Saturday, September 30, 2006

Age of Consent

How old is old enough?

The old Code of Canon law allowed a female to marry at 12 and a male at 14. These days (need to check this), it's 14 for females, 16 for males.

Personally, I doubt most people in the modern west are emotionally mature enough for marriage until they are 40. Unfortunately that conflicts with the biological clock for both men and women.

So what do we do? Most jurisdictions choose 16. That seems reasonable to me.

See the website Age of Consent.

Dowd: Borat and Bush

Maureen Dowd's New York Times column today as reposted here and here.

[If you don't know it, bloggers repost almost all TimesSelect columns.]

What's Worse (or Better) Than a Trekkie Convention?

In contrast to the I-saw-them-first snobbery of sci-fi and music obsessives, there seems to be an almost evangelical urge to spread the word, and to introduce others to the joy of reciting 30-year-old comedy routines. They seem especially keen to pass their sense of humour on to new generations. Luckily, their off spring are only too happy to charge around dressed as witches or knights chopping imaginary limbs off people.

A Monty-Python Convention.
The Guardian 9/30/2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

Mark Foley

The resignation of Mark Foley [See 9/29/2006 is to be regretted.

Foley may have been unwise but nothing that has come out has suggested illegality. In general, I expect that age-consonant couples work better, and I agree age of consent laws should be obeyed.

But, with only minor tut-tuting, it is fairly common for older powerful men to marry women decades younger than them (Michael Douglass, Tony Randall, etc.)

Gay people should be allowed to make the same bad decisions as straight people.

UPDATE (9/30/2006):

More has come out. Apparently some AIM messages by Foley contained much more inappropriate comments to other young men. If so, that somewhat changes the situation.

UPDATE (10/1/2006):

Very good discussion at Glenn Greenwald's blog.

UPDATE (10/2/2006)

The Chicago Tribune 10/2/2006 has a good account of the Republican's damage control efforts, and Democratic efforts to capitalize on the issue.

ABCNEWS 10/1/2006 has published the full transcript of IMs, which amount to "internet sex." No wonder Foley resigned. The young man in question does not, however, come across as exactly innocent.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hillary Stood Up

She just made a speech which, in my case for the first time, makes her presidential material. Most Democrats ducked this challenge. She did not.

Andrew Sullivan 9/28/2006 [Video]


List of Most Viewed Pages in Wikipedia

Mostly naruto and porn, with a significant gay subset.

Update: Andrew Sullivan picked up on this (hey, what about a hat-tip?)

Itsy-Bitsy RIP. Not!

As readers know, I am an avid reader of Daily Telegraph obituaries. The very best days for those with this hobby are those when a living person's obituary is accidentally published.

This happened this week to Paul Vance, writer of the song "It's an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.

"Do you know what it's like to have grandchildren calling you and say, 'Grandpa, you're still alive?'" said 76-year-old Vance.
BBC 9/28/2006

Twenty Five

Number of jobs applied for today. There must be a better way.

By the way, this accounts for the increased posting of late: I have been online constantly applying for positions. Basically I have been applying for 2-3 jobs and then reading and posting something - mostly funny or tragic (they seem the same thing these days) - as a way of breaking the tedium of typing my address again and again.

Apologies if it's all boring.


Dear Employer,

I am interested in the position you advertised. I am at a transitional state in my career and might not be a traditional candidate for your position. I urge you to consider my application in any case.

I have worked for years in both teaching and administration in educational institutions. More recently I have held a combination of jobs; as self-employed web-editor; in sales positions, and in short-term promotions. I am extremely adaptable, learn very fast, and have been able to satisfy all my clients and employers.

If you want a confident self-starter with years of experience using computers, office software, and in interacting with the public, I'm your man.

Fruit Fly

A video of Cherie Blair (wife of the British Prime Minister) singing Oklahoma! at the Labour Party conference in Manchester.
The Guardian 9/28/2006.

Horse Meat Salad

Evening Standard 9/23/2006
The best Borat article so far.

You don't know who Borat is? You will. [Video (P.S. it's a joke...sort of...)]

American Dream

If this Republican party maintains control of all branches of government, the danger to individual liberty is extremely grave. Put aside all your concerns about the Democratic leadership. What matters now is that this juggernaut against individual liberty and constitutional rights be stopped. The court has failed to stop it; the legislature has failed to stop it; only the voters can stop it now. If they don't, they will at least have been warned.

in re New York Times 9/28/2006
Andrew Sullivan, America's greatest British promoter, giving up on his American dream today 9/28/2006.

The Sound of $2 Billion

According to NPR the Iraq war is costing $2 Billion a week ($2,000,000,000).

That means it costs 10,000 time more per week to wage war in Iraq than to buy the rights to Sound of Silence for a film.

Tokyo Rose RIP

Iva Toguri, aka Tokyo Rose, is apparently the only American ever pardoned after a treason conviction. Good for Gerald Ford if the Daily Telegraph obit 9/28/2006 is correct.

The Saddam Trial

The Saddam trial is a disgrace to justice that ought to be prorogued or transferred to another country. The latest judge has just suspended the session because he was unable to control the increasingly self-confident ravings of the bearded and staring-eyed ex-tyrant, and, when proceedings resume on October 9, they will still be a mixture of farce and tragedy.

Boris Johnson, Conservative MP and member of the shadow cabinet, Daily Telegraph 9/28/2006


Michael Rubin at NRO gets everything wrong 9/28/2006

Taqqiya means "dissimulation": i.e. misinforming people of one's views in order to stay alive. Although some Shi'ites reject the term, there is little doubt that such activity was allowed by Shi'ite jurists over the centuries as a way to allow their people to survive under persecution.

A western corallary in Catholicism is that of allowing Mental Reservation to Catholics under persecution and certain other circumstances. [I know this is a "Hitler example" but it works: a Nazi comes into a convent in occupied France and asks the mother superior "are their any Jews here?"; she responds "No" (and holds in her mind the qualification "as far as you are concerned").]

It is important to note that taqqiya has NEVER been approved by any Sunni school of thought. Rubin though suggests it applies to Muslims in general.

super-dooper poopy head

Jonah Goldberg (one of the better New Republic Online contributors) is disgusted 9/28/2006 with the Virginia senate race.

Naomi Campbell

NAOMI CAMPBELL was given a warning that a warrant for her arrest would be issued if she did not attend her next court date in New York City after she failed to appear yesterday.

The 36-year-old model was “absolutely obliged” to be at Manhattan Criminal Court on November 15 over accusations that she threw a mobile phone at her housekeeper’s head, Judge James Gibbons said.

The Times 9/28/2006

I have no interest in Naomi Campbell, but this was a good a hook as any to hang this story on. It concerns a interaction in her life with the great English philosopher A.J. Ayer.

He taught or lectured several times in the United States, including serving as a visiting professor at Bard College in the fall of 1987. At a party that same year held by fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, Ayer, then 77, confronted Mike Tyson harassing Naomi Campbell. When Ayer demanded that Tyson stop, the boxer said: "Do you know who the fuck I am? I'm the heavyweight champion of the world," to which Ayer replied: "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men". Ayer and Tyson then began to talk, while Naomi Campbell slipped out.

Wikipedia, Alfred Ayer

Brazilian Bombshell

A weird story in the Daily Telegraph 9/28/2006.

The Sound of $200,000

Cherry Gross interviewed the film maker Todd Phillips on Fresh Air yesterday (7/28/2006). During the show she asked him how much it cost to get the rights to use Dust in the Wind and Sound of Silence in his film Old School.

Dust cost $40,000; Silence cost $200,000. Phew!

Creepy Posters

Andrew Sullivan 9/28/2006 links to a display of faux-posters by Austin Cline at About.Com.

Cline introduces his collection thus:

Visual imagery, though, can often communicate ideas more quickly than words and convey emotions more immediately than any argument. For that reason I have created propaganda posters which promote some of the beliefs of the Christian Right. The intention is satirical, not sympathetic, but even so I believe that both the images and the words accurately reflect what some on the Christian Right belief and advocate. The original posters were produced as government propaganda, mostly during the first and second world wars.

The posters are initially amusing but a major problem becomes apparent quickly. Cline mostly rewords World War II and Cold War posters. As reworded the way they try to manipulate thought and frames of thought is creepy.

But then one has to ask oneself, doesn't that mean the original posters were just as manipulative and creepy?

An Idiot Who Thinks London is Britain

Greg Guffield, Weekly Standard 10/2/2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Santorum on Google

Try searching for Santorum on Google. It's not for the feint-hearted.

Old blogs never die.

A Vocabulary Problem

"I'm a bibliophobe and proud of it, and I am an English teacher, and want my doctorate in education."
Michelle, caller on Talk of the Nation, NPR 9/26/2006 [2:53 eastern time].

Private Eye in the UK calls such broadcast verbal slips "Colemanballs" after a famous british sports journalist.


I have had a wierd problem lately - sleepwalking.

Last Wednesday, after going to bed at 10pm, I apparently woke up at (around midnight) and made several telephone calls, and rearranged some things in my room. When I woke up in the moring, I had no recollection at all (and still don't) of what had happened but was able to reconstruct from what happened by physical evidence (e.g. records of calls on my cellphone). Something similar happened last Friday. I confused some people with very odd-sounding conversations. Nothing serious went amiss.

I am a long time insomnia sufferer, and recently switched from Lunesta to Ambien. What seems to have happened is that I took Ambien too soon after drinking a glass of wine. That will not happen again.

Ambien is about to go on the market as the generic zolpidem, and as a result I think more people will take it. The "Ambien excuse", as in the case of Representative Patrick Kennedy, had always seemed to me to be bogus. I now expect to hear a lot more about it, and, frankly, after my own experience, will be inclined to believe it.

Basic rule: hide your car keys before you take a sleep aid.

Finding a Job

I am looking for a job, and in fact devote many hours each day to this search.

So far I have been using online sites (Monster, Hotjobs, etc.), and there are some advantages to this approach. Applications can be made by email/website, newspaper classified ads are searchable, and so forth. The problem is that very few good jobs (at least ones I can apply for, are online. I am sad to say that I have only just found out why.

Almost all the big employers - local hospital systems, big companies, even retail chains - have their own job application web sites. Each of which requires a separate application. The result is tedium as the same data has to be entered time and time again.

It's odd to say that the upshot of years of internet development has been that job seeking is just as tedious as ever.

[PS: If you know of any jobs, let me know ( I am willing to locate anywhere in the US.]

Freedom in Venezuela

After Hugo Chavez "Bush is the Devil Smelling of Sulphur" speech, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, made comments to the effect that such freedom of speech would not be allowed in Venezuela. How then do you explain this from a Venezuelan newspaper today:

The truth is that all the nonsense our President has said in the United States confirms that for him, worrying about unemployment, insecurity, inflation and housing for Venezuelans is already too small. We will have to face these problems with candidate Manuel Rosales, because Chávez is very busy saving other peoples, including the Americans, whom he recently asked to 'wake up' and choose a better president.
American Democrats and Republicans have closed ranks to defend their President. The Venezuelan President has made an error in calculation. Americans thought that Chávez was a nice guy trying to help the poor, victim of a Venezuelan selfish oligarchy. Now they learned that our President is offensive, vulgar, and intolerant. President Chávez has lost key support in Washington, Latin America, Europe and in other world continents. If he continues like that, making up enemies and 'saving' other peoples from the Devil, he will continue to make mistakes that will soon lead him to his political defeat. Being the idol of Hizbollah and of Cuba does not benefit Venezuela. Chávez's fights with the world cost Venezuelans too much. He no longer defends our interests. It is time Venezuelans woke up, too and chose a new President, December is getting closer.

Editorial, El Nacional, as translated in the Corner at National Review 09/25/2006

Shouldn't an American diplomat know more about the country?

Noam Chomsky in 2003

You never need an argument against the use of violence, you need an argument for it. And the arguments that have been given for it are not convincing.

There is no debate about the importance of disarming Iraq and indeed other countries that have the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction. That is very important and everyone agrees on it.

Sane people do not undertake actions when they know that there is reasonable possibility that it may lead to a humanitarian catastrophe

The way to proceed with that is the way that has been done - with careful inspection procedures and efforts to ensure that the US and Britain and others will no longer carry out the policies of the past and provide Saddam with means for developing weapons of mass destruction.
So we should certainly do everything to prevent him from developing weapons of mass destruction.

I think that nobody doubts that the world would be better off if he is eliminated. But the means that are proposed are outlandish.

The means that are proposed are that we should carry out an attack which we understand may cause very severe humanitarian catastrophe and might also lead to the only real likelihood of his using weapons of mass destruction.

The US planners are well aware that it is not a situation like the 1960s, when you can carry out aggression and violence for years with no public opposition. Now the popular consciousness has just changed.

You can declare victory over the much weaker enemy - but anything longer than that is going to arouse the public which simply is not as willing to accept aggression and violence as Europe and the United States have been in the past.

Whether there will be large-scale humanitarian catastrophes, nobody knows.

It is a reasonable possibility and sane people do not undertake actions when they know that there is reasonable possibility that it may lead to a humanitarian catastrophe unless they have enormously powerful arguments.

Noam Chomsky, BBC 2/12/2003

It May be Time to Elect the Tories

John Reid, current Home Secretary:
First: "I will rebuild the whole British justice system if I have to." Second: "I need News of the World readers to tell me what they want."
one of the direct quotes in the article does have him arguing that issues of law and order are "too important to be left to the professionals". "We need the ideas and views of real people, like your readers," he says. Thank goodness he's not in charge of the NHS, or air-traffic control. "Quadruple-bypass surgery is too important to be left to the professionals," you can imagine him saying in the hopes of a popularity-boosting soundbite. "We need real people, not petit-bourgeois surgeons, in charge of them scalpels."

Sam Leith, Daily Telegraph 9/25/2006

It's a truism of British politics that governments of both parties jump the shark at some point. That may have happened in Britain. I would vote Labour, but understand those who think things have gone too far.

It is most distressing, by the way, that I find myself agreeing with Daily Telegraph writers so often.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Do not trust anyone with a British accent and watch the Aussies.

One of Daniel Pipe's readers.

Mel and the Pope

Mel was drunk and said something bad that upset people; the pope was "doing theology" (which is almost as bad) and said something that upset other people.

Lots of people said that Muslims overreacted to the pope; almost noone claimed there was an overreaction to Mel.

It seems to me that they might have something to chat about (as well as the desirability of making the mass in Latin the norm....).


Mel Gibson’s eccentric promotional foray to the heartland with his new movie “Apocalypto” may have helped introduce the film to a vast potential audience. But it also left the beleaguered star with a lot more explaining to do.

The filmmaker and actor, fiercely criticized for his anti-Semitic outburst when he was arrested for drunk driving last July, showed the as-yet unfinished movie on Friday, first at a casino and at Cameron University in Oklahoma, where he arrived in wig and disguise, according to The Associated Press.

New York Times 9/25/2006

Did he come dressed as Nicole Kidman? Enquiring minds want to know.

Will Any Democrats Step Up?

Republican strategy seems to be that voters will prefer it if the GOP adopts a pro-torture policy. Last week it was tragic to see principled GOP opposition to torture collapse.

But what about Democratic senators? It was all very well to sit back and enjoy some supposed electoral advantage from an internal Republican fight, but now it is their turn to step up. Oboma, Kennedy, Kerry, Clinton, Schumer, Boxer, Feinggold and co, where are you?

There is a limited amount of time before the elections. There would be no way to overcome a filibuster. Or are some Democrats in favor of torture also?

Two Conservative Magazines

5 Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong And why there should be no exceptions.

David P. Gushee, Christianity Today 2/1/2006

Reports that the White House was about to fold last week when negotiating with John McCain and other senators on the treatment of War on Terror detainees were greatly exaggerated. Not only did the White House not fold, it got a good deal, one that will preserve the life-saving CIA-interrogation program. The ACLU, the left-wing blogosphere, and human-rights groups are howling, as — given their opposition to all coercive interrogation — well they should.

Editorial, The New Republic 9/25/2006


Advertising and Fantasy

On a completely different subject...

Advertising has always been a problem for those on the moderate left of politics. It does not take much knowledge of economics to know that wealth is produced by the circulation of money, and the desire to own and to buy is vital to the health of a modern consumer economy. If workers are to be paid good salaries, they need good jobs, and good jobs require good markets. The problem is that advertising over the years increasingly about became not just about making people desire one product over another, but making people desire something they never knew they lacked. Advertising promoted greed and discontent by firing the materialist fantasies of the consumer.

These days something wierd seems to be happening. Just watch TV and note that not only do the commercials advertise a product, but they portray an entirely unrealistic consumer response to the product. Advertisement after advertisment seems keyed to the fantasies not of the consumers but of the advertisers.

I am not quite sure why this is. Are the clients of advertising agencies now so insulated that they have left touch with reality, or does this approach actually work?


[I will list some examples as they come to mind.]


Nissan Versa Commercial
-A couple celebrate the huge internal space of the sub-compact car, thus avoiding "auto-claustrophobia."

Cultures of Violence

History, it turns out, does count after all.

In the entire history of the sectarian Northern Ireland conflict, 1968-1999, 1,857 civilians and 1,121 combatants were killed, 2,978 in all. In Iraq in the past two months around 7,000 civians have been killed. Iraq has a popolation around 30 times that of Northern Ireland, but the scale of violence is massively greater.

There are some similarities. There was a long-standing religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants. One group (Protestants) ahd long lorded it over the other (Catholics), and now faced a challenge. By the 1960s the religiously-based condemnation of Catholics by local Protestants was much more vociferous than the more commonly political language used by Catholics. This was, however, a recognised sectarian conflict with tit-for-tat killings and communal segregation in housing and education.

The differences with Iraq are more striking. At no stage were Protestant or Catholic churches attacked by the other side. It was common, although not universal, for warnings to be called in before bombings. Why?

In Northern Ireland, although the communal differences were religious, the armed conflict was cast in political terms, between "Loyalists" and "Nationalists." Neither side denied the historic presence of the other side in the region, although both sides consistently used communal "history" to justify their positions. Religious leaders on neither side condoned violence. There were efforts to "win" but no efforts to eliminate the other side.

In Iraq none of this seems to apply. Religion alone is providing the basis of a very narrow politics (what are the views of each group on the economy, global warming, the rise of China?). Each side denies the basic legitimate existence of the other. Most notably the culture of violence is more intense and eliminationist.

We need to think what about the the history of the region leads to this difference.

Brine Vine, RIP

Brian Vine, who died on September 15 aged 74, was one of the great characters of the old Fleet Street, during the days when journalists enjoyed fat expense accounts and often spent as much time propping up the bar at El Vino as polishing their copy.

A rotund, Wodehousian figure with a booming voice and rubicund complexion, "Vino", as Vine was known to his colleagues, wore Savile Row suits, sported a monocle ("for opthalmic reasons", though the glass was obviously plain) and conveyed the general impression of being an escapee from the dustier benches of the Upper House, an image which may have persuaded the late Earl Spencer and his wife, Raine, to unburden themselves, during a flight to Nice, of the difficulties they were having with the Earl's teenage daughter, Lady Diana Spencer.

Daily Telegraph 9/23/2006

McCain Blinked III

Andrew Sullivan has been one of McCain's biggest supporters, but his assessment 9/25/2006 is grim.

Money quote, as Andrew would say:'s clear he [McCain] has also acquiesced to giving complete legal impunity to the civilian architects of the torture policy within the Bush administration. Maybe that's the real deal here - I'll give you legal protection for past war-crimes if you give me the nomination in 2008.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Didn't the West Liberate Kuwait?

With two unfortunate words, “evil and inhuman”, applied to the prophet Muhammad, Pope Benedict XVI last week in the sleepy confines of a Bavarian university lecture room set back relations with Islam several eras.

The comment has called down the wrath of Muslim extremists and the shocked dismay of Islamic moderates. Threats have been issued not only to the papacy but the entire billion-strong community of Catholics. One popular jihadist website operated from Kuwait declared that Catholics “are doing everything in their power to extinguish the light of God” and called for violent retribution.

John Cornwall, Sunday Times, 9/24/2006

The sentiment in Cornwall's article is rot. But the comment about the website in Kuwait is gob-smacking.

The article itself is a revelation in the perversity of some kind of Western critics of the pope.

This hurts

I was wondering why the antics of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly seemed so familiar last week. Then I realised. It was just like a university faculty meeting. Extravagant, long-winded denunciations of the president are what professors do, not politicians.

Niall Ferguson, Sunday Telegraph, 9/24/2006