Thursday, May 31, 2007


An old article written by Naomi Wolf received a new burst of attention from the big-name bloggers lately. The idea written about by Naomi Wolf is that pornography is yet another social menace of the post-modern age:
She [Andrea Dworkin] was right about the warning, wrong about the outcome. As she foretold, pornography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become pornographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training—and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.
Believe it or not, I actually believe that this analysis is correct as far as it goes. The point where Wolf stumbles is her belief that this phenomenon is somehow new:
For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.
That is not just wrong but totally wrong. In reality, men have been using social pressures of one form or another to engineer stereotypically female behavior since at least as early as the late 17th century or so. The real problem for our current era is that when the American patriarchal culture hits upon a particularly toxic new set of female sexual stereotypes -- the "totally open", sex-obsessed bimbo as the defining image of female identity -- a big chunk of the feminist establishment goes along instead of objecting.

Jane Galt seems to miss this aspect of the debate somewhat in her recent post regarding Wolfe's article:
Most of the guys I know a) consume pornography and b) seem to date women fairly regularly. This indicates that actual women have benefits that pornography can't offer, just as actual men are in most ways preferable to Rhett Butler. Online pornography has been pretty freely available for ten years now, and yet marriage and dating still seem to be pretty much de rigeur for most of the country.
Well, yes, that's true. All efforts over the course of Western civilization to completely stop the practice of heterosexual sex have totally failed. The real cultural challenge here is not finding a form of porn that makes biological women obsolete but finding a way of coping with existing and emerging sexually pathological practices. As Jane Galt discusses, many people are naturally resistant to adopting sexual behaviors that they believe are harmful, disrespectful, or undiginified for their partners. That is a good point.

Professor Bainbridge, on the other hand, considers the science-fictional extreme of holodeck pornography:
Megan is undoubtedly correct that "actual women have benefits that pornography can't offer, just as actual men are in most ways preferable to Rhett Butler," but is that merely conditional on our current state of technology?
Obviously the challenge of finding a form of porn that makes biological women obsolete has obtained more than it's fair share of blogospheric interest. Not surprisingly, an entire episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was devoted to this very subject (moral of the story: "There's nothing wrong with a healthy fantasy life, as long as you don't let it take over." Wow, didn't see that coming.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The latest LOST theory is solipsism.

It really pains me to have to write this, but after the LOST season 3 finale there is really only one theory left that explains everything that has happened so far. Everything that has happened on this show has all been a figment of Ben's imagination! Yes, that's correct. The entire show has been one long hallucination by a single highly deranged character.

The primary evidence comes almost entirely from season 3:

There is some indirect evidence that also supports a theory that everything is a figment of Ben's imagination. A lot of speculation has swirled around the infamous LOST "flash forward" in the season 3 finale which portrays Jack as a drunk and a drug addict and Kate as a beautiful, wealthy, and seemingly presidentially pardoned woman that despises and/or pities him. But we know that Ben (a) is seeing his worst nightmatre -- his precious island careening into some disastrous fate -- come true because Jack defeated his plans;(b) has been beaten (both literally and metaphorically) by Jack in the past; (c) was humiliated in the way he was forced (by Jack) to reveal to Alexandra the identity of her mother; and (d) knows that Jack loves Kate, and probably vice versa. So it's isn't very surprising that Ben might imagine that Jack eventually becomes a drunk, loveless, brain-damaged, pathetic junkie who could have lived a perfectly wonderful life if only he had done what Ben had wanted him to do.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: Random thoughts

I ended up watching the newly released Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End this week, so here are some random thoughts about it. As always, a spoiler alert applies to what follows.
  • Can someone please email the production company to tell them that a bad guy obsessing over nine "pieces of eight" sounds really really stupid?

  • Disappointment #1. Davy Jones, despite an appearance highly derivative of a certain famous American writer's "mythos", was apparently not a cthuloid lifeform.

  • Disappointment #2. The other main bad guys, who are all in the employ of the British East India Company, are all risk-adverse, essentially indistinguishable white guys wearing uniforms. Aside from a brief fight scene and some suspensions of civil liberties in the first 15 minutes, most of these characters spend the movie either blandly issuing orders or blindly following orders. It wasn't even clear that most of them were even particularly bad since they spend the movie basically cracking down on notorious criminals. Piracy is technically illegal, after all.

  • Also interesting was the explicit parallel to the United States in the climatic battle scene. On one side there is the gloriously mutlicultural pirate resistance whose "tribal" leaders, despite continually maneuvering for more personal power and influence at the expense of their rivals, can unify under a self-elected warlord in times of desperate emergency. On the other side is the monolithic, monoethnic, hegemonic British East India Company whose art of war is maintaining a huge battle fleet for the sole purpose of deterring resistance to it's elite strike force. The pirate coalition wins by defeating the enemy's elite striking force, the Flying Dutchman, thereby causing the enemy armada to immediately flee rather than suffer casualty #1 by actually personally engaging in battle.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

LOST Season 3 is finished.

I just got done watching the LOST season 3 finale. Here's a few thoughts about what happened (warning: spoilers).
  • Is Mikhail some kind of Dharma Initiative android or something? I only ask because it took Naomi a day and a half to recover from a punctured lung, but Mikhail can apparently "walk off" having his aorta severed by a spear to the chest.

  • The "flash-forwards" of Jack becoming a drunk and a junkie because he got off the island were a joke. Are we really supposed to expect that these are going to survive as canon all the way through season six (i.e. the final season)?

  • The same sentiment applies to the reappearance of Walt. Well, if an extra 20-second guest shot on LOST helps put money in his college fund, then maybe it's worth it.

  • Seeing the Others actually blundering into a trap and getting blown to smithereens was immensely gratifying. Sure, they used to be mystical, butt-kicking, forest ninjas that slowly morphed into regular folk. But it was nice to see the LOSTies actually make a plan and not screw it up for the most part. By the way, it looks like Sayid and Sawyer (and Hurley) absorbed most of the butt-kicking mojo released by the Others' heavy casulty list.

  • This deserves emphasis: A tied-up Sayid killing one of the Others by snapping the guy's neck with his feet is definitively the single best scene in all of season 3.

  • Finally, despite everything that has been revealed, there is still one theory of the show that has not only survived but explains 99% of everything that has happened to date: everything on the island is a figment of Ben's imagination.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Instapundit today linked to a criticism and a defense of the Porkbusters movement. One of the key points of the Porkbusters is that congressional earmarks were a chief reason for the Republican loss of Congress in the 2006 elections. For example, Instapundit notes that:

Which unawareness [of condescension by earmark apologists] is itself evidence of why the GOP lost in 2006. As Coburn notes: "The results of the last election, however, suggest that pork projects really are both bad policy and bad politics. Among the nine Republican appropriators (members who have the greatest ability to bring home the bacon) who were vulnerable in the last election, only three won."
As a conservative, I have to agree with attempts to limit wasteful government spending. But as a conservative who would actually like actual conservative politicians to win elections some day, I find it immensely puzzling that the Porkbusters (like the Libertarian Party in general) are so eager to stab Center/Right-wing Republicans in the back in order to replace them with Left-wing, welfare-statist Democrats.

Certainly part of the Porkbusters' strategy was motivated by the sheer joy of feeling the knife hit artery and bone as it plunged between the G.O.P.'s collective shoulder blades. Why else make a fresh effort to win the 230+ year war on wasteful government spending at exactly the moment when the Republican Congress was shakily vulnerable on the subject? Where were the Porkbusters ten years ago when the Republicans needed them?

But the key motivation seems to be that the Porkbusters are waging a Nancy Pelosi strategy for eliminating pork: demand that the Republican Party meet a series of benchmarks on eliminating pork or else the Porkbusters will withdrawal their support. What Republicans really need from the Porkbusters is an ally that won't be applauding the Democrats when Harry Reid limits political pork spending to be included in his Single-Payer Health Insurance bill. This post-partisanship crap has got to go.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hillary Clinton is the Martha Stewart of politics.

One of Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign ads just happens to have a statue of Mother Teresa in it:
A Catholic advocacy group is urging Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign to remove an image of Mother Teresa from a campaign video narrated by former President Bill Clinton.

"It is wholly inappropriate, disrespectful and disturbing that Hillary Clinton is using an image of Blessed Mother Teresa as a political tool, especially given their radically different views on abortion," said Fidelis President Joseph Cella.

He noted that Mother Teresa fought to protect unborn children, while Hillary Clinton "staunchly supports abortion on demand in all nine months of pregnancy, including partial birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion.
This is yet another example of what is rapidly becoming a Hillary Clinton campaigning trademark: the "spoofed" psychological slip. The overt message is both laser-targeted to a voting demographic and self-flattering. Here Hillary Clinton implies that she is so wise, feels so deeply, and cares so passionately about Catholic voters that she spends much of her spare time deeply contemplating Catholic social issues. Indeed, so much so that when her personal statue of Mother Theresa is "accidentally" included in a campaign commercial, Hillary Cliton is more than willing to leave it in there as a symbol of her personal strength of feeling despite the risk that it might drive anti-Catholic bigots to oppose her even more stridently than before.

This is nothing more that the Martha Stewart ethic of home economics taken to the next logical level beyond festive holiday decorations and self-sewn children's Halloween costumes. The reality is more likely to be that Bill Clinton has a checklist of the frank personal admissions that Hillary will use to woo interest group support over the next few months. Southern accent that only emerges when your passion for civil rights hits a fever pitch? Check! Negro spiritual hymns that you taught your all-white fourth-grade Girl Scout troup? Save them for Super Tuesday. "Spontaneous" religious conversion while en route to a CAIR rally? Focus group testing gives it a green light!

I think you get the idea. It's obviously fake, but then, what about the Clintons isn't fake?

Laughably inept commentary about Iraq

Arianna Huffington makes mountains out of molehills over at the Huffington Post (author's hyperlinks):
Just listen to John McCain -- the biggest supporter of the war outside of Dick Cheney -- on this week's Meet the Press. Tim Russert asked him about the fact that 144 members of the 275 person Iraqi parliament signed a legislative petition last week calling on the U.S. to set a timetable to withdraw:

RUSSERT: The duly elected people's bodies, the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi parliament, say they want a troop withdrawal. That's more than a poll. Isn't that the voice of the people?

McCAIN: ...There is a certain amount of domestic political calculations involved there in what the Iraqi, quote, "parliament" said.
You could almost see the contempt dripping off McCain's lips: "The Iraqi, quote, 'parliament.'"

So what, pray tell, is the difference between a "parliament" and a parliament? To McCain it's apparently whether the parliament agrees with him. And, by the way, Senator, there is another word for "domestic political calculations": democracy. But McCain, like Bush, is too arrogant to believe that real democracy could ever include disagreement with their wishes.
Ah, but the reason why McCain isn't quaking in his boots over this legislative petition is because it's non-binding:
Reached by phone in Baghdad on Tuesday, Al-Rubaie said that he would present the petition, which is nonbinding, to the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and demand that a binding measure be put to a vote. Under Iraqi law, the speaker must present a resolution that's called for by a majority of lawmakers, but there are significant loopholes and what will happen next is unclear.
So why should McCain renounce his support for the U.S. military presence in Iraq over a non-binding Iraqi resolution when he hasn't even done that for a non-binding American resolution? Not every single piece of legislation that passes the Senate is voted for unanimously. Does that make all of the dissenting senators somehow anti-democracy? No, because the whole point of being a senator is having an independent judgement; it is a perogative of senatorial office to judge that the voting majority is wrong and to vote against them. Somehow this simple fact from "Poly-Sci 101" didn't occur to Arianna Huffington when she wrote her post.

The most hilarious aspect of Arianna Huffington's article is that she is oblivious to the hypocrisy oozing and dripping from every word. Do you doubt it? Then suppose the American legislature passes a non-binding resolution declaring that abortion should be banned. Do you really think she would seriously be prepared to argue that the Supreme Court should therefore immediately acquiesce to the wishes of the democratic majority and overturn Roe v. Wade at the very next opportunity?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Giuliani is unashamedly pro-choice.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has taken a stand as a pro-choice Republican:
Saying he believes abortion is "morally wrong," Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani told an audience at Houston Baptist University this morning that he respects a woman's right to choose to have the procedure.

"I believe you have to respect their viewpoint and give them a level of choice," the former New York City mayor told a crowd of about 300 students and faculty at the school's Mabee Teaching Theater.

His remarks are part of an effort by Giuliani's campaign to clarify his support for abortion rights in the coming weeks, despite the political risks of alienating conservative voters. Giuliani has been criticized for what some have called confusing, sometimes contradictory statements on the topic.
Despite calls for tolerance for pro-choice Republicans (tolerance for unborn children being strictly verboten), I see this as dramatically wounding Giuliani's chances for winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Although I think one can be pro-choice and still be a good Republican, Republican presidential candidates are generally expected to be to the political Right of Senator Hillary Clinton on abortion issues.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More LOST Blogging

Regarding last night's episode of LOST, can someone please explain to me how workman Ben Linus got his hands on a pop-top can of super-fast acting, ultra-lethal, Dharma Initiative brand nerve gas?

Bonus LOST theory: Locke, despite being shot by Benjamin Linus in the gut in last night's episode, is not going to die because he is Benjamin Linus.

How many more skeletons does Starfleet have hiding in its closets?

That is the key question asked by an "editorial" posted onto a Star Wars fansite. It all makes a certain sense in hindsight. As Leah Brahms (designer of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D's warp propulsion) states:
We had to do it that way. There's no way the ship could have gone as fast as it did with a conventional warp drive. None. We tried three nacelle designs, four nacelle, even six nacelle. Nothing. No configuration would work. Our only option was to either shrink the ship, which Starfleet wouldn't let us do, or create a contained overreaction inside the core and use the dilithium matrix to prevent the reaction from running out of control. Basically, every time the ship's drive was online, there'd need to be constant, 100% control over the reaction, or else it would blow. We never in a million years though Starfleet would accept the design, but they did.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spider Man 3: Random Thoughts

I went to see the new film Spider Man Three over the weekend. I wasn't impressed. Here are some random thoughts about what I thought went wrong with the movie. By the way, this post is under a spoiler alert from this point on. You have been warned.

  • Memo to all Spider-Villains, present and future: do not attempt to kill Spider Man with blunt force trauma. At one point in this movie, Spider Man is tied down to a girder at a construction site and pounded by a 50 foot Sandman with the psychokinetically induced consistency of concrete. Ten minutes later Spider Man is on his feet and back in the fight. Even Hulk Hogan can't regenerate damage that quickly.

  • Evil Peter Parker likes an emo hairstyle. Who knew?

  • The fight scenes in the film were pretty laughable for the most part. Especially ridiculous was Harry Osborn's opening fight scene with Peter Parker. Osborn's trademark fight move is what I call the "Hackysack Attack". This is when Osborn repeatedly bounces Parker into the air or off nearby solid obstacles by slamming into him with his rocket-propelled skateboard, the idea being to keep Parker bouncing around in the air hitting things for as long as possible. It makes some sense -- keep your opponent off balance -- but it looks like something out of a video game instead of real combat.

  • The much-admired dramatic love triangle of the film basically comes about because Peter Parker's girlfriend Mary Jane is, frankly, one stupid lady. Partly this is due to hypocrisy. For example, Mary Jane becomes jealous when Peter reveals that he is helping a female student in his class with her homework, but later in the film she gets a job as a waitress/singer in a jazz club. Female students in quantum mechanics class are gold-digging mantraps; male patrons of bars are perfectly respectable gentlemen. Got that?

  • Speaking of Mary Jane, the most egregious plot hole in the entire film just happens to be her fault. Harry Osborn, in a bid to inflict emotional pain on Peter Parker before killing him, grabs Mary Jane and tells her to break up with Peter, cold turkey, if she wants to save him. And Mary Jane, who has apparently forgotten the simple fact that Peter Parker is Spider Man, goes ahead and does exactly what Osborn has told her to do!

  • An alternative to the "sudden-onset, highly specific amnesia theory" is that Mary Jane, in order to protect Osborn from Peter's reaction to being dumped, calculated that she might drain Peter of the emotional will to confront Osborn by dumping Peter in the most sudden and emotionally painful way imaginable. Of course, Mary Jane is later completely baffled and offended that Peter would bring his new girlfriend from quantum mechanics class into her nightclub on a date. She must have thought Peter would still be weeping over his computer keyboard by the phone.

  • Another alternative is that Mary Jane, being smarter than she looks, inferred that being "forced" to dump your boyfriend by a wealthy, handsome, single millionaire is the feminist equivalent of the golden ticket hidden inside of a Wonka Chocolate bar. That is, assuming she was going to dump Peter all along, receiving the threat from Osborn gave her "plausible deniability" in case she changed her mind later on.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Great minds think totally differently sometimes.

Conservatives tend to admire Sir Winston Churchill for his great political service to the British Empire during World War II. But one thing that Conservatives tend to overlook is that Sir Winston Churchill wasn't exactly the world's greatest historian (or the world's greatest peacetime politician, for that matter). Here's an example regarding Alexander Hamiliton's Report on Public Credit of 1790 that I came across when reading The Great Republic: A History of America (my boldface):
The whole debt was to be funded; all the old bonds and certificates which had been rotted by speculation were to be called in and new securities issued. A sinking fund was to be created and a national bank set up.

The moneyed interest was overjoyed by this programme, but there was bitter opposition from those who realised that the new Government was using its taxing powers to pay interest to the speculative holders of state debts now assumed by Congress. The clash between capitalist and agrarian again glared forth. The New England merchants had invested most of their war-time profits in paper bonds, which now gained enormously in value. Massachusetts, which had the largest state debt, profited most. The mass of public debt was concentrated in the hands of small groups in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The nation was taxed to pay them at par for what they had purchased at a tremendous discount.
This is all technically true, except that it leaves out the key fact that Alexander Hamilton was basically looking for what we now call a re-fi. According to The Age of Federalism:
Such, then, was Alexander Hamilton's grand design. The Continental debt, though originally set at 6 percent, would be funded at 4, but it would be done in such a way that the soundness of the public credit would be all but self-evident from the start.
So Churchill doesn't get the story quite right here. But suppose as Churchill suggests that paying the mammoth national war debt at par and with the original interest despite war-time inflation is a real bone-headed move. Who, then, could possibly make a decision so fundamentally flawed (embedded hyperlinks removed):
In the UK the pound was returned to the gold standard in 1925, by the somewhat reluctant Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill, on the advice of conservative economists at the time. Although a higher gold price and significant inflation had followed the WWI ending of the gold standard, Churchill returned to the standard at the pre-war gold price. For five years prior to 1925 the gold price was managed downward to the pre-war level, meaning a significant deflation was forced onto the economy.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Anything to keep students from learning

The average person on the street could have told you this 15 years ago, but some high school administrators are just discovering this now. The New York Times reports that school-issued laptop computers are "educationally empty" or worse:
Yet school officials here [Liverpool Central School District in New York state] and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.
It's easy to see what attracts school districts to these types of programs in the first place. They are ruinously expensive, harm student's educational performance, and encourage the anti-social behaviors (cheating, hacking, pornography, video games) that will give them a life-long fear of learning. Basically, the educational establishment knew this at the start and didn't care:
“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he [Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine] said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”
That's a lot like arguing that the best way to alleviate poverty is by expanding sales of lottery tickets. Sure, if you want to encourage the poor to save money in order to build wealth, it's a lousy idea. But if the goal is to create the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of the future, then $10 million lotto jackpots are extremely useful.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Some like it hot

Richard Gere gets in trouble for lewd behavior -- in India:
Three lawyers filed complaints in Indian courts against actor Richard Gere and Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty for kissing at a public function, a news report said Wednesday.

In his complaint, attorney Poonal Chandra Bhandari accused the actors of committing "an obscene act" in a public place, which India's conservative society cannot tolerate, Press Trust of India said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in trouble for lewd behavior as well:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been accused of indecency after he publicly embraced and kissed on the hand an elderly woman who used to be his schoolteacher.

At a ceremony on Tuesday ahead of Iranian teachers' day, Mr Ahmadinejad was photographed and filmed by state media stooping to kiss the woman's hand and then clasping her arms in an embrace.
Yet more evidence of global warming?