12/30/2004

Can I Get a Butter Knife Waiver?

In the wake of The Dunblane Massacre of 1997 where 16 children were killed by a gun-wielding maniac, Great Britain banned private handgun ownership. Now, the United Kingdom faces a new problem: the knife culture.

First Minister Jack McConnell has announced a five-point programme to clamp down on knife crime.

The maximum jail term for possessing an offensive weapon will be doubled from two years to four under the proposals.

He wants to ban the sale of swords and introduce a licensing scheme for retailers selling knives.
Will silverware sellers need to register with the government? Will Pier One be held liable for knife crimes committed with their simple-but-elegant Satin Finish Flatware?

Of course, banning guns doesn't stop gun crime. In 2003 in the U.K., a gun crime occurred 27 times a day - 9,974 incidents involving firearms in the 12 months to April 2002 - a rise from 7,362 over the previous year.

If someone wants to hurt another person and he can't find a gun, he'll use a knife. Now that knives are about to come under regulatory control in the U.K., he'll have to use something else. A cricket bat, perhaps. Just try to ban those...

Wisdom From a Book Review

I don't read books frequently, primarily because I have a hard time retaining what I read when I attempt consume long tracts of text. However, I did stumble across a book review today that not only made me want to read the volume in question but provided a few nuggets of wisdom as well.

"The Art of Always Being Right: Thirty Eight Ways to Win When You Are Defeated" is, according to its review in the New Statesman, a "sardonic little book, laying out 38 rhetorical tricks guaranteed to win you the argument even when you are defeated in logical discussion." The author not only lays out the tactics and strategies necessary to achieve victory on the verbal fields of Pelennor, but also provides a context for why the tactics are necessary and proper.

The melancholy aspect comes in the main premise of the book: that the point of public argument is not to be right, but to win. Truth cannot be the first casualty in our daily war of words, Schopenhauer suggests, because it was never the bone of contention in the first place. "We must regard objective truth as an accidental circumstance, and look only to the defence of our own position and the refutation of the opponent's . . . Dialectic, then, has as little to do with truth as the fencing master considers who is in the right when a quarrel leads to a duel."
The use of the fencing metaphor is really a rather disturbing one, since it attempts to draw a parallel between a life-and-death struggle and a verbal argument. Contemplating this suggestion, I found myself caught between conflicting desires; I wanted to dismiss Schopenhauer's book as a cynically satirical farce in the mold of Voltaire's Candide while simultaneously hailing him as some sort of pragmatic genius.

(Side note: I am revolted nearly to the point of vomiting at my own pretentiousness for referencing Candide in a blog as silly and inconsequential as this. Still, this is the best of all possible worlds and therefore, I could not have written this article any other way. Back to tending the garden...)

Some of the approaches put forth by the author are standard operating procedure in today's media, and my initial reaction was to dismiss Schopenhauer as a hack who simply plopped down on the sofa in front of The O'Reilly Factor or Crossfire and took notes. This became more difficult when I learned that Schopenhauer died in 1860. I'm not sure if this means that he was somewhat prescient, or that the state of discourse has not improved in the century and a half since his death. That's a depressing thought, and one that the reviewer hammers home quite effectively:
How many times have we listened to a radio or TV debate on art or politics or literature and asked ourselves, even as we are lulled by the undemanding discussion: are these the best people they can come up with? The answer is yes and no. Yes because in media terms they are the best: practised "communicators" with every crowd-pleasing response at the ready. And no because we have all read or heard or known people far more interesting and far more informed about the disciplines in question. Sadly, they tend to be folk who are not up to speed on their 38 points and who think the truth matters, and so, communication-wise, they are deemed useless. Still, they exist.
By this point, the reviewer had pretty much sold me on the book. Sadly, he could not control himself and had to finish with a cheap shot at President Bush.
The palm for rhetorical shamelessness must nevertheless go to US presidents. "There you go again," said Ronald Reagan, annihilating with a grin the very concept of rational debate, and the right loved him for it. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," Bill Clinton assured us, with his emetic sincerity, and the left - especially women - adore him still. And not even the melancholic German predicted that the world's most powerful democracy would one day be run by a president who cannot be accused of sophistry chiefly because he cannot talk at all. And they say Schopenhauer was a pessimist.
Coming from a magazine founded with the aim of permeating the educated and influential classes with socialist ideas, this is hardly surprising. Still, it was something of a downer at the end of an otherwise entertaining article. For what it's worth, Schopenhauer's book will go on my "Things I Should Read" list.

12/29/2004

Beyond Hope?

In a piece entitled "Camden's Streets Go From Mean to Meanest", the New York Times presents four pages of evidence to suggest that Camden, New Jersey may be beyond saving.

In the past 12 months, there have been 53 homicides, including a 12-year-old shot to death on his porch for his radio, more than 800 aggravated assaults, including a toddler shot in the back of the head, at least 750 robberies and 150 acts of arson, more than 10,000 arrests and one glaring nonarrest - a serial rapist on the loose downtown.

All in a city of 79,000, nine square miles small.
The state has started a $175 million bailout plan, and there's even a real estate developer starting a $1.3 billion project including McMansions and a golf course. None of those things is going to address the real problems, summed up quite nicely in this paragraph:
20 percent of the city is unemployed; per-capita income is $9,815; half of the residents did not finish high school; one out of 20 graduated from college; 46 percent of children live in poverty.
Fancy homes and country clubs don't erase slums, but it's better than nothing. Camden has been a disaster for as long as I can remember. Twelve years ago, Time Magazine ran a similar piece on Camden which included the galling statistic that fully one-half of the city's population was udner the age of 21. In 2014, which national publication will complete the hat trick and document three decades of urban despair?

Banned Bands

The Young Middle Magnet School of Mathematics, Science & Technology in Tampa has decided to stand firm against the presence of dangerous weapons on school grounds.

"There have been recent incidences of students at our school using rubber bands as a method of projecting objects at other people. The students refer to some of the projectile objects as "wasps.' Occasionally, students are using their fingers to project the wasps. These activities have resulted in injured students.

"Rubber bands are not permitted at school. If students are in possession of rubber bands for any reason they will be subject to consequences that may include out of school suspension. When rubber bands are required for classroom use, they will be provided and collected."
No doubt the guerilla terrorists of the eighth grade will soon discover that a hairband ("scrunchie") can be used to launch 'wasps' almost as well as a rubber band. The school will have to ban those, as well.

Those pencils and rulers can sure raise a welt, too. Won't someone think of the children?

12/28/2004

Abolish the Electoral College

California senator Dianne Feinstein plans to kick off the next session of Congress by proposing an end to the electoral college.

In introducing the amendment, the Democrat from San Francisco is joining Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who last month introduced a similar proposal in the House, which she said she would reintroduce in the 109th Congress that convenes on Jan. 3.

The two California lawmakers say the current system makes most Americans election bystanders, pointing toward the recent campaign in which President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, focused almost all their time, energy and campaign funds on a handful of undecided states in search of their electoral votes.

"The Electoral College is an anachronism, and the time has come to bring our democracy into the 21st century," Feinstein said in a statement. "During the founding years of the republic, the Electoral College may have been a suitable system, but today it is flawed and amounts to national elections being decided in several battleground states.''
In the aftermath (or should I say, afterglow) of November's election, I went in search of opinions in favor of and against the electoral college and found plenty. Convincing arguments, however, were in short supply on both sides of the argument. In the end, I have only found one argument - in favor of removing the EC - that is significantly compelling.

The Electoral College gives unequal weight to individual citizens.

Electoral votes are allocated to a state based on its number of Representatives plus Senators. But, every state has two Senators and at least one Representative. This results in unequal weighting of invidiual citizens. Here's an example of how the population compares to the electoral vote count in several states.

StateElectoral VotesPopulationCitizens per
Electoral Vote
California5535,484,453645,171
Texas3422,118,509650,544
Wisconsin105,472,299547,229
South Dakota3764,309254,666
Wyoming3501,242167,080

A vote in Wyoming has almost four times the weight of a vote in California. These specific examples are not anomalies; you'll find this over-weighting of small states over big states to be the rule, rather than the exception.

Now, an argument can be made that this weighting is to protect small states from being marginalized in the electoral process. This is a fair point, but it presumes that most people in a given state vote the same way or prioritize their interests similarly. The map below illustrates the faultiness of that premise, displaying each county as a shade between red and blue based on percentage of voters.


(map by Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman
used under Creative Commons License)

The citizens of individual states are clearly not voting as one, and so the idea that we should de-value the voters of Texas to prevent them from overwhelming the voters in Wyoming is absurd.

There are several problems with the Electoral College. It focuses too much attention on "battleground states". It protects the two-party monopoly on power. It's unaccountable to the people it purports to represent. Most importantly though, it discriminates against the citizens of states with higher populations by devaluing their votes. That reason alone should warrant its removal.

12/27/2004

An Adaptable Little Fruit

One of the things that makes The Economist such a great magazine is that, every now and then, they turn their considerable fact-finding apparatus on a subject that really doesn't merit journalistic scrutiny. The results are almost always wonderfully entertaining, and this piece is no exception.

Some time between digesting Christmas dinner and putting your head back down to work, spare a thought or two for the cranberry. It is, of course, a symbol of Christmas: merry bright red, bittersweetly delicious with turkey and the very devil to get out of the tablecloth if spilled. But the cranberry is also a symbol of the modern food industry—and in the tale of its progress from colonial curiosity to business-school case study lies a deeper understanding of the opportunities and dilemmas of modern eating.
If you're looking for some light but informative reading about a topic of little importance, this is the piece for you.

All the Wrong Reasons

People are called to all sorts of faiths for all sorts of reasons, and it's hard to argue the merits of those decisions. That being said, I'm a little concerned about some of the reasons behind the growing trend of American Latinas seeking refuge in Islam.

Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam.

"They're not gonna say, 'Hey mami, how are you?' " Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. "Usually they say, 'Hello, sister.' And they don't look at you like a sex object."

Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. "People have an innate response that I'm a religious person, and they give [me] more respect," says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. "You're not judged if you're in fashion or out of fashion."
I can't help but think that this is at least partially motivated by youthful rebellion and a desire to shock her parents. Certainly, choosing a more conservative style of dress would have achieved the desired result of fewer wolf whistles on the street. However, this almost certainly would have been met with overwhelming parental approval and thus was probably not considered.

I can't help but wonder if Ms. Pinet really knows just how much respect women receive in the faith of her choice.
Nieves, a Filipina who was working as a maid in Riyadh in 1992, was invited by a married couple to celebrate the wife's birthday at a restaurant. She and a female friend decided to go. At the restaurant they were joined by a male friend of the couple. A group of mutawa'een (religious police) entered the restaurant, saw the group and arrested them. They suspected Nieves of being there for an introduction to the male friend of the couple. Nieves denied the accusation, but was deceived into signing a confession written in Arabic which she understood was a release order. That confession was the sole basis of her conviction and sentence - 25 days' imprisonment and 60 lashes which were carried out.
In America, Ms. Pinet will never suffer the sort of oppression that women in Saudi Arabia do. Still, taking refuge in the burqa as a way of obtaining a higher measure of respect from men seems like a strategy doomed to failure.

12/24/2004

Merry Christmas

No blogging today. I'll return on Monday with more cranky observations. I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

12/23/2004

Blind Spot

Tim Roemer is a Democrat and a former U.S. Representative from the state of Indiana. He is also one of the front-runners in the current race for the chair of the Democratic Party. In a L.A. Times piece entitled "Democratic Leadership Rethinking Abortion", Roemer admits what many people have long believed - that the Democrats have a "moral blind spot" on late-term abortion.

In an interview, Roemer said he would not try to change the minds of abortion rights supporters. But he also said he would encourage the party to eliminate its "moral blind spot" when it comes to late-term abortions.

"We should be talking more about adoption as an alternative, and working with our churches to sponsor some of those adoptions," Roemer said Wednesday from his Washington office. He said he was calling 40 to 50 delegates a day to make his pitch. Most of all, he said, he thinks that abortion opponents would be more comfortable if the party talked about the issue in a more open-minded manner.
The Democratic Party's moral blind spot extends beyond late-term abortion; Democrats usually oppose measures that would require parental notification before a minor could get an abortion. In most states you can't get a tattoo unless you're 18, but somehow getting an abortion without your parents' consent is acceptable.

Obstinate opposition to giving any ground on the abortion issue is part and parcel of Democratic politics. There is a growing feeling that such obstinate opposition is part of what cost John Kerry the election.
Party leaders say their support for preserving the landmark ruling will not change. But they are looking at ways to soften the hard line, such as promoting adoption and embracing parental notification requirements for minors and bans on late-term abortions. Their thinking reflects a sense among strategists that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and the party's congressional candidates lost votes because the GOP conveyed a more compelling message on social issues.
The article does include concerned quotes from abortion-rights voices, most notably that of Gloria Feldt, the president of Planned Parenthood. The fact of the matter is that these voters aren't going anywhere. The Democratic Party could re-write its plank to include support for banning late-term abortion and requiring parental consent and lose maybe a dozen votes. Abortion advocates' fealty to the DNC is second only to that of NOW feminists; you could have produced a photo of John Kerry bayoneting a pregnant Vietnamese civilian and Arianna Huffington would have said that it demonstrated Kerry's "passionate support for abortion on demand."

The Democrats are wise to consider ways to make their party more attractive to a wider spectrum of people. They should be bold in their pursuit of hearts and minds and pay no heed to the inevitable hand-wringing of their extreme left wing.

12/22/2004

There Are Five Lights

It appears clear that President Bush is going to make Social Security reform a central theme of his second term. A key facet of his plan is to allow individuals to put some of their Social Security contributions into individual retirement accounts; a plan that Democrats and the media deceptively refer to as "privatization".

Opponents of the president's plan are many, and their arguments are varied. During the campaign, John Kerry called it a "rip-off". But everyone seemed to agree that something had to be done to fix the program. That is, until now.

Now that Bush has made his intentions clear on Social Security, Democrats are claiming that there is no problem with Social Security.

President Bush's entire plan for Social Security privatization rests on the premise that the system is in severe crisis. But a careful look at the numbers suggests that the financial crisis is largely a myth.

Republicans are counting on younger voters to support privatization. Polls show that the young have been so swayed by the talk of endless crisis that many young workers doubt whether they'll ever get anything back from the current system. To them, getting some money in the form of private accounts is at least half a loaf.

In the coming debate, defenders of Social Security need to educate the public on just how solid the existing system is and just how exaggerated is its supposed crisis. If they fail to do that, and get bogged down in a debate about how to "fix" a system that isn't really broken, the privatizers will win, and Social Security will be needlessly pillaged.
"What crisis?" appears to be the new tactic of the left. CNNMoney quotes Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker as saying that "Social Security can pay full benefits as promised until 2042" without mentioning that it will have to borrow to do so. CNNMoney also didn't see fit to find any "experts" on the other side of the argument. Who are Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker? They're the authors of Social Security : The Phony Crisis, and may have some financial incentive to paint a rosy picture of Social Security.

The The 2004 OASDI Trustees Report is crystal clear on this matter:
Projected OASDI tax income will begin to fall short of outlays in 2018 and will be sufficient to finance only 73 percent of scheduled annual benefits by 2042, when the combined OASDI trust fund is projected to be exhausted.
In fourteen years, the program will be in the red. In 38 years, it will be flat broke.

Anyone who argued during an election cycle that Social Security "isn't really broken" would have been laughed out of the primaries. In September of 2003, John Edwards said this about the program:
We have a train wreck coming. We have the onslaught of the baby boomers coming.
No one accused Edwards of inventing a crisis for political purposes.

First we had Michael Moore saying "there is no terrorist threat!" Now, the cult of hatred that surrounds President Bush is telling us "there is no Social Security crisis!" What's becoming increasingly clear is that there is no credible opposition party.

12/21/2004

Red-State Generosity

Via Michelle Malkin...

Richard Hamman is a retired farmer who lives in a small town in Iowa - Anthon, population 650. This Christmas, he gave his neighbors a unique gift:

The Hamanns doled out $25,000 to pay the town's electricity bills - all due on Dec. 25.

Hamann, 75, sees the gift as returning a good deed.

``The Lord has been very good to us and so have the people of this community, so I always thought we ought to be doing something in return if we could,'' he said Monday.
I spend so much time dwelling on bad news and stories about evil people that it's easy to forget that there are genuinely decent people in the world. To borrow a line from the best Christmas movie ever, Christmas is the time when we become the people we wish we could be.

Amen.

12/20/2004

Call Me The Grinch

20-odd years since Band-Aid took up the fight against world hunger, it may be somewhat Grinch-like to point out the utter failure of Band Aid and Live Aid. Yet, in a piece entitled, "What Happened To The F***ing Money?", British publication The Spectator does exactly that.

In the time of Band Aid, ‘negative angles’ were out. It would have been negative, although true, to have emphasised that [Ethipoian dictator] Mengistu was one of the most vicious African dictators of the previous quarter century, that he was fighting three wars at the time (two in the north, in Tigray and Eritrea, and one in the Oromo lands of the south), and that his troops were committing atrocities in the region where the famine was unfolding. It would have been distinctly negative to have reported that the dictator was using food as a weapon of war — bombing crops and markets while setting up roadblocks to prevent the movement of food. The methods used by Mengistu’s armies were bound to create famine, and they did.

Journalists and aid workers were not the only ones wary of confusing viewers at home with ‘negative angles’. While it was Band Aid and, later, Live Aid that caught the imagination of the world, they funded only a small proportion of the aid effort: 90 per cent or more of the aid came from Western donor governments. As the governments would only deal with a recipient government, not with rebel movements, most of the aid — again, roughly 90 per cent — was channelled through Mengistu’s hands. In a grotesque irony, we found ourselves supporting the very government that was causing the famine we were supposed to be alleviating. This was certainly a ‘negative angle’, and therefore, unsurprisingly, it received hardly any attention at all.
The famines that spurred the artists of Live-Aid and Band-Aid to action we exacerbated by the use of food (or, more accurately, the denial of food) as a weapon. Yet, 90 % of all of the international aid to Ethiopia was delivered to agencies of the very government that was using the famine to advance its own ends.

There is, of course, a paralell to draw - the U.N. Oil For Food program. It is folly to expect tyrants to take the products of international generosity and use it for anything other than solidifying their own power. We've had the lesson taught to us in two very visible episodes. Will we be any wiser the next time?

12/17/2004

A Correction

On Election Night, a former co-worker called me to tell me that he thought it was in the bag for Bush. I told him that he should prepare himself for the worst and that Kerry was going to slam-dunk a victory. Words were exchanged, manhood was questioned, and a bet was made - dinner at Flanigan's Boathouse.

History proved me wrong and on Tuesday night, I met up with my old friend to pay off my bet. During our conversation, he pointed out an error I made in my very first blog post. I had mistakenly said that only one in ten voters under the age of 24 went to the polls, and that this had been a major factor in Kerry's defeat. What I should have said was that only one in ten voters was under the age of 24. The article that provided the statistic cites this factor as part of Kerry's loss, so I don't feel I was completely off base. However, honor demanded that I issue the correction.

Oh, for the record, my friend ordered a modest meal; chicken cheesesteak with jalapeno peppers.

Academia Nuts

via Political Correctness Watch...

Sociology lecturer John McTighe's contract has been temporarily withdrawn by the University Louisville. According to a statement issued by the University, McTighe made comments to his class that "could be interpreted" as advocating violence. The statement in question? It was this, as he was explaining the re-election of President Bush to his sociology class:

"It was the religious zealots who say they are voting on morals. I think we should all buy AK-47s and shoot them all! That's what I would suggest, if it were allowed."
Mr. McTighe has deployed the standard defense that his comments were taken "out of context". I suspect that the "context" that Mister McTighe believes he was speaking in was a liberal echo chamber where no one would bat an eye at the suggestion that conservatives be shot.

It is difficult to argue that American academia is not a bastion of leftist thought and, to some extent, indoctrination. Open conservatives are an isolated and harassed minority on today’s college campuses, where they enjoy little respect and almost no support from institutional powers. When instructors cross the line from simply maligning conservative thought to advocating their murder, it creates what I choose to call a "hostile learning environment."

I feel that if there is a right to a workplace that is not "hostile", then it logically follows that there is a right to a learning environment that is equally free of such hostility. Mister McTighe's comment clearly rises to any reasonable description of "hostile", and the University was right to remove him from the classroom. I hope that they follow up appropriately and make his removal permanent.

(My apologies to the members of Quartz BBS for stealing "Academia Nuts". It was just too good to pass up.)

12/16/2004

Signs of Life

"Where are the moderate muslims?"

The question comes up often in conversations about Islam; usually the question is rhetorical and carries the implication that there are no moderate Muslims. This is obviously false, but Islamist moderates don't often make a point of drawing attention to themselves, and can you blame them?

Still, some are brave enough to raise their voices. A New York Times piece entitled "Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War" introduces the reader to Muhammad Shahrour, a layman who writes extensively about Islam and has the courage to suggest that Islam needs to change.

First, Mr. Shahrour brazenly tackles the Koran. The entire ninth chapter, The Sura of Repentance, he says, describes a failed attempt by the Prophet Muhammad to form a state on the Arabian Peninsula. He believes that as the source of most of the verses used to validate extremist attacks, with lines like "slay the pagans where you find them," the chapter should be isolated to its original context.

"The state which he built died, but his message is still alive," says Mr. Shahrour, a soft-spoken, 65-year-old Syrian civil engineer with thinning gray hair. "So we have to differentiate between the religion and state politics. When you take the political Islam, you see only killing, assassination, poisoning, intrigue, conspiracy and civil war, but Islam as a message is very human, sensible and just."

Mr. Shahrour and a dozen or so like-minded intellectuals from across the Arab and Islamic worlds provoked bedlam when they presented their call for a reinterpretation of holy texts after a Cairo seminar entitled "Islam and Reform" earlier this fall.

"Liars! Liars!" someone screamed at a news conference infiltrated by Islamic scholars and others from the hard-core faithful who shouted and lunged at the panelists to a degree that no journalist could ask a question. "You are all Zionists! You are all infidels!"
The article's most memorable quote comes from a Ibrahim Said, a pastry deliveryman in Cairo.
"Resistance was never like this - to kidnap someone and decapitate him in front of everyone. This is haram," he went on, using the Arabic word for something forbidden or shameful, and then quotes the Koran on his own. " 'Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.' That means nothing will change unless we change ourselves first."
The article is about a five minute read and is an encouraging reminder that Muslims are not an America-hating hive-mind.

Talking Turkey

Tomorrow in Brussels, the European Union will very likely offer Turkey a date to begin membership negotiations. This is the start of a very long road, and there are many thorny issues ahead that will have to be settled for this merger to have any chance of success.

It's big - Most of Turkey is, geographically speaking, in Asia. Admission to the Union would extend the borders of "Europe" to Syria, Iraq, and Iran (map). The population of Turkey is somewhere around 72 million people. Estimates indicate that by 2020 its population will surpass that of Germany, currently the largest population of any EU member. Europe's social programs could find themselves creaking under the weight of so many new beneficiaries.

It's economy is a mess - In 2001-2002 (the last year for which information is available), Turkey's rate of inflation was a mind-blowing 45% - the fourth-highest in the world. Its foreign debt tops $115 billion dollars (seventh in the world) and the service on that debt consumes 40% of the nation's annual budget. Europe is not afraid to absorb poor nations - Albania and Bosnia are pursuing membership - but it has not yet attempted to assimilate a poor nation the size of Turkey.

It's Muslim - Almost all Turks are Muslims and the country's current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, heads a party with Islamist underpinnings. Erdogan insists that there are no plans to make Turkey an Islamist theocracy, though his recent suggestion that adultery be criminalized brought shouts of protest from EU capitals. European governments' attempts to deal with their rising Muslim populations have been cautious and, in the example of France, just plain inept.

There are other issues, as well. How will European economies handle floods of Turkish immigrants who come looking for better jobs and lives in the wealthier states of the West? The division of Cyprus is bound to cause problems - the Greek half has EU membership and could use that as leverage to gain Turkish recognition of Greek dominion over the entire island.

The EU could slowly phase Turkey in, offering it some benefits now and more later. Turkey has made it clear that it considers it to be an all-or-nothing deal. Whatever the outcome, it could be ten years before the issue is completely put to bed.

12/15/2004

Why I Don't Give Money To Beggars

Via BoingBoing...

The story of thirty-six-year-old Richard Dorsay will probably not fill you with sympathy for the plight of the homeless.

On Sunday, Dorsay was evicted from the little wooden home he built into the beams and girders of the underside of the Lake Shore Drive drawbridge after another man was arrested in suburban Streamwood and told police about him.

Inside, authorities found Dorsay's home was clearly more elaborate than the kind of warren other homeless people create in the city's nooks and crannies. He had tapped into the bridge's electricity to power a television, microwave, space heater and a PlayStation video game. There he could relax and, on occasions, turn on a Chicago Bears game, invite friends over and pop open some beers.
Doesn't sound like a bad life. Wake up, play some Katamari Damacy, catch some football on the tube, and then go hit up strangers for money to finance that copy of Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas that you've had your eye on.

Stopping Dean

CNN reports that congressional Democratic leaders are working to prevent Howard Dean and his legions of orcs from overrunning the party and dragging it into obscurity.

Amid strong competition over who will lead the party as the next Democratic National Committee chairman, former Indiana congressman and 9/11 commission member Tim Roemer has emerged as a possible new candidate.

He has the strong backing of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, senior party sources told CNN Tuesday.

With the support of Reid and Pelosi, Roemer immediately has an advantage over the declared candidates, former presidential candidate Howard Dean and former Clinton aide Harold Ickes.
If the rumor proves to be true, I think it's a good move, albeit not without its own risks. Installing Howard Dean as party chair would be disastrous. However, this maneuver is sure to inflame the extreme Left wing of the party; not to mention Dean supporters who feel (somewhat justifiably) that the Democratic leadership torpedoed Dean in the primaries. They will not take kindly to seeing their man sabotaged a second time.

More Than Just Hot Air

Popular Science brings, well, the science with a downer of an article entitled "Warning: The Hydrogen Economy May Be More Distant Than It Appears".

In presidential campaign of 2004, Bush and Kerry managed to find one piece of common ground: Both spoke glowingly of a future powered by fuel cells. Hydrogen would free us from our dependence on fossil fuels and would dramatically curb emissions of air pollutants, including carbon dioxide, the gas chiefly blamed for global warming. The entire worldwide energy market would evolve into a "hydrogen economy" based on clean, abundant power. Auto manufacturers and environmentalists alike happily rode the bandwagon, pointing to hydrogen as the next big thing in U.S. energy policy. Yet the truth is that we aren’t much closer to a commercially viable hydrogen-powered car than we are to cold fusion or a cure for cancer. This hardly surprises engineers, fuel cell manufacturers and policymakers, who have known all along that the technology has been hyped, perhaps to its detriment, and that the public has been misled about what Howard Coffman, editor of fuelcell-info.com, describes as the "undeniable realities of the hydrogen economy."
The article presents what it calls "nine myths" about hydrogen energy, and throws cold water on each of them with explanations separating the hype from reality. Here's a teaser:
MYTH #1. HYDROGEN IS AN ABUNDANT FUEL
True, hydrogen is the most common element in the universe; it’s so plentiful that the sun consumes 600 million tons of it every second. But unlike oil, vast reservoirs of hydrogen don’t exist here on Earth. Instead, hydrogen atoms are bound up in molecules with other elements, and we must expend energy to extract the hydrogen so it can be used in fuel cells. We’ll never get more energy out of hydrogen than we put into it.

"Hydrogen is a currency, not a primary energy source," explains Geoffrey Ballard, the father of the modern-day fuel cell and co-founder of Ballard Power Systems, the world’s leading fuel-cell developer. "It’s a means of getting energy from where you created it to where you need it."
Hydrogen is the embryonic stem cell of the alternate-energy movement; a buzzword technology that maybe has the promise to deliver something - so long as we throw buckets of money at it without expecting concrete results. Meanwhile, less sexy technologies that are actually producing those results get lost in the mad scramble to appear progressive. Both candidates should have done a better job of putting forward thoughtful proposals on alternate engergy. Hydrogen, at least for now, appears to be a red herring.

The Mother of all Deception

As someone who has been the victim of child-support fraud, the story of Steve Barreras really caught and held my attention:

Last week, Viola Trevino carried her 5-year-old "daughter" into an Albuquerque court to satisfy a judge’'s demand to produce the child.

Complications arose.

One: Trevino had kidnapped the child moments before to pass off as her daughter.

Two: the "real" daughter never existed.

Three: the "father" and ex-husband Steve Barreras had paid $20,000 in child support.

Four: the system finally noticed Trevino was lying.
Fortunately for Mr. Barreras, he had the financial resources to fight long enough and hard enough for the truth to finally be exposed. He was able to hire a lawyer and a private investigator to support his claims that the child in question never existed. The fraud finally imploded when his ex-wife kidnapped another woman's child in desperation after being ordered by a judge to produce the child.

Other fathers are not so fortunate, and are at the limited mercy of a child-support infrastructure that tends to treat fathers like criminals. Cheers to Mr. Barreras for his perseverance in refusing to be victimized. There is talk that he will initiate lawsuits against any and all parties involved in the fraud. I take a generally dim view of lawsuits in general, but I will confess to hoping that Mr. Barreras takes his antagonists to the cleaners.

12/14/2004

Better Off Dead

Via Michelle Malkin...

The Metroplex Organization of Muslims in North Texas hosted A Tribute to the Great Islamic Visionary on December 11. The "visionary", of course, is Ruhollah Khomeini, more widely known as Ayatollah Khomeni. Khomeni is the man most responsible for Iran's sad state of affairs, and the results of his "vision" are history.

Under Khomeini's rule Shia Islamic law was instituted, the strict Islamic dress code (hijab) became the law and was enforced for both men and women. Women lost many of their rights as equal citizens, and freedom of speech and press continued to be almost as curtailed as it was under the Shah. Khomeini became the center of a large personality cult, and opposition to the religious rule or Islam in general was often met with harsh punishments. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution there were widespread allegations of systematic human rights abuses, including torture.

Early in the revolution in the years of 1979 to 1981, Khomeini's followers abducted 52 United States citizens and held them hostage in Tehran's US embassy for 444 days. Khomeini stated on February 23, 1980 that Iran's parliament would decide the fate of the American embassy hostages demanding the United States hand over the Shah for trial in Iran. President Jimmy Carter launched a commando mission to rescue the hostages, but the attempt was thwarted when the helicopters deployed failed under unexpected desert conditions in Tabas. Some Iranians considered this to be a miracle. Many commentators point to this failure as a major cause of Carter's loss in the following elections to Ronald Reagan.

On the list of "people the world is better off without", Khomeini ranks alongside Stalin, Lenin, and Hitler. His particular strain of political pestilence retarded the progress of the Middle East by decades, and can ultimately be identified as one of the largest contributing factors to horrors like 9/11.

Update: The link has been removed, but the Google cache never forgets. Thanks to Michelle for the update and the cache link.

Mmmm, Carrot Sticks

From the Center for Individual Freedom...

Reacting to the national panic over childhood obesity, the Los Angeles public schools banished soda and "junk food" vending machines from their premises. Guess what they discovered?

Five months after banishing "junk food" from their premises, Los Angeles public schools have stumbled upon a remarkable discovery: children won't spend their allowance money on carrot sticks and broccoli. Banning soda also had another, equally predictable result: the soft drink companies ended sponsorship deals that had previously brought campuses tens of thousands of dollars.

Apparently not anticipating this rather obvious consequence, the Los Angeles Unified School District is now faced with a serious decline in revenue. The soda ban alone has cost San Fernando Valley schools at least $300,000 since the beginning of 2004.

The schools apparently believed they could make just as much money by selling wrapping paper and "healthy snacks." This gross miscalculation has sent sales spiraling down by as much as 60 percent and is costing some schools as much as $1,000 per week. Some student stores have seen monthly revenues drop from $18,000 to $6,000.
I am shocked - SHOCKED - that sales of Broccoli Bites have not somehow closed the revenue gap left by the departure of Coca-Cola and Doritos. The article goes on to point out the irony that the loss of revenue is threatening programs - like after-school sports - that might actually help kids improve their physical condition.

The more I read about public schools, the less I like them.

Lieberman for Homeland Security?

In the aftermath of Bernie Kerik's spectacular flameout, the New Haven Register is reporting that Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman is being wooed by the president...

In recent weeks the New Haven Democrat said repeatedly he has not been contacted, nor did he expect to be, but that if he were asked, he would consider any request.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, a panel charged with oversight of the executive branch, Lieberman co-authored both the bill that established the Department of Homeland Security, and pending legislation that would reorganize the U.S. intelligence community. The bill is awaiting Bush’s signature.

The latter legislation, passed last week in Congress, would specifically place U.S. intelligence operations — civilian and military — under a single director of national intelligence.
Lieberman credentials seem to be compatible with the demands of the office, and Lieberman's support of the war (even as it cost him the Democratic nomination) is admirable.

Lieberman is one of the few Democrats in Congress to address the depravity of pop culture, which endears him to Republicans and irritates his fellow Dems. If this rumor actually plays out to be true, don't expect any praise for Bush in the media for bipartisanship. Among Democrats, Lieberman is about as popular as Zell Miller because he doesn't step on a BUSHITLER doormat before entering his office. If he is nominated, the general reaction from Left will probably be "Eh, he's practically a Republican anyway."

The State of Iran

The Economist is the best damn magazine on the planet, and the latest evidence of this is their excellent piece on Iran entitled "Still Failing, Still Defiant". Anyone looking for a concise and informative briefing on the current state of affairs in Iran need look no further. It covers the media...

The sole remaining liberal daily newspaper of any weight, Shargh, feels obliged to censor itself more rigorously than before for fear of being closed down, as so many of its like-minded counterparts have been. The so-called “red lines” that fence off sensitive issues from discussion are being drawn more tightly. Freedom of expression is diminishing again.
Human rights...
Not that mass repression is needed to keep the media, or the Iranian people in general, in line. According to a respected human-rights campaigner, between 2,000 and 4,000 Iranians, including about 30 journalists, are behind bars for political reasons. The reason for the overall figure's vagueness is that many of those incarcerated are in “unofficial” prisons: even their relatives are not told they are there.
Economy and demographics...
In a population of around 70m, one-third are reckoned to be under 14 and two-thirds under 35. Though the economy grew by about 6% last year, it is not expanding fast enough to keep unemployment down. Around 16% are officially jobless, though the real figure may be higher. At about 17%, inflation is rising faster than wages. Though the necessities of life, such as bread and potatoes, are hugely subsidised, the lot of the urban poor, whose minimum wage is around $12 a month, is dire.
...and several other topics as well. This article is a five- to ten-minute read that will give anyone a reasonably informed context within which to digest developments in Iraq. Highly recommended reading.

12/13/2004

Sing For The Moment

In an outstanding piece entitled "Eminem is Right", Mary Eberstadt of Policy Review Online askes the question: "What is it about today’s music, violent and disgusting though it may be, that resonates with so many American kids?"

The odd truth about contemporary teenage music — the characteristic that most separates it from what has gone before — is its compulsive insistence on the damage wrought by broken homes, family dysfunction, checked-out parents, and (especially) absent fathers. Papa Roach, Everclear, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem — these and other singers and bands, all of them award-winning top-40 performers who either are or were among the most popular icons in America, have their own generational answer to what ails the modern teenager. Surprising though it may be to some, that answer is: dysfunctional childhood. Moreover, and just as interesting, many bands and singers explicitly link the most deplored themes in music today — suicide, misogyny, and drugs — with that lack of a quasi-normal, intact-home personal past.
This is a long but incredibly insightful article that is worth the time to read. My favorite snippet comes from an interview with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder:
"Think about it, man," he says. "Any generation that would pick Kurt [Cobain] or me as its spokesman — that must be a pretty f— up generation, don’t you think?"
As the child of divorced parents and a mentally-ill mother, I find Eberstadt's observations and conclusions to be spot-on.

$20 Million Also Buys You...

On Wednesday, I observed that $20 Million Buys A Lot of Armor, a complaint that we should be buying equipment for our troops instead of giving cash to the Palestinians. Judging from events over the weekend, it looks like the Palestinians got their money's worth:

A tunnel filled with explosives detonated under the Israeli checkpoint on the Gaza-Egypt border near the town of Rafah on Sunday, killing four Israelis and wounding at least 10, in the largest Palestinian attack since Yasser Arafat's death.

Palestinian militants said more they set off more a ton of explosives under the Israeli complex, tunneling in from 800 yards away. Israel Army Radio said several structures collapsed and others were damaged by the force of the blast, which was followed by gunfire that the military said hampered efforts to evacuate the wounded.
As Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate the murder of Israeils, Hamas conducted a news conference:
Hamas was quick to convene a news conference during which one of the terrorists who claimed to have taken part in the attack reconstructed the incident. "One of the injured soldiers begged for his life, but I fired directly at him and escaped", he said.
An hour after the blast, a second timed explosive device detonated; no doubt an attempt to slaughter any relief or rescue workers on the scene. Fortunately, no one was injured in the second explosion.

In the light of what seems to be an unending campaign of terror against Israelis, it is hard to look at the support that many countries throw behind the Palestinians and not think that they are funding a proxy war against Israel. There isn't an army in the Middle East that could prevail against the IDF on the battlefield, so Middle Eastern governments give money to the Palestinians instead. Israel can't initiate a war against the sources of the support without becoming even more of an international pariah, so she has to sit back and slowly bleed.

The United States' gift of $20 million to the Palestinians is a shameful betrayal of the Israeli people. If there is any nation in the world with whom we should be making common cause against Islamist terror, it is Israel. Just as Great Britain has endured the slings and arrows of world opinion for it's unwavering support of America in geopolitical affairs, we should display that same courage in support of Israel.

It's time to cut off all American aid to the Palestinians and make it clear that the only way for them to take their place in the international community is to stop the attacks. We can not continue to support both sides in this dispute and expect to have credibility with either. Israel deserves our support. The Palestinians deserve nothing.

12/10/2004

Democratic Party chief arrested

For all of the shrill accusations of vote fraud being levelled at Republicans these days, look who actually got arrested for it...

The Madison County [Indiana] Democratic Party chairman was one of two men arrested on vote fraud charges Tuesday.

Thomas Ashley, 70, the county Democratic chairman, and Kyle Barber, 47, are free on $5,000 bond each from the Madison County Jail. Barber was booked on 12 counts of vote fraud and three counts of obstruction of justice, and Ashley was booked on two counts of vote fraud.
Of course, the folks at Democratic Underground are already calling this "payback" and a "Classic Rovian move". Because, you know, Karl Rove controls law enforcement in Indiana.

Bidding For This Item Has Ended

Via PowerLine...

MoveOn.Org has anounced what we've all suspected for some time - the Democratic Party can be bought.

A scathing e-mail from the head of MoveOn's political action committee to the group's supporters on Thursday targets outgoing Democratic National Committee (news - web sites) chairman Terry McAuliffe as a tool of corporate donors who alienated both traditional and progressive Democrats.

"For years, the party has been led by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base," said the e-mail from MoveOn PAC's Eli Pariser. "But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers."

Under McAuliffe's leadership, the message said, the party coddled the same corporate donors that fund Republicans to bring in money at the expense of vision and integrity.

"In the last year, grass-roots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the party doesn't need corporate cash to be competitive," the message continued. "Now it's our party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back."
After doing some research, I found the proof that MoveOn has purchased the Democratic Party. I hope that MoveOn at least gets positive feedback from the seller.

12/09/2004

RIP Dimebag Darrell

Dimebag Darrell, co-founder and guitarist for the wildly influential metal band Pantera, was shot and killed during a concert last night.

A gunman charged onstage at a packed nightclub and opened fire on the band and the crowd, killing top heavy metal guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and three other people before a police officer shot him to death, authorities and witnesses said.

Columbus police department spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio identified three of the victims of Wednesday's shooting as Abbott, guitarist with the heavy metal rock band Damageplan, and two other men, Nathan Bray and Erin Halk.

Damageplan had just begun their first song at the Alrosa Villa when the man opened fire, first targeting Abbott, shooting him multiple times at point-blank range, a witness said.
AllMusic has an excellent biography of Pantera that details their career and their place in the heavy metal pantheon:
With such classic songs as "Walk," "Mouth for War," and "Fucking Hostile," this album [Vulgar Display of Power] essentially changed the sound of heavy metal upon its release in 1992, a key moment in the evolution of metal, post-dating the simultaneous demise of thrash and Metallica's commercial breakthrough and pre-dating the rise of Korn and the successive alternative metal movement.
Darrell's distinctive guitar work, guttural and aggressive, was as much a signature sound for Panteral as Tom Scholz's was for 70's arena-rock staple Boston; the first few seconds of a song were all you needed to recognize the guitarwork, even if you weren't familiar with the particular song. Of the bands most closely identified with the sub-genre of metal known as "Harder Than Thou", Pantera was the one that made the most of it - even if they were not the first.

Dimebag Darrell will almost certainly take his place alongside people like Randy Rhoads and Cliff Burton in the hagiography of fallen metal musicians. Heavy metal has lost an icon.

Monster Farming Update

An interesting new development on the "Monster Farming" issue. LifeSite reports that Dr. Richard Dorflinger, spokesman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has expressed cautious support for the research in question.

Dr. Richard Dorflinger, spokesman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was not convinced that the newest thing for which there is no name is not simply a severely disabled human being in the embryonic stage.

Pro-lifers have been dismissed as alarmists when they have tried to warn legislators that cloning by other names and in other guises was coming and would not be prohibited under new laws which define cloning very narrowly and claim to ban all cloning. Dr. Dorflinger echoed these warnings, saying of Dr. Hurlbut's proposal, "Such a procedure would not be prohibited by the cloning bans the Catholic bishops have supported at the state or federal level."

However, Dorflinger seemed to put his concern aside when he gave a cautious green light to proceeding with the research. "I certainly appreciate the conceptual model that Dr. Hurlbut has presented and I think exploration in animal models is well worth at least pursuing at this time," he said.
This is a suprising display of open-mindedness on the part of the Catholic Church. Of course, Dr. Dorflinger does not speak for the Church as a whole, but for someone in his position to not dismiss and decry the research out-of-hand is encouraging.

I hope that Dr. Hurlbut's proposal will be given a fair hearing in scientific circles. Thos folks interested can read his presentation. The relevant information begins at the bottom of page 61.

Susan Rosenberg Update

In my "Profressor of Terrorism" post, I pointed out (via FrontPage) that Hamilton University was going to pay convicted (and Clinton-pardoned) terrorist Susan Rosenberg to teach a course at the liberal arts school.

Apparently, the uproar was too much for the school's delicate constitution. David Horowitz has word that the school has had a change of heart and they have issued the following statement:

The Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture regretfully announces that Susan Rosenberg has withdrawn as artist-in-residence for spring 2005. This withdrawal represents a loss for those students and colleagues who were looking forward to working with her, but as an educator, she felt that in the current climate the experience would not be productive for the students, the community, or herself. We thank those students and colleagues who participated thoughtfully in the discussions of the past few weeks.
"As an educator"? Please.

12/08/2004

$20 Million Buys A Lot Of Armor

Via Little Green Footballs...

The Bush Administration announced today that it is giving $20 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.

A senior Bush administration official said it hoped the aid would encourage additional donations from other countries "at a time when the Palestinian Authority is in desperate need of budget support to pay its bills, maintain stability and allow it to focus on the larger question of governing."

The Palestinian Authority is facing a severe financial crisis due to falling tax revenues during four years of violence which has paralyzed the Palestinian economy.

The $20 million in direct aid was to be announced during an international donors conference for the Palestinians in Oslo.
Yes, four years of violence instigated and perpetuated by the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinians are not our allies - they are the enemy. They teach their children to wire themselves with explosives and send them to kill Israeli civilians. They strive, as a matter of cultural identity, to annihilate Israel. They danced in the streets when planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Yet, when our own troops have to scrounge through landfills to find scrap metal to armor their vehicles, we can find $20 million dollars to give to Islamikaze fanatics who would dance again if another 3,000 Americans died?

Shame on you, President Bush.

Update:PowerLine is calling it "a corporate bailout for terrorists". That strikes me as a fairly accurate characterization.

Update 2: Jim K over at Rights Thoughts has a different and more optimistic view. I disagree, but I hope that he's right and I'm wrong.

Wictory Wednesday

In a desperate attempt to steal another election, Democrats have pushed for a statewide hand recount of the governor’s race in Washington state, where Republican Dino Rossi has a 42-vote lead in the final count. The Washington state GOP needs volunteers to observe the recount so that Democrats don’t steal this election. If you live in WA, please volunteer by contacting the state GOP at 425-646-7202.

A list of all the blogs participating in Wictory Wednesday can be found here.

Logical Consequences

The Boston Globe reports that many of the largest employers in Massachusetts are ending their policies of offering "domestic partner" benefits because same-sex couples can now legally get married in that state.

Massachusetts companies, some of which pioneered so-called domestic-partner benefits for unmarried, same-sex partners, said they are now withdrawing them for reasons of fairness: If gays and lesbians can now marry, they should no longer receive special treatment in the form of health benefits that were not made available to unmarried, opposite-sex couples.

Large employers terminating or phasing out domestic-partner benefits for some or all Massachusetts workers include IBM Corp., Raytheon Co., Emerson College, Northeastern University, the National Fire Protection Association, Boston Medical Center, Baystate Health System, and The New York Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

"We're saying if you're a same-sex domestic partner, you now have the same option heterosexuals have, so we have to apply the same rules to you," said Larry Emerson, Baystate's vice president of human resources.
Seems perfectly reasonable to me. It also would have been perfectly reasonable to offer domestic partnerships benefits to mixed-sex couples. However, eliminating benefits is usually more cost-effective than adding them.

Unsurprisingly, there are complaints.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, a New England advocacy organization, argues that taking them away is an unfair hardship, because the decision to marry is still more difficult for gay and lesbian couples.
When people on the right talk about homosexuals clamoring for "special rights", this is the sort of thing they're talking about. GLAD seems to think that Massachusetts employers should offer a benefit that applies only to them for no other reason than getting married is a difficult decision for same-sex couples. Speaking as a married heterosexual, I can assure you that it's not an easy decision for mixed-sex couples, either. I shouldn't expect my employer to extend medical benefits to my girlfriend simply because it's a hard decision to make.

News flash: It's supposed to be a hard decision. Marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment, and the decision to enter into it should be difficult. It should be the kind of decisions that makes you wake up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat. Agreeing to let someone else rearrange your stuff for the rest of your life is not a natural act, and is deserving of hard introspection.

Same-sex couples wanted the right to marry. In Massachusetts, they got it. It's not unreasonable to expect people to be married if they want to receive the benefits of being married.

Monster Farming

There's a piece over at Slate that covers a very interesting presentation given to the President's Council on Bioethics by council member William Hulbrut. Specifially, it involves creating embryonic stem cells for research without killing embryos.

How could we create functioning parts of an embryo without the whole? By turning off one of the genes that guide embryo formation. Hurlbut's first choice is the human equivalent of cdx2, the gene in mice that directs the formation of the placenta. Without cdx2, the embryonic mouse cells divide but fail to take the shape of a mouse. The plan would be to follow the recipe for cloning—put the nucleus of a body cell into a gutted egg cell—but turn off cdx2. Then, once the cell begins to divide, reactivate the gene, too late to organize the embryo but early enough to make stem cells.

Paul McHugh, one of the council's moderates, finds the idea gruesome. He calls the proposed creation a "weird genetic hybrid" that is "very embryolike" and has been engineered to die. Hurlbut replies, coldly but correctly, that according to the technical definition favored by opponents of stem-cell research, the thing can't die because it was never alive. Leon Kass, the council's chairman, agrees, describing the thing as a "re-engineered entity" that is "embryolike" but not "embryonic." Michael Gazzaniga, the council's most liberal member, calls Hurlbut's strategy a perversion of science. Instead of tinkering with language to fit biology, he observes, Hurlbut is tinkering with biology to fit language.
I'm not sufficiently versed in biology to comment on the feasibility of such endeavors. On its face, the proposal seems to be win-win: researchers get embryonic stem cells and no embryos are destroyed. Is there someone out there with a former mastery of science involved who could offer some more insight?

Update:The Boston Globe has a piece on Hulbrut's proposal which includes this informative infographic on how the process could work. Also, the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics called the idea "voodoo" on their official blog.

12/07/2004

Academic Suicide

OverLawyered points out this piece in the New York Times regarding student-suicide lawsuits against colleges.

Nicole Thompson had been at Columbia University for only a few weeks when she went out drinking with a group of friends downtown last year and became separated from them. She had skipped her medication for bipolar disorder. Now it was 3 a.m. and, crying and in a panic, she called friends; she told them, she said, that she "just wished the traffic would take me out."

Although she made it back to campus safely, her friends had already notified Columbia that they were worried about her. For Columbia officials, it was the first clue that Ms. Thompson faced any kind of mental health problems.

"I wasn't on Columbia's radar at all," said Ms. Thompson, who is back on campus now after being forced to take a medical leave.

Increasingly, college officials and mental health experts have come to realize that many of the most vulnerable students - the ones prone to self-injury and suicide - are like Ms. Thompson: they never go near the counseling centers or reveal anything about their experience before college. As a result, colleges are stepping up efforts to find them and to get them into treatment, sometimes forcing them to leave temporarily.
The majority of the article talks about the pros and cons of requiring potentially suicidal college students to seek treatment or to leave campus. A major factor is the risk of litigation:
Suicide - the second-biggest cause of death among college students - can be costly, injuring reputations and prompting litigation. The suicide of a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Elizabeth Shin, in 2000, and strings of suicides at New York University, George Washington University and the University of Illinois, have drawn wide attention. There has also been a rise in lawsuits involving student suicides.

Ann H. Franke, a vice president of United Educators, a company that insures 1,200 universities, colleges and schools, said suicide prevention had risen in priority as claims had risen; her company, Ms. Franke said, now has a "handful" of claims, up from none six years ago.

"They can be very severe claims financially," Ms. Franke said, "not to mention the emotional and reputational impact they can have on a school."

In a closely watched case, the family of Elizabeth Shin has sued M.I.T. for $27 million.
The Shin case seems to be a particularly egregious one, and although I'm still not entirely convinced that anyone should be held responsible for failing to stop someone else's suicide, the circumstances surrounding Ms. Shins's suicide do seem to indicate that the M.I.T. mental health infrastructure let her down.

I think it's reasonable for colleges to require students who make threats of suicide to seek treatment. Although I can certainly forsee a situation where a suicidal student faced with suspension would choose a Final Exit, my impression is that this sort of "early warning" approach is likely to prevent far more suicides than it causes. My inner cynic sees this measure as less of a "help the student" gesture and more of a "legal self-defense" maneuver. If the end result is that people considering suicide get some help, then that end justifies these means.

Frying Rice, Part II

Via PowerLine...

The Yale Daily News ran a piece on December 1st which opened with the jaw-dropping phrase, Is Condoleezza Rice really a black woman?

Is Condoleezza Rice really a black woman?

While she may appear on the outside to share the color and therefore sentiments of black people, actions speak louder than both words and skin.

Her blank-eyed compliance with W's first term misogynist agenda will surely turn into a rubber stamp in round II. We won't see the woman part of this secretary of state. After all, she knows better than to bite the hand that feeds her.

At least they didn't get Barack.

Sometimes I think we'll have a humbug moment, in which the booming voice, crazy hair and composed facade will deteriorate and we will find, lurking beneath the cold, shiny Condi mask, a tiny, angry white man, grinning at the coup he's managed to pull off from Stanford to the nation's capital.
Once again from the Left comes the racist notion that all black people are supposed to think, feel, and vote the same way - carrying with it the corollary that contravening this rule means that you are somehow "less black". When expressed by whites, this point of view drives me to anger. In this case, the writer is a black woman and my reaction is not one of anger so much as it is one of sadness.

Blacks in America still face many challenges, including the sort of black-on-black racism that produced this article. Declaring that someone is "not black" simply because you disagree with their politics isn't a step forward; it's a step backwards. Not to mention being about as ludicrous as Toni Morrison calling Clinton our "first black president".

Bad Privatization

The Washington Post reports on the Bush administration's plan to let private companies collect back taxes from delinquent taxpayers:

When Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) teamed up in September to get the House to pass an amendment blocking the use of private companies to collect back taxes from delinquent taxpayers, it seemed the Bush administration plan might be doomed for at least a year.

But in the final hours of drafting a 3,300-page spending bill last month, House and Senate negotiators eliminated Capito's and Van Hollen's handiwork, clearing the way for the Internal Revenue Service to hire commercial debt collectors. These private agents could keep as much as 25 percent of the amounts they recovered.

While the Bush administration has strongly supported the initiative as a way to increase revenue collections amid growing deficits, critics contend it could lead to harassment of taxpayers and breaches of privacy. Labor groups representing federal workers also oppose the change. But it has the backing of the debt-collection industry, which has contributed heavily to GOP organizations and causes since Bush became president.
Is there anyone who hasn't heard of (or experienced) horrific abuse at the hands of private collection firms?
Just ask Angela M., a mother of two, in Denton, Texas. She fell behind on four credit card bills in late 2001. "When it went to the collection agencies, it turned really personal," Angela says. "They called me a deadbeat. They called me a criminal. I had perfect, spotless credit before this happened."

Angela's roughly $40,000 in overdue debt stems from a small business. She opened a children's boutique in 1998.

One debt collector accused her of running up her credit card balances with no intention of paying.

One collector told her to sell her house. Another threatened her home. One debt collector scolded her for taking her children to Chuck E. Cheese for pizza. Another collector told Angela, who is expecting another child, that she had no business being pregnant.
My libertarian streak predisposes me to favor privatization in many functions of government. Privatizing garbage collection, for example, is easy to support - choosing an unscrupulous garbage haulers means garbage goes uncollected. Choosing an unscrupulous collection agent, however, means that citizens get intimidated and harassed. The collections industry has shown no willingness or capability to police its own; that intransigence should not be rewarded with huge government contracts.

12/06/2004

Trash Talk

Residents of Pickerington, Ohio were concerned about a new law restricting how long you could leave your trash out before and after scheduled pickup times. Their concerns? The penalty of a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

[Councilman Brian] Wisniewski, sponsor of the legislation and safety committee chairman, said the jail time and $250 fine is the penalty attached to the law that deals with garbage and rubbish collection and disposal, the section under which the new legislation falls.

In coming up with the legislation, Wisniewski said it was never his intention to scare residents into believing they would be thrown into jail.
Take heart, however. Before the measure passed in a close 4-3 vote of the City Council, the penalty was changed to a minor misdemeanor. Scofflaws who are late to collect their trash cans will not be doing hard time for their crimes against society.

Quote of the Day

Via PoliPundit...

Jim Jordan, who ran Kerry's campaign through the end of 2003 and helped organize Democratic grassroots efforts through election day:

"We are too coastal," Jordan said. "We are too urban. We are too secular. And, most of all, we are too dovish. The public simply doesn't trust us to keep them safe."
No, Jim, you've got it all wrong. Bush voters are parochial inbred Nazi sympathizers. The puiblic simply doesn't know enough to make the proper voting choices. Silly man.

A Monopoly on Steroids

Although Major League Baseball is currently not in season, the steroid scandal and the underlying problem that it represents are big news. The recent admission by Jason Giambi that he used human growth hormone was quickly followed by the unsurprising revelation that Barry Bonds has used steroids. Bonds said that he didn't know he was using a product with a steroid in it.

Yeah.

MLB's impotence in dealing with this matter is well-established: the league only got around to banning steroids two years ago, and no major-leaguer has been suspended for their use. That impotence has drawn the attention of Congress, and they're making regulatory noises:

Sen. John McCain, the driving force behind changing how baseball polices performance-enhancing drug use, said Sunday he believes President Bush would sign a bill into law.

The House minority leader and the Senate majority leader agreed that the best solution would be for baseball to require stronger testing but said they would support legislation if the league failed to act on its own.

"They have a responsibility, not only to the sport, but to the children of America who look up to these players," Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on NBC's "Meet the Press.""Quite frankly, it's overdue."

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the problem "could be ended, bang, just like that, if everybody from the owners to the unions just step up and face the reality that we've got a huge problem."
It's not made clear just what sort of "legislation" is being talked about here. What's probably likely is some sort of bill requiring a comprehensive testing regimen. While I do think that baseball should be testing aggressively, I don't think that Congress should be legislating it. Major League Baseball is a business, and it should be as free as possible to pursue its business with minimal interference from the government.

There is a more powerful tool at the Congress's disposal that could convince both the owners and the players to agree to an effective testing system: the anti-trust exemption. Currently, baseball is not subject to the sort of anti-trust laws that are often invoked against companies like Microsoft for monopolistic practices. As ESPN explains...
Baseball has been exempt from these antitrust laws since 1922, when the Supreme Court ruled in its favor in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National Baseball Clubs. The Supreme Court determined even though there was scheduling of games across state lines, those games were intrastate events since the travel from one state to another was "not the essential thing," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the decision. There are several aspects to the exemption, but the primary issue right now is this means a team can't move unless MLB allows it to move.
The "antitrust exemption", as it is called, gives MLB a great deal of control over its business that is not afforded to other businesses. Exemptions for football, basketball, hockey, golf, and boxing have all been denied by the courts. The business flexibility that it represents makes it an excellent crowbar with which to pry MLB away from its intransigence on the steroids issue.

The exemption should probably be repealed regardless of the steroid issue. But, if the threat of its removal can bring about significant changes in the way that MLB deals with steroids, the exemption will have actually served the public good.

12/04/2004

Ted Rall Says What Most Democrats Think

Via The Weekly Standard...

Ted Rall gave an interview to Minnesota Public Radio a few days back. Co-host Barbara Bogaev had invited him on to defend "what some might say" was the "smug elitism" of his published "rant" about the cerebral inferiority of Bush voters. Bogaev's other guest, Democratic media consultant Hank Sheinkopf, had raised an obvious objection: "You can't tell people they're stupid and their faith doesn't matter and then expect them to vote for Democrats." So what did Rall have to say for himself?

I do think Hank is absolutely right when you talk about the need to, obviously, to communicate with people. The way that that's going to happen is to stop overintellectualizing issues, and to tap into the sort of hot-button emotional responses that were so successful for liberals through the '60s and '70s. And then somehow we started becoming all intellectual and arguing facts and, you know, facts don't really work with the electorate because unfortunately, let's face it, the electorate is mostly stupid. (emphasis mine)
Besides, Rall explained to a plainly incredulous Barbara Bogaev:
Isn't it kind of intellectually dishonest on the part of Democrats, especially people who are well informed and who are journalists, to try to pretend that they know less than they do? People who are busy working 52 hours a week don't really have the time to watch CNN and MSNBC and Fox News every day all day long like I do. The'’re not reading Libération or Le Monde like I do.
Usually, I'm quick to point out that Ted Rall is a fringe lunatic. On this point, however, I think he's really speaking with the voice of the majority of Democratic supporters. Certainly, many of the Democrats that I know were not too shy to label Bush voters as Christian zombies, ignorant rednecks or outright Nazis.

The other Democrat on the air with Rall at the time, Sheinkopf, expressed one of the other common opinions that has emerged from the bitter Left - hoping that circumstance punishes the red states.
"In order for Democrats to thrive again," he said, "unfortunately we're gonna need some economic problems that are more severe, and we're gonna need a belief that people have to be protected, that market forces are not sufficient. And a couple of good downturns in the economy in the Midwest would be a lot helpful."
The repugnance of Rall's comments speaks for itself, and Sheinkopf can't claim to have come off much better in that interview. I don't understand why there aren't louder voices rejecting this "anyone who voted for Bush is stupid" mentality. Is it really as prevalent as it appears to be? Moreover, it's rather apalling for anyone to wish economic hardship on someone simply so his side can win an election.

12/03/2004

Know Your Enemy

The New Republic has a remarkably forward-looking essay entitled "An Argument For A New Liberalism: A Fighting Faith" by editor Peter Beinhart. What makes it so remarkable is the passion and eloquence with which Mr. Beinhart points out how to begin righting the listing Democratic vessel: throwing overboard the likes of Michael Moore and MoveOn. On Moore, he writes:

For Moore, terrorism is an opiate whipped up by corporate bosses. In Dude, Where's My Country?, he says it plainly: "There is no terrorist threat." And he wonders, "Why has our government gone to such absurd lengths to convince us our lives are in danger?"

Moore views totalitarian Islam the way Wallace viewed communism: As a phantom, a ruse employed by the only enemies that matter, those on the right. Saudi extremists may have brought down the Twin Towers, but the real menace is the Carlyle Group.
I had to doublecheck my browser to make sure I wasn't at The National Review. Mr. Beinhart is no less pointed in his criticisms of MoveOn:
In the early days after September 11, MoveOn suggested that foreign aid might prove a better way to defeat terrorism than military action. But, in recent years, it seems to have largely lost interest in any agenda for fighting terrorism at all.

MoveOn sees threats to liberalism only on the right. And thus, it makes common cause with the most deeply illiberal elements on the international left. In its campaign against the Iraq war, MoveOn urged its supporters to participate in protests co-sponsored by International answer, a front for the World Workers Party, which has defended Saddam, Slobodan Milosevic, and Kim Jong Il.
The piece reaches it's finest point in a one-sentence criticism of the current Left that is, well, brilliant:
"The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left."
With Bush not eleigible to run again in '08, the American Left has an opportunity to wrest control of its party away from the Cult of Hating Bush. The process of doing so will be painful, as Mr. Beinhart makes clear, but it is necessary. I hope that voices like his receive the attention that they deserve in the upcoming debate over the chairmanship of the DNC.

PowerLine's post on this issue is rather eloquent, and worth your time to read.

Jack's Complete Lack Of Surprise, Redux

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a tax-exempt, nonprofit, educational organization committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability at America's colleges and universities. Last week, ACTA released a report studying politicization of the classroom at 50 top universities.

The ACTA survey was conducted in late October and early November by the Center for Survey Research & Analysis at the University of Connecticut at the 50 colleges and universities top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report. List attached.

The survey shows that college and university faculty are biased: 74% of students said professors made positive remarks about liberals while 47% reported negative comments about conservatives. A substantial majority—83 %—said that student evaluations administered by the college did not ask about a professor’s political biases.

The survey comes in the wake of a number of studies that have shown that party registrations of college professors are overwhelmingly one-sided. Last week, the Princeton, NJ-based National Association of Scholars released a study showing that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans at some top-50 schools is as high as 9 to 1.
The survey selected 658 students at random from the top universities as listed by U.S. News and World report; The majority of students surveyed majored in subjects like biology, engineering and psychology—subjects that have nothing to do with politics.

The article includes a rebuttal quote from a representative from the American Association of University Professors stating that "political affiliations of professors are of little consequence in the classroom". Yet, The Wall Street Journal took a closer look at the study and found that it appears to be of very significant consequence.
"My teacher came into class the day after the election proclaiming, 'That's it. This is the death of America.' The rest of the class was eager to agree, and twenty minutes of Bush-bashing ensued. At one point, one student asked our teacher whether she should be so vocal, lest any students be conservatives. She then asked us whether any of us were Republicans. Naturally, no one volunteered that information, whereupon our teacher turned to the inquisitive student and said, 'See? No one in here would be stupid enough to vote for Bush.' "
And, in an all-too-typical leftist response to dissenting opinion...
A recent informal survey at Yale, where students answered questions about academic freedom posed by the Yale Free Press, the conservative/libertarian student paper, also deserves attention. Although the entire first run of its November issue containing the study was stolen on campus, it can be downloaded at www.yale.edu/yfp.
There are a fair number of people who like to refer to red-staters as being "brainwashed". If there's a brainwashing campaign going on in this country, it's taking place on university campuses. ACTA's Anne Neal makes an excellent point when she says that "the inability to benefit from a robust and free exchange of ideas--intellectual harassment if you will--goes to the very heart of the academic enterprise."

Update: Via InstaPundit, the Boston Globe has a related piece entitled "A left-wing monopoly on campuses".

12/02/2004

Professor of Terrorism

Four years ago, Susan Rosenberg was sitting in prison. She was serving out the 16th year of a 58-year sentence for the possession of more than 700 pounds of explosives and a stockpile of illicit weapons. Then, Bill Clinton pardoned her on the last day of his second term as president. Next month, she'll begin teaching a course at Hamilton College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York.

Given her continued belief in revolutionary violence, one could ask if Rosenberg has changed at all. A former student activist in the 1970s, Rosenberg’s radical ties include involvement with several terrorist groups, including the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. It is through her affiliation with a Weather Underground affiliate group known as the “Family” that Rosenberg became a suspect in the October 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car carrying $1.6 million in which two policemen and an armed guard were murdered. Though Rosenberg has steadfastly denied any part in the robbery, she was indicted both for plotting the robbery and driving the getaway car. Contrary to the claims of many of Rosenberg’s devotees, prosecutors never retreated from those charges; they only dropped these charges in 1984 after Rosenberg had been sentenced to 58 years in federal prison for the possession of dynamite and a weapons cache. Rosenberg could not be reached for an interview.

What rankles more than a few Hamilton professors is that one would know none of the darker details of Rosenberg’s past by taking Kirkland Project’s directors at their word. In one announcement, notable more for what it did not say, the Kirkland Project touted Rosenberg as “a writer and teacher, but also an activist and AIDS educator. She was incarcerated for years as a result of her political activities with the Black Liberation Army and was released through a grant of executive clemency by President Clinton in January 2001.” While in prison, Rosenberg had indeed worked with AIDS sufferers. But the Kirkland Project was silent on the far more objectionable aspects of Rosenberg’s biography. The Kirkland Project further hailed her as “an award-winning writer, an activist, and a teacher who offers a unique perspective as a writer.” It gave not a hint of Rosenberg’s extensive terrorist rap sheet, her confessed commitment to violent revolutionary struggle, and her less-than-distinguished academic background.

This glaring omission has several Hamilton professors furious. Steve Goldberg, a professor of art history at Hamilton, takes heated issue with what he calls the Kirkland Project’s “laundering” of Rosenberg’s biography. “This is not truth in advertising,” says Goldberg. “She’s being presented as someone who was wrongly imprisoned, and who was a victim, rather than the perpetrator of terrorism. And I find that to be absolutely reprehensible.” History professor Robert Paquette agrees. “In the case of Susan Rosenberg, the Kirkland Project presented a remarkably sanitized version of a convicted terrorist.”
Susan Rosenberg was one of over 140 people to whom Clinton issued pardons on his last day in office. Another was Marc Rich, who fled the country 17 years earlier to escape 50 criminal counts and is now entangled in the U.N. Oil-For-Food scandal.

It's difficult to see what educational value Ms. Rosenberg could bring to a college campus, except perhaps to instruct students on why it's good and proper to hate the United States. When you take someone who advocates armed overthrow of the government and put that person on the academic payroll, you send a message to your students: These people are okay. Their actions are okay. You should listen to these people.

Ms. Rosenberg should never have been released from prison in the first place, but that is a mistake that cannot be un-made. Hamilton College would better serve its students by removing Ms. Rosenberg and her political pestilence from their campus.