New Year’s Resoultion

Gearing up to gear down for a quiet celebration with Lady M of the New Year.
There are many things I’m resolving for the New Year, not all of which are suitable for sharing in the bloggy world. So if you seek introspective, comprehensive lists of resolutions, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I’ll give you one, though, and I encourage you to take it up as your own:
I resolve to be less of an asshole to those who don’t deserve it, and more of one to those that do.
Happy New Year all. Blog safe, and I’ll catch you in 2005…

Buy South Asian!

Glenn scorn on Tim Cavanaugh at Reason for scoffing at tourists returning to South Asia, and Roger Simon chimes his agreement with a personal beach recommendation for Thailand. Both point out that charity is good, but commerce is better.
These exchanges reminded me of an idea I had an idea earlier today, and was considering trying to put some effort into it, but I think in these times its best not to wait; and so I’ll ‘donate’ it (half-baked) to the blogosphere.
My question is this: alongside efforts to solicit direct aid for victims, what about collecting a list of products and services that come from the affected areas?
As a Starbucks-aholic, I must admit that when I think “Sumatra” I think coffee. But I honestly have no idea if Starbucks’ Sumatra blend actually does come from Sumatra, and if much (or any) of the money I give them each morning ends up there.
Anybody have any ideas/suggestions on things we can buy that flow money back into that region of South Asia? Send ’em here and I’ll post them — or if you’ve got more ambition/time, build your own list, and I’ll link to it!
Update: This concept appears to be gaining some momentum (Thanks, Glenn!), so I’m reformatting this post into a directory of products/services that have been suggested thus far. Please keep them coming!
There are a ton of places to get coffee which originates in Sumatra. It is my assumption that “fair trade” coffee is the best choice if the goal is to ensure that as much of your money as possible ends up with the local growers in the region.
To that end, there seems to be two major groups that confer “fair trade” status on coffee: TransFair USA and the Fair Trade Federation.
Here are some coffees that I’ve found available online that are declared to be “fair trade” by one or the other of these groups:
Baronet Coffee Fair Trade Sumatra
Buck’s County Coffee Fair Trade Sumatra
Cafe Ibis Organic Gayo Mountain Sumatra
Cafe Ibis Organic Highland Sumatra Dark
Cafe Moto Organic Fair Trade Sumatra
Capricorn Coffees Sumatra Organic Fair Trade
Coffee and Tea Ltd Sumatra Takengon Sumatra Gayo Mountain Organic Fair Trade
Coffee-Tea-Etc Sumatra Dark Roast Organic Fair Trade
Daybreak Coffee Roasters Sumatra Organic Fair Trade

BlogAd for South Asia Relief

Those of you paying close attention will notice that I have a new blogad running on the site, which points to Command Post’s very helpful directory of agencies and charities that provide ways to help in South Asian relief efforts.
I created the ad in response to a request from Miklos at Blogads to donate the space to run an ad submitted by Unicef. I liked the idea of donating ad space for the relief efforts, but didn’t like specifying one single charity — particularly Unicef, which hasn’t exactly had a squeaky clean record in the past.
So, I created the generic ad you see as an alternative. If you are a blogger and want to run it yourself, it is a simple matter to re-create the ad to run on your site using your BlogAd offer code (if you don’t know how, ping me and I’ll help). Or just create your own ad and point it to the Command Post’s directory page.
However you can help to put those who want to help in touch with the groups that will let them do so is a good thing. So go do it, and thanks!

Ayn Rand Institute on South Asia: Selfishness as Stupidity

I occasionally get “op-eds” sent to me from the Rand Institute, and generally ignore them (like I do most of the low-grade think-tank spam I receive). But today’s submission caught my eye:
U.S. Should Not Help Tsunami Victims
By David Holcberg
As the death toll mounts in the areas hit by Sunday’s tsunami in southern Asia, private organizations and individuals are scrambling to send out money and goods to help the victims. Such help may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own.
The United States government, however, should not give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is not the government’s to give…

Sigh. The piece continues on in quite predictable fashion to decry the government for “doling out money that they have no right to and that does not belong to them” and declaring the altruism that justifies such confiscation as “a vicious morality that demands that we sacrifice our values instead of holding on to them.”
Really, you couldn’t have written a better satire of classic Randthink if you tried. (Actually, you could: this piece would be rejected as too over-the-top if it wasn’t for real).
Okay, here’s a quick slice and dice:
First, “the government” is elected, and if the taxpayers don’t like their money being spent on charities, they have every opportunity to vote them out of office. So stop bitching about “the government.”
Second, Mr. Holcberg seems completely oblivious to the notion that perhaps it is in the selfish best-interest of the citizens of the United States to help ensure that the people of South Asia are not starving, dying, and generally living in misery. Might we entertain for a moment the idea that large populations of destitute, desperate people (as opposed to healthy, properous ones) are just a bit more likely to lash out at the United States and the rest of the world? You don’t have to accept a poverty-causes-terrorism argument (which I don’t) to grant that the United States would be safer and better off in a world rid of desperate, miserable populations who can be easily swayed by radical and dangerous ideologies of hatred against America.
Anyway, that’s about all the time this one is worth. The piece doesn’t appear to be online, so I’ll put the full text after the break. Read if you dare.
PS: Irony alert: why does the Ayn Rand institute have a page asking for volunteers?

Continue reading “Ayn Rand Institute on South Asia: Selfishness as Stupidity”

Bush Pledges Relief for South Asia: But Not Through the U.N.

I didn’t catch remarks yesterday on relief efforts to aid victims of the horrific earthquakes and tsunamis in South Asia. But Papa Bear drew my attention to a phrase that was conspicuously absent from Bush’s speech: “United Nations”.
Bush spoke of “building an international coalition”, and having “established a regional core group with India, Japan and Australia to help coordinate relief efforts.”
No mention of working through — or with — the U.N. at all. Not even a little bit.
The President of the United States doesn’t make such an omission by accident, especially in a prepared speech like this one. And while we’ve certainly seen some obvious disdain for the U.N. from Bush and his administration before, this is about as blatant a snub as I can think of short of actually telling Mr. Annan to pound sand.
Good. I’ve expressed my problems with the U.N. before, and since then, the Oil-for-Food scandal has been exposed to such a ghastly degree that it should make any thinking person pause before deciding that the U.N. is an effective or honest organization through which humanitarian aid should flow.
The United States is generous both as a government and as a people, and we will most certainly help where it is needed in South Asia. But there’s no reason why we have to provide false legitimacy to a failing, corrupt bureaucracy by allowing the U.N. to act as a intermediary between American generosity and those in need — particularly given that the U.N. has proven time and again that doing so would endanger, rather than improve, the chances that aid would truly reach and help those who need it most.
Update: Captain Ed points out that British minister Clare Short noticed the omission as well, and isn’t happy about it. Damned shame about that…

New Year’s Resolution: Ecosystem Cleanup

I spent a lovely Christmas with Lady M and my side of the family, which proved a nice break from both the Day Job and the usual bloggy grind.
But now: it’s time to get back to work.
So, to ensure we start 2005 off right, I’m going to be devoting some effort this week to cleaning up the Ecosystem. This will involve a lot of behind-the-scenes work, but I’m also extending out an offer to those poor souls who have something — anything — amiss with their entries that they’d like me to personally correct. Consider this an open invitation in the holiday spirit: if you title=”N.Z. Bear”>send your request to me this week, I’ll do my damndest to make sure it gets taken care of promptly.
If you’ve already sent me a request/reminder in, say, the last 3 weeks, I’ll go back and address those as well. Any older than that and I’d ask that you re-send me a message and let me know precisely what you need done.
Hope you all had a good holiday and are looking forward to a happy New Year…

America: Not An Amish Paradise

It seems slightly unfair to criticize the Amish on the Internet, because by definition, no devout Amish (and my understanding is that there is no other kind) is going to be reading this or be able to effectively respond.
But, I’m going to do it anyway. Who says the holiday spirit is dead?
Apparently, some folks think its a good idea to special privleges for the Amish in Ohio law:
The Amish, who shun judging others under their faith, would be excused from jury service on religious reasons under a bill sent to Governor Bob Taft for a signature…
Ohio judges routinely release Amish who cite religious principles when they get called for jury duty, Geauga County Common Pleas Judge Forrest Burt said.
The county assembles a new pool of potential jurors every four months. About 10 Amish are excused each time, Burt said, most often after they quote a verse from Matthew’s Gospel: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

So the idea is to create a legal right to avoid jury duty for a special segment of the population who have a certain set of religious beliefs that the government has decided are deserving of protection not given to any other religious beliefs. (Paging the establishment clause! Establishment clause, please call your office…)
Yes, I think this is a horrible idea. The special nature of jury duty essentially requires voluntary participation: unlike paying taxes, you can’t really force a person to serve on a jury and get the result you were looking for. So I understand if judges have to exempt individual Amish from jury service — I don’t like it, but I accept it. But elevating that practice to law is both unnecessary and a disasterous precedent.
Being a citizen of the United States should mean the exact same thing to anyone, regardless of race or religion. That means every citizen should have the same rights, and the same responsibilities. But this law would give the Amish a pass on one of the key responsibilities: and ironically, it is being championed because the fear of jury service is actually causing the Amish to voluntarily surrender one of their rights:
The intent of the exemption is to encourage more Amish to sign up to vote, said state Rep. Tim Grendell, a Geauga County Republican who inserted the provision in a larger jury service bill.
Ohio courts pick prospective jurors from lists of registered voters or licensed drivers.
The Amish, who don’t drive and aren’t on the license lists, often forgo voting. Studies put Amish voter participation at less than 10 percent.
“They’re being disenfranchised from their voting rights because of concerns about jury duty,” said Grendell, whose district includes a sizable Amish settlement around Middlefield east of Cleveland.

This actually seems a reasonably satisfactory outcome, to me. In an ideal world, the Amish would be deprived of the right to trial-by-jury, to balance their refusal to participate in providing that same right to their fellow citizens. But sacrificing the right to vote will do, I suppose.
This is the exact same issue that we face with recent immigrants to America, and which Europe faces with increasing pockets of Muslim immigrants who refuse to assimilate. America and other modern democracies are based on the principle that there are certain rights and responsibilities that every citizen has that form the boundries of our society. Those boundaries have been quite deliberately framed as broadly as possible, so that there’s a wide degree of freedom for different religious and political beliefs within them.
But at the end of the day, if you want to play our little open-society game, you’ve got to sign up to the basic rules. Equal rights for all people. Freedom of speech. Trial by jury. Paying taxes (how much should be paid is one of those arguable points). And yes, serving on a jury.
Carve out a special exemption for the Amish to refuse this responsibility of citizenship, and why shouldn’t we offer every religious group the legal right to pick and choose the parts of our system that they like and dislike?
The rules are consistent for a reason, and with all due respect to the Amish, they should stay that way…

Iraq the Mystery

No, I don’t know going on with Ali at Iraq The Model — and near as I can tell, neither does anybody else.
Having met his brothers last week, I can only wish him the best, and hope that the troubles that are leading him to choose to walk away from the blog are not as serious as they sound from his rather ominous posting…

Time’s Person of the Year Edition

align=”right” src=””>TIME has announced George Bush as their Person of the Year.
More precisely, “President George W. Bush: American Revolutionary”, according to the cover shot.
And more importantly (well, for our little community): TIME devotes significant ink to blogs in the issue, including noting 10 Things We Learned About Blogs, and an extensive profile of the Power Line crew.
The profile is well done, and worth reading, particularly if you know of Power Line in a vague sense but don’t really know much about the three gentlemen behind it. The author, Lev Grossman, is a novelist, and he spins some wonderful lines into the story. My favorites:
On the Power Line gang: “They’re a fun bunch, in a lawyerly way.”
On blogs: “It takes about 20 sec. to read a typical blog post, and when you’re finished you’ve got the basic facts up to the minute plus a dab of analysis and a dash of spin. If you’re not satisfied, you can click the link for more. If you are, you can go back to checking your e-mail and jiggering your spreadsheets or whatever you do for a living. This is news Jetsons-style. If it were any neater and quicker, it would come in a pill.”

TTLB Lite: Gzipped Pages

I’m trying out compression on many of the main pages around TTLB. Allegedly this will provide a nice performance boost (faster page loads) as well as significantly reducing bandwidth usage. Seems to be working thus far: please let me know if you notice any changes (either for better or worse).

Not that I’d say I told you so, but…

By special request of TTLB’s “house liberal” commenter, my old friend Lisa…
August 8: I’m going to go on record and predict that the Swift Boat Veterans kerfuffle won’t just be a major negative for Kerry: it will be a campaign-killer…
Unless Kerry’s campaign manages to completely discredit the Swifties — which seems increasingly unlikely — the campaign is over; Kerry is done. And after Election Day has passed, I expect that anyone looking backwards will wonder why in the world the Democrats ever thought making Kerry’s Vietnam service a centerpiece was a good idea in the first place.

Mary Beth Cahill, December 15
: The campaign manager for Sen. John Kerry (news – web sites)’s failed presidential bid said Wednesday she regrets underestimating the impact of an attack advertisement that questioned Kerry’s Vietnam War record.
Mary Beth Cahill, who spoke at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government with Ken Mehlman, President Bush (news – web sites)’s campaign manager, said the Massachusetts senator’s campaign initially thought there would be “no reach” to the ad from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth…
“In hindsight, maybe we should have put Senator Kerry out earlier, perhaps we could have cut it off earlier.”
Mehlman said that it was natural that the ad had the reach and impact it did, because Kerry decided to make his Vietnam record a central part of his campaign.
“Because Senator Kerry was so focused on that part of his biography, it came out as an issue,” he said.

Ms. Cahill, Mr. Kerry, and yes, even Ms. Clinton are welcome to call upon my services when next they find themselves in need of political advice…

SoA Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, I haven’t seen an ‘official’ announcement, but I believe the of America Friends of Iraq challenge is now complete.
As of this morning, the TTLB EcoTeam raised $1,687 for SoA, which put us in the #4 slot out of 23 teams competing — not bad for a bunch of insignificant microbes!
We have to extend congratulations to the three teams that surpassed us: Team Pajamahdeen was lagging for a long while and then blew our doors off in the last few days to end with $5,035; Castle Argghhh’s Fighting Fusileers for Freedom finished with $6,560; and those blasted Northern Alliance chaps blew the curve for everybody by bringing in a whopping $12,095. Fine work by all!
And as for the TTLB EcoTeam, let me extend my thanks and gratitude one more time to all the bloggers who joined the team and promoted the effort, and to everyone who donated. As time passes and I get to know Spirit of America’s work more and more, I only find myself growing even more enthusiastic for their cause. We’ve done good, folks!
And so for one more moment of glory, I present the TTLB EcoTeam:
Stand In the Trenches
It Is What It Is
Adrian Warnock
Cao’s Blog
Mark A. Kilmer
Rebel Rouser
Broken Masterpieces
Feste…a foolsblog
One Year Bible Blog
Pillage Idiot
The Liberal Coalition
Belief Seeking Understanding
Intermittent Stream
Pull on Superman’s Cape
Yankee from Mississippi
The Spoons Experience
Vince Aut Morire

Last Chance for SoA Challenge

Tonight the Spirit of America Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge is coming to a close. If you haven’t done so already — and hey, even if you have — there’s one last chance to a donation during the challenge!

2004 Weblog Awards

Well, if you weren’t aware of the Weblog Awards, you’ve obviously been living in a cave for the past month. But I’ve been rather remiss in promoting the awards, especially given that some of them are actually based on Ecosystem categories.
Voting closes tomorrow, so if you haven’t voted yet, by all means, go do so!

Spirit of America EcoTeam Update

With only four days left in the fundraising drive, the EcoTeam is in a strong third place in the team competition with $1,574 raised to date. There’s still time to join the team and make a donation, so let’s see what we can do for a big last push towards the finish line!
And on that note, let me welcome the latest additions to the team:
Vince Aut Morire
…and, blogless though he may be, let me also say thanks to Papa Bear for chipping in a donation!

Ecosystem Update

Some folks have noticed that there has been some weirdness on the Ecosytem lately.
First, a little over a week ago, everybody’s total link counts took a steep plunge. This was on purpose. The Ecosystem is meant to track ‘current’ links that each blog is receiving; not every link going back forever. But, for various technical reasons, I had to stop clearing out old links for a while — and everybody’s counts continued to drift upward.
Around 11/27, I fixed that, and cleared out all the old links. Unfortunately, that created a bit of an abrupt change in the rankings. But, from here on, things should stabilize.
Now, that wasn’t the big problem. For the past 10 days, I’ve been chasing what I thought was a nasty SQL database corruption issue. Yesterday, I finally figured it out. It wasn’t corruption at all — at least of the techincal kind.
For a while now, the Ecosystem has been the target of commerical spam-websites, which try to register themselves with bogus URLs that guarantee high rankings. There is validation code to prevent such abuse, but it is still a bit leaky and there are holes.
Well, I realized yesterday that it was in fact one of those attacks which was the cause of all the problems of the last week. In a nutshell, one of our fine spammy friends managed to get a blog with URL “http://” into the Ecosystem, which resulted in everybody’s links being assigned to that blog. I caught him on the first day, and marked the blog as suspended — but what I realized yesterday is that the method I used to suspend it prevented it from showing up in the listings — but didn’t prevent it from grabbing everyone’s links in the actual database.
Anyway: now that I know the issue I’m plugging up all the remaining vaildation holes, and starting today things should begin to return to normal. I expect that within a few hours, I’ll have the Ecosystem fully operational, and hopefully the Daily News as well.
Thanks for everyone’s patience…