March 2004 Archives

I finally got my home network up and running! I'm running Windows 2000 and was having problems getting the computers on the LAN to see each other. They can all access the internet just fine, but when I'd go to "Network Neighborhood", "Find Computer", or "Computers Near Me" I'd get a big fat nothing.

Having exhausted all the logical possiblities, I decided to try something nonsensical. I went into my network connection properties and added the "NWLink IPX/SPX/NetBios Compatible Transport Protocol" protocol... and voila! Everything's peachy-keen! Just insert a few hours of frustration into the story and you'll get an idea for how exciting my life has been recently.

I could go on and on about the good observations to be found amidst some logical flaws in Dave Sim's anti-feminist rant "Tangent", but I haven't read the whole thing yet and I don't think I will ever have the energy to comment on such a long piece that's likely to have much I agree with intertwined with much I don't (and much that's just plain bizarre). Almost anything I could write would likely be misconstrued, to no benefit for myself or anyone else.

That said, Mr. Sim makes an assertion midway through part one that mirrors my own experience:

It is ridiculous to discuss equality between the genders as anything but a feminist hallucination until women agree to surrender their "right" to alimony. Of course women will never surrender alimony because they are not, contrary to their very vocal protestations, equal to men. A percentage of the female population is capable of providing, for themselves, the basic necessities of life. But it is a small percentage, indeed, when compared with the female population which relies on the largesse of boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, fathers and/or the government...

[These hidden, obfuscated transactions - the husband who finances the start-up of the wife's boutique business, the fat alimony settlement which serves the same purpose, the father who co-signs his daughter's car loan or mortgage, who pays all or part of the down-payment - compel self-deluding women to believe that they are self-reliant feminists]

...and of that small percentage a still smaller percentage of the female population is capable of generating surplus wealth - that is, creating employment, creating excess capital which provides not only for themselves but for others. That still smaller percentage exists in numbers sufficient only to make possible banner headlines and full colour photo-spreads of anecdotal success stories in Cosmo and People magazines: anecdotal success stories which are evasive of a central reality: that for every much-celebrated, much-heralded female success story in a given profession, discipline, art or business, there are hundreds - if not thousands - of male success stories in that same profession, discipline, art or business which are unheralded and uncelebrated: which are "merely" the fiscal foundation of our society and the source of our society's - and most feminists' - material wealth.

If this is false, then women are self-sustaining. If women are self-sustaining, then alimony is unnecessary and must be eliminated.

If this is true, then equality between the genders is an hallucination, a cul de sac of delusional societal "thinking".

(He had a lot of italics in there that I didn't reproduce due to laziness.) Perhaps this brief excerpt will serve as an example of how I partly agree with much of what Mr. Sim writes, even though I think he misses many important factors. For instance, many women are not self-sufficent because they do spend a lot of time and energy raising rearing children. Mr. Sim rightly decries publicly-funded daycare, but the most logical alternative (and the one he appears to prefer) is that women do the job, thereby inevitably reducing their self-sufficiency.

Nevertheless, in my experience -- even removing children from the equation -- there are far fewer self-sufficient women than self-sufficient men. Am I wrong? (I'm not particularly interested in how insensitive you perceive me to be for asking the question.)

It's old news by blogosphere standards, but I didn't want to immediately post about the attack on Coalition civilians this morning in Fallujah, Iraq. Why? Because my first instinct was that we should drop a few MOABs on the city and see how much they really like burning corpses. However, I realize that probably wouldn't be the best solution. (Note to the future: if I ever run for President this quote should be presented as suitably hawkish, yet moderated by reason.)

My new thought is to implement a plan similar to Mr. du Toit's suggestion for Africa and Israel's plans for the Palestinians: build a nice big fence, toss in a bunch of guns, and then cut all the water and power. Whoever's left at the end should prove much more amiable. You don't want the CPA running your lives? You want Ba'athist thugs in charge again? Fine, have at it. But just to be fair, this time everyone gets a gun.

Liberal talk-radio network Air America gets off the ground today, broadcasting on five stations in Southern California, New York, Chicago, and Portland. I'll be astounded if they ever seriously compete with Rush Limbaugh's Excellence in Broadcasting network -- which airs on more than 600 stations nationwide -- but we'll find out!

From the article, it sounds like they're half-filling their line-up with B-list comedians.

For example, its midmorning show, which begins tomorrow at 9, will have as its hosts Lizz Winstead, a comedian and a creator of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, and Chuck D, the frontman for the rap group Public Enemy.

They will be followed at noon by Mr. Franken, the "Saturday Night Live" alumnus who has evolved into a satirist, and whose co-host is Katherine Lanpher from Minnesota Public Radio. Martin Kaplan, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, will be the host of a one-hour show about the news media in the early evening.

He will be followed, from 8 to 11 p.m., by Ms. Garofalo, whose main experience in radio was playing the role of a talk-show host for pet owners in the 1996 film "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," and by Mr. Seder, who has worked as a comedian, screenwriter and filmmaker.

Eh, come on.

Meanwhile, the sometimes amusing (but often bizarrely irritating) Janeane Garofalo apparently mocks herself by uttering some vitriolic comments and then pontificating on how "nice" liberals are.

Among others, Ms. Garofalo and Mr. Seder poked fun at Mr. Bush's former spokesman Ari Fleischer ("Is he not shoveling coal in hell now?" Mr. Seder asked); Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser and political strategist (said by Ms. Garofalo to be pursuing "the elusive 18-25 Klan demo"); and Vice President Dick Cheney. (Mr. Seder said he felt sure that he could see Mr. Cheney's hand moving Mr. Bush's mouth on "Meet the Press" earlier this year.) ...

"It's not like we're here to say we're going to be as nasty as right-wingers," Ms. Garofalo said in an interview. "On the left, traditionally, you've got a nicer type of person. You've got a person who is more willing to engage in conversations that have context and nuance, who tend to have more educable minds."

I listen to Rush, Sean Hannity, and some local conservative hosts (like John and Ken) for a few minutes here and there while I'm driving, and I've never heard any of them condemn anyone to Hell. They never compare anyone to Nazis or bring up the KKK (except when mentioning Democratic Senator Robert Byrd who actually was a Klan recruiter). I think the reason some people see conservatives as "uncompassionate" is because we don't promise the impossible and then rob other people to try to pay for it.

The International Court of Justice has ordered the United States to review 51 death-penalty cases on the basis that the Mexicans convicted of murder weren't given consular assistance by the Mexican government. I don't know the details of every single case, and I do think foreign nationals arrested for crimes should be allowed access to their nation's embassy staff.

One important question is whether or not any of these death-penalty cases are actually in federal courts. The federal government doesn't execute many people, so it's likely that the majority of these convictions were in state court. It's not clear what steps the federal government could take to halt state executions, other than passing special legislation.

These convicts all have built-in appeals -- regardless of what the World Court says or does -- and they're free to raise these issues on their own standing in state courts. The idea that some group of men in robes in Brussels could impose its will on the American judicial system is ludicrous. If Mexico has a problem with the US then their ambassador should raise the issue with our State Department, not go whining to the ICJ for relief.

Here's the "Vienna Convention on Consular Relations". Go to Article 36 for the relevant passage. My general understanding is that American courts have ruled that as long as there is no demonstrable prejudice against a defendent created by a lack of access to consular officials, there's no reason for any remedy. See this ACLU brief (which I have not read in full).

In their motion for summary judgment, the defendants argued, inter alia, that the right to consular notification and access under the Vienna Convention is not equivalent to constitutional or statutory rights. Sorensen v. City of New York, Defendants’ Memorandum of Law Supporting Their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, (98 CV 3356), June 17, 1999, at 23. Accordingly, Sorensen was required to show prejudice in order to prevail on her Vienna Convention claim. The defendants added that Sorensen could make no showing of prejudice in the case. “She cannot show that the consulate could have done anything for her that her criminal court attorney did not or could not do.” Id. at 24.

Science News Online has an article about two high school students who each made significant contributions to the study of near-earth objects as a part of this year's Intel Science Talent Search. Both projects have the advantage of being obvious but hitherto undeveloped applications of existing theory to this emerging (and important) field. Go read the article for details.

The usefulness of simultaneous parallax measurements is a strong argument in favor building a lunar observatory. We can currently achieve measurements from earth with a large angular separation by sampling six months apart, but that won't do much good for calculating the positions of fast-moving objects.

(HT: GeekPress.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: political polls taken over the weekend are useless! The recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll that everyone's talking about -- showing President Bush surging against John Kerry -- almost certainly underestimates the President's popularity. Why? Because it was taken Friday through Sunday and more Democrats stay at home during the weekend than Republicans.

So I called one of my old polling friends, Republican Ed Goeas, who worked with me years ago in Christine Todd Whitman's tax-cutting 1993 gubernatorial victory in New Jersey. Along with Democrat Celinda Lake, Goeas publishes the highly-regarded Battleground Survey. He told me to be careful about reading the polls. For one thing, it really matters if polls are conducted during the week or over the weekend. He told me that "political pollsters don't poll on the weekends. They prefer Sunday night through Thursday night. Weekend results are just not reflective of where a given race really is."

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

Via VC I see that Cathy Young has written an excellent article describing how Rape Shield laws can prevent men accused of rape from presenting the strongest possible defense.

In a much-publicized 1998 case in New York, Columbia University graduate student Oliver Jovanovic was convicted of kidnapping and sexually abusing a Barnard College student whom he had met on the Internet. While Jovanovic claimed that the encounter involved consensual bondage, the trial judge ruled that the defense could not use e-mail messages in which the young woman had told him about her interest in sadomasochism and her S/M relationship with another man. Jovanovic was sentenced to 15 years in prison. His conviction was eventually overturned by an appellate court that held he was denied the chance to present an adequate defense -- a ruling predictably deplored by feminist activists as a blow to victims. ...

For some feminists, the dogma that "women never lie" means that there is, for all intents and purposes, no presumption of innocence for the defendant. After the 1997 trial of sportscaster Marv Albert, defending the judge's decision to admit compromising information about Albert's sexual past but not about his accuser's, attorney Gloria Allred decried "the notion that there's some sort of moral equivalency between the defendant and the victim" -- forgetting that as long as the defendant hasn't been convicted, he and his accuser are indeed moral equals in the eyes of the law.

Rape is a terrible crime, but even more terrible is a false accusation of rape. If it can be proven that a rape allegation was intentionally false I think the accuser should face the same penalties she intended for her victim.

(More about rape accusations.)

Kim du Toit has an essay titled "Let Africa Sink" from 2002. He was born in Africa and since moved to the United States, and he lists off some of the same difficulties facing the continent that I identified in my earlier "Africa is SNAFU" post -- but unlike me he concludes that the best solution is:

So here's my solution for the African fiasco: a high wall around the whole continent, all the guns and bombs in the world for everyone inside, and at the end, the last one alive should do us all a favor and kill himself.
He certainly has more experience with Africa than I do, but I'd like to think there's some other way. But, he argues, everything has already been tried, and nothing has worked. Read the essay and decide for yourself.

I have some friends from South Africa and I'm going to email them and see what they think.

(HT: Who Tends The Fires.)

I just watched 28 Days Later for the second time last night, and I enjoyed it less than the first time I watched it -- but it inspired me to write some instructions on how to repopulate the earth, should it ever become necessary to do so. I'll focus purely on the technical requirements and ignore any questions of morality, pleading exigent circumstances.

If you've got more than 50 unrelated people and a decent mixture of men and women there shouldn't be any problems. Don't allow close intermarriages, and encourage later generations to have children with completely unrelated peers as much as possible. Genetic diversity could be strengthened by sterilizing children with serious defects, and this would probably be a wise move. Women should be encouraged to have as many children as possible, beginning at around ages 18 to 20. Women can have children at younger ages, but without proper medical facilities pregnancies for teenagers can be dangerous for both the mother and the child.

If your base population is smaller, your male/female ratio is badly skewed, or there are existing genetic relationships among your base population, things can become much more difficult. For example, in 28 Days the army platoon found by the heroes has nine men and zero women -- obviously a losing combination. Once the heroes arrive they add one man and two women to the pool, but would that be enough to start a self-sustaining population?

Not likely. If each of the two woman has a child by each of the ten men there will be 20 children, but two sets of ten half-siblings (and ten orthogonal pairs of half-siblings, one from each man). Each child would have nine unrelated potential mates. The real problems would arise later: everyone in the third generation would have four ancestors from the base population, and the same two grandfathers, making them all cousins. Even if distinct lines were kept genetically separated during the second generation the same problems would arise in the fourth generation. Inbreeding would eventually concentrate bad genes and it's doubtful that the population would survive.

The number of women would severely limit the number of children in each generation. Two women can only produce two children per year, and age differences among the children could limit the possible mating combinations among the second generation. Men can safely start having children as soon as they hit puberty, but given medical limitations it's not safe for women to do so -- and if a woman (particularly from the base population) dies (or is sterilized) while giving birth to a child her genetic uniqueness is lost. Far better to wait for the woman to fully mature than risk her health with an early pregnancy that could prevent future childbearing.

If the gender ratio were reversed -- if there were ten women and two men -- the population would still be unsustainable but it would grow more quickly. The best ratio for maintaining genetic variation is 1:1 for obvious reasons: five men and five women can have 25 distinct offspring, each with only two half-siblings; two men and eight women can only have 16 distinct offspring, each with eight half-siblings.

As raina pointed out in the comments, my math on the end there is wrong. Duh. Five men and five women can have 25 distinct offspring, each with eight half-siblings, leaving 16 (25 - 8 - 1) unrelated peers in their generation. Two men and eight women can have 16 distinct offspring, each with eight half-slibings, leaving seven (16 - 8 - 1) unrelated peers.

In fact, no matter what the gender ratio (as long as it's not 100% either way) a child will always have n - 2 half-siblings, where n is the total population. What makes close-to-even gender ratios better than skewed gender ratios is that they allow a greater total number of distinct genotypes for the child generation.

Reader Jim Price emailed and pointed me to an article on WorldNetDaily about an pair of bills in Congress designed to limit the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary by preventing them from ruling on cases "involving government officials who acknowledge God 'as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government.'" The text of the bills reads, in part:

The Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an element of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official personal capacity), by reason of that element's or officer's acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.
If these bills pass each house of Congress the resulting law would be one of the first high-profile steps of public backlash against what many perceive to be a judiciary that is far out of step with mainstream America. By removing this issue from the purview of the judiciary it might also be possible to lessen the level of partisanship involved with federal judicial nominations -- judges with less power over controversial issues won't be as controversial themselves.

I tentatively support such a law, but I suggest that it be designed to expire after a limited amount of time, say 10 years. If it works well I can see the floodgates opening and an imminent era of vastly reduced judicial power as issues that split the "elite" from the "common man" are removed from the judicial sphere one by one.

A second part of the proposed law would attempt to prohibit judges from basing rulings on so-called "international law" and norms.

In interpreting and applying the Constitution of the United States, a court of the United States may not rely upon any constitution, law, administrative rule, Executive order, directive, policy, judicial decision, or any other action of any foreign state or international organization or agency, other than the constitutional law and English common law.
Federal judges would still have to enforce treaties that America agreed to, but the interpretation of our Constitution wouldn't be determined by international organizations (like the UN) or "evolving international law", whatever that means.

I don't know how effective such a law would be because I'm not confident that judges' rulings are always honestly tied to the explanations they give. Judges could still rule based on these un-American factors but simply stop saying so and cloak their reasoning behind more acceptable justifications. Still, it might make their jobs more difficult.

Many Americans may be surprised that Congress has the power to limit the scope of the judiciary -- it's an authority that has rarely been used, like the impeachment authority -- but Article III only grants some limited power to the Supreme Court and leaves the rest to Congress' discretion.

The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. ...

The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;--to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;--to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;--to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;--to controversies between two or more states;--between a state and citizens of another state;--between citizens of different states;--between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.

In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out. If the Democrats had control of Congress and the White House, what restrictions would they put on the judiciary? Would any judicial restrictions be possible without a unified government?

Justin Katz comments and makes a good point I hadn't considered: if any branch of government is going to be over-powered, it should be the legislative. Congress is closer to the people than either of the other two branches, and tends to be the most responsive.

OpinionJournal has a nice little piece about an Iraqi Christian pastor and his church in Baghdad. As I've written before, one of the greatest benefits of liberating Iraq will be the establishment of religious freedom in the heart of the Middle East (excluding, of course, Israel). Iraq's interim constitution provides equal standing to all religions while acknowledging Islam as "a source" of law, and I don't expect the Coalition to approve any final constitution that limits religious freedom more than that.

My pastor quoted some statistics about marriage on Sunday that left me skeptical; he's going to send me a link to the source because I can't find the data online myself. Supposedly:

1. 33% of marriages end in divorce. This sounds pretty much in line with other data I've seen, although I've seen projections claiming that 50% of existing marriages will end in divorce.

2. When counting only marriages solemnized with church ceremonies the divorce rate drops to 2%. I have a hard time believing this, because I'd assume more than 67% of marriages are done in churches (but I can't find national stats on this).

3. When a couple goes to church weekly the divorce rate drops to 1 in 1200. Again, I'm very skeptical. I've seen claims that divorce rates are higher than average in "Bible belt" states, for instance.

I'll post the data once I get it, but I thought I'd post the claims right now and see what you all think. Meanwhile, here's some data on how divorce correlates with other factors, including religion. Apparently, Baptists have the highest divorce rate of any Christian denomination -- higher than atheists and agnostics. (My theory: Baptists may feel more pressure to get married in the first place, and thus enter into unwise marriages at early ages. People who marry young are particularly likely to get divorced.)

Further, here's a page with very poor layout but very interesting statistics on the effects of divorce. For instance:

Divorce and Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health found that women in cohabiting relationships had much greater rates of depression than women in married relationships (second only to those twice divorced). The numbers fall as follows (annual rate of incident of depression per 100):

Married (never divorced) 1.5
Never married 2.4
Divorced once 4.1
Divorced twice 5.8
Cohabiting 5.1

Lee Robins and Darrel Regier, Psychiatric Disorders in America: The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (New York: Free Press, 1991), p. 64. ...

Pre-Marital Births

The risks for teen births for unmarried women are as follows:

Study Population Two-Parents One-Parent
NLSY 11% 27%
PSID 14% 31%
HSB* 14% 19%
NSFH 20% 30%

* [Adolescent girls who became pregnant in school are less likely to finish high school. This accounts for the smaller disparity between the two family forms in a school-based survey like The High School and Beyond Study (HSB).]

McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994, p. 53.

Does divorce cause all the problems described, or is it merely a coincident effect? I don't know, but I do know that as long as a marriage remains intact there's hope for renewal and rejuvination -- once it's destroyed the damage is permanent.

It's the Monday before Cesar Chavez' birthday and most city employees get a paid holiday. California state employees get 14 paid holidays per year (in addition to 2-3+ weeks of vacation time and "generous sick leave"), compared to an average of 10-12 for employees of private firms.

I've had an unbelievably busy and exciting weekend.

On Friday I took a bunch of my kids from church to Disneyland and didn't get them all home until around 2am. The kids and adults had a blast, and everyone was well-behaved. The kids felt the need to spend every single penny their parents gave them, which was a little annoying considering some of the worthless crap they bought. When I have kids I'm going to give them $20 for Disneyland: get food or plastic baubles, your choice.

On Saturday I worked at church and cleaned out all the gutters on top of the education building and swept the roof. Then I went into work for a few hours. After that I dropped by FedEx to pick up a bunch of new computer components and I started putting together my new Athlon 3000 system -- it's going to totally rock. Plus, it'll let me run my simulations for school a lot faster. I hung out with my brother for a while before...

I went to Hometown Buffet (eh) with my family and then went down to Newport Beach to meet up with some friends. That was a lot more trouble than it was worth, but who knew? There were a lot of beautiful babies at the place we went, but I couldn't shake the feeling they were all total losers.

Today was church in the morning, and this afternoon my friends and I went to the Getty Center to see an exhibit on 13th century stained glass. It was amazing. I didn't take my camera, like an idiot, but the rooms were too dark anyway. They also had a new rotation of illuminated manuscripts on display, some from the 8th century. It's amazing to read words penned by some monk 1200 years ago with no idea that his work would someday end up in a museum. I don't know much Latin, but I do know a lot of Bible verses so I can pick out the Latin words from familiar passages with a little thought. The Getty also has a collection of 5th century BC Greek, Roman, and Etruscan sculpture, and they had a new set on display there as well. There was a room of busts I really enjoyed last time I went, but they weren't out today, unfortunately. I love looking at the tiny chisel marks from 2500 years ago.

Then I came home and finished putting my new PC together, along with my new home network. Unfortunately, the hard drives haven't arrived yet, so I can't really get any further tonight. As this post proves, though, I've got my router working properly and my old computer on the new network! Now I'm going to settle back, watch some L&O and Simpsons, and relax for a few hours before starting another week tomorrow.

I know you all may not care much about these little things, but years from now when I read this again I hope I remember how fun this weekend was.

I'm going to be out most of today.

Booooo! ... Traitor! ...

Calm down. C'mon, it's Friday, everyone goes home from work early so blog traffic is down; what's the big deal?


Ok, well if you're so bored that you clamor for this drivel, go watch some of Evan Coyne Maloney's videos. They'll shock and amaze you! Or at least remind you what this election is really about.

Then you can go read SDB's brief explanation of Israel's long-term plan, which is excellent except that (nitpick!) he doesn't mention that Lebanon isn't really a functioning democracy, but rather a Syrian client state.

After that you can read about today in history and get your education on.

Speaking of education, Virginia Postrel explains how teachers unions have compressed wages and ruined public education.

If you've still got time to kill, read a random Wikipedia page. More fun than flipping a coin!

What, you're still here? Well than scroll down a bit and read about Africa or artificial intelligence or how to get all the cool kids to like you. (Hint: don't be yourself!)

Lying Media Bastards points to a horrible atrocity in west Africa and writes:

As is the norm for Africa, this story is getting NO play in the American press.
He's right that the story isn't getting much play, just as the much larger Rwandan massacres of the 1990s (supervised by Kofi Annan, who is now the UN Secretary General) didn't. Why is that?

There are a lot of reasons. As I've written before, Africa is all screwed up and atrocities like this are pretty normal. We've tried sending money, but most of it gets stuck in Swiss bank accounts held by oppressive tyrants rather than spent on improving the lives of the African people. Africa has no democratic institutions and no cultural foundation for concensus-based majority rule.

Much of the economic problem stems from the fact that the average African has no way to make money. Just about all they can do is farm, but there's no one to buy their products because both Europe and America heavily subsidize their farmers and impose large tariffs on the foods Africans could grow, like sugar. Norman Borlaug -- father of the Green Revolution and savior of more than a billion lives -- is convinced that Africa could grow food for the world if its people were politically free to do so.

Aside from the lack of democratic institutions, much of Africa lacks the critical infrastructure required to support a thriving agricultural economy -- much less an industrial one. You probably know that many Africans don't have electricity or clean running water, but many Africans don't even have roads, the most basic and primitive form of infrastructure. Why not? According to Normal Borlaug, again, environmentalist groups routinely object to road construction on the grounds that roads destroy the natural environment.

Borlaug: Supplying food to sub-Saharan African countries is made very complex because of a lack of infrastructure. For example, you bring fertilizer into a country like Ethiopia, and the cost of transporting the fertilizer up the mountain a few hundred miles to Addis Ababa doubles its cost. All through sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of roads is one of the biggest obstacles to development--and not just from the standpoint of moving agricultural inputs in and moving increased grain production to the cities. That's part of it, but I think roads also have great indirect value. If a road is built going across tribal groups and some beat-up old bus starts moving, in seven or eight years you'll hear people say, "You know, that tribe over there, they aren't so different from us after all, are they?"

And once there's a road and some vehicles moving along it, then you can build schools near a road. You go into the bush and you can get parents to build a school from local materials, but you can't get a teacher to come in because she or he will say, "Look, I spent six, eight years preparing myself to be a teacher. Now you want me to go back there in the bush? I won't be able to come out and see my family or friends for eight, nine months. No, I'm not going." The lack of roads in Africa greatly hinders agriculture, education, and development.

Without roads there's no possiblity for schools, hospitals, electricity, or democracy.

In addition to the lack of democratic institutions, near economic warfare by developed nations in the form of farm subsidies, and little critical infrastructure, Africa also has to deal with political manuvering by its former European colonial masters (and some from America). Europe doesn't like genetically modified crops? Too bad for Africa! Despite the fact that GM products could greatly increase the food supply, Europe refuses to buy any GM food and encourages Africa to avoid the "controversial" technology.

Similarly, Europe and America banned DDT because it tends to soften raptors' egg shells; developed nations can afford more expensive and less effective mosquito poisons and we've all-but-eliminated malaria. Meanwhile in Africa (and Asia) three million people die from malaria each year, and they could be saved cheaply through a judicious use of DDT.

None of these stories are particularly glamorous, but they're the foundation that props up the murderous dictators and warlords who perpetrate the continual rape of Africa. That's the real story that isn't being reported.

John Kerry thinks President Bush's jokes about WMD at the Correspondents' Dinner were out of line (perishable):

If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought. Unfortunately for the President, this is not a joke.

585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded, and there's no end in sight. Bush Turned White House Credibility into a Joke George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven't found them, and now he thinks that's funny?

... but I guess he didn't read the full transcript of the President's stand-up routine. The President ended the traditionally humorous session with:
But I do have a few serious photos to show you, in closing. It's photos like these that mean the most to me. Some of our Special Forces sent me this last picture. The faces are blurred in the slide because they remain in harm's way. The photo hangs in my private study next to the Oval Office.

To honor those who died on September the 11th, and to make a statement of their own commitment to this country's security, these Americans buried a piece of the World Trade Center in a place in Afghanistan where the al Qaeda once ran free. They wrote that they held a ceremony, which was far more emotional than they had expected. The team leader wrote a prayer and a dedication. Let me read you one sentence from that dedication.

"We consecrate this spot as an everlasting memorial to the brave Americans who died on September the 11th, so that all who would seek to do her harm will know that America will not stand by and watch terror prevail."

We will not stand by. The greatest honor being President is leading such men and women. We have the freedom we enjoy tonight because they protect that freedom. And may God protect them.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

The success of Florida's school-choice programs proves that the Public Education Empire is beginning to crumble.

In the past five years Florida has delivered real school choice to more American schoolchildren than anywhere else in the country. Which is no doubt why Jesse Jackson was down in Tallahassee earlier this month calling Governor Jeb Bush's policies "racist." He and his allies understand all too well that when poor African-American and Latino children start getting the same shot at a decent education that the children of our politicians do, the bankrupt public education empire starts looking like the Berlin Wall. ...

Ironically those fighting vouchers may have a keener appreciation of Florida's significance to the voucher wars than those defending them. With national attention having focused largely on Milwaukee, Cleveland and the District of Columbia, it's easy to forget that Florida now has three key programs. The first are called Opportunity Scholarships, which allow children to opt out of failing public schools. Second are McKay Scholarships, which provide full school choice to special-ed students.
But perhaps the most innovative is a corporate tax credit that allows businesses to take a dollar-for-dollar deduction for every contribution to a designated scholarship fund. Certainly in terms of sheer numbers this is the most far-reaching, with 13,000 low-income students now benefiting and 20,000 on a waiting list. Because these corporately funded scholarships are capped at $3,500 per child in a state where the average per pupil expenditure runs around $7,500, each scholarship represents not only a lifeline for the recipient but significant savings for the taxpayer.

And even public schools are benefitting.
And another study, this one by the Manhattan Institute, finds that even kids without vouchers benefit because the competition is pushing Florida public schools to improve.
That's the whole theory, in action. People who complain that school-choice hurts public schools are missing the real power of competition -- when people have options, everyone gets better. Teachers unions and public bureaucrats hate having competition because it often reveals how corrupt, inefficient, incompetant, and lazy they are.

The public, however, likes the idea that their tax money isn't being fed to the gaping maw of special interests but instead being used to educate their kids.

The good news is that despite this all-out effort to frog-march poor kids back into miserable public schools, the genie seems to be out of the bottle. Even the liberal newspapers that oppose school choice had to concede that a pro-voucher rally in Tallahassee attracted more marchers (if not more favorable media attention) than the Reverend Jackson's protest that preceded it. And that's precisely what has them so worried.

The Commissar forgot one key to building blog readership: write blog posts about how to build blog readership! Shameless!

Listen up people, it's not rocket science. I know, because I'm a rocket scientist. Basically, do the same thing you do to get attention in Real Life. Be funny, be interesting, be irreverent, be smart, whatever your strengths are. If you don't have any strengths, be self-depricating, that should work. (How should I know?)

Then link to people. See, I linked to The Commissar to get his attention. Now he's certain to read this post and see how insightful I am for gently ribbing him while simultaneously delving into the concept of meta-promotion. (While I'm linking for attention, hi Miss Doerty!)

Blogs are an art, not a science, which means there's more talent involved than skill. Sure, careful thought and consideration will get you somewhere, but if you don't have it you're probably not going to be a huge blogger. Who cares?

Hitting it "big" doesn't just take talent, it also takes luck. (Then again, talent is the result of luck, right? You have good genes -- hurray!) If you go into the bathroom at Starbucks and find Elivis' two-headed clone snorting coke, take a picture and you'll get a million hits. If you don't get lucky, just make stuff up and idiots will pile on to debunk your nonsense and give you the attention you so richly deserve.

Anyway, the point is that it's time for me to go to lunch. Rather than wrap this post up with a neat conclusion, I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Well, there's a heck of a lot artificial intelligence can't do yet, but in this post I'm going to give an example of a conversation that no computer program can have. There's no existing theory that explains how humans are capable of this either.

a: What is the capital of Spain?
b: Madrid.
a: Why did you say Madrid?
b: Because you asked what the capital of Spain is.
a: Why did you answer?
b: Because we're having a conversation.
a: How did you know the capital of Spain?
b: I looked it up on Google.
a: Why did you do that?
b: Because you wanted to know, and I didn't know already.
a: Why did you want to find the answer to my question?
b: Because I felt like it.
a: Why did you feel like it?
b: I like to be helpful.
a: Why do you like to be helpful?
b: It makes me feel good.
a: Why do you like to feel good?

And so forth. Humans can go on like this forever, explaining their feelings and notions in ever-increasing detail, as abstractly as necessary. We don't really know why we feel certain ways, but we can guess based on our history and experience and make ourselves understood to each other -- because our brains all work in the same general way. We may not be able to verbalize it all, but when someone says "you know what I mean", we do.

Computers don't. No computer program can explain its own workings to you. Why? Because you'd have to create code that did the explaining, and then you'd have to create code that explained that code, and so forth. The series of "why?" questions can go on uniquely forever. No one knows how we handle it, and no one knows how to make a computer do it.

Many people are familiar with the phrase "for whom the bell tolls", but you may not know where it's from or in what context it was written. So here is For Whom the Bell Tolls, by John Donne.

From "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (1623), XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris - "Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die."

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all.

When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.

And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest.

If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.

The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours.

Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it.

No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels.

Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.

Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

I've written about anonymous and pseudononymous writing before. I think both forms are valuable in certain contexts, but I think it's unfair for someone who won't write under their real name to directly denigrate another person. It's fine to attack policies and positions, but using an assumed name to make a personal attack -- even if warranted -- just doesn't feel right to me.

In some circumstances it might be necessary to use an assumed name for this purpose; if the target of the criticism is particularly powerful and the writer has some special knowledge such that others wouldn't be able to make the same criticisms, then an anonymous or pseudononymous attack may be proper.

Mr. Non-Volokh (who I generally enjoy reading) doesn't display any inside knowledge and makes only general assertions that William G. Myers III isn't worthy of being nominated to the federal bench. Mr. Non-Volokh may be entirely right, and his position doesn't sound baseless, but his attack could easily have been made by another person who was willing to go reputation-to-reputation against the nominee.

Although I don't believe computers are smart enough to detect human pedophiles, I bet it wouldn't be too hard to develop a system that could reliably discern between chatbots and humans. (Cameron Marlow suggested to me in an email that it would be valuable for CS students to consider how they're able to tell the difference themselves -- what cues they notice and how they do their classification.)

With the current state of the natural language processing art, I think the classification problem is pretty trivial. A computer system could be fed samples of transcripts with human and robot participants, and little more than a statistical analysis would be necessary to categorize the differences. After all, computers can already tell the difference between male and female authors with 80% accuracy.

Just for fun, go try the gender genie with some text written by you (or your favorite author). Pasting in the front page of my blog reveals that I'm male!

Words: 8388

(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 10987
Male Score: 17405

The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!


Some towns in Kansas are giving away land to lure new residents. It's an interesting move. Governments have a recent tradition of offering subsidies to companies who relocate and bring jobs into a community, but historically it's been much more common to offer land to people willing to move to sparsely-populated regions. Sometimes people are moved to land emptied by war or famine, and sometimes conquered land needs to be subjugated and assimilated.

In this case, the value of the land isn't very high, and the giveaway is probably more effective as an attention-getting gimmick than as an actual economic incentive.

I wonder what the foes of "urban sprawl" think about this? Is it good because it may draw people into smaller communities, or is it bad because these communities really serve as housing suburbs for nearby cities?

I'm not sure how much weight to give an argument that something shouldn't be killed because it can feel pain. After all, no one denies that cows feel pain and I have no problem eating them.

But a judge in New York has decided to allow expert testimony by a pediatrician who says a fetus can feel pain during an abortion. The National Abortion Federation and the ACLU are challenging the recent partial-birth abortion ban Congress passed last year, and the government lawyers defending the law think the testimony is relevant.

A pediatrician who says a fetus can feel pain during an abortion will be allowed to testify in a legal challenge to a new law banning a type of late-term abortion, a judge has ruled. ...

The judge rejected arguments from the National Abortion Federation (news - web sites) that the testimony would be irrelevant and unreliable. ...

The judge said the doctor's testimony will help him assess Congress' findings that the procedure is "brutal and inhumane" and that "the child will fully experience the pain associated with piercing his or her skull and sucking out his or her brain."

I think I agree with the NAF, but the Congressional findings confuse the issue. The real question isn't whether or not the baby can feel pain, but whether or not the baby is a human being with a right to life. If not, then it doesn't matter whether there's pain involved -- we hurt non-human things all the time when it suits our purposes, and most people don't have a problem with that. If the baby is a person then it still doesn't matter because you can't kill people, painlessly or not.

What confuses the issue is Congress' use of the word "inhumane". Treating non-humans in an "inhumane" matter is inconsequential, by definition. So is Congress implying that unborn babies (at least at this stage of life) are human? Apparently so. That seems far more significant than the question of whether or not the baby feels pain.

In my previous posts about Zicam I've noted that it's helped me twice overcome a cold more quickly than I would have without it. Well, I'm getting sick again, and that's three times in seven weeks, which is highly unusual for me. I rarely ever get sick.

I wonder if taking Zicam is somehow preventing my body from completely eliminating the sickness? Once I start taking Zicam I'll feel better in a couple of days, but then a few weeks later I'll start coming down with the same cold again. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

I'll admit I'm a bit surprised by early reports coming from the 9/11 Commission saying America should have acted militarily against Al Qaeda sooner than we did. I've referred to the panel as a "political sideshow", but perhaps I was wrong.

WASHINGTON — The Clinton and Bush administrations secretly considered but ultimately rejected a range of military actions against Usama bin Laden (search) and his Al Qaeda (search) network prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

A preliminary report by the Sept. 11 commission found that while the U.S. government pursued diplomacy and sought a better military plan, bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders eluded capture. A recurring theme in the report is that U.S. leaders believed they lacked "actionable intelligence" — timely and reliable information — on bin Laden's whereabouts.

It sounds like we had a few potential chances to hit OBL with cruise missiles or commandos that we didn't take because we didn't want to risk failure and/or killing civilians.

I'm now much more interested to hear what the panel comes up with as its work progresses.

Here's a key passage from today's article:

Tuesday's report also said that both the Clinton and Bush administrations engaged in lengthy, ultimately fruitless diplomatic efforts instead of military action to try to get bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Both Rumsfeld and Powell expressed doubt that the administration, which took office less than eight months before the attacks, could have stopped them through military force.

Sometimes diplomacy just isn't the way to go, as much as we might prefer a peaceful solution. Since planning for 9/11 began in 1998 and the hijackers were all in the US by the time President Bush took office (right? or maybe two weren't yet) it's not likely that military action so late in the game could have made a difference. But if President Clinton had walked rather than talked in the 1990s maybe 9/11 could have been avoided. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this doesn't seem like rocket science.

I'm adding a link to the Perpetual Bear Flag League Roundup on the left. Now you have no excuse for not knowing what every single BFL'er writes every day.

In a comment to the earlier post, Kimberly points to some Census and CDC statistics that show that poverty and early child-birth go hand-in-hand. We can see that more blacks and Hispanics live in poverty than whites and Asians, and that they also tend to have first children at an earlier age. "The tables show that the largest percentage of first children are born to 25-29 year olds for Whites, and 30-34 year olds for Asians. But for blacks, the largest category is at 15-19 years, and for Hispanics, it's at 20-24 years."

As Kimberly points out, correlation doesn't prove causation. What's interesting though is that these statistics for first-births obviously don't include abortions, and black women have approximately three times as many abotions per capita as the average woman across all races. I don't know the stats for Hispanic women or Asian women.

I don't know how much blacks are suffering from direct racism these days, but I do think their subculture is still suffering the effects of past discrimination. As subcultural lines break down over time and the various American subcultures continue to mix, these effects should be mitigated. As for Hispanics, the problem isn't discrimination so much as the fact that many Hispanic families haven't been in the country for very long yet and haven't had time to assimilate.

If there's anyone out there with solid knowledge of economics who can make corrections to the following post, I'd appreciate it. That said, here is my current understanding of why deficit spending isn't prima facie bad, long or short term. I'll use two examples, the country and a single hypothetical household, and I'll probably move freely between the two.

There are two important numbers to know. The first is the rate that revenue is increasing year over year. This should be pretty easy to calculate without much controversy. For the household the primary source of increased income will probably be a pay raise from work (whether you work for yourself or someone else). For a country, we're concerned with the rate at which revenue grows, which may not may not be the same as the rate of growth in the GDP (depending on how increased income is distributed across tax brackets, and so forth).

The second important number is the size of the annual deficit as a percentage of existing debt. If a household owes $1000 and incurs an additional $100 debt in a given year, the deficit rate is 10% (assuming that interest payments on the outstanding debt have been included in this bottom line already, as an expenditure). Often you'll see a deficit given as a percentage of GDP, but I think it makes more sense to think of it as the rate of growth of outstanding debt.

Why? Because the most common complaint about deficits is that by spending money we don't have we're just deferring payments to the future and compounding interest, thereby ensuring we'll have to pay more later than we would now. Some opponents of deficit spending call deficits a "hidden tax" on future earnings. But this is only true if the deficit rate is higher than the growth rate.

If the growth rate is higher than the deficit rate, the money we pay back later has less value than the money we spent initially. For a household, consider student loans. If a student borrows $1000 to pay for college and then finds a job paying twice as much as he would have earned without a college education, the money he'll pay back ($1000 plus interest) is worth almost half as much to him as the money he borrowed. The decicion to deficit spend to pay for college is almost always the right choice. Similarly, a business owner who borrows money to buy new equipment can end up considerably better-off than he would have if he had waited to save up the money and pay in cash.

If the revenue growth rate is higher than the deficit rate (the debt growth rate) then the relative size of the deficit can be shrinking even while the absolute sizes of the deficit and debt are growing.

This doesn't mean it's always a good idea to borrow money for things, but it can be. It's not necessary for a family or a country to run a balanced budget, as long as their income growth rate exceeds their debt growth rate. In fact, it is easy to see that if a family or country doesn't deficit spend they may be missing profitable opportunities and even hurting themselves economically.

How does this tie into artificial intelligence?, you ask. Not the way you might think.

If the 9/11 Commission weren't a political sideshow these are the questions they'd be asking Dick Clarke. Mr. Clarke is performing on the pundit circuit and promoting his new book placing most of the blame for 9/11 on the Bush Administration, even though he himself was in charge of counter-terrorism under President Clinton from (I think) 1997 to 2001, and involved in counter-terrorism for many years before that.

Yet another cool thing I'll point you to today: StrategyPage's photo gallery. They've got pictures and movies of lots of cool military stuff. Lots of things blowing up, Saddam being captured, and neato weapons systems.

Chatbots may not yet be able to catch pedophiles, but these Infocombots perform an even more entertaining function: they allow you to play all your old favorite text adventure games via AOL Instant Messanger! An excellent -- and in hindsight, obvious -- merging of two great inventions, courtesy of Andy Baio.

(HT: Dean Esmay.)

For a fun and newsworthy example of how children can be harmed by selfish parents who divorce or don't bother getting married, read up on the story of the 9-year-old girl at the center of the "under God" pledge case that's coming up before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The case was brought by Michael Newdow (search), an atheist who does not want his 9-year-old daughter exposed to the phrase "under God," which Congress inserted in 1954 in a Cold War expression of abhorrence of godless communism. [editorialize much? -- MW]

The girl's mother, Sandra Banning (search), is a born-again Christian locked in a bitter custody dispute with Newdow, whom she never married. Backed by former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, she has told the justices that her daughter has no objection to reciting "under God" in school each day. ...

The acrimony between Banning and Newdow is intense. They could not even agree whether the fourth-grader in the Elk Grove school district near Sacramento could attend the Supreme Court arguments. ...

Banning, who regularly takes her daughter to the Calvary Chapel of Laguna Creek, said she became romantically involved with Newdow after she divorced another man — a brief period when she "lost sight" of her faith.

"At that time in my life, I wasn't participating with my faith or going to church. As a result, in our dating relationship, I did get pregnant," said Banning, who does clerical work at home.

Good work. You know, it's pretty easy to avoid pregnancy these days.

Newdow himself sounds like the type of guy that needs to get his butt kicked on general principles.

Newdow said he studied to became a doctor at the University of California at Los Angeles, to help people, then got a law degree at the University of Michigan so he could sue doctors. He made a fortune in medicine. And now his legal battles consume most of his time.

Newdow also challenged — unsuccessfully — the religious invocation at the inauguration of President Bush. He is also challenging a California law requiring him to pay Banning's legal fees in their custody battle — more than $300,000 in all.

But anyway, the reason he apparently lost shared custody of his daughter is ridiculous.
As for his daughter, Newdow said he was partially stripped of custody rights because when the girl was 5, he let her enter a bathroom by herself at an airport.

"I lost custody because I let my daughter go pee!" he exclaimed. "When she came out, I told her she needed to tell her mom, because she would be proud."

The girl's mother said the child was put in danger.

And if he'd taken her into the restroom himself he'd be sued for child abuse or something.

Poor girl. Both of her parents sound pretty idiotic, and now she's being used for publicity purposes in one of the highest-profile Supreme Court cases of our time. Do you think all these shenanigans may end up being more harmful to her than saying the Pledge of Allegiance?

I watched Dawn of the Dead on Saturday night, and it was decent. Not as good or as creepy as 28 Days Later, but still respectably entertaining. They managed to peg my greatest fear in the first five minutes: scary little girls (that's a great poster). Ever since The Shining ghost/zombie-girls give me chills. Go figure.

Even aside from the zombies, some parts of the movie were a bit unbelievable. How did the heroes get into the mall and why couldn't the zombies? How could the zombies move so fast without an energy source? How could the zombies be thwarted by locked doors at a mall and yet still manage to overrun a ton of army bases? How did the zombies spread across water?

28 raised most of these same problems, but the mechanism by which its zombie-ism spread were a bit more realistic and scary. Even so, no such disease could wipe out humanity, simply because in both movies zombie-ism spreads so quickly. Ebola is deadly and highly communicative, but it stays in one place because it destroys its hosts' mobility so early in the infection. Zombies can't pilot planes or ships, so it's unlikely that they could spread very easily between continents or even across deserts. Then again, do zombies breathe or drink? Who knows.

I saw a pretty cool preview of Van Helsing before the show. I hope it's good; I love vampire movies.

I always feel silly posting links to excellent articles by the Big Boys -- after all, you check their sites before meandering over to my corner of the net, right? So consider this post to be for my own edification: I want to be able to find these articles next time I talk to someone who doesn't understand why we attacked Iraq.

- James Lileks on the weekend protests.
- Steven Den Beste on the failure of internationalism.
- Tons of photos from the "peace protest" in San Francisco. This stuff makes me sick.
- First-hand reporting on the anemic protests in San Diego by BFL buddy Citizen Smash.

And on protectionism:
- Pete Du Pont explains how fears of out-sourcing could lead to another great depression.

Joel Thomas, one of my commenters, makes a good point. The War on Terror will make us safer in the long run, but in the short run it might make life more dangerous. Even if our safety level does not increase monotonically we'll be better off in the long-run for having defeated terror than we would have been if we had endured the status quo ante forever.

This argument undermines the the second half of the combined claim that (a) attacking Iraq incited more world terrorism and (b) that such incitement is bad and demonstrates that we shouldn't have attacked Iraq. (a) may be true, but even if it is it doesn't necessarily follow that (b) is true. The goal of the War on Terror is to reduce the long-term threat level, even if we have to make intermediate sacrifices towards that end.

Since there's no real way to know what the long-term effects of the status quo ante would have been, it's impossible to prove or disprove (b). (b) becomes intangible, even if (a) can be numerically demonstrated.

Fans of socialized medicine: take note of the British system (link perishable) (here's a new link, thanks to TMLutas).

A TOP brain surgeon has been suspended from work in a dispute over a bowl of soup, London's DAILY MAIL is reporting on Monday.

Terence Hope is accused of taking an extra helping at the staff canteen without paying.

The GBP 80,000-a-year neurosurgeon has been sent home on full pay from the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, a teaching hospital where he is a senior lecturer as well as a consultant.

Colleagues are furious at the decision. They say patients will suffer while the NHS is deprived of a highly-skilled expert at a time when there is already a critical shortage of neurosurgeons. ...

Patients' groups were also stunned. The Trigeminal Neuralgia Association said: 'This does seem extraordinary. Any patient would be astounded.'

The waiting time for brain operations in the Nottingham region is officially 39 days for outpatients.

Outpatient brain surgery? Uh....
A report last year revealed that hundreds of doctors are left kicking their heels at home for months or even years because of bosses' incompetence at settling disputes. The National Audit Office said many cases do not even involve patient safety but are the result of personality clashes with managers.

Between April 2001 and July 2002 - the last available figures - more than 1,000 NHS doctors, nurses and other clinical staff were suspended on full pay.

The "spiritual leader" and founder of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas was killed by an Israeli missile strike. Palestinians are outraged, because apparently only Israelis are supposed to be blown up without warning.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and leader of the Hamas militant group that targeted Israelis in suicide bombings, was killed by missiles fired from Israeli helicopters as he left a mosque at daybreak Monday, witnesses said.

Hamas confirmed the death in an announcement broadcast over mosque loudspeakers and vowed revenge against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. ...

Thousands of angry Palestinians gathered minutes after the attack, calling for revenge against Israel.

In announcing Yassin's death, Hamas said, "(Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon has opened the gates of hell and nothing will stop us from cutting off his head." ...

Outside the morgue at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh, a close associate of Yassin, had tears in his eyes as he confirmed Yassin's death and pledged revenge.

I'm sure there's more blood to be shed, and it's horrifying, but maybe Israel is finally realizing that band-aids won't cure the disease of Palestinian terror.
"This is the moment Sheik Yassin dreamed about," Haniyeh said. "Sheik Yassin lived and died and offered his life to Palestine. Sheik Yassin was a hero and a fighter and the leader of a nation, and (he) is in heaven now."
He dreampt of the moment, but wasn't willing to blow himself up to take out a few Israeli school-children.
Past Israeli governments were reluctant to target Yassin, fearing a firestorm of revenge attacks.
I pray for peace in Israel every night, but real peace only comes through victory. Negotiated peace between such staunch ideological opponents never lasts -- I can't think of a single example.

I went to the Westwood Persian No Ruz (New Year) street festival today with one of my Iranian friends and had some great food and a lot of fun. Click below to see a few pictures I took.

Grant McCool and Reuters should be embarrassed to print this kind of garbage.

More than a million antiwar protesters have poured into the streets of cities around the globe on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to demand the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops.
From Sydney to Tokyo, from Santiago, Chile, to Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, demonstrators on Saturday condemned U.S. policy in Iraq and said they did not believe Iraqis were better off or the world safer because of the war.
And I'm sure there was a huge anti-war protest in Baghdad, right? Well, way down, buried under miles of crap:
Many in Iraq said their lives had improved since Saddam was toppled, but others said guerrilla attacks and lawlessness left them fearful.
So lots of people who weren't living in daily fear of murder, torture, and rape think the war was a bad idea, but the folks freed from horrible oppression seem to approve. They're afraid of "guerrilla" attacks (actually terrorist attacks, since the targets aren't military), but that's still an improvement.

Here's an after-action report from the pro-murder, pro-torture, pro-rape rally I went to last year around this time (with a great AP photo of me being attacked by a "peace" protester!).

One man's trash...

TM Lutas and Howard at SmartMobs think retail outlets aren't competitive enough, and TML suggests RFID readers and a price database would put some downward price pressure on brick-and-mortar operations.

Phillips has a new take on RFID and wants to put RFID readers in mobile phones so you can comparison shop. This, along with a bar code reader, would take away a lot of the normal retail strategies that stores use to enhance profits via sales. People go into stores just to get what's on sale but what the retail outlet wants them to do is to buy enough other items so that they increase gross sales and profitability at the same time. Being able to consult a database wirelessly and know that the item you're looking at (or a comparable one) is available for less a block away will drastically change shopping patterns, especially for multiple stores in a category that are close to each other.
I don't doubt an increased ability to comparison-shop would flatten out pricing discrepancies a little, but I'm not convinced it's necessary. I have several friends who manage large retail stores and they all tell me that internet shopping has cut their margins to the bone. Many big chains are closing stores that can't turn a profit because competition is aleady very fierce -- and everyone is familiar with the woes of mom and pop stores faced not only with the internet but with Barnes & Noble and WalMart.

I'm a capitalist, and I love competition, but I just don't think there's that much fat to trim. Everyone I know who's bought car in the past few years has taken an internet price quote to the dealer and gotten a good deal. The huge Tower Records in one of the fastest-growing areas of West LA is closing down because it's CDs are several dollars more expensive than Amazon's. Lease rates on the 3rd Street Promenade are over $120 per square foot, and all the stores signing new leases are losing money just for the chance to have exposure. Gas stations are closing for renovation because with prices so high the competition slashes their margin to just a few cents per gallon.

Anyway, that's all anecdotal, but I don't see evidence to suggest that a more-informed consumer could do much better than he's already doing in most industries. What I'd like is some software that locates grocery coupons in newspapers, clips them for me, compares them to my grocery list, and then tells me where to shop for what I want. Or has it all delivered. Grocery shoppers could certainly benefit from a system like TML describes.

Kim du Toit (who has given me excellent gun-buying advice in the past) has a little anecdote about the efficacy of heightened airport security.

Last time I flew I had a couple of knives with me; I remembered to pack my big one in my checked luggage, but my other was on a keychain I forgot about. The guard wanded me and the device beeped like crazy. "Must be my belt buckle," I told him as I pulled up my shirt, figuring it was the truth. He nodded and waved me through.

When I got home and pulled my car keys out I realized I had had another knife with me the whole time. I can't remember if I pulled it out of my pocket and stuck it in the plate before the metal detector or not. I can only hope they watch for bombs and guns a little more closely.

I haven't written much about this before because it honestly makes me feel nauseous. All that tax money, wasted.

(HT: Donald Sensing.)

French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin is either stupid or a liar. Or both, I guess.

The world is a more dangerous place because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which may have toppled Saddam Hussein but also unleashed postwar violence and an upswing in terrorism, the French foreign minister said.
Fewer people are dying in post-war violence in Iraq than were killed, raped, and tortured under Saddam's regime. That's a fact, and all the numbers support it. This doesn't even count the lives that improving medical care, access to clean water, and electricity are saving.
"We have to look reality in the face: we have entered into a more dangerous and unstable world, which requires the mobilization of the entire international community," de Villepin said.

Assertions by the administration of President Bush that ousting Saddam would make the world a safer place proved not to be true, de Villepin said.

More dangerous for whom? Iraqis? Terrorists? Cowards who were making hundreds of billions of dollars from selling Saddam weapons and buying Iraqi oil?
"Terrorism didn't exist in Iraq before," de Villepin said. "Today, it is one of the world's principal sources of world terrorism."
Really? Saddam wasn't a "terrorist" because he sent a representative to the UN and lined the pockets of French officials with oil contracts -- but he's responsible for many more deaths than Osama Bin Laden.

And now Iraq is a principle source of world terrorism? Funny, I haven't read any stories about Iraqi terrorists blowing up Spanish trains or French oil tankers. Huh.

If only we could return to the golden age of UN-sponsored graft and corruption! Sure, lots of poor, brown people got butchered, but that's really an internal problem. As long as the oil kept pouring out and the weapons kept pouring in we should have just minded our own business.

Jay Redding has some examples of pre-liberation non-Saddam terrorism in Iraq (via Slings-n-Arrows).

I stole the first part of my title from FoxNews because I liked it so much. Apparently, the FCC has ruled that using the f-word is profane.

The Federal Communications Commission (search) on Thursday overruled its staff and declared that an expletive uttered by rock star Bono (search) on NBC last year was both indecent and profane. The agency made it clear that virtually any use of the F-word was inappropriate for over-the-air radio and television.

"The 'F-word' is one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit descriptions of sexual activity in the English language," the commission said Thursday. "The fact that the use of this word may have been unintentional is irrelevant; it still has the same effect of exposing children to indecent language."

Well sure, but that's not what profane primarily means:
pro·fane ( P ) Pronunciation Key (pr-fn, pr-)
1. Marked by contempt or irreverence for what is sacred.
2. Nonreligious in subject matter, form, or use; secular: sacred and profane music.
3. Not admitted into a body of secret knowledge or ritual; uninitiated.
4. Vulgar; coarse.
The original purpose of the prohibition on "profanity" was clearly to prevent broadcasters from defaming God, as the AP reporter notes farther down.
The decision also marked the first time that the FCC cited a four-letter word as profane; the commission previously equated profanity with language challenging God's divinity.
As this 2003 decision from the FCC asserts, bans on profanity are probably not legal anymore.
The United States Supreme Court has also struck down a state statute banning "sacrilegious" movies as violative of the First and Fourteenth amendments. Burstyn v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952). In so ruling the court stated: "[i]t is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine. ..." Id. at 505.

From the soldiers on the field, to a general at a press conference, to reporters, to the internet, to my home computer... it's amazing that I can read combat reports from the remote mountains of Pakistan delayed by mere hours. Friendly forces may have a High Value Target isolated in three square miles of snow? That's probably more than the HVT knows.

Even our stock market is a-flutter, eager for news from ten thousand miles away. You've gotta catch him! Our futures and options contracts are riding on it!

New Scientist has an article about a software system called ChatNannies that purports to engage pedophiles in chat room conversations in an effort to catch them "grooming" children for real-life meetings. There's a transcript of one such conversation, and the creator claims the program is so effective that no one has caught on yet.

As an expert in artificial intelligence I'm extremely skeptical, and I'll explain why.

First, there are details in the article that just don't make sense.

The nanniebots do such a good job of passing themselves off as young people that they have proved indistinguishable from them. In conversations with 2000 chatroom users no one has rumbled the bots, [Jim] Wightman [the author] says. ...

Wightman currently has 100,000 bots chatting away undetected in chatrooms - the most he can generate on the four internet servers at his IT practice. He would like to build more but funding is the sticking point, as he does not want anyone to profit financially from his technology.

He's got 100,000 bots running, but only 2000 conversations in which the bot has gone undetected. That's a miserably low success rate, and actually quite believable. I suspect these numbers were intended to mean something else, but what?

Then there's Wightman's reluctance to reveal details of the system to anyone.

One of its tricks is to use the internet itself as a resource for its information on pop culture. Wightman will not reveal how it judges what is reliable information and what not. He does say, however, that each bot has dozens of parameters that are assigned at random, to give each one a different "personality". ...

"Some companies have offered fantastic sums of money, but all want technology ownership. And that's something that isn't going to happen," he says. Instead, he hopes eventually to get financial support from government-run organisations that focus on child protection.

If this is a fraud, it would be a lot easier and safer to profit from government hand-outs than to actually risk revealing the "system" to technically-savvy investors. This is why reputable scientists publish the details of their research.

Interestingly, the transcript does include a few hints that it's likely machine-generated. In this script, "B" is the purported machine and "A" is the human.

B - pancake day! i love pancakes...mmmm so tasty A - yeah me too, but i forget every damn year B - did you forget this year?

The response by B is very script-ish. Notice also that B's responses are longer on average than A's. That's a sign of a poor (i.e., standard) conversation routine. It's very hard to generate complex sentence structures that sound natural.

Here's another interaction, with my comments.

B - oh cool. did you watch robocop 2 last night? A - what side was it on? B - sky one A - we haven't got sky A - but i've seen it before A - it wasn't as good as robocop B - i agree, though it was cool in places.

Canned response, ok.

A - did you watch robocop last night B - yes, i just said i did! A - no you said you watched robocop 2 not robocop - so which one was it? B - robocop 2 - pedant!

Interesting confusion of tokens. The system splits the "robocop 2" token on its own, or assumes that A is using shorthand for the same token. This leads to confusion for the robot, which is fine, but there's no way it could be smart enough to untangle the subsequent miscomprehension. The usage of "pedant" after a dash as an exclamation feels made up. It's not a very natural chat construction, particularly for a child, and I can't imagine a robot could so easily identify the source of confusion and label it so appropriately.

A - not robocop or robocop 3 or robocop the series B - it was definitely robocop 2, the one with kain the second robocop in it. i haven't seen robocop 3 or the series.

If the system is genuine, this is a remarkable feat of comprehension. Most humans would be confused by this point.

Anyway, this conversation could be machine generated, but I suspect it's not representative of how any real system interacts with humans on a consistent basis.

Beyond all this, the creator claims the software can reliably detect pedophiles based on non-sexual conversations? No way. Human children and parents can't even do that face-to-face, and we're finely tuned to pick up on vocal, physical, and conversational cues that aren't present in text chats.

Furthermore, he promotes his "utterly free service" on message boards. He makes incredible claims on his homepage:

The most technologically advanced AI construct ever conceived and built. The NannieBot spawns and controls a large number of virtual internet users, whose behaviour is indistinguishable from humans interacting on the internet. The first AI construct to effortlessly pass the 'Turing Test', after more than 13 hours of conversation the AI was still undiscovered!

The only thing is, I don't see the catch. He asks for sponsors and donations, but he doesn't directly charge money for the software. Of course, the software isn't released yet, and they're auctioning off the first public chat with their robot on eBay. Maybe he really is hoping some government will fund his project?

Any system can occasionally hit a home run, but the claims in this article are not credible, in my opinion. Go here to chat with some of the best existing real chatbots; none of them are anywhere near the capabilities claimed by Wightman.

(HT: GeekPress.)

Via Apothecary's Drawer and I see that a grad student at MIT named Cameron Marlow managed to secure an exclusive interview with one of the NannieBots. From the transcipt he's posted it's virtually certain he was talking to a human posing as a robot.

The secret to a good scam is knowing how far you can go before you cross the line into absurdity. Jim Wightman doesn't have a clue.

The Business at Hand.

There's a world of difference between true and honest, and between false and deceptive. Something can be true without being honest, and false without being deceptive -- and vice versa in both cases.

Most people think lying is wrong, and what we generally object to isn't saying things that are false but saying things that are deceptive. There are many circumstances in which making false statements is acceptable, or even laudable. For instance, fictional writing is all, by definition, false, but unless the author tries to disguise his fiction as fact no one is bothered. There are even many games that require players to make false statements and to be deceptive within the context of the game -- no one has moral objections to bluffing in poker because that's how the game is played; bluffing is expected in general, even if people are deceived in a particular instance. At an even more serious level, criminal defense lawyers are expected to be deceptive (within the bounds of the law (the "game")) and to put on the most vigorous defense possible for their client. This moral allowance -- if you want to call it that -- helps ensure that the innocent aren't wrongly convicted.

On the flip side, everyone knows it's possible to speak the absolute truth and still be deceptive. For example, imagine the following exchange:

A: I think everyone should give $100 to the soup kitchen!
B: That's a good idea, are you going to?
A: Everyone should!

A hasn't actually answered B's question, but it would be easy for B to infer from A's response that A is going to give $100. The question of deception hinges on whether or not A actually implied that, given the context. "Everyone should" doesn't mean "I will", and it only directly implies "I should". Most people in B's place wouldn't be entirely decieved and would recognize that A left himself some wiggle room, but people would also be restrained by common courtesy from asking the follow-up: "I agree they should, but will you?"

Attempts to clarify and eliminate wiggle room are generally seen as rude, partly because they imply that the questioner doesn't trust the original speaker. More than that though, I think it's generally recognized that if someone doesn't want to give a straight answer, that itself is an answer.

As for the ethical question, false statements are clearly not prima facie immoral. Deceptive statements may be immoral, given the larger context and the rules governing the game being played. Spies and secret agents must lie to protect their identities, but they're expected to do so and only condemned if they deceive the wrong people and betray the group they should be loyal to. Hence, an American spying on America for Russia is immoral, but an American spying on Russia for America is acceptable.

(The context is even larger than that, however: an American may think a Russian spying on Russia for America is moral because America's goals are more noble. Ends must almost always be used to justify the means when moral questions revolve around international affairs and sovereign nations. If you don't agree, consider people who deceived the Nazis in order to shelter Jews during the Holocaust.)

Finally, let me compare deception with killing. We have a special term for immoral killing: murder. We need a similar word for immoral deception. Not all killing is immoral, and neither is all lying or all deception. The Bible puts it pretty clearly:

Exodus 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Not all lying or deception is condemned here, but only false statements of truth in a formal setting against someone you should be loyal to. That's not a very high standard when you really consider it, and I think the requirements for moral behavior are often greater, depending on context. This command gives us a good foundation to build upon, though.

The issue of honesty is actually quite mysterious, and there is no existing theory to explain why humans are so honest. In any given instance it can be incredibly advantageous to be deceptive, and humans don't generally give long-term consequences much weight. It has been proposed that enforcement of long-term consequences for deception can explain honesty, but simulations have shown that the costs of enforcement are higher than the cost of deception over time. I have a thought on how to solve this shortcoming, but I'll write more about it later.

GeekPress points to some great war cartoons by Dr. Seuss on the topic of appeasement. Spain and Europe should take note of my favorite.

Wendy McElroy has written another great article about the damage that can be caused by false and trivial sexual harrasment accusations, and says that the tide is turning against automatic belief in the alleged victim. She gives a couple of examples of how easily a man's life can be ruined; here's one.

Daphne Patai is one of the few feminists to demonstrate compassion for such wrongfully accused men. In her book "Heterophobia," Patai describes the savagery of sexual misconduct policies by which the accused has no due process or presumption of innocence but must prove his non-guilt to committees with the power to ruin his life.

One of the examples Patai cites is of an over-weight professor who was both well-liked and competent. One day, in the middle of a lecture, a female student called out a comment about the extreme size of his chest. He observed that she had no similar problem and, then, continued lecturing.

The student filed sexual harassment charges against him, based solely on the classroom incident. The ensuing witch-hunt was so extreme that the professor committed suicide. Thereafter, the university administration released a statement expressing its main concern: The professor's death should not discourage other similarly "abused" women from "speaking out."

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

Bill Hobbs has a post about instalanches and Dean Esmay comments on the generally minimal long-term effects of getting a link from Glenn Reynolds. Along with Mr. Esmay, I too share the Commissar's view: instalanches are overrated and don't lead to many new frequent readers. (Although getting linked in Mr. Reynold's sidebar may have; I get hits from there every day.)

As Mr. Esmay wrote, I get more pleasure from being read and linked to by my regulars than from an ephemeral glance by the Instapundit. When a fellow third-tier blogger links to me it's usually to something I'm proud of having written that I put a decent amount of thought into. When Mr. Reynolds links to me it's usually for something inconsequential. For example, he never took notice of the Spherewide Short Story Symposium (or number two) despite all the excellent contributions by many writers. He's never linked to any of the opinion pieces I've written, or really to anything that's my own creation. I don't even email him anymore because I've gathered that he's not interested in the types of things I do -- which is fine, lots of people aren't.

Mr. Reynold's and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship. He's always got interesting links, but I hate reading them because they taint my posts for the rest of the day. I don't want to just comment on stories he finds, but once I've read them it's hard to divert my attention. So I generally avoid Instapundit unless I've read everything else and can't think of anything else to do.

So I don't count on links from the major leagues to promote my blog. What I do instead is comment frequently (more or less) on the sites I read and like and go out of my way to find new blogs I haven't heard of and comment on their posts. That's one of my favorite uses of NZ Bear's blog Ecosystem. I remember how happy I was to get comments, readers, and links when I was starting out, so I go down into the reptiles and amphibians and find recently-updated blogs with interesting things to say. I leave a comment or two -- maybe post a link on my site -- and I'll frequently get a link and some comments in return. I think this type of intimate exposure is far more valuable than an occasional instalanche, plus I get to find all sorts of great new writers.

Anyway, your mileage may vary; this is the most effective plan I've been able to come up with, since I have no plans to move to Tennessee (the blogger-heartland of America).

A small plane just crashed down the block from the house I grew up in. Yeah, it's a little foggy tonight.

I'm not sure, but I think the plane hit a house I was considering buying two years ago.

StrategyPage has an interesting take on Europe's affinity for terrorists: it's a hostage game.

European nations have long had an "understanding" with Islamic radicals. The Europeans would grant Islamic radicals in general, and their leaders (and their families in particular) sanctuary, as long as there was no terrorist violence in Europe. This arrangement has largely succeeded, if only because the Islamic radical leaders resident in Europe were, in effect, hostages. Start killing Europeans, and we ship you, your wives and kids back to the countries that want to try you for murder and rebellion.
I hadn't heard it put quite this way before, but it makes a lot of sense. Ironically for "liberal" Europe, this is a very conservative (as in "safe and historically common") strategy.

Kings and other nobles have long taken mostly-voluntary hostages from each other in the forms of adopted children, wives, and concubines. According to the Bible, King Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (who caused him no end of trouble), largely taken for political purposes. Such hostages were used to cement alliances and enforce subjugation in the days when communication was no faster than a man could walk. If an alliance was broken or a subject nation rebelled the hostages were either killed or used as bargaining chips.

Taking wives and concubines had other obvious benefits as well, since they would bear children of mixed nationality who could be raised loyal/friendly to the king. Such offspring could later be sent back to their mothers' countries to as ambassadors, messengers, or what-not.

Unfortunately for Europe, it doesn't appear that the Arab Muslim populations they're sheltering are assimilating or becoming loyal or friendly to their hosts. Although taking female hostages and slaves was historically common, the women were always married to native men and thus forced to assimilate; Europe's strategy seems to be to give their immigrants free socialized benefits with no strings attached.

I work with kids of all ages (and young adults) at church, and I tell them frequently -- particularly the girls -- that the surest way to ensure a life of poverty and hardship is to have a child outside of marriage. Now I've got some statistics to back that up.

Children of all races and ethnic groups who live in homes with married parents are less likely to live in poverty, new census data show.

More than 95 percent of white children who lived with married parents in April 2000 had incomes above the poverty line, said the new report, which is based on Census 2000 data.

Similarly, more than 80 percent of Hispanic children, 81 percent of American Indian children and 88 percent of black and Asian children escaped poverty if they lived with married parents.

Here are some overall povery statistics from the Census Bureau.

Overall, 16% of children live in poverty according to the Washington Times article, but the Census Bureau says 20.8%, including around 30% of blacks and Hispanics.

Comparing the CB numbers with the WT numbers: 12% black children with married parents are poor vs. 30% of black children without married parents; 20% of Hispanic children with married parents are poor vs. 30% of Hispanic children without married parents.

There are many other factors that contribute to poverty as well, but trying to raise children outside of marriage is certainly one of the most important.

This is just a little bizarre to me, but apparently John Kerry had a dog named VC while he was in Vietnam.

From a Humane Society questionnaire answered by John Kerry (link in PDF):
Do you have any pets that have made an impact on you personally?

When I was serving on a swiftboat in Vietnam, my crewmates and I had a dog we called VC. ...

Doesn't VC stand for "Vietcong", the northern communist Vietnamese we were fighting against during that war? Strange name for a pet.

Bill Hobbs has a great piece outlining how John Kerry is so focused on responding to terrorist attacks that he's forgetting to prevent them. Mr. Hobbs accuses Senator Kerry of wanting to put the US on the defensive rather than continue taking the fight to the terrorists as President Bush has done.

That, in brief, is the stark choice America faces in November. Do we keep the coach who is playing offense in the War on Terror, taking the battle to where the enemy lives and breeds, smashing their stronghold in Afghanistan, setting a trap for them in Iraq, and confronting Islamist terrorists by planting that which they loathe the most - freedom and democracy for Muslims - in the heart of their territory. Or do we hire a new coach who will switch to defense and focus on preparing the firefighters and police and "first responders' to douse the flames and dig the bodies from under the rubble of the next attack?
Excellent post, and excellent point.

I meant to post about this a few weeks ago when I got back from DC, but I didn't remember till now. I couldn't sleep on the eastbound flight because I got a crush on CNN Headline News's continuous loop of Erica Hill. I rarely watch TV (especially news TV, especially CNN), and this was my first news-anchor crush. She was wearing glasses and looked super-hot that night.

I haven't linked to as a Resource site for quite a while, mainly because I think they're quite biased. This impression has been reaffirmed by their dismissal of blogging as a significant journalistic development as well as their continuous anti-war/pro-terror spin.

The first story is pretty well-known by now. CNN prominently ran an AP wire article about how few people maintain weblogs, but that number (around 7.3 million) is more than ten times higher than the number of people who watch CNN (450 thousand). Yeah, that's insignificant.

Most interesting to me, however, is instance after instance of biased reporting. It may not be obvious in every piece, but over time CNN makes its political stance clear by the stories it chooses to cover. Ace of Spades has an excellent example up of how the top story on CNN all this morning was an anti-war protest in Washington DC attended by a mere 60 people. He later notes that pro-life marches in the capital that drew upwards of 50,000 were not covered by CNN at all. (Here's the coverage by Fox.)

Can anyone find solid information to support the legend that Karl Landsteiner's discovery of human blood types was widely disbelieved initially because it revealed that up to 25% of children could not possibly have been the offspring of the men their mothers claimed?

With the difficulty of protecting trains from terrorists, it may be wise for Los Angeles' elite to reconsider their religious commitment to light rail. It's much easier to kill hundreds of people packed into a train than spread out in cars on a freeway. Sure, a bridge could be blown and traffic could be brought to a standstill for a while, but that's no worse than taking out a train line, and there would be fewer casualties. It would also be a lot harder to take out a freeway interchange made of reinforced concrete than to collapse a subway tunnel, dislodge a few rails, or blow up passengers at a station.

I'm stunned, but it looks like the recent terrorist attacks in Spain have actually thrust the underdog Socialist party into power.

The leader of Spain's victorious Socialists said Monday he will withdraw his nation's support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, restating a campaign promise a day after his party won elections overshadowed by terrorist bombings.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, calling the war that ousted Saddam Hussein an "error," said he would recall Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations assumes control of multinational military operations there.

The Spanish contribution hasn't been large, but its symbolic value has been an important refutation of the charge of American "unilateralism".

It's amazing how spineless some people are, and how eager they are to surrender rather than fight. One bomb and the UN scuttles off from Iraq to Cyprus, and now the terrorists have knocked out Spain with one blow. It's pathetic.

The events in Spain should serve as a warning to America -- not because we should be afraid for our trains, but because we need to strengthen our will against the possibility of future attacks aimed at us. It's virtually certain that America will be successfully attacked by terrorists again sometime in the future, but it's critically important that we don't let such attacks break our will to fight. That's the only way the terrorists can win. They can't beat us militarily; the only way we can lose is if they frighten us and send us cringing into the corner.

The Spanish Socialists are cowards, and so are the Spaniards who put them in power. So is anyone who would hide behind the dictators that run the UN rather than stand up and fight against tyranny and terror. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty."

Grow up, world. Get a pair.

I want to know the demographic breakdown of the Spanish vote, specifically age and gender. Any links?

Update 2:
Jacob Levy over at the VC has a different take, but he misses my primary point.

I'm more than a little disturbed by the widespread blogging to the effect that the Spanish election results represent a great victory of al-Qaeda, that they show that European countries can successfully be blackmailed by terrorism, etc. It's particularly grating to see such commentary from Americans who, collectively, had had much less experience with terrorism on their home soil than had Spaniards.

If the Socialists were not appeasers before M-11-- if a victory on their part wouldn't have been a victory for terrorism-- then the intervening act of terrorism doesn't change that.

(Emphasis his.) But the attacks do change the equation. The terrorist attacks potentially changes the minds of many voters who had, up until then, suppressed their cowardice. That's not meant to be an insult -- suppressing cowardice is generally called "bravery". But these attacks pushed the Spanish electorate over the edge and broke their will. Which is exactly what the terrorists were trying to do. Therefore, Mr. Levy may not think the effects of this terrorist victory are very substantial, there's no denying victory itself.

The California Coastal Commission -- which has almost total control over every bit of California land within three miles of the ocean -- is suing the federal government to prevent the US Border Patrol from building the last segment of a border fence over "Smuggler's Gulch".

The commission last month voted the final three-mile project down and sued to stop continuation of the project.

"We only look at whether a project complies with the environmental laws," said Scott Peters of the coastal commission. "We have people testify to us about national security, on the other side about human rights, that's really not what the basis of our decision is."

But the Border Patrol (search) agents and some U.S. lawmakers say it should be and they warn that an open border is a greater threat to national security.

"If you look at the list of people who have crossed that piece of the border in the last several years there are a ton of people that come from terrorist nations and from states that back terrorism," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Foolish Rep. Hunter... trying to use logic on environmentalists is futile!

What's at stake? According to what appears to be the CCC's own biological survey, completing the fence could "harass" up to seven birds. Yes, that's right, seven.

Despite the fact that President Bush hadn't mentioned any of his potential Democrat opponents by name until Senator John Edwards dropped out of the primary, Senator John Kerry is saying Bush "made history".

Kerry, engaged in an increasingly bitter exchange of negative ads with Bush, said the president had made "history" by launching attack ads on his opponent earlier in the campaign than any previous incumbent.
I guess all the negative attacks by the various Democrats throughout their primary don't count for anything.

It looks like the Republicans are going to use Kerry's pathetic (history-making?) absentee record in the Senate (which I pointed out last month) against him. I hope this tactic is effective, because in my opinion office-holders who want to run for other stuff shouldn't let their current job suffer during the campaign -- I bet both Dems and Reps do this, but the honorable thing would be to resign.

Joined on stage by four local residents who had lost their jobs and their health insurance, Kerry said they had to make tough choices between critical care for families and everyday necessities.

He has offered a $72 billion-a-year plan to expand access to health insurance and make it more affordable, paying for it by repealing tax cuts for Americans who make more than $200,000.

The Bush campaign said Kerry had accomplished little in the Senate to help Americans get better health care coverage and had missed 36 of 38 votes on prescription drug legislation.

"The only thing he has ever done on behalf of America's seniors is vote eight times for higher taxes on their Social Security benefits," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.

Colin Powell is using some of his "good cop" credibility to pressure Kerry to give the names of foreign leaders he claims want him to beat the President.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, under pressure to say which foreign leaders were rooting for him to beat President Bush, refused on Sunday to reveal any names.

"No leader would obviously share a conversation if I started listing them," Kerry told reporters after Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested he name some names or stop implying foreign leaders were encouraging him to beat Bush.

Kerry, who visited the battleground state of Pennsylvania to slam Bush's health care policy and hold a town hall meeting, said last week he had met foreign leaders who told him "you've got to beat this guy" because of unhappiness over U.S. foreign policy.

He was challenged on the issue by Powell, who said on "Fox News Sunday" that "if he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."

I know I'm biased, but these particular counterattacks by the Republicans feel like they should be much more effective than the attacks coming from the left. Am I wrong? Is "Bush lied!!!" going to beat these reasoned arguments?

I went to brunch with some of my fellow Bear-Flaggers, and a good time was had by all. We're 50% lawyers, but no one got sued or anything. Click on the extended entry doodad below to see the pictures.

I told you so, and I was right.

- Tired of your friends and family telling you to get a girlfriend?
- Want to make that certain someone a little jealous?
- Need a confidence boost? Just feeling lonely sometimes?

With an Imaginary Girlfriend, you can carry on a completely fictitious, yet authentic looking relationship with the girl of your choice.

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The girls are real. The relationship is not. When your time is up you can break up with her for whatever reason you decide, and she'll write you a final letter begging you to take her back.

At least these girls have found a profitable outlet for their sexuality that isn't likely to get them pregnant. Think of this phenomenon in light of these cultural changes (inspired by Mr. Esmay). I can't quite wrap my mind around them both yet, but they're surely tied together. More later, once I refine my thoughts.

Donald Sensing has a post up with excerpts of some good information about modern love and marriage in response to a great post by Dean Esmay on teen pregnancy. From Mr. Esmay:

Now, an interesting thing to contemplate is that we as a society may be making a mistake to encourage people to wait so long to get married and have kids. At times I think it's a huge mistake. I could write a whole essay defending that, but here's a basic point to ponder: one of the biggest frustrations for women these days is that they delay and delay and delay having kids, put tons of time into career, then find themselves in their 30s with their biological alarm clocks going off, frantically thinking about having kids. Then when they have kids, they get hugely frustrated because balancing career and childrearing is exhausting.

But what if you had 2-3 kids by the time you were 21, and then stopped having them? By the time you were in your mid-30s, you would have the next 30-40 years of your life to develop career, go to school, and persue outside interests. You'd also be able to begin playing with your own grandchildren while you were still young and vital, if your daughters started having kids at the same age you did. If this were widespread, it would be normal for parents to help their children start raising their own babies. Extended families would probably be more common, and the whole kids-vs.-career struggle would be hugely ameliorated. A woman in her early 30s would be in the prime of life, with endless possibilities still ahead of her to do whatever she wanted, with no worries at all about her "biological clock ticking," for she'd have taken care of that business long ago! ...

Listen up: I grew up knowing a lot of girls who got pregnant in their teens. Not a single one of them did not know how pregnancy occurred. Not a single one of them was unaware that she could get pregnant. Not a single one of them lacked access to birth control. Every single one of them got pregnant by choice. Sure, some of them would lie and say they "didn't know you could get pregnant just doing it once," or that it was an "accident," but the truth they just said that to make the adults happy. Every single one of them really knew better. They did it anyway.

Not everything Mr. Esmay says is entirely accurate, by my understanding. While women did marry quite young by modern standards, men generally had to wait until they could afford to keep a wife (and the kids that would inevitably come soon after marriage). It's only recently that men and women near the same ages marry each other, and one can only speculate on the effect it's having on our civilization. Nothing is more fundamental to a species than its reproductive cycle, and I'm certain that these changes have wide-ranging effects, both subtle and obvious.

It's odd to me that females are continuing to hit menarche at ever earlier ages, even as the age that women give birth to their first child continues to rise. This suggests that there is some reproductive benefit to starting menstruation younger, other than the obvious benefit that would be gained if women were also having children at younger ages.

I expect that much of the listlessness of today's youth arises from the fact that they're biologically capable of starting a family, but socially prohibited. I'm not saying this is a bad thing -- the immediate benefits certainly outweigh the costs, or it wouldn't be happening -- but what are the long-term costs? Our society couldn't function without a core cadre of highly-trained college graduates, and as technology advances it's possible that the size of that required core may increase relative to the population. If that's the case, then it may be necessary for the average child-bearing age to rise.

However, in my opinion much of our population is ever-educated. Many people go to college, learn almost nothing, waste 4 (or 5, or 6) years, and then get a job they could have done right out of high school. Not only is this a drain on our economy and a waste of resources for all parties, but college generally delays the decision to get married and have kids.

Reproduction touches every aspect of human society, and I have no doubt there are nearly an infinite number of factors that contribute to and result from these cultural trends. It's possible that our "cultural depravity" is one result and our technological progress is another. Maybe you can't have one without the other. Personally, I don't believe there was a "cultural golden age" in which morally sound values ruled the day, so I'm not sure we've sacrificed anything substantial in that regard. Maybe I'm wrong about that, though.

Here's some info I dug up about marriage ages throughout history.

Ancient Greeks married at age 30 for men, 15 for women (when females hit puberty back then).

Europeans in the Middle Ages did similarly.

19th and 20th Century Americans married later, with both men and women in their 20s.

Elizabethan Brits married pretty old, apparently.

The story's all over the 'sphere by now, but I thought I'd throw in my $0.02. If you don't know, the New York Times is suing a blogger over a parody page that pretends to contain official corrections of errors made by columnists. I'm no lawyer, but as with so many things the point isn't whether or not something is legal, but whether or not you can get away with it. The NYT figured it could bully the blogger into pulling the parody down -- legitimately or not -- but now it's the newspaper that's looking foolish. The last thing the NYT needs is another controversy over it's level of professionalism, and it's bizarre to me that they'd even bother acknowledging the parody.

In case any of my stalkers have lost track of me, I'll be at the Warehouse tomorrow morning at 11am with all my Bear Flag Buddies.

I'm looking forward to meeting everyone, but it'll be a little strange I think. I haven't met people from the internet in Real Life for several years. It's funny how the net morphed from a place to meet strangers to just a new way to interact with your existing friends. Of course, most of my Real Life friends didn't even have email a few years ago.

Meanwhile, I'd like to welcome Jeff Doolittle to the BFL! A self-described PHP freak, maybe he'll be interested in joining Into the Ether as well.

Everyone waits for their "big break"... the chance to talk to the right person or pop into the right circumstance and get recognized. Given your skills, talents, and abilities, what do you imagine as your big break? What single occurrence could put you on the fast track to success?

Eugene Volokh points to an interesting AP story about a woman who allowed one of her babies to die rather than have a Caesarean section to deliver her twins at her doctor's recommendation. Prof. Volokh says:

A really tough issue: On the one hand, I'm skittish about any legal requirement that someone get surgery, even to save her child's life. On the other hand, parents do rightly have a legal obligation to take care of their children, and it may well be that this obligation does extend even to going under the knife. Thought experiment: Should the law be able to force a parent -- on pain of a murder conviction -- to donate bone marrow to save a child's life? Should it be able to do so, but only on pain of conviction of a lesser offense, such as involuntary manslaughter or child neglect?

Incidentally, while this naturally brings up an analogy to the constitutional right to an abortion, the analogy is complex. U.S. constitutional law actually recognizes two different rights to an abortion: A categorical right pre-viability, and a right post-viability when the abortion is needed to preserve the mother's life or health. The first right is surely not implicated here; the baby (and I feel quite comfortable calling it a baby) died at gestational age 9 months. The second right, though, is potentially implicated; the argument would be that it is potentially harmful to a woman's health to have a caesarean section.

But, as he notes, the vast majority of Caesarean sections do not result in any complications or permanent injury.

Society requires parents to make many sacrifices for their kids: feed them, clothe them, shelter them, &c. The difference is that once the child is born the mother can put him up for adoption if she really doesn't want him. In this circumstance, therewas no way to transfer responsibility for the baby away from the mother.

That fact doesn't bother me, however. In this instance the mother clearly had accepted the responsibility of pregnancy and delivery, but later decided to chicken out after the point of no return (legally and morally, even though those points may not be the same).

I think a large part of the problem with the modern approach to children, abortion, pregnancy, and so forth is that the parents think it's all about them. They want kids, or they don't, and at every stage there's a failure to recognize that there are more lives than their own in the balance. The mother in this story wasn't even worried about her own health, she was worried that the surgery would leave an unattractive scar. That avoiding such a fate would kill her child was inconsequential.

Everyone seems pretty sure that these bomb attacks in Spain that killed almost 200 people and wounded 1200 weren't the work of Islamofacists. The only point against that conclusion is that the Basque separatists everyone is blaming haven't claimed responsibility yet.

A top Basque politician, Arnold Otegi, denied the separatists were behind the blasts and blamed "Arab resistance," noting that Spain's government backed the Iraq war despite domestic opposition. Many al-Qaida-linked terrorists also were captured in Spain or were believed to have operated from there.
Terrorists are normally eager to put their names to their actions to ensure they get the right people's attention, but I don't know if the Basques generally operate in the same way.

Update, a minute later:
Now Drudge's top headline is that documents and recordings in Arabic have been found....

Ok, so the movie was dumb, but I like the idea when applied to blogs. Stupid Evil Bastard passed it on to me, so I feel somewhat obligated to continue the chain.

Let's see... I'll start with one of my favorite commenters, Francis W. Porretto of The Palace of Reason. I expect this miniscule gesture will ease his resentment and soften some of his more stubborn notions.

Next, let's hit Barry over at Inn of the Last Home. I really loved those Krynn books as a kid, and even named an asteroid-cum-space-station out near Pluto after the companions' inn. I don't visit his blog enough though; shame on me.

Finally, how about the ladies over at Candied Ginger. Always intellectually engaging, provocative, and punk rock.

If you pass this on to:
1 - 3 people: All your skin will fall off, but you'll be ok -- albeit horribly disfigured.
4 - 6 people: Your house will be innundated with blue ice.
7 - 9 people: Your cell number will accidentally get listed in the phone book as a Domino's. Or something worse.
10+ people: You're a real humanitarian. Nothing bad will ever happen to you.

Joe Carter and Bill Hobbs wonder where the top conservative bloggers are.

Joe Carter wonders why there is no conservative blog in the top 10, while the Left has Josh Marshall, Atrios, Kos and Kevin Drum, while the libertarians have Glenn Reynolds and Volokh. Actually, Carter wondered why there are no social conservative bloggers in the top 10. I've wondered for awhile now why no conservative blog - social, economic and foriegn policy conservative - is among the 10 largest political blogs.
I think the answer is a pretty simple combination of two factors. First, most conservatives probably agree with most of what the libertarians write. The second factor facilitates the first: the major libertarian bloggers don't rant against religion or spend much time promoting their socially liberal views.

The major libertarian bloggers are hawkish on defense and generally support President Bush, so there's a lot for conservatives to agree with. Additionally, even the things libertarians criticise the president for -- spending, protectionism, &c. -- have traction with many conservatives.

Although the major libertarian bloggers occasionally display the stereotypical libertarian distain for religion, they generally try to treat the topic with respect. Why? Possibly because they value the emergent libertarian-conservative blogger coalition and don't want to tear it apart over issues that are, at the moment, less important than the areas of agreement.

I've written about over-legislation before, and Radley Balko of The Agitator has a great piece about the problem over at FoxNews: "America Mired in Morass of Laws and Regulations".

America has too many laws, and the laws we do have are tedious, overly complex and sometimes not only impossible to understand, but impossible to comply with. Our elected officials pass laws in fits of whimsy, responding to the latest scare headlines, demands from interest groups or data from polling firms. Reason, freedom or constitutional authority rarely enter into the debate. ...

Consider, for example, the position Congress found itself in last year after passing the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (search), that Rube Goldberg-ian hunk of legislation that was supposed to flush the corruption out of politics:

Although Congress generally exempts itself from most of the laws it passes, this law applies specifically to Congress. The same congressmen who voted for the bill were now required to abide by it. Faced themselves with the burden of complying with the complex, inches-thick laws they pass for others, both parties were forced to hold education sessions with specialty lawyers explaining to them what they could and couldn’t do under the new law. A lawyer who taught the Democrats told The New York Times that his seminars elicited “a sort of slack-jawed amazement at how far this thing reached.” A lawyer who taught the Republicans said: “There's an initial stage where the reaction is, 'This can't be true.' And then there's the actual anger stage." Democratic Rep. Henry Matsui, who championed the bill, told the Times, “I didn’t realize all that was in it.”

That’s how much careful consideration Congress gave a bill it passed that applied to itself. Now imagine how little thought and care goes into bills it passes that apply to everyone else.

The answer, of course, is none.

Kudos to FoxNews for so frequently carrying articles by bloggers.

How could I have missed it?

On this day - Stand up with your abortion services providers and say: Thank you for your heroism, perserverance, courage, and commitment to women.
Hip hip, hooray!

(HT: James Taranto.)

Kerry-McCain? Huh. If such a bizarre thing were to happen, it would further support the notion that the Democrats care more about winning than anything else, like principles.

"It's impossible to imagine the Democratic Party seeking a pro-life, free-trading, non-protectionist, deficit hawk," the Arizona senator told ABC's "Good Morning America" during an interview about illegal steroid use. "They'd have to be taking some steroids, I think, in order to let that happen."
It would sure be an interesting ticket though... Senator McCain appeals to a lot of independents... nah. Maybe a McCain-Kerry ticket is the way for the Dems to go!

Here are the earlier posts. There's much to reply to and clarify, so let's have at it.

To briefly respond to Mr. Katz's most recent comments, let me reiterate that I hold the study of humanity in the second-highest possible esteem, right after the study of God. I didn't go into Computer Science because I love computers, I went into Computer Science because I believe it's the best existing discipline for studying humanity -- which is why I'm specializing in artificial intelligence. AI is the closest field to -- if you will -- applied divinity. Such a comparison is molehills to mountains, but nowhere else does humanity strive towards the greatest of God's accomplishments.

In the process of my university education, I've taken many graduate classes in what many might call the "scientific humanities": psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, and so forth. I learned a lot, but was frustrated that none of them seemed to go anywhere. As Marvin Minsky said about philosophy, these fields speculate on the nature of man, but they don't have the tools necessary for actual comprehension.

Mr. Katz writes:

In a sense, then, the giants of the humanities are those most steeped in humanitas. Often, their expression of this quality will be tacit or inherently embedded in the incidental language of a particular discipline. Often they will be able to apply it to a science in ways that scientists would never have considered. Michael writes of "the underlying philosophy" of the humanities and of the sciences, but the only unifying philosophy of the former is the search for Truth, and the latter is defined by process, not philosophy.
Anyone who thinks the humanities are about "the search for Truth" is drinking the kool-aid. That may be the ideal, but unfortunately reality has a way of spoiling things. In my experience, the humanities are about the same things as the sciences: getting grants, writing books, getting famous, making money. The real question is whether or not anything worthwhile is accomplished in the meantime, incidental to the motivations of the actors. Because of the scientific process, when people get rich and famous it's generally because they come up with something useful. (Some of the more applied humanities lean in this direction also, such as economics.)

Mr. Katz's conclusion misses the point of my position, I think.

This applies only in a limited way to Michael, but what worries me is modern society's willingness to see science as a philosophy of itself, an arbiter of morality, and to insist not only that it is an important contribution to humanity, but that other pursuits are hardly worth improving upon — or even pursuing, really, except as hobbies — by comparison.
I think the problem is that society refuses to recognize that much of "science" is little more than a philosophy or religion (like secular humanism). As far as the discussion at hand, if the reader takes away anything of value it should be the idea that the humanities are too valuable for our society to continue teaching them in such a sloppy manner.

Marc Comtois comments further with some anecdotes from his own life as both an engineer and a historian (like Clayton Cramer). He agrees that there's more money to be made in science, which seems obvious, despite Mr. Leher's claims that "wages tend to equalize after a few years". I need to see some hard data before I'll believe that.

Justin Katz provokes me to further discussion on the entitled topic by contending that I missed the point of the piece I was commenting on.

Lehrer's suggestion is that the humanities aren't treated with the same degree of academic rigor, and this factor, along with the appreciation that corresponds to greater rigor, push particularly bright students toward the sciences. It isn't that, as Michael concludes, "there are fewer people who can succeed in the sciences than who can succeed in the humanities." To the extent that Lehrer's analysis supports claims either way, the opposite would seem to be the case: fewer people can succeed in the humanities, but those people can also succeed in the sciences, so they go where the rewards seem to be.
As my brother implied in a comment to the previous post, much depends on how you define "success". A higher percentage of people who earn science degrees will go on to use those degrees to greater profit than will those who earn humanities degrees.

Since we're mostly relying on anecdotal data, I know no one who has earned a degree in a scientific field who could not have obtained an equivalent degree in the humanities, should he have so desired. I know plenty of people with humanities degrees who couldn't possibly have earned a scientific degree.

I certainly agree that the humanities are less rigorous than the sciences, but I don't share Mr. Katz's confidence that this shortcoming -- if you see it as such -- is anything but inherent in the philosophy. Likewise, science isn't important or better -- if you see it as such -- because of the surface-level subject matter, but rather because of the underlying philosophy. Indeed, I would argue that Computer Science is the pinnacle of of both science and the humanities.

Consider this quote by the famed philosopher Marvin Minsky.

I think that Computer Science is the most important thing that's happened since the invention of writing. Fifty years ago, in the 1950s, human thinkers learned for the first time how to describe complicated machines. We invented something called computer programming language, and for the first time people had a way to describe complicated processes and systems, systems made of thousands of little parts all connected together: networks. Before 1950 there was no language to discuss this, no way for two people to exchange ideas about complicated machines. Why is that important to understand? Because that's what we are. Computer Science is important, but that importance has nothing to do with computers. Computer Science is a new philosophy about complicated processes, about life, about artificial life and natural life, about artificial intelligence and natural intelligence. It can help us understand our brain. It can help us understand how we learn and what knowledge is.

Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, and other philosophers didn't know that you need an operating system, the part of the brain that does all of the housework for the other parts, to use knowledge. So all philosophy, I think, is stupid. It was very good to try to make philosophy. Those people tried to make theories of thinking, theories of knowledge, theories of ethics, and theories of art, but they were like babies because they had no words to describe the processes or the data. How does one part of the brain read the processes in another part of the brain and use them to solve a problem? No one knows, and before 1960 no one asked. In a computer the data is alive. If you read philosophy you will find that they were very smart people. But they had no idea of the possibilities of how thinking might work. So I advise all students to read some philosophy and with great sympathy, not to understand what the philosopher said, but to feel compassionate and say, "Think of those poor people years ago who tried so hard to cook without ingredients, who tried to build a house without wood and nails, who tried to build a car without steel, rubber or gasoline." So look at philosophy with sympathy, but don't look for knowledge. There is none.

As I've said before: gas prices are too high, it's time to invade another oil country. I just paid $2.23 for a gallon of 87 octane! I think Liberty Bob has the right idea, even though he doesn't have any permalinks.

That leaves the oil producing countries. What can we do about that? Well, there are two options; either they know that they are causing us economic harm or they do not know. If they don’t know, we’ll just give them a jingle and say, “Hey, you guys aren’t making enough oil and that’s hurting our economy. Could you make some more, please?” Then they’ll say, “Oh, our bad. We didn’t know. We’ll make more right away. And while we’re on the subject of more, can you send us more blue jeans? These dresses all of our men wear make us look goofy and it’s getting embarrassing.” Then the problem will be solved. ...

Naturally, if you have one country intentionally going out of their way to cause harm (not the harm that may be caused through regular competition) then it is surely an act of war. How does one deal with an act of war? That’s easy, one resorts to saturation bombing. This time when we give them a little jingle we say, “Did you guys know that you’re low oil exports are causing us harm?” They’ll respond, “Of course we are causing you harm. We don’t like you and will continue to cause you harm to the best of our ability. Ha, ha, ha.” Then we say, “Been nice talking to you. By the way, you may want to head to the basement.” (Note for those living in coastal areas of Louisiana and Florida: A basement is a room underground beneath the house. Note for those from Louisiana: These are letters which are markings used to draw sounds.)

I've heard this sentiment from several liberal Californians, as well. The thing is, in California at least, much of the blame for high prices lies with environmentalist wackos who won't let us build new refineries or drill for cheap oil off the coast. Maybe we should give them a jingle.

It's been five academic years since the people of California overwhelmingly voted to prohibit our public universities from using race as a criteria for admitting students. In response, the University of California developed a "comprehensive review" system that considers many intangible factors, in addition to the mainstays such as GPA and SAT scores. A recent examination of the new method has shown that it's less discriminatory than the previous criteria, but it may not have eliminated racism entirely.

After a four-month examination of freshman admissions, University of California officials released data Monday that didn't yield an absolute answer as to whether race still plays a role.

The admissions probe was ordered last fall after John Moores, chairman of the UC Board of Regents, issued a report that found hundreds of students with low SAT scores were admitted to Berkeley in fall 2002, while more than 3,000 with stellar scores were not. ...

In its complex analysis, UC found that in 2003, African Americans and Latinos were admitted at higher rates than predicted at its six selective campuses - Berkeley, UCLA, Davis, San Diego, Irvine and Santa Barbara. Fewer Asian American students were admitted than predicted at those campuses, except UCLA.

It's important to note that Mr. Moores' report only dealt with SAT scores, while admission to the UC as a whole is determined by:
... a complicated model that accounted for grades, SAT scores, income level and other quantifiable factors to predict admission. Prediction rates did not include intangible admissions criteria, such as leadership potential and overcoming personal hardship.
I have no problem with such intangible admissions criteria -- in theory -- as long as they aren't used as a cover or excuse for racism. In my tentative opinion, the numbers from this study show a vast improvement over the situation in 1997, when racial criteria were initially banned.
At UC Berkeley for example, the analysis predicted that 234 African American students would have been admitted in 2003, while 355 actually were. By contrast, 4,433 Asian American students were predicted to have been given an offer to Berkeley; 4,214 were. At UC Davis, 1,953 Latino students were predicted to have been admitted; 2,020 were. ...

Those differences however, are much smaller compared to data from 1997, the last year UC could use race. That year, for example, UCLA admitted 456 African American students, nearly triple the 160 predicted by the model.

I'm not a big fan of increased spending on education, and I opposed California's recent Prop 55 which floated a huge bond for "necessary education facilities to relieve overcrowding and to repair older schools". We wouldn't need bond money to pay for these things if we didn't waste huge amounts of regularly-budgeted money.

Here's the story of what's being cut in one small school district for lack of funding. Note: most of these cuts don't bother me one iota.

The West Contra Costa school district Monday night voted to eliminate high school athletics, close all its libraries and lay off 10 percent of its employees as part of $16.5 million in budget cuts. ...

On the chopping block are 407 positions, or roughly 10 percent of the district's employees, including psychologists, speech therapists, teachers, principals, counselors and custodians.

Of all that, what I'd least like to see cut are the libraries... but let's be serious. Are school libraries really important in this day and age? Even ten years ago when I was in high school we never used the library, and these days I bet 99% of students go to the internet for research long before they hit the school library. I don't know if this school district has computer labs, but I bet they do. If not, they should definitely cut the libraries and librarians and replace the 50-year-old books (that have never been checked out) with $500 desktops.

The single most effective step that could be taken to improve our public schools would be to eliminate the tenure system that pointlessly protects mediocre teachers. Teachers unions fight like crazy against any attempt to evaluate teachers based on merit and achievement, so we shouldn't be surprised that our kids aren't learning. How well would you do your work if you knew you would never be evaluated and could never be fired for doing a poor job?

Despite much of the conventional wisdom claiming that '04 is going to be a squeaker, I'm going to stick to -- and reiterate -- my prediction that George Bush will win in a landslide. Stories already abound of disillusioned Democrats with little hope of a Kerry victory. Many insiders expect the Clintons to be working against him, paving the road for Hillary in 2008.

I'll be happy to eat crow if I'm wrong, but all the Democrats have to run with is visceral anger with no real foundation; I don't think that's going to motivate the electorate for eight more months. The extreme leftists are mostly angry because they're out of power, but the moderate leftists don't have much to complain about -- President Bush has already enacted many of their pet policies.

As a scientist, I'll say of course! But really, it's an interesting question, especially considering the common opinion that science is for the smart, and English is for the dumb. Eli Lehrer goes into the question in great detail, but the essence of his position is that bright students can succeed in any field, and tend to move towards those that are more profitable. I agree with that, but Mr. Lehrer thinks this trend can (and should) be changed by redirecting private and public funds towards the humanities; I don't see why.

For instance, he laments a lack of funding for undergraduate research in the humanities, but,

Of course, assisting in research is more problematic for students in the humanities. "I can’t really send an undergraduate to the library to read an article because he might get something totally different out of it than I would," says Carol Kaske, an English professor at Cornell. "We can’t do undergraduate research the same way they can in the sciences."
Going to the library to read an article isn't real research. Real research is what you do after you know all the background information. Real research is the process of discovering or creating something new. Real research is standing on the shoulders of giants, not just looking around for giants. Going to the library (or the internet) can be part of it, but I get the feeling that what passes for research in most humanities departments is wholly different from scientific research.

From the humanities classes I took as an undergrad, my impression is that the vast majority of humanities study consists of activities smart people do on their own in their free time: read stuff, think about stuff, and then talk about stuff with their friends. It doesn't take someone with a Ph.D. to discern the symbolism in a Robert Frost poem or to speculate on demographics and voting patterns. There are certainly some excellent professors in these fields that add an enormous amount to the knowledge base (and write the books we love to read), but most of that is incidental to the actual study of humanities in most universities. This is probably why many smart students feel bored and apathetic towards the humanities.

An example from my own life. As a requirement for graduation I had to take three "cohesive" upper-division courses in a field unrelated to my own; I chose to take some film classes, because there weren't any annoying prerequisites. I took "History of American Film", "History of German Film", and "Musicals" -- all upper-division classes, and all filled with film majors. I had to write several essays for each course, and I was afraid that I wouldn't know what to write about because these were the first film classes I'd ever taken. Nevertheless, I my fears abated after the first few discussion sections when it became obvious that everyone was free to write about whatever they wanted, and most of the film students were about as deep as Sean Penn. I got As on all my papers with minimal effort, despite rarely going to class other than when the professor was showing a movie I particularly wanted to see.

The point isn't that the sciences are "better" than the humanities -- whatever that even means -- but that there are fewer people who can succeed in the sciences than who can succeed in the humanities. Here's a Venn diagram.

Glenn Reynolds has been drawing attention to the recent accusation of intellectual homogeneity by the Duke Conservative Union against the faculty of Duke University, so I thought I'd post some numbers the American Enterprise Magazine published in September, 2002.

"L" stands for faculty members who are registered in leftist parties (Democrats, Greens, &c.), and "R" stands for those registered in rightist parties (Republicans, Libertarians, &c.). Here's the numbers for my university, UCLA.

University of
California at
Los Angeles
English 29 2
History 53 3
Journalism 12 1
Political Science 16 1
Women's Studies 31 2
TOTAL 141 9
Of the registered voters in these departments, 6% are righties. Just imagine the howls of oppression we'd hear if the ratio were reversed.

My own department, Computer Science, isn't mentioned here. I could speculate on the affiliation of my professors, but I won't because I can't recall a single instance of politics intruding into my CS classes, from any direction. Which is as it should be!

It looks like civil servants in Maryland are keen on enforcing the law rather than re-inventing it.

Until the law changes, however, clerks said there will be no wedding bells for in their courthouses for gays.

"We can't perform a wedding unless it's a man and a woman, it's the law," said Montgomery Circuit Clerk Molly Q. Ruhl. "And I'm here to follow the law."

What a novel concept!

Although I'm not convinced Martha Stewart should have been prosecuted so vehemently for her relatively minor crimes, the accounts of how her jurors reached a verdict are renewing my confidence in the jury system. She really did break the law, the law itself is just, and the jurors convicted her even though they felt sorry for her predicament.

"I choked up and I felt my eyes tearing and I was very relieved that the judge read the verdict, because I wasn't sure if I would have to do that," jury forewoman Rosemary McMahon said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." ...

Despite their sympathy for Stewart, the jury's decision to convict her of lying about a stock sale was made "after careful consideration of everything that we had," McMahon said. "We did what we had to do."

As I said, I'm not convinced she should have been prosecuted, but I do think the laws are important for protecting the integrity of capitalism and the big fish should be at least as scared of violating them as the little fish are.

Martha Stewart obviously wasn't very afraid.

Prosecutors had offered Stewart a chance last April to plead guilty to just one of the four charges against her — making a false statement — in exchange for a probation sentence, Newsweek reported Sunday, citing unidentified sources close to the case. But a defense source told the magazine that prosecutors could not guarantee that Stewart would avoid jail time completely and Stewart refused the offer, Newsweek reported. ...

The jurors also said they believed other key prosecution witnesses in the case against Stewart, including Bacanovic assistant Douglas Faneuil (search), and were puzzled that the defense spent less than an hour presenting its case after weeks of prosecution testimony.

The defense team told jurors, "don't believe it. It didn't happen, so don't believe it," McMahon said. "But we ... were sitting there going, but we saw this and we heard that. And, you know, we have evidence of this. And, you know, testimony of that. So it was like, we need more. You know? We were waiting. We were hoping."

Maybe the title says it all! Or maybe the title just says I'm having trouble being concise today.

If you think about the premise you'll see the analogy holds, and that it doesn't speak well of today's youth. Older generations are called "conservative" because they long for a time when issues that are important to them were headed in a direction more to their liking. Same for the younger generation, but what things are important to them? Fashion and music.

It's unfortunate, but most young people are ignorant and uneducated (mostly due to the public school system, which is a failure by their parents). They don't know much about politics or social policy, and they don't much care what changes because they're ready to buy into whatever soundbite spews from the face-hole of their American Idol.

But when it comes to things they know and care about -- however shallow those things may be -- the gradually aging Gen-Xers pine for the recent past of their high school glory days in the early 1990s.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave an excellent speech yesterday discussing the reality of the threat posed to civilization by terrorists and terrorist nations. You should go read the whole thing -- I wish President Bush and his speechwriters were this clear and direct.

One of the most interesting and important points comes at the end, and signals a potential sea change in international relations.

Which brings us to how you make the rules and how you decide what is right or wrong in enforcing them. The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights is a fine document. But it is strange the United Nations is so reluctant to enforce them.

I understand the worry the international community has over Iraq. It worries that the US and its allies will by sheer force of their military might, do whatever they want, unilaterally and without recourse to any rule-based code or doctrine.

But our worry is that if the UN - because of a political disagreement in its Councils - is paralysed, then a threat we believe is real will go unchallenged. ...

It means reforming the United Nations so its Security Council represents 21st century reality; and giving the UN the capability to act effectively as well as debate.

It means getting the UN to understand that faced with the threats we have, we should do all we can to spread the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, religious tolerance and justice for the oppressed, however painful for some nations that may be; but that at the same time, we wage war relentlessly on those who would exploit racial and religious division to bring catastrophe to the world.

I haven't heard this kind of talk from a national leader before; although President Bush came close at times, I don't remember him openly calling for the UN Security Council to be "reformed".

Still, the UN has exactly as much power and credibility as the nations its built of. I'm not sure a reformed UN with liberal democratic principles would be of any more use than our current model of "coalitions of the willing".

I rarely read or quote Andrew Sullivan anymore, largely because of the vitriolic nonsense he spews over the gay marriage issue; it bores me and leaves me dumber for having read it.

I want to address one particular post of his that I only noticed because Justin Katz is tearing Mr. Sullivan apart over larger topics.

Mr. Sullivan didn't like the movie The Passion, and doesn't much like its creator either -- even going so far as to call Mel Gibson a "heretic" using language that palpably longs to burn him at the nearest stake.

I'm tired of people believing that Gibson is representing Catholicism. He isn't. He is a rebel against Catholicism, specifically the reformed, open, repentant Catholicism of the Second Vatican Council. Gibson doesn't recognize the authority of the current Pope; he doesn't recognize the current mass - the central ritual of Catholics across the world. People are mistaken in believing that he merely prefers the Latin mass; he doesn't. He favors the Tridentine mass, a relic. He believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy. He is clearly and palpably anti-Semitic. His movie is an act of aggression against Jews, and, as such, is an act of aggression against Catholicism and the current Pope's heroic efforts to confront the shameful history of the Church with regard to the Jewish people.
Further, on Mr. Gibson's obvious anti-Semitism:
[T]hat Gibson would use the message of Christ to advance it is what makes it doubly unforgivable.
For the first part, Mr. Sullivan gives absolutely no indication of where he gets his information. Some of the facts may be right, but where are they from? As for his characterizations of Mr. Gibson's opinions, those most certainly require some sourcing if anyone is going to take them seriously.

"He believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy." Has he said this? If so, I'd very much like to know when and where. I doubt he has though, because his critics would have plastered it up on a billboard long before now, considering some of his biggest supporters are non-Catholic evangelicals. Further, Mr. Gibson has spent a great deal of time meeting with protestant religious leaders during the course of promoting his movie, and from what I've read by Christians I know here in Southern California no one got the impression that Mr. Gibson was anything but sincere. (Then again, he's an actor!)

"He is clearly and palpably anti-Semitic." It's so clear that there's a major controversy over the truth of that "fact", and most people -- across the spectrum -- apparently disagree with Mr. Sullivan. Probably because most people are stupid and...

not familiar with the medieval tropes that signal evil and that Gibson trafficks in. Gibson knows. And he knows how his movie will play in those parts of the world where anti-Semitic tropes are still recognized.
How clever of Mr. Gibson to package his anti-Semitism so subtly that it will be ineffective! Except in other parts of the world that are already anti-Semetic. If you already hate Jews, here's more fodder -- but anti-Semites show a tendency to blame Jews for everything and hardly need rational justification.

"[T]hat Gibson would use the message of Christ to advance it is what makes it doubly unforgivable." I wasn't aware that anti-Semitism is unforgivable. I'm no expert on Catholic doctrine, but my general understanding is that nothing is completely unforgivable. Who's the heretic now?

Andrew Sullivan is a mean, hateful, anti-Melite.

Here's a quote from an interview Mr. Gibson gave to the Austrailian Herald Sun, in which he says that non-Catholics are indeed hell-bound.

Gibson was interviewed by the Herald Sun in Australia, and the reporter asked the star if Protestants are denied eternal salvation. “There is no salvation for those outside the Church,” Gibson replied. “I believe it.”

He elaborated: “Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."

It sounds to me like he knows he's supposed to believe it because the Pope (that's "the chair", right?) says so. If he really does believe it, his actions don't show it. But if the Pope says it then it isn't heretical (to Catholics), as Andrew Sullivan claimed, right? Eh, I don't know, the whole Catholic Church thing confuses me sometimes.

My new miniblog, Into the Ether, is starting to fill out a bit, and I'm really pleased -- just glance to your right. Several of my esteemed blogging colleagues have decided to participate in the experiment so far:

- Justin Katz;
- Director Mitch, the (ex-(?))Window Manager;
- Seldom Sober;
- Bitweever, who hasn't posted yet;
- Andrew Ian Dodge and Marty, who also has(/v)n't posted yet.

I've got a few others lined up who sound interested, but I haven't got 'em completely hooked in. If you think you'd like to take part in the project, shoot me an email at plasticATgmailDOTcom and we'll talk.

(What's the big idea? How can Into the Ether appear on my site?)

My January post encouraging Sean Penn to spare us his political opinions has gotten a lot of attention from search engines since the Academy Awards, and numerous new comments.

My impression is that this kind of last-minute manuvering is typical in Arab politics.

Not a good day for rich liberals. I don't have a firm opinion on the Martha Stewart thing, but Baba got what she deserved.

Mark emailed me some posts he has up at Outdoors Pro about the secret meetings that led to the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Oregon.

This is just hilarious! "not an attempt to circumvent the will of the people"?? Are you kidding me? What do you call it when four out of five county commissioners meet in secret, intentionally excluding the lone opposing commissioner, to come up with a flimsy legal argument for an action that the majority of Oregon citizens oppose? Then carrying out that action with no prior notice or discussion, with the voters or in the courts or legislature?
The underlying assumption of modern leftist ideology is that "the people" are sheep to be led by the "enlightened" "elite" -- it's far too dangerous to let them be masters of their own destiny.

That is, a jury has ruled that a mother who was aware her son had AIDS should have told his fiancee; she didn't, and now she owes the ex $2 million (the son is dead). Personally, I think anyone with a deadly disease who would purposefully endanger someone else without their knowledge is guilty of attempted murder, at the very least. The question is, should the mother be civilly liable for not intervening?

In my opinion, no, although the mother certainly had a moral responsibility to warn her prospective daughter-in-law. If the son had been plotting to kill his fiancee with a gun and the mother found out, would she have been legally required to intervene? No. Laws vary from state to state, but with few exceptions people are not required to help others even in cases of imminent danger (sometimes called Good Samaritan Laws, although that term is also used for other purposes).

Further supporting my position in this particular instance is the fact that medical information is generally allowed the strictest possible confidentiality.

"It would have been a violation of Illinois law for these parents to tell this woman of their son's HIV status," said Ann Hilton Fisher, executive director of the AIDS Legal Counsel (search) of Chicago.
It's an awful circumstance, but the criminal here is the dead man, not his mother.

If you don't have many issues to attack the President on, attack his ads.

Compare this strategy with the mthods used by France, Germany, the UN, et al, to tie the hands of America before we went into Iraq. They knew they didn't have the power to actually stop us, so they focused all their energy on harrassing us with accusations of unfairness and unilateralism. If you can't win, change the game.

I'm sure it isn't particularly unusual, but I find myself frequently thinking about time, and my place in it. I often wonder what my kids will think of all this writing, should they ever have the chance to read it. Most of the current events I mention in passing will be obscure historical footnotes in 20 years, if that.

Maybe my philisophical musings will give my kids food for thought. Maybe by the time I have kids I'll have repudated all my present beliefs, and I'll point back to this blog as an example of rank idiocy. If nothing else, they'll be able to get a glimpse of what I was like before they were born.

I always wonder what my parents were like before I came around. It's hard to get any useful information from them, because their current recollections are tainted by the intervening years. They're not much able to remember what they were like before me, either! But right now, I know exactly what my life is like without a wife or kids.

I work 50 hours a week or so building satellites. It's interesting work, but not my dream job. Then again, I don't rightly know what my dream job would be. I still think of myself as a kid, most of the time. I try very hard to be serious and meet my responsibilities, but most of what I must do is done simply to facilitate the things I want to do.

The same can even be said of school. I'm very eager to be finished with my PhD, but I can't imagine what I'll do with all the extra time. I spend an uncounted number of hours each week running simulations on my home computer and analyzing the results. Then I'll make a few tweaks to the code and start all over.

I've considered going to law school, but mainly because I don't know what I'd do without classes and coursework -- probably not the best reason to spend that kind of time and money. Also, I want to be a Supreme Court Justice. I don't exactly know why; it just sounds fun. When I was younger I wanted to be a trashman. Neither is likely.

So what do I want to do? Much of my free time is spent working at church. I teach 3rd through 5th graders on Fridays and Sundays, and I absolutely love my kids. Working with them is what has given me such a desire to have my own. The adult-child dynamic is fascinating and invigorating. The kids are exasperating at times, but I'm always sad to see them leave. The kids I like most are the ones that won't shut up, the ones who always have a random story to tell that generally has no bearing on whatever else is going on. I love answering questions. I love the idea that something I say might open up a whole new direction of thought for someone.

On Mondays I lead a small group of college-age students (real college-age, not old, like me). There's generally just four of us, but this summer we'll be absorbing a good number of kids that are currently in high school. We have a great time together and excellent discussions about God and our lives. I hope I'm teaching them something, too.

A few weeks ago we tried to play laser tag, but when we got to the place it was full of 8-year-olds at a birthday party. I'm sure we could have beaten them easily, but we left and saw a movie in Westwood instead. Big Fish. We also stopped at Aahs and I bought an airzooka. A good time was had by all, and particularly by me.

I'm also on the leadership team at church, and at our meeting last night we finalized a plan to move forward with some serious building renovations. We're going to get some architectural drawings done up to present to the church as a whole, and by some time next year we may have a completely redone education building. It's pretty exciting stuff, but particularly because this is just one outwardly visible facet of how God is working in our church right now.

I run 12-15 miles a week and lift weights. It's important to me to be in shape, because I didn't use to be. I'm not a health nut, but I find that I've got a lot more confidence and energy now that I'm a size S/M rather than a size L/XL. Go figure. I love peas, and eat a few pounds a week. I try to stay away from excessive carbs, but I'm certainly not part of the Atkin's craze. If I've got a vice, it's Mexican food.

My dad and step-mom moved to Reno near the end of last year, and I don't call them enough. If my kids ever read this, they'd better not make the same mistake. I still live near my mom, step-dad, and youngest half-brothers, and I see them every week or so. My oldest younger brother is about to graduate from Stanford and possibly move in with me for a few months. That would be weird; I haven't had a roommate for years. We used to share a room when we were kids, though, so we should be able to share a house. Still, a strange prospect.

There are more details... names and places, times and dates... but that just about sums up my life at the moment.

Last night I saw an old crush for the first time in several years. She just moved back to Los Angeles for work, and it was almost surreal. We've both changed in so many ways, but some of the old inside jokes elicited the same laughter as they had... a decade ago? Unbelievable. Maybe a bit less than that.

I'm not an old man yet, but high schoolers are kids. Heck, my college students are kids in my mind sometimes, too. It irks me when people drive too fast through my neighborhood. I sometimes find myself wishing that my lawn was a little greener and more uniform.

Perhaps only a quarter of my life is behind me, but some might think it was the best quarter. Not me. I'm sure that every year will be just as exciting, or more-so, than the one before it. I've still got a great many milestones to pass, many things to look forward to. Besides, can you really count the first 10-15 years of life? I don't remember much of them. If you only consider the years between 15 and 100, then I'm barely 1/8th through.

I've said previously (although I can't find a link) that there's no way Hillary Clinton will accept the VP spot on John Kerry's ticket. Today, reader Jim Price emailed me a WorldNetDaily article claiming she's lobbying hard for just that position.

Frankly, I don't buy it, even still. The only way I could see such an occurance is if, as the article suggests, she intends to sabotage the campaign from the inside.

Concludes Tyrrell: "Running as veep on a Kerry ticket might not doom her to second fiddle for eight years. The trial might last only eight months, and if the valiant ticket goes down to the hellish Bush she would be seen as the loyalist of loyal Democrats, a Joan of Arc to her party."
So perhaps my earlier statement was a bit hasty, since I didn't then forsee such a devious strategy.

Since I don't currently have the time to be much of a world traveler, I've started perusing the web for non-American-based bloggers who write a lot about life in their homeland but without a lot of politics. It's not that I'm uninterested in the politics, it's just that at the moment I'd rather read about the daily life (and local news) of some foreign place than worry about how it all ties in to world events.

So then, what are some of your favorite foreign blogs? I can only read English (and a bit of Spanish), so that limits my options I'm sure. One enjoyable example I've found is Voluntarily in China, written by an American expatriate who's been living in China for three years now.

- Living on the Planet links to many blogs based on living in various places.
- Blogs Around the World, hosted by Oscar Jr. and pointed out by Jay Solo in the comments, who himself hosts the excellent Carnival of the Capitalists.
- World of Blogs, hosted by the Flying Penguin.

- Hammorabi, a fascinating Iraqi blog (with disturbing images).
- The Marmot's Hole, by "a lost white dude in Korea".

Opinion Journal has a fascinating profile of billionaire George Soros; I'm filing it under "politics" because this guy is probably the largest single donor to Democrat politics in the country. Who is George Soros?

"I have made rejection of the Bush doctrine the central project of my life," announced George Soros in January. "I am determined to do what I can," he added, to assure that President Bush is not re-elected.

Coming from someone else, such statements might be written off as delusional, but Mr. Soros is a man with a record of achieving outsized goals. A financier who began with a stake of a few thousand dollars, he traded and speculated his way to a fortune of many billions, making him one of the world's richest men. ...

As an alternative to the arrogance of American supremacy secured by means of military power, Mr. Soros proposes the "Soros doctrine." Through the good agency of the United Nations and our own foreign-aid efforts, he writes, we need to answer our enemies not with force of arms but with "preventive action of a constructive nature."

What explains this surpassing faith in the efficacy of international governance and institutions, especially in light of the record of such institutions in recent years, not to say over the past century? ...

Cold as he is toward the Jewish people, Mr. Soros is not much warmer toward his adopted country. "I had never quite become an American," he once said. Now he complains that today's America "is not the America I chose as my home," as if, by turning conservative and electing George W. Bush as President, the country has failed to live up to him.

The egotism of the remark is revealing. Mr. Soros has admitted to having "carried some rather potent messianic fantasies with me from childhood, which I felt I had to control, otherwise they might get me in trouble." Having made his mark, he now seems to give them free rein. He told one interviewer that he had "godlike, messianic ideas," and another that he sometimes thought of himself as "superhuman." To still a third he explained that his "goal is to become the conscience of the world."

Sounds like a brilliant nutcase to me.

I will be utterly astounded if liberal talk radio ever seriously competes for listeners with conservative talk radio. It just doesn't seem like the right form of media to use to reach the target audience. Plus, it's been tried before and no one listens.

I haven't been following the Disney shareholder protests over Michael Eisner very closely, but from this Orlando Business Journal piece it doesn't sound like the protesters urging his removal know what they're talking about.

Roy Disney, Walt Disney's nephew, bemoaned the deterioration of the company's values, claiming, among other things, that the company treats, "art and artists as a commodity to be bought and sold like office supplies."
Welcome to the business world. Employees are commodities, and any motivation for treating them in a more expensive manner must be justified with a correspondingly greater return on that increased investment.
He called for a new management team "that understands and believes the value of the legacy left to us."
Nonsense. Worthless rhetoric. Shareholders should be worried about making money, not "valuing a legacy".
Disney attacked the company's attention to "branding," commenting that "branding is something you do to cows. It's a good thing if you are a rancher, because cows tend to look alike. But, I believe our name means something to consumers."
Apparently Roy Disney has no idea what "branding" means -- promoting the meaning of the Disney name to consumers is branding.

Mr. Eisner's response seems spot on, for what it's worth.

Eisner responded to the pair's remarks by saying that "the conclusions you have just heard are fundamentally wrong," adding that the company's ability to create value is undisputed.

"You have just heard rhetoric from our critics that replaces reason," Eisner concluded.

Like I said, I don't know many of the underlying (monetary) details, but based on this article it sounds like the shareholders are trying ot shoot themselves in the foot.

It looks like my favored propositions are going to be approved, and the stupid propositions are going to fail.

Californians overwhelmingly embraced a $15 billion deficit bond Tuesday and a companion measure that were key to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (search) plan for a fiscal recovery that avoids deep cuts or new taxes.

With 15 percent of precincts reporting, the bond measure, Proposition 57 (search), had 61 percent support and the Proposition 58 balanced budget measure had 71 percent.
They aren't perfect -- I would have preferred the deep spending cuts -- but they're better than tax hikes. And it's just possible we might eke out a few years of balanced budgets before the loopholes take over.
Proposition 56, which would have made it easier to pass budgets and raise statewide taxes, lost with just 36 percent support.
I'm incredibly relieved to see that voters weren't dumb enough to fall for this nonsense. As it is, a 2/3 supermajority is needed to pass tax increases, and Prop 56 would have reduced that requirement to 55%... by coincidence, nearly the percentage of Democrats in the legislature. They were slobbering over this one. Good job, California.
Proposition 55, authorizing $12.3 billion to pay for new and improved schools, was trailing with 48 percent support.
It's for the children! Screw 'em. I know my mom won't be happy though. Our school system is a black hole, no matter how much money we pour into it it doesn't get any better. Maybe we should try something radical, like busting up the teachers union.

Here are the live election returns.

Aw crap, now the education bond is narrowly passing with 78.3% of precincts reporting. Toss another billion on the barbie.

Actually, it's very close, and only half of conservative-ish San Diego County and Orange County have been counted. I'll cross my fingers and go to sleep.

... and Brett describes how.

There's a lot that could be written about the follies of foreign aid, but let's look at just a couple of examples.

First, the post that prompted these thoughts: Perry de Havilland says that most foreign aid is a crime based on a lie.

It will come as no surprise to anyone with a 100+ IQ and a modicum of knowledge about how the world works that Robert Mugabe and his murderous kleptocrats have appropriated more that £100 million (US $190 million) in aid sent to Zimbabwe by Britain and the EU.

As that was only to be expected, I cannot say it adds significantly to my loathing of the Mugabe regime. What does fill me with utter contempt is that the people responsible for this utterly predictable outcome still allowed the money to be sent in the first place.

As I have previously argued many times before about foreign aid, to send money for ostensibly humanitarian aims to a nation governed by a tyranny is to become the logistic support arm of that tyranny: insulating the regime from the economic (and hence political) consequences of its actions and thereby indirectly, but in a very real sense, making the regime more likely to survive than would otherwise be the case. That is true even if the humanitarian aid does indeed reach the people and projects it is targeted at.

Read his post for specific examples of how Zimbabwe has used Britain's money (like running youth camps that teach kids how to rape each other).

Similarly, I've argued that America's lax immigration policy serves as a crutch for Mexico's kleptocracy. Without the constant influx of American money, Mexico would have been forced into reform long ago.

Here's a short piece from the National Center for Policy Analysis that explains exactly what our foreign aid buys us (data from 1998).

- In the 1997 UN session, 74 percent of U.S. foreign aid recipients voted against the United States a majority of the time -- up from 68 percent in 1996 and 64 percent in 1995 (see figure).

- Of the 10 largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, six voted against the United States more than half the time, the same level as in the 1996 UN session. (see figure)

- Furthermore, the 10 countries with the highest percentage of votes against the United States are scheduled to receive some $230 million in foreign aid in fiscal year 1998 (see figure).

In other words, we're financing our enemies.

Finally, for now, here's an article by the Cato Institute's James A. Dorn that advocates eliminating foreign aid and instead opening markets to third world products. As a specific example, US and EU sugar subsidies keep prices artificially depressed and prevent African sugar producers from being able to sell us their product. Instead of sending cash to corrupt dictators, why don't we eliminate these harmful subsidies and buy sugar from the cheapest international sources? It's a winning solution for everyone (except domestic sugar producers, who'll have to find something else to grow).

Isn't it bizarre to see leftists making everything into a matter of "freedom" in a manner precisely opposite to reality?

The California Supreme Court has ruled that Catholic Charities must provide contraception as a part of its employee healthcare package, despite the Catholic church's belief that artificial contraception is a sin (which I certainly don't agree with). Nevertheless, this newly imposed obligation is hailed as a victory for "freedom".

State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer called the decision "a huge victory for working women in California."

"It is plainly discriminatory for health and disability insurance plans to not cover contraceptives that were approved by the FDA almost 40 years ago, yet offer coverage for Viagra as soon as that drug was approved by the FDA," Lockyer said.

What does how long ago the FDA approved something have to do with whether or not an employer should be forced to provide it?
Margaret Crosby, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, called the decision a "shining example of California leadership in reproductive freedom."
Ah, the freedom to force other people to buy things for you -- the foundation of modern liberalism. Too bad it's not, you know, liberty.

So far, no evidence of life on Mars. Looks like there was water, however.

My opinion is that we'll never find life anywhere other than on earth. I can't explain why, it's just a hunch. I'll be pretty excited if I'm wrong.

First go read my earlier post... it's underappreciated.

Secondly, I've stumbled upon someone who feels similarly... ironically, Og the Neanderpundit echos several of my thoughts relating to gentlemanly behavior.

Maybe I live in an idealistic fantasyland, but I wish modern human relationships enjoyed some of the protocol and structure of more innocent times.

I wish I called my friends Mister X and Miss Y, at least on occassion.

I wouldn't have noticed tihs story about a protest for "topless rights" except that the organizer appears to have a famous husband.

Liz Book of Ormond Beach is among the organizers. She hopes to lead a thousand "top-free" women and men along a half-mile of Main Street from the pier to the bridge. The goal is to add Daytona Beach to the small but growing list of places that allow women to show their breasts openly, just like men. ...

Book's husband, Robert Van Winkle, bailed her out in 1998 when she was arrested for baring her breasts inside the Full Moon Saloon.

Rob Van Winkle is, of course, rapper Vanilla Ice's real name. Coincidence?

In a bizarrely insane twist, Governor Arnold is now enthusiastic about a revamped proposal for giving illegal aliens drivers licenses... hey, isn't that the issue that got Grey Davis ousted in the first place? Maybe Arnold should put the issue to the public as a ballot measure, as he's otherwise so fond of doing.

Ok, let's look at the wacky details.

Mr. Savage said that after at least two "face-to-face meetings," the governor and Mr. Cedillo have agreed that driver's licenses for undocumented workers should look exactly like other licenses.

"Before, there was discussion that the licenses should look different in some way," Mr. Savage said. "We didn't want that, because it would be akin to having a scarlet letter that could alert police [and others] to their status. So the governor had the same feeling and said, 'OK, that's fine.' "

Oh no, a scarlet letter! Next thing you know they'll be a website listing the residences of sex offenders! Sigh. What is there to say, really? It's like living in a hall of mirrors.
"With the jobs and hours these folks work, they really don't have a choice but to drive," Mr. Savage said. "And I think they want to comply with the law where they can."
Except, of course, for the laws that told them they couldn't come here in the first place. Why do I doubt that people whose very presence makes a mockery of our country will be eager to buy auto insurance? Unfortunately car insurance is expensive, so I'm sure public subsidies for insurance for illegal aliens are right around the corner.

So what's the real deal? There couldn't possibly be some nefarious purpose behind it all.

Opponents insist that there's a more insidious reason behind the idea: to flood the voter rolls with illegal aliens, most of whom may vote Democratic. Under the "Motor Voter" law, new drivers automatically receive voter-registration forms in the mail, and a license is all the identification they need to vote in California.
Haha, that's so silly!

I like Danny Elfman even more now. Don't forget Beetlejuice. Check out the lyrics for his song about Capitalism.

Some details of Iraq's new interim constitution have been released, and there are a couple troubling details.

The document "strikes a balance between the role of Islam and the bill of individual rights and democratic principles," the official said.
It's nto clear what the "role of Islam" will be, but whatever it is I'm sure it'll be more that would be ideal.

The details of how the northern Kurds would be integrated into the system haven't been addressed yet, apparently, but:

Kurdish leaders had demanded the right to keep their peshmerga militia as a distinct armed force and to control oil and other resources in their region. They also sought to add districts to the autonomous area. ...

Shiites, who dominate southern Iraq, insisted that if the Kurds had the right to self-rule in their northern strongholds, Shiites should enjoy the same privilege in areas of the south where they predominate.

Nothing will guarantee failure better than the existence of multiple, autonomous military forces.

Curt at Hunting the Muse has an excellent, and pragmatic, perspective on third-party preference voting and how wise leftists would be to set their preferences aside for now and work within the existing system.

Over the last couple of years, I have done quite a bit of research into U.S. political voting systems and various vote-counting methods. I've come up with the following conclusions:

1. The presidential race should absolutely not have third-party candidates.
2. Preference voting is not the answer for presidential voting while the Electoral College exists.
3. Democrats and Greens need to share fault for 2000, and share the responsibility to join forces in 2004.
4. Bush technically had more electoral support than Gore even without the 5. Supreme Court's help.

Curt's analysis is pretty spot-on, although I disagree with some of his conclusions. We both agree that the Electoral College isn't going anywhere, but I think that's a Good Thing. Given that political reality, Curt has some advise for far-left voters who are inclined to vote with their principles rather than support the Democratic party.
But imagine what would happen should a Green, Libertarian, or Reform candidate get enough support to actually win a state or two. First, absolutely nothing happens for the third-party candidate. They would have to win at least the eleven most populous states (which includes California, Florida, and Texas; a strange trifecta). But, what would happen is that either the third party would be ideologically similar to one of the two major parties, splitting its support, or it would lead to none of the parties getting 270 votes.

When no candidate gets 270 votes, the election goes to Congress for them to decide among themselves. And unless the third party has strong congressional representation, they are out of luck.

The long and short of it is that if a third party wants to become president, they are either going to have to have a strong enough national party to enable them to win several states outright, or they are going to have to have a strong enough national party that they would have a plurality of congressional representatives in Congress. Either way, it requires a strong national party with significant local and statewide support and a significant number of elected officials. None of our third parties have this level of strong support at this time.

Curt then goes on to suggest that third parties form coalitions -- similar to what happens in parliamentary governments -- but it's clear to me that such coalitions would be powerless, in practice, apart from their major party member, as long as we stick with the present electoral system. (Coalitions would only be dragged towards the fringe by the junior partners, to the detriment of all in the coalition.)

I know many people don't like the electoral system, but that's generally because their views are so far from the mainstream that they have no power under our winner-takes-all system. The Electoral College almost requires two major parties, and it also serves to drag both parties towards the "center" of the political spectrum. That fringe groups don't have representation isn't a bug, it's a feature. The electoral system serves to dampen out the political noise that can hamstring government, as can be seen in many European nations. When governments are forced to depend on coalitions, junior partners have an extraordinary amount of tie-breaking power that's vastly disproportional to their size. See, for further example of this effect, both the Democrat and Republican primaries.

I don't pay much attention to my Blog Ecosystem Rankings -- haha, right -- but it's interesting to notice how many more links would be required for me to move up in the world.

Here's a chart -- me me me, the world revolves around me -- with each site being ranked twice as high as the one after it.

41420Talking Points Memo
8990Little Green Footballs
16670Matthew Yglesias
33562The Truth Laid Bear
65359Arts & Letters Daily
261155Master of None
52296Semi-Intelligent Thoughts
41766Contains 2

The slope isn't as steep as I would have expected. For example, if my number of inbound links were to double, my rank would jump from #261 to around #95, a 270% improvement for 200% the links. If my inbound links increased five-fold I'd leap to #13, 2000% improvement for 500% the links. Each link is more valuable than the one before it!

The question then is: is each link harder to obtain than the one before? One might argue that, since there are only a limited number of blogs to get linked from. However, the Ecosystem currently lists 8076 blogs, and even Glenn Reynolds penetrates only 29% of the market. There are plenty of blogs out there who'd probably link to me, if their owners became aware of my site.

Drudge has some quotes from Sunday's Democrat debate in New York City (link probably perishable) and John Edwards repeats a common refrain of many rich leftists.

EDWARDS: Here's the truth. The truth is that I come from the same place most Americans have come from. I grew up in a family where my father worked in the mill, working -- didn't make me any different than most people in this country. I mean, he worked hard, he had a high school education. I was the first person in my family to go to college. ...

What this is about for me, in its simplest terms, is trying to make sure that other Americans get the same chance that I've had.

But that's not really true. John Edwards' family didn't have socialized medicine, didn't depend on welfare, and so forth. What the Democrats are ostensibly proposing isn't to "give people opportunity"; they're proposing to give people for free the rewards that are currently earned by taking advantage of the opportunities that exist naturally.
I don't want to see us, those of us who've had the great luck to have done pretty well in this country, to pull the ladder up behind us. We want to make it available to more people, no matter where they live, who their family is or what the color of their skin is.
I wonder if Mr. Edwards' father would agree that his success was due to "luck"?

No one blatantly wants to "pull the ladder up behind" them, but the types of socialistic structural changes the Democrats are constantly demanding would, in effect, do just that by destroying the system that has produced such great wealth over the past century.

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