Instapun*** Archive Listing

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September 21, 2006 - September 14, 2006

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Study finds... not.

Who's gonna talk you home tonight?

NUMBERS JOCKS. Practically every day, some news organization or other presents us with a dire headline that includes the phrase "Study finds." Without a full exploration of the content, each of these can function as a factless propaganda item that reinforces an existing belief or annoys us by contradicting an existing belief. The interesting question is whether we, as individuals, behave differently depending on which of these two circumstances applies. Today, I came across this teaser in Drudge:

STUDY: Cellphones take up driver attention...

I happen to believe that this is true. It seems reasonable to think that there would be fewer accidents if all those businesspeople, housewives, and teenagers weren't motoring down the highway yakking on the phone. On the other hand, my libertarian inclinations resist the notion that the cops should have yet another excuse to punish people for what they do on their own private property (i.e., in our cars) before any external driving misconduct occurs. So I was curious to see what the "study" had found. The opening paragraphs certainly sounded authoritative:

Using a cellphone -- even with a hands-free device -- may distract drivers because the brain cannot handle both tasks, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

Imaging tests show the brain directs its resources to either visual input or auditory input, but cannot fully activate both at the same time, the team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found.

Johns-Hopkins. They're smart. They must know. But then Reuters briefly describes the methodology:

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, Yantis and colleagues said they tested people aged 19 to 35 by showing them a computer display while they wore headphones playing voices.

At the same time, the volunteers brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

They were told to look for specific numbers, for instance, on a computer screen, while hearing recorded voices saying a stream of numbers...

This, the article concludes, "is like driving and trying to talk on a cellphone."

Uh, no, it isn't. It may be that there is some fundamental validity to the point that driving and talking on the phone are competing tasks which the brain doesn't handle efficiently at the same time, but this test proves no such thing. It's a setup. The exercise performed by the volunteers involved identifying the exact same information, specific numbers, via two different senses, sight and hearing. The one task is a direct and highly specific confusion factor for the other. What kid hasn't teased a pal who was trying to memorize a phone number from the yellow pages by reciting a stream of random numbers out loud? In this case, it's obvious the brain will switch its number processing capacity from one input source to the other, aware that no mixed attention span can do justice to either input.

This is very far from being akin to the circumstance of driving and talking on a cellphone. Neither task is directly analogous to the processing of numbers, which occurs in a different part of the brain from language processing. If you doubt this, consider the difference between the number task -- identifying specific numbers -- and the phone conversation task, which can lose or ignore plenty of specific words and still achieve understanding of the gist. And the brain process that attends to the road is neither numeric nor linguistic -- it's performing a kind of subconscious pattern recognition, looking for important exceptions in the overall visual field which require the application of conscious decision making. If it were otherwise, we would find it impossible to do what we all do on a regular basis: drive some familiar route with hardly any recollection of the trip after we've reached our destination. No exceptions spotted, no conscious processing required.

The study focuses on one kind of processing function, not related to driving or talking, and tries to compare it to a situation that involves two altogether different kinds of processing functions which may or may not create complications in an organ well known to be capable of advanced multiprocessing tasks.

The conclusions are nonsense. Johns-Hopkins should know better, and we should all be reminded of the need to be skeptical when we're urged to be credulous of some scientific authority and even when we're inclined to agree with the conclusions being reported.

Is this how the link between global warming and human behavior came to be regarded and reported as a "fact"?

A Contract with America
for Democrats

"We'll Bless America."

FOR DEAN & COMPANY. Republicans keep referring to Democrats as "obstructionist," implying that the minority party doesn't really have any ideas for changing the status quo. I think this does them a disservice. If they'd known about John Kerry's Yale grades beforehand, they might have picked a standard bearer more adept with words than George W. Bush. And since the election, it may be the case that the Democrats have been too caught up in their anti-Bush emotions and rhetoric to articulate a set of proposals for definitive action, but that doesn't mean they can't be articulated. All that's required is to draw some logical inferences from the views consistently espoused by those who speak for the party and convert them into an agenda that could be presented to the voters in the next two elections.

Here's a first draft of what such an agenda might look like in several broad areas of policy:


If the American people vote to return Democrats to a majority in the Senate and House and to the Presidency:

Foreign Policy

1. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation making it illegal for any American troops to serve as instruments of national imperialism in any way whatsoever. All U.S. troops presently serving overseas will be brought home immediately and put to work rebuilding the infrastructure of our impoverished inner cities.

2. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation declaring an end to the illegal and undeclared War on Terror. Further, legislation will be passed to ensure appropriate reparations to all nations and demographic constituencies who have been victimized by American bombing, troop actions, prisoner abuse and humiliation, U.N. resolutions, and domestic and international propaganda efforts.

3. The Democrat Party will immediately nominate and assure the approval of a U.N. ambassador who will work tirelessly to repair the damage done to America's reputation abroad by the current administration's unilateral efforts to conquer alleged enemies, overthrow alleged tyrants, and undermine international efforts to secure a more fair and equal distribution of the world's wealth.

4. The Democrat party will immediately nominate Former President Jimmy Carter as a cabinet-level  Ambassador-at-Large-for-Life to negotiate mutually acceptable peace terms with North Korea, Iran, al Qaida, and the Palestinian people, including terms for ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and for executing the prompt relocation of Jewish people from Palestine to other countries, including the United States and our closest allies, such as France, Germany, and Russia. Mr. Carter will be specifically chartered to conduct all negotiations in a spirit of true tolerance for the cultural traditions of other countries and their historical mistreatment by the United States of America.

5. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation authorizing the World Court in the Hague to begin war crimes proceedings against all U.S. government and military personnel who have been complicit in the undeclared war on terror and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

National Security

1. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation creating a new commission to identify the perpetrators and/or accomplices in the September 11, 2001 attack on New York during the period of time between January 2000 and October 2001. All those identified and proven complicit by the commission will be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law, including George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and their aides and representatives.

2. The Democrat Party will immediately triple the budget for 'first responders' to domestic attacks by aggrieved foreign constituencies, including the first ever budget for education and sensitivity training to prevent the possibility of hostility or acts of revenge by American victims of such attacks. All Americans must understand and accept the abiding rights of other peoples and civilizations to freely express their resentments against their historical oppressors. This initiative, combined with the Carter initiative to negotiate a peaceful resolution with al Qaida, should speedily end the irrational aspects of international relations which have fueled the cycle of violence.

3. The Democrat Party will pass legislation to reduce the military budget of the United States by 90 percent. This will preclude the possibility of inadvertent provocation of other foreign nations and constituencies by the fact of American military power, reinforce the importance of diplomatic negotiations as the only appropriate road to peace, and vastly reduce the federal budget deficit created by the Republicans.

4. The Democrat Party will pass an employment bill guaranteeing minimum wage jobs to all unemployed Americans and undocumented aliens as security guards at nuclear power plants, chemical plants, truck depots, shipping docks, and other facilities which might be targeted by foreign insurgents prior to the attainment of lasting peace. Any American citizens killed while so employed will receive compensation equal to that received by civilian victims of the September 11, 2001, tragedy.

Domestic Prosperity

1. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation raising the minimum wage to a level equaling the minimum annual income of the nation's highest tax bracket, thus eliminating the nation's recent history of giving tax breaks to the rich at the expense of the poor. Any increases in revenue associated with this legislation will be used to guarantee the continuation in perpetuity of the current social security system, as well as to radically refund affirmative action programs designed to offset any new disparity between rich and poor, and to finance reparations from the federal government to African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans, women, and Undocumented Aliens -- all of whom have created wealth for the rich without being fairly compensated in the past.

2. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation creating a single-payer national health care system, so that Americans can finally enjoy the unparalleled benefits of the health care enjoyed in such countries as Canada, the United Kingdom, and France, where all share equally in such attributes as access and expertise, as well as delays and scarcities.

The Environment

1. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation banning all new domestic oil exploration and requiring automotive and energy companies to find a replacement for petroleum-based fuels in 12 months.

2. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation endorsing the Kyoto Protocols, so that the ensuing worldwide economic slowdown will be shared equally with Europe and Asia, thus forestalling the potential for military and diplomatic conflicts arising from inequity.

The Judiciary

1. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation to realize the historical dream of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a Supreme Court consisting of 12 justices. All subsequent nominations to the Court will dispense with the Republican litmus test on abortion and will instead focus on the highest principles of constitutional justice, such as the need to continuously rehabilitate the obsolete verbiage of 18th century slaveowners with the more enlightened judicial principles practiced by our closest allies, such as France, Germany, and France.

2. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation extending legal protections afforded American citizens under the U.S. Constitution to all living human beings on earth, without exception.

Political Reform

1. The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation banning all forms of voter registration as intrinsically discriminatory against the poor and uneducated. In future, voters may vote where, when, and as often as they choose during the entire month of November, and all disputes will be resolved by the new, larger, and more democratic Supreme Court, thus ensuring that every voter's voice is counted.

2.  The Democrat Party will immediately pass legislation creating a commission of our country's most prestigious academicians to develop  standards for the politically correct use of the First Amendment, thus ensuring that our national political discourse will no longer be impeded or diverted by language insulting to disadvantaged minorities, including women, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Native Americans, undocumented illegals, and so-called "liberals." The recommendations of this commission will be enacted immediately after the swearing in of the new Supreme Court.

3. Immediately after the signing of the political reform act described above, the Democrat Party will pass a series of special reform measures banning the Fox News Channel, political talk radio, political abuse of the internet, and the participation of any avowedly religious persons in the political process, with the exception of muslims, hindus, buddhists, taoists, new age spiritualists, wiccans, and some Jews.

I think it's a good start. Did I leave anything out?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Jack Bauer

OUR FRIENDLY UNCLES. I watched 24 this year for the first time. In many ways it's a silly show, but all its sound and fury does reinforce an elementary imperative that too many people forget: REMEMBER THE MISSION. That's what distinguishes the Jack Bauer character from all his supposed allies in the government and the counter-terrorism organization he works for. The bad guys don't forget their mission, but the good guys keep getting distracted by their romantic relationships, their egos, and most alarmingly, by their inability to imagine that prospective mass tragedy far outweighs the ugliness of what must be done right now, right here, to prevent it. In 24, only Jack Bauer has the vision and the discipline to remain focused on the reality of the situation. He's the one who's willing to torture his lover's husband to find the perpetrator of a nuclear terror plot, the one who will sacrifice the life of someone who saved his own to keep a bad guy with important information alive, the one who will defy a timid President to extract information from a suspect through extra-constitutional means, the one who will repeatedly risk his own life to keep the bad thing from happening. The others remember the mission sometimes, or partially, or up to a point, but at critical junctures they get tricked by their own emotions or the cynical maneuverings of the enemy into disastrous cul de sacs where their prideful, civilized virtues make them accomplices of evil. Somehow, they just can't seem to remember that the right thing to do under ordinary circumstances can be the completely wrong thing to do when 10 million lives are at stake. The horror of the current moment blinds them to the unutterably greater horror of the likely death of 10 million strangers.

The TV show makes this point so often and in so many ways that it becomes almost tiresome. But when I think they're overdoing it, I need only look at the headlines to see that there's no such thing as overdoing it. So-called civlized societies absolutely insist on forgetting the mission.

The most recent example is the Durbin affair. The blogosphere has been saturated with anti-Durbin rhetoric, but the most important part of the story has been forgotten in the rush to pillory one idiot senator. There will always be idiots in the Senate. That's not news, and it's not very important. It doesn't really matter whether he apologizes or not or whether he can be made to recognize his own reckless irresponsibility or not. What does matter is that the mainstream media and the American people can't seem to REMEMBER THE MISSION, which is to win a war against ruthless barbarians who are absolutely set on killing us. The real plotline of the Durbin remarks is that only a handful of conservatives are outraged by what he said. The majority of average Americans are indifferent, the media elites are embarrassed but intent on covering for him, and the spotlight remains fixed on the irrelevant idiot senator rather than the suicidal apathy of the nation he has betrayed at a level which amounts to treason.

So I'm having a Jack Bauer moment. Here's my call to action for the bloggers: forget Durbin. Apply your wit and eloquence to the far more difficult objective of waking up the American people. We are at war, and the mainstream media are the accomplices of our enemies. That's the plotline of our story. You want to be a hero? Expose and defeat the villains who are doing the most harm, not the pitiful dupes and foils they use to distract us from their poisonous ongoing machinations.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Michelle Malkin -- welcome to visitors. Feel free to take a look around.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

There was once a Father who had Two Children -- Part II
Drudge confirms what we reported here April 7th. FYI.

Kneel here, Bill

Queen goes nuts

H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II

ROCKING ROLL MUSIC. A very disturbing report from the United Kingdom:

Queen Elizabeth II has dipped into the royal purse to snap up an iPod.

The Sun said the 79-year-old sovereign had bought a six-gigabyte silver model for 169 pounds.

The pocket-sized digital music players can hold up to 10,000 downloaded songs...

"The Queen loves music and was impressed by how small and handy the iPod is," a royal insider told the tabloid on Friday...

The newspaper suggested Abba's "Dancing Queen" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears might be on the royal iPod.

Six gigabytes? Is this a new royal amusement, or is it something more than that, something considerably darker? I was reminded of another Brit, Andrew Sullivan, who delineated the gathering iPod storm back in February. He wrote, in part:

(A)s I looked across the throngs on the pavements, I began to see why. There were little white wires hanging down from their ears, tucked into pockets or purses or jackets. The eyes were a little vacant. Each was in his or her own little musical world, walking to their own soundtrack, stars in their own music video, almost oblivious to the world around them. These are the iPod people...

(L)ike all addictive cults, it's spreading. There are now 22 million iPod owners in the United States and Apple is now becoming a mass market company for the first time. Walk through any U.S. airport these days, and you will see person after person gliding through the social ether as if on auto-pilot. Get on a subway, and you're surrounded by a bunch of Stepford commuters, all sealed off from each other, staring into mid-space as if anaesthetized by technology. Don't ask, don't tell, don't over-hear, don't observe. Just tune in and tune out.

Has it all finally become too much for Her Royal Highness? The Princess Di scandals, the continuous misadventures of Harry and William, the Camilla business, the final mediocre season of AbFab? Is she now about to withdraw into her "own little musical world," where she can "star in her own music video" while "staring into mid-space"? That would be sad indeed.

I prefer, though, to think of hers as a madness more along the lines of King Lear, in which she is actually reconnecting with her subjects by entering the state of spreading "atomist" isolation decried by Mr. Sullivan. While she listens to "Dancing Queen," tapping her royal foot, isn't it possible that in the depths of her anaesthetized mind, a voice is crooning:

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are, 
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, 
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, 
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you 
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en 
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; 
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, 
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, 
And show the heavens more just. (Act III, Scene IV,Lines 28-36) 

No, I don't think so, either.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Liberty -- the bell is cracked
Deciding where to move? Most Americans move every five to seven years, at least that's what we're told. And, we found a helpful way to know where to go -- put together by Al Doyle. More accurately, where not to move, if you have a choice.

Al's analysis is not complicated. It doesn't involve complicated computer models that combine the studied values of real estate, education spending, test scores, employment, economic output, or other factors that might be considered by a better funded analysis. No, Al's got to work fast and under budget, so he only looked at one thing -- gun laws.

Time to Move

The logic seems simple enough -- if the citizens of a State don't care enough about their right to keep and bear arms, they probably don't care enough to stop intrusive governmental regulations in every other area of life. Since a low value on protecting life in the most deadly of circumstances leaves the barn door wide open in other less grave circumstances. Makes sense to us.

You're not given a list of places to go, rather a list of States to avoid.

Without further adieu:
  The Seven Worst Places to Live -- by gun law reckoning:
    1. California
    2. Washington D.C.
    3. Hawaii
    4. Illinois
    5. Massachusetts
    6. New Jersey
    7. New York

Highlights include:
NJ -- Only holders of a Firearms Purchasers Identification Card (FID) may legally own a weapon and according to "As of 12-30-03 there are a little over 3000 permits issued in a state of 8 million people. Most are held by retired law enforcement officers." This, of course, refers to concealed carry permits and not to the FID -- we couldn't figure out how many of these exist.

MA -- Residents must register with the state and obtain permission from Massachusetts to purchase even a simple single-shot long gun. Class A licenses are required for handgun ownership, and random restrictions may be placed on the license.

IL -- There is a handgun ban in the City of Chicago. So, no one is shot by a handgun? In 2002, 511 (almost two per day) homicides were committed with a firearm. H-m-m-m didn't they know that it was illegal to own a handgun in Chicago? It is probably illegal to kill people in the City of Chicago too. Outside Chicago -- all Illinois gun owners are required to obtain a Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID) from the state, and the card must be presented to purchase even a single round of ammo. All gun purchases are supposed to be registered with the state.

DC -- All handgun ownership is banned, and those who own rifles or shotguns must register with the city.

CA -- You must register all handguns with the Department of Justice. There is also a 10-day waiting period for every gun purchase.

You can read all the details in Al's analysis.

What to do? Well, as we like to say, "That'd be up to you." You can live in these places and break the law. You can live in these places and attempt to abide by the laws. You could work feverishly to change the laws. Or, you could just look around at the forty-three other states that value your liberty a bit higher than these frightful seven. Good luck.

The S-Word

Is it killing baseball?

PSAYINGS.5S.4-8. When the United States Congress decided to hold hearings about the unaddressed problems in baseball, I was exhilarated. I thought that the greatest game in the world might be salvaged in spite of itself. I looked forward to an in-depth investigation of the rummy doings with the S-Word. But I was bitterly disappointed. All the beltway crowd wanted to talk about was steroids. No mention of the real S-Word: socks.

I began to wonder if I'm the only one who's noticed. Anybody else? Take the picture up top. It's a college team. Most of the players are wearing their pants to just below the knee, where the baseball socks begin. But just as in the major leagues, there's something else going on in the picture too. Something sinister. Starting in the middle of the picture, you can see a player with his pants extending all the way to the ankles. To the right of him there's another and another doing the same. And the player who's out in front of the rest of the team is wearing his pants all the way to his shoe tops.

This isn't an isolated phenomenon. It's like a cancer on the game, a creeping malignancy that will destroy baseball as surely as the ludicrous spinnaker costumes worn by basketball players have transformed the NBA into a clown show.

Babe Ruth vs. Derek Jeter

"So what," I can hear some of you saying. "Big deal." Well, it is. For three reasons. First, why do you think they call them uniforms? Members of a team are supposed to dress alike. Yet it's clear that players are doing whatever they want with their trouser lengths. It's unprofessional. Second, the result is jarring to the eye. Especially for those of us who grew up with baseball -- all those generations of baseball socks embedded in our brains -- the pants-to-the-shoe-tops look is akin to the hip-hop fad of displaying four inches of boxer shorts above the low-riding waistband. It gives the impression that something has fallen down that shouldn't. Baseball pants are supposed to show plenty of sock, a fact borne out by the third reason this is such an outrage: it undermines a mysterious but not insubstantial element of the history of baseball.

Sandy Koufax vs. Randy Johnson
For whatever reason, major league baseball has always been obsessed with socks, even to the point of naming teams after them. You don't find any NFL teams called The Purple Helmets or The Black Shoulderpads. But baseball has the Chicago White Sox, the Boston Red Sox, and the Cincinnati Redlegs (as far as I know it's still their official name). So it's kind of important even if none of us understands where this peculiar fixation came from. And it's damned annoying when disrespectful players tarnish the legacy of their own teams with displays such as this:

The Boston Red Jax?

Scarcely a red sock in sight. And why exactly is it better to look like a housepainter than a major league baseball player?

Still think I'm over-reacting? Then explain this:

Detail from Red Sox photo

It's the next step in the process, pants that follow the mall fashion mode of wrapping under the heel of the shoe. In this direction lies the end of baseball as a sport -- players tripping and falling and losing games because of their own feckless sartorial affectations. It has to be stopped forthwith.

The worst thing is that it's happening everywhere. Even little league teams are looking motlier than usual because some of the kids wear their pants right, and others wear them wherever. Can't we get back to some standards of decency in at least this one small category of tradition?

Which do you prefer?


...or this?

Some things -- especially small things -- really should be held sacred.


Well, I'm glad I got it off my chest, anyway. It's been bothering me. Now, hopefully, it will bother you too.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Disturbin' Durbin

Senator Dick Durbin, all happy and everything after his Guantanamo speech.

HALLITES. A few Republicans were really amazed when Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois commented on an FBI report about prisoner humiliations and hardships at Guantanamo in these terms:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime-- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings."

We just figured he hadn't done any homework about the Soviets, etc, but shrewder heads than ours suspected darker problems than that, especially when this little item came to light:

Durbin did not plan to apologize for the comments, spokesman Joe Shoemaker said.

"This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure," Durbin said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Again, we thought he just didn't know that terrorists are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, but we were wrong. Not long afterwards, a friend called with the very sad news that:

(The) brain was severely shriveled and weighed about half that of a normal adult's. The damage to it "was irrecoverable, and no amount of treatment or rehabilitation would have reversed" it, said pathologist Jon Thogmartin.

At least he and his young friend are still smiling. That's nice.

Our sincere condolences go out to the Senator and his family, along with our immense relief that we didn't say any of the nasty things that have been popping up all over the internet.

UPDATE. For those of you seeking more depth in coverage of Durbin's remarks, Michelle Malkin has become the unofficial clearinghouse for blog entries reeducating the Illinois senator. And if it's depth you want, here is InstaPunk's lengthy (and quite serious) essay on torture in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia as they relate to the Abu Ghraib infractions.

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