Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Text Messaging is a Scam

I always new there was a reason I hated text messaging. As Wired's Gadget Lab blog points out, text messages cost your cell phone provider absolutely nothing. Zero, zip, nada. They're sent piggy-backed on network administrative traffic that would be sent regardless.
Cost to telco: $0.00. Cost to customers: $0.20. Number of text messages sent per year (worldwide): 2.5 trillion. We'll leave you to do the math.
Is there anyone out there who doesn't hate their cell phone provider?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Torture

Security guru Bruce Schneier blogs two pieces on the use of torture. Both begin with the same take on the pragmatic argument: the stories of American abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been Al-Qaeda in Iraq's most effective recruiting tool. I don't dispute that point, rather the conclusion drawn from it. Here's why: most of what the Muslim world believes about Guantanamo is complete fabrication, and the infamous abuse at Abu Ghraib was a "black swan", perpetrated in the dead of night by a handful of irresponsible lowlifes operating miles outside their job descriptions. Don't get me wrong here: I'm not arguing that there haven't been systematic violation of American principles at both locations. There have been abuses which people ought rightly be upset about, but those aren't the cases that have captured the jihadi imagination — or the U.S. public's, for that matter — and this is the great irony. Abu Ghraib = Lynndie England, and Guantanamo = flushed Korans, even though one was unforeseeable and the other never happened. I'm bringing all of this up to make the point that the number of foreign jihadists flooding to support Al-Qaeda in Iraq has had little to do with any particular torture or abuse of detainees; if Abu Ghraib hadn't happened, they would have made it up, as they have in other cases. So the "pragmatic argument" really doesn't take us anywhere.

Happily, both pieces move to the moral argument, which I find far stronger. And a lot simpler. Whether or not torture is a useful tool in counterterrorism (and the relative safety of such torture-happy places as Egypt attest it can't be wholly discounted) is completely irrelevant. Even if by aschewing torture we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back, it's still the right thing to do. We can still win that fight, and when we have, we will still be America.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Belated Gripe

Heather MacDonald quotes James Wolcott's snide response to Jay Nordlinger's comment on the near-purging of "Merry Christmas" from public life. I'm with Jay (unsurprisingly). It's not about chauvinism, it's just that the "Happy Holidays" school of "inclusiveness" just feels wrong. Because, as he points out, if someone were to wish me a Happy Hanukkhah, Blessed Ramadan, Happy Diwali, or Favorable Solstice, that is precisely what I would feel — included.

As to MacDonald's question about the reaction to widespread use of "Eid Mubarak", since it just means "Happy Holiday" I'd assume they were referring to Christmas. That aside, I seriously doubt whether anyone of such a cultural bent to be automatically suspicious of an Arabic greeting would be likely to recognize it as such.

Strange Days: British Atheist Calls for Evangelization of Africa

British writer and former MP Matthew Parris shares a reluctant conclusion: despite his own atheism, he has become convinced that Africa needs Christianity if it is to have any hope of development:
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. [...]

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours. I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. [...]

Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.
I particularly applaud Parris's rejection of the forced equivalence of "traditional" African culture and Western civilization. Since Decolonization, nothing has done more to keep Africa in the dark than the indefensible claim that cultures based on collectivist groupthink, corrosive jealousy, and brutal misogyny are intrinsically valid and deserving not just of respect but of proactive protection and encouragement.

Unintended Consequences

Sophisticated counterfeiting with commercial printing presses and painstakingly hand-etched plates is so 20th-century. Now, American crooks are all about low-margin counterfeiting with inkjet printers or color copiers, making poor copies just barely good enough to hand off at a convenience store or bar. My favorite part of this story is how the government's incredibly expensive anti-counterfeiting measures have enabled amateurs:
Part of the problem, [22-year Secret Service veteran] Green said, is that the government has changed the money so much to foil counterfeiting. With all the new bills out there, citizens and even many police officers don’t know what they’re supposed to look like.
Go figure.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


So imagine you're a mid-level officer in the United States Air Force. Your service is over-funded and over-staffed, and pretty much everyone knows that cuts will be coming down the line, sooner rather than later. Most ominously, your branch is particularly over-staffed by people just like you, and you were just given the job of developing new recruitment strategies in this environment. What do you do?

If you are really, really good at what you do, you come up with an incredibly brilliant scheme to drive off actual potential recruits while simultaneously impressing your superiors with your ability to "reach out" to and "connect" with today's youth. The name of that scheme? MAX IMPACT, the Air Force's official nu-metal band. What could be better than a "high-energy band [that] has everything needed to ignite a party and keep the flame burning for hours"? Really, just take a listen.

A buddy and I had a great conversation on this, by the way, which he's posted since it contains "everything I know about soldiers".

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some People Take Brad Pitt Too Seriously

I mean, I hate people who talk in movies as much as the next guy. But I don't think I'd pull and gun and shoot the guy. Good thing he lived, maybe he'll repent of his movie-interrupting ways. As Shepherd Book says, there's a special circle of Hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

FAA Approves Commercial Spaceport

The FAA has given final approval to the New Mexico Space Authority to construct Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. The anchor carrier will be Virgin Galactic's suborbital space-tourism operation, but most of the major aerospace corporations have also been involved with Spaceport America. This is fantastic. Most of this globe was explored not by civil servants and scientists seeking to advance human knowledge, but by grubby, greedy adventurers seeking fame, glory, and filthy filthy lucre. Space will be no different, and it was uncharacteristically forward-thinking of the FAA to realize this and get out of the way.

Happy Dismallest Day of the Year

Ye gods above, I'm tired of hearing people say that it's now "officially" winter, the solstice having passed. Sorry, I know I'm a pedant to get this annoyed at each and every solstice and equinox, but the seasons are not defined astronomically! In fact, they're not officially defined at all, at least, not in the United States. Listen to wise Uncle Cecil of the Straight Dope:
There is a widespread misconception in this country — which extends, I might note, to the makers of most calendars, dictionaries, and encyclopedias — that summer "officially" starts on the day of the summer solstice, June 21 or 22, which is the longest day of the year. Americans also believe (1) that there is some valid scientific reason for doing it that way, and (2) that everybody in the Northern Hemisphere does it that way, and always has. None of these things is true. So far as I have been able to discover, no scientific or governmental body has ever formally declared that summer starts on the solstice.
Hear that, people, Washington has left you to your own devices to decide what season it is on any given day! Madness! Chaos!

Things were much simpler in the mid-20th century, when it was generally accepted that winter comprised December, January, and February; spring March, April, and May; summer June, July, and August, and fall was September, October, and November. It's nice and simple, and lines up pretty well with the weather. As far as I'm concerned, spring starts with the first flowers, summer on the first day I break a sweat (without exerting myself), fall when it smells like fall, and winter with the first snow that sticks. But that's just me. Incidentally, nobody seems to know where the rather strange idea originated that the equinoxes and solstices mark the beginnings of the seasons. It's one of those things that everyone just started telling each other with the assumption that it was backed by some sort of authority, but now it's gotten so ingrained in the American consciousness that I'm surely guaranteed an absolute minimum of four days of frustration per year for the rest of my life. You could argue, I suppose, that I should just lighten up. You clearly don't know me very well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Very Clever Hoax

So the letter published in the New York Times from the mayor of Paris, criticizing the consideration of Caroline Kennedy for Hilary Clinton's Senate seat, turns out to be a fake. A little schadenfreude toward the NYT notwithstanding, it's a shame, because the hoaxster is on the ball. Caroline Kennedy "deserves" a seat in the Senate precisely as much as I do. It is a disgrace to American democracy that we're even talking about this.

Comforter in Chief

It's been a truism of the last 7 years that President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are cold-hearted warmongers who've sent America's young men and women to die in the desert for their own cynical ends. I've never really bought it, and sure enough it's not true. By all means criticize the decisions the president has made, but don't tell me he doesn't understand the consequences of those decisions. I suspect he understands better than any of us.

Bad Bad Bad: Europe Burning

The smoke seems to have cleared over Greece, after massive anarchist/communist/"anti-fascist"/assorted ne'er-do-well mobs rampaged for nearly two weeks. And now those ever-enigmatic "youths" are at it in Malmo, Sweden. "Youths", of course, being Euro-journo-speak for poorly-integrated, marginalized, and angry Muslim immigrants. Mark Steyn weighs in:
In my "free speech" crusade up in Canada [Steyn is being prosecuted under Canada's "hate speech" laws for his writing highlighting the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate], I'm frequently lectured by lazy cliche-recyclers that there's no freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. But in a burning city feel free to shout "Nothing to see here!" for another decade or three.
But just remember, Best Beloved, we're the ones who are hopelessly backward. Europe should be our model. Europe is "progressive"; Europe is the future. Everything would be better if only we would be more like Europe. Well, folks, Europe is burning. Wake up.

Fickle Customers

The excellent milblogger S4 at War brings up an interesting point with regard to the economic consequences of the planned withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Many areas of Iraq resemble a tourist economy, with heavy reliance on rich, spendthrift foreigners. Unlike (most) tourist economies, Iraq is facing the likely abrupt disappearance of her "tourists". The transition's going to be tough all around.

Strange Days: "Diversity" Madness

From First Things:
So, less than a month after the election of the first African-American president of the United States, less than a month after over 70 percent of African Americans support Proposition 8... a high ranking black woman at an American university gets fired by a white guy because she doesn’t think that gay rights is morally or legally equivalent to the long struggle of black Americans for civil rights.
Strange days, indeed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Memes? We don't need no stinkin' memes!

Fun times.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band (Several, even. Up to and including the German Band).
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain (I guess that depends on the definition of "mountain").
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris (No, but I've been to Perris, CA)
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train (best way to travel, hands-down).
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse (just lunar)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (pretty much every day. And usually have the pleasure of being at work for both.)
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (well, mostly pretty old ones, actually)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (it takes less than some people think)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving (if you count airborne jumps, but I'd still like to go civilian skydiving sometime)
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life (No way to know in my job. I like to think my work makes people safer, so, maybe?)
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person (it's really small)
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day (hahhhaha... sigh)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Answer: Don't Go Down There

I have a great deal of respect for the exceedingly skilled tradesmen who work in some of the world's most dangerous locales in order to supply us with the fuels that keep our civilization running. Granted, they're not doing it out of altruism, but they deserve every dollar they get and then some. Particularly when they work in the home of horrors like this:

Man, cephalopods are just creepy.

Monday, December 15, 2008


In general, I'm really looking forward to the day I get to move back home to the upper Midwest. Not so much tonight:

Brrrrr. Keep warm, folks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bad Bad Bad: Iranian Base at the Gate of Tears

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak claims that "Iran wants to devour the Arab world". I wouldn't likely be quite so dramatic myself, but the Persians have historically considered themselves the rightful hegemon of the greater Middle East. The Egyptians for their part have considered themselves a sort of "first among equals" of the Arab nations, at least since the time of Nasser, so it doesn't seem out of place for Mubarak to be especially sensitive to Iranian moves on his turf. Then the Iranians go and establish a garrison at the region's second-most strategic naval chokepoint (of course, they already have full control of the most strategic of all). I'm not sure Iran wants to devour the Arab world, but she's sure positioning herself to strangle it.

Now There's a Thought

I don't know if it's a comment on the state of our world when satire is only just barely beyond the credible. Then again, the real world these days is nearly satire-proof.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not the Bush You Know

Jay Nordlinger has published fairly raw notes of his recent interview with President Bush. This isn't the Bush you know. Even for those of us who stubbornly hold that it's a bit early to start writing the history of this presidency, and have defended him even though he seems little interested in defending himself, it's a shock to see so much unedited extemporanizng. I should say, the shock is in realizing how very little we've actually heard from him these last eight years. It's a shame. Here's just a taste, which goes to show how little concern this man has ever had for his own reputation:
You can get short-term popularity in the Middle East if you want, by blaming all problems on Israel. That’ll make you popular. You can be popular in certain salons of Europe if you say, ‘Okay, we’ll join the International Criminal Court.’ I could have been popular if I’d said, ‘Oh, Kyoto is the way to deal with the environmental problem.’ That would have made me liked. It would have made me wrong, however. And, ultimately, you earn people’s respect by articulating a set of principles and standing by them. You know, popularity comes and goes. It just does. It comes and goes for an individual or a nation. But principles are enduring.
Well put, Mr. President.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blagojevich Warms My Heart

Kathryn Lopez remarks on the Blagojevich story,
Finally, a political scandal you can talk to your children about. No room at the Mayflower. No myspace page. No Gay-American announcement. Just good and evil and money and power corrupting.
Welcome to the Third World, America.

Happy 400th Birthday, John Milton!

and thus ADAM last reply'd.
How soon hath thy prediction, Seer blest,
Measur'd this transient World, the Race of time,
Till time stand fixt: beyond is all abyss,
Eternitie, whose end no eye can reach.
Greatly instructed I shall hence depart,
Greatly in peace of thought, and have my fill
Of knowledge, what this vessel can containe;
Beyond which was my folly to aspire.
Henceforth I learne, that to obey is best,
And love with feare the onely God, to walk
As in his presence, ever to observe
His providence, and on him sole depend,
Merciful over all his works, with good
Still overcoming evil, and by small
Accomplishing great things, by things deemd weak
Subverting worldly strong, and worldly wise
By simply meek; that suffering for Truths sake
Is fortitude to highest victorie,
And to the faithful Death the Gate of Life;
Taught this by his example whom I now
Acknowledge my Redeemer ever blest.

To whom thus also th' Angel last repli'd:
This having learnt, thou hast attaind the summe
Of wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Starrs
Thou knewst by name, and all th' ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Natures works,
Or works of God in Heav'n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all the riches of this World enjoydst,
And all the rule, one Empire; onely add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Vertue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come call'd Charitie, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier farr.

--John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667.

Monday, December 8, 2008

On Mass Transit

Ridership numbers for mass transit are up. That's not exactly surprising, after the summer's mad gas prices, and now an economic crisis to make people thrifty. It'll be interesting to see if the effect sticks or if transit ends up another victim of financial woes; Matthew Yglesias rightly points out that the downturn will reduce local and state tax revenues, which will have politicians looking to tighten belts. I also happen to think he's right that dropping some federal cash on mass transit — since everyone's looking to drop it somewhere — would certainly not be the worst place for it to go. Transportation connects more potential workers to more potential jobs, increasing employment, so keeping services running and fares low could be a boon to those looking for work.

I know that individual mass transit projects are often boondoggles. It's ridiculously expensive to build and never pays for itself. On the other hand, how often do roads pay for themselves, even with your fancy-schmancy open-road tolling? That's right, never. We're just so accustomed to lavishing absolutely ridiculous amounts of money on one sort of mass transportation infrastructure that we don't even think of it in the same category as others. And all that money goes to a transportation infrastructure that you only get to use if you choose (or can afford) to own a car. Now, I also know what an economic engine America's roads and highways are, and I know what a country without them looks like: I've visited India and subsaharan Africa. So I'm a big fan of roads. I guess I'm just sayin', give the trains a little love, too.

Shinseki and the Beret

Apparently this Shinseki character's a stand-up guy. I really don't know much about him. But if he is in fact the man responsible for my headgear, I do have to hold a bit of a grudge. A military correspondent writes to James Fallows:
In my year-and-a-half since putting on ACUs I've heard only bad things said about him by the rank and file, and that's for something unrelated to Iraq: Shinseki is apparently the genius who decided that we should all wear the beret (which is useless as it provides no shade or or rain or wind protection, and particularly nasty because it takes two hands to put on right, and weighs a ton when wet) as part of our regular uniform in garrison. For that, well, I resent the dude a little as do I think most soldiers.
Oh, and it's a multi-day process to shave (yes shave, or it'll look like you skinned a Muppet), shape, and fit a beret so it looks "just right". But it's the two-hand thing that's the worst. I used to be in a class including mixed students from all four services. Some classes were held in a building adjacent to our schoolhouse, so we'd all head over there a few times a day. Every time, the sailors, airmen, and marines would happily file out, jauntily flipping their caps onto their heads as they casually sauntered out the door past the gaggle of soldiers awkwardly pausing in the doorway, clamping our books under our elbows as we stretched and smoothed our berets onto our heads.

Eat Less Meat

It's one of the simplest things you can do to improve your health, reduce your grocery bill, and save the planet. And it's the environmentalists' third rail. As I'm sure most of my readers could extrapolate from my views on other issues, I'm pretty dubious that we need to abandon economic progress for the sake of preventing global warming climate change. On the other hand, there are a lot of things we could be doing for their own sakes that will incidentally help us hedge our bets against global catastrophe. Eating less meat is one of them. Particularly, eating less grain-fed industrially-produced beef and pork. Grass-fed animals are healthier and presumably happier (call me a hippy if you must -- it does count for something), and they just taste better, but you pay for the premium. The thing is, though, you're paying the actual cost of the meat, without the benefit of the discount industrial meat enjoys in the form of subsidized corn, which you are paying for with your taxes.

We can all eat less meat (well, I guess vegetarians can't eat any less), or choose less resource-intensive meats like chicken or fish (though the issues of ocean fisheries would cover a few blog posts in their own right; there are a lot of words you could apply to mankind's current treatment of the oceans, "stewardship" is most certainly not one of them). The piece linked above also doesn't mention one major carbon-neutral source of cheap meat for some families: hunting, which has been in slow decline nationwide for decades. Livestock reared at home would be in nearly the same category, so all the happy hunters and homesteaders are already doing more than their part, even if they don't drive Priuses. Clearly, there's a lot individual people can do, though the ones doing it are likely doing it for themselves rather than to save the planet. Government's hands aren't clean here, though. It's a great example of the stubbornness of American tastes that years and years worth of harping about the dangers of red meat haven't slowed our appetite for the stuff one bit, so I'm certainly not going to advocate yet another nannying public awareness campaign. It's not necessary, anyway. If the government would just stop actively supporting the mass consumption of unhealthy, low-quality industrial meats (and refined flours, and white sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup) through its distortionary agricultural subsidies, that'd be a big step forward for American health, and encourage a far more defensible use of our nation's resources, both fiscal and natural. But I'm not holding my breath.

Goodbye Bramble

This story's been all over the Interwebs this morning, and rightly so. Oxford University Press has recently released their newest edition of the Junior Dictionary, with many words relating to Christianity and British history scrubbed out and replaced by such linguistic gems as voicemail, biodegradable, and compulsory. (Then again, that last word will probably be increasingly relevant with every passing year). This is a travesty, of course, but sadly unsurprising. What does surprise and deeply sadden me are the number of words for animals, birds and flowers that OUP has decreed irrelevant to today's youth. I'm with Ross Douthat that this is "just as disquieting as the disappearance of words like minister, monastery, monk, and nun." They've traded in duchess, starling, bramble, marzipan, porridge, nunnery, rhubarb, and liquorice (haphazardly choosing some charming words) for celebrity, vandalism, cut and paste, endangered, block graph, and bungee jumping. And I know they'd just lecture me how the language is evolving and one mustn't be hidebound, but if this is a sign of the future of English, it's an ugly future indeed.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I See No Downside

There are something like 5 million feral hogs running rampant in the United States. They are a nuisance and an environmental threat. All I'm getting out of that is that nobody will defend their precious animal rights when we process them into 50,000 tons of sweet delicious bacon (figuring an average of 20 lbs per farm-raised pig, which is probably conservative when applied to wild hogs). So am I right or am I right?

All I Want For Holiday

The slogan "Keep Christ in Christmas" has been around for a while, but at this point we've got to get more fundamental; keeping Christ in Christmas is all well and good, but we've won the battle and lost the war if we're piously celebrating the birth of Christ behind closed doors while the world celebrates the Twelve Days of Holiday (HT First Things). Then again, it might well be better for Christmas (and Christianity) if it's distinct from Holiday.

Dalrymple on Bombay

Theodore Dalrymple reflects on the Bombay massacre and his own experiences in that most memorable of cities. Here he explains his love for India, a love that I share, but could never hope to express as well as he does (a common hazard in reading Dalrymple) :
It had been a strange morning, to say the least, of the kind that could happen only in India. I have loved the country ever since I first went there as a student aged 19, and think I would be perfectly happy to live there, though I recognise that what attracts me about it repels others. For me, it is the most profoundly human place on earth, the glory and desolation of human existence being constantly before one there in a way that is matched nowhere else.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

... And I'm Back!

Internet troubles this week, thus the brief hiatus. And a considerable amount of Internet-withdrawal ennui (which would be rather less apparent to you, dear reader). Anywho, I'm back, so life is good. Well, better, anyway.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Istanbul Was Constantinople...

Astute readers in the last few days may have noted my pedantic insistence on Bombay over the seemingly preferred "Mumbai". Aside from a simply stodgy contrarian's dislike of changing names of things, I'm not exactly a big fan of the politics behind "Mumbai". See, this change isn't just a de-colonialization like "Kolkata" for Calcutta or "Bengalooru" for Bangalore (which, while I find unnecessary and somewhat silly, I don't really take any particular issue with). Bombay was created by Europeans. It was at best a handful of fishing villages when the Portuguese mapped it with the note "good harbor", later Anglicized to Bombay, under which name it became a major colonial trading port. The attempt by Hindu nationalist politicians to enforce the use of "Mumbai" just doesn't sit right with me, or with most of her citizens who blithely still call the city "Bombay" when speaking English.

Who Will Claim Them?

While the Mumbai attacks were still undergoing, many in the Western media were all too happy to play along with the terrorists' nearly laughable claim to be a "home-grown" Indian group. In the aftermath some subtle links to Pakistan have become evident (such as the terrorists arriving on a boat from Pakistan, making calls to Pakistan during the assault, and, you know, being Pakistanis). Not to say that there aren't serious issues among India's various Muslim populations, and dangerous tensions with the Hindu majority that have long and frequently come to violence, but for some reason the supposition that Indians were responsible for this attack just didn't feel right. Sure enough, the trust that governs the most prestigious of Bombay's Muslim graveyards has refused to bury the bodies of the terrorists:
The men are not true followers of the Islamic faith, according to the influential Muslim Jama Masjid Trust, which runs the 7.5-acre Badakabrastan graveyard in downtown Mumbai. "People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim," said Hanif Nalkhande, a trustee. "Islam does not permit this sort of barbaric crime."
Sadly, I'm afraid the history of Muhammad's terror war against rival tribes of Arabia doesn't exactly support Ustadh Hanif's sentiment, but it's appreciated all the same.

McWeeney to the Rescue

The executive vice president and chief operating officer of a company that specializes in negotiating with kidnappers and hijackers — and which is looking into the newly-lucrative pirate-negotiation market — is named McWeeney. You can't make this stuff up.

Reporting or Abetting Terror?

The Australian Courier Mail reports on the extensive use of technology by the Mumbai terror squads:
Amid the arsenal of military hardware, it was the use of humble mobile phones and internet technology that proved a key weapon – one which caught the anti-terrorist forces by surprise. The use of BlackBerrys by the terrorists to monitor international reaction to the atrocities, and to check on the police response via the internet, provided further evidence of the highly organised and sophisticated nature of the attacks. The gunmen were able to trawl the internet for information after cable television feeds to the two luxury hotels and office block were cut by the authorities. The men looked beyond the instant updates of the Indian media to find worldwide reaction to the events in Mumbai, and to keep abreast of the movements of the soldiers sent to stop them.
This makes you stop and ask, Who precisely is served when Western reporters give minute by minute accounts of the locations, strength, and armaments of the counter-terrorist response:
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2008 04:56:03
After 15 minutes of silence, five commandos in black with heavy-duty body armor have approached the building. Four are carrying assault rifles, and the fifth, possibly their officer, has a radio in his right hand.
Seriously, this is practically a SALUTE report. I guess anyone planning this sort of attack in the future will know that they don't have to bother posting scouts; the media will take care of that for them. How much shorter would the Mumbai siege have been if the terrorists hadn't had intel support from the media? How many lives were ended to support the people's "right to know"? Lets hope municipal authorities take note and immediately bring down the cell networks the next time this sort of attack is attempted.

English is Beautiful

On my long, slow drive back to post from Thanksgiving weekend with family, I happened across a striking pair of voices on NPR: a woman from the west of Scotland was interviewing a folk singer from Appalachian Kentucky (hopefully they will update with a podcast, I'd love to listen to the whole thing). I was struck by the contrasts between the two women's dialects, but I couldn't tell you which I'd like to listen to more. English is a beautiful language, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Financial Perspective

Funny how the whingeing in the last few years about all the money we're spending in Iraq sort of pales in comparison to the costs of the financial bailouts. In fact, everything pales; this is the largest sum of money spent in American history. Wall Street analyst Barry Ritholtz crunches the numbers: the combined financial bailouts of the last two months are costing more than the (inflation-adjusted values of the) Louisiana Purchase, New Deal, Marshall Plan, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, and the entire history of NASA combined.

Celebrating Cultural Identity

R.R. Reno at First Things comments on the awesomely-named Afrikaner folk singer Bok van Blerk, who has become quite popular with a song celebrating a hero of the Second Boer War, causing considerable and predictable angst among liberal white South Africans. Happily, black South African leaders aren't so aggrieved:
ANC leader Jacob Zuma has asked the sensible question, “Why should Afrikaners not remember their heroes?” Apparently this song is now frequently sung spontaneously at rugby matches, complete with the waving of the old South African national flag. Nelson Mandela has called van Blerk one of his favorite singers. Another reason to put his picture in every dictionary by the entry for magnanimity.

Something New and Ugly in Bombay

Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal provides some analysis of the Bombay attacks. Interesting stuff, and worrisome. Whether or not Al-Qaeda itself was involved in this massacre, groups that are targeting the United States will see the success of this sort of attack.

True Service

One of the (many) things I love about Indian society is the vibrant sense of service, of vocation even, that has been long absent in the West. In contrast to Western workers who seem to cultivate a disinterested nonchalance, their very indifference saying "make no mistake, this job is not my career", service workers in India -- rickshaw drivers, waiters, retail salespeople and railroad ticket-takers -- take visible pride in their vocations, which expresses itself in uncommon service. Case in point: how many American bellhops do you expect would take a bullet for their guests?

Ignoble Savages

This is America? Sickening.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Brutal Reminder

Here's something to be thankful for today: counterterrorism. If there is any real lesson for us from the attacks in Bombay which are just now ending, it is that it could have been us. There's nothing unique about Bombay that made it a good target; this sort of attack could have been successful in any American city. We know they want to, but apparently they haven't been able to. For seven years, what we considered inevitable on September 12 hasn't occurred. This is not by coincidence. For all the pointless waste and excess of the Department of Homeland Security, something is clearly working, and for that I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bad Bad Bad: Terrorists Attack Bombay

I hope nobody's hearing this news first from me, but today terrorists have conducted a massive series of coordinated attacks on seven locations across Bombay, including hospitals, an airport, railway station, police station, and two prominent hotels. 87 now confirmed dead according to CNN, and the Times of India is reporting over 900 injured. There are still hostages being held in two hotels. A previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedin has claimed responsibility, but there's no way this was the work of some rabble of Indian domestic terrorists. My money's on Pakistani intelligence and/or Al-Qaeda.

UPDATE: Danger Room links to the Twittering, YouTubing, GoogleMapping, and Flickring developments.

UPDATE 1120ET: Times of India now reporting 101 dead, with 6 confirmed to be foreigners.

Food Miles, Schmood Miles

There are a lot of reasons to eat locally; preventing global warming just isn't one of them. The "Food Miles" concept of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding produce shipped long distances is a classic example of feel-good environmentalism lacking empirical rigor. As Reason Magazine explains, it makes the most environmental sense to grow food in exactly the same places where it makes the most economic sense. Any given crop has preferences in soil and climate, livestock have preferences in climate and feed, so land and agrochemical use are minimized by growing crops and raising animals in the places most suited to their growth. Then there's the basic logistical issue:
It transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day. Another surprising finding was that a shift towards a local food system, and away from a supermarket-based food system, with its central distribution depots, lean supply chains and big, full trucks, might actually increase the number of food-vehicle miles being travelled locally, because things would move around in a larger number of smaller, less efficiently packed vehicles.
This study was in compact, crowded Britain. The situation can only be worse in spacious America. This excerpt uses the phrase food-vehicle miles. Maybe we can come up with a better term than that, but it hinges on thinking not about total miles traveled, but on miles traveled per item of produce in a given shipment. Think of it this way: you buy a local tomato at the trendy farmers' market instead of one that's been shipped from California, thus reducing "food miles". What you fail to account for is "food-vehicle miles": the local tomato might have ridden thirty miles in the back of a pickup with maybe 50 other tomatoes. The California tomato was shipped cross-country, true, but in a semi-load of millions. The amount of fuel burned per tomato to get it from the field to your house ends up being far less for the mass-market tomato, particularly if you drive further to the farmers' market than the grocery store.

This is all such a great example of the sort of environmentalism that cares more about labels and trends than about actually accomplishing anything. Some of the political motivations are suspect as well; much of the local-food movement has an ugly strain of protectionism to it. Indeed, Kenya has been forced to defend her cut-flower industry from the "food miles" concept, with an ad campaign point out that Kenyan flowers are "Grown Under The Sun" instead of in heated greenhouses and are thus "greener" than British or Dutch cut-flowers. Again, we're back to growing things where they grow best. Crazy talk, I know.

All this is most certainly not to suggest that I'm against buying locally. I think there's a great food security argument to a more distributed agricultural production. There may be some nutritional benefits (though studies are inconclusive). For me, there is without a doubt a mental health benefit; it just feels right to be eating food grown in the community. It supports a more localized economy, a sense of civil interdependence, and a healthier, more traditional lifestyle. So in the end I'm all for local produce, or best of all, food you grow yourself. Just don't try to convince me I'm saving the world by buying it.

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Matthew Yglesias blogs about turkey over at the Internet Food Association, arguing (with considerably validity) that turkey just isn't that great of a meat, period, regardless of all the foodies trying to figure out ways to make it better. He argues that the reason for this is that the breeding of commercial turkeys has focused on exactly one factor: size. I buy that this might be true, but I'm not willing to accept his argument that the best response is just to give up on turkey and serve something else for Thanksgiving. There must be sources of naturally-raised turkeys from traditional breeds. I'd like to give one a try before I give up on turkey entirely.

Oh yeah, and I'm thankful for stuff. But I don't think I really need an allotted day to acknowledge that.

UPDATE 27NOV08 2352: Yepp, there are heritage turkeys out there. No word on how pricey, but they do exist.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tonight We're Goin' Dancing

First Things links to this video from a Quebecois band. What I wouldn't give to hear this sort of unabashed tribute to our roots from the Anglo world! Of course, this sort of sentiment is generally considered borderline fascist these days. I don't care.

An Uninclusive Disease

Cystic fibrosis isn't inclusive enough. That's the determination of the student association of Ottawa's Carleton University, which has decided to drop the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation from an annual fundraiser on account of the genetic disorder's highest incidence occurring among Caucasian males (HT a facebook friend). Unbelievable.

War Vegetables!

All my friends who are currently so lucky as to have gardens or who, like me, pine wistfully for the day they will be so lucky, might enjoy a peek at the book War Vegetable Gardening, published in 1918 by the US War Garden Commission and e-published on Google Books. I'm still working on a post explaining why the push to "buy local" according to the "food miles" concept is mostly bunk, and in most circumstances produces results counter to its stated goals. That aside, however, growing food for yourself and your family is undoubtedly a Good Thing for various environmental, political, social, and health reasons, and this book is certainly a classy (and classic) background. The admonishments about seed shortages and rationing are also needed reminders of how easy we have it.

Someone's Still Standing Up For Civilization

Someone's still standing up against the barbarians, but sadly (and sadly predictably) it's not a traditional Western power. Rear Admiral Raja Menon of the Indian Navy has chastised NATO members for treating Somali pirates "with kid gloves", Danger Room reports. "There is an 1838 convention that permits any warship to interfere anywhere on the ‘High Seas’ to intercept pirates and try them — without handing them over to the country of origin." Dern skippy, there is. Customary law of the sea has always treated pirates as stateless actors and given captains of legitimate flagged vessels the authority to try them, at sea, under the laws of the capturing country. But the West these days is more concerned with the pirates' civil rights. An old definition of conservatism is the firm belief that civilization is but a thin and fragile veneer in need of vigilant defense: India gets it, Europe clearly doesn't, and America can't seem to make up her mind. This isn't the first time I've wondered whether, having inherited more evidently the traditional responsibilities of Western civilization, India doesn't more legitimately deserve the global eminence that the Western powers historically enjoyed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Touch Obscure

When one hears word about a performance of a C.S. Lewis work adapted as an opera, first thoughts run to the Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps, or maybe one of the theological allegories like The Great Divorce. I would not have guessed Perelandra.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Recount Fun

Minnesota Public Radio shares some of the challenged ballots in the current Minnesota Senate recount (background from PowerLine). I guess it's not surprising that in such a high-stakes game both sides would be making pretty ridiculous challenges. Not surprising, but not particularly encouraging. Can we possibly come up with a voting system that doesn't leave us in this position?

I Want One: Mammoth-Wool Sweater

Science is finally getting around to seriously considering the feasibility of reconstituting extinct animals. While the Jurassic Park scenario is pure science fiction, Paleolithic Park is not. Scientists are now suggesting that the woolly mammoth, which went extinct right around the dawn of human civilization, could be brought back to life for something in the neighborhood of $10 million. I don't know exactly how long it would take commercial mammoth-ranching to take off after that, but I for one refuse to believe that mammoth wool would be anything but snuggly-soft.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Big 3 Bailout

As far as the proposed bailout of Detroit goes, I'm inclined to go with the suggestion offered by ScrappleFace: "Here’s my proposal to rescue U.S. automakers... Memo to Detroit: Make better cars."

What worries me considerably more is the possibility floated by Todd Zywicki at The Volokh Conspiracy, that the bailout money might just tide the automakers over until "card check" empowers the UAW to get those peskily profitable foreign automakers under control.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I've spent the last week on a short-term recruiting gig, visiting high school classes in several cities in the western half of North Carolina, from classy Smoky Mountain resort cities to economically hopeless Appalachian towns. The full-time recruiters I worked with said that they look at a high school class with the knowledge that about 70% are already disqualified for various reasons, and of those who aren't, only about a third will get a qualifying score on the ASVAB. With that in mind, it was heartbreaking to hear teachers so enthusiastic for their students to enlist, admitting to us privately that the military was the only path they could see for their students to make anything of themselves. "Half these kids think they're going to college," one of them confided in me. "Nine out of ten of those will drop out in their first year." Interacting with high-schoolers these days isn't exactly an encouraging experience.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Long...

... until history can take a dispassionate view of the Bush presidency and declare that it wasn't, in fact, an unmitigated disaster? How long until people can admit that the Bush administration has actually had some major accomplishments in foreign policy? It has somehow evaded mainstream media attention that Libya — a country whose government has murdered US civilians, which just six years ago had a vast arsenal of chemical weapons, was pursuing nuclear weapons, and was a listed State Sponsor of Terrorism (and one of John Bolton's "Beyond the Axis of Evil") — is now on a clear path to fully normalized relations with the US and the international community. Amazing. But never forget, Bush is a warmonger who is constitutionally incapable of even considering diplomacy.

Classic Moments in Soldiering: Livin' It Up on TDY

I'm traveling around the western reaches of North Carolina this week, on a recruiting TDY (temporary duty). We're basically just going to high schools and talking about what we've done in the Army. I guess the Department of the Army is starting to realize that it might help recruitment to let potential recruits interact with some regularly-assigned soldiers. Personally, I think the permanent recruiters should all be contract civilians, and just have soldiers from line units rotate through on short TDYs, but that's a thought for another post. Whatever the purpose, TDY is generally a time to relax and enjoy a sort of half-vacation: you're still working, but you're away from the familiar frustrations of your own unit, staying in a hotel and eating out on the Army's dime. The timing of this trip is especially sweet because back at Fort Bragg our buddies are busy with "Clean Sweep", the biannual week-long post-wide "area beautification" effort. A buddy describes the experience:
Step one: remove dead pine needles from base of tree. Step two: replace with slightly less dead pine needles. Step three: repeat. I would go TDY to the moon, butt-@$$ naked from a slingshot, if it got me out of this.

Bad Bad Bad: Somali Pirates Capture Supertanker

It's the early years of the 21st Century, we're living in the future, people, and while I can deal with the lack of flying cars, it's a bit surreal to me that open-seas piracy is reemerging as an international issue. I understand that as long as there are desolate stretches of ungovernable wasteland, there will be people who seek to profit off of chaos. I just didn't think they'd get to the point that they can capture supertankers.

UPDATE: Kenneth Anderson at Opinio Juris suggests that Somali pirates could be low-hanging fruit for an Obama administration eager to gain some serious security credibility while simultaneously demonstrating its commitment to internationalism. He also notes how Great Britain, once the lonely guardian of shipping lanes worldwide, has abdicated any responsibility to fight pirates:
Meanwhile, the British have instructed their navy to ignore pirates, out of the remarkable fear that any captured Somali pirates might have asylum claims on metropolitan Britain. I am not alone in thinking this an ignominious day for Britain.
Not alone, indeed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Want One: Car Made of Cake

Via the ever-entertaining Cake Wrecks, this charming ad from the Czech automaker Skoda:

And if you loved that, here's the "making of" video.

Just For Fun

The real world, meticulously videotaped to make it look like a scene of miniatures in stop-motion. Beautiful.

UPDATE: Full videos, in HD, available here:

The North Wind Blew South from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Preservation Bias Revisited

I wrote about preservation bias a while back, but I just have to bring it up again after John Hinderaker at PowerLine posted about a 2,000 year-old earring found recently at a dig in Jerusalem:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Good Reminder

That even in tough economic times, there are always winners. The beauty of capitalism is the opportunity to profit by providing things people need, better and cheaper than anyone else. It's a beautiful thing. Which is why we should be incredibly suspicious of calls for the government to save companies that haven't produced a product people actually want to buy for nearly a generation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another Advantage of an Obama Presidency... that the AP will no longer have to tie themselves in knots spinning the successful completion of counterinsurgency milestones as US forces "abandoning Iraqi cities". Via James Taranto, this AP article takes a full five paragraphs to get around to admitting that US troops are pulling out of some Iraqi cities because they are secure enough to entrust to Iraqi security forces.

The Uncanniest Valley

Are all my readers familiar with the concept of the Uncanny Valley? Essentially, people are generally attracted to other people, and to things that resemble human beings such as Cabbage Patch dolls or vaguely humanoid robots, except for things that are a little too close to human, but still clearly not; this is the "Uncanny Valley". The phenomenon is a way of explaining the otherwise inexplicable revulsion people feel toward creepy-realistic porcelain dolls, clowns, zombies, corpses, and lifelike robots. Meanwhile, certain line of modern technology seems to be dead-set on plumbing the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley, creating abominations like this:

This thing needs to be destroyed. (HT Mike Elgan). Also, is it just me, or does it look like a creepy android Paul Dano (who is himself wandering awfully close to the brink of the Uncanny Valley)?

A Day Late

But I still wanted to link to this Veteran's Day post at the Donovan, about Honor Flight, a charity that provides free flights for WWII veterans to visit the National WWII Memorial in Washington, DC.


This guy's got 'em:

Arizona State University student Alex Botsios said he had no problem giving a nighttime intruder his wallet and guitars.

When the man asked for Botsios' laptop, however, the first-year law student drew the line.

"I was like, 'Dude, no -- please, no!" Botsios said. "I have all my case notes…that's four months of work!"

He then proceeded to beat the snot out of the burglar. I particularly love that his mom attributes his hand-to-hand skills to watching cop shows on TV.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


So that post I promised last night, well, I'm not going to write it tonight, because we threw a birthday party for a fellow soldier in my platoon, and now I have to go to bed. We've had early work call for various reasons all week. What gives? So maybe tomorrow.

Back to Work

Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will post a piece about the various possible bright sides of President Obama's term in office. Right now I'm going to bed, because in 5 hours, I have to be up, uniformed, and headed to the rifle range. I can't quite believe they're seriously giving us live ammo after all this... but I'm not as worried as I would have been if the results had be inconclusive. Here's to shooting "Expert" in honor of my new commander-in-chief. I'll be supporting him any which way I can. Here's praying he needs it less than I fear he will.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


There's this, too, from Jim Manzi:
There are about 1,460 days until the next Presidential election, and I assume that I will spend approximately the next 1,459 of them opposing Barack Obama. But I'm spending today proud about what my country has overcome.

Grace in Defeat

If I'm going to echo anyone's concession, I'm happy to choose Jonah Goldberg's:
Look, I expect to be one of the most severe critics of the Obama administration and the Democrats generally in the years ahead (though I sincerely hope I won't find that necessary). But Obama ran a brilliant race and he should be congratulated for it. Moreover, during the debate over the financial crisis, Obama said that a president should be able to do more than one thing at a time. Well, I think we members of the loyal opposition should be able to make distinctions simultaneously. It is a wonderful thing to have the first African-American president. It is a wonderful thing that in a country where feelings are so intense that power can be transferred so peacefully. Let us hope that the Obama his most dedicated -- and most sensible! -- fans see turns out to be the real Obama. Let us hope that Obama succeeds and becomes a great president, for all the right reasons. As for John McCain, he is an American hero and arguably the best candidate we could have fielded. I will in the days to come offer no small amount of criticism about his campaign. But where his campaign may have lacked qualities that would have helped it win, the candidate never lacked for honor and integrity. Thank you John McCain for your sacrifice, commitment, and honor. God bless America, and may He guide Obama to be the best president possible.

A Republican's Vow

Things are definitely leaning Obama's way, as expected, though with states being called on 1% or 2% of precincts, there's plenty of room for ugly surprises. With that in mind, I'd like to share something I picked up from a friend of a friend's blog. It's a little vow for McCain supporters (here selected):

I hereby vow that if Obama wins:
  • I will remove my McCain campaign bumper stickers shortly after he is sworn in. I will not leave them on my bumper until Obama leaves office.
  • I will never refer to the election as "stolen" or a "coup d'etat". Massive voting problems should prompt future reforms, not invalidate the election. No matter how dirty the election, he will still be my President.
  • I will never own a "days until Obama is out of office" countdown calendar.
  • I will never pass on every verbal stumble as proof he is a moron, or buy books or calendars asserting such. Caveat: Joe Biden is fair game.
  • I will not adopt a cutesy insulting nickname for Obama and use that whenever referring to him in order to avoid calling him the President of the United States.
  • I will never call Obama "Hitler" or a "Nazi". Similarly, no pictures or photos will ever be digitally altered to give him a Hitler mustache.
  • If any organization affiliated with Obama is enriched due to the direction of the country under Obama, I will not insist that Obama's motivations are wholly to enrich that organization.
  • If Obama makes reasonable, logical statements that are backed up by the information known at the time, but these facts prove to be incorrect, I will not call him a liar.
  • I will admonish any right-wing blog which dismisses Michelle Obama for being a woman, or which photo manipulates her image in a sleazy way. I will not adopt any kind of rude nickname for her, or hold her up for mockery for anything unrelated to political statements which she makes.
  • Obama's daughters are totally off-limits. If they do something stupid, I will admonish any blogs which gossip about them. Their parents are in politics; they aren't.
  • I will not demand Obama's resignation or impeachment for making decisions that are consistent with being President.
  • Obama will take office while the War on Terror is still going on, and unless he is even dumber than he appears to be I can only assume he will take some steps to fight terrorism, regardless of what actions he takes in the current fronts of the war (Iraq and Afghanistan). I will not assume that Obama's every action in this is a malicious move towards oppressing the American people.
  • If Obama, too, fails to capture Osama bin Laden, I will not assume he is not trying.
  • Obama's judges, U.N. representatives, cabinet officials, diplomats, etc. are his to appoint. If elected, he is the President and he does not have to appoint people who are ideologically acceptable to Republicans.
  • I will never threaten to move to Canada because Obama is taking our country to Hell in a handbasket.
  • Should things ever become so dire under Obama's Presidency that I would have to leave the land that I love to flee to Australia, I will not threaten to do so. I will move and then verify my change of residency with a photo of me in front of that weird horseshoe crab opera house or the big rock.
Of course, the whole thrust of this piece is that we need to be gracious in defeat, and constructive in our time in the wilderness; for the sake of a nation that we love. This is why I honestly hope that McCain does not pull off a narrow electoral victory; if he's going to do it, let it be decisive — if not, concede graciously. Because I honestly don't know if America as I know and love her will survive another presidency conceived in such ill will. And for what it's worth, should McCain pull off the impossible, it'd be nice of our left-leaning friends to consider a corollary set of vows. But that's really wishful thinking.

Hope Springs Eternal

When my favorite grumpy Tory, John Derbyshire, finds himself voting for John McCain against all compelling logic, there's got to be something in the air. Probably not enough of it, but who knows?
I hesitated. The little angel on my right shoulder was saying: "Purity, Derb, purity and a clean conscience! How could you live with yourself, voting for Ted Kennnedy's and Joe Lieberman's best friend? You're a conservative, man! Go into the darkness unsullied, with your head held high!" Meanwhile the Father of Temptation had a representative sitting on my other shoulder, waving the Delonas cartoon at me, whispering: "Remember your Kipling, Derb! Stick to the Devil you know! At least when you're breaking rocks in that labor camp in the Aleutians, you'll be able to tell yourself you did what you could to stop it." I succumbed. By an effort of will, I reached out a trembling finger and turned down the tag. Then I shut my eyes and pulled hard on the lever. Yes, my friends, I voted for John McCain.

Yes On 8, Yes to the Mormon Gestapo

You know, I'd thought that the crazier streams of anti-Mormon bigotry had pretty much faded away. I didn't give a whole lot of credence to the suggestion that Mitt Romney's primary run was likely done in by it. Then I see that a "No On 8" organization is running this ad:

I'm appalled. I'd always thought of anti-Mormon feelings in connection with wary evangelicals unsure what to make of the LDS. I just never really thought what the LDS must represent to some of the more paranoid-leaning lefties out there.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Useless Gadgets?

WIRED's Gadget Lab blog posts the Five Useless Gadgets You Should Throw In The Trash Right Now. These supposedly obsolete pieces of equipment are the: printer, scanner, CD/DVD optical drive, fax machine, and landline phone.

About the only one I agree with on this list is the scanner, and that's just because it's been made obsolete by my digital camera. They're right that home printers and fax machines should be obsolete, but there are still agencies and employers out there who still deal stubbornly in hard copy, and until they start accepting things digitally, I'll still be relying on my trusty printer and occasionally scrambling to find someplace I can send and receive faxes. I agree the situation is completely ridiculous when I'm emailing documents to myself so I can print them out in my room and drive to the UPS Store to fax them off, but there's not a lot I can do about that.

As to optical drives, flash memory and functionally limitless hard drives are pretty much making the disc obsolete, but software and media haven't moved completely into the cloud yet, so until that happens I still need to be able to install programs and play my DVDs.

My real disagreement is the landline phone, which I think I've mentioned before. The authors just don't seem to take seriously the implications of an entire city being rendered incommunicado after a major disaster, and how easily cell networks could be brought down by malicious actors.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Get A Government Job, Kid!

John Derbyshire, my personal favorite grumpy ole' Tory, shares a letter from a reader cataloging the vast improvements in his personal comfort level since abandoning the rat race of the free market for the nourishing womb of a government job:
What a fool I was. It was all a vast waste of time... Oh, it was fun while it lasted but, seriously, I should have been a mailman out of high school!! Like yourself, I have advised my grandchildren accordingly.

Let me be clear, this is a catastrophic development for our country. When the private sector can no longer compete with the public sector, you know that society is on its way out... At this point, my wife and I are planning to make the most of it and have as much fun as we possibly can for as long as we possibly can. Frankly, nothing else makes sense anymore. The old beliefs, the old gods, the old standards have gone a-glimmering. I now answer the deep questions of the day with a cosmic shrug, a "whatever" and an inquiry as to when the Chargers are playing this Sunday. It is wise not to have opinions in the new America. Opinions are dangerous.

I have visited Philadelphia, the cradle of our freedom. I have been astonished at the modest rooms where the great men of that time gave birth to our country. I think of Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin spinning in their graves. They would be appalled that it has come to this. Ask yourself, would you sacrifice your life, your sacred honor and your fortune for what you see around you today? The answer is self evident. We are a de facto colony of China. It is enough to make you cry.
It does make me want to cry. It makes me fear for the future of our nation, regardless of who wins the election on Tuesday.

Obama's Crowds

I finally got around to reading a piece by Fouad Ajami that I'd saved a few days back, on the role of the crowd in politics in general, and the Obama campaign in particular. It's good stuff:
My boyhood, and the Arab political culture I have been chronicling for well over three decades, are anchored in the Arab world. And the tragedy of Arab political culture has been the unending expectation of the crowd -- the street, we call it -- in the redeemer who will put an end to the decline, who will restore faded splendor and greatness. When I came into my own, in the late 1950s and '60s, those hopes were invested in the Egyptian Gamal Abdul Nasser. He faltered, and broke the hearts of generations of Arabs. But the faith in the Awaited One lives on, and it would forever circle the Arab world looking for the next redeemer.

America is a different land, for me exceptional in all the ways that matter. In recent days, those vast Obama crowds, though, have recalled for me the politics of charisma that wrecked Arab and Muslim societies. A leader does not have to say much, or be much. The crowd is left to its most powerful possession -- its imagination.

On a totally unrelated note: 300th post!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Election Nostalgia

Andrew Roth of Club for Growth shares this charming reminder of a bygone era:

Stay Classy, St. Olaf

St. Olaf gets a shout-out from PowerLine. Sadly it's about a visiting professor, Phil Busse, who has admitted on the Huffington Post to stealing McCain-Palin lawn signs along Highway 19. Sad, though not as surprising as I'd prefer, that a faculty member would exhibit such immature and proto-fascist behavior (more disappointing that the college would hire such a poor writer). Unsurprisingly, the culprit has some seriously twisted analysis of his guilt:
But unlike stealing a lawn gnome or a plastic pink flamingo, I admit, stealing a lawn sign is a more heinous crime. There is moral and ethical guilt. I believe in free speech, and also believe and encourage political expression. I guess I could argue that I was flexing my free expression to say "shut up." But that would put me at the same low-level of political discourse as Bill O'Reilly, who consistently steamrolls over anyone who disagrees with him. If I need to justify my actions, I could argue that I was trying to achieve some great public service for rural voters. In his 2004 book, What's The Matter With Kansas, Frank Rich explains that working class and family farmers, like these in Minnesota, increasingly vote conservative and against their own interests. By pulling out the McCain signs, I was hoping to curb the impression for passing motorists that family farmers in Minnesota supported McCain. Or, at least that's the most high-minded explanation that I can offer.
Sir, your free expression is in your yard. Your act is not equivalent to O'Reilly's (admittedly annoying) railroading of interlocators whom he has provided with a platform on his own show. It is, rather, equivalent to O'Reilly sabotaging the satellite feed of someone else's show. And I can't even bring myself to discuss how Professor Busse considers "high-minded" his rationalization that he was censoring less enlightened citizens for their own good. Just last week I came across the Arabic expression "an excuse more damnable than the offense", and didn't entirely understand its application. Now I do.

UPDATE 04NOV08: Phil Busse has resigned his position at St. Olaf. Good riddance.

Best Thing Ever (Yet): Escaped Rhino Drill

You Could Buy Four Palin Wardrobes...

... for the money the Obama campaign spent on staging and lighting for his rally in Berlin. In front of people who don't get to vote. Amazing this hasn't gotten more coverage, right? Right? Of course, the Washington Times has nothing to lose by being critical now, since the Obama machine has cut the newspaper off for endorsing McCain (along with the other two national papers to endorse the Republican). This after cutting off the Florida TV station whose anchorwoman had the temerity to ask the sort of aggressive questions you expect from, you know, a journalist. It's remarkable how beloved Obama remains in the media when his camp so transparently treats them as an expendable resource, to be coddled only so long as they remain favorable.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weapons in Space? They're Already There

Barack Obama has promised (among a few other things) that he will not weaponize space. The problem with this promise is one of definitions. Right now, when people worry about military activity in space, they seem to be concerned mostly with area-denial tactics, i.e. we will disable your critical satellite networks. As STRATCOM commander General Kevin Chilton points out, however, by that standard the US space shuttle fleet qualifies as a space weapon. For that matter, remember the stumbling satellite the US Navy blew up a while back in order to prevent it from potentially crashing in a populated area? Things falling from space have a lot of energy. Every point on Earth's surface is located at the business end of a very powerful gun, courtesy of gravity. From that high up, all you've got to do is throw rocks, which Earth learned the hard way in Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Few people other than sci-fi writers seem to acknowledge, however, how incredibly strategic space is, so a president Obama would probably be able to keep his promise. The thing is, how many other countries will respect the same ideal? The Chinese, among others, have known for a little while the importance of holding the high ground.

Why Drones Still Don't Trump Terrorism

The widespread use of drones has dramatically changed the game in Iraq and Afghanistan, greatly reducing the force-protection burden of surgical strikes against high-value terrorists. Unfortunately, terrorists are still terrorists, and their fundamental advantage — their lack of concern for human life — still holds true, as William Saletan points out in Slate.
In other words, the terrorists may have found a trump card over the drones. The terrorists can't kill the pilots who operate the drones from the United States. But the terrorists can kill local civilians, thereby generating political pressure on the local government to pressure the United States to call off the drones. And because the drones are operated by humans who answer to other humans who are susceptible to pressure over the loss of life, the terrorists win.
The only way to end the moral sway the terrorists hold over us, Saletan notes, is to move from drones to fully autonomous robots. A lot of people seem to think this sort of thing is a joke, but it's not. Within a decade at the very latest, the Department of Defense will be facing pressure to allow autonomous military robots — which have already been demonstrated to be significantly better than human soldiers at differentiating civilians from enemy combatants — to pull the trigger themselves.