August 31, 2005

CHILDBIRTH, BABIES, AND THE BABIES THEY FATHER

Posted by Greg

I realize I'm late to the party. I didn't even realize a party was going on (no one invited me—typical!) until Allison alerted me to the fact that people all over the blogosphere are talking about men's experiences with watching their wives give birth. Seeing as I've blogged about similar topics in the past, it's the sort of thing that I'm likely to write about.

WARNING: what follows is a frank discussion involving anatomy and strong opinions that may not be appropriate for children or very immature men.

continue reading "CHILDBIRTH, BABIES, AND THE BABIES THEY FATHER" »


10:14 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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RIPPLE EFFECTS

Posted by Steve

As I write, there are gas lines in Charlotte.

Gas Line

Here's why.

Charlotte's gasoline supplies are dwindling, and gas station owners and pipeline operators tell the Observer that shortages could accelerate this weekend...

The two pipelines that supply a vast majority of the region's fuel have been shut down since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf coast Monday. Now, distributors say supplies are near empty with no replacements in sight.

Motorists will likely see stations run out of regular gas or in some cases all grades.

Pipeline operators hope to restart partial deliveries by the weekend though gas could take a week or two to arrive in Charlotte.

A week or two?

The effects of Katrina are only beginning to ripple through the American economy. With conditions getting worse in New Orleans, unanticipated problems cropping up elsewhere, and no clear ideas how to fix any of it any time soon... I think North Carolina Governor Mike Easley put it best:

"I'm not asking anybody to panic," said Gov. Mike Easley. "If I find out we need to panic, I'll come back and tell you tomorrow."

UPDATE: VodkaPundit reports it's happening in Georgia, too. Instapundit links to more of the same in Tennessee.

7:10 PM | Link | Economics | Comments (0)

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WHERE WERE THESE GUYS IN BAGHDAD '03?

Posted by Kriston

Wish fulfillment by Glenn Reynolds:

I agree with Jonah Goldberg that it's one thing for desperate people to help themselves to bottled water, food, or diapers from abandoned stores, and another to just sack those places for valuables. People doing the latter should be shot.
Awesome. Due process, justice, modernity—all that crap was getting me down, too. Time to put the wicked paintball skills to the service of mankind by killing petty theives. (The AP and AFP can help him separate the good from the bad, natch.)

Michelle "You Loot, I Shoot" Malkin reports that someone has looted a Dyson vacuum cleaner. Unbelievable. Forget the trial, Glenn—let God sort 'em out.

UPDATE: Daily Kos demonstrates that the GOP Web site does not show suitable regret over Hurrican Katrina—it's as if the Republican Party hadn't thought to redesign their homepage in the face of this crisis. Will they stop at nothing? We're gonna need more ammo before this is all over.

5:39 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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THE BEST LOOTING SONG EVER

Posted by Steve

As looters roam the streets of New Orleans, I am reminded of Sublime's "April 26, 1992," which provided a rarely heard perspective on the Rodney King riots. It has to be the best looting song ever, narrowly edging Bob Marley's "Burning and Looting."

continue reading "THE BEST LOOTING SONG EVER" »


4:20 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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LOOTING IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Posted by Steve

Here's a study in contrast from Yahoo.

These people found bread and soda in a grocery store.

This guy looted a grocery store.

What's the difference? I'll give you one guess.

(Hat tip: FishStick in the BTD Forum).

11:00 AM | Link | Media | Comments (0)

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August 30, 2005

UNINTELLIGENCE

Posted by Steve

John Derbyshire gets it right on Intellgent Design.

This is Bush at his muddle-headed worst, conferring all the authority of the presidency on the teaching of pseudoscience in science classes. Why stop with Intelligent Design (the theory that life on earth has developed by a series of supernatural miracles performed by the God of the Christian Bible, for which it is pointless to seek any naturalistic explanation)? Why not teach the little ones astrology? Lysenkoism? Orgonomy? Dianetics? Reflexology? Dowsing and radiesthesia? Forteanism? Velikovskianism? Lawsonomy? Secrets of the Great Pyramid? ESP and psychokinesis? Atlantis and Lemuria? The hollow-earth theory? Does the president have any idea, does he have any idea, how many varieties of pseudoscientific flapdoodle there are in the world? If you are going to teach one, why not teach the rest? Shouldn't all sides be "properly taught"? To give our kids, you know, a rounded picture? Has the president scrutinized Velikovsky's theories? Can he refute them? Can you?

Andrew Sullivan, linking to Derbyshire's column, chimes in, "[P]resident Bush's endorsement of "intelligent design" for teaching in public schools really does strike me as the dumbest idea he has ever expressed."

10:58 PM | Link | Religion | Comments (0)

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WHERE ARE THE WOMEN COMPOSERS?

Posted by Steve

One of Charles Murray's more inflammatory assertions is that there are no women among first tier musical composers. Murray explains the disparity by pointing to genetic variability and a masculine predisposition for abstract thought.

In this 1970 essay, Pauline Oliveros takes another view:

Women have been taught to despise activity outside of the domestic realm as unfeminine, just as men have been taught to despise domestic duties. For men, independence, mobility and creative action are imperative. Society has perpetuated an unnatural atmosphere which encourages distortions such as "girl" used as a bad word by little boys from the age of nine or ten. From infancy, boys are wrapped in blue blankets and continually directed against what is considered feminine activity. What kind of self-image can little girls have, then, with half their peers despising them because they have been discouraged from so-called masculine activity and wrapped in pink blankets?

Here is a bibliography that begins as follows: "Have you ever wondered why you did not know (m)any women composers? The purpose of this bibliography is to provide you with an answer to this question." Unfortunately, since it's just a bibliography, you'll have to do a lot more reading to find the answer.

For those interested in the music of women composers, here is sheet music featuring the works of eleven women dating all the way back to Gregorian chants.

Finally, here's an engaging tribute to Clara Schumann, who comes up on every list of prominent women composers.

10:26 AM | Link | Music | Comments (0)

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August 29, 2005

MURRAY REACTIONS

Posted by Steve

Charles Murray's recent article (linked below) had generated the predictable responses.

NoSpeedBumps has a roundup. This one is taken from that one, with some other reactions mixed in as well.

Scott Lemieux: "[E]ven in his less 'controversial' mode Murray is a sloppy, second-rate thinker, whose non-trivial empirical claims have a distinct tendency to be false. The core of The Bell Curve is something much worse than that."

ParaPundit is more positive, and links to scientific studies backing Murray.

Andrew Sullivan: "The fact of human inequality and the subtle and complex differences between various manifestations of being human - gay, straight, male, female, black, Asian - is a subject worth exploring, period. Liberalism's commitment to political and moral equality for all citizens and human beings is not and should not be threatened by empirical research into human difference and varied inequality. And the fact that so many liberals are determined instead to prevent and stigmatize free research and debate on this subject is evidence ... well, that they have ceased to be liberals in the classic sense."

Matthew Yglesias: "The truth of the matter about all research into the genetic bases of human behavior, is that theories with scant evidentiary basis are much more likely to find a non-trivial audience if they re-enforce our presuppositions."

Kevin Drum bashes Murray, then links to the same 1995 summary report that Murray cited in his recent Commentary piece. Presumably both authors think the 1995 report supports their positions.

bellhorn: "I am curious as to whether there are any non-white, non-male scientists championing the view that science tells us that non-white, non-males are inferior in intellect."

HedgeFundGuy: "Thus he documents considerable correlation between IQ and income independent of SES. I find this hard to reconcile with the Bowles and Gintis estimation of 2% that DeLong finds so convincing. Of course, I remember Bowles mostly for his vigorous championing of East German productivity from state-sponsored production plans in the months prior to the wall falling in 1989."

Sweet and Sour Spectator: "The June 2005 edition of American Psychological Association's journal: Psychology, Public Policy, Law was devoted to the race/IQ issue. Some of the notables in the field, e.g. Jensen, Rushton, and others have articles in the issue....and these articles have been made available by Rusthon at his web page: J. Philippe Rushton, Ph.D. Altruism, Evolutionary Psychology, Ethnic Variations."

dustbury: "We do no one a service by assuming that everyone is exactly identical."

So far, everyone seems to have plenty of support for their preconceived notions.

11:35 PM | Link | Science | Comments (0)

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IN THE YEAR 1999 ...

Posted by Hei Lun

A music meme from Michele:

A.) Go to musicoutfitters.com
B.) Enter the year you graduated from high school in the search function and get the list of 100 most popular songs of that year
C.) Bold the songs you like, strike through the ones you hate and underline your favorite. Do nothing to the ones you don't remember (or don't care about).

continue reading "IN THE YEAR 1999 ..." »


11:25 PM | Link | Music | Comments (0)

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GLYPHS

Posted by Steve

Glyph3Glyph2Glyph1

10:32 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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August 26, 2005

HE'S BACK

Posted by Steve

Charles Murray, author of Bell Curve, a controversial book exploring the relationships between IQ and class, has broken his decade-long silence about group differences in IQ. I am unqualified to evaluate his article from a scientific standpoint, but as a piece of writing, let's just say we're going to be hearing a lot about it in the coming weeks. Quotes:

The historical reality of male dominance of the greatest achievements in science and the arts is not open to argument...

In the humanities, the most abstract field is philosophy—and no woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions...

No female composer is even close to the first rank...

Murray discusses race as well:

[T]he conventional environmental explanation of the black-white difference is inadequate. Poverty, bad schools, and racism, which seem such obvious culprits, do not explain it...

He finishes with a grand conclusion:

Elites throughout the West are living a lie, basing the futures of their societies on the assumption that all groups of people are equal in all respects.

And a suggestion:

Let us start talking about group differences openly—all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and non-poor that could inform policy for reducing poverty.

I have deliberately selected the most inflammatory quotations from the article, but make no mistake, I have not distorted Murray's argument. He goes even further, for example suggesting that the motherhood impulse partially explains the disparity in achievement between men and women in the arts and sciences.

What is missing from this post, of course, are Murray's numerous citations to the scientific literature. His argument seems scant at times, for example he cites pretigious awards such as Nobel prizes as the sole support for dramatic conclusions such as those quoted above. But he makes myriad other pedestrian points as well, some of which are scientifically undisputed yet radioactive in the public discourse (for example the persistence of IQ differences among racial groups).

We can probably expect Murray's essay to be applauded by the usual suspects on the right and assailed by their counterparts on the left. But as Murray himself notes near the end, the political ramifications of his arguments are far from clear. He argues essentially that race and sex "matter," a position that can be used or abused by partisans of all stripes. It could be used as justification for affirmative action, for example, but the argument does not end there. Murray quotes Steven Pinker as saying, “Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”

You'll be hearing about Murray's article. I suggest you read it for yourself.

12:14 PM | Link | Science | Comments (0)

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TAKE THREE

Posted by Tom

Kriston's post on Take Two Interactive prompted me to write a comment in reply, and, well, it kind of got away from me. So I thought I might as well put it up as a post.

Gaming has thoroughly infiltrated the popular culture; I suspect we're past the threshold point of people putting away videogames when they reach adulthood. It'll be fascinating to observe the new genres that emerge to satisfy the tastes of demographics that don't solely consist of teenage boys. After a number of disastrous fits and starts, you can already see this happening in games like The Sims. In fact, one oft-quoted statistic states that there are more 18+ female gamers than there are teenage male gamers. There are some caveats — no doubt the way one defines the "gamer" criteria is key to this statistic. And, like many people, I suspect that online card games and the like account for a large chunk of the female stat — and those are games that, driven by an ad-revenue model and frequently difficult to differentiate, aren't suited to explosive growth. But still: the stat is suggestive, as is the example set by large parts of East Asia. I have no doubt that in not too long most of our society will be playing videogames.

Given what I consider to be gaming's inevitable growth as a part of our culture, I think Kriston's right that the game industry is likely to continue to expand. However, there are some real structural problems with the industry — ones that make the market's exuberance for videogames just a bit more irrational than many analysts think. There are a few important facts that I suspect investors haven't quite internalized.

continue reading "TAKE THREE" »


11:10 AM | Link | Economics | Comments (0)

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GAY BATMAN

Posted by Venkat

Gay Batman.jpg

(Like we haven't always known. . . . .) Mark Chamberlain (not everything is work safe) is the artist. I cannot imagine that DC/Warner are too happy.

5:01 AM | Link | Culture | Comments (3)

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TAKE TWO

Posted by Kriston

My contribution to BTD's ongoing coverage of the Hot Coffee–gate (which has cooled significantly, but nevertheless): this Fortune article alleges "financial chicanery" on the part of Take Two Interactive Software, the creators of the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise. Bethany McLean, author of The Smartest Guys in the Room and best known for more or less breaking the Enron megascandal, runs down the rap sheet:

Take Two is the industry's wild child. A not-so-small publicly traded company—its market capitalization today is almost $2 billion—it has a history of financial improprieties, hefty stock sales in the midst of scandal, and revolving-door management. In June, just before the hot-coffee controversy erupted, Take Two settled SEC charges that it had engaged in fraudulent accounting practices designed to inflate revenue, meet earnings targets, and trigger bonuses to executives.

For the videogame industry, struggling to gain credibility and respect in the mainstream entertainment world, Take Two should be a cautionary tale. (The company declined to comment for this story.) Remarkably, it's not. Because despite all the outrage—and the outrageous corporate behavior—Take Two's stock remains a widely owned, much-prized commodity. "Acting like a thug in one of their own games," as one industry insider describes the company's transgressions, has apparently had few repercussions.

I never got that far in "San Andreas," so I don't recall the part where you play a major shareholder who also represents the audit committee and made significant gains through stock sales during a period in which the company was later proved to have had faulty accounting, but it sounds dirty.

The charges McLean outlines seem serious—but the response couldn't be less so. With the Federal Trade Commission investigating Take Two (after nearly unanimous prodding from the House) and Wal-Mart sending the company a message in the form of a $50 million setback, you would expect the company to take a knock on the chin from its investors. Nothing of the sort.

Is the video game market irrationally exuberant? So long as the gaming industry exhibits meteoric growth, a leading brand may well prove invulnerable to the checks that would curb the same behavior by an actor in another industry. As all the major video game platform designers are gearing up for new platform releases, I'm guessing that the correction won't be arriving in time for Christmas. Platform upgrades notwithstanding, it's unlikely that the gaming industry will continue to grow at the same rate. Continued growth in the gaming industry may ultimately depend on whether it can make good on their designs for a largely untapped demographic: women gamers. But for the time being, Take Two is both too hot for TV and too hot to handle.

12:13 AM | Link | Economics | Comments (0)

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August 25, 2005

THOUSAND MONKEYS WITH A THOUSAND MICROPHONES

Posted by Hei Lun

There's no shortage of dumb things said in the debate about evolution, but this one from Larry King I have to point out († Matthew Yglesias):

KING: All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?

And if asbestos is toxic, why did the Lions draft another wide receiver? But I digress.

Matt points out that according to evolution people share closer common ancestry with apes than with monkeys, but the more important point I think is that apes and people are linked in evolution not because people descended from apes, as many (like King) believe evolution says, but because the two share a common ancestor. King's mistake is what led him to ask such a stupid question. Now it could be that King understood evolution perfectly well and was only asking a question that would allow his guest to explain evolution, but I highly doubt it.

But, as the saying goes, but wait, there's more! In the same segment, here's Deepak Chopra:

...there is evidence in science that there is creativity in the universe, that consciousness may not be an emergent property, that physical matter may be an emergent property, that consciousness conceives and governs and constructs and actually becomes what we call mind, and then body and the physical universe.

All I have to say is "huh?" I'm equipped to tackle Creationists and IDers, but to the metaphorics of Deepak Chopra I have no response. What is an "emergent property" anyway? Is it emergent in the same way that Democratic majority is?

And here's Jay Richards from the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design:

Intelligent design theory is just saying more or less what Deepak Chopra said ...

If that's not going to get people convinced that ID is wrong, I don't know what will.

For this big segment, King had six guests on at the same time. There was a pastor, a professor of philosophy, the guy from the Discovery Institute, Deepak Chopra, and two Senators. Can you guess what profession is enitrely missing from this discussion?

(File this in the "why I only watch cable news once every two years on election day" folder.)

10:30 PM | Link | Media | Comments (0)

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SENDING THE WRONG SIGNAL

Posted by Tom

Here in D.C. we've just gotten news that Walter Reed Army Medical Center will be closing, one of many facilities on the chopping block as the Federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission goes about its duties.

Walter Reed is an old facility, and certainly I'm sympathetic to arguments that wounded soldiers deserve the best possible care at the best possible facility. But at the same time, Sen. John Warner is claiming that BRAC's closure of Walter Reed and other area bases is part of a conscious strategy undertaken by Secretary Rumsfeld to move military jobs out of the national capital region.

The merits of that plan are up for debate (largely because its rationale has, to this point, been so opaque). But it seems to me that there is symbolic value in having our soldiers — particularly those who are convalescing from wounds — within a short drive of the people who send them to war. Despite servicemembers being everywhere, the D.C. area already has a weirdly insulated view of military life — one defined by bureacratic trappings that make a military career nearly indistinguishable from one at a corporation or federal agency (except they usually don't have to wear ties). Moving bases will ensure that most of the soldiers Washingtonians see will be on their way to conference rooms in defense contractors' offices, and I don't think that's a particularly healthy arrangement.

The president has made frequent trips to Walter Reed, and I'm sure that it's been a valuable experience both for him and for other decisionmakers who've done the same. So long as the facility isn't doing the soldiers it houses any harm or hemorrhaging money, I'd like to see it stay open.

4:46 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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PRICE CAPS--HOW NOT TO SOLVE A PROBLEM

Posted by Vance

I suppose it doesn't surprise me that Hawaii is following through on their plan to put a price cap on wholesale gasoline starting 1 September. And it certainly isn't surprising that it is pretty much impossible to find an economist that sees any benefit to this strategy.

Still, though, it amazes me that the legislators in Hawaii could exhibit such blatant disregard for simple economics that is found in this document. First, for background to the current situation, note this excerpt:

continue reading "PRICE CAPS--HOW NOT TO SOLVE A PROBLEM" »


4:05 PM | Link | Economics | Comments (0)

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STRICT CONSTRUCTION 101

Posted by Venkat

It's tragically funny to watch everyone qualify and soft-peddle their takes on the draft of the Iraqi constitution. Fred Kaplan writing at Slate rightly pans it. Jonah Goldberg, sounding as if he's passing on the merits of a black labrador puppy his family is about to purchase, writes: "I GOTTA SAY . . . [it] ain't so bad on a first, quick, reading." Thanks Jonah. (See also Althouse; QandO; and Pejman (posting at new digs).)

It's obviously bad. Not poorly written mind you . . . (far be it for us to critique that aspect of the document, as, after all, it's not written for our benefit) but it's obviously a compromise document. And one that doesn't even effect a full compromise. Meanwhile, Kausfiles asks "what's so bad about a constitution that leaves the question open to future interpretation?" Well, all documents require some degree of future interpretation. However, in this case, the document leaves a whole lot of room for interpretation without even really saying who is going to do the final interpreting. Not to mention that fact that given the disputes regarding women's rights (for example) the document's failure to specifically address the women's rights issue constitutes pretty decent proof of the framers' intent not to resolve it conclusively in favor of those rights.

The crux of the conflict will be how to resolve the conflict between "principles of democracy," which in this day and age, require (among other things) recognition of women's rights, and "the essential verities of Islamic law," which . . . well . . . doesn't necessarily hold a high place for women's rights. Similarly, the document provides for "freedom of expression and freedom of the press," but what do you think is going to happen when someone calls Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani a faker. Can't really look to the document for help there.

Given that GW has called finalization of the constitution a "critical step," the document fails. It falls far short of (1) resolving the competing interests of the various groups and (2) unequivocally providing for core democratic values.

NB: the funny thing is that we are likely to see people abandoning their familiar positions with respect to interpretation of the US Constitution when it comes to interpreting the Iraqi Constitution. For example, Kausfiles asks whether "modernization and democracy itself [as opposed to provisions of the governing document] tend to produce growing support for women's rights?" Sounds like we are going to be taking a rather dynamic view of that constitution and looking to later developments to determine the true scope of rights. Similarly, while SCOTUS decisions like Kelo and Raich left certain people complaining about the scope of judicial review these same people will be suited just fine leaving final interpretation of the scope of fundamental rights for Iraqi citizens to . . . well . . . someone other than the drafters of that constitution. (Conveniently enough, there's a parallel debate running about the "living constitution." See, e.g., Xrlq here.)

3:51 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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August 24, 2005

GIRL

Posted by Steve

Girl

10:52 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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August 23, 2005

THOSE CRAZY JURIES

Posted by Venkat

Jane Galt offers this critique of the jury system:

The jury system was designed in an era of generalists, before even the invention of forensic evidence. Juries were generally being asked to rule on things they understood well--theft, infidelity, property rights, murder. Now they're being asked to rule on things far outside of their experience (and in some cases, outside of their cognitive ability). Base motives are nothing new to the jury system; it was Samuel Johnson, I believe, who noted that "Wretches have hanged that jurors might dine". But the harder it is for jurors to comprehend the evidence before them, the more likely they are to fall back on unsalutary urges in rendering their verdict.
(See also Prof. Bainbridge here). I cringe at critiques of the American jury system, one of our more democratic† institutions. The majority of critiques are inconsistent and problematic on a variety of levels, in addition to ignoring the fact that this system is a long standing American tradition. Here's a few reasons why. Feel free to add your reasons in the comments:
(a) as free marketeers, shouldn't we respect the jury system? After all, aren't the very same participants in the markets that will ultimately properly allocate society's resources . . . in this circumstance . . . unfortunately succumbing to their "baser instincts"?

(b) the right to a jury trial in civil cases is entrenched in the Constitution and isn't it possible in some cases that taking it away . . . constitutes [gasp] a taking?

(c) life isn't really super duper complicated now as compared to back then is it?

(d) back then weren't people were still called on to decide issues outside their realm of life experience -- or do adultresses and cuckolds only get to decide cases involving adultery?

(e) shouldn't we offer a suitable replacement for the jury -- who would decide in their place, judges? scientific experts? pharmaceutical company execs?

(f) wasn't it an . . . er RED state jury?

† She does let us know that:

[She's] an MBA and [she] write[s] about business and economics for a living. [She's] not sure [she's] qualified to sit on a securities case--and if [she's] not, your average HR assistant sure as hell isn't.
Alrighty then. What kind of case is an "HR Assistant" qualified to sit on I wonder? Probably one of those adultery cases I'm guessing.


1:18 AM | Link | Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

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August 22, 2005

INEVITABILITY

Posted by Tom

Canada is now considering legislation that would allow law enforcement agencies to monitor email, text messages and other forms of electronic communication without having to first obtain approval from a judge.

Sure, this is disappointing — by now everyone's familiar with the continued (and largely useless) erosion of personal privacy as a means of fighting terrorism. But it's hardly anything new, or unexpected. Email and IM traffic is simply too attractive a target. Collecting and parsing its content is much, much too easy for this ripe source of intelligence to be permanently ignored. Large-scale monitoring of network traffic is not just a paranoid fantasy, or even an inevitability — it's already happening. The only truly novel thing about Admiral Poindexter's now-defunct Total Information Awareness program was that the people running it were stupid enough to return reporters' phone calls.

But surveilling electronic communications isn't just for shadowy international intelligence-gathering oeprations — you can try it from the comfort of your own cubicle! Try downloading a copy of Ethereal. It's not the most user-friendly application in the world, but you'll only need the most basic functions for this demonstration. Just start collecting traffic -- filter for port 25 to see your coworker's outgoing email; port 110 should show their incoming email. If they use a webmail system, you'll want to look at 80 (you get to see what blogs they're reading this way, too). And 5190 will give you their AOL IM traffic.

I'm not keen to let US law enforcement collect this information without oversight, but I'd be much more worried about it if IT department geeks the world over weren't already legally empowered to snoop through our electronic correspondence for personal details, company gossip or (gasp) unofficial uses of the business's precious internet resources.

Preserving judicial oversight of potentially rights-infringing investigations is important and worth doing. But it's naive to think that laws will protect your data from prying eyes. The only real answer is encryption.

So: don't use webmail without making sure the address starts with an https://. Use Trillian's (admittedly user unfriendly) encryption features for private IM. If you want to make sure your email is safe, give Thunderbird with Enigmail a try. But most of all, don't assume that prying eyes aren't watching.

11:29 AM | Link | Technology | Comments (0)

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August 21, 2005

CURRENT

Posted by Steve

The New York Times reports on Al Gore's youth oriented cable netowork, Current TV. Billed as "MTV without the music," Current features short films, somw of which are submitted by viewers.

Current's topics range from the depopulation of the small Wyoming town of Chugwater to a mock political ad to a pyrotechnician (a commercial fireworks display maker) in Marietta, Ga. Aspiring contributors take video cameras as far afield as the West Bank, the slums of Nairobi, hip-hop circles in Sierra Leone, and even to Iraq, where surgery on the leg of a marine wounded by shrapnel is shown in graphic close-up. (At the bottom of the screen, a progress bar informs antsy viewers how much time is left before the end.)

Click here to vote for your favorite viewer submissions.

9:42 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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I SWEAR BY ALMIGHTY BUDDHA TO TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH

Posted by Venkat

LGF notes here with horror the movement to allow witnesses to take their oaths on the Koran, rather than the Bible ("Radical Lawyers and Radical Muslims Join Forces") (FOXNews.com story here).

That doesn't sound particularly "radical" to me. Federal law accommodates those who do not wish to "swear to almightly god to tell the whole truth," and expressly allows for witnesses to take oaths or affirmations.† So I would think that under federal law you could affirm in honor of your grandparents or Buddha or whomever, to tell the whole truth. Similarly, I think any witness in any court could freely refuse to "swear" to anything. To penalize the witness or the party on whose behalf the witness was going to testify for refusing to swear on a Bible would probably be constitutionally problematic.

As far as Chief District Court Judge Joseph Turner, who "says taking an oath on the Koran is not allowed by North Carolina state law, which specifies that witnesses shall place their hands on the 'holy scriptures,' which he interprets as the Christian Bible . . . ," I guess they just do things differently over there.

I'm not sure if the state could be obligated to provide you with a Koran. It merely should give you the option of swearing and affirming to whatever happens to be your authority. The article notes controversy over the court's refusal to accept donations of Korans.

[Someone should start a web site profiling crazy quotes of Southern judges. Does Chief District Court Judge Joseph Turner's quote qualify??]

† See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P. 43(d) (permitting affirmation instead of oath); Fed. R. Evid. 603 (same); 28 U.S.C. § 1746 (1994) (generally permitting affirmations instead of oaths under federal law); Moore v. United States, 348 U.S. 966 (1955) (court erred in refusing to accommodate religious objection to use of the word "solemnly" in affirmation; "there is no requirement that the word solemnly be used in the affirmation").

continue reading "I SWEAR BY ALMIGHTY BUDDHA TO TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH" »


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August 20, 2005

BTD MIXED CD SWAP, ROUND TWO: REVENGE OF THE MIX

Posted by Greg

In case you missed it last time around, we're about to conduct another Mix CD swap over at the BTD Forum. Head on over, register, and let us know you'd like to participate. Last time was a whole lot of fun, and this round promises to be twice as fun (with t-shirts!)

Click below to see some cover art from some of the mixes that went out last round.

continue reading "BTD MIXED CD SWAP, ROUND TWO: REVENGE OF THE MIX" »


10:06 AM | Link | Music | Comments (0)

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August 19, 2005

ROBERTS TO WOMEN: GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN

Posted by Hei Lun

Here's how today's front page Washington Post story on John Roberts titled "Roberts Resisted Women's Rights" begins:

Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. consistently opposed legal and legislative attempts to strengthen women's rights during his years as a legal adviser in the Reagan White House, disparaging what he called "the purported gender gap" ...

I was skeptical when Newsday was making similar charges against Roberts (see Greg's post), but now that the Washington Post says so, I'm ready to oppose Roberts's nomination. I'll be fully convinced when the New York Times tells us next Tuesday that Roberts loves the Kinky Friedman song, "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed".

continue reading "ROBERTS TO WOMEN: GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN" »


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NEWSDAY CONTINUES TO MINE ROBERTS MEMOS

Posted by Greg

Newsday seems driven to find that nugget that will derail Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. As I wrote about earlier, the newspaper recently tried to raise a stink out of a non-controversy by publishing Roberts' thoughts about "comparative wage theory" under a headline that misleadingly referred to "equal pay." Newsday keeps digging, but still hasn't hit the motherlode. Here's some examples of fools gold from today's article:

In some memos, for example, he made jokes about Hispanics and women. For a 1983 Reagan interview in Spanish Today, he said, "I think this audience would be pleased that we are trying to grant legal status to their illegal amigos."

I'm missing the joke. Is "amigos" supposed to be derogatory? It's just "friend" in Spanish, right?

He also joked in 1982 about Kickapoo Indians, saying "a group of them made Newsweek by choosing to live in squalid conditions beneath the International Bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas, rather than their Mexican homeland."

Again, either this is very dry, subtle humor indeed, or its a statement of fact. I'm voting for the later because I'm pretty good at picking up humor. Really.

In a 1984 memo advising on how to respond to an eccentric letter to his boss, Fred Fielding, asking if all property had been placed in a public trust, Roberts began, "One Ramon L. Rivera of Los Angeles (where else?) ... "

I suppose one could read this as a statement about someone with a Hispanic name, but that's certainly not the only explanation. It's not even the most obvious. People have been making fun of the denizens of SoCal for a long time. Los Angelenos are as renowned for being eccentric as New Yorkers are for being boisterous. And Robert's didn't say "who else?" he said "where else?," implying it was the location, not the surname, that was telling. So far, Newsday is 0-3 by my count.

And in a 1985 memo about a corporate scholarship program for women, Roberts said, "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good."

Okay, if jokes about Southern Californians have been around for over a century, jokes about lawyers have been around for many millenia. And that's what this is, a lawyer joke, told by a lawyer. As I lawyer, I feel qualified to identify it as such. And I really don't see how you can read this as a slight to homemakers.

In 1983 Roberts wrote that many proposals were "highly objectionable," including a Florida plan to charge lower tuition to women because they have less earning potential and "a staggeringly pernicious law codifying the anti-capitalist notion of 'comparable worth.'" Discussing a rule change on government funding of nonprofits, Roberts worried the proposal was too broad: "It is possible to 'defund the left' without alienating TRW and Boeing, but the proposals, if enacted, could do both."

See my previous post. It seems the newspaper added this to the bottom of the list to make the evidence look impressive for its bulk, if not its content.

Is there any question at this point that Roberts is going to sail through? Doesn't look like it. I'm sure they'll keep digging, just the same.

2:18 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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BLOGGER APB: HAS ANYONE SEEN RYAN?

Posted by Greg

What do you do when one of your blogging acquaintances seems to have gone missing? I imagine an interview with a Joe Friday-style detective going something like this:

Q: What's the person's name?

A: Ryan, of The Dead Parrot Society.

Q: You say he's a member of some kind of society?

A: No, it's a blog—and online journal of sorts.

Q: Oh, the Internet. I see. Do you know his last name?

A: Well, yeah, but I'd rather not say.

Q: Okay, so what does he look like?

A: Dunno. I've never met him.

Q: You say this is a friend?

A: Uh, yeah. I guess I could say that.

Q: What can you tell us about him?

A: Well, he's a journalist living in Spokane, Washington. He likes good music, with a penchant for indie-rock, and enjoys Miyazaki movies. He's a Kansas basketball fan. Um...he likes to poke holes in media conspiracy theories.

Q: Okay, so when did you see...uh, communicate with him?

A: Almost two months ago.

Q: And you're just reporting it now? Is there anything that makes you think there might be foul play involved?

A: Well, you see, he used to post all the time. More than anyone else at DPS. We started out around the same time, you know. The parrots maybe had about a week's headstart, but we sort of grew into this blogging thing together. Ryan was by far the most proficient blogger over there. At first, I thought maybe he had just become busy. That happens, you know. Or bloggers go on vacation, or get burned out, or get distracted. But Ryan seems to have disappeared entirely. Do you think you can find him?

Q: We'll keep an eye out, son, but I can't make any promises.

So, anyway, if you see Ryan around, tell him I said, "Hey."

1:41 PM | Link | Blogosphere | Comments (0)

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August 18, 2005

ALLEN/RICE IN '08?

Posted by Kriston

Only 1,175 days until the election, so let's check in on the horserace. Over at Tapped, Garance Franke-Ruta makes the case for former Virginia governor and current Senator George Allen, with Condoleeza Rice taking the veep slot:

With that team they'd cover every Republican base and then some, from bubbas to buppies. Think about it: a conservative southern former governor from a football family who can talk Nascar and high tech alike, aligned with a tough-as-nails but charming African-American woman with serious national-security credentials (and I'm talking optics here, not substance). The selection of Rice would act as a capstone to the Karl Rove/Ken Mehlman effort, underway for four years by '08, to draw more African-Americans into the GOP; neutralize any advantage Hillary Clinton might have in reaching out to female voters; and help Allen out with that little problem he has about how he hangs a noose in his office.
A poll conducted by the National Journal suggests that Allen is the top pick—among politicos. In any other circle, Allen lacks the name recognition to come within a horse's length of center-right stars John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

I'm going to break ranks here and say that I suspect Franke-Ruta is maybe engaging in a bit of expectations management. (You see the same thing among HRC-hating conservatives who thoughtfully stroke their chins and concede that the Clinton presidency is nigh upon us—but in fact believe, to their very cores, that the ghost of Richard Nixon could get more votes than Hillary in an election for Head Librarian.) Allen may have walked away from his term as Virginia governor with a 68-percent approval rating, but that was 1998—headier days, financially speaking. Subsequently, voters punished the state GOP for financial mismanagement, giving the governor's mansion to Democrat (and another presidential hopeful) Mark Warner, who returned treasure to the state's coffers by repealing the phase-out of a car tax that had drained the state's budget (to the tune of a $1.5 billion deficit). Virginia hasn't gone blue by any means, but its voters are finding that, to their surprise, purple ain't so bad.

Why should Warner's popularity matter for Allen's chances in the national GOP race? For starters, Warner's rising star has surely come at the cost of some small measure of the GOP's executive reputation in the state, even if another figure (former governor Jim Gilmore) was responsible for phasing out the car tax in the first place. But more importantly, Virginia state law limits its governors to one term, leaving Governor Warner without a job by 2006. If Warner isn't vying for the top spot on the Democratic ticket, he'll have his eyes set squarely on Senator Allen's job. While a win in the 2006 midterms that doesn't expose too many weaknesses would raise Allen's profile, a loss to Warner would be devastating.

In short: Allen's route to the White House is potentially the most obstructed of all the names being tossed around. Since the President very likely won't be transferring the party helm to VP Dick Cheney, it will take more prep time to build up another GOP establishment candidate. Can Rove and Mehlman guide a dark horse between the Scylla of popular centrists Giuliani and McCain and the Charybdis of theoconservative Bill Frist? Tacking Rice to the ticket helps, but you'll notice, the Bush platform isn't gaining a lot of ground these days; the GOP needs a candidate that people recognize as pushing for a different direction. I'm betting that, with the possible exception of John Kerry, any of the Democratic hopefuls could hand Allen his behind.

5:17 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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PIXAR WRITER JOE RANFT DEAD AT 45

Posted by Greg

As I've written before, I'm a big fan of Pixar. Right from the start, Pixar has understood that animation isn't just about technical prowess (though they've got a deep supply of that), it's also about good stories and great writing.

Although he wasn't a celebrity by any means—before I read this notice at Ain't It Cool News, I didn't know who he was—Joe Raft made quite a contribution. And, at age 45, he was far too young to leave us.

Pixar story man Joe Ranft was killed last night in an automobile accident. Joe was not only responsible for story work on Toy Story, Bugs Life, and Cars, he voiced characters in every Pixar film since Toy Story.

With turns as Heimlich the caterpillar, Wheezy the squeaky toy and Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo. Joe was well liked by all, a loving husband and father. From what can be seen throughout the boards in the animation community Joe was a big part of what made animation so good.

He will be missed.

Unlike DreamWorks Animation, which generally relies on potty humor, pop-culture references, or crotch kicking for its biggest gags, Pixar usually manages to be very funny without taking shortcuts. Ranft, apparently, was a big part of that humor. I hope Pixar can continue to live up to that standard in the future without one of their star writers.

10:45 AM | Link | MEMORIAL | Comments (0)

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August 17, 2005

EXHAUSTED MOVIE BLOGGING

Posted by Steve

I am so tired I can barely type, so I shall blog in shorthand.

I've watched three documentaries lately.

March of the Penguins got tedious near the end. Hey wow, it sure is cold in Antarctica. Look, more snow. Nice job carrying around those eggs. Wait, don't tell me - you're hungry! How about a nice 70-mile waddle to the seal-infested feeding waters? Yawn.

Still, I'm rooting for the film. It's got indie cred. Check this out. Unlike most major Hollywood releases, Penguins is gaining ground with each passing week. Nice job. And this one was slightly less boring than Winged Migration, which is progress of sorts. This guy didn't get it either.

The Corporation lowered my IQ 15 points in 90 minutes. I make these sacrifices for the blog. Here's the billing:

THE CORPORATION explores the nature and spectacular rise of the dominant institution of our time. Footage from pop culture, advertising, TV news, and corporate propaganda, illuminates the corporation's grip on our lives. Taking its legal status as a "person" to its logical conclusion, the film puts the corporation on the psychiatrist's couch to ask "What kind of person is it?" Provoking, witty, sweepingly informative, The Corporation includes forty interviews with corporate insiders and critics - including Milton Friedman, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Michael Moore - plus true confessions, case studies and strategies for change.

The reality: The Corporation begins with 15 minutes explaining what a corporation is. So far, so good. Then it finishes with 75 minutes of human suffering. Agent Orange. DDT. Sweatshops.

We are meant to conclude that corporations are responsible for human suffering. We are also meant, via suggestive language and video imagery, to associate corporations with "monsters" and "sharks." I was so mad by the end of it I was ready to retract all the nasty things I said about that guy from Coldplay. I marched right across my Ikea rug, pressed "Eject" on my Sony DVD player, mailed the movie back to Netflix, cracked a Diet Vanilla Coke and fired up my Apple Macintosh to rant and rave about how corporations never did anything good for anyone.

Then, as I felt my IQ creeping back up to it's normal martini-subdued exhausted mediocrity, I pummeled it back into submission by watching OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism.

Here's the thing, see? FOX News is conservative. Stop the presses.

No really - that's the whole point of the film - to prove that FOX News tends to favor Republicans and conservatives. And Bill O'Reilly is rude. This apparently threatens the health of our democracy. We must take action. During the closing montage, over the stirring strains of "Layla," one of the founders of Air America urges us to visit the FCC Commissioners in Washington, presumably to tell them we need more liberal radio and less conservative TV. I'm not sure if it was the Air America guy who stole everyone's money, or his buddy the lawyer with the frivolous PR lawsuit, but no matter. The main thing is that we're all being brainwashed! It's not like there are 500 other TV channels or thousands of publications or millions of websites where we can go for information... oh wait.

The best part was the coverage of the 2000 election. (Sinister music). FOX News was the first network to declare Bush the winner of Florida at 2:00 a.m.! Oh my! It's awful. It's not as though all the networks had wrongly called Florida for Gore six hours earlier, while the polls were still open... oh wait.

Sigh. Must go to bed. I'm too tired to deal with this stuff. And too dumb.

11:18 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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SOME THEY ALL DARE CALL IT TREASON

Posted by Kriston

Some time ago Eugene Volokh challenged his readers to find and send to him examples of Westerners who defend the Iraqi insurgency. His bleg didn't produce much in the way of results (one quote from Michael Moore), but David Kopel dug up a few examples: professor James Petras, author Arundhati Roy, liberal commedienne Janeane Garafalo, and Green Party politician Virginia Rodino. That's five.

Inspired by Volokh, Henry Farrell asked his readers to help him compile a list of conservatives who claim that war opponents are rooting for the other side. The list is interesting not because it includes so many prominent figures from the conservative commentariat—Norman Podhoretz, Glenn Reynolds, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, James Taranto, and so on—but because so many of these pundits are serious people. Sure, Ann Coulter was a shoe-in, in the same sense that Michael Moore was for his list; but where you find Glenn Reynolds calling liberals traitors, you don't find, on the other side, Kevin Drum actually betraying America.

Granted, we're not talking about peer-reviewed journals here, so take it for what it's worth. It does reflect a small-t truth: Liberals and conservatives may be equally crude, but they aren't similarly crude.

12:12 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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BOOKS #29 AND #30

Posted by Hei Lun

The Secret Man: Watergate's Deep Throat, by Bob Woodward

I never had much interest in Watergate or Deep Throat. Since I wasn't alive back then, it doesn't seem as important to me as I'm sure it is to many people who lived through that era. And since it took place over thirty years ago, you'd figure that people on both sides would have moved on since then and not see every potential government scandal in that context. (I think a good case can be made that the Clinton impeachment wouldn't have happened without Watergate, and there certainly would be fewer murmurs about impeaching Bush from the left fringe.) I read this book not so much out of great interest, but just to put closure for me on this subject and give me a good excuse in the future never to read anything remotely related to Watergate ever again.

Here's three things I learned from this book: 1) Richard Nixon is a horrible, horrible man (even worse than my opinion of him was before), 2) we're not going to learn much more about Mark Felt and his motivations, since Woodward didn't know either and Felt is no longer in a condition that he can tell us (we can speculate about his getting snubbed from the top post at the FBI but we'd never know for sure), and 3) Woodward tried to get Felt to agree to disclose his identity a few years back but couldn't do it because Felt had lost most of his memory and barely remember what he did. Chances are if you know anything about Watergate you're not going to learn much more than I did.

As I mentioned before, I read Dinner with a Perfect Stranger: An Invitation Worth Considering, by David Gregory a month back, but let's just say that the less I say about this book the better, and that if this is anywhere near good Christian literature then Christianity is in a lot of trouble.

11:15 AM | Link | Fifty Book Challenge | Comments (0)

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August 16, 2005

BUDAPEST

Posted by Steve

Budapest

10:56 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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ROBERTS IN 1984: EQUAL PAY SOCIALISM "RADICAL"

Posted by Greg

This Newsday article introduces itself with the following provocative headline: "Nominee Roberts, in '84, called equal pay for women 'radical.'" Such a headline incites reaction. Liberals feel their pulse race as the words "sexist," "misogynistic" and "neanderthal" flit through their collective consciousness. Conservatives go into knee-jerk justification mode: "It was 1984. That's [pause to do the math] twenty years ago!" Alas, both reactions prove to be a waste of mental and emotional effort, once you dig through to the information at the root of the story.

Because what Roberts was calling "radical" in 1984 was just that—radical. Dare I say, even un-American? Well, certainly socialistic and anti-free market. In the memo, written while Roberts was working for the Reagan Administration, Roberts was addressing something called "comparative worth." "Comparative worth" is qualitatively different from equal pay for equal work. In the article, Roberts is quoted as evoking Marx with the statement, "It is difficult to exaggerate the perniciousness of the 'comparable worth' theory. It mandates nothing less than central planning of the economy by judges."

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KID A

Posted by Kriston

David Velleman at Left2Right argues dispassionately against gay marriage based on the (U.N.-recognized) right of children to know their biological parents:

Yet reversing [the practice of omitting reference on a birth certificate to the biological donor in favor of the adoptive parent] would bear differently on heterosexual and homosexual marriages. It would affect only a small percentage of heterosexual marriages, and it would be no more prejudicial to their parental rights than openness in adoption, which is now widespread. But a requirement of openness in donor conception would affect all homosexual marriages as a class. Homosexual marriage would be, by its very nature, marriage that can lead only to qualified parenthood—qualified, that is, by the legally recognized parenthood of donors or birth parents. Maybe same-sex couples would be willing to accept a form of marriage that is second-class in this respect—but I doubt it.
Velleman continues: "My worry is that a purely affectional conception of marriage will tend to favor a purely affectional conception of parenthood." The problem being that it's a little late to turn back that tide now. In his argument, Velleman consistently uses "marriage" when he means something like "parenthood." Consider that birth certification has almost zero bearing on families that do not include children—not just gay couples that don't adopt but the many heterosexual married couples that do not or cannot have children. Furthermore, our society is already asked to navigate the sensitive issues of "qualified parenthood" when heterosexual couples, for reasons of infertility (to cite one example) adopt a child. If we must prevent even the possibility that adoptive parents might violate a child's fundamental rights, then we will have to begin by reversing longstanding rights for heterosexual couples.

I sympathize with Velleman's distaste for the argument, put forth by a Massachusetts gay-rights organization, that birth certificates should replace "Mother" and "Father" with "Parent A" and "Parent B," whether for a child of a straight or gay couple. That's stupid. The suggestion it fails to account for the actual world to which it refers, where children don't go about holding hands with A+B. Certainly gay marriage introduces some new questions—what label to put on the form for the adoptive woman who is married to the biological mother? I don't know, but I'll hazard that a reasonable (if not apparent) answer is at least feasible; and that we shouldn't put off the many questions regarding gay couples' legal rights and recognition because another murky question may or may not come up. These questions are soluble.

On a related note: Gail Armstrong has a wonderfully dark post about adoption and, in a sense, how murky every family is. It's a succinct complement to Velleman's sharp, starched argument.

1:11 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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August 15, 2005

T-SHIRT HUMOR

Posted by Steve

I have been meaning for quite some time to post a link to T-ShirtHumor.com, a site with mostly left-leaning merchandise in the politcal section, and lots of other funny stuff as well.

My favorite from the political section is this one:

Nucular

But my favorite overall has to be this one:

Disgruntled

Check 'em out.

9:54 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

Posted by Steve

I've been tuned out lately, so I'm not sure when or how this Cindy Sheehan person came along or why anyone has strong feelings about her one way or the other. I barely know what she's up to. Something about her son dying in Iraq... something about wanting to meet with Bush so she can tell him the Iraq war is wrong... something about thinking Bush ought to meet with her.

Stop me if I'm getting this wrong. Really, I haven't been paying attention.

I do know that David Duke is a fan. Just another indication that nuttiness is a bipartisan affliction, especially where Jews are concerned.

9:35 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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August 14, 2005

CHANDELIER

Posted by Greg

Chandelier

12:51 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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PREDICTION WATCH II: RUMMY

Posted by Venkat

William Kristol and Greg Djerejian wonder why GW has not yet sacked Rumsfeld. (These are supporters wondering why the CEO hasn't fired the person charged with heading up the administration's signature effort!)

On a somewhat related note, GW says he hasn't "ruled out" fource against Iran. The Belgravia Dispatch worries, however, that if things don't turn around soon, our lackluster performance in Iraq is only going to weaken our position vis a vis Iran:

Yes, like Clintonian fecklessness led our enemies to question the seriousness of our national purpose and resolve, so will a half-assed Iraq fiasco that leaves us looking a paper tiger.
(Not to mention, what "force" is GW talking about? It doesn't take a genius to see that we lack the resources to mount an Iraq-like effort in Iran. Regardless, whatever move we make, Iran could probably make things plenty more uncomfortable in Iraq for us.)

Meanwhile, Dan Savage, guest blogging at Andrew Sullivan's and who unfortunately notes that he has no plans for blogging on his own any time soon, says it's time to get out.

Vacation or not, it's gotta be pretty uncomfortably hot at the Crawford ranch right about now.

4:19 AM | Link | Prediction Watch | Comments (0)

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August 12, 2005

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGIN'

Posted by Venkat

Gato.jpg

5:39 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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August 11, 2005

THE OVERSTOCK WAR REVISITED

Posted by Vance

Overstock.com, a company I have written about in the past, has sued Gradient Analytics, a research firm, and Rocker Partners, a hedge fund specializing in short sales.

I've read the entire complaint, and the best I can tell, Overstock is suing because Gradient and Rocker have gotten together and published negative information about Overstock that caused stock price to go down. Most important to me, nowhere in the complaint does Overstock allege that anything that Gradient and/or Rocker have said is not factual.

If companies cannot relay factual negative research about another company, I am in serious trouble. More than likely though, Overstock's chairman, Pat Byrne, has pretty much destroyed what little credibility he had left in the investment world.

4:33 PM | Link | Economics | Comments (0)

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MICK JAGGER BASHES BUSH (BUT NOT BUSH!)

Posted by Greg

Apparently the Rolling Stones new album has an anti-Bush Administration screed called "Sweet Neo Con" on it. (Query as to whether anyone would have noticed the album without the news stories related to the song. It's been at least a decade and a half since anyone paid much attention to new Rolling Stones albums.) Here's a sampling of the lyrics:

You call yourself a Christian,
I call you a hypocrite
You call yourself a patriot
Well, I think you are full of shit!
... How come you're so wrong,
My sweet neo-con

Uh...stirring stuff, I guess. It even sort of rhymes.

Apparently, Keith Richards voiced some concern that releasing a song like this might adversely affect the band's upcoming U.S. tour. Which might be what prompted Mick Jagger—once a student of the London School of Economics and someone who was far more money-savy than the other rockers of his generation— to tell the BBC, quite disingenously, that the song is "not aimed, personally aimed, at President Bush." This statement contradicts earlier quotes from Jagger, who seemed to acknowledge that it's not intended to be metaphorical. (It's true. I'd challenge anyone to find a metaphor in those lyrics.)

2:42 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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DMCA ABUSE DU JOUR

Posted by Tom

Via Slashdot, Wired News has a story up right now about FedEx taking legal action against Jose Avila. Using free FedEx boxes as a building material, Avila completely furnished his apartment — bed, sofa, dining room table, desk, you name it. You can view his handywork here.

It's easy to see why this is a problem for FedEx. The company can't be reasonably expected to supply free (albeit lousy) furniture to every penniless eccentric on the internet. But the way they're going after Avila stinks: they're using the DMCA to justify their claims, claiming that he violated their copyright by putting photos of the boxes online. This is pretty clearly insane. If citizens need to secure permission from every stakeholder whose IP appears in a photo they take, then every billboard, bumpersticker and stray can of coke in sight exerts a limitation on our rights. I'm all for tearing all advertising out of our public spaces, but I have a feeling that's not what the DMCA's authors had in mind.

2:06 PM | Link | Law | Comments (0)

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IF IT'S AUGUST, IT MUST BE ... FANTASY FOOTBALL SEASON

Posted by Hei Lun

Feel free to skip for those not interested.

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1:08 AM | Link | Sports | Comments (0)

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August 10, 2005

IT'S LIKE SPOTTING A TOUPEE

Posted by Hei Lun

Most of us here at BTD don't have children, but for those who do, as well as for those in our audience, I send you to this highly important article from the Focus on Your Family website that I got from Dan Drezner: "Is My Child Becoming Homosexual?". Here are the seven signs that your male child 5 to 11 might already be gay:

1. A strong feeling that they are “different” from other boys.

2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even “think” effeminately.

7. A repeatedly stated desire to be — or insistence that he is — a girl.

Drezner confesses that he suffered from five of those symptoms as a child, and I have to say that I suffered from a few of those symptoms myself. I cried like a baby, wasn't much of an athlete, and I probably had "[a] strong preference to spend time in the company of girls", though it wasn't matched by a strong preference from girls to spend time in the company of me. I have no idea what it means for young children to walk effeminately (I can just imagine the taunts from schoolyard bullies of "you walk like a girl!").

One minor question: if not being athletic is a sign that a boy might be gay, and athleticism is genetic, does that mean Focus on Your Family thinks that homosexuality is genetic? But I digress; there's the much more urgent goal of identifying your gay children. And don't think this as unimportant—there might be thousands of adolescents out there in danger, and your son could be one of them. In fact, I have right here in my hands a list of 243 boys age 5 to 11 who might already be spreading the homosexual agenda in the same school your sons and daughters go to.

So what do you do when you discover that your son is indeed gay? Luckily, Focus on Your Family helpfully provides this article, "How to Prevent Homosexuality". It's never too late to get help!

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ROBERTS / SCHIAVO

Posted by Venkat

How Appealing posts a link to a letter from Ed Gillespie requesting NYT to correct seemingly blatant errors in its reporting of the conversation between Senator Wyden and Roberts. Yikes.

2:33 PM | Link | Law | Comments (0)

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MORE GTA TROUBLE FOR ROCKSTAR GAMES

Posted by Greg

Fresh off the Hot Coffee mod scandal (discussed previously here and here), Rockstar Games has another controversy to deal with related to its highly successful Grand Theft Auto videogames. AP reports on the conviction of an 18-year-old convicted of killing three police officers after stealing a car:

The jury deliberated for just over an hour before convicting Devin Moore.

Defense lawyers had partly blamed Moore's actions on the hours he spent playing video games from the Grand Theft Auto series, in which players shoot police officers and steal cars.

While the judge barred jurors from hearing testimony linking the 2003 shootings to the game, defense lawyer Jim Standridge reminded them that Moore, after his arrest, told police "Life is a video game; everybody has to die sometime."

Perhaps predictably, a civil lawsuit against the game manufacturer has already been filed.

The victims' families have filed a civil suit against the video-game manufacturer and two stores, claiming Moore killed the three after repeatedly playing Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. No trial date has been set in the civil lawsuit.

I've always discounted arguments that videogames and other entertainment can be the primary cause in these kinds of tragedies. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold obviously had much more wrong in their lives than too many hours spent playing Doom. But each case has its own facts, and this case is full of what trial lawyers refer to as "bad facts." (For those of you who aren't lawyers, "bad facts" doesn't just refer to facts that are bad, but facts that are hard to argue against or that can be used persuasively by the other side in support of its case.) And the fact that the games have been so successful and have made so much money also makes the game maker an attractive target.

1:57 PM | Link | Law | Comments (0)

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THINGS DON'T ALWAYS WORK OUT AS PLANNED

Posted by Venkat

How Appealing quotes tomorrow's NYT:

The senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, said Judge Roberts, while not addressing the Schiavo case specifically, made clear he was displeased with Congress's effort to force the federal judiciary to overturn a court order withdrawing her feeding tube.

"I asked whether it was constitutional for Congress to intervene in an end-of-life case with a specific remedy," Mr. Wyden said in a telephone interview after the hourlong meeting. "His answer was, 'I am concerned with judicial independence. Congress can prescribe standards, but when Congress starts to act like a court and prescribe particular remedies in particular cases, Congress has overstepped its bounds.'"

The answer, which Mr. Wyden said his aides wrote down word-for-word, would seem to put Judge Roberts at odds with leading Republicans in Congress, including the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, who both led the charge for Congressional intervention in the Schiavo case this spring. Mr. DeLay said at the time that the federal judiciary had "run amok." [emphasis mine]

With one group already having publicly announced its withdrawal of support for Roberts, let's hope a few more follow. Roberts is a great nominee (by all reports) from the perspective of the Court, but could turn out politically costly (or at best a draw) for GW.

continue reading "THINGS DON'T ALWAYS WORK OUT AS PLANNED" »


2:54 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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August 9, 2005

DSL OR BROADBAND?

Posted by Hei Lun

After eight years, I finally got a new computer. Not that I didn't have the money, but I have a habit of keeping old things and squeezing as much use out of them as possible. The one before was so old it was running Windows 95, and because of that it wasn't compatible with the newer versions of internet browsers, so some websites like Football Outsiders and the one for ABCNews won't open. Even worse, it couldn't run DSL or broadband, which meant I was surfing the net every day at about 12 bits per second.

So now that I've joined the rest of you in the twenty-first century, should I get DSL or broadband? I live in an apartment, so I'd be sharing my broadband connection with others in my building. DSL is $30/month; broadband $45.

5:58 PM | Link | Technology | Comments (0)

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DON'T BLOG ~ DON'T TELL

Posted by Venkat

Stranger Columnist / Editor Dan Savage guest blogging at Andrew Sullivan:

Aren’t we having a manpower crisis? Don’t we need all the patriotic soldiers—gay or not, closeted or not—that we can lay our hands on? (Er, pardon the expression.) Howe will be fine; he can return to the job he left in marketing now that he’s been kicked out of the Army. I worry, however, about a nation that seems to hate its gay citizens so much more than it values its own security. Pathetic.
Pretty tragic on GW's part for not reversing this policy.

2:10 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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August 8, 2005

CZECH

Posted by Steve

Czech

11:32 PM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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WEST BANKSY

Posted by Kriston

Banksy, Security WallLast week the street art blog Wooster Collective posted an exclusive about Banksy, a prominent art world prankster and a massive figure in the street art genre. Earlier this year the British artist created a stir by walking into four prominent New York art institutions (the MoMA, Met, Museum of Natural History, and Brooklyn Museum) and hanging his own work—some of which was not discovered for days. (Bush administration critics in particular will admire Banksy's Withus Oragainstus, a stylized scarab hung in the Museum of Natural History).

The Wooster entry features several photographs from Banksy's recent series—there are nine works total—painted on the West Bank security wall dividing Israel and Palestine. The works are graffiti—as in, spray-painted on the wall, and in this case, a wall which otherwise consists of concrete, razor wire, and extremely tense security personnel. It's difficult to believe that Banksy could get away with graffiti works of this scope and detail without some sort of permission; according to his spokesperson, he nearly didn't get away with the graffiti at all ("The Israeli security forces did shoot in the air threateningly and there were quite a few guns pointed at him"). That the pieces were all painted on the Palestinian side of the fence would seem to have some bearing on Banksy's safely executing the works, though I don't quite see how. The wall is hundreds of miles long; I imagine that's the fact that best explains how Banksy pulled it off.

It's a hell of a stunt, and more impressive still if you believe that the Israeli guards weren't just looking the other way. (I have no reason to think Banksy got some sort of permission (other than skepticism).) But he works themselves are less interesting than where they were painted. It's especially trite, I think, for a British citizen (or any other sort) to condescend to the I/P crisis as something a child's wisdom could solve, a sentiment that shines through the works. Unfortunately, that's not the case, and that's not the way the world works, and it seems particularly egregious to go to the visual symbol of I/P suffering and say so. Formally, the pieces are less vibrant than some of his other works; for a street artist of his stature, Banksy's designs consistently lack the subtlety or compositional vigor of his major predecessors. (They're too dissimilar to compare with Banksy's work—these works aren't street art per se, and the artist probably didn't risk a confrontation with the IDF when he painted them—but Keith Haring's Heaven and Hell series stand out in my mind as the greatest examples of art that marries graffiti with traditional artistic concerns.)

Still, Banksy tags livestock, and I don't know how anyone can argue with that. Wired recently highlighted a few other cool examples of his work.

5:40 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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August 6, 2005

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

Posted by Hei Lun

Instead of going through my short stack of unread books I've been doing a second and third reading of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the last three weeks. After two re-reads I think I definitely like this more than Sorceror's Stone and almost as much as Prisoner of Azkaban. It might be the most enjoyable read of the six, though it doesn't have the tight, intricately constructed plot of Prisoner. It's also has the most funny moments, from Roonil Wazlib to Luna's quidditch commentary and Kreacher's report on Draco Malfoy (My favorites are when Hermione snappily calls Ron "Master of Mystery", and when Trelawney described getting thrown out of the Room of Requirement then Harry asked why she didn't see that coming).

This book like the others rewards rereading, as there were a lot of things I didn't pick up until the second or third readings, like Harry catching a scent of Ginny in the love potion way before he realized his feelings for her, and Slughorn's momentary frown when Dumbleodre showed him Voldemort's ring, which to me seems to indicate that Slughorn realized that it was a Horcrux.

Here's two quick thoughts: 1) Did anyone else thought that Harry deserved it when Draco kicked him in the face on the train after Harry sneaked into Draco compartment? 2) Doesn't it seem as if Ron is getting dumber every book? Other than his idea of Harry's using Felix Felicis to get Slughorn's memory, he's really fallen behind Harry and Hermione (and Ginny).

And for those who haven't seen this yet, I highly recommend this Rowling interview with The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet. Here's a snippet:

One of the ways in which I tried to show that Harry has done a lot of growing up — in “Phoenix,” remember when Cho comes into the compartment, and he thinks, ‘I wish I could have been discovered sitting with better people,’ basically? He's with Luna and Neville. So literally the identical thing happens in “Prince,” and he's with Luna and Neville again, but this time, he has grown up, and as far as he's concerned he is with two of the coolest people on the train.

More Harry Potter bloogging to come.

10:45 PM | Link | Fifty Book Challenge | Comments (0)

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August 5, 2005

APPARENTLY I HAVE DRUG PARAPHERNALIA IN MY HOME

Posted by Hei Lun

This takes the War on Drugs to a whole new level of stupidity. Several dozen store clerks were arrested and charged for selling aluminum foil. I guess the next step is to arrest people for buying aluminum foil.

9:03 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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HOT UNDER THE COLLAR

Posted by Kriston

True, the question over whether Katherine Harris is likely to win the Republican primary for the Florida Senate race is weighing heavily on everyone's minds right now—heated exchanges about the issue always seem close to breaking into fisticuffs, so it's probably better for everyone involved that Bob Novak took a walk to blow off some steam rather than pummel James Carville into submission or what have you. Regardless, I can't help but suspect a little theater on Bob Novak's part after reading about the segment that was planned for later in the show:

The moderator of the program, Ed Henry, later said on the air that he had warned Mr. Novak that he planned to ask him "about the C.I.A. leak case."
Hey, you know, that's an interesting question. Someone, anyone, ought to ask him about that, maybe even before he quits. (As soon as the nation has come to terms with Harrisgate, should that day ever come, of course.)

Personal aside: Bob Novak once gave me the potty-mouth treatment, here on the streets of DC, for asking after his legal situation. (February 2004. Told me to Cheney off. Granted, I was asking for it.)

12:45 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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SNAPPY ANSWERS TO STUPID TECH QUESTIONS

Posted by Tom

Q: Why should I have to buy a new monitor just to let Microsoft cripple my computer?

A: You shouldn't.

Q: How am I supposed to make money selling wifi when other people are giving it away?

A: You aren't.

Q: Is the FCC's expected deregulation of DSL a good thing or a bad thing?

A: Er... Mostly it's a complicated and probably irrelevant thing. But my suspicion is that it'll mean a lot less choice in pricing packages, and maybe, MAYBE a marginal increase in the pace of network owners' capital investments. But probably not.

Hmm. That wasn't very snappy, was it?

Anyway, this might be a good time to write your senators voicing support for the McCain/Lautenberg amendment to the Telecommunications Act.

11:14 AM | Link | Technology | Comments (0)

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August 4, 2005

THE WESTERN WHITE HOUSE

Posted by Kriston

A few fluff items from news accounts about the start of President Bush's five-week vacation in Crawford, Texas. First, five weeks? That's outright French of the man—"the longest presidential retreat in at least 36 years," according to the Washington Post. Those plucky Brits do the math and come up with numbers: 40 percent of the Bush presidency has been spent at one of his retreats. I know that we're to understand that the workload doesn't change with the setting, who knows. I find it hard to believe that anyone actually buys it, but that's fine. (On the other hand: Boss, if you're reading, I'm promising you three times the deliverables if you set me up with a gondola and a laptop in Venice for the rest of the month.)

One quirky detail: While he's away, President Bush hopes to catch up on Steven Bochco's television drama about the war in Iraq, Over There. (I leave it up to you to supply your own punch line.)

11:10 AM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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ROBERTS & DOBSON

Posted by Venkat

LAT reports that Roberts logged some pro bono hours for a gay cause:

Jean Dubofsky, lead attorney on the case and a former member of the Colorado Supreme Court, said she came to Washington to prepare for the U.S. Supreme Court presentation [in Romer v. Evans, the Amendment 2 case] and immediately was referred to Roberts.

"Everybody said Roberts was one of the people I should talk to," Dubofsky said. "He has a better idea on how to make an effective argument to a court that is pretty conservative, and hasn't been very receptive to gay rights."

She said he gave her advice in two areas that were "absolutely crucial."

"He said you have to be able to count and know where your votes are coming from. And the other was that you absolutely have to be on top of why and where and how the state court had ruled in this case," Dubofsky said.

She said Roberts served on a moot court panel as they prepared for oral arguments in the case, taking the role of a Scalia-like justice in peppering her with tough questions. And when Dubofsky appeared before the justices, Scalia did indeed demand specific legal citations from the lower court ruling. "I had it right there at my fingertips," she said.

"John Roberts ... was just terrifically helpful in meeting with me and spending some time on the issue," she said. "He seemed to be very fair-minded and very astute."

I'm starting to think that those who call Roberts the anti-Souter are just wishful thinking. It is possible that they know something that we don't know, but Roberts's record so far reveals that he's not that kind of a stealth individual. It would be pretty tough to pull off what he's done—gain acceptance with the middle Democrats while harboring a stealth agenda and garnering a Coulter endorsement. That's the ultimate in stealth.

[Amendment 2 had the support of many conservative Christian groups, including Focus on the Family, which initially endorsed Roberts . . . . The plot does thicken.]

Follow up: Jim L. at Volokh notes that Roberts questioned life tenure in a memo to White House Counsel. His reasoning is illuminating:

The Constitution "adopted life tenure at a time when people simply did not live as long as they do now," Roberts wrote in an Oct. 3, 1983, memo to White House Counsel Fred Fielding that is now on file at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

"A judge insulated from the normal currents of life for 25 or 30 years was a rarity then but is becoming commonplace today," Roberts wrote. "Setting a term of, say, 15 years would ensure that federal judges would not lose all touch with reality through decades of ivory tower existence."

hmmmm "Mr. Roberts would you say that you have a static or a dynamic view of the Constitution??"

2:41 AM | Link | Law | Comments (0)

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August 3, 2005

CIA, ARMY, SCORPIONS, AND MURDER

Posted by Kriston

Today's WaPo features a long and truly disturbing feature on military-sanctioned torture:

continue reading "CIA, ARMY, SCORPIONS, AND MURDER" »


4:15 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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ENABLERS

Posted by Hei Lun

For every famous person there's an endless list of people making excuses for them. Before Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, he looked like a definite Hall-of-Famer, even though I didn't think he deserves to be one. But even after the announcement of his positive drug test (for a substance that he couldn't have taken "accidentally") many people, including some with actual Hall-of-Fame votes (see for example this pathetic column from Jayson Stark*), are still saying that they would vote for him. These people say that he has had a Hall-of-Fame career before this year so based on that he should get in anyway. That misses the point in two ways. One, which is so obvious I don't know why anyone couldn't see it, is that just because he was caught this year, it doesn't mean he hasn't been doing them in prior years. And two, even if he was clean before this year, giving him credit for those years is like saying that someone was a good husband for 10 years before he had an affair with the secretary. There a point when your bad behavior completely removes your previous good behavior for consideration, and in the context of baseball taking steroids is one of those things.

Other bad arguments defending Palmeiro: one is the "other players did them too" excuse. It wouldn't be fair if only Palmeiro was punished for it when the others got away with it. Well, I guess if we can't catch every murderer or terrorist, we shouldn't bother to prosecute any of them even if we do catch them. And here's one from Stark on why he would still vote for Palmeiro: "Why? Because I'm not a cop. I'm just a guy who covers baseball for a living." So only cops should care when someone breaks a rule or law? That's surely a strange idea of voter responsibility. But then again, it would explain all those people who voted for James Traficant.

continue reading "ENABLERS" »


10:16 AM | Link | Sports | Comments (0)

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August 2, 2005

BUSH'S FRIENDS

Posted by Hei Lun

I'm sure for many people this is way down on the list of reasons they don't like the president, but what really annoys me is when he refers to someone as his "friend". Whenever Alberto Gonales is in the news, there would inevitably be the quote from Bush calling Gonzales his friend. When Gonzales was facing some criticism earlier, Bush defended him by saying that Gonzales was his friend and that he knows he's a good person. Well I'm sure Bush thinks that, but whether he is or not doesn't have much to do with whatever he's accused of doing. This is a valid criticism from liberals, and I've also seen conservatives criticize him for not coming to the defense of other people (John Ashcroft, for instance) and only defending Gonzales because of their friendship.

As you may have heard, baseball player Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids, after testifying before Congress earlier this year that he unequivocally never took steroids. And what was the reaction from Bush?

President Bush — who owned the Texas Rangers while Palmeiro played for the team — called Palmeiro a "friend" in a round-table interview with reporters from several Texas newspapers. "He's testified in public, and I believe him," Bush added.

Now we know what could have stopped the invasion of Iraq: Saddam should have sent him a Christmas card and a fruit basket!

5:41 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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WAR LOGIC

Posted by Vance

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution looks at the logic of the anti-war faction in a post titled, "Iraq and consequentialism: what is the marginal product of war?". He makes a critical error when he looks at what he maintains is a key aspect of the anti-war argument:

The correct marginal question, however, compares the current badness to the badness which would have resulted after the reign of Saddam (or his sons? grandsons?) ended, however that might have happened. Today we see many signals that things are going badly. But most of those signals also imply that things would have gone very badly under the alternative scenario for Saddam's fall. A civil war, for instance, may well have happened anyway, albeit later.

In comparing the current badness to the badness that would result from an Iraqi civil war, Cowen ignores choice. In Iraq's current situation, the Iraqi people were not given any choice. It was the choice of the United States to create the current Iraqi reality. The Iraqi people have no control at all. If, on the other hand, Iraq was in the exact same situation but as a result of an Iraqi civil war rather than the US war against Iraq, it would have been a result of a choice made by the Iraqi people. The ability to control their own destiny makes an Iraqi civil war a better choice for the Iraqi people than the current circumstance, even if the outcome were exactly the same.

3:15 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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PAJAMAS

Posted by Venkat

I was wondering—with visions of a street vendor in Karachi or Damascus uploading exciting images of local goings on—when Pajamas Media would make its splashy debut. Although it's unclear, Professor Althouse's post (the comments are well worth reading) makes it seem like just an alternative to Blogads. She doesn't explicitly say that, but that's the impression one is left with. (She does not seem too impressed either.) Where are the third world street vendors???? That's what I want to know. Prof. Reynolds clears that up here, noting that he's been advising on that angle.

I'm curious to see what they have planned in that regard. I guess the only way to do it is to have "correspondents"—locals who are not affiliated with MSM who are supplied with equipment. They then rush to the scene of a local goings on, capture the video and audio and upload it. The stateside punditry overlays a shiny layer of commentary. Voila! Grass roots, cutting edge, news. These local correspondents are the media equivalent of local urban/hip-hop marketing "street teams". Areas where armed forces are stationed are the exception (and present unique opportunities for those bloggers having connections there), but that's just because MSM does not necessarily have access, and the existing policy seems pretty free with content generated by US armed forces in places such as Iraq. But if content from here gains exposure with some regularity or if there's a big controversy you can bet the armed forces will revisit and reiterate the policy on this. If someone ends up making money off of selectively granted access this will also raise a stink.

Anyway, we're waiting excitedly for the street vendor development.

11:13 AM | Link | Blogosphere | Comments (0)

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YES, BUT WHAT IS OUR CHILDREN LEARNING?

Posted by Tom

Sometimes it's a little hard for me to see the outlines of the Christian right's influence on American society. Sure, the last twenty years have made them a political force, but to what extent are they succeeding in actually altering the way our culture operates?

Well, this morning provided some illumination. Today the President of the United States endorsed teaching "Intelligent Design" theory in science classrooms. I'm dumbfounded, dismayed, but I suppose not really surprised.

I hope this marks a turning point. I think that science is, unfortunately, going to have to start sticking up for itself, instead of refusing to stoop to its opponents' level. The intellectual rigor that motivates calling evolution a "theory" is going to have to be put away for a while. Designing curricula to thoroughly cover the questions still found in our fossil record has become a foothold for ascientific criticisms. If this is going to be a "debate", then let's make our best case. I'm sure it'll be satisfyingly vituperative for all involved. The only losers are going to be kids who want to learn science.

10:11 AM | Link | Science | Comments (0)

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August 1, 2005

FAULTY TOWERS

Posted by Greg

Even before I picked up A Long Way Down it wouldn't have been difficult to convince me that Nick Hornby could take the subject of suicide and turn it into a book with laugh-out-loud comedy, wry social commentary and personal revelation. Hornby seems most comfortable with dark humor and deeply flawed personalities. Although he's not the most prolific writer (only four novels, counting this one), his books are endearingly comic and tragic character studies. About a Boy and High Fidelity, and his memoir, Fever Pitch were each popular on their own, even before they were made into successful feature films—the last one twice. (According to IMDb, Johnny Depp has already purchased the film rights to this one.)

A Long Way Down, not unlike Hornby's other books, lets the story's premise do a lot of the heavy lifting. Here, Hornby sets it up by throwing together four disparate personalities that have almost nothing in common other than their circumstance—they meet late New Year's Eve at the top of an apartment building known as "Topper's House" because it's where people in North London go to kill themselves by hurling themselves off. The narrative, following the device used by William Faulkner in As I Lay Dying, and, more recently, by Hornby in his last book, How to Be Good, is told in rotating first-person from each of the protagonists' point of view. And it's the characters that drive the story: Martin, a disgraced and self-absorbed TV talk show host, recently released from incarceration for having sex with a fifteen-year-old; JJ, an American rocker, pseudo-intellectual and high school drop out who is stranded in England after his band breaks up and his English girlfriend dumps him; Jess, an impetuous and manic punk teenager with a penchant for drugs and saying exactly the wrong thing; and Maureen, a middle-aged Catholic woman who has spent all of her adult life caring for her severely disabled son. Even though just about the only thing they share is their common suicidal tendency, the Topper's House Four almost immediately form an understandable bond; they can discuss their wanting to kill themselves with each other and no one else. It's not group therapy so much as it is shared pathos.

The plot is somewhat incidental—another hallmark of a Hornby novel. It's the characters and the dialogue that make it all work. That said, this novel at least had structure and direction to it. Unlike How to Be Good, which set everything up well, then sort of wandered aimlessly, A Long Way Down at least seems to know where it's going, at least in terms of each character's story arc, if nothing else. The writing is sharp and funny. Only JJ, the American, doesn't quite ring true. He seems a bit more like some Englishman's idea of what an American wanna-be rockstar is than a genuine character. The British characters, however, felt very real and well-developed. Interspersed with the gallows humor and hilarious arguments are some truly moving and poignant moments. One, which I won't reveal except to say that it involves Maureen's home-decor choices, practically rips your heart right out without intruding on the character's dignity.

Hornby's a pop-culture name dropper, which is something I enjoy. (Recently, he interviewed Bruce Springstein for The Observer and stated that he listened to Springstein a lot while writing A Long Way Down.) In a way, I think it keeps the novels grounded in time and place. I suppose it might also make them feel somewhat lightweight, but when the subject matter is suicide, or marital infidelity, or nihilistic selfishness, some lightness can be helpful.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It combined some of the best elements of How to Be Good and About a Boy. It didn't offer any cosmic solutions to depression or the human condition. But it entertains and creates at least the illusion of profundity and introspection. And, like the best songs by The Replacements or The Smiths that Hornby references, the sadness of it all is strangely uplifting.

11:34 PM | Link | Culture | Comments (0)

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TROUBLE OR NOTHING

Posted by Tom

Looks like President Bush has made John Bolton UN Ambassador via a recess appointment. I can't say I'm terrifically outraged. This isn't to dismiss the hand-waving that previously surrounded the Bolton nomination fight -- I suspect he really is the political equivalent of locker room poison, and it really does seem like a bad idea to make someone liaison to an institution in which he doesn't believe.

On the other hand, it's probably not all that important. The administration's diplomatic performance seems unlikely to be affected by this change. Injecting a political climber of questionable temperament into even a distantly connected pocket of our foreign policy apparatus' already poisonous atmosphere doesn't seem like a particularly good idea, but those problems are likely to outlast Bolton's ambassadorship.

This nomination fight happened because of the antagonizingly poor quality of the choice rather than because of its importance. We've got Supreme Court nominations to worry about now. So I wish Ambassador Bolton all the luck in the world convincing his peers at the UN to pay their parking tickets. Count me as ready to move on.

12:27 PM | Link | Politics | Comments (0)

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INSANITY

Posted by Steve

Mark Cuban hits the nail on the head.

Insanity is thinking that kids with more time than money will stop finding ways to get music for free.

He's got suggestions for the record companies, but even if they were inclined to listen, it might be too late. Read the whole thing.

10:23 AM | Link | Economics | Comments (0)

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SCHLOß SCHÖNBRUNN

Posted by Steve

Schöonbrunn

12:37 AM | Link | Photography | Comments (0)

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THE UNETHICIST

Posted by Steve

The New York Times Magazine features a weekly advice column called The Ethicist in which Randy Cohen purports to answer readers' ethical quandries. If it were a joke, the punch line would be that Cohen's advice is, often as not, blatantly unethical. But since it's apparently serious, the most interesting thing about The Ethicist is that there must be an awful lot of Times readers lacking any semblance of conscience or moral compass. Suffice to say a world in which The Ethicist passes for ethical is teetering wobbly on a precipice of disaster. The fact of Cohen's prominence makes me nervous.

Jacob Levy gets it about right.

Sometimes the advice he offers is merely wrong, as when he defends providing a deceptively favorable recommendation for a fired apartment building superintendent: "Were he applying to pilot a plane while performing heart surgery for the United Nations, you'd have to be more scrupulous, but in this job, as in most, the consequences of your hyperbole are easily borne. If Freddy is inept, the worst that happens is someone's shower breaks--a minor problem easily remedied by whoever replaces Freddy when he gets fired." Actually, sometimes when a shower is broken the bather suffers burns. (This was the situation in the trial for which New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani recently served as jury foreman.) The consequences of a heating system breaking down in the middle of winter, or of the power going out in the heat of the summer, can also be much more serious than Cohen allows.

But as I said, in that case Cohen was merely wrong. More often, what he has to say defeats the purpose of having an ethics column at all.

This week's column is a doozy. Here's the "ethicist's" first conundrum:

I've been happily married for 21 years. Ten years ago, my husband suffered a debilitating disease that keeps us from making love. Four years ago, I bumped into an ex-lover, himself married, and began a sexual relationship, reawakening my sexual feelings. Neither of us would ever divorce. I'm sure I can keep this relationship secret, so my husband will not get hurt. My devout Catholicism forbids such an affair, but does secular ethics?

Mmm hmm. I'm no professional ethicist, but this is a no-brainer. YES, it is unethical to screw around on your husband, even though he can't get it up. It is unfair to your husband and your paramour's wife. It is a deception, a lie. Surely even "secular ethics" prohibits us from lying to our loved ones, right? The reader must have known the answer or she wouldn't have asked the question. Easy call.

But "The Ethicist" simply cannot bring himself to condemn lying and cheating. According to New York Times ethics, the appropriate thing is to keep screwing, but he careful not to get caught. A sampling of his advice:

If your sex life with your husband has indeed ended, you may honorably consider other alternatives. A fulfilling erotic life is an important part of marriage, indeed of human happiness...

You have entered the realm of don't ask, don't tell.

It is dicey territory. If you continue to pursue an extramarital relationship, you must strive to avoid hurting your husband...

Few practitioners of any faith adhere to each of its dictates...

At the end of the column, The Ethicist bails himself out by noting that "Anonymous decided to end the affair." Oh, well then, everything's fine! He gets to lecture us about how adultery is sometimes a positive good, but we can all relax knowing that Anonymous decided to ignore his advice and do the right thing. It's all just so convenient and contrived.

Ethics means having your cake and eating it, too.

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