RantList Archive

Friday, July 27, 2001

Another Quote Of The Day

I have long insisted, often alone and without support, that Michael Moore (of "Roger and Me" fame) was a contemptible piece of shit. This is not to say the guy is not occasionally quite funny - he's come up with some great stuff over the years - but there is an ugly side of him that few people ever seem to notice. Here's a recent comment that pretty much sums up my opinion of him:

Q: What do you think is the root cause of these dark ages?

A: We are the only country in the whole world without dominant state-controlled media. In a democracy, the state is supposed to be the people. So if it’s truly the people, I’d rather run the risk of a government truly run by the people than a corporation doing it.

Imagine the Moral Majority uttering something like this and you will understand exactly my distaste for this man.

Monday, July 23, 2001

Quote Of The Day

This made me laugh, reason enough to include it here...

There is one particular angle to the stem-cell debate that nobody's addressing: the total silence of the anti-biotech left. For some reason, whenever Monsanto comes out with a genetically enhanced carrot or a faster-growing soybean, some white guy with faux dreadlocks and open-toed shoes is out there screaming about the end of the world. But when the NIH wants to crack open a human embryo so it can grow a new liver or human heart or just a plain old human in a petri dish, there's total silence.

[...] Mary Shelley crafted a cautionary tale of man's folly at playing God. Now, the important thing to remember is that the monster wasn't a vegetable — he was a man. It's not hard to see the steamy crowds in Genoa or in Seattle or on college campuses across the United States as an angry mob, eager to destroy what they don't understand. But if you were going to rewrite the novel based upon the current mob's priorities, Frankenstein's monster would roam around free to harass the high-school girls and pee in on the prize-winning rose bushes while the mob set out to destroy Frankenstein's genetically enhanced endive salad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Killer Point Award: Andrew Sullivan

A few weeks back I described a 'killer point' as a single fact or counter-argument that effectively changed the nature of a discussion, sort of the conversational equivalent of the 'Perry Mason Moment' you sometimes see in court. Today's winner is Andrew Sullivan, for his work in nailing the National Review for their unfortunate support of a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

Laws regarding marriage, like laws regarding just about anything, may be decided by the voters. If the voters of one state want to ban gay marriages (as many do) that is their right. If they want to allow gay marriages, or to allow gays some sort of civil union that approximates marriage, or to lower the marriage age to 14, or to require a waiting period for marriage, that is their right as well.

However, some opponents of gay marriage have been pushing for either a federal law or a constitutional amendment banning the practice nationwide; their sole reason, other than their personal desire to tell others what to do, stems from the "full faith and credit" clause of the constitution which requires each state to respect certain legal agreements made in all the others. Their fear was that if one state allowed gays to marry, every state would have to respect it and we'd all be living in Sodom On Earth.

To quote Kurtz, "Precisely because of the "full faith and credit clause," there has to be national agreement on the basic definition of marriage. Otherwise, a single state court can impose a radically new definition upon the entire country - a possibility that never even occurred to the framers." That sentence is simply wrong. Some same-sex marriage proponents at one point hoped it might be true but it clearly isn't. [...] The full faith and credit clause has always been interpreted to mean that legal "judgments," i.e. documents ruled legal in a court, like ownership of property and so on, must be portable from state to state. But a marriage has never been deemed a "judgment" of this kind. That's why when northern states allowed miscegenation, they didn't automatically mandate legal mixed-race marriages across the South.

Bang! Nice shot, Andy. I imagine the editors of the National Review standing silent, mouths open, with nothing more really to say.

There are few things in life that makes me happier than watching a bigot get slapped upside the head.

Why I loved the 60s (or, at least my version of them)

I was reading the sharply-liberal Nation this morning and stumbled upon an article that got me thinking. What struck me was a single sentence fragment, where the author referred to a recent court ruling as ...a rare instance of an alliance between liberals and libertarians...

Maybe I'm being stupid here, but the heavens opened a little bit when I read that.

Back in the good old days, liberals and libertarians seemed to be the best of friends. Being a liberal once meant a willingness to stand up to the dominant paradigm, and to stand up, specifically, to the government and to their police. Why should blacks tolerate discriminatory laws? Form a human chain and confront the police head-on. Why can't I smoke dope? Why can't I have sex with whom I like, and use modern means of planning my own family and my own destiny, without government interference? Why can't I exercise my right to protest, to publish unpopular views, to challenge what is written in the establishment papers and taught in the establishment schools? Let's hold teach-ins and question authority and demand the university teach topics the administration disagrees with. Let's protest, and if necessary evade, the draft. Lets go underground to train our draft counselors and protect our friends, in fact, lets build our own little self-run communities where we can escape the eyes and hands of the government. Let all these weirdball, experimental points of view be heard, and let people fulfill their own destinies. Let's turn the ACLU into a sterling, apolitical defender of liberty for everyone, and use it to hold government powers in check at every turn. And, (my favorite) let's encourage young women to burn their bras and assert their personal independence by having casual sex. Conformity, puritanism, and censorship are evil. Follow the law only if you believe it to be moral. If the people will lead, the leaders will follow, and when the chips are down you take it to the streets and force changes to occur.

I'll bet dollars to donuts that this strikes a cord in 95% of the people who will read this. This is the brand of freedom that I learned to love, and that still defines me today.

Today, this is hardly a liberal view anymore; in certain academic liberal circles, it would probably be branded as hate speech. The difference has become so stark that, as I pointed out above, it becomes credible to consider liberals and libertarians to be on opposite sides of the street. What the fuck happened here?

Ask an experienced climber about rules prohibiting access to the cliffs and you will probably get a long, thoughtful, and utterly compelling response that touches upon the basics of personal responsibility, freedom, and choice. I've heard (and given) that speech several times over the years and have yet to meet a sane person who disagrees with it, so long as the people involved exercise informed consent and do not expect a taxpayer-funded rescue. This is a quintessentially libertarian point of view.

Plenty of not-so-sane people are running around who offer the following counterpoints:

1) If you hurt yourself, you can sue the landowner for letting you climb, even if you knew the risks and signed a waiver, because you cannot waive your right to sue.
2) You may not sign away your expectation for a taxpayer funded rescue, either, so unless we are willing to offer that service, we may prevent you from climbing.
3) If some kid sees you on TV and emulates what you do, he can sue you after he hurts himself.
4) Taxpayer-funded medical care will be impacted if you hurt yourself, so therefore we have a right to limit the 'unnecessary' risks you may take. We may also sue the people who sold you the rope for these same medical costs.
5) We may regulate the rope as a consumer safety issue, and deem all rope as unsafe for climbing by unlicensed persons. We are not required to make this license available to you.

The sad part is, I'm not kidding - each of these examples was drawn from real life. Consider seatbelt laws and cigarettes, lawn darts, race buggies and fireworks, even Bevis saying "fire is cool" on late-night cable TV. And, like it or not, each of these examples was born of current liberal thought; the basic idea is that an active government is a good government, one which it provides services to people and which protects people from their own misjudgment. Basically, any law makes it easy to sue somebody else for your own stupidity draws from this well, and it's not like the trial lawyers of the world are lining up to vote republican.

Forty years pass and we've traded Yippies for nannies. What genius came up with that idea?

Maybe I'm some sort of troglodyte, but I think a grown-up ought to be able to climb, and be able to sign away his option to sue or be rescued; I think a grown-up ought to be able to buy lawn darts and fireworks and fast go-carts that can kill you if you crash them, so long as he understands the danger and makes an effort not to hurt anyone else. Most importantly, I think Beevis ought to be able to say whatever the fuck he wants. Start talking to me about how cable TV is like the "tragedy of the commons" and I'll piss on your leg.

Now, don't get me wrong - just because I'm bashing the left at the moment doesn't mean I think the right is any more reluctant to run your life, and I am certainly not suggesting that we go out and vote the Libertarian ticket next time around, either. What I am saying is that the healthy libertarianism which was once pervasive in the left (and which was probably a big part of attracted us to the left in the first place) has not only wandered off, it's been driven out and has now become the enemy. I think this is a big deal, and I think most people who consider themselves to be liberals either don't realize it, or worse, they simply have nobody else to vote for.

I'd propose that what America needs right now is a gentle resurgence of libertarianism - not Libertarians, mind you, but a more libertarian shading to the dominant points of view. Imagine the people you most recently voted for, doing what they ordinarily do, but doing it while in a libertarian mood. Imagine newspapers and opinion columns leaning a little more towards the idea of personal accountability and personal choice. Imagine trial lawyers, nannies and busybodies losing some of their influence on American life. Imagine we expected each other to act a little more like grownups, and we were each treated accordingly.

Tell me that doesn't make you feel better. Tell me that isn't the America you expected as you grew up, and the America you'd want for you kids.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Stem Cells And Bullshit: More to this one than meets the eye

Before I go any further into this particularly dark corner of American politics, let me repeat something that will be obvious to any of you who know me: I am uncompromisingly pro-choice, and I favor wide-ranging research in embryonic stem cells. Having said that, I find myself in sharp disagreement with just about everyone on this issue, a position I have grown wearily accustomed to over the years.

I argue with my friends on the right, who seem to have inverted their ethics in an attempt to remain consistent with their pro-life views; I argue with my friends on the left, who seem to believe that federal regulation of anything of value is a crucial first step, and I argue, most of all, with the media, which has distorted the facts so badly that it's a wonder we can still discuss the topic at all.

Let's start with the media. As I understand it, there are three primary sources of stem cells - adults, human embryos, and umbilical cord blood. Which of these three sources is currently seen as offering the most promise in human medicine?

Those of you who have been following the story most closely will almost certainly believe that embryonic cells are the most promising, but this is almost certainly untrue. This untruth is of great political value, however, and it has been repeated to the point where it has almost taken on a life of its own.

Consider the following, excerpted from an interview with David Prentice, a professor of life sciences at Indiana State University and an adjunct professor of medical & molecular genetics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

There are several excellent alternatives to embryos, and they are actually better potential sources of stem cells for numerous reasons. The best sources are from our own organs termed "adult stem cells" or "tissue stem cells." Another excellent source is cord blood; the small amount of blood left in an umbilical cord after it is detached from a newborn is rich in stem cells. In the last two years, we've gone from thinking that we had very few stem cells in our bodies, to recognizing that many (perhaps most) organs maintain a reservoir of these cells.

We've known for some time that bone-marrow stem cells can make more blood, but now we know that these adult stem cells can also make bone, muscle, cartilage, heart tissue, liver, and even brain. Interestingly enough, we now know that our brain contains stem cells which can be stimulated to make more neurons, or to take up different job descriptions as muscle or blood. Bone marrow and cord blood are already successfully being used clinically, while clinical use of embryonic stem cells is years away. Current clinical applications of adult stem cells include treatments for cancer, arthritis, lupus, and making new corneas, to name a few.

One distinct advantage of using our own adult stem cells is that there will be no transplant rejection, since it is our own tissue. Use of human embryonic stem cells will require lifelong use of drugs to prevent rejection of the tissue. Or, the patient will have to be cloned, and that embryo sacrificed to obtain the embryonic stem cells for the tissue.

Another advantage of adult stem cells might be considered from a manufacturing viewpoint: A 2-step manufacturing process is more direct and has much less likelihood of a problem than a 10-step process. Adult stem cells have shown success at forming many specific tissues so far, certainly more than human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. And as one researcher noted regarding human embryonic stem cells: "We thought from the first that problems would arise using hPSCs [human pluripotent stem cells] to make replacement tissues," indicating that the early stage cells are both difficult and slow to grow. "More important, there's a risk of tumors. If you're not very careful when coaxing these early cells to differentiate — to form nerve cells and the like — you risk contaminating the newly differentiated cells with the stem cells. Injected into the body, [embryonic] stem cells can produce tumors." No such problems exist with adult stem cells.

I'm not an expert, of course, and I don't know Dr. David Prentice from a hole in the wall. However, I appreciate that this guy is making what looks to me like a damn good point, and I have yet to find anything to suggest that he is not right on the money with his assessment.

The myth that embryonic stem cells are the holy grail of modern medicine is a politically potent tool; it advances the political agendas of those who support abortion and who oppose President Bush. What better way to protect abortion rights than to explicitly define human embryos as a disposable resource under federal law? What better why to embarrass the president then to portray him as heartlessly denying Superman the medical care he needs to rise up from his wheelchair and walk away?

Now, don't get me wrong - just because I pointed out the disadvantages associated with embryonic stem cells doesn't mean I think it's good science, or even good social policy, to ignore them. They might not seem, today, to offer the shortest route to curing disease, but they have a hell of a lot to teach us and the use of these cells might well emerge as a useful and critical technology down the road.

Here, of course, is where I differ from my conservative friends, and from the majority of "professional" ethicists, whom I have come to regard as mortal enemies. To be rather blunt about it, I'd mix up the embryos in my own goddamn kitchen sink if I had to, if it would help to rescue a loved one from a lifetime of confinement in a wheelchair or from the ravages of a disease like MS or Altzhiemers.

So that makes federal regulation of embryonic stem cell research a good idea, right? Well, consider this, a fairly typical suggestion that "...the research should be brought under stricter government oversight, not driven underground."

Think about that for a minute. Is it really such a bad idea that contentious research be 'driven underground' to the point where it is not dependant upon the whims of the Federal government, and does not live and die by each shift in the political wind? Considering the enormous profits these people will generate with even their first practical application of this technology, it's not like there is any shortage of very deep pockets to fund them. Once they establish their research centers in places where they are not interfered with, isn't that the fast track to actually learning something and getting something useful in return? Is advancement in science really helped by layers of federal regulation added by every poltician with the power to disrupt the funding?

Recall that the greatest engine of medical advancement the history of the world - the development of new and better drugs - is strictly a private enterprise, and, in fact, the same private enterprise which will be funding such "underground" work. If we were depending on Federal workers to develop our drugs we'd still be purifying insulin through pieces of cheesecloth.

Here's my take: Keep Your Laws Off My Medical Research. Let the busybodies debate this until they are blue in the face, pass and rescind your rules and regulations after every election cycle, grant and revoke funding as often as you like. Do everything you can to drive the researchers away from their dependence on government funding and into the arms of the only people on the planet who know how to turn good ideas into lifesaving treatment that works.

In short, get the fuck out of the way and stop bothering the staff. They are busy with important work.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Exhibit A:
Exhibit B: London's Daily Telegraph
Gun crimes soaring despite ban brought in following Dunblane
David Bamber, Home Affairs Correspondent

THE controversial ban on the ownership of handguns which was introduced after the Dunblane massacre has failed to halt an increasing number of crimes involving firearms.

An independent report, Illegal Firearms in the UK, to be published by the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College in London tomorrow, says that handguns were used in 3,685 offences last year compared with 2,648 in 1997, an increase of 40 per cent.

The figures will renew the debate about the effectiveness of the gun ban, introduced by the last Conservative government and then extended to cover all pistols by Labour after winning the 1997 general election.

Legislation banning larger-calibre pistols was proposed by the previous Conservative government in response to the murder of 16 pupils and their teacher by Thomas Hamilton at Dunblane primary school in March 1996.

But Labour broadened the scope of the Act to cover smaller handguns as well, despite opposition from the sporting community. The law is now so restrictive that British Olympic shooting competitors go abroad to practise because their weapons are illegal in this country.

The new report, commissioned by the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Shooting, was compiled by John Bryan, the former head of the firearms intelligence unit at New Scotland Yard.

Mr Bryan said that his report cast doubt on the wisdom of the ban. "The increase in the use of handguns by criminals since the implementation of the 1997 Act clearly raises important questions for policy-makers considering further controls on legally-held firearms."

David Bredin, the director of the Campaign for Shooting, said: "It is crystal clear from the research that the existing gun laws do not lead to crime reduction and a safer place.

"Policy-makers have targeted the legitimate sporting and farming communities with ever-tighter laws. The research clearly demonstrates that it is illegal guns which are the real threat to public safety."

The number of crimes involving handguns has increased, mostly due to a flood of illegally imported weapons and the use of those already in circulation before 1997.

The report also shows a dramatic rise in firearms incidents in general, from 4,904 recorded incidents in 1997 to 6,843 last year. It reveals an increase in crimes using shotguns, up from 580 in 1997 to 693 last year.

Offences involving air weapons show an even more startling rise, from 7,506 in 1997 to 10,103 last year. Mr Bryan compiled the statistics from Home Office figures and information obtained by analysing individual forces' crime totals.

A firearms amnesty at the time of the ban's introduction resulted in 160,000 handguns being surrendered to the police at a cost of £90 million to the taxpayer in compensation.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government did not believe that banning handguns by itself would eradicate gun crime. We recognise there is a continuing problem with the use of guns by criminals and that it has increased over recent years.

"We are taking further measures against criminals who use guns and we already have schemes in the pipeline to curtail illegal gun use. These include a national register of legal guns, an intensified effort against illegally smuggled weapons and a determination to punish criminals who use guns."

It seems that you reach a point where you just can't reason with people anymore...

I mean, sure, Exhibit A was kind of funny, and I am not so partisan that I can't get a chuckle out of it, but c'mon, now... even the British (the British, for chrissake!) have come to admit that their gun controls efforts have been a hands-down, flat-out failure. They sit there on their little island and ban everything from BB guns on up and their gun crime rate goes up forty percent. Meanwhile, here in the US, the states with the fewest gun laws have the lowest crime, and those states have made permits to carry gun easier to get have seen their crime rates either improve upon, or at least match, the overall decline we have seen nationwide.

At what point do these people start to own up? I mean, it's really not just me, right? The information is out there and available to anybody with a broswer and the brains god gave a rabbit, and still, people like me find themselves on the fringe of the discussion.

I guess I'll just have to wait for act two... when the British citizens get their weapons back and the crime rate falls back to its earlier levels. I might live to see it, and lord knows I'll enjoy the show, too.

Thursday, July 05, 2001

RantList Poll: Results

Well, I got a whopping three responses, so I'll just generalize away...

Each person who responded liked the artical, and tended to vote democrat. Two of the three did not feel there was any philosophical conflict. Each pointed out (correctly) that the differences between the two parties on most of the issues mentioned was visible only while using a powerful electron microscope.

One respondant actually ran some of the data down, earning 10 points of extra credit:

The article itself mentioned that the gambling initiative was sponsored by a Republican. Doing a little bit of research, I found that legislation to require helmets was sponsored and opposed by both Republicans and Democrats, and that the pending federal anti-ecstasy legislation was co-sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats. No easy party line division on any of those issues.

So? What to make of this?

The point I was looking for was that people are quick to recognize the Republican party's willingness to intrude into your personal decisions, but tend to give the Democrats a free ride (the old "Republicans as parents, Democrats as teenagers" thing). There is a small irony here, because, philosophically at least, that liberals actually think that this sort of nanny-isim is a good and proper use of government while conservatives are supposed to be supporters of personal responsibility.

The point I got was rather different - my impression is that our people vote democrat for pragmatic rather than philosophical reasons, because the two parties have been tied for intrusiveness for so long that the philosophical distinctions have become meaningless.

After a moment's thought, I have to agree that they are right.

This leads me to a second question:

Two excellent, honest, straightforward candidates are running for the same public office. Circumstances suggest that they will actually have a meaningful impact on your life, as much as any one candidate is likely to realistically have. They are:

1) An otherwise typical conservative republican, who is both pro-choice and moderately pro-environment.

2) An otherwise typical liberal democrat, who is both pro-life and moderately pro-environment.

These candidates differ, as you might expect, on affirmative action, gun control, tort reform, school choice, unions, tax policy, welfare, and crime.

Who would you vote for?

The reason I ask is twofold:

1) How many of you will cross party lines?
2) What issues matter most to you?

Operators are standing by...

Something New Under The Sun

Suppose I told you that your paper money could be embedded with tiny microchips less then half a millimeter wide that could wirelessly communicate a 128 bit identifier to recievers about 10 inches away. Suppose these things might turn up in your clothing, on the soles of your feet, on embedded into any product or piece of paper you might have.

Suppose I told you these chips were expected to be available sometime next spring. These things will no doubt have a bright future in document authentication, shoplifting and fraud prevention, and covert surveillance on a very large scale.

When I find out more about these charming little devices I'll post a follow-up, currently the only information I can find is at http://www.worldnetdaily.com/frame/direct.asp?SITE=news.zdnet.co.uk/story/0,,s2090580,00.html

Monday, July 02, 2001

Verified: you can get anybody you want kicked off Hotmail

More Zero-Tolerance idiocy, reported by our friends at

When we reported Hotmail's zero-tolerance spam policy last week we thought it just might be possible to get the innocent Hotmail user of your choice kicked off the system with a simple email to abuse@hotmail.com.

But it was just a thought - the single incident we reported last week was surely just a mistake, and there's absolutely no way a grown-up operation would do this as a matter of course, right? Wrong, apparently - after reading the story, Fritz Öhman set about to duplicate the circumstances, and guess what?


Over to Fritz for a demonstration of how to delete anybody you want. First he created a new Hotmail account, then sent an email from it to his regular POP mail. He then replied to the Hotmail account as follows:

To: "f f"
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2001 1:31 AM
Subject: Re: wassup cuz

Due to MS licensing rules regarding privacy for MS Passport, our company no longer accepts mail from Hotmail.

Please find another provider. Hotmail accounts receive so much spam anyway, so you are probably better of without it.

thanks for your time,

Jula Bula

----- Original Message -----
From: "f f"
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2001 1:29 AM
Subject: wassup cuz

An autoresponer let him know almost immediately that: "a Support Representative will be reviewing your question and responding to you soon." Shortly afterwards:

From: "MSN Hotmail Support"
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2001 5:48 PM
Subject: RE: CST36024161ID - Re: wassup cuz

Hello Jula,
Thank you for writing to MSN Hotmail.

This is Ruby and I am writing in response to the unsolicited mail you've received. I apologize for any inconvenience this matter has caused you. I appreciate your bringing this matter to our attention. I have closed the account you reported in accordance with the Hotmail Terms of Service (TOS). It is a strict violation of the TOS for our members to send objectionable material of any kind or nature using our service.

You can view our rules and regulations at:


In short, seemingly any sort of an off-hand mention of spam being accociated with amy HotMail account will get the account terminated without a second thought. You get what you pay for I guess...



Original Content Copyright 2001 Mike Spenis