Friday, January 29, 2010

Just dropped in to see what condition jurisdiction is in

"White House asks Justice Department to look for other places to hold 9/11 terror trial"

The options seem pretty limited there -- the cities where the hijacked aircraft departed from, maybe, or the places where they crashed. But isn't it the role of the judge, not some Washington bureaucrat, to consider changes of venue? And the jury would still have to come from wherever the prosecution alleges the crime occurred:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law ... US Constitution, Amendment VI

The US District Court for the Southern District of New York may not be the only reasonable place to try the case, but it seems like the most reasonable place to try the case. It's where the most damage was done and where the largest number of victims died.

The usual suspects are still quacking for "trial by military tribunal," of course. Their case is weak. Military tribunals are a wartime instrument. The US declared war on Japan the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. It's now been more than eight years since 9/11 with no such declaration.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Typos and Search Engine Optimization

I hate typos. They drive me insane. A good part of my "day job" work involves hunting them down and killing them. Like many editors and proofreaders, though, I have a weakness: I'm often blind to typos in my own work. Why?

I blame Plato. My opinion, or at least working assumption, is that when I write something it resides in perfect, unblemished form in my brain -- and when I'm reading the typed, file-resident version of it, my eyes insist on seeing the ideal form rather than the mistakes that may have wormed their way into that latter version.

Anyway, yes, I make typographical errors, like the one in the title of a recent post on the US Senate election in Massachusetts.

What's interesting and cool is that that post shows up on the first page of Google results for the misspelling.

What's more interesting and cool is that I noticed the search result (and, for that matter, the typo itself) because I'm getting traffic from it.

I don't obsess too much over search engine optimization. If I did, I think I'd intentionally include typos in my posts so as to gravy train on traffic from the sizable "can't spell to save their lives" demographic. Just sayin'.

If Obama's not serious about freezing or cutting "defense" spending ...

... then he's not serious about freezing or cutting spending.

Glenn Greenwald elaborates on just how friggin' big and bloated the US "defense" budget is over at Salon. My shorter version:

The US spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined on "defense." It spends six times as much as the next-largest "defense" spender (China), and 29 times as much as the six top "rogue states" (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) combined.

And let's be truthful here: US "defense" spending is mostly just a gigantic corporate welfare program -- a way of redistributing wealth from the taxpayer to the politicians' corporate cronies (and if a few hundred thousand people have to die every few years to keep the gravy train running, no problem as long as most of those people are evil, swarthy furriners). The actual national defense requirements of the US come to a small fraction of the amount spent under that label. Politicians and corporate welfare queens like the label because they can call anyone who objects to spending under it "unpatriotic."

If Obama was serious about a discretionary spending "freeze," he'd include the Department of Defense in that freeze. If he was serious about balancing the budget, he wouldn't stop there, either. He'd propose a 25% cut to DoD over the three-year "freeze" period, and ask for a much larger cut over a longer time period.

So, now we know Obama isn't serious.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So much for the JooJoo

Check out the iPad. Gadzooks! An Apple tablet for the same price as Fusion Garage's ripoff of Michael Arrington's Crunchpad project!

Even better, this may drag down the price of the iPod Touch, or at least cause some used ones to start turning up cheap when their owners go for the full-size offering. I'm not in the market for a $500 tablet, but I'd like a Touch to use as a Skype wi-phone if it gets affordable enough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Credit where credits aren't due

Ilana Mercer concisely and elegantly makes a point that I've been harping on among big-L Libertarians for some time.

"Targeted tax credits" aren't "incremental moves toward liberty," they're just social engineering -- shifting the tax burden from those who spend their money the way bureaucrats decide they should spend it, and onto those who spend their money however they damn well please.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reasons for Radicals (to return to the Libertarian Party)

I don't spend a lot of time trying to convince radicals who've rejected (or left) the Libertarian Party to re-evaluate it (or return to it).

That's not because I don't want agorists, anarchists, voluntaryists, et. al in the LP. As a matter of fact, I very much do want them there.

I just figure that most radicals who've rejected or left the LP did so after a process of evaluation, and that they remain satisfied that the conclusions they reached are correct. If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't have to chase them, they'd be knocking on the door.

Just this once, though, I'm going to join in the chase.

The LP is at a critical juncture. Its national convention this May will probably be the battlefield upon which a decision is reached -- does the party finish its long swirl around the drain of its "right" wing's cargo cult fetishes and go down for good, or does its "left" retake it, revitalize it and make it into a useful instrument for the pursuit of freedom?

I expect to have more to say on this subject in March in a speech at the Free State Project's 2010 New Hampshire Liberty Forum (hint: The title of the speech is "What Is To Be Done?"), but Morey Straus is already presenting the argument for a radical recapture of the LP at Check it out ... and if you agree that the goal is a worthy one, get involved.

The political class is special

If you're the breast-feeding mother of a 12-week-old baby, don't even ask to be temporarily excused from jury duty unless you want to spend a night in jail or pay a $150 fine.

If you're a lowly construction worker who doesn't show up, well, you might end up cooling your heels in jail for three months before anyone notices.

If you're a politician, on the other hand, just alert the court that you won't be able to make it because you're busy that week. It's cool. You're not like those regular people, see?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Libertarian National Convention 2010: Official Site Up

The Libertarian Party's official convention site is up at

In the category of "not especially surprising surprises," see the registration page: The usual suspects are back at their perennial efforts to levy a poll tax on delegates.

The intent of the tax, which runs $99 and up ($49 and up after a kickback for patronizing a designated hotel) is to force all delegates to subsidize a luxurious venue and various extra-convention activities for the "privilege" of representing their state parties at the bylaws-required biennial business meeting which the membership has already paid for with its dues.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

To paraphrase George HW Bush and The Dude, "this will not stand, this aggression ..."

Resolved, that activities and amenities above and beyond the requirements for holding the required business sessions should be paid for by those who are interested in said activities and amenities. The Libertarian Party isn't -- or at least shouldn't be -- a welfare agency or an extortion racket.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coakley concedes

The Boston Globe reports that Democrat Martha Coakley has called her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, and congratulated him on his victory.

If the reported returns so far are accurate, it looks like Brown about 52%, Coakley about 47%. If that's true, then it's a pretty sad commentary on Massachusetts. Whodathunk that in the birthplace of the American Revolution, only 1 in 100 voters would support the only candidate who in any way stands for that Revolution's values?

Update on the oddsmaker angle: Tuesday morning, I swagged the outcome as Brown 49%, Coakley 46%, Kennedy 5%. The actual outcome seems to have been Brown 52.2%, Coakley 46.8%, Kennedy 1%.

Recent polls had Kennedy at the 5% I predicted. I should have guessed that "wasted vote syndrome" would bring that way down, but I was unduly optimistic in this case -- the "major party" candidates were just so godawful that I thought Kennedy's vote would stick because it had no other even nominally worthwhile candidate to go to.

I'd be interested to know where that 4% did go to. Rasmussen had Coakley as the second choice of Kennedy supporters by a 2-1 margin. If that is how the fallaway from Kennedy broke, then Brown was doing better, and Coakley worse, than I thought before they picked up their respective last-minute-poltroon votes.

Liberty for Massachusetts? Unlikely, but worth pursuing anyway

I'm taking a break -- just finished another 100 name/phone number matches for the Massachusetts Libertarian "Get Out The Vote" phone banks -- and I'd like to take a minute to formally endorse Joe Kennedy.

He's not one of "those" Kennedys, as he's gone out of his way to make clear (Democrat Martha Coakley's campaign has also been vocal in driving home that point, for obvious reasons).

This Kennedy is the pro-freedom candidate -- the only pro-freedom candidate -- in today's election to fill the US Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy's death.

Just to elaborate a bit on that point: If you're a Massachusetts voter and you vote for anyone but Joe Kennedy today, you're voting against freedom, baseball, apple pie, Mom and America.

Whether or not you're a Massachusettsian, if you're voting or working for or donating to or talking up any candidate except Joe Kennedy today, you're pissing on the graves of the Lexington and Concord Minutemen. You're spiking the cannon that Knox dragged down from Ticonderoga. You're making a mockery of the Boston Tea Party and you're dancing in the blood of Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Can Kennedy win? Well, yes -- if a plurality of Massachusetts voters decide to support him.

Is that likely to happen? Of course not. Libertarians haven't yet persuaded a plurality of Massachusetts voters that we represent their highest aspirations while the Republicans and Democrats represent nothing worthy of support.

Does it matter whether or not Kennedy wins? Yes, it does. Because he will not win, the Senate will remain 100% anti-freedom instead of becoming even a paltry 1% pro-freedom. Over the course of Ted Kennedy's unexpired term, it's likely that that one pro-freedom vote would have made a difference in any number of bills -- passing them, defeating them, or amending them to make them better.

Since he won't win, does it matter which of the two anti-freedom candidates wins? Not really.

There are differences between Brown and Coakley, and between their parties, but not differences substantial enough to merit supporting either one. Do you really care that much whether the creatures gnawing the flesh off your bones are coyotes or happen to be hyenas?

Voting for or otherwise supporting Joe Kennedy means never having to say you're sorry. It means knowing that you did the best you could do for Massachusetts and for America. That's something worth knowing about yourself even if 95% of the people around you couldn't, wouldn't, or didn't put down the Demopublican crack pipe.

Game Day in Taxachusetts

It's about 4am in Massachusetts right now. The polls open at 7am and close at 8pm (unless the rules have changed since November).

Prediction #1

Photo from fOTOGLIF
Scott Brown wins the election by 4-7%. Maybe more, but I think that's a reasonable projection.

All three candidates will be working their Get Out The Vote operations to the very last minute, but Brown and Kennedy have the advantage.

It's winter weather with snow and rain in the forecast. Democratic voters are already demoralized. Maybe they'll brave the cold and wind and sludge to vote, maybe they'll stay inside where it's nice and warm.

Brown voters are energized -- not for any particularly good reason, but hey, people in India get killed in senseless religious stampedes all the time, don't they?

Most Kennedy voters are ideological voters. They never expected their candidate to win. Although they're doing their best to make that happen, they'll vote come hell or high water to have their dissenting voices heard, to send their message, to register their preference in the face of the knowledge that that preference will not be realized ... this time.

Scientific Wild Ass Guess: Brown 49%, Coakley 46%, Kennedy 5%.

But I could be very wrong.

Prediction #2

There will be controversy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blogger v. WordPress: Case Study Redux

Original post here.

One thing I left out of the original argument was reliability.

I've seen Blogger go down. I've seen it go down for a few minutes. I've seen it go down for as long as an hour or so. It's not perfect. But ...

As of now, the newly self-hosted WordPress blog which got me off on this tangent in the first place has been down for most, if not all, of the last 12 hours ("Safari can’t open the page '' because the server where this page is located isn't responding").

Earlier, another self-hosted WordPress blog of which I'm very fond displayed its front page but returned 404s and server errors on article and comment clicks for much of Saturday.

Granted, the main self-hosted WordPress blog I run myself is a rather ramshackle affair (enough customization, baling wire and chewing gum that I'm afraid to upgrade it lest I break it and its database of more than 75,000 posts), so I can't really complain when it goes down ... but I do notice that it has a habit of returning 500 errors for ten minutes or so at the most inopportune times.

Blogger means (almost) never having to say "sorry -- my blog is broken, please come back later."

Friday, January 15, 2010

2010 Libertarian National Convention Update

A link, a title ("Official Gadfly!") and the offer of a beer certainly deserve reciprocity: Bruce Cohen has a convention information page up, which I expect he'll be updating with the latest scoop as he finds out more.

Unless something has changed, I can confirm that the Renaissance Grand and Suites is in fact the convention hotel -- the Libertarian National Committee met there last year and toured the facilities. Jim Lark and I had a beer in the hotel's Bistro Bar, which George Clooney fans will recognize from "Up in the Air." I haven't seen the movie yet, so I don't know if Sean Haugh and Thomas Hill's room is where the woman makes Clooney feel cheap.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Debunking a Scott Brown myth

"Scott Brown is the only person who can stop ObamaCare by being the 41st vote against cloture."

That, or some variant of it, is the latest excuse I'm hearing from the usual suspects who come up with a MOST IMPORTANT REASON EVAH! to vote for "the lesser evil" just this one time ... every time.

There are three kinds of lies right now: Lies, damn lies, and reasons to vote for Scott Brown in next week's special election to fill the US Senate vacancy created by Ted Kennedy's death. This whole "he can stop ObamaCare" schtick fits into all three categories. Here's why:

Can't make this stuff up

One guy gets ten years, the other awaits trial in a plot to kill Barack Obama when he was still a candidate:

Federal investigators have said the two gave statements about their plans, which included shooting at Obama from a speeding car while wearing white tuxedoes and top hats. Prosecutors have said investigators were looking for Schlesselman and Cowart on a tip from an informant when the two drove up to the home of Cowart's grandfather in a car emblazoned with a large swastika on the hood and the slogan "Honk if you love Hitler" on the back.

Why do I get the feeling that there aren't any Ph.D. committees eagerly awaiting dissertations from these two?

C4SS Bleg

This is not a "disinterested" bleg. I work for C4SS, and they pay me. Or rather, they pay me if you pay them. So please, pay them ;-)

As you can see, it's not a big budget operation. They lay out exactly where the money goes, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't cry for us, Argentina

Photo from fOTOGLIF
After all, the US government has $12.x trillion in above-board debt of its own, not to mention many more trillions in as-yet-unfunded alleged future liabilities.

Argentina's government is trying to get back in the borrowing line after a 2002 default. The country's Supreme Court just said they can't do that by liquidating central bank reserves to pay off the defaulted debt. The protester pictured above was among those who objected to the idea.

Anyway, interesting story, but I'm mainly posting it for the purpose of trying out Fotoglif, a free (in fact, supposedly a paying!) photo service.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The sad, sad fate of the Tea Party movement, Exhibit A

Q: What's the difference between Scott Brown and Dede Scozzafava?

A: Just having an "R" next to his name is enough for the Tea Party "leaders" who told us Scozzafava was the AntiChrist (here, for example, is a typical St. Louis Tea Party GOP sellout whine for Brown).

Somewhere in America, there may be a candidate whose very bones scream "Establishment Squish!" more loudly and shrilly than Scott Brown's ... but I wouldn't bet on it.

Here's a summary of Brown's big-government record from Small Government News (hat tip -- Aaron Biterman).

And just for giggles, here's his latest faux-populist on the one hand, "please, please, please mistake me for Mitt Romney" on the other, ad (hat tip: The Other McCain, who has apparently fallen for the Brown schtick):

Scott Brown is the measure of how far the Tea Party movement's standards have fallen -- or how much tighter the GOP's stranglehold on it has become -- in just a few short months.

The measure of whether a particular Tea Party group is still viable and honest is a simple one: Have they told sad sack GOP hack Brown to go pound sand and thrown every iota of their support to Joe Kennedy? If so, they may be legit. If not, they're nothing but fraudulent GOP astroturf.

Mark McGwire and "Performance-Enhancing Drugs"

From the ESPN story on Mark McGwire's admission that he used steroids during his Major League Baseball career:

Told by Costas that certain Maris family members have said that they now consider Roger Maris' 61 the authentic home run record, McGwire responded: "They have every right to."

And yes, they do have every right to ... but the whole thing is just kind of silly.

McGwire used "performance-enhancing drugs" (steroids).

Maris used at least one "performance-enhancing drug" (tobacco) and died of a disease (Hodgkins' lymphoma) associated with use of another (human growth hormone), although if he was using HGH at any time in his career he was certainly among the earliest to do so.

I wouldn't be surprised if both of them consumed coffee or cola before games, too.

Athletes have used "performance-enhancing drugs" ever since there have been athletes and substances thought to enhance their performance.

I remember the 1998 season and the Jim Rome argument, which I hope he stands by to this day, and which I consider dispositive.

The argument? "70."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Marriage apartheid on trial

From Ted Olson's opening statement:

During this trial, Plaintiffs and leading experts in the fields of history, psychology, economics and political science will prove three fundamental points:

First -- Marriage is vitally important in American society.

Second -- By denying gay men and lesbians the right to marry, Proposition 8 works a grievous harm on the plaintiffs and other gay men and lesbians throughout California, and adds yet another chapter to the long history of discrimination they have suffered.

Third -- Proposition 8 perpetrates this irreparable, immeasurable, discriminatory harm for no good reason.

And yes, we are talking about that Ted Olson, the conservative who served in the Bush administrion as the 42nd United States Solicitor General. Now in private practice, Olson recently elaborated on his reasons for taking this case in an op-ed for Newsweek.

In that editorial, Olson raises a 14th Amendment "equal protection" argument. While I consider that argument sound, and while the Ninth Circuit is the most likely venue in which to successfully argue it, it's a ballsy roll of the dice. Matter of fact, some anti-apartheid activists think it may be too ballsy.

I think that the argument is right, and that it should be pressed continuously, even when there's a risk that it will be rejected.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for taking a different approach that would effectively legalize same-sex marriage nationwide: Suing for enforcement of the Constitution's full faith and credit clause.

Harry Reid /= Trent Lott

Not that I have any desire to defend Reid, of course. He's a poster boy for government that's big, bad and burdensome. Should he step down from his Senate leadership post? Should he resign from the Senate altogether? Should he be sent packing in November? Yes to all three questions -- but not because he said "Negro." There are plenty of other, better reasons to send him back to the private sector.

To equate Reid's "Negro dialect" remark to Trent Lott's comments on Strom Thurmond is simply at variance with reality.

Here's the account, from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's new book, Game Change, of Reid's alleged offense:

Years later, Reid would claim that he was steadfastly neutral in the 2008 race ... But at the time, in truth, his encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he later put it privately

Now, here's what Trent Lott said about Strom Thurmond:

When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either."

Strom Thurmond ran for president as, effectively, a single-issue candidate. What was that single issue? Well, let's let Strom speak for himself:

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.

It's not even close.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Big Government, Big Business -- Conjoined Twins

That's the title of my latest column at the Center for a Stateless Society. Teaser:

Government is not and never has been a "counterbalance" to corporate power. In fact, it's historically been the primary enabler, the symbiotic partner, and a significant beneficiary of that power. The idea that an institution whose employees keep a revolving door spinning between Capitol Hill and the K Street offices of the corporate lobbies, an institution afloat in a sea of corporate campaign donations, an institution groomed to the express task of transferring money from the taxpayer's pocket to the corporate bottom line, can act as a "counterbalance" to corporate power is absurd on its face.

A corporation, from its birth, is a creature of the state. Absent the intervention of government on its behalf, no such entity could exist.

Speaking of C4SS:

- The first quarter 2010 fundraiser is on. Since my work there represents a significant chunk of my personal income, I'd much appreciate your support for the Center.

- Not only do I work there, I just got promoted -- to "Senior News Analyst" -- and got a new co-worker, Darian Worden. Read all about it.

Note to TSA, DHS, et al


Case in point #1: Horny dude ducks "security" rope to neck with girlfiend. TSA personnel panic, shut airport down for seven hours.

Case in point #2: Gardener from Milwaukee decides to bring home some honey from a visit to California. TSA personnel panic, fake chemical-induced illness so they can get away from stuff they think is going to explode, shut down airport.

Case in point #3: TSA dog panics, TSA shuts down airport for 90 minutes.

Case in point #4: Dazed stoner passenger fills comment card with Bizarre "Gilligan's Island" references. Pilot panics, summons fighter escort, flies 90 minutes back home instead of finishing trip.

Case in point #5: Passenger "bec[a]me belligerent and refused to leave the restroom. ... appeared to be intoxicated ..." Pilot panics, summons fighter escort, lands in Denver instead of San Franciso.

And that's just this week!

Disclaimer: No, I don't advocate ducking "security" ropes, sticking Gatorade® jugs full of honey in your luggage, rubbing your luggage with a Milkbone® right before leaving for the airport, writing Bob Denver inspired notes about your pteromerhanophobia, or getting drunk and hogging the Great White Porcelain God's airborne confessional.


Any or all of those things are weird annoyances at worst and require mild on-the-spot correctives at most. It's the reactions to them that are the real problem.

There's no nice way to put this: Those reactions objectively aid and abet al Qaeda. Every time some over-caffeinated donut shop commando frightens, irritates and delays hundreds or thousands of travelers because he can't tell the difference between a garden variety nuisance and a real threat, Osama bin Laden has a nice long laugh at America's expense.

TSA goons, airplane crews, and DHS middle managers (or whomever is running around dispatching expensive military aircraft for no discernible purpose) need to pull themselves together, strap on some friggin' brains, and stop imagining a wild-eyed jihadi behind every tray not properly locked in the upright position. For God's sake, who's in charge over there -- Barney Fife and Pamela Geller?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Blogger v. WordPress: Case Study

Smitty on the travails of moving The Other McCain from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress:

I think the plan was:

1. Go self-hosted.
2. ???
3. Profit!

Every blogging platform and CMS has its advocates, and I'm not going to argue that Blogger is "better than" WordPress or vice versa (I use both of them, and Drupal too).

I'm going to argue, however (again and at length) that Blogger is better than WordPress for The Other McCain. Here's why:

Video recommendation: Che!

No, not Steven Soderbergh's 2008 biopic. This is a 1969 film starring Omar Sharif as Che Guevara.

I didn't buy it for Omar Sharif, although I've been a fan of his since seeing Dr. Zhivago in high school -- in the Russian literature bloc of my World Literature class, we read Solzhenitsyn but watched Pasternak -- I bought it for ... get this ... Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. I just couldn't stand not to see what that was like.

Before I go any further, rental/purchase details: It costs $2.99 to rent for on-demand viewing from either iTunes or Amazon, but if you want to buy it, Che! is cheaper ($5.99 to Amazon's $9.99). I get a commission from Amazon (and this is my first chance to test out the "new Blogger"/Amazon integration gizmo), but I don't want to rip anyone off here.

Brief review after the jump.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

No comment?

The remodeling isn't done yet, but it's progressing.

I finally figured out that in order to get Disqus commenting back to keeping visible comment counts, I was going to have to load a fresh XML template instead of one I'd done anything with, which meant completely rebuilding my little tower of code/widget blocks and re-doing the three-column template mod.

Disqus is working perfectly now. It's a sweet system. You can comment as a guest or use your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo or OpenID login. It lets me control the order of comment display -- I prefer "oldest first," an option that those other guys (see below) say I don't need and can't have.

The bad news is that the old comments may be gone for good. I've imported them twice now and I'm not seeing them. Maybe there's a database refresh or something that has to occur first, or maybe they're just toast. I hate that, as there are some pretty cool set-tos I'd rather keep available, but if they're gone they're gone.

Either way, I don't blame Disqus -- I blame JS-Kit.

Fear and Loathing in Pasadena

It ain't there yet, but it's coming later today for Robert Stacy "Roll, Tide, Roll" McCain, who managed to round up reader financing for a trip to cover the 2010 Citi BCS National Championship Game.

I kicked in five bucks myself for the back end of the trip. I expect he'll have developed a hankering for a consolation bottle of MD 20/20 by the time Texas finishes mauling Alabama.

Okay, so maybe the Longhorns won't maul the Tide, but I'm still picking Texas by three.

Update: Well, if you bet my line you lost. And Stacy will probably be even more insufferably smug than usual for months now. That's the way it goes.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Quibble, I shall

Quoth Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journal yesterday:

This was once a familiar line of criticism: Big business's sin was that it wasn't entrepreneurial enough. If given the opportunity, business would use government to form cartels and suppress competition. Free markets must thus be protected from the grasp of the corporate monster. The way to bring big business down is by deregulating even more.

If this sounds twisted and counter-intuitive, that's because it is. This is an argument that might have sounded good in 1979 but for it to make sense today one has to disregard the wreckage all around us courtesy of three decades of regulatory rollback.

Figures from the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, DC:

Total number of pages in the Federal Register as of 1979: 77,498
Total number of pages in the Federal Register as of 2004: 78,851

Yes, that number has gone down (to as low as 47,418 pages) and up (to as high as 87,012 pages) in the intervening years, but while there are multi-year trends within the narrative, there's no clear overall trend -- and the bottom line is that there were 1.7% more pages of federal regulations in 2004 (the last number LLS offers figures for) than in 1979. How do you get "three decades of regulatory rollback" from that?

I have a theory

And it's even a conspiracy theory, sort of, even though I try to stay away from those. Here it is:

The White House and the Democratic National Committee want to lose at least one house of Congress this November.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Instead of a review, by a man who hasn't seen the movie yet

"The movie," of course, is Avatar. I want to see it. I plan to see it. I just haven't got around to seeing it yet.

So why blog about it? Well, the title of an LA Times article by Patrick Goldstein caught my eye over at memeorandum: "'Avatar' arouses conservatives' ire."

[G]uess who hates the movie? America's prickly cadre of political conservatives. ... As a host of critics have noted, the film offers a blatantly pro-environmental message; it portrays U.S. military contractors in a decidedly negative light; and it clearly evokes the can't-we-all-get along vibe of the 1960s counterculture. These are all messages guaranteed to alienate everyday moviegoers, so say the right-wing pundits -- and yet the film has been wholeheartedly embraced by audiences everywhere, from Mississippi to Manhattan.

It may be the conservatives who are bashing Avatar, but I think maybe the person who should be most worried by it is President Barack Obama.

OK, now I've got the re-theming bug

My original goal was to convert to "new Blogger" in a way that faithfully re-created KN@PPSTER's previous theme. Not quite there yet, and I think I'm going to take a break and consider just going in a whole new direction with layout, etc. If there's gotta be a change, might as well take it all the way.

Update: Still a lot of work to do on colors/background images, but it's starting to come together. I switched from the "Rounders 4" theme to the plain "Rounders" because The Blogger Guide had a nifty tutorial for putting in two right sidebars (they had a two-sidebar tutorial for "Rounders 4," but it was one right, one left). I'm not big on the pastel green and blue thing, so I'll keep fiddling with it.

I seem to have already broken the Disqus commenting -- it's there, but it no longer shows comment counts, just "view comments." Any ideas? I'll see if they have a FAQ that covers it.

Update, 01/07/10: After diddling around quite a bit, I haven't figured out a way to get Disqus commenting back to the format I want (displaying comment counts, etc.). I also can't tell if the old comments have imported yet (I don't think they have).

It looks like the only way I'm going to get where I want to go in general is to revert to the old "classic" template and start the upgrade from scratch. Which I will now do. Hopefully I can properly re-implement Disqus (or Intense Debate -- I may try that this go-around) AND restore the old comments AND keep the few comments that have come in since the upgrade.

The Gitmo detainees: Who are they?

Andy Worthington put three years and a lot of work into identifying and chronicling the stories of all 779 people who've been held in the Guantanamo Gulag. Here's the list, with basic information and cross-references to Worthington's book, The Guantanamo Files.

The book, says Worthington, is "based on an exhaustive analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon (plus other sources)." It includes a narrative of the establishment and operation of the facility, a chronology of prisoner seizures, and the detailed stories of about 450 of the prisoner, as well as contextual/circumstantial information on the rest.

Note: This is not a review -- I haven't read the book yet. It sounds fascinating, though, and is probably the most detailed and factually honest account of Gitmo we're going to get until and unless Gitmo produces a Solzhenitsyn.

The temporary blogroll solution is ...

"What have you done for me lately?"

My old blogroll was huge -- so huge that I had to break it down into five separate categories and implement a script to collapse them, or the sidebar would have been like, eight miles tall, dude. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I tried to include every blog that I found interesting, any blog that linked here, anything I thought KN@PPSTER's readers might find useful.

Then came the transition to "new Blogger," and the script that drove that collapsible scheme didn't pass muster with Blogger's widget input apparatus.

I may bring the old massive blogroll back -- when and if I have time to validate all the links and punch them into a widget and find a way to make that widget display them collapsibly without bringing the Google XML Gawds down on my head.

For the moment, though, I'm going with eReferrer, a service that presents a list of inbound links, in order by just how many readers they're sending this way. A sort of meritocratic reciproll, if you will. While I don't necessarily value blogs solely on the basis of how much traffic they get or how much of that traffic they shift to me, it was the first workable stopgap that I came across.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Another Massachusets mystery solved ...

Methinks Republican Scott Brown -- and the usual suspects -- doth protest too much about Democrat Martha Coakley's absence from the campaign trail.

On the basis of the evidence ... well, we've all seen Mrs. Doubtfire, right? I can see how the constant wardrobe changes and minor issues tweaks would wear the candidate out and make a vacation for one of his/her two personae seem like a good idea. But don't lay the complaints on so thick, Sco ... Marth ... whoever you are. We're onto you.

Go, Joe!

Warning: Possible blog breakage coming

I've been putting off switching to "the new Blogger" scheme for some time, but now I'm up against a bit of a wall. Like this:

For a long, long time, I've used Haloscan's third party commenting service, and I love it. Awhile back, Haloscan was acquired by another outfit, JS-Kit, and now they're moving to a paid service called "Echo." The Haloscan scheme you're probably used to by now is going away.

I don't object to paying for premium service (the price is right -- $9.95 per year, but I've already tried Echo over at Rational Review, and it's already presenting problems.

The first issue I had led me to a support thread in which JS-Kit essentially informed users "we know how you should have your comments displayed (reverse chronological order), and if you think you'd rather have it some other way (chronological order), well, tough."

So, I'm looking at a couple of other options -- going back to regular Blogger comments, or converting to Disqus or Intense Debate. I'm most likely going to have to bite the bullet and convert to "new Blogger" to make either of the latter happen, and there are other reasons to make the jump anyway.

So, if you arrive here and the blog looks broken, it's because I've done the conversion and haven't finished cleaning up any resulting messes yet. That whole thing will probably start in about oh, five minutes.

Update: The horror! I can't even convert my existing template at all! I assumed I could just do that, with some possible breakage, but noooooooo, I have to pick one of their pre-fab jobs. So ... maybe later.

Update 2: Okay, went ahead and took the plunge. I've got a lot of re-wiring to do to get the thing back into something like the state it was. I've implemented commenting by Disqus, and have uploaded nine files of Haloscan export comments that should be re-imported over the next few hours. The script that drove my collapsible/expandable blogrolls trips an error in Blogger, so I'm going to have to find a different solution there.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

My ghost story

My elder son is into all the weird stuff -- UFOs, strange creatures, ghosts. We've discussed what it means to be "superstitious," versus "skeptical," of course, and he's actually quite the skeptic. He finds these topics interesting, but tries not to be lured into unsupported belief. That's all good and well -- the way I see it, kids learn more when they're free to explore the things that excite them, so he reads a lot, and watches a lot of TV/film (mostly History Channel type material) related to these kinds of topics. In 2008, I treated him to a Halloween special: The first house we hit on trick-or-treat rounds was the house in which the events which inspired The Exorcist took place -- it's a few blocks from our own home. He also likes fictional portrayals.

So anyway, he picked out Paranormal Activity as our Saturday night family DVD rental (Tamara picked District 9, also quite interesting, for Friday night). Quite a flick, especially considering it was made for $15,000. Suspension of disbelief was pretty easy. It was easy to empathize with the characters. I'm not going to try to give it a full review, but if you're into "that kind of movie," you'll probably like it (I'm not, especially, but I didn't want my 90 minutes back).

Which led to Daniel asking me about my "ghost story" again, which led to me doing a little Googling, which led to me being able to show him photos of the very apartment in which said story occurred.

And then I thought to myself, "you know, I really need to get something new up on the blog." And after that I thought, "you know, maybe someone else out there has lived at 521 E. Elm, Apt. 4, Springfield Missouri and had the same experience, or maybe someone has a rational explanation for the experience, because I don't. And maybe some of those someones will notice my blog entry and let me know about their experiences or explanations."

Note well: I'm calling this a "ghost story" not because I believe in ghosts, but because I figure that's what most people will consider it on its face. What it actually is is a story of an unexplained series of not especially dramatic events. So, here goes:

I lived in the apartment in question in late 1993 and early 1994, with my then-fiancee (later wife, now ex-wife). It comprised the right half (if one faces the building from the front) of the top floor of a two-story house which was divided into four apartments.

If you look at the photos, I can describe the layout: The exterior photo is of the front of the house.

The kitchen (fairly obvious, second photo) was at the rear of the building, opening onto a screened porch which in turn opened onto a metal exterior staircase leading to the parking area behind the building.

The third photo is of the bedroom, which is at the front of the house. The closed door to the left leads to an interior staircase which in turn leads to the front entrance, with doors to the other three apartments similarly situated. The open door on the right leads into a small living room.

The fourth photo is taken from the kitchen. The hallway terminates at the living room. A door on its left leads to the bathroom. The right wall is all closets/cabinets.

So anyway, here's the ghost story part:

Several times (four, I think) -- all except once, from the bedroom, the other time from the bath -- we (from the bedroom; I was alone at home and taking a bath for the other one) heard noises coming from the living room. The noises were those of a quiet, leisurely dinner party: Low conversation among several people, tinkling glasses, soft music.

These noises never occurred when an actual party, or even any audible activity, was going on in another apartment. The bathroom incident happened in the afternoon when I was the only person in the building; most of the bedroom incidents in the very early morning hours, and our fellow tenants were not party types, nor when asked did they say that they had had company, etc.

Our reaction, from both bedroom and bathroom, was to walk to the door of the room and open it (as I've mentioned, the bedroom door opened onto the living room, the bathroom door opened onto the hall). At the moment either of us opened the door, the party noises would cease ... and the back door of the apartment would audibly slam shut.

The thing is, on several such occasions, the back door was to my certain knowledge not only already shut, but locked. At least twice, I ran immediately out onto the back porch to see if someone had been leaving another apartment to go to a car out back. Nobody present, no strange cars. And another apartment's door slamming shut would not likely have produced the "vacuum effect" in our apartment that this did, anyway (loose paper on a table in the living room shifting from the air current produced by the closing of the door, for example).

So, no really scary stuff -- just a recurring set of very similar events for which I've never come up with a satisfactory explanation.

The unsatisfactory but obvious "ghost story" explanation is that we were hearing a party from some previous time being re-lived by some of its now-departed-from-this-existence participants. Which, of course, has a certain idle conversation charm to it and is very interesting to 11-year-olds who are fascinated with "paranormal" stuff.

There are other semi-, but only semi-, satisfactory explanations. Maybe the building was located in a spot where there was a weird acoustic effect that pulled noise of certain frequencies (tinkling glass, low conversation, soft music frequencies) but not others (the guy who lived there flushing the toilet frequency or the midnight someone-is-beating-his spouse-and-she's-screaming-bloody-murder frequency) from another nearby building into our living room. That one's only semi-satisfactory because it doesn't explain the back door slamming shut exactly as another door was opened every time. Or maybe someone was messing with our heads ... but if so I'm not sure who would have been doing so or why they'd have picked that particular way of doing so. My previous spouse? I don't think she knew where I was living for most of the timeframe in question, nor does it strike me as her style.

Anyway, feel free to share your "ghost story" from this apartment (or hell, any other venue -- the more the merrier) or to explain mine away. Especially if you click on one of those Amazon links.

Disclaimer, because it occurs to me that there might be litigious sorts out there: I have no interest in damaging the rental or sale value of the apartment/building in question, and I hope nobody takes it that way. There were no bloodstains on the walls, demon-possessed girls crawling on the ceiling, etc. -- just some light party noises and a shutting door. Hell, you should be willing to pay a little extra for the chance to have a "ghost story" of your own to pass on to your kids, right?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Where they are now

When people help me inflate my already oversized ego by name-checking me and making me look more influential than I am, I try to return the favor. Usually, I'm not actually giving as good as I'm getting because these guys are already more well-known than I am anyway, but it's worth the old college try. Three to whom I am in debt for perpetual reciprocal cyber-nods:

The Other McCain has moved from his perfectly serviceable Blogger site ( to a new WordPress installation.

NTTAWWT. OK, yes, there is something wrong with that. Nothing against WordPress (I use it for several sites I run), but it seems like a silly idea to me. When you've pulled down three million hits in two years at one location, the last thing you want to do is send all incoming main-page permalinks to a site that's not where you actually live any more.

On the other hand, I'm sure Stacy can be silly and wrong just as effectively on WordPress as he can on Blogger, IYKWIMAITYD.

David Weigel, late of Reason (and still, I believe, a contributing editor there) has been with The Washington Independent for awhile now, casting his gimlet eye on the doings of the American right in short form. Dirty job. Glad he's there to do it for all us sinners.

It's nice to see Liberty magazine putting more of the print edition's content online in the Liberty Unbound site's "free content" section. That way, when Andrew Ferguson name-checks me in the "Reflections" section, I can just link to it instead of having to lug the paper copy all over the place to show it off. You really should subscribe, though.