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February 27, 2006

A Few Brutal Truths

Britain has socialized medicine — the fabled and much hoped-for (by socialists and ultra-Leftists mostly) — single-payer system we keep hearing about. [Slightly off-topic yet somehow related: I heard a guy on the radio the other day saying that the problem with our health care system is that we don't pay enough; so his plan is to make health care so expensive that we'll beg the government to take it over!] And in Britain, the state has decided that a mentally-retarded baby's life is not worth living: that her fragile health, in essence, will cost the government so much money that it's best to let her die rather than trying to save her if she needs medical intervention, while other children with similar viruses but not retarded would get treated. In other words, the state has decided, over the objections of the baby's parents, that their baby's life is not worthwhile. (For, apparently, her own good!)

Now, there are a few brutal truths about this situation. The first is that the state's action here is so egregiously immoral that I cannot find words to describe it. Obviously, all healthcare is rationed, either by government action or by ability to pay (although in the US system, it is generally the case that ability to pay is not a barrier to world-class treatment if the illness is not chronic): all things that are demanded and are in limited supply will be assigned by some priority scheme; that is unavoidable. Yet the government has, by taking over health care decisions, decided that it has the sole responsibility and privilege of deciding whose life is worth living, and I cannot imagine a scarier thought than that power in politicians' hands.

The second is that the parents are likely partially to blame for this situation, and I am not referring to the genetic situation. Let me transfer this to myself, because I really don't mean to be critical of Charlotte's parents, who are in a heartbreaking situation. If the state were to say that my child's life would not be saved by medical treatments, I would begin by leaving the country for a place where my child could get care. Were I prevented from doing so, or financially unable to do so, and were I unable to get relief through the political system, I would make an appeal for funds and try to get private treatment. In extremis, if all else failed, I would gather my truest friends and sufficient weaponry, go to the hospital, and ensure by force that my child was appropriately treated. After which, I would lay down my weapons, surrender meekly, and would explain how I blackmailed my friends, so they were not responsible for what they did. My child's life is worth the jail time.

And that said, if the parents in this case would like to come to the US, and get appropriate treatment for their child here, I would be more than willing to contribute to the cause, and to ask others to do so as well. Obviously, the Wyatts love their children, and want the best for them. The problem here is that the governmental system they live under, by choice, is flawed, and will not save their child. I hope they make the right choices, and I hope the situation turns out well for them.

(hat tip: WizBang)

Posted by jeff at 8:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 26, 2006

Breaking The Last Enigma Messages

The M4 Message Breaking Project has broken one of the last three remaining unbroken Enigma messages. There is a client you can download to contribute your computer's time (none for Macs, but there is a Unix client that looks workable for OS X).

(Hat tip: Martin McKeay)

Posted by Nemo at 2:09 PM | TrackBack

February 24, 2006

Gifts and Talents

http://drhelen.blogspot.com/2006/02/im-not-really-talented-and-gifted-i.htmlDr. Helen has a post pointing out some of the idiocies inherent in today's American public schools. It's an easy task, I grant you, but the reality is that the schools are doing exactly what we, as a society, have asked them to do. Yes, even the dumbing down of language, the compulsion to conform to an artificial norm, the arbitrariness, and the pointless bureaucracy are essential parts of our public school system's ability to do its job.

There are, fundamentally, four kinds of education (not, as Mark Twain noted, to be confused with schooling): how to live, how to follow, how to lead and how to do a trade.

How to live is going to be learned by any person other than the severely mentally disabled; this is stuff like how to get food, how to buy things in a store, and so on, and we learn it as a natural part of living, to at least some degree. It would be nice if we all taught our kids things like fundamental economics — balancing a checkbook and so on — because the public schools don't tend to teach these skills. Still and all, it's impossible not to learn the names of colors, how to count, basic grammar and so forth unless you are disabled in some way.

Our school system is geared to teaching how to follow. It was, after all, based on the Prussian schools that were designed to create soldiers, so that's not really surprising. We teach people to read and write at at least a basic fluency, how to follow orders, how to keep to a schedule, how to show up, how to accomodate to arbitrariness and abnormality, and how to value themselves based on others' opinions. We teach them how to be content with their lot, and how not to rock the boat. We teach them the consequences of falling outside the norm, rocking the boat, or being different. We teach them our public societal values, and we do it very, very well.

There is still a rump system for teaching how to lead, although it is vastly atrophied. Much of what is left is in certain colleges, but the doctrines on display very publicly right now at Harvard have driven much of that out of even the college level. Classics, history, languages, biography, rhetoric and so forth are not really taught, except by certain schools and certain homeschoolers, in the US. Mentoring is critical here, and there is no place for that in public schools, and little place for it in undergraduate colleges.

Trade school is still available for certain trades, but in most cases we've moved that into college (journalism, engineering, and so on) or on the job training. There is some specialized training, of course, for things like art education (particularly music lessons) provided through private instruction.

Our schools are doing exactly what they were intended to do: equalizing the vast majority of people at a level consistent with holding down a job in our system. The problem is that the idea of education as a singular body of knowledge/skills, combined with the essential monopoly of government-provided education, means that we are, and have been for about a century, leaving everything other than that minimum to chance. Many of the holes this leaves are actually plugged in community college continuing education classes, which tend to focus on life skills, learning how to lead in small ways (assertiveness training comes to mind), broadening trade education and so forth.

I suppose that an ideal system that could be implemented in a nation-wide system would have everyone follow the same basic education, regardless of all factors, up through about age 12 or 13. That's long enough to learn to read and write, how to do everyday math up through early algebra (figuring out who pays what on a complicated restaurant bill, or whether you have enough gas to get to the next gas station or need to stop now), and to learn what your interests and options are. At that point, those people who were gifted enough to learn to lead would be sent to a separate system for that, focusing on a rigorous classical education. Those who have special skills or interests could go into apprenticeship to learn a trade. The vast majority would continue to be schooled as they are now, and could start into the leadership or trade systems later if they developed the desire and ability for that.

But as that would require that we realize as a matter of public policy that everyone is not exactly the same in their intellectual abilities (as we generally recognize for other talents), I don't expect it to happen.

Posted by jeff at 10:50 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Killing the Business

If you have stock in H&R Block, sell now. Otherwise, sell short. Not because of the restated earnings, but because the way this is being reported (with mock and irony) will cancel out years of advertising.

(hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by jeff at 9:14 AM | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

Ah, Homeschooling Boys

Steph has a vision of teaching about mummies.

Posted by jeff at 8:33 PM | TrackBack

Tolerance and Survival

This morning, Instapundit linked to a joint WaPo essay by Bill Bennett and Alan Dershowitz (!!!), on the implications of the press' failure, by and large, to run the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. I was going to comment on it, particularly this bit, but had to go to work:

The Boston Globe, speaking for many other outlets, editorialized: "[N]ewspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance."

Bennett and Dershowitz point out the hypocrisy, but my beef was with the twisted thinking that makes "tolerance" an Enlightenment value — no, the ultimate Enlightenment value. I had, in my head, a long and intricate argument detailing how I've come, over the past 5-10 years, to believe that multiculturalism, collectivism, and victimology combine to create a Western suicide pact, and how our cultural institutions — schools, media, entertainment and politics in particular — embrace these doctrines so firmly as to make an actual belief in Western Enlightenment values, particularly those of the English Enlightenment which form the basis of the American idea, not merely heresy, but sin. (The seven deadly sins of the Left are intolerance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, "fundamentalism" [Judeo-Christian faith deeply held], individualism, and capitalism, but they all boil down to standing up for Western values against dehumanizing or inhuman values, masquerading as "diversity".) But what is the point of writing all out when Jeff Goldstein has already said it, and better?

Go read.

Posted by jeff at 5:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

Dubai Ports World Must Not Take Over Port Operations

With all due respect to Dave Schuler, there is a factor he neglected in his logical analysis of the ports deal. In fact, the law triggered by this factor, while it might be considered "magical thinking" — and rightly so since it is an exact inverse of the law of similarities — is so empirically proven reliable that I cannot but conclude that the ports deal must be scrapped forthwith, despite the judgments of my reasoning mind, even if it means selling to Halliburton (and won't that drive Kos [more] batshit crazy?) or for that matter Disney: Jimmy Carter thinks it's a good idea.

Always do the opposite of what Jimmy Carter recommends, and all will be well.

UPDATE: I am not alone.

Posted by jeff at 8:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Captain Subtext on Dubai Ports World

There has been so much heat and so little light on the subject of Dubai Ports World acquiring P&O — resulting in a government-owned company from the UAE (a [Persian] Gulf monarchy friendly, for some time now at least, to American interests) taking over the operation of some major US ports from a private British company, rather than giving control of those same ports to a government-owned company from Singapore (a SE Asian right-wing dictatorship friendly, for some time now at least, to American interests) — that it is clearly time for Captain Subtext to fire up his Helmet of Truth Detection.

Glenn Reynolds: I would like to point out an issue that I don't have time to discuss. And I have developed a truly novel idea about this issue, which the margins of this blog are too small to contain.

Chuck Schumer and Congressional Democrats: Here's an issue on which I can cheaply score points on national security and with the anti-Arab fringe, while digging into my political opponent without actually appearing partisan or racist. Score!

Bill Frist and Congressional Republicans: Maybe if I play up this issue, I can score some points with centrists and distract everyone from the fact that I'm a terribly ineffective Senate Majority Leader.

George Bush:

I do want to talk about this port issue. A foreign company manages some of our ports. They've entered into a transaction with another foreign company to manage our ports. This is a process that has been extensively reviewed, particularly from the point of view as to whether or not I can say to the American people, this project will not jeopardize our security. It's been looked at by those who have been charged with the security of our country. And I believe the deal should go forward. This company operates all around the world. I have the list somewhere. We can get you the list. They're in Germany and elsewhere -- Australia.*

They -- in working with our folks, they've agreed to make sure that their coordination with our security folks is good and solid. I really don't understand why it's okay for a British company to operate our ports, but not a company from the Middle East, when our experts are convinced that port security is not an issue; that having worked with this company, they're convinced that these -- they'll work with those who are in charge of the U.S. government's responsibility for securing the ports, they'll work hand in glove. I want to remind people that when we first put out the Container Security Initiative, the CSI, which was a new way to secure our ports, UAE was one of the first countries to sign up.

In other words, we're receiving goods from ports out of the UAE, as well as where this company operates. And so I, after careful review of our government, I believe the government ought to go forward. And I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British [sic] company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to people of the world, we'll treat you fairly. And after careful scrutiny, we believe this deal is a legitimate deal that will not jeopardize the security of the country, and at the same time, send that signal that we're willing to treat people fairly.

ThinkProgress: Everything is a security, and thus necessarily military, issue on which the Pentagon should be consulted, so long as it hurts a Republican if we say so.

The Nation: The real problem is corporations. What? You don't see it!? Come on people! Some assholes have the temerity to pool their funds to "invest" in "making money"! How are you not getting this?!

Governors Pataki and Ehrlich: We have utterly forgotten Gibbons v. Ogden, which ironically involved New York.

Markos Zuniga: [low, gleeful chuckling interspersed with the occasional cackle as Kos realizes he's to the right of Bush on this issue]

Dave Schuler: Have you all lost your minds!? Have any of you actually bothered to step back from demagoguing the issue long enough to look at actual facts? Apparently not.

Posted by jeff at 8:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Not Quite Treason, but Close

Rusty Shackleford asks whether anyone dares to call this treason? Not in the US, they shouldn't, at least not if they can read (from Article III):

Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Unless they committed an overt act of waging war, and the article shows no evidence that they did, and were witnessed by two people, or committed such an act and admitted to it in open court, they cannot be convicted of treason. Planning to commit treason is not itself treason. It is conspiracy to commit treason. And that, too, has appropriate consequences. Oh, and one of the defendants, being a resident and not a citizen, could easily be declared a saboteur and shot.

Posted by jeff at 7:46 PM | TrackBack

David Gregory Thinks He's my Proxy?

What an arrogant ass! It's not just that I didn't vote for him (a vile excuse for not supporting a representative after an election), but that he didn't even bother to run. That's not representation, it's arrogation, and David Gregory can stuff it.

Not that I'm bitter.

Posted by jeff at 7:20 PM | TrackBack

February 19, 2006

Sure, I'll Play

VodkaPundit posted the 10 most played songs in his iTunes, and his commenters chimed in with lists. OK, let's see where this goes (taking out Christmas music, which would skew the list a bit).

1. Touch and Go — ELP
2. The Sun Always Shines on TV — a-ha
3. Mars, The Bringer of War — ELP
4. Bloodletting — Concrete Blonde
5. Star Wars Main Title — John Williams
6. Walking in the Air — Nightwish
7. One X One — INXS
8. Burn for You — INXS
9. Dreamline — Rush
10. Sirius — Alan Parsons Project

While I don't disclaim them, because I like them, too, 1, 3 and 5 are there because of the kids, and 2 because of its position in Steph's playlist. The next 10 are:

11. Brian Wilson — Barenaked Ladies
12. Ship to Shore — Chris De Burgh
13. Stagefright — Def Leppard
14. St. Teresa — Joan Osborne
15. No Myth — Michael Penn
16. Mystify — INXS
17. Shoot High Aim Low — Yes
18. Eight Days a Week — Beatles
19. Stupid Girl — Flower Kings
20. Book of Saturday — Asia

Good music.

Posted by jeff at 11:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sometimes it's not the kids who say the darndest things

My wife got home from the grocery store earlier tonight. One of the things I spotted in the grocery bags was People's 20th year of their Sexiest Man Alive.

Me: Any particular reason you picked this up?
Wife: No -- but it's got Orlando Bloom in it so I thought our daughter might like it.
Me: So -- you got it for her?
Wife: ......Well... no.

At least she's honest. :)

(Somehow, I doubt I'd get the same reaction if I brought home the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.)

Posted by Nemo at 9:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"If our journalists were as balanced and brave as they claim to be, then they would have as much power as they think they have." — VodkaPundit

Posted by jeff at 8:40 PM | TrackBack

Mark Kleiman on Iran

Mark Kleiman has an excellent summation on the implications of Iran's quest for nuclear powers. (hat tip: The Glittering Eye) I agree with almost all of it, but there are a few bits, all near the end, that I want to critique. I'm only going to quote those bits, but this should not be taken as a fisking even in a partial sense: Kleiman's points are well-considered and very worthy of attention.

13. We can't attack Iran while we have 150,000 troops in Iraq as virtual hostages to a Shi'a call for jihad against the infidels. But accepting a rotten result in Iraq might be a relatively small price to pay for avoiding a nuked-up Iran. Maintaining our freedom of action in Iran is one more excellent reason not to try to create a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq.

I agree that preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons might be worth a bad, and certainly worth a less optimal, outcome in Iraq. But I don't agree with the premise, that the majority of Iraq's Shi'a support Iran because it is ruled by Shi'a. Sadr appears to be Iran's puppets, and would likely cause problems, but the real threat in Iran's response is not that, but the widespread terrorism around the world and the blocking of the straits of Hormuz combined with attacks on our allies and their oil facilities in particular using chemical weapons on intermediate ranged missiles. This would cause far more problems that finally killing off the Badr Brigades would. Particularly if Iran attacked Israel or US forces with chemical or biological agents, which could lead to nuclear escalation.

However, I don't think that Iran's possible response should stop us from acting, though it should be considered so that we can minimize it as much as possible.

None of this means that I favor military action against Iranian nuclear capacity. What it means is that military action might, in the future, become necessary to prevent Iran's transformation into a new nuclear power, and, if that were the case, I would be willing to support an attack (non-nuclear, of course) as the least bad option in a bad situation.

The real question, of course, is how to know where the dividing line is between when they just have potential capability and when they actually have nuclear weapons. The pessimist, or the cautious person, says attack early when we know they don't have weapons or the full ability to get them. The optimist, or the deluded, says don't strike until we know they do have weapons or the full ability to get them.
Footnote It goes without saying that reducing our oil imports is an even more urgent national-security issue than ever in the face of the fact that the support our imports provide for world oil prices helps enrich the Iranian regime. Anyone who says he's for national security and against an increase of at least a dollar per gallon in gasoline taxation is a bag of wind, and should be laughed at and ignored.

This I cannot agree with at all. If our goal is to deprive Iran of revenue, an embargo would be far more effective with potentially less impact on our domestic economy. Gas taxes simply do not work to reduce the revenue to an oil-producing state, because demand is relatively inelastic. To reduce the revenue by taxation, we would have to so tax gas and other oil products that other fuel sources would be more economical. That would be a crushing burden on the economy. Go ahead and laugh and ignore me if you feel so inclined.
Update Bruce Moomaw asks what we should do if a conventional attack on Iran wouldn't work and only a pre-emptive nuclear strike would do the job. My answer: drop back three yards and punt. The point is to maintain the taboo on the use of nuclear weapons. I think it's worth fighting a war to do so. But I'd rather risk losing that taboo than give it up for sure with a pre-emptive strike.

This is unlike the situation with the U.S.S.R. back when Bertrand Russell called for pre-emptive war. (Which is not to say that I think he was right even in that circumstance; I don't.) Since Iranian nuclear capacity can't possibly threaten the existence of the U.S., I can't see how we could justify pre-emption either morally or on a pure calculation of national self-interest.

Are you willing to bet New York, DC, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Miami or any other major cities on this supposition? I agree that the taboo against using nuclear weapons is important, and that we'd be better off both militarily and morally (over the short as well as the long term) with a conventional attack. But I wonder if a conventional attack, with its attendant thousands of casualties, is possible in the current political environment, or if we will be unable to act for fear of casualties, until it becomes necessary to act with nuclear weapons or allow the Israelis to do so.

Posted by jeff at 2:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Fear of Reason

Richard Cohen asks in Thursday's Washington Post What Is the Value of Algebra?

Cohen makes the argument that one can live a very fine life without knowing how to figure out how much time it takes for two boys to mow a yard. More history and English, maybe, but not algebra.

However, I would wager Cohen knows more algebra and mathematical reasoning than he realizes. I bet Cohen can figure out without much effort, for example, that a 200 mile trip on the interstate takes about 3 hours. Maybe he doesn't see that as algebra, but it's a pretty simple formula:


There are those of us who know the sweat, the panic, the trembling, cold fear that comes from the teacher casting an eye in your direction and calling you to the blackboard. It is like being summoned to your own execution.

This is the real problem Cohen has with algebra. Not the knowledge, but the fear. Well, since Cohen likes language and history so much more than reasoning, let me refer to this quote from Marie Curie:

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."

Dumbing down academic expectations is not a way to conquer fear, it will only encourage it.

(Hat Tip: Kevin Drum)

Posted by Nemo at 1:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What Color is the Sky in Your World?

The Arab Parallel Universe theory explains a great deal. And it's a nice counterpart to this, this and this.

Posted by jeff at 9:25 AM | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Human Joy

Some times, when you are looking at the world and being cynical, a little human joy is a fantastic restorative.

The second link is so funny, I can't bear the thought of losing it, and it's got no permalink. So here it is:

February 12, 2006

Seattle, Washington
Written February 12, 2006


Definition: Persons with enough nimbleness of mind to accept a surprise invitation to jump into a quick game of imagination.

Example: Here's a city bus driver standing in the door of his vehicle, staring into the rain. An invitation from me, passing by: "OK, here's the deal: I'll pay for the gas, and you'll drive us straight to the beach at Santa Monica."

He smiles. "OK, meet me here at midnight. It's the end of my run and they won't miss me or the bus until morning. I'll get some barbecue."
A player.

Example: This lady with a shopping cart full of oddball stuff standing beside me in front of the cheese counter at the grocery story. My invitation: "I like the groceries in your cart better than mine. Want to trade? You take mine and I'll take yours. Could be interesting when we get home."

She smiles. Checks out my cart. "You've got a deal,"she says. We take each other's carts and roll away. Later, she's waiting for me at the check-out counter. She knows and I know: we weren't really going to go through with it. But the few moments of madness brought new meaning to "going to the store for a few things."
A player.

Example: There's a tailor shop on Queen Anne Avenue. Sign in the window says "Alterations and Repairs for Men and Women." The tailor is standing in the doorway. I stop. "I'd like to get altered and repaired," I say.
She looks at me cautiously. Goes inside. Closes the door.
Not a player.

Example: Vivacious young woman who works at the sidewalk flower stand at a nearby market. Last year she called me "Babycakes"just before Valentine's Day, but I haven't seen her since. Invitation: "Do I still look like Babycakes to you?" I ask.

She looks at me shrewdly. "Sir, it is the policy of the store that employees are not to get familiar with customers." "Oh, too bad,"say I. She's no longer a player. As I turn my back and walk away, she whispers, "Thanks for coming by, babycakes."
An undercover player now.

Example: Me at a well-known company to pick up copies of a manuscript, I am visibly annoyed - this is my third trip to get what was promised yesterday. The anxious clerk, Miss Saucer-eyes, is obviously new to the herd behind the counter and doesn't know what to do with me or for me. The work is still not done, despite promises. Getting mad at her won't help.
"OK, I won't make any trouble," I say, "Just give me a really clever, off-the-wall creative excuse - the wildest thing you can think of. Make me laugh and I'll go away."
Miss Saucer-eyes is mute. This situation was not covered in training school last week. She whispers: "I'll speak to my manager."
Not a player.

Miss Saucer-eyes retreats to the back of the shop and consults with her manager, a high-energy, sharply-dressed woman. The manager marches briskly up to the counter, gives me a steely look, leans over the counter, and explains: "Sir, you may not know this, but this store has been a front for the Irish Republican Army for years. We're supposed to be turning in our firearms, and it seems a bazooka is missing from the inventory. When we find the bazooka, things will get back to normal. If I were you, I wouldn't make any trouble - just come back tomorrow, OK?”
A player.

Example: A garbage man with monster truck. Cold. Rain. As I pass by, he says, "You look prosperous." "Thank you. I feel prosperous." "You look like the kind of guy who might have some frequent-flyer miles." "As a matter of fact, I do. Lots of them." "Listen, I need enough to get me to Buenos Aires, one way." "I've got enough. They're yours. But what's in it for me.?" "Here's the keys to this garbage truck. Even trade.”
Yes! I've long had an urge to drive one of those things. I'd like to dump a whole load of garbage on a certain person's front porch. "It's a deal." "You got a license to drive a truck?" "Well, no." "Deals off - I can't be part of anything illegal, but no problem. Get a license. I'm here every Monday.”
A player.

Example: Early morning. Lady standing at a bus stop. All seven people waiting with her have wires coming out of their ears. Radios, I-pods, Walkmans, or something. All seven are in a zone - nodding heads in time to music or staring off into space. As I pass, I say to the lady: "They're all alien robots, you know. Their souls have been sucked out of them." The lady gives me a hard look and moves closer to the curb.
Not a player.

A man who has just walked up says, "Yes, but they aren't useless. They're a street-theater company and I'm their manager. We're on our way to a gig downtown." "Really? What's the name of the performance?" "Bus Stop Stupor. Look for us everywhere.”
A player.

Example: Clerk in a bookstore - older lady with dyed red hair. "Can I help you?" she asks. "Happy birthday," I say. (Makes people smile - sometimes you're early, sometimes late, but sometimes right on.) "Well, I hope you're coming to my party,"she says. "We need someone to jump out of a cake."
"I'm your man." "You'd be expected to go-go dance in the nude.”
"I'm not your man." "My mistake. Thought you looked a little kinky.”
A player.

The lady waiting in line behind me - who overheard this conversation - drifted away from the counter and then walked out the door.
Not a player.

Later, as I walked by a sidewalk table at a nearby coffeehouse, I spot the lady customer who fled the store. "Sorry, hope we didn't annoy you," I said.
She smiled. "Oh, no,"she said, "It's just that I jumped out of the cake last year. It hurts my feelings to think they're looking for a replacement.”
A player after all.

People in the real world are more full of mischief than I could ever invent. Most are primed and ready to play. While I didn't make up these stories, I had to make some of them down - they were unprintably creative.

Look for players. They're everywhere. You may be one.

Posted by jeff at 9:58 PM | TrackBack

Oh, So That's Why

I've been wondering why the US did not declare war after 9/11. Now I understand. Well, sort of. What I don't understand is this: if the declaration of war inherently triggers powers the Congress does not want to trigger (censorship and the like), why not amend the WWII and post-WWII laws to remove those triggers, so that they require separate acts of Congress as they used to? But once again, Congress passes the buck to the President, and carps about it later, rather than doing their jobs. You would think I would be used to this, but I really do expect our political leaders to take the nation's interests over their own interests and careers, and I'm continually disappointed when they don't.

UPDATE: Brian Dunn has the same reaction, pretty much.

Posted by jeff at 9:46 PM | TrackBack

Jane's Law and Religious Politics

Glenn Reynolds has a rare long post (well, for him) discussing the religious aspects of politics Left and Right. Where he had me thinking was with his reference to Jane's Law. But while Reynolds was thinking about polarization, I was thinking about what happens when polarity reverses. Here's my guess:

When a Democrat gets elected to the Presidency, and centrist (in which I include libertarians) bloggers agree with some of their programs, the out-of-power Republicans will accuse the centrist bloggers of horrors just as bad as the Democrats currently accuse the centrist bloggers of. Meanwhile, the by-then smug and arrogant Lefty bloggers will be accusing the centrists of heresy and being "secret Rethuglican shills" every time centrist bloggers disagree with the administration. Both tendencies might be somewhat mollified if the Democrats only take the Presidency, and not the Congress, but I doubt it.

You see, there wasn't a blogosphere during the Clinton administration. Had there been, would sites like Powerline or Hugh Hewitt be recognizable voices of sanity and thoughtfulness? I'm guessing they'd be on the "I disagree with my opponents, and therefore he has sex with goats" bandwagon. (If you came here from searching on sex with goats, I'm sorry for you on so many levels.) Anyone remember the "dead lists" of people supposedly murdered on Clinton's behalf? All of this despite, after 1994, essential control of one or both houses of Congress by Republicans.

Posted by jeff at 9:30 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Journalism's Crazy Old Aunt in the Attic

If you've ever wondered why Helen Thomas has earned the appellation of "journalism's crazy old aunt in the attic", read this.

Posted by jeff at 4:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Quiz: Sci-Fi Crew

Not really surprising: B5, followed by Star Trek. Too bad "Galaxy Quest" isn't on the list.

You scored as Babylon 5 (Babylon 5). The universe is erupting into war and your government picks the wrong side. How much worse could things get? It doesnâ??t matter, because no matter what you have your friends and youâ??ll do the right thing. In the end that will be all that matters. Now if only the Psi Cops would leave you alone.

Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Moya (Farscape)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Serenity (Firefly)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

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February 15, 2006

Babylon 5 Actor Katsulas Passes Away

'Babylon 5' Star And Trek Guest Katsulas Dies:

Babylon 5 star Andreas Katsulas, who appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Enterprise, died this week of lung cancer.
Sci Fi Wire reported that the 59-year-old actor, best known to science fiction fans as the Narn ambassador G'Kar from Babylon 5, grew up in St. Louis and held a master's degree in theatre from Indiana University.

Katsulas created one of the most memorable characters in science fiction. Babylon 5 simply would not have worked without the wonderful interplay between him and Peter Jurasik. He was a truly fine actor. I will miss his work.

Update: Here's a video tribute page. The full (90MB) version can also be downloaded here.

Posted by Nemo at 7:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Question for PNM Theorists

How does PNM handle the collapse or approaching collapse of rulesets in core nations? The flow of people from the gap to the core is inherently going to bring gap rulesets — those travel in people's heads, after all — and this is already apparent in Britain, France, Spain, Italy, the Low Countries, Denmark and Norway. I suspect we'll see the same in Germany, soon, because they have the same demography/immigrant problem as the rest of Western Europe.

Once the gap rulesets have been imported into the core, can the core rulesets remain established, or are the core rulesets inherently self-defeating? And if they are inherently self-defeating, at least when confronted with a lower-order ruleset from the gap, what changes to the core rulesets (and hopefully there are some short of mass deportation or genocide) can be made to avert the consequences of a core ruleset collapse (the main consequence being moving from the core to the gap)?

UPDATE: Mark Safranski responds.

UPDATE: Phatic Communion (what a great name!) comments. Actually, I was thinking of the intersection of the Western rulesets of "rule of law" and multiculturalism, and whether multiculturalism is compatible with rule of law. If not, if we allow those who are specially designated due to not being native to our rulesets to ignore the law, then can the rule of law stand, or would "natives" also begin to break the law, seeing that it is not enforced? And were that to happen, could the rest of our society stand with that pillar removed? It's not an idle question: in Europe it is already that case that Muslim immigrants are largely immune to the law in many places.

Posted by jeff at 5:19 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

MSM Hypocrisy. How Unsurprising.

I have said before that the reason people get irritated at newspapers and TV news outlets not showing the Danish cartoons "to show respect for Muslims" and, more on point, "to avoid inflaming a tense situation" is that the media showed Abu Ghraib pictures wall to wall during that scandal. Well, they still are, with ABC rebroadcasting newly available photos of what happened at Abu Ghraib, despite not having shown the cartoons. So it's once again hypocrisy from the MSM. How unsurprising.

I'm sure that, when called on this, we will start hearing endlessly about the public's "right to know", while eliding the cartoons entirely.

Posted by jeff at 12:16 PM | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Playing the Numbers

If there were more Muslims like this than this, there would be no essential problem between the West and Islam. Sadly, the "tiny minority" we keep being assured are the Islamists and jihadis appear to have numbers on their side.

Posted by jeff at 10:07 AM | TrackBack

The Chocolate Bunny of Brutality

Planet Moron ruthlessly mocks the Organic Consumers Association.

Posted by jeff at 8:59 AM | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

VP Cheney Accidentally Shoots Lawyer

It's a start.

UPDATE: More here.

UPDATE: For the sake of all that's Holy! I've been listening to the news some today, including the press conference with Scott McClelland, and the national press is in full dander over not being informed for about a day after the incident. OK, two points:

1) Since the incident is pretty minor in terms of governance and its implications thereon, not telling the press corps immediately does not reflect any kind of conspiracy.
2) The press corps does not have the right to be informed of everything that happens to anyone in government at all times and immediately. They want that privilege, but I don't see any reason to grant it to them. The private lives and events of government officers and elected officials, to the extent that they neither impact governing actions nor the ability of the person to continue in his job, should not be public knowledge: the utter lack of privacy in every aspect of one's life makes it much more difficult to attract qualified people to high government service.

Posted by jeff at 11:56 PM | TrackBack

ACLU Being Stupid Again

So the ACLU is suing the Boy Scouts again over their policy on homosexuals. Two of our children are Boy Scouts, but we kept them out for a long time and sought out alternatives over two of the BSA's policies: their position on homosexuality and concern that, as Pagans, our children would not be welcome. We were wrong on the second point, and eventually decided that even though we disagree with the BSA on whether homosexuals should be allowed in scouting, nonetheless we want the experience for our children.

But the ACLU is missing a big point: the BSA is a private, not a governmental, organization. As such, the scouts have freedom of association, explicitly protected by the Constitution no less, and can refuse membership to anyone they want. And you can refuse to join if you want. But lawsuits over this are stupid, and should be thrown out immediately.

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February 11, 2006

"I Think You Guys Have Blown It"

Glenn Reynolds takes CNN down a peg over their failure to show the Jyllands-Posten cartoons. Video here.

Posted by jeff at 9:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What if the Enemy Really Is Islam?

I think that it is fair to say that, however one defines the enemy in the long war, it is not "all Muslims". Certainly, I've known many good and decent Muslims. And the cases of liberal Muslims (of which there are quite few, though they often end up leaving Islam, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has done) certainly would tend to argue against identifying those people as enemies. For that matter, most truly moderate Muslims (including many that I've worked with or for or who have worked for me) — and by that I don't mean Islamists who haven't quite gone from incitement to violence into actual violence, or from rioting over cartoons to terrorism — can't be called enemies in any meaningful sense. Even if all Muslims were the enemy, for that matter, can anyone with any moral center advocate the necessary consequence, the killing or subjugation of 1.2 billion people?

But what if the enemy is Islam, the religion, in addition to its more deranged followers? Certainly, it is true that Islam has not produced the kind of prosperity we see in the West, and has not produced much even in the way of art (its supposed strong point) in centuries. What advances in science have come from the Arab world since the Middle Ages? What has Islam produced other than misery in the past decades? Even the oil the Arabs provide is largely from installations built, and often run, by foreigners and with foreign investment. So what if the enemy is Islam? How do you beat a religion?

(Note: I'm not really trying to discuss whether Islam is the enemy. You can take it up with Fran Porretto, who is an eloquent advocate of the point. What I am trying to discuss is what it would take to destroy Islam itself as a hostile ideology.)

There are, it turns out, examples of how to kill a religion. Ask the Pagans of pre-Christian Europe how it works. Essentially, what it takes is convincing the adherents of the religion that its doctrines are bankrupt (and possibly immoral) and that the religions promises cannot be delivered to its adherents. In the case of the pre-Christian European Pagans, their many religions basically offered protection from their enemies and prosperity. When faced with a prosperous Christianized Roman Empire, conversion was frequently both swift and relatively non-violent. But there were significant holdouts, particularly beyond the Empire's boundaries; yet they converted too. Why? Well, there is significant evidence of desecrated temples and violently killed priests to indicate that, in at least some cases, the Christians ended up proving that their religions did not offer protection. But more often than not, it seems to be the case that Christianity just offered a more compelling message to its new adherents than did their old tribal religions.

Applying something similar to Islam, it would take some or all of the following:

  • A new faith could arise that promises to supersede Islam the way that Islam superseded Christianity: by offering a more compelling prophet of Abraham's god.
  • UPDATE: As Dave points out in the comments, internal reinterpretation, where a new understanding of the existing texts and forms changes the religion's behavior, also works.
  • Older faiths, particularly Christianity, could send forth missionaries to convert the Muslims. This would generate a large number of Christian martyrs, and in practical terms could only be done in combination with the next technique:
  • proscription. Essentially, this means that we would have to compel Muslims to not practice their religion openly, the way that many Muslim nations currently punish or forbid the practice of Christianity. Or we could go all the way and simply kill Muslims who would not convert, which is a time-honored practice among Muslims, Christians and many other religions, though only in broad use now by the Muslims. Of course, this would require a conquest of the areas where the religion was proscribed, because there is no way that a Muslim nation would tolerate such activities. For areas already under non-Muslim control, such as Europe or the United States, this would be far more practical, not involving actual invasions.
  • Destroying the ideological underpinnings of the religion is also an option. For example, Islam promises that any land once Muslim is always Muslim "until Judgement Day", that Muslims who believe sufficiently fervently and act in a certain way will have victory over their enemies, and that Islam will eventually conquer the world.
  • While conquering Muslim nations would certainly daunt any such beliefs, there is another way that doesn't require actual conquest, though it does involve acts of war: destroy Islam's holy sites. Not just Mecca and Medina and the al Aqsa mosque, though of course those would have to be utterly levelled; but every single mosque of any branch of Islam. And while we're at it, it would probably be a good idea to kill every imam and ayatollah and mullah and any other spiritual leaders of Islam we can get to, whether that means judicial killings, or assassination, or simply dropping smart bombs on their houses. Any new places of worship, including houses where people gather, would also need to be destroyed. The idea here is to show that their god either doesn't exist or has no ability to protect them.

That's a pretty brutal list of options, and none of them are particularly appealing to me, personally. So how far would we go, as a society rather than as individuals, if Islam is truly the enemy, towards our own destruction before we undertook such measures? Would we be willing to give up free speech? That question is being tested now in Europe. What about free assembly? What about freedom of religion itself? Where is the line that says we can go no further without submission, and we are unwilling to submit? Is there such a line?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but Islamists and jihadis keep pushing at every boundary, weak point and doubt in the West, which makes me fear I might well know the answer before I die.

UPDATE: Speaking of Francis Porretto making the case of all Muslims as the enemy...

Posted by jeff at 9:45 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

Pretending at Courage

Winds of Change has a very thought-provoking post on art and risk.

UPDATE: From the comments, along with some additional clarifying thoughts, comes this, which I post in the hope that someone, somewhere will be offended.

Posted by jeff at 8:50 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Impossible Job

Bob J Young at The Centrist Coalition is disappointed in President Bush, and musing about whether Al Gore would have been better after all. Here's a hint: no. Actually, that's not fair, the real question to ask is how would Gore have been better and how would he have been worse, and where would it not matter? The election of 2000 wasn't really about anything in particular, because the real differences between Bush and Gore were those of emphasis and focus, not basic policy: both stood for increasing statism and numerous small programs to give voters what they want and (at least it so appeared at the time) relatively sane and inoffensive foreign policies. Gore was hurt by being part of a corrupt administration, and likely by actually being corrupt. Bush was hurt by his inexperience in national affairs. I think that it's the essential sameness of the two that made the 2000 election so bitter: with no differentiators of great note, the only way to tell the players apart was by the depth and bitterness of their vitriol.

But the truth is, when the crisis comes (as it has for every American President since the start of the Great Depression (and well over half of the Presidents before then), we're stuck with the guy we elected, and we can, beforehand, only tell in outline how he will perform, because the crisis changes him. Would Gore have stood up and become an aggressive and efficient warrior while efficiently managing the government at home? Maybe, and maybe not: there is no way to know. But there is one absolute guarantee: Gore would have failed somewhere, and badly. That is inevitable, and it has nothing to do with Gore and everything to do with being human. (In actuality, Gore seems to be a control freak, which oddly enough means that he would be likely to fail very badly in many areas, as did Clinton and Carter; it also means that he would probably have very notable successes in other areas, as did Clinton, if he could have been a good enough politician not to get rolled by Congress all the time.)

The reason that Presidents — all Presidents — are guaranteed to fail somewhere is that the Presidency is simply too big of a job for any human to do well. Consider what we expect of our President:

  • Deter any foreign enemy from attacking the US or its allies; prevent any attacks not deterred; punish any attacks not prevented. Only 100% success is acceptable. And in doing this job, do not hurt the feelings of our friends or our enemies, and do not attack countries unless every other nation in the world, possibly excluding the one being attacked, concurs. If you do go to war the only possible success is if all of our goals are achieved without any deaths of our troops, enemy troops, or innocent bystanders. And solve the Middle East's problems, and Africa's problems, and SE Asia's problems, and handle perfectly any crisis that arises in foreign affairs. Be neither too multilateral nor too unilateral. Do all of this while infringing on absolutely no rights of any American or foreigner.
  • Ensure that the economy is continually growing in every sector, that every person has a job that pays above average and that no person in America goes without food, clothing, good housing, a car, a television, a telephone, internet access, cable and the other basic necessities of life. Make sure that inflation and interest rates stay low while the economy is growing rapidly in every sector and is at full employment.
  • Be completely cognizant of every trade deal and dispute, every interstate issue, every "issue of the day", every policy ever tried or not tried by the government, every decision by every Federal court and any controversial decisions by any State courts and every immigration or asylum case.
  • Make sure that government never falls behind on technology in any area, but do this without spending more money. Oh, and raise government workers' salaries. And for the sake of all that is holy do not ever let any government employee have any reason to complain that he didn't have the exact equipment or training he needed to do some critical job even if it had only been developed three weeks prior to his complaint.
  • Know and understand every detail of every regulation and law and be prepared to discuss at length, say, the levels of arsenic in test wells in N. Carolina and how you will fix this problem.
  • Have solutions ready to hand for poverty, transportation, energy, health care, pollution and other environmental matters, resource utilization and private companies' or organizations' policies that strike some as bad. Do this while not increasing taxes or spending overall and while respecting individual and States' rights and not interfering in the economy any more than is already done.
  • Do all of this without raising taxes for the middle class, but being sure to raise taxes on the "rich", and while balancing the budget and cutting spending.
  • Be responsible for the entire 4 million or so (!!!) Federal government workers, and make sure that they all are in lock step with your policies and are absolutely competent even though you only control about 1000 officers of government, if that. Know how to do all of their jobs, and all of the details of what they are doing.
  • Do all of this while half the country and half of Congress vilifies you constantly and seeks to undermine every policy or decision you make.

Believe it or not, I've understated the problem, because there's a lot more to the job than that, and I did not account for bad faith or for government employees or departments that decide to sabotage you because they disagree with your policies. We have simply created a job that no human can do.

I don't think that it's possible to fix the expectations problem: it's simply the case that that much education doesn't exist, and education doesn't always take. Some people will want the government to solve every problem no matter the consequences. Some people will want the government to take no action on any problems no matter the consequences. In any event, it is simply going to be true that every President will fail badly at many things, and will be incompetent or incapable of handling at least a fair amount of what we expect him to handle. Perfect expertise and control on so many issues is simply not possible.

But there are ways that we can make it better. For example, we can separate regulation from enforcement, putting the regulators under the control of Congress. Why should the executive be making regulations in the first place: that's a legislative responsibility. We could make departments of staffers who are experts on various issues and they could write the regulations and Congress could debate them and have hearings and either enact them or not. This would likely have a couple of good side effects, including decreased need for lobbyists to help write bills (because of lack of Congressional subject matter expertise), a decreased number of Federal employees (because of reduced duplication in fact finding) and fewer actual regulations (Congress can only pass bills at a certain rate).

The remaining executive staff, whose job it is to carry out the laws and enforce the regulations, could then be moved away from the civil service protections and back to serving at the will of the President, because no longer would a President have an incentive to fire people for formulating regulations that he disagrees with. The increased responsiveness to Presidential directives would be a positive win, and it would become reasonable to hold people accountable, and to hold the President accountable for his management of Federal employees.

A number of departments would disappear altogether from the executive branch. The Department of Education, for example, would likely be so small that it would fold into another department (as it was before, IIRC, Jimmy Carter's presidency). Transportation, Homeland Security, Defense, State, Treasury, the intelligence agencies and Interior would remain large, but I think the others (unless I'm forgetting a couple) would shrink dramatically.

And a lot of the Federal departments, too, could be spun off into semi-private agencies like the Post Office or the Federal Reserve. NASA and the FAA would be good examples of where this could work well.

Heck, if we took away from the President the responsibility for creating the budget, putting that back in Congress where it belongs, a large number of the Title X military people (Pentagon bureaucrats) and a huge percentage of the other departments would become either Congressional employees or, more likely, mostly superfluous.

In any case, the reality is that we can shrink the requirements of the President's job, to the point where a human — well, some humans anyway — could actually do the job well. And that would be a good thing all around. Which of course means it is unlikely to happen.

Posted by jeff at 4:53 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 9, 2006

The Games Will Come

One interesting and largely unexplored fallout of the transition of Macs to Intel processors is on how it will effect the software market. You see, if you write a piece of software, the vast majority of it is not particular to any given platform (combination of operating system and hardware configuration). Let's take a simple example, a recent game I've been working on. About 90% of the game is identical regardless of which platform I code for, even assuming I don't use Java (which hides the platform details via abstraction to a virtual machine). The parts that are not identical are filesystem access and video. That's pretty much it.

So once Macs are all on Intel, the software world could become much more interesting. Consider this: a properly designed program, using the DAO and MVC patterns, would only require having one library per platform different. The rest of the software, compiled, would be binary compatible. The only difference would be in which library is called for disk access and graphics calls, and that's trivial to configure in the installer, which itself can be easily cross-platform.

Within a very small span of time, about 3 years at most, it could be possible that well-written, object-oriented software would be inherently available on both Macs and PCs. And that would blow Microsoft's model all to hell, to the benefit of users everywhere.

Thanks to Peeve Farm for getting me thinking this way.

Posted by jeff at 8:23 PM | TrackBack

Shafting the Innocents?

I have been a strong supporter of the war. Indeed, I have given the administration every benefit of the doubt, and will likely continue to do so. I feel that we have to trust our elected leaders, and if we don't trust them, elect new ones. This seriously strains my trust. If this has indeed been the standard of evidence used at GTMO in the military tribunals for determination of status, and if no reform is forthcoming, then I would be forced to support Congressional reform attempts, even if that meant that holding real terrorists was harder, or voting out Republicans for a while. I don't have a problem with the administration doing whatever is necessary to defend the country, but laziness leading to unnecessary tyranny is not acceptable as a substitute.

Posted by jeff at 6:55 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Zero Intelligence Policies

Can a six year old commit sexual harassment? A crime of intent — making someone sexually uncomfortable, in this case — would seem to be predicated on intent, and thus on knowledge of the effects of the crime (otherwise, how could one intend to cause those consequences?). But never let that stop a school from suspending a six year old for sexual harassment. (hat tip: Planet Moron) What immediately occurs to me is the image of explaining to my not-quite six year old, or one of my former six year olds, what sexual harassment is and why they were suspended from school. It would probably start with, "Well, dear, teachers and other bureaucrats are generally idiots...." Of course, since we homeschool, it's not actually an issue for us.

(And of course, how long will it be before the laws forcing "sexual predators" to register for life are extended to sexual harassment committed under any circumstances at any age? And when people stop taking sexual crimes very seriously because of this watering down, causing victims of real sexual crimes to lose protections they would otherwise have, who will take the responsibility? Like most bureaucratic nightmares, no one.)

Posted by jeff at 6:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 8, 2006

Far Too Cool

Just wow.

via Peeve Farm

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February 7, 2006

How to Stop the Iranian Nuclear Program?

Posts at The Officers' Club, American Thinker and again American Thinker have me thinking about how the Iranian nuclear program could be militarily stopped.

The second American Thinker post explains why this is a necessary act:

To think clearly about the looming crisis with Iran, close your eyes and imagine that you’re standing outside your children’s school. It’s 2:55pm, and you’re chatting amiably with other parents while waiting for the 3pm bell to ring. Suddenly you see a man running toward the school, holding a hand grenade and shouting: “I hate kids. I welcome death.”

Now, what do you propose to do?

Maybe Iran is just trying to appear strategically crazy to get what they want (a nuclear capability), but I think it's much safer to take them at appearances and think that they are actually crazy. Given that, how does one keep the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons? As the Officers' Club makes clear, a conventional Israeli raid on Iranian targets is a non-starter: the odds of success are low and the odds of losing much of the Israeli air force in the process are high. That's not going to happen. Nor can Israel field and sustain in Iran a ground force sufficient to the task.

Certainly the US could field and maintain a ground force in Iran, but a limited campaign is more likely. The first American Thinker article points to an Asia Times article postulating a similar campaign, with an Israeli conventional strike and the Iranian reaction as the precursors.

Given the impossibility of an Israeli conventional strike, the fact that no nation has ever negotiated away its most important weapons system in the face of threats it does not believe credible, and the uselessness of ignoring the problem, I see the following possible scenarios:

  • The Israelis destroy the Iranian nuclear program using their nuclear arsenal. Targets would be, perhaps, the top 10 or so most critical sites, with 1-2 weapons each depending on the nature of the target. Israel has 50 or so Jericho 2 missiles capable of reaching Iranian nuclear targets.
  • Israel could destroy the Iranian civilian population, rendering Iran essentially a dead nation. Again, Israel has sufficient missile capability to do this, without the requirement of using their air force, which would strain mightily at those ranges.
  • Israel could use the threat of either of those options to force Iran to open up their program.
  • Israel could use the threat of either of those options to force the US to act.
  • The US could act for its own reasons, with or without European help.

In any case, the odds of a conventional Israeli attack or a non-military solution are slim, and getting slimmer all the time. The madman is running for the school with a grenade, but at least two of the parents have guns, and at least one is prepared to use it.

Posted by jeff at 7:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Kudos to the Philiadelphia Inquirer for running one of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Mohammed. In their excellent explanation of why, the editors end with this statement, which should be read to the editors of newspapers like the NY Times, as a challenge:

This is what newspapers are in the business to do. We educate people, we inform them, we spark discussion. It is not only our profession, it is our obligation.

More of this kind of attitude, and I'll have to stop criticizing the media so broadly.

(hat tip: InstaPundit)

Posted by jeff at 1:26 PM | TrackBack

The NSA Kerfuffle, Declaring War, and the Limits of Constitutional Powers

This article and associated commentary on Centerfield is the best debate I've yet seen on the NSA surveillance kerfuffle. I was going to put this as a comment there, but it got too long to reasonably be considered a comment.

I'm not convinced that even if the surveillance was between two citizens of the US, both of whom were in the US, that the action would be illegal. Certainly, it would violate FISA, but it might be within the President's purview Constitutionally. Consider:

The power to act as Commander in Chief is fundamentally the power to order to military to undertake operations to take or destroy the enemy.

Operations to take or destroy the enemy necessarily involve surveilling the enemy (among other things: who would argue the President does not have the inherent authority to order the Navy to stop suspected enemy vessels at sea, or search them in a US port?), which is nothing more, really, than determining the enemy's position, capabilities and/or intentions.

Surveilling the enemy need not be by visual observation: it is also possible to determine the enemy's position, intent or capabilities by listening, electronic means, human intelligence (spying) and other means. There is no Constitutional limit to the means the President can use to surveil the enemy. There is no treaty limitation that I am aware of that would preclude the electronic gathering of intelligence.

The Constitution does not limit the President to fighting the enemy abroad, nor require a separate declaration of Congressional intent to fight the enemy in the United States. The President's power is to fight the enemy defined in the declaration of war, wherever that enemy is.

Thus the President has the power to surveil the enemy wherever that enemy is.

The question becomes, who is the enemy? That is answered by the AUMF: "those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons".

The Congress explicitly gave the President to power to determine who the enemy is, within the limitation of being connected to 9/11. Since the President decided that this includes al Qaeda, any al Qaeda operative falls within the definition of the enemy even if that operative is a US citizen. The term we're searching for here is "treason", though for the life of me I cannot understand why we aren't charging people such as Padilla, Hamdi and Lindh with exactly that. Hamdi and Lindh, in particular, were captured on the battlefield and the case is a slam dunk (Padilla is a harder case, and a court is going to have to work that one out).

The only valid way to claim that the surveillance is illegal is to claim that the AUMF does not trigger the President's war powers because the AUMF is not a declaration of war. But nowhere in the Constitution is the President's power to make war divided between "real wars" and "so so wars": there is no way to grant the President the power to make war except to declare war. The Constitution does not require that such a declaration contain particular wording, such as "a state of war exists between the United States and [enemy]". So on what grounds, other than claiming that the Constitution is a "living document" and means whatever we want, can anyone claim that AUMF is not a declaration of war? If not, then what is it?

The Congress' powers are delineated in Article I, Section 8. They include:

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Clearly, the provisions for creating and maintaining the militia, army and navy do not apply to the question. AUMF does not fall under "mak[ing] Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces". (Neither does FISA, by the way, because that is done via the Uniform Code of Military Justice and FISA is not part of the UCMJ.) AUMF does not activate the militia. AUMF does not deal with "Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations" per se, and was from the wording clearly not intended to apply this specific power. AUMF is not a Letter of Marque, nor is it a rule concerning captures. The only remaining power the Congress could be operating under is the power to declare war.

Now, it would be an interesting (and I think, losing) argument that the Congress' power "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof" allows the Congress to regulate the way in which the President can carry out his duties, and further that FISA constitutes such a regulation. I think this would fall down on whether or not the President is an Officer of the government of the United States. Since the Presidency has a Constitutional existence apart from any organization of government, and is head of state as well as head of government, I think that most people (except Whigs and congressmen of the party not occupying the White House) would agree that the President is not an officer of government as intended in this grant of authority.

It would be an interesting argument to have, though.

Posted by jeff at 8:54 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 6, 2006

I am sooooo not ready for this

My sixth grade daughter came to me a little while ago to ask "what does a guy look for in a girl?"

I'm glad she's coming to me with questions, and that she's willing to listen to the answers.

I just don't know that I'm prepared for the next few years.


Posted by Nemo at 9:52 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 5, 2006

Angry Muslims Terrorize Those They Accuse of Caricaturing Muslims as Angry Terrorists

And this cartoon has a great take on the American media reaction.

Posted by jeff at 9:46 PM | TrackBack

South Korea Shills for Tyranny

Fifty years ago, my father was one of the American Marines fighting along with American soldiers and sailors and aviators to keep South Korea free, and turn it into a nation worthy of Europe. Oh, how they succeeded!

Posted by jeff at 9:30 PM | TrackBack

February 4, 2006


Glenn Reynolds points out how different people treat the same class of speech or action differently, depending on who is perpetrating it. For example, the Boston Globe defended the blatantly offensive (to many Christians) "Piss Christ" and is now attacking Jyllands-Posten for cartoons that are blatantly offensive (to many Muslims). Double standard, indeed. But it is worse than that: as Reynolds notes, "perhaps it's just a measure of who they're actually afraid of."

Oh, but what an incentive we have concocted! Think of it this way: what the Left in the US and (until lately, perhaps) Europe has put up as a standard is that if you are inoffensive and civilized, you will be taken advantage of, mocked, derided and ignored; blow people up, burn things, kidnap journalists and behead them, and you will be feted, apologized for, appeased and given anything, no matter how precious it was previously said to be to the Left.

Perhaps if Israel just slaughtered European and American journalists, they would get a more sympathetic hearing. But I suspect that the journalists are depending on the decency of those they mock, deride, belittle and ignore. Good thing for them they can do that safely.

UPDATE: QandO has similar thoughts.

And a thought I had not mentioned before, and QandO does not either: did the media have treat the supposedly-Christian "militia movement" the way they treat the similarly violent Muslims? Of course not. I suspect it has less to do with the violence level of the violent group, but whether that violent group is denounced or cheered by its near-fellows. But doesn't this then give the incentive to Christians to support violent expressions of Christian intolerance even if they don't agree with the violence or the intolerance just so they will be heard on other matters of real import to them? Again, the incentives being created are all bad.

Posted by jeff at 11:47 AM | TrackBack

Cartoon Crisis

There is a certain cartoonish quality to the beginning of most of the great and terrible wars. The reason is simple, really: great and terrible wars erupt over great and terrible chasms of belief, understanding, and need, and it takes a long time for those chasms to grow; so in retrospect, the tiny incidents that are seen as the starting point of the great wars seem so trivial as to not merit mention.

World War II was an exception, because it was a calculated gamble by Hitler and another by Tojo: each believed that they could get what they wanted by war, without being meaningfully opposed. But WWI was started by the assassination of a middling royal in a nowhere place that no one had heard of or cared about. The American Civil War started because a minor and nearly forgotten garrison refused to abandon its post, as several other garrisons had already done in other places. The English Civil War started over the arrest of five members of Parliament. The Thirty Years' War started because 3 people were thrown out of a Prague window (they all survived). Some great wars start over insults, and others over misunderstandings, and still others over minor battles in out of the way places by peripheral players.

We may be at the point, now, where a great clash of civilizations begins over literal cartoons.

Posted by jeff at 9:34 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 3, 2006

I Hate "Me Too" Posts

But some times you just have to: I agree with everything Kevin says here.

Posted by jeff at 1:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Not Quite So Different

Winston at The Spirit of Man, writing about Iran's secular resistance, says:

I am also hearing that the transit workers will stay home today (friday) and the families of the detained protestors will hold another demonstration in front of the Islamic revolutionary court of justice on Saturday to demand the release of their loved ones.

There is no difference between the Iranian people today and the Polish people back in the 1980s but I guess the world has changed a lot and become unwilling to help other nations in their quest for greater freedoms.

The world has not changed so much. During the 1980s, when the Poles were desperate to free themselves from the Communist yoke, there was also the "nuclear freeze" movement and other, similar Causes trying to prevent bring down the concept of free societies. In fact, the roots of the "anti-war" movement today are in the "anti-war" movement then, which would happily have kept Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe and the USSR's unwilling "republics" Communist, rather than see the West intervene in any way, even by saying something like "all men deserve to be free".

No, the world has changed very little, really.

Any how, if any one wants to pick up the support for Iranians, it is the right time to do so.

As Michael Ledeen has been saying over and over again: Faster Please!

Yes, no argument there at all.

Posted by jeff at 8:32 AM | TrackBack

February 2, 2006

Originalism and the Sins of Scalia

In the first few years of Justice Thomas' tenure on the bench, I was deeply unimpressed. The reason is that Thomas seemed to me not an original thinker, but a near-copy of Justice Scalia (whom I respected quite a bit). In particular, Thomas seemed to author few opinions, in either the majority or the minority, and those he did author tended to be near-copies of Scalia's reasoning.

My position has almost reversed: I still hold Scalia in a good deal of respect, but not nearly so much as I used to do, while my respect for Thomas has grown immensely. The reason for this is simple, even though it unfolded over a number of cases, but the defining moment of clarity (even though it came after I had come to my current opinion) was Raich. That is when I knew that Thomas was clearly the (and I do mean "the") principled originalist, closely holding to the meaning of the Constitution, while Scalia was an originalist only where being so would not offend his ideological sensibilities. Contra Scalia's famous "you got me", Raich showed that no, we didn't. And now via Lawrence Solum, we have someone way smarter than me, Randy Barnett, concurring. (It's always a comfort to have a good authority that you respect state something you had already come to believe, the logical fallacy of "appealing to authority" notwithstanding.)

If you have any interest in theories of law and Constitutional interpretation, Dr. Barnett's paper is well worth your time.

UPDATE: David Bernstein smacks Scalia down on basically the same point.

Posted by jeff at 10:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Economic Perceptions

WILLisms had an interesting post the other day, talking about a report from the Pew Research Center on people's perception of the economy referenced against their political party affiliation. Here is the key chart:


The time frame is problematic, because it only shows since the Clinton administration took office, but I'm going to venture a thesis anyway. Note that at the beginning of Clinton's term in office, people's perception of the economy (which is a lagging indicator, since people's perceptions of the economy don't change immediately, but as they see the effects) was divided on partisan lines. This has also been true during the entire Bush administration. But during the Clinton administration, the perceptions converged. Why is that?

My speculation is this: reporters are a fairly liberal lot in general. My personal impression (no study of articles, which would be interesting to see if my impression bears up) is that journalists' perception of the economy, and thus reporting on the economy, is tied to whether or not the party in power shares the journalists' broad views. Given that it is largely organizations like the New York Times, Washington Post, AP, Reuters and the network news shows that drive the issues and tone for all of American reporting, and that all of those outlets are fairly liberal, it is not surprising that the economy is covered as worse than it really is during Republican administrations. Thus, the Republicans, who have a tendency to view the economy as better than it is during Republican administrations, continue to see the economy as being strong, and to dismiss the media's slanted reporting. But Democrats and Independents accept the reporting and see the economy as being weak.

Now what would be really interesting is to go back to the late 1960s, and from then until now compare the partisan views of the economy with the percentage of positive/negative economic articles and the actual economic indicators (per cent per year growth in GDP would probably be a good choice, here). That would show how the economy was really doing, how it was reported as doing, and how it was perceived as doing. And it would show if my thesis is broadly correct or not.

Posted by jeff at 9:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 1, 2006

Just When You Think You Know A Justice

Maybe it's not Scalito, but Soulito......

Alito Splits With Conservatives in Death Penalty Case

Alito, handling his first case, sided with inmate Michael Taylor, who had won a stay from an appeals court earlier in the evening. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the stay, but Alito joined the remaining five members in turning down Missouri's last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.

I just find this awfully ironic. I'm sure the base of the Republican Party is just going to go nuts tonight. Maybe he just doesn't want to make a split-second decision his first full day on the job.

Personally, though, not knowing any real facts about the Taylor case, I have a hard time being upset at a new Justice being a bit on the careful side when deciding an execution stay.

Posted by Nemo at 10:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Speaking of Offending People

Some Lefties obviously have no problem offending the right people.

UPDATE: Like I said, it's OK to offend the right people.

Posted by jeff at 5:32 PM | TrackBack