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:
THE PREFERED DEATH FOR ACCUSED PERSONS HAS BEEN HANGING THRU HISTORY- IS EASIER AND SHOCKING, CRUCIFIXION IS TOO COMPLICATED AND EXPENSIVE, SO MOST PROBABLY IF JESUS EXISTED HE WAS HANGED THER IS A PLACE IN THE NEW TESTM. THAT SAYS SO PLESAE SOMEBODY ELABORATE.

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.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Gay Marriage and "No-Fault" Divorce

Old Post: I posted on this before below.

Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost proposes something very similar to what I've proposed:
The compromise I propose is that if same-sex marriages are to be allowed they should be virtually indissoluble and would be excluded from "no-fault" divorce statutes. Divorce would be allowed only in extreme circumstances such as adultery, a felony conviction leading to imprisonment, desertion for over a year, or physical abuse.

Of course, what I proposed was different in that I thought we could get rid of "no-fault" divorce for everyone while creating gay marriage, rather than applying the stringent rules just to gay marriage.

Just Say No

I've been thinking about the Massachusetts Supreme Court's Goodridge decision which says that the Massachusetts legislature must pass the laws in order to legalize gay marriage. My specific thought is "Huh?" Even Glenn Reynolds says, "Though I'm in favor of gay marriage, the Massachusetts opinion is just unpersuasive. There's astonishingly little in the way of actual legal analysis there, and that hurts them." I figure that if the Massachusetts supreme court cannot be bothered to write an actual legal opinion, why should the Massachusetts legislature be bothered to write an actual law? For that matter, they could say, "The Massachusetts Supreme Court has no authority to tell the legislature what laws to write. If they try to do it again, we'll impeach the lot of them." I'm not sure whether the Massachusetts state constitution would allow them to do that, but I like the precedent that would set. It would do a lot to curtail the overreaching of the courts.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Giving them enough rope...

Old Post: My last post on this topic was here.

I've wondered why, when Bush announced his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment, that he did not propose a particular wording for it. One possibility is that, since the president has no real role to play in the amendment process, he's simply stating his support for it and letting Congress decide how to do it. There is another possibility, and that assumes that he really wants the amendment to happen. By stating his support but not proposing an amendment, he's giving the media and his political opponents time to react and stake out their positions. Most Democrats are, predictably enough, stating that they oppose gay marriage (it's not too popular with the general public), but that it's a matter for states to decide, and shouldn't be put into an amendment. However, if they stake out that position, then there are certain ways the amendment could be worded, such as the one I presented below, that would be in line with their position, and their platforms would be pulled out from under them. In essence, Bush is getting them to voice support for an amendment they haven't seen by letting them voice opposition to the amendments they have seen. It's similar to what he did in his State of the Union, "Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. (Applause from Democrats.) The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. (Applause from Republicans.)" If he gives them enough rope, they'll hang themselves. The assumption here is that he's serious about preventing the introduction of gay marriage by fiat, and is more interested in passing an amendment than playing politics with it. A compromise amendment will be much less satisfactory to his base, but it has a much greater chance of happening.

New Post: I'm not the only one who thinks this is a good idea. Above.

The Passion? No comment.

I haven't said anything about Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion, yet, and I don't intend to say anything until I've at least seen the movie. I will be doing that eventually, but I don't know when. Meanwhile, Doc Rampage has some thoughts on the anti-semitism charge here and here.

Like I said, no comment, although it's hard to imagine it being anti-semitic when most of the characters, good and bad, are Jewish. All right, maybe that was just a little comment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Mayor Newsom and Executive Fiat

Old Post: My original comments are below.

In the previous post I said, "You know, if this were not in direct defiance to California's laws, I wouldn't be so bothered by this. At least it's an elected official doing this, and San Francisco being San Francisco, I doubt he's acting against the public will." Captain Ed explains why this is the wrong attitude (in a post that clearly has nothing to do with mine, by the way): "Legislatures make law, not the executive or the judiciary; the executive enforces law. Saying that the legal process is satisfied when any old elected official creates a law is to argue for the abolition of Congress." I'd defend my position, but it's not really defensible. I didn't really think it through, beyond relief that at least someone reasonably representative of the people was involved in the decision this time. I could probably argue that I was technically in the right, since my whole argument was that this was outside of his authority. And hey, I was just conceding a point before I went on the attack anyway. But that would be weaselly.

But is he one of us?

I've noticed something interesting among generally pro-Bush bloggers. Whenever he does something they agree with, he is principled and making the right decision (John Hawkins on gay marriage, Citizen Smash on immigration reform). Whenever, he's doing something they disagree with, it's pure political pandering (John Hawkins on immigration reform, Neal Boortz on the Federal Marriage Amendment). I'm curious about this. There's good evidence that Bush's principles make him for reforming immigration and against gay marriage (that whole Evangelical Christian thing). Is it really more important that we perceive Bush as being on our side than seeing him as principled? Perhaps Shannon Love was right, and it's all about having a president who agrees with us, in principle, on everything, even if he occasionally has to act differently for political reasons.

Of course, this isn't a problem for the anti-Bush bloggers, since from their perspective Bush has no principles and is always pandering for votes. In my personal opinion, Bush does have principles, but there are strong principles and weak principles. Strong principles include the defense of America, the right of the people to decide their laws rather than the courts, and the spread of democracy. Weak principles include balanced budgets and free trade. He's shown considerable willingness to take political risks based on the strong principles. Weak principles are more like good ideas, which can be compromised on.

Gay Marriage and the Survival of the Institution

Old Post: My last post on the Federal Marriage Amendment is here.

One of the arguments against gay marriage is that by redefining marriage you weaken the institution. Those in favor of gay marriage argue that gay marriage won't do any more harm to the institution of marriage than heterosexual divorce has already done. To which the response is that since marriage is already in such bad shape, why in the world whould you want to deliver the coup de grace?

I have two reasons to oppose gay marriage:

1. Religious: In the Bible, God clearly defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman, so that's what it is. You may call something else "marriage," but that doesn't make it one. That doesn't prevent the state from calling something else marriage (and indeed they do), but this is only a legal definition, and doesn't make it so in God's eyes or mine.

2. Process: It is up to the state legislatures to decide how to define legal marriage (this does not affect the spiritual truth one way or another), not the courts or city mayors. Since aside from the spiritual aspect, the social aspect of marriage is the main effect, it is important that the legal definition of marriage follow the social definition, and thus be decided by the elected representatives.

To be honest, the survival of marriage argument never did much for me. Orthodox churches will continue to define marriage by the Biblical definition, they will continue to encourage marriage within their congregations, and they will continue to marry only those who meet the religious definition. That doesn't mean that marriage can't be damaged in society as a whole, just that it can't be killed as long as Americans are a religious people.

Still, the idea is to strengthen, not weaken, marriage, and I think the most damaging thing to marriage today is no-fault divorce. It's hard to imagine that the existence of gay marriage will do more harm than that. I'll give you a couple of guesses as to who gave us no-fault divorce. Hint: it wasn't the religious or social conservatives. It was largely the same people and groups who are now pushing for gay marriage. A cynic might think they were trying to harm marriage or something, but assuming that's not the case, and that the gays who want to marry have a vested interest in making marriage a stronger institution, I have a proposal: If you'll help me repeal no-fault divorce, I'll help you get gay marriage. We'll put them both in the same bill before the state legislatures. Yes, from my perspective, changing the legal definition doesn't really make it marriage, but sure, you can call it that, and in the process we'll be cementing the marriages which meet the definition.

New Post: Thoughts on President Bush's tactics here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A bit of irony

I was wondering whether it might be worthwhile to register a domain name for my blog, so I checked to see whether www.backoftheenvelope.com was available. Kind of ironic, isn't it?

Federal Marriage Amendment II

Old Post: This seems silly, but it is policy. Look below for the previous post on this.

The blogosphere is afire with this topic. There are quite a few libertarian blogs out there who are generally in favor of Bush's policies when it comes to the war on terror, but are quite upset about this. I'm not saying too much before I see the text. I am personally against gay marriage for religious reasons. However, I believe that it is the responsibility of the state legislatures (not the state courts) to define this issue, and if Vermont decides to create gay marriage, fine. The trouble is the full faith and credit clause in the Constitution:

Article IV

Section 1. Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.


The second sentence should allow Congress to make an exception in the case of marriage, which it has in the Defense of Marriage Act. The problem is that sooner or later the DOMA will come up before the Supreme Court, and it will likely strike it down, if past decisions are any indication. So I can see a need for an Amendment, it's just not clear what it should be. My preference would be to curtail the power of the courts, which I think is the root problem here. As that is apparently too broad for most people, I guess we'll see something addressed to marriage. I might as well offer my suggestion, just in case W drops by this blog:
Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any couple or group aside from the union of one man and one woman unless explicitly defined otherwise in state law. No state shall be required to recognize the marital status or legal incidents thereof conferred by any other state aside from the union of one man and one woman.

This is adapted from one of the proposed amendments, and makes it clear that gay marriage would have to be explicitly enacted in state law, and no court can say otherwise. This is close to what Ramesh Ponnuru proposes.

New Post: More on gay marriage here.

Federal Marriage Amendment

Old Post: A discussion of an alternative to the FMA starts here.

Well, it looks like the president didn't take my advice and address the root cause of the problem. Instead, he's supporting a Federal Marriage Amendment:
Today, I call upon the Congress to promptly pass and to send to the states for ratification an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and woman as husband and wife.

The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.

He hasn't said what exact wording he would want yet, at least that I could find. I'd like to see that before I comment too much. My preference would be something that prevented the courts from imposing gay marriage while still allowing the legislature to implement it if the people wanted, but from his statement above, it looks like he wants the actual definition of marriage within the amendment.

The irony is that gay and lesbian activists, attempting to circumvent popular will by seeking court action rather than the legislative process, may have managed to block their own path. Overturning a constitutional amendment will be a much more difficult undertaking than convincing a state legislature to redefine marriage to their liking.

Update: It looks like Captain's Quarters has a similar view.

New Post: More here.

Syria Conspiracy Theory Redux

Old Post: My original Syria conspiracy theory is here.

There's lots of news coming out of Syria recently. On the bright side, it looks like they're interested in restarting negotiations with Israel. I'd cite that as evidence for my conspiracy theory, but I'd also have to deal with the counter-evidence that they seem to be providing aid to the terrorist forces in Iraq. So maybe my theory isn't so accurate after all. Or maybe it's more complicated than I thought. A true conspiracy theorist could work these bits of counter-evidence in.

In any case, conspiracy or not, there's evidence that there's a growing pro-democracy movement in Syria in this story:
More than half a million Syrians demanded political and economic reform in a petition to be handed to President Bashar Assad, a human rights group said Saturday.

Some 600,000 citizens, including intellectuals, lawyers and human rights activists, have already signed the document, the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria said.

The group said it hoped for a million signatures by March. Syria has a population of around 18 million.

One million is a significant fraction (5.5%) when the population is 18 million. Even 600,000 (3.3%) is nothing to be sneezed at. That that many people are unafraid to put their names on a petition indicates a real possibility of positive reform.

(Thanks to Instapundit and Winds of Change for the links)

Monday, February 23, 2004

George W. Bush and the African-American Vote

It's always dangerous to talk about black issues when you're not black (as I'm not). However, I do think there are interesting forces at play here, and I think I can address them objectively. I'll do my best.

The black vote is one of the bedrock supporters of the Democratic party. Over 90% of it went to Al Gore in the 2000 election. This is not good for the Republicans, who have for the most part given up on winning these votes, nor is it good for the black community, who are taken for granted by the Democrats. It is assumed by some politicians in both parties that the black community is concerned only about "black" issues, and will tolerate any other policies important to the Democratic web of special issues. I don't believe that this is the case, and there are a number of reasons to believe that this important vote is in play this year.

Reasons why the black vote may be in play
War on Terror -- The War on Terror affects everyone, and this includes the black community, whose view of this struggle is probably closer to President Bush's than John Kerry's.

Military -- Blacks are a larger percentage of the military than of society as a whole. The military has a great deal of respect for Bush, a worldview which appreciates the necessity for the use of force, and a better knowledge of the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. This doesn't make every one of them a Republican, but they are more amenable to Bush himself. They still don't make up a huge portion of the black community, but considering the public's awareness and respect for the military right now, they have significant influence on their communities.

Vouchers -- Many in the black community in Washington, DC, have come out in support of vouchers. The national Democrats, who are beholden to the teachers' unions, are strongly against them.

Gay Marriage -- Black churches in Boston, MA, are opposing gay marriage (thanks to Donald Sensing for the link), and it looks like this may be a dividing line between them and the Democratic candidate. Kerry is now supporting it. Bush is looking for a way to prevent gay marriage from being imposed by judicial fiat.

Religion -- Bush is an openly religious evangelical Christian. This makes him closer to most of the black community in spiritual matters than Kerry could hope to be.

Bush's Politics -- Bush is a moderate, who has been slow to take a stance on hot button civil rights issues, such as affirmative action, even when we conservatives wish he would. This does provide an opening here, however.

Bush's Administration -- Bush's administration contains a number of high-profile, moderate African-Americans, most noticeably Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice.

Actions to put the black vote in play
Bush isn't going to be getting the NAACP endorsement anytime soon. He may, however, be able to make an end-run around the national organizations which believe they can deliver the black vote to the Democrats.

Public Speaking -- Black churches often invite Democratic politicians to speak. They're unlikely to invite Bush to speak to them, but if Bush were to ask for an opportunity, I think a lot of them would grant it. These talks would be good for Bush, as this is the sort of audience whose spiritual outlook he can strongly relate with. It is important not to use these talks to attack the Democratic candidates, and most certainly not Democrats in general (most of the audience have voted Democratic all their lives). He would need to talk positively about his vision for America and how it benefits them. This also gives him a chance to talk about his own spiritual life. The main purpose of these talks would be to give these communities a chance to get to know him as he is, not as the caricature which the Democrats are making him out to be.

Small Group Sessions -- Bush does well meeting with small groups of people, and meeting with black community leaders, interacting with them and discussing their concerns, would give them both a chance to know one another.

Policy -- As I've already pointed out, Bush is on the right side of many of the policy issues important to black voters. What about affirmative action? That's the ones that Republicans are, by definition, against, and blacks are, by definition, for, right? There may be some middle ground. Even conservatives can admit that affirmative action served a useful purpose (even if they think it was an unconstitutional way to bring it about). Even liberals will say that it should not continue forever (even if they don't really mean it). Extending affirmative action too far is patronizing to the beneficiaries, minimizing their accomplishments, and creating bitterness for those who are slighted by it, whether that slight is real or perceived, ultimately exacerbating racial tensions. At some point it will have to end, and it is reasonable to ask what criteria we can use to tell it is time. There may be a means to enact a sunset provision, hinted at but not required by O'Conner's Michigan decision.

Result
It is unrealistic to expect Bush to win 60% of the black vote. The stated goal of the Bush campaign is 15%. I think it may be possible to get higher, perhaps as high as 25%. The ultimate goal is to get black voters to seriously consider the Republican party as friendly to their community, rather than viewing it with distrust and supporting the Democrats as a bloc.

New Posts: More on Black churches and gay marriage here. More on how Kerry is his own worst enemy in winning the Black vote here.

While we're talking about webcomics...

I'm afraid that I won't be posting it inline, but I wanted to point out a Sluggy Freelance comic on UN weapons inspectors, circa October 2002. Look at the whole week's worth of comics if you want context. If you need more context than that, you need to read the whole archives.

Day by Day on Barry on Kerry

Old Post: My most recent mention of Dave Barry's Kerry DYKWIA story is here.

It looks like Dave Barry's Kerry story, which I dug up, is getting a lot of play on the Internet, including in a comic from Chris Muir's Day by Day. It makes me feel all warm inside.




Day By Day© by Chris Muir. Used with permission.



Update: I revised the post a bit to give clearer credit to Chris Muir.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Gay Marriage in San Francisco

You know, if this were not in direct defiance to California's laws, I wouldn't be so bothered by this. At least it's an elected official doing this, and San Francisco being San Francisco, I doubt he's acting against the public will. There is the problem of full faith and credit, and I'm not certain whether it applies to cities rather than just states. I think in order for a city to issue state-recognized documents, they need the permission of the state, so that part is problematic. Anyway, the state law clearly makes the whole thing illegal, so this isn't surprising (thanks to Donald Sensing for the link):
Many of the more than 3,000 same-sex couples who obtained marriage licenses from the city said getting married was among the most joyous events in their lives. But because of legal uncertainty and political controversy, the certificates don't appear to be worth much more than sentimental value at this point.

I'm sorry, I just don't have much sympathy for them. Unless they were terribly naive, they knew this was against California's laws. Heck, the news program they heard about this from probably told them that in the next sentence. They decided to risk the legal uncertainties, probably more to make a statement than because they were expecting it to stick. If the gamble fails, well then, it was their choice to put up the stakes.

New Post: Some unrelated thoughts by Captain Ed force me to rethink my leading concession above.

Kerry minus thirty years

I wasn't planning on saying anything more tonight, but when I read this, I felt my gorge rising. It first occurred to me that Kerry wasn't as smart as he thought he was when he claimed that it was good to see that the White House had finally tried diplomacy rather than force to get a deal with Gaddafi, as if the use of force in Iraq had no influence on Gaddafi's decision to give up his WMDs. Now I'm certain of it (thanks to Captain's Quarters for the link):
In a letter to Bush, Kerry wrote: "As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation's history, and the struggle for our veterans continues. So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to reopen these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do."

Kerry was reacting to criticism earlier in the day from a leading Georgia Republican who, speaking for Bush's re-election campaign, predicted trouble for Kerry in the state's primary.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss said during a conference call arranged by the Bush campaign that Kerry has a "32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems."

First, can someone please show me where President Bush said anything at all? Second, can someone please show me where Chambliss said anything about Vietnam? Third, who has attacked whose Vietnam service? You know, it's not as if Kerry returned from Vietnam yesterday. It might just be that his voting record for the last thirty years is more revealing of his position on national defense than his service in Vietnam. If Kerry wants to pretend that the last 30 years of his life did not happen [Better make that 34, you don't want to include that Congressional testimony. -ed.], then, well, he is no smarter than he claims Bush is. Not for believing it has no bearing on his national defense positions, because I'm sure he's not stupid enough to believe that, but for believing the American people will buy his argument that it doesn't.

In the debates, I would love to see Bush ask Kerry, "Senator, are you saying that your votes in the Senate do not reflect your positions on national defense?" Or, "Senator, which do you believe is more revealing of our national defense positions, our actions thirty years ago, or our actions since September 11th, 2001? I won two wars, what did you do?" Or, "Senator, if you wish to run this campaign based on our actions in the 1970s, then I'll gladly comply. Let's start with your 1971 Congressional testimony. Here, I have a clip..."

Update: Sometimes, when I look back on what I wrote the night before, I wish I had slept on it. I don't like calling anyone an idiot, even Democratic presidential candidates who make me want to tear my hair out when they talk. I've toned the post down. Some.

Update: I couldn't resist. I added a bit more sarcasm to my hypothetical debate.

Constitutional Amendment: One More Time

Old Post: This is a continuation of the discussion here.

Doc Rampage lists his answers to my objections. He makes some good points, although I don't think his response to the political question of the Brown test is as strong as he thinks. Yes, it is probably possible to make a case that the Brown decision is solid on Constitutional grounds even with this amendment in place, but politically that matters less than the public perception, and I think that those who will oppose this amendment can raise serious enough doubts about what the Brown ruling would have been if the justices had been constrained by this amendment that it will have a hard time passing.

He also says he's uncomfortable discussing this matter too much where real experts on the law such as Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh can comment on our ignorance. Heh, I thought that was the point. To get them to comment, that is.

Week in Review

This may become a regular feature, especially on Sundays where there's not much to talk about and I feel pretty lazy anyway. In any case, here's a list of my posts which I don't regret writing:

Federal Marriage Amendment Alternative -- My first post discussing an amendment aimed directly at judicial activism, which sparked my first interblog debate.

Conspiracy Theory -- What if Syria really does have Iraq's WMDs? What if Bush already knows this?

A few questions for Mr. Kerry -- Questions I'd like to ask Kerry about his 1971 Congressional testimony.

Christianity and the Nanny State -- My thoughts on Joe Carter's thoughts on Matthew Yglesias's thoughts on a Christian libertarian's thoughts on... Christian libertarianism.

Why name your blog "Back of the Envelope," anyway? -- What's in a name?

Do You Know Who I Am? -- The post that started a Cornerlanche. Dave Barry on Kerry's elitism.

Bush's Immigration Plan -- My thoughts on the matter. Hint: Ambivalent, but I don't think it's mercenary pandering.

Ideological Purity and the War on Terror -- I have little patience for conservatives who feel that Bush's moderate politics are reason enough to stay home in November.

Why Iraq? -- The reasons I think Iraq was not just a necessary step, but the necessary next step, in the war on terror.

Kerry minus thirty years -- I rant and rave about Kerry's inability to discuss any part of his record which occurred after he returned from Vietnam.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

It's been a slow day, with only one post. Rather than try to fill my quota with self-important ramblings on politics and such, I decided to give a quick summary of this week in the webcomics I link to in my sidebar. This may become a weekly feature. What I'm writing here are spoilers, of course, but they're so vague that if you're not familiar with the comic, you'll forget all about them by the time you get through the archives.

Sluggy Freelance -- "Who is Philinnon? What are the vampires' plans for Torg? Who is spying on the hunters from the dark woods? How many will survive the confrontation between Arminius, Amelia, and Sam? Wow, right when everything's getting good, what better time for an INAPPROPRIATELY TIMED FILLER WEEK! Tune in tomorrow to see what we do! I know I will!" Fortunately for us, Pete's filler week contains some truly gorgeous artwork, such that I'm not entirely convinced it would not have been less work for him to just do the regular comics.

Day by Day -- Sam wins her paternity suit, and then it's politics as usual.

It's Walky! -- Sal visits Danny while Billie's away, but it looks like he finally grew a spine.

College Roomies from Hell! -- The guys are reunited. That's how you know that things are about to get really, really bad.

General Protection Fault -- Trudy dreams of friends and enemies. This week has some nudity.

Schlock Mercenary -- In Tagon's and Breya's bids to double-cross one another, Tagon gains the upper hand and makes an offer that Breya can't refuse.

Update: This post has been bumped to the end of Saturday.

Shameless Self-Promotion

So I've gone a whole week and I still haven't tried pointing people to my personal homepage. It was good while it lasted, wasn't it? I'll admit that the page hasn't been updated in a while, but then it serves a different purpose than my blog. The blog, of course, is for me to post my thoughts and feelings about current events live. The webpage is my repository for autobiographical information, pictures, and finished, or semi-finished, projects which I want to share, mainly my writings. Each serves a purpose, and I love them both equally.

Why Iraq?

It's a legitimate question to ask. Why did we go after Iraq rather than, say, Iran, which recently has been showing signs of being much further along the WMD path? Well, when making the case for war, the White House considered a number of reasons, which Wolfowitz elucidates:
The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but . . . there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two...
Now all these things are true concerns. While the WMD reasoning has come under a lot of fire recently, there's no doubt about Saddam Hussein's barbaric treatment of his own people. His ties to terrorists are well-known, and there's good evidence, if not absolute proof, of his ties to al Qaeda. As for the WMDs, it's true that no large stockpiles have been found. That they existed at one point is not in doubt; he used them in the war against Iran and against the Kurds. Whether they've been destroyed by US attacks against Saddam through the years, destroyed by Saddam in secret (the least likely, I think), buried in the sand, or shipped to Syria, I don't know. The programs, however, were certainly there--Kay reported on many of them. None of them involved large scale manufacturing, but when it comes right down to it, we were never as worried about large scale manufacturing as we were about producing just enough to contribute to a terrorist attack. It does not take a large quantity of chemical or biological weapons to mount a terrorist attack--remember the anthrax letters? They involved an absurdly small quantity of anthrax. Imagine what could have happened with larger, but hardly massive, quantities.

These are not the only reasons, however. Another reason, largely unstated, is that we are embarking on a mission to change the whole of the Middle East, and that could not happen with Saddam Hussein in the way. Contrary to what Edward Said would have had us believe, the biggest problems in the Middle East are not due to poverty and ignorance, but to tyranny and oppression. To deal with that, we have to bring democracy to the Middle East. Now, since a large number of people in the Middle East already want democracy, it's not as if we're forcing it upon them, but they are currently living under oppressive regimes who are uninterested in the idea, or use it just for show. See Iran's recent "election." The way to start that change happening is to show support for these native movements, to demonstrate that democracy can work in the Middle East, and to demonstrate our own determination to follow through. Aside from being a strong candidate of where to first establish democracy in the Middle East, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a living example of US impotence. While we beat Saddam in 1991, he had routinely thumbed his nose at US and UN demands. What is probably worst of all, when a popular uprising occurred in response to his defeat in the first Gulf War, he crushed it ruthlessly, while the US did too little, too late. In doing this, the US failed to show support for the democratic forces in Iraq, and as long as the US did nothing, this was taken as a continuing sign that the US either could not or would not do anything against the tyrants of the Middle East who oppressed their people.

There were other reasons to go after Iraq first, the main one being that the American people were willing. They saw Iraq as unfinished business, and believed that we would have to deal with Saddam sooner or later, so that when President Bush said that the time was here, they agreed. While the President can attempt to start a war without the support of the US people, Congress can very effectively stymie those attempts. Thus, while it was fairly easy for the President to gain popular support for a war to remove Saddam Hussein, the same could not be said for a war against Iran or North Korea, arguably as dangerous if not moreso. (There are probably other ways to deal with these countries, however. I may discuss them later.)

Finally, there was the international law. That may surprise those of you who call the Iraq War a violation of international law, but the truth is it was an open and shut case. Saddam Hussein had signed a ceasefire agreement at the end of the first Gulf War. He had violated it: time and time again. It was no longer valid, therefore the war continued. I'm surprised that people really have to argue about this one. That, I think, was the final reason to go after Iraq. Weapons of Mass Destruction gave the issue an urgency, possibly a false one, but the case for removing Saddam Hussein never needed them.

Update: Welcome to readers from Captain's Quarters. It seems that shamelesslly selling myself in his comments section worked. I'd direct you to other posts of interest, but I really hate it when other bloggers do that (I did add a few links to the post if you're interested, however). My blog is archived by week rather than post, anyway, and since it's only a week old, pretty much everything is on this page.

New Post: And to be fair and balanced, I make the case against the war in Iraq above.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Ideological Purity and the War on Terror

Lileks points to a disturbing attitude among conservatives towards Bush:
Woe and gloom have befallen some on the right. Bush has failed to act according to The Reagan Ideal.
...
And if a Democrat takes office, and the Michael Moores and Rob Reiners and Martin Sheens crowd the airwaves on Nov. 3 to shout their howls of vindication? If the inevitable renaissance of Iraq happens on Kerry's watch, and the economy truly picks up steam in the first few years before the business cycle and Kerry's tax hikes kick in? If emboldened Islamist terrorists smell blood and strike again? Fine. Maybe the next Republican president will do everything they want.

Now I could understand this attitude if these conservatives felt as many Liberals seem to feel, that Bush is another Hitler and the concentration camps and the end of democracy are right around the corner. I could even understand it if they believed that Bush's path in the War against Terror is no more effective than John Kerry's. I don't believe that is the case.

Kerry's stance on the War against Terror is the same failed policy we tried in the 90s: treat terrorism as a crime and rely on the cooperation of our recalcitrant friends and our outright enemies to fight it. This may net a few terrorists, who can be indicted, tried, and sentenced to life in prison (assuming our anti-death penalty allies would extradite them even if we promised not to seek the death penalty), but it would not destroy or even significantly damage the terrorist organization which seeks to kill us. During the Nineties there was a steady increase in the boldness and effectiveness of terrorism attacks, including the first World Trade Center bombing, the embassy bombings, the USS Cole attack, until it finally culminated in 9/11. Al Qaeda is not destroyed, and even if Osama bin Laden were caught tomorrow, it would still be a threat. Right now it is on the run, under pressure, with many of their commanders caught by our military forces, but if we let the pressure drop for four years, they will be able to rebuild, and they will certainly attack again.

If you disagree with the above paragraph, then I'm not addressing you. If you do agree, and yet don't plan on voting for Bush because he's not conservative enough, then I'd like to know how many lives you are willing to sacrifice for ideological purity.

Some have said that if it were a choice between Bush and a more conservative candidate with the same plans for the war on terror, they'd vote for the more conservative candidate. I disagree. If Bush were a Liberal Democrat (while retaining his current foreign policy views and actions) and his opponent were the second coming of Ronald Reagan who said the same things about terrorism as Bush, it would make me sick to my stomach, but I'd probably still vote for Bush. The reason is that it's not just what he says about terrorism, but what he has done and continues to do about it, despite the hardship and despite the criticism from both the Left and the Right, that wins my trust. That's something that any other candidate would have a hard time proving without actually having held the Office.

The fact that Bush is a center-right candidate and an Evangelical Republican settles my stomach, and makes it an easy choice. I might wish his views were closer to mine, but I don't know of anyone alive whom I'd rather have as president right now.

Update: A bit of judicious editing to make it read better. Nothing substantive.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

It lives!

Yes, yes, I promised no more posts about the blog itself, but I also promised that I would let you know when the Google search started working. Well, it's working now. It is not a lot of help, though. At least, not yet. Since all my posts are archived by week rather than individually, searching for a word or phrase will only take you to the correct week, then you have to search the page containing a week full of posts for what you're looking for. That might be useful once I have a sizable archive, but right now all my posts are on the front page, so you can do that with just your browser's search feature. Still, I'm glad it's working.

In other news, it looks like Blogrolling is now noticing when my page is updated without a need for me to manually ping it. That's good. I'd tell you all about the technical details of why it wasn't working, but (1) it's boring, (2) I'd only be guessing.

Update: Regarding the second part of the post: sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. And I still have no idea why. Blogrolling definitely noticed an update I did earlier tonight, when I was simply editing a post. It didn't catch when I added this post, however. I think it has to do with the fact that I can't get the blog to automatically notify Blogrolling, but it does notify Weblog.com, which Blogrolling keeps tabs on. I can imagine all sorts of confusion there. Heh, I guess I'll have to keep giving it an manual ping whenever I'm trying to get noticed.

Bush's Immigration Plan

I said I might comment on this at some point, and now (as I monitor the temperature of a He-3 probe and not much else) might be as good a time as any. I'm not an expert on the subject, only having read a few articles, some positive, some negative. I am somewhat biased in the matter, as two of my grandparents are immigrants, so I am, broadly speaking, pro-immigration. Pro-immigration doesn't mean pro-illegal immigration, however. I'll admit that I've never given detailed thought to the matter before, but whenever faced with the problem of illegal immigration, my first instinct is enforce immigration laws, but make legal immigration easier.

So let's look at the Bush proposal for what it is and what it is not. It's not a straightforward amnesty, although it does deal lightly with current illegal immigrants. They would only have to pay a fine before they could join the program. The important point, however, is that when they joined the program, they would not be given green cards and a quick path to US citizenship. They would instead be classified as guest workers, who could stay in the US for a limited duration of employment, and would have to apply through the normal channels to become US citizens. The program is not intended as a means of exploiting workers, since, by keeping track of the workers and their employers, it could enforce minimal benefits for them, including minimum wage, health and safety standards, and taxation. One of the things that peeves many of those who oppose the plan is talk of "jobs Americans will not do." They make the legitimate point that with the right wages and benefits, Americans will do the jobs. That is certainly true, but I would point out that with the program in place, the cost benefit of hiring cheap migrant workers will be decreased, to zero as opposed to hiring an American worker at minimum wage and benefits. Thus there will be less demand for foreign workers if there is indeed a ready supply of American labor for the job.

There is a very legitimate concern here. What about those who don't sign onto the plan? Businesses who want the cheapest possible labor, which can only be had sans the legal worker protections, and workers who can't get into the beneficial plan. There will still be a demand and supply of illegal labor. The question then becomes whether it is more possible, and there exists a greater political will, to enforce the new immigration plan than the old immigration plan. That is a question I don't have an answer to.

As you can see, I'm not arguing strongly for this plan. I think it is reasonable, however, and worth discussing, and I'm tired of hearing critics say the plan is mercenary political pandering. It was clear when he was elected that Bush was a moderate, and while he didn't push this particular plan, he made it clear that he was pro-immigration and seeking a compromise solution to illegal Mexican immigration. Moreover, there's plenty of evidence that Bush's views on Mexican immigrants are consistent with his Texan outlook and that he personally has a lot of empathy for the Hispanic community, especially given his behavior in this low-publicity visit.

Homosexuality and Promiscuity

Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost has a list of studies supporting his contention that homosexual men are less interested in long-term monogamous relationships than heterosexual men. These studies are consistent with statistics I've seen before, but I don't think they get to the heart of the gay marriage issue, which is what Joe is addressing.

Let's say that Joe is right and as a group homosexual men are uninterested in monogamous relationships. What about those who are? Those advocating gay marriage are arguing that those homosexual couples who do want to marry want a monogamous relationship. This may or may not be the case, and Joe points to some statistics that suggest that what they want are open marriages. However, this is not easily proven, and those advocating gay marriage will argue strenuously that while some may want that, that is not what they themselves are asking for when they argue for gay marriage. They will continue to argue that once the ideal of gay marriage is in place, monogamous norms will become more common among homosexual couples. Ideally, marriage licenses could be denied to anyone who was asking for an open marriage, regardless of sexual orientation, but there is no way to determine that beforehand, and no way to enforce it afterwards. (This might have been possible in a society where adultery was treated more seriously, with actual penalties on the adulterer for breach of contract, but that idea's just so puritanical nowadays. That's not so out of line as it may seem, however, as marriage is a contract, not only between the individuals, but, arguably, with the state.) And since, as a group, lesbians are less promiscuous, this sort of argument only addresses half of the equation.

The long and short of it is that while Joe Carter may be right, it won't affect gay marriage arguments unless he can show that gay marriage proponents are advocating open marriages. Otherwise, the statistics are just statistics, and don't prove that homosexual men are unsuited for marriage any more than the 60% divorce rate proves that heterosexual men and women are unsuited for marriage.

Wesley Clark: PseudoDemocrat

Now that he's dropped out of the race, it hardly seems worthwhile to comment on Wesley Clark, but I will anyway. I always thought that Clark's biggest problem was that he wasn't a real Democrat, but he played one on TV. Thus whenever Clark was asked about his positions, he always came across as a caricature of a Democrat. The best example is when he was asked about abortion and said that "Life begins with the choice of the mother." This is not a position that can be defended on either scientific or religious grounds, the only ones which are truly convincing in this debate, so most pro-abortion rights politicians don't talk about life at all, and instead talk about the right of a woman to decide what to do with her own body. The best Democratic politicians can talk about how abortion is not a good thing (very, very few people believe that it is), but it must be protected since the alternatives to abortion rights (unsafe illegal abortions, unwanted and abused children) are worse.

There are other examples, but ultimately what did Clark in was that he wasn't a Democrat, he was just pretending to be one.

One hundred hours of blogging

It's official: I've been at this for over a hundred hours now. This blog has lasted longer than some ground wars (although perhaps not as long as the ground war should have lasted). Since I'm sure you're getting tired of reading these blogging reports, I'll probably quit doing them soon and focus on discussing actual substantive issues. Although I will let you know when that stupid Google search is working properly (it's gotten to the point where it can find the page now, just not anything on the page). Overall it was a good day for me, although a slow day for blogging. That's going to happen from time to time, as I have an actual day job. Hey, not all of us can be tenured professors.

I'd like to call your attention to Doc Rampage, who is the first blogger to link to me. His blog is less than a week older than mine. We've been engaged in a discussion of the merits of an alternative to the Federal Marriage Amendment, addressing the root problem of judicial activism and loose Constitutional interpretation. We both had a good day today, he getting a link from Donald Sensing on One Hand Clapping concerning his Constitutional amendment proposal, while I was linked to by Jonah Goldberg in The Corner for mentioning Dave Barry's Kerry DYKWIA story. (I know it's not technically a DYKWIA story, as Kerry never used the "Do You Know Who I Am?" phrase, but I'm referring to all stories which exhibit the attitude of demanded privilege as DYKWIA.) Since Dave's (Gudeman, of Doc Rampage, not Barry) post linked to me, I pointed to him in my post as well, although it was probably less effective since it was off-topic. Ultimately, I think we're both showing that new bloggers can still get attention if they work hard, come up with new ideas and new angles, and are not afraid to do some shameless self-promotion. ("Shameless self-promotion" is my middle name. Well, technically it's "Shane," so I guess I'm not really Shaneless. [bad pun mode off])

As a result of Jonah's patronage, I received over 700 visits in one day, over ten times what I had seen previously. Like all good things, the Cornerlanche will eventually die off, but if I'm lucky a few of you enjoyed what you saw and will come back to visit. Heck, if you managed to read all the way to the end of this narcissistic post, I know I have you hooked.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Bush Abortion story

Evangelical Outpost reports that Larry Flynt is planning to print a story revealing that Bush paid for a girlfriend's abortion in the mid-70s. Curiously, most of the news stories I've seen are presuming that the story is false and based on Moby's suggestion that liberals attack the President where it will drive away his core constituencies. Now I'm not claiming the story's true, and I think that if Larry Flynt truly had the goods on Bush, he wouldn't be dropping hints about it, he'd wait until late summer and drop the bomb so Bush didn't have time to react. Dropping hints and promising to publish the story later indicates to me that he probably doesn't have the goods and is simply floating rumors.

However, what these stories show is that neither Moby nor Larry Flynt understand the constituency they're trying to drive away. Perhaps they should read more Mark Steyn:
More to the point, whatever Bush did or didn't do back in those days is consistent with who he is. As horrified European commentators are fond of pointing out, Mr Bush is a "born-again" Christian. We don't need to see grainy home movies of a soused goofball in a Mexican bar face down in the beer nuts to know more or less the kind of guy he was 30 years ago. But he changed; he was born again. If you found some video of Bush rat-arsed (as the British say) in 1974, how relevant is that to the abstemious tucked-in-by-nine family man of 2004?

Pro-life evangelical Christians, the core group whom Flynt and Moby are trying to keep at home, can sometimes be legalistic and harshly judgemental (and I'm speaking as one), but if there's one thing we understand, it's repentance and forgiveness. We're the ones who took in Jane Roe. We can certainly forgive the President.

What do I think? If there's any truth to the rumors, any at all, then the best thing for President Bush to do is go public, confess his mistakes, and ask for forgiveness. I think his testimony would not only be good for him, but also would benefit the pro-life movement. And if there's nothing to the rumors? Well, then Bush doesn't have to do anything at all. Even the press isn't buying this one.

Dave Barry is not making this up

Old Post: Dave Barry's Kerry story is quoted below.

Dave Barry's Research Department, Judi Smith, replied to my e-mail to tell me that (1) the Kerry story below matches Dave Barry's high standards of journalistic integrity, at least in the sense that he didn't make this one up, and (2) he won't be sending his high priced lawyers after me, for which we can all be grateful.

Update: Dan McLaughlin of The Baseball Crank e-mailed to let me know that the New York Daily News still has the complete column available with no fee.

New Post: More above.

Cornerlanche!

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner linked to my post of Dave Barry's DYKWIA encounter with Kerry. Unfortunately, the link is broken, but you can find the post here.

Update: The link's fixed now. Thanks, Jonah! And thanks for the Cornerlanche!

Old Post, New Post

I'm something of a stickler for navigation, so I've implemented a scheme that makes it easier to find a series of posts. If a post is a continuation or clarification of an earlier post, I will start it off with a line marked Old Post where I link to the previous post. If there's a new post that continues or clarifies an earlier post, I'll edit the original to add the line New Post at the end, along with a pointer to the newer post. I had already been doing the latter, and I've edited my archives to implement the former. For the most part, this meant just adding a new line at the beginning, and I mentioned in an update if I had to re-word the post in order for it to make sense.

Marriage and Sex

Old Post: I briefly mentioned the equivalency of marriage and sex in this post.

So you can see that I'm not the only Christian who thinks that the Bible treats sex and marriage as synonymous, I'll point you toward a sermon given by Daniel Harrell, the Associate Pastor of my former church, Park Street in Boston. This was a controversial sermon, and he didn't attempt to back it up Biblically in the sermon, although he does discuss it in more detail here. Personally, I would be much happier if he had given more Biblical explication. I will say, however, that Pastor Harrell is not responsible for my thinking on the matter, which I came to based on my own study of the Old Testament prior to hearing his sermon. I may discuss the Biblical verses more thoroughly at another point.

Update: Park Street Church is located in Boston, Massachusetts (we're not all liberals there). I added that above.

Current Status

It's been approximately 76 hours since my first post, so I thought I'd give a quick report of the blog's status. First of all, there was a formatting problem that showed up in Internet Explorer but not Netscape 7.1 which scrambled the Sidebar badly (having to do with the "(today)" link next to the webcomics). That's been mostly fixed, although it still looks better in Netscape (where the "(today)" link is on the same line as the Webcomic name, rather than below, as it is in IE). I didn't notice it at first since I use Netscape. Why, you ask, do I use Netscape when the whole world uses IE? The main reason is that you can turn off pop-ups in Netscape, while you need external utilities to do it in IE. Now I've been given another reason, since it displays my blog better. Of course, I hardly needed that reason, since I'm always eager to thumb my nose at the evil empire.

I've signed up on Blogrolling, which gives me an easy way to manage my blogroll links, and even order them from most recent to least recent update. It also lets other blogs who use Blogrolling find out when I last updated, which is good for bringing in readers (especially since Blogs for Bush orders their blogroll from most recent to least recent, and this way I cycle through the top every time I post).

Unfortunately, the Google search still doesn't work. I've looked through the Google help pages, and they assure me that they'll index my page eventually, but it could take a while. I've submitted my page in hopes of speeding things up, but they haven't found me yet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Constitutional Literalism Amendment

Old Post: This is a continuation of the discussion below.

Dave of Doc Rampage has published a more thorough explanation of what an amendment to enforce constitutional literalism would look like. Here is the key paragraph of his response:
This problem, obviously, is not one that you can fix with a procedural change. I think the only chance we have of effecting the issue in a positive way is by social change. And the kind of constitutional amendment I propose is intended to bring about that change. What I have in mind is something that says (1) Each part of the constitution is to be interpreted according to its clear and literal meaning as it was understood at the time of writing. (2) Neither precedent, nor cultural norms, nor foreign courts, nor religious doctrine, nor science, nor any other influence may be used to modify the clear and literal meaning of the constitution. This means (2a) Rulings may not drift away from the meaning over time through precedent and (2b) The only way to change the constitution is by those processes set out in the constitution. (3) All three branches are equally responsible to uphold the constitution and to refuse to cooperate with any branch that seeks to violate it. And maybe something like (4) the citizens are responsible to refuse to vote for any elected official who has violated the constitution, even if they agreed with the results of the action. And just for safety, (5) The current state of precedent and interpretation of the constitution is not the baseline from which we start, we start with the original document.

While I think his idea has much to recommend it, there are some difficulties with it.

Political: Any proposed amendment will have to pass the Brown test. If people can look at this amendment and say that it would have prevented the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, it will not pass. That ruling is almost universally accepted as good and just and necessary, and any amendment for which someone can make a strong case that it would have prevented the Brown ruling will not have enough support to pass. Any amendment to rein in the judiciary will face this criticism, but I think some amendments will weather it easier than others. There are other rulings which have strong constituencies defending them (Roe v. Wade, for example), but that is the one which has the most universal appeal.

Judicial: The fifth provision will be problematic as it will immediately invalidate a great deal of not only judicial precedent but also federal legislation. It would take years to sort out the chaos. It may be possible to ameliorate this by setting the date it takes effect to occur several years after its approval. That will allow the courts and Congress some time to work out the details.

Interpretation: I think provision (1) is problematic as there is always some room for interpretation. Someone needs to decide what the intentions of the founders were, and not everyone who approved the constitution agreed with the Federalist Papers. If we insist on staying with their intentions, then someone has to decide what they were, and that person or group will have a great deal of power.

In all, while I think Dave's proposal is closer to the ideal than mine, mine offers more flexibility and a better chance of passing, where it can at least stop the tide of judicial tyranny, even if it won't fully roll it back.

Update: Oops. I meant "federal legislation," not "legislature." It's fixed now.

Update: Implementing "old post, new post" scheme here.

New post: I talk about Doc Rampage's response to this above.

The Winter Soldier Investigation

Old Post: I mentioned the Winter Soldier Investigation below.

I mentioned this when I was discussing John Kerry's testimony before Congress. A more thorough discussion of it can be found on QandO. (Thanks to Evangelical Outpost for the pointer.)

Update: I had to do a quick rewrite to implement the "old post, new post" scheme. No substantive changes.

Do You Know Who I Am?

Kerry is infamous in Massachusetts for using his status as a Senator to pull rank on unfortunate civilians, and is well known for using the DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am?) phrase. I don't have any stories myself, but you've got to figure that it's pretty bad if even Dave Barry has a Kerry DYKWIA story:
In conclusion, I want to extend my sincere best wishes to all of my opponents, Republican and Democrat, and to state that, in the unlikely event I am not elected, I will support whoever is, even if it is Sen. John Kerry, who once came, with his entourage, into a ski-rental shop in Ketchum, Idaho, where I was waiting patiently with my family to rent snowboards, and Sen. Kerry used one of his lackeys to flagrantly barge in line ahead of us and everybody else, as if he had some urgent senatorial need for a snowboard, like there was about to be an emergency meeting, out on the slopes, of the Joint Halfpipe Committee. I say it's time for us, as a nation, to put this unpleasant incident behind us. I know that I, for one, have forgotten all about it. That is how fair and balanced I am.

This story is from Dave Barry's September 14, 2003 column, "Staying Fair and Unbalanced in the Election Season," which unfortunately is only available for pay.

Update: In case you missed it, I mentioned Dave Barry's own presidential candidacy below.

Update: Welcome, Corner readers. Although you're just here for the Dave Barry story, you may want to check out the FMA alternative debate between myself and Doc Rampage.

New Post: Dave Barry's Research Assistant responded to my e-mail, and I pass on the facts above. Plus, I share where the column is still available for free.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Marriage: Civil and Religious

Donald Sensing has proposed splitting the legal and the spirtual sides of marriage, letting the government offer CICs (Civil Interpersonal Contracts) to any two adults who wanted them, which grant all the legal benefits of marriage without calling it that, while letting the churches (and other religious institutions) issue certificates of marriage, which have no legal bearing while bestowing the name "marriage," with all its spiritual and cultural significance. While there are a couple of things to recommend it, this proposal does have problems. First, the ACLU would be up in arms if certificates of marriage could only be handed out by religious institutions, and I think that any satisfactory compromise would end up with everybody and their brother being able to hand out the things. Second, marriage would become much less common. In Reverend Sensing's view this may be an advantage, as he's not a big fan of people becoming married just for the legal benefits.

The interesting question which he doesn't address is what the Bible says about who can perform marriages, and quite frankly it doesn't say much at all. The Old Testament is full of regulations concerning the contractual obligations of both sides, and the New Testament in particular describes the spiritual aspects. As far as I know, neither one says anything about who performs the wedding, what papers need to be signed, what the ceremony looks like, or what vows are exchanged. From what I've read, I think that the sexual relationship itself makes people married. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." (Gen 2:24) There are a few other verses that seem to support this (Deuteronomy 21:11-13, for example). If this is the case, then any man and woman who have a sexual relationship are married in God's eyes (the Bible clearly doesn't apply this to homosexual relationships), and all the legal, cultural, and ceremonial benefits and obligations are simply to support what is already a spiritual truth.

New Post: More on the subject of the equivalency of sex and marriage above.

Why name your blog "Back of the Envelope," anyway?

No one's asked this question yet, but I thought I might as well get a jump on it. The expression is common enough, but if you're not familiar with it, a back of the envelope calculation is a quick, simple calculation done as an estimate. It's called "back of the envelope" because it can be written out on a small sheet of paper. I've used the backs of envelopes, the fronts of envelopes, scraps of paper, even pencil-friendly tabletops. Generally these calculations include all sorts of estimates and outright guesses at the unknown variables as well as equations simplified to the point of unrecognizability, and the result is not considered reliable, just close enough to work with.

When I first applied for this address on blogspot, the idea was to name the blog after myself. My last name is Crankshaw, so possibilities included Crankshaw's Thoughts, Crankshaw's Meanderings, The Book of Crankshawian Philosophy, etc. The blog has superseded the homepage as the ultimate vanity project. Nothing really felt right, though, so I started thinking of other names, a name appropriate for an engineer writing about things he was distinctly unqualified to discuss. It took surprisingly little time to come up with "Back of the Envelope."

Blogs for Bush

I've joined the blogroll at Blogs for Bush. Since I have, I think it's appropriate that I explain why. [Aside from the free publicity?--Ed.] [Yes, aside from that.--DSC] Yes, I do support Bush for re-election in 2004. I am, as my description says, an Evangelical Republican, so you might think it's obvious that I would. However, I did not vote for him in 2000, or vote for anyone at all. Part of the reason was that I was living in Massachusetts but my residency was in Louisiana, and I didn't want to go through the absentee ballot mess, but the main reason was that I wasn't excited about either candidate. Both Bush and Gore were running as moderates, and I didn't think it would make much difference who won. Since that time, however, Bush has shown himself to be a strong wartime President, capable of making tough decisions and, most importantly, following through when the going gets tough. Gore has transformed himself into a shrill, angry far-Left liberal. Looking back, I am glad that the election turned out the way it did, and I'm sorry that I didn't do my part.

I still think Bush is too moderate. While he's a social conservative, he only pushes on those issues when forced to. He doesn't even pretend to be a fiscal conservative. However, the most important issue right now is the War on Terror, and I think Bush's "forward strategy of freedom" is exactly right, even if forty years ago it would sound more like a Democrat's foreign policy than a Republican's. On the big issues where conservatives depart from Bush, immigration reform and the Medicare drug benefit, I'm nowhere near as bothered as some other conservatives. (I may touch on them in some later post.) I don't consider either a betrayal or pandering, as they are consistent with his 2000 campaign and with his general attitude. While I don't agree with him on everything, I like Bush personally, and I am impressed by his faith and integrity.

The Democrats have based their entire campaign on hatred of Bush, on representing him as dishonest and partisan. I think he's been honest and open to compromise (sometimes a little too open), and I'll do my best to point that out in the year ahead.


New Post: I finally talk about the immigration plan above.

Constitutional Amendment to Rein in Judicial Activism

Old Post: Original post concerning an anti-judicial activism amendment.

A couple of days ago I pointed out that a constitutional amendment to rein in judicial activism may be a better way to go than a constitutional amendment to define marriage. Dave at Doc Rampage e-mailed me to let me know he had proposed the same thing, and scooped me by two days in the process. As this blog did not exist two days--or even two hours--before my post, this was not a hard thing for him to do, but I'll grant him that. My question for him, though, now that I've got his attention, is what form that amendment should take. My thinking, at least in this early phase, is to grant Congress limited power to overrule the court similar to its power to overrule a presidential veto. This has the danger of putting too much power in one branch and fails to provide defense against the tyranny of the majority, but at least the body making that decision is the one most representative of the people. Doc Rampage suggests what seems to be simply re-emphasizing the already existing limits on the court in the Constitution, but I'm not certain what that looks like as an amendment. I don't think I can get behind an amendment whose text is "This time we really mean it."

Update: Dave clarifies what he means. He prefers enshrining constitutional literalism in an amendment over a procedural change. I'll hold my thoughts on this for another post, and I'll just ignore his snarky response to my non-existence defense against his scooping me.

New Post: More on this subject above.