Friday, June 26, 2009


by Ethan

You are the one that puts me together every day.
I wish you were home.
you put me together.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jelly Beans

This morning, on the free food table in the break room there sits an unopened bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans.

They were labeled Jelly Belly Sours. I looked at the front of the bag which was labeled "Sours" but which did not show the actual individual flavors. So being a reasonable person I looked at the back of the bag, which also contained not one hint as to the flavors the bag contains.

Now look, I seriously do not care how much riboflavin is in Jelly Bellies. But there on the back of the bag, taking up important Jelly Belly flavor information real estate, is a line telling me that one serving of Jelly Bellies contain some amount of whatever riboflavin is. But what I want to know, what is important to me as a consumer, is what flavors are in that bag.

Jelly Belly needs to be legally bound to label their beans with the flavors they contain... and in fact there needs to be consumer protection legislation about making it easier for me, the consumer, to distinguish banana from lemon from vanilla pudding.

Lindsay Graham and Chris Dodd spend a whole heck of a lot of time talking about things that they have no business talking about when they have a pretty clear obligation as the senior lawmakers of our land.

There ought to be a law.

There Ought to be a Law

So maybe this is the beginning of a series.

I'm a pretty fierce Libertarian: I really think that government has no business regulating things like whether or not a person wears a motorcycle helmet. Whose business is it how dangerous it is? My wife, my kids, my parents, my brother maybe. But it seems hard to make a convincing case to me that the Governor of Illinois needs to have an opinion on this.

But I'm not a crazy person, I recognize that there are things the government should and can do better than individuals, or the market, or private initiative. So this occasional series of posts will cover those areas where I think there is actually a need for new laws...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Colbert King writes:

The Anti-Defamation League reports that John de Nugent, a white supremacist,
Holocaust denier and von Brunn acquaintance, conjectured in a media interview
that von Brunn was driven to action as a result of the election of Barack Obama,
which de Nugent described as a "tremendous signal of alarm for" von Brunn.

So here's my conjecture: there is casual racism in this country. Non-violent, but insidious, a sort of passing assumption on the parts of some people that a certain class of minority or foreigner is just not up to the task of managing, or leading, or having a certain kind of life. These are the kinds of racists that having a president like Obama is going to help. I think a term or two of a sober, intelligent, well-spoken black man will educate these kinds of racists--as this is the racism of ignorance. So many white Americans have never had a great amount of experience with a black mayor, or boss at work, or what have you. They just assumed. This assumption goes away when Obama is on TV so often and at the end of 4 or 8 years the country is still here, in (probably) better shape than it was when he took office, and life is going on like it always has.

Then there is the racism of anger, hatred and frustration. Born of angry young men who need to find a home for their impotence. This is not an ignorance that can be taught, it's a hatred. This kind of racism will not go away, and even worse, will only be inflamed by a sober, intelligent, well-spoken black man as our ultimate authority figure. These violent racists are a fact of the human condition and we can never be rid of them. I think we need to shine a light on them and stomp them down when they rise up. You can't educate or exterminate them away. All we can do is never rest, and never stand by without opposing it. As Wendell Phillips said in exactly this context, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Eat Fresh

I have the same problem with every Subway restaurant when I'm ordering more than one sandwich. The "sandwich artist" insists, even after being denied once, that I tell them up front what all my sandwiches are. Like they really need this to start out with.

Inevitable I consult my paper and say, "Okay, I'll take one six-inch on white..." and they immediately interrupt me and say, "What other sandwiches do you want?" I make a semi-show of being annoyed with being interrupted, and I say, "All right, two six-inch ham & cheese one white, one foot-long southwest chicken salad on whole wheat, and one plain tuna on ginger sesame."

And now this next thing, always, always, always happens, and is the reason I am so mad at having to list them all at the beginning. My sandwich artist then makes the first one, slides my sandwich along to the next artist and looks back at me and says, "and what was the next one?"

What. The. Hell?

Seriously, you needed me to list them all just so you could forget them, like we both knew you would, and have to ask again? If you need to know how many sandwiches I need so you can plan ahead to slide that first one along and get back to the bag of bread, fine, ask me how many I plan to be ordering. Which is also stupid, because my bread-retrieval artist always asks, "Is that all?" So we don't need this charade in the beginning when you interrupt my train of thought to pretend that your sandwich artistry is served by my upfront Declaration of Sandwiches.

So I'm not done. That is definitely frustrating all on its own, but then how they deal with the multiple sandwich order gets even more annoying and difficult. It's like when the bread-retrieval artist has to ask each and every time what sandwich I wanted, after she insisted on hearing every one in a leap of incredible optimism at her own memory, she and her artist of a husband now need to punish me for revealing them to have normal human memories.

So then this little dance ensues. I follow my first sandwich as the sandwich-assembly artist takes my order for what accouterments I want with it. I am some portion between 25 and 50% of the way through that operation when the bread-retrieval artist interrupts me to ask what I want to add to the second sandwich. Now unlike my personal sandwich artists, I am not laboring under the false impression that I am of super-human sandwich-making abilities. After all, I have not gone to sandwich-artist school to get my multi-threaded, interlaced super sandwich memory training.

So I have to stop thinking about sandwich #1 to now address sandwich #2, which has a different set of stuff on it. So I repeat that to the first artist and turn back to the second artist and try to remember where I was. This is clearly wrong, and bad, and leads to errors and this madness must be stopped.

Subway. Eat fresh.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Long History of Now

I wrote the following to the historian Dan Carlin, whose podcast I thoroughly enjoy. In fact his is the first podcast I have ever been moved to pay for. It's free but he asks for you to feel guilty until you pay for it. Chris, specifically his Hardcore History Podcast is something I think you'd particularly enjoy. I wrote Dan the following:

I was reading Henry Kissinger's recent Op-Ed in the Washington Post (what a mind to still have in his 80s!).

It strikes me that the "multi-polar" world of today is not so unlike the world dominated by European powers 100 years ago. That multi-polarity, the world of semi-equals, perhaps was an important factor in the conflicts that raged in the first-half of the last century. Are we seeing the world cycle back to such times as America loses its grip as a super power to become simply the most powerful, but not the only power of consequence?

I am so tempted to look at history as an inexorable march toward the static now... but obviously that's childish and the fact is that human history from the earliest culture on into the future to the very end of human civilization is all the long history of now.

I think we need to see the emerging equality of many Asian nuclear powers as another period of continental pressure and stress. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Simon Singh and the English libel laws

Simon Singh is a British science writer who has been embroiled in a libel lawsuit for the last year. This case raises a few interesting issues and highlights something very wrong in the English legal system.

About a year ago (In April of 2008), Singh wrote an article in one of Britain's largest daily newspapers about chiropractic and its basis in one man's 19th century misunderstanding of medicine, science, and the cause of disease. In it, he criticized the British Chiropractic Association by saying (among other things):

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help
treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear
infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot
of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the
chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

For American readers, this seems like a fairly tame criticism, and it is, given that chiropractic is more than bogus, it's a flat lie. It's based in nonsense, and has no place in the legitimate medical standard of care. Some subset of chiropractors have abandoned the crazy origins of their discipline and now largely provide a service which is similar to (though less rigorously regulated than) physical therapy, centered around the relief of back pain. Those chiropractors would be well-served to drop the name "chiropractic" and devote themselves to straight physical therapy, but these are not the men and women who are doing harm. It's the other chiropractors who are doing the harm. These are the chiropractors who still subscribe to the theory that there is a mysterious, unmeasurable energy that can make you totally healthy all the time but that is blocked by "subluxations" in your spine and only they, from the delusions of a 19th century beekeeper can properly re-align you.

There has been a long history of chiropractic with almost no evidence suggesting it has any efficacy at all. The pattern that has emerged is that the better you design your study, the less of an effect you have on someone's help by using chiropractic on them. The exception is lower back pain where manipulating a person's back with chiropractic techniques seems to be about as effective in treating their pain as traditional massage. This is fine as far as it goes, but the various chiropractic organizations, including the British Chiropractic Association, maintain that they can cure a wide variety of disease by manipulating your spine. This is what Singh called "bogus".

Now Singh has been sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. In the United States, we are innocent of libel until proven by the prosecution of having said something both false and reckless and harmful. In England (not strictly Britain), an assertion of libel places the burden of proof on the defendant. Singh, simply by being sued, must now prove that what he said is true. The problem, of course, is that he is forced to prove that the British Chiropractic Association "...happily prmotes bogus treatments."

Singh is doing what so many peoplw who are accused of libel in an English court do not do, he is fighting. This is costing him a great deal of money and may cost him quite a bit more. The problem of structuring libel in this way, backward from the American legal perspective, is that that the very structure of the laws of libel suppresses speech. It creates a chilling effect on journalism that even the threat of a lawsuit can result in being put in an expensive defensive position. In this case the British Chiropractic Association is suing Singh personally, and not The Guardian. Singh is on the hook for all of his defense expenses.

The latest setback for Singh is that an English judge has ruled that the use of the word "happily" means that Singh was arguing that the British Chiropractic Association knows that their treatments don't work. This, and the fact that the defendant must prove his case in England, means that Singh, to avoid losing the case, must prove that the British Chiropractic Association knew their treatments were ineffective.

Think that through... it means that in England it is essentially impossible to criticize someone who is honestly wrong about something.

I have not intorduced anything here that isn't covered in other venues, but I think it is incumbant upon concerned people to do what they can, and so I am putting out my own public call. We need to shine a light on this particular injustice and on England's misguided libel laws which have no place in a free society.