A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Banned by “Enjoy the Draft”

I’ve been posting comments to BBSs and blogs for well over three years now, and I’ve been a blogger myself for about six months. Today is the first time I’ve actually been banned from a web site. I thought it would be worth interrupting my hiatus to tell everyone about what happened.

Enjoy the Draft is a new site that turns the “Bush is gonna draft us!” hysteria up to full volume, drowning out reason, logic, and truthfulness with one flick of the rhetorical dial. When I discovered the site (through a blog ad over at IMAO, of all places) I posted a few civil – if fierce – rebuttals to the shrill nonsense they’re passing off as information. One of the EtD bloggers obviously didn’t like all of those annoying facts I kept dropping on him and his readership, so he decided to ban me from posting. He also went ahead and deleted all of the posts I made after a certain point, making it appear that he got the last word in each thread. This didn’t bother me too much, as I’d said my piece in most of the threads pretty early on; he couldn’t get rid of too much without rendering his own responses meaningless.

There was one post, however, that he obviously deleted to get a lot of inconvenient facts out of the conversation; I imagine he took one look at the reply and thought “Answering this is impossible without admitting I’m wrong on at least two counts, so I’d better just delete the comment and ban this troublemaker”. Well, I bring you the exchange as best I can remember it. His words, since he left them posted, I have copied exactly … mine I’ll have to write over again (so no guarantees of an exact reproduction):


And Sandor, as for the "vote" in Congress. You do realize that that vote was a political ploy, right? I mean you do read the papers? The Republicans brought that vote up so they could quickly vote it down in order to try to squash the legit concern over the draft.


First of all, the entire issue of a draft was raised by Democrats, not Republicans. It was Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D – NY) and Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D – SC) that “introduced the legislation in January 2003 in an effort to highlight what [they] saw as an ill-prepared and ill-advised Iraq policy”. In other words, two Democrats tried to use draft legislation to promote an anti-war, anti-Bush agenda (or, as GOP leaders put it, “Rangel and Hollings introduced the bills with the sole intent of scaring people in an election season”). The measure was brought to a vote not to squash discussion, but to reveal just how little support the measure had: It was crushed in a blistering bi-partisan vote, 402-2.

Furthermore, Rangel himself said the bill was “devised to arouse more controversy and debate about the war in Iraq, which was only in the planning stages when the bill was introduced … [and] that the threat of a draft could move public support away from the administration's Iraq policy.”

There’s never been real talk of re-instating the draft … just intentional scare tactics by Democrats to score points off the President. And now you guys are aping them here at Enjoy the Draft.


Did they vote on a bill to kill the draft? No. Did they fund the Selective Service for another year? yes.


The vote itself – and its tremendously lop-sided result – was a procedural motion intended to get the bill’s sponsor to pull it out of consideration. Only Rangel himself can do that, and that he hasn’t only shows that he’s still hoping this issue can undermine President Bush’s Iraq policy.

As for funding selective service, it’s been funded every year since WW II (as far as I know). Such funding is no more indicative of a draft in 2004 than it was in 1994 or 1984.


Are they paying gobs of money to public relations firms in DC this year to secretly plan how to implement a draft? Yes. So why is all that happening if there is no way, no chance, no how that there will ever be a draft? That's a lot of money to waste for something that we will NEVER do. Not to mention, why are they doing it all secretly?


First of all, if all of this is happening secretly how do you know about it? The problem with accusing your enemies of secret evil plans is that if they were really secret you wouldn’t know about them, would you (unless the CIA is beaming the information into your head with their orbital mind-control lasers, hmmm)?

I’d personally like to see your evidence for all of this money being spent on PR for the draft. (And why do they need PR? Isn’t the draft mandatory?) This last part of your argument amounts to a conspiracy theory – if even that. If you want to have a serious discussion, bring facts … not silly theories about the draft board laying in wait on the grassy knoll for America’s young people.


So, there you have it. The post that got me banned from Enjoy the Draft’s blog comments. Maybe I should have been meaner … it would’ve been nice to at least deserve my first banning ever. Sigh.

Mom is still in the hospital, politics and blogging are still on the back burner. Hope things get back to normal quickly, and my best wishes go out to all you fine readers.


S

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

On Hiatus until the Election

Lunchtime and evenings are generally when I blog … I know the posting times don’t reflect that, but that’s because I write the posts offline and then put them up when I have a few spare minutes. Right now lunches and evenings are either 1) time spent visiting my Mom, or 2) catching up on the things that I’m not getting to do because of time spent visiting my Mom. Work has also become a bit neglected with everything that’s going on right now, and that needs to end immediately.

So, I’m on hiatus until the election. On November 3rd I shall return to blogging, hopefully with a triumphant whoop of delight at President Bush’s victory. But for the next two weeks I need one less thing to worry about, and that one less thing is going to be The Zoo. Hopefully krakatoa will come by occasionally and post something, but he keeps his own schedule (and he just moved, too) so no guarantees there. For now I leave my readers with four items:

1) The writers of the Penny Arcade cartoon strip are once again doing the Child’s Play charity event. Gamers and non-gamers alike are asked to donate money and toys that will go to five different children’s hospitals across the country. Gaming stuff is the focus of the charity, but all toys and cash donations are welcome. Last year they raised over $250,000 for the Seattle Children’s Hospital; this year they have an Amazon wish list set up for each institution, which makes donating as simple as clicking a couple buttons.

If you’re a gamer, here’s a chance to prove there’s more on your mind than getting to the next level.

2) My first blogchild is born. The Man of foo! is an acquaintance of mine that I know through my roommates. He games with my D & D group too, and we’ve had occasion to discuss politics a couple times. He and I agree on fiscal and foreign policy issues almost completely … social issues, not so much. In any case, it was The Zoo that started him blogging, so whether it was intentional or not I have spawned a bouncing baby blog.

Go forth, my blogson, and bring me the head of Gore Vidal on a pike. Only then shall you be counted among the warriors of the VRWC.

3) The Zoo’s blogroll has been expanded from 10 to 15 links. I try to keep it short so that each blog listed there actually stands a chance of getting hit by my readers, instead of just being one of hundreds that everyone ignores. But with the removal of The Alliance blogroll there is plenty of room on the sidebar, so the “blogs of note” section is increasing by 50% … there are several I’ve been wanting to add for a while anyway. I recommend every site listed there very highly; get your blog fix at any or all of them while I’m away.

4) A BPCP update:

The Blogosphere Political Compass Project has been updated. Go to the BPCP permalink page for a complete list of participants and links to their sites.


BPCP Chart 20Oct04 Posted by Hello

The next update will be the one scheduled for mid-November. Keep the results coming in, especially you liberals … I know you’re out there, so let’s even up this graph a little, okay?

Peace everyone. May the third of November see my Mom largely recovered, President Bush re-elected, and me with, once again, time enough to blog.


S

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Friday, October 15, 2004

Update on Mom

I just talked to my Dad; there is no phone in Mom's room (the Special Care rooms are no-noise areas) but I called the nurse's desk and one of them went and got him so he could let me know what's going on.

Mom is doing better today. She is awake and talking and even wants to try and eat some soup ... all good news. Her vision is still doubled, but that's normal when you have a large mass removed from that part of your brain; the effect should slowly fade over the next week or so. There is no paralysis at all, which is news I am thankful about beyond measure. So is Mom. They will move her to a regular room tomorrow, and then she'll be going home three or four days after that.

As for the operation itself, things went fairly well. The mass - or non-cancerous tumor, I guess you could say - was much larger than they first thought ... it was the size of a grapefruit. But the doctor got it all and there was no sign of cancer or anything. So, we're still a little worried around here - brain surgery is one of those things that is always a big deal, I suppose - but things look like they are going to work out. With some time and a little luck, Mom will make a full recovery.

Thank you to everyone who asked about my Mom and sent their thoughts and prayers her way. It is very much appreciated.


S

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

War, Politics, and Metal

Just when you thought the last rock musician had been bitten by Eddie Vedder and transformed into another spineless liberal zombie, along comes Veracitor. Go read this article over at Blabbermouth.net for a review of their new single - which you can also download - and some band member quotes:

"I wrote this song to counter the anti-war, hate-Bush propaganda that seems to have tainted the metal community. The song deals with two fronts of opposition to Bush and the war in Iraq, but could be applied to any president or any war."


I'm off to the hospital soon to see how Mom is doing. You guys think good thoughts and enjoy some loud music that doesn't make you want to strangle the artist.


S

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Gmail and Good Thoughts for Mom

First of all, I have six gmail invites to give out. If anyone would like one, leave a comment or send an e-mail.

Now, much more importantly, my Mom is going into the hospital for her surgery early tomorrow morning. Longtime readers will probably know that she has a small, non-cancerous mass on her medulla (that's the part of your brain just above the spine). Like any brain surgery it is risky, but she has the best neurosurgeon in central Florida and at the tumor is thankfully (very thankfully) benign, so we all have high hopes she will make a full and speedy recovery.

I myself am not a praying person, but I'm certainly not above asking the universe for a favor on an occasion as important as this. Any other thoughts, prayers, and well-wishes directed to Sandor's Mom will be appreciated.

Blogging will be light or non-existent for the next couple days, but I'll try to stop by Friday with a (hopefully cheerful) update.


S

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

How I Became an Agnostic

Before I started junior high school I had read the bible – a kid’s bible with lots of pictures and footnotes, but a bible just the same – from cover to cover. I went to Catechism lessons up through the 8th grade. I was even an altar boy (never molested once!) for about four years … I think I stopped doing that when I was 14 or so. I even remember getting offended when I saw other kids wear something like a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to church; the obviously pagan symbology had no place in the house of God, if you asked me.

So what happened? How did I end up as a secularist, a humanistst, and an agnostic?

Sometimes I give a snarky quip in answer to such questions: “I read a high school science textbook”. It’s true that exposure to science – and the critical thinking skills such exposure develops – is what more or less killed religion for me. But like anything else it’s a bit more complicated than a single-sentence answer.

First of all, one has to understand what turned me on about Catholicism in the first place. The exclusivity and rigid doctrine I could take or leave; neither particularly appealed to my nature, but I could live with’em if I had to. What I did find fascinating was the mysticism. The belief that the son of God actually lived on the Earth … that his followers founded our religion to carry on his teachings … that Christ had literally risen from the dead … that we actually consumed his transubstantiated flesh … and that there were further mysteries of the faith that were kept by the Vatican. Mysteries about the nature of existence, about why we’re here, and about where the human race is headed. I wanted to know the secrets of the universe, and the Catholic Church seemed to have them.

Fortunately, my desire for answers didn’t stop with the church. In addition to my children’s bible I had also been reading books about dinosaurs and astronomy since I was in grade school. As I got a little older – we’re talking late junior high here, maybe 12 or 13 – some of the more glaring discrepancies between biblical doctrine and scientific fact began to bother me a little. Evolution, which I understood about as well as any bright 8th grader can, was particularly troubling; it made a lot of sense, but it absolutely flew in the face of the bible’s creation story. For several years I got by on “theistic evolution” (which essentially states that evolution is God’s method of creation) but I eventually realized that I was just trying to seal the breach of cognitive dissonance created by trying to hold onto two such divergent worldviews. When I was 16 – around the time I was also dealing with zits, raging post-pubescent hormones, and the dawning realization that I was a skinny geek in a handsome jock's world – I also had a crisis of faith. Education and inquisitiveness had made me a young, inexperienced critical thinker … but a critical thinker nonetheless. Things were about to get interesting.

During my junior year in high school, much to my parent’s dismay, I began studying other world religions. Buddhism and Wicca I found particularly interesting; the former because it taught peace and enlightenment, the latter because its primal nature seemed to tie in well with science (and also because chicks seemed to dig pentacles). At 18 I was attending junior college and had moved out of the house – mostly so I wouldn’t have to go to church anymore – and was also ravenously reading books and magazine articles about philosophy. While I struggled to maintain a passing grade in College Algebra I was acing my Humanities and English courses. I took a couple science classes and did well enough, but such studies had definitely taken a back seat to comparative religion by this point. Things continued like that for a while; I spent the years between 19 and 23 smoking pot and discussing books like The Way of the Peaceful Warrior and The Celestine Prophesy with other inquisitive, nigh-wayward young adults. All of the stuff we read was interesting, but none of it, in the end, held any more of an answer than Catholicism. When the dope smoke cleared the universe still looked suspiciously like an accident.

With my mid-to-late twenties came a college degree, a drastic reduction in the amount of intoxicants I consumed, and a new sense of personal responsibility. As far as philosophy was concerned, “reason” became my operative word. I came to see that all mystical faiths shared one thing in common: They sought to comfort their believers with a sense of belonging and righteousness. Religion makes us feel special … protected, loved, and just possibly immortal. Extremely effective selling points, especially when you consider the alternative (an indifferent and dangerous universe in which we are completely free but utterly alone). Religion is a warm fuzzy, reality a cold prickly. And when I started to look at religion from the outside – from a historical and sociological perspective – I also saw that it is a construct; a framework of doctrine built around mankind's search for the meaning of the universe and our place in it. Religion attempts to freeze such spirituality in time, taking what is but one instant in a growing evolution of understanding and calling it the one true way. Sometimes it gets shoved forward – as Catholicism did in the 1960s with Vatican II – but religion is, for the most part, monstrously resistant to change. Anything new or odd is threatening, from the idea that the Earth revolves around the sun to people who, through some quirk of genetics or environment, are attracted to their own sex. Amazing how quickly the faithful abandon ideas like “compassion” when someone shows up who’s one true way doesn’t quite jibe with their own.

So, I entered my thirties as an agnostic and five years later I remain one. My knowledge of religion is good: Christianity I understand better than most of its adherents, Wicca and Judaism only slightly less well. I’m conversant with the major ideas of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I understand Agnosticism at its most fundamental level (i.e., I accept that I am an Atheist of a certain stripe and do not usually bother to differentiate myself from that larger category). The sciences I comprehend at least as well as any basically smart amateur; natural selection makes perfect sense to me, I know how far a light-year is, and I have a good working knowledge of atomic structure and what it means to chemistry and physics. I consider myself spiritual in the sense that my search for meaning and truth goes on … I simply reject the idea of faith as a valid lens through which to view the world. Reason is at once less rigid and more transparent.

As I close I should say that I have nothing against religion so long as its adherents mind their own business. I respect other’s right to believe and practice as they wish; I think they should respect mine as well. Religion can be a positive thing, so long as it does not try to enforce its will upon the unwilling (this is why we separate church and state here in the west, and why I support the strict enforcement of that separation). But until I am given evidence – solid, verifiable, empirical evidence – that gods or any other supernatural phenomena exist I shall remain utterly skeptical.

And very interested as well.


S

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Monday, October 11, 2004

Monday Linkfest

It’s a dreary, overcast Monday here in central Florida. The air is still and warm and the sky keeps thinking about raining, then seems to decide “maybe a little later”. The weather just isn’t enthusiastic about doing anything today … and the attitude is contagious. I think I could just about scrape together enough ambition right now to sit in a comfy recliner, alternately reading and napping. Because of my tireless devotion to my dear readers, however, I did invest some precious, precious energy in the expected Monday Linkfest.

First up are three non-blog links:

If there were this much dissention in the ranks of the candidate I’m supporting I’d be very worried. Not only about the chances of my guy winning, but about whether I was backing the right candidate at all. I know the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but you just don’t see this kind of stuff among Bush supporters.

And did you ever run into one of those people who just eats up all of the “ancient astronaut” nonsense? The folks who insist there are not only pyramids on Mars but that the ones here on Earth were built by (or perhaps for) aliens who visited our ancestors long ago? When you logic-and-evidence them into a corner, their usual response is something along the lines of “Oh yeah? Well then how did those ancient people build things like Stonehenge and The Great Pyramid of Giza? They didn’t even have wagons!”

Such people seriously need to watch more Discovery Channel. Or we can send them to The Forgotten Technology, where a builder with over 35 years of experience constructs and demonstrates how simple tools such as levers, beams, and the occasional pulley can be used to haul stone and precisely position it for construction projects. There’s really nothing new on this site – we’ve known how the pyramids were built for many years – but the demos are cool and might convince some of the netizens who wouldn’t see a good refutation of the ancient astronaut myth anywhere else.

Lastly, the good people who maintain the DragonCon web site have linked to dozens of fan photo collections; if you enjoyed my photo essay on the subject go here to browse through hundreds of pictures from the con.

Next, a couple blogs worth spending some time at this morning:

Serenity of Serenity’s Journal used to be a daily read for me. Then I started my own blog and a lot of my daily reads became occasional reads, and all too soon transitioned to used-to-reads. It’s not intentional, there’s just a limited amount of time one can spend in the blogosphere ... I'd love to get back in the habit of reading her work, though. Anyway, Serenity has some great pictures from the Afghani election over the weekend, including the very first voter – a woman – to cast a ballot. The image of a free and equal female voting in a country that just a few years ago was the most oppressive regime on Earth must drive the Islamofascists bonkers. The fact that a Republican President is responsible for it must drive the far-left liberals over here every bit as bonkers; perhaps that is another reason the two vile camps are so willing to ally with each other.

And Arthur Chrenkoff has a great piece about the Australian elections. I have to admit I didn’t think a whole lot about them other than to hope that John Howard won. He did – yay! – but Arthur goes into lots of interesting details and relates the outcome to world events as only someone who actually lives there and pays close attention can:

From a general point of view, this is good news for the "forces of liberation" and a huge slap in the face of both the domestic and international left. It breaks the "Madrid hex" and shows that backing the US in the war on terror and the war in Iraq is not a political suicide. The first Gulf War of '90-91 was said to have gotten rid of the Vietnam syndrome and helped America regain the confidence in the use of force. The Howard victory last night certainly looks like burying the Spanish syndrome for good. This should cheer Bush, as well as Blair.


There’s some disturbing news in there as well. When religious fundamentalists of any denomination gain influence it makes me nervous, but Australia’s new far-right religious extremists seem to have a particularly despicable attitude:

It will be interesting to watch where Family First goes from here. Religion, particularly of a socially conservative variety, is like a red rag to Australian media, and some Family First candidates did not do much credit to their party by calling lesbians witches that should be burned at the stake, and identifying "Satan's strongholds" in the neighborhood as "brothels, gambling places, bottleshops, mosque, temples - Freemasons/Buddhist/Hindu etc, witchcraft." But Family First has got the resources and demographics on their side.


Keep reading Chrenkoff for more on that as it develops.

That’s it for today kids. It’s a crappy day out, I’m tired, and I have to write a bunch of biographies for our newly hired Agents. Sigh. I’ll try to work up some indignation for a rant tomorrow.


S

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Friday, October 08, 2004

Giants in the Sandbox

The Zoo is like my own little philosophical sandbox; I like to play with my ideas here, make them fight each other, and then trumpet the virtues of the strongest ... until I let a better one in that stomps the old heros flat. An ongoing cage match of memes, if you will.

Today I came across a discussion over at 2 Blowhards. To extend the metaphor I was using previously, it felt like I'd stumbled into a really big sandbox - an entire beach, perhaps - upon which giant ideas had gone to war. Courteous and high-minded war, but war nonetheless. Go read this post and the ensuing comment thread for a look at how the 140+ IQ crowd discuss corporatization, the failure of Soviet socialism, and whether or not Noam Chomsky is a communist and a traitor.

When I looked over the BPCP entry for his blog I had a feeling there was more to this Linus Gelber guy than met the eye; this is one liberal who bears listening to even if you disagree with him.

Hat Tip to Harvey of Bad Example.


S

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Reconciliation: A Filthy Lie about Evil Glen’s Daydreams

It's been a while since I participated in an Alliance Filthy Lie Assignment. This week they have an interesting one about what Evil Glen's daydreams might be like, so I decided to put forth my own humble offering in the interest of freedom throughout the blogosphere.

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Listlessly going over the reports forwarded to him by his chief minister of naughtiness, Evil Glen muttered quietly to himself. The only witness was a Cocker Spaniel puppy who sat in a nearby blender, gazing at the “frappe” button with some trepidation.

“Hobo killings up 26% in the third quarter. Free-range puppy output almost double what it was at this time last year. Over 10,000 new bloggers being squeezed out of existence by my mighty Instapunditry. Everything is proceeding according to plan.” He drummed his fingers on the desk – carved from the bones of law students who had displeased him – and his mind began to wander onto more personal matters.

“Everything going according to plan … indeed … but my fondest wish is still unfulfilled … is still unfulfilled … still unfulfilled … unfulfilled …



Evil Glen sat on the raised platform, being fed grapes by Hollywood It Girls Fergie and Mischa Barton. Into the room came a blogtrooper with a manacled prisoner in tow.

“My dread lord, we captured this blogger approaching Chateau de Reynolds. He was alone, and armed only with this.” The blogtrooper handed Evil Glen an envelope and brought the prisoner forward.

“Ah, the elusive Frank J. is finally caught!” said Reynolds.

“Yes, father.” replied Frank J.

“So. You have finally accepted the truth.”

“Indeed, father. Open the envelope.”

Fearing a trap, Reynolds handed the unopened letter to Hollywood It Girl Fergie. “Hollywood It Girl Fergie, open this envelope.” He said.

“Of course, Glen.” she replied “But first let me straighten my micro-miniskirt, then turn around and bend over to fiddle with my six-inch stiletto heels.”

“Oh, I have to do that too.” added Hollywood It Girl Mischa Barton.

“I think you’ve been watching too much 'E!', father.”

“This is my daydream son. Shut up and enjoy the view.”

Skirt straightened and stiletto heels adjusted, Hollywood It Girl Fergie opened the envelope and handed it back to Evil Glen.

“It’s a Father’s Day Card!” Glen exclaimed.

“Yes, father. And you see the inside? I drew a picture of you and me holding hands.”

“Oh, son … I’m so … touched.”

“Now I will take my rightful place at your side, and together we shall rule the blogosphere!”

“Indeed, my son! Indeed! All shall kneel before us and tremble … and tremble … tremble …




The approach of footsteps shook Evil Glen from his reverie.

“Oh Evil One,” said the sniveling minion who had just entered. “I have a reply from Miss Barton regarding your offer to take her out for a refreshing Beagle mochachino.”

“Yes, yes?” Glen enthused.

"Dear Glen Reynolds – I wouldn’t have a drink with you if you were the last evil blogosphereic tyrant on Earth, you twisted f-"

“Enough!” interrupted Glen. “Is there anything from that ... horrible ... Frank J.?”

“No, your vileness. Nothing except the usual barrage of slander from that awful Alliance of his.”

“Very well. You may go eat your stale bread crust and then retire to your dirty straw mat.”

“Oh, thank you sir!”

The grateful minion retreated from the room, never noticing the single bitter tear that fell from Evil Glen’s eye as he turned back to his reports.


S

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Happy Birthday to Me

I'm 35 today. I consider it to be the official end of my youth; the mid-summer of my days are upon me. It's a good place to be, provided you don't have too many regrets. I have but two: I wish I'd been more honest when I was a young man, and I wish I'd served my country for a few years (those three or four years right after high school would have been perfect ... I didn't do anything but hang out on the beach and get into trouble anyway). But no one lives a perfect life, and as far as regrets go mine aren't so difficult to live with. I have a lot to be thankful for, including a great family, amazing friends, a good education, good health, and a blog with steadily increasing readership.

Anyway, enough about me and my birthday. There's no big essay today, just a couple items from The Zoo's e-mail bucket:

1) I've been nominated for a Faithless Award. Such awards "are presented to carefully selected websites that proudly demonstrate secularism, pluralism, empiricism, and eschew religious faith as a valid worldview." I'm not sure who nominated me, but thanks to whoever did ... I'm happy to display the link and be listed on the United Universist web site.

2) I've been link-begged for the first time. Eric of EricRocksTheWorld has asked to be listed in The Zoo's "blogs of note" section. His blog is pretty cool - he's a budding young photoshopper and a conservative - but he does not yet rate a spot on that blogroll. For now, Eric, you will have to be satisfied with a regular link; if you're still blogging a few months down the road we'll see about squeezing you in there between Bill Whittle and Metallica Rat.

That's all for today folks. Enjoy your hump day (Note to non-Americans: That means "middle of the week", it's not anything x-rated) and I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on the first two debates.


S


Update: Speaking of Bill Whittle, he's posted Part I and Part II of DETERRENCE (Whittle essays are a great birthday present). Both are excellent, and since he pretty much sums up the issue of the first debate I'll have to think of something else to post about tomorrow. Damn you Whittle! *Shakes Fist*


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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Innovation and the Lack of Theft

You sitting there reading this – yes, you – are selfish. Do you lock your door at night? Selfish. Do you keep your money in safe places (the bank, a lock-box, a money belt)? Selfish. Have you insured your car? Your home? Your engagement ring? Selfish, selfish, selfish. Would you spend your money on a doctor if you became ill? Selfish.

Do you expect reasonable raises at work, and are you happy when you get one? Selfish!

The word “selfish” has gotten a bad rap; people tend to think it means “miserly” or “greedy”, but those words actually mean something different. “Selfish” simply implies one is self-interested, which, if you’re still alive this far into the 21st Century, you are to one degree or another. Self-interest is what keeps you from stepping in front of busses or punching out your boss when he’s being an unreasonable bastard. It makes you use latex condoms, go to the doctor when you have a persistent stomach pain, and (if you’re smart) keep clothes and a weapon where you can reach both easily from your sleeping place.

Self-interest is why you want to keep what belongs to you ... if you didn’t need it, you wouldn’t have worked so hard for it. Besides that, it’s yours. Common sense tells you that you have a right to keep the fruits of your labor; money – or the goods and services that money buys – represent your investment of time and energy. The gold belongs to the guy who bought mining tools, risked his life digging it out of the ground, and sweated his nuts off in the sun separating nuggets from pebbles. It does not belong to the highwayman or the con artist, and if either of them takes the miner’s gold we rightly call it theft.

There is an entire socio-economic system built on theft. It's known as socialism, and it operates by taking everything (or almost everything) that everyone produces and then distributing it evenly among the population. It doesn’t matter if you pay for good mining tools and work twenty-hour days to fill a bag with gold dust, while the next guy comes up with nothing because he sat in the shade all day and prefers to invest his money in rot-gut whiskey. Under socialism, he’s entitled to as much of your gold as you are. In fact, if he and the town whore get a marriage license from the judge and squeeze out two bratty, no-account kids, they’re entitled to more of your gold than you are. Socialism also says it’s immoral for you to complain about it and illegal for you to try and change things.

So, under socialism, it of course ends up that lots of people sit in the shade and drink the rot-gut while very few put in the twenty-hour days with the expensive mining equipment. What’s the point if the rewards are the same for both? Eventually there is less and less gold, because everyone’s sucking off the system but few are actually producing anything. Soon the entire society collapses into anarchy as goods, services, and the money to buy them disappear (to say nothing of the fragile support structure required for things like art and science).

This is generally why, at the height of their empire, the Soviets had to wait in line for toilet paper.

Yesterday, people operating under a very different system put a man in space. No government help was required; private investors shelled out the cash to build a radically new design of spacecraft, one that launches and lands at an ordinary airport and has a gap of about a week between flights. Ten years ago everyone said such a thing was impossible. Not unlikely or very hard, but impossible.


SpaceShipOne Taking Off Posted by Hello

Well, the bright folks at Scaled Composites have done it a half-dozen times in the past year or so, with the last two flights coming less than a week apart. They won $10 million for doing that particular part of it. The entire thing was incredibly risky: The investors put huge sums of money on the line, the engineers their reputations, and the pilots their lives. The prize they won only begins to cover the cost of the venture ... but already more investors – and aspiring clients – are lining up outside their door. How does such a thing happen? How can an entire industrial-age superpower be unable to provide its citizens with toilet paper, but 15 years later and half a world away a company of twenty people puts a man in space twice in one week?


Pilot Binne, His Good Ship, and Old Glory Posted by Hello

Simple, really: The Soviets operated under a socialist system, where wealth was constantly stolen from the producers and innovators to be "redistributed". Eventually enough was stolen that production and innovation slowed to a snail’s pace; it simply wasn’t worth anyone’s effort to produce or innovate. Here in America, on the other hand, even the sky's not the limit. The government takes a little of what you make – too much, many people think – but you’re usually left with plenty to live on and enjoy. What’s more, if you can think up something radically new, useful, and / or popular, lots of people will buy it (because they all have some wealth the government isn’t stealing from them). Then you can get really rich, and perhaps invest your wealth in a dream. The next thing you know a private company is using your investment to put people in space ... then other wealthy people want to pay this company $200,000 to go themselves ... then your investment starts to gegerate more wealth ... then the company expands and gives lots of people good jobs ... and so on, and so on.

Social theorists – especially liberal ones – like to talk about this stuff as if it’s theory, as if socialism is an untested system with great potential. It isn’t. It was tried by the Soviets and it failed miserably. It’s in use today, thankfully tempered with democratic institutions, all across Europe. The “social democracies” are decent, safe, and boring places to live. No one starves, folks are generally healthy, and everyone has lots of government benefits. But taxes are huge, and no one is building space ships in the social democracies. Nor are they designing new and radical information systems or developing the cures for virulent diseases. That stuff is done in the Anglo-Asian first world, where talent and effort are rewarded and government thugs don’t steal the bread off your table to feed heroin addicts.

So the next time you hear some muckadoo slandering capitalism, you show them pictures of SpaceShipOne and its designers and pilots. You tell them that here in America we’ve eliminated poverty to such a degree that the biggest problem for our poor is that they eat too much. And you remind them that if their job involves technology in any way they almost certainly owe it to America and her 300 million free and capitalistic people.


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Monday, October 04, 2004

Monday Linkfest

Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne and its pilot, Brian Binnie, are going to deliver another nail into the coffin of socialism this morning by showing the entire world what kind of innovation is born of a free, prosperous, and competitive people. Thusly, there is going to be more posting here today than the normal Monday links; I just have a couple, then it’s back to half-working, half-watching Space.com’s live webcast of the SS1 launch.

The Big Trunk of PowerLine examines the idea that Europe – and France in particular – has allied itself with Arabia against the US and Israel. He provides links to the work of Bat Ye’or, whom he calls “the world's foremost scholar of the status of non-Muslims under Islam” and raises a few points of his own. The subject is even more relevant right now than in months past, seeing as how John Kerry is looking to woo these “allies” back into our bed should he be elected.

For my part, I agree that most of Europe is too soft on radical Islam. I also believe that the far left, all across the western world, has allied itself with these extremists in hopes they can succeed where communism failed (in defeating liberal democracy and free market economics). However, I really don’t see the nation-states of Europe as Arab allies. Rather, I see them as effete and self-interested has-beens who were only American allies as long as the threat of Soviet domination was looming over them. With that particular menace gone, most of those nations turned their backs on the US the moment it looked like we might actually expect them to help us for a change. If the left keeps increasing its power in Europe such nations might one day actually become bases for radical Islam, but right now I see their anti-Americanism as merely selfish and short-sighted.

Meanwhile, my new favorite blog has a post that details a variety of good news from the Islamic world. Arthur Chrenkoff brings us the latest on progress and reforms in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, and others. Pay particular attention to the section on Kuwait and this quote:

The report concludes: "Kuwaitis, who set up the Gulf region's first parliament more than four decades ago, have been pressing for more economic and political reform. Their calls have increased in volume since the April 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in neighbouring Iraq."


Hmmm. Does this sound like some things might be going exactly according to President Bush’s plan? Not that CNN will report it; they have too many pictures of Kerry out-smoothing Bush in last week’s debate to show you.

Lunchtime will bring much ado about spaceships and capitalism.


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Update: Blogger has gone wonky; just getting this update to publish took almost an hour. I'm not even going to try the SS1 post ... it's loaded with pictures and will be much harder for the servers to swallow than this lil' ol' paragraph. Hopefully they'll get things worked out over at Blogger HQ by tomorrow and I'll have that post up in the morning. For now, congradulations to Burt Rutan, Brian Binnie, and the rest of the Scaled Composites team! You've made history, and your nation is proud of you.

Now try not to blow the entire $10 million on beer and hookers, will ya?


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Friday, October 01, 2004

BPCP Update

The Blogosphere Political Compass Project has been updated. Go to the BPCP permalink page for a complete list of participants and links to their sites.


BPCP Chart 01Oct04 Posted by Hello

So here's the deal with the chart: Because everyone is clustering in certain areas, things have become way to cramped to label each point. I'm considering a couple options.

1) Invest in some expensive graphing software that can label each point automatically and offset the labels that would cover points.

2) Create four seperate Excel graphs (one for each quadrant), which would spread things out enough to put the labels back in.

If anyone has another idea, or a modification of one of those, leave a comment or send an e-mail. Either way I need to make a decision within the week, because I want to have the labels back on the graph by the next update.

Once again, thanks to all of those who are participating!


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