August 2005

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Helping Hurricane Katrina Victims 

Hurricane Katrina has brought about incredible damage to New Orleans, and serious hardship to other areas.

If you can afford it (and you probably can), now is a great time to consider contributing to the American Red Cross to help with its relief efforts (additional charity suggestions here).

It's a lot easier to donate money than to do what the many volunteers and workers will be doing for the next few weeks and months.

And, it will help a lot of people.

It's a terrible situation that I wish wouldn't have happened. But, I would prefer that it be citable as an instance of a major, successful, voluntary effort to help people in need, rather than as an argument for larger government disaster relief bureaucracies, because private citizens don't choose to do enough to help.

A Sense of Humor 

The more I read about John Roberts, especially from his critics, the more I like him.

I might not agree with him 100% of the time, but what I've heard leaves me with the impression that he's a really smart, sensible guy with a good sense of humor.

This article (sorry, registration required) is amazingly silly.

It says "Roberts Resisted Women's Rights" because he opposed horrible policies which purported to help women, and he wrote a joke that the authors (and, apparently, their editors) didn't understand.

The main policy issue was "comparable worth" which would do things like establish bureaucracies, rather than market forces, to determine whether secretaries should be paid as much as plumbers. Roberts correctly characterized this as "staggeringly pernicious" and "anti-capitalist".

But here's the best part:
His remark on whether homemakers should become lawyers came in 1985 in reply to a suggestion from Linda Chavez, then the White House's director of public liaison. Chavez had proposed entering her deputy, Linda Arey, in a contest sponsored by the Clairol shampoo company to honor women who had changed their lives after age 30. Arey had been a schoolteacher who decided to change careers and went to law school.

In a July 31, 1985, memo, Roberts noted that, as an assistant dean at the University of Richmond law school before she joined the Reagan administration, Arey had "encouraged many former homemakers to enter law school and become lawyers." Roberts said in his memo that he saw no legal objection to her taking part in the Clairol contest. Then he added a personal aside: "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."
This is obviously a lawyer joke, and one would have to be a humorless fool (or, perhaps, a recent immigrant) to not see that immediately. He wrote this memo to a woman! His wife is a very successful lawyer! The whole purpose of the award was to "Honor women who had changed their lives." How could the theory that this remark was intended to disparage women be dominant in a reasonably intelligent mind for more than a second?

It gets funnier. Dahlia Lithwick at Slate steps right into it:
Finally, there's the humorless-feminist tack. I vaguely remember this argument from the '80s: It's that women can't take a joke. So that is the new defense: This wasn't just a joke, it was a lawyer joke! That's evidently the White House position, too: "It's pretty clear from the more than 60,000 pages of documents that have been released that John Roberts has a great sense of humor," Steve Schmidt, a Bush spokesman told the Washington Post. "In this [housewives] memo, he offers a lawyer joke."

Heh-heh.

I don't quite know what to make of that argument.
It reminds me of one of my favorite lightbulb jokes:

Q. How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. I don't know, but it's NOT funny!
I suppose it's possible that there is no actual phemonenon that this joke references...but that's not the way to bet!

UPDATE: Cathy Young has an excellent op-ed on the Roberts as woman-hater slur.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Intelligent Design Intelligently Discussed 

Daniel C. Dennett has written a great little NY Time op-ed about "Intelligent Design".

Check it out.

I think that Dennett is one of those rare brilliant people who can break down complex issues and describe them effectively (with well-chosen examples and analogies) so that any intelligent layman can understand and appreciate them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

GWOSUV 

If you don't do what I want you to do, then the terrorists are better off.

This type of argument is pretty annoying.

Today, Andrew Sullivan praised this Newsweek article which argues that our dependence on foreign oil is helping the sponsors of terror, and thus the terrorists. The article and Sullivan seem particularly contemptuous of SUV owners.

I think that the argument (and it isn't new) that the choices of Americans to drive SUVs rather than slightly more fuel efficient cars is a major problem in the fight against terrorism is even worse than the argument that drug users are to blame for helping support terrorists. And that argument was terrible!

Yes, I'm sure that some terrorists are helped by some beneficiaries of crude oil sales. But many other beneficiaries help to fight the spread of terrorism in many ways that are much more difficult to trace. The costs of radically changing our consumption patterns are huge, and the benefits are questionable. And, the major issues involved in the spread of terrorism are ideological, not financial.

As with global warming, I don't think a serious case has been made that even a massive change in fuel usage by Americans would have a significant effect on terrorism. I think this is just another case of people who don't like the choices of others trying to shame and scare them into making different choices.

I'm just waiting for someone to figure out why our eating too much fast food is helping terrorism.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Government News 

The latest solicitation from the Cato Institute I've received came with a reprint of this article from David Boaz about defunding PBS.

I won't repeat the many excellent arguments against government funding of news and entertainment here, but I thought I'd point out a contradiction that I have always found interesting.

One would think that "liberals" who are ostensibly in favor of free inquiry unconstrained by a coercive state would oppose state-controlled news, education, science, art, etc., on principle.

But, on the contrary, they seem to have a fanatical devotion to government funding (and, hence, control) of as large a portion of these endeavors as possible.

Strange, isn't it?

I suspect that when they think about these things, they imagine that they will be controlled by people who agree with them about how these things should be promoted (or, perhaps, angels). Unfortunately, as many are discovering, sometimes the other side gains power and uses these tools in ways it prefers.

Of course, I agree that education, information, science, art, etc. are very important things.

To me, this makes it all the more vital to keep them free of government control rather than to surrender them to it.

UPDATE: As Boaz says in this more recent article:
If anything should be kept separate from government and politics, it's the news and public affairs programming that informs Americans about government and its policies. When government brings us the news—with all the inevitable bias and spin—the government is putting its thumb on the scales of democracy. Journalists should not work for the government. Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize news and public-affairs programming.

NPR and PBS have wildly enthusiastic audiences. Their greatest fundraising appeal ever would be one that began "The heartless and barbaric Republican Congress has cut off our funding..." It's time to free NPR and PBS from politicians, and time to free taxpayers from supporting ideas they don't like.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cindy Sheehan's Tantrum 

I haven't been paying too much attention to the Cindy Sheehan saga. But, that won't stop me from writing about it.

While I'm sorry about her loss and I think she has as much right as anyone to express her opinions (no matter how stupid they are), I don't think the pain she feels for having lost a son who was fighting for the US military in Iraq gives her any special claim on the time of the president nor any authority on the matter that is likely to make her advice more valuable than the average citizen's (perhaps it should be considered less valuable than average if her loss is so deep as to impede her ability to reason effectively about the subject).

I really don't see any merit in her appeal for attention because of her sacrifice. Firstly, because it was not her sacrifice (and I'm reminded of the excellent argument about this that I linked to in this post last year). And, secondly, because her son, who actually made the sacrifice, had very different ideas and values than she did about this, and if we want to honor the sacrifice it seems much more sensible to honor his ideas and values than hers.

However, if what she wants is a genuine explanation of the cause her son died for, I think that the message to her from Mohammed at Iraq The Model is an excellent one.

(Hat Tip: WitNit)

UPDATE: Scrappleface is priceless as usual.

Social Creationism 

I really like Don Boudreaux's post analogizing biological creationists to what he calls "Social creationists".

Naive minds believe that social order must be created, planned, the result of intention. These minds worry that without such conscious guidance, the result will be either chaos or an order that is inferior to one that is planned and consciously crafted. In contrast, sophisticated minds understand that social order is largely "the result of human action but not of human design" – and that highly complex, productive orders that offer maximum prospect for widespread human flourishing are those that are least infected with efforts to centrally craft social order.
...
Social creationists are members of that species of juvenile thinkers who regard conscious, central direction by a wise and caring higher human authority as necessary for all social order – not only for the foundation, but for all, or much, of what the foundation supports.

Economic central planners are prime examples of social creationists. In their view, government must not only create and enforce law (society’s foundation), it also must plan the course of the economy (society’s superstructure) – for example, which good and services to produce, and how to produce these.
Boudreaux isn't confusing a dispute about what actually happened in biology with one about what works best in society. He's pointing out a similar failure by many in both realms to appreciate how successful an unguided process can be with the right processes at work.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Aristocrats 

I just got back from seeing The Aristocrats.

Go see it!!!

It's laugh-out-loud funny. Although, I suspect that different people will laugh at different moments.

Superficially, it's a documentary about a dirty joke. It's been told for many years, but mostly just among comedians. The joke involves the description (or presentation) of a "family act" to a talent agent. The act itself involves tremendous obscenity, and the details can change with each telling. When the dumbfounded talent agent asks what the act is called he's told "The Aristocrats".

It's not a funny joke in itself. It has a minor humorous element of the outrageous incongruity between the contents of the act and the title, but that's not really very funny. It's really a meta-joke. What's funny is the way the joke is told; the creativity of the comedian trying to be as outrageously obscene as he can without getting boring; the fact that he's actually saying these things out loud and they're making you (and others) laugh, etc.

But the movie isn't really about the joke.

The movie is really about comics. It's great to watch and listen to these geniuses who understand the human condition and how to manipulate people's emotions and expectations as well as any novelist.

It's great!

The performers are fantastic. Follow the link above to see their names.

Like many others, I have to take particular notice of Gilbert Gottfried who told a version of the joke at a Friar's Club roast of Hugh Hefner shortly after 9/11. When his original 9/11 oriented joke was met with disapproval ("Too Soon!"), instead of backing down and becoming milder he launched into "The Aristocrats" and had the crowd (mostly comedians) rolling. It showed that tapping into this deep area of consciousness, where we try to protect ourselves from our fears, can bring us together in powerful ways.

I can't wait to buy the DVD, which I understand will have a lot of footage that had to be edited out of the film.

P.S. If you're not sure if you can handle the joke, you might want to check out this South Park version of the joke which is in the movie and is about as obscene as any version there. If you can appreciate it, then you'll love the movie.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Tierney on the Drug War 

John Tierney has written another great Op-Ed for the NY Times.

This time it discusses the War on Drugs, and the "meth epidemic" in particular.

Kudos to the NY Times for promoting diversity and including Tierney's sensible columns among all of those other ones.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

It's a Big Ad 

Here's a very cool elaborate, self-referential Australian beer commercial.

Apparently, it's best viewed with Internet Explorer.

Outrageous Abuse of Power 

I can't put it better than Will Wilkinson did, so go read his post.

Apparently Karen Tandy, head of the DEA, is boasting of hampering the efforts of drug legalization advocacy groups through the arrest of Marc Emery. She seems to think that opposing government drug policy is akin to terrorism.

If President Bush is actually competent to serve in his office, and takes his oath to protect and defend the constitution seriously, he will fire her immediately.

We'll see.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I See Dead People 

I've just spent a few minutes at Dead Or Alive?, and am morbidly fascinated.

There are a bunch of people I didn't know had died recently (like Pat McCormick and Paul Winchell). And the Random Name feature came up with some surprises after a while.

I almost feel a little guilty about not knowing the status of some of these people.

That's weird.