Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

In case we want to sing this, later:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' auld lang syne?
Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll tak a right guid willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine;
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
Robert Burns World Federation offers this side-by-side.

To your health!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another wowser heard from

Why am I not surprised that someone writing in the NY Times wants to raise taxes? This time on booze. David Leonhardt cites a load of specious reasons for raising taxes on the anodyne of the poor in his mendaciously titled Let’s Raise a Glass to Fairness, inspired by a book, Paying the Tab, by Peter Cook, a Duke University economist. This economist can't tell the difference between a tax and a subsidy:

Each of the three taxes is now effectively 33 percent lower than it was in 1992. Since 1970, the federal beer tax has plummeted 63 percent. Many states taxes have also been falling.

At first blush, this sounds like good news: who likes to pay taxes, right? But taxes serve a purpose beyond merely raising general government revenue. Taxes on a given activity are also supposed to pay the costs that activity imposes on society. And for all that is wonderful about wine, beer and liquor, they clearly bring some heavy costs.

Right now, the patchwork of alcohol taxes isn’t coming close to covering those costs — the costs of drunken-driving checkpoints, of hospital bills for alcohol-related accidents and child abuse, and of the economic loss caused by death and injury. Last year, some 17,000 Americans, or almost 50 a day, died in alcohol-related car accidents. An additional 65,000 people a year die from other accidents, assaults or illnesses in which alcohol plays a major role.

Mr. Cook, besides being a wine lover, has been thinking about the costs and benefits of alcohol for much of his career, and he has come up with a blunt way of describing the problem. “Do you think we should be subsidizing alcohol?” he asks. “Because that’s what we’re doing.”
"We" subsidize drunkenness to the extent that some recipients of disability payments spend the money on booze. To say that not taxing something is the same as subsidizing it is to fall into the same sort of Newspeakery that makes it a "budget cut" when a government agency's budget is increased less than someone (administrator, legislator) had asked for. A smaller increase is still an increase. If you can pass through Sherwood Forest without being robbed, Robin Hood has not given you a subsidy. Low taxes do not "cost" the government money that it never had to begin with.

I'll dissect this phony "reasoning" further in a while; right now I need a couple of drinks. In the meantime, go read what Glenn Reynolds has to say about it.

Later: The call for an increase in taxes sounds to me like "Let them eat cake." The Times writer, the Duke professor, what is a couple of dollars increase in the price of a bottle of Champagne to them? I am reminded of the sort of billionaire Democrats who think everyone's taxes should be increased. There's another post in that: in the days of ancient Rome, as now, wealthy politicians ran for office, promising everything under the sun to the voters; but in those days, if elected, they paid for the bread and circuses themselves!

The article, like the book, is a call for a regressive taxation scheme, based on phony numbers, with social engineering as its goal.
• Regressive: Good booze is too good for the poor; if the manufacturers won't raise the prices enough to keep the stuff the writer likes out of the hands of those not in his socio-economic class, well then, the tax power of the government can be used for that purpose.
• Phony numbers: Old stuff, but the MADD propaganda machine doesn't quit. The expression "alcohol-related" is the tip-off. If a passenger in the car not at fault was tipsy, that counts as alcohol-related. Links: National Motorists Association. Responsibility In DUI Laws. (Ugly formatting, interesting numbers:) GetMADD: Real Numbers. A business writer ought to have better grasp of numbers … oh never mind, it's the Times.
• "Taxes on a given activity are supposed to pay the costs …" Supposed to? Where is that in the Constitution? Taxes are "supposed to" raise revenue. How about a tax on newspapers to pay for recycling? The Times is in a bad place to be talking about tax fairness, considering the combination of eminent domain abuse and tax breaks involved in clearing the ground for its new HQ.

This is the Times' business section. If this is the kind of wisdom they can muster over there, it's no wonder the paper's own stock is down as far as it is.

Update: Bill Quick has a post on this.
More on wowsers, with quotes from Candace Lightner, founder of MADD, who does not like what that organization has become: Prohibition Returns!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Some cheese with those Christmas crackers?

Some in the US may not be familiar with Christmas crackers. In England, they are an indispensible part of Christmas dinner. You grasp the ends and pull, there's a bang, and things fall out on the table: usually a paper crown, a tiny toy, a piece of paper with a joke on it. Harry Erwin writes a weekly letter from England to Jerry Pournelle. This week, he links to an article in the Independent that includes a long list of Christmas cracker jokes. Just a few, to get you started:

What are the small rivers that run into the Nile?
The juve-Niles.

How did the Vikings send secret messages?
By Norse code.

What kind of lighting did Noah use for the ark?
Floodlights.
I'm feeling merrier already.

'Tis the season

My first Christmas with this blog, so here's something sort of seasonal:

And here is a bit of necessary explication: I want the government to give me more presents. Thanks, Prof. Althouse; and Merry Christmas to all.

Consensus on warming evaporating

Or so it would seem from this new report, dated Dec. 20: U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007. It's no great shakes as a report on science; but it doesn't claim to be. It's a report on scientists. By listing remarks from scientists, it seeks to invalidate the warmingists' claim that the consensus is all but complete.

I wouldn't expect a Senate report to be readable; but since this is a collection of remarks, a paragraph or so from each of the many scientists, it's as readable as a blog, with one short entry after another. And from this I learn that the minority side of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has a blog. Thanks to Charles at LGF.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Regret the Error

Seen on Reliable Sources this morning, Craig Silverman, proprietor of Regret the Error, a blog devoted to correction notices. Some are funnier than others—well, naturally—but it's more a journalism than a humor site.

I have long been a fan of the sort of unintentionally funny typos that the New Yorker runs as bottom-of-the-column filler, and Private Eye has collected in several Books of Boobs. But that's another kind of error.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Not the Holy Land Foundation, but similar

Care International, another such organization in Boston. Coverage of the trial has been so pervasive that I had completely missed it. Now it's over, and the verdicts are coming out. But Miss Kelly has been blogging the trial and such coverage of it as exists, for some time. Thanks to Solomonia.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Micro-nukes coming even sooner than minis

Or, a nuke on every block. Who needs a nationwide grid when you can have local power anywhere or everywhere?

The Toshiba micro-nuke.

Thanks to Instapundit, who asks, "Where do I order one?"

What mini-nukes? These mini-nukes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thoughts on the death penalty (was: Open thread for Earl)

This post is updated, but kept at the original link, in order to keep the Internet from falling into utter chaos.

(A discussion at Making Light has become a bit warm. I would like to see if the talk might cool off a bit, if moved here.) That's not happening. Reader, if you want to see me make an ass of myself in public, take a look at this: Go, New Jersey! The lesson: don't post while feelings are running high. The old wisdom about writing angry letters applies: write it, but don't mail it till the next day, when you have cooled off. On reflection, you may find that you want to say something different, or to say the same thing in different, less inflammatory language. Or, maybe, not say anything at all.

But let's look at the original post over there. Here's the substance of it:

The arguments against capital punishment are these: It doesn’t actually prevent violent criminals from committing crimes, it’s barbaric no matter how you go about doing it, there’s no guarantee you got the right guy, and it sends the wrong message: Killing is wrong, and to prove it we’ll kill you. Most civilized countries banned capital punishment long ago.
Much as I respect Jim Macdonald (I have linked to his posts several times here), these "arguments" are bumper stickers. One at a time:

• "It doesn’t actually prevent violent criminals from committing crimes." Which criminals? A violent criminal who has been executed will commit no more crimes. I would call that some actual prevention. Or is this intended to mean, "It does not deter potentially violent criminals from committing crimes?" That's another matter. In London when pickpockets were publicly hanged at Tyburn, other pickpockets worked the crowd of spectators. Someone is going to object that picking pockets is not a violent crime. So shouldn't the message get across even more clearly to non-violent criminals? Apparently not. Some people just don't get the message. They are not listening and do not care about messages. As Samuel Goldwyn famously said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." Goldwyn was talking about movies, of course; but the point is that there are people who will not or cannot get the message. So how to stop them from murdering, raping, and robbing? Sentencing them to life imprisonment does not seem to work, since governors and parole boards who wish to make themselves feel good by being merciful are always likely to be with us. To grant mercy to a predator is to condemn the prey, which would be the general populace. Jack Abbott. Darrell Billingslea. (Why was this convicted murderer released from prison?) Wayne Dumond. Richard Allen Davis. Daniel Tavares. Far too many more. "Life without parole" is not a real sentence, as it is always subject to review; and the possibility of escape is always there.

• "It’s barbaric no matter how you go about doing it." Barbarism is in the eye of the beholder. The word "barbaric" means foreign, alien, uncouth, uncivilized; literally, unable to speak our language; so, something that "we" would not do, because it's just not "our" way. Squicky and unpleasant. There's an element of elitism here, of amour-propre above all, reminiscent of the Jains of India, who will not kill an insect. Of course they have to hire flunkies of other beliefs to sweep their paths before them, lest they tread on some little creature; but the flunkies' sins are their own, not their master's. Killing an animal is unpleasant; killing a human being, I can only imagine, much more so; but a mad dog must be killed. Is this argument really about the death penalty itself, or about Which Execution Method Causes the Least Discomfort (to the Public)? Leaving out such things as 9/11, unaimed rockets fired into Israel, and bomb attacks on Israeli buses, Balinese nightclubs, Spanish trains, and English pillar-boxes, I would call the killing of Daniel Pearl barbaric. Or that of Nicholas Berg. Or those of Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela Petit. Or those of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. The execution of Nathan Hale: regrettable, for our side; not barbaric. The rules of war were followed; Nathan Hale knew what he risked. The execution of John Wayne Gacy: not regrettable, not barbaric. (Though botched; maybe Dr. Guillotine had the right idea. He invented his device for humane reasons.) Is it too incomprehensible to consider the death penalty as a public safety measure? In this comment thread I argue against it for the mentally incompetent. Now I am starting to wonder if I was right about that.

• "There’s no guarantee you got the right guy." Sometimes you can be sure; Brian Nichols, for instance. Jack Ruby. Otherwise, it varies from case to case. And this bumper sticker just about invalidates the entire justice system, since the same could be said in any criminal case. Juries do the best they can. Cases of corrupt juries and overzealous prosecutors do not make the whole system useless. Such cases, as with the Duke lacrosse players, or the Scottsboro Boys, are horrible examples that should help to wake people up to abuses of a system that is about as good as what we can have, given the human material available. (On the opposite side of this coin are such as O.J. Simpson and the first couple of trials of Byron De La Beckwith.) As modern forensic science improves, especially with DNA testing (exemplified by the great work of the Innocence Project), it is possible to achieve a greater degree of certainty. If we could see more of the kind of thing that Radley Balko writes about in More Prosecutors Like Craig Watkins, Please, that would be a great thing, too.

• "It sends the wrong message: Killing is wrong, and to prove it we’ll kill you." See above about sending messages. This seems to be a misunderstanding of the sixth, or fifth, Commandment, which in the Hebrew, is not "Thou shalt not kill," but "Thou shalt not murder." The distinction between murder and killing is an important one. Is every soldier who has killed an enemy in battle a murderer? Is a person who kills an attacker in self-defense a murderer? For that matter, is an executioner, employed by the state to do justice, a murderer? The answer to each of these must be "No." The alternative is the worst kind of Hobbesian anarchy.

• "Most civilized countries banned capital punishment long ago." Depends on what is meant by "civilized." Most of the "civilized" countries of Europe have been convulsed with violence in the last century: revolutions, the Holocaust, two World Wars, terror gangs like the Red Brigades, "ethnic cleansing," now the rioting youths in the banlieues; the US is far more civilized than those places. If being civilized means to keep on turning the other cheek, for the sake of one's own self-regard, then the civilized will run out of cheeks before the real barbarians run out of knives, bombs, bullets, clubs, and fists.

Those are arguments against the arguments against the death penalty. Do I have arguments in favor of the death penalty? Other than the above, not so much. This is a lesser of two evils decision that someone has to make. In our system, "someone" would be the legislature and governor, in this specific case, of New Jersey. Banning the death penalty means that, in the estimation of those who hold the High Justice, no crime is serious enough to warrant it. Murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, treason, espionage, all of them in combination: nothing. A counsel, literally, of nihilism. A statement that no sins are deadly. A trivialization of human volition. A sloughing of responsibility. Certainly the death penalty should be rarely applied; but to say that it is never warranted is to deny the seriousness of free will, the existence of evil, and the worth of lives and nations.

=======================

There's one more point to address here, having to do with netiquette and politeness in general. The post of mine that has received the most hits in the shortest space of time was the one about trolls. It's ironic, then, that I should be perceived as trolling, when I have expressed my detestation of the creatures. As I said in my apology on the New Jersey thread, "Making Light is a wonderful party." It's not polite to bust into a party where everyone shares the same ideas, and tell them that they are wrong. I was Alice, and got the Hatter's final reply. No-one's ideas are ever changed in Internet comment fora. (What, never? Well, hardly ever.)

=======================

Update, years later: Glenn Reynolds, on Radley Balko (Why Americans still support the death penalty), offers this:

I think it’s because tedious liberals self-righteously oppose it, while showing an appalling insensitivity to the lives (and deaths) of ordinary non-criminal Americans. Though I should note that European citizens also support the death penalty in large numbers — they’re just ignored by their leaders. The best argument against the death penalty, of course, is what Charles Black called “the inevitability of caprice and mistake.” But that argument, taken seriously, is an indictment of the entire criminal-justice system, not just the death penalty. It may be a valid indictment, but few are willing to go that far.

The worst argument against the death penalty, of course, is that it’s somehow awful for the state to kill people. Nation-states are all about killing people. They exist solely because they’re better at that, on a large scale, than any other form of human organization. Everything else is superstructure, and if they lose that edge it will fade away.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Magic, can we have magic

Fantasy can be cruel.
It's difficult for some people to admit to themselves that there is a war going on.
But then, something happens…

Ginsberg , by Julia Vinograd

No blame. Anyone who wrote Howl and Kaddish
earned the right to make any possible mistake
for the rest of his life.
I just wish I hadn't made this mistake with him.
It was during the Vietnam war
and he was giving a great protest reading
in Washington Square Park
and nobody wanted to leave.
So Ginsberg got the idea, "I'm going to shout
"the war is over" as loud as I can," he said
"and all of you run over the city
in different directions
yelling the war is over, shout it in offices,
shops, everywhere and when enough people
believe the war is over
why, not even the politicians
will be able to keep it going."
I thought it was a great idea at the time
a truly poetic idea.
So when Ginsberg yelled I ran down the street
and leaned in the doorway
of the sort of respectable down on its luck cafeteria
where librarians and minor clerks have lunch
and I yelled "the war is over."
And a little old lady looked up
from her cottage cheese and fruit salad.
She was so ordinary she would have been invisible
except for the terrible light
filling her face as she whispered
"My son. My son is coming home."
I got myself out of there and was sick in some bushes.
That was the first time I believed there was a war.
Thanks to mazzie and Lee.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heinlein speaks

Bill Higgins, who introduced us to the Zeusaphone a while back, links to a page with a sound recording of Robert Heinlein. This I believe… "Our Noble, Essential Decency." It's a big part of what makes Western Civilization work.

The opening and closing voice is that of Edward R. Murrow.

Republican show of hands for warming in Iowa

Michelle Malkin has the scoop, and the pic: Digging deeper: The enviro-nitwit-ization of the GOP. Fred Thompson won the gold star on this one. Video at Hot Air.

Fred: a Calvin Coolidge for our time! (That's a compliment.)

How did I miss this! Michelle Malkin liveblogged the debate.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keep washing those hands

There's a new virus in town: Virus Starts Like a Cold But Can Turn Into a Killer. RTWT. Glenn Reynolds says:

IF YOU HAVE A BAD COLD, and the symptoms keep getting worse, it could be this nasty new virus. If it seems out of the ordinary for a cold, and you have trouble breathing, get to a doctor fast.

UPDATE: Reader Stephen Hill emails:

I had this virus, succumbing to it two days after returning from a trip to Australia. To give you an idea of just how bad it can be, understand that I'm not your normal, everyday, healthy adult male. I'm a National Champion Elite-level cyclist. I had a 104°F fever within a day, and a cough that would not quit. Now I have trained through just about every kind of illness that is transmittable (and some that aren't), but it was three weeks before I could even think of riding again, and for a week could only exercise lightly. Six weeks later, I still have an occasional (4-6 times per day) coughing fit.

Wash your hands!

Always good advice. Or use hand sanitizer.
Apparently a new variety of a common virus with wide variations in how it affects people. And see Did you get your flu shot for more on hand-washing.

More Holy Land Foundation jurors are talking

There has been some blog reaction to an article at the Investigative Project on Terrorism by Michael Fechter. The piece is mainly an interview with juror Kristina Williams. It includes video.

Most of the blog reactions are just quotations and comments.
Captain Ed: The Idiot Who Torpedoed The Holy Land Foundation Trial.
Hot Air: Steve Emerson’s IPT uncovers jury bullying in Holy Land Foundation trial?
LGF: IPT Investigation Uncovers HLF Jury Room Bullying. Over 600 comments!
Jihad Watch: Investigative Project uncovers Holy Land Foundation jury bullying
Patterico: Inside the Jury Room at the Holy Land Foundation Trial

I expect there will be more.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Whipped ocean, or "Cappucino coast"

In email, an environmental oddity in Australia. This seems to be making the rounds. I'll link to what seems to be the original in the Daily Mail because the pictures are nice and big.


Cappuccino Coast: The day the Pacific was whipped up into an ocean of froth
By RICHARD SHEARS - Last updated at 08:27am on 28th August 2007

It was as if someone had poured tons of coffee and milk into the ocean, then switched on a giant blender.

Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney were transformed into the Cappuccino Coast.

Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards' centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales.
Anybody who spends time near water has seen small amounts of this stuff, often lying on the beach at low tide. This much of it at once, crikey! Must be some kind of a record!

Update: Some searchers seem to think this story is a fake. I was not there, so I can't testify, but there is some discussion here, which leads indirectly to this. So, not only was it real, it happened again in January '08!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Historical origin of Kucinich

A piece in Cleveland Scene on Kucinich's early years in politics: The King of Spin: How Dennis Kucinich remade himself from race-baiting bomb-thrower to liberal sweetheart.

Thanks to Charles at LGF.

A little more levity

There's a blog post that's been making the rounds as one of those forwarded-and-reforwarded emails. I just received it in a format that stripped all the pictures out, so the humor didn't work, which led me to look around a little and re-find the original post. Anyhow, just a note to remind myself that the original of the "1977 J.C. Penney Catalog" is "Strap in, shut up and hold on. We're going back." at 15 Minute Lunch. The post has, in a little less than two months, picked up 572 comments!

One of them recommends the collection of Weight-Watchers recipe cards, with commentary, at Candyboots. And so do I. Frightening food. And those who like this sort of thing should pay a visit to Lileks.com, for hours, no, days, even months, of fun.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Funny name, interesting ideas: Mencius Moldbug

I'm adding a new name to the links list: Mencius Moldbug. For some reason, a pricking of my thumbs, I suspect this is a pseudonym. An interesting thinker, who is not afraid of writing long posts. Michael Blowhard gave him a coming-out party back in April. Read that link first, as an introduction to Moldbug's thinking. Don't click unless you are prepared to spend at least half an hour reading and thinking. He seems to derive some inspiration from Albert Jay Nock; I found Nock's Our Enemy, the State illuminating, so we have that in common. I like the way he tears into the poetry establishment here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Speaking of farce, here's Tim Slagle

I have been hoping to see more in the line of mockery of this whole Global Warming business, and Gerard Van der Leun comes through with this. I hope he is right when he says, "Once the comics get onto you with this kind of granulation, you are history." Thanks!

Not safe for work.

Update: And another! Country Joe meets Big Warm Al: Gore to Earthlings: The Memo.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

They're hot at Powerline

with several posts on the new NIE: The Crystal Ball Changes Its Mind, Are we fools? (in which Iran's new nuclear negotiator is quoted as saying, "With me, you start over."), World doesn't end, Bush suffers blow, Iran's nuclear weapons program: Israel assesses, Five years of the Condor, A word from Mark Falcoff on the NIE, and High confidence in low confidence. And that's just the NIE. In other posts from the last few days, Harry Reid is Still Betting On Defeat, and the Boswell Sisters have the Heebie Jeebies.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Repeal Day!

It is the anniversary of December 5, 1933, happy ending of an unhappy experiment. The evils inflicted upon the nation, and the world for that matter, by Prohibition, continue, but now our gangsters, politicians and G-Men quarrel over different kinds of contraband. We know from history that anodynes need not be outlawed; there is just too much profit in misery for the current version of Prohibition to be ended. Volstead and Anslinger have worked much evil in the world. Thanks to The Wine Commonsewer at Hit & Run for this lovely bit of nostalgia: But today let us be joyful, within the limits imposed by the current bunch of wowsers.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Gleanings

Instapundit: Progress on resveratrol.

Andrea Harris: Global warming is responsible for everything.

Recommended by two of Jerry Pournelle's correspondents: The Secret to Raising Smart Kids.

Amy Alkon links to Jonathan Rauch at The Atlantic on Caring for Your Introvert: The habits and needs of a little-understood group. Alkon's comments may be better than the original Rauch piece.