Friday, April 27, 2007

The Kiss Heard 'Round the World 

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard that authorities in India want to arrest Richard Gere to face possible punishment of up to three months in prison for... gasp!... kissing a woman in public. On the surface it seems silly. What Gere did with Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty is no different than what countless celebrities casually do every day in America. A kiss is just a kiss, and when we hear the news of the possible arrest here, our reaction is, "That's just ridiculous."

But... if Gere is to be excused for violating obscenity laws in India, we have to be willing to accept the flip-side of it. For example, if a native of Papua, New Guinea, decided to walk around the streets of New York pretty much naked, genitals flopping in the wind, should he be excused because, in his country, it's the norm? Wouldn't Papuans hear about this possible arrest for "indecent exposure" and just shake their heads, wondering, "What's that?"

What if a man from a country where the age of consent is thirteen comes here and has sex with a fourteen year-old girl? Here, he'd be branded a sex offender. Back home, he'd be planning the wedding.

Every country probably has at least one law that can be perceived as absolutely silly in another country -- and that even extends to laws against murder, because in some countries it's still perfectly all right to kill a man who offends your honor (or bangs your wife). Conversely, every tourist really owes it to themself to learn the local laws and customs before they visit a strange country. And, when in doubt, to say or do nothing they wouldn't say or do in front of their grandparents in the middle of their sibling's wedding.

Gere should have known better, especially since he's in the film industry, and India's kissing ban is well known in Hollywood, because it's such a subject of gentle derision. Let the dancers gyrate as erotically as possible, but if their lips get anywhere near each other, it's time for the Bollywood equivalent of NC-17. Or, more correctly, the Bollywood version of the Hays office -- which can and does remove such offending material.

The point is not to be the Ugly American and run roughshod over foreign customs. Should Gere go to jail in India for a kiss? Not necessarily. Should he be fined by the courts there? Probably.

This is not to say that all foreign laws and customs should be applied equally to foreigners, and I will make one exception. Countries that have the death penalty should be barred from executing foreign visitors, ever -- especially if those visitors are from countries without the death penalty, and particularly if what the host country finds worthy of death is barely a crime in the tourist's country. (Note: I don't make this exception for foreign residents; if you want to emigrate to another country, then you damn well better learn the meaning of "When in Rome.")

I'm thinking of the case recently in Singapore, in which an Australian national was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for drug smuggling. (He was found with less than a pound of heroin.) Despite protests and official wrangling on the part of Canberra, he was eventually executed. In that case, the Singaporean officials were dead wrong, pun intended. The better way to have handled the case would have been to deport
Nguyen Tuong Van, send him back to Australia and permanently ban from the country, with the warning that if he ever tried to come back, then he would face the death penalty. Executing him served no purpose, other than, perhaps, cutting into the tourist trade.

Yes, Van was stupid beyond belief for trying to take heroin into a country the government of which is so tight-assed about everything that chewing gum is a punishable offense. But because the standard of penalty is so much harsher in Singapore than in Australia (the smuggling is a crime in both countries), he should have been sent home for trial.

So, summary: if it's against the law in both countries, boot the offender's ass and let his or her own country deal with it. If it's just against the law in the country you're visiting... well, do your homework before you go.

Now, in honor of Bollywood, I give you a great musical number from the 1996 movie Mr. Romeo, featuring
Shilpa Shetty and Prabu Deva. And note what's about to happen at the exact moment the clip ends...

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How to Lie with Numbers 

I ran across the website for the gun-grabbers over at the Brady Campaign, specifically their page on concealed-carry weapons laws in various states. Needless to say, they're trying to ban all CCW laws. And they trot out their facts and figures -- but not with out manipulating the figures. Let's look at this table from their site, reproduced below:
Year    # Murders   Legislative Action
1987 569 CCW becomes effective October 1, 1987.
1988 N/A No data available.
1989 700 After a rash of unintentional deaths of children by
firearms, the Florida legislature passes the first
Child Access Prevention Law (CAP) in the nation.
1990 588 A background check on handgun purchasers passes in
the Florida Legislature, effective October 1, 1990. A
state-wide election on a Constituional Amendment (Article
1, Section 8) for a three-day waiting period on handgun
purchasers passes by a margin of 85% to 15% effective
November 6, 1990.
1991 565 In accordance with the Constitutional Amendment, the
Florida Legislature makes it a felony to violate the
three-day waiting period.
1992 554
1993 525*
(*According to the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services,
the top cause of fatal injuries in Florida in 1993 was firearms.)
The first big lie in this table, of course, is in the top row, in the column labeled "Murders". It doesn't read "gun murders" or "murders caused only by concealed weapons". Nope. Just the lump category "murders". Never mind strangulations, stabbings, defenestrations, murder with unconcealable firearms like shotguns or murder with firearms that weren't concealed at their time of use. We just get the nice lump category. And then, conveniently, after the figure for the first year of CCW, we get... no data for the next year. The omission is telling. Why weren't their any figures for that year, when the state seems so copious in counting otherwise? Did somebody spill coffee on the data, or did the numbers show a decrease in murders, putting the lie to their entire anti-CCW argument? Without a figure, we can't tell.

1989 does show a jump in the generic "murder" category but correlation does not show causation. In fact, between 1985 and 1990, the murder rate in the entire US went up, particularly the gun murder rate for teens[1]. This was regardless of the status of CCW laws. In any event, in an apparent effort to confuse the issue and make 1989's 700 undifferentiated murders have something to do with guns, the table lists unintentional child deaths due to firearms. One can assume this means "kids who found dad's gun and killed themself or someone else with it." CCW laws have no bearing on this issue and, in fact, I doubt very few of these children were killed by guns that were being carried concealed by an adult at the time. Yes, it should be illegal to leave a gun within easy access of a child. This has nothing to do with allowing adults to carry them.

According to their data and notes, legislative efforts in October 1990 somehow magically managed to reduce the murder rate retroactively for the entire year. Or... there were no murders at all during the last three months of 1990. Or... there's no connection between the two events at all. And, indeed, the national trend fits exactly -- a sharp increase leading up to 1989, then a dip leading into 1993.

That's the point when their data stop, with the implication by footnote that all of these murders were by concealed firearm, or somesuch nonsense. And it's very interesting that their data stops when it does, because the murder rate in the US went up in 1994 and 1995 to near that high 1989 level -- and then fell like a rock over the next decade.

I do wonder why the website for an organization that is so strongly anti-gun would rely on data that's nearly fifteen years old, and why they would limit their argument to one state in a region that the Justice Department consistently shows as #2 in overall homicide rate over a period of thirty years. (The #1 area includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.)

I wonder -- but then I look at the figures and statements above, and realize it's because they're just pulling facts and correlations out of their asses.

Which is where they can shove their efforts to screw with the Second Amendment.

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Why Nancy Won't Impeach... 

Raw Story reports that California Democrats are pressuring Nancy Pelosi to proceed with impeachment proceedings against W. and Dick Cheney. They comment thusly:
But the fight will be complicated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unwillingness to hear their message and the encouragement that her stance may give opponents of the impeachment measure within the California Democratic Party leadership...

The California Progressives are particularly concerned with persuading Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to reverse her earlier position that impeachment was "off the table."
They can be concerned, and pressure her all they want -- but they misunderstand her reasons for not supporting impeachment, and therefore can't see that she's the wrong Congressperson to be cajoling. Better to go after the biggest power brokers in the House and get their support, and the rest will follow.

Speaking of which, here's a reminder to Howard L. Berman: when I wrote to you early last year calling for impeachment, you said, in so many words, it would be useless, since there's no Democratic majority in Congress. Well, that excuse is out of the way, so what the hell are you waiting for? But I do digress...

Here's why Speaker Pelosi cannot, will not and should not pursue or support impeachment herself: if W. and Cheney are kicked out of office, she becomes the President. The second she endorsed impeachment, the Republicans would latch onto this detail, and attack the effort as merely a power-grab by the Democrats, most likely painting Pelosi as an ambitious Lady MacBeth character. No doubt they'd also portray the event as a snub of Hillary Clinton, with Rush Limbaugh loudly proclaiming (from his prepared talking-points memo), "Pelosi can't stand the idea of someone else being the first woman president..."

None of the Republican spin would be true, of course -- but that wouldn't stop their most rabid of fans from believing it, and the most politically unaware of Americans from hearing it. There's already little enough understanding among the voting public of which part of government has which responsibility, who runs which elected body and what happens when someone is removed from office. In their muddled, American Idol-distracted way, the misinterpretation of events would be enormous.

So, wisely, Pelosi is staying out of the impeachment fight, which is a good thing. Dennis Kucinich is already spearheading efforts -- and California (and other) Democrats would do well to understand exactly why this is so. If Pelosi took up the charge of calling for impeachment, the Republicans would turn this event into an apparent coup. But, if she doesn't, there's a chance, however slim or not, that we get what impeachment of the President and Vice President would really represent: justice, at last, for the American People and the world.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities 

Courtesy of Google Earthâ„¢, have a look at these two major metropolitan areas:

Both are major cities, with a metropolitan population between 12 and 13 million people. Both are desert cities built below mountain basins. Both have major freeway systems and, despite both being in earthquake-prone areas, have major metro systems as well. In both cities, native-born residents are greatly outnumbered by immigrants.

One city is Los Angeles, California, in the United States.

The other is Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran.

Look at the pictures above and tell me which is which. (Click for a larger view).

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Story that Keeps Falling Apart... 

Remember those British sailors who were taken hostage by Iran some time before a madman shot up a Virginia campus? You know -- the ones who "weren't" in Iranian waters (they were), the ones who were "tortured" (they weren't), the ones who were released without fanfare by Iran?

Well, despite efforts by the British Government to spin it, the "kidnapped, held hostage and tortured" story just keeps falling apart. This article in the Daily Mail puts another nail in the coffin of the official story, despite that paper's attempts to try to make one of the British Sailors look bad. Short version: the Daily Mail is shocked, shocked that sailor
Arthur Batchelor apparently makes light of the whole hostage saga while out for an evening with friends. What they fail to note, and what should be obvious to anyone without their head up Tony Blair's arse, is that the mere fact that Batchelor can make fun of the whole thing puts the lie to the "tortured, terrorized" government line.

Far from making fun of or mocking the whole ordeal, Batchelor is revealing the truth. The British Sailors were not mistreated, merely detained. And the whole fiasco, a blatant attempt by the west to create an excuse for invading Iran, continues to blow up in their faces.

Invade Iran? Hell no. Not when we haven't finished what we started in Afghanistan, and will never finish what we shouldn't have started in Iraq. Not when the real original target should have been Saudi Arabia -- or somewhere closer to home. Not when the invasion or Iraq was predicated on nothing but lies. Not when the leader of Iran is depicted as the madman he isn't while the mainstream media here and in Britain refuses to portray the leader of the US as the madman he is.

Look at the photos in the Daily Mail article again, and ask yourself this question: "Is this the behavior of a man who was traumatized?" Clearly not. And any attempt by the British Government to claim otherwise is yet another lie on top of a lie, all designed to keep this Forever War going and going, to enrich the filthy rich warmongers to the detriment of everyone else on the planet.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Bang or Whimper? 

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the VA Tech shootings is that the usual one-sided anti-gun debate has been pushed to the fore again, in the typical knee-jerk way that the "We're Scared of Everything" lobby has of doing things.

"Someone was killed by a drunk driver? WE MUST OUTLAW CARS AND LIQUOR!!!"


"Second hand smoke might, possibly, maybe cause cancer in rats kept in a cage full of it for years and years? HOLY SHIAT - SHOOT ALL THE SMOKERS NOW!!!"

"Some prom girl dropped her baby in the trash? MOTHER F***, LEGISLATE AGAINST PREGNANCY!!!!!"

And so on.

What the gun-grabbers fail to mention is this: the presumed shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was the only civilian with a gun on campus on that infamous day last Monday. He was shooting fish in a barrel, and it wasn't until Campus Police and Federal Authorites took action during his second shooting spree that he was brought down.

But... if there had been one other armed student or professor or person in the dorms or in the classrooms, it's quite possible that the fatalities could have been limited to a handful, or one, or none.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a flaming liberal, but this is one issue on which I differ from what is apparently the official party line. Why? Well, first off, I believe in the Constitution, all of it; I don't cherry-pick my amendments to suit my tastes. And, like it or not, the Second Amendment does guarantee citizens the right to bear arms. Specious arguments aside, this means that the Government does not have the right to prohibit citizens from having guns. Period.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
That's the entire Amendment. And some people argue that "well regulated militia" means only men between the ages of 18 and 50 who have been trained as some sort of paramilitary entity -- i.e., the police, national guard or armed forces. However, that argument is blown up by the second clause, which refers to "the right of the People". In other words, while the intent of allowing gun ownership may be stated in terms of the need for a militia, ownership of said guns was not limited to the militia. It is a right specifically granted to the People, without qualification.

This amendment certainly came in handy in 1812, when the British invaded America, trying to take back what they'd lost nearly forty years earlier -- and that was precisely one of the intents of the Founders when they wrote it. The other intent? Quite wisely, they knew that the last resort of the people against a government who'd gone mad with power was revolution, and without arms, there can be no revolution.

The other specious argument against the Second Amendment is this: "Well, obviously, the Founders had no idea that automatic weapons and armor piercing bullets and all that would exist some day." True, maybe they didn't. But they also didn't know that the Internet would exist, yet the First Amendment still applies to it. There were certainly deadlier weapons than guns in 1789, but no distinction is made in the Constitution. The Second Amendment doesn't read "the right to bear handguns only, but not muskets, rifles, Greek Fire, Trebuchets, Black Powder, etc.". It just specifies "arms", meaning any weapons whatsoever. What the anti-gun types seem to forget is that the Second Amendment also applies to swords, knives, armor, slingshots, pea shooters, rocks, and so on. Arms is a synonym for weapons -- and, so, the Second Amendment guarantees the right of the People to have any and all weapons whatsoever. In fact, as written, there's no Constitutional reason whatsoever that a private citizen could not own a nuclear bomb. It's just another kind of arm, after all.

What the gun-grabbers also like to ignore is this fact: Laws do not stop criminals. The very definition of "criminal" is someone who breaks the law. And so, their efforts to ban guns have only one effect: the law-abiding types will bow down and give up their weapons. Consequently, they are helpless against those who don't pay attention to laws. It may seem a trite slogan, but it's true: "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

And outlawed guns are the perfect way to embolden criminals. Any crack head with a Saturday Night Special has the potential to become a home invader as long as he or she assumes that the homeowner is unarmed. But... if it's more likely than not that said homeowner is going to greet any unwanted visitor with both barrels of a shotgun, there's a major disincentive for crime right there.

To deal with gun crime, the answer is not to ban guns. Rather, it is to guarantee arms for all citizens, and guarantee immunity for defensive killing. In other words:
  1. Make it very easy for anyone without a criminal record or history of mental illness to purchase whatever weapon they feel appropriate for home defense. This is not a blanket "conceal/carry" law. Rather, it's an "arm your home as you feel necessary" law.

  2. Eliminate any possibility of legal penalty for a person who kills a trespasser on their own property.

  3. Publicize both laws massively.

  4. But... enforce strict liability in cases of accidental death, i.e., "the kids got hold of the gun." Just to keep the whiners placated, of course.
End result? Burglars, robbers and other petty felons thinking twice before they invade private property -- and random campus shooters like Cho being very worried that the first shot they fire in the dorm might be their last before some angry frat boy puts a bullet in their skull to protect his friends.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Too Soon? 

Yes, the school shootings at Virginia Tech are a terrible tragedy. No, they are not the worst thing to happen in the history of ever, and are not a sign of the downward spiral of human society, blah blah blah. Nearly eighty years ago, a far worse disaster occurred in Bath, Michigan when a man dynamited the new school, killing 45 people and injuring 58. His motive? He'd lost his farm to foreclosure because of unpaid property taxes. In his mind, that school was the symbol of what he saw as unjust theft. That's not to excuse his motive, just to explain it from his point of view.

But, again, there have always been lunatics willing to kill others to make a point. Virginia Tech is not a first, nor will it be a last. But we need to put it into perspective, especially in terms of this nation's priorities: George Bush arrived on campus for the convocation the next day, and gave a speech there. I'm not saying he shouldn't have done that, but...
  • Virginia Tech:
    • People Killed: 32
    • People Injured: 29
    • Distance from White House to site:
      • By Road: 262 miles
      • By Air: approximately 219 miles.
    • Time Until W. Arrive On-Site: Less than twenty-four hours after the first shooting.
  • 9/11:
    • People Injured: Still Counting
    • Distance from White House to site:
      • By Road: 227 miles
      • By Air: approximately 200 miles.
    • Time Until W. Arrive On-Site: Three days.
  • Hurricane Katrina:
    • People Killed: At least 1,836
    • People Injured or Left Homeless: Countless
    • Distance from White House to site:
      • By Road: 1,085 miles
      • By Air: approximately 925 miles.
    • Time Until W. Arrive On-Site: Seventeen days (to give a speech, alone with a television camera).
  • Iraq Invasion:
    • People Killed: 3,315 (as of April 18, 2007)
    • People Injured: Tens of thousands
    • First American Killed: Therrel Shane Childers, Harrison County, Mississippi
    • Distance from White House to Funeral:
      • By Road: 1,042 miles
      • By Air: approximately 875 miles.
    • Time Until W. Arrive On-Site: Four years, three months and counting.
    • Distance from White House to Washington National Cemetery:
      • By Road: 7 miles
      • By Air: approximately 5 miles (helicopter)
    • Time Until W. Came to Any Military Funeral: So far, he couldn't be bothered...

Just keep this list in mind the next time some NeoCon starts bitching about Democrats not supporting the troops, then ask them why it was so important for W. to rush to a convocation for civilian students who have chosen college instead of the military (NTTAWWT), and has yet to make it to a single military funeral for any Iraq War deaths, despite those deaths outnumbering the VA Tech fatalities by more than a hundred to one...

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Back in Action 

Pardon my silence over the last few weeks, but Google gobbled up Blogger and, for reasons that their way too inadequate help system could not explain, although I jumped through all the hoops to create a Google account and etc., this blog did not immediately find its way to my account. Or, rather, the blooger account I've had for over three years was suddenly "not found".

That problem mysteriously vanished today, and I was finally able to get things going again. I can't help but think it had to do with the nasty email I sent off to someone at Google -- after using Yahoo to search for a contact, since using Google's help or search didn't turn up any answers. Hm. Wonder why that is.

It does bring up a pet peeve of mine: large companies hiding behind the internet. Now, personally, I'd much rather resolve issues online instead of dialing some 800 number and talking to "Jeff" in Bangalore, whose standard answer to any situation is to turn to page "X" in the big help book and start reading the bullet points one by one ("Is the modem plugged in?"). But, sometimes, there are situations when you need to talk to a human to fix something bizarre, and it's becoming increasingly harder to find IRL ways to get in touch with somebody who has a real answer.

That's the situation I've been going through with my ISP. For some bizarre reason, I can't FTP files to my webspace there, and the error code makes no sense. Again, useless help pages; all they tell me is what the FTP settings should be, which is what they are. Nothing about what to do when they don't work. And yes, I've gone through all the steps to determine that the problem is not on my end.

But enough consumer rant. Let's get back to the politics.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

This Is Who We're Afraid Of? 

Rove -- he's either a total genius or a flaming douche. Seeing as how the footage below was much publicized by the MSM, I'm wondering whether this wasn't a dodge; Rove playing the "Gosh, look at what a pathetic lamo I am, I couldn't hurt a fly..."

On the other hand... watching him dance, he just reminds me of all those clueless dweebs in school, the guys that people would not have hung out with, except that their parents were rich enough to buy the latest game system, or they had a license and a car, or they always had the best pot. And, the normal people would begrudgingly spend time with them, only to benefit from their stuff, but the second they were out of ear shot, would start telling everyone else what a hopeless waste of butt-flesh the little nerd snot really was.

His prom date? His older sister, if he went at all.

So, you tell me -- the real Karl Rove, or a clever fabrication designed to make people not take him seriously, and so leave him un-indicted?

The grand jury is still out on that one. For the moment.

But, until then -- Jesus Christ, what a farking loser...

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