Saturday, May 14, 2005

pointless Biblical arguments

Dean, who is not a Christian, is asking Christians to prove from the Bible that abortion is wrong. In a previous article, he asked them to prove that homosexuality is wrong. Frankly, I think exercises like this are pointless. Just because our reasoning is not persuasive to non-Christians, that isn't going to effect our own beliefs. And if some Christian could prove to a non-Christian positively that the bible forbids abortion, the non-Christian would just go, "Oh well, I guess it does. I still believe in abortion."

So what's the point?

The Bible isn't a user manual. You don't just look up "homosexual" and read the rules. Jesus says that we should not judge, yet he gives many specific instructions that require judging. How do we reconcile this? You have to understand what "judge" means in that context.

The Bible doesn't specifically say that sex with kids is wrong. When NAMBLA becomes respectable enough that it has to be debated (and it will, if Christians keep losing the culture war) are you going to start snarkily asking Christians "which Bible verse specifically says that sex with kids is wrong?"

The Bible also doesn't say that slavery is wrong, or wars of aggression, or genocide. In fact there are places in the Bible that seem to condone all three in one sense or another. But the Bible does say things like love your enemy and treat strangers with compassion. Most Christians and practically all evangelicals, believe that those were special circumstances that no longer apply, and that God doesn't want us treating our fellow man that way. We can't show you specific verses that probibit those things, but it's there, to one who reads with an open heart.

The Bible also says that we should not harm children, and most Christians take that in the broadest sense; as anyone would do who was genuinely compassionate about children. The Bible also says not to be sexually immoral, and it does refer to homosexuality as immoral. Can you twist things around to cast doubt on the issue? Can you argue that the prohibition against homosexuality is part of the law like not eating pork and that it no longer applies? Yes, but only by really stretching things. And do you really want to argue that anything that isn't specifically prohibited in the New Testament in precise language is permitted? If so, practically everything is permitted. I don't believe that anywhere in the New Testament is there a specific prohibition against rape, murder, torture, or any other major crime.

UPDATE: forgot the link. It's there now.

loss of innocence

It's still quite painful, but I think I'm ready to blog about this now. I'm hoping that this will be a catharsis, blogging about my pain. And a warning. A warning for others not to do what I did.

I should say at the outset that I don't drink very much. This is a matter of preference, not religious scruples. Just don't enjoy drinking very much. So I was a bit naive and inexperienced about alcohol --something my friend was well aware of when he took me out to a bar, got me drunk, and took advantage of me. I feel so dirty.

It happened at a Vietnamese beer bar. Everyone sits around a big table talking, drinking beer and eating fatty, salty Vietnamese foods. The waitresses tend to be young, attractive and artificially enhanced.

I can't claim that I was falling down drunk. I wish that I could, but I was only a little buzzed from drinking beer on an empty stomach. I wish that alcohol could dim the sordid memory. But no. I remember it like it was last week. Actually, it was last week. My abusive friend, who shall remain anonymous, said, "Come on, Dave, everyone's doing it." I resisted at first. If everyone were jumping off a cliff, would I do it too? Probably not. It depends on how high cliff is, of course, and how deep the water is at the bottom. And if I was drunk, I guess.

So I said, "No way, [name of anonymous abuser], I don't do that in public. Maybe in the privacy of my own home. Sometimes when I'm taking a shower, maybe...".

One of the cute waitresses says, "Oh come on. It's a lot of fun. No one is going to be paying attention to you." She thumbs the pages suggestively.

I'm weakening, but I respond, "I couldn't do it anyway, I don't read Vietnamese."

"There are some in English." anonymous abuser tells me.

"None I know. And they're all sappy."

"Only a fool rushes in...", he says.

"Like I said: sappy. And I don't know it anyway."


"Oh. Well that's one of my shower songs, but not in public."

He let it drop with my en-teenth refusal and I thought the subject was over. Then the microphone came around to our table. He sang a sappy Vietnamese song. Another guy at the table sang a sappy Vietnamese song. A waitress sat at our table long enough to sing a sappy Vietnamese song. She had kind of a sexy voice though so it wasn't quite so cringe-worthy.

Then the strains of Desperado start issuing sleekly from the speaker. A subtle serpent of sound. (So sorry for the sequence of sibilant syllables. It was a senseless speech selection). Anonymous abuser waves the microphone in my face. "Come on, Dave, you know you want too...". Cute waitress weighs in too.

Well, what can I say. My defenses were lowered by alcohol. I wanted to fit in. And I've been so very lonely, singing alone in my shower. Not that I want anyone in my shower singing with me or anything...

So I admit that I did it. I did the unthinkable. Yes, I took that beer-scented microphone into my sweaty little hands and I sang (loosely speaking, of course). As I started singing, another voice intruded on the sound track. A Johnny Cash impersonator. A very bad Johnny Cash impersonator. Surprised, and thinking that they had forgotten to turn off the main vocal track, I stopped. The bad Johnny Cash impersonator stopped when I did.


Well it could have been worse. I could have sounded like a bad Olivia Newton John impersonator. Having solved the mystery, I eased back into the song, feeling my way carefully through the music like a stolen armored car through a barricade of police cars. I believe I hit no more than two or three phrases at the right point in the music. If I was on-key, it was an accident because I never thought about it until the song was over. I'm told I was singing too low or had the microphone too far away, but I'm sure it was painful enough at the volume I gave it.

After it was over, I couldn't look anyone in the eye. Which was OK, actually, because no one could look me in the eye either. Cute waitress told me it was good and then hurried away on some errand. Anonymous abuser felt compelled to say something, so without looking at me he mumbled that I had sounded sort of country. Then he quickly ordered another round of beers to kill the pain.

No one pressed me to do another song and I wondered if that was significant. To test my theory, I asked anonymous abuser if they had "Lying Eyes" in that little book. He didn't think so. "Hotel California?" He was pretty sure they didn't have Hotel California either. "The Way We Were? Everyone has to have The Way We Were." He thought most of the other songs were in Vietnamese.

Ah yes. The reticence was indeed significant.

We'll be going back to that place again tonight. I'll bet anonymous abuser doesn't try to tempt me again.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

PETA murders helpless little kittens

OK, this one made me chuckle. PETA saves money for its political activities by killing 85% of the animals that are entrusted to its care rather than boarding them and trying to find homes.

I've long suspected that the extremist animal rights activists are really no more concerned with the welfare of animals than they are with the welfare of unborn human babies. It's just an emotional lever for them to use in politics, something to help make sure that the Democratic party isn't taking the pro-death side on every single issue out there. It's a moral issue where the left can appear to be taking the more humane side (only in appearance, though), without interfering in their agenda to eliminate true morality from society.

I learned a new word today

I ran across the word "teledildonics" while surfing for computer-controlled toys. If it sounds a bit obscene, that's because it is. I suppose you could call these ... devices "computer-controlled toys", but they're not for kids.

I hate to sound un-hip, but here's the thing: I'm as old-fashioned about sex as I am about coffee-making. Yes, women are a lot of trouble, but like microwaves, they are just better than new-fangled technology for certain activities.

Sometimes the old ways are the best.

recruiting for the Border Patrol

I seldom watch TV, but the other day I saw an ad recruiting people for the Border Patrol. I remember thinking it was odd, recruiting for the Border Patrol in the San Francisco Bay area, but then I forgot about it. Then, while writing the post just following this one, I started thinking: suppose the politicians were afraid that public pressure (like the Minutemen) would force them to stop interfering, and let the Border Patrol do their job. What else could they do to make sure that the tide of illegal aliens continues unabated?

The answer is obvious: make sure the Border Patrol itself doesn't want to do its job. And how do you do that? You seed it with people who are pro-illegal-immigration. Advertising in the Bay Area is a great start.

Right now, this is just Speculation. In order to make it a Theory, I would need to find out where the advertisements are running. Has anyone else seen these recruitment ads? Where have you seen them? Does anyone know how I could find out from the government where they ran the ads?

borders and democracy

Steven Taylor on the Minutemen as vigilantes again:
And no, I really don’t find the “neighborhood watch” analogy to work. If these were local land owners watching their property and their neighbors and reporting suspicious activity, then the analogy would hold. This is not what is going on, but rather the organization of amateurs who have flown in of their own accord to show how they can do a better job than the Border Patrol, and/or shame the border batrol into action (so yes, Doc Rampage, I think that sanctimonious (or, perhaps “self-righteous”) does apply).
He doesn't say how the problem of illegal aliens that cross the border in southern Arizona to move to Cincinnati is only the responsibility of people in southern Arizona and no business of the people in Cincinnati. But more importantly, I think he has misstated the goal. No one is interested in shaming the border patrol. The point is to put pressure on politicians by shining a light on an area where they are actively and deliberately working against the will of the people who voted for them. The Minutemen don't think they can do a better job than the border patrol; they think the border patrol is being prevented from doing its job by politicians.
My main objection is that the premise that underlies the Minutemen project itself, i.e., that the problem with border is lax enforcement and if the Border Patrol would just “kick it up a notch” that the problem would be solved. Indeed: most rhetoric on this topic is radically simplistic (e.g., “just round ‘em all up” or “let the homeless do those jobs”, etc.—it simply doesn’t work that way).
There is an abiding myth amongst many (mainly on the right-side of the political spectrum) that if we just did a little bit more, we could stem the tide of illegals flowing across the Mexican border, and that we can actually control that border.
Thats a caricature of the real position. The real position is that if we did a lot more (not a little) then we could greatly reduce illegal immigration (no one expects perfection). George Bush and other advocates of illegal immigration seem to agree with us, or they would have no objection to rigorous enforcement of the borders. The very fact that politicians and activists take political risks to hinder the Border Patrol shows that they think the Border Patrol can be effective.

In fact the idea that we aren't capable of controlling our borders is a bit odd. The Russians managed to control the Iron Curtain border pretty effectively and they had many disadvantages compared to the US of today. Any sovereign nation that can't control its own borders is hardly a sovereign nation. The secret of the US, of course is that we can control our borders, it's just that our leaders don't want to.

In fact, that is the problem: our elected officials are subverting democracy by failing to uphold the laws that they are sworn to uphold. It isn't just that it can't be done, Michelle Malkin and others have documented many, many instances of governments simply refusing to enforce their own laws. Politicians know that they would be punished in the polls if they repealed the laws or changed the laws more to their own liking, so instead, the they just make sure the laws aren't enforced. They get the policies they want without all that messy democratic process, just like getting the Supreme Court to change the constitution without all that annoying voting stuff.

And what is our remedy for such behavior in a democratic system? Keep in mind that the politicians are enacting policy in the shadows, without open democratic process. So we shine a light on the shadowy behavior. Sure, we could just keep blogging about it, but that isn't going to do the job. What's important is focused attention. That's what the politicians are trying to avoid by their underhanded activities. After all, isn't like everyone doesn't know what's going on. What the politicians are avoiding by not using the proper legislative process is the need to take a public action, something that attention can be focused on come their next election.

The complaint that the Minutemen are overly simplistic is itself overly simplistic. This isn't Barney Fife running to the border to stop the invasion of Mexican farm workers with his trusty bullet in his shirt pocket. This is Ronald Reagan saying "evil empire." This is taking a problem that powerful people would like to sweep under the rug and dragging it out into the open.

If any border jumpers are actually stopped by the Minutemen, that's just a bonus.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

I'm a sucker for physics analogies

Roscoe writes:
Liberals should maybe think about that. Maybe conservative working class guys aren't insane, and maybe they are voting their interests, and maybe you could figure out what their interests are by looking at the way they vote, instead of the other way around.
You'll have to read the article to find out what the analogy is...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

speaking of curmudgeoniness

I finally had to let Sheya have it over the way she has been toturing her loyal readers for the last couple of months. I go read that story every day, looking for a resolution and all she does is give me another problem. AAAAUUUUUGGGGG!

UPDATE: Actually, I just went to look and my comment isn't there... Oh well. It's just as well that Donald won't see it.

UPDATE p(0,1): As Sheya says in one comment to this post, my comment to her post is up now. As she says in a different comment, I forgot the link to her site. Sorry, Sheya! It's there now.

spreading curmudgeoniness

Donald Crankshaw recently observed that I'm "pretty curmudgeony" based on that post on programmer appreciation day. It's true enough, but I don't see why he bring it up in that context. Am I curmudgeony just because everything sucks?

Anyway, Donald displays a bit of curmudgeoniness when innocent (in both senses of the word) reporters write about quantum computation.

Actually, I wonder if being a blogger isn't a highly predictive factor for curmudgeoniness.


The latest Storyblogging Carnival is up.

losing the party

It's a good rule of thumb that if a newspaper has a story that makes a politician look bad and doesn't give the party of the politician, then the politician is Democrat. I just saw a variation on this habit of losing the party.

Patterico writes some more about the anti-Republican hit piece in the L.A. Times. I think it's worth noting this gem though:
There was anti-Semitism: According to Laura Kalman’s biography of Fortas, Sen. James Eastland privately feared he “could not go back to Mississippi” if he voted to confirm a Jewish chief justice.
They don't mention that Senator Eastland was a Democrat. Their evidence that Republicans were motivated to "filibuster" a Jewish nominee is that a Democrat didn't want to support a Jew.

Now you could make the argument that this example is only shown to prove the existence of anti-Semitism, but that won't work. The example anti-Semitism was from a southern politician at a time when the south was the only openly racist political region. In most of the country at the time, and even in parts of the south, racism was a political liability. And even if one is willing to accept this very weak point, the article was dishonest in not providing a critical piece of evidence for evaluating the point.

Monday, May 09, 2005

evangelical stereotypes

Greg (whose last name isn't apparent on the blog) on evangelical stereotypes:
But how do we have a democratic republic if the beliefs of four out of every ten Americans are declared illegitmate and those Americans are excluded from the process? How is it that those values can be labeled extreme when they are shared by enough Americans to enable their supporters to control the executive and legislative branches?
Read the rest.

hypothetical toy

OK, let's just suppose, as a purely abstract exercise, that you knew someone who had just moved into a new office building with lots of empty space. Also suppose (this is purely fictional, you understand) that this person was toying with the idea of constructing a remote control vehicle that would work by connecting to the company's wireless network (of course this would be an unconscionable misuse of corporate resources) so that he could put a USB video camera on it and control it from his desktop to run around the office after hours, after all the suits have left. How would you recommend this hypothetical person go about accomplishing this hypothetical goal?

My first thought was to buy something like a remote-control truck, mount a mini-ITX board on it with a wireless network card, and then, uh, I don't know. How would I get the computer to control the truck?

Someone suggest Lego Mindstorm, but what information I could get on it didn't look too promising (and the designers of that site, by the way, are prime candidates for programmer appreciation day). I'm not interested in building the thing, I want to play with it. Hypothetically, of course.

an exercise in sophistry

Professor Bainbridge backs off from some of his attacks on the Minutemen and their supporters (via Xrlq) but will not back off on calling the Minutemen vigilantes. In addition to what Xrlq said, I'd like to add that Bainbridge is taking the first option from the two I described here (pick a definition that applies but doesn't have a negative connotation), but in a clever way. He chooses a compound definition that actually includes two meanings for the word: one that is deserving of bad connotations and one that is not. Here is his definition (from here):
vigilante: a person who tries in an unofficial way to prevent crime, or to catch and punish someone who has committed a crime, especially because they do not think that official organizations, such as the police, are controlling crime effectively. Vigilantes usually join together to form groups.
Notice that "or", it is used to get two definitions in one. We can break out the two definitions like this:
vigilante: a person who tries in an unofficial way to prevent crime, especially because they do not think that official organizations, such as the police, are controlling crime effectively. Vigilantes usually join together to form groups.
vigilante: a person who tries in an unofficial way to catch and punish someone who has committed a crime, especially because they do not think that official organizations, such as the police, are controlling crime effectively. Vigilantes usually join together to form groups.
See the difference? The first definition is perfectly innocuous. I'd be inclined to call those people just good citizens; and that is the only definition that applies to the Minutemen. The second one is deserving of the bad reputation of vigilantes, but it doesn't apply at all to the Minutemen.

The good Professor also sees fit to defend his characterization of the Minutemen as "nuts". He just doesn't "get the mentality of protestors". I have to admit, neither do I. I've never been that worked up about an abstract political issue to go and spend my precious (and rare) vacation time doing something about it. But that doesn't make them "nuts" it makes them "more dedicated than me". I wish that Professor Bainbridge could see the difference. I wonder how he would have felt about the first Minutemen. They were pretty serious protestors themselves.

Professor Bainbridge also links approvingly to this article in which Steven Taylor takes a more complex stab at defining the Minutemen into vigilante status while preserving the negative connotations. First, he makes the (quite valid) point that the definition is fluid, and then gives one definition that he thinks fits:
vigilante: “morally sanctimonious” behavior aimed at rectifying or remedying a “structural flaw” in society, with the flaw usually being some place where the law was ineffective or not enforced.
In other words, "vigilante" contains "sanctimonious". It is, therefore no more objective to call someone a vigilante than it is to call them sanctimonious. It is a moral judgment, not a factual judgment, and furthermore a judgment that neither Bainbridge nor Taylor is in a position to make.

To be morally sanctimonious is to feign morality. It doesn't apply to the merely mistaken, but only to one who deliberately pretends to be doing the right thing for amoral or immoral reasons. By adopting this definition then, Taylor is accusing the Minutemen of only pretending to believe that they are doing good. How could he possibly have come to that judgment when he knows so little about them?

This might be a bit too blatant to convince anyone, so Taylor muddies the waters by adding another definition:
vigilante: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law appear inadequate)
broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice
He then comments
they are watchers [a reference to the etymology which I elided], they are volunteers, they seek to suppress crime, and they are certainly self-appointed seekers of justice
But this is too precious. The definition refers to punishing crime summarily --the source of the bad connotations-- and Taylor just skips this part. He even changes "doer of justice" to "seeker of justice", a not inconsiderable change.

As an aside of questionable relevance, I'm not even sure the "seeker of justice" applies. More like "a seeker of making our elected officials uphold the laws they are sworn to uphold". I don't think the word "justice" really applies.

And finally (I know this is getting long, but Bainbridge and Taylor are both clever sophists requiring careful analysis) Bainbridge says this:
On a larger issue, if you follow the trackbacks to that post (or could read my email) you'll see lots of folks who seem to think I said everybody who opposes illegal immigration is a racist or nativist. That was not my intent. There are plenty of folks who would oppose illegal immigration even if the immigrants were WASPs. I think they're wrong, as I've said before, but more power to them. Let's have a debate.
My point, however, was that there is an element - a fraction - of the anti-immigration right that is racist and nativist and which opposes illegal immigration precisely because the immigrants aren't WASPs. Not all opponents of open borders, probably not even a majority, but some. You've got to be either hopelessly naive or disingenuous to deny that reality.
First, I applaud him for saying this, and I have to agree that there are certainly racists among the Minutemen supporters, but I don't think he should be let off the hook so easily. When Schwarzenegger supported the Minuteman project, Bainbridge said he did it "to appeal to the nativist/racist wing of the state party". I don't see any way to interpret this other than as a claim that the people that his words were intended to appeal to (like me) were predominantly nativist and racist. It is certainly not consistent with his current stand that not even a majority are so described.

Then Bainbridge added: "In contrast to Schwarzenegger, President Bush has aptly referred to these nuts as "vigilantes." Let's hope he can convince Arnie that nativism and racism are bad politics and bad policy." This clearly labels support for the Minuteman project as a policy of nativism and racism. What then would you call supporters of such policies?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

the fairness of Social Security

Roscoe has some interesting stats on Social Security:
But, on average, we have a Social Security system where some of the poorest people in the country are having money taken out of their paychecks, so that (given that the trust fund is a sham) it can be shipped over to the richest folks. It's Robin Hood in reverse.