Sunday, June 30, 2002


Saturday, June 29, 2002

OK, I was about to declare posting done until the relaunch, but damn:

The Israeli army has destroyed most of the Palestinian Authority's local headquarters in the West Bank town of Hebron, which it says has been used as a refuge by 15 wanted militants.

Soldiers and bulldozers are working their way through the rubble of the building looking for the Palestinians. No-one has been found - dead or alive - according to Israeli officials...

The Israeli army said it had used more than a ton of explosives in the operation. It left an enormous pile of rubble and overturned cars.

That's from the BBC report; but its all over, pick the news outlet of your choice.

One aspect that's kind of subtle in the story is that the Israelis permitted a PA negotiator to enter the compound to attempt to discuss an end to the siege. When he returned, he claimed he found nobody to talk to.

Nobody in there who wants to talk about a peaceful settlement? Well OK then.... BOOM.

I can't help but wonder if he was lying... thinking perhaps he might buy time for his buddies....?

The technical term for that strategy in this situation would be, of course, "Whooops."

In the same story, you should also note towards the bottom this passage, which should exactly how serious the PA was about constraining Hamas:

In the Gaza Strip on Friday, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, joined more than 1,000 Palestinians at a rally.

It was his first appearance in public since he was put under house arrest a week ago.

Palestinian police at the demonstration made no attempt to detain Sheikh Yassin.

He is reported to have said that he was unaware of any order restricting his movements.

In other words: not very.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Pledge Roundup

Lots of interesting thought going on around this issue; here's a roundup of the comments I've received from folks:

Dave the Redwood Dragon firmly agreed with my position, and added:

To his sentiments I'll add only this: that the genius of the Founding Fathers in regards to the place of religion in political affairs was the insistence that their intersection take place only on an individual level, not the collective level of government action or support. The Pledge is, by virtue of its recitation in schools and other public, government-supported forums, just such a collective expression, and so the phrase "under God" is, as I said above, a blot on the Constitution.

Well said.

Allen at Cockalorum, however, finds me damp, and my arguments unconvincing, writing:

You're all wet.

Tolerance is not helped when one person can exercise a veto over everyone else. The whole thing is based on the idea that the plaintiff's little girl is somehow harmed by hearing or saying "under God." This is an endless road to go down, trying to shield everybody from having their feelings hurt. A wise parent would tell her to get over it. There are lots of things in the world that I don't like, but I don't expect the court to change them for me. If we allow this, we turn our society into a bunch of little groups angry at each other, and claiming Constitutional protection for their own parochial view.

I don't believe that the Constitution was ever intended to create the kind of church-state wall this decision seems to call for. The fact that it guarantees freedom of religion on one hand and outlaws establishment on the other indicates that what it is after is tolerance, both by the majority and the minority. But this decision favors intolerance by a minority. For you to compare the pledge to religious fascism is more intolerance. We really need to get rid of the "I'm being picked on" mentality and learn to live together. If the girl had been kicked out of school or subjected to actual abuse and maltreatment by the school administration for her refusal to say the pledge, she'd have a case, but that isn't the case here. Basically, this is a case of censorship masked as a constitutional imperative.

Sorry, but I don't buy it. This isn't about tolerance: I would not support a lawsuit that tried to bar children from reciting the "under-God" version of the Pledge at recess on their own, for example, so long as there wasn't any nefarious coercion or encouragement going on from teachers or faculty. Treating this like a censorship case totally misses the point that we're talking about a state-sponsored loyalty oath, not something published in a newspaper or discussed among individual citizens. There's a big difference. And for the record, I didn't compare the Pledge to religious facism --- I pointed out that we are at war with religious facism, and that at such times, it is important for us to consider what kind of society we want to be (I prefer a secular one). I actually said quite clearly that I did not think the "under God" phrase was the first step towards the Talibanization of America; and in fact, pointed out that this is used as a strawman argument by those who want to make secular folks like myself look unreasable and stupid (without actually going to the work of providing solid arguments against us).

One note of concession: I don't have the legal or Constitutional background to have a firm opinion on whether the Constitution was truly intended to build as severe a wall between Church and State as I would like to see; I suspect it probably wasn't. So I'm fine accepting that potentially, on Constitutional / legal grounds, this decision might have been in error. My arguments are aimed at what decision would be right for our society; I leave the legal analysis to those more qualified.

I also attempted to goad some of the Christian bloggers I know into commentating; I met with partial success with Dean over at HealYourChurchWebsite --- he dropped me some interesting thoughts in e-mail, but pleaded server-movage when I bugged him to actually blog them. So here are some key exerpts:

"...First of all, we're talking Constitutional Law here - and me being a guy with a bach' in Music/Opera and masters in Computer Science/Operating Systems - if I can't abstract it into neat, reusable and easy to perform axiomatic semantics --- hmmm ---... To me, the very same code monkey who brought you the Mean Dean Anti-Spam E-Mail Obfuscator [cool technique --- you should check it out -NZB] , it appears that "Separation of Church and State" has been confused with the "Establishment Clause" - and those whose religion is a to be anti-religious have taken opportunity of this confusion to rid society of any mention of God.

In other word, this has more to do with judicial activisim than anything else - and will be struck down when it gets to the Supreme Court. A point well made by Pejman Yousefzadeh

And here's my rub on all this. If more Christians would spend more time reading Os Guinness than watching TBN, we would have a group of people who could intelligently and articulately argue this point before it ever got the 9th US C.C.A.

There will always be God haters. Just as there will always be those who hate in the name of God. By our society dumbing down our kids as to what is and is not in the Constitution, rulings like this are no surprise.

Personally, I think this is just another sign that Christians have abdicated being an influence on their society with a fortress mentality. That is, we need more believers in all areas of law, media, the universities, everywhere if we are indeed going to be the Salt and Light Jesus compelled us to be.

For me, I do it with and writing software that saves lives...

I'll predict right now that all these various "separation of church-n-state" cases will 'blow-up' in the face of those who are anti-God. Because at some point, some clever lawyer is going to successfully argue that athiesm _IS_ a religion ... and when that happens, there will be an entire backlog court history to prove that the U.S.Gov't has been actively endorsing _ITS_ tennants.

You heard it here first."

Well, not surprisingly, I don't agree with many of Dean's comments (but I thank him for obliging me by sharing them). Quick responses:

First, I disagree with the argument that this is about being "anti-God" or attempting to install atheism as a state religion. There is a difference between making the Pledge --- or any other document --- not mention a deity, and making the Pledge explicitly declare the non-existence of any deity. When the court case comes around that wants to make the Pledge read "One nation, under no God, indivisible", then I'll be willing to agree that this is anti-God. Until then, I stand by the position that this is about making government God-neutral, leaving the practice of religion to individuals (as Dave points out so well above).

Second, I still believe that there is something inherently special about this particular case because it is an oath of allegiance. That's about as symbolicly important as it gets. And so I do think it is different than having "in God we trust" on our money. The note on my money doesn't bother me terribly much --- although I wish we didn't --- but the Pledge does trouble me, simply because, as I've written previously, it sends such an explicitly contradictory message to the one group that we should always try our hardest to be honest with - our children.

And third, I think the cry of judicial activism is a bit overstated. If the Pledge had existed in this form for 200 years, coming down from the Founding Fathers, then perhaps it might be accurate to accuse the court of activism. But let's remember: the phrase is question was explicitly added by Congress in 1954. I would look at this less as judicial activism, and more as fixing a dumb law that should never have been passed by Congress in the first place.

One more thoughtful email from a reader I need to quote/post/respond to here, but that will come later...

Site redesign / relaunch status

Making great progress; the new design seems to be holding up well under the critical eye of those folks who voluntered to check it out in 'beta'. Most everything is done; a few more tweaks and then I'll tackle the (hopefully not too odious) task of converting my Blogspot posts.

The final conversion will occur over the weekend, so don't be surprised if the Blogspot site (here) starts doing funky things (which will be required for the conversion). If all goes well, I'll relaunch first thing Monday morning PST.

Also: I will not be doing an Ecosystem update this weekend; sorry. Only so much time in the day & my non-writing blogging time is full up with the conversion. There will be a new update next week/weekend.

If anyone is feeling particularly helpful, I'd love some pointers on the following:

a) Any warnings/gotchas about converting posts from Blogspot to MT
b) Suggestions on how best to create redirects so folks going to my old Blogspot pages will go to the new MT site

I could also still use a few more Beta examiners; the more the merrier. No requirements other than to look at the new site sometime over the next 72 hours and tell me what you think; if you're interested, drop me a line.

Ouch! Lileks couldn't make it to the panel either.

No InstaGuy, no BleatMan. That really sucks...

Instaguy (fresh from a failed attempt at heading to the blogging panel --- sorry about that Glenn!) - refers us to a challenge from TAPPED:

WE CAN'T BELIEVE THIS. You can say a lot of things about the Pledge of Allegiance ruling released the other day. But never did Tapped believe that anyone -- even Cal Thomas -- would say this:

"On the eve of our great national birthday party and in the aftermath of Sept. 11, when millions of us turned to God and prayed for forgiveness of individual and corporate sins and asked for His protection against future attacks, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has inflicted on this nation what many will conclude is a greater injury than that caused by the terrorists."

So although he hedges slightly, it seems that Thomas basically thinks the pledge ruling is worse than 9/11. This is simply stunning -- and at least as bad as dumb statments by Falwell/Robertson on the right or Chomsky on the left. The blogosphere ought to get itself whipped into a frenzy about this one.

Nah. Whipping and frenzying is not required for situations like this. They can be handled calmly, rationally, and dispassionately. Observe:

Mr. Thomas, you, sir, are an idiot. Good day.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

I want one of these.

Wow. I feel like I'm "flying blind". SiteMeter has been down all day, and I have no idea how many folks are visiting, or who's linking to me.

Is anyone out there?


Interesting lawsuit filed against Gator for (effectively) putting pop-up ads on websites that it doesn't own.

I'll wait for the Blogospheric Legal Eagles to weigh in on this one, but seems to me there's no case here. Gator's agreement is with its users; if they agree that they are willing to have ads be served while surfing, the people who own the sites they happen to visit don't seem to have much of a say about it.

Take an extreme example: What if I built a browser that had, covering the entire bottom half of a screen, a bigass add for Hair Club For Men. And I sold that browser to people to use.

So would the American Association of Sexy Bald Guys then have reason to sue me because people visiting their site with my new browser also see an add for the Hair Club? (Or try Ford on my browser and surfing to Toyatas site, if you want to keep it all strictly commercial).

Seems to me like that's exactly what Gator is doing, just in a more sophisticated fashion...

Suman Palit takes a break off from subcontinental politics to give us brilliant insight into the twisted and sad world of software development.

Been there, done that, my friend. I feel your pain.

And while I've got your attention, Suman: could you help me understand Pervez's little little changes --- minor, minor things, so tiny nobody will ever notice, honest --- that he'd like to make to Pakistan's Constitution? Like, oh, giving him the power to sack the (elected) PM and his cabinet and replace them with people he thinks are prettier?

CNN quotes a 'government document' as explaining: "The objective of the proposals ... is to prevent excessive concentration of authority, create a domain of state responsibility ... provide checks against precipitate or autocratic use of authority..."


Call me crazy, but I'm going to take a wild guess and say that you're not going to tell me that they restore your faith that Musharaf is a paragon of virtue and democratic values...

Wow. I actually think VodkaPundit is flat-out wrong on an issue. That doesn't happen too often.

He's right when he says that a functioning society requires manners and understanding; but he's flat out wrong when he applies that principle to the Pledge case.

It's a secular society, Stephen. Either you agree with that principle --- in which case the ruling makes sense --- or you don't, in which case I'll be expecting you to show up at a church / mosque / synagogue of my choice this weekend (and yup, that means you have to miss the Blogger Bash).

The attitude of some folks towards this fellow seems to be "Siddown and shaddup; what's the big deal about one little phrase?"

To be clear: Stephen's position is that everyone involved in this case --- from Congress who enacted the "Under God" clause to the fellow bringing the suit to the appeals court --- are idiots, for not 'shrugging off the little stuff'. Which is indeed a more sensible position than just bashing the guy bringing the suit; Stephen seems to be squarely with the "it's not a big deal one way or another" crowd.

But it is a big deal, and now more than ever. The man filing on behalf of his daughter shouldn't have dropped the case after 9/11 -- as some has suggested -- he should have pursued it with even more vigor. Because we are at war with religious facism --- a point that the Blogosphere, at least, has become relatively clear about for some time. We are at war with what happens when religious ideology runs amok and becomes all-consuming.

Do I think the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge is the first step towards a Taliban-like government? Of course not. But that's a strawman argument. The real argument is that if we are a secular society --- and I for one hope we are --- then we should damned well act like one. It is a matter of principle. And like many matters of principle, sometimes they involve things that are trivial on their face, but symbolicly, extremely important.

Take a step back and remember, folks: what we're talking about is, de facto, an oath which is sworn by young children every day in which they state their dedication to this country. Now, there's an interesting debate to be had on whether that is a good idea in the first place.

But geez, if you're going to have such an oath, I think it's pretty important that you make it represent the true ideals of our society. The "under God" phrase in the pledge has been teaching kids for decades (me included) that the idea that the U.S. is secular has always come with a wink-wink nudge-nudge; of course we're secular, it says, but in a very, you know, Judeo-Christian kind of way.

The decision may have been lousy law (it sounds like it was, based on prior judgements), and it may be struck down as soon as when the full Appeals court sits on it. But it was still right.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Blogging has been light, and it's late and I'm tired. But I feel the obligation to catch up a bit here, so here's the quick capsule Bear Truth on all the latest issues:

Bush Speech: Dug it --- groovy riffs and a beat you can dance to, all the way from Ramallah to Riyadh.

Lilo and Stitch: Still haven't seen it, damnit.

Pledge of Allegiance Ruling: Two thumbs up. People are saying this is trivial, but it's not. Given that we are in the middle of a war against religious facism, I think its vital to refresh our own memories that we are a secular society. I have no opinion on the legal basis (or lack thereof) of the ruling, but it feels right to me. And to those who say "what's next, getting rid of 'in God we trust' on money? I say "yup", and good riddance. The sign says "shall make no law respecting" and I for one would be happier if we took it for what it meant. The whole "but God is as generic concept" argument is nonsense --- just ask a polytheist.

Worldcom: Hey, everybody makes mistakes. This one just had nine zeros after it.

World Cup Finals: Huh?

That is all.

Folks -

If you haven't done so already, you need to sign up to sponsor somebody in the Blogathon. Coming up on July 27, it's a marathon session where bloggers get "sponsors" to donate $$$ to charity in return for the bloggers pulling a 24-hour session of blogging (minimum one post per 30 minutes, if I understand correctly.)

I highly recommend jumping on the bandwagon of my good buddies Meryl Yourish and Lair Simon --- you can find more info on the charities they are sponsoring and how to sign up on their pages.

Go. Now !

A federal appeals court has ruled the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconsititutional as it endorses religion. (Found via InstaP)

Interesting. I seem to recall that the "under God" portion of the Pledge --- which I presume was the part causing the court heartburn --- was only added in recent times. I want to guess at the President, but I'll surely get it wrong --- but I think it was somewhere between 1950-1970. Little help, anyone?

Anyway, assuming the ruling stands, does that mean we should just go back to the old pledge, sans deity?

Update: Folks have written in to contribute that the year was 1954; the President was Eisenhower. Michael Hankamer also notes the following:

"This version of the Pledge of Allegiance was taken from the CNN website. Now I could be wrong, but it seems to me that CNN - and the Court (?) - has lost a comma.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

"Correctly, it should read:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Silly pro journos. "Professional Fact Checking" indeed...

Sir Reynolds, being a gentleman as well as a scholar, indicated to me that he'd rather I blog my info on the case of Judge Patterson and he'll link. So never one to refuse the InstaGuy, here it is, in slightly-less-edited-for-primetime form than usual (I'm low on time, so mostly just cutting & pasting from my email to Glenn):


OK Glenn, here's some additional info. (This will definitely teach me to keep my big mouth shut... or at least, it *should*):

1) I found a slightly more independent confirmation of some of the judge's remarks. Still clearly partisan, but at least it's not the actual parties to the case. ((I found this link via "End the War On Freedom")

Interestingly, the substance of the judge's remarks quoted are similar to the quote you found, but the language and phrasing are different.

2) To go for the even *less* objective source, I found Stanley's Senate election campaign homepage, and in particular, the subpage he's maintained on this
particular court case
. It includes a press release which appears to be the primary souce for the article you cited (it contains the exact quote you noted

3) Unfortunately, it sounds like a transcript of the court appearance in question won't be available for some time; Stanley's web site indicates they will post
it when it becomes available, but that it may not be on the web until August.

4) I've struck out on finding any more 'objective' sources... sorry. If I stumble across anything further I'll certainly pass it on.

ANYWAY: My conclusion on this is I am a bit more convinced of the accusations against this judge; Stanley's site makes some pretty compelling-looking
arguments. But I would still sure feel a lot better if I found a source *other* than one of the parties directly involved (or clearly biased to favor Stanley)
to document exactly what Judge Patterson said.

Sorry for the light (in other words, nonexistent) updates this morning; probably won't be much new until tonight. I just burned through my lunchtime blogging doing some additional research on the case of a judge in Denver who is alleged to have dissed the Constitution: believe it or not I'm just going to send you over to Glenn's site rather than repeating it here; I haven't blogged the issue myself and I've sent all my info to InstaGuy. You'll see an initial update with my skepticism on the quote, and probably another one will follow soon with the additional sources I dug up. (If you can't stand the suspense: I remain skeptical of the quote as I can't find a truly objective source to verify it, but am a bit more convinced than when I started out as Stanley (the accused in the case) appears to be making a fairly credible-looking argument against the judge...)

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Wanted: Beta testers for new site design

Folks -

Yes, I'm getting real serious about this site redesign. And yes, I'm equally serious about trying to ensure the design works well for all users. Therefore, I'm looking for folks to volunteer to check out the new design and verify that it looks passable on your platform/browser combo.

I'm running Windows on all my machines, and have IE5, IE6, and Mozilla 1.0 covered for browsers.

If you are running anything else (particularly Netscape on anything, and Linux with any browser) and are willing to spend a few brief minutes poking around the new site pre-launch, drop me an email and I'll point you at the URL.

Beta-time will likely be later this week; it's close but not quite soup yet.

Thanks all...

In case anybody had any doubts remaining that Colin got his hat handed to him with Bush's speech last night, here's a revealing quote from Raghida Dergham, senior diplomatic correspondent for the Arab newspaper Al Hayat, during her appearance on WBUR radio's The Connection this morning (RealAudio here):

"Instead of listening to his Secretary of State, Colin Powell who actually --- two weeks ago I guess it was when I interviewed him --- I sat with him for a half hour and he had a very extensive discussion with me on what should we be expecting of the American strategic policy. And everything he said --- practically almost everything has been reversed by the President. That is quite embarassing and its an insult to our Secretary of State too for the President to just send him out on a limb and then [come] out with this so-called strategic policy and side with the Prime Minister of Israel."

Yeah, I doubt Colin's having too good a day today.

Paging Tim Noah: The O'Neil Death Watch never quite worked out: is it time for a Powell Watch ?

(To be clear: although Ms. Dergham works for Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab, Arabic language newspaper, her bio indicates that she is an American, so the "our Secretary of State" comment is not the Arab Freudian slip that it might appear to be).

PS - Unfortunately, WBUR doesn't appear to have a transcript for the program posted, so you'll have to rely on the RealAudio. The quoted comment is at about nineteen minutes in.

It has been pointed out to me (not that I didn't know it already) that as we add more and more blogs to the Ecosystem, the ratio between the microbes vs. the elite non-microbes is growing increasingly large.

So, at some point, it would seem logical to either increase the size of the higher levels of the food chain, or add more levels.

So (2): Any suggestions for new levels we could insert? They must of course fit the theme, even though the existing names already make Meryl grumpy (she's just a big meanie anyway).

Send your ideas here ...

I Have a Dream... Set My Pixels Free!

Significant progress being made on the site redesign. It is now becoming actively painful for me to look at the current site, given how lousy it looks, and how nice the new version is turning out.

Patience, friends! Soon your eyeballs shall no longer be assaulted with this miserable excuse for a design!

Cool! John over at Right Wing News has a roundup of the "10 Best 'Unknown' Political Bloggers".

I know a few folks on the list (and agree they're good 'uns); others are new to me. Go check 'em out for yourself.

And note: John indicates he's using the Ecosystem list to identify bloggers not getting enough attention --- which as I've noted, is exactly one purpose I hoped folks would use it for.

Above and beyond the narcististic self-referential enjoyment quotient of it, of course.

Kofi still doesn't get it:

"Reacting to a speech today by United States President George Bush, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the US leader's reaffirmation that the outcome of the Middle East peace process should be the establishment of a viable and credible State of Palestine - based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 - and security for Israel."

Actually, I suspect Kofi got it just fine; he's a bright guy. But I don't think he quite knows how to deal with the "it" of an American administration that refuses to play by the usual Middle East Rules: i.e., treating murderers like negotiating partners.

At the risk of stepping on Charles' (extremely competent) toes, I draw your attention to MEMRI's translation of the Palestinian "open letter" regarding attacks on civlians within Israel.

This feels slightly like old news this week, but I recommend it nonetheless, as MEMRI provides some additional detail and background on the two versions of the communique that were issued --- and the reasons for changes that appeared in the second version. According to MEMRI, the second version of the letter was published on June 21st, it included a new statement at the end:

"Needless to say, all the signatories to this communiqué strongly condemn all measures implemented by the Israeli repression against our people, including the policy of incursions, assassinations, and siege, and stress that the occupation is the basis of the tragedy to which our people is subject and that resistance is a right and an obligation."

This was apparently added after the letter was criticized for being too one-sided (!) by prominent Palestinians, including Palestinian Legislative Council member and Fatah leadership member Hatem Abd Al-Qader, who said:

"This communiqué is not acceptable to the Fatah movement. It is an unbalanced communiqué because it refers to operations against Israeli citizens but not to crimes being perpetrated by Sharon against the Palestinian people. The [signatories] should have also focused on these crimes. If these operations are terrorist, then what Sharon is carrying out is also terror, and terror cannot be looked at with only one eye."

MEMRI provides further information on an interview with Al-Qader (unfortunate name):

The interviewer proceeded to ask, "What are the conditions for stopping the martyrdom operations?" Abd Al-Qader replied: "Concrete efforts could be invested in stopping these operations if Israel would commit to five things:"

"First, it must undertake to stop the aggression against the Palestinian people ? that is, stop the incursions. Second, it must withdraw from the occupied Palestinian areas. Third, it must lift the siege from the Palestinian people living inside prisons. Fourth, it must release all [Palestinian] prisoners. Fifth, the international community must provide us with guarantees that [we will be able] to actualize our right to maintain resistance in the 1967 areas..."

The interviewer then stated: "But President Yasser Arafat issued a communiqué in which he demanded a stop to the operations; he even attacked them."

Abd Al-Qader responded: "The ones who carry out these operations are local leaders... Even the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades decisions depend today on the political situation... The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is Fatah's military wing, is not subject to a central decision of the political leadership... Arafat has almost no control and the one who bears the responsibility is Israel..."(3)

Ah. So this fellow is empowered to provide a (quite detailed) list of conditions for what Israel must do before the killing of children stops. But of course he and his thug of a boss have no control over the terrorists!

I am rather pleased that Bush's speech yesterday makes it increasingly likely that we won't have to listen to this bullshit anymore.

PS - BTW, I don't link to Charles much, mainly because I hold the belief that everybody knows that his site is the place to go for the latest debunking of Islamist nonsense. But for the record: he's required regular reading.

If you are looking for a downright amusing attempt to spin Bush's speech yesterday into a positive endorsement of Palestinian policy, check out NPR's RealAudio interview yesterday with Palestinian representative Hassan Abdel Rahman, in which even mild-mannered Robert Siegel appears to be struggling to contain the urge to giggle as Rahman whirls round and round and round.

Mr. Rahman clearly had his reality-distortion generator cranking at full blast when he listened to Bush's speech; individual quotes don't do him justice, so go listen to the whole thing...

(whoops, there's one of those nasty links again...)

All you radio scanner freaks out there: beware! Your kind ain't welcome in the Queen's Kingdom.

BBC news reports:

The safety of the Royal Family and top politicians is at risk because classified security details are being published on the internet, it has been revealed.

Radio scanning enthusiast Paul Wey is intercepting Special Branch and other communications and publishing their details on internet news groups, BBC Radio 4's Today programme has learned.

Apparently, Wey has a scanner and has found some of the interesting frequencies used by police and emergency services in Britain, and is publishing information on them on the Internet.

The gov'ment doesn't take to kindly to this:

An intelligence source said Mr Wey was a "menace", whose actions could help terrorists commit atrocities and may have already been used to counter police operations.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the government must consider banning radio scanners, which are currently illegal to use but not to own...

The intelligence source said Mr Wey and his website were "a severe danger to the public and to national security". ..The source called for the site to be closed down, as well as for scanners to be made illegal. She said: "They can only be used for illegal activity. It's similar to saying to somebody: 'It's OK to have a gun, as long as you don't put bullets in it'."


Point The First: Ms Unnamed Intelligence Source may want to rethink her classification of dangers to public and national security. I would submit to her that the danger to public and national security is that the Special Branch is using open frequencies to transmit sensitive information. Mr. Wey makes this point himself: "Mr Wey suggested that his activities could prompt the authorities to take better care of security - for instance by ensuring that Special Branch's radio equipment was updated as it should be." Well, uh, yeah.

Point The Second: Scanners can only be used for illegal activity, you say? Well, tell that to the good folks over at, and the many citizens of Colorado who are reading Pinecam's summaries of emergency service scanner transmissions to stay informed of the Hayman Fire's progress, and now, are even listening into those same scanner transmissions via a dedicated RealAudio stream.

You may conclude that Pinecam's zeal to inform the Colorado public is --- well, overzealous --- but I don't think anyone for a second would accuse them of any nefarious intent.

Oh, and if you're looking for a link to Mr. Wey's site on the BBC site, don't bother --- it's not there. Apparently he's got some deep-linking policy that prohibits anyone linking to his site without prior written, wait, I'm confusing him with someone else...

Monday, June 24, 2002

Since I'm already clearly making trouble today (what with calling for an American Empire and all) I might as well keep it up. I'm sure this one has been suggested before elsewhere, but how about this for a solution to the "Palestine" question:

Israel formally and unilaterally returns the West Bank and Gaza to Egypt and Jordan, and declares that those Arab states have 30 days to shut down terrorism in the territories. After that time, any acts of terrorism launched from the former territories will be considered acts of war by the respective nation now holding them, to which Israel (and hey, let's go all the way, and the United States) will respond to with the full force of arms.

Palestinian statehood would then become a purely internal Arab matter; if the Egyptians and Jordanians are comfortable with that risk, then by all means, they should set up Mr. Arafat with his own little state.

But with this plan, they bear the full price should the risk prove unjustified...

A new American Confederacy

Jackson Diehl points out the (obvious) contradictions in the Bush policy of condemning corrupt, dictatorial Arab regimes when they happen to be run by Yassir Arafat, but looking the other way when they are run by our "allies" in today's WaPo:

So why not press political reform not just on the homeland of Hamas and Islamic Jihad but on those of al Qaeda -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen? Because policymakers have concluded that it's not a good idea to be so aggressive. They say the consensus is that liberal reform is a security interest of the United States and that the status quo of supporting Arab autocrats in exchange for oil and security cooperation is no longer workable. But the prevailing view is that it would be counterproductive to move too fast, that policy has to be aimed at achieving gradual change over years or even decades...

Why shouldn't Arab states be pressed to commit themselves formally to guaranteeing basic political and religious rights and to the creation of an international mechanism, such as the former Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to hold them accountable?"

Why indeed.

There was an argument to be made, years back, that in a coldly realpolitik sense, that leaving corrupt tyrants in place in the Middle East was the correct policy for at least the United States' short-term interests. They kept the oil flowing, and didn't pose any threat to us, so why in the world would we risk all that just to guarantee some Arabs a decent life?

The argument was never a very good one, but now, it's a completely stupid one. "Asymmetric warfare" imposes a new reality on the planetary political landscape: and that is that if there is even a single country of modest means anywhere that harbors and supports lunatic murderers like al Qaeda, then those murders will continue to be able to inflict massive damage --- to lives, to property, to economies --- worldwide.

We all know this, deep down and instinctively. But it has not filtered through everyone's rational minds yet to allow the realization that this creates a tremendously different world than the one that we previously lived in. Because it is now in the United States' direct, selfish interest, to ensure that every single nation on this planet provides a stable, democratic government to its people where freedom is respected, and the rule of law enforced. This used to be the stuff of idealists : now, it is the bread-and-butter of hard-nosed cynics and pragmatists.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any nation willing to step up to the plate to address this problem, and start toppling these regimes. For most, "national sovereignty" --- as if that concept has any honor or dignity without the sovereignty of the people living under a nation's rule --- remains a holy concept that must not be violated, regardless of the barbarism a particular "sovereign" chooses to inflict upon their society.

And so, as has often been the case in the past century, it's left to the United States. We will accomplish this task, or it will not be done --- with dire consequences for the world, I fear.

Let's not mince words: we are talking about using all means necessary --- support for dissident groups, sponsoring coups, assassinations, and flat-out military invasions -- to establish what could be called a new American Empire across a swath of twenty or thirty countries. Trust me, if you weren't thrilled about American Imperialism during the Cold War, you are going to absolutely hate this.

But Empire is not really the correct word to use here, although it will be used by those who oppose this effort. The appropriate word is "Confederacy".

Yes, some interesting resonances with American history there, but nonetheless, the term fits. Dictionary definition (from Encarta ) : "an alliance of people, states, or parties for some common purpose, or the people, states, or parties in an alliance."

This is what we need. An alliance of states that recognize the threat that faces us --- such as our ally Britain --- and of those states which have been 'flipped' from threats to allies --- such as Afghanistan. We can turn enemies into allies, given time --- we proved that at the close of World War II, and we must brush the dust off those skills for this conflict.

I've said it before in this space: there is much work to do. President Bush has taken the right first steps with his concept of an "Axis of Evil" and the idea that you are "with us or against us". But he needs to put action behind the words, and bring these ideas together to form a coherent policy with the express goal of ending the regimes of all those who would support the murder of innocents, and oppose the rights of all human beings, across the globe.

You can focus on the selfish benefits to the United States in living in a world where these threats are ended, or if you prefer, you can focus on the morality of bringing democracy and freedom to people who have neither. Either view is fine, for the days when realpolitik was in conflict with the goals of human rights are over.

They are now one in the same.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Another week, another run of the ole Ecosystem.

Revised data is up; no major changes to the process this week. Just added a few new blogs on request.

Yes, I'm still trying to automate it; yes, it still takes too damned long, and yes, there's still some bugs in there (although for the record, with the exception of last Saturday's screwup, I have yet to see anyone present actual data to prove a bug.... yes, that is a challenge ! )

Anyway, enjoy, don't take it all too seriously (defined as all values of seriously where seriously > 0 ) and take care...


Update: I just uploaded the raw .csv data file of links extracted (unfiltered, so it includes links from blogs-to-themselves as well as links from blogs-to-URLs-not-on-the-list-of-blogs, both of which get filtered out); the link is here. Please please please do not click on that unless you are seriously attempting to debug; it is 600K even zipped and my bandwidth is running low. Thanks!

Wanted: A Few Good Fonts

OK, I'm surprised that I haven't been able to find this information yet myself, so I'll put out a call for help.

I'm looking for information regarding which fonts are available on which browsers and platforms. In my dream, I'd like to see a table that lists Times Roman, and then tells me which of the major platforms/browsers have that font. And so on, for every other font in existence (or at least the biggies).

This is, of course, related to the redesign. I hate boring fonts --- but I hate unreadable sites even more, so I'm trying to do the best job I can coming up with a slick layout & snappy fonts, but I don't want it to just look snappy to me and look like crap to everyone else...

Anyway, so far I've struck out in finding much info beyond the basics that Arial and Verdana are good. Anybody with a link or two, send 'em my way, please.
al Qaeda gophers tape, declares support for Bush

Yet another al Qaeda spokesminion popped up out of his gopher hole today just long enough to praise Allah & pass an audiotape.

I skimmed the CNN report briefly... al Qaeda organization in tact... blah blah... bin Laden alive... blah blah blah... more attacks coming... blah blah blah. All of it Allah willing, of course.

But the last bit really caught my eye, where the spokescreature referred to the controversy around how much Bush knew pre-September 11:

" is a cover for the attack of the Democratic Party on the Republican Party after the America president announced that he knew about the September 11 attacks and big economic problems that the American government is suffering from."

Is this fellow just being incoherent, or did he just declare that he's on Bush's side in the who-knew-what-when argument?

Damn, now if Bush can just get Andrea Yates and Charles Manson to endorse him, he'll have the coveted psycho-murders trifecta. 2004 will be a lock.

Maybe Daschle needs to offer to build bin Laden a new cave or something; he's falling way behind here...

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Everybody's favorite ex-D.C.-bureaucrat-turned-Ivory-Tower-academic delivers a thorough thwacking to The Nation's William Greider, who seems to have come to the interesting (though sadly not unique) conclusion that what's bad for America must be good for the world.


The scandals of Enron et al., unfortunately, must compete with another story--the war on terrorism--that's more exciting, and threatening, than dirty bookkeeping or the looted billions. The two crises are intertwined in perverse ways. The smug triumphalism of Bush's unilateralist war policy could be abruptly deflated by economic events--which probably would be a good thing for world affairs, since Washington couldn't run roughshod over others...


I don't know which is stranger: the anticipatory schadenfreude at the fantasy of U.S. unemployment climbing toward 15 percent, or the strange and ill-thought-out chain of logic by which a decline in the value of the dollar is supposed to produce a domestic depression and a shift in U.S. foreign policy...This guy was, twenty years ago, one of our best and most incisive reporters. Now his chains of logic snap at the first touch, and his overriding hope appears to be that the flaws in the American economy manifest themselves by throwing a lot of people out of work, so that "the fashionable boastfulness about America... [will] implode..."

Advantage: DeLong !

And here's a link to the Nation story, since as much as we love Prof D, he still hasn't quite got the hang of the ole' link-to-the-story-you're-spanking thing...

Update: Prof. Delong responds to my gentle chiding: "Hey! I didn't realize until I read your weblog that the _Nation_ piece was online. You see, I read it in what is called 'paper'--I realize you may be unfamiliar with the concept. Every week or so, this 48 page flimsy flexible thing arrives at my doorstep... kinda like a regular email but kinda not. Anyway, thanks. I've added the link on my website."

Bizarre. Next he'll be raving about how he chissels his grocery list into granite tablets...

The Hayman fire has claimed its first lives, if indirectly.

Four firefighters died last night in a highway crash on I-70 as they were travelling in a convoy en route to the site from Oregon.

My sympathies go out to their comrades, friends and family.

I think yesterday was the first full day since I started blogging with no posting whatsoever.

Sorry folks. Expect light blogging this weekend as well, because a) nobody seems to visit on the weekends b) I have family in town and c) I'm focusing energies on the site redesign for our upcoming relaunch.

I'll probably drop a few tidbits here and there that catch my eye, but no Deep Thought, I would expect. You'll all have to go figure out your own moral systems for a few days...


Thursday, June 20, 2002

Update on the "I don't like Monday(s)" front (see here for background):

(warning: link has sound)

The image above come's from Amnesty International's website in their section on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Check out their latest full story; it's a masterpiece of moral equivalence.

Welcome home to Carl Walz and Dan Bursch --- new holders of the record for longest continuous stay in orbit for Americans after 196 days in space --- and to the rest of STS-111's crew.

From :

FBI: Terrorists may try to arrive by sea

The FBI has received reports that al Qaeda terrorists may be making their way toward Southern California aboard a merchant ship, but has no evidence to back up those reports, the bureau said Wednesday.

The reports indicate that as many as 40 al Qaeda members may have boarded a merchant vessel in the past month and were headed for the United States, FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said. The bureau has placed a "very high priority" on determining their accuracy, he said.

He stressed that the FBI has not gathered any evidence thus far to support the claims and said no terror alert has been issued.

McLaughlin declined to provide details of the reports, but said Catalina Island -- about 23 miles off the California coast near Los Angeles -- was mentioned as a possible destination.

I find this more than a little personally relevant, given that I can see Catalina out my window.

SoCal warbloggers, unite! I say we meet 'em on the beaches and bore them to death with our overblown rhetoric... (invite Kaus too; get him to bring one of his welfare reform pieces and that'll really do them in...)

PS - On a more serious note, I can't think of a more bizarre spot for al Qaeda to pick to deliver 40 (presumably Middle Eastern) men and expect them to go unnoticed. Catalina is a tiny place, with just a few (one?) towns that are entirely tourist traps and tons of really really expensive homes. And the only way between it and the mainland are regular ferries. (Picture forty men of Middle Eastern appearance buying tickets for the ferry from Catlina when nobody at the dock remembers seeing them come to Catlina). If these guys had a boat of their own, I suppose they could sail from Catalina to LA, but then what's the point of stopping in Catalina in the first place?

I've seen a few links to my post below regarding my loss of faith in the Palestinian culture which say something like "N.Z. Bear has given up on a Palestinian state."

To be crystal clear: I've given up on a Palestinian state for now.

When the Palestinians rebuild their culture to value life over death, then I'll be there with open arms to welcome them into the club of civilized peoples --- and support their aspirations for a state.

But at the moment, I'm not holding my breath for that to happen anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Okay, the poll on whether the Hall of Link Sluttage should be renamed has been up for a while, and it's getting, well, old. And besides, I have a new poll question I want to put up. So down it comes!

But first, to recap the results:

The Question: Should the Hall of Link Sluttage Be Renamed?

The responses:

5.0 % - Yes, because it's offensive
19.0 % - Yes, because it's just not that funny
25.6 % - No, it's amusing. Don't change it.
50.4 % - No, it's not amusing, but don't change it just to annoy the PC crowd.

One can draw many conclusions from these fascinating pieces o' data:

1) TTLB readers are a perverse lot, given that more than half indicate that despite finding the HoLS to be a chuckle-free zone, they want me to keep it that way just to annoy other people. That's just not very nice.

2) The vast majority of folks don't think the name is amusing; 74.4 % .

3) Only a meager 5% of TTLB readers are easily offended. I'd like to say this comes as a shock, but...

Anyway, I never claimed this was a democracy, so I haven't yet decided what to do with the silly thing. You'll just have to wait for the site redesign.

But on to bigger and better things. Speaking of the site redesign:

I'm considering investing some effort in figuring out this RSS thing, which I know next to zip about. Some kind of dark magic whereby folks can subscribe to the site, from what I understand. So anyway, the new poll question is meant to gauge interest in such a feature, and not incidentally, also give me a vague idea of how many folks are checking in on TTLB regularly.

So go vote already !

Reader Vachon wrote in to comment on my proposal for a moral code based on freedom:

I'm wondering, Mr. Bear, if what you are describing as freedom might be better described as opportunity? It goes without saying that "equal freedom" is a non-sequiter: freedom is (at least in this country) completely dependent on economic status, physical health, emotional health, race, gender, etc. Even saying "Dirty Bomb" in an email might endanger my freedom.

So maybe what I would prefer is opportunity, and equal opportunity for all at that. If I had the same opportunity to access excellect health care as say, someone with a General Motors health plan, I would certainly have more freedom. If I had the opportunity to attend college based on my intellect rather than my wallet, I would have more opportunity. If I could lobby my congresspeople the way, say, Enron did, I would have more opportunity to have a government more responsive to me. You get my drift. Freedom sounds great unless you are in that peculiar place where freedom just means having enough money to put gas in the car to go to work to get enough money to put gas in the car. I won't even begin to wonder if a schizophrenic has less freedom than a manic-depressive, etc. But with equal opportunity, every schizophrenic would have the same opportunity to access those medicines that would give him or her the most freedom.

Regardless of whether you call it "freedom" or "opportunity", the concept I am attempting to put forth does encompass the kind of choices that Vachon brings up. When I describe what I call freedom, it's important to note that this is much broader concept than the traditional, patriotic ideal of freedom that we generally think of in America. I am genuinely trying to describe an actual physical reality that exists: what paths can a person follow given their current state?

So while a superficial reading of my earlier post might lead some to suspect that I'm simply arguing a traditional libertarian or even anarchist position -- both of which are ideologies that claim to maximize freedom --- that isn't what I'm proposing at all. I completely agree with Vachon that there are many, many factors that must be considered when calculating a person's "freedom quotient" per my definition: not just those traditionally American values as freedom of speech and religion, but also the simple freedoms that come from having sufficient money, a home, and being well fed.

The moral code I am proposing does not nececssarily lead directly to an anarchist position: quite the contrary, as I would argue that in a true anarchy, the net freedom of such a society is rather low. Nor does it necessarily argue for a pure capitalist position; if it can be argued that government regulation limits the freedom of some entities in a society, but increases the freedom of a much larger set, then such policies can be justified as moral in this system.

A moral code based on freedom can well lead to a support for government policies that even lean towards the socialist, such as universal healthcare. But to be "moral" by this code, such a policy would need to demonstrate that it provides a net increase in freedom to those affected by it (assessing both those who benefit directly and those who pay for it). At a simplistic level, if universal healthcare genuinely provides millions of people with a higher level of health, then I would argue that it has increased their freedom -- for certainly a healthy person has more opportunities and choices than one who is ill (or dead). And if the cost were minor, and borne by those who could afford to pay it, they would suffer a decrease in freedom (from having less money), but one that might be offset by the net increase of the beneficiaries. The question to answer when using this moral yardstick is which is more significant, then net increase or the net loss?

Adopting a moral code to "make people free" as opposed to trying to "make people happy" doesn't guarantee easy answers, by any means. There can still be massive disagreement over what policies would, indeed, maximize freedom. But I still claim that such disagreements are far, far better than those that arise when radically different groups of people attempt to enforce their vision of "happiness" on each other...

BBC News has a fascinating article on Persian weblogs --- including many from authors within Iran itself.

Apparently, there are about 1,200 Persian-language blogs out there (!!!). If you don't believe me, check out Hossein Derakhshan's weblog and review his blogroll (the blog is in Farsi, but the blogroll is labeled in English).

I've mentioned before that I have a particular interest in Iran. Unfortunately, this discovery is more a tease than anything else: for though I am progressing slowly on spoken Farsi, I have little hope or intention of ever mastering the written form.

I would, however, be very interested to learn of any Iranian bloggers who are publishing in English... so if that's you (or someone you know), please, drop me a line.

Jason Rylander notes the annnoucement of a course in blogging from UC Berkeley's school of journalism, and asks whether that makes us all professors.

Of course not, Jason. We have practical and deep experience in the subject at hand: that totally disqualifies us to be professors at most Universities...

From FoxNews (courtesy of Mr. McGehee ) :

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

WASHINGTON - Moroccan authorities have arrested a senior Al Qaeda recruiter known as "The Bear" who is suspected of plotting attacks against Western interests in Morocco, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Abu Zubair al-Haili, a Saudi who weighs more than 300 pounds, is considered among the top 25 Al Qaeda lieutenant of Usama bin Laden, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Let's be clear on this:

1. I am not from that part of the Arabian penninsula currently dominated by the House of Saud.

2. I weigh considerably less than 300 pounds

3. I remain at liberty.

You know, you would think I could come up with something funnier than that to say about this, but I'm just not up to humorous comparisons between myself and a murderous thug. Excuse me, alleged murderous thug. Maybe after I get my coffee.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Armed Liberal has given up on the idea of a Palestinian state.

And for me also, this week has been a turning point. Maybe it was the compelling argument of why a Palestinian state can't possibly exist now, or maybe it was the latest atrocity. (Did anyone check to see if Arafat's ritual condemnation came after, or before the bombing? )

Or maybe I'm just tired of the stupid bastards destroying their own lives and striving to take as many of those around them with them as possible.

There are decent and moral Palestinians; men and women who do not wish death and destruction on their neighbors; who want only to live normal lives in peace. I am convinced of this; I have to be, for to imagine an entire people so depraved as to be without possibility of salvation is a thought so black I can't contain it in my mind. So I cling to that article of faith that there are Palestinians who do not regard the deliberate murder of children as a valid expression of "resistance".

But it seems self-evident that at this point, there simply aren't enough of them to matter.

I don't wish death or even suffering upon the entire Palestinian people. I don't even want them driven out of the West Bank and Gaza, as some have suggested --- and not in jest, I suspect.

But I am past the point of believing that they, as a people at this point in time, have a right to a state. Nor can they be trusted with even the basic freedoms a civilized society should expect and aspire to.

Israel's policy of moderation --- and that is what it has been, despite what you've heard --- has failed. And it will continue to fail so long as Israel allows the pseudostates which the PA has created in the West Bank and Gaza to continue to fester.

It is not time for yet another incursion into the territories, to be followed by a pullout in a few days. It is time for Israel to take full control of the West Bank and Gaza. All of it. And it is time for the complete and total disarming of the Palestinian people. No armed PA security force(s). No militias. No police. No guns, no bombs, no mortars, nothing. Israel should sweep in, and when they do, they should pack for a long stay. For they will have to be there a long, long time.

The Palestinian people will suffer; many of them will be innocent. They will have few of the basic freedoms that they should as human beings expect. They will live in a true police state. And for this, I am sorry. But while I remain sympathetic to the individual Palestinians who are truly blameless, my tolerance for the vile behavior of the Palestinian society is at an end. It is a sick and diseased creature in its current state, and it should be put down. In time, perhaps, a new culture can be grown in its place; one that satisfies the aspirations of the Palestinian people while not reflexively bringing murder to its neighbors.

To be clear: this is not a call to genocide. It is not even a call to violence. Where Palestinian society calls for death to reign down upon their enemies the Jews, I know that the Jewish state will continue to demonstrate that it is indeed a civilized nation, worthy of those terms. There will be no massacres. There will be no mass graves. There will be incidents, there will be mistakes. People will die who should not have. But they will, on balance, be just that: mistakes. Not the deliberate acts of barbarism that the Palestinian culture has elected to make its tool of choice.

And what should we, America, be doing while this housecleaning is taking place? Fixing the real source of the problem: the corrupt and twisted regimes that finance psychotics like Hamas in the first place. Syria. Saudia Arabia. Iraq.

The conventional wisdom has been that once the Palestinian question is resolved, we will have a freer hand to work through the other issues plaguing the region.

The conventional wisdom has it exactly backwards. Even with the brutal course I propose of a full Israeli takeover of the territories, there will still be terror and death so long as the money and arms continue to flow from the regimes who benefit from such violence.

Even Israel does not have the might to address all of these petty fiefdoms of blood all at once.

But I know a nation that does.

Let us hear no pathetic cries of "national sovereignty" and "American imperialism". Let us ignore those who will rise to defend the tyrants and the murderers out of reflexive allergy to "Western hegemony".

And let us simply hope that our society has the collective will to know what must be done, and to do it.

Diana Hsieh has yet another bizarre twist in the cause of the Hayman fire. Apparently, the woman accused of setting the fire is now being accused of doing so deliberately --- prosecutors claim to have evidence that contradicts her prior statement, in which she claimed she started a small fire to burn a disturbing letter from her estranged husband which then escaped out of control.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. In that order.

Moral codes are tricky things. Dangerous, even. Even with the most straightforward of intentions, after a few generations or so of interpretation, they have a tendency to spin wildly out of control. You start out with a set of rules that are meant to ensure that people treat each other decently, and you end up with people blugeoning each other to death with your holy tablets.

In our world, the nice thing about moral codes is the same thing that's nice about standards: there's so many to choose from. In today's exercise, I humbly propose to examine some of the prevailing moral codes that currently bestride the planet, and in the end, propose a new --- or at least, newly argued --- one. Heady stuff, indeed -- so let's see if I can firewalk these coals without getting too badly burned.

The first option most folks consider when shopping for a moral code is what we in the software business like to call a "packaged system". Take it out of the shrink-rap, a bit of installation, and you're ready to run --- soup to nuts. No muss, no fuss, no thought required --- or encouraged. The biggest vendors in this particular market are of course the major established religions of the world. Islam, Christianity, Judiasm: all come complete with often surprisingly detailed instructions for exactly how to tell right from wrong; good from evil. Happily, the Big Three tend to agree on which category the vast majority of things fall into. Less happily, the small percentage of things which they disagree on has fed enough hard feelings to keep the planet pretty well engulfed in war for the past few millenia.

The Big Three aren't the only game in town, of course: there are more religions begging to tell you exactly how to live your life than you can shake a stick at. (Just try it sometime, you'll run out of shake or stick real fast). But religions aren't the only packaged systems out there by any means.

You can also get all the benefits of a packaged system without any of that tedious God stuff, if that kind of thing troubles you. Marxism, Socialism --- pretty much anything ending in "ism" will get you up and running with a set of ideas that are meant to be taken as fundamental truths; ideas that you can live your life by.

But what if the idea of a packaged system doesn't appeal? Not a problem: roll your own.

The folks who roll their own moral codes are generally an ornery, sometimes even antisocial lot. Usually, they've flat-out rejected the Big 3's pretentions to own universal truth; often they label themselves agnostic, atheist, or even (the grumpier ones) antitheist. And they don't necessarily like the idea of the "isms", either; the idea of having their moral system handed to them on a plate makes them inherently suspicious. Unfortunately, by telling you what they are against, they haven't actually told you what they are for.

So how do most people who roll their own moral code do it? Usually, they start with a fundamental principle which they feel is the most important to uphold in their lives. And it seems that however they phrase it, most folks tend to pick the same general idea: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or: Do no harm.
Or: maximize happiness in the world. Make people happy.

These all reduce down to the same basic fundamental concept --- and its the same one generally followed by those who haven't ever even thought in any explicit terms about their own moral code: to maximize "happiness" in the world, and minimize "suffering". Do good, not bad.

This sounds great, on a superficial level. But I am here to argue that it's an absolutely lousy foundation to build a moral framework on.

The biggest problem is that "happiness" and "suffering" are totally and unavoidably subjective measures. Nobody is ever going to be able to define human happiness in a way that would allow an objective scale of it. You wouldn't even know where to start. Is physical pleasure happiness? Emotional joy? Which is more important? How about satisfaction from a job well done?

It's a mess. Most people don't even stand a chance of assessing their own happiness -- let alone judging what makes other people happy. And yet that basic assumption --- that you can objectively assess what will make other people happy --- lies at the heart of the moral systems on which a very large number of people on our fair planet base their decisions on, day in and day out.

So what happens? You end up with perfectly well meaning people --- people following that nice moral code --- who disagree about what happiness is. And guess what? They start thinking that they can decide what will make other people happy. Unfortunately, those other people don't particularly like the idea of happy that the first group of people came up with for them, which of course makes the first group pissed off that the ungrateful bastards aren't appreciating all the happy they've got in store for them --- and soon enough, before you know it you're back to people getting whacked over the head with stone tablets.

OK, smartguy, you say, that's all fine and good. But it's a moral system, man, it's got to be subjective. Haven't you ever heard of moral relativism?

Shudder. Let's just say we've met, and that it didn't go well.

I will accept, that in a truly rigorous scientific sense, there's no way to build a truly, 100% objective moral system. At the heart of it, you've got to pick something --- some principle to start with that you decide is more important than the infinity of other possible principles that you could have selected. And I don't think there's really any way to objectively and/or scientifically argue that any one principle is "better" than any other in a rigorously proveable sense.

But.... but! If you pick the right starting principle to use as your foundation, I claim you can arrive at a system that from there on up can be completely objective.

I've already argued that nice as it sounds, "happiness" makes a crummy first principle for a moral system. It's just too squishy, too difficult to measure --- too subjective. So we need something more rigorous, something that can actually be judged objectively. Something that you could legitimately measure and, more importantly, measure in a way that two different people would come up with the same answer. And not so incidentally: it would certainly be nice if the value was something that you truly believed was a valuable and good thing (and yes, that's subjective). A thing that you'd be comfortable living in a world where it --- whatever it is --- is the most important thing to everyone.

And so my modest proposal: Freedom.

Yup, freedom. Big lead up just to get to that, right? Freedom; everyone's for freedom. Duh. You made me read this whole boring thing just to get to freedom?

But I challenge you to bear with me, and think through the implications of replacing that squishy "make people happy" in the standard model moral system with "make people free."

The implications, I think, are subtle, but profound. And the reason is that freedom is actually a concept that, theoretically at least, can be measured objectively.

Think of every human life as a decision tree starting at birth, and branching outward in a huge forrest of possible decisions and actions that all, eventually, lead down a path to that person's eventual demise. Some paths are short; some are long. At any given moment, you can picture a person sitting at one spot on that tree of possibilties. And he's got a finite set of options at any moment; a finite set of choices that will lead him down the paths of his life. At some moments, he'll have many paths to choose from --- at others, he'll have few.

To use a crude example; a man in a maximum security prison serving a life sentence without parole has a very low freedom quotient, because in a very rigorous sense, he simply doesn't have many branches to choose from. Whereas that same man, were he never to have been convicted, would have a significantly higher quotient.

Of course, we don't have any way to actually rigorously measure the exact freedom quotient of a person. But just because we can't take the measurement doesn't mean the value doesn't exist. And yes, we'll still have arguments between people who, examining the same set of possible course of actions, disagree as to which course will maximize freedom. But I argue that comparing these potential disagreements with the ones we're already stuck with over what will increase "happiness" argues strongly in favor of a freedom-based code. People arguing over what will maximize freedom would look like two refs arguing over whether the ball was in the end zone or not. There's an objective answer, but neither one has a perfect way to measure reality to get at it. People arguing about maximizing happiness, on the other hand, are analagous to those same two refs arguing ---except one of them thinks the game is football, and the other thought they were judging hockey.

This is not to say that happiness has no place in a moral system. Particularly in small-scale, interpersonal relations, it is not clear to me that applying the freedom-test really tells you much about how you should act. (Will it "increase freedom" if I cook dinner for my fiancee tonight? If no, does that mean I shouldn't do it?). And so I think that there is still a place to fall back on the old "what do I think will increase happiness" question. But only after you've tried to find a course that maximizes freedom.

I've been mulling this idea over in my mind for some time, struggling to find an appropriate way to convey my thoughts. And tonight, it struck me that some very wise men already laid out the roadmap --- intentionally, or not, I'm not historian enough to know for sure. But it is there, if you look for it:

Life: For without preserving life, there is nothing.

Liberty: Because freedom is the foundation upon which all else rests.

The pursuit of happiness: For when maximizing freedom doesn't tell you which way to go.

It's all there. Just make sure you get the order right.

Cool. Looks like at least one person took my call for more bloggers seriously --- Alex Slinin wrote to say he took my message "to heart" and now has his very own blog. So welcome Alex and his Pixelated World to the blog block.

And I think Alex gets the dubious honor of being the first new blogger I've directly inspired. Doubly cool.

Now if he was only a mom, and played soccer... no, wait, that's not right...

Correction: Poor neglected Jim over at Jimspot wrote in to correct this senile old bear: he gets the dubious honor of being the first bear-inspired blog, and provides this post as evidence. (And I remember reading it, too, which just goes to show how good my memory is... sorry, Jim --- and thanks for the kind words ! )

The man who for many years was the real person behind Slate's Today's Papers has died in a scuba accident.

This is being widely reported elsewhere, but I feel the obligation to comment and note Scott Shuger's passing. As for many in the blogosphere, for me Slate was required reading for years. Even during the dark Interregnum of Slate's flirtation with a subscription model, there was one feature that was still reliably available to the unwashed masses: Today's Papers.

It was (and still is), an excellent feature; a tribute to the idea that length does not guarantee quality, and that often in brevity lies brilliance. As Kinsley notes in his remembrance, Shuger demonstrated an admirable talent to turn what could have been a deadly dull list of facts and citations into one of Slate's most readable features.

I did not know the man, but I knew his work. And even with that tenous connection, I can say with assurance that he will be missed.

Jay Manifold thinks folks who find conservative Christians' alliance with repressive Islamic regimes repugnant need to calm down.

I suppose he'd have to include me in that category, although I would stipulate that I am perfectly calm, if slightly disgusted.

Jay responds to those who have raised an eyebrow at the alliance as follows:

A group led by Mormons and including evangelicals and conservative Catholics, all allying themselves with conservative Muslims, at first glance seems like either 1) cats and dogs living together or 2) some kind of evil octopus (long post; skip to the 4th paragraph from the end if you want). It is neither... when Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute says, "We look at them as allies, not necessarily as friends," he is making perfect sense, however unpleasant some of us might regard the goals of such an alliance.

The NYTimes and Adrienne Germaine (and Abe Foxman) should calm down. And so should Glenn when he says things like: "Perhaps the 'Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute' should focus its attentions a bit closer to home." If they're serious about pursuing their goals, they'll focus their attentions anywhere they have to. The sooner the rest of us appreciate that, the faster the American atmosphere of peaceful ideological discord will spread.

Jay seems to be making the classic error of a man who has created a map of the land, and therefore assumes that his map describes everything that there is to know about the territory. He provides a nice explanation based on set theory, pointing out that the effectiveness of intersecting sets such as these "will depend on their ability to: assume nothing; identify any intersection of their interests; evaluate whether the relevant conditional probability is high enough to make mutual efforts worthwhile; and proceed accordingly."

Well, yes. Sure. But the point that Glenn and myself and others were making wasn't that it didn't make sense from a purely self-interested viewpoint for the Christian groups to make this kind of alliance. The point was that it was morally questionable for them to do so due to the highly repugnant nature of the other 'set'. It might well be the most pragmatic course in the world for these groups to accomplish their goals; I don't think anyone is arguing that. But these groups have a habit of positioning themselves as paragons of virtue and morality. Last time I checked, morality quite often involved doing the right thing, as opposed to the expedient thing. So it's a bit odd for these allegedly moral groups to be making such a --- dare I say it? --- deal with the Devil.

Not to mention the odd contradiction inherent in, as a central point in a post extoling the virtues of peaceful ideological discord, telling people to "calm down" for the crime of, well, peacefully stating their ideological discord. We weren't threatening to pipe-bomb their houses or anything, honest...

Do you think they can afford his speaker's fee?

More Hitchens-related goodness this morning. It seems Dr. Kissinger may be facing an extradition request to Chile:

Henry Kissinger may face extradition proceedings in connection with the role of the United States in the 1973 military coup in Chile.

The former US secretary of state is wanted for questioning as a witness in the investigation into the events surrounding the overthrow of the socialist president, Salvador Allende, by General Augusto Pinochet...

Chile's Judge Juan Guzman is so frustrated by the lack of cooperation by Mr Kissinger that he is now considering an extradition request to force him to come to Chile and testify in connection with the death of the American film-maker and journalist Charles Horman, who was killed by the military days after the coup.

If your reaction to this is "ha-what?" , a reasonable place to start to understand the case being made against Dr. Henry is Hitchens' Kissinger archive page. He's been chasing Kissinger for years, and I'm sure this news will give him, as he is fond of saying, "a little holiday in his heart".

Christopher Hitchens, Call Your Office

The Hitch has been saying all along that the true war to be fought is against irrationality and religious extremism --- in whatever form it takes. He's been fighting it for years, and has recently welcomed President Bush to at least part of the fight.

If we needed any further convincing, a WaPo link via InstaGuy :

UNITED NATIONS -- Conservative U.S. Christian organizations have joined forces with Islamic governments to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences.

The new alliance, which coalesced during the past year, has received a major boost from the Bush administration, which appointed antiabortion activists to key positions on U.S. delegations to U.N. conferences on global economic and social policy.

But it has been largely galvanized by conservative Christians who have set aside their doctrinal differences, cemented ties with the Vatican and cultivated fresh links with a powerful bloc of more than 50 moderate and hard-line Islamic governments, including Sudan, Libya, Iraq and Iran.

We look at them as allies, not necessarily as friends," said Austin Ruse, founder and president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a New York-based organization that promotes conservative values at U.N. social conferences. "We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document."

It is said that you can judge a man by his enemies. Sometimes, you can judge them by their allies, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

I Don't Like Monday(s)

Sigh. You just can't make this level of corporate stupidity up. The consulting arm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which apparently got tired of people not understanding why they should be capitalizing letters in the middle of word, is changing its name to "Monday".

Apparently, Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday and Tuesday were all taken.

From :


    Monday is a fresh start, a positive
    attitude, part of everyone's life.

From the far-too-gentle Michele Cantara, Gartner Group analyst:

    "I think they were looking for the name to convey change and a new start, and while it does that, I think it has some negative connotations."

You think so, do you?

I guess I have to put a disclaimer here that I work for a company that sometimes competes with the-company-soon-to-be-known-as-Monday. And we have a much better name.

One final thought: Aren't they going to have some problems leveraging any sort of copyright or trademark rights on the name "Monday" ? And I'm going to guess that Bob Geldof isn't going to be writing their corporate jingle...

Update: Amish Tech Support has the definitive analogy for PwC's unique naming decision.

Update on Palestinian Shooting Analysis

ArmedLiberal raised some interesting points in an email to myself and Michael Kielsky raising some doubt on some of Michael's analysis of the shooting I reference below. They've now taken the discussion onto their respective blogs: Michael has an update here which paraphrases AL's points, and I'd expect AL himself to have some additional info on his blog soon (he's distracted with Father's Day festivities at the moment, I believe).

Keep an eye on their blogs, and stay tuned...

Okay, you may think I'm just assuaging my deep feelings of guilt for getting PhotoDude's hopes up (he was in the Top-20 of the blogosphere yesterday, but is way further down with the corrected run today), but I think I satisfied my urge for repentance with the last post.

But here I am again, and I'm going to tell you again: Go visit PhotoDude's site.

I was foolishly unaware of his page until today, so I've spent a bit of time browsing around and I'm very impressed. He's got beautiful photography, excellent political commentary & news, and even well-selected quotes. I stand (well, sit, really) in awe.

All together now: one, two, three ---- "Awwwwwww!".

Really though. Go visit. You'll find cool stuff.

Wow. A very interesting note on declarations of war from PhotoDude (who coincidentally I owe something to since he got thoroughly screwed by the re-do of the Ecosystem numbers today).

We've heard a lot of noise about how some folks think this isn't really a war, and other folks think that we really have to formally declare war for it to really be a war.

Well turns out, there's a strong argument to be made that we already have. And it's being made by.... a Democrat! Check out the Dude for the details...

OK, the Ecosystem is fixed now. Sorry for the confusion. The problem was that I have a step in the process where I filter out links that a weblog has to itself ; I missed that step in yesterday's run, so everyone's totals were higher than they should have been. A big thanks to Jeff over at Protein Wisdom for drawing my attention to the error.

Sigh. I'd really like to fully automate this process; this will become easier after I complete the move to the new domain, as I'll have full access to UNIX scripting capabilities. And incidentally: if any script gurus out there like this project and want to help, I'd be thrilled to get a helping hand. I can provide a full design of exactly what needs to happen, and you can use Perl, shell scripts or whatever other weapon of choice you like to implement it. There will be no money, but on your deathbed, you will receive eternal conciousness.

Whoops, forgot again: I'm not the Dali Lama. Well, maybe you'll get a permanent link or something.

Anyway, as one additional step to help those folks who are puzzled as to why they are where they are on the list, I'm publishing the raw list of links in a zipped ASCII text file here. Please don't click on it unless you are really trying to debug; I'm starting to run high on bandwidth this month. But if you are genuinely trying to figure out why you are where you are, check the list and it'll give you a place to start. The file simply shows source weblog in the first column, and destination weblog in the second column for each link.

Sorry again...

Argh. I've just discovered an error in this week's run of the Ecosystem. Repairs are in progress; for now, don't go paying off any bets based on the results as shown...

Larry Kestenbaum dropped me an email in regards to his thoughts on my comments on anonymity in my N.Z. Bear Name FAQ, and I encouraged him to post them on his blog, as I suspected others might be interested in our exchange.

So he did, and now it's my turn to reply back.

Larry describes his own experience in public life, in which he came up through local politics and then early online communities, establishing a widely-known presence in each. The choice whether to remain anonymous was essentially made for him, as obviously an elected official doesn't really have an option to not be known.

And of his early online experiences, he says: "Speaking out under my own name, background, and reputation also means I'm taken more seriously.'

I think Larry is correct: sometimes, the force of your opinions and statements on the web is reinforced if you have a credible real-life background to back them up.

This is not surprising, but I'm not entirely sure that's always a good thing. Because it can dilute one of the nicest things about the web conversations: the fact that you are judged, first and foremost, on the ideas you convey. "On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog," and all that. Or, indeed, a bear.

I will admit, in writing pseudonymously, there is a certain appeal to me in the idea that when I write an opinion piece, because people essentially have no context at all of who I am, my piece will be judged solely on its merits and its logic. If it makes sense, then people will (I hope) consider its ideas carefully; if it doesn't, then they won't be fooled by any credentials I wave around in their face.

On the other hand, background and context certainly do play a part even on the web, and it makes sense that they should. Devout readers of this site know that I'm a software development manager, which I've mentioned in context at least once or twice, I believe, when I was talking about issues that related to that field --- in other words, I stated my credentials so folks would be aware I knew what I was talking about.

I have noticed, however, that the blogosphere in general (or at least, warbloggerland ) seems to look slightly askance and folks who do maintain an pseudonym. Which I find interesting; I've never quite understood the rationale for that (apparent) disapproval. In the discussions of the war, and of the course ahead for our nation, I find a particularly good example of a subject that background and experience should play very little part in judging ones opinions. Barring any actual counterterrorism experts who happen to be blogging, I think the opinion of a soccer mom in Maryland (back to those soccer moms) about what tradeoffs are legitmate to make between security and freedom (for example) is exactly as important to me as the opinion of a pro journalist whose been covering military affairs for a decade.

And that may point to the answer, for me, at least: when you are attempting to provide facts; to convince someone that your statements are logically and in some sense, scientifically or historically accurate --- then your background and training may play a reasonable part in your readers' judgement of whether to accept your assertions. But in the case of pure opinion; of stating your thoughts on what is right vs. wrong; what is "best" for our society in more general senses --- in that case, I think the ideals of democracy say that all opinions bear equal consideration --- whether they are stated with a name attached, or anonymously.