Saturday, December 31, 2005

Front Page Magazine's Top Stories of '05, David Horowitz's commentary web site, has published two Top Ten lists: the Most Overreported Stories and the Most Underreported Stories of the year. Here are the two lists.

Top Ten Overreported Stories of 2005

10. The Passion of Mary Mapes
9. Tom DeLay's Indictment
8. Jimmy Carter’s Opinion (On Anything)
7. John Roberts’ Federalist Society Membership
6. Jane Fonda’s “Apology”
5. Koran Desecration and “Torture”
4. Wiretapping Terrorists
3. Two Words: Cindy Sheehan
2. Bush’s “Negligence” during Hurricane Katrina
1. The Libby Indictment

Top Ten Underreported Stories of 2005

10. The Economy
9. Bush Gets it on the Border (Sort Of)
8. Academic Freedom on the March
7. Hurricanes Don’t Discriminate by Race
6. Prominent Leftists’ Utter Hypocrisy
5. Able Danger
4. Muslim Rape Spree
3. The Left Throws in the Towel in Iraq
2. The CIA’s War on Bush
1. Shhh…We’re Winning in Iraq

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Looking back -- fine commentary

A terrific commentary about how Europeans view Americans, written over a year ago. Something triggered my memory of this lately and I thought I'd dig it up to show you. A sample:
The Secret Weapon of George W. Bush is the nature of a guy who can laugh at himself and knows that his wife is really the better part of himself. The Secret Weapon of George W. Bush is a guy who knows himself well enough to know what's right and wrong without having to take a poll. The Secret Weapon of George W. Bush is the common sense to know that Terrorism is something to be ended, not tolerated as a nuisance.

In last Friday's debate, at the end of the debate the audience of 'undecided' voters , voted clearly their intent by walking to George W. Bush and his lovely wife Laura and waited to have their picture taken. The President and his wife were mobbed, while the other candidate was largely by himself.

The audience of the people of Missouri, simply felt they could walk up to have their hats and t-shirts signed and their hands shook by a guy named George.

Who just happened to be – The President of the United States.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The President has the power, folks

From, this piece by Michael Barone of U. S. News & World Report. In it he supports the President's power and authority to use warrantless wiretaps. Put aside the politics and observe:
...federal courts have ruled that the Fourth Amendment's bar of "unreasonable" searches and seizures limits the president's power to intercept communications without obtaining a warrant. But that doesn't apply to foreign intercepts, as the Supreme Court made clear in a 1972 case, writing, "The instant case requires no judgment on the scope of the president's surveillance power with respect to the activities of foreign powers, within or without this country." The federal courts of appeals for the 5th, 3rd, 9th and 4th Circuits, in cases decided in 1970, 1974, 1977 and 1980, took the same view. In 2002, the special federal court superintending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wrote, "The Truong court, as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the president did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. ... We take for granted that the president does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the president's constitutional power."

Update – From Justice Byron White's concurrence in the decision of Katz v. United States:
"Wiretapping to protect the security of the Nation has been authorized by successive Presidents. The present Administration would apparently save national security cases from restrictions against wiretapping. We should not require the warrant procedure and the magistrate's judgment if the President of the United States or his chief legal officer, the Attorney General, has considered the requirements of national security and authorized electronic surveillance as reasonable."

Thanks to William Hindman for this find.

Our future is in Iraq

Robert Kaplan occasionally gets published in the LA Times. When he does it's definitely worth your time reading. His latest, a Christmas Eve column, maintains that our future political leaders are right now military officers in Iraq:
If you want to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions. ...

They are not imperialists, if by that we mean that they would support unilaterally invading a country again with a large number of troops. But they are absolutely committed to U.S. success in Iraq, no matter the cost to themselves. And as they trickle out of the service in coming years and rise to prominence in civilian life, the ability of the home front in these difficult days not to pity them, but to sustain them in their mission, could have enormous consequences for the future of American politics.

Well-written and illuminating. Give it a read.

The Best Media Quotes of the Year

Brent Bozell's Media Research Center has a rip-snorting collection of the year's most egregious examples of media bias (I'll let you guess in which direction the bias goes). Here's a choice one. It's the winner of the "Politics of Meaninglessness Award for the Silliest Analysis":
"It’s been 11 days since two African-American teenagers were killed, electrocuted during a police chase, which prompted all of this."

— Anchor Carol Lin after a Nov. 6 CNN Sunday Night story about riots in France. The two teenagers were not Americans, but French citizens of Tunisian heritage.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I love stories like this XXXIII

Reading a Christmas story featuring Santa Claus should be a pretty low-impact assignment for a substitute 1st grade teacher, right? Not in Lickdale, Pennsylvania, it isn't, where Theresa Farrisi made the decision to tell the brutal truth:
Farrisi doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and she doesn’t think anyone else should, either. She made her feelings clear to the classroom full of 6- and 7-year-olds, some of whom went home crying.

“The teacher stopped reading and told us no one comes down the chimney,” Jamey said, curling into a ball on the couch, bracing her chin on her knees, her voice shrinking away like melting ice cream. “She said our parents buy the presents, not Santa.”

Of course, there's more. You can always rely on the school administrators to come up with some choice bureaucratese in situations like this:
Northern Lebanon School District Superintendent Don L. Bell...said he was aware that several parents have expressed concerns about the incident. He also noted that the handling of Santa Claus isn’t covered in the school code. “We do not have a Santa Claus policy,” he said.

Merry Christmas from your self-righteous teacher, you misguided and misinformed kids!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Recent commentary: The NYT wiretapping story

Should the New York Times have revealed the president's wiretap methods?

(published 26-Dec-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Sure is a convenient plug for New York Times reporter James Risen’s book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” They sat on it for 14 months and now, just before the book release, the story comes out. Curiosly the Times did NOT run it before last year’s Presidential election. Kind of puts a different spin on liberal bias in the media. But should they have revealed it? I'm more interested in the larger question “Should our government be doing this sort of thing?” Or, “Will whoever’s the President during the next spectacular terrorist attack on American soil be lynched or not?” While you ponder that one, remember what Dostoevsky said: “Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A libertarian Christmas

These two items come from the latest Advocates for Self-Government newsletter, The Liberator Online. The Advocates are the folks with the famous World's Smallest Political Quiz.

Will the Feds Bust Santa Claus?
by George Getz

When Santa Claus comes to town this week, he'd better watch out -- because the federal government may be making a list of his crimes (and checking it twice), the Libertarian Party warned today.

"Hark the federal agents sing, Santa is guilty of nearly everything," said Libertarian Party press secretary George Getz. "The feds know when Santa's been bad or good -- and he's been bad, for goodness sakes."

Does Santa belong in the slammer? Instead of stuffing stockings, should he be making license plates?

Yes, said Getz, if he's held to the same standards as a typical American. For example:

* Every December 25, the illegal immigrant known as Santa Claus crosses the border into the United States without a passport. He carries concealed contraband, which he sneaks into the country in order to avoid inspection by the U.S. Customs Service. And just what's in all those brightly colored packages tied up with ribbons, anyway? The Drug Czar and Homeland Security want to know.

* Look at how this international fugitive gets around: Santa flies in a custom-built sleigh that hasn't been approved by the FAA. He never files a flight plan. He has no pilot's license. In the dark of night, he rides the skies with just a tiny bioluminescent red light to guide him -- a clear violation of traffic safety regulations.

* Pulling Santa's sleigh: Eight tiny reindeer, a federally protected species being put to hard labor. None of these reindeer have their required shots, and Santa's never bothered to get these genetically- engineered animals registered and licensed. It's no wonder: He keeps them penned outside his workplace in a clear violation of zoning laws.

* But Crooked Claus the Conniving Capitalist harms more than just animals -- he's hurting hard-working American laborers, too. Isn't Santa's Workshop really Santa's Sweatshop, where his non-union employees don't make minimum wage and get no holiday pay? Add the fact that OSHA has never inspected the place, and you have a Third-World elf-exploitation operation that only Kathy Lee Gifford could love.

* No wonder Santa is able to maintain his monopoly over the toy distribution industry: He's cornered the Christmas gift market. Santa dares to give away his products for free in a sinister attempt to crush all competition -- just like Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Antitrust Lawsuit Memo to the feds: Is Santa Claus the Bill Gates of Christmas?

The bottom line, said Getz: "It might be tough sledding for Jolly St. Nick this Christmas if the government decides to prosecute him.

"We're just surprised it hasn't already happened. After all, Santa Claus is everything that politicians aren't: He's popular, reliable, and gives us something for nothing every December 25th -- instead of taking our money every April 15th."


A Liberty Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the land
Libertarians dreamed of the ideals of
Rothbard, Hayek and Rand.

Enchanted by this glorious vision of liberty,
Many yearned for better ways to help their neighbors see
The great benefits that would come if they'd only embrace
A philosophy of freedom for all, whatever country or race.

At our home the stockings and decorations were up,
We'd left Santa some cookies and some milk in a cup.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of Liberty danced in their heads.

I in my Advocates T-shirt, and Mom in her Self-Governor's Cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When outside the window there arose such a clatter
That I leapt from my bed to see what was the matter!

There through the window I saw an amazing sight
That any other time of year would have given me a fright!
A sleigh pulled by reindeer flashing through the sky so quick,
And led by no less than -- Jolly Old St. Nick!

As he roared through the air, heading straight for my abode,
I saw the sled was groaning with a tremendous load
Of packages, treasures, treats and toys --
Gifts for all good men, women, girls and boys!

More rapid than a jet, right toward me they came!
And I heard Old St. Nick call each reindeer by name:
"Now Tolerance! Now Free Enterprise! Now Liberty!
Onward Peace, and Free Speech, and Prosperity!"

He kept calling their names in that manner, and 'twas thus
I realized with a start --"Hey, Santa's one of Us!"

I had always admired this very special man,
Who flew 'round the world without posting an FAA flight plan,
Who crossed national borders with impunity each year,
And never registered his team with the U.S. Department of Reindeer.
Who laughed at licenses and permits and just made his own route,
And ran a safe, clean, happy workshop far from OSHA's obnoxious snout.
Who lived independent and government-free at the icy North Pole,
Far away from taxes, regulations and the dole.

So I tiptoed downstairs to peep into the den,
And try and steal a sight of that jolly old gentleman
Who had brought such joy to millions in so many lands.
Oh, to see him in action, alive, first-hand!

I heard the sleigh touch lightly down upon the roof,
Strange noises from my chimney came... then -- POOF!
There was Santa standing boldly beside our Christmas tree,
Bigger than life in red and white -- an awesome sight to see!

He took a bite of our cookies and said, "Hmmmm -- not bad!"
Then wrote a quick note of thanks to our youngest lad.
Then he reached down into the bulging bag at his side,
And talked aloud as he brought out what was stuffed inside:

"Here's a new computer for Johnny, and it's all set
To take him to the Advocates' Web page on the Internet!
While there he can also subscribe, for free,
To the Liberator Online, the Advocates' email bi-weekly!

"Sally wants to reach libertarians in her home town,
So I've brought her the best outreach tool around!
Operation Politically Homeless (OPH) will do the trick --
She'll find hundreds of new libertarians!" chuckled jolly old St. Nick.

Then he pulled out a vast supply of pocket-sized cards
And I could guess what they were, without trying too hard.
"Here's a few thousand World's Smallest Political Quizzes, too!
That should last them for at least a month or two!

"This family wants to communicate the ideas of freedom clearly,
So here are two fine tape sets which they will treasure dearly:
The Communication Power Pack and The Essence of Political Persuasion
Will make them Master Communicators, no matter what the occasion!"

From his bag he brought forth still more great surprises --
Libertarian T-shirts in all different sizes,
All festooned with neat slogans. Then there were books galore --
By Browne, Bergland, Cloud, Ruwart and so many more!

By now our living room seemed filled to overflowing,
But still Santa kept on going and going.
He scattered audio tapes by the dozen in every empty spot.
"There are so many great Advocates tapes -- they'll like all these a lot!

He was bringing out still more goodies, but I could stand it no more
So I stepped out from hiding and stood by the door.
He smiled at me and winked, and I knew instantly
He'd known I had been there throughout his gift-giving spree.

"I just wanted to thank you --" I began to say.
But he held up his hand and smiled in his jolly way.
"There's no need for thanks! It's a great pleasure to me
To give gifts to people who care so much about liberty!

"The Advocates has made it easy for me and my elves --
In fact, we hardly have any work to do ourselves!
For people who want to see our world freed,
The Advocates has just the products, tools, and services we need.

"If you want to thank me, the best thing you can do
Is to support the Advocates -- and put these great tools to work for you.
Oh, there's one thing more I want to leave. Here --
Keep this Libertarian Communicator magazine handy, so you can order
throughout the year!"

I wanted to say more, but he put his finger to his nose,
Then -- POOF! Straight up through my chimney he rose!
I went to my window, and saw the sleigh rise into the sky,
And as they faded away, I heard Santa cry:

"On, Free Speech! On, Tolerance! On, Liberty!
Our world is yearning to be set free!
One day soon all will see freedom's bright shining light --
Merry Christmas to all! And to all, a Good Night!"


If you'd like to see this in formatted form -- including links to the products Santa mentions -- click here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I love stories like this XXXII

Hello! Mom and Dad! I'm calling from the police station. Now don't get all upset! I just took some of those cool fake $20 bills you made last night to school today. I must've used one by accident to pay for're not mad, are you? So, are you gonna come get me? And can Billy come over and play?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I love stories like this XXXI

You can't make this stuff up! 15-year-old boy shoots his father and then burns the house down because he was afraid dad would be upset with his grades.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

ADD then and now

Jerry Pournelle had this to say about the use of drugs to, well, drug unruly boys: call attention to the fact that we are using drugs when that may not be the right way to go. It may be the ONLY way with some children, but boys must learn self-discipline, and they do not learn it by being kept "calm" with drugs. This seems self-evident to me. And of course there are incentives for the drug companies to push profitable drugs, and for teachers already faced with discipline problems to turn to recommending drugs as a way out of the hard work that teaching self-control to unruly boys, and particularly to bright unruly boys always is. If drugs had been available when I was a teen I do not believe the Christian Brothers who were responsible for my high school education would have turned to them; but I know that the principal of Capleville Consolidated where I went to grade and middle school after we left Memphis and St. Anne's, would have greeted a way to drug me to calmness with shrieks of joy. Fortunately that alternative wasn't available to her, and a willow switch and then a wooden paddle were the instruments she had the legal authority to apply. Those worked: I learned to control myself in order to avoid pain. It is an ancient learning mechanism designed by Nature (Intelligent or not) and perfected over tens of thousands of years. Of course we all know better now.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I love stories like this XXVIII revisited

Another hidden camera in a boys' john? Yep! This time it was found at Wichita East High School:
An East High freshman faces expulsion for something the district says never should have happened. Monday Charles Rogers discovered a camera in the foyer of the boy’s bathroom. "The camera there period surprised me. It was a little spy camera, I didn't think anything like that was in the bathroom. I didn't think it was the schools, I thought it was a perverted janitor," Charles said.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I love stories like this XXX

You've heard the expression, "Anything goes?" Here are some of the lyrics to the Cole Porter song from the musical of the same name:
In olden days a glimpse of stockings
Was looked on as something shocking.
Now heaven knows
Anything goes.

There aren't any lyrics, as such, to the modern version of "anything goes." And a glimpse of stockings? Well, read this if you dare.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An Aussie gets it right

A clear view of the Iraq war and the political stakes in the U.S. as seen by a professor in Sydney:
You would think the moral of the story would be clearer, i.e. don’t cut and run again. In other words -- having gone into Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 – don’t leave as soon as the American interest, narrowly defined, has been satisfied. The Taliban is out and there are no al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Saddam is down and there are no WMDs in Iraq. By some measures, this is all that matters to the American interest. If, however, we are to learn from our recent history in the region, it is imperative that we stay in Afghanistan and Iraq and see them through to democratization, the rule of law, responsible governance, and popular empowerment. Even when our direct, short-term interests are no longer at stake, it’s clear that our long term interests matter too.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Does this seem like 'news' to you?

The Drudge Report headline reads Report: California Unprepared for Tsunami... Does anyone else go, "Well, duh!" at this amazing revelation?
Tsunami waves generated by a large offshore earthquake would threaten at least 1 million coastal residents in California and inundate the nation's largest port complex, according to a new report. The bleak study being released Monday found gaps in the state's readiness to handle a tsunami, including flaws in the existing warning system, lack of evacuation plans by coastal communities, and building codes that don't take into account tsunami-strength surges. In addition, many residents are unaware of the potential danger of tsunami waves and wouldn't know how to respond, the report said.

The next story we'll see will be about the state of unpreparedness of those hapless southern Californians regarding mudslides, forest fires, droughts, heavy rain, and space alien invasions. Of course there'll be the obligatory TV mini-series about a tsunami that wipes out Catalina Island and Redondo Beach.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How about Lieberman-Feingold in '08?

A couple of Senate mavericks: Wisconsin's Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the original Patriot Act. Connecticut's Lieberman has just thrown the Democrat party leaders for a loop with his support of the Iraq war:
In the last few days, the senator has riled Democratic activists and politicians here and in his home state with his vigorous defense of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war at a time some Democrats are pressuring the administration to begin a withdrawal.

Mr. Lieberman particularly infuriated his colleagues when he pointed out at a conference here that President Bush would be commander in chief for three more years and said that "it's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that."

A couple of mavericks in the White House? It could happen!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I love stories like this XXIX

As David George said in his excellent The top 10 reasons public schooling is better than home-schooling: "3) How can children learn to defend themselves unless they have to fight off bullies on a daily basis?" Hurricane Katrina evacuees have been attending high school in Houston for a while now, and things are coming to a boil:
A brawl that began in the Westbury High School cafeteria Wednesday and spilled outdoors capped weeks of growing tension between Houston students and Hurricane Katrina evacuees and resulted in the arrest of 27 students.

The fight Wednesday was sparked, students said, when a girl made a gang sign in or near the cafeteria and a boy loudly cursed New Orleans. It quickly spread to other areas of campus and then outdoors.

Graffiti scrawled on the door of a girls restroom seems to mark the built-up tensions. On the door's center, "New Orleans Takin' Over," is crossed out. Nearby, "H-town forever!" is scrawled. The phrase "Go home" is answered with a crude "no." Profanities litter the door.

Including the New Orleans students, Westbury High School has nearly 2500 kids. My town of little ol' Neenah has a high school with over 2400 kids. That's about 10% of the population in one building three city blocks long.

It got me to thinking about the nature of bureaucracy. A couple of very nice caricatures of bureaucracies and bureaucrats are presented in the movies "Brazil" and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

School bureaucracies are different than your typical garden-variety bureaucracy because schools truss up ... er ... cage ... um ... process ... ah ... nurture, that's it! Schools nurture our children. But there's still that fiddlin' bureaucracy that is founded on the principles of well-defined turf, finely-defined division of labor, and forms, forms, forms.

Those darned fist-fights in the cafeteria just don't fit the bureaucratic profile and make the bureaucrats look bad. They try their best:
"I feel certain that the administration is going to look into this," [Houston Independent School District Board President Dianne Johnson] said. "We're certainly going to take whatever steps it takes to make sure that students are safe when they attend school."

I think that Neenah High School should be busted up into, say, 10 or 20 mini-schools in that humongous building: specialty schools, tech-ed schools, liberal arts schools, etc. Of course, they'll still be publicly-funded compulsory-attendance zoos, but they'll at least be smaller zoos.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

More on illegal immigration: a wall and bounties

Jerry Pournelle's site has an exchange between a letter writer and Jerry himself; suggestions that neither of them think will be tried. First a wall:
Put up a wall / fence / SOMETHING at our southern border. Patrol it, and give the patrols some teeth.

Then offer a bounty:
If we were to offer $2,500 to $5,000 a head for illegal immigrants delivered to the Border Patrol by bounty hunters, no questions asked – we don't mind if they turn in each other – with a very stiff hard labor sentence in a chain gang for repeat offenders, it would cost at most a couple of billion dollars a year, and the more it cost the more successful it would be.

There's more at the site. Are these things worth trying?

Friday, December 02, 2005

I love stories like this XXVIII

Was this vandalism or was it a proper reaction by a child whose privacy was being invaded?
A Jasper County mother says her 8th grade son found a video camera taping in the school bathroom this week. But now, he is the one in trouble. Cindy Champion says her son, Mac Bedor, and a few of his friends took the camera out of the ceiling because they felt it violated their privacy.

[H]igh school principal, Howard Fore, put the camera catch students vandalizing.

County District Attorney, Howard Simms...says cameras in public school bathrooms are legal because schools have more leeway on privacy issues.

I suppose locker rooms are next...

Recent commentary: How about those illegal immigrants?

How should the nation handle illegal immigration?

(published 5-Dec-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Ask the people that hire Central Americans to do yard work. You can't hire an American for even twice as much money who will do even half as much work even half as well. So, an illegal is worth 8 times as much as an American, at least when it comes to yard work. But what to do about them? It was different when Ellis Island was the main entry point. Now they come by boat from Cuba and Haiti, over the Rio Grande from Mexico, and over Niagra Falls from Canada. No, wait! There aren't any illegal immigrants from Canada! Maybe if we shipped all of the illegals to Canada they'd stay there since, clearly, Canada is a very nice place. OK, here’s what to do. All funding for bi-lingual education should be cut off, English declared the official language, and all government business should be conducted in English.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For those of you really worried

Anthro-centric global warming: is it the major cause of the gradual rise in temperatures we've been experiencing or isn't it? I think not. The major cause of the rise is the sun.

People in general don't know about the temperature variations the earth has experienced in the past. For example, did you know that the Vikings established dairy farms in Greenland a thousand years ago or so? We can still see them ... under the ice.

Did you know that the Thames River in London and the Zuyder Zee in Holland used to freeze over in the period known as the "Little Ice Age" during the 17th-19th centuries. The Hudson River in New York used to freeze solid in the 18th century. Good thing, too, or Washington would have had a hell of a time getting his cannons across the river during the Revolutionary War.

If you think that anthro-centric global warming has increased the number and ferocity of hurricanes (as Robert Kennedy, Jr., does) I think you can put your mind at rest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a report denying that possibility:
NOAA research shows that the tropical multi-decadal signal is causing the increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, and is not related to greenhouse warming.

So cease your ceaseless hand-wringing!

The military propaganda in Iraqi newspapers

I want us to win, unequivocally. Sure, I have second thoughts about why we marched in there in the first place, but make no mistake, I want us to win.

We have been "revealed" to the penetrating gaze of the rest of the world to be as venal, mean, unfair, and crass as any other invading power in history. Nazi Germany had nothing on us in terms of brutality, We're right up there with Stalinist Russia in terms of the murder machine. We're Machiavellian, heartless, morally degraded, rapacious, and cruel.

Tough. I don't care two figs for our "image" over there. I care that we win. If the propaganda doesn't have the desired effect, well then I say we try something else to help us win.

So our slip is showing, so what? So a few more anti-Americans get elected to national office as a result, so what? Are we there to win or not?

I don't even care if our soldiers inject steroids to improve their war-like demeanor. Whaddaya think o' that?

What do I mean by "win?" I mean "utterly destroy the enemy and so demoralize our potential enemies that they're not tempted to poke the snake to see what happens." Don't tread on me!

The finer nuances of how the military should conduct its focus groups or maintain its media image or prosecute its civilian outreach programs are lost on me. Are they winning? is what I care about.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Just surfing I

Have you heard of Some very ... really ... um ... creative ... er ... photos of women in extremely strange clothes.

Pournelle on Vietnam and Iraq

Some good stuff on Jerry Pournelle's site: a compare-and-contrast essay on Vietnam and Iraq. From the essay:
Viet Nam fell, not because we turned over operations to the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN), but because the Democratic Congress in 1975 smelled blood in the water and turn on Nixon and all his works; by denying ARVN support in the face of a Russian supplied armored army as large as the one lost in 1972, the Democrats assured North Viet Nam of victory, and we got the shameful scenes of the helicopters leaving Saigon. Democrats can all be proud of that: it was their war from Kennedy through Johnson, and their loss in 1975 when they voted the ARVN 20 cartridges and 2 grenades per man with no US air support -- to face a Russian supplied armored army. Had the US responded in 1975 as they did in 1972, Saigon would still be Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh City. And the Boat People would not have begun their tragic voyages. So it goes.

And now for something completely different I

Could someone explain this to me? It's a group of pictures taken on Oct. 13th of this year at Boise State University. The event was called "The Bra Project." What does this mean, eh, Precious?

I pray that the President gives this speech

James Q. Wilson, professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, has written a speech that President Bush should deliver. It appeared in the weekend's Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
We have created a balance of power in the Middle East in which no regime can easily threaten any other. In doing this, we and our allies have followed a long tradition: We worked to prevent Imperial Germany from dominating Europe in 1914, Hitler from doing the same in 1940, and the Soviet Union from doing this in 1945. Now we are doing it in the Middle East.

And we are winning. Soon Iraqi forces will be able to maintain order in the few hot spots that still exist in Iraq. We will stay the course until they are ready. We made no mistake ending Saddam's rule. We have brought not only freedom to Iraq, but progress to most of the Middle East. America should be proud of what it has accomplished. America will not cut and run until the Iraqis can manage their own security, and that will happen soon.

Now this is more like it!

For those of you wondering whether any Democrat Congresscritter has a lick of sense about Iraq, I give you Senator Joseph Liebermann of Connecticut. His piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal says it exactly right. An excerpt:
Nationwide, American military leaders estimate that about one-third of the approximately 100,000 members of the Iraqi military are able to "lead the fight" themselves with logistical support from the U.S., and that that number should double by next year. If that happens, American military forces could begin a drawdown in numbers proportional to the increasing self-sufficiency of the Iraqi forces in 2006. If all goes well, I believe we can have a much smaller American military presence there by the end of 2006 or in 2007, but it is also likely that our presence will need to be significant in Iraq or nearby for years to come.

The economic reconstruction of Iraq has gone slower than it should have, and too much money has been wasted or stolen. Ambassador Khalilzad is now implementing reform that has worked in Afghanistan--Provincial Reconstruction Teams, composed of American economic and political experts, working in partnership in each of Iraq's 18 provinces with its elected leadership, civil service and the private sector. That is the "build" part of the "clear, hold and build" strategy, and so is the work American and international teams are doing to professionalize national and provincial governmental agencies in Iraq.

These are new ideas that are working and changing the reality on the ground, which is undoubtedly why the Iraqi people are optimistic about their future--and why the American people should be, too.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Gad! Ted Turner on a roll

I guess if a guy promises to give a billion simoleons to the United Nations we oughta listen to him at least a little. But it's so painful to listen to him! Today he gave the 141st Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. Here is some of what he had to say:
Turner said the situation in Iraq is serious but not hopeless. He raised concerns about global overpopulation, poverty and hunger.

He also called for nuclear disarmament.

He said the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on a "hair trigger." He said if he were in charge – making it clear he wasn't and never would be – "we'd be rid of them."

Just like that, eh? I wonder what the Russians will have to say about it? Say! Maybe a well-timed contribution to Vladimir Putin's re-election fund would grease the wheels of disarmament!
He warned that a nuclear war could "kill everything on the planet" and said it could take place in an afternoon.

Well! That was – how shall I put it? – incisive? Pithy? Cogent? Nah! Sophomoric, mundane, and puerile.
Turner said he was afraid someone in power could make the mistake to launch a nuclear war, including President Bush, based on his previous decisions.

"You have to question ... the president on a lot of decisions he's made," Turner said. "He might just think launching those weapons would be a good thing to do. ... He thought Iraq was."

He also has a firm grip on logic: if Bush thought going to war in Iraq was a good idea, he could launch a nuclear strike because that's a good idea. Oh, my word!
Turner said war is an outdated form of diplomacy that has stopped working.

"You would think that we would have learned that in Vietnam," he said.

Need I say more? Clausewitz just had the wrong attitude! Of course, he never experienced Vietnam, which, as everyone knows, is the most important example of war that there has ever been or ever will be.
Turner also said the authority of superpowers of tomorrow will be derived from education, health care, and science and technology. He encouraged the United States to focus it energies on those areas.

And to top it all off, the "authority" of the super powers will be derived from health care. I'm surprised that he forgot to mention day care!

I'm sorry for posting this. I see the error of my ways. I will never post another comment from the pusillanimous Ted Turner ever again.

Are Wives Necessary?

I recommend that you read this piece by James Pinkerton at It delves into the modern-day battle of the sexes as analyzed by Maureen Dowd, Hugh Hefner, and Camille Paglia. My favorite quote from Paglia that Pinkerton cites is:
If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.

Pinkerton's main thrust is that current sexual mores will lead to a decline in the population of the West:
Now it's time for some additional leadership; social incentives need to be shifted so that women are encouraged to have more children. Since women vote, these encouragements need to be in the form of carrots, not sticks. Because, of course, the biggest stick -- the looming Death of the West -- should speak loudly to all of us.

Religion, equality, and liberalism

I have had occasion more than once to recommend highly Jerry Pournelle's excellent web site, Over the weekend there was an email exchange featuring one of Jerry's readers.
Faith of our Fathers revisited

Dr. Pournelle, When I spoke of the "faith of our fathers," I wasn't harkening back to the culture of the Thirty Years War. I was referring to the very strong but moderated Christianity that existed in this country in various forms until the post WW2 era. My older relatives saw what I am describing as a sort of "main street and public square" faith. I am willing to speculate that that sort of faith would provide our society with the courage and identification it needs to face the current realities.

In my earlier post I did not mean to convey that I desired a crusade: just a motivated people engaged in a competent active defense. I think it would help if our citizenry saw their nation as worth defending on every level. Faith and culture can play a role in that. I think a large number of our citizenry still wish to see our nation defended on every level including culturally; arguably a larger percentage of the more secular French and other Euros seem not to care about defending theirs.

I would like to see active border security and military force deployed according to hard military realities and goals. I think nation building in regions with no or at least very limited interest in democratization is a waste of our troops' lives. I also think such stratagems are born of overly secular minds that have not a clue about the real motivations inherent in faith and culture.

Regards, Paul D. Perry Milford, Texas

I understood what you meant, and I agree. But when I was young there were no public ceremonies without an invocation and a benediction, usually both with one by a Roman Catholic and the other by a Protestant Minister. For sufficiently important events there would usually be a rabbi as well. We paid public attention and deference to "Divine Providence" and saw the Hand of God in our works.

The courts in the name of liberalism have thrown all that out. Soon after of course goes most of civility: again I refer people to the Drama of Atheist Humanism, and where it has always led. Yes, there are highly ethical atheists. Some of them tend to militancy, at least among their friends. Marvin Minsky is a great example. But The Drama of Atheist Humanism still plays out in a different way because for every Minsky there will be two Trotsky's and a Stalin.

Today's liberal establishment makes war on religion, which is odd, because the roots of liberalism are in religion. The assumption of human equality makes sense only in religious terms -- surely few of you feel equal to the drooling idiot who camps on your doorstep and shakes the paper cup at you asking for change? Some see the Image of Christ, but that is not a rationalist or materialist position. Some see "But for the Grace of God there go I," but again that is not a rationalist position. And some think thoughts of personal superiority rather than thankfulness for grace. But what rationalist reductionist can see an equal, who ought to have all the rights of citizenship including the vote (which he would sell for a shot of hootch or a line of cocaine)?

But without that assumption of equality, liberalism is in big trouble. As we see: although today's liberals profess a kind of equality in their words, their actions show they believe themselves Enlightened, with a mission to minister to the Benighted. But "minister to" more an more translates to "lord it over."

The Ancien Regime would have none of this equality. Lords were born superior; if well brought up, they had a sense of honor and duty as befitted those chosen. Some became evil. Some purported to reject most of their heritage, but there remained something about them -- see the life of Byron, who except for the doctors who bled him to death might well have become King of Greece. Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsy was certainly idle rich, but he had his place in that ordered world that is gone and may not return until generations of tyrants and demagogues teach us that there were worse things. Under the old regimes those of great merit could still rise; those with no merit but great ambition born low could still feel that there were reasons other than their own inadequacy that held them back.

For that is one of the real frights of the egalitarian state with ruthless competition and genuinely equal opportunity: it is pitiless toward who had their chance and failed because there is no excuse for failure.

And there remains the ceaseless striving, with no peaceful end: is it any wonder that bureaucrats form feudal organizations and effectively end the striving and competition? Is it any wonder that the rise of the modern egalitarian state has produced the rise of bureaucracy and rule by bureaucracy?

Enough. More another time. Jerry Pournelle.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

An 'independent' viewpoint on politics

In an e-mail group I belong to, a liberal friend of mine posted a link to a page on The Moderate Independent site, where the motto is “Not left, not right, just right.”

I read the linked piece titled “Inside the Fall of the Democratic and Republican Parties.” What follows are some excerpts and my comments:
Notice there is nothing about principles in this. There is nothing resembling confidence. There is nothing resembling boldness. There is only self-interest and the wanting to take advantage of a power structure that has been set in place and is going to work to their personal advantage.
I wonder what this guy would think of Feingold?
And so when, in the early 1990's, the Republican Party, under the initiative of George H. W. Bush, began assembling a lying propaganda network like the ones the CIA Bush formerly led has used around the world, the Republicans felt not disgust but at last some hope. While they knew morally that lying was wrong, and they knew that one-side-promoting propaganda was an un-American tool that never should be trusted - was the standard implement of evil stalwarts like the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein - their desperation give a Machiavellian embrace to their only hope.
Florid, yet entertaining!
And while Limbaugh and Gingrich were the first gleam of light at the end of a very long tunnel for Republicans, many were still not ready to accept lying and intentionally misleading propaganda.
As opposed to unintentionally misleading propaganda?
Clinton won re-election handily
And, whaddaya know? With less than 50% of the popular vote!
And there waiting for them were the people they had dubbed hateful, disgusting, and undesirable just a few years back, the new breed of Soviet/Nazi-emulating Limbaugh/Gingrich Republican.
I'll just let this one go.
...[Governor Schwarzenegger's] documented past of nude posing, drug use, orgies, and lechery
I thought that Dems didn't mind these things...
America's two major political parties have both fallen into complete demise. The Democrats have entirely lost their principles and ability to stand up for anything at all, standing only for their personal political ambitions; and the Republicans have lost their moral code, sold their souls for the sake of political wants, abandoned principleand conscience for the sake of political expediency.
Can't argue with this too much. It's clear that the author wishes that the Dems would straighten up and fly right, so I can't really accept the “independent” part of his moniker.

I checked out another piece of his, "PAY ATTENTION TO RUSSIA, DAMMIT!" I found this interesting:
President Bush's inept, naïve foreign policy was allowing President Putin of Russia to play our nation and the world and take bold steps, rolling back human rights and democratic reforms and consolidating power and wealth in his hands.
I read through the article looking for what the author felt would be the right thing to do. He fixed the blame on Bush for rescinding the ABM treaty. He goes on:
But even despite that, shortly after September 11 the world came together, and Putin was among the leaders who took the opportunity to stand together with us and work to craft a plan that could make the world a safer place. As reported by CNN (see article: "A New Era For U.S.-Russia Relations?") on November 14, 2001, it was Putin who suggested a massive cut to both Russia's and the United States' nuclear arsenals. It seemed like we were entering a "new era of US-Russia relations" where we truly were allies working together in securing the world's safety against threats by rogue nations and terrorists.

But going to Iraq changed things, and no sane nation felt it could sit by waiting for America to come up with some reason to go after them "pre-emptively." And so instead of this "new era" of positive relations, Russia has done an about face.

So, while we are stuck ostrich-like in Iraq, the real threats to America, actual thoughtful leaders like Putin who realize power is a chess match, not a spitting contest, continue to gain for their nations as America slips and weakens and goes further into debt – the sort of the debt that brought the Soviet Union down to begin with.
What's puzzling to me is how he figured Putin would not go on to do the things he's done in Russia if the U.S. hadn't dumped the ABM treaty. As if Putin's own consolidation of power relied on the ABM treaty being revoked by the U.S. The author blames Bush but treaties are ratified (or ended) by the Senate. I suppose that if the Dems are as spineless as he claims in his other piece, then the vote to end the ABM treaty makes sense. But does he truly believe that Putin would not have gone on to consolidate power?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

One not to forget

On election day, November 5, 2002, a letter to the editor of the Appleton Post-Crescent was published. The letter was written by my fellow Neenah-ite (Neenah-onian?), David George. This should get wide distribution:
Here are the top 10 reasons public schooling is better than home-schooling:

1) Most parents were educated in the under-funded public school system and so are not smart enough to home-school their own children.

2) Children who receive one-on-one home-schooling will learn more than others, giving them an unfair advantage in the marketplace. This is undemocratic.

3) How can children learn to defend themselves unless they have to fight off bullies on a daily basis?

4) Ridicule from other children is important to the socialization process.

5) Children in public schools can get more practice "Just Saying No" to drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

6) Fluorescent lighting may have significant health benefits.

7) Publicly asking permission to go to the bathroom teaches young people their place in society.

8) The fashion industry depends upon the peer pressure that only public schools can generate.

9) Public schools foster cultural literacy, passing on important traditions like the singing of "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg ..."

10) Home-schooled children may not learn important office career skills, like how to sit still for six hours straight.

So, does this mean the Bush recession is over?

I suppose that the anti-capitalist pundits will still wring their hands over this report:
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, estimated that November sales rose 4.3 percent at its U.S. stores open at least a year, a key retail measure known as same-store sales. The figure was toward the high end of its forecast for 3 percent to 5 percent growth. The retailer said demand for the day after Thanksgiving beat its expectations at both its namesake discount stores and the Sam's Club warehouse chain ...

“Friday was a record day for the company and clearly exceeded our expectations. We feel we have good momentum going into the holiday,” said Ken Hicks, president and chief merchandising officer for J.C. Penney.

The same article bemoans the “steep energy prices and rising interest rates.” Could we just get a grip, people? The day that Katrina hit the northern Gulf coast the price of regular gas in little old Neenah, WI, jumped 30 cents, from 2.69 to 2.99. Yesterday I bought regular at 2.26, and it's cheaper elsewhere. I guess that shoots the "blood for oil" theory, doesn't it?

I'd better save my breath. As long as Gore or Kerry aren't in office, no economic upswing of any magnitude will matter to the Bush haters. They'll probably come up with some cockamamie story like the oil companies were "persuaded" to lower gas prices with sweetheart tax breaks. Bah!

UPDATE: This report says that sales for the entire weekend were up 22% over last year!

I love stories like this XXVII

A politically-partisan high school vocabulary quiz? Here's a sample:
I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes.

Did you get the right answer? The Benington, VT, English and social studies teacher that came up with the quiz
said he isn't shy about sharing his liberal views with students as a way of prompting debate, but said the quizzes are being taken out of context.

It does not bother me in the least that this happens in the government-funded compulsory-attendance day-care and matriculation centers. Make mine home schooling!

Friday, November 25, 2005

A news story to dissect

I read the story below and wondered whether I was just being cynical or expecting too much. I mean, the headline says "Oil Company Blamed." All right. Here's a quiz: What's the name of the oil company? Take your time and read the article thoroughly. I'll wait...

Give up? That's all right, because the article doesn't mention it. That was the first thing wrong that I noticed. Then I read a bit more carefully. Do these reporters or editors actually read what they've written?

The first part of the first sentence (emphasis mine): "The Chinese government's decision to cut potentially contaminated supplies of fresh water" compares interestingly to the rest of the article which features not a hint of such a qualifer. Is this a reporting shortcut of some kind? That it, use a qualifier in the first paragraph so that wherever the subject appears in the rest of the article the qualifier is "understood?" As you read you're supposed to say to yourself, "potentially" with respect to the water supply?

The article is a curious blend of tourism notes ("known for its annual ice sculpture festival in January"), dire predictions ("Pollution and contamination have exacerbated China's water shortages, which environmental experts and even senior officials say could threaten economic development"), official sources ("director of the city's water bureau, said on state television, according to the Associated Press"), disingenuous commentary ("The threat of contamination to Harbin is a reminder that with its booming economy, China is facing a huge environmental challenge"), and fascinating, unexplained tidbits ("The local authorities have ordered heating companies to ensure that they have adequate reserves of water from wells to maintain supplies of hot water to buildings"). That last one is fascinating because it implies that the "local authorities" have lots of say-so over the utility companies. One can only imagine what will happen to the heads of those companies if the water reserves turn out not to be "adequate." I say that because of a news article I saw in the South China Post some time back that featured a photo of a group of criminals being led into a stadium in China for public execution. Here's a link to a recent article on the subject.

Then there are the statements like "Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution," that just sweep me off my feet! Talk about all of China's problems rolled up into one sentence! I'd love to see more on the juxtaposition of "the best environmental laws" versus "inadequate planning." Hasn't central planning been discredited ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union? Or do people still believe that if only we had the right people in power then central planning would work?

Anyway, is this what "news" has become? A hodge-podge of opinion, hints, rumor, poor editing, and speculation along with a fact or two?

November 24, 2005
Toxic Flow Reaches Chinese City; Oil Company Blamed
International Herald Tribune

BEIJING, Nov. 24 - The Chinese government's decision to cut potentially contaminated supplies of fresh water to a major city has highlighted the threat that industrial pollution poses to public health and economic development across the nation.

Almost four million people in Harbin in northeastern China are expected to be without running water until late Saturday after a chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13 contaminated the upper reaches of the nearby Songhua River with toxic benzene.

A 50-mile stretch of the river carrying the benzene reached Harbin this morning, Shi Zhongxin, director of the city's water bureau, said on state television, according to the Associated Press. The contaminated water was expected to take 40 hours to make its way through the city.

State media reported Wednesday that the local government ordered the shutdown starting at midnight Tuesday in Harbin, which is internationally known for its annual ice sculpture festival in January.

China's Environmental Agency confirmed that the river, which supplies the city, had suffered "major water pollution," the official New China News Agency said late Wednesday. But contaminated water had not reached the city, it added.

Before water was disconnected, residents were encouraged to store water in buckets and other containers, while the local authorities trucked in thousands of tons of bottled water. In panic buying Monday and Tuesday, customers stripped supermarkets and stores of bottled water and other beverages.

The airport and railroad stations were reported Wednesday to be jammed as residents tried to leave.

The New China News Agency reported that schools would be closed until Nov. 30, while 15 local hospitals had been placed on standby to handle any poisoning cases.

On Wednesday evening, Harbin temporarily restored water supplies to allow residents to stock up.

The shutdown is a potential threat to heating systems in Harbin, one of China's coldest cities, where day temperatures are already below freezing as winter approaches. The local authorities have ordered heating companies to ensure that they have adequate reserves of water from wells to maintain supplies of hot water to buildings.

The chemical plant explosion, 236 miles upriver, killed 5 people and forced 10,000 others to evacuate, the state media reported.

The threat of contamination to Harbin is a reminder that with its booming economy, China is facing a huge environmental challenge.

The combination of rapid industrialization, a vast population and intensive agriculture has led to some of the world's worst air pollution, widespread shortages of fresh water and soil degradation.

Pollution and contamination have exacerbated China's water shortages, which environmental experts and even senior officials say could threaten economic development. Data from monitoring stations in the country's seven major river drainage zones showed that 44 percent of rivers were polluted.

"Many lakes and water courses contain an excess of nutrients and need treatment before they are suitable as freshwater sources," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a Nov. 14 report on Chinese agriculture.

Senior Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, have adopted environmental protection as a government priority, and they have repeatedly called for China to switch to economically sustainable development policies.

Specialists say China has some of the best environmental laws in the world, but the sheer scale of development, inadequate planning, corruption and poor enforcement often result in uncontrolled pollution.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The right thing to do

Joseph Farah is the editor of He very vigorously advocates conservative/libertarian political positions. One of them is very tellingly presented in his column from Nov. 16th, "9th Circuit's wakeup call." In it he urges parents to home school their children. Why?
A three-judge panel of the full court ruled that parents "have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students."

As a home schooler in a state with some of the most liberal home schooling laws in the country, my proper stance should be non-combative, conciliatory, and agreeable. That's because if I start making noise about the superiority of home schooling vs. the deplorable (oops! I mean, "ambivalent") state of government-funded compulsory education, I might make it tougher for the other home schoolers in Wisconsin to stay under the radar, quietly rearing their children as they see fit, not as the bureaucrats see fit.

But, by golly! Farah stirs the blood! Home schooling is superior. Children don't need the artificial and disingenuous (to say the least) approval of their peers. Nor do they need the mawkish, saccharine, and cloying emphasis on self-esteem. Nor the grade inflation. Nor the lock-step progress of a curriculum that stifles the love of learning. Nor the bells. Nor the inculcation of the behavior of sheep. Nor the stupefying emphasis on sports and fashion.

As you might guess, I could go on, but I'll spare you the boredom and my fellow Wisconsin home schoolers the mortification.

It's hard to say it better

I have no way with words like Mark Steyn of the Chicago Sun-Times, so I won't even try. His column of yesterday ( ) is very stirring. An excerpt:
One expects nothing from the Democrats. Their leaders are men like Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, who in 2002 voted for the war and denounced Saddam Hussein as an "imminent threat" and claimed that Iraq could have nuclear weapons by 2007 if not earlier. Now he says it's Bush who "lied" his way into war with a lot of scary mumbo-jumbo about WMD.

What does Rockefeller believe, really? I know what Bush believes: He thought Saddam should go in 2002 and today he's glad he's gone, as am I. I know what, say, Michael Moore believes: He wanted to leave Saddam in power in 2002, and today he thinks the "insurgents" are the Iraqi version of America's Minutemen. But what do Rockefeller and Reid and Kerry believe deep down? That voting for the war seemed the politically expedient thing to do in 2002 but that they've since done the math and figured that pandering to the crowd is where the big bucks are? If Bush is the new Hitler, these small hollow men are the equivalent of those grubby little Nazis whose whining defense was, "I was only obeying orders. I didn't really mean all that strutting tough-guy stuff." And, before they huff, "How dare you question my patriotism?", well, yes, I am questioning your patriotism -- because you're failing to meet the challenge of the times. Thanks to you, Iraq is a quagmire -- not in the Sunni Triangle, where U.S. armed forces are confident and effective, but on the home front, where soft-spined national legislators have turned the war into one almighty Linguini Triangle.

Tie the can to their tails!

In midsummer, 1981, President Reagan responded to a nation-wide air traffic controller strike by firing the lot of them. I haven't the slightest idea what would have happened if Carter had won re-election. Would the strikers not have struck because there was a Democrat in the White House? Who can tell?

Now comes this story about the latest French strike. This time it's the rail workers:
Unions are striking to protest against any privatisation of the rail network, despite government assurances.

Since the rail workers are, essentially, government employees -- as the air traffic controllers were in 1981 in the U. S. -- I wonder if a mass firing has been contemplated. Or is the union contract so good that the workers can't be fired for striking?

I confess that I don't have much sympathy for the strikers. But it sure would be a kick in the teeth if the strike goes on for a while, commuters figure out alternate ways to get to work, and then, after the strike ends, use of the rail system remains lower than before the strike. Then there'll be layoffs because of decreased usage...or will there be?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

J. K. Rowling as Political Observer

There is a very interesting article written by a university law professor and printed in the Michigan Law Review. The link goes to an abstract of the paper (the full PDF file, if you care to download it, is 146 KB) so you can get an idea of what the author is driving at. And that is that the author of the Harry Potter books seems to take a very dim view of government. The author provides a number of examples in the abstract which made me sit up and take notice.
The critique is even more devastating because the governmental actors and actions in the book look and feel so authentic and familiar. Cornelius Fudge, the original Minister of Magic, perfectly fits our notion of a bumbling politician just trying to hang onto his job. Delores Umbridge is the classic small-minded bureaucrat who only cares about rules, discipline, and her own power. Rufus Scrimgeour is a George Bush-like war leader, inspiring confidence through his steely resolve. The Ministry itself is made up of various sub-ministries with goofy names (e.g., The Goblin Liaison Office or the Ludicrous Patents Office) enforcing silly sounding regulations (e.g., The Decree for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans or The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery). These descriptions of government jibe with our own sarcastic views of bureaucracy and bureaucrats: bureaucrats tend to be amusing characters that propagate and enforce laws of limited utility with unwieldy names. When you combine the light-hearted satire with the above list of government activities, however, Rowling's critique of government becomes substantially darker and more powerful.

The reach of the Harry Potter books is fantastic. To have children grow up reading them and coming to the realization that most government is part incompetent fumbling, part self-sustaining and self-interested bureaucracy, and part jobs program for social climbers is not at all bad.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Recent commentary: Same sex classes

Should schools be allowed to have same-sex classrooms, and why or why not?

(published 14-Nov-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

“Allowed” to have them? You mean locker rooms are co-ed now??!! When I went to Einstein the boys played murder ball and the girls played field hockey. And “health” classes were separate because the boys were shown different stuff from what the girls saw. I mean the boys saw films on smoking ... but the girls? We figured that they saw things relating to various body parts normally kept modestly covered. I don't remember any girls in shop and no boy in the mid 60's would dream of taking home economics! I remember how uncomfortable I felt as a sophomore at Appleton East taking typing, especially since I sat next to an older girl who teased me mercilessly. Maybe I was blazing a trail. You know, like an adolescent version of chaos theory: I take typing in 1967 and a few decades later all the showers in gym class are co-ed!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I love stories like this XXVI

I had to sigh when I saw this story. I wish we could see stories about teachers that refused to follow their schools' “zero tolerance” policy. Even one story would do. Here's the meat of it:
Crystal Harris says her 5-year old son was forced to take off his costume, and go through the entire school day with only his underwear on.

The incident happened Monday at Walt Disney Elementary.

School officials acknowledge they have a policy that forbids costumes, and that's why the teacher did what she did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Recent commentary: What would I do with all that dough?

How would you spend $340 million in Powerball winnings?

(published 24-Oct-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Is this like "Brewster's Millions" where I have to spend umpteen zillion simoleons in 30 days? No? OK, then I could use a new computer monitor; mine's getting fuzzy. Buy the White Album on CD. Buy our #2 son a lifetime supply of Cool Ranch Doritos. Attend St. John's College in Annapolis and take the four-year Great Books course. Take a round trip to the International Space Station. Nah! I can't really do that. I proved to myself on the Tilt-A-Whirl years ago that I am not astronaut material. Say! I could set an example for all those greedy rich people and voluntarily pay more taxes. NOT! Commission Christo to wrap Trafalgar Square and give it to my wife for a day. I'd like the minister and his wife of our church, Oakhaven in Oshkosh, to be able to concentrate on shepherding the flock without worrying about making the mortgage.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Feeling very gravitational today!

I enjoy reading aloud. I've read dozens of books aloud to my wife, Janet. Right now I'm reading Timothy Ferris' book "Coming of Age in the Milky Way." It's the story of how humanity figured out just how big the universe is.

The chapter I read last night was on Newton, the discoverer of the universal gravitational constant. The book describes in a very entertaining way what kind of loony character Newton was. But it didn't describe how Newton figured out that constant, G.

So I looked up the article on gravitation in the 1995 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Sure enough, there was the explanation for how Newton figured out G. He made a guess at the density of the earth (turned out to be just about dead-on) and thus calculated the mass of the earth. That led him to a figure for G: 6.608 x 10^-11 meters cubed per second squared per kilogram. OK! I now knew how G had been derived by Newton.

But I saw that the units used for G in the Britannica looked funny. Not only that, a table at the end of the article showed the correct representation of units.

I checked the Britannica online version of the article and found that the error has been perpetuated. So I wrote the following letter:
Dear Sirs,

There is an error in the article on Gravitation. I first noted it today in the 1995 print edition of the Encyclopaedia. It still appears in the online edition.

In the online article,, the phrase immediately following formula (7) reads:

which numerically comes close to the accepted value of 6.6726 x 10^-11 m^3 x s^-2/kg^-1

I've used the caret (^) to indicate a power. The phrase SHOULD read:

which numerically comes close to the accepted value of 6.6726 x 10^-11 m^3 x s^-2 x kg^-1

which jives with the description of the formula found in the table:

G (in units of 10^11 cubic metres per second squared per kilogram)


Steve Erbach
Neenah, WI

I then noticed a second error. That prompted this letter:
Dear Sirs,

After sending my first message this morning, I noticed a second error in the Britannica online article on Gravitation. In article, the phrase should be changed FROM:

G (in units of 10^11 cubic metres per second squared per kilogram)


G (in units of 10^-11 cubic metres per second squared per kilogram)

Sincerely, etc.

My 0.03 seconds in the sun...

Monday, September 19, 2005

I love stories like this XXV

Now this is what a public school should be used for!
Klub Layden is open Friday and Saturday nights, and advises its members to bring their own alcohol and contraception. The club provides sheets, bathrobes and locker rooms.

BYOB and BYOC! I love it!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Recent commentary: What has Katrina taught us?

What should we learn from Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath?

(published 12-Sep-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

That we're candidates for wet packs for believing that if only the right people were in charge then we'd be better off. Consider: hundreds of New Orleans school buses wallowing up to their windows in water; the Louisiana state government refusing to allow the Red Cross to bring in water and food to the Superdome because it would be a "magnet for more people;" the Houston Astrodome operations people refusing to let volunteers set up a low-power informational radio station; Robert Kennedy, Jr., blaming Mississippi governor Haley Barbour for burying Kyoto thus exacerbating global warming and making hurricanes more deadly. Kennedy's just a nut job, but you see my point! The thousands of NASA employees and maybe one shuttle mission a year; the Department of Education's No School Remains Honest Act; and the Transportation Safety Administration searching my 70+ year old mom, fer cryin' out loud! We're certifiably insane!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A prayer for New Orleans

Lord please guard the people of Louisiana and Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina approaches. Most especially, Lord, watch over those people trying to escape the city of New Orleans. I don't know what will come of this storm in terms of human suffering, but please bring those who perish into your arms. As for those who survive please open the hearts of all Americans and make our generosity overflow. I know that that will be the simplest of your jobs in the next week, Lord. What will be tougher is tending to the immediate needs of the survivors. Their homes will most likely be gone. They will have lost loved ones. They will have a hard time getting medical attention if they are injured or sick. They will have no jobs to go to. Please draw us closer together with them through you, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Recent commentary: HS memories

What's your favorite memory from high school?

(published 22-Aug-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Memories, plural. Getting in on yearbook pictures with clubs that I either didn't belong to or that weren't officially recognized. Scarfing three regular pretzels in less than a minute -- without water -- to get an ‘A' for the quarter in junior trig. Getting to play with a 45 pound Singer-Friden programmable calculator in senior statistics class. This was 1969. Like, no confusers, eh? Concocting smelly esters in organic chemistry class. Going to the Chicago Art Institute by train with the senior art class. Realizing that I had enough credits to graduate after my junior year and that I could fritter away my senior year in self-indulgent pursuits. Cast parties. Hearing about "The Lord of the Rings" for the first time in sophomore English class. Getting kicked out of senior English. Going on dates in my parents' car and leaving footprints on the inside of the windows from ... well, you know!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Recent commentary: Advice to collitch stoonts

What advice would you give college-bound teenagers?

(published 1-Aug-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

One word: Wapatuli! College is the perfect laboratory for determining whether you actually CAN mix sloe gin and Mad Dog 20-20. Just don’t come crying to me because a hangover made you miss a final. But I suppose you want advice on college in general. (sigh!) All right. The theory is that you’ve got enough brains to know that high-paying jobs don’t grow on trees and that a Wall Street investment house or top-notch engineering firm won’t hire you because of your wardrobe. Just find the easiest-grading professors you can and remember two words: student evaluations. Don’t worry if you can’t multiply 6 x 7 or write your name in cursive. Most colleges offer bonehead ... I mean, remedial math and English. Hey! They need the tuitions. Oh, and figure out how to pay for your Adderall yourself. Mumsy and Dadsy can’t foot the bill any more. Like, you’re an adult, eh?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I'm sorry, but

...when I finished reading this story my first thought was, "Well, there's a candidate for next year's Darwin Awards."
"Just before it happened he was looking in the air towards the roof. He put the microphone down and crouched down before leaping off the stage which was about a metre high and trying to grab the lighting rig.

"I don't know whether he caught it or not but his momentum carried him forward and basically he went upside down and hit the floor head first. The whole thing lasted about five seconds, it was horrendous.''

Our fearless leaders

You look at this story and you just have to shake your head. I mean, these civic events don't just pop into being in an instant. There are committee meetings and organization and signage and advertising and public hearings...didn't anybody think twice about this before putting out a news release for it?
Miami city leaders are apologizing for a news release that invited summer campers to a “Ghetto Style Talent Show” and “Watermelon Eating Contest.”

The release said that children participating in the summer camp who “know the meaning of ghetto style” would have a chance to “prove just how ghetto they are.”

Monday, July 18, 2005

Biblical retribution?

I don't wish ill of the French. I took French for eight years in primary and secondary school. French historical figures (Lafayette and Napoleon, to name two), French mathematicians (Laplace, Pascal, Poisson, Fermat, Descartes, Poincare, and Hadamard), French wine, French pastries, the Tour de France (since Lance Armstrong began to dominate it!)...mais, oui! But French philosophers (Rousseau, Derrida, and Sartre), French politics, the Maginot Line, French politics, French whining...did I mention French politics?

But I don't wish ill of the French. It's just that a story like this made me think of the increasing ratio of Muslims living in France and the fact that France was a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq while at the same time being heavily involved with Saddam Hussein as a supplier.

So, comes this story and I just naturally thought of the Egyptians and the Jews with a decidely modern twist: "the only insecticides which might make a difference are banned." Can't have locusts dying from deformed mandibles!

France faces drought, locusts

Jul. 17, 2005 at 9:41 pm

On top of a severe drought, France is fighting a plague of hundreds of thousands of locusts.

The locusts are devouring everything from crops to window-box flowers, reported the Observer.

"At the beginning they seem small, insignificant insects but they grow very quickly," said Aveyron region farmer Gerard Laussel. "They eat everything that is green, leaving only stalks, and when they have finished they leave some kind of scent so the cattle do not want to graze on what is left."

The French environment ministry said drought could be felt across most of France, but it mostly impacted from the Atlantic Ocean to Paris.

"There is nothing we can do for the 700 or 800 farmers affected," said Patrice Lemoux, an agriculture official. "The locust has no known predator and the only insecticides which might make a difference are banned."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Can we now shut up about 'tax cuts for the rich?'

The New York Times reports:
For the first time since President Bush took office, an unexpected leap in tax revenue is about to shrink the federal budget deficit this year, by nearly $100 billion.

Mr. Bush plans to hail the improvement at a cabinet meeting and to cite it as validation of his argument that tax cuts would stimulate the economy and ultimately help pay for themselves.

Well, hallelujah! Now the question is, will this shut the mouths of the anti-tax cut weenies, or will they complain that the deficit reduction isn't big enough? Hey! Maybe this could lead to more tax cuts to get bigger deficit reduction!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Democrats looking for their Core Values

The Orlando Sentinel has a story today about the "town meeting" held by Democrat Florida Senator, Bill Nelson. He brought in Senator Barak Obama (D-IL) to lend "star power" to Nelson's campaign. Here's the complete article. The choicest part of the story involves the answer to a tough question from the town meeting audience (emphasis mine):
"I see a Democratic Party afraid to say they're Democrats, who voted for the war in Iraq and voted for tax cuts for the wealthy," said Glenn Anderson of Orlando. "Why should I remain a Democrat?"

It was a tough question. But Nelson and Obama tried to answer it. "The Democrats at times have lost their way," conceded Obama. "We are trying to decide what our core values are."

The criterion for judging the party isn't whether it's to the left or right, "but are we true to our core values," he said. Nobody defined core values.

This is one of those stories where you can almost feel the writer pushing you to a conclusion. I mean, really! Obama says the Dems are "trying to decide" what their core values are, but they're "true" to them, whatever they are -- nobody thought it necessary to cough up a sample.

"Core values:" that's the hottest buzz phrase for the Dems now; maybe that's what Professor George Lakoff came up with as a winner. Doesn't matter if they can actually be articulated or enumerated; as long as the Democrats say the words, everything will be all right.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Just for fun I

From the old book, Felton and Fowler's Best, Worst, and Most Unusual, comes this entry for Worst Commercial:
Oxydol detergent ran an ad campaign in 1965 that included a TV commercial showing black women discussing their wash. This early attempt at representing the black buying public in advertising was marred by an announcer saying, "When it's whiteness you're after..." and at the end, "Colored things come out nice, too!"

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Don't forget the Sokal hoax

Nine years ago, New York University physics Professor Alan Sokal submitted a paper to the prestigious cultural studies journal, Social Text, entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. It was a complete and utter hoax. You can read the paper here. It is one of the best comeuppances delivered to the pretentious academic left ever written. We need to remember that lots of people (especially professors of non-materialist sciences) take themselves way too seriously, and that the Emperor's new clothes really aren't there. Here's a sample of Sokal's paper, which purported to show that quantum gravity is affected by politics:
In quantum gravity, as we shall see, the space-time manifold ceases to exist as an objective physical reality; geometry becomes relational and contextual; and the foundational conceptual categories of prior science -- among them, existence itself -- become problematized and relativized. This conceptual revolution, I will argue, has profound implications for the content of a future post-modern and liberatory science.

Some choice commentaries about the hoax:

...and from Sokal himself:
The displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is -- second only to American political campaigns -- the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time.

( )

An interesting definition

Jerry Pournelle came up with a description of democracy in action that is worth pondering
(paraphrasing) Most citizens are too stupid to manage their own affairs, so we only consult them about running other people's business, but never allow them to run their own.

The Dysfunctional Pooh

I found this once again today, an article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal: Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A. A. Milne. Pooh has ADHD with a capacity for developing Tourette's syndrome. Piglet has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Eeyore has Dysthymic Disorder. Rabbit "has missed his calling, as he clearly belongs in senior-level hospital administration." Give it a read.

Recent commentary: Am I my brother's keeper?

Who is responsible for helping the Hmong still in Thailand?

(published 11-Jul-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

They are themselves. Oh, there's no doubt that they're in a pickle. Laos doesn't want them. Thailand considers them illegals. But there IS a Hmong insurgency. Good for them! Who's responsible for helping ANY of the benighted people on this mixed up planet? The one million people a year that die from malaria because we're too squeamish about the possible harm to birds from DDT. The victims in the "conflict diamond" trade in the Sudan. Remember when the Hutus went mad and started chopping up a million of their Tutsi neighbors? Americans that contribute to bringing the Hmong to Minnesota or Wisconsin may not be aware of the meaning of "Chinese obligation." Perhaps the Hmong that are already here can teach their Laotian brothers what they've learned about American-style self-reliance and can-do spirit. Just remember what Cain asked God and be prepared to answer the question for yourself.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Math Follies I

This piece is from today's Wall Street Journal. It deals with the revolting concept of "Ethnomathematics," the idea that math teaching cannot be neutral with respect to politics and culture. This concept deserves pride of place as one of the most ridiculous modern ideas for teaching math:


By Diane Ravitch
June 20, 2005; Page A14
Wall Street Journal

It seems our math educators no longer believe in the beauty and power of the principles of mathematics. They are continually in search of a fix that will make it easy, relevant, fun, and even politically relevant. In the early 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The council preferred real life problem solving, using everyday situations. Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride the "new, new math" as "rainforest algebra."

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 "contemporary mathematics" textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter "F" included "factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions." In the 1998 book, the index listed "families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival."

Those were the days of innocent dumbing-down. Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice. Social justice math relies on political and cultural relevance to guide math instruction. One of its precepts is "ethnomathematics," that is, the belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective, traditional mathematics -- the mathematics taught in universities around the world -- is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors. The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans, and other "non-mainstream" cultures.

Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that "teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible." Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students' race, gender, ethnicity, and community.

This fusion of political correctness and relevance may be the next big thing to rock mathematics education, appealing as it does to political activists and to ethnic chauvinists.

It seems terribly old-fashioned to point out that the countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action. They teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and Chicago. The students who learn this universal language well will be the builders and shapers of technology in the 21st century. The students in American classes who fall prey to the political designs of their teachers and professors will not.

Ms. Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution.

Copyright © 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Recent commentary: Women in Combat

Should U.S. women be allowed to serve in combat?

(published 20-Jun-2005, Appleton Post-Crescent)

For years I've told friends about the column I read in the Post-Crescent back at the time of the U.S. invasion of Panama. I don't remember the columnist's name, but I do know that he wrote about our use of women in combat roles when we went after Noriega. He compared men fighting one another to furry animals going at it: fur flies for a minute, then one is hurt. The victor establishes dominance, maybe beats his chest, and then they become buddies and have a beer. Women, however, fight like gila monsters: no holds barred, eyes gouged out, limbs torn off, until one of them lies dead, dead, dead. The columnist seemed to say that women don't have an innate sense of when not to destroy an opponent. That's why women shouldn't be allowed to serve in combat.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Oh, gawd! VII

From an article in the Boston Globe today by Robert "Hand-Wringer" Kuttner in which the author plays the popular game of "Will Hillary Run in '08?":
John Kerry may well give it another shot, as the candidate who came up just one state short in 2004, perhaps due to deliberately contrived long lines that held down Democratic turnout in Ohio.
Which James Taranto neatly skewers in Best of the Web Today:
Long lines mean high turnout. If Kerry lost a state with long lines, that would be because so many people in those lines voted against him.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Read the Bills Act is an outfit dedicated to, well, pretty much what its name says: cutting the size of the federal government. I subscribe to its newsletter and today I received an appeal to send an e-mail to my Congress critters in support of the “Read the Bills Act 2005,” (RTBA) which was constructed by DownsizeDC. There are times that I'll play along and send an e-mail, and other times I won't. Depends on whether the spirit moves me.

Today Jim Babka, the author of the e-mail, made me look at writing my Congressmen in a new way: is not a waste of time because the lobbyists who want more government handouts are there on Capitol Hill every day and you are not. Congress thinks they can ignore the taxpayer. They believe you have a short attention span and will forget about RTBA. You must prove them wrong.

You must be like the big government lobbyist who is always there, begging, begging, begging for another handout. Only you are asking not for a handout, but for reasonable relief from Congressional irresponsibility. Remember, Congress works for you! Think of something new to say about RTBA and say it. And do it week after week until you get your way.
That is reasoning that speaks to me! So I wrote the following on the DownsizeDC WYC (Write Your Congressman) web site:
I was happy to see Downsize DC prepare the RTBA. I feel strongly that far too many (most? all?) bills are NOT read before passage. If my Representative and Senators insist on adding yearly to the mountain of legislation that is proposed and passed in Washington, DC, then I insist that every single piece of legislation passing through their hands—YOUR hands—be read in its entirety.

P. J. O'Rourke in “Parliament of Whores” posed the question: “So when can we quit passing laws and raising taxes? When will our officers, officials and magistrates realize their jobs are finished and return, like Cincinnatus, to the plow or, as it were, to the law practice or the car dealership?” I suspect that a partial answer, at least, can be found in the ‘Read the Bills Act.’ If our elected representatives must actually read every word of every bill, then they just might cut back on the number of bills they introduce. I hope that day comes soon.
I urge you to write your Congressman and Senators, too. Get your start by going to the web site and pick a bill about which to badger your elected representatives.