Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Report: Yeah, I know you don't have time to read the whole 9/11 commission report, so I'm going to do you a favor.

I already downloaded the thing from here. I'll read it for you, and post the juicy bits.

Think of it as the "reader's digest" version.

Yeah, I know. You're welcome.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing: Sledge Hammer is coming to DVD.

I loved that show.

Now if they can release DVDs of all those old shows NBC used to put on, and then cancel, one after another on Friday night--V, The Master, Misfits of Science . . . that would rock.

Although I must admit to hearing there's a couple episodes of The Master that have been MST3K'd.

Don't Panic: The teaser trailer for the Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy movie is floating arouind online.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

But Does It Cover Intergalactic Flights?: The Speculative Literature Foundation has announced deadlines for its travel research grant.

Minute By Minute Moore: Over at Hatrack, HRE has posted an analysis of F9/11 that breaks down every assertion of the film, categorized by minute of play. Take a gander.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Episode III Title Official: . . . and it's Revenge Of The Sith, just like we all thought.

And all of you are going to make fun of it, because you think you're so much smarter than these stupid little movies, just like your parents did with the first movie, and one day your kids will rise up and blow you up in a Death Star effigy.

What I Got For My Birthday:

Fodor's Around Los Angeles With Kids by Lisa Oppenheimer
I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking by Alton Brown
Alliance by Gerald N. Lund
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-First Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois
Rush Hour
Rush Hour 2
X2: X-Men United
And a cool shirt, which my daughter has come to call my Harry Potter shirt.

Does my family know me, or what?

Robyn Says Relax: Robyn Asimov says Dad would have liked I, Robot.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Card on Stage: Here's the info on the Orson Scott Card plays coming to the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks.

Since they already picked my least favorite stories to adapt, I'm looking forward to the next time they do this. They can only go up from here!

Actually, A Sepulchre of Songs is a wonderful story.

More Than Meets The Eye: Transformers coming to the big screen, via Dreamworks.

A quick check on writer/producer Tom DeSanto on the Internet Movie Database shows he worked on the X-films, so there's hope.

And the IMDB also lists Peter Cullen and Frank Welker in the cast--the original voices of Optimus Prime and Megatron. The IMDB is known for being inaccurate, but I really hope that one's true--it would be as good a casting choice as Jack Black was a bad one.

The Vice Squad: Okay, here goes nothing.

My last discussion with Sandefur wasn't really an argument--we both agreed about something, and we were just hashing out the implications. In fact, the whole discussion got started because he was arguing Conservatives weren't really anti-welfare, and I had to chime in and say this Conservative, for one, was. Not only could independent charities operate more effectively than the huge bureaucracy of the Federal Government, they could give more one-on-one aid that would be more beneficial to the recipients. Besides, it's theft.

The subsequent discussion was simply about whether the states were still permitted to do it under the Constitution.

As big a stink as Sandefur raised about it, this isn't really an area where he and I, or any Conservatives and Libertarians, really disagree.

We do, however, disagree about vice. So this is the discussion where things get interesting.

The handful of regular readers of this blog are a wonderfully diverse bunch, and I know this is an area where many of them disagree with me. Also, Sandefur probably knows the actual tenants and points of my argument better than I do, so he's ready to pounce all over them.

But for me, this is the blog equivalent of bungie jumping. I'm leaping off the bridge here, and we'll see whether or not I've got my tennis shoes securely fastened.

First, I'm not a big fan of the drug laws as they now stand. Which drugs are legal and which are not seems arbitrary to me--is alcohol really less dangerous than pot? Have you read about the numerous cases of marijuana-related violence across this country? Of course not, because there aren't many. Not to say pot doesn't harm others--driving high is as bad as driving drunk--but wouldn't it be far better to sedate them with THC than rile them up with CH3CH2OH?

That being said, the mere idea that I'm even suggesting that the level of crime and violence in the country can be controlled--in essence, that the people of this country can be controlled--through which drugs we legalize and which we ban illustrates the absurdity of the basic premise of the argument that vice consists of victimless crimes.

The sad truth is, statistics for other crimes are too closely linked with statistics for vice usage.

So what does that mean? Do people have the right to ban, say, a strip club from moving in across the street from a high school, or in a residential neighborhood? If the strip club is really unwanted, won't the "invisible hand" of capitalism drive it out? Or will it attract a kind of shady, unwanted character that the people in town don't want to have around?

I'm dubious about this argument because it's a slippery slope. I work in the check cashing/payday loan industry, and a lot of people say the same kinds of things about my stores that gets said about strip clubs--that we bring in an uncouth sort of character who people wouldn't want to have around, otherwise. We've been blocked out of more than one community simply because people were worried about what type of people we would attract, unaware that the people we were attracting were their neighbors, who were just embarrassed to admit they needed us.

(In one community, we were kicked out for no more reason than that we had painted over the aquarium mural the fish store who had previously occupied the building had put there. The reasoning was otherwise, but that was the motivation.)

On Phil Hendrie the other day, Jay Santos of the Citizens Auxiliary Police was shutting down garage sales because they attracted criminals who wanted to scope out the houses and pedophiles who wanted to check out the kids.

But dang it, if a razor blade factory was to open up across from a park, and they used faulty delivery trucks that spilled razor blades all over the place as the trucks drove around, somebody would have to stop the negligent behavior of the factory.

So if a den of vice is actually contributing to the crime of a community, the den should be held accountable for it.

In other words, the first condition of my accepting legalized vice would be the purveyors of vice would have to cooperate fully with law enforcement. If an officer comes in with a picture and says, does this guy come here, fingers would need to point.

The next argument is stronger, and that is that most "victimless" crimes are not really victimless. Drinking often leads to drunk driving murders or domestic violence. Drug addiction often leads to burglary and other crimes to pay off pushers.

So my second tenant for legalized vice would be that people who commit crimes while under the influence of or motivated by vice would have to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

There is no "Twinkie defense," where you get to say your punishment should be less since you wouldn't have done it if you hadn't been "temporarily not of sound mind" due to one chemical or another. That's not fair to the victims of the crime, whose rights were not infringed upon one iota less by your having been under the influence of something you chose to take.

If you can't accept that, then you're left with the idea of vice-addicted as victim. The criminals in this case would be the drug dealers, who are abusing the addiction of their customers, shackling them in bonds as strong as that of any slaveowner.

I'm not fully behind this argument either, because I don't believe in anything that denies the free agency of man. Drugs are not real chains, and there are, in fact, means of escape from the bonds that, difficult as they may be, are not the life-endangering exploit it was to attempt to escape the slavemaster.

But I'm still uncomfortable with people profiting off other people's weakness. In one sense, I know, all of capitalism could be defined that way (lots of comic book dealers certainly profited off my weakness for GIJoe comics when I was a teenager, and I don't begrudge them a dime of that money), but pretty much the entire medical community has decided alcoholism is a disease. Does free-market capitalism really include profiting off pushing people further into an illness?

I can see the flip side of this one, too--I have a brother that's allergic to band-aids, and I wouldn't dream of saying that band-aid is contributing to the country's rash problem by continuing to market their product.

And I definitely have a hard time arguing against, say, medicinal marijuana, especially in terminal cases ("Hey, you can't smoke that joint! You'll get cancer and die in twenty years!").

But I still can't rest easy with the idea of bags of crack with colorful logos on the front hanging from a hook by the register at the local Rite-Aid. In large part, it's because the entire concept needed to sell these drugs is a lie. What they proport to offer--good times, good feelings, good energy, good feelings about yourself--is really a mask, a thinly veiled facade for the addiction they pull you into, the damage they do to various parts of your body, the lower levels of joy, self-esteem, and well-being they leave you with.

It's like Dan Akroyd sitting there with the "Bag O'Glass" and "Switchblade Suzie" on Saturday Night Live. Or like Cheerios with cyanide in them. Would we really let Cheerios sell cereal that had cyanide in it as long as they told everybody it had cyanide in it before they sold it?

Well, maybe. And maybe they wouldn't call it "Cheerios," they'd call it "rat poison" and they'd put it in the gardening care aisle instead of the cereal aisle.

But that's not what the people who would legalize drugs would be doing. They'd be marketing it for human ingestion, and their entire livelihood would depend on convincing people they'll be better off taking the drugs than they would without them.

On so many levels, that's just a lie.

Lying to the public should be a crime, especially if it affects the health and well being of the purchasers. So my third condition of legalizing vice would be that the FDA, or an agency like it, must still be allowed to exist, to verify the veracity of all claims made by anyone selling drugs, and have the authority to punish those that were deceptive.

The ability to prosecute and sue for false advertising is essential to the perpetuation of a free market.

I'd have an even harder time arguing against legalized drugs if profit was taken out of them altogether. This, to me, would be a difficult scenario to argue against--one person, making a voluntary choice, which no one had a motive, financial or otherwise, to push him towards, and which affects only him.

But that's not the scenario real legalized drugs would fall into. We'd have a person, driven by a bevy of advertising and information to something harmful, which could inhibit his ability to keep himself from actions that would affect those around him, and which could lead him to an addiction he is incapable of overcoming without help.

We can see it with legal vice. Gambling houses promise "HUGE PRIZES" and "BIG PAYOUTS." If they were honest that blinking sign above the nickel slots would say "WE'LL GIVE YOU BACK SEVEN FOR EVERY TEN YOU GIVE US" (That's the law in Atlantic City. In Nevada, there is no limit on the house percentage, so it can be worse. Airports and gas stations and other places that don't depend on repeat business are usually much worse.)

The one by the Keno booth would have to say, "WE KEEP A QUARTER FOR EVERY BUCK" (The worst house percentage of any game in the casino).

I'm into swindling as a hobby. But there's a huge ethical difference, to me, between David Copperfield, who calls what he does "Illusions," and John Edward, who calls what he does "communicating with the world beyond."

So in other words, I can only conceive of legalizing vice if it can truly be compartmentalized so as to not affect others, and if it can be done without deceiving consumers.

And I have a hard time conceiving that scenario.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

That's Not So Strange: I used to shoot the target on Dial-A-Song over and over, trying to get one particular song to come up. Come to find out, it's online in RealPlayer format.

Check out They Might Be Giant's "I'm The Substitute Now."

But He Still Ain't Dumb Enough To Make A Vegas Run: When a genius loses a bet, it changes how we view the universe.

Moore Debunking: Courtesy of Larry Elder, this was apparently written by a seventeen-year-old.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Spidey, Too: Goin' nuts in Peru.

Supes Goes Bad: Must have got a hold of some bad Kryptonite.

Calvinites Rejoice:  Now you can truly have it all.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Hal Jordan Would Be Rolling In His Grave (If He Hadn't Already Come Back As The Spectre):  I try not to be overly negative in this blog, but I've had a pretty bad weekend.  It started out okay, smoking some meat and hanging with my family.  But somewhere between one of my stores getting vandalized in the middle of the night Saturday,  the headache that still hasn't really gone away, and blogger's "wonderful" (yeah, right) new editor, things took a sour turn.
But this bit of news has got to be the worst blow of all.
Green Lantern, the most powerful character in the DC universe, the man with the ring that can do anything he wants, the man who single-handedly anniatlated the guardians of the universe and the entire Green Lantern Corp will be played by . . . . Jack Black?
The Green Lantern movie is going to be a wacky, "Mask"-esque comedy?
The fact that some studio is going to be paying money to put Green Lantern on the screen and the phrase "Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever" are not dripping from anyone's lips is a Hindenberg-level tragedy.
If anybody wants me, I'll be that whimpering pile curled up in the fetal position in the corner.

Bad Writing (And Not Mine): They've announced this year's Bulwer-Lytton winner and it's gone to . . . somebody making fun of Martha Stewart.
Actually, he wasn't even making fun of her--he was just mentioning her.  But I guess everybody assumes Martha Stewart is just a big joke, so any mention of her is funny.

M. Night Hoax:  Readers of this blog know of my many posts applauding hoaxes.  I'm pleased to see that Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan was involved in one with the Sci Fi Channel.
I have no idea why they didn't keep this going.

The Economics of Conservatism: I am well aware that engaging Sandefur in a discussion of the 14th amendment is rather like playing Snapdragon with the Human Torch.  It's something you do more to get a good seat for the show, not because you think you're going to win.
I'll just say that I find the idea of the fourteenth amendment as a basis for banning imposed welfare appealing, and am curious to know how well accepted he would think such a position would be in the courts.
As for the other argument, the one he baited me with, the one he knows he and I disagree completely about--well, that one will have to wait for another night.  It's been a long weekend, and I just want to post some fluff.
But it will come.  That discussion will happen.  The gauntlet will be thrown down.  Titans will collide.  Minds will be enlightened with the force and fury of a white dwarfing star, and the blogosphere will never be the same!
But to tide everybody over, here's today's entertainment news!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Elementary, My Dear: If you've never seen it, check out Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction.

Sodium (K, 19) features the glowing pickle machine Dan Hunt and I did for our senior year science project, and Magnesium (Mg, 12) is a must read for anybody who's read Ender's Game (which I think is nearly everybody who reads this blog).

Conversation Continues: First, Sandefur has no reason to worry that anything in his posts are hostile towards me. We are discussing ideas, and he is free to be as hostile towards ideas as he wants to be. I wouldn't have gotten involved in the discussion if I wasn't ready to have my ideas challenged passionately.

Besides, I know he's above the kind of mean spirited stuff that gets flung about in less classy parts of the blogosphere (you suck!) (No, YOU suck!) (Oh, YEAH? Keep it up, and I'm going to Post in |337 $PE4k!!)

Whatever. With Sandefur, it's all about ideas, so let's see how well mine hold up.

Well, actually, there isn't much to say. Aside from some bad wording he found in my last post he's got my position nailed down.

First, as to "outlined," I was referring to rights outlined in, say, the bill of rights or other law. You and I may have an absolute moral right that exists and has existed through all eternity, but unless it is delineated somewhere in writing with the signatures of legislators, we're not going to get any protection of it by our government.

I hope that makes sense.

I'm really talking about two different things here--the first is absolute morality, a set of laws that are fixed and in place that cannot be violated nor changed, that have been and always will be.

The second is the structure and morality of our actual government. This one is fluid and changing, moving either towards the tenants of real, absolute morality, if the people are enlightened, or away from it, towards depravity and oppression, if the people are not.

So when I said that rights-based morality was not absolute, I should have been more careful about using the buzzword absolute. What I intended to say was that the means we have of trying to build morality into the system--of delineating rights that are not to be violated, even by the majority--doesn't automatically lead to a hard-and-fast set of rules that everyone will agree on (I believe the sentence, as first typed, read "Rights-based morality has some wiggle room").

So then comes his summary of my position: It’s not okay; it’s immoral and beyond the legitimate power of the majority, but they just have so much power that it’s impossible to stop them from doing it.

Would I agree with that? Basically.

I feel that it's important that the majority have power. Even though he qualified it, Jefferson still said, "the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail." His qualification was that it was possible to abuse that power, not that we should take the power away from them.

That power can definitely be abused. And that's why the government can only be moral inasmuch as the people themselves are moral.

And, again, all of this is only referring to the states. The constitution has already spoken and none of this should be happening on the federal level.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Linkin' the Doc: Thanks to Punditmania for blogrolling me. Reciprocation is eminent.

Online Puzzle Game: Yeah, it's weird, in a Monte-Python-meets-Myst way. But if you have a few minutes, go ahead and pick up the phone.

Bin Laden's Deadline: Just a reminder that the three month deadline is about to expire. Oooooh, be afraid.

Or, use your head, and remember that when a terrorist is capable of doing something bad, they do it, when they can only do something small, they do it and threaten worse, and when they can't do anything, they make threats.

They will also use the least amount of effort necessary to inspire fear. The purpose of deadlines is to do just that--inspire fear.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

This Film Ends When Your Face Implodes: If you only check the Homestar site on Mondays, you may have missed this bit of They Might Be Gianty goodness.

I saw them do this song in concert a couple months ago and dug it--the video's rockin'.

Quote of the Day: Sent to me by my Dad:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
--Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love, used by Nelson Mandella in his inauguration speech.

Watch 'Em Run: Electoral votes based on current polling data.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Moral Relativism: Because of my last post, Sandefur has called me a Moral Relativist.

Which I am, of course, not. I'm a moral absolutist to the core. I've spent a lot of time in discussion with moral relativists who felt that the only way for there to be absolute morality was if there was a God, and since there wasn't one, there was no absolute morality.

My position was that in order for morality to be absolute, God couldn't proscribe it, he would have to be subject to it, whether he existed or not.

So why, then, my stance, which seems to be that of a moral relativist?

Because it's actually the opposite. The moral relativist would ask, "Who are the majority, that they may dictate to me what is right and wrong?"

Only a moral absolutist would assert that it was possible to actually be morally right or morally wrong, in complete isolation from what opinions were held by others.

Consequently we need some way to determine what moral system to operate under, since it will be disagreed with.

As I said in my last post, "In a government of the people, by the people, for the people, the people should, and do, have the greatest influence on the nation's policy."

I used the phrase "of the people, by the people, for the people," deliberately--it's from the Gettysburg Address, a war that was fought, to some degree, over moral issues--slavery, and the right of secession.

Which is what the real question Sandefur doesn't think I've answered seems to boil down to--when, as was the case with Lincoln and Confederacy, can morality be imposed on someone, and when are we forced to accept the will of the majority, notwithstanding it be contrary to our own?

I can honestly say I've never really considered where the line needs to be placed. My attitude has always been that if the majority is trying to vote in immoral policy or elect immoral officials, your only recourse is to try and change the voters.

As ridiculous as he finds it that the majority can enact laws that he feels to be morally reprehensible, I find it equally ridiculous to assert that somehow my moral position should be deemed more weighty than that of the masses, and they should be subjected to my whims.

I understand his rationale--he feels that if the morality is built into the system, then even if the people go astray, the system can still remain stable and moral. And to a large degree, this is what we do.

It's the purpose of so many declarations of "rights." Laws that violate those pre-defined "rights" are immoral, and get tossed. Laws that do not get to stand.

So then, "What, precisely, is the limit to which Peterson refers?"

It's that the people can't vote in a law that violates their outlined rights.

That's the limit.

The problem is that a lot of aspects of those rights are subject to interpretation. He interprets it a violation of those rights for drugs and prostitution to be outlawed--most would disagree. Some would interpret it a violation of those rights for him to refuse to play their song on a radio station he owned--he (and I) would disagree.

So "rights"-based morality is still, to some degree, not absolute.

This is not bad. This is, in fact, how it should be. The people should ultimately have their way. That's what Democracy is about.

And if even we tried to stop it, even if we ultimately declared the will of the people as secondary to that of the judiciary or whoever, the people would eventually vote in people who would replace those justices or judges or senators, and in the end things would go the way they wanted.

So the people get to vote for wealth redistribution if they want, and there's really nothing more I can do about it than if they voted in drug legalization or eliminating the FDA or any of the other policies the Libertarians embrace.

Even judicial appeal and (dare I say) military intervention would just be a quick-fix, until the politicians began promising to appoint judges or implement policy that would overturn the ruling in line with the will of the people, and then we'd be right back where we started.

The toughest part of any such might-makes-right action is the subsequent convincing of the masses that what happened was "right," otherwise the action won't stick. Reconstruction was far more vital to shaping the future of the nation than the war itself was. George W. Bush is having the enjoyable ride he is in the polls right now because he's not doing a good enough job of convicing the people why the Iraq war was necessary for them, despite the actual correctness of the action.

Ultimately, all you can do is enlighten.

(In an update, he says I think it is "okay" for the government to steal from the masses, that I agree with HRC. Where did I say this? I said it was morally reprehensible and theft. How are those synonymous with "okay"? That's like me saying that he thinks alcoholism is a neat just because he wouldn't reimpliment prohibition.

In fact, that analogy's not even perfect, because I would be actively working against welfare reform, while he'd be working for freedom to drink.)

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Answering the Rhetorical Question of Homer, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept That I'm Surrounded By Idiots, A Blog Post With A Title Not Much Longer Than The Actual Post: So here's Sandefur's question:

So, once again, I ask, if Erik Peterson agrees that redistribution of wealth is theft, how can he believe that the state has the right to commit theft? Where does the state get this right?

The answer is to be found in the answering of Homer's rhetorical question, which Sandefur quoted somewhere over the course of this discussion:

Who's to say what's right and wrong nowadays, what with our modern ways....

His answer would likely be the judiciary. My--qualified--answer would be the majority. Or the duly elected representatives of the majority.

So why not take it a step further? Why not allow morality to be determined by the appointees of the duly elected representatives of the majority, and say it's good enough?

Because it unfairly tips the scales of our checks and balances in favor of the judiciary.

It is one thing for the judiciary to decide on how to interpret the finer points of the law, overturn legislative pronouncements that exceed the boundaries set by governing legislative pronouncements.

It's another thing altogether for justices and judges to spin law in whole cloth based on their individual perceptions.

So what about the public choice effect? What about the idea that, if given free reign to do what they will, the voters will shackle up Steven King and force him to release the rest of the Dark Tower series immediately, for fifty cents a copy? That the majority would force those who base their judgments of Kirsten Dunst's beauty on bad paparazzi photos to be subjected to electroshock-based re-education?

This is where the wonderful rotating and sliding scales of checks and balances come into play. When the electorate begins to abuse its power, it does become necessary for the courts to step in and take some of that power away. This is why I qualified my answer above--because in a balanced system, even the electorate should not become too powerful, and should fail to get its way from time to time. The same should happen when the judiciary starts running wild--the people's voice should be able to step in and overrule it.

And the later will, inevitably, be the case more often than the reverse.

In a government of the people, by the people, for the people, the people should, and do, have the greatest influence on the nation's policy. In fact, if you tried to draw the line anywhere else, it would still find it's way back to the side of the people, because that's how things work in a democracy.

. . . we get the presidents we deserve. A great people is what you need for a great president. Washington was the greatest president, because the people were at their most enlightened and alert. [America] right now is escapist. It wants to be soothed, and told it doesn't have to pay or sacrifice or learn. [Willis, Garry, "Things That Matter," Vis a Vis, July 1988, p. 70]

It has to be that way. I do not believe that a government of elected officials and their appointees can keep the nation moral if the people of the nation are morally bankrupt any more than I believe the government could somehow feed every hungry mouth if the people of the nation stopped being industrious.

You cannot impose morality on a free people and still claim they are free to govern themselves. Such is the paradox of a free society. It only lasts so long as the people in it continue to have the values that uphold it.

Jeffrey R. Holland said, in the same commencement speech from which I took the above quote,

Such public and personal virtue was understood by the Founding Fathers to be the precondition for republican government, the base upon which the structure of all government would be built. Such personal ideals as John Adams' "virtuous citizen" and Thomas Jefferson's "moral sense" and "aristocracy of talent and virtue" were fundamental. Even the pessimistic James Madison said,

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. [20 June 1788, in The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, arr. Jonathan Elliot, vol. 3 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1901), pp. 536­37]

So while I may be fully confident that I have the moral high ground, this does me no good until I am able to persuade my neighbor of the same, and we convince our other neighbors, and together, cumulatively, we arrive at a better place. To paraphrase former LDS church president and US Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, it is one thing to try and take the people out of the slums, but quite another to take slums out of the hearts of the people, so they can take themselves out of the slums.

So, for me, all of this means that the people of the nation are free--within limits--to decide what actions are "moral." If I feel differently, it is my responsibility to help them see why they are wrong.

Fun With Babelfish: If you're looking for something mindless to do for fun, take a few of your recent blogposts and translate them into a foreign language using Babelfish. Then translate the foreign text back to English.

It's wacky good fun!

Golly, Superman: When I read headline of "carcasa superman spread boatos", I was worried. All hoopla of the carcass of superman has worried me. I mean, I I liked Roswell in such a way how much guy following, but Jason Behr is not none superman.

What it told was really the better bit of the notice of the carcass still.

Shia LaBeouf would make one jimmy great Olsen.

a Small Mary Jane: Sandefur declared me one libertarian, interpreting the fact that I believe that the states have the right to make laws I do not agree to the o in some average way me must belong to a party that works executing laws that I do not believe, because not to execute laws I.

Favorably sufficiently. I declare I blind it so that its inability finds Kirsten Dunst "considerably."

Adjustment please its license of driver in agreement . . .

Golly, Superman: When I read the headline "Superman Casting Rumored", I was worried. All of the Superman casting hoopla has me worried. I mean, I liked Roswell as much as the next guy, but Jason Behr is no Superman.

What it reported was actually the best bit of casting news yet.

Shia LaBeouf would make a great Jimmy Olsen.

A Little Mary Jane: Sandefur has declared me a Libertarian, interpreting the fact that I believe states have the right to make laws I don't agree with to somehow mean I should belong to a party that would work for implementing laws I don't believe in, for not implementing laws I do.

Fair enough.

I declare him blind for his inability to find Kirsten Dunst "pretty."

Please adjust his driver's license accordingly.

The problem with the Mary Jane character in the movies is that they've combined two characters to make her, two characters that are actually meant to be complete contrasts to each other, sort of like trying to combine the stoic, dark, muscular Batman with the laughy, colorful, skinny Joker to make one "more complex" character.

In this case, the two characters are Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane from the Spider Man comic books.

Gwen Stacy was the cute girl-next-door who represented the calm, peaceful home life Peter could have had if he had never become Spider-man. She represented stability and beauty and security (Her father was the police chief). She died while Spider-man was battling the Green Goblin, in a confrontation similiar to the one at the end of the first movie.

Mary Jane, on the other hand, was the wild girl with the flaming red hair and the edge-of-your-seat attitude about life. This is the girl whose father was abusive, but rather than turning her towards extroversion, it taught her to fight. This is the girl who dated Harry Osborne but flirted shamelessly with Peter. After school she became a star, not of stuffy Jane Austen-style plays, but of soap operas. This is the girl who would call Peter "Tiger."

So trying to combine the two has created a somewhat muddled character without clear motivation. I'm somewhat disappointed with the result--I regret not getting to see the feisty flame-haired flirt on screen--but hey, it's Kirsten Dunst! Who's complaining?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Why War In Iraq Was Necessary: Okay. With all the ranting going on, I'm going to do my best to explain why we had to go to war with Iraq, why it was a good thing, and why it's undermining our purpose and diminishing the sacrifice of our troops for so many people to call it evil.

(And I mean aside from the fact that Kerry wouldn't have done a dang thing different.)

I used an high school analogy before. This time, let's use a political one.

Let's pretend that a Mob event gets out of control. A Mafia crime results in the death of hundreds of people. The government decides it wants to eliminate the mob, for the public good.

Here's the problem--there's not a big building somewhere with the word "MOB" on the marquee for us to bust into and arrest them all. The mob is all over the place, hiding behind legitimate businesses, non-legitimate businesses, and other such facades.

The "Mob" isn't even one cohesive unit. There are families and groups and organizations that at times may work together and at times may be in violent opposition to one another. Even though the big event that incited us against the Mafia may have only been done by one mob "family," an essential part of the war against the Mafia is that we bring down all mob families, not just the one in question. We've decided we're against the very concept of organized crime.

So how do you do that?

There would be two steps you'd have to take right away.

1. You would have to shut down their "businesses" so they don't have funding to manage their operation.

2. You would have to make sure that all appropriate government agencies were willing and able to support your anti-Mafia efforts. Any public officials who were known to be Mafia members or in support of any mob efforts would need to be removed immediately. Otherwise, any claims you had on being able to stop the mob would be ridiculous--they could all hole up in Vegas or Chicago or whatever town they knew would offer them safe haven.

Once you got started, you might not even have to remove all the corrupt officials. Once you removed, say, the mayor of Chicago, maybe the Police Chief in Las Vegas, the leaders in New York and Philly would wise up and start rounding up their mob bosses and turning them in. You'd still have to watch them with one eye, but they'd cooperate a lot more than if you just begged them and hoped for the best.

The parallels with the War On Terror are obvious. Rather than the mob, we have the terrorists. And rather than mayors, we have the leaders of nations. When the terrorists proved they were willing to attack Americans on American soil, it became clear that we had to do something about them, or risk the death of more innocent Americans.

It isn't even that terrorists killing Americans was new. Freespace had a great link today to a chronology of Militant Islamic Attacks on the West. But September 11th opened people's eyes up to the reality of what terrorists really and truly wanted to do to them.

Consequently, any national leader, any country, that openly promoted terrorism was an enemy to the civilians in the United States as surely as the corrupt and uncooperative mayors in my analogy were.

In Afghanistan, the situation was obvious. This state sponsored the same terrorists, the same mob family, if you will, that caused the catastrophic event. It was plain that their leadership had to go. Although some of the left tried to voice dissent at that time, the American public wouldn't have it. In that instance, the reasons were clear. We'll say that's Chicago.

Then came the next step--Iraq. We'll say Iraq is Las Vegas. And even though everybody knows the mayor of Las Vegas is corrupt--everybody knew Saddam sponsored terrorism; he was paying kids to blow themselves up in Israel, for crying out loud--they're still not sure, because the guys he's working with are different than the guys who did that one big thing that scared us all, and the only stuff they can prove he did didn't really affect us.

And what's worse, the UN didn't seem to have our backs.

But think about it--why would they? In this analogy, the UN is basically a counsel of mayors. What motivation would they have to support any policy that would set a precedent for pulling mayors out of office?

Of course countries are going to be against replacing governments. If he's able to stop the mayor of Las Vegas from being pulled out of office, the mayor of Philadelphia doesn't have anything to worry about, does he?

The fact is, Saddam was in violation of the terms of the UN agreements. Even Blix agreed on that point.

What about the WMDs? Did Bush deliberately lie?

As has been said before, if Bush lied, then so did Clinton, and Kerry, and Gore, and every other political leader up to that point. Everybody thought he had the weapons.

And even if he did have them, which many news reports and stories say he may have, he had months to get rid of them or sell them or hide them before the invasion anyway, while dodging Blix and the rest of the inspectors.

But really, that's not the most important part, and the continual re-emphasis of that--which was brought up more to try to force the UN's hand into acting than to provide justification to the American people for the war--is distracting to the real cause for liberation.

The real reason we sent our kids to die over in Iraq was to send a message, loud and clear, to the leaders of the world--we're not going to let you harbor people who would kill innocents. You must help us bring them to justice.

This is why it is such a dishonor to the lives of our troops that we can't get more united behind the liberation of the Iraqi people. It's because our lack of unity weakens the strength of our message. It's a hard sell trying to convince the leader of a Middle Eastern nation that if he doesn't quell the terrorists in his own country that he may be next when all he has to do is turn on CNN to see that a tremendous number of people in the US think the President is a liar who goes to war for no reason, and that a large number of people would rather vote in a man who pledges to get us out of there.

So the message is being weakened. The sacrifice of the soldiers who have worked in service to your freedom and mine has been diminished. The world is not becoming as safe as it could have, had we presented a united front.

The President, of course, can't talk like this. First, he'd be accused of trying to politically manipulate the populous using the war on terror, playing partisan games.

Second, it's harder to posture with another country when you've explained in public speeches that you've been seeking a way to posture.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Michael Moore should be tried for treason or any of the other crazy, anti-first amendment things that the fringe right is saying. The fact that we're able to dissagree and dissent and suspect the worst and accuse the President of all sorts of things is what makes this country great.

But make no mistake--voting for Kerry would make our country less safe. If he's elected with only one mandate--get us out of the Middle East--the terrorists will be emboldened to act without fear of reprisal.

And if reprisal is not an option, that leaves only one other means of dealing with them--appeasement.

That will be their belief, and they will act according to that belief.

But if, on the other hand, Bush is re-elected in a strong and solid showing, that will also send them a message. And that message is that the American People will not allow terrorists to control us. We will act against people who seek to harm us, or any other innocents. That we are united in our opposition and our ideology.

Is the world safer for me, today, right now, this moment, because Saddam is out of power? Unlikely.

But will the world be safer in 20 years, when my daughter is graduating college, because this man was not allowed to realize his ambitions?

It can't be doubted.

Who's Paying Who? Open Secrets is my website pick of the day. Find out who is paying your favorite (or least favorite) candidates, or who your favorite company is sponsoring.

Did you know Stephen King sponsored Howard Dean?

Or how disproportionately the contributions to Edwards's campaign seem to come from law firms? (Want to know which ones?)

Or what Bush and Kerry are spending the money on?

I love the internet.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Good Work, Scotty: Of all the original Star Trek cast members--heck, of all the Star Trek cast members, ever, the one I always sincerely enjoy in interviews and documentaries is James Doohan, who played Scotty.

While so many members of the cast either pretend to be half ashamed of the work they did on the show, while still raking in the cash it makes them, and the other half try to convince you that Star Trek is Shakespeare, Doohan always comes across as somebody who realizes what a strange and incredible thing Star Trek fandom is, what that's done for him, and what he feels responsible to do back.

I'm sad to learn of his affliction.

I am convinced his fans will be as supportive of him as he's always been of them.

Check Me Out: My short piece More Sorcery For Your Shekel: Magic On A Budget went online this week. Check it out free over at the very entertaining Eggplant Library.

Wooden Rockets: Part of me wants to congratulate the folks at Hatrack and Locus Online on winning the annual Wooden Rocket awards for best author website and best magazine website.

However, any award that could go to the Tor website apparently doesn't have much in the way of criteria. Check out their "upcoming" publishing schedule, going all the way up to "April 2004."

Update: Ah, it seems they've changed the word "April" to "August." But they didn't change it in the header, and the list still ends in April.

Of course, they may change it yet again, since this award is bringing them hits.

But it was there, and it's been there for months.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Can't Nail Me: To reply, at long last, to Sandefur, and hopefully affirm that some conservatives are, in fact, financially conservative:

I believe Sandefur knows of my intentions to someday write an alternate version of the Robin Hood tale in which Robin and his merry men are portrayed as incompetent muscle-heads who rob traveler after traveler of money that was destined to perform one good work or another--save sick children, pay mortgages on churches, that sort of thing. It probably will never get written, since stories need plot and conflict and all of those fun things but it does illustrate my feelings on the matter.

Robbing the rich to give to the poor is not heroic. It is wrong.

Involuntary redistribution of wealth is not generosity. It is communism and theft.

It shocks me that the left can call President Bush's Patriot Act oppressive, when they themselves would declare that everything you own belongs to them, that they get first dibs on all of it, and only once they have decided they have taken enough are you allowed the remainder. That's oppression. That's fascism.

I hope that puts it plainly enough for Mr. Sandefur.

Now, with that said, I stand by what I said before--if individual states wish to do it, I do not believe there is anything in the constitution to stop them from doing so. I am also opposed to gambling and abortion, but I do not believe there is anything in the Constitution to prevent states from opposing me on these issues, either.

I also believe that people, in their hearts, are more generous than the left thinks they are. If the federal government, today, put the responsibility for tending to the poor of this country back on the people, the people would rise to the occasion. And if the federal government put the tax money back in the pockets of the people they are currently using to fund the welfare state, the people could wisely place it in much more effective and efficiently run local institutions that could get people back on their feet in ways the folks in their ivory towers and government labyrinths could only dream of.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Just To Clarify: From Sandefur's post:

In the final analysis, Erik Peterson, just like George W. Bush, just like Hillary Clinton, believes the state may legitimately “take things away from you for the common good.”

This statement is true.

As a matter of political philosophy, he, like conservatives generally, and like liberals generally, does believe that the role of the government is to steal things from people who earn them and give them to people who do not.

This one is not.

I believe nothing in the constitution stops the states from doing it. This does not mean I would ever vote in favor of it.

I believe states have the power to do all sorts of things if they want, ban abortion, allow abortion, change the definition of marriage--you know, all the stuff people keep pretending is talked about somewhere in the Federal Constitution. This doesn't mean I would vote the same way on all of them.

When I said, "And if a state votes to give away a bunch of free stuff to a bunch of people, and they want to deal with the sudden influx of people ready for a handout, and exodus of people with income, that is that state's right," I was deliberately trying to make it sound like impractical and unappealing.

So just to clarify, it is something that the states can do if they want, but I'm against it, and it won't work.

I even think private sector wealth redistribution programs (like health insurance and car insurance) are doing terrible harm to those sectors of the economy, and are ultimately taking them in a direction that's very bad for the consumer--a direction it would likely not be going in were medical institutions actually forced to come up with prices you and I could afford.

But that doesn't mean I think they should be illegal.

Oh, And As For Bush: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought we were talking about Conservatives.

Bush is about as economically conservative as I am capable of purchasing the nation of Borneo.

I mean, yeah, I could buy a few souvenirs, maybe. I could get in a taxi and see most of the place. I could even convince a couple of people I had bought it. But actually get the title to the place?

Look, I like him on foreign issues, and like I've said--I'm a one issue voter right now. War on terror, end of story.

But come on. Domestically, the guy's let stuff pass that congress wouldn't have let past committee under Clinton.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

More Sandefur Stuff: As for the second part of Sandefur's reply, I am reminded of a Chevy Chase bit. It wasn't on SNL--it was around the time he was doing his talk show, but as I recall it wasn't on his talk show.

He was reciting the preamble to the constitution, and he was reciting it wrong. He said, "Promote the common defense, provide the general welfare . . ."

It cracked me up, because that was exactly what so many people advocated--a small, limited defense system that could sort of imply a defensive strategy more than actually be one, and provide every penny necessary to anybody that didn't have a job.

As important as the difference in those two words, is the specificity of the word "General." This clearly is the opposite word from individual. So to answer the question, yes, I would be 100% in favor of abolishing federal welfare.

What this means is, this is a States Rights issue. Individual states still have the power to do this as they please. And if a state votes to give away a bunch of free stuff to a bunch of people, and they want to deal with the sudden influx of people ready for a handout, and exodus of people with income, that is that state's right. They should not be stopped.

And if a state, or even better, a county, or, even better, a city, or, best of all, a neighborhood wants to get together and help somebody out who's having hard times--maybe one of them knows how to fix that bad plumbing, and the other can tar up that hole in the roof--that's where real help and support can come from. Volunteers, people who live in your city and know you and love you. Not some bureaucrat in Washington, to whom you are nothing but a set of numbers at an address.

And, if we stop pretending like there's an all-knowing, all-caring "Big Brother" watching over us, maybe one or two of us down here in the trenches will open up our eyes and see that there is no such thing as "society" or "people in general" or all the other boogeymen we like to blame for our problems. Those are just masks, and when you take them off, all that's left is you and me, brother.

So let's stop picking on the successful people who've got the game figured out and start learning how to play it ourselves. We can all work together as much as we want to, or keep our distance as much as we want to--that's our perogative.

But this idea that the ghosts can swoop into Scrooge's room and swipe his money to give to the poor, while leaving his soul to the chains, that this would make all be well in the world . . .

What's up with that?

Maybe It's Called Freespace Because There's Nothing Left In It: Sandefur and I usually end up having semantic arguments. If he and I just agreed on the same terms for everything, I think we'd never disagree.

But, if we never disagreed, then we'd probably never talk any more. So I stir up the pot.

As for his reply, well, to part A, the religion part, I agree with my original assessment.

Say what?

Freedom means that you may choose not to be exposed to something if you don't want to?? Since when? Freedom of the press means I somehow must not be exposed to books I don't want to read? Freedom of assembly means never having to be [exposed to] any crowd you don't agree with?

That's the silliest thing I ever heard.

Freedom of the press means quite the opposite. It means that people can create, market, distribute, and expose me to any book they want. Whether I read it or not is up to me, but it makes my jaw drop that any rational person would suggest I have a Constitutional Right not to be exposed to it.

Should the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade be shut down, lest we violate a passing Jehovah's Witness right not to be exposed to crowds who believe differently from them? Should protesters outside of party conventions be hauled away, lest a delegate be exposed to a crowd he does not believe in?

Here in LA county, we're having a round of legal suits with the ACLU over the county seal. To some people, "freedom of religion" means taking the cross off of that seal, lest people be "exposed" to religion while in a government building.

Do we subsequently take out all the literature in the county building, lest people be exposed to press in a government building? Do we stop the speeches given during the meeting, lest people be exposed to government-sanctioned speech during the course of their visit?

To me, this thin-skinned offense at any "exposure" to religion is a joke.

Would the ACLU, upon visiting, say, China, be offended at all the depictions of Buddha? Would statues of Indian gods be offensive in public places in India? Or would they be recognized as part of a culture, perhaps viewed as an integral part of getting the full experience of a visit to that country?

So then why, when dealing with this country, can't atheists accept religion culturally, if nothing else? That cross doesn't have to hold any more significance to you than the goddess Pomona, who figures much more prominently in the seal than the cross does.

The fact is, if you did the genealogy of the principles of religion and law, you'd find them all tied up in common philosophic roots. In fact, a good number of philosophers would have found the notion of philosophy without religion ludicrous. So yes, you're going to see the ten commandments in courtrooms, and you're going to see crosses on seals. You're also going to see Greek and Roman gods and a whole slew of religious icons that follow a similar pattern back through the ages as the philosophers and thinkers that set the course which led to modern philosophical discourse.

So when Sandefur states, "religious freedom by definition means freedom from religion," I don't see how that would be. It would seem to me that in order to insure people weren't exposed to other religions would require putting limits on the practice of the religion, and limits, by definition, mean diminished freedom.

To beat a dead horse, let us refer to the rights granted in the second amendment as "freedom of bearing arms." I would agree that this implies I am free to choose whether I wish to own a weapon or not. But can you really make the argument that "freedom of bearing arms" means I have the right to never be exposed to a gun? That it somehow implies freedom from guns? That I can demand a law enforcement officer, or a hunter, or Michael Moore, any guy with any gun please put it away until I leave, lest being "exposed" to the arm violate my rights?

Of course not! The rights in question at this point are his, and he's got the right to bear arms. If he turns it on me or fires it at me, that's a whole different ballgame--at that point, he has abused his freedom, and he's trampled on my rights, so that's another issue altogether.

But does the mere existence of the cross violate anybody's rights? Have you been forced into Christianity by seeing the cross on the seal? Is a person forced into Christianity by hearing a prayer at a graduation ceremony?

Now keep in mind that, being Mormon, I don't believe in the cross either. Although Mormons are Christians in every sense of the word, we avoid the cross as a symbol, because we feel it focuses too much on the death of Christ, rather than on his life and resurrection.

But I don't blink at it when I see it in public, because I understand that it's the culture.

The peace sign is also a religious symbol, a satanic one--it represents an upside down and broken cross. However, culturally it's lost any of that meaning. It's no longer associated with anything having to do with religion.

Can't folks at least accept religion on this level? Allow it to show up, at times, in our public life, the way every other aspect of our culture does?

Or does freedom of the press mean there's some way I can get those trashy romance books at WalMart off the shelves and out of my sight?

Happy Birthday To Me: My birthday is coming up. Here is my wishlist.

Freedom From Religion: Sandefur confirms something I have long suspected--that some people actually believe that freedom of religion somehow means freedom from religion. As if somehow, by allowing all men the right to choose their own religion means that, at no point, should anyone else be exposed to it.

Say what?

So then, freedom of the press means no books or newspapers?

Freedom of speech means never hearing anyone talk?

Freedom of assembly means never having to be in a crowd?

Welcome to the happy-dappy upside-down wacky fun world of the 21st century.

As for the actual content of his post--if he's really looking for any conservative who doesn't favor redistribution of wealth, well, his post almost exactly mirrors something Rush Limbaugh, of all people, said yesterday. Limbaugh was chiding a caller who thought Marxism was a "beautiful dream that could never work in the real world." Limbaugh then went on for a while about how there was nothing beautiful about it and how it was better to help people out of their situations than facilitate their staying in them.

So just about any conservative will tell you (as I'm sure Sandefur knows, which is what confuses me about his post) that they oppose welfare--what they're in favor of are programs that help people improve their situations for themselves. This was a large part of what the welfare reform packages were all about, and now that they're working, I think we'd all like to see them carried further.

What they're also not opposed to charities--and I think it would do conservatives a lot of good politically to be more visible in their work in that area.

Really, I think Sandefur has conservatives mixed up with Reagan Democrats.