August 2005 Archives

Edvard Radzinsky has written an article about the upcoming generation of liberated Russian girls (translated to English from his native Russian). He terms it "the other Russian revolution" and explains how girls who grew up oppressed under the old Soviet system are becoming women set to conquer the world.

MOSCOW--For the greater part of the 20th century, Russia's population suffered from the nightmare of wars, repression and perpetual hunger. There was the famine of the Civil War, the famine of the years of collectivization, and the famine of the Second World War. It almost seems as if the relative prosperity of recent years has engendered a peculiar reaction of the flesh, something almost akin to gratitude. All across the country, a plethora of beautiful girls has sprung up.

With bared midriffs and piercings, they are outwardly very like one another. In fact, there is an immense gulf dividing this throng of beauties. One group is astoundingly uneducated; their lives consist of nightclubs, concerts and narcotics. The other (and these are many) is just the opposite. They are highly educated, and have plunged rapturously into the ocean of literature now being published in Russia--those famous books by which the world lived in the 20th century and which have only now come to us. These women study with merciless obstinacy, hours and hours every day. Each knows several languages. In spite of their youth, they have already visited the great capitals of Europe, as if realizing the dream (so recently unattainable) of their grandmothers and grandfathers.

There's almost no better measure of a society's freedom and liberty than how it treats its women.

When you read that America's poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent last year it's important to remember what it actually means to be poor in America, from a report by the Heritage Foundation. The government definition of "poverty" is mostly a scare tactic and doesn't really tell us anything about Americans who may be really struggling.

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

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

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

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

The main reason people appear to be poor is that they don't work.

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

Some people can't work, but I suspect they're in the vast minority. What does the Bible say?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we [Paul and his companions] command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

I get so much poker spam on this site that I figured I may as well post something that's actually relevant to the game... so, here's the Wikipedia entry about shuffling. Since the whole point of shuffling is randomization, how many times do you have to shuffle to get it?

The mathematician and magician Persi Diaconis is an expert on the theory and practice of card shuffling, and an author of a famous paper on the number of shuffles needed to randomize a deck, concluding that it did not start to become random until five good riffle shuffles, and was truly random after seven. (You would need more shuffles if your shuffling technique is poor, of course.) Recently, the work of Trefethen et al. has questioned some of Diaconis' results, concluding that six shuffles is enough. The difference hinges on how each measured the randomness of the deck. Diaconis used a very sensitive test of randomness, and therefore needed to shuffle more. Even more sensitive measures exist and the question of what measure is best for specific card games is still open.

Here is an extremely sensitive test to experiment with. Take a standard deck without the jokers. Divide it into suits with two suits in ascending order from ace to king, and the other two suits in reverse. (Many decks already come ordered this way when new.) Shuffle to your satisfaction. Then go through the deck trying to pull out each suit in the order ace, two, three ... When you reach the top of the deck, start over. How many passes did it take to pull out each suit?

What you are seeing is how many rising sequences are left in each suit. It probably takes more shuffles than you think to both get rid of rising sequences in the suits which were assembled that way, and add them to the ones that were not!

In practice the number of shuffles that you need depends both on how good you are at shuffling, and how good the people playing are at noticing and using non-randomness. 2–4 shuffles is good enough for casual play. But in club play, good bridge players take advantage of non-randomness after 4 shuffles, and top blackjack players literally track aces through the deck.

So play it safe and shuffle seven times!

I thought I posted about this a while ago, but if I did I can't find the post.

More than 100 varieties of Mexican candy have tested positive for extremely high lead contamination and are unsafe to eat. The OC Register has a special investigation section about these "Toxic Treats" with a lot more information. It's most recent article in the investigation is from April 30th, 2005, and says that despite years of warnings the lead contamination is still a huge problem.

The FDA also issued a warning about lead contamination in Mexican candy last year, and the Department of Health issued an extended warning in 2001. This is an ongoing problem that people should be aware of, especially anyone who might regularly eat Mexican candy.

Wikipedia has more on lead poisoning, and points out that it affects children most significantly and that many studies have shown links between lead poisoning, learning disabilities, and violent tendencies.

JV points to a company called Sound Mind Investing that offers "biblically based investment advice".


Biblical Perspective. SMI's biblical perspective runs throughout our content. Our goals are to help you glorify God through good stewardship, and increase your ability to give. It's not just about having more, it's about having more so you can give more. ...

Superior Returns. SMI really delivers to your bottom line, paying for itself many times over. Our investing strategies have consistently outpaced the market during BOTH bull and bear periods. A recent Dalbar study concluded that the average stock investor's return was less than one-third of what the market earned between 1984-2000. Following the strategies laid out in Sound Mind Investing will keep this from happening to you, and help you exchange your investment worries for peace of mind. Are you satisfied with the recent returns from your portfolio? If not, take a moment to review our Performance History page, and see what SMI can do for you.

I've browsed the free sections of the site and I haven't really seen any Bible quotes or anything, though the brochure JV sent in the email was full of them and had some great general investment advice (I'll post a link if I can find one to the brochure on the site). Although the performance history page shows that they've been fairily successful for the past six years, as they point out themselves, most investors lose to the market over time; there's no reason to believe SMI hasn't just been lucky.

I've moved most of my money into index funds to guarantee I match the market. The efficient market hypothesis has convinced me that "it is not generally possible to make above-average returns in the stock market by trading (including market timing), except through luck or obtaining and trading on inside information." Linked to this hypothesis is another which states that the market is a random walk, and that it cannot be predicted. You can beat the market sometime, but over time the best you can do is tie.

Consider some other random processes, such as flipping a coin. If we play a game wherein I pay you a dollar each time you correctly guess the coin flip and you pay me a dollar each time you're wrong, what's your best guessing strategy? It doesn't matter -- no matter what you guess, over time we'll tie. Consider a less mechanical game like rock-paper-scissors. You can beat another human by out-guessing them, but it's impossible to beat a computer that plays RPS randomly because you have no information to use to predict their next move. Against non-random players there are plenty of losing strategies. (For lots more information about rock-paper-scissors, peruse the RoShamBo Programming Competition site.)

The best way I've heard of to beat the market is to get elected to the Senate.

The study found that during the boom years of 1993-98, a majority of US Senators were trading stocks - and beating the market by 12 percentage points a year on average. By comparison, corporate insiders beat the market by 5 percent, and typical households underperformed by 1.4 percent.

Financial experts interviewed for this story say the senators' collective achievement is a statistical stunner, too big to be a mere coincidence.

The Guardian has an interesting interview with crack dealer turned rapper 50 Cent. There's no doubt that many of the greatest rappers are intelligent and cunning, but I can't help but wish that more attention was paid to successful blacks with more moral integrity.

It's a tacit acknowledgement that for Jackson to progress any further, he is obliged to widen the gap between his real life experiences and that of his fictional alter-ego, smoothing off the rough edges. While 50 continues to pander to his audience by rapping about getting high, partying and hitting on 'bitches', Jackson doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs and (according to a source close to the rapper) doesn't even 'do' groupies. Instead, he is intensely focused on one thing and one thing alone: making money. In that sense, Curtis Jackson has redefined Kelvin Martin's maxim to 'Get Rich or Die Tryin'. But he also seems acutely aware that perceptions don't change easily. 'I am a villain,' he admits, albeit reluctantly, 'but that's because I'm aggressive ... But my head is not there. I don't look for trouble. And I don't want the trouble. My past is my shadow. Everywhere I go, it goes with me.'

I suppose it's valuable to cast oneself as a classical anti-hero, who wants to do good but just can't stop being bad.

The best part about the "Reverend" Al Sharpton's speeding incident is how he abandoned his driver and hitches a ride to the airport to avoid missing his flight.

The car carrying Sharpton and two other passengers was clocked doing 110 mph in a 65 mph zone on the interstate south of Dallas, [Chief Deputy] Sullins said.

He said the driver ignored deputies' attempts to stop it and weaved in and out of traffic before state troopers were able to get in front of the car.

Sharpton caught a lift from a passing driver and made his scheduled flight to New York.

That's gotta be good for loyalty. At least this time he didn't falsely accuse anyone of rape or burn eight people to death.

I recently purchased Fate, a role-playing game by Wild Tangent that's designed with the "casual gamer" in mind. The brief description is that it's a Diablo 2 derivative with vastly better graphics, vastly more color, simpler gameplay, and a slightly more cartoony style. But there's more to the game than that.

By saying it's designed for casual gamers I mean that, unlike most modern RPGs, Fate isn't weighed down with a cumbersome storyline and endless subquests that require a detailed journal to keep track of -- in that sense, it's more of an adventure game than an RPG, but stylistically it fits more into the RPG genre. If you're looking for an involved plot full of intrigue and mystery, this isn't the game for you. However, considering that the stories in most RPGs are pretty weak and contrived, I find it quite refreshing to be free from remembering whose cousin in which town has asked me to avenge his wife's death at the hands of which bandits, who turn out to be ogres in disguise, polymorphed by some wizard trying to undermine the mayoral council of a town that's infested by giant spiders. Or whatever. In contrast, the plot of Fate is simple: you go into the dungeon, kill monsters, and harvest treasure. You watch your stats rise so you can kill bigger monsters, so you can get more treasure, so you can kill bigger monsters. You can play for a few minutes or a few hours without having to keep track of what you were doing, which makes the game ideal for people with real lives who can't sit in front of the computer all day. If that sounds like fun, Fate's your game.

Developer/producer/designer/programmer Travis Baldree, who's very active on the forums, added several twists to the Diablo formula, such as giving your character a pet that follows you around, helps you fight, and carries treasure. When your pet is loaded up you can send him back to town to sell the treasure he's carrying and bring back gold, eliminating the need to waste time returning to town yourself every time your inventory fills up. It'll take a minute or two for your pet to return, depending on your depth, but there's plenty to do if you're too scared to fight monsters on your own. For instance, you can upgrade your items with gems you find along the way, or you can go fishing for fish to feed your pet when he returns, each of which transforms him into a different type of monster that can assist you in your journey.

Once you've got the gold, the town of Grove has a myriad of ways to relieve you of it. You can buy mundane items, of course, along with spells and magic items from various merchants. You can gamble for unknown items. You can pay an enchanter to attempt to enhance one of your current items. You can even pay a bard to sing songs of your adventures to improve your reputation. Basically, the game has interfaces to do just about whatever you'd be tempted to do through cheating, but within the game system. It's not all well-balanced, but as you get more powerful you can always go deeper into the dungeon. The main game is designed to be played through around level 50, but the the dungeon goes to 255, and from reading the forums few people can get past 100.

All that, and a price tag of just $19.99. I downloaded the demo and got hooked enough to buy the game, and I don't think you'll be disappointed. From reading the forums I see that the game is easily modified, and many fans are already creating add-ons to expand the gameplay and variety. Finally, you can adjust the difficulty of the game down to a level where even children with basic computer skills could play and thrive without frustration; the level of violence is moderate and not directed at humans, so this would be an ideal game for any little gamers you might have.

Other Reviews:
- GameShark: A+.
- GameSpot: 7.9, but readers gave it an 8.5.

Todd Zywicki has a great post refuting some of the left's explanations for academia's pervasive political divide. He points out that the typical answer these days appears to be some variation of self-selection -- "rightists don't want to work here or aren't qualified". Mr. Zywicki uses statistics to explain why this isn't a likely answer, and then makes a very important observation:

Even if this is self-selection, this [explanation] is not necessarily responsive--when the elite academy is confronted with other examples of "underrepresented" interests, they do not simply throw up their hands and complain of a shallow talent pool. Instead, at Columbia for instance, the diversity committee is "tasked with finding ways to strengthen the pipeline bringing women and minority students into the University's undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs" and not merely take what the pipeline produces. ...

In conclusion let me add a thought--it seems utterly absurd that people are still making uninformed armchair speculation about the causes of the prevailing ideological imbalance in the academy. Is it self-selection? Conservatives are greedier? Conservatives are dumber? When it comes to addressing the issue of other "underrepresented minorities" on college campuses, the record overflows with high profile blue ribbon panels of leading scholars and administrators. No stone is left unturned and no penny left unspent to try to determine why women are "underrepresented" in teaching math and science, or the underrepresentation of minorities. I think maybe it is time to take even a small percentage of those tens of millions being spent at places like Harvard and Columbia and perhaps do a study of the causes of the ideological disparity in the academy, rather than simply speculate and pontificate. At the very least, such a study would eliminate some of the more preposterous hypotheses (such as the idea that conservatives generically like money more than liberals or that conservatives lack the intellecutal frame of mind to succeed in academia).

I love economists... maybe that'll be my next degree.

Jay Tea at Wizbang! uses the Muslim community of Lodi, California, as an example to argue that snitching is good.

Over the weekend, I picked up on this story (courtesy Mike Pechar of The Jawa Report), about the militant Islamists awaiting trial in Lodi, California.

It turns out that most of the evidence against the father and son accused of being part of Al Qaeda is tape-recorded conversations, and the local community says that a man who had made himself an integral part of them has now vanished. The locals say that he must have been the FBI informant.

This is exactly why so many people -- myself included -- tend to be suspicious of the average Muslim. Here we have pretty clear evidence of a couple of would-be terrorists in their midst, and they are far more concerned with who ratted them out than the fact that they had a member of Al Qaeda living among them.

It's very normal for groups to want to protect their members from outside punishment, either because they want to reserve the power of disapproval and punishment for their own group, or because don't respect the laws and morality of the greater community.

So when is it ok to snitch? We generally teach children that it isn't good to gossip or be a tattle-tale, but there are obviously many situations in which you'd want your kids to tell on each other, just as there are for adults. Is the seriousness seriousness of the offense the determining factor? Should groups generally be allowed to self-police until and unless they demonstrate inability or unwillingness?

The use of non-violent social pressure to police members of a group is typically very effective, as long as the culture of the group lines up with that of the larger society. Kids can't self-police because their naive culture is barbaric and kids as individuals are incompetent. But adults aren't as limited, which is why when kids break the law their parents are often given a chance to correct the matter, with society only stepping in if the parents are ineffective.

What we see in the case of the Muslims in Lodi is that they didn't exert social pressure to prevent the potential terrorists in their midst from acting in furtherance of their destructive goals. If the local Muslim community had confronted these men and condemned them privately, it's unlikely that they would have continued along the path that brought them to the attention of the FBI. We know they had the power to stop the terrorists, and most likely the knowledge, but they decided not to. Did they agree with the terrorists' goals? Who knows. What we do know is that, as Mr. Tea points out, whoever snitched on them was a hero, not a traitor.

Is the rightness of snitching purely in the eye of the beholder, or can some more objective criteria be established?

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is in trouble with the Chinese communist government for selling black market satellite equipment and programming to Chinese subjects. It sounds like the company is bending the rules to make money, but Mr. Murdoch has made his distain for totalitarian regimes pretty plain:

Rupert Murdoch's relationship with Beijing started on the wrong foot. The Australian-born mogul declared in 1993 that satellite-television networks, like the Hong Kong--based Star TV venture that he had purchased, would pose "an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere."

The company still plays ball with the ChiComs because they need to collect subscription fees if they want to make money, but the beautiful thing about satellite television is that the main infrastructure is in space, and can't be regulated by the Chinese. So News Corp. moved into China's extensive black market.

News Corp.'s efforts to climb through loopholes in China were brazen, according to Jiang Hua, a former News Corp. distribution manager in China. Despite regulations forbidding direct sales, Jiang, who left the company 18 months ago after a disagreement with his boss, says he distributed News Corp. channels ranging from National Geographic (in which it has a stake in Asia) to an MTV-like music channel called Channel V. Two former News Corp. executives confirm Jiang's story. Buyers were cable-TV networks from the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. "News Corp. called what I did gray-market distribution," he says, "but it wasn't gray. It was black."

Jiang says payments were channeled through a shell company, Beijing Hotkey Internet, which received nearly $1.5 million a year in illicit payments from cable operators starting in 2002. Jiang and another former News Corp. employee told TIME that cable operators occasionally paid with briefcases of cash.

I see this as a noble effort to bring the outside world into the homes of oppressed Chinese. China is growing fast, and will undoubtedly be a match for the United States in a few decades. It's essential that when that time comes China isn't still under the bootheel of fascists.

I'm 27-years-old, and I've been watching my friends get married for a long time. When I was younger, it was strange watching people my own age getting married, and although I can't remember exactly who was the first to walk down the aisle from my cohort, I remember thinking that the first marriages from my generation were a significant milestone, and they made me feel old.

Now that I'm about to get marrried myself, I'm wondering who of my friends will be the first to get divorced? I have many friends who have been married for five to seven years by now, so it's just about time, statistically, for some of their marriages to start falling apart. I don't have anyone in mind specifically, and I certainly don't want any of my friends' marriages to fail, but it seems likely that some will. I think I'll feel even older when the first divorce rolls around. And then the first remarriage!

DeoDuce has a great quiz up at The Daily Spork: a list of anti-American quotes, and all you have to do is determine al Qaeda or the left? So far, none of her commenters has gotten more than 6 of the 10 correct... can you do better?

Ok, so "profundity" may not be a real word, but you know what I mean. The point is, only an idiot would be impressed by a zoo installing a human exhibit.

LONDON - Caged and barely clothed, eight men and women monkeyed around for the crowds Friday in an exhibit labeled "Humans" at the London Zoo.

"Warning: Humans in their Natural Environment" read the sign at the entrance to the exhibit, where the captives could be seen on a rock ledge in a bear enclosure, clad in bathing suits and pinned-on fig leaves. Some played with hula hoops, some waved.

The ironic thing is that the humans doing the watching are the ones in their "natural environment". Contrary to the babblings of the stumbling brainiacs quoted in the article, humans have always modified nature into "artificial" forms to suit our needs. Skyscrapers, houses, cars, cities, farms, and zoos are no less the natural environment for a human than a nest is for a bird or a dam is for a beaver.

When visitor Peter Bohn, 42, saw the "animals" juggling, he stopped and had a good laugh.

"It's hilarious," he said. "It turns everything upside down. It makes you think about the humans in relation to the animals."

I'm suspect Mr. Bohn gets a headache every time he considers whether or not a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if there's no one to hear it.

Profound is when I tell my brother that an Army officer saying "hoo-ah" is a mixed metaphor and he points out that that's not a metaphor at all, at which point I say that it's like a metaphor.

The article above left out this delightful quote from some London Zoo flack:

"We have set up this exhibit to highlight the spread of man as a plague species and to communicate the importance of man's place in the planet's ecosystem," London Zoo said.

(HT: James Taranto for the update.)

Chris Harris has an amusing op-ed in the New York Times about why now is the absolute best time to buy a house in Los Angeles.

As an expert in the field - I've spent my entire life living in or behind homes - I can assure you that aside from any moment in the past decade, there has never been a better time to enter the real estate market. Here are two important reasons.

We already experienced the Internet bubble. The crash taught us all that a feeling of invincibility can lead to disaster. Now that we've learned this humbling lesson, there's absolutely no possible way it could ever happen again to us. ...

Q. Are you sure I haven't missed the boat? Housing prices have risen so much already.

A. Actually, if you look at this chart, which is based on my years of research, you'll find that prices have been remarkably stable. No less a man than Winston Churchill put it best: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps [a phenomenal time for buying that starter home you've had your eye on]." ...

Q. I'm still not convinced.

A. Well then, look at these numbers:

Now: 58

Five years from now: 8,472

That's a nearly 15,000 percent increase!

Q. Wow. Wait, what exactly are those numbers?

A. What? What kind of question is that? This is just the kind of foot-dragging that's kept you paying rent on the same roach-infested closet for years while your home-owning friends have gotten fantastically wealthy. Did you know that we homeowners are having Champagne-and-caviar parties every weekend and not inviting you?

(HT: Perry Eidelbus.)

What other blogs do you read and comment on before visting me?

McSweeney's posts a list of "Titles of Sermons to Which Congregants Might Actually Pay Attention". Three, five, and six are probably my favorites.

I'm certainly no military planner, but even I can comprehend why the imaginary terror scenarios Peggy Noonan summons to argue against military base closures will never happen.

Imagine they're planning that on the same day in the not-so-distant future, they will set off nuclear suitcase bombs in six American cities, including Washington, which will take the heaviest hit. Hundreds of thousands may die; millions will be endangered. Lines will go down, and to make it worse the terrorists will at the same time execute the cyberattack of all cyberattacks, causing massive communications failure and confusion. There will be no electricity; switching and generating stations will also have been targeted. There will be no word from Washington; the extent of the national damage will be as unknown as the extent of local damage is clear. Daily living will become very difficult, and for months--food shortages, fuel shortages.

Let's make it worse. On top of all that, on the day of the suitcase nukings, a half dozen designated cells will rise up and assassinate national, state and local leaders. There will be chaos, disorder, widespread want; law-enforcement personnel, or what remains of them, will be overwhelmed and outmatched.

Impossibly grim? No, just grim.

Actually, the scenario can be dismissed because it's incredibly impractical. If terrorists had a single nuclear device they would use it immediately, not wait to collect more to set them off all at once. Every day they hold onto a weapon is another day they risk getting caught without being able to use it at all. Steven Den Beste argued similarly last year.

The reason they are organized in cells is to minimize the damage when a cell is discovered. By the same token, they are unlikely to engage in an operation this huge because if it is compromised they lose too much all at once. If they had ten working nukes, they'd start ten totally independent plans instead of one grand ten-attack plan.

But that's not the least of their problems. It is not at all clear they actually have the human resources to engage in a plot of this magnitude. It is now known that the 9/11 attack was launched using their A-team; it required most of their best-quality willing martyrs just for that one operation. ...

I think I can plausibly argue that if al Qaeda had enough fissionables for a single nuke, they'd be working to use it immediately. They would not wait until they had as many as SR and Wretchard describe.

I cannot say that the 30-city scenario they describe is inconceivable but I do not find it remotely plausible. I don't believe that the resources are there, and I don't believe that it's the kind of plan al Qaeda would make even if the resources were there.

No terrorist group, or country, including the United States, has the ability to pull off the kind of attack Ms. Noonan envisions. In actuality, closing unneeded bases will allow us to redirect money towards more useful military endeavors and make us more prepared for the worst.

Republicans are worried about how to spin high gas prices, and they should be. Even though there isn't much the government can do to affect prices, the recent energy bill makes it look like they aren't even trying; plus, the public wants results from the party in power, not excuses. So what should the Republicans do? Why not take Larry Kudlow's perspective and point out that high oil prices will lead to technological advances, new production, and conservation.

Permit me to take a contrarian view on the oil price shock. I say three cheers for higher energy prices. Why? Because I believe in markets. When the price of something goes up, demand falls off (call it conservation) and supply increases (call it new production). We're seeing a tectonic shift.

As Dan Yergin has advised us, energy supplies in the next few years will explode. Now the public is even favoring nuclear power. And the government is stepping out of the way by giving FERC the authority to override localities who oppose nuclear power, liquefied natural gas or other forms of energy. ...

So supply will rise exponentially in the years ahead, demand will slow a bit and we'll all live happily ever after. The moral of this story: markets work if you let them.

Environmentalists should be ecstatic, and Republicans should point out that high prices are the best possible incentive for innovation. Long-time readers may remember that I've been making the same argument for years as I've written about the myth of depletion.

(HT: Instapundit, who thinks the Bush Administration agrees with Kudlow.)

What do the flags headlining Drudge mean?

(Sorry to steal your bandwidth, Mr. Drudge, but I can't post pictures at the moment.)

Last month I posted about a cheap real estate agency called CataList Homes (who should start paying me an advertising fee for all these mentions!) and wrote that it's about time someone developed a new model for buying and selling real estate. Real estate prices keep skyrocketing, but the percentage pocketed by agents has stayed the same 6% for ages, which means agents are making vastly more money for the same amount of work -- or less work, considering how quickly many homes in Southern California are selling these days. Using the internet for price comparisons and research, it's unbelievable to me that anyone is willing to pay an agent $30,000 for at most 40 hours of work to transact a $500,000 home. If agent fees weren't generally rolled into mortgages and nearly invisible to buyers and sellers, I doubt anyone would stand for it.

In addition to CataList, an entrepreneur named Brian Hickey has created a company named Xchange Properties that specializes in trading teardown homes at greatly reduced commissions. The article describes the teardown trend in Chicago, but the situation is similar in Los Angeles, and probably other places where the land under the house has become several times more valuable than the structure itself.

THE Hinsdale suburb of Chicago is often referred to as the epicenter of the teardown trend. Builders have been demolishing the affluent village's early post-World War II housing since 1985. For some time, Hinsdale has averaged close to 100 property demolitions a year, according to Bohdan J. Proczko, the village manager.

For Brian Hickey, the proliferation of orange fencing cordoning off properties under demolition heralded a new type of real estate market. A former securities trader, Mr. Hickey envisioned a separate property exchange where sellers could market their properties directly to builders without having to pay a full sales commission or go through the charade of house showings.

Hence the creation of Xchange Properties, a real estate company specializing solely in teardowns. Xchange maintains a database of about 3,000 potential buyers who have registered for exclusive access to listings. About half of those buyers are builders, Mr. Hickey said, while the rest are primarily real estate agents and individuals.

Best of all, Xchange bypasses the traditional real estate establishment.

Xchange operates outside traditional real estate channels. The company does not cooperate with multiple listing services and sets its sales commission at 2 percent, far below the typical 6 percent charged by most agents and brokers. All Xchange listings are sold "as is." Information is sent electronically to registered buyers according to their specifications. Since opening, Xchange has listed about a third of Hinsdale's teardowns every year, for a total of 223 sales. Xchange now has 48 active listings in Illinois and 24 pending sales.

I can't wait for them to come to Los Angeles. Chopping 4% off the price of real estate transactions would greatly reduce the risk of investing in property.

I'd never heard of this questionable claim, but apparently some people believe that David Rice Atchison actually was President of the United States for one day.

Whatever his other accomplishments as a lawyer and statesman, David Rice Atchison will always be known as the guy who was President of the United States for just one day.

He served as a US senator from 1843 to 1855. As president pro tem of the Senate in 1849, Atchison was shoved into the highest office in the land in a constitutional cusp between James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, because Polk's term ended on a Sunday at noon, and Taylor's inauguration wasn't until the next day.

Wikipedia attempts to debunk this claim, but I don't think it's successful.

While it is true that the offices of President and Vice President were vacant, Atchison in fact was not next in line. While the terms of James K. Polk and Vice President George Mifflin Dallas expired at noon on March 4, Atchison's tenure as President Pro Tempore did as well. He also never took the oath of office, although there is no constitutional requirement, then or now, for an Acting President to do so. No disability or lack of qualification prevented Taylor and Fillmore from taking office, and as they had been duly certified as President-elect and Vice-President elect, if Taylor was not President because he had not been sworn in as such, then Atchison, who hadn't been sworn in either, certainly wasn't.

That's somewhat confusing, but it appears that Wikipedia argument is that Atchison didn't take an oath, either to remain Senate President Pro Tempore or to assume the Presidency, and that if an oath was required for Taylor to be president, then an oath would have been required for Atchison as well. The Constitution does require that the President take an oath of office (Article II, Section 1):

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--``I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.''

However, before the 25th Amendment was passed, a preceding paragraph allowed that "the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death,
Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President", and at the time the law provided that the Senate President Pro Tempore was next in line; the law didn't mention an oath requirement. Atchison's term as President Pro Tempore expired at the same time as Polk's presidency, but seeing as how he immediately continued in the office it seems logical to conclude that there was no legal break; he didn't take the oath as Senate Pro Tempore again until the next day, but the Constitution doesn't require an oath for that office. Therefore, Atchison's oath deficiency need not have prevented him from being Senate President Pro Tempore, and consequently President.

Anyway, it appears that even if Mr. Atchison was president for a day, he spent it asleep in bed.

Snopes has more reasons Atchison shouldn't be considered to have been president, and they're all basically as convincing as you want them to be. They also make the mistake, though, of assuming that a person becoming president based on the provision of Congress would have to take an oath. However, they do rightfully point out that the Constitution only says that the person selected by law only acts as president, but doesn't necessarily become president.

Furthermore, the US Senate website dismisses the Atchison presidency -- though with an off-handed "of course" that seems unjustified to me.

James Taranto yesterday lambasted Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but did so by creating a rather tenuous moral connection between assassination and abortion.

We agree that Chavez is a menace, but give us a break. Religious conservatives argue (to take an example) that embryonic stem-cell research is wrong because the sanctity of nascent life is absolute and thus outweighs any possible benefits. But Robertson is willing to countenance assassination because it is "easier" and "cheaper" than other ways of bringing about a desired outcome? It goes to show that one can be religious without being morally serious.

That's basically the same non sequitur used to try to link abortion with the death penalty. Despite Mr. Taranto's assumption, most religious conservatives make clear distinctions between killing the innocent, killing the guilty, and killing the dangerous or threatening. I'm not saying I think we should assassinate anyone in particular, but if war against Venezuela were justified (which I have no opinion on, being uninformed about the matter), then assassinating Hugo Chavez, if his death alone would resolve the matter, would be a far better solution than ground combat. If we can kill soldiers, why should the lives of leaders be sacrosanct? Presidents aren't civilians in the traditional sense, because they have ultimate command authority over the military.

Francis W. Porretto says Chavez has earned a dirt nap:

Someone should thoroughly ventilate Hugo Chavez, without delay. Indeed, when I was young and hale, I would have volunteered to do it. The Venezuelan people are among the best folk in Latin America; they deserve to be free.

There appears to be some new controversy over whether or not unborn babies feel pain, and when. From the article:

A review of medical evidence has found that fetuses likely don't feel pain until the final months of pregnancy, a powerful challenge to abortion opponents who hope that discussions about fetal pain will make women think twice about ending pregnancies.

Critics angrily disputed the findings and claimed the report is biased.

"They have literally [literally? -- MW] stuck their hands into a hornet's nest," said Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a fetal pain researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who believes fetuses as young as 20 weeks old feel pain. "This is going to inflame a lot of scientists who are very, very concerned and are far more knowledgeable in this area than the authors appear to be. This is not the last word _ definitely not."

As I pointed out two years ago, it doesn't matter if unborn babies feel pain.

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

No matter what you think about abortion, the presence or absence of pain is irrelevant.

I just read, and can hardly believe, that the Nation of Islam believes that "Allah" is an acronym that stands for... Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm, Head. That's... awesome.

Clayton Cramer gives a touching account of his father-in-law's death-bed conversion upon the realization that most of the things he held dear in life were wasted and worthless.

My father-in-law, like a lot of his generation, had never been a churchgoer. His pride prevented him from acknowledging that there was anything more important than himself. A couple of weeks before he died, my wife was visiting with him, and he said, "You know, I've never made fun of your religion, although I never had much need for it. But now I'm confronting the unknown, and I'm really scared." They prayed for a personal relationship with God--and a few days later, his stepson Brad did likewise with Richard.

By the time Richard died at age 74, he had lost everything in which he took pride: his independence; his athletic prowess; his illusion of being charge of his life. Only in the last few weeks, as everything was stripped away from Richard--his dignity, even the ability to get himself a drink of water--did he start to see that he was going to leave the world as he came into it, completely helpless, dependent on others.

There's a popular Christian song right now that talks about how some day, every knee shall bow before the Lord--but the greatest reward is for those who worship him now. Richard could have had a vastly more rewarding and satisfying life--but his pride got in the way. What a waste.

Jesus Christ's life and death were the ultimate expression of humility, and God promises that ironically, despite human pride, no one will ever be exalted above his Son.

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Verse 6 is particularly stirring: it was originally, and still is, man's desire to be like God that creates the most treacherous stumbling block that hinders our relationship with our Creator.

In 2003 I wrote a post denouncing the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the "same" God, and at the time I wasn't even aware that it's apparently the Catholic Church's official position that the opposite is true. In 1965, Pope Paul IV issued Declaration Nostra Aetate in which he taught:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Fascinating, and terribly misguided. As I wrote two years ago,

It's true that as a monotheist I believe there is only one God, but it doesn't follow that anyone else who is also a monotheist worships the same God I do; the alternative is that they don't worship God at all, but rather a construct of their own imagination. For example, someone who woships a rock or a tree and claims it is the one and only "god" may also be a monotheist, but the characteristics of their "god" are entirely different from the characteristics of mine; we may both be monotheists, but at least one of us is wrong in believing that our god is the one and only.

Similarly with Muslims and Christians. Both are monotheists, but the two concepts of "god" are so completely divergent that they cannot both be true, and both "gods" cannot exist as conceived. At least one of the religions is wrong (and both think it's the other guys', whereas unbelievers think it's both).

Typically, only unbelievers (and functional unbelievers) are willing to make the claim that Jehovah and Allah are "the same". Why? Because they don't believe in either, and it's convenient and "enlightened" to lump everyone together. Why quibble about differences between two imaginary beings?

I've got a lot of Catholic readers, what say you? Am I missing something?

(HT: Belmont Club.)

I wrote a post on this same topic a while ago, but I can't find it. I tried to explain my thinking to my fiancee last night, but I don't think I came across very clearly. Fortunately Mark Steyn is able to articulate the our shared reaction to the left's continual infantilization of our soldiers. They key point to understand is that, to the left, being a victim is the absolute pinnacle of social stature; by casting our brave troops as victims the left thinks they're elevating them, when in reality they're denigrating everything our soldiers believe in.

Cindy Sheehan's son Casey died in Sadr City last year, and that fact is supposed to put her beyond reproach. For as the New York Times' Maureen Dowd informed us: ''The moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute." ...

They're not children in Iraq; they're grown-ups who made their own decision to join the military. That seems to be difficult for the left to grasp. Ever since America's all-adult, all-volunteer army went into Iraq, the anti-war crowd have made a sustained effort to characterize them as "children." If a 13-year-old wants to have an abortion, that's her decision and her parents shouldn't get a look-in. If a 21-year-old wants to drop to the broadloom in Bill Clinton's Oval Office, she's a grown woman and free to do what she wants. But, if a 22- or 25- or 37-year-old is serving his country overseas, he's a wee "child" who isn't really old enough to know what he's doing. ...

The infantilization of the military promoted by the left is deeply insulting to America's warriors but it suits the anti-war crowd's purposes. It enables them to drone ceaselessly that "of course" they "support our troops," because they want to stop these poor confused moppets from being exploited by the Bush war machine. ...

Casey Sheehan was a 21-year old man when he enlisted in 2000. He re-enlisted for a second tour, and he died after volunteering for a rescue mission in Sadr City. Mrs. Sheehan says she wishes she'd driven him to Canada, though that's not what he would have wished, and it was his decision.

(HT: Power Line Blog.)

Despite my disgust for actor-vist Sean Penn, I feel like I'm performing a mild public service by periodically pointing out his absurd, America-hating drivel to fans and consumers of his work. When you watch his movies, this is the anti-American vacation you're funding:

It's the week preceding presidential elections. Candidates attack one another's credibility. Activists push to boycott the vote. Traffic and pollution choke the cities. Leftists support a no-win idealist. Preachers guide their flocks toward political starboard. The media have fallen under the grip of standing power, and should they defy it, they're imprisoned. University students promote human rights, while fundamentalists deny them. It is a culture in love with cinema. With Brad Pitt. Angelina Jolie. And anything Steven Spielberg. It is a nation of nuclear power, where the lobbies of the religious right effectively blur the lines between church and state. But it is also a country of good and hospitable people. And when the local team wins a big match, there is dancing, kissing, drinking and drugs in the streets. Women are graduating the campuses in higher and higher numbers, occupying government in higher and higher numbers. Sound familiar?

It's Amerikkka, right?

But wait. The women. Look at the women. All is not well. I'm thinking about the women. This is Iran.

Oh! Gosh, you almost had me fooled, what with all the recent behandings around here, and the opposition politicians being thrown out of office and into jail, newspapers shut down, elections cancelled, fatwas issued, and whatnot. America and Iran are practically indistinguishable! The real danger is that fundamentalist Christians in America might start making women wear burkhas at any moment.

Meanwhile, in Sean Penn fasntasyland (a.k.a., California), the application of an upstanding, law-abiding citizen (a.k.a., me) for a permit to carry a concealed weapon is continually denied, while that of a violent drunkard (a.k.a. Sean Penn) is granted.

In particular, some of the alleged quotes by Penn on his violent past are enough to give one pause:

"I hate journalists. Or better. I hate paparazzi. Yeah, I punched them out and I'll do it again if it's necessary. I think a fist in their face is the only way to protect my private life. I demand my freedom. And I must have it."

"Family makes me feel there's a reason I'm alive... I'm feeling my life, which I didn't always do partly because I'd be drunk a lot."

Of even more concern is an alleged timeline of Penn's criminal past, as compiled via public sources online:

In 1985, Sean Penn was arrested in Nashville for assault and battery for attacking two photographers with a rock. He plead guilty, paid a fine and was given a suspended sentence.

In 1986, Penn slugged a man he accused of trying to kiss his wife. Again he plead guilty and was placed on parole.

In 1997, while on parole for his previous conviction, he punched an extra working on his film "Colors" who tried to take a picture of him. He served half of a 60-day jail sentence for parole violation.

In 1998, Penn was accused of hitting a photographer with a rock. Penn claimed the photographer attacked the rock in Penn's hand with his head and injured himself. No arrest was made.

Gosh, I wish Sean Penn would write an article to explain this conundrum.

Here's a little more about Sean Penn's CCW. I'd be willing to go through the same process!

He [Sean Penn] even had a private security firm review all the crank calls and letters and give him "threat assessments."

Most were nothing, but one former employee was rated as being "in the worst category of pursuers," according to a report submitted by Penn's security outfit to Ross police.

The man -- who according to the threat assessors was trained in martial arts and had prior arrests for possessing a concealed weapon -- repeatedly tried contacting Penn after he was fired.

Penn admitted to using marijuana 20 years ago and had a couple of arrests for assault and driving recklessly, factors that could have disqualified him for a permit for carrying a concealed weapon. In this case, however, Penn got FBI and state Department of Justice clearance and completed firearms training early last year.

How many movies to have I have to star in to get the FBI and the California Department of Justice to do a special background check on me? I hope they can be ready to come over as soon as my personal private investigation team finishes assessing the threat-levels of all the ninjas and pirates who are stalking me.

Unfortunately, last time I applied for a CCW the FBI and the DOJ didn't seem to be interested, and the Hawthorne Police Department basically threw my application straight into the trash.

Not a lot of weekend action to report. I installed a security gate on my back door on Saturday, thereby vastly enhancing the safety of my castle by adding yet another line of defense. Today was my church's annual Baptism at the Beach, and we baptised 20 people, which was pretty sweet. There was a sand castle building competition and my small group won handily. I had been planning to bring shovels and heavy equipment to assist the effort, but I forgot -- I've been forgetting a lot of things recently. Maybe I'm getting senile? I'm juggling a lot, what with the wedding and all, so maybe that's it.

Anyway, there isn't much news is there? The Gaza pull-out makes me sad. What does it say about the Palestinians that both they and the Israelis agree that the ex-settlers' abandoned homes need to be demolished before the pull-out is complete to prevent the Palestinians from fighting and killing over the structures? And, of course, to prevent the walled compounds from becoming terrost fortresses.

Cindy Sheehan is finally out of the news. Best wishes to her and her mom. I hope this is the last we hear of her, and I suspect it will be since August is winding down and there's a confirmation battle to be fought, if for no other reason than to satisfy the lobbyists.

Otherwise... the weekend felt nice and long. See you all tomorrow!

Meghan Cox Gurdon has an insightful article about the shallow vapidness of girls' magazines that should serve as a reminder to parents with daughters that they need to be aware of what their children are consuming.

Last summer a polite, articulate 11-year-old friend of my daughter's went off eagerly to a week of summer nature camp--and found herself ridiculed and ostracized for what the other children considered her peculiar manner of speech. "She was mocked," the girl's parents recounted, "for speaking in complete sentences."

I had largely forgotten this sad little anecdote until I happened on an online edition of Girls Life Magazine. "Girls Life?" thought I, all innocence. "Why, that must have something to do with the Girl Scouts." An image of wholesome do-goodery, of scrubbed cheeks and Norman Rockwell freshness, rose obediently in my mind--only to sink instantly under a deluge of inane headlines: "Too cute suits!" "Guys, Life, Friends, Body: Real Advice Just for You." "Wanna sound off about GL mag?" "Win FREE stuff! Feelin' lucky? Enter now!"

She goes on to write about how the vast majority of teen girl culture is focused on sex and sexuality.

Teen People asks, "How Sexy Are You?" and "Gotta Hottie Next Door?" Cosmo Girl hosts a "Battle of the Boys: Who's the Hottest?" and Bop magazine online offers a male-as-sex-object game called Frankenboy: "Build your dream boy and e-mail him to a friend!"

But magazines are only a part of it. Watch television aimed at the young and it is difficult to escape the disquieting sense that too much children's programming exists to--well, program children. Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel teach children through precept and relentless example how to preen, how to diss and how, if d''ark-skinned, to talk Ebonics. Virtually every girl sashays in heels, miniskirts and lipgloss; virtually every adult is an easily outsmarted villain or an eyeroll-worthy chump.

The last part there is particularly disturbing, and it's one of the reasons I enjoy the Harry Potter books more than typical children's stories. If kids grow up thinking adults are a bunch of malicious suckers they're going to have a very difficult comprehending the real world. In real life, when an 18-year-old is first faced with a 50-year-old boss at a "real job", he's probably going to nosedive if he assumes the old fogey is a clueless, hapless, know-nothing jester like the a-dolts portrayed on kids' television shows.

Finally, Mrs. Gurdon says that teen boy fare isn't so innane:

It is worth mentioning that this awfulness applies chiefly to girl-consumers. Boy's Life, the magazine for Cub and Boy Scouts (and published by the Boy Scouts of America), is fully of goofy jokes, puzzles, jazzy photos of boys swooshing on surfboards or white-water rafting--even a Bible Heroes comic strip--but there is not a girl to be seen, or alluded to, except a few little-sister-types in the ads. But then, lip gloss, hip inarticulateness and sashaying in heels don't really have male counterparts. So perhaps there is no consumer demand.

I don't know... I never could tolerate kids' magazines, even when I was a kid. Hopefully my children will grow up consuming PG-rated adult media.

As my long-time readers are no doubt aware, I'm an incredibly hilarious and humble man, and even more-so in person. It's not something that I think about often, but a recent comment by Ellis to an earlier post of mine about why women aren't funny makes me think that I should stop taking my own sense of humor for granted. He wrote:

Well, I have to say, from reading the above comments, that I must be a woman. Perhaps I'm in the silent minority here, but I've never had a niche for being clever. Yes, I've tried and usually fail miserably. That, in and of itself, doesn't bother me - what does, is how much -emphasis- is placed on a man being funny in Western society.

Throughout my life, at the young age of 35, I've found time and time again that you can be successful, wealthy, poor, nice, polite, ok looking - none of it matters if you can't crack a joke.

I guess, to me, if I wanted to be a comedian, I would've been one. Personally, I meet too many people who think they're funny but don't realise that they're not. Especially when the humour relies on belittling other people.

I've met a lot of people who think they're funny but aren't, and I've met a lot of people who desperately dislike their physical appearance and believe it's held them back, but I don't think I've ever met anyone who knows they aren't funny and thinks their lack of humor has had a detrimental effect on their life. Is this a common shortcoming that people -- or men in particular -- struggle with?

What a great way to waste time, especially for someone who enjoys clever, efficiency-enhancing tricks as much as I do: life hack archive on Lifehacker. I just relaced my shoes with an improved lacing scheme that won't corrugate my eyelets!

Reader JV sends along a couple of tips for in the bedroom that should come in particularly handy since I'm getting married in a couple of months. First up, "Group Theory in the Bedroom -- the mathematics of mattress flipping.

Having run out of sheep the other night, I found myself counting the ways to flip a mattress. Earlier that day I had flipped the very mattress on which I was not sleeping, and the chore had left a residue of puzzled discontent. If you're going to bother at all with such a fussbudget bit of housekeeping, it seems like you ought to do it right, rotating the mattress to a different position each time, so as to pound down the lumps and fill in the sags on all the various surfaces. The trouble is, in the long interval between flips I always forget which way I flipped it last time. Lying awake that night, I was turning the problem over in my head, searching for a golden rule of mattress flipping.

The perfect article for someone who loves math but likes lying in bed even more!

Secondly, from Target of Australia, how to fold a fitted sheet perfectly every time. I actually discovered this method on my own because I'm a genius, but I'm sure it'll come in handy for people with less advanced skills under the sheets. The secret is to gently position the sheet into the proper position and then give it a nice hard tuck.

(HT: GeekPress and Lifehacker.)

Peggy Noonan has an interesting article in which she explains why she finds the public chumminess of ex-Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton creepy. After describing the benefits enjoyed by Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush because of the association of their husband and father respectively, Ms. Noonan writes that the exaggerated friendship is disrespectful to all the hard workers who really do care about the issues at hand.

What bothers me about the fervid friendship of the Bushes and Mr. Clinton--and the media celebration of it--is the faint whiff of superiority, a sense they radiate that all those slightly icky little people running around wailing about issues--tax reform, the relation of the individual to the state, the necessary character of a president--and working the precincts are somehow . . . a little below them. There is an air of condescension toward that grubby thing, belief. Those who hold it are not elevated, don't quite fit into the high-minded nonpartisan brotherhood. When in fact the people doing the day-to-day work of democracy, and who are in it because they are impelled by deep belief and philosophy, are actually not below them at all, and perhaps above them. Not that they're on the cover of People hugging, but at least they're serious.

It is the suggestion, or the suspicion, that these men have grown close because they are not serious, were never quite serious, that grates. That makes one wonder. That leaves some Republicans, and I have to assume more than a few Democrats, scratching their heads when they see Newt smiling with Hillary, and John McCain giggling with Hillary. It leaves you wondering: Why are these people laughing?

I largely agree. If it's just "my team" against "your team", with nothing more at stake than a trophy and bragging rights, then of course we should leave the game on the field and be friends after the competition is over. But when real, substantial, life-or-death matters hang in the balance, should they be so easily set aside for the sake of comity? As Ms. Noonan indicates, maybe this attitude reveals that politics isn't more than a game for some of our leaders.

Reading the LA Times article about Snoop Dogg's youth football league gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, the organizers of the long-standing league his new league is displacing are sad that the rapper's glitz and glamor are stealing their thunder, but on the other hand Snoop really is providing a more competitive league at a lower cost, so it's no surprise he's "stealing" players in droves.

Snoop rocked the youth football world two years ago when he volunteered as a Rowland Raiders "daddy coach," and then again last month when he broke from the franchise to start his own conference. The Raiders aren't the only team in the Orange County Junior All-American Football Conference to feel the screws; Long Beach and Compton teams, also in competition with Snoop's new league, report similar hemorrhaging. ...

The league fees also bothered Snoop; $175 per child for the Rowland Raiders program (other league chapters charge more) precludes poor families from participating, he says, and those families have trouble driving their children to distant fields for away games. ...

After the season, top players in the Orange County conference received phone calls asking them to join the Snoop Youth Football League, which has no pesky residence requirements and cheaper rates — $100 for the first child in a family, half price for any others, incidentals like cleats and pads included.

Many families and even some coaches hopped aboard, while chapter loyalists wondered aloud if last season's pageantry had been orchestrated to "steal our kids."

"I think what [Snoop] did is just so shallow," says Sandy Gonzales, a sales executive who has two boys on Rowland Raiders football squads and a girl in cheerleading. "He came here just so that he could take away from us what we'd taken many years to establish."

Youth sports leagues compete to provide their players and families the most fun experience possible at the most reasonable price. It's understandable that a longstanding organization dislikes facing competition, but it's clear that players should be free to join any league they want to. If Snoop is subsidizing his organization with his own vast fortune it may not be possible for the oldsters to keep up, in which case they'll lose. Is it "fair"? Well, yes, since the only alternative is to somehow regulate the amount of money Snoop Dogg is allowed to give away.

Is "Jew couple" a racial slur?

The bill was a shocker, and not because of the amount. After eating at a Jersey shore restaurant, Elliott Stein and his girlfriend were handed a bill that said "Jew Couple" near the bottom, as a table identifier used by the waitstaff. The slur also turned up on Stein's credit card statement weeks later.

It may be inappropriate or rude to identify someone by their religion or race (as if the bill had said "black couple" or "white couple"), but does such usage really count as a "slur"? Noted Jew and law professor Eugene Volokh doesn't think so.

Why do some people think that it's more polite to say "Jewish people" than "Jews"? I've heard some people say that "Jews" is somehow considered rude, and "Jewish people" is better, but I just don't see why.

Does anyone know the story here? People don't generally say "black people," "Catholic people," or "female people." Why should they call us "Jewish people" rather than just "Jews"? I don't quite get it.

(I'm not saying that "Jewish people" is wrong -- if you want to say that, it's fine with me, though it will sound affected to me and people who think like me, at least until we're persuaded that "Jews" is somehow bad.)

Professor Volokh has emailed me to clarify that (as Xrlq also says in the comments) "Jewish people" is not generally seen as an insult, but "Jew people" usually is.

Manuel Miranda -- a columnist I've quickly come to enjoy -- has an article today about the problems that might be created by a Bush administration more interested in running up the score than in changing the judicial landscape for the long term.

Conservatives' greatest fear is that the White House is not thinking ahead to the next nomination and that the conduct of the Roberts fight will limit the President in his next pick. On Aug. 8, the Washington Post's Mike Allen riled up conservatives with this: "Some Republican strategists said they have calculated that support for Roberts among Republican senators is locked down and that Roberts' supporters want to try to attract Democrats by packaging him as more centrist and less doctrinaire than had originally been assumed." Yikes.

Whatever Senate liberals and their can't-everyone-get-along friends in the media may say, the Constitution defines a consensus nominee as someone who gets 51 votes in the Senate, or just to be filibuster-safe, let's say 60. A GOP groupthink that aims to get much more than that imperils this president's freedom. It may prevent him from nominating someone like a long-tenured circuit-court judge with a judicial record.

Political campaigners understandably define victory by the greatest number of votes obtained. In this case, that would be a mistake. Statecraft must be more farsighted. Each additional Democrat vote obtained for Judge Roberts by "message" pandering, has a higher marginal cost to President Bush's freedom in the next Supreme Court nomination.

Emphasis mine. Rather than try for 100 votes, 49 of which don't matter, I wish the administration would spend time defending the controversial positions John Roberts has taken and explaining why those positions are the correct ones.

Eugene Volokh has an intriguing post about unreliable assurances, with examples that speak for themselves.

I'm looking for examples where (1) the opponents of some proposed law, constitutional amendment, or judicial decision argued "this action will be interpreted in this particular bad way" or "this action will set a precedent that will be used to reach this particular bad result," (2) the supporters assured the public that no, of course this won't happen, and (3) some time down the line — preferably no more than 50 years, just to avoid especially hard questions of causation — the foretold result did take place, despite the supporters' reassurances.

The examples he cites, and many others, explain why libertarians are so wary of even tiny baby steps towards rights restrictions -- the so-called "slipperly slope" argument. Professor Volokh's post is particularly interesting because he's often a harsh critic of slippery slope arguments, rightly pointing out that slopes often can be avoided. However, as these examples demonstrate, they often are not.

This fear of a slippery slope is why I oppose gun registration laws -- registration is a clear first step towards a ban and confiscation. Registration is how, gasp, the Nazis and Communists began disarming their subject people. Likewise, I'm sympathetic to those who oppose greater police power designed to combat terrorism even though, yes, the power can and will be misused at some time. I've tried to account for that inevitable occasional misuse, however, in my decision to support some controversial laws, such as the Patriot Act.

It seems like Bill Clinton might end up being best remembered for two things: being the second president to be impeached, and doing nothing. He presided over a rising economy and did nothing to thwart it (and certainly nothing to cause it), and he did nothing to thwart the ascension of worldwide terror, particularly terror aimed at America. Drudge links to two New York Times articles from today that highlight exactly what the Clinton administration didn't do to prevent 9/11. The first article is about Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Able Danger's failed attempts to share information with the FBI.

A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly.

The officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said military lawyers later blocked the team from sharing any of its information with the bureau.

Colonel Shaffer said in an interview on Monday night that the small, highly classified intelligence program, known as Able Danger, had identified the terrorist ringleader, Mohamed Atta, and three other future hijackers by name by mid-2000, and tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the Washington field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share its information.

But he said military lawyers forced members of the intelligence program to cancel three scheduled meetings with the F.B.I. at the last minute, which left the bureau without information that Colonel Shaffer said might have led to Mr. Atta and the other terrorists while the Sept. 11 attacks were still being planned. ...

He said he learned later that lawyers associated with the Special Operations Command of the Defense Department had canceled the F.B.I. meetings because they feared controversy if Able Danger was portrayed as a military operation that had violated the privacy of civilians who were legally in the United States.

Does fault lie with the military lawyers, or the administration more concerned with appeasing "civil liberties" groups than with protecting Americans? I'm all for civil liberties (being nearly a libertarian myself), but the line between freedom and safety has to be drawn somewhere. The second article is about ignored State Department warnings about Osama Bin Laden.

State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden's move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam "well beyond the Middle East," but the government chose not to deter the move, newly declassified documents show.

In what would prove a prescient warning, the State Department intelligence analysts said in a top-secret assessment on Mr. bin Laden that summer that "his prolonged stay in Afghanistan - where hundreds of 'Arab mujahedeen' receive terrorist training and key extremist leaders often congregate - could prove more dangerous to U.S. interests in the long run than his three-year liaison with Khartoum," in Sudan. ...

Critics of the Clinton administration have accused it of ignoring the threat posed by Mr. bin Laden in the mid-1990's while he was still in Sudan, and they point to claims by some Sudanese officials that they offered to turn him over to the Americans before ultimately expelling him in 1996 under international pressure. But Clinton administration diplomats have adamantly denied that they received such an offer, and the Sept. 11 commission concluded in one of its staff reports that it had "not found any reliable evidence to support the Sudanese claim."

The newly declassified documents do not directly address the question of whether Sudan ever offered to turn over Mr. bin Laden. But the documents go well beyond previous news and historical accounts in detailing the Clinton administration's active monitoring of Mr. bin Laden's movements and the realization that his move to Afghanistan could make him an even greater national security threat.

This isn't new news, but the revelations of these previously classified documents are yet more evidence of the Clinton administration's incompetence. If the Clinton administration had been less distracted by adultery, shipping children to Communist dictatorships, and incinerating religious weirdos, they could have prevented not only 9/11, but potentially the other dozen terrorist attacks against America in the 1990s that went essentially unanswered.

I've heard people criticize the Bible for not taking a harder line against slavery. The general defense that Christians make (and it's a good one) is that slavery was a fact of life in Biblical times; the Bible isn't a political treatise intended to reform temporal governments, but rather a spiritual treatise intended to bring all men and women into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Critics say that passages that mention slavery appear neutral towards the institution at best:

1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

As the passage makes clear, the point is that we should keep God's commands rather than worry so much about our earthly situation. Nevertheless, if a slave can gain freedom -- or a totalitarian dictatorship can gain democracy -- he should do it.

However, last week while preparing for my small group at church I did find one passage that explicitly condemns slavery:

1 Timothy 1:8-11

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

So here's a list of evil acts (a common thing to find in Paul's writings) with a member that isn't found elsewhere: slave trading, which presumably inclues slave owning.

Earlier this year I linked to a bit of software that generates random computer science papers, and now via Todd Zywicki I see that the authors have posted videos of their random presentations from a conference they held in the same hotel as WMSCI 2005 in Orlando. If you recall, the grad students (Jeremy Stribling, Max Krohn, and Dan Aguayo) submitted a randomly generated paper to the WMSCI 2005 conference and it was actually accepted, until the hoax was revealed and their invitation was withdrawn.

This gives me a lot of encouragement as I labor night and day on my own PhD dissertation....

Sukumar has done a random survey of blog listings from The Truth Laid Bear's Blog Ecosystem and found all sorts of irregularities, which shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone who's listed. He also complains that Technorati misses a lot of links, as everyone knows. Personally, I find Google's linkto functionality to be the most reliable way to count the incoming links to my site.

Michael Buerk's recent tirade against the rising tide of women seems a bit misplaced, largely because I tend to disagree with him on some essential points.

In an interview with The Radio Times, he cited the decline of the manual workforce as an example of the trend as well as the number of women in top jobs at the BBC and other media outlets.

It is true that as more jobs become less physical there will be more opportunities for women, but in a free business market I don't believe that men will be unable to compete successfully. However, since Mr. Buerk works and lives within a public-sector bureaucracy governed by political correctness, I'm sure his perception is quite different.

"Life is now being lived according to women's rules," he said. "The traits that have traditionally been associated with men - reticence, stoicism, single-mindedness - have been marginalised.

"The result is that men are becoming more like women. Look at the men who are being held up as sporting icons - David Beckham and, God forbid, Tim Henman."

I agree that men and women are acting more similar than they used to (according to what I've read), but if these changes are the result of a competition of ideas then it seems likely that the result will be more beneficial to society than the status quo ante.

He said: "Look at the changes in the workplace. There is no manufacturing industry any more; there are no mines; few vital jobs require physical strength.

"We have lots of jobs that require people skills and multi-tasking - which women are a lot better at."

Here I would certainly beg to differ. From my conversations with women who have worked for other women, such arrangements appear to generate more conflict then when a woman works for a man, when a man works for a man, or even when a man works for a woman -- part of why I'm apprehensive of a female president. Furthermore, research has shown that while women can multitask between simple tasks more easily than men, they can't focus their attention as closely and effectively on a single difficult task. There are advantages to both.

As for the root of Mr. Buerk's distress, the political correctness that's infused his country (and is even now threatening America), it can certainly be laid at the feet of women who, decades ago, when first coming into their power, attempted to remake the existing system according to their own sense of offensibility. This pendulum, at least, is swinging back the other way in America and political correctness is becoming a joke more than a serious consideration for most people in their daily lives. Our government is still affected, but as the boomers (of both genders) pass away the long-term damage will be mitigated.

Finally, Mr. Buerk needs to gather himself together and be a man. Quit complaining! Do you seriously think you can't compete with women on equal footing? You're not going to let a bunch of girls beat you, right?

For the libertarians out there, does the government have any business regulating when parents are allowed to select the gender of their children? I'm not that familiar with the techniques, but let's set the morality of abortion aside and assume that gender selection doesn't -- by anyone's definition -- kill any babies of the undesired gender. Since I don't know how gender selection techniques work, it may in fact be the case that no fertilized eggs are harmed in the process. If I had to guess, I'd say the most likely way to select the gender of a baby is to separate X and Y sperms and then discard the undesired flavor. No harm done.

So, from that perspective, does society as a whole (and thus the government) have an interest in limiting gender selection? Does society have an interest in preserving a particular gender ratio (probably 50/50)? If so, should we empower the government to limit gender selection? The debate is already taking place in the UK:

Sex selection is allowed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in order to avoid babies being born with sex links disorders such as haemophilia. But its use for family balancing was opposed by the fertility watchdog after a public consultation.

Now the Government has raised the issue again in its wide-ranging consultation on fertility legislation, which has not been updated for 15 years.

The consultation also asks if sex selection were more widely available, how many children of one gender should a couple already have before they are allowed to use screening techniques to try for a child of another gender.

Allowing gender selection for medical reasons seems to be a no-brainer to me, but what about for purely aesthetic considerations? I myself would like to have at least one child of each gender, so I can understand "family balancing" motivations. And if you allow family balancing (an arbitrary aesthetic) can you logically disallow parents with other reasons for preferring one gender over the other? If balancing is ok, why not economic concerns? Perhaps a poor family would prefer to have boys because they think boys are cheaper to raise. Perhaps another family wants girls to enter into those ridiculous child beauty pageants. Perhaps another family wants to alternate boy-girl-boy-girl, or whatever. The only way to allow some and not others is if society has some sort of gender-based interest, but does it? And if it does, do we want to officially recognize it?

In an earlier post I noted skewed gender ratios in Arab countries, and the CIA World Fack Book lists the following male:female ratios:

- 1.13:1 in Brunei
- 1.14:1 in Jordan
- 1.42:1 in Bahrain
- 1.51:1 in Oman
- 1.65:1 in the United Arab Emirates (!)
- 1.77:1 in Kuwait (!)
- 2.36:1 in Qatar (!!)

In those cultures male babies are valued more highly than female babies, who are often purposefully killed or allowed to die through neglect. The effect on their civilization of millions of adult men who have no potential to ever get married can only be imagined. As I wrote back then, no wonder they're so grumpy.

If only I had time to read Mark Steyn all day... or the ability to write like him. Alas. Anyway, his article from last week on "Democrats' new strategy: Almost winning" is rather hilarious.

"In nearly the biggest political upset in recent history, Democrat Paul Hackett came within just a few thousand votes of defeating Republican Jean Schmidt in Ohio's Second Congressional District."

Yes, indeed. It was "nearly the biggest political upset in recent history," which is another way of saying it was actually the smallest political non-upset in recent history. Hackett was like a fast-forward rerun of the Kerry campaign. He was a veteran of the Iraq war, but he was anti-war, but he made solemn dignified patriotic commercials featuring respectful footage of President Bush and artfully neglecting to mention the candidate was a Democrat, but in livelier campaign venues he dismissed Bush as a "sonofabitch" and a "chicken hawk" who was "un-American" for questioning his patriotism.

On the recent Bush-exercises-too-much meme:

Or as the DNC put it:

"While President Bush has made physical fitness a personal priority, his cuts to education funding have forced schools to roll back physical education classes and his administration's efforts to undermine Title IX sports programs have threatened thousands of women's college sports programs."

Wow. I noticed my gal had put on a few pounds but I had no idea it was Bush's fault. That sonofabitch chicken hawk. Just for the record, "his cuts to education funding" are cuts only in the sense that Hackett's performance in the Ohio election was a tremendous victory: that's to say, Bush's "cuts to education funding" are in fact an increase of roughly 50 percent in federal education funding.

Some of us wish he had cut education funding. By any rational measure, a good third of public school expenditures are completely wasted. But instead it's skyrocketed. And the idea that Bush is heartlessly pursuing an elite leisure activity denied to millions of American schoolchildren takes a bit of swallowing given that his preferred fitness activity is running. "Running" requires two things: you and ground. Short of buying every schoolkid some John Kerry thousand-dollar electric-yellow buttock-hugging lycra singlet, it's hard to see what there is about "running" that requires increasing federal funding.

And there's so much more, including a link between Air America and the UN's Oil-for-Palaces scheme.

Mr. Steyn also has a great article about Hillary running for President in 2008 titled "Last Man Standing" -- it's the second article on the page.

The New York Times has a great article about Rupert Murdoc and Hillary Clinton that gives some insight into both these characters. I have no idea how accurate the portrayal is, but it makes a fascinating read.

Mr. Murdoch has a history of backing and engaging political winners, most notably Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the Labor Party leader, even though Mr. Murdoch all but invented Thatcher-mania back in the 1980's. Because he has no romanticism for lost causes, The Post apparently will not try to maim Mrs. Clinton in a Senate race with Ms. Pirro that is beginning to seem over before it has begun. They still whack Ms. Clinton occasionally, but it is more on general principle - they do it to stay in shape - and not with the same glee as in the past.

Over the long haul, the Murdoch-Clinton détente cannot last. In its phenomenal success, Fox News has used institutional enmity of the Clintons as one of its guiding principals. But in the meantime, the fight between Ms. Pirro and Mrs. Clinton will help ratings and circulation numbers, and the prospect of a Clinton presidential candidacy will agitate and engage the News Corporation's core audiences.

I'm not sure if this article is an editorial or a news report or what; the page linked to by Drudge doesn't make it clear, or even list an author.

When I read these stupid stories about hundreds of "demonstrators" camping for weeks in Crawford, Texas, all I can wonder is: don't these people have jobs? How do they support themselves? Are they independently wealthy? Is some organization financing this operation? I'd love to go trapaising around the country waving signs about whatever nonsense crosses my mind, but I've got to work. The mere fact that these people can't find anything better to do than sit in the desert for a month should be enough to demonstrate that they're a pack of kooks who shouldn't be taken seriously.

John Clements has a nice long article about the differences between theatrical swordfighting and the real thing, with an eye on lightsaber fighting in particular.

After a colleague suggested I give a critical commentary regarding the martial value of lightsaber fights in Star Wars fan-films I reviewed about a dozen or so different scenes from the more serious efforts. They were nicely done, but for me the same nagging concerns kept appearing. With just a few small considerations I know these lightsaber fights could have been much, much better. That prompted me to write this short essay on the chance that some of my expertise might be of value to the many talented film-makers. As a non-choreographer, non-actor, and non-fight-director, I enjoy the privilege of being able to freely consider any swordfight in entertainment media exclusively from the point of view of “Would that really work”? Of course, as a swordsman/martial-artist, this invariably means being a critical observer and I make no apologies about that. ...

If the purpose of lightsaber fight choreography is simply to convey drama and excitement within the context of a story, then choreographers feel they've done their job well. But, from my point of view, if a lightsaber fight is supposed to convince the viewer that individuals of great skill are really trying to kill one another with laser swords while using supernatural powers that heighten their senses and physical abilities, well, they fail miserably.

As I see it, the problem with so many of the lightsaber fights in Star Wars fan films, and I am purposely being critical here in my scrutiny, is that there is no real sense of urgency and energy between the combatants. There is no broken rhythm or broken tempo and no sudden changes in the line of attack—they looked choreographed. Often it comes off not like a fight, but a dance routine they’ve done many times before. They lack the subtle sense of shifting balance and leverage and the dynamic hesitation that regularly occurs in strenuous swordplay. Instead, you invariably can see the fighters purposely, purposely, trying to hit one another’s weapons. In some cases, there are even minute pauses as one performer waits momentarily for their partner to catch up, or else slightly delays his own move just until the other is safely ready for it. I suspect that if instead of the cool special effects you were to replace them with plastic toy lightsabers, the problems with the scenes would really show up much more clearly.

And there's lots more. In short: the fighters don't look like they're actually trying to kill each other.

About a year ago I responded to a series of questions about blogging from Bryan Murley and Kim Smith, a pair of doctoral students at the University of South Carolina. A few days ago I received the final version of the paper they wrote titled "BLOGGERS STRIKE A NERVE: Examining the intersection of blogging and journalism" (PDF), which they also presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication convention in San Antonio. None of the results will be too surprising to bloggers, but you know how much I love statistics....

For instance, on page 5 they write:

In addition to affecting the culture of traditional journalism, bloggers may also be a force to be reckoned with economically. They have caught the attention of the newspaper industry, concerned about curbing a continuing decline in newspaper readership. The industry notes the threat bloggers may pose to that readership. A survey by Associated Press Managing Editors shows that 1 in 5 newspaper readers say they also read blogs (Pitts, 2004). Andy Rhinehart, new media director at the Spartanburg Herald Journal and in Spartanburg, S.C., worries that one day there will be more people going to a blog to read news than coming to his newspaper (personal interview, Oct. 10, 2004).

Some blogs already approach traditional news sources in the amount of readership. According to the blog tracker,, the Daily Kos blog gets an average 563,771 visits per day (Bear, 2004). The blog’s daily visitors are beginning to catch up with the March, 2004 daily circulation rate of 688,645 for the New York Times (New York Times, 2004).1

When you see numbers like that, it's hard not to bloggers seriously.

So what do you make of Cindy Sheehan, the woman camping outside Crawford, Texas, in an attempt to see President Bush again? I'd be a lot more sympathetic to her pleas if not for her antipodal reaction after her first meeting with the President.

"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."

The meeting didn't last long, but in their time with Bush, Cindy spoke about Casey and asked the president to make her son's sacrifice count for something. They also spoke of their faith. ...

The trip had one benefit that none of the Sheehans expected.

For a moment, life returned to the way it was before Casey died. They laughed, joked and bickered playfully as they briefly toured Seattle.

For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again.

"That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together," Cindy said.

So why the change of heart? Generally time helps heal wounds, so why is Mrs. Sheehan growing more and more bitter? Isn't it obvious that she's being exploited and manipulated by leftist political forces? Even if I agreed with her position, I'd find it hard to grant her much credibility.

(HT: James Taranto.)

I just saw The Phantom of the Opera for the first time, not being previously particularly familiar with the story. Gosh, it's depressing.

Sure, the Phantom had serious issues, but every other character acknowledged that his bloodlust was due to a lifetime of persecution because of his appearance. I'm generally the last to excuse anyone's behavior just because they endured harsh treatment at the hands of others, but at least within the context of the story it's pretty clear that the Phantom wouldn't have become a killer if not for the evil carnie who enslaved him. Recognizing that fact doesn't absolve him of responsibility for his other crimes, yet I'm utterly sympathetic to his plight.

Am I the only one who thought Raoul was annoying and useless? Why did Christine fall for him? The Phantom invested years of his life into training and helping her, and she utterly rejected him when she discovered he was ugly (and he freaked out). Sure, she said she hated him because of his soul, not his looks, but somehow that hate never manifested during the years she knew him only by his voice and not face to face.

The Phantom wasn't a good man, and he wasn't worthy of Christine's love, no matter how much he longed for it. That's why the Phantom is so tragic: he represents the fear we all feel inside... that someday the people we love will realize that we really aren't worthy. Just like the Phantom raved when his face was revealed, we all dread the day when our masks are torn away and our souls are revealed for all the world to see.

The Horatio Alger Association has released the results of its 2005 - 2006 "State of Our Nation's Youth" survey. It's 84 pages long, so I haven't had time to read it all, but there are some interesting statistics in it (and you know how much I love statistics).

For instance, page two reveals that high school students are severely deluded about the effectiveness of their education: 83% and 71% of students say that high school is preparing them for the expectations of college and the working world, respectively. If only they were right!

On page four, the parent breakdown is sad; of responding students:
- 90% live with their mom,
- 69% live with their dad,
- 61% live with both parents,
- 36% live with one parent.

When families fail, it's usually the father who abandons the kids.

The "One Wish" results are interesting also.
- 46% want more time with their family,
- 27% want more money to buy items such as televisions or cars,
- 14% want a bigger house,
- 7% want more time spent in spiritual pursuits.

There's a lot more, go dig in.

(HT: Nick.)

Almost two years ago I wrote about how abortion "rights" are more about money than freedom or women's health, and today Manuel Miranda has a great column in the WSJ today about how pro-abortion groups are opposing John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court to protect their profits.

Roe v. Wade is not just the source of a right; it's a business license for abortion clinics. This comes best into focus when we consider that in the next term the Supreme Court is likely to hear cases involving not the right to abortion but laws regulating parental consent and notice of abortions for minor girls. These are laws that, according to a Los Angeles Times poll, over 80% of Americans support.

In September 2002, when Democrats first blocked Justice Priscilla Owen from a circuit court nomination over a Texas Supreme Court ruling that upheld a parental notice law, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah put it this way:

I fear the opposition to Justice Owen from the abortion lobby is not at all about abortion rights, because abortion rights are not affected by a mere notice statute. The opposition to Justice Owen is not really about abortion rights, it is about abortion profits. Simply put, the abortion industry is opposed to parental notice laws because parental notice laws place a hurdle between them and the profits from the abortion clients--not the girls who come to them but the adult men who pay for these abortions. These adult men, whose average age rises the younger the girl is, are eager not to be disclosed to parents, sometimes living down the street. . . . At nearly one million abortions per year, the abortion industry is as big as any corporate interest that lobbies in Washington. They not only ignore the rights of parents, they also protect sexual offenders and statutory rapists.

As all good leftists know, corporations are about making money, and just about every time a corporation gets involved in politics its to enhance their bottom line. Abortion corporations are no exception. They profit from killing as many babies as possible, and any law or judge that would impede that goal is rightly seen as a threat.

It looks like at least 203 out of 319 funeral payments made by FEMA for hurricane deaths last year were fraudulent, and were for deaths totally unrelated to any hurricanes.

The federal government used hurricane aid money to pay funeral expenses for at least 203 Floridians whose deaths were not caused by last year's storms, the state's coroners have concluded.

The deaths include a Palm Beach Gardens millionaire recovering from heart surgery who died two days before Hurricane Frances; a Miami baby not yet born when the storm arrived; and a Port Charlotte man who died of cirrhosis and heart failure five months after Hurricane Charley.

In two other cases, coroners could find no record of the people dying.

"I can't begin to tell you what these people did to get some funding," said Rebecca Hamilton, medical examiner for Lee County, where hurricane funeral claims included a hospice patient and two people who died of cancer. "None of those cases were even remotely associated with any kind of a hurricane."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a total of 319 hurricane funeral claims in Florida for $1.3 million. But most of those people died from natural ailments, suicides or accidents unrelated to the storms, the coroners concluded.

Most. Most. And this is small-time fraud, only $1.3 million total. If you think the federal bureaucracy isn't absolutely rife with corruption then you're deluding yourself. The only solution is to drastically shrink the size and scope of the bureaucracy.

Wow, I totally predicted this a few weeks ago. "Imagine the outcry from the left if the terrorists started strapping bombs onto dogs!" I said. And now... terrorists are employing "canine bombs", and the left and their terrorist sympathizers are none-too-pleased.

Some Iraqis are horrified by the ethics of dragging the animal world into a human conflict.

"How can they use these lovely pets for criminal and murderous acts?" asked Rasha Khairir, 25, an employee of a Baghdad stock brokerage. "A poor dog can't refuse what they are doing with him because he can't think and decide."

Despite a common prejudice in the Muslim world against dogs, which are considered unclean, even the most virulent clerical opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq have decried the use of canines as proxies in the war.

Abdel Salam Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Assn., a hard-line Sunni Arab clerical organization sympathetic to insurgents, called the practice un-Islamic. "Our religion does not permit us to hurt animals," he said, "neither by using them as explosive devices nor in any other manner."

But apparently some terror groups aren't as concerned with the alleged teachings of Islam.

"Dogs have been used in many areas by insurgents throughout Iraq" to carry explosive devices, said Noori Noori, inspector-general at the Interior Ministry. "They used mentally retarded people for operations during the elections, so why wouldn't they use animals?"

Last year in Ramadi, in the vast desert west of the capital, insurgents dispatched a booby-trapped donkey toward a U.S.-run checkpoint around sunset. "As one of the soldiers tried to stop it, the donkey exploded," said resident Mohammed Yas, 45. The only casualty was the donkey.

Too bad the "hardline clerics" -- i.e., terrorists who make others carry the bombs -- aren't as concerned about human life as they are about the lives of dogs. I'm just waiting for PETA to chime in; oh please, please let them say something condemning the use of dogs as weapons.

My brother, far more knowledgable about Japanese politics than I am, says that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's move to dissolve Japan's Lower House and call for new elections is a huge political risk that could ensure his Liberal Democratic Party's dominance for the next decade, or destroy them. What's the driving issue? Postal deregulation, just like I wrote about a few days ago. Says the Asahi article:

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the Lower House and called a snap election Monday after the Upper House dealt him a crushing blow by rejecting his package of postal privatization bills. ...

Koizumi told a meeting of LDP leaders right after the bills were voted down: "I will smash the old LDP and create a new one. I will not join hands with the old LDP. The party will not endorse as LDP candidates anyone who voted against the bills. If the LDP wins in the Lower House election, then those Upper House lawmakers will realize they were wrong."

Koizumi told a news conference Monday night, "I want to ask the voters if they think postal privatization is needed, even though the Upper House voted the bills down."

Koizumi also made waves by being the first Japanese leader since, I suppose, Emperor Hirohito to deploy Japanese military forces outside the country to help the Coalition in Iraq. That, plus his deregulation scheme, makes me root for him, though I know little else about him or his politics.

Some of the most amusing comments I get are the ones like the last one on this page by "endO":

As a Christian myself, I CANNOT see how any true Christian can justify or support war (particularly an illegal one!)

I assume endO is talking about the Global War on Terror, or perhaps the liberation of Iraq more specifically. If he, or anyone, is actually interested in how and why I justify and support America's involvement in these conflicts, he should simply read through the numerous posts I've written on the topic.

The only reason I can think of for him to preface his position with "as a Christian myself" is that he wants to bypass and ignore all my written arguments on the matter -- which he probably hasn't bothered to read -- and morph the issue into a question of being a "true Christian". He himself is naturally a "true Christian", and since he "CANNOT see" any way to justify the war that I support, I must not be a "true Christian".

As for myself, I can see plenty of reasons why people I would consider to be true Christians would not support the Global War on Terror -- after all, there are plenty of stupid Christians. Just kidding. Anyway, even if it were the case that "true Christianity" compelled a person to take a certain position on the GWoT, I don't think that argument would be useful for convincing anyone to change their mind. All such an argument does is obscure the real area of disagreement: what characteristics of the GWoT compel such a belief? I think very few pairs of people could agree about all the characteristics of the GWoT and then come to different conclusions as to whether or not to support it. Why? Because in the vast majority of cases the decision to support or denounce the GWoT preceded an understanding of the evidence, and the decision actually determines which evidence will be accepted and which evidence will be rejected.

Interestingly, most people make decisions about spiritual matters the same way: first they decide, then they look at evidence, then they adjust the evidence to fit their decision.

Work is insane at the moment. For anyone interested in computational mathematics, I highly recommend Cambridge University Press's Numerical Recipes in C online. The book is normally $75-ish, but now it's available for free in PDF format. Very handy.

Despite supporting jury nullification in my earlier posts, the absurd level of misconduct by the Michael Jackson jury gives me second thoughts.

LOS ANGELES - Jury deliberations in Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial were allegedly tainted by shocking misconduct that included smuggling in videotaped Court TV shows and secretly communicating with the pop star's mother, the Daily News has learned. ...

# A juror sneaked a forbidden video of Court TV broadcasts featuring the prosecution-friendly Diane Dimond and Nancy Grace into the jury room, but a faulty VCR prevented a sneak peek.

# Juror Eleanor Cook says she smuggled a medical text into deliberations to show "Jackson fit the book's definition of a pedophile to a T." Other jurors later held it over her head to "intimidate" her into voting for acquittal, she says.

# Cook admits she frequently winked at Jackson's mother Katherine in court and "exchanged wardrobe tips" with the entertainer's mom, which resulted in them wearing the same colors on certain days. "She [Cook] intimated that she communicated with Katherine Jackson, in some manner, during the trial," said Brown.

# A gang of three female jurors were such rabid Jackson fans that they cooed, "Not my Michael . . ." when the panel discussed the felony charges against the pop idol. Both Cook and juror Ray Hultman "said these three women formed a bond, and their minds were made up about one-third of the way through the trial," Brown said.

Completely ridiculous. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this report, since the source, Stacy Brown, is a writer who is now so disgusted with the jurors that s/he has refused to co-author books with them.

Maybe some of my laywer readers can enlighten me: are these kinds of behaviors routine for juries?

Here's a plan for reducing the population of Gitmo that I can support: sending illegal combatants back to their home countries.

The Bush administration is negotiating the transfer of nearly 70 percent of the detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to three countries as part of a plan, officials said, to share the burden of keeping suspected terrorists behind bars.

U.S. officials announced yesterday that they have reached an agreement with the government of Afghanistan to transfer most of its nationals to Kabul's "exclusive" control and custody. There are 110 Afghan detainees at Guantanamo and 350 more at the Bagram airfield near Kabul. Their transfers could begin in the next six months. ...

he agreement with Afghanistan is the largest of its kind so far. Prosper said yesterday that the U.S. government is working to send 129 Saudis and 107 Yemenis from Guantanamo to the custody of their home countries. If the U.S. government is able to arrange the transfer of detainees who came from all three countries, the population at the U.S. facility will drop by 68 percent, from 510 to 164.

Great news, as long as the receiving governments don't just set these guys free. I doubt they will though, because there won't be much incentive. The countries mentioned don't care much about human rights and wouldn't think twice about keeping people in prison just to use them as a negotiating tool with the US.

This also seems to be the most morally acceptable solution. I don't like the idea of holding people forever with no charges, but I also don't want these terrorists to get involved with the American court system. If we send them back to their home countries they can be charged there (or not) and dealt with by legal systems with more authority over them. If I were a Guantanamo prisoner I'd be begging to stay.

I've been thinking recently that I'd like to see an international charity premised on delivering guns to oppressed people living under tyranical regimes. The first application would be a place like North Korea, where most of the people are miserable but powerless to oppose a facist military government that holds all the weapons. What would happen if an organization were able to purchase and airdrop a thousand AK-47s and some ammunition directly into one of North Korea's enormous gulags? What if similar drops were made all over the country, directly into the villages and towns so that the people could snatch them up before the government could respond?

A similar strategy might work in regions facing genocide, like Darfur, where only the government-sponsored thugs have access to firearms. Why not even the odds by providing the refugees living in "aid" camps with the means to fight back and reclaim their land? Or is it better to just let them rot for the rest of their lives in disgusting tent camps run by "humanitarian" NGOs?

I'm sure such an organization would be condemned by the UN, but would it be illegal to operate it from the United States? There'd be risks involved with the deliveries, and it would be expensive, but if drug smugglers and terrorists can raise money and move people and weapons around I don't see why Guns Without Borders wouldn't be able to.

Gosh it's hard to turn down inappropriate ads. Only slightly inappropriate... $10... argh. I probably won't be able to sleep tonight... Alexander Hamilton....

Members have voted on a first round of eliminations to narrow the list of potential business ideas for The Business Experiment, and it's fascinating to see how the project develops now that the democratic marketplace of ideas is in action. Here's a summary of the project. In short: members of the site vote on every major business decision, including product development, marketing, hiring, and so forth. Are crowds smarter than individuals? I guess we'll find out.

(HT: Director Mitch.)

Here's a truly cool device that's designed to bring the benefits of computing to the third-world: Simputer.

The Simputer is a low cost portable alternative to PCs, by which the benefits of IT can reach the common man.

It has a special role in the third world because it ensures that illiteracy is no longer a barrier to handling a computer.

The key to bridging the digital divide is to have shared devices that permit truly simple and natural user interfaces based on sight, touch and audio.

The first retail model is the Amida Simputer, and the tour makes it look like a pretty powerful device. I emailed a sales representative to get a price quote.

Indoor plumbing may soon be a requirement for elected officials in India.

Village council candidates in India should be allowed to stand for election only if they have a toilet at home, the rural development minister says.

In a letter to all chief ministers, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said the toilet rule should be set out in law.

He said too many elected members "do not have toilet facilities in their own houses and defecate in the open". ...

The rural development minister suggested all chief ministers make similar provisions.

"Only then can we eradicate the practice of open defecation by 2010," he says.

It's good to have a goal.

No one likes pork-barrel spending, except on themselves.

WASHINGTON -- When President Eisenhower proposed the first national highway bill, there were two projects singled out for funding. The latest version has, by one estimate, 6,371 of these special projects, a record that some say politicians should be ashamed of.

The projects in the six-year, $286.4 billion highway and mass transit bill passed by Congress last week range from $200,000 for a deer avoidance system in Weedsport, N.Y., to $330 million for a highway in Bakersfield., Calif.

Bringing home pork is how lawmakers get re-elected. On one hand, voters know the government wastes an enormous amount of money on projects that it shouldn't even be involved with, but on the other hand, as long as money is being handed out there's no point in refusing to take a cut.

"Nothing beats a ribbon-cutting ceremony on a new piece of pavement," said Peter Sepp, spokesman for National Taxpayers Union. "Road projects are regarded as a kind of government jobs program that Republicans can safely embrace."

Get it? Our elected officials tax money out of our pockets and then use it to bribe us to get re-elected. Ridiculous.

I just finished reading Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, and I'm in awe. It's one of the greatest pieces of science fiction I've ever read, and the ending is magnificent. You can find a summary of the plot elsewhere if you're interested, but briefly: Cheradenine Zakalwe is a mercenary working for the mostly benevolent and highly manipulative Culture; one thread of the book follows him through the present, and another thread jumps in and out of his past. Everything comes together in the end, and I was blown away. This is the kind of book I'd love to write.

Mr. Banks' publisher is reissuing his sci-fi novels and they should be available soon. I bought my copy on eBay for $8, and it was well worth the price. The book is otherwise out of print, and Barnes and Noble is out of stock, but the link below will at least let you read more reviews and learn more about the author.

Use Of Weapons
Use Of Weapons

I watched Current TV this morning while working out, and I must admit that I found it rather entertaining. I had time to watch three of what they call "pods" -- five- to seven-minute segments, each independently produced, self-contained, and focused on a specific topic.

The first pod I saw was about emerging hip-hop artists in Sierra Leon, which Current called "the world's worst country". The producer of the pod toured ramshackle music studios and night clubs in Freetown and introduced us to two of Sierra Leon's most popular performers, both of whom spoke reasonable English and explained that hip-hop in their country isn't about gangsters and bling, but about surviving in a country ravaged by war, disease, and almost total unemployment.

Next up was a pod about Parisian David Belle, pioneer of "parkour", an urban sport that consists mainly of climbing up, over, and around all sorts of city obstacles such as buildings, fences, and statues. Mr. Belle did backflips off rooftops onto cinderblock walls and climbed up sheer concrete, and it was pretty cool to watch. He ended with a cheesy bit about how parkour is a methaphor for overcoming obstacles in one's personal life, but whatever.

Finally I saw a pod about "spirituality" featuring Deepak Chopra and his perspective on making decisions. To paraphrase: just do whatever will make you and those around you happy. That's useful. Anyway, I wonder if they'd let a Christian present a pod about spirituality?

Meanwhile, what was Fox News showing? Thirty minutes of sub-speed-limit car chase. Yawn.

A New York judge has finally "clarified" a legal question I raised last year: how can pornography be legal and prostitution illegal? My own contention is that only a twisted conception of sexuality and rational law could justify one but not the other, especially since one can easily be disguised as the other with a little forethought.

A Manhattan judge has enunciated the legal distinction between prostitution and paying someone to participate in sexual activity to make a pornographic film.

Prostitution, as traditionally defined, requires person A paying person B for sexual activity to be performed on A, Supreme Court Justice Budd G. Goodman wrote in People v. Paulino, 6687/04.

Pornography, on the other hand, involves person C paying B for sexual activity performed on A.

Where, presumably, (C != A).

The case arises from the owner of an "escort" service complaining about selective prosecution because she was arrested while much larger pornographers operate in complete security protected by the First Amendment. The judge banked and dived in every direction attempting to explain the difference between pornography and prostitution, but in the end his analysis is rather unsatisfying in that it rests on:

The "court concludes [that] because the pornographic motion picture industry has flourished without prosecution since its infancy, that industry was not intended to be covered," Goodman wrote. "If it had meant to be covered, the legislature would have taken up the matter long ago."

The solution for an "escort" agencies is, of course, to videotape the proceedings and sell the tapes to their clients for a nominal fee.

(HT: James Taranto.)

Everyone's getting into the business consulting game, including The Lego Group with their Lego Serious Play program. Described on the website as:

LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is an innovative, experiential process designed to enhance business performance. Based on research that shows that this kind of hands-on, minds-on learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities, LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is an efficient, practical and effective process that works for everyone within an organization. Participants come away with skills to communicate more effectively, to engage their imaginations more readily, and to approach their work with increased confidence, commitment and insight.

The hand is connected to the brain. When personal desire drives you to learn something using your hands, a complicated process takes over that generates a powerful emotional charge. Using your hands "releases" thoughts that are stuck in your head. What you learn in the process of creating 3-D -- even 4-D -- metaphors sinks much deeper into your mind than what you would learn through mere words or two-dimensional imagery. Thoughts that are "built" tend to be expressed in greater detail and are more easily understood.

Sounds at least as useful as many of the "team building" exercises I've been involved with. Plus, you get to keep the Legos.

(HT: John Vescio.)

The Bear Flag League has declared today "Support Michael Yon Day", and I'm happy to do my part by linking once again to his absolutely first-rate front-line reporting from Iraq. His account of the Battle of Mosul is riveting and I can't tear my eyes away from the pictures he took every step of the way. While you're there reading, hit his "Support the Next Dispatch" button to show your appreciation and to give him the resources it requires to stay embedded in Iraq.

Also check out this account of American troops becoming American citizens. As Mr. Yon says, welcome aboard!

(HT: Clayton Cramer.)

What are the arguments for and against regulation of the United States Postal Service by the federal government? There has been widespread concern about declining revenue, but the government continues to protect the USPS from competition and force the USPS to keep prices down. According to the Wikipedia entry linked to above, the monopoly protections enjoyed by the USPS include:

The USPS enjoys a government monopoly with respect to first-class and third-class letter delivery under the authority of the Private Express Statutes. The USPS says that these statutes were enacted by Congress "to provide for an economically sound postal system that could afford to deliver letters between any two locations, however remote." In effect, those who mail letters to a near location are subsidizing those who are mailing letters to distant locations.

The USPS further enjoys monopoly status in that it possesses the exclusive permission under federal law to deliver first and third class mail. However, an exception to private carriers is made with regard to "extremely urgent letters" as long as the private carrier charges at least $3 or twice the U.S. postage, whichever is greater (other stipulations, such as maximum delivery time, apply as well). The USPS also enjoys a monopoly privilege in placing mail into standardized mailboxes marked "U.S. Mail." Hence, private carriers must deliver packages directly to the recipient, leave them in the open near the recipient's front door, or place them in a special box dedicated solely to that carrier (a technique commonly used by small courier and messenger services).

Not only do mailers to near locations subsidize mailers to distant locations, but the USPS also receives subsidies directly from tax revenue collected by the federal government (though the amount was only $36 million in 2004).

Could postal service benefit from deregulation, or is regulation required to protect the declining industry in the face of email? I see no reason to believe that UPS and FedEx couldn't handle delivering first- and third-class mail if they were allowed to do so, and their pricing schedules might end up being more favorable to consumers. The recently passed Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act is intended to allow the USPS to be more competitive with some services (i.e., most likely by raising rates) but still limits increases in the first-class postage rate and juggles money around to keep prices down. Ultimately though, are these kinds of economic decisions we want our legislators making? Why not leave them to the market?

A bit of trivia you may not have been aware of: did you know that the President, Senators, and Representatives can send mail for free merely by signing their names in the place of a stamp? It's called franking, and the practice is intended to facilitate communication between elected officials and their constituents.

Hey, go check out The Daily Spork 2.0, now with more sugar and spice and everthing nice!

I've long wondered if rules against cheating were devised to protect physically powerful people from mentally powerful people. Competition rules generally restrict mental action rather than physical -- although there are exceptions, such as the rule against grabbing a face mask in football. I suppose the purpose of condemning cheaters is that there's a consensus that competing in a certain way is more fun than having a free-for-all, and players decide beforehand which skills are going to be allowed to be used in the given game.

Once winning becomes more important than the enjoyment gained from competing in a certain way, then the game changes from one of cleverly working within the rules to one of deviously breaking the rules without getting caught. If players wanted to follow the rules, then referees wouldn't be necessary; since they are necessary, we can infer that most players want to break the rules and are only constrained by a fear of getting caught. Ergo, even though most players would denounce a discovered cheat, the denouncement would be a show designed to maximize the penalty imposed on their opponent and not based on actual outrage.

The only moral consideration involved with obeying game rules is the supposition that each player has agreed to abide by the rules -- and it's morally incumbent upon a person to keep his agreements. There's nothing inherently immoral about traveling in basketball, unless you've agreed not to. However, since we've already decided that most players are looking for ways to cheat without getting caught, it isn't much of a leap to suggest that the supposition that all the players have agreed to play by the rules is false. If all the players haven't agreed to play by the rules, then it isn't morally abhorrent to break the rules since there's no consensus.

In a sense, then, the mere presence of a referee probably prompts players to break the rules more than they otherwise might. After all, the ref is there to sort things out, and whatever he doesn't see doesn't count as cheating. On the other hand, playing without a ref might incline players to focus more on the competitive fun rather than winning at any socially acceptable cost (such as cheating and not getting caught).

Note that we're talking about game rules here, in which there are no absolute rights and wrongs; the same logic is obviously inapplicable to other moral contexts in which right and wrong are not determined by human consensus.

Montgomery Burns said it well:

Burns: Tell me, Simpson. If an opportunity arose for taking a small shortcut, you wouldn't be adverse to taking it, would you?

Homer: Uhh, not as such.

Burns: Neither would I. I've always felt that there's far too much hysteria these days about so-called cheating.

Homer: Yes, a lot of -- hysteria. [worried look]

Burns: Mm-hmm. If you can take advantage of a situation in some way, it's your duty as an American to do it. Why should the race always be to the swift or the jumble to the quick-witted? Should they be allowed to win merely because of the gifts God gave them? Well, I say cheating is the gift man gives himself!

Homer: Mr. Burns, I insist that we cheat.

Burns: Excellent.

-- "Mountain of Madness"

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