Sunday, August 31, 2008

Un-Wired Weekend

Just got back from a relaxing weekend up in the northwoods, but now I'm realizing how much news I missed while I was fishin' and drinkin' beer among the birches. New Orleans is again threatened by a serious hurricane, which some Democrats find comic, and proof that God is on their side. Also: Sarah Palin. Need to do a lot more reading before I can make any real judgement on that decision, but I do have two observations: Governor Palin is probably the most attractive national-level politician we've yet seen (in this country, anyway, other countries are far more advanced in this particular regard), and secondly, it's so great to hear a nice Northern accent in national politics!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Embed This Ad

While the Obama campaign's busy trying to prosecute political non-profits for saying things they don't like, the McCain campaign has put out a pretty powerful one of their own. Again, this ad focuses on Obama's friends and colleagues, but this time its his friends and colleagues in the Democratic party who take center stage, with all their reservations and concerns about whether Obama could be an effective president in our dangerous and unstable world. Of course, all these clips are from before he became the presumptive nominee, and they've all had radical changes of heart as to his competence and readiness (particularly Joe Biden!). Too bad the videotapes couldn't disappear as easily as their concerns did:

On Vista

I'll either be buying or building myself a new desktop computer sometime in the next month or three, and I'm already debating whether (assuming I don't take the Mac plunge) to install Windows Vista on my new machine, or just stick with good ole' XP. I think Jeffrey Rowland may have convinced me:
I wasn't sure exactly why everyone was so angry at Windows Vista until I actually tried to use it for an actual, real-world reason. This god dang thing sucks, y'all. It's like somebody just took a good-lookin' car that ran good and there was nothing wrong with it, and they came in and screwed a bunch of fancy-looking crap to it and redid the wiring so none of the gauges or lights work. They put some fancy, spinny rims on it but crap gets stuck in them and the tires go flat all the time. And then it assumes you're an idiot so it constant ask you things like "are you sure you want to change the radio station?" Oh look, the cupholder just broke off because the radio is too shiny. Wait, the cupholder came original with the car. Hopefully in a couple of years they'll make a cupholder that I can replace it with; until then I'll hold the beer between my legs.
If you didn't notice the fine-print on the comic, it says "Microsoft Vista was invented because of a bet between Bill Gates and the Pope to see if it could just completely put people off of computers for good."

Obama and Friends

We're seeing some pretty disturbing behavior from the Obama campaign on the one hand, and the Denver police (in presumable cahoots with Democratic party event organizers) on the other.

In the first case, there's a shocking disregard for First Amendment rights inherent in the Obama campaign's demands for criminal prosecution of the leader of a political non-profit which has been running (a fairly effective) attack ad against him, raising questions about his relationship with "guilty as hell, free as a bird", "just a guy who lives in my neighborhood" Bill Ayers. Now, I'm no campaign strategist, but it seems to me that when someone runs an attack ad, your best bet is either to counter its claims point-by-point, or to offhandedly dismiss it as slanderous lies, as if it were below your concern. Reacting with outrage while refusing to address the points -- which would be pretty easy to refute, if by chance they weren't true -- then demanding the incarceration of the people responsible for the ad, well, that just strikes me as protesting too much. Besides the, you know, appalling disregard for the First Amendment. (The Obama campaign has released a "factcheck" on the Obama-Ayers relationship. I'm not going to get into whether the editorial pages of liberal newspapers qualify as sources, or whether Ayers' continuing and proud admissions of guilt might not make "he never served time" the best argument in his favor.)

As far as the Denver police go, I just wonder who it was they were so intent to protect from an ABC News camera? Or was it just that someone's getting tired of the public seeing how much good old-fashioned money is behind the Obama campaign?

Seven More Years

Seven years until this girl's dad is fighting off the hordes of soldiers and various gun nuts wanting to marry her. Then again, she could probably hold her own. - Watch more free videos

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Remaking the Highway Trinity

Gas, Food, Lodging... and Wi-Fi? Louisville, Nebraska thinks so, but the state disagrees. Mike Elgan of Mike's List says Wi-Fi has become a "universally valuable service" deserving of a position along with the familiar highway trinity of Gas, Food, and Lodging. An increasing number of states are providing free Wi-Fi at public rest stops, with roadside placards advertising the service, so why not mark exits where the service is available? While I've only been in this position once or twice, I can certainly imagine situations where it would be very useful to know which exit had businesses offering Wi-Fi, particularly as the use of Blackberrys, iPods-Touch (I pluralize how I please, thank you very much), and Wi-Fi/VoIP phones continues to grow.

In related news, I noticed on my recent visit to Minnesota that different states have varying protocols as to whether they note coffeeshops on their freeway exit signs. Minnesota lists Starbucks and Caribou on the "Food" signs; I hadn't ever noticed it, but I don't think other states do this. It's nice, since most coffeeshop chains sell enough food for a substantial snack. And it precludes the need to add a "Coffee" sign. To which I, of course, would in no way be opposed.

The Temple Of Obama

This one just speaks for itself.

UPDATE: Behind-the-scenes video of the INVESCO Obamodeon! Skip to around 4:00 for the close-up of the stage.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Amatuer Surgeons and Professional Educators

The indomitable, unmatchable, and utterly irreplaceable Thomas Sowell weighs in today with a typically pithy piece on the failure of central planning of economies. This sort of thing is Conservatism 101, but he illustrates it with an example I thought much of my readership might appreciate:
When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession. If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master’s degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student — which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12. Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having “professional” expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thank You Kathleen Parker

Thank you for finally acknowledging that the real issue behind last week's Purpose-Driven inquisition of Obama and McCain at Saddleback is not who "won" but rather, why on Earth are our presidential candidates prostrating themselves before Rick Warren as if he were some sort of evangelical Pope? This sort of thing might be appropriate in a nations with historical establishment of religion. It is wildly inappropriate in America.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I'm staying with some old friends here in Tennessee, and we've been watching quite a bit of the Olympics. I hadn't really seen anything until now, so I didn't really have much commentary. I still don't have much you haven't already heard, whether it's musing on the age of the female Chinese gymnasts or griping about the problem of incompetent judges. One thing I haven't heard much about is the jarringly bizarre program commentary provided by NBC's Olympic commenters. I'm accustomed to the stereotypically-accented rants of Olympic veterans like Bela Karolyi, but the networks own commenters are hardly more coherent at times.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Now That's Journalism

A Georgian reporter was shot and slightly wounded by a sniper during the recent Russian kerfuffle.  Her reaction is spectacular: she just keeps reporting.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Growing Up

Overheard from a buddy's phone conversation about financial matters with his fiancée on our drive to St. Louis:
Yeah, I'll just talk to my parents. They know a lot more about this than we do... Boy, what my Dad would have paid to hear that 10 years ago.
It's funny how, in the right contexts, relying on one's parents is a sign of maturity.

Trip Update

2,000 miles covered already. I need an oil change, but when I detoured through Asheville to look for a JiffyLube, I realized it's not exactly an oil-changin' sort of town. It's the sort of place where even the McDonald's bears a facade in the style of the Biltmore estate, Asheville's primary tourist trap. All in all, though, it looks like a very classily touristified slice of Americana, the sort of place that might make a really nice family vacation destination. And you really can't beat the mountains around here. By the time I got settled for the evening, everything was closed, and unfortunately I'm guessing most places will be closed tomorrow, so my poor car will just have to deal. Right now I'm staying in a hotel in Knoxville, TN, and I'm really wishing I had researched the city a bit more before I made my reservation here on the edge of town; if I had known Knoxville was such a nice city, I'd have gotten a downtown hotel so I could get out a bit instead of spending a Saturday night drinking Sailor Jerry's rum and blogging in my hotel room. Oh well, lessons learned.

So True

Xkcd nails it again. Now, I'm a solid devotee of Google Maps. I probably have a rather unhealthy attachment to it, honestly, to the point that I feel a shudder of horror at the thought of using something so positively primeval as MapQuest. But it does occasionally have some snafus. Or more accurately, this world of ours doesn't quite live up to the perfect order implied by Google. And of course, Google's employees like to leave little jokes here or there. For a while, requesting directions from anywhere in North America to anywhere in Europe would direct you to New York harbor, followed by the line "swim the Atlantic", continuing with road directions from Calais. Google's got jokes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


So friends, I'm noticing that I've got quite a bit of driving coming up in the next month. Like, just shy of 5,000 miles worth (destinations are approximate and unrepresentative, crazy stalker people!):

View Larger Map

So, who's got some tips for enjoying long lonely drives? I'm no stranger to the open road myself, but I've covered most of this terrain before and I'm a bit worried boredom might get the best of me.

Putin Went Down to Georgia

Yeah yeah yeah, I'm sure I'm not the first to make that joke.

I realize I'm uncharacteristically slow to comment on the "situation" developing in Georgia. Namely, you know, the Russian invasion and air campaign against a sovereign neighbor. I seem to think there's a term for a high-speed armored invasion with overwhelming close air support: oh yeah, blitzkrieg. In any case I'm not hugely read up on Russian and post-Soviet geopolitics, much less on Caucasian studies, so it's taken me a few days to pull together enough to make some informed comments.

In light of Russia's bombing of civil infrastructure, and particularly the attempted bombing of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that connects the Caspian oil fields to world markets, circumventing Russia's regional petrohegemony, I think it is difficult to see this invasion as anything but blatantly imperial. Russia's transparent excuse to be protecting Russian citizens in South Ossetia from Georgian aggression, well, that one's sort of been used before. True, there's a strong separatist streak in South Ossetia, but the Ossetians in Russia have little more interest in being part of that country, either. So Russia's claim to the moral high ground is pretty difficult to accept.

I'm pleased (and unsurprised) to see Senator McCain's unequivocal condemnation of Russian aggression and his support for our Georgian allies. I'm also saddened (and similarly unsurprised) by Senator Obama's refusal to take sides. Initially, his campaign completely refused to place blame: "It’s both sides’ fault — both have been somewhat provocative with each other." This from his foreign policy advisor Mark Brzezinski. Later, Obama toughened his line. He now "condemn[s] the outbreak of violence in Georgia". Well good for you, Senator Obama, give that outbreak a stern talking-to! Maybe invite the outbreak in for talks, or threaten the outbreak with sanctions. Maybe, if push comes to shove, our military strength might be used to influence the outbreak of violence to behave itself. Senator Obama also says that "Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected." Does he fail to realize that this statement is completely meaningless to a party that has disputed what constitutes Georgia's territory since that country's independence? Yesterday, Obama finally got around to sounding a little bit less like a Kremlin stooge and more like an American President, or in this case more like McCain's initial (and impromptu) statement. Taking 48 hours to reach the same position your elderly opponent came to when questioned on the airport tarmac doesn't really engender confidence for the proverbial 3:00 A.M. phone call.

Response to Shane's Response to Lewis

Shane brought up some very good points in response to Cheryl's quote from C.S. Lewis that I posted yesterday. His points and my responses were really far too long to molder in the comments, so I post them here.
I largely agree - I still love reading what the libertarians at Cato are publishing, and generally prefer non-interference in other people's matters. The main thing that still makes me a liberal who thinks that government does have a role to play in pushing health and safety because:

a) current government policies of subsidies and spending promote unhealthy habits (for example, corn subsidies and sugar tariffs have spawned an industry pushing cheap HFCS [high-fructose corn syrup] as sweetener, leading companies like Coca-Cola to make the average serving size from 8 oz to 20 oz, while government subsidizes driving and discourages walking by building highways instead of mass transit and bicycle lanes).
Absolutely. If a government policy (particularly an already dubious one like massively distortionary ag subsidies) is demonstrably detrimental to the health of citizens, I can't see how any reasonable person could defend it on libertarian grounds: "It offends the dignity of my humanity to pay the market price for unhealthful sweeteners!" Yeah, not so much. As for the driving subsidy, that's a tricky one, isn't it? Clearly, building highways is overwhelmingly more popular with the voting public than trains and bicycle lanes, and it's pretty tempting to believe the public just doesn't know what's best for them in this case. It's also tricky in that transit is extremely messy to privatize; there's no way to accurately judge the market for trains where there simply aren't any. So again, in this case, subsidizing mass transit or bicycle lanes or providing kickbacks to pedestrians or what-have-you to provide some sort of counterweight to all the money going to highways doesn't offend my sensibilities a bit, especially when transit availability is such a liberalizing factor in broadening access to job markets and essential goods and services, particularly for the poor. I've got no problem with subsidies per se, so long as there's transparency as to what we're really paying for, and an awareness that any subsidy will distort incentives and have unintended consequences. There are few cases of an unqualified good in public policy, very few win-win situations, and I wish politicians would acknowledge that.
b) In some cases the public is ignorant, misinformed, or outright deceived of some sources of harm. I can't see how the FDA's core functions can be successfully privatized. I also support laws requiring restaurant chains to publish nutrition facts and disclose their usage of trans fats, etc. In most of these cases, I'd prefer transparency over outright bans, though.
True. On the whole, however, I'll take the harm we can do ourselves through ignorance over the harm we can do each other through creeping totalitarianism any day. And no, the FDA probably couldn't be privatized, but its approvals need not be 100% binding, for example by allowing desperately ill people to give informed consent to use experimental and unapproved medications. It of course follows that I'm completely with you on transparency vs. prohibition. To me, the role of government in this situation is simply ensuring that citizens have the information available to make informed decisions.
c) Some issues are just collective action problems, and pragmatically speaking, the government might be the most efficient coordinator of aggregate behavior.
Yes, sometimes. The earlier example of transit is a great one; do the libertarians honestly yearn for a world in which every road and sidewalk is subject to toll and could be closed and opened at the owner's whim? The issue here, of course, just comes down to deciding which issues are best solved by civil and market forces vs. by government intervention.

In summary of this sprawling treatise, I don't take Lewis's quote to be an indictment of collective action in general -- his politics were never so strident as that -- but rather an admonition to always be on guard against creeping authoritarianism, however it may be disguised. Americans are pretty quick to recognize wanton powerlust in its traditional cloaks of nationalism, militarism, and greed (indeed, some tend to see it so pretty much everywhere), but the same motivating force also veils itself as charity, as genuine concern for public health and the environment. For that matter, "national security" falls into the same category and hides similarly insidious dangers. I don't think "liberal" totalitarianism is any worse than the old-fashioned types, I just think it's more dangerous because America today is mostly blind to it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hope and Struggle

I just had a bit of a Eureka moment reading Susan's Pendulum reflecting on Romans 8:23-24 :
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? (ESV).
As Susan points out, we will never escape from sin in this life; that's the whole point of this passage. We wait eagerly for that day, we hope for it, because we have not seen it. The Christian life is a daily struggle against the sinful nature, and it is a struggle we daily lose. The frustration that comes of this daily Fall, however, should not lead to despair (and this is what so struck me), for the blessed life free of the burdens of sin is precisely that which we eagerly await, for which we hope but cannot see. Too many voices in our lives tell us that we can achieve this blessedness on Earth, if only we were good enough, faithful enough, self-controlled enough. But there's no chicken-and-egg issue here, these virtues are fruits, not prerequisites. We will never earn them for ourselves, nor can we by willfully practicing them avoid facing the consequences of sin in our lives. Instead, we groan inwardly, we wait eagerly. In short, we hope.

She's Got Jokes

Some cheap geopolitical humor via Thursday's Child:

UN Survey

Last month, a worldwide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was: "Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"

The survey was a huge failure because:

In Africa they didn't know what 'food' means.

In Eastern Europe they didn't know what 'honest' means.

In Western Europe they didn't know what 'shortage' means.

In China they didn't know what 'opinion' means.

In the Middle East they didn't know what 'solution' means.

In South America they didn't know what 'please' means.

In the USA they didn't know what 'the rest of the world' means.

Shamelessly Cribbed Quote of the Day

Cheryl at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale shares this quote from C.S. Lewis, a good reminder of the dangers of spiraling do-gooderism:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment".
Now I'm no Objectivist, and Lewis certainly wasn't either. I wholeheartedly believe in personal charity, not least because Christ was sort of big on it. But Ayn Rand does hold a sliver of truth in the potential of charity to become tyrannical, particularly charity institutionalized or nationalized. There's a strong streak of Prohibitionism in America these days, and it seems to be getting stronger; Elephant's Child is right to reference Liberal Fascism.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Language Peeve

I'm currently reading Three Cups of Tea, a book which has been recommended to me again and again, and which is pretty much living up to its reviews. The spirit of Midwestern do-gooderism struggling to build schools in the cold shadow of K2 is pure Olaf, really, and it warms my heart a bit to read. What doesn't warm my heart, however, is shoddy transliteration of Muslim (originally Arabic) names, which brings me to today's peeve. Fairly early in the story, we meet a character named Abdul. Popular conception would seem to suggest that the Muslim world is full of men named Abdul; indeed, I'm guessing if you started asking Americans to list five tradition Muslim names, Abdul would be on many if not most of those lists. One problem: no such name is possible in the Arabic language, whence traditional Muslim names around the world derive. The word abd means "servant" or "slave", and while it can be a name in and of itself, it is generally part of a compound name, as in the familiar name Abdullah, abd-Allah, "servant of God". This construction is the source of innumerable Muslim names such as Abdulrahman "servant of the Merciful", Abdulrahim "servant of the Beneficent", Abdulqadir "servant of the All-Capable", Abdulzahrah "servant of the Flower", Abdulrazzaq "servant of the Provider", Abdulaziz "servant of the Powerful". Indeed, any of the ninety-nine names of God could be made into names by this construction. While these phrasal names are separate words in Arabic, the traditional transliterations divide them in the wrong place (i.e. Abdul Rahman), leading to the misconception that there exists such a name as Abdul. This is rather like an Arab noting the vast number of northern Europeans bearing the last name of Son. Correct yourselves, friends, and please correct others. If a space is necessary, it should go before the article al- (i.e. Abd al-Rahman), but since the space just tempts us to read one name as two, let's just agree to leave it out entirely.

Someday I'll dive into my rant on pronunciation of Arabic names and place names. My opinion may surprise you. But today is not that day.