Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Interview with Candidate Baraka

Many of you may already have heard that Senator Barack Obama (Democrat--Illinois) has expressed interest in running for the presidency. Many of you may not know, however, that Senator Baraka (Tarkata--Outworld) has thrown his hat into the ring in response. You may remember the last candidate from Outworld to run for office, Goro, in 2000. The Outwordlers again have someone to promote their interests.

Last evening, Baraka was kind enough to allow me to interview him.

* * * * *

Full Metal Attorney: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I know your constituents have been waiting a long time for you to finally make your bid for the highest office in the land.
Baraka: Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to get my message out there. My campaign has been many generations in the making, but now the time is nigh.
FMA: Yes, of course. Now, let's just go ahead and get down to the issues, because many people have speculated about your positions on the issues, and you've never given much indication of how you stand.
B: Of course. Let's get right down to business.
FMA: Alright then. One hot-button issue right now is immigration. I think it's fairly well-settled now that we need more border security. How would you go about that?
B: I would raise an army of my brethren the Tarkata. As most people are aware, we are hybrids of Netherealm demons and the creatures of Outworld. As such, we are all powerful warriors, and most of us, like me, have blades extending from our forearms. This army would patrol the border, and shred to pieces any that cross it. The Rio Grande will flow with the blood of those who defy our immigration policy!
FMA: Yes, well, that seems reasonable. And what about amnesty? Many have expressed the opinion that illegal immigrants already in the country should be allowed to stay in the country. Do you agree?
B: With my hard stance on immigration, you wouldn't think so. But I do agree with that. Well--let me qualify that. My plan, which I think is quite obvious though most politicians have overlooked it in the past, is a fairer balance between respect for the law and the realities of the world, and the hardships that these people face. Anyone who wants to apply for amnesty can do so under my plan. They will then be divided into groups of, say, 24, you know, I'm not married to that number, it could be more, maybe less. Anyway, these groups would be paired off and put into a tournament. They will face each other in Mortal Kombat, fighting to the death, and the one who eventually comes out on top will be granted amnesty.
FMA: Yes, I think that is a reasonable plan. It's hard to believe that no one has promoted such a plan before.
B: Yes it is. (Laughs.) I think that's why we need someone like me in office, someone with fresh ideas.
FMA: The other hot-button issue right now is the war in Iraq. How would you handle it differently?
B: As most people know, my war record is outstanding. The attack on the Shaolin Temple of Light, my work with Shinnok, and the war against the Edenians under the Dragon King Onaga are just the tip of the iceberg. I know war. To make a long story short, my plan will lead to the routing of the rebel forces and the enslavement of all the peoples of Earth. (Laughs maniacally.)
(Awkward silence.)
B: Just kidding.
FMA: (Laughs uncomfortably.) I don't doubt your military prowess. I'm sure you'd handle it effectively and with as little loss of life as possible.
B: (Grinning broadly, teeth gleaming.) Yes, of course.
FMA: Moving on. We don't have a lot of time for much else, but let's do a bit of a lightning round. I'll name the issue, and you say your position as quickly as possible. Death tax.
B: Everyone will be free to die. There wil be no death tax, and death will be doled out generously.
FMA: Social security.
B: There will soon be no need to support the elderly. My plan will obviate the issue.
FMA: Iran.
B: Blood.
FMA: North Korea.
B: Gore.
FMA: Half-demon warriors.
B: Roaming the land unchecked, wreaking havoc and slaughtering the innocent.
FMA: And what do you have to say to your opponents?
B: I will stab them in the torso with both of my blades, and lift them up into the air while they scream and writhe in agony. When they stop twitching, and hang there lifelessly, I will shred them into pieces.
FMA: OK, that's all we have time for. I want to thank you again for taking the time out from the campaign trail to speak with us.
B: Thank you.

* * * * *

That concludes the interview with Senator Baraka. I'll try to make it my mission to keep you up to date on the issues that are important today.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Harvesting Corn

I've started another theme week at Full Metal Photographer, so if you want to see the steps of corn harvesting, through the eyes of someone who knows very little about it, then click on the picture below to start the journey. Other pictures will be posted Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I'll come back to this post to fill out the rest of the pictures and give the full series to you here, but that will be in small size.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trolling: a Tutorial

According to this Wikipedia article, trolling is
In Internet terminology, a troll is usually someone who enters an established community such as an online discussion forum, and posts inflammatory, rude, repetitive, offensive, off-topic or otherwise disruptive messages designed intentionally to annoy or antagonize the existing members or alter the flow of discussion, including the personal attack of calling others trolls. Often, trolls assume multiple aliases, or sock puppets.
Sounds like fun, right?

So, if you want to be a troll too, read on. I'll limit this discussion to blog trolls, because blogging is so popular now that there's no need to troll in any other forum.

First, you've got to find the right blog to troll. The ideal target is one that has a few dedicated participants. Between 3 and 25 regular commenters on the site is ideal. If there are too many, you can easily be ignored, and if there are too few, it won't be very rewarding. Then, you have to decide where the buttons are, and push them.

If the blog is personal, insult the blogger. If they talk about something sad in their life, tell them to stop whining. If they talk about something good, tell them how pathetic it is, and so on. But these are too easy, because going against the grain in a personal blog is easy and the people are usually thin-skinned.

For a real rewarding challenge, you need to go to an intellectual blog. Simply disagreeing with the people will not be enough. Now, you could just be obtuse and announce a contrary opinion, and they will find this annoying, but to take it one step further, you need to pretend to make an argument. Make purportedly factual statements with no factual basis, use spurious reasoning, and dismiss other people's arguments out of hand. And when they try to change the topic, don't let them get away with it.

A few other tips:
# Off topic messages: Those that are irrelevant to the focus of the forum. This can also be done in the middle of an existing thread to attempt to hijack the thread, or otherwise change the topic at hand. Off topic messages usually occur when a member has been completely disproved in a serious debate, thus causing that member to use his or her other multiple pseudonyms for the purposes of changing the subject matter. These disruptions may result in the degeneration of a well informed thread into a heated juvenile exchange consisting of insults and childish accusations between multiple parties. Trolls can also throw threads off-topic and cause them to degenerate into flame wars by posting purposely offensive and inflammatory messages. . . .[*]
# Inflammatory messages, including racist, sexist, classist or otherwise needlessly hateful comments.
# Opinions stated as fact: Posting messages expressing their own opinions as generally accepted facts without offering any proof or analysis. . . .[*]
# Bumping an old discussion, or rehashing a highly controversial past topic, particularly in smaller online communities. . . .
# Trying to look for vulnerable people and being offensive to them. . . .
# Messages containing a self-referential appeal to status. "Pepsi is for white trash. I prefer a real soft drink like Coke." . . . [**]
# Intentionally posting an outrageous argument, deliberately constructed around a fundamental but obfuscated flaw or error. Often the poster will become defensive when the argument is refuted, and may continue the thread through the use of further flawed arguments; this is referred to as "feeding" the troll. . . .
# Plural or paranoid answers to personal opinions expressed by individuals: "I don't think that all of you really believe that -— you're just ganging up on me!" . . . [***]
* These are some of my favorites
** Or like saying that your IQ is higher than everyone else's, which is particularly fun when there's no way to verify the situation. And if the claim is untenable (as it most likely will be due to your ridiculousness), then you can go on to say that it's unimportant.
*** This one is particularly fun in an intellectual forum, where you can say that the people are all about praising each other and agreeing with each other all the time, which belittles their intellectual honesty and is maddening due to many examples that prove it wrong. It doesn't work well in a personal blog.

I have a few tips of my own. Make sure you mischaracterize everything that everyone else says. If they say that we shouldn't support amnesty for illegal immigrants, call them racist. If they say that we should handle the Iraq war differently, claim that they said we shouldn't be in Iraq. Subtlety is key here, and will make it all the more effective.

Always imply that you're winning. If the discussion has been reduced to insult-flinging (or a "flame war"), just go on about how nobody can match you, that you're the best. If they're still trying to debate with you, tell them that you're obviously right, and restate everything you've already said. Make sure to mischaracterize their position in the process.

On the same lines, make sure that you tell them that they lost their temper, or that you can tell you hit a nerve, or something to that effect, when they respond to you. Don't do this every time, though, or your trolling will be too obvious.

And finally, pursue them forever. If they won't let you speak in one forum, find out what other forums the participants frequent. Or find their e-mail addresses. Do whatever you can.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Dr. Seuss Collection

I created a wish list on Amazon for our baby, of all Dr. Seuss books that we don't yet have (except one), whether they were written under a different pen name or illustrated by someone else or not.

Here's the e-mail I sent out about it:
Hi everyone!

If you haven't already found out, Laura is pregnant with our first child. She is due about the end of May.

When I was a kid, Dr. Seuss books were my favorite, and I've been trying to put together a collection of all his books for our kids. The only problem is there are more than 60 of them.

So I put together this list from Amazon in case any of you would like to purchase a Dr. Seuss book as a gift for our baby. You might want to look at the used copies of the books, as they are much cheaper. They will be mailed to us if you buy them this way. If you don't want to buy a gift that's mailed directly to us, then please don't get a Dr. Seuss book (we don't want repeats).

Best wishes and God bless,

You can see Kelly's entire Wish List at:

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Response to the Language Guy, on the Death Penalty

The Language Guy recently wrote this post on the death penalty. You don't have to read it to understand my response, since I quote it in most relevant respects. A litle background: to impose the death penalty, the state must prove that there are certain "aggravating factors" beyond the fact that the defendant committed first degree murder. The defendant can raise "mitigating factors" to convince the sentencer that the death penalty should not be imposed. Here is my response:

It should be noted that the state must clearly define and enact, as a statute, anything that can be considered an aggravating factor. Many of these are quite contentious issues, but that's a discussion for another day. In contrast, a defendant can raise any factor (as LG hints) as a mitigating factor.

LG said: "The Supremes sided with the state of Kansas in allowing the state to stipulate that if the mitigating factors do not outweigh the aggravating circumstances, then the death penalty is the appropriate jury choice."

This is true, but do you really think it makes a difference? Honestly. Do you think that jurors can really empirically weigh each of these factors and believe that they come out on balance? And that they would then grudgingly impose a different penalty from what they feel is right? No. Juries will do what they think is right. If they think the bastard deserves to die, they will kill him (I use the word "bastard" because that's the kind of language you would use in referring to a person who does deserve the death penalty). If they think he's the kind of guy that deserves a break, they won't kill him. It's as simple as that.

LG said: "So, robbing a liquor store while brandishing a weapon cannot result in your being put to death but killing the clerk while robbing the store can."

This is also true. It is also true that if the clerk shoots an innocent bystander and kills them in the process of this, then you can also be put to death. It should be noted that under the merger doctrine, you can't be found guilty of felony-murder when the felony in question is assault. (It's unfortunate but unrelated that in the law there are many different, wholly unrelated doctrines called the "merger doctrine".)

LG said: "What is interesting in this particular case is that the Supremes affirm that the burden of proof can be placed on the defendant rather than the state."

This is not what is happening, LG. The state still has to prove the aggravating circumstances. They still have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, the defendant need only prove his mitigating factors by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

LG said: "I ask you which is more important in the grand scheme of things -- whether or not someone is guilty of felony murder or whether or not someone should be put to death for felony murder? Reasonable people could, I suppose, disagree as to the answer to this question."

And reasonable people, as I believe we both are, do in fact disagree, it would seem. This is related to the above issue as well, because actual guilt is not at issue in this stage.

Also related to these issues is that it wasn't all that long ago that all first-degree murder was punished by an automatic death penalty. It is spurious judicial reasoning that has led us to this ridiculous aggravating/mitigating scheme. While it may provide fairness in the individual circumstance, it does lead to unequal treatment. Which ties in with the next issue.

LG said: "Pretrial publicity, racial and ethnic and religious biases, gender biases, and social class and other biases may very well play a role in any given juror's thinking. Asking prospective jurors whether they can render an unbiased verdict is one of the silly exercises the justice system goes through. . . . Do these people really think that prospective jurors are going to always tell them the truth?"

Ah, but these are unavoidable necessities of having a jury system, or perhaps indeed any criminal justice system. And to your question, I think you'd be surprised. Employers put a lot of stock into character tests which asks questions like "Would you ever steal from your employer if you knew you wouldn't get caught?" Many people answer honestly and incriminatingly to such questions.

LG said: "The Kansas statute in contrast to the presumption of innocence demanded of what is called the "guilt phase" of a death penalty case, allows a presumption of guilty . . . ."

See my above comment on the real burden of proof. As far as biasing the jury in favor of imposing the death penalty, I don't see why this is a problem even if it is true. People meeting this phase have already been found guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of twelve people, of committing a heinous crime--the ultimate crime of first degree murder. It has to be pretty bad before the prosecutor can prove such a thing, and in many (if not most) cases they will have had the option prior to this of pleading guilty to second degree murder or manslaughter.

The source you then quote shares some of your misperceptions, and I note that it is a biased source affiliate with Amnesty International. As to number 5, I wonder again whether this is such a bad thing.

LG said: "Given how often it has been determined that persons given the death penalty have been proved innocent of the underlying crime, one would think a fair society would bend over backwards in an effort to minimize imposition of the death penalty."

I don't think the penalty phase is the problem. Something is going horribly wrong in the guilt phase, and that is what needs the real attention, not the penalty phase.

As to the ability to have a hung jury in the penalty phase, I have no opinion and no particular knowledge to add any light to the discussion. Maybe it would be good to allow them to hang. Maybe not.

LG said: "Another problem is the absurdity of 'weighing' aggravators versus mitigators."

I have already noted such absurdity and the results of which above, that is, that jurors will follow their gut. This is not the only place where such a gut instinct can be determinative. It goes from everything from deciding the veracity of a witness to determining relative fault in car collision cases in which both parties did something wrong. It's the only way to make a decision, and a decision must be made. We know in our guts that such decisions can be right or wrong, although we can't put it into words.

As to the proof that many innocent people were sent to death, I have already made my points, but I wish to add that I wonder how many people are being properly put to death in comparison. I know that a system with perfect results is something we should strive for, but it is impossible and we need some kind of system for making these decisions. If you have a better one, then I'm sure you'll get the Nobel Peace Prize.

"The first is that District Attorneys are elected. The second is that Judges are elected."

While I agree that judges should not be elected for these kinds of reasons, I disagree on the district attorneys. The things they do are the very kinds of things that the concept of democracy demands the people have input into, suh as decisions whether to be tough on certain types of offenders and whether and to what extent to prosecute various unique individuals who have very different circumstances. These kinds of decisions should be left to elected, accountable people.

As to the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" itself, your suggested standard is one often given to explain what that standard means. At least, that is the case in Nebraska. In other words, your suggestion restates the standard and does not change it.