April 2004 Archives

Here's a neat page on the dangers of exploring abandoned mines. It also has helpful illustrations of kids falling into holes, starving to death, and getting blown up by dynamite.

As the recent situation with Catholics and pro-choice politicians illustrates, theology impacts politics in many ways. How should this interplay be handled by the leaders of the political and religious realms?

As best as I can understand it, Francis W. Porretto says that religious leaders should refrain from imposing theology that might influence politics (emphasis his).

A lawmaker faced with such a moral challenge has nowhere to hide. He must be explicit about his reasons for his positions, both moral and legislative. He must be willing to weather the storm from both the opponents and the proponents of the dubious practice. Sometimes, that one issue will be enough to sink him; the electorate hasn't got much taste for the sort of analysis that leads to a bifurcated position such as that.

But it is a lawmaker's sworn duty to argue and vote as he deems best for his nation. That's the burden of office. That's the price of its prestige and perquisites. For anyone to make that burden worse in an attempt to coerce the lawmaker into changing his position against the dictates of his conscience is deplorable. It is morally unacceptable.

I agree that a religious leader shouldn't use his power to attempt to directly affect politics, but I disagree that any action that makes a lawmaker's job more difficult is morally unacceptable.

A theologian should interpret theology without any concern for the effect his interpretation has on politics. He should focus simply on what is true and what is false. Continuing this example, if the Catholic Church thinks it's wrong to serve Communion to pro-choice people (or even just to pro-choice politicians, or to people with red hair, or whatever) then they should prohibit it and do what they see to be right, regardless of its popularity or political impact.

Most religions, including Catholicism (although I'm not a Catholic), are revealed -- that is, God tells us about himself and how to relate to him, we don't make it up ourselves as we go along. How we want to relate to God is unimportant, as are the effects we want religion to have. (This is all predicated on a belief in the revealed truth. If one believes that man creates God in his own image rather than vice versa, one most likely feels free to change God's preferences according to his own whim.)

If God were to command everyone to become a vegetarian on pain of eternal damnation we might not like it, but our complaints would have no bearing on the truth God had revealed. Cattle ranchers might object to the sudden loss of business, and the economy might struggle with the change, but none of those would invalidate God's command. A religious leader's responsibility is to tell people what God expects from them. Listeners can believe the revelation or not, accept it or reject it, but no human action has any effect on the truth. A revelation that is particularly hard to accept may result in people leaving the religion, and Jesus faced a similar situation. (As it so happens, this passage is directly related to the revelation of communion. Read earlier in the chapter for more details.)

John 6:60-69

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

When Jesus taught something that was difficult to accept, many of his followers decided to leave. He then asked his twelve disciples if they intended to leave also, and Peter's response is the only rational reaction to revelation. If you believe God has revealed something, it doesn't matter if you like it or not. Where else can you go?

Religious leaders need to pass on God's revelations, regardless of the consequences. Each individual, and each politician, can then decide for himself how to respond, and when it comes to politicians each voter can decide whether to elect him or not.

I'm not a Catholic, and although I have some knowledge of the Catholic Church I'm certainly no expert on their liturgy. However, I'd assume that Catholic bishops and cardinals are experts, moreso than politicians.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., like John Kerry (news - web sites) a Catholic who supports abortion rights, said Thursday she will continue to ask for Holy Communion in spite of Vatican (news - web sites) opposition to pro-choice Catholics doing so.

"I fully intend to receive Communion, one way or another. That's very important to me," Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference.

A top Vatican cardinal said last week that priests must deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

There appears to be some disagreement among Church leaders still, because the archbishop of Washington DC says he's not going to deny pro-choice people communion.

Meanwhile, it looks like Pelosi should become a Protestant.

Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat who was raised in a devout Italian Catholic home, told reporters, "I believe that my position on choice is one that is consistent with my Catholic upbringing, which said that every person has a free will and has the responsibility to live their lives in a way that they would have to account for in the end."
If you don't like the Catholic Church telling you want to believe, then you're in the wrong religion.

Until I post this, I've got exactly 1631 posts and 4863 comments: a comment multiplier of 3x! Considering how many early posts have zero comments, that's pretty great. Thanks for stopping by.

Also, I just remembered that my one year blogoversary was in March, so feel free to send me a gift or something.

If you want to understand the Golden State a bit better, check out this article from Economist.com titled "Survey: California". I don't agree with it all, but John Micklethwait presents many of the issues and opportunities facing the greatest place in the world.

I'm being a bit slow with the blog this week because I'm trying to finish up a novel I'm working on. Plus, news is slow. I'm still trying to schedule a meeting with the city attorney about my CCW... Kerry is still busy stuffing his feet down his throat... Bush is still wearing blue ties and staying above the fray... porn stars are still getting AIDS... terrorists are still plotting against us... the Lakers are still unstoppable... Michael Jackson is still a freak... the 9/11 commission is still a joke... everyone in the world still hates us, but wants to live here... and so forth and so on.

Some people object to allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns because they think it makes the world a more dangerous place. There's a lot of evidence that the opposite is true, and that concealed carry laws make the world both safer (for law-abiding citizens) and more dangerous (for criminals), but let's just say the naysayers are right. If more adults carry guns, there's a greater chance your child will be hit by a stray bullet during the course of her daily activities. Fine.

Rather than go into a bunch of statistics to try and demonstrate that easy concealed-carry laws increase overall safety, let me just say it doesn't matter. A person's right to carry a weapon for self-defense doesn't depend on whether or not it makes you or your kids safer.

Similarly, I have a right to drive past your house in my car, subject to certain restrictions on speed and other traffic laws. If your kids play in the front yard, driving past them poses a risk to their safety because their ball could roll into the street at any time. No matter how carefully I drive there's a possibility that they'll get run over.

Some say, "yes, but cars fulfill a useful purpose", but what could be more useful than protecting yourself or your family from a predator?

Behind the curve as usual, I just read about a somewhat credible terrorist threat against an unspecified West Los Angeles mall -- supposedly near the Federal Building. The Federal Building is very close to UCLA, but there aren't any malls in the immediate vicinity.

As the article notes, the Westside Pavilion is probably the closest, and Santa Monica Place isn't too far away either. Also nearby are the open-air Century City Mall and the Third Street Promenade (which is near Santa Monica Place).

It's strange that terrorists would pick Thursday for an attack, since that's one of the slowest retail days in the week. Nevertheless, I'm going to continue my policy of visiting malls as infrequently as possible.

What's most interesting is that malls apparently get bomb threats "all the time".

Gene Thompson, vice president of corporate security for Macerich Co., which owns Westside Pavilion and Santa Monica Place, said the malls will stay open Thursday with existing security plans in place.

"This just happens all the time. We take these things very seriously. This is no different than any anonymous bomb threat that gets called in all the time," Thompson told the Los Angeles Times.

I guess most of them are bluffs!

Well, no one has actually bought an ad yet, despite the low low prices, so I'll give another couple away. If you want a free ad leave me a comment below and I'll email you the promotion code.

Master of None reaches over 1,200 people a day and you can too for only $25 per month.

Vietnamese emigres in Orange County, California, have a great idea: no-communist zones.

In a gesture that says a lot about the uncompromising anger that many Vietnamese emigres feel toward the regime they fled, leaders want to declare a no-Communist zone.

Officials in Garden Grove and Westminster, two cities that share the sprawling district that is the hub of the world's largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam, plan to propose today identical city measures that would effectively prohibit visits by trade or government representatives from Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.

How uncompromising! It's been almost 30 years since the communists starved and murdered your families, just let it go!
Proponents of the proposed city measures initially planned to take an even harder line by denying police protection to visiting delegations of communist governments. Such a ban, however, posed potential legal problems, and proponents of the measure redrafted the document with an eye to locking the city gates in a way that would not violate the Constitution or run afoul of state laws.
Oh well.

Two other noteworthy observations. First, the headline of the story is really stupid: "Welcome to Our Cities, Unless You're Communist". Long, awkward, and unpithy. Second, the URL of the story on the website is "http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la-me-nocommies28apr28,1,3274871.story?coll=la-headlines-frontpage".

Clayton Cramer has a lot of links to scanned colonial laws that show that every colony required most white males to own a gun upon pain of substantial fine. In 1636/7 Massachusetts even required people to bring their guns to church.

Apparently these laws didn't cause mass shootings, so why restrict gun ownership now? It's almost as if the anti-gunites think the results would be different since it wouldn't just be white males anymore.... Personally, I trust members of all races of either gender to carry weapons, until a given individual proves otherwise.

Blake Wylie at NashvilleFiles tackles the question but only answer it with an example.

So, what is justice? Justice is a government that stays out of people's lives. Justice is a church that understands that helping the poor is advancing the teachings of Jesus. Justice is truth...and as Pilate asked in The Passion, "Quid est Veritas?" ("What is truth?") As a Christian, I challenge other Christians to ask the same of themselves.
Well, not really, although I generally agree with those positions.

People like to throw the word "justice" around, but most don't seem to really understand what it means. Mr. Wylie wrote his post in response to a Letter to the Editor of the Tennessean which said:

It is the duty of government to provide jobs for its citizens who want to work. During the depression years, President Roosevelt provided work for all who wanted a job and the pay was sufficient for survival.

Churches in Nashville are overburdened with request for help also. Yes, charity has its place, but where is justice?

The writer confuses her preferences with "justice", and her reasoning probably went something like this:

1. Everyone thinks "justice" is good.
2. I think it would be good for everyone to have a guaranteed job.
3. Therefore, justice demands that the government provide everyone a job.

The problems are that (1) is based on a mistaken definition of the word, (2) is nothing more than a personal preference, and (3) doesn't even follow from (1) and (2). As I've written before, there is a difference between justice and mercy, although people commonly confuse the two. She mentions charity, and charity is an act of mercy, not justice. Mercy is giving people something good that they haven't earned. It is sometimes better to be merciful than just, but not always, and both mercy and justice have their place.

Justice is only concerned with enforcing fairness and following the rules, regardless of anyone's evaluation of the consequences. Following the rules is justice, and justice is good. Sometimes following the rules has bad results, and the one in authority would do well to suspend his just claim to fairness in favor of bringing about a better result. But, under justice, the decision to show mercy belongs to the one in authority.

So then, who is the authority over the wealth that the writer wants to distribute mercifully to the poor? She believes the wealth belongs to the government, but that's impossible. Only people can own property, and the government is an agent of people (as is a corporation, for instance). The owners, thus, have the right to decide how their wealth is used, and the only role of justice in the matter is to prevent others from seizing it by force.

Mr. Wylie goes on to argue that there is a higher authority than people, and that this higher authority is actually the owner of everything we possess. I happen to agree, and God does in fact command us to use the wealth he puts under our control to help the poor. Even this, however, is not justice, but an exercise of God's mercy. (Although you might say that justice requires us, as mere stewards and not owners ourselves, to follow God's commands.)

So, finally, we get to it. If the government were to implement God's plan for mercy in the manner he commands it, it would be easy to support. However, the government does no such thing, and there is no possibility that it ever will or could. Thus, any forced governmental redistribution of wealth must be classified as charity and mercy, not justice. It is not justice based on God's authority because it does not follow God's precepts, and it is not justice based on man's authority because it is forced.

In actuality, the vast majority of forced governmental wealth redistribution isn't even mercy, it's theft and bribery. Money is taken from one person and spent on several others to buy their political support. The victim has only a single vote to stack up against the several votes of those who benefit from the theft, and thus the crime perpetuates without end in our democratic system. A desire for real justice would result in an elimination of forced charity.

(HT: Bill Hobbs.)

I'm always curious as to why Democrats constantly propose bizarre conspiracy theories to explain their failures. There's Hillary's classic "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy". John Kerry's recent accidentally-on-mic comment accusing ABC of doing the RNC's work. Bush and Cheney and Halliburton and Iraq and OIIILLLL. The CIA killed President Kennedy. The environmentalists are always blaming conspiracies for everything. And so forth and so on.

I think a large part of the problem is that many liberals are so convinced they're right that when their actions don't bring about the effects they imagined they can't figure out why. There must be some shadowy conspiracy secretly working against them! It can't possibly be that their beliefs and strategies are simply wrong and irrational.

Rush Limbaugh plays a tape of Progressive Media's newly-ex-CEO Mark Walsh speaking to a "diversity in talk radio" seminar that sheds some light onto the left's paranoia. Progressive Media is the parent company of the new liberal radio network, Air America (why did they pick a name they couldn't even get the domain for?).

WALSH: Yes, the number of stations he is on is staggering. Yes, the number of hours available per day for the right-wing to shove their vitriol and bile down the throats of unsuspecting listeners continues to grow, but let me suggest to you that entertainment that is successful will overtake this wave that we missed the timing on.

RUSH: All right. First off, you all are unsuspecting. My vitriol and bile get forced down your throat every day and you don't know it's coming! You people turn in here as innocent waifs, you come in here clean as the wind driven snow and unsuspectingly get corrupted and poisoned by my vitriol and bile, and you have no idea when it's coming. They are stupid because they missed out on the timing of this wave. There was no wave. There was no timing. There was not a strategy. I'm not a political strategy. There was no big meeting, no grand design. Nobody put a finger to the pulse of the American people and said, "you know what's missing? Let's do this on the radio." This is not how this happened. They continue to illustrate they haven't the slightest idea how success happens, and that's, in all of the stories about this program or any other... Well, let me stick with mine. I'm not going to talk about anybody else. In all of the stories that I've seen in 15 1/2 years about this program, the concept of the singular achievement here is always omitted. How do we get to 600 stations, Mark? How do we get 20 million people a week? How does this happen?

Whenever movies draw great numbers at the box office or when television shows draw huge ratings, everybody talks about the talent and the achievement and the business success of all those involved in that. When it comes to talk radio, it's an accident. It's an accident resulting from your, the audience's, stupidity and the pied pipers Svengali conspiracy behind me to drive unsuspecting listeners crazy with vitriol and bile. Well, you have no idea what's coming.

So once again, if they're going to insult their potential audience and continue to do it, they have no prayer. They have no clue, and they have no hope because they don't even stop to look at this as a business or any other kind of achievement, that it's not just happenstance or fattish. It's ongoing and constantly building. Despite all the other conservative shows that are out there, we haven't cannibalized each other, we are getting bigger and bigger and bigger and they just can't figure it out. And because these are socialists in their thinking, I mean, everything gets to the people from the top down. So they think this has to have been forced on you. What they don't understand is you, the audience, get what you want, choose what you want, and therefore make those of us who are successful, successful. That's what they don't get.

The key to success it to stop making the same mistakes over and over again. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes really bad ones, but if you're smart you'll learn from your mistakes and change your behavior.

The problem faced by the left, however, is that they don't want the type of success that emerges from a distributed, bottom-up economic and political system (capitalism, democracy). They want to be the elite rulers of a top-down power structure (socialism, oligarchy). Unfortunately for them, top-down just isn't as competitive as bottom-up, so they keep losing despite their expectations.

Some on the left eventually realize the hopelessness of their cause and switch sides, but by definition the left itself keeps plugging away. They reap occasional, intermediate successes when the right stumbles (as it will inevitably do), but the long term trend is clear.

There's no conspiracy, and there doesn't have to be -- the laws of physics and human nature undermine the left's position. They can paddle upstream as long as they like, but eventually they're going over the falls.

I'd like you to all to comment on any real life fights you've been in.

I've only hit people twice with the intention of actually hurting them. The first time was in the third grade. I got ear infections a lot, and my mom made me wear these wool hats to keep the wind off my head. My best friend Jake would always grab my hat off my head and run around with it, making me chase him. I told the teachers but they never did anything to stop him. I told my dad, and he told me that the next time Jake took my hat I should punch him in the stomach and take it back.

So I did. The teachers were mad and they called my dad. They said, "Michael punched Jake. That's bad." My dad said, "Yeah, I told him to, since you weren't doing your job." That was the last I heard of the issue.

The second time was in the fifth grade. I asked to be excused from class to go to the bathroom, and a minute or so after I got there the class bully followed me inside. We were alone, and he started pushing me into the wall and making fun of me. Using the tactic my dad had taught me two years earlier, I punched him in the solar plexus under his ribs and he collapsed onto the ground. I went back to class.

The bully came back into the room about 15 minutes later and didn't say anything to anyone, as far as I know. He never bothered me again.

I don't know if these really qualify as "fights", but that's all I've got.

I'm going to have to start a directory of great essays on what it means to be a man, but for the moment go read "Wimps and Barbarians" by Terrence O. Moore. (I had read it previously, but was reminded of it again by achilles.)

For more than a decade I have been in a position to see young men in the making. As a Marine, college professor, and now principal of a K-12 charter school, I have deliberately tried to figure out whether the nation through its most important institutions of moral instruction—its families and schools—is turning boys into responsible young men. Young women, always the natural judges of the male character, say emphatically "No." In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of "cute guys" around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of "acting like men," or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.
It's long, but you'll enjoy the whole thing. Mr. Moore concisely expresses many of the conclusions I've come to myself as I've grown up and he sets a high bar to strive for.

I'm not sure there was ever a golden age of manliness... I suspect there have always been both wimps and barbarians. If it appears to us today that males of the past were superior to males of the present it's probably because history is written by the winners.

Am I the only one who sees a connection between the so-called feminist movement and increasince violence among women? The feminist movement isn't really about femininity, it's about making women into men (and vice versa). It shouldn't be a surprise that the old dynamic of primarily social fighting among girls is becoming more masculine and physical.

This gossip column about Michael Jackson and his advisors feels like a political report about a successful political coup in a small, beleaguered monarchy. The figurehead king is still on the throne, but the powers that really rule the nation vie for control based on his current whimsical demands.

BFL sister Baldilocks has a great post on measuring up to Pat Tillman, and also points to a post by Aaron the Liberal Slayer about "get laid politics" and why men appease feminists (hint, it's in the title). They both point out that "feminism" isn't really about women, it's about women trying to be masculine.

Baldi (we're on a first-two-syllables-of-the-name basis) also points to an article by a minister in Florida named Doug Giles who wonders:

Have you ever asked yourself, “Self … why do churches today look more like the lingerie department at Wal-Mart, than a battalion of men poised to plunder the powers of darkness?” Why do men avoid going to church, and what can be done about it?
He's got a lot of great suggestions, including:
- Enough with the Precious Moments prints and figurines -- okay? How about decking out the sanctuary with serious transcendent art work that stops us in our tracks, rather than ubiquitous prints of fat baby angels who look like they’ve got a good buzz going from too much Mountain Dew and children’s aspirin?

- Lose the Church’s “I’m in therapy for ever” feel. Yes, yes, we’re all a work in progress but the co-dependant, extended womb the Church has wrongfully created has allowed congregants to not get a life because of some difficult doo-doo in their lives. Sure life’s hard, little Sally, and the sooner, we celebrate the struggle the quicker we will draw men back to our houses of worship.

Good stuff.

(HT: Dean Esmay.)

Below I refer to chemical castration, but the article Mr. Cramer links to clearly says "surgical castration". I don't know how I got the idea that it was talking about chemical castration, but Mr. Cramer's thoughts are obviously based on a correct reading of the article. Big difference. My apologies. I'm not going to completely rewrite the post; I trust this correction at the top will suffice.

Clayton Cramer says that imposing chemical castration on forcible rapists is nauseating, and I suppose it is, but I also tend to think it's a reasonable punishment for a horrible crime. I've expressed concern over the excessive ease of obtaining a rape conviction at this time in our society, but assuming a legal process that genuinely proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt I think chemical castration is acceptable. From the article he links to:
The amendment, adopted on a 68-29 vote, would allow for the castration of offenders who commit first- or second-degree rape or forcible sodomy.
In the plain language, these are very serious violent crimes, not "mere" date-rape. However, as we see a bit further down:
The original bill - Senate Bill 1413 by Rep. Jim Newport - expanded the definition of forcible sodomy to include consensual sex between an employee of a school district over the age of 18 and a student age 21 or younger.
That doesn't seem reasonable at all, and perhaps it explains why Mr. Cramer is disgusted. Once a punishment is acceptable for some set of heinous crimes, it can spread to more minor crimes as well.
"If someone is in college dating a 17-year-old, that's not who we're going after," Piatt said. "We're talking about adults who are preying on our children."
Then change the ages in the law. As it is, I wouldn't be comfortable trusting the government with this discretion.
Rep. Abe Deutschendorf argued that surgical castration will not stop violent rapists from committing sex crimes.

"Rape is not about sex as much as it is about power and violence," said Deutschendorf, D-Lawton. "This will not solve the problem."

This is demonstratably false. Some states and countries offer chemical castration drugs to child molesters and they are very effective in eliminating the desire for sexual predation. The idea that rape isn't mostly about sex is a common myth, and I don't understand the purpose behind it. Yes, rape is an act of violence, but it's similar to a robbery in that the violence has a directed purpose and isn't the goal in-and-of itself. Castration (particularly chemical castration, even more-so than physical castration) almost completely eliminates the male sex drive, and thus removes the motivating force behind the violence of rape.

Also, it's important to recognize that chemical castration is only in effect as long as the patient takes his pills (or gets his injections of anti-androgens). It's not permanent or irreversible. (If I'm wrong about this, please let me know; I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV.)

In general, I approve of attempts to use punishments other than jail time for various crimes. Prisons are expensive to run and often serve to harden incarcerated criminals, making them more dangerous upon release.

SDB posts some notes about space battles and says it's not likely that he'll be able to finish writing more on the subject. (I hope he's ok.) It all makes interesting reading; here's my take on his last entry.

The only disagreement I have with him is over the use of nuclear weapons. He says they won't be used in space for the same reasons they aren't used on earth: politics. Possibly, but considering the reduced long-term pollution effects of nuclear weapons in space and the incredible utility of such weapons in a space battle, I'm not convinced such a position would hold indefinitely. I don't think a nuclear attack in space would be seen as the equivalent of a nuclear attack on the ground (of any planet).

Buckethead has more excellent thoughts and agrees with me about nukes.

Teresa Heinz Kerry has a revealing position on abortion.

Teresa Heinz Kerry says she's pro-choice but believes abortion is "stopping the process of life," it was reported yesterday.

"I don't view abortion as just a nothing," said Heinz Kerry in an interview with Newsweek, in which she took a side in the long-festering debate over when life begins.

So people should have the power to stop another's life at will?
Heinz Kerry once said that she was "not 100% pro-choice," but told the magazine that now the issue is black and white for her.

"I ask myself if I had a 13-year-old daughter who got drunk one night and got pregnant, what would I do. Christ, I'd go nuts," Heinz Kerry said.

Well first of all, if your 13-year-old daughter is getting drunk and having sex, you are severely neglecting your parental responsibilities. Secondly, this is a perfect example of an abortion of convenience. With modern medical technology it's generally safe for a girl even as young as 13 to deliver a baby. Absent complications (which would be more common for such a young mother), there's no concrete reason that the child couldn't be carried to term and born.

So basically Mrs. Kerry thinks it's ok to kill babies if they're likely to be too disruptive to your lifestyle.

Further down, John Kerry has a strange quote himself.

Kerry appeared at an abortion rights rally in Washington Friday, saying, "Abortion should be rare but it should be safe and legal. And the government should stay out of the bedrooms of Americans."
I'm not aware of many abortions being performed in peoples' bedrooms. And anyway, what's the idea? Wasn't the same general logic used to defend wife-beating and child abuse not too long ago?

Bear Flag League founder (?) Justene Adamec (who unfortunately missed our BFL brunch yesterday) is participating in the upcoming Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, being held in Los Angeles on September 11-12, 2004. It's a worthy cause, and I encourage you to contribute a few dollars towards her effort.

For what it's worth, I've looked up bios on all the pro-abortion women mentioned in this article about today's march for abortion rights in Washington, DC.

- Frances (or Francis?) Kissling -- President of Catholics for A Free Choice; directed family planning clinics in the 1970s; certainly over 50 years old.

- Carole Mehlman -- mentioned in the article; "68, came from Tampa, Fla., to support a cause that has motivated her to march for 30 years, as long as abortion has been legal. 'I just had to be here to fight for the next generation and the generation after that,' she said. 'We cannot let them take over our bodies, our health care, our lives.'"

- Nancy Pelosi -- California Representative, House Minority Leader; born 03/26/1940, 64 years old.

- Gloria Steinem -- feminist journalist; born March 25, 1934, 70 years old.

- Hillary Clinton -- Senator from New York; born October 26, 1947, 56 years old.

- Whoopi Goldberg -- actress; born November 13, 1955, 48 years old.

- Kathleen Turner -- actress; born 19 June 1954, 49 years old.

- Cybill Shepherd -- actress; born 18 February 1950, 54 years old.

- Kate Michelman -- President of NARAL, had an abortion in 1970 and has grandchildren; certainly over 50 years old.

The article also mentions one pro-life woman:

- Tabitha Warnica -- mentioned in the article; "36, of Phoenix, said she had two abortions when she was young. 'We don't have a choice. God is the only one who can decide,' she said."

Where are the young women pushing for the right to kill their babies? The abortion lobby/industry is a movement made up of old women who don't represent the future of America. Surveys indicate that abortion is losing acceptance among women as the bitter boomers die off and are replaced by younger, saner generations of women.

Future generations will look back on the 40 million babies killed over the past 30 years -- in America alone -- with disgust and revulsion. A quarter of my generation: dismembered and discarded. And people have the nerve to worry about spotted owls?

King of Fools points to a poll released by Zogby last friday:

In the Zogby poll, 60 percent of 18-29 year-olds took one of the pro-life positions on abortion while only 39 percent agreed with the three pro-abortion stances. Some twenty-six percent of young Americans said abortions should never be legal.

On the question of whether abortion should not be permitted after the fetal heartbeat begins, 65.5% of 18-29 year-olds agreed, 46.9% strongly so.

The New York Times has an article that goes on at great length about who stands to make money from a Google public offering, and the last line illustrates perfectly why I'm not going to be buying any shares myself.

Andrew Anker, an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist, said: "This is the deal of the century as far as I'm concerned. No matter how you cut it, this will make a lot of people very happy."
There are apprently hundreds of rich, famous, powerful people who stand to make a lot of money if Google goes public, and the connections of those people are probably driving the valuation of the company more than its actual merit.

Google is a good company, but as many others have pointed out in the past they occupy a very precarious position. The only reason the company makes money is because they're the premier search site on the internet... but think about that. As soon as some new search technology comes around, wham, Google is dead. There's no way to build brand loyalty with a product like search results. If a competitor develops a better search algorithm that delivers more accurate and relevant results, they're only a couple of keystrokes away from replacing Google in the world's shortcut menus.

Unlike other software service providers, such as Microsoft, a user can switch from Google to another search engine for free almost instantly. There's no tie-in, no investment, and no reason to stick with Google once it falls from the top of the heap, as it will almost certainly do.

Everyone knows this, so what makes the company's modest revenue stream so highly valued that an IPO would "instantly make Google worth more than Lockheed Martin, the big military contractor; Federal Express, the package delivery service; or Nike, the sports clothing maker"? Only one thing: the power of the investors who want the company to succeed. Google is the last, dying gasp of the Internet Bubble, and the real suckers are the people who are drooling over the chance to buy up stock from the existing private shareholders.

I'd been having some stability problems with my computer for the past few days and I finally found the cause. Summer's officially here, and the ambient temperature of my home computer lab has risen enough that my new Athlon 3000+ CPU was overheating. What to do?

Well my buddy Cypren (who also set me up on this new server!) recommened that I head to Fry's and get some Arctic Silver high-performance thermally conductive compound to replace the thermal grease than came packaged with my heat sink and cooling fan. I was skeptical that changing the compound would drastically affect the temperature of my CPU, but I was wrong.

I'm running a lot of simulations for my PhD and they really push the processors of my computers to their limit. According to the internal temperature diode of my Athlon the core temp was up to 146F during full CPU utilization, and I think that was an underestimate. This afternoon I removed the CPU, wiped off the old thermal grease, and applied some Arctic Silver 5 ($20 at Fry's, ouch).

What a difference! I've been running for eight hours now with no instability, and my core temp is holding steady at 120F! I can't believe what a huge difference Arctic Silver made. 26F is a huge drop. The Blue Screens of Death are gone!

So I stayed up until 4am last night trying to come up with a cool logo, and if you look in the upper-left corner you'll see what I devised. Not satisfied with merely one new image, I created a few pics for the permalink/comment/trackback controls as well (inspired by Samizdata).

Eh. I like them now, but I may get tired of them soon. We'll see.

Check out the effect out-of-control malpractice costs and trial lawyers are having on neurosurgeons.

Jim Masterson said his wife was left untreated for five hours and eventually died while doctors searched for an out-of-county physician who'd operate. Not a single local neurosurgeon would come in, Masterson said.

"If you have a stroke in this part of the country then you're in deep trouble because the doctors won't see you," Masterson said.

Some neurosurgeons (search) aren't disputing his claim, saying they can't afford malpractice insurance and are afraid of being wiped out by lawsuits, so they reduce their risks by refusing emergency patients.

The trial lawyers must see the big bucks slipping through their fingers, because they've got another theory.
But some trial lawyers say there is no malpractice crisis and that patients are dying because doctors are playing the blame game instead of doing their job.

"I think its criminal," said trial attorney Marvin Kurzban. "I think its dereliction of duty. I think that's malpractice also."

Ah, right. Doctors go to school for decades and take out loans to pay for it because they don't want to perform surgery. It's malpractice if they screw up, and now the lawyers want it to be malpractice if they refuse to operate for fear of a lawsuit. Gee, do you think Mr. Kurzban has any ulterior motive other than the public health? Nah.

Almost a year ago I wrote that the conflict in Israel won't stop until the will of the Palestinian people is broken. I quoted a poll of Palestinians taken in September, 2002, which showed that the vast majority of them supported terrorist attacks on Israel.

- 52% oppose peace negotiations with Israel. - 73% are pessimistic of a reaching a peaceful settlement to the conflict. - 66% are opposed to the Oslo agreement. - 80% support the continuation of the al-Aqsa Intifada. - 53% believe that the Intifada will achieve its object. - 65% support suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians [the poll question specifically mentions civilians].

I wrote that until these numbers change there will be no hope for peace. Well, apparently the number are changing now (no permalink; April 22, 2004).

Hamas, and Palestinian, media continue to hammer away with the need to destroy Israel, and repeat allegations that Jews are trying to take over the world, the Nazi extermination campaign against Jews during World War II was a myth and that the Christian world is making war on the Islamic community and Moslems must fight back. But these stories are less often accepted by their audience. Palestinian opinion surveys (conducted by Palestinians) have been tracking this decline in support for the intifada. As a result of that, the Palestinian pollsters have been physically attacked by terrorist groups. This has further turned off Palestinians.

While popular support for Palestinian terrorists is declining, the terrorists themselves will not go away. Their inability to launch many suicide bomb attacks has not diminished the dedication of the remaining terrorists. But deprived of their much of their leadership and technical experts, there is greater risk that the terrorism will be more frequently turned against “disloyal” Palestinians. When the terrorists cannot strike out, they tend to look for internal enemies. Given the large number of Israeli informers in the Palestinian territories, and increasing number of Palestinians who do not agree with the terrorism tactics, Hamas and other terrorist groups have lots of potential victims close at hand.

Good news for everyone, except terrorists.


Eugene Volokh posts an op-ed he wrote arguing against the now-retracted Victims' Rights Amendment and it's generally good, but I think he dances around what I see to be the real issue: the government shouldn't base prosecutions on what's good for crime victims.

Many people (not Prof. Volokh, I'm sure) see the justice system as a civilized way for victims to get revenge. Many others think the purpose of the justice system is to reform criminals and make them into contributing members of society. Both are wrong.

The former view is possibly popular because the perceived need for "closure". That's psychobabble. The government has no business basing punishments on anyone's mental health.

The latter view is popular because there's a certain segment of society that thinks no one is responsible for their actions. When people commit crimes it's society's fault for not educating them sufficiently. I reject this notion, not because there aren't some environmental and genetic factors that contribute to criminality, but because despite those factors we all have a responsibility to exert our free will and prevent ourselves from hurting others.

A third view is that the purpose of the justice system is to make society safer. This is partially true, but not exactly. The purpose of the laws that the justice system enforces may be to make society safer, but the purpose of the justice system itself is purely to enforce the laws. The police officer and the judge should not concern themselves with the effect their enforcement has on society.

The legislature is in charge of crafting laws that fulfill the goals of their electorate, and the voters will probably want their representatives to pass laws that make them safer. The justice system should let the lawmakers do their jobs. Part of the problem is that the lawmakers make so many laws that they can't all be enforced. This situation leaves the justice system with too much discretion as to which criminals they prosecute, and in effect allows the police and prosecutors to act as de facto legislators by ignoring some laws and being strict on others.

The real focus of the justice system should be, as Prof. Volokh says, "figuring out the truth". The victims' rights lobby thinks that trials should be therapeutic for crime victims, but in reality the victim of a crime has no role to play other than, at most, a witness.

If a defendant is convicted he should be sentenced purely for the purpose of punishment. If the punishment brings anyone "closure" or satisfaction as an incidental side-effect, fine. If the punishment makes society safer, that's excellent (and an important indication that the punishment is effective). If the punishment leads to the criminal's reformation and redemption, also excellent. But none of those are the point, and I don't trust the courts to define all those terms. Punishment is easy, all the rest is social engineering.

The more I think about the refusal of some Iraqi forces to fight domestic enemies the less surprised I am.

Even though Saddam had little trouble finding soldiers to kill their fellow Iraqis, that's not the kind of army we've been building over the past few months. Imagine what would happen if the American military were called upon to put down a violent rebellion in the modern United States.

In the days of the Civil War, army units were mostly constituted of men who were from the same geographic area. Even though the South was part of America, most Union soldiers weren't fighting in their home towns against their own families. In Iraq, however, we've been building a modern, ethnically integrated army with soldiers in each unit from all over the country. That's the best way to structure an army to prevent military coups and the like, but it makes domestic military actions very difficult for the same reasons.

The Iraqis do need to take responsibility for their own welfare, but until there's a common concensus among the population military action may be required to keep the peace -- and modern militaries are purposefully designed to be bad for controlling the domestic population.

Bill Hobbs asks a great question: "Where is Iraq's Wyatt al-Earp?". A modern army is bad at domestic peacekeeping, but an armed populace that knows where the troublemakers live and is motivated to stop them could do the job. I have a feeling they've got the "armed" part down, it's the motivation that appears to be lacking.

I think it's pretty noble of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to publically notify the world that he's extracting himself from a promise he made not to kill Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Most promises and agreements (which should be considered the same thing) aren't intended to be kept forever. If I agree to work at a job, it's understood that I'm not necessarily going to be there forever. Some agreements are explicitly designed to be irrevocable (like marriage should be), but unless that is stated directly at the time the promise is made the only expectation should be that either party will warn the other before nullifying the agreement. Honor demands that such warning be given sufficiently in advance that the other party's interests aren't seriously damaged, and that promises shouldn't be used for deception or subterfuge -- that's the difference between good faith and bad faith.

So now Arafat knows that he can't depend on the protection Sharon's promise once offered, and he has some limited amount of time to adjust to the new situation. Assassinating Arafat without warning would have been dishonorable, considering the former promise, but now that Sharon has put President Bush (to whom the promise was made) and Arafat on notice, he's fulfilled his duty and is behaving like an honorable enemy.

Contrast Sharon's behavior with that of the Palestinian terrorists, who routinely agree to "cease fires" and then reinitiate hostilities with no warning; they use agreements made in bad faith as a ruse to trick their enemies.

How do people decide what are, to them, trivial sums of money? For example, if there's something I want on a whim and it's less than $10 I'll probably buy it without much consideration. If it's $15 I'll deliberate a bit more and probably not buy it without good reason.

I know people who make less money than I do who consider larger amounts to be trivial, and I know people who make more than I do who are more frugal. If people were rational there would be some common percentage range of disposable income that would be considered trivial, but I'm not sure if that's the case.

So how small does a purchase have to be for you to consider it trivial? I know some marriages where the spouses have an agreement to discuss expenditures of more than, say, $100, but that seems like too high of a threshold to qualify as "trivial" to most people.

This is a test of the new server installation.

With all the recent talk of Constitutional amendments for this and that, here's a good example of what amendments are for.

The House on Thursday took up legislation that would require the holding of special elections within 45 days of the speaker confirming that a terrorist attack or other catastrophic event had left at least 100 seats vacant in the 435-seat body. ...

The Senate already allows governors to appoint senators when a vacancy occurs prior to an election. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has proposed a constitutional change giving states the flexibility to come up with their own methods of quickly filling seats in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on Congress. ...

Simpson and Cutler, in a recent letter, said not one of their members went into the task with the desire to amend the Constitution. "Nevertheless, the evidence we considered led us to conclude that, for the sake of the Constitution itself, the security of our nation and the preservation of the Congress, a constitutional amendment is necessary to provide continuity in the face of a catastrophic attack."

I'd tend to agree that legislation alone isn't enough, since it's not at all clear that Congress has the power to authorize special elections under any circumstances. There is no Constitutional provision for filling a vacant House seat before the next general election; it probably wasn't considered necessary 200 years ago, because House elections come frequently and it wasn't conceivable that a significant fraction of chamber could be eliminated at one stroke.

BFL sister Irish Lass is hostessing (?) a Party for the President, and Dick Cheney is supposed to call. Sounds like fun, too bad I'm nowhere near Sacramento. If you, however, are, go here and request an invitation.

Forwarded by a friend from church:

Question: How do you tell the difference between liberals, conservatives, and southerners?

Try this. Pose the following question: You're walking down a deserted
street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, a dangerous
looking man with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with
you, screams obscenities, raises the knife, and charges. You are carrying
a Glock .40, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he
reaches you and your family. What do you do?

Liberal Answer:
Well, that's not enough information to answer the question!
Does the man look poor or oppressed?
Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack?
Could we run away?
What does my wife think?
What about the kids?
Could I possibly swing the gun like a club and knock the knife out of his hand?
What does the law say about this situation?
Does the Glock have appropriate safety built into it?
Why am I carrying a loaded gun anyway, and what kind of message does this send to society and to my children?
Is it possible he'd be happy with just killing me?
Does he definitely want to kill me, or would he be content just to wound me?
If I were to grab his knees and hold on, could my family get away while he was stabbing me?
Should I call 9-1-1?
Why is this street so deserted?
We need to raise taxes, have a paint and weed day and make this a happier, healthier street that would discourage such behavior.
This is all so confusing! I need to debate this with some friends for a few days and try to come to a consensus.

Conservative Answer:

Southerner Answer:
click....(sounds of reloading).
Daughter: "Nice grouping, Daddy! Were those the Winchester Silver Tips?"

I'm sure there are other demographics that need answers of their own... any ideas?

I sure would.

There will be a pro-abortion rally this weekend in Washington and a march in favor of abortion rights. It claims to be "non-partisan".

"This march is non-partisan, it is not political in the sense of electoral (politics)," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a march sponsor.

However, Feldt said the event aimed to "create a social climate in this country that is so supportive of reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care that it will simply be a matter of course that anyone in public office will be so as well."

That's like saying cutting taxes is a non-partisan issue.

As usual it's impossible to have a substatial debate on the issue because the abortion advocates refuse to acknowledge the real point of disagreement. No one disputes the right to choose to reproduce or not, the problem is that there's no concensus on when reproduction actually occurs. To a pro-lifer, once a woman is pregnant she has already reproduced and has already exercised her right to choose.

Organizers hope for a bigger turnout on the Mall than a 1992 abortion rights march, which drew 500,000, according to the National Park Police, which no longer gives official crowd counts. The biggest demonstration was an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1969, which drew 600,000.
Except for, perhaps, the 1997 Stand in the Gap rally that drew between 500,000 and 1 million attendees. No official estimate was given, but according to NPP officers I spoke to on the scene they'd never seen a crowd that size before (and one officer claimed to have worked on the mall for thirty years).

The most interesting "dare" thus far was presented by anonymous commenter "A":

Find the flaws in the Chinese Room argument against AI, and explain them to normal folk.
The Chinese Room is a thought experiment first proposed by John Searle in 1980 that attempts to illustrate that Strong AI will never be accomplished by mere symbol manipulation. Strong AI claims that a computer can be programmed in such a way that it will be a mind, capable of conscious thought and comprehension. Weak AI says that, although computers can be useful tools for understanding minds, no computer (as currently conceived) will ever achieve real intelligence.

The thought experiment is as follows:

In the Chinese room thought experiment, a person who understands no Chinese sits in a room into which written Chinese characters are passed. In the room there is also a book containing a complex set of rules (established ahead of time) to manipulate these characters, and pass other characters out of the room. This would be done on a rote basis, eg. "When you see character X, write character Y". The idea is that a Chinese-speaking interviewer would pass questions written in Chinese into the room, and the corresponding answers would come out of the room appearing from the outside as if there were a native Chinese speaker in the room.

It is Searle's belief that such a system could indeed pass a Turing Test, yet the person who manipulated the symbols would obviously not understand Chinese any better than he did before entering the room.

The man in the room represents a computer following a set of rules (it's "program"). Even though he can generate outputs that appear to reflect comprehension, all he's doing is following rules and manipulating symbols.

I subscribe to the weak AI position, but as the Wikipedia article notes near the end, the actual truth may not be important. If a computer appears intelligent to an observer, does it matter if it really is or not? Perhaps only when considering moral and ethical questions, such as whether or not an apparently-intelligent computer can be "murdered". The problem becomes philisophical rather than scientific; I could argue that there's no way for me to know that you are actually intelligent, other than by observing you.

This "other minds" objection certainly doesn't refute the argument (it doesn't matter how I know you're really intelligent or not), but it may make the argument scientifically unimportant. We have no way to make decisions other than by making observations, and if we can't observationally distinguish between real and artificial intelligence then there's no science to be done. (Of course, if we can visually inspect the "brain" of the being in question we could decide easily.)

Searle refutes many other common objections in his own writing, and I suggest that you don't send additional objections to me until you understand his arguments -- it's likely that he's covered your objections already. The point is this: weak AI means that computer scientists will always know which intelligences are genuine and which are not, even if the general public can't tell the difference.

Miss "A" asks me to "find the flaws" in the argument, and I have only one to offer that hasn't been covered extensively elsewhere (to my knowledge, and it makes the argument stronger, not weaker). Searle assumes the existence of something I don't think is possible: a set of rules that the man in the room could follow that would allow him to appear to understand Chinese to outside observers.

Human language can be used to construct questions that aren't recursively enumerable, which means it may take an infinitely long time to find an answer, if one exists. For example:

Given a program and input parameters, will that program run forever?
That question is undecidable, because for the input programs that will run forever the respondent will have to wait that long before knowing the answer. Somehow humans identify such situations and behave appropriately, approximating and guessing and making-do with rough estimates. A computer could "guess" also, but how would it know when to do so? That problem itself is undecidable.

It's certain that, even with an infinite rulebook, the outside observers would eventually come up with a question that would take the man in the room an infinite amount of time to answer. If the man understood Chinese he would be able to respond with an appropriate guess, but since he must rely solely on symbol manipulation he can only "guess" by replying with a random symbol, thereby revealing his lack of comprehension.

This whole discussion is vastly oversimplified, but "A" wanted me to try to make it accessible to "normal folk" so I did the best I could. For more information you can read the Wikipedia entries I linked to above -- they're mostly accurate.

Bill Hobbs wonders how another blogger who gets 368 visits per day can generate $3,000 in revenue each month. C'mon. I must be doing something wrong. I'd like to know how to turn each of you into 27 cents a month!

Meanwhile, back at the lab, our heroes consider the tremendous value of an ad that costs a mere $25 per month and reaches some 25k to 30k unique visitors.

The California Highway Patrol wants us to anonymously report people we know who register their vehicles out-of-state to avoid California's outrageous Vehicle License Fees.

Report Vehicles with Out-of-State License Plates to the CHP

Did you know that the State of California loses millions of dollars a year in revenue from California residents who unlawfully register their vehicles in other states or countries?

Did you know that vehicle registration fees are due immediately upon accepting employment or establishing residency in the State of California?

Did you know that California law permits only 20 days to complete the process of registering your vehicle without paying a penalty?

Did you know that most traffic laws are designed solely to generate revenue, not to increase safety? Did you know that law enforcement officers often brag about disobeying laws that us mere mortals can't ignore?

Maybe the media ignored some details, or maybe I wasn't paying attention, but there's apparently a lot I didn't know about Columbine.

The killers, in fact, laughed at petty school shooters. They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting "the most deaths in U.S. history." Columbine was intended not primarily as a shooting at all, but as a bombing on a massive scale. If they hadn't been so bad at wiring the timers, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people. After those bombs went off, they planned to gun down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with still more bombs, would rip through still more crowds, presumably of survivors, rescue workers, and reporters. The climax would be captured on live television. It wasn't just "fame" they were after—Agent Fuselier bristles at that trivializing term—they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun. Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.
I forget which blog pointed me to this piece... sorry.

It's sad to see amoral people attempt to use regulation as a substitute for morality.

After almost a year of urging the adult-film industry to require actors to wear condoms during sex scenes, state and county officials say the recent HIV (news - web sites) infection of two porn stars has given them the leverage they need to force change. ...

Although a few California adult-film producers have voluntarily switched to condom-only productions, the majority of producers and distributors have balked at doing so. It is conventional wisdom within the multibillion-dollar industry — which employs more than 6,000 people in California, including about 1,200 performers — that using a condom doesn't pay.

Well, duh.

Look, we're supposed to be a free country, and that should mean that people have the right to do stupid, crazy, dangerous things without government intervention. The problem is that people want the benefits of morality without actually having to behave morally -- thus, ridiculous over-regulation.

People who behave in even a moderately chaste manner are incredibly unlikely to contract HIV, AIDS, or any other type of sexually transmitted disease. People who behave in a promiscuous manner, on the other hand, are at high risk. Regulation and bureaucracy can't change the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, all they can do is burden everyone's freedom and push dangerous activities underground (or out of the state).

David Joseph, president of Red Light District, a Chatsworth-based production company that specializes in hard-core, "gonzo" films that do not use condoms, was one of several representatives of production companies who said that if the state required condom use by sex actors, they would leave California. Other industry insiders predicted that filming would move underground.
Again, duh. People who don't want to be moral can't be regulated into even a semblance of morality. They know the risks, and they want to take them.

Many of the problems with our government arise from well-meaning people who reject the quaint notion of morality. They just can't encourage people to behave morally, so they chip, chip, chip away at the tiny freedoms that make immorality dangerous. They want to prove that the benefits of goodness can be separated from actual goodness. But they're wrong, and the result of their belief is the ridiculous, contradictory mess we've got now.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that campaign finance reform is a total mess. Democrats, who stood to lose the most if "soft money" contibutions were effectively curtailed, are accepting more money from millionaires, billionaires, and unions than ever before. I don't care how much money the Democrats raise, that's not the point. The point is that CFR is entirely ineffective in achieving its stated goal.

That's the sign of a bad law! It doesn't actually accomplish its goal, it just adds layers of red tape, regulation, and expense.

As for CFR specifically, money is like water: it flows downhill -- and nothing is lower than politics. The only way to combat government corruption is to reduce government power. As long as the government has the power to meddle in things, it will, and people will spend money to get it to meddle in their favor.

There's some controversy over whether Amanda Doerty is really a hot chick or just a man pretending to be a hot chick. There's only one way to know for sure!

No, not by talking to her or playing doctor... by using the Gender Genie to analyze her writing style! I'll just paste in some text from her front page and...

Words: 9401

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

Female Score: 15607
Male Score: 21269

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

Here are the details:

Feminine Keywords Masculine Keywords
[him] 3 x 73 = 219 [some] 33 x 58 = 1914
[so] 82 x 64 = 5248 [this] 36 x 44 = 1584
[because] 21 x 55 = 1155 [as] 50 x 37 = 1850
[actually] 6 x 49 = 294 [now] 21 x 33 = 693
[everything] 2 x 44 = 88 [good] 28 x 31 = 868
[but] 74 x 43 = 3182 [something] 18 x 26 = 468
[like] 21 x 43 = 903 [if] 94 x 25 = 2350
[am] 7 x 42 = 294 [ever] 5 x 21 = 105
[more] 34 x 41 = 1394 [is] 185 x 19 = 3515
[out] 21 x 39 = 819 [the] 376 x 17 = 6392
[too] 22 x 38 = 836 [well] 14 x 15 = 210
[has] 25 x 33 = 825 [in] 132 x 10 = 1320
[since] x 25 = 350  

So there you have it! Hot Abercrombie Chick is a man, man. Absolute proof, brought to you by Modern Technology.

Ok, not really "absolute", but the Gender Genie is based on research by some Israeli linguists (as described in this Nature article) and is around 80% accurate. I used a large sample of "Doerty's" writing and the gender skew is high enough that we can be very confident that the author is, in fact, a male.

Duh! Look, I hate to be a cynical misogynist, but girls that hot simply aren't that smart and that eager to discuss philosophy. I know lots of hot girls, and even the intelligent ones get by mainly on their looks. Why? It's easier, and all humans, male and female, generally follow the path of least resistance.

Always a fun game, and now via e-Claire and yarbroughs I see there's a blog version.

Since nothing could be less interesting than learning more about your humble host, I'm going to change the rules up a bit; Miss Claire only accounted for Truth, but the Dare part of the game is more entertaining. So ask me any questions you like, or dare me to post an article taking any position you want on any issue you desire. (Don't worry about whether I'll agree with the position or not, that's half the fun.) I'll answer the questions, and turn some of the best dares into posts.

Miss Claire ups the stakes herself.

But Mr Williams -- it hardly seems sporting if you're gonna pick and choose like that . . . Here's a challenge: pledge to post the first three dares -- any subject, no matter what. If you succeed in making cogent arguments on those random three subjects, I'll send $30 [that's ten bucks a post!] to Castle Argghhh! Fighting Fusileers for Freedom! -- Spirit of America -- Blogs for Iraqi TV Fund!!
Now all we need are some challenges.

My pastor has said that he's never seen a hearse towing a U-Haul trailer, and, well, neither have I. But I've scoured the web for pictures and come up with a few suggestive images.

"Room-temperature fire?! Egads man, what's the point?"
The Tick

Scientists have created a new type of water... that isn't wet. Supposedly it's going to help fight fires without damaging fragile property -- like art and books -- but I'm not sure how it's going to work.

Water fights fire in two ways, and both depend on getting stuff wet. First, water has a high specific heat capacity, which means it can absorb a lot of energy and heat up only a little. When the water used to fight a fire heats up enough it will evaporate and carry the energy it has absorbed away, up into the air. Secondly, water helps douse a fire by engulfing it and restricting its access to oxygen.

Water that isn't "wet" won't stick to things and won't be where it needs to be to absorb heat and block oxygen. Fire is lighter than air and tends to move upward in a structure; water is heavier than air and moves downward. Regular water wets everything it passes as it moves down, but this "new and improved" pseudo-water won't be effective anywhere but at its initial point of delivery (if applied in a continuous stream) and at its final resting place where it pools.

Ray points to a New Scientist article that explains how the chemical works around my objections.

The fluid, produced by 3M, has weak molecular bonds and vapourises at just 49° Celsius, half the temperature at which water boils. It stops fires before they get out of control by soaking up heat from the nascent blaze.

"This is a chemical agent that absorbs heat and vapourises better than water," says Joe Behnke, a manager at Tyco Fire & Security. According to 3M's web site, Novec 1230 requires 25 times less energy than water to evaporate.

So it evaporates more quickly and absorbs less energy in doing so, which is a weakness and would indicate that the chemical can't fight fire as well as water can.
The enclosed spaces are also necessary to corral the gas in the concentrations needed to extinguish a fire. Tyco launched its first fully engineered systems in January, but on Wednesday the company released new information about the system.
The need for an enclosed space wasn't revealed in the original article, and this restriction changes everything. It sounds like the gas that results from the chemical's evaporation is a key component to its fire-fighting ability.

The chemical still sounds neat, and will likely be useful in some limited applications, but it won't be nearly as effective as plain old water for the vast majority of fire situations.

Steven Den Beste has a nice artcle up that gives a brief introduction to historical navy tactics and promises to lead to a discussion of future space navy tactics. He writes:

There are a lot of battles in this series. Ship battles are sometimes one-on-one, sometimes between small groups, occasionally one-on-many, and sometimes between large groups of ships. It got me thinking about the entire idea of how fleet actions between space navies might actually be fought, or if such a thing actually even made sense.

I was always very dissatisfied with ST:TNG ship-to-ship battles. With the ship capabilities and weapons capabilities they had, all the emphasis on maneuver and on closing with the enemy made no sense at all. And if anything, the Star Wars battles were even worse. (So far as I can tell, no one in that galaxy a long time ago, far far away, ever invented the missile.)

As SDB notes with respect to modern navies, the prominence of carriers and aircraft have made most forms manuvering and tactics pointless. It doesn't really matter what formation your ships are in when you're fighting against an enemy fleet that's over the horizon and your primary weapons are cruise missiles and fighter-bombers. There are some tactics involved with submarine warfare, but subs don't operate in groups and basically just need to stay silent.

As for futuristic space combat, there haven't been any popular TV shows, movies, or video games that have given a realistic depiction of what such battles will be like. Weapon ranges will only increase, and space has very little "terrain" -- not even a horizon to hide behind. Further, absent the ability to bypass energy conservation laws, weapons will get more powerful relative to ship hull integrity, and nuclear weapons will probably be commonly used. (There will be no atmosphere to pollute, and opposing fleets will be far apart.)

Futuristic space combat will probably be quite boring. Whichever fleet sees the other first will unleash their full arsenal and then beat a hasty retreat. No ship will be able to dodge a missile, and no ship will survive an impact with a megaton nuke. Incoming missiles may be shot down, but that won't be easy to do since missiles will be unimpeded by atmosphere and able to travel at very high velocity. In fact, it seems likely that in most circumstances both fleets would be destroyed.

The optimal combat ship, then, would be packed with the absolute most number of nuclear warheads possible and have a minimal human crew (zero, probably). Arsenal ships would guard a fleet of non-combat ships armed with chaff and defensive guns (like the Phalanx), and when the fleet is engaged the non-combat ships will flee and the arsenal ships will be destroyed covering their retreat. Whichever side still has missiles left at the end will be the winner.

SDB has more on weapons, and assumes that no nuclear missiles will be used. He says the threat of escalation would prevent their use, but I'm not so sure, considering that the physical side effects would be much less than when nuclear weapons are used on earth.

I'm not generally a huge sports fan, but I enjoy the NBA playoffs as long as the Lakers are in them. I use that preface to say that, although there may be problems I just don't see, I really like Stuart Benjamin's proposal to let the top seeds pick their opponents.

My proposal is straightforward. At the end of the last game of a given round of the playoffs (or, for the first round, the last game of the regular season), the first seed would choose which team in the bottom half of the seedings it wanted to play. The second seed would then choose among the remaining teams, and so on. This need not delay anyone’s travel plans; the selection could proceed in order (like a draft), with each team having a few minutes to make its selection. The only difference between my approach and the current one is that the best teams would have some ability to choose their opponents.

Why make this change? It truly rewards the teams with the best records, and it avoids the problem of a top team having the bad luck to be pitted against another top team while teams with fewer wins have weaker opponents. Maybe the 7th seed slumped at the end of the season or has just suffered injuries, whereas the 8th seed ended the season strongly and would have had a better record if its star had not been hurt in the beginning of the season.

My proposal would make for better matchups. Leagues like the best teams to meet deep into the playoffs, and this makes it more likely that that will happen – because the team with the best record will avoid playing the stronger teams until late in the playoffs.

More choices means more drama, more arguments, more strategy, and so forth. I like it.

It might make travel plans a lot more complicated and expensive, but by restricting top-half teams to picking bottom-half teams it wouldn't be hard to keep the same home/away calendar.

Twin Towers on the Twenty.

As I wrote in my previous post about America's misplaced faith in education:

Americans worship education. Perhaps more so the left than the right, but a great many people of all persuasions believe that the best solution to any problem is education. War? Education. Drug abuse? Education. Poverty? Education. Crime? Education. Racism? Education. Terrorism? Education. Don't get me wrong, education can be quite effective in treating some of these problems, but education alone isn't the cure-all that many people make it out to be.

Joanne Jacobs runs a great education blog and has a column up on FoxNews today that reviews some of the problems with the modern American education pipeline.

If you talk to a class of ninth graders, nearly all will say they want to go to college. But nationwide, only 18 percent will earn a two-year college degree within three years of leaving high school, or a four-year degree within six years. Only 68 percent of students who start high school earn a diploma, says a study of K-16 success rates by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. About 59 percent of graduates -- 40 percent of the original ninth grade class -- go directly from high school to college. By sophomore year, one third have dropped out, leaving 27 percent of the original ninth graders still enrolled.

Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Iowa have the highest K-16 graduation rates at 28 to 29 percent, while Nevada and New Mexico rank at the bottom with a 10 percent college completion rate.

Of course, the assumption of all this is that the ideal is to send every student straight from high school to college to a degree. That's not the best path for everyone. And the National Center doesn't consider that if everyone gets a college diploma, the value of a diploma will decline even more than it already has.

However, I think we need to look seriously at the huge gap between students' ambitions and reality. In New York, 43 percent of students who start high school leave without a diploma. What's a realistic path for these kids? And let's explain to students that there's no point going to college if you don't have the skills or the drive to pass classes once you get there.

I agree with her completely. As I've said before, many kids are pushed into a college education that does them absolutely no good and is simply a waste of time and money. In the "old days" there was a realistic path for these kids: apprenticing at a job and learning a trade. Nowadays, honest hard work is so despised that a high schooler who doesn't claim to want to go to college is a rarity. (And a high schooler who excels at the skills needed to succeed at college is mocked and derided.) A letter-writer writes:

Unfortunately, I suspect that the nerd stigma associated with achieving math and science skills is a significant factor in the low performance of American high school students. I remember an old "Far Side" cartoon with two mathematician/scientist guys on a beach and the one with bigger formulas on his blackboard has attracted all the girls. I wonder if people in India or China would get the joke?

The sad fact is that in the United States, getting thrown into the nerd category hurts one's chances of scoring with the opposite sex, and essential math skills are taught at an age when hormones start kicking in.

I've got friends from India and China, and they assure me that the thirst for knowledge in their old countries is insatiable and even cut-throat.

Finally, another writer makes this point:

In general, I think Americans are better educated than Indians, but if we want salaries 10 times what our competitors make, we need to be 10 times as productive. So it's a combination of education and work ethic.

We don't need to be 10 times as productive (a Ferrari isn't 10 times as fast as a Honda Civic), but we certainly need to organize our education system a little better if we want to maintain the edge that's put us on top.

I really appreciate all the people who are visiting my site each day. I write this stuff because I love doing it, but hearing stories about friends' mothers who come across the site and spend hours reading through the archives make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

To tell the truth, this site is pretty cheap to maintain. I've started accepting Blogads to offset the hosting costs a little, but mainly it's an experiment. The site reaches over 1,000 people each day (nearly 2,000 page views) and I wonder: so what?

So, this. I've put up two free ads do far, and I'm curious to see if anyone clicks through -- go ahead, the sites are both totally worth it. The ad rates are really reasonable ($10 for one week, $15 for two weeks, $25 for one month) and I'm eager to find out from some real advertisers how effective the ads are. My readers are from pretty desirable demographics!

Further, I need a little graphic for my site; something small and simple. Unfortunately, I have almost no artistic ability. If you click the link above you'll see my meager effort. I'll be happy to give free ad space to anyone who can design me a nice, neat little graphic (perhaps in the style of Invader Zim?).

Call me old-fashioned, but is anyone really surprised that some porn stars have tested positive for HIV? I mean, aside from all the sex, drug use is widespread in the industry and IV drug users tend to spread the disease very quickly.

This quote from Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health and health officer for Los Angeles County is distressing and delusional.

"I think in general, they've done an appropriate job in terms of the quarantine measures taken," he said.

However, the discovery shows that screening programs are not perfect and the only way to prevent AIDS "is not to have unprotected sex."

The risk is from the "sex" part; the "unprotected" aspect only enhances the risk, it doesn't create it. Condoms are not nearly as effective as people like to portray.
- With typical use, 14 percent of women relying only on the male condom, and 21 percent relying only on the female condom, will experience unintended pregnancy within one year. With perfect use (meaning couples make no errors in the way they use the condoms and also use condoms consistently at every act of sexual intercourse), only five percent of women relying on the male condom, and three percent on the female condom, will experience unintended pregnancy within one year.

- By comparison, 85 percent of women relying on no method of contraception will experience pregnancy within one year.

Studies show that people who use condoms regularly and perfectly have a very low chance of contracting HIV from an infected partner, but even "very low" isn't zero, and about two percent of condoms break during use. (Not to mention HPV, which apparently isn't stopped by condoms (according to the most recent studies) and is linked to cervical cancer.)

As the Center of Disease Control has said many times:

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.
Brian Flemming has more. He thinks the problem may be a lack of regulation.
Short of a direct injection of a stranger's blood with a needle, I can't think of a method with better HIV-contraction odds than a bareback double-anal encounter.

Yet the state of California allowed a teenage girl to participate in just this activity as part of her job. No regulation was violated. No boss is likely to be held accountable.

And now the young woman, Lara Roxx, who began her career in porn three months ago, has HIV.

If people are determined to do stupid things (as Mr. Flemming agrees they are) then regulations aren't going to protect them. (HT: IP.)

You tell me which is which:

Frattini told reporters that Fabrizio Quattrocchi, one of four Italian security guards abducted outside Baghdad, was hooded when his kidnappers put a gun to his head.

"When the murderers were pointing a pistol at him, this man tried to take off his hood and shouted: 'Now I'm going to show you how an Italian dies'. And they killed him," Frattini said.

"He died a hero."

Who's brave and worthy of honor and respect? The mere "mercenary" who fought to look his killers in the eyes before he shuffled off this mortal coil, or the men who kidnapped him and shot him from behind a hood?

It's hard to see these murderers as anything but sub-human scum. It's hard, but I'm trying.

(HT: AlphaPatriot and Donald Sensing.)

The finale of the first season of The Apprentice was pretty long and fairly boring, unfortunately. The only redeeming feature is that with Bill's win white males have triumphed again! Go team!

Lots of people want Scott Peterson's murder trial moved out of the California boonies and into a major population center. Mr. Peterson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, wants the trial moved to Los Angeles county -- probably so he can be closer to his other high-profile client, Michael Jackson. The media trial-watchers hate being so far from civilization and many stories I've read seem quite sympathetic to the idea of moving the trial somewhere, anywhere.

A new twist (to me) is that businesses are getting involved in lobbying for their side of the change-of-venue issue. Why? The trial is expected to generate up to $50 million in revenue for businesses local to wherever it's held -- hotels, restaurants, &c. -- and according to a source I can't quote there's a pretty strong push by some Los Angeles businesses to bring that money south. Likewise, businesses in Redwood (where the trial is now) are working to keep it there.

What form does this lobbying take? I'm not exactly sure. The person who passed this on is generally pretty reliable, but I wasn't able to get a lot of information. Take it for what it's worth.

I'm not sure what effect, if any, this lobbying will have on the actual pursuit of justice.

Is it just me, or does it seem wrong that millions of Americans pay no income taxes?

Everyone paid taxes on April 15, right? Wrong. Tens of millions of Americans will pay no federal taxes this year.

Americans will file about 132 million tax returns this year and all will pay less in federal taxes due to three Bush tax cuts. But 44 million people will pay no federal taxes at all — that's the highest number in U.S. history and it translates to 33 percent of all tax filers.
Obviously some people are poor and can't pay much in taxes, but I don't like the idea that anyone pays zero. What incentive is there for them to control government spending and encourage fiscal responsibility? Why should someone who pays no taxes hesitate to raise my taxes and then spend the money on himself?

No reason, that's why.

Oh wait, I forgot to mention: that number doesn't even include poor people.

In addition to these 44 million zero-tax filers there are another 14 million whose incomes are so low, $20,000 or less, they are off the tax roles entirely. Add to that the dependents, children, family members and those who aren't taxed at all — it equals 122 million Americans who live completely outside the federal tax system.
Upon discovering this information, those who are fond of crying "chickenhawk" will no doubt immediately call for these non-taxpayers to be disenfranchised.

The best way to protect freedom and encourage economic growth is to enforce private property rights, and Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has been awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty for his efforts to bring bring rights to the poorest nations in the world.

It’s not hard to understand why Marxist (search) radicals found de Soto’s ideas so dangerous. They threatened the monopoly the political left (Marxist and non-Marxist) held over solutions to the problems of the world’s poor. For years, statist development experts had sought top-down solutions, operating under the implicit assumption that poor people in the Third World were largely incapable of entrepreneurship. De Soto utterly rejected that patronizing viewpoint, and, beginning in his native Peru, focused on the lack of formal property rights as the source of poverty in poor countries. As an author and an activist, and later as adviser to Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori (search), de Soto worked to bring impoverished Peruvians out of the shadow economy, and unlock their potential for wealth.
When people have public recognition and protection of their property rights the natural economic incentives of capitalism come into play and people are motivated to work hard and produce. What's more, banks can lend money for capital investment if they're assured that the assets of their debtors won't be arbitrarily confiscated by the state on a whim.

FoxNews has an article with more information on how military contractors (a.k.a., mercenaries) work alongside American armed forces.

With the military having shrunk by one-third since the Cold War, the Pentagon has had to rely increasingly on contractors. Some industry insiders say well-run operations can boost military effectiveness and save money. But, company executives and industry analysts say that the private military business, which has ballooned since the Iraq war, is in need of better regulation. At the same time, after recent murders and kidnappings of security contractors, including an Italian who was executed on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Pentagon to review the use of contractors. ...

Doug Brooks, president of International Peace Operations Association (search), and some in the military bristle at the suggestion that employees of private security companies are only driven by the bottom line.

"No one's going to go over there and risk getting 'Fallujah'd' if you don’t believe in the mission," Brooks said.

The military contractors are "all incredibly professional," Brooks said. That notwithstanding, he added that more regulation would be good for the industry. Currently, military contractors are not identified in a separate area of international law and hardly any countries have addressed these companies in their law codes.

The general consensus seems to be that more regulation and/or more detailed formal arrangements would benefit everyone involved.
"We're not willing to bear the political costs either to expand [the military] or bring in allies, so we're taking the short term, easy way out and turning it over to private entities," said Singer, author of a book on the industry "Corporate Warriors."

The fact that these companies are not regulated either by international law, national law or the Coalition Provisional Authority, troubles Singer. He said it is bad for the contractors because when they go missing or get in trouble, there is no defined role for the military in terms of aiding them. This danger has been highlighted in recent days with the frequent kidnappings.

"They also don’t fall under the code of military justice, and that opens up a legal gray zone that should be worrying to the public." But he was doubtful that any action would be taken soon because "there's been a lack of interest and political will behind it."

As I've mentioned before, civilian control of the military is an important feature of our democracy. I -- and probably most other hawkish writers -- frequently get comments saying that since I'm not in the military I shouldn't be so quick to put our boys in danger. It's the old "chickenhawk" argument, and it's based on several false assumptions.

False assumption 1: Only people in the military are involved in defending our country. This is pretty obviously false, because our military couldn't exist without a vast civilian infrastructure to support it. Someone needs to build the weapons and other tools the military uses, and there's no reason to assume that any individual person would be used more effectively if they were to join the military. Some people are in a position to make a greater contribution to national defense from the civilian sector than they could make if they enlisted.

False assumption 2: People who don't join the military aren't brave. It's likely true that there are more brave people per capita inside our military than outside, but the armed forces hardly have a monopoly on bravery. What about police and firefighters? What about brave women, who aren't very likely to join the military? What about civilian contractors like (*gasp*) Halliburton who perform dangerous jobs that the military isn't equipped to handle? And so forth.

False assumption 3: Only those in the military (or with military experience) are qualified to opine on national security issues. In fact, our founding fathers very purposefully rejected this odd notion when they put the military entirely under civilian control. The Commander in Chief is an elected civilian, and Congress is in charge of declaring war. These office-holders are prohibited by law from being in the active military.

In the modern world, only in tyrannical dictatorships do generals possess autonomous authority to wield military power. The very foundation of democracy is the principle that the public -- made up of civilians, those without hard (military) power -- is the ultimate sovereign of the nation. The military consists of volunteers, and each soldier enlists to serve the interests of his country, as determined by the sovereign majority of civilians.

Each member of this sovereign citizenry has the right encourage their elected officials to exercise the powers of government in the way most desirable to that citizen. No one demands that those who have too little income to pay taxes stop lobbying their represetnatives on monetary matters. Just like taxation and spending, national security is an issue that concerns all the citizens of the country, no matter what their status or position in life. We are all entitled to an opinion, and we're all entitled to vote for leaders who will execute our preferred policies.

I'm consolidating these two threads for convenience.

I have an appointment with the Hawthorne City Attorney this afternoon to discuss my CCW application. I'll let you know how it goes.

The city attorney asked to reschedule for tomorrow, because he wants an internal affairs officer from the Hawthorne Police Department to be present. Kinda makes me wish I had someone to go with me, too (like a lawyer or something).

Update 2; April 15, 2004:
The CA asked to reschedule again, because apparently the Chief of Police wants to come. Probably going to happen some time next week.

Remember Cruz Bustamante? No? He ran for governor against Arnold... ring any bells? He's still the lieutenant governor of California.

Anyway, while running for governor he accepted almost $4 million from Indian tribes to fund his campaign... for re-election as lieutenant governor. But he wanted to use the money for his gubernatorial campaign instead, so he just rolled it from one account to the other. A judge ordered him to move it back, and to return the money to the donors.

Now it looks like the whole scheme was purposefully designed to circumvent campaign financing laws, and Mr. Bustamante has been fined.

California's lieutenant governor paid a record $263,000 fine for violating campaign donation limits in his run against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), the state's political watchdog agency said Tuesday.

California's Fair Political Practices Commission charged in a civil lawsuit filed in January that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (search) and his supporters improperly moved $3.8 million between campaign committees during the recall election in an effort to skirt contribution limits.

Although agency officials have said Bustamante faced fines of as much as $9 million, the $263,000 settlement is still the largest ever paid in California by a candidate. The agreement was approved Monday by Judge Loren McMaster.

Naturally, Mr. Bustamante himself is not to blame.
"It was never my intention to violate the law," Bustamante said. "Unfortunately, the FPPC's regulations weren't as clear as they could have been. We believed that we were using a process the FPPC had allowed in the past and that our actions were consistent with the law."
But, considering the egregious nature of the violations, not everyone was convinced by his pleas of ignorance.
The maximum contribution from any donor to a candidate running in the recall election was $21,200. Investigators said there were 16 contributions, valued at $3.8 million, that exceeded the contribution limits.

"Given the purposeful nature of the conduct, we thought it was important that this needed to be the highest paid," said the agency's chief of enforcement Steven Russo.

Sixteen contributions with an average size of $237,500 -- more than ten times the allowable amount. Those regulations must have been pretty vague.

I've seen American Idol maybe twice, and I know the most entertaining part of the show is laughing at the losers. Fine. It's funny to see awful, untalented people parade on stage. Most of them know they're awful, and the ones that don't need to have their illusions shattered some time -- it may as well be on national TV.

But the situation with William Hung is different. He's awful, and as Candace points out those promoting (or exploiting) him are profiting off the traditional Asian-male stereotypes Mr. Hung embodies. What disgusts me more than the suppliers of this nonsense, though, are the consumers.

William Hung may act oblivious, but he's not stupid; he's one of the suppliers. He's making tons of money, and he must know that to continue his success he has to keep playing the fool. I get the impression he's gaming the system and making the most out of the twisted opportunity the entertainment industry has created for him. I also suspect his promoters and handlers know that he's in on the joke, and that they're happy to play along as long as he's willing.

I don't think William Hung is an idiot, and I don't think his promoters are racist, but they're all profiting off the lowest common denominator in our society. This is nothing new. From America's Funniest Home Videos to Jack Ass to Punk'd to The Apprentice, the audience loves seeing other people get hurt and embarrassed. That's the very foundation of the reality-TV revolution.

The 2000-year-old man once observed: "Tragedy is when I bang my thumb, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die." Almost all comedy denigrates someone or something (that someone cares about).

When it comes to Mr. Hung, there's no doubt that part of what makes him funny is his race; the humor is inherently racist. Is it worse than the racial humor in movies like Friday or Malibu's Most Wanted? Is laughing at racist jokes worse than laughing at the 88 guys who get their arms and legs chopped off in Kill Bill?

No. What's insidious about people laughing at William Hung is that, unlike the audiences of the movies above, they aren't in on the joke. Most people don't realize Mr. Hung is acting the fool for their amusement, they think he really is a fool, and they revel in it.

So there's a big to-do over Jamie Gorelick's memo that built a wall between law enforcement and intelligence operations, but I'm surprised this is a huge revelation. I can't remember where I heard it, but -- although I didn't know the contents of this specific memo -- it seems like old news to me. Ms. Gorelick is hardly the only compromised member of the 9/11 Commission.

I was just outside walking and I saw the fastest ant I've ever seen; it must have been some sort of super-ant. I was walking pretty fast and it kept up with me with no problem. I don't like ants, particularly super-fast ants that follow me, so I stepped on it and shed a single tear for the great ant empire that would never be. Sic semper tyrannis.

Know what animals I do like? Cows. They're tasty, and the parts you can't eat can be made into boss car accessories.

Another animal I don't like: turtles. They live too long. No animal should live longer than me. Every time I look at a turtle (or worse, a tortoise) I get the impression it's smirking at me, just waiting for me to die. Laugh it up, soupy.

Chickens: yummy.

Pigeons: rats with wings. When I was in Milan with my friend Mike Northover he was foolish enough to buy bird seed from some homeless guy. No sooner had the guy poured the seed into Mike's hand than he was completely engulfed by pigeons and fleas. He waved his arms around like they teach you at ornithology survival camp, but they still pecked his eyes out and then the fleas laid eggs in his empty eye sockets.

Cats are good because they kill rats and pigeons, and dogs help keep the cat population down. I don't know what eats dogs though; the cartoons never showed it.

I'm not like everyone else -- I'm inwardly invincible.

Many people think churches are a scam to get money, and in fact Jesus talked more about money than about Heaven or Hell. So what does the Bible say about money? Here's a brief survey.

God created everything.

Psalm 50:9-12

9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

God doesn't need our money or our resources in order to accomplish his plans. In fact, rather than demand that we give to him, he gives generously to us.
James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Why, then, are we encouraged to give? There are several reasons. God has given everything we have to us, and when we give we demonstrate (and participate in) God's generousity.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

"He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

What's more, giving is good for us because it helps prevent us from getting too attached to worldly things.
Ecclesiastes 5:10

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

Matthew 6:24

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Wealth provides us with a sense of security, but it's a false sense. Ask Job, who lost his vast wealth -- including his children -- in a single day.
Job 1:13-19

One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"

Nevertheless, Job recognized that everything he had really belonged to God, not to him.
Job 1:20-22

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

This is a wise saying. Wealth and power can disappear in an instant, and provide only an illusion of security. Ultimately, worldly wealth is of little value.
Psalm 49:10-12

10 For all can see that wise men die;
the foolish and the senseless alike perish
and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure;
he is like the beasts that perish.

We must learn that wealth cannot sustain us. Only God, our creator, can protect us and provide for us.
Matthew 4:4

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Hebrews 13:5

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

So how much should we give? First, we have to realize that God doesn't count money in the same way we do.
Mark 12:41-44

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

Jesus didn't condemn the rich for giving a lot, but he commended the widow for giving all she had. The point is that God wants us to give sacrificially. The rich gave out of their wealth, and their gifts cost them very little; the widow gave a tiny amount, but her gift was a true sacrifice.

This principle can be seen in the account of King David buying the land that eventually became the site of the temple in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 24:18-24

On that day Gad went to David and said to him, "Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad. When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground.

Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?"

"To buy your threshing floor," David answered, "so I can build an altar to the LORD , that the plague on the people may be stopped."

Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. O king, Araunah gives all this to the king." Araunah also said to him, "May the LORD your God accept you."

But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.

King David refused to give God something that had cost him nothing.

How often do we give God our leftovers? Not just our extra money that we can afford to give without threatening our lifestyle, but our extra time and extra energy as well? When we're done doing everything we want to do, we may consider giving God some of whatever's left. This is the exact opposite of David's approach.

God deserves the best of what we have, not the scraps and remnants. God has given us everything, including his Son, and he is worthy of the first portion of our income and the highest priority in our schedule.

If you want to know how much you love God, there are two places to look: your checkbook and your appointment book. We spend time and money on what we love, and if God gets relatively little of both then it isn't a huge leap of logic to conclude that we love him relatively little.

Look people: there's no way anyone is going to ever hijack a plane with a knife again. After 9/11 people are too smart for that. Although it seems obvious to me that we should relax some of the carry-on restrictions (nail files? plastic forks?), only an idiot would try to carry 32 razor blades onto a plane and then claim he was trying to test security.

A man who arrived at the Dallas airport on a flight from Europe with 32 razor blades in his carry-on luggage has been sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Prosecutors said Fazal Karim (search), a Canadian citizen originally from Pakistan, was testing airport security for potential terrorist aims when he carried the double-edged blades into the airport.
The sentence is, in my opinion, quite excessive -- but Mr. Karim is a moron. I think he would have probably gotten off with a severe warning and a hand-slap if he'd just played it as an accident and insisted he had meant to put the razors in his checked luggage. (Assuming the razors were in a package of some sort and not mounted as weapons or what-have-you.)

Although I'm no fan of mass transit, that's generally because it's a publicly-funded debacle. Mark Aveyard points me to a City Journal article that explains some of the problems New York is having with its bus system and how those problems are the result of a corrupt public financing system.

Responding to complaints about poor service on the private lines, the mayor has demanded that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority take over the routes—which in one stroke would absorb them into one of the most expensive, heavily subsidized public transit systems in the nation. But the problem isn’t that private firms run the routes, as the left-dominated City Council and other anti-privatization critics have charged and as the businessman mayor seems to believe. The problem is that the city hands out those transportation contracts under a no-bid system that breeds inefficiency and cronyism. ...

To lower costs, genuine privatization is necessary—and that means setting up real competitive bidding for transportation contracts. Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego have all realized sizable savings by turning to competitive bidding in this area. In Denver, bid-out routes cost 46 percent less to run than those the city still runs directly; in Los Angeles, which now contracts out more than half its bus service, the savings amount to roughly 40 percent.

A "genuine privatization" scheme would eliminate subsidies entirely, and I'm not sure that's what's being proposed here. Nevertheless, it's a step in the right direction.

Light rail could work in the same way, although building a line would require a massive capital investment by the developers. Such an investment could be financed with bonds, though, in the same way municipalities pay for public works projects.

So I heard Maxim Magazine came out with its "Hot 100" women of 2004, and I figured this would be a good opportunity to grab some hits from Google by dropping a bunch of names. I can't seem to find the actual list on Maxim's site, but here's an alternate that doesn't appear to have any pop-ups or indecent images.

Just to prove how disconnected I am from pop culture, I don't even recognize the names of half the women on this list. Still, even with my limited awareness, there are a bunch of choices that strike me as rather poor. It shouldn't be very difficult to find 100 beautiful women, but it's pretty clear that some of these were selected based on other criteria. Talent, fame, wealth, exposure... any of these could be the foundation for a top 100 list of its own, but if you're going for "hot" then don't get sidetracked by these other considerations.

Anyway, here's my take (at least on the ones I have strong opinions about ("strong" being a relative term)).

3. Christina Aguilera -- looks like an alien
10. Halle Berry
15. Janet Jackson -- crazy
27. Nicole Richie
32. Mariah Carey -- also crazy
38. Liv Tyler
40. Shania Twain
67. Christina Applegate -- used to have a crush on her... back in the late 80s.
71. Posh Spice, a.k.a. Victoria Beckham

9. Jessica Alba -- super hot
18. Keira Knightley
19. Kirsten Dunst
21. Elisha Cuthbert -- gorgeous, and her name reminds me Cuthbert from The Dark Tower
31. Jessica Biel
73. Mandy Moore
79. Zooey Deschanel -- super-cute in Elf, and also has a great name

How about these ladies, who weren't even mentioned:
Eliza Dushku
Amy Smart
Claire Danes -- well, maybe not, but she was great in My So-Called Life
Who else?

Since 9/11 there have been a ton of ideas for applying technology to catch terrorists, and one of the most promising suggestions has been to use facial recognition software. In theory, a computer could watch a live video feed of people milling around an airport and run the faces through a database of known terrorists. In theory.

In practice, the technology is far from mature. Anyone who has used voice recognition software knows that 95% accuracy is just about the best you can do. Optical-character recognition software can scan typed paper documents and convert them to text files with 99% accuracy or even a bit better. In either case, a few percentage points of error can be incredibly tedious to rectify, but imagine a terrorist detection system that was only 99% accurate. Thousands of people pass through Los Angeles International Airport every day, and if even one-tenth of one percent of them got flagged as potential terrorists there'd be an outcry from the public -- especially since most of those flagged would be young Arab males. (And the real error rate would be much higher.)

It's no surprise that at least one of the software developers who jumped onto the post-9/11 homeland security bandwagon is being prosecuted for fraud.

A man who told investors he was developing a face recognition system following the 2001 terrorist attacks has been arrested on fraud charges, investigators said Monday.

Ross Rojek, 36, of Sacramento, was charged with wire and mail fraud for his operation of Face Information Technology, known as Face IT, the FBI (news - web sites) said. He also apparently operated American Equity Group LLC under the alias of Jason Williams, the FBI alleged in an affidavit made public Monday.

While Rojek purportedly told investors he was developing a system that would automatically match distinct facial features to a database, "it doesn't seem to be anything he was seriously working on," said Karen Twomey Ernst, an FBI spokeswoman.

There was (and is) a lot of money to be made off government security contracts, and the government employees who manage the projects aren't always technologically savvy. I'm glad this guy got caught, but I bet many more bogus proposals slipped through. Still, maybe Jim Wightman should take note.

Although I'm sure I'm late to the party, I'd like to point out that the language used by Florida Democrats in their recent ad explicitly calls for Donald Rumsfeld to be killed

Campaign 2004 turns extreme in Florida with the placement of a newspaper ad calling for physical retribution against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld!

"We should put this S.O.B. up against a wall and say 'This is one of our bad days,' and pull the trigger," the ad reads.

The club that placed the ad is apparently backtracking, or something.
Club Vice President Edna McCall told the DRUDGE REPORT Tuesday morning: "We want to get our country back. In Iraq, we're in deep trouble. If we don't try to get this situation cleared up, we are finished."

When asked if the ad was a challenge to inflict violence on Rumsfeld, McCall explained: "'Pull the trigger' means let Rumsfeld know where we stand, not to shoot him!"

But, of course, when you call for someone to be put "up against a wall" you're invoking firing-squad imagery, and in that context it's not clear how "pull[ing] the trigger" could be taken any other way.

The ad even offers an excuse for the violence, should it happen to shock anyone's conscience: "This is one of our bad days." You don't need to make excuses for telling Donald Rumsfeld where you stand, but you do need a good reason to actually kill him.

The biggest threats to Californian jobs aren't across the ocean, they're right next-door.

"Workman's comp is a big issue, but it's just one of many items," Monia said, rattling off a list of California's comparatively high operating costs: energy, rents, labor, taxes. "Even the garbage costs are cheaper in Nevada." ...

The exodus of businesses and jobs to lower-cost states like Nevada has picked up in the last year, experts say. Now, with the economy gaining steam, many companies are nearing a point where they must decide whether to expand in California or invest and create jobs elsewhere.

Many have already made up their minds. In a recent survey for the California Business Roundtable, consultants reported that nearly 30% of 50 California companies interviewed had explicit policies to move jobs out of state if possible. And half said they planned to avoid adding jobs in California. Some cited high housing costs, others the widening gap between operating expenses in California and other states.

Sacramento can can loosen some expensive regulations and risk the ire of its leftist residents (while pleasing the more conservative people in the rest of California), but it will have trouble matching the financial incentives offered by neighboring states. Corporate taxes are used to pay off special interests, so the leftist legislature can't risk that revenue stream without losing the money they need to buy votes. There isn't much money available to lighten the burden on businesses without cutting spending, which would also alienate the voters who keep our rulers in power.

It shouldn't be surprising that the state with the most natural benefits (weather, resources, size, location) is also the most inefficient. We can treat businesses (and people) poorly and they'll still find reasons to live here... up to a point. I think we're nearing that point now, and our government had better wise up.

I've been pretty busy today, so although I'm sure other bloggers have piled on Andy Rooney's latest drivel, I haven't had a chance to read their posts yet. Be that as it may, let's take a quick glance at his pathetic misunderstanding of our armed forces.

Most of the reporting from Iraq is about death and destruction. We don't learn much about what our soldiers in Iraq are thinking or doing. There's no Ernie Pyle to tell us, and, if there were, the military would make it difficult or impossible for him to let us know.
Perhaps Mr. Rooney isn't familiar with any military bloggers, such as Citizen Smash who links to first-hand reports from our soldiers around the world in his frequent sandbox roundups. Mr. Rooney says that he wants a reporter to ask our soldiers some questions, but why bother with a biased intermediary when the soldiers themselves are talking? Why bother with stupid, loaded questions like these?
2. Are you doing what America set out to do to make Iraq a democracy, or have we failed so badly that we should pack up and get out before more of you are killed?
As if there's any chance we'll be leaving Iraq for several decades. C'mon.
4. If you could have a medal or a trip home, which would you take?
Or are you perhaps fighting for a reason that has nothing to do with medals?
5. Are you encouraged by all the talk back home about how brave you are and how everyone supports you?
No, I'm sure it's quite disheartening.
We pin medals on their chests to keep them going. We speak of them as if they volunteered to risk their lives to save ours, but there isn't much voluntary about what most of them have done. A relatively small number are professional soldiers. During the last few years, when millions of jobs disappeared, many young people, desperate for some income, enlisted in the Army. About 40 percent of our soldiers in Iraq enlisted in the National Guard or the Army Reserve to pick up some extra money and never thought they'd be called on to fight. They want to come home.
I highly doubt it's the medals that "keep them going", Mr. Rooney, and it's disgusting that you'd suggest it. Furthermore, it's despicable that you'd cheapen their sacrifice by claiming that it isn't voluntary, that it was somehow coerced by economics. (Not that the details of his position are even worth refuting, but jobs are returning to the civilian sector now and the armed forces are still turning people away.)

If people enlisted in the Reserve or the Guard just to "pick up some extra money" then that's their own miscalculation. Neither organization is a charity, and I imagine the vast majority of their members signed up because they wanted to serve our country, not because they wanted hand-outs.

Some soldiers may want to come home, but that's an option they voluntarily surrendered when they decided to enlist.

One indication that not all soldiers in Iraq are happy warriors is the report recently released by the Army showing that 23 of them committed suicide there last year. This is a dismaying figure. If 22 young men and one woman killed themselves because they couldn't take it, think how many more are desperately unhappy but unwilling to die.
Mr. Rooney, you're an idiot. How many soldiers have rotated through Iraq by now? A million? As this National Institute of Mental Health statistics page shows, suicide is the third leading cause of death among males aged 15 to 24. Furthermore,
Among young people 20 to 24 years of age, the suicide rate was 12/100,000 or 2,360 deaths among 19,711,423 people in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 7:1 (males: females).
The soldiers in Iraq are mostly young men, so a suicide rate of 20 per 100,000 wouldn't be surprising; instead we get about 2 per 100,000. By Mr. Rooney's argument, this is evidence that our soldiers like what they're doing.

This is the type of nonsensical opinion that will be gradually weeded out of the marketplace as bloggers take over journalism. Mr. Rooney wouldn't get a hundred hits a day if he had to start now, from scratch.

Someone's numbers are wrong. According to StrategyPage on March 28th, 2004, the suicide rate for Army troops in Iraq was 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers.

The suicide rate for army troops in Iraq over the last year has been 17.3 per 100,000 soldiers, compared to the overall Army rate of 11.9 per 100,000 between 1995 and 2002. This is higher than the overall rate for all branches of the military during the Vietnam war, which was 15.6, and a 3.6 rate for all branches during the 1991 Gulf War.
That means that Mr. Rooney's numbers may be too low, since I'm sure more than 150,000 troops have rotated through Iraq by now (although many may have spent less than a year in theater).

Asute readers will glance to the right and notice that I've signed up for Blogads. Keen!

In the grand 'sphere tradition I'm offering not one, but two free ads to my loyal readers, one to each of the first two people who email me with "[free blogad!]" in the subject. Don't forget the exclamation point, because I'm only interested in people who are seriously excited about getting a free ad.

I estimate your ad will be good for around 100,000 hits in the first hour, so what are you waiting for?

My fellow Bear Flaggers Patterico and the BoifromTroy were the first to respond, so they get the free ads for two weeks. As for the rest of you, the rates are still very reasonable, and likely to give a good return for a nominal investment.

Hopefully these two guinea pigs will see some positive results and write a couple of nice testimonials for me....

Not my words -- Julie Leung's. She's got a fascinating perspective on motherhood you may be interested in.

Kiril at Sneakeasy's Joint has an irreverent collection of Easter blog-postings. I've never read the site before, so I don't know if he was trying to be mean or funny. It doesn't matter to me; I'm not very easily offended.

What prompted me to write this post is what he wrote in the comments section of his own post. I'll intersperse my response with his, in the traditional blogger fashion (but with, obviously, a superlative quantity of style).

While I do NOT believe in the LITERAL TRUTH of the Christian Bible, in any of its versions, I most definitely do NOT scoff at the many valuable lessons it teaches, and the many good, and wonderful blessings, believers in it have brought to Western Civilization.
The "LITERAL TRUTH" of the Bible that's important to believe is pretty simple: Jesus died to pay for our sins and then rose from the dead. Everything else is just context, and it's worthless without this central truth. None of the lessons Jesus taught are valuable apart from his Godhood, and none of the blessings Christianity has brought to Western Civilization are worth a hill of beans in the scope of eternity.

Jesus claimed to be God -- the Jews of his time knew his claim, and they threatened to stone him for it on more than one occasion. Eventually he was crucified for blasphemy. If Jesus wasn't God, then he certainly wasn't a wise and good teacher, because no one wise and good would falsely claim to be God. If Jesus wasn't God, he was either a liar or a lunatic.

There are many Religions in the world, with far more followers than Christianity, and who are we, whether believers in the literalness of the story, or just folks who try to live a Christian life according to our personal understandings of what that is, to tell these people that THEIR belief is wrong, and if they don't believe otherwise they will go to hell?
Truth is true no matter who believes it. When everyone thought the earth was flat that didn't make it so. The number of people who believe something is entirely incidental to whether that something is true or false.

It doesn't matter if truth offends your sensibilities or condemns your most treasured opinions. It doesn't matter if you like the truth or not. All that matters is what is true, and what is not.

That way has led to all manner of wars, and injustices, whether instigated by Christians, Muslims, or who ever else, because they couldn't get along with a culture, or individual of a different faith, or no faith at all.
Jesus himself addressed this issue:
Matthew 10:34-39

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Truth and falsehood will always be in conflict. It isn't always violent -- and generally it shouldn't be -- but if there were no conflict at all then truth would be inconsequential.

Tyranny and liberty are in conflict as well, but few condemn those who fight for freedom solely on the basis of the violence they engender. Some things are worth fighting for, and some things are worth dying for.

Jesus is alive.

Commenter Julie wrote the following in respose to my original post on this topic. I think it's informative, and she agreed to let me post it on the front page. She also adds, "Please check out the full report on the Morning After Pill at www.pop.org under 'Indepth Reports.'"

There are many reasons to oppose the morning after pill, including health and safety reasons as well as the fact that it sometimes acts as an abortifacient by preventing implantation. Many women would refuse to use the pill if this fact were made clear to them. Pharmacists should be given the right to refuse to sell it if their consciences object.

In the United Kingdom, the morning after pill is sold pharmacist-direct. Post-marketing surveillance there found a significant increase in the rate of ectopic pregnancies (6% as opposed to the usual rate of 2% or less). This is a serious health risk when young adolescents will have unsupervised access to the morning after pill if it is sold over-the-counter.

The most powerful arguments in favor of the morning after pill are claims that its use will prevent 50% or more of unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce the abortion rate.

This is not true as can be easily proven. In Sweden, where the morning after pill has been available over the counter since the late 1990s, teenage abortion rates have gone up from 17/1000 to 22.5/1000. In Washington State, the morning after pill has been available pharmacist-direct since 1998. Abortion rates there have not been cut in half. They are gently trending downward; however, the decrease coincides precisely with the nationwide decrease in abortion rates.

A study by Michael New proved that one of the major reasons for the reduction in abortions in the last few years has been the various laws restricting access to abortion enacted by various states (parental consent, waiting periods, etc.)

Finally, rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases are skyrocketing wherever the morning after pill has been made available (Sweden and Washington State, for example).

Based upon experience of various states and countries already selling the morning after pill either pharmacist-direct or over-the-counter, it is most likely that if the morning after pill is made available over the counter in the U.S., there will be no reduction in unplanned pregnancies, a skyrocketing increase in STDs (especially among youth), and possible serious health risks which have not yet been studied, especially among adolescents.

This is a public health disaster of historic proportions in the making.

A complete research report on this issue has been published at Population Research Institute called "Under the Table."

The New York Times apparently agrees with the rebels in Iraq.

A group of armed Iraqi insurgents, their faces masked, claimed on Saturday to be holding 30 foreigners hostage and threatened to kill them unless the United States halted its offensive in Falluja, the Sunni city west of Baghdad.

In a film from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that was shown repeatedly on Arabic television, a masked man representing the group said: "We have Japanese, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Spanish and Korean hostages. Their numbers are 30."

He added: "If America doesn't lift its blockade of Falluja, their heads will be cut off."

The tape did not show any hostages, however, and it was not possible to confirm that such a group was being held. But several foreigners are known to be missing, putting intense pressure on Japan and other American allies.

It's disgusting, but not surprising, to see the NYT pushing the rebels' agenda by insisting that the recent kidnappings in Iraq have a strong possibility of influencing Coalition action. Until Spain's recent capitulation I would have said there was no chance that any country would retreat in the face of such threats, but apparently now the terrorists think they can successfully blackmail their enemies by killing a handful of civilians. Thanks Spain.

There's absolutely no chance the CPA is going to withdraw from Fallujah or Iraq just because a few hostages have been taken. There is, of course, "intense pressure" that our operations in Iraq go well and as smoothly as possible, but very little of it has anything to do with the hostage situation. The NYT isn't full of idiots and the reporters know these simple facts, but because the paper has it's own foreign policy agenda it's decided to spin the news to support it.

Meanwhile, it's good to see that al Sistani -- the most politically powerful Shi'ite in Iraq -- is finally acting to quell the violence. He was tolerating it (if not supporting it?) for his own purposes, but he doesn't want the fighting to get beyond his control.

In Kuwait, an associate of Iraq's leading Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, denounced the kidnapping of the Japanese as a terrorist act and demanded their immediate release, Reuters reported. The associate, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Mohri, said in a sermon at Friday Prayer that was carried by newspapers on Saturday, "This ugly picture hurts Islam and Muslims as it gives a bad impression about our Islamic religion."
Ya think?

I'm occasionally accused of being overly simplistic, but I think the vast majority of moral issues are completely black and white. Once all the facts are known, one set of solutions is almost always clearly right, and the other proffered solutions are almost always clearly wrong. In my experience, anyone who says otherwise -- and emphasizes nuance and complexity -- is generally trying to rationalize some behavior he knows to be wrong. A few issues really are difficult to resolve, but most are not if we are willing to tackle them with honesty and humility.

What say you?

Bloggers need to learn to write more descriptive titles for their posts. I know it's tempting to hold back the key to your argument and unveil it triumphantly at the end of your essay, but most of the time that desire results in stupid headlines and wastes my time.

I'm not going to pick on anyone, but it should be obvious to any casual student of the blogosphere that most post titles are just filler. You have no idea how many times I've been scanning a blog and seen titles like:

"A surprising twist!"
"More of the same."
"A common mistake."

None of those titles tell me anything about the post, and they generally won't engender enough interest to make me wonder what the "twist" is, what's the "same", or what the "mistake" is about.

I don't have time to read a thousand words before even being able to tell if I'm interested in the topic you're writing about. Get to the point, right up front, and if I want to know more I'll read the rest. Otherwise I'm not going to care -- even when you finally deliver the clever punch-line.

Two men stand near the water cooler. Mr. B waits while Mr. A attempts to fill his cup with water. Alas, the bottle atop the cooler is empty.

Mr. A: Alas, we're out of water.
Mr. B: Not at all, Mr. A! See, here beside the cooler is another bottle.
Mr. A: Would you be so kind as to install it, then?
Mr. B: Certainly not! You're at the front of the line; refilling the cooler is your social responsibility.
Mr. A: Indeed I am at the front of the line, but you have as much to gain from the refilling as I have.
Mr. B: Even assuming our thirsts are equal, Mr. A, yours will be quenched sooner than mine due to your superior position in line. Therefore, you have more to gain and should pay the greater price.
Mr. A: Ah, Mr. B, but I have more to gain because I've already paid the greater price, having arrived in line before you.
Mr. B: Then I must appeal to social convention.
Mr. A: If I'm not mistaken, you were the last one to use the cooler, and you didn't refill it yourself.
Mr. B: That's true, but the cooler was only empty once my cup was full. Thus, my encounter with the cooler ended before any obligation was incurred.
Mr. A: Not so! As a student of physics you cannot deny that the last of the water was dispensed from the cooler some fraction of a second before it entered your cup.
Mr. B: Quite right, but once the cooler was empty I immediately disengaged. That water subsequently continued to fall into my cup is of no consequence. I had no further use for the cooler, as the means for quenching my thirst was already in hand.
Mr. A: But social convention demands that the last one to use the cooler refill it!
Mr. B: Nonsense! Were a stranger to come upon a man holding a cup of water and standing near an empty water cooler, he would have no way to determine whether said man had recently drawn the last bit of water, or whether he was merely inspecting the make and model of the cooler.
Mr. A: But the man himself would know.
Mr. B: This is true, Mr. A, but social conventions are not built upon the knowledge or beliefs of a single man. In contrast, were a stranger to come upon us now, he would easily infer your responsibility to refill the cooler from our physical configuration.
Mr. A: Whereas, Mr. B, a "line" is merely a metaphysical concept, my present proximity to the cooler doesn't necessarily imply that I'm entitled by social convention to draw water before you.
Mr. B: True, particularly since there isn't any water to draw from at all, but a reasonable man would still deduce it.
Mr. A: Perhaps, but even if that were the case he would also conclude that you have as much to gain from the refilling of the cooler as I.
Mr. B: Unless, that is, he knew that I'm not particularly thirsty.
Mr. A: Myself likewise, Mr. B.
Mr. B: I merely enjoy standing near the cooler.
Mr. A: I'm quite certain I can stand here indefinitely.
Mr. B: As am I. What model cooler is this?

[Miss/Ms./Mrs.] Tushnet also links to an unneeded distraction on Crooked Timber: "Fiction Mash-Ups". (That's the best title they could up with?) My favorite:

Goodnight Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Goodnight penal colony on the moon. Goodnight earth controlling the penal colony on the moon. Goodnight supercomputer named Mike.
Both those books have sentimental value to me, and I recently came upon my old copy of Goodnight Moon while rooting through some boxes at my mom's house.

The only one I can come up with off the top of my head:

The Lord of the Ring of the Flies
Frodo et al become marooned on an island, slowly go mad, and eat Sam.

I'm always eager for insight into the female mind, and Eve Tushnet has an intriguing post about women and leadership.

So though I think it's true that more women have a hard time with leadership than men, it's not for the reasons you suggest. I think, rather, that women are less hierarchical than men and for that reason are INTENSELY distrustful of women who rise to positions of power. "Who does she think she is?" is often their reaction to a woman who gives them orders. It's not necessarily envy (though it can be that too). It's sheer animal knowledge of each other. And this attitude hardens with age, I believe.

Women who acquire positions of leadership seldom find it easy to keep the respect of their female peers, although they may manage to command that of much younger women. And when one half of the human race distrusts you, it's difficult to lead effectively.

Women accept the leadership of men, on the other hand, because (I suspect), it's far less challenging to their self-image and sense of their own power and autonomy to do so. Besides, men have the excuse, in women's eyes, of being "mere males"; their pomposity is lovable rather than annoying or presumptuous. And their right to give orders can be assumed to rest upon their larger size and ability to defend us.

There's more. As a mere male, I'm normally limited to third-hand knowledge of how women view each other, but now I've got some second-hand information to mull over.

There are three simultaneous non-jury trials happening across the country as abortion proponents try to convince judges to block enforcement of last year's partial-birth abortion ban, and there's a lot of political positioning on both sides. One judge is even offering to step aside in favor of some "outside expert".

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf (search) made the announcement from the bench as the Justice Department was preparing to call its last witness in the case.

Kopf said he would be willing to work with both sides to appoint an outside expert after all testimony in the trial is heard. He said he would discuss his proposition with lawyers from both sides after testimony ends Friday.

I don't imagine any such expert would be acceptable to both sides. Anyway, what's the point? As Republican Representative Steve King says,
"Congress determined that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to protect the health of the mother," said King, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "I don't think it's possible for a single judge to sit in a courtroom and substitute his findings for the findings of 435 congressmen."

On Friday, King said Kopf's offer to work with a medical expert did not alleviate his concerns. Congress heard from many experts and constituents over eight or nine years before it passed the law, King said.

"It's virtually impossible for a court to gather that kind of information to overturn the decision made by the people of America through their voice in the entire U.S. Congress," King said.

And with that I tend to agree.

Finally, the article gives some hard data on the number of partial-birth (D&X) abortions performed in the United States every year. I hadn't found such numbers previously, but some people had claimed to me that the annual count was mere dozens.

About 1.3 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, and almost 90 percent occur in the first trimester. The total includes an estimated 140,000 D&Es and 2,200 to 5,000 D&Xs.
Although Professor Volokh may disagree (yes I know the topics are different, I'm just being snarky), outlawing abortions of convenience would probably be effective in decreasing the number of abortions performed each year. As Clayton Cramer argues, laws do affect behavior, even if gradually and over time. Laws often lead culture, rather than follow it, and it's hard to deny that the legalization of abortion has played a role in making abortion socially acceptable. (A similar argument can be made against libertarian calls for drug legalization, even though I'm sympathetic to the position.)

Donald Sensing points to an American Digest excerpt from a USAID report titled "Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves". There are some graphic stories of people who survived mass executions, many of whom returned home to find that the rest of their family had been murdered.

Some will say, "But we didn't go to Iraq to save the Iraqis!" which is partially true. "What about all the other oppressed people around the world? Are we going to save them all? Or only the ones with oil?" Be patient. There's a new world order arising, and it may gradually bring about freedom and liberty for everyone. One step at a time.

I love The Apprentice. Last night's episode was kinda boring, and the highlight came near the bottom of the hour when Amy was cut: a huge surprise to me, and probably just about everyone else.

I think the Don was smart to drop her though, and here's why. She seemed competent, but Mr. T's advisors caught on to what was obvious to the viewing audience for a long time: she's all donut and no creme filling. Not only that, but as one of the men who interviewed her said, her loyalties weren't to Donald Trump.

One perfect example of her disloyalty took place a few weeks ago in the episode where Katrina was cut, in which the teams had to develop plans to convince gamblers to sign up for a players' club at the Trump Taj Mahal. Amy's team's plan was stupid, but that wasn't her biggest failing. About halfway through the episode -- when she realized her side was losing -- she started using a bullhorn to call gamblers who were already playing away from their machines and tried to get them to sign up with her team.

This may have helped her score, but there's no question that the tactic cost Donald Trump money. Those people were already gambling, and by calling them away Amy showed that her first loyalty was to herself, not to her boss. Donald Trump wants to make money, and any scheme run by a subordinate should further that ultimate goal. Amy was concerned with winning the competition, even if it hurt her boss' business.

No one on the show really mentioned Amy's actions, and Katrina ended up getting Fired. Not a big deal, because Amy was still more valuable than Katrina, but I knew then that she'd never make an exceptional lieutenant. Without loyalty, all the brilliance in the world is useless.

So we're left with Kwame and Bill. Based on how the final competition is going it looks like Bill is going to win, but there's no way to tell for sure. I'm pretty confident that Trump is purposefully encouraging the contestants' co-workers to cause trouble and sabotage the events, but I'm not sure if that will be revealed next week as part of the show, or if the audience will instead be allowed to think everything is going wrong on its own.

A final thought: the men ended up winning largely because, as a group, they were older and more experienced. Many of the women on the show were in their early 20s, but the men were almost all in their late 20s. Those few years make a huge difference (in a lot of ways).

I have to face my fears.

The idea that we'll eventually "run out" of oil is a myth, and not just because we keep finding more of it. For details, follow the first link and read the post I wrote last year. In short: Adam Smith's invisible hand will ensure there's always enough oil to satisfy demands at the market price (which will continue to rise).

StrategyPage reports (April 8th, 2004) that German diplomats are coming to America to convince Congress not to close our military bases in Germany. Good luck. We have long memories: watch what happens when you screw us over.

We should cut the size of our European forces down considerably, and as SP notes we can move our bases east (probably to the Czech Republic). Europe isn't likely to break out into open war again soon (*crosses fingers*), and our troops don't need to sit there twiddling their thumbs. In fact, we don't need so many soldiers stationed outside the United States at all anymore -- all we need are weapons caches scattered around the globe. We can fly troops in on a moment's notice (much more easily than we could circa WW2, when many of these bases were established), and it's cheaper to keep them at home as much as possible. The troops are happier, and training is much easier.

From what (little) I know of Japanese culture, hostage-taking and threats aren't likely to weaken Japan's resolve.

Iraqi militants are today threatening to burn three foreign hostages to death unless their country quits the US-led coalition.

Two Japanese men and one woman are being held by a previously unknown group which has vowed to kill them if Japanese soldiers do not leave Iraq.

Perhaps my brother can give us more insight on the situation, since he's studied Japan extensively.

Nicholas writes:

Prime Minister Koizumi fought hard to get Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) into Iraq, and for him to back down in the face of direct threats to three individual lives would be a great loss of face, as it would be for any national leader. More than that, by backing out he would be bringing shame to the nation, a gesture that would be unacceptable to any politician in hope of retaining popular support. And although Koizumi is elected by the Parliament, his PR strategy and wide-spread popularity in Japan are the roots of much of his power. So, he would not do something that would bring shame to so many, for it would undermine the major source of his influence.

Also, it is important to remember that there are several possible reasons that any individual member of the Japanese Parliament might want the SDF in Iraq. First and most persuasively, the Japanese economy is quite dependent on favorable and cooperative relations with the US. Withdrawing the SDF from Iraq for the sake of three lives would certainly harm US-Japan relations, though not irrevocably of course.

Second, for politicians who personally support an amendment to Article IX of the Japanese constitution to allow the development and deployment of a national military rather than simply a Self-Defense Force, pulling the SDF out of Iraq in response to a relatively small, though gruesome, threat would greatly undermine the political strength of the pro-military position. That is, sending the SDF to Iraq was a great DOMESTIC political victory for those Japanese who support the development of a full-fledged Japanese military, and to remove the SDF because of this would show an awful lack of resolve that would turn domestic political victory into political defeat.

Third, those Japanese members of Parliament whose constituents favor the development of a national military, along with all the economic and social consequences that a strong and growing military entails in a capitalist economy, would put great pressure on PM Koizumi to keep the SDF in Iraq, for reasons similar to those given above.

Fourth, organizations in Japan interested in high-tech research and development, including many private firms, government-sponsored research institutions, and bureaucrats within a wide range of ministries would all apply pressure to maintain the SDF in Iraq. Again, the incentives to do so can be traced back to the hope for an eventual constitutional amendment that would allow Japan to develop a full-scale military, and to the fear that backing out of Iraq now would undermine that cause. The ministerial bureaucrats especially exert considerable influence on members of Parliament, as the two groups have a highly mutualistic relationship. And since increased government spending on a full-fledged Japanese military would mean that some bureaucrats somewhere in the Japanese ministries would be controlling more resources than they did before, there will be ministerial pressure on Parliament to keep the SDF in Iraq now.

Lastly, there may be Japanese who sincerely support the moral cause in Iraq and the War on Terror, and though the pressure applied by this group will be important in the decision to keep the SDF in Iraq, this group of moral supporters is itself hard to classify or identify in any simple way.

I doubt the SDF is going anywhere, for a while. If it does, it will be the result of several humongous political mistakes.

Former Democratic Senator (and 9/11 Commission member) Bob Kerrey writes about Iraq:

Mr. Clarke's views on Iraq notwithstanding, after 9/11 we could not afford either to run the risk that Saddam Hussein would be deterred by our military efforts to contain him or that these military deployments would become attractive targets for further acts of terrorism. I supported President Bush's efforts to persuade the United Nations Security Council to change a 10-year-old resolution that authorized force to contain Saddam Hussein to one that authorized force to replace his dictatorship. And I believe the president did the right thing to press ahead even without the Security Council's support. Remember, the June 25, 1996, attack on Khobar Towers that left 19 American airmen dead happened because of our containment efforts. Sailors had also died enforcing the Security Council's embargo and our pilots were risking their lives every day flying missions over northern and southern Iraq to protect Iraqi Kurds and Shiites.

It is my view that a political victory for terrorism in Iraq is a much greater danger to us than whether or not we succeed in capturing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Victory in Iraq will embolden radical Islamists as much as our failure to recognize the original danger of their declaration of war against us.

This debate becomes all the more important since the work of this commission--to examine an attack against the U.S. that occurred nearly three years ago--has been overshadowed by the events taking place in Iraq. The war there is not over. Twelve marines were killed in Ramadi Tuesday night in what has become a dramatic escalation of violence against coalition forces. I believe this escalation is taking place precisely because the country is about to be handed over to the Iraqi people to run themselves.

This guy, at least, appears more focused on the welfare of the nation than on political grandstanding, and I'm thankful for it. Senator Kerrey is one of the reasons I have hope that the 9/11 Commission isn't going to turn out to be a completely partisan waste of time.

Apparently others in the blogosphere disagree. That's fine, I haven't read all the 9/11 Commission transcripts yet.

You should read GeekPress every day; Paul Hsieh always has fascinating links to interesting stories.

Here's a piece about the bustling real-world industry emerging to handle video game economies. The game items that people pay real money for can be thought of as abstract "fun tokens"; value isn't being created out of thin air, since the "items" really represent opportunities to derive pleasure from the existing game. Developers invest time and resources to make a fun game, and these secondary economies allow players to maximize their enjoyment.

Surgeons who play video games make fewer mistakes. The article talks about hand-eye coordination... but I bet young people who play massively-multiplayer online role-playing games have a better understanding of real-world economics than other youth, for the reasons described in the paragraph above. I'd love to see a study on how well kids manage their money based on how much time they spend in MMORPGs.

There's an article on putting weapons in space, and plenty of quotes by people who think pieces of paper and signatures can be a secure defense.

But the idea of weapons in space is greeted coldly by some.

"Weapons in space are not inevitable. If it were, it would have happened already," argued the senior defense expert, adding, "We should instead be taking the lead to make [weapons] agreements with other countries."

Right, just like the USSR, North Korea, Pakistan, and dozens of others have stuck to the treaties they've signed with us. None of our potential enemies are likely to be deterred by treaties -- they only sign them because they know we will be.

Some scientists claim to be close to artificial life, which is pretty nifty. They're close to fabricating biologically-based organisms that do the same things we can already create non-biological structures to do (follow that?). I'm sure the technology will lead to some neat innovations, but until and unless scientists can create biological intelligence I don't forsee any moral problems. I don't think creating new types of bacteria is "likely to shock people's religious and cultural belief systems" as the article claims.

Into the Ether contributor Seldom Sober has started a new blog called Instapoet -- for when you absolutely, positively, need a poem right now!

I wrote hundreds of poems when I was a love-lorn, angst-ridden teenager, but I've (thankfully) outgrown that. Or perhaps my heart has been irredeemably hardened in the crucible of time?

Either way, it's a good thing -- my poetry was bad.

A source informs me that New Scientist has taken down its original article about ChatNannies and replaced it with this:

Serious doubts have been brought to our attention about this story. Consequently, we have removed it while we investigate its veracity.

Jeremy Webb, Editor

I think it would have been better to simply put the warning above the existing article, rather than remove the article entirely, but this is still a good step.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to find it ironic that journalists -- who depend on leaks from others for their livelihoods -- are concerned that members of their own profession are leaking the names of Pulitzer Prize winners before the public announcement. To paraphrase Captain Renault in the mens' room: I'm shocked, shocked to find that leaking going on in here!

Lileks (or as I call him, Lily) posts a quote from John Kerry that is as confusing and incoherent as anything George Bush has ever said.

Bob Edwards: "President Bush says Sadr's defiance can't stand. What should the U.S. do?"

Kerry: "Well, ahh, huh, it's interesting to hear that, when they shut the newspaper that belongs to a legitimate voice in Iraq, and, well, let me change the term legitimate --when they shut a newspaper that belongs to a voice, because he has clearly taken on a far more radical tone in recent days, and aligned himself with both Hamas and Hezbollah, which is a sort of terrorist alignment, so it creates its own set of needs in order to deal with the possible future spread of terrorism. But at the same time, if its unaccompanied by a broader set of moves to try and broaden our own base in Iraq, um, I just think it asks for great difficulties."

Yeah, ok.

Eugene Volokh elaborates on the point I made yesterday: the government simply cannot control pornography.

Clayton Cramer and Pete point to this fascinating account of a woman's bike trips through the Chernobyl dead zone.

The map above shows the radiation levels in different parts of the dead zone, which I updated for our local biker club lately. The map will soon be replaced with a more comprehensive one that identifies more features.

It shows various levels of radiation on asphalt - usually on the middle of road - because at edge of the road it is twice as high. If you step 1 meter off the road it is 4 or 5 times higher. Radiation sits on the soil, on the grass, in apples and mushrooms. It is not retained by asphalt, which makes rides through this area possible.

And there are lots of pictures -- abandoned buildings, abandoned villages, abandoned vehicles, abandoned harbors, abandoned ships, an abandoned city.

With all the fighting going on in Iraq now -- Shiite and Sunni alike -- those Iraqis who want a peaceful and democratic government need to have the guts to stand up and be counted, even if that means opposing their fellow countrymen. Everyone was hoping the transition would be mostly peaceful once Saddam was gone, but tyranny is apparently too entrenched in the populace and there are still plenty of people who'd rather stand alone atop a pile of skulls than work together to build a skyscraper.

America needs Iraq for military purposes, but if the Iraqis can't get their act together we may have to give up on reforming them politically. Our troops aren't leaving any time soon, but once we turn the government over to the natives they're going to have to fight these battles on their own. If the emerging Iraqi government wants to be respected, it has to demonstrate that it has the support of the population. That means the Iraqi people need to take responsibility for their country and not let it be torn apart by dead-enders.

Iraqis: if you want freedom and democracy, it's time to fight for it. We can't hand it to you on a silver platter. You've got to decide, and it looks like the time is now.

(I'm sure others have written the same thing already, only better, but I haven't had a chance to peruse the web much yet today.)

Nike can't be too pleased to
see this image on Drudge.

The most interesting aspect of the local Wal-Mart saga is that the company is using ballot referendums to bypass California's excruciating zoning and environmental regulations.

Inglewood's City Council last year blocked the proposed shopping center, which is to include both a traditional Wal-Mart and other stores, prompting the company to collect more than 10,000 signatures to force Tuesday's vote in the working-class community in southwestern Los Angeles County.

On Monday, religious leaders and community activists including the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Inglewood voters to defeat the ballot measure, arguing that it gives Wal-Mart license to begin construction without having to go through the usual array of public zoning, traffic and environmental hearings or reviews.

"You don't get to get around all of the environmental impacts accepted in this country," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. "You don't get to bypass the city and their building and safety and their planning departments. What they have done is they have gone over the top."

No, Ms. Waters, they've gone to the top and over your head -- directly to your bosses, the voters.

But of course, in America, the voters aren't really in charge....

Opponents have vowed legal action if the measure passes.
The ballot measure doesn't look likely to pass. I would have voted for it if I lived in Inglewood, but oh well. I may not like the decision, but I'm content that the people have expressed their will. The result reinforces what I consider to be unjust and inefficient regulations, but so be it.

Pornography is a pernicious danger to society for many reasons, but I don't think the government is well-suited to solve the problem. The government should be limited to preventing one person from forcing or coercing another into doing something he doesn't want to do, and eliminating pornography doesn't fall into that category.

The root of the problem isn't that people are making pornography, it's that people have a desire to consume it -- and the government has no power (or authority) to change what people desire. The solution to pornography is individual and personal. God commands us to control our own thoughts:

Colossians 3:2

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

The government won't be able to eliminate pornography; there will always be "earthly things" to distract us from the holy thoughts and purposes God created us for. As a Christian, I must depend on God daily to give me the strength to focus my mind on the course he has laid out for me, ignoring the tempting scenery that could so easily lure me off the path.

As with some other issues many on the right want the government to "solve", pornography isn't a physical problem with a physical solution: it's a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution. It isn't easy to turn our attention away from things that offer us obvious, immediate pleasure, but such pleasure is ephemeral and passes away moment by moment. The rewards of God last forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Without spiritual understanding, why would anyone refrain from immediate gratification? Life is short, and there's no guarantee you'll breathe another breath; absent faith, only a fool would put all his eggs into the basket of the future. Many faith-less philosophies build up a morality on a circular foundation, but in the end they all come down to using the force of government to control what people think and do, "for their own good".

More on the political side from Justin Katz, who says:

So here's a thought: if the public really is as enamored of smut as Ashcroft's critics believe, why not campaign to change the law? If porn is such an obviously good, or at least neutral, thing, why sidestep the actual issue — involving those six guys and some unknown millions of dollars — by substituting rhetoric about the war? Come out from behind the computer desk and lance the issue head on.

I explained why deficit spending isn't inherently bad last week, and one of my favorite economists, Tyler Cowen, points to a great quote on the issue by Zimran at winterspeak.com:

I don't want to hear anyone complaining about the deficit unless they immediately begin to list ways of taking things away from old people and making them work harder and longer. Otherwise you aren't really bothered by the deficit at all.
Zimran says that the costs of Social Security and Medicare (around 100% of GDP) absolutely dwarf our current cash deficit (around 5% of GDP), and these programs annoy me to no end. They're shining examples of how the irresponsibility of one person can enslave another. Last year I wrote a post titled "Responsibility" and said:
People need to take responsibility for themselves. I find it particularly disgusting that our nation's supposedly most mature citizens are doffing the responsibility for their lives by lobbying and cheering for ludicrously expensive government entitlements, the burden of which must be borne by their children and grandchildren. You may be "the greatest generation" to some, but this selfish foolishness highlights a widespread moral and economic failure on your part. You're supposed to be wise, you're supposed to be an example to we who are following after, but instead you wield your political power not to help or guide us, but for your own comfort and enrichment. Shame on you all. Imagine how great a boon you could have been to your families and your country; instead you're becoming a resented burden.
(Read the rest of the post; it's more compassionate than this first paragraph may indicate.)

One of my commenters has accused me of being anti-elderly -- and this could post could certainly give him ammunition -- but that's not it at all. I have the greatest respect for people of any age who are self-sufficient and contribute to society. But by their very nature, these two entitlement programs are not self-sustaining, and they'll eventually go bankrupt. Members of my generation will have to fend for ourselves when we're old, and we'll have to do so after having picked up the tab for our elders.

Jim Wightman has responded to my earlier posts about his ChatNannies software with the following (originally left in the comment section of one of the linked-to posts). I'm including his response in its entirety and interspersing my own comments.

Hi, there,

I thought it best to let the dust settle a little before I responded to your queries regarding our AI technology.

I'm sure you'd agree that the evils that all our children potentially face on the internet need all the ideas and work we can get. We don't pretend to have all the answers - we're only at the beginning - but if our work stimulates others to do even better then we shall feel that we've done our bit. And if your ideas help, then many thanks. So, to your points

"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?"

Actually the reporting on this is slightly inaccurate - and because of this the analysis of it is too. The figure of 2000 is a low estimate figure of how many volunteer users we had concurrently testing the bots in one chatroom. This was way before any media interest, back in the really early testing phases. In total we clocked well over 150,000 hours of testing between us in various different configurations using different strategies. This was a 'try it and see' approach to forging the algorithms that we use to spot paedophiles using only their use of words, sentence structure, and other 'written word' linguistic qualities.

I find it absolutely unbelievable that you gathered 2000 volunteers in one chatroom at the same time. Gathering this many volunteers would have required a lot of publicity and would have been noticed. Plus, were some of your volunteers actual pedophiles who thought they were volunteering to seduce children? Having people pretend to be pedophiles would be counter-productive, since your whole theory is based around the idea that a computer could detect pedophiles more accurately than a human could -- thus, it would be very difficult for a human to act in a pedophile-like manner so as to train your system.
The other inaccuracy in the report was that while we have over 100,000 spawned instances of the bots running at any one time (at full capacity), in reality only about 1/3 of these survive to chat in chatrooms. I've noted elsewhere that we are at a really early stage of development still (15 years on) and we still get regular crashes for the most innocuous of reasons...
You've been working on this system for 15 years? Please, that's absurd. Super-computers from 15 years ago couldn't come close to running a neural network of the scale you're talking about (but then, modern computers couldn't run 100,000 instances of such a neural network either). Plus, I doubt pedophiles in chatrooms were a real problem in 1989!
so most bots either crash before they choose a chatroom to monitor, or crash by resolving the hostname incorrectly, or get locked by the connection, or drop out once they get to the room because of a variety of problems. Obviously we are working at this, and progress is slow (because I have a day job too) but we hope to get all this ironed out in time for demonstrations.
These functions are all incredibly easy compared to the other achievements you claim. There are hundreds of chatbots that successfully perform all these tasks with no difficulty -- certainly without crashing. The idea that you could create such an astounding AI system and yet not be able to manage a few network connections is ludicrous.
"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."

Once again, I'm afraid we have some inaccurate reporting. I didn't tell the New Scientist at any point that we were only relying on government handouts - nor that that we cared particularly where sponsorship came from - only that we were looking for sponsorship and investment to accelerate the growth and development of both the ChatNannies site and the AI.

If you want to accelerate development, release the code to the academic community. Within no time you'll have hundreds of the best and brightest AI thinkers in the world (after yourself, of course) building on your foundation.
"If the system is genuine, this is a remarkable feat of comprehension."

Thank you, We've worked very hard to get this AI to where it is, working on it for 15 years or more.

Perhaps you didn't notice the qualifying "if".
"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."

Well as I mentioned earlier, we have done a hell of a lot of testing to back this claim up - its not something we would claim lightly. We aren't actually trying to detect paedophiles per se however...we are comparing the linguistic structure of an average 14 year old with that of any number of users currently in a chatroom. If we get values which indicate a significant rise above that average 14 year old level of complexity in linguistics, there are algorithms to spot this happening. The reality is that the 'scores' given to different age groups, and those things that indicate an extension of age beyond this score, were built by repetitive testing and chatting with human users, so it really is nothing exciting in terms of advancement. In fact I am shortly contributing to a paper here in the UK for someone at Edinburgh University about this very topic.

Nonsense. I have a strong background in developmental psychology, and 14-year-olds have the same basic linguistic capabilities as adults. Concrete reasoning really takes shape before that age. It would probably be possible to distinguish between 10-year-olds and adults, but I doubt you could reliably tell the difference between 14-year-olds and adults based purely on grammar and complexity.

Even if you could, what purpose would this serve? It's not like every adult who talks with kids is a pedophile; in fact, don't you propose putting human "Nannies" into chatrooms? Most teenagers probably chat with adults very frequently about a wide range of topics (from sports to video games).

Furthermore, adults who prey on 14-year-olds aren't technically pedophiles; pedophiles are attracted to pre-pubescent children. (I couldn't remember the term for an attraction to adolescents, but here it is: ephebophilia.)

Since I too am quite sceptical I can fully understand your viewpoint. I'm sorry that we as yet have not provided the 'killer' evidence that we would love to provide - the truth is, as I brushed upon before, we simply were not ready for this level of media attention and so are not as far along with development as we would like to demonstrate to members of the public or press. It is however, as stated elsewhere, our intention to enter the Loebner prize to prove in an open yet tightly controlled forum that our work is genuine and corroborates the evidence we have presented thus far.
Show me the source code. I'll sign an NDA, and I'll take a week off work to examine it thoroughly. There's no other evidence you need to show me. Just zip it all up and email it to me.
In the meantime, I am very happy to answer any queries you have about any parts of the AI in which you are particularly interested; please understand however that to answer a question such as 'how does it work' might take a little more than a few hours :-)
I don't have any questions I want you to answer; I want to see the source code myself. Nothing else will convince me.
Best wishes


Nothing you say holds water. You've indicated that you're eager to reveal your technology and aren't concerned with making money, so cough up the source code. Show me even a single file. Show me the routine that evaluates and trains your neural net. Show me the structure that defines your neurons and constructs the network. Show me your lexer or parser. Show me anything concrete.

Stop responding with vague hand-waving and inapplicable buzz-words. Give me source code or just go away, you're wasting my time.

P.S., I've been all over this story from the very beginning, but I'm getting bored with it. It's obviously a hoax, and as amusing as it may be for Mr. Wightman there's really no purpose for me to continue discussing it. Barring the revelation of actual source code, I doubt I'll be writing more on the topic.

I've written a couple of facetious posts about how dating has brought about the end of civilization, and my friend Megan has pointed me to an article that classifies women into three categories -- Party-Girls, Girlfriends, and Romantics -- and explains how they fit into the modern sexual paradigm. The gist of it: men are pigs and women are stupid. How so? Men have no motivation to control their sexual impulses when women are too stupid to realize they're being manipulated.

There have always been Party-Girls and Romantics, but what's new is the rise of the Girlfriend class.

Most young women are incapable of brazen sexual abandonment. They long for stability and permanence and love in their lives. But they begin receiving the attentions of young males at an early age, long before they intend to marry. So they enter into a half-way covenant between marriage, the longed-for ultimate source of stability and love, and the worrisome condition of the unattached female. To be unattached and female in our society is a difficult undertaking, psychologically, socially, and, at times, physically. Psychologically, the unattached woman often wonders whether she can get a man. Her self-confidence is not helped by her friends reassuring her that she will get a man "some day" or that she will "have lots of men." Unattached males, on the other hand, are always assumed to be playing the field. Women by their very nature have more difficulty being alone or unnoticed. They want to be loved, or at least complimented. The best male compliment to a female that we currently have in this society is the invitation to a date or to a kind of ongoing date.

Socially, women and men both have a hard time being unattached because the world is set up for couples. High school formals, for example, come with great regularity. These events practically mandate teenage pairing-off. Who wants to show up at a formal occasion alone, have his own picture taken, and have no one with whom to dance? To the unattached adolescent, a high school formal appears like the coming of The Deluge. To board the Ark two-by-two one must find another unattached person. The collective attempt to find that other person constitutes the great emotional drama of the high school years. Nowadays it is also becoming physically necessary to "be with someone." Because the barbarians leer and jeer at women walking alone, women often attach themselves to men just to feel safe when going out. To keep the gorillas off, as young author Wendy Shalit has observed, you have to find your own gorilla. These various pressures practically force young women to attach themselves to someone. To whom is less important than the fact of being attached.

This attachment is called a relationship. The woman who enters into a relationship takes on the status of girlfriend.

The article goes on to explain how the Girlfriend relationship is really a huge fraud perpetrated by men on vulnerable women, and I completely agree with the assessment.
To be sure, relationships end up imitating marriages. Boyfriends and girlfriends talk of "anniversaries" and of belonging to each other, and they engage in sex and often live together. When not involved in a relationship, they call themselves "single." Yet every girlfriend secretly knows that a "break-up" could occur at any moment. Indeed, couples even talk about "taking time off" for an indefinite period when things do not seem to be going well. Married people don't have the luxury of taking time off. There's no sabbatical for the seven-year itch. Marriage, at least according to its vows, settles for nothing less than always and forever.

The prevailing culture of relationships, however, tends to undermine marriage. Most perennial girlfriends will have had several serious relationships before getting married and therefore several serious break-ups. These break-ups take an enormous toll on the happiness of young women. Especially when sex is involved, young women can feel these failed attempts at love as "losing pieces of yourself." They no longer feel whole. Erotic encounters, like any repeated activity, are habit-forming. If you have broken up several times before, what will stop you from doing the same thing once you are married? Relationship gurus assert that dating helps you find the right mate and that living with someone teaches you how to live with someone. It is more statistically accurate to say that the cycle of dating and breaking-up is good practice for divorce. In our society, with all the emphasis placed upon youth and individuality and fun, marriages more often imitate relationships than relationships prefigure marriage.

The end of the article summarizes what I've tried to do to make myself attractive to the Romantic girls that are left (in theory?).
In previous ages, the system of courtship and marriage required on the part of young people both sexual restraint and a strong sense of the future. Young men had to "clean up their act" before they could become truly eligible bachelors. In order to gain a young lady's approval and ultimately her hand, a man had to do several things. He had to master his sex drive. He had to prove his devotion to her, usually over a long period of time. He had to pass inspection before her discerning parents. He had to become financially stable so that he could support his wife and the children they would have. In short, he had to become a man of means, a man of parts, and a man of character. The exacting demands of courtship discouraged males from becoming wimps or barbarians.
As has been exhaustively pointed out elsewhere, the real effect of the Sexual Revolution has, ironically, been to subject women to the very worst behavior of men and tell them they should like it and act the same way.
Once while teaching the topic of chivalry in a Western Civilization class in college, I put the question to a "barbarian" student: If women refused to be around you if you cursed in front of them, stared at their chests, and in general acted in a lewd and drunken manner at parties, would you clean up your act? His answer was straightforward. "Yeah, of course. Who wouldn't?" Should romantic women across the nation make their preferences known by their great power of refusal, and should increasing numbers of perennial girlfriends come over into the camp of the romantics, young women would regain their natural capacity of commanding men. As surely as day follows night, young men would have to reform their character in short order.
For more of my thoughts, read "Finding the One" and general essays on love and marriage.

Donald Sensing wants to know if we're still free. He gives some interesting points to consider, and from a legal perspective I can understand why he'd suggest that we aren't.

What's fascinating to me, however, is that even though our government is tightening its grip on our liberty, people respect and obey the law less every year. Ideally we'd have a system with minimal laws and the population would completely agree with and adhere to those laws -- what we've got now is nearly the opposite, but is it functionally worse? An obfuscated legal system with many vague and loosely-enforced laws is certainly less just and fair on an individual basis, but will the aggregate effect on society be any different than an ideal system?

Probably so, because people will be frightened of being singled out for random enforcement. Still, until we're noticed and prosecuted for some trivial infraction, are we less free? I don't think so. If anything, we're more free than Americans 200 years ago, not because of the law but because of technology. We can go places and do things that would have been impossible (or prohibitively expensive) for our ancestors, and in a real way that balances against the strangle-hold of the government.

In fact, one could argue that the government has adapted to these new freedoms/abilities by imposing additional restrictions, thereby reducing our liberty to pre-existing levels. Is it possible that the government adapts to technological and societal advances to maintain some sort of "optimal" level of liberty? ("Optimal" from whatever perspective you want to discuss: the government's, the people's, both, economics, whatever.) As technology provides us with new freedoms, government may organically act to keep them in check... to protect us from ourselves? Is this balance an emergent function of government? Is it necessary or inescapable? It's obvious to me why a democracy may act in this manner; is there another form of government that might not (benevolent dictatorship)?

If this spurs anyone else's thoughts on the matter, please let me know.

Drudge has a flash story about Alanis Morissette pretending to strip (perishable) on some pretentious, self-aggrandizing award show, and some of her comments show just how bizarrely out-of-touch celebrities can be.

Morissette strips down to blast US 'censorship'
Mon Apr 05 2004 14:14:52 ET

Not another wardrobe malfunction !! ... feisty rock singer Alanis Morissette poked fun at Janet Jackson's notorious breast-baring episode by stripping on stage to reveal cartoonish fake nipples and pubic hair.

Morissette, hosting Canada's annual music awards, said the stunt, in which she appeared in a provocative skin-hugging body-suit was intended to expose US "censorship."

The singer, renowned for her angst-ridden lyrics, told the audience at the Juno Awards in Edmonton "we live in a land where we still think the human body is beautiful and we're not afraid of the female breast."

Morissette let a dressing gown fall to the floor to reveal her "nudity" after an announcer warned : "we can't show nipples on national TV," in an obvious dig at US outrage fanned by Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Superbowl.

"I am proud to be able to stand here and do this," Morissette said, to wild cheers from the audience at Sunday night's show.

Morissette then blasted US radio stations which have forced her to change the word "asshole" in one of her songs.

"They're in an era when they're scared, when there's lots of fear," she said.


Oh please, spare me the martyrdom. First of all, you're a coward; you didn't have the guts to really take your clothes off, so you wore a bodysuit. How absurd. (Sound familiar?)

Secondly -- assuming I'm part of the "they" who don't want naked people and cursing on the public airwaves -- what exactly do you think we're afraid of? Historically, naked people have been pretty powerless. There's never been a naked president or general; there once was an emperor with no clothes, but everyone eventually agreed that he was a fool.

It may be hard to believe, but we're not afraid of you, we just don't like you. We find your nakedness and superfluous cursing to be aesthetically unpleasing. We don't want our kids to grow up to be like you, because absent the publicity machine of the fading music industry you're a pathetic, angst-ridden loser. You've written some music some people like, and that's a nice accomplishment, but it gives you about as much moral authority to pontificate on war, censorship, and politics as Humpty (pronounced with an "umpty").

Get off your high-horse and get some perspective on life.

I just considered: this is yet another reason to encourage file-sharing! Any endeavor that will result in undercutting the political clout of loony celebrities deserves our support.

Ever feel like you just don't fit in? Why don't the girls like you? How come you're always picked last for everything? Why does everyone stop talking when you enter the room? Why does your mom spit in your breakfast every morning? Maybe it's because you're still using 20th century punctuation!

The future is now, my friend. For example, check out a writing sample from blogosphere cool-kid Steven Den Beste and trench-coat mafia reject David Theroux; DT in red, SDB in blue.

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your note.

Since you regularly and critically address public policy issues, including foreign policy, we thought that you might be interested in some of our articles.

If not, we will not send them to you.

Just let me know.

As for "link slutting," sending you a personal note about a new article hardly fits.

That would be "not".

Notice how Mr. Thorax puts his comma inside the quotes! I know, ridiculous. That's so 1990s. It's no wonder SDB didn't link to such plebeian drivel.

Review your notes -- there will be a test. Class dismissed.

BFL buddy Patterico relates some detailed first-hand knowledge of exactly what kind of creeps will be immediately released if the so-called "Three Strikes and Child Protection Act of 2004" gets passed. The examples are very disturbing, but the criminals and crimes are very real.

Our first candidate for release is a notorious pedophile named Joseph Noble, who targeted young girls aged 5 to 7 in the South Bay area. He is currently serving 25-to-life for exposing his genitals about 30 times to multiple female County Jail employees. There is no doubt that, if released, this man will commit sex crimes against more young girls. ...

For example, one victim was 7 years old when Noble lured her away from some swings, to "show her some kittens." Instead, he tried to force her to orally copulate him at the Redondo Beach schoolyard. He choked her until she lost consciousness. Noble wasn't caught, but a month later, at another elementary school, he was arrested for masturbating in front of a group of young girls as he made lewd comments to them.

As described in stories from the Copley News Service and Daily Breeze news organizations, Noble had a 26-year criminal history, with prior convictions for kidnapping, child molestation, and indecent exposure. Noble never spent more than a year out of custody since he was 20 years old. However, in those brief periods of freedom, he was a sexual predator who committed multiple sexual offenses against young girls.

[Snip several more crimes, each worse than the one before.]

At his trial for indecent exposure, Noble admitted that he still has violent sexual fantasies about children. He said, "on a magnitude of evil, (masturbating) is nothing compared to what I'm capable of." The judge who sentenced him, Judith Champagne, agreed, saying:

The defendant's background is the most disturbing part of this formula . . . He has all but promised he is going to re-offend.
Judge Champagne added that the Three Strikes Law ''is a sentencing scheme that was designed for someone like Mr. Noble.''
If Noble is resentenced, he will be immediately released on his indecent exposure case. Although prosecutors hope that he can be kept in custody under the Sexually Violent Predator Law, this will require a new trial every couple of years. Even if this strategy works, Noble will eventually be transferred from state prison to a state mental hospital. And don't forget: in 1978, he escaped from a state mental hospital and committed a violent sex crime.
The point is to put these people away forever, not give them chance after chance to "reform".

So the lady who bashed her three kids' heads in with a rock was acquitted by reason of insanity, and I don't doubt she was/is legally insane. Fine.

But I'm not exactly clear on the reason we don't execute insane people who kill. Why try to "cure" them, even assuming that's possible? Most of the time dangerous psychotics aren't treatable and will never be able to be released from custody anyway, so why waste the time and money trying? Because they aren't "responsible" for their actions? Then who is? Are insane people akin to amoral "forces of nature" that have to be tolerated and contained?

Don't get me wrong -- I think treating the mentally ill and keeping them away from society is an important, and neglected, function of government. Once someone kills with no justification, however, their life should be forfeit and it seems right and logical to execute them.






Fallujans explain why killing Americans is justified:

"Islam bans what was done to the bodies, but the Americans are as brutal as the youths who burned and mutilated the bodies," said Mahdi Ahmed Saleh, a retired school principal who now runs a small grocery store. "They have done so much to us and they have humiliated us so often."

Saleh, like most men in Fallujah, singled out raids on homes as the most troubling U.S. military practice.

"Look at this wide and long street," he said. "Do you see any women? So, if we don't let them out on the street, can you imagine how we feel when American soldiers barge in and see them in their sleeping gowns?"

What a cheerful bunch. Look who's side you're on, Kos.

Reminiscent of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's brilliant "Tax Me More!" fund, BostonIrish reports that Taxachusetts has created a checkbox on its state tax forms that allows the taxpayer to decide which tax rate he wants to pay: 5.3% or 5.85%. Surprisingly, even though recent tax-hike proposals by liberal lawmakers were only narrowly defeated, a mere 0.03% of taxpayers have opted to pay the higher rate.

Some will argue that no one wants to volunteer to pay the higher rate because then they'll be unfairly carrying the burden of paying for services that other people get the benefit of... but isn't that the exact position that "rich" people in higher marginal tax brackets are in already? Very few are eager for the government to redistribute wealth when they themselves are not the beneficiaries. This attitude reflects blatant hypocrisy on the parts of many presumed advocates of progressive taxation.

As I wrote last year, the tax rebellion continues. In 2002 Massachusetts voters almost passed a ballot initiative that would have eliminated all state income taxes, and it's only a matter of time before they try again and succeed. If the Bay State isn't first, there are plenty of others waiting in the wings.

(HT: Ace-o-Spades.)

The story has been floating around for a few weeks now, but it's finally starting to get some play: the easy movement of jobs between countries is beneficial to America by any measure, because we import more jobs than we export. Even if that weren't the case we'd still be better off due to lower prices and greater competition, but considering the high rate of growth in the number of Americans working for local affiliates of foreign companies, there can't be any doubt.

While reliable figures aren't available for the last two years, the Commerce Department estimated on March 18 that the number of Americans employed by U.S. affiliates of majority non-U.S. companies grew by 4.7 million from 1997 through 2001. In the same period, the number of non-Americans working at affiliates of majority-U.S. companies abroad rose by 2.8 million. ...

The 57-year-old Bush holds up the creation of U.S. jobs by companies from abroad as an example of the benefits of free trade. In a speech in Cleveland on March 10, he said 10 percent of Honda's worldwide workforce lives in Ohio. Honda has two vehicle-assembly plants in two Ohio towns.

"About 16,000 Ohioans work for Honda, with good, high-paying jobs, and that's not counting the people who work at 165 different Ohio companies that supply Honda with parts and material," Bush said. "When politicians in Washington attack trade for political reasons, they don't mention these workers, or the 6.4 million other Americans who draw their paychecks from foreign companies."

Protectionism is rarely the answer. The only circumstances in which is is justified are if there are non-economic considerations, such as national security. I wouldn't want to outsource NSA crypographers, for example.

President Bush will do well to emphasize the reality of the situation; American workers are smart enough to understand it.

(HT: IP.)

... if you know your subject material, anyway. A new federally-backed program is being tried out that will allow professionals without education degrees to become certified teachers after taking a computerized test.

Walter Lutes, of Boise, Idaho, is trying to become the first teacher in America certified by solely taking a $400 computerized test — no education degree, no student teaching — shaving three years off his career change from mechanical engineer to math teacher. "It seems like a shortcut, but I don't view it as that," said Lutes. "I view it as this was a route I could take to get to what I really want to do — what I'm good at doing — in a more efficient manner."

As a fellow engineer, that's exactly how I view it as well. Naturally, teachers aren't enthused.

The goal is to reduce barriers for expert professionals to teach, especially subjects like math and science. But some teachers say it's misguided.

"It's cutting corners," said Kathy Phelan, president of the Idaho Education Association (search). "And what it's doing is ... the most important part of teaching is not being measured. It discounts your ability to interact with students and impart what you know."

Funny, I would have figured that the most important part of teaching is knowing the material you're trying to teach. I've had lots of excellent teachers who didn't "interact" with the students much, but I've never had a good teacher who didn't know their material.

Critics say these test-certified teachers will have no oversight during their on-the-job training. But in fact, the program calls for two years of mandatory monitoring.

And so forth and so on. Considering the dismal quality of public education, are teachers really the best people to be judging the utility and effectiveness of this new program?

Jay Redding has a tribute to the three identified men who were killed in Fallujah a couple days ago. As I first saw from Bill Hobbs, leftist blogger Kos doesn't care that these men were burnt, killed, mutilated, and desecrated.

They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.
I'd like to point out that that I, myself, am in a similar position. I'm not in the military, but I work in the defense industry. I make money doing it -- more than our brave soldiers make -- but it's not all about the money. I'm proud to use my education and abilities to further "American hegemony", because that means encouraging democracy, capitalism, and liberty all over the world, including Iraq. I don't carry a rifle or push buttons to launch missiles, but I'm doing my part to equip our military with the tools it needs to carry out its mission.

Are you, Kos, indifferent to my life as well? Well screw you.

It looks like Kos has changed/removed the post in question. Here's a screenshot, via IP.

Yet more reasons to avoid public transportation -- aside from excruciating inconvenience, filth, and free-range crazies.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Terrorists might try to bomb buses and rail lines in major U.S. cities this summer, according to a government bulletin issued to law enforcement officials nationwide.
I think we should ask ourselves, why do they hate mass transit? Because buses and trains reduce oil revenue for their sponsor states? Because the terrorists are jealous of America's vast public transportation network? Whatever the answer is, we should make efforts to expand private transportation options and reduce our dependency on public transportation. It's for the children.

Last Saturday, on March 27th, 2004, NASA's Supersonic Combustion Ramjet (the X-43) broke all known airspeed records, reaching over 5,000 mph at an altitude of nearly 100,000 feet. Here's a Space.com story that gives some of the interesting details. This successful trial was the first known hypersonic flight (not counting glides, such as the Space Shuttle's re-entry) and represents an important milestone towards cheaper and more efficient space travel.

A scramjet is far more efficient than a rocket or a conventional turbojet because it "breathes" air and has far fewer moving parts -- in fact, many scramjet designs have no major moving parts, consisting of little more than a compression chamber, a fuel injector, and an exhaust vent.

The trick is that in order for the scramjet (or it's cousin, the ramjet) to ignite, the vehicle carrying it needs to be moving fast enough to compress the air in the compression chamber so it can be mixed with fuel and combusted, and this critical pressure requires supersonic speeds; a scramjet-propelled vehicle needs some other engine system to boost it to Mach 1, and generally a rocket is used and discarded once its fuel is spent.

Carl the aerospace engineer has more on the X-43A and engines in general. He says I've got misconceptions, but I don't think I wrote anything that contradicts his more detailed and knowledgable explanation.

Newly released documents prove that Bill Clinton knew of the Rwandan genocide in April, 1994, and not only decided not to intervene (which is a defensible position) but did everything possible to prevent the American people from learning the truth.

US president Bill Clinton's administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by genocide in April 1994 but buried the information to justify its inaction, classified documents made available for the first time reveal.

Senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene.

Intelligence reports obtained using the US Freedom of Information Act show the cabinet and almost certainly the president knew of a planned "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis" before the slaughter reached its peak.

It took Hutu death squads three months from April 6 to murder about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and at each stage accurate, detailed reports were reaching Washington policymakers.

The documents undermine claims by Mr Clinton and his officials that they did not fully appreciate the scale and speed of the killings.

Not only that, but the exalted Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was in charge of the UN peacekeeping office from March of 1992 to December of 1996.
Before being appointed Secretary-General, Mr. Annan served as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (March 1992-February 1993) and then as Under-Secretary-General (March 1993-December 1996). His tenure as Under-Secretary-General coincided with unprecedented growth in the size and scope of United Nations peacekeeping operations, with a total deployment, at its peak in 1995, of almost 70,000 military and civilian personnel from 77 countries.
As this editorial by Nat Hentoff that appeared in the April 30, 2001, edition of the Washington Times (I think) says:
The Washington Times editorial at least had some reservations about Mr. Annan's tenure so far. But there has been scant mention in the media of the plain fact that it was Mr. Annan, when he was head of the United Nation's peacekeeping office, who could have prevented the slaughter of 800,000 Tutus and their sympathizers in Rwanda in 1994.

Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, head of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, urgently pleaded with Mr. Annan to intervene before the killings began, because Mr. Dallaire knew of the preparations for the genocide. Mr. Annan refused to act, or to say anything publicly. ...

Finally, in 1999, after these and other disclosures of the responsibility of the United Nations for the massacres, the United Nations issued a report acknowledging, to some extent, its role in the killings, including the role of Mr. Annan. But for five and a half years he refused to accept any responsibility for the Rwandan holocaust until Mr. Gourevitch and others revealed that less than 5,000 U.N. troops could have stopped the killings if Mr. Annan had not closed his eyes.

To this day, moreover, Mr. Annan has said nothing about the massive enslavement of black Christians and animists in Sudan by the National Islamic Front government. Nor has he said anything about the gang rapes and murder that accompany slave raids on the villages of southern Sudan.

And people want to put the UN -- led by Annan -- in charge of Iraq? What a joke.

Last year I wrote about environmentalists of the future and asked what they'd complain about once we colonized other planets.

What will become of environmentalism in the future? Say we go to Mars and find that there really isn't any life there. Will the greens complain that we're disrupting the planet by building a colony on the empty red sand? Will they whine when we terraform that dead world and attempt to remake it in earth's image? And let's say we're successful in doing so... in fact, we colonize a dozen or so worlds in the next century or two. Will the greens then concede that earth itself has become expendable? There won't really be much need to conserve rainforests on earth if we plant one giant rainforest on some other planet, will there? Oh sure, it might look pretty to keep some parks around the old home planet, but it won't be essential will it? Accumulating trash won't be a problem anymore either once we can just toss it into the sun cheaply and efficiently, or convert it to nuclear power using the Mr. Fusion that satisfies all our energy needs.

One of the main problems I have with environmentalism is that I think it's just a charade. Environmentalists are intellectually dishonest. They proclaim doom and gloom, but their real agenda isn't to protect the earth, it's to hinder humanity.

Via GeekPress I see that the foes of civilization aren't asleep at the wheel. NASA is talking about ways to terraform Mars and make it habitable for humanity, and the human microbes are multiplying furiously.
'The idea of terraforming Mars is extreme, but it is not cranky - that is the truly horrible thing about it,' said Paul Murdin, of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. 'If it was just a silly science-fiction notion, you could laugh it off. But the idea is terribly real. That is why it is dreadful. We are mucking up this world at an incredible pace at the same time that we are talking about screwing up another planet.'
Screwing it up how? It's dirt!
It is the risk that terraforming poses to these sorts of organisms that outrages scientists, such as Dr Lisa Pratt, a Nasa astrobiologist based at Indiana University.

'It is very depressing. Before we have even discovered if there is life on Mars - which I am increasingly confident we will find - we are talking about undertaking massive projects that would wipe out all these indigenous lifeforms, all the strange microbes that we hope to find buried in the Martian soil. It is simply ethically wrong.'

If there's life on Mars we should definitely make efforts to find it and study it, but unless it's intelligent life that objects to our colonization I don't think we have any real reason to abandon the planet because of a few bacteria. "Indigenous lifeforms" sounds romantic, but (a) there probably aren't any, and (b) even if there are they're extremely primitive and not any more worthy of ethical consideration than earthly bacteria.
With plants and trees imported from Earth growing and producing oxygen, the atmosphere would become slowly more Earth-like. 'We should get serious about sending life to Mars,' McKay said.

Other scientists remain cautious. 'We now know Mars used to have an atmosphere, but it disappeared for reasons that are still unclear,' said Monica Grady, a planetary scientist at the Natural History Museum, London. 'If we restore Mars's atmosphere, we could easily find it disappeared again. We would have done some devastating things to the planet for a temporary effect. That is certainly not ethical.'

Mars' atmosphere disappeared because the planet doesn't have enough gravity to maintain a heavy atmosphere on its own. It will steadily lose atmospheric gasses even if we terraform it, but on a scale of millions of years. We can add gas far more quickly than it can escape, so for all practical purposes the consideration is irrelevant.

"We would have done some devastating things to the planet for a temporary effect. That is certainly not ethical." Preserving the planet in its current state has moral value? Please explain why you're so certain. Again, it's a ball of dirt. Why do I have a feeling that these same objectionable scientists would all categorize themselves as "pro-choice" and be entirely in favor of destroying other forms of "sub-human" life at will?

It's all a ruse. They don't want to touch Mars until we're sure there's no life on it, but how long will that take? It's a big planet, and even if there's nothing on the surface there could be life underground where it's warmer. Are we supposed to dig up the whole planet to be sure? Bah.

Murdoc casts the 9/11 Commission hearings as a baseball game, but misses the well-known established fact that politics is already vastly more entertaining that baseball. I'd be more impressed by an attempt to sex-up baseball by stuffing it into a metaphor of political intrigue!

The ends always justify the means -- the only question is which ends you're going to consider relevant.

The classic example is the implausible question: is it acceptable to murder an infant to save 100 other lives? To vastly oversimplify, a utilitarian may say yes, because the 100 lives are cumulatively more valuable than the life of the infant; a Christian may say no, because murder is wrong no matter how many lives it saves. The disagreement isn't really over whether or not "the ends justify the means" -- the real disconnect is over how each person weighs the various ends and which ends they recognize as legitimate.

When the Christian contemplates the murder, he may consider that one of the consequences will be that he will be violating an absolute rule established by God; to the Christian, that violation -- as an end itself -- may be more weighty than saving the lives of 100 people. The Christian decides that, after examining the consequences of both action and inaction, he must choose inaction because the ends that would result from action are a net loss.

The utilitarian in the same scenario may not recognize God's commands as relevant. Perhaps he doesn't believe God exists, or perhaps he believes that God would prefer that he save 100 lives rather than obey the rules. Either way, the utilitarian could weigh the consequences of action and inaction and decide that the ends of action will result in a net gain.

I've used the term "utilitarian" here improperly (although it's commonly used this way, even by utilitarian philosophers), because as you can see both he and the "Christian" reason and make decisions in the same manner. The reason they come to different conclusions is that they aren't using the same input. If the utilitarian believed keeping God's law was more important than saving lives, he would have done so; likewise, if the Christian believed that God would prefer to save lives rather than have his laws obeyed, he would have acted.

If someone tells you that "the ends don't justify the means" they're fooling themselves by failing to identify all the ends they consider important. Most people, utilitarian and not, fail to recognize or acknowledge that a desire to adhere to some system of morality may be an important end by itself, given certain input such as a belief in God.

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