Thursday, June 30, 2005


It's a Girl!

The world looks brighter already as there's another Ramont in the world.

Matilda Claire Ramont was just born and weighs in at 8 pounds and 21 inches.

Congrats Jen and Jeremy!


Wednesday, June 29, 2005


US-Iran Relations

In case you had any doubt what the direction of official relations between Iran and the US over the coming years, just note that the newly elected President was a participant in the embassy hostage takings.

At least Arafat didn't have the bomb...


Predicting traffic

An interesting piece of software.

A traffic forecasting system capable of predicting traffic conditions seven days in advance will go live to the public in California on Wednesday.

Alongside the weather forecast, viewers of KXTV News 10 in Sacramento can now get 3D animations of their local road network, showing not only where the gridlock is but also where it is likely to be.

The system, called Beat-the-Traffic, is the first public traffic forecasting system that combines real-time traffic density and speed with historical trends on major routes.

I don't expect that the predictions will work too well though.

Unlike when you predict the weather (whose predictions are kinda of spotty anyways), making a public prediction of a traffic pattern is likely to alter the traffic pattern. Specifically, if you predict heavy traffic on road X, numerous drivers will choose to drive on road Y instead. Thus X will not be as congested as predicted while Y will be more congested.

Thus for the prediction to be successful, this tendency to adapt based on the predictions would have to be accommodated. Furthermore there is an infinite recursion where the drivers know the predictor knows the driver knows the predictor knows.... that's kind of messy to resolve particularly when the drivers have 7 days to mull over and change their driving plans.

However, that being said, having detailed and timely information about the current state of traffic and the typical impact of accidents (the other task of the software) can't hurt and should be quite useful.


Two Pieces of Kelo Snark

I guess when you can have the city condemn the real estate you want, you can really stretch a buck.

Also arriving a little late to the party (it's up everywhere, but I'll just credit Walt via email for the link), this seems like just desserts to me.


Libertarian Philosophy

If you have five minutes and want to know how my mind ticks (ok it's actually a timebomb implanted in my head by the flesh eating subterranean beings), this post gives an excellent overview of the philosophica underpinnings of libertarianism: Libertarian Theories of Law. (h/t Pejman)


A valuable project at NASA

Over the years, I've slowly progressed from being a big NASA supporter to a big NASA detractor. I think this is mostly because I don't see the point of the whole space shuttle / space station approach NASA is currently taking which makes it feel like a waste of my money.

However, this is definitely something I'm definitely willing to pay for: blowing up comets. Besides the fact that blowing up stuff is cool (Happy 4th of July!) and that blowing up stuff in space is twice as cool, someday, it just might save life as we know it.


Monday, June 27, 2005


Zombie Dogs!!

or Lazarus dogs or something...

But what's really important is that as long as they filled the animals with an ice cold saline solution, maybe PETA won't be in as much trouble....


Friday, June 24, 2005


Leaving Las Vegas

So I continue to be incredibly busy but have two things to report:

1. I took a little trip to Las Vegas last weekend and have two tips. First, the new hotel at Mandelay Bay is really the ideal place to stay; it's quiet, there's no casino in the lobby, the rooms are very nice, and did I mention it's quiet? My past hotel experiences in LV have all been sort of crappy, just places to pass out after a night out. There's really something to be said for having a room to chill out in when the overstimulation of the casinos and bars gets to be too much. I'm definitely staying there next time. Second, you should tip your dealers and waitresses well; you'll have more fun. And you'll have way more fun if you tip well at the Casino Royale, because nobody, and I mean nobody, tips there. My friend Adam and I were playing craps there ($2 minimum, 100x odds!) and were the only ones tipping. So the stickman, who looked like he hated every second of his life, kept pointing at us before every roll and saying "I wish good luck to you two gentlemen," and then giving the rest of the table a baleful glare. That, and after giving the cocktail watress a $5 chip, she kept us well stocked with drinks the rest of the night, and refused to take any more tips. I didn't really know how to react to that, I've never seen anyone in that city ever turn down money. So if you can deal with playing in a seedy casino, you can be treated like a whale there for very little money. Anyway, it was a blast.

2. Tuesday night I saw Wedding Crashers for the first time on film (I'd seen a rough cut and lots of the dailies on video). If that's not the movie of the summer, I'll eat my hat. It's a perfect comedy. No more about it until it's out, except to say that for me the biggest surprise is Isla Fisher's performance; she's a really great comic actress. Which wouldn't have been as much of a surprise if I'd known she was engaged to Sacha Baron Cohen. July 15th, ladies and gentlemen; clear your calendars.


Why Kelo is such a bad decision

Yesterday, I hinted at my extreme displeasure with the Kelo et al v New London decision. Today I'm spelling out exactly why I think this was a horrible decision.

First, let me explain a little bit about my (apparently naive) interpretation of the separation of powers in the US government. The Legislative branch legislates, the Executive branch executes laws, and the Judicial branch adjudicates. [ed - Wow, Jody, that's quite the tautological description of the powers of the branches - well, it's the natural result of believing that words should have specific meanings]

For the Supreme Court (as opposed to the other courts), I expect them to perform the following functions:
So when evaluating a decision by the Supreme Court, I don't really care if the effect of the ruling is good or bad (well, I care, but it's not the metric I use to evaluate the Court). Rather, I care if they correctly decide the legality of an action or the constitutionality of a law. If the outcome is bad, but legal (action) or constitutional (law), then that's reason to change the law or amend the Constitution and it's not the place for the Court to perform either of those actions (it's the place of the Legislature and the Legislature and the states, respectively). Of course, if the decision is wrong and with ill-effect, then it's doubly depressing as a bad decision gives little confidence that even changing the law will result in a good outcome.

As I'm arrogant enough to defer to no one on a logical issue based on their position or level of certification (though I can be swayed by a well-reasoned and well-constructed argument from anyone), I feel no compunction in saying that the Supreme Court got a decision right or wrong. But applying the same rationale to myself, I do endeavour to give a well-reasoned and well-constructed argument supporting my opinion.

The following is my (hopefully) well-reasoned and well-constructed argument on why Kelo was a bad decision (I'll let the ill effect speak for itself).

The facts
The following are the facts of the case as summarized in Stevens (majority) opinion:
In 2000, the city of New London approved a development plan that, in the wordsof the Supreme Court of Connecticut, was projected to create in excess of 1,000 jobs, to increase tax and other revenues, and to revitalize an economically distressed city, including its downtown and waterfront areas.lo 268 Conn. 1, 5, 843 A. 2d 500, 507 (2004). In assembling the land needed for this project, the city's development agent has purchased property from willing sellers and proposes to use the power of eminent domain to acquire the remainder of the property from unwilling owners in exchange for just compensation. The question presented is whether the city's proposed disposition of this property qualifies as a "public use" within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. (hyperlink added)
The Takings Clause as footnoted in the syllabus:
"[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." That Clause is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U. S. 226 (1897)." [emphasis added]
As a brief aside, I'm of the opinion that the second sentence of the first section of the 14th amendment (the basis for the above decision) was superfluous as the supremacy clause already established that the States had to follow the 5th amendment to ensure due process and what not.

My argument against the ruling
Taking land and giving it to another private entity (assuming it's not a private company that provides a government sanctioned monopolistic public service ala TVA - a kind of "common carrier") does not constitute a "public use". That this is not public use is made clear in section (a) of the syllabus where the following appears: "the city is not planning to open the condemned land–at least not in its entirety–to use by the general public".

Thus the proposed actions of the New London city council (a quasi legislative/executive entity) are unconstitutional in clear violation of the takings clause.

The arguments in favor of the ruling and why they're wrong
The following recreates all the arguments that I am aware of made by the majority in favor of the ruling and is followed by my responses. (If you know of other arguments in favor whether in the decision or from the blogosphere, leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the list that I am responding to them.)

"Public use" doesn't mean "public use"
Here, I'm catching a number of different arguments under a single heading, but they all make the same basic argument that public use doesn't really mean public use.

Using the argument from the syllabus as representative (the continuation of the quote above)
[T]he Court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the … public.” Id., at 244. Rather, it has embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as “public purpose.”
Point (b) in the summary makes a similar argument:
"To effectuate this plan, the city has invoked a state statute that specifically authorizes the use of eminent domain to promote economic development. Given the plan’s comprehensive character, the thorough deliberation that preceded its adoption, and the limited scope of this Court’s review in such cases, it is appropriate here, as it was in Berman, to resolve the challenges of the individual owners, not on a piecemeal basis, but rather in light of the entire plan. Because that plan unquestionably serves a public purpose, the takings challenged here satisfy the Fifth Amendment." [emphasis added, link added in straylight's syllabus]
Kennedy's opinion makes a similar point and refines public purpose somewhat to say that while economic development (the motivation of New London's actions) is permissable, favoring a particular private entitiy is not ok.

My response:

In addition to the fact that legal documents (and especially Constitutional amendments) are written with the intent of being very specific in meaning, as Thomas argued (p5), if a broader meaning of public use was intended, then the phrase "general welfare" would've been used as it was elsewhere in the Constitution.
Tellingly, the phrase "public use" contrasts with the very different phrase "general Welfare" used elsewhere in the Constitution. See ibid. ("Congress shall have Power To . . . provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States:); [preamble (Constitution established iito promote the general Welfare)]. The Framers would have used some such broader term if they had meant the Public Use Clause to have a similarly sweeping scope."
Thomas (being quite the originalist) provides quite the tour-de-force on what "public use" was intended to mean. I highly recommend reading his opinion. Note I am an originalist so I believe if you want the law or Constitution to mean something different than what was originally voted on and agreed by the public, then it should be addressed via legislative process. Also note that the majority opinion explicitly agrees that the Court is applying the standard of "public purpose" and not of "public use".

The Court is Bound By Precedent
The remainder of the syllabus's argument in (a) of the syllabus (and most of the discussion of Stevens) effectively says that since the Court has ruled in the past ("long ago ruled") in favor of broad interpretations of "public use" the Court is bound by precedent.

My response:

Like fun it is. Lower courts are bound by precedent, but not the Supreme Court. See for example Brown v Topeka or Lawrence v Texas.

In addition, the original meaning of a law/document is a precedent, is it not? (Specifically a precdent of custom.) In the majority's opinion and the dissent's opinion precedents are thus in conflict - a strong indication that the Court need not be bound by precedent in this case.

It's too hard to say what is public use and not public use

From the Syllabus (c):
"Petitioners’ proposal that the Court adopt a new bright-line rule that economic development does not qualify as a public use is supported by neither precedent nor logic. Promoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted governmental function, and there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the other public purposes the Court has recognized."
My response:

This only makes sense if you erroneously confuse public use with public purpose. For those who aren't confused on the difference in meaning between "public use" and "public purpose" we can make use of wizbang's bright line, or the categorization suggested in O'Connor's opinion (p5-6): the taking results in 1) public ownership, 2) ownership by a common carrier, or 3) private ownership when it eliminates a harmful use (the unsafe to live in condemnation). 1,2,3

In brief, my argument is "public purpose" is not the same thing as "public use". If "public purpose" was intended, then "public purpose" or "general welfare" would've been used instead of "public use".

I have seen nothing in the majority decision or elsewhere to convince me that public purpose is the same as public use. From my perspective, the Supreme Court has grossly misread the takings clause.

1. 3 is problematic if you believe the Court is bound by the precedent of the Berman case as Stevens points out (Footnote 16) . In the Berman case, which I believe was wrongly decided, there was a neighborhood where most of the houses were unliveable, i.e., blighted. The entire neighborhood was then seized, including those properties that were not blighted and given over for development. Clearly Berman fails this test. Stevens uses the error in O'Connor's analysis of Berman with respect to 3 to claim to justify that no bright line between private and public use can be established. I, however, use the fact that Berman fails the test to justify that Berman was decided incorrectly.

However, O'Connor correctly notes that Kelo does not satisfy the conditions of Berman as no houses were considered blighted in Kelo.

2. Footnote 1 gives a nice example of why I dislike Hannity even though I often agree with his positions. Hannity, in my judgement, generally makes poorly thought out arguments in support of his positions. In general, poorly thought arguments don't affect me one whit whether for or against a position of mine. However, when Hannity who has a large public following makes a bad argument for a position I support, it weakens public support for that position as the public reaonably assumes that the rationale for the position is Hannity's rationale.

3. I interpret seizing someone's home for unliveable conditions as the most extreme penalty for completely failing to satisfy building codes and not as an application of the takings clause. So I wouldn't include condition 3 as a use of the takings clause, but I wouldn't deny the power to the government either.


Congrats to my Dad

The 2005 Tennessee 4-H Horse Show is dedicated to my dad for his years of service to the 4-H program. Congrats! He's put in a lot of time over the years planning and running the TN 4-H shows (and a lot of other livestock events throughout the state).

He also volunteers a lot of time at our church and in our soccer region and is a pretty swell guy too.


New Criterion Contraption

Great Expectations, now at the Criterion Contraption.


Thursday, June 23, 2005


The Worst Supreme Court Ever

Leave a comment on which Supreme Court (by Chief Justice) you think is the worst Supreme Court (or if you're feeling comic book guyish "the worst Supreme Court ... ever!").

To help you decide, here's a list of every important supreme court decision with case descriptions and here's a list of justices with terms of service.

Some good nominees include Tawney Taney (Dred Scott), Fuller (Plessy), Stone (Wickard, Korematsu), or Burger (the penumbra).

While I decline to reveal my vote for the moment (I'll make a longer case for my vote later this afternoon), I'll just say that my vote became an easy one around 10:50 this morning.

I'm going to try to get some work done (I'm actually pretty steamed at the moment, perhaps not this taken back by the decision, but still rather pissed off and yes, worried about the country), but my sentiments on the New London case are neatly captured by this picture.

Also this amendment idea seems like a good one.

Update 2
For those interested, the Kelo v New London decision is here.


Monday, June 20, 2005


A PSA on Animal Porn

While we at Polyscifi (ok just me really) seem to have a recurring theme of posts on animal porn, this should not be taken as encouragement to engage in actual bestiality.

With Jill always available, your dog or your neighbor's dog should never be an option for your sexual gratification. [Cue "The More You Know" Music] 1, 2

1. Of course an exception must be made for sheep.
2. And dolphins - they're nature's sluts.


Saturday, June 18, 2005


Hooray for Hollywood!

I've always thought the best thing Hollywood can do is give talented people money and get out of their way. Occasionally, that's what they do. Two movies I'm excited about on these grounds:

You Are Going To Prison: Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (both formerly of "The State") wrote this script from an actual guide to prison life by Jim Hogarth. Bob Odenkirk from "Mr Show" directed this, and Will Arnett from "Arrested Development" stars in it. Principal photography ended a few weeks ago. Odenkirk has written about the shoot on his blog here; but here's just a taste of the kind of on-set hilarity that was going on:

One thing to note about this project is that Principato-Young Entertainment is the management company that has a lot to do with this project; Garant, Lennon, and Arnett are clients. Principato-Young isn't an agency, but they're a real power player for comedy projects. So Sharon Waxman, where are you on this story?

The 40 Year Old Virgin. Universal's releasing this this summer. Judd Apatow wrote and directed it with Steve Carrell (Apatow created "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" and finally got to direct a feature. And Seth Rogen, from both of Apatow's television shows, is in it. Limitless potential. The trailer is here.


e-Bay Seller goes the extra mile.

I've sold things over the internet, and usually I try to make sure my buyer is happy. You know, send the item on time, double-check the shipping address, and so on. But I never thought of enclosing a MYSTERY BONUS GIFT the way this guy has. It seems that eBay shut down his auction of his cancelled "F DUBYA" Washington State license plate (I can understand why eBay wouldn't want to be a black market for recent license plates; though I'd like to have an extra pair for the occasional high-speed freeway chase). So the guy can't sell his license plate. But he can sell a photo of the plate, along with a MYSTERY BONUS GIFT. Bidding is currently up to $450. I guess people must really want that photo...

H/T Wonkette.


Wonder Polish Twin Powers Activate!

Shape of President!

Form of Prime Minister!

(I'm a little late to the story, but the phrase "Wonder Polish Twins Powers Activate!" has been bouncing around in my head for a couple days now...)


Future Force Warrior

Partly based on some work performed at Tech (I'm not involved in this project, but I know some people who are), comes this army press release:

The Army showcased its Future Force Warrior system, the latest in war-fighting technology, at Soldier Modernization Day on Capitol Hill June 16.


“The result is a single integrated combat system that enhances Soldier performance in all critical areas: increased effectiveness, decreased load and improved mission flexibility and enables continuous upgrades. By managing the Soldier as a system, Program Executive Office Soldier will save Soldiers’ lives, improve their quality of life and increase their combat effectiveness,” Moran said.

The uniforms, which are designed to increase lethality and survivability, will lighten the Soldier’s load from approximately 100 pounds, currently carried by combat Soldiers, Moran said, to 45 pounds.
Though not shown in the article, the "crack" staff at polyscifi has managed to locate this image of the suit worn by one of our new Rasta marines.


Friday, June 17, 2005


Backstroke of the West!

In a continuing series on DVD piracy and bad translation, I submit this for your approval; a Revenge of the Sith DVD with English subtitles retranslated from the Chinese. Among other things, they translated "Jedi Council" as "Presbyterian Church." And the word "troopseses" is used. The bad news is the Chinese version is much better dialogue than the original script. So that's two versions of Revenge of the Sith I'd rather see; the Bruckheimer directed version starring Steve Buscemi and the version where Anikan angrly tells Obi Wan, "They want to know him at fuck."


Single Link Roundup!

Like Jody, I'm busy working on other projects this week, and thus haven't been posting. I only have one link to pass on, but I promise it's worth your time; here's a Daily Show clip featuring a lengthy editorial about Godwin's Law (the editorial starts a little ways in; the summary of the clip isn't correct, although there's some funny stuff of Frist, Bush and Sesenbrenner being wrong, a condescending jerk, and an asshole, respectively). And Bush being a prick. Anyway, the clip has the most concise collection of recent Godwin's Law violations I've ever seen. Money quote:
To sum up: please stop calling people "Hitler" when you disagree with them. It demeans you, it demeans your opponent, and, to be honest, it demeans Hitler. That guy worked too many years, too hard, to be that evil, to have any Tom, Dick, and Harry come along and say, "Hey, you're being Hitler." NO. You know who was Hitler? Hitler.
I bet Bill Frist disagrees with that statement. What a Nazi.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Some quick links

This week I'm trying to pound out a chapter for an upcoming book on cognitive radio so I don't have time to post all that much, but here's some interesting links I ran across.

An end to the Flynn effect?

A B-movie come to life.

A Tie fighter computer desk.

An extended argument that the Empire is not evil.

Lego chicks. With Guns. (h/t boingboing)

How to improve the quality of your swimmers. (h/t RightCoast)

What Thason has been up to. (watch the trailer; it's also kind of an inside joke for the VTACO crowd - thanks to an email from my brother)


Saturday, June 11, 2005


Book Meme

Earlier this week, I was "tagged" by Kunal of Ceteris Paribus to participate in the book meme. I just finished a big report, and don't yet feel like starting my next project (I guess later this afternoon) so I figure now would be the time to join in the fun.

Total Number of Books I own: Around 500. The approximate breakdown is the following:
100 or so paperback scifi books,
maybe 75 or so triviaish/reference books (almanacs, history collections, philosophy, economics...)
Maybe 200 or so technical books (mostly electrical engineering)
About 100 kids books mostly at my parents' house
About 50 "other" books (e.g., "The gas you pass", "Sex for dummies", and random fiction)

Last book I bought: Does a book of crossword puzzles count? I got one of those about a week ago.

Last book I read: On my trip to Korea, I read the Selfish Gene and The Wisdom of Crowds.

Five books that mean a lot to me: I've read a bunch of books I've liked, but I have a hard time identifying any books that have much meaning for me. I primarily treat books as either sources of information or sources of entertainment. The only book that I can think of as having a lot of meaning to me is the Bible (not that I read it as much as I should) because I can ascribe a lot of my morals and outlook on life to the Bible. I mean Catch-22 was cool and all, but it's not like I've taken up alfalfa farming or joined the airforce.

Tag five people and have them do this on their blogs:
I'm feeling lazy. If you're interested in participating in the book meme, leave a trackback.


A Paper Jedi

Now you too can make your own origami Yoda (pdf). (h/t boingboing)


Friday, June 10, 2005


I'll Take the 5th

symphony that is. The BBC has posted recordings all 9 of Beethoven's symphonies for free download here (first 5 up now, the rest will go up during the week). (h/t Donald Sensing)


Thursday, June 09, 2005


An Important Anti-Terrorist Campaign

This Saturday, all of us have important work to do if this plan is to succeed.

Dress is .... ummm.... casual.... (h/t vodkapundit)


Napoleon Dynamite at the Spelling Bee

Sounds like this impression is right on...

I just wonder if he said "Idiot!" when he was eliminated. I imagine that if he had won, there would've been a pretty sweet victory dance (and then the entire nation would've voted for Pedro)...


The End of the Simpsons?

That's not the point of this article. (h/t The Corner) Rather it's announcing plans for a Simpsons movie.
"The Simpsons" is about to get bigger - with a film being planned on the cult TV cartoon character Homer Simpson and his family.

The show's main voice actors have all signed up for the project. The creator of the series, Matt Groening, is thrilled with the film script, reports entertainment portal IMDB.
However, frequently series are drawing to an end (X-Files, Star Trek TNG) when they announce the creation of a movie. Perhaps because it's a sign of writer fatigue (with enough energy for one big push) or perhaps the show then pales in comparison to the movie it's rare that a series continues for long after a movie announcement.

South Park ad children shows are the notable exception to my generalization, but I found myself watching South Park less after the movie release.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Caveat Emptor

BoingBoing links today to a collection of crappy art from bootleg DVDs. Most feature inexpert photoshopping to create something that looks like the real cover; often they cut and paste the credits bar from a different movie. Which is why there's a Revenge of the Sith DVD that appears to have been directed by Bruckheimer and star Steve Buscemi. (I'd actually love to see Revenge of the Sith directed by Bruckheimer with Steve Buscemi. I'd pay through the nose to see that movie. Hollywood, are you listening?) Also worth noting is the copy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that boasts that critics have called the movie "...Too self-absorbed to fully connect with an audience." As you would imagine, the DVDs themselves are none too well-produced, often featuring subtitle tracks copied from other movies, as is the case with this fantastic edition of Catch Me If You Can:

Jack Valenti can't be happy about this. And when Jack Valenti gets mad, Manny Perry gets furious. (NB: Yes, I know Valenti's retired. But I like to think he's retired so that he can fight piracy without attracting media scrutiny, like Batman). Of course, DVD pirates will get better, and that blows for Hollywood. I've bought two bootleg DVDs myself: DVD-R copies of the difficult-to-find Criterion Editions of Salò and The Killer. Neither one was available to rent or buy in genuine editions for less than $500, so I don't feel too bad about it. And I knew what I was buying; it wasn't made up to be a real DVD, just an exact digital copy of the incredibly expensive original. Criterion Collection editions are kind of the gold standard for bootleggers, as a genuine copy of Salò can fetch more than $700. There's a pretty good resource for identifying Criterion fakes here, with specific entries on known bootlegs. Bootleg merchandise will be the art forgery of our time.


Hopefully my only link to Powerline.

Powerline had a post yesterday that features my favorite freeway sign; the "crazy Mexicans sprinting across the highway" warning that's all up and down I-5.

This sign has always given me almost unlimited delight, so I was disappointed that they weren't thrilled by it. I'm not really sure what sort of sign they would prefer; it's the least-abstracted, least pleasant looking group of people ever pictured on an official freeway sign. Perhaps a sombrero on the gentleman?

And as they noted in an update, these signs have been around for years; I first saw one in 2000 on my first drive to Mexico, and for all I know they've been there years longer than that. In fact, there's a Mexican restaurant called Abuelita's in Topanga Canyon that uses this as their logo (only on their road signs, unfortunately, not on their website). If you're driving up the PCH, the Topanga Canyon turn off is marked by that sign, with an arrow, and CAUTION changed to something like "This Way For Great Mexican Food!" I always loved the idea that the parents were dragging their child to get Mexican food. Anyway, I'd like to propose a new law, the Ironic Repurposing Moral Outrage Act of 2005: Once an image is familiar enough to be reused in an ad, it's too late to be pissed off by it.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Bring Back Horror-Movie Cliché Profiling!

I believe that you should be innocent until proven guilty. I don't think police should detain you for hours and hours because they've got a bad feeling about you. On the other hand, a little thought experiment: you're working as a border guard in Calais. And a guy wants to enter the United States. His papers are all in order, but he's got brass knuckles with him. I think most people would agree that you should let him in. Maybe confiscate the brass knuckles, maybe not, but let him in.

So repeat the experiment. This time, say he's got brass knuckles and a hatchet. Let him in, or no? Again, I think I'd let him in. Take the knuckles, leave the hatchet? I don't know, but I'd let him into the country.

Now add a knife to the mix. No law against knives, right? Right. So he's ok with brass knuckles, a hatchet, and a knife.

Ah. But imagine he comes back, and this time he's still got the brass knuckles, he's still got the hatchet, he's still got the knife, but he's also carrying a homemade sword. Maybe he went to a Canadian Renaissance fair, and maybe not. Maybe you should ask some questions at this point. I think I could imagine letting him in, depending on the plausibility of his explanations for all the weapons. I'd totally keep the sword myself, though.

Ok. So, let's do the experiment one more time. Let's say he's got brass knuckles, a hatchet, a knife, a homemade sword, and a bloodstained chainsaw. Big red splotches all over the chainsaw blade. And he looks like this guy (scroll down for photo). Should anyone be surprised that he had a questionable history in Canada (and by questionable, I mean that he left his neighbor's severed head in a pillowcase under a kitchen table, among other things)...

As a sad footnote to this bizzare story; one of the killer's victims was "a 2001 inductee in the Minto Country Music Wall of Fame." Minto has 2,700 residents.


Monday, June 06, 2005


Only a Sith Thinks in Absoluts

A humorous take on a famous line from ROTS, which is somehow missing from my bar... (h/t Vodkapundit)



Sasha Issenberg has a nice piece in Slate today about my favorite Watergate movie: Dick. My sister Lindsay introduced me to this film; I was pretty skeptical. But you've gotta love any movie in which a teenage girl cuts out photos of Richard Nixon in the shape of hearts and puts them up all over her room.


I'm not a lawyer...

But today's Ashcroft (Gonzales) v Raich ruling (pdf) seems perfectly inline with previous supreme court rulings.

From my vantage point, today's decision was really an application of the commerce clause and the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which states:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." U.S. Const. art. VI, Paragraph 2

So there were only two things that were under consideration in this decision.

1) Is the federal law prohibiting the use of medical marijuana constitutional?
2) Are the state laws in question contrary to the federal law?

If the answer was yes to both cases, then the Court had to find in favor of Ashcroft.

Since the New Deal, the Courts (depressingly) have taken an extremely broad view of what constitutes interstate trade so unfortunately the answer to 1 was yes. More discussion on the commerce clause justifications and implications here (today's decision seems to end any illusion on the limits of the commerce clause).

With the commerce matter settled, the state laws pretty clearly contradicted federal law, so the supremacy clause was then invoked.

So to me here's another data point on why it's valuable to have strict constructionists on the Supreme Court.

Side notes:
Scalia proved more conservative than principled.
Thomas (separate dissent) and Rehnquist did put prinicples ahead of interests.
O'Connor, not particularly known for her federalist leanings, wrote the dissenting opinion with Rehnquist concurring.


Saturday, June 04, 2005


Bad Money

First they put a bison penis on my coins and I said nothing.
Then they made Thomas Jefferson look like Bob Hope and I said nothing.
What's next?


Friday, June 03, 2005


The Europocalypse

Outside of reports of people burning their Euros in the streets, I can't think of any worse sign of the health of the Euro than reports that Italy is contemplating pulling out of the Euro and going with the Lira because the Euro "has proved inadequate in the face of the economic slowdown, the loss of competitiveness and the job crisis." (h/t drudge)

For fun, leave what you would consider a sign of an impending "Europocalypse" in the comments.


Thursday, June 02, 2005


National Donut Day

is tomorrow (Friday). Get a free donut from your local Krispy Kreme.

No. Really.

If you don't know where your nearest store is at, here's a store locator.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005


News (Laura Bush) Can Use.

Does Laura Bush read the Washington Post? Does Jeff Gannon?


Contributing to the Housing Bubble

As of today, Preethi and I are the proud owners of 20% of this townhouse (we closed today).

Though according to Drezner, this purchase satisfies the two conditions cited by Rosen where I'm not actually contributing to the bubble, so perhaps the title is misleading. (On a more technical note, I think as with all real estate phenomena, the housing bubble is specific to the location, location, location.)


A bad, bad law

Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has reminded me why I term myself a "conservative libertarian" and not a Republican.

Sensebrenner introduced a bill (HR 1528) in the House (apparently on the 6th of April, but I just found out about it now) that would require you to snitch on your friends if you observe them using drugs and they're under 21. (h/t samizdata)

Here's the relative section (pdf, from pages 12-13): (If that link doesn't work, go here, and enter HR 1528)

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who witnesses or learns of a violation of sections 416(b)(2),417,418,419,420,424,or 426 to fail to report the offense to law enforcement officials within 24 hours of witnessing or learning of the violation and thereafter provide full assistance in the investigation, apprehension,and prosecution of the person violating paragraph (a).

Any person who violates subsection (a) of this section shall be sentenced to not less than two years or more than 10 years.If the person who witnesses or learns of the violation is the parent or guardian,or otherwise responsible for the care or supervision of the person under the age of 18 or the incompetent person,such person shall be sentenced to not less than three years or more than 20 years.’’
Now I don't do any drugs other than caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, but I'm really not willing to turn someone in to the Feds for something that's not going to affect me or anyone other than the person engaged in the activity. And I don't think I should be legally compelled to do so.

Government is not the solution to every problem, and definitely not the solution to this problem.

If you happen to feel like dropping Sensenbrenner a line, here' s some contact info.

Mostly off topic, but what kind of man puts out a press release in praise of his perfect attendence? Maybe along with some nastygrams for HR 1528, I'll send Jim a gold star for his perfect attendence.


Jody Reaches WAAY Down to Pull Some Items Out of His Butt the Memory Hole

In this post, Matt asserted
"that Bush lied about U.S. intentions and commitment to a diplomatic route. Throughout the fall before the war, Bush repeatedly said that he was commited to seeking a diplomatic solution; that Iraq could, by readmitting inspectors and disarming, avoid war. As the Downing St. Memo makes clear, they couldn't. The United States was involved in the U.N. route only to seek legitimacy for a preordained war."
This was premised on a July 23 date for the Downing St Memo which based the conclusion that "By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq." which itself was based on the following excerpt:
"C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
In the comments that post, I a) disagreed with why we went the UN route (asserting that it was for the British) and b) noted that Matt's assessment was consistent with the Downing St Memo, but added:
I will note that I recall excerpts from Woodward's book indicating a different timeline for the decision. Specifically, I think I recall mid-Jan 2003 as the date (I think that's also around when we went into second resolution, i.e., war authorization, mode). This would also place the decision after there had been some serious Iraqi sheninigans with the Res. 1441 inspectors. (I'll have to get a copy and to see if my memory holds up.)

The discrepancy in the decision timings can be resolved if one assumes that a) there was some wavering in Bush's decision after the memo (perhaps via the efforts of Powell and Straw) or b) the certainty described in the memo was overstated.
Unfortunately, Plan of Attack is checked out of the VT library through August and I'm a little too cheap to buy a book just to prove a point.

However, I was able to find the WaPo's series of excerpts that I recalled in the comment. The first in the weeklong series was explicitly on the decision to go to war. In short, my recall of the excerpts was correct on all counts. The decision was made in the Jan 11-13 timeframe, was premised on the Iraqi sheninigans with the Res. 1441 inspectors, and that was also when we went into second resolution, i.e., war authorization, mode. [don't break your arm patting yourself on the back too hard -ed Well, seeing what it's already covered in from my excursion down the memory hole, I pity the doctor who has to set the bone.]

Being more specific on the timeline, there's actually three different decision points cited in the article: 1) shortly after New Year's, 2) Jan 11, and 3) Jan 13.

Shortly after New Year's is when Rice thought Bush had made his decision, though he wasn't willing to commit just yet. [Rice + Bush + unwilling to commit? Are you bringing back up the Rice-Bush married couple meme? -ed Sometimes when you unplug the memory hole, a lot of "stuff" comes out.]
Shortly after New Year's Day 2003, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had a private moment with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex.

Bush felt the effort to get United Nations weapons inspections inside Iraq on an aggressive track to make Saddam Hussein crack was not working. "This pressure isn't holding together," Bush told her. The media reports of smiling Iraqis leading inspectors around, opening up buildings and saying, "See, there's nothing here," infuriated Bush, who then would read intelligence reports showing the Iraqis were moving and concealing things. It wasn't clear what was being moved, but it looked to Bush as if Hussein was about to fool the world again. It looked as if the inspections effort was not sufficiently aggressive, would take months or longer, and was likely doomed to fail.


There was another factor at work that was not publicly known. Sensitive intelligence coverage on U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix indicated that he was not reporting everything and not doing all the things he maintained he was doing. Some in Bush's war cabinet believed Blix was a liar...
"He's getting more confident, not less," Bush said of Hussein. "He can manipulate the international system again. We're not winning.


"Time is not on our side here," Bush told Rice. "Probably going to have to, we're going to have to go to war." In Rice's mind, this was the moment the president decided the United States would go to war with Iraq.
January 11 was the point at which Prince Bandar was invited to be briefed - the point at which Rumsfeld thought was the decision point - with Bush personally informing Bandar on the 13th.
Back in Washington in early January 2003, Bush took Rumsfeld aside.

"Look, we're going to have to do this, I'm afraid," he said. "I don't see how we're going to get him to a position where he will do something in a manner that's consistent with the U.N. requirements, and we've got to make an assumption that he will not."

It was enough of a decision for Rumsfeld. He asked to bring in some key foreign players.

The president gave his approval but pressed Rumsfeld again. When is my last decision point?

"When your people, Mr. President, look people in the eye and tell them you're going."

One of the key players that had to be notified and brought along was Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces would have to be sent through and from Saudi territory into Iraq. Rescue, communications and refueling support were not going to be enough. Of the five other countries on Iraq's border, only Kuwait and Jordan supported a military operation. The 500 miles of Saudi-Iraqi border were critical.

So on Saturday, Jan. 11, Cheney invited Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, to his West Wing office. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were also there.


The next day, Sunday, Rice called Bandar to invite him to meet with the president the following day, Monday, Jan. 13. At the meeting, the president told Bandar that he was receiving advice and reports from some in his administration that in the event of war he would have to contend with a massive Arab and Islamic reaction that would put American interests at risk.
That same day (13th) Bush informed Powell.
So that Monday, Jan. 13, Powell and Bush met in the Oval Office. The president was sitting in his regular chair in front of the fireplace, and the secretary was in the chair reserved for the visiting leader or most senior U.S. official. For once, neither Cheney nor Rice was hovering.

Bush complimented Powell for his hard work on the diplomatic front. "The inspections are not getting us there," the president said, getting down to business. The U.N. inspectors were just sort of stumbling around, and Hussein was showing no intention of real compliance. "I really think I'm going to have to do this." The president said he had made up his mind on war. The United States should go to war.

"You're sure?" Powell asked.

Yes, said Bush.

"You understand the consequences," Powell said in a half question. For nearly six months, he had been hammering on this theme -- that the United States would be taking down a regime, would have to govern Iraq, and the ripple effect in the Middle East and the world could not be predicted. The run-up to war had sucked nearly all the oxygen from every other issue in foreign relations. War would surely get all the air and attention.

Yeah, I do, the president answered.

"You know that you're going to be owning this place?" Powell said, reminding Bush of what he had told him at a dinner the previous August in which Powell had made the case against military action in Iraq. An invasion would mean assuming the hopes, aspirations and all the troubles of Iraq. Powell wasn't sure whether Bush had fully understood the meaning and consequences of total ownership.

But I think I have to do this, the president said.

Right, Powell said.

I just want to let you know that, Bush said, making it clear this was not a discussion, but the president informing one of his Cabinet members of his decision. The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war.
I think my assertion that sheninigans with the inspectors were the immediate motive is supported by the preceding (particularly in the Rice excerpt). My remaining assertion that was "also around when we went into second resolution, i.e., war authorization, mode" is borne out by the Blair Steady in Support excerpt.
On Jan. 31, 2003, Bush was scheduled to meet again with Blair at Camp David, but a mix of rain and ice kept them at the White House. Blair told Bush that he needed to get a second U.N. resolution. He had promised that to his party at home, and he was confident that together he and Bush could rally the United Nations and the international community.

Bush was set against a second resolution. So were Cheney and Powell -- a rare case in which they agreed. The first resolution had taken seven weeks, and this one would be much harder. But Blair had the winning argument. It was necessary for him politically. It was no more complicated than that, an absolute political necessity. Blair said he needed the favor. Please.

That was language Bush understood. "If that's what you need, we will go flat out to try and help you get it," he told Blair. He also didn't want to go alone, and without Britain he would be close to going alone.

Bush called it "the famous second-resolution meeting" and said Blair "absolutely" asked for help. The new resolution, which would declare that Hussein had "failed to" comply, was introduced in late February, but the efforts to get other Security Council members to sign on floundered.

So there's two different timelines for the decision and Woodward's description of the events indicate that Bush did indeed desire a diplomatic solution and only made the decision after it was felt that Hussein was screwing around with the process. So how to resolve the discrepancy?

Repeating my conclusion from the earlier comment:
The discrepancy in the decision timings can be resolved if one assumes that a) there was some wavering in Bush's decision after the memo (perhaps via the efforts of Powell and Straw) or b) the certainty described in the memo was overstated.


The Onion's Back

I've thought recently that The Onion has gone downhill. Well, they've won me back with this week's issue. Particularly the editorials headlined "If It's Any Consolation, Your Daughter Probably Died Almost Immediately of Sheer Terror" (though the editorial isn't as good as the headline) and "This Script Practically Writes, Directs, and Universally Pans Itself." And the "What Do You Think" is about the House bill on stem cell research, and features the following responses:


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