Friday, December 28, 2007

Finding a presidential candidate, part I: Illegal Immigration

Like many other Republican voters, I'm still undecided about who I am going to support in the Republican primaries. In order to make up my mind, I'm going to examine the web sites of the current major party candidates and point out where their positions on a given topic differ from mine. When I decide upon a candidate to support, the process will stop and an endorsement will be declared. To make the process fair for the general election, I'll even include the Democrats. The first topic that I will examine is illegal immigration.

What I'm looking for: Illegal immigration is really the two separate problems of illegal entry into the United States and illegal residence in the United States. What I'm looking for is candidate who will be strong in stopping illegal entry, strong but tolerant in eliminating illegal residence, and supportive of legal immigration. General disqualifiers are amnesties without securing the border, making it illegal to enforce the laws against illegal entry or residence, and any form of outright lunacy.

Here are how the major party candidates appear to me on the issue, starting with the Republicans.

Alan Keyes: Keyes appears to be running on a conservative "morality" platform, so he seems to accept controlling the borders, enforcing the law, and encouraging citizenship. On the other hand, his web site's issue statement comes pretty close to invoking the "outright lunacy" disqualifier with talk of "de facto colonization of our country."

Ron Paul: Ron Paul has another Republican platform of border control and enforcing the laws, but with two proposals that ring false to me: ending birthright citizenship and no welfare for illegal aliens. Birthright citizenship is an American tradition and deserves to be continued. Denying welfare benefits to illegal aliens, period, is just too simply put here. We don't want to have a system that showers tons of free money on illegal immigrants while leaving legal immigrants out in the cold, but there are also certain services that government provides to its citizens that, yes, even illegal immigrants should be able to participate in.

Mitt Romney: Romney has the standard "law and order" Republican position -- control the border, enforce the laws -- without the pitfalls that we saw endorsed by Ron Paul. Avoiding mention of denying benefits to illegal immigrants helps Romney here and hurts Paul, because this is really a legislative decision and not an executive one. Explicit mention of punishing sanctuary cities is another plus in the Romney platform.

Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani has another standard "law and order" Republican position similar to Romney's, but with the exception of "Deporting illegal aliens who commit a felony." Oh, well, I guess that as long as illegal aliens aren't, say, carjacking the mayor's limo somewhere on Main Street, USA, then illegal immigration is ok.

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee has another good "law and order" Republican position -- if only he hadn't been brainwashed by the the Fair Tax. His platform also has a nice "screw you" to foreign governments: "Inform foreign governments when their former citizens become naturalized U.S. citizens."

Duncan Hunter: Hunter has yet another good "law and order" Republican position that, unfortunately, proves that he has been in Congress way too long. His website mentions his proposal for a "congressional pardon" for Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean. While this is a cause célèbre for many conservatives, the congressional pardon idea is, frankly, too non-presidential. Even if you think that these agents shouldn't be pardoned, Hunter's statement that he has been lobbying the president to pardon the agents is also too wimpy. It would be better, bolder, and more presidential to say "If President Bush won't pardon these agents, President Hunter will." Duncan Hunter also wants to end birthright citizenship, which I oppose.

John McCain: The Chameleon is already disqualified on this topic due to supporting the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

Fred Thompson: His website has another good "law and order" Republican position with no real standouts and no real drawbacks. There is nothing to celebrate but nothing to regret.

Moving on to the Democrats:

Joe Biden: He actually has an impressive website on this position. He seems like a standard Republican on the issue, but also has a subtle reminder that he is a liberal when he states "This debate has turned into a race to the bottom. It has become about ways to keep Spanish-speaking people out of this country when in fact undocumented people in this country are from all backgrounds." I guess his position is that conservatives are racist morons, so vote for me.

Hillary Clinton: Categorically disqualified. Sorry.

Christopher Dodd: Since I can't find immigration on his web site's issues list, he's disqualified as well.

John Edwards: Disqualified on the same technicality as Christopher Dodd.

Mike Gravel: His website blames illegal immigration on NAFTA. I guess he hasn't realized that, in fact, undocumented people in this country are from all backgrounds. The other day on NPR, he blamed the furor over illegal immigration on "scapegoating" due to, among other things, the instability in Iraq. Disqualified for outright lunacy.

Dennis Kucinich: His policy positions crash my web browser, so disqualified on a technicality. If you can't "step up to the plate", you don't get to be president.

Barack Obama: If I close my eyes and pretend that I didn't disqualify John McCain for the comprehensive immigration reform that Obama supports, he actually has a pretty reasonable-sounding position.

Bill Richardson: His position is similar to Barack Obama's, in the sense that it sounds reasonable if I ignore the support of comprehensive immigration reform.

Recap: Out of the Republican candidates, it looks like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson are at the top of the list for me, followed by Rudy Giuliani in tier two, Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter in tier three, and with Alan Keyes and John McCain disqualified. The three non-disqualified Democrats don't compete with the Republicans for me. Otherwise, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson would be the three roughly equivalent potential endorsements on this issue.

Vacuum Energy Favorite Posts of 2007 (so far)

It is a venerable year-end tradition in the blogosphere to compile a list of one's favorite blog posts (or favorite anything, really). Thus, here are my favorite posts, one for each month, from 2007.

January: Liberals don't want to destroy private enterprise. They just want to make private enterprise "better".

February: The stupid party

March: How to make liberals hate a movie in 6 easy lessons.

April: Welcome to Opposite Land.

May: Porkbusters

June: From Thomas Jefferson to Star Trek

July: A brief history of United States foreign policy, part I

August: Really dumb Supreme Court commentary

September: Idiocracy

October: Is Al Gore an environmental hypocrite?

November: An abominable proposition

December: A dialogue from Opposite Land

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Disaster strikes Pakistan:
Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday by an attacker who shot her after a campaign rally and then blew himself up. Her death stoked new chaos across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

At least 20 others were killed in the attack on the rally for Jan. 8 parliamentary elections where the 54-year-old former prime minister had just spoken.
The big question now is whether or not the "Putin of Pakistan" was involved.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Megan McArdle versus the Ronulans

Apparently the best way to draw attention to your blog is to badmouth the gold standard, thus tempting the Ronulans to attack in force (some people just cannot escape those pesky orbital mind control lasers). A textbook example on how to enrage these idiots comes from Megan McArdle where she discusses an exchange between congressman Ron Paul and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke:
What Congressman Dr. Paul is saying doesn't make any particular sense; American consumers are not particularly suffering because of the decline of the dollar, the dollar is not declining because of Fed policy, and the Federal Reserve has nothing to do with a relative scarcity of oil and food, which is what is driving the CPI increases he complains about. If we were on the gold standard, oil and food would still be getting more expensive, and people on fixed incomes would still be feeling the pinch.
I think this all makes sense; making a sympathetic reading of her posts instead of blowing your top about them tends to help the reasoning sink in faster. Here's my analysis (admittedly a physicist's point of view) on the subject.
  • At any point in American history, there is a certain amount of suffering experienced by American consumers. I believe her point is that American consumers are not particularly suffering because of the decline of the dollar.

  • The dollar isn't declining because of Fed policy. The dollar is declining because of a decrease in the demand for dollars. Think of the case of China and the United States as an example. For years, China has been exporting anything that wasn't nailed down to the United States in exchange for dollars. China then loaned those dollars back to the United States in exchange for repayment with interest (i.e. more dollars). The United States was getting lots of cheap consumer goods, China was slowly dollarizing its economy, and life was good.

    Then the housing bubble burst. If we assume that Chinese investors with spare dollars formed the impression of greater risk associated with American investments, this would serve to deter them from investing their dollars in American investments. So what do they do with their spare dollars to make a profit? They buy American-made goods and resell them in China! So the supply of dollars is the same, but the demand for dollars has partially switched to a demand for American-made products. Thus, the dollar weakens without the Fed having been involved.

  • The Federal Reserve doesn't have anything to do with the relative scarcity of food and oil, unless you suspect that Ben Bernanke has a secret reservoir of oil wells and corn fields that nobody else knows about. You might want to double-check the magnetic permeability of your metallic head covering, just in case.

Megan McArdle reiterates this last point (my boldface):
How much of the higher price of gasoline is the Fed's fault?

To a first approximation, zero. Oil is priced in dollars in the international market. The falling dollar has no effect on the price of oil. And inflation is a tiny contributor to the huge increase in gasoline prices. The huge increase is due to the fact that a lot of people want to consume oil, but producers have been slow to supply additional quantities. When demand goes up and supply doesn't, prices rise.
You can read a dissenting view here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sometimes I'm so good, it's scary.

Vacuum Energy, December 13, 2007:
Next week, I expect a top Clinton aide to accuse Barack Obama of having sexual relations with an intern.
Here's the latest scandal in the Democratic primary race:
Presidential candidate John Edwards is caught up in a love child scandal, a blockbuster ENQUIRER investigation has discovered.

The ENQUIRER has learned exclusively that Rielle Hunter, a woman linked to Edwards in a cheating scandal earlier this year, is more than six months pregnant — and she's told a close confidante that Edwards is the father of her baby!

The ENQUIRER's political bombshell comes just weeks after Edwards emphatically denied having an affair with Rielle, who formerly worked on his campaign and told another close pal that she was romantically involved with the married ex-senator.
I was aiming at Obama and Edwards was the one that got nailed (so far).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A nice comparison

Vox Day on October 23, 2007 (author's emphasis and hyperlink):
Read Benito Mussolini's Fascist Manifesto. There is not a SINGLE ONE of the seventeen policies that would apply to radical Islam. Not one! I highly doubt any radical Muslim wants the secular state to seize all the possessions of the Islamic clergy or to grant women's suffrage; radical Islam is closer to the complete opposite of fascism than it is to being a form of it.
Note that one of the line items of the Fascist Manifesto is "A national policy intended to peacefully further the Italian national culture in the world."

Vox Day on December 18, 2007:
Only a fool would believe that the next Fascists will come wearing blackshirts and speaking Italian.
Obviously only a fool would believe that the United States is even close to becoming a fascist state. The United States hasn't even taken the first steps towards seizing the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics. We don't even have the slightest hope of abolishing the Senate yet.

Ex-President George H. W. Bush joins the club.

The former president joins the "Friends of Bill" club, that is:
Former President Bill Clinton said Monday that the first thing his wife Hillary will do when she reaches the White House is dispatch him and his predecessor, President George H.W. Bush, on an around-the-world mission to repair the damage done to America's reputation by the current president — Bush's son, George W. Bush.

"Well, the first thing she intends to do, because you can do this without passing a bill, the first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again," Clinton said in response to a question from a supporter about what his wife's "number one priority" would be as president.
One would think that if there was one person in the world that Bill Clinton wouldn't dare to treat like a personal lackey, it would be another former president -- especially a former president who set personal feelings aside to work with Clinton for humanitarian causes. Wrong!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Have a happy December rest interval, citizen!

The real reason why Christmas has to be totally banned from the public sphere: somebody might get hurt.

The so-called "War on Christmas" is always something of a gray area from the atheist point of view. On the one hand, the annual arguments and lawsuits about the exact ratio of Christmas tree ornaments to menorah candles that is consistent with the First Amendment such sound totally ridiculous.

On the other hand, the preferred liberal solution to the problem of culture conflict during the month of December is for everyone to speak in starkly utilitarian cant. Obsessively referring to the date of December 25th as "holiday" -- as if December 25th has always been known only as "holiday" -- is exactly the type of mind-deadening jargon that liberals used to ridicule their totalitarian opponents for employing. Now it is liberals who are making people feel like thought criminals for daring to acknowledge the existence of a Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yet more electoral hypocrisy from the Clinton

The wife of Bill "I did not inhale" Clinton now thinks that drug use disqualifies a candidate from the presidency:
A top adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said Wednesday that Democrats should give more thought to Sen. Barack Obama's admissions of illegal drug use before they pick a presidential candidate.

Obama's campaign said the Clinton people were getting desperate. Clinton's campaign tried to distance itself from the remarks.
Next week, I expect a top Clinton aide to accuse Barack Obama of having sexual relations with an intern.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's not over until the Electoral College sings.

The possibility that Hillary Clinton may lose the Democratic Iowa caucus to challenger Barack Obama has produced a great deal of speculation about a change of plan for the Clinton campaign. For example:
Hillary Rodham Clinton's backup plan if she falters in Iowa can be summed up in two words: New Hampshire.

Clinton's Democratic team is preparing television ads here criticizing Barack Obama's health care plan and working to build what campaigns call a firewall. If the Obama presidential campaign ignites in Iowa, she wants to be ready to cool him off in a state where her organization is strong and her support has proven durable.
Apparently the contingency planning doesn't stop there. Mickey Kaus points out speculation that Hillary might lose the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary and offers advice about what to do after that (author's boldface):
Anyway, given today's outlook, Hillary is well advised to drop the "halo of inevitability" and don the fur suit of the Energizer bunny candidate who will just keep going and going even if she, say, loses the first three primaries and the next three. Her strategists are presumably already thinking about such a long-haul comeback plan.
The common factor ignored by these types of conventional campaign analyses is the propaganda factor. We know that Hillary Clinton is unlimitedly ambitious, unstoppably ruthless, and raking in tons of cash. She also has a lot of friendly -- to the point of utter gullability -- media figures on her side. That puts a lot of options on the table for her that other candidates don't have:
  • The most obvious campaign tactic is that Barack Obama will "pull a Howard Dean" and fall victim to an instant-onset Big Media counter-punch. That is, the mainstream media would seemingly spontaneously adopt an anti-Obama story that would be repeated endlessly in an effort to stampede Obama supporters into abandoning him. The actual storyline used for this attack could be anything, whether rational ("The Clinton campaign released new video footage of Barack Obama snorting coke today..."), exaggerated ("Was Obama wearing mascara at his post-caucus victory speech?"), or entirely irrational ("Obama supports wombat attacks on little girls . News at 11").

  • Another posssible campaign tactic is messing with Obama's delegates at the nominating convention. After all, only ignorance about the true facts could cause someone to fail to recognize Hillary Clinton as the natural leader of the human race. This could come in the form of a media counter-punch or in a direct lobbying effort from the Clinton campaign. Another plus is that it does have the virtue of having been tried before.

  • A related tactic would be for Hillary Clinton to wait until the election is over, then launch a lobbying campaign against the Electoral College to defect en masse to voting for Hillary Clinton for president. Historically speaking, it has been completely unprecedented to attempt to lobby one's way to a voting majority of defectors starting from scratch; when Al Gore attempted this in the 2000 election, he was only looking for two defectors to put him over the top in the totals. On the other hand, rules are for Republicans, dude.

  • Another similar tactic would be a late-game ballot switch. Hillary could just wait for Barack Obama to get pounded mercilessly by his Republican challenger, then try to stampede public opinion her way to "save the election" for the Democrats. Again, while this tactic has been battle-tested to a certain extent to keep Senate seats in Democratic hands, this is an unprecedented tactic for someone to pull off in a presidential election.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Yet more really stupid propaganda

Why is it that the only way to be "black enough" to be elected president is to be rich, well-educated, Southern, and white? The very notion is totally insane, yet the belief doesn't seem to be going away. For example, this article reports that:
Civil rights icon Andrew Young says Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is too young and lacks the support network to ascend to the White House.

In a media interview posted online, Young also quipped that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has her husband behind her, and that "Bill is every bit as black as Barack."
Here's another bit of relatively stupid pro-Hillary propaganda. It's subtle, but it's also totally bogus:
"I want Barack Obama to be president," Young said, pausing for effect, "in 2016."

"It's not a matter of being inexperienced. It's a matter of being young," Young said. "There's a certain level of maturity ... you've got to learn to take a certain amount of (expletive)."
Bill Clinton turned 46 in 1992, the year that he was first elected president. Barack Obama will turn 47 in 2008.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A dialogue from Opposite Land

In Opposite Land, scientists are dangerously unstable, superstitious nutballs who throw logic to the wind to concoct their bizarre theories, and the religious believers are level-headed, rational, scholars who carefully sift through the evidence in the search for truth. To get an idea about what debate is like in Opposite Land, examine this dialogue (written by Vox Day) in which Vox Day slaps "Athiest Science Supporter" around with his own logic.

If the intent of the dialogue is to convince people to abandon atheism for some for of theism, the argument is not particularly convincing. For example, we have the following exchange:
ASS: No, there is [scientific evidence], but it's not what was generated by the application of the scientific method. Data was what was generated. The labelling of that data as "evidence" afterwards is subjective.

VOX: You're saying that scientific evidence is subjective, then?

ASS: Er... yeah.
Here Vox has his creatively written, atheist stooge fall into the trap that was left out in plain sight for him. After a little irrelevent verbal fencing for show, Vox springs the trap and lets his atheist character dissolve into a fury of ad hominem attacks:
VOX: I have no doubt it [the scientific method] produces data very effectively. The relevant question regards the validity of the subjective interpretations required to transform the data into evidence. But regardless, when you talk about "scientific 'evidence'", you actually mean "the subjective interpretation of data", right?

ASS: "The subjective interpretation of data produced by the scientific method", actually.

VOX: All right. So when one says "there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God", one is actually saying "there is no subjective interpretation of data produced by the scientific method for the existence of God." And this is quite clearly false, as there are tens of thousands of examples to the contrary floating around the Internet. Therefore, by your own definition, there is not only evidence for the existence of God, there is also scientific evidence for the existence of God.
There we have it! Scientific data is entirely subjective evidence, so of course you cannot actually prove anything with science; don't even bother trying to prove that God does not exist with science! On the other hand, in Opposite Land, every fragment of stone tablet or scrap of papyrus from millenia ago is objectively evidence for the existence of God:
VOX: The Bible is documentary evidence, just as Arrian's manuscript written on the basis of non-existent texts is documentary evidence for the existence of Alexander the Great and Commentarii de Bello Civili is documentary evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar. Rainbows and the Jewish people are real evidence of God's existence, as, theoretically, is the Cohen gene. "The Passion of the Christ" is demonstrative evidence, as would be a three-dimensional chart explicating the improbabilities posed by the Anthropic Principle.
In conventional reality, the situation is the exact opposite from what Vox Day describes. It is the scientific data which is objectively evidence for or against (or, possibly, not bearing upon) hypotheses. It is mostly Vox Day's fellow Christians who are using the subjective interpretations of data as evidence to prop up their theories (and I'm sure it pisses Vox off to no end when they do this in his comments).

Monday, December 03, 2007

Great Moments in Western Information Technology

The 1 drachma wax tablet (325 BC): As Alexander the Great spoke to General Ptolemy, "If we could get ten thousand of these into the hands of Persian schoolchildren, we could rule an empire stretching from Greece to India." The sceptical response: "The sun gets awfully hot in Persia. Are you sure these things aren't going to melt?".

The 1 denarius vellum sheet (AD 200): The sales pitch to Caesar was simply "If we could get one hundred thousand of these into the hands of barbarian children on our northeastern border, we might be able to keep the Empire from collapsing someday." Reason for failure: unscrupulous merchants flooded the market with cheap papyrus imported from Egypt.

The 100 monk monastery (AD 800): Wise King Charlemagne was the first leader to realize that one hundred monks, all working and living together as one, could recopy the entire contents of a library in forty or fifty years. Drawback to plan: nobody else knew how to read.

The 1 franc per year university student (AD 1050): One of the panels of the Bayeaux Tapestry states that "if we can get young men to work fourteen-hour days of mind-bending intellectual labor in exchange for just enough food, water, clothing, and shelter to keep themselves alive, we might be able to revive learning in Normandy and finally conquer England." Drawback to the plan: there were no drawbacks! Medieval kings, Renaissance princes, enlightened eighteenth-century despots, and today's billionaire software gurus have all realized the benefits of exploiting geek labor for profit.

The 100 florins per week savant (AD 1400): "If we could send these men to teach a couple of hundred schoolchildren of Europe each, we'll have muscle-powered flying machines by AD 1500!" Drawback to plan: charlatans.

The $100 dollar laptop (AD 2005): From the Wall Street Journal (via MSM Money):
In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte unveiled an idea for bridging the technology divide between rich nations and the developing world. It was captivating in its utter simplicity: Design a $100 laptop and, within four years, get it into the hands of up to 150 million of the world's poorest schoolchildren.
Drawback to plan: computer hackers discover how to run "Tetris" on the $100 laptop.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Yet Another Stupid Campaigning Tactic

This report, if true, makes me wonder if Hillary Clinton believes that all Iowa Democrats are morons, or just likely Democratic primary voters:
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ramped up criticism of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama today, and said his positions on health care and handling of campaign finance rules have begun to reflect on his character.
The poster-woman for disastrously botched health care reforms, who just happens to be the single most notorious violator of campaign finance laws in post-Watergate history, now believes that making poor choices for health care proposals and campaign financing* is a disqualifier for the presidency. That's an excellent reason for voting for Barack Obama, Mrs. Clinton.

*I suspect that Barack Obama's true campaign finance mistake was actually trying to comply with the rules, as opposed to cackling shrilly at the FEC until the election is over.