Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spare 1GB SD-RAM Cards Lying Around?

I'm headed to Houston next week to debate Professor Jack Rakove. I'm thinking of using my HP PhotoSmart E427 camera in video mode to do this. The video quality isn't great, but it is adequate for webcast.

It turns out that the 1 GB SD-RAM cards will store about one hour of video. Unfortunately, this particular camera won't work with SD-RAM cards that are larger than 1 GB. I could run out and buy several more 1 GB SD-RAM cards, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of you have some of these lying about loose, no longer used because you have moved up to larger ones. I'll buy them cheap (like $5 a piece, since I can buy them new for about $12) or if I can borrow two or three of them for a week, that's fine too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Original Meaning and the Constitution

Original Meaning and the Constitution

This may be a surprise to many of my readers, but the original meaning of the Constitution isn't regarded as particularly important by many judges, lawyers, and law professors. Why? There's a rather dense discussion over at the Legal Theory Blog. But what it really boils down to is that much of the left has concluded that an original meaning interpretation of the Constitution would limit the power of judges to remake society. Not because the current state of our society is all that similar to America in 1789, but because following the original meaning of the Constitution in 1789 would utterly preclude most of the left's agenda.

My biggest criticism of the non-originalist interpretative models is this: If originalism is not the only valid basis for deciding how to interpret the text of a constitution, why did 55 men spend several months arguing about exactly how to compose the text of the U.S. Constitution? Why did the First Congress spend quite a number of hours in 1789 arguing about the exact text to send to the states to ratify? Why did the state conventions debate at length ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? If the meaning of any constitutional provision is simply what a judge today decides makes sense, then all that argument was for nought, and all the text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights can be replaced with a single sentence. "The judges decide what this means." Clearly, the people involved in this process: drafters, ratifiers, pamphleteers, and electors who picked the delegates to ratifying conventions, intended these texts to mean something, or they would not have spent so much energy making a decision that was going to be turned over to judges to figure out a method to justify why the living, breathing, constantly mutating Constitution that started out looking like a gazelle is now half Komodo dragon, half brontosaurus.

Jack Rakove's Original Meanings on p. 101 makes the claim that what the ratifying conventions said about the Constitution was of greater weight than what the participants at the Philadelphia Convention said, because they were elected by the electors of each state for the express purpose of making this decision. While Rakove doesn't argue that the Philadelphia Convention was illegitimate, it was clearly a case of a group that exceeded the authority granted them by the Continental Congress--a group whose legitimacy to make a new, national government binding on not just the States, but the people, was necessarily of lesser strength than the ratifying conventions elected for that purpose.

Original meaning matters. We are not bound by the "dead hand of the past," as the living, breathing, mutating school claims. When conditions and attitudes changed, we amended the Constitution. We discovered a potentially dangerous flaw in the judicial system, and in a surprisingly short time (considering the communications technology of the day), 2/3 of both houses of Congress passed, and 3/4 of the states ratified the 11th Amendment.

We corrected a defect in the presidential election scheme with the 12th Amendment.

We abolished slavery, guaranteed the legal rights of the freedmen, and guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race. (Admittedly, it took a bloody Civil War to make these happen.)

We guaranteed the right of women to vote, of 18 year olds to vote, prohibited poll taxes, banned alcohol, relegalized alcohol, created a national income tax, and changed the presidential succession, all through the amendment process.

The "dead hand of the past" doesn't preclude change. It does require that the change enjoy more than 51% support. The left is upset because they know that on a lot of the issues that they care about--same-sex marriage, stifling Christianity, confiscatory taxation on those who aren't yet rich--they aren't just lacking the requisite supermajority--they don't even have 51%. Hence, the importance of using non-originalist interpretative models for the Constitution. No need to wait (probably forever) for the masses to come to their side--just decide that what used to be a felony in every state is now a Constitutional right. How much simpler can it get?

Is This That Hard Of A Concept?

Over at Campaigns & Elections, Jordan Lieberman thinks that there is something funny about Tom Tancredo (R-CO) preferring Mexican food:
Illegal immigrants may be the reason Rep. Tom Tancredo is running for president, but there’s one place he always runs during campaign breaks: Mexican restaurants.

The Republican hard-liner spent half an hour debating various options for a good Mexican dinner after a campaign event last week in Muscatine, Iowa. The problem? His first pick, Mami’s Authentic Mexican Food, had recently participated in a “Boycott of America” march advocating amnesty.

He and his staff ultimately settled on Carlos O’Kelly’s Mexican Cafe. “In Denver, we always go to Three Amigos, Dos Amigos, Two Tostados—something like that,” he told C&E over a table laden with enchiladas and margaritas.

“In D.C., we go to El Paso in Arlington, just off Glebe Road.”
Let me explain this in simple enough words that even liberals will understand it.

Like Tancredo, I like Mexican food. I don't have any hostility towards Mexico, or Mexicans. There's a darn good Mexican restaurant in Horseshoe Bend called El Durango where my wife and I eat almost every Friday night. The previous owners were clearly Mexican immigrants, and so are the new owners.

I don't mind if Mexicans or other immigrants want to come to America. Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.

I do object to anyone whose desire to come here means that they break the laws to do so.

I object to such a vast movement of immigrants that it drives down the wages of unskilled Americans. First priority needs to be for Americans who would otherwise be dependent on social services because their wages have been depressed by competition from unskilled laborers from elsewhere. (I'll simplify this for Democrats: if you claim to be concerned about poor Americans--why are you working hard to make sure that their miserable wages drop even more?)

I object to the United States being the pressure relief valve for Mexico's corrupt political class. Mexico has sufficient resources to be a First World Country. Yes, it is more crowded than the U.S. But it has far more resources and land per person than Hong Kong did. The corrupt Mexican political elite has injured the workers of that country long enough--and until the pressure starts to build internally, this isn't going to change.

I object to a system that is so broken that terrorists can easily enter the United States by hiding in the stream of incoming illegal immigrants. Mao Zedong described the relationship of guerrilla fighters to the peasants as fish in water, and terrorists entering the country in that stream are much the same. Trying to cut off the flow of illegal immigrants will certainly reduce the flood to a trickle--which makes it more likely that we can identify anyone entering the country for criminal or terrorist purposes.

A Friend Just Took Delivery Of His New Toy

You can see the video of it here.

Yes, there's some paperwork and fingerprinting required, but full autos are lawful in Idaho!

That John Adams Quote About Our Constitution

I'm sure that you have seen it before. I often see it quoted by Christians, but I've never seen it properly sourced. So I went hunting.
While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and isolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallanty, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to a government of any other. ["To the fficers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts," October 11, 1798, in John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1854), 9:228-229.]
And this may explain why those who decry originalism will eventually win. Our Constitution is "inadequate" to modern America. Something a lot more totalitarian would fit the increasingly depraved population. It would just be a miserable place for decent people to live.

UPDATE: To clarify: I wasn't wishing for a totalitarian society. Quite the opposite. Just pointing out that the reason the left is increasingly looking for ways to get around original meaning is because the society that they wanted--one without morals or religion--doesn't work so well with the U.S. Constitution.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Clintons and Fundraising Scandals

I blogged a while back about this civil suit, I think, but here's more!
WASHINGTON — One gift that Hillary Clinton is unlikely to enjoy on her 60th birthday Friday is the premiere of "Hillary Uncensored," a scathing documentary whose 13-minute trailer has been No. 1 on Google Video since Oct. 10, with more than 1.1 million views to date.

The film's first full-length showing is scheduled for Friday night at Harvard University, followed by viewings at universities through the weekend and a wrap Tuesday at the Metropolitan Club in New York City.

Among the allegations summarized in the documentary:

— Bill and Hillary Clinton solicited cash from Peter F. Paul, an international lawyer and businessman, even after Hillary Clinton's campaign manager told The Washington Post she would not take money from him;

— FBI agents and U.S. attorneys colluded with the Clintons to keep Paul, who was convicted of cocaine possession and fraud, tangled up in the criminal courts for years;

— The Clintons later made sure Paul was kept in a Brazilian prison for 25 months, including 58 days in a maximum security cellblock nicknamed the "Corridor of Death," while the Justice Department waited to extradite him;

— Hillary Clinton still hasn't filed reports to the FEC enumerating Paul's excessive contributions to her 2000 Senate campaign.
Here's the trailer about the movie. The Clintons seem to set a new standard for crookedness in fundraising. Here's the AP news story from October 16, 2007 about how Hillary Clinton (but not Bill) has been removed from the suit.

It is hard for me to be completely trusting of Peter Paul. He does have a criminal history, and he was a fundraiser for the Clintons. But what does it say about the Clintons that this guy was their buddy until he became a liability?

Coming Attractions: Debate in Houston

I will be debating Stanford Professor of History Jack N. Rakove about the meaning of the Second Amendment on Tuesday, November 6 and Wednesday, November 7. The first debate takes places starting at 12:30 PM at the Houston Community College Westgate Center in the Student Cyber Lounge. The second debate will be at the Houston Community College Central Campus room 151 in the San Jacinto Building (SJAC). The first round will last from 10:00 AM to 11:20 AM; the second round will be from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM.

I'm hoping that some of my loyal fan base will show up with digital video cameras and record the events. If you can do this, please let me know!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Prophecies From the First Congress

Who needs Nostradamus? I've found some very amusing statements by members of the First Congress in debates about amending the Constitution.

You may be aware that James Madison's initial proposal for what became the Bill of Rights involved adding in the various clauses into the original Constitution. Most of what we recognize as the first drafts of the Bill of Rights were to be inserted into Art. I, sec. 9, between clauses 3 and 4--which are both protections of individual rights from the federal government.

Instead, Rep. Roger Sherman (CT) who was an opponent of a Bill of Rights, argued on August 13, 1789 that they should not “interweave” the amendments into the original Constitution, Madison expressed his concern that his approach, interweaving, would simplify understanding:
We shall then be able to determine its meaning without references or comparison; whereas, if they are supplementary, its meaning can only be ascertained by a comparison of the two instruments, which will be a very considerable embarrassment. It will be difficult to ascertain to what parts of the instrument the amendments particularly refer; they will create unfavorable comparisons; whereas, if they are placed upon the footing here proposed, they will stand upon as good foundation as the original work.[Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 734-6.]
When you read the rather bizarre claims that the antigun sorts make about the meaning of the Second Amendment--that it was intended as a protection of states rights, not of individuals--you can see that Madison was right about the effect that it would have.

Another astonishing prophecy comes from Rep. Fisher Ames (MA). There was a prolonged discussion about whether one member of the House for every 30,000 people, or every 40,000. The House in the First Congress had a bit more than one hundred members; now it has 438.

The number of proper characters to serve in the Legislature of any country is small; and of those, many are inclined to pursue other objects. If the representation is greatly enlarged, men of inferior abilities will undoubtedly creep in.... [Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 748-9.]
Oh, and anyone interested in the religion clause of the First Amendment should read Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 1st Cong., 1st sess., 757-8, where members of the House tell us what they meant, and some expressed concern that exactly how the ACLU has misused the establishment clause might take place.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

If You Carry a Mini-Maglite....

Then you are as much of a geek as I am, and may appreciate this little trick! There's a cute little holster for the Mini-Maglite that slides onto your belt, so that you always have a flashlight available on short notice. But there's no flap on that cute little holster, so it is very easy to lose your Mini-Maglite if you sit down on a very low couch, lie down to look under machinery, etc.

Another aficionado of the Mini-Maglite at the Gun Rights Policy Conference showed me how he solved the problem. If you look at the picture below, you will notice that there is a rubber O-ring at the bottom of the holster. This one is a 3/4" x 5/8" (the outer and inner diameters, I am guessing) that I found in the O-ring drawer in the garage. (And if you don't have an O-ring drawer in the garage, you aren't geeky enough to carry a Mini-Maglite in a holster!)

It rolls onto the bottom of the holster and holds the Mini-Maglite securely enough that it will not fall out, but you can still pull it out and push it back in without a struggle. At the same time, the O-ring is a tight enough fit on the holster that it stays in place even with the Mini-Maglite not in place.

Click to enlarge

Friday, October 26, 2007

When You Can't Tell News From An Onion Article

The Onion does great satire. It is bad news when you can't tell it from real news. October 26, 2007 Associated Press is reporting that Senator Happy Feet is going to argue that his actions in the bathroom stall are constitutionally protected free speech:
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Idaho Sen. Larry Craig will argue before an appeals court that Minnesota's disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional as it applies to his conviction in a bathroom sex sting, according to a new court filing.
This is the first time Craig's attorneys have raised that issue. However, an earlier friend-of-the-court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that Craig's foot-tapping and hand gesture under a stall divider at the Minneapolis airport are protected by the First Amendment.
Based on similar challenges that have been made against soliciting sex in restrooms I am guessing that the argument will be:

1. Since the Lawrence v. Texas (2003) decision, homosexual sex isn't unlawful.

2. Soliciting someone in a public restroom to go have sex is simply free speech. Only if they had sex in a public space would be it be unlawful to make that solicitation.

The logic is impeccable. So if a guy approaches strangers on the street asking them if they want to go back to his place for sex (and perhaps being very crude and lewd in how he solicits them), that's constitutionally protected free speech.

There has been, at least the 1970s, a certain level of this sort of thing that goes on in bars and discos. (I have to rely on what I read and was told; I had some disco shirts of the era, but I never went to those of places when I was single.)

I knew someone back when I worked at JPL who would, to save time, just approach every woman in a disco and make a single sentence query, and yes, it rhymed with the title of that famous song of the era, Disco Duck. He told me that he only occasionally got slapped, and usually within the first 50 women he approached, he would get a yes.

Still, this was part of the territory of discos and other "meat markets." You don't go into places like that if you are really more suited to the ice cream social at church. Public restrooms are a somewhat different situation. I really don't think I want to live in a society where this version of free speech trumps laws against rude and disorderly behavior.

UPDATE: I'm told that the ACLU brief argues that what happens inside a public restroom stall is private, and therefore protected by Lawrence. In some ways, that's just a different outrageous claim.

Are You Sure About That?

Interesting article about fiddling with genes and changing sexual orientation from October 26, 2007 Reuters:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Altering a gene in the brain of female worms changed their sexual orientation, U.S. researchers said on Thursday, making female worms attracted to other females.

The study reinforces the notion that sexual orientation is hard-wired in the brain, said Erik Jorgensen, scientific director of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah.

"They look like girls, but act and think like boys," Utah researcher Jamie White, who worked on the study published in the journal Current Biology, said in a statement.

Researchers in Jorgensen's lab switched on a gene in female worms that makes the body develop male structures, but they only activated the gene in the brain.

As a result, the female worms still had female bodies, but they behaved like males.
Okay, interesting. I don't find it implausible that there is some fraction of humans who may have genetic predispositions towards homosexuality. But here's one of those statements that is either in the "You don't say" category, or perhaps, "Some people I have met make me question this":
But Jorgensen said the study is not likely to resolve the burning question about the genesis of sexual orientation in humans. "A human's brain is much more complex than a worm's brain," he said.

Hero Is Such a Devalued Word in the News Media

Like the way that people with AIDS become not "sufferers" to a lot of reporters but "victims." People who did nothing all that remarkable become "heroes" to many reporters. But something happens that really does identify someone as a hero--knowingly putting your own life on the line for others--and much of the rabidly liberal news media ignores it. From the October 23, 2007 Houston Chronicle:
WASHINGTON — Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, nicknamed "Murph" and known as an intense and empathetic young man, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Monday "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life" while outnumbered by Taliban fighters in a June 2005 battle high in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The 29-year-old SEAL team leader and former lifeguard from Patchogue, N.Y., is the first service member to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Afghanistan war and the first sailor since Vietnam to be awarded the medal, the nation's highest military decoration.
At a ceremony in the White House's East Room, President Bush presented the medal to Murphy's parents, Daniel and Maureen Murphy. "This brave officer gave his life in defense of his fellow Navy SEALs," Bush said, adding that Murphy acted "with complete disregard for his own life."
I saw another SEAL who survived this battle interviewed, and he described what Murphy did, and it really reminds you of the enormous gap between the professional whiners and those who hand a check to the U.S. government that says, "Whatever I need to do to defend America, even if it gets me killed."

Never Good Enough

Look, I have a number of complaints about Bush's mishandling of the Iraq War, which has certainly cost hundreds, perhaps thousands of unnecessary U.S. deaths, and squandering of huge amounts of money. (The only consolation is that President Gore would probably have squandered the same number of lives and money, but in American cities, not Iraq.) I haven't let loyalty to him prevent me from giving detailed and specific criticisms of how this war has been fought. But I don't use good news (as there has now been quite a bit) as an excuse for more bashing, like this absurd story about how Iraqi undertakers are now being hit hard by the falling violent death rate.

Joe Klein has an article in the October 25, 2007 Newsweek
that is so typical of how the mainstream news media look for ways to turn good news into bad news:
Remember this name: Amar Al-Hakim. He is 36 years old, the heir apparent to one of Iraq's two leading Shi'ite dynasties, and a few weeks ago in Ramadi, he did something quite remarkable. He went to meet and make peace with the more than 100 Sunni sheiks who led the movement to kick al-Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar province. He was accompanied by the leader of his family's militia, the Badr Organization, which was lethally anti-Sunni until recently. The Hakim delegation was ferried to the meeting in Black Hawk helicopters by the U.S. military. "It was quite a scene," a U.S. military officer who was present told me. "Amar went through a receiving line, hugging each of the Sunni sheiks, and then he made a speech: 'We are not Shi'ites. We are not Sunnis. We are all Iraqis, and we must reconcile.' It was a showstopper. He has a real presence. He and the host, Sheik Ahmed [Abu Risha], went and prayed together, which was a big deal symbolically. Then there was a 'goat grab'--a feast--and an agreement to keep meeting."

The Ramadi goat grab may turn out to be a significant moment in the stabilization of Iraq ... or, since this is Iraq, maybe not. It is certainly a sign that the U.S. military mission is continuing to make progress. The level of attacks against U.S. forces has fallen dramatically across the country. There have been days, in recent weeks, when even Baghdad approached a tolerable level of urban violence and criminality. "And the Ramadi meeting wasn't at all unique," a senior U.S. diplomat told me. "You've had mass meetings of tribal leaders from Anbar and Karbala provinces," which are the Sunni and Shi'ite heartlands, respectively. "The governors of those provinces were literally building trenches on their border, and they are now meeting regularly. You had the highest-ranking Sunni politician in the country, Tariq al-Hashemi, go to Najaf to meet with the leading Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani. All of this would have been unthinkable only a few months ago."
Then there's a "when is it all going to fall apart" paragraph and a "why aren't the troops all out of there yet" sentence. Then:
George W. Bush has abdicated his control over the military mission and seems boggled by the political side of the Iraqi equation. He has lashed himself to the inept, unrepresentative government of Nouri al-Maliki but seems powerless to influence that government's actions. Bush's Iraq poster boys, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, are doing a wonderful job but lack the rank to make strategic regional policy. The Administration was so inept in dealing with Turkey that its designated mediator, retired General Joseph Ralston, recently quit in frustration. Bush's refusal to engage the Iranians has left a clear field for Russian mini-czar Vladimir Putin to move in and build an alliance. The Secretary of State is chasing an Israeli-Palestinian chimera at a moment when a burst of high-level U.S. diplomatic pressure might actually make a difference in Iraq.
And if Bush were strongarming the al-Maliki government, Klein would be complaining about a refusal to allow Iraqi democracy to develop. And of course, the Turkey problem couldn't be in some way because the Democratically controlled Congress passed a resolution that seems designed to create a problem with Turkey. If Secretary Rice were not chasing "an Israeli-Palestinian chimera" the complaint would be that the Bush Administration is just too focused on Iraq, ignoring the larger Middle East problem.

Klein should just admit that he wants a Democrat in there, so that future Supreme Courts will be pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage, pro-euthanasia, and anti-gun. It would be more honest than articles like this.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Interesting Statement About the Militia System

I'm using the Making of America library and I found a report starting on p. 116 by Adjutant General John A. Dix to the New York legislature in 1832 concerning a proposal to reduce state encouragement of the militia.

Title: Speeches and occasional addresses. By John A. Dix.
Author: Dix, John A. (John Adams), 1798-1879.

It makes a clear statement that the Second Amendment was intended to make sure that everyone was armed. From pp. 117-118:

The spirit of our political organization, on the other hand, is, by extending as far as practicable the right of suffrage, to subject the measures and operations of government to the influence of the greatest possible number, and, by arming and disciplining every citizen, to be prepared to sustain in all emergencies, by the united force of the whole community, a system instituted for the benefit of the whole. The theory of this part of the system is, that every citizen shall be armed, and that he shall be instructed also in the use of arms. The reasonings by which the utility of such a social organization is supported are so unanswerable, that it is doubted by the most sagacious observers whether our civil liberties could be maintained for a length of time without the influence and protection of a militia. The same causes which would render such a force dangerous to the existence of an arbitrary government render it indispensable to the existence of ours.

That this was the opinion of the original parties to the Constitution of the United States, is apparent from the second article of the amendments of that instrument, which assumes that "a well-regulated militia" is "necessary to the security of a free state," and declares that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"; showing that the militia was designed by those who had the largest share in its institution, not merely as a support to the public authority, but, in the last restort, as a protection to the people against the government itself.

Full Text of the Northwest Territory Militia Act

From the November 15, 1794 Centinel of the North-west Territory, p. 1.

More "Bring Your Gun To Church" Laws

These two images from the August 30, 1794 Centinel of the North-west Territory, p. 1, show that some members of the militia (which include all free white males at the time) were failing to be armed at church, and reminded that they could be fined one hundred cents (yes, not one dollar, but one hundred cents) for this.

Sudden Naked Eye Comet

One of ScopeRoller's customers just pointed me to this Sky & Telescope online article:
A distant comet that was as faint as magnitude 18 on October 20th has suddenly brightened by a millionfold, altering the naked-eye appearance of the constellation Perseus.

This startling outburst of Comet Holmes (17P) may be even stronger than the one that occurred 115 years ago, in November 1892, when the comet was first spotted by English amateur Edwin Holmes.

According to IAU Circular 8886, issued Wednesday October 24th by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams in Cambridge, Massachusetts, A. Henriquez Santana at Tenerife, Canary Islands, was the first to notice the outburst shortly after local midnight on the 24th. The comet was then about 8th magnitude, but within minutes Ramon Naves and colleagues in Barcelona, Spain, caught it at magnitude 7.3.


Then things only got better. As Earth continued to turn, nightfall arrived in Japan. "It is visible with naked eyes in a large city!" posted Seiichi Yoshida, who observed the comet from beside Tsurumi River in Yokohama. By 17:15 Universal Time he was describing Comet Holmes as magnitude 2.8.

Comet expert Gary Kronk expects this object to remain bright and grow from a starlike point to several arcminutes across over the next few nights as it makes its way slowly westward across Perseus. Its position on October 25th (0h UT) is right ascension 3h 53m, declination +50.1° (equinox 2000), and by October 30th it will have moved only to 3h 48m, +50.4°. For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, Perseus is visible all night at this time of year.

For Those Researching Early American Cryptozoology

Also a reminder that early Republic newspapers weren't necessarily so different from newspapers today when it comes to repeating a good yarn.

From the October 11, 1794 Centinel of the North-west Territory, p. 2:
In February last, a detachment of mounted infantry, commanded by Captain John Beaird, penetrated fifteen miles into the Cumberland mountain: On Covecreek, ensign M'Donald and another man, in advance of the party as spies, they discovered a creature about three steps from them: it had only two legs, and stood almost upright, covered with scales, of a black, brown, and a light yellow colour, in spots like rings, a white tuft or crown on the top of its ahead [sic], about four feat high a head as big as a two pownd stone, and large eyes of a fiery red. It stood about three minutes in a daring posture (orders being given not to fire a gun except at Indians) Mr. M'Donald advanced and struck at it with his sword, when it jumped up, at least eight feet, and lit on the same spot of ground, sending forth a red kind of matter out of its mouth resembling blood, and then retreated into a laurel thicket, turning round often as if intended to fight. The tracks of it resembled that of a gocle, but larger. The indians report, that a creature inhabits that part of the mountain, of the above description, which, by its bgreath will kill a man, if he does not instantly immerse himself in water.
It appears that this may have first appeared in the Knoxville Gazette.

What is a "gocle"?

UPDATE: To my surprise, this isn't the first time that this account has been posted to the Internet! See this account, which indicates the word wasn't "gocle" but "goose."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Jena 6 Falsehoods

The Christian Science Monitor is one of America's most respected national newspapers and while it definitely leans left (they are journalists, after all), I can't recall ever seeing anything obviously dishonest or misleading in it. So this article that they carried October 24, 2007 by a newspaper report in Jena, Louisiana, is really quite startling. Worth reading in full, especially if you think you know the story of the Jena 6. What he has to say matches what I have been able to find in just about every source that isn't trying to play the race card.

Nazi Germany and the Jews

Saul Friedlaender has written a two volume set about the Holocaust. Volume 1, The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 was published in 1997. This second volume, The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945 came out this year. Both volumes are the kind of really detailed, exhaustive treatment of the subject that most people won't read--and that's a shame.

These are the sort of detailed, nuanced history that needs to be written, and needs to be read. Friedlaender makes extensive use of unpublished papers, personal diaries (some of which were buried by their keepers hours to days before they were rounded up for extermination), and official documents. Unlike the kind of reductionist, goal-oriented history that seems to have become fashionable in some circles today, Friedlaender is comfortable providing information that while it doesn't refute his points, does show that broad statements about group motives and actions can be generally true, but often individually false.

Friedlaender also includes a number of startling quotes from Hitler and other Nazi officials that remind me much of the rhetoric very popular on the left today, about capitalism, plutocracy, the military-industrial complex and its motivations for war. This really should not be a surprise; Nazi is an abbreviation for the German words for National Socialist German Workers Party. While Hitler toned down much of the socialist rhetoric starting in 1931, as some industrialists started to fund the party, it is clear from speeches throughout the 1930s and 1940s that Hitler still regarded his movement as a campaign to protect the people from both communism and capitalism--both of which he regarded as two parts of the same Jewish plot. (That communism and capitalism were diametric opposites seems not to have occurred to Hitler.)

There is one bone that I might pick with Friedlaender's account, and it is a mixture of what I want to be true, and what seems to me to be a deficiency in Friedlaender's assumptions about motivation. A recurring theme of both volumes is that while individual Protestants and Catholics often took steps to protect Jews, or at least to alleviate their suffering on the way to an inevitable death, both Catholic and Protestant church leaders were generally either indifferent to the Holocaust, or passively supported it. (And unfortunately, in some parts of Europe, actively supported it.)

Now, those of you who know about the Confessing Church, which was created by German Protestants who disapproved of the Nazi program, and know about the actions of the Catholic Church in opposing the euthanasia program, may be puzzled by the paragraph above.

What Friedlaender documents was that in the letters and documents of the Confessing Church and of Catholic opposition to the Nazis, there was no opposition to extermination of Jews. There was considerable effort exerted to protect Jewish converts to Christianity, and opposition to the Nazis eugenics program of sterilization of the genetically inferior and extermination of the retarded and mentally ill.

What makes me a bit uncomfortable with Friedlaender's use of these documents is that he seems to accept them at face value, without considering a more Byzantine model. While nothing to be proud of, it may well be that the focus on protecting Jewish converts to Christianity was driven by recognition that there were limits to what could be accomplished when directly confronting the Nazi goverment. This was a totalitarian society that had to choose between winning the war, or extermination of the Jews--and decided that extermination of the Jews was more important. It was also a society that had already demonstrated its willingness to send Christian dissenters to concentration camps.

Friedlaender also points to the occasional expressions of a mild (at least compared to the Nazis) anti-Semitism in many of the official letters sent to the Nazi government. This might be because of the existing anti-Semitism in German society that allowed Hitler to rise to power (although it was pretty clearly not the major reason that the voters elected the Nazis). It might also be the result of the Nazis' continual propaganda campaign against the Jews. I look at a lot of this stuff now, and I find myself wondering how anyone could be taken in so easily by such transparently manipulative and stupid propaganda. But then again, I look at a lot of the election advertising that in America today, and I am amazed that it works, too.

Friedlaender seems not to recognize the possibility that these letters might have made anti-Semitic statements or assumptions as a method of achieving a starting point for discussion. Consider today if you were trying to persuade an elected official who was pro-choice to ban partial-birth abortion. If you started the letter with, "You are going to rot in hell because you are pro-choice! So please vote to ban partial-birth abortion." Well, let's just say that this letter would be unlikely to persuade.

A very clever (or dishonest, take your pick) letter writer might start out with, "Of course a woman has a right to choose--but shouldn't she have made that choice before the third trimester? I am sure that you can see the difference between aborting a blob of cells and aborting a viable third trimester fetus. Please vote to ban abortion." And of course, if you were writing a letter to a government official in America, you wouldn't have to worry that if it was poorly received, that you and your family would be arrested and tortured to death. This was a real concern in Hitler's Germany. To express any opposition at all to Nazi policies required considerable courage.

Perhaps Friedlaender considered these possibilities, and found no evidence to support them. But I must confess that I often found myself asking these questions.

Trying to Motivate the Idaho Legislature

Last month I sent a letter to my three representatives in the Idaho legislature (two representatives and one state senator represent my district) about mental illness and deinstitutionalization, asking them to have the legislature at least start looking into this problem. Even if they took no action, the problem is real. At a minimum, the legislature needs to ask why Jason Hamilton, who was locked up for a suicide attempt and said that he was going to kill others the next time, was released. (And he did what he said.)

So far, I have heard back only from State Senator Tim Corder. To my surprise, I received a hand written letter, not a form letter. Senator Corder agreed with me that the problem is real, and needs to be fixed, but that there are members of the state legislature who adamant about not doing anything about it. Unfortunately, he didn't identify who these roadblocks are, or what their motivations are.

My two representatives in the lower house? No answer yet. I wasn't really planning to run for state legislature, but if these two representatives don't consider this important enough to even answer, it makes me think that it is time to pick on the easier target, and run against him.

Senator Craig Isn't Leaving

I received a form letter today:

You were frank in expressing your views, and I appreciated it. In fact, I reviewed every letter and contact from Idahoans -- both letters like yours urging me to resign and letters of support from throughout the State.

As you know, I have decided to serve out my term and complete the initiatives for Idaho that are currently underway in the U.S. Senate. When I returned to Washington, D.C. in September, it became clear that I could still work effectively for the State; many of my Senate colleagues have even urged me to remain in office. Resigning would have cost Idaho the seniority and committee assignments that serve key State priorities.

Let me again apologize to you for the mistake I made in pleading guilty to a crime I did not commit. I deeply regret the cloud that has been cast over Idaho because of my actions. I will do all I can to lift that cloud through continued service to our great State.

In the months ahead, I will be voting and working on your behalf in the U.S. Senate. It may not be possible to regain your trust, but I hope you will still continue to give me your input, so that I can do my best to represent you on the issues facing our State and Nation.
I had hoped that his replacement would be already in position for the next election. As it is, the Democrats will almost certainly spend a lot of time trying to smear the Republican nominee as a homosexual. If you think that is absurd--that the Democratic Party would never engage in innuendo that relies on nasty stereotypes--well, consider this November 7, 2002 New York Times article:
Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat, coasted to victory over a challenger so broke and dispirited that he had dropped out of the campaign. But the ouster of the Democrats from control of the Senate means that Senator Baucus, 60, will relinquish his powerful post as chairman of the Finance Committee, which handles legislation on taxes and Social Security.
Mr. Baucus's re-election to a fifth term became almost a certainty after Oct. 10, when his Republican challenger, State Senator Mike Taylor, withdrew after Mr. Baucus broadcast an ad that Mr. Taylor said implied he was gay. Mr. Taylor, who had already spent $1 million, was 20 points behind.
Remember: the Democrats support homosexuality because it is a path to power, not because it represents any real belief. Look at the famous statement from Senator John Edwards a few years back:
Perennial Democratic strategist Bob Shrum drops a bombshell in his new book, according to a report in today’s Washington Post.
In the book, he says he asked former Sen. John Edwards at the outset of his 1998 Senate campaign, “What is your position, Mr. Edwards, on gay rights?”
“I’m not comfortable around those people,” was Edwards’ reply, according to Shrum.
To say the denials today from Edwards’ camp are unconvincing would be a gross understatement.
If they have to engage in subtle slurs that play on the sizable body of disapproval of homosexuality, they will. If the Republican nominee for Senator Happy Feet's job emphasizes family values, the Democrats will run a whispering campaign reminding everyone that Senator Happy Feet did so--and look what he turned out to be. If the Republican nominee tries to distance himself from family values (which would be a mistake in Idaho), then the whispering campaign will be, "At least he's not a hypocrite."

Extreme Weapons

It sounds like a way of marketing guns to the 20somethings who are partial to extreme sports and extreme caffeinated beverages. But unfortunately, it is how Mitt Romney has chosen to characterize the one class of weapons most clearly protected by the Second Amendment in a letter to Red's Trading Post:

I firmly believe in the importance of responsible gun ownership and sales. As a member of the National Rifle Association, I do not believe that we need any more federal gun control laws. I also recognize that some types of extreme weapons, those which were not meant for hunting, sport, or self-defense, have no business being on the streets. [emphasis added]
I was skeptical of Romney's sudden concern about the Second Amendment after having been governor of Massachusetts and this gives me more reason to be skeptical. President Bush, similarly equivocated about so-called assault weapons during the 2000 campaign--but at least had a good record as Governor of Texas and for some reason never had an assault weapon ban bill show up on his desk as President.

I'm not a single issue voter, but I was skeptical of Romney's honesty about being a conservative, and this puts another nail in the coffin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That Glass Top For The Corvette

That Glass Top For The Corvette

I mentioned back in July
a stupid Corvette trick in which I neglected to latch down the glass top on the Corvette before taking off--and the wind picked up the top and sailed it away! After several months of waiting for GM to make a batch of replacements, the body shop called to tell me to come and get it.

It's nice to have a new top, with all new rubber weatherstripping--it is a bit quieter inside, and I am tempted to replace some of the other weatherstripping as well which is showing its age.

To my surprise, I didn't need to turn in the the old, badly scratched glass top, which I had assumed would be required to avoid a core charge. Mid-America Motorworks, for example, charges a $500 core if you can't supply a repairable frame.

So now I find myself with this perfectly good frame, with badly scratch plastic (it's not really glass), and I'm hoping that someone would be interested in buying it outright either so that they can use the frame to do a rebuild, or because even a scratched top is better than a busted one. (And yes, I emailed Mid-America Motorworks, who did not respond.)

I would think that it would be worth at least $200 to a 1997-2004 Corvette owner who has fallen on hard times, but still needs something to keep the rain out.

Click to enlarge

Fred Thompson on Immigration

This is the issue with which Thompson (if he gets the nomination) will beat Senator Clinton. Thompson has released his Border Security and Immigration proposal here. How smart is Thompson? It reads like something that I would have written. I don't see a single component that I disagree with. The key ideas are:

1. No amnesty for illegal aliens.

2. Enforce the existing laws against both illegal aliens and employers who illegally hire them. It is unrealistic to find and deport all 12 million, but we can deport the ones we arrest, and crack down on employers enough that many others decide to go home, because they can't get jobs.

3. Enforce existing federal immigration laws, and cut off funds to cities that insist on being Sanctuary Cities.

4. Build the wall.

5. Increased enforcement against illegal alien criminals, smugglers, and others who aren't just coming here to find work.

6. Implement an entry/exit tracking system so that we can find visa overstays--you know, like some of the 9/11 hijackers were?

He has a number of other proposals to streamline the procedure for legal immigrants--you know, the ones that are willing to actually obey our laws and follow the proper procedures? He also wants to end "chain immigration" by limiting granting of permanent residency to immediate family--not this situation where one person gets in, then his brother, then the brother's nephew, and so on.

9/11 Truther Madness

I see that Bill Maher had some problems with 9/11 Truthers in his audience the other night. Now, I can't think of a more appropriate person to wish 9/11 Truthers onto than Bill Maher--who represents everything that I find offensive about Hollywood leftism. But I guess that Maher isn't a complete idiot, because he recognizes the absurdity of the 9/11 Truther delusions.

Look, if you tell me that the 9/11 Commission might have left out information about 9/11 because they were trying to protect national security technical methods, I won't be surprised. If you tell me that they didn't investigate certain questions (such as the wall between FBI and CIA) to avoid embarrassing members of the Commission who set up that wall, I won't be at all surprised. Governmental officials often do stupid things (Waco, for example), and sometimes intentionally evil things, and afterwards, they have to cover up their stupidity. But this notion that Bush intentionally set up or allowed the 9/11 attacks to have an excuse to start a war is madness.

I've pointed out in the past that to set up something like this would have required an army of people--and the chance of all them of staying silent, especially now that one of the consequences of 9/11, the Iraq War, has been such a costly fiasco, is zero.

I've pointed out in the past that the 9/11 Truther crowd thinks Bush was such a genius that he managed to make the 9/11 attacks happen, look like al-Qaeda did them, persuaded Osama bin Laden somehow to take credit for them--and then couldn't figure out to plant fake WMDs in Iraq to justify the war. If Bush is dishonest enough and smart enough to set up 9/11 as a false flag operation, then why he suddenly get stupid or honest about not finding vast quantities of WMDs in Iraq?

expected to find WMDs in Iraq. Opponents of the war argued against it because of the massive casualties that would have resulted from Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Coalition forces. Even Hussein's own generals thought that other Iraqi military units had chemical weapons. If the CIA had "found" a metric ton of sarin a few weeks after the invasion, demonstrated it on a dog for reporters, then destroyed it all to avoid putting others at risk, no one would have been the wiser.

What is driving this now relatively large movement of people with these elaborate and completely unbelievable theories about 9/11? I noticed that one of my son's friends was both an early 9/11 skeptic--and a skeptic about the Moon landing. This is not a coincidence, I'm afraid.

Over the years I have noticed a number of rather common characteristics of conspiracy buffs.

1. They are often markedly smarter than average people.

2. They are often not college graduates, in spite of their superior intelligence. Often, financial difficulties made this impossible.

3. They believe that the government is filled with people who are at least as intelligent as they are, and have the additional advantage of being well educated, from families of high socioeconomic status. As a result, they are often struggling with an intellectual inferiority complex which they must have overcome with a moral superiority complex.

It is very difficult to persuade such people that what they see as conspiracy is more easily explained by stupidity--because that would imply that governmental officials, captains of industry, and others involved in these elaborate conspiracies are actually not their intellectual superiors at all--just people who ended up in the right place at the right time, or who were born into a higher status family.

Just a Reminder That This Isn't Just A Christian Thing

There was an attempt at decriminalizing homosexuality--and it failed. Where? From October 23, 2007 AFP:

Singapore on Tuesday legalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples but retained a law which criminalises intercourse between gay men.
In the city-state's first major penal code amendments in 22 years, parliament repealed a section criminalising "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."
Parliament however kept the penal code's section 377A, which makes sex between men a criminal offence, rejecting a petition by gay-rights activists and their non-homosexual supporters to abolish the law as well.
Opponents of the law say it is a relic of British colonial rule. The law punishes offenders with up to two years in jail, although it has rarely been enforced.
Under the just-approved amendments, new offences were enacted to tackle child prostitution and sex tourism as well as cover crimes committed with the use of technology such as the Internet and mobile phone text messaging.
But a rare petition read in parliament to abolish the law banning sex between men sparked the most passionate debates in the normally staid legislature dominated by the ruling People's Action Party.
Legislators supporting the law's retention centred their arguments on the need to maintain family and moral values in the conservative Asian society, while proponents appealed for equal treatment of minorities guaranteed by the constitution.
Gays "are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities," the prime minister said, citing the existence of gay websites and gay bars.
"But there are restraints, and we do not approve of them setting the tone of mainstream society," he said.
"They live their lives, that's their personal space. But the tone of the overall society, I think, it remains conventional, it remains straight and we want it to remain so."
Lee said keeping the statute unchanged while not aggressively enforcing it remained the best option.
Singapore would adapt to global economic changes in order to stay competitive, but must take a more cautious approach when it comes to moral values, Lee said.
"We were right to uphold the family unit when Western countries went for experimental lifestyles in the 1960s -- the hippies, free love," he said.
"But I'm glad we did that because today if you look at Western Europe, the marriage as an institution is dead, families have broken down, the majority of children are born out of wedlock and live in families where the father and the mother are not husband and wife living together bringing them up."

Kansas Concealed Carry Statistics

Kansas Concealed Carry Statistics

The Kansas Attorney-General's office now has information online for what out of state permits they recognize, and the number of outstanding permits, revocations, etc.

I am a bit disappointed to see that they do not recognize out of state permits except for residents of those states. (Meaning that they don't recognize Idaho permits, and won't recognize my non-resident permits from any of the other states.) Not like I travel through Kansas much, but you Jayhawkers need to get cracking on this!

So far, they have issued 9,707 permits, and revoked 9. That's pretty decent, for a state with a population of about 2.7 million people.

Stupid Georgia Gun Law

Stupid Georgia Gun Law

Over at Free Speech is this useful discussion of a stupid Georgia gun law:

As a Georgia Firearms Licensee, I have often thought to myself how absolutely stupid it is that those of us who have a license to carry a concealed firearm are not allowed by state law to carry in any restaurant that serves alcohol for consumption on the premise. It doesn’t matter if I’m not even having an alcoholic drink. I’m still not allowed to carry my weapon in that place of business. I either have to disarm myself, leaving me and my family potentially vulnerable, or I have to go eat somewhere else.

I’m sure that at some point in the past, some ignorant lawmaker decided that we average everyday folks are just too stupid and irresponsible to have our firearms on us when we’re anywhere near a keg of beer or a mixed drink, even if we’re not the one drinking it. We might get drunk, get rowdy and start shooting up the place, I guess. The only problem with this logic is that it is not GFL carriers that do that kind of thing. We defend ourselves and others when SOMEONE ELSE gets drunk, gets rowdy and starts shooting up the place, as happened in Norcross, GA this past weekend:

Fatal shooting at Norcross bar marks Gwinnett homicide record

Witnesses said Ojeda appeared to have been drinking when he drove up to the restaurant around midnight, Norcross Police Detective Jason Carter said. Ojeda joined a group of four other people “other regulars, but not well acquainted with the man” on the patio and became belligerent when one person asked Ojeda not to be obnoxious. After a brief scuffle, Ojeda left, only to return with a gun about 45 minutes later, Carter said.

As people on the patio scattered, one of the men he’d been sitting with ran away but drew his own gun, police said. That man, whose name was not released, fired once and hit Ojeda in the head, police said.

Technically, this unnamed patron was breaking Georgia Law by carrying his weapon in this restaurant that serves alcohol. Thank God he was, or there is no telling how many would have been dead when Mr. Ojeda finished his drunken rampage. This GFL holder was able to stop this drunk shooter before the man even got off a single shot. This man is a hero, in my opinion, and should be hailed as such. Unfortunately he’s probably worried right now about whether he will be prosecuted for carrying the gun that saved himself and possibly countless others into that restaurant which was against the law.

Now, I understand what the objective of the original law was, and I can sympathize with the intent. The goal was to prohibit people from going into bars armed and getting drunk. Alcohol and guns don't mix well together. (Neither do alcohol and cars, alcohol and power tools, alcohol and ladders, alcohol and random sex--you might say that alcohol doesn't play well with others.)

Kentucky has a somewhat more rational law that prohibited concealed carry in:
Any portion of an establishment licensed to dispense beer or alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, which portion of the establishment is primarily devoted to that purpose.
This means that you can't carry concealed into a bar, or the bar part of a restaurant. (The restaurant part would be just fine.) I was also told, while in Kentucky for the Gun Rights Policy Conference, that "primarily devoted to that purpose" meant that more than 50% of the restaurants profit came from the sale of alcohol.

But if I meet some friends in a bar, or the bar part of a restaurant, it shouldn't matter if I am carrying concealed. I seldom drink (maybe a glass of wine with dinner, rarely), and I never drink when I am outside my home, because I will almost certainly be driving. (Not being much of a drinker, sniffing the cork from the wine bottle is almost enough to impair my driving.) If anything, the tendency of some people to get combative after a few drinks (as in the example above) is a strong argument for those who are not drinking at all to be allowed to carry concealed in bars.

A sensible rule might be: if you are carrying concealed, you may not drink in a public place, and any detectable alcohol in your blood or breath should be an offense. That makes more sense than this stupid Georgia law. Fortunately, someone in that bar broke the law, and was armed when Ojeda lost control.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Republican Candidates' Debate

I caught a little bit of Sunday evening, and I was pleased to see that most of the candidates were pretty well spoken. I didn't watch all of it, but none of them seemed quite as leaden as Bob Dole in 1996. I particularly enjoyed Giuliani's quotation of Hillary Clinton's statement, "I've got a million ideas, but America can't afford them all." I wondered if the quote was out of context, but this October 22, 2007 article from the Brown Daily Herald seems to confirm its reality. (I still don't want Giuliani as the Republican nominee--I don't trust him or his recently found conservatism.)

Ron Paul was an effective speaker, promoting the wrong ideas.

Fred Thompson did the kind of job that I was expecting an actor to do, and he made the right noises on the issues.

How Serious Of A Defect Does It Have To Be?

One of the arguments that is sometimes used to justify abortion is that there are fetuses that have such severe defects that abortion is a form of mercy...well, those making the argument don't want to use the word "killing" because that implies that this mass of cells is alive or something. There are some truly gruesome birth defects, such as anencephaly, that are always fatal, either stillborn, or shortly after birth. There are diseases that are consistently fatal after short lives of great misery, such as Tay-Sachs Disease. It is very, very difficult to look at these tragedies and not wonder a bit.

But how far does this principle follow? You may be aware of the joke about the woman who expresses a willingness to do certain tasks for a million dollars--but gets offended when the offer drops to $50. "What do you think I am?" "We've already established what you are, we're just haggling over the price now." Once you have accepted that certain tragic genetic problems might justify abortion, what do you say when you see a news report like this one from the October 21, 2007 Times of London?
MORE than 50 babies with club feet were aborted in just one area of England in a three-year period, according to new statistics.

Thirty-seven babies with cleft lips or palates and 26 with extra or webbed fingers or toes were also aborted.

The data have raised concerns about abortions being carried out for minor disabilities that could be cured by surgery.

Abortions are allowed up to birth in Britain in cases of serious handicap, but the law does not define what conditions should be considered grave enough to allow a termination late in the pregnancy. That is left to the discretion of doctors.

The Commons science and technology committee is carrying out an inquiry into whether the law should be made more specific.

Some parents, doctors and campaign groups are worried by what they see as a tendency to stretch the definition of serious handicap.

In 2003 Joanna Jepson, a Church of England curate, instigated a legal challenge against West Mercia police for failing to prosecute doctors who carried out an abortion on a baby with a cleft palate at 28 weeks’ gestation. The challenge failed but raised public concerns over terminations for minor disabilities.

However, the latest figures — released by the South West Congenital Anomaly Register — show that dozens of abortions are still carried out after the condition is discovered.
The article goes on to quote a doctor as saying that he doubted that these abortions were being carried out for such trivial reasons--that these were proxies for "[other] genetic problems." Maybe. But I find myself wondering how accurate these defects are as proxies.

We're moving rapidly back to the state of classical civilization, when female infanticide was completely at the discretion of the father, and a father could kill newborn boys if they had any obvious defect or weakness. Technology is just making it possible to get the ugliness out of the way before the child is born.

For those who have been drinking deeply at the Social Darwinism Bar, and just don't understand why this is a big deal, consider this: some of these minor defects may be genetically linked to other traits or qualities that are of real value. I mentioned a few weeks ago a several year old article in Science Daily suggesting a connection between the gene for schizophrenia and creativity.

Would it be good to have a cure for schizophrenia? Absolutely. Would I encourage two people who both had schizophrenia in their families to marry? No, I would not. But I would be very reluctant to see a conscious decision made to stamp out the schizophrenia gene. We don't know quite what we might be losing, and we similarly don't know what other parts of the human gene pool we might be losing by arbitrarily deciding that minor genetic defects need to be aborted. Look at some of the genetic defects that come out from excessive human fiddling with dog breeds: hip dysplasia in Dalmatians, for example.

I look at the arrogance of the Nazis with their efforts to chlorinate the gene pool, and I shudder to think of the number of great scientists, engineers, and artists that they didn't just kill, but preventing from reproducing. Those were great losses to individuals, but also great losses to the genetic diversity and capacity of the human race.

Empty Holsters Protest At University of Kentucky

Empty Holsters Protest At University of Kentucky

One of my co-bloggers at the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog is a member of the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus chapter at University of Kentucky. He relays to me the email that was just sent out by the administration:

The University of Kentucky has been informed that our campus may be one of the sites across the nation this week (Oct. 22-26) for a protest regarding concealed weapons policies. SCCC (Students for Concealed Carry on Campus) has announced that it is planning a peaceful protest where individuals will wear T-shirts and empty holsters as a form of protest against state laws and campus policies which prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms on campus.

At UK, we cherish and affirm the right of free speech on campus and certainly recognize and respect the right of this group to conduct a peaceful protest.

The reason for this proactive message is to make all students, faculty, and staff aware that such an activity may occur, so as to diminish and diffuse any sense of alarm which may arise.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that UK is a "deadly weapons free" campus.

Thank you.

(If you are a supervisor, please communicate this information to all of your staff, especially those without computer access.)
Hey, that's great publicity for the cause!

A Tragic Commentary on Louisiana Politics

From the governor elect, Republican Bobby Jindal. From October 22, 2007 Associated Press:
"I think we're setting the bar too low when we say, 'Look, isn't it great that we haven't had a statewide elected official go to jail recently?'" Jindal said.

"The reality is there are a lot of practices that are accepted ways of doing business in Baton Rouge that are considered unethical in other parts of the country, that are considered illegal in other parts of the country," he said.


It was pretty obvious from the previews that this new movie is yet another attempt by Hollywood to make sure that we lose the War on Terror. This article from the October 20, 2007 Washington Post is by a member of Clinton's National Security Council. He has no love for the Bush Administration, and gets a few digs in at them--but still, it pretty well demolishes the notion that Rendition is accurately portraying the situation:
1. Rendition is something the Bush administration cooked up.

Nope. George W. Bush was still struggling to coax oil out of the ground when the United States "rendered to justice" its first suspect from abroad. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan authorized an operation that lured Lebanese hijacker Fawaz Younis to a boat off the coast of Cyprus, where FBI agents arrested him. (Younis had participated in the 1985 hijacking of a Jordanian plane and was implicated in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which left a U.S. Navy diver dead.) President George H.W. Bush approved the kidnapping in 1990 of Mexican physician Humberto Alvarez Machain, who was believed to be involved in the torture and killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration official. Nothing says that renditions can involve only suspected terrorists; Israel's abduction of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 could be called a rendition, though the term was not yet in use.

Beginning in 1995, the Clinton administration turned up the speed with a full-fledged program to use rendition to disrupt terrorist plotting abroad. According to former director of central intelligence George J. Tenet, about 70 renditions were carried out before Sept. 11, 2001, most of them during the Clinton years.


5. Pretty much anyone -- including U.S. citizens and green card holders -- can be rendered these days.

Not so, although the movie "Rendition" -- in which Witherspoon's Egyptian-born husband gets the black-hood treatment and is yanked from a U.S. airport and taken to a North African chamber of horrors -- is bound to spread this myth. A "U.S. person" (citizen or legal resident) has constitutional protections against being removed from the country through rendition, and there have been no incidents to suggest the contrary. In fairness, though, the ghastly case of Maher Arar -- a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who convincingly says he was detained at New York's JFK Airport, handed off to Syria and tortured -- is way too close for comfort.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

My wife and I went to this film this afternoon, the sequel to Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush again playing Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Walsingham, respectively. Production values are again spectacular--although the Spanish Armada special effects are a little below the rest of the film. (Big deal.)

I was very pleased at how well they portrayed the complexity and ugliness of the times. In particular, we tend to romanticize how Elizabethan England operated--and this film reminds us that it was police state, with informers, arrests, torture, and family turned against family. From what I have read, Walsingham really did not like torturing people to get information out of them--but he was quite prepared to do whatever it took--including setting up Mary, Queen of Scots to get the evidence needed to try her for treason.

The full extent of the barbarism of the times is a bit cleaned up. Throughout human history, the vicarious thrill that young people get from watching movies like Saw and Hostel was fulfilled instead by watching real life torture instead. In particular, one of the participants in Mary, Queen of Scots plot against Elizabeth was subjected to an extraordinary execution, because ordinary drawing and quartering just wasn't painful enough. After several hours of the executioner working his way around the internal organs of the traitor, giving them a squeeze (and yes, he was conscious throughout), even the mob watching finally became disgusted--which is saying quite a bit.

This is one of the reasons that I don't have the confidence that some have in the virtues of the free market for promoting decent entertainment. The relative restraint of movies and television into the late 1960s (and much of that degradation seems quaint compared to Hannibal or Saw) was not because the audience was especially civilized, but because elites of relatively refined tastes were setting the rules.

The film does capture Elizabeth's great discomfort at signing the death warrant for her cousin Mary, and the struggle that developed during her reign over religion. Early on, having watched the execution of her mother and growing up during the reign of Bloody Mary, Elizabeth famously observed, "I have no desire to make windows into men's souls." She did not much care what people believed, as long as they didn't cause trouble, and kept their mouths shut. Over time, after the Catholic Church sent assassins into England to try and kill her, she because increasingly concerned with suppressing and punishing Catholicism--which is sad but unsurprising.

The sequence where Britain mobilizes as the Spanish Armada approaches is quite stirring--reminiscent of the sequence in Star Wars where the crews take off to battle the Death Star. It is stirring for the same reason that all decent people get choked up as they read of the naval aviators who flew off at the Battle of Midway knowing that they lacked enough fuel to hit the Japanese fleet and return to their carriers--the courage of those who accept that death is likely, because they have a duty to country.

This isn't my era of specialization, but even I noticed two historical errors.

1. Mary, Queen of Scots is speaking with a Scots accent--which is unlikely, since Mary grew up at the French court, not in Scotland.

2. Elizabeth did give a rousing speech to the militia in preparation for throwing back the soldiers of the Spanish Armada (if they had actually landed). From what I have read, however, she did not make that speech in armor. I read a history of British arms and armor and it said that Elizabeth was the only English monarch in several centuries that did not have a suit of armor made.

UPDATE: A reader more knowledgeable about World War II military history says that David Bergamini's book that makes this claim about the naval aviators taking off without enough fuel to return is wrong, and that Bergamini is the only source that makes this claim.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime

Here's a news story about gun self-defense where the victims went one better than just taking the burglar into custody. From October 19, 2007 Associated Press:
A burglar in Montgomery chose the wrong family to mess with, literally. Adrian and Tiffany McKinnon returned home on Tuesday after a week away to find that thieves had emptied almost everything the family of five owned, Tiffany McKinnon said through tears.

''Tears just rolled down my face as I walked in and saw everything gone and piles of trash all over my home,'' she said.

Adrian McKinnon sent his wife to see her sister while he inspected the piles left behind. As he walked back into the sunroom, a man walked through the back door straight into him, Tiffany McKinnon told the Montgomery Advertiser in a story Thursday.

''My husband Adrian caught the thief red-handed in our home,'' she said. ''And what is even crazier, the man even had my husband's hat sitting right on his head.''

Adrian McKinnon held the suspect, 33-year-old Tajuan Bullock, at gunpoint and told him to sit on the floor until he decided what to do.

''We made this man clean up all the mess he made, piles of stuff, he had thrown out of my drawers and cabinets onto the floor,'' Tiffany McKinnon said.

When police arrived, Bullock complained about being forced to clean the home at gunpoint.

''This man had the nerve to raise sand about us making him clean up the mess he made in my house,'' she said. ''The police officer laughed at him when he complained and said anybody else would have shot him dead.''
I was burglarized once in California. The burglar really didn't make much of a mess, but I felt terribly, terribly violated nonetheless. More typically, burglars are in a big hurry to find valuables and aren't very careful about how they search for them.

This tendency to leave huge messes may also reflect the chemically altered state of the burglars. A fair number of burglars are intoxicated, probably because it reduces inhibitions enough for them to engage in what is, after all, a pretty risky behavior. I remember reading in the early 1980s about a study of heroin addicts in Baltimore that discovered that they were disproportionately committing burglaries and robberies after they had shot up--rather than when they were desperate for a fix. One of my wife's classmates in high school was beaten to death with a roofing hammer by two burglars. They were high on heroin, and had already raped and murdered his little sister, who got home earlier.

There is also sometimes an element of intimidation. I've read of burglars defecating in the middle of the living room as a way of telling the victims, "I'm not afraid. And I can do with your property as I wish." I sometimes suspect that the burglar who broke into my apartment in Santa Monica may have a similar motivation for making a corned beef sandwich while he was there--just to let me know that he had the time and was sufficiently unafraid to do so.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Lack of Activity Here

Sorry, but I am assisting in preparation of amicus briefs for the D.C. case. I'm weaponizing the research that I did for my last book, Armed America. (Yes, just like weaponizing uranium, I'm concentrating it and refining it until you can't put it too close together.) I'm also doing some original research that is beginning to produce WMDs of Second Amendment legal arguments--stuff that is more devastating than has been used in legal or intellectual warfare before. For obvious reasons, I can't tell you about it--we need to keep everything holstered and discreet until the last minute.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More Bad News From Iraq

Instapundit calls this October 16, 2007 McClathy Newspapers article "really stretching for the negative spin". I agree:
A drop in violence around Iraq has cut burials in the huge Wadi al Salam cemetery here by at least one-third in the past six months, and that's cut the pay of thousands of workers who make their living digging graves, washing corpses or selling burial shrouds.

Few people have a better sense of the death rate in Iraq.

"I always think of the increasing and decreasing of the dead," said Sameer Shaaban, 23, one of more than 100 workers who specialize in ceremonially washing the corpses. "People want more and more money, and I am one of them, but most of the workers in this field don't talk frankly, because they wish for more coffins, to earn more and more."

Dhurgham Majed al Malik, 48, whose family has arranged burial services for generations, said that this spring, private cars and taxis with caskets lashed to their roofs arrived at a rate of 6,500 a month. Now it's 4,000 or less, he said.
I'm reminded of several years ago when some clever guy suggested that if the Bush Administration found a cure for cancer, the headline in the New York Times would be: "Bush Administration Policies Will Put Doctors Out of Work."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Painful Networking Lessons

The home network suddenly stopped working this evening--and the symptom was that no one could see workgroup MSHOME.

After much suffering, it turned out to be that Norton Protection Center's Firewall (rather than Microsoft's Firewall) "learns"--and somehow learned to disable all file sharing requests from within the network.

The solution is to add all IP addresses in your local network to the list of allowed accesses.

Today's Humility Lesson

I mentioned a couple of days ago my irritation at a claim that there was no Pennsylvania militia until two years into the war. Professor Nathan Kozuskanich has now responded by digging through the records, and finding that the 1757 militia law, after many roundabouts with the governor, was only in effect for a couple of years, so indeed, there would appear not to have been a formal militia law in effect when the Revolution started.

This still doesn't explain why official documents refer to soldiers in 1776 who are members of the "Pennsylvania Militia" and why members of the Associations were treated like militia by the Revolutionary government. It appears that Professor Kozuskanich might be technically correct that there was no militia statute in effect at the time--although functionally, the Associators were operating like militia.

This doesn't solve the problems of his interpretation of the Pennsylvania Constitution's "bear arms" provision (sec. 13) as though it was a part of the religiously scrupulous militia clause (sec. 8).

Redefining Cruel & Unusual Punishment

Professor Volokh points to a recent federal court decision that held that requiring Los Angeles County jail inmates to sleep on mattresses on the floor violates the cruel and unusual punishment prohibition of the Eighth Amendment:
Interestingly, though, the finding wasn't based on a conclusion that such a practice caused unacceptable physical discomfort, or hygiene problems. Rather, it seems that the court thought that requiring people to sleep on mattresses (presumably with adequate other bedding) rather than on bunks was just an unacceptable indignity....
Hmmm. I'm sleeping on a mattress on the floor right now, mostly because we just have never gotten around to replacing the bedframe that we scrapped when we moved up here.

To be fair, some of the comments point out that the mattresses used in many jails are closer to wrestling mats than regular mattresses, and at least one person suggests that the decision is using the mattress on the floor indignity as a proxy for something else:
I think the point is more about packing prisoners together rather than the presence or absence of bunks. Putting prisoners, often violent people made more so by being locked with a bunch of other violent people in too small a place, together, is just a recipe for violence and all kinds of abuses, physical, sexual, psychological... This is particularly true in California, and especially in LA, where prison overcrowding has become a sickening disgrace.
The problem really isn't that the mattresses are on the floor. If the real issue is overcrowding, the judge needed to say that.

I would agree that at a certain level of overcrowding, a jail (which remember includes a lot of people who have been convicted of nothing, and may never be convicted) does qualify as "cruel and unusual punishment." But at what level a jail crosses the line from "unpleasantly crowded" to "cruel and unusual punishment" isn't a bright line decision, where "mattress on the floor" is.

Everyone has a solution to jail overcrowding. The drug legalization crowd wants all the drug laws repealed, which would certainly reduce the number of drug offenders in jail...but likely with some increase in the number of people in jail for driving under the influence, murder, rape, child abuse. We might have a net decline in the jail populations, but I wouldn't bet that the reduction is going to suddenly fix jail overcrowding, nor would I bet much money that the net reduction would last more than a few months. If there are no serious consequences to meth addiction, at least some small percentage of the population that might stay away from it will start using it, become addicted, and become next year's murder suspect.

I would like to see a lot more use of house arrest for first offender, non-violent offenses. It was rather sad to be living in California and discover that my state was falling behind the compassionate and progressive states on this Georgia.

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Respect for the Profession is Declining

I mentioned a little earlier a debate going on via a professional historian email list, the Society for History of the Early American Republic. I am disappointed at how rapidly the discussion has declined to professors trying to defend their claim that Pennsylvania had no militia from the end of the French & Indian War (1763) until 1777, when Pennsylvania passed a new militia law. I pointed out that even if the Associations (voluntary military units) did not meet a formal definition of "militia" as defined by statute, they took orders from the Pennsylvania government, and were provided ammunition and some guns as though they were militia. Most significant of all is Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd series, volume 14, p. 8. Under the chapter heading "Papers Relating to the Militia" is a discussion of prisoner exchanges dated December 8, 1776. The document includes
Doctor Gill and two privates of the Royal Artillery. (British.) for Captain Garret Graff and two privates of the Pennsylvania Militia.
Those who insist that Pennsylvania had no militia between the start of the Revolutionary War the 1777 militia statute are welcome to continue to believe this--but the people of the time clearly believed that Pennsylvania had a militia, and put it in writing. And professional historians (people with Ph.D.s and academic appointments) keep insisting, contrary to the 1776 document above, that there was no militia--and they cite secondary works: a book published in 1994, and a website by the Pennsylvania government.

I am beginning to wonder if my professors taught me wrong, emphasizing the importance of primary sources--the documents of the time. It appears that Cornell's defenders are reduced to using secondary sources to back up their claims--the primary sources that I foolishly use show that their secondary sources are in error with respect to the absence of a Pennsylvania militia in 1776.

Were my professors all wrong? Should I give preference to books and articles written centuries after the events over documents produced by the people that were there? Is this is what passes for professional historians today? Should I really be trusting secondary sources over primary sources for identifying the facts of the time? Is it really worthwhile to read a book that two different reviews have identified as grossly inaccurate about something as simple as the state of antebellum case law on this subject? (And that particular issue is one that I have read the primary sources--and Cornell either has not, or has chosen to ignore.) Perhaps I'm on the wrong mailing list.

The gullibility of historians when the Bellesiles fraud happened lowered my perceptions of the profession substantially. The bizarre state of this discussion makes me wonder if the politicization of history has perhaps rendered it more like creative writing than a serious social science.

UPDATE: It appears that the 1757 statute may have not lasted more than a year or two after passage. But there's still this problem that the official documents in 1776 refer to members of the "Pennsylvania Militia."

Funny Video

Funny Video

I have always been a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic. I think it takes more cleverness to write a parody than write the song that it parodies. Some years back, I took my son to see Weird Al in concert overlooking Clear Lake in California--and it was fun evening, with a surprisingly wide range of ages present.

I don't know how I missed this Weird Al song, "Ebay" which is a parody of the Back Street Boys "I Want It That Way." Someone put together a collection of pictures and text as a video for the song, and it is righteously funny. If you are familiar with the Back Street Boys song, the parody is funny in its own right. If you aren't, you can still appreciate the social commentary on eBay and how it works.