October 2004

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Over at Drug WarRant, author Pete Guither is writing about unexpectedly making the news. He endorsed Tari Renner for the Illinois 11th district, over Jerry Weller, the incumbent, because Renner’s drug policies are better than Weller’s. Weller, for example, thinks it’s a great idea for the federal government to harass and imprison patients taking medical marijuana despite the fact that their doctor recommends it and their state’s laws allow it.

Now Weller has started using Pete Guither’s endorsement as a way to attack Renner. Weller’s people are saying that Guither’s Drug WarRant site promotes drug use and encourages people to use heroin, neither of which are true. Drug WarRant is a typical legalization site: Guither’s rants are not in praise of drug use but in condemnation of the War on Drugs.

Weller’s opponent, Tari Renner, isn’t much help either. Pete Guither, who lives in the 11th district, had sent Renner’s campaign a contribution, but Renner’s office just sent it back.

Sigh.

My title is probably unfair. Just because congressman Weller’s people are making up vicious lies about Pete Guither, and just because candidate Renner’s people don’t even want to come close enough to Pete Guither to take his money, doesn’t mean they’re treating drug war opponents like the 1930s Nazis treated the Jews.

Guither’s article just made me despair a little. If the Ku Klux Klan gives your campaign money, you give it back. If an Al-Qaeda-linked “charity” gives you money, you give it back. Do these politicians really put drug legalization into the same category as racism and terrorism? Do these people actually see Pete Guither’s views, Pete Guither’s values, my values, as so abhorrent that they don’t even want our money? That they slander and libel us? Are they that disgusted at the thought of not hurting drug users and putting them in cages?

Crap. I don’t have an ending. I just sit here sputtering about what assholes these people are. Well, this will have to do: Pete, I just hit your tip jar for $20. I have no interest in coffee myself, being more of a Diet Coke head, but have a few pounds on me.

Steve Landsburg points out that a miscount in the upcoming election wouldn’t be the disaster that some people want us to think it would be.

I felt exactly the same way last time. No matter which candidate you think won the election, the worst case is that we got the second best guy running instead of the best guy. That’s not how it was supposed to be, but it’s not as if Bush wasn’t in the running.

Over on Marginal Revolution, Steve Landsburg is wondering if there are too many books and says something a little strange:

Writing a book is not like growing an orange. If you grow the best orange in the world, the second best orange still gets eaten. But if you write the best book in the world, the second best book loses a lot of readers. So the market price of an orange is an excellent reflection of its true social value, whereas the bulk of Dan Brown’s $20 million is only an excellent reflection of what he was able to divert from some other author to himself.

I find this passage quite mysterious. Why would people smart enough to eat the best and second best oranges not be smart enough to read the best and second best books? Compared to oranges, books involve a much larger cost in time and money and are far more variable in quality, so people would presumably choose them more carefully.

If I read 50 books in a year, and I decide to add The Da Vinci Code to my reading list for this year, I would drop the 50th book on the list, not the first. Or maybe I would increase my reading list to 51 books and watch less television. Or I would sleep a little less. Certainly the tradeoffs would occur at the margins as with everything else.

Perhaps I’m missing something in the way the book market works. For example, I could understand if book prices varied with quality like meals at restaurants. Then if I ordered swordfish today, I am more likely to have traded it off against a fine fillet mignon than against 6 Big Macs. Similarly, if all the really great books cost $100, I might substitute one for another rather than give up 4 or 5 further down my list.

Am I missing something here?

Virgina Postrel’s laptop just got soaked and appears to be dead.

I’m something of a computer geek, and several friends have come to me with just this problem. I know what to do about this, but the knowledge is apparently useless: everybody first tries turning the computer on to see if it will work. This usually fries something.

So, for anybody who hasn’t yet soaked their computer, here’s what you do:

First, rescue the computer. If the computer is in the water, speed matters. The hard drive is sealed, but the seal is not intended to keep out water when the unit is submerged. If water gets into the housing with the disk platters, the disk is essentially ruined. If it’s in water, shut off the power before touching the wet computer.

Second, disconnect all power, including the line power and the battery. Water isn’t much of a problem, but water plus electricity is bad news.

Third, and this is the part that feels so wrong, you have to wash the computer. Pure water won’t hurt your computer by itself. Leaky roof, spilled beverage, or dropped into the pool, it’s what’s mixed with the water that causes all the trouble.

Go to the local grocery store and get a few gallons of pure water. That’s distilled or deionized water, not some sort of mineral water from special wells or something. You want water and nothing else.

Also get a spray bottle if you can.

Open up your computer and expose all the circuit boards. Now use the spray bottle to clean everything in sight with pure water. If the spill is something really nasty, you can hose it off with tap water first, but then wash away the tap water with distilled water.

You might want to try some contact cleaner also, but make sure the chemicals are safe to use on the materials in a computer. What works on your car’s battery will not be good for your laptop.

Fourth, dry it off. A hair drier or heat lamp will also help. So might a warming tray in an oven, but make sure it doesn’t get too hot for your computer’s parts. Let it get thoroughly heat soaked. It has to dry a long time so that all the water trapped inside small areas evaporates.

Now put it back together and see if it works.

Orin Kerr speculates on possible pre-election attacks on America by Al Qaeda:

I think it’s somewhat less likely than it used to be that Al Qaeda would try attacks focused on killing lots of people or destroying symbolic targets. The U.S. response to 9/11 taught that the U.S. isn’t going to back off its policies in response to that sort of attack. Violence perceived as a general “attack on America” boosts morale among those who hate the U.S., but it only stiffens U.S. resolve.

I think the more likely Al Qaeda move would be to try to destabilize the U.S. political system.

Whatever Al Qaeda does next next will be far less impressive than the attacks of 9/11, and they may not be able to do anything. They’re on the run, they don’t have the resources they used to, and they have to waste more time and energy keeping the operation a secret. Also, much of their leadership is dead or captured. Whatever they do will have to be done with little effort.

Also, I don’t think Al Qaeda leadership is likely to understand politics in a democracy well enough to try to disrupt the political process. In addition, government offices are likely to be well-defended. Besides, most of us aren’t too emotional about our leaders: we like some of them, but we don’t love them. Sure, we’d be pissed off if they assassinated a few candidates, but we wouldn’t be heartbroken.

And that’s what I think they will want to do. They will want to break our hearts, so we no longer have the will power to continue the war. No matter who wins this November, if enough Americans want the war to end, it will end.

So, what targets will break our hearts?

Obviously, children. Compared to government agencies, school children are soft targets. Blowing up a few school buses or even schools would hurt us tremendously. Only fifteen children died at Columbine, and it still haunts us.

Of course, that could backfire. Of all the things Al Qaeda thought might happen after 9/11, they probably never thought we’d invade two Middle Eastern countries. They may have thought through the aftermath more carefully this time. Who could they kill that would break our hearts enough to increase the anti-war fervor, but that we don’t love enough to use their names as a rallying cry?

Celebrities. Just pick a few popular names: David Letterman, Jay Leno, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Tom Hanks. You’d hate to see something happen to them, but would you want to avenge them?

Many of these people may actually oppose the war, but that works to Al Qaeda’s advantage because it would radicalize their fans. Killing, say Rush Limbaugh, wouldn’t engage the left and the right would just become more pissed off than before.