Friday, May 27, 2005

Against "Click it or Ticket"

Am I the only person left who still hates these seatbelt laws? I always, without exception, use my seatbelt in the car, and I always make sure my passengers do, too. It has nothing to do with the law. My parents made sure all of us did as kids, emphasizing that they wouldn't even start the car moving until everybody was buckled in. And that was before Tennessee passed that stupid law.

I am an adult. I am a free man. I am not a ward of the state. I have the right to make my own decisions regarding my safety.

Now, I've seen people try to make the argument that the state should outlaw non-use of seatbelts, because it's not just your business--after all, if you get hurt in an accident, and you don't have medical insurance, and you can't pay for your treatment...well, the taxpayer is going to. So the taxpayer has a legal interest in prohibiting your risky behavior.

First. The problem is, then, that the taxpayer has to get involved at all. I have insurance. Does that mean I could get an exemption from the law (if I were inclined to)? Of course not. They would say it has to be the same for everybody. Bull. It's a false argument.

If we accept this logic, we must accept the right of the state to legislate against any behavior that carries a physical risk with it. Not using your seatbelt is risky, if you get in an accident. But there are plenty of risky activities out there in the world. There's riding a bicycle--oops! They've required kids (adults, even?) in some places to wear helmets while riding bikes. %^()!!!

OK, think of how many household accidents occur in the kitchen. I've had some (mild) accidents there. Slipping in your shower? Changing a lightbulb while standing on an unsteady chair? Carrying too heavy a ladder/package/something? All of these carry risk. There is probably not a nice, clear dividing line between the physical risk involved in not wearing your seatbelt and a lot of the other risks we take as part of normal life. That means there is no clear limit to how far the state could go in outlawing private risk.

On this topic, I really don't like those "click it or ticket" TV commercials. They're insulting, condescending, and paternalistic. Ads promoting seatbelt use are a good thing. Ads with this sneering tone, telling you the eagle eye of Big Brother is watching your driving and will fine you for not wearing the belt? UGH! I actually have to change the channel when these come on.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Now "knife control"?!

The BBC's reporting a bunch of British medical doctors want that country to ban long, pointy, kitchen knives. (link via Drudge) You know, I used to sarcastically use this as a comeback to liberals who wanted to ban guns. After all, people stab each other with knives, so do you want to ban those, too? Well, now a bunch of control freaks are going for it.

Britons had better watch out, before they come for their pitchforks, too. Then there'll be nothing left to revolt with!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The meaning of "irony"

I just got this e-mailed from a friend. I'll add a link as soon as she sends the source to me.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee's deputy finance commissioner spent 13
hours stuck in an elevator at the state Capitol after no one paid a
phone bill.

Jerry Adams, who oversees Tennessee's $25 billion budget, was working
alone a few weekends ago when he stepped into an elevator, which
promptly broke and left him stranded between floors.

Adams picked up the phone in the elevator, but it didn't work because
the bill for the phone hadn't been paid and the service was
disconnected, officials said.

Finance Department spokeswoman Lola Potter said the bill was mistakenly
sent to the Department of Human Services. Officials there had no record
of the line and didn't pay the bill.

In the elevator, Adams said the only thing he could do was push a button
that rang an emergency bell. He did that every five minutes for hours,
but the building was deserted.

At about 4 a.m. the next morning, the cleaning crew heard Adams stirring
and rescue crews finally freed him.
"It was not the way I wanted to spend a Sunday evening," said Adams, who
lives alone.

Anthrax incident

We had a little excitement at my university yesterday. A few minutes before my class was to begin, a student came by my office, telling me that the building where I teach was being evacuated because of a suspicious package. Sure enough, we found a crowd of people just outside the doors. The secretary was still in, though, and she told me over the phone that there was an anthrax scare, and we'd be shut down for the rest of the day. Most of my students, bless their hearts, didn't just leave but came by my office to ask what we'd do. I told them we won't be stopped by a little thing like a bioterrorism threat, so we carried on with class in my building's lobby and eventually found a spare lecture room.

Today I have found out there was a plastic baggie with a "white powder" in it and a card reading "anthrax." The police advised us to evacuate the building and to shut down the ventilation system. Tests showed it wasn't anything dangerous, thankfully.

A few years ago in grad school (while I was at Space Telescope), my office at Johns Hopkins had a bomb threat phoned in around finals time. We were advised a day or so in advance (the threat had a specific day mentioned), but I don't remember if we had an actual evacuation. It was just a hoax, too.

Runaway Bride--make her pay for search party?

No, no, no, no, no! I'm hearing in the news again (can't cable news channels find real news to talk about, or is it going to be all celebrity trials and sensational kidnappings, real or imagined?) about this so-called "Runaway Bride" case. The county apparently wants her to pay for the cost of the search party. Maybe $40,000 or something similarly high.

The thinking seems to be, hey--she lied about being kidnapped, so she's liable for the cost of searching for her. No. She lied about being kidnapped after she turned up. She didn't fake a kidnapping (from anything I've heard), she simply disappeared without telling anybody she was leaving.

Back in December, I was on a search party for a woman missing since the previous day. This lady had seizures, and her family was worried she might have had one while outside and could have frozen to death if she spent the night trapped out in the cold. There also might have been a small amount of money missing, but her medicine seemed to be all there. Kidnapped, perhaps? She wouldn't have left without her medicine.

So we were looking in barns, under outbuildings, in brush piles (crawled in to find some shelter?), and simply out in pastures. The volunteer fire departments, the sherrif's deputies, rescue squad, and the like were all out. We had ATVs running grid patterns through fields, and we even brought in a helicopter to search large spaces. The county's mobile search headquarters was driven in, and the sherrif's department organized the search from there.

Suspicion was starting to fall on some of the family--the husband seemed to react oddly to the deputies' questions, but it wasn't clear why.

After dad and I and another volunteer fireman had spent some hours searching our part of the grid, we got a call on the radio to come back. The lady herself had phoned in. She was fine, she said, and wanted us to stop searching. No explanation.

So we did. I must have said something to Dad about whether she'd get charged for anything. He said no, that after all, when you're an adult, you're not required to tell anybody where you are. You can disappear all you want to.

If this "runaway bride" lied to the police about being kidnapped, then charge her with making false statements. Fine. But she's not liable for the costs of the search party. She didn't fake her kidnapping, phoning in a ransom demand or anything. She simply disappeared, and people made the assumption she'd been kidnapped. It was a reasonable assumption, of course, but it didn't come from her deceit. That was later.

For once, a worthwhile offering from the Ad Council

I remember a Saturday Night Live fake commercial from back in the late '80s or so. This guy is walking through fields, past nuclear plants, woods, etc., narrating something aimless and ultimately pointless, although at every moment you think it's going to turn into an ad for "clean nuclear power" or wise investments or something. Finally it ends with an off-camera narrator solemnly intoning, "Brought to you by...the Ad Council. Wasting your time for no good reason."

That's been my general impression of the Ad Council ever since. Every time I see their logo on some "public service announcement," I notice it's usually something that makes my eyes roll. Well, public service announcements are inherently that way.

But in the last few days, I've been seeing/hearing this new ad on TV and radio that makes a break with these honored traditions. It has this young black girl quickly recounting a story of her organizing a protest against a chemical-spewing company that was polluting a river and making people sick. The protests work, the company is shut down...and now half the town is out of work, because that was the biggest employer there. And the river is still polluted, and now the kids are even sicker, because their out-of-work dads don't have health insurance any more. Law of unintended consequences.

You don't see where this is going, until it ends with a call for blood donation. Saving the world is tricky, it explains (see aforementioned story). But donating blood does good, without the worry of these unintended consequences. Brought to you by the Ad Council.

Interesting. In a way, a conservative/libertarian public service ad. Maybe the only one I've ever seen. Except for some pro-Bill-of-Rights ad a few years ago. (Well, the liberals believe in a few of those rights, too, I imagine.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

The War Between the States, revisited; the filibuster

Southern Appeal's Steve/"Feddie" linked to my WBtS posts below (thanks, man!). More good debate going over there on the comments, today. Happily, the insulting tone of a few of last week's commenters is gone. This seems to be more on the merits of the arguments.

Most of it now is on the merits of secession. Some are still saying Confederates and anybody who supported secession were "traitors." Only if you call our Founding Fathers "traitors" to the crown, folks. I sure don't. The United States seceded from Britain, after all. If you're going to insist they were traitors, then don't expect to insist it's an insult, or even a criticism.

Incidentally, somehow my brain just thought of a connection here to the judicial filibuster today. But now I don't see where that was going. Maybe something about "Unamerican!" getting tossed around more today.

Regardless. I have decided I'm reluctantly in favor of breaking the judicial filibusters by changing Senate rules. I can see amending the rules to prohibit filibusters for these nominations, but I would prefer simply bringing back the *real* filibuster--long-winded speeches by Robert Byrd and all! Where else can we get those great clips for the Laura Ingraham show?

Unfortunately, I heard Quinn In the Morning today (radio show syndicated out of Pittsburgh) arguing against *any* filibusters--legislative or for nominations. He's lost me at this point. He argued that the majority should simply get its way in the Senate. The minority should realize they've lost the election and simply play dead.

No, folks. I want my Senate to have minority protections in place, like the filibuster. Sure, make it a tougher job again. The wimpy kind they use now doesn't really cut it with me. But there should be *some* kind of filibuster available. I'd even favor going back to a 2/3 majority needed for cloture. (Currently 60%) Some argue that this is one of the "checks and balances" in our Federal government, and others (unfortunately many on my side) say they're misusing the terms. Well, yes, we usually talk about checks being between the three branches of government. If the Dems are trying to cofuse this with those, they're wrong. But a "check" in general means a block on someone else's power. And this is a check (a minor one, at that) on the power of the majority in the Senate. It's a perfectly appropriate term.

Removing this wouldn't turn us into a Parliamentary system, it's true (I'd hate to live in a place where the majority automatically gets everything!), but let's not be so hasty to steamroll the minority. Just stick with small changes for judicial nominations and be happy with that.

Turning Biblical Literary Criticism On Its Head

I think this post by Mark Shea is hilarious. (Link via The Corner)

He takes some of the (to my mind) looser techniques of literary criticism applied to the Bible and turns them loose on The Lord of the Rings. The result? He discovers that this "Tolkien" fellow ("if he ever existed") didn't write LOTR but merely assembled a bunch of pre-existing accounts, frequently altering the original sources to suit his needs, whether covering up the original meanings harmful to his interests or adding glosses to promote different interpretations.

I'm a bit ambivalent on the interpretation of the first books of the Bible being assembled from the J, P, and so on sources. In some places, it seems to make sense. In others, I think the analysts have simply taken different-colored pens and circled every incidence of "YHWH," calling it a "J" insertion and every incidence of "thou shalt not," calling it a P insertion. You know, sometimes a man can write about different things. Even in the same book! Really. I'm sure I've seen where James Michener has written about ice-age archaeology and modern culture in the same novel. Is he really an amalgam of two authors?

Again, in some places I can see this. But others it's taken too far.

Three Posts on the War Between the States (III)

Concluding my comments at Southern Appeal.

And another thing:

The CS wasn't an "evil regime." It allowed its states to legalize slavery, but so did the United States at the time. How can the CS be evil and the US not be, simultaneously? Some of y'all say it's because the CS existed entirely to protect slavery. As my explanation of Tennessee's vote above [Here at Hypotheses Non Fingo, it's the post below this one. --ed.] shows, that's simplistic. Yes, slavery was the immediate issue, but it rose up out of a deeper well of legal, political, and even cultural disagreements between the states. Absent those, slavery wouldn't have gotten to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Incidentally, not only were there states within the US that had legal slavery until after the war, but even states like New York and Connecticut had had legal slavery just a few years earlier. I have a pre-war geography book that gives the 1820 (maybe 1810?) US census data, including a breakdown of slave and free populations. It shows that many Northern states still had slavery. Was the North then a monstrously evil place? (N.B: I've got a modern source that claims N.J. was the last Northern state to emancipate, with a "gradual freedom" act in 1804. With the possibility of gradual emancipation, I'm not sure how long slavery remained legal, but that textbook of the time does record slaves in several Yankee states as late as 1810 or 1820.) [My dad has since informed me that either New York or New Jersey had slaves until 1827. Considering that the "gradual emancipation" laws often specified an adult age for the slave to be freed on, that sounds about right. That would mean slavery would completely end in these states about 20 or so years after passage of the act. --ed.]

Let's be clear--slavery wasn't considered such a moral problem much of anywhere until the 18th century. And it was really only in the 19th that anything started changing. Britain had not outlawed it domestically until the end of the 18th c., and not in their colonies until the 19th.

Southerners ourselves saw a moral issue in the slave *trade*, because of how badly the traders treated the slaves. It was a matter of your treatment of people, rather than their legal status, that was seen as the moral issue. Southern states started outlawing the importation of slaves on our own, years before the Federal Government was allowed to, in 1808.

Virginia outlawed importation in 1778 (hmmm...just as she was getting her independence!), Maryland in 1783, South Carolina in 1787 (although she reopened it from 1803-1808), North Carolina in 1794, and Georgia in 1798.

And who was it who carried out the importation? Aside from foreign shippers like the Dutch and British, it was New Englanders who shipped the slaves over.

And what of how blacks (slave or free) were actually *treated* by whites? A French writer of the 1830s (quoted in Hummel, "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men," 1996) said of America, "race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known."

By repeating this, I do not mean to treat the existence of slavery as no big deal [Nor to justify its existence, by the way! I wouldn't justify slavery as some way to have good race relations, for goodness' sake --ed.], but only to point out that as far as the moral issues of race relations, Yankees have a lot to answer for. [ well.] Their 19th century compatriots were not without great sins on these accounts, and I won't take these claims of Southern "evil" lying down.

Yankees of that day were often intolerant of blacks, as the contemporary accounts show. And they had themselves allowed slavery just a little previously. So I reject the sanctimonious, narrow-minded harping on the South, Confederate or otherwise.

We wanted to be left alone, and if we had, slavery would have died its natural death, the horrors of Reconstruction would have been avoided, and as a result, so would the subsequent misdirected Southern resentment at blacks. [Which I agree was a real problem. "Is," to the extent it still exists. Happily not nearly as much, anymore. May we see the end of such prejudice in our lifetimes. --ed.] It is this unfair resentment which gave the greatest push to the unjust "Jim Crow" laws and prejudicial attitudes towards blacks. If we'd been allowed to end slavery on our own terms, as the North did, I believe the better attitudes towards blacks noticed by the French writer would have been preserved, and we could have had a 20th century without the entrenched discrimination that caused so much trouble.

Hmmm...what if this had happened? Would we have had a 20th century with Southerners treating blacks fairly, while the North preserved its older discriminatory laws?

Three Posts on the War Between the States (II)

Continuing my comments at Southern Appeal.

One more thing--my family's experience during the War. My family had slaves and had freed them 17 years before Tennessee seceded. We paid the way for them to go back to Africa, to Liberia, which you know was established as a country for freed slaves.

During the war, my great-great grandmother (who was profiled on A&E's documentary "In the Shadow of Cold Mountain" in Dec. 2003!) wrote in her diary of her concern for how their ex-slaves were doing. A neighbor had done the same as we had, and had recently gone to Liberia to check up on things. She reported bad conditions there, of a lack of food, among other things. My grandmother then wrote of her worry over how their own were getting along. This, as she herself had to make do with the wartime privations she faced.

This branch of my family were anti-slavery. They were not simply against it, but they also put this into action, taking on the financial burden of freeing their own slaves, worth a good deal of money. And they were *solid* secessionists! Fought bravely for Tennesse and the CS. She died in 1913, never having forgiven the Yankees for what they did. Her words.

Another branch of my family, the one she married into, still had slaves at the onset of the war. And they were *against* secession. And yet, all of the men in that generation fought for Tennessee and the CS. Why? Because it was their home, and it was being invaded by a foreign country.

Tennessee voted twice on secession. The resolution failed the first time. After Lincoln demanded troops from each state to put down the "rebellion" (incorrect words, there!), Tennessee changed her mind. She wouldn't fight her fellow Southerners and would instead stand with them against this aggression.

Conclusion? Slavery didn't win the argument for Tennessee. Lincoln's aggression did.

Three Posts on the War Between the States (I)

My comments at Southern Appeal.

[This first paragraph responds to the insulting tone of several posters --ed.]
Southern culture is very tied to family and the land. Our state is like a large, extended family, and anyone's verbal attack on our state is like an attack on our family. That is why all of the Yankee and Scalawag criticisms above [on SA's comments section --ed.] come across as personal affronts to us. To me. A post that the writer thinks is calm and dispassionate, but which includes the word "evil" or "traitors" in describing Southern society, will only cause us to take it as a personal insult. You can't carry on a "debate" that way. Keep it in mind.

As for secession. It was and remains not only legal, but a right. Once our states seceded, there was no more "domestic" interest of the United States involved. It was now a matter of foreign relations. And Lincoln invaded the CS in order to conquer a sovereign country. That is the kind of action we rightly condemn, today.

It was unjustified. He made a pretext for war by provoking an attack on a fort [Fort Sumter, of course. --ed.] the US still held. The discussion above on this is incomplete. Keep in mind that South Carolina did not automatically assume it owned the fort. Rather, she sent delegates to Washington to negotiate a payment to the US for it. Lincoln refused even to meet these delegates. He rejected the possibility of any negotiation. The continued, and likely hostile, US military presence within an independent South Carolina was, of course, unacceptable. Lincoln had been warned not to send additional armaments to the fort, but he tried twice to get us to fire on a resupply ship. In sending new weapons in, he had to invade South Carolina (look at a map--the fort is inside the state). South Carolina had to defend its sovereignty. [I'll add here that South Carolina was herself supplying the enemy-held fort with food during this time. There wasn't any issue of letting US soldiers starve. There was only an issue of sending in additional weapons. That would have been--was--a hostile act. --ed.]

Slavery--I am glad slavery has ended in this country, and I'd like it to end elsewhere in the world. [Isn't it interesting how some of the earliest complaints I'd heard about the Sudan were from my fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans members? That was a few years ago, even, before it really made its way into the mainstream press. --ed.] But the post-hoc Yankee justification of "freeing the slaves" doesn't work. Slavery continued to be legal in some states remaining within the United States until after the war. Why didn't the US invade itself, then? The Emancipation Proclamation was nothing more than a cynical war tactic. Read its text. It freed practically no-one. It supposedly freed slaves in a foreign country, beyond the jurisdiction of US law. It specifically exempted those areas occupied by the US Army, which could in theory have enforced its will there.

Where was Jefferson Davis' mirror-"Emancipation Proclamation"? [A commenter had said that, sure, maybe Lincoln's Proclamation was a war tactic, but at least it was done at all, and where was Jefferson Davis' version? --ed.] Davis didn't issue one, of course, but there *were* such proposals before the CS Congress before the war's end. They never got the chance to be debated, before the US erased Confederate independence. These proposals would have been far different from the ephemeral "Emancipation Proclamation," though. They would have applied in the lands actually governed by the country issuing the law. They would have actually freed slaves.
[Incidentally, the Confederate proposals were legally and effectively much better than the Lincoln one. As President, Lincoln didn't have the legal authority to free slaves at all and didn't have the effective power to do so in the only regions listed in the Proclamation--areas outside US Army control. If this freed the slaves, then President Bush should outlaw slavery in the Sudan today--just issue a declaration declaring them free! Clearly, that won't work. --ed.]

Yes, most of the heated feeling in the South was over the specific issue of slavery, or rather the perception that Lincoln would act extra-Constitutionally to end it. But this issue inherently depended on the larger issue of states' rights. Popular sovereignty and the essence of democratic legitimacy require strong local government and keeping the states as the primary legislators, not the Federal government. This issue would not have come to its head, if the Yankee outlook had not been so hostile to states' rights.

[Continued above.]

Three Posts on the War Between the States

Stay tuned today. I'm going to post three sets of comments I submitted to Southern Appeal last week (scroll 'way down on the comments section). I was late to the party, but they had a heated debate going over some writer's anti-Southern diatribe. SA's Steve brought everybody's attention to it, but unfortunately many of the commenters jumped him, siding with this outrageous "Eric Flint" character. One of Flint's more blood-boiling remarks is, "The Confederacy was one of the vilest, most brutal, most disgusting regimes in the history of the world. It was a regime that Heinrich Himmler would have admired."

The sad thing is, some commenters (not only Yankees but some Scalawags, as well) kind-of agreed with him on a lot of things. So. Time for a full-throated defense, not of slavery, but of the Confederate States of America. Most of my next three posts are in response to particular statements by the commenters, so you might get an in media res kind of feeling from reading them out of context. I encourage you to take a look at SA for the whole thing.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Re: Tempore Paschali

Good point about relativity, Figulus. I was talking to C- last night, who reminded me of this same Einstein quote about "invariance." I'm reading up on the cultural effects of relativity right now, preparing to give my students a lecture on this after I introduce the subject next week. I wonder how the history of the 20th century might have been different if Einstein had called it the "Theory of Invariance." Maybe not much. But "moral relativism" and "cultural relativism" and such in the humanities and social sciences certainly have taken some inspiration from the physical "Theory of Relativity." In large part, these are misuses of relativity.

In most cases, maybe all, it's logically incorrect to take the rules of a theory of physics and start applying them to human society. Admittedly, this has been done by physicists, themselves. Pauli (I think it was him) was intrigued by the possibility of applying quantum mechanics, especially the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, to politics, and wrote papers on this.

There was the famous hoax in 1996 in which the physicist Alan Sokal duped the "Collective" (they don't have one of those oligarchic "editorial boards") of the humanities journal "Social Text." He published a paper on how quantum mechanics shows that there is no objective reality, not just in physics, but socially and otherwise. It featured lots of gobbledygook and a generous sprinkling of important-sounding physics terms, but it didn't make any logical sense. The Collective was completely fooled and published it. Sokal then published an expose in a rival journal, "Lingua Franca." Incidentally, "Social Text"'s first public reaction was that Sokal had gotten cold feet about the radical paper he'd published and was trying to take it back. In reality (there is a reality, after all), he did it to expose how these kinds of journals publish nonsense and make fundamental mistakes in trying to apply physical laws to social systems.

I'll have to dig up those articles. They'd make a good lecture, too. By the way, Figulus, did you attend the debate between Sokal and the head of Social Text's Collective, back in '96? I got there for the second half, and it was great.

I'll have to read this article you linked to...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tempore Paschali

Last Sunday was the final day of the Easter season, so I thought it might be appropriate to link to an article concerning the meaning of Easter by a physicist, Michael Davenport. Davenport rightly has a bone to pick with the Anglican bishop of New Westminster, Canada.

I especially like the term, "Heisenberg's Certainty Principle". It reminds of a quote I once heard attributed to Einstein regarding the spin that believers in Relativism tried to put on his theory of Relativity: "I should have called it the Theory of Invariance".

How would you describe your relationship with Tariq Aziz?

"Friendly." Thus sayeth Galloway.

OK, let's try this logic. He's been a reliable opponent of Hussein's horrible regime since "you" (not sure which Senator he was referring to, there) were a Vietnam-war activist. And he is "friend[s]" with Hussein's V.P. Right.

How I'd like to see Galloway end his testimony:

"And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!!"


Galloway, con't

Geez, for a reliable opponent of Hussein, as Galloway just claimed to be, he certainly spends a lot of emotion and energy defending the guy and his regime. Interesting.

Galloway's finished his opening statement, now. I'll have to say, he does a better reading of a written statement than the Senators do. He had good phrasing and intonation and didn't come across as reading it. You could tell when the Senators were reading their statements and when they were speaking extemporaneously.

Interestingly, Galloway's opening statement was one long harrangue, and you could practically see the guy spitting in anger as he spoke. Fifteen seconds later, Coleman started the questioning, and Galloway switched to a calm, declarative tone of voice.

UPDATE: OK, now he's back to the emotional responses. Coleman's doing a great job of ignoring the bile and just sticking to the facts and the specifics of his questions.

Galloway's up

Galloway is testifying now. See the previous post for the video link.

The grubby little bugger has just claimed he's more reliably anti-Hussein than the American or British governments. Now he's accusing our "puppet government" (his words) of forging the lists of Hussein's beneficiaries. Doesn't explain why Tariq Aziz (or was it Ramadan? One of Hussein's officials) specifically said Galloway was on the take.

So far as I've seen, all of Galloway's vaunted evidence of his innocence amounts to saying he's never met Ramadan, and claiming all of the variety of evidence against him is lies, lies! All lies! That, and calling all of his accusers names.

Would a reliable anti-Hussein activist, as Galloway claims to be, spout off such vile invective against the free and democratic government that has replaced the dictator?

Weaselly little twit.

UPDATE: Now he's on to the Daily Telegraph. Yes, he won a libel suit in Great Britain against the Telegraph. But it's relatively easy for a plaintiff to do so in that country, which does not have the same free speech protections we do, and which puts a higher burden on the defendant. That isn't much of a defense, in my mind.

UPDATE 2: Now he's on to those wiley "Neo-cons" and their treacherous websites.

Liveblogging the UNSCAM hearings

I'm watching Norm Coleman's Senate hearing on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal live over the web right now. The RealPlayer feed is available straight from the Senate at The British Parliament member, George Galloway, is supposed to be a witness at today's hearing, but I haven't seen him, yet. So far, it's just been the "opening monologues" from Coleman and his ranking minority member, Carl Levin. Levin, incidentally, blamed the whole mess on insufficient US oversight. I'm sure the US could have done more, but keep in mind that we were the country pushing the reform of the system at the time and for the investigation now.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Best actress name ever

Li-Li Li. She was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There's a name to remember!

Newsweek lied, people died, Part 2

So it seems I'm not the first one to come up with the "Newsweek lied, people died" line I posted below. Glenn Reynolds cleverly did a Technorati search and is showing 64 blog entries with this quote, as of this morning. So why am I not on the Technorati list? Maybe I've got to have Newsweek lied, people died in the body of the entry, rather than just in the title. Hmph. Hope this one shows up...

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Newsweek lied, people died

No, Newsweek might not have lied, so much as been lied to. By their "reputable" source. But it makes a better bumper sticker or angry-mob chant this way, doesn't it. I mean, the Left does this to Bush, who didn't lie, so isn't turnabout fair play? Nah.

This story had only barely made me aware of itself this week. Something about riots throughout Central Asia over a rumor that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were desecrating Korans. The usual eye-rolling stuff. Except that 15 people have died as a result of these riots in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. This rumor had really spread.

And where did this rumor come from? This is what I learned watching CNN and FNC today. Newsweek magazine last week published a report that started the whole thing off. They claimed that an American interrogator(s?) at Guantanamo had been intimidating prisoners through various means, including tearing up a Koran and flushing it down the toilet. So soon after this comes out, a Pakistani politician reads the article out loud to an angry mob and tells them this is what we infidel Americans are doing to Korans. Crowd whipped up. Frenzy. Etc. Riots spread to two other countries, and in their wake, fifteen people die. Oh, and a cabal of Taliban-sympathizing imams in Afghanistan have "given us" three days to hand over to them the interrogator supposedly responsible for this, or they'll call a jihad on us. (Right, guys, remember how well that last one worked out for you?)

Now. Newsweek is kinda sorta backing away from their claims. Turns out their "reputable" source might not actually have been so sure about the whole thing. The Pentagon has had some choice words to say about Newsweek, and it now comes out that no, it was a Moslem prisoner himself who tore up his Koran and flushed it--he was trying to stop up the toilet in another passive aggressive little trick.

Well. Do you, dear reader, think that the retraction Newsweek's printing this week is going to get nearly the airplay the original story did? And even if it did, do you think that your average rioting Uzbek is going to see the retraction and say, "Hey! We were wrong! Sorry about all that. I'll stop rioting now." No. They'll claim the Pentagon forced Newsweek to retract it, or some conspiracy like that. This is one of those stories you simply can't undo.

I wonder what the record is for the number of people killed in the aftermath of a false news report. You'd think that 15 would have to be up in the running, somewhere.

Kingdom of Heaven

I saw Kingdom of Heaven tonight. Hmmmmm... Conflicted. The battle scenes and the general plot were both a lot of fun to watch, but in places, this was one of those white-knuckle movies. Because of the cringing, I mean. I don't know what problem the writer has with religion (or maybe Christianity in particular?), but he seemed to lay it on a little thick.

I got such a lesson in history. You see, I didn't realize that the Moslems never attacked the Christian territories without a really good reason, while the Christians murdered Moslems (soldiers and civilians alike) because they just liked killing people. And Christian priests are uniformly of bad character. They'll either encourage the duke to flee the invading army and leave the civilians to their doom ("Yes, it's unfortunate, but...") or else taunt you about your dead wife's suicide. Oh, except for the priest who says he doesn't believe in "religion." He's OK.

The characterizations were a little cartoonish. Hint: every character who uses the phrase "the will of God" (it comes up a lot) is portrayed badly.

Well, like I said, there were some white-knuckle moments. If you can ignore the groan-inducing slams on Christianity, though (ummm...), it was an exciting movie. Great battle and siege scenes. A pretty good take on moral character.

One niggling detail on the siege scene, though. I've noticed that most of the mediaeval movies I've seen lately manage to work in exploding fireballs fired from catapults and trebuchets. You know, I really don't think those were used so much back then. Plus, a big, soft, flaming ball isn't the best projectile to take down a stone wall. Still, they really look cool in night scenes.

The Simpsons on Grad Students

Great quote from tonight's Simpsons. The family goes to an Albanian art film, and, predictably, everybody but Lisa is bored. As they walk out of the theater, Bart waves a man's ponytail he cut off of the guy in front of him. He sticks it on the back of his head ands smirks, "Look at me, I'm a grad student! I made $600 last year!"

Marge scolds him and says, "Don't be mean. Grad students are nice people. They just made a bad life choice."

I like to think of it as "delayed gratification."

Friday, May 13, 2005

Evangelical Judaism

You occasionally hear it said, in conversations on the differences between modern Judaism and Christianity (there's a reason I qualify these with "modern"), that Judaism is an inherently un-evangelical religion. I mean evangelical in the sense I grew up knowing it--basically, missionary work. Spreading the religion. It is sometimes explained that because Judaism depends on being Jewish, then it doesn't make sense to spread the religion.

I'd long objected to that as a distinction. For one thing, many Jewish denominations do take converts (even the Orthodox, I understand, though with some requirements or caveats in there).

Furthermore, Judaism certainly used to have missionaries--the prophets! Some of these (not all) weren't sent to the Jews themselves but to other nations. Job is the one example who comes to mind immediately. He was sent to...Nineveh? (OK, forgetting my Bible. Have to look this up.) Now, it may have been that he was to tell that nation to adopt the so-called Noahite laws. These are seven(?) laws in the Bible that were given to Noah after the Flood, I think, and are generally regarded as applying to all Gentiles, as well.

Well, with that in mind, Dennis Prager has a great column asking what the Mission of Judaism is. (Unfortunately, it's not up yet on the indispensable Jewish World Review website, yet, or I'd link to it there. But JWR does have his previous column on a related topic, moral absolutes and Judeo-Christian values.)

I won't go into detail on his answer, except to say that he thinks Judaism's Mission is to bring the world "ethical monotheism." Not a bad answer, I'd say. Worthy of discussion.

On the injustice of Yalta

Growing up in my family, it was almost an article of faith that the Yalta agreement was a bad one. We gave up too much to Stalin, essentially drawing the line for the Iron Curtain that came soon after. Not surprisingly, this is the general wisdom among conservatives, but I had assumed that liberals more or less agreed. So I am shocked by the reaction on the left to President Bush's condemnation of Yalta last week, while he was there in the Baltics. The liberals are actually criticizing Bush over this?! Why?! Do they actually think Yalta was a good thing? The best defense they can come up with is "But our hands were tied!" That's a good point to debate, but it's not the same as saying this was a good thing. If you're forced into a bad decision, you can still admit it was a bad decision to "have" to make.


Anyway, Jonah Goldberg has a good column on this. Yes, I know, I've been on a Goldberg kick today. But he's about my favorite conservative columnist, and he's on a roll this week.

My Rumanian girlfriend told me about Yalta from the perspective "behind the curtain." Rumania had a German king and had joined the war on the German side, I believe to recover some territories lost after WWI. Late in the war, like Italy, they had turned on Germany and joined the Russian side. Her grandfather was a Rumanian soldier and was told at that point that "The Russians are our allies!" OK, then. And then the Russian allies were let into the country, and he and his fellow soldiers were shipped off to Siberia, anyway.

The news of the Yalta agreement spread quickly among the Rumanian population, and there was utter disbelief. They couldn't believe that the Americans would let the Russians take their country. They had been sure we would protect them.

Can you imagine the sinking feeling you'd get in that situation? Thank-you, Mr. Bush, for saying this out loud.

What is a "Conservative"?

I remember looking up a document on the web called the "Conservative FAQ" (or something like that) some years ago. It was then the best discussion of what conservatism is that I'd seen. Jonah Goldberg Wednesday took another stab at the topic.

I've never been one to worry too much about detailed subclassifications of conservatives, feeling that this is more a feature of the radical left. I've seen a communist friend browsing a website of the Fourth (5th?) International, which was excoriating the Trotskyites and Zinovievites and so forth, hating their not-quite-pure-enough comrades even more than they hate us conservatives... The lefties incessantly squabble over minor distinctions, and this is what led to some of the various purges in Communist countries over the years.

Goldberg's column is not one of these. He does get into some of the taxonomical systems on the Right, but only lightly, and he makes the point that these groups are all, after all, on the Right. (I love his phrase, "The Great Hall of the Right": "I imagine a crowd of generals and aides-de-camp in different uniforms crowded around a giant map of liberalism barking at each other over strategy." Can I be an Adjutant General? Please? That would be soooo cool.)

But the thrust of his article is a discussion of "what is a conservative?" The question doesn't have a simple answer, and Goldberg doesn't try to give one. But he does give a lot of the big points to cover.

...part of the problem is that a conservative in America is a liberal in the classical sense — because the institutions conservatives seek to preserve are liberal institutions.

One of these points is the idea that conservatives are comfortable with the fact we have to live with some choices and contradictions. We can't get to a utopia in which no decisions in life or public policy will ever involve difficult choices. There are always trade-offs, and we recognize these. Heck, it's the whole foundation of the study of economics! (Hey, I just thought of that! But maybe this point is obvious to every kid in Econ 101...)

Anyway, read the whole thing. Discuss amongst yourselves.

"Your Darwin Fish are safe, my friends."

Jonah Goldberg nails Law & Order's latest distortion of a political issue. Considering that Law & Order has taken on a lot more political topics lately, he makes the excellent point that, "most of our political contests do not involve murders."

Another good line:
I half expected Pat Robertson to burst through McCoy’s office spraying holy water screaming, “Exorcist”-style, “The power of Christ compels you!”

Monday, May 09, 2005

The NY Times on blog ethics

Tim Worstall has some good commentary on the NY Times' admonition on blog "ethics" today. Geesh. Being lectured on journalistic ethics by the Times is like being scolded by congressmen on fundraising ethics. No. Wait. That's been happening, too.

I've long thought the whole obsession with "ethics" was a dodge for avoiding morality. Well, that's probably not exactly it. But Cohen gets onto this thing about "Reporters should avoid conflicts of interest, even significant appearances of conflicts..." That avoiding the "appearance of" seems to be high up on the list of "ethics" rules that don't interest me much. If there's not a *real* problem, I'm not worried too much by the false appearance of one, as long as I know what's beneath the surface.

Bloggers, as Worstall points out, tend to be "partisans" of one kind or another. Not to a particular party, I'd say, but to one side of an argument or another. I'm a conservative. I make conservative comments and will generally criticize from a conservative point of view (including criticizing "Republicans"--see post below). And I expect this out of other bloggers. In fact, I read bloggers primarily because I like their point of view and look forward to seeing them hit the other side. So what if a professor-blogger comments on issues relating to professors? (Like me!) Or a legislator blogs about legislative goings-on? Isn't that why I read them to begin with? The fact that they know what they're talking about and describe these from their point of view? It's not a "conflict of interest," it's their background. We readers know them, and we can read or not read them, as we choose. There are millions of others out there to choose from, if we change our minds.

Against "Real ID"

I fear it may be too late now to do anything about it, but I here put forth my last call for people to stand against the so-called "Real ID" act the Senate is about to take up. The House sneaked the grubby little bill through, hidden in an Iraq war appropriations bill. This is why I hate Congress' trick of putting unrelated items into the same bill. Let the Congressmen take a stand for or against the issue on its own merits!

Maybe there's a chance of the Senate making some changes and therefore having to iron out differences in Committee, but I doubt it. Anyway, here are my reasons for opposing this:

1) It's unConstitutional! Do there need to be any more reasons?!!?

2) Let me expand on that in some detail. It seeks to intrude on the states' rights to determine who can drive a car within their territories. The United States government has zero authority to say anything about this, one way or the other. Check the Constitution. It's not in there. Surprise, surprise. So this directly violates Article I, Section 8 (which lists the powers of Congress) and Amendment 10 (which explicitly reserves all unenumerated powers to the States).

3) I might as well pile a few other objections onto this, beyond mere Constitutional law. (That was sarcastic understatement.) For one, I don't want my driver's license being standardized with any other state's. I don't want the Federal or other non-Tennessee authorities to have instant access to whatever non-driving data Congress wants to make my license the access point to. I haven't read specifically what this part is about, but I'm suspicious of it. There's room for all kinds of meddling, there. I won't even invoke some nebulous "privacy concerns," here, because that gets over- and mis-used as an objection. But a nationally-standardized driver's license would become a de facto national ID. And I'm not about to let that happen without a fight.

4) Four kinds of ID to renew your license?!?! What the heck?! I don't have four kinds of ID! Let's count: (1) driver's license. --wait--can you use a driver's license as an ID to establish that you can get a driver's license? Scratch that. (1) Social security card. "Not to be used for identification" my foot. %*(! politicians. (2) voter's identification card. When was the last time I pulled that thing out of the closet? We do things differently at the polling booth at home, and I don't think I've had to show that particular card in a long time. (3) Mail sent to me? A bill? (4) ?!?! I can't think of anything else I could reasonably use for establishing who I am. Faculty ID? My Blockbuster card? Did the congresscritters actually think this through when they wrote & voted on it? If I can't come up with a good list, how is some poor shut-in grandmotherly type going to?

I heard some reprobate, whom I might otherwise agree with on politics, on the radio (or maybe on a political commentary website) lamenting that the "compromise" Real ID bill would allow states to issue non-identification driver's licenses to people who couldn't establish the 4 kinds of ID. These licenses would be...licenses to drive a car! Wow! Who would have thought of the concept? And the guy was mad that the Feds would allow states to get away with this in the compromise bill. In other words, this guy wants to Federally mandate who is allowed to drive. No excuse about using an ID to board a plane or any of that. He wants to centralize in Washington the control over driving itself.

Does this guy have any concept of that document sitting over on (ahem) Constitution Ave., NW, on display in the National Archives. Something to do with restricting the power of the Federal Government... I think it's been in force for something like 2 1/4 centuries or so... Starts with a "C-"... Anything? Anything?

I'm totally disgusted with these erstwhile "conservatives," who want to Federalize any state authority they can in their quest to plug a minor hole in the immigration dike. Why not have the Federal government actually patrol the border and leave driving to the states? That sounds more like the division of powers described by that "C-" word thingy. These people aren't conservatives in the sense that I know the word. "Republicans," maybe (all the more reason these two terms are not synonymous), but it's the statist impulse that leads to this action. Traditional Southern conservatives certainly ought to fight this. Let's see if there's still some fight left in us. And if this sneaks through the Senate and is signed by the President, at least one state ought to sue on 10th Amendment grounds. Even if it's done by a bunch of pro-illegal immigrant activists (I disagree with their reasons for opposing this, obviously), I'll be hoping they win.