Monthly Archives: July 2003

contemplation/morality

I have yet to hear all the details of Bush’s press conference this morning, but a couple quotes on the subject of same-sex marriage caught my eye. His phrasing is interesting – not in his usual “is our children learning” interesting, but interesting for their implications.

“I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that.”

He could have omitted the words “I believe” for a rhetorically stronger but basically equivalent statement. Instead he frames his comment on marriage as a personal opinion, I guess to avoid the appearance of moralizing. “I believe” is very nonconfrontational compared to other possible phrasings (“I think…” “I would argue…” “I am convinced…”) and in some ways implies that the conclusion is a matter of personal judgement.

What bothers me is that he says “I believe that… and I believe that we should codify that one way or the other.” This would bother me no matter what you put in the ellipses. President Bush, the government is not here to codify your beliefs into law. If you want to codify something you had damn well better have more justification than “I believe that…”

“I think it is important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts. On the other hand, that does not mean that someone like me needs to compromise on the issue of marriage.”

Actually, it means exactly that. It is neither respectful nor welcoming to deny to same-sex couples benefits which are extended to opposite-sex couples. It is discriminatory in the worst sense of the word, and it’s a bit disgusting to hear him talk of “respect” while advocating this shit.

And then there’s this one, which actually preceded the quote above chronologically.

“I am mindful that we’re all sinners and I caution those who may try to take a speck out of the neighbor’s eye when they got a log in their own.

It seems to me that this quote is more about Lawrence v. Texas than same-sex marriage. The clear, intended implication is that he considers homosexuality sinful, but the less clear, possibly unintended implication is that this alone is not sufficient reason to legislate against it. Now, I don’t think (unfortunately) that he’s endorsing this as a general principle, but it’s good to see some acknowledgement that the domain of government does not extend to activities that are sinful but not immoral.

As an aside, my understanding of the distinction between “sinful” and “immoral” is that it is analogous to that between “spiritual” and “material”. In other words, sinful acts are those proscribed by religious edict, whereas immoral acts have some element of harm to society. An exact definition of what is moral is beyond the scope of this entry, but I suspect Plato more or less had it right in Chapter 1 of The Republic when he identified the Golden Rule as the basis of morality. The main point is that morality is not arbitrary, and immoral acts have a real, observable effect on society in the material world. Some sinful acts, on the other hand, may be harmless now but will, according to the priests, be counted against the sinner in the afterlife. Homosexuality is one of these. I think whether someone considers homosexuality immoral is a good test for whether he has a poor grasp of the concept of morality, so I’m actually happy to see Bush use the term “sinful” here as opposed to “immoral”.

The above should also explain exactly why I find it so irksome when guys like Joe Lieberman claim that morality cannot exist without religion. It’s obvious from such a statement that Lieberman has no idea what morality is really about, and he just follows the rules without knowing why. The obvious problem with this in terms of putting him in a leadership position is that if he doesn’t understand where morality comes from, he won’t be able to handle tricky moral situations.

In terms of a political philosophy, an understanding of the distinction between immoral and sinful behavior is absolutely vital. The government has no reason to concern itself with the afterlife prospects of its citizens, but deterring immoral behavior is part of the government’s job in maintaining a functioning society. In the minds of guys like Lieberman, who think morality is dictated by religion, there can be no church-state separation – because they recognize that the government must enforce moral behavior, but they think that the church decides what is moral. I consider this an extremely dangerous mentality for a lawmaker to have.

So, Bush is making the right suggestion here: that it’s not the government’s responsibility to regulate sinful behavior. Now if he’d quit his assaults elsewhere on church-state separation, we might have something…

addendum/recallorama

Just wanted to point everyone to commentary on the California recall that is more entertaining than mine: The Daily Show, as usual, hits several nails on their respective heads. (The relevant clip is available via that link.)

I promise I’ll find something else to talk about next week!

addendum/recall

More on the California recall. (I’m sure this issue is boring all my non-California readers to death.) Anyway, my suspicion has been that some large ego among the California Democrats will be the first to break ranks and declare candidacy, and once one Dem declares all the other aspiring governors follow. Slate’s Mickey Kaus agrees, and identifies the most likely of the egos: Arianna Huffington.

Here’s the scenario I forsee. Huffington gets her name on the ballot, and is followed by Dianne Feinstein, Cruz Bustamante, possibly Leon Panetta, and probably one or two others I’m not aware of. Meanwhile the Republicans field either Schwarzenegger or Riordan along with Issa, Simon, and maybe Kemp. On election day Davis is recalled by a 5%-10% margin. The Democratic vote is split more or less evenly among the various contenders, but on the Republican side whichever of Schwarzenegger or Riordan is running makes a stronger showing than the others. The replacement governor will be Schwarzenegger or Riordan with about 35% of the vote.

We’ll see if all those political science courses I took were worth anything…

contemplation/recall

Today I was reminded to update my voter registration.

Yes, Gov. Davis’ recall vote is on and scheduled for Oct. 7. Some recall opponents have said that this process is undemocratic. The usual response is, “how can an election be undemocratic?” If I wanted to be obnoxious, I could point to this one, but there are more serious objections to be raised. The simple answer is that an election can be undemocratic if the result is contrary to the preferences of a vast majority of voters. This is a distinct possibility in the case of CA’s replacement election, and it should scare any sane Californian.

As most of you probably know, the new governor (if Davis is recalled) will be the candidate on the replacement ballot who gets the most votes. Period. No runoff or anything. It’s also very easy to get on this ballot – one just needs $3,500 or 10,000 signatures. (Hmm, maybe I should run.) This arrangement makes it possible to elect what in game theory is referred to as a Condorcet loser – a candidate who would lose in a runoff against any other single candidate.

The scary scenario is that the majority of the electorate divides its vote among a large number of candidates, while some total nutjob captures all the extremists in one corner of the spectrum. If 11 candidates are running, said nutjob could be elected with just 10% of the vote, even if the remaining 90% of voters would have preferred any of the other 10 candidates. (Well, I guess we could always recall him too.)

Anyway, that would be undemocratic. Actually the political science term is “inefficient”.

Ok, so one thing is clear – since there are no primaries, any political party that wants a chance of winning should exercise an extraordinary amount of discipline and only put forward one candidate. Unfortunately for the Republicans (ha ha ha), Darrell “Please step away from the car” Issa isn’t about to back out of the race after spending $1.6 million of his personal fortune to get the election going. This is unfortunate because Issa is if anything even slimier than Bill Simon. So the Republicans need to get somebody who can actually win on the ballot – which means splitting the vote with Issa. Ah, but lots of Republicans think they are somebody who can actually win, including Richard Riordan, Jack Kemp, Bill Simon (heh), and of course Arnold Schwarzenegger. If all these guys are on the ballot, maybe Arnold has a shot depending on what the Dems do.

On the other hand, out of all these names only Issa is officially declared. Latest word from the Schwarzenegger family is that he may not run, and Riordan will only enter if Arnold’s out. So the field – among the Republicans – will probably not be so crowded as it looks now.

The Dems on the other hand are showing some unity, after apparently forgetting the meaning of the word lately. In a sense, any Democrat who appears on the replacement ballot is running against Gray Davis – voters who lean Democratic may be more likely to throw the bum out in question (a) if there’s a Democratic alternative in question (b). In a show of support for Davis, most of the likely Democratic candidates have declared that they do not intend to run, and as of now no Democrat has declared the opposite.

(I suspect the best case for the Dems is to have exactly one candidate on the replacement ballot. But how to keep others from jumping in the race once one has broken ranks?)

I intend to vote “no” on the recall purely on the grounds that an inefficient outcome in the replacement ballot is too scary. As for question (b) – we’ll see who the Democrats nominate. I wouldn’t be opposed to voting for Riordan, either, depending on who the options are.

announcement/sidebar

The Bush Index guy returned from his hiatus, so I took the opportunity to make a few updates to the sidebar. (His Bush Index page is now almost illegible in Mozilla Firebird, at least in my configuration – all the numbers and upward trends are in a very light gray. He also seems to have inexplicably revised the 6/30 number; don’t know what that’s all about.)

Interesting to note that the 3.7 drop in the index is for polls reported prior to 7/16; many blogs are commenting today on further drops in the approval rating. I guess the American people don’t appreciate being lied to when American lives are at stake. It’ll be interesting to see the 7/31 numbers. (My co-worker Sven suggests that the Iranian government is watching this index very closely!)

I added two more political blogs to the list: The Note is ABC News’ very comprehensive daily review of politics news, and The Scrum is an anonymous blogger focusing on the 2004 election.

Also, my brother’s reports from Japan make a belated appearance on the “Friends and Family” list. (This should be longer, so let me know if you want your page there!)

I can’t remember if I commented on this before, but I added a menu for logged-in users on the front page sidebar that gives quick access to most of Inverse’s user features. This is mostly for my convenience, but I’m very proud of myself for setting it up despite my zero knowledge of perl. What I’d really like is a separate custom style for a sidebar that can be placed on every page. That way the design is fixed through (for example) the archive pages, and I don’t have to update the Bush Index in four separate styles. I may have to actually learn some perl to set this up, though. (Also, why don’t comment pages have a custom style? Something else to work on.)

linkage/tabs

Upon reading about the death of Netscape, I headed for mozilla.org, to see what the effect would be for Mozilla (the open-source browser developed parallel to Netscape, and the default browser on my Windows computer). I was relieved to discover that non-profit foundation had been established to support Mozilla’s continuing development.

I hadn’t been by the site for a while, so a pleasant surprise was the discovery of Mozilla Firebird, a trimmed-down, faster version of Mozilla. I have been running a similar program on inverse, so I was immediately interested. I’ve been test-driving Firebird this afternoon, and it’s a bit faster than galeon most of the time. I’ll probably make it my default browser on both of my computers. To get one of my favorite galeon features – that is, opening new tabs in place of new windows by default – I had to download the tabbrowser extensions. Now it does just about everything I want. Give it a try.

Tabbed browsing is just what I’ll need to navigate the nine page process that is now required to e-mail the President. This ordeal includes indicating whether you are expressing support or disagreement with Bush’s policies; I would not recommend checking off the latter if your wife is an undercover CIA agent.

Now that I’m on the subject of politics, today’s must-read article is from the Washington Monthly, on the antagonism between the GOP and scientists. I think there’s a bigger anti-empirical problem in the current government – whether the evidence is from a scientific agency or an intelligence service, it is rejected if it doesn’t conform to the administration’s preconceived notions of how the world works. As one blogger (I think it was Alterman, but I’m not sure) said recently – when reality meets ideology in the Bush administration, reality had better get the hell out of the way.

I keep asking myself, what was the real reason for the war on Iraq? It wasn’t weapons of mass destruction, because there weren’t any (and Bush knew this). It wasn’t ties to Al Qaeda, because there weren’t any (and Bush knew this). It wasn’t bringing democracy, or even stability, to Iraq – the country is now in chaos, there is no motion towards a democratic government, and yet Bush has already declared “Mission Accomplished”. It wasn’t liberating the Iraqi people from the atrocities of Saddam’s regime – if our foreign policy were motivated by humanitarianism, we’d also be in the Congo, Zimbabwe, North Korea. What about the accusations of the anti-war crowd? If the purpose was imperial expansion, one would expect enough troops to keep order. If the purpose was revenge for the attempted assassination of George H. W. Bush, one would expect a more vigorous attempt to catch Saddam himself. And then there’s the one I thought was too simplistic, that couldn’t possibly explain such a rush to war. It couldn’t be all about the oil, could it?

You may recall Judicial Watch, the organization that hounded the Clinton Administration endlessly with FOIA requests and lawsuits to uncover real and imagined instances of corruption. Well, my Irresponsibilitarian brother may be heartened to learn that their efforts are not entirely partisan. In fact, since the White House changed hands this group has continued their push for transparency, and in particular has filed requests for documents pertaining to Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force. By court order these documents, from March 2001, were handed over recently. You’ll never guess what they found.

briefly/intimidation

When Republicans talk about “family values”, apparently they mean like the Soprano family. Here’s the story of how the Bush administration outed an undercover CIA agent to strike back at her husband, a diplomat who investigated and publicized the falsehood of the Niger uranium documents.

linkage/battleground

If you click on just one of my links this week, make it this fun philosophy game (yeah, I know that sounds unlikely). It’s actually a 17-question true/false quiz that probes for self-contradictions in the player’s beliefs about the existence of God. I’m pleased to report that as far as this quiz is concerned, my beliefs are completely self-consistent.

I do think there is a bias here, but both atheists and believers can get a perfect score.

report/bears

Arcane Gazebo’s Alaskan Cruise Rundown! — or — Aren’t there bears “outside”?

See, I told you I’d get around to it. Chronological order is boring, so we’ll do this Clint Eastwood style.

The Good:

Hiking in Juneau. This was the first of my “shore excursions”, which were far and away the highlight of the trip. Here we went on a 4.5 mile hike through the largest temperate rainforest; if I want I can hike in this same forest without leaving California. We went up a hill to a point overlooking a glacier, and I got one or two good pictures of this. (A selection of my pictures will be scanned in – I’m still analog – and posted here in the near future.) No bears were seen, although I did observe quite a few examples of Alaska’s state bird, the mosquito. (I am aware that this is also Florida’s state bird.)

Dog Sledding. The other “shore excursion” was a trip, via helicopter, to a sled dog training camp near Skagway. The helicopter is necessary because the camp is on top of a glacier – this is where one sleds in an Alaskan summer. The dogs are very friendly and playful, and clearly enjoy their work.

The Sky. It’s one night in particular that I remember. I was sitting in the bar at the top deck of the boat watching the moon just above the horizon. The DJ puts on Louis Armstrong’s A Kiss to Build a Dream On, which I really like, perhaps because it’s the theme to Fallout 2 (one of the Greatest Games of All Time). This audiovisual combination had a particularly harmonious effect. Shortly after the song ended, a girl I had met earlier turned up to inform me that one could see the Northern Lights from the prow of the ship. This turned out to be quite correct – they were a little faint, but green and shimmering. It occurred to me that although there was apparently no romantic interest on either side, standing on a boat alone with a girl watching the aurora borealis was one of the more intrinsically romantic moments I’d experienced in a while.

“We like physics majors.” Actual quote from a girl from USC, explaining why her party was evading some apparently less intellectual guys in favor of my general area. I didn’t reap any dividends from this preference, but since it’s the first and the last time I’ll hear a girl say this I savored the moment.

Black Russians. 3 parts vodka, 1 part Kahlua. Not too girly, not too old-mannish (my gin|vodka tonic orders have earned derision more than once), and rather pleasant-tasting. I know The Dude prefers white russians, but why would I want to dilute the alcoholic ingredients?

The Bad:

Seasickness. While not as bad as my expectations, there were times when I remembered why I was not meant to be a man of the sea. Fortunately, my good friend Dramamine was there to help me out.

Matchmaking. What I left out of my previous rant on this topic was that my aunt’s former intern happened to be on the ship. I don’t know if my aunt thought this was fate, or if it was merely because this girl was the first one my age she saw on the ship, but she decided that the two of us were a perfect match. Naturally, she then proceeded to attempt to set us up in a manner that, in the words of Foghorn Leghorn, was as subtle as a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal. (I find it revealing that “to set up”, rendered in the passive voice, indicates that one has been caught in a trap.) My aunt eventually realized that it wasn’t working (but probably wouldn’t have if we had told her about the Northern Lights incident). She then did the next logical thing, which was to attempt to set me up with another girl in the same party. I appreciate the thought, but there are less embarrassing ways to go about these things.

“Have you read Ann Coulter’s new book? She is dead on.” This is an actual quote from one of my relatives. It’s one thing to know that there are people who believe things like this, and another to hear someone say it, especially when that person shares your DNA. Interestingly, this quote can be made into a correct statement by adding the letters w, r, and g.

Boredom. Not scheduling a “shore excursion” for Ketchikan was a bad idea, because the town is about 90% cheesy tourist shops. This made it roughly comparable in boredom level to the ship itself during the days at sea, where the activities were targeted primarily to a crowd half a century older than myself. Fortunately I had Golden Sun 2 to fall back on, but I also spent a lot of time catching up on sleep.

They ran out of Kahlua. I wouldn’t say it was entirely my fault. It was at only one bar, but this was the only one that was interesting to hang out in anyway, so I stayed and drank vodka tonics.

The Ugly:

The Cafeteria. This brought back memories of Caltech’s cafeteria, where we would make up smartass names for the recurring meals. Chicken cordon bleu, for example, was “hamsters”. (Eventually we got the kitchen staff to call it this on the menu.) Fortunately we found better places to eat, even if the service there was, well, glacial.

The Show. There was a live performance every night after dinner, and I instinctively stayed the hell away from it. Until one night my aunt dropped me off (“like you’d drop off a videotape,” as my dad put it) with the family of the mate she had selected for me. These people were all regular viewers of the show (that’s a deal-breaker right there), and under extreme duress (This is not feudal Japan – I’m not refusing just to give you the chance to offer again!) I agreed to join them. My retinas have still not recovered from the blinding colors of the costumes, which were changed around a ridiculous number of times as the cast sang rapid-fire showtunes I’d never heard before and danced around like idiots. One cannot gnaw one’s arm off to escape a metaphorical trap, so I was forced to stay and contemplate setting myself on fire until the “performance” finally ended.

Anyway, this is probably more than anyone wanted to know. My final conclusion is that Alaska’s a neat place, but a cruise is probably not the way for me to travel. Also, while certain musicals will now cause me to flee in terror or perhaps have violent seizures, I have a slightly higher appreciation for Louis Armstrong.

Sweetheart, I ask no more than this
A kiss to build a dream on.

report/karate

So I finally went to karate practice today. Tuesday is the beginners’ practice, but this didn’t stop me from getting annihilated by the warm-up drill. Today’s sensei is partial to those infernal pushups done on clenched fists, as well as some punishing ab exercises. Makes me wish I hadn’t quit working out a couple months ago.

After that the practice gradually decreased in intensity; the easiest part, surprisingly, was the Bassai practice at the end. (Mostly because nobody knew it very well, so we did it step by step.)

Then I came back home and had some beer and penne alla vodka. I’m feeling much better now! The cruise report is impending, but it will probably be posted tomorrow. (Really!)