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Sunday, July 27, 2003

There's a sucker born (again) every minute.

Imagine my surprise when, upon entering the laundromat today, a woman handed me several quarters and a sucker.

She informed me that she was from the some church, and that this gift was a reminder that God loves me. I accepted them (hey, why not?) and thanked her. She did not accept the thanks herself, however, stating, "It's from the Lord."

Of course, this is an old sales trick. You give someone something, and they will be more inclined to give you something back because of the feelings of good will and obligation generated by what is referred to in social psychology as the law of reciprocity.

Religious groups are, of course, well versed in such tactics, and are no different than used car salesmen, encyclopedia salesmen, real estate salesmen, insurance salesmen, housewives selling cosmetics door-to-door, and a whole host of other assorted hucksters who peddle a wide assortment of gimcracks and geegaws.

As Dr. Robert Cialdini documents with his research (published in easy-to-understand book form,
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion), even the Billy Graham Crusade is not above cheap sales tricks to make you do things you wouldn't otherwise be inclined to do. Look at all those people heading down the aisles to give their lives to Jesus as the choir solemnly sings, "Just as I Am." Many or most are plants, put there so people at home are more impressed by Rev. Graham's apparent effectiveness and give more money, and so others at the Crusade will be motivated to "Come on down!" as well.

Such carnival huckster gimmicks are enough to put one in mind of P.T. Barnum. Kind of appropriate, then, that the woman at the laundromat gave me a "sucker."

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 11:52 PM

Saturday, July 26, 2003

If you don't ask 'em, they can't say yes... or no.

Some Washington DC libertarians have filed a lawsuit challenging that city's ban on handguns as a violation of the Second Amendment.

Sounds good to me, but the National Rifle Association doesn't think so. They've
employed some impressive legal strategies (proving once again that Civil Procedure is the most important course in law school), to try to keep the Second Amendment issue from reaching the Supreme Court, because they're afraid that the Supreme Court could go the wrong way and establish an anti-gun precedent that would leave gun advocates worse off than if the suit had never been brought at all.

While I'm not a huge fan of the NRA and its compromises with the state, they have a point. With the exception of Justices Scalia and Thomas, the Court seems to pretty much make up the Constitution as it goes along, so who knows how they'd come out on this?

I've long admired most of the work of the Institute for Justice, another group of libertarian lawyers that brings law suits like this one to fight eminent domain abuse and infringements of economic liberty, and have even worked with them on several projects. But asking the state whether it should have more or less power over individuals is a risky business, and in the long run, we know what their institutional bias will cause their ultimate answer to be: more power for the state, less for the rest of us. But if some good lawyers can bring some good cases at the right time and place, and make life better for individuals by getting the government off of their backs for a while, I'm for that. So I'll wish University of Chicago Law alumnus Gene Healy, his co-counsel, and clients the best, and hope the NRA was wrong on this one.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 10:59 AM

Mick Jagger turns 60, is still cooler than you.

Happy 60th birthday to Mick Jagger, who, as I can testify from having attended two Rolling Stones concerts in the past year, remains one of the world's most vital and energetic rock performers, as well as a
brilliant businessman.

Of course, this occasion gives some people the opportunity to drag out the truly tired old-age jokes and the untrue "Rolling Stones haven't made a decent album in over 20 years" remarks. Such naysayers obviously suffer from resentment against achievement, which no doubt stems from their own certainty that when they are 60, they will in all likelihood be fat and bald, have no fans even within their own household, and be of no interest whatsoever to beautiful young women. As a corollary, perhaps my appreciation for the latter-day Stones is related to optimism about my own distant future.

Of course, staying physically and mentally young through age 60 and beyond is about doing the right things, and having the right attitude. Jagger runs eight miles a day, and avoids fatty foods and (in contrast with certain bandmates) alcohol. Do you?

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 9:13 AM

Thursday, July 24, 2003

I knew he was good for something!

Bill Maher is generally one of my least favorite people, but I enjoyed this line in
his op-ed in today's L.A. Times, on the California recall:

"Arnold Schwarzenegger. Finally, a candidate who can explain the Bush administration's positions on civil liberties in the original German."

(I disagree with the rest of the article -- we should recall all politicians and replace them with no one.)

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 5:25 PM

Cincinnati judge forces elderly woman to watch "Maximum Hardcore Extreme Vol. 7" porn video.

From the Cincinnati Post:

The video that Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. thought was so disgusting that Shawn Jenkins was arrested for selling it had a different impact on a juror Tuesday -- it put him to sleep.

The sleeping juror and at least two others who averted their eyes when the video was played caused the judge to declare a mistrial today, the second mistrial in this case.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Niehaus sent the 12 jurors and one alternate sitting on Jenkins' pandering obscenity case home early Tuesday, then told them today the trial was over.

"Justice is blind to the influence of bias and prejudice but justice cannot be blind to the evidence," Niehaus said today in throwing the case out.


Both Jenkins' attorneys and assistant prosecutor Brad Greenberg complained Tuesday after the video -- Maximum Hardcore Extreme, Vol. 7 -- that the male juror was sleeping during its showing while an elderly female often averted her eyes from scenes.


The videotape -- which shows the use of a gynecological tool known as a speculum to "stretch orifices to the extreme," Guy testified Tuesday -- was deemed obscene and Jenkins, the store owner, was arrested for pandering obscenity.

You can read the rest of the story

Apparently, the only people who have been offended by this video are the two sets of jurors (going on three) who have been forced by this judge to watch it. As the story notes, the video seller was busted after he sold the tape to an undercover cop. It's not like the old lady innocently rented Maximum Hardcore Extreme Vol. 7 for her great-grandkids, mistaking it for a family film, and then complained.

But for the police, the prosecutors, and the judge, this poor old lady never would have seen (and had to avert her eyes from) "orifices stretched to the extreme." But for the police, the prosecutors, and the judge, people like me who aren't interested in such material wouldn't even know it exists.

What a strange and silly way to spend scarce resources. Yet I'm forced to pay for these pornographic screenings for old ladies in public courtrooms. Now that's what I call obscene.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 12:41 AM

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Read Nock.

Lew Rockwell linked to these today, and it bears repeating:

You should read
this L.A. Times op-ed by Vanity Fair contributing editor Sam Tanenhaus, on how the ideas of Albert Jay Nock are more relevant now than ever, and then read (or re-read) Nock's Our Enemy, The State. "Isaiah's Job," too.

Otherwise liberty-minded individuals who endorse our government's perpetual war for perpetual peace would do well to reflect seriously on these essays, and on just why one would want to allow the United States government to run the rest of the world, when it is already doing so much damage within its own borders.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 11:01 PM

Should I know that Kobe Bryant has been accused of rape?

Tom Leykis has upset some people by stating the name of the
girl accusing Kobe Bryant of rape on his national radio program.

In response, Dr. Patricia Saunders, director of Graham Windham Manhattan Medical Center in New York City, says that for the girl, having her name publicized is "like being raped again. It's a sadistic thing to do." Leykis, on the other hand, argues that it's unfair for the girl to remain anonymous while Bryant's name is plastered all over the headlines as a result of her accusations.

Leykis has a point. Now that this story is in the news, Kobe Bryant is permanently damaged, regardless of whether the accusations are true. Even if he's acquitted, he will doubtless lose millions in endorsements and will have to deal with the emotional consequences of having a large portion of the population associating his name with rape and possibly also thinking that he's a rapist who got away with it because he's a wealthy sports star.

But is the solution to this unfairness to publicize victims' names? That can't be right, because having their names made public would make women less likely to report rapes, and hurt the privacy of women who do come forward. Rape victim advocates are right to be concerned about this, and about protecting true victims after the fact.

So why do we protect rape victims' privacy, but not accused rapists who are presumed innocent? Being known as an accused rapist surely has to be at least as socially stigmatizing and damaging as being known as a rape victim, and the former would probably cause more pecuniary loss, as noted above.

Also, in a rape case (as opposed to, say, a murder case), before there is a trial, we are not sure that the victim is really a victim of rape -- as Columbia Law's Michael Dorf observes, a rape trial is not about who raped the victim, but whether the alleged victim was raped at all -- anymore than we are sure that the accused is a rapist. So why protect only the former? Shouldn't we protect them both as much as possible until after the trial? If rape victims deserve special treatment because of the nature of the crime, shouldn't the accused enjoy the same treatment, especially given that he is being subjected to the coercive power of the state in the interim?

Announcing the name of someone who may be a rape victim is cruel and unnecessary, and Leykis deserves to be criticized for doing it before there has been a trial. The answer to the unfairness that he correctly perceives is to give equal protection to the accused, until a jury sorts the facts out. That's the only way I can see to both respect the individuals' privacy and ensure that they get a fair trial in the court of public opinion.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 10:00 PM

New study proves the obvious: vegetables may be good for you.

Apparently some people consider it news that
eating vegetables and avoiding fat will lower your cholesterol and make you healthier.

Why that's only making headlines now, I don't know, because Dr. Dean Ornish did the scientific studies proving it years ago, which you can read all about in his Program for Reversing Heart Disease. The book veers strangely at one point into new age spirituality and dubious theology, but if you want to know how not to get heart disease, or how to get better if you already have it, while staying healthy and fit otherwise, it's all in there. It even has quite a few recipies for surprisingly good healthy food, to make your transition to eating right that much easier.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 11:02 AM

A hero's welcome for...

Well, the
celebration is in full swing for Jessica Lynch, whose sole distinction seems to be having been captured. Not defeating the enemy, not saving anyone's life, not achieving anything at all -- just getting captured.

Nevermind the merits of the war -- if this is the sort of individual we uphold as a hero, ours is truly a sick and decadant society.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 12:29 AM

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Having solved all of the world's real problems, professional busybodies protest a fictional event.

By now perhaps you've seen a
news story about "Hunting for Bambi," a Las Vegas business that will let you "hunt" real live women, who are paid to run around in the desert clad in nothing but running shoes, and shoot them with a paintball gun. "Bambi"'s proprietor says he's had customers from as far away as Germany pay him $10,000 for the unique experience.

It turns out, though, that it's a hoax -- there are lots of things you can pay to do with and to naked women in and around Las Vegas, but shooting them with a paintball gun isn't one of them yet. The advertised hunts never occurred. Instead, the business's owners and some co-conspirators told the media about the fictional hunts as a PR stunt to promote "Hunting for Bambi's" actual business: selling a video of a staged "Bambi hunt" on their website (I'll spare you the link). And now, thanks to the free advertising via these news stories, you and half of the rest of the world know about these videos, and are more likely to buy them than you otherwise would have been.

As usual, shame on the press for picking up on a story without doing their homework, and for giving these sleazy guys better advertising than money could buy.

But it wasn't just the irresponsible news media giving them free advertising--the professional offendees also got in on the act, and did their own causes more harm than good in the process.

Feminist watchdog group Media Watch, for example, was so outraged by the news stories that rather than take time to check the facts, they launched a boycott of Las Vegas and Reno, and demanded that the state shut the business down.

The director of the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence spoke out, calling the nonexistant hunts "offensive, dangerous, and exploitive."

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management even investigated, because the hunts (had they actually occurred) could have crossed into federal land -- and we wouldn't want federal land to be used for something people voluntarily choose to pay for! As we all know, federal land is only to be used for safe, wholesome activities, such as testing atomic bombs.

If these people had kept their mouths shut and done some careful investigation, none of us would be talking about "Hunting for Bambi" or know about their once-obscure website and video. It reminds me of the Catholic League's frequent protests of anti-Catholic minor independent films no one would know about but for the League's vocal protests and appearances in the news media.

If these people would just hold their tongues most of the time, their causes would probably be better served... but that's not what being a professional busybody do-gooder is about.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 10:49 PM

Saturday, July 19, 2003

You can call it Spike TV, but I'll just keep on calling it crap.

column in Canada's Globe and Mail today suggests that the Spike Lee/Spike TV lawsuit may have been a mutually agreed-upon publicity stunt from the outset. Sounds plausible to me, although it still doesn't solve the mystery of why TNN would rename itself to, of all names, "Spike TV." Viacom has reportedly spent $30 million on this name change -- surely they did some test marketing, and surely some people must have told them how awful it is?

Regardless, they could call it just about anything, and I still can't imagine anyone would want to watch what they're offering.

I ordinarily don't even have a TV (by choice), but I do have one where I'm staying at the moment, and I caught the centerpiece of TNN/Spike's new lineup, their Thursday night "adult" cartoons, and they were terrible. I liked Ren & Stimpy during its original run, when I was about 13 years old, but their new version, (The Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon), has no appeal at all -- it's "gross-out humor," minus the humor. Apparently, vomiting, swearing, cruel violence, and frequent glimpses of Ren's anus are supposed to be funny in themselves. Creator John K. has whined for years about how Nickelodeon stifled his creative freedom on the original show -- now we know why, and that network execs aren't as bad as we've been led to believe after all. Of course, it turns out that the original R&S cartoons (which TNN/Spike is also showing) aren't that great in retrospect, either.

Gary the Rat and Stripperella aren't much better. The whole point of these shows is apparently to be trendily shocking, as it warns you before each show that it is rated "CF -- Cartoons for F**kin' Adults" (asterisks in original). Ooooh, look what they almost just said! This must be cool! Then they have Gary the Rat say the four-letter word for solid excrement unbleeped, for no apparent reason, in the opening credits of his show. It's all downhill from there.

Stripperella is all you would expect and worse--boring comic book plots that happen to involve a stripper. They say this was created by Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame, but I suspect he had as much to do with it as most other things that have borne his name in recent decades, which is probably not much, except the right to collect a check. And if you're wondering, they blur out the cartoon breasts.

As always, South Park, which understands how to intelligently use risque humor, remains the only TV series that merits my consistent attention.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 6:06 PM

The Organization of Chinese Americans and other repeat offendees.

Last night I had an opportunity to see Buster Keaton's 1928 movie
The Cameraman at one of the world's oldest and greatest movie palaces, with live organ accompaniment. If you ever have a chance to see it, in that or any other environment, I recommend it.

I'm glad the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) didn't find out about the event, or I might not have gotten to see it at all. There were a number of Chinese-American characters in the movie, and I'm pretty sure that a number of them were played by white actors in unnecessarily dark makeup. Regardless, they all were portrayed as sinister and violent, so you know the OCA would have been plenty offended.

The OCA, as you may recall, is the group that recently convinced the Fox Movie Channel to cancel a Charlie Chan movie marathon and ban the movies from its lineup entirely, because Chan is a Chinese character portrayed by a white man who ostensibly perpetuates Chinese stereotypes. What stereotypes? You can read a list of complaints from a similar group, the National Asian American Television Association, here. One thing they're offended about is that Chan is a "mustard yellow" color (how they're so sure of the precise shade in a black-and-white movie, I do not know). They also don't like his other attributes: "Chan represents the stereotypical good Chinese: quiet, unassuming, respectful in the face of contempt, and full of bite-size wisdom."

Yikes! With folks thinking Chinese people are like that, they'll never get into top universities or high paying jobs!

Of course, there are other Chinese stereotypes out there. The Charlie Chan movies gave me the stereotype described above, but the Buster Keaton movie taught me that all Chinese are violent, and D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms taught me that they're all a lot of opium fiends too. I don't know which stereotype to believe! We'd better just ban all depictions of Chinese people that aren't pre-approved by the OCA, I guess.

What's really annoying about this incident is that if you look at the news stories about Fox's decision to pull the Chan movies, many of them indicate that it was done because of an outcry from "Asian Americans" (example). I suspect that the overwhelming majority of Asian Americans who are busy comprising one of the most productive and successful racial groups in America don't have time to give much of any thought to Charlie Chan, and probably would be rational enough not to become enraged if they did. (If they're like me, their primary reaction to these news stories news was, "There's a Fox Movie Channel now?")

The outcry over these movies didn't come from "Asian Americans" as a group--it came from a few self-appointed spokespeople for Asian-Americans. But now everyone else in America reads that "Asian Americans" are responsible for limiting their ability to choose the movies that they want to see and make their own judgments about them. Now, what's more likely to make you hate an ethnic group: one polite fictional detective with some peculiar mannerisms, or the impression that they all want to tell you what movies you may and may not watch? If I were an Asian American and cared about how my race was perceived, I'd have a bigger problem with my ostensible leaders than with Charlie Chan.

Of course, I don't get offended by anything. Some will tell me that it's easy for me to say that as a white male (or, as I am more appropriately described in the summer months, a lightly toasted male). But regardless of your race or how it's perceived, what's the use in spending your scarce time and energy being offended? Your grandmother already told you about "sticks and stones," but, hey, if someone says something you don't like, move on, and do what you need to do to accomplish your goals. Of course, some people, like the folks at the OCA and NAATA, not to mention groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Parents Television Council, make a living out of being offended, and even seem to get a perverse pleasure out of it, so I can understand their incentives for doing what they do.

Actually, I am offended by one thing, and that is when the state tries to coerce me into doing something I would not freely choose to do. But somehow, no one seems to be very sensitive about that -- and, most unfairly, unlike members of the Organization of Chinese Americans, it will take me much more than a click of the remote control to change the channel.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 4:18 PM

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

What makes a great libertarian?

Reading biographies of great people is an excellent way to learn about life and living, and Richard Epstein's new "
libertarian autobiography" essay is no exception to that rule.

Still, I am somewhat frustrated by his casual statement that "we have to tolerate the use of state coercive power to build highways." It's not at all clear to me that we do. It is especially ironic that the comment would appear in a series edited by Walter Block, who has written convincingly on the feasibilty of private roads in articles like this one and this one.

I may not agree with Professor Epstein on this or his other concessions to the state (and the Chicago school economics that led him to make most of them), but what I appreciate most of all is that he is nothing but scholarly in his approach. It's easy for libertarians to become unquestioning and dogmatic on certain matters, and take an approach that essentially says, "Libertarianism must be right, so now I just need to find out why." Epstein doesn't accept pure libertarianism as a necessary conclusion, and that's part of what makes him so valuable to libertarians, even if he's not quite one himself. I'm glad to have him around to make me continually reconsider my premises.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 11:28 PM

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Bungee jumping unsafe, even with a net.

Here's one reason why I go skydiving instead of bungee jumping. Why would anyone entrust their life to some carnival operator?

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 1:25 PM

Sunday, July 13, 2003

A college athlete got special treatment in the classroom because he couldn't pass on his own? I can't believe it!

I don't follow team sports of any kind at any level, but today at the gym I couldn't help but catch a few minutes of a televised press conference, in which Ohio State University administrators expressed their shocked disappointment that star football player Maurice Clarett received special treatment to avoid failing a class.

Specifically, here is what
the story that broke the scandal in today's New York Times alleges:

"Clarett walked out of a midterm exam last fall in an introductory course in African-American and African studies without completing the exam. He never retook the midterm and did not take the final exam. But he passed the course after taking oral exams instead, an Ohio State official said."

So he was passed without taking proper exams, and it was not even in a substantive course, but rather in a bogus "African-American studies" course of the sort created specifically to prevent football players and resentful affirmative action beneficiaries from failing out.

The article continues:

"The [class's] professor, Paulette Pierce, said she worked directly with Clarett and administered the two oral exams because she wanted to motivate him and because his lack of academic preparation required her to use unconventional means to test his knowledge."

I thought the typical result of a "lack of academic preparation" was a bad grade? That's been my experience.

All of this goes to illustrate how ridiculous it is that universities that expect to be taken seriously otherwise have football teams--or any athletics beyond actual courses related to fitness and wellness--at all. What does a football team have to do with anything else that goes on at a university? To my puzzlement, even my own University of Chicago is not satisfied to merely employ some of the most important academic minds in the world, but also perceives a need for a football team, although I do not know anyone who has ever been to a single one of their games.

If an athlete, like Clarett, is good enough at a sport that people will pay to see him, then he should go to the pros. If an athlete also has academic potential (which certainly could be the case--I had a law school classmate who had played in the Super Bowl), he can always pursue that after his football days are over. It's too much to expect even good students to handle both at once. Besides, professors and administrators should have better things to do than to oversee this nonsense, and the scandals like this one that inevitably ensue.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 6:50 PM

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Weblogs are nothing special... except mine.

So far, I haven't been very impressed by the weblog phenomenon.

Some people call them "blogs," but I don't, because "blog" is one of the least attractive-sounding words in the English language.

If there's one thing "bloggers" seem to like to do, it's go on interminably about how wonderful this ostensibly revolutionary new form of communication is. But I don't think it's anything to get so excited about. And it's nothing new, either.

Instant commentary on the issues of the day, immediately accessible to the entire world, and anyone with a computer can participate? Sounds just like the bulliten boards and usenet newsgroups that have been around for years to me. The only difference I can see in a weblog is that it's just one person, or a small group of people, doing the talking. Anyway, my time became too valuable for those boards somewhere around the end of high school.

But wait, it's not that bad... it's worse!

On good old-fashioned BBS's and newsgroups, people would talk directly back and forth to each other, and have public conversations organized around particular topic "threads." In the world of weblogs, people communicate ideas back and forth, too, but less efficiently, because you have to go around to every person's weblog to see what they have to say. And if you want to reply to what someone else said, you either have to recap what the other person said by quoting some of it, or make the reader go to another site and read it himself. Given that almost none of them are saying anything worthwhile anyway, it's enough to make me want to go back to calling The Jellybean Jar BBS with my
Commodore 64 and 300 baud modem.

So why am I starting a weblog?

For one, it's become more clear to me recently that the weblog format can be put to productive use. After all, if Lew Rockwell has one, they can't be all bad.

It's also because I have a lot of thoughts about current events, issues, and ideas, but my schedule lately has been too occupied to write the kind of full-length articles I would write about each one, if I had all the time in the world. So instead of keeping everything in my head, I'll post at least some of those thoughts on my weblog.

Your comments are welcome.

If you have any comments on anything that comes up, feel free to e-mail them, and I'll be happy to exchange ideas with you.

- posted by J. H. Huebert at 11:51 PM

Copyright 2004 J. H. Huebert.