to overthrow or sideline an "old guard" whom they blame for political and military failures and rampant corruption.

The attack on longtime leaders is being described as a push for democratization, but is also seen as a way to clip Mr. Arafat's wings without openly attacking a man widely revered as the "Symbol of the Revolution."

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the people pushing for "democratization" are really that interested in stopping the PLO's use of terror tactics. Still, reigning in the corruption of the PLO might lead to greater prosperity for average Palestinians. Poverty doesn't cause terrorism, but the leaders of the PLO blame the poverty of the Palestinian people on Israel, and thus use it as a political issue to maintain support for terrorist attacks.

Although it's transparently obvious from the outside, it seems most Palestinians don't realize that their poverty is the result of PLO corruption.

Pointing to packets of potato chips, cornflakes, soaps and chocolates made in Israel, Russia and Italy, a Bethlehem shopkeeper last night complained that the products cost up to 50 percent more in the West Bank than in Israel.

The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority licenses only one importer per product, he said, and then receives a monthly kickback equaling 3 percent of the importer's purchase price, which goes directly into the bank accounts of senior officials.

The importer, meanwhile, is able to grossly overcharge for the products because of the lack of competition, said the shopkeeper, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The real problem facing the Palestinians, however, isn't poverty, but their refusal to acknowledge that they've already lost their war with the "Zionist entity". According to polls, most Palestinians support the use of terrorist attacks on Israel. Until that changes, their lot isn't going to improve, no matter which group of terrorists is running the PLO.

Anonymous commenter "A" shared the story of her marriage in the comment section of "Till Death Do Us Part" and gave me permission to post it on the main page. I think it's beautiful, and an excellent illustration of what marriage should be.

My husband and I got married about a year ago. I was 30 at the time, he was 28. We had dated for a few years before that as well. We wanted to get married because we believed that something more than a private claim of a commitment was necessary for us to deepen our commitments, our intimacy, and our conviction that we were/are a team. I could not explain why I felt this was necessary, but we each felt it. At the same time, I was around many colleagues who were coupled but not married, and they constantly asked me if I really believed in marriage being forever, since I couldn't even tell you what career I'd want in 5 years. While engaged, I questioned if I really believed I could live up to a lifelong commitment, and wondered if in fact I wouldn't want to leave if I felt the relationship was unfulfilling.

I have to say that getting married has been the most profound experience I have ever had. I've had pain, death, love, hardship, terror, etc. in my life, but none of those things has changed me the way my marriage has. I knew enough to understand that my marriage would work not due to love, but due to the choice to make this love into something more than just emotion. But never did I expect the joy I've received in return. It is through my marriage that I've seen just how loving I want to be. It is through my marriage that I have realize how much I wish to be a good and righteous person--and see a path toward that.

I've met many people who said that getting married changed nothing for them -- "it was just a piece of paper". I weep for them. Truly. I weep because they are somehow missing out on the profound value of their own life and worth that comes to them when they admit that this purposely-chosen connection and commitment is grander than anything they foresaw, and yet they not only bear that burden, but thrive inside of it. I do not believe their marriages will last, either. Perhaps I'm wrong, but if nothing changed for you when you got married, I imagine that the pains of marriage will outweigh the joys.

I can see every day why people choose the "we'll stay married until one of us is happier elsewhere." Partially, it is because they don't want to make a sacrifice. Partially, they fear that any restriction breeds contempt. Partially, they see permanence as a means of taking someone for granted, or of being taken for granted. Yes, those things would be miserable. But I don't think that agreeing to stay with someone for the rest of our lives means that I get to take them for granted. I do still have to earn their respect and affection. It is because I intend to stay that every day, I again act to earn those things. And every single day, I choose not to do those things that would undermine it. Every day I see the decay those thoughts and feelings would bring. Every day, I reaffirm what I've found. If I was not willing to overcome those feelings and thoughts, I would not have this shining warmth and light inside me. If I had just stopped my vows at that point, I would never have found this wealth inside myself and the world. I would never have known how beautiful the world can be.

Most people refer to "the elephant in the livingroom" when discussing huge, obviously important issues that no one wants to talk about. Personally, I prefer "the monkey in the closet". Wouldn't you get pretty freaked out if you opened your closet and a monkey jumped out at you? That's sure not something I'd talk about.

Anyway, Alan Greenspan doesn't like to wade into political waters very much, but in recent Congressional testimony he "urged urgency" in dealing with the looming baby-boomer retirement tidal wave that's poised to swamp the Social Security system -- America's monkey in the closet.

He said the prospect of the retirement of 77 million baby boomers will radically change the mix of people working and paying into the Social Security retirement fund and those drawing benefits from the fund.

"This dramatic demographic change is certain to place enormous demands on our nation's resources - demands we will almost surely be unable to meet unless action is taken," Greenspan said. "For a variety of reasons, that action is better taken as soon as possible."

And what if we don't? Or what if we raise taxes rather than cut spending?
"I am just basically saying that we are overcommitted at this stage," Greenspan said in response to committee questions. "It is important that we tell people who are about to retire what it is they will have." He warned that the government should not "promise more than we are able to deliver." ...

"We are going to be confronted ... in a few years with an upward ratcheting of long-term interest rates which will be very debilitating for long-term growth," Greenspan told the committee if the deficit problem is not addressed. ...

"Tax rate increases of sufficient dimension to deal with our looming fiscal problems arguably pose significant risks to economic growth and the revenue base," Greenspan said. "The exact magnitude of such risks is very difficult to estimate, but they are of enough concern, in my judgment, to warrant aiming to close the fiscal gap primarily, if not wholly, from the outlay side."

It's easy to see what will happen if we don't cut spending: all we have to do is glance across the Atlantic. Europe is facing similar problems, and their vast welfare states are on the brink of economic collapse. They can't pay for their own security, and they're basically stalled technologically. Is that the price we're willing to pay to be babied by Uncle Sam?

However, keeping to my role as a chicken biggle, I'm not going to worry. Once younger generations start dominating the voter pool I expect the boomers' power will be greatly diluted. Everyone under 50 should know they can't count on Social Security for diddly-squat, and we're going to get tired of financing our elders' poor financial planning eventually. Boomers need to start taking responsibility for their own lives, instead of just voting benefits to themselves out of their kids' pockets.

Rather than review The Passion of the Christ (which I haven't seen yet), I'll perform a meta-review and critique A. O. Scott's take on thase film from the NYT. Most of the reviews I've read seem to be written from a similar set of notes, and Mr. (Ms.?) Scott's review appears quite representative. Few writers have condemned the movie for anti-semitism, but for the most part they still don't really get it. Mr. Scott does seem to get it -- but he doesn't realize that he gets it.

Mr. Gibson has departed radically from the tone and spirit of earlier American movies about Jesus, which have tended to be palatable (if often extremely long) Sunday school homilies designed to soothe the audience rather than to terrify or inflame it.
Although I'm not able to read Mel Gibson's mind, I imagine Mr. Scott is right on the money. Our civilization has spent a lot of effort over the past two millenia morphing Jesus into a soothing, effeminate goody-goody, but the reality of his life and message is much more visceral.
By rubbing our faces in the grisly reality of Jesus' death and fixing our eyes on every welt and gash on his body, this film means to make literal an event that the Gospels often treat with circumspection and that tends to be thought about somewhat abstractly. Look, the movie seems to insist, when we say he died for our sins, this is what we mean.
I think this is exactly the point. Jesus' death wasn't an abstract philisophical theory, but a brutal reality, and the pivotal moment in human history.

Many reviewers, including Mr. Scott, don't understand the theology behind Jesus' crucifixion.

A viewer, particularly one who accepts the theological import of the story, is thus caught in a sadomasochistic paradox, as are the disciples for whom Jesus, in a flashback that occurs toward the end, promises to lay down his life. The ordinary human response is to wish for the carnage to stop, an impulse that seems lacking in the dissolute Roman soldiers and the self-righteous Pharisees. (More about them shortly.) But without their fathomless cruelty, the story would not reach its necessary end. To halt the execution would thwart divine providence and refuse the gift of redemption.
I can't speculate on what would have happened had someone halted Jesus' execution, but deicide is surely the most contemptable of acts. It would have been far more just and right if Jesus' life had been spared and if all of humanity were forced to stand, unredeemed, before God's perfect judgement.

Mr. Scott goes on to make a false analogy.

And Mr. Gibson, either guilelessly or ingeniously, has exploited the popular appetite for terror and gore for what he and his allies see as a higher end. The means, however, are no different from those used by virtuosos of shock cinema like Quentin Tarantino and Gaspar Noé, who subjected Ms. Bellucci to such grievous indignity in "Irréversible." Mr. Gibson is temperamentally a more stolid, less formally adventurous filmmaker, but he is no less a connoisseur of violence, and it will be amusing to see some of the same scolds who condemned Mr. Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" sing the praises of "The Passion of the Christ."
Perhaps the underlying motivation behind the violence in question should count for something when assessing its value? Is all nudity pornographic? The means may be similar, but the ends are wholly different, and generally that matters.

This next sentence blows me away.

The only psychological complexity in this tableau of goodness and villainy belongs to Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia, played by two very capable actors, Hristo Naumov Shopov and Claudia Gerini, who I hope will become more familiar to American audiences.
There's not enough psychological complexity in the story of God's death at the hands of his creation?

And finally:

What makes the movie so grim and ugly is Mr. Gibson's inability to think beyond the conventional logic of movie narrative. In most movies — certainly in most movies directed by or starring Mr. Gibson — violence against the innocent demands righteous vengeance in the third act, an expectation that Mr. Gibson in this case whips up and leaves unsatisfied.

On its own, apart from whatever beliefs a viewer might bring to it, "The Passion of the Christ" never provides a clear sense of what all of this bloodshed was for, an inconclusiveness that is Mr. Gibson's most serious artistic failure. The Gospels, at least in some interpretations, suggest that the story ends in forgiveness. But such an ending seems beyond Mr. Gibson's imaginative capacities.

The whole point of Jesus' death is that it bought us forgiveness. It's God screaming: Look how much I love you! Look how much you're worth to me! There's no more painfully beautiful expression of love.
John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I've written a bit about outsourcing, but I just thought of an angle I hadn't considered before, thanks to an article about world demographics by Lexington Green. There's presently a lot of concern that high-tech jobs will be fleeing the United States for cheaper labor markets, and although there's a general feeling that new jobs will be created to fill the void no one knows exactly what those jobs will be. However, if the demographic trends given by Nicholas Eberstadt and cited by Mr. Green prove true, I don't think the US has anything to worry about -- I'll even go so far as to coin a new phrase to describe my position.

[T]he United States is [projected] to grow from 285 million in 2000 to 358 million in 2025. In absolute terms, this would be by far the greatest increase projected for any industrialized society; in relative terms, this projected 26 percent increment would almost exactly match the proportional growth of the Asia/Eurasia region as a whole. Under these trajectories, the United States would remain the world’s third most populous country in 2025, and by the early 2020s, the U.S. population growth rate — a projected 0.7 percent per year — would in this scenario actually be higher than that of Indonesia, Thailand, or virtually any country in East Asia, China included.
Mr. Green's conclusion echos my own thoughts.
Our destiny appears to be more Americans to work, think, create, innovate, invent, invest, build, trade, buy, sell … and, when necessary, to visit swift and crushing devastation on those who would do us harm. Good. Good. Sounds good. (Getting everybody "assimilated" remains an issue -- but we'll deal with that … .)
In contrary to all the chicken littles who always think the sky is falling, I've decided I'm going to be a chicken biggle. Ok, it sounds stupid, but frankly I don't think the sky is ever going to fall. If it does, I'll take a lot of convincing.

In light of all the recent hullabaloo about relatively unimportant matters like marriage, WMD, jobs, whales, and idiots, Real Live Preacher reminds me of really important things.

In relation to Virginia Postrel's NYT jobs piece, a commenter named SemiPundit wrote on Bill Hobbs' site that:

Ms. Postrel must have needed to knock out something quick and easy before rushing out to lunch.

What I got from her article was the rosy picture that if one loses a well-paid programming job to offshoring, there is always a bright future in cutting stone and giving facials.

Stonecraft is hardly a burgeoning new technology, since the ancient Greeks and Romans got to be pretty good at it. Besides, the market for extremely expensive granite countertops is quite limited--hardly affordable to those who earn a livelihood giving facials.

Where are we headed with a trend like this--to an interconnected network of cottage industries? Next thing, we'll be operating on the barter system.

First, it's obvious that stonecutting and facials are just examples and not intended to be an exhaustive list of undercounted jobs. I know plenty of programmers who lost their jobs and then went into business for themselves.

Further, where are we headed with a trend like this? I don't think SemiPundit is far off in suggesting that "an interconnected network of cottage industries" is in our future -- but I don't think that's a bad thing.

The main advantage corporations have over small companies is economy of scale. By (in theory!) streamlining management and facilitating communication between divisions, a corporation should be able to use the same resources more efficiently than could several small companies trying to work together to accomplish the same task. However, with the creation of the internet and the continual ascension of the service sector, it's not evident that large corporations will continue to maintain this advantage forever.

It may be that new technology is gradually making large corporations obsolete in some industries. Now, car manufactuing will require huge factories with thousands for workers for a long time to come, but the same isn't true for many other fields, particularly in high-tech. There are many advantages to working for yourself or working for a small company, and as technology allows small companies to be as efficient as large corporations (on an ever-increasing scale) I expect our economy will continue to shift.

Does that mean we'll return to bartering? Not likely, because money is simply too useful, and would become even more so if resources and production become further decentralized. I think SemiPundit was asking this question rhetorically, however.

What's ironic is that such a "an interconnected network of cottage industries" -- brought about by capitalism -- would be a better fulfillment of Marx's dream than communism and socialism have ever brought about.

The big story is that US forces may have Osama Bin Laden cornered, but the sub-plot seems just as newsworthy to me.

A Defense Department official said there are two reasons for repositioning parts of Task Force 121: First, most high-value human targets in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein, have been caught or killed. Second, intelligence reports are increasing on the whereabouts of bin Laden, the terror leader behind the September 11 attacks.

"Iraq has become more of a policing problem than a hunt for high-value Iraqis," the defense official said. "Afghanistan is the place where 121 can do more."

The commandos' job in Iraqi is basically done. Isn't that worthy of attention?

Education Secretary Rod Paige has called the National Education Association -- the nation's largest teachers union -- a "terrorist organization". That's pretty strong rhetoric, and not appropriate. Even though the NEA does use heavy-handed tactics to lobby for its constituency (teachers), they don't kill people or blow themselves up.

Mr. Paige apologized, but I have a feeling this story isn't over yet. Minor cabinet secretaries tend to disappear real quick when they say things that embarrass the president.

Prof. Reynolds mentions the Iraqi oil-trust idea again, so I'll reiterate my previous thoughts as well.

Paying Iraqi citizens a yearly "dividend" from the country's oil wealth (a la Alaska) would have an enormous and unpredictable effect on the Iraqi economy. The Alaska oil dividend is small compared to the per capita income of the state, but proposals for a similar Iraqi program suggests payments of around $1000 per year -- several times the median Iraqi income. Such a program would create immediate inflation that would offset the value of the payments... but possibly allow Iraqis to import a great deal from their neighbors, maybe.

But that's the point: I don't think anyone knows what effects such a program would have. It seems wiser to simply privatize the Iraqi oil industry and allow the assets to be traded within a free market. Why replace a socialist-facist dictatorship with a welfare state?

Megan extols the truth about marriage.

Marriage should not end in divorce, only in death.

Once I say those vows I will consider my word given and a covenant made. It's not something I can get out of. My husband and I will have to deal with the consequences of our promise for the rest of our lives and it won't be something we can go back on. Honestly, I don't want to marry someone because I'm in love with him. Sure, I want to be in love with the person I marry, but more than that I hope that I will desire to commit the rest of my life to him as a supporter and partner as we seek to love God and love others. A man that doesn't inspire that sort of commitment from me, doesn't deserve it. And, I guess this might sound arrogant, but isn't that the way it should be for everybody?

The only detail I can take issue with is her assertion that marriage is "for eternity". That's not true; the standard vow is "till death do us part", and there's still a heck of a lot of eternity left after we die. I don't think we have the power to make committments to each other beyond the point of death. No matter what you believe, you will probably grant that a lot must change when you cross that threshold.

If you're interested, I've written a lot more about marriage. Here's a post that describes my view of marriage, and here's another in which I dismantle the view that marriages should last only "as long as we both shall love".

It's been said that A-level people hire other A-level people, while B-level people hire C-level people. Presumably someone hires B-level people on accident at some point, but that's not important right now. The point is that the most important thing a leader does is evaluate his subordinates and then delegate responsibility to those best able to tackle each particular problem.

The Washington Times is posting excerpts from a new book titled "Rumsfeld's War", and the first one shows us just how much President Bush's choice for Secretary of Defense has affected the course of history.

Donald H. Rumsfeld sat in a vault-like room studded with video screens and talked with President Bush as the Pentagon burned.

"This is not a criminal action," the secretary of defense told Bush over a secure line. "This is war." ...

"That was really a breakthrough strategically and intellectually," recalls Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. "Viewing the 9/11 attacks as a war that required a war strategy was a very big thought, and a lot flowed from that."

"If you want it done right, do it yourself" is a mantra for foolish and short-sighted leaders. A capable leader may be able to complete a task better than any of his subordinates, but a wise leader will realize that while he's busy there are other tasks that aren't being done because he isn't available to oversee them. It's better to delegate and complete five tasks with 80% quality than to do all the work yourself and complete one task with 100% quality. Then again, sometimes it isn't, and a wise leader must recognize which tasks are so important that he must take them over.

As an engineer, I've learned that "good enough" is exactly that. A leader who focuses on perfection will never achieve anything and will only burn out his workers in the process. Aim for efficiency. Is it really worth spending the same amount of effort on the last 10% that you spent on the first 90%? Sometimes yes, but generally no.

The real challenge of leadership is to find high-quality people to work with and then get out of the way so they can do their job.

Syndicating my new mini-blog Into the Ether should be a piece of cake if you're running on a server that supports PHP. (You can do it with ASP and other scripting technologies as well, but almost all web servers support PHP, and it's the best.) There are only three things you need to do.

First, download the "rightbar.txt" file (use right-click and "Save As..."), rename it "rightbar.php", and put it on your web server in the same directory as your blog's main "index.html" file. This "rightbar.php" file contains the code that fetches and displays the XML stream for Into the Ether. Take a look, it isn't very complicated, and if you want to change the way it displays the mini-blog you shouldn't have any problems if you know a bit about programming.

Second, rename your "index.html" file to "index.php", if necessary. If you're using Movable Type, go to the "Templates" control panel and click on "Main Index". Where it says "Output File", change the name to "index.php". This is necessary because otherwise the PHP code we're going to put into the file won't be executed by your web server, and it won't work. You'll also probably have to delete your old "index.html" file so that it isn't displayed by default when people visit your site.

Third, copy and paste your main index into notepad, just as a backup in case something goes wrong. Then, before you save and rebuild, decide where you're going to want Into the Ether to be displayed. The easiest location is probably in one of your sidebars, so let's use that as an example. Locate the code for your sidebars in the "Main Index" box and insert the following PHP code:

That code tells your main index where to display Into the Ether.

Now save and rebuild the index and reload your site to see how it looks! If nothing comes up you may need to configure your server to recognize "index.php" as the default loading page.

If your webserver is using IIS you can use PHP EasyWindows or some other such program to handle the PHP.

If you have any problems, email me.

Not just whales, but endangered birds and so forth. Why bother?

Now look, I'm not in favor of wanton destruction, but I think every decision we humans make about how we manage our planet should revolve around what's best for us. If it's best for us to protect some certain type of endangered animal, I want to know why.

Pure aesthetics? That's fine, I can understand that, but I don't think it's a valid use of public funds. If you think gnatcatchers are pretty birds and don't want them to die, go buy up the land they live on and leave it in its natural state. Form a group, collect money, and save the animals yourself. (Whales may be a bit harder, but I'm sure something could be worked out. They're easy to tag and track, so they could be bought.)

In comment on my earlier post, John Callender comments and quotes Henry Beston who writes:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
But again I say, who cares? From a purely irreligious point of view, it's absurd and counterproductive to care about animals that are being weeded out of the biosphere for being uncompetitive. As a Christian, the passage is factually wrong because God explicitly placed mankind above the rest of his creation and charged us to bring it under our dominion.

Giving nature inherent value apart from its utility to mankind is ridiculous and irrational. As I wrote, it's perfectly valid to want to save something because you find it aesthetically pleasing, but it's really monstrous to use governmental force to protect animals at the expense of other humans.

In my opinion, the real motivation behind most environmentalism isn't a love of nature, but a hatred of humanity. Mr. Beston's reference to "mysticism" reveals the essence of environmentalism: it's a religion -- a religion devoted to elimination of civilization as we know it. We must use this planet and its resources wisely, but we're fools if we allow the insidious cult of environmentalism a voice in the debate.

John Weidner has more on environmentalism. HT: Bill Hobbs.

People in Los Angeles watch the traffic the way normal people watch the weather. The only time we're distracted from the condition of the 405 is when we actually have weather. Of course, everyone drives the same in the sun or in a monsoon, which can lead to accidents....

Be careful out there, people! I don't want to have to scrape you off the road.

Here's a Washington Times article with quotes from Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the exile group the Iraqi National Congress, admitting that he exaggerated Saddam's weapons programs.

"We are heroes in error," he said in Baghdad on Wednesday. "As far as we're concerned, we've been entirely successful.

"Our objective has been achieved. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important."

Mr. Chalabi added: "The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We're ready to fall on our swords if [President Bush] wants."

Interesting. There were certainly plenty of reasons to topple Saddam Hussein other than WMD, but this deception underscores the need for America to redevelop our own effective -- and loyal -- intelligence sources. Otherwise we'll be forced to rely on others with motives of their own.

The real philisophical battle of the age isn't between science and religion, and Edward Feser has an excellent article on TCS that clearly (if not concisely) describes the true nature of the conflict.

The hoary "science vs. religion" conflict is, then, a myth. What exists in reality is a dispute between rival metaphysical systems: the theism, dualism, and Platonism of traditional Western philosophy and the modern naturalism or materialism that is less a result of modern science than an ideologically secularist interpretation of it. But for contemporary intellectuals there is, we might say, public relations value in maintaining the fiction that there is a war between science per se and religion, and that religion is losing: it is easier thereby to insinuate that in the real battle -- the philosophical one -- the "naturalists" rather than their opponents ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. There is, again, no rational justification for such an attitude; but there is a motive, which the philosopher Thomas Nagel has given voice to in a moment of frankness rare among the members of his profession. In his book The Last Word, he acknowledges that it is a "fear of religion" among contemporary intellectuals that keeps them from facing up to the deep problems facing naturalistic attempts to account for the nature of the human mind and human knowledge:

"I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind."

I've written similar things before, but not with so much eloquence and detail.
This moral challenge is, I suggest, the aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition that is hated by the modern intellectual, and that the challenge follows from the unique metaphysical vision of the West is the reason for his hostility toward the latter. Disputes over Darwinism are tangential, and even a creationist who was sufficiently "pro-choice" would, I daresay, be welcomed as part of the great multicultural smorgasbord. The real target is the idea of a metaphysically implacable natural order to which one must submit, with all that that implies about human nature and moral law. Its rejection is the deep source of the perversity that so dominates modern intellectual life.

So strong is the modern intellectual's hatred for the traditional morality of the West and the metaphysics that justifies it that he goes as far as to treat the Leftism that is defined by opposition to them as a dogma, an unchallengeable posit that must be propagated, and its opponents crushed, at all costs and in the face of all evidence against it. He treats it, that is to say, in exactly the way he accuses the Christian fundamentalist of treating his own religion.

I could just quote it all... go read the whole thing.

I've decided to create a sub-blog called Into the Ether, and the goal is simple: coerce as many excellent bloggers as I can to participate by periodically posting small tidbits of commentary.

Into the Ether is available mainly as an XML feed, and it's incredibly easy for other bloggers to syndicate the feed and mirror it on their own sites. Thus, those who participate will be able to share some of their (short) thoughts with a wider audience and participate in a distributed-concentrated conversation with a select group of their fellow bloggers.

The syndication is simple. I've created a tiny php file that parses the XML feed for my own sidebar, and with a few modifications for formatting it should be easily adaptable to any other site that wants to carry the conversation. Posters are limited to 100 words and no HTML tags (for security reasons, mainly), and a URL is attached to every author so that readers can quickly find their way to a writer's homepage. Of course, further URLs can be embedded as plain text in any post, if desired.

Contributors will be welcome to write on any subject they choose, from just about any perspective. I reserve the right to make up guidelines ex post facto, if necessary. I'll be screening every contributor to ensure the quality of the final product, but I won't be reviewing every post. (Unruly, disruptive, or disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated, of course.)

If you have a desire to participate send me an email at plasticATgmailDOTcom. If you don't want to syndicate Into the Ether on your own site you don't have to (but I hope you do!).

Similar, perhaps to Elsewhere on the right side of Tech Central Station.

Many people like to jump on Christians and condemn them for being "judgemental" by throwing out "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." However, brief look at the context of that verse will yield a more thorough interpretation.

Matthew 7:1-5

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

The admonition here is not that we should never judge between good and evil, but rather that we should approach judgement cautiously and humbly, aware that we will be held to the same standard we apply to others.

Further, there are three aspects of justice. The first, reserved to God, is the right to set the rules and lay down the definitions of right and wrong. When man usurps God's authority to make the rules (or expands on the rules God has made) he engages in what is often called legalism -- a practice Jesus soundly denounced.

Luke 11:46

Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them."

Once the laws have been established, each individual action must be held up to the light and examined to determine whether it is good or evil; this is the second aspect of judgement, and God entrusts it to us, imperfect though we are.
Romans 12:9

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

This discernment requires wisdom, as it's easy to mistake our own predilictions for God's perfect standards. Nevertheless, it makes no sense to command us to "hate evil" and "cling to good" if we're not able to classify the concrete experiences of our lives into these abstract categories.

Our responsibility to judge is restricted to the application of God's laws. If we see someone murder, we are right to condemn him for breaking God's law. If, however, we don't like blue hats and decide to condemn blue-hat-wearers, we become a law unto ourselves and put ourselves in God's place.

The third part of justice is perhaps the most complicated: the execution of punishment. God delegates earthly punishment to governments -- who are required to act justly -- and reserves the determination of eternal punishment for himself.

I can't help but link to the 1000 fighting styles of Donald Rumsfeld. (Via GeekPress.)

Despite the absolute depravity of the rape and murder of Maryann Measles, her killers shouldn't be sent into a system that implicitly uses rape and torture as an aspect of punishment, despite the desires of the victim's mother.

Alan Walter Jr., one of eight friends accused of abducting, raping and drowning 13-year-old Maryann Measles (search) in October 1997, pleaded guilty Thursday to six counts, including felony murder. Under the plea agreement, Walter, who was originally charged with capital felony, will be spared the death penalty. Prosecutors are recommending a life sentence, which in Connecticut is 60 years in prison. ...

Measles' mother, Cindy, broke down in tears as Litchfield State's Attorney David Shepack recounted the details of the crime. She said she signed off on the plea bargain because she wants Walter to suffer.

"I want him to learn how to sleep with one eye open, and always look over his back every second of the day, never have a moments peace," she said. "I want him to know some of the terror Maryann had to experience. I think that's done most effectively with life [in prison]." ...

"He's going to get to know Bubba very well," she said.

First of all, Alan Walter Jr. should be executed, not given a "life" sentence that will really let him out in 60 years. Failing that, does a country that's too squeamish to execute a brutal ax-murderer or impose a real life sentence want to purposefully condemn a criminal to decades of rape and torture? Or are we content to allow it to happen due to neglect?

Our prison system needs serious reform. It's not acceptable that inmates are held in such inhumane conditions -- and I'm not talking about giving them cable TV and weight rooms. I don't care if we lock them up alone in eight by eight concrete block cells. But if we want to torture people, let's have that debate and do it purposefully, rather than with a wink and a nudge. Let's take responsibility for our society, otherwise we really are no better than barbarians.

It looks like Iran has it's own version of "campaign finance reform", except instead of shutting up only non-media speakers before an election like we do in America, they shut down pretty much everyone. Seems a little more fair to me, but do we really need a law that tells people when they can and can't discuss politics?

I had a conversation last night with a friend who claims that the disparities in incarceration rates between American whites and blacks is evidence of a racist justice system. She said that whites are sentenced more leniently than blacks for the same crimes under the same circumstances and I disagreed, pending evidence. In the context of the discussion there wasn't much opportunity for research, but I did some scrounging around the web this morning.

Here's a memo from Human Rights Watch that gives some statistics on the racially disproportionate incarceration of drug offenders. Essentially, more blacks go to jail for drug crimes than whites, and for longer terms. The most significant aspect of the memo, however, is the conclusion -- which echos my position from last night.

The specific reasons for the discrepancy between the black proportion of felony drug convictions and of drug admissions have not been analyzed. They may include such factors as the type of drug offense, the type of drug, and the presence of prior record. For example, blacks comprised 56 percent of persons convicted of trafficking felonies while whites comprised 43 percent.
When these critical factors are controlled for, it may turn out that blacks are imprisoned at a rate disproportionate to their population simply because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Other important factors may include whether or not the offender was abused as a child, whether he grew up in a single-parent family, and so forth. If so, these imprisonment statistics aren't evidence of racism inherent in the system.


Sasha Volokh has a post up about compelled speech and raises a point I've made before: it's impossible for any useful education system to be ideologically neutral (see that post for my specific concrete example).

Mr. Volokh summarizes the problem with public education very succinctly:

(a) The government shouldn't set up a system that rewards people for subscribing to one ideology over another, violating their religious or other deeply held beliefs, etc. (b) Unfortunately, any drama/literature/etc. program worth its salt will violate someone's deeply held beliefs. (c) Therefore, because the government would only be permitted to offer an awful, useless, watered-down program, it should leave it to the private sector.
Not only that, but public education is expensive and ineffective.

I found a nifty tool that lets you view Senate voting records and thought I'd compare the "Not Voting" rates of Senators Kerry and Edwards for this Congressional term. Not surprisingly, both have "Not Voting" rates above 40% if the entire term is taken into account, but there's a difference to be seen if the timeframe is changed.

Both Kerry and Edwards announced their candidacy near the beginning of September, 2003, so let's only count votes before then. From January, 2003, to August, 2003, Senator Edwards didn't vote 69 out of 320 opportunities (~22%) and Senator Kerry didn't vote 182 out of 320 opportunities (~57%). Strangely, it appears that Senator Kerry started voting more after he announced his candidacy than he had before!

For comparison, other senators missed far fewer votes this term. For the Democrats, Senator Kennedy missed ~4% of the votes, and Senator Feinstein missed only ~2%. For the Republicans, Senator McCain missed only ~1%, and Senator Stevens missed even less than 1%. I selected these senators at random from the ones I knew off the top of my head, and I'm not trying to make a point about the parties but rather about the Senators running for the presidency.

President Bush's approval numbers are dropping, including what's being called his "trustworthiness".

Continuing a decline that has gone on for more than a year, 55% of those surveyed said Bush was honest and trustworthy. That compares to 59% the last time the question was asked in November, and 70% when the question was asked in early January 2003.
Why are these numbers changing?

1. President Bush has actually become less trustworthy, and the poll results reflect an accurate assessment of this difference.
2. President Bush is just as trustworthy now as ever, and the public's earlier high marks were mistaken.
3. President Bush is just as trustworthy now as ever, and the public's current low(er) marks are mistaken.

Which possibility one prefers will reveal a lot. Number (1) seems the least likely, since people don't tend to change a great deal in a short period of time; then again, if anything were likely to change a person, it would be bearing presidential responsibility for the country in such a difficult time.

Most Democrats would probably claim (2) is true, and most Republicans would say (3). The difference, as I see it, is that most Democrats on the angry left probably don't care what the actual answer is and probably don't care if President Bush is actually trustworthy or not -- as long as his poll numbers go down. In contrast, Republicans tend to be more moralistic voters.

I can't wait till the 2020 election -- everyone who could have possibly fought in Vietnam will be too old to run for president.

An article linked by Drudge has some interesting tidbits about Howard Dean.

The Democratic race once had 10 candidates, but the field is now down to five, including Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton, who haven't won a single contest.
Mr. Dean must love being lumped in with those two wackos.
Senior advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dean, with no hope of winning the presidency, was considering scaling back his campaign sharply - but not formally withdrawing. He was just as likely to cede the nomination and, with hopes of becoming a kingmaker, endorse a rival.

His campaign reached out to Edwards' team, believing Dean's fund-raising prowess could help reshape the race, aides said. But they did not rule out Dean endorsing Kerry, a move they said would seal the nomination for the Massachusetts lawmaker.

I.e., Mr. Dean's decision on who to endorse will be based entirely upon which endorsement will benefit Howard Dean the most, not on which candidate is the best choice for president. Then again, that falls in line with what my impression of Mr. Dean has been from the beginning of the political season.

Largely due to artificial conception, the rate of twin births is on the rise in the UK.

While the overall birth rate is falling, 15 in every 1,000 births now result in twins, triplets or more - an increase in multiple births of 20 per cent in 10 years.
Meanwhile, the age that women are having their first child continues to rise.
Yesterday's figures on birth rates, from the Office for National Statistics, show the average age of women giving birth has continued to increase to 29.3 years in 2002.

The average age of women having their first baby increased to 27.3 years.

These two phenomena are fruits from the same tree that has given the UK an increasing abortion rate. How twisted.

Here's an excellent example of why it's important for police to follow legal "technicalities".

An innocent homeless man spent more than eight months in jail because of lies told by three preteen Garden Grove girls and a botched police investigation. ...

Police now admit they were wrong to arrest Nordmark, because they used the same lineup of suspect photos for all three girls. Usually the lineup is changed.

Unbeknownst to police, the kids conspired to identify suspect No. 5: Nordmark.

"Let's be honest. If we were to do this again, would we have left the defendant as No. 5 in the lineups? Definitely not," said Lt. Mike Handfield. "Certainly we can learn something from what happened here .... but it doesn't help when kids get together and make up a story."

Although everyone wants to protect children from predators, it's important to remember that children lie a lot. Anyone who is around kids knows that's a fact. Although it's generally difficult for a child to successfully deceive an attentive adult, it seems to happen more often when the adult is eager to believe the lie.

Relating to the (apparently?) sexual nature of the non-crime, allow me to reiterate that such accusations are serious and that law enforcement needs to remember that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Howard Dean is poised on the brink of surrender, despite his tough rhetoric, but the truth is that he's accomplished just about everything his supporters could have hoped for.

"We've struggled with fundamentally changing the Democratic Party. Many of the folks now running, including Senator Kerry, have adopted our positions on many issues, and I think that's terrific. We intend to have real change in Washington, and that's what this campaign's about."
Mr. Dean is right; despite his near-certain defeat, his candidacy has done more to shape the upcoming election than even 9/11. Without Dean's involvement the Republicans would have been only slightly more strident about the War on Terror than the Democrats, but Dean's campaign has painted his fellow Democrats into an ideological corner and left politically savvy voters incredibly polarized. Ross Perot may have cost George H. W. Bush the election in 1992, but he didn't do nearly as much to significantly change the scope of the debate.

Howard Dean has done more for the far-left in one year than Ralph Nader has done in his whole career, and in the process he's remade the Democratic party into battering ram for the ideology Bill Clinton tried to leave behind in 1992. Although a presidential campaign is normally seen as a referendum on the incumbent (if any), 2004 is more likely going to be remembered as the last dying gasp of socialism/communism and a vote of confidence in the truly progressive, liberal, and pragmatic approach to government that began in 1981.

Someone at Opinion Journal agrees.

I spent the last three days visiting family in Washington DC and bumming around the nation's capital. I spent an afternoon downtown catching up with some old friends who live in the area and took a few dozen pictures; I'll post some later, assuming they turned out.

My main goal was to get a tour of the Library of Congress, but apparently President's Day is the one day it's not open. Just about everything else was open, but I wasn't able to get into the Capitol building without waiting in line, and it was far too cold for that. I did get into the National Archives and saw all four pages of the Constitution for the first time. When I had been there previously, only pages one and four were on display -- the government was no doubt editing pages two and three for some nefarious purpose.

I asked the guards about a story I'd heard somwhere -- that George Washington carried the Constitution around his his pocket while he was President -- but they denied it. Typical.

They also refused to elaborate on the new night-time security measures used to protect the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, saying only that the old system of lowering them 300 feet into the ground was no longer in service. If they aren't lowered into a vault, I doubt they're moved out of the building. It's probably a secret because the vault broke and they just sit in the display cases all night. Or President Bush carries them around in his pocket.

Security wasn't that great. I had a pocket knife with me and when they used the wand it beeped like mad. The guard asked if I had anything in my pockets, I said no, and he waved me through. Excellent. The guards did know quite a bit about the documents however, and had some fascinating anecdotes. I doubt I could damage those glass cases with a pocket knife, anyway. If I'd been planning ahead I would have brought my Bill of Rights Security Edition along, hoping for the ultimate in irony: having my copy of the Bill of Rights confiscated while waiting in line to see the actual Bill of Rights. Alas.

Speaking of cold, the DC area seems nearly uninhabitable to me. It was hard to pack layers of jackets considering that it's 80 in Los Angeles, but it was below freezing most of the time I was in DC. If you forget your jacket in Los Angeles you might be mildly uncomfortable; if you forget your jacket in DC, you'll die. I don't understand how people can even live there.

Plus, they're absolutely awful drivers. I can't tell you how many times we were almost broadsided by people trying to merge onto freeways at 30 mph. They drive slow, they don't signal, and they don't even check their destination lane before drifting into it. I was constantly amazed by their driving ineptitude.

On the other hand, the DC Metro system is the most convienient mass transit system I've ever ridden on, and it makes sense economically, unlike the light rail in Los Angeles. While riding home from downtown I met a large group of British high school students on a week-long visit to our capital and had a really nice conversation. I visted London a couple of years ago, so we swapped stories about our travels. They said they were having a good time in DC, that the weather was nice (ha), and that Americans seems to be very friendly. I told them they should come to California, where both the weather and the people are actually warm. We didn't talk about anything political, but both they and I shared a few snickers about the rudeness of the French and so forth.

And then, finally, I'm home again. My sleep schedule is all screwed up, and I'm running now on pure vitamin C (that is, caffeine). I've got a full day of work, and then a full night of partying (that is, school work), so I'll bid you farewell for the moment -- or as they say in DC, see ya!

As the title of this blog indicates, I have no real desire to be anyone's master. Unfortunately, there are many who do, and Donald Sensing has an excellent post decrying the usurpation of power by the judiciary from the American people. As Rev. Sensing rightly points out, most judicial over-reaching stems from the bizarre concept that the Constitution is a "living document".

Last time I checked, no other legal documents are "living" other than inconvenient constitutions. The reason we write things down is so that there's no misunderstanding or reinterpretation later by one of the parties involved.

For example, I have an employment contract that entitles me to a certain wage and entitles my boss to a certain amount of work. It would be ridiculous for me to sue him for higher pay on the premise that, although my contract specifies a specific rate, he now owes me more because our relationship as "matured". We're each certainly free to renegotiate the contract, or release ourselves from it using the mechanisms it defines, but to simply assert that it now means something new because time has passed and circumstances have changed is absurd.

Yet that's exactly what much of our judiciary does every day. When the Constitution was written each part had a very specific meaning, and as a whole it establishes a relationship between the American people and the government that serves us, as well as relationships between the three branches of government. What many judges do by claiming that the Constitution is a "living document" is create entirely new meanings, without regard for the agreement that was made originally and without consultation with the other parties to the contract: the American people and their elected officials.

Congress and the President go along with it by selecting judges who will interpret the contract in agreement with them rather than selecting judges who will enforce the contract as written. It's ludicrous, and the American people should call another Constitutional convention to reign our servants in and re-establish ourselves as sovereign.

Step one: Do you make pointless juxtapositions?

Oh yes, democracy and violence. Didn't the 20th Century provide enough of that awful elixir?
When democracies commit violence to stop communists and Nazis, most people don't consider it "awful". To the best of my recollection, democracies didn't fight against each other much in the 20th century. Or ever.

Step two: Do you fail to make obvious distinctions and argue using false syllogisms?

And he finishes his masterpiece post with this statement: "Basically, the only terrorists are Islamic fascists." I guess the truth is in the definition, huh? I can do one better: the only terrorists are druggies and drug runners!
Yes, some terrorists sell drugs to finance their terror operations, but not all drug runners are terrorists. Drug runners commit targeted violence against their competitors and fight over territory and money. Terrorists fight for political/religious ideologies and only care about killing as many people as possible, often including themselves. The significant motivational differences serve to distinguish the two groups, and dictate different policies for dealing with each.

Step three: Do you deride people for making slightly inaccurate statements and correct them with totally false ones?

From a Catallarchy post:
The U.S. government has a very large deficit. That means it's spending more than it's collecting. That means it has to borrow from investors - both foreign and domestic. At some point this money will have to be repaid. That's the key fact. It means that any "tax cut" is really just Uncle Sam borrowing from Asia, to pay-off the electorate. Sooner or later he'll have to tax the electorate to repay those loans. It's like a delayed tax, with a much nicer name.
NEWSFLASH: We owe the debt to ourselves. It's no big deal. Get over it.
In 1997, foreigners held 38% of US Treasury securities, so it's ridiculous to assert that the national debt is owed only "to ourselves". However, in the late 1990s anyway, Japan was the only major Asian creditor of the United States, second in the world to the United Kingdom. Further, national debt isn't like a future tax increase, because as long as the economy keeps growing the cost of existing debt will continually shrink relative to government revenue. Further, debt incurred that actually has the effect of spurring the economy (such as Reagan's deficits in the 1980s) can be said to be the equivalent of a tax cut.

Step four: Use the Civil War as an example of how "war is never the answer".

Thanks to this federal holiday as a reminder, we will never forget the loss of nearly a million fellow Americans to death and injury, including innocent non-combatants, in a war waged by Mr. Lincoln. War is never the answer.
Never ever ever? Even to free an entire people from the shackles of slavery? Even to prevent millions from being gassed and turned into soap? What if the evil Americans come barging in to steal your oil or take away your slaves? Should you fight then?

Anyway, there's plenty more, but I'm losing interest.

I lied.

Step five: Did you fail Reading Comprehension 101?

More on this lovely little subject: Francis Fukuyama (a Japanese Neoconservative?) writes: ". . . the chief threats to us and to world order come today from weak, collapsed, or failed states." Actually, "strong" states caused millions of deaths in the 20th Century. I'm not sure how that fact escapes Fukuyama's attention.
Hence Mr. Fukuyama's use of the word "today". His entire point is that the international paradigm is changing.

Step six: Are you completely ignorant of history?

Can someone email me (or counterblog) an example of a successful "nation-building" effort? I'd like to review the empirical evidence. Thanks.
Japan, Germany, and France after World War 2. You're welcome.

This is an interesting Catch 22: some doctors are suing to overturn the recently passed partial-birth abortion ban, contending that the procedure is medically necessary; however, the doctors are objecting to the Justice Department's attempts to examine patients' medical records in order to establish the facts of the case. Pretty tricky! Medical records are normally immune to subpoenas, but without some information from the records it's impossible to know whether or not partial-birth abortion was ever medically necessary.

At stake are records documenting certain late-term abortions performed by doctors who have joined in a legal challenge of the disputed ban. President Bush signed the act into law last year.

Critics of the subpoenas accuse the Justice Department of trying to intimidate doctors and patients involved in the contested type of abortion. ...

Ashcroft said the Justice Department will accept the records in edited form, after deleting or masking any information that would identify a patient. Abortion-rights supporters nonetheless depicted the subpoenas as a dangerous intrusion into medical confidentiality. ...

Ashcroft, at a news conference in Washington, said the subpoenas were needed to enable the government to rebut these claims.

"The Congress has enacted a law with the president's signature that outlaws this terrible practice," Ashcroft said. "We sought from the judge authority to get medical records to find out whether indeed the allegation by the plaintiffs, that it's medically necessary, is really a fact."

It seems to me that what the plaintiffs are lacking is an actual woman with an actual medical condition that somehow requires a partial-birth abortion and is willing to waive the confidentiality of her medical records. I'm not a lawyer, but without such a patient I don't really see how the doctors have standing to sue any more than I myself would.

Further, how can they introduce evidence to support their claim that partial-birth abortion is necessary? Won't they need the medical records themselves? Or are we just supposed to take their word for it? After all, abortion is a thriving industry and it's reasonable to expect that the doctors who perform the procedure are eager to keep it as broadly legal as possible.

Contrary to popular belief, the Vice Presidency isn't a particularly effective stepping stone to the Presidency (except in cases where the President dies while in office!). Here's an Encarta article with some statistics -- which mostly belie the author's concluding sentence.

Sixteen vice presidents have run for the presidency since the founding of our Constitutional system Of those, only four won the presidency immediately -- John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the first two vice presidents; Martin Van Buren; George H. W. Bush -- and Richard Nixon won on his second try. Five successes out of sixteen attempts isn't a very impressive statistic (seventeen attempts, if you count Richard Nixon's 1960 loss).

Most vice presidents are low profile and don't get to do much while in office. When they run they're generally loaded down with the baggage of the previous administration, and I think the presidency changes hands from one party to another more than half time time if an incumbent isn't running (stats, anyone?).

Fifteen senators have gone on to serve as President. I can't find stats on representatives or governors who have done so (I'm sure there's a lot of overlap). As far as I know, only one president has also served on the Supreme Court: William Taft (who was also the fattest president).

It's fascinating the way words can come back to haunt their writers. I imagine if I ever run for political office (not likely!) people will dredge (Drudge?) up this blog and find plenty of hastily-written thoughts to incriminate me.

The same holds true for organizations like MEChA, whose constitution has caused some embarrassment for politicians in Los Angeles who are current or former members and can't bring themselves to renounce their ties to its racism. Their motto is: "Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada." Everything for the Race. For those outside the Race, nothing. The group is also dedicated to "continue the struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlán" -- that is, to return control of the southwestern United States to Mexico. You'd think that people running for elected office would be eager to disassociate themselves from such vitriolic nonsense, but apparently not.

Then there's groups like Hamas who periodically make noises about cease-fires and such, but whose intentions are continually betrayed by their past writings. Their ability to negotiate is severely hampered by their charter, which says:

Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; [...] There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.
By their own words they're committed to a fight to the death, and that greatly limits their options. Even if they change their minds and decide to genuinely sue for peace, who would believe them?

Thus, politicians like George W. Bush presently have a distinct advantage: they haven't said much in the past that can hurt them. Just look at all the Kerry baggage that's coming back 30 years later, relevant or not.

This effect is unfortunate, because it rewards those who refuse to take positions on record (such as anonymous writers). I'd love to be able to read through decades of blog-writing by a politician I was considering voting for! Maybe with the ubiquity of the internet my generation will someday be in that position. Having such a written intellectual history would serve to make would-be public servants more human, and to cull the phony plastic baby-huggers from the herd pretty quickly.

The Drudge Report is linking to only a single story at the moment, an exclusive report that John Kerry has "intern problems". It's claiming that this is the reason for Howard Dean's reversal on his committment to drop out if he loses Wisconsin; apparently Dr. Dean found out about the possible infidelity and figured that Senator Kerry's campaign would fall apart after the knowledge became public.

I'm not sure why anyone would think that -- the Democrats have been longing for a second coming of Bill Clinton. Even if John Kerry is far more liberal, it looks like he's got many of the same endearing qualities as his predecessor.

It's odd that General Clark seems to have had prior knowledge of this intern problem, but is still endorsing Kerry today. Why not wait to see how it all plays out?

I think Zicam may be better than the internet. I started taking it on Monday, and I can tell I've had a cold for a few days now but I basically have no symptoms. It appears to be important to take it at least once during the night, otherwise the viruses in your throat/nose have a chance to regroup.

Via Dave at Israellycool here's a couple more fence stories.

First, Palestinian workers and companies are involved in building Israel's security fence.

Second, it looks like Saudia Arabia is stealing my idea and building a fence of its own to keep Yemenis out.

It's amazing to me that so many Arab nations can condemn America for "hating" them; they do a pretty good job of hating each other already.

Some researchers at MIT think they've discovered the biological mechanism behind long-term memory. Pretty nifty, if they turn out to be right. Until now there hadn't been much progress on this front, at either the hardware (biology) or software (psychology) level. Once we get a better understanding of the physical structure behind memory, we may be able to implement human-like memory using computer systems -- an essential component of human-like artificial intelligence.

(HT: GeekPress.)

Let's please do whatever possible to make it easier for these people to come into America.

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — The boos nearly drowned out "The Star-Spangled Banner," and a few dozen fans chanted "Usama! Usama!" as the United States was eliminated by Mexico in Olympic men's soccer qualifying.

A loud anti-American crowd yelled the first name of Usama bin Laden (search), the leader of the Al Qaeda (search) terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, as Mexico beat the United States 4-0 Tuesday night in the under-23 tournament, claiming a berth in the Athens Olympics (search).

As U.S. players left the stadium for their bus, several fans -- some clutching beers -- chanted "Usama! Usama!"

I just noticed that Los Angeles didn't even get a mention from Lileks on Monday when he was talking about cities and music!

I’m listening now to the Concerto, which always seemed to be hobbled by unexpressed expectations. ... It’s the sort of music that used to say “New York” to people in Peoria. It has that “Chorine on the A train at 3 AM” feel - tired of being sophisticated, tired of the pose, tired of living up to its own dreams and expectations. But when the piano comes in it’s like Gershwin himself in a white suit entering an Automat painted by Edward Hopper - he pops the cigar out of his mouth and says why the long faces? This is New York, pal. Let’s go stand on the corner and watch it ramble past. Whaddya say? There's no other city in America that can inspire these aural evocations - it's not like anyone listens to Boston's debut album and thinks I am so walking around Nob Hill right now. San Francisco to me is tied to the "Vertigo" score, but that's a trick of fiction. Chicago has one song: one. It informs us that State Street is a Great Street, and we go along with the assertion because it rhymes. But all of Gershwin's work is saturated with New York, and you know it. It's the love that doesn't have to say its name.
Randy Newman gives New York and Chicago what-for -- and Boston? San Fransisco? C'mon!

Bill Hobbs has dedicated an entire category on his blog to the question of "Was Bush AWOL?", and he's done a great job shredding the accusation. But I just don't get it. Aren't the people making the accusation the exact same people who said Bill Clinton's draft-dodging wasn't important? It's all nonsense.

The South Dakota House has passed a law intended to challenge the interpretation of the Constitution created by Roe v. Wade, declaring that life begins at conception.

Following an emotional debate, the South Dakota House has passed a bill saying that life begins at conception -- something that would outlaw abortions in the state.

Tuesday's vote in favor of House Bill 1191 wasn't even close. It passed 54-14. ...

"This is new and unique legislation that has never been considered by the Supreme Court," Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, said in a press release.

"While we cannot predict the future, we do know that this legislation establishes significant facts that the courts will not be able to ignore," he added. ...

The bill now goes to the South Dakota Senate, where support is said to be strong.

Should South Dakota's pro-life governor sign the bill, the new law would directly confront Roe v. Wade, the Thomas More Law Center noted.

How dramatic! I love it. The first response will likely be a challenge in a federal district court, whereupon the judge will immediately rule the law unconstitutional. It'll get appealed, and who knows what will happen then.

The state may have done better to wait until after the presidential election, considering that if President Bush wins again he'll likely have the opportunity to appoint one or more new Supreme Court Justices. Still, this may work its way through the system so slowly that there will be plenty of time. Such a pending case will certainly make the nomination process even more heated.

For a compelling argument in favor of the idea that life begins at conception, see "Life: Defining the Beginning by the End".

I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who have left such insightful comments over the past few weeks. I'm constantly impressed, and there's nothing I like more than good conversation. You're always teaching me new things and giving me new perspective, even when we disagree. Some days I can hardly find time to post anything because I'm too busy reading and responding to all the comments!

If there are any further comment tools you think would be useful, please let me know. Fomenting and facilitating discussion is one of my top priorities with this site, so if there's anything I can do to make commenting easier or more enjoyable, say so.

I've been playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance recently, and it's reminded me of everything I love about party-building adventure games. As with all such games, FFTA is an exercise in inching your stats ever higher, but it's a bit more interactive than some other offerings. I'm sure I'll tire of it long before I finish, but it's a nice way to kill time while my PhD simulation is running in the background.

Lots of pundits are proclaiming that President Bush is vulnerable because of 50%-ish approval/re-elect ratings in polls, but don't forget that the Democrats have been campaigning against him for almost a year now and the Republican machine hasn't even started rolling yet. President Bush has over $150 million burning a hole in his pocket, just itching for a target. If that target turns out to be John Kerry, expect to see a lot more dirt shoveled up and many more embarrassing revelations.

And there's more. From 1970:

Kerry said that the United Nations should have control over most of our foreign military operations. "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."

On other issues, Kerry wants "to almost eliminate CIA activity. The CIA is fighting its own war in Laos and nobody seems to care." He also favors a negative income tax and keeping unemployment at a very low level, "even if it means selective economic controls."

President Bush and the RNC must have stacks of this stuff to turn over to the media when the time is right.

The Atkins Diet always seemed incredibly unhealthy to me, and it's now been leaked/revealed that its inventor, Dr. Robert Atkins, was obese when he died in April, 2003.

The news calls into question his cause of death and whether Dr Atkins followed the controversial diet, which has reversed conventional wisdom by prescribing meats and cheeses while eschewing starchy foods that contain a lot of carbohydrates.

The examiner's report said that Dr Atkins had suffered a previous heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension, all conditions that are related to obesity.

Of course, the direct cause of death was his fall down some icy stairs. His doctors claim his diet wasn't related to his obesity or heart problems.

Personally, I'd rather eat the sort of balanced diet the human body is designed for. No one yet knows what kind of long-term effects -- if any -- the Atkins diet will have on people after several decades of use. Eating so much protein and fat can't be good for the liver and kidneys.

Another example of why I'm not entirely libertarian: I really think we need to limit tort liability. Libertarians advocate a reduction in government regulation and claim that people will regulate their own activities if we have a strong court system that allows them to sue each other for civil damages. For example, we wouldn't need building codes if building owners could be effectively sued for damages when their buildings collapse on people. Such a suit could be brought now, but would likely lose if the buildings met whatever codes have been established by the government; under the libertarian system, the plaintiff would always win such a case based on the facts in evidence -- your building collapsed, ergo it was not built properly and you owe me money.

The multitude of problems with our medical malpractice system belies the theory behind this sort of regulation through unlimited tort. Jurors, unfortunately, don't appear to be smart enough or dedicated enough to make wise decisions in these matters, and their judgements are driving health costs through the roof and putting doctors out of business. Just as over-regulation can strangle an industry, so can trial lawyers and plaintiffs looking to win the legal lottery.

Donald Sensing gets to the core issue dividing self-proclaimed Christians today, and it isn't what some think. I'd go further than Rev. Sensing, and I'll explain why further down.

The second link above is to an article by a Rev. N. Graham Standish who says that Christianity is partitioned between those who emphasize the Great Commandment, and those who emphasize the Great Commission. The Great Commandment is:

Matthew 22:35-40

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Jesus delivered the Great Commission immediately before ascending into Heaven after his resurrection:
Matthew 28:18-20

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Rev. Sensing disagrees with Rev. Standish and says that the biggest divide between "Christians" is between those who worship the person of Jesus Christ himself, and those who worship the ethics and teachings of Jesus. As he points out, it's easy to have Christian ethics without Christ; most of Jesus' teachings were not revolutionary, and have been present in Judaism for centuries.

Perhaps my extension to Rev. Sensing's position is already clear from my use of punctuation: those who attempt to follow the teachings of Christ without following Christ himself are simply not Christians. I make no claim to be wise enough to distintinguish between such people, but I think God gives us each enough discernment to evaluate our own lives.

It's easy to make idols without even realizing it. Even othewise good things can lead us to idolatry when they take the place of God in our hearts and minds. Family, friends, work, recreation, church... all these things are good, in their place, but when any of them usurps God's central role in our life it must be cast down again.

The things Jesus taught are important, but we must recognize and resist the temptation to elevate the creation above their creator. God doesn't call us to a set of rules, a set of facts, or a morality system. God calls us into a personal relationship with himself. The rest of that stuff is easier to focus on, because it's hard to see God, but it's all peripheral.

As for the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, there's really no conflict. We are to love our neighbors, but that love should spur us towards more evangelism, not less. Our love for our fellow man should encourage us to spread the truth of the gospel of Christ!

There are those who would equate love with "tolerance" for other systems of belief, but there is a vast difference between tolerance and acceptance. God loves us all, exactly the way we are. We don't have to change one single bit to get God's love. He won't love us any more if we change, and he won't love us any less if we don't. But he loves us so much that he doesn't want us to stay the way we are. He wants to make us holy, godly, and Christlike, and that's the purpose of the Great Commission.

Christians are God's tools in the world. The Great Commandment is our motivation, and the Great Commission is our duty. If we do not serve God we do not love him, or our neighbors. If we do not love God and men, any service we perform is hollow and worthless.

(HT: Bill Hobbs, although I would've seen it myself shortly!)

Zicam works.

I started coming down with a cold on Sunday night, and on Monday morning I was feeling pretty out of it. I hit the drug store on the way to work and bought some Zicam tablets that dissolve in your mouth and I started taking one every three hours as instructed on the bottle.

When I'm first getting sick I usually have a bad sore throat for the first few nights, and Sunday night it was just getting started. When evening came around yesterday though, my throat didn't hurt at all. I expected to take NyQuil to get to sleep, but I decided I didn't need it. I woke up once during the night and popped another Zicam.

When I woke up this morning, I felt great! I still feel a little sick -- a little warm, a little tired -- but the major symptoms are basically gone. I'm completely amazed. It normally takes me over a week to feel this good.

I'm going to keep taking Zicam for another 48 hours, and we'll see how I feel in a couple of days. As of now, I'm thinking this was the best $11 I've ever spent.

We live in a culture that allows women to kill their own children on a whim and then balks at the execution of a brutal ax-murderer. I'm constantly amazed by humanity's ability to pervert truth and justice.

Genesis 6:5

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.

Romans 1

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. ...

28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Sometimes the state of the world is really depressing. We worship liberty, but only want to use it each for our own selfish ends. We exalt justice, but would we even recognize it if we saw it? If God delivered justice, who would be left standing? Not me. Not you.

Our every desire is turned inward to ourselves. Even the good we do from time to time is for our own benefit, our own satisfaction, and based our own morality. We feed the poor to soothe our souls and lift up the weak long enough to put them on television to provide ourselves the illusion of doing something.

Our whole economy is based on greed, and our prosperity is a testament to our avarice. The efficiency of the system proves the depth of our selfishness. The checks and balances of our government pit one evil against another.

The worst of it is that this is the best we can do. There's no utopia lurking around the philisophical corner, waiting to be discovered. There's no world without war, without sickness, without death. This is it. We put up a neon sign and slap on a fresh coat of paint every few years, but there's still the same rotten wood underneath.

We laugh at those who yell on the street corners, "Repent! The end is near!", but isn't it? Nearer now than yesterday. And now nearer still. How much longer will God extend his mercy? The very earth cries out for justice; how much longer will he withold it?

Even so Lord God, come quickly.

(I've updated this twice since I first posted it. I apologize, but I want to interleave my points together rather than just leave them in the comments.)

Dale Franks comments on the abortion discussion Xrlq and I have been having, and adds that from his persective the Bible doesn't treat abortion like murder. He quotes the only real mention of human-induced miscarriage in the Bible:

Exodus 21:22-25

22. If men contend with each other, and a pregnant woman [interfering] is hurt so that she has a miscarriage, yet no further damage follows, [the one who hurt her] shall surely be punished with a fine [paid] to the woman's husband, as much as the judges determine.

23. But if any damage follows, then you shall give life for life,

24. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

25. Burn for burn, wound for wound, and lash for lash.

It's clear from the context that causing the death of an unborn child wasn't punished the same way that causing the death of the woman was, but it's also clear that the miscarriage in this example is accidental. The interpretation of the Amplified Bible (the version quoted above, selected by Mr. Franks) also indicates that the woman was interfering with the fight; the phrasing in other translations I looked at doesn't give me that impression, so I'm not sure how accurate/important it is. Whether the woman was supposed to be interfering or not, this example is pretty far afield from the circumstances of abortion, in which a mother purposefully kills her own child.

Why is the punishment different for killing the baby versus killing the mother? Mr. Franks says that this proves that abortion isn't murder, but there are several other possiblities.

1. Perhaps the fighters were assumed to be ignorant of the pregnancy.
2. Perhaps the woman was assumed to bear some responsibility for risking her baby by interfering in the fight.
3. Perhaps the distinction was made for the same reasons Moses allowed divorce. Jesus made it clear later that God doesn't like divorce, but that Moses permitted it because the people's hearts were hard.
4. The Old Testament also treats the deaths of slaves more lightly than the deaths of free men. A few verses above the passage under discussion:

12 "Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death." ...

20 "If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, 21 but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property."

Yet it wouldn't make sense to argue based on these laws that God values the lives of slaves less than the lives of free men.

Is the child referred to here a real human being? The literal phrase translated here "has a miscarriage" is yaled yatsa' -- "so that her fruit depart [from her]". The definitions for yaled make it clear that the "fruit" is a child, and the word is elsewhere used to refer equivalently to children outside the womb.

I see Mr. Franks' point, but I don't think this excerpt from Exodus sheds a lot of light on the issue of abortion. After all, the second law in the section instructs that anyone who strikes his father or mother should be put to death. Old Testament laws are valuable for discerning the mind of God on various issues -- so I'm not entirely discounting this passage -- but most of the implementation details of these laws were specific to the Hebrew nation at the time and don't necessarily carry over to modern times (such as laws regarding holy days and sacrifices, &c.).

Here's an exhaustive argument for the Biblical acceptability of abortion, by Brian Elroy McKinley. Although it's not at all convincing to me (obviously), it's still an interesting read and goes over a lot of applicable Biblical passages. The gist of Mr. McElroy's position is that the many instances in the Bible where unborn children are specifically dealt with by God are mere special cases that don't reveal any broader principles of how God works with humanity. He gives no particular justification for this view, and it's unconvincing because every interaction between God and man recorded in the Bible is a special case of some sort. Using Mr. McKinley's logic we couldn't make any generalizations from the Bible at all, and it would be almost entirely useless.

There are a many passages similar to this one that Mr. McKinley refers to:

Psalm 139:13-16

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Mr. McKinley admits that, "... this passage does make the point that God was involved in the creation of this particular human being...", but apparently believes that David, when writing this worship song for all of Israel, was intending to make a point about his own special relationship with God. It seems pretty obvious to me that God extends the same special loving care towards every person he creates (even those who later reject him).

He also argues that abortion is justified because Job and Solomon wrote (in fits of emotion) that it would have been better not to have been born.

Job 3:2-4, 11-19

He said: "Cursed be the day of my birth, and cursed be the night when I was conceived. Let that day be turned to darkness. Let it be lost even to God on high, and let it be shrouded in darkness.

"Why didn't I die at birth as I came from the womb? Why did my mother let me live? Why did she nurse me at her breasts? For if I had died at birth, I would be at peace now, asleep and at rest. I would rest with the world's kings and prime ministers, famous for their great construction projects. I would rest with wealthy princes whose palaces were filled with gold and silver. Why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light? For in death the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest. Even prisoners are at ease in death, with no guards to curse them. Rich and poor are there alike, and the slave is free from his master.

Mr. McKinley also quotes from portions of Ecclesiastes where Solomon decries the vanity of life. These passages, however, are clearly not intended as instructions or examples of Godly living. There are many instances in the Bible where people say or do things that are not intended to serve as examples, but are instead simply accounts of what happened -- in this case, emotional trauma (such as Job, after the death of his children) and despair (such as Solomon, who was very far from God near the end of his life and was finally realizing the futility of depending on earthly pleasures for real happiness).

As far as I'm aware, the Bible doesn't make a linguistic distinction between born and unborn children. Consider the word usage in this passage from Genesis:

Genesis 25:21-23

21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD .
23 The LORD said to her,

"Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger."

The unborn children, Jacob and Esau, are portrayed here engaging in acts of spiritual and historical significance, even if only symbolically. According to Strong's Condordance, the Hebrew word translated "babies" is ben, and you can see from the definitions given that it's always used to refer to human beings, and generally to those who have already been born.

There's a lot more that can be written on this topic, but I think it's generally pretty clear that the Bible does not condone abortion, and that the principles consistently revealed in the Bible do, in fact, condemn abortion. No linguistic distinction is made between children ex utero and children in utero. (Although I'm not an expert on Hebrew and I'd welcome further information on the matter.)

The developmental process of a child in the womb wasn't even vaguely comprehended until a couple of decades ago, and we're still learning a lot. As we learn more, the wonder of God's creation becomes evident, as does the humanity of the unborn.

Update 4:
As Allen Glosson points out in the comments, the NASB translation of Exodus 21:22 says:

If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.
The Hebrew phrasing doesn't necessarily make it clear that the prematurely born baby in this scenario even dies. AG further links to an article which dissects the frequent misuse of the Exodus passage by pro-abortionists.

Xrlq writes, with regard to my views on abortion, that:

I'm beginning to think that some people feel so strongly about certain issues that they really shouldn't opine on them at all, at least not in public.
He says my rhetoric "turns everyone into a baby-murderer", but my reply is simple: nothing I do makes anyone into a baby murderer. When a woman kills her baby because it's more convenient than dealing with the consequences of her actions, she makes herself a baby murderer. (It just so happens that most of the direct blame falls on people who are women, by virtue of biology; I know many men also share responsibility for the state of our society as a whole.)

Xrlq advocates "fair" discussion, without resorting to emotional rhetoric or subjective labeling, and that's an ideal I aspire to myself. I'm generally polite and intellectually honest, and Xrlq attributes my approach to the abortion debate to excessive emotional involvement. However, the truth is that my style of argument regarding abortion is carefully calculated -- not to maximize objectivity or honesty, as is normally the case, but to win.

It's fine and good to win a debate fairly without resorting to emotional rhetoric, but sometimes the issue is so important that it's better to win at any cost than to worry about intellectual niceties. Such is the case with abortion. I'm all for detached, objective discussion in most cases, but one-third of my generation has been murdered by their parents. I'm more concerned with stopping the butchery than with dispassioned objectivity, and I purposefully use emotional terminology to tailor my message in the manner I believe will be most effective in convincing my readers.

Xrlq is concerned with the integrity of the process, whereas I'm more worried about the actual results. Ideally, I'd like to win the debate in the manner Xrlq advocates, but it's more important to me to win than to play fair.

SDB has written a long piece about the effectiveness of Israel's wall around the West Bank, and it makes me think we could use one of those here in America.

According to The Electronic Intifada (which I assume will give pessimistic estimates), Israel's wall will be about 400 miles long and cost in the neighborhood of $2 billion -- a cost of $5 million per mile. Our border with Mexico is a bit under 2,000 miles long, so an American-Mexican Good Neighbor Wall shouldn't cost more than $10 billion. Not an inconsiderable expense, but just think of all the manufacturing jobs it would create.

For those who'd claim such a wall would be "racist" or "isolationist" or some other such nonsense, just imagine how many more legal immigrants we could let in if we're ever able to stem the flood of illegals. While you're using your imagination, think of all the lives we'd save.

As a further note, such a wall would be good incredibly good for Mexico as well -- until American financial life support is cut off, Mexico's corrupt kleptocracy will never be reformed and the country will be doomed to stagnation. It's time to shake up the status quo.

The Doctor is in... sane!

Fellow Bear-Flagger Michael Rappaport has an idea for controlling federal spending: require a supermajority to pass all spending bills greater than 90% the value of the previous year's total. He believes that this threshold will allow a majority to prevent a government shut-down, but give a minority the power to curtail excessive spending.

I see two problems, one substantial and one philisophical.

First, I don't really see how this would reign in discretionary spending. All it would do is require the majority to spend even more to buy enough votes to pass the budget. Part of the reason the Republicans who control Congress haven't cut spending is because their majority in the Senate is so thin that every vote has to be bought. If the Republicans had a five vote majority (rather than one vote), each Senator's support for a spending bill would be worth much less. Requiring a supermajority to pass spending bills would make each marginal vote even more expensive -- particularly if the majority is forced to buy votes from Senators who would prefer to cut spending.

Secondly, I'm not sure I like the idea of undermining the principle of majority rule. I believe that requiring supermajorities is acceptable for some things (particularly at the state level), but I'm uneasy about imposing such a limitation on the will of the majority at the federal level. Would bills that shifted money between departments require supermajorities also, or would they only be needed when the total budget increased? If a simple majority could move money while keeping the total constant (or even 10% lower) budget battles could get very ugly.

The idea is interesting, but I need to consider it more. On the surface it doesn't feel very convincing.

I'm amazed that people are still giving money to Howard Dean. He's burnt through so much of it already without winning a single state -- or even ranking 2nd place more than once -- and yet the moolah keeps pouring in.

I think the biggest factor is psychological. Many of Dean's volunteers have so much time and money already invested in his campaign that they can't admit defeat. They feel like their earlier donations aren't really "wasted" until they give up, and they're trying to put it off as long as possible because the thought of throwing so much effort down the drain is agonizing. (Much like money spent on declining stock isn't "lost" until you sell the depreciated shares.)

In economic terms, the time and money already invested are sunk costs: they can't be recovered to any significant degree, no matter how much more resources you throw after them. Although it may seem counterintuitive, it's foolish to allow sunk costs to influence decision-making; what's been spent is already gone, and the decision to spend more must be based only on the current situation and expectations for the future.

Dean supporters should ask themselves whether or not they'd make a first donation to a candidate who is lagging so far behind the leader. It may feel emotionally satisfying to "never give up", but having given money in the past is no reason to continue doing so once the cause has been lost.

Sunk costs have a way of warping our sense of reality and perspective. Just as a woman might be reluctant to break up with an abusive boyfriend because of all the time and energy she's already invested in the relationship, Dean supporters would rather ignore the numerical facts than admit their past contributions have come to naught. Meanwhile, to prove to themselves that there's still hope, they keep forking over the cash.

Unless Howard Dean is planning to run as an independent once he loses the Democrat nomination (*crosses fingers*), he's leading a pack of lemmings over a cliff by using his influence to con his followers out of their money. At least he had the decency to draw a line at Wisconsin.

Because I find myself referring to it often, here's a short post about Washington Monument Syndrome.

Symptoms of WMS are generally manifested by legislators who feel under political pressure to cut taxes, cut spending, and stop wasting public money (WMS can also be displayed when legislators want to raise taxes). Regardless of what bloated programs and superfluous bureaucracy is available to be slashed, politicians will pretend there's no fat to cut and insist to the public that if one single penny is taken away from the government budget they'll have no choice but to shut down the Washington Monument.

Such pleas and threats can take many forms. Some of the most popular services that greedy politicians like to line up first for the chopping block are police, firefighters, and education. These services are important to the average voter, and politicians hope that when the public is faced with the false choice of either losing police officers and teachers or raising taxes, people will meekly hand over their paychecks.

The best treatment for WMS is to simply ignore the politicians' apocalyptic warnings. The threats are empty, and there are always lots of expenses that can be cut before the Washington Monument will have to be closed.

It's cases like these that incline me towards thinking that law enforcement should have the capability to get a torture warrant that would allow them to forcibly extract information from perpetrators.

The man suspected in Carlie Brucia's (search) abduction, which was captured by a surveillance camera on Sunday, has not been cooperating with investigators, the Sarasota County, Fla., sheriff said. ...

"We have strong evidence that he is in fact the perpetrator," said Capt. Jeff Bell, the lead Sarasota County sheriff's investigator on the case.

Sheriff Bill Balkwill (search) told reporters during a morning news conference that his department was certain the 1992 Buick station wagon "is the vehicle that was used in the abduction." ...

"We don't have any motive," Lesaltato said. "We've tried talking to him, but he refuses to talk to us."

I don't know enough about the details of this case to say that this guy should be tortured, but I do think such measures would be appropriate in some circumstances. The problem, of course, is where to draw the line. Some might argue that it's better to never use torture than to risk misusing it, but I'm not convinced. Our criminal trial process unjustly convicts people from time to time -- and even executes them -- but we don't throw up our hands in despair and eliminate the entire justice system.

Regardless, this guy should have been off the streets a long time ago.

Smith has been arrested at least 13 times in Florida since 1993, according to state records.

He was arrested in 1997 in Manatee County on kidnapping and false-imprisonment charges. A 20-year-old woman in Bradenton said he grabbed her as she walked by and tried to pull her away, according to records released by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

"He got on top of me and told me to shut up or he would cut me," she told authorities. After a struggle, she said, she managed to run into the street, and passengers in an approaching van stopped and rescued her. ...

Records show other convictions for heroin possession, prescription-drug fraud and aggravated battery. Smith was placed on probation for cocaine possession last March.

This type of lifetime criminal is generally never reformed, and well-meaning attempts to do so are what lead to tragedies like this kidnapping.

I guess torture wouldn't have made a difference in this case, since the poor girl was already dead. I hope the guy fries. Unfortunately, it sounds like he may have bargained for leniency in exchange for revealing the location of the body.

I'm going to remember this post so that if I ever have kids I'll be able to explain to them exactly how serious they have to be about their safety. From the video it appears that the girl could have probably gotten away by screaming or throwing a fit, but she went along with barely a struggle.

Update 2:
Donald Sensing has some good tips on what to teach little girls.

Since when is it illegal to kill a raccoon that's rifling through a garbage can? As far as I'm concerned, any animal that doesn't belong to someone is fair game for a-killin'. At least common vermin like raccoons; I could possibly be convinced that it's in the public interest to protect endangered species, but the best way to do that is probably through property rights.

Oregon voters soundly reject tax hikes, opting instead for service reductions.

In January 2003, Oregon voters rejected a $310-million income tax increase, leading to a shortened school year, police layoffs and other spending cuts.

When the Legislature passed an $800-million tax hike package in August -- to protect schools and other services from additional cuts -- tax-hike opponents launched their petition drive to repeal the measure.

This type of government income "recession" will lead to cuts initially, but yield efficiency gains over the long-term, just as recessions do in the private sector.

Some Republicans from Minnesota bash bloggers as they criticize a Star Tribune editorial for partisan bitterness.

Sen. Norm Coleman and Reps. Jim Ramstad, Gil Gutknecht, Mark Kennedy and John Kline accused the paper’s editorialists of allowing “personal, partisan bitterness to trump the facts.”

“These sort of charges aren’t worthy of an Internet blog, let alone a respectable newspaper,” they declared. “Either present real facts and evidence, or leave the Bush-bashing nonsense to the bloggers.”

Aw gee, thanks. One day people will wake up and realize that top-quality bloggers have got traditional media beat for content and commentary hands-down.

(Previous posts on outsourcing.)

Robert X. Cringely writes a somewhat convoluted criticism of outsourcing. I say "convoluted" because its structure defies easy excerption; I'll try to convey the gist of his position.

Mr. Cringely responds to those who say outsourcing is good for everyone by saying that it's not good for the people who lose their jobs, and this is partially true. His thesis rests on three main points:
1. There's no guarantee that the jobs we're losing to "India" (or wherever) are going to be replaced.
2. Institutional investors (such as mutual funds) use our money to screw us over by voting in favor of outsourcing even though we wouldn't want it ourselves.
3. Politicians won't protect us and neither will the invisible hand of capitalism -- although near the beginning of the piece he does acknowledge that, "Entropy in the business world works in reverse, with the better organized operations (the ones that better serve their customers) growing in strength, not declining."

With regards to (1), he's certainly correct. Nothing is guaranteed in life. He says that:

Pretty much everyone sees biotech and nanotech as the new growth industries, but neither industry is very good at job creation.  Find me a biotech company that's a comparable employer to Hewlett Packard or Sun Microsystems.  Find me a nanotech company that has more than 100 engineers, total.  Maybe these are the future, but what if they aren't?  Why allow our current bread and butter to slip away if the benefits are doubtful at best and customer service suffers?
No one can predict the future, but similar arguements have been made all throughout history as we've continually moved jobs offshore. Somehow there's always something new to fill the void, because people can't consume if they don't have jobs.

The bit about customer service is pointless, and not something for a high-level economic discussion to deal with. That, at least, will certainly be taken care of by market forces.

As for (2), he quotes a reader who complains that:

Two insane examples of this are state of California bus drivers who bought into CALPERS investments, which included stakes in the company the state outsourced bus contracts to when the state eliminated its own positions; and schoolteachers in Florida, who now own through the state pension program the majority shareholder of Edison Schools (a for-profit operator of public schools).
I fail to see how either of these examples shows insanity; in fact, they both seem like net gains for the shareholders. If the bus drivers and teachers didn't own shares of those companies someone else would have, and someone else would have reaped the benefits of the changing market. Either way the drivers and teachers would have been out of jobs, but because of their investments they were able to hedge their financial future against potential job loss.

For (3), this is yet another argument in favor of personal investment in the concentration of capital.

Think of the term "political capital," which is generally accepted to be the grease that keeps the wheels of government turning.  Now do a Google search of "political capital" and see what verbs are associated with this noun.  There is only one -- "spend."  We don't invest political capital, we don't redeem it, we don't save it, we don't borrow it, we only spend it.  This means that progress in government is made possible by giving things up, with those things being ideals, constituents, even logic itself.
That's just rhetorical nonsense.

The article is interesting, even if it's largely sophistry; there's a core a rationality, but it's hard to find. In essence, I think Mr. Cringely is right in doubting the economic benefits of oursourcing. I've heard too many horror stories. Then again, it may just take time to smooth out the wrinkles in the system.

There's nothing to do but wait and see. Capitalism will work to increase shareholder value, and the way to maximize your chances of successfully riding the economic waves is to invest your money and become a shareholder yourself.

I like vegetarians -- they're all I eat!

Actually, I went vegetarian for six months or so a few years back with no difficulty. It wasn't particularly hard to stop eating meat, although it did make my diet less interesting. Eventually I returned to omnivorosity because I became disgusted with how annoyingly self-superior some vegetarians are.

The only people more holier-than-thou than vegetarians are people who don't watch TV. I don't watch a lot of TV myself, but isn't it irritating to try talking with someone who is constantly reminding you that they "don't waste time with that stuff" and "don't even own a TV"?

The reason vegetarians and anti-TV-ites are so annoying is because they take pleasure in rubbing our faces in their rejection of the very fabric of our shared society.

What's the number one social activity? Eating. And it's difficult for omnivores to enjoy a meal with a proud vegetarian because their food requirements severely limit everyone else's choices. The presence of a vegetarian (or, *gasp*, a vegan) restricts restaurant selection and even makes it hard to host meals in your home. It's also generally recognized as being incredibly rude to refuse to eat food that's served to you when you're visiting someone's home, and I never appreciated the truth of this until I was a vegetarian myself.

As for TV, like it or not it's the foundation of our modern shared experience. Without a rudimentary working knowledge of what's on TV it's impossible to make small-talk and it's impossible to share allusions and inside jokes. Knowing what TV shows a person likes will give you a lot of insight into their personality and can provide a lot of common ground for conversation. Of course, when someone responds that they don't watch TV I guess that tells you a lot too. I'm not a huge fan of TV, and there are only a handful of shows I enjoy, but you don't have to be a carnivore to be polite company, you only have to be amiable enough to go with the flow.

And finally, if God doesn't want us to eat animals, why are they made out of meat? If he didn't want us to watch TV, why did he give us eyes?

I don't normally take internet tests, but this one seemed rather important.

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very High
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Moderate
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Test

Whew -- I'm relieved! No real surprise though, considering that I'm practically perfect in every way. Actually, it looks like I narrowly escaped the Malebolge, which doesn't sound like a very fun place to be.

(Via Elephant Rants.)

Some people have mentioned that it's hard to follow conversations on my site over time because blog posts are continually pushed aside. So here's a new tool to keep track of the discussions you're interested in: Recently Active Threads.

I'll put a link on the left sidebar. Don't forget there are also listings of the Most Recent Comments and the Most Commented-On Posts.

Saddam's questioning halted for "medical reasons".

CNSNews has a great piece exposing the bureaucratic mess the Transportation Safety Administration has made of the federal program to arm commercial airline pilots. OF the 40,000 pilots who initially expressed interest in the program, only 4,000 ended up joining.

One FFDO [Federal Flight Deck Officer], who agreed to comment on the "carry protocol" for armed pilots' handguns only if CNSNews.com did not disclose the person's identity, said the regulation is "designed to deter participation."

"A lot of my coworkers have watched what I go through and they say, 'You know what? I'm not signing up,'" the FFDO explained.

The FFDO also believes such comments are the result TSA desires. "I've had so many pilots tell me, 'I'm not signing up for this. I'm not putting myself through this kind of agony to go through what you go through.'

"That is the thing that's really deterring participation," the FFDO added.

What's more, the TSA's regulations appear to purposefully impare the usefulness of the weapons even for the few pilots who do carry them.
Unless the pilot is behind the locked cockpit door, TSA requires that the weapon be holstered, locked inside a hard-sided gun case and stored inside "a bag that is non-descript."

The policy leaves pilots defenseless during the time when law enforcement and security experts agree that the cockpit is most vulnerable.

"The weapon needs to be re-secured in the locked box if the cockpit door is open," Rosenker explained, acknowledging that the regulation would include times during flights when one of the pilots leaves the cockpit to use the restroom or get food. ...

Dean Roberts, a former federal law enforcement officer and pilot, now flies for a commercial passenger airline. He told CNSNews.com that even some pilots with federal law enforcement experience would not apply for the FFDO program because of the lock box requirement. ...

"When I carried a gun as a federal law enforcement officer on an airplane, it was a hassle carrying a gun [on board]," Roberts explained. "The FFDO program has got about 20 more unnecessary steps in the process that make it more hassle than it is worth."

The TSA also prohibits the pilots from discussing any "classified" aspects of the program, forbidding them from revealing any flaws and failures to anyone other than TSA bureaucrats -- even Congress!

Does the TSA actively discourage pilots from applying? Some pilots apparently think so.

Capt. Tracy Price, a founding member and current advisor to APSA [Airline Pilots Security Alliance], is one of the thousands of pilots who say they will not apply to become an FFDO, fearing reprisals from the TSA, their employers or both. ...

"They maintain this kind of thinly veiled threat that it is always a possibility that you could apply for this program and find that, not only are you not in the program," Price added, "but also that your employer-airline has been notified or the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] has been notified that you've lost your pilot's certificate."

And the psych examination?
The first question with which pilots take exception is, "Would you like to be a fighter pilot?" The question is allegedly intended to identify individuals who might be "overly aggressive" and "prone to risk taking behavior." ...

"We're still getting emails, to this day, from highly, highly qualified pilots, F-16 pilots, B-1 bomber pilots who are being turned down," Price said, adding that many of those pilots routinely have access not only to the firearms they carry on their person as a military pilot, but also to nuclear weapons transported in the aircraft for which they are responsible.

The TSA opposed the FFDO program, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they're implementing it poorly now that Congress has forced it on them. The American bureaucracy is far too powerful.

Despite Congress recently passing a national ban on partial-birth abortions, a judge in Virginia has overturned a state law which also banned the procedure. The basis for his ruling was that the ban "failed to make an exception for the health of the woman", but apparently the judge isn't aware that the American Medical Association has said that the procedure is never medically necessary.

In recognition of the constitutional principles regarding the right to an abortion articulated by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, and in keeping with the science and values of medicine, the AMA recommends that abortions not be performed in the third trimester except in cases of serious fetal anomalies incompatible with life. Although third-trimester abortions can be performed to preserve the life or health of the mother, they are, in fact, generally not necessary for those purposes. Except in extraordinary circumstances, maternal health factors which demand termination of the pregnancy can be accommodated without sacrifice of the fetus, and the near certainty of the independent viability of the fetus argues for ending the pregnancy by appropriate delivery.
Donald Sensing has more on the medical community's view in a post from last year.

When writing the national ban last year, Congress heard testimony from many medical experts and concluded the lengthy preamble of its bill by stating, "For these reasons, Congress finds that partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother."

Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights attempts to use the weight of authority to bolster her side of the debate.

"Courts across the country - including the U.S. Supreme Court - have been clear that such bans are an unconstitutional threat to women's health and lives," Nancy Northup, president of the center, said in a statement Monday.
Fortunately for millions of unborn babies, courts are not the highest medical authorities in the nation, nor the highest political authorities. For the medical side of the question, I'll trust the judgement of the AMA. As for the political: in addition to the national ban, more than 30 states have also banned partial-birth abortions, demonstrating that the majority of Americans are against what is essentially infanticide.

Xrlq comments and links to a post of his from last year that points out that the federal partial-birth abortion ban is blatantly unconstitutional. He's right, of course. The problem I have with his position, however, is that he's failing to see the forest through the trees.

I'm a federalist, but not because I love federalism. I support federalism because I love liberty, and I believe the separation of powers between national and state governments promotes liberty.

There is no more egregious infringement on liberty than murder, and no matter how federal our country may become if it fails to prevent the murder of a million babies a year it isn't successfully defending liberty. Federal murder laws aren't necessary because every state already bans the murder of adults. Ideally, states will also ban abortion and no federal intervention will be required. However, that not being the case (largely due to federal intervention by the Supreme Court), I'm perfectly happy to sacrifice some federalist principles for the larger cause of protecting liberty.

Any Constitutional system that results in the murder of a million babies a year -- regardless of what other liberties it protects -- is fundamentally flawed. The Constitution, and federalism, should serve liberty, and in cases where they don't I will not be bound to defending them.

I'm a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment, but I don't think seniors with failing faculties should be carrying concealed weapons.

Dorothy Maddock's eyes aren't what they used to be and she's hard of hearing, but like many seniors she refuses to be a victim and is packing heat for protection.

"The idiots that are out there, they don't care about us, what we have," said retiree Maddock. "They'd just as soon kill us for a buck than look at us."
Well yes, that's true, but I think it's obvious that people should be required to demonstrate that they're competent to use a gun safely before they're allowed to carry. I'm not that worried about people's judgement on when using a gun is appropriate, but I do think it's important that anyone who carries be physically able to use their weapon in a safe and effective manner.
Forty-six states now let citizens carry concealed weapons (search), but is it safe for seniors whose hand and eye coordination isn't what it used to be to own a firearm? Haddock and friends say it's their right and they aren't taking any chances.
Own a firearm? Sure. Carry it out into public? No.

States should set up rigorous training and testing programs, and then license anyone who passes, regardless of age. But, just as with driving a car, it's likely that many elderly people should not be allowed to carry handguns in public.

Google celebrates the birthday of Gaston Julia, the discoverer of fractals, with a link to some beautiful images.

Or, more likely, Saddam received bad intelligence. Bill Hobbs links to an article by David Warren and gives some analysis of his own. The gist of Mr. Warren's article is that Saddam Hussein didn't know that he didn't have WMD, and that his own scientists were lying to him and stealing the money he gave them to build weapons. That seems perfectly reasonable to me, and many suspected that might be the case.

Bill Hobbs then hypothesizes:

Imagine if the truth had become known in time to save Saddam. For one, the regime's rape rooms and torture prisons would still be in use and its mass graves would still be filling with more bodies of men, women and children. That much we know. The war saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqis' lives.
Personally, I don't think the possibility of Saddam possessing WMD was the most significant factor in the US's decision to go to war. It may have been the most public part of the debate, but Saddam's connection to and support for terrorism was more important. Not to even mention his continuing refusal to abide by Gulf War cease-fire arrangements. The WMD theory was a convenient focal point for the debate, but I'm pretty confident that we would have toppled his regime regardless.

Mr. Hobbs then poses the following scenario:

Now, imagine what might have happened had we not gone to war, and still believed Saddam had WMD and Saddam, deluded into believing he had WMD, threatened to use them against Israel. I don't mean an idle threat - I mean an ultimatum, with a date certain. What if Saddam had said, "If the Jews do not leave the occupied terroritories by Sept. 1, I'll nuke Tel Aviv." I suspect on August 31, Israel would destroy Baghdad.
Saddam could have certainly used his WMD to threaten his neighbors (were he to ever admit having them), but no one threatens to use nukes like that. Making the threat to use nuclear weapons is equivalent to actually using them, and invites an immediate nuclear response. If anyone made such a threat against the United States, they'd be vaporized within hours (or less, if we had missiles targetted at them already, as we do with all other known nuclear powers). The point of such a policy is to prevent the type of nuclear blackmail Mr. Hobbs describes, and I imagine Israel would respond similarly.

When we meet new people, one of the first questions we ask is "What do you do?". I don't know if it's universal, or particular to America, but we have a tendency to define ourselves by our occupation.

God isn't concerned with the same things we are. About John the Baptist Jesus said:

Matthew 11:11
I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
John's ministry lasted for perhaps six months, and here Jesus says that he was greater than any of the prophets, judges, and heroes who had come before him. Why? Because John accomplished more? No. Because John became the man God wanted him to be.

God doesn't care about what you do nearly so much as he cares about who you are. In most cases, there are a myriad number of jobs you could hold that would all be pleasing to God (I don't believe God "calls" us to occupations). There are a great number of people you could build successful marriages with. There are innumerable places you could eat lunch, all of which would be equally pleasing to God. That's not to say any decision is correct, but there generally isn't only one right choice.

What matters more is who you are. God doesn't need any of us to do his work -- he can do anything he wants, all by himself -- but he chooses to use us. Not because he needs the work to get done, but because in the process of working for him we become more like Christ.

Consider also the account of Jesus' visit to the house of Mary and Martha.

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

There is a great deal of work to do, but only one thing is needed: to sit and listen at the feet of Jesus.

Don't spend time trying to determine what God wants you to do. Focus all your energy on becoming the person God wants you to be: a person who looks amazingly like Christ. As God builds the character of Christ in us, we will naturally and necessarily do what Christ would do in our place. We will do the work of God as we attain the mind of Christ. Attempting to serve God otherwise, in our own power and by our own will, is futile.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
In relation to a past post about the virtues of apathy (sorta), Dawn comments that:
After all, all human emotion serves as a tell-tale for a need unmet. If indeed no "bad" emotion exists and god created us equipt with all these emotions then maybe we are better to take heed to our feelings. Is it possible that all emotions serve to guide us?
I've written before about how emotions (particularly love) are deceptive, but I think Dawn's perspective is very common.

For example, yesterday my pastor taught about determining how God wants to use you, a question that transcends mere goals (career or educational, for instance) and deals with who God wants you to be, which is far more important than what he wants you to do (more on this later). I was discussing the message with a girl after church and asking her what she thought God wanted to use her for, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: How do you think God wants to use you?
Her: Well, I like meeting people and talking with people.
Me: So maybe he wants you to teach or something?
Her: No.
Me: Maybe evangelizing.
Her: Mostly I just like meeting boys.
Me: I'm not exactly sure how that accomplishes God's purposes.
Her: Well that's what I like to do.
Me: I don't think that's God, I think that's hormones.
Her: Yeah.

You might read that and laugh, but is it really much different from how we all make decisions much of the time? I want to, therefore I will. If you don't believe in free will, then this is the inescapable doom of humanity. However, God calls us to something better.

Emotions are base and raw, and if we examine our feelings with detachment we can get a good sense of the state of our being. Emotions are useful for telling us where we are right now. The risk comes when we start using our emotions to guide us in our decision-making. As I'm sure you all know, our emotions are fickle and can change in the blink of an eye. The consequences of the decisions we make are not generally so easily reversed.

Our emotions are unpredictable. It's hard to know what we'll want for dinner next week, and yet we expect relationships built on nothing but emotion to endure for a lifetime. That's foolish, and anyone who believes such nonsense is purposefully trying to deceive himself -- likely because he doesn't know of anything else to build a relationship on.

Our emotions lie to us, too. We suppress feelings and then release them on people under wholly unrelated circumstances. Bad traffic can cause you to lash out at someone for no substantial reason when you reach your destination. A good meal can engender feelings of happiness and contentment that can lead you to forgive the worst offense -- something you may have fought over otherwise. In either situation our actions make complete sense to us at the time, even if we have some insight into the underlying emotional mechanisms. The most striking example is that, several years after their defining incident, people crippled in accidents are nearly as happy as people who win the lottery (and both are just about as happy as control groups).

It's fair to claim that we are so intimately tied to our emotions that it's impossible to be completely objective. It isn't easy to act rationally, and it isn't easy to make wise choices based on the way things are rather than the way we want things to be. We must be constantly vigilant against our own deceptive hearts.

What's worse than having a meeting at 7am on Monday morning? Being the only person who shows up.

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