Thursday, April 26, 2007

Inaccurate Report

Well, they say there's no accounting for taste, but I think that's just because the world in general has none. Case in point: Drew Barrymore is People Magazine's top choice on its annual "100 Most Beautiful People" list. Last year it was Angelina Jolie.

No. And No.

I'm not saying Drew Barrymore isn't cute - she is. Very. But beautiful? I'm not so sure. Certainly she isn't the number one most beautiful anything of any year, let alone 2007. The trouble is that there's nothing whatever inspiring about her. She's the kind of girl you'd like to be pals with ("with benefits," granted), but she's hardly what you'd call an ideal.

But "pals" is probably what did it for her. I don't understand it, and I probably never will, but a lot of people (in America, anyway) seem to dream of this kind of thing. They want to fall in love with their best friend. Hardly surprising that this culture's beauty ideal would be exactly that: the playful neighbor-girl.

Angelina Jolie, for her part, is a complete non-starter. I don't get what people see in her. They seem to think she's some sort of sultry vixen, but she's really just a cheap imitation of that. It's a totally safe fantasy. Go through all the motions of beauty and the public buys it, but there's nothing truly special here either.

As should have been well-established by now, the most beautiful person currently alive is Jennifer Connelly. Maybe someday before I die we'll see her name on top of one of these lists, but I'm not counting on it - not in a country that thinks Drew Barrymore deserves the honor, anyway. Disappointing.

Guess Again!

I suppose it's only fair to say something about this. The Conservatives are now apparently polling in a dead heat with the Liberals in Canada. This is a pretty dramatic fall from only two weeks ago, when they were inching close to 40% support - a number generally considered the magic threshhold for a majority government.

What happened? Well, there've been all kinds of bad things going on - possible torture scandal in Afghanistan, heavy criticism from the Opposition on Afghanistan, the leaked environmental plan (though I must admit, I never quite understood what was so objectionable about that?), and, probably most importantly, the revelation that Harper has a personal groomer on the public payroll who just might also be a psychic.

But this can't be the whole story, and here's why: bleeding Tory support isn't going to the Liberals, it's going to the NDP. (!!!) Yes, the NDP is up to 18%! Wow! And - YIKES! Kinda scary, really.

Anderson wouldn't venture a theory on how falling Tory support appears to be translating into a rising NDP tide.

"The votes that seem to be shaking lose from the Conservatives right now are not largely going to the Liberal party," was all the pollster would venture.

That's because I suspect the explanation is pretty mundane. It isn't really that the Conservatives have been doing well, lately, as that the Liberals are doing poorly. Dion's tenure as leader has been pretty lackluster, and the party has yet to recover from all the corruption scandals dating back to the Chretien years. If people are headed to the NDP, it's because the NDP is the only serious party left. They're not ready to go home to the Liberals yet.

This is, of course, hugely embarrassing for my earlier theory that Canada in general was starting to shift right. What it seems is actually going on is that Canada is punishing the Liberals, who richly deserve to be punished, but that underlyingly it's still a one-party state, and voters will go back to that once they've gotten it out of their systems. DAMN!

Well, I like to say "I told you so," so let me go ahead and say I told you so. Harper should have called an election a couple of weeks ago.

But who knows, these days? Maybe Tory support will rebound after the hairstylist issue blows over...

This doesn't affect my election watch, though. I guess Harper could deal with a divided Liberal/Bloc opposition, but he isn't going to want to hand the NDP a sweet caucus (so the government will not be engineering its own downfall anytime soon, I think). However, the NDP itself might be in the mood to topple the government with these numbers - and since Dion seems to want to do just that (though who on God's Green Earth knows WHY?), maybe there will be a confidence vote soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Odd Shirt

Searching on CafePress today for a suitable gun nut shirt, I ran across this odd item. I mean - it says the right stuff, but if I'm not mistaken, that's Jack Layton's picture on the front. Actually, I'm not mistaken - that's definitely Jack Layton.

I mean, I guess it's not surprising that Canada's Socialist Number One would be anti-gun. (And just in case anyone needed confirmation, here is a case in point.) What's surprising is that there's enough of a pro-gun market in Canada to get shirts like this off the shelf. It's an encouraging sign!

By the way - update on yesterday's post. It turns out the latest evidence suggests the gunman at VaTech shot himself - i.e. was not gunned down by police as I earlier thought. So that makes the police 100% ineffective in this case after all - which just strengthens my point. A better-armed population would've brought him down in shorter order.

As it turns out - this was actually an issue as recently as a year ago. The link goes to an article about the defeat of HR1572, which would've allowed guns on college campuses. The real outrage, of course, is that none of the nanny-staters who supported this bill are going to stop to think that they had a hand in what happened yesterday. Rather, they're going to turn around and demand more of the same - wilfully ignorant of the fact that their misguided and nonsensical (but no doubt well-intentioned) gun control policy has failed in spectacular fashion.

It reminds me of that old saying - "A lock will keep out an honest man." Well, sure. But locks aren't for honest men. A DOOR will keep out an honest man. We need locks for people doors won't stop. By the same token, a gun control law will stop a law-abiding man - but it will not stop a criminal. Citizens need guns BECAUSE people break the law.

Please - join the NRA today and help fight the forces that want to leave you defenseless.

Monday, April 16, 2007

When the Going Gets Tough

This is no doubt one of the stories of the year in the making: Gunman kills 30 at Virginia Tech shooting. It is, the article reports, now the shooting spree with the largest death toll in US history.

In addition to the high body count, one thing that stands out about this one is the fact that it occurred in two "bursts" on opposite ends of the campus. The first one was at a dorm at 7:30. Police were investigating that incident two hours later when the second one started, about half a mile away at the other end of campus. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of information just yet - but they're saying 30 or so people were killed and another 26 injured.

The immediate political implications of this, of course, are going to be the usual calls for more gun control. President Bush knows this; his official statement on the incident affirms the Constitutional right of citizens to bear arms.

Thank God for that! I'm not a big fan of President Bush, but I will give credit where it is due. This administration is really the only one in living memory that understands the Second Amendment and has consistently fought to protect it. Here it is in plain English:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

A lot of ink has been spilled trying to read into this a collective right - but any honest interpretation will conclude that no such thing is written. The right to bear arms is clearly given to "the People," which, for those Democrats and Socialists who have forgotten (or don't want to remember), is all of us. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State" is a modifier - it isn't the main clause. This gives the rationale behind securing this right to the People, perhaps, but it clearly does not restrict that right. People - individual people - have the right to bear arms - for self defense, for hunting and, most importantly, to resist the government should the need ever again arise.

I firmly believe that no free country can be without this basic right. I have independent reasons for disliking all of the Republican candidates for president in 2008 announced so far; this is the reason I will not end up voting for Giuliani. The man has a dismal record on Second Amendment issues.

I am concerned, as President Bush apparently is, and as the owner of the gunshop I visited on Friday clearly was, that a Democrat sweep in 2008 will be the beginning of the end of our Second Amendment freedoms. Incidents like this only give the fascists soundbyte fodder.

Naturally, I don't want to downplay the tragedy. 30 people dead is an awful lot, and the natural human instinct after such situations is to lose your cool and embrace any policy that promises to prevent future such issues.

Please - let's not lose our cool this time like we did after 9/11.

The best way to prevent future incidents like this is NOT to let the government take our guns away. There will always be guns floating around and always people with the opportunity to use them for things like this. Taking guns away from honest citizens does NOT prevent crime, it enables criminals. It is simple common sense that someone who will break the law to kill people will also break the law to obtain a gun. Now, granted, proponents of gun control argue - somewhat plausibly - that a general gun control regime will make guns harder to obtain and more expensive on the black market, thus also reducing the number of criminals who have them. That is certainly true - but the point is that such a regime absolutely - to 100% success - takes guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens - and it is those hands that need them the most.

Why, indeed, do you think these incidents tend to happen at schools more often than at other public places? For the simple reason, I suspect, that guns are banned on school property. A gunman wanting to pick off a boatload of people knows he's more likely to get away with it in such a place because there won't be anyone in the crowd packin' heat who can take him out. Before you lose your cool and trust the government to "protect" you from this kind of thing - consider whether it is even possible for a gunman to bring down 30 people in a heavily armed society. Pretty obviously, it is not.

If students in general on campus had guns, this sort of thing would be unthinkable. After the first shots went off, someone would have fired back. And it would have been their right to do so - because there are few, if any, rights more basic than the right to bodily self-defense when attacked. If you believe in this right (and you are hardly human if you do not), how can you honestly deny citizens the basic tools they need to exercise it? There is no other defense against a gunman than a gun. I can think of little that is more Orwellian than taking away, in the name of "protecting" them, the only possible thing that can help honest citizens defend themselves.

Notice that the police were not effective here. Notice that they arrived on the scene late, and that two hours later, while they were still investigating, the shooting started again. Nothing about anything they did stopped 30 people from being killed. Indeed - if reports are to be believed, the only thing that finally stopped the shooting was a policeman's bullet. That should not be the least bit surprising to anyone - a bullet is really the only thing that is effective against such a person. The tragedy is that one wasn't fired at him sooner.

I encourage anyone reading this - if you want to do something appropriate to prevent things like this happening in the future, do the following:

  1. Buy a handgun - it is your Constitutional right to own one. The government may not take this from you, and you do not have to apologize to anyone - not your friends, not your neighbors, not your coworkers, and sure as HELL not the police, for wanting to own the basic tools of self-defense. Indeed, you should be proud of owning one. The more of us "good guys" that own them, the safer the country is for everyone.

  2. Learn how to use it safely - ownership comes with responsibility. Fortunately for you, there is no shortage of courses available to help you learn how to shoot and store your weapon effectively and safely. Take advantage of them.

  3. Join the NRA - No other single lobby group has been more effective at securing this right for you than the NRA. Give them your support - they have helped you already more than you know.

I have let my own NRA membership lapse, and I'm really sorry I did. The membership signup form is here. I have just filled it out for a two-year membership. I suspect a showdown on this issue is coming soon, so please don't wait!!!

A Pernicious Idea

Love is friendship set on fire.

This is apparently from Jeremy Taylor - an Anglican clergyman and author of the 17th century. I first heard it on Northern Exposure, where it was incorrectly attributed to Bruce Lee, of all people; I guess it makes for better TV if it's a name the audience knows.

In any case, it seems to be a popular idea. It's all over the internet, and I can't count how many times I've had friends tell me that what they really want in life is for their best friend to become their lover. Well this, in the words of a great man, makes me want to heave.

Maybe it sounds nice, but it's tripe, plain and simple. (Romantic) Love is not friendship, nor even anything like friendship. And why would you want it to be?

Honestly, why would you want it to be? That there is friendship in the world is clear. That it is meaningful and important is equally clear. That (most) everyone has it is also clear. So what possible meaning can there be in having, as an ideal, something that is a not-too-different version of what you're guaranteed to experience eventually by just hanging around and talking to people?

It's one thing to think that what love is beneath the surface, when you get past the poetry and other mumbo-jumbo, is just friendship plus sex, and hormones trick us into thinking otherwise. That's a psychological theory - and it may even turn out to be true. But what we believe out of scientific curiosity doesn't matter much to what we want, or should want, for ourselves in our lives.

If the issue is what your ideal is, then I'm sure this isn't mine. Love is just the fire. The friendship either comes later or never at all - but it isn't the same thing.

Now, a lot of people will say that they have experienced exactly this - a friendship that smoothly transitions into a romance. I wonder if they really have. I can safely say that it has never happened to me. What might have seemed like a "friendship" was really just one or the other of us faking it to get close to the prey.

Today is my birthday - which technically makes me an Aries. Not that astrology has much to do with anything in reality - but I just so happen to be one of those people who fits the random template personality description of his starsign pretty well. According to Wikipedia:

"I am". Assertive, individualistic, selfish, impulsive, energetic, headstrong, pioneering, leader, competitive, action-oriented, aggressive, intemperate, violent, fiery, extreme, arrogant, quick, passionate, powerful, loner, freedom-loving.

Emphasis here on "assertive" and "impulsive." I express opinions about everything, regardless of how the audience will take it, and suffer from an almost total lack of self-discipline.

I suppose I can see how people who are more collected and rational, less emotional and impulsive, might dream of a slow-burning fire that starts unannounced and grows with time. Call it the difference between those who are comfort-oriented and those who are gratification-oriented.

Well, (romantic) love itself is gratification-oriented. People who think they can love their friends romantically aren't really in love. They are, when all is said and done, "just friends" and always will be.

Another show does a better job:

You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

What are They Waiting for???

Alright, it's looking like I'm going to have to admit that my earlier analysis of the likelihood of a Canadian election this spring may have been wrong. Technically, I have until May 5 - but check out this story to see what I'm talking about.

Earlier, I predicted that whether or not Harper would engineer an election would have mostly to do with how the Tories stood in Quebec. In fact, I said he would want to call an election while the Bloc was strong (to further split the opposition in Commons by bleeding away the Liberal caucus) and he could be sure of holding on to the 6 seats he currently has in Quebec. Well, ladies and gentleman, that seems to be exactly the current situation. I guess the Bloc is still in moral first place in Quebec (it's Bloc 30 - 31 Tories - but I imagine the advantage would shift to the Bloc in a real election), and now we've added the missing ingredient as well: the Conservatives lead the Liberals by about 10 points in the province (!!! - I mean, is that even POSSIBLE???).

This is very nearly ideal for Harper. Of course, a poll showing a solid Conservative majority in the works would be better - but this has been my point all along: Harper doesn't have forever. Canada is shifting right, but we're still in the early stages, and any number of things could go wrong. For all we know right now, the surge in Conservative support has more to do with Stephane Dion's ineptitude (case in point here) than any general change in attitudes among Canadians. However much people don't like Stephen Harper, everyone thinks of him as "the most prime ministerial" (such an odd question, but it's on nearly every general opinion poll I've seen) of all the potential candidates, and certainly everyone recognizes he's highly competent. The same can't necessarily be said for Stephane Dion. I guess the Liberals are stuck with him for awhile; he's a symptom of nasty infighting rather than the cause of the party's current woes, you might say. Booting him now would just mean yet another highly divisive leadership convention with all the associated new opportunities for the Conservatives to manipulate their selection (as happened last time). But he can't stay leader forever, and when they get around to replacing him, it'll be with a bang I'm sure. All bets are off what the polls will look like then.

So Harper can't wait forever, and I, for one, think he should go for it now. Provided he can keep the rank and file in line and saying only the right things at press conferences (and is there anyone more qualified to do that than Harper?), and provided he takes the environment issue head on and puts the Liberals on the defensive from the outset, I think there's a majority win lurking in those numbers somewhere. Dion is no match for Harper, so it really would be Harper's election to lose.

But for whatever reason, a lot of higher-ups in the Conservative Party don't seem to see it that way. Without the new data from Quebec, I would very much agree with them: waiting just a little bit longer for a majority to start to materialize would be the best way to go. But now I'm not so sure. If ANY bastion of Conservative support is on shaky ground, it's definitely Quebec. This is the window that will close the fastest. If Harper doesn't act soon, it's more or less inevitable that his support in Quebec will start to erode - and quickly.

Well, we'll see what happens. Obviously, today being Sunday and all, he can't call an election until tomorrow at the earliest anyway. Maybe it will come in the next week. Or maybe, I'm totally wrong about what they're thinking, and the Tories have decided to wait for an absolute majority standing before dissolving Commons. Or maybe, even, he just doesn't like the idea of doing anything that would help the Bloc. Wait and see...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

On the Imus Firing

I suppose I should probably weigh in on the Imus controversy while it's still news. I've been meaning to say something about this for a couple of days actually - because of an interesting conversation about it I had on Thursday with one of the other graduate students in the department. She's the TA for the Language and Gender topics course and, I have always assumed, a feminist of some kind. And yet she led into the conversation by saying that they were discussing the controversy in class, and that her students would be shocked that she just didn't think it was that big of a deal (rightly noting that TAs for courses called "Language and Gender" are expected to be outraged).

That's the one part of this incident I'm not quite sure I understand. It isn't just this girl. Lots of highly prominent "usual suspects" have mysteriously switched sides on this one, and I can't totally figure why. Rosie O'Donnell, for example, thinks that somehow a private corporation sacking someone for saying things that are against their professional standards and hurting ratings besides is "going down the road to Nazi Germany."

Listen, here's the thing. There's free speech in America. You can say anything that you want in this country, and to think that you could be penalized for it, by a corporation is kind of a strange-

Actually, no it isn't. It happens all the time, and why not? The right to free speech enshrined in the Constitution doesn't give you a right to a venue provided by someone else! It just says that the government can't interfere with your right to express your opinion publicly. Nothing in the Constitution says anything about corporations being required to employ people they disagree with, or whom they feel to be unsuitable for the company, etc.!

That so many people don't seem to grasp this distinction is one of the more frustrating things in politics for me. I'm reminded of the Eddie Vedder incident, where after burning George W. in effigy on stage he was shocked (shocked!) to find that some members of the audience were offended enough to boo him. So thereupon followed all kinds of quotes in the media about the audience violating his free speech rights. (!!!) As if. Listen, asshole, if free speech permits you to burn images of the president in front of a crowd on stage (which it absolutely does), then it sure as hell also affords the crowd the right to jeer back!

There are many things at issue in the Don Imus controversy, but free speech is absolutely NOT one of them. No one but NO ONE denied Imus his right to free speech. It's not as if he's going to jail over this. No - what happened is that Imus used his rights in a dumb way, and now he's paying a price for it that he surely could have guessed, had he stopped to think before speaking, would have been attached.

Now, that said, I understand where a lot of frustration over the firing is coming from, and I'm not totally immune to it myself. Namely - it exposes a huge double standard about what's "appropriate" where race matters are concerned. All manner of minorities are allowed to say exactly what Imus said without so much as a raised eyebrow from anyone. Even more disturbing, they're allowed to say downright racist things about white people without attached consequences. Just to give an example from my own life, Cornell West spoke at my undergraduate institution and said several things that I found quite racist. For example, that he finds it "amusing" when white liberals come up to him and tell him they're not racists. His response, apparently, is to say "If the white male racist oppressor isn't dead in me, then I KNOW he's not dead in you!" Which is about as racist a thing as you can possibly say, really. It's (not-so-)cleverly disguised behind some attempt to abstract "white, maleness" out as a social category, but, even leaving the issue of why the racist archetype has to be a white male (which it doesn't, and in fact shouldn't be, since there are no shortage of examples of nonwhite races oppressing each other, etc.), notice that West assumes people bearing the "white" and "male" characteristics must automatically be more racist than everyone else. And yet, all our professors were falling over themselves fawning at how many "challenging" things he said. Right. If that's "challenging," then crossing the street must be a positive nightmare for these people. I didn't have to struggle with that one for even a microsecond to know that it was bigotry and not scholarship, and that the man should have been booed off the stage and never invited back rather than applauded.

So I get it. It's frustrating to see Imus roasted insofar as we know that the public doesn't apply the same high expectations to women and minorities. And yes, something needs to be done to restore balance here. But allowing Imus to go on being a bigot on live radio isn't the way. You're either opposed to racism across the board, or you're not really opposed to it at all. No - the way to fight the double standard is to throw energy in getting the same standards on which Imus' firing is based applied to everyone. And I suspect (as do many in the blogosphere) that the real reason Rosie is taking Imus' side is because she sees the writing on the wall. If Imus loses his job over racist remarks, what will come next will be precisely a woman or minority losing their job for the same reason, just to show that standards are being applied equally. Given lots of things she's said in the past, she's an obvious candidate for scapegoat here.

But of course, the TA I mentioned doesn't have a talkshow to lose, so her reasons are quite different. What she said was simply that she didn't think it was that big of a deal. And to tell the truth, I don't either. Another dimension to this is that people are way too sensitive about race and gender issues to begin with. We could all do with some lightening up in this department. What Imus said is undeniably racist - but is it really so bad as to be worth his job? Technically yes, if sponsors started pulling contracts. The affiliate's first responsibility is to make money, and if Imus is worth a lot less today than he was yesterday, then a contract renegotiation is certainly warranted. But part of you also wishes that the public would learn to take these things a bit more in stride. You do get the impression, after living most of your life in America, than this country takes all this stuff a little bit too seriously.

Nevertheless, I think in the end it's a good thing there were consequences. However much we may say we wish people were less sensitive about racial slurs, the fact remains that it was a racial slur, and there's nothing even remotely irrational about the girls on the Rutgers team being offended by it. It was, after all, an offensive thing to say. What I mean by "take it a bit more in stride" isn't "pretend you didn't hear what you heard." To their credit, the team stopped short of calling for his head - but they did stand up for themselves, as well they should have.

Whether or not it was enough to justify a firing, though, the point for me is that if we want to fight the double standard that says whites can't say racist things on the air but everyone else can, then the way to do it is surely NOT to encourage more on-air white bigotry. The first step, in fact, to fighting the double standard is demonstrating your sincerity by joining the denounciations when a white man says something racist. Only then are you in a moral position to demand that everyone else hold themselves to the same standards.

So, good riddance Don Imus. It was your own stupid fault. Whatever we do, let's please NOT make this man a folk hero! And PRETTY please let's hear no more about Imus' right to free speech. Unlike love, free speech doesn't mean never having to say you're sorry.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's a Start

Good news. Apparently there will be an announcement shortly that all charges in the fraudulent Duke Rape Case have been dropped. It's about bloody time! I would just like to take the opportunity to second this statement from Duke law professor Paul Haagen (reported via Durham in Wonderland) to the effect that merely dropping the charges is not enough. The state needs to also publicly acknowledge that the case was fraudulent and continued far too long, if for no other reason than to reassure citizens of the fine state of North Carolina that the higher-ups will be keeping a closer eye on this kind of election-whoring abuse of power by local DAs in the future. Now here's hoping the NC Bar roasts Nifong in the ethics hearings! The sooner that man loses his license (and/or goes to prison where - let's not forget - he was hoping to send three innocent citizens as an offering to a mob in exchange for a cheap election win), the better for everyone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Fight the Power?

This seems a story worth following. Mike Adams - a criminology professor at UNC-Wilimington and regular columnist for conservative news&views site - is suing UNCW for discrimination.

Of course, I only get these stories filtered through his highly entertaining satire. Exposing the leftist bias in academia accounts for roughly 90% of his output (the other 10% being completely annoying Christian drivel - generally of the "Evolution is just a theory" anti-science stripe) - and he has no more favorite target than his home institution. In short - he's been a professional gadfly (one of the best, I might add) these past 5 years - and finally one of his columns took things a step too far. That would be this one - entitled "How to Bomb a Gay Bathhouse."

Of course, it's satire like all the rest. But the title alone is just a fraction of a toe over the line enough that the university administration will have seen their chance. He started by claiming they were libeling him, then he disappeared from Townhall for a couple of weeks - and today he comes back with this lawsuit. At the time of writing, the link in his column to the actual complaint filed is broken, so I can't be too sure about the contents - but the column indicates that it is a discrimination suit.

I'm gonna hafta come down against him on this one - much as, on the whole, I agree with his points about academia. The specific charge is apparently that he was passed over for promotion because he is a conservative christian rather than a liberal atheist, or some such. In short, that they are discriminating against him for his political beliefs. And let me just say that there is no doubt in my mind that something like that is going on, yeah. All the same - I would guess it probably has more to do with the bad light in which he's been painting UNCW in his columns all this time. I mean, in the business world it would just be common sense that if you go around maligning your own company in pubic, you'll be "overlooked" for promotion no matter how productive your actual on-the-clock work has been! Now, admittedly, UNCW is a government institution, and one of the points of tenure (which Dr. Adams already has) is supposed to be to free academics from concerns that their job will depend on which answers they get, which opinions they express, etc. And indeed, there is no shortage of leftists who abuse their tenure in exactly the same way - to denounce the very institutions that employ them. So I'm not going to try to argue that there's no double standard at work here - because there definitely is.

What concerns me is that conservatives are sinking to the leftists' level on this issue. It's the leftists, is it not, who have a penchant for running to the courts whining whenever things don't go their way? And aren't conservatives supposed to be the ones who complain, among other things, that there are too many frivolous lawsuits, that courts ought not to be legislating nor interfereing with private transactions, etc.? It's something of a dilemma, of course, because if we MUST have bad laws like the anti-discrimination laws, then they really should apply equally to everyone - i.e. not just "protected" groups. So I understand the motivation for filing the suit - you know, to even the playing field a bit. Still, I can't see that this turns out any other way than giving the courts exactly the kind of authority conservatives tend to say they shouldn't have. By filing this lawsuit, Dr. Adams is inviting the courts to meddle in private employment matters - extending, as it were, the invitation that the ACLU extended to them as long ago as the 1950s, only this time from the other side. And the more both sides of the debate resort to this tactic, the more ubiquitous it becomes.

I'm sorry, but you can't fight courts-as-fiat-legislators by encouraging them to do so, only on your behalf rather than the other guy's. So as much as I have enjoyed and agreed with many of Dr. Adams' columns in the past, I don't think I can take his side on this one. I suppose I should wish him well on his court date. After all, now that the die is cast, the erstwhile "good guys" might as well win, right?

Well, yes, but my heart's not in it. However the case comes out, it's a net negative. Even if Dr. Adams wins, all he will have succeeded in doing is inviting courts to oversee university promotion decisions - extending protections to a certain class of people based on their "political orientation" in the process. I wish he hadn't filed this suit. But I admit that watching some NC university system administrators take a beating in court is satisfying on its own merits! (One of the nice things about going to IU, in fact, is that this school is MUCH less political than almost any university in the North Carolina system. It's been a very nice break from all that!)

Chlorine is bad for you - EVERYBODY PANIC!

It turns out - and this is a real shocker - that working around chlorine causes respiratory problems. It's amazing the kinds of totally unexpected things we learn from government-funded research!

But alright - to be fair, this is a comment on the media, not the research. Establishing that extended chlorine exposure causes respiratory problems isn't very useful, but I guess that this study quantifies the effects of that exposure, which definitely does have some medical worth. Nevertheless, the media reports it simply as "exposure to chlorine causes respiratory problems," which doesn't tell anyone anything they didn't already know, and has, as an added cherry on top, the potential to make people who are not actually at risk worry unduly about the potential dangers of their swimming routine. I mean what next? Smoking causes lung cancer?

But the main thing is this cool line:

One possible way to reduce levels of trichloramines might be to improve hygiene among pool users, they add, although enforcing compliance could be difficult.

Which just goes to show - government regulations are no substitute for basic civilized behavior on the part of the general population. Gotta fix the culture before you can fix the politics (paraphrased from Ayn Rand).

[This is post 300!]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Election Watch Canada - 2007

OK - I know I've been pretty solid in my predictions that there won't be an election in Canada this spring - at least, not one called by the government. However, I'm putting Canada on election watch anyway - effective starting immediately through ... oh, let's make it May 5. Reason being - there's a new poll - exclusive to CP (supposedly) - just released that shows... Well, all the usual stuff - Tories substantially ahead of the Grits, close to majority territory but not quite, large numbers of undecideds suggest volatility, blah blah blah. However, this one contains a potentially important little detail that the others have left out: the Bloc is in first place in Quebec. Never mind the PQ's huge setback there last week - the federal version of the party seems to be doing just fine. Who knew?

IF Harper is going to set his government up to fail so that he can have an election (and potentially win a majority), then he will want to do it when the Bloc is strong. Reason being: the Tories have almost no chance in Quebec and everyone knows it. The Liberals depend on votes from Quebec and Ontario to win their perennial majority governments. Right now, the Conservatives form the government only because the Liberal caucus is so weak. If there's a new vote and the Liberals make up lost ground in Quebec, but Conservative numbers remain more or less unchanged, then Harper loses even his fragile current minority government (the Liberals would form a coalition with the dreaded NDP). If, however, there's a new election, and Harper does more or less what he did last time, but the Bloc comes back even stronger, then he'll at least recoup his losses with an opposition more manageable in its division.

Now - I'm still not predicting an election. No doubt Harper's watching the numbers like a hawk - but I think it's just not in the air yet. Not really, anyway. Granted, my personal opinion is that they can probably win their majority now if they just have enough confidence (and take the initiative on the environment issue early). But people with more on the line here than a graduate student blogger - and not even a Canadian one! - will take a more sober look at what they have to lose and advise caution.

Still - that Bloc showing must look awful tempting to Harper. AND he's leading by 6 points in Ontario - which is huge for a Conservative lead in that province. Ideally, he'd want his margin to be greater in Ontario, of course, and also to get a bone or two thrown his way from Quebec. Probably what it comes down to is whether support for the Tories in Quebec seems strong enough to allow him to keep the 6 seats he got there last time. The article linked just doesn't say. But if it does... Well, your guess is as good as mine. In any case, election watch for Canada until May 5.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Civil War, Take Two

Well, stranger things have happened, I suppose. Apparently there is a serious secessionist movement in Vermont, of all places. Of course it's doomed to failure - but as a stand, even symbolic, against an overly powerful federal government, I'm all for it. Besides, it would be interesting to see what the process is - or, rather, what legal doubletalk the feds would resort to to deny a state its right to secede. Not to mention, it will be barrels of fun watching New Englanders twist themselves into logical knots explaining why it's OK for Vermont to secede, but would have been a crime to let North Carolina leave back in 1861. Have fun with that, y'all!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Which Serenity Character Are You?

Here are my results from the which Serenity character are you quiz:

Your results:You are Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)

Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Inara Serra (Companion)
River (Stowaway)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Honest and a defender of the innocent.
You sometimes make mistakes in judgment
but you are generally good and
would protect your crew from harm.

That's more or less exactly what I would have expected. I like Jayne, but am nothing like him. I DON'T really like Simon Tam, but I have to admit to being more similar to him than a lot of characters on the show. I'm pleased to see the religious goof near the bottom. My only real complaint is that I wish Zoe had been higher and Wash a little lower. Can't have it all, I guess.

This is, by the way, the least-goofy of these demi-Cosmo quizzes I've taken online due to the large no. of questions. It was only mostly transparent.

Mate in Five?

If Stephen Harper wants an election this spring, then this would seem to be his issue. The Government's Clean Air Act has been completely rewritten in committee, and the Government is now making its first public complaints. One way to force an election, of course, would be to put the original bill back before Commons for a vote. Since all three opposition parties participated in the complete rewriting, they would all three be more or less obliged to vote it down. And since all three parties (though the NDP to a lesser extent) have been making environmental issues the cornerstone of their criticism, most people would take this as a Confidence Measure at this point. In other words, if the opposition doesn't want an election, it's just done a really stupid thing by handing Harper the nuclear "football." Now we get to see just how serious Harper has been about his pledge not to call an election for the time being.

I don't want to downplay what a risky move doing something so arrogant as returning the original version of the bill to the floor would be. It would depend on how well Harper thought he could handle the Opposition's criticisms in the election. It isn't an impossible task by any means. After all, it's also a bit arrogant to simply rewrite an entire bill - especially one that the Conservatives had to fire their Environmental Minister to get written in the first place. Harper himself is no doubt up to the job. The question I imagine he's probably weighing right now is whether the other members of his party are. He lost his first head-to-head with Paul Martin's Liberals more or less because of embarassing gaffes on the part of individual candidates owing to a lack of coordinated discipline. Fighting the Kyoto issue head-on - which pursuing this strategy would involve - would require a lot more close cooperation from his party than he's needed to this point. He'd better make sure everyone is on board - and that no one snoozes through the strategy sessions. (I haven't heard much from Peter McKay lately. I wonder whether he would take this as an opening to muscle in on Harper's position? Probably not till after they lost the hypothetical election...)

Not that anyone important (or anyone at all) reads this column - but my advice is GO FOR IT! I think it's an election the Tories could win. Canadians are capable of understanding what's wrong with the Kyoto Treaty. The problem is that no one has bothered to explain it to them. Harper can, and should, take this opportunity to do so. He's sitting on a goldmine of subtle insinuations that the Liberals have become disconnected from the people (which they have) and are therefore more interested in the country's reputation than the livelihoods of its citizens. And if he pulls this off for the Liberals, the Bloc is headed to oblivion (having just had a jumpstart on its trip there last Monday).


This is a lecture I should really probably attend. It's called "Anti-Americanisms in World Politics," and will be given by Peter J. Katzenstein through the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study - based on his recently published book of the same name.

I assume the lecture content will be more or less the same as that in this Hoover Institute article from about a year ago.

If so, the basic argument goes like this: there are many different kinds of anti-Americanism, and it's important to recognize what the differences are. The most relevant distinguishing factor is whether anti-Americanism is based on "opinion" or "bias." If it's based on "opinion," then it's more or less legitimate - and its intensity changes with the policies of the United States. If it's based on "bias," then it's more a rejection of what America is than any particular policy-of-the-moment.

If you recognized the two ends of the axis as roughly the opinions of the Democrats and the Republicans on what anti-Americanism is in general, you got it in one. Katzenstein argues, essentially, that the two parties are talking about completely different things when they talk about anti-Americanism, but that they interestingly propose as solutions things that are more properly solutions to the anti-Americanism problem of the other guy's view. So, for example, Democrats tend to see anti-Americanism as a legitimate response to American foreign policy, and yet at the same time argue that it will have long-reaching consequences for American diplomacy. Clearly, though, if the anti-Americanism of today is rooted in mere opinion, it will change when foreign policy changes, and is sort of by definition NOT something that will have long-term effects on diplomacy, etc. By the same token, Republicans tend to see all anti-Americanism as outright prejudice - i.e. the kind of thing that's likely to have to be taken into account for diplomacy - and yet they advocate simply ignoring it.

At each end of this opinion/bias axis, Katzenstein sees two subgroups. On the opinion end:

  1. Liberal - Most European anti-Americanism is meant to be this kind. Basically - it's a deep disappointment that the US doesn't live up to its own ideals.

  2. Social - Most of the rest of European anti-Americanism is this. People who support Social Democracy see the existence of the US as a giant setback to their program since the US is an effective promoter of lasseiz-faire policies in the world.

On the bias end:

  1. Sovereigntist - People who are concerned that American culture is destroying their native culture, or that US political strength renders their own nation impotent. From my own experience, I would say South Korean anti-Americanism fits neatly in this category.

  2. Radical - What the militant Islamists are. America itself is evil, for whatever reason, and must be either destroyed or radically changed.

One comment here: in principle, I agree very much with what Katzenstein is trying to do. One of the unfortunate consequences of the existence of anti-Americanism is that it allows politicians an easy out in the sense that they often feel they don't have to address foreign objections to American policies on the assumption that such objections are based on mere prejudice. In lots of cases, of course, this stance is legitimate. I can't recall, for example, ever hearing a good argument from France why it didn't like whatever we were doing that it was complaining about at the particular time. All the same, lots of legitimate foreign objections to our policies do get swept under the rug by opportunistic American politicians (usually on the conservative end) who write off any criticism of what we do as mere prejudice. So in principle, I think Katzenstein is right to make a distinction between "opinion" and "bias" in his definition. The kind of anti-Americanism we should be concerned about, he says, is

..a psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general.

He goes on to say that this will often take the form of prefering to ignore positive information about the US and preferentially remembering negative information - a kind of "information filter" (of the same kind that makes the Germans continue to believe in the face of massive evidence to the contrary that their trains run on time, for example...).

And that seems to me as good a definition as any of what we can legitimately call "anti-Americanism." Mere differences of opinion obviously shouldn't count - since anyone who can offer a rational basis for their dislike of the United States is, by definition, not prejudiced or unfair. We add to this the caveat that a mere rational argument is not enough if the facts are selectively chosen. Fine.

My bone to pick here is that I'm not as sanguine as Katzenstein about the causes of European anti-Americanism. What I saw when I lived in Germany goes, I think, a bit beyond mere policy debate. True, it's not as virulent as what exists in South Korea. It's certainly more rational (but then, probably every nationality is more rational than the Koreans...). But that's still a far cry from saying it's completely rational. From what I can tell, a lot of European anti-Americanism falls partly under the "sovereigntist" category as well. Not because Europe's sovereignty is actually threatened by the US. Quite the contrary - European culture is safely distinct from American culture. What's got a bee in Europe's bonnet is that they're no longer top dog, and they feel they ought to be. Now, it's true that if the US were to stop being "top dog" and share power with Europe a little better, this attitude would largely vanish - and so in that sense I guess it's fair for Katzenstein to lump Europe in with his "opinion" category. It's just that - well, this is a biased opinion, so I question the labels of his two categories. It's an "opinion" in the sense that it's subject to change - not a disagreement over fundamentals, I guess. But it's not what you'd call a "fair" opinion.

And this gets me in to my second complaint. I think the entire "Social" category is a bit of a softball. Again, using Europe as an example - it's certainly true that a lot of Europe's resentment of the US stems from the fact that the US is an effective promoter of lasseiz-faire (erm, such as that is in this country) - because most Europeans are Social Democrats at heart. But again, I think it's stretching it a bit to say that for this reason the "opinion" in question is rational or fair. It isn't just that the US is frustrating their efforts to blanket the world with crappy welfare states - it's the way the US goes about frustrating their efforts. Namely - by being better. By having a stronger economy, a higher standard of living, and STILL being able to maintain the world's most effective military on top of it all. It's because the US is a hard, real demonstration that Social Democracy is a second-rate system, not just because it manages to get free-trade treaties signed. The frustration that Social Democrats feel, I think, stems from the fact that most of them are willing to accept a second-rate economy in the name of what they see as "Social Justice." So this is actually a conscious, and legitimate, policy choice. And if that's all it were - a difference of opinion over systems - then presumably they could leave well alone. After all, one of the most loudly-professed values of "Social Democracy" (ironically never as loudly expressed as when decrying American policies of one kind or another) is respect for national sovereignty and the allowance that different cultures have different ways. Only one culture in the world, it seems, is not allowed to have a different way - and that is the US culture. The double standard becomes all the more apparent when you look at the fact that most Americans are quite content to let Europe keep on keepin' on, as it were. No one marches in front of the Swedish Embassy demanding they free the market or respect gun rights! Not even the NRA!!! So, in short, it can't be just about the fact that the US embraces a different system. It's more that the US's choice to embrace this system forces them to confront the weaknesses in their own systems. It is exactly the kind of kicking and stomping you find the weaker kids doing on the playground when the big kids wanna play tackle rather than touch football. The little kids know they can't compete - and so they run screaming to the local Moral Authority (the teacher) to enforce the rules of "fair play." The key point here is that this is an envy argument dressed up as a moral argument. If the terms of the debate were really about the relative "justice" of the two systems, that would be one thing - but it is not. It is really about an unwillingness to improve and compete. And let me just say again that unwillingness to improve and compete is a legitimate choice in the name of a professed higher value ("social justice," in this case). The point that I'm making is that I doubt, based on European behavior, that that's the whole story - because if it were the whole story then we would expect European opinions about America to be roughly as harmless as American opinions about Europe - and it just ain't so. Anyone who has been to Europe knows that they spend a lot more time and effort making fun of us than we do of them, and that there is more on the line for them than for us. We are, for the most part, willing to exchange a light-hearted chuckle about our respective stereotypes - even to the point of making fun of ourselves to show we mean no harm. You rarely find a European willing to just leave things at that.

The rest of the article is essentially a discussion of why anti-Americanism is so sustained. That is, for someone who predicts that the majority of anti-Americanism we're concerned about should come and go with the relative popularity of our foreign policy at any given moment, Katzenstein really does need to answer why anti-Americanism is always around, even in the places where he predicts it should not be. He does a pretty good job with this, explaining some other factors (roughly translated: historical snobbery) that are behind European attitudes, especially in France. His main point, though, is just that America - like presumably every other country in the world - has its contradictions. It manages, for example, to be both sexually open and deeply religious. Go figure. The major difference with America is that America as a whole is more open - and so these contradictions are exposed in spectacular fashion for the world to see - the long and short of it being that there is always reason for some form of anti-Americanism at any given moment, if maybe not in the same individuals over the long haul.

There are a couple of other good points made:

Anti- and pro-Americanism have as much to do with the conceptual lenses through which individuals living in very different societies view America as with America itself. In our volume, Iain Johnston and Dani Stockmann report that when residents of Beijing in 1999 were asked simply to compare on an identity-difference scale their perceptions of Americans with their views of Chinese, they placed them very far apart. But when, in the following year, Japanese, the antithesis of the Chinese, were added to the comparison, respondents reduced the perceived identity difference between Americans and Chinese.

So, in other words, it's all relative anyway. This has always been the most frustrating part of anti-Americanism for me: that people are so good at pretending they don't suffer from it when they need the Americans around. A lot of my total lack of respect for the rest of the world stems from this, actually. The only country I know that seems to be consistent in its views on the US across contexts is Japan. Other than that, it really does have a lot to do with how safe the people are feeling at a given moment. When North Korea is rattling its sabre, the South Koreans suddenly love us, for example. Once the crisis has abated, they go back to insisting that we're the sole reason Korea isn't a superpower (as if...).

And the other good point:

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about anti-Americanism is that we Americans seem to care so much about it. Americans want to know about anti-Americanism: to understand ourselves better and, perhaps above all, to be reassured

I think this is exactly right, and I'm not sure why. I don't honestly know why I care so much about the rest of the world's opinion, but I do - and I think most Americans (at least those who have spent time abroad) do too. We want to be loved. Right after 9/11, in fact, when I was still living in Korea, US citizens formed a pretty tight-knit group. I remember one of my American friends showing me an email that he said "made him feel better" about it all. It was from a Russian friend (the guy in question had been in Russia for two years in the Peace Corps) telling him that Americans were childish because they wanted everyone to like them. If it had happened in Russia - the Russians would have given two shits about world opinion, knowing they are "better." He described it as "Russian chauvinism."

In fact, for all the criticsm we get for being nationalistic, Americans are curiously lacking in this kind of chauvinism. We are, when all is said and done, the absolute least arrogant power the world has ever known.

Which brings me to my final point. I don't like Katzenstein's analysis of the way the two political parties in this country react to anti-Americanism. Between the two - the Republicans are right, and this is the reason. Anti-Americanism IS something that we should learn to pay less attention to. As I said earlier - we shouldn't use it as an excuse to ignore legitimate criticisms, as many Republican politicians are all-too-willing to do. But neither should we worry about world opinion nearly as much as we do. The Republicans are right, I think, that worrying about world opinion only invites more irrationality from the rest of the world. We should negotiate with people when and if they are rational with us - but there is no point trying to sit down at table and convince France, or Iran, or China to like us better. Insofar as their reasons for not liking us aren't rational, then the best policy available is to recognize that and act accordingly - which is to say, do what needs to be done without cedeing undue amounts of our moral and political authority to people who don't know what to do with it.

So I guess the short version of this is that while I agree with what I understand of Katzenstein's analysis as such, I don't really buy his conclusions.

Anyway - I unfortunately won't be able to make his talk today. Probably I should read his book.

IF Pong. No, really.

Ah Zork! One of the happiest moments in the last few years when I discovered those old games were available for download!

Well, nostalgia just got a whole notch better. Check out the IF version of Pong!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fool's!

Mr. Tweedy links what is probably this year's coolest April Fool prank. Gmail claims to be starting a paper mail service.



Enter Jack Layton

OK, so the buzzards are really circling after the Bloc's Big Setback in Monday's election. Now even the NDP says they can muscle in on a piece of the action!

Layton told about 100 NDP supporters on Saturday that the rise of the ADQ was spurred by a rejection of the province's two "old" parties.

Erm - well, yes, Mr. Layton, but they rejected them for the ADQ - which, in case you haven't noticed (and apparently you haven't), is approximately nothing like the NDP.

To be fair, though, I guess there's nothing that really tells us how many ADQ votes were simple protest votes. Some of those that were simple protest votes may indeed have been from hard-core left-wingers tired of voting PQ. But I guess the more likely hope for Jack Layton and the NDP is that the votes for the Liberals and the PQ were actually inflated this time around by left-wing voters who would have jumped ship to the NDP had it been around. In other words, Layton is hoping that the disillusionment with the Liberals and the PQ/Bloc is actually higher than measured and extends left as well as right.

He may be right about that. But I would find that position more convincing if there were evidence that voter turnout were lower than usual - and it wasn't.

Each of the three major parties won nearly one-third of the popular vote, easily the closest three-way split in Quebec electoral history. Voter turnout among those eligible was 71.28%, a marginal difference from the previous general election in 2003.

So all of those jumping ship did so for an explicitly right-of-center party. There's no evidence that leftists staying home in protest contributed in any way to the poor showings of the two "old" parties. In conclusion, I don't think there's much cause for Layton's optimism, and he will be wasting party resources trying to build up a base in Quebec.

But hey, let him waste! I don't think advertising probably plays much of a role in recruiting NDP voters anyway. You pretty much have to already be a believer in this particular religion to vote for that crap! No one is under the impression that the NDP is "harmless," or that they "don't really mean it." Besides, if I'm wrong and Layton's right and there are votes for the NDP to be had in Quebec, they're certainly not going to hurt the ADQ's base! Naw - at best he'll just end up siphoning even more votes from the Liberals and the Bloc - not to mention exposing the fact that one or both parties turns out to be even weaker than they already seem. That can only be a good thing for Stephen Harper.

A Lesson in Affirmative Action from the East

Not that this story(German only) is particularly interesting in itself, but it seems that some cities in West Germany are starting to get tired of making yearly "solidarity" payments for development in the East. This is, of course, one of the many schemes set up after the fall of the DDR to help rebuild it: there's a fund of money to keep local governments in the East afloat.

I guess this was useful for a time. After all, it would hardly have been good for the economy to have mass emigration to the West as soon as the border (officially) came down. Since keeping up with the expensive new economy would indeed be daunting for the East at first, I'm not going to pick too many bones with this kind of policy, even though in principle I'm not sure it's the right way to go about things. But whatever your position on this kind of thing, these policies aren't meant to go on in perpetuity. This point, for example, is as legitimate as it is inevitable:

Kraft sagte: "16 Jahre nach der Einheit müssen wir endlich davon wegkommen, Unterstützung nach der Himmelsrichtung statt nach der Bedürftigkeit zu verteilen." Es gehe nicht an, dass das schuldenfreie Dresden jährlich 300 Millionen Euro Fördermittel erhalte, während Städte im Ruhrgebiet nicht mehr wüssten, wie sie ihre Kindergärten bezahlen sollten. Trotzdem müssten sie weitere Schulden machen, um Geld in Boom-Regionen im Osten zu überweisen.

Roughly translated:

Kraft says: "16 years after Unification we have to get away from providing support based on which side of the compass you're on rather than based on need." It's not just a matter of debt-free Dresden getting 300million Euro in support payments while cities in the Ruhr don't know how they're going to pay for their kindergartens. It's more that they have to incur debts to send money to boom-regions in the East.

Right. It's the inevitable result of any such program, really. We have the same kind of absurdity with Affirmative Action in the United States. So-called "minority achievement" scholarships go, more often than not, to kids who are just as capable as their white counterparts of taking out loans and making it on their own. The black kids who arguably really do suffer from past oppression don't qualify academically, and plenty of whites who are nobody's idea of beneficiaries of so-called "white privilege," of course, simply don't have the opportunity, qualified or not.

But here's what really woke me up about all this.

Er erklärte: "In 17 Jahren können die Folgen von 40 Jahren Diktatur nicht gänzlich beseitigt werden...

Translation: "He explained: you can't completely erase the consequences of 40 years of dictatorship in 17 years...."

Was it really 17 YEARS AGO? To me, that just kills it. In other words - rebuilding the East has been going on roughly half as long as the DDR even existed (massive protests ruined its 40th birthday party, in fact)! That just makes it seem all the more absurd to me. Surely after 17 years this has been going on long enough? Surely after 17 years you reach a point where it is indeed time to say "look, if the East isn't where it oughta be by now, that can only be for lack of effort on their part. We quit!"

Let them sink or swim. It isn't, after all, as though West Germany got where it is today by constantly complaining about Hitler and the war...