Saturday, December 17, 2005

Oppose the war on white people!

Brad Templeton has a very funny post. I'm quoting the whole thing -- but don't let that stop you from checking out Brad's blog, which really is reliably full of really interesting stuff.
Major retail chains Target, Wal-Mart and others announced today they will end the so-called war on white people that had resulted in most stores posting signs welcoming “shoppers” or “customers” instead of “white patrons”, even though white people represented a considerable majority of their business. “I’m white, and I’m here shopping for gifts for my white friends, and I’m offended that the store has been pressured into making some generic greeting that doesn’t reflect me.” said William O’ Reilly, a concerned caucasian shopper. “If they’re not going to welcome me and my race, I am going to take my business somewhere else.” O’Reilly’s complaint, echoed by dozens, perhaps scores of other shoppers, has led the chains to alter their policies. Signs declaring “Look good with today’s colors” will be replaced next year with “Look good in colors designed for white skin.” The “Happy holidays” sign, recently changed to “Merry Christmas” will be further changed to “Merry Christmas for White America” to reflect the ethnicity and religion of 80% of the shoppers in the stores.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

President Bush

Brian Williams asked the President about Iraq.
Williams: A lot of people have seen in this series of speeches you're giving on Iraq, a movement in your position. They call it an acknowledgement that perhaps the mission has not gone as it was originally planned — three points: That the U.S. would be welcomed as liberators, that General Shinsecki, when he said this would take hundreds of thousands of troops in his farewell speech, might have been right. And third, that it wasn't a self-sustaining war in terms of the oil revenue. Do you concede those three points might not have gone as planned? President Bush: Review them with me again. Williams: Number one — that we'd be welcomed as liberators? President Bush: I think we are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


This might be my first blogger meme ever, I'm not sure. Clayton hit me, and like Shieva, I'm procrastinating. So here I go. 1. Seven things to do before I die
  1. Run a marathon.
  2. Write my very last required term paper.
  3. Win a poker tournament.
  4. Earn a Ph.D.
  5. Get paid to sing.
  6. Live in England.
  7. Write the seminal work in imagination and epistemology.
2. Seven things I cannot do
  1. Convince people that a picture of a logical impossibility is a picture of a logical impossibility.
  2. Sing tenor roles.
  3. Instantiate triangularity in my thoughts about triangles.
  4. Win the Super Bowl three times in four years.
  5. When I have a full house, and another player in the same game has four of a kind, and neither of us folds, win.
  6. Be really dryly ironic without being taken seriously.
  7. Reliably predict whether indeterminate future-tense sentences will become true. (Damn sea-battles!!!)
3. Seven things that attract me to my spouse/best friend (I'll answer for spouse.)
  1. Her endless patience with all my little adventures and misadventures.
  2. Her comfort with polyamory.
  3. Her ability to do all -- yes, all -- of the things I can't do.
  4. The skillful and sensitive way she handles our hypothetical children.
  5. Her status as a self-actualized, independent woman, demanding of and receiving the respect and admiration of those who encounter her.
  6. Her bazoomies.
  7. Her complete and utter perfection (with the single possible exception, if being is necessary for perfection, which it probably isn't, of there being no such spouse).
4. Seven things I say most often
  1. "I think that insights from the philosophy of imagination can shed some interesting light on this issue."
  2. "Right on."
  3. "I'll raise."
  4. "It is, it is, a glorious thing to be a pirate king!" (typically sung)
  5. "I guess I worry that [insert decisive argument against the view here]."
  6. "It's cool."
  7. "Rock on, dude. Yeah!"
5. Seven books I love
  1. Yeomen of the Guard vocal score.
  2. The World of the Imagination, Eva Brann
  3. Conceivability and Possibility, Gendler & Hawthorne, eds.
  4. Santa Lives! Five Conclusive Arguments for the Existence of Santa Claus, Ellis Weiner
  5. The Butter-Battle Book, Dr. Seuss
  6. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  7. The Constitution of the United States of America
6. Seven movies I would watch over and over if I had the time
  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. The Princess Bride
  3. Topsy-Turvy
  4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  5. Finding Neverland
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. Clue
7. Seven people I want to join in, too
  1. Aristotle
  2. Augustine
  3. Descartes
  4. Locke
  5. Hume
  6. Carnap
  7. Wittgenstein

Monday, November 21, 2005


Here's the latest from Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council:
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is urging that decisions on vaccines to prevent HPV (a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer) be "based on science not politics," and she warns ominously that "recent press reports indicate that certain organizations are beginning to mobilize against the vaccine." The senator shouldn't believe everything she reads. Despite the apparent determination of the media to paint FRC as "anti-vaccine," we have declared clearly that FRC "welcomes the news that vaccines are in development" for human papillomavirus (HPV).
Let me paraphrase the dialectic, as represented here:
Scientists: We can maybe prevent HPV. Some groups: No, if we prevent HPV, then teenagers will have sex! Hillary Clinton: Some groups are against this vaccine. That's bad. Tony Perkins: I never said I was against the vaccine!
Perkins is speaking truthfully here, but wouldn't the sensible thing to do be to interpret Hillary as referring to the horrific and deplorable right-wing groups who are opposed to administering the vaccine to all girls?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Lindsay Beyerstein points to the FDA getting caught red-handed.
The non-partisan GAO published a report yesterday saying that FDA officials rejected Plan B's application to be sold over-the-counter months before the scientific review was completed.
Shocking, and yet somehow, hardly a surprise. Sorry I haven't been around much here lately. My philosophy life and my light opera life are taking up lots and lots of my time, leaving 'social' and 'other' (including things I'd blog about here) with an even smaller piece of the pie than usual. After this week, I may be around here more.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Analysis of Texas Marriage Amendment

This whole banning all marriage thing in Texas is picking up steam, and controversy. It's now a for-real factor. My attitude toward it thus far has been mostly one of ironic amusement (partially out of self-pleasure at the thought of having been the first person ever to notice this bit of idiocy), but that's consistent with my thinking it's really a big deal. (In some respects, I'm much more ironically amused about life in general than some people realize.) So here's a serious post about a serious worry that social conservatives should have about this amendment. I have to admit, I'm a little bit surprised that now that it's gotten some public exposure, it hasn't gotten a lot of public grip. The Volokh Conspiracy has a long thread full of comments debating how big a concern this is, with an apparent majority in the "oh please, just relax about it" crowd. Focus on the Family has two warnings about liberal groups who are lying to voters, attempting to trick them into thinking the amendment would call for the end of formal legal recognition of all marriages. They do not engage -- or even mention -- the textualist argument in question, and they strongly insinuate, but do not literally claim, that the people talking to the voters about this are lying about their identities, a claim that has been denied in the Houston Chronicle. Even Charles Kuffner, my former MOB colleague and liberal Texas blogger extraordinaire, writes: I don't buy it and I don't think the voters will, either. Conservative blogger extraordinaire Jeremy Pierce wrote in a comment to my last post on the topic, the most plausible way to read this is clearly not taking 'identical' to mean strict identity but to mean "exactly similar but distinct from. I think that everybody is under-reacting. Here are some facts that seem both important and obviously true: Marriage is, among other things, a legal institution. A legislature could pass a bill or a joint resolution that would end and prohibit the legal institution of marriage. If a legislature were to do such a thing, the relevant statute would include at least two parts: a definition of marrage and a statement to the effect that marriage has no legal status. This is exactly how the proposed constitutional amendment is structured. So, the text of the amendment unambiguously ends state recognition of all marriage in Texas. It is exactly the amendment that someone would draft who wanted to abolish marriage. Now, another important question: how serious is the risk that if the amendment passes, courts will interpret it as striking down even traditional marriage? I don't really know. Probably not huge. But look at what this move amounts to: we're trusting the judges to interpret the amendment the way it was intended. I thought the whole reason people wanted a constitutional amendment was so that we wouldn't be at the mercy of judges with respect to important things like the legal status of marriage. That's why the fact that marriage is already defined as a union between one man and one woman in the Texas Family Code (along with judicial precendent a mile long to back it up) isn't good enough. The amendment leaves marriage more vulnerable than ever -- if what we're really worried about is judicial activism, then we're just inviting the judicial activists to come in and read this text as saying what it is obviously literally saying, and presto, the entire legal institution of marriage in the state of Texas has been destroyed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Media Matters uncritically reproduced Brooks count/mass error

In an October 25 entry on the Media Matters for America web site, Media Matters repeated claims by New York Times columnist David Brooks that "the amount of American people who have heard about Karl Rove is small." Media Matters disputed the factual claim, but failed to report that Brooks was committing a grammatical error by using 'amount', a mass noun measurement, to refer to 'people', who are discrete entities. From the Tuesday Media Matters site:
New York Times columnist David Brooks claimed that the grand jury investigation into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame is "not a politically important story" because "[t]he amount of American people who have heard about Karl Rove is small." But contrary to Brooks's comments, made on the October 23 broadcast of ABC's This Week, recent public opinion polls indicate that the public is well aware of the White House senior adviser and that many have formed an opinion of him.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Texas Bans Marriage: You read it here first!

Today the Texas Freedom Network emailed its subscribers the following "Action Alert":
TFN ACTION ALERT AMENDMENT BLUNDER THREATENS ALL TEXAS MARRIAGES Today legal experts and clergy are warning voters that the proposed marriage amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot includes flawed language that could ANNUL ALL MARRIAGE in Texas. That’s right: Far-right lawmakers demanded a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and then approved flawed amendment wording that could end ALL marriages in the state. The language of the proposed marriage amendment reads as follows: a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage. Without the word “other” before “legal status identical or similar to marriage” – a qualifier included in marriage amendments around the country – Section (b) actually prohibits all marriage, including marriages defined in the Section (a)! This blunder by far-right lawmakers could leave all marriages in this state vulnerable to challenges in court if Proposition 2 passes on the Nov. 8 ballot. Far-right lawmakers this year failed miserably on issues that working Texas families really care about, like fixing the way Texas pays for its schools and restoring full funding to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Now we know that they have even failed to protect marriage in our state. TAKE ACTION · Protect marriage and all Texas families by voting “NO” on Nov. 8. Early voting begins today! · Write a letter to your local newspaper to warn readers about the flawed amendment and its threat to all Texas marriages.
The Texas Freedom Network is absolutely right about this. I pointed out as much in May, three days after the thing passed the Senate. Proposition 2 in Texas is the most anti-family law that any state has ever attempted to pass in the history of the United States of America. People who care about family should stop at nothing to defeat it.

Department Web Page

I've just updated my department web page with a new picture and a list of a bunch of questions about imagination I've been thinking about. Check it out if you care to see such things.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Religion doesn't matter, so long as they're religious

Check this out. Last Thursday, Tony Perkins sent out a Family Research Council "Washington Update", as he does most days, and, as it often does, it included two items. The first was a lofty statement about how religious convictions shouldn't alone be considered as a reason to oppose or to endorse any particular political player. He took issue with complaints about Harriet Miers's evangelical Christianity, but he also warned his base not to favor her merely on that basis.
The same must be said now for advocacy of Harriet Miers. We are the last people on earth to object to the news that she is a committed Christian; the Good News is, above all, great news for her. And we reiterate, this fact about her is neither grounds for objection nor a fit object for examination by the Senate. By the same token, this fact is not grounds for certifying her to us or to the public. It's not just that religious conviction is an unreliable indicator of a judicial philosophy (though it clearly is), it's that inferences drawn from an individual's religious affiliation have no place in decisions to nominate or confirm a judicial appointee.
That all sounds pretty much exactly right to me. I read this piece and had a rare moment when I thought that Mr. Perkins had really had something sensible to say. Then I read the very next piece, which immediately followed that one in the same email:
Lynn charged the President with having a "religious litmus test." Why? Because the President dared to say back in 2002 that he would select judges who understand "that our rights are derived from God." Horrors! Imagine that. Why, Bush believes that Jefferson was right when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are "endowed by [our] Creator with certain inalienable rights."
The man immediately turned around and wrote about how it's ok to only endorse candidates who believe that we wouldn't have rights if God didn't give them to us. I have no idea how to make sense of this. It's not just that he obviously didn't mean what he said in his first claim; it's that he doesn't even seem to care how inconsistent he looks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

In lieu of flowers...

I never really did understand the point of making expensive gestures to dead people. I think this guy has the right idea. Thanks to Jess for the link.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


The rhetoric from the Family Research Council is even more shocking than usual today. Here's Tony Perkins:
Liberal advocacy groups are also delving into the nominee's background. A story in a homosexual newspaper--The New York Blade--reports on Dallas homosexual leaders' meetings with Harriet Miers when she sought election to the Dallas City Council in 1989. "She was not hostile, nor did she come across as some kind of right-wing ideologue," said Louise Young, formerly with the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition of Dallas. Ultimately, the group declined to support Miers. ... Despite this non-endorsement by his group, Marc Lerro said his fellow homosexual leaders viewed the fact that Miers met with them and filled out their questionnaire as "a positive gesture." Today, Lerro says "I can't say...she will be good on our issues, but on a personal level, she was very open to having gay people serve on boards and commissions." ... I have a concern that Miss Miers was helping to legitimize the drive of homosexual organizations for power and influence over our public policies. You can be sure Harriet Miers will be closely questioned on these and other matters when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It looks to me like Tony Perkins just came amazingly close to expressing concern over the fact that the nominee didn't come across as some kind of right-wing ideologue.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

U.S. Military Prisoner Abuse Update

Two must-read posts at Crooked Timber, here and here. Henry has it right: "At this stage, anyone who’s sticking to the “few bad apples” story is delusional, lying or both." I'm literally shaking from an unholy combination of outrage, fear, disgust, and sadness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

National Day of Action on Darfur

Today, September 21, 2005, has been designated by the Save Darfur Coalition as a National Day of Action on Darfur. There is a current recognized genocide several times the magnitude of Rwanda happening right now, and almost nothing is being done about it. When's the last time you read about Darfur in the news? Reports estimate the number dead at 400,000. Another 2.5 million have been driven from their home by violence. And the atrocities run much deeper than that. Rape of women and children is commonplace. Here is a picture drawn by a child, and his description of it (courtesy of Human Rights Watch): Mahmoud, Age 13 Human Rights Watch: What’s happening here? Mahmoud: These men in green are taking the women and the girls. Human Rights Watch: What are they doing? Mahmoud: They are forcing them to be wife. Human Rights Watch: What’s happening here? Mahmoud: The houses are on fire. Human Rights Watch: What’s happening here? Mahmoud: This is an Antonov. This is a helicopter. These here, at the bottom of the page, these are dead people. Lots more pictures at the link above. This is the most terrible thing happening on Earth, and the lack of a strong international response is appalling. The first step is to know what is happening.

Houston is in my thoughts

I was in town for Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. I hope that Rita isn't too bad. Many, many of my friends, many of whom read this blog, are in Houston, and in my thoughts today.

More from Texas

This story is pretty disgusting. (Registration required, unfortunately. If you like, use and donjoe1, courtesy of bugmenot.) A prison inmate says he was raped every day for eighteen months, and that his requests for help were ignored. I don't get this part:
Attorneys for the prison officials said Johnson wanted to be placed in a "safekeeping" area for vulnerable inmates only because some of his love interests were there. They also said Johnson's letters were inconsistent, sometimes saying he needed help and other times saying he feared what could happen to him.
So wait, is needing help inconsistent with fearing what might happen? Weird journalism, here. At any rate, a sickening story. The inmate in question is gay. You'd better believe this is a gay rights issue, and that things would've been different if he hadn't been gay.

Google Wi-Fi

Apparently, Google is thinking about moving into wireless internet services. Interesting. How will it work? Where will it serve? Can they offer it with just ads? Or what will it cost? Google does interesting stuff. Let's keep watching this one.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Posting has been very light because I've been very busy. But I have just enough time tonight to point out that a Massachusetts company wants to put human settlers on Mars in the next twenty years.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FOTF, PETA, and God

It's sort of funny to observe what positions groups that defend traditional family values end up finding important. I (sort of) get the opposition to gay marriage, I get the anti-pornography, anti-gambling, anti-divorce, maybe even anti-abortion. All of these things at least seem plausibly related to the stregnth of the family. But I have no idea why Focus on the Family feels the need to be anti-vegetarian. Does refraining from eating meat lead to the break-up of many American families? Here's the latest from their Citizenlink newsletter.
Animal Rights Group Twists Scripture from staff reports Spots on Christian radio may leave many thumbing through their Bibles. An ad campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) quotes Scripture to argue for vegetarianism. A female voice in the spot, which is airing on Christian radio, makes this case: "The Bible says that God knows when every sparrow falls. He knows the horrible conditions that cows, pigs and chickens are raised in." ... The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has released a study analyzing PETA's manipulation of Scripture and religious imagery. David Martosko, a spokesman for CCF, told Family News in Focus that PETA freely twists Scripture for its own means. "PETA is a group that has no respect for Christian teaching, but claims to speak for Christians," he said. "We think this is a very dangerous trend."
Is PETA doing anything anti-Biblical here? I mean, as far as I can tell, there might be room for intelligent debate as to whether, according to the Bible, God cares how we treat animals. But the PETA claim about what the Bible says is correct, and I think that it would be absurd for any Christian who takes the Bible seriously to deny that God "knows the horrible conditions that cows, pigs and chickens are raised in." Maybe someone could argue that actually, God doesn't care that his people put animals into such horrible conditions, but that would have to be established -- it's far from obvious, from any passage in the Bible that I know. (And frankly, I find it very difficult to imagine any benevolent being failing to care about such things.) I see no twisting of Scripture here whatsoever.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Better Stories from the Gulf

Here is the closest thing to a feel-good story about Katrina I've seen.
Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson jumped aboard the bus as it sat abandoned on a street in New Orleans and took control. "I just took the bus and drove all the way hours straight,' Gibson admitted. "I hadn't ever drove a bus." The teen packed it full of complete strangers and drove to Houston. He beat thousands of evacuees slated to arrive there. "It's better than being in New Orleans," said fellow passenger Albert McClaud, "we want to be somewhere where we're safe."
Check out wonderful pictures here. A close second closest thing to a feel-good story is here.

Blame has a nice explanation of what's behind both sides of the dizzying argument about whether or how much blame for the New Orleans disaster can be placed on the Bush administration. The short version is, Bush did substantially cut funding for levee improvements and reinforcements, but the administration-allied Army Corps of Engineers says that the improvements wouldn't have made a difference, and it's basically impossible to tell whether they're right or not. The long version is here. Posting this link does not constitute an endorsement of this debate. Let's get things at least a little bit under control before we start worrying about whose short-sighted policies are to blame.

Road Trip Complete

Safe in Providence now, for anyone wondering. Lots of unpacking to do, and preparing to direct Iolanthe and take courses and teach my course on fiction.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Road Trip Advice

I'm driving from Houston, Texas to Providence, Rhode Island this week. I've done this drive a few times now. I usually drive along I-10 from Houston through to the east side of Louisiana, then take I-59 north through Atlanta. The thing is, I'm watching Hurricane Katrina, which expects to hit New Orleans Tuesday and proceed up through Mississippi. If I go my usual path, I'll be going through much of its wake, about a day later than the eye of the storm. I'm wondering how bad an idea that is. (Track Katrina here.) It's apparently a serious hurricane, because they're evacuating New Orleans. But I wouldn't be there for the worst of it. I'm just worried that the roads will be in bad condition, or that the weather will still be bad enough such that driving is non-ideal. There's an alternate possible route that I just made up. I could start north from Houston on US-59, then take I-30 and I-40 east through Little Rock, then all of Tennessee. I've never used those highways, so I don't know how nice or not-nice a drive it is. Yahoo! maps tells me that going this way will add about two and a half hours to my trip, which is not really all that much, considering the 2000 miles ahead of me. And it might be worth it to miss the possible hurricane mess. Thoughts? Anyone familiar with the highways in question, or just how bad areas with recent hurricanes are likely to be?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Protect families!

The California Supreme Court has ruled that homosexual partners can carry legal responsibilities as parents. Tony Perkins has this completely misleading thing to say:
The further we move from nature's own definition of family and allow the state to define "parenthood" without reference to biology, marriage, or even legal commitment, the more we invite endless meddling by the courts. And when the California Supreme Court decides that a child doesn't need both a mom and a dad, it is the children who ultimately lose.
In fact, the cases are all about legal commitment, and one of them does involve two biological mothers. And they are clearly designed to protect the children. This is clear even from reading Focus on the Family's description of the cases. Here's the NYT story. The short version is, in each case, homosexual partners promised to one another to play parenting roles, then split. And one partner wants out of the deal, on the grounds that they're not really parents. California says no, you promised to be a parent, so you incur legal responsibilities. In what twisted world are these anti-family decisions?

Protect Marriage!

The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas voters will go to the polls November 8 to vote on Constitutional amendments. By far the most interesting proposal is Proposition 2, which would ratify a new Article 32 to the "Bill of Rights" of the Texas Constitution. The Chronicle coverage accurrately states:
If Proposition 2 is approved in a Nov. 8 statewide vote, Texas will join more than a dozen states that statutorily and constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.
What the Chronicle fails to add is that, as I posted in May, Texas would also become the first state to constitutionally ban marriage outright, as it includes a provision prohibiting recognition of any legal status that is identical to marriage. Now is the time for Texans who are serious about defending marriage to get together and bring out the vote against this devastatingly anti-family amendment. Let's get James Dobson involved.

Hey, I'm back!

So I'm back in the U.S. California just now. Then briefly Houston, before heading back to Rhode Island for the school year. I had an amazing time in England. You can read all the gory details in my Buxton Blog, if you like. I even managed to pick up a troll over there! That's my second in as many months. Go me. Expect a number of rather short posts from me in the near future as I skim through things I've missed in the past month.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


My blog traffic is way up in the past few days. Comments have been heating up, too -- see here, here, and here. (EDIT: and, most especially, here.) Unfortunately, instead of cultivating and building on that momentum, I'm leaving tomorrow to go spend three weeks singing at a Gilbert & Sullivan festival in England. I will have at least periodic internet access, but it's unlikely that I will spend much time with this blog until I get back August 22. I will be checking email and updating my G&S blog. Don't expect controversial liberal politics there. But if you want to argue with me about the merits and demerits of various interpretations of comic operas, Jonathan's Buxton Diary is the place for it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Paper on Dreaming and Skepticism

I've put together a new paper incorporating much of the work I've been doing with dreams, imagination, and epistemology. If anyone's interested in reading it and offering comments, I'd be very grateful. Drop a comment or send an email if you like, and I'll send you the paper.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Wacky New England Liberal Nutjob!

I received a comment today on this entry from two months ago, and I thought I'd bring attention to the exchange to the front. I had been reacting to a NYT story about Dustin Berg:

So what did Dustin Berg do? What is it that Mr. Hendrix thinks people are unduly criticizing about?
The soldier, Cpl. Dustin M. Berg, fired three times at his Iraqi partner, Hussein Kamel Hadi Dawood al-Zubeidi, and killed him. As Corporal Berg ran away, he picked up Mr. Zubeidi's AK-47 and shot himself in the side. In the days that followed, Corporal Berg lied about what happened, saying Mr. Zubeidi was the one who had shot him. And for months he went right on lying, after he recovered from his wound, after he left Iraq, even after he received a Purple Heart he did not deserve with his parents watching at a solemn ceremony back home in Indiana.
I can't believe there's a controversy over criticism of this guy. But there is.
"In earlier wars, I don't think some of these homicide cases would be prosecuted at all," said Guy L. Womack, a Houston lawyer and retired Marine lieutenant colonel who prosecuted marines and has represented the Army reservist accused of being the ringleader of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. "We're second-guessing things we don't need to second-guess."
I wonder what sort of action would be worthy of second-guessing.
I received a comment from one Sgt. F. Emall, apparently an anonymous American university professor, who didn't at all take kindly to my remarks. Here's what he said:
Read the entire article from today's TImes and you will see what the controversy is about. The Iraqi officer, according to Berg, attempted to prevent Berg at gunpoint from reporting a suspected insurgent they had seen on the street. I.e., according to Berg, the dead Iraqi was an insurgent collaborator, minimally. But of course, to some Americans, it's easier to suspect fellow Americans than it is to suspect foreign nationals, especially when the former are in the military. Brown University in philosophy, eh? Why do I feel like I can predict most of what you think without having even read anything beyond your note on Dustin Berg? Some of us, and even some who've been through grad school ourselves, trust guys like Mr. Berg A LOT MORE than we trust philosophy grad students at Brown University. Go figure.
And here's my response:
Thank you, I have read the article, which is here. You suggest that this will explain to me what the controversy is about, but on the contrary, the article confirms that Cpl. Berg shot and killed his Iraqi colleague, then shot himself to cover the crime, repeatedly lying about the incident to his superiors. Furthermore, the article expresses Cpl. Berg's full admission of guilt and remorse: "I should have considered the Iraqi police officer to be an ally and not a threat," Corporal Berg said in court. "I believe I am negligent for the shooting. I should have used reasonable care. I should not have killed Mr. Zubeidi. I acted too quickly." Today's article shows that I was rigt when I wrote this post two months ago: Cpl. Berg's actions were deplorable, and it's absurd to complain about the fact that he's being criticized. Some of us, and even some who've been through grad school ourselves, trust guys like Mr. Berg A LOT MORE than we trust philosophy grad students at Brown University. My credibility is not at issue. I've made no factual claims; I'm interpreting the news as I read it. So whether you trust me has nothing to do with anything at all. But of course, to some Americans, it's easier to suspect fellow Americans than it is to suspect foreign nationals, especially when the former are in the military. Yes, it's quite easy for some of us to suspect fellow Americans who admit to having committed every element of the alleged crime. But yes, there are also Americans for whom it's difficult to suspect even dishonorably discharged American former soldiers who are serving prison sentences after admitting to grave misconduct. I'm comfortable in the camp I'm in. Brown University in philosophy, eh? Why do I feel like I can predict most of what you think without having even read anything beyond your note on Dustin Berg? Tempting as it is, I won't speculate as to the inner workings of your psychology, Sergeant.
Usually I let heavily-worded responses sit for an hour or two, to allow myself more time to carefully choose my words; this time I did not. I don't regret it yet, anyway.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Frame Error?

My job took me today to Texas Senate Bill 1458, a bill that does some standardizing of the building code for Texas municipalities. Pretty mundane stuff, on the whole, but I love the effective date language:
SECTION 6. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b) of this section, this Act takes effect January 1, 2006. (b) This section and Section 5 of this Act take effect September 1, 2005.
So the effective date's effective date is September 1. Cool. That means that as of September 1, the various changes to the Local Government Code will be effective January 1. Until September 1, presumably, the rest of the new law has no effective date. Awesome.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Look at the moon, look at the moon. Hey Diane, look at the moon! Be sure to zoom all the way in for the closest look.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Guest Blogging

I'll be guest-blogging at Philosophy, et cetra this week. I'll be doing philosophy there, and more of the same here. Fake Barn Country will get a reprieve from me for a little while.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Moral ambiguity!

Salon reports that a couple of years ago, the now-Pope warned us of the evils of Harry Potter:
In a letter sent two years before becoming pope, Benedict XVI expressed concern that the Harry Potter books "erode Christianity in the soul" of young people, a German writer says. Kuby argues in her book, "Harry Potter -- Good or Evil," that the Potter novels blur the boundaries between good and evil and impair young readers' ability to distinguish between the two. She also asserts that they glorify the world of witches and magicians at the expense of the human world.
I know few things in the world that 'blur the boundaries between good and evil' less than the Harry Potter books do. But then, I've only read them about five times. I'm unfortunately busy at a party tomorrow night, so I'll have to wait until Saturday morning to have the Christianity in my soul eroded.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Liberal guilt?

Everybody's favorite Pennsylvania Senator is at it again! Remember those Catholic priests who got into trouble a couple of years ago for raping children for decades? Like any reasonable person, I've spent the last few years trying to figure out who's fault it was that those clergymen used their positions of respect and authority to violate young children. Well, Rick Santorum has cleared it up for me. Who's fault is it? Mine! That is to say, it's the fault us New England liberals who support "sexual freedom" and "academic, political, and cultural liberalism".
Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, refused yesterday to back off on his earlier statements connecting Boston's ''liberalism" with the Roman Catholic Church pedophile scandal, saying that the city's ''sexual license" and ''sexual freedom" nurtured an environment where sexual abuse would occur. ''The basic liberal attitude in that area . . . has an impact on people's behavior," Santorum said in an interview yesterday at the Capitol.

Religious Tolerance in Texas

I remember noticing this a couple of years ago, but I'd forgotten it until recently. Here's §4 of the Texas Bill of Rights:
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.
No commentary needed.

Anti-Bush U.S. media bias?

A favorite trick on both the left and the right is to accuse The Media of being biased to the right or the left, respectively. How does one provide evidence for such an accusation? The way to do this is to research what information is available, and compare it to what information is being reported. If we could establish that news corporations regularly under-represent news that would tend to, say, make conservatives look good, and over-represent news that casts liberals in a positive light, then there might be a case to be made about bias. If we could establish that news corporations regularly reported false stories on behalf of a political group, or reported obviously false claims without reporting that they're obviously false, that would be an even stronger case. So allegations of media bias require a somewhat involved set of evidence to back up. This is not a trivial matter, but it can be done. It's definitely, definitely not so simple as observing that a majority of stories reported are critical of the President, therefore the media has a liberal bias. An unbiased media would call things as they are; if most of the President's newsworthy actions are such that pointing them out would be politically damaging, then an unbiased media's reports will reflect this.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Global Warming and Poverty

Fox News explains why the London bombings were a good thing.
KILMEADE: And he [British Prime Minister Tony Blair] made the statement, clearly shaken, but clearly determined. This is his second address in the last hour. First to the people of London, and now at the G8 summit, where their topic Number 1 --believe it or not-- was global warming, the second was African aid. And that was the first time since 9-11 when they should know, and they do know now, that terrorism should be Number 1. But it's important for them all to be together. I think that works to our advantage, in the Western world's advantage, for people to experience something like this together, just 500 miles from where the attacks have happened. VARNEY: It puts the Number 1 issue right back on the front burner right at the point where all these world leaders are meeting. It takes global warming off the front burner. It takes African aid off the front burner. It sticks terrorism and the fight on the war on terror, right up front all over again. KILMEADE: Yeah.
Yeah, we should let terrorists prevent us from fighting global warming and worldwide poverty. That'll show 'em. Happily, the early news is that the G8 is moving forward to do good things.
"We speak today in the shadow of terrorism, but it will not obscure what we came here to achieve," British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the summit host, said to close the three-day gathering.
And he backed it up by delivering a pledge to double aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010. (America is pledging less than Blair had hoped, but Europe seems to be on board.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Then away, we go

EDIT: Oops, I posted the latest update to my Gilbert & Sullivan life in the wrong blog. I meant it to go to my Buxton Diary, and I've moved it there. As a reminder: if you want to hear about my second life as an amateur singer, follow my Buxton Diary.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Go team.

Focus on the Family is encouraging Americans to feel a sense of moral superiority with regards to worldwide philanthropy. Here's a "news brief" from their CitizenLink update yesterday:
U.S. Outgives the World The United States gives more aid to developing countries than any other nation, reported. In a recent study by the Hudson Institute, the U.S. gave 15 times more than its European neighbors. In advance of the G8 summit and campaigns by Make Poverty History and Live 8, the study shows Americans are more generous than many claim. Church collections, philanthropists and company giving amounted to $22 billion. That is compared to a European Union average of $1.6 billion in private-sector giving. The numbers get more impressive in light of the fact that 12 percent of the immigrant population sends more than $40 billion in aid to their home countries. President Bush has pledged to take African aid from $1.2 billion to $8.7 billion by 2010.
Go team. But this statistic represents the grossest, most blatant attempt to mislead available to presenters of statistics. It's talking about a gross number! The United States gives more money than EU countries do -- this is easily explained by the well-established scientific fact that -- drumroll -- the United States is bigger! FOTF didn't provide a link or any specific information about the article they refer to, but I managed to find it with a few targeted searches. Here it is. (Free registration, or bugmenot, required.) Sure enough, it does include this quotation:
Private American citizens donated almost 15 times more to the developing world than their European counterparts, research reveals this weekend ahead of the G8 summit. Private US donors also handed over far more aid than the federal government in Washington, revealing that America is much more generous to Africa and poor countries than is claimed by the Make Poverty History and Live 8 campaigns.
So FOTF's source does offer the same spin they do. But the source is at least slightly more honest; they include this critical passage as well:
The US is the largest overall donor with its $16.3bn in 2003. But this works out as 0.15% of its GNI - the lowest of any G8 member and less than half the 0.35% EU average. Britain stands at 0.34% and Norway is the highest, with 0.92%.
So, relative to the size of the economy, the U.S. is much, much less charitable than most EU countries. What about relative to population? Some rough and ready calculations: Twenty-five EU countries Average of $1.6 billion in philanthropy EU total: 25 * $1.6 billion = $40 billion EU Population: 456,863,000 Average EU philanthropy per person: $87. US total: $22 billion U.S. Population: 295,734,134 (I didn't know google could do that!) Average US philanthropy per person: $74. So the U.S. gives a bit less per capita, and a whole lot less per dollar in the economy, than Europe does. My point here is just that the "data" in question is presented ridiculously. None of this should underscore a more crucial point: the idea that the amount that other people and other countries give determines how much we ought to give would be laughable if it weren't killing so many people.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Redefining Marriage

So Spain has approved gay marriage, and right-wing groups are upset that they're "redefining marriage". But they don't speak English in Spain. Spanish actions are no threat to English words.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Codified: "...unless p or not-p."

File this under "the Texas Legislature doesn't know how to draft laws". SB 6, the child protective services reform bill, increases the legal punishment for bigamy: it used to be a Class A misdemeanor; now (after September 1 of this year) it is a felony. But felonies fall into various degrees, depending on their severity. How serious a crime is bigamy? Here's the new version of the text:
An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree, except that if at the time of the commission of the offense, the person whom the actor marries or purports to marry or with whom the actor lives under the appearance of being married is: (1) 16 years of age or older, the offense is a felony of the second degree; or (2) younger than 16 years of age, the offense is a felony of the first degree.
So in English: it's a third degree felony, unless the second spouse is 16, or older than 16, or younger than 16. Huh.


The Senate Finance Committee has approved CAFTA. The government is pushing a rather simplistic "free trade good" line, and apparently, it's working so far. Free trade certainly offers many economic advantages. But the most open system isn't necessarily the best one; it depends on a variety of complex factors. Who will benefit from open trade? The farmers and factory workers who most need it, or megacorporations? How will workers be treated? These are important questions, and they need to be answered before it's clear that opening the markets in this way is a good idea. The Bush Administration is not interested in answering these questions. Worse -- much worse, the Bush Administration is interested in actively supressing the answers to these questions. Here's a bit of the AP story:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Labor Department worked for more than a year to maintain secrecy for studies that were critical of working conditions in Central America, the region the Bush administration wants in a new trade pact. ... In a summary of its findings, the organization wrote, ``In practice, labor laws on the books in Central America are not sufficient to deter employers from violations, as actual sanctions for violations of the law are weak or nonexistent.'' The conclusions contrast with the administration's arguments that Central American countries have made enough progress on such issues to warrant the free-trade deal. ... Behind the scenes, the Labor Department began as early as spring 2004 to block public release of the country-by-country reports. The department instructed its contractor to remove the reports from its Web site, ordered it to retrieve paper copies before they became public, banned release of new information from the reports, and even told the contractor it could not discuss the studies with outsiders.
The administration says that they took steps to prevent the results from being known because it disagreed with them. It's described alternately as 'biased' and 'fraudulent'. Surely, if there is a case to be made, there are better ways to make it than by trying to pretend that the group they hired never gave a list of reasons to reject CAFTA. How about discussing the issue on the merits? The pro-CAFTA administration is acting like a group with everything to hide. Increased economic opportunities are great, but the facts matter. And without fair Central American labor laws in place, CAFTA will not help the people who need it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


So the Supreme Court has ruled that it's only permissible for government entities to put up religious displays if they're not really sending a religious message, as in the case of the Texas state capital, where a Ten Commandments monument stood among several dozen other secular monuments. I'm not planning to get worked up about this one either way, but (as is often the case) I am confused by the reaction of some elements of the Religious Right:
Within hours of yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, Christian groups announced a nationwide campaign to install similar displays in 100 cities and towns within a year. "We see this as an historic opening, and we're going to pursue it aggressively," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Washington-based Christian Defense Coalition, which organized vigils outside the Florida hospice where Terri Schiavo died this year. ...Mahoney said the Texas decision was sufficient to "open up a whole new frontier" for preserving the United States' "Christian heritage."
Presumably, these Christian groups want public buildings to display their Christian monuments for religious purposes, so isn't this exactly the sort of thing that the ruling forbids? And more to the point: why would they want to display their sacred religious symbols in an environment like this? Why put your religious symbols in a position of having to be treated as non-religious? Is this really a victory for your faith?

Monday, June 27, 2005

To give your kid the edge, send him to a public school

The Dallas News reports on a study that explains away higher achievement in private schools. Indeed, the report provides evidence that most students are more likely to do better in a public school than they would in a private school.
When NAEP scores are reported, they always show private-school students outperforming their peers in public school. It's been a consistent finding for decades. But the Lubienskis were curious. Is that because private schools are really better? Or is it just because they generally enroll wealthier, better-prepared students? So they ... compared how public and private schools fared when ... socioeconomic factors were stripped away. They found that, at all class levels, public schools had a small but consistent edge over privates. Their suspicions were supported by the numbers: The reason private schools look better on paper is because they serve more middle- and upper-class kids. Or, to be even plainer: Poor kids in public schools did better than poor kids in private schools. Middle-class kids in public schools did better than middle-class kids in private schools. And rich kids in public schools did better than rich kids in private schools.
Public education is important. (So, of course, is being rich.)

Senator Durbin's apology -- commentary and transcript

Senator Durbin has apologized for his controversial Senate comments, comparing U.S. prisoner abuse to abuse of prisoners in Soviet gulags and Nazi concentration camps. He got a ton of negative pressure against the comparison. Bill Frist said: "Shameful does not begin to describe this heinous slander against our country and the brave men and women risking their lives every day to defend it." And few on the national political scene were much friendlier. Durbin had vowed:
I'm certainly not going to be intimidated by the right-wing message machine," he said. "If I'm going to back off every time they decide their unhappy with my statements, then I really won't be doing my job. We're going to continue to follow this (and) demand that the administration be held accountable.
Apparently, he's changed his mind. I consider it a shame. If you look at Durbin's comments in context, it's pretty hard to see why they're even controversial, much less something he ought to regret and withdraw. Not a lot of people are looking at the comments in context, though. That's why I'm including the full transcript here; it's not that easy to find a full transcript online. I got it from the Congressional Reporters online. June 14, pp. S6592-S6594. I can't link to search results. I think that everyone should read the whole speech, but in the interest of brevity, I've provided an abridged version that hits the most important points and keeps things in context.
Mr. DURBIN. [discussion of energy bill omitted] Which moves me to a second topic, which is related. That dependence on foreign oil draws us into a lot of predicaments around the world. Ask the 150,000 American soldiers in Iraq today. ... It turns out afterward we were misled, there were no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons, no connection with 9/11. It turns out the threats we were told existed did not exist. The American people were misled. ... Mr. President, there has been a lot of discussion in recent days about whether to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This debate misses the point. It is not a question of whether detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay or some other location. The question is how we should treat those who have been detained there. Whether we treat them according to the law or not does not depend on their address. It depends on our policy as a nation. How should we treat them? This is not a new question. We are not writing on a blank slate. We have entered into treaties over the years, saying this is how we will treat wartime detainees. The United States has ratified these treaties. They are the law of the land as much as any statute we passed. They have served our country well in past wars. We have held ourselves to be a civilized country, willing to play by the rules, even in time of war. Unfortunately, without even consulting Congress, the Bush administration unilaterally decided to set aside these treaties and create their own rules about the treatment of prisoners. ... I believe the torture techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and other places fall into that same category [as the Japanese-American internment]. I am confident, sadly confident, as I stand here, that decades from now people will look back and say: What were they thinking? America, this great, kind leader of a nation, treated people who were detained and imprisoned, interrogated people in the crudest way? I am afraid this is going to be one of the bitter legacies of the invasion of Iraq. We were attacked on September 11, 2001. We were clearly at war. We have held prisoners in every armed conflict in which we have engaged. The law was clear, but some of the President's top advisers questioned whether we should follow it or whether we should write new standards. Alberto Gonzales, then-White House chief counsel, recommended to the President the Geneva Convention should not apply to the war on terrorism. Colin Powell, who was then Secretary of State, objected strenuously to Alberto Gonzales' conclusions. I give him credit. Colin Powell argued that we could effectively fight the war on terrorism and still follow the law, still comply with the Geneva Conventions. In a memo to Alberto Gonzales, Secretary Powell pointed out the Geneva Conventions would not limit our ability to question the detainees or hold them even indefinitely. He pointed out that under Geneva Conventions, members of al-Qaida and other terrorists would not be considered prisoners of war. ... After the President decided to ignore Geneva Conventions, the administration unilaterally created a new detention policy. They claim the right to seize anyone, including even American citizens, anywhere in the world, including in the United States, and hold them until the end of the war on terrorism, whenever that may be. For example, they have even argued in court they have the right to indefinitely detain an elderly lady from Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans but actually is a front that finances terrorism. They claim a person detained in the war on terrorism has no legal rights--no right to a lawyer, no right to see the evidence against them, no right to challenge their detention. In fact, the Government has claimed detainees have no right to challenge their detention, even if they claim they were being tortured or executed. This violates the Geneva Conventions, which protect everyone captured during wartime. ... Who are the Guantanamo detainees? Back in 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld described them as "the hardest of the hard core." However, the administration has since released many of them, and it has now become clear that Secretary Rumsfeld's assertion was not completely true. Military sources, according to the media, indicate that many detainees have no connection to al-Qaida or the Taliban and were sent to Guantanamo over the objections of intelligence personnel who recommended their release. One military officer said: We're basically condemning these guys to a long-term imprisonment. If they weren't terrorists before, they certainly could be now. ... Secretary Rumsfeld approved numerous abusive interrogation tactics against prisoners in Guantanamo. The Red Cross concluded that the use of those methods was "a form of torture." The United States, which each year issues a human rights report, holding the world accountable for outrageous conduct, is engaged in the same outrageous conduct when it comes to these prisoners. Numerous FBI agents who observed interrogations at Guantanamo Bay complained to their supervisors. In one e-mail that has been made public, an FBI agent complained that interrogators were using "torture techniques. That phrase did not come from a reporter or politician. It came from an FBI agent describing what Americans were doing to these prisoners. With no input from Congress, the administration set aside our treaty obligations and secretly created new rules for detention and interrogation. They claim the courts have no right to review these rules. But under our Constitution, it is Congress’s job to make the laws, and the court’s job to judge whether they are constitutional. This administration wants all the power: legislator, executive, and judge. ... To win the war on terrorism, we must remain true to the principles upon which our country was founded. This Administration’s detention and interrogation policies are placing our troops at risk and making it harder to combat terrorism. Former Congressman Pete Peterson of Florida, a man I call a good friend and a man I served with in the House of Representatives, is a unique individual. He is one of the most cheerful people you would ever want to meet. You would never know, when you meet him, he was an Air Force pilot taken prisoner of war in Vietnam and spent 6 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prison. Here is what he said about this issue in a letter that he sent to me. Pete Peterson wrote: From my 6 1/2 years of captivity in Vietnam, I know what life in a foreign prison is like. To a large degree, I credit the Geneva Conventions for my survival. ..... This is one reason the United States has led the world in upholding treaties governing the status and care of enemy prisoners: because these standards also protect us. ..... We need absolute clarity that America will continue to set the gold standard in the treatment of prisoners in wartime. Abusive detention and interrogation policies make it much more difficult to win the support of people around the world, particularly those in the Muslim world. ... What should we do? Imagine if the President had followed Colin Powell’s advice and respected our treaty obligations. How would things have been different? We still would have the ability to hold detainees and to interrogate them aggressively. Members of al-Qaida would not be prisoners of war. We would be able to do everything we need to do to keep our country safe. The difference is, we would not have damaged our reputation in the international community in the process. When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here—I almost hesitate to put them in the RECORD, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report: On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18–24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor. If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others— that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator’s time has expired. Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 3 additional minutes. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. Mr. DURBIN. It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course. The President could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism. He could declare, as he should, that the United States will not, under any circumstances, subject any detainee to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The administration could give all detainees a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decisionmaker. Such a change of course would dramatically improve our image and it would make us safer. I hope this administration will choose that course. If they do not, Congress must step in. The issue debated in the press today misses the point. The issue is not about closing Guantanamo Bay. It is not a question of the address of these prisoners. It is a question of how we treat these prisoners. To close down Guantanamo and ship these prisoners off to undisclosed locations in other countries, beyond the reach of publicity, beyond the reach of any surveillance, is to give up on the most basic and fundamental commitment to justice and fairness, a commitment we made when we signed the Geneva Convention and said the United States accepts it as the law of the land, a commitment which we have made over and over again when it comes to the issue of torture. To criticize the rest of the world for using torture and to turn a blind eye to what we are doing in this war is wrong, and it is not American. During the Civil War, President Lincoln, one of our greatest Presidents, suspended habeas corpus, which gives prisoners the right to challenge their detention. The Supreme Court stood up to the President and said prisoners have the right to judicial review even during war. Let me read what that Court said: The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions could be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism. Mr. President, those words still ring true today. The Constitution is a law for this administration, equally in war and in peace. If the Constitution could withstand the Civil War, when our Nation was literally divided against itself, surely it will withstand the war on terrorism. I yield the floor.
The controversial part, which is typically all you get when you hear discussion of this issue, is the part I've marked in bold near the end. The country flipped out when Durbin made the comparison, and the pressure was so intense that he eventually caved in. But look at the text. Here are some things that Durbin did not say: "The United States is as bad as the Nazis." "The United States is practically as bad as the Nazis." "The United States is anywhere near the realm of being at all similar in scope of amount of evil to the Nazis." What he said was, "look at these descriptions of torture acts. If you didn't know better, you'd probably think it was somebody REALLY terrible, like the Nazis, that were doing this." That's a factual claim, and it's obviously correct. Senator Durbin has apologized for using the words "Nazi" and "gulag". He has not apologized for stating that the United States government is illegally detaining people indefinitely without providing any reason, and that in some cases, those people are left chained in fetal position in their own feces, without food or water, in temperatures above 100 degrees, for over twenty-four hours. It is absolutely scandalous where the focus has been successfully placed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Downing Street Memo

I'm glad to see it finally starting to get a little bit of national attention, but "Downing Street Memo" is still not the household name that it deserves to be. Here's a good resource. This is really serious stuff, and I wish everyone took the time to know what was going on.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wacky Extremist Liberal Checklist

Focus on the Family provides a nice checklist of nutty Leftist extremist views. I scored a five out of six, although the one I didn't answer "yes" to did made me laugh. How wacky extremist liberal are you?

Friday, June 10, 2005


This is one of the funniest things I've read in a while.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Questionable Praise

Suppose your children were dying of starvation, and they didn't have access to running water or medicine. They don't have food, or a roof, or a source of income, or any hope of improving their position. Somebody sees that you're in trouble, and offers you some money to try to help you out. Now suppose there's also this group of people, the X people, and you strongly believe that it's morally wrong to be an X person. Suppose, even, for the sake of argument that your moral belief is justified. Hell, I'm feeling generous; let's make it both justified and true: you know it's wrong to be X. And this guy who's offering you money, he doesn't really see much of a problem with being X. In fact, he treats X people the same way he treats other people, and sometimes he even ignores their Xness and puts them in positions of responsibility and authority. So you look at your starving children (you, personally, are generally well-fed), and then the pile of money that could help them, and then you think about how the money is coming from somebody who thinks it's ok to be X, and so you turn the money down. "No thanks", you say, "I'd rather not feed my children with money from people like you." And now you're a hero.

Houston's "Morality Clause"

Item! The Houston Chronicle reports:
Spurred on by Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl, county officials have fine-tuned policies in the hope that similar incidents can be prevented in the future. Commissioners Court was informed today that promoters will sign contracts that highlight phrases such as one requiring that performers not use facilities for any "immoral purpose."
1. Fun new game! Be on the lookout for use of Reliant Park for immoral purposes! I've got my eye on animal treatment at the Houston Rodeo, but we'll be sure to watch for political events, corporate sponsorship, and the general spending of money and time on things other than that which would maximize utility, too. 2. Bad metaethics! The Chronicle continues:
First, immorality, indecency and vulgarity are subjective concepts...
False! Or at least: too controversial to be stated in a newspaper as accepted fact! 3. Bad Constitutional Law!
...certain behaviors are protected under First Amendment freedom of speech provisions...
Freedom of speech is about what the government can't tell you to do or not to do -- there's no legal problem with signing a private contract agreeing not to do certain things. I love this state. Hat tip: Shari.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

If you don't like it

Texans have made a decision about marriage and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas then maybe that's a better place for them [homosexuals who want to be married] to live.
--Texas Governor Rick Perry


My computer is broken. Less blogging and little-to-no reading until it's repaired or replaced.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Family Values!

Here's an article from Focus on the Family's CitizenLink alert today. It's about media bias -- FotF argues that the media's treatment of Mark Felt, in contrast with its treatment of Linda Tripp, demonstrate a liberal bias. A million points to the person who can explain how this connects to family interest issues.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Things I'd blog about more if I had more time

Just a quick round-up, because although there's intersting news, I'm busy.Also, there's going to be a Serenity screening in Houston.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


I can get over a 2-14 season. But this? I'm not a proud Niner fan today.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Be his lawfully wedded gay husband (or else)!

Just a brief quote before bed. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council writes:
Last week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the same court that imposed "gay marriage" on Massachusetts' citizens last year) rejected the final argument...
I have a humorous mental image of old people in black robes lasso-ing citizens on the street and forcing them to marry people of their own gender.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Are embryos persons?

I've double-posted this to Fake Barn Country. I've been blogging about stem cell research recently, and last week I expressed some sort of standard derision at the idea that leftover embryos from IVF have the moral significance of persons. I pointed out that President Bush & co. do not seem to have a problem with the widespread destruction of leftover embryos, so it's inconsistent of them to oppose research on them instead. An anonymous internet-user asked the following in the comments thread:
Can someone explain to me why, exactly, it is so obviously absurd to grant human rights to a human embryo? I've had people explain this by means of reiteration, as though mantric repetition would prove persuasive, but it hasn't. I don't hold that view, but I'm at a loss for any really good reason why I can reject it. President Bush's inconsistency on this is, quite frankly, irrelevant. We don't oppose him when we agree with him simply because he's inconsistent; we oppose him because we disagree with him. So, leaving ad hominem arguments and mantric repetition behind, can someone explain to me why, exactly, an embryo is so obviously not a candidate for moral consideration?
I think that this is a very important question, and deserves more exposure than it'd be likely to get deep down in a comments thread on my blogspot blog, so I thought I'd bring it up as a new post. Admittedly, I haven't yet thought this one through as rigorously as I might like. So, following are a few considerations I think are relevant. I'd like to see discussion of these, and more considerations on both sides as well.
  • The most important argument for me against the personhood of embryos relies on a burdon of proof sort of move: why should we think they're persons? And no response to that question seems compelling. Every instance I've encountered of an argument from "potential to become a person" seems to be very metaphysically confused. And I really haven't seen many other arguments.
  • Embryos are not sentient. They have no experiences, and there's "nothing that it is like" to be an embryo. One can make arguments to this effect, if need be, but for now I'll assume that we agree about this claim.
  • Destroying an embryo hurts no one. This is formally question-begging, but it seems to me at least to be obviously true.
  • Here's an attempt to turn my ad hominem argument into an argument on the merits of the view: President Bush & co. are not morally concerned about the widespread practice of fertilizing many more eggs than a given couple needs, and destroying leftover embryos, and they're right not to be concerned about this morally innocent practice. If embryos were persons, they would not be right about the acceptability of this practice. Therefore, embryos are not persons.
I'm feeling a little tentative about all of this, so I'd like more thoughts from others.

Anti-Gerrymandering Bill

There's a nice editorial in today's New York Times about an anti-gerrymandering bill in Congress, sponsored by John Tanner, a Representative from Tennessee. It sounds like just the sort of thing that could have a long-term positive impact in U.S. Politics, and consequently, the world. And sadly, it sounds like just the sort of thing that doesn't have a prayer. Well, it has one from me, anyway. Links:

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Good news in Texas Politics

Here's a piece of genuine good news from the Texas Legislature. They've been working hard on SB 6, a bill that would reformulate child protective services in Texas. Houston Chronicle coverage of the bill is here. It's been the focus of some controversy in Austin, and the House and Senate were having difficulty reconciling their respective versions of the bill. One key difference was a ban in the House version on homosexual and bisexuals as foster parents. The amendment, proposed by Robert Talton (R-Pasadena), is quoted in the House journal for April 19 (scroll about 3/4 of the way down, or search for "Amendment 60"). The language is pretty shocking. Here's the amendment, which was passed by the Texas House:
Sec. 264.1064. FOSTER PARENT DISQUALIFICATION. (a) The department shall require an applicant who is applying to serve as a foster parent or a foster parent whose performance is being evaluated by the department to state whether the applicant or foster parent is homosexual or bisexual. (b)If the applicant or foster parent states that the applicant or foster parent is homosexual or bisexual, the department may not: (1) allow the applicant to serve as a foster parent; (2) place a child with the foster parent; or (3) allow a child to remain in foster care with the foster parent. (c) Notwithstanding an applicant's or foster parent's statement that the applicant or foster parent is not homosexual or bisexual, if the department determines after a reasonable investigation that an applicant or a foster parent is homosexual or bisexual, the department may not: (1) allow the applicant to serve as a foster parent; (2) place a child with the foster parent; or (3) allow a child to remain in foster care with the foster parent.
This would prohibit even bisexuals who are in monogamous heterosexual marriages from adopting children -- or from keeping children that they have adopted. Personally, I'll stand up for the right of a single person, or a homosexual couple, to adopt children. I know that this is somewhat controversial. But I don't think it's controversial that a person who is married, who also happens to be attracted to people of his own gender, can be a very good parent. To deny this is an even worse sort of bigotry than I'm used to seeing, even in Texas Republican politics. If you scroll down in those House journal records, you can read the debate about the amendment -- almost completely about procedural issues having to do with how much the bill would cost. Apparently, it takes a lot of millions of dollars to thoroughly investigate into foster parents' and potential foster parents' sexual preferences! Happily, the amendment, which did not go into the Senate version, didn't go into the conference committee version either. So if the bill passes, it will pass without the homosexual and bisexual adoption ban.

Friday, May 27, 2005

New England Drivers are the Worst

Rhode Island drivers are the most clueless. Massachusetts comes in second. Thanks to Heidi for the link.

What's wrong with Bush's stem cell policy

The New York Times carried an editorial yesterday criticizing President Bush for his firm opposition to the Congressional movement to use leftover human embryos from IVF that would otherwise be discarded for scientific research. It argues that he is inappropriately imposing his own moral views onto America at large.
His actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation.
Although I'm about as opposed to the President on this particular policy issue as it's possible to be, I think that the Times's criticism is dead wrong. The problem isn't that the President is imposing moral views that are outside the American mainstream (although of course he is). The problem is that he's imposing moral views that are short-sighted, confused, and just plain wrong. As I've focused on recently, the President's position is either inconsistent or grossly morally irresponsible (or both). And it's also just implausible -- the Times editorial got this part right:
The president's policy is based on the belief that all embryos, even the days-old, microscopic form used to derive stem cells in a laboratory dish, should be treated as emerging human life and protected from harm. This seems an extreme way to view tiny laboratory entities that are no larger than the period at the end of this sentence and are routinely flushed from the body by Mother Nature when created naturally. These blastocysts, as they are called, bear none of the attributes we associate with humanity and, sitting outside the womb, have no chance of developing into babies.
If the President's moral view were correct -- or maybe even if it were merely justified -- then his opposition to this medical research might be understandable, forgivable, appropriate, or morally required. Even if the view were out of the mainstream. We must put the criticism in the correct place.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Good speech

Senfronia Thompson, a Texas Representative from Houston, delivered what seems to be a rather stirring speech against the Texas gay marriage amendment. It's quoted in its entirity here, and it's a good read. UPDATE: Changed link to a registration-free one. Thanks, Shari.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Each embryo has constitutional rights!

Following up the stem cell thing. Here's what conservatives are saying (emphasis mine): George Bush, in the New York Times:
"The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo," Mr. Bush said, amid the squeals and coos of babies cradled in their mothers' arms. "Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts." The parents, who worked through a Christian adoption agency, applauded enthusiastically. When Mr. Bush said that "every human life is a precious gift of matchless love," a mother behind him on stage mouthed the word "Amen."
Focus on the Family:
But every time a human embryo is used for research, another snowflake is destroyed, another glimmer of hope for some future parent is dimmed [Huh? Dimmed? How? -J]. Since 1998, there have been more than 80 children born to parents who adopted snowflakes, and 15 more are due. "Each embryo, no matter how small, is an American who has a constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," snowflake parent-to-be Sarah Cochran said. "And if we murder them through experimentation, we are denying them rights that we wouldn't deny a serial killer."
Tom DeLay, in the New York Times:
"An embryo is a person, a distinct internally directed, self-integrating human organism," Mr. DeLay said, adding, "We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth." He went on: "The choice to protect a human embryo from federally funded destruction is not, ultimately, about the human embryo. It is about us, and our rejection of the treacherous notion that while all human lives are sacred, some are more sacred than others."
So let's see. According to the Right, we must oppose federally funding scientific experimentation on embryos that would otherwise be discarded, because embryos are humans, worthy of our protection. So we should just discard them, because they're worthy of our protection. Tom Delay doesn't seem to mind killing the embryos, just as long as that killing isn't federally-funded. He's perfectly happy to have the government stand by and not be involved in the killings. Sarah Cochran doesn't want the embryos to be murdered "through experimentation", but apparently it's ok to murder them through throwing them in the garbage can. If these people are serious about embryos having human dignity, then the fact that they're happily standing by while millions of embryos are being destroyed is morally horrific, in the worst possible way. Bush thinks that there are no spare embryos, and that every one is a gift? Then where's the massive push to bring the number of snowflake babies from the dozens to the millions? This strikes me as one of the most confused positions out there in the American political mainstream today. And that's saying a lot.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Texas Bans Marriage!

Overzealous anti-gay lawmakers in Texas seem to have gotten carried away! In an attempt to ban gay marriage, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate seem to have passed a constitutional amendment that would ban all marriage! Here is the full text of the newly proposed section of Article I of the Texas Constitution, proposed by HJR 6, which has been passed by both chambers:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. (b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
A very radical change indeed! Texas cannot recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage! I'm not sure what all would count as identical or similar to marriage, but I do know of one legal status that is definitely identical to marriage: marriage! I didn't realize the Texas legislature was so broadly anti-family. Voters in the state of Texas will get a chance to vote on this Constitutional amendment in November. Let's hope that they stand together to protect the institution of marriage from this anti-family Constitutional amendment.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Neural Basis of Sarcasm Recognition

According to the BBC, scientists think they've discovered the sarcasm recognition center of the human brain. Thanks to Erin for the link.

Our troops

The New York Times today carries the story of Dustin Berg, an American soldier under investigation for his role in the death of an Iraqi police officer. Apparently, there's some controversy over the investigation:
In Iraq, these stories have caused bitter resentment and distrust of the troops. Among Americans, they have strained units, leaving some Army supervisors saying troops seem reluctant to carry out their duties, and have led to an outpouring of anger in hometowns across the United States. "These guys go out and do what their country asks them to do, and now they're being told they did it wrong?" said Rich Hendrix, a Vietnam-era veteran who spent a recent afternoon inside the American Legion Hall in Ferdinand, Corporal Berg's hometown of 2,300 in Southern Indiana, where residents overwhelmingly say they support him. "I say they're doing the best they can. You can't even be sure who's your friend and who's your enemy over there, so what are they supposed to do?"
So what did Dustin Berg do? What is it that Mr. Hendrix thinks people are unduly criticizing about?
The soldier, Cpl. Dustin M. Berg, fired three times at his Iraqi partner, Hussein Kamel Hadi Dawood al-Zubeidi, and killed him. As Corporal Berg ran away, he picked up Mr. Zubeidi's AK-47 and shot himself in the side. In the days that followed, Corporal Berg lied about what happened, saying Mr. Zubeidi was the one who had shot him. And for months he went right on lying, after he recovered from his wound, after he left Iraq, even after he received a Purple Heart he did not deserve with his parents watching at a solemn ceremony back home in Indiana.
I can't believe there's a controversy over criticism of this guy. But there is.
"In earlier wars, I don't think some of these homicide cases would be prosecuted at all," said Guy L. Womack, a Houston lawyer and retired Marine lieutenant colonel who prosecuted marines and has represented the Army reservist accused of being the ringleader of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. "We're second-guessing things we don't need to second-guess."
I wonder what sort of action would be worthy of second-guessing.

Haecceities Transfer?

Here is today's Dilbert cartoon: Is this a conceptual possibility?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Terrible Advice Column

Emily points me to this "Dear Abby" column. The second-to-last sentence, which I've made bold, is one of the stupidest sentences I've ever read. Here's the column in its entirety:
DEAR ABBY: I moved to the United States when I was 19. A month after I arrived, I met an American boy I'll call "Colin." We have been together for five years. Lately, I have noticed that Colin acts weird. He will only watch boys on TV, and he gets all nervous when my gay friend visits me. One day, I asked my gay friend if he had noticed anything. My friend told me that when I left the room, he got the impression that my boyfriend was hitting on him. The other day I was making the bed and found a gay porn magazine under Colin's side of the mattress. I also found a phone number in his pants pocket. I called the number and a guy answered. Colin and I are supposed to be married in three months. What should I do? Should I ask him if he's gay? - Needs To Know Advertisement DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW: It is highly unusual for straight men to keep pictures of naked men under their mattress. You have given me three reasons why you suspect he's gay, which indicates that your alarm bells are sounding. By all means address the subject with your boyfriend. Although your boyfriend may not be gay, he may be bisexual - and that spells trouble ahead if you marry him. If I were you, I'd put the marriage on hold and listen to your intuition.
Why would bisexuality spell trouble ahead? Are bisexuals bad husbands? Unfaithful? Child molesters? What's this about?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Destroying Embryos

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council distributed an ALERT today with the emphatic subject line, Oppose HR 810 Federal Funding of Embryo Destruction. He writes:
Early next week, the House will consider a bill that will federally fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos. Sponsored by Mike Castle (R-DE), HR 810 will federally fund research on human embryos that supposedly are "leftover" from IVF. Instead of promoting the adoption of these human embryos, this bill would require their death.
Now let's take a look at the text of HR 810(b):
Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following: (1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment. (2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded. (3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
This seems to me to be a pretty silly thing for pro-life groups to get worked up about. Tony Perkins says that the bill will "fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos." Well, I guess that's literally true; the research that the bill would fund does depend on the destruction of the embryos in question. But, as is very carefully and clearly spelled out in (b)(2) of the bill, those embryos would be destroyed anyway! There is no legislation under consideration that would result in more destroyed embryos. So why the fuss? I don't get it. I did a little googling and came up with an entertaining rant from Rhode Island Right to Life. They recognize the point I made above, but offer a new rationale for opposing the bill:
Though this bill focuses on so called “left over” embryos from in vitro fertilization, it is my understanding that the use of these embryos would not even begin to supply the number of embryos needed to cure the millions of Americans who suffer from disease and injuries. Thus, very soon, the push would be on to federally fund scientific research on cloned human embryos as well. If we allow this research on “left over” embryos from in vitro fertilization to be supported by federal funds, we will have embarked upon the classic “slippery slope.” ... Once the scientific community has used up the “left over” embryos they will turn to creating cloned embryos. I have grave concerns about the victimization of poor women in third world countries that would be paid large sums of money to go through the medically risky procedure of having their eggs matured and harvested in order to create the millions of cloned human embryos needed to cure diseases in America. Many of these women would be surrendering their health and possibly their future fertility for the promise of U.S. dollars. As with abortion, these women would be the victims of a utilitarian philosophy that looks for convenient solutions to societies problems even when human life is in the balance.
This is just one of the worst arguments ever. "If we use the left over embryos, then we won't have enough to do all the things we need embryos for, so we'll have to start doing horrible evil things to get more. Therefore, we should just keep throwing the left over embryos away." Here's a serious question for those who oppose embryonic stem cell research on pro-life grounds: why is there no outcry about the mere fact that lots and lots of left over embryos from in vitro fertilization are thrown away? It would be a weird view to think it's ok to throw them away, but not to use them for scientific research. Update: Bush says he'll veto it! sigh...