Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wire Service Photos, Yet Again

On the same day that the wire services run this bizarre photo of the president, their lead story for the day shows Bush being crowded out of the frame by the black podium while he clings desperately to the edge trying not to disappear altogether.

It must be fun to be the AP photo editor. I am reminded of the cartoon "Duck Amuck" where Daffy is tormented by the animator who in the end turns out to be Bugs Bunny. Bugs ends the cartoon with the line "Ain't I a stinker! He He He."

Other interesting observations on wire service photos, here and here.

Calling Olympic Committee

I need to contact the Olympic Committee. While walking my dogs I came up with an exciting new sport for dog owners that I think they should consider. It is a timed, competitive sport and the play goes like this: The contestant, with two unruly dogs on extensible leashes, stands on a sidewalk facing a small hill with a line of bushes at the top. The blow of a whistle starts the clock and one of the dogs runs up the hill and retrieves a two-week-dead, roadkill rabbit that has been placed in the bushes. Using only his feet and tugs on the leashes the contestant must first get the dog to drop the rabbit, and then kick the rabbit back up the hill and into the bushes without letting either dog get to it. Each contestant gets three attempts and the best time decides the winner. The contestant is allowed to kick the dog but only while it is holding the rabbit. Once the rabbit has been dropped a three-tenths of a second penalty applies for each dog kicked.

For the contestant the sport requires agility, speed, strategy, a great deal of upper body strength and a strong stomach; and for the dog: speed, agility and sturdy ribs. It is a bit of a rough-and-tumble sport, but the dogs (who get the worst of it in that regard) enjoy it immensely.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The R Factor Diet

There are signs that the Atkins phenomenon may have peaked and that the dieting community may be ready for the next big thing. Atkins had a good run -- Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is teetering on the brink of Chapter 11 -- but one sees more and more baked potatoes on people's plates where last year it was broccoli. The sense that Atkins is declining in popularity cannot be denied. Generally, when one hyper-popular diet wanes there is a hiatus of a few months while the people who failed with the old diet sulk, and the people who succeeded with it gain back all the weight they had lost. Finally, when everyone is once again plump and determined, the scene is ready for the next final solution to flab.

We are in that hiatus now and it may be slightly prolonged this time by recent research that suggests that being slightly overweight is healthier than maintaining ones "ideal" weight. Still, sooner or later the time will come and I mean to be ready. As it happens, I am currently trying to reduce my tonnage and I have worked out a method for selecting foods so that I am not excessively hungry and I lose weight at a sensible pace. I call it the "R" factor. I think, with proper promotion, the "R" Factor Diet could easily be the next big thing in nutrition.

So, what is the "R" factor? I'm not telling. Once you know what the "R" factor is it becomes childishly simple to pick out healthy, slimming foods. If I post the "R" factor in my blog, who will buy my book?

But I will give some hints -- as a a sort of a teaser. Consider this list of foods*: beans, cauliflower, onions, seeds, broccoli, corn, peas, soy, cabbage, lettuce, peanuts, whole grains, carrots, peppers, oat bran. These foods are all high in the "R" factor. They tend to be high in fiber, in complex sugars and high order carbohydrates. They tend to be bulky compared to their caloric content and have lots of indigestible or partially degestible components that encourage the growth of helpful flora in your gut. Many of them tend to be vegetables but the "R" factor diet is not necessarily, or even particularly, vegetarian. There are a number of sausages or other prepared meat products that are high in the "R" factor.

With the Atkins diet there was more to it than just picking out foods that are low in carbs, and there is more to the "R" Factor Diet than just the "R" factor. The "R" Factor Diet is a moderately low fat diet and one must pick foods that are both low in fat and high in the "R" factor. But the "R" Factor Diet does not require, or provide, specific menus. There is no need to carry a calculator to the grocery store. Instead, as you go up and down the aisles you can evaluate foods based on two simple rules: 1) the ratio of total calories to fat calories should be at least 4 to 1, and 2) the food should be high in the "R" factor. As I said, to learn about the "R" factor you will need to buy my book, but I promise: you already know which foods are high in the "R" factor but you don't know you know it.

So, watch the shelves at your favorite bookstore for my new book: The R Factor Diet. "R" factor food is real food you can buy in real grocery stores -- not specially branded pressed sawdust kibbles or beeswax wafers dusted with dryer lint. It's stuff you already eat and like, but you don't know that it can make you thin -- because you don't understand the relation between weight loss and the "R" factor. All you have to do to lose weight is cut out the foods that make you F. A. T. and choose foods that add the "R" factor -- foods that make you F. A. ...

But, for that you need to buy my book.

* List of "R" factor foods courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline, distributors of Beano.

Update: 1 May 2005

I have been asked for more information about the "R" factor -- inquiries motivated undoubtedly by impatience for the release of my as-yet-unwritten apocryphal book, "The R Factor Diet." A full answer, of course, will have to wait for the book but I will provide this further hint: I often have the pictured product for lunch. [I have lightly obscured the brand identity since they have not yet offered to pay me to advertise their product.] It makes an ideal "R" Factor lunch -- 25% calories from fat, high in protein, and very high in the "R" Factor. Being an "R" factor food I don't really worry about portion control as that takes care of itself. When I finish a big bowl I hear this little voice saying "That's enough. No more." I like to think this voice is my inner dietician speaking to me about moderation and health. It could also be the guy in the next cube muttering under his breath.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Happy Day, Earth!

One Cheer for Earth Day: yay.

The words "conservative" and "conservationist" sound like they ought to be synonyms. You'd think that, since my right head* is a conservative I would be some sort of an Environmentalist, but I'm not. That term has been pretty well captured by the Eco-Obstructionists and is probably beyond recovery.

This is a bit of a pity, actually. There is a strong conservative case to be made for good stewardship of the environment and there is a good libertarian case to be made for holding polluters responsible for the damage they do to other people. But most of the celebrated environmental issues tend to boil down to finding an infinite list of "environmental" objections to some activity one opposes (often for political reasons) and having absolutely no interest, whatsoever, in helping to find a way that the activity can proceed and the damage be avoided or mitigated.

There are, for instance, things that can be done to allow oil exploration and production in Alaska with minimal environmental damage. One example is moving heavy equipment only in the winter using roads built entirely of ice that thaw in the spring so you can schlepp stuff around without damaging the permafrost. Is this a celebrated environmentalist idea? Actually, no. They are all about preventing oil exploration altogether, the ice roads are someting the oil companies thought up with no help from the environmentalists.

There ought to be more non-left-wing "environmentalist" groups. There are a few. Here is one. But there should be more.

Yes, I have two heads. My left head is a libertarian. Being a Fusionist is occasionally irritating (and expensive when one is shopping for headgear) but, what are you gonna do?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

One of these men

... is in the news because he has trouble controlling his anger.



Can you guess which one?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005



The other night at dinner we were discussing "memes" -- the infectious ideas that circulate in society, replicating themselves from mind to mind, that, taken as a whole constiute the 'DNA' of our consciousness. Memes of which one disapproves are sometimes called "mental viruses" because of their harmful nature and their viral-like propagation. Meme Central is a good resource for more than you want to know about memes.

One of the ladies present had never heard the term before and we tried to fill her in. The conversation drifted to other topics (memes are interesting but not that interesting) and by the time we finished eating we had discussed dozens of things of which memes were a small part. Nonetheless, during the meal the facinating idea of memes, which is itself a meme, had taken up residence in another mind.

After supper most of us went to a nearby pub where they hold a weekly "Pub Quiz" -- with a hundred dollar prize -- to increase busines on an otherwise slow day of the week. One of the questions was an excellent example of a meme. The question was "Which of the following is it illegal to do in California?" I don't remember all the choices but the "answer" was "Eat an orange in the bathtub."

I'm not sure if we got that question "right" (as the quiz was scored) -- all of the other foils were equally absurd -- but it left me curious about the law, its history and motivations. I did a bit of Googling and I now belive that the "illegal to eat oranges in the bathtub" law is a baseless, viral meme. It appears on a number of sites, often crediting someone named Meagin Caza as the source. Sometimes it's a California law, sometimes Florida.

All the pages I found about the law have headings about "stupid" laws. I'm sure the people who compiled these lists got a great deal of satisfaction adding it. Look, Meagin Caza says it's illegal to eat oranges in the bathtub! -- they think -- Haw! Those dumb political assholes! and with perfect credulity they add this unsourced "fact" -- just something that blew in from the internet -- to their list of evidence that lawmakers are morons.

To be fair, I did find one forum that explored the background of the orange-eating bathtub prohibition. Here is part of the exchange --

Brainiac A: if you're a real bad'll eat an orange in the bathtub in florida. anyone know why that is against the law?...and who eats oranges in the bathtub anyway?

Brainiac B: It is illegal, because oranges actually carry slight electrical charges, picked up from the actual tree it grows off of.

If enough orange is in the bathtub, a shock can be caused to knock you out for a short period, where usually the victim will drown.

Florida police were sick of this and sick of picking dead, naked people out of their bathtubs, so they enforced the law.

Brainiac C: David, I must say that I'm impressed you knew that

Brainiac B: Discovery Channel.

Brainiac D: Jeeze, wouldn't that be a freakish way to go...

Brainiac E: that would be a sad way to go.. but would the trouble be of having a glass of oj, especially in the tub. its much easier and if you dont like it, you could dump it in the water, if you did that with an orange you could get killed

Brainiac B: Oranges, electricity or not, are still healthy. This is not meant to scare you from eating you favourite fruit.

Also, orange juice, unless it is freshly squeezed orange juice doesn't work. The chemicals will stunt the conduction of electricity, and therefore, the result is totally harmless.

There you have it. Now you know. Orange juice will will not electrocute you in the bath unless it is fresh squeezed. What a comfort. And that Discovery Channel -- what an amazing source of second-hand information that is.

The sad thing is that everyone in the pub that night now "knows" that it is illegal to eat oranges in a bathtub in California. The meme containues to propagate. But, hopefully not to readers of my blog who, by constant exposure to my notions, will have developed a degree of immunity to blather and fluff.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Planet Fidel

A recent post on Sunbreak City -- Fidel Castro is a murdering thug (and other hard to understand thoughts for the left) -- asks the following question:
Why do Woody Harrelson, Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, Chevy Chase, Leo DiCaprio, Francis Ford Coppola, Kate Moss, Matt Damon, Naomi Campbell, Robert Redford and Ted Turner think Castro is so great? Don't they ask questions, think about things, read books?

After observing that "Childhood doesn't prepare you for how obdurate and foolish adults can be" he goes on to recommend three books on Castro that he thinks these celebrities ought to read. I plan to add them to my reading list and I am particularly intrigued by Como Llego la Noche by Huber Matos because his bio reads like a Cuban version of Solzhenitsyn.

But back to the question: why do some celebrities tend to fawn on Fidel? I have a couple of theories about that and they start with the mysterious phantom planet that orbits the sun exactly opposite the earth. For the benefit of the men in white suits who are starting to wonder where they put their nets, I should state that I do not believe such a planet exists. But it is a recurring theme in Pythagorean cosmology, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Astrology and a number of interesting paranoid delusions. Much of its appeal in these realms comes from the fact that it is mysterious by definition (being always behind the sun so we can't see it) and it can be just about anyting you want it to be.

Sometimes the attributes of the phantom planet are selected at random; In 1969, Japanese Daiei studios imagined it to be populated by scantily-clad alien women with antennas who kidnapped small boys from earth, planning to eat their brains, only to be foiled by Gamara, the giant flying turtle. More often though, the position of the planet -- Anti-Earth, Contra-Earth, Vulcan, etc. -- on the opposite side of the sun suggests that it is also opposite to Earth in some other way, such as politics, gender roles, alternate history or in the charge polarity of subatomic particles.

For the Hollywood left Fidel Castro's Cuba is much like the phantom earth -- it is mysterious, forbidden and difficult to observe. It can be anyting they want. Almost all they know about it is that communist Cuba occupies a position that is somehow opposite to the capitalist US and they naturally assume that Fidel must be a jovial, bearded, antimatter Republican. Their imagined Fidel, then, would be someone they would like for the same instinctive non-reasons that they hate George Bush.

As to what those non-reasons might be, I wrote a bit about that in Savant Idiots where I paraphrazed Ludwig von Mises argument (from The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality [chapter 1 section 9]) that entertainers are tormented by the fickleness of a market that values their work today but may simply lose interest tomorrow. This is especially true for those who are currently enjoying the fifteen ninutes of fame that Andy Warhol promised them. They are the ones who want to smash all clocks and who fear change above all things.

And, although it pains me to admit it, from that perspective they have some reason to admire Castro and his Cuba. Fidel's great accomplishment is that he has pretty much stamped out progress in Cuba. Things suck there, to be sure -- pretty much in every way -- but they suck today in exactly the same way they sucked yesterday, and tomorrow everything will suck in exactly the same way it does today. Rust accumulates and things fall apart but this happens slowly and gradually and nothing gets replaced. If you're on top of the heap today you'll be on top tomorrow. I can see Ted Turner liking that.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Tax Day

Since today is tax day, a few thoughts on the income tax.

From time to time one hears wealthy liberals putting on airs about how their support for a progressive income tax reflects some sort of spirit of civic-minded self-sacrifice. What you need to remember when they start, is that "income" is another word for "new money" and there is nothing that annoys old money more than having to share the country club with the nouveau riche.

The IRS are the overseers who are dispatched to keep uppity runaway wage slaves working on the plantation.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A Better Answer, Somewhat After the Fact.

Early last year there was a thread about Same Sex Marriage on a mailing list I follow -- a thread that went on for some time. The list (Triangle InterNetworkers) is an online community whose members live mostly in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina with the highest concentration coming from Chapel Hill. If you know much about Chapel Hill you will not be surprized to hear that when political issues come up on the list most of the posts will come from a liberal perspective. I was reading the Same Sex Marriage thread with some interest but not posting. (I often "lurk" on the political threads on the list, picking my battles because I will be outnumbered.)

Then came this posting where a newcomer to the list complained --
Mostly what I've seen is an endless supply of liberal "Me too, I agree" conversations. As a member of the dread, horrible, so-called "religious right" I am very disappointed to see all of this liberal chatter with not a single "core" member of the list willing to represent the opposing side.
-- and a Libertarian friend of mine responded --
Become that person then. Please, tell me why you think gay marriage should not be allowed. I'd love to hear more about why the government should be in the business of dictating what are essentially religious / moral principles, especially in light of the principle of separation of church and state.

I was unable to resist the dual temptations to -- 1) point out that there were a few of us on the list who were not left-wing ideologs. and 2) answer the rhetorical "I'd love to hear more about why ..." question -- so I jumped into the discussion here.

I'll spare you the details of the arguments that followed. They went on for several days and were great fun. (You can read them yourself if you like, just follow the links.) But, when it was over I am not sure I had done a very good job of satisfying my friend's curiousity about a rationalle for opposing Gay Marriage that would make sense from a Libertarian perspective.

I mention this because I recently read Jennifer Morse's piece in Policy Review that does a brilliant job, I think, of making a libertarian argument for a ban on same sex marriages. She makes many of the same points I did only she says it better. So, Phil, this is a little late but here you go.

I hesitate to quote too much of her piece because it should be read in its entirety. But this snippet, where she is laying out what she proposes to talk about might pique your interest --
This article is not primarily about gay marriage. It isn’t even about why some forms of straight marriage are superior to others. Rather, the purpose of this article is to explain why a society, especially a free society, needs the social institution of marriage in the first place. I want to argue that society can and must discriminate among various arrangements for childbearing and sexual activity.

The contrary idea has a libertarian justification in the background: Marriage is a contract among mutually consenting adults. For instance, libertarian law professor Richard Epstein penned an article last year called “Live and Let Live” in the Wall Street Journal (July 13, 2004). In it, he treated marriage as a combination of a free association of consenting individuals and an institution licensed by the state.

But the influence of the libertarian rationale goes far beyond the membership of the Libertarian Party or the donor list of the Cato Institute. The editors of the Nation, for instance, support gay marriage but do not usually defend the sanctity of contracts. This apparent paradox evaporates when we realize that the dissolution of marriage breaks the family into successively smaller units that are less able to sustain themselves without state assistance.

Marriage deserves the same respect and attention from libertarians that they routinely give the market. Although I believe life-long monogamy can be defended against alternatives such as polygamy, it is beyond the scope of a single article to do so. My central argument is that a society will be able to govern itself with a smaller, less intrusive government if that society supports organic marriage rather than the legalistic understanding of marriage.

There are a few parts where I would have liked her to say more, or where I have seen other people say things better, but it's not really a fair complaint since she was writing a brief article and I was picking a sentence here and there and comparing it to a book-length treatment of something tht was a side issue in her piece. In particular, I was reminded several times of ideas from "Persuit of Happiness" by Charles Murray. This is high praise, actually, since Murray's book is a favorite of mine.

I was also reminded of "Back to Patriarchy" by Daniel Amneus -- a linkage of which I doubt that Morse would approve since Amneus' book is, shall we say, somewhat too plain-spoken for modern sensibilities and, to be fair, Morse avoided saying any of the things that make Amneus' book incandescently radioactive.

If any of this made any sense to you, you might enjoy...

Friday, April 08, 2005

Andre Norton RIP

Andre Norton passed away March 17th of this year. Born Alice Mary Norton she took the name Andre Norton at the suggestion of a publisher who though it would make her young-adult writing sell better to boys. She also wrote occasionally as Andrew North. She was working as a children's librarian at the Cincinatti Public Library when she started writing in the 1940s and for over a half century she was an extremely prolific and influential writer of science fiction and fantasy books and stories.

It is simply impossible to overstate her contribution to women writers in the fantasy / science fiction world, both as an inspiration and as a mentor and facilitator. A list of the women fantasy writers who have collaborated with Andre reads like a Who’s Who of the field -- Marion Zimmer Bradley, A C Crispin, P.M. Griffin and Mercedes Lackey to name a few, chosen at random, in alphabetical order.

If you look back half a century at the SF trade you will find a whole lot of nerdish guys with slide rules and Andre. She pretty much invented the role of female SF writer and she created the sub-genre in which they could excel. Andre has won the Grand Master award for lifetime achievement in Science Fiction and the Gandalf Award for fantasy. Speaking of the body of Andre's work, C. J. Cherrych said

"I've seen a complete collection of Andre Norton's books and it haunts me to this day, sort of like the sight of an unscalable Everest."

I have been a fan her writing since not long after I learned to read. I first met her in person quite some time ago (God, has it really been 35 years?) when a friend and I were invited to her house in Florida where she made us tea, showed us her formidable library and introduced us to her cats. She was very gracious and we had a nice chat about her work. I can't claim to remember the conversation in any great detail but three things do remain to me -- two specifics and one general impression. The specific things I remember her saying are these:

1) When she was writing science fiction she would always structure her stories so that the characters would climb into their spaceship, take off, and immediately land at their destination. She knew that if she provided any details of the actual flight she would get stern notes from Isaac Asimov telling her what she had gotten wrong.

2) before she would start writing she would read widely about the subjects that formed the background of her story but, once the actual writing had started she was careful to read only mysteries for fear that, if she read a science fiction or fantasy story, something would stick in her head wind up in her story without her being aware that she had borrowed it. I believe she mentioned Agatha Christie as a favorite writing-time diversion.

The general impression I received was that she did a remarkable amount of research for a writer of fantasy and soft science fiction. If you mentioned a favorite book she had written she could show you a shelf of books on history, archaeology and religion that had she had read to get the background right.

I have met her several times since on those few occasions when she could be convinced to attend a science fiction convention but those meetings were always brief and formal. She was a very private person and was never comfortable surrounded by large groups of people, even her fans.

As to her writing, I must confess to a difficulty in describing it. If you have read much of her work, and are thus a fan as I am, there is no need to describe it. If you have not read her work it is maddeningly hard to describe it without making it sound like the sort of fiction that slightly precocious thirteen-year-olds post on fan websites. Many of the subjects she touched on would appear a few years later as pretentious fads. As an example, she had an interest in some of the non-Christian and pre-Christian legends and belief systems of the British Isles and many of them inspired and informed her work. While her work may have inspired many of the people who describe themselves as Wiccans it is not altogether fair to blame Andre for the undeniable fact that, not satisfied with admiring Andre's work as storytelling, many of her fans decided to simply move in and live there. The same difficulty presents itself with other themes in her writing -- American Indian lore, Animals and UFOs, to name a few that stand out. Andre may, for instance, be the only modern writer to write genuinely interesting stories where the main characters are cats.

From a certain point of view Andre never wandered very far from her beginnings as a children's librarian. She had no literary pretensions. She wanted to be remembered as a storyteller, not a literary figure, and for the most part the world has granted her wish. Her books continue to sell -- novels she wrote 50 years ago are still bought and read by readers of all ages. Many of her tales are romances but none of them contain the least bit of sex. Characters in her books do manage to reproduce but tend to do so in the gaps between the books in the series. Not, mind you, that she avoided the subject, just that it was never what her books were about.

You can read more extensive (and better) pieces about Andre at the SFWA Web Site and at CNN.

I will close with a bit from Mooncalled -- one of her most explicitly Wiccan novels. The gender is wrong and, given the fact that Andre never married, the bits about procreation are odd -- but given Andre's ladylike androgyny it seems to fit.

Blessed be, Oh, Mother, for this one was
Thy child-
Blessed his eyes that he saw Thy path and
walked therein.
Blessed his mouth that he praised Thee in
the day and the night.
Blessed his heart that it beat with the life
which Thou gavest him.
Blessed his loins which were fashioned to
bring forth life in Thy honour and to Thy service.
Blessed his feet which walked in Thy pathways.
Reach forth Thy loving hand to draw him
into Thy own fair
place where he may rejoice in Thy beauty
and wait until it is
Thy wish that his essence embody again.
Blessed be - in Thy name.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

G K Chesterton

I went looking for a Chesterton quote for something -- I don't remember exactly what -- and I found a quote for everything. It's an excerpt from his epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse.

"By this sign you shall know them,
The breaking of the sword,
And man no more a free knight,
That loves or hates his lord.

"Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And Man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.

"What though they come with scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them,
That they ruin and make dark;

"By all men bond to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred;

"By terror and the cruel tales
Of curse in bone and kin,
By weird and weakness winning,
Accursed from the beginning,
By detail of the sinning,
And denial of the sin;

"By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
And the end of the world's desire;

"By God and man dishonoured,
By death and life made vain,
Know ye the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again--

Damn! that guy could write.

Free Speech -- or at least free text...

My good friend Calvin posted a comment on my posting on slippery slopes. He makes some good points about free speech and provides some free text that I can cut and paste, putting valuable words on my blog without having to type them. As a matter of fact, I think I will paste it now so I can demolish his argument. He said --

I agree that the root problem, to change metaphors, is the idea that money ought to be removed from the notion of free speech and political discourse. It pains me to think that billionaires can spawn multiple front organizations and pump millions of dollars into influencing elections and issues of the day. Why should a billionaire have any more influence than me? I can see the temptation to prevent such people from doing these things and I can see the temptation to at least require financial transparency in their activities. But I believe that it is a temptation that must be resisted. Free speech without the freedom to spend money, and spend it privately, is no free speech at all.

Having said that, I'm also in favor of a free and aggressive press to find the people who are spending the money to support various initiatives and candidates.

So, on with the demolition. I will start with my most devastating argument: I agree with him one hundred percent. Take that! Ha Ha! In a perfect world -- or even a half-way sensible world -- freedom of speech would be limited only by other people's rights to life, liberty and property. As long as everything was mutually voluntary, and as long as the "speech" in questions stayed away from libel, slander and deliberate fraud -- anything would go.

But, sadly, we find ourselves quite a way down a slippery slope and my sympathy for financial transparency in political speech stems from the fact that it addresses most of the more sensible concerns that prompted campaign finance reform and is considerably upslope from our current position. It offers a handy outcropping where I can tie off my rope while I trudge up the hill.

[At this point the writer senses that he has exceeded his readers' patience with his metaphor, and resolves to knock it off...] There are two ideas here; both are wrong but one, I contend, is wronger than the other. The ideas are that the first ammendment was not intended to protect certain types of speech: -- a) political speech, or b) anonymous speech. Version "b" -- anonymous speech -- is clearly wrong; the founders did quite a bit of anonymous writing, especially before the revolution when they had an understandable nervousness about being hung. But version "a" is exactly wrong -- 108 degrees wrong -- laser-guided precision wrong. Political speech is exactly what the founders were seeking to protect. One can imagine that they hoped the protections of the first ammendment would be a better solution to the hanging problem and eliminate some of the need for anonymity.

The other appealing thing about requiring finiancial transparency in political speech (not that I advocate it, mind you, but for the record) is that it offers a much less radical absolutist position. You can do the whole thing and be done with it without setting up some sort of bizarre, Orwellian police state. This isn't true for the current, already-intrusive campaign finance laws which come with an attic-full of "other shoes" waiting to drop. A few of them came clattering down in the last election but there are still piles of them up there.


I have been told that I have once again posted an entry that cannot be decyphered. I was going to say something snippy about the quality of education these days and post a link to a good online dictionary, but then I couldn't find a good Gibberish/English dictionary online. [The Reuters news service has some excellent examples of Gibberish, but dialectical differences and the lack of a lexical index make it unsuitable as a reference for translation.]

So, I have decided to add this brief translation of this posting.

As a matter of principle I oppose any restriction, regulation, monitoring or regulation of political speech. I strongly oppose the current "campaign finance reform" laws that impose financial limits on political speech. I also oppose a requirement to state the sources of funding for political messages but I consider such a requirement less damaging to first ammendment rights than the spending limit.

However: I do not believe it is politically possible to repeal all campaign finance regulations. The resentments and irritations that prompted their adoption are still present and I don't see the political will needed to make the laws go away completely. I am rather more hopeful that the public can be convinced that the less-damaging idea of financial transparency addresses the same issues as the spending limits, especially given the obvious failure of campaign finance regulation in the past election cycle.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

More on The KGB and the Pope

Arnaud de Borchgrave offers more information about the evidence that the KGB was involved in the attempt to assasinate the pope a quarter century ago. As I said before the Pope outlived the regime that ordered the attempt on his life -- neither the Soviet Union nor the KGB is around any more.

The story of the Pope and the KGB doesn't have any legs right now, possibly because people feel that it is old news. But it's worth remembering that Putin is an old KGB guy and he's still here. Don't get me wrong -- I rather admire Putin; he is a prince among Russian leaders, no doubt, and usually makes the best of a bad situation. I also like polar bears. They are easily the most appealing, likable man-eaters at the zoo. Tigers may be pretty but polar bears are more fun. I like polar bears, but there are certain realities about them that one must keep in mind.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Slip-Slidin' Away

It was the summer of 1978 and my new wife and I were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park on our honeymoon. We had started in Tallahassee, Florida, and our destination, if that concept makes any sense on a trip like that, was the 36th Annual World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. We still had several days before we needed to be in Phoenix and we were taking the scenic route. The scenic route, in this case, was Old Fall River Road -- a rocky, bumpy winding road that offered breathtaking vistas, terrifying dropoffs and lots of dents and scrapes on the undercarriage of my low-slung car. It was a lovely day and half a mile away, across a steep ravine, we could see people skiing on the snow that still covered one of the peaks. It was not a very smart place to ski because the slope got steeper near the bottom with a 30 foot ice cliff at the end. As we were watching, one of the skiers, a young lady, fell, sliding down the slope and off the terminal cliff. She landed in a rocky, melt-water creek below.

The mountain she was skiing on had a bigger road than ours with a parking area near the skiers, but the place where the girl had landed was difficult to reach from that side because it required a transit across a considerable area of unstable ice. It was about eight hours before the main rescue team was able to reach her, strap her down and drag her back up the hill with ropes. The person who reached her first -- and possibly saved her life -- was an atheletic young man from one of the cars parked on our side of the ravine. He collected warm clothing from the rest of us stopped along the road, scrambled down the ravine and and up the other side to reach the fallen girl from below. It took him about two hours to make it across. My wife and I contributed a jacket and a blanket -- which gave us an excuse to stay and watch the the rescue so we could get our stuff back.

Years later I spoke to someone who remembered the story from the news. He told me that the girl had broken an arm, both legs and her pelvis as well as hurting her back, but that, after an extended hospital stay, she had fully recovered.


Slip Slidin' Away

A number of things I have seen today have me thinking about slippery slopes. The first was a post by my friend Calvin. He was writing about the new law proposed by the San Francisco City Council that would require bloggers who engage in political speech to tell where the money comes from if they spend more than $1000 on their blog and have more than 500 individual readers in a 90 day period.

One view of this story is that it represents a considerable slide down the slippery slope that we stepped out on when we decided that campaign finance reform could somehow be reconciled with the first ammendment. A cynical take on campaign finance reform is that the politicians voting to "get the money out of politics" are like oil men who want to "get the money out of a hole in the ground." Sadly, however, I don't look at it that way. I think they are more or less sincere -- the more's the pity. I wish I thought they were merely greedy. Greedy politicians have limits. They are limited by the need for stealth, occasionally by guilt, and more often by the limits of self-delusion. It is their sincere but misguided colleagues who do the real damage. The problem is that once you decide that it is a good idea to limit political speech its hard to know where to stop.

While it is tempting to think that this latest law shows, once again, the totalitarian tendencies of the SF government since they are even trying to regulate blogs, the real problem is not the application of campaign finance rules to blogs, it is the flaws that have been in the thinking about campaign finance reform from the beginning. And there is something a bit odd about the word "even" in the phrase "even trying to regulate blogs." If we take the major bloggers' opinions on blogging on face value blogs are a new and influencial medium of which the mainstream should take notice. Well, ok, they seem to be noticing. If you take the proposed law and replace the word "blog" with, say, "privately owned newspaper" then most bloggers could read it without feeling the need to comment. Only a few of us out here on the right-libertarian fringe would still cry foul. I'm not sure I see the compelling reason for the radar to be adjusted upwards so that bloggers can still fly under it.

In a number of issues where I, for one, worry about a slippery slope the San Francisco City Council sees the same issues and says "Whoa! A slippery slope! Dude! Where's my snowboard?" That said, I am not sure that the proposed legislation about blogs is a good example. While I am adamantly against keeping people from spending their money to express their opinions, I am sympathetic to a requirement to say where the money came from. I found another posting that suggests that the SF law may be more the latter than the former. It's still slippery out there on that part of the slope -- but I may be ok with it because I have these:

Social conservative footwear:
for making small concessions
on slippery slope issues.

The second reminder of the slipperiness of slopes was a brilliant posting by Jane Galt on the subject of gay marriage. She is showing all the warning signs of the inevitable slide into Fusionism that happens to libertarians who think too long or too carefully about their positions. Fusionism was the idea of Frank S Meyer who, about 50 years ago, posited that libertarianism and traditionalist conservatism, properly understood, will wind up at the same place. His insight: good acts are not particularly virtuous if they are coerced, and absent a tolerable degree of civic virtue it is difficult to make a convincing case that freedom is a good idea. It is almost impossible to find anyone who buys all of Meyer's notions but it is also impossible to deny the gravitational pull that drags libertarians and conservatives to the empty spot in space that Meyer identified as the center of the universe.

In her posting Jane Galt demonstrates a masterful grasp of several concepts that a libertarian cannot completely understand and remain a libertarian and remain sane. One of these is the suspicion that, in some cases, when social conservatives worry about a "slippery slope" they may be onto something. She looks at other other slopes that conservatives have been ridiculed for asserting were slippery -- welfare, sexual liberation and divorce. In her survey she finds society lying broken and bleeding at the bottom of each of these slopes.

At he beginning and end of her posting she denies supporting one side or the other -- but her arguments all run one way. Her denial that she has drawn a conclusion shows her her sense of the approach of the Fusionist event horizon, and her helpless flailing as she is being drawn in.

Random notes: Those shoe spikes are Liberty Mountain Crampons -- no kidding, "Liberty Mountain" -- you can buy them here. You can read a bit more about Frank Meyer here and here.

Update: My wife instructs me to describe the "atheletic young man" in my story as a "semi-professional climber" and urges me to include the detail that when the girl fell she landed a few feet away from a crevase that would have added another 70 feet to her fall.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The April Fish and the Holy See

Earlier today the Pope had died, according to the Italian press, but the Vatican denied it and the Italian news services now report that he is barely hanging on. Since none of the headlines backing away from the reports of his death mention a Pesce d'Aprile I assume that, despite today being April 1st, he is very ill.

It has been suggested that the Vatican can sometimes detect signs of life for a brief period after medical doctors have lost them -- a bit of extra time that is used to prepare statements to the faithful. But John-Paul II has been very ill for weeks and I expect that, at least from a logistics point of view, the Vatican is ready and we will know fairly quickly if he passes.

From a rational point of view it makes little sense to grieve for his death. He has had a good run as Pope, by anyone's accounting. He is vastly admired, both within the Catholic Church and in the world at large. One of the most influencial figures of the end of the 20th century, he has seen, and been a part of, monumental changes in the world. Recent evidence suggests that the KGB paid him the great compliment of trying to assasinate him in 1981 and he has had the satisfaction of outliving the regime that attacked him. Finally, if these are his last days the timing of his dying, only days after Terry Shiavo, gives him an opportunity to put lie to the false dichotomy of suffering and dignity.