Friday, December 31, 2004

Ending 2004

This morning I have found a link to be bookmarked for future use.
It is the ultimate stupidity page, a breathtaking collection of quotes about stupidity. It is organized in alphabetical order according to the last name of the source, from "Abbey" to "Zappa," with stuff added at both ends for good measure.

I am so stupid that I cannot understand philosophy; the antithesis of this is that philosophy is so clever that it cannot comprehend my stupidity. These antitheses are mediated in a higher unity; in our common stupidity.

Philadelphia Phillies baseball star Mike Schmidt grew up in a sleepy, tree-lined, middle-class neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio. At the age of five he climbed a tree in his backyard and grabbed a 4000-volt power line. Knocked unconscious by the shock, he fell limp to the ground. The impact restarted his heart. "I've never thought that I was given a second chance because I was supposed to do something great in my life," Schmidt says. "But I've looked back and wondered why that stupid little kid didn't die. Maybe that's the reason I've always worked to hard, because I don't want to think that I wasted that chance. (Sometimes the stupid are lucky.)
--Phil Axelrod

Be sure to catch the flames at the end of the page. Internet flaming takes insult to a new level. Collecting flames has to be more fun than collecting matchbooks or stamps. Mencken would be proud.
This one is worth keeping.
Credit to Snave. (That's what started the Google search)

THIS is how to fight a war!

Via Fayrouz (comments section, Mike Openshaw) we get this wonderful account. It just takes a moment to read,

The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Faurouz catches an important detail

Fayrouz comments on an explosion in Baghdad, reporting that the mainstream media in America didn't catch an important detail, namely that civilians - not (just) the perpetrators - called the police. That is a good sign. CNN and others missed it, or just failed to mention it. Her post, and comments section, is worth reading.

Fayrouz speaks the language, so she is not dependent on translators.
Her CV is most impressive.

The cops answered the call for help. But, when the cops arrived and tried to enter the house, the Sudani detonated about 1800 pounds of explosives. The explosion destroyed the house and the surrounding homes.

I'm glad some Iraqis have started to trust the police and call them about suspicious activities. It's one step on a long road to achieve security in Iraq. The next step should be for Iraqis to be more cautious before they rent a house to a foreigner. In America and Australia, we go through many checks before we can rent a house or an apartment. The same should be done in Iraq.

Iranian bloggers torture

From time to time I don't scan Instapundit before I surf. I know that one mention from him will insure plenty of coverage for the link, so anything I might add is of no importance. Besides I don't care to be in a "me, too" chorus. Instapundit is big and the posts are fairly short. It is likely that a good many people who read Glenn Reynolds faithfully will miss or skip over items that don't personally connect.

In this case, though I will add my two cents. I'm referring to the importance and mistreatment of Iranian bloggers. Jeff Jarvis, always on top of anything technological and someone with a very long shadow, says "spread the word" about the mistreatment of Iranian bloggers. That is what I am doing. Like many others I have blogged about this several times, so this is old news, but every time another piece of the story surfaces, it needs to be publicized as much as possible.

The political will of any population is like an amoeba, forever changing shape. That is true of the American political will, I know. After the WTC attack I watched helplessly as our leadership deliberately and successfully seized the moment to direct the American political will, aiming it first at Afghanistan, then to Iraq, successfully coupling Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator, with Osama Bin Laden, a radical religious fundamentalist. These two natural enemies of each other have been so completely bundled together as one that the average man on the street in America will tell you that they are practically brothers, that together they represent the same kind of evil and the reason that we are fighting a war in Iraq is to defeat them.

Never mind that one is in custody, his country in a shambles, and the other is in hiding (where we cannot find him) with his political and organizational influence emasculated. Those current facts are now lost in some ambitious military effort to...I'm not sure what. Whenever the current "mission is accomplished" celebrates a bulls-eye, another red blanket is waved at the bull, a lot of cloudy murmuring is started about security and threats and enemies, and we are off in another direction with a chip on the shoulder, itching for the next opportunity to take out another threat. Political will is not as mysterious as one would imagine in the hands of skillful leaders.

Whatever might be the shape of an Iranian political will remains a mystery to me. I sense that a critical mass has been building for some time that will result in a political upheaval, with the forces of modernity, technology and freedom challenging the tightly controlled, theocratic stripe of Islamic fundamentalism that runs Iran. It is important to remember, however, that the same kind of man-in-the-street ignorance prevails there as it does all over the world. At this point, there is likely no more interest in issues there as outside Iran. It is naive to think otherwise.

The case of Sina Motellebi exemplifies how pressure from the international community can result in a change in policy, however small, in Iran. I have not taken time to put together a bunch of hyperlinks in this post, because my time is limited. But I urge the reader to take the Jarvis link as a starting point, google the name Sina Motellebi, do some personal research and get on board with raising awareness of the Iranian political situation in general and the Iranian blogging community in particular.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Photoblog from Penang

Photoblog from one of the disaster areas.
I found this by linking backward from the World Changing post below.
The Fire Ant Gazette
Technorati Trackback

noorhidayat is blogging from Penang, Malaysia.
The following insert appears at the slide show which has pictures of the waves and damages...

In due respect to the family, no pictures of death body can be found on this page. It is disheartening to see a father carrying his dead child on his hand towards the shore. He faces is emotionless and he is not crying at all...just lost of will. He is guided by policeman and fireman towards the temporary campsite at miami beach (in front of houses)

Then I see a younger child about 4-6 years old being carried by police.

Both motionless....

Somehow when people who do not speak English write in this manner ("pictures of death body...he faces is emotionless") the choice of words underscores an urgent need to make the message as clear as possible. This message, plus the powerful surge of emotion expressed in one of his earlier posts, together make tears come to my eyes...

In the comments he apologized for what he had done. I am sorry if my opinion offended you but I do not think as strongly as the others. We all have our right to our own comments. As for my post, I've family there as well who were affected, their property were hit and now they're begining to pick up their lives, luckily they did not suffer any losses except in property. As for a joke, maybe yes we all could use a laugh or two and we all have our ways to cope and I apologize for any slip of tongue. Yet I still feel that equating terrorism and a natural disaster is still not at the right moment. I don't know what I did to earn your ire among the others who uses more derogatative comments. All I am stating is there are thousands out there that has suffered and I do pray that they wil continue on with a strong will. Again, the apology only served to illustrate a powerful display of inexpressible anguish.

I recognized a few seconds of Video #1 from having seen it on CNN, but the video is longer than the clip shown on the news. Be sure to look at the whole clip, complete with sound. It is amazing to me that the video made it out and into the eyes of the world so quickly.

World Changing website

This is a site that I just came across.
It looks timely and well-done at a glance, but I still have to read more to decide if they are all they appear to be. works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.

The link came from one Dina Mehta, a blogger from Bombay who has been working with one of the blogger groups convened in the wake of the tsunami disaster.

This entry at World Changing regards the secretive nature of Myanmar (former Burma) and it's official reluctance to report the details of the tragedy there:

There's two possible explanations for this story. One is that Myanmar, with 1930 kilometers of coastline, numerous fishing villages and huts on stilts along the coast, and a common border with Thailand - where over 1500 are reported dead - miraculously escaped the effect of the tsunami.

The other explanation is that Myanmar's famously secretive military government hasn't wanted to reveal the extent of the tsunami damage to the outside world... and especially to their own citizens. (As in many represive regimes, it's easier to to get news from outside the country than news from within it.)

AFP is reporting "at least 90 deaths" in Myanmar, based on accounts from UNICEF, who in turn cite "reliable sources". Radio Free Asia quotes an aid official, speaking to AFP, as saying, "Given the trajectory of the tsunami after the earthquake we would have to assume the death toll is far greater." According to AFP, UNICEF has offered food and medical assistance, but "no assistance has been requested at this juncture".

Don't Misunderestimate the President

Josh Marshall points to the president's constitutional power to make recess appointments to vacancies that otherwise would require a Senate vote to approve. Such appointments expire when the "recess" is over. Presumably the appointee would continue to serve until permanent replacement was approved by the Senate. If that person happened to be one and the same, then Senators opposing the "nomination" would have to vote against a candidate already doing the job.

In the battles over President Bush's judicial nominations, much has been said about using the so-called nuclear option to by-pass Democratic filibusters. But the president also has the power to place nominees on the bench immediately, regardless of the Senate by making recess appointments to fill judicial vacancies - including to the US Supreme Court.

The President's Recess Appointment Power is found in Article II, Section 2 and is challenged in just about every Presidential term or administration. In April 2003 President Bush nominated Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor, Jr. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. A minority of Senators prevented an up-or-down vote for the nomination; the 53-44 vote in favor of limiting debate was short of a super-majority of 60 Senators that the Senate Rules require. With the nomination in limbo, the President used his recess appointment power to seat Attorney General Pryor on the court until the first session of the 109th Congress end in late 2005.

I came across something about this just after the election when Bush mentioned the name of Clarence Thomas as a candidate for Chief Justice upon the incapacity of Rehnquist. The article was speculating in general terms about an abortion litmus test, but the recess appointment power isn't concerned with little things like a nominee's qualifications or political viability. No, this is a political tool handed to the president by the framers to employ any which way he wants.

A positive spin on the recess appointment power would be that it was aimed at facilitating an orderly flow of government in the event of an untimely vacancy during a recess just as Senators might be stabling their horses after returning home for a break. But there is nothing to prevent a president from deliberately waiting for a "recess" to make an appointment without Senate approval.

Should the position of Chief Justice come available at the right moment, what would prevent a Clarence Thomas appointment to the job? Officially Rehnquist is just away from the workplace, not away from work. [Update: Rhenquist died September 3 during the August recess. Congress reconvenes September 6 after Labor Day. It will be an interesting 72 hours...] That is why he will be administering the oath of office at the inauguration. However, if he resigns or quits the job, for whatever reason, he could very well be replaced during a recess without Senate approval. If Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas were appointed to the job, even with the understanding that his appointment could be temporary, how might that affect his chances at future approval?

Would you like to be a Senator trying to explain to your black constituents why you didn't vote to confirm Clarence Thomas as Chief Justice after he was already doing the job?
Senators are good at talking, but that would be a tough piece of political salesmanship.

This cowboy is no fool.

Update, October 3, 2005...
He didn't use the recess appointment to fill a seat on the Supreme Court, but he did send an ambassador to the United Nations by doing so. I'm not clear if John Bolton still has to be confirmed later, but I think not.
Meantime, his nomination of Harriet Miers, his personal lawyer going back some twenty years, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy being created by the retirement of Sandra Day O'Conner has just been announced. The announcement is only hours old, but at this early stage it looks as though her confirmation will be a slam-dunk. This move indicates that all that "political capital" he bragged about after the election has been pretty well spent. (Uh, meaning "used up", not "spent wisely.")

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Thanks, Miss Debi

Welcome readers from Heart, Soul & Humor.
And thanks, Deborah White for your generous comments.

Juan Cole's comments

Juan Cole has been marginalized in many circles because of his relentless criticism of the war in Iraq. He is, to put it mildly, no friend of the administration. He is, however, well informed about his subjects (History and politics of the Middle East) and is able to speak with authority on those subjects.

He comments on the latest Bin Laden video...

Bin Laden's intervention in Iraq was hamfisted and clumsy, and will benefit the United States and the Shiites enormously. Most Iraqi Muslims, Sunni or Shiite, dislike the Wahhabi branch of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and with which Bin Laden is associated. Nationalistic Iraqis will object to a foreigner interfering in their national affairs.
If Bin Laden had been politically clever, he would have phrased his message in the terms of Iraqi nationalism. By siding with the narrowest sliver of Sunni extremists, he denied himself any real impact. By adopting Zarqawi, who has killed many more Iraqis (especially Shiites) than he has Americans, he simply tarnishes his own image inside Iraq.

It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.

Juan Cole's take on the shape of politics in Iraq is worth reading, though I doubt that none but a few policy wonks in the administration will notice.
I saw somewhere that ornithology experts were being consulted in an effort to identify bird species heard in the background of the video, presumably to help determine OBL's whereabouts. Let's hope the content of his message gets the same rigorous going-over.

Monday, December 27, 2004

A few words about Social Security

Deluded Person: Social Security is in big trouble.
MaxSpeak Reader: Oh? Why?
DP: It's running out of money.
MR: Rilly? When does it run out of money?
DP: The Trustees say it goes broke in 2042.
MR: Actually the Trustees say it can pay 80 percent of benefits at that point.
DP: Well it's still short 20 percent. It will require a big tax increase or benefit cut.
MR: Actually we require income tax revenues to finance part of benefits starting in 2018. Between 2040, before the system is 'broke,' and after 2042, exactly zero change in taxes is required to finance all benefits. You don't know what you're talking about.

Second Deluded Person: DP is wrong. He is too optimistic. The program runs out of money after 2018.
MR: At that point the Trust Fund has over a trillion dollars.
SDP: They're just IOUs -- not worth anything.
MR: So the Government should default on its debt to the Trust Fund and SS beneficiaries, after spending SS cash surpluses for years and years?
SDP: They're not real bonds. They're just IOUs.
MR: An IOU is a promise to pay. Should the Gov renege on its promise?
SDP: You hate America.
MR: Shut up.

It gets better.
And it's not a long read.
Go read it at MaxSpeak, You Listen, and see one of the longest blogrolls I have ever found.

The Daou Report

WHAT The Daou Report tracks leading blogs, message boards, online magazines, and independent websites from across the political spectrum - providing a snapshot of the latest news, views, and online buzz.

The Daou Report welcomes suggested news stories, editorials, blog entries, and forum posts. The preferred format is a link to an item posted within the preceding 12 hours with a brief quote or description. Please be aware that a limited number of entries are posted on The Daou Report at any given time, and not all submissions can be accepted. All tips and submissions will be kept confidential.

WHEN Entries are time stamped and listed sequentially, but do not necessarily reflect the chronology of postings on the linked sites.

WHY The site was launched with three objectives: 1) to offer a diverse, unfiltered sample of online political discourse, 2) to probe the ideas, passions, and perspectives that give rise to our current political divide, 3) to examine the relationship between blogs, the political establishment and the mainstream media.

Okay, then.
Now comes the kiss of death...

WHO The Daou Report is published by Peter Daou, online communications advisor to John Kerry's presidential campaign. Peter headed KE04's blog outreach and online rapid response. The Daou Report is the web version of a daily report prepared by Peter for KE04 and the DNC.

Anyone ready to kill the messenger?
I'm sure not. This is one of the best pieces of internet journalism going.
Lefties are on the left.
Righties are on the right.
All that was left for media types and comments about the media is in the middle.


As the dimensions of a breath-taking tragedy unfold in Asia I feel inadequate to comment. First-person accounts are flooding in as the numbers continue to climb. The last number I heard was twenty-two thousand dead.
Michele Catalano of A Small Victory is one of several bloggers providing a list of places to send relief contributions.
She is the "Michele" responsible for The Comand Post, the original warblog which started as a temporary clearing house for messages about the war in Iraq and became an institution instead.

Two weeks ago our priest spoke of a coming tsunami.
Everyone thought (including him, no doubt) that he was speaking metaphorically about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
No one imagined he was speaking literally in prophetic terms.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Healing Iraq

Zayed is an Iraqi dentist who keeps a weblog. "I was raised in Colchester, Essex and also lived in both London and Bournemouth. We all returned to Iraq in 1987. I was privileged to study at the Baghdad College high school which was originally built by American Jesuits in 1931 and is still to this day considered the best in Iraq. I originally intended to major in computer engineering, my parents wanted me to study medicine, but I settled on dentistry." Yesterday's post describes some of life's little details for an everyday person in Iraq. These snips are taken from a longer post.

Last week we had a total blackout lasting two days, before that we used to get 6 hours of 'scheduled' electricity, meaning one and a half hours of power for every four without. At the moment, it has slightly improved to two hours for every four totalling 8 hours a day with recent promises from the Minister of Electricity to increase the electricity hours to 12 per day very soon as a New Year gift for Iraqis. Jolly! The same minister who, just three weeks ago, advised Iraqi citizens, with a straight face, to go buy electric generators instead of relying on his ministry.

But to be fair, that has improved as well. Now you can get your 30 litres of gasoline (not one drop over 30 is allowed) in just 3 hours, as opposed to 6-12 hours just two weeks ago with queues at petrol stations extending for miles. This was a result of mobilising National Guards to control the stations instead of the police. They started by enforcing the odd number/even number registration plates schedule (one day for vehicles with odd numbers and the next for those with even numbers).

The black market, on the other hand, continues to prosper. At one point the police were brought in to control the chaos at the stations, they inevitably ended up selling black market fuel from their police car trunks in no time. A 3-5 thousand Dinars bribe to the guard in charge of the station gates would some times earn you a favourable position in the queue or even to skip it, of course that is if you have the nerve to refuel your vehicle while pretending not to hear the colourful curses hurled at you from the direction of people that have been waiting for hours in the queue. Usually it's best done by avoiding eye contact and leaving hurriedly, as one smug look at the wrong person can get you quite hurt.

Another clever yet lowly trick is to send a female family member to fill up the tank, since women have a seperate, much shorter queue line. This used to work even if there was no queue for women, as your typical unsuspecting and chivalrous Iraqi male would gladly offer his front position for a lady. This method didn't last long though and nowadays women are allowed to refuel only if the car is actually registered to a woman.

It is also not uncommon to trade your position in the queue with someone far behind for an appropriate price which gets higher the closer you are to the station. This has become a profitable business for a few, and an effortless one for that. After all, you can find all the services you can imagine at the queue, tea stands, cigarettes, soda drinks, tasty Felafel and boiled egg sandwiches, hot chick peas, beans or turnips, beer (at certain hidden locations), even people renting out pillows and blankets in case you need to spend the night waiting in the queue.

A mobile phone is extremely invaluable because it is the only way you can locate a family member if there is trouble somewhere in the capital. Nabil's school is very far from our neighbourhood and if he runs late for some unpredictable reason we can be reassured about his safety by calling him, the same for others. A few days ago I was holed up till dark at my old college because of roadblocks following an attack on an American patrol. I couldn't call home because there was no signal the whole time I was there. When I returned home I found them crazy with fright.

Nokia phones are the most popular in Baghdad, especially the 6600 model. Iraqis have already nicknamed it dabdoob (fat) because of its peculiar size and shape. The classic, cheap 1100 model is called taabuga (brick) because of its durability. Some people claim they have ran over it in cars, dropped it from the roof, or attempted to smash it with a hammer and yet it still worked.

'Phonejacking' is not an uncommon practice these days. Similar to carjacking, a criminal would force you to give up your prized phone at gunpoint.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

From the Book of Common Prayer

For Peace

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

For Peace Among the Nations

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

For our Enemies

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas Eve Day. And tomorow is Christmas.
Somehow it doesn't seem right to be blogging just now. It's a problem with space in the heart.
Here is a Robert Frost poem for today...

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Look at Natalie

I'm ready to start thinking about Christmas.

Go over to The Bleat and look at Gnat. James Lileks is on vacation, but he posted a couple of pictures.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Welcome to Hoots' Place

Thanks to Capt. 2Slick, I'm getting new traffic.
If you are in that crowd, thanks for reading and welcome.
My interests are pretty eclectic here, left-leaning in an old-fashioned way since I was a child of the sixties. Christian, too, but I try not to be insulting about it.
If you need short posts, sorry. This is the best I can so. I'm not in the business of sound bites. Usually nothing subtle about soundbites.
Besides, I like sarcasm, and that works better for me if I can set the reader up first with a lot of words.

The post he mentioned is two down...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Social Security "privatization"

Debi White has been blogging about the Administration's plan to change the way that Social Security works. I have been thinking about the idea myself.

The word being used is "privatization" which is a way of saying that somebody needs to start making a profit from all that money, and it ain't going to go to any social security beneficiaries present or future. It is going to accountants, fund managers and others whose new job descriptions will be to steward the millions of little accounts that will be chipped out of the big rock that we now call Social Security.

Just as the private sector has figured out that employee-paid retirement plans (read "401-K") are cheaper than the old fashioned employer-paid plans (read "defined benefits plans"), the government is figuring out that by shifting some of the burden to individuals for their own retirement, it can save government expenses in the long run, even though the net yield to the beneficiaries will have been shaved, slimmed and trimmed by various administrative layers (read "service charges of one kind or another") to less than it might otherwise have been.

No one wants to face the fact that as the result of many companies divesting themselves of their defined benefits plans the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corp could be facing insolvency unless the trend is slowed. This is something I keep up with because I am one of those recipients. Mine was one of many companies for which Chapter Eleven protection enabled a "reorganization", with one of the liabilities of the old company conveniently shifted to PBGC. I think United Air Lines would like to do the same thing (to remain competetive, don't you know) except that it might signal the pension world equivalent of a run on the bank. (If they can do it, then so can we!)

But I digress.
The subject was Social Security, a federal plan.
But it might be helpful to take a look at how the private sector behaves if we are contemplating "privatization".

Before we go hugging the idea, take a look at this reality: Social Security is supported by TAX MONEY. When it comes out of your check and doesn't come back, it is a tax. But unlike income tax, it has to be matched, dollar for dollar, by one's employer, which doubles the value to the system.

This means that any so-called "reform" of the system will have to have features that appeal,not only to the employee (read "voter") but the employer (read "lobbyists") as well. I am not clever enough to guess what kind of smoke and mirrors the administration has in mind. It frightenes me to imagine. And even when the bandwagon starts to roll, we still won't know what is at stake until sleuths start combing through the details. The stuff that won't be popular will certainly not be advertised. It will as hard to find as nits in long hair.

Now here is the sentence in Debi's post that keeps playing in my head:

But Bush refuses to support the obvious remedies available if the program really were in danger, such as raising the cap of $87,900 on the amount of a person's income subject to payroll taxes.

"Raising the a person's income subject to payroll taxes."

Now that is an idea whose time has come.
And that is an idea which will be killed like an unwanted fetus, before it has a chance to inhale it's first breath, simply because it is too simple, too easy to grasp and too obvious a remedy to allow it to live. That idea would spoil everything.

It is one of the best-kept secrets in America. Those who are in the best financial position to contribute more to Social Security are not expected to do so after they have contributed up to a certain amount each year. The amount goes up every year. This year it is nearly $90,000, but whatever it is, once one's taxable earned income hits that point, no more deductions are made for Social Security until the following January, when the obligatory 3.14% (or whatever it is) starts all over for the next calendar year.

I know about this simply because I was fortunate enough to pay the max into Social Security for over twenty years. I considered it to be a great blessing to be earning that kind of money. And when the deductions stopped toward the end of the year, just in time for holiday shopping, it was like getting a Christmas bonus. Because I was in the food business, one of those wonderful places that we euphemistically refer to as the "service economy", I was working with subordinates whose incomes were so small that most could not afford even to be enrolled in the company's group medical insurance. But that was all part of the deal. They got to work for a well-paid boss whose mission in life was to figure out pursuasive non-monitary benefits to keep them loyal and motivated, and I, in turn, got paid about three or four times their average income.

The great unwashed must never find out about the maximum contribution to social security. First of all, they probably wouldn't understand, and if they did, the potential for demagoguery would be enormous. All that keeps the system in check is the simple fact that whenever people get to earning at that level, they forget that they were once part of a great grey mass, they imagine that they deserve all they earn, and aim to keep every penny they can. If that means that the rich get richer and the poor get children, so be it.

I am reminded of Doolittle in My Fair Lady (or Pygmalian, if you prefer)

It's making a gentleman of me that I object to. Who asked him to make a gentleman of me? I was happy. I was free. I touched pretty nigh everybody for money when I wanted it, same as I touched you, Enry Iggins.
Now I am worrited; tied neck and heels; and everybody touches me for money. "It's a fine thing for you," says my solicitor.
"Is it?" says I. "You mean it's a good thing for you," I says.
When I was a poor man and had a solicitor once when they found a pram in the dust cart, he got me off, and got shut of me and got me shut of him as quick as he could.
Same with the doctors: used to shove me out of the hospital before I could hardly stand on my legs, and nothing to pay. Now they finds out that I'm not a healthy man and cant live unless they looks after me twice a day.
In the house I'm not let do a hand's turn for myself: somebody else must do it and touch me for it.
A year ago I hadnt a relative in the world except two or three that wouldnt speak to me. Now Ive fifty, and not a decent week's wages among the lot of them.
I have to live for others and not for myself: thats middle class morality.

Later on he admits to doing things he would never have assented to when he was a poor man...

"...Intimidated, Governor. Intimidated. Middle class morality claims its victim."

Sleep well, America.
Middle class morality will keep us strong, along with the banking and accounting industries, and a continuind cap on the earnings of wealthy citizens.

[All this is a farce, of course. The principal barrier to increases in the cap will not come from individuals (read "voters"), but from their employers (read "lobbies"), whose corresponding matching amounts would go up along with theirs.]

Monday, December 20, 2004

Blogroll tweak

Star from Mosul has been replaced by Iraq Files in my blogroll. Najma's blog is still listed among the Iraqi blogs linked by Iraq Files, but along with a long list representing a cross-section of Iraqi weblogs, both civilian (of Iraqi origin) and military (by various people blogging from American military perspectives). I noticed that 2Slick is missing from their list, but the omission is probably an oversight since he is one of the smartest thirty-one year old people blogging today. Someone should give them a heads up.

It saddens me to watch the soft edges of a youngster become calloused, but I suppose that is the stuff of growing up. It happened to all of us at one time or another, but in this case it seems to be happening in less than a year. Najma's early entries were mostly about school, family and a sister's new baby (hence her alias "Aunt Najma"). As the war came closer, as comments to her blog became tougher, she is being pulled from the sheltered environment of her obviously well-placed family, pressed to take sides in the conflict.

There is no way to predict how long her current post and long, painful string of comments will remain, but it is a micro-study in how quickly a crowd of people can be stirred into an argument. It is the internet equivalent to road rage, writ plain for all to read. Najma posts pictures, reportedly taken in her grandparents' house next door. The pictures compare some bullet holes that were photographed in July with more serious damage caused recently when Mosul became the focus of military advances against insurgents.

In her post, Najma refers to "American irresponsible soldiers" who shot and killed a student, along with "Tired of pressure? Shppt yourselves, not other people's kids" which is as confrontational as this teenager been. Her references to the war have been remarkably benign. I have had the feeling reading her blog that she just wants the whole thing to get finished so she can get on with life and stay focused on her schoolwork. She is obviously a bright, well-organized student.

At this writing there are nearly fifty comments published to this post. There is passion in all of them, as well as argument and dissention. Plenty of name-calling and finger pointing. Plenty of fault-finding. 2Slick, mentioned above, has been in Mosul before and has deep respect for the city and its heritage. I picked this up from one of his posts before the Fallujah engagement was underway. He took time to write a comment explaining the reason he is dropping her link from his blogroll. He said, in part

I was in Mosul with the 101st in 2003- so I am one of those "irresponsible soldiers" that you are so quick to blame for this incident. Funny how nobody called me "irresponsible" when me and my soldiers risked our lives by driving to Mosul University every single day in order to repair the damage that came not just from the Kurdish looting in March- but from 30 years of poor management and pure neglect. We spent $2.7 million US dollars at that place, despite more than a few efforts to kill us.

Let me give you a quick lesson (one that Osama bin Laden does not want you to hear). If an Islamic fascist terrorist attempts to kill me (an American), but ends up killing a Muslim child instead- that Islamic terrorist is to blame. It doesn't matter if it was shrapnel from the terrorist's bomb or bullets from the weapon I used to defend myself(defending one's own life from a terrorist attack is not "irresponsible", btw). This is a concept that people in your part of the world need to understand, and it needs to happen sooner than later. Bin Laden would argue (as you have) that the Americans would be responsible for the death of that Muslim child, and that he is therefore justified in orderingthe death of every American child- which makes the whole thing even more disgusting and despicable.

I am sorry to see that you have chosen to be one of those Islamofascists. I will now remove your link from my site.

Tough language from a warrior to a teenager, but it is a tough situation. I especially wince at the phrase "...people in your part of the world need to understand." Too bad I cannot afford the luxury of sympathizing with both of these good people, but I must bow to the demands of patriotism and take the soldier's side. Najma is becoming collateral damage in this fight. I must swallow that reality along with a lot of others that make me want to throw up.

Of course, by expressing sensitivity to someone now branded an enemy, I bring my own reputation and judgement into question. Nevetheless, that is my take on what is happening. This is one of the reasons I was a conscientious objector. Not only is my character poor material for a warrior, I really don't want to inactivate part of my heart in order to become one.

Under the circumstances I, too, am essentially dropping Najma's link from my little blogroll, burying it in a pile of stuff that will likely never generate traffic in her direction. That is my concession to the weight of public opinion, and admission that in her journey, Najma has taken a wrong turn.

Follow-up December 23...

I plan to keep this brief.
Despite the fact that Capt. 2Slick was straightforward and consistent with what he said, several posters to Najma's blog cannot let it alone. The comments section of her blog has become a nest of carping, about that and a lot more. Nothing would be lost if she decided to turn off comments altogether.
Some of the same posters from Najma's blog have left comments at 2Slick's Forum with the vain idea that an adult professional's mind might be changed by internet messages from a comments section of a weblog. That strikes me as a really empty waste of time and energy.
Always polite, the Captain has posted yet another response to some of his nagging critics in his own comments. This one merits repeating:

You guys are entitled to your opinions - thanks for stating your position. If you are mad that I removed her link- sorry, but you're going to stay mad.

A few "ill-chosen words?" "One comment that I didn't like?" Not even close. I believe she exposed her true feelings about us when she suggested that we "shoot ourselves," but that's far from being the only problem I have with her site. There is no grey area here. I will not support Islamofascist propaganda- she's spreading it (whether she realizes or not). Read her site.

She can post that stuff all she wants- I simply won't help her to distribute it. She's a young Riverbend as far as I can tell. I have every right to call her what I believe she is (a young Islamofascist propagandist) and to remove her link from my site. Not sure what the big deal is there.

Many others are posting very good comments on her site, especially
Lisa from NY-

My frustration with you is that you rarely acknowledge that there are two sides to the conflicts in your city. You almost make it sound as if American soldiers wake up every day thinking �What can we do to annoy Najma today?�

I appreciate people's continued efforts to "show her the light." They can do that all they want- I simply will not. My experience tells me they are barking up an already-polluted tree, and I believe that we have wasted many decades trying to "help and understand" Islamofascists. I believe the right answer is to leave them be, and concentrate our efforts towards helping the ones who are willing to stand up for freedom and democracy. Choose your battles wisely, I like to say. That's just me.

Jeff, you apparently think I'm acting like a teenager because I fail to sympathize with someone who just wrote a very lengthy post about American "atrocities" while neglecting to mention a single word about the Americans and Iraqis who had just been brutally murdered only miles from her home. If you can't read anything into that, then I probably can't help you either. Continue your efforts to support and understand her, and you will continue to be dissapointed. The good news, as far as I'm concerned, is that young Najma is far from being the voice of the majority over there.

I'm sure you're a nice guy, Jeff- but you remind me of the people who praise Arafat as a hero.

What can a reader not understand about that?

I'm not as convinced as he is that Najma is a "young Riverbend". I still see her as a latter day Anne Frank, but today she is not hiding in a secret place writing a private diary. Instead, she is standing naked before the world in a firestorm of conflicting ideas and opinions, revealing her inner thoughts for all to know. It's ironic. She is Muslim, and in the age of the internet she is doing the equivalent of wearing a gold star identifying her as one of those who risk being sent to the ovens.

But but my opinion in this matter is of no importance. I am prepared to wait, hope and pray for a good outcome. I will continue to follow Najma's blog, just as I also read Riverbend, Raed, Juan Cole and several more that would ruffle the feathers of a good many people.

At this point, too, I plan to move on with blogging and give the matter a rest.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

What it is like to be pro-life

When this was written (October) I wanted to blog it. (I may have and forgot, but here it is again...)
It's worth repeating because it seems to express an unadulterated moral position, unbent by political, cultural or social considerations. Here is the voice of a prophet. Ignoring the words of a prophet is a perilous mistake.

One has the conviction, born of faith, reason, or both, that humans ought not to be killed in the womb. One comes to believe that such an action would be the killing of the innocent human life, and hence is a crime where the blood cries out to heaven, much as the blood of Abel cried out against Cain. Further, this crime is committed 4000 times a day in the United States.

But, those who hold this conviction are told that it is extreme, that it is out of the mainstream, and therefore a position to be abandoned. Note that rarely, if ever, are we pro-lifers debated on the issues. Who could win such a debate with us, without being forced to acknowledge that according to their principles, no-one has any rights at all? (See my Socratic Dialogue, linked on the sidebar.) Mother Theresa used to say that if we can kill the child in the womb, I can kill you, and you can kill me. She's absolutely right.

No, we are not debated, but are called names and silenced. Why? Because ours must be a prophetic voice against our own beloved country, and no country loves prophets. Prophets speak uncomfortable truths, and the uncomfortable truth is that the United States of America is morally on par with the great evil empires of old. What Atilla or Tamurlane ever killed 1.5 million a year? What Hitler or Stalin murdered as cleanly and quickly as we do?

We should have a debate on the issue of human dignity and the protection of life. Such a debate has not occurred solely because the opposing side is afraid that we will win, and, more than fearing loss, they fear repentance. What amount of penance, what national sackloth and ashes would be required to make up for 1.5 million deaths a year? It is fear of repentance, not fear of losing reproductive freedom, that drives the continuing legality of abortion. To change now would be to admit that we as a nation were wrong, and not only that we were wrong, but that we were monstrous. Link

Surfing Christian Carnival XLVIII

Fasten your seatbelts...

David Wayne is a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey calling his weblog Jollyblogger.
Here he touches on an issue that bears on any discussion of political, cultural or social topics. His message will resonate clearly with my buddy Bob. Taking a lead from writer D.A. Carson and quoting directly, he drives home the point that [w]here "wisdom" [in I Cor. 2] is conceived to be a public philosophy of life and not simply healthy endowments of a common sense or the like, there are only two alternatives: ultimately wisdom is from the world and is opposed by God, or it is God-given and tied to the cross.

I have argued many times before (as have many others) that one of our problems today is that we are fighting battles that were caused by evangelical withdrawal from social and political spheres. So we certainly don't want to withdraw. However, I am not so sure that our re-engagement in these things as an extension of the gospel, or the message of the cross.

One of the things that I hear many evangelicals saying today is that we are involved politically and socially in order to enable the preaching of the gospel. In other words, our activities in these spheres will facilitate gospel ministry. Carson says that it's the other way around - gospel ministry facilitates activity in these spheres.

That's a distinction that has some merit, it's not merely a semantic thing. If Carson is right, and I think he is, too many of our evangelical leaders simply assume the gospel, while they are really energized by other issues. Michael Scott Horton has said that in evangelical churches today, you can have a completely heterodox view of the person of Christ and be warmly accepted, but if you have a differing view on abortion you will be shunned. Of course its not an either/or, but it does illustrate that our views on social issues far outweigh our views on the weightier issues of the bible and theology.

What I fear is that, in such a climate, we may be giving birth to a generation of Christians who know not the gospel, simply because we have assumed they do.

Really, take the time to do it: Read the whole thing so I don't have to post it all here. It is worth the time.
Meantime, Christian Carnival XLVIII is up at Parableman, with every participant enshrined in a beautiful thematic layout. The presentation reminds me of a crowd of folks dressed out in their Sunday best, but a much shorter pick-list at Siris is a lot easier for me to navigate.

It is a rich repository of good (and some marginal) stuff. I am overwhelmed at the volume of writing that is proliferating in the blogosphere. This dose is more than I can handle and it's only a flashbulb on a sunny day.

Who Shook The House? at Reasons Why linked to an alphabetical apologetics resource that listed our friend Bill DeArteaga as a leader with the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship! I already emailed Fr. Bill so he can bring them up to speed on at least his little piece of that mountain of unsifted data.

It's like jumping on a trampoline. It's been decades, but I still remember what it was like to stop.
It makes me tired to think of it.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Saturday morning reading

It's Saturday. Slow news day, so far.
Traffic to the blog is slow on a good day, but practically no one but me, myself and I on Saturday, so I can indulge in whatever obscure content strikes my fancy.

This morning I came across an excellent essay in Policy Review Online, linked by Imshin, an example of why I keep up with a few sites that may seem trivial most of the time, but happen to belong to some very smart people. I have great respect for curious, questioning, open-minded people who do not seem to have too many boundaries to their intellect. That is not to say I and they always reach the same conclusions, but because they do not fear looking at issues from all angles, theirs is a world of ideas rich with variety.

I am not ashamed to say that I have to read through some things more than once. I don't always catch what is being said the first time.
This essay is one of those pieces. Some ideas are bigger than soundbites and one-liners. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love a good aphorism, but I also have great respect for notions that do not fit into a single paragraph.

I haven't at this point done all my homework. I don't know, for example, who Kaplan is (really, except I know the name from having subscribed to the Atlantic for years before the internets came along...), and I am not familiar with all the footnotes and other litererary references. But that does not stop me from reading and sharing what I have found so far. I am capable of recognizing clear thinking, good writing and pursuasive arguments, even if I don't agree with everything I read.

Here is a string of copy/paste lines which caught my eye from the essay. At a glance, any one of them would make a good springboard for discussion. Not for the feint of heart, here is an intellectual box of Whitman's candy...

...Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power (1960)...

...six ingredients necessary for oppression: secrecy, physical brutality, swift reaction, the right to question and to demand answers, the right to judge and condemn, and the right to pardon and show mercy. Ours is not an age of democracy, or an age of terrorism, but an age of mass media, without which the current strain of terrorism would be toothless in any case.

Like the priests of ancient Egypt, the rhetoricians of ancient Greece and Rome, and the theologians of medieval Europe, the media represent a class of bright and ambitious people whose social and economic stature gives them the influence to undermine political authority.

The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety; Machiavelli wondered whether any government could remain useful if it actually practiced the morality it preached.

Just as journalists are not bureaucratically accountable for their views - disseminated with all the power brought to bear by new technology - global cosmopolitans are increasingly unaccountable to geographical space, or to a specific government, or even to fellow voters. Their friends and acquaintances are spread throughout the planet, and with less of a stake in geography, they are dull to pleas of national interest even as they are alive to those of "humanity." That is to say, they represent the well-worried.

It is the investigative journalist who has inherited the mantle of the old left, whatever the ideological proclivities of individual practitioners of the trade. The investigative journalist is never interested in the 90 per cent of activities that are going right, nor especially in the 10 per cent that are going wrong, but only in the 1 per cent that are morally reprehensible. Because he always seems to define even the most
heroic institutions by their worst iniquities, his target is authority itself. Disclaimers notwithstanding, he is the soul of the left incarnate.

When every major domestic policy decision or military operation is characterized on the basis of its worst flaws, leaders become increasingly risk averse, for they know that anything even vaguely heroic, simply by definition, must masquerade as failure until such time as there is no electoral benefit to be gained from it.

Like the saints in medieval icons who were worshipped with incense and burning candles beginning around 500 A.D., television newscasters are, in the words of art and social critic John Berger, the "epitome of the disembodied."

As with medieval churchmen, the media class of the well-worried has a tendency to confuse morality with sanctimony...

...the media confuse victimization with
moral right...

The heroism of someone like Jessica Lynch is acceptable to the journalistic horde because it is joined to her victimhood. the next war, while the media provide the global cosmopolitan perspective, the troops themselves may well provide the American one. The fact is that most grunts can't stand to be portrayed as victims. The quietly mounting trend of American soldiers and Marines writing about their experiences and posting them on weblogs rather than having their experiences interpreted by transnational journalists is proof enough.

There is more. Much more. And that does not include the concluding paragraph.

Thanks, Imshin. This is much better than a latke recipe. But don't stop posting recipes.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Abortion in the news

The December 20 issue of Newsweek has an article called Anxiety Over Abortion, sub-titled "Pro-choice Democrats eye a more restrictive approach to abortion as one way to gain ground at the polls."
Notice the language, "anxiety over abortion." That really means "anxiety over the Democrats' POSITION on abortion, not necessarily the FACTS of abortion." This is not a discussion of abortion. It is a discussion of the politics of abortion. There is a difference.

The week after Thanksgiving, dozens of Democratic Party loyalists gathered at AFL-CIO headquarters for a closed-door confab on the election. John Kerry dropped by to thank members of the liberal 527 coalition America Votes. When Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice political network EMILY's List, asked about the future direction of the party, Kerry tackled one of the Democrats' core tenets: abortion rights. He told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn't like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party, he said. "There was a gasp in the room," says Nancy Keenan, the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Democratic lawmakers have found themselves boxed in by a pro-choice orthodoxy that fears the slippery slope - the idea that allowing even the smallest limitation on abortion only paves the way for outlawing it altogether. As a result, most Democrats opposed popular measures like "Laci and Conner's Law" - which makes it a separate federal crime to kill a fetus - and a ban on the gruesome procedure called partial-birth abortion.
...the issue is so thorny that nearly every lawmaker contacted by NEWSWEEK declined to discuss those votes or the topic in general. But a handful of those senators - including Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh - have joined a new progressive advocacy group, Third Way, that hopes to move the party to the center on a number of cultural issues, including abortion. The effort is headed by a team of strategists who helped the Dems find middle ground on gun safety. [gun safety??? ed.]

Watch what happens with the political debate.

Make no mistake about it. When the topic is tossed into the basket of a group which is also looking for a "middle ground" for gun safety, for crying out loud, referring to "cultural issues", just know that it's about politics, not principles. (I still love that Truman line contrasting politics with what a pig knows about Sunday. Smart people understand that the two don't mix.)

When the WSJ starts talking about a subject, it has arrived on the national political radar screen. James Taranto's column yesterdaysaid...

The Democrats' problem here is not that they need to make their views clearer; it is their views, as expressed by Nancy Keenan's gasp, which are too extreme for most Americans. Republicans have their own abortion extremists, on the other side of the issue, but as we argued last week, Roe v. Wade precludes those views from affecting policy, so that the Republicans are able to adopt a highly nuanced approach to abortion.

There is only one solution for the Democrats' abortion dilemma, and that is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, which, as we noted last week, would shift the battle to terrain friendlier to the Democrats and the pro-choice position. This could happen, but it's likely to take a while, since it would require two personnel changes at the court (not including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a Roe dissenter) and an appropriate case to make its way to the court. We wouldn't be at all surprised if Roe remains "good law" a decade hence.

The Democrats, of course, are committed to fight to the death to defend Roe, which means they cannot openly advocate or encourage an outcome that would be very much in their political interest. No wonder they have trouble explaining their position.

Catch that?
"There is only one solution for the Democrats' abortion dilemma, and that is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe..."

I have been arguing that Roe has become such a lightening rod that no one, even journalists in high places, really seems to know that the real problems may have started with Roe, but the extreme results have come after Roe. As long as respectable people like Mr. Taranto continue to fall into the language trap of "there is only ONE solution" and "OVERTURN Roe", little progress can be expected.

Notice, too, that none of this discussion speaks to the plain facts of abortion: exactly what does the word mean? When does it happen? What is the range of issues that lead a woman (or a physician, or a potential father, or a parent) to contemplate the decision to seek an abortion? What is the meaning of "trimester" or "viability" in either legal, clinical or popular language? And finally, what are the alternatives? And worse, what penalties are being contemplated for those who violate proposed legislation to criminalize the procedure? For the "putative" mother (to use the language I learned from reading Roe)? The physician? The pharmacist? The lab assistants?

We see instead the stupid assumptions that the word "abortion" means the same thing to all people, that their minds are already made up, and political positioning is more important than any discussion of ethics.

This is such a muddy mess that it is hard to know where to begin talking about it.
One thing is clear to me. As long as the discussion is left up to the politicians, the debate will not get any better. The time is long overdue that serious non-political people stop allowing themselves to be led around by their noses by politicians and begin discussing abortion among themselves with open minds.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Judge not...or something

A judge refused to delay a trial Tuesday when an attorney objected to his wearing a judicial robe with the Ten Commandments embroidered on the front in gold.

Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan showed up Monday at his Covington County courtroom in southern Alabama wearing the robe. Attorneys who try cases at the courthouse said they had not seen him wearing it before. The commandments were described as being big enough to read by anyone near the judge.

Attorney Riley Powell, defending a client charged with DUI, filed a motion objecting to the robe and asking that the case be continued. He said McKathan denied both motions.

"I feel this creates a distraction that affects my client," Powell said.

McKathan told The Associated Press that he believes the Ten Commandments represent the truth "and you can't divorce the law from the truth. ... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong."


Here we go. I feel like a broken record.
But I aim to repet it until it takes: MORALITY AND LEGALITY ARE NOT CONGRUENT.

Of all the misunderstandings that confuse and polarize people is the simple fact that what is legal is not always what is moral. And what is moral is not always what is legal. The halls of government and the sanctuaries of churches are, thank God, two very different, separate and sovereign environments. Both are important, in the same way that soap and water, and soup and water are important. But when you confuse the two, you either smell like soup or have a terrible taste of soap in your mouth.

This judge, by sporting the Ten Commandments on his robes -- in today's political climate -- is making an in-your-face political statement which has little, if anything, to do with morality OR legality, and everything to do with Politics. The gesture will, at the same time, only further contaminate the thinking of already muddy-thinking people, driving them further from ever understanding, much less appreciating, the six words I wrote above in upper-case type.

And once again I find myself in agreement with Debi White, who also commented on this story today.

Circuit Court Judge Ashley McLathan must be a clever fellow. Nothing publicly separates true, moral believers from the howling liberal heathens like forcing Democrats to be seen hiding biblical passages. Little raises the heat and energy of righteous conservative indignation more than motiviating the rank-and-file religious right to defend the sacred Word of God from evil non-believers.

Just in time for the first tough issues debates since the election. The first big fight of Bush's second security. By design or not, the close-to-depleted tank of far-right fuel can be replenished for new national issues fights by Judge McLathan's adroit baiting of the law and horrified press.
Rather like waving a red flag at a bull, Judge McLathan is begging authorities to make him a revered Christian martyr of the judicial circuit. Remember how appalled we all were that young French women were ordered to remove their Muslim head scarves? That they couldn't publicly exercise freedom of religious expression on their own persons?

The judge is aching for the same confrontation. He and his cohorts would love nothing more for Christmas than for him to be challenged about his manner of dress. Imagine the indignant press conferences.....the photo-ops of Judge McLathan displaying the offending robes.....of protestors surrounding the courthouse, chanting to save the Bible. Ahh...Santa Claus would be hard-pressed to find a more appreciated gift for conservative Alabama judges.

She concludes that the best response to the matter is to ignore it, thereby making it a non-issue.
I agree. I can do that okay. After thirty-five years dealing with the public, overlooking ignorance has become a way of life for me.

One thing does get under my skin, however. When I see persons of status advancing a conflict rather than moving toward a resolution, I wonder if they even know or care what they are doing. I want to say, "Excuse me, sir, are you aware that the Ten Commandments has become a political symbol more than a record of God's revealed words to Moses?"

Today I was talking to someone at work who mentioned "Did you know we aren't supposed to say 'Merry Christmas' any more?"
"You mean that business about 'Happy holidays' so we dont offend non-Christians?"
"Yes," she said, "haven't you heard?"
"Yes, I have," I said, "and I don't think it makes any difference. I'm going to say whatever feels right. And political correctness be damned."

The odd part is this. when I started dealing with the public, in retail, thirty-five years ago, I very deliberately said to customers, "I hope you have a good holiday!" or "Enjoy the holidays!" I did this instinctively, out of good manners, recognizing that not everyone celebrates the same holiday this time of year.
I have always felt that was the right thing to do.
But to be told that I have to do it, that it is now that gets on my nerves.
It is for that reason that I feel so strongly about issues of morality and legality.
It is personally easier for me to be moral, on purpose, than to do the right thing because it is required of me.

And that is part of the reason that the behavior of the Alabama judge gets under my skin.

It was not my intention to get side-tracked like this, but the moment I left the article and started surfing, the first place I hit was Pejman, whose post on natural law seemed obliquely related to this story.
As if that were not enough, he linked to a couple of other places touching on the same issue, with a discussion of Clarence Thomas being the focal point. (Somebody called Justice Thomas an "embarrassment" to the court. Kind of like calling Senator Byrd an embarrassment to the Senate. As long as Thomas and Byrd keep their noses clean and don't pull a "Trent Lott," any criticism they get will run off like water on a duck and the critic will sustain more damage than either of them.)
So go look at Jack Balkin, Lawrence Solum, and Pejman Yousefzadeh.
More than you ever cared to know about natural law.
And I come away with the clear impression that the Alabama judge is far, far away from the fine points of any discussion of "natural law."

Harry Truman's assessment of Ike comes to mind. "That fellow don't know any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday."
Now there was a man who understood the connection between church and state.

I'm not ready for this!

Specs fastened to your face with piercing between the eyes!
Gimme a break.
I guess it had to come, sooner or later. A neo-pince-nez.
Pictures and story here.

This pair isn't quite what I was looking for both in design terms and in terms of fit. I don't think they sit at quite the right angle to his face and we both want them to sit a little closer to his eyes, so we'll probably make another pair in the near future. Much as there are so many designs and styles of eyeglasses currently being manufactured, I think there are a number of ways this design could be improved upon. I certainly think they look neat and ended up being far more subtle than I thought they would be. I didn't even realize he was wearing them when I saw him a few days later, and he mentioned that most people don't notice that they are only attached to the piercing.

Tip to Mark.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Beauty of Christian Marriage

How shall we ever be able adequately to describe the happiness of that marriage which the Church arranges, the Sacrifice strengthens, upon which the blessing sets a seal, at which angels are present as witnesses, and to which the Father gives His consent? For not even on earth do children marry properly and legally without their fathers' permission.

How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God's church and partake of God's Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other's company; they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.

These, then, are the thoughts which the Apostle in that brief expression of his has left for our consideration. Recall them to your mind, if ever there should be need to do so. Use them to strengthen yourself against the bad example which certain women give you. In no other way than this are Christians permitted to marry -- and, even if they were, it would not be the prudent thing to do.

Tertullian (born about 150 A.D.)

Christmas Story

"Dad," he had once asked when he was a little boy, "what is a stable?"

"It's just a barn," his father had replied, "like ours."

Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds and the Wise Men had come, bringing their Christmas gifts!

The thought struck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift too, out there in the barn? He could get up early, earlier than four o'clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He'd do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking, he'd see it all done. And he would know who had done it.

He laughed to himself as he gazed at the stars. It was what he would do, and he mustn't sleep too sound.

Pearl Buck. Quick read for Christmas that underscores the point of the season. It only takes a couple of minutes to read.

Monday, December 13, 2004

State Abortion Laws

Abortion Law Homepage is a valuable resource.

Though Roe, Doe and Casey limit the power of states to regulate or ban abortion, nearly every state has some sort of law limiting abortion. About 4/5 ban non-therapeutic abortion in the last three months of pregnancy. Many have parental notice or consent laws for minors, waiting periods, informed consent and statistical reporting requirements for all abortions. Most of these latter types of legislation were ruled unconstitutional during the period form Roe to Thornburg, but have been mostly upheld since the Webster and Casey precedents replaced the "strict scrutiny" standard with the more flexible "undue burden" test. Since Casey, as medical science pushes the line of viability further back, states have been allowed to proscribe abortion earlier than under Roe. Some states have responded by adding viability test requirements.

Four-fifths of states ban non-therapeutic abortions in the last trimester.
What about the other 20%?

Since Casey, as medical science pushes the line of viability further back, states have been allowed to proscribe abortion earlier than under Roe. Some states have responded by adding viability test requirements.

"...have been allowed to proscribe abortion earlier than under Roe."
There are many fields yet to be plowed.

"adding viability test requirements"
More unplowed fields.

Seems to me there is a lot of work being done already. These steps would not have happened without a focused effort on the part of a lot of people at the grass roots.

Surfing fun...on the web, not the beach

There was a time when strawberries were shaped to fit into the mouth of a sparrow. That sparrow would then complement the strawberry by planting it's seeds in a distant location, complete with a little fertilizer. No wonder fruits are a diuretic. These days strawberries fit into the house wife's mouth. Strawberry farmers fill in for the sparrows.

Okay, then -- as SKB would say -- this is why I enjoy reading obscure stuff.
Where else can you come across fresh observations such as this?
This nugget was buried deep in the archives of Ascription is an Anathema to any Enthusiasm. I doubt the host would object to my calling him a geek.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The army we have

Dr. John Caulfield thought it had to be a mistake when the Army asked him to return to active duty. After all, he's 70 years old and had already retired - twice. He left the Army in 1980 and private practice two years ago.
'My first reaction was disbelief,' Caulfield said. 'It never occurred to me that they would call a 70-year-old.'
In fact, he was so sure it was an error that he ignored the postcards and telephone messages asking if he would be willing to volunteer for active duty to 'backfill' somewhere on the East Coast, Europe or Hawaii. That would be OK, he thought. It would release active duty oral surgeons from those areas to go to combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But then the orders came for him to go to Afghanistan.

Today, Caulfield, a colonel from Satellite Beach, Fla., is an example of how the continuing demands of keeping ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are forcing the military to go to extraordinary measures to keep its ranks filled. He's attending to patients - U.S. troops, Afghan soldiers and civilians - at the Army's 325th Field Hospital in Bagram, Afghanistan.

He is one of about 100 over the age of 60 known to be serving. The Department of Defense couldn't provide exact figures. Link

As Sec. Rumsfield said, "you go to war with the Army you have."
No comment.

Tip to Josh

Weblogs in Iran

One of Iran's leading bloggers was in Cambridge for a conference last week. The influence of the internet on Iranian politics is much more important than most people realize. Hossein Derakhshan, known as hoder, hosts one of the best known blogs in English. He needs to be on everyone's links who wants to be informed about Iranian politics.
Ethan Zuckerman is an internet development expert whose current principal interest is African blog development, specifically in Ghana. This is from his notes of the Cambridge conference at which Hoder was a speaker.

There's about 70 million people in Iran, and 70% of Iranians are under 30 years old. There are roughtly 5-7 million internet users in Iran, and, amazingly, about 70 - 75,000 active iranian weblogs, most of them in Persian. The Internet in Iran is the most trusted medium for journalism, more trusted than satellite broadcasts, either from the middle east or from the United States. (There are a couple of Persian-language satellite channels broadcast from Los Angeles.)
Unlike in the US, where the Internet came online a good five years before blog-like interactivity, the Internet was introduced in Iran with blogs... and this may mean the Internet gets used very differently in Iran. As in the US, it took a while for the Internet to move beyond entertainment to politics - many of the Iranian blogs are basically entertainment, but politics are starting to become more important.

For a long list of English weblogs by Iranians, check out the blogroll of Iranian Truth.

Iran is the elephant in the room in that part of the world.
I saw an "exit strategy" for the US from both Afghanistan and Iraq which consisted of a map of Iran with arrows pointing toward a military invasion of Iran. In fact, Glenn Reynolds linked to it. I suppose it was supposed to be cute, but I found it dangerously and ignorantly offensive.
Sabre rattling in Washington does not make me feel any better.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Pay attention

This morning I am not going to do any more blogging. The post that I just put together is more important than anything else that I could expect to find by surfing the internet in search of some clever diversion for the reader.

Instead I will leave Hootsbuddy's Place alone until next time I go blogging, so that visitors, especially "first time" visitors, will not be tempted to click away because of lost interest.

The post is serious and requires that the reader pay attention. (Right there I lost a lot of readers, I know.) Some parts of the post may need to be re-read for a good understanding. That's okay. In a sound-bite environment, there is no way to compete unless some portion of the population is willing to make an effort to do better. It is to that group that I write today.
The reader can choose which group to join.

You are respectfully invited to settle for a moment and digest the next post.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Yo, CBS! Here's your chance...

And I thought I was an idealist to the point of fantasy.
Take a look at this. Talk about a snowball in you-know-where.

Before they decide who gets the anchor chair, or what happens with CBS News, they could engage in an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, national act of public listening, where the entire divison, CBS News, just listens to Americans state their views about broadcast news. Lots of Americans, lots of views, lots of time to hear about all sides of the problem.

Maybe it's a tour of America: CBS comes to you. There's a public forum in every stop on the tour. Listening week. Instead of the Big Eye, symbol of CBS News, the Big Roving Ear. The executives make a pact with the journalists. No fateful decisions until the audience is heard at length-- but not just the audience, the public, which includes the ex-audience, and critics.

How would it harm CBS to take a month out for its big public listen? Can you see one? I can find no harm. How hard is it to imagine big benefits for CBS News? There would be many benefits. It might even be transformative. Especially when the denizens of the news division get to arguing about what they heard.

The Big Roving Ear. Love it! One can dream, anyhow.
Tip to Jarvis.

Latke Recipe

It's the third day of Hannukah.
I am an honorary Jew, having been the only goy in Hillel back in college days.
The memory of Sunday brunches with Lox and bagels, danish and coffee, has forever been one of my warm memories. And when it came time to enjoy latkes, served with apple sauce and cottage cheese, I can still see the kids in the little kitchen area of the tiny synagogue elbow to elbow, grating potatoes and onions with tears in their eyes (from the onions, already).
Here is a recipe from Imshin. I haven't made it (yet) but it looks good to me. Latkes are not all that scientific:

Here is Mum's basic recipe:
Grate four big potatoes. Let drain.
Mix two eggs, four tablespoons self-raising flour or four tablespoons plain flour and one teaspoon baking powder, salt and pepper.
Heat oil. Get Youngest to make the latkes. Fry till golden.

Here's what I added this morning, all grated:
One onion
One zucchini
One Jerusalem artichoke
A bunch of parsley
Two more eggs
More flour.

As I said, the best ever.

New reading...(Sigh)

Just when you think you can get a handle on the bookmarks and cut them down to a managable number, another website comes along and adds to the clutter. I have created a "New reading" folder, an "inactive blogs" folder, separate folders for medical, technical, spiritual,abortion, and goodness knows what else...and still the number grows. It's worse than a desk. So piled up I can't remember what all is there.
Anyway, here's another one via RLP, The World According to Chuck. Just plain storytelling, apparently with no hidden agenda other than being friendly. Here's a snip from what seems to have been his Thanksgiving post:

Six or seven years ago, my then 12-year-old (or maybe 13) daughter went to Iowa alone to visit friends. This was a big deal for us and her. She had to change planes and everything, and these were pre-cell phone days, at least for her, but she sailed through. We kept track of her all the way.
A day or so before she was due to return, I was talking with her on the phone when her friend (a girl whose family had moved from here to there; they were home alone at the moment) started yelling and Beth had to hang up to go into the cellar. It was a tornado warning. A serious one.
So I learned a parenting lesson that day, which is: You can puff your chest and strut and make rules and shake your finger and be as powerful as you want to be, but geography wins. Some days, all you can do is watch the Weather Channel and pray.
When the girls came outside, the cement-secured basketball hoop was bent double to the ground.
The house across the street was gone.

If you want to risk getting hooked, go read it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Like, wow, man!

A linguist from the University of Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word 'dude,' contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers, skaters, slackers and teenagers.
Cool solidarity is especially important to young men who are under social pressure to be close with other young men, but not enough to be suspected as gay.

In other words: Close, dude, but not that close.
To decode the word's meaning, Kiesling listened to conversations with fraternity members he taped in 1993. He also had undergraduate students in sociolinguistics classes in 2001 and 2002 write down the first 20 times they heard "dude" and who said it during a three-day period. Link

Over the years, in the interest of staying current, I have tried to take Cool Lessons.
According to the well-meaning feedback of people who know me, I have been failing miserably for most of my adult life. But I still have an interest. I still try to pay attention. Cool is very important to me. It is.
I once asked one of my black employees what I was doing wrong and he told me "Eat more chicken."

It's a slow day for blogging. Again, thanks Doc.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004, Excuse me...

Given Mr. Bush's deep religious beliefs and his special obligation as a Methodist to be merciful, one might expect Mr. Bush to lend a receptive ear to pleas for pardons.
The six pardons Mr. Bush granted in November raise his first term total to 25. His father granted more than three times as many in his one term. That is remarkable in itself as George Bush, the elder, granted fewer pardons than any president since Zachary Taylor in 1850.
With the exception of the current President's father, all of the Presidents since 1900 have issued [at] least eight times as many pardons (not adjusting for number of terms) as George W. Bush.
Here is the list:
T. Roosevelt 981, Taft 758, Wilson 2480, Harding 800, Coolidge 1545, Hoover 1385, Roosevelt 3687, Truman 2044, Eisenhower 1157, Kennedy 575, Johnson 1187, Nixon 926, Ford 409, Carter 566, Reagan 406, G.H.W. Bush 77, Clinton 456, G.W. Bush 25

Having a family member who recently benefited from a reprieve which allowed an early parole makes me a biased observer. I dare not comment much, but I am left wondering what might be the meaning of that phrase "compasionate conservatism."

I recall a discussion once arguing whether capital punishment was a deterrent to crime, someone concluded that "following an execution, there is at least one identifiable individual who is deterred from any further criminal activity."

Quite so.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Real Live Preacher story, Part II

His outburst of rage left us stunned and speechless there on the floor. I had never seen my grandfather angry like this. It had never occurred to me that Papaw got angry at all. When I thought of him, I thought of ice cream, rocking chairs on the back porch, silly stories, and his boisterous and contagious laughter. It was a naive and childish way to think, but I was naive and still a child. Link

RLP story, Finding the Man in the Picture, Part II, is up.
Be sure to read Part I if you have not already.

Glimpse inside North Korea

Our convoy continued northward through dry, rugged terrain that evokes the landscape seen in old cowboy films. But Hollywood Westerns don't have armed North Korean soldiers standing at attention every 100 yards, mile after mile, every one holding a red flag. Should anyone decide to sneak his camera up to the bus window, a flag would be raised, and presumably the bus would be halted.

Imagine that. A string of soldiers, stationed a hundred yards apart, that extends for miles along a planned route to be used by visitors. Apparently this has been going on for some time, according to this CS Monitor article.

In the past six years, 760,000 tourists, 99 percent of them South Korean, have quietly traveled through the heavily mined DMZ into North Korea, bringing welcome cash with them.

They can spend several days trekking in the rugged mountains, soaking in hot springs at a spa, and generally pinching themselves that they're actually inside one of the members of the "axis of Evil."

My interest in North Korea derives from the year and a half that I spent in South Korea as an Army X-Ray Technician. It provided an in-depth look inside another culture, guided by hospitable and informative Korean hosts who became close personal friends. I lost touch as the years passed, but I have never lost my sense of curiosity and connection with the country and the people I came to know.

About ten years after I left Korea, just before meeting my future wife, I met a group of Korean men lured to Atlanta by what turned out to have been a hoax. I never understood all of what hapened, but I spent several days helping them find apartment accommodations that would be more economical than the place where they were staying, a kind of commercial dorm/boarding house with bunks, no kitchen, and group bathroom accommodations. When all but one were situated, I shared my own apartment with him for the rest of the lease year which cut down on my own expenses.

We were remarkably compatible, having about the same level of tolerance for clutter and able to enjoy the same foods. Fortunately he had financial backing from his family, and before a year had passed he was accepted to the Graduate School at Georgia Tech (electronics engineer), secured credit, bought a car, and got a job repairing calculators. In the following years I watched him go to Korea and come back with a beautiful new bride (arranged by his family), start a retail business, move to suburbia and have kids, and blossom into another American success story.

Back to the article...

While in the country, I desperately tried to talk to some actual North Koreans. But all outsiders travel in a virtual bubble, as a way to just about eliminate contact between North Koreans and outsiders. Except for the hotel's doormen, all the staff we encountered were recruited from ethnic Korean communities in China - and they are rotated back to China every three months.

This is mystifying to me. How can there be such tight control that ethnic Korean communities in China are able to furnish hotel staff for North Korean hotels, and rotate home quarterly? The bonds between China and North Korea must be very strong.

I saw first hand that in the minds of Koreans the separation of their homeland was not understood to be a permanent arrangement. At the time I was there the US had fifty thousand troops assigned to South Korea, about the same number that Korea had sent to Viet Nam in support of the US war effort there. (There were so many Koreans in Viet Nam that Korean civilians were going to Vietnamese cities to serve as translators, taking advantage of good paying jobs to send money home to their families.) Talking with Koreans, I got the clear impression that were it not for the presence of US forces, the South might invade the North for the purpose of unification, so strong was the desire. Koreans seemed to regard the US presence there as necessary but disagreeable.

There are lessons to be learned here applicable to our presence in Iraq.

Hat tip again to Pejman for noticing this story. His remarks are also interesting.