Battlepanda: May 2006


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What's capitalism got to do with it?

Make no mistake, Amanda is a top blogger and I enjoy her post immensely. She incisive and funny and goes for the jugular in her critiques of pop culture. However, I really don't understand what capitalism has to do with the lad-lit classic, High Fidelity. I haven't read the book, but I've seen the movie, and it's about a guy and his hangups and old girlfriends. Not about a guy and his relationship with the socioeconomic arrangement of the world.

I don't know. I get uncomfortable when Amanda casually condemns "the capitalist system" while drawing on poorly-developed female characters as evidence. Yes, it's a crying shame that there are not more three dimensional female characters out there. However, this is a cultural problem, not so much a problem with an economic system. We may live in a patriarchal capitalist system. This does not mean that capitalism is an outgrowth of patriarchy.

Not that I think there are no problems with the way our economy is set up. But I do think that we need to keep problems in seperate spheres kind of...separate.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To the Commercial Appeal: Fuck You!

This is just a post to say a big "Fuck You!" to the subscription department at the Commercial Appeal and their shady business practices.

Sometime back in the fall, I made the mistake of purchasing a short weekends-only subscription, because I felt sorry for the kid who was going door-to-door selling them. I remember what it was like selling stuff door-to-door to try to get a bit of spending money as a teenager, so I'm sometimes a sucker for that tactic.

I don't really care much for the CA. For the most part, it's vapid and inane. So I decided to just let the subscription lapse when they sent the renewal notice.

Apparently the CA subscription department, unlike every other periodical I've ever subscribed to, doesn't take not responding to a renewal notice as a good enough reason to actually cancel the subscription. And apparently that cancellation notice they sent was just a joke, because they keep throwing the damn paper in my yard every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

But now their subscription department has had the utter gall to use a collection agency to try to get me to pay for a damn subscription renewal that I never fucking requested!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Bookblogging: Stumbling on Happiness

A good rule of thumb: If Prof. Tyler Cowen calls it "so far the best book this year," it's probably worth reading. Stumbling on Happiness, by Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, does not dissappoint.

Like Francis Bacon with his listing in the Novum Organum of the "Idols," mental tendencies that lead us away from scientific truth, Gilbert lays out the ways in which our imagination fails us when trying to determine what courses of action will make us happy.

Gilbert lists three shortcomings of our imagination that systematically mislead us. First is that imagination, like memory and perception, fills in missing details in ways that are not always accurate. Subjects systematically overpredict how happy a good event will make them, and underpredict how unhappy a bad event will make them, because imagination does not take into account all the other background circumstances that affect our happiness.

Second, imagination tends to project the present onto the future. A hungry shopper will overpurchase food, and a full one will underpurchase it, even though how hungry one is while shopping has little to do with how hungry one will be at mealtimes over the coming week.

And third, imagination does not take into account our psychological defense mechanisms that help us cope with negative experiences.

The psychological studies Gilbert cites in support of his claims should be unsurprising to anyone who took Psychology 101 in college. Gilbert cites philosophy, literature, and popular culture as well. The only gaping philosophical error I saw was a very weak reading of Kant in chapter 4.

The one annoying thing about this book is Gilbert's constant barrage of jokes, which seem to average about one per paragraph. Many of the jokes fall flat, but there are enough genuinely funny jokes that by the end of the book I was able to gloss over the lame ones without so much as an eye-roll.

My favorite quote from the book was in one of the end notes. In the afterward, Gilbert writes, "Wealth may be measured by counting dollars, but utility must be measured by counting how much goodness those dollars buy." The end note for that sentence reads, "Most modern economists would disagree with this statement because economics is currently committed to an assumption that psychology abandoned a half-century ago, namely, that a science of human behavior can ignore what people feel and say and rely solely on what people do."

Not being as extensively read as Prof. Cowen, I can't tell you whether Stumbling on Happiness is the best book so far this year. But it's a quick read, and at $14.95 from Amazon it won't break your bank account, unless your bank account is very small. I recommend it as a fun introduction to the fascinating work being done in the field of happiness psychology.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The political is personal

"The Personal is Political" was the rallying cry of the feminists in the 60's. It was a powerful slogan designed to break through the barrier between sexual equality as a theoretical artifact and ordinary women's everyday lives. Now if I may be permitted to steal the phrase and turn it around, I'd like to point out that the vice versa is also true -- When it comes to ethical behavior, the political can be deeply personal. It is not enough to restrict ourselves to the limited sphere of our own lives when we work to affect the issues we care deeply about. America is a country of individualists, and we are a sucker for arguments that are couched in the language of choice. However, at some point we have to realize that to steer this handbasket away from the hell-wards direction, we're going to have to work together.

Brad Plumer has a knock-out post up about how the excess garbage problem, caused by excessive packaging, resulted in a wave of public discontent after the Second World War. This discontent pushed lawmakers to start passing laws against excessive packaging. Had we gone in that direction, undoubtedly we would not be living in an America where 1/3 of our considerable garbage output comes from packaging. Instead, what we got was the anti-litter movement, which effectively atomized and dispersed the support for laws curtailing excess packaging by removing the most visible aspect of the garbage problem and putting the responsibility on the individual/consumers rather than the businesses/sellers.

Now, where does this attitude seem familiar from...oh yeah.

[Dick Cheney:] Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.

This is the Republican-business complex M.O. when it comes to dealing with environmental issues -- trivialization through isolation.
Brad gets some excellent assist from John of Dymaxion World:
Conservatives love to rail on about "personal responsibility", but in the modern era that has next to no meaning. Exactly how, pray, am I - a conscientious ecologically-minded person - supposed to dramatically cut my CO2 emissions? I can't, for the very simple reason that all of my available options are carbon-intense. I can choose between the lesser of two evils (say, mass transit over a car) but seriously reducing my personal footprint requires - you guessed it - collective responsibility.

This applies to issues beyond the environment. If I might be allowed to quote myself from an earlier post calle "The Moral Maze of Meat":
When people talk about the ethics of meat eating/factory farming, they are almost always talking about personal consumer choice. But I think real concrete improvement in conditions is far more likely to come from the political direction. We
won't abolish factory farming, but if we unite the voting power of everyone
who agrees that animals needs to get treated better in this country, we can get
regulation passed that guarentee a certain square footage for each chicken
in a factory farm -- or maximum distance for livestock transport -- or
humane procedures for minimizing stress during the slaughtering process.

My libertarian friends are probably mewling murderously about statist interventions and such. Well, have they got any better ideas? And don't tell me that if we really cared about a clean planet and no-destruction-from-global-warming enough, the free-market fairy will make it available on aisle 7 of your local megalomart.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Towel Day Catblogging

Today is Towel Day.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Do you sass that hoopy Monkey? There's a cat who really knows where her towel is.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bumper Book Blogging

Most of you would have assumed by this time that I have fallen far off the book-blogging wagon. This is true when it comes to the blogging part, but I have been steadily chugging along, perhaps not quite at the rate of a book a week, but at a steady clip nevertheless. Alas, I now lack the time to blog them all to my satisfaction. Perhaps, it is time to do a catch up post to let you all know what I've been reading.

-- The Undercover Economist by Tim Hartford
This book came highly recommended from my friend Chris. Chris and I are quite sympatico when it comes to books and I've always enjoyed his recommendations. I even hallucinated that he recommended the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernoff. I liked the book and told him so, upon which he informed me that he never read the book, let alone recommend it to me. So even the Chris-recommendation that really wasn't, was good.

Now, onto The Undercover Economist: I think it's no coincidence that the Marginal Revolution guys are a big fan of this book. It's animated by an exuberant love of the market and follows Freakonomic's bestselling formula of using economics, not as a dense and esoteric study to be applied to the movement of currencies, but a sharp tool to help us figure out all aspect of the world around us where there is a supply and demand. Now and then, there are inconsistencies. Harford (rightly, in my opinion) thinks that taxing pollution is the best way of curtailing it since it turns an externality into a cost the firm must confront. At the same time, he mocks an environmental group for encouraging its members to donate money to climate concern charities at a level that "makes up" for their carbon usage. Yes, on some level it sounds rather silly and reminiscent of the defunct Catholic practice of purchasing indulgences, but another way of thinking about those donation is as a self-imposed tax on consuming petroleum products.

--The Death of Sleep by Ann Macaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye
Proto-feminist sci-fi is always good times.

-- Me Talk Pretty One Day By David Sedaris
This one is a re-read. I don't really enjoy David Sedaris' radio work that much, but this book is very funny. I'll recommend it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Angry Left Meme

Skillfully demolished by Glenn Greenwald, who notes the hypocrisy inherent in the Right Wing attacks on Rohe, because she was gasp! rude to McCain, a decorated veteran, while they themselves had no compunction about waving purple band-aids. Even better, he brings in the the incident last week in which Democratic Representative Lacy Clay was booed and heckled by Right Wing students, an occurance which was put down to how "hateful" Clay's anti-Bush speech was.

So, to re-cap the rules: (1) When a pro-war politician gives a pro-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle and boo him, that shows how Deranged the Angry Left is -- because they heckled a pro-war speech. (2) When an anti-war politician gives an anti-war speech as part of a graduation ceremony, and students in the audience heckle, walk out and even riot, that also shows how Angry the Left is -- because they "provoked a near riot" by pro-war students.

One last point that can't go unnoticed: part of the WSJ Editorial that Instapundit quotes warns that Democrats are going to be in big trouble because they are "sneering at our war heroes." That is almost too much hypocrisy to stomach, even for Instapundit. Who has "sneered at war heroes" more viciously and continuously than Bush supporters -- from Jack Murtha to John Kerry to Max Cleland to the war critic Generals? Sneering at war heroes was one of the principal tactics of the Bush re-election campaign and has been a reliable tool to attack and smear any war hero who speaks out against this administration.

[snip] When the likes of Instapundit and the Wall St. Journal Editorial Board rail against the "Angry Left," what they mean are "people who oppose the war in Iraq and criticize the Commander-in-Chief." As long as Democrats remember that that description includes the vast majority of Americans, they should have no difficulty ignoring this pious hypocrisy, which always deceitfully masquerades as an oh-so-earnest effort to help Democrats do better in the upcoming election ("if only you would be more like Joe Lieberman and stop criticizing the war and the President, you wouldn't be perceived as so angry and you'd have a much better chance to win").

OK, I know Glenn Greenwald's posts are long, but go read the whole thing, man, read the whole thing. It's worth it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Panda graffiti

More panda graffiti from Lindsay Beyerstein.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Guilty of calling a spade a spade

Predictably, the usual suspects on the right-wing has gone into a lather over Murtha's statements regarding Haditha. More precisely, he said that the marines involved in that incident had “killed innocent civilians in cold blood”.

Is that really such a controversial statement given what has transpired? First, the military tried to claim in November that the civilians were killed in an insurgent attack. Then they admitted that they lied their initial assessment did not conform with what happened. They next story was that the civilians were killed in a firefight, which does not jibe with the video showing no bullet holes outside of the house. Now the military is not saying much at all. But given the volumous accounts from Iraqis on the ground of victims, including children, being shot in their nightcloths at close range and an unnamed commander in the military admitting that "this one is going to be ugly" and that it appears the marines did not follow the rules of engagement, is what Murtha said so implausable as to be characterized as a pack of lies?

I have two questions for this representative of the 101st chairborne division: given the facts we already know and the statements already released by the military, can you give me a viable scenario in which the marines in question did not shoot the civilians, including a three year old girl, in cold blood? Secondly, you called Murtha a "sellout" and a "traitor" who deserved to be "ridiculed, excoriated and frog-marched off Capitol Hill, then remanded to jail. No bail." because he commented on an ongoing investigation. I don't suppose that it crossed your mind that he might know more about the case than you do. If it turns out that Murtha is right and you have wrongly maligned an upright American, honorable marine and public servant, are you even going to have the decency to apologize, or are you going to shrug your shoulders and move on to the next feeding frenzy? Just a bunch of dead Iraqis after all

Ali, 76, whose left leg was amputated years ago because of diabetes, died after being shot in the stomach and chest. His wife, Khamisa, 66, was shot in the back. Ali's son, Jahid, 43, was hit in the head and chest. Son Walid, 37, was burned to death after a grenade was thrown into his room, and a third son, 28-year-old Rashid, died after he was shot in the head and chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Also among the dead were son Walid's wife, Asma, 32, who was shot in the head, and their son Abdullah, 4, who was shot in the chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Walid's 8-year-old daughter, Iman, and his 6-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman, were wounded and U.S. troops took them to Baghdad for treatment. The only person who escaped unharmed was Walid's 5-month-old daughter, Asia. The three children now live with their maternal grandparents, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Rsayef said those killed in the second house were his brother Younis, 43, who was shot in the stomach and chest, the brother's wife Aida, 40, who was shot in the neck and chest while still in bed where she was recuperating from bladder surgery. Their 8-year-old son Mohammed bled to death after being shot in the right arm, Rsayef said.

Also killed were Younis's daughters, Nour, 14, who was shot in the head; Seba, 10, who was hit in the chest; Zeinab, 5, shot in the chest and stomach; and Aisha, 3, who was shot in the chest. Hoda Yassin, a visiting relative, was also killed, Rsayef and Hamza said.

The only survivor from Younis's family was his 15-year-old daughter Safa, who pretended she was dead. She is living with her grandparents, Rsayef said.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Got Dyslexia?

Nationwide, only 2 percent of students who have taken the SAT over the past 10 years have done so untimed. Most of these students' diagnoses are presumably genuine. But in places like Greenwich, Conn., and certain zip codes of New York City and Los Angeles, the percentage of untimed test-taking is said to be close to 50 percent. These data aren't readily available from the College Board, which publishes only statewide figures on the numbers of "accommodated" SAT takers. But Abrams noticed that in the District of Columbia—the only city whose data is separately released by the board, since D.C. is a separate jurisdiction—7 to 9 percent of all SAT-takers typically get extra time on the test. The results clearly show that these "accommodated" children are not the city's poor and disadvantaged. Nationally, children who receive extra time on the test score lower as a group than students who don't. In 2005, they scored an average combined 975 on the math and verbal sections, compared to 1,029 for standard test-takers. This is what one would expect for children struggling to keep up because of disabilities. But the trend was reversed among the 264 children in D.C. who took untimed SATs in 2005. They scored a combined 1,105 on the tests, well above the national average and even further above the average of 957 among D.C. children who took timed tests.

I feel like a little bit of a hypocrite for posting about this, since I will soon be working for the Princeton Review, therefore making my money by teaching little priviledged sproglings how to goose their SAT scores up.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Blue Suede Spoon

In Memphis news, spoon-bending charlatan Uri Geller has purchased Elvis Presley's pre-Graceland home at 1034 Audubon Dr. for $905K on eBay.

Short-circuiting Godwin's Law

Theodore Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day, "Christian libertarian," misogynist, and holder of both the "Most Pretentious Nom de Plume" and "Worst Haircut" titles among internet punditry, had this to say about the prospect of massive deportation of illegal immigrants:
Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.
Yes, rather than waiting for a critic to point out that rounding up Mexicans and deporting them is positively Naziesque, to which his defenders can reply, "Godwin's Law, dude!" thereby winning the debate in accordance with long-established internet flame-war rules dating back to 1990, Beale has courageously chosen to immediately end* all discussion of his favored immigration policy by making the Nazi comparison himself.

Positively brilliant!

(Via digby, who I believe holds the internet punditry title for "Least Pretentious Nom de Plume." I don't know anything about digby's haircut.)

*Yes, pedants, I know it's a split infinitive.

Immigration and food metaphors

When I was a child, Schoolhouse Rock taught me about the Great American Melting Pot.

At some point, the preferred food metaphor for immigration became "tossed salad." That phrase, however, has acquired an alternative use as a euphemism, and so is no longer a very good metaphor.

Harvard poli-sci professor Samuel Huntington, who sees Mexican immigration as the "gravest threat to American identity," has proposed that the best food metaphor for immigration is tomato soup, apparently because it's good as long as you don't add too many spices (i.e. brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people).


I propose a new, immigration-friendly, metaphor. America is like pizza: the more toppings the better.*

Except for anchovies. Anchovies are foul, and they make pizza foul. Fundamentalist theocrats are the anchovies.

*Yes, pedants, I know it's a simile in that sentence, not a metaphor.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blog jujitsu

Ezra Klein mocks Andrew Sullivan with his own words. Somehow, Sully summoned up the the temerity to dismiss recently deceased giant of Economics John Kenneth Galbraith as a man who ""was so wrong about so much for so long and with such disdain for the empirical refutation of his theories that he deserves little in retrospect but our pity."
Meanwhile, Andrew thought the Iraq War a spectacular idea, but now isn't so sure; believed Bush a terrific choice for president in 2000, and then, disappointed by his pick's performance, endorsed Kerry; and figured the critics of the president were a domestic "fifth column," before he became one of them. Reaching back into time, he published Elizabeth McCaughey's takedown of the Clinton health care plan, widely regarded as one of the most dishonest and unfortunate pieces of journalism published in recent years. It was an article whose central premise was rendered a lie by the very first paragraph of the legislation. The magazine he edited later apologized. He also published an excerpt from Charles Murray's eugenicist tract The Bell Curve. The book was subsequently found to be riddled with factual and statistical errors.

Andrew Sullivan certainly has my pity.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The economies and diseconomies of scale

John of Dymaxion World doubts that small can be beautiful in this day and age:
Economies of scale are real things, and it's hard to imagine a world where basic economic laws didn't apply. Food is just one example - the economies of scale from massive farms are obvious. Yes, this is an unsustainable form of agriculture. But we have to ask: is the next agricultural paradigm (hopefully, a sustainable one) going to succeed without the same economies of scale? I don't see it.

In all matters relating to agriculture I tend to defer to Kevin Carson. Here's his post savaging the "Green Revolution". Now, admittedly, Kevin is more of a true believer in organic farming than I am (I'm not a purist in anything). But I agree with this point:

We may be in a "world marketplace," but it sure isn't a free market. Agribusiness is a sector of the economy as state-subsidized and state-cartelized as Big Pharma and the military contractors.[snip]

Even in conventional, mechanized row-crop farming, economies of scale tend to max out when a single set of basic equipment is fully utilized--that is, at the level of a one- or two-farmer operation [W.R. Bailey, The One-Man Farm (USDA, 1973)]. The real difference in profitability comes from the channeling of state-subsidized inputs to large-scale agribusiness. As one farmer said, the only thing the agribusiness interests are more efficient at farming is the government.

Of course, John is right so some degree. We're never going to farm wheat and soybeans without tractors and combines in this country. But there's no mechanical, in-built reason why a 300 acre farm should not be as productive as a 3000 acre farm on a per acre basis.

As for the third world, (which I'm not sure if John is including in his comment) the equation is different yet again. There is a surfeit of labor in the third world, and a shortage of capital. It seems to make sense to encourage smaller farms where the owners can use labor-intensive techniques like raised beds and mixed cropping rather than larger, more mechanized farms where expensive seeds, fertilizers, weedkillers and machines are necessary.

As for John's broader point -- big business is here to stay and we should strive to set up ground rules to make them less socially destructive -- I think I am in agreement, with the caveat that the extent to which small businesses are valuable should not be underestimated. They bring vitality to the economy because they're more nimble and likely to be innovative, and obviously, they better the circumstances of their owners. I live in Taiwan, which fairly hums with enterpreneurship. You can't get stuck in traffic without somebody trying to hawk you something. There's no doubt that it's a real engine for growth and the way a lot of people managed to hoist themselves up into a more comfortable existance.

Having said that, I think it is wrongheaded to use tax incentives or other special breaks to artificially encourage small-business formation. What the government can do is to make it as easy and hassle-free to start a small business as possible, that is, to register as a corporation. It's already pretty easy, IIRC. The other thing it can do is not to give big business an unfair advantage, like municipalities falling over themselves to offer walmart better incentives to build in their town.

A more radical way to help small businesses would be to get rid of the tax on businesses alltogether -- this will level the playing field because really small businesses can't afford to do all the tricks that big businesses do to help them get out of the tax, like the corporate headquarters in Bermuda. Instead, tax the profits as income at a proper, progressive rate when they leave the company to go into the pockets of owners and shareholders like any other income.

Now what the progressives really must do is to separate their visceral distaste for homogeneity and reliable mediocrity that often accompanies big corporations with their political critique of big corporations on social equity grounds. Blame Starbucks for being bland, and I'll be right there with you. But the fact is that it's pretty good to its workers -- probably far better than an equivalent locally-owned cafe.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Line of the day

The Hilary hatred deepens. Line of the day comes from Stephen Gordon: "f Hillary Clinton moves any further to the right, she’ll be giving Karl Rove a lapdance."

She's already gearing up to give Rupert Murdoch a...oh never mind.

In which I agree with Jane Galt

Wow. I actually agree with Jane Galt that this post by Michael O'Hare is particularly sensible. Maybe we'll switch to a flying-pig powered economy to get out of our energy crisis.
As a piece of social policy, one has to wonder about the wisdom of slapping a big tax on the only people who are providing any of this oil we want so badly. One doesn't even have to wonder about the whole concept of all the schemes to make oil less expensive; did the demand curve for petroleum suddenly tilt the other way while we weren't looking? One more time, what's the logic of subsidizing domestic production and exploration: is there some prize for being the first country to use up its petroleum?

Emphasis mine.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Why I'm not a Hillary Clinton fan

Jim Henley pretty much sums it up:
The problem with Senator Hillary Clinton isn’t just that she tacks starboard but that her rightward gestures are in the direction of the worst kind of “conservative,” the militaristic and moralistic kind. She’s an ambidextrous busybody. It’s as if a Republican politico tried to generalize his appeal by calling for a fat tax and mandatory diversity counseling for bowling leagues. If it involves telling other people what to do, especially with gun in hand, Hillary Clinton is for it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Bill of Rights, Expurgated Version

Air Force Gen Michaeal Hayden, the President's nominee to head the CIA, has a bit of trouble remembering what the 4th amendment says:

QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use—

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually—the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable—

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure...

GEN. HAYDEN: ... Just to be very clear—and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth.

In case you've forgotten, here's the 4th amendment in its entirety:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
(Emphasis added.)

This may be the best Constitutional misquote from a high-ranking public official since Alexander "I'm in control here" Haig said, "Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order...."

(Via Hit and Run.)

This economy is screwier than a dame in a month of Sundays

(Via the Drumstir)

Hilarious. All economic columns should be written up as pulp noir:
"I'm sorry to barge in on you like this," she said in a voice that gave my calculator a power surge. "I didn't know where else to turn."

"You came to the right place, doll," I said. "I see you've got the first-quarter GDP report, along with the new compensation results." I'd been puzzling over these numbers all day, but what, I wondered, could this tall glass of ice water want with them?

"That's right," she purred. "I need to know why GDP is up 4.8%, the strongest quarter since 2003, yet real wages are falling." Yeah, I thought, you and everybody else who works for a living.

"Why the interest?" I shot back. She didn't look like a Democrat.

"I wish I could tell you. But I work for some powerful people" — now I knew she wasn't a Democrat — "and they'd be very upset if they even knew I was here."

Real life bloggers

Blogging is usually disasterous for my social life. Why go out with friends when you can stay at home tapping away at your keyboard in front of your monitor instead?

Yesterday was an exception though. I met up with two bloggers in Taipei -- Mark, a regular commenter on Battlepanda and the proprietor of Doubting to Shuo, and JT of Wan An Taipei. We had Mexican food, played pool and generally acted like a normal twenty-something year old. See, and my sister thinks that I have no life because I'm a blogger. Quite to the contrary.

Perhaps we can meet up with Wulingren as he's back from the States and have another blogger powwow. Congrats on the new job, by the way!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The view from a small island

There's been some recent and unpopular changes in the Taiwanese National Health insurance system. The employer's share of the burden has gone down while everybody 'premiums are adjusted upwards, with the double-income-no-kids crowd getting screwed the hardest. (Gee, I wonder why...) People are not happy.

I don't think I've been here long enough to evaluate whether the adjustments are just or necessary. But I think it provides a useful reality check to see how those new increased premiums compare to what the average, insured family in America has to pay, which Kate has provided . Of course, Taiwan is a much less wealthy country than the States. Taiwan's GDP per capita is about half. So lets stack the deck against the Taiwanese system by only looking at the premiums paid by the top income bracket, which is naturally the highest (those making more than 4.6 millions NT [or about $140,000 USD] annually or more.).

So, after the unpopular premium hike, the most anyone pays for the NHI scheme in Taiwan is 3000NT or about 9o dollars a month. That comes out to $1080 annually. The vast majority of the population pays much less. Compare this to, say, the average individual rate in the United States at $3,495. Even taking into account that the GDP per capita in Taiwan is half that of the U.S. and thus wages of doctors and nurses and so on must be cheaper, the NHI is still a bargain.

I understand that a lot of apples are getting compared with oranges. This is just a quick reality check. C'mon, people. If Taiwan can do it, we can too.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday catblogging

Even though (or perhaps especially because) she's not allowed to hang out in the linen closet, Monkey really likes it in there. She can't open the door to it, but Panther can.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hey Kids! Comics!

This coming Saturday is Free Comic Book Day!

In which I actually agree with Michelle Malkin...

My favorite libertarian, Radley Balko, links to a Michelle Malkin column from December 2000. To my great surprise, I found myself agreeing with it 100%. The conclusion:
Black and white, young and old, famous and nameless – Americans from all walks of life can identify with the broken soul of Robert Downey Jr. His addiction is his own prison. His public humiliation is its own life sentence. The war on drugs is an expensive quagmire that needlessly punishes people who’ve already punished themselves beyond repair.
As Balko puts it, this is from before the point where Malkin "discovered that there's more money and fame as a crazy-ass authoritarian wingnut as than as the interesting, almost-libertarian she was several years ago."

Baptism stories

Philip Baron at Waveflux tells the story of his baptism. It's an eerily familiar tale to me, since I also grew up in a Baptist church.
I came to dread those Sundays that featured actual church service not just because time ground to a halt, but because of the call to redemption, the moment in each service when the good reverend would descend from the pulpit to stand before the pews, arms outstretched in welcome, all while the choir sang of penitence.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

And the congregation watched. Even while it sang, it watched, the communal eye fixed on some young man or woman old enough to make the decision for Christ. Would this be the day? Sometimes it was: the young adult would take those faltering steps up the aisle to be embraced by the pastor and held up, amid hosannas and praise, as a lamb returned to the flock.


Often, however, the call was not answered. On such occasions, the pastor would lower his arms, always looking a bit disappointed, and return to the pulpit as the hymns died away. This moment always filled me with relief as the suspension of time seemed now lifted and I might get home in time for kickoff. There was another element to my relief, however, surely more keenly felt by those a bit older than me: they knew that they had evaded God's spotlight, the laying bare of the self before judgment, the terror of the call. But sooner or later, they all answered - unless they dropped out of church altogether. The stare of the communal eye simply could not be resisted.
That's exactly how I remember it, right down to the hymn that was sung during the altar call.

My own baptism story, however, does not end with my being hit with the flying head from a ball peen hammer. I think the end of my baptism story is equally amusing, though.

You see, I forgot to bring a pair of dry underwear to change into after the baptism ceremony. So after my baptism, I returned to the Sunday night service, going commando.

Life update

I flatter myself into thinking that I have gathered a core of readers here who come back for more than just my latest ravings on current affairs. I feel like I know you guys, and that you might appreciate the nickle version of what's going on in my life.

Postings have been slow because I stupidly messed up my DSL application. Oh, and I had a quarter-life crisis and took a 54 hours a week job as a bartender at a Tapas bar in Taipei. Normality will ensue shortly as I finish the bartending job and start working this summer at the Taipei branch of the Princeton Review. I'm very upset because they got rid of the Analogy section of the SATs. That was my favorite part! In the fall, I'll apply to be a reporter with one of the English language newspapers in Taipei. Wish me luck.

As for Gene, he'll be teaching English and trying to catch some freelance design work. He's studying Chinese too. Dodo is fine, although she's getting over a case of the ear mites.

Hopefully Sonet will come through quick, and I can start putting out the political red meat for y'all again on a regular basis.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

15.5 acres

Talking about's another one -- the ecological footprint quiz, with your "footprint" calculated in hectares.

According to this quiz, I am a big resource hog, taking up 15.5 hectares. In otherwords, if you accept the quiz's assumptions, we'd need 8.6 planets if everybody lived my lifestyle.

I am a little confused by the way the quiz is broken down. I expected a huge transportation footprint because I fly often, but what is this 8.4 hectares I incurred in "goods and services"? I do wish that they'd offer a little more detail as to how they achieved their results. Oh well, it's an internet quiz. And I suspect one that's more interested in making one feel guilty than arriving at any meaningful answers at that.

After you take the quiz, there is a Take Action! button that takes you to a page exhorting you to line-dry your laundry, take shorter showers and reduce the number of days your home is air-conditioned ("could be reduced with fan cooling or sweating") -- I've got three words for the makers of this quiz -- fuck that shit. I'm sorry if I'm coming off as a horrible, selfish, heat-intolerant asshole who cares more about long showers with adequate water pressure than the planet earth, but there is something fundamentally screwed up about such a mickey mouse, punitive approach to achieving ecological balance. Why no mention of supporting renewables or of political action to achieve higher fuel efficiency standards? Then perhaps we can have our air conditioners and get to turn it on.

Can we have a word for people who want to keep the earth in reasonably good shape but have no desire to eat less packaged food, get around by mule power or ration the number of hours I keep my television on? "How about 'selfish'" you say? Damn right. That's a good start. People are selfish. If you're relying on altruism and love of Gaia to save the planet then you might as well be resigned to the fact that we're going to hell in a handbasket. There is an anti-consumerist, sanctimonious edge to the environmentalist movement that is tremendously off-putting. To me, guilting people into personally decreasing their standard of life for the collective good is not something that should be done lightly -- it's like asking your friend for a favor...sometimes it needs to be done, but always with delicacy and an eye to preserving future good-will. The amount of water used in showering is nominal when compared to overall water usage (which IIRC goes mainly to irrigation). To ask people to shave minutes off their daily shower in order to help the environment is inconsiderate in the same way that it is inconsiderate to ask a friend to go way out of their way to do you a tiny favor.

Monday, May 01, 2006


So there is a flap over the Spanish version of the Star-Spangled Banner, for reasons I fail to fathom. The primacy of the English version, or the use of English in general in America, for that matter, is not in question. Why are people so threatened a Spanish version?

Kevin Drum, good moderate soul that he is, predictably tut-tuts the recent demonstrations as "too risky". Indeed, there has been a huge and hysterical reaction from the right. So, how should the immigrant-friendly left react?

Certainly not with silence, I think. I think I agree with Kevin that the potential for a nasty backlash is there...there is alot of anti-hispanic nastiness in this country. The right wing crowd is certainly dominating the conversation in the blogisphere at the moment.

I think the key is to get back to what the original producers were trying to accomplish:
While critics sketch a nightmare scenario of a Canada-like land with an anthem sung in two languages, immigrant rights advocates say they agree learning English is essential. Studies of immigrant families suggest the process is inevitable: Eighty-two percent to 90 percent of the children of immigrants prefer English.

"The first step to understanding something is to understand it in the language you understand, and then you can understand it in another language," said Leo Chavez, director of Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California at Irvine. "What this song represents at this moment is a communal shout, that the dream of America, which is represented by the song, is their dream, too."

Why stop at a spanish translation? I'd be glad to do a Chinese translation of the Star Spangled banner. Not because the Chinese want to take over America, but because America is a multi-cultural country and there should be nothing very controversial about having our anthem in different languages.