Saturday, January 22, 2005

Today's NYTimes
opines about the SpongeBob flap.

I forgot to list one of the best friendship songs of all time when I gave some choice SpongeBob quotes before. Here's part of the F.U.N. song:
Spongebob:
It's not about winning, it's about fun

Plankton:
What's that?

Spongebob:
Fun is when you...fun is...it's like...it's kinda...sorta like a...What is fun? I...Let me spell it for you.

F is for friends who do stuff together
U is for you and me
N is for anywhere and anytime at all

Cast:
Down here in the deep blue sea

Plankton:
F is for fire that burns down the whole town
U is for Uranium...BOMBS!
N is for no survivors when you...
Norwegians cower
as Bush invokes the legions of Hell.

Friday, January 21, 2005

This
is great, but it's not a real ad.
Ake Green, the Swedish minister
who was sentenced for making anti-homosexual statements, has appealed the decision. Readers may recall that this is the minister whose sentencing prompted Fred Phelps and his merry band to visit my hometown of Lindsborg (see previous posts here, here, and here).

UPDATE: I just added a hyperlink to Fred Phelps' name for those readers who may not be familiar with the man. Who knew he had an entry at Wikipedia? Anyway, there's also an unauthorized biography available. I guess it's public domain because it was entered as evidence in a suit against Stauffer Communications, the firm that commissioned the book. Here's a link for those interested. Warning, though, the contents are pretty wrenching.
All of this has happened before,
as the incomparable VDH compares Iraq to Sparta:
My favorite example of castigating idealism is far older and from fourth-century B.C. Greece. By the 370s B.C. idealists were firmly in control of the government of conservative ancient Thebes, and turned an oligarchic Boeotian Confederacy into a real democracy. Convinced after their victory at Leuktra (371 B.C.) that a wounded Sparta was still a perennial threat, the new Boeotian democrats mobilized a Hellenic coalition of the willing to drop the old realist idea of containment or of just waiting for Sparta to attack.

Thus they embraced the preemptive act of invading Sparta and freeing 250,000 Laconian and Messenian indentured serfs or helots ("those taken"). The preemptory invasion was aimed at bringing freedom and democracy to Greeks heretofore deemed less than fully Hellenic and thought incapable of self-governance. Indeed, over the past century thousands of helots had been arbitrarily executed and routinely tortured and humiliated by their Spartan overlords. The Boeotians thought that by freeing the helots and creating autonomous democracies on Sparta’s borders they could remake the Peloponnese and end the old pathology in which a professional Gestapo-like military coerced their neighbors and meddled abroad, while fed and supported by a veritable nation of serfs.

The subsequent successful invasion led by the general Epaminondas was one of the few military operations of the ancient world that had real elements of idealism. Yet the circle around Epaminondas was also suspected of being influenced by the Pythagoreans, zealots who had fallen under the spell of the subversive and dangerous teachings of Pythagoras. The latter purportedly had promulgated weird notions, ranging from the equality of women to vegetarianism, and his work seems to have influenced Plato. Perhaps, Pythagoras was an ancient bogeyman not unlike the contemporary Leo Strauss, and was used to explain the otherwise inexplicable fact that the Boeotians of all people went into the heart of darkness to free the people of the Peloponnese.

One last thing about such appreciation of idealism in foreign policy: After Epaminondas emasculated Sparta, liberated the helots, and fostered a democratic Peloponnese, the Thebans, far from hailing the hero, put the returning commander on trial for usurping his prescribed tenure.

The more things change, the more they…
(Ellipsis in the original.)

Yeah, well, assuming history repeats itself, this is good news for us in general but bad news for President Bush, who will be punished for daring to liberate Iraq. But then I suppose he already is.
Wal-Mart: Eeeeevil.
There's a lot of good stuff on TCS today, like this piece on Wal-Mart:
Yes, there is more than a little bit of elitism and self-interest behind much of the opposition to Wal-Mart. That's not to say that there are no reasonable concerns to be had about the retail giant. It does change the character of the towns it enters. But change in the form of lower prices and more jobs is nothing to be afraid of -- especially in cities with no mythical Main Streets to lose in the first place.

Meanwhile, consumers in these cities -- already beset by the high cost of urban living -- are eager for the low-cost goods.
Now, if I'm forced to actually go shopping somewhere other than Best Buy, I prefer going to Target. Maybe the prices aren't as good, but I find Target to generally be cleaner, less crowded and better organized than Wal-Mart. That's been the case no matter where I've been: Salina, Olathe and now Joplin. So I guess I'm willing to sacrifice lower prices for a less painful experience.

That being said, I'm all for having as many Wal-Marts as demand, well, demands. There are three in the Joplin area, plus a Sam's Club, and they're all always freakin' busy. They're busy because there are plenty of people that need - yes, need - those low prices. People demand, the market provides, and thus does the world turn. Get used to it.
Larry Summers gets a positive review
from Tech Central Station and quotes the same interview Joe had found:
As famed Harvard linguist Steven Pinker put it, describing the scholarly debate over innate gender differences: "the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is 'offensive' even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don't get the concept of a university or free inquiry."

Summers' vision of a university comports with the best traditions of academia as a bastion of honest debate and openness to ideas. Sadly, these traditions have ebbed on today's campuses to the point where the mere attempt to restore them spawns furious resistance.

The University of Washington's dean of engineering criticized Summers because his remarks on gender "provoked an intellectual tsunami." But what in the name of academic inquiry could be wrong with that?
What's wrong with that, indeed.
Last night's discussion club meeting was good and scary,
kinda like an early M. Night Shyamalan (Shama-lama-ding-dong! [Sorry, but that's what I think of every time I hear or see his name.]) movie. We watched a CATO-sponsored book discussion that aired on CSPAN back in December featuring two authors: Gene Healy, who wrote Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything, and Andrew Napolitano, who wrote Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws.

Healy rattled off example after example of how the government gets carried away: a mother taken away in handcuffs for not wearing her seatbelt, two men serving eight years in prison for importing the wrong kind of lobster, a woman arrested for leaving a bag of marshmallows in the wrong place, etc. He talked about how three separate teams of experts of have examined the federal code and cannot agree on how many crimes are defined because the code is too vague.

Afterward, a few of the people in attendance gave their own examples of how regulators get power crazy. One man talked about dealing with OSHA and its inconsistencies, that whether or not you violate some regulation largely depends on the inspector's personality and how nice you are to him. Another talked about some of the ridiculous things he has to do as a doctor, procedures that are supposedly for his own good yet actually make some situations more dangerous.

The second part of the program was just as bad, if not worse. Napolitano opened by telling a story about the American Revolution, about how it was partly motivated by the British soldiers power to write their own warrants and enter a colonist's home at any time without getting prior approval from a judge. This is why we have the fourth amendment.

Yet now, with the combination of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Patriot Act and the Patriot Act II, we have come full circle. Now government agents can write their own warrants without judicial approval, obtain your records from banks, the Post Office, and other places without notifying the you.

I will buy these books and do more research on this.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The discussion club to which I belong is meeting tonight.
I think we're having a guest speaker or watching a film of some sort, which is too bad because I want to talk about President Bush and what he :said today:
From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
Some of the libertarians in the group have said they have problems with the war in Iraq because the Iraqi people didn't ask us to liberate them, that we can't force freedom on them. Well, there may not have been a national referendum (kind of hard to do in a dictatorship), but I do know that a few years ago plenty of individuals over there were wishing we'd hurry up and invade. It'd be an interesting topic, regarding just how much pressure the U.S. should apply on other countries.
Sponge Bob: Gay.
So I guess that makes him just like the purple Teletubby. Be afraid.

UPDATE: Dang, I have got to start reading my own blog. That makes two days in a row that Joe beat me to it. My problem is that I typically use the Blog This button in my Google toolbar, which lets me make quick posts without having to load the full-blown editing interface, so don't see what else has been posted. Doh!

UPDATE: InstaPundit solved the mystery of Sponge Bob's sexual orientation a few years ago.
I find its lack of pants disturbing.
This is so wrong. (Hat tip to Jane Galt.)

Speaking of which, I'm going through Knights of the Old Republic II now as a Sith Lord. At the start of the game, when choosing what sort of character you'd like to be, the game warns you that choosing this path is for advanced players only but I don't know why. This character is so good with lightning that, even when encountering a room full of enemies, they're slain so quickly the others in my party don't even have a chance to join the fight.

But I suppose that's the point of the dark side - it's deceptively easy in the short term but bad for you in the long run. Perhaps I'll find this path more difficult later on.

I find it amusing that one of the NPCs that kept getting on my case about being too nice when playing a light-sided character is now chastising me for my cruelty. I guess there's no pleasing some people.
Capitalism and comic books:
InstaPundit links to this piece on learning economics from Scrooge McDuck:
And that, after all, is the moral of the Duck Tale. Value resides in productiveness, not in legal tender. Enron was not a failure of capitalism. Enron, as Duckburgians learned, was a failure of greed and corruption, and capitalism did precisely what capitalism is supposed to do – it succeeded admirably in punishing greed and corruption with bankruptcy.

Yes, it’s a shame that all the Enron worker-ducks were punished along with the big ducks in the big puddle, but that’s yet another lesson: don’t put all your retirement duck eggs in one corporate money bin. Even the irascible McDuck had a productive farm to fall back on.
I never read McDuck comic books - I never even knew there was such a thing - but I remember having quite a stack of Richie Rich comics. Can't say that I recall a thing about their content, though. Was Richie happy with his money?
Jonah Goldberg: Libertarian?
From NRO's symposium on expectations for the second term:
I would like it if Bush could return to the notion that political conservatism is first and foremost about limited government — not "better" government, more compassionate government, more efficient government, more business-friendly government or even just plain nicer government.
Amen.
This is too much
(via Captain Ed).

UPDATE: It seems Fox may have been over-zealous in its reporting. It seems the man arrested was, at one time, assigned by his employter to guard Moore, but wasn't at the time of his arrest.

However, it doesn't change the underlying hypocrisy of the situation. Michael Moore is quite adamant in his gun control stance, yet he hires amred bodyguards. Why is he entitled to being protected with firearms, but not the rest of us? Because he's a celebrity? I don't see that particular qualifier in the Second Amendment.
It is amazing what self-delusions we have.
I watched American Idol for the first time this season last night. It was quite amusing to see how so many of the contestants, who were so cringingly bad, were shocked - shocked! - that the judges would reject them. "Will you let me sing another song?", they ask thinking perhaps it's just a matter of proper material. The judges still say no. A few even kept looking back over their shoulders on their way out the door, convinced this was some sort of joke, that the judges would save them at the last second, exclaiming, "We're just kidding! You rock!" Amazing.

Lesson learned from last night: unconditional family support can be a dangerous thing. A number of the no-talent contestants said they were confident they would win because their families told them so. All this support did, in this case anyway, was set these people up for embarrassment on national television. A little honesty would have been helpful.
SpongeBob is amazing.
One of my favorite cartoons. I'm not afraid to admit that, no. My wife rolls her eyes at me when I occaisionally watch Nickelodeon's 7:00 p.m. broadcast.

Patrick is some sort of sage for the ages.
"I can't see my forehead!"

"Dumb people are just blissfully unaware of how very dumb they are."

"I wumbo, you wumbo, he she we wumbo, wumboing, wumbology, the study of wumbo...come on Spongebob, this is first grade!"
Imagine my surprise when I read on Captain's Quarters that Focus on the Family is doing a Jerry Falwell/Teletubbies fit of apoplexy over my favorite animated duo.
If I could do this every day
I'd be rich. And when the bill collectors come, I can say my refusal to pay is a form of protest and for them to force me to pay would be a violation of my civil rights. Cool.
In the post-confirmation hearings analysis
Power Line makes a prediction:
My guess is that four years from now, our troops will have been withdrawn, Iraq will be a functioning democracy, various benefits of Iraq's transformation will be visible throughout the Persian Gulf region, and most people will regard the Iraq war as a reasonably successful and probably necessary part of our long-term effort to stamp out Islamic terrorism.
Me, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sacrificing child welfare to homophobia:
interesting article at Reason about gay couples and adoption.
Fox News reports
that a Muslim school in Texas seeking admittance to the primarily Christian Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools received a questionnaire that included the following question:
The Koran clearly tells you not to mix with (and even eliminate) the infidels. Christians and Jews fall into this category. Why do you wish to join an organization whose membership is basically in total disagreement with your religious beliefs?
I know little, if anything, about Islam. Most of what I know is from very indirect sources (and, no, I don't count movies as a source; try this, instead). I guess the confusion comes from statements like:
O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people. (Qur'an 5:51)
Someone asked me about Larry Summers' comments
about women in math and science fields, and about all I could say is, well, I sure don't see a lot of women in the engineering and computer programming fields. Sure there are some, but not many. I don't know why this is, but it is nonetheless.

Jonah Goldberg isn't afraid to say men and women are different. I can see this turning into a nature versus nurture debate quite easily.

UPDATE: Jane Galt has more. Both she and Jonah say that, on average, men's and women's cognitive skills tend to be about the same on average, but there do tend to be more men at the extremes at both ends (super-smart and super-not-so-smart). So it must be true, right? Jonah does provide a link to the study.

I am curious why Galt would write this:
I find it interesting that Matthew Yglesias, who was in honors track science at a highly selective prep school in the late nineties, says that there was definitely bias against women in his classes. I find it interesting because I was in honors track science at a highly selective prep school a decade earlier, and noticed no such thing.
Yet also write this:
I went to a fairly sexist high school, one that was 2/3 male (it had only gone co-ed a couple of decades ago). There was absolutely pressure on women to appear dumber, more interested in "soft subjects" than in math or science. I've no doubt that this influenced my decision, at least somewhat, to drop AP science in favour of more English classes.
Is she contradicting herself, or am I missing something?

UPDATE: I just noticed Joe's post, which links to an interview with an actual scientist:
The hypothesis is, first, that the statistical distributions of men’s and women’s quantitative and spatial abilities are not identical—that the average for men may be a bit higher than the average for women, and that the variance for men might be a bit higher than the variance for women (both implying that there would be a slightly higher proportion of men at the high end of the scale). It does not mean that all men are better at quantitative abilities than all women! That’s why it would be immoral and illogical to discriminate against individual women even if it were shown that some of the statistidcal differences were innate.

[...]

Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is "offensive" even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don’t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.
Here's an amusing article on cold weather
over at NRO:
When I lived in Charleston in the late '90s, the schools once closed two days for less than a half-inch of snow. South Carolina schools, therefore, teach children one thing about winter — it should be feared — and I was a very good student. To this day, I don't like driving in snow, and I generally get cold in October and don't thaw out again until well past Easter. I hate being cold. When Garrison Keillor, the NPR humorist, trills "Singing in the snow, singing in the snow. What a wonderful feeling, it's 20 below," I want to hit him, but it's hard to make a fist when you have on three pairs of gloves.

Still, despite my aversion to cold — indeed, to suffering in general — I understand its importance. Without cold weather, there would be no L.L. Bean, and New England's economy would tank. Most importantly, we need cold weather in the current news drought, if only to keep us alert. It's impossible to be sluggish and inattentive in wind chills below zero.

This I can say only because I am a southerner: Heat makes you stupid. Heat makes you lazy. Northerners consider southerners slow because, well, we are. We talk slowly, we think slowly. Cold may not make you smart, but it does make you nimble. Northerners and midwesterners move quickly because they have to. It's too darn cold outside.
One advantage of growing up in Kansas is it gets just about all the weather you can think of, which forces you to become more adaptable. You can have several days in a row of over 100 degree temperatures in the summer and have several days of sub-zero temperatures in the winter. We'd get tons of rain in April and drought in August. Sure, we didn't get hurricanes, but we had tornados. Look at this one that hit Hesston in 1990. Huge.
The Corner
links to this article over at the Harvard Crimson. Glad to see one professor at my alma mater knows what free inquiry means.
Have you seen Will Forte
play Zell Miller on the SNL's Hardball skits? He yells so loud and so hard that he literally turns red. Then he gets a break, and you can see his face lighten up a bit, but then he starts yelling again and his face becomes apple red. It's really quite amazing.

Oh, and Darrell Hammond is so good he's a freak. If I had my eyes closed, I bet I couldn't tell the difference between Hammond's Dan Rather and the real thing.
Perhaps this is a book
I should read. The anti-Day After Tomorrow?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

This post by Andrew Sullivan
made me raise my eyebrows, especially at this line:
It would be hard to find or invent a more graphic example of evil than that perpetrated by Graner in Abu Ghraib.
Now I see that Best of the Web points to it as a Sontag Award Nominee. What's that, you ask? From Andrew Sullivan's blog:
THE SONTAG AWARD:
Nominees are solicited for statements by public figures uttered in the same spirit as Susan Sontag's post-9/11 preference for the "courage" of Islamist mass murderers as opposed to the "cowardice" of NATO air-pilots over the skies in Iraq. Glib moral equivalence in the war on terror and visceral anti-Americanism are qualities most admired by the judges in this category.
As Taranto observes, don't the events of September 11, 2001 exceed the level of evil at Abu Ghraid? Or beheading by terrorists? Or, hell, more historically, the evils of Communism, Nazism or anything like that? Abu Ghraib was horrible, and the perpetrators are rightfully being prosecuted, but to lump it in with some of the most horrific moments in world history brings Sullivan ever closer to full-blown moon-battiness.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Basile Georges Casmoussa,
Archbishop of the Syrian Catholic Church, has been kidnapped from in front of a church in Mosul, Iraq. I'm not sure what the terrorists in Iraq hope to gain by this. If he's killed, it'll only reinforce the general belief that the insurgents are craven barbarians.

UPDATE: He's been released, apparently without incident.