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About Me

I'm a 20 year-old computer science and math student at the University of Toronto. I was born in Toronto, and I live in Toronto. Where I'll die remains to be seen.

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The Volokh Conspiracy
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{Monday, June 14, 2004}

 

Whiny, Selfish People

This article on CNN has led me to believe that people these days have an even larger sense of entitlement than I thought. The article explains that many readers of online newspapers are upset by the fact that they have to enter in personal information in order to access the paper's content. I think this quote from the article amply rebuts most of what can be said against the practice:
Industry representatives argue that because their Web readers get the same content as the paper-and-ink edition without paying for it, it's fair to ask them for personal information in exchange for access.
I find it amazing that there is actually a large group of people who are complaining about the availability of what amounts to a free New York Times, or free Washington Post. Perhaps they're the kind of people to who can't shell out 50 cents for a real paper.
posted by Dan 2:36 PM  


{Friday, June 04, 2004}

 

Those Progressive Capitalists

Interesting article about how corporate America seems more receptive to gay marriage than the country itself. Though of course this is just another manifestation of how money trumps all other concerns. Any chance we could just pay off the social conservatives?
posted by Dan 10:37 AM  
 

Wrong and Wronger

As readers of this blog know, I have a distinct dislike for PETA and its tactics. Nevertheless, there are times when those they are attacking are completely clueless.
The shareholder proposal, brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, had asked Petco to study ending animal sales in its 670 stores. The proposal won approval from less than 2 percent of shareholders, but PETA spokeswoman Christy Griffin said the organization planned "to keep bringing up this issue over and over until they get animals out of their stores."
Standard PETA. Here's Petco's take:
Petco spokesman Shawn Underwood said "shareholders spoke clearly" with their sound defeat of the proposal. "From our perspective, 62 percent of households have pets, so 62 percent think it's OK to have pets in the house," Underwood said. "We have a philosophical difference of opinion with them that I don't think we'll ever be able to bridge just because of the fact that they think pet ownership is slavery."
That's just plain wrong.

PETA believes that domestic animals that would otherwise have trouble surviving on their own are happiest when with a loving, caring family. Their problem with Petco isn't that they think they cater to the 62% of the American public that are modern-day slave-owners. Their problem is that Petco treats their animals like crap.

I don't care for PETA's views. But Petco's argument is nothing but a giant strawman.
posted by Dan 10:28 AM  

 

The End of America

Usually, I semi-enjoy reading Victor Davis Hanson's weekly NRO column. Granted, it often makes the same points as the week before. But for all the straw-men he demolishes, he has a talent for distilling the arguments conservatives have in favour of current Bush policy, and that's something that is, at the very least, useful. Unfortunately, he occassionally lapses into what is quite clearly nothing more than wishful thinking. Like this:
Our very success after September 11 — perhaps because of the Patriot Act, the vigilance of domestic-security agencies, and the global reach of our military — has prevented another catastrophe of mass murder, but also allowed us to become complacent, and thus once more cynical and near suicidal.
It should be noted that the tail end of the sentence does contain a kernel of truth. It is probably correct that a dearth of post-9/11 attacks on US soil have allowed most Americans to slowly lose the sense of purpose they discovered on that terrible Tuesday morning. But overall, he seems rather off-base, in two major ways.

First, his reasoning is specious in the extreme. To argue that the measures the Bush adminstration have taken are the reason for the lack of terrorist-induced American deaths is almost infantile. It is reminiscient of a classic Simpsons moment:

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
It is possible that The PATRIOT Act and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented further attacks. But it also equally, or even more likely that the period of time between now and 9/11 hasn't really been all that long, and so al Qaeda just hasn't had their chance. There were 8 years between the first and second WTC attacks; it's been less than 3 since 9/11. And as several Bush administration officials have told us, there will be more attacks. The key is to be ready.

The second major problem with Hanson's argument is that he, along with his ideological friends, insists that if we are unable to eradicate al Qaeda, it spells the end of the American people. And this is simply untrue.

I will be the first to support a program that goes after the terrorists. They are vile scum who must pay for their crimes, and be prevented from perpetrating new ones. But the great war of civilizations trumpeted by conservative doom-sayers will never end with the elimination of America. As conservopundits are fond of saying, our ideas are simply better. In the end, they will win out. And though 9/11 was the most horrible, tragic event I have ever witnessed, a thousand of them still wouldn't spell the end of America.

It is hard to dispute the fact that the Islamists are opposed to the ideals of liberty on which America was founded. But it seems odd that Hanson would really believe that their cowardly attacks chip away at what makes America America. The only real way to change that is either via an Islamist military takeover (which I think most people would agree is not going to happen,) or a change at the ballot box. The latter scares me far more than the first, but the simple fact is that al Qaeda attacks strengthen the electorate's resolve to never allow that to happen.

I think that most disciples of the "we end them or they'll end us" school of thought know, in their heart-of-hearts, that the battle with al Qaeda is about preventing the deaths of Americans, and not of America itself. But they push their point anyway, cynically using it to further their own agenda by scaring the average American into thinking that if they don't support America now, there won't be an America to support later. And that is unacceptably disingenuous.

Fighting terrorism is essential in this day and age. But that doesn't mean people have to be tricked into believing that.
posted by Dan 9:16 AM  



{Wednesday, June 02, 2004}

 

Humour, RNC Style

Via the front page of FoxNews.com, it seems as though the leadership of the RNC has decided that the best way to make John Kerry look bad is to point out how much money he spends, and that he is out of touch with the common American. And they're serious.

As even the FoxNews story admits

"Three leading Republicans in the federal government — President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee — are multimillionaires. Asked Tuesday if their lifestyles also were out of reach of most Americans, RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson responded 'no' but declined to elaborate."
I wonder why. I think the concept of irony is pretty much completely lost on these people.
posted by Dan 3:34 PM  


{Friday, May 07, 2004}

 

Spanish Politics

I know I'm way late to this. Way late. But it annoys me when commentators refer to terrorists as having "toppled" the Spanish government, and caused their troops to "flee" from Iraq. The fact is, though the Spanish government supported the Iraq war, the Spanish people... Here's a CNN article from March 29, 2003:
With opinion polls showing more than 90 percent of Spaniards are against the war, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar vowed his support of the war in Iraq would not lead to his ruling Popular Party being "cornered" by leftists and antiwar protesters.
So really, the Spanish government was toppled by the fact that the Spanish people didn't like what was going on. They didn't want their troops in Iraq in the first place; the government only now is following the will of the people.
posted by Dan 5:52 PM  


{Sunday, April 18, 2004}

 

Death Penalty

The death penalty is one area where, despite the subject's gravity, I'm relatively indifferent. On the one hand, I think it's appropriate for the worst of crimes. On the other, the way it is applied in the US leaves something to be desired.

Case in point: CNN spends 500 words discussing the supreme court appeal of a prisoner on Arizona's death row. They quote the Arizona prosecutor as saying that a jury would have found the exact same way the judge did, and thus there is no reason to apply the result of an earlier 9th circuit case which ruled that only juries could sentence convicts to death. Then they had this:

The judge who sentenced Summerlin to death later acknowledged he was addicted to marijuana and lost his job after a drug conviction.
Judges who are removed from the bench for a drug addiction shouldn't be allowed to dictate who lives and who dies. Completely ignoring the actual question before the supreme court, the man should be entitled to a new sentencing hearing. And yet that doesn't even seem to be an issue. And that's why there's no way I can fully support the death penalty.

Update: I realled should investigate these things more carefully. It appears that back in 2001 the prisoner, Warren Summerlin, was indeed granted a hearing to determine if the judge's drug addiction had affected his rulings.

Also, here's the 9th circuit's decision vacating Summerlin's death sentence, based on the supreme court's decision in Ring v. Arizona. The facts tell quite the troubling story.
posted by Dan 1:23 PM  



{Wednesday, April 14, 2004}

 

Iraqi Troops

An Instapundit approved reader has some perspective on Bush's press conference:
If last year before the war started someone told me Bush was going to be complaining about the poor quality of Iraqi troops by April 13, 2004 I'd have been overjoyed!
Unfortunately, I think that thought is incomplete. What he meant to say was that if that were the worst of our problems, he'd be overjoyed. But they're not. The worst problems are that American troops are dying, and the prospects for a stable, democratic Iraq are dim. So when Bush complains that the Iraqi soldiers aren't of a particularly high caliber, I don't quite get the warm, fuzzy feeling that Mr. Dolfin (or, apparently, Glenn Reynolds) does.

Update: Mr. Dolfin left a comment, informing me that what he meant was that the Iraqi soldiers are fighting with us, rather than against us. On my way to work this morning I realized that might have been what he had meant, and cursed myself for not accounting for the possibility. Ah well. In any case, I think that most people (probably including Glenn) expected that we would be in the rebuilding stage within 3-4 months. So featuring a quote that basically says "we should be happy we're already in the rebuilding stage" still seems pretty weak.
posted by Dan 9:32 AM  



{Thursday, April 08, 2004}

 

Bush's Vietnam

A couple of days ago, Ted Kennedy referred to Iraq as George Bush's Vietnam. As would be expected, the right side of the blogosphere jumped on his remarks, interpreting the analogy to mean that Kennedy thinks America is losing/will lose the war in Iraq. He was accused of sowing discord and confusion amongst our friends, and giving aid to our enemies. (I'm not really in a position to comment on such assertions; my sense is that, though Kennedy is a veteran senator, the rhetoric coming from the president, his administration, and the leaders of the majorities in congress are probably more relevant to how our friends and enemies view us. But I really don't know.)

Kennedy was defended by the left, whose pundits pointed out that the rest of his speech framed the Vietnam reference as an allusion to the deception of the American people by a sitting president. Looking at the text, this seems pretty clear.

To this, the right responded with the argument that it was only the Vietnam quote that would make its way through the airwaves (which seems to be the case,) and so Kennedy, as a seasoned politician should really have been more careful. I think this theoretically correct, but only if one assumes the right's initial point that such statements are harmful. So it seems that the appropriateness of Kennedy's remarks rely heavily on the resolution of this question.

That's where the controversy stood for a day. At that point, there was at least a substantive issue to debate. My guess take on the question is that, as is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle: Iraq just isn't Vietnam, though some aspects are similar; the chances for victory are most likely reduced, but only by the tiniest of margins.

Then Instapundit came along and attempted to show that, actually, Kennedy's analogy did imply losing, in addition to deceit:

THIS PASSAGE from Larry King's interview of Senator Ted Kennedy would seem to fatally undermine claims that Kennedy's Vietnam remarks weren't opportunistic defeatism, but merely a statement that the Bush Administration was dishonest about war:

KING: We're back with Senator Kennedy. You said today that Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new president. Vietnam was started under a Democratic administration. How do you compare the two?

KENNEDY: We're facing a quagmire in Iraq, just as we faced a quagmire in Vietnam. We didn't understand what we were getting ourselves into in Vietnam. We didn't understand what we were doing in -- in Iraq.
Reynold's has a midly mediocore point here: calling Iraq a quagmire where we don't know what we're doing (just like Vietnam!) does suggest that we're doing a poor job. Or, more accurately, the president is doing a poor job. But I don't The quagmire comparison is another question that I think is open to debate. I personally don't think there is one, since I firmly believe the Bush team would have no problem turning over power were they to think it politically useful. But I'm open to persuasion.

The comment that we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, though, seems pretty apt to me, and not particular defeatist. It is fairly clear at this point that a lot of what's happening in Iraq was unanticipated, at least by those who prosecuted the war. It has come to light that the post-war planning was secondary to the military component. So accusing Bush of misunderstanding the mission in Iraq seems pretty fair. As well, this particular comparison fits neatly with the idea that Vietnam symbolizes presidential deceit. The American people were assured that the government had the situation well in hand, that they knew precisely what they were doing. At this point, those assurances seem hollow.

I think InstaPundit's point is pretty weak here, and is skirts what seems to be a more fundamental issue anyway.
posted by Dan 7:19 PM  



{Monday, April 05, 2004}

 

Dresscodes

A muslim student who was suspended for wearing a hijab is suing the Muskogee Public School District, on both religious freedom, as well as equal protection grounds. Even before hearing the arguments against her, I was willing to take her side, given the importance I place on religious freedom. Reading the school districts apparent defence only confirms the correctness of my choice. To go point by point:
No. 1, the school district has a dress code which is not a religious-based dress code. This is not a religious issue.
I don't think it's relevant that the school isn't specifically outlawing hijabs for religious reasons. Any rule that prevents the free exercise of religion, intentionally or otherwise, is a religous issue.
For the school, this is about the safety and welfare of the students. A dress code is to ensure that all students are treated equally.
Equal treatment is indeed a noble cause. But interfering with a student's religous freedom is a serious matter. The goal of equal treatment needs to be incredibly compelling in order to permit such a situation. So what is the purpose of the code?
The Muskogee school district wants a dress code that applies consistently to all students. And head wear is not permitted because of the opportunities to use head wear to present signs of things that would be considered inappropriate and might lead to gang behavior.
I sympathize with a school's desire to limit gang-related activity. But granting an exception for a hijab doesn't seem necessary in order to maintain the efficacy of the code. In short, the school's reasons for wanting equal treatment in the face of what amounts to religious repression are not strong enough. I really hope the young lady wins.
posted by Dan 4:13 AM  
 

Cellular Kaboom

This CNN article suggests that terrorists are only now discovering the joys of the cellphone detonator. Aside from the fact that I'm fairly certain the phenomenon isn't quite as recent as CNN would lead one to believe, I'd like to point out that in 1996, the Israelis used such a setup to kill Yahya Ayyash, then Israel's most wanted terrorist. So certainly the idea of using a cell as a detonator isn't new, regardless of when the terrorists started using them.
posted by Dan 3:58 AM  


{Friday, April 02, 2004}

 

This Is Just Sad

Tigger was always my favourite.
posted by Dan 10:37 PM  


{Thursday, April 01, 2004}

 

Evolution and Religion

The NCSE is an organization that has tirelessly fought to prevent the introduction of religious objections to evolution into the classroom. Thus far their efforts have been successful, and I'm always thankful for that. According to this John West column, though, they seem to be acting a touch hypocritically. West points to a website they published with the aid of a government grant that recommends that teachers use religion to support evolution. I agree with West that this is both a violation of the establishment clause, as well as a rather hypocritical approach, given how vigorously the NCSE has fought to eliminate religion from the teaching of evolution.

But there's something not quite right about West's argument. Firstly, he adds onto his primary criticism additional, more minor ones. Unfortunately, they are the standard talking points of an ID believer, and so they end up making him look a tad silly. For example, in describing the site, he says

As might be expected, the science presented on the website is rather lopsided. Although there are vigorous arguments among biologists about many aspects of neo-Darwinism, teachers aren't informed about those scientific debates, ignoring guidance from the U.S. Congress in 2001 that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist.
For one thing, elementary and high school students are not equipped to deal with the debates among trained bilogists. And since these debates are about the precise nature of evolution, rather than about whether evolution is correct or not, it seems perfectly reasonable to simplify a teacher's lesson plan to the parts of evolution that the scientific community at large agrees are correct. It is clear that West is alluding to the debates between those who believe in Darwin's evolution and those who support ID. But the ID side is sufficiently weak, being a tiny minority of the scientific community, that it can barely be considered a debate at all.

West also notes:

Nor is there any indication of the fact that, according to opinion surveys, the vast majority of Americans continues to be skeptical of Darwin's theory of unguided evolution.
What the vast majority of Americans believe is completely irrelevant. Science is not democratic. If opponents of evolution actually bother with criticisms based on what most Americans believe to be true, that is sad indeed.

While I personally like the idea of promoting evolution by showing that it is indeed reconcilable with religion, I agree with Prof. West that the NCSE should not be using government funds in such an effort. Nevertheless, this sort of behaviour is quite minor when compared to the attempts made to inject creationism into curriculums around the country.
posted by Dan 4:41 PM  



{Monday, March 29, 2004}

 

Cold War II: This Time, the Russians aren't Nearly as Scary

Maybe we need Condi as NSA after all:
However, with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania set to become part of NATO's air defense umbrella, alarm bells have been ringing in Russia, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the international affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said Monday.

...

"NATO's steps have had an unfriendly character towards Russia," The Associated Press quoted Kosachyov as saying in response to the planned basing of four NATO F-16 fighter jets in Lithuania.

...

"If significant NATO military bases appear near Russia's borders and change the balance of forces in this region, then we can't exclude that Russia will consider the possibility of taking corresponding action so that the balance is not breached," he said.

I thought we were passed all this. Where's the love?
posted by Dan 11:57 AM  
 

Nevermind

I had assumed that Jacques Verges, the French lawyer representing Saddam, was just a media-whore; how better to get your name in the papers than to defend the worst of the worst? But then I read this:
Verges also was a long-time friend of Pol Pot, the infamous Khmer Rouge leader who was the architect of Cambodia's 1975-1979 "killing fields" regime.
There goes my theory.
posted by Dan 11:53 AM  


{Sunday, March 28, 2004}

 

Quantitative Advantages of Belief In Non-Specific (Versus Specific) Additional Attributes of “the” God

A special guest post from my lovely brother!

 

General Assumptions:

 

i)                    There is some omnipotent, omnipresent, free-willed and above all unique God. Without these “base attributes” of this unique God, there is nothing to believe in.

ii)                   In addition to this God’s “base” attributes, this God has a single set of “additional attributes”, which (along with the “base attributes”) are the sole method of describing and defining this God.

iii)                 There are multiple religions in our Universe (of Discourse), where multiple indicates more then 1.

iv)                 Each one of these religions maintains that they believe in “the” God.

v)                  Each one of these religions assigns a distinct set of additional attributes to their “God Figure”.

vi)                 No religion can assign more (or less) then one set of additional attributes to their “God Figure”.

 

Definition:

 

Let g = The above described omnipotent, omnipresent, free-willed and above all unique God. Let g be assigned the additional attributes A, which represent the additional attributes of “the” God g. Note that “”the”” simply indicates that I am referring to the actual manifestation of God (i.e. g).

 

Definition:

 

Let gn = A Specific Religion’s (n) “God Figure.” A “God Figure” is what each religion believes to be “the” God (i.e. g).

 

Definition:

 

Let Яn = A Specific Religion n. For each Specific Religion Я1, Я2, Я3, … , Яn, there exists a corresponding “God Figure” g1, g2, g3, … , gn. Further, for each of these “God Figures” there exists a corresponding set of additional attributes A1, A2, A3, … , An. Each of the preceding sets of additional attributes must necessarily be distinct from one another (note that this does not preclude overlap – it simply means that any arbitrary set Ax assigned to a religion Яx, cannot be identical to any arbitrary set Ay assigned to a distinct religion Яx - i.e. that Ax ¹ Ay). This means that every “God Figure” is also distinct from one another. Further, this means that no more than one religion’s “God Figure” could actually be “the” God (i.e. g).

 

Remark:

 

Since g does not belong to any particular religion, it is possible that some religion Яi could have a “God Figure” with the additional attribute set Ai = A. In this case, the “God Figure” in religion Яi would represent “the” God.

Remark:

 

There is nothing inherent in my reasoning that explains why for any religion Яx we assign the additional attributes {аx}. The variables are identical for ease of notation and comprehension. Also, there is nothing inherent in my reasoning that indicates that every religion, set of additional attributes, and “God Figure” need to have subscripts that follow the system of natural numbers N. This is also done for ease of notation and comprehension.

 

A Probabilistic Approach to Belief in a Specific Religion’s “God Figure” Versus Belief in “the” God g:

[Note: In other words only believing in the specific “base” attributes, and then believing in the additional attribute set that actually describes “the” God g – meaning you don’t believe in any specific additional attributes]

 

Given our assumption of multiple religions, we know that in our Universe (of Discourse), there exist the religions Я1, Я2, Я3, … , Яk. We also know that each of these religions has a corresponding “God Figure” g1, g2, g3, … , gk. Each one of these “God Figures” has a corresponding set of additional attributes {а1}, {а2}, {а3}, … , {аk}.

 

Now assume that some religion Яi (somewhere “between” Я1, … , Яk) represents the religion with “the” God. This would mean that gi = g, and that Ai = A.

 

Now, we know that every other religion Я1, Я2, Я3, … , Я(i-1), Я(i+1), …, Яk has a corresponding “God Figure” g1, g2, g3, … , g(i-1), g(i+1), …, gk. Each one of these “God Figures” has a corresponding set of additional attributes A1, A2, A3, …, A(i-1), A(i+1), … , Ak, where by assumption A1 ¹ A2 ¹ A3 ¹¹ A(i-1) ¹ A(i+1) ¹¹ Ak (¹ Ai). Since we know that Ai = A, and that no other set of additional attributes can be equal to Ai, then there cannot be any other set of additional attributes that represents the set ascribed to “the” God. Since, by assumption, the only thing used to describe God is a corresponding set of additional attributes, there can be no other God that represents “the” God (not other then gi that is).

 

Probabilistically, this conclusion indicates that the chance of being a part of the “right” religion is:

 

Let E = The event that God exists, let n = The Number of Religions in Existence, let P(A) = The Probability of the event A, let P(Bs) = The Probability that you are believing “the” God, given that you do believe in a Specific Additional Attribute Set, and let m = The Total Number of Permissible* Combinations of additional attributes Ascribed to a “God Figure” (each combination of additional attributes make a set of additional attributes).

*Note that a “permissible” set just implies that there are no repeat additional attributes within the set, that there are no contradictory additional attributes within the set (i.e. a and Øa), and that the set is finite.

 

Because all of the events are independent, the probability is:

 

P(Bs) = P(E)*(1/n)*(n/m), which simplifies to

 

P(Bs) = P(E)/m

 

Given that you are a member of a Specific Religion (and thus believe in a specific “God Figure”, who is ascribed a unique set of additional attributes), this is the probability of believing in “the” God g (and that God existing).

 

By assumption, m ³ n, but let’s try and argue for a stronger relationship:

 

Why m > n is a Reasonable Assumption:

 

Assume that we have some number of religions c, which have c additional attribute sets, made up of some number of additional attributes x. As long as 2x > c, the above condition holds. For example, given the existence of some number of religions, let’s say 10000, we would have 10000 distinct additional attribute sets. Now, let’s modestly say 100 total additional attributes exist within these sets. That would make the total number of possible additional attribute sets 2^100 (or 1267650600228229401496703205376), which is much greater than 10000. So, though this condition won’t always hold, it is a reasonable assumption to make.

 

Remark:

 

The very important implication of this argument is that there is no guarantee that any of the Specific Religions in existence believe in “the” God – this is because “the” God could in actuality have an additional attribute set that no religion has ascribed to their “God Figure”. It isn’t even necessarily the case that one of the specific religions in existence has it right.

 

An Effort to Persuade the Abolishment of Specific Additional Attribute Manifestations of “God Figures”:

 

Let P(Bns) = The Probability that you are believing “the” God, given that you don’t believe in a Specific Additional Attribute Set.

 

P(Bns) = P(E), where

 

P(Bns} > P(Bs)

 

 

Also note that even in the absence of the m > n assumption, the probability of P(Bs) is still less then the probability of P(Bns) (i.e. P(E) > P(E)/n)

 

This holds because we have assumed multiple religions.

 

Remark:

 

The abolishment of Specific Religions eliminates the belief in Specific Additional Attribute Sets. The point is that people should be encouraged to believe in just the base attributes of “the” God g. This way, no matter what “the” God’s additional attributes are in actuality, people will be believing in “the” God.

 

General Conclusions:

 

Ultimately, the point of this paper is to encourage a more “logical” belief in God. The more specifically a religion (or person for that matter) describes their “God Figure”, the less likely that their “God Figure” will represent “the” God g.


posted by Dan 10:04 PM  


{Friday, March 26, 2004}

 

More NRO Wit

Shorter Florence King: Gay marriage is a shoo-in because 1. conservatives are afraid of being called racists and 2. liberals want to debate religion, which everyone knows is impossible.
posted by Dan 1:28 PM  
 

The Slippery Slope

Rich Lowry has a column up on NRO where he (rather cleverly) gives us a glimpse into the future, specifically the text of an American history book, where all mentions of an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent being have been removed. And while Lowry is obviously correct in pointing out that there is quite a lot of God in American history, the slippery slope he proposes is a little dubious.

First, it should be noted that slippery slope arguments cannot be dismissed out of hand. While they are, technically, logical fallacies, they are still occasionaly correct. (i.e. the claims they make have proven to be true. Read Prof. Volokh's article for examples.) That being the case, I still don't think Lowry's argument is all that persuasive.

There is a big difference between "Under God" in the pledge, and discussing historical fact. On the one hand, the words were added to the pledge to contrast America with the Godless commies of the USSR. In other words, they really were an explicit state endorsement of the belief in a deity of some sort. The government has tried to argue that the meaning of the words has changed, and that they now simply acknowledge that the nation was founded by individuals who believed in God. I find that particular explanation is a bit of stretch, but even assuming it's true (and for Lowry's column to make any sense, one must,) I really doubt that a 10 year-old who is reciting the pledge can tell the difference.

The history books, on the other hand, are quite clearly an endorsement only of the idea that what is written is fact. Discussing how Abe Lincoln believed in God doesn't suggest that God exists, but only that Lincoln thought so. This is a much easier distinction for young children to make, as most of them understand, at least at a very basic level, that history is about learning the stories of the past.

None of this proves that Lowry's scenario could not come about. It is still possible that, in the event of the court striking down the pledge, even more extreme removals of God from the public schools could occur. It just seems unlikely, given the disparity between the two cases.
posted by Dan 1:19 PM  



{Thursday, March 25, 2004}

 

What Did You Expect?

LGF links to this Al Jazeera piece whose headline exclaims "Israel 'fabricated' child-bomber story". Note the extra set of quotation marks. The story only points to Palestinian leaders who make this claim; Al Jazeera has no, you know, proof. If the WaPo or NYT had run a story like that, I'd be excoriating them. But it's Al Jazeera. So why should I be even the slightest bit surprised?
posted by Dan 10:48 PM  
 

The Coming Storm

I just don't buy it whenever I read articles critical of Israel on the grounds that the Jewish state's actions are going "to lead the region into chaos." That's where we are now. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.

As for the points the article makes, there's some new points, and some tired canard. First, the old: Sharon's a butcher (a somewhat fair, somewhat gratuitous characterization,) and the Palestinians were this close to signing a new deal that would have reduced the violence (really!) At this point, it's difficult to find an article critical of Israel that doesn't mention both of these. And while I admit that the former is reasonable, to a point, the latter just seems to discredit the writers: why is it only right before an Israeli attack that the Palestinians are about to come to an agreement that would increase Israel's security?

The new points, though, were interesting, if only a little odd. The first is that this attack will transform the non-violent resistance to the wall surrounding the West Bank into a violent, rioting mob, so that the army could then employ their full arsenal against it. The authors believe that this situation is optimal for Sharon, as a non-violent Arab-Israeli coalition is far more menacing. I think, though, that the protesters are well aware of this, and are unlikely to alter their tactics, considering the already high number of violent Israeli attacks.

The other point I hadn't seen before is that this action will change the face of the battle. At this point, the author's see the dueling forces to be that of the Israelis and the Palestinians. The assasination, the authors posit, will cause that to shift to a Jewish/Muslim dialectic. I suspect that the reason I had not encountered this argument before is that it is ridiculous on its face. There has always been a religious aspect to the battle between the two sides. The suicide bombers die with visions of a merciful Allah rewarding them for murdering the infidels. In the broader context, Muslims and Jews the world over see Israel as a battleground. And if one were to trace the origins of the conflict, the Jews' desire to live in their biblical homeland is what lit the very first fuse. To claim that this has been anything but a religious conflict is simply incorrect.

In short, I think the hysteria that this article exudes is quite misplaced, as the situation is already as bad as, or worse than, the one envisioned by Carey and Shatz.
posted by Dan 10:26 PM  

 

Funny Stuff

Instapundit and LGF both link approvingly to this video by Evan Coyne Maloney. And I guess I'm doing the same thing. After all, the video was quite enjoyable, in the same way that Bowling for Columbine was enjoyable: both movies were highly entertaining, and completely missed the point.

It's easy enough to point out how Dems talked tough about Iraq. But there are two differences. For the congresspeople, it is unlikely most of them had access to the intel Bush did, and thus were speaking rhetorically based on what they had been told by Bush and his compatriots. Those that did know fall into the same camp as Clinton et al. It most likely that they received the same (flawed?) intel the Bush did. But Clinton didn't use it as a pretext for war.

In short, the congresspeople in the know were as mislead by faulty intelligence as anyone else, while those that didn't were mislead by those who had been mislead by fault intelligence. Does that mean Bush lied to them? Not necessarily. But at this point, most opposition to the war is not based on missing WMDs (or at least it shouldn't be,) and is more based on the Bush administration's awful handling of the post-war situation. And that, I think, is perfectly legitimate, no matter what one's position on the war was and is.
posted by Dan 11:26 AM  



{Sunday, March 21, 2004}

 

A Sane Anti-war Sign

Well, actually, it's more of an anti-Bush sign, but I'll take what I can get at rallies where International ANSWER is involved. Check out pic #47 on this page. The guy with the sign outlining his beefs with the administration is actually quite accurate.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not suddenly convinced that I should be anti-war, but that's obviously not the point of these things; the more people point out the problems with this president, the more of a chance there is that he'll be an ex-president come 2005. Though I personally supported both wars, and realize that every president in the last 40 years or so has presided over "record deficits" (I'll have a handy chart up in a day or two,) the loss of civil liberties (however small, I should add) is always a problem, and the Bush plan for bolstering the economy just hasn't addressed the issue of job creation (er, it has, but their numbers have, essentially, been lies.)

But what I'm really glad about is that he mentioned the fact that Bush has cut veterans' benefits. This always seemed to be the ultimate proof that Bush doesn't really care about the armed forces, beyond the immediate political gains from their services in combat. If Bush really cared, he wouldn't cut services they depend on. For all his moral support for the troops, pulling tangible support away from ex-troops is hypocritical, and just plain disrespectful.

So kudos to that guy, whoever he is, for adding one more voice to a chorus that I hope will continue to grow louder as this campaign moves forward.
posted by Dan 8:34 PM  



{Thursday, March 18, 2004}

 

Focus

This results of this poll are hardly surprising. The only result I found to be at least interesting was this:
While seven in 10 in the United States feel their country takes into account the interests of other countries when making international policy decisions, few in the other countries shared that view.
This isn't really an opinion question: the US takes other countries' interests into consideration insofar as they have to in order to get a country to agree to assist the them. But beyond that, the US shouldn't be concerned about other countries' interests; that's for the other countries themselves to handle. I think it's fairly clear that Americans focused on the former, while citizens in other countries cared more about the latter.
posted by Dan 3:46 AM  
 

Plan for a Complete Waste of Money

Though I initially checked out this article because I wanted to learn how an Alaskan test discriminates against the disabled, it was a different part of the article that caught my eye:
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, seeks to create reasonable accommodations for disabled students and to develop alternative ways of assessing students who can't do well on tests. (Emphasis mine)
Allow me to translate: "If a student isn't able to pass this particular test, than we should find a different test that the student can pass." This is, of course, completely ridiculous. Either let everyone graduate, and spare the taxpayers the expense of funding the testing in the first place, or accept the fact that educational standards simply cannot be met by every student.

Incidentally, the article contained no mention of why, exactly, disabled students were doing worse. How odd.
posted by Dan 3:33 AM  



{Tuesday, March 16, 2004}

 

Overriding a Judicial Veto

Atrios points to a new house resolution that would allow congress, provided 2/3 of both houses concurred, to reverse any supreme court judgement they wanted.

A few observations, mostly based on the comments made on Atrios's blog:

  • Before anything else, I want to express my agreement with the many people who pointed out that this is pure posturing, and simply won't pass. At least not in the forseeable future.

  • Some commenters seem to find it funny that a cycle could develop whereby the supreme court would strike down the law, and then congress would reverse that decision, and then the supreme court would strike down that decision etc. I don't find this at all plausible, for a few reasons. One is that once the supreme court struck down the law the first time, congress couldn't reverse that the decision, because the basis for such a reversal no longer exists. The other is that assuming it was possible to get the majority required to pass such a bill (and I really don't think it is,) reversing the decision would require supermajorities (which I really, really don't think is possible.) Finally, the supreme court wouldn't overrule the house reversal, since it would be a statutoraly created power that congress exercised. A brand new case would have to be brought for the court to "overrule" the house again.

  • I initially agreed with one commenter who asserted that this was just like the executive veto override, and was nothing to be concerned about. How silly of me. It is, superficially, like the executive veto override insofar as it allows the legislature to overrule another branch of government, provided they really really want to. But such an analysis misses an important point: the executive veto override is tolerable only because the courts still have the final say. If supermajorities in the legislature were able to override both the executive and judicial branches, then an especially partisan congress could, theoretically, do as they pleased, with complete disgregard for the constitution. Sort of.

    It is at this point where I depart ways with the commenters who even contemplate using the word "Nazi" in this debate. The key reason is this: congress can make all the laws they want. If no one ensures that they are followed, then little has changed. And luckily, that job has fallen to the executive, who need not take part in such shennanegins.

    Or assume they do. Where will they find the courts they need to try individuals for these crimes? Why with the judiciary, of course! But wait, why stop there? Let's invite the judiciary to join the party as well. We're back in Nazi Germany! Seems pretty grim. But don't get too upset just yet.

    The problem with such a scenario (aside from the Nazi Germany part) is that it probably wouldn't be averted by the a lack of judicial veto override. Suppose we lived in a world without such an override, and suppose congress and the executive simply refused to follow a ruling made by the supreme court. What could the courts do? If the officers entrusted to enforce the courts' rulings refuse to do so, the courts become powerless. In fact, in even the most severely checked and balanced system one could imagine, if those in power choose to ignore the checks, there is little the people can do, short of revolution.

    That being said, given the American government's propensity to (mostly) follow the rules, the realization of such a bill would indeed be a step toward untramelled legislative power, a rather unappetizing situation.


posted by Dan 12:00 AM  

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