Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tree Rat Feeding Station

I enjoy squirrels and that's why I was so delighted today when the 3 squirrels I had under my squirrel feeding station ran off a fourth one who was interested too. I have been putting up an ear of corn for the squirrels, but I had a nearby birdfeeder that was under an anti-squirrel baffle. The squirrels just jump on the feeder now and dump the contents on the ground and eat it there.

I realize that they are rodents, but I think the plush fur and puffy tail makes squirrels so much more attractive than rats. And, more importantly, squirrels typically do not move into human houses like rats.

Tax Policy & Tax Havens

I thought this was an interesting article about the debate political rhetoric in France over tax policies and how they shape individual choice as well as public policy.

In stark contrast with France, where heavy taxes punish big earners, Switzerland imposes no wealth tax and the state takes only part of the annual income of rich foreigners. In addition, individual cantons can arrange single 'flat tax' arrangements with the very rich.

[Former French rocker] Hallyday will join an estimated 100,000 French citizens, including tennis star Amelie Mauresmo, racing driver Alain Prost and singer Charles Aznavour, now enjoying fondue, the Alps and fine watches (Gstaad [Switzerland] boasts Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe shops). According to Francois Micheloud, a Swiss tax expert, Hallyday would be paying up to 60 per cent of his estimated £4m annual earnings to the exchequer [or Treasury Department] in France. His tax bill in Switzerland is certain to be considerably less - it could be as low as £105,000.

Tax is now a major issue in the run-up to next year's presidential elections in France, which explains in part why the decision of Hallyday, a vocal supporter of Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister and right-wing candidate, is so controversial.

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal sneered that she prefers to have friends who don't leave France to live in tax havens.

Sarkozy snapped back that Hallyday was only forced to leave by left-wing laws that meant France welcomed only those who have 'no papers, no training... and no desire to succeed'.


Roger Seifritz, director of Gstaad's tourist office, insists that, as a high proportion of local people work in traditional agriculture, the atmosphere is more 'authentic'. 'It keeps the valley in touch with real life,' he said. 'That's one reason why rich people come here. It is what life used to be like, and they like that.' |Guardian|
It does seem somehow wrong to me that someone should benefit from a socialist society your entire life and then leave when it no longer makes good economic sense. Although I'm guessing that tax refugees would argue that society contributed little to their development and success.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas is a state of mind

I'm slowly checking back into the world and I checked my email today for the first time in a week. I cannot recall the last time I went a week doing so...

Sarah sent me a link to the bittersweet video, Happy Christmas - War is Over if You Want It. I think it's great and doubly ironic.

My friend James also sent me a couple of Tom Tomorrow cartoons: Year in Review part one and part two.

I saw my father over Christmas and he commented that I posted some "nasty opinions" on my blog. My father and I disagree politically, to put it mildly. But the U.S. is (still )a free country and I will continue to use this space to test exactly how far the bounds of decency, if not constitutional freedom, extend.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

To live and die in San Francisco

Earlier this month the San Franscico Chronicle had a series of stories on the use of force by police officers. San Franscico has the reputation of being the most liberal city in the United States, so I thought it might be interesting to see what their media had to say about police use of force.

Since the articles relate to a conversation I've been having with several people lately about police use of force, I thought I'd post them as a public service.

Phil Bronstein, an editor at the Chronicle, introduces the series with these words:
This week's series in The about SFPD shootings, the processes and practices that help police do the right thing -- not needlessly endangering people's lives, including their own. Law-enforcement experts talk about the rules and regulations and how they should be followed to make deadly force less necessary.

As one of the experts and several officers point out in the series, sometimes the hardest part is the flesh-and-blood piece, the human emotion and reaction. Under dire circumstances, even a trained person's actions can be unpredictable.

I'm reminded by my visit to the police academy that life is complicated and we need to say that, too, probably more often than we do.

That doesn't excuse abuse or bias or bullying, or even not adhering to strict guidelines and training procedures. When you've got big authority and the deadly weapons to enforce it, there needs to be some strong, applicable rules that function before, during and after the use of deadly force. There should be a system and it should work to control the most awesome of the government's powers over all of us: the ability to take a life.

Still, standing in a room with only a virtual threat, I understand the strong and visceral pull of self-preservation, of fear and of emotion. SF Chronicle

December 3rd, 2006

The Use of Force - Four Shootings and Investigations

The Use of Force - When Officers Resort to Gunfire

December 4th, 2006

The Use of Force - A Traffic Stop Leads to a High-Speed Pursuit

The Use of Force - How SFPD Compares with Other Cities

December 5th, 2006

The Use of Force - Police need Greater Understanding of the Mentally Ill, Advocates Say

The Use of Force - SFPD has a 'beanbag gun' officers can use to subdue suspects who may be mentally ill

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pot is largest cash crop in US

When I was in high school, I wrote several pieces of legislation for student congress that would develop new strategies to regulate illegal drugs. The federal opposition to changing marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug (by definition, a drug with no medicinal value) is puzzling given the large number of state initiatives legislatively recognizing the medicinal property of marijuana for treating many conditions. See for more information.

Marijuana is a huge crop in the United States and the government ought to decriminalize it.
Marijuana is now the biggest cash crop grown in the US, exceeding traditional harvests such as wheat, corn and soy beans, says a new report.

The study shows that 10,000 tonnes of marijuana worth $35.8bn (£18.4bn) is grown each year; the street value would be even higher. This dwarfs the $23bn-worth of corn grown, $17.6bn-worth of soybeans and $12.2bn-worth of hay. |Guardian|

Monday, December 18, 2006

Revealed at last, what makes children gay...


Yes, the mild and otherwise inoffensive soybean crop makes children gay according to the World Net Daily's Jim Rutz.

Batshit crazy, that's how I like my conservatives.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Google Patents

Years ago I tried to get my father or brother to build me a pepper spray dispenser that I could attach to the end of my pistol for home defense purposes. They weren't interested.

But now through the magic of Google Patents, I can now see that quite a few other people have had this same idea.

This one was filed in 1995, this one in 1998, while this one wasn't filed until 2003, though.

Why they keep issuing patents on the same basic idea, I'm not sure. All of them look pretty similar to my eye. But I think this is definitely an idea whose time has come.

Now if I could just find someone manufacturing them...

Christmas Tragedies

Before you buy your niece that new shiny toy for Christmas, check out this article on the ten most deadly toys of all time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Politics of Compromise

While searching for something else, I stumbled across this recent analysis of how traditionally liberal lobbyists for abortion, gay rights, and gun control plan to deal with the new Democratic Congress. The analysis suggests that these liberal campaigners are inclined to stick to the middle ground and seek policies that are less likely to incite social conservatives.
Republican control of the Capitol may have forced abortion-rights and civil-liberties advocates to play perpetual defense, but those wilderness years also gave the groups valuable practice at building coalitions across the aisle and branding themselves as more mainstream than their conservative counterparts.

Now, as Democrats prepare to assume the majority, these veterans of the culture wars are seeking to shape the agenda of the new leadership....

NARAL has aimed its recent efforts less at preserving women’s right to an abortion than at making the procedure, as former President Clinton first put it, “safe, legal and rare.”....

Though the gay community might see its issues move lower on the priority list, Solmonese said, such pragmatism is a small price to pay to end the Republicans’ prolonged attacks on gay marriage. The page he plans to borrow from conservative groups’ playbook: “Be really smart and be really strategic.”

Like abortion-rights groups, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has used the Republican majority to develop a political strategy with bipartisan appeal that it will continue to pursue. Reinstating the lapsed assault weapons ban, a high priority for many urban Democrats, is outranked on the Brady Campaign agenda by boosting law enforcement funding and strengthening background checks.

“My goal is to get us to a position where both Republicans and Democrats are coming to us and asking for our endorsement,” Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke said. “That hasn’t really been the case.” |The Hill|

I don't know whether to think this heralds a new era in American politics where we look at compromise and the common good...or whether it just means that the Democrats are wimps.

Get thee to a library!

I've been advocating for a while that there should be educational requirements for Congressional representatives. Senators should be required to have a Ph.D. and members of the House of Representatives should be required to have a Master's Degree. That way, there will at least one topic on which they will have some expertise. Law degrees wouldn't count, though. Those are expected.

So when I read this today, it merely reinforced my view.
[Silvestro] Reyes, a Democrat from Texas, was chosen by party speaker Nancy Pelosi to chair the house intelligence committee, charged with the oversight of the CIA and other agencies.

So there was much chagrin when the congressman was unable to answer even the most rudimentary questions about militant Islamist organisations such as "Who is in al-Qaida", and "What is Hizbullah"? |Guardian|

How can the U.S. take a leadership role in the world community when our leadership (and citizenry) are largely ignorant of the rest of the world?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Predicting Homicide among Probationers

The Kansas City Star has an article about a new statistical program developed by criminologist Richard Berk that highlights those probationers who are most likely to commit murder while under state supervision.

"This will help stratify our caseload and target our resources to the most dangerous people," probation department director of research Ellen Kurtz said. "I don't care as much about (targeting) the shoplifter. I care a lot about the murderer, obviously."...

[B]ecause [homicide] is a relatively rare event, has been very hard to predict. Of all probationers in Philadelphia, only about one in 100 will commit homicide. But for obvious reasons it is crucial to find that needle in the haystack, Berk said...

"In reality the risk doesn't decline in a smooth, straight line" but falls precipitously at certain points for certain reasons, he said.

The tool works by plugging 30 to 40 variables into a computerized checklist, which in turn produces a score associated with future lethality. |KC Star|
This strikes me as a worthwhile task that could have an impact on improving the oversight of violent offenders.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraqi Army Selling their Guns

In yet another sign of the futility in Iraq, I read that the Iraqi police and military are selling their US provided weapons on the black market. Of course, we didn't even bother to copy down the serial numbers on the rifles and pistols we gave them. Maybe the fact that I'm a librarian makes me especially aghast at this, but it seems like such an obvious step.
Tracing U.S.-issued weapons back to Iraqi units that sell them is especially difficult because the United States did not register serial numbers for almost all of the 370,000 small arms purchased for Iraqi security forces, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction....

Defections and resignations have also been common in Iraqi police and army units, they said, and often departing soldiers and officers leave with their weapons, which are worth more than several months of pay.

Aaron Karp, a small-arms researcher at Old Dominion University, said Iraq resembled African countries that had had extraordinary difficulties with the police selling off their guns. "The gun becomes the most valuable thing in the household," he said. |Seattle Times|
Earlier in the article it discusses the inflation in arms prices because every household in Iraq now wants an assault rifle so that they can defend themselves from the various death squads roaming the country.

Integrating Muslims at home & abroad

Gary Younge writes of the different experiences of Muslims in the US and Europe and how the different demographics of US and European Muslims create different obstacles to integration.

The different experiences have emerged partly, it seems, because the Muslim communities on either side of the Atlantic are so different. The patterns of migration have differed. A large proportion of Muslims who came to America arrived with qualifications and were looking for professional work. As a result, they are generally well educated and well off. According to a recent study by the Journal of Human Resources, the wages of Arab and Muslim workers in the US fell by 10% in the years following the terror attacks; but they are still better paid and better educated than non-Muslims.

In Britain, the overwhelming majority of Muslims came from former colonies to live in poor areas and do low-paid work, and they remain the most economically impoverished. In 2004 Muslims had the highest male unemployment rate in Britain, at 13% - three times the rate of Christians. Meanwhile, 33% had no qualifications - the highest proportion of any religious group....

Yet it is notable that when Tony Blair lectures Muslims about integration, as he did last week, the issue of economic alienation barely ever arises. How are people supposed to integrate culturally when they cannot move professionally, economically or even geographically? Just over 50 years ago, the US supreme court banished the "separate but equal" policies that segregated state schools here; it seems Britain is embracing a dogmatic version of its antithesis - "united but unequal". |Guardian|

Comparative Tax Law: Pole Dancing is Tax Free in Norway

A Norwegian court of appeals has declared that pole dancing is a form of artistic expression and should be exempted from the Value Added Tax (of VAT).
Lawyers ...argued that striptease dancers were stage artists just like sword-swallowers and comedians and deserved the same status.

"Striptease, in the way it is practised in this case, is a form of dance combined with acting," the judges ruled, according to AFP news agency... "One can suspect there were moral scruples behind the tax authorities' claim since all forms of stage dance are free of value-added tax," Reuters news agency quoted the club owners' lawyer as saying.|BBC|

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On Police Use of Force

Over the Bellman, I've been discussing police use of force with the blogger known as DR and this post is an open letter to him. But feel free to join the discussion of you are so interested.

DR is specifically interested in police use of lethal force. But I think it's important to zoom out a little bit and discuss police use of force in a broader context before getting to the difficult and controversial topic of police use of lethal force.

In order to educate myself I consulted the collection at the law library where I work and discovered several books under the subject heading police brutality. The one I found most interesting and persuasive is Police Violence: Understanding and Controlling Police Abuse of Force by William A. Geller and Hans Toch, published in 1996 by Yale University Press. |Amazon| |Worldcat| |Powells|

Based upon this book and other readings, I'd like to suggest a few premises for the discussion.

1. The police ostensibily promote order in society and it is a worthy goal to improve the quality of policing.

2. The police are authorized by the government to use force to enforce order.

3. Police officers have a great deal of discretion in the amount of force they use to enforce order.

4. All police within the United States have formal rules, regulations, policies and use of force policies promulgated by their superiors.

5. All police have an informal culture they develop and are subject to peer pressure.

6. All police work takes place within a social context and officers take into account a subject's class, race, sex, and submission to authority in dealing with citizens.

7. Geography places a role in police work, i.e. police officers know where the "bad" part of town is and treat people found in the bad part of town worse than people in the nicer parts of town.

7a. Police officers are subject to criminal and civil prosecution for official malfeasance through a variety of state and local laws.

8. Police officers are rarely subjected to punishment through criminal or civil prosecution.

9. Police officers do not protect individuals, but rather the existing social order.

10. The existing social order is racist, sexist and classist.

11. Abuse of power by police officers (especially when caught on videotape) can lead to scandal, demonstrations, police officers and police chiefs losing their jobs and even riots.

12. Now I would even go so far as to say that the police function is essential to our current society and that without police society would soon descend into anarchy and gangs of thugs would rob, rape and pillage with impunity and the U.S. would come to resemble Baghdad. You may not agree with this strong a statement and I admit that this premise is more controversial.

But now let's get into the philosophy of police use of force. Messrs Geller and Toch suggest this definition of excessive police use of force on page eight:

Excessive [police] force should be defined as the use of more force than a highly skilled police officer would find necessary to use in that particular situation.

The authors contend that this formulation demands police use the best professional practices and holds them to the same standard that all other professionals with a rigorous code of conduct use (such as engineers, doctors, architects or attorneys).

The book contains an extended discussion of the research on use of force by police and outlines the social, psychological and organizational theories of police action that I attempted to summarize in my premises above.

I think most reasonable people agree that there is a great deal of abuse of force by police in the United States today and that there is a great deal of room for reform.

Now, from there let's try to develop a philosophy of police use of deadly force.

Again, some premises.

13. Police should defend themselves against all reasonable threats.

14. Police should use the least amount of force necessary to resolve a situation consistent with preserving order and protecting themselves and citizens.

15. Police should use deadly force to protect themselves or members of the public from imminent danger of significant injury or death.

I hope these are relatively uncontroversial. I think our disagreement may lie in the next few premises.

16. Police must take all threats to themselves and citizens seriously.

17a. An individual with a knife poses a grave risk to an officer armed with a handgun if that individual is allowed to approach within 21 feet of an officer.

17b. An individual armed with a firearm poses a grave risk to an officer armed with a firearm at any distance.

17c. An individual under the effects of drugs can pose a grave threat to police officers and citizens even when unarmed. Specifically, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and PCP cause irrationality and delusions while making users less amenable to pain.

17d. Mentally ill individuals may also pose a threat to officers due to delusional behavior and a frequently not deterred by shows of force.

17e. The undead are notoriously difficult to stop.

17f. Aggressive use of vehicles constitute a grave threat of death and dismemberment to police officers and members of the public.

18. The United States is awash in firearms and drugs and criminals frequently have access to firearms.

19. Police officers do not have much time to investigate the level of threat posed by a firearm and must react quickly to the presentation of firearms.

20. Sometimes police mistake a non-lethal object (such as a toy gun, a wallet, or a rolled-up T-shirt) for a gun. How reasonable this mistake is depends upon all of the circumstances of the incident.

21. Police must sometimes use lethal force to subdue individuals who are either on drugs or mentally ill.

22. If a situtation requiring lethal force could be avoided by a highly professional officer, then the use of force was imprudent, but this should not necessarily be criminalized.

23. Efforts to reform police work should not be rooted in a desire to punish police officers.

24. Reform efforts will be more successful if aimed at improving the quality of selection and training of police officers.

Ok, thus far I've been talking primarily philosophy and social science. But I do want to make a couple of public policy arguments.

25. If police oversight becomes too onerous police will effectively stop doing their jobs by responding to calls in a slow fashion or giving warning to criminals that they are coming.

26. If police officers are expected to get shot or stabbed before they can return fire, this would have a demoralizing effect on police officers and could lead to either police doing their job or insufficient candidates for new police officers (similar to what the US military is experiencing with recruiting now).

I think that's enough for now (or even too much), we can get into the execution of search warrants and arrest warrants later. Let me know what you think so far.

The fantasy of self-reliance

So I was reading the Guardian and happened upon an article about the new Swiss Army Knife called the Giant which has every tool they make and weighs in around a kilogram (or 2.2 pounds).

Then this sentence caught my eye.
I'll bet that most Americans who own a gun also own a Swiss Army knife. It offers the same fantasy - ever more attractive in our apocalyptic age - of self-reliance in extremis. |Guardian|
For the record, I don't own a Swiss Army Knife and haven't ever wanted one. I own several multi-tools and I even own a German Commando Knife, which is a knife with folding pliers. But the Swiss Army Knives have always struck as, well, a little prissy.

Of course the UK strictly controls the possession of firearms by its citizens and has recently even moved to ban fox hunting and so I can see how this author's perceptions of Americans (and specifically the much-maligned gun-owning American) are influenced by the media rather than direct experience.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Risk Compensation Revisited

When I was in debate we used to run a disadvantage called Risk Homeostatis which suggested that if you make society seem too safe, then people will act out in more dangerous ways and you end up without any net increase in safety.

It seemed a little kooky, but it was interesting and I've often wondered about the merits of the argument in my own unsophisticated way ever since. But today I saw an article by David Bjerklie in Time about the same concept, only this time called risk compensation.

[R]isk doesn't exist in a vacuum and that there are a host of factors that come into play, including the rewards of risk, whether they are financial, physical or emotional. It is this very human context in which risk exists that is key, says Adams, who titled one of his recent blogs: "What kills you matters — not numbers." Our reactions to risk very much depend on the degree to which it is voluntary (scuba diving), unavoidable (public transit) or imposed (air quality), the degree to which we feel we are in control (driving) or at the mercy of others (plane travel), and the degree to which the source of possible danger is benign (doctor's orders), indifferent (nature) or malign (murder and terrorism). We make dozens of risk calculations daily, but you can book odds that most of them are so automatic—or visceral—that we barely notice them. |Time|
So I typed Risk Compensation in Google Scholar, and there's quite a bit of research on this issue. Who knew?

For instance, this article abstract for Risk Compensation--the Case of Road Lighting indicates that road lighting causes some people to become worse drivers, while it also encourages timid safer drivers on the road at night as well.
[P]revious research showing that road lighting reduces road accidents and that average driving speeds do not increase when road lighting is installed. Our results show that drivers do compensate for road lighting in terms of increased speed and reduced concentration. ... This means that road lighting could have a somewhat larger accident-reducing effect, if compensation could be avoided. The fact that previous research has found no change in average speed when road lighting is introduced, seems to be explained by increased driving speeds by some drivers being counterbalanced by a larger proportion of more slowly driving groups of drivers (elderly people and women), i.e. different subgroups of road users compensate in different ways. |PubMed|

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Far too clever by half

After getting lost in virtual worlds this weekend, I was checking out the news to see what I'd missed and I was reading about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's leaked White House memo. I love the Guardian's headline: Rumsfeld left secret 'cut and run' memo.

At this time, the rest of the Guardian's article is lost somewhere in hyperspace, but you can see the NY Times' coverage here (sub'n req'd), the memo itself, or the BBC's coverage here.

Professor Juan Cole's take on Rumsfeld's memo is so hilarious that I think I'll go cry myself to sleep.

Rumsfeld spends more time plotting out how to manipulate the American public than how to win the war. Everything is about spin, about giving the image of progress even in the face of a rapid downward spiral into the abyss....

There is nothing in the memo about effectively stopping the daily sectarian massacre in Iraq. Rumsfeld does not even appear to think there is a problem here. He doesn't see the basis on which the fabric of Iraq is coming apart. |Informed Comment|
I don't think anyone in this administration cares one whit about the suffering of Iraqis. I think there's a definite deficiency of compassion in this administration.

While it is important that our leaders be pragmatic, I don't think they should be without compassion. At the very least, they should appear to have compassion, but these jokers aren't fooling anybody.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

X boxing

So my Christmas present this year is an Xbox 360 and I just played the online version of Gears of War today. It's a lot of fun and just a little bit gory.

Clive Thompson reviews Gears of War for Wired here.

My friend, Jackson, has had one for a while and recommended the online system, Xbox Live. I am still exploring the game system, but Xbox Live is an interesting aspect of social software. It lets you know when your friends sign on and has integrated Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), so you can chat with them in and out of gaming. Your games played and your progress are all visible to the world and you can compare your videogames with those of people you meet online (the default privacy setting are to show everyone anyway). I've only been online for two days, yet I have a record of almost everyone I've played with so far.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sarah's first chemotherapy session

Sarah went to her first chemotherapy session today and I think it went as well as a therapeutic ingestion of toxins can go.

UPDATE: After I posted this, Sarah had a strong reaction to the chemo and we ended up in an urgent care facility where they gave her several drugs to combat the symptoms and she's doing much better now.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Prehistoric Brain has an article on Risk Assessment lamenting that humans are so poor at analyzing long term risks. They blame it on our prehistoric brain.

The article starts off by telling us that 600 Americans die every year by falling out of bed and how mundane things are likely to kill us.

I think there's a basic internal inconsistency in these types of articles. Why should I worry about eating a hamburger and my cholesterol when I could die tomorrow? The fact of the matter is that none of us know how long we'll be around. And I don't care what's most likely to kill Americans. I only care what's going to kill me.

Actually I think our society is way too safe. The fact that total idiots live to a ripe old age is a testament to the skill of our civil engineers and the nanny state perpetuated by people like Professor Sunstein...but I think our world is way too wrapped in foam and child-safe.

Carpe Diem.

And I will take fries with that.

Country in my soul

Merle Haggard tunes are calling my name.

- Sean Felhofer

Guns and alcohol don't mix

To follow up on a previous post, the Minnesota man who shot a 14-year old boy (mistaking him for a deer) has been charged with second degree manslaughter according to this article by Jim Adams.

The killer had been drinking that day and had five previous DUI's. While I enjoy shooting, I make it a policy to never mix alcohol with guns. Having a beer is fine, but it's about relaxation. Guns, on the other hand, are about blowing shit up.

I knew a guy in LA who was an even bigger gun nut then I am, but he told me about one time he and a friend got totally ripped and then went out shooting at night. After he told me this, my opinion of him went way down and we never went out shooting together.

I think shooting at night is risky because the gun's flash will blind you and the gun's report will deafen you which has to dramatically increase you chances of shooting wildly. Richochets, property damage or death could easily ensue.

I have developed a rule that I do not allow people I take shooting to ask questions while holding the gun. If you want to ask a question, put the gun down! That helps prevent people from pointing the gun at me to ask how they take the safety off.

Firearms require respect and the discipline of steel.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Outdoor Survival Tips

I've stopped posting safety tips generally because they're such common sense, at least to me... and I'm really more of a survivalist than a safety nazi.

Popular Mechanics has a recent article discussing outdoor survival in this day and age of helicopter search and rescue and an obliging forest service. In step five they discuss building a lean-to, but don't call it that.

eHow has a simple and illustrated five-step lesson in building a lean-to here.

A lean-to is probably the easiest form of shelter to build in an emergency situation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

5 minutes to a happier tomorrow

Every night, think of three good things that happened today and analyze why they happened. |Link|

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Overheard at the Law Library

You know they make this stuff extra complicated just so [people] give up.

Smelly Halle

So yesterday I took Halle for another long walk in the park near our house and she managed to find some scat and proceeded to roll in it. I brought her home and bathed her...but it didn't help much. After I bathed her a second time Sarah discovered that Halle had feces inside her ears as well.

Dogs are filthy animals, don't let anyone tell you different.

They grow 'em different out in Oklahoma

Did you see the story about the candidate for Oklahoma state superintendent of schools of who wants to put thick textbooks under school desks so that children can use them as shields against bullets in the event of an attack by an active shooter?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Overheard at Dinner

I like the poison.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Taser Brutality on Tape

There's more video out there of excessive force use with a taser. In this video, a deputy in Ohio tasers a handcuffed, unarmed woman in the police station while two other deputies are present.

Taser use at UCLA library provokes firestorm

If you haven't seen the video of the student being tasered, you can check it out here. This took place at the undergrad library at UCLA in the computer lab.

I think the University has the right to exclude patrons who won't show an ID, but the use of force was ridiculous. A simple wrist-lock would have been sufficient. I think the taser is the lazy man's way of evicting someone.

The use of a taser against a non-violent offender is not be permitted on most campuses at the University of California.

Police at six of the 10 UC campuses carry Taser guns. Most are restricted to only using the guns against violent suspects, according to interviews with top UC law enforcement officials.

UCLA's police rules, however, allow officers to use Tasers on passive resisters as "a pain compliance technique," Assistant Chief Jeff Young said last week.

Officers can use the weapons after considering the potential injury to police and to the suspect, as well as the level of the suspect's resistance and the need for prompt resolution, he said.

Taser use was put into the spotlight after UCLA senior Mostafa Tabatabainejad, 23, was repeatedly stunned Nov. 14 when he refused to show his student ID to officers doing a late night check at Powell Library, according to authorities. Tabatabainejad said through his lawyer he didn't want to produce his ID because he thought he was being singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance.

Video footage of the incident posted on the Internet showed Tabatabainejad screaming and writhing on the computer lab floor. |Mercury News|

Sleep no more

Sleep researchers are one step closer to doing away with our constant need for rest with a new class of drugs. Graham Lawton writes:
Modafinil has changed the rules of the [sleep] game. The drug is what's known as a eugeroic, meaning "good arousal" in Greek. It delivers natural-feeling alertness and wakefulness without the powerful physical and mental jolt that earlier stimulants delivered. "There are no amphetamine-like feelings," says Yves. And as Yves' way of taking it shows, being on modafinil doesn't stop you from falling asleep if you want to.

In fact, its effects are so subtle that many users say they don't notice anything at all - until they need to. "I wouldn't say it makes me feel more alert or less sleepy. It's just that thoughts of tiredness don't occur to me," says Yves. "If there's a job at hand that I should be doing, I'm focused, but if I'm watching a movie or something, there is no effect."

People who take modafinil for medical reasons usually take just enough of the drug in the morning to see them through the day, but it also seems to be able to deliver sustained wakefulness - for a couple of days at least. "The military has tested sequential dosing," says Jeffrey Vaught, president of R&D at Cephalon, modafinil's Pennsylvania-based manufacturer. "It works for 48 hours or so, but eventually you need to sleep."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about modafinil is that users don't seem to have to pay back any "sleep debt". Normally, if you stayed awake for 48 hours straight you would have to sleep for about 16 hours to catch up. Modafinil somehow allows you to catch up with only 8 hours or so. Well before Cephalon took an interest in the drug, French researchers discovered this effect in cats back in the early 1990s (Brain Research, vol 591, p 319), and it has since been found to apply to humans too. |New Scientist|
Now if they could just do something about the constant eating thing...

The Root of All Evil

I'm the root of all that's evil, but you can call me cookie.

- Bloodhound Gang

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Partitioning Iraq Might be a Mistake

I've argued before that I think we ought to partition Iraq into three states. I know some very knowledgeable people oppose the idea, but the idea is gaining ground among the Democratic party.

I just read the following, which is the most cogent analysis I've read yet about why partitioning Iraq could lead to disaster.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador, sees the consequences of partitioning Iraq: "To envision that you can divide Iraq into three parts is to envision ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, sectarian killing on a massive scale."

That would certainly mean the Saudis, Iranians, Turks and Syrians would be drawn into the conflict, aligning with various factions to protect their own interests, borders and security.

Knickmeyer cites the important analysis of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key figure in the region. He recently told "Der Spiegel," the German news magazine, "When the ethnic-religious break occurs in one country, it will not fail to occur elsewhere, too." The Syrian president concluded, "It would be as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, only much worse. Large wars, small wars -- no one would be able to get a grip on the consequences." |Niagra Falls Reporter|
Of course, human knowledge is always imperfect and sometimes you've gotta pick the devil or the deep blue sea. Lord knows our current strategy in Iraq is failing.

Thanks to Juan Cole for the link.

Backdating Options Explained

While doing some research, I ran across this explanation of the whole backdating of stock options by CEO's issue.

Like business students, business leaders aren't very ethical either. Go figure.

Munitions Clean-up Treaty takes effect

Jurist has a post about the new munitions clean-up treaty that has come into force. My guess is that the U.S. will sit this one out just like the landmine ban treaty. Some days I really wish I was Canadian.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Blaze Orange will Not Protect You from Hunters

The Pioneer Press has a story today of a young man who was shot by an adult friend while out hunting. The kid was wearing a blaze orange suit and a camo hat and he was shot in the head. The district attorney is weighing a manslaughter charge.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nothing but tail

So today I took Halle for a two hour walk in a medium sized state park near my house called Crosby Farm Park. I filled two trash bags with garbage during our walk and at one point we'd climbed about 75-100 meters up a hill in my quest to clean the place up.

I decided to let Halle off the leash figuring she could make her way down more safely without it. That was a mistake. She bounded down the hill in about two seconds and then proceeded to sprint away up the trail. I called after her to no avail so I ran down the hill as fast as I dared and gave chase. While I am fairly quick, trying to catch a 25 pound dog that has a full minute headstart is a losing proposition. I kept her in sight for about 2/10 of a mile and then I saw her look back to see if I was still following.
Then she took off and I lost sight of her. Half a mile later I was totally out of gas and had slowed to a walk. And there was Halle, nonchalantly sniffing around a cave as if we did this every day.

I was happy that she hadn't gotten lost or escaped, but I was winded. I'm starting to a get a bit sore now after my morning run.

Friday, November 17, 2006

History's lessons, neocon edition

I just read this in the Wall Street Journal:

President Bush said Friday that the U.S.'s unsuccessful war in Vietnam three decades ago offered lessons for the American-led struggle in Iraq. "We'll succeed unless we quit," Mr. Bush said shortly after arriving in Hanoi. |WSJ|(sub'n)
In what alternate universe is that true?

It's charming that from his vantage point in the Texas Air National Guard, Dubya was able to determine that 10 years of warfare and 50,000 American lives were just the beginning of bringing the fight to the enemy in Vietnam.

With that sort of blind optimism, is it any wonder that Bush got us stuck in a quagmire? Bush is obviously deluded, but that's not a surprise.

What's more disappointing is the the mendacity of his sycophantic advisors. Juan Cole points the irony inherent in the brutal honesty of the CIA director's assessment of Iraq for Congress:

[I]t is ironic that the supposedly public and straightforward politicians and cabinet members, such as Cheney and Rice, mostly retail fairy tales to the US public. But the chief of the country's clandestine intelligence agency? He's telling it like it is. He revealed that daily attacks in Iraq are up from 70 in January to 100 last spring after the Samarra bombing, and then to 180 a day last month. He also said that there were only 1300 foreign al-Qaeda volunteers fighting in Iraq, whereas the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement was "in the low tens of thousands" strong. If there are 40,000 guerrillas, then "al-Qaeda" is only 3.25 percent of the "insurgency." That is why Dick Cheney's and other's Chicken Little talk about al-Qaeda taking over Sunni Arab Iraq is overblown, at least at the moment. |Informed Comment|

Fantasy Congress

My friend Denise pointed me to a new game: Fantasy Congress. Put your team together now. My team is called Centripetal Force.

The designers say new upgrades are coming, which is good because the scoring doesn't really value the significance of a piece of legislation currently. It'll be interesting to see how well it can track the meat-grinder style of politics we've developed in this country where a large number of bills arrive in committee and an omnibus piece of legislation bloated with amendments and earmarks emerges.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The reason holsters were invented

One of my former colleagues on the criminal defense bar sent me a link to this story.

Thanks Skip!

French Royalists show up in force

Bored with American politics or just need some good electioneering to get your political buzz on? The coming French election may prove interesting. A female socialist is the leading leftist candidate to be the next French president.

Ségolène Royal's battle to become the first woman president of France begins in earnest today, after the Socialist party last night overwhelmingly endorsed her as their candidate in next April's election.

The "madonna of the opinion polls", whose personal battle against a domineering military colonel father and the perceived sexism of her party's old guard has fascinated France even more than her policies, secured a decisive victory after a rancorous US-style primary....

A former education and family minister who once advised François Mitterrand, and best known for introducing paternity leave to France, she is a self-styled outsider. She has surprised the Socialist old school by side-stepping the party machine, using the internet to build up a support base and appealing directly to the public by promising to break with France's unpopular, aloof political elite.

Her supporters, known as "royalistes", say she is the the most popular figure of the left among the public and the only one able to beat likely centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, to the presidency. A poll published yesterday in Le Point showed she would be neck and neck with him in the final round.|Guardian|
Sarkozy is a charming fellow who has obviously been paying attention to Rove's strategies of using fear and racism to drive the electorate farther to the right.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Canada attacks First Nations' Sovereignty

The Guardian's Anne McIlroy reports on a new position paper being put forth by the Canadian government that does not bode well for the recognition of First Nations' sovereignty under the current Canadian administration.
Critics say they fear the new Conservative government believes the solution is moving Native peoples off the land they have lived on for generations and getting them to settle in southern cities.

"It's a complete abdication of the whole issue of collective rights and the aboriginal people's connection with the land," said the Liberal MP Anita Neville.

The New Democratic party MP Charlie Angus said the implications were profound, asking: "What about every other isolated community that's in poverty?"

Some worry the Conservatives are adopting the views of Tom Flangan, a professor at the University of Alberta who has strong ties with the prime minister, Stephen Harper.

Flangan has argued that the federal government should not keep paying for Natives to live on reservations that have no other source of income. Native people need to integrate into the modern economy, he wrote in his book First Nations: Second Thoughts.|Guardian|
Here's a link to Flangan's book First Nations? Second Thoughts. For a critical response to the book by three Canadian students, see this piece in Znet.

Consumer Reports Safety Blog

Consumers Reports has started a Safety Blog with lots of good tips. Currently the top post is about potential dangers of nanomaterials. A whole new era of products regulation is born.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Winter Getaways

Feeling a bit of cabin fever already? The Observer's Sarah Turner suggests ten destinations that would make a magnificent European winter getaway.

For those of us in North America looking for winter adventures closer to home, the Guardian brings us news of a Candian firm in British Columbia called Secret Stash Alpine Adventures that specializes in getting skiers to deep, untracked snow.

Just be sure to bring along your avalanche kit.

Minnesota Rollergirls

Last night my friend Aldous and I went to see the Minnesota Rollergirls in an interstate bout with the Columbus, Ohio team. The Minnesota team beat them like a borrowed mule, by around 60 points. Lizze the Axe had her way with the Ohio team and seemingly scored at will. See also the Minnesota Rollergirls on MySpace.

By the end the match Minnesota team wasn't even trying to score points. Rather their jammers were focused solely on knocking the stuffing out of the other team's jammers. Bellyflopping onto concrete has gotta hurt. I am always impressed by the toughness of roller derby athletes.

The crowd was much more mainstream than I'd anticipated. The were very few obvious hipsters or punks, although there were a number of tattoos, piercings, and mohawks on display. This was a St. Paul match and was pretty well attended. I wonder if the Minneapolis matches attract a more deviant crowd.

The half time show was by a band called AlpenRose who performed polka music. I've never polka'd before, but it seemed pretty easy even for someone like me with two left feet. The audience got out and danced and everyone seemed to have a good time.

During half time we went outside into a blustery Minnesota night so Aldous could pollute the air and we met one of the Ohio players, Red-Headed Slut, who helped us discern the scoring system for roller derby. See also Ohio Rollergirls on MySpace.

I think Aldous and I will be attending more matches in the future. This was the first game of the season, so it's a nice excuse to get out of the house during the winter.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Outlaw Empire

Over at TomDispatch, Tom Engelhardt has a nice piece on the status of the American Empire six years into Bush's term, which he refers to as the Outlaw Empire.

He predicts that with the Democrats now in control of Congress, the culture war will become a sisyphean struggle to define our civil liberties, re-define the balance of power, and save the tatters of our legitimacy as the world's remaining hyperpower*.

Here, briefly, are five "benchmark" questions to ask when considering the possibilities of the final two years of the Bush administration's wrecking-ball regime:

Will Iraq Go Away?
The political maneuvering in Washington and Baghdad over the chaos in Iraq was only awaiting election results to intensify....[E]xpect Iraq to remain a horrifying, bloody, devolving fixture of the final two years of the Bush administration. It will not go away. Bush (and Rove) will surely try to enmesh Congressional Democrats in their disaster of a war. Imagine how bad it could be if -- with, potentially, years to go -- the argument over who "lost" Iraq has already begun.

Is an Attack on Iran on the Agenda?
...If Iran is to be a target, 2007 will be the year. So watch for the pressures to ratchet up on this one early in the New Year. This is madness, of course. Such an attack would almost certainly throw the Middle East into utter chaos, send oil prices through the roof, possibly wreck the global economy, cause serious damage in Iran, not fell the Iranian government, and put U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq in perilous danger. Given the administration record, however, all this is practically an argument for launching such an attack. (And don't count on the military to stop it, either. They're unlikely to do so.) Failing empires have certainly been known to lash out...

Are the Democrats a Party?
...Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in recent years were not, in any normal sense, a party at all. They were perhaps a coalition of four or five or six parties (some trailing hordes of pundits and consultants, but without a base). Now, with the recruitment of so many ex-Republicans and conservatives into their House and Senate ranks, they may be a coalition of six or seven parties. Who knows? They have a genuine mandate on Iraq and a mandate on oversight. What they will actually do -- what they are capable of doing (other than the normal money, career, and earmark-trading in Washington) -- remains to be seen. They will be weak, the surroundings fierce and strong.

Will We Be Ruled by the Facts on the Ground? In certain ways, it may hardly matter what happens to which party. By now -- and this perhaps represents another kind of triumph for the Bush administration -- the facts on the ground are so powerful that it would be hard for any party to know where to begin. Will we, for instance, ever be without a second Defense Department, the so-called Department of Homeland Security, now that a burgeoning $59 billion a year private "security" industry with all its interests and its herd of lobbyists in Washington has grown up around it? Not likely in any of our lifetimes....

What Will Happen When the Commander-in-Chief Presidency and the Unitary Executive Theory Meets What's Left of the Republic? The answer on this one is relatively uncomplicated and less than three months away from being in our faces; it's the Mother of All Constitutional Crises...[B]uckle your seatbelts and wait for the first requests for oversight information from some investigative committee; wait for the first subpoenas to meet Cheney's men in some dark hallway...[The Supreme Court], despite the President's best efforts, is probably still at least one justice short when it comes to unitary-executive-theory supporters. I wouldn't even want to offer a prediction on this one. But a year down the line, anything is possible. |TomDispatch|(hyperlinks omitted)
The whole piece is worth reading if you have the time.
* Hyperpower is the term the French use instead of superpower. Mr. Englehardt uses it, and I find it far more descriptive of the US's status than superpower.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Judicial Intimidation

Jurist recently had an article discussing claims that there is increasingly a climate of judical intimidation in this country, asserted by individuals including Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The article discussed Amendment E in South Dakota sponsored by a group called J.A.I.L. for Judges. These people are a bunch of nutcases.

I'm happy to report that 89% of South Dakotans voted against this measure. The defeat of the anti-abortion amendment is getting all of the press, but I think the defeat of E also shows that South Dakotans, while being quite conservative, aren't totally crazy.

More troubling is the recent wave of attacks and murders of judges throughout the country, but that's more evidence of a systemic breakdown in civility and respect for the institution of law.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Only Winning Move is Not to Play

Informed Comment pointed me to a Vanity Fair piece that interviews famous neocons about their views on the progress we've made in Iraq.

Interestingly, they basically blame Bush for being a dumbass and lousing up their brilliant plan.

Richard Perle admits that in retrospect it wasn't such a good idea to invade Iraq.
"[I]f I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.'"
You know, I recall participating in the largest peace protests the world has ever seen prior to the Iraq war. There were a lot of people around the globe who thought this might turn out badly. And Mr. Perle thinks you need to be an oracle to have known this one was going down to disaster?

That gets the big "Fuck You" from Safety Neal.

Four models of Intellectual Property Regulation

Ars Technica has coverage of the forthcoming Gower report on IP in the UK. It suggests there are (at least) 4 possible approaches to IP regimes.

The study details four models which balance these competing interests in different ways. First, there's the American model, where knowledge is understood solely as an asset. Some fair use, parody, and public domain rights are recognized, but consumer rights are restricted, copyright terms are extended, and DRM trumps fair use. This is because knowledge is viewed as a form of property, not a social good. As the study notes, there is a danger in this approach: "Where IPRs [intellectual property rights] are understood as comparable to conventional property rights, public domain could potentially disappear altogether, just as the enclosure movement eradicated common land all over the UK in the late 18th century."

The second model currently describes the UK, where knowledge is an asset first and a public resource second. This means that producers are generally protected first, and while more consumer rights may be upheld, the relationship between DRM and fair use is not resolved, and copyright terms may be continuously extended.

The third model is that of a society where knowledge is first seen as a public resource and only secondarily as an asset. Comparing this to the "open access" movement in academic publishing, the authors note that such an approach is not anti-business. Under this model, public interest is the basis for IP policy, copyright terms are not extended, and fair use trumps DRM.

Finally, the fourth model is "cyber-socialism," where knowledge is seen only as a public resource and copyright is not allowed. The profits of creativity are returned to the public and a "new ethic of playfulness and voluntarism" is the norm. The authors see these ideals at work in open source projects like Linux and Wikipedia, but point out that "it is not clear how such a model could be used to fit in investment-heavy models of innovation and creativity, such as the development of drugs or films." |Link|

Burning down the house

A recent study predicting the extinction of all large marine life in the next fifty years has been garnering quite a bit of attention, rightly so. For instance, see CBS or the BBC's coverage.

An article by Alex Kirby points out that this is just one of half a dozen interrelated ecological crises the human race faces. Ironically, these crises are a result of our success as a species, we are destroying the Earth through overpopulation and its concomitant demand for ever more resources to maintain our burgeoning population.

An estimated 1 in 6 people suffer from hunger and malnutrition while attempts to grow food are damaging swathes of productive land.

By 2025, two-thirds of the world's people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.

Energy: Oil production could peak and supplies start to decline by 2010.

Climate change: The world's greatest environmental challenge, according to the UK prime minister Tony Blair, with increased storms, floods, drought and species losses predicted.

Many scientists think the Earth is now entering its sixth great extinction phase.

Pollution: Hazardous chemicals are now found in the bodies of all new-born babies, and an estimated one in four people worldwide are exposed to unhealthy concentrations of air pollutants. |Link|

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

De Facto Iraqi Partition

Professor Chaim Kaufmann has written Professor Juan Cole to suggest that, while the partition of Iraq is a bad idea, it's already a fact on the ground. Kaufmann suggests that the partition will eventually help defuse the violence.
It is true that partition will not end all motives for Sunnis and Shia to continue fighting or to resume fighting later, but the continuing separation of the populations will gradually reduce what is the most important motive driving the war now. |Link|

One of the comments suggests that the partition of the Indian sub-continent was hurried and therefore bungled.
A common thread amongst historians is that the entire process of [India's] partition was too hurried - a delicate operation carried out with too blunt an instrument.

I see parallels with the possible hurried departure from Iraq of the foreign forces too - leaving the warring factions to solve the problem on their own.|Link|

At least the India-Pakistan-Bangladesh partition was planned. The partition of Iraq has been actively opposed by the US and has happened organically in response to our total inability to manage the security, economic, and political situation.

I love how our draft-dodger-in-chief has the temerity to claim the Democrats don't have a plan for Iraq...

Brilliance Abroad

Scientists in the UK have managed to grow a tiny liver out of stem cells from an umbilical cord. Alcoholics everywhere can rejoice!

The Daily Mail broke the news, but there's additional coverage at Lifesite and Al-Jazeera.

N.B. Lifesite is a pro-life website, which I don't endorse at all, but they do have a nice collection of links on this issue.

Stupidity Abroad

A survey commissioned by the Egyptian government reveals that the majority of Egyptians surveyed think of Denmark as a greater enemy to Egypt than the US.


Not that the US or Denmark are actually enemies of Arab people, but the current US administration is without a doubt more of a threat to any real hope of peaceful co-existence than the Danes ever could be.

North Korea: Not our Concern

Maybe this is heretical, but I don't think the US has any influence over North Korea and I don't blame Bush or Clinton. North Korea is totally within China's sphere of influence and we just need to learn to accept that.

How would the US feel if China tried to lobby the Navajo or Lakota nations to take up arms against the United States government?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Update on Sarah's recovery

Sarah's doing well, her recovery from the surgery is encouraging. She has been diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer, though, called metaplastic cancer. I've been collecting some of the information Sarah's been sending me on metaplasia and breast cancer at this site.

St. Jude's
defines metaplastic carcinoma this way:
A general term used to describe cancer that begins in cells that have changed into another cell type (for example, a squamous cell of the esophagus changing to resemble a cell of the stomach). In some cases, metaplastic changes alone may mean there is an increased chance of cancer developing at the site. |Link|

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Test post

How many Harvard law professors does it take to change a lightbulb?

One. They hold the bulb up and wait for the world to revolve around them.

Why Lou Dobbs gets it Wrong on Immigration

The immigration issue has been a frequent topic of discussion over at the Bellman, from discussing "nativist paroxysms of the Republican base" to discussing reform proposals such as granting green cards to guest workers more easily or amnesty programs for illegal immigrants.

Lou Dobbs just wrote a book and has been doing the talk show circuit. One of his big issues is immigration, but I think he gets it badly wrong and I'm curious what others think.

For instance, Dobbs wrote for CNN:

"I've said from the beginning that we can't reform immigration laws until we control immigration, and we can't control immigration unless we control our borders and our ports. Constructing the border fence certainly is a good beginning to our efforts to control our borders, but let's be honest about the legislation: It isn't nearly enough, and far more must be done. A congressional victory lap isn't in order for funding only half of a 700-mile fence along a nearly 2,000-mile border." |CNN|

I think Dobbs is making a couple of arguments here. He's been repeating these arguments elsewhere, but I think the above quote is a succinct statement of his view.

He seems to argue that we need to reform our immigration policy, but the prerequisit e for an improved immigration policy is something approaching total control of the immigration across our southern border.

This strikes me as a naïve argument and bad public policy.

It's naïve because in the real world we almost never have the luxury of having total control over a problem and then deciding how we want to regulate it. Some problems are long standing and it seems unlikely that we'll ever be able to control them entirely. I'm thinking of issues other than immigration such as drug abuse, mental illness, poverty, sexism, racism, and resistance to the metric system. Should we wait until we've total control over these issues before improving our laws? Then I think the laws would never be improved.

Law enforcement policies almost never entirely eradicate problems, you don't judge them that way. The best we can hope for by switching law enforcement tactics is to get a comparative advantage1, moving us slightly closer to our desired public policy goal.

It's bad public policy because Dobbs ignores the underlying cause of Mexican immigration: the lack of jobs in Mexico. Our southern border is the only place in the world where a 3rd world country shares a border with a 1st world country according to Charles Bowden's article in Mother Jones.

The way to resolve the immigration problem is to improve the Mexican economy, not to build some stupid fence.

The whole idea that any fence (regardless of funding and congressional support) would stop illegal immigration is absurd. Immigrants will still cross the border in planes, trucks, trains, or simply tunnel under the border.

1 I use comparative advantage in the sense it is used in policy debate |See the Debate Outreach Glossary's entry|, not the term as it is used in economics.|See Globalise Resistance's Glossary|

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Changing Course on the Ship of State

Earlier I posted about the Muslim veiling debate going on in the UK. As the debate grows more acrimonious, some now fear it may result in running street battles. |Jurist|

As the street battles threaten to re-ignite in France, one has to wonder how we landed in this predicament. I think Osama bin Laden lit the match that set the world on fire. But that match caught in the us or them mentality espoused by George W. Bush.

Reza Aslan has pointed out that when Dubya declared that you're with the US or you're with the terrorists...this forced people to decide who they supported. Unfortunately, billions of people knew they weren't on the side of the US.

A new poll indicates that 70% of Americans now want a different foreign policy, they have come to realize that Dubya has us on the road to ruin.

I just wonder if it isn't too late. Too late to rescue what prestige and respect we may have once had. Too late to stop the spiraling deficit Bush has amassed. Too late to save Iraq and Afghanistan.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting it in the end

According to a new poll, a majority of voters in the UK want British troops to come home. So it looks like the tide of public opinion has turned against the Iraq war. I think it's only a matter of time until we declare victory and leave with our tail between our legs.

I'm disappointed that Iraq is failing as a state. This isn't good for anyone. The really shocking thing is that Donald Rumsfeld still has a job. Talk about rewarding obstinancy and myopia.

Non Lethal Weaponry

I'm reading a book titled Non Lethal Weapons. There are not many truly Non Lethal Weapons or NLWs. Rubber bullets kill lots of people. Tasers kill people without any warning. Pepper spray is potentially fatal to people with asthma. Probably the closest thing to a true NLW right now is light. You can use a bright light to stun people when it's dark outside. Blinding a person a night really decreases their combat effectiveness. And if it's a nice heavy flashlight, you can then beat 'em with it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Recovering Nicely

Sarah is doing well. She was pushing a bit too hard when she first got home from the hospital and there was more bleeding, but she's taking it easier now and she is healing nicely. Sarah's parents left today since she seems to be out of the woods. They were very helpful, not only did they help take care of Sarah, but they also mopped the entire house, did our laundry, raked the leaves, and organized our coat closet.

We're calling it the coat closet now since that's where we store most of our winter clothes, but when I bought the house it was advertised as a wine cellar. I fail to see how it can be a wine cellar without any racks...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Reality-based Politics

Spammy T sent me a link to the Nonist. In his FAQ, I found this definition of Nonism:
n. \'nä "ni-z&m\ An unwillingness to bind your world view to any ideology; to embody an objective view point, assuming little, guided by reason.
I think that's a worthy aspiration. I think one of the lessons of the Foley scandal (and almost the entire Bush presidency) is that excessive loyalty to any political party is poison to the Republic.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sarah's home

Sarah has been released from the hospital and is now home recuperating. I realize that I messed up my last link to Sarah's Caring Bridge site, so here it is again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gland Power

During my downtime while Sarah's been in the hospital I've been reading a book by Bruce Sterling titled Holy Fire that's partially about his vision of the medical-industrial complex at the end of this century. My favorite line from the book so far is:
The brain is a gland, not a computer.
That really helps explain why the world is such an irrational place, doesn't it? The Stoics believed that emotion could act as false reason and were distrustful of emotion. I think emotion certainly has a place in our lives and in our public policy. Emotion helps us decide what our public policies goals should be and what methods are unacceptable in achieving those goals.

However, I often feel that emotion has crowded out all reason on certain hot button topics. A few that come to mind are abortion, the "war" on drugs, the "war" on terror, eugenics, euthanasia, and gun control.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Prognosis is Good

I just finished talking with Sarah's surgeon and the surgery went well. There were no complications and she only lost about two ounces of blood. The tumor was removed and they removed two lymph nodes. They performed a preliminary dissection on the lymph nodes and no cancer was found. It's possible that cancer might be detected in the more thorough analysis, but usually the initial dissection is a good indicator of the ultimate result.

Sarah's in the recovery room now and will spend the night so they can check for complications like internal bleeding, but chances are good she that will be able to return home tomorrow.

We will get a check-up with the surgeon next week and they'll probably schedule our appointment with the oncologist then. You have to heal from surgery before the oncologist meets with you.

Oh, Sarah also had a PET scan yesterday and it did not reveal anything worrisome.

And I also wanted to say thank you for all the wishes and prayers we've received during this trying time.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Virtual Journalist

Reuters has assigned a reporter to cover news events from Second Life. Seems obvious to me...

I tried Second Life a couple of times but my connection was infuriatingly slow for me. But I'm glad someone likes it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


You know Winter is on its way when the high temperature for the day is supposed to be 37 degrees.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In God We Trust?

“The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.” (emphasis added)

“Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue.”

- Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation