Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces" -- the Video Game!

This is not a spoof.

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City.
You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice.
When I came across this link at Blogsnow I was sure it had to be something on the order of The Onion, but no, it's serious. I don't know what to make of the Talk to Action site, but it isn't hard to discover the real thing.
[Left Behind Games] is developing products to include the same types of compelling elements that have made interactive games popular for years, and yet offer a less graphic experience to the sexual themes and gratuitous violence currently found in many titles. We plan to make all games visually and kinetically appealing. We anticipate our titles will be classified as both action, strategy and adventure genres, and will likely receive either an "E" rating (appropriate for ages 6 and up) or a "T" rating (appropriate for ages 13 and up).

Descriptive details follow. ("kinetically appealing"?)
This is all the space I aim to use on my blog for this phenomenon.
Maybe I'm some kind of crazy old man, but this enterprise strikes me as obscene.
According to their SiteMeter the Talk to Action people are getting some thirty thousand hits a day.

Octogenarian -- New treasure in my blogroll

This is who I want to be like when I grow up.

I met a girl from Alabama at a party, took her home, and made a date for the following weekend. Greeting me when I picked her up, I was stunned when she said to me: "I didn't know your mother was born in Russia!" But then I hadn't known that she was an FBI clerk. She had checked me out in the bureau's files and probably feared that I was a security risk who might jeopardize her career. I never saw her again.
My plebeian background was also a factor in my relationship with an attactive girl I met at a party in suburban Maryland. She had been driven to the party by a friend. I volunteered to drive her home. She lived on a side street off Washington's Wisconsin Ave. It was foggy out and the street was poorly lit. As we drove down the street I saw a large, multi-story building in front of us which I assumed was an apartment house.

When we approached it, I asked the girl what floor she lived on. She looked at me as if I was joking. The building turned out to be her family's palatial, single-family home. As a boy raised in a Bronx working-class neighborhood where everyone lived in tenements, I had never known anyone who lived in a house

That's just a taste. He is telling the story of How I met my wife Sybil. Too delightful to miss.
I don't recall details of our first date, but Sybil claims I took her to a free documentary film showing. I do, however, vividly remember our second date. We went to a National Symphony Orchestra concert. The program featured my favorite piece of classical music, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony. We held hands, and I was so emotionally turned on by the music, that I began to perspire. I think Sybil assumed the sweating was produced by romantic fervor.

Cold-blooded look at drug addiction

Thousands of American servicemen returning from Vietnam, where they had addicted themselves to heroin, gave up on their return home without any assistance whatsoever. And in China, millions of Chinese addicts gave up with only minimal help: Mao Tse-Tung's credible offer to shoot them if they did not. There is thus no question that Mao was the greatest drug-addiction therapist in history.

Theodore Dalrymple writing in the Wall Stret Journal takes a hard look at drug addiction and concludes it is not as uncontrollable as addicts themselves would like to admit (both to themselves and the world).
When, unbeknown to them, I have observed addicts before they entered my office, they were cheerful; in my office, they doubled up in pain and claimed never to have experienced suffering like it, threatening suicide unless I gave them what they wanted. When refused, they often turned abusive, but a few laughed and confessed that it had been worth a try. Somehow, doctors—most of whom have had similar experiences— never draw the appropriate conclusion from all of this. Insofar as there is a causative relation between criminality and opiate addiction, it is more likely that a criminal tendency causes addiction than that addiction causes criminality.

Link to Manhattan Institute reprint of the WSJ article.
H/T Arts and Letters Daily.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Haditha note

Yet another stain on the pages of history now being written about the war in Iraq. An investigation is reported to be underway, although I suspect the bulk of what happened is already known by the people who need to know. What might happen to those involved remains to be seen. When the report broke the name Haditha rang a bell from last year. I did a search and turned up a post from last August -- a long, rambling collection of news detrius -- which included this...

The executions are carried out at dawn on Haqlania bridge, the entrance to Haditha. A small crowd usually turns up to watch even though the killings are filmed and made available on DVD in the market the same afternoon.

One of last week's victims was a young man in a black tracksuit. Like the others he was left on his belly by the blue iron railings at the bridge's southern end. His severed head rested on his back, facing Baghdad. Children cheered when they heard that the next day's spectacle would be a double bill: two decapitations. A man named Watban and his brother had been found guilty of spying.
The Guardian link is still active if the reader wants to read more.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Haditha exposes the limitations of the Iraqi state and US power on the day when the political process is supposed to make a great leap - a draft constitution finalised and approved by midnight tonight.

For politicians and diplomats in Baghdad's fortified green zone the constitution is a means to stabilise Iraq and woo Sunni Arabs away from the rebellion. For Haditha, 140 miles north-west of the capital, whether a draft is agreed is irrelevant. Residents already have a set of laws and rules promulgated by insurgents.
There is no fighting here because there is no one to challenge the Islamists. The police station and municipal offices were destroyed last year and US marines make only fleeting visits every few months.

Two groups share power. Ansar al-Sunna is a largely homegrown organisation, though its leader in Haditha is said to be foreign. Al-Qaida in Iraq, known locally by its old name Tawhid al-Jihad, is led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There was a rumour that Zarqawi, Washington's most wanted militant after Osama bin Laden, visited early last week. True or not, residents wanted to believe they had hosted such a celebrity.
Last year the US trumpeted its rehabilitation of a nearby power plant: "The incredible progress at Haditha is just one example of the huge strides made by the US army corps of engineers." Now insurgents earn praise from residents for allegedly pressuring managers to supply electricity almost 24 hours a day, a luxury denied the rest of Iraq.

The court caters solely for divorces and marriages. Alleged criminals are punished in the market. The Guardian witnessed a headmaster accused of adultery whipped 190 times with cables. Children laughed as he sobbed and his robe turned crimson.

Two men who robbed a foreign exchange shop were splayed on the ground. Masked men stood on their hands while others broke their arms with rocks. The shopkeeper offered the insurgents a reward but they declined.

DVDs of beheadings on the bridge are distributed free in the souk. Children prefer them to cartoons. "They should not watch such things," said one grandfather, but parents appeared not to object.

One DVD features a young, blond muscular man who had been disembowelled. He was said to have been a member of a six-strong US sniper team ambushed and killed on August 1. Residents said he had been paraded in town before being executed.

The US military denied that, saying six bodies were recovered and that all appeared to have died in combat. Shortly after the ambush three landmines killed 14 marines in a convoy which ventured from their base outside the town.

Twice in recent months marines backed by aircraft and armour swept into Haditha to flush out the rebels. In a pattern repeated across Anbar there were skirmishes, a few suspects killed or detained, and success was declared.

I put all this mess here to illustrate a simple point: There is a vast gulf separating what we are being told and what we are finding out. The word spin doesn't come close to what is happening to the news. If public acceptance of their circumstances is as openly tolerant in Haditha as this description suggests, even if there is an undercurrent of disapproval, the notion of marines "[sweeping in] to flush out the rebels" is truly bizarre. There is a grave disconnect here between what is described and what passes for an appropriate military intervention.

And "success was declared"! Huh...? What did I miss?

This report predates the Haditha incident now getting renewed attention, the same incident that Time Magazine featured in March. That was November 19, three months after the Guardian report linked above.

I don't know what to make of all this. For those of us who see war as an ugly and savage enterprise, carelessly wasting the lives and resources of all involved, sacrificing the innocent along with the guilty, this is sad but not shocking. The remarkable part is what appears to be an ongoing denial of these realities. The single comment left at my post is not unusual. He speaks the language of magical thinking that seems to be typical of many.

Mad Canuck has been following the story closely and doing workmanlike followups to news as it comes available. I don't have the patience to as he does, tracking down every report and trying to tie it up into a rational narrative. Those interested should go there or elsewhere to follow the story.

For my part, all I plan to do is complain, pray and occasionally link to the highlights. Stopping to focus on this or some other particular story is apt to put me into a fit of depression. Yesterday's LA Times story (linked, incidentally by Mad Canuck) is about all I can stomach.
...took photographs of the victims and helped carry their bodies out of their homes as part of the cleanup crew sent in late in the afternoon on the day of the killings.

"They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood. This left something in my head and heart," Briones said.

He said he erased the digital photos he took at the scene after first providing them to the Haditha Marine command center. He said Navy investigators later interrogated him about the pictures and confiscated his camera.
...his team was assigned to mark the bodies of the victims by number and place them in body bags. He said a sergeant or a junior officer, he couldn't recall which, asked if any of the Marines carried personal cameras and that he and another Marine, whom he identified as Lance Cpl. Andrew Wright of Novato, said they did."You are going to be combat photographers," Briones said they were told.
...he took pictures of at least 15 bodies before his camera batteries died. He said he then helped other Marines remove the bodies and place them in body bags. He said his worst moment, and one that haunts him to this day, was picking up the body of a young girl who was shot in the head.

"I held her out like this," he said, demonstrating with his arms extended, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."

But this young man's voice will not be heard by many. You see he is also one of the casualties. But not the kind that receive the honor and support that went along with yesterday's Memorial Day observances.

No, he came back with other problems, the kind that make people shake their heads and turn away.
In early April, less than 36 hours after his return from Iraq, Ryan Briones got into serious trouble in his hometown that he and his family say was related to stress from the Haditha incident.

Briones was charged with stealing a pickup truck, crashing it into a house, leaving the scene of the accident, driving under the influence and resisting arrest. A picture of the spectacular crash with a white Ford F-150 lodged in a Hanford living room appeared on the Hanford Sentinel's front page April 4.

Released from Kings County jail April 5 on $35,000 bond, Briones has a court date set in mid-June.

Am I the only one who thinks that his military duty may have something to do with who he has become?

Addendum, June 5

Here we are a week later and the story continues to ferment.
Steve G at Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at My Lai and Haditha in an inciteful essay.
Part of the reaction to My Lai was justified moral outrage. Part of it was the edge of the times. But part of it was the piercing of the John Wayne/noble warrior bubble. The disconnect between the romanticized image of battle and the reality on the ground finally became too overwhelmingly great to fit into all but the most double-jointed pro-war intellect...

But an interesting thing happened after Viet Nam. That evil, liberal Hollywood changed the way it made war movies. All of a sudden, we were seeing the horror. We were seeing the trauma. We were seeing the complexities.

At the same time, those on the right were largely convinced that the failure in Viet Nam was a result of the press. TV images of coffins and those bleeding hearts in the newsrooms. They did away with McCarthy and Nixon and they undermined support for the war. The war was not lost in Asia, it was lost on the TV at home. And so they came to realize that PR was every bit as much a part of the war effort as the infantry....

So the question is which PR campaign was the most successful?

Good comments. Worth reading.

The comment thread is a study in rhetoric -- looking at belly buttons versus looking elsewhere.

The most recent comment reads...
...arguing about Haditha is like arguing about a paper cut in an abbatoir. I really think this is more about Americans' maudlin, and generally unwarranted, conception of their nobility and innocence than it is about anything morally relevant, because if it was otherwise, we wouldn't be there. This is a war for oil, based on lies, being fought on a credit card to be paid for by future generations while Americans drive around on their fat asses bearing no sacrifices whatsoever. The immediate victims are of course Iraqis, who are paying by the thousands in their own blood. A more immoral enterprise could hardly be imagined. Whether their brains are being blown out by their occupiers intentionally or "collaterally" is, I daresay, of little consequence to them. And from what I can tell, Iraqi feelings are of little consequence to Americans either, who like their President are too busy regarding themselves in the mirror to consider the hell they are inflicting on another people every single day.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day, 2006

This marks the second time Memorial Day has occurred since I started blogging. I am more aware than ever that this holiday is as much about war as peace. By some inverted reasoning most people reconcile those two opposite conditions as co-dependent...two sides of a single coin. I wait for a day when peace is not defined in negative terms: the absence of war. In its fullest incarnation peace is not negative, but positive. Peace is pro-active, requiring a constant outreach of reconcilliation.

At some level we know that war is reactive and peace is pro-active. No one advocates anything other than a "defensive" war. Even the doctrine of preemption stands on arguments for defense. But there is little support for waging peace.

Last year I put together a special post for this day. A couple of poems and a snip from Shaw's Don Juan in Hell make a pitiful gesture in a world gone mad with fighting, but I remain firm in my belief that even when war seems inevitable, there should always be hope for an alternative. And in the midst of the worst of conflict, the hope for peace must never be allowed to die.

I have a high regard for professional warriors. I came to the conclusion long ago that in the history of mankind no society has ever found a way to survive for long without a warrior class. In the Army I was able to experience first-hand how many people are able to dedicate themselves to the task of fighting and killing, even to the point of snuffing out the lives of people they will never see. Warriors need one another for balance, in the same way that sports teams need one another. War is not a singular activity, like golf or mountain-climbing. No, war is a team activity. It requires group coordination and focused efforts aimed at defeating another force. And history has no record of any country without war.

My outspoken opposition to war, defending Jimmy Carter's attempts to bridge conflicts and a transparent dislike for some of the president's shortcomings seem to have made me a pariah in the blog world. My politics is dangerously close to anarchy. I have always regarded individual commitments as a higher priority than group commitments, making me something of a loose cannon when I get involved with any group. My only defense of this seemingly self-absorbed attitude is that the metric I use when forming personal commitments is whether or not they would be practicable if universally adopted. For these reasons I am not suitable material for being a good warrior.

Gerard Vanderleun reposts one of the best vignettes he has ever written. If you haven't read it, by all means do so now. (Even if you have already seen it, you might want to read it again. Like a good piece of music, another production of Hamlet or yet another clip from Casablanca, I have no problem reading it again myself.) His story is everyman's story except that he says it better than others. Unlike most people he came to know the difference between having a name and being someone. Those two layers of identity are too often confused. By the end of life we are known more by what we do than how we are named. Then and only then does the name carry its fullest meaning. Not before. And as a name survives in a collective memory it will memorialize the one who left it behind.

One of the residents where I work takes great personal pride in a photo of a battleship from WWII, named for one of her nephews who went missing in action. No matter what he may have done or left undone in life, the circumstances of his premature death proved to be more enduring than anything else. It could be that he died childless and this battleship, likely in mothblalls by now, will be his most lasting memorial.

So on this Memorial Day I reflect on why this day is necessary. It is important not for those who have been lost, but for those of us who remain. It is important because we cannot imagine that those who pay the ultimate price are making no lasting purchase. It is important because others still alive will pay the same price. And it is unreasonable to expect they they, their loved ones and all who encourage them can allow themselves to contemplate alternatives. There may be a better way than war, but today is not the time to advance that idea.

- it is sweet and right to die for your country.

Surgeon "ate a Pop-Tart and returned to the operating table about 20 minutes later..."

This has to be the best story of the week.

A heart surgeon had to take a break from a mercy-mission operation in El Salvador so he could donate his own rare-type blood for his 8-year-old patient.

Dr. Samuel Weinstein said he had his blood drawn, ate a Pop-Tart and returned to the operating table about 20 minutes later to watch as his blood helped the boy survive the complex surgery.
In the May 11 operation, the boy's failing aortic valve was replaced with his pulmonary valve, and the pulmonary valve was replaced with an artificial valve.

"Everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn't have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding," Weinstein said.

They were running out of blood, Weinstein said. When he asked the boy's blood type, he discovered they were both B-negative. The American Red Cross says 2 percent of the population has the type.

Prayers for Congress and the Country

The Book of Common Prayer provides suitable prayers for all occasions. This Memorial Day weekend the country faces more than a few issues that need prayer. Thanksgiving is in order for ongoing peace, prosperity and stability as a nation. As our leaders are quick to note, we are the beneficiaries of many blessings. But at the same time we struggle with how best to share those blessings with the rest of the world. Most people I know are not "into" shared blessings but I don't want to be counted among that number. I subscribe to the idea that the more you give, the more you are apt to get. Makes no sense in human terms, but seems to work better than selfishness.

For Congress

O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech thee so to guide and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress assembled, that they may enact such laws as shall please thee, to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of this people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Courts of Justice

Almighty God, who sittest in the throne judging right: We humbly beseech thee to bless the courts of justice and the magistrates in all this land; and give unto them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, that they may discern the truth, and impartially administer the law in the fear of thee alone; through him who shall come to be our Judge, thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

...and one of my favorites, a prayer for our Country. As it speaks of "pure manners" and the "multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues" I still get a little choking sensation thinking of the self-righteous, legalistic, sub-Christian attitudes that contaminate the debate about immigrants.

For our Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Indoor flying video -- radio controlled model plane

This new You Tube video is worth a few minutes of your time.
I can't decide which is more impressive, the technology involved or the ability to use it so well.

John Burgess on "the art of the possible"

One of the more puzzling aspects of international relations reflected in Washington policy moves is the contradiction between pronouncements in favor of "democracy" and human rights, versus the realities we see. When the majority of a county's poopulation is clearly anti-American, or a government with human rights violations is important to our "national interests" -- in those cases our policy is to overlook principles and focus attention on other matters. I have often wondered, as I am sure many others have as well, why and how we have been able to craft wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of the Trade Center attack when the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia? I understand, of course, that KSA is our ally of long standing, that business and political bonds between our two countries are strong and deep. Most Americans are blissfully unaware that there is a flap over textbooks in the Kingdom, and would be mystified if anyone tried to relate that official teaching with young American service people dying in a war against "jihadists."

I don't want to follow that line of reasoning any further. It would indicate we should be at war with Arabia and in this case our leaders get credit for knowing what is possible and what is not. Likewise, the Saudi leadership seems to be on the right track, but progress there is not any faster than it is here. Read what John Burgess says.

Many Americans have the gravely mistaken view that the Saudi King has full, autocratic control over what happens in the country. He does not. While his powers are not limited by a formal constitution, they are very much limited by the "art of the possible". I noted in comments to my earlier post on the textbooks, there are ahandful of real and important constraints on the monarch:

--Other family members
--The Ulema
--Tribal interests
--Major business families
--The Council of Ministers
--The Shoura Council
--Increasingly, public opinion

Several of these can be played off each other—sometimes—but they can’t all be ignored simultaneously. And given the ebb and flow of politics, sometimes one of these parties will have more influence—or have a greater need to be politically assuaged.

A further mistake people make is to assume that the Saudi government speaks with one voice, that all the bureaucrats are on board with whatever the government program happens to be. Would that the world worked like that! Saudi bureaucrats–whether deep within the ministries or standing in front of a classroom–have their own opinions about how things should be. If they don't like the way things are going, they have their ways (well known to bureaucrats since five minutes after bureaucracy was invented) to stop things dead in their tracks, to subtly shift the policy direction, to subvert the policy, or simply ignore the policy.

This problem is worse in Saudi Arabia than in the US, but not as bad in some other developing countries. It comes down to the fact that real professional competence doesn't run very deep in the Saudi government. The decades of being the "employer of last resort", essentially guaranteeing any Saudi a government job, is showing some of its downsides right here.

"...worse in Saudi Aabia than in the U.S...." is a delicate but deft observation that there may be a mote in our own eye. Hmm? Has this guy been in the diplomatic corps or what? He knows a lot about glass houses.

Because of his patient, reasoned attention to the English language press in the Middle East, John Burgess should be essential reading for anyone who wants to keep informed about that part of the world. I can't track his site with Bloglines, so it is among those that are listed separately in my blogroll.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Immigration -- Hoots' take

As the Senate and House work to hammer out a compromise between two very different approaches to the immigration issue, America waits. And as we wait we listen to a mess of carping and grumbling. Everyone has an opinion. Cheap shots, one-liners and cute but stupid non-sequeturs are a dime a dozen.

And as I listen I want to challenge about everyone I hear...
How many times have you personally interviewed job candidates? For job? At any level? How many subordinates have you discharged? And for what reasons? Please, Mr. Know-it-all, tell me what you have learned from personal experience. Don't hand me the demagogic rantings of politicians, or prejudiced ignorance hiding behind a mask of patriotism.

You, there, who just tossed out that clever solution about penalizing employers who hire illegal aliens...tell me about your experience. Looked a lot of ID cards, have you? You know at a glance which ones were real and which ones came from the flea market? You have a good memory to recall at a glance at any of the states' drivers licenses and know immediately which ones are counterfeit? Filled out a lt of I-9 Forms, have you? You been through an INS audit? Got the Social Security validation phone number on your speed-dialer? (Right there beside your employer federal ID number, remember?)

I could go on, but you get the point.

Two years after my cafeteria opened my associate manager and I sensed that the rate of turnover had slowed. We decided to check and sure enough, it had. The company furnished reports tracking terminations every pay period, not only for our unit but the entire company. Anyone could compare his unit with the rest and see the big picture. Also, we had the actual records of everyone in the file, so the numbers were not too hard to find.

We found that in order to keep forty to fifty part- and full-time jobs filled we had employed just over six hundred people in the first two years of operation. The number is a bit mesleading, of course, because the bulk of those were clustered in a steep curve starting with opening day, trending downward as time passed. But after the dust settled, it was necessary to hire an average of one to three people per week in order to keep three or four dozen jobs filled.

I don't say this to either brag or complain, but to give the uninformed reader a plain view of the food business as seen from a thirty-year personal perspective. As a manager I learned long ago that discussions of "turnover" were important, but not in the way that most people think. Typically the word turnover is a pejorative attempt to beat up management for failure to either hire, train or supervise subordinates effectively. That may be true in many cases, but there is a point beyond which turnover is as normal as breathing. When I hired someone to wash dishes, clean tables or serve on a cafeteria line I didn't expect that it was a career move for that person. Nor should it be. Those pools of lower-level jobs are where I looked when I wanted to train a baker, cook or salad maker. Those were the subordinates from which supervisors were chosen. If the chef, head baker and lead salad maker came to their jobs from other places, starting with five or ten years on the job, and were still there ten years later...looking for replacements for those better jobs was not an everyday challenge. Typically I lost those people to other employers offering better jobs.

But that isn't what I want to talk about. The point I am making has to do with the employment of large numbers of people at the bottom tier of the economy. That is a subject that I know about because it has been my life. That is a subject that I don't need hyperlinks to support. When I tell you that geography has as much t0 do with the question as ability, I am telling you a fact, not a theory. Lifestyle, work ethics and values are also part of the picture.

When I say geography it means matching available jobs with available people to perform those jobs. This challenge often has to do with land costs, meaning that in a "high end" area the price of real estate will make housing and living costs so high that low end wages will not support the people who work those jobs. I know that in the metro-Atlanta area there are locations that have an easy time hiring people and others that are a staffing nightmare. The difference is not management; it is a flow of suitable candidates that varies, typically according to the availability of low-end rental housing. That is where the marketplace will furnish the most candidates for low-paying jobs. (It is also the place that most Yuppie neighborhoods want to eliminate to their own disadvantage because it eventually increases the price of services, but that is another discussion.)

The other part of geography has to do with flexibility on the part of those who take jobs at the low end of the economy. It is no accident that one of the complaints I hear most is that immigrants live together in cramped quarters, often with three to five times the "appropriate" number of adults sharing housing. (In agricultural areas, read shabby, sub-standard housing.)

Well, Hello! D'uh...
That's the point, isn't it? How else will the jobs get done at those rates?

Our economy wants champagne service at beer prices. I can assure you that competition in the marketplace will provide just that. That's why people like to live in America. But this benefit comes with a price. The price is easy to understand. When our kids are more interested in spending their weekends playing than working, someone else will have to do the jobs they don't care to do. You see a lot of homeless people? People on welfare? You want them to take those jobs? How many of them would you want handling your food in the kitchens where you eat? If those on welfare are cheating on public assistance, do you want them handling the money where you shop? Think about it. Do you really want to do business with employees prone to stealing? (I know. We vote for that kind of person regularly, but I'm not talking politics here. This is the real world.)

I have tremendous sympathy for immigrants and their employers because I have been there and done that. Not just for a couple of years but for three decades. I have watched with amazement as waves of immigrants have come to America, from the Asians of thirty years ago to today's massive influx from the South. And I have come to admire the energy, flexibility and industry they bring with them.

Today's numbers are bigger than anything in my experience, but the dynamic is nothing new. Immigrants are responding to the marketplace. We are the demand. They are the supply. And as yesterday's essay points out, Europe and America have produced a retiring generation which, for whatever reason, has failed to produce enough of itself to sustain their retirement. The demographic reality is that immigration is the only solution. Otherwise our retirement will blow up in our face and a lot of able-bodied old people will have to go back into the workforce to pay their bills, because their pensions and other benefits will simply vanish.

As I see it, we have it better than the Europeans. We are able to import a largely Christian population to come and live among us, even if they don't speak the mother tongue. The Europeans are stuck with Muslims.
(Yeah, I know. That's a cheap, racist shot. But it was too good not to use.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fair Tax Rally overflows

Those of us living in the metro Atlanta area have had the fair tax drumbeat in our heads for the last several years. The Fair Tax book, hardback edition, enjoyed a good run on the NY Times best-seller list, and the more recent paperback, with additions and revisions, seems to be doing as well. Neal Boortz, being the quiet, modest, polished and informative talk show host that he is, makes it a point to keep all his listeners up to speed on progress of this grass-roots movement to do away with the IRS, replacing it with a national sales tax.

The Fair Tax is not the same as The Flat Tax, although both are being discussed together as a growing number of people do their homework.

I find only one report this morning about the event, but last night there was a rally at the Gwinnett Convention Center aimed at promoting the Fair Tax. This suburban setting was chosen for several reasons. Acording to Boortz there was no way to predict how well this first of a kind event might be attended. He is savy enough to know that a half-empty large venue would look worse than an overflowing smaller one. Also, the intown choices were not seen as attractive because of traffic congestion.

The crowd that showed up was about four and a half thousand strong. WSB radio was announcing as early as 7:00 PM that the place was already full and the fire marshal said no more people would be allowed into the facility. Apparently about two thousand people were turned away.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Principled Immigration -- Mary Ann Glendon in First Things

A calm, realistic look at immigration, worldwide and as it relates to America. The simple fact is that retiring generations of longer-living Americans and Europeans have not produced enough younger workers to support them. The demographic arithmetic is unassailable.

The combination of low birth rates and greater longevity is already bringing the health-care and social-security programs of welfare states into crisis. Social-welfare systems were constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on the basis of a proportion of nine, or in some cases, seven active workers for every pensioner. Now Europe is approaching three workers per retiree, and those retirees are living much longer. (When those who created the first social-security systems chose sixty-five as the age of eligibility, they were counting on the fact that relatively few people would live beyond that age to become burdens on the state.) With increased longevity has also come increased need for medical care, which has become vastly more expensive than anyone dreamed when public health-care systems were first established.
Opinion leaders in the aging societies of Europe and the United States have generally avoided mentioning the relation between the birth dearth and the need for immigration. Consequently, there has been little discussion of what should be obvious: An affluent society that, for whatever reason, does not welcome babies is going to have to learn to welcome immigrants if it hopes to maintain its economic vigor and its commitments to the health and welfare of its population. The issue is not who will do jobs that Americans don’t want. The issue is who will fill the ranks of a labor force that the retiring generation failed to replenish.

And that's not all. Opposition to immigration is getting louder and more organized.
There are also some in the United States who want to close the door to newcomers simply because they are outsiders. Over the course of the twentieth century, that attitude seemed to be fading away, but in recent years sleeping nativist sentiments have been irresponsibly inflamed by anti-immigration groups.

This piece should be required reading for anyone looking at the immigration question. The debate is getting louder and meaner as great numbers of uninformed people join. Voices of ordinary reasoning are getting hard to find.

Southern Appeal points to the link.

Also, a great little interview with Fr. Neuhaus on "Loving the Church" is also worth a look.
Q: A major theme in your book is the importance of a revitalized liturgy for renewing Catholic life. How do you see that occurring?

Father Neuhaus: Don't get me started. The banality of liturgical texts, the unsingability of music that is deservedly unsung, the hackneyed New American Bible prescribed for use in the lectionary, the stripped-down architecture devoted to absence rather than Presence, the homiletical shoddiness.

Where to begin? A "high church" Lutheran or Anglican -- and I was the former -- braces himself upon becoming a Catholic.

The heart of what went wrong, however, and the real need for a "reform of the reform" lies in the fatal misstep of constructing the liturgical action around our putatively amazing selves rather than around the surpassing wonder of what Christ is doing in the Eucharist.

All that having been said, however, be assured that there has never been a second or even a nanosecond in which I've had second thoughts about entering into full communion with the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gordon Atkinson on The DaVinci Code

Real Live Preacher sums it up nicely.

I have no interest in discussing Dan Brown’s scholarship or lack thereof. Anyone who paid attention in seminary has heard of these extra-biblical sources and knows that Mr. Brown’s book is an adventure story and not a biblical or historical treatise. The Da Vinci Code has roughly the same relationship to biblical and church history that James Bond has to the world of secret agents. And hey, what’s wrong with that? It’s a good read. Like a Clancy novel.
...when will religious groups finally figure out that publicly denouncing a book or a movie is the surest way to guarantee its success? Religious people never seem to understand that the world is filled with people who do the exact opposite of whatever they suggest. Hell, I'm one of those people myself. If I hear that church people hate a movie, I'm in line for tickets on opening day. Has the Church forgotten Salman Rushdie? Would any of us know that name if he hadn’t been condemned by the Muslims? Has the Church forgotten Martin Scorcese’s movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ?” In that case, the Church in America single-handedly turned a mediocre movie into a blockbuster hit.

...Christianity is a major, world-wide religion. It is 2000 years old and is the largest common expression of spirituality in the history of humanity. Does the Christian Church really need to worry about a book and a movie?...In my mind, every time the Church responds to something like this with angry words, it is a bold indictment of our lack of active love, and therefore lack of relevance in this world.

I can't think of anything to add.
Seems to me that Lewis' Screwtape Letters have something to say about giving power to evil by recognizing it, but allowing it to wither and die by ignoring it.

I thought I was done, but I came across this from Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk.
A word to preachers: You’ve been snuckered. If you waste four sermons explaining this movie to your people, you might want to consider that the time would be better spent answering REAL questions about Jesus. The people in your church who believe the New Testament is a lie, the church suppressed the truth of Jesus’ marriage and the descendants of Jesus are having tea and crumpets in English church yards is surely small. If you are still compelled to preach on this Hollywood train wreck, then plan future series on the Loch Ness monster and NASA’s conspiracy to fake the moon landings. In fact, I’d suggest you start listening to old “Art Bell Coast to Coast” programs, and have your services at 2 a.m. when moonbats are most likely to appear.

"...we have this deeply held myth of the man who suceeds by his own efforts."

Essay from American Street.

I am lucky to be one of those people who went to a state school back in the halcyon days when Pell grants made it easy for the children of the working class. I am doubly lucky to have had my path eased by mentors and generous colleagues; not that I didn’t work my ass off each time someone offered me a chance…but the chance was there first and the help was there afterwards. I am triply lucky to be in a profession that has landed squarely in the nexus of technology and human interaction, which is not only a great deal of fun, but also provides me with an enviably transferrable skill set.

It has been my accidental good fortune to have been in the food business. The story is not very interesting and the benefits are mundane. There are notable exceptions, but for the most part getting rich is not an everyday part of being in food service. But job security and not going hungry (literally) are more important in the long run.

My father's career as an auto mechanic spanned an era. His specialty was repairing automatic transmissions, which any mechanic worth his salt will agree put him in the top drawer with talent. He grabbed that specialty in the fifties, when automatic transmissions were first produced, and continued for thirty-plus years, letting go just in time for technology to transform his and many other careers in auto repair.

All of which is to say this...
Choice is important. And so is hard work, flesibility and native gifts. But after all that has been taken into account, career trajectories are as uncertain and uncontrollable as housing at the base of a volcano. I guess that's why I don't like worship of the marketplace that has displaced religion in the minds and politics of so many otherwise smart people.

Wired News -- Whistleblower on ATT-NSA spying connection

Former AT&T technician Mark Klein is the key witness in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action lawsuit against the telecommunications company, which alleges that AT&T cooperated in an illegal National Security Agency domestic surveillance program.

In a public
statement Klein issued last month, he described the NSA's visit to an AT&T office. In an older, less-public statement recently acquired by Wired News, Klein goes into additional details of his discovery of an alleged surveillance operation in an AT&T building in San Francisco.

Three pages long. Lots of links. Spilling beans all over the place. This from a document he wrote in December, 2004:

In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing.
Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities.

The physical arrangement, the timing of its construction, the government-imposed secrecy surrounding it and other factors all strongly suggest that its origins are rooted in the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program which brought forth vigorous protests from defenders of constitutionally protected civil liberties last year...
Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after Darpa started awarding contracts for TIA. One 60-page document, identified as coming from "AT&T Labs Connectivity & Net Services" and authored by the labs' consultant Mathew F. Casamassima, is titled
Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco and dated 12/10/02. This document addresses the special problem of trying to spy on fiber-optic circuits. Unlike copper wire circuits which emit electromagnetic fields that can be tapped into without disturbing the circuits, fiber-optic circuits do not "leak" their light signals. In order to monitor such communications, one has to physically cut into the fiber somehow and divert a portion of the light signal to see the information.

This problem is solved with "splitters" which literally split off a percentage of the light signal so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet referred to above: Circuits are connected into it, the light
signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the "secret room." The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform -- in fact it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter -- its only purpose is to enable a third party to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the internet.

Too technical for me, but it doesn't seem to pass the smell test.
I report.
You decide.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Nouri Lumendifi -- Fresh, bright voice of the future

Another fine outpouring from an articulate young man. Big heart, big intellect and big mouth. And I don't say that with any hint of malice. Young people don't put up with dishonesty, and this episode illustrates the point. In the end all battles are won or lost when facts are allowed to be known.

Last summer I attended a youth conference on diplomacy that took me to three Western European countries with a host of American youths from all over the United States. The contingent was overwhelmingly white, though there were four or five Arabs (all from Virginia, or New Jersey, with the exception being myself from Connecticut), a Persian (from LA), and perhaps two or three American blacks, each from different states.

At this conference we participated in a United Nations simulation. The couple of hundred odd mass of youths was divided into the various organs and committees of the UN. I was given China's seat on the UN Security Council, which was tasked with dealing with the genocide in Darfur. Before each meeting we were given briefings on debate procedure and resolution writing, as well as the background of the issue we were covering and our countries' backgrounds.

Nouri was assigned to role-play the Chinese delegate and the debate began. Unfortunately (or fortunately for this discussion) the moot debate got out of hand when a black girl from Missouri allowed her identity as an African-American to overcome her assigned role in the exercise. She attacked our hero for his vote, not because of his assigned role as delegate from China, but because he was not "black."

"You're not African," I said. The other kids went silent. "I'm more African than you. I think in Berber. I speak it. I have family living in Africa, and that fought for liberation from colonialism. I have citizenship in the African Union. What do you think you're doing telling me I'm a slave trader?"

"You're not African," she said again. "You're Arab."

"Sure, I'm Arab. And you're English. Being conquered by an Arab doesn't make you Arab."

She had no idea what I meant. I was just a swarthy Arab of uncertain origins to her.

"I'm African because I'm black," she blabbered. "You're not because you aren't black. It's simple, your people didn't come from Africa."

"My people sure as hell did come from Africa. Where do you get off being African because you're black? Is George Bush European because he's white? No, he's American, like I'm African and you're American."

She was mad. "You're only African because you people killed all the black people," this makes sense, huh?

"No, I'm African because my passport is Algerian, my family is from Africa and Berbers are African, not Arab," I told her.

"That's not African. That's white."

Enough of snips. Go read the entire scene for yourself. And remember that you are reading the words of a teen! As you read the start of the post you might forget. But when you get to the dialogue, you will know. For me, this kid is a breath of fresh air. He and his peers will save the country with a clear thinking and a spirit of principled truth-telling that will not be silenced.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Dangerous Prayer of Blessing

[Reader advisory: this post is for mature Christians only. All others keep moving. It may only make you frustrated.]

At the appointed time during this morning's service the priest asked if anyone had a word. Two or three did, but the first was the most specific and perhaps the most perplexing. It was something along the lines of "When I am at home or at work I feel confident and secure, but when I am at church I feel insecure and unworthy. The bar is higher for God's work than for that of the flesh. But the important part is this: We are called to know our inadequacies to understand that God is our ultimate resting place. Unless we know inadequacy in the flesh, we will never understand our relationship with God."

The Anchoress passes along what is tagged a "dangerous blessing," linking to a couple of other sources that passed it on to her, noting that Gerard Vanderleun seemed to be on the same wave length. All that, together with this morning's Word at church, compels me to post it here for my readers.

Read now with an open mind and heart, then drill back into the links to see what The Anchoress and Vanderleun have posted. God is sending out a message today that is as easy to grasp and as hard to accept as any phenomenon of nature, from a summer rain to a volcanic eruption. Free will notwithstanding, nothing we do will importantly alter Divine plans.

May all your expectations be frustrated.
May all your plans be thwarted.
May all your desires be withered into nothingness.
That you may experience the powerlessness and the poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

This ‘blessing’ was prayed over Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor. The application can vary from one individual to another. Let us pray that it is not meant for us as a nation.

My personal understanding is that Divine love is as real as gravity and as impossible for us to avoid. Love -- like forgiveness -- is not contingent upon the understanding of the beloved. But whenever it is accepted, the blessings are unequaled.

[Further along the same track, Dr. Sanity also looks at a narcissistic world view, pointing to some frightening consequences. (Thanks to The Anchoress for noticing.) Christians, thank God, are not that mechanistic. The thrust of this message is profoundly Christian. The intent is not to explain away faith but to put it into practice.]

Who's Really Afraid of Iran?

Anton Efendi is one of the sharpest blades in the drawer. When he says something is important I pay attention.

He points to a piece in the Weekly Standard that deserves to be read closely. The writer, Lee Smith, looks at Iran's posturing through the lens of Sunni/Shiia internecine tension. He doesn't use that characterization clearly but his argument is in that direction.

...The fact that a Persian, Shiite state is doing the dirty work of mainstream Sunni Arabism is hugely discomforting to Arab regimes. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was only the most recent Sunni Arab ruler to vent his grief in sectarian terms, when he told an Arab TV audience last month, "Most of the Shias are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in."
The contest for hegemony in the region is not between Iran and the U.S. It is between and among a Muslim population many of whom see faith (and by extension, culture) as more important than geopolitical constructs.
U.S. MIDDLE EAST policy is undergoing an identity crisis. The giddy days of roll-back seem like a distant memory now, as a president who staked his historical legacy on Arab democracy grants Gamal Mubarak an audience at the White House while his father's government is beating and arresting protesters in the streets of Cairo. Is regional transformation rolling up its tent? Have all the sticks turned into carrots? And why is Washington so thrilled at reestablishing full diplomatic relations with Libya? If it is to illustrate what benefits are in store for another prominent power in the region should it abandon its own nuclear program, then maybe there should also be a counterexample of what happens to dangerously intransigent Middle Eastern regimes. Because Iran is looking increasingly unimpressed by the posture of the Bush White House. [Link and emphasis added.]

These are serious question framing the debate. Anton Efendi's comments and links add another dimension to the discussion. I cannot reduce the content of these links to a snip or two. Besides, blog readers seem to be looking more for soundbites than substance. The reader will have to dig and learn on his own.

"There is no such thing as scarcity in digital goods."

Fred Wilson packs a lot of bang into a small post.
This is a venture capitalist who puts his (or someone's) money where his mouth is. Seriously, though, he makes a couple of solid observations.

In the physical world scarcity is what leads to value.

In the digital world abundance is what leads to value.
Take the case of the Jonas Brothers, a band of three brothers based in New Jersey. Their record label, Columbia Records, spent a bunch of money recording a series of music videos based on their single Mandy. They spent more money buying traffic to the Jonas Brothers website to showcase the video. The result was very little traffic.

Then in a stroke of brilliance, Columbia Records put the video in an embeddable player on the Jonas Brother's myspace page. Within weeks the video had replicated all over myspace. The result was a huge amount of traffic and increased sales of the song Mandy on iTunes. Masive viral replication drove sales. Abundance at work.

Further illustrating the point, he tells about his child's birthday party which included not one, but two photographers. One was a photo-booth quickie for the amusement of the kids, the other a professional photographer. As a result of the event the photo-booth entrepreneur enjoys a ton of new business, whereas the pro's expensive product is "locked behind the password protected site and few if anyone will buy them other than our family."

This is one dimension of new economics at work.

Law and Disorder -- "Misjudgments" about an Iraqi police force

Those who would accuse the Times of tilted reporting take note. Of possible choices, the word misjudgment would be last on my list for a headline.

The police, initially envisioned by the Bush administration as a cornerstone in a new democracy, have instead become part of Iraq's grim constellation of shadowy commandos, ruthless political militias and other armed groups. Iraq's new prime minister and senior American officials now say the country's future — and the ability of America to withdraw its troops — rests in large measure on whether the police can be reformed and rogue groups reined in.

Like so much that has defined the course of the war, the realities on the ground in Iraq did not match the planning in Washington. An examination of the American effort to train a police force in Iraq...shows a cascading series of misjudgments by White House and Pentagon officials, who repeatedly underestimated the role the United States would need to play in rebuilding the police and generally maintaining order.

"Cascading series of misjudgements" comes nowhere near reality. Read the article if your name is on the cookie list, but don't bother to sign up just for this one.

Closer to the sad reality is Kevin Drum's little blogpost, FUBAR IN IRAQ.
...Three different groups wrote plans that nobody on the ground ever heard of; the number of trainers was laughably minuscule to start with and got even more laughable over time; and nobody really seemed to care much because they didn't figure we'd be staying around for long anyway. It's the usual story with this gang.

Confession. The real reason for this post is to publish a few snarky gems from the comments thread. Reader feedback is like loud, public cell phone talking. Sometimes you find a goodie or two.
...I think that the main problem is that the idea of Iraq invasion was fundamentally unsound ab initio, and no amount of careful planning and execution would have resulted in the beautification of the ugly pig.

...The greatest irony in all this is that for decades the Republicans claimed that the feds were meddling and that liberals were obsessed with regulating the masses. Well, now that the Neocons have had 6 years, the tables have turned, upside down. Increasingly, people are hungry for that more minimal form of Democratic regulation.

...Given a key strategist seriously advocating that we take our dirsction from Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, it's little surprise he had no interest in policing the rubble of Iraq...

...We/They have truly f'd this up. And with it the is really hard to form a cogent argument as to how these people can be so wrong so much of the time unless it is on purpose. Could any group of people that has risen to these positions of power be so completely void of common sense or competence?

There are more, but here is The Lounsbury's wonderful take in toto.
In some ways it is almost boring to speak of the Bush Administration's stunning incompetence with respect to Iraq. Leaving aside tedious over generalisations by the Loony Left types, it strikes me that there was something particularly rotten in the heart of this American administration, a rottenness born of incompetence, sheer incompetence and an utter blindness born of utterly misplaced confidence.

Really quite painful.

Not as sexy as the War Profiteering and Evil Right songs the Loony Left wishes to sing, but I should think for Americans on the Right, more profoundly disturbing.

It is a pity that the ideologues, the Right Bolshies as I call them, persist in Stalinesque behaviour of singing out Party Propaganda and enabling this criminal incompetence. They only make the Left look better by doing so, but still the Chernoffian fable spinning 'good news' crew continues. Stupid idiot Right Bolshy whankers.

I feel better having got that off my plate.


Good news! Nouri al-Maliki has formed a government and the lipstick is on the pig.

Immigrants and taxes comment

Linda Beale is a law professor at the University of Illinois College of law who teaches various courses in the area of federal income tax--statutory construction (tax), introduction to federal income tax, corporate taxation, and introduction to international taxation.

Probably knows something about the subject.
Here's a snip from her blog, commenting on a WSJ Opinion piece by Bruce Bartlett.

Bartlett admits that many illegal aliens are poor and that the poor generally don't have to pay federal income taxes. He notes that a taxpayer who takes advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit would need to earn about $30,000 before becoming liable for federal income taxes. Yet he seems to suggest that illegal aliens are "escaping" income taxation while not able to so easily escape sales taxes. If they wouldn't owe taxes anyway, are they really escaping taxes?

Good point, as in "D'oh..." The Journal piece is subscription only, but other references (and Ms. Beale's remarks) catch the drift of his argument. She makes a few more points worth checking out, particularly regarding the "underground economy," which circumvents taxation by cash compensation that never appears anywhere. Residential construction, for example, relies heavily on "subs," which is another way to refer to these expenses.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Account From Qasem in Ramadi

May 10, 2006

At 9:30 in the morning, the US troops tried to install more snipers by occupying more houses close to the core of the city, some fighters attacked them and tough fighting continued for 3 hours… US bullets damaged many houses because of their random shooting, this way hurt many families inside their houses and my family was harmed also when many bullets sparked fire in the kids room.. I heard their screams while 2 of my nephews run away from their burning bedroom. My brother and I ran upstairs to find out what kind of hurt we will find this time… my mind was full with images of a kid killed with sniper bullet in head or burned dead body of one of my nephews. I was scared too much and I lost control of my steps on the stairs. I found my brother broke down the door and crashed the window with his hands to get out the heavy smoke and he carried out his 5 year-old son Mustafa who was startled, to get him out of the burned room. The fire started to burn some blankets, I found my way to bring water and started extinguishing the fire. It was small fire cased by the bullets …this kind of bullets used by US troops is very harmful gun for human beings or the materials-it contains lead that will be like a hot liquid inside the bullet…if the bullet get inside the body will explode and crash the body from inside and melt bones & flesh ….and if the bullet attacked a car or furniture or wood, it will burn and melt it .

The streets were empty and the fighters succeeded to disapear as usual …but the US soldiers keep there machine guns working and pointing to our houses….

I know that US soldiers want to keep themselves alive till they see their families but we also need to be alive to take care our suffering families in our poor hard life in Iraq.

Notice : till now there is no electricity, no drinking water, no phone service and no way to know what is the next day can be ……darkness and blood are our atmosphere.

And in media there is the usual news about 10s of Iraqi dead bodies found in Baghdad streets and explosions killed many Iraqis and the only help that
government doing is to collect the dead body and put them in hospitals and tell the media to avoid scaring the people by hiding the real numbers of the dead bodies in the streets.

Other new strange crimes appeared in Baghdad when a group of gunmen was moving in Baghdad streets and shooting in the crowded places on the civilians and the Iraqi police allow them to pass the check points ……it is strange but it is fact ……ask any Iraqi even government members then he can’t say it is not fact ….

Now, IF I have the choice to live in Baghdad or Ramadi or Fallujah …I will choose the 2 last choices because the dangerous side is clear but in Baghda every thing is Dangerous even Police check points can arrest and kill the people for money or some thing else ……….

[No Comment.]

Salih the brave boy ...

I am a 34 years old mom ,I am a mother of 3 children. I am a Dentist. I try to make every thing perfect. The life I have, the difficulties I face make me anxious.. I like to have a social life; I cannot resist my feeling of being lonely, but I don’t have good social life, & I am lonely.

Snapshot from Iraq.

Last day I arrived my work an hour and a half late because of the very crowded road near the gate's check point …
An old woman and 10 years old boy with school bag on his back were waiting for me.
I treated the old lady first, and then asked the boy to get in. He was pale & shaking. He sat on the dental chair and pointed inside his mouth, and said "this is very painful".
I looked and saw nothing, I knew he was confused and pointed to the wrong side; I looked to the opposite side and saw a badly carious tooth.
I told him that we need to extract this tooth, he shake his head for approval."But we need to have the approval from some one older than you my dear" I said.
"Any one from your family as your parents, older brother or sister, aunt, uncle, or even a neighbor ".I added.
He stepped from the chair in an attempt to leave, with his eyes full of tears, and said nothing.
-"Are you coming back with someone later? I asked.
-"no, I have no one".
-"With whom do you live?".
-"With my younger brother, he is Mongolian".
-I grip his shaky hands and took him to the patio, and asked him to look around, to the other functionaries; (they live in the same village), and asked him if he knew any one?.
Few minutes later he pointed to a man, he was one of the servants" H".
I sent for" H", and told him that I need some one of Salih' relatives because his tooth need to be extracted. He said "I am his fathers' cousin, I can stay with him because he has no One close…his older brother who was taking care of him was murdered 3 days ago"…
- He was a policeman…
-"Are you hungry, did you have your breakfast honey?" I asked Salih trying so hard to hold my tears.( I had to ask because he was pale and he could show symptoms of hypoglycemia if he was hungry, he could faint too after dental treatment).
- " no I did not , the neighbors did not bring us any". he said.
Just then I could not hold my tears any more, I took his little hands and took him to buy him something to eat.
-"let us buy something to eat, I am hungry too" ..
-" no, I will go home" said Salih pointing to a far cottage..
- I will take him to my place, bring him something to eat, and be right back"…said" H".But the boy ran away….
I sat in my room, wondering how could these children survive. How could they live alone, what do they do in the darkness every day? Where is our government, are they aware about that policeman's family….
I can't imagine my daughter Mariam (she is 8 now) go alone to a dental clinic to extract her tooth ….it's scary for a child to face that alone.
After about an hour the boy came back with "H", he ate in his house and came seeking for treatment, I was so happy to see him again, I wanted to give him a big hug, but he was behaving like a man..
He sat silently, I gave him his shot, he was shivering, but was very quiet.
I told him he will not feel any thing he will be anesthetized, he nod his head, I extracted his tooth, and then he went without any word…..

Just. Damn.

Immigration -- Boring facts versus dramatic fiction

Bubble-bursting time.
Uptight, well-meaning , red-blooded, flag-waving, fence-building, finger-pointing, English-speaking, patriotic, tax-paying, hard-working, overwrought citizens....go. Read. Get over it.

FACT: Immigrants pay taxes, in the form of income, property, sales, and taxes at the federal and state level. As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay income taxes as well, as evidenced by the Social Security Administrations suspense file (taxes that cannot be matched to workers names and social security numbers), which grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998.

FACT: Immigrants come to work and reunite with family members. Immigrant labor force participation is consistently higher than native-born, and immigrant workers make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force (12.4%) than they do the U.S. population (11.5%). Moreover, the ratio between immigrant use of public benefits and the amount of taxes they pay is consistently favorable to the U.S. In one estimate, immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay about $90 billion a year in taxes, and use about $5 billion in public benefits. In another cut of the data, immigrant tax payments total $20 to $30 billion more than the amount of government services they use.


FACT: In addition to the consumer spending of immigrant households, immigrants and their businesses contribute $162 billion in tax revenue to U.S. federal, state, and local governments. While it is true that immigrants remit billions of dollars a year to their home countries, this is one of the most targeted and effective forms of direct foreign investment.


FACT: The largest wave of immigration to the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs for U.S. and foreign workers, and foreign-born students allow many U.S. graduate programs to keep their doors open. While there has been no comprehensive study done of immigrant-owned businesses, we have countless examples: in Silicon Valley, companies begun by Chinese and Indian immigrants generated more than $19.5 billion in sales and nearly 73,000 jobs in 2000.


FACT: During the 1990s, half of all new workers were foreign-born, filling gaps left by native-born workers in both the high- and low-skill ends of the spectrum. Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors, start their own businesses, and contribute to a thriving economy. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually. As Alan Greenspan points out, 70% of immigrants arrive in prime working age. That means we havent spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years.


FACT: Within ten years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak English well; moreover, demand for English classes at the adult level far exceeds supply. Greater than 33% of immigrants are naturalized citizens; given increased immigration in the 1990s, this figure will rise as more legal permanent residents become eligible for naturalization in the coming years. The number of immigrants naturalizing spiked sharply after two events: enactment of immigration and welfare reform laws in 1996, and the terrorist attacks in 2001.


FACT: The percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5%; in the early 20th century it was approximately 15%. Similar to accusations about todays immigrants, those of 100 years ago initially often settled in mono-ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their native languages, and built up newspapers and businesses that catered to their fellow migrs. They also experienced the same types of discrimination that todays immigrants face, and integrated within American culture at a similar rate. If we view history objectively, we remember that every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt and yet, ultimately, every past wave of immigrants has been vindicated and saluted.


FACT: Around 75% of todays immigrants have legal permanent (immigrant) visas; of the 25% that are undocumented, 40% overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas. Undocumented immigrants estimated to be less than 2% of the US population.(Source: Department of Homeland Security.

FACT: From 1986 to 1998, the Border Patrols budget increased six-fold and the number of agents stationed on our southwest border doubled to 8,500. The Border Patrol also toughened its enforcement strategy, heavily fortifying
typical urban entry points and pushing migrants into dangerous desert areas, in hopes of deterring crossings. Instead, the undocumented immigrant population doubled in that timeframe, to 8 milliondespite the legalization of nearly 3 million immigrants after the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Insufficient legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs in need of workers, has significantly contributed to this current conundrum.


FACT: No security expert since September 11th, 2001 has said that restrictive immigration measures would have prevented the terrorist attacksinstead, the key is effective use of good intelligence. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were here on legal visas. Since 9/11, the myriad of measures targeting immigrants in the name of national security have netted no terrorism prosecutions. In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe, as targeted communities of immigrants are afraid to come forward with information.

The boring details about sources are at the link.
When you finish here, you might want to check out the main page of the blog and keep up with what is going on. (I'm not, incidentally. I'm already in the choir. Hat tip to David Neiwert for the link.)

Al Gore -- the Movie

If you haven't already heard about it just remember you saw it here first. If he's wrong this post will sink into oblivion and I can quietly delete it some day when no one is watching. But if he's right the voice of Cassandra will once again have been unheard. I would rather take note of a prediction that turns out wrong than ignore to my peril something on target (see tagline).

If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.... former Vice President Al Gore, who, in the wake of defeat in the 2000 election, re-set the course of his life to focus on a last-ditch, all-out effort to help save the planet from irrevocable change. In this eye-opening and poignant portrait of Gore and his "traveling global warming show," Gore also proves himself to be one of the most misunderstood characters in modern American public life. Here he is seen as never before in the media - funny, engaging, open and downright on fire about getting the surprisingly stirring truth about what he calls our "planetary emergency" out to ordinary citizens before it's too late.

With 2005, the worst storm season ever experienced in America just behind us, it seems we may be reaching a tipping point - and Gore pulls no punches in explaining the dire situation. Interspersed with the bracing facts and future predictions is the story of Gore's personal journey: from an idealistic college student who first saw a massive environmental crisis looming; to a young Senator facing a harrowing family tragedy that altered his perspective, to the man who almost became President but instead returned to the most important cause of his life - convinced that there is still time to make a difference.

I dunno. We have been hearing this stuff for a long time. But this much is clear to me. When he was running for president I got his book, Earth in the Balance, which struck me as a fairly well-done piece of work. Not overly scholarly, but with plenty of data backing up what he said that could be easily verified. Basically, I was impressed. But I was very UNimpressed when I saw the misrepresentations that were fired off by his opposition in the election. He was painted as one of the most dangerous and subversive politicians in recent history, with some hidden agenda as front-man for a global conspiracy promoting a One World Order. A hail of emails claiming to have quotes from his book were fabricated to smear his reputation as well as his message.

Being the skeptic that I am, and having a serious dose of sympathy for the underdog, I tend to lean favorably in the direction of anyone getting that much opprobrium. As the saying goes, it's hard to bullshit a bullshitter, and I found the link at BoingBoing by Mark Frauenfelder. Politics aside (if possible) this might be a case of one techie pointing to another, and saying he may be right. BoingBoing is over at the edge, popular place that it is, but it's definitely not part of the lunatic fringe. Too many eyes looking. If he get something wrong he will be pummeled.

Until I learn otherwise, I'm paying attention.


Lindsay Beyerstein saw the movie and wrote a good review.
Kevin Drum said her review was worth reading.
So did our frineds at 3Quarks, who grabbed it for a feature.

Update, June 3:

Roger Ebert quotes Gore...

Gore says that although there is "100 percent agreement" among scientists, a database search of newspaper and magazine articles shows that 57 percent question the fact of global warming, while 43 percent support it. These figures are the result, he says, of a disinformation campaign started in the 1990s by the energy industries to "reposition global warming as a debate." It is the same strategy used for years by the defenders of tobacco. My father was a Luckys smoker who died of lung cancer in 1960, and 20 years later it was still "debatable" that there was a link between smoking and lung cancer. Now we are talking about the death of the future, starting in the lives of those now living.
"The world won't 'end' overnight in 10 years," Gore says. "But a point will have been passed, and there will be an irreversible slide into destruction."

...and he adds...
...In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Update, June 4

The Sunday NY Times links to a Slate piece with an interesting take on the movie, that Gore as an advocate and awareness-champ for the dangers of global warming is more effective as a non-candidate than as a candidate. His message about science come across as more compelling than his appeals to political ambition. [Aside: The Times hasn't figured out yet that hyperlinks are the lifeblood of blogging, so even their hyperlinks are carefully locked behind the Times Select firewall -- only paid subscribers need apply. So this Times link will get progressively irrelevant with the passing of time...or vanish altogether. Oh, well. The blog world is still trying to tell them...]

An Inconvenient Truth is flawed in a number of ways. For those who have read a substantial book on the subject, such as Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers or Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From a Catastrophe, it will contain little that is new. It is afflicted with a number of inconsistencies and exaggerations, such as the suggestion that polar melt could cause sea levels to rise 20 feet and leave much of Manhattan underwater. It suffers from Gore's labored, condescending manner and is cast too much in terms of his highly polished personal "journey" for my taste.

It is, nonetheless, fully successful in its effort to explain a tricky, technical issue of the greatest imaginable consequence. Gore's real talent has always been for popularizing science. His illustration of consequences we may face—drought, famine, and a mass exodus of refugees in South Asia, epidemics, catastrophic storms, drowning polar bears, and the possibility of a new ice age in Europe—are vivid and terrifying. "A nature hike through the Book of Revelation," he calls it at one point. One cannot leave the theater without understanding that climate change is real, man-made, and an urgent threat to everything we value.
With his political career seemingly finished after 2000, Gore returned to the issue with pedantic passion, lugging his laptop through airports and presenting his slide lecture—more than 1,000 times, he claims. This advocacy, which is both depicted and captured in the film, has, with the assistance of scientific unanimity, helped to transform public consciousness in a way Gore never accomplished in elective office. Because of this not-yet-triumphant crusade, Gore may eventually have the last laugh, coming to be seen as a more important leader than our 43rd president and perhaps even than our 42nd. He may one day be regarded as the political hero of his era—a man who saved the world not by winning the presidency, but because he lost it.

Totten in Ramallah

Michael J. Totten's journalism is better than home-made bread. That's as good as it gets. Anyone who doesn't go read this most recent account of a visit to the West Bank, Ramallah, is just cheating himself. Lots of pictures. Lots of good observations. Lots of insights. We need more of this.

When he had earlier asked what I wanted to do in Ramallah I told him I wanted to meet Palestinians opposed to Hamas. I already knew what Hamas had to say. They get all the attention in the newspapers now. There is no point in going all the way to the West Bank just so I could publish more of the same predictable bombastic slogans. I had no idea what their opponents were thinking now, and it seemed more worth my time to meet some of them. Sufian himself was a good start.

“Let’s walk around a bit first,” I said. “I want to see what Ramallah is like.”

So we walked.

There is no more political propaganda on display in Ramallah than there is in Israel. This surprised me after several visits to Lebanon’s Hezbollahland where portraits of “martyrs” and tyrants are literally everywhere.

Hezbollah is moderate and civilized compared with Hamas. So I expected even more visible evidence of derangement in the Hamas government’s capital. But there are at least 100 times as many psychotic billboards and posters in Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon as there are in Ramallah.

He linked to Lisa Goldman's blog, which in turn linked to Laila's delightful Lebanese blog. If you're in trouble for reading time, do not click on these sites or you might be sitting in front of the screen until you have to take a potty break. Reading blogs can get out of hand. There are simply too many good ones, so you have to remain disciplined to keep on task.

Great, really great weekend reading ahead...
But start with Totten.

Oh, and don't miss his comparison of the conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon with conditions he is describing in Ramallah. His conversations with a local leader is most revealing.

“Do you feel the Arab countries have betrayed the Palestinians?” I said. “They are treated like animals in Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria.”

“Yes, I know,” he said. “I wouldn’t say Arab governments are innocent. They are not doing what they should do. It is below the capacities that they have. Still, Israelis are the main enemy and the main source of suffering.”

“But Palestinians are treated worse by Lebanese than they are by Israelis,” I said. “Do you know about the conditions in refugee camps like Ein El Helwe?”

“They are not treated worse in Lebanon,” he said. “That is not possible.”

I blinked at him.

“I have seen these places myself,” I said. “The conditions there are vastly worse than they are here in Ramallah. It’s impossible to even compare them.”

“Here a pregnant woman cannot get to a hospital because of the checkpoints,” he said.

It’s possible the Palestinians in the West Bank have no idea how bad the refugee camps in other countries really are. Or they are so consumed with their own problems that they just don’t care. I do not know.

I’ll say this, though: Those refugee camps in Lebanon have been there for more than 50 years. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon are not allowed to live anywhere else unless they are Christian. (They aren’t really “camps,” by the way. They are urban, and they are sub-Dickensian slums.) And until last year, vehicles entering the camps were searched by the Lebanese army. Building materials were confiscated. The Lebanese didn’t want the Palestinians to get, you know, the wrong idea. If you want to know what those places are like, just imagine the worst slums you’ve ever seen. Then subtract all the modern building materials. Unspeakable doesn’t even begin to describe them.