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04/21/2003 Archived Entry: "The Devil's Dictionary"

Do you have a male or female brain? The answer may lie in following tests, which were developed by Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.
His theory is that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, and that the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems. He calls it the empathising-systemising (E-S) theory. Who knows if he's right?...but the tests are fun. Also, just for fun, you might enjoy wandering about the Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, now free and online.

I hope everyone had a wonderful long weekend with family and friends, good food and better conversation. Alas, my Sunday was marred by yet another thunderstorm that veered off sharply just before it reached our farm. I have the worst luck with storms!

Today's blog aims at tying loose ends or, at least updating people on the status of stories I've covered in former entries. First, the imprisonment of senior Intel Engineer Maher Mofied 'Mike' Hawash, who was arrested on March 20th on undisclosed charges and detained in solitary confinement, even tho' he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. His loss of liberty - and constitutional rights as an American citizen - is due to a 1984 law that the Justice Department believes should let the government detain American citizens at will as "material witnesses" for an arbitrary length of time.

The always excellent Declan McCullagh has a CNet article on Hawash entitled "Guilty until proven innocent", in which he writes, "This is a development that deserves close attention in the technology community. More than other industries, the computer business relies on immigrants. And some, like Hawash, are getting caught up in the U.S. Justice Department's campaign against suspected domestic terrorists. The Hawash case is not an isolated situation. I wrote recently about how Attorney General Ashcroft wants more power to snoop on the Internet, observing private conversations by installing secret microphones, spyware and keystroke loggers. Combine that with the broad powers that the Justice Department received under the 2001 Patriot Act, and you've got a situation that concentrates a tremendous amount of surveillance power in a small group of federal police and prosecutors....A well-researched Washington Post article from last fall said the Justice Department has imprisoned at least 44 people, including seven U.S. citizens, under the same law, with some held for many months and possibly for more than a year." For more information, visit Free Mike Hawash.

And, returning to my favorite rant-topic, the airlines... This time American Airlines in particular. After a secret plan to give huge bonuses to top executives was revealed late last week, the flight attendants' union announced that it would scrap results from a second vote -- after scrapping the first one -- and hold a third vote on the concessions that AA claims to need to prevent bankruptcy. This story coincides with my re-reading of Ayn Rand -- the first time I have attempted a systematic read since my twenties. I find myself both more appreciative and more critical of various aspects of Rand's work. One aspect which now makes me wince is her portrayal of businessmen. I understand that she is portraying the ideal businessman who produces goods on the free market (laissez-faire capitalism) and does not avail himself of government privilege/partnership (State capitalism) but my real world experiences of businessmen have been so disillusioning that I react in much the same manner as a liberal would. The majority of businessmen I've death with richly deserve the bad reputation that their class of human being has acquired. (I exempt most small entrepreneurs from this criticism, who depend on reputation and are generally fair.) I keep having to substitute words like "entrepreneur" and "producer" for the word "businessman" in order to get the message Rand intended to convey. Otherwise I trip over my first-hand knowledge that real world businessmen will lie, cheat, violate your privacy, shred the Constitution, shoot your dog and steal your family Bible if given half a chance. And, this, from someone who advocates laissez-faire capitalism. The incredible corruption of corporations is particularly galling. Limited liability should be yanked out from underneath these paper entities. And, just as the Board members profit from activities such as creating nuclear energy so, too, should they be liable for damages created in pursuit of those profits on the same level and in the same manner that you and I would have to pay up if we damaged the person or property of others. I wonder how the nuclear reactor debate in the US would have shaped up had the companies needed to insure themselves on the free market and not had limited liability upon which to fall back. Again, I understand Rand was writing of the ideal businessman....

On 04/17, I included commentary on Iraq's foreign debt, which had been offered by Lincoln Plawg. An excerpt: "One way or another, the debt needs to be handled: as I said in the April 8 piece, the small proportion that is actually traded was changing hands at around 20 cents on the dollar before all this forgiveness talk arose! Creditors know they'll never be paid in full." Today, business analyst Steve Marr writes of Iraq's finances, "[There is] 120 billion in foreign debt, 60 billion in current pending contracts, and an expected additional 150 billion due in war reparations from the past. With future oil revenues of 20-25 billion per year, the debt is unmanageable. After oil field expenses, an amount of only about 10 billion dollars is available for rebuilding and debt payments." The 3 largest creditor nations are, in order of amount loaned, Russia, France, and Germany. Marr asks a question you will hear more frequently as the debt issue rises higher on the radar screen, "You have to question the business judgment of doing that much business on credit with Iraq and Saddam Hussein!" Thus, he sets the stage for the US/new Iraq rationale refusing to honor the debt except, perhaps, as cents on the dollar; the lending nations have it coming for being bad businessmen. Moreover, Marr concludes, "The loans helped prop up the corrupt and oppressive regime. All prudent lending standards were ignored and now it is time to let those who participated in Hussein´┐Żs party hold the empty bag themselves, not balance these debts unjustly on the backs of a liberated people or the U.S. treasury." Thus, the lending nations have it coming for supporting corrupt regimes. If that standard were uniformly enforced, the US would be in deep fiscal trouble around the globe. It is all predictable I suppose.

Best to all,
mac

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