Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Flag Burning Redux

Yet another proposal for an anti-flag-burning amendment has gone down. It must be election time...Or maybe the onset of Independence Day causes a lot of politicians to respond to some impulse calculated to stir up patriotic zeal.

Last year about this time I did a post about the issue. Not much has changed, so I'll just link here.

I don't get out much, but I haven't really seen any flag-burning lately. In fact, I don't recall ever personally seeing a flag-burning. Come to think of it the practice seems to be pretty rare. Seems to me there are lots more issues that need attention. There is a lot of discussion of flag-burning going on, but I can't find any actual examples to blog about.

Update, July 2

From Dilbert Blog...

If flag burning becomes illegal, someone is going to start a company that sells flags that are slightly different from American flags – just different enough to be legal to burn. The burnable flags might have 51 stars, or 14 stripes – something like that. The beauty of this concept is that if you got caught burning a real American flag, you could claim it was really just a near-flag. That’s reasonable doubt. No one would ever get convicted.

The thing to remember about freedom is that it’s not given, it’s taken.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Randy Adams, Katrina evacuee, returns home

Radio blogging tonight. This will take about fifteen minutes so if you're in trouble for time, skip it. But know that if you're in that much trouble for time you are probably someone who needs to slow down and listen to this snip more than anyone.

I almost forgot this great story from last Saturday morning. As an NPR freak listening to Weekend Edition I had a "driveway moment" and had to sit in the truck to hear the end, except it was a "parking deck" moment and I was on the way to work. This morning as I was going to work my wife and I had a couple of distractions and almost forgot a goodbye kiss...but both of us remembered and met one another halfway, each on the way to get the other. It was a good moment. And it made me remember the story of Randy Adams and his wife. I don't want to say anything else, except that Scott Simon is one great journalist. Now go listen.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Corporal Gilad Shalit -- Israeli hostage in Gaza

This is a news story that is about to happen. Big. But at this moment everyone is holding his breath. It seems that even journalists are exercising care in how they report what is happening.
Haaretz has details.

Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted in the pre-dawn attack on his tank, in which two of the members of his four-strong crew were killed and the third seriously wounded.

A pamphlet sent to local Gaza media outlets Monday and signed by the three groups said that they would only release information on the fate of Shalit if Israel freed Palestinian women and minors incarcerated in Israeli prisons.

The IDF believes that the leaflet, attributed to Iz al-Din al-Qassam, is authentic.

According to recent figures, Israel currently has 95 Palestinian women and 313 under-18s in its prisons.

"This is a tense moment..."

Jonathan Edelstein is the most credible analyst I know, but he refers readers to Robert Rosenberg. The political dynamics are elaborate. Much is at stake for all parties.

This is a tense moment in local history. If Abbas and Haniyeh can’t find a way to release the captured soldier, they will face the wrath of the Israelis, who may not hesitate to take action to bring down the Hamas government. If they cannot find a way to work together on the problem, their efforts at resolving their differences over the ‘national dialogue consensus document’ also known as the Prisoners’ Document, which was ostensibly near completion just two days ago, could disintegrate into what they fear most -- a Somalia-like breakdown into gang warfare, or a full-scale civil war between the Islamist Hamas and the secular Fateh.

The Israelis, meanwhile, are loath to return to Gaza on foot or even in armor. As one columnist wrote today, Gaza may be sandy but it is really quicksand. But hell hath no fury like the Israeli defense establishment fearing it has lost its deterrent capabilities. The lack of military authority in the prime minister’s office and defense minister’s office could mean that the army sets the policy for how to respond to what happened or happens to Corporal Gilad Shalit.

On the other hand, Olmert and Peretz have managed, once they sensed the IDF overstepped itself, to restrain it. The next 24-48 hours are critical. By then, given predilection among Palestinian militants for bragging, the missing soldier’s whereabouts should be known to all concerned. The Israelis won’t have any patience to wait for Abbas, Haniyeh or the Egyptians to talk the captors into releasing the corporal. They’ll want action -- and if the Palestinians don’t do it, they will. One bright spot on the diplomatic front -- the kidnapped soldier has a French passport, so the French government is trying to use its not inconsiderable influence in the Arab world to win the soldier’s freedom. But as the American ambassador to Israel said, the entire affair is further proof of the Hamas government’ ‘inability to control its own affairs, let alone provide for the needs of the Palestinian people.’

Much more at the links...

Jimmy Carter, where are you? Mr. Kissinger? Anyone?
I don't think there is anyone left in Washington with the credentials or credibility to risk comment, much less attempting mediation. No longer in vogue, you know.
C'mon, Karen Hughes, make me look stupid!

For a reflection on what might happen next, go here.
“Even though it is true,” continues Rav Shaul Yisraeli, “that the life of every captive is in danger, there is a difference between the danger of captivity and clear and immediate danger, such as in the time of the Crusades and the terrible massacres of the Middle Ages. That being a case of certain danger, there exists no limitation on the resources that can and should be expended in the redemption of captives - notwithstanding the risk that this practice will provide an incentive for further kidnappings - because certain danger takes precedence over doubtful danger. According to this principle, it follows that, in the event of the seizure of hostages, which is a case of clear and palpable danger, all concerns for the future are to be swept aside, in order to save the hostages from the real danger with which they are confronted at this moment.

And for another view, go here.
I know with absolute certainty that there is no price I would not pay to secure the release of my son if (G- forbid) he were ever taken hostage by the enemy. I would endanger the lives of 100... or even 1000... other people's sons, and would throw open the doors of every prison in the land if it would mean having my precious son home again safe and sound. I would even gladly exchange my own life for the chance to let my son marry, have children and enjoy a full life of his own.

This is the reason why fathers should not make the decisions in such cases... and why the depths of an individual father's love for his son should never be considered by the government in matters of national security. The government must be strong when the soul of every mother and father in the land screams out that this one life must be saved at any cost... because the alternative is to allow ourselves to become a nation held hostage.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

"...just a bunch of retards, which the media and authorities hyped into a global security threat."

This about sums it up.

Credit Jamal for the post title snip. I think his take on the incident seems about right.

While you're there, take a look at the next post also.

Pascal on planting religion

Here is another timely pearl by Pascal, writing three hundred fifty years ago.

Part III
The conduct of God, who disposes all things kindly, is to put religion into the mind by reason, and into the heart by grace. But to will to put it into the mind and heart by force and threats is not to put religion there, but terror, terorrem potius quam religionem. 1
[Footnote 1: "Terror rather than religion."]

Into the mind by reason...
Into the heart by grace...
But not by terror...
How very simple.

"Oath Betrayed" by Stephen H. Miles, MD -- reviewed by Andrew Sullivan

I'm not gonna read it. My attitude is already bad enough.

Of the 136 documented deaths of prisoners in detention, Miles found, medical death certificates were often not issued until months or even years after the actual deaths. One prisoner's corpse at Camp Cropper was kept for two weeks before his family or criminal investigators were notified. The body was then left at a local hospital with a certificate attributing death to "sudden brainstem compression." The hospital's own autopsy found that the man had died of a massive blow to the head. Another certificate claimed a 63-year-old prisoner had died of "cardiovascular disease and a buildup of fluid around his heart." According to Miles, no mention was made that the old man had been stripped naked, doused in cold water and kept outside in 40° cold for three days before cardiac arrest.

Another doctor speaks out. And many otherwise patriotic Americans cover their ears more tightly so as not to hear. I had suspicions from the start of this war that we have been allied with some very bad people. For me those suspicions were validated last year.

Conversation with Warren Buffett

Well, when we got married in 1952, I told Susie I was going to be rich. That wasn't going to be because of any special virtues of mine or even because of hard work, but simply because I was born with the right skills in the right place at the right time.

I was wired at birth to allocate capital and was lucky enough to have people around me early on - my parents and teachers and Susie - who helped me to make the most of that.

In any case, Susie didn't get very excited when I told her we were going to get rich. She either didn't care or didn't believe me - probably both, in fact. But to the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it - and that was to give it back to society.

In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously mispriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century.

Certainly neither Susie nor I ever thought we should pass huge amounts of money along to our children. Our kids are great. But I would argue that when your kids have all the advantages anyway, in terms of how they grow up and the opportunities they have for education, including what they learn at home - I would say it's neither right nor rational to be flooding them with money.

In effect, they've had a gigantic headstart in a society that aspires to be a meritocracy. Dynastic mega-wealth would further tilt the playing field that we ought to be trying instead to level.

More at the link.

Rich dude with principles. Ain't that a pisser?
Wonder why he isn't complaining about the "death tax"? Maybe because he doesn't want to encourage that kind of selfishness? I wish the interviewer had asked him about that.

I have decided to delay giving away my own vast fortune for a few more years. But if I change my mind, I guess the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is as good a place as any. It's not like they are sucking up to me because they need the money.

From Fiddler on the Roof...

Perchik: Money is the world's curse.

Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Shalash al Iraqi -- translated into English

Today's post at Glimpse of Iraq is a must-read.

I don't say that carelessly. No matter what your opinion is about the situation in Iraq, you need to read this post just to call yourself informed.

A blogger using the screen name Shalash al Iraqi is what historians call primary source material for current events. In coming years, what is written here will be read closely as an important part of any future narrative.

He is a resident of Sadr City with a great deal of first-hand knowledge of that part of the city. The name he has chosen certainly has ‘redneck’ overtures. He has a unique, lovable writing style: sarcastic, critical and funny. He writes in classical Arabic but frequently interjects local terms and colloquial expressions. He covered numerous subjects of present-day Iraq, mainly concentrating on social and political aspects. He has no love lost for the previous regime, no time for the ‘new political process’, no tolerance of the farce now called Democracy and certainly no disposition for sectarianism.

Abu Khaleel translates.
The bitter truth brothers, and I say this for the thousandth time, that certain gangs have infiltrated the Sadrist Movement with the knowledge of some of the Movement’s leaders.They do all sorts of criminal acts and blackmail the Police that they have infiltrated. The disaster is that senior officers in the [Ministry of] Interior fear criminal who have criminal records in Iraqi courts prior to the Fall [of Baghdad].

The name of the “Sayyed’s Office” [Branch of Moqtada’s offices] now terrifies the police more than the previous regime’s security forces terrified the people. On top of that, the crimes that started as political and revenge-motivated ‘liquidations’ have turned into a culture. There is a new fearsome ‘addiction’ on killing and taking pleasure in blood! There are murders just for the sake of murder; killings for reasons that the very act of contemplating is a crime against humanity. Now, there are people who cannot go to bed before shattering people’s skulls with his pistol. What a sour life between the days of car bombs and nights of criminal gangs…

Read the whole thing. Read it slowly and try to peer between the lines. Try to penetrate the language barrier and listen to the inner voice from which the message comes. Listen not to the words but the message...

Are Pensions Going -- Going -- Gone?

'Mornin', Ya'll...
Cassandra here.

This post is in the "old news" category. But since yet another big media type is still trying to get people to pay attention, I guess I should join in. Because they are constrained by professional standards professional journalists are not able to come right out and say plainly what I can say as a blogger, so here it is:

Defined benefits pension plans are not just endangered, they are already "dead men walking." It's just a matter of time until they are killed off altogether.

Those of us whose companies have already shed those old plans and are being compensated by Pension Benefits Guaranty Trust are presumably out of the weeds. But anyone whose pension plan status is still out there in the wonderful world we call the marketplace is as vulnerable as a deer in the headlights to being T-boned by the harsh realities of market economics.

"There's not an organization I know of that hasn't had discussions about its defined-benefit plan in the past year or won't be having them in the coming year," says Alan Glickstein of the Watson Wyatt consulting firm. At some firms that discussion is epochal. "Some of these plans have not been looked at fundamentally since World War II," he says.
It's all happening so fast that many people, especially today's workers, still haven't caught up to the new reality. (Believe it or not.) Only 21 percent of U.S. workers participate in defined-benefit plans, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet an incredible 61 percent expect to receive benefits from such a plan in retirement, according to recent research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

I have been talking about this trend since I started blogging. As they say, been there, done that. That's why I get so exercised at the idea of messing with Social Security. All this puzzles together with Medicare and Medicaid, incidentally, as policy-makers try to figure out how to care for a swelling population of old people with no assets. It's all well and good to talk about the evils of "socialized medicine" but problems are piling up faster than solutions. That great golden calf we call Free Enterprise is finding ever more elaborate ways to stack profits higher than services and benefits (see Dr. Bob's enlightening series about what passes for insurance these days) .

This article is about as exciting as an information sheet with prescription drugs, but like that other fine print, you ignore it at your peril.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Don't forget Da Memo ! ! !

I mentioned it the other day.
I waited to see if anyone would notice, but it seems to be slipping into obscurity under an avalanche of more sensational news.

Now Cernig takes note...but even there it is just one tick on a list of other items. It is, however, the first item on his list.

Don't let it go unmentioned. This is newsworthy. It is newsworthy because it breaks a few balloons. Big, overblown, shiny public relations balloons that need to be popped.

The Washington Post has obtained a cable, marked "sensitive," that it says shows that just before President Bush left on a surprise trip last Monday to the Green Zone in Baghdad for an upbeat assessment of the situation there, "the U.S. Embassy in Iraq painted a starkly different portrait of increasing danger and hardship faced by its Iraqi employees."

This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, "the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government."

It's actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women's rights, and "ethnic cleansing."

The subject of the memo is: "Snapshots from the Office -- Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord."As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, "An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militiast are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq."

I'm waiting for some smart investigative journalist to blow a hole in this thing. Tell me it's all a made-up bunch of foolishness with some kind of untoward ulterior motive. Please tell me it's just a smear campaign based on nothing.

I need someone to discredit this thing before I log it into my own memory hole. At this point I have a pretty bad attitude about what's unfolding in Iraq and the public fantasy that it's all good.

Cernig on Global Warming

This is in the wish-I'd-said-that column. I'm gonna go ahead and steal the whole post.

Check out this stunningly crass post by John Derbyshire over at National Review Online.

He manages to insinuate, in two short paragraphs, that the only reason Stephen Hawking is worried about global warming is because he has nothing better to do - like mow the lawn and chase the kids - because he is...HAW, HAW, SNORT...SO funny!... major-time DISABLED!

But it's not offensive, because he's, like, this huge fan of Hawkings...

No mention of the possibility that
Hawkings is worried's the world's smartest brain?

Wanker. This is the best the conservative blogosphere has? Sheesh.

Medical Insurance Quagmire

Dr. Bob knows what he's talkinng about because he deals with this stuff as a medical professional. His most recent chapter in what he terms The Maze paints a big picture by comparing managed care with the famous internet scam letters. The Maze - Pt 6The Nigerian Health Care Plan can be read as a separate post, but the reader is advised to set aside time for homework first. The first five parts will be worth the time it takes to catch up.

As insurers increasingly got the upper hand, their business practices became ever more egregious, secretive, and nefarious. Ever striving for efficiency, they moved from individual personal claim review–the insurance clerk simply tossing your filed claim in the trash, then telling you it got lost–to computerized screens and edits, codifying their intrusive, capricious, and often unethical policies behind a digital ski mask. So while they bent, folded, and mutilated the health care reimbursement system beyond recognition, they reaped a windfall of company profits while premiums soared, physicians’ reimbursements hemorrhaged, and claims hassles for physicians and patients multiplied like guppies. State insurance commissioners and attorneys general had neither the manpower nor the motivation to respond to the countless complaints from providers about unethical insurance practices, so the carriers quickly found themselves above the law, and acted accordingly.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"...we can no longer unequivocally condemn the torture of these two soldiers because we have endorsed and practised torture ourselves."

Andrew Sullivan has been added to my blogroll. He says too much too well not to be there. I realized when Pundit Drome folded its tent a couple of weeks back that by reading there I was scanning a lot of blogs not on my list. Sullivan stuck in my memory, so as I thought about the two missing soldiers in Iraq, now found killed in some savage and as yet unknown manner, I wanted to read what was being said elsewhere about this, the latest opportunity for internecine fighting among our own people.

Internecine may be too strong a word to apply to domestic politics. It implies actual killing, not just thrashing and punching by words and ideas. Killing is not symbolic. It is real. And that is the kind of conflict that is happening in Iraq. It is a serious mistake to confuse the conflict in Iraq with conflicts regarding policies or political questions. If when we project a non-violent model of conflict resolution on what happens in war we are taking a foolish, potentially fatal step.

Sullivan and Bainbridge tussle a bit before they are able to agree that torture is wrong in principle. Emphasis is mine.

Update 2: Sullivan sent along this email, with permisison to reprint it:

My position is identical to yours. My broader point is that in the propaganda war against islamism, it is vital for us to be able to prove to the world that we are clearly morally superior to their barbarism. we have muddied those waters by bush's torture policy. and hence we have lost a key weapon in the war.

He also blogged a response here.
We seem to be on the same page after all. Good.

I'm still looking, but so far I haven't found anyone pointing to the obvious fact that US policies for or against torture become more academic (if they were even that) as this newly-ensconced government in Iraq takes over what passes for peace-keeping.

Last year about this time I noted that the US was already getting in bed with elements in Iraq for whom torture and deadly force were everyday tools in the box. It's tacky to say, but when you lie down with dogs, as Franklin know the rest.

By December the course of withdrawal was coming into focus. It is clear in retrospect that someone in high places finally decided to get unstuck from the mess. But like braking a loaded train it is a process that takes time, even when the decision has been made. In the meantime, I don't think there has been a lot of sensitivity training and cautionary advice about profiling as the new Iraqi security forces ramp up to take over.

As US forces withdraw lets not be too smug about having done a great job in Iraq. The government we leave in charge may be an important ally, an vital part of the oil supply, and a new beginning for a wounded part of the world. But make no mistake about it. These are not nice people. And they are not prissy about torture and killing. This morning's report that yet another of Saddam's lawyers has been hauled off and shot comes as no surprise. Witness claims that the perpetrators wore uniforms and were from the government also requires no stretch of the imagination.

So the torture issue still simmers. With American kids being sacrificed in a savage environment not of their own making, and way out of any control they might have to change it, incidents such as these most recent atrocities have the effect of hardening the opinions of all who reflect on them. Yesterday's Sullivan post has been amended and spun a bit by those linked above, but I very much like it as it stands. He is spot on.
I doubt whether even Donald Rumsfeld will describe what has been done to two young American soldiers as a "coercive interrogation technique." But you never know. Some people wonder why I remain so concerned about torture, and the surrender of our moral standing with respect to this unmitigated evil. Maybe the news of captured, tortured and murdered Americans will jog their conscience. Or maybe it will simply reinforce the logic of torture-reciprocity endorsed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales. As usual, complete silence from Instapundit. Almost radio silence from the Corner, except for the torture-advocate, Mark Levin, who is urging reciprocal atrocities. Give him points for consistency. And so the cycle of depravity and defeat deepens ...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Regarding Pajamas

This is what I call a straight answer to a straight question.

Q...Dear 100 Hour Board,what is the origin of pajamas? have we always worn them? and why is the most common idea of pajamas the red-striped gown with a long cap? was this the first....brand?- sleep deprived

A...Dear Deprived, The word pajama comes from a Hindi word that means "leg clothing". Pajamas were introduced around 1880 from India for men to wear for sleeping instead of nightshirts. You can listen to a podcast about the origin of the word pajamas at this site Nightshirts were like along man's shirt, that came down to the knee or midcalf. Pajamas are different
because they cover the legs, whether it be a shirt and pants, or the one-piece footie pjs. You can still buy the footed pajamas, they sell them in adult sizes at this site As for the red-striped gown with a long cap, I didn't find any official source saying this is the most common idea of pajamas. I know I didn't picture this when I first thought of pajamas. I think of some flannel plaid shirt and pants. Plus, a gown technically isn't pajamas, since it doesn't involve trousers (look at any definition of pajamas, such as at I think that would fall in the category of a nightshirt.
-Wilhelmina Wafflewitz

Gives a whole new dimension to the word straight, doesn't it?
Not even a hint of a cheap shot! And I love that she used the word trousers.
I could not have answered the question without at least one little reference to Pajamas Media.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Saddam's trial -- Prosecutor's Closing Argument

Michael Scharf sums up the Prosecution's argument in a tight little knot. Very impressive.

There were three noteworthy aspects of the Prosecutor's closing argument in the Saddam Trial:

First, it was very significant that the Prosecutor asked the Tribunal to drop charges against one of the lesser-known co-defendants and to be lenient on the other three lesser-known co-defendants. The Prosecutor is obviously hoping that this move will show that the proceedings are fair. Experts who have been following the trial had opined that there was very little evidence against these four and wondered if it was a mistake to include them in the case. I think there is a parallel here to the Nuremberg trial, in which three of the defendants were
acquitted. Supporters of the Nuremberg Tribunal said that proved the Tribunal was fair, while critics asserted that it was a travesty of justice that the three were ever made to stand trial in the first place.

Second, compared to other recent war crimes trials, this was a remarkably short Closing Argument. Closing Arguments at The Hague, Arusha and Freetown have been known to go on for days, not hours. The brevity here reflected the strength of the Prosecutor’s case. Like Nuremberg, the Dujail trial turned out to be based mostly on documents, whose authenticity was confirmed, rather than the testimony of witnesses, whose credibility could be called into question. ... In light of the strength of the documentary evidence, all the Prosecutor really had to do in his Closing Argument was argue "res ipsa loquitur," Latin for "the thing speaks for itself."

Third, the Prosecution asked for the death penalty for Saddam Hussein and his half brother, the Security Chief, Barzan Tikriti. If the judges find that the two defendants are responsible for the detention, torture, and mass murder
of 148 innocent civilians as retribution for a failed assassination attempt, the death penalty may well be warranted, even if it means that Saddam will not be around to stand trial for the more serious offenses, such as the killing of 200,000 Kurds in the Anfal campaign in 1988 or the killing of 500,000 Southern Marsh Arabs in 1991.

Lots more at the link, but those are the highlights. No one seems to be paying a lot of attention to this trial, but it is one of the most important components of whatever passes for a resolution of conflict as the dust settles on this terrible mess.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, ECUSA

The Episcopal Church, USA, has elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as its next Presiding Bishop. I suppose she should properly be addressed as Her Grace or Her Eminence. If there was any doubt that the Episcopal Church in the USA was about to marginalize itself from the rest of the Anglican World Communion, that doubt has now been removed.

As refugees from ECUSA my wife and I have been adrift in the rest of Christendom for several years now. Along with many of our friends we feel this is another move in the wrong direction. It is a matter I do better not to discuss.

Ft. Neuhaus comments at First Things.

The election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) is an occasion of great sadness for all who care about the unity of Christians. Those who have always been skeptical of the ecumenical effort may well say, “I told you so,” and indulge in a measure of schadenfreude. That is not, I would suggest, a faithfully Catholic response.
The election of Bishop Schori is on a trajectory of continuity with earlier Episcopal actions. In the mid-seventies, ECUSA unilaterally decided to ordain women to the priesthood, and the Church of England followed suit....the great and more recent commotion in ECUSA was sparked by the ordination of Gene Robinson, a practicing gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire....

...a commission of ECUSA some months ago issued the Windsor Report, which proposed that the ECUSA apologize to the Anglican Communion for difficulties caused by the election of Robinson and that a moratorium be declared on ordaining gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions. Bishop Schori was sharply critical of the Windsor Report, and her election is a decisive repudiation of its recommendations. Schori is an unequivocal supporter of Gene Robinson and of the blessing of same-sex unions. She is reported to be a friend and strong supporter of the retired Bishop John Spong, perhaps the most leftist of ECUSA bishops, who has long agitated against core doctrines of historic Christianity such as the inspiration of Scripture and the divinity of Christ.

At each step of the way, Rome pleaded with Anglicans to reject such grave departures from the orthodox Christian tradition. It may be that there will emerge from the breakup a new configuration of the Anglican Communion with which serious dialogue can be resumed. A few bishops of ECUSA and a larger number of clergy and parishes are involved in “continuing Anglican” movements and are working in tandem with the African and Asian provinces.

More at the link, if the reader is interested.

Those with an unquenchable thirst for news of the Episcopal Church go to Canon Kendall Harmon's blog, titusonenine.
This man is the only individual I have found keeping a perfect blog. Timely, complete, and on task. Enough light stuff to keep from getting bogged down, but by and large serious as an oncologist.

Time online is among many other stories. London Times also.

More about those suicides at Gitmo

No need to go into background information. Most readers already know (or imagine they do) and have formed opinions. I took cynical note of the event at the time. Like it or not, anything happening at Guantanamo is happening in the name of every American. I, for one, don't like being associated with the story.

Here is a followup from a critical source.

...somehow, in circumstances that the Pentagon has succeeded in keeping totally obscure, late on Friday, 9 June, three detainees, all weak and emaciated after months on hunger strike and being force-fed, managed to tease bedsheets through their cells' mesh walls, tie them into nooses and hang themselves. With the cells little taller than the height of a man, they stood no chance of breaking their necks: the only way they could die was slowly, by hypoxia.

'That would take at least four or five minutes, probably longer,' said Dr David Nicholl, consultant neurologist at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, who has been co-ordinating international opposition to Guantanamo by physicians. 'It's very difficult to see how, if the landing was being properly patrolled, they could have managed to accomplish it.'

Shafiq Rasul is a former prisoner, er, detainee from Guantanamo. He is the source of a good deal of information in this story from Britain. Since he was there it means he hasn't much credibility for anyone who wants to argue against what he says...except that he has the advantage of having been an eye witness, personally observing and experiencing what he relates.
Rasul said: 'I was shocked by what happened, though not surprised, because I saw it almost happen so often. It was always scary: I would see people deteriorating mentally in front of my eyes until they tried to take their own lives, and you always thought: "That could be me". There were even times when I thought about it myself, but I wanted to be strong for my family. When I did, believe me, it wasn't because I was trying to hurt the United States, but on days when I'd just been told I'd never see England again, and that I was a terrorist, and when I denied it they wouldn't listen.'

This is a sad, sad report. Speculation upon speculation. When direct observation is denied, all that remains is speculation. It is reasonable to conclude that if that speculation is in error it can be contradicted by revealing the facts.
According to newly declassified testimony by another prisoner shortly before the suicides, a guard recently told him: 'They have lost hope in life. They have no hope in their eyes. They are ghosts and they want to die. No food will keep them alive right now.' This prisoner, the former British resident Shaker Aamer, told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that the three dead men and other hunger strikers were so ill whenever their feeds contained protein that it went 'right through them' causing severe diarrhoea.

SBU -- Sensitive but Unclassified

Thanks to the Duck of Minerva I have learned a new abbreviation. SBU. Sensitive but unclassified.

This post, citing a rather long and incriminating cable from Iraq [WaPo link here. Cable link is PDF, six pages], contrasts official policy with realities on the ground in Iraq. It is not surprising that anyone connected with the US presence in Iraq is subject to what we might call in this country "peer pressure." Unfortunately, in Iraq the consequences can be a bit more harsh than not being invited to the next backyard barbecue or wedding shower. Drill and study this post as though you were buying an expensive piece of jewelry. You are apt to find more than you expected. These ivory tower guys are not all isolated from reality, you know. More here.

The folks in the the PA [Public Affairs] section in Iraq get this information from their own employees, that is to say, Iraqi civilians working for the US Government in Baghdad. All embassies use some local labor for non-sensitive administrative tasks. In the cable, you have the Embassy personnel relating the stories of how difficulty it is to live and work with Americans in Baghdad.

It's bad, and getting worse.

So, on the one hand, we can now claim that yes, the US government is fully aware of the situation in Baghdad, how bad it is, and that its own employees--those who work for the US and one would assume are about as pro-US as they come in Baghdad--are under constant threat because of their job.On the other hand, had this cable not appeared in the Sunday Washington Post, reprinted in its entirety, to be read by everybody who is anybody here inside the Beltway, its doubtful that anyone above the Assistant Secretary level would have paid serious attention to the dispatch. It would have disappeared into the National Archives, to be discovered by some grad student with a FOIA and a dissertation about Iraq 20 years hence. Now, you can bet Tony Snow will get a question about it Monday (fearless prediction, lets see if I'm right!)

Paul McCartney turned 64 yesterday

Nuff said.
One of my favorite songs of all time.
Catfish pays homage with a picture of the classic album cover and a link to the tune.
I heard today on Morning Edition that even Berkeley ain't what it used to be. Too many conservative young people moving in.
Plus ça change...

Speaking of change, check out this picture. That would be Bill Gates in the first row, bottom left.

H/T again to Raymond Ward., meet the press

Jack Murtha was a guest on Meet the Press yesterday. I didn't watch. A video is available, but I still haven't watched. "Why?" ye ask incredulously! I'm glad you asked. It's because words and appearances often have less impact than spin, and here is an illustration of spin at it's curiousest.

Rachel Sklar describes Murtha's performance with glowing appreciation.

This was as effective a performance on Meet The Press as I've seen, and demonstrated not only that Murtha is right but that he's good. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he did it expertly. Right off the bat he took the offensive, hammering away at Republican talking points and emphasizing and re-emphasizing his own.
...and a chorus of Amens follows in the comments.

Meantime, Ann Althouse whom I love and respect -- a Democrat, for goodness' sake, or she used to be -- pans Murtha right out of the gate. Oh, and yes, another chorus of Amens follows here as well...
Did somebody misprogram him?

It sounds as though he was repeating a pep talk someone gave him before the show. It's easy! No, it's not. The polls! You're going into the campaign season, when people are going to start paying attention to the arguments. Are you just going to tell us that we already agree with you?I'm sure Rove enjoyed that pathetic performance.
It makes me tired, all this straining to influence public opinion. it would be different if public opinion were translated into policy, but it rarely is. And when it is, by the time it slips on the mantle of policy and law, that same public opinion has often reversed itself, either because of unforseen unintended consequences or because it is more interested in who might become the next American Idol. Nothing here, folks. Keep moving.

(Posts like this lose readers and illustrate why no one wants to subscribe to my little blog. Sorry 'bout that. I calls 'em like I sees 'em.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pascal on conflict resolution and a purpose-driven life

Been looking at Blaise Pascal. As the introduction said, [m]uch of the theological argument implied in these utterances has little appeal to the modern mind, but the acuteness of the observation of human life, the subtlety of the reasoning, the combination of precision and fervid imagination in the expression, make this a book to which the discerning mind can return again and again for insight and inspiration.

I am humbled by the fact that the man lived over three hundred fifty years ago and died short of his fortieth birthday. I'm sure this is old hat for seminarians, philosophers and other scholars. But I find some of it is as fresh as the morning news. One of the rewards for not being overly well-read.

Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons. Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves. It is like a nation which we have provoked, but meet again after two generations. They are still Frenchmen, but not the same.

Here is part of an essay on Pascal that sounds very much like an argument for -- please excuse the phrase -- a purpose-driven life. As I said, this looks pretty fresh to me.

In his analysis of man, Pascal focuses on two very contradictory sides of fallen human nature. Man is both noble and wretched. Noble, because he is created in God's image; wretched, because he is fallen and alienated from God. In one of his more passionate notes, Pascal says this:

What kind of freak is man! What a novelty he is, how absurd he is, how chaotic and what a mass of contradictions, and yet what a prodigy! He is judge of all things, yet a feeble worm. He is repository of truth, and yet sinks into such doubt and error. He is the glory and the scum of the universe!

Furthermore, Pascal says, we know that we are wretched. But it is this very knowledge that shows our greatness.

Pascal says it's important to have a right understanding of ourselves. He says "it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it." Thus, our message must be that "there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him." This prepares the unbeliever to hear about the Redeemer who reconciles the sinner with the Creator.

Pascal says that people know deep down that there is a problem, but we resist slowing down long enough to think about it. He says:

Man finds nothing so intolerable as to be in a state of complete rest, without passions, without occupation, without diversion, without effort. Then he faces his nullity, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness. And at once there wells up from the depths of his soul boredom, gloom, depression, chagrin, resentment, despair.

Pascal says there are two ways people avoid thinking about such matters: diversion and indifference. Regarding diversion, he says we fill up our time with relatively useless activities simply to avoid facing the truth of our wretchedness. "The natural misfortune of our mortality and weakness is so miserable," he says, "that nothing can console us when we really think about it. . . . The only good thing for man, therefore, is to be diverted so that he will stop thinking about his circumstances." Business, gambling, and entertainment are examples of things which keep us busy in this way.

The other response to our condition is indifference. The most important question we can ask is What happens after death? Life is but a few short years, and death is forever. Our state after death should be of paramount importance, shouldn't it? But the attitude people take is this:

Just as I do not know where I came from, so I do not know where I am going. All I know is that when I leave this world I shall fall forever into oblivion, or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing which of the two will be my lot for eternity. Such is my state of mind, full of weakness and uncertainty. The only conclusion I can draw from all this is that I must pass my days without a thought of trying to find out what is going to happen to me.

Pascal is appalled that people think this way, and he wants to shake people out of their stupor and make them think about eternity. Thus, the condition of man is his starting point for moving people toward a genuine knowledge of God.

Toddlers and today's Dads


In the last twenty-four hours I have come across stories of little kids that are waaay too far ahead.

Henry Schally had a News Hour theme for his party. Picked it himself already!

Steve Dillard at Southern Appeal says his son could name all the Supreme Court Justices at age three.

It was this little exchange by Mark Lynch that set me to thinking about the current crop of toddlers.

A few minutes ago, my 3 year old daughter looked up from the Wiggles and said "what are you blogging about, daddy?"

I said "Iraq." She nodded seriously and then went back to Pirate Dancing.

And I found myself contemplating with horror a world in which three year olds know what "blogging" is.

All I can say is Sheesh!

Fathers Day, 2006

This time last year I was putting together the most satisfying post of my bloogging experience. My correspondence and interactions with an Iraqi father began some time before when I posted a tragic snapshot of the war, Nihad had to Die, by the screen name Abu Khaleel. One thing led to another as our cyber-friendship unfolded. I'm sure it's because I am involved, but reading over the posts still gives me satisfaction. We are very different people, but we can agree on one point: the US presence in Iraq, whether or not it started well, should now come to an end. Without arguing background, it is plain now that the presence of US forces is doing more harm than good.

Rather than go off on a rant about the war, I encourage the reader to go back to last year's Fathers Day post to capture something better, an account of how two fathers were able to reach one another in the midst of a horrible war and find common ground with a civil exchange of emails and blog posts. It is a long post but worth the time it takes to read.

Ibrahim Al-Shawi is the author of A Glimpse of Iraq, the blog listed on the sidebar as "Abu Khaleel, Glimpse." now available in book form. This articulate, patient, very patriotic Iraqi gentleman presents a picture of his country that should be required reading for anyone who wants to be informed about Iraq. Here is a sample insight you might find. It seems like a trivial point, but those who ignore it do so at someone's peril, if not their own.

It is probably perfectly normal for an adult American to be seen chewing gum in public. In traditional Iraqi society, the act of chewing a gum is reserved to women, but never in public. Country folk utterly despise city boys when they see them chewing gum. They regard it as feminine. Even little children are discouraged from doing it. The sight of grown, armed men chewing gum must have been one of the causes of many people losing their respect for those armed men! It simply conveys an unintentionally ‘undesirable’ image!

This also reminds me of a young US soldier manning the Iraqi side of the Iraqi-Jordanian border. He glanced at our passports with a lollypop in his mouth. I couldn’t help but notice the reaction on the taxi driver’s face: Utter contempt!

I really cannot blame those American boys for doing some things that are completely natural and normal. There was no way that they could have known that those little normal acts could be misinterpreted by others. But here I am talking about how perfectly normal actions can be seen from across the cultural divide. I cannot address the rights and wrongs of this. People’s cultures are different; we may see some of their attitudes as wrong or detestable, but that view will not change those attitudes, especially if they hold to them in their own environment and in their own country.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dixie Chicks Video

Raymond Ward links to an Amazon video of the Dixie Chicks on Bill Maher's show.

Two performances with an interval of chat inbetween.

I didn't follow the flap abouot their political faux pas in England, but I heard all I wanted. I got it and it didn't particularly bother me. My patriotism is not so fragile that I find entertainers all that threatening...or politicians either, come to think of it.

Maher speaks of "Dixie Chicks two-point-o..." Good line. And if their second song is any indicator they don't seem to be all that, what, repentant?

All in all, I enjoyed the video.

I just figured out that this is not snipped from TV.
This is an episode from an internet show sponsored by Amazon, now in its fourth or fifth production. Just like late-nite TV with a live studio audience. Neat!
They don't have a Bloglines subscription feed so I added a link to the sidebar for my own convenience. Check it out.

Scheduled to appear on the June 22 episode of Amazon Fishbowl: Janet Evanovich (discussing Twelve Sharp)
Frank Coraci and Henry Winkler (discussing
T-Bone Burnett (performing songs from
The True False Identity)
Jim Cramer (making a UPS Special Delivery of
Jim Cramer's Real Money)

Okay, then. Your universe just got bigger.

(Yo, Boortz! You gettin' this? This is how Amazon is selling books...and ideas.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Amnesty in Iraq to avert civil war

Donald Sensing posted a good piece advancing the case for amnesty in Iraq as a plan to avoid all-out civil war.

According to radio news reports this morning, some members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have gone ballistic over the proposal of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to offer amnesty to some Iraqi insurgents. Financial Times reports:

The new Iraqi government, led by Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia Islamist prime minister, is launching a number of national reconciliation initiatives including the release of thousands of detainees and possibly an amnesty for sectors of the overwhelmingly Sunni insurgency. Alongside these carrots, Mr Maliki plans to use the stick of a massive security clampdown centred on Baghdad, where scores of Iraqis are dying each day in sectarian carnage.

Is this a good idea? I think it is, although of course the devil in the details has yet to be fleshed out. (And al-Maliki is no “Islamist,” as FT says, though he is certainly Muslim.)

Read the whole thing. Donald Sensing is one of the most respected links on my blogroll. I have a lot of respect for him.

This morning I see that the idea is being blown to hell and back by all kinds of people -- left and right, both parties, smart and stupid. The dove of peace has been on the endangered species list longer than any other of God's creatures.

Going Probiotic

Meryl Yourish is fighting stomach problems. Looks like a possible setup to get ulcers. So...

The thing is, this drug regimen is probably the suckiest, worst regimen I have ever had to undergo. Four pills (large ones!) twice a day, three of which are two separate antiobiotics, one of which is amoxicillin, which has previously had negative consequences on my digestive tract. So I take these four horse-pills before breakfast, then again twelve hours later, and man, something’s leaving this nasty aftertaste (I blame the antibiotics) throughout the day.

That was a couple of days ago. So to ameliorate the destructive effects of antibiotics, she is taking brave steps to restore some kind of balance to her ecologically wounded digestive tract.

In any event, my great experiment with the various bacteriology of my digestive system continues. And in another eleven days, with any luck, H. pylori will be dead, dead, dead. And I won’t get my too-frequent stomach ailments.

You know, if you really think about it, right now, there’s one hell of a war going on in my stomach. Good bacteria. Bad bacteria. Acidopholus. Saccharomyces boulardi. (Oh. My. Gd. I just discovered a website called “Doctor Fungus.” And discovered that I’ve been waxing poetic about — Brewer’s yeast.

This is not a pretty picture. But tons of people fight this battle every day. Fight on, lady!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Think your way to sanity and peace

Raised in ordinary circumstances, she became successful in real estate, married twice, and raised a couple of kids. In her thirties she became severely depressed, a state that lasted ten years. She suffered from bouts of rage that terrified her children. Agoraphobia set in; she stayed in bed for weeks at a time, neglecting to wash or bathe, and eventually checked herself into an eating disorders clinic, the only facility her insurance company would pay for. At the clinic, her anger was so frightening to the other patients that she was placed in a separate attic room, where she slept on the floor because she felt unworthy of a bed. About two weeks later, she woke up one morning in a state of unalloyed clarity and joy. She felt that she was no longer herself and that she wasn't separate from anything in the universe. An "it," or perhaps a larger "I," was looking out through her eyes. And she understood that all suffering comes from thoughts.

Richard Lawrence Cohen writes about Byron Katie of Barstow, Arizona.
Returning home shortly afterward, her state of joyous understanding endured. She reconciled with her astounded family. She spent a good deal of time in the nearby desert, sitting in the wind. Word of her awakening spread locally and people began coming to her with questions about their lives. When they told her of their perceived problems, she would ask, "Honey, is that true?" and lead them to see that their sufferings were built on misconceptions of what ought to be or of what was being done to them.

This is my first hearing about this woman and her work. I pass it along for anyone for whom it may be a way out of hell. I'm thinking particularly of those with BPD, shunned by professionals and non-responsive to pharmaceutical approaches.

Last week's post about Intermittent Explosive Disorder (to which I have since read several snarky, shallow and ignorant references) referred to Borderline Personality Disorder, a more serious and less tractible condition of which I am aware in a very personal way.

I have known several crazy people in my time (aside from myself) and have spent a lot of energy analyzing crazy behavior. Observing many thousands of the public over the years has also given me ample opportunitiy to witness many puzzling human behaviors.

The prison population is neatly divided for management purposes into two groups, violent or non-violent, regardless of the crime. My lay opinion is that crazy people can also be divided simply into two groups: those with problems deriving from "chemical imbalance" and those whose problems seem to be purely "mental."

This approach is, of course, carelessly unscientific. But considering the success rate of science in finding remedies for substance abuse, criminal recidivism, eating disorders or suicide rates among population groups who have little reason for despair...I submit that any "self-help" tools that can be added to the toolbox are worth a try.

Again, I report. You decide.

Here is a selection from the Book of Common Prayer for Those in Mental Darkness:

O HEAVENLY Father, we beseech thee to have mercy upon all thy children who are living in mental darkness. Restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit, and give them health and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sydney Morning Herald looks at Gulf bloggers

There are now about 1,000 Gulf Arab bloggers, up five times from 2004, according to Haitham Sabbah, a Bahrain-based blogger and Middle East editor for Global Voices, a programme launched last year by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in the United States that tracks and collects blogs worldwide.

Short article. Pretty good overview.
H/T UAE Community Blog which also has a blogroll to keep a reader busy for a while.

Couple of points...

SMH missed a good chance to provide hyperlinks in the online edition. Had they done so, they might have discovered that the Religious Policeman cited in the article has recently folded his tent. [TTLB Large Mammal already, with over three hundred comments to his last post! I wonder how long TTLB taxonomy keeps inactive blogs in the system. I know of a couple that have gone dormant a long time that continue to be listed...]

Also, as I read I realized that we see references to "the Gulf" presuming the reader knows which gulf is being discussed. I suppose references to a Persian Gulf might be considered inflamatory.

Hmm. This is interesting. I read about Iranian women protesting. Here are links to photos and commentary by bloggers practicing a little micro-journalism. When I come across stuff like this I really have to question to need for preemptive wars. It seems to me there are ways to cultivate meaningful change in other countries by feeding and watering the seeds that are already there instead of bombing the crap out of them.

AA Online

WaiterRant is among my favorite blogs. If this guy's not putting together a book he's missing a great chance. His stories are pearls. I'm biased, of course, because of three decades in the food business. Often I say to myself "Been there; done that." This most recent snapshot is a perfect example.

“I know they’re mashed potatoes,” she huffs, “But what are they doing on my plate?”

I know what’s happening. The woman’s on a diet and she forgot to ask what comes with her entrée. Lacking the self discipline to abstain from eating her potatoes she’s gonna work her food issues out on me. Does she actually think the spuds will congeal into ass fat before the night is over? Probably.

“All entrees are served with potato and vegetable,” I reply politely.

“Does it say that on the menu?” the woman counters. Uh oh - a lawyer type.

“It does Madam.”

“I want to see the menu.”

Fun read, this. But the previous scene, though it starts out amusing, turns quietly serious at the end. The comments thread is a testament to the waiter's true calling. Whether or not he advertises himself as such, this man is a minister.

“I don’t want this drink on my check,” the man says, “I’ll pay for it separate.”

“Yes sir.”

“And don’t let it slip to my friends that I’ve had a cocktail or two waiting for them.”

“I understand sir.”

No further explanation’s necessary. But the guy decides to explain himself anyway.

“My friends are pains in the asses,” he says, “Health nuts you know?”

“I’ve met the type sir,” I reply.

“Can’t ever enjoy a drink when they’re around,” he grouses, “They’re always lecturing me.”

The anecdote is only the beginning. Some of the comments can reduce the reader to tears. There are few people without personal experience with substance abuse. And no, it isn't always you. Too often it is someone you love.

This is one of the most compelling reasons I know for prayer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Amanda Congdon interviews George Soros

Rocketboom, June 8, five days ago now.
I missed it but BoingBoing picked it up.

Really interesting. Rocketboom's Amanda Congdon scored big this time. And Soros comes across as the gentleman that he is. His view of global markets and how they fail to address global problems is very threatening to many people. He is one of the world's richest individuals, and when he puts his money where his mouth is he aims to get results. When a mouth like that is talking, only the most foolish among us would fail to pay attention.

I have great respect for Soros. His intellect seems to match his financial achievements and he has used his considerable financial power responsibly. As far as I know he hasn't had people killed, which is more than can be said for many powerful people.

When Amanda asked him about his "online habits" he responded by calling himself a dinosaur. He said "I have people helping me" take care of that. I bet. Asking Soros about online habits is like asking what brand of laundry detergent he prefers. Amanda is a sweetheart for that question. But as they say, a cat can look at a king.

When he speaks of world markets he says quite simply that there is an idea that "when markets 'do their thing' they will take care of all our problems...This is a misconception." When he says that he has my undivided attention. I am sick to death of the marketplace displacing -- among other values and institutions -- the church. The only thing that makes me sicker, is when I see churches going along with the notion.

The video time is not listed, but it's about five minutes or so.

There was a time that I believed in accidents, that many events were simply 'random" or "coincidental." Bierce's definition of accident as an inevitable event due to the interaction of immutable natural laws always amused me, but only because for a long time I didn't take into account what seem to be natural spiritual laws. In recent years I have noticed what some people call prophetic voices, words that bring forth understandings unexpected but edifying.

This morning's post by Dr. Bob fits comfortably into the prophetic mold regarding the Soros interview just cited and my reaction to it. Remember, now, that Soros does not speak in religious terms. From a Christian viewpoint he may be pagan. But his message is not contrary to that of the church. Like Ghandi he might be able to say "give me your Christ, but keep your Christianity." I don't know. But reflect on what Soros says in light of these prophetic words from Dr. Bob.

Western culture has bankrupted the very treasure from which its greatness arose, leaving an increasingly fragile shell of process without principles, institutions without inspiration, governance without grace. Steeped in knowledge yet long in shortcomings, our culture increasingly dismisses the spiritual and transcendent as but mere ignorance or malign superstition, and thus strangles its own lifeblood in its frantic rush to solve problems of the soul with the prescriptions of science and sociology. Our sickness is deep, and pervasive, and ultimately deadly–and made even more dangerous by our peculiar denial that there exists any sickness at all. Such malady takes many forms: from evangelistic secularism, seeking to purge all thought or mention of religion from our collective consciousness; to the intellectual miasma of postmodernism, where the only absolute truth is the denial of absolute truth; to the grand charade, where lust for power or corrupt materialism masquerade in the mantle of religious devotion or a gospel of social justice–which is neither just nor good for society; to the spirituality of the self, which seeks to find God within having denied Him without, and ends up worshiping only ego, in all its hideous manifestations.

There are, it is said, many roads to God–a cozy notion for the intellectually lazy and spiritually slothful, a passing nod to a past glory still spoken of but no longer believed. It is a bromide fast dissolving in a world where religious zealots praise Allah while slaughtering women and children; where men sing of Jesus while drinking poison Koolaid; where televised con-men fleece the faithful while preaching love and generosity; where men of the cloth speak of killing the elderly and suctioning the young with soothing words of “mercy” and “freedom” and “choice.” We are tossed like ships in a storm because we have lost both rudder and mast: the principles which have steered us, and the power which gives us purpose and direction, have been swept away in the rolling swells of material prosperity and the saturating rains of empty information and worthless knowledge.
I claim no inside knowledge. All I know is what I read in the, what I come across on the blogs. Something here strikes me as prophetic.
As usual, I report. You decide.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The 100 Hour Board and other stuff

Clean and wholesome. Fresh, young, full of cheer and on the way to responsible adulthood.

That's what seems to be the case with a clutch of blogging young people associated with the 100 Hour Board, an unofficial but complimentary spinoff of Brigham Young U. I was curious about the blog I came across the other day which struck me as a cut above the average. It goes with the territory, but being young also often means being vacuous, smarmy, and crass to the edge of rudeness. A young person who is genuinely respectful, quick to smile and make others smile, and careful about good manners is hard to find these days.

Here is a delightful snip from Petra from this group.

I am in love with a mechanic. Head over high heels, I fell for a balding middle-aged man this morning, and, in the midst of this burning passion, I wish to shout my good news from the rooftops. (Or, you know, post it on the internet. Same thing.)

[Snips here. These kids aren't into editing yet...]

Clearly, it was time to visit a mechanic. The problem, though, is that I try to avoid practical matters at all costs. ...

Auto mechanics are even worse than doctors, insurance agents, or customer service representatives. I know nothing about cars...and I'm convinced that I'll betray that within the first five seconds of our interaction...If asked to diagnose the problem, I'm sure I'd be even worse, and would end up looking like a total fool: "Maybe it's the muffler...belt?"

Nonetheless, this morning, I girded up my loins, gathered my courage, gritted my teeth...and drove over to the mechanic, my car practicing its high-pitched vowel sounds the whole way. ("AAAAEEEEEIIIIIIOOOOOUUUUU!") Reminding myself that muffler belts do not exist, I pulled into the auto shop's parking lot--screeeeeeeeech!--and idled for a moment, looking for a likely place to deposit my car before humbly approaching the mechanic, as a devotee to an idol.

I was startled out of my reverie by a tap on the window. It was the mechanic, bald, fortyish, overweight, henceforth to be called my One True Love. I rolled down my window, cringing in anticipation--thousands of dollars on repairs, maybe, or a long lecture chastising me for even daring to defile his workshop with my ignorance. Or was I about to park illegally?

"Your brake pads are shot," he said. "I could hear it as you drove in. $120. I'm not open today, but if you bring your car back next week I'll fix it. " My OTL walked away. I never even had to get out of the car.

The light broke through the clouds, and angel choirs harmonized with the dolphin sopranos in my brake pads. In my rear view mirror, the mechanic's bald pate shone like a nimbus of celestial glory. He was beautiful. The music was beautiful. Provo was beautiful. Life was beautiful.

Hélas. It won't last, I know. He's probably already married. I mean, how could a man like that not be snatched up like the last Green Power Ranger on the Toys 'R Us shelf? And, as it turns out, I particularly don't care; I'll indulge myself in the joy of the moment instead of pondering our future together. I'm more the mistress type anyway.

Now what's not to love about a kid like this? I never saw her and never expect to, but on the basis of this post alone I could give her a hug. Fortyish...middle-aged. Hehe. Some guy's gonna get a real gem one of these days. And I don't think for a moment that she's "the mistress type." My instinct is that we are reading the fantasy of a sharp, together young woman.

By the way, that's the reason I keep Andrew Cusack on the blogroll. Clean as a pin, and with a silver spoon to boot. I look in on him from time to time to remind myself that the next generation is not going to hell.

Now I have another place to look.

Upside-down stars on the GOP Logo?

Yeah, that and other stuff.
I got a spam billet-doux from the HuffPo folks, state of the art for modern muckraking.
I scan everything, though, to keep in touch. Never know what you might come across. This is a good example.

Speaking of the party blogs, Thom Hartmann brought this up last week on his show... What's the deal with the upside-down stars on the official GOP logo? I'm not making this up. The three stars on the official logo are upside-down. I thought upside-down stars signified, amongst other things, Satanism. At least that's what my Mom told me when I was 13-years-old and wanted to buy Motley Crue's "Shout At The Devil" album. From Carl Teichrib's Pentacles and Pentagrams:

"Going deeper yet, the upside-down star/pentagram has long been recognized as the symbol of Satan. Anton LaVey, author of the Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, lavishly used this symbol in his ceremonies and rituals -- most often depicted as the 'goat's head.'"

There's a great example of the upside-down star logo on the
GOP En Espanol site.Wait -- what? The GOP has a website in Spanish? I thought they wanted English as our national language.

So let's get this straight. Right-side-up stars signify the American flag and the forces of good; the upside-down star signifies Satan, Motley Crue, the GOP, and a goat's head; and the upside-down star with two humps on top signifies the forces of
Bam Margera. Got it. Let's move on.

Lots more, opening with this. (Actually, I'm getting things out of order, but after scanning that's how I recalled them...according to what most caught my attention...)

I just can't get enough of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's dead, bloated face which predictably kicked off the Meet the Press opening montage. One question here: why did the government and the right-wing have such an issue with the Abu Ghraib photos, but this one gets the Thomas Kinkade treatment -- enlarged and tastefully mounted in a decorative oak frame and aired around the clock? It's worth noting that the House passed a law this week calling for a $325,000 fine for anyone who says "shit" on television. Bloated corpse face everywhere, good. The word "shit," bad. God bless America.

Pretty good point, if you ask me. Unfortunately, nothing new in Washington.

Love that Kinkade reference. In this case it strikes exactly the right note. I wanna make some reference to lipstick on a pig but I can't quite get all the parts to fit.

Comments run to another page, but I lost interest...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

" act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

This is elegant.

Committing suicide is now an act of war. Not as part of any attempt to injure or kill anyone else, but simply following through on the decision to end one's life.

I'm trying to square that thought with these lines found further down in the story.

The US military said the men's bodies were being treated "with the utmost respect".
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Mr Bush had "expressed serious concern" at the deaths.
"He also stressed that it was important to treat the bodies humanely and with cultural sensitivity," he said.
I dunno.
Utmost respect. Cultural sensitivity.

Maybe if we honor the corpses enough it will ameliorate the disrespect shown by branding these suicides as acts of war. Hmm...

Warriors no longer animate these bodies.

Yes. That's it! If they were a garden-variety suicides, then we might in some way be responsible. But acts of war vindicate us of any wrongdoing, while honoring our declared enemies at the same time.

Whew! I feel all better. What a relief!
I was about to imagine that US policies and conditions at Gitmo had something to do with it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Riverbend comments on Zarqawi's death

For the record, she is not part of a rejoicing multitude, or what is being painted as such.

How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation- he came along with them- they don't need him anymore apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now? Who will be the new excuse for killing and detaining Iraqis? Or is it that an excuse is no longer needed- they have freedom to do what they want. The slaughter in Haditha months ago proved that. "They don't need him anymore," our elderly neighbor waved the news away like he was shooing flies, "They have fifty Zarqawis in government."

So now that Zarqawi is dead, and because according to Bush and our Iraqi puppets he was behind so much of Iraq's misery- things should get better, right? The car bombs should lessen, the ethnic cleansing will come to a halt, military strikes and sieges will die down… That's what we were promised, wasn't it? That sounds good to me. Now- who do they have to kill to stop the Ministry of Interior death squads, and trigger-happy foreign troops?

Here is the link to her latest post. I have linked to Riverbend before. I don't like a lot of what she writes, but I would rather read disagreable rhetoric than experience a more dangerous expression of anger and frustration. It is significant that she has no more admiration for Zarqawi than any of the other figures associated with the war -- on any or either side. (And no- Iraqis aren't celebrating in the streets- worries over electricity, water, death squads, tests, corpses and extremists in high places prevail right now.)

Harper Lee, American writer

When Garrison Keillor writes a book review about a Harper Lee biography it is hard to know how to start telling about it. Perhaps it's the emptiness of our time, but I get all sappy when I think about the story about the story about the story...and so forth.

Even non-literary types know the title To Kill a Mockingbird. A few less, but many, also know the name of Harper Lee. Fewer still know anything abut her, least of all that she is still alive and is famously, intensely private. Among my fantasies is that I might one day meet this remarkable literary icon. (We are all free to daydream, you know. After all, I did have the same high school English teacher as Carson McCullars and a closed-circuit TV class with Mike Shaara a couple of years later.)

She is 80 years old and wears a hearing aid and eats out at the diner or the country club and to strangers who seek her out, she can be frosty. A reporter and photographer from Birmingham banged on her door 10 years ago and Miss Lee opened it and said, "What is it?" They asked her to autograph a copy of her book. She wasn't happy about it but she fetched a pen. "I hope you're more polite to other people," she said. She signed it: "Best wishes, Harper Lee." She said, "Next time try to be more thoughtful." They thanked her. She gave them a big warm smile and said, "You're quite welcome."

Charles Shields is a former English teacher who taught Harper Lee's book, and a scrupulous journalist who respects the lady's privacy even as he opens up her life. This biography will not disappoint those who loved the novel and the feisty, independent, fiercely loyal Scout, in whom Harper Lee put so much of herself.

The review is in tomorrow's Times.
The book is MOCKINGBIRD, A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields.
H/T to Azra Raza at 3 Quarks.

Gerard Vanderleun is up to something

He's on break.
Don't know what, but if he is resting from blogging it must be worth waiting for.

I've been a busy with a new project of some magnitude, of which more in due course. Nor, as you will soon learn, have I been disconnected from the world of the web or the world at large. Granted, there have been many instances in the last week when I wish that were so.

For now, suffice it to say I am working in a new direction and on several new variations to old themes. For now the most I will say is to let you in on my personal plan, program and platform for the solution to our overwhelmingly disgusting, petty, destructive and vile internal politics; this without regard to race, color, creed, gender now or to be assigned later, or political preference.

Sufficiently vague to pique interest...
We'll wait...


Well, we didn't have to wait long.

Welcome visitors and thanks again, Gerard, for the link. I am honored to have been the fan who made the tipping point.

This is a big win for PJ Media. I don't think anybody knows yet what that means, but whatever it is should become clear in a few more years. What seems to be happening is that an intellectual and literary nucleus from the political right is crystalizing into a formidable, if somewhat disorderly mass. If it isn't about money yet, it's gonna be.

I linked to PJ Media on the sidebar.
Another great aggregator, now with a gifted editor-in-chief.

dimmi -- brand new blogger

Tripped across this link on Cat's comment thread. Only four posts in all, so far. I hope she keeps blogging. This is a good start.

"You made a what?" she asked.

"A replica."

He's seven and he makes replicas.

Lately, we've been teaching him "big" words. Replica isn't one of them, but it could have been. As things come up in conversation, we call him. "HEY B! Wanna learn a new word?" He comes running. Recently I taught him about being facetious, arachnophobia, and triskaidekaphobia. My sister taught him about misnomers and being garrulous. Dad taught him 'superfluous.' He's known confiscate' for a long time.

He's seven, and he uses this stuff in conversation.

Reactions to the death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi

Michael J. Totten has a collection of reactions to the death of Zarqawi.
To coin that Dorothy Parker line, they run the gamut of emotions from Y to Z.
Totten's terse comment and Vodkapundit's Rest in pieces get points for brevity and point each, in that order.

This from Arab News stuck in my head. Ordinary Iraqi working in Saudi Arabia.

Kazem Ali, an Iraqi resident working in a local restaurant, said the Zarqawi killing has brought joy to the Iraqi people. “Zarqawi was responsible for the killing of many innocent men, women and children,” said Ali. “I hope peace comes to Iraq with his killing. This should also speed up the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq now that the main excuse for staying is dead.”

H/T John Burgess.
I have nothing to add.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Baheyya's tribute to Ahmed Abdalla

Egyptian blogger Baheyya impresses me every time I read her posts. She still makes me wish I knew more about Egypt and its politics. In this post she remembers Ahmed Abdalla, a leading opposition figure in the ongoing birthing pains of democracy in Egypt. The name is new to me, but that is more a reflection of my ignorance than his importance. This is a ringing tribute to a man of principle taken too soon.

...He had a mirthful, loquacious manner and spoke Arabic, English, and French beautifully. Above all, he was that exceedingly rare specimen of intellectual who neither disdains nor romanticises ordinary people. Instead, he lived among them, understood them, loved them, shared their burdens, and did his utmost to alleviate them.
[Having been a student activist in his twenties] Ahmed Abdalla opted to write his doctoral thesis at Cambridge on students and politics in Egypt, and its book form remains the single most valuable English-language contribution to the topic, second to none. It is a scholarly, historical oeuvre written in a staid, analytical style, with significant bits of auto-critique and reflection, scrupulous documentation, and many gems buried in the footnotes. There is no awkward tension between the scholar and the activist, no grand unsubstantiated claims, no self-exoneration, and—-just as important-—no irritating and pointless second-guessing or hand wringing.
Advocacy mixed with analysis was the driving force behind Abdalla’s energetic bid for parliament in the 2005 elections, and his years long focus on the vexing
condition of child labour. Eschewing both the easy, moralising condemnation of the practice and indifference to it as yet another “social problem,” Ahmed Abdalla made the difficult choice of actually doing something about it. He established the
Centre for Youth and Social Studies
, both a research and information centre and an actual space where working children convened each week to, simply, live their childhood. They drew artwork, made puppets, played music, had a meal, and subjected their bodies to physical activity of a different order than the gruelling labour that marked the rest of their week. It was a place unlike any that I’ve ever been in, where the concrete reality of child exploitation coexisted with an utterly charmed environment full of laughter, love, and an aura of being blessed.