Friday, March 12, 2010
Monday, June 26, 2006
First, the contents. The odds that a man will be homosexual depends on how many older brothers were born to his mother. Each older brother increases the odds by approximately 1/3. This is believed to be due to an allergic reaction by the mother to antigens produced by the embryos' H-Y genes. The response of her immune system suppresses these proteins, which are responsible for the masculinization of the male embryo's brain. Each exposure to these protein, which are only produced by males, increases her immune system response, causing the brain of each successive male child to be less masculine than the one before it.
This raises a number of interesting questions. First, how long does a male fetus have to live in the womb before it affects the mother's immune system? This is important, because of the number of abortions which occur in this country. About 1/4 of all pregnancies are now aborted. If a significant percentage of these would have been eldest sons, and if these aborted sons were still able to significantly impact their mother's immune system, then aborting these embryos might, over time, significant reduce the number of the most masculine brains in the general population. This might cause society as a whole to skew toward the feminine.
Second, does this mean that male homosexuality might be preventable? If that one aspect of the mother's immune system response could be suppressed, wouldn't that leave all male brains equally masculinized? It would be interesting to put this question to those people who want to "cure" various other genetic "diseases" and short-comings by even more draconian measures - that is, by testing embryos and aborting those which fail to met a certain fitness standard. Most hearing people, for example, dismiss out of hand the concerns of some in the deaf community, who fear testing for genetic deafness. Will those same people dismiss the concerns of the homosexual community if it becomes possible for pregnant mothers to pop a pill that reduced the likelihood that their male offspring are homosexual?
Finally, though, the most interesting aspect of all. This article was published on Yahoo! today as news. But the explanation that I gave above was paraphrased from "Genome", a book by Matt Ridley copyright 1999. Why has it taken from then until now - at least 7 years - for this information to become more widely disseminated? I leave that question for the reader.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Foriegn Censorship - Where is the Outrage?
Google's capitulation is well documented. Compare a search for "tiananmen" on American Google to the same search on Chinese Google, and see for yourself. Tanks? What tanks? All I see are pretty buildings, and people having fun!
Google's willingness to censor the Internet for the sake of its Chinese business interests plays right into the hands of a repressive regime which is systematically erasing things like Tiananmen Square from the memory of its people. As the linked page says, "Producer Antony Thomas showed the iconic 'Tank Man' photo to a group of undergraduates at Beijing University - in 1989 the university had been the nerve center of the student movement that inspired the nationwide uprising. None of the students knew what the photo was." Not even the power of the Internet is likely to undercut that dubious achievement... thanks to Google.
Meanwhile, Ebay-owned VoIP provider Skype announces that its Chinese partner, Tom Online, has implemented a text filter to "weed out" correspondence based on content... and Skype has no problem with that. According to Skype's Niklas Zennstrom, "[T]hose things are in no way jeopardising the privacy or the security of any of the users." Riiiight... They just exist to make communication more fun and challenging, like an interactive puzzle.
And, just today, Yahoo is reported to have handed over - not just account records, and not even just emails - but the contents of a draft email account folder. That's right - they have help to imprison a dissident not for what they actually did or said to someone else, but for what they privately recorded, and did not send to any other person!
You may think these abuses of power has no effect on you. But consider the West's Chinese trade imbalance, and resulting desperation to sell into that market. If you should someday rise to a position of prominence, and if you or your employer should then wish to do business with China, what is to prevent them from asking Yahoo! to help them vet you? And if you fail to meet their approval, and it comes down to a choice between you and someone more acceptable, who do you think is going to win? We've already seen how much industry values the Chinese market!
This willing to discard principle maps perfectly onto the other censorship scandal - the Western media's spineless response to the most extreme elements of Islamic fundamentalism. Sure, Mohammad's image is sacred to Islamists. But Mary's image is sacred to a lot of Catholics. That didn't stop a painter from smearing that image with elephant dung, or museums from displaying that image, or news magazines from reproducing that image. The American flag is sacred to some patriots. But that doesn't stop people from burning it; news media from televising that burning; or many commentators from defending and even endorsing that both the burning and the reporting. The "Cartoon Wars" episodes of South Park made that point abundantly clear: Comedy Central had no problem showing Americans of all kinds, including President Bush defectating on and be defectated upon an image of Jesus. But they censored a drawing of Mohammad simply standing in a doorway and handing someone a "salmon helmet" (you'd have to watch the episode to understand).
Sensitivity is fine... but why is some peoples' sensitivity more respected than others? Well, not everybody riots in the streets, stabs offending people in the chest, or cut of offending peoples' heads. Some just turn the other cheek; other's even actively defend the offender!
Again, you may think this doesn't matter to you. But how long before you cannot even say "Mohammad" without chanting "peace be unto him", or whatever the phrase is. More importantly, how long until some other agrieved group - illegal immigrants, or zealots of another faith - learn the lessons that we are currently teaching them: that our principles are for sale. Give us enough yuan, or threaten us dramatically enough, and we are willing to put up with anything.
So we're back to the original question: where is the outrage? I've used yahoo as my primary email address for years, but I'm more than willing to give it up over this. Just show me the look-alike that will promise not to bend over for China. I love Google's technology, but I'd gladly switch to any up-and-comer who shows promise and who promises to be less evil than Google. Why isn't someone making this buying decision easier for me? Am I the only one in this market? Who's with me?
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
But now it seems that "the corner" has been turned in public opinion, and the hysteria over the UAE port deal is being seen as just that - hysteria.
That's all - I just wanted to gloat.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Where Are The Defenders Of Dick Cheney's Privacy?
"Asked why an announcement of the event was delayed for three days, Hafen said, 'The reason was the tests and the evaluations that they were doing. We wanted to make sure we knew what we were announcing. You need conclusive information.'"
In January of 1996, then First Lady Hillary R. Clinton turned over the billing records of the Rose law firm - records "which had been the specific subject of various investigative subpoenas for two years".
The Senate Whitewater Committee concluded that Hillary Clinton was the person most likely to have put the billing records in her book room, or know how they got there.
Today, the 15th of February, 2005, both Clinton and Reid have the gall to make statements criticizing Vice-President Dick Cheney, and through him the entire administration, for not reporting a hunting accident for 24 hours.
Unlike Reid's stroke, Cheney's accident did not endanger his ability to fill the post to which he was elected. Unlike Clinton's records, information about Cheney's accident was not sought by any prosecutor; delaying or even withholding that information from the press was not a crime.
One can only marvel at the madness that infects some people at the mere mention of Dick Cheney's name.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
He links to an article full of detail, but it, he, and everyone else seems to be missing the big picture. I can say this with certainty, because we are on the same path. A few people oppose that path, but all that I have heard do so for relatively petty reasons.
That path, of course, is unassimilated immigration. Both the US and Europe have them, of course - lots of them. The only difference between us - a slim one - is that, here, the unassimilated are largely illegal. This reduces (but, sadly, does not elimate) their access to entitlements, and dampens their willingness to protest. But even with that difference, even if we maintain that difference - an unlikely provision, by the way - we are still sitting on a time bomb.
Some have (of course!) talked about the unassimilated immigrants in this country... but completely misunderstand the problem. People assimilate because 1) they want to, and 2) they succeed within the dominant culture. These essential conditions are under constant attack in this country.
Even President Bush talks about letting people into this country because they want to feed their families. I'm all for people feeding their families, but those we allow in cannot simply want to be in America; they must want to become American.
Similarly, it is not enough to allow people in to work margin jobs and live marginal lives. Even though a few might be content with that, others will not; still others will fail even at that. Discontent and failure are not conducive to assimilation, even among those who most want to assimilate.
Despite that, there is constant talk about establishing a "guest worker" program for those willing to do the jobs "Americans are unwilling to do." In other words, establish another permanent underclass, unassimilated and inevitably discontent. What happens when something trips their trigger? How do you rein in those who are not invested in the system they're fighting, and so feel they have nothing to lose?
The solution is obvious, though no one in power seems willing to say it: end illegal immigration, and limit legal immigration to those with both the desire and ability to become successful Americans.
If that sounds cold to you, express your finer feelings by helping other countries become worthwhile places to live. The alternative (or rather, the mainstream approach) addresses only the shortest of the short term problems (higher wages for poor foreigners) will creating unsolvable long-term problems (large groups of disaffected residents).
End the madness!
Thursday, February 09, 2006
I read with interest your essay on National Review's web site. What you wrote seems to be to be correct. However, I believe that you miss the point.
The problem with oil isn't oil; the problem is with the oil's suppliers. It is unacceptable to be dependent on suppliers who are politically, culturally, or otherwise incompatible with our Constitution and way of life.
Your point that oil is fungible is true... but it need not be so. Raising tariffs on imported oil and refined products would make domestic oil production more profitable within this country. Establishing tariffs for exported oil and refined products would keep domestic oil within the country.
It is true that this would impact our economy - an outcome that, in your essay, you seem to find wholly unacceptable. For me, however, greater national security is one of the few benefits which would justify such an impact. Nor should the current and foreseeable costs of our entanglement with the Middle East be ignored in this equation.
You may argue that, regardless of tariffs, regardless of greater domestic oil production, we would still be dependent on imported oil. That is true in the short term, but need not be for long. If I were creating policy, I would do the following as quickly as possible:
The breeder-reactor program that I suggest would model itself on the recent proposal by Russia to Iran. The Federal Government would offer to supply fuel and reprocess waste for states and power companies who build and operate compliant nuclear power plants. To jump-start the project, perhaps the first twenty plants built would be provided these services for free for, say, 10 years. Thereafter, all clients would merely pay an appropriate fraction of the total cost of the program.
Some would argue against such a program based on safety concerns. However, such arguments are easily refuted. Nuclear plants operate, and nuclear fuel and waste are transported all around the world. What others can do, America can do. And, again, there are safety risks associated with our dependency on oil. These risks must also help to balance the equation.
As for other potential sources of energy: if they become viable, fine. But a plan of action must have as few unknowns as possible. If nuclear power can meet the need, it must be the starting point. This strategy can be expanded when and if alternatives prove themselves capable of large scale deployment.
I hope you found these comments worthwhile. Thank you for your time.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
That's when it occurred to me: what I really needed was a wiki.
Most people are familiar with the wiki from Wikipedia. But in a way, that's too bad. That's because most Wikipedia users only use it to look things up. That's only using half (or less) of a wiki's power.
To the reader, a wiki looks like a common, everyday website - a bunch of pages all linked together. But a wiki is more than that. A wiki is a way to create that website, and to keep on growing and changing that website as new ideas and information become available.
Let me explain. To create your typical website, you generate a bunch of individual web pages. Then, one you know the names of the pages, you go back and add links to each page into the rest of the pages. If a new idea occurs to you, you make a new page, post it, and go back and edit the old pages again. It may not sound too bad, but it's an awkward, unnatural process.
In contrast, creating a wiki is easy. Start with your main page. As you create it, simply format key words and phrases using a special, but simple format. Then, when you post that page, those words and phrases automatically become links. Better yet, pages for those links are also automatically created. To 'drill down' and add information, simply click the created link, and there you are, on the empty new page.
This is a much easier and more natural way to generate a site. You don't have to sit down first and plan every step, and you don't have to go back and re-edit every page to add links later.
For example, in the case of my novel: I had scenes, notes, suggestions, character descriptions, commentary, outlines, and even isolated fragments of dialog. To turn those into a website, I'd have had to separate and organize them all, then plan how they'd fit together; then write the pages; then load all my fragments into place.
In contrast, when making my wiki, I simply went through them one at a time and decided what that fragment meant to me. If it was a dialog fragment, I put the word "Dialog" on my main page and submitted it. Then I clicked the dialog link and opened up the new page of dialog fragments. I could just paste that fragment onto the page; or, if I wanted to keep them all separate, think of a descriptive name for the fragment (like: "boy to boss about workload"), type that into the page using the "special format", and submit the result to create a linked new page to store the fragment.
Really, it was amazing. For each scrap I had, all I need to do was type a couple of words and click the mouse two or three times. The result was a hierarchical document that captured all my pieces in such a way that I could find and retrieve the information with ease.
When I set out to select a "wiki farm", I was lucky enough to come across pbwiwi. They let you create a wiki (or two, or ten, or...) for FREE. You can pay them some money and get some additional features... but I choose to pay them even though I didn't need those features - I just wanted to thank them and support their efforts. They're just that good.
The "pb" in pbwiwi stands for "peanut butter", because they aim to make creating a wiki as easy as creating a peanut butter sandwich. I think they've come pretty close. If you have any data that needs to be organized, any project that would benefit from a collaborative workspace, or any other idea that would benefit from a wiki, take a look at pbwiwi. Not only do they provide a great service at an excellent price (FREE!), but they're even going to double the already excessive amount of space they provide my wiki just because I wrote this entry. Pretty sweet, eh?
Friday, January 06, 2006
Apparently, this guy doesn't do pork! From the article:
And Boehner certainly could. As a senior Republican and committee chairman, his refusal to get pork has probably cost the district at least $100 million in lost funding over his 14 years.Even better:
Boehner said he wants to leave highway funding decisions to professionals at the Ohio Department of Transportation. Boehner turned down $14 million in the current bill, which is stalled in Congress.This isn't a fluke, this isn't a mistake, this isn't some sleight-of-hand by a guy who tells his constituants one thing while doing another:
"I told people in 1990 that if they thought that my job was to come to Washington and rob the federal treasury on their behalf, they were sending the wrong guy here," Boehner, 55, said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. "I said it, I said I said it. I've said it ever since. It's just not why I'm here."I don't know the guy. I've never heard him speak. He could be the biggest jerk on the planet. But for God's sake, people, let's get him promoted! If you're tired of waste, corruption, and the corrosive effect of federal manipulation of your tax dollars, let's make this man President.
Why you ask? What's wrong with Pork? Well, let me answer you with a questions: where in the Constitution does it give the Federal Government authority over local issues? I can tell you where it doesn't: in the Tenth Amendment:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.To get around that, Congress interferes in local affairs inside the states by
- collecting too much in taxes, starving local government
- Offer the money (and more! thanks to borrowing) back to local government through block grants... with strings
So support your Constitution! Help elect Boehner for President! Or find a "Boehner" of your own, and send him or her to Congress. It's your duty as an partiotic American!
"I've got good news and bad news."
"What's the good news?"
"A limo full of lawyers crashed through a guard rail and into the sea. There were no survivors."
"My Lord! What's the bad news?"
"There was an empty seat."
That tasteless bit of humor popped into my head tonight when I considered the news coverage of tragic death of the coal miners in West Virginia. So much has been made about the safety violations, the late-night mis-reporting, and the speed of the rescue attempt that I wonder if perhaps something important has been lost.
The miners themselves knew that they were dying. Reportedly, a handful had the wherewithal and presence of mind to jot a note to leave behind.
"Tell all I'll see them on the other side," read the note found with the body of 51-year-old mine foreman Martin Toler Jr. "It wasn't bad. I just went to sleep. I love you Jr."
It struck me when I read that, in his finest hour, my father might have written that. He grew up poor in the hills of Tennessee, with little more than his family and his faith. Faced with his end, he might have sought to comfort that family, hiding whatever fear or pain he felt, while reminding them of the comfort of his religion.
As for the lawyer joke... well, don't get me wrong. Safety violations and all the rest have to be looked at; blame must be assigned, compensation fought over, and oversights corrected. Lawyers will be involved in both sides, doing their best for their clients. They are necessary... well, "evils", I guess, though "tools" would be more accurate.
But I do have to wonder: if a limo full of lawyers did go through a guard rail, and all the air leaked out except a small pocket, and then the air in that pocket started going bad... what kind of notes do you think those lawyers would write? For that matter, what sort of note would you write, if you knew it was your last?
Lessons will be learned from this tragedy... but I hope that the most important lesson, the one taught by Marin Toler Jr., will not be forgotten.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
So Washington was a gentleman, and so was Howe. How very civilized of them!
You know, I've almost come to hate the stories of those early "battles" that they teach in school. They make it seem as though all we were fighting were some unwelcome house guests; as though all that winning required was some posturing and a bit of endurance.
I'm sure you know that the war wasn't won in 1776 - it lasted five long years - nor was the fighting always so genteel. But you may not know that the decisive battle wasn't won by Washington's cautious, gentlemanly, and largely ineffectual retreats, and it wasn't won by Congress's underfunded, half-hearted, self-aggrandizing army of New Englanders. It was won by "Backwater Men" defending their freedoms in a brutal response to a brutal occupation at the battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
It happened in 1780. The Revolutionary War was still undecided. The Americans had never won a decisive battle, but the English were a bit tired of the whole conflict. The English decided to try one last push. Their plan was to take Charleston, build strength from the loyalist coastal cities in the south, then roll North, forcing Washington into a decisive battle which the British forces were sure to win.
Not everyone in the South was a loyalist, of course, so the British tried to force everyone to take an oath of loyalty. Failure to do so, or violations of that oath after it was taken, were harshly punished. Houses were burned, men killed, women and children hung. It was appallingly brutal.
At that time, the borders of South Carolina extended over the mountains to include part of present-day Tennessee. King George had forbidden settlement beyond the mountains, but a few had done so anyway. In a sense, those "Backwater Men" and their families were uninvolved in the politics on the other side. Though they were outraged by the atrocities that were occurring - many had family and friends down who were affected - they themselves had their hands full with Indian attacks (encouraged by the British) and the sheer effort of survival on the frontier. They engaged in a few minor skirmishes, and they harbored a few American militiamen who had escaped the defeats in the Carolinas and Georgia, but otherwise were not engaged.
In late September 1780, the English Col. who had been assigned to the area nearest the mountains, Patrick Ferguson, sent a message over the mountain to Isaac Shelby, whom he considered to be the leader of the "backwater men". In it he said that they did not stop opposing the British, Ferguson would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders and "lay the country waste with fire and sword."
Their response was immediate. To make a fascinating story very short, these "backwater men" organized themselves, marched over the mountains, and hunted down Ferguson and his men. They bypassed other targets to make a bee-line for him. Ferguson got wind, and retreated. He could, perhaps, have escaped back to the main force in Charleston, but instead, on Oct 6th, chose to turn and fight at Kings Mountain.
Ferguson has the high ground, trained soldiers, bayonets and the training to use them, good provisions, a slight advantage in numbers, and time to prepare. The backwater men had their long rifles, experience fighting Indians, and the fire in their bellies.
You can read about the battle yourself. But it was a complete rout, a massacre almost incomprehensible to the British. In just over one hour, the "Backwater men" took that hill, killing Ferguson and more then 300 of his Loyalist troops, and capturing all the rest.
The point in telling this story is not the battle, though. It was a turning point in the war, dispiriting the enemy both here and in England, but that's not the point either.
The point is the incredible resolve and will of those backwater men. Remember, this all started in September. Any farmer knows how valuable the days are at that time of year, to prepare for the coming winter. And remember, they, their farms, and their families where under constant threat of attack by hostile Indians. But they rose up, crossed the snow-covered mountains, and marched through rain-filled swamplands.
They had scant provisions, but came anyway, eating mostly game and corn collected along the way. Some were militia, but most had no formal military training or uniforms, were under no orders, and were never promised any pay. That is not why they rose and fought. They were threatened by Ferguson, but that is not why either. After all, they could as easily have stayed put, played safe, and avoided the effort, the risk, and the consequences.
But they saw that doing so would not help them avoid the long-term threat. If they could be threatened when they had done so little against the British, how long before they came and drove them from the homes they'd made for themselves? Most were Protestants - Scots, Irish, Huguenots - outcasts unwelcomed by the established colonies like Massachusetts and Virginia. How long until the Church of England was imposed on them as it was on the coast, and even their marriages considered invalid and their children bastards?
That is why they rose and fought. It was their duty - to themselves, their honor, their religion, their family, and their freedom - in short, duty to the principles which (used to) lay at the heart of this country. They were true American soldiers before there was an America... and there are still plenty just like them today.
That, in my opinion, is the story about the Revolutionary war that ought to be told in big-budget books and schools.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
In the 1920's, two Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were arrested, convicted, and executed for killing two men while during a robbery in
I was tipped to this article in the LA Times by a Peter Robinson post on the National Review blog, "The Corner". For some reason, though, Robinson doesn't quote some of the most interesting parts of the article.
"I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point," [Sinclair] wrote to his attorney. "I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case."However:
"My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement and may not live to finish the book," Sinclair wrote Robert Minor, a confidant at the Socialist Daily Worker in New York, in 1927.The "movement" to which he refers is, of course, the Socialist / Communist movement. What a great movement, huh? It kills you for telling the truth, if the truth is inconvenient.
Fear wasn't the only motive for Sinclair's sin of omission, however; there was also fame and fortune.
He also worried that revealing what he had been told would cost him readers. "It is much better copy as a naïve defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public," he wrote to Minor.To see why this matters, take note of the dates. Sinclair knew the truth all the way back in 1927 - two years before the Great Depression. He could have told the truth. Instead:
On Aug. 23, 1927, the day they were executed, 25,000 protested in Boston.In the days that followed, especially after the Depression hit, Communism / Socialism soared in this country. Thanks to the declassification of Project Verona and the (brief) opening of the KGB archives, we now know that many of the people denounced as Communist spies in the 50's, all similarly defended by the American Left (AKA, "the useful idiots") were in fact guilty. And, however bad you may think it has been, you only need look at this report from the Social Security Advisory Board to see what a monumental error Social Security, the last piece of FDR's Socialist programs, will soon become.
The men have been viewed as martyrs by the American left ever since. Historians agree that prosecutors in the case were biased and shoddy, and that the two men failed to receive a fair trial.
How much of that is due to Upton Sinclair? Who can say... but he certainly didn't prevent it. Perhaps if Sinclair had told the truth back in 1927, Socialism / Communism might to have gained such a foothold. Perhaps the fiscal irresponsibility of our federal government, the usurpation of our states' rights, and the dangers of a nuclear Soviet Union could all have been avoided.
But Sinclair chose silence, and the pursuit of influence and power.
In 1926, he ran as a Socialist for California governor, getting 60,000 votes. He took another stab in 1934, during the Great Depression, this time winning the Democratic primary with a platform of ending poverty. He got nearly 900,000 votes.How nice for him.
In the LA Times article, Jean O. Pasco writes:
On the 50th anniversary of their execution, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis all but pardoned the pair [of anarchist killers], urging that "any disgrace should be forever removed from their names." But the fearless [sic] Sinclair was left a conflicted man by what Sacco and Vanzetti's lawyer — and later others in the anarchist movement — told him.Will the left now try to remove the disgrace from Sinclair's name?
Update: Another reaction from Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online.
Friday, December 30, 2005
The benefits of marriage are many: my tax rates would be lower; my SS benefits would be higher; and whenever my boss wanted me to stay late or travel, I could easily decline, honestly able to say that my spouse wants me home.
I haven't done it yet, though, in part because of inertia - why buy the cow when the milk is free? - and in part because of a certain modesty. I didn't want my very special relationship to become a public spectacle. However, now that a woman has married a dolphin, the latter objection seems rather moot.
I may still have to force the issue, and threaten to leave myself, in order to overcome the inertia problem... but at least now I have hope. Thank you, dolphin bride! Like you, I am not a pervert!
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
As well as being against abortion in all cases, the Church opposes stem-cell research which extracts useful cells from unused embryos left over from fertility treatments.
This notion that "left-over embryos" might as well be dismantled for whatever components they many yield bothers me quite a bit. Given my own beliefs about abortion, that might not seem surprising, but there are some people who are anti-"elective abortion" who are not troubled. Even my hero Charles Krauthammer endorses the idea.
I will concede all the obvious points. There are many such embryos, and most will never mature. Oh sure, there are a few "snowflake babies" out there, but I'm reasonably sure that the number of added to frozen storage far exceeds the number being rescued - there is no competion.
And yet, every time I encounter the idea of "canniblizing" these unwanted embryos for parts, I find myself wondering: why we bury human cadavers? For that matter, why do we bury pets? Is there no use for those bodies? Sure, they may not be good eatin' any more - but why not at least mulch them up as fertilizer?
Of course, we do "canniblize" bodies in some ways. We harvest parts for transplant from both the living and the dead. But, if the corpsed was an adult, they had to have give explicit consent. If the patient was a child, the parents can give consent in their place, but there is still a catch: it's illegal to kill a child after it's been born, even for the parents.
Since killing an embryo is not illegal, is that difference enough to let its parents' consent to it's use? Well, let's think for a moment. Imagine a mother with two children: a favorite with a fatal condition requiring a transplant, and a hated but healthy sibling. Could that parent kill the hated child, accept the punishment demanded for murder, but still given consent to let the hated child's organs be given to the favorite child? I'm sure many people would say yes, since at least it saves the surviving child. But that just seems wrong to me. Laws serve, to some extent, as lower limits on acceptable behavior. Deliberately killing one child, even if it might save the life of another child, seems below that lower limit.
In any case, we do not handle corpses as we do out of practical considerations like laws or science; we do so out of reverence. Some many consider reverence primitive; but I disagree. Of all creation, only man is capable of reverence, and only modern man has exhibited it. When anthropologists find an elaborately buried man, they consider it a sign that his civilization was advanced. How then could a return to an animalistic, primitive lack the reverence be considered an further advance?
Finally, some may agree with my reasoning, but argue that the potential benefits outweigh any principled objection. To such people, I can only remind them of this joke, which I've seen attributed to the likes of Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill:
Man: My dear lady, you delight me. Would you consider joining me in my bed for, let us say, a million pounds?
Woman: Why sir! You flatter and intrique me. I can only hope to prove worthy of your generousity...
Man: Would you consent for, perhaps, ten pounds instead?
Woman: Why sir! What do you take me for?
Man: What you are has already been established. I am simply negotiating the price.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Who Says Science Contains No Religion?
Some doubt that those changes can accumulate enough to produce clearly distinct species; others do not doubt. But, for the moment, assume that to be so.
Then all the way back at the beginning, when life first formed on this planet, there must have been some set of the appropriate, non-living resources, and there must have been so event that combined them. The details would be interesting, because this event has not been duplicated in any lab... but that is beside the point for the moment.
Instead, consider the result of that event: the very first strand of DNA was formed. The structure of that strand was so remarkable that it not only self-organizes; not only divides and replicates itself; not only builds and defines a self-organizing creature around it; it also endures billions years of random changes without being destroyed. Quite the contrary, in fact: these changes often add size and complexity to the resulting creature, making it more durable and adaptable.
Furthermore, this remarkable strand appears to be unique. Despite the years that have passed, there is no evidence of any non-DNA life, much less any that rival it. Even viruses, which are acellular and must invade DNA-based cells in order to reproduce, contain snippets of DNA or RNA.
Furthermore, despite all the years that have passed, there is no evidence whatsoever that the event, whatever it was, ever happened again. On the contrary: the similarities of all life at the cellular level is frequently used to argue for the validity of the theory of common descent.
So, even if all the theories are right, and even if life arose from non-living elements, then it did so only one time, in only one way. And that single self-duplicating, self-organizing strand that resulted contained within it all of the detail, richness, and diversity of living creation that we see today, merely requiring random bombardment by radiation, hazardous materials, and its own living metabolism as the keys to unlock them.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
At one time, evils were mostly action-oriented, as conveyed by the "thou shalt nots" - i.e., thou shalt not lie, steal, kill, and so on. Disobediance of those comandments was considered evil.
But the meaning of evil has been slowly rotating for a long time, as indicated by the almost-Stoic principles of being, concisely captured in the Seven Deadly Sins. To not be evil, donn't be slothful; don't be greedy; don't wrathful, gluttonous, envious, or prideful.
In recent years, unfortunately, this rotation has accelerated damatically. Now, the prohibitions against evil mainly start with "don't cause": don't cause suffering; don't cause poverty; don't cause feelings of inferiority, discomfort, or exclusion.
That approach is bad, of course, since it takes virtue out of the hands of the individual, and places it in the reactions and judgements of others. "Their" reaction has become the measure of "our" evil.
I think that this explains the brouhaha about something like waterboarding. Waterboarding does cause suffering, at least while it's in progress. However, it does not cause injury. In the past, such temporary suffering would have been seen as something to be endured. After all, have we not all suffered? Have we not all survived our suffering? But now, suffering itself is seen as bad as injury... or perhaps even as worse.
Of course, the wheel of values continues to turn. Already, some hold that good people and countries "don't allow" suffering, poverty, hurt feelings, and the like. The arrogance of this is completely lost on those who would impose these definitions on all of us.
But for those of us we believe in personal responsibility, and personal freedom, this unobstructed rotation is ominous. It is well past time that we push back harder. We should firmly reject any arguments based on anything other than our actions and our motives.
Applying this understanding to the question of interrogation means that we should not injure our captives, not should we act out of anger or wrath. But, as long as the purpose to the gathering of information that may save lives, causing even extreme suffering for a short time (ex: waterboarding) is perfectly acceptable.
We should not hide this; we should tell the world about it, loudly and clearly. Allowing the reactions of our enemies to determine our standards (ala McCain) would be foolish. Pretending to do so is even worse, for such lies, when exposed, call our entire character into question.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Whether or not Blige ever believed the record industry actually meant to kill her is up for grabs; her main point is that it wouldn't have been like killing a person - it would have been like killing off old stock. I think Blige just doesn't like the industry: she thinks it's grabby and atavistic. "I do know that in this business, it's like being in the [housing] projects again, only now we have all the stuff. You've got all this money, but you're still living right next door to the person that robbed your house. It's the same thing."
and at the end of the article:
But as improbable as it sounds, and as much as the feminist in me balks at mentioning it, Mary J Blige has been a whole new quantity since she met Isaacs. "When you can see better, you want better. And you know, my husband, he had something better. He had a mom that raised him, he had a father that raised him. He had a family unit. He had sisters and brothers that weren't jealous of him. He didn't have to fight them. He had beautiful things in him, and he was already a Christian when I met him. When I saw his life, that's the life I wanted."The first quote, I thought, is just very vivid. I don't know either the projects or the record industry, but I still believe I do know exactly what she means.
Was she not worried she'd lose her creative spark, landing in a happy relationship? "I wasn't happy when I got married! I was scared. The only thing I could think about was, 'This nigger - excuse me - this dude is gonna cheat on me. I'm gonna take this chance, but this is fucked - excuse me.' And at the same time, I'd actually made it to a point where I could say, 'I love this person and I want to marry him', but all that stuff in me was saying, 'I'm gonna kill him! He's gonna cheat on me, then I'm gonna kill him.' "
She smiles again and gives her final verdict: "I believe what God says about me. He says that I'm beautiful, I'm strong, I'm a good woman, I have love in my heart, I can be fat or skinny ... I can do whatever I want."
The second quote is more interesting. Put aside the question of why "the femisist" in Zoe Williams "balks" at the idea that the love in your life - even if he's a man! - can open your eyes to new perspectives. I just thought the Bilge was very honest, very self-aware in her description of herself... and I love the final paragraph. I wish that everybody I know could honestly say something similar. I certainly I wish I could.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
A Transparent, Anonymous, Verifiable Voting Process: A Proposal
To address this problem, we need a new voting process - one that the American people can trust.
The following are the minimum requires for this process:
1) It has to be transparent. That means that the process itself must be documented and well understood, and any software used must be open source and freely available for examination.
2) It has to be anonymous. There must not be any way that someone can systematically determine which voter cast which ballot.
3) It has to be verifiable. Specifically, there has to be a paper trail of some sort that can be re-examined and re-counted.
It should also be reliable, scalable, and as inexpensive as possible.
The requirement for verifiability to rule out "lever voting machine" or "touch screen" voting machines, as neither produces a per-voter paper document. We all know about the problems with hanging chads, so "punch voting" is also out.
The system that seems most promising to me is an "optical scan" system similar to the one used where I vote. Its main drawback, it seems to me, is that it provides no feedback to the voter. How do I know that it accurately read my ballot and counted my votes the way I intended?
For that reason, I propose that the new voting process utilize:
1) an optical scanner. Although the scanner used where I vote feeds itself and looks special-purpose, I know of no reason that this could not be a simple page scanner, if that would significantly reduce costs.
2) a computer system to run the open-source software which controls the scan, picks off the votes, validates the ballot (see below), and accumulates the totals for those ballots which have been accepted.
3) a display monitor, properly positioned and shielded to show the voter (and no one else) a summary of the votes that the software recognized. It should provide the user with a button (via either a touch screen or a separate input device (see below)) to either "ACCEPT" or "REJECT" the ballot results.
A display monitor should be used for this validation step, rather than a printed receipt, for the same reason that ballots cannot be brought into the precinct - to discourage "vote buying". Disallowing outside ballots prevents vote buyers from pre-marking ballots; disallowing printed receipts denies vote buyers any evidence that a voter actually cast his vote the way the vote buyer demands. A display monitor also has the advantage of being faster, cheaper, and easier to manage than a receipt printer would be.
4) (optional) a separate input device. This could simply be a keyboard with the "A" key painted green (for "ACCEPT") and the "R" key painted red (for "REJECT").
When the voter makes his selection, precinct workers must be informed of that choice through some means. Possibly, this could be as simple as generating one of two clearly distinguishable audible tones: perhaps a gentle "ding" for "ACCEPT", and a harsh "blat" for "REJECT".
If the displayed votes are "ACCEPT"-ed, then the process is complete. A precinct worker should take the ballot, face down, and put it in a box of accepted ballots. This should occur in clear view of the voter. This box (or set of boxes) filled with accepted ballots provides a verifiable trail that can be re-scanned and re-counted should any question of irregularity arise.
On the other hand, if the displayed votes are "REJECT"-ed, a precinct worker should take the ballot, immediately shred it, and increment a count of spoiled ballots. This count, added to the number of accepted ballots, should be equal to the total number of ballots distributed: an additional check to detect voter fraud.
The rejecting voter is then offered the opportunity to re-vote, receiving a new ballot and going to the front of the voting line. There should be no limit to the number of times which a voter may reject his ballot.
If the voter declines to re-vote, then the precinct worker should increment a count of frustrated voters. This count, added to the number of accepted ballots, should be equal to the number of registered voters admitted by this precinct: an additional check to detect voter fraud.
None of this prevents fraud by precinct workers, of course. However, fraud should be controllable by other procedural means. Specifically, two precinct workers, one each from opposing political parties, should perform each step of the election process, together all times. Because they are politically opposed, one will immediately expose any attempt at voter fraud by the other.
That still leaves the possibility of human error. Controlling this must be the responsibility of all participants. However, the open source software that scans ballots and counts software should help at least this much:
1) It should display the number of ballots accepted so far. The first voter of the day knows that he or she is the first voter. If the counters are improperly reset (or if the ballot box is "stuffed" prior to the first voter) the first voter will notice and complain.
Similarly, the last voters are aware that they are last. If the number of voters per precinct is made available to the public (printed in the newspaper or published on a website), one of these last few voters will notice if the numbers are substantially different than the number they saw when they voted, and will complain. Even if they do not notice, the risk that they might should be enough to prevent anyone from risking voter fraud by discarding ballots, or "stuffing the ballot box" after the precinct has closed.
2) It should display a version number and some sort of checksum for the software in use. If this information is made public prior to the election, concerned citizens may well bring this information into the precinct with them, and use it to check the software before they let their ballot be scanned. This behavior would help ensure that unofficial versions of software are not accidentally used.
This behavior may help also help to discourage deliberate tampering. However, tampering of this kind is not entirely preventable through such means. Instead, procedural rules such as the one described above must be employed. Specifically, the software should only be acquired and installed in the presence of two persons of opposing party. If the software is already acquired, they should independently verify the size, date, and checksums of the software before allowing it to be installed. Both of these persons must be adequately qualified to perform these tasks.
What remains to make this proposal a reality is the existence of suitable open-source software to meet these requirements. Software or adequate documentation is also required to assist ballot creators in the process of generating scan-able ballots.
Technically, such an effort is not particularly challenging. However, the requirement for the software to be extremely reliable is something of a challenge, as is the meta-requirement that the software source code be as easy as possible to read and review. More importantly, challenging or not, this is an important task - one which will help to restore America's confidence in its voting process.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
On a smaller scale, however, I did find time to respond to one small point in the on-going discussion. In response to this post by John Derbyshire, I sent the following email:
I found your recent argument regarding science vs. philosophy and theology interesting... but ultimately flawed.
First, a quibble: according to wikipedia, Pericles died in 429 BCE; Stoicism, which I personally think is about all the philosophy anyone needs, wasn't even started until 308 BCE. On this basis, then, I can say that, yes, a student of, say, Epictetus, would be at something of an advantage if transported back to the era of Pericles.
But, putting that aside, there is a more serious error in your argument. You compare the progress in science against the progress in philosophy and theology, as if progress is all that matters. But, if one believes in revealed truth, there is no need for theological progress. To a believer, all theological answers already exist, perfect and complete, inside the revealed truth.
The goal of theology, then, is not "more God"; it is to understand and apply God's revealed truth to whatever problems currently exist. The fact that such an effort is continuously necessary is of no concern; in fact, it is consistent with the revealed nature of man as an eternally sinful, errant creature. If man could ever settle all theological questions, and fix all of his spiritual problems once and for all, there would be no further need for reveal truth, nor even for God Himself!
True, there are some who apparently believe that they have reached such a state. However, even a casual glance over society as a whole reveals that, if so, they are in the extreme minority.
The Truth about the Anti-War Critics
You know, somebody should just tell the truth about all this. Critics of the war, especially Hollywood critics, don't give a rat's ass about the soldiers. A death count of 2000+? There were training exercises during WWII that killed more Americans.
They don't really care about the welfare of the Iraqis either. After all, what were the alternative to this war? The embargo? Doesn't anybody remember when, during the Clinton years, UNICEF estimated that the embargo killed 1M Iraqis, half of them children? Of course, most of whatever harm was done was the result of the corrupt conspiracy between the U.N. and Saddam Hussein himself, but it was the embargo that made that possible. Tell me, which is better for the Iraqis - taking 100K losses in a struggle to be free, or being starved and neglected with no end in sight?
The truth is, these critics care about is preserving the mythos of the Viet Nam protesters and draft dodgers. Remember them? These sons of the Greatest Generation, spoiled by the enormous success and productivity of their victorious parents, didn't want to go and risk death in some swamp. I know, I was there - just young enough to avoid being drafted myself – and I assure you, that was the reality underlying all the protests.
The trouble is, saying you were against Viet Nam because you feared for your own skin just sounds a little too ignoble after all these years. After all, millions of South Vietnamese and Cambodians were butchered as a result of our abandonment. That's the main reason, in my opinion, why the aftermath of our sudden pullout is so rarely discussed.
Of course, Viet Nam really was a stupid war for us - it wasn't going to make the U.S. more or less safe no matter which way it went. But they can't say that too loudly either. Someone might notice that it was Kennedy and Johnson who made that mistake. That would unravel the amazingly successful efforts to pin the Viet Nam war on Nixon.
Far better to pretend that, somehow, after only one generation, the sons and daughters of Americas greatest warriors suddenly became so enlightened as to realize that war is always bad, and peace is always good - even if "peace" means injustice, danger, and the suffering of millions.
No wonder the left is so angry. They got away with this sleight-of-hand for years, but now the deception is finally being exposed for the nonsense that it is.
Iraq isn't Viet Nam. Winning there will make the U.S. much, much safer. Al Qaeda certainly thinks so – why doubt them? Besides, what are the alternatives? As I've already pointed out, continuing the embargo against Iraq would have only hurt the Iraqi people. Dropping the embargo would have been even worse. An unleashed Hussein would have unquestionably endangered the entire Middle East - a region that even peacenik J. Carter acknowledged was a "vital National Interest" – never mind the rest of the world. Or do anyone think that S.H. somehow decide to live in peace, forgiving-and-forgetting that the entire region supported the U.S. in kicking him out of Kuwait?
And the American men and women fighting in Iraq are not draftees, they're volunteers... volunteers who are re-enlisting at a record pace no less. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to protest against their deployment anywhere in the world - that's what they signed up to do.
War can be both good and bad. War of aggression, war for conquest – those are wars we can live without. But the threat of war is sometimes necessary, as is willingness to make war when the threat is ignored. War of liberation, war against clear and present dangers – those wars are good wars, and must be fought and won.
The only good thing about the liberal hysteria about this subject is that, hopefully, all of this will eventually be made crystal clear. Perhaps then the U.S. will finally be able to shake off the malaise caused by its deliberate self-deception, and resume it's rightful place of leadership in an ever freer world.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Take a look at this article: Cheney says war critics 'dishonest, reprehensible' - Yahoo! News. Now, the phrase "war critics" covers a lot of ground. There are plenty of people who opposed (and still oppose) the Iraq war regardless of what the pre-war intelligence said.
But Cheney isn't talking about those people. Even the article says so. Cheney, like President Bush a few days ago, is only talking about those who, for political advantage, accuse the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence. In fact, Bush explicitly said: "While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began" - but good luck finding that in the news coverage. Searching for that quote, I looked through several newspapers before finding in reported only in The Washington Times.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that what Cheney's saying is true.. Go to the RNC homepage, click "Play Video", and watch "Democrats: Dishonest on Iraq" to see what these pols were saying then, and compare it to what they are saying now. And remember: a Senate investigation has already unanimously determined that no one applied political pressure to distort the intelligence that both Congress and the Administration saw before the war. If the Administration was manipulating intelligence, then what were they doing?
In fact, the truth isn't very hard to understand:
- Hussein did at one time have WMD. For example, he murdered around 5,000 Kurds with the nerve gas, VX.
- At some point, something did happen to Hussein's stockpiles. However:
- Hussein never openly disarmed. He liked having people think he still had WMD.
- Because no "western" intelligence agency was in position to follow where the WMD went, intelligence assessments around the world concluded that he still had them.
- Even though the intelligence hadn't changed, after 9/11, our tolerance for the risk that Hussein had WMD and might use it or give it to terrorists sharply decreased.
- The reduced tolerance cut across all party lines, at least for a while.
Of course, there doesn't seem to be any penalty for making false accusations, so why shouldn't they make them? Before this ever gets cleared up, they'll already be on to some other attempted smear.
So, to sum up: Cheney is right, the Headline is inflammitory, and all of us are to blame for not holding both the headline writers and the smearing politicians accountable for their misrepresentations. Honestly, people - don't we have enough real problems without manufactoring more rancor?
Saturday, November 12, 2005
In other news, has any considered that maybe the riots in France aren't about Islam, racism, or jobs at all - that maybe it's just about the cars? What kind of cars does the French welfare state provide anyway? Maybe a few trainloads of Suburu WRXs would solve that whole thing...
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Questions for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D –Nev.), in response to his demand for a promise that the White House never pardon "Scotter" Libby:
1) Senator, do you presume that Libby is innocent? I mean, he hasn't been convicted of anything. For that matter, neither have Karl Rove or Vice-President Cheney - they haven't even been indicted. Do you presume that they are innocent? Or do you reject the whole "innocent until proven guilty" idea?
2) Will you direct your office to release whatever statements you made to the press at the time President Clinton left office? Given your outrage at the mere possibility that, sometime in the future, President Bush might hypothetically pardon still-presumed-innocent "Scotter" Libby, I can't wait to read the fuss you must have made when out-going President Clinton actually issued that whole raft of last-minute pardons to his actually-convicted cronies and financial backers. If the fact that you were not yet leader prevented you from issuing such statements, that's okay - I'll accept copies of press release criticisms from any Democratic leader, past or present. How quickly can you make those available?
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
In the alternate reality of U.S. policy debate, nothing is what it seems. Words get twisted, motives hidden, and basic principles of cause and effect are ignored. This is never more true that in the current furor over U.S. policy toward our enemies.
On the one hand we have "Iraq war critics" (i.e., the partisan Left) which shamelessly repeats the oldest logical error in existence:
A is a member of B
+ A is also a member of C
= All C are B
thereby generalizing any misdeed by any member of the U.S. military into a condemnation of the entire military, up to and including its Commander in Chief.
On the other hand we have the Administration, unwilling to defend itself against these smears, for it knows that merely stating what is reasonable and necessary would only aggravate these critics' attacks. In the alternate reality of U.S. policy debate, explaining how sausage is made risks having sausage outlawed.
Between these hands stands John McCain. Not often inclined to fits of the vapors, he nonetheless wants to create a fixed, arbitrary bound on what treatment of POWs is permissible and what is not. He justifies this position in terms of global politics, but that can be refused as easily as the argument for a hard ban on firearms: to coin a phrase, "if torture is outlawed, only outlaws will use torture".
No, the real currency that McCain possesses is his history as a tortured POW. Understandably, he didn't like it. Understandably, he does not wish to believe that what he endured could ever be justified. Apparently, he has generalized his experience to cover any torture under any circumstance.
Fortunately, you and I are not tortured POWs, so we can step back and be more objective. Some dare say that torture is never effective. We need look no further than Guy Fawkes, whose arrest and torture revealed the conspiracy that attempted to blow up the British King 400 years ago this month, to refute. Others dismiss the information gleaned by torture, saying that you can get anyone to say anything. That may be true, but only devalues subjective information. Facts which can be verified or disproved are quite another matter, especially if the subject knows that disproved facts will only lead to another round of torture. Still others say that torture is no more effective than other, less cruel forms of interrogation. That may also be true when time is not a factor; but when it is, torture is better. Building up a relationship and wearing down a subject can take weeks or months. Depending on the subject, it may have zero chance of working in hours or minutes. If a WMD attack is hours away, any technique which has no chance of getting timely information is definitely inferior to one which has even a small chance.
Does that mean that I am not repelled by the torture endured by our POWs? Of course not. I am repelled, in part because of my patriotism, in part by my empathy, but in the greatest part by my distain for the motives of the Viet Cong. They did not torture because they needed information. Our POWs knew little of strategic value, and even if they did, that knowledge would have quickly aged into worthlessness. Despite that, they were often continued to torture for many years. Clearly, the Viet Cong were not after factual information. They tortured either out of simple cruelty, or out of a desire to coerce false statements and behaviors for propaganda. Since I do not find either of those motives compelling, I disapprove of the use of torture to serve them.
McCain and others complicate the discussion by stating that, unless we unconditionally outlaw torture, we risk undermining the Geneva Convention, putting the safety of our own soldiers at risk. But the Geneva convention is not a unilateral statement of policy. Rather, it is a straightforward quid-pro-quo. It defines a certain class of combatant, and says in effect, "I will treat your combatants of that class a certain way, with the understanding that you will do the same for my combatants of the same class." The teeth of the agreement are hidden, but essential: combatants which do not qualify as members of the class with be treated worse; and if you treat my qualified combatants worse than specified, I will do the same to yours. Without this unspoken understanding, the agreement protects nothing.
In fact, I would argue that the Geneva convention is a highly-overrated piece of paper. In the case of "uncivilized" enemies, its central assumption is clearly false: such enemies do not care how their prisoners are treated. Stalin had his returned POWs imprisoned or shot; Al Qaeda celebrates dead soldiers as martyrs, and sends many of them on suicide missions. Such enemies respond to our solicitude not with gratitude, but with contempt for our weakness. As for "civilized" enemies: if we are obliged in the name of decency to provide Geneva Convention protections unilaterally, are they not obliged to do that same? What value the agreement then?
I would even argued that, if the Geneva Convention does has any value, and we expect it to protect our future POWs, then we should never offer G.C. protections to any combatant who does not completely qualify for them. If we instead offer such protections unilaterally, we may actually encourge "semi-civilized" opponents to cheat the rules of war, since they know that so doing will not imperil their own POWs held by the U.S.
So: does this mean that Congress can not regulate our treatment of non-qualifying combatants? Certainly not - but a much more nuanced approach is required than anyone has yet proposed. We need to create various categories for such combatants; define "probably cause" criteria for belonging in each category; specify who has the authority to adjudicate the categories; and define the treatment which is permitted within each category. It is fine to define a category where illegal combatants receive "Geneva-lite" treatment... but there must also be a category where everything up to and including chemical interrogation and physical torture is permitted, should that prove necessary to save the lives of millions. Decency should be maximized for every category, of course... but decency heavily tempered by logic and reality.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
TAKE ACTION... "Cut the pork"That seemed like a good idea to me, so I clicked my way to a page where I could enter my zip code, and be offered a chance to write all of my representatives - the President, my two senators, and my congressman - with just one click.
The victims of Katrina sacrificed much to the storm. You, their fellow citizens, sacrificed time and money to help them recover. It is not too much to ask Congress to sacrifice its pork for one year.
To my surprise, that click did not result in a form letter, or even a template that I could fill in. There was just a blank edit box. Below is a copy of the letter that I wrote, with my personal information removed:
Subject: Get rid of the waste, at least for this year
To: "Townhall.com" <
From: "Townhall.com" <
September 28, 2005
[recipient address was inserted here]
Dear [recipient name was inserted here],
I realize that politicians have and always will spend tax-payer money on
projects which only serve to repay political favors, buy votes, and
self-aggrandize. I guess we all just have to live with that.
Nevertheless, I write today to ask that you please consider putting these
considerations aside for just one year, and cut all spending that is not
*vital* to the well-being of the country as a *whole*. Re-open the
transportation bill, and eliminate all earmarks. Legislators, publicly
renounce wasteful projects in your own state, and challenge other
politicans to do the same. Mr. President, announce a policy to veto any
legislation which contains more than, say, 5% pork.
This is the time for you to be true statesmen. We, the citizens and
taxpayers of this country, are currently drowning in debt both public and
private, face enormous additional fiscal burdens in the future, and are
still willing to sacrifice and donate to help those displaced and injured
by the recent Gulf hurricanes. Please join us by sacrificing your looting
priviledges just for one single, measly year. Try to think of it as an
investment. Maybe the resulting improvement in national morale will pay
off for you handsomely in the future!
Thursday, March 10, 2005
The Irony of Dan Rather
It's all over the news. Even on Fox News, anchors and correspondents wince over Rather disgrace, his faithless "friends" in the CBS pantheon, and the lost glories of his 40 year, interminable career. Much of this empathy, I believe, derives from their sense of fellowship, all members in the clubhouse of broadcast news.
The more moderate of these brothers-in-arms do not actually defend Rather, instead being content merely to express distaste for the spectacle - though by doing so, of course, they participate in it.
But there are a few who are strong Rather partisans, and as such go much further - they do not defend so much as counter-attack. Each attack seems to follow the same logic, which goes like this: Rather is a good solid guy who made a mistake - a mistake then seized upon by those who hate him, who used it to destroy him.
They are naturally appalled by such behavior.
Sadly, the irony of this defense is lost on them. At the bottom of all fuss is the question of whether or not George W. Bush showed up for work for a month or two at the end of his military career. If he didn't, it was a mistake. Not a big one - he would only have been flying a desk - and not an important one - he was honorable discharged after a successful enlistment.
Now consider this: Rather and his producer Mapes had been actively pursuing this story, trying to hang this mistake on Bush, for five years. There was no evidence, no direct testimony, nothing but second-hand rumor, but they were undeterred.
Not only that - thye had actual, hard news about the Bush serice - that he had volunteered to go to Viet Nam, but, because there were already enough experienced pilots in his squadron, he was turned down. Have you ever seen that reported? Well, check out page 140 of the Complete Independent Panel report on CBS News. CBS not only suppressed that potentially significant story, on the air they actually twisted it to imply the opposite! What could motivate such behavior if not irrational hatred?
And thus the irony: Bush is a good solid guy - even his critics admit that. He might have once made a mistake, long ago. But whether he did or not, whether the mistake mattered or not, it was seized upon by Rather et all, who hated him, and tried to use it to destroy him. Ah, irony.
One final note: there are two difference between these situations: small matters that surely won't matter to Danites, but might matter to you.
First, Rather's critics didn't bring him down - his stonewalling is what brought him down. It evaporated whatever credibility he had left like a blowtorch on a raindrop.
Second, we still don't know whether "Bush's mistake" ever happened. But there is no question about Rather's mistake. It was on TV.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
I'm not sure how I found it. Possibly it was once a Daily Link on BBSpot.com - a "satire" site which used to really be pretty funny, then got political and not funny. It's back to being a little funny, sometimes; but in my opinion, it still hasn't come back.
Eh, maybe it's just me.
But that's beside the point. We were talking about papernapkin.
The site describes the service - so go read it, and ignore me, if you're really interested - but the short version is: if you send the site email, the site mails back a form-letter rejection.
In theory, this is useful not so much to you as it is to some else who finds you scary or creepy. They can just give you an email address - any address - of the form firstname.lastname@example.org, pretending that it's theirs. Later, if you try to continue the romance via email, the papernapkin site replies with the form-letter, automatically rejecting you for them.
I thought the idea was clever enough - a cute, only-on-the-web kind of idea. But what really caught my attention was a request by the site owner. He already had a rejection letter, but he wanted to a better one, so he asked people to submit replacement candidates for his approval.
You do see the irony, don't you?
I couldn't help myself. I banged out a note and sent it in, fully expecting to the obvious result - a nasty rejection letter.
Imagine my surprise when instead the site owner wrote back, and said that he loved my letter, and wanted to use it! I think he fixed a typo or two, but other than that, the letter stayed pretty much as I wrote it, and started being emailed to world's clueless Romeos and Juliettes.
Even more amazing to me: as of this writing, my letter's still there. I wrote the thing back in August, 2004 - six months ago now - and whole time the site has continued to solicit for even better rejection notes. But somehow my little letter has managed to hold on.
What really gets me, though, is this: If you google my name (i.e., "solarrhino"), you'll see a few items: this blog, the handful of slashdot comments that didn't get modded down into oblivion, and some posts on various other forums. But of the remaining items - the ones that other people wrote - the only writing of mine that you see mentioned is - you guessed it - the Paper Napkin rejection letter.
So a rejection letter that I hammer out in two minutes finds at least some small acceptance in this big wide world, while emails, postings, and essays that I really care about are just lost in the void.
It's not that I'm all torn up about it. It's nice, of course, that anything I've written had been noticed. I do find it ironic... but I like irony.
It just happened to cross my mind today, and, since I should be busy doing more important things, I decided to write about it. After all, isn't that what a blog is for?
Friday, March 04, 2005
About Social Security
It mystifies me why people act like Social Security is hard to fix. To me, it seems pretty easy. It only needs three steps:
1) Make social security a real "Pay as you go" system. No more phoney surpluses that just get wasted by Congress, and no more worries about deficits. Instead, every year, estimate what Social Security will cost that year. The calculation this isn't hard - birthdays are pretty predictable.
2) Pop the cap on the payroll tax.
3) Tear up all the "trust fund" T-Bills
The net effect would be a much lower SS tax rate. Low income people would pay less, middle income people would pay about the same, rich people would pay more.
Of course some, like yourself, would pay a lot more. But before you blow a gasket, consider this: 20% of Americans pay 80% of all taxes (I heard that somewhere). Unless the system is fixed, the debts created by the current system, which spends the excess SS dollars and prints T-bills, will have to redeemed out of the General Fund. That means that 80% of that debt already belongs to you top-20%ers!
So what do you get out of it? Well, get this: you can tear up all the T-Bills already created! If the system becomes a real pay-as-you-go system, there is no need to ever redeem all the "trust fund" T-bills that have already been printed. This reduces the national debt immediately, stimulating the economy and helping everybody.
This idea is almost too simple - I need to think of a complication. Oh wait, here's one: the SS tax is currently paid by two sources: employees and employers (and the self-employed, but let's ignore that for now). A fluctuating SS tax rate would mess with employers and employment. That doesn't seem like a good idea. Lowering the rate would make employees cheaper for employers, but if there is no need to do that now - and we seem to be able to manage our unemployment just fine at the current rates - why on earth would we need it at a time when employment is so good that SS rates are that low? On the other hand, if we actually ever had to raise the rates above the current levels, it would make employees more expensive, possibly raising unemployment and thereby actually increasing the problem in the next year.
Fortunately, that's easy to fix too - just put in the law that the rate for employer contribution will remain constant. The only exception would occur if the rates dropped so low that just the employer contribution alone is enough to cover it all. Not a bad problem to have, right? So why worry? I worry because any politician - past, present, or future - will think that the natural solution is to leave the employer rate fixed, and let Congress buy votes with the excess! Since we don't want that to happen - we both know that the best government is the smallest government, right? - the law should be written right from the start that, if the system ever starts generating excess dollars, then the employer rate has to be adjusted down - AND NEVER RISE AGAIN.
Of course, that puts all the fluctuations on the employee side of the paystub, but that's okay. In fact, it's good - people need to pay more attention to these things.
What I really like about this solution is that it brings us all more closely together. Let's say that some rich CEO somewhere off-shores a bunch of high-paying American jobs. If that happens today, the other CEOs come and sit at his knees, hoping to learn from him. But under the proposed system, doing the same thing will directly raise the SS rates on the rest of the rich guys. Maybe they'll all stop playing golf with him. Hey, I say hit them where it hurts! On top of that, maybe this would push us all to work harder and closer together, to encourage every American to achieve their highest potential... thereby lowering rates and making life better for everybody.
In return for sharing this great idea with you, all I ask in return is that you don't complain (too much) about the unfairness of it all. It is unfair, but my sympathy is low. Until these last few years, I've spent my professional career in the worst of all possible worlds (SS-wise): earning right at the cap. Every year I paid just as many dollars as the richest man in the country, and at as high a rate as the poorest. Was that fair?
As for personal accounts: they could fit in this scheme, on top of this scheme, or be completely left out. Personally, I think they are a great idea, because they build wealth and grow the economy. "Left out" is trivial, and "on top" is easy - lowering the rates would leave lower-paid workers more money that they could save. Even the most complicated approach, making private accounts part of the system, is still pretty straightforward - if a payer chooses to put part (or all) of their contribution (but not their employers contribution) into a private account, their benefits would be reduced using by the appreciated value of the T-Bill it could have purchased. Just apply the appropriate actuarial data to that appreciated value, and reduce his check accordingly.
It's important to exclude employer's contribution from the personal accounts, for two reasons: 1) so that some money always goes into the system to meet current obligations, and 2) so that everybody earns at least some government-backed benefits. You and I both know that this later is irrelevant - if any stock market index fund earns less than T-Bills over a 30-40 year period, does anybody really think that the government will have money to pay benefits to anyone? - but we have a lot of soft-hearted voters who worry about things like that, and won't pass anything that doesn't address it. Personally, I blame women's suffrage.
If personal accounts are in the system, it raises rates in the near-term (because current outlays remain the same), but it lowers future rates (because it reduces future outlays). That would be a very good thing, given the demographic trends. If personal accounts would raise current rates too much, then put a annual dollar cap on the personal account. Sucks to be rich, of course - you'd be the ones to hit the cap - but in the long haul an "ownership society" will pull the poor toward the rich, making them more sympathetic to the needs of business - and that's worth something, isn't it?
Well, there it is.. What do you think? Pretty good, eh? And I didn't even stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night!
Friday, November 05, 2004
Ray Lewis was *not* acquitted
As Sal Paolantio reported at http://sports.espn.go.com/page2/tvlistings/show11transcript.html:
"The Fulton County DA was willing to dismiss the murder charges against Lewis, but there was a catch. In addition to pleading guilty to obstructing the police, Lewis would have to testify against his two former friends and co-defendants"
You can read more about it here:
It's worth noting that those two co-defendent "friends" who Lewis testified against, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, actually weren't guilty. So the killer of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker is still walking - maybe preening, howling, and dancing too, for all we know - somewhere out there today.
A plea bargin is not an acquittal - it's a sweetheart deal for the rich, powerful, and/ or famous. Funny, another Baltimore Lewis also got a sweetheart deal recently - not quite a plea bargin, but more than anyone else would have gotten in the same situation.
It's worth noting that, as the SI articles says, " Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard refused to say how the plea agreement was brokered". So the real question here is, who's running Atlanta's justice system - Jerry Lewis? Or is Ozzie Newsome just the best negotiator in the NFL?