Monday, March 30, 2009

Exactly What Bad Drivers Deserve

Perhaps the best xkcd comic ever (click image to enlarge):



If anyone were able to actually go around Iowa City doing this to people who don't know how to park, I think they'd deserve a medal.

Good Discussion Of Marijuana On CNBC


(Via Radley Balko.)

It's great to see this issue being treated seriously in the mainstream media.

So, all of you prohibitionists, are the experts who advocate for legalization in this CNBC segment just a bunch of pot heads trying to justify their vice?

Religion + Politics = Global Disaster


(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

This is nothing short of insane. Anyone who asserts that we need not be concerned about human-caused CO2 emissions because only God will decide when the world ends has no place on a local school board let alone in the legislature of the most powerful nation on earth.

Sadly, this is just one more incident proving that the GOP base is not reality-based. These people don't care at all about empirical reality. And that's worse than ridiculous--it's terrifying.

Update:

Another example of the base not being reality based: Wired has a great article detailing the ridiculousness of the anti-science crusaders attempting to hijack the Texas educational system.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Science Saturday: Just A Theory


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18623)

Topics covered:
A sad fate for out-of-work science writers... John oddly cheered by news about prostate exams... George’s sleepover at the Vatican Observatory... The postmodern flavor of Galileo’s persecutors... Ancient violence and the fear of being eaten... Why John’s hoping for the end of war...

Science, Philosophy, And The Mind

From Andrew Sullivan:
Philosopher Alva Noe:
Imagine that we find the Holy Grail of neurobiology, the patterns of neural activation that correlate perfectly with different events in our mental lives. We would still never understand or make sense of why those correlations exist. There is no intrinsic relationship between the experience and the neural substrates of the experience. We always need to look at what factors bring the two together. The environment, other people, our needs and desires -- all these things exist outside the brain and have to be seen as essential parts of our selves and consciousness. So we aren't just our brains, we're not locked inside our craniums; we extend beyond our skulls, beyond our skin, into the world we occupy.

This doesn't strike me as even mildly profound. In fact, it seems to be nothing but pointless hand-waving.

Of course one must take the stimuli we get from the outside world into account when delivering a full account of the physical processes that underlie consciousness. And so what? That doesn't mean we can't make sense of how our minds work. Why would it? Such an observation is no refutation of even the most hardcore physicalist reductionism, just a useful reminder that such a project involves more matter than what is contained within any individual human skull. At the risk of being excessively flippant: Duh.

Armed with nothing better than this kind of argument, I have difficulty imagining how much of the traditional philosophy of mind won't come crashing down as empirical science continues to expand its explanatory power regarding the functionality of the human brain/mind.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Homosexuality, Christianity, And Society

From Andrew Sullivan:
I went through this myself - being gay and Christian and struggling to reconcile the two. It is never easy, but the voices of gay Christians, especially the young, are changing the world and the church in ways that, in my view, Jesus would embrace and rejoice in. Here's a trailer from an upcoming DVD you can buy here, "Through My Eyes." Even those orthodox Christians who refuse to compromise on Biblical literalism would, I think, benefit from listening to the experiences and testimony of the people they are actually talking about:



I also suggest reading Sullivan's excellent post today about the irrational fear that the far-right has regarding the mainstream acceptance of homosexuality.

On a much lighter note, check out this exploration of how patrons in a sports bar react to a gay couple:


(Via Joe. My. God.)

"Obama: Yup, We're At War In Pakistan"

Wired's Danger Room blog reports:
Perhaps you were wondering whether or not the U.S. was really at war in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan. Well, President Obama just put those questions to rest.

With everyone from Hillary Clinton to Robert Gates to General David Petraeus at his side, Obama announced this morning "a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." Not Afghanistan, with an occasional cross-border drone strike. Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Continue reading.

I highly recommend reading Danger Room on a regular basis. The writers there provide some of the best reporting on military issues that I've ever found.

Papa Obama Knows Best

It’s a good thing we have President Obama leading this country. Without his enlightened guidance, ordinary little people such as ourselves would likely wander blindly, unsure of what path our lives should take.

But because we have Obama’s noble example to follow, we all know exactly what we should do.

To start with, school is important. As the president has said, dropping out of high school isn’t just a bad decision because it limits one’s options later in life. If people don’t live up to their maximal educational potential, they’re letting everyone down. And if one doesn’t live up to society’s expectations, how can one ever hope to have a fulfilling life?

Though studying the liberal arts or sciences at a four-year college isn’t for everyone, those who can excel at such pursuits are obligated to do so. An education isn’t just a way to expand one’s horizons and increase one’s earning potential. It’s a way to increase productivity.

Being maximally productive is key not because it allows a person to accumulate wealth that can be spent in the pursuit of happiness but because it benefits the whole community.

If a sharp-witted young woman is capable of success in law school, she possesses the ability to become a civil-rights attorney, a law professor, a legislator, or even president. In all of those positions such a person would be empowered to help those in need. Living as a public servant, she could attain the highest virtue, which is serving one’s fellow human beings.

And we all know that because Obama tells us so.

As he continually stressed during his campaign, the president knows in his heart that we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Logically, since we are obligated to provide for our fellow men and women, failing to choose the career that adds the most value to the economy is wrong.

For example, if our hypothetical young woman chooses to become a writer instead of a lawyer, she won’t be able to provide nearly as much practical assistance to her community.

If rather than studying political science and law, such a person were to study creative writing, she’d be unable to become a civil-rights attorney or law professor and far less likely to be in a position to even consider running for elected office. Especially if she never becomes a particularly popular author in her lifetime, such a woman would never produce as much tangible wealth for society through her labors. Perhaps working a simple service job to pay her minimal living expenses, our selfish writer wouldn’t end up paying nearly as much in taxes to her local, state, and federal governments. And without this much-needed tax revenue, those who, like Obama, have done the right thing and chosen to live the ideal life of public servitude won’t be able to help society as much as they could have if our hypothetical young woman had done her duty and worked herself into a higher tax bracket.

One may object that the young woman’s own satisfaction with her life would be greater if she were to live as she sees fit, but that would be missing the point.

The motivation to succeed ought not come merely from the desire to fulfill one’s own dreams. That’s just crass. As Obama has shown us, simply supporting oneself and refraining from harming others is not enough. Each and every one of us also has the moral obligation to serve the interests of humanity at large. And the best way to do that is unquestionably to be as much like the president as possible.

After all, reflecting on history, who is it who has done the world the most good? Is it service-minded politicians like Obama or self-serving writers, inventors, and entrepreneurs who strike out on their own individual paths and live by their own unique standards?

It’s not even a close contest.

(Cross-posted at the Daily Iowan's main site.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obama Is A Paradigmatic Political Hack

The president clearly knows better than this:



All that the marijuana question's popularity says about the people who voted for it is that they actually know how to think clearly and independently about drug policy. This is in contrast to Obama who, though he has to be aware that the prohibition of marijuana is even sillier than the prohibition of alcohol, is still willing to parrot the conventional wisdom to maintain the support of the ignorant. And that's not change I can believe in.

So welcome to my long list of political hacks, Mr. President. You're just the latest addition to a long and ignoble list.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Love In The Time Of Commenters



Topics covered:
Ann gets engaged to one of her blog’s commenters... Is the internet full of shy, lonely men?... Are women always in it for the man’s money?... Ann accuses Obama of excessive frivolity... Should we be more freaked out about the economy?... Reviving the Althouse vs. BhTV commenter rivalry...

The Big Picture: Mexico's Drug War

This is the main result of the US and Mexican governments' war on drugs (click image to enlarge):



Go to the Big Picture section on the Boston Globe's site for the whole photo slide show.

Stay Informed With DI Twitter Accounts

Are you a news junkie? Do you love finding out the latest breaking information as soon as it goes public? Or are you just interested in following a particularly obscure topic that doesn’t get mentioned often in your area newspapers or TV news broadcasts?

If you answered affirmatively to any of the above questions, there’s an increasingly popular online communications service you should check out. It’s called Twitter. And it’s free and simple to use.
Those who like getting the most up-to-date information from their local media sources have plenty of options on Twitter, even in eastern Iowa. The Daily Iowan, the Gazette, the Iowa Independent, and the Little Village all post information and links to full stories on their accounts. Numerous other regional, national, and global news outlets have accounts as well.

Here at the DI, we maintain several Twitter accounts. Our Metro section’s account, which can be found at Twitter.com/TheDailyIowan, sends out breaking news alerts as well as headlines from and links to top stories from the daily paper. Offering a more interactive and personable online presence, we also have an account at Twitter.com/DrDaily. But if you’re looking for updates that are more outspoken and provocative, then Twitter.com/DIOpinions is for you. There you’ll find links to a wide variety of sites with information related to some of the most frequently discussed topics on the Opinions page. Finally, Daily Iowan TV also maintains a presence on the service at Twitter.com/DailyIowanTV.

But what makes Twitter unique?

Perhaps the most initially confusing aspect of this service is that it limits users’ updates to 140 characters (letters, numbers, and symbols) each. That’s only two or three sentences and it severely limits the amount of information that a single Twitter message, also called a Tweet, can convey. But that’s part of the point. Twitter updates keep people informed in real time. The most important thing is getting the headline out there as fast as possible. But one can also include links in the updates that allow people to click through to read the whole story.

However, the main reason behind limiting Twitter updates to 140 characters is that Twitter is designed to integrate with one’s cell phone. After a person has signed up for an account at Twitter.com, he or she can then go to the settings menu and follow simple instructions to link that account with a particular cell-phone number. Having done this, one can then receive updates from users of one’s choosing as text messages. And it’s also possible to send texts from one’s own cell phone that then post as updates on one’s Twitter page. This way, people no longer have to either be working on a computer or have a mobile Internet device with them in order to remain aware of what’s going on in the world.

Twitter also has many other interesting uses and features, but most of them are better discovered online than described in print. So start up an account, and give it a try. It’s a whole new way to interact with your news outlets of choice — and give us feedback, both negative and positive.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Compelling Pro-Marriage Equality Testimony


(Via Slog.)

How can anyone with a conscience say no to that kid? No wonder the Vermont State Senate passed the marriage equality bill by such a commanding margin.

Update:

Commenter Peggy writes:
Little James Neiley is a total pawn.

I agree with Yasmin Nair's take on this whole debacle.

My response:
Were 17-year-old black kids who took part in activism against Segregation in the 1960's pawns, too?

Have you ever even thought about what your view on this issue would be if you were gay?

I wish I had been half as brave as him when I was 17. I didn't even feel comfortable starting to come out until I was 21.

Peggy:
Save your comparisons to racism. Not even in the same league.

Nieley may be sincere but he's sincerely wrong.

He's going to spend the rest of his life proving himself above and beyond what is necessary - now that's stress!

Me:
Again I ask, have you ever even thought about what your view on this issue would be if you were gay?

Peggy:
What would your view be if therapy had been made available to you as a young man and you were able to re-orient your sexual attraction?

I can't promote anything that presents a danger to one's physical health.

Me:
First, mainstream medical science views such "therapy" as a hoax. There's no good research supporting it. About the only thing that's been determined from such studies is that being in an environment that is hostile to one's sexual orientation substantially increases the risk of teen suicide.

Second, my sexual behavior is no more dangerous than that of most of my heterosexual friends. I have never had sexual intercourse without a condom and am not promiscuous. Plenty of my straight male friends have more sex and are less likely to use protection than I am.

Finally, I'm happy with who I am. Even if given some hypothetical opportunity to become heterosexual, I would decline it.

But Scalia Really Is A Homophobe

Fox News is slamming Barney Frank for calling Scalia a homophobe:


(Via Towleroad.)

But here's Scalia in his own words, as written in well-known dissenting opinions. I'll allow him to speak for himself.

Romer v. Evans:
The Court's opinion contains grim, disapproving hints that Coloradans have been guilty of "animus" or "animosity" toward homosexuality, as though that has been established as Unamerican. Of course it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible--murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals--and could exhibit even "animus" toward such conduct.

Lawrence v. Texas:
Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.

...

One of the most revealing statements in today’s opinion is the Court’s grim warning that the criminalization of homosexual conduct is “an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres.” It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed. Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as “discrimination” which it is the function of our judgments to deter.

Scalia is clearly saying that "murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals" are morally equivalent to adult, consensual homosexual conduct. That is a paradigmatic example of homophobia. Equating being gay with murder or cruelty to animals is just so absurd that those who do must be motivated by either ignorance or hate.

Progressives Are Less Hackish Than Conservatives

Glenn Greenwald writes:
One of the linchpins of the Bush presidency, especially during the first term (and well into the second, until he became a major political liability), was the lock-step uncritical reverence – often bordering on cult-like glorification – which the “conservative” movement devoted to the "Commander-in-Chief." An entire creepy cottage industry arose – led not by fringe elements but by right-wing opinion-making leaders – with cringe-inducing products paying homage to Bush as "The First Great Leader of the 21st Century" (John Podhoretz); our "Rebel-in-Chief" (Fred Barnes); "The Right Man" (David Frum); the New Reagan (Jonah Goldberg); "a man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius" who is our "Big Brother" (John Hinderaker); and "the triumph of the seemingly average American man," the supremely "responsible" leader who, when there's a fire, will "help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, 'Where's Sally'?" (Peggy Noonan).

...

Whenever I would speak at events over the last couple of years and criticize the Bush administration’s expansions of government power, extreme secrecy and other forms of corruption, one of the most frequent questions I would be asked was whether "the Left" -- meaning liberals and progressives -- would continue to embrace these principles with a Democrat in the White House, or whether they would instead replicate the behavior of the Right and uncritically support whatever the Democratic President decided. Though I could only speculate, I always answered -- because I believed -- that the events of the last eight years had so powerfully demonstrated and ingrained the dangers of uncritical support for political leaders that most liberals would be critical of and oppositional to a Democratic President when that President undertook actions in tension with progressive views.

Two months into Obama’s presidency, one can clearly conclude that this is true.

Continue reading.

If only we libertarians could ever get one of our own in the White House, I'm pretty confident we'd be even more critical of her or him than most liberals have been of Obama.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Guantanamo State Of Mind"

Jacob Sullum writes for Reason:
In January 2002, the Pentagon began imprisoning men it described as “very hard cases”—“the worst of the worst” terrorists in American custody—at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the next seven years it released more than 500 of them. “What’s left,” Vice President Dick Cheney declared in the final week of the Bush administration, “is the hard core.” That was a few days before the Pentagon released half a dozen more.

Unless the Bush administration recklessly loosed hundreds of hardened terrorists on the world, its initial descriptions of the detainees were mistaken. That pattern of error reinforces the argument against allowing the executive branch to wield the unchallengeable authority it asserted at Guantanamo.

As President Obama proceeds with his plan to close the prison, he should recognize that Guantanamo is not so much a place as a state of mind. It’s an attitude that says: We know who the bad guys are, and we’re not about to let anyone endanger national security by second-guessing us.

Continue reading.

Super-kites To Tap High-altitude Wind


(http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/492)

Juan Enriquez Explains The Biology Revolution


Juan Enriquez Explains The Biology Revolution At TED 2009 from singularityhub on Vimeo.

(Via Singularity Hub.)

F.H. Buckley On "Libertarian Paternalism"

From Reason:
Reason.tv caught up with F.H. Buckley of George Mason University to discuss his new book, Fair Governance: The Enforcement of Morals, and the appointment of "libertarian paternalist" Cass Sunstein as regulations czar in President Obama's administration.

Can certain rules make us more free? If opt-out rights are great, why not expand them? Are we becoming too risk-averse as a society? Is "libertarian paternalism" a dangerous oxymoron? Watch now for answers.


(http://reason.tv/video/show/711.html)

Law Professors Discuss The Politics Of Emergencies


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18503)

Topics covered:
Executive power in a time of emergency... Can the president change reality?... Obama’s political Ponzi scheme... Secrecy in the Obama administration... Jack vs. Eric: Should we fear the modern presidency?... Imagining an executive branch 2.0...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Portia DiRossi Apologizes For Being Married


(Via Fark.)

Medicine In The Information Age

From Singularity Hub (via Slashdot):
Did you ever stop to think how silly and also how dangerous it is to live our lives with absolutely no monitoring of our body’s medical status? Years from now people will look back and find it unbelievable that heart attacks, strokes, hormone imbalances, sugar levels, and hundreds of other bodily vital signs and malfunctions were not being continuously anticipated and monitored by medical implants. We can call this concept body 2.0, or the networked body, and we need it now!

The trio of biomedicine, technology, and wireless communication are in the midst of a merger that will easily bring continuous, 24×7 monitoring of several crucial bodily functions in the years ahead. Unfortunately, as is often the case with medical products, the needed innovations are either already developed or will be soon, but some of the best commercial products won’t make it to the market until years of testing have proven their safety.

Continue reading.

And here's a video from that post:



This technology may be the best way for us to radically decrease everyone's health care costs. It will not only enable preventive medicine on steroids but also gather data that can be used to do research in real time. Yet another example of how the information revolution affects all aspects of our lives.

US Military Promoted Condoms In WWII


Via the Questionable Authority.

Would it really be so hard just to put up posters like that throughout the nation's middle and high schools? It certainly wouldn't do any harm.

"Hell And High Water"

Here's an unnerving graphic from Climate Progress (click image to enlarge):

I highly recommend Joseph Romm's new post in which he makes a tight argument for immediate action to mitigate human-caused climate change. As a practical matter, one does not even need to be 100 percent confident that the numbers in this graphic are correct in order to recognize the need for concern about this issue. That's like being comfortable playing Russian roulette because there's only a one-in-six chance that you'll blow your brains out when you pull the trigger. And the "business as usual" option looks to be pretty much equivalent to humanity blowing all our brains out.

Click here for more Podium posts on climate change. Or click on a label at the bottom of any post to see more posts on that topic.



Update:

TreeHugger: "Land Degradation Endangers Quarter of World Population"

Yikes. Add that on to the scenarios laid out in the Romm post linked above and our civilization's fragility really starts to become apparent.

Update II:

Here's an exchange about this article that I had on Facebook with a reader named Shawn.

Shawn:
As a libertarian, what are your thoughts on a cap-and-trade system many have proposed?

Me:
It looks to be a bureaucratic nightmare. I favor taxes aimed directly at emissions. The easiest way to do that is to tax all sales of fossil fuels. We could set up a system that increased those taxes by a set percentage annually while at the same time lowering other taxes so as to avoid any net increase in tax rates.

Shawn:
And offer tax credits/ rebates with the revenue raised? Alternative energy?

Me:
Well, that's one possibility. Or we could just use it to offset income taxes.

Shawn:
I'm no expert, but something obviously needs to be done.

Me:
Indeed. The extent to which most prominent libertarian voices continue to drag their heels in acknowledging the need for action is quite disappointing to me. If we don't recognize the problem and offer our own solutions, then the liberals/progressives will control the debate. And that wouldn't be good for anyone. Especially since the GOP is in almost complete denial about all of this.

Update III:

And David Goodner added:
I would support combining cap and trade with Patton's idea on taxing fossil fuels as well, and also throw in massive subsidies for solar and wind power, an end to subsidies for bio-fuels, and cannabis legalization (so we can stop cutting down trees to make paper).

I also think we need a cultural shift away from mono-cropping and meat. Farmers should only get government subsidies for increasing biodiversity, crop diversification, and lowering livestock while increasing plant production. Animals we breed for slaughter eat more of our farmed vegetables than humans do. Eating plants is more sustainable with less shit.

Global warming is not just industrial emissions, but also de-greening and concrete. Rain forests have to be protected and expanded. The earth basically needs to become a gigantic garden and farm so we can "carbon-sink" as much C02 as possible. We also have to stop creating dead zones in rivers, lakes, and oceans. That means no more plastic and drastic cuts in consumption.

Me:
The biggest problem with subsidies is making sure they are spent effectively. As a general rule, I think it's better for the government to provide disincentives for bad behavior and allow the market to take care of providing incentives for good behavior.

Frank Calls Out Scalia As A Homophobe


(Via Towleroad.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Organic Farmer As Iowa Secretary Of Agriculture?

From Bleeding Heartland:
It's not yet clear whether Iowa's Republican Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, will seek re-election in 2010 or run against Governor Chet Culver instead. But at least one Democrat appears ready to seek Northey's job next year.

Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer near Fairfield with a Pd.D. in agronomy and soil fertility, announced yesterday that he has formed an Exploratory Committee to consider running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. I've posted the press release from Thicke after the jump. One of his top priorities would be expanding local food networks:
"Growing more of our food in Iowa represents a multi-billion dollar economic development opportunity." This potential economic activity could "create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize rural communities in Iowa, as well as provide Iowans with fresh, nutritious food," said Thicke.

Continue reading.

Science Saturday: Alternative Medicine


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18482)

Topics covered:
Is Tom Harkin wasting tax money on pseudoscientific hooey?... The fine line between what’s unlikely and what’s nonsense... Should scientists investigate popular junk science?... Telling sick people the painful truth... Humility in the face of disease... Why scientists should get political...

Democrats, Republicans, Revenue, And Spending


(Click image to enlarge--or go here: http://s5.tinypic.com/29ld1lv.jpg)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Most RNC Protest Charges Dismissed

The Minnesota Independent reports:
The St. Paul city attorney’s office is not faring too well in prosecutions stemming from the Republican National Convention in September. Initially 672 cases were turned over to John Choi’s office for potential misdemeanor prosecutions.

The overwhelming majority of these — roughly 85 percent — have since been dropped owing to insufficient evidence. This includes the cases of 323 people who were picked up in a mass arrest on the final day of the convention and 39 journalists who were detained. In addition, as of last month, another 52 defendants had either pleaded guilty or paid a fine.

Continue reading.

Here's a link to my take on these absurd mass arrests.

Eventually, All Jobs Must Be Green

Joseph Romm writes:
To perpetuate the high returns the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources (especially hydrocarbons) and natural capital (fresh water, arable land, forests, fisheries), and, the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all — a livable climate.

In short, we have failed to designed a system capable of lasting prosperity. Quite the reverse.

Like all Ponzi schemes, the system must collapse. When it does, the only jobs left standing will be those that are “green” — which can be defined as those jobs that do not plunder nonrenewable energy resources and natural capital and/or do not to destroy a livable climate.

Continue reading.

Discussing climate changes in terms of economics and standards of living is essential. Focusing on technology as the primary tool in combating climate change is also important. I try to do both whenever I discuss the issue on this blog.

"Obama's Self-Immolating Capitalism"

Will Wilkinson writes:
There are two capitalisms. There is mundane market capitalism and there is political capitalism. Markets regulated by the rule of law and governed by a freely functioning price system are post and beam in the architecture of prosperity. You step into a grocery and there in the freezer are your coveted waffles waiting as if someone knew you were coming for them. But no one is looking after your need for breakfast treats. Each looks after her own needs by looking to the free play of prices and there emerges a rough-but-remarkable convergence of the waffles wanted and the waffles supplied. As the great Adam Smith noted, it seems like magic, but it's not. It's just amazing — in the way the evolution of the eye is amazing.

Continue reading.

Even though I regularly highlight excellent criticisms of Obama's economic policies here on the blog as well on the DIOpinions Twitter account, an increasing number of people who only seem to read the Daily Iowan's main website are asking that I pen a column on these issues. And I suppose I should--even though my field of expertise is not economics. I'll have to think about what specific angle to cover.

Obama Addresses The Iranian People, Government

Here it is--just in case you haven't already watched it:



I hope Obama's strategy for Iranian relations works out well. It's certainly a lot more subtle than anything Bush ever attempted, as the Cato Institute points on in a good blog post on the subject.

The Iraq War Has Now Lasted Six Years

From Andrew Sullivan:
You realize again from this speech just how utterly different the rationale was for the war at the start than it is now: to "defend the world from grave danger." There was no grave danger. How the US government could have been so incompetent in making such a serious charge remains bewildering to me. How I was so credulous still shames me.


I feel Sullivan's pain because I supported the war in the beginning as well. But I was a foolish 20-year-old undergrad at the time--not an excuse, just an explanation. Never again will I be so easily duped.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sarah Palin Is Coming -- Run!

I was planning on leaving the state this year anyway, but I just got a whole new incentive to do so: Palin is already polling Iowans in preparation for the 2012 caucuses.

From Andrew Sullivan:
My favorite phone poll question from the wack-job from Wasilla:
“Do you feel it’s important that Governor Palin is re-elected as the governor of Alaska?”

It likely won't be long before she starts camping out here. The horror, the horror.

An Informed Discussion On Global Poverty


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18424)

Topics covered:
Peter’s new book, “The Life You Can Save”... What is the most effective way to end poverty?... Genetically reprogramming humans to be more generous... What charities does Peter give to?... Advice for a young utilitarian... How to achieve a higher happiness...

The Podium Now Contains 1,000 Posts

This post marks the 1,000th time this blog has been updated. A pretty substantial number of those posts are mine. So hurray, I guess.

I really enjoy writing here. Thanks, readers, for your attention. Your hits show up in my Google Analytics account, so I know how many people are listening in on all my ranting. Keep it coming. And spread the word.

If you enjoy this site, then link to it on Facebook and other social media venues. Traditional, real-world word of mouth is great, too. If everyone chips in, I'm confident we can significantly increase our hit count this month. Please and thanks.

Obama, Medical Marijuana, And Liberaltarianism

From Reason:
Today Attorney General Eric Holder gave the clearest indication so far that the Justice Department plans to respect state laws that permit the medical use of marijuana:
The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law....Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that's inconsistent with federal and state law.

As medical marijuana activists noted, that still leaves unresolved the issue of what will happen to pending cases against people who provide cannabis to patients in states such as California. Thomas O'Brien, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, has gone back and forth on that question. Charlie Lynch, who ran a medical marijuana dispensary in San Luis Obispo, is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday and could spend decades in federal prison.

It's telling that there's been no significant backlash against Obama's move to respect states' rights with respect to medical marijuana. I think this is evidence of the workability of a liberaltarian alliance. When the interests of liberals and libertarians overlap, it can be difficult for conservatives to offer an effective response.

But what's happening in this case could just be a result of there not being any good argument to be offered against allowing states to decide their own medical marijuana policy.

Update:

Just when I thought it looked like no major politicians were silly enough to speak out against Obama's change in DEA policy, the Republican senator from my own state steps up to the plate--from the Associated Press (via Slog):
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says the Obama administration's change in policy toward medical marijuana is a bad idea.

...

Grassley says the new policy outlined by Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday is counterproductive because marijuana leads to use of harder drugs.

Oh, Chuck, just when you were wooing me back with your suggestion that AIG executives ought to consider seppuku, you have to go and say something completely ridiculous. Well, that's the GOP way, I guess.

Cato Takes Cheney To Task On Security

From the Cato Institute:
Recently former Vice President Dick Cheney had the audacity to claim the Obama administration, by reversing President George W. Bush's policy on the harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects, has endangered American lives and opened our country to another terrorist attack. Americans would be best served by ignoring the baseless accusations of the former vice president.

Today, if America is as vulnerable as Cheney claims, the reasons are that the interrogation methods he defends have become a major recruiting tool for terrorists, and that he and his ilk diverted America's resources away from those who attacked us on 9/11 by invading a country that did not. Regrettably, the war in Iraq was a costly distraction for which we are now paying in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Continue reading.

Prominent Iowa blogger and paradigmatic GOP hack Ted Sporer would do well to pay less attention to Fox News and more to the Cato Institute. As would any Republican activist or politician who actually cares about ideas and the truth. But that's a pretty small fraction of them at this point--because the base is not reality-based.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Peer-To-Peer Banking

Another amazing piece from Wired:
Getting a business loan in this economy can be more difficult than landing a reservation at French Laundry in Napa, California. Now try selling the loan officer on an open source hardware project where the blueprints will be given away.

That's why the hardware hacking community is turning inwards to fund its ideas. Two open source hardware enthusiasts, Justin Huynh and Matt Stack, have started the Open Source Hardware Bank to fund hardware projects such as the microcontroller board pictured above.

The fledgling bank is funding only open source hardware projects using capital raised from other hardware geeks. It's like a community of Facebook friends borrowing and lending among themselves — a peer-to-peer bank.

Continue reading.

Yet another example of networks stepping up to the plate where hierarchical institutions have failed us.

Social Security Is Welfare, Not An Investment

Dan Savage writes:
If we let the half of all Americans who want to opt out of Social Security opt out of Social Security, the ones who wind up destitute and starving in their old age won't just go plop their asses down on ice floes and float away. They'll insist on the rest of us bailing their asses out—they'll insist on getting the benefits from the system "opted out" of paying into when they were young and stupid. Every other senior citizen will be a potential insolvent bank. And we don't need anymore of those.

Personally, I'm in favor of the ice-floes strategy. It's not as though the elderly pose much of a physical threat to our society's stability. The retired can't exactly go on strike. Nor can the enfeebled riot. Thus, I just don't see a good reason for the federal government to be involved in subsidizing them at all.

But back in the real world, Savage's point doesn't really do much in the way of defending the current Social Security system. If we're going to have a welfare program for indigent elderly people, then we should just be more honest about it. Each year's payments should come directly out of tax revenues. Forcing prudent people to make bad retirement investments (paying into Social Security) just wastes resources.

Also, I have question for any and all trolls who like to rant in the comments about my supposed liberalism: How many liberals do you know who want to do away with Social Security?

Update:

Commenter jrshipley writes:
The trouble is telling who is and is not prudent. If the measure of success is the rates of indigence and poverty among the elderly, then SS has been a resounding success. I personally may or may not be able to get a better return on the money I pay in, but that never was the point of the system so the complaint seems odd to me. It's always been about reducing the morally shocking conditions of poverty that too many elderly Americans had to endure in the early 20th century, not about maximizing returns for optimally intelligent and prudent investors.

In an case, the dependents:producers ratio is going to increase in the US. The projected shortfalls in SS funds are a symptom of this. My understanding is that though currently insolvent SS can be made solvent by small but politically inconvenient changes: lifting the cap on how much income gets taxed into SS, raising the retirement age, etc. So lets just muster the political courage to fix the system. The poll numbers Savage cites just reflect the misinformation that the system is hopelessly broken. Of course people say they want to opt out when they think it won't be there for them.

IMO the larger problem relating to the impending dependent:producer shift is that per capita health care costs in the US are way out of line with our economic competitors. We need to find a way to bring that way down as the boomers retire. The SS shortfall is peanuts by comparison with the taxing effect on the economy of our current health care system.

My response is as follows:
But Social Security is sold as an investment system. As I said in my post, we should call it what it really is: a welfare system for indigent elderly Americans. And then we should use means testing to stop payments from going to people who don't need them. Ideally, I don't think the federal government should be involved with this at all, but I recognize that the federal-welfare-state genie is probably irreversibly out of the bottle.

Regarding sky-rocketing medical costs, I agree that this is a serious problem. But I'm far from convinced that the federal government is well-equipped to improve the situation by getting even more entangled in the health-care market than it already is. What I do know is that some amount of deregulation could lower costs by allowing people to fix "simple" problems like broken bones or standard bacterial infections without first forcing them to earn graduate degrees in general medicine. A more robust market for basic medical services would facilitate enhanced competition that would increase supply and decrease cost.

Again, if our real concern is people not being able to afford basic health care, then we should just have a welfare program that directly subsidizes the treatment of indigent patients. And, as is the case with Social Security, this is not something I think the federal government should be doing at all. Just about the only national health program I support is the CDC because preventing communicable epidemics is clearly a national security issue. I don't think spending huge amounts of federal money making sure that everyone gets the most advanced treatment possible for their cancer is appropriate.

The Next Industrial Revolution

Here are two great articles that illustrate an intriguing trend.

First, from Portfolio:
Conceived as a kind of Wikipedia for design—a place where designers could post new ideas and blueprints free of copyright and open to communal editing—Thingiverse intends to prove that shared intellectual property can create objects that work better.

In Pettis' somewhat utopian model, it would also provide a new, nonmercenary model for consumption: a world where blueprints circulate freely, and consumers cheerfully fabricate their own coffee tables. Consumers "want to participate in an object beyond just the act of buying it," Pettis argues. "Just a couple years ago, there were maybe 10 people publishing digital designs. Now we're in the hundreds."

Continue reading.

And second, from Wired:
The economy may be cratering, but people are stampeding to handmade goods. Why? Part of it is a supply-side phenomenon: Thanks to the Web-fueled boom in DIY culture, there are more one-of-a-kind products being made. With sites like Instructables.com, Makezine.com, and Knithappens.com, it's now feasible to train yourself in a marketable craft using nothing but online guides. You can learn even derangedly complex knitting patterns or skills like circuit-soldering when you've got a YouTube video walking you through each step.

And if you're making awesome stuff in your spare time, pretty soon you'll start thinking: Hey, I could sell this, couldn't I? Not a bad way to recession-proof your household.

Continue reading.

On-demand custom manufacturing is likely to transform how we produce many consumer goods in the near future. The effects of this transformation on our society are likely to be substantial. If you think the world is changing quickly now, just wait until these technologies have come of age. Then things will really start to get crazy.

How crazy? Perhaps Cory Doctorow crazy.

Daniel Dennett On Evolutionary Riddles


(http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/485)

Separate Isn't Equal For Gays Either

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on the hypocrisy of politicians celebrating the end of racial segregation while arguing in favor of civil unions as opposed to full marriage equality:


(Via Towleroad.)

Update:

The NAACP gets it, too:


(Also via Towleroad.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ted Sporer Gets Off On Torture, Militarism

Here's what Sporer had to say about the following video:
Some one needs to discuss the consequences of the childlike approach to national security by which the Obama Adminstration [sic] is imperilling the United States.



I recommend that this windbag, who seems to be pretty representative of the average Iowa Republican activist at this point, read up on the torture methods Cheney advocates before defending them as a wise national security strategy. Unless of course he doesn't mind coming across as an ignorant fascist.

Update:

Andrew Sullivan continues to do his part to keep the heat on the vicious former vice president:
What people forget about Cheney is his rank incompetence - which he covers up with fear-mongering and sadism. Very few things have enraged me as much recently - not even the thieves and con-artists at AIG - as that disgraceful, repellent, and deeply dishonest CNN interview Cheney gave last Sunday. Truly a low-point in that man's gutter-level conduct of public office.

Continue reading.

Marriage Amendment Introduced In Iowa House

The anti-marriage equality faction has fired its opening salvo.

The Iowa Independent reports:
State Reps. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, and Dolores Mertz, D-Ottosen, have proposed a bill to amend Iowa’s Constitution and define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

House Joint Resolution 6 was introduced Friday as funnel week was coming to a close. It has little chance of coming up for debate this session. It was introduced, Alons said, in response to Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, introducing a bill making Iowa’s marriage laws gender neutral by removing the words “husband” and “wife” and replacing them with “spouse.”

Continue reading.

These guys are going to pop like firecrackers if the Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage. But I wonder what they'd do if the ruling were only to require civil unions that had all the same legal consequences as marriage, merely lacking the word itself. For now, we're all just waiting on the justices. The ball is in their court.

Update:

An anonymous commenter on this post wrote the following:
I think "Iowa Straight Guerrilla Happy Hour" is the official name of the anti-marriage equality faction.

Read it a second time, slowly. You'll get the idea eventually.

Here's my response:
You're clearly confused about the purpose of the Iowa City Guerrilla Queer Bar. The idea isn't segregation, it's integration. If we wanted to be off by ourselves, we'd stay in the gay bar.

The most ridiculous aspect of people attacking my views on gay issues is that I'm actually advocating something that conservatives should embrace: the end of an isolated gay subculture. I have exactly one thing in common with most gay people: the fact that I am pretty much exclusively attracted to members of my own sex. This ought not be a political issue. I just want to live my life as a fully equal member of society.

Most people who meet me would never guess that I'm gay unless I tell them. I'm not trying to be special or different. The extent to which I am different from the majority of men (who are heterosexual) shouldn't make the least bit of difference to the vast majority of the people I interact with.

But you know what? I can't get married. And I put myself at risk of being assaulted if I kiss a guy I'm out on a date with at the wrong bar. So I advocate for marriage equality and take part in a group that works to make gays and lesbians feel more comfortable being themselves in mainstream public places.

I don't care if people think being gay is wrong. I only care how people act. And discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation just isn't acceptable. Not anymore.

What's so difficult about treating other people the way you'd want to be treated anyway? A certain thinker who most Americans claim to hold in high regard seems to have thought that doing so was pretty important.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Science Saturday: Robots Of War


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18348)

Topics covered:
Peter’s latest book, “Wired for War”... How robots helped make the Iraq surge a success... Do America’s high-tech weapons do more harm than good?... The DARPA Grand Challenge as 21st century Manhattan Project... Will you someday have to give up your bus seat to a cyborg?... Why the robotics revolution won’t end war...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Obama And "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"


(Via Towleroad.)

Clay Shirky On The Collapse Of Newspapers

He writes:
Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.

Continue reading.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Web Of Open, Linked Data


(http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/484)

The implications of this technology for human social, economic, and political interactions will be enormous. As a specific example, think about what this sort of shared information will be able to do for market efficiency. Transactions costs across the board are going to plummet. This ought to make everyone better off.

Robert Wright And Timothy Noah On Lots Of Issues


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18271)

Topics covered:
Economic armageddon, up close and personal... Will a bad economy make us better people?... Tim: Obama is copying the wrong part of FDR’s program... Tim explains Obama’s health care plan to Bob... Why haven’t we been attacked since 9/11?... Are those Pakistan drone strikes worth the blowback?...

Jon Stewart Is Pretty Damn Cool

This is already linked pretty much everywhere, but I felt compelled to post it nonetheless:

Grand Old Jesters

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Mike Strawn has a new comedy routine that he’s taking on the road. Filled with ironic self-deprecation, the act is bound to be a hit.

“We don’t need to change who we are to win elections,” the Iowa Independent reported that Strawn said during a March 10 appearance in Cedar Rapids. “I’m proud to stand up for the three legs on the Republican stool — pro-family policies, fiscal responsibility, and a strong national defense that includes secure borders.”

I didn’t attend Strawn’s performance in Cedar Rapids, but just reading that joke made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. Regardless of the quality of his delivery, he obviously has a promising future on the standup circuit.

What, you don’t get the joke? That’s too bad, because it’s really funny. Let me explain it to you: Each leg of Strawn’s “Republican stool” has a name that means the exact opposite of the GOP’s actual position on that issue. His doublespeak is so blatant that he can’t possibly expect anyone of intelligence to take it seriously.

Let’s consider each of Strawn’s three “legs” individually.

First, there are what he calls “pro-family policies.” What he really means by this is “Christianism,” which is the politicization of Christian doctrines. Iowa’s Republicans don’t care about the well-being of families. They care about using the coercive power of the state to enforce their sectarian religious precepts. If these bigots really cared about families, they’d be in favor of gay marriage — or at least civil unions. There’s no excuse for leaving families headed by gay parents out in the cold. Refusing to recognize the legal validity of such nuclear families hurts the gay parents, but it hurts their children even more. And most Iowa Republicans couldn’t care less.

Next, there’s the issue of “fiscal responsibility.” According to Iowa Republicans, this primarily entails complaining about the waste involved in subsidizing minority welfare queens in big cities while simultaneously holding out one’s hands and demanding equally wasteful and even more pernicious farm subsidies that are nothing but welfare for rural Americans. It also involves objecting that increasing domestic spending on infrastructure development and maintenance is irresponsible after having insisted for years that alternately building and blowing up such projects in Iraq is a good use of American tax dollars. Really, all “fiscal responsibility” means to Iowa Republicans is bleating like sheep that President Obama is a socialist after having dutifully followed George W. Bush to our collective economic slaughter.

Finally, advocating for “a strong national defense that includes secure borders” is just another way of saying that the best way to protect the United States is to squander all the blood and treasure it can spare in establishing neoconservative colonialist fiefdoms in the Muslim world while at the same time pursuing a puritanical prohibitionist strategy in the all-important “War on Drugs” to the point of destabilizing Mexico enough to risk pushing it into failed-state status. Because that way, we not only have no money or troops left to actually secure our borders, we also create as dangerous a situation as possible along the entirety of our border with Mexico.

However, Strawn, who grasps the importance of using new media tools to be competitive in modern politics, is obviously a sharp guy. Thus my conclusion that his stale talking points aren’t actually talking points at all. No, he is up to something big here.

Having recognized that the troglodyte core of his base would have difficulty absorbing new buzzwords, he has chosen to keep using the old ones — but in an ironic way. If successful, this strategy will bring in new voters while at the same time maintaining the support of those too obtuse to notice the absurdity of claiming to be pro-family, fiscally responsible, and strong on national defense while pursuing policies that undermine those values.

But what demographic is Strawn aiming to bring into the Republican fold with his edgy new approach?

Hipsters, of course. These young, urban sophisticates may be solid Democrats now, but they’re suckers for ironic, self-deprecating humor. Strawn’s standup comedy may just be too wryly absurd for them to resist.

(Cross-posted at the Daily Iowan's main site and adopted from a blog post I put up earlier this week.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Coming Soon: Google Voice

Big news from Google:
We've just started to release a preview of Google Voice, an application that helps you better manage your voice communications. Google Voice will be available initially to existing users of GrandCentral, a service we acquired in July of 2007.

The new application improves the way you use your phone. You can get transcripts of your voicemail (see the video below) and archive and search all of the SMS text messages you send and receive. You can also use the service to make low-priced international calls and easily access Goog-411 directory assistance.



As you may know, GrandCentral offers many great features, including a single number to ring your home, work, and mobile phones, a central voicemail inbox that you could access on the web, and the ability to screen calls by listening in live as callers leave a voicemail. You'll find these features, and more, in the Google Voice preview. Check out the features page for videos and more information on how these features work.

If you're already using GrandCentral, over the next couple days, you will receive instructions in your GrandCentral inbox on how to start using Google Voice. We'll be opening it up to others soon, so if you'd like to be notified when that happens, please send us your email address.

Meeting Of The Matts, Liberal And Libertarian


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18272)

Topics covered:
Chas Freeman post-mortem: was China just a red herring?... Matt W. on which regime Freeman’s in bed with... Pork: the other right meat... Obama’s untransformative undermining of DC school vouchers... Matt Y. defends the Employee Free Choice Act... Should marijuana legalization be decided nationally or locally?...

Jay Rosen Explains Mindcasting

The NYU journalism professor and influential Twitter user has recorded a video--which he, of course, sent out via Twitter:


(http://seesmic.com/videos/FNwocVJU2d)

Here's the LA Times article about the new concept.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Google Reader Just Got Even Better

Google announces on one of its corporate blogs:
One of the things that we love best about Reader is the ability to easily share interesting items with your friends. In fact, we like it so much that we've been adding bunches of new sharing features over the last year including choosing friends to share with, sharing with note and the sharing bookmarklet. But we quickly realized that one of the most important pieces of the sharing cycle was missing: the ability to have conversations with friends about all those shared items.

Continue reading.

At this point, RSS feeds are more critical to my work as a writer than e-mail is. Being able to share items with friends, see their shared items, and comment back and forth is extremely valuable to me. No matter how busy I get, I always at least glance through my friends' shared items. There's no other feed I pay that much attention to. And there's no feed I get more valuable surprises out of.

More On Free Lunches

Here's another great cartoon explaining an important economic principle (click image to enlarge it):


(Via Greg Mankiw.)

Gotta love the Heinlein shout-out. He's one of my favorite authors.

Republican Party Of Iowa Chairman Mike Strawn's New Comedy Routine Is Hilarious

Update: An expanded and polished version of this post ran as my column in the Daily Iowan's print edition on March 13--check it out here.

The Iowa Independent reports:
The Republican Party of Iowa, according to chairman Mike Strawn, is a sturdy stool, which needs all three legs to remain functional.

“We don’t need to change who we are to win elections,” Strawn said during remarks to the Linn County Republican Women on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m proud to stand up for the three legs on the Republican stool — pro-family policies, fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense that includes secure borders.”

What Republicans need, according to Strawn, are candidates who can effectively bring that message of three to the people of Iowa.

Continue reading.

Ha, ha, ha! Those crazy Iowa Republicans. They're such adept comedians. And so willing to make fun of themselves--because that's obviously what's going on here.

What, you don't get the joke? Let me explain it to you: each leg of the "Republican stool" has a name that means the opposite of what the Iowa GOP actually represents. His doublespeak is so blatant that Strawn can't really expect anyone of intelligence to take it seriously.

By "pro-family policies," Strawn means "Christianism." Iowa's Republicans don't care about the well-being of families. They care about using the coercive power of the state to enforce their sectarian religious precepts. If these bigots really cared about families, they'd be in favor of gay marriage--or at least civil unions. There's simply no excuse for leaving families headed by gay parents out in the cold. Refusing to recognize the validity of such nuclear families hurts the gay parents, but it hurts their children even more. And most Iowa Republicans couldn't care less.

"Fiscal responsibility" is just ranting about the waste involved in subsidizing black welfare queens in Chicago while simultaneously holding out one's hands and demanding equally wasteful and even more pernicious farm subsidies that are, if one's honest, just welfare for corn and soybean farmers. Likewise, it also entails objecting that increasing domestic spending on infrastructure projects is irresponsible while having insisted for years that building bridges in Iraq is a good use of American tax dollars. Really, all "fiscal responsibility" means to Iowa Republicans is bleating like sheep that Obama is a socialist after having dutifully followed Bush to our collective economic slaughter.

And "a strong national defense that includes secure borders" is just another way of saying that the best way to protect the United States is to squander all the blood and treasure we can spare in establishing Neoconservative colonialist fiefdoms in the Muslim world while at the same time pursuing a puritanical prohibitionist strategy in the all-important "War on Drugs" to the point of destabilizing Mexico enough to risk pushing it into failed-state status. Because that way we not only have no money or troops left to actually secure our borders, but also create as dangerous a situation as possible along the entirety of our border with Mexico.

So, like I said, Strawn is quite a talented comedian. And he's obviously correct in saying that what the Iowa GOP really needs now are "candidates who can effectively bring that message of three to the people of Iowa." But I'm just not sure there are enough clowns of Strawn's comedic caliber in the state to step up and become those candidates. Or enough idiots to actually vote them into power.

Are you qualified to talk about sex?

Via U-Wire:
A University of Montana law professor who opposes the content of the Kaimin’s weekly sex column could eventually take the issue to the state legislature unless the newspaper establishes written policies for hiring columnists and reviewing content.

Since February, assistant law professor Kristen Juras has made clear to the Kaimin her opposition to senior Bess Davis’s “Bess Sex Column” by writing a letter to the editor as well as e-mailing and meeting with Kaimin editor Bill Oram. Juras said the material in the column is inappropriate for college students and reflects poorly on the university’s School of Journalism and UM itself.

...

Juras said someone writing a sex column should have a background in sexology, just as someone writing a column about the environment should have an environmental background.

Juras said she’s concerned because the Kaimin appears to have no set criteria for giving someone a job as a columnist writing in an area of “alleged expertise” or for reviewing objectionable material. She said that if these policies were put in place, the problems she has with the content of the sex column would correct themselves.


I'm sorry, but a sex column isn't legitimate only if the author is a trained sexologist. A human being doesn't need advanced degrees in psychology, biology, anthropology, or criminology to speak on sexual intercourse or sexual relationships. Unlike a column on the environmental hazards of "clean coal" which requires specific knowledge and training, sex is an act that any human being who has engaged in sexual intercourse should be able to write about.

A newspaper doesn't require a humor column writer to have a degree in rhetoric and psychology so as to understand the human mind's reaction to humorous speech. The humor writer need only understand humor and how to be funny. A sports writer doesn't need a degree in actuarial science or statistics to be able to analyze box scores and trends. As a lawyer certainly Juras is familiar with the threshold for expert testimony; training, education, or experience can qualify one as an expert. The weight attached to that opinion is obviously affected by the amount of each element, but nevertheless the opinion can be stated.

The fact that the column is in a student newspaper indicates that the majority of the articles are written by authors that have no degree at all. Juras might as well require the entire paper be shut down if her argument is that a lack of credentials bars one from using free speech.

I would rather read about sex or sex-related topics from a source that is experienced in the subject matter they speak about than from a scientist who is trying to remove all subjectivity and the humanity from the act. It's the same justification for why women make better gynecologists and why male doctors are better suited to handle prostate ailments. Personal experience and familiarity with the subject matter makes for a better source than books, diagrams, and other pedantic reasoning.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bush Officials Far From Out Of The Woods

Scott Horton writes at the Daily Beast (via Andrew Sullivan):
A new Justice Department report could contain a bombshell that would spell fresh legal trouble for top Bush officials. The report may link controversial memos on civil liberties and torture—written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo—directly to the White House, putting Yoo and other Bushies in the crosshairs of criminal prosecution.

John C. Yoo is a study in contrasts. He’s a soft-spoken legal scholar viewed by his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley as a model of civility. But he’s also emerged as the public face of Bush-era torture policy, the author of a series of radical legal documents described by Yale Law School’s Jack Balkin as a “theory of presidential dictatorship.”

Continue reading.

What The Hell Is Up With The Economy?

I certainly don't know. And neither does anyone else--it's just too complicated of a system for any human mind to grasp in full. But Russell Roberts and Arnold Kling have has good of an idea as anybody, so this discussion between the two of them is well worth watching:


(http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/18215)

Topics covered:

Russ and Arnold trade economic origin stories... Perils of Econ 101... The past decade as a massive misallocation of resources... Why Ben Bernanke might be the worst man for the job... Is the government making the crisis even worse?... A call for humility in economic prognostication...

Drug Prohibition's Role In Mexico's Violence

From the Cato Institute:



Check out Cato's YouTube channel for more videos like this one.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sorry About The Lack Of Posts This Weekend

I'll be back in full force tomorrow, starting with the extra material I couldn't fit into my Salvia column on Friday.

In the meantime, enjoy this installment of xkcd:



I'm not willing to concede that my lack of posting this weekend is causally related to the fun I had, but I will admit that there was at least a correlation.

Update:

The extra Salvia content is going to have to wait another day. Hopefully, the massive culling I engaged in today regarding who I follow on Google Reader and Twitter will help free up more of my time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Coming Soon: Bionic Eyes


EYEBORG-- The Two Week Trial from eyeborg on Vimeo.
(Via Kurzweil AI News.)

I'd definitely prefer a camera in my eye glasses as a first step. I'll leave the early adopting of bionics to more adventurous souls.