Federal City

5.12.2006

Yes, It's Come to This

This morning was an excellent example of why I try my best to get my news from sources other than TV. On one of the random morning shows they described the "long lines" at a CA gas station because "the price was just too good pass up." Apparently a local radio station was giving away free gas to the first 106 customers and people wanted free gas. After describing the give-away the woman on the show then added "Yes, it's come to that."

COME TO WHAT?

I'm assuming she means "Because the economy/Iraq War/George Bush are the way they are, radio stations have to give away free gas."

Well Holy-Hot-Damn! I didn't realize we gauged the economy by what radio stations give away. We must really be reeling because my local radio station gives away $100 worth of free groceries and another one gives away t-shirts. OUR ECONOMY MUST BE COLLAPSING IF RADIO STATIONS HAVE TO GIVE AWAY FOOD AND CLOTHING! People can no longer afford to support themselves! Wake up President Bush! If only you and your advisor's would stop paying attention to unemployment, inflation, and GDP (which are all strong) and focus on the real indicators of the economy, radio station give-aways, maybe this country would be better off!

4.22.2006

CIA Employee Fired!

Mary McCarthy, a CIA career employee has been fired for leaking classified secrets to newspaper reporters. This is big news. To me though, it's funny to compare this leaker with the Valerie Plame leaker. The press (and Dems) were up in arms for Plame's leaker. Now, they seem slightly interested, but where is the outrage about a Clinton White House Appointee leaking CIA secrets? (N.B. McCarthy served for a few months in the Bush White House). Seeing as how she was appointed by Sandy Berger, and the press has a history of overlooking his indiscretions, there will likely be no outrage and this story probably won't be picked up after Monday by anyone but Fox.

Oh well, that's the independent press for you!

3.29.2006

Congresswoman Insanity!!!

Channel 11 Alive is reporting that representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) has punched a Capital policeman, who is PRESSING CHARGES!

Hilarity to ensue as the capital police are planning to arrest her as soon as congress adjourns.

3.07.2006

Matt Lauer and the Teacher from NJ

You know that teacher from NJ? The one who compared Bush to Hitler? Just saw him on TV with Matt Lauer. Normally I'm not one to complain about the "MSM" too much, but the softballs from Lauer were so ridiculous.

Here are few that I can quote of the top of my head (note, these may be slightly off, the transcription is straight from my head a few minutes after the show):
Lauer: And [the student] never went to the board of education with this tape did he?

Teacher: No, and he never brought it to me either, up until then, I thought he was asking good questions...

Lauer: He basically shopped this around to the conservative media didn't he?



One question from Lauer though, I have a serious problem with:
Would you welcome [the student] back into your class?

Has the student necessarily done something wrong? I know I may question the students motives and ethics (without proof I might add), but why this student be forbidden from class? 'Cause he caught his teacher comparing Bush to Adolph Hitler? See, I didn't realize that a teacher could dismiss a student from class to catching the teacher in the middle of a idiotic rant.

I guess when Matt Lauer runs the world, I'll be in trouble.

2.16.2006

Torture

Over at Southern Appeal they're wondering when people think torture should be permissible. My own thoughts are a little convuluted but I think I can explain them reasonably well.

I'd like to begin by saying that torture is awful. It is horrible. I hope that it never has to be used. I have trouble imagining a scenario when I would permit torture. However, just because I find it so distasteful doesn't mean it isn't logical (or moral) to do it.

First I have to say that I believe torture is permissible only to the extent that it can be used only in extreme cases to prevent imminent, predictable future harm. I don't think torture should ever be used as a punishment or deterrent. That means that when you've got a serial rapist (who's threatening to blow up a bus full of nuns and orphans) by doo-dads it's okay to squeeze. Afterwards: no. Likewise I don't think you can torture someone to deter a future crime or even to gain information that cannot be immediately used to save lives. So soldering the soft spot of a guy's elbow to find out where a base is, no; to find out where the nuclear device is hidden in Manhattan, okay.

Secondly I think that the imminent harm you seek to prevent must be exponentially more painful than the harm you intend to inflict. Torture is awful. Its use, no matter who it is used on, harms a society as individuals and as a whole. The only way it can be justified is in cases when the harm it seeks to prevent so vastly outweighs the harm it inflicts (on everyone) that no reasonable person could ever question the use of it. So pulling out fingernails to prevent shoplifting is out.

Third, (can I say thirdly?) the person doing the torturing must be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that the person being tortured is guilty. Not only me he/she him/herself be certain, they must be certain they can prove it in a court of law (see below).

Finally, I think that the person who does the torturing must immediately be arrested. What? Aren't I arguing for torture? Not necessarily. I'm arguing that I think, morally, torture can be acceptable. However, because of the extreme costs of torture I think that the torturer must immediately be arrested. Drag him/her before his/her peers and let him explain his actions. The rational behind point #2 also comes into play here. The harm must be so great that you risk going to jail for it, knowing you will certainly be arrested.

Can there ever be a scenario when all 4 of those rules are followed? Probably not. You can probably never be 100% certain that someone is guilty or has the information you need. That's a huge problem. So, as a President, would I ever authorize torture? Doubtful. That said, I don't find the idea of torture, under the right circumstances, necessarily immoral. It's just the plausible scenarios of moral torture are so few and far between as to make me wonder if they actually exist.

There, that's my initial, gut-reaction, not really thinking about it answer. And I have to warn you, I've never studied, debated, or really thought about torture before, so I'm sure this view will change the more I delve into this topic.

UPDATE: A comment at Southern Appeal points out Catechism 2297, which reads, in part "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law." My question, is the my view above contrary? First, Rule 1 clearly eliminates torture to extract confessions, punish guilty, and satisfying hatred. The second sentence clearly speaks to something other than torture to save others lives, so I think I can safely ignore it. So it seems the only thing follwing my "rules" would violate is the ban on using torture to "frighten opponents." While its true the use of torture may frighten opponents, that would neither be necessary nor the goal as laid out in my view above. So perhaps my fence straddling is actually compatable with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, who knows?

Darymple: Unfortunately I have to Disagree

Rare is the view of Europe more pessimistic than mine. However, Theodore Darymple comes awfully close. Over at Cato Unbound, Darymple, wrote an answer to the question “Is ‘Old Europe” Doomed?” Darymple explains how ‘Old Europe’ isn’t doomed, but it is “sleepwalking to further relative decline.” According to Darymple, it is Europe’s love-affair with the welfare state that is propelling them off the cliff.

When I read that I hesitated to disagree, but I must. In his essay Darymple claims that “[t]he principal motor of Europe’s current decline is…its obsession with social security….” And while few objective observers can disagree with the enormous cost Europe maintains in the name of social security, I would call Europe’s love of the welfare state as the symptom, not the disease. You see, lurking beneath that Ponzi Scheme social security check is a bureaucrat and behind that bureaucrat stands an electorate. The real “motor” driving Europe to bankruptcy court and ultimately disaster is not social security but the attitude of the electorate. This is especially clear when we compare the US with Europe (or at least a generalized amalgamation of Europeans).

America has been blessed. Since the first humans set forth on what would become the good the United States, this land has drawn forth the adventurous, the brave, the independent. Men and women who weren’t afraid to cross the Bering Straight or to raise a family in the solitary wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains, people looking to make a fortune and willing to chase gold from North Carolina to California to Montana to Alaska, all of them came here. Drawn to this land were hard working families who—despite the fact they spoke no English--weren’t afraid to sail the Atlantic. Indeed, I credit the self-reliant attitudes and ideals embraced by the millions upon millions of immigrants with most of what’s good in this country. Modern Europe, though ancestral home to a vast number of US immigrants, is now so vastly different than its most illustrious progeny that the two are almost polar opposites. As America's self-reliant streak attracted hard-working self-reliant immigrants, Europe's embrace of idea of society over individuality (to the point where they have almost rejected independence) unfortunately seems to attract a number of like-minded immigrants. [clarification: I would say that almost every immigrant anywhere is self-reliant to a degree, I just rarely read of the immigrant to America for unemployment checks while that seems the norm in Europe.]

Why is there a love affair in America with the automobile and not in Europe? Europe after all is home to Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi, Jaguar, and Ferrari. But the average European is probably much less likely to own a car and probably even less likely to consider a car ‘vital.’ They depend much more upon public transportation than the average American and unconcerned with the limitations bicycles offer them. But here in America, the car is one of the main organs of life. When AF and I moved in together and I informed my mother that we planned to sell my car and she was aghast: “How will you get around? What if you both want to go somewhere by yourself?” My mother hit it right on the head, cars in America represent freedom, independence to go where, when, and how quickly you please. One must wonder about the importance Europeans place in these ideals.

Guns present a similar contrast. In America, there are probably few things as loathed and as revered as the gun. In Europe they have cast the gun as the mischievous implement, the problem, nothing but trouble. They are willing to rely entirely upon a police force for their protection. In America, the scenario is quite different. Despite the vocal opponents to the Second Amendment, few Americans would honesty consider repealing the right to keep and bear arms. Guns are important to Americans because we are a society of individuals that refuse to outsource our protection to others whether it be the government or a private security company.

These two contrasts are only the tip of the iceberg. With the ever-increasing reach of government, Europe has long forgotten the virtue of self-reliance. They seldom, if ever, entertain an idea that promotes self-reliance in place of a state solution. Research must be publicly financed, trade must be protected, industries must be regulated. Europe has become a continent of dependents. This is why Social Security is so popular and the very idea of privatizing Social Security is based upon self-reliance and self-preservation. It is no wonder that many Europeans find that idea so distasteful. But make no mistake, it is Europeans love of the welfare state, manifest as ever-broadening social security, that has steered Europe towards disaster.

It’s been a long time since the rough and daring, brave and hard-working men and women, upon whose broad shoulders the beams of independent society are laid, left Europe. It’s been even longer since they were a welcomed part of European society. Instead those people have emigrated to the US, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia (where we often see economies and societies that have eclipsed their mother countries). And unfortunately for Europe it seems that the spirit of independence and self-reliance left with those émigrés. No longer do Europeans question authority. Hundreds of years have gone by since serious European thought questioned ever-increasing regulation, herd mentality, or the limits of government to solve all problems. Why is this attitude so prevalent (or at least seems to be) ? That’s a question for someone far smarter than me. But the fact is, it is the Europeans’ cancerous attitude that will doom them and their love of social security is merely a symptom.

Unfortunately it seems that—as history marches forward—the only thing that changes is the ever-decreasing time between repetitions; I can definately foresee a time when the US may be looking at the same fate.

2.13.2006

Volokh on Funny Mining Data

Volokh himself takes to task some funny numbering that seemingly "pro-union" and "anti-Bush" people seemed to be spreading. I say "seemingly" because these are people that have not self-identified themselves and the fact is, they could simply be stupid or mistaken and not actually pro-union or anti-Bush. Anyway, his post points out the funny numbers often thrown about now that America has noticed that mining is a dangerous occupation.

What frightens me most though is the butchering the media does to statistics about mines. For instance, while listening to NPR a few weeks ago (I know, I got what I deserved) I heard a reporter reveal how truly little he understood about statistics. For instance, he stated that, because the median fine amount for a safety violation lowered since Clinton, that means Bush is helping his friends the coal mine owners. The fact that the average mine fine has increased was "unimportant" he said, because--and get this--averages are victims of "outlying data" while the median was relatively unaffected. SAY WHAT?

The guy then went on to show how little he knew about logic. Here's the set-up: to fine a mine for safety violations, an executive agency sends allegations of the violation to a board or court (I can't remember exactly) to determine if there was a violation and the amount of the fine. So the amount of the fine is independent of the President in the White House. Under Clinton, more violations were sent to the board, but under Bush more total amount of fines were handed down by the board. The reporter said this conclusively proved that Bush is protecting his friends, the mine owners. SAY WHAT? Couldn't this data simply prove that the Bush administration focuses on larger, more legitimate safety violations than Clinton? Nope. That couldn't be.

Maybe we should start requiring a statistics class for all reporters.

7 1/2 Shot is Not Buckshot

This is what happens when people who know absolutely nothing about guns write about them. Even with my extremely limited knowledge of guns, I know that the 7 1/2 shot Cheney accidentally fired into Harry Whittington's face, neck, and chest is not, repeat, NOT BUCKSHOT! I'm not trying to diminish Whittington's injuries, just improve the accuracy of the reporting I'm reading. First, Buckshot is quite large and has to be packed into the shell. It's made for BUCKS, not quail. It would disintegrate a quail. How big is 7 1/2 shot? It has a diameter of 2.41 mm. In case you're curious, or your only point of reference is a Red Rider BB gun, a BB is 4.57 mm in diameter. That's right, BIRDSHOT is much much smaller than BUCKSHOT. Whereas buckshot might have only 3 slugs in a shell, 7 1/2 shot would have somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400 small pellets. That explains how the injuries were in the face, neck, and chest and the man survived. Trust me, if a 78 year-old man took buckshot to the face, neck, and chest, he'd be very very dead.

Executive Privilege and Classified Documents

Fortune as a story up where Dean says Cheney should be investigated for authorizing the leaking of classified information. Here's an interesting question: who decides what's classified and what's not? My guess would be the military and the intelligence community decides what's classified (I'm still looking into it). Since both the military and executive agencies fall under the authority of the President, doesn't that mean that the President ultimately decides what's classified and what's not? For instance, if the President decides that a certain piece of classified information should be released to better fight a war, is he breaking the law or taking on his role has commander-in-chief?

Plame offers something a little bit differently because there is a law on the books that says you cannot reveal the identity of a CIA. Even the Pres isn't above the law, but say it's not a CIA operative but another piece of classified info, what's the deal?

Random Protest Here in DC

There's some crazy protest going on here in DC. Sounds like it's over at the World Bank/IMF. I'll post more when I head over that way for lunch.

Update: No clue what went on. Cannot find a single news report on it. By the time I got over that way the only thing I saw was a strange man rolling up a blue flag.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

At Southern Appeal, William has provided more info on the SC Special Prosecutors Program.

2.12.2006

What We Need is the Federal Government!

Over at Blackprof, Adrien Wing has a post up about the failures of Amistad Law in NJ. In case you're curious, the "Amistad Law" is a law passed in New Jersey in 2002 mandating the teaching of Black History (see here for more info).

Her post, though, is curious (at least to me), for a number of reasons. The first is this sentence: "The US is unique in the world in that we permit education to be administered primarily from the local level rather than the national level...." This strikes me as an odd statement because 1.) I would doubt that every single nation in the world has nationalized all aspects of education. And even if they have, what of it? Peer pressure seems to me to be a rather weak argument to make for something as important as education policy. Secondly, I didn't realize "we permit education" to be controlled locally. I thought the other countries "permitted education" to be controlled nationally. Seriously though, nationalized education is a rather recent development here in the US (Wing points out the Federal Dept. of Ed. is only about 27 years old). Are we really to believe that the Federal government has always had the authority to run our schools and has only "allowed" local governments to run schools out of kindness? Or is it more likely that education has traditionally been a local and state matter and only recently we have ceded some of that authority to the federal government?

Ms. Wing continues (and even allows that there may be some problems with nationalized education): "While there are naturally problems with nationally administered and funded systems, it is at least a mechanism to ensure that all citizens get certain levels of understanding in various areas." Ah! I see. It's "levels of understanding" that NJ (and most of the US) is lacking and that only the Fed can provide. She points out that "France may want to revise its national curriculum to be more inclusive of its Muslim minority residents’ heritages." Of course! That was the cause of the riots! A lack of understanding of French Muslim heritage. How stupid of me not realize that a better written history textbook could have prevented all of that.

Here's my real question though, who decides what "level of understanding" is appropriate for students? In Wing's Utopia, it's the benevolent Federal Government, which will surely include Black History in it's "levels of understanding" manuals. But what of ther other marginalized history subjects Wing lists (homosexual, Asian-American, Native-American, Latino, and Muslim history)? Well, they'll just be mandated by the Federal government silly! All problems solved. Our children will have every "level of understanding" they need.

Uh oh, what about WASP history? What about Irish-American and Italian-American history? What about Pennsylvania Dutch history? and Appalachian-American and Southern and South Western and Canadian-American history? The sad fact is even the Federal government can't put more hours in the day to give students the time to study everything. We have to pick and choose. Are we to believe that if George Bush tried to implement a Federal curriculum that focused on Christian history, Ms. Wing would be fine with that "level of understanding?" After all, it came from the Fed. Personally, I would rather see local parents and teachers coming together to develop a curriculum for their children themselves. Would it include black history? I would hope so.

But the problem here isn't so much Black History, it's how people try to use the Federal government. NJ is one of only 3 states with laws on the books mandating Black History. People like Ms. Wing are upset because the rest of this Neanderthal country can't get with the times and start mandating the exact same curriculum to every student in the entire country. What are they supposed to do? Actually have to explain their ideas to the millions of parents and teachers out there and have them decide on the matter? That would take forever! Even worse, some people may disagree! Easier and better if we can just lobby congress--no matter if Black History might be superflous in some areas where algebra is more badly needed.