December 29, 2004

Budgeting

Somehow, I don't think Newsweek is very serious. After all, the money you spend on insurance against a house fire could be spent on food. The money you spend on health insurance could instead be spent on educating your children. And, yes, the money we spend occupying and reforming Iraq and Afghanistan could be spent on day care centers or hiring firemen.

The question that is reasonable is not, "How does this compare to other items in the budget?" (and note: they did not compare to other items in the budget larger than $87 billion, such as Medicare), but "How does this compare with national needs and goals?" Unless Newsweek intends to say - and they might - that we'd do better fighting the war on terrorism by using Federal money to fund community health care than we would by spending the money on the occupation and reformation of the nations at the heart of our enemies' territory, then these comparisons are meaningless. Worse than that, they do not even attempt to make a distinction between valid uses of Federal money (such as defense) and invalid uses (such as spending money on individual AIDS patients).

UPDATE: Yay for MT bugs. I don't know why the date was changed on this post when I deleted a spam from it, but there you have it. Since I don't know the original date, and am too lazy right now to look up the date on the referenced Newsweek article, it'll just stay here.

Posted by Jeff at 07:31 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

December 14, 2004

Almost...There...

A lot of effort has lately been going into putting online the contents of major libraries - not just the catalogs, but scans of the actual books. This is, beyond any doubt, a fantastic achievement, and will be one more way to speed progress and learning.

It lacks, in fact, only one thing: relatively recent material. Because copyrights have been repeatedly extended, the public domain in the United States largely stops at the point that Micky Mouse begins (no coincidence, that). After that, copyrights are extended for something like 140 years, now. (What happened to the "for a limited time" clause in the Constitution? The Supreme Court decided that "a limited time" means anything other than "forever", so the Congress could allow copyright for, say, 1000000000000000000000 years, and that apparently counts as "limited".)

The major problem with the copyright system as it now stands is that it allows material to disappear. While a publisher might not care enough to keep alive some minor work on, say, an obscure religion published in the 1920s, which has been out of print since 1930 and has not made anyone any money since then, such a work might be just what a particular person is trying to find. But since no one is keeping the book alive by republishing, and since no one can keep it alive by digitally preserving it (unless they're willing to gamble on extensive fines; and if you don't think holders of dead copyrights wouldn't recognize a revenue opportunity, you're not paying attention), the work gradually disappears as physical copies are lost.

OK, I grant it seems obscure, but consider this: we may very well lose more than 95% of recent books, films and music forever because of this. Star Wars, for example, was almost lost, because no one bothered to keep the negatives in shape until George Lucas decided to release the special editions. Such a loss would put future scholars of today's culture and knowledge in the same position we are currently in regarding the early Dark Ages: you can't study evidence that no longer exists. This would be a tragic consequence of copyrights, and it's currently more likely than not to happen.

Unless we reform our copyrights, at the very least to require them to be actively maintained or lose force, this digitization of the libraries may well be a one-time effort.

Posted by Jeff at 08:47 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

December 10, 2004

Taking Offense

We are Pagans. You'd think that, if anyone were going to be offended at very Christian celebration of Christmas - given that the date was chosen quite deliberately to take over from Yule - it would be us. But somehow we're not. Apparently, some people are, and communities and schools are caving with barely a peep muttered in protest in the first place. You'd think that we'd at least wait to see if a significant number of people are offended before we react, but apparently that's not the case. You'd think that we'd apply "live and let live" and not get offended by hearing a Christian song or seeing a nativity scene, but apparently we - or at least our public officials - have become so craven and gutless that they've forgotten how to tell people to get over themselves.

Look, it's very simple: society cannot work without tolerance. Stripping the ability of the most commonly-followed religion in the society to express itself in public in any way is not tolerance, but tyranny. (And the same goes for stripping any other religion, no matter how many or how few followers it has. And for that matter, for any other belief, ideology or lifestyle that does not harm others than the practitioners.) Human nature rebels against being forced into homogeneity, and eventually this manifests itself in all kinds of acting out. (In many ways, the 1960s was a rebellion against the manifest conformity of the 1950s, at least as perceived by the young people of the 1960s.)

But somehow we've forgotten how to get along with other people, whether because of schools that actively reject our core culture, or courts that have arrogated to themselves all authority, or people who are just too polite to tell idiots to stop being stupid and leave the rest of us alone. Regardless of why we've lost our way, though, we have an opportunity to fix it by being a little rude now, and liking ourselves and our culture, and maybe even being a little bit jingoistic and cheerleading for America and the West and our shared culture. Maybe, maybe we can save our culture and polity if we do. Otherwise, it's a fair bet that we'll simply continue on the divisive and bitter trend we've been on the past 40 years, to who knows what end.

Posted by Jeff at 11:27 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

December 09, 2004

Let's Make a Movie about a Girl with an Animal Friend!

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is one of the most compelling fantasies of modern times, taking a look at a girl and boy in the midst of a titanic struggle across multiple parallel universes to overthrow god (not directly the Christian god, but an entity called the Authority) and the Church (which somewhat resembles, in its total domination, the Catholic Church of Mediaeval times). Without any hesitation, I recommend reading this series. The scene in Hell alone is worth the time of reading the entire series, and that's but one scene!

New Line Cinema, who brought us Peter Jackson's brilliant version of Lord of the Rings, is making a movie of Pullman's series, directed by Chris Weitz, best known for American Pie, which I haven't seen. What could possibly go wrong, he asks innocently...

THE Hollywood adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials, in which two children do battle with an evil, all-powerful church, is being rewritten to remove anti-religious overtones. Chris Weitz, the director, has horrified fans by announcing that references to the church are likely to be banished in his film. Meanwhile the “Authority”, the weak God figure, will become “any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual”.

(Hat tip to Michael Totten, who points to a BBC article on this)

On top of that abomination, Tom Stoppard - one of the finest screenwriters ever - was dropped from the project early on. (Given his treatment of religion in Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, I think he would have done an admirable job presenting the essential nature of the story without being "anti-Christian".) I will most certainly not go see the movies or buy the DVDs now, presuming that the studio doesn't have second thoughts given the fan reaction, and my opinion of New Line has gone down, since they were the ones asking for the changes.

The thing is, when you start cutting the core content of a story like this, you end up not mollifying the unmollifiable (though I suspect that the "Christian Right"'s "outrage" over the movies would be smaller than New Line apparently believes) while pissing off the people predisposed to like the film. And the idea that you can't profitably make a movie like this in "Bush's America" (yes, they actually used that term, as if everyone who voted for Bush is just waiting to drag them off to a gulag somewhere) is pathetic and ridiculous. The thing is, I can't decide whether I'm angrier at the desecration of the story or the thought that the Hollywood crowd actually believes the crap they've been spewing about America becoming a fascist country, to the point that they "prove" it to themselves by self-censoring in the absence of any actual attempts at censorship!

But never fear, film fans, I'm sure there's a boring 3-hour epic by a "name" director just waiting in the wings to tell us all about how horrible we all are for not voting the way Hollywood wanted us to.

Posted by Jeff at 07:49 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Countdown Until an Air Marshal Explodes...3...2...1...

This is just pathetic. I've heard a lot of stupid crap about the air marshal service, and making them wear the same kind of attire (thus, making them easier to target - and me a target for that matter, since I travel on business wearing a suit), is just dumb.

Worse still, though, is that only 1 in 50 flights are apparently covered. I don't expect all flights to be covered - it would be nice but I don't expect it - but this is way too low. Ten per cent would be defensible, but I don't see 2% as being sufficient to deter attacks.

So, given that the numbers are already too small, how about we make it worse by pissing off some of the air marshals we do have. Look, it takes a very special kind of person to be an air marshal. Think about how much you hate flying. Now imagine doing that 3 or 4 times every day, and being alert and ready to act the whole time. It's very, very hard to do, and there aren't that many people who can do it. And some of them are deployed with the military, which also needs that kind of person for some kinds of jobs. So let's go on and make their lives miserable: that's almost guaranteed to work. Or something.

Pathetic.

Posted by Jeff at 01:22 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

December 06, 2004

Stupid Companies

Aubrey has a post on stupid customer service practices. Here are a recent few annoyances, and a kudo:

I used to have Sprint, and couldn't remember why I hated them so much after using AT&T for a few years (they were expensive, but I never had a problem with them other than cost). Besides, AT&T didn't have the i500 Palm/cellphone. Ooh, and Sprint's plan was cheaper, too, as long as I was on the 2 year contract. OK, then, I'll sign up.

Now I remember why I hate Sprint. They have cancelled my service every single month that I've been with them. Usually, this happens about a week before my bill is actually due. Once, it happened twice in a 2-week period. (Note: I've not once been late on a bill to them, with the exception of the first month, where I didn't receive a bill at all.) Usually, dealing with them is slow and inefficient, because they can never tell me anything of use. This is especially so since their website is never current on the invoices/minutes, so I cannot even try to determine the problem myself. They have also messed up every single service change (including adding a second phone) that I've done, and in the bargain have ended up costing me more than twice what I expected.

Cool phone, though.

The other stupid customer service tactic goes out to all of the credit card companies out there. Or at least, all of mine. Note to companies: calling your customers and demanding payment for "past due" amounts when the bill was mailed the day before does not endear your customers to you. Adding in the next month's charges to what is "past due", demanding immediate payment over the phone without a chance to check records, and not keeping track of the fact that payment was made to you by phone over a week ago (sometimes it's just easier since they've already gone to the trouble of calling) is not good. Oh, not that I'm totally innocent here: starting up a new business means that I have been late one some of my credit cards - but I'm still not sure why they then think they should call me on months when I am not late. Not that I'm bitter.

And now the kudo: I recently started using ATA for flying back and forth between Dallas and Chicago. I get better prices than using Travelocity or Orbitz, and their customer service is excellent. Their planes are well-maintained and clean, and also quite comfortable. They have a lot of flights scheduled between Dallas and Chicago. Pity they don't fly more places out of Dallas. This wouldn't work for booking flights and hotels together, but it suited my present need wonderfully.

Posted by Jeff at 09:50 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Bad Idea!

I am begging Disney to not make Toy Story 3 without Pixar! (hat tip: Peeve Farm) Disney's recent outings have been terrible, and I fear that the bad taste that would likely come from this would take some of the shine off of the first two wonderful movies.

The problem with most movie companies is that they don't understand why a good movie is a hit. Jaws was not a hit because it had sharks, but because of its archetypal man-vs-nature struggle in which two unlikely heros get caught up in a fight almost beyond their ability to survive, which is why the sequels were so bad: they were about man-eating sharks. Similarly, Rocky was not about boxing, but about a man overcoming self-doubt and skepticism to rise beyond his expectations; the sequels were about boxing, and were terrible. And Toy Story is not a story about talking toys with emotions. The first movie was about identity and meeting others' needs and what makes life worth living, while the second was about friendship and self-sacrifice and the price of immortality.

I fear that the third movie, if Disney should be rash enough to make it with their recent track record, would be about talking toys.

Posted by Jeff at 04:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

September 21, 2004

The Bombing Buddhists

So let's say you were in charge of emergency planning for, say, a western Michigan county. You want to have some scenario that you can use to test the local emergency response system: are all of the departments able to communicate; how does the dispatching system function and what is your response time; can hospitals handle the incoming wounded; how do you deal with media and distraught families? What scenario would you use?

Perhaps jihadi terrorists have attacked in the area - no, don't want to upset the Muslims, who will immediately let you know that using any kind of Arab or Muslim group is completely unrealistic in the world today, especially since you've chosen a bombing of a school bus as the attack, and everyone knows that Muslims do not bomb buses or kill school kids. Guess that rules out the Bombing Buddhists and other religious groups, as well as any ethnic or national groups of any kind.

Maybe we could make up a group...how about People Against Yellow Buses And Children Knowing Anything - PAYBACK? No, too cutesy. How about Grandmothers for Social Security, whose motive is to free up money for Social Security transfer payments by killing the children who take up so much money to educate? No, too much danger of pissing off the AARP. How about the God Botherers, whose beef is against secular education? No, beyond the pale; religious people don't do that anyway. We need something plausible.

Who then can be safely demonized? Who is so beyond the pale that it is both realistic and unremarkable that they would turn to violence against children to further their agenda? Who would we realistically expect to take such an action against the innocent so that no one would be too busy laughing at the supposed motives involved that the scenario would become useless? I know, how about homeschoolers. (hat tip: Steph) I wish I were kidding.

The exercise, which will involve the aftermath of a supposed explosion on a school bus at 9:30 a.m. at Durham and Holton-Whitehall roads in Whitehall Township [in Muskegon County, MI], is being funded by homeland security grants awarded to several area school districts and Muskegon County.

Local school district transportation directors instigated the exercise because they wanted to test their abilities to respond to emergencies, said Tom Spoelman, transportation consultant for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District. They eventually hooked up with Muskegon County Emergency Services, and planning for the event has been under way for about a year, Spoelman said.

The exercise will test not only school transportation directors, but also the Muskegon County Emergency Operations Plan, which involves many agencies throughout the county.

[SNIP]

The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke.


It's a good thing that emergency response departments want to test their disaster preparedness. It's great that they feel the need to make it as realistic as they can, and that as a part of that they'd need someone with a plausible reason to do this. But come on, you'd be more realistic by far if you just assumed it was PETA protesting the serving of meat-containing lunches at the school. Never mind the most realistic threats: a lone psycho or an honest-to-goodness jihadi attack. No, no! Let's pick on someone who hates children: homeschoolers! They're probably Rethuglican religious wackos anyway - hey, there's a name for the group, too!

Bah!

Posted by Jeff at 11:34 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

September 10, 2004

Kerry's Ill-Considered Rhetoric

Here is an excerpt from a John Kerry speech Wednesday:

The cost of the president's "go it alone" policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting. Two-hundred billion for Iraq? but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children. Two-hundred billion dollars for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans. Two-hundred billion dollars for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford to keep the 100,000 police officers we put on the streets during the 1990s.

Three hundred or more dead children in a Russian school, and Senator Kerry tells us we cannot afford to fight terrorism? Senator, we cannot afford not to fight terrorism. After school programs are not very useful when the children are dead.

Posted by Jeff at 03:58 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

September 09, 2004

Carville Apparently Drugged Before Imus Appearance

How else do you explain this (hat tip: Ramblings' Journal):

"They probably shot him up with something," the wild-eyed Ragin' Cajun [Carville] insisted Wednesday during an interview with radio host Don Imus.

Carville leveled the bizarre charge after claiming that Republicans had written Miller's speech, even though it contained lines Miller had used before and echoed much of the criticism of Democrats outlined in Miller's recent book, "A National Party No More."

But Carville insisted the renegade Democrat's speech was strictly a put-up job.

"They got that poor man in the twilight of his career and just used him," the former Clinton adviser insisted. "They said, 'Look, go up there and say this,' and they handed him a bunch of documents."

Carville claimed Miller didn't know "what he was talking about" in post-speech interviews, saying that's why he grew angry when challenged by MSNBC host Chris Matthews.

When Imus noted that the Georgia Democrat sounded "fine" when he interviewed him the next morning," Carville shot back: "They probably shot him up with something, you know. He just likes screaming at people."


I've never liked Carville. Let me rephrase that: I've always thought that Carville was the most ass-hatted example of the most vile species of political hanger-on, the partisan attack dog. But this is beyond the pale: at best it is delusional and at worst it is slander.

Posted by Jeff at 05:04 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

September 06, 2004

Here's a Hint

When terrorists kill hundreds of children, shooting many of them in the back (and trust me, this is not the worst of what they did), it's NOT the fault of the security services and it's NOT a sign that negotiations and diplomatic solutions are called for and it's NOT a "local problem", despite what some idiots may thinksay.

Look, I'm really, really pissed off about this. We've got to stop saying "she asked for it" and face up to the fact that the jihadis are FUCKING TRYING TO KILL ALL OF US and they don't give a tinker's damn if they kill the little kids first or last. Hell, killing them first just makes it easier, I guess. At least, it got the Economist scared enough to go running for multi-cultural trans-nationalist shibboleths. Hey, if we can be desensitized to the brutal massacre of little kids this early in the game, we'll hardly squirm when they impale our sorry asses on a pole a decade hence.

And we'll fucking deserve it! Darwin wins in the end - he always does. It's simple truth: those who are matched to their environment survive, and those who aren't die. Well, as long as we in the West are willing to look in the cold dead eyes of a child and blame the security services instead of the monsters who shot the kid in the back, then we deserve to die.

One of the things that sticks with me is something my friend Nathan said: "A successful society is one where the last mother would if necessary die defending the last child." I hope we will be a successful society. I hate to think that we would willingly cede the future of humanity to the slime that perpetrated Breslan (hint to the Economist, I'm not talking about the security services).

And note that in the article it's never even mentioned that the killers were Muslims, that half of them were Arabs, that perhaps terrorism was involved somehow. No, no: close your eyes to that. That's a difficult problem to solve, and tips a lot of sacred cows. Let's instead talk about how long it took the Russians to response to an unprecedentedly brutal and inarguably no-win situation. Yeah, that's it.

Damn it, I'm so tired of this crap! How many of us - how many of our kids - need to lie dead on the ground before we decide it's OK to offend someone to stay alive??

I'd better stop now, because it'll just get worse if I keep thinking about this.

Posted by Jeff at 12:12 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

August 29, 2004

Every Time I Think the Left has hit Bottom...

They do something like this, and I have to realize that while I am a cynic, I am not nearly cynical enough.

What bothers me most is how childish this is, in a very serious time. Right now, thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of jihadi terrorists are trying their best to kill all of us. Right now, the Iranians are closing in on developing nuclear weapons, and if they do so they will likely attack Israel with them. Right now, North Korea has already obtained a nuclear capability, and might be willing to sell some of those weapons to terrorists or unfriendly countries in exchange for desperately-needed cash. Right now, the best the Left can do is sit in the back of the class and snigger at their crude drawings of the teacher shouting.

Laugh it up, monkey boy, while you still can, because you are no less a target of our enemies than I am.

Posted by Jeff at 10:26 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 09, 2004

"Hello," He Lied

I was going to fisk this article in detail (hat tip: The Wild Hunt), but I don't have time. As far as I can tell on a first read through, pretty much every statement made is or contains a lie. I don't know - because I haven't researched it - whether the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site is on Shoshone land or not, though I suspect that it would not clear the legal hurdles if it were. But it's pretty hard to take anyone seriously once they start making statements like this:

And it's not as if the genuine terror of Bush is hard to notice. Within hours of coming into office, he'd started approving oil exploration in national parks, cutting support for disadvantaged children, raising the levels of arsenic in drinking water... Being an utter bastard with numbing consistency is his only speciality beyond mangling his native language and playing golf like an unhinged Muppet in times of crisis.

Posted by Jeff at 12:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

I love Forrest Gump. It's easily one of my all time favorite movies. It has a magical quality to it that few movies ever produce. It's funny, charming, sweet and sad. It's one of the very few movies that can make me cry every time I watch it. It's beautiful.

So it was interesting to come across this look back at the film on the 10th anniversary of its release. I was amazed not so much to find someone who disliked the movie, but the reasons for why he disliked it, and why he would devote so much time to complaining about it today.

It's a long piece, but the gist is that Forrest Gump is bad mainly because it's not particularly flattering to the 60's counter-culture/culturists. Also problematic is that the film is not anti-American enough. It ignores all the evil America is responsible for, and because it doesn't dwell on America-hating, it's conservative.

"Forrest Gump" conflates "simple-minded" and "single-minded" and says they're the same: the holy source of all that is good and decent in this world. The mass audience that took the film to heart agreed without articulating it as such, but they didn't have to, since conservative commentators did it for them. Michael Medved told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "For me, the great secret of the film's popularity is that it connects with our tremendous national yearning for innocence, and for recapturing lost innocence."

Medved is correct: There is a bone-deep desire in this culture to not have to deal with the complicated stuff, especially when it sheds unflattering light -- or even threatens to -- on American motives or methods at home or in the larger world. He just thinks it's a good thing, whereas history tends to prove we ignore the past at our peril.

And "Forrest Gump" does ignore, streamline, and steamroll the past, most perniciously in its portrayal of the 1960s counterculture and the people within it. This is what pops out even more clearly on a 10th-anniversary viewing of the film: how absurdly the deck is stacked against youth in general and antiwar activists -- excuse me, hypocritical, girlfriend-beating sleazebags -- in particular. It was all a terrible mistake, says the film, everything from Vietnam until the 1980s, and Forrest's lifelong-love Jenny (Robin Wright Penn) is the martyr who takes the era's sins and consequences upon herself, from drug addiction to death from (sshhh) AIDS. Only Forrest, an Adam blessed to remain without self-knowledge, remains pure of heart and untouched.

Additionally, the movie shows Forrest's best friend dying in his arms in Vietnam, his Lieutenant's legs blown off and Forrest himself wounded. That ain't exactly sunshine and lollipops. It purposely avoids how Forrest really felt about having served in Vietnam. The movie was also sentimental about far-left, anti-war activist/counter-culturist John Lennon.

This article reminds me of why I hate critics. They tend to see every movie/book/piece of art as something lofty and high-minded, viciously satirical, rebellious to societal norms, or some combination of all three. They often read more into things than what is actually there, all in an attempt to look like the smartest person in the room. Sometimes a chair is just a chair - nothing symbolic about it. For example, a local movie critic claimed that Harry Potter practicing magic under his covers at night, in the most recent installment of the franchise, was symbolic of puberty - Harry 'playing with his wand'. Maybe that was the intent, I don't know, but I didn't see it like that (and I think it's disgusting that others do). In the book (and movie as I saw it), Harry had to practice in secret because his Uncle was totally opposed to magic - nothing more. Of course this same critic took the occasion of his Shrek 2 review to blast George Bush on gay marriage.

Forrest Gump is more fantasy than commentary. It's a good story, and really, not much more. The politics of it is largely background noise, seen peripherally through the eyes of a simple man, while he focuses on the truly important things in life: friends, family and love.

Why be so anal in trying to make it seem like so much more?

Posted by Brian at 06:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

July 01, 2004

Farenheit 9/11

I make a promise not to post about Michael Moore's latest dropping, Farenheit 9/11, then I find things that make me crazy about it and I have to post anyway.

The thing that bothers me most about this film, sight unseen, is how it keeps being called a documentary. By that standard, Triumph of the Will was a documentary, too. (Note: I'm not saying that Farenheit 9/11 is a glorfication of fascism, nor that Michael Moore is a Nazi.) Actually, that's a fortuitous comparison, as both films are rank propaganda.

Compare Triumph of the Will to Farenheit 9/11 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 coming soon)

As propaganda, Moore's film is brilliant. But a documentary? Um, no.

UPDATE: I'm not the only one comparing Moore to Leni Riefenstahl.

Posted by Jeff at 07:43 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

June 22, 2004

I Don't Understand

It appears that the enemy has beheaded yet another person, this time a Korean man, in an attempt to sow terror in our midst. I am very sad for his family, and for the agony he must have suffered in his last moments.

There are two things here that I don't understand, though, one about the reporting and one about the man himself.

The headline of the article I linked above is "Iraqi Militants Behead Korean Hostage". It's old news that the Western media cannot call a person whose intent is to terrorize, a terrorist. It's an unpleasant situation that the press has so lost track of objectivity that they prefer willful blindness (as long as the objects of the words they use are enemies of America, Israel and freedom in general, anyway), but it's hardly shocking. So, they have called these monsters "militants" - they didn't use the quotes of course. Hmmm, OK, first, how do they know that the "militants" are Iraqi? The AP seems to accept without any doubt that they are, yet it is well-known that most of the hardcore resistance in Iraq to the government and the coalition forces comes from non-Iraqis who came there for the purpose of fighting us. I just don't understand why the media could be so sceptical of the nature of the group, but so sure of their identity: any objective analysis would put the odds at the nature and identity of the group as likely the opposite of the AP's choices.

Unless, of course, the AP has intentionally chosen terms such as this because they want to minimize the horror and revulsion naturally felt at a terrorist (one who engages in acts of terrorism, which acts in turn are "use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons."), while simultaneously making the terrorists seem like indigenous freedom fighters. After all, a militant is someone who has "a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause", and after all, sometimes we can all be militant, can't we? In other words, the only reason I can see behind the obviously deliberate choice of terms that are wrong or misleading, is that the AP is consciously "with the terrorists": they want us to lose.

It's a sad realization, even if it's one I've been coming to for a long time, that there is no logical rationale behind the editorial choices of Western "news" organizations but that they are on the other side. Perhaps I understand what they are doing, but I really don't understand why.

The other thing I don't understand is the passivity: the pleading on camera just plays into the enemy's hands; it won't spare your life. Sadly, I've seen many examples of Westerners - and of Muslims - being killed by jihadis, and what's striking is how seldom they fight back. If you know you are going to be horribly killed, why not try to run every chance you get: better to be shot trying to jump out the window than beheaded. Why not try to fight? Why would you ever sit barely resisting as they position you and begin to kill you? Yet people seem to do that. Fabrizio Quatrocchi was a brave and laudable exception. Most people just seem to sit there and take it. I don't get that at all.

UPDATE: And on the "on the other side" track, note Tom Gross' essay on BBC bias. (hat tip: Silflay Hraka)

UPDATE (6/23): Wizbang has a list of links covering the beheading of Kim Sun-Il.

Posted by Jeff at 05:36 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

May 31, 2004

Wishful Thinking?

Netscape's home page currently has this headline as their Top Story:

Death Toll: U.S. Iraq Casualties Setting Records

The actual AP story linked to is here.

Nowhere in the story is there any mention of any record number of casualties. AP itself doesn't mention records being set in its headline. This is either wishful thinking or complete ignorance by the person writing the headlines for Netscape. Unless they're going for the 'deadliest American war of the 21st century angle', I have no idea what records are being set.


Posted by Brian at 01:45 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 27, 2004

Wilfully Stupid

What's the proper term for this?

It's not treason: no information or aid is being given to the enemy; "comfort" is a stretch here; and certainly Franzen is not waging war against the US.

It's not sedition: no attempt is being made to undermine the Constitution or the rule of law.

It's certainly repugnant and unpatriotic - even un-American in that it shreds the very concept of collective sacrifice for freedom and justice.

It's not even ignorant: no person could be so ignorant of human nature as to assume that disarmament will cause an enemy to not attack you. The best term I can come up with for this attitude is "wilfully stupid".

Posted by Jeff at 03:37 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 18, 2004

America and the Olympics

So American athletes are not supposed to wave the flag at the Olympics for fear of the reaction?

Why is it that only America seems to have such a bad reputation for arrogant and boorish behavior? How many times have you seen Americans doing things like this or this?

I imagine this gesture is primarily aimed at Europeans. Frankly, I don't care what the coalition of the whining thinks about us. I doubt their opinions will change based on how demure our athletes are. We are suffering under the delusion of the left that what's ultimately important is others' opinions of us. I suffer no such delusion. We owe the Axis of Weasels and their sympathizers no apology for liberating Iraq (which is what this is all about).

The only people with a right to be angry at us are the people of Iraq. Yet somehow I doubt these guys will be too angry with us considering this is assuredly still fresh in their minds.

To America's athletes I say, proudly wave the flag. If others don't like it, the problem is their's not our's.

Posted by Brian at 08:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Not That I'm Bitter...

Jean-Marie Colombani, editor of Le Monde who famously declared "We are all Americans now" after 9/11, can kiss my American ass.

Posted by Jeff at 07:54 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Lie Down with Dogs, and You Wake up with Fleas

Gay activists in London were attacked by Islamists and other pro-Palestinian activists ("an angry, screaming mob of Islamic fundamentalists, Anglican clergymen, members of the Socialist Workers Party, the Stop the War Coalition, and officials from the protest organizers, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign"). It's a seam, we should exploit it.

Posted by Jeff at 07:48 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 12, 2004

Things I'm Tired Of

Here are a few things I'm tired of, all in relation to the Terror Wars:

  • Americans being beheaded by Muslims - whether or not it's filmed
  • Israeli women and their children being murdered by Muslims, with special attention to putting a bullet in her belly if she's pregnant
  • bombs on trains, at night clubs, in pizza parlors, on buses, at police stations and so on
  • Muslims celebrating the above acts
  • the claims of the monsters carrying out the above infamies that they are "in retaliation" for anything - let's just stop fooling ourselves and admit that they are barbarians who don't need a particular event to "avenge"
  • assertions of moral equivalence between humiliating prisoners and the acts mentioned above (which understates barbarism)
  • assertions of moral equivalence between humiliating prisoners and torturing them (which understates torture)
  • the tendency of the Western media to overplay both of those assertions, and thus to underplay barbarism and torture
  • the tendency of the Western media to ignore heroism and good deeds on the part of American and allied soldiers
  • Western guilt over minor crimes trumping in public perception the major crimes of the enemy
  • the war dragging on without a major advance or attack
  • politicians thinking that this whole war means nothing beyond its effect on domestic opinion polls

I'm certainly at the point of more-or-less ignoring the Western media; I don't trust any of the major media any more. I don't trust the instincts, institutional culture, political biases, cultural assumptions and passing fads built into or endemic to the Western media. I don't trust their judgement. Many of the American journalists, I don't trust that they think of themselves as Americans before they think of themselves as journalists. More to the point, I don't think that they by and large either journal events or report events; instead, they craft a story, into which they fit or reject events.

I'm not yet at the point of demonizing Muslims in general, but I can feel myself sliding in that direction. At the least, I would now countenance acts by our side that I would not have during, say, OIF; for example, I would be fine if we flattened Falluja instead of trying to win Fallujans over to our side. And that doesn't make me particularly happy, because it means that my anger is beginning to trump my reason.

Posted by Jeff at 10:50 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

May 05, 2004

Cause and Effect

Ravenwood points to this Deseret News article, which begins with:

In Salt Lake County, the jail continues to suffer from chronic overcrowding despite the fact the crime rate has declined.

Yes, they do go on to say:
Certainly, it is fair to argue that crime rates are declining in part because cities and the county are willing to lock people away for long periods of time. But the lock-'em-up theory of public safety has its limits, both physical and logical.
On the physical side, taxpayers aren't ready to keep building and operating jails, nor are they likely to be any time soon. Right now, a tenth of all county revenues go toward the criminal justice system. That is about enough.
On the logical side, it makes little sense to lock up someone who is criminally delinquent on paying a fine when the cost of a first day in jail is often well over $100. Nor does it make sense to put someone in a highly secure environment who does not pose a risk to the safety of others. Instead that person could be put to work doing menial tasks and housed in a minimum-security environment that is far less expensive than a jail.

As a service to the editors of Deseret News, I present this tutorial on how to link cause and effect.

Posted by Jeff at 12:33 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

April 30, 2004

Inconvenience

Dividing people into polarized groups is very human: it's a survival mechanism for distinguishing those you can trust and be safe with from those who are a threat or a potential threat. Robert Heinlein had perhaps the best division:

Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.

This quote, while a billiant summation, doesn't address one key question: why do some people desire to control others? Robert Heinlein also had another quote that gives a start on resolving that question:
I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. (emphasis added)

When I was first studying Wicca, I learned that there is a difference between "power over" and "power to", "can" and "should", "desire" and "will", and "opportunity" and "duty".

Most Wiccans are of a type I call "fluffy bunny" Wicca: they were too late to be hippies or start a commune, so they looked for something that superficially resembled what they want, grafted on all kinds of New Age claptrap and called it Wicca. The obligation of personal responsibility that comes with power is overwhelming; for a moral person, the more power and understanding that is gained, the less freedom of action is available, for fear of destroying the good enough in the attempt to obtain the perfect. And frankly, most Christians I've known are "fluffy bunny" Christians - content to mouth the words, but not accept the crushing burden of living up to them. (Could you smile happily as you were torn apart by lions, because you knew you were going to a great reward when the pain was over?) I don't think this is a religious characteristic; it is a human characteristic.

But the unwillingness to accept moral responsibility must arise from somewhere, must be a result of some cause, and I believe that it arises from selfishness. While all of us are capable of selfishness, not all of us are capable of selflessness, or of being annoyed without desiring to use force to effect the removal of the annoyance.

I saw a story on Fox News the other day that shocked and outraged me: homeowners on the hills above San Francisco Bay are trying to get an ordinance on the allowable height of trees in their neighbors' yards, so as not to have their view (a false property rights claim) obstructed by their neighbors' use of their real property. If your neighbors' use of their property bothers you, morally you are in a stronger position to buy their property, cut down the tree, and sell the property again with a perpetual obligation on the title to never have a tree or structure on the property above a certain height; then people can buy the title or not, depending on their willingness to abide by its restrictions. But no, no! Instead we must use the coercive power of the government to solve the issue!

Why, though? Because in the end, a person who would go beyond annoyance at a situation that poses no threat to them, into the use of force to resolve it, simply sees other people, institutions, objects and conventions as matters of convenience to them. Why would that other property exist, except as it is convenient to you as part of the view from your balcony? Why would a political rule about when someone gets on the ballot, or how votes are counted, be valid when it is not in your favor? If someone is smoking, or gets fat from eating fast food, why should your aesthetic sense not be offended, and why should you thus not take action? After all, what they are doing affects you - however remotely - and so you should be able to control it, because those rules, those people, only exist at your whim and convenience, right?

I've been trying to find an issue where I disagree with the Leftist position, which does not come down in the end to selfishness on the part of the Left, and I haven't found one yet. And with the Right, too; I think that the reason that Pat Buchanan looks so much like a Leftist in everything he does and advocates, is because in the end he has a similar view - we're only here for his convenience - but a different set of people, policies and actions that inconvenience him.

Of course, we know where this leads, because the history of mankind is littered with its detritus: people who are incapable of selflessness inevitably either attempt to take absolute power (if control is more convenient to them than moral rectitude), or to give up all of their power to some (hopefully) benevolent overlord (if ease is more convenient to them than responsibility). In the end, selfishness in the public realm leads to corruption, decay and eventually tyranny.

Which, for some people, is better than having your view ruined.

Posted by Jeff at 02:42 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

April 26, 2004

The Philosophy of Higher Education

Tech Central Station has published a lecture by John Kekes, regarding the orthodoxy of higher education and its effect on broader public policy and debate. It's a subject depressing to me, because I value education and value the truth, and I don't think that either one has much of a place on college campuses these days, based on the evidence I've seen. Here is the thesis of the lecture:

When did you last hear of anyone defending fundamentalist Christianity or the superiority of Western civilization? Who has been allowed to express the opinion on our campuses that homosexuality is a perversion, that there exist racial differences in intelligence, that women's place is in the home, that the Holocaust is a fiction, or that America is a force for the good in a corrupt world?

You may say that such opinions are justly stifled because their expression harms others. But if you thought that, you would be well-advised to think again. For if by harm you mean, narrowly, serious injury, such as murder, torture, or battery, then neither the opinions nor their expression harms others. And if by harm you mean, broadly, injury to the interest of the people affected, then you would have to be opposed to all laws and regulations which prohibit people from doing what they want or place burden on them that they do not wish to bear. You would, then, be committed to the absurdity of having to oppose laws about taxation, social security, immigration, and health care, since they injure the interests of those who are forced to pay for them. The truth of the matter is that the opinions stifled on our campuses run counter to a prevailing orthodoxy that abuses its power and prevents the expression of opinions it opposes.

This coercive stifling of opinion permeates daily life, not just our campuses. It is very hard to think of an area of life that is free of the exhortation of intrusive moralizing. We are told what food is right or wrong to eat; how we should treat our pets; what clothing to wear; how we should spend our after-tax income; how precisely we should phrase invitations for sex; what kind of bags we should carry our groceries in; when and where we are permitted to pray or smoke; what jokes we are allowed to tell; who should pick the fruit we buy at the supermarket; how we should invest our money; what chemicals we should use in our gardens; by what method of transportation we should go to work; how we should sort our garbage; what we ought to think about cross dressing, sex change operations, teenage sex, and pot smoking; we are forbidden to inquire after the age, marital status, drug use, or alcoholism of job applicants; we are liable to be accused of sexual abuse if we spank our children or hug our neighbor's; our 19 and 20-year olds are permitted to fight our wars, but they are not permitted to buy a beer; we are not supposed to say that people are crippled, stupid, mentally defective, fat, or ignorant; and we must not use words like "mankind," "statesman," or "He" when referring to God.

What makes this coercive moralizing even worse is the hypocritical double-talk by which it is presented. For the stifling of opinions is said to be required by toleration. Its defenders advocate toleration of discrimination in favor of minorities and women (but not against them); of obscenity that offends religious believers and patriots (but not African-Americans and Jews); of unions' spending large sums in support of political causes (but not corporations' doing the same); of pot smoking (but not cigarette smoking); of abortion (but not capital punishment); of the public lies of Clinton (but not of Nixon); of hate speech against fundamentalists (but not homosexuals); of sex education in elementary schools (but not prayer); of jobs open only to union members (but not private clubs open only to males); of lies about American imperialism (but not the Holocaust); of sacrilegious of language (but not of language that uses "he" to refer to all human beings); of scientific research into just about anything (except racial differences in intelligence); and so on and on. We are awash in this ocean of hypocrisy, lies, and falsifications.


Read it all.

Posted by Jeff at 12:02 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

April 25, 2004

Why it's Bad That the Press is so Terrible

Drake at The Edge of England's Sword has a post on why it matters that the Western press is so terrible. I concur with his statements.

Posted by Jeff at 12:20 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

April 22, 2004

Environmentalists Aren't

Andrew Olmstead has an interesting post on environmentalism on the Right and Left. He comes close to saying something that I realized a while ago:

Environmentalism isn't about the environment.

Environmentalism is about the primacy of the State over the individual.

You see, if environmentalism were about the environment, environmentalists would support nuclear energy, because its mining is less damaging than coal mining (which supplies the majority of US electrical production), while its actual use is non-polluting, and the byproducts of electrical generation can be safely dealt with. But not only do environmentalists attempt to stop nuclear power generation, they attempt to stop safe ways of dealing with nuclear power generation's byproducts, leaving the default (storing the waste at the plants) as the only possible solution. It's also a terrible solution from every standpoint but one: it ticks off the environmentalists less than transporting the waste to a safe storage location.

Rather than go off on a long list of such examples, I'll say this instead: most of the stands taken by environmentalists result in no net gain to the environment's health. Simultaneously, every environmental proposal has at its heart a mandate for the government to do more to "handle the problem." The government must set regulations on business, home building, waste disposal, property use, employment, energy generation and use, and so forth and so on, and must acquire for itself more and more property. In every case, individual liberties are to be sacrified for "the greater good," with of course all of that power transferred to the government, which has to answer (in most environmental areas) to the environmental activists, and which in some cases (Interior Dept, for example) is effectively controlled by the environmental activists.

On top of that, it's interesting to consider the groups that march together in protest. Whether it's an "anti-war" protest, an environmental rally, a march against globalization, a rally in support of the Palestinians, the Iraqis (but only the ones fighting the US), a Democrat political convention or what-have-you, the only difference is the name of the event. The same groups show up to all of them, with the same signs and slogans: the anarchists, the unreformed Stalinists, the socialists, the environmental activists, the "peace" activists, the anti-nuclear activists, the Malthusians, the Luddites, the anti-Republicans and the anti-Americans - all come together on each of these issues, because they all have the same underlying agenda: increase the power of the State at the expense of the individual, and put them in control of the State's policy making and enforcement.

There is a term, "watermelon," used to describe environmentalists who are mainly environmentalists to promote statism: they are green on the outside and red on the inside. I believe that this is pretty much true across the board of the Leftist fringe: at the heart of all of these types of Leftist activism is the clear goal of subjugating the individual to the State. Not all of these Leftists are Communists or Socialists; some are Fascists (state control of individual behavior with a relatively market-oriented economy) and some are Anarchists (which has a brief period of mob rule followed by rule by strongmen as its natural conclusion).

The one thing you can say about environmental activists is that the environment is not their primary concern; it's just their excuse.

UPDATE: Steph just pointed out that I'm ranting about environmentalists on Earth Day. Heh!

Posted by Jeff at 10:19 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

April 15, 2004

Stupid Companies

Aubrey has a post on stupid customer service practices. Here are a recent few annoyances, and a kudo:

I used to have Sprint, and couldn't remember why I hated them so much after using AT&T for a few years (they were expensive, but I never had a problem with them other than cost). Besides, AT&T didn't have the i500 Palm/cellphone. Ooh, and Sprint's plan was cheaper, too, as long as I was on the 2 year contract. OK, then, I'll sign up.

Now I remember why I hate Sprint. They have cancelled my service every single month that I've been with them. Usually, this happens about a week before my bill is actually due. Once, it happened twice in a 2-week period. (Note: I've not once been late on a bill to them, with the exception of the first month, where I didn't receive a bill at all.) Usually, dealing with them is slow and inefficient, because they can never tell me anything of use. This is especially so since their website is never current on the invoices/minutes, so I cannot even try to determine the problem myself. They have also messed up every single service change (including adding a second phone) that I've done, and in the bargain have ended up costing me more than twice what I expected.

Cool phone, though.

The other stupid customer service tactic goes out to all of the credit card companies out there. Or at least, all of mine. Note to companies: calling your customers and demanding payment for "past due" amounts when the bill was mailed the day before does not endear your customers to you. Adding in the next month's charges to what is "past due", demanding immediate payment over the phone without a chance to check records, and not keeping track of the fact that payment was made to you by phone over a week ago (sometimes it's just easier since they've already gone to the trouble of calling) is not good. Oh, not that I'm totally innocent here: starting up a new business means that I have been late one some of my credit cards - but I'm still not sure why they then think they should call me on months when I am not late. Not that I'm bitter.

And now the kudo: I recently started using ATA for flying back and forth between Dallas and Chicago. I get better prices than using Travelocity or Orbitz, and their customer service is excellent. Their planes are well-maintained and clean, and also quite comfortable. They have a lot of flights scheduled between Dallas and Chicago. Pity they don't fly more places out of Dallas. This wouldn't work for booking flights and hotels together, but it suited my present need wonderfully.

Posted by Jeff at 04:37 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Well, Nobody's Perfect

It's probably redundant to link to something after Glenn Reynolds, but I really have to vent here. Actually, I take it back: I am so far beyond venting as to be inchoate. Oliver Stone was interviewed by Slate's Ann Louise Bardach about his fawning portrayal of Fidel Castro. I will limit myself to one comment: anyone who believe that Fidel Castro is a benevolent dictator (admittedly, "Well, not benevolent to everybody, no.") and that he, Castro, is not so far out when he states that "Bush would have shot these people"; or that America's elections are as discredited as Cuban elections (in which one person stands to each office, and voting is required and tracked); should simply not be taken seriously in a free country: Stone obviously does not understand the difference between free and not free, and his pontification on freedom is obscene.

Posted by Jeff at 03:24 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

England's New Tourism Slogan

If you aren't breaking the law, you've got nothing to hide. If you are breaking the law, you've got nothing to fear.

(hat tip to Ravenwood's Universe for the first link)

Posted by Jeff at 12:38 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

March 14, 2004

Murder? Uh, No

Steph has a must read post on the case in Utah of the mother who refused a c-section (initially, but later had one) and lost a baby, and is now charged with murder. The handling of this case as a murder is more evidence that the State is becoming increasingly focused on telling us all how to live, and passing very sweeping laws to control our decisions - well, really, to take our decisions away from us. All to protect us, of course. Yes, that's it, to protect us.

Posted by Jeff at 11:35 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

As Long as There's Nothing More Important to Worry About

So it seems that some idiot believes that chess is racist:

Everyone knows that in a chess game white moves first.

This abstractly implies that white has a distinct advantage over black because black has to always take a defensive stand. Some see this as a continuing form of racism and want to change the rules of the game. Bill Ware, a devoted chess player, is one of these people and has come up with a new form of chess.
[snip]
Bill Ware plans on removing color superiority by allowing the pieces to either be the same or different colors such as red, blue, green, etc. The determining factor on who moves first depends on what square the queen sits on.

Chess is played on a grid and each square has a variable of A-H, and a number of 1-8.

According to Ware, whichever queen sits on the square D-1, that is the team that moves first. This way, nether color has priority or an inherent right to move first.


Interesting. Interesting. How are the values of the squares defined? By where white sits! I guess it's back to the drawing board for Ware.

At least there's nothing more important to worry about than whether chess is racist.

Posted by Jeff at 11:09 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

February 17, 2004

Must.Control.Fist.Of.Death

So Law and Order tonight features an emotionally abusive homeschooler (who apparently denies her kids sufficient food). Because we all know that the only reason to homeschool is to hide abuse of your kids. And, oh great, now the younger boy is apparently dead. Why did I walk out there? Why is my wife watching Law and Order? (Rhetorical question; I was upgrading my MovableType installation.) Why does anyone believe anything on TV is representative of real life? Most importantly, why is it illegal to strangle TV producers and writers with their own entrails, while incessantly singing It's a Small World at the top of my (off-key) voice?

UPDATE: Steph has comments about the show, too.

Posted by Jeff at 09:20 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

February 10, 2004

Flailing and Failing

I have a small desk ornament, which describes the phases of a typical project, and goes something like this:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Punishment of the Innocent
  6. Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants

I've see a lot of IT projects fail, and a few succeed, and it comes down to this: bad management kills IT projects. There is no other significant cause. (Note: I was a manager for five years, before I gave up and went in to consulting. Between consulting and permanent employment, I've worked on or around something like 35 major ($5M+) projects.)

In general, there are more good managers than bad managers. However, in an enterprise computing project, there will be many managers with a piece of the project under their control. In a typical multi-group, multi-city project you might have 25 or so managers, project managers and executives with a direct influence or control over all or part of the contract.

I'd guess that two out of five managers are good personnel managers, and two out of five are good project managers, and when you put them together you get about one out of five that are good at both. Most failures of projects, though, come from the bad project managers . (Bad personnel managers can cost you good employees, but that won't be the most likely cause of project failure.) On the other hand only about one in ten are wholly incompetent or truly terrible personnel managers, and only about one in five are wholly incompetent or truly terrible project managers.

This means that you will have as many as 5 of various managers and executives involved in such a project who are incompetent or terrible.

Here are some ways to help a project fail, most taken from my current project. Accumulate enough of these (and there are many more that can be added), and you will fail.

  • Six months before you start gathering requirements, and a full year before you start the implementation, set an arbitrary timetable.
  • Stick relentlessly to that arbitrary timetable; add additional arbitrary dates (milestones) to meet; punish ruthlessly any indication that such a date won't be met. Ignore the completion time of tasks on the project's critical path, particularly if failure to complete a given task will cause an arbitrary date to be missed.
  • Do not gather requirements. If you accidentally find yourself with requirements, ensure that they are vague, unmeasurable and contradictory.
  • Be sure to submit further requirements after the design phase is completed. Do not change any dates to accomodate this.
  • In case dates are in danger of actually being met, ensure that your subcontractors' hours are capped at a certain number, so that they cannot work overtime to cover up the problem. Require them to work overtime anyway, but quibble about paying them.
  • When an arbitrary date is in danger of being missed, redefine success. Continue doing this until success consists of not actually catching the building on fire.
  • Do not distribute the software install media to your engineers. When you do so, be sure to distribute the wrong versions. Make sure that all software is ordered by people who are neither technical, nor involved with the management side of the project, to maximize the chances of getting the wrong software. Never distribute the licenses through the same channel as the software, or they might end up arriving together.
  • Be sure to tell a key group in advance that if they mess this one up, their jobs will be outsourced. Then take primary responsibility away from that group, make the newly-responsible party dependent on the first meeting timelines, cut the first group's funding and, to cap it off, give them a plausible scapegoat. Then, they'll be sure to do their worst work, as slowly as possible, while not cooperating with the scapegoat, without whose success the project will fail horribly.
  • Question in detail, at length, and with clear malice the most minor and reasonable decisions. Ignore massive problems with strategic decisions; those can be papered over by the engineers, if only they work 90+ hours per week for six months straight.
  • Document nothing that is difficult to reproduce, and concentrate critical knowledge in the heads of a few people. Give them reasons to quit (like working 90+ hours per week). If all else fails, call your most rare talent when they are home with the flu, and demand that they dial in to work.
  • Hold as many meetings as possible, with as many participants as possible. Not only does this diffuse responsibility, it ensures that time which otherwise might be wasted on advancing the project is instead employed updating everyone on why the project is not being advanced.
  • Whenever possible, make sure that the project managers are non-technical, so that they cannot explain anything that is happening. This will result in the technical people both explaining the concept multiple times to the project manager, and also in their explaining the concept at multiple meetings as well, thus making sure that they have no time to actually work on the project.
  • Distrust your employees. This can best be shown by demanding they tell you the real reason for things slipping, then punishing them for not having requisite faith in the project when they do. Bonus points are given for complaining loudly to other managers about how your staff isn't honest with you...in front of other managers.
  • Establish control measures which are not subject to political tampering. Ignore them for political reasons.

There's more, but I'm too tired to deal right now.

Posted by Jeff at 10:10 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

January 07, 2004

Why Can't we Just Talk Like Grownups?

Time to invoke Godwin's Law on both MoveOn and Ralph Peters. A pox on both their houses.

Posted by Jeff at 02:37 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

January 06, 2004

England, Birthplace and Death Knell of Liberty

First, we get the execrable miscarriage of justice and trampling of liberty that caused a British citizen to be jailed for life for defending his own home against invaders (after having significant amounts of his property stolen previously; it should be noted that he was eventually released from jail on parole, after much legal wrangling). Now we get this: a man required to get government permission to meditate on his own property. (hat tip: VodkaPundit)

A Buddhist has been told that he needs planning permission before he can meditate in woodland he owns.
[snip]
The Essex Wildlife Trust objected because it feared trees were being damaged, including the removal of "old and long-established ivy". A local resident expressed concern because several vehicles were turning up at the site with would-be meditators.
[snip]
"I was told I would need planning permission because it was a change of use from woodland to meditational woodland. I had to fill in the same forms that you would need to build a skyscraper."

His application for a change of use will be considered by Rochford district council planning committee tonight. Council officers have recommended that it be approved.

"Our only conditions are that no more than one vehicle be allowed in between sunset and sunrise and that there be a limit on the number of people who use the site so that residents will not be disturbed," a spokesman said.

Mr James said that, apart from the district council, Essex county council, English Nature and the Essex Wildlife Trust all had to be consulted over his application.


Pathetic.

Posted by Jeff at 03:30 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Diseased to the Roots

Amazing - just amazing. (link from Tacitus) I get two things from this article:

  1. Dr. Susan Block is at best an unserious thinker, careless and irresponsible in her choice of metaphors (particularly given her occupation as a sex therapist (assuming that means a psychologist who advises people with sexual or abuse issues, rather than being a thin veil over being a low-brow sex advice columnist - I know nothing about her other than what is in the article).
  2. The Muslim culture is diseased to the roots, taking a misunderstanding (or bad translation) of a badly formed argument, and turning it (without apparent reflection or fact-checking) into a reason to kill one's self and others.

Just amazing.

UPDATE: Via ZenPundit, we have an excellent description of the disease, promulgated by the disease agent itself. I believe that you could define a moderate Muslim simply be reference to this document: repudiation would be a condition of moderation.

Posted by Jeff at 11:10 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

December 29, 2003

Suffer the Children

For a perfect example of why no compassionate person should ever consider giving fiscal, moral, politcal, legal, or even rhetorical support to the Palestinian cause, just read this, and consider that the Palestinians believe that Israeli children are legitimate "military" targets, because they could one day grow up to serve in the Israeli Army.

Posted by Jeff at 02:32 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Spirit of Radio

The December 2003 issue of Harpers has an article (Big World: How Clear Channel programs America, by Jeff Sharlet, not apparently available on line) about Clear Channel's domination of the radio and concert venue markets. I heard an interview with Mr. Sharlet on the Glenn Mitchell show on KERA, the Dallas NPR affiliate. The central thesis of the article, judging from online references and the interview I heard, seems to be that Clear Channel dominates the radio and live music venue booking markets, and is therefore ipso facto bad in some undefined way. Actually, the way in which Clear Channel is bad is defined, as a lessening of Democracy (you can hear the capital letter in the author's voice) brought about by Clear Channel's restricting the variety of entertainment and commentary available. Since this is done over "public" airwaves, democracy has failed to provide a variety of opinions. Since Clear Channel is so dominant, and it's so expensive to compete with them, capitalism has failed to counter this "monopoly". This represents a horrible misunderstanding of both democracy and capitalism.

As an aside, before launching into the main point I'd like to make, I'd just like to point out how the way I came to know about this article, and the methods I used to research it, themselves belie the claim: none of these sources involved Clear Channel in any editorial or direct financial sense.

Democracy in its modern connotation is not about making decisions directly by the vote of the majority, but about having representation or a direct say in what happens to and around you. In the context of entertainment (music, in this case), I would have to say that the closest approximation to this concept of democracy would be having a wide range of choices from which to select the entertainment that appeals to you. Such a choice is available. I do not get any of my entertainment through Clear Channel. Music is available not only over Clear Channel stations, but by buying music (I generally use the Apple Music Store through iTunes, but sometimes buy CDs locally as well), listening to non-Clear Channel radio stations (of which there are admittedly not many in most large markets), listening to samples online and buying those which appeal to you, or going to a local club (most of which are not, in fact, controlled by Clear Channel).

The fact that consumers of music do not generally chose to use those alternatives does not mean that democracy has failed, but that consumers are content - possibly even happy - with the product that Clear Channel provides. If not (as in my case), they can make the effort to go elsewhere. Clear Channel has not removed alternatives; they have merely made it easier to get Clear Channel-provided content than content provided by alternative methods. Mr. Sharlet appears to think that enforced diversity, against the expressed wishes of the majority, constitutes democracy. I disagree.

Mr. Sharlet apparently also has little understanding of how capitalism works. Clear Channel is not controlling the markets that it is simply because consumers are too stupid or lazy to go elsewhere. It is controlling the markets that it controls because consumers by and large want the product that Clear Channel offers. Mr. Sharlet, in the interview, himself noted how many good concerts he had attended at Clear Channel venues, and spoke of songs that Clear Channel played because people wanted to hear them, that he also liked. Apparently, he was mostly unhappy with the frequency with which Clear Channel programmed such songs, and the number of formats on which they program them.

I despise the centralization, dumbing down, and lack of choice on Clear Channel's stations - so I don't listen to them. Others like the way that Clear Channel programs - or at least are not so annoyed that they consistently seek out alternatives. If they were, Clear Channel would have two alternatives: change the way that they program, or accept that their market share would shrink, possibly to a level insufficient to sustain Clear Channel as a profitable company.

We have two political parties for much the same reason: political parties operate in a market where the currency is votes. Voters will generally swing back and forth between the two parties, such that each is maintained near 50% of the power base. In part, this is due to an ingrained tendency to be suspicious of too much concentration of power, but in part, too, this oscillation is due to the shifting policies of the political parties themselves, as their search for power impels them to get more votes, which in turn impels them to find policies that are more to voters' liking. However, either political party could find themselves in a distinct minority position overnight, should they move too far from the center of mass of the voters' collective opinion. So, too, could Clear Channel cease to exist, should they fail to stay near the center of music consumers' tastes.

If we are to maintain an Enlightenment society, we must maintain our trust in the ability of people to make decisions in their best interests. While the government should restrain any monopoly (including of political power) from being forcefully maintained, we as citizens (and as consumers of various goods) should be very wary of any attempts to force us to do things we don't prefer, simply because some person or organization decides it's good for us. Diversity is necessary in both politics and entertainment, but Mr. Sharlet's attitudes about the intelligence of the average person (if widely held) are more damaging to that diversity than anything Clear Channel can do.

Posted by Jeff at 02:21 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

December 16, 2003

Guess we Won't be Moving to Cleburne

Not that there was much danger of it anyway, but this is certainly a bad choice of priorities on the part of the Cleburne Police Department.

Posted by Jeff at 03:00 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

December 15, 2003

Must Stop Reading Democratic Underground

I went to DU to read their take on the capture of Saddam Hussein. I'd like to write about what I found, but my IQ dropped so low just from reading that drivel that I am now incapable of forming a coherent thought. Clearly, I need to drink more before reading such dreck.

Posted by Jeff at 12:53 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

December 13, 2003

What is our Real Constitution?

I wonder what our real constitution is? Not our Constitution, since that is ignored roundly by all branches of government and by the public at large, but the one we actually live under. It seems to me that if we were to start with the written Constitution, add in important Supreme Court decisions (including the one where the justices decided that they alone could be the final arbiter of the Constitution's meaning), take account of the circumstances under which laws and their enforcement have deviated from the written Constitution, consider the aggregate feelings of the citizenry on what should be in the Constitution, and subtract out those parts that are no longer effectively in force, we would be close. So, how close can we get with the minimal number of changes?

My first cut requires one amendment with six parts:

a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Congress may make any law on any subject whatsoever, provided that it declare said law to be in the compelling interests of the United States.
b) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution or of their respective State Constitutions, or any other circumstance or position in law, the legislature of any State may make any law on any subject whatsoever, provided that it declare said law to be in the compelling interests of that State.
c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, or any other circumstance or position in law, the President or any executive agency of the Federal Government may undertake any act, provided that the President declares said act to be requisite to the security needs of the United States.
d) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution or of their respective State Constitutions, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Governor or executive agencies of any State may undertake any act, provided that the Governor declares said act to be requisite to the security needs of that State.
e) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Supreme Court of the United States shall have the sole authority to determine what constitutes a "compelling interest" or a "security interest", or to modify or negate any law or act of the United States or of any State.
f) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution or of their respective State Constitutions, or any other circumstance or position in law, the Supreme Court of any State shall have the sole authority to determine what constitutes a "compelling interest" or a "security interest", or to modify or negate any law or act of that State.

Stephanie challenged me to write a Constitution, then, if I think our desire to actually follow ours is so far off. I probably should. Not that I'm convinced it will do any good, but at least I'd be doing something other than just complaining.

Posted by Jeff at 12:09 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

October 02, 2003

Zero Tolerance Means not Having to Think

Zero tolerance means not having to think, and that is why it is such a good fit with public schooling. But this is more than just unthinking - it's stupid. (hat tip: One Hand Clapping) I mean, we can't let a little thing like actually educating children who aren't otherwise causing problems get in the way of just retribution for those little rulebreakers leaving their shirts untucked!

What is really terrible about this, actually, is that zero tolerance dress codes do provide a sort of education. They teach children that rules are arbitrary and mindless, and authority figures (teachers and administrators) are either complicit in their breaking or responsible for enforcing them no matter how pointless they might be. They teach corruption, bribery and toadying. They teach that school is not concerned with academics or learning, no matter what your teachers tell you while they work on their exercise routines after plopping you in front of a movie (honors English, 7th grade, happened to me).

Somehow, I think that's not the education taxpayers expected the government to provide.

UPDATE: Gak! It was 10th grade, as Steph points out in the comments. That's what I get for posting while apoplectic.

UPDATE 2: Kimberly Swygert comments on this as well - about an hour before I did in fact.

Posted by Jeff at 03:08 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

September 20, 2003

Budgeting

Somehow, I don't think Newsweek is very serious. After all, the money you spend on insurance against a house fire could be spent on food. The money you spend on health insurance could instead be spent on educating your children. And, yes, the money we spend occupying and reforming Iraq and Afghanistan could be spent on day care centers or hiring firemen.

The question that is reasonable is not, "How does this compare to other items in the budget?" (and note: they did not compare to other items in the budget larger than $87 billion, such as Medicare), but "How does this compare with national needs and goals?" Unless Newsweek intends to say - and they might - that we'd do better fighting the war on terrorism by using Federal money to fund community health care than we would by spending the money on the occupation and reformation of the nations at the heart of our enemies' territory, then these comparisons are meaningless. Worse than that, they do not even attempt to make a distinction between valid uses of Federal money (such as defense) and invalid uses (such as spending money on individual AIDS patients).

Posted by Jeff at 02:32 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 22, 2003

And He is Us

I stopped reading Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler a few weeks ago, and removed Misha from my blogroll, because while I frequently agree with the underlying sentiments, I could not keep reading the bitter, over-the-top rhetoric any more. As a result, I missed this post. Michael Totten took it on, and that was my trigger for lauding of Michael Totten's site as an example of the richness of the blogosphere.

Michael Totten's comments, and then reading Misha's post, had gotten me thinking about writing a response, about how the extreme right and the extreme left are tending together in many ways, and how this is now dragging in the far edges of the center right and center left, who should be aiming not for the further edges, but for the center. I had not gotten the post fully firmed up in my mind, however, by the time that Joe Katzman wrote this. Thanks, Joe, for your words and your humanity.

UPDATE (8/23): Misha steps up and corrects himself. It takes a big man to admit he was wrong, and Misha qualifies.

Yes, I meant it as a joke, and I was absolutely convinced that that had been made clear. Well... It looks like it hadn't, and I regret that.

Yes, I, because I was the one who wrote it, not you, not my upbringing, not the school bully who stole my lunch once (ONCE!) in the 2nd grade, but me.

So this time, I'm going to make it so clear that even the most dimwitted of Idiotarian retards have no excuse for not understanding it. If they choose not to, which I'm willing to bet a small fortune that they will, then so be it, I can't help that, nor do I give a flying rat's fart in an F-5:

What was done at the UN building should, if there's anybody up there listening to my prayers, get the ragheaded motherfucking sons of malformed goats and bitches hunted down like the fucking rabid dogs that they are and killed, preferably extremely slowly, but I'll settle for dead if that's the best that I can get.

I've said that already, you know. Terrorism is wrong and its only reward should be death.

But it's also wrong to say things that sound like an excuse for terrorism, even if you hate the scumsucking bastards that get hit and even if that's not what you mean to say.

And, and this I thought was obvious already, I sure didn't mean to express any support for any of those goat molesting sand lice. I thought it was obvious but, with a little help from my friends, I've come to realize that it could look like it. And you're the natives here, so I'll have to take your word for it.

What this means is that I blew it with that post. Well, I blew it with respect to some of you, but that's bad enough as far as I'm concerned. I'm trying to communicate here and if what I think I say doesn't register the same on the receiving end of my target audience, then I've failed. But that's why I'm the Emperor and not "Pope Misha I", I get to screw the pooch from time to time.

Posted by Jeff at 10:52 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

August 08, 2003

Waste of Perfectly Good Oxygen

Norman Geras points out a question to and answer by Jaques Derrida. To sum up, Derrida believes that merely calling the date "September 11", rather than "le 11 septembre", suggests that "something" happened which "we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way" except "international terrorism" which is of course a completely socially constructed concept, and the event is "like an intuition without concept".

To sum up the summary, only an "intellectual" could believe something this stupid.

Posted by Jeff at 01:24 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

July 31, 2003

Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid

OK, we're in the middle of a war on terror, which started when four planes were hijacked, and three of them rammed into buildings. The government is warning that the group who hijacked all of those planes is going to try it again. We're having problems retaining air marshals, because of the onerous flight schedules. What shall we do? How about we reduce the number of air marshals, whose job is to prevent airliners from being hijacked? Only the government could be this stupid. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

UPDATE (8/1): Laughingwolf comments on airline security as well. (hat tip: Winds of Change)

Posted by Jeff at 09:37 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (6)

July 29, 2003

Losing the Thread

It always amazaes me to see people completely missing the point of their jobs, or their place in society. Particularly in our society, where we choose our own societal roles. This is a propos of nothing, but I'd like to list a few jobs that routinely get their places wrong, and suggest what those places are.

Librarians are not primarily needed for running libraries. Librarians are needed because they have the skills, training and temperment for cataloging and classifying information. While being the caretakers of books and the places that they are housed is important, it is far more important that librarians help us to organize the knowledge we are being continually flooded with. Some areas where librarians could help would be in organizing online content (or coming up with a uniform system of organization that would work online, and be easy to implement); creating a true encyclopedia, or at least a reference document that lays out where all of the definitive information on any given topic can be found (the encyclopedias we have are simply not comprehensive, and there is no universal catalog of knowledge); or working to define the proper scope of intellectual property protections to serve the interest of creating the largest possible public domain of intellectual property.

Lawyers are not primarily needed for filing lawsuits, or deciding what inoffensive text can be placed inside Spy Kids 3-D glasses to keep someone from being sued1. Lawyers are primarily needed to help non-specialists make sense of the requirements of the law, and to defend ourselves against the predations of an overzealous government.

Speaking of the predations of government, the purpose of politicians and bureaucrats is not to define what our society should be, but to create an environment in which our society can freely develop. Passing laws about private acts, or creating victimless crimes, or making regulations which have some feel-good benefit for "society" (but which actually end up infringing on people's rights) are not the proper actions of our government. The proper scope of our government is to secure to us, the citizens, our rights - and this means that we need to be secure from foreign intervention, violent domestic unrest, and government meddling. The government does a decent job on the foreign intervention part of the equation, and an arguably passable job on the domestic unrest part, but fails totally at protecting us from the intervention of our more meddlesome and power-hungry types.

Finally, the purpose of teachers is to pass along factual knowledge, cultural context, and techniques for gathering additional factual information and for connecting those facts and contextual hints through logic and reasoning. The total abdication of this mission by the teachers in favor of proselytizing for their preferred worldview, boosting self-esteem (without the necessary component of self-worth) and fairness (without the necessary component of justice) and enforced equality (rather than allowing personal achievement) - this abdication is, I believe, where we can lay the blame for the other misunderstandings noted above.

Note 1: the text is "WARNING: Not for extended wear, performing physical activity, or outside play. Not to be used as sunglasses or for any other use other than shown." It's in English, French and Spanish.

Posted by Jeff at 12:37 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

July 18, 2003

The Axioms of Liberty

The first nation to come to grips with personal freedom was England. Over a period of several hundred years, the institutions necessary to allow ordinary individuals to attain wealth and some measure of independence came into being, in a bitterly-contested battle between the supporters of the monarcy, and the various populist factions which arose over time. But England most emphatically did not want to extend these rights to overseas colonies. The pressures that this put on the American colonies, where the colonists were after all British citizens and subjects, led to the Declaration of Independence, which was perhaps the most elegant statement of Liberty ever conceived:

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.

Today, throughout the world, these very basic freedoms are under threat even in nations nominally free. The progressive, fascist, socialist and communist movements which rose in America and Europe in the late 19th and throughout the 20th centuries, have undoubtedly brought advances in our knowledge and experience; they have also in many ways weakened the fundamental commitment to Liberty of these nations. In the US, it is in some places not legal to defend one's own life, or the life of one's family. In England and Australia and across Europe, the situation is more dire than that. In many countries in Europe, the ability to express an opinion is hindered by hate crimes laws, so that putting up a poster can get you banned from the EU.

I assert that it is self-evidently true, that each person is sovereign unto themselves, and possessed of innumerable rights, including

To live without fear of arbitrary violence, or arbitrary confinement, or loss of liberty, or of involuntary servitude;

To be free of compulsion, except to adhere to a contract freely agreed, or as adjudged by a court under due process of law;

To live in whatever manner they choose, so long as in doing so they do not infringe on another's right to do the same;

To accumulate property and wealth, and to use that property and wealth in whatever manner they desire, so long as such use does not foreclose others the use of their own property; and to sell, lease, rent or transfer that property without restriction;

To associate with other people or groups of their choice, in the manner of their choosing, and to peaceably assemble in the place and at the time of their choosing;

To observe their religious beliefs as they choose;

To hold and express opinions, to state facts, to express judgements and to disseminate these in any manner they desire;

To participate in the operation of their government, by being eligible for election to office, and to vote at election regardless of personal circumstance, provided that they have obtained a sufficient age as determined by law;

To raise their children according to the dictates of their conscience;

To be free from the threat of searches and seizures, except upon presentation of a warrant, drawn by a court of law upon the affirmation of their involvement in the commission of a crime;

To be free from the threat of repeated prosecution for the same event;

To be free from the threat of torture, or of any other cruel or unusual treatment, either under questioning, or for punishment, or for any other purpose;

To be represented at any trial to which they should be subjected; to confront their accusers; to bring forth evidence in their favor; to be tried in an area local to them by a jury of their peers; to be free of the compulsion to testify against themselves; to be tried within a short time of accusation; to be free of the threat of accusation for any event which happened in the distant past, and against which it is therefore difficult to defend;

To defend their person, property and rights by any necessary means, and to that end to be able to keep and bear arms sufficient to the purpose.


The only legitimate purpose of government is to secure those rights and liberties. To do so, a government must

Draw its powers from the consent of the governed;

Provide for, and itself be subject to, the rule of law;

Ensure that each person is equally subject to, and equally protected by, the law, and no person receive any special or particular benefits or penalties on account of their position, notoriety, race, gender, place of origin, or age, except that an age of majority may be fixed by law, and used for such purposes as the law may allow;

Provide for the selection of its officers, and of the representatives of its citizens, by free and fair election;

Restrict the exercise of its powers in proportion to the number of people over which that power has an effect, and in particular to exercise its powers as locally as possible;

Be so constituted that its officers serve at the pleasure of the people, or of their representatives, subject to recall or impeachment of any officer, and repeal or amendment of any law by referendum;

Implement any source of revenue, or raise any rate of revenue, without the consent of the people, or the consent of the overwhelming majority of the people's representatives;

Vest control of the military in the hands of the civil authority, and prohibit the military from enforcing domestic law, except on the explicit request of the people's representatives;

Provide that at any level, the power to make laws, to enforce them, and to adjudicate them shall be held by different bodies;

Prohibit the accumulation of power in the hands of certain individuals, by limiting the amount of time during which a person may consecutively serve as a civil officer of government or as a representative of the people;

Vest all power of the making of laws, regulations and statutes in those bodies which have legislative power, such that no person is bound by a law unless it is consented to by a legislature in which they are represented;

Provide no mechanism for the suspension of laws, without the consent of the representatives, or of the people, and in all ways resist such suspensions;

Prohibit any law, regulation or act from applying only to a named person, or to a group so limited as to contain only one person;

Prohibit any law from having retroactive effect;

Reserve all rights and powers to the people, except those delegated by the people to the government by constitution, law, or by referendum;

Provide methods for its citizens to alter, reform or abolish the government peacefully, should the government infringe upon the rights of the people, or be unable to provide for the peace and ability to seek happiness of the people.

Any government must be judged according to its adherence to these principles, and its ability to protect and record of protecting these rights and freedoms.

Posted by Jeff at 01:48 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (4)

July 16, 2003

Appreciating Art

Michael Totten has a post about why "proud Philistines" (John Derbyshire's criticism of Republicans who don't like high art) don't like high art: it's not about the "philistines" but about the pretentious Marxists teaching it.

I love art, of many kinds. I like certain paintings, certain ballets, certain music, certain statuary and so on. The problem is, I don't like pretentious assholes who see a uniform blue canvas lecturing me about the deep angst the artist is expressing. I like Mondrian's blocky paintings for what they are - interesting geometrical expressions. I don't think Mondrian's paintings express the alienation of the suburbs and the opression of minorities by the patriarchy. Yes, I have heard them described that way. I could pull examples of that kind of pretension from any field of art. (Especially music, actually, even more so than painting.)

I think that the reason that some people, obviously including Derbyshire, think that "philistines" (by which they actually mean "Republicans" (by which they actually mean any non-Leftists)) don't like art, is because we don't like them, and don't go along with the language that hides what shallow and unthinking ideologues they really are.

Not that I'm bitter.

Posted by Jeff at 11:50 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

July 11, 2003

Liberty vs. License

Randy Barnett has an excellent analysis of the Lawrence opinion. In particular, his distinction between Liberty and License: "Instead, he puts all his energy into demonstrating that same-sex sexual freedom is a legitimate aspect of liberty — unlike, for example, actions that violate the rights of others, which are not liberty but license." This is a concept too lacking in our post-New Deal courts, and one I hope to see make a comeback. I'd like to see the 9th amendment take on meaning again.

Posted by Jeff at 09:24 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The Burdens of Citizenship

Eugene Volokh points out (hat tip: InstaPundit) an extraordinary example of judicial incompetence: the Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the Nevada Legislature to ignore an inconvenient provision in the State's Constitution! While Professor Volokh brings up both impeachment and recall as possible remedies, he leaves unsaid that there are duties imposed upon citizens which come into play here:

It is the duty of the Nevada Legislature to ignore the Court's decision.
If the Legislature does not do so, it is the duty of the people to not pay the increased taxes that would result.
It is the duty of the prosecutors to not file charges against people who do not pay such taxes (assuming they pay their previous taxes.)
It is the duty of the police to not arrest people charged on such an account.
It is the duty of the duty of jurists not to convict a person so tried.

It is, in short, the duty of every citizen to respect and uphold both the national and their State's Constitution, and to not do so would be tragic, in that it would set the precedent (or reenforce the perception) that the citizens are not particularly concerned about their Constitutional rights.

Posted by Jeff at 08:52 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

June 04, 2003

Burning Symbols

The day that a Constitutional Amendment banning flag burning clears both houses of Congress is the day that I book a trip to Washington, DC, so that I can burn copies of the Constitution on the steps of the Capitol.

Posted by Jeff at 10:41 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

May 27, 2003

No-Knock Warrants

No-knock warrants have always deeply disturbed me. If a handful of heavily-armed people, dressed as police, break down your door in the middle of the night, and rush into your house, what do you do? Are they really police, serving a no-knock warrant? Or are they criminals there to kill or rob you, who dressed as police to put you off guard? If you are Robert Rogers, do you throw away your gun so the police don't shoot you, or do you defend yourself and your wife against the "police?"

We as a free society should never be so desperate to convict that we have to resort to NKVD tactics in order to catch someone with drugs. And make no mistake, that is the purpose of most of these raids. (The Branch Dividian mess in Waco was an exception; that was for banned guns. Which it turned out did not exist, once the FBI sifted through the debris.) Why not just serve a normal warrant. If you cannot serve the warrant because the person to be served won't leave their residence, then wait them out, patiently. We've got all the time in the world, really. And if the concern is that police officers will be fired on, then wait for the suspect to leave the place and detain them, then execute the warrant.

Of course, the British have seen the solution to this dilemma: never defend yourself.

Posted by Jeff at 09:49 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (8)

May 24, 2003

Backlash

I'm going to link to something that will most likely make you angry. First, read this CityJournal article, then read this post by Mrs. du Toit. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Radicalisation of the schools - and not just on sexuality - is obviously an untenable situation over the long-term. This particular agenda is unstable because it denies the basic tenets of humanity and nature, and as such eventually will be rebelled against, as is any tyranny (particularly in the US, where patriotism is defined as resistance to tyranny rather than love of country, despite what many leftists would like you to believe). However, this is but one of many fads sweeping through public education these days, all? of which tend to be radical and leftist. But where does the radicalisation of schools end up when it topples?

I see three options, of which the most attractive to me personally is presented by the CityJournal article's conclusion:

No compulsory public school system can be justified unless what it teaches is a worldview that the taxpayers who fund it can support. The “common schools” came into existence, after all, to acculturate immigrants to American values. For schools to try to indoctrinate children in a radical, minority worldview ... is a kind of tyranny, one that, in addition, intentionally drives a wedge between parents and children and ... “opposes society itself.” We must not let an appeal to our belief in tolerance and decency blind us to indecency—and to the individual and social damage that will result from it.
It would be nice if this were the end of the inevitable backlash: a reformation of abolition of the schools which tolerate such tyrannies while declining to produce literate, numerate and acculterated children.

The second option would be for there to be a general societal backlash against homosexual rights and other radical views, undoing much of the last century of progress in human tolerance. And make no mistake, the fact that a majority people in the US now believe that the right of a person to choose their life partner without the blessing of the State is in fact a sign of progress. If a person's behavior does not infringe your rights, it should be allowed. Like ending slavery, this is yet another step to treating people as equals and as individually capable of controlling their own lives without the interference of the State.

The third option, feared by Mrs. du Toit, is the truly radical backlash to a truly radical overreach:

When I first read it I was shocked. My shock turned to anger. Then my anger turned to fear. I am no babe in the woods here. My best friend and roommate for seven years was a gay, male prostitute. I know more about the gay culture than I want to know. I know that the vast majority of homosexuals are wonderful people, who would never support something like this. But this group of extremists are so [insert series of expletives here] stupid that they do not realize what the counter to these types of actions are going to be. They put all gays and lesbians at an incredible risk. Do we have to show them pictures of cattle cars to get the point across? Do they not have ANY knowledge of history, of sociological trends, and of the inertia that these types of actions are going to have on our culture?

Posted by Jeff at 12:03 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

May 21, 2003

What a Load of Crap!

Calpundit is a fairly bright and articulate guy, whom I generally disagree with. I don't tend to disagree with him in the sense that I think he's a raving looney, as he's clearly not. But this is a complete load of crap.

First, shall we start getting into cutting up a person's net worth by who is most responsible for them achieving it? Why stop with the country? What about Bill Gates' parents who raised him and gave him the genetic part of his abilities? What about the teachers (public or otherwise) who taught him things? What about the authors whose books he read, and his business partners, and his investors and his customers? What about he himself? Even if we could get into determining what part of a person's inherent abilities, education/schooling, influence of friends and associates and so forth contributed to that person's wealth, why would we want to tax them according to that?

And then, let's apply Kevin's reasoning to the other end of the scale. I have a brother who is impoverished. He has no job and has never had one, except for short stints. He has no savings or other resources to draw upon, other than his family. Yet he has a car, a place to live, a TV, food, access to medical care at the emergency room, and is in many ways better off than an indigent person in Pakistan. Should he therefore be required to pay a large percentage of his income in taxes, presuming he ever gets one, because he has more than he would if he were born in Pakistan? If not, then why should Bill Gates have to do so? If so, then hasn't Kevin's point been totally negated, in that my brother is not wealthy in any way, shape or form? By the way, he gets neither unemployment nor any other form of money from the government. By Kevin's logic, should not Bill Gates be sending my brother a check?

I will grant Kevin's proposition in one way: Mr. Gates should not be paying taxes to Pakistan's government, as he earns his money in the US. Therefore, such taxes as he is required to pay should go to the American government.

Posted by Jeff at 04:08 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

May 20, 2003

Criticism of Military Technology

Porphyrogentius has some comments on military technology, which reminded me of an incident in the mid-1980s. At this time, the M2/M3 Bradleys were new equipment, and not yet proven on the battlefield. A report on 60 Minutes examined the Bradley, and found that it presented too large of a target on the battlefield, didn't hold a large enough number of troops in each unit, was too heavily armed for an infantry carrier, was not heavily enough armored for a tank, was too heavy to move around on the battlefield, and outpaced the truck-based supply convoys. In other words, it was too big, too small, too powerful, not powerful enough, too slow, and not slow enough - all at the same time!

I never watched 60 Minutes again. I figured if that was all they had, they weren't worth the hour.

Posted by Jeff at 08:12 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (6)

May 15, 2003

A Pet Peeve

If one's goal is to create an equality of opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, one will fail to attain one's goal as long as one insists on basing all meaningful decisions in whole or in part on race. After all, if race is always taken into account, race will always be taken into account. Just sayin'.

Posted by Jeff at 08:38 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 08, 2003

I'm Feeling Ill, Too

Glenn Reynolds notices this article from the Telegraph. Apparently what most struck Glenn was how diseased anti-Americanism is. Gregory Taylor, whom Glenn quotes, was apparently most struck by Ms. Drabble's lack of historical sense. I was, on the other hand, most struck by how those in love with language get so caught up in turning a beautiful phrase, that they forget how insipid and vapid:

My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.

or how inaccurate (it was Fat Man, not "Big Boy"):
Others have written eloquently about the euphemistic and affectionate names that the Americans give to their weapons of mass destruction: Big Boy, Little Boy, Daisy Cutter, and so forth.

or how trite:
We are accustomed to these sobriquets; to phrases such as "collateral damage" and "friendly fire" and "pre-emptive strikes". We have almost ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as "cowards". The abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us the dangers of Newspeak.

are the actual thoughts they are expressing.

I do like Glenn's idea of painting smiley faces on our weapons to disconcert the enemy. Maybe we could put a bunny stencil on the side as well.

Posted by Jeff at 09:15 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 06, 2003

Compelling Interest? Uh, No

Noshin Hoque, a two-year old girl in Michigan, will likely be dead within two years. The reason for this is that she has a tumor in a rather inaccessible part of her brain. It turns out that surgery has a 70% to 80% chance of either killing the girl or blinding her or leaving her a vegetable. So far, this is just a tragedy, but the government wants to make it worse, if possible:

But now prosecutors have taken the Hoques to court to force them to go ahead with the surgery in a case that revisits the question of who should decide what is best for the child when it comes to lifesaving medical treatment.

"There's no other outcome but death, without surgery," said David Gorcyca, prosecutor in suburban Detroit's Oakland County. "I think if I'm a parent given a 30 percent fighting chance of survival, I'm taking that shot every time."


I wonder if Mr. Gorcyca would like to reflect on his statement a little longer? If he can "take[] that shot every time" than why cannot another parent, such as the Hoques, decide not to? More to the point, how would he feel if his child were in such a situation, and the state decided that it was cruel to do surgery that had a 70% to 80% chance of failure, and therefore not to allow his child to have surgery? It's not all that farfetched; once the government gets power over an area, there's no reliable way to control how it uses that power. (Case in point, why does regulation of interstate commerce give the government power to ban guns on school grounds? Hint: it takes more than two years to overturn a bad law - the girl wouldn't have the time to go through that process, even assuming the state didn't force the operation anyway, while the courts were considering the case.) And if the state can determine what medical care you must give your children, what can they be prevented from forcing you to do to/with your child? How is forcing you to get specific medical care for your child different, for instance, from forcing you to feed your child a particular diet, totally against your will?

Even if you believe that the state has a compelling interest to see that every single child is treated according to the advice of doctors, rather than according to the desires of the child's parents, then what is the compelling interest in this case? Given the high odds of the surgery's failure, the decision to have this particular surgery is surely a judgement call. I have a hard time seeing any case where the government should be getting into judgement calls about very risky procedures.

This is a travesty, and should not be allowed to happen.

Posted by Jeff at 11:20 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Poor Bloody England

It's sad to see things like this, especially when it's the latest in a long line of stories about protecting criminals in England:

Britain's defeatist attitude toward crime reminds me of the gloomy days of New York City before Rudy Giuliani. In Bath, I saw that sad old sticker, "Nothing of value in this car" (so go rob another one, please). Even homes in rural areas are equipped with motion detectors. Some Brit proposed today new measures to protect burglars, who apparently are at risk by victims who fight back. It is always sad to see a people you love running away from common sense.

I've always wanted to live in the Isles - I have a particular cultural and religious affinity to the are of Wales, in particular, and my wife to Ireland - but I cannot really bring myself to look for jobs there until this situation (and the situation with Islamicist terrorists, too) clears up. What a damnable shame.

UPDATE (5/7): Here is another example of the "long line of stories" about Britain's failure to provide security to her citizens.

Posted by Jeff at 02:29 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 04, 2003

Wanna Bet?

How much do you want to bet that the New York Times would not get onto a leftist for gambling? I'm no big fan of Bill Bennett, but given that this is an activity he has engaged in legally (no criminality), has not criticized as immoral (no hypocrisy), has not apparently done to the detriment of himself or others (no victim), and has admitted to frequently (no coverup), what is the big deal? It's not like he gets stinking drunk and then leaves his dates to drown, or gets blow jobs in the Oval Office while discussing foreign affairs with Senators, or is on the take or any of the numerous other things that leftist politicians have done which the Times has given them a free pass for. I'm all for setting high standards for public servants, but this is just stupid.

Posted by Jeff at 01:29 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

May 03, 2003

We Have Extras

Belgium's total land area is 30230 sq km. A W80 warhead has a yield of 150 kilotons, which translates to a blast radius of about 5km (about 4psi overpressure). I figure that it would take about 400 of them to take care of this. We have about 1300 in stock. I'm just saying...

Posted by Jeff at 01:11 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

Tell Me Again

Tell me again, how you support the troops, but not the war? That's not how they see it:

Many soldiers watched huge antiwar protests on the news and weren't sure of the reception they'd get at home. At the end of their shifts, they'd often gather in tents and talk about the stateside mood.

"Did we talk about it and did it matter? Yes," says Air Force Capt. Jeff Isgett of Fairbanks, Alaska, an A-10 pilot who flew forward air-control missions over Baghdad. "We fight for our country, we love the people of this country, and we love what it stands for, so the hardest part was [feeling] that people had a lack of trust" in military officials, he says.

Posted by Jeff at 12:01 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

April 30, 2003

The Great American Melting Pot

Aubrey Turner posts on the growing number of immigrants, primarily hispanic, who do not end up learning English. He is worried, both because this limits their success, and because it tends to factionalize us. I would like to note two things: 1) the people who most promote the multiculturalist idiocy are the same who benefit from it (and I don't mean the immigrants themselves, but the victimization advocates), and 2) there is cause for more hope than Aubrey lets on.

The cause for hope is simply this: our nation has always been this way. The initial generation of immigrants speak only their native language. Their children are bilingual, and in the third generation only English is spoken. I share Aubrey's concerns that we are, as a nation, slowing this process, and that doing so tends to marginalize the new immigrants. I do have faith, though, in the ability of immigrants to realize that speaking English is in their own interest, all carping by those who wish to have the immigrants as a captive audience aside.

Posted by Jeff at 04:55 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

April 14, 2003

Maybe if We Tortured Wolf Blitzer?

OK, so CNN broadcast from Iraq for years, deliberately concealing acts of torture they knew to be occurring. This is, in the judgement, fine, though not exactly what they want. But when given a chance to broadcast freely in Iraq, and report whatever they want, they decline?

The second channel, which the White House decided to fund yesterday, also will include about two hours of Arabic-language news from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the government agency that oversees Voice of America. The channel might show White House, State Department and Pentagon briefings, officials said.

Norman J. Pattiz, chairman of the Westwood One radio network and a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, said the new channel's mission will be to give Iraqis "an example of what a free press in the American tradition actually is."

CNN declined to have its newscasts included. "As an independent, global news organization, we did not think it was appropriate to participate in a U.S. government transmission," spokeswoman Christa Robinson said.


Wankers.

Posted by Jeff at 11:22 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

April 09, 2003

Someone Tell the AMA

One of my pet peeves is the routine genital mutilation of infant boys. Unless you are Jewish or Muslim, and thus have a religious reason for doing so, this procedure on a healthy boy is an abomination. (None of my four boys is circumcised, if you hadn't guessed.) Apparently, the BMA has figured this out. Sadly, the AMA has not:

The AMA supports the general principles of the 1999 Circumcision Policy Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reads as follows: Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.

They don't recommend it; that's as far as they go? And less than half of the circumcisions even used anesthesia! Grrr....

Posted by Jeff at 02:18 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

March 27, 2003

Common Human Decency

I frequently hear anti-war Americans (and Brits, for that matter) claim "We support the troops, but not the war." My take has been, how? Are you arguing that showing common human decency, by not spitting on soldiers or throwing rocks at them constitutes "support?" Actually, though, I guess I'd prefer that to this.

And by the way, if you do disagree, you should read this. It's not an attempt to convince you on the merits of the war, per se, and is written by a classical and political liberal whose opinions I greatly respect.

Posted by Jeff at 06:16 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)