Sunday, April 30, 2006

Flight 93, the movie

I have not decided whether to see this movie. It is among the few that I don't feel a need to watch because I know what it is about. The film is certain to be painful to watch and remember, and as long as I remain conscious I will never emotionally sink to a place that I need reminding. The emotional pain of that day left a permanent mark on my being. I did not have personal knowledge of anyone who was sacrificed that day, but the impact could not have been more powerful.

Our youngest child was a flight attendant for United Airlines and had been flying the transcontinental routes. By the grace of God she was on another crew a few days before 9/11 that experienced an in-flight emergency which later proved to be less dangerous than it seemed at the time. The flight had to be aborted, passengers and crew prepared for a crash landing, and only when they landed was the "emergency" found to be a false alarm. The stress, however, was enough to warrant a replacement crew and her removal from the assignment pool from which a fatal United Flight #175 would be selected for September 11.

There is more to tell, but I don't want to write about it just now. The reason for this post is to direct the reader to Gerard Vanderleun's just published essay about the movie Flight 93. Nothing I add will be anything but pedestrian in the shadow of his perfectly-crafted writing. He's a real pro with a flawless sense of proportion, knowing the difference between the sacred and the profane. This essay handles the sacred with profound reverence.

School blogging

Blaming schools and teachers for the shortcomings of students has become another cottage industry. Part of the reason for this trend is that parents themselves do not want to take responsibility for their children's education. BoingBoing links to a You Tube video that puts learning into a different light. This is an important little link that will easily get lost in the shuffle. I especially like the testimonial at BoingBoing.

This YouTube video is the trailer for a documentary called "Voices from the New American Schoolhouse," which chronicles the radical education practiced at the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD. Fairhaven appears to be a classical free-school, in which kids self-govern, design their own curriculum, and tutor their peers. I went to publicly funded schools like this from grade four to graduation, and they were the most important factor in the way I conduct my own adult life. Attending schools like this teaches many kids to run their own lives, blazing their own trail, inventing their own careers, and trying anything. Useful skills in a world where any job that can be described is likely to be outsourced.

The documentary is narrated principally by the school's bright, well-spoken students, who are eloquent and passionate advocates for open education.

Readers may find it interesting that my own education was a patchwork of various elementary schools, six different ones before high school, which included almost two years in a one-room school with six grades. I went to third and fourth grade there with three others in my grade. The largest grade has seven pupils.

There was no such thing as "open education" in those days, but the kaleidescope of learning envitonments had much the same effect. I became very good at adapting, which has served me well in my adult life. Through it all, however, it was my family -- parents, mainly, but the extended family as well -- who were the real engines for learning. Not because they were all that erudite, but because they ALL valued and supported the notion of learning, which is a very different thing from going to school. Write this down: Schools cannot be in loco parentis. That is a role that cannot be delegated. At some point, though, we all choose, whether or not we admit it or are aware at the time, who our role models will be. It is a blessed parent who is allowed to play that important role. None should readily or willingly argue for anything else.

If you haven't already done so, go now and see the video.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Memo re: Civil Disobedience

ScrappleFace blog has a cutie:

Cops to Greet Alien Rallies with Civil Disobedience

(2006-04-28) — As May 1st draws near and America prepares for the hardship and suffering of “A Day without Illegal Immigrants”, the Justice Department announced today plans to mark the protest movement with its own act of civil disobedience.Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he’ll encourage federal, state and local law enforcement on Monday to respond to illegal immigration rallies by observing “A Day without Miranda Rights” followed by “A Month without Habeas Corpus” and “A Year without Bail.”

Hyperlinks to "Miranda Rights" and "Habeas Corpus" take the reader to helpful definitions of those terms, as well as a link to the word "illegal" which leads to a public opinion poll. Nothing in the post links to anything about the clever misuse of the term "Civil Disobedience" but I suppose that wouldn't conform to the cuteness of the snip.

What is about to happen Monday is anything but flip. It is very serious. Attempts at levity might be in order to lift the mood of those who might otherwise be tempted to take a nationwide expression of immigrant frustration seriously, but I think not. I am reminded of a description of one of the first battles of what was to become the American Civil War. The first major land battle of the Civil War took place in Manassas. Sightseers from Washington, DC, arrived in carriages with picnics to watch the action.

No war is about to begin, but the disconnect is just as sharp between those who will be in the streets and those who will be watching. And through it all very few people will have any idea that what they are seeing is, in fact, one of the largest expressions of civil disobedience in U.S. History. No single leader has emerged to be spokesperson for them all. The April 10 event, which turns out to have been a dress rehersal, had a group of mostly articulate high school students, of all things, taking turns at the lectern on the Washington Mall.

My guess is that Monday's events will not have the same measure of civility and innocence that we saw three weeks ago. No, a formative moment has been lost during which experienced organizers have been able to set their hooks in a movement that can very easily become one of the worst domestic challenges of our lifetime. It is significant that a critical mass which began to form April 10 is now about to once again show its size and presence. And it is no accident that May Day has been chosen -- not by any number of representatives of that critical mass, but by others with a more far-reaching agenda -- as the next big event. In the intervening days a controversial musical expression has been hatched, a montage of vocalists stringing together a "soulful" (or the Latino equivalent) interpretation of the National Anthem, entitled, interestingly enough, Our Hymn.

According to radio reports I caught yesterday the song was to be played last night all over the country at some appointed time "in solidarity" with the spirit of what is about to happen Monday. When I heard that word solidarity it brought back a lot of memories. The word is directly from the Marxist organizers' lexicon of political terms, loaded with meaning far beyond its common usage. Remember Solidarność from twenty years ago? Google the term solidarity and see what pops to the top of the page.

There are still examples of principled civil disobedience taking place. Just a few days ago a seventy-nine year old retired Methodist minister was sent to jail to serve time for an act of civil disobedience. This morning's WaPo has a real-life story that is not satire echoing the ScrappleFace cutie above which looks less humorous to me every time I read it.

Make no mistake about it. Whether or not anyone recognizes it, Monday's demonstrations are about to be the largest example of civil disobedience in our history. It remains to be seen what the response will be, socially, politically and officially.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Donald Sensing returns, momentarily

Having gone dormant for a while, Donald Sensing posts once again with a few good comments about blogging in general. He makes the case that the trend is to group blogging rather than individuals.

... the fact is that low-readership blogs are not significant in importance to the blogosphere at large, no matter how important they are to their authors or few-dozen readers. Increasingly, team blogs and blogs integrating different media will dominate the ’sphere, By “dominate,” I mean attract the vast majority of readers and have the most influence in larger society. ...there are blogs that discuss knitting and they are important to their authors and readers, but frankly, get a grip: they are utterly unimportant to everyone else and have no effect whatsoever in larger society. I’m not trying to demean those kinds of blogs at all; let me re-emphasize that they are obviously important to their authors and readers. But the vast majority of readers, as well as the ad money that blogs will increasingly generate, will revolve around fairly few blogs.

And he links dutifully to N.Z.Bear and the numbers game.

I get it. Numbers means power and influence, and that is where the action is. I suppose I am destined to remain down here with the kniting crowd (Hi, Cass!) and be happy gazing at my belly button. Unless, of course, I might get invited to join one of those "groups" he mentioned as a contributor. I can't think of any at the moment that I would like to join. My erudition is far too short to rub shoulders with the ones I like best, and the rest fall into that category that Groucho Marx so cleverly said...I don't want to be part of any group that would have me as a member.

Hmm. I think not.

After investing my adult life in dealing with thousands, maybe millions of the public, I have learned not to put much stock in either their collective judgement or taste regarding anything. I can assure you that the vast majority of people are not very discerning about food and that Truett Cathy was right when he indicated that consistency is more important than quality. Getting it predictably the same each time is far better for the food business than getting it either better or less costly. Have you had a plain hamburger lately from any of the big name companies? Or did a blind tasting to see if you can really tell the difference between Coca Cola and Pepsi? I thought not. Rest my case. [Blind taste: divide two competing cans, equally chilled, into two-ounce souffle cups, numbered and randomly placed mixed up on a tray. You will taste a dozen little cups in any order you choose, identifying each one as you go. Someone else will have to do the exercise with you to keep you honest and keep track. At the end of twelve tastes your sense of humility might be better than your taste buds.]

One remark before I get to the famous ecosystem. It has to do with quality versus quantity. We live in a time when pedestrian quality passes as acceptable simply because so may people are "into it." I have in mind a number of examples, from poor grammar and spelling to bad manners and bad taste in clothing (imitation of prison clothes? Hello!). Or shacking up rather than making a marriage commitment...and having offspring without parental commitment from both mother and father. Looked at your email lately? Seen anything worth filing? Looked at morning television? Listened to radio talk shows, left, right or center? Maybe you are impressed with the level of public intelligence but I am not.

I was listening to music this morning that I couldn't put my finger on. I love doing that...playing name-that-tune with a piece of music already in progress. Title, composer, whatever. I knew it was movie music, but only when the announcer told me did I know it was a theme from a Fellini film, La Strada. I never saw that film but I have seen enough of Fellini to know the name. And my mind drifted to thinking...How many people know his first name is Federico (not Fredrico) or even heard of the guy? Or Akira Kurosawa, or Sergei Eisenstein? Heck, I expect the number of people who know of Sam Goldwyn is shrinking by the hour.

And that's just movies! Thanks to the internet no one has to know much of anything anymore, and yet they can get hold of everything all at once so they think they know it all. I don't know where this will end, but I feel fortunate to be between the generations. I am one of the lucky ones who found out early how ignorant I really was, so for me the internet is still a wonderful novelty. For me, ignorance is a given, so ramaining in a minority of one is not a troubling idea. At some level I know that everyone is like me in that regard, but thanks to the safety of numbers most people remain comfortably in denial, certain in the correctness of their views and getting more convinced as they grow older that they were more right than they ever imagined!

Which brings us to the ecosystem...
I got the link at the bottom of the scroll and have watched my status rise and fall from pretty bad to awful and back again. I noticed that ranking has to do with "links," however that is tallied, and I am getting credit for a few links that only exist in the equivalent of blogging archeology. Looking at the big guys, I see a lot of links, but in some cases without a corresponding swell in traffic. Some seem to have a lot or readers, others a lot of pointers. For some reason I have started to get a lot of search hits...probably because I use clear terms and phrases in my post titles instead of oblique (read untraceable) references. Even when I want to make a good pun, I resist more than I yield. I envy those who have a troop of readers and commenters, but when I get comments I feel awkward replying, so maybe it is jsut as well.

I have great respect for Sensing and hope he keeps his site from vanishing altogether. I have linked to it several times, once as recently as last week from a comment thread in someone else's discussion. He's one of the good guys. There is every good reason for him to be part of a group. He will grace any place he writes with a depth of excellence that is hard to find these days. But his old blog will always be as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.

And me? I'm gonna plug along and keep doing my homework. One day I might learn something.

Immigration questions simmering...

(Cheating serious original blogging.)
this blog continues to get a lot more hits from searches than regular readers.
I wish the ratio were reversed, but I'll take what I can get.

Interestingly enough, for the last week or two one post is generating the most traffic, the one about HR 4437.

I'm not sure what to make of this, other than a lot of people studying the matter and looking at the (sordid) details. I hope that is the case. The subject isn't coming up in conversation as much as it did, and the politicos are still huddled in the back rooms trying to make out what to do next. The immigration [pick one: issue, question, problem, debate, invasion, trend, other_________] is not going away.

And like health care -- left untreated, there will be a political implosion making foreign threats look like academic questions. Sleep well, America. Your leaders are busy larding up various earmarked projects and trying to figure out how best to stop what seems to be an avalanche of Fair Tax interest as serious problems with priorities continue to grow.

Speaking of Faith dot Org - Rev. Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS

No time to blog today.
I'm doing homework. Er, later, that is, when I get home from the day job...

If you want to know about what, here is a link to Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippet's most recent program. And here is the link to the program notes.

Looks like tonight's program will also be interesting. Guess I'll have to catch that one via internet also.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rather could be a great blogger--Dave Winer

Dave Winer blogs about his interview with Dan Rather. Very interesting reading. Not what you might expect. I sense that Dan Rather has no more resentment about what happened to him than a wild animal handler might have toward an animal in the aftermath of being mauled by a bear or tiger. Short, readable post. Take a look.

I think Rather could be a great blogger. He’s a thoughtful, considerate person, who thinks about stuff. He has strong opinions about what should be covered by the news, about the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy, and he certainly has experienced the power of blogging personally, and has now had time to reflect. These are qualities of the blogosphere, although the louder and more sensational voices of course tend to be heard more by the MSM than the thoughtful ones. I don’t doubt that Rather would be listened to.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Landis: Syrian Relations with Iraq: Better than Ever

Josh Landis is one of the smart ones. Not everyone likes what he says, but he is respected well enough that newspapers and govenment big shots pay attention when he speaks. In this essay he introduces ideas new to me.

***Ever since King Faisal took the Iraqi throne in the early 1920s, Iraqi leaders have dreamed of unifying [Iraq and Syria]. Unity dreams only led to bad relations between Arab countries. (This seems to be a lesson of 20th century Arab politics.)

***Syria is developing good relations with almost every segment and political faction in Iraq...It is quite clear that America’s sudden shift toward the Sunnis and its anti-Jaafari policy has motivated [Iraqi] Shiites to look to Syria.

***There are over 500,000 [Sunni] Iraqis in Syria [who came there for safety].

***Syria is the one country in the region that is not hemorrhaging Christians, because it has been solicitous of its minorities.

***...Syria is not content to be merely a US spoiler. Instead it is developing a vision of a future Iraq tying Syria together with Iran. It wants stability in Iraq so that new oil and gas pipelines can be built linking the Kirkuk fields to Banyas. In February, Iran and Syria concluded wide-ranging economic and trade agreements, including one to establish energy and transportation links between the two countries via Iraq. Iran is hoping to link up to these lines so it can build both West and East, making it less dependent on the Persian Gulf egress for its production. Egypt is building its gas line into Jordan, which will eventually extend up to Turkey and Europe. If the Iraq line joins this North-South route, Iraq and Iran can play a bigger role in selling to both Egypt and Turkey. This would build a seamless Middle East network of energy lines, giving Iran a greater role as producer, and Syria a greater role as transit nexus.

***China is the leading customer of Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter. On the military front, the kingdom reportedly is interested buying modern Chinese-designed missiles, perhaps armed with Pakistani nuclear warheads, to counter-balance Iran.

Lots to think about here. I am struck by how pro-active the players appear in this analysis. Reading the popular press it is easy to conclude that all we have to do is pull the right strings and everything in the Middle East will work out alright. Nothing could be further from the truth. If there were easy solutions someone would have found them by now. The picture that is emerging for me is that of the US orchestrating as best it can a balance of power in the Levant with Iran's influence at one end and everybody else at the other. Problem is, everybody else can't seem to get along with each another.

My reading of Josh Landis was tempered by yesterday's post by Anton Efendi, pointing to Michael Young's WSJ piece. Impudent gadfly that he is, Efendi is also one of the smartest bloggers commenting on the Middle East. Young's vision ends with this fantastic vision...

If Mr. Assad were ousted, the shock to Iran would be serious while Hezbollah would be isolated in a Lebanese society largely fed up with the fact that it still retains its weapons. But Tehran would probably be able to absorb that blow. More difficult for the Iranian regime to parry, however, would be what it has managed only imperfectly to suffocate at home: democracy. Now, more than ever, the U.S. must use democratization both against the Islamic Republic and to reinvigorate its anemic Arab allies. The process will take time, U.S. foes will win in places, but it must be given priority. Only rug weavers need apply. [Wonderful reference to Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt's line about the Iranians, “Those who weave carpets are very patient.”] A U.S. allied with a democratic Syria, a democratic Lebanon, and a stabilized, pluralistic Iraq, would force the Saudis and Egyptians to change, or become superfluous.

Looks like a big stretch to me. But a fantastic vision is better than none at all, which is what now seems to be the case. If I remember right, this is not the first Bush to struggle with "the vision thing."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Hoot" the Movie! Coming Soon!

Something tells me my blog is about to get a rash of hits looking for something I ain't got.

Update May 5:
Okay, then.
Welcome visitors to Hootsbuddy's Place, with nothing in common with the movie other than the name. Thanks for stopping by.

NY Times is a registration site, but the cost is zero.
Here is the link to the NY Times review.
It should be good for a week or two, but after that I think it goes behind the paid subscriber wall.

This sweet-natured but plodding adaptation of a young-adult novel by Carl Hiaasen could have used a little less broad satire of corporate greed and a few more, well, owls. The critters peep from their burrows for only a few brief moments, whetting the young audience's appetite for a nature film that never emerges.

"Hoot" does get right is locale. The director Wil Shriner, a Florida native, captures the laid-back mood of a Gulf Coast beach town, the kind of place where a
middle-school science teacher (the musician Jimmy Buffett, who also produced the film) wears shorts so he can go surfing after school, and dismisses class with the word "mañana."

"Hoot" is rated PG for what the press notes call "mild bullying and brief language." This objectionable content must be mild and brief indeed, because it passed this reviewer by entirely.

Readers rate the film four out of five stars.
I'm no expert but I heard the other day that there is something called a "burrowing owl," perhaps also an endangered species like the famous spotted owl. From the trailer, this seems to be the critter referred to in the film's title.

Link here to the book at Amazon.
Reviews here are good. If you wade past the hype you might find a review or two by real readers who actually read the book and wrote something not intended to pump sales but to let other readers know whether or not they enjoyed the book.

Seems like the burrowing owl, also called miniature owl, is a California bird.

Marc Lynch on ben Laden's message

If you read nothing else today, read this. The Aardvark is not misled by spin. He takes this guy seriously as he continues, apparently undaunted in his poisonous ministry to the extremists of Islam.

Bottom line: this was actually a pretty major address, which laid out a comprehensive vision of Islam's clash with the West and al-Qaeda's current priorities. It didn't give off an air of desperation, nor of irrelevance - certainly not any sense of bin Laden being on the run, as the White House is spinning it.

Dark humor at H5N1 blog

REALLY dark humor, considering the topic.

Jordan chooses the Jack Benny strategy

In a country where raising poultry keeps most of the people alive, the government asked its citizens to kill their chickens and ask later about compensation.

I've used this analogy before, and it's still valid. The American comedian Jack Benny got a lot of laughs out of his famous stinginess. In one skit, he's trapped by a robber who demands: "Your money or your life!"

Benny doesn't answer. The impatient robber says: "Well, what is it? Your money or your life?"

"I'm thinking it over," Benny snaps back.

The Jordanian government is thinking it over too. In such a predicament, it should pay its people for the culled chickens, and worry tomorrow about where to find the money. So should every government facing the same problem.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Methinks the Grey Lady doth protest too much...

Grant McCracken, trend-watcher extraordinaire, senses that bloggers are beginning to make "old media" squirm. He tracks a pro forma list of stages...

Stage 1. Benign neglect. (...the incumbent...treats the new challenger...with a certain high handed indifference)

Stage 2. Lordly disdain

Stage 3. Irritation plus Obfuscation
( they begin to see the writing on the wall. If Wikipedia can rise to become a creditable challenge for the Encyclopedia Britannica, surely the NYT and the vulnerable too.)

Stage 4. Panic! Attack! Panic Attack!
(In Stage 4, the alarm is now running full time. You can hear it coming from the old media world as if from a neglected warehouse. It's time to roll out the "barbarians at the gate" argument.)

It may not be global warming, but sea level seems to be rising. A lot of low-lying areas are about to get flooded. Badly. Bloggers are forcing pros to raise the professional bar -- against their will, it seems.

Van Wallach at Kesher Talk mentions a case in point. I am reminded of Virginia Postrel's stasist/dynamist taxonomy. Trembling is not always a sign of excitement. Sometimes it's a symptom of age.

Stanley Crouch (and many others) on Legalizing Drugs

Via Booker Rising...this column by Stanley Crouch:

The three most important reasons to call a ceasefire in the insane "war" we've been fighting for decades are the reduction of crime, the expansion of the tax base and the contribution to the economy.

Whether or not anyone likes it, recreational drug use has become part of American social life - and it is that use, not addiction, that fuels the trade. If addicts alone were spending money on drugs, the problem could have been licked or dramatically reduced long ago.

As for the reduction of crime, we are constantly getting benumbing reports that tell us how many inner city young men drop out of school to sell drugs, naively looking for a fast way to make big money. Such young men are the drones of the business. If we ended the illicit nature of the trade, the drones would either stay in school or surprise us and find a legal line of work.

The real economic winners in the drug business these days are the high-level dealers and traders. When it comes to them, America is being played for a chump in exactly the way we were during Prohibition. That's when the Mafia gathered all the capital it needed to become a formidable national criminal organization because public demand for drinking was greater than fear of the consequences of drinking.

If we ended today's version of Prohibition and legalized drugs, we could stop the murderous drug wars and pull billions of dollars out of the shadow world. Taxes could be levied and public rehabilitation centers supported.

The king is standing there in his underwear and nobody wants to say it. You think it's just the brothers into that stuff? They are just the ones speaking candidly about the problem. What kind of rock are you living under? Don't you read the papers?

Check out this article.

First came the poor man, barely 17 years old – too young to buy beer or vote, but an adult under the Texas penal code. He took part in a $2 stickup in which no one got hurt. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was put on 10 years of probation.

He broke the rules once, by smoking marijuana. A Dallas judge responded in the harshest possible way: He replaced the original sentence with a life term in prison.

There Tyrone Brown sits today, 16 years later, tattooed and angry and pondering self-destruction. "I've tried suicide a few times," he writes. "What am I to make of a life filled with failure, including failing to end my life?"

I have grown up in the South. I understand the dynamics of "dry counties." Simple. Two influential forces didn't want (and in many cases still don't) drinks by the glass to be allowed in their jurisdiction. One group is bootleggers who would lose business if it becomes easier to drink legally. The other is well-intended Christians who see drinking as a sin, and legalization of drinking as a contribution to sinful behavior.

There are enough self-righteous but well-intentioned people of faith to support a "War on Drugs." I know a lot of them. And I love them despite their position. (That's one great advantage to being Christian. Your brothers and sisters will forgive you again and again until you change from your wicked ways and see it their way.) I haven't figured out what other force might favor perpetrating this clearly lost cause, but at the international level there must be some equivalent to the local bootlegger.

The issue is on the Libertarian radar.

Don't believe me. Do your own Google Search. It's not all one way or another. Plenty of good people don't see it my way. But more are coming to the same conclusion as time passes. If you think this is a no-brainer, think again. Do some homework. Then if you want to argue laws are essential to grace, go ahead. But leave me out of it. I decided long ago that internal controls are always more durable than external controls. And in the case of drugs we are well past the training-wheels stage.

H5N1 Report -- Two Points

News of the bird flu virus is "in a trough," according to this dedicated blogmaster.

Many of us, I suspect, follow H5N1 because it's provided a good, suspenseful narrative. The cases have been few, so we can often learn the names and backgrounds of the victims. The virus has moved rapidly and surprisingly, leaping from Egypt to Nigeria. Even its pauses have surprised: Who would have thought H5N1 would kill two people in northern Iraq (and maybe a third in the middle of the country), and then drop out of sight?

The humans involved have contributed to the narrative: the hapless Indonesians, the methodical Vietnamese, the sometimes-mysterious Chinese, the stoic French. Politicians everywhere have memorized their key line: "No need to panic. Please pass the chicken."
But narrative demands ever-increasing anxiety, news of fresh disasters that heighten suspense before the inevitable announcement (whether from Jakarta or Mumbai or Los Angeles) that a cluster of cases are inarguably human-to-human.

That climactic point, by the rules of narrative, provides a natural conclusion to Volume I. Volume II then follows the pandemic itself, perhaps rounding out the trilogy with a volume on the post-pandemic world.

This is a time of watchful waiting. In a later post he notes that the current outbreak of mumps can be seen as a dress rehersal of what could be a more virulent threat in the event of a flu outbreak.

He mentioned in the first post something that I find both interesting and important: pigeons apparently will not be vectors for the virus. For some reason they are not prone to catch or carry the disease.

From the London Daily Mail:

Researcher David Swayne said: "Pigeons are not uniformly susceptible like chickens or ducks."

Infected pigeons carried the virus for about 10 days. But they were infectious for only two days and then at levels below what it would normally take to infect a chicken.
From WISTV, Columbia, S.C.:
Wildlife disease specialists have been conducting tests on the city pests, and found the birds just aren't susceptible to the virus. They're not totally immune, but research shows pigeons catch the H5N1 virus only when exposed to very high doses and even then carry the disease very briefly. Pigeons didn't even get infected after high levels of virus were squirted directly into their mouths. "So that's good news," according to one researcher.

Instead, US government scientists looking for the first signs of the deadly strain are focusing on wild migratory birds, not birds like pigeons, starlings and sparrows that stay close to home.

It makes me wonder what causes variable rates of infection from one bird species to another. How are migratory birds different from populations that stay put year-round? I'm not an expert, but respiratory endurance over miles of flying immediately comes to mind, which leads me to speculate that the immune systemns of non-migrating birds must be better. Ventilating the lungs reduces the incidence of pneumonia in humans (which is why binding the chest for rib fractures was abandoned years ago). Relatively shallow breathing, then, should correlate with a strong immune system.

So why would chickens be vulnerable? Could it be that generations of inbreeding aimed at getting faster growth, combined with the widespread use of agricultural pharmaceutical additives may have significantly compromised the immune systems of commercially raised poultry?

Ducks? I dunno. They are more than just "swimming chickens." Aren't they migratory? Miles of flying and all that.

In any case, I am reassured that the ubiquitous pigeons are apparently not at risk. (Yet. There is no way to know what direction new mutations might take.)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Insurance and the marketplace

By law, insurance companies aren't allowed to adjust your monthly premiums just because you get sick. But they can raise the out-of-pocket cap for all of their members anytime they like, which amounts to the same thing because it affects only the unvalued sick members.
One of the reasons America spends so much more than any other country on healthcare is because upwards of 30% of our expenditures are for paper shuffling by insurance companies doing their best to deny treatment whenever possible. By contrast, administrative costs in countries where there's only one paper shuffler — and it's not trying to make a profit from its shuffling — are closer to 10%.


And a few other things...

By what reasoning does the term "uninsurable" figure into market rules governing insurance?
This is similar to the puzzle about "pre-existing conditions" not being covered. If pre-existing conditions cannot be covered, then what is the purpose of insurance?

And when the message is that your claim is being DENIED why do they call it an Explanation of BENEFITS? Shouldn't that be a Explanation of NON-benefits?

By what reasoning is insurance not available to the unemployed, who have a hard enough time with food, housing and transportation? With the basics one can always cut back...cheaper food, cramped quarters and walking. But with insurance the low-end alternative is to get sick and die. (Yes, yes I know. No one has to pay for emergencies if he cannot pay. Why do you suppose those of us who are paying roll our eyes at $100 aspirin and other clearly inflated items on the bill?) (And WHY, come to think of it, do insurance companies continue to pay such things while complaining about "usual and customary charges" for other charges?)

Gaza snapshot

Israeli blogger Allison Kaplan Sommer points to Gaza mom-blogger Laila El-Haddad's description of what it's like trying to act normal in a very unstable environment. The place has all the marks of being at the edge of what many would call "civil war." Despite the danger there is a spirit of...what?...dark optimism. Does that make any sense?

I’m writing this and in pitch darkness. Not due to artillery shells, from which we’ve been spared for a whole of 24 hours. But because the friendly folks of al-Aqsa Martrys (or as I like to call them, my friendly neighborhood gunmen) shot our neighborhood’s electricity cables by accident this evening, after hoisting their flag on the now Hamas-dominated Legislative Council in front of my house in protest of recent Hamas statements (someone needs target practice. Then again, better the cable than me.

Last night, they also decide to hold a pre-dawn bash, smack dab in the middle of the city (deciding to "avoid areas populated by Hamas"), which continued until the wee hours of the morning.

...and later:

Today, the clashes spilled over into the rival universities of Al-Azhar (Fateh run) and al-Islamiya (Islamic University, run by Hamas). Apparently, the Fateh student council in al-Islamiya, and later, Al-Azhar students, both plastered the pristine walls of al-Islamiya with condemnatory and accusatory flyers. Push came to shove (quite literally), and though it did not get fatal and weapons were not involved, around 15 people were injured in fistfights, stone throwing, and firebombs.

Amidst the madness, a lone vendor roamed around the angry crowds selling licorice juice to thirsty stone-throwers (honestly, only in Palestine...). All that was missing, joked my cousin, was a kiosk selling souvenirs-perhaps t-shirts and hats stating “anti-Hamas protests 2006-I was there!” I’m sure the local PLO flag shop could make some big bucks.

Licorice juice? Yeech! I'll just have some bottled water, thanks.

If you want a taste of local political humor/irony, check out her next post.
I am reminded of the symbolic humor from Russia and Eastern Europe under Soviet control, the only political protest that could exist under a totalitarian system.

Popular Music as political commentary

"Dear Mr. President" is a video.
You Tube is snowballing (see previous post).
Blogsnow is spreading the virus.

I'm still trying to connect the dots. I remember another popular blond singing the birthday song to another president. It always helps to have entertainers in your corner, singing or not.

Maybe somebody should fire off a few rounds behind the boss to help him swim faster.
Or maybe not.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Two Chinese Boys -- Reprise

Just keeping up, you see.
I heard that the You Tube site has expoloded in popularity since it began just a few months ago, so I just went to check it out. Sure enough, I found there a bunch of videos, including a few that I have linked along the way. There was a Ninja clip of an athletic guy in a sequence of impressive stunts in various venues, but nothing as impressive as the Russian video I found about Christmastime (which I was able to find).

Scanning the thumbnails I noticed this video of the Two Chinese Boys and remembered their first video which I linked last year. That link has gone now, but there seem to have been four or five sequels. This one runs seven and a half minutes and is a mish-mash of two or three themes. The enigmatic third figure in the background participates in this one. A search feature at You Tube will locate the others, and anything else you know the name for. I noticed the Christmas lights video was in the inventory.

I am struck by the simplicity and innocence of this entertainment. And the international popularity. Amazing.
And fun, too, if you let yourself enjoy it.

When television producers get the nerve to stream on the internet, they had better get their act together first. I don't see why anyone will put up with commercial messages and dumbed-down content when all they have to do is click the browser and find something else to catch their attention.

Check out this ukulele player.

Riverbend: A Royal Visit...

Brief, readable snapshot of life in Iraq in the course of what seems a never-ending stream of political instability.

So we’ve been spending the days with Bibi Z. (‘Bibi’ being a Baghdadi word meaning “granny” or “nana”) We don’t know her exact age, but we estimate she’s well into her eighties. She has a deceptively frail look about her- soft, almost transparent skin, a small face framed with long wisps of white hair. Her dark eyes are still very alive and have a look of permanent fascination because her brows are so white, they barely show up against her skin.

Having the distinction of being the oldest member of an Iraqi family has its privileges. Bibi Z. has installed herself as temporary reigning queen of the household- moving from room to room with the grace and authority of royalty. Within ten minutes of arriving at our house, she occupied my room and I was promptly relegated to the uncomfortable sofa in the living room. She spends the hours supervising everything from homework to housework, and inevitably advising on the best ways to store winter clothes, roll up the carpeting, and study algebra. Although she no longer cooks, she sometimes deigns to sample our cooking and always finds it in need of a spoon of this, or a pinch of that.

The Dick's a guy thing, you know

The famous Vagina Monologues have never interested me...until now. Gerard Vanderleun has penned what has to be the definitive guy equivalent.

Prudes keep moving. This one you skip.

Everybody else, especially those with a keen sense of humor, go read.
No snips here will do justice to this...words fail me...piece?
Well maybe just one. To set the scene, imagine Klick and Klack, the two guys on Car Talk, in running banter...

Plick: "Well, if neither renting or leasing satisfy, our sisters might want to consider a Dick time-share. This is usually the most equitable solution for all involved, and is strongly supported by the International Brotherhood of Dicks."

Plack: "That's a super-suggestion, my brother. The only drawback is that the negotiations for a Dick time-share tend to long and drawn out, sometimes frustrating, and can collapse at any moment for what seems to be the most trivial of reasons. It's a little like trying to be accepted into a Upper West Side Liberal co-op while Mexican. It can be done but you have to bribe many and guilt-trip more."

Plick: "But it can be worked out, that's my point. That's why this option is expanding faster than porn on the internet. The driving force behind such a deal is that, once you have concluded the negotiations, you find you want to continue the arrangement for a decent period of time before moving on. Indeed, some women have been so successful in their Dick time-share arrangements they tend to live with the time-share Dicks for years, if not the rest of their lives."

Friday, April 21, 2006

"Marriage Is for White People"

This link is not here because I approve but because if I didn't see it for myself I would not have believed it could have been said and published in a respectable newspaper. I didn't realize how really old-fashioned I was until I saw this.

I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether.

But as a black woman, I have witnessed the outrage of girlfriends when the ex failed to show up for his weekend with the kids, and I've seen the disappointment of children who missed having a dad around. Having enjoyed a close relationship with my own father, I made a conscious decision that I wanted a husband, not a live-in boyfriend and not a "baby's daddy," when it came my time to mate and marry.

My time never came.

For years, I wondered why not. And then some 12-year-olds enlightened me.

"Marriage is for white people."

That's what one of my students told me some years back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington. I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth:

"Marriage is for white people."

The writer continues in a vein that leaves the reader with the impression that she is not really opposed to the idea. In fact, she cites evidence that the trend may be in that direction for society as a whole.

And here's the new twist. African American women aren't the only ones deciding that they can make do alone. Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect. In his 2003 book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf between Women and Men," Andrew Hacker noted that the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s. In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960. So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future.

Am I missing something, or is she sugesting that marriage is becoming obsolete for everybody, not just blacks? This is another reason that I have no objections to a massive influx of a population believing in old-fashioned families and the values that weld them together. When I hear people complain, speaking of immigrants, that "they don't want to become part of American culture, they want to keep to their own" I ask myself why anyone sees American society as a model to be admired and embraced.

Iraq Panorama

Salam Adil puts together a link summary of Iraqi blogs all in one post. From Riverbend to Baghdad Girl he covers the whole picture. There seems to be no hidden agenda to this collection.

If I go slowly and read each one separately I can identify and empathise with every one. When I allow myself to consider them all as a group I cannot imagine that they are all from the same place. I feel like one of the blind sages looking at an elephant.

The stream of consciousness from Neurotic Iraqi Wife captures the confusion as well as any.
The excerpt catches this:

Neurotic Wife is embarrassed for living in the Green Zone. She talks to some people from the 'real' Baghdad: "One of them gave me an evil smile and said sarcastically 'why dont you come out and see how we are living, see how the real Iraqis are surviving' he said it with such contempt that really hurt me...I didnt know what to tell him...I said I want to go out of this place and see the real Baghdad, but Im not allowed to...He then replied again with that sarcastic voice 'come and stay just for one day without electricity, come and stay and feel the fear we have everyday from getting killed for no reason whatsoever...' I stared at him...and said the only thing we all say here 'Allah Kareem' (God is generous' or Inshallah (God willing) things will get better...But yet I felt so lame...."
...and more. But if you read the entire post you come to a much longer, more elaborate picture. She concludes with this:
On a last note...if you think a civil war is taking place here then you are wrong...Iraq has become a huge terrorist pocket....Sunni's, Shia's, kids, elderly, women, men, working with coalition forces,working with Iraqis, makes no difference anymore....Its you and your luck...Its you and your time...Its one of those "in the wrong place at the wrong time"....thats how it is....This is the reality of things....Wrong Place....Wrong Time....

Salam Adil is providing a much needed overview that more people need to see. It makes a lot of the political carping so very irrelevant. The war has torn the scab off an injury. The wound may have stopped bleeding but serious infections are setting in and no one has found the right medicine or combination of medicines to promote healing. Where is the credible voice that will be heard and trusted by all parties?

When I sense the unalloyed sweetness of Baghdad's student cat-blogger and try to imagine the life she sees around her it makes me want to cry.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Medical Billing -- The Lucid Nightmare

Rarely, but in most people's experience, there is a special state of mind between dreaming and wakefulness called lucid dreaming. Even though the details may be lost to memory a few hours later, at the time of the lucid dream they are as vivid as reality. The interesting part is that during a lucid dream we are aware that it is a dream, and sometimes have some measure of control over the momentum and results of these imaginary events. I'm not much interested in the subject but it makes an interesting diversion if you do a Google search, including a Wikipedia entry. I use the term this morning to describe Doctor Bob's series on medical billing, now in it's fifth installment. Reading through this series, however, is more a lucid nightmare than a lucid dream. You know it is happening, and you want very much to bend the rails a bit...but all your efforts are in vain. The best you can expect, given the now well-established thicket of weeds in the garden, is that you might get one more tomato off the vine before weeds, worms, and wild animals beat you to the prize.

I have been copying this series to a Word document which now runs to about fourteen pages. I'm not sure what I aim to do with it, but it makes a pretty complicated subject more understandable if I can tote it around and study it a little at a time. Doctors, you know, tend to be very smart people. They assume that other people are as bright as they are, so saying things over and over is not one of their strong suits.

If you think you can absorb it all from a monitor, go read it. If not, do as I have and put it together in one piece, print it out, and take it to the john. This most recent installment describes what can happen if the Federal Rottweiler goes after a medical practice or individual suspected of fraud...

And, of course, as a physician or health care facility, in such an investigation, you will be treated with the utmost respect and deference to your mission and profession … or maybe not:

***In August 1999, Dr. Robert Gervais, a cataract surgeon practicing in Arizona, was invited to a public meeting on a HCFA project. Federal agents were hiding behind a one-way mirror at this public meeting to see which doctors were making negative comments about HCFA and the project. Dr. Gervais was critical. A little more than a month later, Dr. Gervais’ clinic was subjected to a “surprise” inspection, where federal authorities found “deficiencies” in his documentation. Dr. Gervais’ plans to
remedy the “deficiencies” in the time HCFA required (6 days) were deemed unacceptable, and his clinic was then “de-listed” by Medicare.

***In another case, in February of 1999, 37 armed, flak-jacketed agents carried out a Medicare raid on East Tennessee Woods Memorial Hospital, a 72-bed hospital in Eastern Tennessee. The invading army of armed federal agents stomped into the hospital, trampling through sterile areas, forced employees into a small room and held them.

***In another case, at Dr. Danny Westmoreland’s office in West Virginia, three armed federal agents invaded and held everyone at gunpoint, including the physician, his wife, patients, and children.

So, if you’re wondering why doctors are feeling a bit under the gun of late, I hope this helps you get some insight. But I do have some good news (and no, it’s not about my car insurance): the Feds make even the malpractice attorneys seem warm and fuzzy by comparison.

My interest is underscored by a piece of mail I received two days ago. "This is not a bill" it said at the bottom. Well, no, it wasn't. It was more like a warning that a train was on the track, your car is stalled at a crossing, and if something doesn't soon change you are about to start employing some of your most important legal your will or critical conditions directives.

I am amazed that the system has need to even mail me such a notice, uephemistically called an "Explanation of Benefits" which in this case is an explanation of NON-benefits.

Significantly, at the end of this document is a bold-face line or two instructing the reader how to argue against the content of what it delivers. This seems to be part of the form, which indicates that it is more apt to be delivering bad news than good. Or in the event that the news is not good (meaning Claim is Denied for one reason or another...see the little numbers up there and pick the one that applies in your case) the insured (who in this case is the UNinsured) can do the equivalent of going to court as his own council.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Being your own boss

Morning meditation:

French blogger at No Pasarán! looks at an immigrant population in France, then at another immigrant population in America...

First, a post quoting a wise faculty member at Princeton, giving advice to new grads.

I couldn't have spent four decades as a humanities professor without gaining fluency in the sclerotic cliches of a soft left rhetoric. But it appears that in France, the mainstream political spectrum actually believes it. The place is positively crawling with time-warped Socialists who still quaintly believe in Marxism.

Though its ostensible motives had to do with employment, the Paris demonstrations were more closely affiliated in spirit to what we recently witnessed in Damascus and Karachi than what we saw in Los Angeles. Theodore Dalrymple has argued in his remarkable essays that Islamic truculence, including that of some highly visible European Muslim youth, is born not of strength and confidence but of fearful disquiet and perceived inferiority, weakness and vulnerability. In general, similar anxieties command the French "Youth Employment" protests.

What we laughingly call the "real world" can be a scary place. But … I have a few words of advice for graduates.… Do something serious, useful, daring and fun. Travel around, and use the foreign language we helped you learn. Invent something. Start a company. Teach something wholesome to somebody who needs it. Revel in your individuality and personal enterprise in a way that satisfies you by helping our needy world. Take some big risks, and fail a few times. Let your attitude be closer to that of an immigrant Mexican yard-worker than of a French bureaucrat. This country doesn't owe you a living, but it affords you unequalled opportunities to make a decent one. Work really hard. Create the wealth of the commonwealth.

Got that?
What we saw in Los Angeles was not the same as what happened in Paris (or Karachi or Damascus). Such comparisons miss a very important point.
The aims and ambitions of Mexican (and other) immigrants to America are different.

A couple of entries in the comment thread drew this rejoinder.

The "Mexicans only work to make the rich richer" and "minimum wage is evil" arguments are total bullshit. I would kindly ask anyone who wants to defend that argument to present their extensive evidence and experience with this bizarre point of view.

My best friend is an immigration lawyer in Chicago and is constantly recounting stories of his experiences with the Mexicans and other Latinos that are his clients. His clients are not only extremely hard workers, they understand the political and economic realties of their situation. They band together in groups of families (from the same town in their home country). They work as many jobs as they can and pool their money to help (legally) bring more family and friends into the country. When they're ready to strike out on their own, they start a landscaping business, or a catering service, or open a diner, or buy a convenience store or a gas station, you name it. Anything to be in control of their own destiny.

They realize that their only way up in America is to stick together and grab economic and political power the old-fashioned way -- by creating value for other people, by starting successful companies and not expecting any handouts from Uncle Sam. The INS teaches them very quickly that the government is not their friend -- the INS can deport people that have already achieved permanent resident status, how nice.

Look -- everyone works for someone else until you're self employed. Statements about "the bosses" are such a joke in America, because it's so easy to become your own boss.

What is the rate of startup creation in France? What does it take to get a new company off the ground in France? Any French entrepreneurs care to tell their story of starting a successful small company, because truly I am curious. Who wants to take the risks of creating jobs when the government takes 60+% of your income and puts hundreds of red-tape roadblocks in your way? Who wants to hire employees when you can never fire them? And do you think starting a company is even remotely possible for any of your North African immigrants? Where are their success stories? It goes on and on...

Think about it.
The observation is right.
Now ask youself: Is this a population that we really want to drive away?
Or do they represent the same kind of ambition and creativity that have animated our country from the beginning of this, history's most audacious experiment in cultural melting?

Cow as vehicle

Volokh points to a wonderful example of coming to the right decision with the wrong thinking.

A couple were injured when their car struck a cow. The owner of the cow had no insurance, so they filed a claim with their own insurance company for coverage under its uninsured motorist provision. The company refused to pay, so they sued. The trial court ruled against them, and they appealed.

The point of contention was whether a cow is a motor vehicle. The court cites the American Heritage Dictionary's definition: "a self-propelled, wheeled conveyance that does not run on rails" The court correctly observes that:

a cow is self-propelled, does not run on rails, and could be used as a
conveyance; however, there is no indication in the record that this particular
cow had wheels. Therefore, it was not a motor vehicle...

On this basis, buttressed by precedant to the effect that a horse is not a motor vehicle, it affirmed the decision of the Court of Common Pleas that the couple were not entitled to compensation.

I think that the Court of Appeals made the right decision, but for the wrong reasons. The American Heritage Dictionary's definition is wrong. On the one hand, it is not necessary for a vehicle to have wheels in order to be a motor vehicle. In my judgement, and I believe that of most people, vehicles such as snowmobiles, tanks, and bulldozers are motor vehicles even though they lack wheels. Furthermore, adding wheels to a cow would not make it a motor vehicle. On the other hand, not all self-propelled vehicles are motor vehicles. A sled is not a motor vehicle, even though it is self-propelled. What makes a vehicle a motor vehicle is, not surprisingly, its reliance on a motor. The reason that a cow is not a motor vehicle is that it has no motor.

(Obviously any post regarding a cow needs to be in purple. I instinctively did the same when I posted another reference recently.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East

Read this book review by Nouri Lumendifi. I can't decide if I am more impressed with the book or the reviewer. After reading what appears to be a very scholarly review of an important newly-released book, I looked at the profile of the reviewer.

The profile description of the blogmaster of The Moor Next Door says he is seventeen years old! I have a hard time believing that. Kids that age just don't write like this. But apparently this one does.

Mission Statement of the Moor Next Door

"The Moor Next Door" is a blog whose purpose is to allow me to express myself and to provide a liberal look at Algerian, and Euro-Maghrebi/Middle Eastern affairs, as well as American, Algerian and European foreign policy. In addition, with this blog I seek to explore various theories of history and politics and how they relate to one another. Issues of nationalism, identity, history, religion, and the like as the fit into the previously mentioned contexts are intended to be the primary focus.

I write this blog with Americans, Europeans, North Africans, liberals, conservatives (in the Middle Eastern sense), and just about every other sort of folk in mind. I do not tailor my posts to them however. I'm not writing to please, but to inform. I base my opinions from facts and I formulate them from what I see and know. If you don't like them, you probably know something I do not, so tell me. I am open to different ideas.

You think that's impressive? Go look at his list of "favorite books."

Oh, and before I forget, this post is about the book he reviewed as well. I am struck by the similarity of how the word liberal may not have the same exact meaning in the Arab world as it does in America, but the word seems to carry a similar stigma. Fascinating, since those who advocate a "liberal" agenda there seem to be advancing the same values that American "conservatives" lay claim to. Problem is, laying claim to a value is not the same as practicing it. Catch this last paragraph:

Far out numbered by Islamist organizations and sympathizers, Arab liberals face incredible odds. Rubin’s conclusion, that the Arabs must realize their faults and shortcomings, while coming up with solutions to the "thousand and one difficulties" facing the region, is not likely to please ideologues from the nationalist or Islamist camps. The Long War for Freedom answers the oft asked questions of "Why don’t Arabs and Muslims speak out against terrorism and aggression?" or "Where are the Arab Democrats?" by providing an abundance of clear and unequivocal examples, and presenting the arguments of Arab liberals in their own words. Prospects are bleak, but campaigners are committed and bold. Rubin’s book offers little hope as to the growth of liberal movements; that isn’t its point. It rather presents profiles in courage of brave Arabs who are working to put back in place the simplest foundations for democratization and liberalization in the Arab world. Rubin’s book is a must read for those concerned with or interested in Middle Eastern politics or history.

Seems like neo-conservatism is a world-wide phenomenon. Passing as patriotism, preserving and protecting traditional values, it seems to me nothing more than old-fashioned fundamentalism. Hmm?

He said, she said, they said, it said

In which I glance briefly and quickly move on because what I saw was too embarrassing to make a big deal about.
Now I know why we were taught verb conjugation. (See post title) Best way to summarize a public flap.
Think of it as a food fight with words and personal invective. Really mean stuff.
Gandelman has enough links that your inner voyeur can get a taste.
And that's about all I have to say about that.

Niewert on Reconquista!

Reconquista! seems to me the lunatic fringe of Latino immigrants. For those who have never seen the word, it is simply the notion that a great chunk of the Southwestern part of the U.S.A. is rightfully part of Mexico, having been stolen in the past. As far as I can tell the idea has about the same traction among immigrants as the KKK has among their adversaries. The two represent opposite critical masses that are sinister and should be kept under control.

David Neiwert has a different take and he may be correct. I like what he says...

The belief that the Southwest is part of their historical homeland is a legitimate belief for most Latinos, and the marchers they cite seem to be expressing that point. They're also expressing the belief that this historical claim overrides the latter-day borders that would deny them their heritage. What's utterly absent is any claim that they intend to retake the Southwest for Mexico, which is what the reconquista theory is all about. On the contrary, they seem intent on becoming American - but they also are claiming they have a right, by virtue of their heritage, to become one.

That doesn't sound like an invasion to me.

If that is true it puts a very different construction on the theme than I have had. But more importantly, it flies in the face of those who would be using it to gin up hatred for immigrants. I have heard the shock-jocks having a field day with references to those they say want to "reconquer" America and steal away a big chunk of our country. Neiwert puts it into a historical perspective.

Listening to the reconquista theories, I am taken back, back, back -- back to those halcyon days when conspiracy theories were the entire raison d'etre of the far right of America's conservative movement. Which is to say, every day of the past half-century.

After all, the far right can't really exist for long without a scapegoat, an Enemy, on whom it can blame all the world's ills. It has always been so, and will always be.

In the post-Civil War period, it was the ominpotent threat of
"black rape" that inspired the American far right into a decades-long orgy of lynching whose effects remain with us today. In the first half of the 20th century, it was the "Yellow Peril." This was a conspiracy theory which held that the Japanese emperor intended to invade the Pacific Coast, and that he was sending immigrants to American shores as shock troops to prepare the way for just such a military action. James Phelan, one of the "peril" theory's chief advocates, explained in 1907 that the Japanese immigrants represented an "enemy within our gates." Advocates frequently cited a 1909 book promoting this theory, Homer Lea's The Valor of Ignorance, which detailed the invasion to come and its aftermath. Moreover, the larger "Yellow Peril" was framed as simply a wave of nonwhite immigrants who would swamp the existing white population if left unchecked. (See more here.)

Then, for most of the post-World War II period, the Enemy was those dirty Communists. This, of course, inspired an entire universe of right-wing conspiracy theorizing, particularly embodied by the McCarthy witch hunts and their offspring, the John Birch Society.

With the demise of the Communist threat in the late '80s and early '90s, right-wingers were left with no one to scapegoat in elaborate conspiracy-theory fashion -- except, of course, for Bill "New World Order" Clinton. But he was only good for an eight-year stint (though if Hillary resurfaces in 2008, hey, they've got another eight more years' worth).

They've really been in need of a more permanent conspiracy-theory scapegoat, and the foreignness of radical Islam makes it difficult to successfully concoct any theories that stick, other than Hannityesque smears identifying liberalism with terrorism.

But reconquista? Woo-hoo! Made to order!

Anyone who thinks the John Birch Society and others of their inclination are no longer around is living in a fool's paradise. I am personally aware of an active membeship among people I have met and served. Had they known of my political views they may not have done business with me, but I have always been careful to leave politics at the door when I come to work.

Nuclear energy is now green

Patrick Moore writes in the Washington Post that nuclear power holds the most promise for the future of energy. The "Atoms for Peace" thrust of the fifties was followed by a lot of scary press with the onset of the arms race. We now return to a more positive view of nuclear energy.

Today, there are 103 nuclear reactors quietly delivering just 20 percent of America's electricity. Eighty percent of the people living within 10 miles of these plants approve of them (that's not including the nuclear workers). Although I don't live near a nuclear plant, I am now squarely in their camp.

And I am not alone among seasoned environmental activists in changing my mind on this subject. British atmospheric scientist James Lovelock, father of the Gaia theory, believes that nuclear energy is the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change. Stewart Brand, founder of the "Whole Earth Catalog," says the environmental movement must embrace nuclear energy to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. On occasion, such opinions have been met with excommunication from the anti-nuclear priesthood: The late British Bishop Hugh Montefiore, founder and director of Friends of the Earth, was forced to resign from the group's board after he wrote a pro-nuclear article in a church newsletter.

This is a sharp change of direction for these icons of the greens. If they can be pursuaded, it's time we all took another look. Besides, the real problems of war and peace have more to do with human behavior than access to technology.

A list of objections to nuclear power are dismissed by the writer as myths. Go to the link and read the rest, but this one struck me hard. He's right, you know:

Nuclear fuel can be diverted to make nuclear weapons. This is the most serious issue associated with nuclear energy and the most difficult to address, as the example of Iran shows. But just because nuclear technology can be put to evil purposes is not an argument to ban its use.

Over the past 20 years, one of the simplest tools -- the machete -- has been used to kill more than a million people in Africa, far more than were killed in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings combined. What are car bombs made of? Diesel oil, fertilizer and cars. If we banned everything that can be used to kill people, we would never have harnessed fire.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Welcome to Hoots' Place

I notice a lot of traffic from the Yahoo Piccadilly Message Board, thanks to an ersatz invitation posted by my alter-ego. Blog traffic is like customers coming in the door: It makes no difference who you are or what your reason for coming might be, all are welcome.

I'm reminded of the tension between smokers and non-smokers. Both sides of the issue could get pushy, I recall, and usually I as the manager was expected to play adult to the children around me...

"That man over there is smoking."

"I see. Did you say anything to him?"

"ME? No, I didn't say anything to him."

"It's okay if you want to ask him to stop. He may not realize he is in a non-smokng area."

"ME!? I"m not gonna say anything. YOU need to talk to him."

"Is it alright if I mention that you are objecting to his smoking."

"No. Leave me out of it. I don't want to get involved. It's your place, so it's YOUR job to do that."

"I'll see what I can do."

For my own part, I want everyone's business and good will. I have looked a lot of bank deposits and for the life of me I cannot determine by looking at the money which part came from smokers and which came from non-smokers. Same for queers and straights, geezers and kids, people who blow their noses into the napkins and those who ask for paper napkins because the last time they were in they saw a guy blowing his nose into a napkin. It's not easy to stay out of other people's issues, is it?

Those of us who have spent years serving the public have seen a lot of issues. We've seen issues about sanitation, economics, minimum wage arguments, clothing styles, security, illegal immigrants...the list is endless. One of my favorite blogs is Waiter Rant, by a waiter who tells great anecdotes about his daily experiences. I think he is putting together a book on lline. If he isn't he is missing a good chance. The main link might change, but here is a link to a recent story I thought was good.

We didn't serve alcohol in the cafeteria and the hours of operation were not set to attract late-night glammor, so the atmosphere of most dining rooms was pretty tame by comparison with a Bistro. All it took to stir things up was a sweet young thing in August wearing the right kind of tank top. Geezer eyesight got all better for a moment and traffic from the kitchen picked up with a sudden interest in the condition of the line display. I suppose that was one of the few rewards of staying put as line manager. But I'm glad that is now a memory instead of a daily grind.

For those who would like to wean from the message board to more rewarding reading, feel free to click on the blogroll. (Right sidebar, or scroll to the bottom, depending on whether the sidebar choses to "float." Program glitch, I think, but hey! Blogger is free so I can't complain!) I have changed a lot of the site names to the name of the writer. I relate better to a person's name, even if it is a screen name, than a blog title, no matter how clever it might be. It's easy to forget that all we read is written by an individual, not a "site." Group blogs have more than one contributor, but one or two usually stand out for me. that's why the "et al" references are there.

As you click and travel, get ready for a wild ride. There is a breathtaking range of writing and thinking out there. It's an incredible world we live in, and I just saw a statistic that said that blogs were being created at the rate of one per second. Significantly, that was from a group blog from United Arab Emirates. If you want to review a bunch of blogs at one place visit Pundit Drome. There you will see preview panes with the most recent posts from a collection of blogs, arranged in reverse chronological order with the most recent appearing top-left, etc. Notice under the banner a series of other links to The Second Page and other sets arranged by category. Think of the blog world as a big library, the difference being that you are more likely to read all the books in a library.

Feel free to leave a comment if you like. Unlike the message board I am the editor here. If you leave something I don't like I can simply delete it and move on. Normally I don't like to do that. It's better for my credibility that I find a suitable reply. That way other readers don't have to imagine what may have been so threatening that I didn't want anyone else to read it.

(On a different subject, I read the Lubys board from time to time and notice that their stock took a big hit a couple of weeks back. The price had been steadily improving, up and past the fifteen-dollar range. Then abruptly it went vertically down, all at once if youb look at the three month chart. What happened? No one on the LUB board seems to have a clue. All they do is guess or spin, depending on whatever agenda they are pushing.)

Midtopia: How to manage illegal immigration

Midtopia: How to manage illegal immigration

Immigration discussion -- MUST READ

One of the Davids in the army has launched a near-perfect stone.
On target.
Thanks to Joe Gandleman.

1. Every country has a right to control the flow of immigrants intoit.

2. In the aftermath of 9/11 border control is a security issue, not just an economic issue.

3. The cost of the solution should not exceed the cost of the problem.

4. Barring seriously drastic measures, illegal immigration will never be eradicated. We need to manage the problem rather than trying to eradicate it.

5. The best way to fight illegal immigration is to give people incentives, both positive and negative, not to come here illegally.

6. It makes no sense to crack down on illegal immigrants without cracking down on the businesses and individuals that employ them.

That's just for starters. The good part comes next. There follows a list of the most popular complaints and suggestions, with a constructive response to each...followed by a sensible game plan outlining what can happen next.

Hello, Washington...
Anybody listening?

Damn Librul MSM

No special reason.
I just think it's time to run this again.

We have a Republican president, a Republican Congress and a Supreme Court dominated by seven Republican nominees. The mainstream media in thiscountry are dominated by liberals. I was informed of this fact by Rush Limbaugh. And Thomas Sowell. And Ann Coulter. And Rich Lowry. And Bill O'Reilly.And William Safire. And Robert Novak. And William F. Buckley Jr. And George Will. And John Gibson. And Michelle Malkin. And David Brooks. And Tony Snow. And Tony Blankely. And Fred Barnes. And Britt Hume. And Larry Kudlow. And Sean Hannity.And David Horowitz. And William Kristol. And Hugh Hewitt. And Oliver North. And Joe Scarborough. And Pat Buchanan. And John McLaughlin. And Cal Thomas. And Joe Klein. And James Kilpatrick. And Tucker Carlson. And Deroy Murdock. And Michael Savage. And Charles Krauthammer. And Stephen Moore.And Alan Keyes. And Gary Bauer. And Mort Kondracke. And Andrew Sullivan. And Nicholas von Hoffman. And Neil Cavuto. And Mike Rosen. And Dave Kopel. And John Caldera. And Matt Drudge.On the X-Files they used to say "The truth is out there." I'm not so sure. And with everything going on in the world today I think we’re finding out why leaning too far to the right is wrong.

Daniel Soshnik, La Crosse, Wisc., in a letter to the editor of local newspaper.

Jonathan Rauch on Jihadism -- Not "Terror"

This essay is about more than semantics. It is about substance, and how that substance is understood (or misunderstood) by both/all sides of the conflict. Virginia Postrel points to this important piece in National Journal.

Just look at the messy string of terms being tossed carelessly about as to what this war is about and who the enemies are...

Terrorism...terrorists...terrorist networks...a terrorist enemy defined by religious intolerance...Islamic radicalism...militant jihadism...Islamo-fascism, and so on.

"Whatever it's called," said the president, "this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam," and its adherents "distort the idea of jihad."

"I think defining who the enemy is is a real problem in this war," says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. "If you can't define who's a real threat and who's just exercising free speech, it's a problem." As it happens, Habeck is the author of one of three new books that, taken together, suggest the time is right to name the battle. It is a war on jihadism.

Jihadism is not a tactic, a temperament, a political pathology, a mental pathology or a social pathology. Rather, it is a religious ideology, and the religion it is associated with is Islam.

Fine, you say. So what's the big deal?
Here is the big deal... is by no means synonymous with Islam, which is much larger and contains many competing elements. Islam can be, and usually is, moderate; Jihadism, with a capital J, is inherently radical. If the Western and secular world's nearer-term war aim is to stymie the jihadists, its long-term aim must be to discredit Jihadism in the Muslim world.

Get that? Islam usually is moderate, whereas Jihadism, with a capital J, is radical.
There is more worth reading, but the following sentence jumped off the screen at me:

"Western scholars have generally failed to take religion seriously."

This has been my complaint from the time I first became aware of politics. It does not mean that politicians and scholars have ignored religion. No, quite the opposite. They have generally regarded religion as one of the compelling variables, along with age, gender, income and the like. But that is not the same as taking religion seriously.

There is no metric to assess religion in terms of priority. For shelter, food, medical care, and most of the rest of life's variables there might be a range of options. We can drive a second-hand car or go in debt for a new one. We can put the family into a big house or a small one, wear designer clothes or not, take a vacation or through and find extra work for income.

But when it comes to religion the choices tend to be more limited. You may count yourself among the faithful or identify as an infidel. But attendance at services or monitary support is not part of the equasion. Pushed to the wall, even the most retrograde individual becomes defensive about religion. At some level there is a deep appreciation, even among athiests and agnostics, that matters of faith (or non-belief in these cases) there is not room for negotiation.

Just because I'm not a good [fill in faith name here] you have no business messing with what I (purport) to believe in!

How many parents have told their children, "Don't do as I do; do as I say do. The importance of this idea cannot be overlooked. There may be a gap between belief and behavior, but it that gap does not in any way reflect poorly on our highest aspirations.

With these thoughts in mind,

Jihadists... are not merely angry about U.S. policies. They believe that America is the biggest obstacle to the global rule of an Islamic superstate. Ultimately, in the Jihadist view, "Islam must expand to fill the entire world or else falsehood in its many guises will do so." Violence is by no means mandated, but it is assuredly authorized.

And always has been. The point that Bush, Blair, and others understandably finesse is that the ideology of Jihadism traces its lineage to the very beginning of the religion of Islam. It has "roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy (ulama) today," Habeck writes.

Now go read the rest.
There is more ground to cover.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

U.S. Embassy in Baghdad -- larger than Vatican

Your tax dollars at work:

The fortress-like compound rising beside the Tigris River here will be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq's turbulent future.
The 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at the embassy, almost half listed as security, are far more numerous than at any other U.S. mission worldwide. They rarely venture out into the "Red Zone," that is, violence-torn Iraq.
It will have its own water wells, electricity plant and wastewaster-treatment facility, "systems to allow 100 percent independence from city utilities," says the report, the most authoritative open source on the embassy plans.

New approach to winning hearts and minds, I guess.

Easter bunny aside

A lady opened her refrigerator and saw the Easter Bunny sitting on one of the shelves.

"What are you doing in there?" she asked.

The Easter Bunny replied: "This is a Westinghouse, isn't it?" to which the lady replied, "Yes."

"Well....." the Easter Bunny said...

"I'm westing."

*** *** ***

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Peggy Noonan on Immigration

I love immigrants. That's not important or relevant, but it's where I start. I love them so much I often have the impulse to kiss their hands. I am not kidding. I love them because they are brave. They left their country and struggled their way to this one to get a better life.

So speaks Peggy Noonan -- smart, loving, sentimental, reasonable, articulate. And like all people of good character, with clear boundaries.

[A few nights after 9/11] about 11 p.m., I was walking home with friends, going north on the wide, dark highway, and we came upon a woman, a thick middle-aged woman, dark skinned and dark haired. She was with a baby in a stroller. She was, I think, not the mother but the grandmother. They were there alone, in the darkness. Affixed to the stroller was a hand-lettered sign, and on the sign were these words: "American You Are Not Alone--Mexico Is With You." All alone and she came out with that sign, at that time. I have tried to tell that story in speeches and I can never make my way through it, and as I write my eyes fill with tears.

Is this sentimental? Well, nations run on many things, including sentiment.

And at the end she comes down in favor of clear, well-defined boundaries.

We are a sovereign nation operating under the rule of law. That, in fact, is why many immigrants come here. They come from places where the law, such as it is, is corrupt, malleable, limiting. Does it make sense to subvert our own laws to facilitate the entrance of those in pursuit of government by law? Whatever our sentiments and sympathies as individuals, America has the right, and the responsibility, to protect the integrity of its borders, to make the laws by which immigrants are granted entrance, and to enforce those laws.

I think open-borders proponents are, simply, wrong. I think those who call good people like members of the voluntary border patrols "yahoos" are snobs. I think those whose primary concern is preserving the Hispanic vote for the Democratic Party, or not losing the Hispanic vote for the Republican Party, are being cynical, selfish, and stupid, too. It's not all about who gets what vote, it's about continuing a system of laws that has allowed America to become, among many other things, a place immigrants want to come to. And it's about admitting immigrants in a coherent, orderly, legal manner, with an eye first to what America needs. That's how you continue a good thing, which is what we've had. That's how you leave Americans who've been here for a while grateful for immigration, and immigrants, and loving them, and even wanting, sometimes, to kiss their hands.

America, are you listening?
One of your wisest prophets is speaking.