Saturday, December 21, 2002

I hate the INS: I'm not referring to the INS round-ups in SoCal, which may or may not have anything to do with terrorism (I'm leaning toward not, but who knows?), but rather to the ordeal in the lab where I just finished working.

We want to bring in a Chinese postdoc, who is currently living in Japan and working in a Japanese lab. His paperwork has been pending for the better part of a year now. Every once in a while, they send him some new forms to fill out, with exactly the same questions on slightly different paper ("No, you've filled out the yellow form. This is totally different--its the goldenrod form. You can't get a visa without the goldenrod form.").

The people at the University of Washington assure my advisor that the approval is routine, and that denial of the visa simply does not happen. They're simply taking extra time since Sept. 11. In fact, these folks theorize that the delays are intentional, in the hope that students who can't get visas for a year will simply give up and stay home.

What kind of shit is that? Really--how many Chinese terrorists were on United 93? I suppose we shouldn't racially profile. Fine. If I believed they were conducting extensive background checks, I'd be fine with it. But that's not what's going on--no, no, what's happening is the visa approval people are putting the forms in a cellar to age. Like wine, you know. They want to let the ink mellow a little and the paper get slightly brittle. The rubber-stamp weenies say their stamps look better on aged paper. Anyway, the guy's just some foreign moron, so what's he gonna do, sue?

I feel much safer already.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Lorises! Lorises! As you might have guessed from the links on the left, I'm an animal lover. I especially like obscure animals, preferably somewhat odd. So I was delighted to read this LA times article about a man smuggling lorises into the U.S. I wasn't really pleased with the ordeal they had to endure, but the thought of a loris in someone's pants put a smile on my face.

In fact, this is how I first heard of the loris to begin with--from a very similar case in Germany, described in the official magazine for the German customs agency (My wife was the one weird enough to read such a magazine, not me!). I mean, who wouldn't want a loris in their pants?

Although personally, I think the smuggling operation would be more successful if you put them in your bra. Looks more natural than bumps in your pants.

Via Tim Blair.

UPDATE: Here is a hilarious take on this story by an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, of all people.
Liberty and Stupidity, II: The other day I wrote a rather long-winded post on lazy idiots and the danger that they pose to themselves and others when their idiocy is mixed with freedom.

My larger point--somewhat lost in my discussion of having a gun pointed at me--was that while making public policy to contain the misery caused by idiots seems like a good idea (even when balanced against the loss of liberty for non-idiots), we ought also to consider the effect that idiot-proofing laws and regulations have on borderline non-idiots. Removing people from the consequences of their actions will tend to make them irresponsible, which may undercut the goal of preventing idiot-induced misery.

That is, while idiocy and responsibility are a nasty mix, moderate competence and non-responsibility can interact to create truly stunning idiocy--and thus be much more dangerous than native idiocy alone. And of course responsibility, if allowed to take its course, can beat the idiocy out of many. (Jane Galt has a good anecdote.)

Theodore Dalrymple makes much the same point with more eloquent prose than I can manage.

UPDATE: I was in a hurry, so I didn't have a chance to read the entire piece. While the first part is indeed about criminals and their bad decisions, the second part is about the mentally ill, and society's obligation to care for them. I mischaracterized Dalrymple's main point by confusing it with a subsidiary point--sorry about that.
Hooray for hits! Thanks to Jane Galt, I should top 2000 hits sometime in the next hour. Yay! And thanks to all of my readers and linkers.
Lileks, again: Another Screed to make you laugh so hard you vomit.

My wife and I have often wanted to "opt out" of the whole Christmas gift-giving thing--frankly, we have everything we need, and anything we want (I got a turkey shotgun recently, for instance, and want some rain-proof camo to go with it) is usually so obscure and specific that the only way we'd get it is by filling out the mail-order form and sending it to our relatives. Kind of puts the damper on Christmas morning, you know: "Wow, its exactly what I wanted! I guess you didn't make random last-minute changes to that order form I filled out! What a surprise!" I think we'd be happier if Christmas were more like Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday.

But never have we dreamed of wasting our money on a billboard to tell other people how wonderfully superior we are to them.
Depressing news: Some days, I feel very upbeat--look how better things are today than 50 years ago! Longer lives, more wealth, less pollution, less bigotry, more freedom--and hey! Simon won his bet against Ehrlich! Things are getting better, they're going to keep getting better--what's to worry about?

Then something like this comes along:
A study of almost 50 years of Playboy centrefolds has revealed that the characteristic differences between men and women are becoming less pronounced...

Over time, bust size and hip size decreased, while waist size increased. Measures of body shape followed the same trends: body mass index and bust:hip ratio decreased, while waist:hip ratio, waist:bust ratio, and androgyny index increased.

Yeah, that's just what the world needs: girls who look like boys. Jeez.

(Not that my wife would buy that excuse: "But honey, how can you object to me buying Playboy? All the girls look like boys anyway!")
LOTR: Saw The Two Towers yesterday afternoon. You know it's a good movie when the worst thing you can say about it is "The theater was too crowded."

Seriously, I don't want to do a full review, so here's just one think I liked and one thing I didn't like:

I didn't like all of the slow-motion-facial-close-up stuff. Sometimes scenes like that have great emotional impact; sometimes they are boring and annoying. There were too many of them in this movie. I especially don't like that sort of thing during battle scenes; staring at your buddy's contorted face while he slowly dies is a good way to get your head bashed in by an Orc. Unfortunatly, most movies featuring battles feel compelled to include stuff like this. I've never been in combat, so maybe this is terribly realistic and I can't get it. I'll admit a certain bias: the Ents are among my favorite parts of the book and I wanted them to get more screen time to develop their characters more. Cutting a few staring-into-the-camera scenes would have given them room for that.

I did like Elrond's speech to Arwen about how she should sail to the Blessed Realm instead of marrying Aragorn. When reading the book, I always found the Elves vaguely creepy and distantly menacing. Sure, they're good looking. They have great vision and god-like skill with bows. And of course they're immortal. But somehow they don't seem entirely friendly; they're rather xenophobic and they seem more interested in their pretty trees than in the evil which is coming. I sort of suspected this was because they were, themselves, a little evil (or at least not good) at heart.

OK, so they don't rape and pillage--but they could, and you couldn't stop them. The only reason they don't is because they're rich enough not to need it. But if they were hungry, I bet they'd eat Men and Hobbits without a second thought. Elrond drove that point home--don't get involved, just flee and be happy in the Undying Lands, screw these filthy men and their body odor. Or, rather, don't screw Aragorn, dear daughter, he's from the wrong side of the tracks and I don't want to think about his hairy hands all over your "silmarils."

Go see it. And if you haven't read the book, why not?

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Tomorrow: I probably won't be blogging. But I will be seeing Lord of the Rings.
Liberty and Stupidity: Clayton Cramer:
I can remember a time when attending a Libertarian Party meeting in a place like Santa Clara County meant that you only had to ask one question: software or hardware? Everyone, or almost everyone, was an engineer of some sort. Libertarianism is a wonderful ideology for intelligent, rational people who make long-term plans, and put long-term goals above immediate gratification. This is to say, it is almost completely irrelevant to the vast majority of people, who are lazy, stupid, only marginal rational, or who live for immediate gratification. (Those individuals who combine all those qualities spend a lot of time in jail or prison.)

This raises some interesting questions in the debate about liberty and security. If Cramer is right--most people are lazy and stupid--then liberty causes all kinds of unnecessary suffering. Is it moral to endorse policies which cause suffering, even if stupidity is the cause? Should we refuse to give to charities which appear to help people who made stupid decisions? On the other hand, is it moral to impose rules designed for stupid people on the intelligent? Shouldn't those people be permitted to manage their own lives without interference?

Then again, is it moral to simply assume people are stupid? Even if the facts in evidence point that way, shouldn't we give people the benefit of the doubt, even if they pay a price? How arrogant do you have to be to make that decision?

Will policies designed to protect people from their own stupidity end up infantilizing them further, that is, make them stupider, by preventing the painful learning experiences? Will we actually encourage stupidity, and therefore suffering?

Most of these questions have relevant real-world examples in areas like welfare, Social Security, etc. And, in most of those areas, I have pretty good answers to these questions. But let me tell you about my Monday night, which was one of the more terrifying of my life.

My wife and I shoot almost every weekend, both to hone our self-defense skills and for the sheer joy of it. We prefer the outdoor range where we are members--we shoot for free--but with torrential rains and howling, icy winds, outdoors was not the place to be this weekend. We went instead to "Ladies Night" at a local indoor range with a couple of friends.

Waiting at the counter to pay, we saw a couple renting a gun, and a staff member demostrating grip and firing position with a plastic practice gun. DING DING DING went my threat alarm NEWBIE ALET! Worse, the newbies appear to be a couple of young (20s) guys and a girlfriend. If there's anything worse than a guy teaching his girlfriend, I don't know what it is. (Well, I do know--but at the time I didn't). The swagger inherent in an attempt to impress a girl does NOT mix well with firearms.

Once on the range, I noticed a guy with a Glock .45--and the original "tupperware" package. Hmmm...nobody uses the factory box...He also had a cleaning kit, which is a really odd thing to bring to a pistol range (benchrest rifle shooters often bring them, but pistol shooters?) DING DING DING NEWBIE ALERT!. Ouch. That's 4 of them, plus the two guys who were filling out the liability forms in the lobby. I later confirmed his newbie status when he crossed his left thumb over the back of his right hand--and got smacked, hard, by the slide as it cycled. That's not the sort of mistake you make twice.

My wife and I fled to the far end of the range and took turns keeping watch over our "friends" to make sure they didn't shoot us. Then 6 kids--college age, speaking Chinese--came in. Their skin color didn't matter to me, but their language did, because neither the PRC or ROC are known for firearms freedom. 6 young people, likely foreigners--did they learn gun handling from John Woo and Bruce Willis? Probably. Certainly it's unlikely their fathers were a big gun collecters in the People's Republic. They acted like punks, too, joking and shoving each other, which made their nationality irrelevant in a hurry.

Our friends, both women, arrived. Both of them are relatively new to shooting--less than a year--and I'm the one who taught them. It's a testament to their level of seriousness that they immediatly identified a big string of threats with a glance, and a closer look at the targets of our fellow shooters told the rest of the story. Yikes. So I, as the man of the group, wound up standing guard most of the time, watching our neighbors closely for serious screwups. It's funny in our liberated, feminist age, but my wife and friends thought that I would be the best person to complain about bad gun handling. I'm not a big guy, but I can make my voice boom if neccessary, and the general perception is that men have more credibilty on a shooting range, despite the dramatic falsity of that belief (my wife is a better rifle shot that I am, a fact which makes me proud rather than threatened).

So what happened? I watched a lot of bad gun handling that made me nervous--too many fingers on triggers when they shouldn't have been, people unable to hit the paper at 7 yards, and, at one point, wood flying from the ceiling and the floor. Actually, I didn't see that--I saw the reaction of my friends, because I was behind the line watching the people rather than their targets.

And then, the amazing and unthinkable happened. One of the Chinese kids turned around to wave at his friend: "Hey, look at my bullseye!" He brought his gun with him, finger on the trigger. He swept me. He swept my wife. He swept both of our friends and one of his. I jumped forward and yelled--I got right into the shooting lane with him and damn near grabbed the .38 spl. he was waving around. I didn't do it because I didn't know if it was loaded, and I didn't want that jackass to fight me for it. He is, however, pretty lucky I didn't deck him.

For the non-shooters out there, it may be difficult to grasp how serious this is. It isn't hard to imagine that having a gun pointed at you is bad, but--this may surprise you--it's the first time it's ever happened to me. My wife and I spent four hours on the range during an NRA personal-protection class, routinely stepping forward of the firing line, shooting from all angles and positions; and yet, not a single one of the people there committed a screw-up so serious as that kid, despite literally hundreds of opportunities. When I teach people to shoot, I tell them that turning around, gun in hand, is the classic rookie handgun mistake, and not one of my students has ever made it (they are also much better marksmen than the average guy at this particular range).

So here we see the conflict. It isn't just that I'm opposed to gun control despite the fact that idiots can and do hurt themselves and others with guns. Certainly, part of me would like to see all the new shooters be forced into halfway decent training so they can avoid shooting the ceiling and sweeping their friends. But at the same time, I can't help but think that part of the problem is insufficient freedom.

My guess is that the guy who swept me is a Chinese college student who would never be allowed to touch a gun in his home country. I've run into Japanese college students in that situation at this range; since I speak Japanese, any one of them who sweeps me will get a very direct and rude correction in his native language. But precisely because these guys cannot shoot handguns at home--much like the many American-born kids whose parents abhor firearms, some of whom were busy shooting the ceiling and the floor that night--they get their images of gun handling from TV or movies. They show up at the range ready to be Dirty Harry or James Bond. Because they have never bourne the responsibility inherent in safe shooting, they cannot now bear it--and the collision of restriction and freedom is dangerous as hell.

Worst of all, people who have never had to bear responsibility don't even know that they can't handle it, because they don't know what it is. They literally don't know how dangerous they are, which leads to tragedies like 13-year-olds shooting their friends in accidents which marksmanship training--NOT simply saying "Don't touch!"--could easily prevent. By infantalizing our children--or our citizens--we make them more dangerous than their natural laziness and stupidity mixed with responsibility would.

This is, perhaps, a special case. We can't make China change its gun laws, and we can't change ours simply because China has them. Nor can we force all American parents to raise their children in a certain way. But for many issues, gun control included, we must strike a balance between protecting ourselves from idiots and creating idiots with paternalism. I don't know exactly how to strike that balance, but it's a balance which is rarely discussed, and which ought to get wider play.
Guns and freedom: Bill Whittle has written a wonderful, remarkable piece on guns and freedom, which Rachel Lucas has published on her blog.

Armed Liberal linked, and got this comment:
...and just what do you think your small-arm will be able to do against a remote-controlled droned armed with hellfire missiles? All the well-regulated minute-men in the state, let alone law-abiding gun owners, won't be able to protect themselves...

I've been kicking some ideas around in my head lately in response to this sentiment, and looking for an excuse to write about them. Now I've got it. I see this kind of argument all the time--"Do you really think a couple million guys with deer rifles can defeat the U.S. Army?" This kind of thinking reflects tactical thinking--after all, a hunter can't even dent the armor of a tank. Its easy to be dazzled by the capablities of our technologically advanced military. But wars are not won by tactics, and a strategic consideration gives the clear advantage to rebellious American citizens.

Let's break this down in to units:

Objectives: The objective of a tyrannical government would be the complete disarmament and pacification of the entire country, followed by permanent occupation.

The objective of rebels is simply to make the country ungovernable in order to force concessions from the government.

Raw numbers: If 10% of the gun owners in the U.S. decide to rebel, the New Sons of Liberty can put about 8 million men under arms, with families, neighbors and spouses forming a HUGE organic quartermaster corps.

The U.S. armed forces have something like 2 million members, with a clear majority being in logistics and support rather than combat arms units. Terrible casualty ratios would still leave lots of new deer hunters to kill the remaining G.I.s

Air power: One of the great advantages the U.S. has in battle with foreign nations is air superiority and precision bombardment. But strategic bombing is impossible because the factories, bridges, rail lines, fuel depots, highways, etc. which would be bombed are essential to the Army's progress--and largely irrelevant to the rebels, who would be hunkered down in their own neighborhoods waiting for the battle to come to them.

Meanwhile, tactical bombardment--Hellfire missiles, for instance, as suggested above--cannot be sustained. Our stock of high-precision munitions is limited, and would quickly be exhausted without meaningfully reducing the number of rebellious citizens. Resistance, since it is not directed at literally stopping an attack but rather at being annoying, would be too spread out for tactical air power or even precision artillery to be worthwhile. This seems awful to say, but who care's if the CIA kills five rebels in a car? There are millions more where they came from, and they only matter if they're leaders who inspire others, as appears to be the case in the Yemen raid.

Doing battle for freedom--and owning a gun for that purpose--isn't about personal survival. It's about the survival of ideals held more dear than life.

Morale: Rebels would see themselves as the heirs to the American Revolution. Heck, they'd probably get T-shirts that said "AR 2.0." They could draw on the American cultural affinity for the little guy, the underdog, and the freedom-loving patriot to keep their own morale up and muster support from civilians.

Meanwhile, their counterparts in the Army are not robots--they would be well aware that they were playing the role of the Redcoats--and you could count on lots of desertions. If the Army did succeed in occupying any significant piece of territory, it would need massive armies of conscripts to support the occupation--how many people would actually show up if drafted? How many would go through the training and promptly flee with their new skills to join the rebels?

The role of the National Guard: All over the country, there are stocks of weapons under the control of part-time soldiers. Given that many of these soldiers are gun owners who signed up for the free ammo, how likely are they to join the tyranny rolling across the country? Much more likely: they and their officers will form rebel cavalry divisions to support the deer-hunter infantry. They'll bring training, SAMs, armor, and artillery to the party which formerly consisted of only bolt-action .308s.

Considering that something like half the Army's firepower is in NG units, that's nothing to sneeze at.

The role of the police: Who will enforce public order in the conquered territory? Not the police, most of whom, for all their faults, believe in freedom and democracy. In fact, it's just as likely that many police will take the side of the rebels--meaning yet another pack of gun-carrying troublemakers, complete with solid communications and command structure, for the Army to deal with.

The role of unarmed civilians: Suppose you were a factory worker who made JDAMs for the Air Force. Would you show up to work on the day after those weapons were dropped on your fellow citizens? Would you put your best effort into quality control?

Suppose you were a government-loving gun-control advocate who supported the effort to disarm American civilians and hated the rebels. Could you keep feeling that way after you saw a city block shelled flat to kill the sniper there? How would you feel with tanks rolling past your bedroom window?

Armed fighters could count on massive non-violent resistance to most of what the Army tried, partly because of the American love of freedom, and partly because any use of conventional military tactics like shelling or bombing aginst guys with rifles would upset the American sense of justice. Unless the government's soldiers can be convinced to roll over or shoot their way through throngs blocking every road, they might not even get to engage the armed citizens. And, of course, doing so would merely incense the survivors and serve as a recruiting poster for rebels.

Finally, civilians would be happy to feed, clothe, and nurse the valiant rebels--but government soldiers would face a rather different welcome.

Logistics: There would be no front in a new American Revolution. That means the U.S. Army's entire logistical tail would, by definition, be in hostile territory, vulnerable to snipers, sabatoge, improvised mines and mortars, bomb-carrying crop dusters, etc.

The logistical tail of the average deer-hunter extends to his kitchen, where his wife can make him sandwiches and fill his canteen. The Army couldn't, for political, moral, and morale reasons, blockade or otherwise obstruct commerce which feeds non-combatants, which means they can't obstruct the logistical tail of the rebels.

And, finally: Tactics: Here, it Army has a big advantage. Better weapons, better training, better communications, the ability to call in close air support, etc. Of course, some of these advantages might be mitigated by National Guard defections or deserting soldiers who bring some materiel out with them. And it is certainly fair to ask what effect conscription and poor morale will have on combat effectiveness. Still, for the purposes of argument, let's stipulate a battlefield advantage for the tyrants.

So what? There will be no wheeling tank divisions on the Great Plains. Most of today's gun owners live in suburbs and cities; their rural cousins will quickly flee their isolated farmhouses for the relative safety of numbers in population centers. It won't be a battle of massed artillery and outflanking manuvers; it will be a single sniper popping soldiers from a rooftop. You don't call in Apache gunships to dispatch a single sniper, and you sure as hell don't do it when the sniper is perched on the roof of an innocent party. By the time a patrol gets to the roof in question--assuming they aren't ambushed along the way--the shooter will have run home, shoved a patch through the bore of his gun (Who, me?), and be in front of the TV.

The only way to combat the sniper menace is to go house to house and search. This, of course, gives the advantage to the rebels, who can chose which houses are most favorable for ambushes and set up the furnishings to maximize their advantage. They can count on at least one casualty inflicted on soldiers for each ambush; probably many more. The strategy of house-to-house must also be considered in light of its impact on Army morale, desertion rates, civilian support for rebels vs. the Army.

Put simply: house-to-house fighting, in which armor, artillery, and air power are largely irrelevant, and where training and equipment advantages can be largely neutralized by preparation and ambush, will be the dominant form of combat in any battle between the U.S. government and its citizens. It will produce disasterous casualty rates, destroy morale, increase desertions, reduce response to new conscription, and turn the friendliest of civilians against the government. Unless (and even if) they are willing to destroy entire neighborhoods with bombs and shells, it will be impossible for would-be tyrants to stop resistance, or even keep a reasonably effective fighting force in the field.

In a sense, the example of Palistinian terrorism (in the case of attacks on civilians) and rebellion (in the case of attacks on soldiers) is instructive; it shows the chaos which a few men with guns can cause. If the Palistinians were capable of negotiating in good faith, and if they could give up their Hitler fantasies, they would have had a state many years ago.


So yes, the armed forces have some wonderful toys. And yes, they could kill me pretty easily if they decided to, and I can do very little to stop them. But tactical advantage is not victory; killing me will not stop an American war of liberation. On the other hand, if the government were first to disarm the citizenry peacefully, resistence to an army willing to mow down unarmed protesters becomes nearly impossible.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Faith in "The System": The print edition of National Review had an article about alleged voting irregularities in the South Dakota Senate election. It's almost a too-perfect mirror image of Florida 2000: the Democrat wins by less than 600 votes; Republicans go into overdrive trying to reverse the result. I didn't read the article.

Nor did I read 99% of the crap that came out of (and continues to come out of) the Florida debacle.

Why? Well, Josh Marshall gives one clue: the Republican AG of SD has decided that the accusations of voter fraud are themselves bogus.

But, in a larger sense, I wouldn't have cared even if I'd never seen the Josh Marshall post. Because I have great faith in "The System," and I'm confident that anything really serious--anything I really need to know--will pop up on my media radar screen, either in the paper, on the nightly news, or in many of the fine blogs I'm exposed to. I don't need to pay attention because someone else is paying attention, and they'll let me know if I need to know.

I also have great faith in the American people, including those people we elect to public office. Certainly I get in my fair share of jibes and cheap shots about politicians, but really--a state AG's job is to put people in jail for breaking the law. He'll do that as best he can. If he doesn't, the decency of the average citizen will lead to public outcry and an electoral defeat. That's why Toricelli had to withdraw from the Senate race--even in a heavily Democratic state, with a two-dimensional opponent whose only policy idea was "Don't vote for the crook," his supporters were evaporating. So I trust this AG, Republican or Democrat, to be honest and to deal with the claims of fraud fairly, whatever the outcome. Whether he does so out of personal interest or professionalism, I don't care.

I also trust our adversarial political system. In any close election, regardless of who wins, both sides will be gathering whatever evidence they can of cheating. So there is little chance that the cheating will go unnoticed. I also trust our media outlets--who can smell blood from even farther away than the most sensitive shark--to grab onto a scandal and milk it for all it's worth. Sure I complain about media bias--but in general, I don't believe something unless I can read it on, and I do believe it if I can.

I trust our judges to do what is right--to dismiss bogus claims and permit the hearing of legitimate ones. That's not to say I trust all judges all the time, but the legal community's professional standards and oversight are worthy of respect, and the vigorous debates that accompany controversial decisions make me confident that large-scale error is pretty unlikely.

Most of all, I trust American culture. Part of our identity as Americans is belief in democratic politics. Being an American isn't about having particular ancestors, it's about having particular ideals. We can and do debate exactly what those ideals are, and how exactly they should be implemented, but voter fraud is more than illegal--it's an offense against Mom and Apple Pie, a perversion of the one thing that all Americans really do agree upon. Some partisan zealots may be willing to sell out the democratic ideal in favor of the Democratic (or Republican) ideal, but most of us are offended by cheating even if it helps us win. That rigs the system in favor of honesty from the beginning.

To be sure, there is corruption in the United States, and there was much more in years past. But the confluence of all these trends--a culture hostile to fraud, politicians who really do want to do their jobs, an amazingly efficient independent news media, an impartial judiciary--make life amazingly easy for me. I can be as lazy as I like, and yet still be confident that the truth will win in the end.
Bush and small government: What can I say? Ted Barlow is right about Bush's seeming lack of seriousness when it comes to small government. Brad DeLong's comment about marginal tax rates, which Ted links too, pisses me off (assuming he's correct).

Ted, what should I do? The Democrats are worse, as you well know.

I flirted briefly with Libertarians (I still get their emails) but in the end they struck me as fundamentally unserious. They're full of ideological zeal--and I agree with them much of the time--but the actual business of governing is so messy I doubt any of them could every succeed at it without "selling out" and getting excommunicated. They also don't think seriously about the the practical impact of their ideas. If something is ideologically correct, they support it without regard to consequences (I recently came across an article denouncing meat inspections as tyrannical--sorry that I can't find it to link). In that respect they rather closely resemble the Greens.

So no, Bush is not impressive on the small-government front. But that's hardly a reason to vote Democratic in 2004.
Did I need to see that?: This morning, as I was munching on my cereal, an ad came on with cutesy music and close up shots of people's posteriors. I thought it was an underwear ad--Christmas is coming, and Hanes wants to keep the economy moving. Then this voice-over played:
Get clean where it really counts with Cottonelle toilet paper...

That's right. They were showing actors' hind ends in order to make you think about the fecal matter collected around their non-Cottonelled anuses.

You know, I didn't like the Charmin ad with the bear reading a paper on his sylvan throne. Especially the part where he smiled as he used the Charmin. This is even worse. What's next? "This is your anus. This is your anus after using patented AssWipe technology. Any questions?"

Monday, December 16, 2002

Race: Armed Liberal links to two interesting stories about race: One showing that people with "black" names are less likely to be called for job interviews, and another showing that ordinary people are more likely to assume that a black man is holding a gun than a white man in a "shoot/no-shoot" video combat simulator.

The employment-discrimination study looks pretty solid, although I haven't read the actual scientific paper, so there may be problems I don't know about. On the other hand, the article about the shoot/no-shoot game left an awful lot out. For instance, how were the simulated "armed robbers" dressed? In a low-light, fast-evolving tactical situation, a white or Asian kid in "ghetto" clothing is going to get more of my attention than a black guy in a pinstriped suit. If the black video images were all dressed "ghetto," and the white ones were in golf shirts, the results don't necessarily indicate racism so much as clothes-ism.

The second issue, unmentioned in the article, is the fact that African-Americans make up about 13% of the population--yet committed at least 36% of the murders in 2001 (From the FBI's Uniform Crime Report). (29% of murders are committed by perpetrators of an unknown race). This fact is not racist--facts cannot, by definition, be racist. Nor is it racist to acknowlege this fact. Nor is it racist to take action based on facts.

The article and the researchers go to great lengths to explain away "hidden bias" as the product of cultural conditioning, media portrayals, etc. I can't help but think of Chris Rock's remark: "I don't got those guns in my house to keep the media out!" The reality is that, in a lethal-force encounter, a police officer or a citizen has more to fear, statistically speaking, from young black men. The fact is that black men are more likely to be armed with hostile intent. While I was appalled by the Diallo shooting--and I don't support the cops, who screwed up in a huge way--this study doesn't prove that racism exists, it proves that people are aware of a painful reality in our society. This quote this point clear:
In one study, black participants were also more likely mistakenly to shoot unarmed black targets and were quicker to shoot black targets holding guns.

Yep. That's exactly what I would expect, especially given that black criminals generally prey on black victims.

Look, I'm opposed to racism, and I'm really quite disturbed by the job-interview study. But if both white and black participants in a study assume that black men are more likely to be criminals than white men--well, they may just be right.

UPDATE: Best of the Web has an interesting chart from the employment-discrimination study which appears in the print edition of the New York Times but not online. It shows that, for reasons unknown, someone named "Ebony" is five times more likely to be called for a job interview than someone named "Aisha." That's pretty weird. But it also shows that Ebony gets 20% more interviews than Emily, while Kristin gets 60% more interviews than Emily. The resumes were supposedly randomly shuffled for each employer, such that Ebony and Kristin might end up with identical CVs at different companies.

Given these somewhat strange results, it's hard to call this straight racism. Is it really plausible that there are "anti-Emily-ites" out there? But this is a fascinating line of inquiry and I hope it gets followed up.