Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day, and a heartfelt thanks to all those who have served our country in uniform.

This year, I celebrated by watching HBO's Band of Brothers. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

In passing, "On Demand" TV also gets high marks.

NAFTA Expansion?

In the wake of France's rejection of the European Constitution, Austin Bay has the following exceptionally good suggestion:
If the Dutch reject the EU constitution, I see a potential Plan C. It’s more than an ultimate revenge for the dirty anti-American games Chirac and his pal, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, have played during the War on Terror– for Great Britain and Holland it may make a great deal of economic and political sense.

Several years ago Conrad Black suggested that Great Britain join NAFTA– the North American Free Trade Association. He thought Britain’s liberal economic tradition was a better fit with the US and Canada than with French and German statist economies. (Black wasn’t the first to make the suggestion, but he did so with more of a public splash than earlier advocates.)

The Dutch have an Anglophilic streak and a pro-US bent. (The Dutch put a battalion in Iraq. I met with Dutch officers in Baghdad several times– and was impressed.)

So let’s offer NAFTA membership to Holland and the United Kingdom. If you’re Dutch or British, why be stuck in the floundering lost cause of a Franco-centric Greater Europe? We’ll call it the North Atlantic Free Trade Association. Heck, we don’t even have to change the acronym.

Here, here.

America's strength has always been the power of freedom, including free trade. And, just possibly there are a number of countries in Europe which would rather throw their lots in with America than with the new Franco-German version of Europe. We could do alot worse than to forge strong economic ties with the few nations in the world whose traditions of freedom are as longstanding as our own -- on which criterion, I'd suggest adding Australia as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Oh, My.

Paternalism Run Amok

Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich (R) has vetoed legislation that would have granted some rights (such as hospital visitation and decision making) to same-sex couples who registered as life partners.

Bizarrely, he chose not to veto a law adding sexual orientation to the list of categories protected under Maryland's hate crimes law - a veto many gay conservatives would have understood and supported.

But what's particularly crazy about the veto was his reasoning:
In his veto message, Ehrlich said he is "sympathetic to the needs of mutually dependent couples and [wants] to support compassionate efforts to expedite health-related decisions for Marylanders in need."
He said, however, that the bill's requirement that couples register as life partners "will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage."

This gets it spectacularly wrong. It sounds as though he'd prefer to see these rights granted to couples without requiring the couple to make any sort of a formal commitment to one another.

We've come a long way - the emotional threat is no longer the existence of gay people itself, now the threat is the suggestion that gay people might be capable of being held to the same standards as straight folks. It would seem, the Governor has no problem with gay people, so long as they stay in their place - two gay men in chaps hooking up in a bar are deserving of protection; two gay men in tuxedoes making a life-long commitment to care for one another feel threatening.

It is an insane society that tells its members that they are deserving of respect only so long as they do not behave like responsible adults.

"Cultural Supremacists"

In much of the coverage post-faux-Koran-desecration-story-rioting… I'm reminded of a gripping scene from Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead. Two "xenologers" (alien anthropologists) have been studying a primitive alien race for decades, following the shocking ritualistic execution by the aliens of the first two xenologers to interact with them. The Speaker, Ender, confronts them on their technique:
"How condescending of you," said Ender.

"It's standard anthropological practice," said Miro.

"You're so busy pretending to believe them, that there isn't a chance in the world you could learn anything from them."

For a moment they lagged behind, so that he actually entered the forest alone. Then they ran to catch up with him. "We've devoted our lives to learning about them!" Miro said.

Ender stopped. "Not from them." They were just inside the trees; the spotty light through the leaves made their faces unreadable. But he knew what their faces would tell him. Annoyance, resentment, contempt -- how dare this unqualified stranger question their professional attitude? This is how: "You're cultural supremacists to the core. You'll perform your Questionable Activities to help out the poor little piggies, but there isn't a chance in the world you'll notice when they have something to teach you."

"Like what!" demanded Ouanda. "Like how to murder their greatest benefactor, torture him to death after he saved the lives of dozens of their wives and children?"

"So why do you tolerate it? Why are you here helping them after what they did?"

Miro slipped in between Ouanda and Ender. Protecting her, thought Ender, or else keeping her from revealing her weaknesses. "We're professionals. We understand that cultural differences, which we can't explain…"

"You understand that the piggies are animals, and you no more condemn them for murdering Libo and Pipo than you would condemn a [cow] for chewing up [grass]."

"That's right," said Miro.

Ender smiled. "And that's why you'll never learn anything from them. Because you think of them as animals."

"We think of them as [men]!" said Ouanda, pushing in front of Miro. Obviously she was not interested in being protected.

"You treat them as if they were not responsible for their own actions," said Ender. "[Men] are responsible for what they do."

Substitute "savage" for "animal" and this isn't so different from the sophisticated European view of the Middle East - that Arabs are too "savage" to be expected to govern themselves without a strong dictator telling them what to do - and that responsibility for the criminal acts of terrorists lie not with the terrorists themselves, but with those who are held to civilized standards - like Americans and Israelis.

"Cultural supremacists" indeed.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Political Categorization...

Check out this on-line quiz from the folks at Pew. (via Mark at Decision '08)

Desecrating Symbols

In regards to Newsweek's recent publication of unsupported allegations of Koran desecration by U.S. military personnel, and the international response...

What U.S. officials ought to say:
Decent people don't throw copies of the Koran into the toilet, immerse crosses in urine, or burn American flags. As always, we condemn such behavior in the strongest terms.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


One of the more entertaining aspects of life in the Bay Area are the occasional earthquakes. I happened to be late last night for a very minor rumble. I immediately jumped online to the USGS's automated earthquake tracker -- which had the quake within a few minutes.