Dynamist Blog

Family Values

Canadians are supposed to be polite, and social conservatives are supposed to be against vulgarity. But the world is more complicated than stereotypes suggest. I received the following email from a reader who shall remain nameless but whose domain name identifies him as coming from north of the border:

"But the Cheneys apparently put family values above political litmus tests."

What the fuck is this supposed to mean? Anyone against gay marriage doesn't have family values? Go back to writing about economics you fuckin' idiot.

For this gentleman and others who might have been confused, let me clarify: The Cheneys have a gay daughter. Their family experience--the role of family values in their own personal lives--is more important to them than toeing the Republican line.

I do believe that enabling gay people to form families--not merely couples, but the extended kinship relations implied in marriage--would be a good thing, for extended families as well as for couples. But I don't think "anyone against family marriage doesn't have family values." If I did, I really would be an idiot, no adjectives required. Only a highly defensive misreading would suggest otherwise.

In related news, Grant McCracken blogs on Candadian anti-Americanism: "Anti-Americanism is rampant. Many Canadians now make free with the most derogatory comments about their southern neighbors. They are pleased to call Americans stupid, aggressive, and vulgar."

Terrorism in Russia

OK, now I'll speculate. The Russian plane crashes look like Chechen terrorism (A.P. report). Newsweek reports, "authorities were trying to determine why families had not stepped forward to claim the bodies of two Chechen women, one on each of the crashed airliners. One theory: the crashes were the work of a cultlike band of militant Chechen women known as the "Black Widows" because their Islamic mujahedin husbands were killed fighting Russian security forces."

Mark Franchetti of The Sunday Times (London, presumably; the link is from The Australian) has more:

[F]ollowing the discovery in the wreckage of flight 1047 of traces of hexogen, an explosive used in previous Chechen attacks, the Russian authorities had conceded that terrorism was to blame.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) has confirmed that traces of the same explosives were found in the wreckage of the second plane, and it has also emerged that the Tupolev-154 sent at least two distress signals — an SOS followed by a hijack alert.

Suspicion pointed to two suspected "black widows", female Chechen suicide bombers, apparently determined to strike a blow against the Kremlin in the run-up to yesterday's elections in the breakaway Caucasian republic--expected to be won by Moscow's man Alu Alkhanov.

The suspected "widow" on flight 1047 was S. Dzhebirkhanova, a young woman believed to be a Chechen who boarded the plane after changing her ticket for an earlier flight.

Suspiciously, none of Dzhebirkhanova's relatives or friends has come forward since the disaster to claim her remains.

No next of kin have been identified either for Amanta Nagayeva, 27, the suspected terrorist on the other plane. Registered on the passenger list as living in Grozny, the Chechen capital, she was the last person to buy a ticket for flight 1303, only an hour before takeoff.

She was a market trader whose brother disappeared four years ago after he was detained by Russian troops. It is also believed that she once lived in a small village in southern Chechnya where an Islamic militant ran a terrorist training camp. Her remains were found in small fragments, suggesting she had blown herself up.

The mystery remained how the bombers managed to smuggle their explosives on board. Domodedovo airport, which the two flights left within 46 minutes of each other, was overhauled two years ago and re-equipped with the latest baggage scanning technology and dogs trained to smell explosives.

Maybe black widows didn't fit the profile.

Materialistic Movies

James J. Robinson, editor of the Journal of Materials, ranks the top 10 American movies in which materials have a starring role (via Core77):

What movies rarely do, however, is provide us an opportunity to marvel at the scope and complexity of materials science and engineering.

Ah, but "rare" does not mean "never," and there are a handful of films that have great materials moments even if the movies themselves do not always, if ever, attain greatness. To be sure, materials never have the starring role, but they oftentimes have the power to amaze, awe, and accomplish fantastic feats.

Before pushing the "play" button on the countdown, however, I encourage you to first review the ground rules that I employed in filtering through the nominees. Some of them may seem arbitrary (and they are), but they all serve to give me a manageable structure in which to operate. As with any good article, these parameters are outlined in the Experimental Procedures section. Okay, enough with the introductory blah, blah, blah. Let's get on with the show.

The list is here, and, no, The Graduate isn't #1.

No Speculation

A reader in the aviation industry approves of my agnostic approach to the Russian crashes:

The big problem with aircraft accident investigation is that everyone immediately trots out their pet theories. Of course, as you so aptly put it, everyone is spooked on terrorism already, so there's ample room for a knee-jerk reaction right there.

Determining whether or not these were actual terrorist events will take a while, unless some group claims responsibility and has data to back up their claim. The flight data recorders and the cockpit voice recorders all have to be read, the wreckage needs to be examined thoroughly, radar tapes analyzed, maintenance records reviewed, pilot's medical histories reviewed, autopsies performed (you need to look for shrapnel inside victim's bodies), etc., etc.- all of the gumshoe type work. This is a lot different than 9/11, when the whole world saw on video the two airplanes hitting the towers. Even then, if the World Trade Center attacks hadn't occurred on 9/11, but the Pennsylvania and Pentagon ones had, it would have taken some time to figure those out (well, except for cell phones).

Even after all of the investigation is completed, and the probable causes and findings are issued by the appropriate experts, that's still no guarantee of total agreement. For example, there are still a lot of people out there that believe that TWA 800 was downed by a terrorist missile and a government cover-up ensued, even though the evidence is extremely compelling that the NTSB got it right the first time.

Also, even though the odds of 2 aircraft crashing within minutes of each other due to unrelated causes are astronomical, in Russia, anything is possible when it comes to air safety. If this investigation goes like the one on the Kursk (the submarine that sank in the Barents Sea a few years back), it's going to be a spectacular goat rope.

So, to sum- good for you for not even speculating, and sticking to the facts!

Coincidences do occur--all the time. That doesn't mean the crashes were a coincidence, but it's certainly possible.

What Is It With Kerry's Pets and Boats?

Hugh Hewitt posts an odd sidenote to the Kerry-in-Vietnam (or was it Cambodia) story: the tale of the pup, specifically a dog named VC that supposedly got blown out of the swift boat when the boat hit a mine. The dog, Kerry told the Humane Society, flew into another boat and survived. Naturally, this story called to mind Alexandra Kerry's convention story of Licorice, the unlucky hamster.

For more on Kerry and the hapless hamster, see Will Saletan's satire of the Swifties. And the Kerry Hamster Dance is here here. Both links are courtesy of a Google search for "kerry hamster."

Still a Mystery

The Russian air crashes remain a mystery, which is why I haven't said anything about them. This CNN report contains a good summary of what's been confirmed. The Moscow Times story is here.

That we all suspect terrorism, though no group has claimed responsibility, suggests just how much terrorism has changed: It's not about specific causes (Chechen rebels say the crashes aren't they're doing) or specific targets but about generally striking fear. Or maybe we're all just spooked.

Recommended Reading

Marginal Revolution may be my favorite blog. It's particularly strong right now, with Tyler Cowen blogging from Mexico and guest bloggers James Surowiecki (the best econ columnist in the business, way, way ahead of whoever's second) and Eric Helland supplementing Alex Tabarrok's posts. In other words, instead of getting guest bloggers to sub for them, Tyler and Alex have just turned their two-man blog into an unusually strong group blog.

In other blog-favorite news, Grant McCracken has several stimulating posts on "the economics of the gaze" (with a comment from Professor Postrel, who often comments there), as well as a photo the contents of his refrigerator ("How to Blog Like an Anthropologist II").

No Escape from West Nile?

Since I lived 14 years in L.A. and never saw a mosquito, I figured the best way to avoid West Nile virus--not to mention a lot of itchy bites--was to get out of mosquito-infested Dallas and head back. But no. Today's L.A. Daily News reports that L.A. County is full of West Nile cases:

As Los Angeles County's 100th case of West Nile virus was confirmed Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors took steps to assert sweeping new powers to enter private property to eradicate mosquito-breeding spots.

With Los Angeles County cases surpassing those in San Bernardino County, previously hardest hit in the state, the supervisors directed lawyers, health authorities and the agricultural commissioner to draft an ordinance to let officials go onto private property anywhere in the county and clean up standing water in which mosquitoes can breed.

Where are these mosquitoes? Apparently not on the Westside.

Cheney Bucks the Party Line on Gay Marriage

ABC reports:

The issue arose at a campaign town hall meeting in Davenport, Iowa, when a woman in the audience asked an unusually pointed question: "I need to know, what do you think about homosexual marriages?"

The vice president was candid in his response. "Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Cheney said. "We have two daughters, and we have enormous pride in both of them."

The statement marked the first time Cheney has publicly addressed the fact that his daughter, Mary--who helps run his campaign--is gay, although she has been open about it.

"With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone," he added.

In February, President Bush proposed a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages.

Since then, the vice president has been in a difficult position. In 2000, he had said the issue should be left up to the states. Reluctant to publicize his differences with Bush, when asked about the issue previously, he said, "I support the president."

But his latest remarks made plain that his view is different. "That's appropriately a matter for the states to decide. That's how it ought to best be handled," he said. "At this point, my own preference is as I've stated. But the president makes basic policy for the administration."

Needless to say, social conservatives are upset. But the Cheneys apparently put family values above political litmus tests.

ArchivedDeep Glamour Blog ›

Blog Feed

Articles Feed