Random Thoughts on
Love and Fear
(and anything in between)

October 30, 2003

What a Rush ...

As Paul Krugman notes in his column for Friday:
Stimulating the economy in the short run is supposed to be easy, as long as you don't worry about how much debt you run up in the process. As William Gale of the Brookings Institution puts it, "Almost any tax cut or spending increase would succeed in boosting a sluggish economy if the Federal Reserve Board follows an accommodative monetary policy. . . . The key question is, therefore, not whether the proposals provide any short-term stimulus, but whether they are the most effective way to provide stimulus." Mr. Gale doesn't think the Bush tax cuts meet that criterion, and neither do I.
In short, it's the "Oxycontin" recovery.

No, really, think about it. When used properly, Oxycontin is a time-release remedy which relieves pain in the long term. Sort of like a balanced budget in which we meet our current needs, while at the same time we realistically pay our own way. But this remedy can be abused. Crush a few of them up, end-around the time release aspect, and one can feel really really, like, good after a hit. Of course, at the time you may not consider what will happen with the inevitable crash.

So I'm the Cat in the Hat ...

... or at least that's what this quiz tells me (thanks to Sursum Corda for the link):

Cat in the Hat
Which Dr. Seuss character are you?

brought to you by Quizilla

October 29, 2003

"The Blood Cost of the War"

There is a reason some people say war should be the last, and not the first choice. There is a reason some people say that all other options should be explored, before turning to war as a last resort. There is a reason some people say that Just War Principles should be followed, including the use of force "only after all peaceful alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted" and that "efforts must be made to attain military objectives with no more force than is militarily necessary and to avoid disproportionate collateral damage to civilian life and property".

In a report recently issued by the Project on Defense Alternatives, "The Wages of War: Iraqi Combatant and Noncombatant Fatalities in the 2003 Conflict", it is currently estimated that "between 10,800 and 15,100 Iraqis were killed in the war. Of these, between 3,200 and 4,300 were noncombatants -- that is: civilians who did not take up arms." For those who may be untroubled by the thought of thousands of casualties, the report provides a conclusion which could touch the heart of any proponent of "preemptive war":
Among the costs that must be taken into account when assessing the Iraq war is the probable death of approximately 11,000 to 15,000 Iraqis, including approximately 3,200 to 4,300 civilian noncombatants. These costs weigh on the relationship between the United States and other nations -- especially those in the region -- and they affect the postwar challenge that the United States faces in Iraq. The blood cost of the war influences international public opinion regarding the United States -- especially opinion in the Arab and Muslim worlds -- which presently hovers at a 25-year nadir. And this pertains to America's efforts to stem extremism and build cooperation in fighting terrorism.

"His Lips Are Moving"

Just feeling a little ornery this morning, from things like this:

President Bush, yesterday at his press conference:
The "Mission Accomplished" sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way.
According to Army Times:
Navy officials and the White House yesterday said that while the crew of the Lincoln came up with the banner’s message, the White House printed it.

“The Navy asked for help in the production of the banner for the president’s visit. So we helped,” said White House spokesman Allen Abney.

The crew felt the banner reflected their recent operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Navy officials and the White House.

The Navy’s spokesman, Rear Adm. T McCreary, said, “The White House communications office did print it at the ship’s request.”

The White House communications office, well known for the care it takes with the backdrops at Bush speeches, created the “Mission Accomplished” banner in the same style as banners the president uses in other appearances, including one just a week before the carrier appearance in Canton, Ohio. That banner, with the same soft, brush-stroked American flag in the background and the identical typeface, read: “Jobs and Growth.”
The link has a nice picture comparison, showing how the "Mission Accomplished" banner had the same background design as other White House event banners.

In light of the fact that the trust of the American people, not to mention of allies around the world, is sorely needed in order to get us out of this mess, making stuff up has to stop.

Thank you.

[Edited to add the following]

I read this Oliver Willis piece on this subject after I entitled this entry. Honest!

[Edited to also add the following]
Steve Gilliard noted something about this late yesterday, which is an interesting insight:
I just wanted to say how this is a typical alcoholic's lie. Instead of accepting responsibility, he shifts blame to the crew of the Lincoln, who have previously shown no evidence of using mylar banners to celebrate other events. ... Of course, since this is a specialized kind of printing, one not commonly needed on a carrier, and one the president uses frequently, well, it's obvious that the story is a lie.

But why lie? Because he's a dry drunk and he lies about anything when pressed. His life is a series of lies. He cannot accept responsibility for anything. Any problem is someone else's fault. Never his. So instead of accepting that he did something which didn't work, he'll blame the innocent and expect them to remain silent.
What's the real reason? I don't know, but this is starting to get disturbing.

October 24, 2003

Fun With The Bush Blog

A few weeks ago I mentioned how the new Bush Campaign Blog was certain to provide lots of material for comments. Well, in addition to the essays, they also have this "just regular folks" feature inviting people to send in their answers to the question: "Why Do You Support President Bush?" Today's installment features one Todd Goberville of Parkland, Florida, who e-mailed his comments:
I support President Bush because, as working parents of two young girls, we must not only be great role models for our kids, but we must also save for their futures. President Bush's Child Credits have allowed us to put an extra $800.00 to their college funds and he is a President who our girls can look up to and say, "someday, I want to be just like him!" Thanks for being a great leader and role model during the most difficult time in our nation's history President Bush!
His message, accompanied by his picture, can be viewed here. Mr. Goberville doesn't identify himself any further, but through the magic of Google we find him (with the same picture) as President of the Broward County Young Republicans on their website. We can also find a picture of him gettin' down on the dance floor (scroll to bottom of page) at the 2003 Florida Young Republican Convention.

So, nice spontaneous support there on the Bush Blog.

Scalia vs. Scalia

In the news this morning, a story about Justice Antonin Scalia "mocking" the Supreme Court's majority decision in Lawrence vs. Texas, which struck down a Texas law criminalizing certain sexual activity if engaged in by homosexuals. The decision was based upon the recognized constitutional right to privacy. The Court found with respect to that law:
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.
Although he dissented, Justice Thomas wrote concerning this law: "I write separately to note that the law before the Court today 'is ... uncommonly silly.' ... If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources."

Justice Scalia, of course, had a different view. Interestingly enough, he expresses that different view in different ways, depending on where he is. Among his colleagues, in his dissenting opinion, he took exception to extending the right of privacy in the case, noting:
Though there is discussion of "fundamental proposition[s]," (ante, at 4) and "fundamental decisions," (ibid.) nowhere does the Court's opinion declare that homosexual sodomy is a "fundamental right" under the Due Process Clause; nor does it subject the Texas law to the standard of review that would be appropriate (strict scrutiny) if homosexual sodomy were a "fundamental right."

Not once does it describe homosexual sodomy as a "fundamental right" or a "fundamental liberty interest," nor does it subject the Texas statute to strict scrutiny. Instead, having failed to establish that the right to homosexual sodomy is "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition," the Court concludes that the application of Texas's statute to petitioners' conduct fails the rational-basis test …
In contrast, in his speech before a conservative group:
The ruling, Scalia said, "held to be a constitutional right what had been a criminal offense at the time of the founding and for nearly 200 years thereafter."

Scalia adopted a mocking tone to read from the court's June ruling that struck down state antisodomy laws in Texas and elsewhere.
As mentioned above, the majority found that the Texas law violated a recognized constitutional right, namely, the right to privacy. Justice Scalia knows full well that is what the court did. Nevertheless, in front of a political group, he claimed that the Court had declared "a constitutional right to sodomy". That's a distortion of the basis of the court's ruling (as the Justice knows, since as quoted above he wrote "Not once does [the majority] describe homosexual sodomy as a 'fundamental right' "). The language chosen by Justice Scalia was clearly intended to "stir up the troops", using some tried-and-true (albeit inaccurate) "culture war" language. The Justice basically gave a political speech, and cloaked it in a veneer of legal argument.

October 17, 2003

The General and the Book

There are other commentaries on this particular news story, so I'll keep mine brief.

From CBN News, Oct. 17:
Referring to a battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, [General] Boykin told another audience, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
From the Koran, Sura 39, verses 17-18:
And (as for) those who keep off from the worship of the idols and turn to Allah, they shall have good news, therefore give good news to My servants,

Those who listen to the word, then follow the best of it; those are they whom Allah has guided, and those it is who are the men of understanding.
That is all.

October 16, 2003

Today's Quick Quiz

Mel Gibson, the man behind the upcoming film, The Passion, has built his own church in Malibu (one unconnected to the local diocese). Mel's church caters to those who reject the legitimacy of the current Catholic hierarchy, from the Pope on down. As noted by a canon lawyer, in a brief piece But is Mel Gibson Catholic?: "So, according to Church law, it’s schismatic, not a Catholic church at all."

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a statement in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the papacy of John Paul II:
Jews throughout the world are deeply grateful to the Pope. He has defended the Jewish people at all times, as a priest in his native Poland and during his pontificate. John Paul has denounced anti-Semitism as a "sin against God and humanity," called upon all Christians to avoid any anti-Jewish interpretation of scriptures, and recommended caution in preaching and teaching.

We pray that he remains healthy for many years to come, that he achieves much success in his holy work and that Catholic-Jewish relations continue to flourish.
Now, whose side is the "Catholic League" on? (No fair peeking at the answer).

October 13, 2003

"In the Streets of Our Own Cities"

This is related to the entry just below. In addition to the revisionist views of why we went to war, another popular theme is that the war was brought to Iraq, so that it would not be brought home to us in America. As the President said in a recent radio address: "[W]e are fighting terrorists in Iraq so that we will not have to face them and fight them in the streets of our own cities. " When will someone say to the President, and anybody else who makes that argument, that their claim is just not right? The war is in the streets of our own cities, at least in the places which have sent sons and daughters to serve in the military. Just last week, I read of a soldier from a town adjacent to mine. An African-American husband and father, a son and a grandson. As described in the local paper (link):
Army Spec. Simeon Hunte, five months in Iraq, was wearing down. Friends had been injured and killed in guerrilla attacks, he wrote. The country's withering heat sapped energy and morale. Most importantly, the letter said, he missed his wife and daughter and the newborn son, Simeon Jr., he hadn't yet seen.
"He was getting depressed," Shirley Vigilance, Hunte's grandmother, said yesterday. "He said he didn't know how much more he could take. He wanted to come home so badly.
"And now he's coming home in a body bag."

Shirley and Andrew Vigilance said their grandson grew up on South 14th Street in Newark, graduated from public high school and attended Montclair State University, though he did not graduate.

He joined the army in 2001, hopeful the service could help him earn enough financial assistance to fund his ultimate goal.

"Since he was this high," Shirley Vigilance said, holding her hand at her waist, "he always wanted to be a doctor. He said it didn't matter how many years it took him."

On South 14th Street, neighbors recalled Hunte as an intelligent, polite teen, one of three siblings. Hunte has an older sister and an 11-year-old brother, Danny ...
So, when someone says that we are fighting there, to keep the war away from here, tell them that the war is here. It is here for each and every family with a loved one put in harm's way. It is here for each and every person with a friend, a colleague, or a neighbor now assigned to duty in Iraq. The war is most assuredly here for the grandparents, parents, and spouses who have to bury someone such as Specialist Simeon Hunte, who just wanted to make a better life for himself.

"Truth Will Out"

You've been hearing a new, revisionist spin on the reasons for war. "The President never said there was an imminent threat", is basically how it goes. The corollary is that anybody who now points out the lack of WMD is accused of disregarding the real reason we went to war. Basically, it's an interesting approach to shifting the burden on to the critics of the war. However, it is based entirely on finely parsing all of the President's statements, to interpret them to mean something very different from the clear intent, at the time they were uttered.

This is what the President said, in an address to the nation, on March 17, 2003:
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people.

"The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda.

"The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other."
Later on in the speech, he said the following:
"Recognizing the threat to our country, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to support the use of force against Iraq."
This was the vote which was sold, at the time, as a vote which would not lead to "imminent" war. The President added as follows:
"Yet, the only way to reduce the harm and duration of war is to apply the full force and might of our military, and we are prepared to do so. If Saddam Hussein attempts to cling to power, he will remain a deadly foe until the end. In desperation, he and terrorists groups might try to conduct terrorist operations against the American people and our friends. These attacks are not inevitable. They are, however, possible. And this very fact underscores the reason we cannot live under the threat of blackmail. The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed."
And, finally:
"We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year, or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when they are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities. "
All of this was in the President's speech describing the need for Hussein to get out immediately.

But today, we're told that nobody claimed there was an "imminent" threat. Well, I guess if you want to argue the meaning of each and every word, and show that they could be read to indicate a less-than-imminent threat, that's possible. But, at the time, and given the context and the clear intent, it is deceptive to claim that the American people were not told that war, immediate war, was the only way to safeguard our country. This would all be amusing, if it wasn't for the fact that these people are trying to deceive us about how they led the country into a war, a war that had to be initiated immediately, without any recourse to other options or approaches ("Up yours, France"; "Get lost, Pope").

I would say that it's like arguing over what the meaning of "is" is, but back in the Clinton years that was an argument about sex. This is one about death. So this is serious, and the folks who are trying fool people about what they did last spring should be ashamed of themselves.

I think Mr. Springsteen has said it best, during his concerts this past summer:
"The question of whether we were misled in the war with Iraq is neither a liberal or conservative question or Democratic or Republican question. It's an American question. And protecting the democracy we ask our sons and daughters to die for is our responsibility and it's our trust. And demanding accountability is our job as citizens. That's the American way so that truth will out."

October 10, 2003

The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways (Nobel Department)

This morning we are reading about the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi "for her efforts for democracy and human rights". As described by the Nobel Committee: "Her principal arena is the struggle for basic human rights, and no society deserves to be labelled civilized unless the rights of women and children are respected." However, what really stands out about her, and what makes her an inspired choice, is the following:
"Ebadi is a conscious Moslem. She sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental human rights. It is important to her that the dialogue between the different cultures and religions of the world should take as its point of departure their shared values. It is a pleasure for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to a woman who is part of the Moslem world, and of whom that world can be proud - along with all who fight for human rights wherever they live. "
With all of the fear and mistrust in the world today, not just in the Middle East but within our own country, someone such as Ms. Ebadi can be an inspiration to we in the (predominantly Christian) west, as well as in the Arab world.

For some reason, there are news reports of "disappointment" among Catholics that Pope John Paul II was not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year. For example, a Reuters article states: "Supporters felt that this should have been his year because he marks his 25th anniversary next week, he was instrumental in the fall of communism in 1989, opposed the Iraq war and recently his health has appeared to go into steep decline. The pope was runaway favourite to win the award before the announcement on Friday, according to Australian bookmaker Centrebet." (Side note: There's something about gambling and Catholics that always goes together in the minds of some people.) As a Catholic, I don't see why using the Peace Prize to honor the Pope for past accomplishments is essential, when there is so much work yet to be done. I should think that the Pope would prefer to see the Nobel Peace Prize help to advance understanding and peace among different peoples and faiths of the world.

The oddsmakers may have been limited by their own self-centeredness, because Ms. Ebadi is hardly an unknown in the human rights community, especially in Norway, where the prize is awarded. She previously won the 2001 Rafto Human Rights Prize in Norway. She has participated in symposia there, such as a Conference in 2000 in Norway on Gender, Religion and Change in the Middle East. In the abstract from that conference, she shows all of us that the image we may have of Islam, of being inherently backwards and hostile to our ideals of human rights, is due not to theology but to non-religious tradition:
"Traditionally, Arabs were nomadic tribal people who roamed the deserts as herders or traders. In this harsh environment, patriarchal and paternal family system dominated all human and social relationships in which the role of women was believed to be subservient to men. Their primary role was to serve men and to give birth to children, especially boys, who would the lineage and strength of the family and tribe. At this time, it was a shame to give birth to a daughter, and some even went far as to kill their daughters when they were born. These cultural belief and practice were challenged with the arrival of Prophet Muhammad and the adoption of Islam. He told his people to stop these unjust practices and to respect women. He had one only one daughter, and he would show his affection by publicly kissing her hand. He would say that only people who are ignorant would dishonor women. Islam was thus a liberating force, especially for women in the Middle East. After Muhammad’s death, Islam went through significant transformations largely dependent upon the local culture. The current Islamic laws are diverse all the way from Indonesia, to Saudi Arabia, to Pakistan, and to Iran. Although the basic tenets of Islam are laid out in the holy book of Koran, Islam prescribed that these laws should be interpreted and implemented according to each culture and they should be flexible to changing times. Koran ordered Muslim men to treat their wives according to their own customs. Thus, Islam is not a rigid, authoritarian and chauvinistic religion as have been depicted in the West."
That was the message Ms. Ebadi was trying to get out, even before September 11. She was doing so in order to help her own people, but I think that if we hear it, we will be helping ourselves. If we can understand that Islam is not congenitally against us, but instead (in her words), "Islam itself challenges these discriminatory beliefs and practices and provides the necessary philosophical and ethical basis for treating women with dignity and equality", we can help ourselves to work towards peace.

So that sounds like a good use of a Peace Prize.

October 09, 2003

Chaplain Yee Update

Back on 9/22, I had noted the story of the detaining of the Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo. I felt that it was too easy to jump to conclusions. Apparently, the military is backing off the initial allegations:
NO SPY CHARGES FOR CHAPLAIN - A Muslim chaplain being held and investigated for possibly spying at the Guantanamo detainee camp will face only minor charges, a newspaper said Thursday.

The "handful" of minor charges against Capt. Yousef Yee could be leveled by next week and are not expected to include more serious allegations such as spying, sedition or aiding the enemy, sources told the New York Daily News.
The full story is at this link. As I had also noted, the usual suspects were leading the charge (raising all sorts of suspicions because he had studied in Syria, for example) to read more into the original reports. I hope that they are as quick to note this new information.

October 06, 2003

One True Thing

There has been a lot of backtracking, re-hashing, and re-defining of positions about the war in Iraq. Just this evening, I was treated to Brit Hume on Fox, explaining that President Bush never claimed that Iraq was an imminent threat. But also this evening, I got the chance to read today's letters in the New York Times. One Ilya Shlyakhter of Cambridge, Massachusetts, encapsulated the issues better than anyone I have read so far:

"President Bush is right that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding.

"But without pre-emptive strikes based on flawed intelligence, it would be an even better place."