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May 31, 2005


The trailer is here for Serenity, the movie based on Joss Whedon's underappreciated, but awesome sci-fi show Firefly.

Needless to say, I can't wait!

(Hat Tip: Karl Gallagher)

Posted by Brian at 8:44 PM | TrackBack

Yet Another for the Ban List - trackback spammer

UPDATE: some more trackback spammers:

Posted by jeff at 5:57 PM | TrackBack

Sick and Disgusted

Just remember that according to the multi-culturalists, all cultures are equally valuable. Sadly, this is not uncommon in the Muslim world, where for example women are often killed (by their own fathers, frequently) for losing the family's honor because they were raped (sometimes by their male relatives).

Posted by jeff at 5:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Deep Throat - and I Don't Mean the Movie

I was just wondering the other day when Deep Throat - the inside source to Woodward and Berstein during the Watergate scandal - would be revealed. It will be interesting to see where the revised histories end up after studying Mr. Felt's involvement in more detail and tracing the trails around him. It would be unfortunate, though, if the inevitable search for feet of clay were to overshadow the moral courage Mr. Felt showed in coming forward with the information that led to Nixon's resignation.

Posted by jeff at 2:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Long March Continues

Mark at ZenPundit draws attention to a further step in the long march through the institutions: requiring teachers to be "educated" in "social justice". That is to say, in order to obtain their teaching certificate, and thus become eligible to apply for most teaching positions, a prospective teacher must parrot particular "progressive" views. Deviation is not allowed.

It is a shame that the increasingly-odious practices of government schooling reinforces the progressive loss of freedoms we take for granted. And it is a question of time before these practices are reformed in an ugly way, or the Republic falls into darkness. Holding the line against the most visible and egregious abuses is insufficient, and there is remarkably little consensus for it anyway.

This virtually ensures that the practices will grow to the point of intolerability, and the important questions are how long that will take, and whether there will then be enough people who are capable of outrage and willing to fight to change the system and reclaim the Enlightenment heritage of the West from the intellectual barbarians who've been ravaging the West for a century.

I'll keep putting my bets on homeschooling my children. They'll be educated enough to prosper in any system that arises - or escape if it is the kind of system that kills the educated.

Posted by jeff at 11:18 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

Party, Party Everywhere but not a Vote to Cast

Mark is right: the Democrats will have no serious chance at sustained victories in national offices until they take national security issues seriously. And it's a shame that Democrats won't apparently take national security issues seriously, because the truth of the matter is that the Republicans will be very, very bad for America if there is not a strong opposition party to keep them from doing stupid things.

And right now, the Republicans are starting to do stupid things (trying to save the life of Terry Schiavo, for instance, with a Federal law naming her alone, rather than stating a broader principle). And right now, I still can't vote for a Democrat, despite the Bush administrations lamentable positions on stem cell research, abortion, Saudi Arabia and a host of other issues. Until I can trust the Democrats (or whatever opposition party rises to the top if the Democrats schism) on national security, I cannot vote for them in a time when sustained prosecution of an ideology-based war is required.

All I can do, until that time, is hope that either the Democrats reform, or that they split, or that the Republicans go against everything I know about human behavior and act in the pure national interest instead of their narrow political and financial interests.

Posted by jeff at 12:52 AM | TrackBack

May 29, 2005

Two More for the Ban List

For trackback spamming: and

Oh, and while I'm at it, here are the IPs I've blocked from even reaching my server (all praise to the authors of iptables), because they attempted to guess id/password pairs on the server.

Posted by jeff at 12:36 PM | TrackBack

May 28, 2005


Brian Dunn has a question:

[T]his makes no sense at all:
Earlier this month a few thousand members of Hanchongryon — South Korea's largest student group — staged a demonstration and tore down wire fences at an air force base in Gwangju, demanding the United States remove its Patriot missiles and withdraw from South Korea altogether.
What kind of person do you have to be to protest against weapons designed to protect your country and people from a psychopathic gulag-master who regularly vows to turn your largest city and capital into a sea of fire? Seriously, do they get their marching orders from the Pillsbury Nuke Boy himself? This makes no sense at all.
As a matter of fact, yes, they do.

Posted by jeff at 1:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Stop it or I'll go Over to the Dark Side Right Now

Fantastic Return of the Sith parody. It contains spoilers. If, you know, you've not guessed the ending by now.

(hat tip: Peeve Farm)

Posted by jeff at 1:07 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2005

Dancing the Happy Dance

I've been waiting for this for a while: the release date for the RedHat Directory Server (based on Netscape DS 4.x codebase) is June 1. Frankly, I will be amazed if OpenLDAP has much mindshare a year after that. RHDS, assuming it shares the same capabilities as NDS and SunONE (or whatever they're calling it this week), is faster, more flexible, has multi-mastering replication, has better command-line tools, has a management console, stores configuration in the directory (separate suffix) and has better system management and logging support.

With this being open sourced, I can see a few modifications that can make this the (almost) perfect directory server (some of which are in SunONE, and some are not): more granular replication, down to the attribute level; preferred-master replication override on a per-database, per-attribute or per-filter basis; distributed single sign-on support (referring writes of the password retry count to the master is a security hole in a high-load environment, and true multi-master is slower than master/hub/replica schemes); logically-consistent data split across multiple back-ends; support for a query language more flexible than LDAP queries, translated by a front end query engine implemented on the server; and so on. Most importantly, I can reference the source if I have a question. (I once was almost paid double by Sun to answer my own question on a project I was doing for them; shouldn't have told the support guy who they would be calling out to answer it.)

OK, admittedly, some of these things won't get done - or won't get done quickly - but now I know that if I really need them for a project or a client, I can hire the team to get them done. (Yes, some of the projects I've done are big enough that they could justify that.) In the end, the key advantage of this to me as a directory consultant (and to my clients as directory users) is that an enterprise-class directory is available that can be customized to any purpose the client requires. Moreover, this is an ideal platform for an open source access and identity management solution. (Need more time: anyone care to pay me to design and help implement and open source access and identity management solution?)

As an aside, I got this story from SlashDot. If anyone tells you OpenLDAP is ready for the enterprise, or SecureWay is a good directory server, run - don't walk - away from them. Do not hire them as a directory architect, as they are clearly either incompetent or smoking something illegal.

Posted by jeff at 10:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Freedom of Religion? Not in Indiana, Apparently

Steph is correct: I have a few words to say about this:

An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge's unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.

Cale J. Bradford, chief judge of the Marion Superior Court, kept the unusual provision in the couple's divorce decree last year over their fierce objections, court records show. The order does not define a mainstream religion.

Bradford refused to remove the provision after the 9-year-old boy's outraged parents, Thomas E. Jones Jr. and his ex-wife, Tammie U. Bristol, protested last fall.

Here are some words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Here are some more: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

So, the Constitution in Amendment I prohibits the Congress (and by Supreme Court decision the rest of the Federal government) from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. And in Amendment XIV the Constitution extends those protections (along with other privileges and immunities) such that States cannot abridge them. If you claim that this is not an exercise of religion, but a restriction of speech, then the Constitution (again, Amendment I) still prohibits the regulation of speech. The Supreme Court has found that this is not unlimited: speech can be restricted, so long as the restriction is either content neutral or specifically related to the regulation of business communications (advertising, in particular) under the interstate commerce clause.

In any event, this is clearly unconstitutional. The parents should refuse to obey it, or should leave Indiana for a less tyrannical State. The law enforcement officers should refuse to enforce it (and if they do, the parents should resist that enforcement with armed force). No judge should accept any case on these grounds, except to find summarily in favor of the parents. No jury should convict the parents of any crime they are charged with for violating this order, including any defense of their rights with armed force.

And, yes, the judge should be impeached or recalled.

UPDATE: The Wild Hunt has Jason Pitzl-Waters' own reaction and a comprehensive roundup of other reactions. No, I don't think that this is symptomatic. If it were common, we wouldn't be so outraged, just as we have become numb to income taxes, intrusions on the second amendment, and the Supreme Court's arrogation to itself of the power of final arbitration of the Constitution's meaning.

Posted by jeff at 8:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Party of the West

A lot of people seem to assume that I am a Republican. I suppose that it makes some sense, since my views tend to be slightly conservative to strongly conservative on those issues I write about most frequently. But that assumption is incorrect.

But what am I? Our political lexicon is too limited, too constrained for adequate description. I am a republican, federalist, libertarian, constitutionalist, conservative, classically liberal, capitalist, free-marketeering, free-trading, secular, spiritual, culturally western, tolerant of honest disagreement advocate of a strong national defense. Notice the lack of capital letters, by the way, on the politically loaded terms. And which of these takes precedence on any given issue depends on the details of the issue. There's not a term for this, other than "independent." But "independent" is itself too limited and too-frequently misused to be a meaningful label. In America, "independent" just means you aren't a Democrat or a Republican.

If I had to boil this down into a set of principles on which to base a name for myself, I suppose it would be these:

  1. The meta-constitution of the US, and the only moral basis for free governance, is stated in the Declaration of Independence:
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    Any Constitution or system of governance that stands at odds to this statement is inherently immoral and, over the long term if not the short term, unsufferable.
  2. The pursuit of happiness inherently begins with the right to control one's own body. This is the basis of property rights, without which no other right may be indefinitely preserved.
  3. Rights are valid only so long as they are exercised in a way that does not infringe the rights of others. To be trite, your right to swing your fists ends at my nose.
  4. That government is best that governs least. A government without limits inevitably descends into tyranny. The function of the government is not to dictate what culture may or may not develop — or even what economy may or may not develop — but to create safe conditions in which culture and economy may evolve freely.
  5. Words have meanings. While there may be shades of difference and subtleties of usage, the wholesale destruction of language, literature and history wrought by Chomsky, Derrida, Zinn, their willing accomplices and their uncritical accolytes is a cultural crime of the first magnitude, because its inevitable end is tyranny.
  6. Without the rule of law — that is, the neutral and consistent application of justice regardless of the identity or inborn characteristics of offender or victim — the application of law becomes an exercise in power, and thus a road to inevitable tyranny.
  7. The Constitution can only be reasonably interpreted to mean what its words mean in the plain language of the time in which they were written, with occasional reference to well-established legal jargon ("necessary and proper", "due process", "high crimes and misdemeanors", etc.). To interpret the Constitution according to "the standards of the times" or its "emanations and penumbras" — in particular to ignore the plain meaning of the text and insert ones personal preferences — is to reduce the Constitution to a set of suggestions and ideas with no legal force. This subverts the rule of law, leading inevitably to tyranny. Where the Constitution fails to grant necessary and useful powers to the government, or where the cultural situation has changed such that some powers should be or refuse to be granted to the government, the Constitution includes two methods for changing its contents. Using them, while slow and sometimes painful, is far preferable to simply deciding that the Constitution means whatever is convenient at the time.
  8. When different possible interpretations, or cases that fall into the gray areas, of the Constitution arise, that interpretation is correct which best preserves individual liberty. Where more than one interpretation preserves individual liberty, that interpretation is correct that most limits the government. Where more than one interpretation is available that limits the government, everybody wins.
  9. Only free-market, free-trading capitalism with minimal government regulation has been proven capable of producing economic progress over a long term without simultaneously producing human misery.
  10. All cultures have contributed useful characteristics to the world. But not all cultures are equally worthy of respect and emulation, due to their varying propensities to fall into stagnation, tyranny, or both. The Greek system of ethics; the Greek systems of mathematics, logic and reason; the Roman system of law; the concept of representative governance; the Enlightenment liberal values of individual rights; the scientific method; and separation of Church and State are all keys to a liberal, secular society in which people can be free, happy, secure and prosperous. And they are all Western developments. Dead, white men still have a lot to teach us. So do living African musicians and Asian spiritualists.
  11. Multiculturalism — the reverence of all cultures as equal — is crap. The melting pot — the combination of the best characteristics of all cultures and the rejection of the worst characteristics of each — is far superior at producing a culture in which people can be free, happy, secure and prosperous.
  12. Religion is a matter of personal conviction. The Senate is free to have prayers before going into session, and I'm free to sit in the gallery and make scatalogical jokes while they do. I won't, though, because that's indecent. The State is not free to impose a religion upon me, nor to forbid me from worshipping as I see fit, provided that I harm no others nor their property in my worship.
  13. The US has little to nothing to apologize for. Where we have made large mistakes, we've fixed them - indeed, as the slavery debate and subsequent Civil War shows, we have sometimes paid in blood for our mistakes. Overall, the US has been the most moral and upstanding nation in the history of the world. I have little doubt that we will continue to be so.
  14. The government has an absolute duty to protect Americans in America against foreign aggression, and to the extent that that involves removing a threat to the US which has not yet manifested, the duty still exists.
  15. Americans have an absolute right to protect themselves against the government.

So what does that make me? I guess, given the position of Western culture and ideas, it makes me a proud member of the "Party of the West"; population: one.

Posted by jeff at 5:34 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

One More for the Ban List

Yep, spam again:

Posted by jeff at 5:10 PM | TrackBack

Who Help Themselves

Wired has a fantastic summary of what to do in an evacuation, and why.

We know that US borders are porous, that major targets are largely undefended, and that the multicolor threat alert scheme known affectionately as "the rainbow of doom" is a national joke. Anybody who has been paying attention probably suspects that if we rely on orders from above to protect us, we'll be in terrible shape. But in a networked era, we have increasing opportunities to help ourselves. This is the real source of homeland security: not authoritarian schemes of surveillance and punishment, but multichannel networks of advice, information, and mutual aid.

It's short, and the whole thing is worth reading.

(hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

Posted by jeff at 12:49 PM | TrackBack

Good News on Iraq

Given that Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, has a history (no pun intended) of being about 150 degrees off on his predictions and analysis (at least, so far as anything concerning the Bush administration goes), this is very good news:

Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution.

We may not be there (at least, in an active combat role) nearly as long as I'd thought.

(hat tip: The Glittering Eye)

Posted by jeff at 8:27 AM | TrackBack

May 25, 2005

It's Turtles All the Way Down

Reason has an article on the evolution v. intelligent design debate in Kansas. (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds) I'll skip the quotes from the article (isn't that what the links are for?) and get straight to the heart of the problem: if you have to redefine the term "science" in order to make your belief "scientific", your belief is not scientific.

The intelligent design proponents argue that evolution is unproven - "just a theory". Let's just face it: intelligent design is not a theory; it's a critique. Intelligent design is not falsifiable (and thus not scientific, unless you redefine "science"), is based on its proponents' a priori beliefs rather than any form of methodological or emperical research, and amounts to an attempt to dress up particular religious beliefs sufficiently to get past the ban on teaching specific religious beliefs in government schools as if they were factual (as opposed to comparative surveys of religions, analysis of religious texts as literature, and other allowed means for explaining religious beliefs).

I don't have a problem with intelligent design, per se, though I cannot accept their arguments or evidence from what I've so far seen. But I do have a problem with teaching this as science. That's like teaching science as a religion - Scientism. (Hmm, maybe the secular humanists have brought some of this down on their own heads. How many of the supposedly scientific studies whose results you believe could you reproduce, or even explain?)

Besides, everyone knows it's turtles all the way down.

Posted by jeff at 3:28 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A Poor Legacy

Is it just my imagination, or are most of the really messed up places in the world either former French colonies or francophone? I'm just, you know, asking.

Posted by jeff at 9:51 AM | TrackBack

Indian Country

Bill Roggio talks about the US/Iraqi approach to pacifying western Iraq. This reminds me of another pacification effort the US fought more than 100 years ago. Then, as now, our advantages included numbers, technology, Western military doctrine, a recent history of success and fighting far from our homeland (thus protecting our civilian population). Then, as now, the enemy's advantages included fighting for their home ground (motivation, in other words), the ability to hide, knowledge of the area, and fanatical devotion to their cause.

Then, as apparently now, our strategy was to build forts, and operate mobile forces from those forts to destroy the enemy in the field. Later, we would move in with government civil institutions to push the enemy further outwards and hold the territory the enemy was forced to abandon. How did this previous effort turn out?

Here's a hint.

Posted by jeff at 8:50 AM | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Home Schooling, Civil Society and the State

Michael Williams points to an excellent article on home schooling, government schooling and the State. I'll have more on this tomorrow.

Posted by jeff at 11:17 PM | TrackBack

Who Among Us Doesn't Owe a Debt to the Gallery of Regrettable Food?

There are no words. Did people actually eat this stuff? What drugs were they taking? Does the food explain the decor?

Posted by jeff at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

Albert Jay Nock on Liberals

Stephanie has been reading Albert Jay Nock's autobiography Memoirs of a Superfluous Man from 1943 (at least, this printing is). She's been sharing bits on her blog, and today showed me a page that I feel compelled to quote in full:

When I saw what American Liberals (for so they called themselves) were doing in this line ["cutting down the liberty of the individual piecemeal, and extending the scope of the State's coercive control"],--chiefly in their support of the movement for an income-tax and an inheritance-tax,--I got up a distaste for Liberals which soon ripened into horror. For years I have "sweat the agony" at the sight of a Liberal, as Commodore Trunnion did at the sight of an attorney. I had rather encounter rattlesnakes,--far rather,--for the rattlesnake is a gentlemanly fellow who can be relied on to do the right thing, if you give him half a chance. I have had dealings with him in my time, and also with the Liberals, and I speak from knowledge.

I have respect for the old-style Tory, and could always get on with him, because I knew what he would do in a given situation, and above all, I knew what he would not do. There were some things to which he would not condescend even for the Larger Good. Once in a conversation with Chief Justice Taft, he mentioned pressure put on him while President, in behalf of something legal enough, and probably ethical, but smelling of sharp practice,--"dam' low, in any case," as an old-school Englishman would say. I so well remember the almost childlike look of embarrassment on Mr. Taft's face as he said, "Why, I couldn't do that." Speaking after the manner of men, you got a play for your money with the old-crusted Tory, as at the other end of the scale I think you would with the honest outright uncompromising radical. But one never knew what Liberals would do, and their power of self-persuasion is such that only God knows what they would not do. As casuists, they make Gury and St. Alfonso dei Liguiri look like bush-leaguers. On every point of conventional morality, all the Liberals I have personally known were very trustworthy. They were great fellows for the Larger Good, but it would have to be pretty large before they would alienate your wife's affections or steal your watch. But on any point of intellectual integrity, there is not one of them whom I would trust for ten minutes alone in a room with a red-hot stove, unless the stove were comparatively valueless.

I think I'm going to have to read his works; Nock may have been one of the last of the libertarians from the age where libertarianism was taken for granted to such a degree that it wasn't even named. In any case, his writing is amusing enough that it looks worth reading.

Posted by jeff at 5:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The News from Iraq

Michael Yon, embedded with the troops in Iraq, has a really interesting report on how newsgathering works outside of the embedding program, and why the news we see is so tilted towards mayhem. The problem seems to be structural: too much of an attempt at serving reporters on the military's part, combined with cheapness and risk-aversion on the media's part. But it's a critical problem, because the effect is to not tell the stories of our troops helping people in ordinary ways under extraordinary conditions, to not tell about finding homes for puppies after arresting a suspected terrorist.

And that skewed perspective eats at the heart of America's one weakness, our one demonstrated way of losing wars: public resolve. If all we see are the body counts, the lies, and the abuses (which are rare enough that two major incidents have been the touchstones for anti-military sentiment for two and over one years, respectively) - if that's all we see, then it's easy for those of us who are only barely convinced that the war is worth it, to become convinced on balance-of-harm or utilitarian grounds that the war is not worth the effort and the side effects.

Once that happens, we have lost. Even when, as in Viet Nam, we had already won militarily. And if that happens in this war, the next 9/11, the next 3/11, will not be a van loaded with explosives, or an airliner, or a series of suicide bombings. Those would happen, yes, for some time and with increasing severity. But if we stop prosecuting the war by ceasing to aggressively work to eliminate tyranny, then the next attack that shocks us will be nuclear, and it will be New York, or Chicago, or Seattle or Paris burning in ruin.

So to win this war, should we play down atrocities committed by Americans? No, but we shouldn't play them up, either - or in the case of Newsweek, make them up. Should we lie about how great the military is? No, we should tell the truth about how great our military is. Right now, our media is primarily telling only one side of this war: the enemy's side. And that has to stop.

Posted by jeff at 1:20 PM | TrackBack

Squeeze Play

Bill Roggio at Winds of Change has an excellent roundup on the results of Operation Squeeze Play, which was a primarily-Iraqi series of raids over the past few days on enemy personnel and sites in the vicinity of Baghdad.

The most important information (in terms of indicating the direction the war is going) is that the enemy had been infiltrated, and was completely surprised by the operation (indicating that the Iraqi forces weren't infiltrated). This means that the Iraqis are winning the intelligence/counter-intelligence battle, which is the key of defeating the mixed insurgency/guerilla/terrorist campaign we see in Iraq.

Combined with the increased freedom of action coalition troops have, which has allowed them recently to start going into known insurgent areas like Fallujah and along the Syrian border, indications are that Iraq is nearing a tipping point, after which the insurgency will lose cohesion rapidly. I would expect to see this, barring any unforeseen changes in the world situation, within the next year.

UPDATE: Michael Ubaldi comes to a similar conclusion.

Posted by jeff at 8:47 AM | TrackBack

One More for the Spam Filters

For trackback spamming:

Posted by jeff at 6:32 AM | TrackBack

Yea or Nay?

At my job, I get the chance to see famous people occasionally.

Yesterday's notable sighting - Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Posted by Brian at 1:43 AM | TrackBack

How Newsweek Completely Botched the Story and Libeled Our Troops

So Newsweek is back, but far too late. Where was this story before they reported the now-retracted Koran flushing story?

According to (Defense Department spokesman Lawrence) Di Rita, when the first prisons were built for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo in early 2002, prison guards were instructed to respect the detainees' religious rituals. The prisoners were given Qur'ans, which they hung from the walls of their cells in cotton surgical masks provided by the prison. Log entries by the guards indicate that in about a dozen cases, the detainees themselves somehow damaged their Qur'ans. In one case a prisoner allegedly ripped up a Qur'an; in another a prisoner tore the cover off his Qur'an. In three cases, detainees tried to stuff pages from their Qur'ans down their toilets, according to the Defense Department's account of what is in the guards' reports. (NEWSWEEK was not permitted to see the log items.) The log entries do not indicate why the detainees might have done this, said Di Rita, and prison commanders concluded that certain hard-core prisoners would try to agitate the other detainees by alleging disrespect for Muslim articles of faith.

In light of the controversy, one of these incidents bears special notice. Last week, NEWSWEEK interviewed Command Sgt. John VanNatta, who served as the prison's warden from October 2002 to the fall of 2003. VanNatta recounted that in 2002, the inmates suddenly started yelling that the guards had thrown a Qur'an on or near an Asian-style squat toilet. The guards found an inmate who admitted that he had dropped his Qur'an near his toilet. According to VanNatta, the inmate then was taken cell to cell to explain this to other detainees to quell the unrest. But the incident could partly account for the multiple allegations among detainees, including one by a released British detainee in a lawsuit that claims that guards flushed Qur'ans down toilets.

In fewer than a dozen log entries from the 31,000 documents reviewed so far, said Di Rita, there is a mention of detainees' complaining that guards or interrogators mishandled their Qur'ans. In one case, a female guard allegedly knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the detainee's bed. In another alleged case, said Di Rita, detainees became upset after two MPs, looking for contraband, felt the pouch containing a prisoner's Qur'an. While questioning a detainee, an interrogator allegedly put a Qur'an on top of a TV set, took it off when the detainee complained, then put it back on. In another alleged instance, guards somehow sprayed water on a detainee's Qur'an. This handful of alleged cases came out of thousands of daily interactions between guards and prisoners, said Di Rita. None has been substantiated yet, he said.

In December 2002, a guard inadvertently knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the floor of a detainee's cell, Di Rita said. A number of detainees protested. That January, partly in response to the incident and partly to provide precise guidelines for new guards and interrogators, the Guantanamo commanders issued precise rules to respect the "cultural dignity of the Koran thereby reducing the friction over the searching of the Korans." Only chaplains or Muslim interpreters were allowed to inspect detainees' Qur'ans. "Two hands will be used at all times when handling Korans in a manner signaling respect and reverence," the rules state. "Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas..."

So let's review:

On the American side

1. Prison guards were instructed to respect the detainees' religious rituals.
2. The prisoners were given Qur'ans.
3. Guantanamo commanders issued precise rules to respect the "cultural dignity of the Koran".

Allegations of Koran mistreatment by Americans

1. A guard allegedly knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto a detainee's bed.
2. Two MPs, looking for contraband, felt the pouch containing a prisoner's Qur'an.
3. An interrogator allegedly put a Qur'an on top of a TV set, took it off when the detainee complained, then put it back on.
4. Guards somehow sprayed water on a detainee's Qur'an.
5. A guard inadvertently knocked a Qur'an from its pouch onto the floor of a detainee's cell. (This apparently provoked the most protests of the incidents listed.)

Allegations of Koran mistreatment by detainees

1. In one case a prisoner allegedly ripped up a Qur'an.
2. A prisoner tore the cover off his Qur'an.
3. In three cases, detainees tried to stuff pages from their Qur'ans down their toilets.
4. An inmate admitted that he had dropped his Qur'an near his toilet.

Now which side really seems to be abusing the Koran?

It's amazing to me that all these hysterical allegations of Koran abuse by Americans at Gitmo turn out to be so innocuous. Remember that the next time you hear about disrespecting or mishandling of the Koran.

The big question is, why didn't Newsweek do this much investigation before reporting the retracted story? Why were they so quick to believe the worst of our soldiers?

Sadly, the damage has been done. Most of the people who heard the original allegations will probably not hear this story. I doubt most of the mainstream media will report this news prominently; it doesn't fit their anti-military, anti-Bush template, unlike the original story.

Posted by Brian at 12:45 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2005

Filibuster Follies

Normally, I wouldn't care one bit about the whole filibuster mess in the Senate right now. The only reason that I do care is that President Bush is nominating strict constructionists - as far as I can see an absolute prerequisite for maintaining a shred of Liberty - and it is those judges who are being blocked. Well, the Republicans caved to the Democrats, and so a couple of judges will get through now, and no more circuit court or Supreme Court judges that Bush nominates will get onto a court unless they are "living document" types. Unless...

There is one and only one way at this point for the Republicans to get strict constructionist judges approved: actually make the Democrats filibuster. In other words, rather than just letting the gentlemen's agreement on filibusters stand - that once someone declares the intent to filibuster, they don't actually have to do so - the Republicans will have to make the Democrats filibuster each and every nominee for real. Otherwise, the Republicans have handed control of the confirmation process to the Democrats without reservation.

And frankly, we have enough activist judges, thanks, without adding a few more.

UPDATE (5/24): Francis Porretto puts it well:

But of course, the main event still looms in our future: the need to replace between two and four Supreme Court Justices over the next three years. Anyone who thinks the Democrats will permit a Republican president and his Senate backers to select those justices without the bloodiest and most vicious struggle in the history of parliamentary politics simply hasn't been paying attention. Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas were warm-up frames for what the Left will do at the next Supreme Court nomination.

After all, Roe v. Wade is at stake!

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May 21, 2005

Store Wars

Here's a funny Star Wars parody from the Organic Trade Association.

(hat tip: James Taranto)

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Another Spammer for the Ban List

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At my job, I get the chance to see famous people occasionally.

Today's celeb sighting - Duffy Waldorf.

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Revenge of the Sith

Spoilers below the fold, just so you know.

I agree with Kevin Drum pretty much. There were two things that reallybugged me about the movie:

  • Fast cuts between the Yoda/Palpatine and Obi Wan/Anakin battles were superfluous and annoying, when one wants to get the full effect of both battles. Similarly, fast cuts between Padme dying and Vader almost dying were superfluous and annoying, for much the same reason. That's just bad movie-making.
  • James Earl Jones was wasted. Vader is emotionally stripped, done in. When the Emperor asks if Vader can hear him and Vader says, "Yes, master." Great! Fantastic. Then he goes off in some kind of emotional catharsis? Wha...? Especially because the lie was so unneccessary; Vader was already turned and wouldn't go back, and blaming others for putting him in the position of hurting, thus being unable to save, Padme was sufficient. The better way to do that scene would have been, after the "Yes, Master," to have Vader say, "Padme?" The Emperor would answer: "She is dead." Vader would then stare at Palpatine for about 8 seconds, with no music and no dialogue - just breathing. Then Vader would turn on his heel and stalk off without a word. That would have been Vader.

Short take: worth seeing; didn't suck; best of the first three; on a par with Return of the Jedi, but not as good as A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back.

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May 20, 2005

James Carville, Call Your Office

Josh Marshall makes an odd point about the filibuster battle going on in the Senate right now:

Another point, for anyone who's actually interested in the constitution, its history and its future, is the degree to which this whole operation is quite clearly being engineered from the White House. This isn't just about the internal workings of the senate. It is also about, indeed principally about, the executive clipping the wings of the Congress, part of the parliamentarization of the American government under the President Bush that we discussed back on November 5th.

What makes this such an odd point is that it's hardly new. It's been the case since at least the 1930's that the executive branch has been heavily involved in directing Party strategy (on both sides), that the two-party system was taken to be a given, and that the division in political party was accepted to be the locus of the balance of powers, rather than between the executive and legislative branches. It's been the case since at least the 1960's that the Federal and State divide was no longer going to be part of the balance of powers, and that this too would be subsumed into the Party-balance equation by federalizing most State lawmaking realms. It began to be assumed, with the Bork nomination, that the judiciary, too, would become part of the Party-balance battle. This was made explicit after George Bush's election in 2000, when the current kerfuffle over judicial nominations to circuit courts (and the Supreme Court, when that finally comes up) began.

It's not as if the Clinton administration didn't direct the activities of the Democrat Party in the House, the Senate and pretty much everywhere else: in fact they were (in)famous for how closely they controlled Party politics. So, OK, if you're looking for partisan spin (which Marshall generally is), that is maybe a fine talking point (I begin to see where the blog name comes from...), but it's hardly a point worthy of debate or scandal.

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Police Involvement in 3/11 Bombings?

It is often the case that things that appear suspicious are really coincidental. It's a big world, and a lot of things are going on, and especially in small societies, there is a multitude of connections between people and organizations. But possible involvement of Spanish police in the 3/11 train bombings in Madrid is a scary thought. It will be interesting to see where this goes. The most worrisome thing to me is that the bombings might have been a sophisticated, rather than a crude, plot to bring down the Spanish government. (More here - link from Adventures of Chester's post)

Posted by jeff at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

Two Possibilities

There are two possibilities: this NY Times report on prisoner abuse in Afghanistan is substantially correct, or it is substantially incorrect.

If the former, there are some of our guys who need to be put in prison, at least, for a very long time. If the latter, there are some NY Times reporters who need the same.

Unfortunately, given what was already previously known, I'm betting it's the former. What a damned shame. Inexecusable.

UPDATE: Blackavar says everything I would care to fairly well.

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Ongoing Discussion

There's a great discussion going on in the comments to this post about peace, war, and so forth, between myself and kj.

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May 19, 2005


At my job, I get the chance to see famous people occasionally.

Today's celeb sighting - Natalie Cole.

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I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

In case you missed it, here's a fascinating article on the power of the deadly tsunami-causing earthquake last December.

Posted by Brian at 11:42 PM | TrackBack


Bill Whittle has a new essay: Sanctuary. Do I really need to tell you to go read it?

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From Drudge:

CBS head Leslie Moonves declared this week: "I think talking to ghosts will skew younger than talking to God."

Moonves made the starling comments during a breakfast with reporters where he announced his new fall schedule.

"The Ghost Whisperer," a supernatural drama about a woman who communicates with the spirit world, will replace "Joan of Arcadia," which features a young woman who speaks to God.

And there goes one of my favorite shows on television, after just two seasons. I thought Joan of Arcadia was an example of television at its best. It's a shame to see it gone so soon.

With Joan and JAG gone, my Friday nights will be much more open.

Posted by Brian at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

More Stupid Quotes by Politicians

Ah, the filibuster. Nothing has done a better job lately of allowing politicians to say annoyingly stupid things.

Example one comes from our old friend Harry Reid (D-Nv).

"The attempt to do away with the filibuster is nothing short of clearing the trees for the confirmation of an unacceptable nominee to the Supreme Court," said Democratic leader Harry Reid. He accused the president of an attempt to "rewrite the Constitution and reinvent reality" with his demand for a yes-or-no vote on all nominees.

Pray tell, Senator Reid, where in the Constitution does the filibuster appear? Where does the Constitution require a 60 vote super majority to approve judicial nominations? Let me help you out Senator Reid. The answer to both is "nowhere".

But in your defense Senator, I am sorry that the President is asking so much of you. How dare he rewrite the Constitution in a way that demands members of the upper house of the legislative branch of government to fulfill their constitutional obligation to advise and consent on judicial nominees in the form of a vote of either yea or nay. The bastard!

Not to be outdone, though, was Rick Santorum (R-Pa).

Countered Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, "It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942." He said Democratic protests over Republican efforts to ensure confirmation votes would be like the Nazi dictator seizing Paris and then saying, "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city. It's mine."

Ah yes, the time honored tradition of invoking a comparison to Hitler in a debate. Now that supporters of the filibuster (as a tool to block judicial nominees) know that their position is the equivalent of Hitler in 1942, I'm sure they'll rush right on over to your way of thinking, Senator Santorum. Thank you for enlightening them as to their ignorance.

I expect the mindless invoking of Hitler from the kooks on the left; I am embarassed to see it come from the right. This debate is in no way equivalent to Hitler or his actions at any time. Please stop the Hitler analogies!

And one more note on the Dem's bad faith.

Senate officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Reid had been forceful in private discussions with Democrats, trying to make sure that any compromise would maintain their right to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees while foreclosing Republicans from attempting to change the filibuster procedure.

Senator Reid, perhaps it would be useful to look up the definition of "compromise" at your earliest convienance.

Posted by Brian at 9:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005


I fixed the configuration, so that if you have a TypeKey account, you can sign in and your comments will show up without waiting for my approval.

Posted by jeff at 8:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Casual Heresy

So, my kids watched Scooby Doo this morning - bad enough in and of itself. But what really got me riled was the content of the movie, "Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost". To show why, I'll summarize it, and in the process give a gloss.

Episode EventsGloss
The premise is that Ben Ravencroft, horror writer, invites the gang to visit him at his hotel in rural Massachusetts. A band called the Hex Girls are playing a concert, and there is a ghost of a witch, and his ancestor, named Sarah Ravencroft. The town disturbed her grave with construction, the ghost is haunting the town.I should note at this point, for those of you who don't know it, that I am Wiccan. A priest of the Wiccan religion is a Witch (male or female, same term).
Sarah is claimed by Ben Ravencroft, her descendent, to have been a natural healer, not a witch.Like there's a conflict between the two. Many Witches are in fact well-known natural healers. Oh, yeah, are evil....
Sarah, it turns out, was a Wiccan. A Wiccan in the 1640's.Um, Wicca came into existence in the 1950's, as a synthesis of remnant Celtic Pagan beliefs, Western mysticism and ceremonial magic, and bits of Buddhism (among other bits and pieces from miscellaneous religions and beliefs). Actually, they do talk about Wicca as an Earth-based religion, so I'll cut them a little slack here.
The ghost shows up, chasing Shaggy and Scooby.And yes, it's your stereotypical hag of a witch, with red eyes no less.
Various people act suspiciously in various ways. It is, after all, Scooby Doo. The Hex Girls turn out to be Goths - no, "eco-goths" - (and with fake vampire fangs, which must make singing pretty difficult).
Later, the Hex Girls looking at a picture of Sarah: "So she was a real Wiccan?" The Hex Girls note that they're not witches, but eco-Goths, which is "kind of like Wicca". Oh, and Thorn, one of the Hex Girls, is Wiccan.Except that, while some Wiccans are Goths (and vice-versa), the two have nothing in common except maybe some symbolism. Goth is all about the style and symbolism, while Wicca is a Pagan religion some of whose symbology has been adopted by Goths. And did I mention that Wiccans and Witches are the same thing?
Thorn is "1/16th Wiccan on her mother's side".Wicca is so not passed in the blood. Can you be 1/16th Christian?
It turns out that indeed Sarah's grave marker was recovered during the construction. Good thing, since the show's only half over and they've already solved the original mystery. (It was the mayor and some other townsfolk trying to drum up publicity for tourism.)
Now alerted to the real location of Sarah's grave, Scooby finds Sarah's spellbook. It "looks kind of evil to belong to a Wiccan healer." "You see, Sarah wasn't a Wiccan. She was indeed a Witch. And since Sarah's blood runs in my veins, I guess that makes me...a Warlock."Did I mention that Wiccans and Witches are the same thing? And, by the way, Warlock is not a male Witch (Bewitched was wrong? Who knew?) Instead, it means an oath breaker - a Witch who turned over their fellows to the witch hunters to save themselves. Thus, they were warded against and locked out from the covens. It's a very pejorative term.
Sarah is, it turns out, imprisoned in her spell book, and Ben is going to let her out to gain her power.Complete with lots of stereotypical "magic" effects, and a stereotypical evil laugh, and a really terrible incantation. Magic, as used by Witches, is a lot like prayer; it's not sorcery (which itself is a perversion of Earth-magic, claiming the energy of the world to be your own). Still, magic is not flashy, but transformative.
They do make a good point... raising demons: bad idea. The now-freed "witch" is busy destroying the world.Cause, you know, Witches are evil.
So Ben tries to re-imprison her. "Thinkest thou art a Wiccan?", says Sarah, "Only a virtuous soul can imprison me."Cause, you know, Witches are evil. I don't know, this one's open to interpretation. The logical meaning of the words is that Wiccans are virtuous, though that's 180 degrees from what they were trying to imply, that Ben wasn't powerful enough to imprison her, and that it requires virtue rather than power to imprison her anyway.
Fight; fight; fight.
The Hex Girls are freed. Two of the Hex Girls flee, because "That Witch is the real thing." Thorn needs to help the gang, though, because, remember, though she is "only 1/16th Wiccan", she "still ha[s] Wiccan blood."Gah! It's a religion! It's not passed by blood inheritance like, say, ethnicity is!
"The book is useless to a mere mortal." "But not to a Wiccan!"Um, dude, we're mortal. If we weren't, the whole reincarnation belief would be somewhat superfluous, yeah?
The gang wins. Yay.
"You did it! I guess you are a Witch after all." "A Wiccan, Daddy, a Wiccan."Have I mentioned yet that there isn't a difference?
OK, the lyrics aren't bad. They actually are the kind of thing that Wiccans would state. "We ride the wind; we feel the fire. To love the Earth is our one desire. Nature is a precious gift. It will make your spirits lift." And so on.

In other news, Wiccans failed to riot in response to the numerous casual heresies, fallacies and slanders in the episode.

UPDATE: The context of this post has gotten lost over time, so I will explain. After Newsweek published thinly-sourced, and later proved false, accusations of Koran desecration at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Muslims in Afghanistan rioted, killing several. (Later, long after this post, worse would happen in reaction to a publication of cartoons of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.) My whole point was that every religion that is large enough to be noticeable gets these casual heresies, fallacies and slanders from people not of that religion. It's just part of life. But only the Muslims tend to riot when that happens, and demand that we convert to their religion or they will kill us. Yes, I realize it's just a TV show. That's my point.

Posted by jeff at 6:26 PM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

Well, Yeah!

Harry Reid finally said something I can agree with:

"Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats' ability to voice their concern in the Senate," said Reid, D-Nev. "If Republicans roll back our rights in this chamber, there will be no check on their power. The radical, right wing will be free to pursue any agenda they want."

Yes, that's absolutely correct. The Democrats have squandered control of the executive branch and both branches of Congress, through bad politics, bad behavior and bad policies. Having done so, the only remaining powers they have are their residual judicial appointments (those judges still on the bench who were appointed by Presidents Clinton and Carter) and the thin protections of the Senate filibuster rule and the possibility of crossover votes from non-Party-line Republican Senators like Senator McCain.

They have brought themselves to this position, and now they are - again through bad politics, bad behavior and bad policies - going to strip themselves of their ability to filibuster nominations in order to prevent the Republicans from closing the gap in sitting Federal judges. Once the filibuster is gone, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court and the circuit courts are packed with judges who will be more right-wing than if the Democrats had used the filibuster (if you'll pardon the pun) judiciously.

You see, if the Democrats had only filibustered the truly "out there" judges (as they claim, quite transparently ridiculously, to have done), the Republicans would not feel the need to take away the filibuster. In other words, the Republicans would have had to have put forward more moderate judges than they now will, because "restraint" is a word whose meaning is apparently unknown to the Democrat Senators (along with "shall make no law", apparently).

The current likelihood, assuming that the Republicans do not overplay their hand and the Democrats don't wise up, is that Republicans will continue to make slow gains in the House and Senate, will generally hold the Presidency and will thus generally advance the number of Republican judges over the next decade or two. The gains in representation will overwhelm the Democrats' next-to-the-last line of defense: crossover votes. And this will, in the end, leave only one way for the Republicans to be controlled: the inevitable stupidity of politicians who have no effective opposition, leading to their eventual defeat in the polls.

Unless, of course, the Democrats' constant pushing of the doctrine of the Constitution as a "living document" means that the by-then heavily Republican Supreme Court may simply - and with ample Democrat-provided means - decide that election returns are to be counted directly by the House of Representatives.

No, that almost certainly won't happen, but the seeds of such a mess were sown by the Democrats, who are even as I type barreling down the road to powerlessness and a one-Party state, which no sane person wants to see. Well, no sane person who has read any history, in any case.

Posted by jeff at 4:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Fundamental Condition of True Peace

Joe Katzman at Winds of Change delivers a must-read essay on the history, meaning and implications of the Bush Doctrine. Should the Bush Doctrine become bipartisan US policy - by no means assured at this point - Joe's essay gives a good indication of how we will be engaged in the world for the next half century or more.

I think, by the way, that one way of helping the Bush Doctrine towards becoming bipartisan US policy will be to change its name. It is simply and sadly the case that a large number of Americans will not accept the policy just because it is named for President Bush. As the Truman Doctrine was also known as containment, there needs to be another moniker for the Bush Doctrine. I don't have any good suggestions at the moment.

Posted by jeff at 8:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

I'm So Angry I Can't Think of a Good Title For This

As I said, most politicians I hate are Democrats. Here's a really fine example of one. This post's case in point, Harry Reid (D-Nv):

"The goal of the Republican leadership and their allies in the White House is to pave the way for a Supreme Court nominee who would only need 50 votes for confirmation rather than 60," the number of senators needed to maintain a filibuster, Reid said.


It's called the frelling Constitution, LOSER!!!!

Give me one, just one, example of any Supreme Court nominee who needed 60 votes for confirmation in the entire 228+ years of the history of this nation!

Well, Mr. Reid, I'm waiting...


This guy is making me insane!

Ok, deep breath. 10, 9 , 8 , 7, 6, 5 ...

Ok, I'm good.

I don't even know what to say anymore. This is freakin' madness. We have, not just any Senator, but the Democrat leader in the Senate, who is blatantly ignoring the Constitution. The cynic in me thinks most Senators ignore the Constitution, but at least they can usually make some sort of claim of constitutionality even if it's the vague promotion of the general Welfare. But this is outright violation of the supreme law of the land.

Oh, and something funny in the article that I can't get upset about, because it has less than a snowball's chance in hell of success, but is illustrative of the Democrat's bad faith nature (emphasis mine).

A small group of Democrats have floated a proposal to clear the way for confirmation of some of Bush's blocked appointees. (snip)
Under the deal, Republicans would have to pledge no change through 2006 in the Senate's rules that allow filibusters against judicial nominees. For their part, Democrats would commit not to block votes on Bush's Supreme Court or appeals court nominees during the same period, except in extreme circumstances.

Each member would be free to determine what constituted an extreme circumstance, but Republicans would bind themselves to not changing the filibuster rule for the next two years.

Some Republicans have balked at that language, saying it is not equitable.

You don't say?

Posted by Brian at 12:07 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Pork, The Cure for Death?

Sometimes I really hate politicians. Usually they are Democrats, but not always. But what I really hate is when a politician I generally like (and in this case have voted for) says something moronic and annoying.

Here's the story if you're interested, but I'll summarize.

The Senate has proposed a highway spending bill. President Bush has threatened a veto (wasn't sure he knew you could do that).

Now to the annoying comment, courtesy of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Ok):

"If we don't pass this people are going to die."

So if we do pass it, Senator, are you promising me immortality!


Posted by Brian at 12:48 PM | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Enemy Go Boom, Fall Down

Air Strike

You preferred a weapon with 70% power over speed and 80% range over melee.
You use Air Strikes.

Fighting? Fighting is for idiots! All you have to do is make a quick walkie-talkie call and have the ground ahead of you carpeted with explosive charges. Your enemies will be searching frantically for refuge as you chuckle from afar.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 91% on power
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 94% on range

Link: The What's Your Signature Weapon Test written by inurashii on Ok Cupid
Posted by jeff at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More on Newsweek's Role in Afghan Riots

So what is Newsweek's role in the deadly riots in Afghanistan in recent days?

From a Fox News story on Newsweek's reaction:

He (Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker) also implied that the story had no causal effect on the recent riots in Afghanistan, in which 16 people have died and dozens have been injured.

"The riots started and spread across the country, fanned by extremists and unhappiness over the economy," Whitaker wrote.

And piggybacking on Jeff's noting of Kevin Drum's post:

I note that the conservative blogosphere, usually not one for root causes and blame shifting, is pretty unanimously convinced that last week's riots in Afghanistan are Newsweek's fault, because they began shortly after the Koran flushing story made it into the Arabic language press.

So why is the "conservative" blogosphere convinced the riots are Newsweek's fault?

From AP via Fox News on May 11:

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Shouting "Death to America!" more than 1,000 demonstrators rioted and threw stones at a U.S. military convoy Wednesday, as protests spread to four Afghan provinces over a report that interrogators desecrated Islam's holy book at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.


The protests may expand into neighboring Pakistan, where a coalition of hard-line Islamic parties said it would hold nationwide demonstrations Friday over the alleged desecration of the Quran .


President Hamid Karzai, who travels to Washington this month for talks with President Bush, played down the violence.

"It is not the anti-American sentiment, it is a protest over news of the desecration of the holy Quran ," Karzai told reporters after talks with NATO officials in Brussels, Belgium.


The source of anger was a brief report in the May 9 edition of Newsweek that interrogators at Guantanamo placed Qurans on toilets to rattle suspects, and in at least one case "flushed a holy book down the toilet."

Now, I could report about the ensuing days of coverage, and I could include reports from other wire services, but it would be redundant.

Kevin Drum would have you believe the two incidents are unrelated, but I have not heard any other explanation for the timing of the riots. Oh wait, yes I have! Mr. Whitaker claims the riots are over "unhappiness about the economy". Riiiight. Funny that no other news report has mentioned economic unhappiness at all, but they have all mentioned Newsweek's story.

It is possible (perhaps even probable) that economic unhappiness has angered some Afghans and pushed them to the brink of civil unrest. And it is certain that the riots have been fanned by extremists. But the causal effect, the tipping point, was Newsweek's faulty story. It was the blood in the water that started the frenzy. That is why Newsweek has a good deal of culpability for the riots.

Posted by Brian at 2:42 PM | TrackBack

They Lost Me At NextGen

Lileks is made of sterner stuff. Actually, NextGen did have some good bits once it got past the need to remake a bunch of TOS episodes, and DS9 had some quite good moments too. It's just that the good moments were buried in a mass of dreck: the individual stories were largely uninteresting; the series premises were largely a load of liberal tripe; the external events driving the story arcs (to the extent they existed) were forced and artificial and the characters were flat and meaningless. Ironically, the acting was the best thing about NextGen, and I can't find a single good thing to say about Voyager. I only watched the first episode of Enterprise.

The original Star Trek, and many of the movies it spawned, were fantastic. Not because of their effects or their "relevance", but because the characters were worth caring about, and the stories brought up ideas that are worth thinking about. TOS was a very human show, and the later series were at best homages to the original, and frequently only parodies.

Good speculative fiction on TV can be done: Babylon 5, Farscape, Space: Above and Beyond, Dr. Who, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, the original Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. But for me Star Trek lost its vitality not with the recent end of Enterprise, but with Star Trek VI, which as far as I can tell was the last useful thing that Roddenberry's creation ever produced.

Posted by jeff at 12:42 PM | TrackBack

Newsweek's Disastrous Lie

I was going to write a post on Newsweek's disastrous lie that is getting people killed, but really Glenn Reynolds has it covered well and succinctly here and here (UPDATE: and here). It's worth reading.

It comes to this: a substantial proportion of Western media is on the other side in this war, objectively if not in their own minds. They want us to do badly. They want us to lose. If not, they have a lot of proving to do at this point. Question their patriotism? You bet. The alternative is to question their humanity.

UPDATE: And if you think I'm hard on Newsweek, you should read Betsy's Page:

Were they just careless? Or did they like the idea that, if there were violence, all the stories reporting it would have to mention their publication as the source? Or, were they more malevolent? Did they like the idea of sparking violence across the Muslim world and making American gains in that part of the world more difficult?

Which brings me to Bismarck's deviousness to get France to declare war on Prussia. Bismarck knew exactly what he was doing and got the outcome he desired: France appearing to be the aggressor and declaring war on Prussia. Could Newsweek be getting exactly the reaction that it hoped for?

...Newsweek acknowledges that it reported dangerous rumors and then proceeds to report some more in the same mea culpa.

It's as if to say, "Sorry, we got those other rumors wrong, folks. And it's a shame that people died. But, here are some more unsubstantiated rumors to chew on while you're rioting against the Great Satan."

I'm sure that is just carelessness too, right?

UPDATE: Kevin Drum's point:

I note that the conservative blogosphere, usually not one for root causes and blame shifting, is pretty unanimously convinced that last week's riots in Afghanistan are Newsweek's fault, because they began shortly after the Koran flushing story made it into the Arabic language press.

Wrong on all counts. I don't blame Newsweek directly for the riots - I blame the rioters for that. What I blame Newsweek - along with seemingly most of Western media organizations - is for being objectively on the other side in this war. Reporting every fact and rumor negatively reflecting on the US extensively and hyperbolically, putting out puff pieces about the enemy, and suppressing both atrocities committed by the enemy and good acts done by us - these behaviors are consistent parts of the media's story line, and they are damaging to our war effort and aid the enemy's war effort. There is a word for that, and there's an old saying, too: If you lie down with dogs, don't be surprised if you get up with fleas.

UPDATE: LaShawn Barber has a roundup of much of the blogosphere commentary.

Posted by jeff at 8:09 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 15, 2005


Less than a day since I got the blog back up and running, and already I have comment spam. Good for them. Here's an address to ban:

I think from now on I will simply post every time I ban an address. Feel free to add it to your ban list.

Posted by jeff at 10:16 PM | TrackBack

What Makes Time Better Than Me?

Why does Time Magazine feel that it is better than me? What gives them the right to violate US law by revealing (using anonymous sources) that a given person is an agent of the CIA, in violation of the law, while still binding me? In other words, why does Time think that it is somehow privileged? Is there somewhere in the Constitution or in US law that states that journalists are those people who work for an organization that claims to report the news, and that they have some special privilege that separates them from me? If so, then what is that characteristic that differentiates them? I have the same privilege of publishing to the Internet that they do, and people may or may not read what I write and may or may not believe it, as they may or may not read what Time writes and may or may not believe it. Can I simply publish the names of confidential employees of the government, claiming freedom of the press? If not, why not? And if not, why should Time be able to do so?

By all means, let's take this to the Supreme Court. Time deserves to have it's ass handed to it by the Supreme Court. They are no better - indeed no different - than me. (OK, they have more money, and can buy their way out of all kinds of things. But they're not better or different in any moral sense.)

Posted by jeff at 9:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Intelligent Design and Unintelligent Teachers

This is just stunning. Stunning in its stupidity, actually.

You see, in Kansas there is once again debate over whether evolution should be taught in schools. Given the mass of evidence for evolution - particularly micro-evolution - it is odd to even be having a debate about whether it should be taught as the primary probability of how life came to be as it is today. That said, the teachers in Kansas deserve to have their clock cleaned, because they are clearly idiots. And here is why: their definition of science is "a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." That is crap.

Science is a human activity, certainly. But there is nothing in it about seeking natural explanations for what we observe. Science is all about what is provable and what is not provable. What is "natural" simply doesn't enter into it. I'm a Pagan, after all, and for me the Divine is natural. It does not matter whether or not the Divine enters into it: can any given theory be proven false? If so, the process of developing and of attempting to disprove that theory is science. If not, it is at best a critique, and usually less than that.

It may well be that life was a creation of a Divine being. But the "intelligent design" theory is not science even if it is correct, because it does not attempt to formulate a disprovable hypotheses, and then test it. Without that, it is nothing more than a notion - even a theory has the prerequisite that it provide a disprovable hypothesis.

So part of the problem is that the science teachers in Kansas apparently don't know what the core difference is between science and non-scientific belief. Part of the problem, too, is that our culture has (in the name of technology, really) turned "science" into a religion unto itself. Can you explain how we can know the mass of stars hundreds - thousands - of light years away? Neither can I, though I've studied physics enough to guess at it. But I take it on faith that we can know that, and so (likely) do you. And the reality is, we take most of what we think we know on faith. A scientist or a teacher says it's true, and we simply accept that because it's too hard to know for certain that it is so. It's provable, but it's beyond us to prove it. (I use proof here not in the mathematical sense, which is a wholly different animal.)

So it's not science, but Scientism, that most of us believe in. We simply accept that a process was scientific, because it was claimed to be so, and thus that the conclusion it arrived at is reasonable. Look at the hundreds of studies that are reported each year. How many of them are believable? A small fraction? Yet we don't take the time to examine these studies to see if they are reasonable; it's a study so it must be scientific and thus true.

Here's a hint: ad hominem is not always wrong. Sometimes, the fact that a drug maker funds a study on a problem really is a conflict of interest that leads to bad results. And frequently, what we take to be scientific consensus is no more than a passing fad with questionable antecedents.

The truth is, we are all to blame for the debacle in Kansas, because we have are collectively willing to believe just about anything if the alternative is to work hard to know the truth - or as close as we can approximate to the truth - for ourselves. It's simply an economic problem: we have limited time, so what shall we accept and on what matters will we demand proof or at least strong evidence?

The problem in Kansas is that the educators responsible for passing on the notion of what science is have failed to understand it for themselves, and are thus incapable of communicating it. As a result, they are unable to defend against plausible-sounding beliefs which have no evidence behind them.

The science teachers in Kansas deserve to lose this fight. Their students deserve better.

Posted by jeff at 7:55 PM | TrackBack

Fault Lines

Some large and important conflicts are raging through our society today:

  • Who decides what information is widely disseminated, large organizations purportedly dedicated to objective examination of current events, or individuals and small groups with obvious biases and sometimes distinct agendas?
  • Who decides how children are educated, their teachers or their parents?
  • Who controls the borders, the Federal government or the people who own the land along the border?
  • Who decides how to save for your retirement, the Congress or you?
  • Who controls your work schedule and methods, the company or the worker?

All of these conflicts - MSM v bloggers; teachers' unions v homeschoolers and voucher proponents; INS v the Minutemen; Social Security statists v privatization advocates; companies v contractors - all of them revolve around the collapse of the assumptions underlying the industrial economy.

In the industrial economy (what Walter Russell Mead, I believe, referred to as "Fordism"), the central assumption was that centralization produced efficiency, and thus all things should centralize. To a degree, they were even correct. Centralization really does produce efficiency. But it does something else, too, it reduces effectiveness. Here, for example, is a wonderful chart comparing centralization against decentralization in IT organizations. This tension - centralize for efficiency and control or decentralize for effectiveness and responsiveness - plays out in most of the conflicts in our society today. It is the collapse of this central assumption that underlies the major fault lines in our society.

The real problem with centralization is, I think, that it doesn't scale well. When a human enterprise is small and geographically concentrated, it can be controlled largely by consensus, with perhaps a person or small group designated as the "final word" on all matters. The amount of information to be handled is small, and the communication channels are rapid. As such an enterprise grows in size, the amount of information to be dealt with grows even faster (because it is a product primarily controlled by the connections between nodes, rather than the number of nodes or their complexity1); and as it grows in geographic separation, the channels of communication become slower and more lossy. This makes consensus impossible.

I'll avoid the temptation to talk about all of the different ways that larger societies can be controlled, and instead focus on how American governance evolved to where we are now.

The US formed as a Federal Republic. In practice, this means that the central government comprised both semi-autonomous regional governments and the people as a whole. Or, more to the point, that each of these entities could select representatives or agents to form the government. The people selected the House of Representatives, and the States selected the Senate. The Constitution designated the Federal government to handle matters between the States, and between the nation and other nations. The States were left to handle matters dealing with the people. The nice thing about this arrangement is how well it scales, and how much freedom it allows an individual. If you don't like your State's laws, you can move to a different State.

But what this structure doesn't do well is submit to central knowledge or authority. If the Federal government does not have the power directly to regulate the economy as a whole, how do you know what your GDP is? And if you don't know things as basic as how big the economy is, you don't know enough to even begin to try to figure out how to tax and regulate to produce "right" behavior in the society. If the government can't control what's happening, the people will just control their own behavior. To statists, this is anathema. I think, to some degree, statists are mostly just neat freaks: they hate the fact that self-governance and almost unregulated capitalism just careens along without being amenable to control or even real-time comprehension.

And so it was that the industrial revolution changed everything. Prior to the industrial revolution, there was not much advantage to ordinary people when things were centralized. How does a bigger farm help me, when I can only farm so many acres with my sons and hired hands? How does a bigger shop help me, when I can only train and oversee so many apprentices and journeymen anyway? How does the government knowing anything about what I do with my money help me, and so why would I give them that knowledge (and thus power)? But with industrialization, there really is an advantage to centralization, and that advantage is enough to outweigh the disadvantages for many people. The advantage is simple: efficiency.

With tractors, it doesn't take twice as many people (or twice as much work effort) to farm twice as many acres. With industrial machinery and the assembly, people can be trained to do simple and repetitive tasks, so I can control a larger work force; and the output of the factory goes up faster than the labor input, so I can make more profit with the same expense. And letting the government have more centralized control means (theoretically) a smoother-running economy, and thus less chance I'll be out of work, and a way to control the externalities that industrialization creates, like pollution. In other words, with the efficiencies created by industrialization, there are good reasons for a person to like bigger and less accountable companies, and bigger and more intrusive government.

But time does not stand still, and something odd happened towards the middle of the 1980s: it began to be possible for a person to support themselves in the style industrial efficiency had accustomed them to, without giving up the control that a person had over their own lives prior to centralization. I hate the term knowledge worker, but it does express an important truth: precise information gives the same kind of multiplier effect to the efficiency of an industrial organization or a profession that industrialization brought to farms and trades. Since efficiency is so much increased, it can be traded for effectiveness.

This has always been the case in life-critical organizations. The Army cannot afford to have exactly the number of soldiers it needs to fight a battle, because the casualties of the first battle ensure that the second battle will be fought with fewer people and less ammunition and equipment. No area can afford to have exactly the number of hospital beds it needs on an average day, because a local tragedy would then overwhelm the hospitals' ability to respond. But now it is possible for individuals to make such tradeoffs.

As a consultant, I make a relatively high income. In part, this is because I shoulder more of a tax and benefit burden than an employee does, and indemnify my clients for some things that they would have to insure against with an employee in my place. In part, this is because I have skills that few organizations need full-time, and that are rare in the industry. So I can choose to work as much as or more than before, and have a higher income, or take time off between jobs and keep the same income.

And this is true in other ways as well. I can, in my spare time, blog. And thus I can take away the mainstream media's central product: informative entertainment. It is this loss that really threatens the mainstream media, because the media has used the efficiencies of centralized knowledge and control to determine that what people want most from the media is not objective knowledge, but entertainment, and to tailor their offerings to that desire. That's why Michael Jackson is a bigger story than Venezuela's shift towards totalitarianism and anti-Americanism, and why good news in Iraq is less covered than a car bombing that kills no one.

With efficient access to information, I can homeschool my children more effectively than the State can school them institutionally. I can get a better return on investment than Social Security can, because I have good information and fewer constraints. And it is this devolution of control that is causing so many critical rifts in society right now: the self-chosen elites are beginning to realize, however dimly, that we don't need them so much any more, and we too are beginning to realize this.

The world of twenty years in the future will be unrecognizable to us with today's eyes.

1Yes, the number of nodes and their complexity matters, but not as much as the number of connections between nodes, because those connections dwarf the individual nodes.

Posted by jeff at 7:08 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2005

Old Blog, New Blog

There was a bit of trouble with my server during my hiatus. OK, what happened is this: my 3-year old son is potty training, and he was playing on Mommy's computer. He got a bit caught up in the game, and forgot to go to the potty. He was, at the time, naked. The arc was perfect, and the stream of urine travelled down the keyboard cable, in through the USB port, and fried the motherboard. Thankfully, I had a backup from the night before, so after a couple of weeks of work (I was in San Diego, and could only work on weekends, when there were, oh, 7 million other things to do to), I got the computer back up.

Except that the blogs are on a Postgres database, and I had backed up the wrong database. In short, you can find older entries here, but comments, trackbacks, and searches won't work. I probably won't do the work to reimport these entries, so if you need an older entry, and you can't find what you're looking for, let me know and I'll find it for you.

Oh, and let me know if you're having visual problems with any of this. It looks a lot like the old blog, but the template is new, so some things may not be working quite right on all browsers yet.

Posted by jeff at 11:37 PM | TrackBack

Styles Test

OK, let's see strong, bold, emphasis, italics, underline, and a:


This is a second paragraph.

  • unordered list item
  1. ordered list item
table header
table data

This is the extended entry, complete with a


Posted by jeff at 10:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Pardon Our Dust

Caerdroia will be active again soon. Since I've both lost the old database and have upgraded MT, it will take a couple of days for everything to be back to normal.

Posted by jeff at 9:35 AM | TrackBack