Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Well this is frightening; apparently "nuclear program-related materials" have been disappearing in Iraq. The IAEA noticed this, not US authorities nor the vestigial Iraqi governing apparatus.

Are we to blame? Well...
The United States barred the inspectors' return after the [end of the recent] war, preventing the IAEA from keeping tabs on the equipment and materials up to the present day.

I wonder if there is a connection?

What is truly chilling is the extent of the theft.
Satellite imagery shows that entire buildings in Iraq have been dismantled. They once housed high-precision equipment that could help a government or terror group make nuclear bombs, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to the U.N. Security Council.
Entire buildings??? If entire buildings can be removed with impunity, precisely how are we in control of this country? Its not like someone disassembled and ran off with a Starbucks, these sites were known to contain sensitive materials both before and after the war. Why weren't they under guard?

...council diplomats said the satellite images could mean the gear had been moved to new sites inside Iraq or stolen. If stolen, it could end up in the hands of a government or terrorist group seeking nuclear weapons.

"We simply don't know, although we are trying to get the information," said one council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
I suppose this is what comes of securing the Ministry of Oil Production building as our first priority once Saddam's forces collapsed. However that is only true in spirit; to the extent that these buildings were removed recently, the excuse that the troops were occupied is hardly credible.

The last bit is just insult on injury:
A new CIA report last week by chief U.S. weapons investigator Charles Duelfer made clear, however, that Saddam had all but given up on his nuclear program after the first Gulf War in 1991.

ElBaradei, whose agency dismantled Iraq's nuclear arms program over a decade ago, drew similar conclusions to the Duelfer report well before the March 2003 invasion.

Click here to see the remainder of the article

Deus Scelestus Belli Est!?!

I am astonished to learn that the term "Immaculate Conception" refers to the birth of Mary, not of Jesus. It does not imply that Mary's parents didn't have sex, rather that while in the womb she was cleansed of all sin. Apparently as she was to be the "vessel" of the "divine seed" she had to be purified of the congenital defect of all human kind, which is to say sin. (What a perk for being God's "baby momma") She was not just absolved of any future sins but purified of those she had already accrued.

Fascinating. Well this revelation provides a neat segue to a much more puzzling dilemma: What kind of religion declares that unborn babies have extant sins? What a bizarre moral philosophy. A divine judge is so particular that even an entity that has literally committed no action is condemned as beneath the relevant standard (unless that baby has "heard the good news" and now "accepts Jesus Christ as his savior")?

The Christian Right and the Republican Party are a good match; they both allow the tail to wag the dog in terms of conforming all facts they accept to their few basic premises.

Rational Person (RP): Why is it important to be a Christian?
Christian Radical (CR): Because no one gets to heaven without accepting Jesus Christ in his heart!
RP: No one??
CR: No one!
RP: Not even a baby who has yet to commit as single action, and thus cannot have transgressed against any sane moral code?
CR thinks about this for a while.
CR: Ah ha! That baby is guilty of being HUMAN! All people have imputed guilt due to the eating of the apple etc etc.

It turns out that the Geneva Convention recognizes that collective punishment is so immoral it is a crime against humanity. Apparently if GOD does it, and goes on to hold each successive generation thus responsible, it IS moral. The answer to the obvious question (But why, Mr. CR??) is apparently that God is axiomatically Good. He can't commit a sin, and thus His acts are peachy regardless of the heinous atrocities that they may comprise.

Sort of how Bush can't be screwing up Iraq; he's the resolute commander-in-chief appointed by God after all!

Click here to see the remainder of the article

Friday, September 24, 2004

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Click on the image to see it full size.

Thanks to Talking Points Memo for the link

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Posse Tui Audis Mei Nunc

Anyone who has a cell phone (which is to say all of us) must read Christine Rosen's article regarding their impact on us, our society and our relationships. The fact that I and people my age - who have probably only had cell phones for a decade - cannot remember how they used to meet and communicate prior to owning one would seem to indicate that this commonplace device that we take for granted should be exposed to exactly the kind of scrutiny that Ms. Rosen applies.

The impacts are not as yet fully realized. Cell phone interfaces are adequate to call someone, but have not evolved to tap their true potential; they are electronic indicators of our presence. A modified device will no doubt someday be our wallet cum credit card, daily planner, phone book, house keys and ID card. That is when the truly visible changes upon our daily routines will come to pass.

Those may be more visually noticeable, but Ms Rosen would argue that the biggest impacts on our psychology and social relationships has already occurred. The dismissal of public space when we are on the phone, the elimination of solitude except by design, these may not be as flashy as paying for your groceries by grabbing food and walking out, pressing a button on your cell along the way, but may indeed be far more profound.

Thanks to The Volokh Conspiracy for the link to Ms. Rosen's article

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Friday, September 17, 2004

Fidei Religiosa Contrari Est Ad Ratio Ac Dialectica? Quid Miratio.

History at its most inaccessible is a list of dates and events without a narrative. Once one knows why an event matters, one will care enough about it to learn and remember. Everyone knows what happened in 1066 AD, because the impacts of the event reverberated for 400 years.

Few people know anything about the early church, and this is part of the reason. It's hard to find any texts on the subject, and those that are written are generally so lacking in any attempt at analysis (perhaps afraid of potential controversy) that the historical record is impossible to absorb.

In The Closing of the Western Mind Freemen does more than simply advance his argument (that Paul and his cohorts waged a crusade against logic and reason as values and tools); he presents the history of that period with an analysis of what it meant. He provides a broader view of the events than would be strictly necessary to advance his thesis, but that imprecision takes a position piece and renders it a valuable and interesting overview of the Early Christian Church. His digressions and tangents aren't simply errant sections of historical record, but are replete with themes and narratives that, while they do not advance the central thesis, inform the reader in a far more holistic sense.

This book has caused quite a bit of controversy. It does not simply attack Paul; it calls into question inerrancy as a theological idea, (by showing to what extent the current Bible was assembled for political reasons) and thus attacks the Evangelical movement inside the Christian church. What perhaps inflames the book's critics most is that the sources used for the book are generally scholarship from within the theological community.

Some Reviews

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Exsecrari Ab Religio Omni!
Ego Somnias de Mundi Profanum...

Islam, Christianity and Religious Culture

Cultural Relativism is now so accepted by our society that even a NASCAR fan wearing a wife-beater, swilling beer while sitting in the back of his pickup with like-minded friends will cite its principles to defend his choice of pastimes. As much as advancing Cultural Relativism has been a priority of the Left for decades (and rightly so) in an effort to combat the American tendency towards baseless triumphalism and a certain self-congratulatory myopia, one cannot escape the basic truth that insofar as nothing in nature is exactly equal, neither are cultures and religions (regardless of the analytical framework and value system one uses to examine them). To the extent that they are meaningful, and thus have any real impact on their members and adherents, such membership is itself unequally positive.

The utility of these sorts of comparisons derive primarily from their use as a reality check. We all think we are smart, enlightened and closer to the truth than our neighbors. By extension we believe that our religion is best, the others (and their members) are worth of pity, and perhaps some outreach to bring them back to the One True Path. If one holds that ecumenical tolerance is the sine qua non of a mature, confident religion that deals with religious pluralism in an adult fashion, then comparing one's levels of such to one's peers is the only way to ascertain if this is a baseless conceit or a quality one possesses.

Christianity and Islam are unarguably the most aggressively proselytizing religions. All of the others believe they follow a path laid out by divine mandate, but either believe that their path is still flawed by the flaws inherent to a human understanding of anything, or that there are equally valid paths laid out for others. (Hinduism/Buddhism and Judaism respectively) While the tenets of Islam include the belief that Islam is the way God wants everyone to live and a message that is the obligation of every Muslim to spread, (Christianity implies an identical belief) they also include explicit ecumenism. For a millennium the Islamic world would be more tolerant of other faiths, more progressive in social and economic policy, more open to scientific inquiry and simply wealthier than Christian Europe. (625 AD, the founding of Islam, until close of the Reformation and the beginning of the Enlightenment period, circa 1650.)

This disparity is too easily underestimated. The tension between science and religion that so obsessed Europe early on (with the rejection and suppression of the Greek/Roman intellectual tradition) and continued later to Galileo and Copernicus was never evidenced in the Islamic world. The fields of medicine, physics and biology were all pursued without the threat of excommunication and death, and thus progressed far more rapidly. Via cultural contacts with India and China mathematics and astronomy also progressed at a time when Europe paid these subjects no attention at all, leaving the Islamic world to develop far faster.

The differences were not in science alone. The Muslims were economic progressives, levying a tax upon the rich to pay for feeding, clothing and educating the poor. Public institutions were built to bring the rewards of prosperity to the masses, and coupled with medical insight, public health infrastructure received investment. Little things like closed sewers, public baths and the like improved the average health of a resident of the Ummah to heights that would not be seen in Europe for some time to come.

What happened? Certainly societies can stagnate in terms of technological development without any core flaw in their value system, but in many ways the Islamic world has regressed socially and even economically. What event or movement could so dramatically change the very identity of a culture, from a progressive, tolerant community priding itself on its education and intellectual inquiry to the reactionary, millenial and somewhat xenophobic present completely unable to perform even the most cursory self-introspection. At one time Islam was urbane and cosmopolitan, now it indulges in bizarre conspiracy theories that assert that literally every non-Muslim man woman and child is working to oppress them.

The Christian religious community had a century of violent religious conflict, (1/3 of Germany's population was slain or died of starvation in a thirty-year portion of that period) and came out of it with a firm understanding of the perils of allowing religion into the public sphere. We Americans may pretend that we invented "the separation of church and state", but after 1650 one really can't find a single state action (at least in terms of foreign policy) by any nation in Europe whose primary purpose wasn't secular.

Islam also had a violent division between its adherents; Sunni and Shi'a fought over who should succeed Mohammed and be the first Caliph of the Islamic Ummah (community). The Shi'a believe Ali, his son in law ought have been that successor. Instead three people reigned in turn before Ali was installed, and his throne was usurped not long after. This conflict was fought in 632, perhaps too soon after the founding of Islam for the conflict to be seen as a reason for disassociating the state from the mosque. No real governmental infrastructure existed outside of the religious establishment, and so perhaps there was no indication of an alternative.

All of these seems very circumstantial. Any ideas on the reason for the disparate tracks Islam and Christianity took, and specifically the change in Islam's identity? I welcome your comments.

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Virtutis Ex Gratiae

Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams
by Alfred Lubrano

Excerpt from the book

Our country is very uncomfortable with class. We pretend we have no social classes, and to the extent their existence is alluded to, it is deprived of any ancillary impact. Some of us are wealthier, some less so, but according to popular myth this has little to no impact on our society.

This is polite idiocy. To pretend that people don't change based on their experiences as they grow up is to pretend that "Nurture" (of "Nature vs Nurture" fame) has no impact on a person's psyche, goals, morals and values. It should be the goal of any egalitarian or "meritocratic" society to minimize and mitigate the impact that these differences have on people, but to pretend they don't exist gets in the way of dealing with this issue.

Are some of these "class cultures" better than others? A silly question, but it is very clear that some do generally motivate people to achieve more than others, even controlling for the impact of the differences in wealth and personal contacts. No two cultures can have the same impact on a person in this (or any other arena), unless one posits that culture has no impact at all; insofar as that culture shapes people's desires and decision-making, that claim would just be silly as well.

So granting that each culture impacts widely disparate aspects of our lives, and that some of these cultures advantage us with regards to areas that the others find valuable, while others are comparative disadvantages in their impacts on their adherents, why do we pretend that all cultures, all mores from all walks of life are normatively equal and ought be promoted equally?
  • Why do we pretend that it is as "good" a choice to choose to be a philistine over being cultured?
  • Why do we pretend that mass culture is as "good" as, (or better than) high culture?
  • Why do people pretend that emulating the working class is somehow virtuous, when, given the choice, every member of that class would gladly give up their lives to live in "high society", even as they reject the values that one would have to accept to get there?

There are people who grow up in this country who see no value whatsoever in education. The social emphasis on the enabling qualities of college has convinced them that attending such and obtaining sheepskin is important, but the virtue of the liberal arts education still passes them by. Others, initially interested in the pursuits of the mind but scarred by hazing and condemnation from the knuckle-draggers they grow up with, see cultured hobbies as guilty pleasures, and fairly pointless ones. They grow up twisted, seeing virtue only in the values and preferences of the majority. Both may think to themselves that they have transcended their roots, but will inevitably prefer happy hour to a cocktail party, bowling to attending a lecture on the issues of the day, and "Kill Bill" to Control Room or the National Symphony Orchestra.

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Thursday, August 12, 2004

Cogitate Aliter

Switching to Macintosh

Anyone who grew up in the 80s remembers the neverending arguments between schoolmates who favoured Macintosh computers to the "IBM" alternative. At the time, the computer-illiterate bought Mac, and those who were tech-savvy purchased IBM clones. The Macintosh was always too crash-prone, too limited in the power it offered the consumer. Windows 95 came around, cloned the Mac experience, and the question seemed settled.

Comparison Resources
A very detailed comparison of MS Windows XP vs Mac OS X
Apple's take on the issue

How things change. Apple is now a designer label. The Macintosh OS is secure, stable and elegant, beckoning to Windows refugees fed up with crash-prone, virus-infested computers that just won't work right. The hardware is cutting-edge (and attractive to boot!) What is going on here?

Impacts of Mac OS X

The Macintosh has had 10 major versions of its operating system since 1984. 1-9 were all evolutionary, each building and refining the predecessor, and it showed. Mac OS 9 looked somewhat dated when compared to Windows 95. Apple chose with Mac OS X (ten) to try something new; they took a version of Unix, the operating system that runs on most of the computers that one accesses on the Internet, the operating system that runs on mainframes and supercomputers, and gave it a "pretty" face. They took their talent for developing easy to use, intuitive interfaces, and placed that on top of the single most successful computing innovation since the microchip.

The result is that the Macintosh platform truly has the best of both worlds. A power user has as his disposal the resources to have his computer fill any niche need. Simultaneously the casual user finds that everything "just works", without crashes, strange error messages, and is easier to navigate and learn to operate than a Windows PC.

The Virtues of "Just Works"

One of the primary advantages Apple has is that while its products are sometimes revolutionary, some evolutionary; sometimes the most powerful, sometimes quite average, it manages one feat uniformly that no other computer manufacturer can match. Its products "just work". Take the iPod for example; MP3 players have been around for quite sometime, and so have online music shops. What sets the iPod and iTunes apart is how simply and elegantly everything functions. You buy an iPod, charge it and hook it up to your computer. It works, no strange software to install, no odd drivers to download. The music store (iTunes) also functions in this seamless way, pick the songs, pay your bill and they are yours. No strange problems getting them onto your mp3 players (no music stores sell mp3s, all use some strange format. Apple, both owning the store and making the player, ensures they can work well together.) no issues trying to burn the music onto CDs that work in your car. Operating the store and the player is simple and intuitive. Bragging rights may seem to derive from wrestling an appliance down until it works as you would have it, but obviously most or all of us would prefer appliances that work as a stove does. Turn it on, you get what you want. All the settings you need are easy to manage and monitor. You can do whatever you need to with barely a thought as to how to operate it.

This is a trick the PC world has yet to learn. On a more abstract level this is the problem will all of the Windows/PC environment. Their structure is too fault-prone, too poorly-designed to prevent the user from having to fool around with its internals, or face repeated breakdowns. Unix computers often stay on for over a year; it's an axiom that Windows computers should have their operating systems reinstalled every year.


Speaking of up-times of over a year, one of the huge leads the Macintosh platform has over the PC is its stability. Arbitrary crashes, the "blue screen of death" are all virtually unknown. The reason is that the internals of the operating system is the same as that which runs the computers that authorize credit card purchases and the like, computers that cannot be allowed to crash. The user pays for that stability in small amounts of performance, but Apple solves for that by using better hardware.

The costs of stability are more than they might seem. People who are not totally immersed in the design of the personal computer are often very confused when something "out of the ordinary" happens. A program crashes, another goes into a programmatic spiral, slowing the computer to a crawl, these things happen without the user understanding why, and lead to a fear of the computer itself. They take up the refrain of "It hates me" and "I just don't understand it". Often most of the putative productivity gains that computing is supposed to provide are lost because people do not trust their computers they way they do their cars, ovens or stoves.

Power users on the other hand usually stress their computers somewhat more. No wonder then that stability is such a problem for them. They tend to have more programs open, more applications that are from smaller outfits without the benefit of rigorous testing and quality assurance programs. They tend to use more "hacks" to modify the behavior of their operating systems. Under these, more challenging circumstances, only proper design that isolates critical systems from those the user might overwhelm or subvert can keep the overall system operational. Microsoft doesn't program that way. In the name of performance (long ago) they moved everything they could into "kernel-space", the area that those vital processes are supposed to be such that if MS Internet Explorer crashes, it doesn't take Word with it (thwarted by the conflation of all the OS into that space). Apple has not made that mistake with Mac OS X; every aspect of the system is firewalled from the other, to prevent any mistakes, internally or by lazy third-party programmers, from impacting the stability of the system.


This is just self-explanatory; Unix-based systems are generally more secure, having been designed for 100s of users since the 1970s, as opposed to having networking and multi-user awareness shoehorned in for windows 95. Moreover Apple has paid a lot of attention to this issue, to maximize the lead they have in this area. No viruses currently circulate that can harm a Mac.

Security is not simply a concern of stability and performance. Many viruses are actually damaging on a software or hardware level. Either data loss or potentially even permanent damage can occur on a PC, but not on a Macintosh, all due to Microsoft's flawed design choices.

Intuitive design

We all have different ways of thinking. These differences reflect themselves in how we approach even the simplest of problems. If we have some text in one application and would like to move it to another, we may choose different ways to do so. Some will try to copy it, and then paste. Others will try to "drag" it over, and "drop" it. Some will want a key combination to copy, others a contextual menu (a menu that pops up where the mouse is) and still others a system menu (a menu at the top of the application) option.

All of these should work where possible, and where not, all options for all problems should be accessible the same way. The Mac OS pays attention to this basic rule of human interface design; Windows does not. People should not have to adapt to the application, the application and indeed the computer should be designed to operate as any and all of us would assume it would.

Application Support

For 15 years, the main reason people have bought Windows and Intel is due to application support (to get the programs they want to use). For once, the Mac has everything the PC does. Office, Outlook (express), Photoshop, Quark Express, etc etc. Any major program comes out on the Mac, often in a better form (Ironically Office 2004 for Mac is far superior to Office XP).

Final Thoughts

There is no reason not to at least consider switching, next time you consider purchasing a new computer. I have looked into this issue for the last three months, as I am in the market for one, and by now it is obvious that I have made my decision.

Click here to see the remainder of the article

Monday, August 09, 2004

Solum Ac Procerus Quidam Vicinus Est Breve

What drives people in this modern age? Do we strive to better ourselves, reaching for some Platonic ideal? Are we simply trying to accumulate the material resources we need to live in the manner we would wish?

Alain de Botton says no. In his wonderfully accessible and yet thought-provoking work Status Anxiety, he (unknowingly) agrees with David Brook's comments in "One Nation, Slightly Divisible" (Atlantic Monthly, 12/2001) that people are satisfied or unsatisfied with their lots in life based almost entirely on the circumstance of the people they grew up with, and the people around them. Should the people they see as peers be on their level (or perhaps just a bit below) and accept them as being worthwhile and successful, no shortfall in resources, no general inequity in the wealth distribution of their larger society will shake their self-esteem.

Conversely, should one's childhood friends or neighbors manage to outstrip one's own achievements, feelings of inadequacy and bitterness result. De Botton makes the controversial claim that in this regard, citizens of societies that have hard class stratification actually have a greater personal peace of mind. (Yes, even the poor ones) To be able to say that one has all one could, given the injustice of the system, the will of God or natural order of things, allows one to separate one's own worth from one's economic and sociopolitical standing. If everyone is equal, those who do not achieve pinnacles of accomplishment are failures. There are no excuses for underperformance if there are not barriers to success.

This criticism of meritocracy may be counter-intuitive but nonetheless rings true. A meritocracy is different than an egalitarian society in that the former allows for a hierarchy (even aristocracy) based on performance, whereas the latter posits normative equality even if it does not impose economic equality. While the social opprobrium that failure brings in a meritocracy is a powerful incentive to strive for success, the vast majority of the population must inherently "lose". In the name of economic growth the vast majority of the population must battle feelings of utter worthlessness without the comfort of plausible deniability.


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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Ut Aliqui Vivant

WHO logo

WHO, Polio and the UN

Browsing through the BBC News website, I ran across an article discussing the current status of the World Health Organization campaign against polio.

We are on the verge of eliminating another disease.

Polio may seem like a distant memory, but it its last big outbreak in this country, the number of cases per year rose from twenty thousand in 1945 to fifty eight thousand by 1952, before dropping to thirty five thousand cases reported in 1953. By 1956 only five thousand six hundred cases were reported. The Salk vaccine had been found and the March of Dimes had successfully promoted a mass immunization campaign.

Fifty years later, the human race has eliminated the virus around the world. Small pockets exist in Africa, and the WHO hopes that by the end of 2004 or early 2005, even those will be eliminated. It is a stirring story on its own; open wars between nations halted for days while international relief workers vaccinated both sides and the civilians nearby. Entire economies shut down so that everyone in a country can get vaccinated in a 2-3 day span. This is humanity at its best.

This is also the promise of the United Nations. Disease is the great leveler. Wealth can buy more and more medicine, but in the end a virus does not care if you are rich or poor. Only a unified campaign that lifts up all of humanity protects any of it. There are other such threats; global warming, freshwater contamination, WMD proliferation. Perhaps someday these problems will also unite our species.

A good point was raised this past Sunday in a discussion group cum book club to which I belong; the EU exists because its component nations are willing to surrender sovereignty to the whole largely because they perceive comparative advantage versus those outside the group. The UN has no such luxury; there is no one to "beat" by empowering the UN. This one news story crystallizes the argument for it. Some challenges affect us all, and cannot be addressed, conquered or prevented without everyone's cooperation.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Mundas Vult Decipi

2004 US Elections Pool

Important Resources
RCP Battleground State Polls
Tripias State Poll Tracker
2004 Election Projection
More links to come!

How much more explanation do you need? Potential pools include 2004 Presidential Election, Senatorial Results and House Results. This pool is open to residents of DC and the Maryland DC suburbs.

The pools are still in planning stages, the amount to buy an entry, the scoring rubric, the prize breakdown etc etc are all currently being determined. Air your views, you know you will want to join in!

Presidential Pool

  • Should we reward just the electoral map choices, or also a special prize for the most correct numerical prediction?
  • Should there be a popular vote prediction prize?
  • How many places should we reward on the main electoral map contest? (three is my suggestion)
  • When should the closing date be for votes?
  • How much should each entry cost? ($20?)

Senatorial Results Pool

  • Should the cost and/or closing date be any different?
  • Should there simply be a reward for the closest map, or should there be an additional prize for the closest numerical count?

House Results

  • All the Senatorial questions apply here.
  • Should the House regard only certain races or all 435?

Please post your thoughts on these questions!

Click here to see the remainder of the article

Monday, August 02, 2004

Cum Tacent, Clamant

Casper Star Tribune

"Some Democrats who signed up to hear Vice President Dick Cheney speak [in Rio Rancho, NM] Saturday [July 24th] were refused tickets unless they signed a pledge to endorse President Bush."


"...the Kerry campaign had not attempted to screen Bush supporters out of Kerry's appearance at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque on July 9."

I believe that speaks more to the difference between these two men than any specific policy disagreement. Political expedience often wars with the ideals of democracy in this country. Some presidents (Clinton) sign into law sweeping increases in the amount to which citizens can monitor their government by making requests of information under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Other presidents (Bush) clamp down on FOIA requests, trying to keep the public from learning what is going on inside their government, in the name of protecting the government's responsibility to be effective on behalf of its citizens.

Can you really trust any person who aspires to be the most powerful man on Earth, with the personal command of 10,000 nuclear warheads and the most effective military ever developed, and does so secretively, trying to thwart open discourse and freedom of expression?

Can you really vote for someone who wants that power but is afraid to debate his opponents, afraid to expose his positions to criticism and defend them to the public personally?

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Friday, July 30, 2004

Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patri Mori.

The recent controversy over the ratification process of the new European Union charter, which has many countries facing widespread public demands for referendums, brought to light an interesting issue. While in most countries national authorities have quickly agreed to place the ratification in the hands of a national plebiscite, German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder has been reluctant, citing a provision of the German Basic Law (their Constitution) that prohibits referenda/propositions/plebiscites.

Given that increased direct participation of a population in the decisions of its government is held to be axiomatically good according to "Liberal Democratic" values (the philosophical underpinnings of every Western democracy), how can the United State have written that prohibition into the German constitution, and why did we do it?

Adolf Hitler's rise to power was not a coup d'etat, nor a military conquest. He ended the political hierarchy within the system. He overthrew the Weimar Republic's democratic apparatus by asking the people to vote for propositions that sounded like good ideas, knowing that the average German, like the average America, does not read the newspaper, and has little idea of the issues of the day other than a few quick soundbites. Very little Adolf Hitler did was illegal, even though virtually all of it was immoral, and he did it with the manufactured consent of his people, as expressed by repeated referenda, the issues cloaked by nationalism and patriotism.

Beyond the danger of a charismatic demagogue overthrowing the republic, when considering propositions and referenda there is also a basic question of utility. If 55% of 280 million people vote for a tailor, I will definitely say that must be a very good tailor, and give him my business. If 55% of 280 million people say that no one should get side vents in a jacket, I will ignore them. That they are many does not mean they are educated on the issues. Representative democracies are based on the premise that governing should be left to professionals, and that the public's ability to vote in elections is useful only to the extent that it keeps those professionals responsive and accountable. We hire politicians to do a job on the premise that they are more educated on the issues than we, just as we hire a mechanic to fix our cars; the majority of us have as little an idea of what the economic implications of immigration are, as we do of how to replace a ball bearing in a wheel assembly.

Why then should we interfere with the process of governing any more than we do in the process of automotive repair?

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Monday, July 26, 2004

Vox Clamans In Deserto

(Arthur at Ad Populum responds to this article thusly)

Text of the MPA
Final Roll Call Vote for the MPA
Article 3 Section 2, US Constitution
Legal Fiction
Andrew Sullivan
Washington Monthly

The Marriage Protection Act

In the aftermath of the passage of this law by the House, there are a few questions that must be asked:
  • Is this constitutional?
  • What does this mean for the future?

On the Constitutionality of the MPA

Article 3, Section 2 of the United States constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court:
....In all the other Cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

Legal Fiction has a great introduction into the issues of this law and the legal games it is trying to play. On the issue of whether this is constitutional, "publius" (the author) makes comparatively few arguments, conceding that it will probably pass constitutional muster, but pleading that SCOTUS find it unconstitutional based on general democratic principles. That argument aside, the only cases to regard this issue that I have ever heard of are:It is the conclusion of these cases that while Congress cannot legislate a decision on behalf of the Court, it can restrict its appellate jurisdiction regarding both legislative and executive acts. If it can in fact move habeas corpus cases outside the Court's jurisdiction, it is hard to see how cases regarding any other issue are somehow qualitatively different. I have to disagree with "publius"' hopeful opinions in the sense that there is very little scope within stare decisis for the Court to reject this law, and even then really none for DOMA, which is constitutional thanks to Article 4 Section 1. A Roe v. Wadeesque departure from precedent and textualism is not impossible, perhaps not even unlikely, but I can see no legal basis (other than those "democratic principles") for the Court to use.

The Impact of the MPA

It seems a general trend in this country that as time goes by, we see an erosion of all of the subtle customs that allowed us to have a stable government despite what is generally acknowledged by experts in Comparative Constitutional Law as one of the worst constitutions in the First World. These customs were the response to, or the cause of, the vague lack of clarity that the Constitution suffers from, but either way they are rapidly becoming a relic of the past. Whether it be the threatened removal of the filibuster from Senate Rules, the current abuses by the House Rules committee, or this new escalation in the form of the MPA, the gloves seem to have come off.

Without those restraints any controversial law can be passed without any moderating influence. With the removal of judicial review, we have no enforcement mechanism for the precepts of the Constitution, and indeed, no final determination of constitutionality. This apocalyptic image is not so far-fetched; abortion and gun control laws are as likely to be passed w/ A3S2 protection as prayer in schools and criminalization of homosexuality.

Indeed realistically this will not come to a head. Any institution is jealous of its own power, and thus SCOTUS will find some legal fig leaf to strike down this law, and perhaps DOMA as well. The Right will see this as another attack on their precepts by an unelected court, never knowing how close they came to the Left abolishing the private ownership of firearms.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Alea Jacta Est!

Playing Politics, by Michael Laver

Game Theory, political simulations, and party games that do not require the explanation of endless rules; what's not to like? This book is out of print, and I strongly urge everyone to snap up a used copy (use one of the online used book clearinghouses) before they too leave circulation.

This book, and the activities within, combine the imperatives to entertain people with the idealistic desire to improve oneself. Politics is not just the occupation of people with a direct view of the Washington Monument, but rather a fact of life in any occupation, and any social environment. Thus day labourer or software programmer, secretary or lawyer, this book and the lessons within will be useful to you, and fun to boot!


Amazon is not a bad place to look for used books, but if you don't want to give them 15% of the sale price (and would rather support the small used book stores out there), once it finds a book for you, go to that merchant's website (without using Amazon's links!) and buy it directly.

Another great resource is the Advanced Book Exchange, a site that maintains listings for 100s of used book merchants, and acts as a lower-overhead intermediary. (Socially Conscious consumerism!) However for this book, at the time of this post, Amazon lists Playing Politics copies and ABE does not.

For the rules to some of the games listed in the book, click here.

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