Sunday, March 14, 2004

A month and counting

I made my first blog post on February 14th at 7:54 pm. This blog is now officially over a month old. Granted, February is a short month, so while it's a month old, it's less than 30 days. I've received over 2100 hits in that time, averaging to more than 70 a day. However, if you look at my Sitemeter monthly readout, you'll see that the majority of these hits occured in two large spikes, one from a link from National Review's The Corner, and one from a link from Wall Street Journal's's Best of the Web. Still, it's not bad for my first month, and in between the spikes I generally get 25-35 visitors each day. I figure that my visits can't account for more than ten of those.

This post marks another first--it's the first post I'm making from my new laptop, over a wireless network. I hope this will lead to more blogging.

Weekly Webcomic Update

I'm sorry this is late, but as I've said before, I'm in Boston and my Internet access is limited. Anyway, some nice things are happening recently.

Sluggy Freelance -- Torg and Sam escape, making a run for it, Kent and Nana's plan to rescue Arminius gets sidetracked, and Arminius is left to his own devices.

Day by Day -- The crew goes hiking. As might be expected, they get lost.

It's Walky! -- Several disparate threads all go crazy at once. Enjoy the mayhem, the bloodshed, and being sent through the emotional wringer by the evil cartoonist yet again.

College Roomies from Hell! -- Dave and Roger have a long overdue talk, while Mike's busy sowing mayhem through his powers of deception.

General Protection Fault -- The simmering feud between Fred and Trent reaches a boil.

Schlock Mercenary -- The Dark Matter Entities (DaMEs) finally arrive and all the double-crosses become moot: Breya and Tagon are finally working together again.

New computer

Since none of you guys seemed to want to buy me a new laptop, I got one of my own. It's a Dell Latitude D600, 1.6 GHz processor, 512 MB memory, wireless internet, 40 GB hard drive, and a DVD/CD-RW drive. It's very nice. A friend was trying to sell it, brand new, and I was able to buy it off him for significantly less than the going price on Dell's website. He even allowed me to pay in installments.

And now that I have it, it looks like I ought to live-blog Ralph Nader's talk after all. I was hoping lack of interest, and laptop, would save me from that ordeal, but no such luck. Now if someone were to donate some money to me via the Amazon button on the left, at least I wouldn't feel so bitter about it. $3 would cover the price of the ticket.

Week in Review

These are the posts I put up this past week which I thought might be of interest to visitors.

Getting Traffic -- I point out some of the ways a new blog can drum up traffic.

Ethical Considerations in Quantum Computation -- I point out that my field of research has some associated ethical questions as well. Assuming people are bothered by me reading their credit card information off the Internet, that is.

Ralph Nader at U of R -- I offer to live-blog Nader's talk at U of R if someone buys me a laptop. Of course, I later buy my own laptop and offer to live-blog Nader for $3.

The Roe Effect -- I talk about the Roe effect, a pet theory of James Taranto at Best of the Web.

Quantifying the Roe Effect -- I calculate how much the Roe Effect may have shifted the electoral college. There are some problematic assumptions, but it's interesting to see how much the effect may be. I got a link from Best of the Web because of it.

Post-Christian Europe: How long will it last? -- Mark Steyn's beautiful column points out how far along the Roe Effect is in Europe, although his viewpoint is closer to Doc Rampage's, that abortion is a symptom rather than the cause.

Sharing the Addiction -- I'm trying to convince MIT's Graduate Christian Fellowship to start their own blog. I'll let you know how that goes.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Sharing the addiction

Some of you might be wondering what I've been doing on my trip to Boston. Well, part of what I've been doing, aside from hanging out with old friends, is trying to convince my old fellowship at MIT to start a group blog (thus the demonstration post below). I think it would be a neat idea, and give GCF a strong presence on the web and a stronger online community. Of course, I've also recommended that this blog focus on religion and not politics. If GCF takes my advice, I'll probably be a member of their blog at least long enough to get them up and running. This may involve some cross-posting and more articles on faith and theology. I'll let you know what happens.


This is a test to demonstrate how easy it is to put stuff online. See, I'm just like Glenn Reynolds.

Update: The link above was previously just a generic link to Instapundit, but I've changed it to point to the specific post I was thinking of when I put it up.

Back online

A friend's letting me use his computer to check e-mail and such, so I thought I'd write a quick post. The big news this weekend is the bombings in Spain. Others have already posted more and better than I'll be able to do, so check out Hugh Hewitt, Captain's Quarters, Instapundit, and Tim Blair. I'll just repeat Captain Ed's suggestion that we pray for Spain. Pray for comforting for the mourning, healing for the injured, for justice and for grace.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Road Trip

I'm travelling to Boston this weekend. I don't expect to have much Internet access there, so expect blogging to be light. Once again, if anyone wants to buy me that laptop, the situation might be different.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

I want my membership card

Paul Krugman has this to say on Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline:
If you like, the vast right-wing conspiracy isn't a theory, it's quite clearly visible to anyone who takes a little care to do his home work.

[Thanks to Tim Blair for the link]

What I want to know is where I can sign on to the VRWC. Karl Rove won't return my calls.

Post-Christian Europe: How long will it last?

Mark Steyn has a beautiful column today in The Spectator (registration required).
Maybe the collapse of the church and the looming demographic disaster facing Quebec and most of Catholic Europe is just another coincidence. But, for whatever reason, Europeans have less and less interest in God's first injunction, to "go forth and multiply". And, as a consequence, they'll enjoy their post-Christian EUtopia, but only for the two or three generations it lasts...

In his new book, Civilization and its Enemies, Lee Harris begins with the following observation: "Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long inured to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or their children sold into slavery by a victorious foe. That, before 9/11, was what had happened to us. The very concept of the enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary."

Very true. But other countries at other times have been made "forgetful" by civilised order. It's the particular form of civilisation that makes this bout of forgetfulness potentially fatal. In post-Christian Europe - where fertile women who not so long ago would have had three children by the age of 24 now have one designer child at 39, where social welfare programmes depend on a growing population, where the main source of immigration is from a culture that despises secularism as weak,short-sighted narcissism - societal "forgetfulness" isn't just a passing phase you can snap out of. In this situation, the Christian fundamentalists, Holy Rollers, born-again Bible Belters and Jesus freaks of America are the rationalists. It's the hyper-rationalists of secular Europe who are living on blind faith.

As I said, it's a beautiful column, read the whole thing. It ties in quite strongly to the Roe effect (more here and here). But whereas in the US, it looks like the domestic conservative and religious populations will grow while the secularist liberal population shrinks (in relative terms, at least), in Europe it is the immigrating Islamic population which are growing. A US governed by conservative Christians will maintain essentially the same rights and freedoms (despite what the Left would have you believe). The same cannot be said if the unassimilated Islamic groups come to power in Europe.

Update: Minor editing. I clarified that I meant unassimulated Islamic groups.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Quantifying the Roe Effect

Old Post: I originally talked about the Roe effect below.

It took me all day to do this, which explains why this is the only post today. I've been wondering about whether it's possible to quantify the Roe effect. According to Pia de Solenni's column in National Review:
Approximately 40 percent of American women under 45 have had at least one abortion. Twenty-five percent of all pregnancies end in abortion. Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, over 40 million abortions have taken place.

What I basically did was calculate what the 2000 population of each state would be if those 40 million had been born, then derive the electoral college representation for the revised population. Since I didn't have access to the complete statistics for abortions performed in each state, I used this source for the abortion rate per 1000 women aged 15-19. I took this rate to be representative, so that this rate times the total population of the state is proportional to the total number of abortions in the state over the last 30 years. (For state populations, I used the 1990 US census. Since the abortion rates were for the years 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000, I used the rates from the year 1988 for simplicity.) This gives me a set of numbers proportional to the number of abortions per state, which I normalize to 40 million. I then reapportioned the House seats for each state given the new population. Any statistician can point out the multitude of problems in this analysis: taking one year to be representative for an entire three decades (which ignores changes in demographics and abortion laws), assuming the rate for teenage girls is representative of the rate for all women, not accounting for population migration, etc. A lot of these would be solved if someone could point me to a simple listing of the number of abortions received by the residents of each state since Roe v. Wade. In any case, with my limited information, I've calculated what the electoral vote would have been in the 2000 election using the Electoral college as apportioned by the 2000 census (NOTE: The 2000 election used the apportionment of the 1990 census, so this result differs from the electoral votes the candidates actually won.), and what it would have been if the 40 million citizens had been born. This is assuming that each candidate won the same states (unlikely, considering the millions of extra voters) and received all the electoral votes from those states (not all states are winner-take-all). You'll note that if the election had taken place under the 2000 Census, Bush would have won 278 to 260. Whereas with the revised population, it would only be 270 to 268. In the table below, those states that voted for Bush are in red, and those that voted for Gore are in blue.

State Population (thousands) Electoral Votes Revised Population (thousands) Revised Electoral Votes
Alabama 4447 9 4916 9
Alaska 627 3 703 3
Arizona 5131 10 5662 10
Arkansas 2673 6 2903 6
California 33872 55 42067 59
Colorado 4301 9 4767 8
Connecticut 3406 7 4096 8
DC 572 3 814 3
Delaware 784 3 902 3
Florida 15982 27 18420 27
Georgia 8186 15 9055 14
Hawaii 1212 4 1485 4
Idaho 1294 4 1356 4
Illinois 12419 21 14200 21
Indiana 6080 11 6583 11
Iowa 2926 7 3198 6
Kansas 2688 6 2931 6
Kentucky 4042 8 4336 8
Louisiana 4469 9 4821 9
Maine 1275 4 1408 4
Maryland 5296 10 6353 11
Massachusetts 6349 12 7504 12
Michigan 9938 17 11589 18
Minnesota 4919 10 5379 9
Mississippi 2845 6 2994 6
Missouri 5595 11 6151 10
Montana 902 3 972 3
Nebraska 1711 5 1866 4
Nevada 1998 5 2255 5
New Hampshire 1236 4 1409 4
New Jersey 8414 15 10095 16
New Mexico 1819 5 2011 5
New York 18976 31 22953 33
North Carolina 8049 15 9130 14
North Dakota 642 3 684 3
Ohio 11353 20 12572 19
Oklahoma 3451 7 3758 7
Oregon 3421 7 3864 7
Pennsylvania 12281 21 13745 21
Rhode Island 1048 4 1179 4
South Carolina 4012 8 4429 8
South Dakota 755 3 793 3
Tennessee 5689 11 6237 10
Texas 20852 34 22760 33
Utah 2233 5 2327 5
Vermont 609 3 684 3
Virginia 7079 13 8110 13
Washington 5894 11 6723 11
West Virginia 1808 5 1919 5
Wisconsin 5364 10 5825 10

CandidateCurrent Elect. College TotalRevised Elect. College Total

Update: Talk about irony. I posted this on what La Shawn Barber notes is the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.

Update: It figures. I get a link from Best of the Web and it's on a post where I messed up the Old Post, New Post scheme. It's fixed now.

Update: One of my commenters says that unless I can show that women who've had abortions have less children overall (in other words, that they don't make up for the aborted children with children later in life), then my statistics don't hold. He has a point, but it would be hard to separate that from other correlations. I think the analysis is valid as long as the abortion is treated as a form of contraceptive. The Alan Guttmacher Institute argues that most women have more children than they want, and abortion is a necessary means for keeping that from happening. Doc Rampage argues that abortion is a symptom, not a cause, of lower family size with some groups. I'd be interested in seeing more data on this, if anyone wants to point me in the right direction.

It seems like everyone has a blog these days

It looks like even sentient slime molds have beat me to blogging.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The Roe Effect

James Taranto at Best of the Web on Opinion Journal has been talking about the Roe effect for a while now:
Our theory is that abortion is making America more conservative than it otherwise would be.

We base this on two assumptions. First, that liberal and Democratic women are more likely to have abortions. Second, that children's political views tend to reflect those of their parents--not exactly, of course, and not in every case, but on average. Thus abortion depletes the next generation of liberals and eventually makes the population more conservative. We call this the Roe effect, after Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

It's not the sort of thing that should make conservatives happy. If conservatives are gaining in relative numbers, we should find it appalling that it's happening because of state-sanctioned murder, no matter that we've done our best to fight it every step of the way. While Mr. Taranto initially presented this as a theory sans facts, he's begun to gather facts and figures which back him up, as his most recent column shows. Personally, I found this hard to believe initially, especially since the impression I have is that most women who have abortions are teenage girls. This skews things significantly, since many of them are scared and seeking a quick solution rather than sticking with their values. Many are pressured into it by boyfriends and parents. Those who do carry the pregnancy to term often give the baby up for adoption, and the political beliefs of the adoptive parents aren't correlated to those of the birth mother. Again, these are impressions rather than hard numbers. However, Mr. Taranto's column does show a correlation between liberal beliefs and abortion rates for girls aged 15-19 on the state level. This is something I can more easily believe, since we're now talking a correlation between the society's attitude toward abortion and the rate at which pregnant teenagers attain abortions. A frightened teenager is more likely to act against her personal beliefs and get an abortion if the community in which she lives is accepting of the practice. I think Mr. Taranto's conclusion that the red states are growing in population more rapidly than the blue states may very well be the case. As a reader points out in a newer James Taranto column,
The main impact in liberal states is the invisible impact on representation, because they are growing more slowly than conservative ones. Between the 1990 and 2000 censuses alone, six of 20 Gore states lost representatives, and only one (California) gained. The result is that Gore would lose 278-260 under new apportionment; the margin in 2000 (before a faithless District of Columbia elector abstained) was 271-267.

Working backward, if he carried the same states, Gore would have won under the apportionment systems of 1980 (271-267) and 1970 (278-260). That's also a 36-member swing in House representation for the red states after Roe, which is greater than the Republican margin of control.

I'll need to work through the numbers more carefully (my initial, admittedly naive, calculations aren't in line with the dramatic shift in reapportionment). While this is certainly nothing to gloat over, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that abortion, like many of the great evils of the twentieth century, is ultimately self-defeating.

New Post: I calculate the change in electoral votes due to the Roe effect above.

Doc Rampage Writes

My own web-published fiction inspired Dave at Doc Rampage to post some of his own. Unfortunately, it's only a small segment, but it's good stuff nonetheless. He appears to have a taste for Greco-Roman culture similar to my own.

The Hatch Amendment -- who came up with it first?

Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review is wondering who first came up with the Hatch Amendment proposal, himself or James Taranto of Best of the Web. If he'd been reading my blog, he'd know that pretty much everyone and his brother proposed something along these lines at some point.

Volokh and Hatch's FMA

Old Post: My last post on this issue is here.

Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy has come out in support of Orrin Hatch's Federal Marriage Amendment. Weakly, with plenty of caveats, to be sure, but still it's nice to see.

New Post: More on this here.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Kerry and the Black Vote

Old Post: I first pointed out that this election year provides an opportunity for Bush to make inroads with African-Americans here.

Yet another reason that the Black vote may be in play: Kerry's ineptness.
"John Kerry is not a black man — he is a privileged white man who has no idea what it is in this country to be a poor white in this country, let alone a black man," said Paula Diane Harris, founder of the Andrew Young National Center for Social Change.

(Thanks to Captain Ed for the link.)

Carnival of the Bush Bloggers

This week's Carnival of the Bush Bloggers is up on Blogs for Bush. See what the Bush bloggers have to say about recent issues. My post on letting the state legislatures decide the gay marriage question made it. I also liked La Shawn Barber's comments on the judiciary memos... in fact, I liked her blog so much I added her to my blogroll. This wasn't based just on this post, though. I only add blogs to my blogroll when I find myself going back to their site time and again over at least a week--I had already seen the post in question before the Carnival went up. Check out her site, La Shawn Barber's Corner.

Ralph Nader at U of R

Ralph Nader is coming to the University of Rochester, where I work, to speak about Consumer Advocacy on March 24th. Normally, I'd rather pull my own teeth without the benefit of anesthetic than go to a talk by Ralph Nader, but I'm a blogger now, which means I have responsibilities. I'm still trying to live down the fact that I didn't even hear about John Edwards's visit to Rochester until after it had made the news due to his total lack of disability etiquette. So I should go and report back to you guys. Post in comments if you want me to go, or if you have any specific questions you want me to ask him. I might even be able to live blog the event if someone wants to buy me the laptop on my Amazon Wish List.

New Post: It looks like I will indeed be blogging Ralph Nader, and it might even be live.

Fire Reviewed

Doc Rampage has given me my very first online review of Fire. He liked it. Fire is free, and will likely remain so forever (or at least until I have to start paying for online storage space). I can't say the same about the sequel, assuming I ever finish writing it. Hey, we engineer/blogger/writer types have to eat too.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Ethical Considerations in Quantum Computation

I was going to comment on President Bush's Bioethics Council, but then I thought I should start closer to home.

I have a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, which generally means that I am either a professor or a researcher. In my case, I am a researcher who runs experiments and analyzes the data. My area of research is quantum computation, as you may have figured out from other things I've said around here. Quantum computation has its own ethical dilemma. To date, we've discovered that it's very good at two useful applications, performing unordered searches and factoring large numbers. The first may be useful, while the second is definitely useful. It's much easier to find a prime number and multiply it by another large prime number than to factor a large product of primes. When I say much easier, I'm talking about it taking the same computer a few seconds to do the finding and multiplying, versus a few million years to do the factoring. This sort of one-way problem forms the basis for public key encryption (although it is of course more complicated than that), such as that used in RSA, the encryption protocol used to transmit information on the Internet. For more information on RSA, check this FAQ from the sci.crypt newsgroup. A quantum computer with a sufficient number of qubits could factor a large product of primes faster than a classical computer create it in the first place. If someone were to produce such a computer today, all Internet transactions would suddenly be vulnerable.

You can tell what use people are planning for a quantum computer by looking at where the funding is coming from. Right now, the people giving out the funds are the Army Research Office, the Defense Department, and, oh yes, the NSA. It's clear that the main objective is decryption (or, perhaps, to prove that a quantum computer is so far from realizable that public key encryption is secure).

In my experience, very few scientists working on quantum computation projects think about the ethical implications at all. For the most part, they console themselves with the fact that a quantum computer capable of factoring a decent sized key is so far in the future that by the time it gets here (~25 years or so), we'll have better encryption (hopefully, quantum encryption). That may or may not be the case. I've heard that the federal government may be pushing for a five-year program to develop a quantum computer that can factor 128-bit encryption. (I've been looking for confirmation but I haven't found it yet.) This is wildly ambitious--I don't think it will happen--but how many scientists, who previously considered quantum computation safe because it was decades away, would jump at the chance to partake of this funding?

For the record, I have thought a bit more in-depth about quantum computation, partially because I took part in a discussion group with MIT's Graduate Christian Fellowship based on the book Responsible Technology. To a large degree, the questions about developing a quantum computer revolve around who would get it. Quantum computers aren't going to be available on the open market anytime soon, and they'll probably be as regulated as nuclear power. So, assuming I helped create a quantum computer, would I trust the NSA to use it wisely? I certainly don't mind them cracking a terrorist's e-mail, but I wouldn't want them reading mine. So, I don't think that the technology itself is wrong, but I am concerned over how it would be used.

Dave Barry on the Deficit

Dave Barry's newest column takes on the budget deficit in a convenient question and answer format:
Q. But surely we -- the baby boomers and senior citizens -- are not going to selfishly steal the future from our kids, and generations yet unborn!

A. Of course not! We're going to let the government steal it for us.

Q. Well, OK, then! It sure is a good thing that young people and generations yet unborn do not, as a rule, read the newspaper.

A. I'll say! If they ever found out about this, they'd be putting anthrax in the nation's Metamucil supply!

One thing Dave Barry forgets is that while we do not read the newspaper, we young people do read the Internet, so as long as his columns are posted online, we will find out about these things.

Getting traffic

Old Post: This train of thought started below.

Doc Rampage joked a bit about how much traffic I get in a comment. I'm hardly high traffic, but I've done pretty well for being less than a month old. My average daily traffic these days is 25-35 visitors according to Sitemeter. It's partly luck and partly salesmanship.

Most of my traffic probably comes from Blogs for Bush. It's the only blogging consortium I'm on so far, although I'd like to join up with blogs4God, but they prefer blogs that are at least a month old. Joining these sorts of consortiums are probably the best way to gain traffic and make a name for yourself. Consortiums, aside from linking to all the blogs on their main page, usually ask their members to include some form of their blogroll as well. Blogs for Bush is especially good for this because it uses a rolling blogroll that puts the blog with the most recent update at the top, which means I'm pretty much guaranteed a few hits every time I post. Of course, just joining isn't enough... participating in Carnivals, posting in comments (with links to specific posts), and using trackback with those blogs that have it are all good ways to get attention.

Carnivals are pretty much consortium specific, but comments and trackbacks are good ways to get attention whenever they're available on a higher traffic blog. Then, of course, there's occasionally selling a post to one of those high traffic blogs by e-mailing a link. I haven't been doing that too much recently... the odds are pretty low considering the amount of e-mail they get. Sometimes you get lucky, though.

Also note that some blogs also have a reciprocating policy--you put them in your blogroll and they put you in theirs. Some of them use automated blogrolls to do this, powered by a service such as Blogrolling.

And of course, I post at a pretty good clip. I have something new every day, even if it's just a note that I don't have much today. Aside from giving visitors a reason to check back often, just in case I updated, it puts me at the top of those rolling blogrolls more often.

Don't overdo it, though. It's frustrating when you have good material that nobody's reading, but there's no point in getting attention when you don't have good material. You can get them to come, but they won't come back. Right now, I'm really not making much effort to sell my blog. A comment when I have something on my blog that's relevant to someone else's blog post, a trackback ping whenever I refer to someone else's blog in one of my posts, and participating irregularly in the Carnival of the Bush Bloggers. I like the traffic I currently get, and I want to make sure those who are coming by have something worth reading, which means I better stop with these self-indulgent posts about blogging and get back to politics. I never really did rake Glenn Reynolds over the coals properly...

Week in Review

Here's a quick review of the topics I touched on the previous week.

Quantum Computation -- I finally introduce the topic of quantum computation, with a quick introduction and pointers to some of my papers.

Skeptics Anonymous -- I complain about the misuse of this resource made available by MIT's Graduate Christian Fellowship.

The Complementarity of the Sexes -- I point out that men and women are, you know, different, and that in and of itself may make heterosexual marriage advantageous as a social unit.

The Bioethics Council -- After a week of promises, I finally get around to commenting on the controversy surrounding the President's Bioethics council.

What is a qubit?
-- I talk a bit more about quantum computation, explaining what a qubit is.

The Blogosphere -- I comment on some of the utilities out there that link blogs together, especially those which have gotten me visits.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Bhuwan Singh

This post was written on May 11, 2004. The timestamp was set to put this post at the top of this page in the archives, since this seems to be the entry point for people looking for information on Bhuwan Singh.

I've gotten a lot of hits on this page from people looking for information about Bhuwan Singh. I'm afraid I don't know any more about his death than anyone else, but you can find some information here. The only other bit of information I have is that he was found in the afternoon, and he was seen in the Ashdown dorm around 7 am. The post that brought you here is this one, which contains a list of some of the papers our lab produced, one of which we were co-authors on.

Weekly Webcomic Update

And once again, I take a break from the usual politics to talk about webcomics.

Sluggy Freelance -- Pete draws a huge, beautiful Sunday comic that is unfortunately so confusing that he spends the next several days trying to explain it. It's a rehash. With stick figures. There ought to be a law against that. At least the ghost of Secret Cranky Office Temp is doing well. Once that's out of the way, Sam makes a return visit to the farm and runs into the vampires.

Day by Day -- Chris Muir takes on John Kerry, Corrine Brown, and relaxed fit jeans.

It's Walky! -- Walky and Joyce make up, Sal makes a mistake. As Jason would say, "Crikey! Every time I think that girl's about to make some sense out of her life, she bloody well screws it up again." Sorry, I don't do the bad British dialect as well as Mr. Willis.

College Roomies from Hell! -- Marsha and April fight each other to unconsciousness, Margaret dreams of Dave, Dave dreams of Blue, and Roger tries to keep Dave's insides from becoming his outsides.

General Protection Fault -- Trent installs Wi-Fi on GPF's network and Sharon goes ballistic.

Schlock Mercenary -- Xinchub arrives with plans to clean up after his liabilities. Of course, first he has to make them liabilities, otherwise he doesn't get to have the fun of doing the clean up. But does Jeevee have a plan for yet another double-cross?

The Blogosphere

One of the fun parts about having a blog is all the tools that link blogs together. One thing that I like to do is check out all the places that are linking to me. There are lots of way to do that.

First, there's Sitemeter. They're the ones who provide the counter for this site. The counter has lots of features, but my favorite is that it lets me track visits by referrals. This lets me tell who's linking to me. I don't know how reliable it is, because sometimes I've traced it back to blogs where I couldn't find a single link to Back of the Envelope, but it's fun to check out. Most of it comes from other blogs that have me on their blogroll, usually Blogs for Bush who automatically reference me through the Blogs for Bush blogroll (see, I knew joining up would get me more hits).

Next, there's Technorati, which finds all the blogs linking to a site, even non-blog sites. Try it out on your own blog, or any random webpage. My blog has 28 blogs linking to it, mostly Blogs for Bush again.

Third, there's Blog Pulse. Blog Pulse looks for key phrases that are occuring with some frequency on blogs. I got a hit from someone looking at the phrase social security system. This post somehow managed to turn up at the top.

Fourth, there's the venerable Truth Laid Bear Blogosphere Ecosystem, where I'm still in the lowly realm of the Crawly Amphibian. I hope someday to make it up to Primate, or even--dare I dream?--Mortal Human. Unfortunately, there's no way this Blog is big enough, nor am I dedicated enough, to launch myself into the realm of Higher Beings, where Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan dwell.

Well, now that I've had fun pointing out all the ways you can find this blog on the Internet, which helps to lead plenty of people here who'd otherwise never have an interest in anything I have to write, what's my point? Well, I did want to point to a few people who've linked to me. For example, Alessandra, whose blog, Reflections in Order Not to Go Insane, is just a day older than mine, comments on my article on the Complementarity of the Sexes, both in a blog post and the comments section; it's only the fourth comment I've gotten overall. Then there's The Pryhills, which clearly has very different ideas than I about the Federal Marriage Amendment. I'm not quite sure how I ended up on its blogroll, considering.

Of course, when a big blogger links to me, it has a cascading effect. When Captain Ed found my Why Iraq? post interesting, Slings and Arrows picked up on it (Although, he may have found it independently, but it's hard for me to imagine someone just browsing my blog without a pointer. I'm modest that way.). And I still haven't managed to find everyone who linked to my post on Dave Barry's Kerry DYKWIA story that started a Cornerlanche.

Update: Added a pointer to Alessandra's comment.

Update: I forgot to mention Technorati's Breaking News, which looks for references to hot stories. I got a few hits when I picked up on Orrin Hatch's proposed amendment.

New Post: More above.


I've been writing some fiction recently. As usual, it's hard to get started, but difficult to stop myself once I get going. Today's been one of those days of off and on writing. Ten minutes here, an hour there, another thirty minutes as I try to work out a particularly tangled thought. It's probably not the best way--I'd rather have a full two hours of uninterrupted writing--but since I write for pleasure, I often have more urgent things that need to be done. Plus, I'm just easily distracted. In any case, here's a sample:
The long shadows cast by the disappearing sun cast their darkness on his as he navigated the raised stepping stones that gave pedestrians some hope of staying out of the muck which covered the pave streets. Buildings loomed several stories high on either side of him, and it was already late enough to leave some particularly narrow stretches, where the overhanging buildings nearly hid the sun at high noon, in deep shadow. Aulus wished that Artura has the same system of street lamps as Novaro, but a few private homes had lamps, and those were only lit in anticipation of the return of the patrician master or mistress. No one wanted to waste lamplight on those wretched strangers still out as evening set in.

Aulus had to move quickly to the side as one of those wealthy patricians came by. Slaves carrying torches took the lead, followed by a tight knot of burly slaves with clubs around a litter, heavy velvet curtains blocking out the sights and sounds of the street. Not the smells, I bet, Aulus thought. Just then the overpowering perfume which served that purpose swept over him, its sick sweetness causing him to break out in a loud coughing fit. One of the thugs who guarded the litter glared at him, taking a step in his direction. Fortunately, the litter was moving too fast to give him a chance to indulge in a little violence, and he had to hurry after it as the rear torchbearers caught up to him and Aulus. He barely had time to breathe a sigh of relief when he heard the screaming.

It's rough, of course, and will go through three or four revisions before it's ready for public consumption, assuming it ever is. It's a continuation of Fire, on my website, which I suppose is as ready for public consumption as it will ever be. It can be found here. And frankly, I consider it highly unlikely that I will ever tire of pushing my fiction on my blog. You better get used to it.

Opposition to Gay Marriage among Black Churches

Old Post: It looks like I was onto something.

The opposition to gay marriage among Black churches is growing. As I suggested earlier, this works strongly to President Bush's advantage. More to the point, it's strongly to the advantage of the Federal Marriage Amendment. If Bush and the Republicans are crafty enough to go with Orrin Hatch's proposal, it can happen and happen quickly. As I said before, I'd like to make the Amendment a little stronger, to make it clear that no court can cram it down the throats of an unwilling populace, but I think he's on the right track. The political aftermath could be a catastrophic break between Black voters and the Democratic party, which could very well change the shape of American politics for the next few decades.

Friday, March 05, 2004

What is a qubit?

Old Post: I first discussed quantum computation in this blog here.

I'd like to take a moment to expand on the subject of quantum computation, and that means starting with the term "qubit." A qubit is a quantum bit, and it refers to any quantum system that has two states which can serve as zero and one. Examples include spin states of nuclei in a molecule, an electron's orbital states in an atom, photon polarization, or, in a system such as superconductors which exhibit macroscopic quantum coherence, current circulating in a loop. If it's quantum, it's been proposed as a qubit.

Not every quantum system makes a good qubit, however. The criteria necessary for a quantum system which can be used in a quantum computer were formalized by DiVincenzo. The requirements are the following:

First the two states, called the |0> and |1> states, must be measurable. It must be possible to tell the difference between them. This may seem trivial, but quite a few quantum states are difficult to differentiate.

Second, the states must be controllable. This means that one can first place the system in the |0> state accurately. Then, one must be able to rotate the qubit in order to achieve every possible state. The possible states are not just |0> and |1>. If a and b are complex numbers, such that |a|^2+|b|^2=1, a|0>+b|1> describes all the possible states of the qubit. Thus it is possible for the qubit to be in state |0> and |1> at the same time (called a superposition), as long as the proportions add up to 1. Since a and b are complex, it's not simply a matter of achieving the right proportions, but also the correct phase--the correct complex values.

Third, the qubit must be addressable. One needs to be able to decide which qubit to control and measure. If there's a solution filled with millions of identical molecules, and there's a way to rotate the oxygen atom nucleus in all the molecules at the same time, that's still only have one useful qubit (more precisely, it's an ensemble of that qubit). Now if it's possible to address the two carbon atom nuclei and the oxygen atom nucleus on each molecule separately, that's three qubits, and an ensemble of those three qubits. This is what is done in nuclear magnetic resonance quantum computing.

Fourth, one needs to be able to couple qubits together so that they affect one another. Thus one qubit will rotate only if another qubit is in a certain state. This is how one makes quantum gates.

Finally, one needs to be able to isolate the qubits from the environment. The environment, which means everything other than the qubits themselves, causes the qubits to decohere. Information is lost as the qubits dephase, drift from the intended phase, and relax, fall to the lowest energy states. If one waits long enough, qubits in just about any system eventually fall to |0>. Only if they remain in the desired states long enough to perform a useful calculation can you make a quantum computer.

And that's the second episode of quantum computation for the layman. Tune in next time as I tell you how you can build your very own quantum computer (with a $1 million grant and a Ph.D., of course).

Lileks on the Bush ads

Lileks has some comments on the "exploitive" ad:
Another suggested ad: “Some say that we shouldn’t haven’t invaded Iraq. Even after the discovery of mass graves. Even after the realization that the UN’s Food-for-Oil program diverted billions to Saddam’s pockets. Even after seeing how the terrorists have poured into Iraq to make a last desperate stand against freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Some say we should have listened to our allies.” A stock shot of Marcel Marceau in full-mime makeup, pretending to be trapped in a box. “Some people are a little too worried about what the waiter will think the next time they take a trip to Paris.” Shot of a Kerry lookalike in a bistro, saying “No, really, I’m Canadian.”

Reality check. That’s a cruel mean harsh nasty ad.

As they say, RTWT (read the whole thing).

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Kerry doesn't understand straight talk

Plenty of people have already noticed that Kerry seems unable to speak in a straightforward manner. From the looks of things, the problem's even deeper than that. Debra Saunders reports from an interview with Kerry:
Kerry's answer was that Washington insiders believed that Bush didn't mean what he said. "I think that you had a hard-line group (then Pentagon adviser) Richard Perle, (Deputy Defense Secretary) Paul Wolfowitz and probably (Vice President Dick) Cheney. But when Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker (former advisers to the first President Bush) weighed in, very publicly in op-eds in The New York Times and the (Washington) Post, the chatter around Washington and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell in particular, who was very much of a different school of thought, was really that the president hadn't made up his mind. He was looking for an out. That's what a lot of people thought."

What about what Bush said to the United Nations? That was "rhetorical," Kerry answered. And "a whole bunch of very smart legitimate people" not running for president thought as he did. "So most people, actually on the inside, really felt that (Bush) himself was looking for the way out to sort of satisfy Cheney, satisfy Wolfowitz, but not get stuck," Kerry continued. "The fact that he jumped and went the other way, I think, shocked them and shocked us."

So not only is Kerry incapable of straight talk himself, he can't recognize it when it asks for his support for a war.

Say what you will about Bush, he says what he means and he means what he says. Lots of people hate him for that. One wonders if the reason is that he exposes their own fraudulence.

9/11 and the Bush ad campaign

There have been some complaints about the use of 9/11 in President Bush's ad campaign. Having watched the ads in question, all I can say is "Huh?" Yes, 9/11 will be mentioned in Bush's ad campaign. It was the defining event of his presidency. You'd have to go through incredible contortions to sell his record--heck, to even talk about his record--without mentioning 9/11. The two ads I saw were hardly exploitive, and the image from 9/11 was a sad but hopeful picture of damaged buildings behind the American flag. Now, if you wanted incendiary, you could show the famous image of the plane ramming into the building, or pictures of those who chose to die by jumping rather than being burned alive. That might have disturbed me. The image shown was the least offensive image from 9/11 that you could find and still have something recognizable to show while mentioning it.

Update: Clarified what I meant about incendiary images.

Orrin Hatch takes my advice

Old Post: My last post on this matter is here

Orrin Hatch takes my advice. Well, not quite, but here is what he is proposing for the Federal Marriage Amendment(from National Review):
Civil marriage shall be defined in each state by the legislature or the citizens thereof. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to require that marriage or its benefits be extended to any union other than that of a man and a woman.

It's very close to what I suggested, although I would go slightly farther, and add after Constitution "nor any state constitution, nor federal nor state law." This, of course, requires an additional phrase at the end which says "unless explicitly stated otherwise." Hey folks, it might happen.

Update: For once, my Old Post, New Post scheme made my post less clear. For that reason, I repeated the Title at the beginning of the post.

New post: More here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Bioethics Council

I've been wanting to comment on this, but every day I get further behind on the required reading, so it's becoming hard. Let me put in a couple of less-than-well-thought-out words:

First, Glenn Reynolds may think he's mainstream, but he's not. His libertarian outlook gives him a strongly progressive view on science, more progressive than that of most scientists I know. Definitely more progressive than most of the general populace. Therefore, I have a hard time taking his worries about council stacking seriously, since I think balanced in his view is a far cry from balanced in most other views.

And that's really the question here. A balanced council is useful, but balanced in what sense? Balanced where? The council is meant to advise the President, and as such, it needs to share certain core assumptions with him. Anyone too far removed from the president's worldview would have difficulty giving him coherent advice. He wouldn't be starting at the same place.

Second, I am personally against embryo stem cell research. I think there is a danger here that embryonic human life will become a commodity, and that is a dangerous attitude. Moreover, there's reason to believe that adult stem cell research holds more promise, and I'm all in favor of that.

Third, many have taken great offense that Leon Kass has stated that greatly extending human life expectancy would decrease quality-of-life. Put aside the fact that immortality has long been a dream of humans everywhere, does anyone deny that this is true? We are already facing a runaway Social Security system because life expectancy has increased by ten years since its founding. What if it extended by another ten, or a hundred? While we work hard to prevent premature death, no one lives forever. The death rate is still 100%. I'm troubled that some people never question whether increasing human life expectancy is a good thing, that they insist that there is, in fact, a moral imperative to do so. Would we really be better off if we lived forever? Sure, I'd like to live an extra hundred years, but if I were given the opportunity, I wouldn't jump at it without considering the cost.

Strict Constructionism

Jonah Goldberg rightly criticizes those Democrats now arguing against a Federal Marriage Amendment on the basis that the Constitution is a sacred document that should not be amended. First, no one, least of all the Founders, thought the Constitution so perfect that it shouldn't be changed. That's why they included the amendment process in the first place, and then proceeded to add ten amendments(commonly called the Bill of Rights) immediately after it was accepted. Second, the Constitution, as originally written, definitely gets some stuff wrong, particularly slavery and voting rights. Now I'll grant that what these Democrats really mean is not that it shouldn't be amended, but that it shouldn't be amended lightly. I agree, and I'm quite reluctant to amend the Constitution for something like defining marriage. However, these same Democrats are all for judicial activism which treats the Constitution as a "living document" that can be interpreted by unelected judges to the point of incoherence. This is hypocritical and unconstitutional. To the extent that the Constitution can be changed, or even re-interpreted, by anyone by any reason, that's what the amendment process is there for. It is no harder to remove an amendment than to add it: both are hard, but both are determined by legislators who face re-election every 2-6 years. A change in public opinion can, within the course of a decade, remove an amendment. Removing a judicial interpretation is much harder than making it. Making a US Supreme Court judicial interpretation takes an agreement of five justices, while removing a judicial interpretation takes an agreement of five justices. It's much easier to make than an amendment, and theoretically easier to remove. Justices, however, don't go up for re-election. They serve for life, or retirement. A complete turnover of the court takes decades, and even then there's no guarantee that the new justices will be in line with popular will. They're selected by one man, the President, then approved by the Senate (which, until recently, pretty much rubber stamped the President's selections unless there were real ethical problems). That's one degree removed from popular choice, and since one president rarely appoints more than a couple of justices, the court tends to be mixed.

I can respect those who are against judicial activism and an amendment. I can even respect those against judicial activism while for an amendment. I have a problem with those who'd cede our national will to a few unelected judges, then argue against the Constitutional and democratic way to express that national will.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Complementarity of the Sexes

Some of those defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman argue from the basis of child-rearing. The two parent, male and female, model for a family is most able to raise well-adjusted children. This is true, but it fails to go as deep as it should. Why should children have a mother and father? What's so special about this combination? Well, they should have a male and female role-model. And why is that? What it all boils down to is the widely recognized truth that men and women are different. Many liberals would have us believe that the only difference between men and women is social, cultural, and some minor physical differences. Psychological studies show that there's more than that; that, in fact, men and women do think differently. They see the world in different ways. They interact with it differently, solve problems differently.

In fact, when God married Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, it wasn't solely so they could have children. Marriage makes two people one, not just in some metaphysical sense, but as a social unit which has a more complete understanding of the world than either one has alone, and who face it as a united front. A couple of two men or two women is incomplete. A single person, such as myself, is incomplete. There's not much that can be done socially or legally to change this reality.


Captain Ed takes Kerry to task:
For example, he's [Kerry] continually carped over and over that Bush "lied" to him when Kerry voted for military action in Iraq, and derided Bush's attempts to get UN support for an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein (which he spent five months negotiating before finally giving up on France and Russia). However, as soon as Haiti popped up, Kerry derides Bush for taking five days to get a UN resolution creating the multinational force that Kerry insisted Bush should have waited for in Iraq!
Kerry (D-Mass.) said he would have sent troops to Haiti even without international support to quell the revolt against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "President Kerry would never have allowed that to get where it is," Kerry said, though he added he's not "a big Aristide fan." (via Tim Blair)

This is part of a pattern of equivocations by a completely reactive Kerry, who keeps playing both sides of every argument.

You know, I'm not too sure I agree with the Captain here. I think Kerry is being consistent, at least in the sense that he's always for supporting the despot.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Slow Posting Today

Sorry, folks, I just haven't had much of a chance to post much today. I've wanted to address Glenn Reynolds' pro-cloning position (which is hardly surprising), and Joe Carter's response to it, but that'll have to wait until I have enough free time to read the relevant articles (as opposed to just the blog posts). Try me again tomorrow.

The Week's Carnival

Carnival of the Bush Bloggers is up at Blogs for Bush. I didn't have an entry this time, but I'll probably submit something for next week.

The Oscars

I didn't watch the Academy Awards (Watch three and a half hours of Hollywood people telling each other how wonderful they are for three and a half minutes worth of information? I don't think so.), but I did read Captain Ed's live blogging of them. It looks like The Return of the King won not just Best Picture, but every other category for which it was nominated. I'm happy.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Skeptics Anonymous

The Graduate Christian Fellowship at MIT, in which I participated during my graduate career, has a feature on its web page called Skeptics Anonymous. It's a web from that allows people to ask questions of our fellowship, which we try to answer and then post on our webpage or e-mail directly to the questioner. Unfortunately, it hasn't been in great repair since I left, so I can't guarantee you'll get a timely response if you use it.

The quality of the questions varies. Sometimes they are actually quite personal, and sometimes they are serious theological questions, often deeper than the questioner realized. Our first questioner was a Muslim who was more interested in converting us than reading the answers to his questions, which you could tell when he started repeating questions without commenting on the previous answers. Our most recent question (I'm still on the e-mail list) illustrates another major trend of the questions:

This question's just silly. Of course Jesus was crucified. It was a common form of execution in the Roman empire. Were there easier ways? Sure, but the Romans used crucifixion precisely because it was so drawn out and painful. To directly answer his question, the gospels go into quite a bit of detail about the crucifixion, and there's no doubt that this is the sort of death Jesus endured. Mark 15:24 uses the Greek word for crucifixion for what was done to him. If this person had given an e-mail address, it would be possible to reply to him directly. Since he didn't, we'd have to put the answer on the web page, which is supposed to act as a resource for people with serious questions, while this one... Well, I'm not responsible for Skeptics Anonymous anymore, so I can just ignore it. Which doesn't necessarily mean that I will.

Update: Somehow this got posted multiple times. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but it's fixed now.

Update: I edited the post to make it read better. Nothing substantive.

Homepage updated

I've updated my personal homepage, fixing broken links and the counter, adding some hopefully non-broken links, as well as some pictures and a short story, "A Stranger in the Library." The story had previously been on the webpage, at that time called "Trial and Error," until I took it down, revised it, submitted it to some print mags for publication, received some rejection notices, and then returned it to the webpage. I think the time I spent trying to get it published has improved it.

Quantum Computation

Well, I haven't said anything about quantum computation yet. Honest, if I had noticed anything in the news, I'd comment on it. Right now, there's plenty of buzz in the physics world, but there's just not much that would be very interesting to a layman. Here, in any case, is a quick explanation of what quantum computation is, so that my blog isn't completely devoid of anything about it:
In classical computers, information is stored in the form of bits which hold a value of either 1 or 0. Quantum computers have qubits which can be both 1 and 0 at the same time, in differing proportions: half 1 and half 0, or two-thirds 1 and one-third 0, etc. A classical computer can store any number between 0 and 255 in a single byte, which consists of 8 bits. A quantum computer can store all the numbers between 0 and 255 at the same time on a byte of 8 qubits. Whereas a classical computer performs a calculation on its byte and produces a single answer for the single number on that byte, a quantum computer can perform one calculation and get all the answers for all the numbers on the byte at the same time. This gives you massive parallelism. Of course, it's not as easy as that--getting information out of a quantum computer is a lot harder than putting it in. Thus it's only really good at answering questions that have sharply "peaked" answers, meaning questions where you put in a lot of inputs while lookng for only one answer, such as an unordered search.

(Adapted from The Donald S. Crankshaw Newsletter, Vol. 24, Iss. 1.)

Meanwhile, I have a couple of publications on my specific work, which is on a superconducting qubit, called the persistent current qubit. If you're interested, you can find preprints of the papers online:

Impact of time-ordered measurements of the two states in a niobium superconducting qubit structure
K. Segall, D. Crankshaw, D. Nakada, T.P. Orlando, L.S. Levitov, S. Lloyd, N. Markovic, S.O. Valenzuela, M. Tinkham, K.K. Berggren
Published in Physical Review B, 67, 220506, 2003.

DC measurements of macroscopic quantum levels in a superconducting qubit structure with a time-ordered meter
D.S. Crankshaw, K. Segall, D. Nakada, T.P. Orlando, L.S. Levitov, S. Lloyd, S.O. Valenzuela, N. Markovic, M. Tinkham, K.K. Berggren
Accepted for publication in Physical Review B

Energy Relaxation Time between Macroscopic Quantum Levels in a Superconducting Persistent Current Qubit
Yang Yu, D. Nakada, Janice C. Lee, Bhuwan Singh, D. S. Crankshaw, T. P. Orlando, William D. Oliver, Karl K. Berggren
Accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters

These articles describe a series of experiments done on a persistent current qubit fabricated in niobium (which goes superconducting at 9 K), demonstrating a high Q and, by all indications, a long coherence time. Ask me sometime and I'll explain what that means, but for now, just trust me that these are good things.

Update: Now that Doc Rampage has linked to me, I figured that I needed to clean up the post a bit for clarity.

New Post: So what is a qubit, anyway? I go into more detail here.

Week in Review

This is my weekly review of the major posts and threads for the week.

Day by Day on Barry on Kerry -- Chris Muir picks up on Dave Barry's Kerry DYKWIA story with a cool comic

George W. Bush and the African-American Vote -- The reasons why I think the African-American vote may be in play this year, and some actions to make it happen.

Syria Conspiracy Theory Redux -- Evidence for and against my Syria conspiracy theory.

Federal Marriage Amendment -- The first of many, many posts on the Federal Marriage Amendment. Just keep clicking the link under New Post to read more.

But is he one of us? -- My thoughts on bloggers and their love/hate relationship with George W. Bush.

Pakistan's Nuke Codes -- My thoughts on what is now a pretty old news item.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

Tired of all the talk about the Federal Marriage Amendment? So am I. Let's talk about webcomics instead.

Sluggy Freelance -- Torg gets help from an unlikely ally, while Sam flees the sun, and Arminius and Kent go back to the farm.

Day by Day -- Dave Barry's Kerry story gets a mention. Yay! Followed by still more Kerry bashing. Yay!

It's Walky! -- Sal tries to instruct Walky on the futility of bowing to fate. Or is that resisting fate?

College Roomies from Hell! -- Dave rules! Exorcism by eye lasers is just cool. It's too bad his survival looks so unlikely. Plus the long awaited scene switch takes us back to Diana, Paul, Marsha, and April.

General Protection Fault -- No more nudity, but Trudy has an encounter with the Gamester and some familiar time-traveling characters.

Schlock Mercenary -- Uh oh, Jeevee betrays Tagon and it looks like Xinchub is on his way. Just when you think you've got all the double-crossing figured out, it gets worse.

Pakistan's Nuke Codes

This news item came out before I had a blog. Here's the key information:
Teams of American specialists, deployed in Pakistan's most sensitive military sites, have formulated launch codes to prevent the unauthorised use of nuclear missiles.
America's involvement in compiling missile codes raises the possibility that it might be able to prevent Pakistan from launching its nuclear weapons.

(From the Telegraph via Instapundit.) I don't know if it's true. It has the sound of a rumor, quoting a leader of the Islamist party and an oblique few words from a former US ambassador, saying that Gen Kidwai (who's apparently in charge of Pakistan's arsenal) "has been working very quietly, very slowly with us". Certainly, if this is the case, we shouldn't be finding out about it. We don't want people to know that we're changing Pakistan's launch codes so they need our permission to launch their nuclear weapons. Then again, if it is true, the only downside from the US perspective is that it's gone public. Hopefully, we have lots more stuff like this going on, some of which the public will never find out about.

An Unplanned Side-Effect of the Federal Marriage Amendment

One reason that the Islamic world views us hostilely is that they believe that our culture is thoroughly dissolute. Considering that their view of our culture comes almost entirely from Hollywood and television, that's not surprising. (The great irony, of course, is that those who most raise the ire of the Islamic world, and who most need to be defended against the violence that results, are among the least willing to support that defense.) Early on, Osama bin Laden's main objective was complete isolation of the Middle East from the West, cutting off the corrupting influence of the West.

It's not surprising that Islam views homosexuality as wrong (so does Christianity and Judaism). However, for the vast majority of the Middle East, homosexuality is not just sinful, it is vile and punishable by death. Imagine, then, their perspective on something like homosexual marriage, and the country that would permit it. A Federal Marriage Amendment, from their view, would show that the US is willing to draw the line somewhere, and share their moral beliefs at least to some degree.

The US should not decide its internal policy according to the views of the rest of the world. Frankly, our policies have succeeded better than those of the Middle East (obviously), or even Europe. However, it's interesting to note the ripples that flow from our decisions. (Old Europe would hate it, obviously, but I'll admit I'm not particularly concerned about that.)

Let the State Legislatures Decide

Old Post: I mentioned that this might already be Bush's game plan below.

It looks like I'm not the only one arguing that the amendment should put the gay marriage issue directly before the state legislatures and forbid the courts from gainsaying them. A brief sampling:

Baseball Crank makes his case for "an amendment that would do nothing more than leave exclusively to each state's legislature the question of what kind of marriages or civil unions to approve."

The Wall Street Journal shares its opinion: "We think this entire issue should be decided in the states, by the people through their elected legislators. And if the voters want to alter the definition of marriage as a new social consensus develops, that should be their democratic right."

James Taranto of Best of the Web says
We'd say he [Bush] left the door open to our proposed amendment, which would prevent federal judges from imposing same-sex marriage on the country while leaving states free to enact it if they wish.

If he walks through that door, John Kerry will be in an uncomfortable position. Kerry claims to support "states' rights" on marriage, but he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, a statute aimed at protecting precisely those rights. If the debate were over a states' rights amendment, he would be forced to choose between his stated position and his most extreme supporters.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has that if we can't get an amendment defining marriage, then we may be able to get a compromise one:
That would be an Amendment to the full faith and credit clause to insure that the legislators of each state, not the courts, would make the decision on gay marriage and that their rulings would not impact other states. I think that kind of Amendment would have a much better chance of being passed because it would expose anyone who opposed it as zealots who want activist judges to impose their agenda on the rest of the nation.

And I've already mentioned Ramesh Ponnoru, who said, "I favor a constitutional amendment that would block both the federal and the state courts from instituting same-sex marriage, civil unions, or from leaving marriage eligibility alone but extending some of its benefits to the unmarried."

With all these minds coming to the same conclusion (some of them actually, you know, influential, unlike mine), I'm thinking it may actually happen this way. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but hey, they published first, and influenced me in the process. It's a brilliant political move, and could very well give us the amendment. The trick is to get enough Democratic Congressmen to express support for a "moderate" approach in opposition to the "far Right, religiously motivated" amendment, before pulling the rug out from under them. Once enough of them say it should be up to the states, then none of them can protest an amendment which ensures that it's up to the states. Put it in terms of a democratic decision decided by the state legislatures, and the faux-populist Democrats will have trouble coming up with an argument that doesn't sound like it comes straight from a lobbyist's mouth. They can splutter all they want about bigotry, but what they're really arguing is that the American people are inherently bigoted, so they can't be trusted to write their own laws. As for approval by the states--there's no way they wouldn't sign on to this. First, it solidifies the power of state legislatures, and I can't see legislators refusing that. Second, thirty-eight states have already passed laws or state constitutional amendments forbidding gay marriage. Third, the Massachusetts legislature will leap at the chance to give their bossy Supreme Court a black eye, so there's one more.

The only danger I can see is if I'm wrong about Bush and the Republicans in Congress. Are they willing to compromise for an amendment that will pass, as opposed to one that won't? Can they get it past the Democrats who will try to hole it up in committee, deride it as bigoted, and do everything in their power to keep it from a fair hearing and a fair vote? Once it's up for a vote, I think most Democrats will vote for this, because it's identical to their stated position, and they'll face the wrath of the voters if they don't.

Update: David Frum goes into reasons why a state by state solution wouldn't work. I may say more on this once I've had a chance to think about it.

New Post: Orrin Hatch supports this solution, above.