Consummate dilettantism!

Monday, October 29, 2007

More Bloviating on Iran

See here. In case the link dies, here's the story in part:
WASHINGTON - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Sunday he had no evidence Iran was working actively to build nuclear weapons and expressed concern that escalating rhetoric from the U.S. could bring disaster.

"We have information that there has been maybe some studies about possible weaponization," said Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads the International Atomic Energy Agency. "That's why we have said that we cannot give Iran a pass right now, because there is still a lot of question marks."

"But have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran this month of "lying" about the aim of its nuclear program. She said there is no doubt Tehran wants the capability to produce nuclear weapons and has deceived the IAEA about its intentions.

Vice President Dick Cheney has raised the prospect of "serious consequences" if Iran were found to be working toward developing a nuclear weapon. Last week, the Bush administration announced harsh penalties against the Iranian military and state-owned banking systems in hopes of raising pressure on the world financial system to cut ties with Tehran.

ElBaradei said he was worried about the growing rhetoric from the U.S., which he noted focused on Iran's alleged intentions to build a nuclear weapon rather than evidence the country was actively doing so. If there is actual evidence, ElBaradei said he would welcome seeing it.

"I'm very much concerned about confrontation, building confrontation, because that would lead absolutely to a disaster. I see no military solution. The only durable solution is through negotiation and inspection," he said.

ElBaradei asserts that there is no hard evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. What then is Iran, having flaunted the UN time and again, planning to do with its nuclear program? Does he think that it is actually attempting to obtain nuclear material for peaceful energy purposes, a claim almost no one believes? (It is absurd on its face - Iran's petroleum and natural gas industry accounts for 61% of its revenue.) Does this sound like a country that's planning to make peace with the world anytime soon?
Iranian politics in 2006 were deeply affected by a continuing confrontation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Western world, which demanded that Iran eschew development of uranium enrichment in its nuclear program. The situation deteriorated in January when Iran ended a moratorium on nuclear research agreed upon earlier with the European Union. The Iranians claimed the program was for peaceful purposes and did not contravene the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. An EU delegation negotiating the Iranian nuclear issue reacted by suspending talks with Iran and proposing a referral to the UN Security Council. On January 10, IAEA seals on a research unit were broken and a small centrifuge installed. Meanwhile, Iranian negotiators endeavoured to divert the Europeans from involving the Security Council. Iran offered continuing but restricted research on uranium enrichment, but the UN body on March 29 called for Iran's full compliance with IAEA requests.

Make no mistake; "negotiation and inspection" will allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran has its eyes set on them, and as we have already seen, gentle "come join us at the roundtable" rhetoric will do absolutely nothing.

ElBaradei sounds like this guy on the eve of WWII.

At least Doris Lessing would agree with me, albeit unwittingly.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ambrose Bierce

Guess who this is:

Yup, it's Ambrose Bierce. Honestly, this is insane. I wish I looked like this.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Liberals, Ghosts, UFOs, and the Iraq War

This AP story explains it all:
By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.

Fourteen percent, mostly men and lower-income people, say they have seen a UFO.

Spells and witchcraft are more readily believed by urban dwellers, minorities and lower-earning people. Those who find credibility in ESP are more likely to be better educated and white, 51 percent of college graduates compared to 37 percent with a high school diploma or less, about the same proportion by which white believers outnumber minorities.

To put the roughly one-third who believe in ghosts and UFOs in perspective, it's about the same as, in recent AP-Ipsos polls, the 36 percent who said they are baseball fans; the 37 percent who said the U.S. made the right decision to invade Iraq; and the 31 percent who approve of the job President Bush is doing.

How people fall for pseudo-scientific quasi-spiritualism, I don't know.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What a Blog!

This blog is absolutely fantastic. Written by a high-profile judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Richard Posner) and a Nobel prize-winning economist and professor at the University of Chicago (Gary Becker), it delivers a highly intellectual couplet of essays weekly. I'd like to model their style on my own blog.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Oil Rationale

Oh boy, is this funny. Dorris Lessing, the Nobel laureate in literature, had this to say:
Look what happened to its president in New York, they called him evil and cruel in Columbia University. Marvelous! They should have said more to him! Nobody criticizes him, because of oil.
Oops! I'm sorry, Dorris Lessing, but you've got the story wrong. Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq because of oil, and are now engaging in a war-mongering campaign to "hype" the Iran threat and invade it because of, you guessed it, oil. (Yes, this is indeed the reasoning of the Angry Left.) Reminds me of Stephen Colbert's satirical quip that:
Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream is driving a bulldozer into The New York Times while drinking crude oil out of Keith Olbermann’s skull.
It's odd how people use the oil rationale to support whatever their political objectives are.

Modern "Art"

In a recent exhibit at the Tate Modern museum of London,
Colombian artist Doris Salcedo created a long crack in the hallway’s floor.
It's a work she calls "Shibboleth."
The Tate explains in museum literature that the crack highlights the world’s [by which she means "Europe's"] legacy of racism and exclusion.
Ah, racism and exclusion. Call me old-fashioned, but how is a 550-foot long crack on a museum floor "art"?

This is almost farcical.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Serj Tankian

I don't like his politics, but his music is really quite amazing. If you have iTunes, click here to listen to a sample of his latest song. It's beautifully operatic, dark, and somber, among the best that any member of System of a Down (his band) has yet produced.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Libertarian Fantantasies

It's amazing how many people seem to have fallen for the idea that Ron Paul is God's gift to mankind. See here for an example. Contained within are a few common assumptions that are simply wrong. Let's go through them.

1. Ron Paul accurately represents the views of our Founding Fathers, all of whom were ardent proponents of state's rights.

Ron Paul is a "radical"? He stands for what our founding fathers did, throw a Thomas Jefferson quote out in the middle of a high school and they might think you are quoting terrorists. This country is so fucked up that a man who stands for what our country was founded on is a crazy lunatic!

Thomas Jefferson was certainly an influential Father, but was by no means representative of them all. Consider Alexander Hamilton's extremely eloquent defense of implied Constitutional powers:
In entering upon the argument, it ought to be premised that the objections of the Secretary of State and Attorney General are founded on a general denial of the authority of the United States to erect corporations. The latter, indeed, expressly admits, that if there be anything in the bill which is not warranted by the Constitution, it is the clause of incorporation.

Now it appears to the Secretary of the Treasury that this general principle is inherent in the very definition of government, and essential to every step of progress to be made by that of the United States, namely: That every power vested in a government is in its nature sovereign, and includes, by force of the term, a right to employ all the means requisite and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power, and which are not precluded by restrictions and exceptions specified in the Constitution, or not immoral, or not contrary to the essential ends of political society.

This principle, in its application to government in general, would be admitted as an axiom; and it will be incumbent upon those who may incline to deny it, to prove a distinction, and to show that a rule which, in the general system of things, is essential to the preservation of the social order, is inapplicable to the United States.

The circumstance that the powers of sovereignty are in this country divided between the National and State governments, does not afford the distinction required. It does not follow from this, that each of the portion of powers delegated to the one or to the other, is not sovereign with regard to its proper objects. It will only follow from it, that each has sovereign power as to certain things, and not as to other things. To deny that the government of the United States has sovereign power, as to its declared purposes and trusts, because its power does not extend to all cases would be equally to deny that the State governments have sovereign power in any case, because their power does not extend to every case. The tenth section of the first article of the Constitution exhibits a long list of very important things which they may not do. And thus the United States would furnish the singular spectacle of a political society without sovereignty, or of a people governed, without government.

Presenting the views of one Founding Father as representative of those of all does great injustice to the vigorous debates which nearly split the country in two.

2. Radicalism is necessary to save our country.
The political world is so extremely wrong that RP only SEEMS to be extreme.

Though this argument has some validity (in that Ron Paul's views would be more mainstream in 1787), it can be used to justify any sort of radicalism. Consider:
The ethnic makeup of our country is so extremely wrong that the KKK only SEEMS to be extreme.

Any number of these statements can be concocted for any number of claims, however ridiculous. It imputes no validity whatsoever to an idea.

3. Extreme personal freedom is desirable.

if you really believe in the Ron Paul message, you believe in very limited government, very little services from government, but at the same time extreme amounts of personal freedom.

An extreme amount of personal freedom is probably not America's panacea. There's a reason we ratified the Constitution; our country was performing very poorly under the Articles of Confederation (which maximized autonomy). The federal government has to have a degree of power beyond what is expressly delegated in the Constitution, as Hamilton made clear.

4. Liberals only support Ron Paul because he's anti-war.

What he is saying is that all these liberals are jumping on the Ron Paul bandwagon because of his anti-war stance, but if they knew the rest of what he believed they would be horrified. Horrified because they do not understand anything about the constitution or what this nation is about. They want the best of everything. They want lots of government services, but at the same time they want low taxes and the government out of their lives. It doesn't work that way, if you really believe in the Ron Paul message, you believe in very limited government, very little services from government, but at the same time extreme amounts of personal freedom., that's right. This is completely true.

5. Ron Paul is God.
You think RP is an extremist? Understand that sometimes the truth is extreme...

From the Wall Street Journal (subscription required):
Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- libertarian gadfly and current Republican Presidential hopeful -- has made a name for himself as a critic of overspending. But it seems even he can't resist the political allure of earmarks.

After reporters started asking questions, the Congressman disclosed his requests this year for about $400 million worth of federal funding for no fewer than 65 earmarks. They include such urgent national wartime priorities as an $8 million request for the marketing of wild American shrimp and $2.3 million to fund shrimp-fishing research.

When we called Mr. Paul's office for an explanation, his spokesperson offered up something worthy of pork legends Tom DeLay or Senator Robert C. Byrd: "Reducing earmarks does not reduce government spending, and it does not prohibit spending upon those things that are earmarked," the spokesman said. "What people who push earmark reform are doing is they are particularly misleading the public -- and I have to presume it's not by accident.

Shrimp farming?!?! Where's that in the Constitution?!?!?

Don't get me wrong. I am in favor of a government that generally doesn't intrude into individuals' personal lives (with some exceptions, of course; the government should absolutely intrude into an individual's life if said individual is beating his/her child). I support economic freedom and am mistrustful of efforts to create "economic equality" and "social justice", though unlike Ron Paul, I concede that these efforts may sometimes be justified (the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being a good example).

One final, memorable quote:

Pulling out of every international organization and dismantling half of the federal government certainly is radical. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but it is radical.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Oh Yeah...

Affirmative action may not work. Though its questionable benefit to minorities should be used to buttress the case against it, it is important to note that even if it did work, it would still, in my opinion, be immoral. But this addresses another argument I referred to in my previous post that I'll touch upon at a later date.

Race Codes

This sounds to me a lot like, well, racism:

Even better, the new, revised version has even added compliance with the “Eighty Percent/Whole Person utilization rule,” and according to the description on the company’s web site (linked above), the new version is also “Compatible with New Race Codes.”

Race codes, eh? An excellent comment from the link reads as follows:

Good gravy, back when the Constitution was written, black slaves were deemed to count as 60% of a person for purposes of apportionment. It's enough to make us doubt that there is such a thing as progress. Before my stepfather died at age 93, he used to say he feared for the future of the republic. How right he was, how wrong I was to doubt him.

It's sort of odd how people take such cavalier attitudes towards race quotas when they're ostensibly used to "benefit" minorities (and only favored ones, at that; remember, Asians have faced severe discrimination in the past within this country and without, and yet they're officially discriminated against by our colleges). The language against racism as used by defenders of affirmative action is harsh, uncompromising, and strident, as it should be. Whence the difference when discussing racial quotas whose goal, though said to be to the benefit of certain favored groups, is to disadvantage some groups so greatly that other groups are thereby advantaged?

The commonly used arguments for affirmative action are in my opinion wrong. I'll try to briefly explain this below.

The "Disadvantaged" Argument

A rationale for affirmative action cannot be that as the groups now to be advantaged were once discriminated against, current discrimination of others on behalf of these is just. Aside from the sheer injustice of this argument, Asians and Jews were also discriminated against in the past, and yet are currently discriminated against under universities' affirmative action programs. "But," the logic proceeds, "those groups haven't faced the degree of discrimination in this country that blacks have." That's true, but Hispanics are also heavily advantaged in higher education, and most of them haven't been in this country for very long. Additionally, shouldn't there be a grading curve of advantage if that argument is to be used, with Catholics and Hispanics receiving some affirmative action, Jews and Asians receiving a bit more, blacks receiving even more, Native Americans receiving the most, and white Protestants receiving none? There would have to be further subdivisions to account for the different historical experiences within the groups themselves. The hypocrisy here is manifest.

Theoretically, why is this argument wrong? It's wrong because the historical disadvantage of certain groups need not affect the current performance of individuals of that group. The Armenians and the Jews have suffered genocides and extreme discrimination throughout history in all parts of the world, but their relative performances do not seem to have been affected. The same can be said of blacks. As Thomas Sowell points out, it is likely that the current under-performance of blacks is not due to prior discrimination but to a culture inherited from white "rednecks" in the South, who brought it over from certain areas in England. Nor is this argument that of some cook; it is accepted by the widely acclaimed Harvard professor Steven Pinker, among many others. It's a good one to use against people like Charles Murray, who argue that the under-performance of minorities is in part genetically inherited, and people like Jesse Jackson, who argue that all black under-performance, then and now, is due to white racism.

More importantly, however, it's generally quite unjust to advantage an individual of a certain group at the disadvantage of an individual of another group solely because the former group was in the past discriminated against. While there are some important exceptions (I would have supported giving some reparations to blacks immediately following the Civil War and to Japanese-Americans interned in camps in World War II, where the money to those groups would otherwise have gone to the good of all), this principle hold true in most circumstances. (The examples I presented aren't quite deviations from this general principle, but more later, perhaps.) This argument was well stated by Former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978:

We have never approved a classification that aids persons perceived as members of relatively victimized groups at the expense of other innocent individuals in the absence of judicial, legislative, or administrative findings of constitutional or statutory violations... Without such findings of constitutional or statutory violations, it cannot be said that the government has any greater interest in helping one individual than in refraining from harming another. Thus, the government has no compelling justification for inflicting such harm.

Petitioner [the University of California] does not purport to have made, and is in no position to make, such findings. Its broad mission is education, not the formulation of any legislative policy or the adjudication of any particular claims of illegality... Isolated segments of our vast governmental structures are not competent to make those decisions...

Hence, the purpose of helping certain groups whom the faculty perceived as victims of "societal discrimination" does not justify a classification that imposes disadvantages upon persons like respondent [Allan Bakke] who bear no responsibility for whatever harm the beneficiaries of the special-admissions program are thought to have suffered. To hold otherwise would be to convert a remedy heretofore reserved for violations of legal rights into a privilege that all institutions throughout the nation could grant at their pleasure to whatever groups are perceived as victims of societal discrimination. That is a step we have never approved.

The "Diversity" Argument

This argument really isn't that strong. Unless you can argue that a national interest in permitting elite, private institutions to admit more students of certain skin colors at the expense of students of other skin colors is so powerful as to justify racial discrimination, then it's bunk. It's extraordinarily simplistic; what is diversity? Why is diversity of skin color to be used as a proxy for diversity of outlook? Clarence Thomas vetted in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1:

If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.
Like the dissent, the segregationists repeatedly cautioned the Court to consider practicalities and not to embrace too theoretical a view of the Fourteenth Amendment. And just as the dissent argues that the need for these programs will lessen over time, the segregationists claimed that reliance on segregation was lessening and might eventually end. What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today.

The guy pulls no punches.

There are others, but these are the two most commonly used. There is one argument for affirmative action which, though rarely used, is actually much stronger than the above two, but I'll attempt to tackle that one another day. Remind me!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Multi-Necked Guitars

These are cool.

Affirmative Action at the CIA?

See here.

This is really getting silly. I don’t like affirmative action, but its implementation at higher universities has at least an understandable objective. By contrast, what sort of benefit could possibly be accrued from disregarding merit and weighting skin color at the CIA, especially when the stakes are so high?

Tenacious D and Nirvana

Wow. I dunno if anyone's figured this out before, but I just realized that Tenacious D's song "Kickapoo" borrows a riff from Nirvana's song "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle".

Still, the D song is better by far.

UPDATE: Wikipedia says that "[t]he song took some part of melody from famous Pinball Wizard of the Who's rock-opera album Tommy." I haven't heard the song, but that may well be the case. Regardless, if you've heard both "Kickapoo" and "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle", you can't doubt that Tenacious D borrowed Nirvana's riff.

Inaugural Post

I'm not really sure why I'm doing this again. I made a blog a while ago but quickly abandoned it. Hopefully this one will be longer lived.

Anyway, its name comes from A Counterblaste to Tobacco, written in 1604 by King James I of England. I was always enamored of the word "Counterblaste", but the blog titles "Counterblaste" and "Counterblast" are both reserved. "Counterblasted" sounded cool, though, so I've adopted it as a title.

What will this blog be about? Good question. I do not have a direct answer, but it will, as the "About Me" paragraph suggests, "likely concern [my interests]."