October 2005 Archives

Jim Lindgren wants the sun to set later, but Eugene Volokh just wants more daylight, period. I'd prefer the latter but I'll settle for the former, and I like Mr. Lindgren's proposal to shift the clock an hour ahead permanently and another hour ahead in the summer. Who needs sunlight at 6am? Fewer than 2% of Americans are farmers.

Here's a nifty page with a history of daylight savings time and standard time in general. I love this sort of trivia:

Time zone boundaries have changed greatly since their original introduction and changes still occasionally occur. The Department of Transportation conducts rulemakings to consider requests for changes. Generally, time zone boundaries have tended to shift westward. Places on the eastern edge of a time zone can effectively move sunset an hour later (by the clock) by shifting to the time zone immediately to their east. If they do so, the boundary of that zone is locally shifted to the west; the accumulation of such changes results in the long-term westward trend.

My new wife isn't too fond of Maureen Dowd. That's my girl!

But I have to agree with MoDo's regret about moden women's rapant sexuality.

It took only a few decades to create a brazen new world where the highest ideal is to acknowledge your inner slut. I am woman; see me strip. Instead of peaceful havens of girl things and boy things, we have a society where women of all ages are striving to become self-actualized sex kittens. Hollywood actresses now work out by taking pole-dancing classes.

Female sexuality has been a confusing corkscrew path, not a serene progressive arc. We had decades of Victorian prudery, when women were not supposed to like sex. Then we had the pill and zipless encounters, when women were supposed to have the same animalistic drive as men. Then it was discovered - shock, horror! - that men and women are not alike in their desires. But zipless morphed into hookups, and the more one-night stands the girls on "Sex and the City" had, the grumpier they got.

Though as my wife points out, MoDo and her ilk have long been part of the problem, and it's merely ironic that the old-style feminists are only now lamenting that society as a whole is reaping what they have sown.

What I didn't like at the start of the feminist movement was that young women were dressing alike, looking alike and thinking alike. They were supposed to be liberated, but it just seemed like stifling conformity.

What I don't like now is that the young women rejecting the feminist movement are dressing alike, looking alike and thinking alike. The plumage is more colorful, the shapes are more curvy, the look is more plastic, the message is diametrically opposite - before it was don't be a sex object; now it's be a sex object - but the conformity is just as stifling.

MoDo correctly perceives media portrayal of modern young women, but as always the media shows only the surface. A Times article I linked to last month painted the recent trends in a much more positive light.

Consider a very gentle slope and a fairly inelastic ball. Why is it that there are some circumstances such that:

1. The ball can sit on the slope without rolling.

2. If nudged downhill, the ball will begin to roll down the slope and pick up speed.

3. If nudged uphill, the ball will roll uphill, slow down, and then start rolling downhill and pick up speed.

During (3), mustn't the ball at some point pass through whatever zero-velocity condition is required for state (1)? At that point, why doesn't the ball stop? The only explanation I can think of is that there must be some lateral motion that doesn't get zeroed.

Slashdot linked to an article about warm-blooded fish that appear to maintain their temperature by exertion.

Scientists now have direct evidence that the north Pacific salmon shark maintains its red muscle (RM) at 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit (F), much warmer than the 47 F water in which it lives. The elevated muscle temperature presumably helps the salmon shark survive the cold waters of the north Pacific and take advantage of the abundant food supply there. The heat also appears to factor into the fish's impressive swimming ability.

Very strange. How do humans stay warm? I never thought much about it, but I assume the chemical reactions in a human stomach are exothermic and give off heat, and that this heat is transmitted to the blood by conduction and from the blood to the rest of the body through convection. Then again, our other cells must also generate heat when they process adenosine triphosphate for energy.

I'll have to do some more research, but The Straight Dope confirms most of my hunches about being warm-blooded.

First off, let's get a few terms straight. "Warm-blooded" and "cold-blooded" are misleading labels. Modern biologists generally use two other contrasting pairs of terms to describe the thermal physiology of animals: homeotherm/poikilotherm and endotherm/ectotherm. (Don't things seem clearer already?) Basically, a homeotherm is an organism that maintains its body temperature at a nearly constant level, while a poikilotherm experiences much larger fluctuations. The latter terms refer to the source of the body's heat. In endotherms, most of the heat is generated internally, through metabolism, while in ectotherms, most of the heat comes from external sources, such as the sun.

By this categorization the fish above are clear poikilotherms, since their internal temperature can vary across an 18-degree range. It's interesting though that they generate some heat from their metabolism indirectly through muscle movement.

Everything I've read this morning about Samuel Alito inclines me to think he'll be an excellent Supreme Court Justice. I'll be updating this post as I come across posts and articles I feel are relevant.

Even his opponents like him.

Alito's conservative stripes are equally evident in criminal law. Lawrence Lustberg, a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who has known Alito since 1981 and tried cases before him on the Third Circuit, describes him as "an activist conservatist judge" who is tough on crime and narrowly construes prisoners' and criminals' rights. "He's very prosecutorial from the bench. He has looked to be creative in his conservatism, which is, I think, as much a Rehnquist as a Scalia trait," Lustberg says. ...

Off the bench, friends and colleagues describe Alito as quiet and self-effacing with a wry sense of humor. He is a voracious reader with a particular love for biographies and history. With his wife, Martha, he has a son in college and a daughter in high school. "He's mild mannered and generous and family oriented," Lustberg says. "I don't agree with him on many issues, but I have the utmost respect for him. No one can question his intelligence or integrity."

An activist conservative judge with unquestionable intelligence and integrity? Considering that "activist" is in the eye of the beholder these days, that sounds like a pretty strong recommendation to me.

All the judges on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals seem to think Judge Alito will make an excellent Justice.

The 14-member court has long been regarded by law professors as more moderate and fact-driven, in contrast to strident ideology found on bitterly divided courts such as the Richmond-based 4th Circuit and San Francisco-based 9th Circuit.

Some of Alito's colleagues say one reason is the modesty and collegiality of Alito.

"The entire court is thrilled with the appointment," said Chief Judge Anthony Scirica, a Reagan appointee. "Whatever quality you think a judge ought to have, whether it's scholarship or an ability to deliberate or fairness or temperance, Sam has each of these to a highest degree."

Michael Barone explains why Sam Alito's Italian-American ancestry makes a filibuster unthinkable.

Everywhere you look in the world there are Muslims fighting with their neighbors, and despite France's eagerness to appease everyone in sight they don't seem to be able to stay on good terms with the enemy inside their own borders (as I wrote two years ago). Drudge reports that Parisian Muslims have been rioting for four nights straight, and the French government is struggling to respond and worrying more about who fired tear gas into a mosque than how to stop the violent mobs.

BOBIGNY, France (Reuters) -- Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday defended his tough crime policies against claims they helped increase tension after a fourth night of rioting in a Paris suburb in which tear gas was fired into a mosque.

It was not clear who had fired the tear gas and Sarkozy, addressing police officers, vowed to find out what had happened.

Youths hurled rocks and set fire to cars in the northeastern Clichy-sous-Bois suburb of the French capital, where many immigrants and poor families live in high-rise housing estates notorious for youth violence.

French television said six police officers were hurt and 11 people arrested in violence partly fueled by the incident at the mosque.

"Partly fueled by the incident at the mosque", except of course for the first three nights of rioting. As I wrote two years ago:

If anti-Americanism is the cough and fever, the cancer that is eating the country from the inside is its untenable socialist economy that props up its population of 5 million unemployed, unassimilated, uneducated Arab Muslim immigrants.

It takes two sides to make peace, but only one side to make war.

In the past, Iran's threats against Israel were more veiled, and mostly delivered in Arabic so that they escaped the notice of the Western media, but today Iran once again called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

Governments around the world expressed shock and scorn Thursday at the Iranian president's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and several summoned Tehran's envoys in their capitals for a reprimand.

However, Israeli calls for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations over the remarks by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were not immediately taken up by other nations.

In a speech Wednesday, Ahmadinejad denounced Israel and said a new wave of Palestinian attacks "will wipe this stigma from the face of the Islamic world." Citing the words of the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad said: "Israel must be wiped off the map."

Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday called for Iran to be expelled from the U.N., saying "a state which calls for the destruction of another people cannot be a member of the United Nations." Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel had not decided whether to ask officially for Iran's removal.

Israel's deputy ambassador to Britain, Zvi Rav-Ner, said it was unheard of for a U.N. member state to call "for genocide and wiping off of another member state of the U.N."

So yeah, it's pretty dangerous to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Are the "pacifists" who defended Saddam Hussein going to go play human shield for the Iranian mullahs? When is the world going to start taking Islamofacist threats seriously?

The good news just keeps on coming! There's not much to say about Miers' withdrawal of her nomination except that the President's explanation is terribly weak.

Bush, after weeks of insisting he did not want Miers to withdraw, blamed the Senate for her demise.

"It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House _ disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," the president said shortly before leaving for Florida to assess hurricane damage.

Just like the Senate demanded for John Roberts! Who would've seen it coming? The real reason the nomination was withdrawn is that the withdrawal is slightly less humiliating for the President than an actual defeat in the Senate.

We're back from our honeymoon and I don't have a lot of motivation to post at the moment. We had a great time in San Luis Obispo staying at the Madonna Inn's Misty Rock Room, but it's great to be home.

I'm sure I'll get around to posting again soon, but as of right now I'm not even up on the news. Two good pieces I just saw are that the House passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, both of which aim to limit stupid lawsuits. The Senate apparently passed the former bill also, but supposedly won't have time for the latter.

Anyway, I've got a new wife to attend to. See ya!

Ok, here's a pic of us from our reception!

The day is finally here! I'm getting married to the most wonderful woman in the world -- perhaps in the whole universe!

President Bush is in Los Angeles for a fundraising trip and just about every local news source has been buzzing about the freeway closures his arrival and travel have required (for security purposes).

Bush was due to arrive in Los Angeles later Thursday for a two-day visit that includes a fundraiser in Beverly Hills to be attended by 100 couples, at which the Republican National Committee is expected to raise one million dollars, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Compared to the hundreds of thousands of man-hours lost to freeway closures during rush hour today and tomorrow, I think it would have been far more efficient for the city to simply write a check to the RNC for a million dollars and paid the President to stay away. The traffic he caused isn't doing anything to ingratiate the President or his party with the population of Los Angeles, I can tell you that much. I work in a pretty conservative industry, but many people at work were grumbling about the closed freeways this afternoon before they left for home.

Don't know where this is from, but a reader sent me a list of the 100 oldest currently-registered .com domains. I've had email addresses from a few of them.

I haven't written much short fiction in a while, but I hope to resume once I finish my PhD. I'd be flattered if you look a look through the whole archive there, and it's hard to which one to repost, but here's "The Corpulent King".

Once upon a time there was mean, fat king who loved nothing more than vast, sumptuous feasts. Lamb, veal, duck, venison, pheasant, caribou, sloth, spotted owl... the premier kitchen of the realm prepared his meals to his precise specifications, and no appetite was left unsatisfied. No, not merely unsatisfied -- unsatiated.

However, the corpulent king began to grow distressed. The bountiful banquets that once brought him such pleasure began to taste bland and boring. His chefs redoubled their efforts to find the most succulent beasts, the freshest vegetables, and the most stimulating spices -- but all of their attempts fell on tasteless buds.

The king fell into a deep depression, and refused all sustenance. His chefs tried everything to stir him from his melancholy, but even the most scrumptious sweets would drive the king to gasps and coughs. "I am a man of refined tastes," he exclaimed. "I cannot eat such filth."

Losing his expansive luster and driven to desperation, the king marshaled his fading will to live and announced a competition. "My chefs have failed me," he told his people. "Their food was not fit for sloping swine, but perhaps they will be. Consequently, there is a vacancy in my court that needs to be filled, as do I. Any man who can prepare a meal that is truly fit for a king will be lavishly rewarded."

The king's command attracted would-be chefs and were-in-fact charlatans by the cup, quart, and bushel. Day and night the aspirants toiled in the king's extravagant kitchens, presenting him with course after course of comely cookery such as the world has never known. But the king's malaise would not be dispelled, and he wasted away, surrounded by mountains of decaying delicacies.

One by one the rejected, dejected connoisseurs drifted away. Conceding defeat, they fled, fearing that they too might end up feeding the king's zoo after snatching defeat from the jaws of misery. The king despaired, but he retained one final resort. "If my enormous wealth can not buy my satisfaction," he said, "I have but one thing left to offer. If any man can gratify my culinary lusts, I'll give to him my daughter!"

The king's daughter was a beautiful young lady, who fortunately did not take after her father's gluttonous ways. Word spread quickly though the land that anyone who could renew the king's taste for life would marry the princess, and be made heir to the kingdom. Who would answer the call?

Every chef who heard the new pronouncement scoffed. "The king has eaten all there is to eat," they said. "Every animal, every plant, and every fungus has passed his palate; nothing remains to entice him from his ennui."

Every chef -- but one. One man who could not be tempted by wanton wealth, but only by the love of a kind and generous princess. "All those who have come before me," the man told the wan king, "were mere pretenders to the gastronomic throne; I am the master. If you are willing, I will prepare a savory extravaganza that is certain to satisfy."

"By all means!" the king commanded. "But how will you accomplish such a feat of a feast? Look around! I am surrounded by the comestible corpses of your predecessors."

"Fear not, O king," the confident cook replied. "I, and I alone, possess the secret ingredient that will titillate your tongue and resurrect your vanquished vigor. No no! You must sample it for yourself when I am finished. And then we will discuss the princess."

The king waited in eager anticipation while the cook prepared secretly in the kitchen. He dismissed all offers of assistance and labored alone, but his job was quickly completed. Smiling triumphantly, the cook ascended to the king's banquet room and presented his masterpiece: a delicious pie, still steaming from the oven. Without a word the king devoured the dessert -- every last crumb of crust and fleck of filling.

His plate sparkling, the king proclaimed, "I feel new life in my bones! Quickly, bake me another!"

"And my reward?" the chef inquired. The king demanded that his daughter be brought forthwith.

But the princess could not be found! In her quarters was the meager message: "I will not be fed to your ravenous maw."

"I'll give you anything! Money, power; all that I have and more! Anything you want! Sustain me, and all that I have is yours," begged the king of the cook. "Or else, I die!"

But the cook replied, "You have nothing left that I desire."

More than two years ago I posted about people who are disabled by their own fat and garnered quite a set of responses in the comments section. Thanks in large part to my efforts to draw attention to the matter scientists are finally on track to develop a fat vaccine, but let's take blast to the past and revisit fat from the year 2003.

As I start to write this, I'm not planning on making fat jokes, so if one creeps in, forgive me. I used to be overweight as a kid and a teenager, but I took control of my lifestyle when I was 18 and lost around 70 pounds over the course of a few years. I did it the old-fashioned way: by changing my diet, and by exercising. I don't have a lot of sympathy for fat people who act like they can't help being fat.

So then, "Overweight workers say they're often overlooked".

''This is one of the only groups where an employer could say, 'We don't want fat people,' and get away with it,'' said Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing. ''Fat people are still targets. Professional comedians can still make fun of them, and fat jokes are still being passed around.'' ...

Protests by groups like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance as well as a flurry of recent lawsuits have led to greater awareness of the problems the overweight face in the workplace. Some of the lawsuits seek to create new legal ground by arguing that obesity ought to be seen as an impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For the vast majority of fat people, their "disability" is not primarily physical: it's mental. The fat that hinders their activity is merely a symptom of their lack of self-discipline.

Yes, some people are biologically more inclined toward being fat than others -- so what? Some people are more likely to get addicted to alcohol than others, but when someone does become an alcoholic we still know it's their fault. Same with being fat. If your arm gets blown off by a terrorist, you're disabled. If you simply can't muster up the willpower to resist stuffing your face with creamy lard, you're just addicted to food. Also, comedians will make fun of you, because they're insensitive.

Unlike racial discrimination -- and even religious discrimination -- discrimination based on being fat is entirely within your control. It would be absurd to tell a black guy to lighten his skin (and it wouldn't gain him acceptance even if he did, *cough*Michael Jackson*cough*). But if people make fun of you for being fat, or for not knowing how to read, or for terrible body odor, or for having no sense of style... there's something you can do! Lose weight, get hooked on phonics, use deodorant, watch "Queer Eye".

Sixty-one percent of Americans are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, the CDC says 35 percent are moderately overweight and 26 percent are obese. The findings, from a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, sounded an alarm when they were released in 2000, but the hubbub did little to change poor perceptions of overweight people or spur the creation of new laws.

Maybe the problem here is that so many Americans are fat. Don't you all realize that the Europeans are making fun of you? There are only two options: bomb Europe, or lose some weight. I'm impartial.

Look, America, I understand that food is yummy. Sometimes I want to eat a whole truckload of cheesecake, and it's really hard to resist. But guess what? I don't eat it. Sometimes I feel like sitting around on the couch all day, eating Fritos and watching the Simpsons. But guess what? I marshal my mental faculties, throw off the lethargy that so easily besets me, and I go out for a walk, or a run, or I lift some big metal plates up over my head. It's takes about 30 minutes. Then I go back and lie on the couch, watch Simpsons, and eat fruit or something.

While there is little data available detailing the extent of size bias, Deidra Everett, secretary of the New England Chapter of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, believes there have been a few changes in society's view of the overweight. ''Society has changed its image a little when it comes to smaller large people [huh? maybe "small or large"],'' Everett said. ''It is more accepted now that a woman can be a size 12 through 18 and still be fit. Also, in the media, the whole extreme leanness [trend] is not as popular as it was six or seven years ago. So, the media is trying to show that curves can be OK.''

No one has a problem with luscious curves, the problem is when your whole body is just one single curve. This is commonly called a "sphere", and it doesn't count as an affirmative answer for when people ask you whether or not you're "in shape".

At most workplaces, she said, little has changed. Everett, who, at 36, weighs 460 pounds and is 5 feet 10 inches, knows firsthand. She said prospective employers have pursued her aggressively over the phone, and then suddenly changed their minds after meeting her. Stunned by her appearance, the recruiter will scan her body, pausing at the fattest part, and then look away.

''Eventually, they'll get back to your face and give you this nervous smile that says, 'Oh, dear!' They don't know where to look. They become flustered and there is not a lot of eye contact,'' she said. ''I can't understand how people can be so judgmental without knowing who I am. It makes you feel terrible.''

Yes, people are mean. Heck, I've been mean in this very essay. I'm an anti-fattite, I guess. Until the Museum of Tolerance adds that new fat wing they've been planning, I recommend that if you find yourself in situations where people can't even look at you without becoming flustered and uncomfortable, you're probably too fat.

You should consider that maybe the problem isn't the genetic predisposition of humans to use peer pressure to discourage harmful behavior -- maybe the problem is you. Give in to the peer pressure. The negative, "terrible", feelings you're experiencing may be for your own good.

I was never as fat as Deidra Everett, but I suffered social consequences when I was overweight. Which do you think helped more?

1. "Hey baby, yeah I'm fat, but you'd go out with me if you weren't so judgemental without knowing who I am. It makes me feel terrible. Help me advance fat acceptance."

2. Lose weight.

If you guessed #2, you're right. You can't control what other people think, but you can control how fat you are. Instead of wasting time making pro-fat organizations, go to the gym. Stop eating twinkies. As our corporate masters say, "Just Do It".

Several times I've heard a story about airline policies designed to prevent flight crews made up entirely of Christians due to fear of losing planes in the event of Rapture. I never believed the story, and Snopes says that it's a urban legend, as I expected. However, it also claims that most Christians (in America? the world?) don't believe in the Rapture at all.

While many of those of the Christian faith may be unfamiliar with concept of the faithful suddenly disappearing from the face of the Earth, this belief permeates a number of fundamentalist branches of Christianity. Known as "The Rapture," it refers to a time when Jesus will return to claim the faithful, drawing Christians (both the still living and the already dead) up into the clouds to meet Him. It is said this event will be followed by seven years of famine, plagues, pestilence, and three world wars before the Savior returns, a time often referred to as "The Tribulation." ...

Those who believe in the Rapture hold as a tenet of faith the sudden celestial appearance of Christ at some future unknowable date, immediately Airplane followed by the irresistible summoning heavenward of all who follow His teachings. The faithful will be pulled towards the Christ the way iron filings are pulled towards a magnet, rendering the Earth depopulated of the godly and leaving the godless (or at least the Christ-rejecting) to battle their way through the horrors of this world's final seven years.

The Rapture interpretation of 1 Thessalonians is not shared by the majority of Christians and appears to date to 1909, when the Scofield Reference Bible (King James Version) was published. Prior to that time, this parsing of 1 Thessalonians' "caught up in the air" passage was unknown, although in the 18th century theologian J.N. Darby popularized the idea that there would be a "secret rapture" seven years before the Christ really returned, and the non-Christians who didn't disappear into the air would be left to face the anti-Christ.

I've never encountered the claim that the majority of Christians don't believe in the Rapture. Is that true?

Here's a post I wrote a year ago about why I'm tentatively in favor of allowing abortions in cases of rape or incest, even though I'm otherwise pro-life. I'm not sure what the prevailing view among Christians is, but it's obvious to me that pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest are fundamentally different from pregnancies that result from negligence on the part of the mother or that are simply "inconvenient". In the latter cases the mother bears most of the responsibility for creating the baby inside her, but in the former she does not.

Three awful things that go terribly together. Regarding my tolerance of legal abortion in cases of rape and incest, Paul Hsieh from GeekPress asks the question some other readers brought up as well:

If you don't mind me putting you on the spot, I'm wondering how the rape-and-incest exception fits in with the rest of your views on the fetus being a human life worthy of legal protection.

I understand those pro-choicers who don't view the fetus as worthy of legal protection and hence allow unrestricted abortion through the end of 2nd trimester.

I understand those pro-lifers who view the fetus as worthy of legal protection, and would therefore forbid all abortions.

But I've never understood the position (which I know that some conservatives take) which would ban abortions except in the case of rape/incest. (For the sake of discussion, assuming that the fetus is healthy and would grow up to be a fully functioning adult). Is there something about the way the fetus was conceived that makes it murder to abort if the mother was not raped, but makes it not murder if the mother were raped? After all, the fetus is equally human and equally innocent (or equally not human/innocent depending on one's ideology) in both cases.

Good question. First off, many pro-lifers wouldn't make the exception, and I'm not sure if my position is in the majority or not. That said, the reason I would tolerate the abortion of healthy babies conceived through rape or incest is that unlike in the vast majority of pregnancies, in such cases the mother bears no responsibility for the conception. Whenever sex is voluntary there is a chance of pregnancy, no matter how remote, and by making the decision to have sex a woman is implicitly accepting the responsibility of handling whatever consequences may result; it isn't morally acceptable to kill another human being to spare yourself inconvenience brought about by your own actions. However, in cases of rape or incest where the woman does not consent, she does not bear any responsibility for the pregnancy and should not be legally required to carry the baby to term.

An imperfect analogy is the difference between finding someone tied to a train track and actually tying someone there yourself. If you find someone tied to a track you have no legal duty to untie them before they get hit. On the other hand, if you tie someone down and they get killed then you are a murderer.

Now, this sets aside the question of moral responsibility -- but the law and morality are different matters. I think abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, but I don't necessarily think such abortions are desirable or morally acceptable. That's a more difficult question, and in general I think it would be best to tolerate the unasked-for inconvenience (and risk) of pregnancy in order to protect the life of the baby. However, I wouldn't force a woman to make that decision.

Update 041220 6:36pm
Many people don't get it. Forcing a hypothetical raped woman to carry her baby to term is akin to the police arbitrarily taking your wallet and giving it to the nearest homeless guy. You aren't responsible for him; if you choose to give him charity it may be noble, but society has no business forcing you to do so. In the case of the raped woman, society can't even do much to share the burden of the painful, traumatic, and difficult service she must render -- there is no one else capable of bearing her child but her, whereas the general populace can be taxed collectively to help a homeless man, thus reducing the burden on any specific person.

Is it morally right to help homeless people? Yes. Should you be forced at gunpoint to help homeless people? No. Is it morally right for a mother to carry to term a baby conceived through rape or incest? Yes. Should she be forced to do so at gunpoint? No. (And all laws are essentially coercive threats to enforce compliance with deadly force.)

Looks like these people are ready to join the Karl Rove Fan Club!

Rove's wife, Darby, raised the white garage door one morning last week to show journalists outside the million-dollar brick home that the deputy chief of staff, assistant to the president and senior adviser wasn't home. All the interest came on the eve of his testimony Friday before a grand jury investigating who in the White House might have revealed the identity of a CIA operative.

There was no car in the garage. And the stuff left behind turned out not to be much different from what gathers dust inside most American garages.

The inventory, seen from outside:

_Some cardboard file boxes stacked one on top of the other, labeled "Box 6," "Box 4" and what appears to be "Box 7." No sign of boxes 1, 2, 3 and 5.

_What appear to be paint cans stacked alongside a folded, folding chair.

_A rather large wood crate marked "FRAGILE" and painted with arrows indicating which way is up. On top of the crate, two coolers.

_A tall aluminum ladder.

_A snow shovel leaned in front of another cardboard box.

_Wicker baskets inside of wicker baskets on top of a shelf running the length of the rear wall. Transparent plastic storage bins crammed with indiscernible stuff. Another cardboard box.

_In one corner, the rear wheel of a bicycle sticks out, along with what appears to be a helmet.

_Another ladder, this one green, leaning sideways.

Where are boxes 1, 2, 3, and 5?!?! It's time for Congressional hearings! What's in the "FRAGILE" wooden crate? WMDs? Why two ladders? Where has Karl been climbing?!

In case you didn't know, The Daily Spork and I are getting married this Saturday! Huzzah! Blogging will probably be light for the rest of this week and much of next. I'm planning to repost some of my favorite/most popular posts from the past, so it will still be worth your while to visit periodically.

If you'd like to give us a gift, please use the PayPal button on the right or buy an ad -- it will be much appreciated!

For my first recommendation in quite a while, the Panasonic RR-US360 is crap and I recommend you never buy one. I picked one up earlier this week to record an interview (my first) with Bill Mundell from Californians For Fair Redistricting and the result was agonizing to listen to. The recording was full of static and feedback, and the sound quality was terrible. I could barely listen to it, and my long-suffering fiancee had an impossible time transcribing the interview. I'll be posting what I've got in a day or so, but meanwhile I just wanted to say that the Panasonic RR-US360 is the worst product I've ever purchased.

An "anonymous donor" in Little Rock, AK, did what teachers' unions and billions of dollars apparently can't: paid teachers to teach.

Karen Carter, the school's principal, felt that her teachers' efforts were producing progress at Meadowcliff, especially with a new reading program she'd instituted. But she needed a more precise test to measure individual student progress; she also wanted a way to reward her teachers for their effort. She went to the Public Education Foundation of Little Rock. The Foundation had no money for her, and the Little Rock system's budget was a nonstarter. So the foundation produced a private, anonymous donor, which made union approval unnecessary.

Together this small group worked out the program's details. The Stanford test results would be the basis for the bonuses. For each student in a teacher's charge whose Stanford score rose up to 4% over the year, the teacher got $100; 5% to 9%--$200; 10% to 14%--$300; and more than 15%--$400. This straight-line pay-for-performance formula awarded teachers objectively in a way that squares with popular notions of fairness and skirts fears of subjective judgment. In most merit-based lines of work, say baseball, it's called getting paid for "putting numbers on the board."

Still, it required a leap of faith. "I will tell you the truth," said Karen Carter. "We thought one student would improve more than 15%." The tests and financial incentives, however, turned out to be a powerful combination. The August test gave the teachers a detailed analysis of individual student strengths and weaknesses. From this, they tailored instruction for each student. It paid off on every level.

Twelve teachers received performance bonuses ranging from $1,800 to $8,600. The rest of the school's staff also shared in the bonus pool. That included the cafeteria ladies, who started eating with the students rather than in a nearby lounge, and the custodian, whom the students saw taking books out of Carter's Corner, the "library" outside the principal's office. Total cost: $134,800. The tests cost about $10,000.

I think giving teachers merit-based bonuses would do far more good for our children than the modern dogma of class size reduction.

Is anyone else bothered by idioms like "twice as close" or "twice as small"? I understand what these phrases mean and how they're used to indicate the inverses of "twice as far" and "twice as big", but they still bother me. If (A) is two miles away and (B) is one mile away, (A) is twice as far away as (B), but (B) is 50% closer than (A), not "twice as close". If distance in miles is the metric for "closeness", how can "twice" and "50%" mean the same thing? "Twice as far" indicates that the magnitude of the distance to (A) is 200% the magnitude of the distance to (B). The concept "twice" should be independent of what is being measured. If (A) is "twice as floober" as (B), then we should know to take the magnitude of (B)'s floober and multiply by two.

Do other languages have corresponding idioms that make illogical use of "twice" or other relative modifiers?

I'm surprised environmentalists don't campaign to reduce standard margin sizes. A standard piece of 8.5x11 paper has an area of 93.5 square inches. With 1-inch top and bottom margins and 0.75-inch side margins, 30.5 square inches are wasted on each page -- almost one-third of the surface area! Reducing all margins to 0.5 inches would cut margin wastage to one-fifth of a page, reducing paper usage by almost 13%! Less garbage to haul, fewer trees to chop down, reduced burden on recycling and disposal land use, and billions of dollars saved -- everyone wins.

For comparison, look at how much could be saved just from just from two-sided copying.

Photocopying accounts for more than one quarter of all office paper use. In 1990, 1.9 million tons of paper was used in photocopiers in the United States. By increasing two-sided copying to the extent feasible, offices in the United States could save 373,000 tons or about 20 percent of paper used annually. Doing so would result in cost savings (in paper purchase and waste disposal) of $414 million (Source: R.Graff & B. Fishbein, Reducing Office Paper Waste, INFORM (1991)). Additional savings can be realized in reduced filing space required and reduced mailing costs associated with two-sided copying of documents.

That was 15 years ago so I'm sure these numbers have gone up, even with the emergence of computing technology. Reducing margin sizes would save money on the original documents, and also on every single copy made!

A British company is planning to augment breast augmentation with high-tech gadgetry!

Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants.

One boob could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection.

BT futurology, who have developed the idea, say it could be available within 15 years.

Although I'm sure changing the volume and uploading music would be fun, 15 years is a long time to wait. I have a feeling technology will advance quite a bit by 2020, and we'll all be able to have computers implanted into all sorts of body parts.

According to The Sun he said: "It is now very hard for me to thing of breast implants as just decorative. If a woman has something implanted permanently, it might as well do something useful."

Yeah, gosh, it's too bad breasts don't do anything useful on their own.

(HT: James Taranto.)

I agree with the many commentators on all sides who think it's inappropriate for President Bush to be pushing Harriet Miers' Christian religious views as a motivation or argument for placing her on the Supreme Court. In theory. As Largo from Type R Caston wrote, religion should be irrelevant for an ideal nominee.

I do not consider it much of a stretch to conclude that by selling a nominee based on their religious views, that one has hopes in seeing those views come into play during their stay on the court.

Personally, I could care less what Mier’s believes, she could be a Zoroastrian Communist for the clubbing of baby seals with tire irons and I could support her provided I was to believe that she would be a good steward of the Constitution. The point here is that a person’s views are irrelevant when a Justice on the high court is performing their duties as originally conceived by our founding fathers.

Unfortunately, there are no "ideal" nominees, there are only nominees who hide their ideological biases and nominees who reveal them. One of my biggest criticisms of both recent Supreme Court nominations has been that the nominees have had very little "track record" -- apparently this is seen as a virtue by some politicians, but most of us would like to know more about the people whose rulings we'll be subject to for the next several decades. (As everyone knows, the courts have become political despite the life tenure of judges, which was intended to reduce the politicalization.)

Knowing that Miers is a conservative Christian is a piece of her track record. I'd really prefer if she had written extensively on, oh, let's say Constitutional law before being nominated, but I guess we'll have to extrapolate what we can from what she has revealed. The President wouldn't have to play up Miers' Christianity so much if he had nominated a person with more relevant credentials, but given Miers' background it's hard for me to identify any aspect of her behavior that will help us predict her future more accurately than will her Christianity. So, since that's all there is, it's rational for her religion to be the focus.

Based purely on my perception of history and on religious stereotypes, Catholics seems to make good justices, and I bet Jews would also. There haven't been many (any?) conservative Christian justices, but based on my own perception of the group I think that a conservative Christian nominee is likely to do a better job interpreting the Constitution properly than would a Zoroastrian Communist. Most of the Christians I know are honest, hard-working and sincerely interested in the welfare of others. Those Christians I know who are intelligent are also intellectually honest, consistent in their views, rational, and able to make hard decisions that conflict with their preferences. One of the tenets of Christianity is that we make decisions based on what's in the Bible and not on our own selfish desires, and the principle of applying the Constitution literally and faithfully is very similar. Furthermore, a well-read Christian will have an important perspective on the context our framers lived in that may not be readily available to those of other backgrounds.

So, while I know very little about Harriet Miers personally, I know a lot about one of the groups she belongs to, and from that I can infer some important bits of information. These inferences are not nearly as useful as if she had written about such matters herself, but I hope they illustrate that Miers' selected religious affiliation can tell us something about how she might behave in the future.

I bought a seven-year extended warranty for my 2000 Honda Civic, and after five-and-a-half years I've finally got a reason to use it. The problem is, I can't reach anyone at the dealership who can tell me what I need to bring along with me to prove that I've got the warranty. Does anyone know what's involved in getting warranty work done? I imagine it's pretty easy, but do I need to find all my paperwork from when I bought the car, or will be be in their computer system already? I just don't feel like driving over there and wasting more of my time than necessary.

Charles Murray has written an engrossing essay explaining some of the differences between people of various races and genders. It's far too long to excerpt meaningfully, but here's a bit in which he points out that race and ethnicity are not mere social constructs.

Turning to race, we must begin with the fraught question of whether it even exists, or whether it is instead a social construct. The Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin originated the idea of race as a social construct in 1972, arguing that the genetic differences across races were so trivial that no scientist working exclusively with genetic data would sort people into blacks, whites or Asians. In his words, "racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance."

Mr. Lewontin's position, which quickly became a tenet of political correctness, carried with it a potential means of being falsified. If he was correct, then a statistical analysis of genetic markers would not produce clusters corresponding to common racial labels.

In the past few years, that test has become feasible, and now we know that Mr. Lewontin was wrong. Several analyses have confirmed the genetic reality of group identities going under the label of race or ethnicity. In the most recent, published this year, all but five of the 3,636 subjects fell into the cluster of genetic markers corresponding to their self-identified ethnic group. When a statistical procedure, blind to physical characteristics and working exclusively with genetic information, classifies 99.9% of the individuals in a large sample in the same way they classify themselves, it is hard to argue that race is imaginary.

The essay is quite long, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

Northrop Grumman and Boeing have unveiled an "Apollo-like" spacecraft as their bid for returning humans to space once the Shuttle program is retired.

Northrop Grumman and Boeing unveiled a back-to-the-future concept for the next generation of space exploration vehicles Wednesday, displaying an Apollo-like capsule and support module as their offering in the competition for a system to take humans back to the moon and later to Mars.

The two aerospace giants are teamed in a bid for NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle program, potentially a $100 billion project that is intended to replace the troubled Space Shuttle for servicing the International Space Station by 2012 and to carry astronauts to the moon by 2018. ...

The Northrop-Boeing proposal features a cone-shaped crew capsule that looks strikingly similar to the three-man Apollo spacecraft that last took Americans to the moon nearly three decades ago.

That design was determined to present the lowest technical risks and the best potential for meeting NASA's challenging timelines, said Douglas Young, vice president of Northrop's Integrated Systems in El Segundo and CEV program manager.

My prediction is that private space exploration will surpass NASA efforts before we ever actually get to Mars.

You can tell a trend is on its way out when it starts to inspire cheesy Christian merchandise like these "faith" poker chips featuring witty sayings such as, "Jesus went all-in for you!"

In August of 2001 me, my brother and a friend of ours were backpacking across Europe. While in Paris we went to visit the Palais de Justice on a Thursday afternoon around 3pm and found the entire building essentially deserted. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we strolled through just about every hall and office in the building without seeing anyone, French or otherwise. We even found our way to the roof through a service passage and up a dingy spiral staircase hidden behind a "secret" disguised door in one of the offices. It was really bizarre to us that the building was apparently vacant on a weekday afternoon, but we made the most of the opportunity. Fortunately we didn't get caught and thrown into French prison.

The European Council's commissioner for human rights has described conditions in the prison in France's most august court building as the worst he has seen.

Alvaro Gil-Robles said the cells in the historic Palais de Justice in Paris were squalid and inhumane.

Describing them as "dungeons", he said: "It is incredible that people are imprisoned in such conditions, without ventilation and without natural light. I have never seen a worse prison." Mr Gil-Robles, 60, an academic lawyer and Spain's former national ombudsman, spent 16 days in France last month inspecting prisons, detention centres and mental hospitals.

In a meeting last week with Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, he said he was astonished that such "squalid and inhumane conditions" should exist at the Palais de Justice, the vast complex that houses the supreme court of appeal and criminal courts.

I'm glad we went to the roof rather than the basement.

(HT: James Taranto.)

Since I'm getting married soon my attention has been attracted towards articles about children (even though we're not planning on having any for a while). Here's some research that claims that the best way to quiet a crying infant is to recreate the conditions from inside the womb -- and since 6-week-olds apparently cry an average of 3.5 hours each day, this could come in handy.

The Five S’s

But now a new system that involves the 5 S’s -- swaddling, side/stomach holding, shushing, swinging, and sucking -- can calm squalling infants, he says. This, says Karp, activates the baby’s calming reflex during the first three to four months of life by mimicking the experiences in the uterus.

Swaddling. Wrap your baby tightly in a receiving blanket to duplicate the feelings of warmth and protection, and the "tight fit," in the womb. Swaddling also stops your baby's uncontrolled arm and leg flailing that can contribute to hysterical wailing. Karp says your baby will be calmer if she's swaddled 12-20 hours a day in the beginning.

"Twelve hours may seem like a lot from our point of view, but to the newborn, it's already a 50 percent cutback on the 24-hour-a-day 'snuggling' in the uterus," he explains.

Side/stomach soothing. Lay your baby on her side or stomach, which Karp believes shuts down the baby's "Moro reflex," or a sensation of falling, and thus helps keep her calm. (He adds, however, that a baby should never be put to sleep on her stomach, since this may increase the risk of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome).

“Shhhing” sounds. There is a whooshing noise within the womb, caused by blood flowing through the mother's arteries. You can recreate this sound with a "white noise" machine, a tape or CD with these "white noise" sounds, a dishwasher, a car ride, or a hair dryer.

Swinging. Rhythmic movements in an infant swing, hammock, moving automobile, or baby carrier can keep your baby content. Sucking. Occupy your baby with a pacifier, infant bottle, or a mother's nipple (which Karp describes as "the all-time, No. 1 sucking toy in the world.")

I have a feeling this information will come in handy in a few years. Have any of you parents tried these methods with success?

Random shootings are a perfect example of why society needs capital punishment.

Mark Kelly, 20, and Junior Andrews, 24, were found guilty today at Birmingham Crown Court of murdering Danielle as part of an inner-city gang feud. ...

Both were members of The Waterfront Gang, who, the prosecution said, have a hatred for people from St Ann’s. They had been out burgling in the more affluent Clifton area, and went to St Ann's at midnight intending to "shoot up" people from the estate.

Kelly, driving his mother's gold Xsara, dipped his headlights as the pair come across Danielle and her friends making their way home along Rushworth Close. He pulled alongside and slowed down long enough for the gunman, thought by the prosecution to be Andrews, to open fire.

Realising she had been hit, the terrified youngsters dragged Danielle into a nearby alleyway where she lay fighting for life as the gunmen sped off. Witnesses saw Andrews make a victory salute out of the car window, forming a "W" sign with his gloved hand, showing his allegiance to the Waterfront Gang.

Danielle's friends fetched Paula Platt, who was at her daughter’s side within minutes of the fatal shot. In an emotional statement, she recounted Danielle’s last moments, revealing that her last words were ’I’m not going to make it... I’m dying’.

Despite her mother’s best efforts to keep her conscious, Danielle died a short time later on the operating table at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.

To me it's pretty simple: everyone knows that if you kill someone without justification you forfeit your own life. Society doesn't bear any blame for sentencing a murderer to death, the blame belongs to the murderer. Justice demands no less. But what passes for justice in Britain these days seems a bit weak.

"You robbed a bright young girl of her life and blighted forever the lives of her family and friends," said Mr Justice Butterfield, jailing them.

"It was a random killing involving the use of a firearm and the appropriate starting point is 30 years."

30 years to life for randomly murdering an innocent girl? What's the point? Just be rid of them for good.

Although Britain has no death penalty, being a signatory to the 6th protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights since 1999, they engage in other sorts of law enforcement practices that Americans who favor the death penalty would probably believe to be out of line, such as publically identifying suspects that can't be successfully prosecuted.

AN EXCLUSION zone has been imposed on a suspected serial rapist who police believe has attacked three women at knifepoint in the past six months.

Residents groups in Edgbaston, Birmingham, have been shown a photograph and given descriptions of the man. Police believe that they do not have enough evidence to prosecute him, but have taken the unusual step of banning the man from the area where the attacks occurred.

I don't think that sort of thing is allowed in the United States, is that right? Or at least it isn't practiced.

It looks like sexism is alive and well. From a Drudge Report news flash (that link won't be good for long), it looks like the President was determined to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court:

Before President Bush nominated White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court, his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, called influential Christian leader James Dobson to assure him that Miers was a conservative evangelical Christian, Dobson said in remarks scheduled for broadcast Wednesday on his national radio show.

The LA TIMES reports: In that conversation, which has been the subject of feverish speculation, Rove also told Dobson that one reason the president was passing over better-known conservatives was that many on the White House short list had asked not to be considered, Dobson said, according to an advance transcript of the broadcast provided by his organization, Focus on the Family.

Dobson said that the White House had decided to nominate a woman, which reduced the size of the list, and that several women on it had then bowed out.

``What Karl told me is that some of those individuals took themselves off that list and they would not allow their names to be considered, because the process has become so vicious and so vitriolic and so bitter that they didn't want to subject themselves or the members of their families to it,'' Dobson said, according to the transcript.

Expect leftist anti-discrimination voices to raise a hue and cry at any moment over this blatant sexism.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the "Gang of 14" deal between seven Democrat and seven Republican senators. I initially thought it was a stupid deal for the Republicans because they sacrificed several appellate court nominees and agreed not to eliminate the filibuster in exchange for a rather weak agreement that the filibuster wouldn't be used except in "extreme circumstances". At this point, I don't see how maintaining the filibuster is a win for the Republicans, since demographic trends seem to indicate that they'll hold the Senate for a while. Even if they lose it, the filibuster is antidemocratic and was never envisioned by the framers, and I'm pretty much against the practice on pure principle.

The benefit to the Gang is that their own power is enhanced by forming a cabal of swing votes that must be appeased -- again, I don't see how this benefits democracy. I wonder if the President nominated Miers because the Gang privately shot down more qualified people? Rumors are circulating that Miers wasn't Bush's first choice, but that others on the short list declined to be nominated because they were afraid of the potential confirmation battle. The agreement of the Gang may have dampened enthusiasm for the filibuster in some cases, but it only strengthens the venom that will be injected into any nominate that surpasses the ambiguous threshold of "extremity".

An additional problem with the filibuster is that it shelters the half-dozen unreliable Senate Republicans who won't want to back a conservative nominee. If the Democrats invoke a filibuster the lefty Republicans won't have to cast a vote... unless the "nuclear option" gets put back on the table. Without filibusters, the majority of conservative Republicans could either strong-arm the lefties into compliance or at least force the internal disagreement out into the open.

So, with short-term historical perspective, who has the Gang of 14 deal benefitted most?

A new California law appears to be one of the first to actually criminalize the torture of artificial intelligences. Here are a few excerpted portions of the new law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors:

(1) "Violent video game" means a video game in which the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being, if those acts are depicted in the game in a manner that does either of the following: ...

(B) Enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.

(2) For purposes of this subdivision, the following definitions apply: ...

(E) "Torture" includes mental as well as physical abuse of the victim. In either case, the virtual victim must be conscious of the abuse at the time it is inflicted; and the player must specifically intend to virtually inflict severe mental or physical pain or suffering upon the victim, apart from killing the victim.

This portion of the law appears to be impotent until such time as someone develops a virtual victim with enough intelligence to be considered to be "conscious".

(HT: Slashdot.)

Baron Bodissey has a fascinating account of his investigation into a Muslim cult compound in Virginia belonging to an organization called Jamaat ul-Fuqra.

During the Beltway Sniper crisis, back in the fall of 2002, a series of articles in The Washington Times described John Allen Muhammad’s conversion to Islam, and his later break with the Nation of Islam (the articles are no longer available, but extracts have been preserved here). Apparently the NOI was not militant enough for Mr. Muhammad, and he left it to become involved with a group called Jamaat ul-Fuqra (Arabic for “community of the impoverished”), a terrorist organization founded by a notorious Pakistani cleric, Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani.

What drew my eye in the article was the mention of a Jamaat ul-Fuqra compound in Red House, Virginia. Red House?! I know Red House — a small village in rural Charlotte County.

Ever since then I’ve been curious to know more about the Red House compound. This past Saturday afternoon, carrying a digital camera and a great apprehension about possible encounters with some reportedly very dangerous people, I drove up there.

Living in Los Angeles it's easy to forget that America is an emormous country and there are plenty of places for our enemies to hide in our midst. Presumably the government is keeping its eyes on this sort of thing....

(HT: Wretchard.)

One of the intangible kinds of wealth that "poor" Americans enjoy is societal protection against devestating natural disasters like the earthquake in Pakistan.

One of the most disturbing aspects of Hurricane Katrina, to those of us fortunate enough not to be directly affected, was that our vast national wealth apparently did little to mitigate the damage. However, that's not true at all! Weather satellites and weather prediction are very expensive and very hard to do, and our investment in those technologies gave the residents of the Gulf Coast days of warning time that would have been unthinkable for more primitive societies. Those extra days potentially saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

As for earthquakes, it's unlikely that a 7.6 in California would kill nearly as many people as the quake in Pakistan appears to have killed. I'm no expert, but I'd predict an American death toll of hundreds, not tens of thousands as we're seeing there. Why? Because our structures are built to much higher standards, at much greater cost, than similar buildings in Pakistan. Further, we don't have hills and mountains full of stone age villages just waiting to succumb to mudslides.

Even the poorest Americans enjoy the intangible benefits of our advanced civilization, though the wealth won't show up in their bank accounts or income statements. Another reason why, by any reasonable historical standard, there really are no "poor" Americans.

Stanford's Stanley vehicle was the first to reach the finish line of DARPA's Grand Challenge 2005, followed by four other entrants. A much better showing than last year, when no vehicle made it more than seven miles into the 132 mile course. Unfortunately the press releases are in Flash format which means I can't cut and paste them... kinda defeats the purpose doesn't it? Anyway, go check it out at the link above.

Ok, not to be too morbid, but let's compare the present Supreme Court justices with the Social Security actuarial table and make a prediction about how many more nominations (by death) the President will get (excepting Miers, whatever happens with her). Let's simplify and give Bush three more years in office and round the justices' ages down to the nearest year.

JusticeAgeChance of living three more years
John Roberts5098.2%
John Paul Stevens8565.1%
Antonin Scalia6991.1%
Anthony Kennedy6991.1%
David Souter6693.1%
Clarence Thomas5796.9%
Ruth Bader Ginsburg7292.5%
Stephen Breyer6792.5

Chance of all justices surviving three more years: 41%. Plus, justices often retire without dying, so it's pretty likely that President Bush will get at least one more nomination.

My brother's once and future roommate has posted a selection of his favorite airplane pictures from among the many thousands he's taken at airshows across the country. Pretty sweet.

Utilitarianism, and note the particularly powerful variant, rule utilitarianism.

Act utilitarianism states that the best act is whichever act would yield the most happiness. Rule utilitarianism instead states that the best act is to follow the general rule which would yield the most happiness.

To illustrate, consider the following scenario: A surgeon has six patients: one needs a liver, one needs a pancreas, one needs a gall bladder, and two need kidneys. The sixth just came in to have his appendix removed. Should the surgeon kill the sixth man and pass his organs around to the others? Or, indeed, what would stop him from simply hunting down and slaughtering the first healthy man (the seventh) he comes across on the street, patient or non-patient? This would obviously violate the rights of the sixth/seventh man, but act utilitarianism seems to imply that, given a purely binary choice between (1) killing the man and distributing his organs or (2) not doing so and the other five dying, violating his rights is exactly what we ought to do.

A rule utilitarian, however, would look at the rule, rather than the act, that would be instituted by cutting up the sixth man. The rule in this case would be: "whenever a surgeon could kill one relatively healthy person in order to transplant his organs to more than one other person who needs them, he ought to do so." This rule, if instituted in society, would obviously lead to bad consequences. Relatively healthy people would stop going to the hospital, we'd end up performing many risky transplant operations, etc., etc. So a rule utilitarian would say we should implement the opposite rule: don't harvest healthy people's organs to give them to sick people. If the surgeon killed the sixth (seventh) man, then he would be doing the wrong thing.

Is-ought problem.

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

Senator Tom Harkin has a no-duh moment when he identifies who will "suffer" from federal budget "cuts" needed to pay for Katrina and Rita aid.

“As usual, the prime targets are the poor and others who rely on federal programs for their health, education, disability, agriculture, and veterans’ benefits,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.

It shouldn't be a mystery that people who live their lives dependent on public aid will be the ones most affected when that aid is redirected -- and note that spending is redirected and not cut. If you don't want to be dependent on the whims of politics for comfort, provide for yourself. The poor here aren't "targets" any more than the rich are the "targets" of tax cuts -- when taxes are cut, only those who pay taxes will be directly affected, and these days paying taxes is basically the definition of "rich".

I hope the left sees how concerned the right is over the appearance of cronyism with the Miers nomination.

The main complaints cited at the Norquist and Weyrich sessions yesterday, according to several accounts, centered on Miers's lack of track record and the charge of cronyism. "It was very tough and people were very unhappy," said one person who attended. Another said much of the anger resulted from the fact that "everyone prepared to go to the mat" to support a strong, controversial nominee and Miers was a letdown. As a result, a third attendee observed, Gillespie and Mehlman came in for rough treatment: "They got pummeled. I've never seen anything like it."

What will be interesting to see is if the left supports Miers because, despite the appearance of cronyism, she isn't as far right as the nominee conservatives were hoping for.

The 90-minute Norquist session, where Gillespie appeared before 100 activists, was the more fiery encounter, according to participants. Among those speaking out was Jessica Echard, executive director of the Eagle Forum, founded by Phyllis Schlafly. Although she declined to give a full account later because of the meeting ground rules, Echard said in an interview that her group could not for now support Miers: "We feel this is a disappointment in President Bush. If it's going to be a woman, we expected an equal heavyweight to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her liberal stance, and we did not get that in Miss Miers."

I think the President screwed this one up, and I wouldn't be surprised if the White House is now looking for an excuse to withdraw the nomination. Assuming they vetted Miss Miers properly, they know all the dirt in her background and they may not hesitate to reveal something if they need to create an out and she won't step back on her own.

Al Gore's recent speech about the marketplace of ideas is actually quite good, though I think he's mistaken in thinking that television's dominance of the public sphere has led to suppression of dissent by conservatives. He seems to prefer the exchange of ideas through the written word, and when he mentions his Current.tv project it sounds less like enthusiasm and more like a reluctant concession to reality as he sees it. However, thoughout the whole speech he doesn't mention blogs even once, though they're the public forum of the 21st century. The reasoned and rational debate he longs for is taking place, and it's not on television.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television. Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few minutes. ...

Consider the rules by which our present "public forum" now operates, and how different they are from the forum our Founders knew. Instead of the easy and free access individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation today.

Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America. They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset essays, pamphlets, books or flyers.

Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in ideas contributed by individual citizens.

There's no question that television holds more eyeballs to the screen than the internet does now, and Mr. Gore is probably right about the reasons -- a physiological predisposition towards moving images. Still, it's important for even a populist to remember that the opinions of most people won't matter because they won't get involved. Television is terrible for debate, but excellent for spreading information to the generally disinterested masses; thus, television can complement the internet by spreading the arguments and results of the debates that happen in the blogs and float to the top.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

Blogs present no such barriers, which is why the blogging medium is superior to that of television for hosting debates about ideas. Current TV notwithstanding, it always will be. If television really wants to contribute to the national discussion, it should focus on outlining and presenting the various sides of the debates that are taking place online. Let the talking heads talk, but let the blogosphere write the script. Indirectly that's what's already happening; I can't even count the number of times I've heard an argument on TV that I read the week before on some minor blog. Good ideas are floating to the top and slowly breaking through the elite media and into the public consciousness. Mr. Gore appears to sense this trend, but he thinks too small.

The greatest source of hope for reestablishing a vigorous and accessible marketplace for ideas is the Internet. Indeed, Current TV relies on video streaming over the Internet as the means by which individuals send us what we call viewer-created content or VC squared. We also rely on the Internet for the two-way conversation that we have every day with our viewers enabling them to participate in the decisions on programming our network.

He sees the internet as a complement to television, when the reality is the reverse. The downside is that with the profit centers much more disbursed it will be difficult to rake in the vast revenues that support enormous corporations; for better or worse, this revenue shift will contribute to the wider economic trend towards self-employment and small business and away from large corporations. Both Mr. Gore and myself will welcome this paradigm shift, though I think the condemnations he hurls at corporations in his speech are misplaced.

I agree with Mr. Gore's conclusion:

The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.

I really think the former vice president is sniffing in the right direction. His disillusionment with blogs is probably the result of the fact that his own pet causes are so routinely shot down by the best thinkers of the new public debate, and that must be hard to accept. Still, his support for the discussion shows that his intentions are good, and society can grow stronger by continually refuting his policy ideas.

The Evangelical Ecologist has a fantastic roundup of the many benefits of telework (a.k.a., telecommuting) to individuals and to society. I'm not an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm all for reducing pollution and preserving the environment as secondary benefits that result from increasing efficiency, productivity, and quality of life.

Private Sector Industry Studies:

· An International Telework Association & Council (ITAC) study found that telework reduced turnover by an average of 20 percent, boosted productivity by up to 22 percent, and trimmed absenteeism by 60 percent. Additionally, it allowed companies to adhere more closely to the Clean Air Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
· An earlier (1999) study by Telework America showed that employees who telework can save their agencies up to $10,000 per year in reduced absenteeism and retention costs.
· A study by the American Management Association found that the absenteeism costs were reduced by 63 percent, an average of $2,000 saved for every employee.
· AT&T estimates its telework program realizes approximately $150,000,000 in annual savings ($100,000,000 through direct employee productivity, $35,000,000 through reduced real estate costs, and $15,000,000 through enhanced employee retention). For employees, cost savings from reduced commuting as well as improved morale and work productivity were identified as benefits. Also, AT&T teleworkers work an average of 5 more hours per week than AT&T office workers.
· Dow Chemical: Administrative costs have dropped 50% annually (15% attributed to commercial real estate costs.) Productivity increased by 32.5% (10% through decreased absenteeism, 16% by working at home and 6.5% by avoiding the commute.)

The cost savings in energy, real estate, facilities management, and so forth are astounding. As an engineer, I'm keenly aware that jobs move around geographically, and I hate commuting. I'd never take a job 20 miles away unless I had no other choice, but it would be a whole different story if I could work from home a few days a week. In Los Angeles, or other highly congested urban centers, a major telecommuting trend could lead to tremendous decreases in traffic, pollution, and stress.

(HT: Instapundit.)

What did I read while eating my steak, potato, and pea stew for lunch?

Black Monday (1987)

Black Monday is the name ascribed to Monday October 19, 1987. On that day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 22.6%, the largest one-day decline in recorded stock market history. This one day decline was not confined to the United States, but mirrored all over the world. By the end of October, stock markets in Australia had fallen 41.8%, Canada 22.5%, Hong Kong 45.8%, and the United Kingdom 26.4%.

A certain degree of mystery is associated with the 1987 crash. Many have noted that no major news or events occurred prior to the Monday of the crash, the decline seeming to have come from nowhere. Important assumptions concerning human rationality, the efficient market hypothesis, and economic equilibrium were brought into question by the event. Debate as to the cause of the crash still continues many years after the event, no firm conclusions having been reached.


The most immediately striking theme in the Shinto religion is a great love and reverence for nature. Thus, a waterfall, the moon, or just an oddly shaped rock might come to be regarded as a kami; so might charismatic persons or more abstract entities like growth and fertility. As time went by, the original nature-worshipping roots of the religion, while never lost entirely, became attenuated and the kami took on more reified and anthropomorphic forms, with a formidable corpus of myth attached to them. (See also: Japanese mythology.) The kami, though, are not transcendent deities in the usual Western and Indian sense of the word - although divine, they are close to us; they inhabit the same world as we do, make the same mistakes as we do, and feel and think the same way as we do. Those who died would automatically be added to the rank of kami regardless of their human doings. (Though it is thought that one can become a ghost under certain circumstances involving unsettled disputes in life.) Belief is not a central aspect in Shinto, and proper observation of ritual is more important than whether one "truly believes" in the ritual. Thus, even those believing other religions may be venerated as kami after death, if there are Shinto believers who wish them to be.

Despite the recent news item about Google describing Taiwan as a "province of China", the opinions of a search engine aren't that important. Just as with Israel, the way an organization treats Taiwan says more about that organization than it does about the Republic of China (that is, Taiwan). Particularly, we can learn a lot about the UN by its continual refusal to admit Taiwan or even grant the nation observer status.

In the grand arena of global diplomacy, office renovations are of course a sideshow. But as a symbol of the difference between the aging behemoth that is the U.N., and the lively democracy that is Taiwan, the contrast between the two renovation projects could hardly be more apt. While the U.N. reserves one of five permanent seats on its Security Council for the despotic "People's Republic" of China, plays along with the nuclear bomb program of the Islamic "Republic" of Iran and routinely clears its schedule to entertain the opinions of Fidel Castro's Cuba, the U.N. does not even offer Taiwan observer status, let alone a seat. ...

Borrowing a page from George Orwell, the U.N. also celebrated its anniversary with a poster in the lobby of its famous but decrepit headquarters, on which it advertised a display of "Original Signatories of the U.N. charter." Except they weren't. The original signatory for China of the U.N. charter was the Republic of China. In the 2005 U.N. version, the signatory listed was "China, People's Republic of." Informed of this Turtle Bay twisting of history, Mr. Hsia wrote to U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor, noting, "It is hard to imagine how the U.N., perhaps the world's most important international organization and one which is widely counted on to preserve the truth, could allow itself to blatantly deviate from history and misinform the world about something so fundamental to its history."

The U.N. did not write back, says Mr. Hsia, nor did the U.N. correct the mistake. Instead, in the finest tradition of Orwell's memory hole--the poster simply vanished.

The leftist elite that likes to pull the world's strings (and can, because most everyone else is too busy being productive) are trying their best to condemn us all to fascist tyranny for our own good. The denigration of Taiwan and the glorification of the ChiComs deserves to be a highly visible example of why their plans should be uprooted as soon as possible.

Only slightly more absurd than the "fundamental right" to wireless internet access is the claim to publicly funded prostitution. Aside from the moral issues, this should serve as an example of why it's important to limit the role of government.

A disabled Danish man is fighting for the state to pay for him to have a prostitute visit him at home.

Torben Hansen, who has cerebral palsy, which severely affects his speech and mobility, believes his local authority should pay the extra charge he incurs when he hires a sex worker - because his disability means he cannot go to see them. His case is currently being considered.

In Denmark, local authorities compensate disabled people for extra costs incurred because of their disability.

"I want them to cover the extra expenses for the prostitutes to get here, because it's a lot more expensive getting them to come to my home rather than me going to a brothel," Mr Hansen told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"It's a necessity for me. I can't move very well, and it's impossible for me to go there."

Prostitution isn't illegal in Denmark, so if the public funds other expenses, why not house call girls? One politician appears to appreciate the conundrum.

Kristen Brosboel, a Social Democrat member of the Danish Parliament, is among those who have argued against Mr Hansen.

"Obviously I recognise that he has a problem that people without a disability may not have - but I disagree with the fact that we should support his visits with a prostitute with tax money," she told Outlook.

"We also spend tax money on trying to prevent prostitution, helping women out of prostitution - and we have a clear policy that this is a social problem that we want to solve.

"So I think that's very much in contradiction with spending tax money on requiring prostitutes."

When the public funds everything, contradictions are inevitable. The only solution is to limit the scope of government. The real problem in Denmark is that the public already pays for so much, how can anyone say no?

John Bolton's speech and answers at Yale demonstrate why he's exactly the right man to be America's ambassador to the UN.

In his address, which defended the Bush administration's foreign policy, Bolton argued that voluntary contributions from states would allow major donors such as the United States to choose to fund the U.N. programs that they believe to be the most efficient. But while fielding questions from impassioned students packed into Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, Bolton candidly discussed issues such as nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea, the war in Iraq and his own confirmation battles.

Noting that voluntary contributions are not yet part of President George W. Bush '68's policy on U.N. reform, Bolton said it was unfair for the U.S. to pay 22 percent of the organization's budget in exchange for one vote in the 191-member General Assembly. Agencies like the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, are more efficient and more responsive to donor countries, Bolton said.

"Why shouldn't we pay for what we want, instead of paying a bill for what we get?" Bolton said.

Why? Because the bureaucrats who are so eager to spend our money are purposefully using the dollars we give them to undermine America. If they had to be responsive to us, they'd be out of a job.

"He was extremely rude, extremely belligerent, everything the Democrats called him in confirmation hearings," Jed Glickstein '08 said. "He was all those things, but in the end he won the debate."

Works for me. That's exactly the kind of attitude that's needed at the UN to take out the trash. If the UN wants to be built into a useful organization, Ambassador Bolton is its only hope for salvation.

Is there a way to calculate a running standard deviation without storing all previous items? For instance, a running average can be kept by storing the sum of all previous items and item count. Is there a way to keep a running standard deviation by storing less data than all the previous items? I can't think of a way to do it.

Mark Steyn points out that the more we appease, the more they demand.

Alas, the United Kingdom's descent into dhimmitude is beyond parody. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (Tory-controlled) has now announced that, following a complaint by a Muslim employee, all work pictures and knick-knacks of novelty pigs and "pig-related items" will be banned. Among the verboten items is one employee's box of tissues, because it features a representation of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. And, as we know, Muslims regard pigs as "unclean", even an anthropomorphised cartoon pig wearing a scarf and a bright, colourful singlet.

Cllr Mahbubur Rahman is in favour of the blanket pig crackdown. "It is a good thing, it is a tolerance and acceptance of their beliefs and understanding," he said. That's all, folks, as Porky Pig used to stammer at the end of Looney Tunes. Just a little helpful proscription in the interests of tolerance and acceptance. ...

Likewise, Piglet is deeply offensive and so's your chocolate ice-cream, but if a West End play opens with a gay Jesus, Christians just need to stop being so doctrinaire and uptight. The Church of England bishops would probably agree with that if, in their own misguided attempt at Islamic outreach, they weren't so busy apologising for toppling Saddam.

When every act that a culture makes communicates weakness and loss of self-belief, eventually you'll be taken at your word. In the long term, these trivial concessions are more significant victories than blowing up infidels on the Tube or in Bali beach restaurants. An act of murder demands at least the pretence of moral seriousness, even from the dopiest appeasers. But small acts of cultural vandalism corrode the fabric of freedom all but unseen.

Is it really a victory for "tolerance" to say that a council worker cannot have a Piglet coffee mug on her desk? And isn't an ability to turn a blind eye to animated piglets the very least the West is entitled to expect from its Muslim citizens? If Islam cannot "co-exist" even with Pooh or the abstract swirl on a Burger King ice-cream, how likely is it that it can co-exist with the more basic principles of a pluralist society?

We can win military battles in the field all day long and still lose the war if we're too cowardly and "tolerant" to fight the cultural battles at home.

Fiancee JM reminds me that it's the 10th anniversary of the OJ Simpson verdict!

Ten years ago today, an estimated 150 million people gathered in living rooms, newsrooms, classrooms, storage rooms, department stores, restaurants and wherever they could find a television set to watch the conclusion of a true crime story that had riveted the nation for more than a year.

Americans were spellbound by the case of the People of the State of California vs. Orenthal James Simpson, with its hot button issues of race, fame, wealth and domestic violence. It turned the cast of characters into household names, shaped future media coverage and presented a distorted view of criminal proceedings.

The former NFL star running back, B movie actor and rental car pitchman was on trial for the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, a casual acquaintance. Both were found stabbed to death outside her Los Angeles home.

What has happened to this "cast of characters"?

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman: still dead.

Johnnie Cochran: also dead, thought not (apparently) at the hands of OJ Simpson.

OJ Simpson: endangering manatees and stealing DirecTV. With Johnny Cochran out of the picture, he's sticking to petty crimes.

Marcia Clark: wrote Without a Doubt, a book about her inept prosecution.

Kato Kaelin: took up Brad Pitt impersonation after a brief talk-radio career failed.

Lance Ito: still a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, after the failure of his "Dancing Itos" troupe.

Mark Fuhrman: life ruined by accusations of racism, Detective Fuhrman resigned from his job after the case and started solving crimes freelance, such as that of Martha Moxley.

Who else?

Michael Greve uses Germany as an example of why proportional representation leads to indecision and gridlock.

Proportional representation--PR--is said to be more democratic, inclusive and respectful of minorities than British-American winner-take-all, first-past-the-post elections. Unfortunately, it does nothing to foster clear majorities capable of effective government.

Germany's system of almost pure PR has consistently produced coalition governments and now, for the first time, a situation in which no party constellation can produce a government with a coherent program for much-needed reforms. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's reform of Britain's sclerotic economy wouldn't have been possible with PR and cooperative federalism; nor could one imagine Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi accomplishing anything similar in Japan.

The more subtle but ultimately more insidious problem is that PR--unless balanced by plebiscitary institutions such as a directly elected, powerful executive--tends to be constitutionally unstable. Instead of institutional checks and balances, PR constitutions resemble temporary peace pacts among contending interests, classes or warlords. The structure is only as stable as the underlying constellation of forces; or it is stabilized by nonpolitical means.

Some people decry America's two-party system for shutting out the "little guy", but the fact is that the primary races within each party serve as a filter to prevent Nazis, Communists, and other sorts of lunatics from attaining national office (as they do in France, Germany, and other PR countries). First-past-the-post elections ensure the creation of a government with a mandate from the majority, which leads to more decisive action, less pandering to fringe groups, and greater stability.

Despite the disquiet over President Bush's recent Supreme Court nomination, there's one legal personnelle change that's been long overdue: lunatic Vincent D’Onofrio is being phased out of Law & Order: Criminal Intent in favor of ex-L&O star Chris Noth! Last night's episode was actually pretty good, mainly because VDO (as his fans apparently call him) was nowhere to be found. WNDU says that Noth will star in eleven episodes this season, but I still hold out hope that VDO will throw another insane fit and have to be hospitalized permanently.

California high school students are failing the graduation exam; I don't have any problem with lower expectations for special-education students, but unless someone is arguing that being black or latino is the same as being mentally handicapped I think there must be some better solution than making the test easier. It already sounds pretty easy:

Nearly 100,000 California 12th graders — or about 20% of this year's senior class — have failed the state's graduation exam, potentially jeopardizing their chances of earning diplomas, according to the most definitive report on the mandatory test, released Friday. ...

The exit exam — which has come under criticism by some educators, legislators and civil rights advocates — is geared to an eighth-grade level in math and to ninth- and 10th-grade levels in English.

Shouldn't a test that examines 12th-graders be based on, oh, I don't know, 12th-grade material?

Among its findings: 63% of African Americans and 68% of Latinos in the class of 2006 have passed both parts of the exam.

By comparison, 89% of Asians and 90% of whites have passed. The report recommended that the state keep the exam but consider several alternatives for students who can't pass.

"Clearly, we need to have some options for these students," said Lauress L. Wise, the firm's president, in a telephone interview with reporters.

Here's an option for those who don't want to learn: flip burgers for the rest of your lives. Yeah, it's a sucky job. That's why some of your peers, the ones you mocked, actually went to class and did homework. I went to public school in Los Angeles, in the LAUSD, and yes, it's dysfunctional. But! It's also incredibly easy. The material is easy. The standards are lax. There's no reason that anyone with an IQ over 90 shouldn't be able to pass with flying colors. But you do have to show up.

Teachers, according to the report, said that many students arrive unprepared and unmotivated for their high school courses and that their grades often reflect poor attendance and low parental involvement.

It's hard for parents to be involved when the majority of families are divorced, and most parents probably can't do high school material either. It must be society's fault! I mean, it's not like we provide twelve years of free education, books, computer labs and teachers or anything! Holy crap.

So what do the students say?

Los Angeles High School senior D'Janay O'Neal had another complaint. She said she freezes up on the math portion of the test because "math has never been my strong suit."

D'Janay, 17, said she passed the English section on the first try but has failed the math part three times. She is taking an extra remedial math class this semester to help her pass the test, in addition to her Algebra II class and two Advanced Placement courses. She said she has a 2.0 grade point average.

"I am totally freaking out that I may not graduate," said D'Janay, who attended a rally against the exit exam this week in a park next to her high school.

"No matter what happens, I'm going to college because I need college to further my education," she said.

First off, she's over the limit of one apostrophy per person, but that's probably her mom's fault. Second, no one with a 2.0 GPA should be taking AP classes or worrying about college. Math doesn't have to be your "strong suit" to pass at the 8th grade level. Algebra II? 8th-graders I know are taking Algebra or Pre-Algebra; Algebra II is generally taken in the 10th or 11th grade.

People are so lazy, it's unbelievable. Here's an alternate graduation criteria for you: eliminate all test requirements for any family that doesn't own a television.

*** This post is being updated throughout the day as I stumble on more commentary. ***

Blah, yeah, I'm frustrated over the President's pick of Harriet Miers. The secondary reason I supported Bush so strongly last year -- after the War on Terror -- was so that he could make some strong, conservative appointments to the Supreme Court. And instead I get, what? Some staffer I've never heard of? The blogs, and even dead-tree media, have been full of brilliant, conservative suggestions, but instead Bush nominates a flack. Great. I could write a bunch more about it, but I pretty much agree with David Frum's assessment.

The Miers nomination, though, is an unforced error. Unlike the Roberts's nomination, which confirmed the previous balance on the Court, the O'Connor resignation offered an opportunity to change the balance. This is the moment for which the conservative legal movement has been waiting for two decades--two decades in which a generation of conservative legal intellects of the highest ability have moved to the most distinguished heights in the legal profession. On the nation's appellate courts, in legal academia, in private practice, there are dozens and dozens of principled conservative jurists in their 40s and 50s unassailably qualified for the nation's highest court. Yes, Democrats might have complained. But if Democrats had gone to war against a Michael Luttig or a Sam Alito or a Michael McConnell, they would have had to fight without weapons. The personal and intellectual excellence of these candidates would have made it obvious that the Democrats' only real principle was a kind of legal Brezhnev doctrine: that the Court's balance must remain forever what it was in the days when Democrats had a majority of the votes in the U.S. Senate. In other words, what we have, we hold. Not a very attractive doctrine, and not very winnable either.

The Senate would have confirmed Luttig, Alito, or McConnell. It certainly would have confirmed a Senator Mitch McConnell or a Senator Jon Kyl, had the president felt even a little nervous about the ultimate vote.

There was no reason for him to choose anyone but one of these outstanding conservatives. As for the diversity argument, it just seems incredible to imagine that anybody would have criticized this president of all people for his lack of devotion to that doctrine. He has appointed minorities and women to the highest offices in the land, relied on women as his closest advisers, and staffed his administration through and through with Americans of every race, sex, faith, and national origin. He had nothing to apologize for on that score. So the question must be asked, as Admiral Rickover once demanded of Jimmy Carter: Why not the best?

Hugh Hewitt points to a series of posts about Miers by Marvin Olasky that paint her as a conservative Christian.

Miers has been a member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas for 25 years, where Hecht has been an elder. He calls it a "conservative evangelical church... in the vernacular, fundamentalist, but the media have used that word to tar us." He says she was on the missions committee for ten years, taught children in Sunday School, made coffee, brought donuts: "Nothing she's asked to do in church is beneath her." On abortion, choosing his words carefully for an on-the-record statement, he says "her personal views are consistent with that of evangelical Christians... You can tell a lot about her from her decade of service in a conservative church."

Since I'm looking for good news, maybe I'll find some more. Beldar looks happy enough.

By objective standards, Harriet Miers has been among the few dozen most successful lawyers in private practice in the United States. Filter the Y-chromosome bearers out of that group and you're down to a couple dozen or less. Filter that group for significant public and governmental experience and we're down to a very small handful. And filter that small handful for lawyers in whom George W. Bush already has boundless personal confidence from first-hand experience, and your Venn diagram just has a one-member set left: Harriet Miers. Those are not inappropriate criteria, folks. From an overall viewpoint, using any reasonable criteria, she's qualified enough. But using those particular criteria, she's uniquely qualified.

I've got nothing against her lack of judicial experience -- that's even a plus. Despite all this reasoning about her, though, no one is arguing that she's brilliant and capable of making the great arguments that need to be made to reform our courts.

It also bothers me that Democratic Senators are so enthusiastic.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, personally urged Bush to consider Miers, sources say. A senior administration official, asked about the logic of the choice, points to Democratic support and the fact that, as Bush said in introducing her, Miers had been "a pioneer in the field of law"—a woman who was active in the Southern legal community at a time it was dominated by men, becoming the first female president of both the Dallas Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas. Sure enough, Reid issued a statement 90 minutes after Bush announced the pick that began, "I like Harriet Miers." He called her "a trailblazer," unintentionally echoing the language of talking points that had been sent to Republicans. He added that the court "would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer."

If Give 'Em Hell Harry is happy, Bush must be doing something wrong.

Paul Deignan thinks we should reject Miers purely out of concern for cronyism, which I think is a strong argument.

Harriet Miers is many things, but she is not a Constitutional scholar, well-seasoned in elective office, or someone who has made many public speeches or presentations on the workings of government. She is an unknown and unproven functionary whose chief virtue is the one virtue that we must reject--a strong tie to a particular chief executive.

Our Constitutional system relies on a separation of powers to ensure mutual accountability through competition for public fidelity. Cronyism, the formation of hidden and undemocratic power relationships, has been the bane of divided government from its inception. When the public cannot see clearly the workings of government the people lose a sure hand in controlling their collective destiny.

Bill Kristol is depressed because replacing O'Connor with Miers doesn't reflect a desire to change the balance of the court.

I'm depressed. Roberts for O'Connor was an unambiguous improvement. Roberts for Rehnquist was an appropriate replacement. But moving Roberts over to the Rehnquist seat meant everything rode on this nomination--and that the president had to be ready to fight on constitutional grounds for a strong nominee. Apparently, he wasn't. It is very hard to avoid the conclusion that President Bush flinched from a fight on constitutional philosophy. Miers is undoubtedly a decent and competent person. But her selection will unavoidably be judged as reflecting a combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the president.

Ace explains Bush's mistake:

By nominating Roberts as Chief Justice, he made him a replacement for Rehnquist, rather than for Sandra Day O'Connor, as was originally planned. The thing is, Roberts could easily have been confirmed as O'Connor's replacement, and he was more conservative than her (if only by a bit) to boot. That would have allowed Bush a free hand to nominate a strong, unabashed conservative for Rehnquist's spot, as in that case he would have just been swapping one strong conservative for another.

Had he not nominated Roberts for CJ then, he would have replaces a very squishy semi-"conservative" with a more dependable conservative. And then he could have nominated a Scalia-type to replace Rehnquist. Net result: the court moves to the right.

But as it is, he has replaced Rehnquist with someone who is less of a conservative (or so it seems; who knows, really, given what little anyone knows about Roberts' actual judicial philosophy) and is replacing O'Connor with what seems to be an O'Connor clone.

Net result: the court moves slightly to the left.

Roberts was golden. Roberts could not be defeated, even as a swap for the liberalish O'Connor. Roberts was in like a tasseled-loafers Flynn.

Pat Buchanan echos my own thoughts, claiming that the White House is afraid to fight.

Conservative cherish justices and judges who have paper trails. For that means these men and women have articulated and defended their convictions. They have written in magazines and law journals about what is wrong with the courts and how to make it right. They had stood up to the prevailing winds. They have argued for the Constitution as the firm and fixed document the Founding Fathers wrote, not some thing of wax.

A paper trail is the mark of a lawyer, a scholar or a judge who has shared the action and passion of his or her time, taken a stand on the great questions, accepted public abuse for articulating convictions.

Why is a judicial cipher like Harriet Miers to be preferred to a judicial conservative like Edith Jones?

One reason: Because the White House fears nominees “with a paper trail” will be rejected by the Senate, and this White House fears, above all else, losing. So, it has chosen not to fight.

Thomas Lifson looks at the nomination strategically and sees a lot to like.

This president understands small group dynamics in a way that fewif any of his predecessors ever have. Perhaps this is because he was educated at Harvard Business School in a legendary course then-called Human Behavior in Organizations. The Olympian Cass Gilbert-designed temple/courtroom/offices of the Supreme Court obscure the fact that it is a small group, subject to very human considerations in its operations. Switching two out of nine members in a small group has the potential to entirely alter the way it operates. Because so much of managerial work consists of getting groups of people to work effectively, Harvard Business School lavishes an extraordinary amount of attention on the subject.

One of the lessons the President learned at Harvard was the way in which members of small groups assume different roles in their operation, each of which separate roles can influence the overall function. The new Chief Justice is a man of unquestioned brilliance, as well as cordial disposition. He will be able to lead the other Justices through his intellect and knowledge of the law. Having ensured that the Court’s formal leader meets the traditional and obvious qualities of a Justice, and is a man who indeed embodies the norms all Justices feel they must follow, there is room for attending to other important roles in group process.

Fewer Britons are getting married, and researchers claims marriage will grow even rarer in the future.

Marriage is on the rocks in Britain, with the proportion of unmarried people set to exceed that of married people within 25 years as more men and women opt to live together without constraints, according to government statistics published this week.

The proportion of married men is expected to fall from 53 percent in 2003 to 42 percent in 2031, while the percentage of married women will decline from 50 percent to 40 percent, Britain's Office for National Statistics predicted Thursday. ...

Further, more people will choose never to marry at all. By 2031 almost half of all adult men in the country will have never married, compared with 35 percent two years ago, the ONS said.

The proportion of never-married women is expected to rise to 39 percent from 28 percent in 2003.

This trend goes hand-in-hand with declining birth rates, and is a fascinating example of the human species seeking a developmental equilibrium far below our current level of civilization. Western civilization is now so wealthy that marriages aren't necessary for security, despite the fact that families are the foundation of our current prosperity. It's as if, though we see far by standing on the shoulders of giants, we refuse to stand tall to enable subsequent generations can see even farther by standing upon us.

Hedonism is an expensive luxury, and it seems rather unlikely that after paying the bill our culture will have enough left to pay the rent and utilities.

The recent ice debacle is an excellent example of why centralized economies perform so poorly.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered. ...

Over about a week after the storm, FEMA ordered 211 million pounds of ice for Hurricane Katrina, said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which buys the ice that FEMA requests under a contract with IAP Worldwide Services of Cape Canaveral, Fla. The company won the contract in competitive bidding in 2002, Mr. Holland said.

Officials eventually realized that that much ice was overkill, and managed to cancel some of the orders. But the 182 million pounds actually supplied turned out to be far more than could be delivered to victims. ...

Some people, including Michael D. Brown, the former FEMA director, have questioned why the agency spends so much money moving ice.

"I feebly attempted to get FEMA out of the business of ice," Mr. Brown told a House panel this week. "I don't think that's a federal government responsibility to provide ice to keep my hamburger meat in my freezer or refrigerator fresh."

Well Mr. Brown is certainly right about that! Ice can be a critial supply in some circumstances, but when you're giving it away for free you've got no idea where it should go or when. As many commentators have pointed out recently -- defending "price gouging" -- prices are signals to the market of when to produce and distribute resources. If the price for a commodity is higher in one place than another, that price is a signal to producers to supply more. But when the government buys a bunch of ice to give away for free, the job gets horribly bungled because their socialist tendencies distort and ignore the ice market. What's more, just imagine what useful supplies this money and these trucks could have been used for if FEMA hadn't hoarded them.

Despite the absurdity of the debit card give-away, people spending cash are less of a distortion on the market than when the government gives away resources with less liquidity.

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