Archive for January, 2004

“If there had been TV reporters and satellite uplinks on Columbus’ voyage, most of the coverage would have dealt with scurvy and the lack of an exit strategy.”

— James Lileks

A friend sent me this a week or so ago. I meant to comment on it at the time, but got distracted by something shiny I noticed on the floor.

Something is clearly broken with three-strikes law when it can lead to this kind of outcome. 26 years to life? For this?

The solution, though, is not obvious. As I recall, three-strikes law was originally enacted at least in part due to public outrage over violent criminals being given lenient sentences or early release. At one time the judiciary had more discretion, but they abused it and the public took it away from them. Instead, we have these rigid rules. But their very rigidity poses its own problem, as seen in this case and others like it. Simply repealing the law would return us to the unacceptable status quo ante.

Here’s a few thoughts on some changes to the law that might help mitigate the worse of these sort of things.

  • Require that the final felony be a violent one.
  • There are a lot of crimes today that are treated as felonies that probably shouldn’t be. When most people thinkg “felony”, they think of things like theft, assault, rape and murder. Taking someone else’s drivers license test probably doesn’t come to mind. Reserve the felony classification for really serious crimes.
  • Put in a statue of limitations on felonies for purposes of charging them against the three strikes law. The central insight behind three-strikes law is that a significant majority of violent crime is caused by a small number of repeat offenders. By identifying these repeat offenders and jailing them for a long time, the crimes they would have perpetrated in the future are blocked. I suspect that someone who really is a habitual or career criminal is going to commit three felonies in much less than 22 years. Put simply, Mr. Reyes 1981 burglary conviction just isn’t that useful for predicting his future behavior today. It’s not a good selector for picking out high-risk repeat offenders.

    I’m not sure what the right standard for a statue of limitations would be. Time spent in prison after being convicted of a felony probably shouldn’t count, for example. No credit for not committing crimes while in prison. But if you’re out of prison for some span of time, say 5 or 10 years, then felonies that occurred before that time probably shouldn’t count as strikes.

Driving in to work this morning in Silicon Valley, I saw something I haven’t seen around here since the late 1990s. There were two large “We’re Hiring” signs on the sidewalk outside the EBay building.

The valley benefitted the most from the 90s technology boom, and when it imploded we were hit harder than the rest of the country. Unemployment here in Santa Clara county has been significantly higher than the state average, and the state average has been higher than the national average. Finding technology jobs around here has not been easy for a lot of people. And yet here’s EBay advertising on the sidewalk. I find it difficult to believe they’ve been having trouble finding applicants from the more usual listing places for technology jobs, so what’s up with that?

It would be nice if this is a sign that area employment is finally turning around.

If you live in a house in California, you have ants. That’s just the way it is here. So as new homeowners, Kyle and I have been discovering and spraying ants fairly regularly since we moved in.

Earlier this week I found them in the pantry, where they had discovered the sugar I had not carefully sealed. So, sugar goes in the trash, everything in the pantry gets removed, and ants get sprayed with Ortho Home Defense (which works like a charm).

Then yesterday I found them in the freezer.

The freezer. WTF.

So I follow the trail down the refrigerator (where they had also entered by squeezing through the rubber seal), around the corner and across the laundry room floor to the edge of the wall. There is a huge mass of them milling around on the open floor like they found some spilled soda or something, and I’m at a loss to explain this behavior.

My best guess is that they were trying to return to the pantry by a different route, and encountered the chemical barrier from the insecticide, causing the equivalent of a 3000 car pileup at the edge.

But I remain bemused about the freezer. The fridge I guess I can understand, since there was leftover Chinese food in there. But the cold prevented them from doing very much as they went into hibernation almost immediately. In the freezer they made it about 3 inches inside before being frozen to death.

I might add that the refrigerator is brand new, and the door seals work quite well. There were a lot of dead/squished ants around the edges, with only a few making it inside. I’m impressed at their determination, although I’m at a loss as to what attracted them there.

Kyle speculated that the previous tenants kept their drug stash in that area, as we all know that ants like nothing better than a big doobie.

Almost as confusing was the tidy, meandering line of ants I found across the carpet one morning. They weren’t going to or from food or water. They were apparently just traveling between one small hole in the wall to another, and the carpet happened to be a convenient highway. Clearly there are some cracks that need to be sealed in this house.

Obviously I need to be more aggressive about spraying and putting out bait. You can’t completely get rid of Argentine ants (a very common sort of sugar-eating ant around here), as they have multiple queens and different colonies do not fight each other. The best you can do is control their numbers, discourage them from entering your house, and/or chase them to a neighbor’s property.

But the freezer expedition, I don’t get that. My brother-in-law is an entomologist, with a particular interest in ant behavior. Perhaps he can shed light on it. I suppose I should be glad that ants don’t freak me out. They don’t bite and they’re not really very creepy. It’s just a nuisance. But I can’t help being mildly fascinated by their activities.

UPDATE: I now have a theory about why the ants were attracted to the freezer in the first place. Last night we ordered a pizza, and since we didn’t eat it all, we stuck the rest of it in the refrigerator. This morning when I opened the freezer, I was almost knocked down by the smell of pizza.

I speculate that the air circulation system for the freezer and refrigerator are in some way connected, and thus smells in the fridge are picked up and carried into the freezer by the air system

There was Chinese food in the refrigerator at the time of the ant invasion. If that smell was carried into the freezer, then the freezer would also have smelled like a food source to ants on the outside of the unit. Thus, the arctic expedition.

Maureen Dowd is a columnist for the New York Times. She doesn’t make a lot of sense at the best of times, and she is well-known for playing fast and loose with the facts (or just making them up).

But her column today is particularly random. She went from Dubya’s waistline to Evil Republicans to lesbian chic all without missing a beat. It’s like somebody shredded Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek and the L.A. Times into the same bucket and taped them back together at random.

She goes from talking about Republican strategists and the gay marriage issue to Madonna and Britney in the very next paragraph. I kept looking for signs that the material had been pasted in crookedly from another source.

Even when one isn’t dealing with the strange shift in theme, there are sentences like this that defy understanding:

After all, the Democrats seem puny wandering around Iowa.

What does this sentence mean? I spent a couple of minutes checking the context in which it appears, and I’m still stumped.

And then there’s the sentence that starts with, “A top Iraqi rocket scientist…”, which sounds like the lead-in to a really bad joke.


For God’s sake, I can write a better opinion column than this. In fact, I regularly do. The woman’s nuts. I guess that’s all there is to it.

You can read a lovely fisking of this column at VodkaPundit, and Glenn Reynolds comments on Instapundit.

That wacky Steven Den Beste has done it again, this time with a treatise on why the war we’re currently fighting actually has three sides, not two. Speaking very roughly, the three factions he identifies are the Islamists, the “idealists” and the “realists”. But the terminology and descriptions he uses for these various groups feel clunky and somewhat “off” to me. He acknowledges, for example, that the Islamists are also idealists, but in a different way; at the same time the non-Islamist idealists are broadly unified with the realists in being non-theocratic. There’s a real distinction here, but I think about it in a somewhat different way.

I know Steven won’t thank me for suggesting this, but the three groups he describes remind me strongly of the three-cornered model of the culture war that the Objectivist Center identified back in 1997. Although they have mostly applied this model to discussions of domestic cultural issues, I think it also applies well to what Steven is discussing.

Broadly speaking, the three worldviews identified by the TOC model are the pre-moderns, the moderns and the post-moderns. Each view has distinctive perspectives on a variety of fundamental philosophical, cultural and political issues. Pre-modernism is basically a religious worldview. The world is what God says it is, and the way to knowledge about the world is through God. Morally, people should be subordinate to God and carry out his will. This gives rise to social structures where the rulers are considered to have some insight into God’s will, or whose rule is sanctified by God. Political and economic freedom, science and technology either don’t arise in pre-modern cultures or are viewed with hostility.

Modernism is what we tend to think of as the Enlightenment point of view, and correlates pretty well to what Steven describes as realism. Modernists view the world as existing independently, and think the way to knowledge is by looking at the world. Reason and logic are valued by realists because that’s how you gain the knowledge you need to act successfully. Morally, realists tend towards forms of consequentialism (because our behavior is constrained by reality, not by dictates from God) and are often more friendly to individualism (because reason is a characteristic of the individual and puts the individual in the driver’s seat). Because people are considered capable of running their own lives, modern cultures are politically democratic and value personal freedom. Science and technology, as outgrowths of reason, are viewed positively.

Post-modernism is, well, post-modernism. Post-modernists generally reject the idea that we can know the world as it is, and reconstruct truth along lines of social subjectivism. Rather than seeking to know reality, we should concern ourselves with the aspects of consciousness which create or structure our knowledge. Because there is no independent court of appeal (such as reality) by reference to which disputes can be resolved, there is a strong appeal to consensus and a rejection of strong knowledge or value claims. (Post-modernists tend to call such stands “dogmatic”.) Ironically, post-modernism also contains a large amount of such dogmatism, because if everything is just an opinion then there’s no necessary correlation between facts and how strongly an opinion is held. Morally, post-modernism tends towards egalitarianism, and politically it tends towards socialism. Because reason isn’t valued (it’s just one of many equally valid methods of consciousness) its products (science, technology, etc) are also viewed with hostility, but for different reasons than the pre-modernists. Pre-moderns are hostile to science because it tends to conflict with and undermine God’s word, for example, while post-moderns are hostile to science because it makes strong knowledge claims and denigrates alternative ways of knowing.

(For what it’s worth, I think the key difference between liberals and leftists in contemporary America is that liberals hew to a modernist worldview whereas leftists are post-modernist.)

9/11 was a military strike by pre-modernists against symbols of modernist success. In the wake of that attack, modernists started saying things that were anathama to post-modernists. (Absolute value judgements about our way of life versus the pre-modernists, for example – and actually setting out to forcibly change other cultures? It’s hard to marginalize someone’s discourse farther than that.) And now, paraphrasing Steven, what we’re seeing is modernists engaged in a shooting war with pre-modernists, and a diplomatic/cultural war with the post-modernists.

Some articles on TOC that discuss this three-cornered model of the culture wars can be found here, here and here. I also recommend buying and listening to the Hicks lectures on post-modernism for a much fuller discussion of these worldviews and the way modernism and post-modernism developed.

All visitors to this blog are hereby on notice that anyone who deliberately impersonates me or Kyle in the comments sections will be banned, and all their subsequent attempts to post will be deleted.

I have banned several IPs already that are from spamming services. But today is the first time I have actually banned a specific user.

This kind of impersonation, as well as comment spamming, will not be tolerated and will be deleted immediately.

Anne just bought a tin of gum. There is nutritional information on the bottom, which indicates that each serving contains 5 calories. My question: Do you get the 5 calories just from chewing the gum, or do you have to swallow it?

[ANNE SPEAKING]: Me, I only care that the gum is tasty. It’s Dragon Fire cinnamon gum, and comes in a little round, red tin with a dragon on it. Cool. ๐Ÿ™‚