the absurd observers

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Russian lawmakers think outside the box


A brawl errupted in the Russian Parliament today. A number of lawmakers were caught in the fracas, but an ultranationalist stepped into the Ron Artest instigator role:
Zhirinovsky, who is also deputy speaker of the parliament, spat at Andrei
Savyolov from the leftist Rodina party and grabbed his hair.

The pictures are disturbing. The witness accounts are alarming. However, this melee has raised some salient arguments in favor of American politicians getting into a rumble in the Capitol Building.
  1. People like fights. Strategically, it seems that engaging in fisticuffs would be wise. When a fight breaks out people watch, some yell "fight! fight!", and most tell the story of the fight over and over throughout their lives as a little evidence for everyone else of the storyteller's rough side. The Romans loved their gladiators and America loves the Indiana Pacers. It reminds us that we are animals, and we love that. We love the idea that all it takes is a vote in Siberia for a loogie to splatter into another guy's face. Neocons should like the machismo spoils given to the winner of the fight. Deaniacs should like the bitter defiance and resentment of the loser of a fight.
  2. Releasing their frustration. Some politicians seem to settle their differences by supporting or blocking each other's legislation. The problem with this "professional" approach is that it affects the entire country. I say let the congressmen battle it out in a steel cage and leave the rest of the country out of it. It's possible that arm-wrestling could solve the problem, but, as the story from Russia makes clear, nothing sends a message like an old fashioned saliva-slap.
  3. Entertainment. We want our lawmakers to hit each other. That's why DeLay's nickname is "the Hammer". You give someone a nickname like that because you want to see them throw a beer at stray party members or have a Tyson like moment biting off some filibusterer's ear. I'm sure C-Span is all for this idea. Their ratings would go through the roof, although ultimately FOX would outbid them for the contract. Plus, the lawmakers would be for this. If some junior Senator fish-hooked a ranking opposition party member, he would become a household name - maybe even get an endorsement deal from Nike or Brooks Brothers.
  4. Educating the public. The question most often uttered among people watching a fight is: "why are they fighting?" (Though, I'm sure "that corndog is making me feel sick" is a close second.) America would want to know why Kerry and Kennedy had held Trent Lott's head in the toilet. How could you not want to know? America needs an increase in political literacy. I think with the appropriate number of crazy melees, America would stop reading about Justin Timberlake's sock preferences and start reading about social security, the Patriot Act, and the deficit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Quite possibly the stupidest thing I have ever read from a purportedly reputable magazine


As the fate of Terri Schiavo was decided and then carried out, the enigma of Jewish liberalism came again to the fore. What accounts for Jews whose idea of dying "with dignity" included this incapacitated Florida woman being dehydrated to a state of living mummification like the ghoulish images of Nazi death-camp survivors?


To add to the sense of values gone topsy-turvy, Mrs. Schiavo's ordeal was climaxing over the festival of Purim. Parallels with the Purim story, the Biblical book of Esther, leap out at you. In both, a vigorously determined personality (Haman, Michael Schiavo) seek to take the life of an innocent or innocents (the Jews, Mrs. Schiavo) with the aid of a high government official (King Ahashuerus, Judge Greer) while the people (Persia's Jews, America's Christians) weep, fast, and don sackcloth. Simultaneously, a protagonist (Queen Esther, Governor Bush) closely linked to the head of state contemplates intervening.

Evidently the minor distinction that Terri Schiavo is brain dead and rotting away whereas the Jews who died in concentration camps were fully living seems lost on conservatives. If anything such comparisons insult the true victims of persecution whose lives are taken out of pure malice, not to preserve their dignity. Even if conservatives, disregarding conclusive medical evidence, fool themselves into thinking that Schiavo is not brain dead, surely they ought to recognize that the motivations of those wishing to let her die with dignity are not the same as those who sought to commit genocide.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Fatty sandwich causes confusion


Burger King has unveiled a new breakfast sandwich packed with fat. Commenters, whom I guess we could call sandwich-pundits, have weighed in on the excellent earning potential of this Enormous omelet sandwich. Others, whom we could call lipiphobes, are making critical statements like the following:
"Eating like this is a step on the way to a heart attack," Fred Pescatore,
author of The Hamptons Diet told the newspaper. "It's irresponsible."

My question is: what does Fred Pescatore find irresponsible? Or, more precisely, what does the "it" mean, in "it's irresponsible"? If irresponsible means acting without the worry of being held accountable, then the meaning of "it" takes on great importance.

The ambiguity of the pronoun has created a number of possibilities. If Pescatore meant "eating like this" is irresponsible, he is just plain wrong. People who eat the sandwich would be held accountable for their actions by their circulatory systems, and thus they would not be irresponsible. Additionally, if Pescatore meant BK was irresponsible, this would also be incorrect. If BK starts serving meals that kill people, they will lose loyal customers, and thus BK will be held accountable for their actions. (I'm not saying BK hasn't conducted some cost/benefit analysis on this issue, I merely point out that the action will have repercussions.)

Therefore, Pescatore must surely mean that it is the enormous omelet sandwich itself that is irresponsible. And that I agree with. The sandwich will not be held accountable for its fattiness. The sandwich will not be held accountable for its tastiness. Furthermore, I think this special treatment must stop.

It's time we stop blaming companies and people, and time we start blaming the actual objects that hurt us. Sandwiches, cigarettes, and beer are the real culprits. Inanimate objects have existed in a world without justice for too long. The irresponsibility of sandwiches, the smugness of cigarettes, and the downright hubris of beer must end now. Join me in a campaign to end the tyranny of pizza and the cruelty of donuts. Stand up and claim your right to exact revenge on a pint of ice cream.

Justice: its not just for people anymore.

Hitchens Captures The Absurdity Of The Schiavo Affair


It is nice to hear Christopher Hitchens returning to form and talking about something other than how the Bush administration has been unfairly blamed:
A family lawyer appears before an American court and solemnly proposes that his client's "client" might have to spend extra time in Purgatory, or even in Hell, if the feeding-tube decision is adjudicated the wrong way. One Catholic fanatic, Patrick Buchanan, argues that federal marshals ought to burst in and preserve a corpse. Another Catholic fundamentalist, William Donahue, says that this would be unwise, but only because it might set a precedent for the rescue of living people on Death Row. Presiding from a distance is a nodding, senile pope whose church may possibly want to change the subject from its indulgence of the rape and torture of real-life children.

Now I can cheer for the Redskins without feeling guilty


Thursday, March 24, 2005

The sweet smell of stem cells


Doctors in Australia, with the help of funding from the Catholic Church, have developed stem cells taken from human noses. This is quite the discovery since it could eliminate the ethical dilemma facing the religiously inclined. However, it does raise a number of issues and new problems:
  1. Obviously noses will become commodities. Noses will regularly be traded, analyzed, and regulated by the government. People will sell noses on the black market. Nose dealers might withhold some of the nose supply, like some sort of nose OPEC, in order to raise the nose value. Nose futures will be traded on commodity exchanges. People will begin to covet the nose, which brings me to...
  2. What about people with runny noses, nose rings, broken noses, and fake noses? The upper-crust of society will quickly leave them behind. Why? It's simple. If person A has a job and a nose that could be harvested for stem cells, and person B has a job, but a nose without stem cell potential, who would take person B with the barren nose? The infertile nose will doom a section of society to mediocrity, at best.
  3. What happens to all the noses that were stolen from babies by their grandparents? Surely, that trove of noses should be appropriated by the government so that scientists could have better access to noses. Also, maybe the government should think about hiring grandparents to collect noses, afterall, empirical evidence suggests they can gather the noses painlessly and without any tools or surgery.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Creationists take over the movies


This story harkens back to the Scopes Monkey Trial.

IMAX theaters in several Southern cities have decided not to show a film on volcanoes out of concern that its references to evolution might offend those with fundamental religious beliefs

Ironic that fundamentalists, who argue intelligent design is just anohter theory worthy of being debated in the class room, use their economic influence to block movie theaters from showing something that only tangentially supports evolution.

This is the ostrich approach to reality. If there is something that you don't like, cover your eyes and it won't be there. At what point will the absurd bubble that fundamentalists live in be popped?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Tasting one's own medicine


News agencies report that IBM has software that will return spam back to its source. This has obviously excited the thirst for revenge that has been gnawing at many of us since Al Gore created this thing called the internet. The idea of a spammer getting spammed really tickles the "I'll show you" part of our brain which is contiguous with the "You want it? You got it" part of our brain. Now, that the synapses in the revenge part of my brain have been activated, I feel the need for more. So here are my suggestions for products, protocols, and practices that will make us feel like there is a little justice in the world:
  1. A smart cigarette. Every time you take a drag, smoke enters the lungs of tobacco executives. Why should they be worried? It's not like cigarettes are addictive or harmful. Right? I know this sounds difficult, what with the physical impossibility and all, but maybe we're just not trying to develop this technology yet.
  2. Scientology in school textbooks. People want religious ideas about the creation of the universe in their textbooks? Fine. Unleash Travolta! Let loose Tom Cruise and the Scientologists on our school curriculum. I don't know much about scientology, but I'm sure they's have some unique sci-fi opinion on the world that would be unwelcome in the bible belt. While we're at it, we could also make room for other religions. Give everyone an equal voice in the education system. There's a crazy guy with a megaphone who mentions god occasionally that I see downtown from time to time, I bet he'd have some interesting things to say about mitosis or post-colonial nationalism. Give everyone a voice.
  3. Papparazi papparazi. Cameramen follow the cameramen. We make it a lose-lose game. No one has any more privacy. We all have someone taking pictures of us. Coupled with this scenario would be the tabloid journalist who writes about tabloid journalists.
  4. Cash plus advertisements: Businesses want to make me sit through commercials and read advertisements? Fine. When they cash my check it makes them sit through a number of commercials all about me. I want TV and I have to watch a commercial about McDonald's, so McDonald's wants my money, but they have to watch a commercial about me. Again, I have no idea how this would work. The check could actually make noise, or flash messages on it. I'm just a guy who's had too much coffee and figures if money talks, it might as well say something annoying.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Conservative hypocrisy

Last night Congress passed a bill expressly granting federal courts jurisdiction to hear the Schiavo case. This is only he latest in a long string of hypocrisy from a conservative movement that claims to favor states rights. Be it Bush v. Gore, the FMA, or now this, it is becoming more and more apparent that the rhetoric of states rights is only used by conservatives when they want to block something whose substance they disagree with.

Don't disrespect Disrespect


Apparently, two New Jersey Assemblymen have introduced a resolution calling for people to be nicer to each other. CNNMoney explains:
Bramnick and Johnson's resolution, which is waiting for a hearing by an Assembly
committee says "increased courtesy and respect among residents will reduce
stress and make daily tasks more enjoyable," but does not aim to legislate

At first glance this seems to be a noble enterprise. However, upon further reflection, it is clear that the resolution is misguided - not because there's something wrong with legislating behavior, but, more fundamentally, because increased courtesy and respect will not reduce stress or make life more enjoyable.

Feeling respected is surely a great experience, especially these days when so many feel disrespected. (See every athlete and every tough guy.) However, is there a better feeling one gets than when one disrespects? I doubt it. That is the pure pleasure of trash talk. Disrespect is the catalyst of the put down. It is the inspiration for the taunt, the tease, and the mocking limerick. Disrespect is the mother of spoof and the father of satire. It is the brother of Weird Al. It is the seed crystal of late night talk show monologues and the instigator of punditry. It has more names than Apollo Creed in Rocky, and that should tell us something. But Disrespect is more than just an entertaining way to tease people; the fear of disrespect makes society go.

The fear of disrespect makes many personalities productive. The fear of disrespect fuels the desire to distinguish one's self. Without disrespect what would the point of competition be?

Life without disrespect would be a distopic enterprise indeed. Why not just drug everyone and force feed them Disney movies constantly? We'd all be happy right? We'd all be courteous - probably because we'd have trouble interacting with each other at all, what with the challenge of drinking from a juice box while on Aldous Huxley's soma all day. The point is: we need disrespect.

It is not the thought of an America that resembles Leave it to Beaver that urges me to work. Rather, it is the fear of disrespecting myself and the opportunity to disrespect someone else that drives me on. And if this legislation eliminated disrespect, for a world full of respect, I might just sleep in everyday and do nothing.

Friday, March 18, 2005

TNR screws up game theory


Thomas Mann argues in The New Republic that game theory suggest democrats ought not compromise on social security because tit-for tat has been proven to be the most effective strategy in delaing with the prisoner's dilemma:

The lesson for Democrats? If they believe that Bush's single-minded embrace of personal accounts is a defection from a cooperative game to deal with the solvency of Social Security (and it is), they should respond in kind: by withholding any specific proposals on benefit reductions and revenue increases until the President withdraws his insistence on personal accounts. If Bush's interest in solvency is genuine, he will then have no choice but to bargain.

Aside form transforming a game with two options (cooperate and trust the other party to do the same or don't cooperate) into one with a thrid option (negotiate), Mann completely ignores the reason why tit-for tat is an effective strategy in certain circumstances.

Becasue I am too lazy to explain the basics of the prisoners dilemma, I refer you to a page that explains it.

As anyone who has studied game theory knows, tit-for-tat is the most effective strategy for ongoing interactions with a variety of different players. The basic stategy is to cooperate first and then imitate whatever the other player's last move was. If his last move was to defect, a player using tit-for-tat defects, if it was to cooperate, then a player using tit-for-tat cooperates. This strategy works when there are numerous other players because it protects against exploitation by those who defect, but gains the benefits of cooperation if other players cooperate.

Tit-for-tat is not a flawless strategy, however, it is merely the best strategy amongst many different ones. If there are only two players, then it is quite possible another strategy will be most successful. The success of any given strategy will depend on the strategy employed by the other player.

Let us assume that Bush is purusing a strategy of reverse tit for tat. This leads him to defect first and then imitate democrats prior move. If democrats follow tit for tat, then every time Bush defects, they will cooperate and vice versa. The result will be the least efficient outcome for all parties involved. Certainly that would not be the ideal strategy.

By contrast, if Democrats follo an always cooperate strategy, then only on social security will the country loose and on all other issues, both parties will be better served.

Obviously no one actually pursues such simple strategies in politics, but hopefully this illustrates why Mann's attempted application of game theory to politics is worthless.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sell me cereal, but only if everyone else stays fat


The NYT reports:

Labeling Shrek cereal by General Mills and a promotional children's book that features Kraft's Oreo cookies as extreme examples of marketing to children, Senator Tom Harkin issued a sharp rebuke on Wednesday to the nation's largest food companies.
And Harkin is not alone. The article explains that food companies have been shifting the allocation of advertising dollars away from sugar-loaded kid food to healthy food. The article does not mention the old gun control argument, which in the cereal debate reads: "if we stop marketing Shrek cereal to kids, then only criminals will have Shrek cereal". But, I think they may be saving that rhetoric for a rainy day.

I too am for curtailing the marketing of cereals and cookies to children, but not because I think children are fat. I want advertisers to start marketing cereal and cookies to me. The twenty something professional. I want to see boxes of cookies that have a picture of a couple people talking at the coffee machine. Maybe some cereal boxes with the picture of a guy throwing his alarm clock across the room. How about a marshmellow cereal with the picture of a bunch of guys playing poker, smoking cigars, and drinking beers. That would sell, I think. The point is, I feel left out. Maybe there could be a "401SpecialK" cereal.

However, if this whole marketing shift creates a reduction in the number of fat people in America, then we have a host of new problems. Football teams will get smaller, "you so fat" jokes will decline in sophistication, and fat people nicknames (Tubby, Chubby, Slim, and Jaba the Hut) will all but dissappear. The dieting industry would become obsolete. People would live longer and soak up more social security benefits. There'd be no strangers to talk to at McDonalds. I guess what I'm saying is: America needs fat people. And I'm willing to forego my desires for advertisements targeting me if that means that we can keep America plump.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Marketing America


In his argument that America's imagine in the world will be more shaped by America's actions rather than "branding", Fred Kaplan, identifies a number of problems with trying to create the idea of America. He mentions that during the cold war we broadcast radio shows into the USSR and exposed people to jazz music and talk shows, but he contends that now that tactic would be less successful:
Today, an official American image, even a well-crafted one, would have to
compete with a vast array of newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts and, most
crucially, satellite TV networks—some state-sponsored, some independent—that
have a much better idea of what appeals to their viewers than we do.

Kaplan's point: America's actions create anti-American sentiment. He thinks advertising only sells sellable products:
...not even Bill Cosby's endorsement could overwhelm the wide consensus that
the New Coke was swill.

However, I disagree.
Spinning current policies is easier than developing new policies. Pleasing everyone is harder than fooling people into thinking they are pleased. Sure, it may be difficult, and others may have a better idea of what appeals to viewers, but how is that a problem? Hire those people. Fire the think tankers and bring in the people that put together the marketing team behind Michael Jordan. It wasn't the shoes that made people buy Air Jordans. It was the songs, it was Spike Lee, and it was the marketing concept that made people believe that shoes could make their dreams come true, or at least make them look cool.

Use America's marketing resources. Pop-culture, fast food, sports, etc. Sneak subliminal messages into Friends reruns and little American flags into KFC's popcorn chicken. Cosby couldn't sell New Coke, but people eat tofu because hippies market it as cool. Package the American dream as it was packaged many years ago to attract immigrants. Package the American sense of nobility as it is packaged every election period.

Most Americans have trouble comprehending what fuels anti-American sentiment. Most of us also have trouble articulating what makes something cool. Why not take advantage of the world's embrace of ambiguous concepts and market America as cool?

Applebaum weighs in on Kinsley v. Estrich


This conversation was sparked, as media junkies will know, by a bizarre attack launched on Michael Kinsley, now the editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times, by Susan Estrich, a self-styled feminist. In a ranting, raving series of e-mails last month, all of which were leaked, naturally, Estrich accused Kinsley of failing to print enough articles by women, most notably herself, and of resorting instead to the use of articles by men, as well as by women who don't count as women because they don't write with "women's voices."

Here I declare an interest: Michael Kinsley hired me to write an op-ed column when he was the editor of the online magazine Slate. As for Estrich, I don't know much about her at all, except that she's just launched a conversation that is seriously bad for female columnists and writers. None of the ones I know -- and, yes, I conducted an informal survey -- want to think of themselves as beans to be counted, or as "female journalists" with a special obligation to write about "women's issues." Most of them got where they are by having clear views, knowing their subjects, writing well and learning to ignore the ad hominem attacks that go with the job. But now, thanks to Estrich, every woman who gets her article accepted will have to wonder whether it was her knowledge of Irish politics, her willingness to court controversy or just her gender that won the editor over.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ex-milkman guilty of securities fraud


Ebbers was found guilty of securities fraud and filing false statements. CNNmoney provides more background on the Ex-CEO of Worldcom:
Ebbers, a former milkman, basketball coach and Best Western hotel owner before
he discovered the telecom business in 1983...

He was a milkman? That's pretty unbelievable, and not because I don't believe in upward mobility. I find it unbelievable because a milkman seems like an honest man. Norman Rockwell paintings don't show milkmen planning elaborate deceptions or stealing milk from the residents of a sleepy little town. This article might be the first time that anyone has ever used the words "milkman" and "chicanery" within a paragraph of each other. In fact, reading the words in such proximity of each other makes me a little depressed.

Here are some other phrases that I hope will not be associated with each other:
  1. "New coffee flavor" and "green olives" (because black olive coffee has a chance)
  2. "Bush" and "I.Q. score of ____" (because I'd rather just not know)
  3. "Mr.T." and "retires" (because then who would pity the fool?)
  4. "television" and "monopoly" (because competition is responsible for such classics as "the surreal life")

the contradiction of mourning


Gregg Easterbrook makes the following point:

[L]et's think ahead to his [Pope John Paul II] approaching end and the likelihood there will be international expressions of grief. If Christianity is true, there is no need to mourn the natural death in old age of any believer, much less a future saint. When a Christian lives a full life and dies a natural death in senescence, there is nothing to be sad about--if Christianity is true.

As an agnostic, I have always wondered whether religious people actually believe the metaphysical claims of their religions or whether they simply think it wrong to act as if anything other than the claims of their religion could be true. The case of Christian mourning illustrates this point. Easterbrook, argueing from the presumption that Christianity is true, claims that there ought to be no mourning.

I argue the opposite. The mourning of devoutly religious people, who purport to believe that the righteous are going to heaven, indicates at least some doubt on their behalf. Rather than embrace the genuine sorrow people ought to feel at the end of a person's existence, Christianity allows people to pretend that nothing sad has really happened. Yet with the displays of sorrow and mourning that accompany death, this diversion is less compelling. No matter hwo much people may claim to believe in the dictates of their religion, they still harbor some doubt.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Liberals desire outlets for invented stories


Apparently, some liberal bloggers have held a few conference calls with major news outlets in an effort to bridge the gap between their internet conspiracy theories and real news. The NYT reported:

Mr. Fertik maintains that the blurring of boundaries has benefited left-wing
bloggers less than their adversaries on the right, saying that reports posted on
conservative blogs more easily make the jump to the main news media. "The way we
perceive it," he said, "is that right-wing bloggers are able to invent stories,
get them out on Drudge, get them on Rush Limbaugh, get them on Fox, and pretty
soon that spills over into the mainstream media. We, the progressives, we don't
have that kind of network to work with."

So it appears that the problem is really just a lack of outlets for the left's invented stories. Surely there are some pundits waiting in the wings, ready to spread rumors and gossip, aspiring to be the next Limbaugh, Drudge, or Fox. I think that problem isn't just a lack of outlets, or a lack of a network. The problem is more fundamental. The invented stories are just not interesting enough. Here are some suggestions of stories for these ambitious bloggers to invent:
  1. Cheney is actually a robot, created by the Ron of Ronco, the inventor that made hair that people could spray out of a can. This story would be particularly interesting because Cheney has no hair.
  2. W. misses a cabinet meeting because he is busy thumb wrestling with secret service agents. More reports suggest that thumb wrestling is where Bush gets his military strategy ideas. Accounts surface that Bush repeatedly urged Powell to "go for the sneak attack because no one sees the index finger coming."
  3. O'Reilly is seen drinking a smoothie with wheat grass extract. He is wearing a hemp necklace and a Grateful Dead Tshirt at the time. The conservative establishment disowns him.

Now those are some good made up stories - things that America could really sink its teeth into. Now, as for the "network" for disseminating this "news", I know there's not too many left-leaning limbaughs and drudges out there, but I heard that "Kermit the Frog" may be available.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Weak dollar thwarts hippie lifestyle


The BBC reports that European companies are upset about the sliding dollar. While these companies are large corporations, the BBC has determined that executives won't be the only ones left out in the cold due to the dollar's plunge.

And VW said the feeble dollar had forced it to ditch plans to bring to the
US a successor for its iconic minivan, once much favoured by hippies.

My question is: where is the hippie outrage? Does nothing short of a lack of cheese flavored chips coupled with an extinct lava lamp rally the hippie ire? Don't the hippies realize that if the weak dollar can take down the minibus, it can undercut the hemp necklace? Then what would be left of hippiedom? Just a few people singing karaoke versions of "Me & Bobby McGee" as their friends flash peace signs from their barstools, I guess.

I mean, if the weak dollar threatened the livelihood of "the lazies", which is my set, I'd be outraged. If the weak dollar took out Lay-z Boy chairs, remote controls, or those moving walkways at the airport, I'd certainly advocate a different fiscal policy. The hippies need to put their game face on.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Math persists, despite shortcomings.


Jordan Ellenberg, in his Math column on Slate, reviews a book on Godel and discusses the impact of Godel's incompleteness theory. The theory can be understood as "no system of logical axioms can produce all truths about numbers because no system of logical axioms can pin down exactly what numbers are. " JE points out that people have coopted this theory and stretched it out to include arguments against evolution.

In a clever passage, JE writes the following aphorism: "Any scientific result that can be approximated by an aphorism is ripe for missappropriation." This statement mirrors Godel's paradox: "P is not provable using the given axioms". This kind of trickery appeals to me.

However, what I really liked about the piece was the suggestion that the truly interesting thing about Godel's theory is that it exposed the lack of foundation for math, and yet, math survives. He uses the analogy of a country where the constitution is destroyed, and yet, the citizens lives do not change. Math seems like a fiction or maybe a dream. It is a system that operates without being attached to the ground.

So, things exist in the material world without a theoretical framework? Ideas based on intuition? That's right. Think of:
  1. Busses without schedules. Intuitively I know the bus comes at a certain time, but the schedule definitely does not exist.
  2. The goodness of Jello. Intuitively I know it tastes good, but I don't think I can prove it.
  3. Dick Cheney. Intuitively we know he exists but we can't prove it.

Congress and steroids


This seems like a somewhat novel use of the congressional power to subpoena. In essence, congress is taking something of national interest, in the sense that the nation is interested in it, and elevating it to the level of national interest in the sense that it is in the nation's interests to find out the truth. While such an approach may over-step the historical bounds of congressional authority, I, for one am thrilled to see it used in such a manner. While this scandal hardly rises to the level of Watergate or Iran/Contra, the potential danger for future abuse seems minimal. Since baseball had such a ridiculously lax steroid policy until recently, the only way to ensure the integrity of the game is to coerce testimony in some manner and thereby arrive at the truth. Only Congress and federal prosecutors have the power to coerce such testimony as part of an investigation. Since grand jury testimony is sealed (at least in theory), a Congressional hearing seems like the only feasible way to restore legitimacy to the game. Hopefully the threat of jail for false testimony will force the various athletes into telling the truth and we can finally know who was using what when they set their various records.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bolton to the U.N.


Anne Applebaum has an interesting defense of Bush's nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. secretary on the grounds that he doesn't really belive in the b.s. that that U.N. spews and that is the type of candidness the agency needs.

greetings from the middle of nowhere

Apologies for not being able to post for a few days. I am stranded in Midland, Michigan on a case I am working on. Highlights of the town include no cell phone reception, an airport whose main feature is a video arcade and food options centering around Applebee's and Wendy's.

Anyway, I finally have a moment to post a few thoughts, so here goes...

Prosecutors think dog is human


Apparently, prosecutors in Arkansas sent out a subpoena for a murder suspect's dog. This raises many different issues ranging from "could a dog be a witness?" to "why does it seem like Keanu Reeves is running the prosecutor's office?" However, the question I am mulling over is whether people should convince their dogs to take their last names?

I think that dogs should take their owners' last names. Here's why:
  1. Things without last names sound pretentious and preposterous. Think: Cher, Madonna, W., Fedex. They all sound ridiculous. Furthermore, think about what would happen if we took away last names: Michael J. _____, the Foreman ______, Jello Pudding ______.
  2. What would Scooby Doo have been without the Doo? Just Scooby? I don't know, sounds a little casual for a reference to the dog who saved so many days and dehooded so many evil-doers. Surely the Doo family would have been upset. In fact, it is making me upset right now to think that he could have just been Scooby. Why? Because he was so much more. He will always be Mr. Doo to me.
  3. Because dogs are just as important as people doesn't mean that we should allow a breakdown in the family unit. Dogs without last names would confuse our children. It would threaten the family as we know it. I would think right-wingers would join me on this point. Traditional family values start with last names for dogs.
  4. Dogs save lives, comfort people, entertain, serve as companions, and look funny when they eat peanut butter out of a jar. And that's more than I can say about some people and we let them have last names.
  5. Maybe it's time we get past the tough guy attitude and admit that dogs deserve last names because we think of them as family, and it's the thought that counts. If you disagree with that, then you disagree with the theory behind greeting cards and smiling at people, and frankly you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Dogs should also have middle names, but that's more of a religious argument.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Terrorists protected by NRA lobbying positions


So, the GAO figures that terrorists can buy guns, and that the FBI has trouble stopping them because of the laws protecting the privacy of gun owners. Is this the time for an all out diatribe about gun control? Should this post be 1000 words on the multiple levels of idiocy that permeate the anti-gun control arguments? No, that's for another day. However, this is the perfect moment for biting sarcasm and extending criticism to ridiculous conclusions.

The article explains that the gun lobby cites privacy concerns for gun owners as a justification for creating the procedures that now protect terrorists:
The N.R.A. and gun rights supporters in Congress have fought - successfully, for
the most part - to limit the use of the F.B.I.'s national gun-buying database as
a tool for law enforcement investigators, saying the database would amount to an
illegal registry of gun owners nationwide.
I think that public gun records or a registry of gun owners nationwide would accomplish the some of the other rationales the gun lobby uses to oppose gun control. I am thinking of the safety argument - if guns are illegal then only criminals will have guns, and making it more difficult to get guns only makes it harder for law abiding citizens to protect themselves. And the "Constitutional Argument", which seems to boil down to "it's in the Constitution, and that's the end of the story. No need to look any further or ask what purpose the Amendment serves. If you disagree you are against the Constitution."

Public registry of guns would accomplish the goals of both the safety rational and the "Constitutional Argument". Here's how:

If a criminal knows that a person has a gun they are less likely to attack them. Who wants to attack some guy with a gun when some other person sits at home without a gun? If I am less likely to be attacked, I am safer than I would otherwise be. (The NRA should love this idea: the only way to be safe is to own a gun. This would increase gun ownership, because no one would want to put themselves in the pool of easy targets for criminals.) The idea is: the more we scare each other, the less likely we are to mess with each other. Consider it a little like Hobbes Leviathan - a brutal dictator that established order with fear - except the world is made of lots of mini-Leviathans, each one frightening the other.

Also, the "Constitutional Argument" would be satisfied by a gun registry. First of all, there is no mention of privacy rights in the Constitution, so we missed a bullet right there. (Sorry for the pun/cliche combo.) Moreover, if ownership of a gun is a fulfillment of a Constitutional right, then isn't publicizing ownership of a gun, merely a celebration of the Constitution? Isn't a registry of gun owners accessible to everyone really just a list of patriots? Isn't keeping gun ownership private or protected by privacy just unpatriotic? If someone is against transparency of gun ownership, aren't they just against the Constitution? Traitors.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Democrats and the military


Beinhart argues that democrats should do a better job of appealing to veterans, much like Republicans have done a better job of reaching out to African-Americans and Hispanics. Yet Beinhart curiously argues that one easy step would be to oppose the bans on military recruiting at various college campuses. While I think these bans are laughably stupid, it seems to me that Beinhart confuses form and substance. While it seems worthwhile for Democrats to change their rhetoric on the military, this differs from chaning their underlying policy positions. An argument to change rhetoric ought not be conflates with an argument to change policy. While at times it may make sense to abandon an unpopular policy because supporting it inhibits other more important things, this calculus is much different than simply changing rhetoric, which does not in any way abandon an underlying set of values.

Hezbollah backs Syria


Ironic that a "resistance" movement backs the continued occupation of Lebanon by a foreign power. Hopefully those Hezbollah apolgists will stop claiming they are anything more than a bunch of anti-semitic terrorists.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Boosting national savings with reality television


Today Greenspan proposed a consumption tax, and one of the benefits of such a tax, he explained, would be a boost in national savings. Maybe he's right, but I've got a better idea.

I propose a national reality tv show where everyone retiring is competing for savings accounts. My inspiration for the idea came from some simple principles.
  1. America loves reality tv shows - especially when someone wins and someone loses.
  2. Everyone is worried about social security and the viability of retirement accounts. The drama is appealing. The tension: palpable.
  3. Social Security would have less problems if there were less people in the Baby Boomer generation.
  4. Old people love to gamble. If Las Vegas can thrive from the gambling habits of retirees, why not the rest of America?

So, take everyone who could retire in the next five years and put them on a show.

  1. We could have the retirees vote each other "off the island";
  2. we could have America "call in and vote";
  3. we could have Simon Cowell and the American Idol crew comment on the retirees hobbies and plans, and maybe have the retirees sing a Ricky Martin song or two;
  4. we could set it up like the bachelor or one of the reality love shows, and every retiree that could pair off with someone else would get a joint retirement account, kind of a social security musical chairs type program;
  5. Donald Trump could fire all the retirees that couldn't organize a celebrity golf tournament, and the rest would get retirement accounts; or
  6. In the spirit of Joe Millionaire, we could tell the retirees that they were competing for a retirement account, then, at the last second explain that there was no retirement account, and the reitrees would feel cheated and slightly embarrassed that they didn't figure it out when the retirement account refused to eat foie gras.

I think this is a show everyone would watch. The government could use the advertising revenue. Maybe the show would make so much money, that we could actually provide social security for everyone afterall. Maybe the only way to save social security is to eliminate it, and then right when it looks like the retirees are going to get zilch, just like in Joe Millionaire ... at the very last second, we could give everyone a check that makes them happy.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Only in Iran


An Iranian woman has requested a divorce from her husband on the grounds that he has not washed for more than a year.

Divorce is a notoriously difficult process for women in Iran, who normally have to prove that their husband has neglected them financially or sexually, is a drug addict or physically abusive.

Hopefully the Shiites in Iraq differ in their positions on showering.

Pepsi will stop targetting kids


Apparently, PepsiCo is going to tone down its advertisements aimed at children in response to rising obesity levels. This measure, on its face, seems responsible and admirable. Yet, when I read the article I found:
Our intent is not to just beat our chests and try to take credit for what we're
doing," said Irene Rosenfeld, the chief executive of Frito-Lay North America,
PepsiCo's snacks unit. "We're just quietly doing it because it's the right thing
to do."

And that quotation saddens me. Why? Because when it comes down to it, I believe in beating your chest and taking credit. Chest beating, or chest thumping, is more than just showing off or humiliating an opponent. Chest beating is how we highlight greatness. Now, sometimes, charlattans chest thump when really they have done nothing, but that is less an indictment of chest thumping and more of an indictment of people from charlotte.

For example, some kids are watching a football game and they see T.O. dance in the endzone. His dance highlights the achievements it takes to be great. The children understand - a touchdown is good. Similarly, take a small corporation, watching a big corporation on msnbc. The small corporation sees the big corporation thump their chest, and it too knows what actions it takes to be thump-worthy. Chest thumping is what America is all about. The founders of this country thumped their chests when they wrote the Declaration of Independence.

If you're against dancing in the endzone, then I say: you're against America.

The point is, chest thumping doesn't just promote imitation of the dancing and the posturing and the thumping. It shows kids, adults, companies, and politicians what to strive for. So thump your chest PepsiCo! Showing off is good. Showing off is what makes America great!

liberalism imploding


Bush demands that Syria leave Lebanon. I don't like the word "demands". I don't want another war.

What is the world coming to when alleged liberals oppose people "demanding" that occupied countries be free?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The world's hypocrisy


Why do those who protested worldwide when America allegedly violated international law say nothing when their governments ignore the convention against genocide, the most fundamental of all international laws?

Why does George Bush, who now claims to have ignored the U.N. in the name of protecting the innocent of Iraq, hide behind the U.N. when it comes to protecting the innocent of the Sudan?

Why do civil rights activists who still today demand reparations for the enslavement and slaughter of blacks 150 years ago say nothing about the enslavement and slaughter of blacks today?

How does the world nominate a film about African genocide for numerous awards, yet do nothing as genocide unfolds again in Africa?

Senator's violent reaction to obscenity is obscene


Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens wants to apply decency standards to cable and satellite broadcasting. CNN reports:

Stevens said he disagreed "violently" with assertions by the cable industry that
Congress does not have the authority to impose limits on what they air.

My guess is that Stevens has a problem with the violence, porn, and curse words that get broadcasted on tv these days. He has a violent problem with violence, porn, and swear words.

My other guess is that Stevens would approve of his own violence, the violence of his disagreement, but not the violence of, say, Die Hard. (I wonder if Stevens also pornagraphically disagrees with cable companies that argue they can show porn.) In other words, watching violence, porn, or hearing people swear makes Stevens violent, by his own account.

The problem for most of America however, is that we, unlike Stevens, get enough violence from our tv that we don't need peripheral violence that is created from people watching the tv. In fact, if Stevens gets violent when he watches tv, then maybe we've got another issue here.

I think most of America would consider people who have violent reactions to violent television to be unbalanced. More frightening to me, however, is that when Stevens thinks of other obscene television, like porn or people cursing, he also has a violent reaction. It seems that a violent reaction to porn is clearly dangerous. Furthermore, a violent reaction to curse words is just plain hypersensitive. If people swearing makes Stevens violent, I am surprised he hasn't run into trouble for road rage. Violence, porn, and swearing is bad enough, but when those things produce violence, we have a real problem.

Some people like to blame tv for their problems. Stevens claims tv makes him violent. It's a narrow view of causation. It's a cop-out. It's time for Stevens to tone it down and stop being so violent. I am starting to find him obscene.

Now this I agree with


The death penalty is not for juveniles or the mentally retarted. The death penalty, as stated in previous blogs, is to be reserved for those crimes that are atrocious in nature, performed by a cold and calculating killer. Those who are minors or mentally retarted are incapable of the mindset neccessary to commit such acts.

While we should keep the death penalty around for the Bin Ladens, BTK killers and Dahmers, the supreme ct has made a wise and just ruling today.

A moral question that follows

While I applaud any restrictions on the death penalty, I wonder whether there is a meaningful case to be made for why executing a defendant who committed a crime as a17-year-old is cruel and unusual, but executing a defendant who committed a crime at 18 is not. The attainment of moral responsibility is obviously somewhat indeterminate and differs amongst individuals. Clearly some 18-year-olds are less morally sophisticated than some 17-year-olds. We have arbitrary age cut offs for many things in society, but we do so presumably because the transaction costs of figuring out individual responsibility would be too great without such an age cut off. We could not, for example, in any organized and non-discriminatory manner investigate the individual worthiness of citizens to vote. In the case of the death penalty, however, the entire sentencing exercise is an effort at determining the individual moral culpability of the defendant. After the guilt phase of the trial, there is an extensive sentencing phase where the jury specifically considers moral culpability and recognizes youth as a mitigating factor. I am not sure the imposition of 18 (or 16 for that matter) as an arbitrary, death-eligible cut off makes any sense.

The obvious answer is that minors are denied full rights in society on account of their age and so it is hypocritical to impose full acountability on them. This argument merges practical and moral judgments, so i am not convinced it is ultimately persuasive.

finally some humanity on the death penalty