November 30, 2007
Why The Customer Is Always Right, Or, Hugo Chavez Threatens To Cut Off His Own Nose To Spite The United States
So, Chavez has threatened to expel foreign journalists who report on results unfavorable to him, silence domestic media that does the same thing, and to cut off oil sales to the United States if anyone even accuses the "Si" campaign of engaging in any kind of voter fraud. What a champion of freedom and liberty this guy is. South America should be proud.
I'm particularly intrigued by the idea that he would cut off oil supplies to the U.S. For all of the heat of the rhetoric exchanged between Chavez and the U.S., the two countries are very close trading partners indeed. Sales of oil to the U.S. are far and away Venezuela's biggest source of income, either foreign or domestic. And 15% of all petroleum products consumed in the U.S. are derived from oil pumped in Venezuela.
So what would happen if Chavez really did cut off oil shipments to the U.S.? Two things.
First, oil prices here would immediately rise, probably by about a dollar a gallon for gas. People would be really pissed off for about two weeks. Then, the inelasticity of the demand curve for gasoline would kick in, and people would pony up the money and buy the gasoline anyway. When the crisis eventually passed, gas prices would slowly fall back, more or less, to their current levels (which are already higher than consumers are accustomed to paying for more than a few weeks at a time, but we've got to learn to deal with that no matter what Chavez does).
In the meantime, we'd buy more oil from Mexico and eventually swallow our environmental pride and open up our Alaskan petroleum reserves, and otherwise get the oil we want from elsewhere, because as a nation, we can afford to pay top dollar. So we'd survive just fine, although it would be a drag on the economy and a short- to mid-term economic hardship, particularly for lower-income Americans.
And who knows? We might just develop economically efficient shale oil extraction technology. Then we'd tell Chavez to take his low-grade petroleum and... ah, use it for lubrication.
But then, Venezuela's economy would start to dry up like a big dog. Of course, there would still be all this petroleum-extraction infrastructure and tens of thousands of people whose jobs are related to it, so what would they do? Without U.S. money flowing to Venezuela in exchange for the petroleum, Chavez would have three choices about what to do with his national oil industry. First, he could try to find new customers, who would simply re-sell the oil, at a profit, to the U.S., thereby completely defeating his threatened embargo after moderately inconveniencing us with a modest price increase.
Second, he could build up his reserves of crude and thus bank against the day that he could proclaim victory and sell again -- if he had the storage capacity to do so, which is quite unlikely. He certainly lacks the ability to refine the crude; there are almost no refineries anywhere in the world capable of refining Venezuela's high-sulfur crude oil into a useful fuel product -- outside the United States. (This inconvenient fact would probably make option #1, finding other customers for his oil, a rather difficult proposition for Chavez; sure, a country like Brazil or South Africa might buy it, but what are they going to do with it once they get it?)
Or third, he could lay off his petroleum industry for the duration of the crisis to save money on paying their wages, thereby shifting the expense of supporting these people to his public welfare system. In the meantime, the lack of funds coming into the government would reduce his government's ability to provide for social welfare services (like, say, medical care or electricity) and his economy would spiral into a substantial recession and eventually his people would either rise up in revolt against him and throw his fascist ass out of office, or he would be forced to fold his hand like Gorbachev after eating a 1980's-sized bowl of SDI.
Who do you think could last the longest in this game of economic chicken? If you picked "Hugo Chavez," you made the wrong call. Chavez has forgotten the Golden Rule.
Apparently, no one else in Sudan is doing anything worthy of capital punishment.
Help me out here. Isn't "Mohammed" the most common name given to Muslim boys around the world? It's cool to name your son that, but if you name your teddy bear that -- out with the scimitars, it's time to behead another infidel!
Oh, and "fomenting hatred towards religion"? These protesters have done more than the schoolteacher ever did to portray their religion as worthy of contempt. I think this story illustrates better than any other I could have even imagined as to just how silly and dangerous religious fanatacism is. (I feel quite safe in suggesting that no, not every Muslim thinks that naming a teddy bear "Mohammed" is a crime worthy of death. But still.)
This would be exquisitely funny if it weren't so colossally grotesque. And it is the distilled essence of why religion should stay the hell out of government.
Hey, Sudanese Muslims! Ooh, did I insult your religion of peace? Go ahead, call a fatwa down on me. I want you to. I dare you to. But you don't have the guts. How do I know that? Your faith is so damn weak it's threatened by a teddy bear. So I guess I'll just post some more pictures while I'm not being fatwa'ed by your pathetic, murderous asses. And you know what? I think pigs are cute. I got stuffed toy pigs, I got more teddy bears.
November 29, 2007
So, yes, we're now effectively two games behind them in the race for homefield advantage, and can only realistically hope for that if we win out from here. But that's not a completely unrealistic hope -- this game was the summit and it's downhill for the rest of the regular season (Oakland, St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit are our remaining games). We're still only one win away from locking up the division, and two wins away from locking up a first-round bye in the playoffs. Yes, it would have been better had we won, and yes, an injured elbow on Brett Favre's throwing arm is a Katrina-like disaster. But it's not the end of the world, Packer Backers.
Favre has ten days to get better before the Raiders come to our frosty house to visit. And you know, they play the games on the field, not on paper -- there's no guarantee Dallas will win its divisional playoff game (likely against Tampa Bay).
Still, 147 penalty yards -- two of those penalties were pass interference calls within our own five-yard line, leading to two Dallas touchdowns, which exceeded the margin of victory. That's giving the game away.
Hmm. Maybe I should videotape a question for the Democrats the next time there’s one of these things. Here’s one: “Senator Clinton, as President would you relax national security screening standards so as to issue international student visas to college students the rates they were issued before 9/11?” Her well-coiffed head would explode trying to figure out the “popular” answer to that one; there are too many contradictory algorithms to permit an easy answer: “immigration = bad”, “students = good,” “national security = be a hawk!” “diplomatic exchanges = be a dove!” Argh! Does not compute! Does not compute! *POP!* fzzzzz....
November 28, 2007
She’s tangy, tart, hot, and sweet. Wow, who knew there was such a limitless market for ultra-attractive celebrity chefs? See what you started, Nigella Lawson? (Cat Cora is very attractive, too, but she plays for the other team.) I’m curious, ladies -- who’s the best-looking male celebrity chef out there?
Way too early for any Republican to be worried about this, by it’s starting to be locked up solid for Hillary on the Democrats’ side so… how do you pick a running mate? George Will suggests you have only a few things that you can do when you pick a VP candidate to campaign with you; you might be able to do more than one but you likely won’t be able to do all four and this is about all you can do with it. First, you can heal some kind of ideological or other rift within your party. Second, you can reach out to a segment of the larger electorate that’s up for grabs. Third, you can get a little bit of a push in the running mate’s state. But fourth, and most important, you need to make sure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with your choice.
November 27, 2007
Rudolph W. Giuliani will be 64 years old on the next Inauguration Day.
He has working-class roots and was raised in a Roman Catholic household. He graduated from Manhattan College with a degree in political science and a minor in philosophy (focusing on theology), and considered joining the priesthood. Instead, he went to NYU School of Law, graduating cum laude in 1968. He has not served in the military; his draft eligibility was deferred for one year while he clerked for a Federal District Judge, but was registered as 1-A eligible thereafter and was never drafted due to a high number. In 1970, he joined the U.S. Attorney's office and worked narcotics before serving as a low-level political appointee in the Ford Administration's Justice Department, where he worked political corruption. In 1981, he became the Associate Attorney General, the #3 official in the Justice Department, and two years later, he became the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he led prosecutions against white-collar criminals and organized crime. His first marriage ended in an annulment, and his second marriage (to a New York City newsreader) ended in a high-profile divorce. He is on his third marriage and has two adult children (from his second marriage) from whom he has reportedly become estranged.
Giuliani's first political race was a three-way contest for Mayor of New York City in 1989 between himself, David Dinkins and Ed Koch; Dinkins won. Giuliani ran again in 1993, and narrowly defeated Dinkins. In 1997, with extraordinarily high approval ratings he was re-elected in a landslide, claiming responsibility for a dramatic drop in crime in the city. He formed an exploratory committee to run for Senate in 2000, but dropped out of the race due to the onset of prostate cancer. He gained national prominence for the manner in which he handled the terrorist attacks on New York City in September of 2001 and beginning the subsequent rebuilding efforts, which earned him recognition as Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2001. He briefly served on the Iraq Study Group but dropped out to run for President of the United States.
On The Issues
Abortion: Basically pro-choice but has since made concessions towards a more pro-life position, promising to select "strict constructionist" judges and supporting parental notification laws and the ban on partial-birth abortions. Rating: .5 of 1 points.
Amending the Constitution: Has privately indicated to social conservative leaders that under some circumstances, he would support an amendment to prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriage licenses issued by other states. (He supports domestic partnerships.) No other advocacy for amendments. Rating: 3 of 6 points.
Anti-Terrorism Policy: Foresees lengthy geopolitical struggle with building of wealth and republican governments in Iraq and Afghanistan as overt focus of direct anti-terrorism efforts, with substantial amounts of covert operations and paramilitary support for friendly factions in failed states, all aimed at pro-actively engaging terrorists and sponsors of terrorism to deter attacks. Demands close engagement with strategic partners, realistic understanding of religious and political forces underlying terrorist motives, buildup of force projection ability of regular military, and preparation for future attacks on U.S. soil and against U.S. interests. Rating: 7 of 7 points.
Balanced Budget: Overall, platform calls for substantial increase in military spending. Advocate of supply-side economics and tax cuts as economic stimulus. No particular emphasis on controlling deficit spending in platform. Turned in balanced budgets during tenure as Mayor of New York City and claims to have trimmed waste out of New York City's budget. Successfully led Constitutional challenge against exercise of line-item veto by President Bill Clinton, although this action is defensible for other reasons. Rating: 4 of 8 points.
Civil Liberties: As Mayor of New York, attacked controversial art displays and otherwise been a "culture warrior" willing to threaten censorship, although has never succeeded in doing so. Consistently sided with law enforcement on claims of civil rights abuses including alleged police abuse. Favored renewal of the PATRIOT Act and supported warrantless wiretaps. Recently endorsed idea of Constitutionally-protected right to bear arms, in contrast to prior efforts to use civil litigation against handgun manufacturers. Debatably abused Constitutional rights of homeless in efforts to clean up city. Favors abolition of prohibition on service of gays in the military, favors domestic partnerships for gays but not marriage. Appears to understand federalism. Rating: 3 of 9 points.
Education: Elementary and high schools improved performance during tenure as Mayor, while fighting high-profile battles with the city's educational bureaucracy and teacher's unions. Favors charter schools and small-scale voucher programs. Was highly critical of City University of New York liberalizing admissions criteria and internal academic standards. Favors expanding educational exchanges with foreign nations, particularly Muslim countries, and increasing grants and aid to technical colleges and mathematics-based higher education programs. Rating: 5 out of 5 points.
Environment: Sprayed for mosquitoes during West Nile Virus outbreak in 1999. Prior to running for President, his law firm and security consulting group did work for energy companies but he seems to have not done much, if any, of that work himself. Supports expanding nuclear power facilities. Open to proposals to combat global warming. However, environmental protection appears to be a low policy priority for Giuliani. Rating: 2 out of 4 points.
Free Trade: Would reinvigorate Doha round of GATT negotiations and keep American companies competitive with targeted tax breaks and reform of Sarbanes-Oxley Act. (Huh?) Hints of possible trade sanctions against China and some past criticism of NAFTA, but also approves of CAFTA and South Korean free trade treaties. Rating: 3.5 of 5 points.
Generalized Foreign Policy: Wants to improve persuasive power of diplomatic efforts to better explain political appeal of U.S.-style democracy, and would charge ambassadors to advocate in favor of U.S. policies both to foreign governments and to the people of foreign nations directly. Helped his law firm form international practice groups and has personally traveled to Europe for political fundraising and appearances with foreign politicians. Referred to New York City in 2004 as "The Capital Of The World" but has limited expectations of abilities of the United Nations. Proposes toothless but diplomatically significant condemnation of human rights abuses and trends away from democracy in Russia and China. Rating: 5 of 6 points.
Health Care Reform: Proposes an income tax exclusion of up to $15,000 per individual without employer coverage to buy insurance, expanded HSA's, and tax credits for actual health care spending. Opposes single-payer mechanisms. Rating: 3 of 3 points.
Immigration Policy: As Mayor, instructed city officials to not report presence of undocumented aliens seeking police, fire, medical, or educational services from City providers and liberalized dispensation of retroactive permission to enter and work for law-abiding illegals. Would require all immigrants and visitors to have a U.S. government-issued I.D. card. and favored one version of "guest worker" program. More recently has taken tougher stance on issue; stated that illegal immigrants who commit crimes are to be deported. Would build a "technological wall" to supplement ocean-to-ocean fence along Mexican border and enact statistical tracking for border activities. Rating: 5 of 5 points.
Iraq: Favored the initial invasion, and continues to see the invasion as having been justified all along. Favored "troop surge." Opposes short-term withdrawal of major U.S. military presence. Wants to see substantial economic development in Iraq before major withdrawal of forces. Sees strong U.S. presence in Iraq as deterrent to overt Iranian activity in region. Rating: 5 of 6 points.
Korea: Favors Bush Administration's policy of six-way multi-national diplomacy with North Korea and careful economic sanctions applied in coordination with China. Seven months ago appears to have not known whether Iran or North Korea had more advanced nuclear program; apparently ignorant statement might be defensible on deeper analysis. Rating: 4 of 5 points.
Middle East Peace Process: Opposes creation of Palestinian state under current circumstances: "Palestinian statehood will have to be earned through sustained good governance, a clear commitment to fighting terrorism, and a willingness to live in peace with Israel." Suggests that peace can only be achieved through a militarily powerful Israel, uncritical of Israeli policies. Rating: 3 out of 4 points.
Science and Technology: Enthusiastic adopter of high-tech methods of statistical analysis for governmental performance and streamlining governmental efficiency. Foresees educational challenges in fields of math, hard sciences, and engineering. Does not understand hostility to teaching evolution in public schools but has not explicitly condemned teaching of intelligent design as parallel to evolution. Supported expanding stem cell research and Federal funding of same. Rating: 4 out of 4 points.
Separation of Church and State: Unsuccessful attempts to censor anti-Catholic artwork during term as mayor. Once condemned a New York City schoolteacher who had been terminated for leading her class in prayer, but now claims that separation of church and state has gone "too far" and would support prayers at school ceremonies like graduations, and in 2000 Senate race, suggested that public school teachers should be able to teach the Decalogue. Rating: 1 out of 5 points.
Social Security Reform: No substantive plan; would convene bipartisan panel to propose three alternatives. Unenthusiastically receptive to proposals involving increasing SSI taxes, somewhat more enthusiastic about private accounts as a supplement or substitute for social security. Rating: 1 out of 5 points.
Taxes: Generally favors tax levels at their current rates, meaning making the 2001 and 2003 tax rate cuts permanent. Would index Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation. Rating: 5 of 5 points.
Tort Reform: Incorporates into health care reform package; suggests caps on medical malpractice recovery. As Mayor, had history of aggressively lobbying for tort reform including generalized damage caps, caps on attorney's fee awards, and no-fault insurance. Rating: 0 of 3 points.
Torture of U.S. Prisoners: Believes waterboarding would be justified to gather information about an imminent terrorist attack; does not believe sleep deprivation is a form of torture. He would authorize military and intelligence-gathering interrogators to "...use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of." Rating: 1 of 4 points.
Overall Impression: Giuliani's three big selling points are a realistic yet optimistic vision of what the government can achieve, a military and foreign policy that despite its aggressiveness is not blind to the need to maintain good relations with our international friends and neighbors, and most of all, the prospect of competence in government, which would be a refreshing change from the previous six and a half years. He hasn't fleshed out all of his platform yet, but it is still more than a year away from the general election, so maybe that's not so important at this point in time. However, his track record indicates a strong streak of authoritarianism and a callous disregard for individual rights and liberties when they become inconvenient to achieving his political objectives. Also of significant concern is election-year shifts to his political perspective -- many of his socially moderate-to-liberal positions taken while Mayor of New York City have been "hardened" to pander to social conservatives, leaving a substantial question about the policies he would pursue if elected.
Total score: 65 of 100.
Who should I do next?
So what I've done is to construct a matrix of issues that are important to me, weighted how important they are, and now I will undertake to examine each of the candidate's positions on those issues over the next several days. I will share my survey results with you, Loyal Readers, not just to publicly make a decision, but hopefully to help you all make decisions for yourselves. To that end, keep in mind that your opinions about the "right" position on various issues will likely vary from mine, and the relative weight that you assign to these issues will also likely vary from mine.
I am only going to examine the candidates who have more than 10% of their respective parties' support in multiple national polls. Although I've yet to cast a vote for a Democrat for any partisan political office, I will nevertheless include them because 1) I can hardly claim to be an open-minded moderate if I didn't, 2) some of you are Democrats and could profit from the analysis, and 3) it's only fair. So that means my survey will include, for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards; and for the Republicans, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee.* That's a total of eight candidates; I don't know what order I'll approach them in yet.
My weighting mechanism will be on a 100 point scale. A variety of issues are worth different amounts of points, as follows:
Abortion (1 point)
Amending the Constitution (6 points)
Anti-Terrorism Policy (7 points)
Balanced Budget (8 points)
Civil Liberties (9 points)
Education (5 points)
Environment (4 points)
Free Trade (5 points)
General Foreign Policy (6 points)
Health Care Reform (3 points)
Immigration Policy (5 points)
Iraq (6 points)
Korea (5 points)
Middle East Peace Process (4 points)
Science and Technology (4 points)
Separation of Church and State (5 points)
Social Security Reform (5 points)
Taxes (5 points)
Tort Reform (3 points)
Torture of U.S. Prisoners (4 points)
Where possible, I will try to include either actual quotes or accurate restatements of their policy platforms on these issues, with hyperlinks. Sources for this information will include published speeches, campaign websites, and assessments of the candidates published by appropriate special interest groups. From there, the numerical award in each category will be something of an approximation of how close each candidate comes to my view on each issue.
* For my opinion on Ron Paul (who is polling between 3-6% nationally), see this morning's post, infra.
But I'm not a full libertarian, I'm a moderate Republican. I lean on libertarian philosophy for guidance when the answer to a political question is not clear. I'm glad that libertarian thinkers are standing up and shouting about the way things ought to be and I hope that their efforts draw the Republican party more towards that way of thinking than its current leadership would have things be.
But I'm not going to be part of the Ron Paul Revolution. Here's why.
- Congressman Paul is opposed to the existence of the Civil Rights Act and only four years ago denounced it on the floor of Congress. He now tries to whitewash this (no pun intended) by calling racism an "ugly form of collectivism," but is opposed to the government actually doing anything about it. By promoting "rugged individualism," Paul would allow the country to return to an era in which people chose to discriminate against others based on their membership in certain groups -- because he ignores the fact that it is human nature to self-segregate into groups. In theory, we shouldn't need the government to tell us to treat one another equally. In practice, though, things are very different.
- Sure, he wants to abolish the Department of Education, which is wasteful with money, seems to do very little to promote education, and often corrupt, but he'd also abolish public schools altogether. That will take some time to accomplish, so in the interim while we still have public schools, he would use public funds to teach religion to children in the guise of creationism, and has sponsored numerous proposals for Constitutional amendments that would authorize prayer in public schools, which is (at least to me) obviously incompatible with a ban on state religion.
- While he'd also abolish the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which seems like a redundancy to me when we already have the FBI and the Secret Service, he'd also abolish the FBI (along with the CIA).
- He also wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, in which I can find no evidence of corruption and much evidence of great success in regulating the monetary policy of the country (and the world) in a praiseworthy manner. While there's no doubt that the Fed is powerful and not directly subject to democratic control, it is not beyond the power of Congress to create and Dr. Paul's criticism of it is ill-founded.
- Despite being a so-called "libertarian," he wants to allow the state to dictate what kind of medical procedures a woman should or should not have. This doesn't seem like a very libertarian stance to me; it seems instead that he's talking out of both sides of his mouth when he finds the logical implications of his philosophy lead to a morally repugnant result. So much for ideological purity -- this demonstrates that when his "libertarian constitutionalism" gets in the way of the kind of government he likes or doesn't like, he's willing to throw his philosophy out the window and govern by his personal preferences, just like everyone else running for President.
- His Social Security reform ideas don't make the remotest bit of sense. According to his own website, he would make SSI income non-taxable, and eliminate SSI payroll taxes for workers who participate in voluntary retirement investment programs. I understand the idea that lower taxes generally means increased economic activity, which can have the counter-intuitive effect, in some circumstances, of increasing overall tax revenue. But SSI is a social welfare program, which exists for the explicit purpose of redistributing money. Therefore, it needs money in order to work; this is a formula for shooting the deficit not just into the stratosphere but maybe even into an escape orbit.
- The gold standard -- an idea whose time has long gone. 'Nuff said.
- Immediate withdrawal from Iraq sounds good to me and pretty much everyone else who doesn't like the continuing loss of blood and treasure which seems to amount to naught. But it's simply not a realistic option. Mike Huckabee put it nicely when he said, "We broke it, we bought it." That means we've got to fix it. It ain't even close to being fixed and it's only recently that we've abandoned the weird messianic neocon thinking that got us into that mess in the first place. It's unfortunate that we have to stay and build up a nation while we quell a lengthy insurrection (which we could have prevented or at least minimized with some forethought and planning), but that's the least bad option open to us at this point.
- He's likely not a 9/11 truther or a racial seperatist himself, but I've got to think there's a reason that such people are congregating around his campaign, giving his political movement an ugly undertone -- and one that the candidate himself could be taking steps to eliminate, but it not.
- Again despite allegedly being a libertarian, he has repeatedly voted agaisnt free international trade. NAFTA, GATT, and other international free-trade treaties are vital to our continued economic prosperity. Certainly they render us vulnerable to the travails of the international economic cycle and it's easy to find examples of factories closing here because foreign competition has edged them out. But that's taking the micro view; looking at the big picture, we are well able to compete with the rest of the world. As a nation, we are richer and smarter because we engage in free trade. Moatdigging is not the answer to heightened economic competition from abroad -- a strong higher education system, creating intelligent tax incentive structures for our industries, and intelligent fiscal and monetary controls are. We currently have two out of those four elements for success (strong higher education and good monetary policy). Paul would tear both of the ones we already have down, rather than build up the other two that we need.
So yes, it's fun to see him shaking things up, but when you look at his platform, this guy is weird. And misguided. I don't want him anywhere near the Oval Office, much less sitting at the desk.
November 26, 2007
Judge Napolitano is right that these provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are absolutely obnoxious from a Constitutional and civil liberties perspective. But I don't understand why he's linking them to the First Amendment. That's just plain bad scholarship.
A law that permits an investigative agency to effectively write its own search warrants (which isn't technically how the law is written, but is what it amounts to) violates the Fourth Amendment, not the First.
A law that prohibits your disclosure of the fact of service of a search warrant to your attorney violates the due process and self-incrimination clauses of the Fifth Amendment. I see where Napolitano is going with the claim that talking to your priest about the warrant violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, but that doesn't apply. In nearly every kind of case I can imagine, one could confess your sins and seek spiritual guidance from a clergyman without discussing the involvement of the authorities in searching for evidence of a crime.
Yes, the First Amendment's free speech guarantee, and the reasons why it's there, are much easier to understand than the more complex protections given to criminal suspects and defendants by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. But Napolitano isn't doing anyone any favors by suggesting that free speech is implicated this way, because the anti-disclosure provision of the USA PATRIOT Act forbids you from talking about the service of the warrant. (In fact, this provision of the law does implicate freedom of speech, in that it constitutes a legislative prior restraint. But Judge Napolitano didn't talk about that.)
I was also annoyed at his claim that freedom of speech is a "God-given right," which he mentioned twice. Freedom of speech is a very important right, but even if you're a believer, you've got to admit that claiming that this "right" comes from God is a fairly tortuous interpretation of its origin. God-focused societies have historically not been places where free speech is valued as an inherent good. The Bible itself contains prohibitions on blasphemy and witchcraft, which are both obviously protected by the First Amendment. Worshipping as you pleased, or criticizing the church of the prevailing authorities, was a good way to get yourself burned at the stake (if you were in the Christian nations of Europe), beheaded with a scimitar (if you were in one of the Muslim empires in Africa or Asia) or stoned to death (if you were in one of the several Jewish kingdoms in and around present-day Israel). Tolerance of different modes of worship, and the very concept of free speech (at least as we know them today), are the products of Enlightenment-era liberalism, not the products of theology.
That's not to say that religious people devalue these fundamental freedoms. Quite the opposite; many look to history to see the bad things that happened to various sects, and they realize that a certain degree of toleration is good for their own faith as well as preventing violence. Still, Napolitano's linkage of religion and liberty is intellectually ill-conceived; the two are simply different things. With liberty, religion thrives (or not, but it usually does) on its own merit. Without liberty, religion is suppressed and punished (excepting, of course, the orthodoxy promoted by the powerful). With religion, liberty is enriched as citizens are given a range of avenues in which to explore different visions of the world and learn about themselves and others. Without religion, though, liberty still survives quite nicely -- a bit more blandly, perhaps, but nevertheless there is still debate about politics, art, economics, and a variety of other subjects.
We should be outraged at the USA PATRIOT Act. We should be upset that this sort of law is on the books. We should be angry at the government for doing to us today exactly the sort of thing that King George did to our forefathers in the 1760's. But I think being upset for the reasons that Napolitano suggests is to not just oversimplify but to actually misunderstand what our freedoms really are.
(I was also really annoyed by the part in the end where the camera focused on a fraction of the judge's mouth and his voice was made to sound like a robot. One wonders what the producers were thinking. But on the other hand, I kind of like the title of Judge Napolitano's book.)
Alas, the game is on the NFL Network, which absolutely requires that one go to a sports bar and see it, even if you do have a TV at home.
I was hungry and in a celebratory mood after my unexpected win in Federal Court this morning, and Philippe was only a block away. Two African-American women pulled up next to me in a brand-new Cadillac, and asked for directions to Wilshire Boulevard; they looked terribly anxious. I told them to take Beaudry and spare themselves the traffic in the financial district. This apparently helped their anxiety, and they blessed me. I smiled and waited for a funeral procession to drive by before making two right turns and two left turns to get on Alameda so I could go north the one block to get food.
To me, Philippe is a breakfast place, because even though it's most famous for the French Dip sandwiches (which are quite good; I like the pork even better than the roast beef) I always got breakfast there while studying for exams in my first year of law school. But it's best for its democratizing effect -- you have to rub elbows with everyone while you stand in line to order your food, and there are communal tables where you never know who you're going to wind up sitting near. Everyone from the power elite of the city (Mayor Riordan was known to drop in for lunch with some frequency; I don't think the current Mayor does, though) to the blue collar crowd comes in because the food is good and cheap. And while the counter service sometimes feels slow, it isn't really all that bad.
Late breakfast or early lunch (I had to get a "last call" ticket because breakfast was shutting down) consisted of corned beef hash (blander than I remember it; did someone get scared of onions for some reason?), a can of diet Coke, and a scrambled egg while reading The Atlantic, next to a couple speaking quietly to one another in Korean while pointing with great enthusiasm at a picture of Hillary Clinton in their Korean-language newspaper. A retired gentleman saw his brother unexpectedly walk in to the place and he ordered beers for both of them as I read the story about script-doctoring atheism out of The Golden Compass. Two hungry LAPD officers walked in as I walked out (cops love that place), and got in the car and undertaking the drive back to work and listening to the last set of lectures by a USC professor about the American Revolution.
That's one of the cool things about Los Angeles. It takes a little bit of local lore to navigate (for instance, to know that Phillipe exists at all, much less that French Dips were invented there) and looking around always yields such diverse results. You get so much, from so many different sources, all at the same time, and you just have to kind of run with it, and that's fun. People are from literally every part of the world; there are things from all over and it's all right there, right on top of everything else. It's a little less diverse here in the A.V., and it was even more monolithic in Knoxville. Yes, it's often a drag to have to drive that far, but when I get a chance to actually do something that isn't work in Los Angeles, I usually have fun doing it.
Sometimes, when you’re up against a tough fight like that, the world just crashes down around you. You get overwhelmed. You console yourself that there was nothing you could do; no matter how good a job you did, you were still going to lose no matter what. “Sometimes you get the wolf; sometimes the wolf gets you,” you say to yourself. But I’m not saying that to myself today.
Because I won.
November 23, 2007
The other prisoners watched the thief singing to the horse and laughed at him. "You will not succeed," they told him.
The thief replied, "I have a year. Who knows what will happen in a year? The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. And maybe, just maybe, the horse will learn to sing."
The artist behind their creation seems a little bit eccentric, seem to follow some sort of New Age type of metaphysical pursuits which seem like so much nonsense to me. But all the same, it's an extraordinary work and I would no more suggest disregarding it than I would suggest disregarding the stunning artwork of a Gothic cathedral or any other kind of religiously-motivated art. And although there is a charismatic leader and some kind of spirituality involved, the proprietors don't seem to be a cult.
Take a moment to browse through the temples' website with illustrations of the temples; it's breathtaking. I was glad to find the link from FARK to the UK Daily Mail article about them; I'd had no idea they were there. Mainly, it's nice to see that this sort of cathedral-building is still going on and the modern world has not ground out the artistic impulse from people.
November 22, 2007
Research using human embryos is always going to be morally objectionable to those who believe that human life begins at conception. Philosophically, I can see the argument -- you don't just kill people, that's murder. Certainly by the time a baby is actually born, it is a "person;" intentionally killing a person carries the same moral gravity if the person is aged forty years or forty hours.* And it's hard to say at what point a fetus achieves "personhood," so the most morally safe thing to do is to say that "personhood" attaches to a person as soon as any part of that person exists; thus, from the very beginnings of independent life when sperm fertilizes egg.
But this seems so obviously over the line to me. The recently-fertilized egg is most certainly not a "person." It lacks consciousness;** it lacks the ability to interact with the world around it; it cannot own property; it is a single cell. Yes, it possesses a unique strand of DNA and, under the right circumstances, may mature into an independent human being and thus a "person." But the potential to become something is not the same thing as having achieved that status.
I remember reading somewhere that something like two in three fertilized eggs are ejected from the mother's body within days of being fertilized; the fertilized egg does not attach to the wall of her womb and instead is ejected when she has her monthly cycle. That would seem to meet the definition of a "miscarriage." Nearly every sexually active woman will have had this biological experience several times, and never realize it; some scientists theorize it is a reason why some months are inexplicably more difficult than others.
I don't have a citation to back up that remembered "fact" and it might not actually be true. But for discussion purposes, assume that it is. Ladies, are you all of a sudden broken up because you've probably miscarried multiple times without even realizing you were ever pregnant? Maybe you'd be a little bit freaked out, but the emotional trauma that would come from wanting to be pregnant, knowing that you had gotten pregnant, moving along several months through the pregnancy, and then miscarrying is, and ought to be, much greater compared to what it would be if the "miscarriage" was ejecting a fertilized egg during your period, in quantity even if not also in quality.
The quantum of difference between the loss of a fertilized egg and a miscarriage five months into a pregnant woman's term is getting at that threshold of "personhood;" the woman five months into her term has crossed that threshold and has begun to think of the being in her womb as her baby and as a person. She cries and mourns its loss -- its death -- after the miscarriage. But she does not cry about the ejected egg. It's not entirely clear when that threshold was crossed; it may not even be a rational process to cross it.
I don't pretend to know when that line gets crossed, either way. I do suggest, though, that there are cases on the extreme ends of life where the answer is clear, and that somewhere in the middle there is a gray zone. I also suggest that few people who have to deal with these kinds of questions do so lightly, and in a free society we need to respect the considered decisions of others, even if we ultimately disagree with them. That, ultimately, is why I am pro-choice despite understanding the logic of the pro-life position.
So I suggest that it will always escape external, objective analysis to define the point when that threshold is crossed such that we can say "at 12:22 p.m. on December 5, this blastocyst became a person." But the fact that such an analysis cannot ever take place does not mean that the phenomenon does not exist. It just means that there will always be a gray area to the question.
I'm comfortable with the existence of a morally gray area in which there are no easy answers. I realize, though, that some people crave the black-and-white of moral absolutes, and some of those people have gravitated to the pro-life movement. I respect their good faith and honorable intentions in so doing, while continuing to disagree with their analysis, and the issues they raise are worthy of serious exploration and contemplation by people of all opinions.
That is, the issues they raise are worthy of serious consideration, although the politics associated with those issues are not always as deserving of intellectual recognition. What was disturbing about the stem cell debate, before this week's innovation, was the fervor with which the pro-life side advanced its position -- stem cell research was inherently immoral, and all of the fruits of that tree would be similarly poisoned because no amount of scientific knowledge and new medical treatments could possibly outweigh the terrible cost of that kind of irresponsible "research." Godwin's Law had been seriously in play for more than a year. Now that the moral gravity of this kind of research has been dramatically altered, the pro-life camp must perforce abruptly change its tune.
Along the way, they have proclaimed a great moral victory, because now, people will be able to divorce the moral gravity of killing a human embryo from the stunning potential of this avenue of research. I doubt that is true, though. I know I certainly haven't been persuaded that I had been wrong before, and the great good news of the new way of making stem cells seems to be that now it will be much easier for scientists to do it. The fact that now we can make stem cells this way does not mean that the scientists who had harvested embryos for their research had been wrong all along -- what if this new technique had proven impractical or failed outright?
A scientific breakthrough does not change the moral calculus of what the scientist is doing, is what I'm saying. If stem cell research was wrong before, it's wrong now; if it was justified before, it's justified now.
Yes, I know the argument was never again stem cell research itself. Rather, it was that the manner of stem cell research objectionable. We can study human anatomy by dissecting corpses, and doing so is a good thing -- but killing people for the purpose of collecting their corpses would still be bad. But as I hope I've demonstrated above, harvesting an embryo is not necessarily an act that carries the same moral gravity as killing an adult human being. Remember the pregnant woman who miscarries has different emotional reactions to the miscarriage based on when in the pregnancy the miscarriage took place; so too is our emotional reaction to the harvesting of a few cells different than the harvesting of a fully-developed organ out of the body of an otherwise-viable human being.
So it's simply wrong from the pro-life crowd to proclaim a moral victory. No moral issues have been resolved and the gray area hasn't gone away -- science has instead given us a way to sidestep confronting the moral issue. The pro-lifers should be heaving a great sigh of relief because they no longer have to make a choice between the advances of science and the dictates of their morality. We all should be relieved; not every moral quandary gets a resolution like this.
* Historically, not all societies have felt this way. For much of human history, infants were frequently abandoned to die of exposure, in a variety of acts that we would today call "murder." Our ancestors -- people of all sorts of religious, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds -- distinguished their acts of exposing infants from other kinds of killing, and constructed moral justifications for their actions which they considered very powerful.
** By the same token, a person whose brain has ceased to function and whose consciousness has vanished, never to return, has lost something essential about his "personhood." If I am ever in such an unfortunate position -- pull the plug. Make sure I'm not coming back, of course, but once that's certain, don't waste another penny of your money or the time of medical personnel who could be doing some good for other people. I do not ever want to be Terry Schiavo. Use this blog entry as evidence of my wishes.
|diviner, en, or||17||hoax||28|
|steeple, er||62||plaid, as, it, de||34|
|jan, jut, tor||23||owl, or, we, la||20|
Dude. She kicked my ass. And she made the word "cooze."
Turns out, no, poached eggs are kind of difficult. My whites got out into the boiling water not once but three times, creating a murky, billowy mess with a free-floating yolk. Not once was I able to make a steep and strong enough vortex in the spinning, boiling water to keep the liquid egg confined. I need either more practice at poaching them or a mold.
November 21, 2007
Old Ben held an honorary law degree from Oxford University despite having had no legal education whatsoever, and wrote editorials in his own brother's newspaper under the pseudonym "Mrs. Silence Dogood" (much to his brother's irritation when he found out about it).
While serving as ambassador to France, Franklin was a great advocate of nudity and would frequently remove all of his clothes immediately upon retiring to his bedchamber and not put them on again until summoned to the King's court, much to the irritation of his somewhat more uptight roommate, John Adams. Most mornings, he would also take nude strolls in the garden of the Paris house the two Founders had rented with the Continental Congress' money to support their diplomatic mission to encourage France to support the Revolution. He considered this practice to be a part of a gentleman's good hygiene, and referred to his a natural activity as "air baths."
He left £1,000 to gather interest for 200 years to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia; the trusts matured in 1985 and were used to establish trade schools and provide seed money to help financially-disadvantaged local residents buy houses. Benjamin Franklin: a strange fellow, perhaps, but definitely one of history's good guys.
November 20, 2007
Once upon a time, Aeneas of Troy escaped from the city during its sack by the Greeks, and eventually settled with his son Julius in Italy. Julius allied with some locals, and they founded the city of Alba Longa in a place today known as Castel Gandolfo, a resort city so nice that's where the Pope spends his summers and, let's face it, he has a choice. Julius' grandson was Numitor, and of course he was king of Alba Longa. Sadly, Numitor was deposed by his brother Amulius; Numitor barely escaped with his life and had to hide for many years.
Like lots of ancient usurpers, Amulius had a big family to deal with. Numitor's daughter, Rhea Silvia, he figured he could get rid of by making her a Vestal Virgin, because the Vestal Virgins were forbidden to marry, so that would mean she wouldn't have any pesky offspring to be rival claimants to his throne. Unfortunately, Mars (the war god) took a liking to Rhea, and you know what happens when gods start flirting with pretty human women, being all handsome and masculine. Yadda yadda yadda, and next thing you know, Rhea is pregnant. With twins. She has the boys, and names them Romulus and Remus.
Well, this is just what Amulius had feared. So while he couldn't bring himself to kill his niece, he apparently didn't possess similar compunctions about infanticide, and he ordered the babies put in a basket and floated down the river, where presumably they would die of exposure. They washed up on a hill well downstream, where a she-wolf finds them and brings them into the grotto where she lives.
Eventually, a shepherd named Faustulus finds the boys, and he and his wife raise them. They organize the shepherds of the area, and quickly come to the attention of evil old King Numitor. His men capture Remus, but Romulus led a rescue party and freed him, and from there the brothers led the locals against the usurper Amulius, and restored the throne to their grandfather.
They decided that this running-a-kingdom business looked like it had some advantages, so they figured they'd start a kingdom of their own. They went back to the place where the she-wolf had cared for them, and built some huts and set up a toll booth for the river crossing. They had many other adventures, which ultimately didn't work out so good for Remus, and we'll talk about that some other time. Point is, the town got named for Romulus, and it's still there to this day, filled with delightful seafood restaurants and a network of absolutely terrifying taxicab drivers.
A cool old legend? Sure. But now we know exactly where it (supposedly) happened. Archaeologists have recently found the grotto, with the original first-century frescoes, where Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf were worshiped by the Romans and where legend says that the she-wolf suckled and cared for the twins. They can't go in themselves, yet, because that would probably destroy the place. Fortunately, modern technology lets them send in boroscopes, lasers, and probably robots pretty soon.
Last night, I taught my students in my business law class how to distinguish a contract governed by Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code from a contract governed by common law – does the service component of the contract predominate over the goods sold in the contract? For instance, if you buy a car (a good) and it comes with a warranty (a service), which facet of the deal is most important? The car, of course, so this is a goods contract, governed by the UCC. I asked for a counter-example, and a student said, “cell phones – the service is more important; they just give the phone away so you’ll use their service.” I thought it was a great example.
Today, I read about an entrepreneur who has noticed that as the cost of gasoline rises, the price of operating a car is trending toward exceeding the price of buying it. Apparently, Europe has already passed that point, for a typical used car. To this interesting economic balance, he’s hit upon an interesting proposal, borrowing from the economic model of a cell phone company that my student spoke about.
His company will give you an electric car. For free. It will use existing lithium-ion battery technology. You sign up to buy electricity from the company’s network of charging and battery exchange stations. The stations are relatively easy to set up – they just draw electricity from the existing power grid, and consist of a storehouse of batteries – you drive in, pop out the old battery, swipe your credit card, and pop in a new one, and away you go. The old battery charges up, and gets picked up by the next user. Obviously, there are logistical problems for getting something like this going, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t work, at least in an urban area where a network of stations could be set up in reasonably close proximity to one another, just like gas stations are today.
But is it good for the consumer? I think so -- let's take my car as an example. The Ninja gets somewhere between 325 to 375 miles on an 18-gallon tank of gas, depending on how much high-efficiency freeway use is going on in that time. Gas in the Antelope Valley is going for about $3.50 a gallon, and a little bit more in Los Angeles. Taking the average mileage, that's an operating cost of eighteen cents a mile. If the projections he's making are right, the cost of his service will be about seven cents a mile -- less than half. And there will be no cost of the car itself. So it sounds pretty good from this consumer's perspective.
The question is – would your relationship with the company be governed by common law or the UCC?
Hat tip to The Long Tail for the story.
One woman’s lonely fight to document traffic violations in Los Angeles. Shame is a powerful motivator, but anonymity trumps shame. The number of violations she documents in a one-week period is astonishing.
November 17, 2007
2. Thou shalt come when a human calleth thee by thine name.
3. Thou shalt not do thine business within the house, unless it be within a litter box.
4. No beast that walketh on the ground upon four legs shall walketh upon the kitchen counters, for this is an abomination to humans.
5. Submitteth thou to the ritual of claw-clipping and neither harm nor obstruct the human who administers it; if ye do, ye shall be rewarded with a treat.
6. Thou shalt not scratch nor chew upon the furniture; nor the good window blinds.
7. Enter not the sacred sanctum of the people which be called the "master bedroom."
8. Leave not the confines of thine territory; for cats this be the house and for dogs this be also the back yard but not the front.
9. Thou shalt not eat the food given by a human to any other beast but only thine own, nor shalt thou eat the contents of a litter box or any object; yea, satisfy thy mouth between meals instead upon the plentiful chew toys given to thee by the humans and rejoice in their bounty.
10. No tongue that licketh under thine own tail, or below the tail of any other beast, shall thereafter be used to kiss a human for any reason whatsoever, for this is an abomination.
November 16, 2007
The Wife disagrees.
I suppose it would have helped had we seen it in 3-D, like it was meant to be seen. All the characters were digitally altered (Anthony Hopkins just isn't built like that, which is a good thing) and they seemed to walk around strangely. Certainly I would expect the monsters to be digitally-rendered, and for the monsters, that was good. But I think the human actors should have been left to be human actors. Again, that may have been a function of the movie supposed to be in 3-D but the version we saw being the 2-D version.
There was a dearth of Angelina Jolie doing much of anything interesting. She has less than ten minutes of screen time. Grendel looked pretty cool and the fight scenes were good, but spoke in a language I could not recognize (wikipedia said it was Old English) and that too was distracting. The final battle was mostly a lot of fun, and the dragon looked great. Occasionally it was too cartoony even for me, but when you see a guy fighting a dragon you've got to understand that gritty realism isn't what you're after. Verisimilitude perhaps, but not realism.
If by some odd circumstance you are a great fan of the original poem, know that there are some very substantial liberties taken with the overall narrative arc of the story. I actually agree with them because they made the movie about something rather than a series of battles and funerals.
There are also some explicitly Christian references which feel grafted into the story -- not because I dislike the idea of Christianity in the story (there are some significant Christian themes in the original poem, which portrays Beowulf as a "suffering servant" and something of a parallel to Jesus except more of a bad-ass) but rather because they were so ham-handed and overt -- and because it showed the pagan Danes as far too interested and willing to accept the god of the Romans, who surely would have seemed weird and not associated with winners to them.
But with the larger narrative changes, a new sort of sensibility is found and two good themes get worked in through the film. The real meaning of the story shows through. Taking the easy way out inevitably leads to your short-term successes collapsing. If you really want something, you've got to earn it for yourself. I liked that part of the movie.
The costumes were believable, the makeup was good, so these guys really did look like what we imagine Vikings to have looked like (which may well not be historically accurate, but come on with the accuracy already). The female characters did not look like I would have imagined early sixth-century noblewomen looked; their makeup, hairstyles, and costumes looked straight of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. The lighting was so bad that it was distracting and got in the way of the narrative. The acting seemed flat and the writing did the best it could with the overall arc of the story.
Beowulf was a big disappointment, I'm afraid. My advice is -- you can skip it, especially if your theater, like ours, doesn't show it in 3-D.
(By the way, it didn't help that some people who sat in the seats near us were very loud and obnoxious. Both of them were apparently drunk. The man had a lengthy conversation on his cell phone set on speaker, and the woman seemed to be interested in having sex right there in the theater. Ew. They also seemed to think that watching the movie was an interactive experience; "That's right, you better get it on with her now before that monster comes back, boy!" I'd never really experienced that before, and I was grateful that after about ten minutes of this, the couple seemed to lose interest in the movie and they moved on to some other location.)
Apparently, someone has commissioned a push poll for
Guess who said it, and in what year:
“Political campaigns can be actually taken over by the ‘public relations’ experts, who tell the candidate not only how to use TV but what to say, what to stand for and what ‘kind of person’ to be. Political shows, like quiz shows, can be fixed -- and sometimes are. … Whether TV improves or worsens our political system, whether it serves the purpose of political education or deception, whether it gives us better or poorer candidates, more intelligent or more prejudiced campaigns -- the answers to all this are up to you, the viewing public. Without your approval, no TV show is worthwhile and no politician can exist.”
No fair if you use a search engine, like Google.
November 11, 2007
Non-Californians may be confused about the lack of refrigerator in the kitchen upon our move-in. This is pretty standard in California; people take their refrigerators with them when they move in and out. When you rent an apartment here, more than half the time, it comes without a refrigerator and the tenant has to buy their own. Kind of a pain.
So compare these "before" pictures to the "after" pictures below, and I think you'll agree that we've made a dramatic difference.