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Friday, March 31, 2006

oppressors and the oppressed

"Folk Beliefs have Consequences" is from a few months ago, but I recently re-read it and I remembered this great bit:
Folk Marxism looks at political economy as a struggle pitting the oppressors against the oppressed. Of course, for Marx, the oppressors were the owners of capital and the oppressed were the workers. But folk Marxism is not limited by this economic classification scheme. All sorts of other issues are viewed through the lens of oppressors and oppressed. Folk Marxists see Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as oppressed. They see white males as oppressors and minorities and females as oppressed. They see corporations as oppressors and individuals as oppressed. They see America as on oppressor and other countries as oppressed.
This is a great example of why communicating with leftists is so difficult. If one doesn't speak in the language of oppressor vs. oppressed, one's argument simply come across as gibberish to the modern day liberal.

atrocious entertainment

Pieter Friedrich has a great article up on LRC today about the rampant sadism that's all the rage in our world of well as in real life.
Horror movies like Saw II, which was infamously advertised by a movie poster representing the "II" as a pair of severed fingers, dominate theaters. With the public lust for blood snowballing, horror films have increasingly abandoned suspense in favor of no-holds-barred gore. As documented by Screen It, scenes focusing on every cut and delighting in every agony have become the norm...

...In what I believe is a direct result of a cinematic glorification of torture, American war crimes have literally become a laughing matter. Several months ago, I overheard one young airman telling his sergeant about the hilarious cadences he learned during his training, including the notorious "Napalm Sticks to Kids" chant. The sergeant, entertained, requested the airman serenade him with some of these cadences. "See those kids over by the lake? Drop some napalm, watch them bake," crooned the airman, amusing the sergeant to no end. After Saw II, which netted 29 times its four million dollar production cost, featured a favorably portrayed maniac offing a houseful of men and women, it's hardly startling that nobody cares that fifteen Marines are currently accused of a My Lai style mini-massacre.
I'm a big horror movie fan, of the old-school style from Hitchcock to Carpenter, where suspense and creepy atmosphere rule the day, not mindless gore for its own sake. I absolutely refuse to spend money and time watching this new breed of horror "film". I totally agree that the ultra violence that pours into young minds from this type of "entertainment", whether movies or video games, has a direct effect on behavior. As Friedrich points out, nobody even cares that American troops may have committed a massacre.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

nasa sucks

In "It's the Earth, Stupid", Gregg Easterbrook points out that a government agency is pursuing a boondoggle rather than accomplish something useful:
At this point, the shuttle exists almost solely to service the space station, while the station exists almost solely to give the space shuttle a destination to fly to. Two space shuttles have exploded on national television. Yet the program drags on owing to the desire of aerospace contractors, and members of Congress who represent shuttle districts, for launches that cost nearly $1 billion each. The shuttle has operated just once since the Columbia loss in February 2003. It may or may not fly in 2006. Most experiments conducted aboard the space station could be done at far less expense by automated probes. "Life science" research on the astronauts themselves is the sole mission that requires people to be present, but even this boils down to billions of dollars spent for astronauts to take each other's blood pressure. As Gar Smith has written, the space station represents "one of the biggest boondoggles since the Pyramids."
I used to be pretty excited about the space program, but as I became more libertarian over the years, I grew completely disenchanted with it and think the whole thing should just be canceled with the assets sold off to the highest bidder. That's assuming anyone would want to buy the white elephants that NASA owns, of course.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

a longer absence...

Now my entire family, including myself as of the middle of last night, has been stricken with a fever and upper respiratory infection. Hopefully I'll be posting in a couple of days.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


I'll be blogging even less than usual over the next couple of days. My 2 year old is suffering from a cold with a fever up to 103+, and I'm trying to get our taxes done as well. Plus work's been busy!

Friday, March 24, 2006

new home sales slump

Not just sales, but median prices, too. From this story.
NEW YORK ( - New home sales fell more sharply than expected in February -- and with them, the median price of a new house -- in the latest signs of a slowdown in what had been a white hot housing market.

The Census Bureau reported sales at an annual rate of 1.08 million homes in February, down 10.5 percent from the revised rate of 1.21 million in January.

The report also showed a drop compared to a year earlier in the median price of a new home -- the level at which half of homes sell for more and half sell for less. In February the median price was $230,400, down $6,900, or 3 percent from February 2005.

While it is not uncommon that prices fluctuate month to month, a year-over-year decline in prices is far less common. February also marked the fourth straight month-over-month decline in median price since the record of $243,900 was reached in October. The current median is 5.5 percent below that record level.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

exporting arrogance to china at taxpayers' expense

Man, this Washington Post article from yesterday just makes me want to puke. I need to quote some large chunks so you don't think I'm taking parts out of context, which might be your first thought upon reading about this unbelievable arrogance.
BEIJING, March 22 -- Three United States senators came to one of China's most prestigious universities on Wednesday, ostensibly to talk about trade. What they delivered was an expansive, almost evangelical campaign for American values -- one that received pushback from their audience of students and faculty.

The senators talked about an unfair advantage they say Chinese exporters enjoy over American firms because of the low-value currency. They implored China to adopt the norms of global trade. In strikingly moral tones, they pledged Washington's resolve to pressure China to liberalize not only its currency regime but also its political culture, using trade as a wedge for broader reform.

Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told the Tsinghua University audience that his model of leadership is "a man by the name of Jesus." He later quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as he urged China to do "the right thing" on trade policy.

Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told the students that, post-9/11, Americans are committed to taking on whatever battles seem imperative -- China's cheap currency, along with al-Qaeda.

"In my country, we're very arrogant, and I admit to it," Graham said. "You have to understand that Americans have for 200 years fought and died not just for our freedom, but for other people's freedoms."

Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has led the drive to force China to raise the value of its currency, the yuan, said economic reform leads toward a free society. "I believe it is inevitable that China will have much more freedom," he said...

...Schumer, Graham and Coburn are in China for five days for what they say is an examination of the forces at play before they decide whether to proceed with a vote on the bill at the end of the month. With China's President Hu Jintao scheduled to visit the United States in April and a U.S. Treasury Department report in the works that could brand China a currency manipulator, the Schumer-Graham bill has become a key front in an increasingly tense trade relationship between the countries. It would apply 27.5 percent tariffs to all Chinese-made goods if China does not substantially revalue the currency...
I believe it's inevitable too, Chuck, but it's not going to come about with you three clowns strutting around China and arrogantly lecturing them about "freedom".

Dictating to other nations what their monetary policy "should" be isn't freedom. Setting tariffs on imports so that American consumers have to pay 30% more for everything at Walmart isn't freedom either. I don't think anyone who just voted to increase the US debt ceiling to $9 trillion has any right to lecture anybody else about financial policy. And I really love this next bit...
...On Wednesday, as [Schumer] spoke at the university, he asked for a show of hands from those believing that "freedom is the eventual right path for China to be on." Perhaps a dozen of the 50 or so people in the room tentatively raised hands.

How many disagreed? Five hands went up. How many people were unsure? No one raised a hand, leaving a silent majority expressing no sentiment at all.

"It's still a very controlled society," Schumer said as he boarded the bus that would take him past countless new skyscrapers and on to the five-star St. Regis Hotel. "They've got a ways to go."
I think it's hilarious that a majority of those present saw right through Chuck's ridiculously worded little opinion poll, and refused to dignify it with a response. And Chuck, the Chinese may have a ways to go, but they sure aren't going to get there by following your freedom-hating ass.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

you don't say!

From this Daily Mail article entitled Underage sex 'link' to media:
Children exposed to sex in TV programmes, films, magazines and music are more likely to engage in sexual activity than those who are not, according to research out today.

There is a direct relationship between the amount of sexual content a child sees and their level of sexual activity or their intentions to have sex in the future, the study found.

Such media also has at least an equal influence on sexual behaviour as religion or a child's relationship with their parents and peers, the study said.
This new study should win the "no shit, Sherlock" award. I'm not an anti-TV bigot, but the amount of sexual references on most television sitcoms make them completely unsuitable for children (not to mention how stupid most of the shows are). I would bet if you asked these kids' parents about the content their teenagers are exposed to in the media, they wouldn't have much problem with it, a sad commentary on the current generation of parents.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

in praise of

I've been using for a while now as my start up page and it just keeps getting better and better. They've just added a module that gives users 1 GB of free online storage space. Yay, netvibes!

Monday, March 20, 2006

the pounds are melting away

I know all our loyal readers are dying to know how much weight I've lost. Sadly, only 1.5 pounds in the last two weeks. I'm down 6.5 lbs. in the 5 weeks since I've started, so averaging a little over a pound a week isn't so bad. I'm still pretty psyched about the diet. I'm rarely hungry and the exercise portion is easy to manage as well. I should easily get into great shape by the end of the year at my current rate. Woo hoo!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

oliver twist

Finally saw Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist on DVD, released in theaters last year. Wow, I loved this film in every way. The visuals were truly amazing, reeling the viewer back in time and place to a dismal and foggy Dickensian dream. All of the leads performed admirably, especially Ben Kingsley as Fagin. The whole 2.5 hour film came together wonderfully, and the Rachel Portman score complemented the visuals perfectly.

My only quibble, and it's minor one, is that the character of Bill Sykes was introduced rather suddenly, without really explaining who he is. I noticed some reviewers have complained about the absence of certain plot elements from the novel, and a lack of character development. However, I don't see how you could expect a literal translation of the novel short of a miniseries, and I do feel the scenes that Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood chose to emphasize effectively brought out the characters' personalities.

My wife and I never expected to finish this DVD in one night, but that's exactly what we did, finishing at almost 12:45 a.m. (I normally can't watch a movie past midnite without dozing off, no matter how exciting it is). I can't understand how this excellent piece of family entertainment flopped at the box office.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

congratulations! your credit limit has been increased to $9,000,000,000,000!!!

Dear Federal Government:

We have some exciting news for you! We've increased your credit limit to $9 trillion! Please use this extra cash to buy yourselves that well-deserved boondoggle. Perhaps that massive new entitlement program you've been thinking about. Or some good old-fashioned corporate welfare - those friends come in handy around election day, you know. Go ahead, buy those extra cruise missiles and smart bombs, then give your citizens another shock-and-awe performance in the Middle East! It'll distract them from the fact that we're squeezing even more out of their poor, sorry already-taxed-to-death hides. We've included these convenience checks - use them as if this money actually belonged to you.


Your fellow accomplices in the U.S. Senate

why i hate the new york times

Few things are more repellent than newspapers that are opposed to free speech for others. Yesterday, the New York Times editorialized about a bill in Congress that would help protect the internet (especially bloggers) from onerous Campaign Finance regulations. Unsurprisingly, the Times is against free speech:
The House bill pretends to be trying to protect the free speech rights of bloggers on the Internet. That is a legitimate concern, but relicensing soft-money bagmen is hardly the solution.

A far preferable alternative measure would fully protect the growing legions of bloggers, but not at the cost of turning the Internet into a tool for the abusive enrichment of candidates. A critical question is whether the Republican leadership will deny the public a fair debate over this issue by bottling up the alternative bill this week.
Boo hoo! The gatekeepers of old media will be bypassed and horror of horrors, those running for office will be able to speak directly to voters on the internet.

Spotted via Hit and Run.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

why i hate donald trump

Speaking of Trump, my girlfriend was telling me recently how much she enjoyed "The Apprentice". I told her I would never watch anything involving Donald Trump because I despised him. I've hated Trump ever since he tried to get the state of New York to seize an old woman's home so that he could turn it into a parking lot for one of his casinos:
Vera Coking, an elderly widow from Atlantic City, knows firsthand the power of unaccountable government agencies. The Institute for Justice successfully defended Vera against the condemnation of her home by a State agency that sought to take her property and transfer it—at a bargain-basement price—to another private individual: Donald Trump. Trump convinced the State agency to use its “eminent domain” power to take Vera’s home so he could construct a limousine parking lot for his customers—hardly a public purpose. And unfortunately, cases in which government agencies act not as protectors of constitutionally guaranteed rights, but instead as agents for powerful, private interests, have become all too common.

Thanks to IJ’s advocacy, Vera Coking won in court and continues to enjoy her home of more than three decades.
This was a rare win for property rights and a nice "screw you" to the Donald.

cinderella man

In keeping with the movie review thing we have going here, I finally saw Cinderella Man on DVD with my wife. Wow, this was one piece of great movie making, and certainly the best product I've ever seen Ron Howard deliver. Howard's depiction of urban life during the Great Depression, which he achieves mainly by focusing on just a couple of families, was more effective than most documentary footage I've seen on the subject. Even though you know how this story has to end, it holds a surprising amount of tension throughout. At about 2.5 hours long, it never drags. And it's quite refreshing to see a film about of a champion boxer who was a decent family kind of guy (as opposed to, say, Scorsese's "Raging Bull", which starred Robert De Niro as sleazebag and wife-beater Jake La Motta, and was a vastly over-rated film in my opinion).

Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger were great in their roles, and Paul Giamatti as manager Joe Gould was perfect, as if he was born to play that role. Granted, I know nothing of the factual story of Jim Braddock so I don't know where the story in the movie deviates from real life, but this was a movie after all and not a documentary. I especially liked the way Braddock returns his welfare money when he is able. Can you imagine that happening in today's entitlement society?

As in all boxing movies, the ring scenes are condensed and dramatized so it's a non-stop punching fest, with every blow landing on its target, unlike real boxing where boxers dance around, miss a lot, and end up locked around each other half the time. Given that, though, the action was extremely well done in a clear and realistic way, no fast-cutting like most of today's action movies where you can't see what's going on.

My wife, who pretty much hates boxing, also loved the movie, though she turned her head away during some of the fights. Overall, I can recommend this movie as great entertainment for everybody except small children.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

failure to launch

The girlfriend and I went to see "Failure to Launch" last night. I had heard bad reviews so I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. It's a decent movie with quite a few laugh out loud moments.

The only thing that bugged me about the movie is the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker's character, who gets paid to make guys fall in love with her so that they will move out of their parent's homes, is basically evil. She emotionally manipulates men, usually geeky losers obsessed with Star Wars, but in this case Matthew McConaughey. My GF accuses me of overanalyzing the movie, but I'm stumped as to how MM can fall in love with someone who betrays people for a living. Maybe he's used to it. He seems rather forgiving with his two best friends, who also act rather deceitfully and manipulative as well, willing to betray his confidence on an emotionally sensitive secret from his past. It also annoyed me that two of the supporting characters in the movie fall in love for no particular reason.

So thumbs up if you don't mind watching a bunch of amoral characters manipulate and deceive each other for your amusement.

Friday, March 10, 2006

snl: the best of steve martin

My wife and I recently watched SNL: The Best of Steve Martin on DVD. Steve Martin is a thoroughly entertaining actor and commedian. Not every one of his efforts pays off, but there's enough gems found throughout his 30+ year career that I believe he truly deserves the label of comic genius. He's hosted SNL so many times, and I remember so many funny bits he did on the show that I was really looking forward to this DVD.

Unfortunately, I think I got my expectations too high. It's starts off great, with one of the funniest things he ever did - opening the show with the "Not Going To Phone It In Tonight" song - that's as funny now as it was when it originally aired 15 years ago. The disc has a lot from his mid-70's stand-up routines, which I had memorized when I was in junior high school after listening to his records 20 times or more. Somehow, it just didn't seem funny on the DVD. I thought after all these years it would be hilarious again, but I still remember just about every word of those routines, and it just seemed kind of pathetic. To me, it was more like watching a historical documentary on mid-70s standup comedy than watching something that was actually supposed to be funny. I think this just shows how smart Steve Martin really is - he knew his brand of standup, as hilarious as it is when you first hear it, wasn't going to provide him a very long career, and he quickly got into comedic acting, which he became equally skillful at, if not better. Note: I did enjoy watching the "King Tut" performance, also from those early years - unlike the monologues, that seemed to age quite well.

In addition, many of the sketches that they chose for this disc were mediocre (like "Theodoric of York/Medieval Barber"), and a couple were quite bad (like the "Festrunk Brothers" - many people probably find them hilarious, but I don't get it). I remember much funnier sketches that were left off, such as his "Holiday Wish" routine. With so much Martin material they could have chosen from, the producers really could have done a much better job. It's not all bad - for example, there was a great Conehead sketch where Martin appears at the Conehead home as an IRS agent, and a hilarious ad for "Steve Martin's Penis Cream." Overall, I can still recommend renting the DVD for Steve Martin fans, just don't expect to be rolling on the floor for an hour and 15 minutes.

economic nationalism, or how to screw your friends

Bill Bonner writing in today's LRC has this to say regarding the House vote to bar Dubai Ports World from contracting to run U.S. ports:
The votes are in...the House Appropriations Committee voted 62-2 to bar Dubai Ports World, a United Arab Emirates–backed company, from holding contracts at U.S. ports.

"This is a national security issue," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, the chairman of the House panel, adding that the legislation would, "keep American ports in American hands."

Well, as patriotic as that sounds, the London-based Peninsular & Oriental Navigation Company previously owned the five U.S. ports in question. Last we checked, London was in Great Britain, not America. And what about the other foreign-operated shipping terminals in the United States? China already runs a terminal at the Port of Los Angeles and Singapore runs terminals in Oakland...are we going to shut those down?

Another major detail the House seems to have conveniently overlooked – the UAE are our allies. U.S. Navy ships call at the port of Dubai, and the U.S. Air Force uses UAE airfields to launch missions into Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the UAE donated $100 million to Katrina relief – more than four times all other countries contribution combined.

"The lopsided House committee vote shows that the bull market in economic nationalism rolls on," says Chris Mayer.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

who are you, woody allen?

From this AP article:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump joked that he would date his 24-year-old daughter, Ivanka - if he weren't her father.

Trump and Ivanka, a vice president of real estate development at the Trump Organization, appeared Monday on ABC's "The View" to promote her five-episode stint as a boardroom adviser on "The Apprentice."

When asked how he would react if Ivanka, a former teen model, posed for Playboy, Trump replied, "It would be really disappointing - not really - but it would depend on what's inside the magazine."

He added: "I don't think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her."

His comments drew laughs from the audience, and prompted "View" co-host Joy Behar to crack, "Who are you, Woody Allen?"
I'm not a big Donald Trump fan. I wonder how well he'd be doing without liberal bankruptcy laws. I also find it hard to respect somebody who trades his wives in for younger ones after he tires of them. I'm sure his wives know what they're getting into (well, maybe not Ivana, being the first one), but it's still a crappy thing to do to your children. According to Wikipedia, he vastly overstates his net worth. And then, of course, there's that stupid combover.

Monday, March 06, 2006

diet blogging

For the past two and a half weeks, I've been trying out Arthur De Vany's "Evolutionary Fitness" system of eating and exercising. I'm down 5 lbs. so far and I'm excited about keeping it up. De Vany bases his system on his understanding of current diet and exercise research, but interpreted through the model of human evolution. De Vany is working on a book, of course, and a sample chapter is available for purchase on his website. A free essay (PDF), is also available.

Briefly, De Vany advocates a system that closely resembles what humans ate and did more than 10,000 years ago. Basically, this means no processed foods, no sugar, no starches or whole grains and no milk. It is not a low carb diet, but carbs are limited to nutrient dense, but calorically low foods. The second part is exercise and he advocates intermittent, high intensity weight training.

De Vany weaves a pretty compelling argument for the health benefits of this system and I've already purchased the first chapter of the book. He's still working on the book, which will hopefully be out sometime this year.

kirby puckett, r.i.p.

Hall of Famer and Chicago native Kirby Puckett, who helped the Twins win World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, has died, one day after suffering a stroke. Short and stocky, he always seemed to radiate with energy. His career was cut short from glaucoma, now his life was cut short by a stroke. Goodbye, Mr. Puckett, and thanks for making the game that much more fun to watch.

the sunlight rule

On March 3, Congressman Ron Paul proposed an important change in House rules. Excerpts:
Mr. Speaker, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” In order to shine sunlight on the practices of the House of Representatives, and thus restore public trust and integrity to this institution, I am introducing the "Sunlight Rule." This measure amends House rules to ensure members have adequate time to study a bill before being asked to vote on it...

My proposed rule requires that no piece of legislation, including conference reports, can be brought before the House of Representatives unless it has been available to members and staff both in print and electronic versions for at least ten days. My bill also requires that a manager’s amendment making substantive changes to a bill be available in both printed and electronic forms at least 72 hours before a vote....
I believe this would be an extremely beneficial rule change, not only to cut down on last-minute requests for more pork, but also to give adequate time to consider lengthy bills such as the PATRIOT act. But I can just hear the objections already: "The terrorists aren't going to wait 10 days! We must be able to ram legislation through Congress in a couple of hours so we can protect you! Blah blah blah blah blah..."

Friday, March 03, 2006

why i quit hiv

Mathematicl biologist Rebecca V. Culshaw explains Why I Quit HIV on LRC today. It's a long article, but here's an excerpt:
...So why is it that only now have I decided that enough is enough, and I can no longer in any capacity continue to support the paradigm on which my entire career has been built?

As a mathematician, I was taught early on about the importance of clear definitions. AIDS, if you consider its definition, is far from clear, and is in fact not even a consistent entity. The classification "AIDS" was introduced in the early 1980s not as a disease but as a surveillance tool to help doctors and public health officials understand and control a strange "new" syndrome affecting mostly young gay men. In the two decades intervening, it has evolved into something quite different. AIDS today bears little or no resemblance to the syndrome for which it was named. For one thing, the definition has actually been changed by the CDC several times, continually expanding to include ever more diseases (all of which existed for decades prior to AIDS), and sometimes, no disease whatsoever. More than half of all AIDS diagnoses in the past several years in the United States have been made on the basis of a T-cell count and a "confirmed" positive antibody test – in other words, a deadly disease has been diagnosed over and over again on the basis of no clinical disease at all. And the leading cause of death in HIV-positives in the last few years has been liver failure, not an AIDS-defining disease in any way, but rather an acknowledged side effect of protease inhibitors, which asymptomatic individuals take in massive daily doses, for years...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

happy birthday, theodor seuss geisel!

Dr. Seuss, that is, who would have been 102 years old today. I've been reaquainted with his works the last couple of years as I've been reading them to my toddler. His books really are classics, and an enormously fun way to learn (and teach) reading skills.

goodbye, harry

I was shocked to learn today that two time LP presidential candidate, author and investment advisor Harry Browne died yesterday. Apparently he was stricken with some sort of neurological illness last summer.

Lew Rockwell has written a very respectful obituary here, and Brian Doherty remembers Harry in this post at Reason's Hit & Run.

introducing...the remote-control "spy" shark

This is pretty cool.
Hawaii (Mar 1 2006 18:16 EST) Imagine getting inside the mind of a shark: swimming silently through the ocean, sensing faint electrical fields, homing in on the trace of a scent, and navigating through the featureless depths for hour after hour.

We may soon be able to do just that via electrical probes in the shark's brain. Engineers funded by the US military have created a neural implant designed to enable a shark's brain signals to be manipulated remotely, controlling the animal's movements, and perhaps even decoding what it is feeling...