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May, 2002:

Family, heritage, and identity

On May 31, 1966, my grandfather, for whom I am named, died at the age of 55. I was born three months before his death, so while I never got to know him, he at least got to meet me. He’d been diagnosed with leukemia a couple of years before his death, and by the time I came along this man who had been a firefighter and who had played semipro football and baseball was barely strong enough to hold a baby in his arms for more than a few minutes at a time. There’s one picture that I know of that shows him holding me – I think it’s from my baptism – which is in a framed collage of photos that my folks gave me on my 30th birthday.

Recent discussion on my RoundTable mailing list has gotten me thinking about my heritage and how I identify myself. As this coincides with the anniversary of the death of Charles Kuffner Senior, I’m feeling the need to write some of this down. Ethnically, I’m half Italian, three-eighths Irish, and one-eighth German, but in truth I have no idea what that really means. All of my grandparents were born in the US, and all of my great-grandparents (many of whom were also born here) were dead long before I arrived. I have no real contact with my ethnicity – I may as well be Swedish or Greek or South African.

There are a few parts of my background and personal history that are identifiable as “Irish” or “Italian”, mostly the latter and mostly having to do with food, not that there’s anything wrong with that. My mother and grandmother were and are excellent cooks, and I grew up on homemade tomato sauce, which any fan of The Sopranos knows is properly called “gravy”. Some of my grandmother’s recipes have thankfully been preserved, and Tiffany (also an excellent cook) has made a great effort to use them. We’ve partly revived a Christmas Eve tradition of a big fish and pasta dinner that my grandmother used to host, and last year Tiffany made a traditional Easter bread from one of the old recipes. I have to say, if you can only save one part of your heritage, keep the cuisine.

I think what I miss most, if you can miss something you never really experienced, is knowing the generations that preceded me. There are still a few people left from my grandparents’ time, and I knew some of those who have died, but even there I’m talking about people born and raised in the US and spoke English. I’ve heard tales of my mother’s Italian-speaking grandparents, my father’s shy and reticent German grandfather and his brash and somewhat obnoxious Irish grandfather, but these people are historical artifacts to me. I may as well be reading about them in a textbook. I get jealous of Tiffany sometimes, as all eight of her great-grandparents were alive when she was born.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing that I’m so thoroughly assimilated into America and its culture and so thoroughly divested of my “roots”? I think on balance I’m better off. Lord knows there are plenty of parts of most people’s histories that are better off left behind – ancient grudges, enemies, scores to even, and so on. And it’s not like I’m ashamed in any way of my Americannness. I guess I just feel like there’s a piece of my puzzle that’s gone forever and I’ll never really know how it would have affected the picture of who I am. I fear that some day when I try to tell my future children about who they are and where they come from I won’t be able to tell them the full story and that as a result I will somehow have failed them.

I am, as someone once said, what I am. I’m an American of various extractions, raised in New York and living in Texas, who prefers to look forward but never forgets to look back from time to time. I’m an intellectual liberal problem-solving sports-loving more extroverted than introverted homeowning sax-playing one-woman-man laid back kind of guy who finds therapy in writing about this sort of thing. I can live with that.

More on Intelligent Design vs. science

I seem to be referring to Max Power quite a bit recently, but that’s because he’s been doing such a bang-up job of dissecting Prof. Volohk’s defenses of Intelligent Design. I think I can give him an assist with this latest entry:

It’s a language issue: when I say “intelligent design”, I’m discussing the intelligent design movement, which makes actual contentions that are demonstrably false, including the contention that ID is scientific. With that definition, there’s nothing incorrect with saying that “intelligent design proponents are wrong.” Eugene would surely agree with that (he states his agreement with the premises in his posts, and the conclusion naturally follows), just as I would agree with Eugene’s narrower (but ultimately trivial) point that the hypothesis “An omniscient being created both humanity and all of the evidence pointing towards evolution and away from intelligent design” cannot ultimately be said to be “wrong” or anything worse than “not helpful.”

The word you’re looking for, Max, is falsifiable, as in Prof. Volohk’s contention about an omniscient being is not falsifiable.

Falsificationism was the great contribution to the philosophy of science by Karl Popper. It clearly lays out what makes a theory scientific and what does not. The crucial aspect is falsifiability, which is to say that a truly scientific theory must be refutable by some means. If there is no way to prove that a hypothesis is false, it cannot be scientific.

This page is full of good introductory information. Here are some conclusions Popper drew about scientific theories:

1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory – if we look for confirmations.

2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory – an event which would have refuted the theory.

3. Every “good” scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.

5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of “corroborating evidence.”)

7. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers – for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (I later described such a rescuing operation as a “conventionalist twist” or a “conventionalist stratagem.”)

One can sum up all this by saying that the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.

It’s clear that by these criteria, Intelligent Design utterly fails to be a scientific theory because there is no test which can be devised that would refute the hypothesis that an omniscient being is responsible for the creation of the universe and all the evidence that points towards evolution. It’s no more falsifiable than the statement that invisible winged squirrels are what alter the path of curveballs, and as such it’s no more scientific.

Please note that I am not claiming that there’s anything wrong with believing that an all-powerful God created the heavens and the earth. The ironic thing is that evolution has nothing to say about how life was created, nor does it contradict a belief in God having a hand in evolution. All I’m saying is that religion and science are different things that use different methods to answer questions. Intelligent Design is religion masquerading as science. It is not science, and it has no place being taught as science.

Shooting fish in an oil barrel

Ken Layne, Max Power, Tim Blair, and VodkaPundit have lined up to praise Mark Steyn for his smackdown on the United Nations Global Environmental Outlook. Steyn turns his usual witty phrase in mocking this latest doomsday report, which like most others before it seems willing to extrapolate growth and usage trends without allowing for the possibility of technological advancement.

I think it would be wise, though, for the triumphalists to keep in mind that Steyn’s was a political piece rather than a critical examination by an expert in the field. For example, when Steyn writes

[I]n 2002, with enough oil for a century and a half, the planet awash in cut-price minerals, and less global famine, starvation and malnutrition than ever before, the end of the world has had to be rescheduled.

he doesn’t exactly cite any sources to back up his claims. This being the Internet, and this being a day off for me, I thought we could take a closer look at some of this. In particular, let’s look at the claims about oil.

Here are a few words from an industry leader about the future of oil exploration and production:

Oil is the world’s largest source of energy, supplying nearly half of total primary energy demand. Three-quarters of world oil reserves are in OPEC countries and of these, two-thirds are in just four countries: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It might be expected that priority would be given to producing Middle East oil, given its abundance and the fact that it is relatively cheap to produce. However, as a result of economic, political and strategic considerations, the search for oil has extended into remote parts of the earth, both onshore and, increasingly, offshore.

Exploring for and producing oil offshore is both difficult and expensive. Oil companies will continue to seek technical innovations needed to make such activities cost-effective. Improved geological and seismic data have led to more accurate estimates of oil reserves. In some cases, reservoirs have been reassessed and reserves upgraded in the light of prevailing economics. On the production side, improved drilling techniques and the use of lighter materials on platforms have cut costs considerably, sometimes by as much as a third.

Oil supply can be augmented by unconventional sources such as oil shale and tar sands. There are major oil shale deposits in the Western United States, Australia and Morocco, and tar sands occur in Canada, Venezuela and Madagascar. Such sources are more expensive to produce than conventional oil and therefore tend to be uneconomic to develop in times of low oil prices.

So much for oil supply. But what about oil demand in the future? Demand in developed countries is likely to show little growth, due to energy conservation measures and moves towards greater energy efficiency and alternative energy sources. Well-insulated homes require less heating, modern car engines use gasoline more efficiently. Demand in the developing countries, on the other hand, is likely to increase, owing to greater industrialization and population growth, especially in urban areas. As people become more affluent, there are more cars on the road and demand for oil – still the main transport fuel – therefore increases.

In the early 1970s, there were concerns that the world’s oil might be running out. This view has now changed and it is believed that with today’s technology there is enough oil to last well into the next century. Public debate is now focused on the environment and the term ‘sustainable development’ has become increasingly familiar. People want a higher standard of living, but not at the expense of permanent damage to the environment. The use of all fossil fuels, including oil, will depend not only on technical, political and economic decisions but, increasingly, on environmental considerations.

“It is believed that with today’s technology there is enough oil to last well into the next century” is not quite as strong as Steyn’s assertion, which implied that all that oil has been found and merely awaits extraction. Most of the oil that Shell is talking about has yet to be found, though we have a pretty good idea of where it’s likely to be and how much will probably be there.

The more pressing question is how expensive will it be to actually find and extract it? As noted, half the world’s known reserves live in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, a thought that should give pause to cheerleading. Many oil companies are turning offshore for new discoveries, but again as noted, that’s harder and more expensive. There may be plenty of oil out there, but what happens if it only becomes economic to extract it at $50 a barrel? There’s a difference between the total supply of oil and the total supply of cheap oil. That difference may turn out to be minor, but it’s too soon to dismiss it.

Indeed, some in the oil patch think the supply of cheap oil will peak in the next ten years or so. This is a controversial position, but it’s not Greenpeace that’s pushing it. Again, all I’m saying here is that Steyn is behaving a bit like Pollyanna. Responding to silly doomsaying with silly blue-skying is, well, silly.

Even in places that are now friendly (or at least friendlier) to us and which have a fair amount of oil, there’s much to be done before it can be reliably transported to us. This article about oil production in Russia gives a good overview. Russian oil will eventually help us lessen our dependence on OPEC, but we’ll have to reduce our rate of consumption if we ever want to get that monkey fully off our backs.

Steyn himself fails to make note of the consequences of his free market prescriptions:

Thirty years after the first doom-mongering eco-confab in Stockholm, it should be obvious even to the UN frequent-flyer crowd. Markets aren’t the problem, but the solution to the problem. The best way to clean up the neighbourhood is to make people wealthier. To do that, you need free markets, democracy, the rule of law and public accountability. None of those things exist in the Middle East, which is the real reason they’ll be taking communal showers once a month in 2032.

Since 1970, when the great northern forest was being felled to print Paul Ehrlich best-sellers, the U.S. economy has swollen by 150%; automobile traffic has increased by 143%; and energy consumption has grown 45%.

So if free-market democracy comes to the Middle East and raises everyone’s standard of living – and don’t get me wrong here, this is a highly desireable thing – we can expect the rate of consumption of oil, among other things, to greatly increase. What effect will that have on the rate of depletion of the reserves? The Shell report seems to take this into account when discussing how much oil there is left, but let’s face it: The rate of economic growth and natural resource consumption resulting from third-world countries transitioning to free-market democracy is pretty darned unpredictable. We just don’t know.

Finally, while the free market is good for many things, it’s not a panacea:

[Also since 1970], air pollutants have declined by 29%, toxic emissions by 48.5%, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3%, and airborne lead by 97.3%.

Call me crazy, Mark, but I think the Clean Air Act may have had something to do with that. Go read Steven den Beste’s discussion of spoiling the commons for the reason why government has a vital role to play.

I have no intention to monger fear on this issue. Among the many things I don’t worry about when I crawl into bed at night is whether we’ll run out of oil in my lifetime. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to think about, however. Mark Steyn would be wise to give it a little more thought.

(If you want to give it a little more thought, go back to the beginning of this Shell article and read their excellent overview on the history and technology of exploration and production.)

Tribute to WTC victims as cleanup comes to an end

A somber tribute to our fallen brothers and sisters at Ground Zero, as the cleanup work finishes up.

We will never forget. May your families and friends find solace, and may we never have cause for this kind of ceremony again.

I can’t believe these guys get paid to write this crap

Two incredibly stupid columns by sportswriters about the prospect of a baseball strike. The first, by Kansas City writer Jason Whitlock, is probably better fodder for a hardcore libertarian than a squishy liberal like me, but I think even Ralph Nader would get a good horse laugh at howlers like this:

Critics of the owners say that if the game is in such bad financial shape, “Why don’t the owners exercise some financial discipline?”

It’s a legit question. But if you think about it, it’s not all that hard to understand.

You ever needed to lose weight? Has the doctor ever looked at your cholesterol level and told you to cut out the six-egg, five-cheese omelet you enjoy each morning? Has a doctor ever taken out a restraining order forbidding you to come within 100 yards of Hayes Hamburgers after midnight?

OK, let’s say you’ve never needed to lose weight. Have you ever tried to get out of a painful, destructive relationship with someone you’re really attracted to? Has one last sleepover ever turned into 10 more months of dysfunction and an unwanted pregnancy?

You feel me?

Just because the owners lack the discipline to correct the problem doesn’t mean that there’s no problem.

Good Lord, man, we’re talking about men who’ve made gazillions of dollars in other businesses. They did so by being smart, savvy, ruthless, and financially disciplined. How do you think the Board of Directors at MegaCorp would react if the CEO came to them and said “Look, I know we really need to control our costs, but I just can’t seem to stop blowing millions on high-risk, low-yield ventures. Could you maybe see about getting some laws passed to make what I’m doing illegal?”

The owners’ lack of discipline, which is really a lack of hiring the right general managers and letting them do the job as it is anything else, is the problem. The day that owners and their GMs realize that there are far better and cheaper alternatives to throwing ten million bucks at stiffs like Derek Bell is the day that baseball’s financial problems (as cried about by Beelzebud and his cronies) disappear. Any business that needs to be rescued from its inability to hire the right people and make smart financial decisions is one that deserves to fail.

Whitlock finishes up by firmly supporting the owners’ calls for a hard salary cap, “legitimate” revenue sharing, and an end to guaranteed contracts:

If the owners take the proper, hardcore negotiating position and my sportswriting colleagues properly explain what’s at stake, I believe baseball fans will side with the owners, and there will be little fan hostility.

Well, if you’re going to write about these issues without having the faintest clue about the facts behind them, then yeah, you could probably swing a bunch of gullible fans to your side. Perhaps if you actually did some research, like maybe reading The Baseball Prospectus once in awhile, you might learn a thing or two about baseball’s finances. Why, just today, there’s a great article about how the Angels, a team that got $9.5 million revenue-sharing dollars for being in the small market of Los Angeles, could redo its books to conform to Selig standards and really rake in the dough. And over on an obscure site called ESPN, there’s this article which shows just how solvent most clubs really are.

Research, buddy. All the kids are doing it these days. Try it sometime and see.

A different kind of ignorance is displayed by St. Petersburg’s Gary Shelton:

Look around. It is May, and how many teams have a realistic chance to win the World Series? Three? Four? How many teams have a chance to win next year’s World Series? And the next? About the same number? And so it goes.

Now look at the NFL. How many teams have a chance to win the 2005 Super Bowl? Pretty much everyone except the Bengals.

That, more than anything, is what is wrong with baseball.

Joe Sheehan neatly demolished that argument in March:

The 16-game schedule, and 12-team playoffs, enhance the perception of competitive balance in the NFL.

An MLB team that is 60-80 after 87.5% of the schedule is completed is playing the kids and looking towards next year. An NFL team that is 6-8 after 87.5% of the schedule is completed is often a two-game winning streak from the wild card.

This is perhaps the biggest factor in the way the two sports are perceived. People think of the NFL as having great races in which everyone has a chance, but there’s simply a limit as to how much separation you can create in 15 weeks. If MLB played a 16-game season, you’d not only have tremendous races, but a lot more turnover. Add in six playoff spots per league, which lowers the bar for success, and you have a huge pileup between 9-7 and 7-9 that looks like a “great race,” but is actually just a function of structure.

I can’t emphasize this enough: NFL competitive balance is as much perception as it is reality. Expecting MLB, with 162 games and one wild-card spot, to shape itself to meet the perception of another league is a bad idea

Another thing to keep in mind is that NFL teams get a lighter schedule, as well as higher draft picks, for finishing with losing records. They call it parity, and a lot of people call it boring. But hey, they have a salary cap, so they must be doing something right.

Shelton goes on to display his ignorance of baseball:

Those who do care, however, always seem to have the same question when they ask about the Rays. It’s a question asked with pained eyes and a pleading voice.

“Is there any hope?”

Sure, if you want to be the Minnesota Twins.

Sure, if you want to be the Oakland A’s.

Sure, if you want to trade in fifth place for, say, a nice little season where you finish third.
But if you’re talking about winning the World Series? About leveling the playing field with the Yankees? About reaching the World Series? No, there isn’t a lot of hope.

What, exactly, are you saying here, Gary? Last I checked, the A’s were in the playoffs the last two years, and were it not for Terence Long losing a fly ball in the sun, would have battled the small-market Mariners for the 2001 pennant. The Twins were in first place most of the year last year and are in first place now. They have at least as good a chance of winning the AL Central as the White Sox, another “small market” team even if they are from Chicago. And the lesson of the 1987 Twins and 1997 Marlins is certainly that once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.

The Rays are the same as the Royals, who are the same as the Tigers, who are the same as the Padres, who are the same as the Pirates, who are the same as the rest of baseball’s great unwashed. None of them has a chance. Either.

Anyone who thinks that a well-run organization like the Padres, which is maybe a year away from being a serious force in the NL West, is the same as the Devil Rays and the Royals, two of the worst-run franchises in the league, is smoking crack. Even the Pirates are starting to head in the right direction, now that they’ve dumped Cam Bonifay. Don’t be shocked if the 2003 Pirates pull a surprise like the 2001 Twins did.

People seem to have grown weary of it. Attendance is down 5 percent. Remember those spanking new ballparks that were supposed to be the place to be? People aren’t going there, either. Pittsburgh built a new park, and its attendance is down 33 percent, according to Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal. In Milwaukee, where another new park opened last year, attendance is down 27 percent. It’s down 25 percent with the Rangers and their star-studded lineup, for goodness’ sakes.

Attendance is down in these cities because the teams have not been successful. Fans like winners. The novelty of a new stadium wears off if the team inhabiting it sucks. Surely a Devil Rays fan can grok that.

Oh, and the Rangers’ “star-studded lineup” includes legit All-Star A-Rod, the 38-year-old (albeit still productive) Rafael Palmeiro, the rehabbing Juan Gonzalez, career scrub Todd Greene filling in for the aging Ivan Rodriguez, overacheiving 33-year-old Herb Perry, and four guys with season and career OPS in the .700 range. In Hollywood terms, that’s star-studded the way a Love Boat reunion movie is.

I can’t believe these guys actually get paid for this. Look, if you want to get more mad at the players for striking than the owners for their perfidy and cluelessness, go right ahead. The players are more visible, and Lord knows plenty of them deserve our scorn. But for the love of Bart Giamatti, please understand the issues before you spout nonsense about finances and attendance and whatnot. Don’t make me have to mock you, too.

Strange times

You know we’re living in strange times when George Will comes out against arming pilots.

They’re baaaaack

So says Charles Dodgson about the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Yahoo! tells us of an “Afghan warlord with links to Iran and Pakistan’s powerful spy agency” who’s calling for (wait for it) a “holy war” against the US. That’s a nice, cheery thought, isn’t it?

Let’s be clear about something. If Afghanistan falls back into lawlessness and becomes once again a haven for Islamofascist thugs bent on our destruction, then all of the praise and good will that President Bush has received since the initial military intervention there is hereby cancelled. This will be a monumental failure if it happens, and this time there will be no one to blame but the man in charge.

I see a lot of vehicles with bumper stickers on them that say “This time FINISH THE JOB”. If we haven’t, and if more Americans die because we haven’t, I for one will want to know why.

Why intelligent design is stupid

Max Power is full of good stuff today about the intellectual dishonesty and outright ignorance surrounding intelligent design. See here, here, and here for Max’s devastating critiques.

It’s important to note, as Max does, that the so-called debate over intelligent design is not about science but about a political agenda. Proponents of ID like Phillip E. Johnson opposed evolution for a long time before Michael Behe first published his book about “irreducible complexity” in 1996. ID is just the latest stick they’ve grabbed onto in their attempt to beat back evolution.

The style and substance of dog breeding

In response to my earnest plea, Greg Hlatky gives an excellent overview of the dispute between rival Jack Russell Terrier orgainizations. Thanks, Greg!

Foul ball!

Joe Sheehan writes about the first time he got a foul ball in 26 years of attending professional baseball games. I’ve gotten two, one in 1997 at a minor league game in Bend, Orgeon, and one last year at a Nippon Professional Baseball League game in Tokyo. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that Tiffany got that ball. And as long as I’m stickling for accuracy, I should note that she didn’t exactly catch it. Read it for yourself and see.

Father Pat

My 53-year-old cousin Patrick Kuffner just celebrated his first Mass as a newly-ordained priest. The Staten Island Advance has a short story here about how at the age of 50, after a 20-year career as a teacher and principal, he decided to enter the seminary.

When I was a wee lad at Sacred Heart Elementary School in the early 70s, my grandmother as well as Cousin Pat taught there. Nana wound up as my second-grade teacher, which is the sort of thing that could be bad but was actually a very good experience. Pat taught science in the upper grades. I transferred to a public middle school which had what are now called “gifted and talented” programs before I got the chance to have a second family member as my teacher.

The picture below was originally in the story but apparently got lost in the archive. No matter, I saved a copy. Congrats, Father Pat!

Barry v. Babe

Eric Alterman, another Professional Journalist Type with sucky permalinkage, asks the following:

Why don’t people like [Barry Bonds]? Is it race? Is it the fault of some liberal media conspiracy I haven’t even heard of? I don’t get it. Bonds is about to become the only player ever to hit 500 homers and steal 500 bases. Guess who the only guy ever to reach 400 of each is? Whoa, trick question. It’s Bonds. He’s nearly 40 percent better by this crucial measurement than his closest competitors.

Just what is the problem, people? Where’s the excitement?

‘Splain, please.

There is a Media Conspiracy, Eric, but it’s not a liberal one. It’s a sportswriter one, led by the likes of Rick Reilly at Sports Illustrated. Bonds is not the most sociable player in the league. One could reasonably describe him as surly, or a jerk if one was not feeling charitable. This has led to sportswriters denigrating Bonds’ acheivements, overplaying his mediocre postseason stats, calling him “selfish”, and otherwise slurring one of the game’s alltime greats.

It’s odd, because sportswriters generally love to equate on-field accomplishments with character, which is why so-so players with reputations for being good in the clubhouse are frequently lauded even when they’re a clearcut waste of a roster slot. Barry Bonds may well be a jerk – I have no way of knowing for sure – but it takes a lot more than that to diminish what he has done in his career.

An interesting question to ask would be how many scribes who denigrate Bonds for being churlish also champion the causes of Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, two players who admitted to committing grievous crimes against the game? It’s hard to keep up with all the double standards sometimes.

Anyway, there is no good explanation beyond this. Hopefully, some day when Bonds is in the inner circle at Cooperstown, all this pettyness will be long forgotten. In the meantime, tune it out and enjoy watching him play. You won’t see the likes of him again any time soon.

Staten Island bloggers located

MEL of Ishbadiddle tells me in the comments to my earlier post that there are now two Staten Island bloggers on the NYC Bloggers map. I’ve also been invited to add myself as an expatriate if I choose, and I may just. Thanks, MEL!

Search for the terrorist, and not the weapon

From Dane Carlson comes this article on Israeli security tactics and methods. The 9/11 attacks have led to closer ties between American and Israeli businesses and law enforcement.

Israeli security experts don’t much care for our airport screening system either:

Israeli specialists have a low regard for American security searches. They say they tend to cause unnecessary discomfort for travelers, while being prone to missing potential assailants. “The United States does not have a security system, it has a system for bothering people,” [security consultant Shlomo] Dror says.

“The difference between the Israeli and American systems is that we are looking for the terrorist, while the Americans look for the weapons,” he adds.


But Dror adds that Israeli methods, even if fully adopted, will not stop all attacks. “There is no 100 percent in security. If you want 100 percent security on flights, every passenger has to take all his clothes off, have his suitcase checked, and be handcuffed and tied to his seat. For sure this can never be. The idea is to enable people to continue their lives while making an attack less possible.”

Now where have I heard that idea about flying naked before?

Pervez Musharraf! Pervez Musharraf!

File13 strikes again, with his Clarence Carter tribute to Pervez Musharraf. Please be sure to finish your beverage before reading. You have been warned.

What really makes this funny for me is that I used to know this nerdy little guy who was fond of karaokeing this song in the persona of Bill Clinton. That’s what I visualized while reading this piece. Nerdy little guy impersonating Bill Clinton singing about Pervez Musharraf stoking it. Put that in your hookah and smoke it.

From the Spam Files

An advertisement for a “New Cell Phone Stun Gun!” All I can say is if you’re gonna use that thing while driving your SUV, please be sure you don’t press the wrong button. The freeways around here are hazardous enough, thanks.

Trend or fluke?

Business columnist Scott Burns writes that for the first time since 1976, the percentage of working mothers with infant children declined. He gives some interesting data and raises some good questions about effect this may have if it is indeed a trend. Check it out.

And last and least, Staten Island

Pigs and Fishes points me to the NYC Bloggers site, where they have a cool subway map that shows how many bloggers live in each borough. Naturally, Staten Island, my point of origin, has no bloggers in it. We Staten Islanders were always more into the spoken and gesticulated word rather than the written word, I guess. Hell, even if I wanted to add myself to their map, you wouldn’t be able to tell where I really lived because they used an SIRT map, and my home turf of West Brighton is not near an SIRT stop. Here’s a NYC neighborhood map, from which you can click on either area 1 or 2 on the Staten Island piece to see where West Brighton is. Were I still there and if I wanted to identify myself as a NYC blogger, that’s where you’d have found me.

A little rabble rousing is good for the soul

The Fat Guy is calling for all civic-minded baseball fans to give Commissioner Beelzebud the cyber-finger by voting Montreal and Minnesota players onto the 2002 All Star Team. I think this is a fine idea, so consider this post to be an endorsement.

There is some historical precedent for this kind of gerrymandering – in 1957, fans of the Cincinnati Reds stuffed the ballot box and voted all eight Reds regulars onto the National League squad. The bad news is that this so incensed Commissioner Ford Frick (of Roger Maris asterisk fame) that he took All Star Game voting away from the fans. Fans didn’t get to vote again until 1970. But hey, real protest involves risk, right? So go forth and do your duty.

UPDATE: Even respectable mainstreamers like The Baseball Prospectus and ESPN’s Rob Neyer have mentioned this movement. Both pointed to this link, which has apparently gotten a fair amount of publicity. Get on board now while you still can.

Today’s weird search referral

Today’s weird search referral: “Kick his nutbag reduce tears”. I don’t even want to know.

The 80s really are back

I can’t believe I’m staring at the prospect of LakersCeltics in the NBA Finals. David Stern must be getting all verklempt at the thought. All I can say is that even if I have to relive that decade-long nightmare in the Finals, I’ll be able to cope because this year’s playoffs have been bloody fantastic. If anyone tells you the NBA is boring, they haven’t been paying attention.

Blogspot migration update

Congrats to Ain’t No Bad Dude Brian Linse on his new eponymous domain, which gives me the chance to dust off fifty-cent words like “eponymous”. Update your bookmarks, folks. I’ll be off Blogspot eventually, I promise.

Legendary player, entry level coach

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s alltime leading scorer, is the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm of the US Basketball League. He took that job because no NBA coaching opportunities were available to him, and he wanted to prove his ability. It’s a long ladder to climb, but I wouldn’t doubt him.

Victor Morales renounces Democrats

Victor Morales renounces Democrats, according to this story:

Victor Morales, who lost the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, said he will not run for office again as a Democrat.

“At this point in time, I am independent,” Morales said, citing what he called lousy treatment by established members of the Democratic Party.

“I wouldn’t run as a Democrat again,” Morales told the San Antonio Express-News for a story posted on the paper’s Web site Friday.

I’m sorry that Victor thinks he was treated poorly by the Democrats. The state party certainly didn’t roll out the red carpet for him. They believed that for all his populist appeal, Morales was never going to be an electable candidate, so they never supported him.

Thinking about Victor Morales and his three failed attempts to win office via Democratic nominations led me to ponder what the role and responsibility of the major parties is. The Democrats, especially now that they are the minority party in Texas, are in the business of finding candidates they think can be elected. Given that Texas isn’t and probably never will be a state with a lot of liberal/populist types in it, that means candidates who are pro-business, pro-death penalty, anti-gun control, and generally anti-tax. That includes former Governor Ann Richards, still a darling of the old-style liberals around here, who never once granted clemency in a capital case during her time in Austin. You can represent certain districts as an unreconstructed liberal (Congressional District 18, home of Sheila Jackson Lee, comes to mind), but you’d have a better chance of opening a strip club inside the Alamo than winning a statewide ballot. Orthodoxy to the national party line is the kiss of death.

So what’s a liberal to do? I am and have always been a proponent of the half-a-loaf theory. I’ll take my chances with Ron Kirk, even though I know Kirk will do things that will make my teeth grind – for example, he’s on record saying he’d have supported Bush’s tax cut, an admission that nearly cost him my vote in the runoff. But Kirk has a chance to win, and he’ll still represent my views better than John Cornyn will. For that he gets my support. Victor Morales may have been an enticing candidate for Senate in 1996 – of course, next to Phil Gramm a potted plant would have been enticing, but that’s beside the point – and he may well be closer to my views than Ron Kirk, but he wasn’t going to win. I’d rather have a chance at something than no chance at everything. It’s as simple as that.

Thus, while I’m sorry to see Morales go and I wish him well, the fact is that he was never going to be anything more than a novelty. I’m not going to mourn the loss of progressive liberalism in the Texas Democratis Party because it was always an illusion anyway. I’m going to work to get people who at least understand my point of view elected, and go from there. I will not apologize for that.

Canine club catfight!

Calling Greg Hlatky – there’s a lawsuit between rival Jack Terrier organizations over who’s the better custodian of the breed. As the owner of a purebred mutt, I have to say I don’t get it. Anyone got some words of wisdom here?

The musical fruit

Here’s an article my dad needs to read: A scientist at North Dakota State University is working on ways to reduce bean-induced flatulence. And they say there’s no good news nowadays.

Palestinian official speaks in Houston

From today’s Chron:

Dalal Salamah, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was in Houston on Friday to issue a plea for aid as well as understanding for fellow Palestinians.

“There is a need to talk about our situation,” Salamah said in an interview.

“Through the media, people are able to see the attacks and the damage, but the daily life — how people manage their daily lives. I want to paint a real picture of how they manage to live,” Salamah said.

Yes, let’s do take a look at it.

As she spoke Friday, the Israeli army was surrounding the Palestinian city of Ramallah with barbed wire, blocking what was a way to leave and enter Ramallah without passing checkpoints.

The move, according to international aid officials, is the first step in an Israeli plan to encircle all eight major cities of the West Bank, and their outlying villages, including Salamah’s home, Nablus.

“There is no semblance of normal life in the camps and villages now,” said Salamah.

“In Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, each city and refugee camp is separated from the others. Sixteen cities, totally separated from one another,” Salamah said.

“Some people who tried walking (from one village to another) to get milk and bread for their kids died,” she said. “They are suffering because they have finished their water, their own wells are empty.”

“No laborers may now go into Israel, or between Nablus, Jerusalem, or the other villages,” Salamah said. “They must stay in their villages.

Yeah, you unleash a few suicide bombers on someone and all of a sudden they get all security conscious. Imagine that.

“The students in the schools cannot get to the university. Ambulances may come to sick people, but they are forbidden from taking people in the ambulances, they must leave them there,” she said.

You don’t suppose the fact that ambulances have been used as cover and transportation for Palestinian gunmen has anything to do with that, do you?

Salamah said she wants to talk about those things, as well as “the difference between the national struggle (against Israeli occupation) and terrorism.”

“We condemn terrorism,” she said, adding that suicide bombings carried out in Israel “are acts of young people and some political parties.”

“It is condemned by me and by the Palestinian Authority. But how can we explain to the younger generation, they are not allowed to bomb themselves in Israel while the Israeli forces attack Palestinian villages and camps?”

We all know how those denunciations of terrorism by Arafat and the PA have done so much to curtail the suicide bombings. Perhaps if the bombers weren’t lauded as martyrs and if their families weren’t given thousands of dollars as a reward, that might help. Perhaps you could try explaining to the younger generation that the attacks are the result of the suicide bombs, that might help. Perhaps if your leadership weren’t committed to the total destruction of the state of Israel, that might help. I’m just saying.

I won’t have sympathy for your cause until such time as whoever is actually in charge there genuinely punishes those who aid and abet the suicide bombers. Put someone in charge who actively works to promote peace and stop violence, and then we can talk.

Tapped out

The 116-year-old Pearl Brewery in San Antonio has been closed for a year, and despite its prime location just north of downtown on the San Antonio River, no one has stepped up to buy the property.

Trinity University, my alma mater, is just north of the brewery on US 281. We’d drive past it every time we went downtown. What made the Pearl Brewery distinctive was the enormous Pearl Beer can that stood atop one of the buildings. There was a campus-wide scavenger hunt once in which that beer can was the biggest prize, but not too surprisingly no one bagged it. It wasn’t exactly the sort of thing you could strap to the roof of your car, after all.

I’m sad to see this piece of my past fade away. San Antonio has grown and developed quite a bit since I was there in the mid-80s. 281 between Trinity and Loop 410 was once basically empty. There was a big abandoned rock quarry just east of the freeway, bordering the ritzy Alamo Heights and Olmos Park neighborhoods. (San Antonio must have been quite the rock quarry city in its day, since the Trinity campus is built on another one.) It’s now a strip center. Every time I go back I’m amazed at how many things are there now that weren’t then.

I do hope someone does something decent with the Pearl property. The Riverwalk, built mostly on Henry Cisneros’ watch, has been quite the boon for San Antonio, so even with the large price tag attached I don’t think this will go unused forever. There’s money to be made there, and someone’s going to figure out how make it.

That’s a lot of contempt

A Beaumont man has been freed from jail after spending over four years in the clink on a contempt charge.

State District Judge Zeke Zbranek had refused to release [Odis] Briggs to visit his ailing wife or attend her funeral after she died March 29, 1999.

Zbranek said Briggs “held the keys” to his freedom — and state appellate courts agreed — if he would turn over financial records to show what happened to the $120,000 he admits swindling from 18 black families in Chambers County.

Briggs’ attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, David George, said he had not found anyone else in Texas held on a civil contempt charge longer than Briggs.

Defendant Briggs is also black, which led to an aborted intervention by Jesse Jackson:

In 1999, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a representative of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition interceded on “humanitarian” grounds to have Briggs released to see his sick wife, but were turned down by the courts. PUSH attorney Leonard Mungo called Zbranek an “instrument of Satan” and an example of a “national trend to incarcerate African-Americans unjustly.”

However, members of the swindled families wrote Jackson that he was fighting for the wrong side.

Edna Jensen, 92, who walks with a cane, praised Zbranek for “doing the right thing” to stop these families from being swindled twice — from their oil royalties and by Briggs. Mungo later offered to assist the families with their claims if they would allow Briggs to be released, but they refused.

That’s the thing about being an activist: It always helps to be on the right side of the issue.

Sauce for the gander

Max Power also points me to Dawn Olsen’s weblog, where she is currently running a poll on “the hottest, sexiest, Male blogger in the blogosphere.” (For some odd reason, I’m not in her list of choices. Must be an oversight.) So I have to ask – Where’s the poll to determine the hottest, sexiest Female blogger in the blogosphere?

If there’s actual interest in this, I’m willing to host the poll. (In the name of Science, of course. Any hits it may generate is merely of academic interest.) Send me nominations via comments or my email address and I’ll put something up. As with TAPped and their call for the best liberal blogs, feel free to nominate as many as you wish, including yourself.

Crisis over!

Crisis over! is the headline of this Slate piece, in which Tim Noah continues his fine dissecting of all the dire-yet-vague terrorism warnings that came out right after the revelations that Team Bush had quite a few facts at its hand regarding al Qaeda and possible attacks before 9/11. Here’s the thing that was never fully explained to me: If it was a bad idea for Team Bush to inform the public about vague, unconfirmed reports of possible terrorist activity before 9/11, why is it OK for them to do so now?

Told You So Dept.

Little Green Footballs notes that the Saudi PR campaign has been an abject failure. Way back on May 2, I wrote that “this misguided effort on the Saudis’ part would backfire on them”. So every once in awhile I do get a prediction right.

That makes a scary amount of sense

Steve at Happy Fun Pundit discovers how he got on a Republican fundraising mailing list. It’s pretty funny, so check it out. Via Virginia Postrel.

Another reason to need time travel

Max Power writes about a case in Australia where a tobacco company was held liable to a plaintiff because “the company had destroyed decades-old documents”. Says Max:

Document destruction when there’s an outstanding subpoena calling for the documents is one thing, and clearly illegal; document destruction when there’s outstanding litigation that will likely call for the documents is another, though generally agreed to be illegal when done with nefarious intent, and at issue in the Andersen case now. But here the court held that British American Tobacco’s destruction of documents with no litigation pending was illegal and sanctionable, because it was done in anticipation of future litigation against unknown parties that had yet to be filed!

The problem here is that this proves too much. All document destruction policies are in place, in part, to limit the expense of future litigation. If your company saves forty-year old documents, someday someone will sue you and want to look through those forty-year-old documents for evidence, and you’ll need to hire lawyers and paralegals and copying services to manage all that potential evidence at a cost that, if I had to guess, works out to about a buck a page. Most companies automatically delete e-mails for just such a reason. (I’m a litigator in my day job. I’ve sat in a warehouse and looked at forty-year old documents. I’ve also spent days of my life leafing through executives’ ancient personal e-mails because they were stored with their business e-mails.)

Meanwhile, BAT’s “discovery abuse” was sanctioned by prohibiting them from introducing contrary evidence in defense of their case, and they naturally lost the one-sided trial, as the plaintiff pointed to the evidence destruction as the evidence of wrongdoing.

I’ve been called on to help our legal department in a couple of litigations where they were required to turn over large volumes of email as part of discovery. One case required us to restore the mailboxes of five executives from each backup tape over a period of several months. Once that was done, I was called in to search through each days’ restored mailboxes for various keywords.

At the time, my company did not have a backup tape retention policy for email. We do now – each tape is kept for 30 days, then recycled. This is one reason why. You may think this is weaselly of us, but for an enterprise as large as ours, even if we never had to worry about getting sued, the sheer volume of tapes make storage an expensive nightmare. We already have a large building whose sole purpose is storing backup tapes. We have another vast room in our operations area that stores backup tapes for mainframe systems. It’s on a smaller scale than the giant warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but you get the same overwhelmed feeling when you walk in and see all of the old tapes.

More recently, I was asked to help one of our lawyers determine what backup tapes we had for various individuals from the 1996-1997 time frame. None of these people were on Exchange (our current mail platform) as yet, so I spent a few hours verifying that we hadn’t bothered to keep any PROFS or GroupWise backup tapes. And why should we? We’re talking backup tapes for email platforms that we no longer use, which in the case of PROFS lived on an operating system (VM) that we no longer use. What possible use could we have for them?

This is an incredibly stupid decision by the Australian court, and I sincerely hope it is not used successfully in America.