Monday, May 31, 2004

Why I'm not voting Libertarian

This past weekend the Libertarian party convention was held. (Nice media coverage of a party that's on the ballot in all 50 states yet again, and had Bush lost Florida by a slim margin, Libertarians would be blamed for the Bush defeat). I've long thought of myself as a Mill-Hayekian libertarian (small government out of my life and my pocketbook). Throughout my adult life, my mix of realism and idealism has lead me to straddle the Republican/Libertarian divide. So in the past, when a vote didn't matter, I would vote Libertarian as a way of nudging the Republican party towards a more Libertarian stance.

However, the Libertarian party's pursuit of ideals has left the realm of reality (and in some cases just appear to be insane). So while I voted for the Libertarian candidate for President the past two elections, I'm not this time. Had Boortz somehow been nominated, (not one of the big three leading into the convention)1., I wouldn't be posting this and would be voting the Libertarian ticket a third time in a row.

Largely my feelings about Bednarik closely tracks my feelings about the Libertarian party in general (and more specifically the "Boot Boortz" crowd). I find their excessively doveish stance on Iraq foolish (we have no right to defend ourselves unless first attacked - Afghanistan was not justified in the party's eyes since Afghanistan didn't attack us on 9/11), their views of privacy unrealistic (no TIA, you can continue to collect the information as you have been, but don't you dare use it to connect the dots!), their stance on drugs not grounded in reality (legalization will decrease drug use), their stance on the IRS irresponsible (abolish it!), and think they're bogged down in bizzare government techno minutae (Congress can't grant the Executive branch the right to coin money!). It goes on and on. In my opinion, this year the only worthwhile point the party is making is their defense of property rights in response to the epidemic of eminent domain abuses. However, this issue pales in comparison to the other issues (and was a Boortz issue by the way).

So perhaps, I've left the Libertarian party, or perhaps they've left me. In any event, while I found their bold pursuit of ideals attractive previously, I find it foolish now. Whether it's because I've grown up or take things more seriously now that we're at war, I can't say.

Other than the Boortz caveat, Captain Ed expresses similar sentiments over at the Captain's Quarters.

1. Some considered Boortz a quasi serious candidate, but there was also a petition to dump him as a speaker - too pro-Bush for some Libertarians.

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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Sometimes Bigger IS Better

Like in cup size. Specifically as in Denmark where the average cup size has moved from B to C/D. Clearly this trend merits broader "support." I also think America should act now before we fall behind Denmark in the breasts race.

It seems like it applies to guys as well, or at least advertisers wish me to believe. I got the following email:
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What do you think ladies? Should the fellas try to match the Danish women? I assume bigger is better here as well, but the ladies can correct me if I'm wrong.

Will I experience any side effects?
No prescription is required because this product is 100% natural.
There are no known side effects.

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RE: Guarantees

Don't worry. Kerry's not sunk until Al "Kiss of Death" Gore publically endorses Kerry (perhaps including a thunderous tirade about the impending the global ice age on the warmest day of the year). I don't figure this will happen until at least July.

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When guarantees are made, everyone loses...

On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi just guaranteed that John Kerry would be the next President of the United States.

Rhetoric aside, that just ratchets up the degree to which either Jody or myself will be sorely disappointed come the first Tuesday in November. It's comments like that one though, that leave me with the sinking feeling that I'll be the one to be disappointed...

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Piggybacking: Running for President from abroad?

My father used to be an employee of what is now the Altria group. When I was younger, I used to keep up with business acquisitions, if only because I found it somewhat interesting that Philip Morris seemed to be buying up everything in sight.

So it came as some surprise to me (since I haven't kept up with this sort of thing with the same vigilance in some time) that the company then known as Philip Morris Companies sold majority control of Miller Brewing to South African Breweries almost exactly two years ago. Of course, I don't imagine that business acquisitions have somehow become rarer since I was younger, it's just that I guess I haven't paid attention to some of them.

Now it would be worth knowing more about Miller's history: Miller is far older than thirty-five years old, and was born in the United States, even though it was apparently adopted by a parent of foreign birth. Apparently money changed hands in the process of this "adoption," so you can make as much political capital of that as you want. It remains clear that Miller continues to claim citizenship in Wisconsin, at least as far as Miller's outward claims are concerned.

So you be the judge. Has Miller met all of the constitutional requirements to be "President of Beers"? Does the fact that Miller is, in fact, a majority-owned subsidiary of a foreign conglomerate amount to Miller having renounced its American citizenship, or given the claim of domicile in Wisconsin, is Miller merely living abroad while retaining American citizenship?

And will we need a Supreme Court case to figure this one out? Dare I say it?

Miller v. Busch?

(Think about it for a moment. Then think about it again. It all makes sense.)

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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Incivility in the Campaign for President

of Beers that is. By now, you've probably seen the Miller advertisements where Miller is running for "President of Beers." Some goofy looking guy representing Miller recreates some Clinton and Bush (fils) mannerisms while "debating" a Clydesdale (representing Bud) while saying some pretty amusing (and pretty stupid) things.
"This is a travesty and a sham and a mockery. It's a travishamockery!"
"Why won't my opponent debate this issue? Is it because he's a horse? Or is it because he's got blinders on? No peripheral vision. Look at me. (snaps) Both sides."
So of course, Budweiser responded. Today I saw commercials (not yet up on the Bud site) with the lizards going off on the Miller spots. Specifically saying that Miller can't run for President - it's not even American, it's owned by a South African company.

Well apparently this ticked off Miller (even though as best as I can tell Bud's point is accurate), so on Friday Miller took Bud to court.

I think it'll all work out as long as they don't get Elmo or Cookie Monster involved.

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Friday, May 28, 2004

More Stupid People Tricks, and maybe some Dishonest People Tricks as well

I don't listen to Neil Boortz's radio show. I can't testify to his qualifications to make the judgement that he has in this case. But I did take a moment to read the article that's referenced in Jody's post, and given that any fool can have an opinion, I feel uniquely qualified to offer my opinions on Neil's opinion, and on Jody's.

First, make no mistake - there are lots of idiots out there. 50 percent might be a high fraction, or as I'm going to point out anecdotally in a moment, it might even be low. The problem in Boortz's article, and even in Jody's response, is that he's basing an assessment of intelligence on what amounts to a personal assessment of reality.

To say that the "average" American is stupid for not recognizing that we're in the midst of economic recovery and impending economic boom based on the evidence that is present is somewhat like saying that a newborn baby is stupid for not knowing the alphabet, even though the information is out there to possess. The issue with asking about the popular perception of economic prosperity is that the answer has to be filtered through the prism of one's own circumstances. If you live in a hut, and everyone you know lives in a hut, then you're not going to readily believe that there are people who live in mansions. Even if you're shown pictures of people who live in mansions, and are shown data that suggest that more and more people are living in mansions, you'd still probably be hard-pressed to believe that you can also achieve enough to also live in a mansion. That's not stupidity. It is short-sightedness to a degree, and perhaps being ill-informed in general.

But in the end, it's more of a matter of being more self-connected than societally-connected. I don't know, maybe that's just a softer way of saying "short-sighted," but it also recognizes the degree to which perception affects reality. Jody and I have had a number of interesting discussions on the nature of reality, and maybe he or I will recount some of them sometime. But to say that people are stupid for putting more stock into their own personal realities than that of the greater society in which they "live" (but with which they aren't always intimitately connected) strikes me as being, well...stupid. Maybe it's just insensitive, but Neil doesn't seem to shy away from that label. I don't know him well enough, so I'll take his word for it.

Let's look at another view on the issue:

When I first started hearing these stories I was puzzled, but after careful analysis I have developed a sophisticated theory to explain the existence of this bizzare workplace behavior: People are idiots.

Including me. Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only differences among us is that we're idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot. That's the central premise of this scholarly work.

I proudly include myself in the idiot category. Idiocy in the modern age isn't an all-encompassing, twenty-four hour situation for most people. It's a condition that everybody slips into many times a day. Life is just too complicated to be smart all the time.

The other day, I brought my pager to the repair center because it wouldn't work after I changed the battery. The repairman took the pager out of my hand, flipped open the battery door, turned the battery around, and handed the now functional pager back to me in one well-practiced motion. This took much of the joy out of my righteous indignation over the quality of their product. But the repairman seemed quite amused. And so did every other customer in the lobby.

On that day, in that situation, I was a complete idiot. Yet somehow I managed to operate a motor vehicle to the repair shop and back. It is a wondrous human characteristic to be able to be able to slip into and out of idiocy many times a day without noticing the change or accidentally killing innocent bystanders in the process.1
Those of you familiar with Scott Adams are no doubt familiar with that story, but I think speaks volumes as to our respective individual capabilities to be complete morons.

If half of us were just plain stupid, would any of the rest of us really be around to be worried about it? I think not.


(I just like the way that word works...)

Perhaps it's useful to start considering what percentage of the population exhibits certain other (presumably) negative qualities. We could concentrate on how many people have no fashion sense or smell like onions, but let's really get to those issues that affect society at large. Here's one:

How many of us are habitually dishonest?

I was at Wal-Mart on Wednesday. When I was there, I did my part for the economic recovery by purchasing a bag of jellybeans, a box of cereal, and a bottle of dishwashing detergent. The cashier failed to do her part for the environment by putting my purchases into two different bags, and I did my part for stupidity by leaving one of my bags behind. I'd gone to Wal-Mart in the middle of a growing severe thunderstorm, which had broken in earnest by the time I managed to get home. So even after I realized that I'd left my dish detergent at Wal-Mart, I didn't go back to get it until today.

I wasn't really sure how to approach the situation, so I went to Customer Service and just explained the situation exactly as it fell out. The service rep didn't really interrogate me - after looking at at my receipt, she told me to go get a bottle of dish detergent and to bring it back to Customer Service. I did this, and when I got it back up there, another service rep who wasn't privy to what had happened assumed that I was stupid and told me that I'd need to take my purchase back to a register to pay for it - as though I didn't know that. But after getting everything squared away, the service rep who was handling my situation rang everything up and sent me on my way.

It wasn't until I got out to my car to drive home that I gave any thought to the issue that the entire transaction that had just occurred depended on my honesty, and the service rep's perception thereof. Granted, the entire story was plausible and supported by physical evidence - I had my receipt, and the receipt was dated this past Wednesday as opposed to the first Wednesday in March. And granted, the item in question wasn't a bank breaker - $2.78. It certainly though I was trying to claim that I'd somehow left behind a $200 piece of furniture or something.

But when it comes down to it, it's the principle of the thing. I could have gotten my dish detergent home that Wednesday, and just decided that I wanted another one for free. It violates all sorts of categorical imperatives, and I guess that's the point here. All sorts of people lie all of the time. But how many people do you suppose are chronically dishonest, and how great are the financial and societal costs that these people incur and heap upon those of us for whom the occasional white lie is a peccadillo as opposed to a way of life?

I don't really know - that's why I'm asking. And what other kinds of negative personality traits fall into that same category? As always, the thoughts of our "readers" are accepted in the same spirit in which they're offered.

Until the next time, remember:

This blog article uses 100% recycled electrons.

1. Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle, pp. 2-3.

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Stupid People Tricks

Neil Boortz has an article up today on Tech Central Station on stupid people. Specifically Boortz asserts that 50% of Americans are too stupid to function well in society. On his radio show and now in pixels, Boortz has been railing on the fact that Americans are unaware that the economy is not just improving, but booming (averaging better than 5% GDP growth since the most recent tax cut, and > 1.5 million new jobs created, unemployment dropping to the mid 5% range). He also uses this article as a chance to call those who benefit from socialist government practices stupid.

I differ somewhat. While there is a significant dumbass following in the US, I don't believe it's anywhere near 50% - perhaps only 10%. I believe that many people are not stupid, just short sighted and ignorant (an important distinction to me). To me (and to a dictionary), ignorance is just an unawareness of the facts. Short sightedness (not in the dictionary), to me, is placing a higher value on the immediate than the long term. Stupidity is an inability to learn, particularly from mistakes, and I would posit, an inability to reason through to the consequences of one's actions. The latter part of my definition of stupid might imply that I think short-sighted people as stupid since the long term gain is by conventional wisdom greater than the short term. However, this analysis ignores the fact that different people have different preferences and different time discounting factors. Some people do value $1,000 today more than $1,000,000 tomorrow. Say you needed the $1,000 today to pay off gambling debts or you were going to sleep with the fishes. If I don't come up with the $1,000 today, it won't matter how much money I get tomorrow.1.

However, let's go through Boortz's examples again. In his economics example, that's classical ignorance. This lack of knowledge can be attributed to laziness, the media, or what not, but not stupidity. In his socialist example, of course some people are going to like receiving other people's money, and of course some people like the idea of are willing to forgo net earnings if the government, in effect, does their financial planning. The fact that there are some people willing to pay this price should not surprise anyone who has looked at supply-demand curves. (Price goes up, but some demand remains). Different strokes for different folks I say.2. 3.

However, there are indeed stupid people and even more people will occasionally do stupid things. So the following are some stupid things I've read recently.

Example 1
Chicago recently considered allowing Walmart to build a store, or more accurately, two different stores. Walmart proposed a store in an affluent white neighborhood and a store in a poor black neighborhood. Due in no small part to the anti-Walmart lobby, several alderman expressed concern over the effect that a Walmart would have on the communities, particularly the poor (the poor however, really really wanted a Walmart so they could buy stuff cheaper). In the end, Chicago decided to only allow one Walmart to be built - the one in white suburbia, the one where no one presumably needs employment, the one that's further away from people who would see the greatest benefit from shopping there, the one that didn't need neighborhood revitalization. So now people will drive from all over Chicago will drive to suburbia to buy groceries and CDs. And due to mall effects, drop their change there too. Further since the people working at Walmart probably won't be living in the neighborhood, the workers will see less benefit from the jobs created by Walmart as a larger portion of their income and time must be given to transportation.

Example 2
Saletan's Bushisms and Kerryisms. Both premises are deeply flawed. Bushisms are based on the idea that Bush is an exceptional bumbling idiot, and Kerryisms are based on the idea that Kerry is so exceptionally political that he can't bring himself to speak like a normal person and takes 100 words to say what can be said in 10. Most of the Bushisms give examples of his malapropisms, but this is something every person who speaks publicly regularly does. You just can't give two to three speeches a day and not expect to stumble over a word or two. Not if you intend to spend time doing something other than just practicing the speech. The specific Bushism I linked to is especially stupid as it overlooks the smack-you-up-the-side-of-the-head-with-a-two-by-four symbolism, namely that Bush was emphasizing the point that the US has enabled these men who had their hands to cut off to assume normal lives again so that something like shaking a hand could become routine again.

Kerryisms are also dumb as they don't recognize the role those little asides play. For instance if Kerry criticizes Iraq without a gratuitous praise of the troops, the criticism won't fly. If he's arguing for a minimum wage increase (which for the I disagree with for reasons I'll post on sometime later) then he better note the hardships he's placing on employers or he'll be labeled as insensitive to their needs and better note that the vast majority of people aren't paid the minimum wage, then he'll be labeled as out-of-touch. Politicians have to constantly cover their butts and this is what Kerry is doing when he puts in those asides.

In this example the premise is dumb and the execution is stupid.

Eugene Volokh also gives a critique of Kerryisms and Bushisms.

So there are stupid people out there, just not in the examples Boortz cited.

1. It's also precisely for this reason that I find criticisms of people who take payday loans so ignorant. It fills a very real void in the market for people who for whatever reason need money right now. (Would your bank give you a loan today - no collateral, just your paycheck?). If the rates charged are too high, I don't see that as a cause for worry either as large profits encourage new sellers which eliminates monopoly pricing capability creating a commodity market causing prices to drop. In the meantime, those who took the initial risk in filling the market void deserve whatever prime mover advantages they may have gained.

2. My strokes require two hands.

3. That being said, socialism is a stupid thing for a country to adopt if it is concerned with maximizing the economic well being of the country. Also, recognizing that different people have different preferences, I think people should be able to opt out of social security and medicare, if they so choose (but don't come crying to the government if you muck things up).

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Le Big Mac

he economist has just published their annual Big Mac Index. The Big Mac Index attempts to measure the the relative purchasing power of different countries by comparing the price of some good that incorporates as many different parts of an economy as possible, yet is common enough that it's everywhere and made the same way everywhere. The good that the Economist chose for this task, although originally somewhat jokingly, is the Big Mac.

Some interesting results from this year's Big Mac Purchasing Power Parity. When normalized using the Big Mac Index the world's biggest economies are 1. US 2. China 3. Japan 4. India 5. Germany. 1/3 of the world's growth came from China and 13% from the US.

Click on over and read the whole thing.

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Re: Misunderstood on Secularization

Indeed twas the scare quotes in this post and the "Did I wake up in a country that has evolved from being a theocracy to one that isn't now?" that led me to believe that Thason believed there was no ongoing secularization of America. I think we're on the same page now.

I had also noticed Bill's story last night and had considered it as an example in support of the position that secularization is indeed occuring (even if should be called a different name).

I should point out that Thason's belief that Bill is constantly railing against secularization is probably a function of Bill being an issue journalist. It just so happens that Bill has just 8 issues he regularly covers and on any one of these Bill could be said to be railing.
1. The secularization/moral decay of America (not all of the decay Bill notes is attributed to secularization, indeed he attributes a lot of it to rap/hip-hop).
2. The War on Terror
3. The Big Story of the Day (e.g., Kobe/Scott Peterson/Michael Jackson)
4. Illegal Immigration/Securing the Border
5. That Liberal Media/Al Franken is a fool/Fox is being unfairly attacked
6. Save the Children!!
7. National politics
8. Selling O'Reilly related stuff.
Each of these is covered in virtually every show by Bill. In fact a fun drinking game is to drink a beer each time he gives an entire segment to one of these subjects. It's approximately equivalent to a power hour.

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Kerry Workout Site

Ok which is scarier, Spanky or this site (a John Kerry workout flash game)?

I think that if the "hips" exercise doesn't scar me for life, the "butt" exercise will (I think the animated Kerry farts).

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Misunderstood on America's secularization: I agree with Bill O'Reilly! (for once)

Since I seem to be taking issue with some of Jody's points that take issue with my points that take issue with his points, I figure I might as well jump on another one right now, since I'm listening to the Radio Factor, and actually heard Bill O'Reilly say something that I could agree with on the subject.

Jody's original assessment is made here; again, for simplicity, I will quote him here:

1. There is no ongoing secularization of America because we were not previously a theocracy. (Emphasis added.)
Whoa, whoa. Wait.

Here is what I said originally; you can read it here:

It often confuses me when people like Bill O'Reilly rail against the so-called secularization of America.
As far as I am concerned, that is a far cry from saying that there is no ongoing secularization of America. It says just what it says: that it confuses me that Bill O'Reilly rails against it so extensively. Maybe the fact that I referred to it as "so-called" suggests that I think that it doesn't exist. That's not the case. If I were to give the matter some more thought, I might give the phenomenon a different name: one that recognizes that there are certain instances in which it should be perfectly acceptable to live out the creed of a secular state, while allowing for the fact that there are religious bases for certain elements of our history and common culture that shouldn't be so quickly torn down.

But (for me) to listen to Bill, every single thing that anyone ever does is designed to remove the Deity from every aspect of society, which (to Bill) is always a bad thing. I don't see that. It's sort of like the boy who cries "Secularization!" Or something like that. It becomes easier to ignore the good points he might make, because (it seems to me that) every other word out of his mouth is "Secularization, Secularization, Secularization."

Recently, the ACLU has threatened to sue the county of Los Angeles over the use of a cross in the county's official seal. Today on the Radio Factor, Bill quite astutely made the observation that the elements of the seal represent diverse elements illustrating the region's history, geography, economy, and culture. I agree with him that this represents a silly attempt by the ACLU to erase recognition of a region's history simply they because they have a religious underpinning. Anyone who knows the history of California knows that that very history has religious underpinning, and that that history can't be rewritten at this point. Sweeping that history under the rug because of its religious quality represents the sort of short-sighted secularization that does go on, and should be checked.

Now if only Bill would fine tune that message a little...

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As though clowns haven't had it bad enough lately

Apparently Spanky isn't the only one having problems. Now even the gold standard has picked up a bit of tarnish.

And I always thought that Hall of Fame inductions were supposed to be happy affairs.

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Somewhere John Woo is going to wet himself when he reads this.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul to pay Peter

According to this article, back in 2002, while the army was disposing of some VX gas, some VX gas was accidentally released. Today the EPA imposed a $52,000 fine on the army and a contractor for the incident.

What do you wanna bet that next year's budget for the army is a little bigger than it otherwise would be? Perhaps by the amount of the fine. Really, what's the point of one government entity fining another, particularly the army? The government is not going knowingly damage the effectiveness of the army by denying it funding. The whole thing seems kinda silly to me. Firing or fining the operation's supervisor would've been far more effective by my estimateion.

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Obedience and the Law: In Brief

First, a personal announcement. Apparently, I lack style...blogging style that is. If that is the case, then it is not nearly the only kind of style that I lack. Nevertheless, I assure all of the "readers" out there that I will try to do better. I will buy a double-heaping helping of style the next time that I am the style store, and can only hope that it will suffice. Again, I profusely apologize to all of our "readers."

Enough self-deprecation, and on to the thunder-stealing.

Before I allow myself to be misrepresented, and indeed, in an attempt not to misrepresent myself, I should clarify an issue that goes to the second of Jody's talking points in response to the second of my styllistic nightmares that masqueraded as a response. You can see the original post here; I'll just focus on the point itself:

2. Personal beliefs should not allow people to ignore the law.
What I should have said clearly, if this is the impression that I gave, is that if one allows one's personal beliefs to serve as impetus for disobeying the law, then one should be fully prepared to accept the consequences of their ethical choices.

I personally owe so much to people of color who marched in the sixties to protest and combat unjust laws. These people made conscious decisions to break laws that they did not agree with, and in accepting the consequences that were heaped upon them by a power structure in whose interest it was to perpetrate injustice, most of them did so with a grace that shed light on the circumstances of their oppression - a light that began forcing change. Our country would be a far worse place for everyone if those brave civil disobients hadn't done what they did.

Now on the other hand, you aren't bravely fighting highway safety laws by refusing to drive at or below the posted speed limit on the interstate. You aren't being courageous and sticking it to the man by lighting up a joint because you disagree with drug laws.

Or at least, I don't think you are. And therein lies the problem. One person's civil disobedience is another person's intransigience and lawlessness. Where do we draw the line? Someone wiser than I might have to make that decision for all time. I can only call these things as I see them.

If a group like Catholic Charities decides to actively disobey the law, are the bravely fighting for change in the system? Or are they suppressing a "legitimate" and "reasonable" need of a portion of their employee base? Is the Salvation Army standing up to an oppressive tyranny of the majority? Or are they themselves oppressing a minority of their employee base by refusing them the same rights and benefits that they grant to other employees for reasons that are "discriminatory"?

Boy, that's a tough one...

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More Marching and Sinnercratting

Thason has responded to my response in two posts – “Oh, and one other thing” and “Alright, here's the "short" version” For those of you playing along at home, here’s the first three posts in the thread in chronological order (1 2 3).

I summarize Thason’s points in “Oh, and one other thing” as follows:
1. There is no ongoing secularization of America because we were not previously a theocracy.

2. Personal beliefs should not allow people to ignore the law.

3. The SA and CC have the choice of folding up shop in NYC and CA and probably should.
All three have nothing directly to do with my Marching toward Gomorrah thesis, so I’ll respond to those another day. (For the record, I strenuously disagree with 1 (though not with the US was never a theocracy part), believe there are exceptions to 2, and agree with 3.)

Summarizing Thason’s points (as I read them) in “Alright, here's the "short" version”:
1. Ok, Jody may be right. I’ll think about it some.

2. Jody is using religion and faith as a means of sneaking in some hyper-libertarian (my word) agenda.

3. For the term “sinnercrat” to make sense, the sinnercrat must be compelling others to act in ways the sinnercrat also thinks is wrong. Obviously this is not what the sinnercrats are doing. Therefore the term must be wrong.

4. A differentiation between civic and personal virtues, and between compelled and restricted behavior with the assertion that while virtuecrats restrict personal behavior, sinners would/do not. This is concluded by a request for an example of a sinnercrat placing a restriction on a personal virtue.

5. Something bizarre about houses having sex or perhaps people who have sex with houses. That would probably be even scarier than Spanky… (I kid, twas only a typo, though “homesexual” really amused me)
These were on topic, so I’ll respond to them here (I’m skipping 5 as it’s a faux point not intended by Thason. The actual intended point is a part of point 4).

On 1.
Victory is mine! Mwuhahaha!

In all seriousness, in any passionate debate the best anyone can hope for is an “ok I’ll think about it.” It’s also a credit to a debater when they are able to concede that a matter merits further reflection.

On 2.
Umm no.

I thought the hyper-libertarian agenda was Savage’s objective in Skipping (i.e., espousing the virtue of leaving everyone to their own devices). In general, if you can present your argument in the terms being used by the opposition, you stand a better chance of persuading your debater and reduce the frequency of talking past each other (also hence Thason’s adoption of some of my terminology) Since I felt Savage’s logic was internally flawed, I felt I could present a case using not only his terminology, but also his logical premises.

If Savage’s premises came across as my true premises, I apologize for not being clearer. However, I did give an example (see my racist example and my specific conditions) of when I thought it was appropriate for the state to impose morals, which would seem to contradict any argument that I was pursuing a hyper-libertarian agenda. Note that my conditions and examples actually correspond fairly closely to the situations that Thason describes.

On 3.
The assumption that the ambition of “Do X because it is wrong” must be present for the correct application of the appellation “sinnercrat” ignores the memetic basis of my thesis. Most memes attempt to propagate themselves as widely as possible. I am using the term sinnercrat to denote those who are using the legal system to propagate the meme that corresponds to the sinner set of morals. It is not my concern whether or not the sinnercrat is consciously engaging in this activity.1 Hence, my thesis does not rest on the motivations of the sinnercrat. However, I would point out, that those who are consciously propagating the sinner meme, believe that they are doing right, not doing wrong, by their set of morals.

Sinners have a set of morals different from those of the virtuous. To be clear, the sinners believe that the sinner morals are good and wise – just as the virtuous believe the virtuous morals are good and wise. However, these morals are in conflict (indeed as commonly defined them, they are logical opposites, i.e. whatever is not virtuous is sinful), and it is only history (and religion and faith) that allows us to place different morals into either the virtuous camp or the sinner camp. For the purposes of my thesis, Adler can sort out which set is actually “good” as it’s not central to my thesis.2

On 4.
In the original discussion about a month ago2, I had made a side point that while there are some virtues that require an activity to occur, virtues largely consist of restriction or moderation of activities. For an example, consider the Ten Commandments which gives 14 moral laws (not 10! It’s really a function of the Decalogue, as its name implies being 10 words not 10 commandments, but I’ll leave that for another day). The following are the 11 virtues which proscribe actions:
1 You shall have no other gods before me…
2 You shall not make for yourself a graven image...
3 You shall not bow down to them or serve them...
4 You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain...
5 In it [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work...
6 You shall not kill…
7 You shall not commit adultery...
8 You shall not steal…
9 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor…
10 You shall not covet your neighbor's house…
11 You shall not covet your neighbor's wife…
The following three are the only activities the Ten Commandments approbate:
1. Six days you shall labor...
2. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
3. Honor your father and your mother...
So 3/14 of the actions are approbations, while 11/14 are proscriptions. Virtue is both action and inaction, but it is much more inaction than action. Logically, as sin is the opposite of virtue, a Sinful Ten Commandments would be more approbation than proscription.

So Thason’s request that I produce examples of proscriptive (personal) sinnercrat legislation to prove my point amounts to stacking the deck. Sinner morals are dominated by approbations; proscriptions are rare. Hence any sinner legislation would be significantly more likely to compel an activity – providing benefits to gay and unwed couples, requiring covering contraceptive coverage, requiring pharmacists to dispense abortive pills and so on – than prohibit an activity (you can’t honor your father and mother, you can’t keep the Sabbath holy, don’t labor for six days).

The identification of proscriptive sinner legislation is made all the more problematic because, as I state in the original post, the ascendancy of the sinners in this country is a new phenomenon, not yet widespread, and not yet complete in the areas not yet in sinner control. Thus the sinners have only had limited opportunities to enact sinner legislation in the US.

However, if I am permitted to stray a little from Bork’s and Savage’s arguments4, which are solely based on US culture and legislation, I can provide examples of proscriptive sinner legislation. For example, France, which is far more secular than the US and thus would be closer to Gomorrah according to an application of Bork’s premise, proscribes the wearing of the hijab (as well as other “ostentatious” religious garments) to public school. I think it is fairly clear that there is no compelling sociological reason to pass a law proscribing the wearing of a hijab. In fact, the law appears to have been passed explicitly because the hijab offended secular sensibilities and the secularists believed that the Muslim girls’ would be better off if they discarded their Muslim morals and adopted the secularist morals.

So, I believe that even the approbatic5 French hijab legislators would satisfy Thason’s definition of a sinnercrat. However, by my definition, which is not based on proscription, sinnercrats are already in CA and NYC.

1. Again confusion arises when terms are not clearly defined. This is why philosophers will spend page after page defining the terms they are using before ever launching into whatever argument they are making. Unfortunately, I am not paid to just sit around and think, well at least not about sinnercrats, and thus do not have the time to write a tome on the subject)

2. That being said, of the moral examples being considered, being quasi-religious I fall into the virtuous camp; Thason, being an avowed secularist, falls into the sinner camp. So I believe the moral basis being put forth by the SA and CC is “good” and Thason believes the moral basis of the NYC and CA law/rulings is “good” or at least trump the SA and CC morals. Also note that the virtuous and sinner designations are of Savage’s choosing and the labels “virtue” and “sin” are in the eye of the beholder (not that this stops me from believing that there are some fundamental virtues and fundamental sins). Someday, perhaps 50 years from now when the march to Gomorrah is further along, someone will write a book that switches the appellations.

3. Thason had to know this response was coming, so I presume point 4 was all about prodding me to type this.

4. I ask permission as the following argument comes far closer to being a strawman than what Thason originally accused me of. Specifically, here I change countries and thus am not strictly considering the situation considered by Savage and Bork.

5. Did I just make up a word? For some reason “The Approbatic Acrobats” is now running through my head.

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Oh, and one other thing

It often confuses me when people like Bill O'Reilly rail against the so-called secularization of America. Did I wake up in a country that has evolved from being a theocracy to one that isn't now? Church and state are separate. I'm not going to get into the issue of whether God should be entirely divorced from the public sector. It's not worth it, and I have to give lecture in an hour. What a secularist like myself takes issue with is the notion that personal beliefs (and not just those found in faith) should allow people to ignore the strictures of civics and the law.

If this is just a matter of the fact that public interaction is forcing organizations like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army to have to decide between their duty to God and what has been made legally required of them as a result of said public interaction, then they always have one recourse. Get out of public interaction. Don't put yourself in the position of having to choose between God's law and man's law. Remove yourselves from the sphere that requires you to compromise your beliefs of faith with the beliefs of others that pertain to civic and civil-righteous duty.

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast [it] from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not [that] thy whole body should be cast into hell.

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Chapter 5, Verses 29 and 30.
Now sure, even the Devil can quote scripture for his own benefit. But if Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army are so imperiled by following the law, then they need to get out of the business that they're in. Let California and New York City struggle with the humanitarian problems that ensue...heck, they might all end up surprised at how fast the law changes.

Problem solved.

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Alright, here's the "short" version

See, Jody, I told you I'd warm up to this once I had the time to devote to it...

First off, the care that I'd originally intended to take in distinguishing between what Jody actually thinks and what the tone of his thesis suggests about what he might think may have gotten muddled in indignance-induced hyperbole. Perhaps I will go back and reassess.

But to come to the point, I suppose that my problem with Jody's thesis is that it appears to be using religion and faith as smokescreens for justifying the belief that we shouldn't have to do things to which we are opposed for some reason.

When I take the time to connect this back to the original point, I may do some personal investigation of what the difference between using power to compel a person to engage in a certain activity and using power to compel a person to desist from engaging in a certain activity.

My take on Dan Savage is that he views so-called virtuecrats as using their various positions of power to compel others to desist from engaging in certain activities that the virtuecrats view as vices, all in order to enhance the corresponding virtue. This can perhaps be summarized as the writing of "Don't do X because it's wrong" into the law.

Now that's not to say that governments don't have an interest in preventing certain activities for reasons other than discouraging moral turpituded. If you subscribe to current drug policy, then criminalizing the trafficking and use of illicit substances not only combats the social ills caused by those activities, but the illegal activity caused on all levels by those activities. If you're a libertarian (maybe lower-case "l" and maybe upper-case "l" - I don't claim to know their politics very well) then you might instead take the position that the use of said illicit substances shouldn't be criminal, but all of the possibly related criminal activities - theft and assault to support a habit, illegal activities while under the influence - should be treated just the same as they would be when done by those who don't use drugs.

Both of those positions have their intellectual and reasonable backers. I have no problem with that.

But it's my view that to tar someone as a so-called sinnercrat, then you'd have to be able to turn the virtuecrat's motivation on its head. You'd have to say that the sinnercrat has the ambition to write "Do X because it is wrong" into the law.

We go back to the issue of governments now having an interest to compel certain activities, as opposed to the previous notion of those governments having an interest to prohibit certain activities. If you believe that making laws requiring the offering of contraception as a health benefit, or the extension of benefits to same sex couples is being done solely to imperil the immortal souls of those being compelled to adhere to the laws, then sure, the sinnercrats are beginning their triumph.

But doesn't that obviously ignore some far-less diabolical compelling interest that a governmental body might have? As I said in the original post, I don't claim to know much about labor law or equal-protection law as it is written in New York State or in California. Under the "right" circumstances, though, why should those who are being expected to follow the law be allowed to discriminate? Because they don't agree with the law? Not to engage in even more hyperbole, but 1960's...lunch counters...separate drinking fountains?

Maybe the thing to do here is to differentiate between civic virtue and moral virtue. This would perhaps lay bare the distinction between those that Dan Savage raises up as (now) moral-virtuecrats, that is, those who seek to enshrine their moral code in the law for "no other reason" than to discourage activity that they view as wrong, and those who go beyond the morals of an act to deal in the civic consequences. I'll leave it to Jody to bring in the sociological data that might explain why one person's moral virtue is another person's civic virtue. But I'll take my first cut at laying out the difference. Since this is all meant to encourage discussion, I'll just throw this out there and let the cards fall where the do.

Civic virtue found in prohibiting an activity -
Drug use should criminalized to prevent the social decay that it engenders.
(This leaves out the huge part of the discussion as to whether current drug policy causes or combats the various elements of social decay that drug use and trafficking "causes." That's for another day.)

So far, so good.

Civic virtue found in compelling behavior -
Employers shouldn't be allowed to deny certain benefits to certain classes of employees, even if they disagree with some aspect embodied by that class.
(This leaves out a discussion as to which classes of individuals do or should qualify for treatment under equal-protection laws, and such. This qualification may vary between the federal standard, and those of the several states. This is also a discussion for another day.)
Still no problem here. But now we're treading on political ground where reasonable people can disagree. In the absence of knowledge to contradict my perception, this is an issue of citizens enjoying equal protection. You may have a different perception. You vote yours, and I'll vote mine.

Moral virtue foud in prohibiting behavior -
Homesexual activity should be against the law, even when it is consentual, done in the privacy of one's own home, and out of the view of those who would prefer not to be exposed to it.
Now it gets problematic, at least for me. These are Dan Savage's virtuecrats.

In my view, a sinnercrat - Jody Neel's or anyone else's, would have to go past the intent of encouraging some civic virtue and go on to find immoral virtue in compelling behavior. Cite a law - that's all I'm asking. I'm not saying that there aren't any out there. I just want one to consider and analyze.

Your thoughts are always accepted in the spirit in which they're offered.

Until the next time, remember:

It takes two to tango, and three to double-dutch.

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Let's ban circuses

First John Wayne Gacy, and now Spanky! And let's not forget about the clown that killed my dad!

(Scroll right down to the week of February 6 if you don't have time to kill reminiscing.)

I didn't know that Clown College shut down back in 1997. Apparently, the fact that clowns are being forced to learn their trade on the mean streets is leading to tragedies such as the one involving Spanky. Although I'm not so certain that Clown College had a special class entitled "Clowns don't Traffic in Child Pornography!"

I'm pretty sure about that one, anyway...

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Imus just made a funny...

Perhaps I'll have it out with my esteemed friend Jody later on. I might need to block off some time for that one.

Anyway, Imus just dropped the following bombshell on us, revealed to him through an "inside source in the Kerry campaign." 1 I'll paraphrase.

His source has revealed that Senator Kerry has revealed that now, he's not going to accept the Democratic nomination for President until after the general election.

Well, I guess if you're going to do it, then that's the way to go...


1. I put that in quotation marks, not because it's exactly what the I-man said, but because, like most of the things that trip off Don's lips during the Morning Show, it's a farce. But a pretty freaking funny one - again, like most of the them.

Post Script

It's things like that that make me doubt my guy (and Don's, incidentally)...again. It could get to the point that I'd just not vote, except then, Bill O'Reilly would come to my house and kill me. And who wants that?

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Spanky the Clown

Those of you who think clowns are scary won't be reassured by this story. I bet he doesn't actually have small feet.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Yet more sinnercrats

Significant portions of Thason's post mischaracterize my contention with Savage. It is not the encouragement of practices I am considering, it is the compulsion of the facilitation of practices. Note that I never characterized CA and NYC's actions as encouraging sin. Further, I did not say that all Catholics are being compelled to engage in a practice they believe is sinful (as Thason later implies). My examples were intended to show that Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army are being compelled to engage in the facilitation of activities that they believe are sinful (which by their moral system is itself a sin). My thesis has absolutely nothing to do with encouragement of sinful activities, just compelling the virtuous to engage in activities they believe are sinful.

Also note that the sins I am claiming are not the practice of homosexuality nor the use of contraceptives (as Thason also implies), it is the facilitation of those activities. I think the Catholic church has been rather clear in recent months that they view the facilitation of sin as itself a sin (recall the denying of communion to those who enact legislation in favor of abortion). The Salvation Army (SA) has expressed similar sentiments. So from their perspective, Catholic Charities (CC) and the SA are being compelled to commit sins - namely the facilitation of homosexuality and the facilitation of the use of contraceptives.

To further clear up any misconceptions, the thesis of my original post is the following:
All systems of morals seek to impose their morals on others. In this, I believe sinners are no different from the virtuous. For various reasons, sinners have not previously had the opportunity to impose their morals on the virtuous. However, now they are beginning to attain positions of power. Therefore sinners can be expected to use this (legal) power to impose their morals on the virtuous.
I posited that this would first occur in places where the sinners are most powerful, namely NY and CA. To support my thesis, I then cited two examples from those locations as evidence that the process has already begun.

After Thason's initial diversion into encouragement and considering sins other than the ones I did1, Thason briefly addressed my thesis. However, there must have been some further misreading as Thason signaled his agreement with what I feel is the linchpin of my thesis when he wrote
Now sure, the religious organizations in question are being compelled to support behavior that they may find morally wrong.
I would only differ from that statement by not including "may". But based on this statement and my apparently necessary clarification of which sins are being considered, I think it is rather clear that these religious organizations are being compelled to engage in actions they believe are sinful.

Perhaps Thason's feeling that my citation of these two examples "comes dangerously close to being a Straw Man fallacy" is a result of overlooking the fact that the CA Supreme Court and NYC council "labor law and equal protection law" are themselves premised on a set of morals that has been quite recently expanded to include gay rights in the case of NYC and reproductive rights (contraception) in the case of CA. Gay rights is explicitly considered by Savage to be in the domain of the sinful and while not considered in the excerpt, I believe that Savage would consider the Catholic position on contraceptives to be the "virtuous" position with the opposing position naturally being the sinful position.2 With the simple recognition or the moral premise of labor and equal protection laws, it is obvious that the effective result of the situations being considered is the imposition of a sinner set of morals on a number of the virtuous. In light of this I was rather confused that Thason seemed to think that noting that this imposition is justified by "the law" somehow refutes my thesis - in fact the use of the law is demanded by my thesis.

Consider again Savage's point which I am countering - the Virtuecrats made their morals the law of the land and then used the law to impose their morals on the sinners. Savage would have his readers believe that sinners do not and would not use the law to impose their morals on others. This is what I am disagreeing with. Consider again Thason's refutation. As far as the law goes, does equal protection law not infringe upon the morals of the racist? Would this not be an example of the virtuous using the law to compel the sinner to perform a virtue?3 So why would equal protection law be treated differently when used to compel the virtuous to sin?

Perhaps Thason was attempting to differentiate by the targets of the laws as the sinners are not doing this for the benefit of the virtuous (nor would there have to be an Evil conspiracy as Thason supposes as the virtuous are not engaged in a conscious Good conspiracy). But in my thesis, it doesn't matter if the CA and NYC actions are being done for the "benefit" of people other than those being directly infringed upon - it only matters that the law is being used to impose sinner morals on the virtuous. However, even if it did matter, this argument would fall flat upon a cursory comparison.

Consider the anti-smoking bills also passed in NYC (the council is really a bunch of busybodies). This clearly an example of Virtuecrats using the law to impose their morals on the sinners (who would like to smoke where they like, when they like). These laws were not passed for the benefit of the smokers; they were passed for the benefit of the nonsmokers. Much as the NYC and CA ordinances I consider were not passed for the benefit of the virtuous, they were passed for the benefit of the sinners. As an even more interesting parallel, the smoking bans were passed on the basis of "labor laws" - namely enusring safe workplaces.

In summary, I believe I have demonstrated that my citation of the CA and NYC examples is not "dangerously close to being a Straw Man fallacy." I am only uncertain as to why Thason thought so in the first place.

1. Kids: When refuting a strawman argument it is customary to reiterate the strawman argument (Y in Thason's link), reiteate the original point (X in Thason's link), and demonstrate that X is not Y, nor implies Y. Case in point, Thason's encouragement arguement and choice of sins are stawmen. To refute them, I reiterated Thason's arguments (Y), repeated my thesis(X), and demonstrated that I was considering compulsion not encouragement, and made clear that X considers the sins of facilitation.

As a take home assignment, identify the other strawmen in Thason's post (I counted three more), and construct similar refutations.

Also note that most strawmen are created not out of malice or intentional misdirection, but rather as a misunderstanding of the original argument.

2. Abortion, however, is explicitly considered.

3. As covered in the original post, "there are times when I think morals should be written into law. Mostly I restrict these to broadly supported interpersonal morals." This particular example of the racist would be such a case, being both broadly supported and interpersonal. However, it doesn't change the fact a virtuous moral is being imposed on a sinner through the use of law - an example of a virtuecrat.

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Oh, Jody, Jody, Jody.

I had thought about posting this as a reply to your article, so that we could actually claim that someone had read and replied to the blog. But I figure that you, and everyone else could see it better here.

I should say now that I'm going to be using words like "perhaps," "maybe," and "unless" an inordinate number of times, because as my mother was fond of pointing out to me as a child, telepathic abilities are not a genetic trait in the Jweatt family. I can't claim to know your mind, so I have to hedge my bets.

In any event, the position you're taking comes dangerously close to being a Straw Man fallacy. I'm almost disappointed. To defend your position in either case, you have to make the jump from taking the recent decision of the California Supreme Court and the bill passed by the City Council of New York as laws that require an employer to extend a certain right, benefit, or protection with which the employer might not agree, to supposing that the extension of this right encompasses a movement on the part of the governmental bodies in question to encourage the "sin" embodied by the practice behind the right, benefit, or protection.

Now perhaps you suppose that the members of the Supreme Court of California (with the exception of Justice Brown) are sitting in a room cackling with glee and making merry with the following evil conspiratorial words:

Mwa ha ha! Now those Catholics will all have to start using contraception, because we told them that Catholic Charities has to provide the benefit to some of their employees! Now on to the next step in the overthrow of morals!
Or maybe you think that a conversation like this one is going on out in Culver City:

Hey, did you hear that Catholic Charities has to start providing options on contraception to its employees?
Really? Well, I think I'll go get a job with Catholic Charities, just so I can start using contraception - the fact notwithstanding that I've always leaned to being opposed to it.
Similarly, perhaps you think that 43 members of the New York City Council have locked 5 dissenters out of the council chamber, so they could have a planning meeting for their branch meeting of Evil, Inc.:

Well, the Salvation Army is well taken care of. Now that we've ensured that they will have to provide the same health benefits to homosexual couples that they [presumably] already extend to heterosexual couples, they'll have no choice but to begin practicing homosexual sex! Evil is achieved!
Or maybe you think that people read the news up in Elmira, and came to the following conclusion:
Wow! I need to find a homosexual partner so I can go work for the Salvation Army and get domestic partnership benefits! This despite the fact that I've never felt any predisposition to homosexual activity!
Now sure, the religious organizations in question are being compelled to support behavior that they may find morally wrong. But really, that's a matter of labor law and equal protection law. I admit freely to not knowing much about either of those spheres as they apply to the civil codes of New York State and California. But if both of the governmental bodies in question determined that as a matter of law, the religious organizations in question had a duty to provide an equal benefit to a certain segment of their employees, then for those religious organizations to do otherwise constitutes illegal and actionable discrimination.

Do you disagree with the California's Supreme Court that Catholic Charities is not a sufficiently religious organization to qualify for exemption from the law as it is written in that state? Fine. I can accept that.

Do you think that a similar exemption should exist for the Salvation Army in New York because of its religious character. Fine. I can accept that too.

But unless you believe that the Court's action and the NYC Council's action constitute the encouragement of a certain "vice" and not just the extension of an equal benefit or right to [perhaps] protected class, then you have some explaining to do as to how this represents a case where governmental entities are encouraging the practice of a vice among those who would not normally practice it.

Devoutly Catholic employees of Catholic Charities, or members of the Catholic Church in general, aren't going to suddenly start using contraception because the California Supreme Court says they have to be given the option. Why not? Because they're Catholic! They're not being overtly encouraged to sin by this. The practice isn't being forced on them by the Court's decision...

Heterosexual employees of the Salvation Army, or members of the Salvation Army in general, aren't going to suddenly start practicing homosexual sex because Council says that they have to extend health benefits to homosexual couples. Why not? Because they're not homosexuals! They're not being overtly encouraged to sin by this. The practice isn't being forced upon them by Council's legislation...

Unless, in either case, you believe that the overt sinful practice itself is being forced upon non-practicing people, you have some explaining to do as to how the dots connect here.

And sure, you might believe that the organizations in question are sinning by being compelled to support the practice in others. (That's still a far cry from being forced to carry out the practice, in the absence of additional information that I'm sure you'll provide.) But if you think that the only way to live a virtuous life is to not only practice virtue but also not to be placed in a position where you might have to acknowledge vice in others...well, a "virtue commune" down in Antarctica might be the way to go.

Until the next time, remember:

Don't play poker with someone who does card tricks at the table.

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Bush's Speech

Today, Thason asked me for my thoughts on Bush's speech (being his go-to-guy for conservative thought). He had heard widely varying Republican responses to the speech, ranging for gushing to gagging. On the other hand, from my point of view, the Dems appear to have issued a talking point memo before the speech to emphasize that "there was nothing new in the speech." (Ok that last one was from Al Jazeera, but it was quoting a Dem think tank.) I find this response amusing as it contradicts other recent criticisms that Bush had no plan for Iraq).

Anyways, my thoughts were the following.
I liked the speech. While I didn't think Bush's oration was particularly good, the approach seemed reasonable and seemed to satisfy my limited desires for the speech. On a similar note, I find Bush's typical oration to be rather flat which is rather disappointing for an incumbent President. However, I saw his LSU commencement address on TV, and he was quite good - really seemed to engage the audience. I'm at a loss as to why his A game doesn't come out more regularly.

The Real Bush Speech Disorder
Trying to stay on topic, I think the variation in the responses to the speech from the right are an unfortunate side effect of Bush's speech disorder. No, I'm not referring to his malapropisms, that's something everyone does - I even have "malatypisms." I'm referring to Bush's tendency to only give major speeches infrequently. Bush rarely gives national addresses other than his weekly public radio addresses (which people listen to about as much as they read this blog). By my count, this is his third major address this calendar year (1. SOTU, 2. The April press conference, 3. This address to the War College which wasn't even carried by ABC,CBS,or NBC).

Giving just a few major addresses has the following salutary effects:
1. More time is available for the day-to-day business of the Presidency.
2. When Bush finally talks, people really tune in.
However, this tendency also has the following deleterious effects:
1. Expectations for each speech are raised ("The President is finally speaking, it must be really important"). However, a sufficiently prepared speaker can overcome this limitation and actually turn it to his advantage.
2. The time available for presenting a persuasive argument is compressed.
It is this second point that I wish to consider. I hold as a truism that different people will hold the same position for different rationales. So to sway the public to a particular position, many different rationales (generally) must be presented. I also hold as a truism that it takes time to fully lay out a single coherent line of reasoning (just consider the length of this post where I'm just now getting to my thesis), and more complex rationales require more time. So when attempting to persuade the public to a complex position, a significant amount of time will be required. However, most people only have an attention span of about an hour and really only pay close attention to the first and last 10 minutes of a lecture. So because Bush chooses to give major speeches so infrequently, he limits his ability to rally the country to positions it does not already hold.

The real Bush speech disorder isn't his malapropisms or his delivery - it's the infrequency of his speeches.

The Bush Conundrum
Bush is faced with the following conundrum whenever he begins to prepare a speech:
How do you cram in everything you need to say in the space of an hour? (or, in this case, thirty minutes)
Unfortunately, the answer is most of the time, you can't.

By the very nature of the job, every President has this problem. However, because of his disorder, Bush denies himself the luxury of building his case over several speeches. Instead, Bush has generally tried to solve this conundrum by presenting the single rationale that will appeal to the widest audience. In light of his disorder, this is probably the wisest approach. (Not that Bush hasn't on occasion tried to cram everything into a single speech, recall the 2004 SOTU)

Under a best case scenario, Bush can find a single rationale that appeals to a wide enough swath of the public that it rallies the country. Case in point, the 2003 SOTU. However, because the public doesn't tune in to the minor addresses, another problem is created. Specifically, a perception is created that the case was made on the basis of a single rationale (or subset of the rationales). Again, see the 2003 SOTU and consider the rationales for the Iraq war. We all are aware of the WMD rationale, but how many are aware that the Bush administration presented 27 different rationales for the war? (See here) Because too few major speeches were given, there was not enough speaking time given to these other rationales on a broad national scale. So when we didn't find WMD on our way into Iraq, Bush got lambasted in the public arena. Further, when Bush wisely began to emphasize the other rationales in subsequent speeches, the public's natural focus on the WMD rationale opened up Bush for criticism that he's changing rationales after the fact (see here for an example of this criticism).

Under worst case scenarios, when there doesn't exist a single rationale that can sway a majority of the public, the public is simply not persuaded. Last night's speech was such a scenario. There is no single argument, rationale, or cause that can rally the public to support Bush's postwar efforts. The situation is simply too complex for a one-size-fits all approach. Too many people have too many divergent questions that need to be answered. In effect, there was simply too much material and too little time. Because I recognized this fact going in and didn't expect Bush to address every single question the country had in a single hour, I was reasonably happy with Bush's speech.

The Iraq Exam
To continue my argument by analogy, imagine that you're scheduled to take an exam which you only have 30 minutes to complete. You open the exam to see the following questions:
1. What's the strategy for Iraq over the next year?
2. Demonstrate through words that you are sufficiently committed to this strategy.
3. Describe the current security situation in Iraq. Give specific details about the steps that will be taken to improve security.
4. When are the troops coming home? Show that this date is consistent with the rest of your answers.
5. Are we sending more troops in the short term? If so, why? Detail the role you expect these troops to play.
6. Are we going to further internationalize the effort? If not, why not? If yes, how are we going to further internationalize the effort? Describe steps that will be taken to to ensure that this does not negatively impact your answer to question 1.
8. What's the next step in the war on terror?
9. When are we going to kick some ass?
10. When are we going to start playing nice?
11. How does Iraq fit into the larger picture?
12. What are our specific goals in the War on Terror?
13. Why are we doing this?
14. Why should you be the one to lead us?
15. What sort of government will Iraq have?
16. What sort of government should Iraq have?
17. When are we taking down that punk Sadr? What have we been doing in the meantime?
18. What about those responsible for the Fallujah incident?
19. Why haven't we previously resolved the Fallujah and Sadr situations?
20. Why didn't we just "glass" Fallujah?
21. What are you going to do about Abu Ghraib?
22. What's up with Chalabi?
23. What about Rumsfeld?
24. Any new news on WMD?
25. Any news on pre-war terrorist activities in Iraq?
26. How do your answers to 1-25 make us safer?
Extra Credit: Tie all your answers into a single entertaining narrative.
(As a side note, I think these sort of questions would've been far better than those asked at the press conference debacle. Will you apologize for 9/11? Will you apologize for 9/11? Will you give Kerry a great sound bite, err, apologize for 9/11?)

Even the best student would fail this test. There's simply not enough time. However, given sufficient time, a good student could do quite well on the test. A reasonable teacher would extend the time for his students to complete this test, perhaps giving the student a week to complete the test as a take home.

Last night, Bush failed this test. Simply too many questions and too little time. However, Bush is effectively both teacher and student. Bush the teacher can give Bush the student more time. Over the coming weeks, Bush needs to speak on the national stage again and again to extend the time he has to present his case. By giving several speeches, Bush doesn't have to answer every question in a single speech, just a handful like last night. However, just as a teacher cannot extend the test time beyond the end of a semester, Bush cannot wait to answer these questions indefinitely. Bush the student's semester ends in November. Bush the student would be wise complete the test before the Democratic convention, wiser still to complete the test before the June 30th handover date.

This test is simply too important for Bush to let himself fail.

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Doing our part for electoral fun

Let me channel the spirit of old Johnny Swift here...

"A Modest Proposal on preventing a repeat of the electoral debacle in Florida, and what happens when an unmotivated Ph.D. student has time on his hands to create something that will be entertaining to himself, if no one else, in obvious mockery of the fact that some people just shouldn't vote."

Hey, at least I didn't go for Daniel Defoe...

This episode all started when my good friend Jody sent this to me.

Of course, never one to let humor that insults someone other than myself rest without at least trying to make my own contribution, I dashed back the following reply:

"Voters turned away for trying to put the round block in the square hole...more as this story develops."
Well, now we had something going. You can imagine my amusement when I received the following return volley:

"When informed of numerous unexpected votes for none, further outrage was expressed as many voters thought they had voted for Elmo in a referendum on Cookie Monster or Elmo..."
Now the only thing I'm more prone to do than jump in on the chance for some good fun at someone else's expense is to really try to do it over the top. I commented to Jody at the time that I probably could have finished a Ph.D. in the time it took me to research and write what you're about to read. (NTAIARTTBW.) But in this case, serious study had to take a back seat to real satire, and not just any satire. Satire that included out-of-context quotes taken from the gold standard of children's television programming: Sesame Street.

Never mind that wasting a couple of hours of my time doing this was far more fun than my office hours ever are...

With that in mind, I give you the six-o'clock Muppet News:


With regard to the growing controversy, the candidates were asked for their comment on this newest voting debacle. We now take you to our field reporter...

First we reached Elmo at his campaign headquarters.

"Elmo say this outrage! Will of people should be clearly determined from intent, even if vote not clear. Elmo demand recount using shifting standard from county to county."
When asked to clarify the specifics on how carrying out a recount in this manner would certainly be construed as a partisan exercise in vote-grabbing, the candidate had only this to say...

Cookie Monster could not be reached for comment, but released this statement via a spokesman...

Amid questions that elections officials were not prepared for the volume of voters that were confused by the ballot, Commisioner of Elections The Count was asked to comment on just who might have been affected by the confusing ballot used on Sesame Street. The commisioner did his best to speculate...

We found a number of voters who were still expressing shock when told of just how the desired result of their votes might not be interprted in the way they wanted...

This same voter was asked just how he'd come to make a mistake in casting his ballot. Clearly exasperated, he could only offer the following reply...

But not all voters seem to be taking the supposed controversy with the same dismay. Although we did have a problem approaching this voter at first...

...once pressed, he did have his own unique perspective on the issue...

But with that said, he seemed disinclined for further comment. Right before disappearing into a trash can, our voter had this to say...

This ends our special report. Back to Telly, in the newsroom...


Now the only way that you don't find that funny is if you can't imagine something like it really happening. If that's the case, here's a dollar. Go to the empathy store and shop to your heart's content.

Until the next time, remember:

The shortest path between two points is to fold space...

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It's great to be here

Thason Jweatt here...

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I Exist!"

Replied the universe
"The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."

- Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
...anyway, yes I actually exist. Not that anyone reading this actually cares.

[backspace times twenty-eight]
...is actually reading this to begin with.

I'm really not some dude that Jody made up. Nor am I Jody himself. Those conspiracy theorists among you likely have no reason to believe either of the previous pair of statements, because if I...I mean, if he were going to go through the trouble of concealing his identity through a fictional strawman with such an odd name, then he certainly wouldn't confess to having done it, now would he?

Really, that "I" bit was just an attempt at humor on my part. No, I'm serious...

Well, think what you want. I too, am a Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech, but that is only my part-time gig. I spend much more of my time teaching classes and being Mister Neel's sometimes-apologetic left-of-center secularist nemesis. Hey, we all have to make a living. And entertainment is where you find it.

Depending on the amount of time that I end up devoting to my empty shell of a life, my involvement here will vary somewhere between "Guest Commentator" and "Oh God, It's Him Again..." I don't know much about blogging (yet), but if any fool can have an opinion, then it must be the case that the only bigger fool is someone who takes time out to read someone else's opinions.

Not that anyone is actually reading this to begin with.

Anyway, I almost feel bad that following this introduction, I'll be starting things off with a "Best of Thason" series. It's like landing a byline column, only to go on vacation right afterwards, leaving instructions to have your Aunt's recipe for Caramel Pecan Pie published, just because you had it handy.

But since I consider writing to be therapeutic, I figure that it will aid the therapy to have other people read my rambling nonsen...the well-written, always thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous things that I create to give expression to the empty shell that is my life.

Not that anyone is actually...yeah, okay. I know you get it.

Until the next time, remember:

History's most vast conspiracies have actually been of the left-wing variety...

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Monday, May 24, 2004

Marching Towards Gomorrah
A while back, Thason and I were discussing Dan Savage's Skipping Towards Gomorrah.

Skipping (or at least the online excerpt that Thason had read) divides US society into virtuecrats and sinners. The virtuecrats, typified by Bill Bennet, Dr Laura, and Robert Bork (whose Slouching Towards Gomorrah served as the parodic source for the title of Skipping) seek to impose their (presumably Christian) morality on the nation. The sinners, according to Savage, have their own (presumably non-Christian) morality and are pursuing their own happiness. Savage then goes on to list several examples of where the virtuecrats are imposing their morality on the sinners, including sex, drugs, rap, and abortion.

There are indeed those who seek to impart their morality to others. Sometimes this is a good thing; sometimes this is a bad thing. But making a purely personal activity illegal really rankles my inner libertarian. However, there are times when I think morals should be written into law. Mostly I restrict these to broadly supported interpersonal morals. For example, virtually no one would disagree with the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" being implemented as law.1

Ultimately, as opposed to legal actions I believe moral persuasion buttressed by sociological studies should be used to impart morality on society, particularly when the moral failing only affects the individual (such as in the Lawerence v Texas case which prompted the earlier discussion)2. I am vaguely confused, however, by Savage's condemnation of Dr Laura and Bork as they are merely moral advocates juxtaposed against his silence about those who actually sought to enact moral laws, like Tipper Gore and Elizabeth Dole.

Had Savage left his point there, I would've been in partial agreement and merely confused as to his motivation over his choice of virtuecrat villians. However, Savage went on to sing the virtues of the sinners, claiming that sinners do not coerce the virtuous into sin writing,
"Indeed, it has long been my belief that the "bad" are frequently more virtuous in their private pursuit of vice than the good are in the public pursuit of compulsory virtue. Sinners, unlike the virtuous, do not attempt to impose their definition of happiness on others. I've never met an adult dope smoker who wanted to force a non-dope-smoking adult to smoke dope against his will. Yet our nation crawls with non-dope-smoking adults who want to force dope-smoking adults to stop smoking dope. Likewise, I've never met a homosexual who wanted to make a straight person into a gay person, but straight church groups take out full-page ads in newspapers trying to convince gay people to become straight people. Prostitutes don't force anyone to patronize them; the virtuous, however, seek to throw prostitutes in jail for tending to the needs of their clients."
My point to Thason at the time was I have known dope smoking adults who have made serious efforts to try and make non-dope smoking adults smoke dope. Kids do spike the punch at parties to make nondrinkers drink. As far as the prostitutes and the gays, I had no experience and thus could not comment. Thason's response (in effect) was why then do we not see this writ large in society, and more importantly through legal actions?

My response (not fully formulated until the next day) was the following.
1. Traditionally, most of society viewed themselves as virtuous or at least as striving to be virtuous. While a significant percentage may have engaged in sinful activities, they personally viewed these transgressions as mere peccadillos. Since voters tend to elect people either like themselves or as they would like to be, it was only been natural for the virtuous to be in power while the sinners were out of power. Without legal power, the sinners were unable to act the role of "Sinnercrat."

2. Sin being in my estimation a meme would naturally seek to propagate itself. Without legislative power, the sin meme would be limited to the tools of social persuasion (which it seems especially good at). However, I posited, once sin gained legislative power, laws would indeed be enacted so that sin would become compulsory, even for the virtuous. I predicted at the time that this would occur first in those places where sin has taken the strongest hold, namely California and New York. At the time I cited the California Supreme Court's decision requiring Catholic Charities to offer birth control coverage to its employees (see here). The Catholic Church, a traditional virtuous institution, has long held the position that birth control is immoral. Now, however, legal measures are being taken to force them to engage in an activity they deem immoral.

Today another data point is added in support of my thesis. In the NYPost (link via Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus), a bill in NYC has passed council vote that would require the Salvation Army to extend benefits to gay and unwed spouses of its employees. Needless to say, this goes against the Salvation Army's stated morals.

"So contra Dan Savage, the sinners are no better than the virtuous about imposing their morality on others - they merely lacked the opportunity to become "sinnercrats." We may not be slouching or skipping towards Gomorrah for much longer. With the rising ascendancy of the sinners, I fear we are beginning an organized march.

May God have mercy on those trampled on the way.

1. As a side note, I find Savage's view on abortion consistent as I think he believes that abortion does not involve another human and thus would not be an interpersonal relationship. However, I think abortion does involve two human lives (mother and child) and thus is covered under the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment. I often found that when differences are premised on divergent first principles, debate is of little use. This would be such a case.

2. However, I am strongly opposed to the legalization of gay marriage as there is not broad social support and it amounts to coerced approval of actions that I and the majority of society deem immoral. Thus while I accept the premise of "Keep the government out my bedroom," I must respond with "Keep the government out of my morals."

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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Bush bush?

Perhaps responding to the dramatic surge in Kerry popularity after his daughter, Alexandra, had her most recent "exposure," the Bush twins will reportedly appear in Vogue. No word yet on if the twins' twins will make an appearance.

As an offer of unpaid, unsolicited, and presumably unwanted advice, I think both candidates should get out in front of this issue. I humbly propose the following campaign ideas:

1) Candidate daughter mud/jello wrestling. Perhaps as an undercard for an actual Presidential debate. Perhaps as a Friday night feature. If they wear maskss, it might even help out with the luchador vote.

2) Wet T-shirt contests. In the future this could be used in the capacity of a primary. Candidates father/mother would win one delegate.

3) New bumper sticker ideas:
Bush 04. Muff said.
Kerry: Not afraid to bare it all.

Got your own campaign ideas? Add them here.

Comments(140) |

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Where in the world is Equatoria?

No, that's not a bad takeoff on Carmen Sandiego (well ok it is). But it was also my response to reading this article on a breakout of Ebola in Equatoria...Western Equatoria.
Well as I learned, Equatoria is a province of Sudan. Charles "Chinese" Gordon was its governor for a short while. A map of the Sudan is shown on this site. Equatoria is located in the southwest of Sudan with a capital at Yambio.

On a somewhat different note, while genocide in the Darfur region has been in the news recently (for instance see this), in the Sudanese civil war, Christian militant groups apparently recently expelled Arab (=Muslim?) government groups from Equatoria.

I'm happy I live in the US.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Gulf War II - the RTS Game
Well not actually, but David Wong's article is pretty freakin funny. Maybe it's because I played way too much StarCraft and WarCraft. Go read it, even if you don't like the war, if for no other reason than the image of Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men superimposed on a starcraft screen of a seige tank with the phrase "Truth Status: Not Handling It" which just floored me.

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