Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Current Address

All posts are now going to

Thursday, February 21, 2002

On Cloning

I haven't said much, if anything, about cloning despite the alleged national argument on the subject. Although I think it's an important topic, it's also a reasonably complicated one, and so I've left it to the province of people with more knowledge about it, like Virginia Postrel and Rand Simberg, to make the arguments. Glenn Reynolds (aka the Uberblogger) penned a good piece this morning pointing out that those opposed to cloning have yet to make a real argument in favor of their point of view. It's a well-written argument I won't repeat here, go check it out yourself.

Having read that, however, I did a little thinking about cloning myself, and decided to work through my own thoughts on the issue. My first instinct when hearing about human cloning is to shiver slightly, as the idea of the rich cloning themselves does bother me. But what about a couple that has had no luck with any other method of conception, including in vitro? Without effective human cloning, a method that's still many years away, that couple has to choose between adoption (an excellent choice) and having no children. Further, if you're rich enough, you're going to be able to get yourself cloned anyhow, regardless of what laws are created to ban it. A ban on human cloning would be very similar to the bans on abortion prior to Roe v. Wade, ensuring the poor don't have access, but allowing the rich to go on as they did before. Although at least it's unlikely any women would be killed by back-alley cloners.

Having said that, I come to an argument that is possibly more important; the role of government. September 11 was a jarring reminder of what happens when a government tries to do too many things; people can only monitor a limited number of things at once, regardless of how good our technology gets. The more things government does, the more likely it is it will do none of them well, a situation familiar to most Americans. The question then becomes, even if banning cloning is a good thing to do, does it rank high enough to make it the responsibility of the government? Looking at photos of downtown Manhattan, I've got to say it doesn't.

That is a bit of a cop-out. I haven't actually said whether or not I think cloning should be banned, I've just argued government has more important things to do. So I'll carry this a little further. Although I have some qualms about human cloning, I do not have any logical arguments opposing it. Therefore, I believe the question of human cloning should be left to scientists working in the field, with the media providing a level of overwatch so we can continue to make informed decisions on the question.

The Joys of Hackers is being hit with a denial of service attack, so I'm back to Blogger for the time being.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Movin' Out

I've decided to make the move to, although I confess I'm quite impressed with Blogger Pro. Still, as I believe Rand Simberg noted, it's not good for so much of the blogosphere to reside in one place, so I'm going to jump to my own site and publish from there so there will be one less blog dependent on if worse comes to worst. I'll maintain this site for the time being, but all new posting will now take place at See you there.

Ken and the 5th Amendment

Ken Lay has decided to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights when he appears before Congress tomorrow. I imagine this may have something to do with the number of Congressmen saying they don't believe fellow executive Jeffrey Skilling lied when he testified, and may now face perjury charges. Although there's a great deal of speculation that Congressmen who took Enron cash will now be more harsh in their dealings with Enron, they're doing such a great job of screwing up this case for the Justice Department I wonder how many convictions or even indictments the JD will be able to hand down after Congress is through with its investigation.

In any case, Lay will now respond to every question posed to him with some variation of "On advice of Counsel, I exercise my Fifth Amendment right not to answer that question." No doubt Congress, the press and the pundits will all utilize this as further confirmation of his guilt in their own minds. It is certainly easy to do so; I know my personal belief, based on what I've read and heard about Enron, is that Lay did something unethical if not illegal. However, our legal system is supposed to be predicated on the theory that anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. The ABA even takes this so far as to insist that even a client known by his attorney to be guilty should be defended to the fullest extent of the law, a measure I consider ludicrous. The Fifth Amendment is an important right under the Constitution, though it has been significantly weakened over the past ten years in the areas of double jeopardy and being deprived of property without due process, and possibily regarding indictments as well, as discussed by Steven Den Beste last week.

The right to avoid self-incrimination is a difficult right to honestly assess. If you see a person exercising it, it seems only natural to assume that means the person must be guilty. After all, an innocent man wouldn't need to protect himself against self-incrimination. Therefore, exercising the Fifth Amendment seems to be a clear indicator of guilt. It's difficult to imagine serving on a jury and being told that you can't use a defendant's decision not to testify in his own defense against him.

And yet, if exercising one's Fifth Amendment rights is used as an indicator of guilt, then the right is hollow and serves no real purpose. Although our judicial system is reasonably good, it makes mistakes. Overzealous prosecutors, incompetent public defenders, and poor judges do exist, and they do fire up the occasional brick, as has been seen in the recent spate of death row convicts using DNA evidence to demonstrate their innocence. The Fifth Amendment ensures that the guilty can't be forced to testify against themselves, but it's also an important protection for the innocent.

For the sake of argument, let's say that Ken Lay didn't do anything illegal while he was CEO of Enron, a premise that may well turn out to be true, as it appears that Enron took advantage of regulatory oversight more than it violated laws. But Congress is looking for people to scapegoat, to take the heat off them and their campaign contributions. Several members of Congress are on record stating they believe Lay broke the law. Congress's treatment of Jeffrey Skilling suggests Lay would be pulled up in front of Congress and asked leading questions intended to make him look as bad as possible. And as soon as Lay had given his testimony, there would be a mad rush of Congressmen to the TV cameras to declare they don't believe his testimony and it's clear to them he's guilty. Nothing Lay says in front of Congress is going to change their minds regarding his guilt. If he says he didn't do anything illegal, they'll say he lied. If he says nothing, they'll say he's guilty. At least if he pleads the Fifth Amendment, Congress won't have anything additional on which to base their assumption of guilt.

I have no doubt Ken Lay will be pilloried in the press and in the blogosphere for his decision to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights. After all, he's repeatedly told the press he wants to tell his side of the story; refusing to testify before Congress seems to indicate he was lying when he said that. And in the court of public opinion and in the minds of people watching this circus, it's hard not to wonder why Lay won't tell what he knows. I think there are some good reasons for even an innocent man to plead the Fifth before Congress in this case. As long as Lay's refusal to testify isn't used against him in a court of law, then the Fifth Amendment is addressing its primary purpose. It would be even more useful if those who look to attack Lay not try and use his decision to exercise a Constitutional right as further proof of his guilt.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Where's Osama?

Greg Hlatsky deftly skewers the foolish notion that the war on terror must begin and end with Osama bin Laden.

Good News from the Senate

Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) performed one of his better services to the country by killing the stimulus package Congress had been considering. Although Daschle's methodology was underhanded, in this case the results were excellent, as the stimulus package would have done little to stimulate and a great deal to harm the American economy. Senator Jeffords's (I-VT) defection from the Republican party may turn out to have been a better thing than anyone realized, if it keeps the government from passing much legislation.

It's Clancy's Fault

Police have released the suicide note left behind by Charles Bishop before he plowed a Cessna into a skyscraper in Tampa. Its contents indicate Bishop had lost all touch with reality, claiming that al Qaeda had tried to recruit him and that bin Laden would destroy the Super Bowl with a nuclear device left over from the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. That sounded familiar, and I quickly figured out why: it's the plot of Tom Clancy's technothriller, The Sum of All Fears.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Although, sadly, he probably doesn't realize it, today is President Ronald Reagan's 91st birthday. In October he surpassed John Adams as the President to live the longest, and it appears he will extend that record a bit more before he's through. Happy Birthday, Mr. President. And thank you for your service.

The Blogosphere Strikes Again

Jonah Goldberg offers an entertaining takedown of the jumbled and incoherent language used by many in today's academic halls to conceal what they're really saying. Interestingly, Jonah begins his column with a discussion of an essay by George Orwell about the pollution of the English language by those who fail to use it clearly. I had recently read that very essay, thanks to Bjørn Staerk's excellent dissection of seven arguments against the war on terrorism by Norwegian academic Thomas Hylland Eriksen. While Jonah's article tackles different subjects than Bjørn's, I do wonder if it is only a coincidence that two such different authors would reference the same work within the span of a week. While it could be a coincidence, it's certainly an interesting one.

Perhaps, despite Jonah's protests about blogging, he's been spending a little time surfing through the blogosphere looking for inspiration for his columns. If so, kudos to him for visiting Bjørn's site--if you haven't checked it out, you really should. And review Orwell's essay if you haven't done so already.

More Thoughts on Black History Month

Unsurprisingly, my comments on Black History Month generated some vitriol among a few other bloggers, specifically Michael Croft of Ones and Zeroes, who accuses me of creating a straw man for the purposes of my argument, and Amy Hemphill of HVAC, who feels Black History Month serves a valuable purpose in teaching people who never learned any black history. Conversely, Craig Biggerstaff at Page Fault Interrupt recommends black history be integrated into normal curriculums but not pressed as a separate history to encourage separatism.

Based on some of the commentary, I believe I didn't do as good a job as I might in explaining my argument, so I'm going to try to lay out my thoughts more clearly. Black History Month, of itself, is not the problem as I see it. Black History Month is a symptom of a larger problem, of various interest groups attempting to divide Americans along ethnic or other lines. As Craig and Amy both note, Black History Month is often taught as a black thing that non-blacks should simply stay away from, as it's not meant for them, as are many other ethnic celebrations. This is a significant problem.

Special interest groups attempt to pigeonhole people based on their ethnic background. Although anyone meeting any two people of similar ethnicity will immediately note myriad differences between them, a limited number of ethnic special interest groups claim to speak with one voice for their particular group. As a simple example, the NAACP no doubt did speak for the vast majority of blacks when fighting Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Act. Now they argue against the use of vouchers in schools, although there is no consensus in the black community in favor of this position. Yet it still claims to speak for all black people in America, a ludicrous claim that doesn't stand up to even basic questioning. Other ethnic special interest groups fall into the same trap. Most people in America have the same basic needs, and their political positions span the length and breadth of the spectrum. Any group claiming to represent all members of a particular ethnicity is incorrect at best, lying at worst, and their attempts to pigeonhole all their members into a certain position leads to ostracism of those daring to take positions outside those laid down from on high.

I discussed the use of historical figures previously, but I'll touch on it again briefly. It is the belief of many special interest groups that, for example, a Hispanic child cannot look up to Abraham Lincoln or Sojourner Truth, because they weren't Hispanic. While I do agree it's easier to look up to figures whom we resemble, the argument we can only look up to those people ethinically similar to us is incorrect. I've already noted my own respect for a number of people I consider personal heroes from American history that run the gamut of ethnicity and sex. I suspect that the average American's list would not be very different. How many whites are there who don't admire and respect Martin Luther King for his many accomplishments? On a simple note, how many children of all colors want to be like Mike? The claim that heroes must be carefully color matched does not stand up to scrutiny.

Worst of all, ethnic history celebrations tend to marginalize the contributions of nonwhites and patronize the group who is supposedly being honored. First, these celebrations frequently elevate minor figures to positions of prominence that people instinctively recognize are bogus. It is important to recognize Harriet Tubman's significance in helping to rescue hundreds of slaves from slavery. It is ludicrous to suggest that she somehow is a more important historical figure than Abraham Lincoln. Attempting to elevate various ethnic figures to historical prominence above what they would logically merit tends to take away from their real accomplishments. And as Craig noted, these search often allow hokum like the suggestions the ancient Egyptians were black to seep into the discourse uncriticized, diminishing the argument.

None of this is caused by Black History Month. These problems come from the many interest groups who are more interested in scoring political points than doing what is right. Although Black History Month may well serve as valuable remedial history for those who were taught a whitewashed version of history in school, it and other ethnic celebrations are used to do as much harm as good. I believe all of us would be better off not trying to ensure we celebrate this and that group's accomplishments, but instead ensure that our history properly accounts for the contributions of everyone, regardless of their ethnic background.

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

More on Kessler

Best of the Web has a little background on Judge Gladys Kessler, who I discussed earlier today. It turns out Judge Kessler has been quite busy on behalf of her party, ensuring information about collusion between the Democratic party and the AFL-CIO doesn't get out, for example. Hopefully a higher court will straighten out some of the mess the Judge has created, and certainly Congress should get involved with this clear intrusion onto their prerogatives.

True Freedom of Choice

Mona Eltahawy takes on an issue of choices many feminists would prefer not be available to women. For the women's movement, freedom of choice normally means the freedom to work, the freedom to receive an abortion on demand, the freedom to escape traditional sex roles. But not all women want or need to do those things, and their choices are just as valid and should be defended just as vigorously. No woman (or man, for that matter) should be forced to wear a certain style of clothing like a burqa, but no woman should be denied the right to do so if she believes it's proper for her. While women shouldn't be required to stay at home and raise their children while taking care of the home, no woman should be denigrated for choosing to do so.

Betty Freidan once told Simone de Beauvoir she believed women should have the right to stay home and raise children, only for de Beauvoir to tell her women shouldn't have that choice. So too do many of today's gender feminists feel that no woman should ever wear a veil, regardless of what her personal preference is. Because some people will make what the gender feminists consider wrong choices, they want to remove their ability to make those choices. In this way, gender feminists place themselves in a political group with the enemies of the west described in Steven den Beste's excellent analysis of cultural imperialism.

Freedom of choice is the most important freedom any of us have, and it's important it be defended just like any other important right. That means defending of unpopular choices is our most important task. Nobody has to defend Mr. Rogers's right to freedom of speech, for example, because he doesn't say anything controversial. By that same token, if we're truly to have the freedom to make our own decisions, it's important we defend the right of people to make bad decisions.

Like, say, investing all your 401(k) money in company stock.

The Rationale of Suicide Bombers

Richard Cohen conflates the Palestinians and the Japanese Empire circa 1944-45 in an attempt to explain why the Palestinians are turning to suicide bombings as their only avenue for dealing with Israel. Although it's an interesting parallel, Cohen fails to address some very important differences between Japan and the Palestinians. Japan was fighting a war and had only two options, win or lose. The Palestinians, conversely, are only involved in a war because they've chosen to wage it. If terrorist attacks on Israel halted tomorrow, the war would be over, and that choice is entirely in the hands of the Palestinians. Further, Israel has offered the Palestinians far more than they've been able to get from their Arab brethren: a state of their own, shared jurisdiction over Jerusalem, etc. The only Palestinian demand Israel will not meet is the right of return, an understandable sticking point for a society that is trying to maintain its existence in the face of the far higher Palestinian birth rate. Instead the Palestinian leadership has chosen to continue its attacks in the vain hope they can wipe Israel out completely.

These facts are probably not well known among Palestinians, however, because Arafat's kleptocracy controls the media to ensure the people hear only what he wants them to hear. And so Cohen may well be correct that more and more Palestinians are choosing to support suicide attacks because they see no other way to succeed. The question then becomes, what can Israel do to get the word out to the Palestinians? The answer has to start with the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and the removal of Arafat. Arafat's dismissal of Israel's last peace offering demonstrated he can't be part of any solution, and he'll continue to be a problem as long as he's in power. Israel has to remove Arafat if there's to be any progress at all. Then it falls on the United States to put the pressure on the PA to recreate itself as a more democratic and open government. If they refuse to comply, then America should cut off all support to them, and in time encourage Israel to remove the PA as well. That will be a last resort, as it will then become necessary to find new leadership who are more willing to deal, but Israel and America can't rule that option out, because otherwise Palestinian intransigence will continue to block the peace process.

These are not easy solutions by any means. They will require a great deal more bloodshed and pain before they have any hope of succeeding. But working through Arafat will clearly not bring the problem to a close, and the current situation is intolerable. New ideas need to be tried, and the best one out there is to ensure that good information gets to the Palestinians, so they know the truth about what their leaders are doing. It may be that the right of return is important enough to the Palestinians that a vote on Barak's proposal would have failed, but we'll never know as long as we allow thugs like Arafat to speak for the Palestinians with no mandate beyond forty years of terrorism.
Judicial Politics

Judge Gladys Kessler demonstrated her committment to her party is more important than the law with her ruling yesterday that Victoria Wilson is entitled to a full six year term on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Although Congress clearly designed the commission to ensure no party could stack the commission in its favor, Judge Kessler ignored that intent to ensure her Democratic brethren could have their way. Of course, should President Bush be elected to another term, he will still be able to appoint all of the commission's members, and under Judge Kessler's ruling all the commissioners could then resign just before the end of his second term, allowing him to pack the commission for another six years. This is a disturbing act that demonstrates the flaws in our judicial system, but fortunately there are still some remedies available. President Bush will appeal Judge Kessler's ruling, but there's a better solution. The Civil Rights Commission was created by President Eisenhower to look at civil rights issues of the time. Its time has now passed, and President Bush would be doing the country a great favor by disbanding the commission and saving the country money and removing Mary Francis Berry's podium. It's time this Cold War relic went the way of the hula hoop.

Monday, February 04, 2002

Slow on the Uptake

Each week U.S. News and World Report asks people a question about current events; this week's question was "What do you think of President Bush's first State of the Union Address and his performance in office so far?" The first respondent listed was a Samantha Sims, who made the following statement: "He's drawing attention away from domestic issues that are more immediate and far-reaching than Afghanistan." Fortunately, the rest of the responses are somewhat more reasoned, but this one just amazes me. Three thousand people are dead, the United States has been attacked with weapons of mass destruction, and Ms. Sims feels domestic issues are more immediate and far-reaching. One wonders how many more terrorist attacks would have to be successful for Ms. Sims to consider the possibility that war is somewhat more important than a minor recession or whatever socialist programs she hopes to benefit from.
Black History Month

Black History month began last Friday, another month of attempts to sunder America into her component parts. There is no reason to celebrate black history in this country. We should simply celebrate history, because every ethnic group has added so much to the rich melting pot over the past four centuries. Men, women, blacks, whites, Asians, American Indians, and far more have all provided figures of moment and driven events of great importance to our shared history. What would America be had Martin Luther King Jr. never existed? How about without George Washington? Harriet Beecher Stowe? Sitting Bull? The 442nd Regimental Combat Team? The 54th Massachusetts Infantry? The list is virtually endless; groups and individuals who gave of their time and often gave their lives to leave America better than they found it. Choosing to pare history into its component elements just to honor a particular group diminishes us all, because it assumes ethnicity and gender are more important than nationality and shared experience, a horrid concept that damages this country worse than any terrorist ever could.

I am a member of the mighty oppressor class, the heterosexual white male (see if that helps me get a better seat at restaurants). I won't allow the ethnic and gender warriors take away my heritage. I have no less a claim to the legacy of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth than any black person. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are part of my past as an American, not the exclusive property of the women's movement. The line of American heroes stretches back from Todd Beamer to Martin Luther King to Eleanor Roosevelt to Susan B. Anthony to Chief Joseph to Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Tubman to John Adams, with thousands of other stops along the way. They belong to all Americans, regardless of your color or your plumbing or where you were born, and we should honor them all for their contributions.

Let's throw out ethnic and gender histories, and focus on what we share rather than what makes us different. There are plenty of bigots in the world who are willing to point out what makes people different. How many people are there willing to focus on what's really important: everything that makes us the same?
Super Bowl

Congratulations to the New England Patriots for their impressive victory last night, and thanks to both teams for a great game. For a very long time, the Super Bowl was a joke of a game better known for commercials than football, but last night's performance was a game for the ages, worthy of the Super Bowl moniker.
The Case for Profiling

Frank Keating demonstrated some impressive political courage by daring to speak the upspeakable: racial profiling has a place in securing America against terrorism. We shouldn't rush out to conduct full body cavity searches on all Arab-looking men while ignoring anyone else acting suspiciously, but we shouldn't insist that we not use ethnicity as one factor in deciding who to scrutinize more carefully. Is this tough on the vast majority of Arabs who aren't terrorists? Absolutely. But it's not at all unfair, because their particular ethnic group spawns more terrorists than most, and we would be foolish to ignore that fact when attempting to protect ourselves. Perhaps the inconvience will convince some Arabs to speak out publically against terrorism, instead of spending all their time warning against civil liberties violations.

The facts are simple: almost every one of the terrorists that has struck at America from September 11 on has been a young Arab man. Groups like al Qaeda draw almost all their members from Arab countries, and their political slant means they tend to attract and use men. Given these facts, if a plane is preparing to board and the passenger manifest includes six young Arab men, for example, airline security would be wholly negligent not to do some checking up on those men. The odds are good they'd be completely innocent of course, but that kind of grouping demands scrutiny. The same goes for an Arab male trying to board an aircraft with a gun claiming he's a Secret Service agent, but whose paperwork is filled out improperly. Better some people suffer mild embarrassment than hundreds or thousands are killed because security personnel were afraid to be accused of profiling.

Profiling is a very touchy subject, after so many discussions of it in law enforcement. I would argue against racial profiling of ethnic groups for law enforcement purposes; the costs to honest citizens outweight the benefits. But this is not a question of law enforcement, it's a question of how we act in time of war. The cost-benefit analysis now is on the side of profiling, because failure to use that tool could have catastrophic consequences.
Lay Ducks

Ken Lay chose not to appear before a Senate committee today after several Senators made statements to the effect Lay had broken the law as CEO. Although this clearly won't make Lay look any better, it's hard to blame him for not wanting to play the witch in the Senate's play for the cameras. If the Senate were to do their job properly, they wouldn't be discussing whether or not Enron or its executives broke the law, because that's a question for the Justice Department. The question before Congress is if there are any loopholes that allowed Enron to keep investors in the dark while they artificially inflated their stock. I've already discussed some proposed improvements to the laws to prevent Enron-type shenanigans from occurring again. That's what Congress's mandate should be, and it's a shame they don't recognize that and worry about solving problems instead of grandstanding.

Brian Linse, meanwhile, has succumbed to the temptation to grandstand, with some appalling remarks about criminal rape. One expects this from Democratic politicians, but bloggers are generally somewhat more rational and circumspect.