Thursday, September 19, 2002

Search Strings That Concern Me

When you dig through the list of http requests that go to your website, you often find some real interesting search strings. Like this one:

Host: Url: /canaries.htm Http Code : 200

Date: Sep 19 12:17:51 Http Version: HTTP/1.1 Size in Bytes: 7985

Referer: Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; YComp



The article that this search string pointed this user to, of course, doesn't tell you how to make poison. But this isn't the first time that someone has used that search string to get to that article. It worries me a bit. The last time that this exact search string led to that article was the evening of September 11, 2001. The request came from a library computer at the University of Chicago. I informed the FBI about that request, suggesting that they might want to take a look at who was searching for that information. To my knowledge, my detailed description of IP address, location of the PC, time, etc., was just dropped on the floor. I almost wonder if I would be wasting my time informing the FBI again.

More Evidence That Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-LaLa Land) Is An Idiot

From today's Santa Rosa Press-Democrat:

"I truly don't believe our world and our country and our children will be safer if we do this," Woolsey said. "There are weapons of mass destruction all over the world. Saddam Hussein is a horrible person, but there are lots of horrible people around the world. What country is next?"

Actually, Congresscritter Woolsey, most countries do not have weapons of mass destruction, and those that do aren't generally run by people who are:

1. Aggressive;

2. Enjoy returning his own Cabinet ministers home in little pieces;

3. Gas their own populations;

4. Hate the U.S.

Once again, Woolsey is clueless, and so are most of her constituents.

A Very Persuasive Essay About Why The West Must Engage in Cultural Genocide

It's here. Den Beste says a lot of sensible things about the problems of the Middle East. You don't have to agree, but it raises some important issues about the manner in which envy drives much of the hatred of the West.

UPDATE: Eric S. Raymond's position is much the same as Den Beste's.

Let me make a couple of cautious points, however. Raymond is arguing for the revival of nineteenth century imperialism as a way to avoid "the likely alternative is nuclear megadeath, plague in our home cities, and the smell of Sarin in the morning." A few caveats on such a strategy:

1. Part of what brought about the various fundamentalist revivals of Islam was imperialism threatening traditional ways of living. The Shah of Iran's attempts to drag his people out of the fourteenth century played a strong part in putting the mullahs in power. (Dragging them into the fourteenth century with electrical devices attached to their genitals certainly wasn't going to help the Shah's position.)

2. Nineteenth century imperialism was a mixture of simple greed and high-minded idealism; as one of my textbooks in college pointed out, it was as much a Peace Corps sort of idea for some Europeans as the pursuit of resources and political control. This can be a good thing; if you could sell liberals on the idea that such imperialism would be for the purpose of liberating women, educating the masses, and promoting democracy, they could put all their good intentions to work on reforming the Middle East. The bad side, however, is that this is part of what got us into the mess of the twentieth century--local political leaders using our doctrines to argue for decolonialization. In the case of Africa, it's clear that the European powers, having done practically nothing to prepare these nations for modern nationhood, left too early, with horrifying results.

3. Let's not get too confident that the Japanese example of reform is going to work with Arabs. Japan was a culture very deeply accepting of orders and hierarchy. General McArthur came in, took over, and effectively replaced the Emperor as ruler of Japan. The Japanese, being a deference culture, accepted this. It is not at all clear that modern Japan's democracy really works the way that the formal constitution describes. This is a country with >99% confession and conviction rates, and where torture is commonly used by police--while judges simply refuse to see it, even when there are still marks on the prisoner's body.

4. Germany worked perfectly, because the sickness there wasn't very old. It was, in a sense, a recent overlay of totalitarianism on top of a mildly authoritarian culture. We weren't trying to remove centuries of a wildly different culture, as we would be in the Middle East.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It occurs to me if the West decided to simply starve out the Arab world by refusing to either buy or sell from them, in very short order, most of these countries would collapse. The Saudis can't eat oil. The difficulty is that such embargoes are very difficult to maintain for any length of time, as was discovered when Libya secretly violated the 1973 oil embargo to the West.
Is Multiple Sclerosis Sexually Transmitted?

This article examines a recently published paper that makes that claim. There seems to be quite a bit of strong and harsh criticism of this theory. The article mentions the outbreaks of MS that occurred in the Faroe, Orkney and Shetland islands during World War II. Previously, I have seen the claim that allied forces bringing dogs to the islands might have been the transmission medium.

I don't have any strong feelings about this particular claim, but it is certainly the case that STDs are a big problem, and the focus on AIDS has tended to obscure the large number of other STDs that are causing serious problems for kids.

About ten years ago or so, I was working on my BA. One of my general education classes was a biology class. Professor Benko (an interesting character, a concentration camp survivor) mentioned the research that had just been published that showed that cervical cancer was apparently caused by a sexually transmitted virus called HPV. (To be more precise, some forms of HPV cause cervical cancer; the others cause painful recurring genital warts.)

Research done in the early twentieth century had found that Jewish women had much lower rates of cervical cancer than Gentile women. One of the guesses that came out of that work was that circumcision might reduce the risks of cervical cancer. Actually, it now appears that Jewish women at the time were much less likely to have had multiple sexual partners than Gentile women--and thus were at reduced risk of exposure to HPV.

Professor Benko then said that as a woman's number of sexual partners rose above three, her risk of cervical cancer rose quite dramatically. You could hear the gasp from the gals in the class. (It is, after all, a sign of liberation, to have lots and lots of different sexual partners. You knew that. Why should girls act differently from drunken irresponsible frat boys?)

Anyway, the HPV problem is serious. I am hearing from college kids of a disturbing number of their peers who have already had hysterectomies because of cervical cancer. A whole culture has grown up in which lots of girls (notwomen) are sexually active, with multiple partners, by 14 or 15. Lots of them aren't getting annual Pap smears (which detect precancerous growths on the cervix). I guess it's not surprising that some of these young women are already having surgery in their 20s. It makes you wonder what it is going to be like in another ten years.

Condoms aren't completely effective at preventing the spread of HPV, though they apparently help. Men usually show no symptoms; they just pass it on from woman to woman. Try here and here and here and here for information.

So why aren't you hearing anything about this serious problem?

1. The losers are heterosexual women--who are of no value to the mass media.

2. It might suggest that both men and women should regard multiple sexual partners as a dangerous thing, and wouldn't that sound reactionary and narrowminded?

3. It would suggest that self-control ("a greatly overrated quality," to quote a political science professor at Sonoma State University) has survival value, and we all know how the left feels about self-control.
Why Saddam Hussein Didn't Use Weapons of Mass Destruction in the First Gulf War

This article quotes former Prime Minister John Major that we told Saddam Hussein that we would nuke Baghdad if he did, and he claims that the threat has been reiterated. (Okay, it's from the U.K. tabloid the Sun, but it sounds plausible.) At least part of why Japan didn't use chemical or biological weapons on U.S. troops during World War II is that we informed them, through intermediaries, that we had a lot more chemical weapon manufacturing capacity than they did, and if they started using such weapons, we would massively retaliate. It worked.

Even a liberal Democrat like Doug Bosco, who used to represent me in Congress many years ago, voted for production of chemical weapons for precisely that reason. Boy, that upset the local peaceniks, who thought they elected Bosco to replace all the guns with flowers, and cause the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

How Do Clueless People Get Rich?

I'm getting lots of questions about how Rep. Woolsey's district in California can be awash in clueless rich people. I will confess, this is one of those depressing discoveries that I made living out there.

1. Not everyone that is clueless is stupid. There are people with strong technical skills who are otherwise surprisingly ignorant about how the real world works. My favorite was one guy that I used to work with. He is a very nice person (other than being a flaming liberal). He is also fabulously rich now, having made a few hundred million on one of the more successful telecom startups. I remember one day explaining that the only way to get the City of San Jose to tow an abandoned car when we lived there in the 1980s, was if someone set fire to it. Otherwise, the typical time for the city to tow an abandoned vehicle was 90-120 days. I would watch cars slowly lose first their wheels, then body panels, then engine parts, until sometimes, all that was left was a frame and scattered fragments. (Of course, sometimes it was just vandalized, and then eventually taken away.)

This very nice person had grown up in the Midwest. His only question was, "Why don't you just call the city?" Where he grew up, city government actually tried to do its job, and often did. The notion that city governments exist primarily for their own ends, was beyond him.

2. Some people that are clueless are stupid, and either inherit their wealth, or marry it. Others are not stupid, but so guilt-ridden about having grown up rich that they can't understand anything except through the narrow framework of their guilt.

3. There is a surprisingly entrepreneurial form of New Age irrationalism alive in Northern California. My favorite example of this was in the mid-1980s, when there was a brief movement called "Breathatarianism." The proponent claimed that food was not required to sustain life, and that the belief that it was required was just an illusion. Shortly after getting out of prison, he hooked up with a Marin County gal with a graduate degree who had just returned from pilgrimage to Nepal. She was taken with this new empowering philosophy, and within a few weeks, he was teaching weekend seminars at $250 a head titled, "Becoming Breathatarian." The local TV stations covered this, and they were swimming in money and new students.

This went forward very nicely, but eventually, the manager/intellectual pimp for this scam artist noticed that contrary to his claim that he had eaten nothing but air and water for 19 years, he was actually grabbing Barbara Ann sweet rolls on long car trips. She was horrified; these weren't even good whole wheat natural products! His rationalization to her was that they were so nutritionally deficient that they didn't really qualify as "food."

She kept her mouth shut for a few weeks, until she started hearing from students who were heading to tops of local mountains for a month to learn to conquer the illusion that they needed food. At this point, her conscience took precedence over her "relationship" with this con man, and she blew the whistle.

For other examples, read the Pacific Sun, the Marin County alternative weekly. While much of their coverage is the sort of left-wing politics you might expect in a wealthy area like this, the articles and ads make you realize that much of the political left at least operates on the same plane of existence as you and I. They aren't out getting their chakras tuned, or visiting their shaman. (Yes, Marin County has, or at least had a few years ago, a shamanistic marriage and family counselors association.) The movie Serial is a parody of Marin County, but it does capture much of the weirdness of the place the way it used to be.

Remember: if you start out with five million dollars after taxes, you shouldn't ever have to work again. Even at the current disappointing interest rates, if you invest that money in municipal bonds, because that is exempt from both federal income tax and your state's income tax, you will earn about $215,000 a year in net income, with almost no risk. Unless you live very lavishly, most people, even raising a family, will have trouble spending that interest each year.

If five million dollars seems like a lot of money--it's not in Sonoma and Marin Counties. Lots of people have net worths well above that range; I can think of five or six people that I know by first name (and vice versa) with net worths in the ten million and up range that live in Sonoma County. I understand that in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley), it is very common for mortgage lenders to see loan applications with net worths exceeding five million dollars.

Just so no one gets the wrong impression: I'm not sour grapes (or at least not very sour). I worked for three startups, two of which were mildly successful, and one still owes me several weeks wages. I did okay, but I still have to work for a living.

UPDATE: Just so that there is no misunderstanding about this, let me emphasize that Sonoma County has lots of very rich people who are smart, concerned about their kids and the community in which they live, and are paying attention. A few of them (a very few of them) even see eye to eye with me on politics. They might even be a majority of the superrich that live there--but the clueless left-wing superrich stand out in my mind, because they are so frustrating, and because they played some part in making me unemployable when I promoted the idea in print that being fabulously wealthy includes a moral obligation to help those who are in need.
Abuse of Judicial Process Gets Punished

Maybe the lawyers out there will tell me that this is typical, but this story seems pretty remarkable to me. An author named Nancy Stouffer claimed that J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books plagiarized her books published in the 1980s. Judge Schwartz didn't just find in J. K. Rowling's favor, but fined Stouffer $50,000 for "her submission of fraudulent documents as well as through her untruthful testimony...."

Schwartz also questioned whether [Stouffer] created the "Larry Potter" character before Rowling's series debuted. A title page and other materials supposedly dating back to the 1980s used technology not in existence at the time, he ruled.

In addition, Schwartz found that Stouffer had produced invoices for sales that never took place and submitted an advertisement from the 1980s that was later altered to include the word "Muggles."

Hmmm. This sounds really, really stupid. Stouffer should know better. Now, if she had been an Emory University history professor, she wouldn't have any problems at all!

It Is Always Fun Seeing What The Bay Area Thinks...

It makes me grateful to have escaped the Open Ward that is the San Francisco Bay Area. Look at this recent San Francisco Chronicle article quoting members of Congress from the Bay Area about Iraq. My favorite, of course, is the dingbat who used to misrepresent me in the House of Reps, Lynne Woolsey.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Marin, said, "I would vote no. I don't believe our world, our nation, our communities or we as individuals will be safer by going to war against Iraq."

Woolsey said constituents' communications with her office were running about 200 to 1 against attacking Iraq.

Well, some of that is because many of her constituents are filthy rich leftists (are there any other kind?) who think that 1960s songs about brotherhood, loving one another, and getting high constitute a realistic foreign policy when dealing with thugs like Saddam Hussein. Most of the rest of Woolsey's constituents know that there's not much point in saying anything to what must be one of the least intelligent members ever elected to the House.

Back in 1992, when Woolsey was trying to get the Democratic nomination for Congress, I was talking to candidates as part of my responsibilities as legislative officer of the Cotati Rod & Gun Club (now defunct). I spoke to one Democrat who was trying to get the nomination for Assembly, and thus, not a competitor to Woolsey. Bajun's last name now escapes me (he was an East Indian, and his last name had far more syllables than my poor little brain can now remember). We didn't see eye to eye on the gun control issue, but Bajun at least wasn't a raving idiot on the subject, and we ended up discussing Woolsey, who was known to be a bit rabid on the subject. At this point, Bajun told me something that just flabbergasted me.

At a candidate forum Bajun and Woolsey participated in, someone asked the Democratic candidates trying to get the House nomination what they would do to solve the deficit problem. "I would reduce the Defense budget," responded Woolsey, in her usual self-righteous way. One of the audience said that this wasn't really enough information. What, exactly, would she cut? "Oh, I'd get rid of all the bombs and things." Unsurprisingly, in her district, she won the nomination.

She went on to win the general election, because of the actions of the Republican nominee, a guy named Bill Filante. Mr. Filante had decided to move up from the state legislature to Congress. Filante, being a moderate to liberal sort, might have had a chance of winning the general election. But he was being challenged by a conservative Republican for the nomination. (Very conservative, by Marin and Sonoma County standards, but just conservative out here in real America.) Filante fought the battle ferociously, won the Republican nomination--and then announced within a day or so after the primary was over, that he had inoperable brain cancer. He didn't withdraw from the race, but everyone knew he was going to die so soon that there was no point in voting for Filante in the general election.

Filante could have withdrawn before the primary, and at least given a conservative Republican a chance at fighting Woolsey in the general election, but he didn't. This is part of why "liberal Republican" is right up there with "jumbo shrimp" in my oxymoron dictionary. Filante pretty obviously preferred a raving left-wing Democrat to be in Congress over a conservative Republican.

Woolsey, however, so well represents the wealthy and clueless who form much of her district that many people I know still stuck in her district think of her as "Congresswoman for Life."

I Want To Cheer and Be Depressed at the Same Time

This news story suggests that infighting within the Democratic Party is taking on an ugly racial tone. Certain heavy hitters among black Democrats are turning the recent primary defeats of pro-Palestinian House Democrats Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney into "The Jews did it!" Of course, Cynthia McKinney's father, defeated in a Georgia legislative race for similar reasons, also blathered on like the worst neo-Nazi about how the Jews control the media.

On the one hand, anytime I see Democrats engaged in internecine warfare, I'm pleased. The Democratic Party has become an uneasy alliance of corrupt, mainstream politicians who love America, and a pretty idealistic, reasonably honest bunch of politicians who hate America, and especially hate the ideas of capitalism, racial equality, and Judeo-Christian morality. With both factions at work, they are perfectly capable of bankrupting and destroying America in one operation. So you won't be surprised that I am tempted to get some popcorn, and applaud, when I watch two different factions of the Democratic Party go after each other.

At the same time, I am just horrified that the political factionalism is expressing itself in ethnic terms. This is the sort of problem that leads, at its worst, to race wars. This shouldn't surprise us, however. The Democratic Party, because it is so focused on identity politics, has almost made this inevitable.
Maryland Used To Take Sexual Morality Very Seriously...

You may find this page from Archives of Maryland interesting--proof positive that "buggery" isn't just in old Cheech & Chong recordings:

October 21 1681... William Boarman late high Sheriff of St Maries County prays he may be Allowed in the publick Levy one thousand pounds Tobacco for Executing William Sewick who was Condemned to be hanged for Buggery....

Just to Annoy Jesse Jackson...

What century did a black man first sit as a member of the Maryland legislature? In the 20th? In the 19th? Would you believe in the 17th century? See this commemorative speech about Matthias de Sousa, and the 1641/2 session, which lists de Sousa as a member.
California Schools

Joanne Jacobs has a piece that mentions that 1/3 of California high school students won't graduate. She makes some other good points there, but as a California refugee, let me make a point here. These aren't just a bunch of Hispanic and black kids that aren't graduating. I lived in one of those counties that was overwhelmingly white, where a townhouse could be yours for $200,000 (in one of the less pleasant parts of the county). Yet the local high school had some years where only 70% of the students graduated.

The problem? Lots of kids who were so chemically altered that school was becoming an obstacle, and lots of parents with so much money that the kids didn't need to worry about ever getting a job. One detestable little creep I knew had multimillionaire parents, and spent all of his spare time pretending he was a DJ because he had people listening to this Internet music feed. Why bother finishing high school? He wasn't ever going to have to work.

I am terrified of sounding like one of those nasty socialists, but it is certainly true that too much wealth can sometimes be a great evil to a society. While he didn't grow up in California, another charming example of what too much money can do was David Asimov, the son of the late science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. David Asimov was convicted on child pornography charges. (This was in the March 29, 2001 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat--one of those papers that makes it difficult to link to the article directly. Go to their advanced search page, put "David Asimov" in the search string, and search through 2001.) Newspaper coverage at the time reported that he had a $3000 a month trust fund income, and thus didn't work.

UPDATE: A number of readers took me task for this, pointing out that it wasn't David Asimov's wealth that was the problem, but his father's wealth--and his father didn't do anything wrong. True enough. My point, perhaps to be a little more clear about this, is that there are people that receive great wealth and do something lasting and valuable with it. The science fiction writer Larry Niven made a point of thanking his grandfather, the oilman Edward Doheny, for leaving a pile of money that enabled Niven to complete in two years but most aspiring science fiction writers do in ten, because they are having to work full-time while writing stories. Sad to say, there seems to be a lot more examples like this one above.

For those that are interested, see a newspaper article published in 1999 that played some part in making me unemployable in California. I wasn't advocating socialism--just that people 20 or 30 million dollars probably couldn't usefully spend the interest on their money without corrupting either themselves or their children, and perhaps they should consider helping the poor. Shortly thereafter, the telecom industry, largely run by wealthy liberals and leftists, no longer had jobs for people like me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Boy, This is Depressing

The South African version of Sesame Street is getting an HIV+ puppet. (Yes, you are probably asking yourself how a puppet gets AIDS. Let's not go there.) The really depressing part of the article is, "About one in nine South Africans have the virus, with thousands of children having become orphans because of the Aids epidemic." The case for chastity before marriage, or at least fastidious use of condoms to reduce your risks, should be clear.

More About Bob Greene's Indiscretions

Eugene Volokh is arguing that because Bob Greene didn't actually break any law by having sex with a 17 year old, that his employer turning this into a moral issue doesn't make much sense.

I strongly disagree. Law provides a very minimum foundation for appropriate behavior. Ideally, law should be something on which there is overwhelming agreement. Murder, rape, fraud, are examples of behaviors that the law prohibits because there is a consensus that these are wrong. There are a lot of other behaviors where there may be a majority in support of prohibition, but it's usually not a huge majority. Criminalizing everything that 50% + one person finds immoral creates enormous contention within a society, and such laws are often difficult to enforce both because of the strong minority disagreement, and because it's hard to lock up 15% of the population. (Examples: bans on private adult consumption of illegal drugs, laws prohibiting private adult homosexual behavior, restrictive gun control laws.)

There are a lot of behaviors that should not be criminalized, but that doesn't make them okay. The Chicago Tribune might be genuinely horrified by Bob Greene's taking advantage of a star-struck 17 year old, or they might be aware that much of their readership is genuinely horrified. Either way, their actions make a lot of sense to me.

Those actions that social pressure and economic forces do not discourage, often turns into something that a majority may decide requires legal sanction. If Bob Greene's actions aren't enough to produce some non-governmental punishment, the temptation becomes strong for democracy to work in its clumsy and sometimes ugly way, and pass laws to deal with this.

UPDATE: is quoting Mickey Kaus that there's no reason why anyone would need to "explain their desire to have sex with attractive women" as millions of years of evolutionary behavior, and argues, "It's sexism, Mickey -- they're afraid of the Sisterhood and its patriarch/rake dichotomy where male sexuality is concerned."

Actually, it's a bit more complex than that. Greene is married. While not very fashionable in some circles, there are some vows of fidelity that usually go along with marriage. Breaking those vows is often a cause of divorce, with all the evils that go along with it. So why would someone break those vows, risking all sorts of emotional pain? Why do you see so many of these incidents involving middle-aged guys and young women?

I know a couple who separated when the husband reached his 50s. One day, he broke the news to his wife of almost 30 years that he was leaving. "You're too old!" He wasn't any younger, and he wasn't any more wonderful to look at in his 50s than she was. But the difference was that everytime he looked at his wife, he saw a reminder of his own mortality. He went chasing women much younger than himself; as long as he was in the sack with women in their late 20s and early 30s, he could delude himself that he was still young. Now he is in his early 70s. His health has collapsed--and those nubile young women aren't interested. His wife (they never formally divorced) is also old, and in declining health--and alone. This isn't the only couple I know like this--just one where the husband had an especially well articulated and transparent reason for leaving.

For those who think that this life is all there is, there must be nothing more terrifying than to confront middle age, see all the dreams and illusions shattered, and look forward to another 20-30 years of declining health. Running from reality must seem like a very alluring prospect. But it's still a delusion.

When Laws Collide

Okay, they made this sculpture wheelchair-accessible--but they also violated a provision of ADA to protect blind people from injuring themselves. I'm not sure what my point is, other than that the more laws you make, the harder it is to obey all of them simultaneously.
Mass Murder Doesn't Require Guns

The developing story from China is a reminder that evil people don't need guns to commit mass murder.

What always amazes me is how many people don't realize that the biggest mass murders in America don't involve guns, but arson. Here is a paper that the Journal of Mass Media Ethics published by me some years ago that examines the manner in which the mass media disproportionately cover gun mass murders, while generally ignoring the larger mass murders committed with other weapons.

Sprinkler Systems and Home Improvement

My friend Brian Reilly has just been crowing about his home improvement project, and mentioned that the rise in do it yourself projects has been a real boon to contractors, who get to come in and clean up the mess afterwards. Yes, I'm sure that this really does work that way. A friend of mine who lived in England for a year tells me that home improvement is commonly called DIY (for "Do It Yourself") over there, but that most Britons assert that DIY really means, "Disaster Is Yours."

So here's my little tip about sprinklers. I was smart enough to know that I shouldn't do this myself. We asked for several bids from sprinkler contractors. Based on recommendations we received, we picked one guy. Perhaps I shouldn't have expressed my concern about the danger of dry spots caused by insufficient coverage, because what he put in may qualify for the world's most redundant sprinkler system. In some areas, there are at least three different sprinklers watering a particular patch, and with our soil, this means swamp, not grass.

Okay, a good friend of ours is a specialist in hard wood flooring dispute resolution. He walks in and says, "You've got moisture under this floor." It's a brand new house, still under warranty, so we call the builder. He looks under there, and tells us the sprinklers are too close to the house. "They should be at least 18 inches from the foundation."

I call the sprinkler contractor, a salty down home sort of guy, and he responds with a statement that civilized norms of behavior prevent me from repeating. (Of course, if I were on cable TV, or a college student, this wouldn't be a problem.) I can't find anything anywhere that says that sprinklers must be at least 18 inches from the foundation, but we pay the sprinkler contgractor to come out and move the heads, and hope that our flooring problem won't get bad enough to require us to pull up the floor.

Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of the triple redundant sprinklers drenching the soil. (But hey, our duck loves it.) The real solution is that the Rainbird T-Bird heads can accept several different nozzles. What came in them were 3.0 nozzles (probably indicates a volume of water). The local sprinkler supply store gives me (yes, doesn't sell) a huge bag of replacement nozzles: 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0. So I went around and replaced several of the 3.0 nozzles with ones that squirt far less water, and dramatically reduced the amount of time that the circuit with the T-Birds on it runs.

Finally, I don't think we graded the yard adequately before the sprinkler contractor came out. Yes, we are partly at fault. We are also a little frustrated that the contractor didn't recognize that we needed a bit less slope to our soil.
Bellesiles's Syndrome Spreads

This has been a developing story about AP reporter Chris Newton quoting non-existent experts. AP just fired the guy because they found at least 15 experts quoted by Newton in news stories going back some years that do not appear to exist.

Of course, there's a difference between the Associated Press and Michael Bellesiles's employer, Emory University. The AP fired Newton for making up sources. Emory University gave Professor Bellesiles a semester of paid leave.

Monday, September 16, 2002

More About Al-Qaida's Funding

The Asian Times has run an astonishing number of very thoughtful, very detailed articles about the upcoming war with Iraq. Here's another very informative article about money laundering and funding of terrorist organizations. They make the point that funding of terrorist groups isn't much different from traditional criminal enterprises.

I had mentioned a few days ago about the curious uptick in emails over the last few months promoting Nigerian-style confidence games, and wondering if there might be some connection to al-Qaida's increasing financial difficulties (as suggested by their attempt to get money for videotapes of an interview that they gave al-Jazeera). Hmmmm.

Where Are the Civil Libertarians?

I see that a French author is being sued for making nasty remarks about Islam. The charge is "making a racial insult and inciting religious hatred." And what hateful thing did he say? He called Islam "the dumbest religion."

Now, this isn't a way to win friends and influence people, especially in France, the European country that I think is going to be the first to adopt sharia for their legal code. (Wow, imagine the Eiffel Tower as the world's tallest muzzein platform.) But to make this something that the courts can hassle you about? College speech codes on a national basis! Oh joy.

If the charge were insulting Christianity or Judaism, I would expect the liberals to be defending this guy loudly. But Islam seems to have a special place for the left right now, rather the way that any black man charged with a crime in the 1960s became a political prisoner in certain ideology-addled brains.
Fly By Wire Isn't All It Is Cracked Up To Be

Like a lot of newer sports cars, my 2000 Corvette has something called "Active Handling." This is an attempt to protect overly rambunctious drivers from their own stupidity. Analogous to way that traction control senses a spinning wheel and reduces power to restore traction, Active Handling (which is probably trademarked, for all I know) senses when you have done something stupid with the steering wheel, and corrects.

There are times that traction control is a nuisance--when you need to spin the wheels to remove enough snow to get down to pavement. That's part of why you can turn traction control off with a switch. Another nuisance of traction control is that at slow speeds it tends operate a bit earlier than you are really losing traction. This means that certain sorts of power oversteer techniques don't work. Even my 2000 Chevrolet Impala had enough power that on completely dry and clean windy roads, I would sometimes turn off traction control so that I could make more use of gearing to control my attitude through sharp turns.

Active Handling has a disable switch as well, and I am beginning to wonder if I might want it off a bit more often. Sometimes Active Handling works quite well. I was making a left turn the other day, and used perhaps a bit more throttle than was absolutely necessary. The car saw the oversteer condition beginning to develop, and so did a steering adjustment and throttle reduction. Not only could I feel the computer taking control away from me, but so could my wife--it was that noticeable. I can't claim that the net result was bad. I wasn't out of control of the car before, nor was I about to spin it, but I can see why the computer, doing its very best impression of an overprotective Big Government Liberal, might have thought differently.

Today, however, I was engaged in what I considered a perfectly reasonable turn, and I did not like the results. I was turning left onto a busy four lane street out of a driveway. I was giving it a bit of gas before the traffic some distance away to my left became an issue. There was traffic coming in both directions, at about 50 mph, and it was important to either get out there now, or wait a very long time for another break in the traffic. (Or, I suppose, turn right, and go the long way around.)

So I put my foot on the gas, not very deeply--perhaps 1/3 of the way to the floor--while turning left. Suddenly my rear tires are breaking loose (perhaps because of dirt on the paved driveway), but Active Handling took over, eased up on the throttle, and overcorrected the steering, slamming my head into the bottom of the roof panel edge. I wasn't hurt, but I was certainly surprised. I did not end up in the lane I expected (number 1 going to my left) but in the number 2 lane going to my left.

In this case, that wasn't a problem, and if there had been traffic close enough for that to have been a possibility, I would not have attempted this left turn. Still, I don't like cars second guessing me this aggressively, and with this little reason.

I only wish that there was a button for disabling Mother Hen Government Mode when it was likely to become this much of a nuisance.

More Signs That Jesse Jackson is Ignorant...

This report about a speech that the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave reminds us of why no one should take him seriously.

His claim that only white men had the vote in 1789 isn't correct. It turns out that blacks meeting the property qualification had the vote in New York State until 1821, and as late as 1830, blacks could vote in Pennsylvania (though threats of mob action tended to discourage them doing so in Philadelphia). Even some widows had the right to vote in some counties in New Jersey until about 1800 (though it's not clear that many took advantage of it).
Another Gun Control Advocate's Legal Problems...

It seems like gun control advocates spend a lot of time dealing with various legal "difficulties." The latest is Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, for sex with an underage girl.

UPDATE: Some reports are saying that she was "barely legal." (Isn't that the name of one of those trashy magazines that appeal to perverts who don't want to get arrested by the FBI, but still want the fantasy?) It still doesn't say much for the moral caliber of Mr. Greene. (It's a bad day when a newspaper columnist lowers himself to the gutter level of a former President of the United States.)
Interesting Article About Al-Qaida Activities in Southeast Asia

It's from Time magazine, so it's hard to know how much to trust this report, but still very interesting. It suggests that the CIA is finally doing its job, relying on isolation and sleep deprivation rather than crude torture to break al-Qaida prisoners.
A Walk To Remember

In the 18th and 19th centuries, a common literary genre was the sentimental novel. Some of its defining characteristics were: good guys; bad guys; a moral lesson (sometimes not very subtlely pointed out); and a surplus of emotions, both happy and sad. While a sentimental novel didn't always end "and they lived happily ever after," there was at least some inspirational result--a reminder that in the struggle between good and evil, good would win.

The proponents of realism in literature eventually won the day; good doesn't always win in the real world, there are tragedies that taken place and sometimes we don't quite understand why. The next time you want to thank someone for Hollywood's current focus on cannibalism and serial killers, thank the late Victorian realists for their efforts to make literature more real.

My wife and I rented A Walk to Remember last night, partly because of the reviews we've seen, and partly because my daughter, who is 18, and presumably is more in touch with the real world of kids this age, recommended it. A Walk to Remember is the sentimental novel for our age. There are good people--but not perfect. The preacher's daughter, played by Mandy Moore, is almost unnaturally good, but we also see her respond to a nasty insult with a witty one. We see her hide the unpleasant truth about her future in the interests of getting a boyfriend. We see her father, who seems at first to be too critical and judgmental of the ne'er-do-well who wants to take her out, soften.

The bad crowd are, unfortunately, typical of a much of a generation now (and most of it in Sonoma County). They are in high school, so they get drunk a lot, engage in fairly promiscuous sex, and pull a stunt that nearly kills a young man that wants to be part of their "in crowd." Their language is fairly raw, but nowhere near as horrifying as I am used to hearing from kids much younger in California. Yet like a flower pushing up through a cracked sidewalk in a busy city, there are occasional streaks of compassion and decency. We also get some clues as to why these kids are so destructive of themselves and others; divorce has produced emotionally injured children who find solace in the intoxication of alcohol and sex, and power in injuring others.

A Walk to Remember is how the preacher's daughter, who is neither fashionable nor spectacularly pretty, by the example of her life, changes first one young man, and then others around her. Along the way, the battle between faith and disbelief shows up in verbal sparring. There's never more than a few lines of such discussion; it's a subtle script, with occasional flashes of wit and charm appropriate to people of this age. Yet I don't think that many people will watch this film and not be moved by the message it is teaching us.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

I Finally Know a Movie Producer!

My friend Paul Elliott is co-producer of Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary opening in November about the studio musicians that made the "Motown Sound." You can find details about the release here.

I wouldn't say that I am a big crazed fan of Motown, but I do own a Diana Ross album or two, and it's hard for me to listen to Motown songs like "Bernadette," "My Girl," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" without a sense of what we have lost as a culture in the degradation that is much of modern popular music. These were beautiful songs of love filled with innocence from an era when blacks were trying hard to be accepted into white society--and racism permeated white America.

At the same time, Motown was producing the songs of great social significance. "Poppa Was a Rolling Stone" addresses the most serious social pathology of the ghetto, because it underlies many of the others: the father who failed in his responsibilities to marital fidelity and to work.

Documentaries are not normally a path to wealth and fortune, but the music alone might be enough to drag in an audience. If you are a Motown fan, give my friend Paul a break, and go see his movie! This is an order!

Friday, September 13, 2002

This Made Me Laugh Out Loud...

Instapundit pointed me to this item about strange stimuli and their effects on idiots.
The September Ideas on Liberty has my article, "Michael Bellesiles and Guns in the Early Republic." This is an article in which I examine Bellesiles's claim that "eighty travel accounts written in America from 1750 to 1860 indicate that the travelers did not notice that they were surrounded by guns and violence."

Unfortunately, it's not up on their website yet--I'm not quite sure how it will be before it is. In the meantime, I can at least bask in the glow of demonstrating the Professor Bellesiles's reading problem is, shall we say, rather severe. (Or is that glow Professor Bellesiles's reputation going up in smoke?)

Wild Paranoid Conspiracy Theory?

The claim of a connection between the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the Iraqi intelligence services keeps moving up the ladder into more and more respectable news sources. This article, which also discusses the suggestive connection between the 1993 WTC bombing and the Iraqi government, is in the Wall Street Journal.

I've been troubled by McVeigh's trial for a long time. It was good that McVeigh finally confessed before his execution, because the government's case against him was so weak that I would have been unable to convict. They barely had a preponderance of evidence to support their claims.

So, if there was reason to suspect a connection with the Iraqis, why would our government have allowed Iraq to have avoided blame? In the case of the 1993 WTC bombing, it made the conviction easier to get; in the case of McVeigh, the Clinton Administration would have much preferred a right-wing American born gun nut to something that would have required us to take real military action against Saddam Hussein.
Living in Boise: The Time Machine

Yesterday was Back To School Night at my son's high school, and when I compare the experience to California, I am so surprised and pleased I am by the differences. It's like going back 30 years or more.

The principal gave a nice little speech, but first, the high school's choir sang "The Star Spangled Banner," and we all sang "God Bless America." I looked around, and everywhere I looked were sincere faces; when the football team came in from practice, we could hear them hushing up their more boisterous teammates so as not to interrupt the national anthem.

The principal showed with pride what the last two graduating classes had bought for the school. A switch was thrown, and lowered from the ceiling of the gym was an American flag at least 10 feet on the shorter dimension.

What is the name of the Centennial High team? "The Patriots." Unlike schools back East, which have used the wonders of paint and airbrush to make gentler, unarmed representations of the Minutemen, everywhere you go in Centennial High, you see a painting of a Minuteman, holding a flintlock. Okay, I've spent too much time studying the subject of late, so I have to carp that the flintlock in question isn't really properly proportioned for either a Brown Bess or a Charleville musket; the lockwork is too large; you should be able to see the flint. But there is no shame about America's past here.

My son's American history class has one entire wall painted as a waving flag. The teacher told us that the district ordered fresh paint everywhere, but the painting contractor looked at this splendid piece of patriotic art done by a previous class, and said that he would simply not cover it over; they would have to get someone else to do that.

What did I hear from several of my son's teachers? "The kids are well behaved and are taking classes seriously."

I am so glad we left Sonoma County, California. (Yes, that's the county just north of John Walker Lindh's home, and that is no coincidence.)

He Who Lives By The Suicide Bomb Dies By It

This news story tells of a house blowing up in Gaza. Apparently, the suicide bombers aren't completely competent at the art.

I am reminded of the story of the brownstone in New York City that blew up in the 1970s, killing the Weather Underground bombmaker. Apparently, he didn't realize that smoking while assembling bombs is not consider a "best practice."
It Isn't Just Bush Kids In Over Their Heads...

Al Gore III, 19, had a little run-in involving drunk driving. I'm not gloating, or drawing any conclusions about what sort of parents Al and Tipper are--just if you see anyone trying to make political hay of the difficulties that some of the Bush girls are having, remind them that this tragedy of alcohol abuse seems bipartisan.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

"The Marching Morons"

Back in 1951, Galaxy published a short story by C.M. Kornbluth titled "The Marching Morons." Set just a little ways into the future, it was a cautionary tale about smart people limiting their reproduction while stupid people breed like rabbits. When I first read it in the 1970s, it was amusing, but seemed an unlikely future. Every once in a while, I see something that scares me into wondering if we aren't getting there, after all.

This evening, Gateway Computer had a TV ad for their new PC that looks rather like the iMac. In this commercial, Gateway's PC bounces between the iMacs, swiveling, etc. There, in small print, "Base and monitor movement simulated."

Who, exactly, do Gateway's legal beagles think they are selling to? Small children? Mental defectives? Other lawyers? What next? Perhaps movie previews will contain small print warning, "Not literally accurate."
This Is Far More Troubling... is inclined to disbelieve the story but wants to know more. What's the story? It claims that at least some Muslims in the New York City area knew in advance about the attack on the WTC. The story originally appeared in October of 2001, in the Journal-News of Westchester, N.Y. It has also been carried in somewhat different form by MSNBC last year.

So who is the reporter who broke the story? He worked for the Globe (hardly an impressive claim), but seems to have showed contrition for that. A search using Google showed quite a number of plausible sounding news stories by him in various respectable publications.

I can see why the mainstream media are doing their best to keep this under wraps. If, indeed, there was advance knowledge of the attack in the New York City Muslim community, then something like treason is involved. If this is all a big misunderstanding, then this better get resolved as well. Of course, our government may be keeping it quiet to avoid creating a monolithic Islamic coalition against the United States, as might well happen if we reacted to this along the lines of the Japanese internment of World War II. (The difference being that Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens in the continental U.S. didn't do anything like what is alleged by these articles.)

This Is Really Troubling...

I was wandering around the net, looking for a gun belt, and I ran into a very disturbing web page titled, "The Railroading of My Son Larry." My first reaction was, "Loons." The article was poorly organized and written, and unsurprisingly, no parent wants to believe that their child is a monster.

But then I read the five part series that appeared in Wired magazine, starting with this article, and now I am very disturbed. To put it bluntly, files on a computer are among the easiest items to fudge, change date stamps, etc. Once a computer ends up in the hands of the prosecutors, you are pretty much dependent on their honesty and competence for what happens to that computer--and in this case, it would appear that Mr. Stupid and Mr. Dishonest got together to frame Larry Benedict. At a minimum, no jury with a lick of sense would convict in such a case. (Well, they might convict the prosecutor.)

Of course, no jury will need to convict in this case. After six years, $200,000 in legal bills, loss of his job and his wife, Mr. Benedict went ahead and pleaded no contest in exchange for a promise of a light sentence--which promise was apparently not kept by the prosecutors.

Prosecutions for child pornography are a very good thing, assuming that you have a strong case. This case smells so bad that the prosecutors should have dropped it.

For a very long time, I have been uncomfortable with plea bargains. If someone is really guilty, take it to trial. Putting an innocent person in a position where they have to decide whether to risk 20 years in prison if they plead innocent, or six months in jail by pleading guilty to a crime that they didn't commit, forces an immoral choice. Why? Because it asks an innocent person to lie to the court by pleading guilty.

More Evidence That Morons Run Too Many Universities

A certain university has decided that their team mascot, a cartoon character dressed as a cowboy, shouldn't have six-guns and holsters because of the bad model that this presents for children. Which left-leaning, reality detached school do you think it is? Harvard? Stanford? Yale? University of Texas? Nope. University of Arizona.

Fortunately, the student newspaper is a bit more in touch with reality than the administration.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

They Wouldn't Do This In California...

My son tells me that "God Bless America" was played over the PA system at his high school today as part of the commemoration of 9/11. This is Boise. He was kidding that in California, it would have been "Bleep! Bleep! America."
President Bush's Speech This Evening

Sorry to say my wife and I missed it. If you missed it also, you can at least read the text.
Nigerian Scams Seem To Be Increasing...

Or at least, I am getting way more of them in my inbox than I did a year ago--like three to five a week. This raises an interesting question.

Northern Nigeria is heavily Muslim, and parts of it are definitely under the sway of the fundamentalist branch of Islam. A woman has been sentenced to death for extramarital sex; sentence is delayed until she weans her baby. (Yeah, I linked to the National Organization of Women's accounts just to irritate the liberals, who spend 90% of their time telling us to appreciate diversity, and 10% of their time upset when that cultural diversity includes oppressing women.)

Is this increase in attempts to bamboozle stupid Americans out of their money part of an al-Qaida effort to increase funding? It would certainly be interesting to track down some of the scammers, and figure out if they are disproportionately Muslims, and if so, if there are connections to terrorist groups.

By the way, these scams must take in very, very stupid or very, very greedy people. Even before I read any accounts of these scams, I would get these emails and immediately recognize them as scams. (Indeed, I am sure that my 14 year old son would recognize the best of them as scams.) The scam emails that have been popping up in the last year are even more clumsily and obviously scams than the ones I received in 2000 and early 2001.

Tell me: where do these scam artists find people stupid enough to be conned?

Update: if you want to know more about these scams, here's a good explanation. An amusing examples of scamming the scammers is here.

Make sure that you also read the letter by G.T. Gobena in this Salon letters column in which the scam artists are explained as victims of colonialism, reduced to this because of the evils of the West.

The Only Humor That Anyone Can Salvage From What Happened Last Year

The Onion, to my surprise, managed to find something humorous but respectful last September from this: Mohammed Atta and friends surprise at discovering that they didn't make it to Paradise for committing mass murder.
A Song For Today

Over at, Professor Reynolds is noting that at the Flight 93 memorial, they sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" not "Amazing Grace." No surprise. Both are powerful songs, but one is a song of just war, and there is nothing more appropriate today, and for the next few months. I found this Lee Greenwood recording of it on this site--and even with his Southern accent, it is powerful. (For reasons that I don't understand, the owner of was upset with me linking directly to the song, and asked me to copy the file to my site, so that's what I did.)

The lyrics can be found at the University of Oklahoma Law School -- worth reading and contemplating on a day when we remember the thousands dead, and the costs of the war that is to come.

In Britain, A Man's Home Is No Longer His Castle

A depressing story from the London Times. The story starts out, "A FATHER-OF-TWO who stabbed a 'career criminal' to death with a bread knife after finding him burgling his family’s home was found guilty of manslaughter yesterday." But that doesn't fully capture the injustice of the jury convicting Barry-Lee Hastings of manslaughter.

Barry-Lee Hastings found his front door forced open, believed his family was at home, and feared that a burglar was inside with his kids. He picked up a bread knife, was attacked by the burglar who was carrying a "jemmy" (probably British for a prybar), and in the ensuing fight, Hastings stabbed the burglar to death. The burglar had a long criminal record, and was wanted by police at the time.

Another sad point about the decline in the British system of justice: a criminal conviction by 10-2 -- not unanimous.

UPDATE: John Anderson points out that Mr. Hastings had a previous criminal record also, for burglary, and for carrying a knife. I'm not sure that this is, or should be relevant, however. Hastings was in his own home; the person he killed had forced entry; there is no reason given in the article to believe that the death wasn't the result of a fight between an unlawful felon and the resident.

Britain Remembers

Very touching evidence that in spite of the whining from Britain that gets the press, there are a lot of people there who understand our pain and anger.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

It's 11:00 PM. Do You Know Where Your College Students Are?

My daughter recently started at the University of Idaho. U of I is in Moscow, up in the panhandle, a few miles from Pullman, Washington, where Washington State University is located. The tales that she tells me are a little disheartening.

The first week of classes, she visited her boyfriend over in Pullman. By her account, there were thousands of people in the streets, openly drinking alcoholic beverages in public. Girls were busily pulling up their shirts to flash their breasts. The police were not enforcing any laws against public consumption of alcohol or public nudity. (Does Washington have such laws? I can't imagine that they don't.)

Instead, Pullman police seemed to be concentrating their energies on picking up the students who were unconscious, and breaking up fights. I wasn't there, so I'm going to have to trust my daughter's description. Some of these disgusting video tapes that you see advertised on late night television shows, "College Girls Out of Control" suggest that what she saw isn't that unusual.

Once upon a time, colleges operated in loco parentis with respect to their students. (That's Latin for "in place of the parents." If like myself you are the parent of a college student, you are forgiven for believing that it actually means, "the parents are now loco.") It all seems so quaint now, but colleges made some effort to at least discourage sex, alcohol, and some of the other matters that tend to get young people in a world of hurt (especially the morning after--or the month after).

I'm not sure of the exact sequence of events, but I would expect that both the drop in voting age to 18, and the generalized relaxation of the 1960s played some part in colleges abandoning this effort. Is it just a sign that I am getting old and crotchety, or do others agree with me that perhaps in loco parentis served a useful function?

Somewhere out there in that vast swarm of data that calls itself the Internet, I saw a very funny comparison of the 1960s and the 1990s. One of those examples was the incident from 1969 in which feminists burned their bras; the 1990s equivalent was the videotape "College Girls Go Wild!"

I always thought that bra-burning was an example of the silliness of feminism, looking for oppression in a minor matter like clothing instead of the larger issues of jobs, education, and rape. (Of course, I don't wear a bra, so perhaps that's why it seems like a minor issue.) But still, feminism in the 1960s, for whatever excesses it sometimes involved, said, "I am a woman, and I deserve to be respected for my mind, and not as a sex object." It appears that for a disturbing number of young women going to off to college these days, being a sex object is high on their list of objectives.

This interest in being a sex object is obviously not something that takes place in a vacuum. As someone cynical and witty once observed, "Women would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think." There are some cultural problems that have developed that make me long for my high school days, when a girl attracted a boy with her wit, her charm, and her ability to dress attractively--not by flashing her breasts in public. "Girls" (they weren't women back then) were second class citizens; but they weren't first and foremost sex machines for the pleasure of this month's guy. They were a bit on a pedestal back when I was young, and dinosaurs ruled the Earth. That's certainly better than the current model, which seems to be quite a bit degraded.

I wonder if a lot of the open-minded college administrators who at least acquiesced in the collapse of in loco parentis find themselves asking what went wrong. For much of a generation of college-bound young women, there has been a troubling transition from feminists who asked to be treated as the legal, social, and intellectual equals of men, to college girls exposing themselves randomly as sexual objects.
Promoting Virtue and Discouraging Vice

I'm beginning to receive email responding to my blog (which is a good sign that someone besides me is reading it). Another self-professed libertarian-leaner agreed with me that it bugs him to hear libertarians arguing for drugs as a positive thing, as distinguished from "it's not the government's job." I'll go a bit beyond that, and say that there are some actions that are so clearly counterproductive and stupid that it doesn't bother me to see the government spend a little of our taxes on advertising campaigns to discourage vice and encourage virtue.

Now, this is obviously subject to abuse. I wouldn't want a heavy-handed anti-gun advertising campaign funded with my taxes. (Wait a minute, a really heavy-handed campaign might be just the ticket! It might make guns as popular as cigarettes have become among teenagers.) But let me throw out some examples of campaigns that I think would qualify as good things to do (at a reasonable price), and would engender relatively few objections (especially when you consider the alternative of some coercive law that tried to accomplish the same ends):

1. Seat belts: they're good for you. They reduce the blood spatter on your windshield.

2. Use condoms if you aren't in a monogamous sexual relationship.

3. Are one-night stands a good idea? (Some HPV strains clearly cause cervical cancer; the risks are high; a woman's risk increases dramatically as the number of sexual partners rise.)

4. Unless you have a very good reason, it's usually safest to keep your gun locked up when not in use. If you have kids in the house, make sure that they understand that guns are a serious business, and secure the guns from unauthorized access.

5. Is getting drunk really that good an idea?
Noelle Bush's Drug Problem

This news item about Gov. Jeb Bush's daughter's alleged continuing drug problems is really heartbreaking. Some will use this as a political abuse weapon. I would hope that they would regard it the same way as we should regard the drug problems and death of Carroll O'Connor's son, or the recurring legal problems of Robert Downey, Jr: a tragedy that reminds you that contrary to liberal and libertarian thoughts, addiction enslaves people.

Any rational person would recognize that if you are in a court-ordered drug rehab program, you stay clean. Even if you are just going through the motions to make the court happy, rational analysis would suggest that your fastest way out of there and back to your life of drug abuse on the outside is stay clean long enough to finish the program. This suggests that Ms. Bush's problems are pretty darn serious.

I used to work for a company that did pre-employment drug screening, and occasionally did drug screening for those already employed. I must confess that I find such programs distasteful and insulting. But another employee explained the way in which this company did it:

1. Two weeks advance warning that drug screening was coming up.

2. If you failed the drug test, you were warned that, maybe it was a mistake in the lab, so they would come and ask for another sample two weeks hence.

3. If you failed the second time, they referred you to drug counseling to deal with it.

4. If you got belligerent or refused, they canned you.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that the employee with this much opportunity to stop his cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, etc. either:

1. Couldn't stop.

2. Considered his job less important than his drug habit.

Yes, I expect a lot of you to tell me that the War on Drugs causes enormous problems, driving up the price of drugs, making illegal trafficking more profitable. I agree. Prohibition creates an enormous set of problems, spreading individual crises into social disasters. This is part of why corporate drug testing programs became popular (with a little encouragement from the government); they were an attempt to affect the demand side, not the supply side. The only people injured by reducing demand were the dealers and importers.

Yes, alcohol certainly causes more problems in our society than many of the illegal drugs (though I would argue that on a per capita basis this might not be true for methamphetamines). Having raised children in Sonoma County, California, which is a major producer of alcohol, marijuana, and meth, I can tell you that the case for discouraging alcohol is at least as strong as the argument for discouraging the use of the currently illegal drugs. Imagine a county where many adults supply marijuana and beer to their junior high aged kids. Not surprisingly, Sonoma County has a special full-time unit in the district attorney's office for prosecuting rapes of teenaged girls passed out at parties (not 16, 17, 18 girls, either, but 12, 13, 14). That unit, in some years, is very busy. From talking to other parents, as busy as that unit is, many of these crimes aren't being reported.

The problem isn't just rape. My daughter attended an awful lot of funerals the last two years we lived there. She knew kids who died of cirrhosis of the liver, and many kids killed in drunk driving accidents.

What am I saying? I'm tired of being told by people not just, "Adults should be free to use drugs" (a statement that I reluctantly agree with) but, "There's nothing wrong with getting high." There are people who can drink a beer, and have a glass of wine with dinner, and that's as far as it goes. I used to occasionally drink a glass of champagne at a company celebration once or twice a year, and never felt the urge to start drinking heavily. Lots of people are like that; there are, I'm sure, lots of adults who can smoke pot once or twice a month without turning it into an addiction or a religion.

But there are lots of people, especially kids, who can't take just one drink, or one toke. A 13-year-old's brain is still developing, and messing with it chemically is a dangerous experiment. What I became most tired of, living in Sonoma County, was a society where your kids are made to feel weird or strange for being sober in seventh grade; where your kids are repeatedly offered marijuana, alcohol, and harder drugs for free because drugs are effectively free, and there is so much social pressure to conform, and get high.

If the doper class wants to have places like Sonoma County where, for practical purposes, marijuana is legal, kids drink alcohol while classes are in session (Petaluma High School), kids roll joints in class (Casa Grande High School, also in Petaluma), other drugs are given away in high schools, and intoxication is a citizen's duty, fine. Just let some of us enjoy "backwaters" like Idaho where a majority of teens do not drink or use drugs. (Yeah, there are still places like that.)

We Really Are At War.

See the Reuters news story that Yahoo has about deployment of anti-aircraft missles at the Pentagon and around Washington. Sobering stuff indeed.

Monday, September 9, 2002

Insular and Unconcerned

Suman Palit has a mildly amusing description of why the rest of the world, upset with Americans for being insular and unconcerned, are going to regret that we are no longer in that situation. Cute, but there is a more pithy description, reputedly said by Admiral Yamamoto after the spectacularly successful surprise raid on Pearl Harbor, "We have awakened a sleeping giant and have instilled in him a terrible resolve."

Right now, the left is trying their darndest to spread the idea around that September 11th is at least partly America's fault; we need to understand the poverty and suffering that causes this sort of thing; we needed to be more involved in the Middle East situation; we needed to intervene less in the affairs of other countries (never mind that this someone contradicts "more involved"); evils of capitalism, etc.

Unsurprisingly, Americans have calmed down a bit under this onslaught of excuse making for mass murder. One more attack at even close to the level of September 11th, and all the left's control over our mass media and educational institutions won't be enough. Americans will be justifiably angry about actions that make Pearl Harbor seem positively chivalrous by comparison.
Delayed Damage from 09/11

Yahoo has a Reuters news story about the large number of emergency workers who are going to be retiring on breathing related disabilities caused by the dust kicked up by the WTC collapse. Unsurprisingly, there has been a dramatic increase in stress-related problems among emergency workers as well. While stress-related psychiatric disorders are among the easiest opportunities to scam the system, it isn't any great surprise that an event of this magnitude, and with so many friends and colleagues killed, would cause dramatic increases in such maladies.

More disturbing: "As many as 200,000 New York City children may have developed psychiatric problems after Sept. 11, according to a recent study by the New York Psychiatric Institute." Yeah, psychiatrists are looking for ways to scam some money out of the system, but I don't find it at all hard to believe that this event has done some real serious damage to a lot of impressionable kids--and not just in New York City.

Consider the damage that al Qaida has done to America: lives lost; children orphaned; spouses widowed; buildings destroyed; permanent disabilities; business records lost irrevocably; children traumatized. How many decades of capitalism would it take to produce this much injury? (Of course, capitalism would have also produced some benefits as well, as even the most hard leftists would grudgingly admit.) And yet the left is still running around looking for reasons to excuse al Qaida's actions.
Financial Columnist Jim Cramer on War

Read Jim Cramer's column about September 11th. It is the confession of someone who believed, "I love you, you love me, we are a happy family, this land is your land, this land is my land; you get the picture." He has wised up a bit. (No, I doubt that Jim and I are related, Cramer being a very common name.)

Vesey's Rebellion & The Controversy Over It

Vesey's Rebellion & The Controversy Over It

John Rosenberg draws a parallel between conventional wisdom with respect to the Denmark Vesey slave revolt of 1822 and the Bellesiles scandal. Having read Michael P. Johnson's William & Mary Quarterly article and the responses to it, I am not sure that I quite buy this parallel.

Johnson's claim is that historians have been too willing to believe in a vast slave conspiracy to rise up against their masters, even when the evidence consists of confessions which seem to have been sometimes tortured out of slaves, and other times coerced out of them by the threat of death. Johnson has an important point here, and I will tell you that I share his concern that the desire to find heroic slaves willing to risk all for their liberty may have caused historians to read into the evidence what they want to find.

Black history in the last twenty years has been infected with the doctrine of "agency." Once upon a time, historians, dependent largely on written sources by whites, saw black slaves as little more than pieces on the chessboard, moved and directed by masters. "Agency" is the notion that slaves, through passive resistance, manipulation, playing sick, use of contraceptives, abortifacients, infanticide, individual murders, and rebellion, influenced their lives and their relationships with each other, with masters, and with the larger white society.

It would be utterly foolish to think otherwise--but I have increasingly seen this notion of "agency" reach the point in some black history that you wonder who were the masters, and who were the slaves. As with most pendulum swings in the writing of history, we seem to be past the midpoint on this one.

Johnson also points to a recent collection of primary sources by Edward A. Pearson that combines and misquotes--extensively--trial transcripts and depositions associated with the conspiracy. Johnson has done a valuable service to the historical community by demonstrating that Pearson's book is so incredibly flawed as to be dangerous.

Unlike Bellesiles, Pearson's response doesn't play for time: "I plead guilty to his charge that my transcription of the trial record is deeply flawed. He is correct, therefore, to alert the historical community to its unreliability as a source, providing overwhelming evidence about material inadvertently introduced or omitted in my version. Moreover, Johnson's discussion of the trial record effectively demonstrates the ways in which I inadvertently corrupted the document. Although I openly admit to these mistakes for which I take sole responsibility and for which I unreservedly apologize, I should note that they were made not with malice aforethought, in some misguided and devious effort to load and distort the record in a way that makes my own interpretation of the plot unimpeachable, but through, as Johnson notes, 'unrelenting carelessness' (p. 926). "

Concerning Johnson's other claim, however, I am not completely persuaded, and this is another area where the parallel to the Bellesiles scandal doesn't work. Johnson raises some very important points about the unreliability of tortured and coerced testimony, and the peculiar situation in which a blatantly racist court that clearly knew what it wanted to hear is trusted by modern historians. Douglas Egerton, in other otherwise...hmmm..."edgey" and not terribly persuasive response observes, "If historians had to rely only on statements willingly made to officials in open, democratic courts that lacked any racial or class bias--as if such a venue has ever existed in any society--the available scholarship on the law and popular resistance to it would be thin indeed."

If you find this subject interesting, read all the responses to Johnson's claims, as well as Johnson's response to the comments. I don't think this matter is all that settled, but it will certainly make me a little more careful in how I teach the significance of Vesey's Rebellion.
Ken Hamblin's Column

Ken Hamblin's column yesterday in the Denver Post mentioned a paper that I wrote some years ago about "The Racist Roots of Gun Control." He didn't mention that it was published in the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy in 1995, and can be found here.
Going to Chicago for the American Society of Criminology Conference

I will be participating in a panel discussion about the controversy over historian Michael Bellesiles's book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000) at the American Society of Criminology conference in Chicago. This panel will be from 9:30 AM to 11:00 AM on November 14. I will be in Chicago from the afternoon of the 13th through the evening of the 15th.
Read Dave Barry's Column

I read Dave Barry's column whenever I need to laugh. At his best, my sides ache from reading his column; on his off days, I can usually get at least a smile or a chuckle. This column is different. It's about the heroes of Flight 93, and it's a powerful tribute that brings tears to my eyes. Let's not forget that the passengers on Flight 93 weren't just heroes; they were husbands and fathers whose families are paying daily for the savagery of Al Qaida.

Sunday, September 8, 2002

They're Going to Party Like It's 1399

Why is anti-Muslim feeling rising in America? See this news story from the September 8th Daily Telegraph about the organization of the "Islamic Council of Britain (ICB), which will aim to implement sharia law in Britain and will welcome al-Qa'eda sympathisers as members." "The people at this conference look at September 11 like a battle, as a great achievement by the mujahideen against the evil superpower."

Paul Johnson once described an intellectual as someone who loves ideas more than people, and that certainly describe this bunch. I keep waiting for moderate Muslims to create a groundswell of outraged response. After all, groups like this claiming to speak in the name of Islam makes anti-Muslim sentiment even stronger, and will eventually lead to the sort of bigotry and legalized religious discrimination that doesn't belong in America (but seems to be right at home in Saudi Arabia). Moderate Muslims need to speak out, now, and loudly, denouncing this sort of hate-filled nonsense, or raise the suspicion that the Islamic Council of Britain is just being honest about Islam.

Trade unionists in America in the 1940s and 1950s were in a similar position with respect to communism, and overwhelmingly, they spoke against totalitarianism. It was both morally right, and political astute.

Isn't it interesting how the left of American politics, so terrified that the Religious Right will exercise undue influence on America, isn't terribly concerned about a group whose goal is the worldwide imposition of an Islamic theocracy that would make Moral Majority look like an ACLUless convention? The Islamic Council of Britain's goal--imposition of sharia law worldwide--makes Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale seem positively liberal.
Sinus Surgery

For those of you who have been following the trials and tribulations of my sinus surgery--I haven't added anything to it in some weeks, because everything is going so well. For those of you who need an appetite suppressant as part of your weight loss program--it is a fairly detailed description of the experience. (No pictures, however, lucky you!)
Nightmares & Nanotraumas

I had an interesting nightmare a couple of nights ago--a peculiar intersection of two nanotraumas of my recent life. One of these events was the first door ding on my new (to me) 2000 Chevrolet Corvette; the other involved moving two cubic yards of river rock from the driveway to the backyard for a "Honey-Do" project.

I dreamed that I had returned to Petaluma, People's Republic of California (from which my family and I only recently escaped). I drove into downtown, into an "unimproved parking lot." (This is bureaucratese for a dirt lot that no one has figured out to build anything on yet.) If you know downtown Petaluma as it was several years ago, you know the lot I mean. I park my shiny red Corvette in the corner where the ground level is a bit lower than the rest, and duck into a nearby convenience store for a Coke. When I return, where's my Corvette?

The locals are standing around grinning, and I am becoming increasingly disturbed by this. Have they stolen my car? It's nowhere to be found. Suddenly, I realize that the depression in the corner is now level with the rest of the lot. It's been filled up with this cursed river rock! Under this enormous pile, my Corvette now rests.

Alas, another two cubic yards of river rock is about to be ordered, with disturbing consequences for arms, shoulders, neck--and probably future dreams.
Another Victim of Peer Pressure

Welcome to Clayton Cramer's weblog. (Everyone else was doing it, and it didn't seem quite as dangerous as smoking pot, jumping off a pier, or any of the other examples that go with, "If everyone else was doing X, would you?") My good friend Brian Reilly finally pushed me over the edge.

I will be doing this somewhat experimentally at first, so don't expect a lot of volume until I have gotten the hang of it.