Thursday, June 30, 2005

Abu Khaleel signs off

Here is an example of how someone can remain a perfect gentleman while being too pissed off for words.

For several months, I have enjoyed posting on this site. But the time has come to say goodbye. LSF is gearing itself for the coming mid-term elections and has to concentrate on more domestic issues. I have no desire to be in the way.

I would like to thank LSF for generously hosting me. I would like to thank my fellow-posters for their support. And I would like to thank regular readers for putting up with my ravings.

I will still be fighting for my own street on my own blogs.


Only in the comments thread does he reveal a deeper reason for throwing in the towell.

Just a quick ‘Thank You’ note in a hurry…

Although we all have never met outside the cyberspace, I have no idea how anyone of you looks… I feel that, as people – individuals – many of us have ‘connected’ purely through words that reflect our thoughts. I find that quite profound… particularly if we consider further that we are supposed to belong to two warring countries!!!

During a debate on my blog once, a regular commentator stated matter-of-factly that you cannot prove anything on the internet. How wrong he was!

Your kind and sincere words above prove many things! For me at least, they prove that there is a lot of human compassion and decency out there… even in the enemy camp! Thank you for that.

This has been quite an emotional day for me. I didn’t wait up for President Bush’s speech last night (too late Baghdad time) and only read the script this morning… and I have been bubbling with anger since then.

I remember reading one of you a couple of days back saying the he did not post while angry. Well, I too usually try not to do that, but not today. I was so offended by the immorality of his words that did not care much anymore. So, I vented some of my indignation on my blog… I couldn’t do that on this site.

Then there were your messages here and in my email box. Some of them are so emotional and sincere that they stirred up my emotions some more. I am afraid I am still at an elevated level of adrenalin. And I’m not young anymore.

Let us all fight our separate battles independently. If we are on the right track, I am sure that our paths will cross again.

Thank you all again. I have been deeply touched.

My correspondence with this man remains for me among the most satisfying experiences of my blogging to date. I will continue to read his personal blog and recommend the same for anyone who really cares to know some of the deeper consequences of using someone else's territory as a battleground. To fully appreciate the measured restraint of his language quoted above, take a look at last night's response to our president's speech.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

How to fold a teeshirt

Short video via 3Quarks.
Now you know.

Reply to a comment

Please illuminate me...You wrote:

I do not presume to answer [why I am opposed to capital punishment] for anyone other than myself. But my own stand remains unchanged.

Is your stand a scientific stand, an ethical stand, or a religious stand? Does that makes sense to you?
I note that you earlier make it clear that you feel it is needful to differentiate between the legal and the moral. Where does legalism and moralism belong? In the scientific realm, the ethical realm, or the religious realm?
Best Regards,

[This comment appears in the comments section of a post regarding the Australian precursor to the US Patriot Act. It quotes, however, from the preceding post regarding my opposition to capital punishment.]

Here is my response to Bob's comment:

I attempted to clarify my “stand” by repeating a couple of paragraphs previously composed in another post.

An execution creates a population of perpetrators which includes you and me. It is morally repugnant, not because of what it does to the criminal, but because of what it does to us. Early Christians (including Jesus, incidentally) were the victims of capital punishment, not the executioners. [It is noteworthy that according to Luke one of the others who died on Golgotha allowed as how he and the other bandit deserved to die, although Matthew and Mark state that both of the others being crucified taunted Him.].

There will always be a poster child for capital punishment. Our responsibility as Christians is to resist our most atavistic impulses and struggle with how, under disagreeable and humanly irrational conditions, we can possibly follow the Lord's command to love. When we say to hate the sin and love the sinner, this is where the rubber meets the road. The is no loving way to take a person's life, even if he seems to have it coming.

Whether this -- call it what you may: position, feeling, stand, notion, idea, whatever – is scientific, religious or moral is not anything that I have felt a need to define further. There is a serious volume of apologetics and analyses about the subject so large that I have not plowed through it. In the same way that I am able to receive and follow without human understanding a good many of life’s mysteries, I am also able to receive and accept what in my heart I know is one of the most compelling truths of the Christian faith, beginning with the example of Jesus and his teaching, that we are commanded to love one another. I see no way to reconcile that command with the intentional taking of human life.

Is your stand a scientific stand, an ethical stand, or a religious stand? Does that makes sense to you?

A: Taking the second question first, no, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Science has to do with measurements and experiments. Science starts with questions and ends with more questions. In between there may be some agreements about what has been demonstrated, but in the end there is always yet another question. I suppose there might be some kind of altruistic social contract hypothesis that addresses the question of capital punishment, like the notion of food-sharing among primitive people dealing with scarcity. But analytical discussions about that don’t interest me.

Ethics is a subject that I don’t know much about. It involves philosophical precepts, truth tables, rhetoric, rules of logic and a long string of abstract thinking running all the way back to pre-history with the arguments of Plato and before. There was a time that I thought about such things, but like music and astronomy there was too much for my mind to ingest. In the realm of ethics, I am just an observer. To the extent that I try to be a player, I am like the handicapped kid who loves the sport of baseball but only has what it takes to be a bat-boy. I have struggled manfully with the likes of Descartes, Sartre, Aquinas, and others, always coming back to the cliff notes and summaries of others. I lack the discipline to ingest the meat of their best commentaries.

Religion is even more convoluted than ethics. I have looked at religion from every angle and found it to be mostly a matter of habit and repetition. You know what I mean. Preachers regularly criticize religion as a barrier to faith.

I guess the word faith best describes my “stand.”
Mark Twain said the “faith is believing what you know isn’t true.” As ugly as that sounds, it carries with it a kernel of truth. Faith is where we go when there is no other place. Faith is how we act when all the rest of human understanding, science, math, ethics, law and everything else has run out. Faith, as Paul said, is the knowledge of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen. See Hebrews 11. It remains a mystery to me. And I thank God for its assurance.

Q: I note that you earlier make it clear that you feel it is needful to differentiate between the legal and the moral. Where does legalism and moralism belong? In the scientific realm, the ethical realm, or the religious realm?

A: What I said was what is legal and what is moral are not congruent. I neither need nor approve of this state of affairs. It is simply an observation.

It is legal to get drunk, or gamble to excess, or patronize a licensed whorehouse in Nevada, but those are not what I would consider morally responsible actions. Their being legal does not make them moral.

On the other hand it is illegal to hire undocumented aliens, or share confidential medical information with unauthorized people who may be closer to a patient than his or her own “authorized” family members, or drive while intoxicated, but I can advance an argument in each case that will demonstrate a compelling moral justification for violating the law. The case of interfering with an abortion to save the life of an unborn child is probably the most easily understood example of morality in tension with what is legal. Civil disobedience is another example of a moral response to laws which are immoral. See Shadrack, Mechack and Abednego as early examples.

As for legalism and moralism I don’t have anything to say.
When something becomes an “ism” it takes on a more concrete being. It accumulates power. That is something that I don’t like. Legalism suggests to me the conclusive power of law. Moralism sounds like a conclusive power of morality that disregards everything else, which would be wonderful if we all could stand in agreement about what is moral, but we do not. Each person’s “morality” is as compelling as the next, but when the two fall into conflict we must rely upon politics, and its bastard child, the law, to mediate our disagreement.

How messy this becomes.
I cannot understand morality or law in any of the “realms” that you offer: science, ethics or religion.
There are “laws” in science, but they have to do with physics, chemistry and such.
Morality is involved, but only in the same way that morality is involved with a hammer. If we use it to put nails into a habitat house, then we are acting morally. If we use it to nail shut a box in which someone is about to be buried alive, or, God forbid, kill someone by hitting him in the head, then we have used the same hammer immorally.
The same kinds of games can be played with ethics and religion. All we have to do is shuffle the tools about to select scalpels or anesthetics (like marijuana?), or icons, or alcoholic beverages at the Eucharist and we arrive at similar conundrums.

I don’t expect that this explanation will satisfy you.
I certainly don’t expect it to change anyone's mind. Long ago I gave up the notion that the faith that sustains me would ever be widespread. That is not to say that I dearly wish that it could, but I have seen too many people in my life who are so far along a different road that it is past my imagination to know how they might ever be led into another direction.

It would be like teaching another language to an older adult who really didn’t want to know one anyway. When first generation immigrants bring their parents to America speaking only their mother tongues, be it form Asia or Africa or Eastern Europe, those parents are content to simply smile and nod at English-speaking gatherings. They may pick up a word here or there, but in the end they will go to their graves with only the language they already had when they came to America.

Like those foreigners in a strange land, all I can do is live my life in the faith I know, hoping and praying that if those who know me can accept and love me with all my shortcomings. For anyone who wants to listen I will explain myself as best I can. I hope not to pull the underpinnings from under anyone else’s faith, in the hope and expectation that they can afford me the same courtesy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Another poster child for Capital Punishment

. . .
Rader details how he killed 10 people

WICHITA, Kansas (CNN) -- Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer who terrorized the Wichita area from the 1970s to the 1990s, pleaded guilty Monday and described in cool and dispassionate detail how he killed 10 people to satisfy his sexual fantasies.

Rader, 60, entered the plea on what was supposed to be the first day of his jury trial, saying a long and drawn out trial would only result in his guilt at the end.

He listened matter-of-factly as Sedgwick County District Judge Greg Waller read him each charge and asked if understood, even stopping Waller to correct him when the judge misread a date from the charge sheet.

At Waller's direction, Rader went down the list of charges, explaining in a calm, dispassionate voice how he carried out each of the killings.

Rader said he broke into the home of Joseph and Julie Otero and tied them up along with two of their children. He said he told them that he was wanted and just needed a car and some food. He put a pillow under Joseph Otero's head to make him more comfortable.

"I realized that, you know, I was already -- I didn't have a mask on or anything -- they already could I.D. me," Rader said. "I made a decision to go ahead and put 'em down, I guess, or strangle them."

Rader described how he killed each member of the Otero family, but he said they did not die right away.

"I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn't know how much pressure you had to put on a person or how long it would take," he said.

"BTK" was the killer's self-named reference to his preference to "bind, torture and kill" his victims in the string of murders from 1974 to 1991.

Packed hit kit, Polaroid pictures

Rader explained how, in most of his cases, he chose and then stalked several people at a time -- referring to them as "projects" or "potential hits."

"If one didn't work out, I just moved to another one," Rader said.
Rader told the court he selected his victims as he played out fantasies. Asked what kinds of fantasies he was having, Rader said "sexual fantasies."

"If you've read much about serial killers, they go through what they call different phases. In the trolling stage, basically, you're looking for a victim at that time. You can be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become a stalker. There might be several of them, but you really hone in on one person. They basically become the ... victim. Or, at least that's what you want it to be," Rader said.

He told the judge he had prepared a "hit kit," equipment he used in the killings, as well as "hit clothes" that he wore and later got rid of.

Rader said he chose Shirley Vian, 26, at random and forced his way into her apartment with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun on March 17, 1977. Her children "got real upset," so Rader had her lock them in a bathroom before covering her head with a bag and strangling her.

In more than one case, Rader said he took Polaroid photos of his victims. After killing Marine Hedge in April 1985, Rader said, he stripped his victim, tied her up, took her to another location, then took photos depicting "different forms of bondage" before hiding her body in a ditch.

After hearing descriptions of each of the 10 killings, Waller found Rader guilty of all charges. Rader also waived his right to a jury trial on the sentencing.

Under Kansas law, Rader can be sentenced to life in prison for each charge, but could become eligible for parole.

Consecutive terms to be sought

Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said she will ask the maximum sentence possible -- for each of those sentences to be served consecutively. "He should serve 175 years to life," said Foulston, who said she plans to present evidence on every killing at Rader's sentencing hearing.

The last BTK killing occurred in 1991 after Kansas stiffened its murder statutes, which means Rader could be sentenced to a minimum 40 years in prison without a chance of parole on that count.

Waller set August 17 as the sentencing date.
Rader cannot face the death penalty because Kansas did not reinstate the death penalty until 1994, three years after his last killing.

Rader's attorney, Steve Osburn, said all defenses were considered, including insanity, but after experts were called in it became apparent "there was no viable insanity defense."

Osburn said that based on evidence the prosecution had, including a confession and DNA evidence, it was apparent there was "a very solid case for the state."
Osburn said the detailed account that Waller asked for and got from Rader for each of the crimes was a complete surprise. He said he hoped that it provided closure to the families of the victims.

Killer a church president

Rader, who had been the president of his Lutheran church council, taunted authorities and the media with letters and packages he sent them over several years, some with before-and-after photos of the victims.

Christ Lutheran Church pastor Michael Clark said Rader, also a former Boy Scout leader, had been involved in church leadership for 30 years and was elected church council president just before his arrest.

Rader was arrested in what authorities said was a routine traffic stop. He worked for the Wichita suburb of Park City as a compliance supervisor in charge of animal control, nuisances, inoperable vehicles and general code compliance.

Authorities initially linked him to eight deaths, but added two more after his arrest.

* * * *
* * *
* *
There ya go, folks. No tears. No feeling. No conscience. Just cold-blooded, sub-human testimony from the perpetrator himself.
No defense. No excuses. No plea for mercy. No appeal to a Higher Power. No jail-house conversion.
It is hard to imagine a better candidate for capital punishment. But the question remains: How much power does evil have over us? In this particular case there will not be a death penalty, according to the article, due to a wrinkle in Kansas law. But the question remains. Is there a merciful response to this measure of unmitigated evil?
I do not presume to answer that question for anyone other than myself. But my own stand remains unchanged.
An execution creates a population of perpetrators which includes you and me. It is morally repugnant, not because of what it does to the criminal, but because of what it does to us. Early Christians (including Jesus, incidentally) were the victims of capital punishment, not the executioners. [It is noteworthy that according to Luke one of the others who died on Golgotha allowed as how he and the other bandit deserved to die, although Matthew and Mark state that both of the others being crucified taunted Him.]
There will always be a poster child for capital punishment. Our responsibility as Christians is to resist our most atavistic impulses and struggle with how, under disagreeable and humanly irrational conditions, we can possibly follow the Lord's command to love. When we say to hate the sin and love the sinner, this is where the rubber meets the road. The is no loving way to take a person's life, even if he seems to have it coming.

Hi! We are from the government and we are here to help you!

File this one under "Orwell."
Compare and contrast our own Patriot Act with Australia's ASIO (Australia Security Intelligence Organization) Act.
I can't think of anything to add other than "It's impossible to make up stuff like this and put it on TV...We report. You decide."
Heck, maybe this website is a hoax. That would be great. But I don't think so.

About ASIO - What is ASIO?:

ASIO's main role is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia's national security. The ASIO Act defines "security" as the protection of Australia and its people from espionage, sabotage, politically motivated violence, the promotion of communal violence, attacks on Australia's defence system, and acts of foreign interference. Some of these terms are further defined in the ASIO Act.

ASIO focuses on terrorists, people who may act violently for political reasons, and people who may clandestinely obtain sensitive government information (spies) or otherwise harm Australia's interests in order to further their own causes or the interests of foreign governments.

Australian TV also has a "Dateline" program. Here is a story detailing how the ASIO was activated to insure that a journalist didn't endanger Australian national security. When all else fails, there is nothing like a BFH (Big F***ing Hammar) to do the job.

Carmel Travers is a Sydney-based film-maker and journalist. Like many people, she keeps her personal and work records on several computers. But in September last year she received a visit from unnamed government officials who claimed they were acting in the interests of national security, and now two of her computers are in pieces.

This is what was given back to me of my computers. My son actually wants to make it into a sculpture called "Freedom of Speech," which is not a bad idea. This is the actual drive that was pounded by a crowbar.
And...there's nothing comic about this. I mean, the intent of those officers was obviously to defend our national security, but, you about taking a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. You know, I just... It's amazing.

[...]What's particularly Orwellian about this story is that Australia's intelligence agencies have sweeping new powers that can prevent any reporting of incidents like these.The new laws are designed specifically to target people who are not suspects but merely have information that might be of interest to national security. We and the people we've spoken to have had to take extensive legal advice before proceeding.

These new anti-terrorism laws hang like the sword of Damocles over anyone who becomes caught up in the world of national security. In this case, no warrants were issued under the ASIO act as everyone agreed to the cleansing. If they had resisted, they could have faced possibly five years in jail, and even talking about the fact that the cleansing had taken place would have been a crime. It raises the question of how many secret raids, destruction of research and even intimidation of witnesses may have have taken place.
Thom Cookes tells us that when the Canberra "cleansing squad" had finished its work, thrashing those computer hard drives, it presented the bemused staff at Black Inc Publishers with a customer satisfaction questionnaire.

LINK to transcript and video feed of the program.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Pejman comments on Iraq

As someone who has never been anything other than opposed to the war in Iraq, I have to say that this post by Pejman Yousefzadeh strikes me as being on target. I have a lot of respect for this man's intelllect and integrity.

Despite the regular gnashing of teeth over "the rage of the Arab street," the fact is that many an Arab regime possesses a great deal of diplomatic and policy savvy when it comes to the reconstruction of Iraq. Which is why it comes as no surprise to see that Egypt wants us to stick it out until the job is done. I don't for a moment intend to downplay the momentous nature of the challenge in reconstructing Iraq. But as is clear, the stability of the entire region--not to mention the chances of greater democratization--depend upon a successful outcome in Iraq. And setting arbitrary timetables for withdrawal and losing our nerve does little to bring about a successful outcome.

I favor strongly stringent examination and criticism regarding the execution of our reconstruction policy in Iraq. If mistakes are made, they must be corrected. But there is a significant difference between saying "correct mistakes" and "the sky is falling." And sadly, the rhetoric here seems to be pulling more towards the latter--even as the Arab world simply wants us at the most to pay attention to the former and to see the reconstruction project in Iraq through towards a successful completion.

I like that he distinguishes between mistakes and the sky is falling.
The first comment of the thread (as well as the next two) is also noteworthy.

I am sick to death of hearing pundits on both sides of the fence use the term "losing the war." We won the war. That needs to be emphasized. We. Won. The. War. It took about two months and we can win a war the same way anywhere we choose. Let's stop denigrating the capability of our military.

After winning the war, we have struggled mightily in nation building. We may fail at nation building, but we won the war. Saddam is gone. Iraqis have our support in moving forward from there. It's on them as much as us how this turns out.

Responding to another commentator who points out that our manpower reserves have tapped out, the same writer follows up in another comment...

I spend a good deal of time reading Russian forums, and make no mistake about it, their military command was rattled by our swift victory in Iraq. They know well that they designed the defense of Iraq similar to how they would defend themselves, and they now know with certainty would could quite quickly depose their existing government. It's nation building we don't have the manpower to accomplish. But our military surely kicks ass.

Make no mistake about it. I may be a pacifist, but I am not a fool. They don't call it realpolitik for nothing.

No child left behind, if he can be recruited

Deborah White looks at military recruiting as it focuses on our children, starting before they are old enough to vote.

"An effective sales approach would be to tailor a program to fit the needs and interests of the individual (high) school," exhorts the US Army's School Recruiting Program Handbook.

"For example, one school may place a premium on its music program; another may give prominence to its athletic program. One school may place more emphasis on its academic scholarship program. Each school has a distinct chain of command structure."

Thus, the handbook, first published in Fall 2004, directs Army recruiters on how to strategize an high school program to maximize enlistment among students. And if that's not enough to entice teenagers, in June 2005, the Defense Department began working with an outsourced direct marketing company to develop a database of personal and private information about every American aged 16 to 25. Included in the database will be Social Security numbers, ethnicity and racial data, email addresses, birth dates and grade point averages.

I was drafted at the age of twenty-one and had been in uniform over eighteen months before I finally worked through the real reasons I had registered as a conscientious objector. It was then that I came to the shocking but real conclusion that I might at some time kill someone else in order to protect myself or my patients. (All CO's are, by design, medical corpsmen.) But under no circumstances could I allow myself to follow the orders of someone else to kill. That responsibility is too great for me to delegate to someone else. By then I had met and got to know too many stupid and irrational men in positions of authority who lived their lives without benefit of faith or conscience. Most people in leadership I saw were not that savage, but there were enough in subordinate positions of authority that I needed protection from their careless ignorance.

Enticing children into the military before they have matured is one of history's worst traditions. It is not unique to either our culture or our time. It is the way wars have been fought from the start of human history.

To enlist in the US armed forces, one must be a high school graduate, of reasonable intelligence and in good health. As recruiters fail to meet recruiting quotas, parents and students claim these rules have been bent.

One Arvada, Colorado high school senior famously tested the recruiting system by posing as a high school drop-out with a drug habit. After considerable coaching by two recruiters, he gained a phony diploma and transcripts from an online diploma mill. They also offered to pay half the cost of a self-detox kit.

At a Bell, California high school, 500 juniors were required to take the 3-hour Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test, which is prime part of the recruitment process. Only after they took the test did parents and students discover that it was optional.

Be. All that you can be. In the Army.
Let us help you with detox.

3QD Reading: The rise and fall of just about everything

A gifted young brain trust continues to be a wellspring of challenging and well-chosen information comparable to Arts and Letters Daily. There was a time when I never missed a daily visit to but it proved to be more than I could sustain and still have time in my life to do anything other than read. It was just too much to cover. For me Three Quarks feeds the same appetite without tempting me to gluttony. (I don't read Instapundit either, incidentally, for the same reason. Too much to ingest. Besides, when an item is linked by Glenn Reynolds that pretty much seals the deal that everyone is gonna know about it within a day or two anyway, so I don't feel I miss much by skipping Instapundit, Drudge, Polypundit or the rest of the blogosphere's popular "breaking news" sites.)

But I digress...
On Mondays 3QD publishes pieces written by members of their own club on topics that interest them. They are always worth a look and this Monday's catch is no exception.

  • Eastern Kentucky is described in all it's contrasts by Timothy Don, a guest contributor who hails from the intellectual and cultural center of the Universe don't you know. I'm talking about New Yawk City and it shows. Titled Down the Rabbit Hole with a nod to Lewis Carroll, he marvels in wide-eyed wonder that other human beings actually live and move and have their being in such a place. I am trying (but not too hard) not to be snippy because he is a great writer. Criticizing his writing is like finding a fingerprint on a new car in the showroom. Just plain petty. BecauseI was born and reared in the Bluegrass and my mother is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky State Teacher's College in Richmond and my family still lives very close to the area that Mr. Don describes, I read his words with a slightly different slant, if you will excuse the use of the word. When you read his essay you will see what I mean.
  • In the last several years research into the Mayan Civilization has advanced a reasonable explanation into why the society collapsed. American Scientist takes a look.

Given the common image of lost Maya cities buried beneath tangles of jungle vegetation, it may come as a surprise to discover that the Yucatán is, in fact, a seasonal desert. The lush landscape depends heavily on summer rains for nourishment, rains that vary considerably across the peninsula. Annual precipitation ranges from as little as 500 millimeters along the northern coast to as high as 4,000 millimeters in parts of the south. As much as 90 percent of this moisture falls between June and September, and a pronounced winter dry season runs from January to May.


In his fascinating book, The Great Maya Droughts, independent archaeologist Richardson B. Gill persuasively argues that a lack of water was a major factor in the terminal Classic collapse. Gill pulls together an enormous amount of information on modern weather and climate, draws on the record of historical droughts and famines, and heaps on evidence from archaeology and from geological studies of ancient climates. To demonstrate the importance of the porous limestone bedrock, for example, he quotes Diego de Landa, Bishop of Yucatán, who in 1566 wrote: "Nature worked so differently in this country in the matter of rivers and springs, which in all the rest of the world run on top of the land, that here in this country all run and flow through secret passages under it."

Gill builds an impressive case. When his work was first published (five years ago), the most compelling evidence for drought came from sediment cores that David A. Hodell, Jason H. Curtis, Mark Brenner and other geologists at the University of Florida had collected from a number of Yucatán lakes. Their measurements of these ancient deposits indicate that the driest interval of the last 7,000 years fell between 800 and 1000 A.D.—coincident with the collapse of Classic Maya civilization. Later work by these same investigators found evidence for a recurrent pattern of drought, which seems also to explain other, less dramatic breaks in Maya cultural evolution.

  • Finally, and best of all, Abbas Raza remembers one of Pakistan's true intellectual giants, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan. As a friend of the family Abbas Raza is in a unique position to know a lot about this man and his considerable and breath-taking accomplishments. I have been fortunate in my life to have known three or four individuals who were larger than life, though none have stood as tall as the subject of this sketch. As I read I was able to connect, not only with the life of the man being described, but the writer as well.

(I just realized that the second item above is from American Scientist, not the 3QD stable. I'm not going to reformat the post but I need to make a note.)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Asian tsunami follow-up

Reuben Abraham writes...

Today marks the 6th month after the devastating Tsunami hit the Indian Ocean. I still remember sitting in Switzerland and watching a breaking story on the Tsunami, without quite comprehending the scale of what was happening. In the first post I made that morning, I had no clue (250 dead in Indonesia, I thought) the death toll would be so staggering. Current estimates suggest that over 300,000 people perished and several millions were left homeless. The re-building has begun to some extent, but there's a long, long way to go. Obviously, six months on, the disaster has faded from media memory for the most part, so it's imperative that we keep the story alive in whatever form we can. To that end, I am reposting our orginal Tsunami relief post, with some minor edits to make it less dated. Please read through it and see if there's some way you'd like to help. By way of clarification, the updates are all from the old Tsunami relief post, and not something new I have added in June.

Read the rest.

The longest list of donor groups I have seen, including a caveat link from the Better Business Bureau.


Welcome readers

I can't know who you are, but according to the little Feedburner icon I have picked up three "readers." For a long time there were none, then one. A couple of times two, then back to one. I figure whoever it was tired of my views on a few things. I have long ago left behind worrying about finding agreement; tolerance is all I hope for.

Regarding tolerance, I see a gesellschaft-gemeinschaft continuum. At one end tolerance is the very edge of endurance, at the other tolerance manifests a deep, almost protective respect. Somewhere in the middle is a kind of indifferent acceptance.

There is no clear way to know where anyone's attitudes fall. For example, a Christian's viewpoint of Jews can range from affectionn and respect (A Roman Catholic priest told me when I was going to a Seder that we Christians were "little brothers" to God's chosen people!) to neutral indifference to mean-spirited anti-semitism. Homosexuals in a new environment prepare for attitudes tolerant in the strictest sense of the word which are just stiffly-controlled compliance with the expectations of PC behavior. Later they may also discover they are as comfortable and accepted as any other group standing under the umbrella we call "tolerance."

Our politics has been poisoned, I'm afraid, by a notion of tolerance that weighs heavily toward the ugly end of this continuum. Every day I hear talk shows and read blogs that seem to be moving the center of gravity closer to that edge. This is not a "left vs right" phenomenon. The extreme recent remarks on the part of both Democrats and Republicans are a case in point. So, too, is invective about the war. If I happen to see the words "excuse me" or "I'm sorry," I get ready for sarcasm rather than courtesy. The nuanced thought is as hard to find as an ivory-billed woodpecker. Mention the word "abortion" and discover that most people cannot discern the difference between what is legal and what is moral. The notion that they might not be congruent is as alien to most people as the mysteries of astrophysics, yet they have no problem breaking speed limits or intentionally not reporting taxable income.

In any case, welcome to my small world. I am old-fashioned enough, and Southern enough, to cope with constructive civil disagreements. But like anyone else, I get a lot of satisfaction from stroking as well. Thanks for reading.

Spotlight on the Supreme Court

Tomorrow is expected to be an important day for the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Rhenquist, cancer patient, my or may not announce his retirement. Not because of any lack of intellectual rigor, but because of his medical condition.

There has been speculation that Sandra Day O'Conner may also be contemplating retirement.

The issue and the permutations are too complicated to summarize. Watching and waiting gives plenty of time for pundits and spinmeisters to work their sticky webs. I prefer to wait patiently and see what unfolds, then start complaining or speculating. The last time I had this feeling was when Her Majesty's Royal Navy set sail for the Falklands. At a time when military maneuvers can be accomplished almost overnight, Britain staged an old-fashioned naval attack measured in days instead of minutes. There is something equally stately about what is happening with the Supreme Court.

There is no binding protocol on how a Justice quits, but there are some customs. With the understanding that this is not a firm prediction about the way Monday's events will go, here is one scenario that could play out that day.

The Justices will assemble behind the velvet curtains to the rear of the bench, a few minutes before 10, and shake hands all around. There may be some small talk, but the opinions of the day probably won't be mentioned -- unless someone exercises the rarely used option of calling back an opinion that is about ready to be announced. That is not likely. Almost certainly, no one in that intimate little gathering will be talking about the retirement question.

After the Court's Marshal annnounces the Justices, they will enter through the parted curtains, and take their seats. Rehnquist will announce that orders have been issued and will be released by the Clerk, and will then call on the junior Justice who has an opinion ready to announce. If normal practice prevails, the six opinions that are expected to be announced will be released by the Justices/authors in order of reverse seniority.

At that point on many decision days, the Court would admit some new members to its lawyers' bar, but that is not expected on Monday. Rehnquist will announce the end of the Term, and distribute the verbal thank yous. The Marshal will then rap the gavel, just off the bench to the right, and announce that the Court will stand in recess until the first Monday in October. The Justices will then leave the bench.

After that public session, the Court will hold a closed-door meeting, to deal with new pending cases that have not yet been acted upon. Those orders are likely to be announced the following morning, Tuesday, with the Court not in session.

Rehnquist would not have completed his duties for the Term until after the private session Monday.

If he is going to retire now, that would probably come in a simple statement released by the Court's public information office, probably after a short interval to allow the President to be notified first, perhaps by a hand-delivered letter. But that would not be likely until Monday afternoon, at the earliest. Rehnquist personally would not want to mix in his personal announcement with an official session of the Court.

If such an announcement does not come on Monday, that would not be conclusive proof that it would not happen later in the week, or some time over the summer. Rehnquist has kept his own counsel about what he may do, and even his colleagues do not seem to know.
The short piece of advice for the hordes waiting in the blogosphere and at the Court for an announcement on Monday is to wait patiently for something official; media speculation will not mean much.


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Links to watch...

Supreme Court Nomination Blog, a sub-blog of SCOTUS Blog. These are very smart people, not grinding axes as far as I can tell.

Yahoo Aggregator

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Weekend reading

Two fine little pieces. Quick and easy. No kleenex, I think, but you never know...
I'm not gonna do snips.
Those who don't take time to read will simply be denying themselves.

Deep Waters by Dr. Bob
New on the aggregator this morning.

Nunc Dimittis at Waiter Rant
HT The Anchoress

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This one by Michael Yon is longer. Second part of yet another excellent report from Iraq, up yesterday. (Looks like Glenn Reynolds likes him, too. I always feel goofy linking to something after he does. But Michael Yon's stuff is too good to miss.)
...Deep in the desert someone had spray-painted onto a concrete barrier "Watch-Out for Dumbass Camels." The biggest threat to drivers now isn't roadside bombs; but other drivers, and dromedaries that haven't developed traffic sense. Like the rutting moose of Maine, who will stop even a logging vehicle, these languid ships of the desert wander blithely across paved roads. Accustomed to strange visions that evaporate into mirages before their enormous soft eyes, they barely cast a lash-fringed glance as they galumph along the highway.
Sometime later we emerge in Kuwait, a peaceful country that had been swallowed in one gulp by its "civilized" neighbor. An Army medic who was part of the Coalition force that liberated a Kuwaiti hospital told me that when they first entered the nursery, there were dead and dying infants strewn about the floor. Tossed from their "cradles," their heads had been crushed under the boots of Iraqi soldiers, a parting shot as the Iraqi Army fled from real combatants.
Meanwhile, retreating soldiers acting on the orders of Saddam Hussein set a forest of oil wells ablaze, raising environmental alarms when the vast Kuwaiti oil fields pumped enough acrid smoke into the atmosphere to create eclipse-like conditions throughout the region. If he couldn't have Kuwait, he was hell-bent on making it so toxic no one else would want it, while stamping his boots in a tantrum of epic proportions.
The Kuwaitis, like the Kurds, are predominantly peaceful Muslims. Kuwait is clean and, apart from crazy drivers, affords a breathing space that gives us pause for restful thoughts in the company of kind people. Unfortunately, that's about the only comfort at hand. When we arrived at the Army base, the thermometers in the shade read 125 Fahrenheit, though it did not feel a bit over 115....
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On a lighter note, if you're game for a few minutes of podcasting, yesterday's Rocket Boom piece was terrific. Famous footage by a motorcycle-mounted camera in early morning Paris, except this one begins in Manhattan.

Friday, June 24, 2005

CT Editorial: "Worship as Higher Politics"

I was on the verge of linking this editorial from Christianity Today in the post below, but I knew better. Just because they focus on putting faith and worship ahead of politics, it does not necessarily follow that they would approve of my anti-war sentiments. Out of respect for what I know is another viewpoint, I point to this excellent editorial statement and commend it for all to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. "Original intent" of America's founders is not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness. The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the Creed. "God Bless America" is not the Doxology.

HT Revealer

Comment about eminent domain

Liberal Street Fighter: "No longer are we, the people, the citizens, useful to the corporate classes as workers and human elements. Now they have come for our land; just the land, please. They care about nothing else. Our honest labor, the social contract - they do not care about. It is of no use to them. They will propose to pay us a pittance or a portion of what our homes and businesses are worth, just as they did with the Indians; and, maybe some minimum-wage McJobs instead of beads, whiskey and worthless gewgaws--and they'll get away with it, too. (And never mind if anyone's home or business, a particular spot on this earth, has any special meaning to anyone's soul. Everything can be reduced to a financial equation--and must be reduced to whatever is convenient for the most moneyed interests. And will be strictly enforced.) "

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision is no surprise. Libertarian railing notwithstanding, it is a logical continuation of politics trumping principle, a natural law as old as gravity. In the same way that armed conflicts decide who is stronger (not always who is right), "politics" is the word we use when the language of morality leads us into uncomfortable territory. That is why Karl von Clausewitz famously said that "war is merely the continuation of policy by other means." A similar mindset excuses preemptive war that continues long after the first "objective" has been met and replaced by a second, which was accomplished and replaced by a third, which was accomplished and replaced by yet another, &c, &c. It may be irrational, but there is no disconnect.

We the people are making manifest our collective will. I'm proud to be an American, aren't you?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Conspiracy of Commies exposed for all to see

DiscoverTheNetwork .Org : A Guide to the LeftWing: "Click-drag the white space to view objects which appear beyond the borders of the page. Map engine takes 2-5 minutes to load. "

Sleep well, America. Discover the Networks is keeping track,
and watching...
and watching...
and watching...

Paper trail

A man in Charlotte, North Carolina, bought a box of very expensive cigars which he insured against fire. Having smoked them, he filed a claim, saying they had been lost "in a series of small fires."
The insurance company balked, the case went to court, and the judge ruled in the man's favor, noting that the company did not specify what is an "unacceptable fire." The company was required to pay the fellow $15,000, but then had him arrested on twenty-four counts of arson.
He was convicted and sentenced to twenty-four months in jail and a fine of $24,000. If true, it is a sobering tale, confirming me in the wisdom of smoking cigars that are inexpensive and uninsured.

Tip Rofters quoting Fr. Neuhaus

Notes from Down Under

Bitterly funny sketch from Australian blogger Burnt Karma about an imaginative approach to poverty. The original nanny state has all the answers.

[Voice Over...]For too long, poverty has been a constant issue in Australia. Unemployed, teen mothers and pensioners swell the ranks of the underclass every day.

(cliched images of poor people doing poor people things, like sitting around looking hopeless)

That's why the Federal Government's new EAT THE POOR program will solve both poverty and hunger in Australia forever.

Read the rest.
Again, very funny comments...

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While we're at it, Guernica is another Australian blog from the left. That's where I found Burnt Karma (above) . I picked up in a reference in the comments to latte left, which I suppose to be a contemporary variant of limousine liberal.
A fairly short post set off a string of responses in the comments more interesting than the post (which was not too shabby) . The Robert Merkel/Bargholz exchange is priceless, at one point calling for editing on the part of the host.

[Trolls take note how best to present offensive remarks. My blog has a long way to go.]

Can you tell a computer programmer from a serial killer?

Short on-line test...only ten questions.
I didn't do very well. But then I'm neither a police officer nor a card-carrying geek.

Thanks, Doc.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Flag burning

Can't find the exact source, but I remember the quote. Gotta say it:

I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.
(Craig Washington?)

See also The Flag-Burning Page
End of my shortest rant to date.

A comrade says goodbye

This post from Ramrod's Blog, one of many soldier blogs, poignantly captures the pain of losing a fellow soldier. He describes what happened without rage or blame. A very respectful tribute.

The Memorial Service for SPC. Anthony Cometa was held today at 1500 at the Chapel in Zone 1 at AJ.

Alot of other people from other units were there, a lot of high brass was there too. They had the typical Rifle in the ground with Kevlar and Dogtags hanging from the buttstock. The service went with a singing of the national anthem and an opening prayer. Then the commander talked about Cometa. After him, his 3 of his friends; 2 of em were the bandmates, talked about Tony.

Even at that point it didn't quite hit me. It was sad, the whole ordeal, no way around that. I mean, he was a friend, someone I personally knew, and someone that I would not see for a long long time. Yet; it still seemed unreal.

But then the Final Roll Call came. I've never been to a memorial service before, so I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't really think much of what the Final Roll Call would be like.

The 1SG of our unit came up to the front; we were all called to the position of attention, and he shouted out the names:

"SGT. Allman! HERE, First Sgt"

"SPC. Collins! HERE, First Sgt"

"SPC. Cometa......"at that point, for some reason, I broke.

"SPC. ANTHONY COMETA" tears starting welling up....

"SPC. ANTHONY S. COMETA... Final Call... Dropped from Roll Call"

In my head, my mind was yelling out, Answer up Tony... but I knew why there was no answer....

They then proceeded to play "Taps" while the 21 Gun Salute was performed.

I haven't cried like this for as long as I can remember.

When we finally sat down, I got ahold of myself, wiped the tears off, and collected myself.

We had a final prayer and the procession was over. All the people at the ceremony then proceeded to walk by Tony's picture and Rifle display for a final rendering of the salute. Our unit went last. I walked up, looked at Tony one last time, Saluted my fellow "ex-PV2" and said goodbye.

That was that...


Whoever she is, she is most articulate. Egyptian, with a capital "E."
This is one powerful and in-your-face piece of writing. If you consider yourself a patriotic American you may get pissed off reading it because it doesn't ladle up obsequious sentiments people sometimes expect from foreigners. But I'm not that patronizing. I think it's great.

It's also long. About five or six pages when I copied and printed it on MS Word, but that makes it easier to read later.
Again, proceed at your own risk.

Coping with rejection

Sometimes there is a simple explanation for what looks like a complicated event.

Getting rejected is one of life's most devastating experiences. Ask anyone who has been fired, or lost a spouse to someone else, or lost a job opportunity because another candidate was judged "more suitable for our needs." No amount of sugar can make that medicine go down well.

Well Dr. Hildreth got fired by one of his patients. It threw him into an anguished line of self-examination and recrimination. But sometimes, like Dr. Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar.

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, /"Sir," said I, "or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; /But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, /And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, That I scarce was sure I heard you." /Here I opened wide the door;---Darkness there, and nothing more.

The Mad Canuck is bullish on Iraq

From the name of the blog we conclude the writer is Canadian. But he lives in New York and watching and commenting on the war in Iraq. I was attracted to his blog by one of Najma's posts. His blog is on her blogroll. That makes the message of his latest post even more remarkable. It's worth a read.

...I'm very bullish on Iraq right now. I have a few reasons to think this way:

Reason #1: Iraq's education system. Saddam did a lot of bad things, but he did at least one good thing: investing in education. Education in Iraq is free, right through university, and children in Iraq learn English in school as a second language similar to how Americans learn Spanish. The result is a large number of Iraqis who are capable of working in fields like technology and engineering. India is successful in the outsourcing business right now for this exact reason, and there is no reason why Iraq could not enjoy success in the same way.

Reason #2: American Idealism. America may have invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons ... but they are remaining in Iraq for the right reasons. America could easily pull out now, but this would leave Iraq in an unstable state similar to how we left Somalia in the early 1990s. America has wagered too much of its own resources to be content with leaving Iraq in the hands of terrorists and thugs, and George Bush has wagered his legacy on the outcome of this war. I know under these circumstances that the US will not quit until Iraq is both stable and successful.It has been a long time since the United States has made a "pet project" out of transforming and growing a country, but the US has a good track record on its past "pet projects": Japan, Germany, and South Korea are three of them. Hopefully, Iraq will be the fourth to add to that list.I have sometimes been critical of some actions of certain American troops in Iraq, but I am overall very supportive of their efforts to stabilize the country and to help it to grow.

Reason #3: Democratic Trends [Within] IraqUnder Saddam, satellite dishes were illegal, news was limited to government-controlled media outlets, and the Internet was both censored and monitored by government authorities. Since the war, satellite dishes have sprouted from houses and Internet cafes and ISPs have drawn an increasing number of Iraqis into the world of the Net. The Internet is a very powerful equalizing tool - anybody can publish on the Internet, and anybody can read what is published. People can talk with each other without regard to age, sex, religion, or even location. Very powerful.With these changes, I've noticed some interesting trends, at least among the Iraqi bloggers. They have developed a willingness to question, and to criticize. Some Americans may blanch at the likes of Riverbend, Khalid Jarrar, and Truth Teller leveling criticism at their troops, but think about it: these same people would probably have never dared level this type of criticism at Saddam. The fact that Iraqis are willing to criticize American troops even when there is an American tank parked in front of their house is a positive development. In a true democracy, you shouldn't expect everyone to like you, or to think the same way as you, you just expect everyone to be free to speak their minds. This freedom of expression is the true root of democracy. As long as nobody comes along and forcibly takes this root from Iraqis, democracy will develop and flourish in Iraq on its own without anyone's help.

Reason #4: Investor knowledge. Two years ago, I did not know much about Iraq. I could point it out on a globe, but did not know much about the place. Since then, I followed the news, learned more about the place, and in my case, I even befriended a couple of fellow bloggers who live over there, who have helped me to learn more about Iraq and its culture.I know I am not alone in this type of learning experience.

Wall Street is filled with many smart people, who like to pay attention to world news, and figure out where to channel investment capital. For these people, Iraq should have a lot of positive qualities, but has one overwhelming negative quality: the security situation. Security problems translate into business risk, and investors hate risk.

But, when the security situation in Iraq starts to improve, it may find itself a fertile ground for foreign investment, as those investors who have been impressed with the other aspects of Iraq may start channeling investment capital towards Iraq.

And, if this comes to fruition, it will stimulate Iraq's economy and translate into increased success and opportunity for Iraq's citizens. Of course, none of this is certain, but I am bullish enough on the odds that I am willing to bet my own money on it. I'm sure I am not alone in this either.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Cookito* Ergo Sum

As early humans developed the ability to cook foods, which could have been anywhere from 300,000 to 1.9 million years ago, human physiology began to evolve. Humans began to have smaller mouths and jaws and shorter digestive systems than apes. "We are the cookivore," Wrangham observed, because now humans must consume softer foods, low-bulk and high-energy diets. "We have more energy, but less digestive ability," he continued.

*Cookito is a bad Latin pun on Cogito that I just made up.
(When Glenn Reynolds links to a something, I don't usually bother. It's like somebody mumbling in the midst of a crowd. But this is right down my alley.)

Followup: Vaccinations, thimerosal, mercury and autism

[This post, originally dated June 17, is moved to the head of the line for an update.]

Dwight Meredith's interest in autism is more than academic.

Today is my younger son, Bobby’s, tenth birthday. This morning was my turn to change Bobby’s diaper. Bobby is autistic and despite Herculean effort on his part and ours, he has not yet been toilet trained. As I changed his diaper, I noticed that our diaper supply was low. Off I went to the drug store to purchase a new supply.

While I was gone, Bobby broke one of his favorite CDs. He snapped it into several pieces. That particular disc was very precious to Bobby. As Bobby’s autism prevents him from talking, he communicated in the only way available to him. He took the pieces to his 11 year old brother and held them out hoping that my older son could fix the problem. Bobby's brother took the pieces and, not unreasonably, threw them in the trash can.

Wampum is one of the most erudite blogs I read. Part of the tagline lists "autism advocacy." This is not an obscure diversion. It is very much an everyday part of life. This writer knows what he is talking about.

Some argue that the apparent increase in the prevalence of autism is not the result of an actual increase in incidence, but, rather, is the result of changing definitions and better diagnosis. That argument, however, fails to answer one obvious question. With the current definition of the spectrum and the current diagnostic criteria, where are all the autistics born before we increased the mercury exposure in vaccines?...."If the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis," scoffs Dr. Boyd Haley, one of the world's authorities on mercury toxicity, "then where are all the 20-year-old autistics?"

Where, indeed?
Now go. Get educated a little bit more.

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Kevin at Lean Left comments on the Salon article which has renewed interest in the subject:

Quite a bit has been made of Robert Kennedy Jr’s article in Salon about the possible cover up of a link between mercury and autism. Majikthise, who does not think there is a link, has a very good round up of the issues.

I am agnostic on this matter, primarily because it wasn’t much of a concern when our kids had their shots – they were largely mercury free. It does, however, bring a lot of heat. Many defenders of the vaccines accuse people with questions of being quacks and anti-vaccination. Some are quacks and anti-vaccinations, but many – like Dwight Meredith of Wampum, someone I have a great deal of respect for – have raised legitimate questions. Right now, to my eye, it appears that the statistical studies are inconclusive (one purporting to show a link is flawed, and one purporting to show that the removal of mercury from vaccines in the Netherlands is even more flawed).

Dwight Meredith left an excellent entry to the comment thread at Majikthise. In my mind he remains the most authentic voice in the discussion.

Speaking of corporate logos

Well, actually, no one was speaking of logos. But if I don't make note of this I will forget.
And this is too good to risk forgetting.
Via BoingBoing a developmental history of the Starbucks logo, with Fed Ex tossed in as a bonus. I knew about the Fed Ex arrow, but never thought about the Starbucks mermaid, er, siren...

Corporate logos often have elements that most people don’t know about. For instance the arrow in the Fedex logo that was covered in depth on The Sneeze. This arrow made me think a little about the Starbucks logo.

Baseball as a religious experience

Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.
--Leo Durocher


Pejman, live-blogging a baseball game...

The PejmanFather and I are currently pilgrims in an unholy land as we are attending a baseball game between the Minions of Satan (also known as the White Sox) and the Kansas City Royals. I hasten to add that it was the PejmanFather who got the tickets through work. Right now the Minions of Satan lead 3 to 1. But there remains hope that they will collapse, fall apart and annihilate themselves. Then I will laugh uproariously and run for my life before the uncouth barbarians who call themselves Sox fans kill me.
Further updates as events warrant. In the meantime, feel free to use this as a thread on why the Sox are evil and should be forced to spend eternity enduring especially painful hernias.

UPDATE: Frank Thomas just hit a solo shot in the stands. 4-1. Fans cheer uproariously around me. I am enraged. Dark Side of the Force rampant.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A run just scored. 5-1. God hates me.

A THIRD UPDATE: Royals just scored two in the top of the 4th. 5-3. I revel in the misery of the fans.

A FOURTH UPDATE: The fans revel in my misery, as another run scores for the Sox. 6-3. Meanwhile, some guy in a cubs shirt (an enlightened Chicagoan) just got booed within an inch of his life. Would this be a bad time for me to put certain affairs in order?
Sox just scored again. 7-3. S---.

A FIFTH UPDATE: Royals scored 3. 7-6. Happy days are almost here again.

A SIXTH UPDATE: Damn that Jermaine Dye. 8-6 in favor of the Satanettes.

A SEVENTH UPDATE: Back to back solo shots for the Royals. Sisters are being kissed.
Just few minutes ago, beautiful women were tossing T-shirts in the stand. You know, they could just come up and say hello. I'd even let them guest-blog.

AN EIGHTH UPDATE: I forgot to mention that at the beginning of the game, some degenerate brand of film hagiography about the Satanettes was shown. Curiously, there was no mention of Shoeless Joe and the gang . . .

A NINTH UPDATE: Sox just scored 3 runs. 11-8. I curse my existence.
"Take Me Out To The Ball Game" sung. Substituted "Cubbies" for "White Sox."

Thanks for noticing.

Sometimes I think I'm the only one who has such thoughts.
This from Justin at Southern Appeal...

I've been thinking a lot about this issue as it surrounds the church. Not that I necessarily think we need to be running publicity campaigns to soften our image to the public, but it sure wouldn't hurt things for Christians, evangelicals in particular, in the eyes of the world to worry a little less about electing the next Republican majority and worry a little more about such things as the crisis in the Sudan. Sadly enough, it wasn't until I stopped working in vocational ministry and stopped going to seminary did I start hearing about such things in depth. It just seems to me that the vast majority of Christians on their way to save souls (mind you, I'm not demeaning that) have lost sight of an extremely valuable opportunity to 'reach out.' Or perhaps, maybe it's the bubble that I see. I don't want to make large sweeping assumptions here, but from the best I can tell from my experience working in the church, this issue simply isn't a big deal on a large scale. For example, the annual Southern Baptist Convention conference is this week - I'd wager that it barely gets mentioned...if at all, even though Christians are largely the ones suffering. Just a thought.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Abu Aardvark. Not what you think, you can be sure...

This is about politics, not the zoo.
Mark Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, sports a cv that will blow you away. His blog is one of the first places I look whenever I want to learn something about what's going on in the Middle East. Today he compares Condi Rice, whom he really likes, with Beheyya, a voice from Egypt who seems every bit an intellectual equal to our Secretary of State. Compare and contrast these two views of the emergence of Democracy in the ME:

Condolezza Rice said:

The United States, for 60 years, did not do all that it could to promote a free and democratic Middle East, and very often people talked about the Middle East somehow being different, that what we needed to worry about in the Middle East was stability. And what we learned is that we were getting neither stability nor liberty and freedom; we were getting instead a growth of extremism because people did not have channels through which to express themselves politically.

When we say that Jordan has many aspects that could be a model, it is that it is a state that is trying to reform. I will have a chance when I'm in Egypt to talk more about the need for reform, about the need for the Middle East and Middle Eastern leaders to hear the voices of their people and their people's desire for reform. But there is no plan. We are hoping that this is a call that will be taken up by people of the Middle East and by their governments, and indeed I think that you're seeing the conversation change pretty dramatically in the Middle East about the need for reform.

Baheyya said:

Egyptians have been struggling for decades to get democracy, with very modest results as we see all around us. But that’s the nature of the beast. It’s a truism by now, but no less true: democracy is the business of a couple of centuries, not decades but also not millennia. It would be utterly missing the point to dismiss today’s upheaval as fleeting or chaotic or confusing or ‘unorganised’. It’s the name of the game, political struggle is messy and noisy and above all, confusing. Even if it all ends tomorrow, it will still have added enormous value to the process of public deliberation that will surely revive on another day. Let’s not get bound up in the admittedly fascinating details and ignore the prize: movement, ferment, debate, disagreement, new ideas twining with old practices, even mistakes, charlatanism, perfidy, and all the rest. Getting democracy is not a fairy tale story but a noisy, chaotic canvas where even the ‘bad guys’ can be incorporated into the game peacefully. The real bad guys are those who would deny Egyptians and Arabs the right to have their noisy debates and struggles and the right to publicly deliberate on their institutions, policies, and other public choices. Bad guys want to shut down debate to ram through their own designs and neat little ideas for how others should live.

Good stuff there.
Better not go with a closed mind. Proceed at your own risk.

Steve Jobs looks back

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer, gave a commencement address last week at Stanford. As a one-time dropout from college who happened be become one of the most important people of our time (got that, Doc?) he shared words of wisdom with the new grads.
How's this for a prompt?

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

Now you gotta go read the rest.
Not too long. You'll enjoy.
Tip 3 Quarks

Doctor Bob once owned a poodle

...but he didn't like him.

Walter convinced me that Satan is not a myth, but manifests himself in various nefarious ways. An addictively-attractive curly ball of black fur, he grew into a living example of why humane societies run at full capacity. A hyper-dominent alpha male, honors graduate from the Naomi Wolfe school, he was everything dog owners dread: disobedient, vengeful, cunning, hyperactive. Poodles are one of the few dogs where the whites of the eyes can be easily seen, allowing you a glimpse at the depravity percolating in his small, rancid mind, as he shifted his eyes back and forth planning evil schemes and plotting revenge. We finally gave him away to another family– poodle-lovers, blind to the genetic wickedness of this dark breed–where he reportedly was trained with Twinkies while terrorizing an entire neighborhood, until Mephistopheles called his black soul home.

I mean he really didn't like him.
He likes his new dog a lot more.
Pictures, too.

Wikipedia exercise: Mukhtaran Bibi

Drilling backward from one of my referrals, I was interested to find that this site was the first hit on someone's Google search for "Mukhtaran Bibi story." The fascinating part is that if any site should be first it should be that of Tom Watson, which appears at #7, after the NY Times and a few other references. Go figure.

Events such as this give me hope that computers and technology a still a long way off when it comes to matters of human reason and judgement. Wonderful tools they, but like dogs that are bred to assist in the herding of sheep, they will always remain in the role of impressive tools, designed to make human efforts a bit easier, but not to the point that humans will not be needed for control. Whew...

Meantime, the Widipedia entry for Mukhraran Bibi is a contemporary case study in how a real time, living information medium is available for anyone's use. I have not been in the habit of using Wikipedia as a foundational source for anything important, but after looking at this entry I will be taking it more seriously.

For those who don't know, Wikipedia is -- well, heck, what am I doing?
Go look it up and learn for yourself.
While you are there, take a look at the Mukhtaran Bibi entry and take time to read the details. Notice that there is an "edit" capability in every segment. Anyone can use it, but do so at your own peril, because anyone making changes will leave little binary tracks and if they/you are incorrect, then all the world can find out. Look for the "history"tab at the top of each entry to see a record of who left tracks before. My guess is that only those who really know what they are talking about, or think they do, bother to tinker with Widipedia. In time, those who think they know what they are talking about will be overcome by those who really do. Let's hope.

Here is a warning from Wikipedia:

All contributions to any page on Wikipedia are released under the GNU Free Documentation License (see
for details).
If you do not want your writing to be edited mercilessly and
redistributed at will, do not submit it.
By submitting your work you promise you wrote it yourself, or copied it from
public domain resources — this does not include most web pages.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Nerd operetta "Rhapsody"

Multimedia found by Vanderleun of American Digest.
Thanks, I think...

File: Abu Khaleel

For Fathers Day I publish an exchange of emails between two fathers, one in Iraq and one in America, trying to find a way to leave a better world behind when they die. Our children and grandchildren face problems enough without those we are multiplying today. I was fortunate to be in the Army in Korea during the Vietnam era, years after real combat. My tour of duty was a cakewalk compared with those of many of my peers, and it marked me deeply -- and for the better -- for the rest of my life. Abu Khaleel's comment is to the point: It is truly sad that so few of the US boys and girls here in Iraq have not had the chance that you had in Korea to meet and know people.

I comb the internet looking for indications that cultural bridges are being built rather than destroyed. Unfortunately I find mostly a struggle for hegemony between ancient cultures and the forces of technology, economics and political domination.

* * * *
Here is the response I received from Mr. Khaleel to my Thursday post...

You certainly took me by surprise! I was only looking for an explanation of the “vanishing” aspect you referred to in your earlier post… and didn’t expect anything like your in-depth analysis!! Frankly, I was taken aback!

I was also humbled by your magnanimity of spirit and your piercing insight that allowed you to cut through all the cultural barriers and look into the soul of another human being thousands of miles away, using as metrics his own words! But I must say… you give me more credit than I deserve.

You are right in the most important aspect that I was perhaps unconsciously trying to put across: I actually do see myself as a citizen of the world. Yes, I do love my country deeply, but I see no contradiction whatsoever with belonging to the human tribe at large. It is something like loving your family not necessarily leading to hating your neighbors! Like you, I have seen many people from many different corners of the world. They talk differently, they frequently dress differently, they sometimes have widely differing spiritual beliefs and funny social customs… but I am frequently amazed and amused by the numerous similarities I can see between them.

It also makes me sad that I believe that I will leave this world and I know for certain that it is not going to be the world that I want my children and grandchildren to live in!

I found your words: “Too many people who are not enemies are being killed. And too many more are being inoculated against ever being our friend.” particularly apt and touching. I hope you don’t mind if I use them sometime. I guess they summarize much of what I have been trying to say so economically!

On the other hand, looking at the other, more positive side, here we are, total strangers, thousands of miles apart and ‘on different sides’ of this ugly war, exchanging views and comments (and personality analyses!) This new connectivity, made possible by this wonderful American invention is already changing the world, isn’t it? I think we can all already see that.

It is always a joy to communicate with someone who is so eloquent and has such penetrating insight. I will certainly try to keep up with your musings on your blog.

Thank you again for those kind words.

Warm wishes from Baghdad

* * * *
* * *

There is a Continental elegance to this exchange. I love it. Maybe I was born a century too late. I wrote to Mr. Khaleel asking his permission to publish our correspondence...

Thank you for your wonderful reply. May I have your permission to publish it on my blog? I think that our dialogue may be of some value for others to read.

I would like to know more about you. I presume that if you were dealing with sharecroppers in 1980 you are a man of some importance and also no longer a youngster. Also, your command of English is better than most who claim to be English speakers, so you must have spent some time -- years, in fact -- in some English-speaking environment. That is my blessing since I speak only English. Your blog is very well-done.

My only time in another country was as an Army medical corpsman in Korea, 1966-67. It was there that I realized that there were people whom I would call "world citizens" through a family that basically adopted me as their own for over a year. Since I was using my off-duty time to teach English conversation in a high school to a handful of students who wanted to do extra work, I know that if they had any ulterior motive it was to have someone around with whom their two older children, especially the son who was still living at home, could practice English. But far beyond the subject of English, there was a world of learning and discovery. I was able to receive from them and a few other Korean friends a personalized, world-class inside look at Korean history, geography and culture. And when I came home, I did so as a different person. To this day, now nearly forty years later, I still have a deep affection for Korea and its people. I have lost contact with my friends there, but their influence in my life is indelible.

I'm sure that if you have lived in another country, and I sense that you have, you must know what I mean. I like what you said about seeing no contradiction between loving your country and belonging to "the human tribe at large." I have a feeling that the word "tribe" has a more powerful meaning in Iraq and the Middle East than in America. Incidentally, feel free to publish anything I write you as you see fit. If you get it wrong, I will simply try to clarify my meaning as well as possible and hope for the best.

I think for the sake of safety it may not be wise to be too precise about exactly who and where we are. I can share that information on this end with those whom I trust, and you, I am sure, can do the same. But since I am known to have some serious objections to wars in general, and this one in particular, I am certain that there are people here willing and able to silence me, particularly for corresponding with a "potential enemy." George Bush can hold hands with the king of Saudi Arabia, but I don't have his level of influence and protection.

Looking forward to knowing you via internet.

* * * *
* * *
And he replied...
Please go ahead and publish what you like of our communications. I fully agree that they may be of value to others. Regardless of what concerns dictate policies of states and their actions, I believe everything ultimately results in affecting lives of ordinary people like you and me and others like us. So basically it is people that matter. This is why I think that democracy (true democracy) is so far the best system of government that there is!

Your guesses about me are again correct in essence. Yes, I did spend 9 years in England in my youth in the 70’s… and I still retain warm feelings for the country and its people. I will copy you a profile of myself I once wrote in response to a request by a reader:

I was born and raised in Baghdad and still live here. I have spent most of my life in Iraq. I am married with three children. The eldest, a girl, is a business graduate, the second is a junior doctor and the third is a teenager, still at school. I deeply love Iraq, both emotionally and intellectually, and will never live anywhere else if I can help it.
I was as rebellious as any other teenager regarding religion! Baghdad was so secular in the 1960's! When I was around 30, I started getting interested in history. Iraq is so old and complex that you cannot understand much (of even everyday occurrences) without some historic background. I think it was then that I developed a deep respect for religion, after realizing the enormous positive effect it had on the morality of mankind generally.
I do not think it is a coincidence that the major religions generally sprang from the east. Iraq is at the hub of much of this. You may recall that much of the Old Testament was written in Iraq. Abraham was born here. Ezekiel is buried here (near Babel) People in this corner of the world generally "need" their faith. It is an important aspect of their lives. This is unfortunately often overlooked by others who try to "engineer" (or nation-build) their world for them or by those who are trying to combat those fanatics who have hijacked Islam and are trying to turn it into a killing-manual. The communists never understood this aspect because it contradicts a fundamental dictum in their doctrine. It is the main reason that communism never established roots in these parts despite the presence of so many of the other ingredients – including a deep mistrust of American policies in the area.
Religious orientation: I will borrow the description of a reader I corresponded with some time ago: I am more of a spiritual person than a religious one. I am a Muslim in name but not a practicing one. My wife is more or less the same but she turns "devout" during the fasting month of Ramadan!
In the countryside (where I spend much time) I am regarded as a liberal. In Baghdad, I am regarded as conservative by friends and acquaintances. In America, I guess I would not fit anywhere in their red-blue map… I think I would look like a weird mixture of left and right.
I was convinced in 1982 that Saddam was leading the country to ruin. I resigned from government research (nothing sinister) after the war with Iran. Since then, my main source of livelihood (and joy) has been a farm I had inherited. My other source of joy is poetry, mainly classical Arabic poetry – something that non-Arabic speakers will unfortunately never have a taste of since the blend of words and the music in them is such an integral part of it that it cannot be translated. I find that particularly sad. I think I was 16 when I fell in love with Shakespeare. Macbeth has always been my favorite.
You are also correct in assuming that the word “tribe” has a more powerful meaning in Iraq than in America. This is particularly more profound in the countryside. There was a time when (like most people who are raised in the city) I thought it was something backward and primitive. Later, when I had the chance to know those people better and understand their way of life from a broader perspective, I had to change my mind. I now view it as a sort of ‘cooperative’ of mutual social benefit. This has been borne out by the events of the past two years. When chaos almost reigned in the cities, life in the countryside went on as if nothing had changed… simply because the social relations were strong enough. I have tried to convey that in my blog. I don’t really know how successful I have been.

As regards security, I am glad that you not only understand but have similar apprehensions! Will it surprise you to know that, in today’s lawless liberated Iraq, you can get someone killed for as little as $50?

It is truly sad that so few of the US boys and girls here in Iraq have not had the chance that you had in Korea to meet and know people. It was mainly through no fault of theirs. Most of them found themselves operating in a hostile environment that was produced by mistakes made through the incompetence (or ill intentions) of politicians!
. . . .
By this account there is an important difference between rural and urban Iraq. The following part of his letter is worth repeating:
There was a time when (like most people who are raised in the city) I thought it was something backward and primitive. Later, when I had the chance to know those people better and understand their way of life from a broader perspective, I had to change my mind. I now view it as a sort of ‘cooperative’ of mutual social benefit. This has been borne out by the events of the past two years. When chaos almost reigned in the cities, life in the countryside went on as if nothing had changed… simply because the social relations were strong enough.
As regards security, I am glad that you not only understand but have similar apprehensions! Will it surprise you to know that, in today’s lawless liberated Iraq, you can get someone killed for as little as $50?