Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Putting life in perspective

This email to NRO's Ed Whelan from a friend evacuated ahead of Katrina, I thought, provided that perspective in a big hurry:
Dear Friends,

I have often thought of my home, New Orleans, as the future Atlantis. Rome may well be the Eternal City. New Orleanians have the Ephemeral City.

And now, the long deferred worst case scenario has come due. The outlook is grim indeed. And the suffering that will no doubt be my fellow citizens' lot, be it from loss of property, health or life, is enough to touch the flintiest of hearts. Not to exaggerate the situation, but I am doubtful whether the city will ever be the same again. Without having seen the damage firsthand — and without knowing whether my home or office even exist — I can't imagine that the city will soon recover from such a blow. Our city appears to be filled with polluted water, and assuming that it could be drained soon, it seems rather unlikely that we will be going home within the next month.

Can you imagine a city of this size being vacated for a month? I can't imagine it, but it seems likely that I will live it!

Imagine losing the following:
  • Your home
  • Your job
  • Your possessions
  • Your children's access to schooling
  • Your economy
  • Your culture
  • Your city
I bring all of this doom and gloom up to make one key point: I am, in some key ways, better off now than I was before Katrina came to town. You see, for years now I have tried to convince my children of one truth: The most important things in life are not things. I had, of course, intended to emphasize this point from the comfort of a chaise lounge under the beneficent breeze of a ceiling fan. To my irritation and dismay, I must now say this without the proverbial pot.

We shall just have to wait and see whether my philosophy is able to withstand the rigors of a reality without. Although I shall miss air conditioning, I have reason to believe that I will pass this test.

Just this morning my ten-year-old daughter came to me, and with her voice trembling, asked me "Papa, are we going to be all right?"

My reply was "Yes, we are going to be just fine. I can lose everything I have with just a few exceptions, and they are your mother, you and your sisters."

I write these words from the home of a friend in Houston, Texas, with very little to my name. I have, nevertheless, wealth untold. To those of you who have attempted to call, it is probable that our telephones will be out for the foreseeable future — New Orleans doesn't have an electrical grid right now, so until they can rebuild that we probably won't have much in the way of telephone service.

I'm grateful for the kindness of friends who have taken us in without reservation.

Say a prayer for my city tonight; there are so many others who have lost the greatest wealth God gives — their own lives. Whether I like it or not, my treasure will, for a season, be stored in places where 'moths and dust doth not corrupt.'
Maybe such a perspective comes when you realize you have no other choice. Or maybe God gives His grace to those who He knows will best exemplify it. If you're praying for these people, say another one while you're thinking about it.

The O gets the Biscuit (mostly) right

In the mid-summer heat three years ago, lightning strikes in five separate locations created forest firest that converged into the Biscuit Fire, which burned half a million acres of Southern Oregon and Northern California wilderness.

Three years later, with billions of board feet rotting on the forest floor, environmental and timber interests are still arguing about an appropriate level of salvage. One Oregon State University professor in the school of forestry suggested (PDF in link) that as much as 2.5 billion board feet of timber could be salvaged. A southern Oregon timber trade group estimated (scroll down to the 12th paragraph) that such a salvage operation would provide 20,000 timber jobs (paying $14 to $30 per hour), and another 5,000 non-timber jobs.

Instead, the Forest Service threw out 500 million board feet. Then it hemmed and hawed and listened to environmentalists to the exclusion of timber interests, and reduced that number to 372 million board feet.

To put it in perspective, here's part of a story from the Environmental News Service:
The Biscuit Fire Recovery Plan is one of the largest logging projects in U.S. Forest Service history. Under the plan, 19,000 acres of old growth forests and roadless wildlands would be logged, but the environmentalists say the plan is not about forest recovery but about enriching logging companies.
It's not about Iraq! It's about making the president's oil buddies richer! Oh wait, same argument, different issue.

Note that it's 19,000 acres out of half a million, or less than four percent. And it's 19,000 flame-consumed acres, for pete's sake!

Today's Oregonian editorial notes, "A new poll shows that three out of every four Oregonians want federal forests restored after wildfires by salvaging burned trees and replanting with seedlings. The fourth, no doubt, wants to sue to stop the Forest Service from doing anything."

And there's the rub. That minority perspective has caused the timber to sit rotting for the better part of three years. That OSU professor who put out the 2.5 billion board feet number also noted:
The loss in value of dead trees from decay and insects is about 22% after the first year. At the end of 5 years, only the butt logs of the largest trees will have salvage value. The decline in economic value is even more rapid than the decay rate. By the summer of 2003, the loss of economic value is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
We're two years past the summer of 2003, boys & girls. What's the loss in economic value today? Within a couple of years, the whole thing will be worthless. And that, I suspect, is part of the strategy of the environmental movement — tie the issue up in litigation and protest long enough for the timber interests to pull out. This story by Kathie Durbin — who used to write for the O and is well known as a minister for the environmental movement — in the High Country News does its best to paint a dim picture of any economic worthiness.

But it's not just the economics. It would also re-seed the forest more rapidly than letting nature take its course. The OSU prof estimates re-forestation would occur in half the time under the salvage option — 80 years instead of 160. (Environmentalists argue that the forest is already showing signs of life, noting new grasses and flowers, but fail to note that the grass seed was dropped to prevent erosion.) Salvage operations would also reduce the remaining fuel to prevent such catastrophic fires in the future, and to encourage tree growth by eliminating choking undergrowth.

The Oregonian concludes:
There are many places where timber salvage is a bad idea, where soil compaction, erosion or other damage from logging causes environmental harm that exceeds its economic benefits. Respected scientists disagree about how best to help forests recover from wildfires, and many now argue that a leave-it-alone approach is often best.

Yet there must be a thoughtful middle ground somewhere on salvage and recovery of federal forests. When a fire burns a hundred thousand acres of an Oregon forest, surely a small percentage of the burned area can be safely and promptly salvaged -- before the trees rot -- and certainly much of it ought to be reseeded or replanted.

The Northwest members of Congress who led the effort to pass healthy forest legislation -- including Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Gordon Smith, both R-Ore. -- are now working on a similar bill to expedite timber salvage.

Skeptics keep saying that Congress won't be able to work out a deal because post-fire salvage is much more controversial than thinning to prevent forest fires. There is no public consensus on salvage, they claim.

The recent poll suggests otherwise. Oregonians know very well that fire salvage policy on federal lands is now a big waste of time, money, wood and jobs. Their elected leaders know it. The only question left is whether anybody is going to do anything about it.
It's a big waste of time, money, wood and jobs because the environmentalists ensure it through unreasonable judicial actions and stall tactics. The only way anybody is going to "do anything about it" is if the Endangered Species Act is reshaped to take a more "thoughtful middle ground," as the editorial stated, and the federal judges interpreting the law remember that middle ground, not Earth Justice's version thereof.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina bites

When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia last year, people around the world struggled to understand the magnitude of the disaster. I may have had a little better understanding of the situation, as I had two good friends who were working in Indonesia at the time; they flew from their island to Banda Aceh to assist the local officials, and sent updates back to their friends stateside. Still, it was still next-to-impossible to wrap my brain around the idea that hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions of lives permanently altered in a heartbeat.

I have the same feeling tonight as I read news and blog coverage from Hurricane Katrina. Eighty percent of New Orleans is under water, and in some places the water is as much as 20 feet — 14 feet over my head! — deep. The stories of people holed up in their attics or sitting out on their roofs in the midst of 100 mph winds were almost impossible to comprehend.

WWL television's website has a load of information, including aerial video shots of the devastation. This interview with Mayor Ray Nagin is amazing for the laundry list of horror. Even though I don't know what squat about New Orleans, I know it's bad when Nagin says the Twin Span bridges are completely destroyed. Or when he calls for all residents on the east bank of Orleans and Jefferson (the combined population of which is roughly a million souls, according to Wizbang blog) to evacuate because sandbagging efforts at a major levee break have ended, the pumps at the levee will fail within hours, and another nine feet of water will pour into the area.

(Another source [see the 8:47 entry, which was two hours after Nagin's evacation notice] says crews are still trying to fix the levee; I hope they're right and the mayor is wrong.)

Rescue crews are ignoring the dead bodies in the water in order to reach survivors. How do I process that? The death toll is likely higher than anyone realizes right now — based on what I'm reading, I'm guessing it may reach quadruple-digits throughout the south — but the fact that there are survivors is encouraging. I have to hold onto the positive in such a devastating situation.

For a local angle, read this email sent from Oregonian Editor Sandy Rowe to the O's employees about their sister paper in NO. It was posted tonight in the comments of PDX Media Insider; the emphasis is mine:
I talked to Jim Amoss, editor of the NO Times Picayune, several hours ago when he reached Houma, La., newsroom. From there the editing crew was going to Baton Rouge, where they will continue to publish online, mostly via sending stories to Newhouse News Service by e-mail.

He said that the national media wasn't even coming close to grasping the scope of the story. The city is utterly, utterly devastated and uninhabitable.

They evacuated the newspaper building late this morning loading about 300 employees into delivery trucks and heading southwest. Most of those employees do not know if their homes survived, and Jim said many certainly did not. He assumes his is among those. As you have heard, to add to the pain, the looting in the city in increasing.

When the newspaper employees left the city, they were told it might be several weeks before they could return. Meanwhile, the journalists staying in NO are trying to do their jobs without the ability to move around much and with intermittent and difficult communications.

It's horrifying and humbling thinking of what so many communities and individuals, including our colleagues, are going through now and will have to endure in the weeks ahead. We have offered our help and resources to assist at any time and in any way, but right now there is nothing we can do from here. That will change as they get a better handle on the scope of this and have greater ability to move. It could be days or weeks before they can publish on newsprint or deliver -- and at least that long before people are back in the city.

Keep them in your thoughts.
The Times-Picayune, the staff of which evacuated its offices in NO just hours before escape would have been impossible and moved to Baton Rouge in an attempt to continue publishing, has dozens of powerful photos here.

Another good read is Josh Britton, a Louisiana State University student (I think) who has the Baton Rouge angle covered. He's the one who is linked in the previous paragraph.

For bad news that falls into the Human Failings category (i.e. looting, prison riots, and more looting), Michelle Malkin is all over it. Her entries, however, were too heart-breaking; I had to stop reading.

Also, check out Wizbang's early Wednesday morning entry advising a few bloggers to chill out about pointing fingers. A sample:
Think about it for a second from my chair... (I'm not whining but) I'm almost 40 years old.... Here is the sum total of all my worldly possessions: 4 pairs of shorts, 5 shirts, 2 pairs of shoes, 4 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of blue jeans, a box of family pictures, 2 flashlights, a piece of trench art my grandfather brought back from WWI and my father's hammer. (Hey, it means a lot to me!) That's it. Everything else is gone. And BTW, I'm unemployed.

I tell you that not to whine but to let you see the tree thru the forest. Multiply my situation by about a million. Stop and think about that... A million people homeless and unemployed.

If you're a blogger then (by near definition) you're a self proclaimed talented person. Prove it. They'll be plenty of time for punditry and pontification next month... In the mean time there is work to be done. Figure out how to help the victims.

Please (for the sake of all of us who actually understand the situation) please stop whining about the evacuation. It was a stunning success. Please stop saying that the levee at 17th street and Canal St. broke... There's no such place. (and no, FOXNews, even if there was such a place, I assure you, it would be on the south side of the lake and not the north side of the lake where you showed it on your map)

So here it is in a nutshell... Let's get some work done and play Monday morning quarterback sometime in early 2006. There's about million or so of us who would prefer it that way.
If you're looking to help, Glenn at Instapundit has a list of potential sources that could use a donation. Locally, go to the Oregon Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross.

And keep praying.

Bruce is what?

In one of the more intellectually-stimulating entries from The Corner, Jonah Goldberg said today that the name Bruce was frowned upon in the 1970s and '80s because it had connotations of homosexuality.

He was referring to this guy, but maybe he was subconsciously thinking of another Bruce?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

As Scooby Doo would say...

"Ruh Roh, Ronnie!"

Or to quote another great philosopher of our times, Ricky Ricardo:

"Ronnie, you got some 'splainin' to do!"

It seems Republican Gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton has made some, um, how should I put this? He's made some interesting choices about who receives his political donations. Oh, sure, the Republican Party of Oregon is on there. George Bush made it. Gordon Smith is there. So is Greg Walden. Even Molly Bordonaro got a little cash in her oh-so-close challenge to David Wu back in 1998.

Who else is there? Ron Wyden. Earl Blumenauer. Norma Paulus. The Democratic Party of Oregon.

Strange choices for a man who wants to earn the votes of state Republicans.

(Hat tip: NW Republican. Other source: OpenSecrets.org)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Quote of the Day 2

From Rich Lowry in today's National Review Online:
Invariably, whenever columnists like myself write in support of the Iraq war without having served in the military there, letters flood in deriding us as “chicken hawks.” How can writers support the war without fighting in it themselves? these letter writers ask, although usually not so politely.

The Cindy Sheehan controversy has revived the long-running chicken-hawk argument, since so much of her appeal has to do with her unique standing to pronounce on the war given the sacrifice of her son. Amazingly, after three years, President Bush critics still write chicken-hawk letters as if they have arrived at something clever and cutting, when they are really rehashing a bottom-of-the-barrel ad hominem argument. The chicken-hawk line is the “Oh, yeah? Your mama!” of antiwar arguments.

Quote of the Day

In Part Three of John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage, Kennedy describes the American political scene in the decades after the Civil War:
Thus by the end of the nineteenth century the Senate had come to very nearly its lowest ebb, in terms of power as well as prestige. The decline in Senatorial power had begun shortly after the end of Grant's administration [1869-77]. Prior to that time, the Senate, which had humiliated President Johnson and dominated President Grant, had reigned supreme in what was very nearly a parliamentary form of government. Senators even claimed a place at the dinner table above members of the Cabinet (who had previously outranked them at social functions). "If they visited the White House," [Massachusetts Sen.] George Frisbie Hoar later recalled, "it was to give, not to receive advice."
But the peak of Congressional power passed as Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland [the presidents from 1877-1889] successfully resisted Senatorial attempts to dictate Presidential appointments, and the government returned to the more traditional American system of the Constitution's checks and balances. (emphasis mine)
My question is this: if John F. Kennedy, one of (at most) only two great Democrats to hold the White House in the last 50 years, could see that the Constitution forbade "Senatorial attempts to dictate Presidential appointments," why can't today's Democrats see the same thing?

What's that you say? Something about Kool-Aid?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Quote of the Day

From John Hinderaker, writing about wartime casualties on the Power Line Blog:
The media's breathless tabulation of casualties in Iraq--now, over 1,800 deaths--is generally devoid of context. Here's some context: between 1983 and 1996, 18,006 American military personnel died accidentally in the service of their country. That death rate of 1,286 per year exceeds the rate of combat deaths in Iraq by a ratio of nearly two to one.

That's right: all through the years when hardly anyone was paying attention, soldiers, sailors and Marines were dying in accidents, training and otherwise, at nearly twice the rate of combat deaths in Iraq from the start of the war in 2003 to the present. Somehow, though, when there was no political hay to be made, I don't recall any great outcry, or gleeful reporting, or erecting of crosses in the President's home town.
The entire commentary is excellent. In fact, I want to quote one more passage:
The sins of the news media in reporting on Iraq are mainly sins of omission. Not only do news outlets generally fail to report the progress that is being made, and often fail to put military operations into any kind of tactical or strategic perspective, they assiduously avoid talking about the overarching strategic reason for our involvement there: the Bush administration's conviction that the only way to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, long term, is to help liberate the Arab countries so that their peoples' energies will be channelled into the peaceful pursuits of free enterprise and democracy, rather than into bizarre ideologies and terrorism. Partly this omission is due to laziness or incomprehension, but I think it is mostly attributable to the fact that if the media acknowledged that reforming the Arab world, in order to drain the terrorist swamp, has always been the principal purpose of the Iraq war, it would take the sting out of their "No large stockpiles of WMDs!" theme.
Read the whole thing.

Robertson apologizes

So Pat Robertson, who called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday, has apologized.

The key graph: "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

OK, apology accepted. But.

I found Robertson's invocation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be interesting. He notes Bonhoeffer's reasoning for participating in the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler: “If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Robertson goes on to say Bonhoeffer's example "deserves our respect and consideration today."

Leaving aside the urge to argue against comparing anything to Nazi Germany, is Robertson saying that Chavez and Hitler are somehow morally equivalent? Would he use this same reasoning to advocate bombing of abortion clinics or shooting abortion doctors?

And is he apologizing because he thinks what he said was wrong? Or is he giving the politician apology: "I'm sorry if you were offended by my comments, even though I don't take them back. If I could do it again, I'd say the same thing, I'd just rephrase it."

The last paragraph of his "clarification" makes me think the latter:
There are many who disagree with my comments, and I respect their opinions. There are others who think that stopping a dictator is the appropriate course of action. In any event, the incredible publicity surrounding my remarks has focused our government’s attention on a growing problem which has been largely ignored.
As an aside, I see that then-Bill Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos wrote a 1997 Newsweek column headlined, "Why We Should Kill Saddam."

According to Newsmax, he wrote: "Assassination may be Clinton's best option. If we can kill Saddam, we should."

And predictibly, the press had no comment because it was one of their own making the comment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

George W. Bush will draft your children!

That's what I think the headline should have been on today's Oregonian story about the state's selective service system.

The actual headline was "Oregon poised for unlikely military draft," and it talked about how the state is ready to implement a draft if the federal government started it up. The story came across as a dog-bites-man issue to me — there's no draft, and no plans to implement one, but we're going to raise the issue to stir up the anti-war crowd, and let them perpetuate John Kerry's draft scaremonger rumors:
  • Mike Weatherby, the mayor of Fairview and a member of the statewide Selective Service appeals board, said a draft is "inevitable given the situation overseas."
  • "The draft is a very real possibility," said Bill Galvin, counseling coordinator at the nonprofit Center on Conscience & War in Washington, D.C. "They just don't have the people they need."
They even managed to drag the Vietnam War into the story, quoting Stephen Johnson, who serves on a draft board in Lane County:
Johnson . . . holds a Ph.D. in sociology and has added a scholarly voice to peace-related debates, such as arms control. But he said his personal feelings about war and peace don't conflict with his service on a draft board.

"I thought draft boards in the Vietnam War acted very capriciously," said Johnson, who is old enough to have had friends who were killed in the war. Wanting the local boards to operate fairly, he said, "doesn't mean I support the draft."
The funny thing is that the story is located on the front of the Metro section, and appears to be a news story by Mike Francis. If you look on the Oregonian's website, however, it's listed as a column by Francis. A small issue of semantics? Not to me. A news story is supposed to reveal something important and newsworthy, with balance. A columnist has much more freedom to opine. (By the way, Francis is not listed among the Oregonian's columnists, so I'm not sure why his "news column" was listed as such.)

Francis has been one of the newspaper's main war reporters, including recent coverage of the Cindy Sheehan issue, so I wonder if he'd heard so much anti-Bush rhetoric in recent days that he started thinking a draft was really a newsworthy issue. To me, however, it was definitely not news story material.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Roberts' "extremist" record

From a column on National Review today, Peter Kirsanow tallies up the percentage of times that supreme court justices agreed with John Roberts' advocacy position when it came to civil rights, and finds it to be at 70 percent.

Kirsanow goes on:
The immediate reaction of some Roberts opponents might be to contend that this high percentage is inflated by the presence and influence of conservatives (read “fellow extremists”) on the Court such as Scalia and Thomas. But of the 13 justices before whom Roberts has argued 11 have agreed with his advocacy interest more than 50 percent of the time.

To be sure, of the current Supreme Court justices, those that agreed most often with Roberts’s advocacy interests were Rehnquist (74 percent of the time) Scalia (70 percent) Kennedy (70 percent) and Thomas (69 percent). Yet even liberals such as Ginsburg (60 percent) Stevens (57 percent) and Souter (57 percent) agreed with Roberts more than 50 percent of the time. (Note that not all of Roberts’s arguments in a given case were precisely adopted within the rationales of respective justice’s opinions. Nonetheless, the justices at the very least concurred with his general advocacy interest in the foregoing percentages.)

Organizations such as the NAACP, which last week declared that recently revealed documents indicate Roberts has “a longstanding hostility towards core NAACP civil rights priorities,” clearly must not be aware of the foregoing. Nor must they be aware of one additional fact: Thurgood Marshall, former chief counsel for the NAACP, lion of civil rights litigation and hero of Brown v. Board of Education, Sweatt v. Painter and Murray v. Pearson agreed with Roberts’s advocacy position 67 percent of the time — nearly the same as Scalia and Thomas and more than O’Connor, the justice who upon her retirement was praised as “moderate” by many of those now opposing Roberts.

Unless Roberts’s opponents are prepared to call Thurgood Marshall a civil-rights extremist they need to acknowledge that Roberts’s advocacy positions, as well as his judicial decisions are squarely within the mainstream.
He's out of the mainstream! Extremist! We must filibuster! Oh, wait...sorry. Justice Marshall died in 1993.

How do I distance myself from THIS?

From Pat Robertson, that is.

Robertson, who forthwith will be known only as The Idiot, the TV evangelist who claims to share my faith, said Monday that the US should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugh Chavez.

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," The Idiot said Monday on The 700 Club.

But the worst part is that the media lumps The Idiot in with normal people of faith, and makes us all look stooo-pid. Who do they quote for reaction? The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and David Brock, president of Media Matters (which is a liberal media watchdog group).

Brock said the remarks should discredit The Idiot as a spokesman for the religious right. That would be true, but the problem is that he discredited himself years ago, and the only people who don't know that (or choose not to listen) are people like Lynn, Brock, and the liberal media. Oh, and The Idiot.

I had to laugh at this line in the AP story:
A spokeswoman [for The Idiot], Angell Watts, said he would not do interviews Tuesday and had no statement elaborating on his remarks.


UPDATE: I second Charles' comments at LGF:
"Are we supposed to think it’s news that Robertson has a few screws loose?"

Hope from the Gaza Strip ashes

Michael B. Oren, who (it sounds like) is a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces, wrote a poignant column in today's Opinion Journal about the recent Jewish pullout from the Gaza Strip. He worked in the office of the army spokesman, but was one of 55,000 soldiers who participated in the forced withdrawal.

Here, for me, was the most emotional part of his writing, where it was clear this was difficult for the soldiers as it was for the settlers:
In home after home, teams of officers and NCOs listened patiently while settler parents pleaded with them to change their minds and not to evict them, wailing and tearing their shirts in mourning. Women soldiers played with weeping children, telling them stories, hugging them. Eventually, though, each of the families was led onto the evacuation bus, leaving the soldiers emotionally drained but also resolved to proceed to the next household, the next excruciating tragedy.

The severest test of the battalion's fortitude — and humaneness — occurred in Badolah's synagogue, where the settlers were afforded an hour of parting prayer. But after two hours waiting in the blistering sun, the soldiers decided to enter. The scene that greeted them was shocking: settlers clutching the pews, the Ark and the Torah scrolls, or writhing on the floor. The troops tried to comfort them, only to break down themselves, and soon soldiers and settlers were embracing in mutual sorrow and consolation.

Ultimately, the settlers were either escorted or carried, sobbing, onto buses. But their rabbi, stressing the need for closure, requested permission to address the soldiers, and the battalion commander remarkably agreed. So it happened that 500 troops and 100 settlers stood at attention, with Israeli flags fluttering, while the rabbi spoke of the importance of channeling this sorrow into the creation of a more loving and ethical society. "We are all still one people, one state," he said. Together, the evicted and the evictors, then sang "Hatikvah," the national anthem — "The Hope."
Though my knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is admittedly limited, my fear is that the Palestinians (particularly Hamas) will use the pullout to claim victory and continue pressing their campaign of fear and death. But no one in the world (short of those anti-semites who blame Israel for everything from Palestinian oppression to the price of gas to the United States' presence in Iraq) can say with a straight face that the Israelis aren't doing their part to live in peace with their Palestinian brethren.

Monday, August 22, 2005

George W. Bush conspiracies galore!

George W. Bush had Michael Jackson arrested so that Rush Limbaugh could oppress minorities. No really. I know it's true, because I heard it here. Check it out and you, too, can contribute to high-quality political rhetoric.

A fake but accurate view of the news

This is so close to the truth, I'll bet TV journalists across the nation read this Dilbert strip and never realized it represented the way a significant portion of America views the news.


Joke of the Day

A guy took his blonde girlfriend to her first football game. They had great seats right behind their team's bench. After the game, he asked her how she liked the experience.

"Oh, I really liked it," she replied, "especially the tight pants and all the big muscles, but I just couldn't understand why they were killing each other over 25 cents."

Dumbfounded, he asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, they flipped a coin, one team got it and then for the rest of the game, all they kept screaming was: 'Get the quarterback! Get the quarterback!' I'm like...Helloooooo? It's only 25 cents!!!!"

A voice I respect disses on the war

You know, if I read this and knew it was Arianna Huffington or Maureen Dowd or Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, I would dismiss it as partisan crap. But when the writer is Andy McCarthy, I have no choice but to give serious consideration to his comments:
The principal mission of the so-called “war on terror” – which is actually a war on militant Islam – is to destroy the capacity of the international network of jihadists to project power in a way that threatens American national security. That is the mission that the American people continue to support.

As those who follow these pages may know, I have been despairing for a long time over the fact that the principal mission has been subordinated by what I’ve called the “democracy diversion” – the administration’s theory that the (highly dubious) prospect of democratizing Iraq and the Islamic world will quell the Islamists. (Aside: go ask Israelis if they think the fledgling “democracy” in Gaza and the West Bank – which is very likely to bring Hamas to power – promotes their national security.)

Now, if several reports this weekend are accurate, we see the shocking ultimate destination of the democracy diversion. In the desperation to complete an Iraqi constitution – which can be spun as a major step of progress on the march toward democratic nirvana – the United States of America is pressuring competing factions to accept the supremacy of Islam and the fundamental principle no law may contradict Islamic principles.

There is grave reason to doubt that Islam and democracy (at least the Western version based on liberty and equality) are compatible. But that is an argument for another day. The argument for today is: the American people were never asked whether they would commit their forces to overseas hostilities for the purpose of turning Iraq into a democracy (we committed them (a) to topple a terror-abetting tyrant who was credibly thought both to have and to covet weapons of mass destruction, and (b) to kill or capture jihadists who posed a danger to American national security). I doubt they would have agreed to wage war for the purpose of establishing democracy. Like most Americans, I would like to see Iraq be an authentic democracy – just as I would like to see Iran, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, etc. be authentic democracies. But I would not sacrifice American lives to make it so.

But even if I suspended disbelief for a moment and agreed that the democracy project is a worthy casus belli, I am as certain as I am that I am breathing that the American people would not put their brave young men and women in harm’s way for the purpose of establishing an Islamic government. Anyplace.

It is not our place to fix what ails Islam. But it is utter recklessness to avert our eyes from the fact that militant Islam thrives wherever Islam reigns. That is a fact. When and where militant Islam thrives, America and the West are endangered. That is also a fact. How can we possibly be urging people who wisely don’t want it to accept the government-institutionalized supremacy of Islam?

And if the United States, in contradiction of its own bedrock principle against government establishment religion, has decided to go into the theocracy business, how in the world is it that Islam is the religion we picked?
For now, I don't have a further comment. I'll get back to you.

A family in need

Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch wrote recently about a Eugene family in a pickle. Things are looking better than when he first wrote, but they still need help and prayer.

The central character in this dilemma is 18-year-old Brandon Burton. Brandon recently graduated from high school, and traveled to Hong Kong to visit the family of some school friends. Soon after arriving, he contracted a virus, which spiraled in short order into heart failure.

Brandon's dad traveled to Hong Kong, taking an advance on his salary and an indefinite vacation, and hoped to bring Brandon back to the U.S. once he stabilized. The Hong Kong doctor felt Brandon would recover more quickly in an American hospital, but wouldn't let him make the trip without medical supervision.

That meant a $9,000 bill, which was money his parents — Paul, a furniture store manager, and Jennifer, an administrative assistant — didn't have. They were already down a paycheck because of Paul's trip to Asia, so Jennifer started calling every social service and governmental agency she could think of. She came up with . . . nothing.

However, a family friend called Welch about the situation, and he wrote the column Aug. 11. Jennifer Burton said when she got home from work that night, "our answering machine was full and the phone didn't stop ringing."

Within a week:
  • Candice Barr, the executive director of the Lane County Medical Society, had donated 100,000 frequent-flier miles and found a retired doctor who was willing to make the trip;
  • A special fund at Pacific Continental Bank had collected $2,700;
  • The Burtons' church congregation took a special offering for them; and,
  • Papa's Pizza donated half a day's profits.
And Brandon had a way home.

Read Welch's follow-up column to learn more about the amazing trip home, thanks to Barr, Dr. Larry Dunlap, and a host of behind-the-scenes people (not to mention an atypically smooth trip through airport security).

This is not the end of the journey, however. A family friend tells me that Brandon has been sent to the Oregon Health Sciences University, where the current thinking is that he will need a heart transplant because his heart suffered too much damage. In addition, his dad has been away from work going on a month, so despite the generosity of the community, finances are a serious challenge for the Burtons.

The Burtons need prayer, and anything else the community can muster.

If Catholics need not apply, does that include senators?

Today's column by Manuel Miranda on Opinion Journal — speculating that Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has the most to lose by playing games with the John Roberts nomination — got me to thinking about one issue pertaining to religion in politics.

People of devout faith, Catholics in particular, have accused Democrats of blocking the nominations of people like 11th Circuit Court nominee William Pryor because of their "deeply held beliefs," as several judiciary committee members said (in various ways) during Pryor's hearings:
  • From Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY): "...his beliefs are so well known, so deeply held, that it is very hard to believe, very hard to believe, that they are not going to deeply influence the way he comes about saying, 'I will follow the law...' "
  • From Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.): "I think the very legitimate issue in question with your nomination is whether you have an agenda, that many of the positions which you have taken reflect not just an advocacy but a very deeply held view and a philosophy..."
As Byron York pointed out in a July 2003 National Review column, no Democrats ever publicly opposed Pryor (or any other nominee) for his or her "deeply held Catholic beliefs," despite efforts to suggest otherwise, and Republicans later backed away from such suggestions. But correctly or not, a deeply held belief that abortion was wrong was interpreted by some as a deeply held Catholic belief.

As the Committee for Justice said about Pryor's hearing: "...apart from the fact that the actual word religion was used more than once, it strains credulity to believe that when the Senator in his opening statement was discussing his own religious beliefs, he was switching to the nominee's views on antitrust in the very next sentence."

The interesting thing for me is that of the eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, four are identified (elsewhere, not on the Senate website) as Catholics: Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Joseph Biden of Deleware, Durbin and Kennedy. (Through various sites, I believe Republican committee members Mike DeWine of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas are also Catholics.)

So if "deeply held beliefs" should keep a nominee from being approved for a judicial seat, wouldn't that mean that any Senators with "deeply held beliefs" should recuse themselves from the process? Or is just any beliefs that happen to conflict with those of Durbin, Kennedy, Leahy, etc.? And which beliefs are we talking about, at which point in time? After all, Durbin and Kennedy were both pro-life at one point.

I guess under the Democrat definition, people like Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas should sit out any vote because (though they're not Catholic) they probably have "deeply held beliefs" on a nominee that were shaped by their faith. And all those people who voted for George Bush because of faith-related issues should have sat on their hands and let the secular voters run the country. Really, that's what Barry Lynn wants.

As the Committee for Justice noted, "Senate Democrats, by making personal beliefs the issue, have created a standard that requires Catholics (and Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, and traditional Muslims) to renounce core tenets of their faith or face opposition to public office."

If personal beliefs are an issue for public office (which, by the way, is outlawed by Article 6 of the Constitution), then it should apply to Kennedy, Durbin and Leahy just as much as they want it to apply to John Roberts, William Pryor or any other nominee of faith.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Why can't the left see this?

Victor Davis Hanson provides ample evidence that the hysterical left is shooting itself (and its cause) in the collective foot by highlighting American failures that turn out to be just the opposite, what he calls "biteback."

A few excerpts:
  • We endlessly quarrel over the Patriot Act as an infringement of civil rights . . . But in terms of what either the British or Dutch are doing, the Patriot Act is pretty tame. We are hardly arresting Americans for inflammatory speech, closing down madrassas, or stripping suspect naturalized Americans from the Middle East of their citizenship — even in a war where the only real danger to the homeland seems to come from Islamicists who are planning our destruction through cells so far undetected often due to our past laxity . . . After the London bombings and the recent American apprehensions of terrorist suspects from New Jersey to Lodi, those who still demonize the Patriot Act prompt the opposite effect of what they intend; rather than safeguarding our liberties, they endanger them.
  • On the basis of an FBI agent's e-mail alleging loud rap music, cold room temperatures, and the rough handling of a Koran, former president Jimmy Carter and Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin advanced Guantanamo as a national scandal and proof of our amorality in this war . . . But the more one learns about Guantanamo, after having it raised constantly by such self-righteous and anguished censors, the more it seems unlike any wartime detention center in recent memory — but in ways exactly opposite from the Stalag its detractors imply. Rules of interrogation, Korans, prayer arrows pointed to Mecca, visits by U.S. congressmen, Middle Eastern food, inmates as voracious readers of Harry Potter, and the absence of a single inmate lost in captivity: All of that suggests humane treatment toward terrorists — often caught in combat, always out of uniform, and not subject to the Geneva Convention . . . Indeed as a general rule, the more hysterically Guantanamo is cited, the more it seems, after introspection, to be a sensible wartime jail under nearly impossible conditions.
  • The sexual humiliation at Abu Ghraib was reprehensible, but the reaction of its critics was equally so — as in Ted Kennedy's assertion that "Saddam's torture chamber reopened under new management." Americans did not systematically kill or torture tens of thousands of innocents. Apprehended terrorists still prefer to be captured by American troops rather than by Iraqi militia and security forces, since it means a trip to a supervised Abu Ghraib — and air conditioning and regular meals where they will not be shot or tortured. We bandy about Abu Ghraib as something out of the Inquisition, but for those on the frontline it means something far different from the ritual beheading, torture, and murder that characterize the enemy's way of doing business.
  • Every time Cindy Sheehan tries to adduce another writ against the current administration (a.k.a., "Bush crime family," "evil bastards in the administration," "f***ing hypocrites," "biggest terrorist in the world") — whether demanding a second private presidential meeting before so many other grieving families have had even one, or blaming Israel for the deaths of American soldiers — it has the opposite effect of what she intends. Under the sad logic of biteback, she reverses her own original position from the legitimate lament of a grieved mother trying to make sense out of the tragic loss of her brave son, to a deeply disturbed object of cynical partisan manipulation by the Michael Moore/Moveon.org Left.
Hanson's explanation for this is three-fold:
  • Impossibly-high standards that ignore the huge disparity between "us" and "them":
In the age of utopianism we demand impossible standards of perfection. Then when they cannot be met, we conclude that we are not good at all, but the equivalent of a Pol Pot, Hitler, or Saddam himself — an elected American president who is a worse terrorist than Osama bin Laden.
And in a war with enemies like few other in our recent history, the contrast between rhetoric and reality is only accentuated: panties over the head of an Iraqi inmate, no head at all on an American prisoner; Korans given to the enemy terrorists in jail, Bibles outlawed for visitors to our friends the Saudis; our elected president becomes a member of the "Bush crime family" as we worry about proper barristers for Saddam Hussein's genuinely criminal family.
(Hanson also notes that the source of these criticisms causes biteback because it reminds us of their hypocritical nature: "More pious praise for the United Nations? Thanks for conjuring up the memory of the Annan clan, Oil-for-Food, and the slaughter in Darfur. When Jimmy Carter talks of morality, I brace for even more amorality — like his contrived 2003 broadside against a sitting president in order to win a Nobel Prize from anti-American European judges. Dan Rather still lectures on journalistic standards — which reminds us of the protocols of forged memos.")
  • We don't believe that we are in a war anymore.
Jimmy Carter thinks that something we do in Guantanamo galvanizes terrorists, as if the camp had been in existence since 1979, when under his watch this present quarter-century cycle of killing and terrorizing Americans with impunity in the Middle East began in earnest. Thus instead of joining in the effort to defeat Islamic fascists, the opposition and our pundits nitpick and moan, hoping for media attention and political points, convinced that none of their triangulation aids the enemy — since we aren't really in a war at all.
  • A left that, out of power, thinks it has no recourse other than to distort the truth instead of developing a legitimate counter-agenda:
The offenders are often old-line partisans like Sen. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, or Sen. Durbin, in addition to the more hysterical Left like Michael Moore or Moveon.org. For the most part, under our system of democratic majority rule, despite sizable support in the electorate, they are currently without real political power, lacking majorities in the House and Senate, without the presidency, behind in the state legislatures and governorships, and losing the Supreme Court.

Yet the United States itself has not changed its character under Republican hands. Its government and people are as they were, thus ensuring the more the Left lashes out about losing the republic, the more their charges seem strident and extremist — bringing them shame as the additional wage to their irresponsibility.
Hanson concludes:
Anticipate that when the full complexity of biteback is mastered, future allegations from Sens. Durbin and Kennedy that we are Saddam-like or Nazis will be taken as proof that, on the contrary, we are probably too naïve and too lenient — and that they still sound unhinged.
But they can't see that — they're too busy conjuring up new lies to cover up the exposed ones.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Joke Letter from a Marine

My uncle sends me emails with the most interesting array of jokes, timewasters, and other things that I can't begin to classify. This (along with that timewaster in the previous post) was one of his more recent contributions. I laughed out loud, so whether you think it's funny or not, here it is:


Dear Ma and Pa:

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile. Tell them to join up quick before maybe all of the places are filled. I was restless at first because you got to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m., but am getting so I like to sleep late.

Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay. Practically nothing. Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there's warm water.

Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food, but tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food plus yours holds you till noon when you get fed again.

It's no wonder these city boys can't walk much. We go on "route marches", which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it's not my place to tell him different. A "route march" is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks. The country is nice but awful flat. The sergeant is like a school teacher. He nags a lot. The Captain is like the schoolboard. Majors & Colonels just ride around and frown. They don't bother you none.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move, and it ain't shooting at you like the Higgett boys at home. All you gotta do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges. They come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy. It ain't like fighting with that ol' bull at home. I'm about the best they got in this except for that Tug Jordan from over in Silver Lake. I only beat him once. He joined up the same time as me, but I'm only 5'6" and 130 pounds, and he's 6'8" and weighs near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter,

Today's timewaster

I got only one out of 10 even on the target, much less in the middle. It's especially fun when you don't deploy the 'chute.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

An excellent post on Dobson's Nazi comments

Earlier this month, James Dobson of Focus on the Family made a comment comparing Nazi Germany to stem cell research. I chose to stay out of this particular debate, because I didn't hear the original broadcast (not surprising, since I don't listen to FOTF) and because I've made pretty clear my thoughts about invoking the Nazi argument.

However, Lee at Lee's Walk made an excellent contribution to the discussion with this post. Here's one key section:
While I heartily agree that embryonic stem cell research represents a serious moral failure, Dobson's analogy breaks down . . . The horrors of the Holocaust were only the final step, the "Die Endlösung"; embryonic stem cell research only represents one small step toward something worse. (Which, of course, is not to suggest that is not bad on it's own merits.)

The experiments done by Dr. Josef Mengelle, Friedrich Mennecke, etc., had very little to do with causing any "good". Almost none of these so-called experiments were designed in any real way to gain scientific knowledge beneficial to mankind as a whole. They were designed to see how best to kill someone and what the effects of particular death-dealing procedures would be. Secondly, embryonic stem cell research (and the procedures designed to gather the cells in the first place) are nothing like Auschwitz or even Hadamar where the goal was to kill as quickly as possible rather than do legitimate research.
It's especially important to read and think about Lee's closing thoughts. Essentially, the horrors of Nazi Germany happened because the German people allowed a series of seemingly small decisions to compound, each pushing the country a little further down the road toward evil, each so incremental that no one noticed the slippery slope toward the gas chambers.

Lee continues:
While the Nazis never committed moral outrages because they wanted to help mankind (well, if you follow their logic they did, but that's another story), they did commit horrors on a grand scale because of the smaller steps which lead up to Auschwitz. [Dobson] is also correct, in my view, in stating that embryonic stem cell research represents a "wedge" in our culture. When we get to point where helpless humans, or, more accurately, humans that have a very small political voice of their own, can be sacrificed to potentially help other humans with a stronger political voice, we should always worry. I'll leave you with the words of another fine researcher, Harold Kaplan, from his book, Conscience and Memory: Meditations in a Museum of the Holocaust:
When people say "never again" as their chief lesson from the Holocaust, we are at a loss. What is to be never again? And then to treat the Holocaust as some indecipherable horror and mystery . . . is to put "never again" at a total impasse. Those who say "never again" speak of the final result, the "solution." That comes too late for such a vow. The question is, Where, at what point in the Nazi series of crimes, does the "never again" begin to apply?

The first sin was not the gas chambers, of course. . . . We understand that all human rights are connected that a Holocaust is only the last stage of their loss. (pp. 9-10)
It's our job to think critically about the paths we choose, in order to catch ourselves before too many small decisions compound into a conclusion of horrific proportions. Stem cell research is one of those paths, one in which we cannot consider the scientific potential in a vacuum absent the ethical obligations.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Get ready for a run on cold medicine across the river

On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal editorial page included this:
Oregon relocated its cold medicines behind the counter last October, and Governor [Ted] Kulongoski credits the move with drastically reducing the number of meth labs in the state. Ten months later, he's ready to further burden Oregonians without any evidence that prescription requirements will help close more meth labs.

In any case, the focus on lab seizures may have gone about as far as it can go. Local labs are disappearing but usage isn't. That's because more than half of all meth used in the U.S. is produced in Mexico and smuggled across the border. One advantage of shutting down small neighborhood operations is that it frees up law enforcement resources to pursue the gangs and mobsters responsible for most of the trafficking.

We don't deny that Oregon's prescription approach to the supply problem could have some short-term benefit. But it will also exacerbate the drug problems of neighboring Washington State and California, not to mention open the U.S. market to more imported meth. Oregon might also find itself butting heads with the federal Food and Drug Administration, which regulates over-the-counter drugs. Before he signs this bill, Governor Kulongoski might want to weigh the cost and inconvenience to Oregonians against the slim chance that it will fix the state's meth problem.
Well, apparently the governor has weighed that cost, and decided it's worth it. Kulongoski (who fights for the strangest issues, while leaving seemingly more significant causes wanting) has signed legislation requiring a prescription for cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine. The decongestant, which is found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies, is also the key ingredient in the brutal drug methamphetamine.

As a result, stores in Yreka, Calif. and Vancouver, Wash. will have to stock up on the Sudafed, because every allergy-crazed and stuffy-nosed Oregonian within driving distance of the border will be stocking up very soon.

I liked what Rogue Pundit had to say a couple of months ago. First, he quoted a Statesman Journal editorial, which read in part:
Waiting in line to buy Sudafed is one thing; having to see your doctor for a prescription is another.

One in six people in this state has no health insurance. They would be out of luck. So would insured people who fell sick after office hours.

Already-burdened medical offices would have to prescribe by phone or squeeze in countless extra appointments.

This seems unnecessary. Drug companies announced this week that they are reformulating their cold medications anyway. They'll replace pseudoephedrine-based remedies with phenylephrine, a decongestant that can't be reprocessed to make meth.
Of course, not that long ago, drug companies said that meth couldn't be made from liquid forms of cold medicines, but that proved false in short order, so this claim that meth can't be made from phenylephrine has to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Instead of putting the squeeze on millions of law-abiding Oregonians when more than a third of the state's meth comes across the porous U.S. border, Rogue Pundit suggested a few other ideas for state regulation:
  • [Meth] Cookers get red phosphorus from matchbook strikers. Ban matchbooks, and maybe we'd even deter a smoker or two.
  • Red phosphorus is mixed with iodine to make hydroiodic acid. Wouldn't controlling iodine impact far less people than restricting our access to cold medications?
  • What about naphtha, sulfuric acid, muriatic acid (diluted hydrochloric acid, used for instance in pools), lye, or some of the other caustic and acidic chemicals used in various meth recipes? How about ether, something often found in engine starting fluids? These are dangerous chemicals already, so further restricting one or more of them would seemingly make life safer as well.
  • It's not as if there aren't other sources for ephedrine. Ephedra is a genus of perennial plants found in many parts of the world. The species native to the U.S. only contain trace amounts of ephedrine, but various Asian species contain enough to make its extraction feasible...something which was done for various medications until scientists learned how to make ephedrine artificially. Meth labs that extract ephedrine from Ephedra plant material are not completely unheard of in the U.S. The plants though do take a couple years to produce decent concentrations of the "desired" alkaloids.
The benefits of these increased restrictions on pseudoephedrine will be short-lived, both with the impending production of cold meds with phenylephrine and the ability of meth cooks to come up with new recipes. Much as I want more effective means to reduce the availability of methamphetamine, I don't think that making all pseudoephedrine-containing medications into controlled substances is a step in the right direction.

But when politicians are desperate to give the appearance that they're doing something effective in the war on drugs...
They take up strange issues, while leaving the more important ones lying on the legislative floor.

The President's "Vacation"

Just one other random thought about President Bush and his time at his Texas ranch:

The media and various left-wing pundits love to make a big deal out of the amount of time the president spends on vacation. Just this Sunday, the Oregonian noted that Ronald Reagan spent 335 days on vacation in Santa Barbara, California during his eight-year presidency, and Bush will overtake that number by next week.

Oregonian columnist Steve Duin, writing today about two Oregon women who lost sons in Iraq and who will join Cindy Sheehan at the presidential ranch, wrote: "The nation is at war, the president is on an extended vacation, and [Michelle] DeFord and [Lynn] Bradach are the mothers of dead soldiers."

I realize that's supposed to be a slam at the president, as if to suggest that the president is spending his month lounging by the pool in his Speedos, holding a cool umbrella-laden drink. Does anyone really think the president is on vacation? The type of vacation you or I might take? My family went to Sunriver this summer, and spent the week golfing, biking, swimming, and relaxing. I called my office twice during the week, but otherwise didn't think much about work. Is there any clear-thinking liberal who thinks that a presidential "vacation" allows him any relaxation beyond the change of scenery? It's not like the country shuts down when he leaves Washington, and the president's responsibilities continue regardless of his location.

If Steve Duin (or anyone else using such an argument) thinks he's providing gripping political commentary by suggesting that a vacationing George W. Bush is a slacker, he clearly needs to put down the Kool-Aid and step away from the Democratic Underground crowd.

Quote of the Day

Jonah Goldberg, writing on National Review Online, notes this sequence of events: Person A makes an indefensible or controversial statement; Person B criticizes the statement; Person A responds not by defending the statement, but by arguing that his (or her) "right to speak" had been questioned. This is, he wrote, particularly prominent when Person A is a liberal and Person B is a conservative.

Goldberg continues:
The great irony is that the people who resort to such "arguments" (they're really just insults) are the ones questioning free-speech rights, because they are suggesting the criticism was inappropriate and, in some vague and stupid way, unconstitutional. Right? That is the upshot of what they're saying. I mean, if you immediately assert that someone has the right to say something as a way to rebut criticism, aren't you implying that such criticism violated their rights — which is, by definition, unconstitutional.

The paranoia enters into it when you consider the nature of the accusation. If you immediately assume that criticism from the political Right is tantamount to questioning someone's constitutional right to speak in the first place, what you are really saying . . . is that if you scratch a conservative you'll find a Storm Trooper just under the surface. We knuckle draggers may say we're just offering criticism, but what we really mean is that anyone we disagree with has no right to say so. That so many on the Left seem to believe this, says a lot about the intellectual and psychological state of Lefties while saying nothing of interest about conservatives. I don't think it's always a matter of projection — assuming your enemy sees things the same you do — but I do think this knee-jerkery illuminates in a small way the bad faith of the Left. Not only does the "I have the right to speak" tantrum dodge the merits of specific criticisms, it starts from the assumption that as a matter of first principles left-wing protest should never be questioned.

Indeed, that's the reason the Left has rallied so fiercely behind Cindy Sheehan. Wedded to a form of identity-politics logic which says some "authentic" voices cannot be questioned and inauthentic voices need not be listened to, these hardcore left-wing activists love Cindy Sheehan because they think she's above reproach. They immediately resort to the argument "How dare you question a woman who lost her child!" Sheehan's loss is obviously a terrible one. But the death of her son does not make her anymore qualified to rant about Israel and oil tycoons controlling American foreign policy than it would be if her son was alive. But her backers do not care, indeed they don't think anyone has the right to even point this out.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Cindy Sheehan O'Rama

James Taranto at Opinion Journal has several must-read snippets about the mindset of Cindy Sheehan, the California women who has been camping outside President Bush's Texas ranch in the hopes that the president will finally own up to the "real" reason why the United States is in Iraq.

The most important is contributed by Mohammed, one of two Iraqi brothers who writes at Iraq the Model. In an open letter to Sheehan, Mohammed wrote:
Our fellow country men and women were buried alive, cut to pieces and thrown in acid pools and some were fed to the wild dogs while those who were lucky enough ran away to live like strangers and the Iraqi mother was left to grieve one son buried in an unfound grave and another one living far away who she might not get to see again.

We did nothing to deserve all that suffering, well except for a dream we had; a dream of living like normal people do.

We cried out of joy the day your son and his comrades freed us from the hands of the devil and we went to the streets not believing that the nightmare is over. We practiced our freedom first by kicking and burning the statues and portraits of the hateful idol who stole 35 years from the life of a nation. For the first time air smelled that beautiful, that was the smell of freedom.

The mothers went to break the bars of cells looking for the ones they lost 5, 12 or 20 years ago and other women went to dig the land with their bare hand searching for a few bones they can hold in their arms after they couldn't hold them when they belonged to a living person.

I recall seeing a woman on TV two years ago, she was digging through the dirt with her hands. There was no definite grave in there as the whole place was one large grave but she seemed willing to dig the whole place looking for her two brothers who disappeared from earth 24 years ago when they were dragged from their colleges to a chamber of hell.

Her tears mixed with the dirt of the grave and there were journalists asking her about what her brothers did wrong and she was screaming "I don't know, I don't know. They were only college students. They didn't murder anyone, they didn't steal, and they didn't hurt anyone in their lives. All I want to know is the place of their grave".

Why was this woman chosen to lose her dear ones? Why you? Why did a million women have to go through the same pain?

We did not choose war for the sake of war itself and we didn't sacrifice a million lives for fun! We could've accepted our jailor and kept living in our chains for the rest of our lives but it's freedom ma'am. Freedom is not an American thing and it's not an Iraqi thing, it's what unites us as human beings.
Your son sacrificed his life for a very noble cause…No, he sacrificed himself for the most precious value in this existence; that is freedom.
Did you read that? Freedom is not an American thing and it's not an Iraqi thing, it's what unites us as human beings. How any typical American could read that and not be moved by the bravery of our troops and of the Iraqi people is beyond my understanding.

But then, it's becoming increasily apparent that Mrs. Sheehan is not a typical American. In April, she spoke at a rally in support of Lynne Stewart, the civil rights attorney who was convicted of providing material aid to convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Among her comments:

  • "We are not waging a war on terror in this country. We’re waging a war of terror. The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush."
  • "I take responsibility partly for my son’s death, too. I was raised in a country by a public school system that taught us that America was good, that America was just. America has been killing people . . . since we first stepped on this continent, we have been responsible for death and destruction. I passed on that bull**** to my son and my son enlisted. I’m going all over the country telling moms: “This country is not worth dying for. If we’re attacked, we would all go out. We’d all take whatever we had. I’d take my rolling pin and I’d beat the attackers over the head with it. But we were not attacked by Iraq. We might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden . . . 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor to get their neo-con agenda through and, if I would have known that before my son was killed, I would have taken him to Canada. I would never have let him go and try and defend this morally repugnant system we have. The people are good, the system is morally repugnant.
(For a counterpoint, I love how Mrs. Sheehan shapes her speech according to the audience. At the above-quoted rally, she wasn't shy about injecting profanity to make her point; at a speech at a California Methodist church earlier this year, she was quoting the Apostle Paul to make a point against CheneyRumsfeldWolfowitzHalliburtonBush and how their devotion to the almighty oil dollar will lead them straight to hell.)

Taranto wraps up his contribution (scroll down to just before "It's Freedom, Ma'am") this way:
The mainstream media have largely ignored Sheehan's crackpot views, and not only--perhaps not even primarily--for ideological reasons. Members of the White House press corps find the annual sojourn to Crawford deathly dull. They need something to do; they want bylines--and "heartbroken everymom" makes for a much more compelling story than "extremist hatemonger."

The journalists will soon move on, and her political allies may do so as well. For them she is a mere instrument. The White House press corps will discard her as soon as they return to Washington where there's real news going on. Serious opponents of the war in Iraq will cast her aside if her foul statements make her an embarrassment. When that happens, we can only hope that someone still cares about Cindy Sheehan--not as a story or a symbol, but as a human being.
"Serious" opponents of the war may abandon Sheehan, but there are plenty of war opponents who will prop her up and make her think that her bitter, angry, hateful screed against this country is normal. So even if the press and some of her current "best friends" leave her like a bad date at the prom, her only hope of being cared for as a human being may come when she's ready to hang up the anger and MoveOn.

Oh, one last thing, courtesy of Arthur Chrenkoff. He listed several Americans who lost loved ones in Iraq, yet did not share Sheehan's perspective, and concluded:
[Daily] Kos and the rest of the left think that exploiting Cindy Sheehan's exploitation of her loss is the best new secret weapon in the war against George Bush. But both sides can play the "grieving parents" game -– except that it's not a game, and it shouldn't be played. The right has not used people like Lynn Kelly, Linda Ryan, or hundreds of others, to make their case in our current war. It would be decent if the left stopped using Cindy Sheehan to make theirs.
Decent, but not likely.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Those jokesters at MIT

The folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have at times been known to play a practical joke at the expense of those with slightly lower brain function (which is, say 99.98 percent of the population). Still, I can't help but wonder if they tried this, and whether it worked.

Jonah Goldberg at NRO's The Corner has offered a free video posting for anyone trying it. For now, I laugh heartily, but I can't wait for the video...

Quote of the Day

From today's Best of the Web, under the heading of Fetus and Mouth Disease, James Taranto writes, "An antichoice extremist is on the loose in Long Beach, Calif."

Quoting from a story from San Diego television station KSND-TV:
The premature baby of a 37-year-old woman who gave birth just hours after finding out she was pregnant is going home.

Annice Allen said she went to hospital thinking she was having severe menstrual cramps. Three hours later, she found out she was 23 to 24 weeks pregnant and gave birth to a 1-pound, 4-ounce girl she named Jimice.

"The doctor says, 'Ok, the fetus is 23 weeks,' " Allen said. "We said, 'The fetus?' We went back and forth with that, and he said, 'How old are you?' I said, 'I'm 37.' So, he puts his hand on me and says, 'A fetus is a baby.' I said, 'I know a fetus is a baby, but I didn't know I was pregnant.' "
Taranto concludes:
A doctor said "a fetus is a baby"? That's scary! The ACLU should sue this guy for malpractice. After all, any competent doctor can tell the difference between a baby and a clump of cells. Where'd this guy go to medical school anyway, Karl Rove University?
C'mon, James! It's a clump of cells until it has self-awareness and is a contributing member of society! It's not a baby until at least its third birthday!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Cindy Sheehan's grief

Cindy Sheehan, as probably everyone in the world knows, is a Vacaville, California woman who lost her son Casey in the Iraq War 16 months ago. The grief she continues to endure is understood only by those other 1,800 families across the country who have faced similar losses in the Iraqi conflict, and I make no claim to understanding the depth of that grief.

Mrs. Sheehan has turned her grief into a cause, which has become the latest cause célèbre: sitting outside the president's Texas ranch until he meets with her and, apparently, gives her the answers she wants (not the answers he's already given) about the Iraq war. Like everything political these days, it has launched plenty of venom (scroll down to read the vile letters Michelle Malkin has received, if you can stomach the language) from left to right, and back again.

To get a feel for the media coverage, take yesterday's editorial in the New York Times:
Ms. Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad. She says she and her family met privately with Mr. Bush two months later, and she is sharply critical of how the president acted. He did not know her son's name, she says, acted as if the meeting was a party and called her "Mom" throughout, which she considered disrespectful.
Or take today's story in the Los Angeles Times. It says Mrs. Sheehan came away from that meeting "dissatisfied and angry":
"We wanted [the president] to look at pictures of Casey, we wanted him to hear stories about Casey, and he wouldn't. He changed the subject every time we tried," Sheehan said. "He wouldn't say Casey's name, called him: 'your loved one.' "
If these things are true, that certainly sounds like a man, as the editorial calls the president, "out of touch with the realities, and the costs, of the Iraq war." It certainly bears out the editorial's comment that the president "obviously failed to comfort Ms. Sheehan when he met with her and her family."

Or does it? Read this article from the Vacaville (Calif.) Reporter, which was originally written in June 2004. Considering their opposition to the war and the recent loss of their child in that war, the article conveys the family's dilemma of what to say to the president when they met him at a Seattle-area military base:
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."

The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.

But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat [Casey's dad] noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.

"We have a lot of respect for the office of the president, and I have a new respect for him because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us," Pat said.

Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.

"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."

The meeting didn't last long, but in their time with Bush, Cindy spoke about Casey and asked the president to make her son's sacrifice count for something. They also spoke of their faith.
In all that, did the family say anything about the president being disrespectful? About not knowing Casey's name? About acting like it was a party? If so, I must have missed it. I saw words like "sincere" and "respect." I heard Mrs. Sheehan say she knew the president was "sorry" for their loss and was a man of faith, something that was important to their Catholic family. Later in the story, it quotes her as saying the trip to Seattle was a good tonic for the grieving family: "That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together."

So what gives? Could the Vacaville writer have left out critical comments about the president? Unlikely, since he quotes Mrs. Sheehan as unhappy with the war and the president's rationale, as well as the impersonal form letter. It's clear she was never a war supporter, so claims that she's suddenly switched allegiances are a stretch at best. In fact, several left-wing websites are jumping on the Drudge Report (where the Vacaville story first came to light) and other right-wing sites for allegedly distorting the story to fit their pro-Bush pro-war perspectives.

Maybe she bit her tongue in Seattle, but can't do so anymore. Again, I can't relate to the grief of losing a child, especially if you think that decisions beyond your control caused that death. Here's her explanation (ellipsis in original):
I met with Bush two and a half months after Casey was killed and I was still in shock at that time. We had decided not to criticize the president then because during that meeting, he assured us 'this is not political.' And I believed him. Then, during the Republican National Convention, he exploited those meetings to justify what he was doing. It's now clear to me that what I had feared is true: Bush lied us into war, and Casey, more than 1,800 other Americans and thousands and thousands of Iraqis are dead because of what he did. ... While Bush is comfortable in his ranch, we are here in a ditch in the heat because we want answers. But the troops and the Iraqi people are suffering way more than we are and we want that to end.
I certainly can buy the idea that, even two months after a child's death, the parent is still in shock, especially when the person you hold responsible for that death is sitting in front of you. However, that nifty quote, provided by a self-described "progressive" organization, doesn't say what was so exploitive in President Bush's convention speech, so I looked up the speech. Here's his only reference to those meetings:
I've met with the wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I'm in their prayers and to offer encouragement to me. Where does strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride? It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good. Because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost. And in those military families, I have seen the character of a great nation: decent, idealistic, and strong.
Show me where he's "exploiting" the Sheehans? Because he talks about the families that support him? (I'll bet they really exist!) Because he doesn't talk about the people who criticize him? What else would Mrs. Sheehan expect? If he wanted to exploit their meeting, Bush could have just quoted from that Vacaville story.

Another family who was present at the same meeting as the Sheehans wrote this about Bush:
...let me tell you his guard was down. He was real. He was genuine. He was sincere. His eyes teared while we told of our loss. He said he was sorry. During that time we all could have blasted out our anger, criticism and contept. He would have stood there and taken it.
The real problem with this situation is that Mrs. Sheehan's cause has been adopted by the country's anti-war contingent. They saw an opportunity to press their message, and jumped on the bandwagon, with the mainstream press a willing participant in highlighting any "problem" for the president.

As the New York Sun said about Sheehan's supporters in an editorial today:
Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out all have representatives on the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice, an anti-war umbrella group. They share that distinction with the Communist Party USA. UPJ organized the march during the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, at which a New York Sun poll of 253 of the protesters found that fully 67% of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement "Iraqi attacks on American troops occupying Iraq are legitimate resistance." In other words, Ms. Sheehan's "coalition" includes a lot of people who think the persons who killed her son were justified.
But let's assume for a minute that the president decides to meet with Mrs. Sheehan. There are a few other questions that must be asked: What does she hope to accomplish? Does she think she will change his mind? Would she go into it with the idea that she'd be amenable to his side of the discussion? Or does she plan to use her meeting to further the anti-war cause, regardless of the substance to the discussion? (The answers, if you're keeping track at home, are: 1. Embarrass the president; 2. She could possibly be deluded enough to think so, but I doubt it. 3. No. 4. Yes.)

Despite what Michael Moore might say, George W. Bush is no dummy; he knows that any meeting with Mrs. Sheehan will be turned into the next MoveOn.org ad, with distortions aplenty. Besides, if there's nothing else that has driven the left nuts over Bush, it's this: he sticks by his guns. Do Mrs. Sheehan and her Kool-Aid Drinking coterie think that sufficient protests will change his mind?

The whole situation is tough, because anyone who isn't on either end of the Kool-Aid Community wants to honor this woman for the sacrifice of her son, and recognizes her right to do what she's doing, to dissent from war supporters, and to ask for a chance to express herself to the man who decided on the war that took the life of her son.

However, it would be much easier to honor her if she didn't say things like, "your ignorant and arrogant lack of planning for the peace murdered my oldest child" or "your dishonest campaign stole another election" or "I want him to tell me why my son died. If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged — if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil."

Is that the voice of a grief-stricken mom? Or is that Kool-Aid talk?

And another question for Mrs. Sheehan: if, out of respect for Casey, the family restrained itself in the first meeting with the president, what would Casey think about this? After all, he voluntarily re-enlisted in the Army eight months before his death, and his father said he planned to pursue a military career.

Columnist Debra Saunders summarizes the whole thing nicely:
If Bush did what Cindy Sheehan wants him to do, not only would some 1,800 soldiers have died in Iraq for no reason -- worse, their deaths will have served the unhappy function of signaling to terrorists that if they kill enough U.S. troops, the White House will cut and run.
And that would be the saddest legacy that Casey Sheehan could leave.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Using science to prove when life begins

That's a position that too many pro-life advocates don't take, but I think it's the best way to discuss the issue in a society that rejects religious arguments out of hand.

And no one should know that better than John Podhoretz of the New York Post, who got into a Corner Fracas yesterday (mostly) with Robert P. George. George is a law professor at Princeton, and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, and he started this fracas by inviting a discussion on issues such as stem-cell research or abortion without any reference to religion. "Let's agree to resolve our difference of opinion," he wrote, "strictly on the basis of the best available scientific evidence as to when the life of a new human being begins."

And Podhoretz jumped in with both feet. The problem is, he was arguing like an unarmed man in a shootout — he flat out admitted he was "not a scientist and not fit to examine the evidence that says 'life begins at conception.' "

He began by arguing that the "life begins at conception" argument is illogical because 25 percent of all pregnancies end in natural miscarriage, which "suggest[s] a kind of vicious brutality in nature -- Hobbes at his most Hobbesian -- that in turn leads us to a social Darwinism in which literally only the strong survive even to be born?"

However, he never explains how a natural pregnancy termination has anything to do with the argument of whether life begins at conception, and that might be because there is no correlation. People at all stages of development die before society thinks they should, and it has no bearing on the origin of life. A friend of mine just lost his wife to a freak aneurism at the age of 41, which no one would argue was a sufficient length of life, but her early death has nothing to do with when her life began, or whether she was fully human. It's no different with a fetus — whether the fetus dies two days or 20 weeks after conception, it still had all the building blocks of humanity intact and in place. (This includes a unique human DNA, not that of its mother, so any claim that the embryo is just a part of its mother like the spleen or liver is flat-out wrong.)

This "25 percent of pregnancies spontaneously abort" argument also doesn't explain why human efforts to mess with embryonic life are appropriate. A certain percentage of pregnancies end because of causes outside man's control (call it God, call it nature, call it a fluke, whatever), but that doesn't give man license to take nature's controls and steer humanity in a different direction. By that definition, I could say that whales spontaneously beach themselves on occasion, so that means I can harpoon the next pod I see and sell the blubber on the open market.

To further explain, Podhoretz said an embryo is "a seedling of a human being. Until a fetus is six weeks old it doesn't even have a gender. If you believe it to be fully human, you believe it not because of logic or science, but because of BELIEF -- which I respect and which is why I don't think Professor George's original proposal can do the trick to reconcile opposing views on stem-cell research."

Remember, it was Robert George who invited discussions based on scientific fact, yet it is John Podhoretz who is throwing out the faith card. The fact that a fetus has no gender until several weeks into development still has no bearing on its humanity, as 1) gender is determined at (here's that word again) conception thanks to the X vs. Y chromosome (something several e-mails reminded him about), and 2) using such an argument would imply that those who don't fully develop a gender due to some chromasomal abnormality are not human (which is clearly not a supportable position).

At what point do you define humanity? When it has a beating heart (at about 20 days, and by the way, with its own blood, which is often a different type from the mother)? When you can measure brain waves (six weeks)? When its organs are functioning (about eight weeks)? Those are important milestones in human development, but they are just that — milestones. Just as changes from infant to toddler to child to preteen to teen to adult are additional milestones in human development. They are insufficient for defining humanity, as humanity has already happened. When the sperm and egg merge into a human zygote, they shed the human markers of the parents and are transformed into a new life — one with its own DNA, its own characteristics. Any subsequent changes in development have no bearing on its humanity.

Scott Klusendorf at the Life Training Institute has a great acronym for explaining how pre-born children are no different in their humanity from infants. The acronym is SLED, and it stands for:
  • Size: We don't discriminate based on size. The size of a man vs. a woman does not impact whether men should have more rights than women, and the size of the fetus at any stage of development does not impact its humanity. Size does not equate to value.
  • Level of Development: Just as a teenager does not have more rights to humanity than a newborn because of its stage of development, the same is true of a child at any stage of development in utero. The development of self-awareness is not valid for defining humanity, as it would eliminate newborns and those in reversible comas.
  • Environment: A person's location does not impact his or her rights. You don't become more of a person by moving from the living room to the kitchen, from high school to college, or from the womb to the crib.
  • Degree of Dependency: Our reliance on outside assistance for life does not detract from our humanity. If that were the case, then those on dialysis or life support could be killed without a second thought. Similarly, a child relying on its mother through the placenta does not forfeit its humanity because of that reliant relationship.
Podhoretz displays an interesting definition of words like "facts," "science" and "faith" with this concluding paragraph:
What astonishes me in the course of this discussion (to judge from the blizzards of e-mails and other blog items done on this debate) is that I, a relatively secular person, am arguing the position that we cannot understand the mystery of life without faith -- and that a great many pro-llfers, whose commitment to life is religious in nature and whose religion plays a far more central role in their lives than it does in mine, are arguing with me on the grounds that the whole business can be discerned entirely through reason and science.
There are two reasons for that: 1) Robert George laid those out as the ground rules from the start. Podhoretz was the one who brought faith into the discussion; and 2) The whole business can be discerned entirely through reason and science. Robert George laid out the scientific reasons why this was so, and Podhoretz refused to listen.