South Park Conservatives and "Sexual Harassment Panda"

Friday, July 29th, 2005

In Sexual Harassment Panda, the kids of South Park Elementary sit through a confusing presentation on sexual harassment in school — from a guy in a panda suit, naturally — then start suing one another, and the school, for what used to be acceptable playground taunts.

Kyle’s lawyer father, Gerald Broflovski, keeps buying newer, bigger houses with all the money he makes at everyone else’s expense:

Gerald: You see, Kyle, we live in a liberal, democratic society. And Democrats make sexual harassment laws. These laws tell us what we can and can’t say in the workplace. And what we can and can’t do in the workplace.
Kyle: Isn’t that fascism?
Gerald: No, because we don’t call it fascism. Do you understand?
Kyle: Do you?
Gerald: [rises] Just look at how big this house is, Kyle. Just look at it.

Iron, by Henry Rollins

Friday, July 29th, 2005

In Iron, Henry Rollins tells the story of his journey from self-loathing to self-respect. His advisor would be arrested for such “tough love” today:

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class.Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say shit to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron.

Surveillance After London: Threats and Opportunities

Friday, July 29th, 2005

In Surveillance After London: Threats and Opportunities, Arnold Kling makes a number of points that “at first may seem counterintuitive, but which I believe make sense once you consider them”:

  1. “Homegrown” terrorism represents an opportunity as well as a threat to security.
  2. Security cameras are an inferior surveillance technology.
  3. Screening at potential target sites is an activity with high costs and low benefits.
  4. The group most in need of intense, systematic scrutiny is the Department of Homeland Security.

How is homegrown terrorism an opportunity?

Many people are upset by the fact that some of the London bombers were British citizens. If you thought that terrorism could be prevented by requiring ID cards, systematically searching for illegal aliens, and deporting everyone without proper papers, then this might make you think twice. But I was never in that camp to begin with.

On the other hand, if you believe that the best way to deal with terrorism is to infiltrate the terrorist organizations in order to obtain strategic and tactical intelligence, then the existence of homegrown terrorism is an opportunity. It is pretty hard to insinuate a CIA agent into a clan-based cell located in some remote -stan. But if terror cells include people who otherwise appear to be ordinary English-speaking citizens, then infiltration should be much easier.

When Is Losing $112 Per Passenger Good News?

Friday, July 29th, 2005

Nick Gillespie of Reason asks When Is Losing $112 Per Passenger Good News?:

When you’re Amtrak — the nation’s passenger rail system and terrestrial version of NASA — when you compare it to the $208 per passenger loss in sleeper cars on the Capitol Limited.

Didn’t Bill Clinton end welfare as we knew it? Somebody forgot to tell Amtrak, which is sucking up $1.2 billion in federal gravy this fiscal year and is poised to get $1.82 billion next FY (thanks to those cost-cutting, gov’t-starving Republicans).

The ‘Bad’ Guy

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

I still haven’t read Everything Bad Is Good for You, but I did enjoy The ‘Bad’ Guy, about the book and its author:

When it comes to gaming, Johnson invokes some of the neuroscience he studied for his last book. Human brains are drawn to systems, he suggests, in which “rewards are both clearly defined and achieved by exploring an environment.” The exploration part is key: Gamers have to figure out the rules as they go along, and “no other pop cultural form directly engages the brain’s decision-making apparatus” the way video games do.

With television, Johnson’s argument rests more on economics. Complex narratives that “force you to work to make sense of them” have been rewarded by a marketplace where profit now depends heavily on repeat performances, whether on DVD or in syndication. Making shows more challenging to decode makes perfect sense if you’re assuming they’ll be watched more than once.

Games aren’t Hamlet or The Great Gatsby, Johnson writes; they’re more like mathematical logic problems. As such, “they are good for the mind on some fundamental level: They teach abstract skills in probability, in pattern recognition, in understanding causal relations that can be applied in countless situations, both personal and professional.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Wit Prigs

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

Greenpeace has decided that US readers should boycott the US edition of the latest Harry Potter and buy the Canadian edition instead, because the Canadian edition is printed on recycled paper.

Harry Potter and the Half-Wit Prigs explains, scathingly, why this isn’t a good idea:

We can leave aside all those inconvenient little facts about the paper industry, like people go out and plant the trees that they later turn into books, that paper recycling itself produces waste (including, it is said, dioxins) and that the collection of paper to be recycled is highly energy intensive. Indeed, if we try and pick our way through the claims and counterclaims of which is best for the environment or the economy, virgin or reused, we will no doubt end up as deranged as a Greenpeace member.

Fortunately we don’t have to. We already have a simple and convenient system for measuring whether one process or another uses more or less resources. It’s called the price. This is exactly what markets do, they aggregate all the costs of production into one single set of digits. A lower number means less resources used, a higher one more.

In This Corner, in the Flouncy Skirt and Bowler Hat…

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

In This Corner, in the Flouncy Skirt and Bowler Hat… describes pro wrestling, or lucha libre, as practiced in El Alto, Bolivia:

‘The cradle of freestyle wrestling is Mexico because that’s where the best fighters were — Hurricane Ramírez, the Jalisco Lightning, the Blue Demon,’ explained Juan Carlos Chávez, promoter of the Titans.

But now, he says proudly, Bolivia has its own stable of wrestlers who tussle in choreographed matches. And Bolivian organizers have introduced the innovation of fighting Cholitas, the indigenous women who wear bowler hats and multilayered skirts.

‘I wanted to get people’s attention and fill up the coliseum,’ said Juan Mamani, 46, the president of the Titans and a wrestler himself. ‘At first, I thought of fighting dwarves. I even brought in one from Peru. Then I thought of Cholitas. It’s been popular ever since.’

Oh, for the days before Crecy!

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

Oh, for the days before Crecy! claims that “fetishizing the good old days [WWII] as a model for today’s modern military is about as useful as longing for the era of chivalry following the Battle of Crecy” (where English archers wiped out a force of French knights).

I particularly enjoyed this comment by FDChief:

This thread reminds me of the evening I sat and talked with my FDO — a hell of a bright guy who is now an attorney (Erik, if you’re reading this, take a bow, sir) — and we agreed that since 1972 (when the draft was ended) we had entered the ‘Marian’ period of the Republic. The general public no longer has an obligation to serve (as in the early Republic) but the old tradition of a small peacetime army, mobilizing the people and electing consuls (read, officers) for wartime service (the Cincinnatus tradition) has given way to a large standing professional Army with long-service troopers. And if you think back, you can recall what happened to the Republic once its fortunes were in the hands of men who, while tough, smart and honorable, thought of themselves as soldiers first, citizens second…

What the Fido and I reasoned was that by using the excuse of the ‘increasingly complex’ nature of war and the need for a ‘highly trained’ Army the folks who wanted to USE the Army — the civilian leadership and most specifically the service chiefs and the Joint Staff — had removed the most fundamental of democratic checks to the military, the participation of the citizenry, and replaced them with ‘Marius’ Mules’. That this would provide a new window for military adventurism — it’s a lot easier to fight Fuzzy-Wuzzies with Ortheris and Learoyd than with Joe Public. The Legion can do things that the ‘troupes metropolitains’ just can’t do, politically…and that, just as the Romans had, we Americans might find that somewhere in our future was our Caesar, and we could wake up to find that were were no longer citizens of the Republic but subjects of empire.

The is not to say that we haven’t produced a superbly trained Army — we have. But to concentrate the instruments of military power in the hands of a professional military class, regardless of the need, is to give that class the ultimate authority over civilians.

So let’s be realistic about the choice we’ve made: in order to provide the country with an Army that is unsurpassed in defending the country, we have produced an Army politically isolated and socially distinct from that country that it defends. This IS a potential danger to the country, and we would be well informed to be cognisant of that fact.

You can either have a house pet that barks indifferently well or a savage guard dog that views anything weaker than itself as prey. The war dog is by far the better at protecting the house but is an ever-present risk to maul the children.

Cafta’s Benefits

Thursday, July 28th, 2005

Cafta’s Benefits makes a case for the Central American Free Trade Agreement:

Start simply with the appeal of greater two-way trade: The vast majority of Cafta-made products already enter the U.S. duty-free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Cafta opens the way for more U.S. products going south. The agreement also boosts intellectual property protection in Cafta countries, as well as competition in financial and other services in which the U.S. excels. American farmers alone expect to increase exports to Central America by some $1.5 billion a year. All that goes away if Cafta fails.

We are also told that Cafta can’t work because the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 didn’t work. And while it’s true that Nafta didn’t cure cancer or turn Mexico into Switzerland, those who argue that Nafta failed are ignoring the evidence.

In Nafta’s first decade, annual two-way trade between the U.S. and Mexico almost tripled, to $232 billion from $81 billion. During that same period the U.S. created 18 million net new jobs and, even after the dot-com implosion and the recession of 2001, the current U.S. jobless rate of 5% is lower than it was (6.4%) when Nafta became law. U.S. productivity and wages have all climbed steadily. Ross Perot’s prediction of a ‘giant sucking sound’ proved to be a fantasy.

But what about ‘the trade deficit’? Well, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reported last week that, since the birth of Nafta, U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico have grown 55% faster than they have to the rest of the world, while imports from Mexico and Canada have only grown 20% faster. NAM says that Nafta partners make up just 10% of the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods.

Hillary vs. the Xbox: Game over

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

You can tell that Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, had some fun composing this open letter to Senator Clinton, cited in Hillary vs. the Xbox: Game over:

I’m writing to commend you for calling for a $90-million study on the effects of video games on children, and in particular the courageous stand you have taken in recent weeks against the notorious ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series.

I’d like to draw your attention to another game whose nonstop violence and hostility has captured the attention of millions of kids — a game that instills aggressive thoughts in the minds of its players, some of whom have gone on to commit real-world acts of violence and sexual assault after playing.

I’m talking, of course, about high school football.

(Hat tip to Boing Boing.)

Why Hedge Funds Hunt for Animals, Search the Stars

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

From Why Hedge Funds Hunt for Animals, Search the Stars:

When Alan Ware started his hedge fund, he found plenty of investors, a comfortable office in midtown Manhattan and a strategy to make money. But a big problem remained: ‘All the Greek gods were taken.’

So were many animals, mountain ranges, rivers, roads — even solar systems.

He and his partners slogged through maps, the Internet, Latin words and suggestions from friends before finding a suitable name for their firm, which oversees about $100 million. ‘It was harder than naming my children,’ says the father of two. They settled on Pike Place Capital Management, after a prominent farmers’ market in Seattle, the city where Mr. Ware was born.

That was three years ago, before thousands more people set out to start hedge funds, private investment partnerships for rich individuals and institutions. Now, with more than 8,000 hedge funds world-wide — twice as many as five years ago — managers are bumping into each other in their quest for the perfect name.

Firetrucks Go High Tech

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

From Firetrucks Go High Tech:

Fire engines aren’t what they used to be. Today’s trucks are bigger, faster, safer and smoother-riding. They look like traditional firetrucks, but they can be equipped like ambulances or command centers, with state-of-the-art electronics, communications systems and climate control to make sure vials of medicine are kept cool. In addition to putting out fires, these trucks are used to extract people from crumpled cars, resuscitate heart-attack victims, reinforce collapsing buildings and analyze chemical spills.

The price of a single rig frequently exceeds $500,000 and occasionally tops $1 million. The Federal Bureau of Investigation paid $1.4 million for a high-technology command center vehicle to coordinate security at last January’s presidential inauguration. Although the number of trucks sold in North America has held steady at about 5,500 annually for the past five years, revenue at their makers has been increasing as equipment prices have shot up. Firetruck makers estimate the industry’s annual revenue at $2 billion, a number that is likely to rise as municipal budgets rebound.

Hoover’s Institution

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Laurence Silberman opens Hoover’s Institution with some eye-catching credentials:

I recently completed a rewarding year as co-chairman of President Bush’s commission on intelligence, and I propose to discuss our recommendations regarding the FBI in light of my own unique experience with J. Edgar Hoover.

His experience:

I became deputy attorney general in early 1974, after the “Saturday night massacre.” Having seen printed rumors of the “secret and confidential files” of J. Edgar Hoover (who had died in 1972), I asked Clarence Kelly, the very straight and honorable director of the bureau, whether they existed. He assured me that they did not. If they ever did they must have been destroyed.

I was shocked then, when on Jan. 19, 1975, as acting attorney general, I read a front page story in the Washington Post confirming the existence of the files. The story pointed out that the files contained embarrassing material collected on congressmen. When I confronted Kelly, he was initially mystified. He then realized the Post must be referring to files in his outer office, in plain sight, which he had inherited but never examined. Sure enough, they were the notorious secret and confidential files of J. Edgar Hoover.

The House Judiciary Committee demanded I testify about those files, so I was obliged to read them. Accompanied by only one FBI official, I read virtually all these files in three weekends. It was the single worst experience of my long governmental service. Hoover had indeed tasked his agents with reporting privately to him any bits of dirt on figures such as Martin Luther King, or their families. Hoover sometimes used that information for subtle blackmail to ensure his and the bureau’s power.

His point:

The notion that the FBI’s purity would be endangered if its counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations were a more integrated part of the intelligence community seems laughable. If the FBI were to be corrupt, as it surely was under Hoover, no organizational structure would solve that problem. And if it is honorable, as it surely is under Bob Mueller (and has been for many years), then a separate national security service with a close relationship with the new director of national intelligence promises only benefits to the country’s security.

I’m not sure his point naturally follows. But this recommendation makes some sense:

Former Director Louis Freeh initiated the practice of taking new FBI recruits through the Holocaust Museum to show what can happen when the law enforcement apparatus of a country becomes corrupted. I have always thought that sort of extreme example was a bit farfetched for our country, but there is an episode closer to home. I think it would be appropriate to introduce all new recruits to the nature of the secret and confidential files of J. Edgar Hoover. And in that connection this country — and the bureau — would be well served if his name were removed from the bureau’s building.

Fortress America?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

Fortress America? addresses a recent proposal to spend $5 billion more on policing the borders:

Never mind that since 1986 the U.S. strategy of spending more and more money on militarizing the border hasn’t worked. According to a recent Cato Institute study by Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, ‘By 2002, the Border Patrol’s budget had reached $1.6 billion and that of the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] stood at $6.2 billion, 10 and 13 times their 1986 values, respectively.’

Over the same 16-year period, the number of border patrol officers tripled, and the amount of hours spent patrolling the border increased by a factor of eight. By 2002, Professor Massey notes, ‘the Border Patrol was the largest arms-bearing branch of the U.S. government next to the military itself.’

Meanwhile, the illegal immigration flow has only increased, and all of this extra ‘enforcement’ is arguably one reason. When illegals felt they could more easily cross the border, they’d enter the U.S. on a seasonal (or sometimes even daily) basis or when they needed the money. Then they’d often return home. But with the difficulty of re-entry so much higher in the last 20 years, many more migrant workers choose to remain here permanently. The risk of staying is lower than the price of re-running the border gantlet.

The alternative:

Based on the fact that the vast majority of migrants come here in search of work, Senators McCain and Kennedy aim to lower the level of illegal immigration by expanding our relatively few channels for legal entry to meet the demand. Giving economic immigrants legal ways to enter the U.S. will reduce business for human smugglers and counterfeiters. Moreover, it will allow our border authorities to concentrate their resources on chasing down real security threats instead of nannies and gardeners.

Down Over Moving Up: Some New Bosses Find They Hate Their Jobs

Wednesday, July 27th, 2005

The Wall Street Journal‘s latest “Cubicle Culture” column, Down Over Moving Up: Some New Bosses Find They Hate Their Jobs, notes that a promotion often isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:

Conditioned all their lives to play their cards right, they aspire ever upward, unaware that the less appealing aspects of a low-level job (navigating expense reports and the sharp shoals of the HR and legal departments) are greatly amplified if they hit the big time. It’s only later that many managers discover that the office with their name on it is private primarily to help them concentrate on budget items, overdue performance reviews and the menus for going-away parties.