Sunday, July 06, 2003


I just signed up for a site with iSpaces.net, kevinq2000.ispaces.net. There's nothing there yet, but it was free and I couldn't resist. If I do anything cool there, I'll post it here. Don't worry, I'm not moving this blog for a while.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Are Bloggers the new Soccer Moms? 

This article over at Salon.com suggests that weblogging, and more specifically the bloggers themselves, are energizing Howard Dean's election campaign. All well and good. In fact yours truly has provisionally thrown his support behind the former Governor of Vermont. So now the news hype is about how much the Dean campaign uses the internet, and the energizing of the bloggers.

Remember the 2000 election, when news pundits claimed that the "soccer mom" was going to be the swing vote? The argument went that whichever candidate could successfully woo the married, suburban, politically liberal but socially conservative "soccer mom" was going to have the election in hand. And then after the election, the pundits came out and admitted, "Well, there weren't really that many soccer moms out there anyway." Well, you're going to get the same thing here. The news will be full of stories about how the whole internet is rising up to bless Dean, or about how g.w. is going to try to woo those voters away. And then after the election the pundits will admit that it was really only like 7 or 8 people on the internet making lots of noise.

But, since it is still early in the election, Dean can only be helped by stories like this. Name recognition is name recognition after all.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Legislating Morality (work in progress) 

Early Monday morning (or late Sunday night, depending how you look at it) I came across an article about Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's aching desire to add an amendment to the U.S. Consititution forever banning gay marriages. At the time I read the article, I was so incensed that I added a post to this website calling Sen. Frist a Nazi, and saying that I would write more later. Well, here it is a day and a half later, and I'm still struggling with what to write. It's not that there are no good arguments for the legalization of gay marriages. There are. Instead, it's my basic inability to understand one of the basic tenents of the oppositions arguments, which is this: "It is acceptable to legislate morality."

Our morals are our basic understanding of right and wrong, given to us by our parents, our society, and our spiritual beliefs. Our morals are as individually unique as our fingerprints. For a broad example, look at the moral differences between Christians and Muslims. Muslims believe that one should never drink alcohol. Catholics believe that wine is an important part or their religious ceremony. Some Muslims believe that a woman should keep her head covered in public. Most Christians accept that a woman can be uncovered in public. Morals are internal, and vary from person to person, and often change during a person's lifetime.

Laws, on the other hand, are external. They are constructs of society's political system. Where morals govern the behavior of the individual, laws govern a group. Laws ensure the continued viability of a society, by prescribing punishments for behaviors which damage the whole. The only just laws are those which benefit society as a whole. (Not those which benefit the whole of society, but those which do more good to society than harm.)

There are some people who advocate outlawing behavior which they are morally opposed to. The now-Unconstitutional laws banning gay sex, last century's "Prohibition," and attempts to outlaw abortion and flag-burning are just a few such cases. What this does is to force people to conform to behavior patterns which they don't agree with, and which do not affect society. Am I harmed by two consenting adults having sex in the privacy of their own home? Am I harmed by women having abortions, or protesters buring the American flag? No. Am I harmed by these things being illegal, even though I do not participate in these behaviors? Yes. Why? Because the cost and time involved in enforcing those laws take resources away from enforcing just laws. But what about those laws, like the Texas anti-sodomy law, which are rarely enforced, but are kept on the books just in case they are needed someday? This merely gives the police the opportunity to harass people in a capricious manner, which should not be the aim of government.

"But are law and morality really that seperate? I mean surely, things like murder and rape are morally reprehensible, and are rightly illegal." Ah, but they are morally wrong, and illegal, for different reasons. Take murder, for example, in the Christian context. The Bible clearly says "Thou shall not kill." Four simple words, given by God to Moses. And yet, our society accepts certain types of killing: Self-defense, killing enemy combatants, and the execution of certain criminals are all accepted by our society. They would seem to violate certain people's morality, but are justified laws because they benefit society. And there are laws which prohibit behaviors that nobody deems morally wrong. Take speeding, for example. Few people would argue that there is nothing wrong with driving recklessly. But is it morally wrong to drive faster than the speed limit, as long as it's done safely? No, of course not. Yet, it is against the law.

Hurray for Kraft? 

Kraft Foods has announced plans to change their marketing strategies in response to criticism about the healthlessness of their food. They have agreed to make three changes to their current plans:

  • They will start making the portions in their "single serving" packages smaller.

  • They will put nutrtional information on all packages sold world-wide, not just those sold in countries which require such.

  • They will stop all in-school advertising.

  • The third point is probably the most important for the increasing obesity of our children, but it highlights one change which they did not make: TV advertising to children. Watch any Saturday morning kids program. At each commercial break, there will be at least one Kraft Foods commercial, usually their macaroni and cheese or cookies.
    They're taking steps in the right direction. Let's hope they keep walking.

    Monday, June 30, 2003

    Bill Frist is a Nazi 

    Well, he is. More later.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2003

    I know how he feels 

    Thanks to Gabe and Tycho for summing up my feelings for the new Harry Potter book.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2003

    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

    Yes, I have read it, and yes, it is good. Here's a quick review, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. Of course, if you the kind of person avoiding spoilers to the book, then you're probably reading your own copy now, and unconcerned with what reviewers have to say.

    A quick recap of Book 4: The two greatest schools of magic from continental Europe visited Hogwarts for the school year, and champions from each school competed in the Triwizard Tournament, a year-long contest of magic and wits. The champion from Hogwarts was Cedric Diggory, but through the machinations of Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Moody, who turned out not to be Moody but an imposter, Harry Potter was also chosen to compete in the Tournament. In the final contest of the Tournament, Harry and Cedric were whisked away by Lord Voldemort at their moment of shared triumph, Cedric was killed, and Voldemort returned to life. Harry learned the identities of several Death Eaters, loyal followers of Voldemort, and then was whisked back to the Tournament, carrying the body of Cedric. He explained to Headmaster Dumbledore that Voldemort had returned, but when Dumbledore tried to explain this to Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic and political leader of wizards and witches in England, Fudge obstinately refused to believe him.

    Book 5 begins the same way the previous four books began: Harry is miserable on Privet Drive. He's been back a month, and has gotten nothing but very brief, and very cryptic, letters from his friends. Dudley has taken to being more bullying than ever, though mostly to other people. And Harry, trying to keep tabs on Voldemort should he begin wreaking havoc, has been keeping an eye on the news, an activity which the Dursleys are only too happy to block as often as possible. Things come to a head when Harry and Dudley are attacked by magical beings, Dudley becomes stricken, and the Dursleys refuse to believe that Harry was not responsible.

    Without giving away too much, this attack forced Harry to do magic, which all students are expressly forbidden to do. Though he was defending his life and that of his cousin, Harry is threatened with a criminal inquiry and even worse, possible expulsion from Hogwarts. Would you be surprised to learn that Harry is not expelled from Hogwarts?

    Once Harry makes it back to Hogwarts, things are hardly better. Snape still hates him. The Dailey Prophet has been insinuating in it's pages that Harry is off his rocker to believe that Voldemort had returned, and certain groups of students find it easier and more convenient to believe the Prophet than to believe Harry. And Defense Against The Dark Art has a new teacher: Professor Umbridge, a high-level official from the Ministry of Magic, assigned by the Ministry to keep an eye on Dumbledore, Harry, and anybody else who claims that Voldemort has returned. Professor Umbridge's refusal to teach her charges any practical information about defending against the dark arts, as well as her very unsubtle power grabs, makes her quite unpopular with teachers and students alike.

    But things aren't all bad. Pleasant surprises are in store for Hermione, and especially for Ron, who comes several steps closer to fulfilling the dreams displayed on the Mirror of Erised. Ron's brother Fred and George expand their joke business exponentially, to the consternation of many, and the enjoyment of readers. Harry makes several new friends, including Luna Lovegood, a fourth-year student who's a bit, well, strange. And he gets a chance to explore his feelings for Cho Chang, a Ravenclaw Quiddich player and the late Cedric Diggory's former girlfriend. Also, Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves at the center of a group of students intent on learning practical defense against dark arts, despite their professor's feelings otherwise.

    But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the Empire Strikes Back of the series: Our heroes suffer a series of strategic withdrawals, and by the end have lost somebody quite dear. This is the book that will make Harry's eventual triumph even sweeter. Harry starts to be affected by his hormones in ways beyond his attraction to Cho: Harry gets very angry. A lot. Harry spends a good deal of the book angry, and shouting at those close to him. His anger is often quite understandable. He feels that he is not being told things he should rightly be told. And he feels hurt by Dumbledore, who seems to be ignoring Harry as much as possible.

    Book 5 is the darkest book in the series, darker even than Book 4, but it is a tribute to Rowling's talent as a writer that the book stays fun and easily readable. She is still as inventive as ever when describing various maladies, creatures, and spells of the magical world. Several scenes had me laughing out loud, such as when Umbridge starts observing Professor McGonagall's class, and the Transfiguration instructor can barely hide her resentment of the intrusion. Like Book 4, Book 5 could probably be half as long as it is if the book were pared down to just it's main plot. But Rowling is intent of filling her book with endless detail, and so much the better for us. Hermione continues her crusade to free the house-elves. We get more details about the family of Sirius Black, Harry's godfather. Hargrid has a new, mysterious, and typically dangerous project. Harry has a date for Valentine's Day. A secret society has reformed, with Harry as their focus. Harry learns that Snape's dislike of his father is perhaps not as unfounded as he had once believed. Mr. Weasley is attacked. The school gets a new Divination teacher. Harry learns, to his chagrin, exactly what pulls the carriages from Hogsmead to Hogwarts. And Harry and company find another secret room in Hogwarts, one perfectly suited for what they need.

    As in previous books, innocuous details from early on, and from earlier books, are quite important by the end of the story. Backstory is woven into the narrative so deftly that you barely recognize it for what it is. New characters introduced to the story fit right in with those established. New character traits in existing characters fit in with the story, and help explain earlier actions. It is, in short, everything you expect in a Harry Potter book. That there are times where you just want to reach in the book, grab Harry and give him a good shake, and shout "Stop being such a teenager," are -- I feel -- a tribute to Rowling's skill as an author. If you liked the previous books, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. And if you have never read the previous books, there is enough backstory woven into the book that you'll be able to follow the plot, but you will miss much of the magic of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

    Affirmative Action and the Supreme Court  

    Bravo to the Supreme Court for ruling that universities can consider race in admissions decisions. The ruling was split over two different admissions policies:

  • The Court upheld that the Universty of Michigan's Law School could use race as a factor in choosing from among applicants, so as to maintain a "critical mass" of minority students, historicall between 10 and 17 percent.

  • The Court struck down the University of Michigan's undergratuate admissions policy, which awarded "points" to applicants based on many factors, among them race.

  • The Court said in its decision that using race as a factor in admissions was acceptable, but that universities could not be rigid about it. The decision upholds the University's right to determine the nature of their student body. Grades and test scores are not the only measure of a student's education potential, and universities can use other determinates in making their admissions.

    As a person who scored well in high school on my ACT and SAT exams, I can testify that standardized tests were the least-important measure of my learning abilities and my future contribution to my university. Universities have long chosen applicants based on many criteria: Grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and sports participation, volunteer service, and many others. If a college or university chooses to consider an applicant's racial or socio-econonomic group in admissions in order to ensure a diverse student body, more power to them. As a white, middle-class male, my point of view is well represented within society at large. Overall, I don't believe that I will be injured by a University's, or even an employer's desire to increase diversity.
    This is a first, test post

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