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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Junk-in-the-trunk Science.

This article points out some things that you might want to know about Alfred Kinsey if you're planning to see or have seen the recent movie based on his life.

In short, he wasn't much of a scientist:

Kinsey, trained as a scientist in the field of zoology, is often credited as the first researcher to use science to address sexual behavior. But Kinsey’s goal was to radically redefine what was considered normal and abnormal behavior. He succeeded in many respects — in large measure, ironically enough, because of his blatant disregard for scientific principles.

You won’t learn about this in “Kinsey.” For instance, as any researcher knows, a scientific study must use a “random selection” model to be considered scientifically accurate and representative of the population. Kinsey used volunteers.

Kinsey’s volunteers were disproportionately comprised of homosexuals, bisexuals, prostitutes and convicts — more in his sample than in society as a whole. So unreliable were his sampling methods that famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, who expressed early interest in Kinsey’s sexuality research, refused to work with him because of his methods.

Predictably, the lack of a true random sample distorted his findings. For instance, Kinsey famously claimed that 10 percent of the general populace is “more or less exclusively” homosexual — 5 percent exclusively gay and 5 percent bisexual. The most recent National Health and Social Life Survey, by contrast, estimates that the actual figure is about 1 percent to 3 percent.

Also, his research in child sexuality is questionable, if not on it's substance, than on it's ethics:

Then there are the questions about Kinsey’s data-collection methods. In his books “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (1948) and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” (1953), Kinsey cites “technically trained experts” as the source for his data on childhood sexual behavior. In particular, the infamous Tables 30 through 34 in his “Male book” — which charted how long it took to (brace yourself) induce orgasms in children as young as two months old — featured the research of these “experts.”

Today, many knowledgeable experts agree that the source for this information was a habitual pedophile who kept detailed records on the hundreds of young boys and girls he had abused over many years. This character is included in a disturbing-yet-inaccurate scene in the movie that depicts his link to Kinsey as fleeting and inconsequential. In reality, Kinsey had a longstanding professional relationship with this man and included an untold amount of his records and notes in his “research.”

I'll make no comment on this. The material speaks for itself.
Dogs and cats, living together!

The Indomitable Derbyshire sides with Ted Kennedy!

I am — just bite down hard and say it, man — with Senator Edward Kennedy on this. I want U.S. forces to leave Iraq ASAP. If the place then descends into chaos, I'm fine with it. What's that you say? It would be awful hard on the Iraqis? Probably so. It would certainly be hard on those brave, civic-minded Iraqis — there are plenty of them — who would like to see constitutional government in their nation. However, there are people like that all over the world — there are scads of them in China, including some personal friends of mine. (To be a bit more precise, there are scads of them who are Chinese, though many now live in the West.) We can only do so much. God knows, we have done enough for Iraq, with blood and treasure. The rest is up to the Iraqis. If they make a pig's ear of it, that's a shame, but I can't see why it's our problem. There are lots of messed-up countries in the world. Iraq will be another one.


I must heartily disagree with him-- if we quit Iraq and it collapses then it will indeed be our problem.

In the first place, the destructive forces in Iraq will come back to power, and we'll be in the same boat as we were when Saddam was in power. I thought conservatives were supposed to be about getting value for their tax dollars. How is the rise of another dangerous madman a good deal?

In the second place, it will serve as an example to every other terrorist organization in the world: If you harass the US long enough, then the US will depart and you can go on about your business in peace again. A hasty departure from Iraq will be viewed as a paucity of resolve that we simply cannot afford. It is the perception that we lacked courage and resolve that, in part, led to the attacks on September 11th 2001. We were thought weak-- that we wouldn't see anything through. So naturally our enemies thought they could strike with impunity.

In the third place, Da Derb is advocating a defensive war. I should think he reads enough to know that nobody ever wins a defensive war. You cannot simply hole up within your own borders and play "Katie, bar the door." That won't work-- especially not with the current crop of barbarians. Sooner or later, someone will get through the defenses.

In the fourth place, this is America, dagnabbit! Once upon a time, America could be counted on to finish what we started. Well, we've only just started rebuilding Iraq. And if the Iraq experiment works out, it will serve as an example to the rest of the nations in that cesspool of a region.

We might have been able to simply withdraw, once. The time to pull out and sacrifice Iraq to the gods of chaos was immediately after capturing Saddam Hussein. At that point, we didn't have anything invested in making sure Iraq became a legitimate democracy. If this had indeed been a simple case of punitive operations against the transgressor regime in Iraq, then we should have left back then.

But that ship has sailed. At this point-- today, right now-- we have too much invested in Iraq's success. It's not just a matter of humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people (though that is a factor), it's a matter of appearances to the rest of the Arab world. We cannot afford to leave now-- not when everyone is just waiting for us to call it a failure and bug out.

We are currently in a staring contest with the enemy. I can't believe the John Derbyshire is saying we should just blink and have done with it.

Monday, February 07, 2005

At what point does public art become public?

Southern Appeal brings to my attention a story that bugs me, as a taxpayer, just a little bit.

The Reader recounts the experience of photojournalist Warren Wimmer's attempts to photograph Anish Kapoor's sculpture, Cloud Gate (more commonly known as "the Bean"). When Wimmer set up his tripod and camera to shoot the sculpture, security guards stopped him, demanding that they show him a permit. Wimmer protested, replying that it's absurd that one needs to pay for a permit to photograph public art in a city-owned park.

Ben Joravsky, the author of the Reader article, attempted to contact park officials for an explanation and received a response from Karen Ryan, press director for the park's project director:

"The copyrights for the enhancements in Millennium Park are owned by the artist who created them. As such, anyone reproducing the works, especially for commercial purposes, needs the permission of that artist."

Hence, Millennium Park--a nascent destination for countless citizens and tourists that was built with $270 million in city funds--is slowly emerging as Chicago's most privatized public space. Photographers beware!

I have a number of photographs of myself and my parents in front of various monuments. I hope I have not opened myself up for lawsuits due to copyright violations.
About farking time!

Rumsfeld defends himself from the lies (That's right-- lies!) that have been bandied about with respect to his comments in December 2004: (Link via The Corner)

(Videotape, December 8, 2004):

SPC. THOMAS WILSON: Now, why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Now, Specialist Wilson did acknowledge he worked with a journalist in crafting that question.

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Yeah, but wait a minute. Let me get into this a little bit.


SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That was unfair and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange--there it is--that took place. And when you suggested that that's how I answered that question, that is factually wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: No, we...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That is not how I answered that question.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Secretary, it clearly represents the exchange and...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It does not.

MR. RUSSERT: All right. What is missing?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You want to hear the exchange? There is it. It's right here. I'll read it to you.

MR. RUSSERT: I just...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: If you're going to quote pieces of it, I'll give you the exchange. He asked that question, and I said, "I talked to the general coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they're not needed, to places where they are needed. I'm told they are being--the Army is--I think it's something like 400 a month are being done now. And it's essentially a matter of physics. It's not a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army's desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to the war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.

"Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce armor necessary at a rate that they believe--it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously but a rate that they believe is the rate that can be accomplished. I can assure you that General Schumacher and the leadership of the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable to have, but that they're working at it at a good clip.

"It's interesting. I've talked a great deal about this with a team of people who've been working hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and the tank could still be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and the vehicle--the goal we have is to have many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that's what the Army's been working on. And, General Whitcomb, is there anything you want to add?" And then he spoke.

Now, that answer is totally different from picking out two lines. And I think it's an unfair representation and it's exactly what some of the newspapers around the country did. Now, let's go back to Susan Collins' comment, Senator Collins...

MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me just finish on the Humvees because...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You bet. OK. I'll tell you right now where we are. By February 15th, nine days from now, there will not be a vehicle moving around in Iraq outside of a protected compound with American soldiers in it that does not have an appropriate level of armor.

This is something that's stuck in my craw for a while now. Just last week, I had to go in to get my truck's oil changed and tires rotated. They had CNN Headline News on in the waiting room, and they ran a story about a wounded veteran who claims she still supports the war, but hates Rumsfeld. They ran the videoclip that Russert ran as justification for her antipathy.

I had to get up and walk around. I knew what Rumsfeld said, and I knew that statement was less than half of what he actually said. It simply pisses me off that so many people are obviously making voting decisions based upon misinformation propogated by mainstream media outlets like CNN.

If the cable news networks reported anything even halfway fairly for even one day, I'd bet Bush's approval numbers would jump through the roof.
Hairy situation

Sorry, this is no laughing matter.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Umm Ali says militants killed her son last month for the most unlikely of reasons: He trims men's beards.

In Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, residents say Sunni Muslim extremists (search) have made barbers the new hunted, accusing them of violating a strict reading of Islamic teachings that say men should keep their beards long.

Some extremists also consider Western-style haircuts an offensive symbol of the hated, secularized culture of Europe and the United States.

To them, sporting a clipped beard or a modern haircut is an infraction worthy of death.

Tell me again how these guys are the modern minutemen, defending their homes against the American Imperialist Machine.
Why, yes. I do hate Massachusetts. Does it show?

Clayton Cramer points to mASSBACKWARDS with a story of police abuse in Brookline.

It was the faces of three disillusioned and angry residents that told a story in the lobby of Brookline District Court earlier this week.

There was Kang Lu, a Chinese-born U.S. Army second lieutenant and future military doctor, dressed in uniform, hoping, finally, for redemption in the form of a restored license to carry firearms. Next to him was longtime resident Yat Lau, also Chinese-born, who was similarly rejected in his bid to renew a license to carry a permit that was first issued to him four years ago in Newton.

And finally, sitting quietly on a bench outside the courtroom, was diminutive law paralegal and gospel choir singer Jacqueline Scott, a 53-year-old African-American woman and former domestic abuse victim, who said she has heard "nothing, nothing, nothing,nothing " from the Brookline Police on her first-time application to carry a gun which she completed in October 2003.

While Lu was the only one who had official business in court on Tuesday morning - he is suing Brookline Police Chief Daniel O'Leary to overturn a police department decision to revoke a firearms license - Lau and Scott were also prepared to testify on Lu's behalf about what they say was shoddy treatment they have received from town cops in their attempts to exercise the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

In her 20 years as a resident, Scott said "This was the first experience I've ever had with Brookline that has soured me on a place I love and that I call home."

Go read mASSBACKWARDS on the subject for full coverage. I'll just give some highlights:

According a June 2003 letter from the police department, the decision to revoke Kang Lu's gun license was based on a series of four unrelated reasons.

The first was a bizarre incident at the Coolidge Corner Library during which Lu, a regular visitor to the library, said he preferred to study there in the brightest part of the building. "I like it well lit," he said.

But on a weekday afternoon in June 2002, Lu said a library staff member approached him and said he had to leave his study table because he was told it was in the "children's section." He noted that no children were in that section of the library, but was told to leave the area anyway.

"I told the librarian 'If you believe I'm violating a law, call the police and see what they say.'"

A short time later, police arrived at the library, and Lu said officers told him that he was violating library policy and could be cited for trespassing if he did not clear the area. Lu then agreed to leave the children's section and the matter ended with no arrests and no other consequences, or so Lu thought.

In a June 24, 2003, letter to Lu from O'Leary, however, "the facts surrounding the incident you were involved in at the Coolidge Corner Library" was listed as the first among the reasons why Lu's license to carry was pulled.

The other reasons included what police allege were: "false statements" made on Lu's license application to Sgt. Raskin and other Brookline Police officers; "noise complaints in [Lu's] building;" and his "seeking counseling for psychological problems in April of 2003."

But the "false statements," Lu said, weren't false at all. One allegation had to do with his characterizing his occupation as an "active duty" officer in the U.S. Army. Raskin later concluded that Lu was an Army reservist, which he considered a "false statement." But an Army official was prepared to testify in court on Tuesday that Lu was considered to have active scholarship status in the Army as a medical student.

As for noise complaints, Lu said the accusation was preposterous. "There are at least 100 people who live in my building, and most of the time I'm out studying so I'm not there anyway."

In the instance of his seeking psychological counseling, Lu said Brookline Police had asked him if he had engaged in any therapy in the past. He told police about one visit he made in April 2003, the subject of which to discuss the stress of medical school. Having divulged information about the one therapy session, the police then used Lu's admission against him, citing it in the decision to revoke his license to carry.

So his license was revoked because 1) he likes studying in the brightly lit part of the library 2) he has noisy neighbors 3) the Brookline PD don't consider Army Reservists to actually be in the Army and 4) he made one visit to a psychologist to discuss stress.

Yep, sounds like we've got a dangerous criminal on our hands here! Better revoke his license!

The article also indicates the, since Lu's son has had some "scrapes with the law," the cops decided that Lu's home was not a safe place for firearms. So much for all those draconian "safe storage" laws, eh? Why did Kang bother to lock up his firearms in state approved lock-boxes with state approved locks if the state won't approve the boxes or locks as safe?

This is just revolting, fearless readers. Kang is a medical student in the US Army Reserve. Even proponents of the "collective right" theory should have to acknowledge that Lu is part of the "well regulated militia" that they say the Constitution exclusively reserves the right to keep and bear arms for.

Just chalk it up as one more grain of sand to add to the desert of evidence that the gun control lobby is all about outright bans.
Clayton Cramer came to town...

Clayton Cramer came to Boston, and found out a few things about Boston traffic.

I was told that it was best to take a cab from the airport, and not try to navigate Boston traffic. But hey, I grew up driving in Los Angeles, and Philadelphia traffic, while a little frustrating, was tolerable.

To quote Gilbert Gottfried: YOU FOOL!

I should have listened. Boston traffic is inexcusable--and I am told that it is greatly improved, now that the construction project known as the Big Dig is largely complete.

Boston has everything going against, from the standpoint of traffic congestion. Most of the city was built before the automobile; the urban area covers at least four peninsulas, three rivers, and a bay. One of the traditional techniques for improving traffic flow--extensive use of alternating one-way streets--may actually aggravate the problem of driving. The intersection of so many different road grids means that making a right turn, going two blocks, then another right, two more blocks, then another right--often fails when you run into a conflicting grid, or a river.

Boston roads weren't built. They were trampled by cattle. The civil engineers simply paved where the grass was low.

Alternating one-way streets only work on grids. Boston has a pathological fear of 90 degree angles. (Hence the extensive and otherwise inexplicable use of traffic circles instead of normal intersections)

Or, to put it another way, Boston is a town so liberal they don't even have right angles!

This is not theory, unfortunately. I was attempting to get from Storrow Drive to Boylston Drive, and I was in the right lane. This was not a right turn only lane, but the taxi driver behind me kept honking, trying to force me to make a right turn a couple of blocks earlier than I needed. I'm a pretty accommodating person, and I became tired of the honking. Also I have a natural sympathy for some guy who, if he is lucky, is making about $6 per hour in exchange for risking holdup or murder, so I made a right turn that I didn't want to make. I figured that I would go make a grand circuit, and return to Storrow Drive. Nope. By the time I was able to finally get headed the right direction again, I was across the Charles River in Charlestown.

Sympathy for a hackie? In Boston? Brother, go home before you hurt yourself.

Since it's practically illegal to own a gun in Boston, cab drivers defend themselves by driving like maniacs so nobody would dare try and rob them. I once witnessed a Boston Cab driver going 40 miles per hour the wrong way down a one-way street... backwards! Would you carjack a guy that nuts? I wouldn't.

That wrong turn could have cost you a day, Mr. Cramer. Never, ever let another driver pressure you into doing something you don't want to do. Let him honk. If you feel the need to do something, flip him off.

It also appears that there is either a distinct inability to properly place road signs in Boston, or there is a dark conspiracy to mislead drivers into crossing bridges to pay unncessary tolls. Fortunately, I left my hotel early for Logan Airport. Several alternative routes to the airport were closed by Suffolk County sheriff's deputies, and signs placed too late (and sometimes not at clearly indicating which way to go to the airport) roughly tripled my travel time and distance. (Environmentalists, take note: tripling the drive time usually means tripling the pollution.) While waiting for the shuttle bus from rental drop-off location to airport, a number of others complained about the poor signage--and some of the other whiners, judging by their accents, were locals.

Let me emphasize that this isn't just a guy from Boise who isn't used to urban traffic. I grew up in Los Angeles; spent much of my life navigating San Francisco Bay Area freeways; and I've driven in crowded urban environments like Philadelphia, recently. Boston really needs to get its act together on road signs.

Poor signage is not a Boston thing. It's a New England thing. It's merely more pronounced in Boston because Boston is so poorly constructed.

It's really quite uncanny how they manage to place only the road signs you don't need. If I want to know what street I'm on, all they have are signs indicating the cross streets. If I want to know what the cross streets are, all they have are signs indicating what street I'm on.

I don't know how they do that. I expect there's some sort of pressure panel that only tells you what the cross street is if you're in the wrong lane to make use of it.

It's terrible on Rotaries too. See, Boston hates intersections, so they placed rotaries everywhere they could. And, just to make it irredeemably stupid, they don't label what streets you exit the rotary onto until after you've already left the rotary.

But Boston will never get it's act together on the road signs. I expect they still think that British soldiers will come back to finish what they started in 1774, and they want to make sure the lobster-backs are confused and therefore easy targets. (What they plan to shoot the invaders with I can't imagine.)

Boston drivers were, like urban drivers almost everywhere, aggressive and rude. My wife complains that Boise drivers drive as though they have nowhere particular that they need to be--the light turns green, and drivers very leisurely get under way through the intersection. In some cases, the desire to not be aggressive means that a Boise driver might clobber you out of hesitancy to take the right of way--but I'll take that over having to effectively play chicken to merge into traffic.

I only drive in Boston when I have to, but I've learned a few things about how to do it right.

1) Your fenders are mere possessions. Let them go and be free. Your best bet for actually getting from point A to point B in Boston is to have less regard for your fenders than the other drivers have for their own. Simply driving like you don't care if you lose a coat of paint won't do-- they'll call your bluff and you'll be done for. You have to mean it-- forget that paint job.

2) You need a large vehicle. You might think that a small car would make Boston's labyrinthine streets easier to navigate, and you'd be right if there were no other drivers. But a Boston cab driver is not going to yeild to a Prius, even if you have the right of way. You need something big and ugly-- like my Dodge Ram truck. You must make it clear that all you have to risk are your fenders, but your opponent stands to lose his life.

You also need an off road capable vehicle, because Boston seems to be under the impression that you can't tell you're on a road unless your bouncing from one pothole to another.

3) You need good acceleration. If you find yourself in the wrong lane at a stop light-- something that's bound to happen a couple of times per day-- you need to get in front of all the people who are in the lane you need to be in. Your blinkers are useless-- as evidenced by the fact that nobody uses them in Boston-- you'll simply have to roar out in front of everyone and slam into the lane within one carlength.

The overarching lesson here is that, in Boston, the only way to effectively drive defensively is to drive offensively. Assume that every car on the road is actively trying to kill you-- because most of them probably are. The only way to get out alive is to try and kill them back-- figurately speaking of course.

All over Boston and the South Shore of Massachusetts Bay (where the road signs and the drivers were much better), I noticed signs reminding you that state law requires you to give right of way to pedestrians. I can't tell if the problem is that Bostonians can't (or won't) read the signs, or that they figure that since pedestrians ignore WALK/DON'T WALK signals (and stoplights), that it is okay to ignore pedestrians who do actually obey these safety devices.

I'm used to seeing taxi drivers aggressive with other vehicles in big cities. It is almost like a comic book in New York City--to the point where I wonder if taxi drivers there have any collision deductible at all on their insurance. In Boston, taxi drivers were even worse than private drivers in their aggressiveness towards pedestrians. I saw one cabbie Saturday night come very close to running down a pedestrian on Boylston--this cab was relying on the flashing of lights and horns to force his way out of turn through an uncontrolled intersection.

Oh for the love of Pete, don't carry any sympathy for the Boston Pedestrian.

The Boston pedestrian reaches a level of haughtiness so great that I can think of no metaphore grand enough to describe it. (Something about how, if the Universe were a shotglass, Boston pedestrian haughtiness would fill a swimming pool)

The Hobbesian Fiance has witnessed gaggles of teenaged girls boldly crossing the street any-old-place (almost never at a crosswalk-- heavens no! That would mean walking an extra ten yards!) while confidently bellowing that "pedestrians have the right of way!"

Little old ladies walk out into the middle of streets-- against the light-- and then stand there staring at you, daring you to hit them.

And if you've got a group of pedestrians, they don't even look-- assuming that what they don't see can't hit them. (They've got a point-- a Boston Cab driver is much less likely to plow into a flock of pedestrians than an individual one-- his cab might be able to withstand a single pedestrian, but he'd probably disable his car on three or more.)

The Boston pedestrian doesn't care if you haven't made it all the way through an intersection once the light has changed. They'll happily block you from getting out of the path of oncoming traffic while they cross. And if you even attempt to inch your way out of the intersection, they'll stare at you like you're the arse-hole.

Oh, no, Mr. Cramer. Don't keep any sympathy for the Boston pedestrian in your heart. They certainly have none for you.

Recommendation: if you need to spend a couple of days in Boston itself, plan on taking a taxi to and from Logan Airport, and walk or use a taxi to get around the city. It is a very compact, very walkable place (although perhaps not wise to do so after 10:00 PM). Unless you are going from end of Boston to the other, the combination of bad traffic and difficult parking mean that walking will only be a little slower than driving--and far less frustrating.

Walking will not be a little slower than driving. Yesterday, as I delivered a bed for a friend who lives in Boston, I was passed by a jogger. And I never caught up with her, either. I was also passed by three bicyclists of varying ages. Walking is faster than driving in Boston.

My recommendation is to take a taxi to and from Logan, and to make use of the subway. It's not a great subway system (it's a hib system, not a grid-- and there's no connection between the spokes radiating from the hub. That means if you want to get from Harvard station to Boston College, you have to go all the way in to downtown poston and back out again) but it will get you there if you make sure to plan an hour or so for travel time.
Let's be absolutely clear about this right now

I've noticed a lot of bloggers posting about the superbowl (The Corner, of all blogs, had a list of predictions on last week)

So I want to be absolutely clear about this: You will find no Superbowl information, news, fandom, or anything else on this site. I couldn't help finding out who won the damn thing (I live in Massachusetts, after all) but I simply don't care. Just like I didn't care that the Red Sox won the world series (Except to the extent that the fans kept killing people in downtown Boston)

And yes, I am a little cheesed off that the Patriots won again. I'm from Buffalo, and most of my regional pride is tied up in the fact that no other team in NFL history has ever attended four superbowls in a row, win or lose. It was okay that they lost, since the AFC wasn't supposed to win superbowls back then. It was enough that they went four times in a row.

Now the Patriots are fowling that up! Not only are they going to break Buffalo's record of attending superbowls, but they keep proving that the AFC can win superbowls.

As a Buffalonian-- even as one who hasn't watched a football game in five years-- this pisses me off.

I grew up in a world where the New England Patriots sucked, and the NFC always one the superbowl. Tom Brady has destroyed my world.

Keep your damned trophy. I don't want to hear about it, and beyond this post I won't speak another word about it.
Is Bush a politician or what?

Instapundit notices that Bush keeps doing the right thing... after it's too late to garner votes from it.

I think they're playing the long game, not the short game. And here's another example: the retroactive increase in death benefits paid to the families of servicepeople killed in action. They waited until after the election, when doing it sooner might have gotten them some votes. At a guess, I'd say that they want the troops to know it's genuine, and not just political -- and that's why they waited.
(Emphasis in original)

There's also something about Rumsfeld offering to resign after Abu Ghraib (twice), but Bush turning him down.

Notice that they let this out now, instead of in the months preceding the Presidential elections. Why? Surely this would have helped Bush at the polls.

I suspect it's the same reason Da Prof assigns to the timing of the increase in death benefits-- he wanted it to appear genuine.

I'll forego commentary on the cynicism of the Media and the American Electorate that Bush's attempts to do the right thing would only be viewed as genuine if Bush stood to gain nothing from them. It's just too depressing to contemplate.
A good way to start your morning

Jonah Goldberg: part of this nutricious breakfast.

A foreign-policy realist might have said, "Oops, no WMDs" — and then bugged out. We called Saddam's bluff, which was our perfect right given the stakes, but it's not in our interests to stay. That's realism. And it's funny to hear Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore, et al. keep invoking it.

Bush decided to stay partly out of a different realist analysis of our national interest: A democratic Middle East, he believes, is the best chance for stopping the production of terrorists.

But we also stayed as a matter of honor. In the run-up to war, according to Bob Woodward, Colin Powell allegedly coined the "Pottery Barn rule," which holds that if "you break it, you bought it." Saying, in other words, that we'd be obliged to fix Iraq if we broke it. The press loved this phrase because — they believed — it was so pregnant with I-told-you-sos.

Fair enough. But keep two things in mind. First, Iraq was already broken — broken by a madman responsible for unspeakable crimes inside Iraq and out. Second, the Pottery Barn rule is merely a pedantic way of saying that America is honor-bound to fulfill its commitments and act on its ideals. Ted Kennedy and Iraqi Sunnis demand that America fix a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq as if honor is an installment plan one can abandon when it gets too hard.

Friday, February 04, 2005

What's Inuit for Slow News Day?

CNN is really stretching on this one.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Vice President Dick Cheney raised eyebrows on Friday for wearing an olive-drab parka, hiking boots and knit ski cap to represent the United States at a solemn ceremony remembering the liberation of Auschwitz.

Other leaders at the event in Poland on Thursday marking the 60th anniversary of the death camp's liberation, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, wore dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots.

"The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower," Robin Givhan, The Washington Post's fashion writer, wrote in the newspaper's Friday editions.

I feel for ya, Mr. Vice President!

I get crap for my choice in winter apparel all the time. I, too, have an olive drab parka-- but I have an olive drab winter hat and olive drab gloves to match it (one must coordinate, after all). I get my winter apparel from The Sportsmans Guide

It's no sin to try and be warm when it's below freezing out.

The Post's Givhan said Cheney might have been hoping to avoid the cold weather in Oswiecim, but noted he had worn a dark overcoat and no hat at all at another recent winter occasion -- his own swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 in snow-dusted Washington.

Okay, let's consider this: How long was Cheney outside for his own swearing in ceremony? Ten minutes? Fifteen?

Now, how long was the memorial service at Auschwitz? An hour? Two?

And isn't it just slightly possible that Cheney caught a cold because he wasn't wearing a proper coat on the 20th, and he was trying to keep it from becoming the flu by wearing proper attire at Auschqitz?

Further, let's consider substance, rather than style. Just this once, okay?

Cheney told the gathering that the Holocaust did not happen in some far-off place but "in the heart of the civilized world."

"The story of the camps shows that evil is real and must be called by its name and must be confronted," he said.

"We are reminded that anti-Semitism may begin with words but rarely stops with words and the message of intolerance and hatred must be opposed before it turns into acts of horror."

Those are not the words of a man who is taking the memorial service lightly. Indeed, those are the words of a man who takes from the service the proper lesson.

I swear, they'll look for any tiny, insignificant thing to bash Cheney over. You want proof that the Media has an anti-Bush slant? Look no further.
Let the rant begin

Well, it's February. And if it's February, it must be time for my Annual Rant about Massachusett's oppressive tax regime.

Specifically, that monstrosity known as the Auto Excise tax.

The Auto Excise Tax, or as I prefer to call it the Auto Extortion Tax, is an annual fee levied upon anyone who owns a vehicle-- whether it's registered or not-- in the state of Massachusetts.

The rate is $25 for every $1000 the car is "worth" according the the NADA book.

But that's not the whole story. I'll let the Commonwealth explain it:

Every motor vehicle owner must pay an excise tax based on valuation of at least ten percent of the manufacturer’s list price; thus, owners of vehicles older than five years should have a fixed excise tax bill for succeeding years of ownership. Even though an owner may have applied for an abatement that may reduce an excise tax bill, no excise shall be less than $5.

So if the NADA book says your car is now worth less than 10% of the original list price, the NADA book gets ignored, and you wind up paying proportionately more of the value of the car as it ages beyond five years.

Oh, and I should point out: This is in addition to the sales tax you already paid on the car when you bought it!

When I first moved to Massachusetts, I received this bill in the mail for an Auto Excise Tax. At the time I owned a 1991 Ford Tempo GT, and the excise tax was about $25.

I was annoyed, but not outraged. It took a new car to get me outraged.

Almost four years ago, I bought a 2001 Dodge Ram pickup (and I love her dearly). When the auto excise tax bill rolled around, it was for $350

That got me outraged.

And what bugged me the most was that people who live here didn't seem to think it was a bad thing! They just accepted that the State of Massachusetts punishes you for buying a new car! What's worse-- it punishes you for buying a car that has a good resale value!

The bill kept going down. Last year it was just over $100. This year it was $42.50.

But it's not the dollars, it's the principle. I am not intelligent enough to think of a word that adequately describes how vile this is.

And guess what: It's worse than that!

You might make the argument that the excise tax helps pay for road maintenance. (What? You mean that leaky tunnel they put under a river in Boston? The one that's unsafe to drive in? Yeah, great use of my money, fellas.)

If that's so, then explain to me why you have to pay excise tax on cars that aren't registered!

Don't believe me, believe the Massachusetts State Website:

Under MGL Chapter 60A, all Massachusetts residents who own and register a motor vehicle must annually pay a motor vehicle excise. Also, under MGL Chapter 59, Section 2, it is important to note that every motor vehicle, whether registered or not, is subject to taxation, either as excise or personal property, for the privilege of road use, whether actual or future. The excise is levied by the city or town where the vehicle is principally garaged and the revenues become part of the local community treasury.
Emphasis added.

So, because you may register a vehicle in the future, you have to pay excise tax on it.

No assessment of the vehicle is done. It doesn't matter if it even runs or not. For all the state of Massachusetts cares, it could be a burned out hulk on blocks in your front lawn. Doesn't matter, it gets taxed on at least 10% of it's original list price.

And you don't even have to own the car! You still owe excise tax on leased cars! This is usually handled through the dealership, so you don't know it. But you're still paying the excise tax on it. Don't think you're not!

Not outrageous enough? Well, you'd better hope to Heaven above that the town you live in is on the ball when it comes to mailing the bill out:

Payment of the motor vehicle excise is due 30 days from the date the excise bill is issued (not mailed, as is popularly believed). According to Chapter 60A, section 2 of the Massachusetts General Laws, “Failure to receive notice shall not affect the validity of the excise”. A person who does not receive a bill is still liable for the excise plus any interest charges accrued. Therefore, it is important to keep the Registry, local assessors, and the post office informed of a current name and address so that excise bills can be delivered promptly. All owners of motor vehicles must pay an excise tax; therefore, it is the responsibility of the owner to contact the local assessor if he/she has not received a bill.
(emphasis added)

That's right fearless readers, if the town you live in fails to mail you notice that you owe the Excise tax, you are liable for the shortfall.

If you fail to receive the bill, you will be fined, charged interest, and (if you're not careful) you can have your license renewal denied.

And if your town mails the bill late-- say 29 days after it's issued-- you are responsible for paying the bill on time! The due date is 30 days after it was issued, and if your town doesn't get you the bill until the 29th day, that's your fault!

Summing up, this is just a horrendous tax all the way around.

In the first place, it is an incentive to buy crappy cars. This hurts the economy twice-- Directly by taking dollars out of your pocket that could have gone into the economy. And indirectly by encouraging people to hold onto old, crappy cars instead of buying new ones.

Incidentally, there's also a safety issue here-- this law encourages car owners to hold onto cars longer. Cars become less safe as they age-- they just wear out. Annual inspections work on new cars, but they won't stop an old car's breaks from failing in December when it was inspected in January.

In the second place, enforcement of this tax is simply horrendous. Can you imagine any organization other than a Government on saying that you are responsible to pay a bill without knowing when it's due or how much it is? That you'd have to pay fees and penalties and interest on the bill even if nobody told you how much it is?

Mastercard would go out of business in a week with policy like that. But this is the People's Republic of Massachusetts we're talking about here.

Third, this state already taxes every farking thing imaginable! Income tax, sales tax, liquor tax, cigarette tax, estate tax, user occupancy (hotel) tax, Gasoline tax, stupidity tax (aka: State Lottery), Cable TV tax (yes, really), Electricity tax (again; yes, really)-- if you want to be a street performer in Boston you have to audition and pay a fee to be assigned a street corner! There's more(!), but you get the point.

And that's just the state taxes-- don't get me started on the local taxes.

My point is that Massachusetts could get by just fine without this abomination of a tax.

Of course, it won't try. They call it Taxachusetts for a reason.

Someday I'll think of a way to escape this confiscatory pit. Until then, I'll have to be content griping. (Oh, of course I vote. For all the good it does-- this is the state that inflicted Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Barney Frank on the United States. This is the state that thinks Mitt Romney is a good Republican. What good is my vote going to do?)
Let's be careful out there

Last night I slipped on the ice in a gravel driveway and bruised the bejabbers out of my hip. (Fortunately, I didn't land on the cell phone on my belt or the Game Boy Advance in my pocket. Bones heal, but electronics are expensive!)

Today Boston is a virtual skating rink. Be careful out there. I don't want any of you breaking anything and driving up insurance rates.

Instapundit points to heartening news from Iraq.

Citizens of Al Mudhiryiah (a small town in the "death triangle") were subjected to an attack by several militants today who were trying to punish the residents of this small town for voting in the election last Sunday.

The citizens responded and managed to stop the attack, kill 5 of the attackers, wounded 8 and burned their cars.

3 citizens were injured during the fire exchange. The Shiekh of the tribe to whom the 3 wounded citizens belong demanded more efforts from the government to stop who he described as "Salafis".

Isn't that just beautiful? On several different points?

For the first time in a long time, the people living in Al Mudhiryiah can legitimately called "citizens."

And they're acting like it. Good for them.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A crisis in America!

Clearly, something needs to be done about the number of car related deaths in America.

Imagine a plane full of people crashing, killing everyone on board, every single day. That’s how many people die on America’s roads daily, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Motor vehicle crashes in the United States result in more than 40,000 deaths per year,” says the Institute in the journal Injury Prevention. “That is, on each of the 6,209 consecutive days included in this study, an equivalent of a plane load or more of people died on the roads.”

It's high time we had comprehensive car registration...

Oh, wait...

Ain't been workin' on the railroad, all the livelong day...

Joseph Vranich provides a glimpse into just how screwed up Amtrak is, and who's leading the charge to fix it.

The most refreshing federal transport agenda to appear in years is the Bush administration's plan to eliminate all operating subsidies for Amtrak. Spending restraint is overdue because Amtrak continues to hemorrhage taxpayers' dollars by perpetuating costly long-distance trains that serve few people. Fortunately, the administration will commit $360 million to maintain Amtrak's busiest route — the Boston-New York-Washington line — that serves nearly half of all Amtrak riders and the country's most-used commuter trains.

But a fundamental change needs to occur. We must end Amtrak's ownership of the busy line in the northeast.

As the debate heats up, let's squarely address how Amtrak has botched its role in improving critical infrastructure. For decades Amtrak has spent billions of dollars in public funds on lightly used trains and capital projects with a zero rate of return on investment while under-investing in the busy Boston-Washington route. To be specific, Amtrak's poor stewardship of property means its Manhattan tunnels present great passenger risks during an accident, fire, or terrorist attack — so much so that I tell my family not to ride Amtrak to or through New York. Flying is safer.

The tunnel hazards include lack of standpipes for bringing water to a fire in parts of the tunnels, reliance on dry chemical extinguishers that are ineffective in a large blaze, ventilation systems that can't remove smoke or heat, and inadequate exits that consist of steep spiral staircases rising as high as 90 feet, or ten flights of stairs.

These stairways were not designed as emergency exits, but could attract passengers trapped in a desperate situation. The staircases hinder evacuation and jeopardize lives because they are wide enough for only one person, meaning that a few passengers fleeing up the stairs block responding emergency personnel from going down into the tunnels.

He gives some examples of minor incidents on Amtrak trains that caused major problems because of these oversights.

Of course, something is being done to upgrade the tunnels:

Amtrak defends itself by citing a recent $126.6 million contract with the Swedish construction firm Skanska AB to upgrade the tunnels by 2009. But Amtrak should have done this long ago. If there is a hero here, it's again the Bush administration, which forced the contract by persuading Congress to earmark funds for tunnel safety and to stop Amtrak from diverting appropriations to frivolous purposes (an inexcusable hallmark, by the way, of the Clinton administration). In short, President Bush is a far better guardian of railroad-passenger safety than is Amtrak itself.

He calls for stripping Amtrak of ownership of the rails they ride on, giving it to regional authorities who can be expected to give a rat's sphincter about rail safety.

I agree. Amtrak wastes a whole lot of my money-- and yours too. One of these days, they should be held accountable.
Late-blogging the SOTU address

Other bloggers, more dedicated than I, have live-blogged the State of the Union address.
Frankly, I never watch speeches. I prefer to read them afterward. Pure text, no biases because of oratory skills, which even shameless partisans like me have to admit isn't Bush's strongest suit. (But when he's on, brother he's on!)

After spending too many paragraphs describing government programs he wants in the name of economic growth (Note to Mr. President: No government has ever spent itself into prosperity. Government's job is simply to get out of the way and let prosperity happen.) he comes up with a jewel that I intend to hold him to:

All these proposals are essential to expand this economy and add new jobs — but they are just the beginning of our duty. To build the prosperity of future generations, we must update institutions that were created to meet the needs of an earlier time. Year after year, Americans are burdened by an archaic, incoherent federal tax code. I have appointed a bipartisan panel to examine the tax code from top to bottom. And when their recommendations are delivered, you and I will work together to give this Nation a tax code that is pro-growth, easy to understand, and fair to all.

I wholeheartedly agree. The tax code simply gets longer every year. Tax season is marked by storms of impenetrable paperwork and red tape.

Of course, reform will never happen. There is a whole industry who's livelihood depends on tax forms being impenetrable to the common citizen.

This bit frosts my cupcakes a bit, though:

America's immigration system is also outdated — unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border. It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.

There are no jobs Americans will not do. The problem is not that Americans won't do the nasty jobs, it's that companies can get away with hiring people who will do the job for less money that Americans will accept for the same job.

Americans won't clean toilets for two bucks an hour. Illegal Mexicans will. You want to solve the problem of illegal immigration, try actually deporting them when you find them, and punishing the companies that hire them. Make it so financially risky to hire illegal immigrants that no company would even try it. Then you'll find Americans who'll do the work.

Yes, there is the inflationary issue to consider. But I expect that the added expense of hiring Americans will spur an interest in making the crappy jobs more efficient. Mexicans are currently more cost effective than "Rhoombas."

But at least he doesn't spend much time on immigration. The big noise this time is Social Security Reform:

One of America's most important institutions — a symbol of the trust between generations — is also in need of wise and effective reform. Social Security was a great moral success of the 20th Century, and we must honor its great purposes in this new century. The system, however, on its current path, is headed toward bankruptcy. And so we must join together to strengthen and save Social Security.

Today, more than 45 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, and millions more are nearing retirement — and for them the system is strong and fiscally sound. I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.

For younger workers, the Social Security system has serious problems that will grow worse with time. Social Security was created decades ago, for a very different era. In those days people didn't live as long, benefits were much lower than they are today, and a half century ago, about 16 workers paid into the system for each person drawing benefits. Our society has changed in ways the founders of Social Security could not have foreseen. In today's world, people are living longer and therefore drawing benefits longer — and those benefits are scheduled to rise dramatically over the next few decades. And instead of 16 workers paying in for every beneficiary, right now it's only about three workers — and over the next few decades, that number will fall to just two workers per beneficiary. With each passing year, fewer workers are paying ever-higher benefits to an ever-larger number of retirees.

So here is the result: Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year afterward will bring a new shortfall, bigger than the year before. For example, in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra 200 billion dollars to keep the system afloat — and by 2033, the annual shortfall would be more than 300 billion dollars. By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt. If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be drastically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.

I recognize that 2018 and 2042 may seem like a long way off. But those dates are not so distant, as any parent will tell you. If you have a 5-year-old, you're already concerned about how you'll pay for college tuition 13 years down the road. If you've got children in their 20s, as some of us do, the idea of Social Security collapsing before they retire does not seem like a small matter. And it should not be a small matter to the United States Congress.

It's nice to have a President who just doesn't want to "Kick the can further down the road."

He also explains the nature of personal accounts:

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers.And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts. Here is how the idea works. Right now, a set portion of the money you earn is taken out of your paycheck to pay for the Social Security benefits of today's retirees. If you are a younger worker, I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account, so you can build a nest egg for your own future.

Here is why personal accounts are a better deal. Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver — and your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security. In addition, you'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children or grandchildren. And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away.

The goal here is greater security in retirement, so we will set careful guidelines for personal accounts. We will make sure the money can only go into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds. We will make sure that your earnings are not eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees. We will make sure there are good options to protect your investments from sudden market swings on the eve of your retirement. We will make sure a personal account can't be emptied out all at once, but rather paid out over time, as an addition to traditional Social Security benefits. And we will make sure this plan is fiscally responsible, by starting personal retirement accounts gradually, and raising the yearly limits on contributions over time, eventually permitting all workers to set aside four percentage points of their payroll taxes in their accounts.

Personal retirement accounts should be familiar to federal employees, because you already have something similar, called the Thrift Savings Plan, which lets workers deposit a portion of their paychecks into any of five different broadly based investment funds. It is time to extend the same security, and choice, and ownership to young Americans.

I like that he points out that Federal employees already get to use the plan Bush is proposing. Kind of takes some of the wind out of the opponents' sails when you have an example of a place where the system is already in effect-- and working.

Some of you out there might grumble at the fact that the Government will limit the amount of risk you can take with your privatized Social Security account.

I happen to like it, though. I'm no economist, but here's how I see it:

When you're young, you should be incurring as much risk as you can handle when it comes to your retirement fund. Big risk means the possibility of Big Gains, and if you're young, a Big Loss won't set you back too much. When you're young you can afford to wait out the market cycles.

But you probably should have some low-risk stuff socked away too-- especially if you're older. Now, the government lets you take 12% of your pre-tax income and invest it. Beyond 12%, you have to pay taxes on it. You don't want to do that, because you'll end up paying taxes twice (once on the money you put in, then later on the money you get out), and that's just a bad deal.

So you've got 12% to invest in a retirement fund. If you want to do the smart thing, and keep some low risk stuff in with the high-risk stuff, you'll have to take it out of that 12%. That means your potential gains on the high-risk stuff are reduced.

But with Bush's proposal, you can have your FICA payments going into low-risk investments already. That means that you can use that 12% in your private fund more aggressively for a longer period of time.

Don't see what I mean? Okay, let's consider you're in your late 30's. By now you should have some percentage of your total investments in lower-risk stuff like bonds or T-Bills. Let's call that percentage X.

With the current system, you're FICA payments don't count as investments. So you just have 12% of your income to invest with. So X has to come out of your 12% pre-tax deduction.

But with Bush's proposal, X comes out of both the 12% your investing privately and the FICA payments.

Let's pretend that 12% of your income is $50 for a given week. Let's further say that X needs to be 50% when you hit 35 years old for the purposes of this example. Let us further speculate that your FICA payment is $50 per week. (I know that FICA takes more than 12% of your income, I'm just trying to keep the math simple. Anyway, it doesn't matter for this example)

Under the current system, that means you have $25 going to Bonds, and $25 going to stocks. This will keep some of your nest-egg safe, while still allowing you to do some growing. This will let you keep some of your nest egg safe, while still trying to grow it.

Under Bush's proposed system, you can combine your $50 with the FICA $50 to get $100, and you're already investing 50% of your retirement money in safe places. In this example, this means you can still invest the full 12% into the stock market without taking any more risk than you were back under the old system, but with a greater projected return.

Plus, since you're maintaining the low-risk investments longer, you'll get more of a return from them as well.


Then some throwaway stuff-- a nice bit about how judges deserve an yes-or-no vote (I agree.) He throws in a sop about the Federal Marriage Amendment-- which I think is wholly unecessary so long as we can convince judges to respect the laws and not rewrite them. (This gets back to judges deserving a yes-or-no vote). For the record, I don't think any such amendment will ever pass. Further, I doubt anything will be done about it beyond speechifying-- just like Bush's comments on the "Assault Weapons Ban."

Then he gets to some more meat-- foreign policy.

In the three and a half years since September 11th, 2001, we have taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans. We have created a new department of government to defend our homeland, focused the FBI on preventing terrorism, begun to reform our intelligence agencies, broken up terror cells across the country, expanded research on defenses against biological and chemical attack, improved border security, and trained more than a half million first responders. Police and firefighters, air marshals, researchers, and so many others are working every day to make our homeland safer, and we thank them all.

Our Nation, working with allies and friends, has also confronted the enemy abroad, with measures that are determined, successful, and continuing. The Al Qaeda terror network that attacked our country still has leaders — but many of its top commanders have been removed. There are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists — but their number has declined. There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction — but no longer without attention and without consequence. Our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many, and intimidate us all — and we will stay on the offensive against them, until the fight is won.

Hear Hear!

Pursuing our enemies is a vital commitment of the War on Terror — and I thank the Congress for providing our servicemen and women with the resources they have needed. During this time of war, we must continue to support our military and give them the tools for victory.

Other nations around the globe have stood with us.In Afghanistan, an international force is helping provide security. In Iraq, 28 countries have troops on the ground, the United Nations and the European Union provided technical assistance for elections, and NATO is leading a mission to help train Iraqi officers. We are cooperating with 60 governments in the Proliferation Security Initiative, to detect and stop the transit of dangerous materials. We are working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and nine other countries have captured or detained Al Qaeda terrorists. In the next four years, my Administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time.

Nice try-- but somehow I doubt that any of the President's critics will drop the "unilateral" line of argument. It sounds too good on a bumper-sticker.

In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades. The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom. Our enemies know this, and that is why the terrorist Zarqawi recently declared war on what he called the "evil principle" of democracy. And we have declared our own intention: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is a very bold thing to say-- even though he already said it in his inauguration speech.

Anyone think he'll get credit for addressing the "root cause" of terrorism?

The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.

This is a sop to the anti-imperialist lobby.

I suppose an argument could be made that Bush does indeed have the intention of "imposing our form of government" on other nations. Some people are probably sniffing that Bush has already imposed our system on both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Perhaps so. Or perhaps we're just allowing the people of those nations to become citizens, instead of subjects.

If that's imperialism, I have two words for you: More, please.

That advance has great momentum in our time — shown by women voting in Afghanistan, and Palestinians choosing a new direction, and the people of Ukraine asserting their democratic rights and electing a president. We are witnessing landmark events in the history of liberty. And in the coming years, we will add to that story.

Very adroit, reminding everyone who was truly in favor of women's rights in the middle east and, by implication, who was not.

Again: More, Please.

He goes on for a bit, talking about Palestine's "New Direction" (here's hoping it's true!) Then he comes to Iraq:

Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq. That country is a vital front in the War on Terror, which is why the terrorists have chosen to make a stand there. Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home. And the victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the War on Terror, inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region, and thereby lift a terrible threat from the lives of our children and grandchildren.

We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty — as they showed the world last Sunday. Across Iraq, often at great risk, millions of citizens went to the polls and elected 275 men and women to represent them in a new Transitional National Assembly. A young woman in Baghdad told of waking to the sound of mortar fire on election day, and wondering if it might be too dangerous to vote. She said, "hearing those explosions, it occurred to me — the insurgents are weak, they are afraid of democracy, they are losing. … So I got my husband, and I got my parents, and we all came out and voted together." Americans recognize that spirit of liberty, because we share it. In any nation, casting your vote is an act of civic responsibility; for millions of Iraqis, it was also an act of personal courage, and they have earned the respect of us all.

Well, not quite us all. Right Teddy? Right John?

And for those of you who think Bush has no Exit Strategy:

We will succeed in Iraq because Iraqis are determined to fight for their own freedom, and to write their own history. As Prime Minister Allawi said in his speech to Congress last September, "Ordinary Iraqis are anxious … to shoulder all the security burdens of our country as quickly as possible." This is the natural desire of an independent nation, and it also is the stated mission of our coalition in Iraq. The new political situation in Iraq opens a new phase of our work in that country. At the recommendation of our commanders on the ground, and in consultation with the Iraqi government, we will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces — forces with skilled officers, and an effective command structure. As those forces become more self-reliant and take on greater security responsibilities, America and its coalition partners will increasingly be in a supporting role. In the end, Iraqis must be able to defend their own country — and we will help that proud, new nation secure its liberty.

And that's as good a strategy as we can want. The Exit Strategy is a free and independent Iraq.

Yeah, it's hard. Anything worth doing is.

But he shouldn't set a timetable, and he won't. Bush explains why:

Recently an Iraqi interpreter said to a reporter, "Tell America not to abandon us." He and all Iraqis can be certain: While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come. We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned.

Absolutely on the nose!

If we start talking about dates of troop withdrawals, the terrorists on the ground will say "if I stay quiet until that date, the troops will be gone and I'll have free reign!"

They may try and pass of GI Joes as real soldiers, but they're not completely stupid.

He closes with this:

As Franklin Roosevelt once reminded Americans, "each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth." And we live in the country where the biggest dreams are born. The abolition of slavery was only a dream — until it was fulfilled. The liberation of Europe from fascism was only a dream — until it was achieved. The fall of imperial communism was only a dream — until, one day, it was accomplished. Our generation has dreams of its own, and we also go forward with confidence. The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable — yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom.

I'm glad we got a man in the White House who knows what it means to aim high.

And he's aiming high.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Teaching a new generation of reporters to hate America!

American journalists are traveling to various developing nations (Notably Afghanistan and Pakistan) to show local reporters how they, too, can deliver an overwhelmingly anti-American message while still fooling people into believing that they're unbiased.

I can envision the curriculum now:

Day 1: How to misuse the word "Conservative" to describe anyone you disagree with. (Including how to get away with using "right-wing" to describe Republicans without using the term "left-wing" to describe Democrats)

Day 2: Accentuating the negative for fun and profit.

Day 3: Fact Checking; It's only important if it's something you don't already believe.

Day 4: Faking indignation at the accusation of bias.

Day 5: Spin; Getting facts tell only the story you want them to tell.

Day 6: Omission Control; taking things out of context for maximum backlash

Day 7: Sandwiching; how to juxtapose stories for added effect

And that's just the first week! In week two they learn how to believe they are the only arbiters of truth in all the world.
More evidence that we live in a fascist state

Shocking allegations of women being in the presence of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Videotapes of riot squads subduing troublesome terror suspects at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay (search) show the guards punching some detainees, tying one to a gurney for questioning and forcing a dozen to strip from the waist down, according to a secret report. One squad was all-female, traumatizing some Muslim prisoners.
Take special note of that. These were the troublemakers. The article gives no indication of how troublesome the troublesome prisoners were-- whether they were just loud, or if they were physically dangerous. It does point out, if you can find it, that the IRF teams are tasked with "forcibly extracts a detainee from his cell" if he won't go quietly.
Investigators from U.S. Southern Command (search) in Miami, which oversees the camp in Cuba, wrote the report that was obtained by The Associated Press after spending a little over a week in June reviewing 20 of some 500 hours of videotapes involving "Immediate Reaction Forces."

The camp's layout prevented videotaping in all the cells where the five-person teams — also known as "Immediate Response Forces" — operated, the report said.

Although the report cited several cases of physical force, reviewers said they found no evidence of systemic detainee abuse, according to the six-page summary dated June 19, 2004. An official familiar with the report authenticated it, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity. AP also reviewed an unclassified log of the videotape footage.

The tapes raised questions about mistreatment and misconduct, however, said the investigators, who suggested some clips needed more scrutiny to rule out abuse. The military has cited 10 substantiated cases of abuse at Guantanamo, and announced Tuesday an extension would be granted for an investigation to interview of witnesses in the United States and abroad.

10 cases. 10. And those are currently under investigation.

Investigators also noted about a dozen cases where detainees were stripped from the waist down and taken to the "Romeo block," of the camp. No female guards were involved, they said.

Romeo block is a camp section where prisoners were often left naked for days, according to two former detainees, Britons Shafiq Rasul (search) and Asif Iqbal, who were released last year.

This is supposed to be self-evidently outrageous. But why? This was an attempt to break the prisoner's confidence. They weren't stood outside and paraded for all to see. They were just put into special cells for naked prisoners. It's no different from putting prisoners in uncomfortable cells for limited periods of time-- just an attempt to tame a defiant spirit. There's no lasting damage there-- the prisoners would just be cold for a few days.

They lose some confidence, and the folks in the laundry room have less stuff to wash. Win/win!

But that's all just peanuts anyway, judging by the amount of ink in the article dedicated to this atrocity:

"Several detainees express displeasure about female MPs either escorting them, or touching them as members of an IRF team," the report says. "Because some have questioned our sensitivity to the detainees' religion and culture, we believe that talking points are appropriate to address incorporation of female soldiers into the guard force."

In one video clip of the reaction teams, the memo says, "A detainee appears to be genuinely traumatized by a female escort securing the detainee's leg irons. In another video, inexplicably an all-female IRF team forcibly extracts a detainee from his cell."

While stating that female troops have a right to serve as equals alongside their male counterparts, investigators warned the all-female team could create the perception that the gender of the squad was taken into consideration for the Muslim population.

"By forming an all-female IRF team for use with one detainee we potentially undercut our position that we do not distinguish between male and female soldiers. Clearly, the soldiers' gender did play a role in forming the all-female IRF team," the memo says.

Here we come to the real story. It must be-- they spend most of the article talking about it. Some rough manhandling is nothing compared to the thought of being in the presence of a woman in authority.

I'm going to play some mind games with you for a moment: What if these detainees weren't Muslam Islamofascists? What if they were part of a white supremacist terrorist organization?

It is there sincere religious belief that their G-d made them superiour to all the other races. Obviously, they would have serious problems with black guards or black IRF teams.

Would anyone care? Would you care? I wouldn't. They're just bigots, and violent bigots are not to be indulged.

(Incidentally, by asserting that a Muslim would naturally have problems with a female IRF team, aren't we asserting that Muslims are ipso facto bigots and misogynists? Isn't that bigoted in itself?)

There is no difference between the "Muslim" belief that women are inferior and the white-supremacist belief that those possessed of more melanin are inferior. We wouldn't indulge the latter. Why should we indulge the former?

None of this is half as bad as the author wants you to think it is. With the exception of the guard who allegedly kneed a detainee in the head (currently under investigation) no lasting damage will come from any of the tactics employed by the people serving at Gitmo. Anyone who claims to be permanently traumatized by the fact that a woman handcuffed him is watching way too much American television.

So the detainees are having an unpleasant stay. They're uncomfortable, they get a little roughed up if they cause too much trouble, they get escorted from their cells by women.

If you think that's torture, you should visit some of the other prisons in Cuba.
Half Phil, half empty

Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow today. He could scarcely avoid it, considering the number of cameras pointed at him.

Anyway, that means more winter. I know. You're shocked.

Have you ever noticed that it doesn't matter whether Phil sees his shadow or not?

Yes, I can hear you saying "Duh!"

That's not what I mean. Of course I know the alleged prognostications of a supposedly psychic rodent don't mean a darned thing.

No, I'm talking about the folksy legend. The prediction doesn't even matter as far as the myth of Punxatawney Phil goes.

Consider: If he sees his shadow, it means we have six whole weeks of winter to endure.

But if he doesn't see his shadow, it means winter will be over shortly-- possibly as soon as six weeks from now! Woo-hoo! Break out the Bermuda shorts and beach blankets!

I'm not criticizing. I'm just saying; it's always amused me.
News Flash

Mother drowns her two childern.

Is found not-guilty be reason of insanity.

Is remanded to a mental institution where she can request release in 180 days.

(Link via The Corner)

I'm not saying this woman should be denied treatment if, in fact, she's mentally ill. But somehow I don't think a woman who drowns her two kids will be cured and ready to reenter society after six months.

Maybe that's just me though, irredeemable fascist that I am.

The year is 2456. The human colonies on Mars have been invaded by giant, laser-visioned tree sloths bent on crushing humanity and forcing the survivors to work as slaves in the massive dung mines of the planet Slothnor. In a last ditch effort to save our species from extinction, the brave humans launch a counterattack on the Sloths' home world. Le New York Times (headquartered in Paris since 2018) blares in a bold holo-headline "Disturbing Echoes of Vietnam Conjured by Earth Aggression."

Funny, or prophetic?

Or is it both?
Dan Rather, call your office.

I just know you're waiting for me to comment on this story.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The U.S. military said Tuesday that no American soldiers have been reported missing in Iraq after a Web statement claimed that an American soldier had been taken hostage.

The authenticity of the statement and photo, purporting to show a hostage with a gun to his head, could not be verified, and questions were raised about the photo's authenticity.

In Baghdad, Staff Sgt. Nick Minecci of the U.S. military's press office in Baghdad said "no units have reported anyone missing."

The posting, on a Web site that frequently carries militants' statements, included a photo of what that statement said was an American soldier, wearing desert fatigues and seated on a concrete floor with his hands tied behind his back.

The figure in the photo appeared stiff and expressionless.

Liam Cusack, of the toy manufacturer Dragon Models USA, Inc., said the image of the soldier portrayed in the photo bore a striking resemblance to a military action figure made by the company.

The picture is available via Drudge. (Special thanks to the Instapundit, who links to Backcountry Conservative who has the picture up.

This is the photo of an action figure that bears a striking resemblance to the "captured GI."

Sadly, some news outlets jumped on the story without fact-checking (or, indeed, even looking at the picture) (Via Powerline)

Yes, yes. I realize that calling The Guardian a "news outlet" is a bit like calling Coors Light a "beer." Technically, it may be true, but...

But, seriously folks. There are two possible explanations for this:

1) The Islamofascists are getting really, really desperate. So desperate that they have to fake a capture of an US soldier using an action figure.

2) Somebody perpetrated a colossal joke on the mainstream media.

Personally, while I'd love to believe that our enemies are so desperate that they have to resort to Tromaville production values, I think it's probably the latter. I find it very hard to believe they could be this stupid.

Either way, the joke is on the Terrorists.


Roger Simon agrees with me that this was more likely to be some high school kid with a digital camera than an attempt by terrorists to fool us into thinking they'd caught an American soldier.

(Note: Roger Simon's post is linked by the powerline post I linked above. But the link was down when I first read it. That's why this is an update)


Clayton Cramer points to this article, which allows that the hostage "appears to be a toy."

There once was a time when newspapers were little more than mouthpieces for various political parties. As far back as the 18th century, there were loyalist newspapers that broadcast-- even amplified-- every rumor that was unflattering to the rebels. Likewise, rebel newspapers were quick to bellow from the mountaintops every rumor of British atrocity. Somewhere in the middle, there was truth. But you couldn't find it in the newspapers.

Considering Dan Rather's "memogate" and the fact that the AP reported the "American Hostage" story without skepticism (perhaps they'll call it "hasbrogate"), I'm beginning to wonder if the news media is trending back that way again.



Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Bad mood

Posting is liable to be light today. A host of conditions that have nothing to do with politics are conspiring to make me feel blue.

(Of course, by blue I mean "depressed" and not afflicted by a passing affinity for the rhetoric of Ted Kennedy)

Monday, January 31, 2005

In other news...

Clayton Cramer looks at one of the downsides to legalizing prostitution.

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.

She received a letter from the job centre telling her that an employer was interested in her "profile'' and that she should ring them. Only on doing so did the woman, who has not been identified for legal reasons, realise that she was calling a brothel.

Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.

Too difficult to distinguish a brothel from a bar?

What kind of bars do they run in Germany, anyway?

Seriously, though, as Cramer points out, this could become a problem if they ever legalize prostitution in the US.

After all, why should anyone be allowed to discriminate against an employer simply because the job involves having sex for money? Those notions are strictly religious, anyway, and we know that the ACLU would insist that allowing people to refuse a job as a prostitute is a violation of separation of church and state, because they are not allowed to refuse other jobs that do not have a religious scruple problem.

He's got a point there-- the high courts seem to be increasingly of the mind that laws based on moral values are unconstitutional-- particularly those pertaining to sex.

I don't know about you, but I hope I'm never put into a position where I can be denied unemployment insurance because I refused to... well, I'm not going to say what I'd refuse to do for money, because this is a family site.

Euugh! (shudder)

Excuse me, why is CNN's website dominated by Michael Jackson?

CBS too.

And, though I'm sad to admit it, Fox News' website has a big ol' photo of whacko jacko on it.

On the plus side, ABC news and MSN news both lead with Iraq's election

Of course, MSN is emphasizing the low voter turnout in a city full of terrorists, but at least ABC is headlining with Allawi's hopeful statements.
Raise your glass

Neil Cavuto toasts the voters of Iraq.

Despite the terror, the warnings, the threats, they voted knowing full well the risk they took.

And, knowing full well it might have been easier to just stay home, they showed their faces and they showed their names. They showed the blue ink from voting on their hands, for the world and the terrorists to see.

They didn't care.

If that doesn't give critics of this whole process pause, I don't know what does. People must want something pretty badly when they ignore the threats things could go very badly for them. They must hunger for change, even while risking their own lives "for" change.

Would we be so gallant in this country? If someone threatened us if we went to the polls, would we go to the polls? I wonder. But there's no wondering about what Iraqis did on Sunday: The little guy triumphed.

I wonder too. The conclusions I draw from simple observation don't give me much hope.
No, no there isn't.

Jonah Goldberg proves why he get's the pundit bucks and I write on my lunch break for fifty or so readers (readership is up! Thanks everyone!)

Is there a more execrable, horrid parody of an American statesman alive today than Ted Kennedy? Yes, yes, of course he's a joke; a family name wrapped around a bundle of appetite, cynicism, and asininity. But he matters precisely because his party and the media imbue him with a moral stature now wholly severed from the admirable traditions and ideas we associate with the president who swore we would pay any price and bear any burden to defend the survival of liberty.

Three days before the Iraqi election, this gaseous dybbuk of democracy proclaimed that America was losing — or "not winning" — the battle for the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis even as the barbarians were scrawling on walls that anyone who voted would be slaughtered. Does Kennedy truly understand the meaning of the phrase, "winning the hearts and minds"? You do not win a man's heart or mind by threatening to kill him if he expresses what is in his heart or mind. To pick this moment to say that the battle was equally joined by the squads of foreign terrorists and domestic thugs — whose only "agenda" is to retrieve the keys to the dungeons and restore the rape rooms — is to do incalculable and deliberate violence to the effort to bring democracy to Iraq and to the ideals he claims to be speaking for. To suggest that we should look to the Arab League to usher in democracy in Iraq is to give polysyllabic pseudo-intellectual form to the substance of whoopee-cushion exhalations.

Senator Kennedy gave that speech either to deliberately undermine the elections or without much concern that he was doing precisely that. To declare in advance that America should leave Iraq to fend for itself against the thugs promising to murder those who want to be free was in effect to tell the Iraqi people not to stick out their necks out for democracy. Shame on him.

Fortunately, the majority of Iraqi voters didn't hear him or listen to him. They turned out in what appear for the moment to be heroic numbers. Samir Hassan, a 32-year-old man who lost his leg in a car bomb blast three months ago, showed-up. "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace," he said. A polling station in Baghdad re-opened after a suicide bombing because the voters would not be deterred.