Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Science! vs Science

Back to Evolution vs. Creationism.

Today a Pennsylvania court decided against Intelligent Design being taught in schools as it was found not to be a science, but a thinly glazed-over version of Creationism, which being religious, should not be taught.

Some quotes: From Christian Science Monitor


    In the end, one of the most prominent intellectual defenders of intelligent design, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, conceded that a definition of "science" that included it might also include astrology.

    Thus in the end Judge Jones ruled on the viability of the assertion itself.

    "In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether [intelligent design] is science. We have concluded it is not," he wrote in his opinion.


Use the link in the title to see other articles from Google News.

Is this an important victory for Evolutionists? The key argument against ID being a science is its lack of falsifiabiltity. Which is a fun word to type and even more fun to try to say. What are scientific alternatives are there to evolution? Is Intelligent Design really Creationism?

As a final note, ID supporters have been banding about the words 'activist judge' again in this context. While I think we can all agree that upholding the current precedent is hardly activism, does the basis of the decision - that ID is not science - go beyond the jurisdiction of the court?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thorstein Veblen and ripped jeans

I was pondering on the concept of pre-ripped clothing, and stylings that (generally) would lead an outsider to believe that the wearer was homeless. My mind fell upon an old book that I had mused upon: Thorstein Veblen's- The Theory of the Leisure Class.

In it he speaks on the "leisure class" (here synonymous with upper class) and its tendency to go over the top, culturally, in proving that it is, in fact, very well-off. My favorite example is when Veblen speaks on the economics of the corset. Loosely, he says that the corset is designed to physically destroy the person who wears it, therefore proving for all to see that the wearer is in fact, SO rich that they can afford to denigrate their body making it a less useful tool (in the sociological sense).

I wondered then, if ripped jeans and the high fashion of making oneself look homeless might be along the same vein. In this instance, the person is not physically destroying themself, but socially. The thought process might go: I am so well-off/popular I can overpay for these clothes, and look like a hobo without suffering negative consequences in my high-class social circle.

Granted neither in Veblen's time, nor now, are these thoughts/actions conscious. Isn't wonderful to know that our fashion sense has evolved from physically harming ourselves to only attempting to harm ourselves on a social level?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Economics of Sexuality

The freakonomist has struck again. His latest article in the New York Times is on a topic we've hotly debated before: is human sexuality biologically determined?

In the article, Levitt and Dubner discuss a paper by Andy Francis. The paper might be more fulfilling for the hardcore among you.

The paper reacts to some interesting correlations. Apparently, while homosexual males are more likely to have a friend with AIDS, they are far less likely to have a relative with AIDS. For homosexual females, these correlations flip. If the data holds, what conclusions can be drawn?

Francis thinks this provides strong evidence that biology is not the sole determinant of sexual identity. If fear of AIDS is playing a role in determining sexual identity, other seemingly innocuous costs and benefits might be too.

From the abstract:

People who have a relative with AIDS, on average, have more knowledge, awareness, and fear of AIDS than those who do not. ...I find that AIDS causes people to shift from less safe sexual activities to safer ones. I find that AIDS [awareness] causes men to shift from homosexual to heterosexual behavior, desire, and identity, whereas AIDS [awareness] causes women to shift from heterosexual to homosexual desire. Neither genetic nor hormonal theories of sexual orientation can explain these findings. Therefore, biology is not the sole determinant of sexual behavior, desire, and identity.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Humanity's Worst Invention

The Ecologist has an annual essay contest, this year's asks, "What is Humanity's Worst Invention?"

Fingerless mittens is the first thing that came to my mind, but they're probably thinking of something more like the atomic bomb.

Comments required.

Thanks, Boing Boing!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

T is for Tookie, and good enough for me.

So, after 24 years on death row, the execution date for Stanley "Tookie" Williams is drawing nigh. For those of you who have not followed this story, let me lay it all out for you.

Stanley Williams is one of the co-founders of the Crips. In 1979 he was arrested and sentenced to death for the murder of four individuals during two seperate robberies. After being placed in solitary confinement for six and a half years for assaulting guards and inmates he allegedly reformed and has been studiously working to improve himself. With his execution date on the 13th of December, he has been attempting to get clemency from Gov. Schwarzeneggar. This has stirred up considerable debate amongst people on both sides of the capital punishment divide. Here's the best summary of both sides in the most unbiased way that I can present. (Fear not, there will be plenty of time for bias afterwards.)

Those in favor of granting clemency bring up the following points:
1: Mr. Williams has done a considerable amount of work to try to improve himself while in prison.
2: Mr. Williams has done a considerable amount of work trying to lessen gang violence including writing a series of children's books speaking against gang membership and brokering a peace agreement between the Crips and the Bloods.
3: For his efforts Mr. Williams has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize five times.
4: Mr. Williams has always claimed innocence in the murders and there is a certain amount of doubt as to the fairness of his trial.

Those against argue thus:
1: Mr. Williams has not only left the Crips, but is actually still running the gang from prison.
2: Mr. Williams has not reformed as shown by his unwillingness to divulge information on other gang members or give information on tactics used by gangs.

Frankly wikipedia sums it up better then I did here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tookie but I just wrote that whole damn thing and am not cavalier enough to just delete it out of hand.

As far as I am concerned, this is a stellar example of the flaws of capital punishment. Regardless of what he has done in the past, it appears that Mr. Williams has done more to improve the state of the world then I ever have. If this sort of change is possible, wouldn't it be better to do away with capital punishment? Even discounting the possibility that he is innocent, it seems that we have a responsibility to attempt to make this sort of reformation more common. Those of you out there more eloquent than I ought to take this and repackage it in a sexier, more convincing package! Or you can argue against me, throwing your offalish arguments primate-like against the pristine tower of perfection that is my position. The choice is yours!

P.S. How about that for a clever title? That's +2 in the argument resolution phase!

Diebold in the N.C.

I found this link: http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/11/29/2024208&tid=103&tid=123&tid=219 on slashdot. Basically from what I understand Diebold (who makes the electronic voting machines in North Carolina) is under fire from the N.C. government because they won't fully disclose the code used for the software as required by law in N.C., and was recently denied protection from these charges.

Diebold's argument for not disclosing everything is because part of their software uses Microsoft's (or M$ for you l337 ones) Windows, and they're worried about the $100,000 fine that comes from revealing a 3rd party code, and furthermore it's impossible to provide a list of EVERY person who's coded Windows.

Now I can see the logic behind these arguments, but The State Board of Elections said that all companies must supply the code used, or an explanation why some code is not submitted. So obviously there are allowances in place incase of circumstances such as these.

What this makes me think is that Diebold may have something to hide. The claim that they can't release their code due to 3rd party code seems pretty weak in this light. So my question to you is:

1: Do they actually have a substantial claim here?
2: Hypothetically let's say the reason they're hiding their code is because the fears that they helped Bush win by cheating are true. What will happen then? Will Bush be kicked out of office? Will he be innocent due to "ignorance" (which I would find ironic), or will no one care?

On a personal note, I hope this goes through and Diebold is forced to release thier code (I'm not too concerned with the Microsoft part). Not because I belive they have something to hide, but because I want to see that when push comes to shove this law will actually be enforced and not just a paper tiger. Rawr.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Open this box.

Pandora is making me wonder why I would ever need to listen to commercial radio (or leave my computer) again. It's amazingly intuitive, you just put in a few artists, and you start hearing music you like, some old and some new. It's adware, but I haven't found the ads to be intrusive, so basically 100% free music tailored to your preferences.

-Obligatory Intellectualism-

A lot of scifi deals with AI adopting human characteristics. All the stories envision near total human replacements, and focus on how we treat the machines. Far more sinister is the reality: specialized computers replacing a few key activities we assume are distinctly human. The problem becomes how we treat each other.

Soon, no one will know your taste like a database and a computer. So will there be any reason to discuss music with a stranger at shows in two decades? What about with our friends?

Monday, November 28, 2005

This is the way the oil ends...

I've been slyly pushing this for a while, hoping someone else would lay out all my arguments more diligently. Fortunately, Spencer Reiss finally has.

[R]ising oil prices are... an invitation to corn and coal and hydrogen. For anyone with a fresh idea, expensive oil is as good as a subsidy.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Microsoft = Crack dealer?

So, apparently Microsoft is selling its new XBox 360 for less than it costs?! While this is not a new business practice, usually being the first product out (Playstation 3 and Nintendo Revolution aren't due out until 2006) equates to higher costs for those first adopters who are not normally considered bargain shoppers. For those of you wondering, they make up the profit on game pricing and licensure agreements with game developers. What does this tell us then about Microsoft, and probably Sony and Nintendo?

Clearly they are crack dealers, providing unwitting customers with a dangerously addictive product at cut-rate prices in an attempt to hook lifetime customers. Due to the fact that none of this product (XBox 360) is gaining dust on shelves, wouldn't it have been a better business decision to price it closer to cost? Its clear that people would pay for it. Thoughts?

Illegal immigration

I was watching Kansas City Week in Review this morning on PBS, and they had a fiery roundtable on illegal immigration. Most of the talk was pretty emotionally charged, but an interesting comment came out of one Kris Kobach, the most recent loser in our 3rd District race to Congressman Dennis Moore.

He mentioned that the arguments currently being made by business (take away our cheap hispanic labor and the economy will collapse) is the same argument that was made in the mid 19th century by plantation owners (take away our cheap labor/slaves and the economy will collapse). So the question is: How necessary is this labor (cheap or underpaid labor) to the backbone of our economy, since we have proven over time that slavery was not necessary to the 19th/20th century economy?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Naming babies

I have finally found enough time to write about our discussion from Tuesday (Patrick's party). We spoke on baby names if you remember and I clearly was unprepared (even though I was the only one of us "with child". If you will remember I cited Freakonomics in my statement that high-income parents start trends in naming which are then adopted by low/lower income parents. Here are some snippets:

"... it isn't famous people who drive the name game. It is the family just a few blocks over, the one with the bigger house and newer car ... But as a high-end name is adopted en masse, high-end parents begin to abandon it. Eventually, it is considered so common that even lower-end parents may not want it, whereby it falls out of the rotation entirely ... Where, then, will the new high-end names come from? It wouldn't be surprising to find them among the "smartest" girls' and boys' names in California, that are still fairly obscure."

All of Levitt and Dubner's information is drawn from California census bureau information and they use data from the 1960s to the present (they might have used more, but this is what they mention in the book). The end result of this study is the authors' assertion that the child's name above all things reflects the parent's expectations for the child. So, I guess the my nickname for my child would not be a good idea for a formal name... Dingus. Comments? (Not about the name Dingus, that was a joke)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Perennial Issue

The Minimum wage currently stands at $5.15, for a full time employee this works out to $10,712 per year, well below the poverty line.

Wikipedia, as usual, provides us with a sparkling overview of the topic:

This paper by the UAW attempts to rebutt several critiques leveled by economists. Excerpt below.

• Most minimum wage workers are adults; 87% are over age 20.

• People don't quickly move out of minimum wage jobs. Workers age 25 to 54 have a 38% chance of getting stuck in a low-wage job even after 3 years ("No Way Out"”, Center for Economic and Policy Research).

• In 2002, on average, minimum wage workers earned 68% of their total family income ("“No Way Out", Center for Economic and Policy Research).

• From 1950 to 1982 the minimum wage was usually 45% of the average hourly wage in the U.S. In 2004, the average hourly wage was $15.67; by the 45% standard, the minimum wage should have been $7.05. That wage would lift a single parent with one child out of poverty but still leave a parent with two kids below the poverty line.



Many suggest that raising the minimum wage would be largely negated by the resultant rise in retail prices.

I suggest that while prices would undoubtedly rise to some degree, it would be mitigated by robust price competition. The incentive to keep prices competitive would force companies to cut costs in other areas, something they're doing anyway, minimum wage laws simply decide where those efficiencies will be spent.

Thoughts on minimum wage increases?




Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Paris riots and the manufacture of consent

I am currently reading the "Chomsky Reader" by the famed dissident Noam Chomsky, and I came across a section in his chapter The Manufacture of Consent that reminded me of the Paris riots:

"Democratic systems are quite different. It is necessary to control not only what people do, but also what they think. Since the state lacks the capacity to ensure obedience by force, thought can lead to action and therefore the threat to order must be excised at the source. It is necessary to establish a framework for possible thought that is constrained with the principles of the state religion. These need not be asserted; it is better that hey be presupposed, as the unstated framework for thinkable thought. The critics reinforce this system by tacitly accepting these doctrines, and confining their critique to tactical questions that arise within them."

Isn't it possible, that France (democracy) and their secularization (state religion/ideal) has cut the Muslims from the discussion of their (French Muslim's) own country's social dialogue?

Science Classes In Kansas Will Now Question Evolution Theory

Here we go again!

Kansas has moved into the Intelligent Design crowd. So when are school board elections? The Pennsylvania school board members which approved ID were all thrown out in the elections last night. At the same point Kansas is encouraging it. I thought they learned from the last time they did this and were all voted out?

I think the ID issues highlights a very interesting debate about science in our society. How can we educate the masses about the basic principles of the scientific method? I also am irritated that evolution is the only theory under attack. We have about an equal amounts of evidence for plate tectonics as we do for evolution. It seems contradictory to try and throw out one theory when most of our theories have equal evidence.

Monday, November 07, 2005

44,234 Casaulties Since the Beginning of the War in Iraq...

...and that's just from alcohol related fatalities on our nation's highways. Alcohol's contribution to traffic fatalities has shown some improvement since the early 1980s, now we're down to a trifling 40% chance your killer was a wee tipsy.

Sorry for the ambush, but if 2,000 American deaths in two+ years are provocative, why is it business as usual when alcohol bangs out that many in under two months? Without alcohol's sizable contribution, traffic fatalities wouldn't be the leading cause of death for those under 35.

(Haven't found statistics yet on the typical severity of non-fatal accidents, but I'm not expecting it to be cheery).

As consolation to those injured, the drunk drivers responsible for serious injuries on our nation's highways usually drive without insurance, preventing recovery for the injured or killed. As if this wasn't bad enough, the insurance companies constantly fight for "tort reform" to dodge the costs of this enormous societal problem.

Solutions?

Prohibition is a non-starter: it's unworkable, and tends to punish all those who enjoy alcohol responsibly to stop the paltry millions who cannot. And drunk drivers aren't the most law-abiding citizens anyway, so this might not solve anything. So what else can be done?

Even if we can't easily reduce the fatalities and injuries, is there a way to compensate more justly? To "internalize the costs" of drinking and driving?

Our solution for workers' compensation is illuminating. The sums are far smaller than at court, but the chance of recovery is significantly higher. This means the system pays about the same as a tort system, it's just less of a lottery. We don't have the man who loses his livelihood and gets nothing, nor the man who gets a couple of scratches and becomes a millionaire for pain and sufferring (to whatever extent that actually happened).

So why don't we just have a serious tax on alcohol and allow complete but fair recovery out of this general fund for anyone injured or killed by our favorite deadly national pastime?

School segregation

While eating lunch last month in a teacher's lounge I was shocked to come across a discussion of school segregation. At this school, teachers were talking about some German exchange students who were bewildered at the lack of motivation in their American counterparts.

It was not just an IQ gap (foreign exchange students from any country will likely be smarter and more motivated than their host country's average student) that bewildered them. Apparently in Germany the high school you attend is based off of standardized test scores. Across the board, only highly intelligent and motivated students get into the best high schools, others go to trade schools, or less impressive college prep schools. Thus students in Germany are not all given the same curriculum. Some will have advanced courses of study and some will have very technically specialized courses.

Clearly this is not possible in the United States, for their still exists a black-white education gap (see Freakonimics, Levitt & Dubner, thanks Thomas) and any move to re-segregate would be seen as racially motivated (not to mention the Brown vs. Board of Education hurdle). If it were possible, though, would it even be a good idea? While I support the idea of full inclusion for special education students, there are some students that clearly do not want to be in school, and I would be lying to you if I told you I did not want to take them by the seat of their pants and boot them right out the door.

Recap: school segregation based off of ability, good or bad?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Al Gore and the Media and Democracy and Voting and the Kitchen Sink

A little over a month ago, Al Gore gave a speech about the threat of the media to our democracy.
http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1006-28.htm

I never saw this appear on any major news outlets and still cannot find copies of transcripts besides in liberal media websites. He does outline a serious issue however. Is democracy possible without an open discussion of ideas? I personally have to agree with him, that the large corporations that run the media have a specific interest in NOT reporting "bad" news.

Of interest to me lately has been electronic voting. I still believe there are serious issues with our electronic voting devices. Private corporations controlling the machines and not making their software open source scares me greatly. However, I hear very little of this in the mainstream news. Is this a problem that no one cares or is it that we want to believe we live in a perfect democracy where vote rigging could not occur? Does our American culture prompt us to avoid discussing serious issues at the core of our country?

This post comes immediately after seeing "Good Night and Good Luck" (an excellent film), which shows Edward Murrow arguing that television as a medium should be used for education and not simply entertainment. Is it possible to educate people through televisions, especially now where it is almost entirely viewed as an entertainment source? Will this occur with all of our mass communication mediums? Is television a good tool for discussion since it is one-way?

I think Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame has begun making it his personal mission to point out the flaws in "news" coverage by television. Shows such as Crossfire are used as entertainment and drama instead of forums for public discussion. Has journalism lost its power to address societal concerns involving politicians and corporations since both seem to have such sway over them? Can it be regained? The Watergate scandal broke in the newspapers after 6 months of research by the authors. Are news companies willing to invest that much time in a story that may never come to fruition? If so are horrible scandals occurring constantly that are never discovered?

Well I have rambled quite a bit, but these are all issues on my mind of late. I know the answers to some of my questions, but the most troubling our how do I help fix the problems I see?

Oxymoron of American Culture?

I haven't done much research on this, but one of the common accusations leveled at Americans is that "Americans don't have any culture." Being an American I find myself called upon to argue, although usually I just smile and let the conversation go on to other subjects. But what does having culture mean, anyway?

Does it mean having art, great works of literature and a thriving theatre scene? If so, America has those things: distinctive art styles, authors such as Hemingway and Vonnegut, and the repertory theatre movement has maintained theatre as a thriving means of expression throughout the country.

Does it mean having specific traditions, events, dances and music? American holidays are rather uniquely celebrated, they're full of commercialism, yes, but the food and activities are traditional. We've been exporting new music and dance styles since at least the early twentieth century (swing, ragtime, jazz, blues and later rock and roll, rap, R&B) each with specific dances.

What about the other less artistic forms of culture? What about American movies, television and magazines? These aren't too far from artistic pursuits. What about lifestyle? You can't convince me McDonalds and suburbia isn't some form of culture, if not necessarily admirable. What about the internet and mobile phones?

Sometimes the response implies that there is no unique American culture. This has two aspects:

Does the world adopting certain aspects of American culture reduce it's cultural significance? I think so, or at least the apparent magnitude, but for the sake of argument, let's look at other questions too.

Does the diversity of cultures inside America counteract each other so that there is no one 'American' culture but instead African American culture, American South culture, New York City culture, etc?

So if none of these definitions fit, what is it that we don't have that so many people in the rest of the world considers the US to have no culture?

The conclusion I am coming upon is that what they really mean is that we have no history, but I hope to hear some other ruminations on this subject.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Evolution of Content Distribution (Not actually about evolution).

We can now transfer data with astounding speed and ease. The full effects of our ability to shuffle content effortlessly around the globe will probably not be appreciable for decades. But the first glances at the future are slipping out as television gets hip: MSNBC, Apple, Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and the BBC all seem to be responding to the new ground rules with verve.

Does this mean we're entering an era where we actually get direct distribution for television, and shows that are cheap or free? Creator-to-Consumer distribution seems like a good thing for most of us, but could it lead to the death of local broadcasting?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Supreme Court-Catholic majority?

I was reading about the Alito confirmation on Volokh Conspiracy when I came across this fascinating comment to a post by David Bernstein on the possibility of a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court:

I think one reason for the dominance of Jews and Catholics in the law is that both of our traditions have a long history of linguistic interpretation and detailed analysis of laws, rules, and regulations. Protestantism, has a strong strain of anti-intellectualism, rooted in the emotivist ideal of an "individual relationship with God." This is not true of all Protestants or variations of Protestantism, of course, but it's pretty central to numerous Protestant sects, where contempt is openly shown for "the man who would rather read Shakespeare than the Bible."

While Catholics and Jews embrace the ideas of authority and tradition within their religious traditions, Protestantism has in many respects broken them down. Even now, I'd wager, Catholics and Jews are overrepresented in the learned professions, specifically law and medicine. I think this comes from the culture of respect for learning as an end in itself, which is largely abesnt from Protestant traditions.

I think this anti-intellectualism explains in part the lack of serious constitutional scholarlship by a Harriett Miers, nor the recognition of this fact by Bush and Miers herself. For both of them, approaching a text with a "good heart" is all that is needed. A lifetime of study is likely only to get one into trouble with unnecessary, byzantine complexity. --Roach (blogger, V.C.)

Is it a fair assessment to state that overall, Catholics and Jews, with their extensive religious histories and their focus on canon and theology, tend to have a leg up on their "emotive" Protestant competition? Years of research and resources (by the respective religions) spent on the study of their religious texts would seem to say so, but is it too large of a jump to associate the religious hierarchy of these churches with their practicing laypeople?

If this statement seems to hold some grain of truth, then what does this mean for those of other religions, agnostics, and atheists who wish to practice law or hold court?

Record oil profits

I noticed on Google News on Thursday that oil companies recorded mind-numbing profits. Exxon-Mobil's profits for the third quarter alone were $8.3 billion. Open markets and fewer disincentives are almost always a good thing, but just how openly can people boycott gasoline? Times are much different than they were in 1955. (Montgomery Bus Boycott and the last time a transportation boycott worked). Since that time we have evolved into a truly global society, people have a longer commute, and our dependence upon energy thus seems to be at a peak.

The question is who is at fault? Of all the industries, it seems energy seems to be the one the most behind the times. Yet, there are problems with transportation as there have been few attempts to change to a more efficient mode of transport. How do we reconcile an industry in its twilight (non-renewable energy sources) with brewing political (anti-regulation), economic (COLA), and social (need for independence/anti mass transportation) crises?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

STD punishment?

I found this comment in a Volokh Conspiracy discussion of sexually transmitted diseases (the author posts as Houston Lawyer):

I would like to know why spreading VD is not a crime or at least a tort in this country. One of the reasons that VD is so rampant is that the perpetrator is never punished. Is there some societal value in allowing those with incurable and often deadly diseases having the unfettered right to have sex with uninformed partners?

The discussion of sex in America frequently centers around birth control, but could many of our "problems" (teen pregnancy rate, incurable STDs, high abortion rates) be solved through jurisprudence?

Monday, October 24, 2005

End of Faith

For some reason I got talked into holding a discussion event here in Tulsa for a local humanist group. I plan to present Sam Harris' book End of Faith.

It has been a few months since I read it and was going to launch a discussion of it here. I'm looking for points good and bad so I can play devil's advocate during the discussion.

For those of you who have not read it, the topic matter is the dangers of religious beliefs in a world with weapons of mass destruction. If a believer of a religion thinks they are going to a better place after this world then the have nothing to lose by killing non-believers along with themselves.

Anyway I'm looking for discussion points mainly here.
http://www.samharris.org/


Aside: I'm going to be in a zombie movie: Please Don't Feed the Zombies.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Media omnipresence in wartime

I am not posting this in attempt to convert anyone to "flower-power" (as I still believed in armed action in certain circumstances), but I was reading an article from Radio Free Afghanistan about the burning of dead Taliban bodies, and I realized that war in the information age seems to be quite problematic.

The 10-cent version of the story is that U.S. soldiers killed two Taliban fighters, then burned the corpses after 24-48 hours for health reasons. In addition, while the corpses were burning the soldiers called out to the remaining Taliban (over a loudspeaker), taunting them with only slightly more inflammatory remarks than Governor Schwarzenegger. After reading the article, the only thing I can find that the soldiers did wrong is they did not follow the Muslim practice of cleaning and burying the bodies within 24 hours of death.

Was this act overblown? Poor judgment? Wrong? Reprehensible?

With the media (or video recording devices) seemingly everywhere, has war stopped becoming a viable option, due to the ability of opponents to manipulate even smaller transgressions?

Do we want to keep the "war" card on the table and somehow limit media access?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A better Iraq?

Since today is the beginning of the Saddam Hussein trial, I thought I would focus on nationalism and utilitarianism. Simple question: Was the U.S. led invasion of Iraq the right thing to do? It seems the argument breaks into two lines of thought: Yes, it is our duty as the leading superpower in the world to either 1) protect our interests/citizens (terrorism argument), 2) spread freedom/democracy to all dictatorships on earth (utilitarianism) --OR-- No, the U.S. led invasion of Iraq was against international law. I am going to go with yes (I think nationalism is dead, the U.N. needs more strength) and hope someone argues the counterpoint in a comment or post.

I was not always willing to take the side of the "coalition of the good", but I was reading the front page of the October 18, 2005 Kansas City Star and had a change of heart. The article was titled Hussein's Reckoning, and went into detail about the tactics former President Hussein used to stay in power. Torture was the main method.

Before I go any further, I want to note that for better or for worse, I found Abu Ghraib to morally reprehensible, but it didn't seem to be torture. I'm not saying I would WANT to be put into any of those situations (rabid dogs barking inches from my body, Metallica at all hours, naked man-piles, etc.), but it wasn't exactly Dante's Inferno.

That being said, Hussein's torture was more in line with Dante. Examples the U.S. State Department gave were: medical experimentation, rape committed while a victim's spouse watched, and scorpions used to sting naked children in front of their parents. That does not include the attempted genocide of the Kurdish minority (for siding with Iran in the 1980 Iran-Iraq war). Strictly from a numbers standpoint this has to be a better Iraq (Hussein's ruling Baath party was a minority), right?

There seems to be but one negative (and a 400 pound gorilla, at that) from the ousting of Hussein. The power vacuum left has the Sunnis pouting (out of understandable fear) which creates the possibility of a civil war. Previously life was rough, but you knew who not to cross (Saddam's Baath party). Now with corruption and guerrilla war rampant in the country, people don't have a clue how long they will live (48 hours or 48 years). Even so, if Iraq is able to stabilize itself (even after a civil war) and include that Sunni minority, it could be an example for an extremely volatile region, and that would be a good thing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Reporter's Shield Law

The Free Flow of Information Act of 2005 has received some criticism recently.

In response to Judith Miller's imprisonment, the FFIA attempts to set limits on when the Federal government can compel journalists to reveal their sources.

The tricky part is determining just who a "journalist" is.

Excluding bloggers from the bill seems silly during this transformative stage in media. In five years, blogs could be a main source of news for many Americans, or they could die out in favor of some other cultural fixation (just as blogs replaced personal homepages, and personal homepages replaced family newsletters, and family newsletters replaced talking to people you care about). Since we don't know how blogs will affect the media, we might want to wait and see before contributing to legislative bloat.

But if anything, I think the bill is too permissive. The bill covers anyone who disseminates information by any electronic means, and who publishes a periodical in print or electronic form. To me, it seems like that would include bloggers, despite Lugar's suggestion to the contrary.

If bloggers are covered, that's when things get really scary.

...[T]he Internet and participatory media have turned everyone into the media. The Fourth Estate used to be pretty well-defined--the guys who owned the broadcast licenses and the big pressses were the "media", period. But now, the definition isn't so clear...
-CIO Insight

So under this bill, if bloggers are covered, anyone can receive protection against revealing sources if they just publish the information on their blog. Since anyone can have a blog, all information becomes protected, even information that shouldn't be.

Which brings us back to the principal case:
Libby was not promoting the "free flow of information" or blowing the whistle on government corruption or evil in high places. Libby was defending the White House against a political attack... it is very hard to see how it would have been the sort of communication that is so important to democratic government that either participant should be excused from testifying before a grand jury about it.
-TigerHawk


So what information should be protected? How about protecting any 1) widely disseminated information that was 2) necessarily secured through an explicit promise of confidentiality, so long as 3) the information was reasonably believed to be accurate by the source, and 4) that concealing the identity of the source does not impede an investigation into matters more serious than those revealed by the source?

Basically, if you get valuable info, it's only protected if you share it. You have to try to get it without promising confidentiality first. The source can't just be lying. And the source's concealment can't conceal crimes that are more serious than the matters revealed (so a murderer won't be concealed for identifying a jaywalker, someone possibly guilty of treason won't be concealed after revealing fodder for a political attack).

Thoughts?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Marriage discussion

I was reading a guest blogger on Volokh Conspiracy, and was surprised to find that she was against same-sex marriage (SSM). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Volokh Conspiracy, it is a fairly prominent libertarian thought blog. The arguments were a bit cumbersome (for me), and the comments were even more verbose, but feel free to check it out because it is an interesting read.

The one comment I found particularly interesting regarded a narrowing of the definition of marriage-to only childbearing heterosexual couples. The idea was based of the blogger's comment that society needs procreation, and only heterosexual couples (this obviously overlooks the current use of technology) can procreate, therefore only childbearing couples really deserve the title of marriage. I found this idea interesting because it cuts into the SSM proponents' argument I find most compelling: denying SSM is a civil rights violation.

If our government confers special privileges on those entering a marriage (tax breaks, etc.) then denying someone these rights based on anything other than their ability to fufill the tenets of the institution seems wrong. Now, I understand that some believe a MAJOR tenet to be heterosexuality, but that seems to be the most banal of arguments, so if you are one of those people we will have to agree to disagree.

Onto the argument of childbearing couples earning our government's title of marriage. Would this not destroy the argument of our puritanical government giving preferential treatment? I would take this one step further, and take the concept out of our tax code. Does the IRS/U.S. government need to know that I am married? What does this do other than make our tax code more complex (granted not substantially more complex). If people want to keep filing jointly, it should not be a problem because I know for a fact that bank accounts can be joined between two people who are not married.

I am interested to hear people's comments on this subject. Let's hear your arguments for/against SSM. In addition, I want to know how much importance the tax code has in your arguments.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New Bankruptcy Laws

All information came from Yahoo:

My initial concerns while reading about the new bankruptcy laws was an imbalance for the elderly, as the law was tougher on those under the age of 35 and over the age of 65. From strictly anecdotal evidence (no actual stats unfortunately) it seems to me that a large portion of fraud cases (if not most) have the elderly as victims.

This fear has been temporarily been allayed by the understanding that the bankruptcy laws force you to pass a "means test" where your income is compared with your state's median income before deciding whether you pass to Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Why does this allay my fears for the elderly... social security and pensions do not count as income in this bankruptcy formula, thereby allowing the elderly to qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, generally regarded as easier.

What does this mean? The new bankruptcy laws will follow the 20th century version of the American way: tax the future to live through the present. The people who will suffer are young enterpreneurs. Is this a bad thing? I don't know, but I am getting a little tired of "the Greatest Generation" getting the last table scraps of Social Security, feeding a massive federal deficit, and now skipping out on fiscal responsibility (but forcing it on everyone else).

I'm looking for comments on several fronts. Am I just a man bitter at the boomer generation that is destroying my physical, spiritual, and financial world for their own material needs? Is this the best bankruptcy system/modifactions we could have thought up? Should we even care about young enterpreneurs?

Dems response to Harriet Miers?

I was reading page 2 in the KC Star this morning (my favorite as it provides 3-5 quick hits which are well written and concise). I'll just note it word for word:

Apropos to the debate over Miers' religion, Article 6 of the Constitution unequivocally says that "no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or pubic trust under the United States".

I mention this because it seems to me that if a Democrat wants an excuse to vote against Harriet Miers without seeming partisan, a remark that President Bush used a de facto religious test (thereby violating/opposing the Constitution), would seem to work here.

Tony Scott

I figured I'd get this party started with the oldest Internet tradition, flaming. My target for this poorly crafted rant is director Tony Scott. Not only was this written in a insomnianic (which may be a real word) haze, but it is also the rant I used for the web comic Practice Roles (http://www.ivybramble.com/comicindex.asp cough).

A few years ago I saw his BMW short, and had respect for the man without knowing who he was. Unfortunately that all changed the day I saw Man on Fire. For those of you who don't remember Man on Fire, it was a movie that starred Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning. Dakota gets kidnapped and Denzel flips out and starts hurting people to get her back. It was a movie that was superbly written and performed, and shot in the groin by Mr. Scott. I'm not going to critique Man on Fire here because all of the points I'd make are repeated in Domino. (Warning: the following contains spoilers, but it doesn't matter because the fruit is rotten to begin with.)

The largest and most prominent problem I have with Scott is his directing style. We all know the guy who gets WAY too excited about everything. The one who is known to shout: “MAN THAT WAS TOTALLY AWESOME!!! SHE LIKE TOTALLY TOOK THAT GUN THEN WASTED THOSE GUYS IN A FUCKING HAIL OF BULLETS. AND THEN SHE LIKE TOOK OFF HER CLOTHES, MADE OUT WITH THAT DUDE THEN KICKED HIS FUCKING ASS!! IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME DUDE!!”

Thus is the Tony Scott approach to Domino. In fact take the previous paragraph, put on those cheap 3-D glasses, and read it again while shaking your monitor. There, I just saved you $8 and two hours.

The second part of the movie that got to me was the storytelling. This part I don't know how much to blame on the screenplay and how much on Scott, but since it was written by Richard Kelly, I have to assume the fault lies with the director. I read that during a Q&A session Richard Kelly said that the movie is Tony Scott's vision and that he didn't have much to do with the movie after writing the script.

I find this easy to believe because the narrative is very disjointed and muddled. It is feels like little bits were left out. Most of the plot is understandable, but never really developed. It would have been much better if Tony Scott spent more time developing the characters and plot, and not unneeded conversations like psychoanalyzing Lucy Lu's tattoo. Scenes like these could have given the story a little more flair, but came off feeling tacked on and forced.

Also there are two scenes where Scott will show you one event happening, then re-write history and show you the exact same scene again, but with a completely different outcome. The most jarring example was in the first 30 min of the film where Domino & Co. bust into a house, get the crap blown out of them, and then as the last shells are hitting the ground Tony Scott literally rewinds the tape and does the scene again where she ends up giving one of the guys a lap dance. Then later on he shows 4 kids getting shot and thrown in the ground, continues on with the main plot, then 30 minutes later comes back and says actually they weren't shot, just buried up to their heads.

It can be done well if what happened was a dream/delusion and we see what the character sees, or if something leads you to believe, but doesn't SHOW it. Yet the fact that you are shown an entire event happening, and it is presented as truth, left alone, then told that it didn't happen that way after all is poor storytelling.

Anyways, as I've mentioned above this is just my opinion, and I know there are those who disagree with me. Normally I don't get so worked up about things, but Tony Scott just rubs me the wrong way... hard... and not in the naughty way that actually feels good.

Which does make me feel a little bad because I know Tony Scott is a person trying to make what he believes to be a good movie, and I completely sympathize with that (a topic that will come up more in my Uwe Boll/John Woo rant). So I'm gonna stop now and order Tony Scott a fruit basket.

-Engel

Saturday, October 15, 2005

First Post!

I claim this corner of the Blogosphere for France!

Hello Blogosphere!

I was reflecting on my sins the other day and realized that I was one of the world's worst communicators. Rarely do I keep up with friends unless its absolutely necessary. Then I realized the problem... your lives are boring! I only really care about your thoughts on game theory and the global ramifications of Chinese SEZs.

I was telling Thomas this evening of my idea, and thus the Theory Bloc was born. He told me of Blogger and we agreed that it would be the ideal arena in which to share all types of intellectual thought (the difference between "my girlfriend dumped me" and "the effect of lying on intergender communication") at our own leisure. Feel free to post and comment on others' posts as needed. If you have an idea for someone who would be good for this blog, then send me a line.