Archive for December, 2004

UPDATE: Elizabeth and her baby Shelbie have been found safe and sound by authorities in Ruidoso, New Mexico. The fugitive, Justin Wayne Smith, has been arrested and is in custody. (01/08/05)

(Original entry):
Someone on fark posts this today. Keep your eyes peeled, folks, and call the cops immediately if you see this guy:

Yeah, this is for real. I found out Tuesday morning that my niece’s husband probably killed his parents and is on the run with my treasured grand niece. She has a ‘strawberry’ on her face; a growth that she’s being treated for, but without help, it could hurt her.

The fugitive’s name is Justin Wayne Smith (what is it with guys named Wayne?), age 25, 5’10”, 165lbs. The mother’s name is Elizabeth Ryan Smith (nee Earles), age 20, 5’5″, 125lbs., and the baby is Shelbie Smith, age 9 months.

Both the mother and the baby are missing. Justin used his dead father’s credit card at a gas station in Converse, Texas (San Antonio). He may be in possession of, or attempt to sell, some of his dead mother’s jewelry.

He may be driving his vehicle, a tan 1999 K1500 Chevrolet Suburban, Texas license plates reading “TNT 5”. The car’s VIN: # 1GNFK16R0XJ332452. It may look similar to this one:

Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information at (979) 244-TIPS or (800) 299-BUST.

An Amber Alert has been issued and is active. Anyone with information is asked to call the Texas Department Of Public Safety at 979-543-6878 or dial 911.

This is the kind of thing that happens when people are so afraid of history that they stop talking about it, and the importance and meaning of historical events becomes diluted and forgotten:

JERUSALEM — Igniting a public uproar, some Jewish settlers said Tuesday they will soon start wearing orange stars on their shirts in a provocative campaign comparing the government’s Gaza withdrawal plan to the Nazi Holocaust.

The announcement was the latest escalation in the settlers’ drive to block the pullout. On Monday, settler leaders called for mass resistance against the withdrawal — even if it means going to jail.

Settler activists in Gaza said they would distribute the orange stars — reminiscent of the yellow stars that Jews living under Nazi rule were forced to wear — this weekend.

Oh for fuck’s sake, what a bunch of whiners. The Gaza pullout is just a relocation. Ariel Sharon isn’t going to murder all the Jewish settlers in Gaza (that’s the Palestinian terrorists’ job — and I didn’t notice anyone whipping out orange stars to protest that), nor is there any sort of campaign to eradicate them as living beings from the face of the earth. Other folks with more sense have a good idea of how 1) dumb this is, and 2) damaging it is to the significance of the Holocaust:

“This is a very troubling comparison,” Shevah Weiss, a Holocaust survivor and former parliament speaker, told Israel’s Army Radio.

The Nazis put Jews “into gas chambers, killing them, crushing their bones, spreading the remains in great piles all over Europe,” he said. “What is going on here?”

The settler campaign was condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights group that focuses on Holocaust issues, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.

“The plan to wear orange stars perverts the historical facts and damages the memory of the Shoah,” said Yad Vashem’s director Avner Shalev, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. He urged the settlers to refrain from using the stars.

Is this the measure of Jewish memory these days? Has the Holocaust become nothing more than instant shock value to attach to one’s cause of choice in order to impart a sense of importance that the cause itself lacks?

In some parts of the world, the Holocaust had such a powerful impact that people were afraid to talk about it. First it was out of respect for the dead and tortured, and personal grief. But now it has become a taboo subject, and as those who directly experienced it begin to disappear, future generations know nothing of what actually happened or its meaning, because discussion is prohibited either by law or by custom.

Was the lesson of the Holocaust so severe that we are doomed to forget it in as little as a single generation?

This is why we must not be afraid to talk about horror. People are afraid to talk about 9/11, to examine up close the truth of what happened on that day. Yes, it is horrifying and graphic and wrenching. But the alternative is to whitewash it — to forget. We dare not forget the lessons of history.

And the Gaza settlers need a reality adjustment. They’re being relocated. Yeah it’s inconvenient. But it’s not genocide. If anything, it may become part of one of the best things to ever happen to Israel and the Middle East in general. A sort of auspicious occasion rather than a tragedy. It should be celebrated.

Plus, you know, wearing a big orange star on your shirt in the middle of a battlezone probably isn’t the best idea. The terrorists might solve this problem for us. “Look! A Jewish Gaza settler!” KA-BOOM!

One of the justifications often advanced by liberals in defense of Social Security is that it “helps protect people from their own stupidity”. (I had a very intelligent and rather liberal co-worker make this claim to me just last week.) Todd Zywicki does a good job here analyzing some of the specifically economic reasons to be skeptical of the “stupidity insurance” justification — it both fails to explain some of the key features of Social Security and doesn’t explain why other varieties of economic stupidity should be left ‘uninsured’.

On the theory that it’s never too late to chime in with an opinion (“Haight Speech: Commenting On Yesterday’s News Whenever We Get Around To It”), I’ve got a slightly broader observation about the “stupidity protection” justification: applying it to non-economic stupidity seems to yield profoundly unliberal consequences.

My great-Uncle Ernie did something very stupid when he was a young man. He married someone who can be charitably described as the wrong woman. That decision had very negative consequences for the rest of his life — much worse ones than retirement malinvestment would have. Would the goal of protecting him from the consequences of his stupidity justify a government program to vet the suitability of people’s marriages?

One of Anne’s co-workers had a child with a man who, again putting the point charitably, turned out not to be the best husband and father material in the world. She is now a single mother with limited job skills struggling to raise a child. Would the goal of protecting her from her stupidity justify a government program to vet the suitability of people to have children?

If you are religious, you will no doubt have noticed a lot of secular people making what you judge to be stupid decisions about their spiritual lives. If you are secular, you will no doubt have noticed a lot of religious people making what you judge to be stupid decisions about their spiritual lives. Would the goal of protecting people from their own stupidity justify a government program to reward ‘goodthink’ and punish ‘badthink’?

Something like 62 million people voted for George W. Bush in the last election — provoking one major newspaper to publish a headline “How could people be so stupid?” Would the goal of protecting people from their own stupidity justify making it illegal to vote Republican? (Or Democrat, if you swing the other way?)

In general, if you accept the idea that protecting people from their own stupidity is in itself a justification for government action, you are implicitly advocating a totalitarian government. This is true because stupidity is a ubiquitous feature of human life. There is no sphere of action in which people cannot make stupid decisions, and if it is the job of government to prevent such decisions then government has a role to play in every part of human life. This doesn’t strike me as a viewpoint that liberals should be defending.

(It could be objected that Social Security isn’t about preventing people from making stupid investment decisions, it’s about protecting people from the consequences of stupid investment decisions. I don’t think this objection works, though. Social Security prevents me from deciding where to invest the payroll dollars that are taxed away from me. It works specifically by giving the government control over the investment of that money. If Social Security were only intended to protect me from the consequences of poor investment decisions then it would allow me to make the decisions and then provide means-tested benefits if my investments turned out badly.)

One of the ongoing topics of discussion in the wake of the election is whether we are experiencing a “political realignment”, a long-term shifting of power from Democratic to Republican hands that mirrors the shifting of power in the other direction that occurred in 1932. Out of curiosity, I dug up figures on the political balance of power in the House, Senate and Presidency from 1860 through to the present.

For the sake of illustration, I divided the time periods up into 2-year chunks. I designated each chunk as Republican-Controlled (GOP controlled the House, Senate and Presidency), Republican-Leaning (GOP controlled two out of three), Democrat-Leaning (Democrats controlled two out of three) or Democrat-Controlled (Democrats controlled all three). Marking the four types as “R”, “r”, “d” and “D”, the period from 1860 through 1931 looks like this:


The overall Republican dominance is pretty obvious. The immediate post-Civil-War period is arguably an aberration because many Southern states were still undergoing reconstruction and were not represented in Congress or allowed to provide electors for the Presidency. But even if we start counting in 1876, when Reconstruction ended, we get:


A period of back and forth until 1896, followed by a long span of Republican control broken only by Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives between 1914 and 1920 (a period when the GOP fractured itself with the Bull Moose insurgency of Theodore Roosevelt).

Things changed dramatically in 1932. From 1932 through 1980, the balance of power looked like this:


The Democrats had power during this time in a way they never really did in the 1860-1931 period. The sharpness of the switchover coincides with the Great Depression.

The 1980-2008 period (projecting forward and assuming the GOP doesn’t lose control of Congress in 2006, which seems a reasonable assumption) looks like this:


Something definitely changed around 1980. But the balance of power doesn’t look like the hard switchover we saw in 1932; it looks more like the 1876-1931 line — a time of mixed control slightly favoring the GOP that then pushes over to a period of hard GOP dominance. Laying the timelines together makes Bill Clinton look kind of like Grover Cleveland: a relatively conservative Democrat elected in a time of increasing Republicanism. And if George W. Bush really is analogous to William McKinley then the Democrats may be looking at at least another eight to ten years in the relative political wilderness.

(Note, though, that as with the stock market past behavior is no guarantee of future performance.)

This post on PoliBlog about natural law contains a side observation that I’ve always found baffling:

Indeed, regardless of one’s position on God, the statement that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is a direct statement of natural law which really does not require any particular theistic view of the universe to accept: the bottom line is that human beings have rights because of their very existence, not because the state grants them. Now granted, natural law scares the diehard atheist who doesn’t wish to acknowledge the possibility of a higher moral authority than the mind of man. Indeed, this is the man trouble with a wholly secular view of morality: it is simply something that someone thought up. If there are no natural laws, then really there is no morality save what we say it is.

This makes two claims. First, that the possession of rights is a question of substance, not process — i.e. we have rights because of what we are, not where we came from. Second, that this view is a problem for atheists because it requires acknowleging a source of moral authority beyond man himself, and atheists can’t do that.

I think this is an utter non-sequitur. Imagine applying the above to a different area: ‘Whether my table has four legs depends on what the table is, not where it came from. But this is a problem for atheists because it requires acknowleging a source of factual authority beyond man himself.’ The absurdity is apparent. That my table has four legs is a conclusion I draw from observing reality and integrating my observations into conceptual knowledge in a manner consistent both with reality and the cognitive requirements of my mind. That human beings have rights, or that the universe (including human societies) is governed by regular laws, are conclusions drawn in a similar manner.

Yet the position Taylor espouses is a widely believed one. I just don’t understand why.

This is what’s known as “instant karma”. I apologize in advance for the fact that my first reaction upon reading this story was to laugh:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A tunnel used for smuggling arms from Egypt into the Gaza Strip collapsed, trapping six Palestinians inside, Palestinian witnesses and officials said Friday.

The tunnel is just four meters (yards) from the Egyptian border in the a-Salem neighborhood of the Rafah refugee camp.

There’s probably also something snide I could say about a news service using the word “yards” here as if it were exactly equal to a meter in length, but we won’t go there.

These guys reportedly got wind of the whole “assault weapons cause crime” thing, and decided that since these guns are so dangerous, clearly they need to be watched around the clock. Literally. With a live web cam. Just in case they do, you know, spontaneously try to kill someone.

Assault Weapon Cam

Last week Bush’s nominee for head of DHS, Bernard Kerik, withdrew his name from consideration, citing “nanny problems” as the cause.

Now it comes out that Kerik was having an extramaritial affair as well. Actually, two affairs at the same time. Oh, and he was under investigation for accepting gifts without proper disclosure. And he may have connections to a construction company with alleged mob ties.

At this rate, I expect that by next week we’ll learn that Kerik kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, murdered Ron Goldman and was the real captain of the Exxon Valdez.

More seriously, though, I thought last week that the “nanny problem” was kind of a thin reed on which to hang a withdrawal. Now I wonder if Kerik was trying to head off the discovery of these other, more problematic revelations. A pity — based purely on his background, Kerik seemed like an excellent choice for the job. Now it’s back to the drawing board.

Joe Liberman, anybody?

Hypocrite of the Day Award goes to Kobe Bryant for this:

LOS ANGELES — Another Kobe conflict for the Lakers. Bryant has accused Karl Malone of making a pass at his wife at a game last month.

Bryant said he had phoned Malone, who has a home near Bryant’s in Newport Beach, after Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, told him on Nov. 23 that Malone had made inappropriate comments to her that night at Staples Center.

“The comments that he said, I don’t know any man in this room that wouldn’t be upset about that,” Bryant said in the Lakers’ locker room.

Call me crazy, but Kobe has a lot of nerve being outraged, given his history of screwing around on his wife (at least three other women, including the woman currently suing him, by his own admission). He’s out fucking other women when she’s not around, and he’s upset that somebody made a pass at her? Grow the fuck up, Kobe, and grow some balls while you’re at it. This insecure, macho bullshit is very tiresome. Karl Malone seems to have a similar view:

“Karl’s response to Kobe’s comments today is that he’s a basketball player and not a soap opera actor and he doesn’t intend to be involved in a personal soap opera,” Manley said of his client.

Translation: “Kobe’s being a drama queen and homey don’t play dat.”

Normally I don’t comment on or get involved in stupid sports celebrity scandals. But I’ve been following Kobe’s case out of curiosity to see how a high-profile “he said/she said” case might play out both in court and in the court of public opinion. He doesn’t deny having sex with her. The only issue under dispute is one of consent. My personal conclusion is that the woman is a gold digger who screwed a famous basketball player for kicks and then decided she might be able to make some money if she screamed “rape”. But I remain unimpressed by Kobe’s character.

There isn’t too much I can say in response to this, other than perhaps that the mother needs to be bitch slapped for naming her kid “Porsche”:

PHILADELPHIA — A 10-year-old girl was placed in handcuffs and taken to a police station because she took a pair of scissors to her elementary school.

School district officials said the fourth-grade student did not threaten anyone with the 8-inch shears, but violated a rule that considers scissors to be potential weapons.

Administrators said they were following state law when they called police Thursday, and police said they were following department rules when they handcuffed Porsche Brown and took her away in a patrol wagon.

“My daughter cried and cried,” said her mother, Rose Jackson. “She had no idea what she did was wrong. I think that was way too harsh.”

Police officers decided the girl hadn’t committed a crime and let her go.

However, school officials suspended her for five days. Administrators will decide at a hearing whether she may return to class, or be expelled to a special disciplinary school.

The scissors were discovered while students’ belongings were being searched for property missing from a teacher’s desk.

This is completely fucking insane.