September 2004 Archives

Remember, there are other choices.

I'll just write a little because I'm sure other people will be writing a lot. First off, I scored the debate like a boxing match, giving each candidate a score for each exchange. According to my total, it came to 287 - 273 in President Bush's favor -- but admittedly, I'm biased. I counted approximately 30 camera shots that violated the debate rules. Senator Kerry mentioned or alluded to Vietnam 5 times, and mentioned or alluded to Ronald Reagan twice.

President Bush did a good job staying on message, but he stumbled a few times and hesitated over words a little too much. His best point was that John Kerry can't expect to get more allies on board in Iraq if he insists that it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. He could have pointed out, but didn't, that Germany and France have said they won't send troops no matter who wins the election, and that they don't have many quality troops to send, anyway, and that they were making money off Saddam. Bush also dodged a question about whether or not a 9/11-size terrorist attack would be more likely if Kerry gets elected. I thought the President handled the question about Kerry's character superbly and graciously. However, I had high expectations for Bush and he didn't live up to all of them.

Senator Kerry did better than I expected. I don't like most of his positions, but I think he did a good job presenting them. Kerry strikes me as a better extemporaneous speaker than rehearsed, and I was impressed by his speaking ability. Much of his presentation was flat and unemotional, but that doesn't generally bother me (and he wasn't Gore-like). He didn't contradict himself or blatantly flip-flop on anything, and he did a good job staying within the time limit. He dodged a few questions -- such as whether or not our solders in Iraq are dying for nothing -- but didn't seem obvious about it.

As for Jim Lehrer, I didn't like his performance much. He didn't ask any foreign policy questions that didn't relate to the War on Terror (except for the one on Darfur) -- nothing about trade, nothing about AIDS in Africa, nothing about relations with China, nothing about the European Union, nothing about South America, nothing about Mexico, nothing about the WTO or the IMF, nothing about Kerry's Senate record, and so forth. It got to the point where the candidates were just repeating themselves, and Bush even stopped himself once and pointed out that there wasn't much else he could say about North Korea that he hadn't said twice already. Most of the questions were about things Bush has done, and very few were about things that Kerry had ever done, which made it easy to criticise the President. Still, that's part of the territory with being the incumbent.

The rules weren't overly restricting, and everything went smoothly. If anyone ends up benefiting I think it'll be Kerry, because for me at least he exceeded expectations. One of the best debates I've seen.

I've been trying to figure out why I feel like Kerry had the edge even though I gave Bush a higher score, and I think I've got it. Bush got more points because he scored a few serious blows, whereas Kerry didn't. But Kerry's performance was smoother and more consistent.

There isn't much in the legal or political world that I respect more than a jury verdict. Even when it comes to cases like OJ -- who we all know was guilty -- once a jury makes a decision I'm generally satisfied. Do juries make mistakes? Sure. But there's no institution closer to the public pulse than a jury, and I'd sooner trust a panel of citizens with just about any question of law than I would trust a judge, legislature, or president. That said, even though I disagree with Jack Balkin's characterization of declining federal executions, and even though I'm strongly in favor of the death penalty, if juries are reluctant to impose it then that's fine with me. Mr. Balkin links to a Los Angeles Times article saying that Ashcroft isn't pleased with the trend:

A small number of federal districts, including pockets of Texas and Virginia, were accounting for the bulk of death cases. Experts decried the geographical disparities.

For Ashcroft, an ardent supporter of capital punishment, the solution was to seek the death penalty more often and more widely.

Since then, he has pushed federal prosecutors around the country — often over their objections — to be more aggressive in identifying prosecutions that could qualify as federal capital cases. Much of that effort has been in states that have banned or rarely impose capital punishment.

That's fine with me. Prosecutors need to do their jobs and enforce the laws, and if they don't like the laws to such a degree that they can't do so then they should quit.
With public support for the death penalty in decline, jurors have rebuffed calls for the death penalty in 23 of the 34 federal capital cases tried since 2001, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, a court- funded group that assists defense lawyers in capital cases.
I don't think the Times' claim that public support for the death penalty is waning is accurate, but if juries in particular instances decide not to impose the death penalty then I've got no problem with that.

Mr. Balkin says:

Juries all over the country are telling the courts that death is a matter of last resort, to be used sparingly, and only in the most serious cases. In many places they do not want it to be used at all. This is not timidity. It is not lack of empathy for victims. It is not insufficient concern with justice. It is civilization. By comparison with these juries all around the country, who regard the taking of a criminal defendant's life with supreme seriousness, Attorney General Ashcroft seems a savage, bloodthirsty brute.
Mr. Balkin is attempting to construe "civilization" in a certain way, and it's far from obvious to me that many people would agree that executions are necessarily "uncivilized". Capital punishment has been prevalent around the world in every culture for thousands of years, and aside from technological progress it's hard to see how our modern culture is particularly more civilized than those of our ancestors. Much of the argument depends on the definition of the word.

Even aside from that, however, I think it's ungenerous to cast the Attorney General as a "savage, bloodthirsty brute" when his primary concern in this matter appears to be that the law is not being applied equally across the nation, and that that inequality may be the result of the decisions of his subordinates. Inequalities that stem from jury differences are fine, but the federal government is supposed to treat everyone the same. Prosecutors are not elected, they're appointed bureaucrats, and they're supposed to be following the lead of our elected representatives.

Radley Balko thinks Dennis Miller has become nothing but a shill for the President, and based on the few times I've seen his show, well, Mr. Balko may be correct. One of his commenters thinks Mr. Miller's new image was crafted for career reasons... possibly, but I think his ultimate aspirations are political and not in the entertainment field. Mr. Balko's final paragraph, however, is below the belt:

I guess the right needs its Janeane Garofalos and Margaret Chos.

I rarely watch CSPAN, but my brother loves it and he's staying with me this week so I caught a bit last night. The thing that really stood out to me was how stupid the callers were and how ill-formed and absurd were many of their points. Maybe there aren't a lot of callers to choose from, or maybe the screeners don't know what they're doing, but the people who call in to talk radio programs generally seem to be quite a bit more knowledgeable and coherent. Then again, many talk radio programs probably have a much larger audience than does CSPAN.

Prolix: Tending to speak or write at excessive length. See Synonyms at wordy. As in,

Each candidate gets 90 seconds to answer a minimum of 16 questions and 30 seconds to comment on his foe's answer. This two-minute limit would seem to help the "on-message" Bush and penalize Kerry's much-remarked-upon prolixity.

OpinionJournal had a couple of great articles yesterday that I meant to write about but I never found the time. The first is about a bureaucratic rebellion inside the CIA, and I find it quite easy to believe. It's pretty well-known that America's career bureaucrats tend towards the left, and there's no reason to think it'd be any different at the CIA. The second article explains how christianity and capitalism can work together. It's far too long, but the thesis is good: capitalism doesn't require greed.

Candace gives the award for most awkward come-ons to:


"So, yeah, I'm not very cool, but I'm a poet. I'm not very successful, really, or interesting, but by a poet's standards, I'm pretty successful, my friends are published by Penguin and stuff. Did I mention I'm a poet? I'll invite you to my next poetry thing, but I kinda need your number first. You know, if you want to hang out for a while, to at least decide if you think you might want to come home with me, despite the fact you have a boyfriend and all, you don't have to go home with your friends, but if not, that's okay, just make sure I get your number..."

The thing is that when most girls hear "poet", "musician", "artist", or "actor" they swoon. It's interesting to consider why that is, because most people in those professions are essentially unemployed. Seeking out such men wouldn't appear to be a winning strategy for a woman, and whether or not you think most people make wise choices you have to admit that it's unusual for a whole class of people to make similar bad decisions. So there must be a reason.

I speculate that because our society is so wealthy and we enjoy so much luxury without even realizing it, most women don't feel much of a need to find a successful man. Most men aren't specifically attracted to professionally successful women, and nowadays women are in a similar position. More women can provide comfortable lives for themselves, so it's less important to them to find a successful husband.

As for men, what do we get out of the new deal? Imaginary girlfriends and internet pornography. And an incentive to write poetry.

Poker? I don't even know 'er!

Anyway, no existing artificial intelligence could understand that joke. Likewise, I think Scott Chaffin at The Fat Guy is right in thinking that no existing AI could beat a human poker master. However, I think he's hasty in dismissing speculation that people are writing bots to play online poker and are raking in the dough from unsuspecting internet players.

Are poker ‘bots’ raking online pots?: after "these online sites are RIGGED!" and "I'm calling tech support about collusion!", bots are probably the biggest source of idle chit-chat and/or creeping Nixon-like paranoia on the interweb. As this article explains, it's highly unlikely that you're sliding pixelated chips to software programs. There's talk of one up in that Canada, called Vex something-or-other, that is rated a "master" at 2-handed games. Well, a) big whoop: only a dumbass plays two-handed unless they're squaring off against someone they know (we're talking regular ring games here, not tournies), and b) "master"? What the heck is that? By my reckoning, the only masters of this game are walking around Vegas with rolls of $1000 bills that would choke a horse and getting on the teevee on a semi-regular basis (cf., Doyle Brunson, TJ Cloutier, Daniel Negreanu, etc., etc., etc.) All that is to say I don't spend a lot of time worrying about robots. If someone wants to give their judgement over to a piece of software when they're playing for real money...well, let's just say I've written software, and poker ain't completely logical.
I've written software too -- and am getting a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence -- and I'm positive that it wouldn't be hard to write an AI that could beat average to good poker players in an online format. "Vex something-or-other" probably refers to Vexbot, a component of Poki's Artificial Intelligence, a project led by Darse Billings from the University of Alberta.

According to the Poki FAQ:

Q: How good is Poki?

A: The older version of Poki that plays in full 10-player games is better than a typical low-limit casino player, and wins consistently against average opponents; but it is not as good as most expert players. The newer programs being developed for the 2-player game are quite a bit better, and we believe they will eventually surpass all human players, perhaps within a few years, or less.

Sounds reasonable to me. If Poki ever can beat human poker masters then that means that bluffing and "tells" are unnecessary to winning the game. Poki probably does "bluff", but only based on statistics, not intuition, and that seems like a very different thing to me. Imagine how effective an AI could be that could read human facial expressions in addition to crunching numbers?

Walter Olson at Overlawyered writes that Purdue Pharma has spent more than $250 million successfully defending itself against lawsuits related to its product, Oxycontin. Every legal attack so far over the "often-abused painkiller" has failed, but look how much the suits have cost the company anyway! The obvious solution is to institute a "loser pays" rule such that if you sue someone and lose you have to pay their legal costs. Such a rule would clearly reduce the incentive to sue by adding additional risk to the process.

My question is whether or not there is some type of suit that is often doomed to failure and yet beneficial to society at the same time? That is, is there any reason not to burden losers with the whole cost of the legal action? I suppose one could take the argument too far and say, well, why not execute people who initiate a losing lawsuit? That would create a disincentive as well. True, but such a policy would add an externality to the system, whereas merely shifting costs does not. Are there circumstances in which it's a good idea to allow plaintiffs with little hope of victory to impose huge legal costs on defendants?

Thanks to Asparagirl for the pointer to this background page on Anousheh Ansari, the woman who's primarily responsible for the establishment and funding of the Ansari X-Prize. I didn't know much about her before, but her story and history are quite fascinating. As Asparagirl points out:

Burt Rutan and Paul Allen have been getting a lot of the credit for their roles in the recent attempt at the prize, and rightly so. But most of the actual prize money, and the prize's name, comes from tech entrepreneur and self-made millionaire Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American woman who immigrated to the US at 16--because the hardline Islamicists back in Tehran would not have let her study such unsuitable and unfeminine subjects as math and science.

Iran's loss is the world's gain; Ansari (and her brother-in-law, who also donated some of the prize money) is helping make commercial space travel a real possibility in our lifetimes--heck, a real possibility in just the next 15 years. And as if that weren't enough, she's also a living, breathing, geeky rebuke to the narrow-minded, anti-female, anti-science, anti-progress world of the fundamentalists and ayatollahs.

Is it really a surprise that parents in New Zealand want to know when their underage daughters get abortions? I mean, kids can't go on field trips without parental consent, they can't borrow money, they can't sign contracts, they can't pose nude, they can't buy cigarettes or drink, they can't join the army, they can't... and so forth. But abortions? No problem! Why in the world should a parent be involved in something so trivial?

An opinion poll in New Zealand has found substantial support for parents' right to know if their underage daughter wants to have an abortion. The poll sends a strong signal to a liberal government that critics accuse of pursuing a politically-correct agenda.

A proposed piece of legislation called the Care of Children Bill entrenches an existing situation that allows girls of any age to have an abortion without their parents' knowledge or consent.

Opposition politicians are pressing for the provision to be changed, pointing out that parents are required to give their consent for their children to undergo any non-urgent medical procedure - apart from an abortion.

Many parents are horrified at the notion of school staff whisking their under-16 year old daughters off for an abortion during school hours, leaving parents out of the loop in what is likely to be the most traumatic decision their child has ever made.

No, seriously? Those parents are just prudes.

The pro-life Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child points out that schools are obliged to inform parents if even mild medications are given to children while away from home, yet abortions are exempt from this policy.

Now if only abortions could cure headaches....

So what do pro-abortion folks think of a proposal to require parental notification (not even parental premission!)?

Top medical bodies including the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) are against her proposal, saying it could prompt girls to have illegal or "back street" abortions, putting themselves at risk of harm.

"This proposal is a backward step and sends a dangerous message to young girls, who may be confused, desperate and vulnerable," said NZMA chairwoman Dr Tricia Briscoe.

Hm... if a young girl is feeling "confused, desperate and vulnerable" isn't that exactly when it's most necessary for her parents to be involved? No, what nonsense! That's when the government should step in and encourage the girl to "make her own decisions" without being burdened by a couple of old folks who just happen to share some genes with her.

More-conservative-than-me (that is, more reluctant to stick his neck out with a wild prediction) blogger XRLQ is considering a joint resolution to debate the possibility of forming a committee to discuss the merits of joining the Bush Landslide Bandwagon.

In the past, I’ve chided other bloggers for predicting the outcome of the election far too early in the game. Even now, a mere 34 days before Colorado votes to disenfranchise itself and every state elects a challenge-proof slate of electors for Bush or Kerry, a lot could happen. Maybe Kerry will tank tomorrow’s “debate” and come back swinging in the next two. Maybe, but probably not. So I’m going to stick my neck out just a little bit and make a prediction that can go one of two ways: either Kerry takes it away tomorrow, or he’s toast. The only caveat is that we won’t necessarily know the winner immediately after the “debate.” I recently spoke to a well-known pollster, and he said it always takes a few days for perceptions about the “winner” or “loser” of any debate to sink into the public psyche. So I’m giving this French-looking, French-acting, formerly fake Irish American until next Monday to convince the public that we had a debate on Thursday, September 30, 2004, and that he won it. Stay tuned.
But it's so much more fun to make intuitive predictions months in advance!

How can you tell when a Democratic Presidential would-be is doomed and struggling just to protect down-ticket candidates? Matthew Dowd gave three signs, and I'd like to add a fourth: the candidate brings on Jesse Jackson and his "passion for justice".

Rev. Jesse Jackson has joined the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as senior adviser.

Jackson will serve as a campaign spokesperson by participating in events and rallies in key battleground states to "energize" voters. ...

"For over forty years, Jesse Jackson has brought his commitment to equality, opportunity and progress to our most vulnerable citizens," said Kerry.

"His passion for justice is second to none. John Edwards and I are proud to have him as part of this campaign and we look forward to the weeks ahead as we travel the country together with a message of hope for all Americans," Kerry added.

Mr. Jackson is such a polarizing figure that he can only end up hurting Kerry's chances if he's displayed much publically, but he can be effective in certain select areas to bolster down-ticket Democrats. Supposedly. The thing is, even some blacks are disillusioned with their race's self-proclaimed spokesman.
A group of African-Americans protestors gathered outside the Sheraton hotel in downtown Chicago Monday to protest Jesse Jackson during his 32nd annual Rainbow/PUSH conference.

Protestor Willie Ellis said he wanted to tell America, "Open your eyes: Jesse Jackson is for Jesse Jackson and Jesse Jackson only.

"He stole from the people long enough. It's time the people know the true man Jesse Jackson is. He has rode on black peoples' coattails long enough," Ellis told ...

The protestors held signs reading "IRS Do Your Job: Investigate Jesse's Family";
"Jesse if you want to be a leader go and get yourself elected"; and "Jesse: With leaders like you who needs enemies?"

Protestor Harold Davis said Jackson "is a shakedown artist and nobody holds him accountable."

I know Mr. Jackson has a passion for something that starts with a "j", but it isn't "justice".

Even though my blog traffic has been increasing, it's kinda sad to see that the vast majority of my visitors are coming from search engines rather than referrals... and many of the searchers are looking for porn. What's with that? I don't have any porn here. Is this unusual, or do you other bloggers notice a similar phenomenon? Eh.

Orin Kerr has written an article about "Digital Evidence and the New Criminal Procedure" and has asked for comments. In general I think the article is excellent, but I think Professor Kerr is missing an important facet of the issue. I sent him the following email (slightly edited).

Professor Kerr,

I'm not a lawyer, so I hope that I didn't miss anything in your article that already addresses this issue: namely that in many cases it will be impossible to recognize digital evidence even when you see it, particularly when encryption is in play. (I did a search in your article for "crypt", just to make sure, and didn't find a mention.)

Essentially, any digital file is just a sequence of ones and zeros, and any evidence a file may contain depends heavily on how those bits are interpreted. The same file could theoretically be a grocery list when loaded into a text editor and a diagram of a bomb when loaded into an image viewer. Further, when a file is properly encypted it is essentially indistinguishable from random noise. Even if a judge were to issue a warrant for the decryption key, there's no way for anyone to prove that the file actually is encrypted and not just a bunch of random numbers.

In general though, I like your paper a lot. As everyone in society gets more tech-savvy I expect law enforcement will be able to work more precisely as well.

Here's an email I sent to a friend about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It's ugly and probably doesn't flow well or even make sense in places. I'm too lazy to clean it up, but I thought you all might be interested, nonetheless.

I just finished it, and I thought the end was really depressing. Sirius just died out of nowhere! I completely foresaw that Harry was being tricked, and I liked all the layers. Hermy talks him into checking on Sirus before leaving which gets them caught; the house-elf betrays them, which was obviously going to happen from the very beginning; and then the Department of Mysteries trap. That all worked well. But the way Sirius showed up and then died without a word or on-screen struggle left me feeling a bit empty, like it wasn't really resolved.

Which makes me think that Sirius will be back. Also, I think the arch was introduced so that Voldemort can be fed into it in book 7.

I liked how neatly some other plot points were tied up, but Dumbledore's exposition could have been replaced with action. So Harry has to stay with his aunt for his own protection? Why not demonstrate that to us, show the dementors impotently circling his house? Dumbledore had to explain too much that could have been shown instead of told.

I liked all the tension between the three kids near the beginning and middle of the book, and it was really frustrating to me, as I'm sure was intended. I liked the development of Harry and Cho's relationship, and I'm glad it ended. It wouldn't have made any sense if it had developed into some long-term thing just-like-that, but it makes a ton of sense as a short-term crush that falls apart, as do most real relationships. Harry's going to end up with Ginny, right? I figured that from the first time she was introduced, and I like how it's playing out.

I also like Luna Lovegood. She was a great character, and fun to get to know. Neville needs to develop more... he had so many opportunities to do something right near the end of this book, and he kept screwing up anyway. I want him to succeed eventually, please!

I liked how Harry forgot about Snape, because I did too. I really liked the scene where Harry saw Snape's memory Harry's father and Sirius, it made Snape into a very sympathetic character. Although, to be honest, I'd always sympathized with Snape. I'm going to be VERY upset if Snape turns out to be a baddie, despite Dumbledore's assurances. Actually, I kinda want Snape to take Harry in near the end of the series. That would be nice.

Meanwhile, why doesn't Lupin have more to say to Harry about Sirius' death? Lupin is the only one left of the four friends, and he seemed close to Harry in the earlier books. (Book 3?) I don't want Harry and Dumbledore to get all tight, because Dumbledore is hardly a character at all, he's just a force of nature.

I liked the Death Eaters, although they could be developed more individually. Malfoy and Bella are cool, but since the books avoid POVs other than Harry's we don't get to see much of what they do.

Anyway, book 5 was my favorite so far. I need to re-read 4 because I think I've forgotten much of what happened in it.

I should post this, but it'd be too hard to clean it up and make it readable.

Reader Bruce Cleaver mentioned Rees's First Law of Quotation but got it a bit wrong. Though not in the law itself, Nigel Rees does mention Mr. Cleaver's preferred default sources: Winston Churchill and Mark Twain.

Hence, Rees's First Law of Quotation: `When in doubt, ascribe all quotations to George Bernard Shaw.' The law's first qualification is: `Except when they obviously derive from Shakespeare, the Bible or Kipling.' The corollary is: `In time, all humorous remarks will be ascribed to Shaw whether he said them or not.'

Why should this be? People are notoriously lax about quoting and attributing remarks correctly, as witness an analogous process I shall call Churchillian Drift. The Drift is almost indistinguishable from the First Law, but there is a subtle difference. Whereas quotations with an apothegmatic feel are normally ascribed to Shaw, those with a more grandiose or belligerent tone are almost automatically credited to Churchill. All quotations in translation, on the other hand, should be attributed to Goethe (with `I think' obligatory).

Shaw, Churchill, Wilde, Lincoln and Twain are, in fact, fixed in the popular mind as practically the sole source of witty and quotable sayings. But what is alarming is the way in which almost any remark not obviously tied to some other originator will one day find itself attributed to one of these five.

I myself have had great success attributing dubious bits of wisdom to Benjamin Franklin.

The recent hurricanes have devestated Haiti, so please keep the people there in your prayers. If you can do more then please consider it.

GONAIVES, Haiti - Doctors are performing amputations without electricity or running water while waste from this city's shattered sewage system contaminates mud and floodwaters, infecting wounds that threaten to turn gangrenous.

AP Photo

More than a week after the passage of Tropical Storm Jeanne, the calamity in the northwest city of Gonaives has overwhelmed Haitians and foreign rescue workers.

Thousands remain hungry. Jean-Claude Kompas, a New York doctor who rushed to his native Haiti to volunteer his services last week, says he has treated 30 people for gunshot wounds received in fights over scarce food. Another of his patients was a child whose finger was chopped off with a machete — possibly also over food.

Jeanne killed more than 1,500 and left 200,000 homeless in the northwest city of Gonaives. With another 1,000 people reported missing, the toll is sure to rise.

"It's sad but true that the missing will slowly be started to be counted among the dead," said Brazilian Army Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, in charge of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti.

The Bible teaches:
James 2:14-16
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

Matthew 25:34-40
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

We who favor smaller government and less coerced compassion should be eager to step up to the plate and demonstrate that it doesn't take a tax collector to open our wallets.

(HT: Hugh Hewitt for the link to WorldVision, a Christian relief organization.)

I heard this story attributed to Mark Twain, but I can't find a verifiable source. Regardless, I think it's illuminating. In my own words:

Mark Twain is at a party, mingling with the upper crust, and he's talking to an obviously rich matron who is busy lamenting the death of morality. Mr. Twain interrupts her to ask, "My dear madam, your complaints are well-grounded, but I wonder if you would sleep with me for one million dollars?"

The woman replied, a bit flustered, "For one million dollars Well, who wouldn't?"

"Unfortunately," Mr. Twain continued, "I don't have one million dollars. Will you sleep with me for twenty?"

The woman became offended and said indignantly, "Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!"

To which Mr. Twain replied, "We've already established that; now we're just haggling over the price."

The point being that -- particularly in the context of the modern dating paradigm -- all women are prostitutes. Now, don't get me wrong: any man would have sex for the right amount of money as well, but the social structure clearly casts that situation in a different light.

A silly and baseless poll cites the following statistics, for which I will not vouch to any degree.

Porn industry statistics say that ususally a woman only makes one film. That filming takes one day and the pay is $1000. This is also the average per day rate for escorts. The hourly rate for escorts averages $250, about 1/4 the day rate. If a woman had sex as often surveys tell she would in a marriage, she would make about $25k yr. The average topless dancer makes $25-30yr.

The Onion even did a similar piece; although the original now requires premium membership to view, here's a mirror of "Housewife Charged In Sex-For-Security Scam".

AKRON, OH--Area resident Helen Crandall, 44, was arrested by Akron police Sunday, charged with conducting an elaborate "sex-for-security" scam in which she allegedly defrauded husband Russell Crandall out of nearly $230,000 in cash, food, clothing and housing over the past 19 years using periodic offers of sexual intercourse.

"It's the biggest scam of its kind I've ever seen," Akron police chief Thomas Agee said. "We're talking coats, dishwashers, jewelry, sewing machines, bathroom cleansers--you name it." ...

"This kind of thing isn't as uncommon as we'd all like to think," Ohlmeyer said. "A woman finds herself in a situation where she isn't employable. Or maybe she has interests like child-rearing, cooking and home-maintenance that keep her from getting a job. So what does she do? She cooks up a scheme to entrap a man using her body as the bait. It's frightening, but it happens every day in this country."

And of course the two oldest professions seem to be found in close proximity more often than not.

In case you missed it on Drudge, Conan will take over The Tonight Show in 2009 (link perishable). Conan is one of the funniest people I know of, and I only wish he could move into the new slot sooner rather than later. This looks like a smart move for NBC, considering Conan's popularity with the existing under-30 demographic -- which will be under-35 in 2009, and an even bigger chunk of the key 18-49 cohort.

Ah, RPS -- possibly the greatest game ever. Or possibly not. Anyway, I may write more about it later, but for now I'm interested in finding a way to use RPS to select a winner from among three people with equal probability.

Playing two-out-of-three between one pair and then pitting the winner against the odd man out won't work, because it gives the odd man a 50% chance of winning while the other two have only a 25% chance each. Requiring the odd man to win two in a row against the winner of the pair reduces his odds to 25% and raises the odds of the other two to 37.5%. Is there a reasonable way to get the odds to 33% for each player, or is it impossible to do because of the nature of the game?

I'm not the only one who thinks friendships are hard, right? I seem to make a lot of mistakes sometimes, but I think everyone does. In the end I guess it comes down to whether or not the other person wants to be your friend or not, and there isn't much you can do about it either way. Humility helps, of course, as do all sorts of other good qualities, but none of them are enough. Friendships are largely out of our control, and seem to depend mostly on chance, genes, and experiences.

I didn't hear anything about it in the news, but I'm pretty sure I just saw the Presidential convoy go past me on the southbound 405, heading towards LAX. My brother told me he read that President Bush is in Texas preparing for the debates, but I can't seem to find a website that keeps track of the President's location. I also can't think of anyone else who could get the 405 shut down and travels with a half-dozen SUVs, a dozen motorcycles, an ambulance, and a helicopter. However, I didn't notice the Presidential flag on any of the vehicles. So maybe it was someone else? But who?

I can hardly believe the irony, but it appears that despite Kerry's sparse Senate attendance record a couple of the votes he actually did bother to make are now revealing yet another lie. According to Captain's Quarters,

Bandit reports that during that interview three years ago, Kerry stated that he went to Iraq on March 3rd during the signing of the cease-fire agreement that ended the first Gulf War:
"I mean, I was in Safwan. I went there when the signing of the armistice took place at the end of the war."
... Even more remarkably, John Kerry managed to miss no Senate votes during that week. On February 28th, Kerry voted to table an amendment during a roll-call vote. On March 6th, Kerry again managed to make a roll-call vote, this time voting against tabling an amendment by Senator Tom Harkin. It's not impossible for him to have been to Iraq and back, but it seems less likely.

Bandit discovered a March 4th, 1991 Boston Globe article that narrows the timeframe more.

Anyway, the point is that John Kerry appears to have gone to Iraq a couple of weeks after the armistice was signed, but he certainly wasn't there for the event itself.

(HT: Ace.)

Among many other hip considerations, the coolest thing about Samuel Tilley's 205 mph speeding ticket is that it's likely to inspire competitors and copycats. If anyone hopes to beat him not only will they have to go fast, they'll have to go fast and get caught. That's what makes it a challenge. Too bad Los Angelinos are out of the running, unless there's an allowance for traffic conditions and lane closures. Yet another reason that public transportation sucks.

No, seriously, it's true: men and women are different.

These discoveries are part of a quiet but revolutionary change infiltrating U.S. medicine as a growing number of scientists realize there's more to women's health than just the anatomy that makes them female, and that the same diseases often affect men and women in different ways.

"Women are different than men, not only psychologically (but) physiologically, and I think we need to understand those differences," says Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

And here I thought men and women were identical, and that any perceived differences could be chalked up to discrimination! What a fool I was. But still, even though men and women are psychologically and physiologically different, we should treat them exactly the same, right?

The Harry Potter books are excellent, but there are a couple of aspects that are really nonsensical.

First off: Quidditch. Is it just me, or is this game really stupid? The rules are absurd, and magic or no there's no way anyone would enjoy playing it. I could go into great detail, but if you've read any of the books then I'm sure you already know what I'm talking about; if you haven't, then complaints about quaffles and snitches won't make any sense anyway. (Or, if you really want to read a scathing analysis, check out Quidditch Sucks by jmachinder.)

Secondly, what's the deal with the Ministry of Magic? I'm reading Order of the Phoenix at the moment, and I'm astounded by how much power the Ministry has. They can change school rules on a whim? Hire and fire teachers? Conduct inquisitions and secret trials? Prohibit teachers from saying anything to students that isn't school-related? Ban all clubs and associations? Is there no limit to the Ministry's authority? Within the wizarding world, the Minister of Magic is apparently omnipotent. Maybe this is a particularly British perspective on government, but it rings false to this American. No citizenry, much less a population of wizards, would stand for such fascism.

I'm curious about the Jewish approach to war and I've been trying to find information on whether Jews refrain from fighting on the Sabbath. I can't find a resource online that directly addresses the question, but this passage from the Bible touches on the issue:

2 Kings 11:4-8

In the seventh year Jehoiada sent for the commanders of units of a hundred, the Carites and the guards and had them brought to him at the temple of the LORD . He made a covenant with them and put them under oath at the temple of the LORD . Then he showed them the king's son. He commanded them, saying, "This is what you are to do: You who are in the three companies that are going on duty on the Sabbath-a third of you guarding the royal palace, a third at the Sur Gate, and a third at the gate behind the guard, who take turns guarding the temple- and you who are in the other two companies that normally go off Sabbath duty are all to guard the temple for the king. Station yourselves around the king, each man with his weapon in his hand. Anyone who approaches your ranks must be put to death. Stay close to the king wherever he goes."

Standing guard is apparently ok on the Sabbath, and that's essentially a defensive military action.

I know it must sound cliche, but I've seen you at Starbucks a dozen times by now and I can't keep my eyes off you. I don't know what it is... the glint in your eyes, the way you toss your hair, the way you sip your Brownie Frappuccino, or all the above, but I'm entranced. I don't know your name, yet, and you probably think all these emotions welling up inside me are absurd, but I assure you they're the real deal -- it's hate at first sight.

Although you may not know it, we're destined to be arch-enemies. I sincerely hope you realize it soon, because otherwise my victory will be all too easy. I've got your schedule down pat, and I know what mornings to expect you for coffee and what evenings you stay up late with your laptop. One of these nights you might find a little surprise waiting for you on your doorstep when you get home. An ambush in the restroom? Not at all out of the question. A long walk on the beach and a moonlight duel? Possibly. Fine dining, with poison? That's my idea of a perfect first date-with-death.

My heart races every time you look up from your paper or check your watch... thinking, hoping that you might glance my way and see the hatred in my eyes. I've run through countless scenarios in my head, conversations we might have, but I'd hardly know what to say if I ever dared approach you to stick a knife in your ribs. No, no, it's safer if I loathe you from afar and merely fantasize about what could be: a little house, kids playing, a puppy, you impaled on a white picket fence, and me towering above your twitching corpse, triumphant!

Not only is John Kerry too busy to vote in the Senate, he's also too busy to listen to the Prime Minister of Iraq when he visits.

Allawi met President George W. Bush (news - web sites) at the White House earlier Thursday and addressed a rare joint session of the US Congress where he told lawmakers: "We are succeeding in Iraq."

Speaking in Columbus, Ohio, shortly after Allawi's speech, Kerry said the interim Iraqi premier was painting an unrealistically upbeat picture of the situation in his homeland.

I guess he's got better things to do than the job we're paying him for. Fortunately he can still find time for vacations.

Apparently Google has refused to run ads on PrestoPundit, a fellow Bear-Flagger, due to "sensitive content". Fortunately, Greg Ransom says he makes plenty of money from his "readers and they continue to generously donate enough to pay for most of my bandwidth. And book sales cover the rest." He thinks it's related to his coverage of Rathergate, but who knows?

If a blog actually turns a profit then there doesn't seem to be much to complain about. I'd be frustrated too if I was blackballed by anyone, but I'd rather get contributions from readers than sell ads. Still, Blogads is a nifty service and well worth it, for me and for my advertisers.

After the story appeared here on Master of None Google quickly reversed their position and unblackballed PrestoPundit.

The dad of one of my friends is trying to set up a Los Angeles concert for Daler Mehndi, the Indian rock star who became famous across the internet for his Tunak Tunak Tun video. More details as they become available... don't miss this exciting opportunity!

Although the headline is deceiving, Senator Kerry insinuates that President Bush will reintroduce the draft if he's re-elected.

Answering a question about the draft that had been posed at a forum with voters, Kerry said: "If George Bush (news - web sites) were to be re-elected, given the way he has gone about this war and given his avoidance of responsibility in North Korea (news - web sites) and Iran and other places, is it possible? I can't tell you."
Well I can tell you, because Defense Secretary Rumsfeld specifically addressed the draft notion in April.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday dismissed the notion of reinstating the military draft, saying that the Pentagon, if needed, can dig deeper into Reserve and National Guard forces to relieve troops deployed in the war on terrorism.

"I don't know anyone in the executive branch of the government who believes it would be appropriate or necessary to reinstitute the draft," Mr. Rumsfeld told a Washington gathering of members of the Newspaper Association of America, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press.

If anyone has been floating draft ideas, it's the Democrats.
Democrats in both chambers — Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina — have introduced bills calling for the reinstatement of the draft.

Mr. Rangel, who strongly opposed the Iraq war, said during the months leading up to it that it was apparent that "disproportionate numbers of the poor and members of minority groups compose the enlisted ranks of the military."

"If our great country becomes involved in an all-out war, the sacrifice must be shared," he said in December 2002, during the runup to the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

Blah blah blah. Is it even worth dissecting the things Kerry says? It's so trivially easy to catch him fear-mongering and flip-flopping that it's to the point where I just assume that everything he says is basically the exact opposite of the truth.

What's more, he apparently can't to simple math.

His voice scratchy and breaking from a cold, Kerry called the president's proposal to give workers partly private Social Security (news - web sites) accounts a windfall for financial companies and one that will cut benefits for senior citizens.

"He's driving seniors right out of the middle class," Kerry said in a battleground state rich with voters keenly watching the candidates talk about two pillars of retirement, Social Security and Medicare.

"I will never privatize Social Security, ever," Kerry said, repeating promises not to raise the retirement age or cut benefits.

Well, that's impossible; according to Alan Greenspan and assorted experts our social security program is doomed.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned yesterday of a generational time bomb that will go off once millions of baby boommers retire and tax the Social Security and Medicare systems beyond their capacity.

Greenspan, a man who normally speaks in deliberate gobbledygook to calm markets, instead used blunt language about ``increasingly stark choices'' facing Americans on how to pay for boomers' benefits after they finish working and start retiring in huge numbers in coming years.

Experts said even the latest remarks from the Fed chairman were muted compared with the grim reality of the situation.

``It's much worse than what (Greenspan) is saying,'' said Laurence J. Kotlikoff, chairman of Boston University's economics department and co-author of the new book ``The Coming Generational Storm.''

Lawmakers better get their act together, Kotlikoff said. ``The country is already bankrupt. We can't wait 10 years to act.''

Stopping short of proposing specific ideas on how to plug looming Social Security and Medicare deficits, Greenspan did say time is running out ``to recalibrate our public programs.''

``If we delay, the adjustments could be abrupt and painful,'' Greenspan told a central bank conference in Wyoming.
That particular article then echos some points I made in my long-ago post about responsibility.
Kotlikoff warned of possible generational resentment among the young - a resentment that appeared here already yesterday.

``I'm not going to be retired for many years, and I'm giving my money to some little old crazy person,'' bemoaned Desirea Moore, 19, of Dorchester. Moore, who works for a local insurance company, said she has about $30 to $40 a week deducted for Social Security from her paycheck each week.

``I hope when we retire we get a big check too,'' she added.

``It kind of stinks for anyone who's not in that generation,'' said Tim Jacques, 36, a North Andover resident who works at a Boston financial firm. ``We're going to be paying into the system all our working years and not getting any benefit from it. I'm certainly not too happy about it.''
Me neither. Yet another reason to avoid John Kerry.

And a few hours later Instapundit makes the same connection. Not that I'm dissing Glenn -- I just want more attention for myself!

It looks like there are going to be a lot of rules for this year's Presidential debates, and that's fine with me. Does it decrease the spontaneity? Sure. Does it decrease the chance of that the candidates will whip it out? Yeah -- that provision was specifically requested by the Democrats. So the debates won't be as exciting as they could be, but I guess that doesn't really bother me. In undirected debates there are innumerable opportunities for the participants to play games and manipulate the process, and adding rules to prevent abuses seems like a good idea.

What I would like to see, however, is a format that allows the candidates to speak directly to each other rather than just to the audience. I'd like the debates to be more confrontational on the issues, and I'd like the rules to prevent games with the process.

It's absolutely phenomenal how much mental energy I can devote to overthinking the simplest things. I meet some girl and suddenly I must analyze every minutiae and divine what they all together mean -- as if gestures are tea leaves and glances are constellations that can predict the future if I just think hard enough. How absurd. Especially considering how poor human observation skills and memory are and that most of what I see in my mind is distorted and unrecoverable.

It's pointless, and so I won't do it. Such ruminations are a barren tree that will not -- and cannot -- bear any fruit. Mental ghosts that taunt and tease but have no substance. Only time and patience will creep through reality and reveal the future, one second at a time.

CNSNews posts a summary of President Bush's remarks to the UN today, and right below it is a response by Senator Kerry.

"People everywhere are capable of freedom and worthy of freedom," President Bush told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. "The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat - it is to prevail. The advance of freedom always carries a cost - paid by the bravest among us." President Bush said the United States "will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled." ... In his speech, President Bush proposed the establishment of a Democracy Fund within the U.N. "This is a great calling for this great organization," he said. "The fund would help countries lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law, independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions." He urged all other nations to join the U.S. in contributing to the Democracy Fund.
To which Kerry said:
The same day that President George W. Bush addressed the United Nations on the subject of Iraq, his Democratic challenger Sen. John F. Kerry criticized Bush for living in a "world of fantasy spin" instead of a "world of reality" when addressing the current conditions in Iraq. ... "After lecturing them instead of leading them to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq, I believe the president missed an opportunity of enormous importance for our nation and for the world," Kerry said, calling the president's credibility into question.
In this instance I think Mr. Kerry is right. President Bush is delusional if he really thinks the despots that make up the majority of the UN are at all interested in promoting democracy around the world. However, if the President was instead attempting to draw a contrast between the liberty and freedom that America stands for and the corruption and oppression fostered by the United Nations, then I think he did a good job.

I'm not a lawyer, but I play one on TV, and unless I'm mistaken it's illegal for political candidates to take contributions from minors. According to section 318 of the "Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002":

Title III of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431 et seq.), as amended by section 101, is further amended by adding at the end the following new section:


"SEC. 324. An individual who is 17 years old or younger shall not make a contribution to a candidate or a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party.".

So did Senator Kerry admit to breaking the law on "Live With Regis and Kelly"?
Kerry campaign donors apparently come in all sizes. He told Philbin and Ripa that a woman in New York gave him $385 that her 8-year-old son had raised selling homemade campaign buttons, and a 6-year-old in Philadelphia handed over a plastic container with $685 he had earned selling homemade campaign bracelets.
Sounds illegal to me.

Or not! I'm told that provision was struck down by the Supreme Court last Fall in McConnell v. FEC. See, I told you I wasn't a lawyer. Still, even though my accusation was essentially wrong, shouldn't we focus on the key issue of how John Kerry employs child slave labor to finance his campaign?

John Kerry Earns Fourth Purple Heart

I've gotta go with the standard blogger excuse for not posting: I've been too busy. For some reason I've decided to take on another side project (buying some rental properties in the South Bay) and it's eating up a lot of time right now. But really, what's in the news other than CBS itself? I don't have much to add to that discussion. However, I do have an interesting idea about John Kerry's little-known fourth purple heart and I'll be posting about that later this evening.

Near the end of a CBS/AP story that does a pretty good job of explaining the memogate debacle there's a bit of complaining about President Bush and the full release of military records.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to find and make public by next week any unreleased files about Mr. Bush's Vietnam-era Air National Guard service to resolve a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press.

The White House and Defense Department have on several occasions claimed that they had released all the documents only to make additional records available later on.

The only reason a FOIA request can be made for these personnel files is because the President has already waived his privacy rights; personnel files are otherwise exempt from disclosure. I think the public should have full access to the President's military records, and my only question is: when will John Kerry waive his privacy rights and open his full set of military records? Furthermore, the Bushes have opened their financial records as well -- when will the Heinz-Kerrys follow suit? When will the media begin pressuring them to do so?

I don't think John Kerry understands what it means to be president.

While Bush has been campaigning as the best candidate to deter terrorists and protect the nation, Kerry portrayed him as out of touch with the situation in Iraq.

"With all due respect to the president, has he turned on the evening news lately? Does he read the newspapers?" Kerry said. "Does he really know what's happening? Is he talking about the same war that the rest of us are talking about?"

Do you think it's possible that President Bush has better sources of information than CBS and the New York Times?

Meanwhile, House minority leader Nancy "Pansy" Pelosi wants us to surrender to whomever is handy.

"It's clear that this administration didn't know what it was getting into, or else they grossly misrepresented the facts to the American people," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "In either case, staying the course is not an option."
Would it be possible for the Democrats to undermine our foreign relations any more than they're already doing?

Effect and affect are two of my favorite words to use properly. Both can be used as either a noun or a verb but they are not in any way interchangable, as this usage note explains.

Affect and effect have no senses in common. As a verb affect is most commonly used in the sense of “to influence” (how smoking affects health). Effect means “to bring about or execute”: layoffs designed to effect savings. Thus the sentence These measures may affect savings could imply that the measures may reduce savings that have already been realized, whereas These measures may effect savings implies that the measures will cause new savings to come about.

I'm not a Catholic, but I wholeheartedly agree with Archibishop John J. Myers' voter's guide with regards to pro-choice candidates.

Cardinal Ratzinger stated that a "Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of a candidate's permissive stand on abortion." But the question of the moment is whether a Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion candidate for other reasons. The cardinal's next sentence answered that question: A Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion Catholic politician only "in the presence of proportionate reasons."

What are "proportionate reasons"? To consider that question, we must first repeat the teaching of the church: The direct killing of innocent human beings at any stage of development, including the embryonic and fetal, is homicidal, gravely sinful and always profoundly wrong. Then we must consider the scope of the evil of abortion today in our country. America suffers 1.3 million abortions each year--a tragedy of epic proportions. Moreover, many supporters of abortion propose making the situation even worse by creating a publicly funded industry in which tens of thousands of human lives are produced each year for the purpose of being "sacrificed" in biomedical research.

Thus for a Catholic citizen to vote for a candidate who supports abortion and embryo-destructive research, one of the following circumstances would have to obtain: either (a) both candidates would have to be in favor of embryo killing on roughly an equal scale or (b) the candidate with the superior position on abortion and embryo-destructive research would have to be a supporter of objective evils of a gravity and magnitude beyond that of 1.3 million yearly abortions plus the killing that would take place if public funds were made available for embryo-destructive research.

Frankly, it is hard to imagine circumstance (b) in a society such as ours. No candidate advocating the removal of legal protection against killing for any vulnerable group of innocent people other than unborn children would have a chance of winning a major office in our country. Even those who support the death penalty for first-degree murderers are not advocating policies that result in more than a million killings annually.

I also made the connection between ritual child sacrifice and abortion. After all, why did ancient civilizations sacrifice their children to their gods if not to provide impetus to their prayers for wealth, long life, and happiness? Precisely the same as modern embryonic research and abortion.

Hey terrorists, if Allah is so great then why don't yet let him do some kidnapping and beheading for a while? Or is it possible that you aren't really in line with what he wants you to be doing? Maybe the reason you're expending so much effort for so little gain is that God is working against you. Theory is fine and good, but when it doesn't work in practice then it may be time to reconsider.

A friend pointed me to an article in The Scientist about a controversy surrounding the publication of a paper about intelligent design in a peer reviewed biology journal.

The publication in a peer-reviewed biology journal of an article which sounds themes often heard in discussions of "intelligent design"–a theory one critic calls "the old creationist arguments in fancy clothes"–has drawn criticism from the members of the society that publishes the journal, and from others.

In an article entitled "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," which was made available online on August 28 by the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Stephen Meyer concludes: "what natural selection lacks, intelligent selection–purposive or goal-directed design–provides." Meyer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which, according to its Web site "supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design." ...

Richard Sternberg, a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information who was an editor of the Proceedings at the time, told The Scientist via E-mail that the three peer reviewers of the paper "all hold faculty positions in biological disciplines at prominent universities and research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, one at a major US public university, and another at a major overseas research institute."

"The reviewers did not necessarily agree with Dr. Meyer's arguments but all found the paper meritorious, warranting publication," Sternberg said.

I haven't read the paper yet, but I probably will when I find time. I'm much more interested in the information theory aspect than in the biology itself.

This is the kind of stuff that reminds me why I don't like animals.

Tyler's friend, Ian Carmichael, heard screams, rushed from his apartment and jumped on the dog's back. He tried pulling Tango off by its collar. At the same time, Nathan Lezniewicz, ran to the scene with a machete and kitchen knives.

The men furiously stabbed the dog while its teeth were clenched on Tyler's arm, Maynard said.

The dog, bloodied and with a knife in its torso, released Tyler's arm and ran up to the third floor. But it immediately came back downstairs, cornered Troup and bit his arm.

People who keep animals that are capable of harming humans should be fully responsible if their pet does harm a human. The owner of this dog should be punished exactly the same as if he'd attacked these boys himself.

And no, pets aren't the same as say, guns. Guns don't have to be constantly monitored to make sure they don't kill people, whereas animals do. Guns act predictably, whereas animals don't. If you carry a gun, lose it somewhere, and the the person who finds it then uses it to kill someone, well, you're an idiot but you shouldn't be criminally liable. If you walk your dog and it runs away and kills someone, you should be prosecuted for second degree murder.

Gotta bone up on my Texas Hold 'Em strategies for game night tomorrow. I even ordered a suitcase of chips!

Don't worry, Sophia Parlock, I know how you feel.

I'm sure if you were bigger you would have flipped out and chopped off some heads like I did. I hope you remember this day when you're older so you can look back and laugh at how pathetic and desperate the neanderthal-Americans became before they faded into oblivion.

Then again.... Interesting stuff.

Maybe I don't fully understand this AP piece citing an intelligence report's claims that Iraq's future is bleak, but it doesn't make any sense to me.

A highly classified National Intelligence Estimate assembled by some of the government's most senior analysts this summer provided a pessimistic assessment about the future security and stability of Iraq.

The National Intelligence Council looked at the political, economic and security situation in the war-torn country and determined -- at best -- the situation would be tenuous in terms of stability, a U.S. official said late Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

At worst, the official said, were "trend lines that would point to a civil war." The official said it "would be fair" to call the document "pessimistic."

That sounds bad, but what about this key bit of information?
The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for President Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005. But the official noted that the document, which spans roughly 50 pages, draws on intelligence community assessments from January 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deteriorating security situation there.
So the report is just a prediction from before the invasion of what could happen? Is it really fair to say that the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated since January 2003? I don't think so. In fact, every report I've read points to a continually improving situation, even if it's improving more slowly than we might like.
The estimate contrasts with public comments of Bush and his senior aides who speak more optimistically about the prospects for a peaceful and free Iraq. "We're making progress on the ground," Bush said at his Texas ranch late last month.
Well yeah, the report is an 18-month-old prediction that apparently isn't turning out to be true. If it doesn't match with what we're hearing now, shouldn't we conclude that the prediction was wrong? Or should we conclude that the prediction was right and that the President is lying to us?

This looks like a non-story to me. See here for more dire predictions that didn't come true.

Robert Maranto asks "why are public schools closed to the public?", but he fails to mention what is, to me, a key consideration.

This occurred to me when, like any good parent, I called the principal's office at my local public elementary school to check it out before sending my son. Alas, despite spending $20,000 per child, our school had trouble returning three phone messages left during normal business hours. On my fourth try I reached a live person, and had a brief conversation:

"Hi, I'm Bob Maranto. I'm a parent who lives in [your school's] attendance zone. My son will be old enough for kindergarten next fall. He's actually right on the edge, so he could go next fall or the following fall, and I was wondering if I could come visit the school sometime."

"We don't have any visiting this year," the administrator replied. "We're doing construction and a lot of things are going on."

"Could I watch a class in session?"

"No, even when there's no construction you could not watch a class."

"Well, could I meet my son's teacher?"

"No, the teachers are busy teaching all day and then they go home."

As we used to say when I was in government, this is customer service worthy of the Internal Revenue Service. It also corresponds to playground gossip about this school, which has test scores lower than nearby schools.

A mere five months and 22 phone calls, faxes, and e-mails later--to the superintendent, school board, principal, and various other "public servants"--I was allowed to visit my son's likely school. Someday, I hope to watch a class.

But must it be so hard? Why not open public schools to the public?

Although I'm sure parents can be difficult to deal with at times, my guess is that the main reason the public isn't allowed to wander around inside schools is because of safety concerns. Would Mr. Maranto want to send his son to a school that was open to any member of the public who happned to want to drop by? I doubt it. Although it should certainly be possible to arrange a visit for the parent of a prospective student, I'm not at all surprised that the principal didn't want a strange man meandering through his halls.

We deal with a similar situation with our kids at church. For safety reason we do our best to keep non-approved adults out of the areas where we run our children's programs, including parents. It's not that we have anything to hide, it's that we think it's wise to keep strange adults away from our kids. We take safety and security very serious, and soon we'll even be running background checks on all our workers before they're allowed to work with children. We're always happy to show the parents what we're doing, but we escort them (and any visiting adults) rather than just let them wander around alone. When someone complains (and some do) we just remind them that the measures are in place to protect their child.

I take a couple of days off and it gets really busy. I'm around, and I haven't forgotten about you all.

I'm sure many other blogs are all over the forged memo story, from every angle, but let me just briefly point out Dan Rather's delusional meglomania and blatant partisanship.

"I know that I didn't type them," Knox said of the Killian memos. "However, the information in there is correct," she said, adding that Killian and the other officers would "snicker about what [Bush] was getting away with."

Rather said he was "relieved and pleased" by Knox's comments that the disputed memos reflected Killian's view of the favorable treatment that Bush received in the military unit. But he said, "I take very seriously her belief that the documents are not authentic." If Knox is right, Rather said, the public "won't hear about it from a spokesman. They'll learn it from me."

So... he's relieved that the memos line up with the recollections of an 86-year-old former secretary, but why would this be relevant at all if the memos are forgeries? Anyone can write up anything that agrees with any position, but so what? But Mr. Rather is trying to imply that it matters, regardless of the documents' authenticity. Further, in case Mr. Rather hadn't noticed, the public has already learned of the forgery, in spite of him.
"If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story," Rather said in an interview last night. "Any time I'm wrong, I want to be right out front and say, 'Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.' "
Yeah uh, you're about a week late on this scoop I'm afraid. You should check out this new-fangled internet thingy, it's pretty neat.

Maybe Jonathan Wilde already had my idea in mind when he wrote about competitive government, but it's not exactly clear, so I'll write it myself. He explains why seperation of powers within the federal government hasn't worked that well and says that the federal/state split has been the far more important division. I agree with him -- alas, the system has nearly fallen apart. The bolding below is my own, and highlights what I believe to be the key proposal (and perhaps the next evolutionary step in human government).

In contrast to Federal legislation, a law made by the state of Virginia mostly only affects Virginians. Similarly, a law made by the city of Richmond, VA mostly only affects Richmonders. Without the power of a higher level government to countermand it, the narrower the geographic monopoly, the fewer people the law affects. If the costs of relocation are insignificant and individuals can costlessly move from one locality to another, then law becomes a private good. It only affects those people who choose to live in a particular legal jurisdiction. They capture the entire benefit of moving to that particular location and suffer nearly all the costs of choosing poorly. Similarly, those states capture the total benefit of attracting people to live there and suffer the consequences of people moving to another state. Highly distributed monopolistic governments in a world of costless switching results in law as a private good. The effects of such law are not borne by everyone, only those who choose it and provide it.

If instead of moving geographically, the costs of switching were made nearly zero by making living under a different government as simple as picking up a telephone or clicking a mouse, then specific laws would only affect those people who chose a particular government. In such a situation, good law would be a private good and bad law would be an undersupplied public good. Aggression would become expensive as it would be much harder to capture a monopoly of the market for law. It would be much more difficult for governments to grow and tyrannize their citizens because the costs of that tyranny would have to be paid for by their subscribers who could easily “move” to another government rather than be an unwilling source of funding.

No longer would voters be able to vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. No longer would special interests be able to narrowly benefit themselves at costs borne by the rest of us. No longer would there be a tendency for governments to grow with each passing year. Currently, fighting the growth of monopolistic governments is an uphill battle. It is only the American culture of liberty that kept the US government from becoming truly despotic during the last century as governments in the rest of the world slaughtered their own citizens in record numbers. With polycentric law, libertarians have both culture and economics on their side.

I wish Mr. Wilde had written about the idea more directly, but it appears that he's suggesting that multiple governments with identical powers could operate within the same geographical area, and that residents could decide which government they would belong to, which laws they would be subject to, and which bureaucracy would receive their tax dollars. Whether or not that's exactly what he intended to write, I think it's a great idea, and I've thought about it before and tried to determine how exactly such a system could work.

There are two primary obstacles I can forsee. The first is obvious: how would a nation with multiple (say, three) governments conduct foreign relations? Interestingly, the new Iraqi executive branch is set up with a similar difficulty in having to represent three distinct racial groups: the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds. Perhaps a trinary country could have a single executive council composed of an executive from each government. The executive council could vote based on the population in each of the three governments, sort of like a mini-parliamentary system. For example, executives representing more than 50% of the population would be required to ratify a treaty, and before any executive could do so his respective Senate would also have to consent (using an example based on the present American structure). This could certainly be complex, but it might be workable. (Funding diplomacy and the military might be tricky.)

The second problem would be dealing with internal conflict between persons who belonged to different governments. Which laws would govern the dispute? What if one of the governments allowed, say, murder, and one of its citizens kills a citizen of a government which prohibited murder? It could get confusing, but is there any reason why the various governments couldn't set up "extradition" treaties among themselves, if they desired? But what if the murder-is-ok government didn't want to enter into such a treaty? Then I suppose you'd eventually get open warfare, but I doubt it would come to that.

Anyway, it's a mostly fanciful idea; polycentric government sounds too complicated for most people to want to deal with, and probably too complicated to be stable. If such a system were instituted I imagine that the multiple governments would be unified by treaty rather quickly and that the walls would break down, just as they have between the states and the federal government.

I could spend all day posting ridiculous stuff from Democratic Underground... how about this? God and pot don't mix.

I was born into and raised by a blue-collar Lutheran family. My father was a union heavy-equipment operator(mostly cranes), and my mother worked part-time at the local library.born in 1961I was the second, by 4 years, of two children...the little brother to my big sister growing up in a far northwest suburb of chicago. we both attended the parochial elementary school attatched to our church, in which our family was fairly active.
I was a believer. all the way thru my teens, active in the youth league, and attending the new Lutheran High School in the Fox Valley.

Looking back, it was about the same time that i discovered pot(which i enjoy to this to day) that it all stopped "making sense", and i really began to question, and ultimately lose my faith.

James Taranto points to a typically ludicrous Democratic Underground forum that casts the War on Terror as a city vs. country us/them squabble. I apologize for the atrocious spelling, grammar, and formatting, but I'm quoting verbatim.

Since tomorrow is the anniversary of the "excuse" the cowboy uses to attack anybody he wants to. I'm bracing myself for the ongoing images of people in small red state towns exploiting the victims of 9/11.
CNN is already showing people in small town Texas CRYING over New York City's loses. Well, you know what. You never liked New Yorkers. You hated New Yorkers remember. If you really cared about the victims of 9/11 you would vote for John Kerry because that's the only thing they want you to do. But NO! Instead you brought the Bush bastard's convention to ground Zero and thought NYC would be glad to see you.
Instead of getting flowers and candy you got protesters, a half a million of them that said. GO HOME. Do you remember the Evita song...
Let's get this straight, Dirtsville, IT DIDN'T HAPPEN TO YOU and it never will because no self respecting terra-rist would ever attack something so unimportant. It would be like the USA attacking Goatsgrave Yemen. It's never going to happen.
The bottom line is, you don't care about NYC or the pain, all you care about is getting Boosh re-elected and fighting a Holy pissing contest with the darkie Muslims. All in the name of Jesus which you're sure is coming back the day after tomorrow.
Nobody needs this shit, especially the people of NYC who still watch airplanes when they fly overhead. The people in big cities are in more danger than ever thanks to the cowboy's invasion of Iraq. But that's something the good people of Dirtsville don't have to worry about.
So take your flags, your prayers, your rodeos and your country music and stick it. You're waging war because you want too, because you like it and you're not fooling anybody. You're only happy when you have an enemy, if it wasn't 9/11 it would be something else. Like "libruls". At least have the decency to admit that.
Put on your public grieving shows tomorrow because you already have them planned but spare us the DRAMA next year. It didn't happen to you. Get over it.
Maybe I just haven't noticed, but although the conflict between urban and rural goes back thousands of years (see the origin of "pagan") I was under the impression that for most modern Americans there wasn't much of an issue. Sure, we city-dwellers joke about the fly-over states and such, but it's just good-natured kidding. The idea that country rubes can't comprehend 9/11 because they don't live in a city strikes me as absurd. I know the left is fond of creating and instigating group-based politics, but I doubt this particular incarnation will take hold.

After all, who sent thousands of firefighters, police, and rescue workers to New York in September, 2001? Who sent blood and food and money? Who sent prayers and love and letters of sympathy? All of America, from sea to shining sea. Despite the disgusting, self-indulgent rambling of this one librul, I suspect most New Yorkers and most Americans know that although we may disagree on (important) matters of policy, we're still one United States.

Hiya, I just got home from my church's yearly-ish men's ski trip, and I'm pretty tired and sore. In addition to wakeboarding and wakeskating (a wake skate is a wakeboard without foot bindings, basically a skateboard without wheels) we also rode ATVs on the dunes in Pismo Beach, and that beat me up pretty bad. I fell off a few times, ate a bunch of sand, and bounced around for two hours, and I need to get into bed and sleep... so I can go to work tomorrow morning. Yippie!

Anywho... I'm glad to be back. It doesn't look like much interesting happened while I was away except that New Orleans is going to be wiped off the face of the earth. That's too bad -- I've wanted to visit.

I wish I had more to say. I want to write something, but I don't know what. That means I should probably shut up for now and just go to bed.

Apparently the only debate surrouding abortion these days is that it costs too much.

"Vera Drake," Mike Leigh's tough tale of a working-class mother who is caught performing illegal abortions in 1950s England, scooped up the prizes at the Venice Film Festival Saturday, including the coveted Golden Lion.

Its star, acclaimed British stage and film actress Imelda Staunton, also won the best actress award for her portrayal of a back-street abortionist who acts not for financial gain but out of concern for girls and women in trouble. ...

The film raises difficult questions about abortion in a world where the wealthy have access to discreet and legal abortions and the poor throw themselves on the mercy of practitioners like Drake.

"The audience must walk away with a debate and struggle with it. These things are not black and white," Leigh said.

No word yet on whether babies prefer "discreet and legal" or "back-street".

CBS Hires New Anchorman

Pigs apparently do fly, though Congress anyway. This article is an excellent reminder of how our legislators use our own money to buy us off. Note that it's Republicans doing the using budget appropriations as a stick in this case, but Democrats did the exact same thing when they were in power. The end result is that no one is willing to challenge anyone else's pork because they can't risk failing to bring home the bacon to their own district.

Many House Democrats are expected to vote for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill today to secure the earmarks they were denied last year as punishment for voting “no.”

They say they are only voting for the bill because of a “whispering campaign” of intimidation that special projects for their districts — for schools, sewers and the like — would be stripped from the bill in conference if they vote against it.

Republicans scoff at the idea that it’s a whispering campaign, saying its an explicit threat and a political reality. ...

Republicans say they are merely following a time-honored appropriations tradition that rewards lawmakers for supporting appropriations bills and punishes those who do not — regardless of party affiliation.

But they clearly relish the prospect of receiving significant support from Democrats for a bill that has only a 2 percent overall spending increase in an election year.

Democrats said they opposed last year’s package, which had a 4 percent increase, because of funding shortfalls.

Actually, that's a pretty noble goal. If only it were minus 2%.
“It would be foolish to say that last year’s precedent wasn’t weighing on members’ minds,” said Hoyer, who also deplored last year’s bill for denying the roughly 130 million Americans who are represented by Democrats in Congress from receiving their share of the federal pie.
Argh! The whole "federal pie" was taken from us in the first place! Just stop taking it and you won't have to argue about how to redistribute it!
Meanwhile, non-appropriating Republicans maintained that the same rules applied to them.

“I don’t think it’s right for people to take a tough vote and not to get anything in return,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), “or to vote against it and then take credit back home. That’s a little disingenuous.”

Do you see how they view our money? It's just a tool they use to get re-elected. Disgusting.

I don't really have a lot to add to the forged memo controversy, but it looks like CBS and Dan Rather are determined to go down in flames.

A half hour ago, Dan Rather went on CNN and said that he knows the Jerry Killian documents to be authentic, and knows that they are not forgeries. Therefore, he said, there will be no retraction, no correction, and -- apparently -- no investigation. The text of the interview is not yet available on CNN's site, but we'll link to it when it becomes available. ...

This would appear to signal the end of Rather's career. If the documents are ultimately accepted as forgeries, which seems inevitable to us, he can't survive. My guess: Rather knows that he will be retiring soon in any event, so as his last public contribution, he is doing whatever he can to elect John Kerry.

The mainstream media thinks it's an invulnerable Death Star, but how many more proton torpedos can they take up the exhaust port?

Some related quotes (just replace "battle station" and "Death Star" with "news report" and cast Dan Rather as Tarkin, the media as the Empire, and so forth):

General Tagge : What of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical reading of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, they might find a weakness and exploit it.
Darth Vader : The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.
Admiral Motti : Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.
Governor Tarkin : The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.
General Tagge : But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?
Governor Tarkin : The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
Commander #1 : We've analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your ship standing by?
Governor Tarkin : Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.

Is it true that marijuana in the 1960s was much weaker than it is today?

So I'm back to the decision of acquiring a new car; I've been driving my 2000 Honda Civic for more than four years and it's getting a bit boring. I've always thought that leasing a car is stupid and that I'd prefer to buy a car and then drive it till it falls apart, but now that I'm getting bored of my current car while it's still in nearly-new condition I understand that there are other considerations than merely long-term cost.

So I'm doing a bit of reaseach on leasing and I found a great set of pages that explain the process and costs in simple terms and explain what factors can make leasing superior to buying, or vice versa.

I'm not a lawyer -- though I play one on TV -- but Dana Easter, the DA who was until recently prosecuting Kobe Bryant for rape, has made what I consider to be inappropriate comments.

A prosecutor in the Kobe Bryant (search) case said there was solid evidence that the NBA star raped his 20-year-old accuser, but officials were forced to drop charges after the woman grew "physically ill" from stress and pulled out of the case. ...

Had the case gone to trial, Easter said, prosecutors could have proved the woman had been raped based on her "battering ram" injuries, Bryant's statement to investigators and the statements of three people who saw her after the alleged assault.

"It was a physically violent assault. It was a very degrading assault. It was clearly perpetrated by someone who thought he was entitled," said Easter. ...

"We really believed in her and we still do. I can't emphasize that enough," Easter said.

It may very well be that Bryant raped this unnamed woman, but it's highly inappropriate for the DA to attempt to punish him through these announcements using alleged facts that haven't been proven to any jury. That's what courts are for, and if the DA couldn't prosecute and win then using her position to publicly denounce Bryant is a perversion of justice.

The idea that journalistic sources should be protected by confidentiality is absurd.

An online petition launched two weeks ago to gather support for reporters facing federal pressure to reveal confidential sources has garnered nearly 3,000 electronic signatures from working journalists, according to organizers. They hope to collect 10,000 names and use them in a major newspaper ad campaign. ...

At the top of the petition, organizers placed a statement that says, in part, "We support the reporters in current federal court proceedings who are refusing to testify about their confidential sources and now face stiff fines, even jail. We commend these reporters for standing firm and standing up for First Amendment principles."

At issue is whether or not courts should have the power to force journalists to reveal their "confidential" sources during the course of a criminal investigation. The journalists here are attempting to create a type of legal privilege akin to the well-known attorney-client, doctor-patient, and husband-wife privileges that allow one person to refuse to testify about anything they know or learned as a result of the relationship.

There are all sorts of compelling reasons for these privileges to exist that don't come into play with journalists and their sources, but I'll leave that analysis to people who know more about the history than I do. The critical issue here, however, is that there's no way to determine when a hypothetical "journalistic privilege" should be applied. When it comes to lawyers and client, for instance, the scope of the relationship is clear and well-defined. It begins and ends with a contract and relates to specific isses. But all journalists do is listen to people, so essentially anything anyone ever tells a journalist would be protected by privilege and journalists could never be forced to testify about anything.

And then there's the question of who exactly gets to be a journalist. Can I be a journalist because of this blog? Do I have to work for a major newspaper? Or a TV station? Can I print up pamphlets in my basement and be counted as a journalist? If so, then everyone is a journalist; if not, then who gets to be in charge of deciding eligability, and using what criteria? The idea of a "journalistic privilege" is absurd on its face, because anyone ever called to testify could simply claim to be a journalist and refuse.

The distributors of this petition claim that such privilege falls under the First Amendment, but the text makes no distinction between "journalists" and ordinary people. People who work for news organizations have no more and no less freedom of speech than everyone else does -- we're all protected equally by the First Amendment. No one is entitled to special protection or special freedom because of the identity of their employer.

See my earlier post on the Electoral College for an understanding of why it's mathematically impossible for a Constitutional amendment that would institute a direct popular vote for the Presidency to ever be ratified.

The Wall Street Journal has another good reason why eliminating the Electoral College would be a bad idea.

Direct popular election would also vastly increase the risk of corruption and electoral disputes. With every vote competing directly against every other vote, dishonest politicians everywhere would have an incentive to engage in fraud on behalf of their parties. And a close race would make the 2000 Florida brouhaha look like a kerfuffle. Every one of the nation's 3,066 counties could expect to be overrun by lawyers demanding recounts.
Short of a Constitutional Convention, the Electoral College isn't going anywhere, so I suggest you get used to it.

David Remnick has a piece in The New Yorker about Al Gore, and it's pretty intentionally depressing in some ways.

Gore, along with no small part of the country, is convinced that had things turned out differently in Florida in 2000, had the conservatives on the Supreme Court not outnumbered the liberals by a single vote, the United States would not be in the condition it’s in: the front page would not be describing chaos in Iraq, record budget deficits, the rollback of numerous environmental initiatives, a diminishment of civil liberties, a curtailment of stem-cell research, an erosion of American prestige abroad. Gore does not admit to any bitterness, but it is plain in nearly every speech he gives; and while the feeling may be partly personal—who could blame him?—it runs to a deeper, more public-minded sentiment than the disappointment of his own, or his father’s, ambitions.

"Here you have a guy who worked all his life to achieve the one thing he wanted—to be President of the United States, and it was there, in his grasp," Tony Coelho, Gore’s campaign chairman in 2000, said. "He felt Clinton hurt him, but nevertheless he worked his butt off and brought it off. He won the most votes, by half a million, but then the Supreme Court steps in and it’s gone. It is hard for any of us to understand what that means or how it feels. The truth is that Gore is really a policy guy, not a political guy, and for him to feel that he was on the cusp of the ultimate policy job, that he could affect policy and the world like no one else, and then nothing—well, imagine that!"

I'm sure that's how Mr. Gore sees the situation, and were I him I'd be pretty disgruntled about it too.

The lesson to be learned, if there is one, is that wanting something and working hard for it doesn't entitle you to actually get it. It's a sad, disappointing fact of life. Is it fair? Well, yeah, I think so. The only alternative would be to compel people to give you what you want when you want it enough, and that certainly wouldn't be just.

There are lots of things I want, that I work hard for, that I may never get. For example, I'm waiting to hear back from some publishers about a manuscript I sent out a couple of months ago. I worked really hard on it, and I think it's pretty good. Does that mean they have to buy it? Of course not.

Now, working your whole life for the presidency and then losing it is probably much worse than possibly not getting a book published, but it's the same general principle. Mr. Gore worked hard and did his best, but in the end the country didn't want him. So it goes.

Even Jesus faced disappointment and sadness in his life, so how can we expect any different?

Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

So when people reject you, just remember, you're not alone in that.

Charles gives us an update on Jim Wightman and his artificially intelligent ChatNanny software.

Remember all the fuss about those claims by Chatnannies? And how Jim Wightman, the person behind it, said he’d win the Loebner Prize (a Turing Test) this year? (It’s in the first link.)

Well, guess what. The list of this year’s entrants to the Loebner Prize is up. And… no Jim Wightman.

I wonder what the excuse will be this time?

See also my many posts on the fraud.

I'm not the only one who's sick of sequels.

“If a movie makes even a shred of money at the box office, they rush ahead and make a sequel without even sitting down to bother to produce them or write a decent story,” said Maxim magazine editor Charles Coxe. ...

But there's only one real explanation for all the movie déjà vu, he added.

“I think you can narrow it down to five words: Hollywood’s running out of ideas."

Thanks for the newsflash. I think the key to the closing sentence is Hollywood. It's no surprise that such a closed, incestuous system is running out of ideas.

As any unconnected person who has tried to shop around a script knows, studios are only interested in talking to people who have generated big bucks in the past. They're afraid of taking risks on new people, new themes, new ideas, and so forth, because it costs an incredible amount of money to produce a modern movie. It's easy to throw together a script for Scary Movie 4 in a week or two once you get a few actors signed on to guarantee an audience. It's also easy to advertise such a movie -- "Just like Scary Movie 3, except better!"

What's hard is sifting through hundreds of terrible scripts by people you don't know hoping to find a rock that will be revealed as a gold nugget only after you invest millions of dollars. The business model is what dooms the film industry to mediocrity. (And don't be fooled into thinking "independent" films don't require money and connections to produce.)

Fortunately, just as technology is undermining the traditional print media and the music industry, the movie industry will eventually be de-assimilated as well. Profits will be lower, variety will be larger, and quality (at the top) will be better. Instead of hundreds of terrible scripts we'll get hundreds of terrible movies -- but on the plus side, we'll be able to decide for ourselves what's golden.

I came across this the other night while I was reading my Bible before bed:

Ecclesiastes 10:2

The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.


I've never really felt ugly before, but I do today. I've always known that I'm not particularly attractive, and it's never bothered me very much. When it started to, I lost a bunch of weight and started exercising and working out. I suppose I look a lot better than I ever have before, but apparently it's still not good enough.

And I've always known that, but I'd never really noticed it mattering. I suppose that's because in the cases where it does matter it's normally because of something that doesn't happen: someone doesn't talk to me, for example. It's hard to notice every time someone isn't attracted to me because they don't like they way I look.

But now -- faced with a circumstance in which my appearance has definitely played a detrimental role -- I'm somewhat... discombobulated(?). I've been informed by reliable sources that, contrary to my previous belief, if someone isn't attracted to you right off the bat then they probably never will be. That's unfortunate, because I don't have a lot going for me if you just see me from across a crowded room. I mean, I'm neat and clean and I dress decently, but those are minor details.

Once filed into the "Eh" category, I take it there's no escape. Unlike the movies where the guy is able to win the girl over through kindness, generosity, humor, honesty, and the enthusiastic use of semi-colons, in real life those things are mere bonuses to be tacked on to the handsome appearance that generates the initial attraction.

There's a world of difference between Christianity and Islam, and I think the "Hollywood Hell House" provides an excellent example.

"Hollywood Hell House," which opened Aug. 28 and stars Bill Maher as Satan, Andy Richter as Jesus and a rotating cast of other celebrity comics, is based on the Hell House Outreach kits sold by Keenan Roberts, an Assemblies of God minister in suburban Denver. Religious haunted houses have been around since at least the early 1970s. But Mr. Roberts's version, which he first staged 10 years ago, has proved especially popular: Church groups have produced it some 3,000 times, in most states and more than a dozen countries. ...

"We're not upset this is happening," Mr. Roberts said. "I'm out here to affirm what Hell House is all about--that sin always leads to a devastating and destructive end, but that hope is found in Jesus Christ. In the heart of the entertainment capital, something that is important to us is being presented. It's an honor. Even if they don't agree with our message, they realize we've got something here." ...

"But I'm not here because of what they're doing with it," Mr. Roberts added. "I'm here because of what God is doing with it--and that's much bigger than what you see here on Hollywood Boulevard."

Ms. Soloway walked up at that moment. "What did you think?" she asked.

"Interesting," Mr. Roberts said.

"Well, thank you for coming," she replied.

Try to imagine for a minute this exchange occurring after a show parodying the tenets of radical Islam, which certainly has its own share of kitsch. You can't, because even if Hollywood hipsters got past worrying about seeming like Muslim-bashers, their own fears of a fatwa would shut the thing down before it even began. There are some forms of hell that even Bill Maher can't joke about.

Mocking Christianity is apparently just edgy enough to entertain these folks without upsetting anyone important.

It's a summer day, one of the last of the year. Late. The tall grass of some nameless field lies crushed beneath my back and my hands hover above my face, frozen in midair. I have two gold rings, one on each hand… and I can't remember what the first one means. Eris, my beloved, gave me the second. Not long ago, I think. She stands off to the side of my field of vision, her hands to her face, and I'd turn to look but there isn't time.

There's as much time as you want, but not for looking. Not for her.

There was only a tiny pick at the moment; the blade thrusting against my forehead quivered with its tremendous velocity, its unstoppable force, and the tip was slowly parting my skin and bone. So this is death?

Not quite. Not yet. Let me know when you're ready and it'll come quick enough.

Ready? Not yet, not ever!

You haven't much say left in the matter, I'm afraid. You made your choices long ago.

Not that long ago. A few months, or years maybe. And it's not like I had much choice anyway. How could I resist her? No more than I can resist this steel. This final trust began long ago.

Not that long ago.

I should have known when I first saw her, from the light in her eyes, from the curl of her lips where they met her cheek. The way her hands pushed a strand of hair back behind her ears should have told me all I needed to know.

Should… would… isn't there any more pleasant way you'd like to spend your last moment?

She betrayed me! Can't you see it? Can't you feel it piercing my brain?

This isn't news. I've been there too, right with you. But it's over now.

It's over. She can't hurt me anymore.

Maybe just once more, but it'll be quick. I promise.

If only I could turn my head, to see her face a little better. Is she gasping in surprise? Maybe she didn't know. Maybe it's an accident.

Maybe, but you know it's not. Stop thinking about Eris. What of your family? Your friends? Happy, laughing times?

But why? They're nothing to me now.

Of course not, you left them for her. But you still have their memories, don't you?

Somewhere, hidden away. But is Eris laughing? It can't be. Even in betrayal she couldn't laugh at me, could she? After all I've done for her?

If we must speak of her, can't you at least drop the charade? You aren't even fooling yourself anymore. All you've done for her… please!

But I gave up everything!

To buy her love? Did she notice? Did she care? Love isn't for sale, you fool. You have it, or you don't.

And I never did.

Now you're catching on.

That's impossible. I've seen it in her eyes, and I've felt it in her touch.

And your eyes never lie to you? Do you think hers don't? You see what you want to see. You feel what you want to feel. So you saw and felt… be satisfied, you got what you wanted.

But it wasn't real, was it?

Real or not, what's the difference now? Real is hard and cold and sharp. Real cuts away the flimsy sets and costumes we build our lives with.

Is this real?

As real as it gets. Don't feel bad -- no one really likes this part. Everyone wants to know the truth, and most regret it.

It's hollow.

Life is a vapor that burns away in the sun. Dancing shadows. Nothing more.

But nothing less! If there are shadows, there must be substance somewhere. I think Eris always knew the truth.

Perhaps that's why she is the way she is.

When she gets here, will she remember me? Will she remember this?

I cannot say.

Remind her, I beg you! Just tell her my name. Tell her I love her.

Are you ready to go?

As reality slides home I summon a final burst of strength to turn my head, even a tiny fraction, and I almost make it.

Anyone who thinks the American media is a tool of the government should read a bit about how the Russian state media operates.

The Russian government admitted Sunday that it lied to its people about the scale of the hostage crisis that ended with more than 300 children, parents and teachers dead in southern Russia, making an extraordinary admission through state television after days of withering criticism from citizens.

As the bereaved families of Beslan in southern Russia began to lay their loved ones to rest Sunday, the Kremlin-controlled Rossiya network aired gripping, gruesome footage it had withheld from the public for days and said government officials had deliberately deceived the world about the number of hostages inside School No. 1.

"At such moments," anchor Sergei Brilyov declared, "society needs the truth." ...

Sergei Markov, a political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, said the deadly outcome of the school standoff had left Putin at a loss for how to respond beyond the former KGB colonel's instinct to strengthen police powers and centralize control over government institutions. "They don't know what to do," he said. "Vladimir Putin didn't explain in detail what will be happening."

Speaking before the Sunday-night broadcast of the state television news program "Vesti", Markov said it had been clear that the government had engaged in a clumsy cover-up. "Everybody understands they are lying," he said. "Everybody can do the math and know there were more than 1,000 people inside the school."

The Kremlin sought to distance Putin from the deceptions through Sunday's broadcast, in which the anchor chided "generals and the military and civilians" for failing to act "until the president gives them ideas what to do." Pavlovsky said Putin had given Russia's political system "a no-confidence vote" for its handling of the crisis.

Such statements could never be aired unless the Kremlin directly ordered them, according to political analysts here. Criticism of the president is never broadcast on state television, the continuing war in Chechnya is almost never mentioned and even mild questioning of government policy is not allowed without prior approval from the Kremlin.

"Nothing happens on Rossiya television without the permission of the Kremlin," said commentator Andrei Piontkovsky.

If you've got the heart and stomach for it, read the second page of the article and share the grief of the hundreds of families shattered by this most-recent barbarity of Islamic terror.

Susan Estrich -- Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign manager in 1988 -- has some ideas for how Senator Kerry's campaign can be meaner to President Bush, but I don't think they'd be that effective.

Will it be the three, or is it four or five, drunken driving arrests that Bush and Cheney, the two most powerful men in the world, managed to rack up? (Bush's Texas record has been sealed. Now why would that be? Who seals a perfect driving record?)

I'm pretty sure that's pure speculation. As far as I know Bush had one DUI, and that came out in the last election. I don't think this sort of revelation would hit as hard the second time around, particularly since the President has been dry for quite a while.

After Vietnam, nothing is ancient history, and Cheney is still drinking. What their records suggest is not only a serious problem with alcoholism, which Bush but not Cheney has acknowledged, but also an even more serious problem of judgment. Could Dick Cheney get a license to drive a school bus with his record of drunken driving? (I can see the ad now.) A job at a nuclear power plant? Is any alcoholic ever really cured? So why put him in the most stressful job in the world, with a war going south, a thousand Americans already dead and control of weapons capable of destroying the world at his fingertips.

That's a reasonable question I suppose, but generally a VP can only help a ticket, not hurt it. Cheney's two DUIs were in the early 1960s, when the eventual VP was ages 21 and 22. Two plus one equals three, not four or five. Also, the difference between Kerry's Vietnam/Cambodia problem and the President's DUI problem is that Bush has stopped drinking and renounced his former lifestyle whereas Kerry has made his stories about his military service the centerpiece of his campaign.

It has been said that in the worst of times, Kissinger gave orders to the military not to obey Nixon if he ordered a first strike. What if Bush were to fall off the wagon? Then what? Has America really faced the fact that we have an alcoholic as our president?

Right, that would certainly be a first.

The rest of her ideas are even less substantial.

Or maybe it will be Texas National Guardsmen for Truth, who can explain exactly what George W. Bush was doing while John Kerry was putting his life on the line. So far, all W. can do is come up with dental records to prove that he met his obligations.

All he can do is prove he met his obligations? Well gosh, that's incriminating. This attack is pretty stale by now, and the Democrats have hardly been "too nice" to drag it out over and over.

Or could it be George Bush's Former Female Friends for Truth. A forthcoming book by Kitty Kelly raises questions about whether the president has practiced what he preaches on the issue of abortion.

I'd love to hear some stories from the girlfriends John Kerry had in the 1980s before he even bothered to divorce his first wife.

Are you shocked? Not fair? Who said anything about fair? Remember President Dukakis? He was very fair. Now he teaches at Northeastern University.

Who? I remember a Governor Dukakis.

The arrogant little Republican boys who have been strutting around New York this week, claiming that they have this one won, would do well to take a step back. It could be a long and ugly road to November.

Oh brother. "Little Republican boys"? Gee, that's so demeaning. Last I checked there are plenty of "little Republican girls" who support the President as well, but maybe Ms. Estrich doesn't think they're important?

It must be sad and frustrating to constantly fall onto the wrong side of history, but throwing a temper tantrum isn't going to make it better.

Apparently the "Battle Over Women in Combat Rages On", but in reality there is no possible way for women to serve in frontline combat positions.

And while women now serve on combat ships, fly combat missions and conduct door-to-door searches through dangerous Iraqi neighborhoods, limits remain. They're still restricted from infantry units, armor and field artillery companies in wartime.
And for good reason. The primary purpose of the military is to kill people and break things and efficiently as possible, and women simply are not as capable as men are. Furthermore, frontline troops often live in dirt and grime for months at a time without showers or good hygiene, something that would be impossible for women.

There's no right to serve in the military. Neither you nor I has a right to join the armed forces, regardless of our gender, religion, race, height, strength, intelligence, wealth, or any other factor. Every other consideration must be subsumed to the single overriding mission of the military -- to kill people and break things. Equality is irrelevant.

In an earlier post on this topic I pointed to some statistics that show that women have nearly 750% more injuries and accidents than men do in combat training. Furthermore, the social and biological factors of having women in combat could be very hard to deal with.

The issue of violence against women was crystallized when former prisoners of war appeared before the Commission, including one of the two women captured during Operation Desert Storm. Testimony about the indecent assault on one of the women drew further attention to POW training programs already in place that "desensitize" male POWs to the brutalization of women with whom they may be held captive. An interview with trainers at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training center at Fairchild Air Force Base uncovered a logical but disturbing consequence of assigning women to combat:

"If a policy change is made, and women are allowed into combat positions, there must be a concerted effort to educate the American public on the increased likelihood that women will be raped, will come home in bodybags, and will be exploited. The consequence of not undertaking such a program would be large-scale disillusionment with the military should the United States get in a protracted military engagement."

Maybe I'm a just a male chauvinist pig, but I don't particularly want to see that type of thing. Regardless of training, male soldiers will not see the women they serve with as "just one of the guys", and will inevitably take extra precautions to try and prevent their death or capture. This may lead to circumstances where a commander does not surrender when he otherwise would, for instance, or vice versa. Women may not understand this fact or like it (and some men may argue against it for PC reasons) but it's biological and not merely cultural.

I don't know much about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2, but the general concensus seems to be that Michelle Malkin's recent book -- which attempted to defend the internments -- is factually wrong in some/many ways. I don't know about that. However, I can address a question raised by Eric Muller. He claims that the media allowed Ms. Malkin to present her ideas and book, "In Defense of Internment", without rebuttal and he wonders why.

Let's consider a hypothetical. Suppose an author were to publish a book revisiting the pogroms across Germany in November of 1938 that we know as "Kristallnacht." Suppose that author's thesis went something like this: "Yes, German and Austrian Jews certainly and regrettably suffered in the attacks of November 9 and 10, 1938, and in the incarceration of some 26,000 in concentration camps for a period of many weeks that followed. We have seen, time and again, the images of the broken storefront windows and the burning synagogues that the Jewish grievance community and politically correct academics want us to see. We have been led to believe that this was an unprovoked outburst of baseless hatred on the part of the German people. But what Jews and academics do not tell you, and do not want you to know, is that the so-called Kristallnacht had a real cause: A Jew did, in fact, murder the German official Ernst vom Rath in Paris on November 7, 1938, at the German Embassy, and documents from the time show that Josef Goebbels knew this and saw the murder as proof of a larger Jewish threat to the Reich." ...

So, to return to Timothy Burke's observation: suppose that a mediagenic author were to publish such a work. Would MSNBC, CNBC, Fox, C-SPAN, HBO, and countless radio programs present that work at all? If they did so, would they present it uncritically, and without rebuttal?

Of course they wouldn't. And so the question is: why the difference?

The difference seems clear to me, and it isn't what Mr. Muller suggests. Although he says that "I am also not comparing Kristallnacht to the eviction of Japanese Americans" such a comparison will reveal that the actions of the Nazis against the Jews were far more terrible than the actions of the American government against the Japanese-Americans. This difference in terribleness must play a role how the issue is treated by all parties, and it seems pretty obvious that this difference is almost wholly responsible for how the two events are viewed by history and treated by the media.

I don't think Professor Bainbridge is quite right in claiming that " The era of small government conservatism is over." (Nor are Donald Sensing and others.) Instead, what I think we're going to see is a fundamental realignment of the two political parties, a process that will be much more rapid if the Democrats manage to get annihilated in November. As I wrote over a year ago (inspired by a similar post by Robin Goodfellow):

The point is that eventually the population will get tired of hearing the debates that the parties want to have, and will dump the parties altogether. For example, both parties are strongly behind the "War on Drugs", but a good portion of the population (maybe not quite a majority) thinks that this so-called war is a sham and a waste of money. Another example is social security... everyone knows it's not sustainable, but neither party has the guts to actually face the problem.

So, what's going to happen? I like Robin's conclusion and basically agree that the parties will re-form into a basically libertarian party and a basically statist party. The real question is, which goes which direction?

A sizable portion of the population -- particularly among the youth -- still wants a small, limited government. I think it's a mistake ti discount that and conclude that neither party will attempt to give it to them. My perception is that libertarian ideas are on the rise.

Also, I wish I could have found a way to use the word "basically" a few more times.

Francis W. Porretto has more thoughts on the matter, pointing out that no single party is large enough for everyone, no matter what "Big Tent" approach the Republicans are taking this year.

There’s also this: Success breeds its own competition. Electoral success is no exception. There are no strategies or tactics available to the Republicans that are not available to the Democrats as well. If the GOP somehow avoided fissioning due to the “Big Tent,” they would still be vulnerable to the Democrats’ fervent attempts to “steal their voters back.” There is no reason to believe, given the number and magnitude of the differences among Americans on substantial puiblic-policy issues, that the Democrats would not rise from ignominy and become competitive once again.
Excellent, and as I've said before, I look forward to a day when our country has two parties that both make compelling arguments for my vote.

I haven't mentioned the Russian school-hostage situation (or the plane bombings) because honestly I just don't know what to say about it. Any people who would do such a thing are profoundly evil. It's not a "different way of life". It's not a culture we have to understand. It's a cancer we have to ruthlessly and relentlessly purge from humanity. And now the terrorists have fired on children who tried to escape and were apparently dying of thirst.

There were scenes of pandemonium, as children ran terrified and half-naked through the streets grabbing water bottles from medics.

One boy described his escape.

"I smashed the window to get out," he told Russian TV. "People were running in all directions... [The rebels] shot from the roof."

Ambulances ferried hundreds of people to hospital. Our correspondent says at least 150 children were among them.

It sounds like the Russian troops tried to assault the school when they saw the terrorists shooting at the fleeing children. They had been intending to negotiate, but I don't imagine they could sit idly by while the children were gunned down, so they had to at least lay down some suppression fire. The details aren't very clear yet though, so we may not know exactly what's happening for a while.

FoxNews has more background.

Officials also told FOX News that 10 of the 20 terrorists killed by Russian soldiers were Arabs. ...

The hostage-taking was an unprecedented event in the region, according to a FOX News military analyst.

"The is a whole new escalation," said Air Force Lieutenant General (Ret.) Tom McInerney.

McInerney cautioned against criticizing Russia's security forces for their handling of the three-day-long standoff.

"You can't do a pinpoint strike. We have never seen such a large number of hostages taken by terrorists [in this region] before."

McInerney also said Washington had reason for alarm. "The question is whether it's going to roll West into Europe and into our own country," he said.

One reason something like this would be harder in America is because we have an armed citizenry. Of course, most people aren't allowed to carry guns in schools....

Wow, I hadn't read this elsewhere:

About a dozen [] hostage-takers escaped, with the Interfax new agency reporting that they split into three groups to blend in with the hostages and took refuge in a home nearby. Tank fire was heard from the area of the house, Interfax said, and gunfire rang out through the town for hours.
It's pretty surprising that some of the terrorists were able to escape, but they used a good strategy. Most hostage scenarios end with the death or capture of all the terrorists.
"They are very cruel people, we are facing a ruthless enemy," said Leonid Roshal, a pediatrician involved in the negotiations. "I talked with them many times on my cell phone, but every time I ask to give food, water and medicine to the hostages they refuse my request."

I feel like I neglected my blogger's duty by not watching President Bush speach live tonight... I TiVoed it. And I'll watch it later. Probably. I've read all the comments around the 'sphere by now though, so there won't be any surprises. Anyway, I have to get to bed soon because tomorrow night I have a not-a-date with this girl who should be totally into me but is apparently a bit reluctant. What's that about? I'm practically perfect in every way. She just doesn't realize it yet.

Here's a little math problem for you.

Say I want to create a page containing every 7-digit phone number (ignore the fact that some combinations of numbers aren't allowed, like "555" in the prefix). What's the minimum number of characters that can be used to create the page? It's not 7*10^7, because the string "12345678" contains two 7-digit numbers: "1234567" and "2345678". The real question then is, what algorithm can be used to generate a single long sequence of numbers that contains every 7-digit combination with as few repeats as possible? How long will that sequence be?

Here's a story about a useful application of artificial intelligence to the problem of searching the internet.

Dr Brill's question-answering system does something similar. Many question-and-answer pairs exist on the web, in the form of “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) pages. Dr Brill trained his system using a million such pairs, to create a model that, given a question, can work out various structures that the answer could take. These structures are then used to generate search queries, and the matching documents found on the web are scanned for things that look like answers.

The current prototype provides appropriate answers about 40% of the time. Not brilliant, but not bad. And it should improve as the web grows. Rather than relying on a traditional “artificial intelligence” approach of parsing sentences and trying to work out what a question actually means, this quick-and-dirty method draws instead on the collective, ever-growing intelligence of the web itself.

Note that such a system does not attempt to be "strong" in the AI sense -- that is, it doesn't accomplish its task in a way we'd consider to be similar to how a human would do it, and there's no consideration that the question-answering engine may actually be "alive". However, I think such research will probably lead to many more useful results than will "traditional" AI.

Computers do this sort of "quick-and-dirty" analysis very well, but they "think" -- in the human sense -- very poorly; in contrast, humans think very well and do aggregate analysis very poorly. Rather than trying to make a computer into a human substitute, we may do better to focus on the strengths of computers and how they can compensate for human weakness.

Still, of course, creating a computer than can think like a human is a fascinating endeavor and worthy of exploration in its own right.

(HT: GeekPress.)

The ignorance of Kerry and Edwards and their refusal to learn from history defy comprehension. They want to reach an agreement with Iran that sounds remarkably similar to the failed agreement with North Korea.

Kerry aides said that, if elected, his administration, in cooperation with the European Union, would offer a deal to Iran that would allow the Islamic republic to retain its nuclear facilities. In return, Teheran would have to pledge to return all imported nuclear fuel acquired for its reactor at Bushehr.
Do any Democrats find it unseemly for their candidate to be making foreign policy announcements before winning the election? I believe this is without precedent.
"If we are engaging with Iranians in an effort to reach this great bargain and if in fact this is a bluff that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, then we know that our European friends will stand with us," Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards said.
And we know this how? All of Europe opposed Israel's strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, and they haven't been too keen on helping us do anything else recently. Oh wait, he said "friends"... I was thinking of France and Germany.
"At the end of the day [Bush officials] can argue all they want about their policies," Edwards said. "But the test is: Have they worked? And Iran is further along in developing a nuclear weapon than they were when George Bush came into office."
Dude, can we please just attack a few countries at a time? We've got troops surrounding Iran now, which you forgot to mention, so just give the President a little bit of a break.

Meanwhile, John Kerry gives us a detailed explanation of how he would have handled Iraq.

Under fire from some in his own party for failing to draw crisp and clear differences with Bush over the war in Iraq, military service and terrorism, the Democratic nominee offered one of his sharpest and most detailed explanations of how he would have handled the conflict and its aftermath differently. "When it comes to Iraq, it's not that I would have done one thing differently, I would have done almost everything differently," Kerry told the national convention of the American Legion here.
Whoa, don't overwhelm me with so many details.
Kerry said that the only aspect of the invasion on which he agreed with Bush was how swiftly and decisively the United States would win the initial war with Iraq. After that, Kerry said, Bush failed the "most solemn obligation" as commander in chief: "to make certain we had a plan to win the peace." He faulted Bush for stubbornly ignoring the advice of military commanders on the ground and politicians back home, dismissing the State Department's concerns about a postwar Iraq, and failing to secure Iraq's borders and draw in allies to relieve the burden on U.S. troops. Once inside Iraq, he said, the president botched opportunities to share responsibility with NATO or the United Nations, train indigenous Iraqi forces, safely secure prisoners of war and adequately guard nuclear waste and ammunition storage sites. Kerry said he would have not made those mistakes -- which Republicans counter is easy to say in hindsight.
Those aren't details of what he would have done differently, that's just a list of things that went wrong. Well duh, it would have been nice if they hadn't. If I had been President I would have converted Saddam's army to our side and handed out candy canes to everyone. But what would have been the cost of re-allocating resources to avoid these problems? Doing so might have fulfilled even more dire predictions.

All the recent political posturing is really amusing, and I wonder what would happen if during a debate, say, one of the candidates challenged the other to settle the election by simply comparing penis lengths. Let's just whip 'em out, and whoever's is smaller has to go home.

Rationally, obviously, such a challenge would be ridiculous, but what would happen if it were issued by candidate A to candidate B? If B refused then A would simply laugh and point out that B must have a tiny penis. Again, obviously irrelevant, but how would it affect the public's perception of the two candidates? If you think the effect would be zero I think you're mistaken. Would the challenge hurt the challenger? Would it hurt the challenged if he refused?

What if B accepted and the candidates did whip 'em out? Let's say neither candidate resigned afterwards but the public now knew the sizes of each candidate's running-mate -- any effect on the election?

Maybe some of you reading this are offended, and I know the question is pretty silly, but many of the speeches and positions taken (such as Arnold's "girlie-men" bit) play right into this theme... so why not cut directly to the chase and quit beating around the bush?

On a serious note, John Kerry would probably be at a disadvantage because he had his prostate removed due to cancer. Prostate cancer is a serious threat to men over age 40, so be sure to get screened early and regularly.

Lileks apparently live-blogged Arnold's speech last night and didn't appreciate it as much as I did. He's amazed that Arnold actually mentioned that he became a republican because of Richard Nixon:

I finally arrived here in 1968.I had empty pockets, but I was full of dreams. The presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon and Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend who spoke German and English, translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism which is what I had just left. But then I heard Nixon speak. He was talking about free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes, and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air.

I said to my friend, "What party is he?" My friend said, "He's a Republican." I said, "Then I am a Republican!"

Now, I realize that Nixon isn't anyone's favorite president, and I'm not a huge fan, but Nixon was who was running for president in 1968 when Arnold came here, so that's who he saw on TV. Fine. Actually, when I heard these paragraphs on the radio as I was driving home I was really impressed with the delivery, and the "Then I am a Republican!" line was pretty powerful.

Lileks has a well-delivered line of his own in his piece:

Now the line about trusting the US more than the UN. Raucous applause. Chants of USA, which will strike Europeans as the modern-day sound of a Nuremberg rally. Well, they’d know.
I need to be more pithy and subtle, but I'm always afraid people won't get the jokes if I don't provide a diagram. Ah well. James Lileks is one of the best writers I've ever come across.

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