Friday, November 01, 2002

More about movie sex: No, this is not a cheap attempt to get Google hits. Although I could use a few. I often ponder and reflect while I'm out running in the morning, and I sometimes get good ideas. This idea popped up today as I fantisized about Katie Couric (that should pull in a few more hits). Specifically, about what I'll say to Katie Couric when my blog gets so wildly popular that I get interviewed on the "Today Show" as a hot, young, new commodity on the conservative meat market (I'm on a roll).

I was thinking about yesterday's post on sex, and on the role of sex in film (and, to a lesser extent, television). And I was thinking about why what Lileks identified as sexy--that is, having the "lid on"--is so much sexier than outright porn.

I think it's simple--when a film leaves enough gaps, you get to pour your own experience into them. Suggestive glances and comments between characters can remind you of your history of courting and flirting, which was likely accompanied by intense emotions and significant horniness. Vague sex scenes let you imagine the characters are doing whatever you would like to do, from S&M role-playing to cuddling. Even the painfully corny exchanges from old movies sound a lot like some of the lame joking I heard when I was a teenager--and perhaps that's why I feel a little embarassed when I hear it.

In short, the key feature of non-explicit sex in film is that it involves you emotionally. By leaving enough unsaid, really good sex/romance scenes let you make them your own. They excite memories, rather than creating them. And, as a side benefit, they pass right over children's heads, so you don't have to worry too much about excercising "parental discretion."

Explicit sex, meanwhile, might give a guy a hard-on, but you can't connect to it meaningfully. You're just a spectator, not a participant (check out what Armed Liberal had to say about that issue). And if the actors do something you don't like--say, pour brandy in each other's hair--well, then it isn't much better than watching other bodily functions, which directors mostly avoid.

Of course, you have to have experience to fill the gaps with. And that's probably why movie makers want to fill their movies with really explicit, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination sex. The primary market is teenagers, who, as much as they like to pretend otherwise, don't generally have much experience of any kind. Nor are they likely to cast knowing glances at their spouses during a suggestive but subtle scene--they're likely to laugh or make some crude comment, to demonstrate clearly to their friends that "yes, I am sophisticated enough to understand the sexual reference just made."

I don't think teenagers have changed much over the last, oh, few thousand years. But as I discussed before, we seem to have stopped outgrowing our teenage years. We have lost our preference for the allusion, rather than the full-frontal shot. Kids have always wanted more; but today adults are joining the stampede to crudity. No longer is knowing silence a mark of maturity; even adults today are expected to loudly and publically proclaim their sexual sophistication. Suggesting that this is inappropriate is now regarded as the mark of a prude, or someone who can't get any. But it seems to me that our public facination with sex betrays a very adolescent crisis of self-confidence--Am I getting as much as others? Is it as good as theirs? Is my penis big enough? Is it OK if I don't like nasal penetration or is that a sign of repression and poor self-image? (prize to the first person who Googles me with "nasal penetration") Is masturbating every day normal or should I really be doing it more often?

Our whole culture has become one of worried, horny kids who can't be satisfied because they aren't sure what satisfaction would be like.
The non-existant "middle ground": Why, it is often asked, can't gun owners compromise with gun-control advocates, and create "common sense" laws?

There are lots of reasons, the principal one being that most of the "common sense" laws promoted by gun controllers are, in fact, nonsensical. For instance, the "assault weapons ban" regulates, among other things,:
(B) a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of -
(i)
a folding or telescoping stock;
(ii)
a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
(iii)
a bayonet mount;
(iv)
a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and
(v)
a grenade launcher;

Got that? Other than the "grenade launcher," all of those things are cosmetic (UPDATE: you have to love it, though. You can have a grenade launcher, as long as you don't have that evil destructive BAYONET MOUNT at the same time. We wouldn't want you to have a weapon that was too powerful). No mention is made of caliber, muzzle energy, rate of fire, etc. Yet the anti-gun lobby constantly describes "high-powered assault rifles, designed only to kill human beings" as though they were cart-mounted machine guns. I've even seen a politician call a civilian semi-auto AK-47 a "weapon of mass destruction." Alrighty, then, the case agaist Iraq just got a lot stronger. When your political opponents pass such dumb laws (do scary-looking guns cause more crime than non-scary-looking guns with identical actions?) you have to think they have an ulterior motive. After all, it is possible to convert some rifles from "hunting rifle" to "assault weapon" in under 5 minutes by replacing the stock, so either these people are dumb or they have something else in mind.

But, the anti-gunners protest, we don't want to take away anyone's "legitimate" guns. Hunting, target shooting, military reenactments, those are all A-OK. They pointedly leave self-defense off of this list--another source of mistrust. But is target shooting even acceptable to some anti-gun organizations? Consider this press release from the VPC, put out before the D.C. sniper was caught:
Although the perpetrator of these attacks and the weapon used is not yet known, we do know that the round being used is an example of the transfer of military weapons development to the civilian market, and the attacks themselves are consistent with a sniper subculture encouraged by the gun industry at large.

Actually, they didn't know that at the time; the .223 caliber bullets in question are used both in the M-16's .223 Rem. round and in several other non-military rounds, such as the 220 Swift and the 22-250. But never mind. What's with this "sniper subculture" stuff? After all, precision target shooting is basically the same thing as sniping. Is the VPC opposed to old men gathering to punch holes in paper 300 yards away? Apparently. Hunting rifles are nearly identical to sniper rifles in most respects; snipers may use slightly fancier scopes or certain standardized calibers, but there isn't any real difference between the police sniper's Remington 700 and the ones I could buy--and there can't be. Killing an elk requires all the same skills and equipment as killing a criminal. Should I conclude that the VPC wants hunting banned, on the grounds that it requires shooting skills? Furthermore, what do they mean by "the transfer of miltary weapons development to the civilian market"? The .223 Remington is one of the lowest-power centerfire rifle cartridges available; the 30-06, used in both World Wars, is much more powerful and has been in civilian hands since, well, 1906. The .308 Win. round, a standard NATO cartridge, has been around since about 1945 and is much more suitable for sniping that the .223. What about the Civilian Marksmanship Program, which sells surplus military rifles to the public under Congressional warrant, with the explicit purpose of improving the shooting skills of the general public? Is it better to be shot with a "civilian" cartridge like the .44 Magnum than a "military" cartridge like the 9mm Luger? Military and civilian purposes often go together--hunting and sniping, or civilian self-defense and military back-up pistols. What's wrong with technology transfer?

Do you wonder why gun owners don't want to compromise with anti-gunners? It's simple. The proponents of gun control make false statements ("high powered" "weapon of mass destruction" "No purpose but to kill people"), refuse to acknowlege the legitimacy of self-defense, pass laws which have nothing to do with crime (You are forbidden to have a pistol grip AND a folding stock--choose one!), and make public pronoucements (We don't like accurate rifles with scopes, or any gun with a faintly military pedigree) which telegraph their intentions.

Would YOU compromise with someone who showed every indication of hating you and wanting to hurt you?
Rhetoric and Dishonesty: Way back in the ninth grade, English teacher "Army" Armstrong taught us that, when writing a persuasive essay, there were two key rules:

1) Acknowledge the strengths of your opponent's arguments. Deal with them fairly and attempt to show why they are wrong.

2) Acknowledge the weaknesses wth your own argument. Don't lie or distort to cover them up, because people will notice and your credibility wil suffer.

Unfortunatly, famous journalist Bob Herbert never had the benefit of Army's wisdom. He describes the NRA's opposition to ballistic fingerprinting and closing the "gun show loophole" thus:
Despite the terrible toll that guns in the wrong hands are taking, there is tremendous resistance to even the most modest efforts to control the spread of guns among criminals. That resistance is led, as usual, by the National Rifle Association, which can always be counted on to provide a comfort zone for the perpetrators of gun violence in America.

Of course, we all know that the NRA is strongly pro-crime. Their opposition to ballistic fingerprinting can't be based on reason--on the belief that it won't be very effective, but it will be very expensive.
[Anti-gun Senator Charles] Schumer told me Wednesday that if the investigators in the sniper shooting had been able to use this technology to trace the murder weapon at the start of the killing spree, the case could have been solved weeks earlier, and lives would have been saved.

Of course. Except that the gun store to which the weapon was shipped has no record of any sale, and authorities are now suggesting that it was probably stolen. So maybe the NRA has a point about effectiveness. Besides, since when do journalists just take everything that politicians say at face value?

Jonathan Alter, at least, mentions the arguments of gun-control opponents. Unfortunatly, he glibly dismisses them:
Both sides are caught in the Slippery Slope Fallacy. To believe that sensible extensions of law enforcement will lead inevitably to tyranny is to distrust the same democracy they claim to be defending. A police state of perpetual ID checkpoints and gun confiscations is not going to happen in this country.

Except, you dumbass, gun confiscations already have happened in this country, in California and New York. Furthermore, no one in 1920's England thought that one day their revolvers would be confiscated, but it happened. Besides, groups like the Violence Policy Center (whom Bob Herbert quotes)openly call for banning handguns outright.

So, Mr. Alter, you fail the "Armstrong test," as well, though perhaps not as spectactularly as Mr. Herbert. Question for gun-control advocates: is your case so weak you need to resort to distortions to make it?

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Vibrators at Unversity Health Clinics: I hadn't intended to blog today, but two unrelated things I read have gotten me thinking.

The kids in The Corner pointed me to this article indicating that Cornell University's health clinic may begin selling vibrators to help Cornell's female students achieve orgasm (no comment from the men of Cornell on what this says about their prowess or future chances).

Naturally, the folks over at National Reviw are upset. That's how how conservatives react to sex, right? Well, maybe. Certainly this guy seems rather more repressed than the average college student. (Don't follow that link--the author is a complete asshole and an embarassment to conservatives everywhere. I just linked to be polite, so that I wouldn't be trashing him behind his back, so to speak.)

But for me, the problem isn't the thought of women masturbating--they can do what they want in the privacy of their dorm rooms. The problem is this series of quotes:
"This comes out of many conversations between myself and people in the LGBT community about how to improve Gannett's services and make it more affirming of women's sexuality," Somjen Frazer '03 said, who is the main researcher for the Women's Health Initiative (WHI).

Through her research, Frazer works closely with Gannett to find ways to serve women whose health care "has been historically unde[r]served." (Does she mean "underserviced"?--Rob ;)...

"I think one of the most important things is for women to be able to get themselves off. It's better than going to the sketchy shop downtown where they have to check the batteries for you," Sara Jacobs '05 said.

What bothers me here is the notion that orgasm is somehow central to happiness, or life itself. Now, I don't want to ignore the value of pleasure. But "one of the most important things for women"? I would have thought professional respect and sound education might come first. Is a vibrator really a health issue the way, say, a condom obviously is? Why is Ms. Frazer so concerned about "affirming women's sexuality"? Is somone out there denying that women can enjoy sex (someone other than Germaine Greer, that is)?
"We know masturbation is healthy, so any tools that can help people discover their sexuality are positive. Any action by the University that gets the idea of sexuality out of the marginalized place that we're used to seeing it in is a good thing," he said.

Where do I begin with nonsense like this? First point: when people say "masturbation is healthy," they don't mean it's like aerobic excercise--something you should make time for every day. They mean it isn't unhealthy, and you shouldn't feel ashamed about it. There certainly is no reason for a college to promote masturbation the same way it might promote physical fitness; most students can figure it out for themselves. Second point: since when is sexuality "marginalized" at the average University? Maybe times have changed since I graduated way back in the twentieth century, but it seems to me that half or more of what went on at Williams College was sex or sex-themed. It was annoying and as anti-erotic as you can get; I mean, do we really need gay S&M at the campus center? Are Cornell students really repressed Victorians who dare not mention "it"?

Then there's this angle:
"Are they going to start selling Hustler too?" said Ann Zatsman '05. "It's not a necessity. If people really want one, they can go online."

I'm sure someone has already yelled at Ms. Zatsman for suggesting that the health clinic sell such disgusting, degrading trash as Hustler. But really, such magazines are masturbation aids for men, serving the same function as vibrators. There's no reason why they shouldn't be put on the next shelf over, except that it isn't politically correct to "affirm men's sexuality." Nor is there any practical reason why students can't go online for vibrators, just as they surely will for Hustler. The reason is symbolic--we need to have the vibrators in full view so we can talk about them, point to them, and generally pat ourselves on the back for being so utterly bold, sophisticated, and unafraid to acknowldge that women might enjoy penetration, preferably without a man involved.

Overall, I think the entire campaign to sell vibrators at the infirmary, as if hand-jobs were a health threat, is stupid. It's just college students' horniness hiding behind pseudo-intellectualism; a fancy way for juvenile sex-obsessed kids to pretend their genitals are the center of the universe. Mind you, I've got nothing against sex or masterbation; I just think it belongs behind closed doors with your partner(s), not in the open where your very-public orgasms are taken as a token of "authenticity."

The really interesting thing is that Lileks, of all people, has an edifying angle on this affair, in a truly wonderful piece about music:
Today while I drove Gnat back from her Nana’s, a talk show host was having fun with Christine Aguilera’s new song and video, “Dirrty.” I’ve seen it; she makes a rather convincing bid for Skank Ho Status here, and, like Madonna’s “Sex” book, manages to make carnal pleasures look so smelly and cootie-ridden you want to don a black robe and thrash yourself with birch branches. Ewww.

Exactly. And now this, referring to a Helen Kane song my grandparents would know:
It sounds coy and harmless; it’s Betty Boop, it’s silly Saturday morning tune time stuff. But Helen was a pro. She sounds absolutely innocent and absolutely naughty - you can just see Betty stroking the bald head of some tux-clad plutocrat. She goes from teasing and flirting to honest to fickle in a single phrase, and the simple song itself is sexier than six minutes of Christina’s drenched frottage. Why? Because the lid was on, that’s why. There were things you just did not say and you just did not do - and as anyone who’s ever boiled something in a covered pot knows you get plenty of steam pouring out around the edge of the lid.

Bullseye, once again.

Lileks has struck the real problem with sex in our culture--not that there's too much of it, not that it's in the movies or on TV, and not that it doesn't meet Jerry Falwell's standards for reproductive probablities.

The problem with sex is that it is public and demonstrative, rather than private and satisfying. "Good sex" must be, first and foremost, talked about, paraded around, held up for all to admire. Every lewd act must be demostrated and discussed so that nothing is left to the imagination. It isn't good enough that women can buy vibrators online and get plain brown packages--we need to have vibrators prominently on display at the infirmary, so that we can all admire them and "affirm women's sexuality"! Famous women must titilate us by dressing like Jennifer Lopez, and Victoria's Secret must to a prime-time porno show so that all of America can admire the stick-thin waifs who mysteriously seem to have loads of fat in just the right places. And, of course, every movie must feature not the corny innuendos of "North by Northwest," but full-frontal nudity and the implication of hours of passionate fluid exchange.

And, of course, we absolutly must treat our collective adolescent obsession with penetration and climax as though it were a Serious Subject worth of university-level discussion. We must have vibrators easily available, or Women's Health will be in danger! We must treat Catherine Millet as a bold, daring revolutionary who transgresses oppresive social norms, not "a leftist Euro trash slut who appears to have dedicated her life to being defiled and depersonalized in the filthiest and most degrading manner possible." (Read that link--its hilarious!) Millet, by the way, has declared that sex has "no point." Well, not the way you do it, anyway. Duh!


Let me be frank: while pornography certainly has its place as a masturbation aid, there are some things which are much, much more sexually exciting than naked bodies on a computer screen. Like real live people, for instance. Like a not-terribly tight but sleeveless cocktail dress on someone you'd like to know better. Like an impish giggle from someone you're just getting to know. Like the sway of a ponytail, and the little strands of hair that stick to a velvet shirt worn by someone you care about. Like the smell of someone you love.

But these things don't have the visual impact of some "singer's" writhing. They don't arouse a visceral reaction in the same way a nipple does. But they are very sexy, in a way that the fluid-soaked vibrator crowd would have trouble understanding. You can't share any of these things with anyone else. You can't use them to "affirm" how "healthy" you are by parading them in public. And if you're a movie maker, you can't make them obvious enough that everyone will understand. At best, you can be suggestive and hope that people will fill in the gaps from their own experience.

So no, I am not a prude. I am not afraid or ashamed of sexual pleasure. I hope women will enjoy their sexuality, and find satisfaction in their sexual lives. But I find public sexual displays--whether in the form of movie sex scenes, sitcom threesome jokes, bragging memoirs, or dildo dispensaries masquerading as "women's health initiatives" not only distasteful, but profoundly unsexy. Certainly a half-naked teenager has an undeniable appeal to most any man, but it is foolish to confuse animal lust with eroticism. Wild multi-partner sex may have its upsides, but it is downright self-destructive to confuse public professions of orgasmic pleasure with happiness.

Bring back vague, lid-on innuendo! Bring back fidelity! Make sex mean something again, rather than being just one more party drug!

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Wellstone's memorial: I didn't see Sen. Wellstone's memorial service, so I didn't intend to comment on it. But the tone of the blogs has struck me. What's interesting is, well, how partisan everyone is being. People on the Right didn't like it. People on the Left are justifying the "rally" atmosphere either by saying that Wellstone was a politician, so why shouldn't his memorial be political, or else that it wasn't really that political, and the Republicans are just being partisan. There seems to be little or no crossover--few liberals saying that the tone was over-the-top, and few conservatives defending it.

I guess what really gets me is the booing of non-Democrats as they entered. Really, how can that be justified? It would be unobjectionable to talk about helping the poor or providing free health care--things Wellstone supported, which are unquestionably political. Nor would it be out of place to say "we must keep his memory alive my fighting for what he believed in!" (It should be noted that there's a difference between that and "vote for a Democrat," which was the actual message)

But why heckle Wellstone's opponents? Many of them have been saying incredibly nice things about the man in the days since his death. They had the courtesy to show up and behave themselves appropriately--why not return the favor? You don't have to like them--they probably didn't like Wellstone. But you ought to be able to demonstrate rudimentary good manners.
Single-payer health care: Pete du Pont criticizes Oregon's single-payer health care initiative. Personally, I'm torn. I suspect this will be a huge disaster if it passes, and I don't want that for Oregon's citizens. But if it is a disaster, that might mute the calls for a national version of what du Pont calls "Leninist" health care, which I would like (although I don't like the term "Leninist"). On the other hand, if the Oregon system turn out to work just beautifully, maybe we can use their success at the national level.

In the worst-case scenario, this will be a total train wreck, but advocates of a national system will ignore reality, simply pointing to Oregon's mess and call it a model for the nation. That's what gun-control advocates are doing with England's tragically ineffective laws.

Well, watch and wait, I guess.
Poverty, culture, and violence: John McWhorter takes on, and demolishes, the usual explanations for inner-city violence.
Playing the "sex card": Apparently California voters may soon be sending the very first pair of sisters to the House of Representatives. There have been lots of brothers in the House, but no sisters. The more-experienced sister has been in Congress for some time, and has (naturally) offered fundraising, publicity, and political advice to her neophyte sibling. This lead one reporter to ask whether the political opponents of the newcomer would claim she "only won because of her sister." That's a low blow, even if true. But the candidate's response was worse: she claimed that if she were a man, no one would ever say such a thing.

Of course, I agree. I can't think of any major male politician whose critics have claimed he only got elected because of his father, or because of his brother. Nope, it's just sexism.

Why does she need to play the victim here? Why not just say that her critics were jealous because she won (assuming she does win, of course)?
"JAG": I'm a big fan of the show "JAG," an irredeemably trashy military melodrama whose principal attraction is improbably-proportioned female officers in uniforms several sizes smaller than regulations would permit. This week's episode featured a lesbian pilot accused of sexual harassment and raised some interesting issues. It inspired two posts, one aimed at liberals, and one at conservatives:

For Liberals: It has become fashionable for left-wing opponents of war with Iraq to deploy the "chickenhawk" slur--essentially, to claim that no one who has not seen actual combat be allowed to support war anywhere, anytime.

Fine; let's accept this premise for the purposes of argument. So why is it acceptable for never-enlisted left-wing military critics to demand that, for instance, gays be allowed to serve openly, or that women be put in combat-arms positions? If you haven't been in the military, why should you be allowed an opinion on military discipline?

For Conservatives: Please, Please do me a favor and don't claim that this episode was about "the gay agenda" or that this somehow shows Hollywood's immoral tendencies. There was no agenda here. It was a perfectly legitimate plot twist, and the issues it raises--in particular, whether it is a good idea to drive out competent, experienced soldiers and sailors because of their private lives--are important. Granted, the episode was one-sided, as there was no discussion of the possible downsides to having gay men in foxholes. But really, it is difficult to see the threat to discipline posed by a lesbian pilot in a Navy ASW wing.

I just know someone is going to comment on this within a week. And I'll be cringing when they do.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Political ads: Jeff Cooper doesn't just hit the nail on the head, he whales the crap out of it and sends it flying. I hate campaign season because all we hear is about how much the candidates love their families and how their opponent is an agent of the Devil, or possibly the AARP. My favorite from 2000 was Slade Gordon ad which said "Now Maria Cantwell is accusing Slade Gorton of wanting to blow up mountains and poison little children. Ridiculous." And it was.

This season, I'm constantly hearing about how some 60-year-old lost $180,000 in the stock market and will need to delay her retirement. This raises interesting questions, such as,

--Is $180,000 a big percentage of her savings? Are we talking about a millionare here, or what?

--Why was she so heavily invested in volitile equities, rather than, say, bonds, or even a nice, safe, index fund, which probably wouldn't have lost so much?

--How does Rick Larsen (the candidate in question) know what the stock market will do over the next few years, and thus how can he predict if or for how long this woman's retirement will be delayed?

--Why should I care if she retires or not? Does she care if I get a raise and two weeks vacation? I doubt it.

--Shouldn't a politican spend more time worrying about people who don't have jobs rather than someone who can't quit as soon as she'd like? (They are sort of interrelated, I admit)

--Why is her lack of personal financial management skills an issue in a national election? Isn't there a war on or something?

And finally: Why is incumbant Rick Larsen running ads when his opponent isn't? Is he that worried about someone I haven't even heard of? (For the record, I'm not in Larsen's district).

I can't wait until this damn thing is over with and we can go back to hearing from the Pine-Sol lady.
Krugman on Politics: I really need to stop reading columnists I dislike. But I know lots of lefty bloggers just love Paul Krugman, so I can't resist this one.
A few days ago The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote an article explaining that for George W. Bush, "facts are malleable." Documenting "dubious, if not wrong" statements on a variety of subjects, from Iraq's military capability to the federal budget, the White House correspondent declared that Mr. Bush's "rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy."

Whatever one thinks of Bush's honesty, that Milbank piece belonged on the editorial page, not the front page. It has been fact-checked and criticized widely by the blogosphere. It was an attack piece--perhaps correct, though personally I don't think so--but the tone was sarcastic and anti-Bush, which does not befit the "paper of record." In any case, I frankly am not exactly shocked to hear that politicians lie.

Krugman says Bush is "...as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory." I say that Krugman must have an exceedingly short memory. To avoid charges of partisanship, I'll skip the obvious example, and point out that Nixon was rather more slippery and evasive that Bush.
...the Bush administration is an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist facade. Its domestic policies are designed to benefit a very small number of people — basically those who earn at least $300,000 a year, and really don't care about either the environment or their less fortunate compatriots.

Right. Nobody every holds conservative views out of conviction, just simple greed. We conservatives want orphans to starve in an toxic-waste filled hell. In fact, I'm getting all hot and bothered just thinking about it.
True, this base is augmented by some powerful special-interest groups, notably the Christian right and the gun lobby. But while this coalition can raise vast sums, and can mobilize operatives to stage bourgeois riots when needed, the policies themselves are inherently unpopular.

Um, I wasn't there so I'm not sure, but was it the Christian right or the gun lobby that rioted in Seattle a few years back? What about at the IMF/World Bank meetings? Is Ralph Reed a more effective at rent-a-mob actions than, say, Al Sharpton? And, of course, nobody every supports gun rights or social conservatism out of conviction or logic. We're just victims of "operatives" who tell us what to think. All those God-fearing, gun-owning yokels, if only they had Krugman's enormous intellect, they could resist the hypnotic slogans of "those who earn more than $300,000 a year."

Let me tell you pal, if the gun lobby ever riots, you'll know.

This sort of elitist garbage--I, the Great Krugman, am So Much Wiser than anyone who ever said anything nice about Bush--makes me so angry I could spit. Except that I'm indoors. It shows an arrogant dismissal of the huge swaths of the country which are not Manhattan. For that matter, it shows an arrogant dismissal of substantial tracts of Manhatten, too. I don't see how this is any better than Ann Coulter saying stupid things about liberals, except that Ann can actually be funny on occasion. I know that there are lots of lefty bloggers who genuinly respect this guy. And I, in turn, genuinly respect some of those bloggers. So if you don't like Coulter's dismissal of half the country, how can you defend Krugman's obnoxious dismissal the other half? If you don't like attack-dog op-eds about Clinton, how can you defend attack-dog op-eds about Bush?

Above all, how can anyone defend his insufferable self-satisfied insularity?
Sitemeter Stuff: Getting things like the domains of your visitors is lots of fun. I see that the House of Representatives has been reading my stuff--or, at least, some staffer on a coffee break. If you're a Jim McDermott staffer, and you want to contact me...don't.

I see that someone from the Air Force has been looking at me. If you are who I think you are, sorry I haven't written you, but then you haven't written me, have you? And I can't read your writing anyway. So I'll see you in December. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then why are you surfing the web instead of defending the country? Do I need to speak to your superiors?

Finally, greetings to visitors from Germany. Say hi to my friends over there for me. And record the Kabel 1 special on the (pre-collapse) World Trade Center so I can get a copy of it.

Right. Enough self-serving nonsense for one day. To work...
Unenforced laws: Armed Liberal takes the government to task for passing lots of laws but not enforcing them:
So ... pass a law ... get a photo op ... accomplish nothing. This is worse than just ineffective. It is worse because the presence of this vast body of unenforced law both breeds contempt for the law (decline in legitimacy) and creates a kind of bureaucratic leverage over each of us, as we are caught in a web of selectively enforced laws

Exactly. This is a big problem for government at all levels, and one of the reasons I so strongly mistrust both politicians and bureaucrats.
Election In Minnesota: Sen. Wellstone's death has created yet another election law-crisis. Since no successor candidate has been officially named, no new ballots can be printed. But the absentee ballots must be mailed soon, and indeed are already being mailed. Election officials have said that any absentee vote for Paul Wellstone will not be counted. Write-ins for the new candidate will be OK.

Democrats are saying, quite correctly, that this is unfair. It places a substantial extra burden on Democrat voters. What if they misspell "Mondale"? Will "Fritz" be accepted as a substitute for "Walter"? Joking aside, it is now much easier for absentees to vote Republican than Democratic in this election.

I'm no expert on Minnesota election law, and so I don't know if throwing out Wellstone votes is statutorily required. If so, then this is unfortunate. But if not, why can't the state count a vote for Wellstone as a vote for Mondale? Wellstone was as far-left as elected officials come, so it seems unlikely that the average Wellstone voter would be likely to have preferred a Republican to Mondale. That would, to a large degree, solve the fairness problem.
The arrogance of the "peace movement": If there's one thing that annoys me, it's somone posing as oh-so-morally superior to me because my political views are different. I'm also annoyed by those who claim that their voting record proves that they are vastly smarter than me. Let's consider two peace-loving nuns, described by lefty columnist Sean Gonsalves.
...[T]he sisters took a pair of bolt cutters, cut through the fence of a missile silo in Well County, Colo., poured some of their own blood on top of the silo as a dramatic reminder of what these weapons are used for, and then prayed until they were arrested.

Thank you soooooo much, sisters. We moron war-mongering conservatives had completely forgotten that weapons are used for...*gasp*...killing! Aside from doing national security a service by pointing out that security at missle silos evidently--how shall I say this?--sucks like a Hoover, what has this accomplished? Everyone knows that nuclear weapons are nightmarishly destructive. Nobody wants to see them fired in anger. But--here's the hard part--what concrete policy suggestions do you have, sisters? The U.S. doesn't have ICBMs because the government thinks killing 10 million people in one blow is a really cool idea. Cops don't carry handguns because it gives them a sexual thrill. Soldiers don't train to fight and, yes, kill, because they're a bunch of mass-murderer wannabes looking for an outlet.

We do all these things because they are necessary. Everyone is fully aware that guns, bombs, missiles, etc. are used for killing. Everyone wishes that these things were unnecessary. Everyone wants peace, folks. Yes, even Bush, the NRA, and the dreaded neo-conservatives. Most people recognize that it is those very weapons--police handguns, soldiers' mortars, SAC's nuclear bombs--which protect these nuns' religious freedom. Yet here's Gonsalves, striking his moral pose:
It strikes me that there are only two kinds of religion in this world today -- the religion of violence and the religion of non-violence. Which religion do you adhere to?

I adhere to the religion of peace-when-possible-and-justified-violence-when-necessary-to-prevent-the-victory-of-barbarism. Why is that so fucking difficult to understand?
McGrory: I should know better than to read Mary McGrory's column. She is often boneheaded, always annoying. But I read it this morning, and I can't resist a reply.

McGrory criticizes the President for not "focusing" on his job. He's on the campaign trail, not at the White House! How irresponsible! She said someting similar right after Sept. 11--the Prez should have rushed back to the White House, not fled cravenly to some airbase in the middle of nowhere. Of course, Bush wasn't the one who made that decision, and whoever made it made the right one. But let's get back to today's column and my reactions:

1) All Presidents campaign for the midterm elections. In her 40 years of writing political columns, you would have thought McGrory would have noticed.

2) There is no need for the President to be at the White House. American presidents have always had access to the best and most secure communications in the world. Bush can give his speech, grip and grin for a while, then head back to Air Force One to video conference with Powell or have a phone chat with Putin or Blair. He can "telecommunte" in ways average people only dream of, and there is no reason to believe that if he's not in Washington, he's not working.

3) There is no need for the President to "focus" in the manner McGrory suggests. This reminds me of Clinton's promise to "focus like a laser" on the economy. How nice. Does anyone really think that Clinton could improve the economy by "focusing" 24-7? By making sound decisions, sure. But merely by being in his office late wearing his reading glasses? Likewise, does anyone believe that Bush will make better decisions on Iraq simply because he happens to be in the West Wing after 6:00?

There are the usual McGrory one-line digs at her political opponents on a wide variety of unrelated subjects. I'll ignore them just this once.

Monday, October 28, 2002

How did he get his rifle? The D.C. sniper's rifle has been traced back to a gun store called Bull's Eye Shooter's Supply. This store has no record of the sale. Apparently the store's owner wasn't even aware that the gun was not on the shelf. Or maybe not--he has said different things to different people.

That's what we call very sloppy record keeping. I'm no expert on gun-sales law, but there should have been a Form 4473 and an entry in the store's "bound book," which is a permanent record of all guns every bought or sold. If the gun were stolen, one would have hoped the employees would have noticed the broken glass. On the other hand, perhaps the gun was stolen by an employee, looking to make some cash on the side. According to the BATF, this isn't the first time this store has had problems. I would expect that this mistake will lead to criminal charges.

Get your act together, guys.
Gun Safey Tip: We all know that guns don't belong in the hands of children or untrained adults. But now, thanks to Michael Murray and his best friend Sonny, we know they don't belong in the paws of untrained English Setters, either.

Via Best of the Web.

Sense in Environmentalism, II: I wrote about the seeming foolishness of some environmentalists last week, and praised a writer who pointed out some problems with the current push to curb logging in the United States. Now a letter to the editor (scroll down to "Wood not the only material...) give me an opportunity to expand on this theme.

The writer suggests that, to preserve forests, tax credits be given to builders and homeowners who use non-wood construction. He suggests "recyclable" steel studs, poured concrete, and "stressed skin." I am unfamilar with the last one, but let's look at the environmental issues associated with the first two.

Steel studs may well be recyclable, but you won't get to recycle them unless you tear down the homes built from them. It makes more sense to assume that the homes are more or less permament, since our population is growing and it accomplishes little to tear down good houses. And while the writer may be correct to say that steel is "readily available," it doesn't just drop from heaven. Getting iron requires mines, which often involve significant environmental destruction, including deforestation. Smelters require HUGE amounts of energy to operate, which corresponds to HUGE amouts of fossil fuels burned and HUGE amounts of CO2 released in to the atmosphere. Smelters also pollute both air and ground water with heavy metals. Anyone who has driven through Kellog, ID has seen the dramatic effects on native vegitation that smelting has. And, of course, all metals are non-renewable, and will require ever more mines on ever more otherwise-pristine land to supply our needs.

Concrete doesn't come from heaven, either. It comes from quarrys and gravel pits. Ever seen a gravel pit? I used to live near one. To borrow a line from "The Godfather," it was uglier than any clear-cut I've ever seen, and I've seen 'em all over the world. No vegetation, no wildlife, NOTHING but a big hole in the hillside.

Let's get real. Wood is renewable; plantations of limited size can supply most of our needs indefinately. It takes 40-50 years for a forest to mature, even in the wet, warm mountains of Washington state, and during that time the forest provides wildlife habitat and recreation for humans. Rather than demanding massive CO2 output like a blast furnace, wood growth actually captures carbon permanently in the wood itself. Sawmilling requires far less energy and produces virtually no pollution compared with smelters. Finally, clear-cuts, as ugly as they are, are also wonderful habitats for many creatures. For intance, deer are not actually woodland animals, but creatures of the margin, thriving best where there is both forest for cover and sunny open space for browse. A quarry or gravel pit can't possibly compare. From an environmental perspective, wood is the perfect building material. And, from an environmental perspective, the U.S. is a great place to grow and harvest wood, much better than most other coutries. Wouldn't it be nice if environmentalists recognized that?
Death in Russia: The Russian hostage crisis was ended with knockout gas, which apparently caused the deaths of a large number of hostages, and left many others in critical condition.

Some Russians are angry that the government took such a cavilier risk with the lives of innocent Russians. It appears that the government was not entirely forthright with doctors, who believe they might have saved more lives if they had been properly briefed. Certainly the government will need to answer questions about its conduct.

However, I don't really think that it matters too much. If the doctors had been prepared, and only 10 or 20 people had died, rather than 115, the government would face similar criticism. People generally expect that the police are miracle workers who can kill terrorists at no cost to civilians. That isn't the way it works in real life.

The terrorists holding hostages clamed to have mined the building. If the special forces had stormed in without the sleeping-gas preparation, it is entirely possible that all 7-800 hostages would have died in the subsequent explosion. The decision to use gas involved weighing the risk of some hostages dying from the gas against the risk of all hostages dying because of the explosives. If the cost of rescuing 600 people is the death of 100, then that is a price which sadly must be paid.

It makes no sense to compare the actual outcome with a hypothetical but impossible perfect outcome. The Russian special forces may well have made mistakes, but they got most of the hostages out safe. For that they deserve credit, not blame.
Predatory lending: I've always been suspicious of accusations of "predatory lending." On element of predation is that they prey typically has no choice--the lion grabs the gazelle by the neck and won't let go. But with subprime lending, the "victims" sign extensive paperwork which they have every opportunity to read beforehand. That's what appears to have happened here:
About seven years after the Langstaffs bought their house, they took out a loan with Household Finance to refinance it, to pay off the $140,000 balance and other credit account balances.

They say they were promised an interest rate between 8 and 9 percent and monthly payments of about $1,700. On signing the papers, they say, the payments had been bumped to $2,707 per month. Household, they say, had added $21,000 in processing fees they were not told about when the loan was initially discussed. The final interest rate: nearly 12 percent.

They reluctantly signed the papers anyway, but Household Finance didn't pay off their credit-card balances and other bills as promised and "couldn't give us a good answer" when asked about it, Michelle Langstaff said. Unable to get Household to fix the situation, they say, they stopped making payments in mid-2001, hoping to get the company to renegotiate the loan -- or to sell the house and walk away from their predicament.

Emphasis mine. Why did they sign if the terms weren't right??????? I've done this sort of thing four times--mortgage, refinance, home equity line of credit, and car loan. Each and every time, I read each and every line of the paperwork. I checked every term, every fee, and every paragraph, to make sure the bank was agreeing to do what I wanted, and was charging me what they should. The only one that was a problem was the car loan--the incredibly slimy car-finance guy had snuck in some extended-warranty-rust-sealant-traffic-ticket-prevention-paint crap which my wife and I caught because we realized that the monthly payment seemed higher than was strictly necessary to pay off the loan. We refused to sign until we got a full accounting, and when we did, we told the tie-wearing bottom-feeder exactly where to get off. We lopped something like $100/month off of our payment. I like to think we cost him something in his commission, too.

My point is simply that the onus is on the consumer to read the damn contract before signing, and make extra sure that what the sales guy promised is all in there. You certainly shouldn't just sign in the hopes that the the lender will "do the right thing" and live up to the extravagant verbal promises of their representative.

This company may be guilty of fraud, in which case criminal charges and negotiated settlements are perfectly appropriate. But they article doesn't really make that at all clear. On the contrary, it appears that some dumb consumers didn't read their contracts carefully enough and got screwed. I don't like sleazy companies, either, but doesn't the consumer have some responsiblity here?