From today's local paper:

Cornell professor batters intruder with fireplace poker

[...] The Tompkins County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident at [71-year-old Cornell University professor of Applied & Engineering Physics] Batterman's residence, reported at 6:20 a.m. Sunday.

Batterman said Monday he was confronted that morning by a tall, ominous-looking figure shrouded in darkness standing on the other side of the doors. The stranger had apparently thrown a 30-pound urn from the deck into the double-glass doors, shattering one of them.

The professor opened the remaining door to confront the man who then reached for the metal poker. After a brief struggle, Batterman recovered the poker and struck the man several times on his upper body, Batterman said.

Sheriff's deputies reported finding the man encountered by Batterman on Cayuga Heights Road. Bangs Ambulance transported the injured man to Cayuga Medical Center for treatment of several bruises and lacerations received from Batterman, deputies said. He was treated and released.

Charges are pending a decision from the Tompkins County District Attorney's Office.

There are a few things I just have to add to this story...

First of all, this Mr. Batterman is clearly one hell of a brave man. I'd like to have half the courage you showed last night.

Second, there's an important distinction to be made here. When somebody breaks open your door and enters your home in the daytime, when nobody is around, that's a burglary. When they break open your door at 6am, when they expect you to be there, that's a home invasion robbery. Home invasion robberies are incredibly dangerous to the intended victims, and Mr. Batterman almost certainly saved himself from death or serious injury. A person committing a home invasion robbery is not only expecting a fight, he desires it. This is an ugly, violent crime, deserving the most serious punishment.

TREATED AND RELEASED? Who's bright fucking idea was that?!

Fourth, Mr. Batterman offered a thoughtful comment:

"The whole thing was that there was no thinking," he said. "If I had thought properly I would have stayed in the house and dialed 911. That would have been the smart thing to do."

It IS the smart thing to do, provided that you have a solid, lockable door to get behind, and provided that you can get every member of your family behind it, and provided you have a cell phone. In a disturbing number of these cases, the bad guys will cut the phone lines first. Remember, they are expecting a fight...

Fifth, have I mentioned that a Mossberg 590 is a thoughtful gift for the homeowner? They are an excellent value and I can't recommend the brand highly enough.


And Mr. Batterman, if you'd like one, I'd be proud to give you mine. My name is Mike and I can be reached at


1945 was the first and last year that a nuclear weapon of any type was used in battle, anywhere in the world. During the 50s, we were getting our asses kicked in Korea and the temptation to use nuclear weapons was enormous. Nixon favored the use of nuclear bombs in Vietnam, but was dissuaded, presumably, by the strength of the antiwar protests in our own nation.

Although tiny by modern standards, the fission* bombs used against Japan were, if for no the reason than their scarcity, strictly strategic weapons. They were city killers, intended to win the conflict as a whole. Since strategic weapons are not always an appropriate or desirable means of solving international disputes, we soon developed a variety of small, tactical nuclear weapons to be used like conventional weapons on the battlefield. Nuclear artillery, nuclear antiaircraft missiles, even nuclear antiship mines have been around for decades. For obvious reasons, tactical nukes have been designed to be as clean as possible, to minimize the risk to our own troops who would be expected to move quickly through the contaminated terrain.

However, even these weapons have never been deployed in battle, despite their obvious advantages, because of justifiable proliferation concerns. Once the bright line between the battlefield use of conventional and nuclear weapons is eroded, a substantial deterrent to the subsequent use of nuclear arms would be forever lost.

This is not a minor concern. Consider the recent tensions between Pakistan and India, two nuclear powers which have been shooting at each other for years. If one of these countries were to use a tactical nuke against the other, they could expect an immediate and costly backlash from the rest of the world. However, if similar weapons had already been deployed by other nations, the genie would already be out of the bottle and the outrage would be greatly diminished, and would only diminish further with each subsequent event.

The use of chemical and biological weapons are similarly taboo, although the line separating chemical agents from conventional weapons has never been quite as clear. (Presumably, killing enemy soldiers by gassing them with gasoline vapors in a cave is to be frowned upon, but it's OK if the vapors are ignited after they are deployed). Nonetheless, the same bright-line rule that protects the world from the proliferating use of nuclear arms also protects it against the use of biological and chemical agents as well.

And this, I'm afraid, is the root of a very serious issue.

Many people, myself included, believe that the start of the Gulf War was preceded by a blunt warning to Saddam that any use of chemical weapons against allied forces would be met with a nuclear response. This was a good thing; the threat of a nuclear response has been an appropriate means of suppressing first use of NBC weapons for many years. Had a massive chemical attack been launched against our troops, we would have had the choice of responding with nukes and accepting the consequences of dimming the bright line, or of not responding and letting the chemical genie out of the bottle for good. I have no doubt that a limited nuclear response in that case would have been in the best interests of everyone, especially considering the relative risks posed by the governments of modern nuclear powers, as compared to risks posed by governments which control only control chemical weapons.

Considering the sorts of life-threatening contamination left behind on a modern battlefield - mines, cluster munitions, depleted uranium dust, nasty chemicals of both the ordinary and weaponized kind, disease, injury, and poor sanitation - the sort of environmental hazard left behind by small, modern nuclear weapons is not such a big deal. Even the comparatively filthy fission* bombs we dropped on Japan have probably caused fewer casualties in the subsequent years than the tons of mines and unexploded ordinance left behind in the cities of Vietnam and Afghanistan. I don't mean to downplay the dangers, of course, but I do want to put them in the proper context. When people are setting oil fields ablaze and throwing persistent nerve agents at you, tactical nukes are not going to be your biggest environmental concern.

You probably see where I am going with this. As the debate concerning the invasion of Iraq seems ever-more-focused on "when" rather than "if", we need to consider what, exactly, would restrain Saddam from deploying his chemical arsenal against us. I suspect he'll do it, and I suspect that for both tactical and strategic reasons we will respond with small nukes against his weapons sites.

Don't kid yourself; this guy gassed thousands of his own people. Chemical weapons are not an idle threat, and we are simply not going to walk into it unprepared.

You heard it here first...

* Word "fission" corrected from "fusion". I always mix that up...


Photos Of The Week
Sunday, April 21, 2002

Here are some aerial photos of the Jenin refugee camp, from The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Decide for yourself how reckless the Israeli military was. The area covered by the first image is about 2/3 mile across, and the circled area, the "combat zone", is about 100 yards across.




(Via FR)


Cutting off terrorism at the root is the best idea in the world, and I'm all for it.

Is poverty the root cause? There certainly seems to be a close correlation, that's for sure, but look a bit further... if Mexico, all of Central and South America, and countless sorry backwaters from Guam to Kenya are any example, there must be something more to it than that.

So what else do the violent shitholes of the world have in common? At the risk of pointing out the blindingly obvious, how about repression and tyranny? Maybe I'm missing something here, but the countries that export terrorism are invariably ruled by thuggish dictators with billion-dollar bank accounts, presiding over a hopeless, ruined population actively denied the most basic of human dignities and human rights. I'll take it even a step further - intractable, grinding poverty, like mass ignorance, hatred, zealotry, and hopelessness, is caused, like all of the great human disasters in modern time, by the tyrants themselves.

Go ahead. Tell me I'm wrong about this. Name a single event since World War One where a million people have died at once, and which was not caused by some hideous autocrat. Find one place on earth where endemic violence and poverty go hand in hand with ballots and a free press.

We know goddamn well what the root causes are. We know who the enemy is.


Heat Wave Grips Northeast
Friday, April 19, 2002
That's Chessie, behind the TV

Cutest. Kitten. Ever.


In Defense Of Moral Equivalence
Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Maybe it's the Arab/Israeli conflict dominating the news, or the lingering backlash against the post-modernist nonsense of the Ivy Leagues, but the practice of "moral equivalence" has been getting a bad name lately. I think this is a shame, because I think that the merits of moral equivalence have been underappreciated, largely because they have been misunderstood.

I have my own perspective on this, having dropped out, as most of you know, after a single semester at an Ivy League college. As years passed I independently developed my own version of a morally-equivalent philosophy, and had already come to laugh at, and then abuse, and then finally to ignore the post-modernists without any outside help or formal instruction whatsoever. Imagine my surprise when I later learned that ME was supposed to be a big part of post-modernism, and that the critics of the former were almost invariably critics of the latter.

After looking into it, I decided that the post-modernists had simply missed the damn point. If they had followed through properly, they might have saved everyone an awful lot of grief.

I can sum this up with a single plain-language example. This is painless, I promise:

Person A punches person B in the nose.

1) Neither A nor B is right or wrong; indeed, the use of the verb "punches" to categorize the event implies an socially-constructed bias, as does, even in this sentence, the phrase "the event", which suggests to the reader that the activities of persons A and B should properly be examined without additional historic or social context. Truth is unknowable, probably non-existent, and impossible to convey in any event. A is right in As world, B is right in Bs, and there is nothing for us to do about it.

2) What he said, except that anything I decide I'd like to do about it is perfectly OK, for exactly those same reasons.

And there you have it. Properly applied, a morally equivalent attitude leads to self-trust, guiltlessness, independence, and a robust willingness to follow one's own heart. It also protects the practitioner from any delusions of their own correctness, their own infallibility, or the meanings of their own actions. You do what you do because you believe in it, no more and no less.

This is a fine way of looking at things, and an excellent guide in morally ambiguous times. It's hard to catch a thoughtful and honest ME practitioner in the sorts of hypocrisies and moral dilemmas that trap even the most earnest students of the classical moral philosophies. We are the Teddy Roosevelts of the philosophical word, clear-eyed, adaptable, and unapologetic, following an internal moral compass we instinctively trust but do not pretend to understand.

Maybe I'm wrong, but this strikes me as the very opposite of what comes to mind when one imagines a literature professor struggling with the "meaning" of something like 9/11.

Got yer meaning right here, pal... conceptualize this! [Large turd is flung from cage, barely misses mark]


Ask almost any American what they think of television and you'll get exactly the same answer - "300 channels and nothing on". Everybody you know has had the experience of clicking through every channel on the set before putting down the remote in disgust.

The closer you look at it, the worse it gets. Turn on the TV at six in the evening and every major network is running an identical News broadcast, with virtually interchangeable scripts, newsreaders, and film clips, and is saying almost exactly the same thing... and almost every person you know is either annoyed by it, or doesn't watch it at all. Daytime TV is locked into a handful of irritating formats, with almost-identical talk shows, almost-identical soap operas, and almost-identical kid shows running side by side.

Ancient TV series that your dog wouldn't watch are in endless rerun. American television is a giant, tragic example of wasted potential.

Or is it?

Despite some FCC limitations on content, television is essentially a free market; several networks compete aggressively for viewers, because they are paid by the number of people watching the commercials. Any network that can figure out how not to run mindless crap 12 hours a day can really make a killing, and some very, very big money is at stake.

Are these people just stupid, or are they chronically risk-averse, or are they all part of some giant conspiracy to grind down our national will? Nope, nope, and nope. Believe it or not, network television is one of the most powerful, innovative, unconstrained, and best-run industries on the planet.

I have friends in Hollywood, and you won't believe how hard these people work. Considering the size and scale of these companies, they are incredibly nimble and able to turn on a dime. Dream up some totally innovative thing, something you've never seen before - say, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" - and, if the show is successful, you can expect the competition to respond within months with their own, hopefully improved version, something like Hot Seat or Weakest Link. When reality television hit a few years ago, it was less than a year before a half-dozen shows offered footage of amateur video for your viewing pleasure (America's Scariest Police Chases, Funniest Animals, Funniest People, When Animals Attack...). When reality TV evolved into the Survivor gameshow, the very next season say so many similar competing shows that even the fans couldn't keep track of it all.

That kind of nimbleness does not come cheap, and the risks are enormous. When you decide on the spur of the moment to dream up a competitive show to "Survivor", complete with a cast of amateur actors, dangerous oversea locations and wacky stunts, it's not like you can just hire a bunch of people who have done this sort of show before. Just the logistics and the legal liability are enormous barriers, and there are thousands of other pieces that have to fall into place, right now, in order to deliver a successful show on time and on budget, week after week after week.

There are teams of highly-paid, highly-intelligent people who analyze every scrap of information available to them, and struggle to tweak their broadcasts to gain even a tenth of a point in additional viewership. They juggle the schedules, modify the scripts, identify and try to appeal to new, emerging demographic groups. These folks are fucking good at it, too; on average, Americans watch several hours of television per day, and even overseas viewership is enormous. It's the most pervasive media, and perhaps the most pervasive cultural force, in history. It's really a remarkable achievement, when you think about it.

Yet the end result always seems to suck... what's up with that? How can something which obviously appeals to the group as a whole be so unappealing to so many individuals?


The television industry is delivering exactly what people want. They are showing us the precise way to appeal to the most people in the target demographic, at any given time of the day.

This demographic, however, is not comprised of People Just Like You. If they were, you'd probably find television so fascinating that you'd quit your job just to stay home and watch as much of it as you could. Instead, the audience is comprised of a shockingly diverse group of people, and many of the folks like yourselves - who have college educations and jobs and who read books and stuff - are not only a tiny minority, but have excluded themselves by demonstrating that their buying habits are not influenced all that much by commercials anyway. The advertisers are not stupid, and they will put their money where it will do the most good.

What works for them is not necessarily what appeals to you and me, but what appeals to the people who they want as an audience for the commercials that they sell. The stuff that drives us crazy - the stupid reruns, the similarity of the shows from network to network, their insistence on copying every new idea with a version of their own, the blandness and bias of the nightly news, is so pervasive because it works really well, and it works better than anything else they can dream up.


Before I let this one go I'd like to make one more point... have a look now at politics, at the public statements made by public figures, at the speeches and the campaign commercials, and you'll see a frightening similarity. If anything is more mindless, shallow, and irritating than the public pronouncements of politicians, I'd like to hear about it.

But, as usual, you're in the intelligent minority, and once again you've probably excluded yourselves already. Virtually every one of you already knows what party you'll be backing in 2004, and probably 2008, too, if you even bother to vote at all.

The target audience is that ten or twenty percent of our fellow travelers who are actually influenced by this sort of stuff. Like it or not, these are the people who decide elections; they are shockingly diverse, not too bright, passionate enough to actually vote but fickle enough to change their minds after seeing a commercial or hearing a speech. The campaign stuff that drives you bananas is specially crafted to appeal to them, and it works, too. Think about it... the people who are best at this get to run the free world. You don't think they put a little effort in to it?


The vast wasteland that is our television spectrum is not evidence of a problem - it is exactly what television should look like, when it is working exactly as designed. The embarrassing foolishness of our public officials is not a sign that they are out of touch, but proof they are shockingly adept at understanding us, far better than most of us understand ourselves.

This is what a well-functioning democracy is actually supposed to look like. Each individual can endlessly find fault, but it appeals to the whole as best as it possibly can, and appeals especially to those with the actual power to influence it.

Think you can do better? Put your money where your mouth is, and maybe you can be running the free world yourself.


Meet The Monkey!
Tuesday, April 9, 2002

The RantList has evolved. Over the next few months I'll be making major changes to the site, and when it's ready to go I will re-launch it under its new, official domain:!

Go ahead. Tell me that's not a perfect name for this project.

The Monkey will integrate the current website's occasional posts with the daily emails you have been receiving for years. It will also (hopefully) have a proper comments section, a modern redesign with Style Sheets and Javascript and Frames and stuff, and anything else I feel like adding that's not too much of a pain in the ass to actually implement. Have a suggestion? Send it along, the Monkey is here to help.

The biggest thing holding the plan back is, as usual, cash. The fancy stuff that I'd like to add, like site searching, comments, and a Breaking News email subscription list, require server-side support, which requires that I find a more elaborate ISP to host it, which means either I cough up the bucks or we have to put up with lots of intermittent downtime and popup adds. Finding some money is always a possibility, but the popups and the unreliability are just not happening in this life. Once the collision between expectation and reality is complete, I'll have a better handle on where this whole project is going and I'll begin actually building it, just like a real software engineer with a real paying job.

And, just like a real engineer, I'm not above stealing the excellent design ideas of others. If there are any sites which you like that look especially nice, with good color combinations, easy to read text and intuitive navigation, let me know and I'll scavenge what I can.

At the risk of sounding like a total geek, there really are some good reasons to fancy-up the site. One of the things I'd really like to do is to make an unambiguous, visual separation between quoted and original material; another is to make it easy for me to annotate existing posts, offering corrections and updates in a sequential and intuitive way. You just can't do that sort of thing as well with indented black text on a white background.


Canada Deserves Our Thanks


It's always easy to make fun of Canada, and lord knows I've gone out of my way to smack them around whenever I've had the opportunity. They often deserve it, of course - hell, even this flag image I borrowed comes with a warning that I might be violating Canadian Copyright Law by displaying it on my web page - but I think it would be a shame to overlook the fact that our odd and amusing Northern friends have really been damn good friends lately, and they have paid a heavy price to do it.

The Canadian military has been backing us up in Afghanistan since the beginning, and they've been doing a hell of a good job of it, too. Their snipers have distinguished themselves with both their bravery and effectivness, their special forces are, believe it or not, actually among the best in the world.

These guys are all right. You learn who your real friends are when the shit hits the fan, and the sort of sacrifice they have made for us is deserving of our thanks. Think about it. They didn't have to put their people on the front lines. I don't think a single American would have thought twice about it if they had offered something less than front-line military support, as so many other "friendly" countries have. Take a few moments to give them their due; read this salute to a brave and modest nation.

(Via HFP)

Damian Asks A Reasonable Goddamn Question

Honest to God, has the whole world gone completely fucking insane?

(Via IM)

Just The Thing To Calibrate Your Gaydar

The Gay-O-Meter!

I was actually a bit disappointed that I scored so low...

(Via AC)

A senior leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, speaking to Time Magazine

(Via FR)

Bush Responds

"C'mere, you little prick..."

Parsing the Cardinal

Fritz Schranck reads Cardinal Egan's recent remarks, and eviscerates them with admirable clarity. Read the whole thing.

Note the careful use of the passive voice, from which no direct admissions can be determined. [...] For the most part, the statement uses the plural, a frequent refuge for those seeking to evade personal acknowledgment of fault.

Even when the Cardinal says, "I am deeply sorry," that part of the quote is, in fact, only a statement that he is sorry that "mistakes may have been made." It is not actually an admission that the Cardinal was among those who "may have" made the "mistakes."

The shame of it is, if Cardinal Egan were really a Good Catholic, he'd have the moral courage to simply confess his guilt, He'd confess, he'd accept contrition, and he'd ask the forgiveness of his Church, his parishioners, and his God. What makes this so sad is that they'd be so willing to give him their forgiveness, and then everybody would walk away from this feeling better, feeling closer to their church, and feeling proud that these terrible problems were decisively and decently addressed.

Instead we get this... as if what the world really needs in a time of crisis is another Clintonesque, dissembling, guilty man preaching from a ruined position of trust.

I'd be really happy to see this guy face serious criminal charges, but it'll probably never happen.

(Via USSC)

Looks Like Robert Blake's All Done

The police found the murder weapon, a .380 Walther PPK. The serial number was filed off, but they were able to read it anyway, and trace it back to him.

What a maroon!

Web Bugs

Scarier then you think. The Captain explains..

Update: The "bugnosis" program he describes will alert you to web bugs, but it does nothing to protect you from them.

This Was More Fun Than I Thought It Would Be

Seriously... Give it a try.

(Via S&F)

This Is A Good Read

In fact, this is so good, I've made a local mirror of it, just in case anything happens to the original.

Considering the source, people on both sides of the issue are likely to accept the veracity of this report, which makes it one of the few pieces of undisputed information available to us.

VW Gets 264 mpg

Check out this cool-looking research vehicle, the first roadworthy car to break the 1 liter/100 kilometer (235mpg) barrier.

neato car

Interestingly enough, it's a diesel.

(Via BDX)

Female, or Shemale?

This was hard. I got 13 out of 16 right.

Famine in Connecticut... Where Is the Outrage?

Philip Murphy eviscerates Anna Quindlen. She deserves it, too.

This Is Fun


(Via SS)


"How to Think About Security", the lead story in Bruce Schneier's excellent monthly newsletter (mirrored here) is today's must-read.

The Supremes Make A Good Call

Update: I was surprised that Justice Scalia voted with the minority on this one; perhaps I have misjudged him. I was utterly shocked, however, to see that Justice Ginsburg voted with the majority. I figure she only did it to piss Scalia off.

The Amazing X10 Camera

According to this, you can drive around with a $250 reciever and easily pick up NannyCam images from inside random people's homes and offices. It's probably legal, too.

I imagine that burglars might see some advantage in this, not to mention the creepy guy down the street who has the hots for your daughter. Personally, I think it's only fair that the people who helped support X-10s irritating pop-under ad campaign should be punished for their sins...

This Sums It Up

Sick Motherfucker

Somewhere, deep down, I have to believe these people really are quite different from us.

(Via DP)

Update: An LGF reader points out that in Europe, the V sign does not mean peace, it means "victory". If true, this makes the photo even more emblematic of the conflict, as peace and victory are mutually exclusive, at least until the victory is won.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the willingness to trade peace for victory. I feel exactly the same way myself.

Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies

I love sites like this.

(Via LM)

More Proof The Palestinian Leadership Wants To Negotiate For Peace

What do you suppose we would have done if this assassination attempt had succeeded? Why do you suppose that we shouldn't respond that way now?

Valid HTML 4.01!

Don't think this wasn't a pain in the ass...

Steven Den Beste at USSC says that this is a remarkably good article. I like Den Beste, so I read it. As usual, he's right.

It's long, but read the first three paragraphs before you decide to blow it off. It really is worthwhile.

Speaking of Den Beste, if this dosen't break your heart, go to the doctor and get a new one.