Monday, February 28, 2005

My Respect for Halle Berry Just Went Up

...Well, it couldn't have gone down much. But, having appeared in a bomb like Catwoman, at least she has the sense to be ashamed:

Halle Berry thanked the makers of Catwoman for "putting me in a God-awful movie" when she turned up to collect her worst actress Razzie award.
The actress, whose surprise appearance got her a standing ovation from a packed house, made a lengthy speech, parodying her 2002 Oscar win.

"It was just what my career needed - I was at the top and now I'm at the bottom," she said.

[...]

Berry made a lengthy speech and parodied her sobbing during her 2002 Oscar win while brandishing her Oscar and Razzie - a small gold raspberry.

She said she turned up in person because she had been told as a child by her mother: "If you aren't able to be a good loser you're not able to be a good winner."

Catwoman also won worst film, director and screenplay, and screenwriter John Rogers was there to collect his prize.
I don't know if I agree that she was ever at the top, but we get the point. (Full disclosure: I never saw Catwoman, having been warned off by some friends in the industry. But one look at that two-story headpiece Ms. Berry wears in the film and you know nothing good can come of it.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Two Zarqawi Aides Caught

Abu Qutaybah in Anah (Via JPost)

"Abu Qutaybah was responsible for determining who, when and how terrorist network leaders would meet with al-Zarqawi," the government said.
He "filled the role of key lieutenant for the Zarqawi network, arranging safe houses and transportation as well as passing packages and funds to al-Zarqawi," the government said. "His extensive contacts and operational ability throughout western Iraq made him a critical figure in the Zarqawi network."


Mohammed Najm in Baquba (Via LGF)
A TOP aide to al-Qaeda's frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been arrested, the Iraqi government said today.

"The terrorist Mohammed Najm Ibrahim, alias Mohammed Najm, who with one of his brothers runs a Zarqawi cell, is responsible for the beheading of several citizens and for attacks against Iraqi security forces," it said in a statement.


They also got one of Zarqawi's drivers according to the Boston Globe (which also lists the two mentioned above):
''We are very close to al-Zarqawi, and I believe that there are few weeks separating us from him,'' Iraq's interim national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press.

Scrapple Face Skewers Michael Schiavo

Some may find this a bit tasteless:

Michael Schiavo to Auction Terri on eBay
by Scott Ott

(2005-02-24) -- In another move designed to show his love and compassion for his wife, Michael Schiavo today announced he would auction off his guardianship of Terri Schiavo on eBay.

The winner of the auction will be named legal guardian for Mrs. Schiavo, who suffered brain damage during a heart attack in 1990. Under Florida law, the guardian has few responsibilities.

"It's better than buying a pet," said Mr. Schiavo.
"Legally, you don't even have to feed her. If you didn't feed your dog, the authorities would take him away from you."

The bidding will start at an amount equal to what Mr. Schiavo stands to gain if his wife dies, but he expects it to go much higher due to "excellent name recognition."

"Money has never been an issue with me," said Mr. Schiavo, who's still married to Mrs. Schiavo but lives with a female friend and their two children. "I want what's best for Terri, and eBay is the best online auction service in the world."
[Emphasis mine]
Mr. Ott demonstrates once again his talent for exposing the absurdity inherent in popular culture. How did we come to a place where you are legally required to feed your dog... but not your wife? Ouch.
(Via Conservative Cat)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Terry Schiavo

William Luse, at Touchstone's Mere Comments blog, has the most lucid commentary I have read on the Schiavo case:

Not long after a Florida judge granted Michael Schiavo permission to have the feeding tube sustaining his wife, Terri, removed, I went round the room of a night class that I teach trying to find out who among the students had found a topic for their research paper. One young lady had chosen euthanasia. Was she for it or against it? Against it. The passive form, the active, or both? Umm, she hadn’t read about that yet.

It’s remarkable how little they know about subjects on which their opinions are vehement. I gave her a couple of examples to illustrate the difference between active and passive, then asked, out of sheer curiosity, if she or any of the others had heard of the Terri Schiavo case. None had. This struck me as odd, I said, since it was happening right down the road in St. Pete. Oh yes! A couple of them had heard of it, but were not familiar with the details. So I laid those details out.

“They’re going to starve her to death,” said the euthanasia girl, Jennifer, which shows that you need not be well read to have an unerring nose for the truth. And they seemed genuinely aghast when I told them it was written into Florida law that nutrition and hydration were to be considered “extraordinary” and unnatural means of prolonging life.

I suggested to Jennifer that she might want to look up the story of Nancy Cruzan to see how a similar case had played out, and that of Karen Ann Quinlan to see how wrong a medical certainty can be. Her appetite seemed whetted, but you never know. In the end, it’s a lot of work they’d rather not have to do.

In another class afflicted with the same assignment, I repeated the process. When I got to a girl in the back, she too had chosen euthanasia. For or against? “For,” she said emphatically, “active euthanasia.” She had done some reading, so I went straight to the issue, and asked if she was familiar with the Schiavo case. Not real familiar, she admitted, but she’d heard of it. Once again I explained the circumstances, and then asked (her name was Sarah, I think), “So . . . should they kill her?”

Believe it or not, this phrasing, this mere statement of fact, shocks. It shocks my students because they’re not thinking in terms of killing, but of “letting her go,” of doing some mercy. Sarah’s eyes widened a little.

“Is she in the process of dying?” she asked. She had done some reading.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “She appears to be in the process of living, with the help of a feeding tube.” When I added that certain therapists were of the opinion that she could learn to take food from a spoon (a fact I consider irrelevant), but that the judge had denied them the opportunity to teach her, in his apparent determination that the tube be pulled sometime in October, her eyes began darting about, looking for another way.

“But if removing the tube would stop her suffering . . .”

“She’s not suffering,” I said, “as far as I can tell. I’ve never seen anyone suffer less,” adding that, by the term most beloved of those who would speed her on her way—that she existed in a permanent “vegetative state”—her capacity for suffering was far less than ours.

I let her indecision become lost in the noise of remarks offered by others (“Pull the plug—she’s costing too much” was typical), and Sarah seemed glad of the reprieve. I think (and I’m guessing again, but it’s well-educated) she still wanted Mrs. Schiavo “let go,” but would have to work on another way to justify calling it that.


UPDATE: Fox News reports that the stay for Ms. Schiavo has been extended until Friday at 5:00 PM EST. (Food Chain: La Shawn -> Musing Minds)

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin points to an aggregator that lists stories about Terri Schiavo. Very useful in keeping on top of the news.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Powerline Impressed with Bat Ye'or

Paul Mirengoff, otherwise know as deacon of PowerLine, expresses concerns similar to my own about the credibility of Bat Ye'or on the question of Europe's collaboration with Islamic extremists. But he seems to be overcoming them:

I first came across Ye'or's work shortly after I started blogging. It was powerful stuff, and I considered posting it, but thought that her arguments were too extreme for me to vouch for. I had no problem with her analysis of dhimmitude, the state of humiliation required of non-Muslims under Islamic rule, and its relationship to jihad. However, her view that the European elites have conspired with the Arabs in order secure oil and, more importantly, to form a counterweight to the U.S., gave me pause. Long-time readers know that there's little I would put past the European elites. But even I was shocked, and unpersuaded, by the notion that Europe years ago formed an anti-American compact with the Arabs.

[...]

As I have read Ye'or's work over the past two years, I have become less skeptical because she appears consistently to be able to document what she says. Tonight, she impressed me as a serious, clear-thinking scholar. I look forward to reading Eurabia. Once I have, perhaps I will be able to report on the extent to which I have been persuaded.
I look forward to his comments since this precise issue has given me pause as well.

Pantano and the Jihadis

According to the Washington Times, there is some evidence that terrorists may be threatening the life of Lt. Ilario Pantano:

Retired Marines set up a security watch yesterday around the North Carolina home of accused 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano, after a Pakistan-connected Web site depicted a beheading of the Marine Corps officer.

[...]

Lt. Pantano reported the beheading on the Web site to the local sheriff, who is investigating.

Mr. Gittins also said the FBI has opened an investigation after a Web site established by the officer's mother was shut down by repeated cyberattacks that might have come from Pakistan.

The Web site, www.defendthedefenders.org, was set up by Merry K. Gregory Pantano to explain her son's case and his life story and to raise money for his criminal defense. The site crashed several times Tuesday and yesterday.
So, evidently it wasn't a question of exceeded bandwidth, but an actual cyber-attack on DefendTheDefenders.org. Just in case of a future outage, the address for contributions is:
DefendtheDefenders.org
DHCC Post Office Box 20088
NY NY 10017

The possibility that the charges against Pantano may have endangered his life and the lives of his family certainly raise urgent questions about the strength of the prosecutions case. It had better be strong indeed to justify such an ordeal.

(Via PowerLine)

A Pro-Life Nightmare

This story will probably keep a few people on my side of the pro-life debate up at night:

Doctors could remove life support from a baby boy born with a fatal form of dwarfism as early as next week if an appellate court upholds a Harris County Probate Court judge's groundbreaking decision to let the hospital determine the infant's fate.

[...]

The rapid turnaround indicates the appellate court doesn't want to prolong the conflict between the hospital, which believes continuing treatment is inhumane, and the infant's mother, Wanda Hudson, who disputes the doctors' diagnosis.

[...]

McCulloch's ruling, if it stands, has the potential to make history, say bioethicists, because no U.S. judge has ever decided in favor of discontinuing life support on a living infant, although they have upheld hospital decisions in court after the baby has died.

[...]

Those who survive the newborn period do not live to adulthood, experts said. Unconscious and sedated for comfort, Sun does not wiggle or open his eyes, hospital officials said.

Although patients on ventilator support may live for years, that would not be the case with Sun, experts said.

Because of his small rib cage, his lungs cannot expand to sustain his body and he will be slowly starved of oxygen.

Texas Children's doctors have said they believed "it was immoral to subject a terminally ill child to unnecessary life-sustaining medical procedures."

[...]

Texas law allows doctors and hospitals to make some decisions involving life support, even against family wishes. The law requires a hospital's ethics committee to approve a doctor's recommendation to end life support if the patient's family disagrees.

[...]

Hudson said she spent three days in a psychiatric hospital after the delivery because doctors at St. Luke's were alarmed about statements she was making about her baby being the human embodiment of the sun.

Because of concerns about the mother's mental competence, a Texas Children's spokeswoman said, the hospital encouraged court involvement and offered to cover Hudson's reasonable attorney fees.

During the three hearings to determine her baby's fate, Hudson interrupted the proceedings with rambling outbursts. She talked about how she communicates telepathically with her son, but also about the painful experience of fighting for his life.
There are so many complications in this case that I am not sure where I stand. Usually I take the position that life support is not morally obligatory in such circumstances, as long as there is no active euthanasia. But the fact that this is being done in opposition to the wishes of the patient's mother is somewhat chilling, as is the hospital's assertion that it is "immoral to subject a terminally ill child to unnecessary life-sustaining medical procedures." This is just too much of a "we know what's good for the little people" scenario. But in the face of the mother's obvious looniness, who really can make the decision?

In the final analysis, I think the child should be kept on life-support since he is not in any obvious discomfort and the benefit of the doubt should be given to sustaining life. But I would not want to be the judge in this case and I hope that the article is incorrect when it implies that the case could set a precedent. This is a perfect example of hard cases making bad law.

(Via Mirror of Justice)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Witness Partially Corroborates Pantano

Gaijin Biker at Riding Sun has more news on the Ilario Pantano story:

The new information is, to varying degrees, troubling. But the key point is, we now have three different versions of what happened:

• Pantano says the Iraqis disobeyed his order to stop, and he shot them as they were moving toward him.

• The Navy witness agrees the Iraqis disobeyed Pantano's order to stop, but claims he shot them as they were moving away from him.

• And the accuser claims Pantano essentially executed the Iraqis, shooting them in the back in cold blood.
Of the three conflictin stories, the accuser's seem least able to fit the facts, as pointed out in the article by Pantano's attorney:
Gittins contends, however, that no one was relieved of guarding the Iraqis or told to turn away, and the Iraqis were shot all over their bodies – their backs, sides and fronts – with many rounds.
And it seems that the Marine corps may be backing away from the murder charge, according to the Washington Times:
Last week, the Corps initially announced that 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano faced unspecified charges in the shooting deaths. Lt. Pantano's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, told reporters his client faced two murder charges.

But later, spokesman Maj. Matt Morgan, at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Lt. Pantano is based, said the officer had not been charged.

This came as a surprise to Mr. Gittins, who said he has a copy of the official charge sheet signed by a prosecuting judge advocate that was handed to his client Feb. 1. On the sheet, it clearly states the Marine Corps has charged the 33-year-old officer with two counts of murder.
Thanks to Gaijin Biker for the update (via email).

The Only Eason Jordan Post I Will Make

I am breaking my self-imposed radio silence on the Eason Jordan scandal to point out this comment from Rich Galen's Mullings:

Before we move back from Iraq, a word about the resignation/firing of CNN's chief news guy Eason Jordan for having suggested, in remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that journalists have been killed by coalition forces in Iraq on purpose.

Let me related this short story: About a year ago, two CNN journalists were killed in an ambush on the road between Hillah and Baghdad.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt - the military briefer - asked for a meeting of the bureau chiefs of the major western media. At that meeting he expressed his sorrow over the murder - by terrorists - of the CNN crew and asked the bureau chiefs to take down his personal cell phone number.

He told them that if any of their reporters or crews got into trouble - any time of the day or night - to call him. "Don't worry about protocol," he said. "Get to me as quickly as you can, and we'll try to get help to your people as quickly as we can."

That meeting was never, to my knowledge, reported.
I mention this not because I care about Jordan or the blogospheric victory that everyone is crowing about, but because this story shows a fine example of modern chivalry.

UPDATE: Pastorius takes me to task for my lack of interest in the Jordan case. I stand by what I said in the email, but I do feel the need to clarify that my comments about Captain's Quarters were not intended to single that blog or Ed Morrissey out for particular criticism. Nor did I intend to suggest that all of the negative attributes I mention in that paragraph were characteristic of CQ. CQ has been, and remains, one of my favorite sites and I only mention it in this context because it illustrates my point about the tendency of some bloggers to become inordinately focused on a particular issue. That is, of course, their right and I am glad to a certain degree that others are addressing these issues because it leaves me free to talk about things that interest me more.

Roosevelt on Social Security

Kevin Drum debunks the supposed FDR quote that suggests that Roosevelt originally intended Social Security to be a temporary program, eventually replaced by private accounts. Here is the quote according to Brit Hume (I have seen this quote elsewhere in the conservative hemi-blogosphere, but can't track it down at the moment):

In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."


Here is what FDR really said:
In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles:

First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions.

Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations.

Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age.

It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.
So clearly the phase-out only applied to the first case, and the voluntary accounts were never implemented. Hume's quotation seems worthy of Maureen Dowd. Conservatives need to be aware of this misquote before they trap themselves into making an argument that won't stand up to scrutiny. We really shouldn't suppose that Roosevelt was anything but a socialist, and trying to pretend that his original plan was something conservatives would find palatable is really dumb.

I still say that private accounts are at best a compromise with the truly conservative position of getting government out of the retirement savings business entirely. Joshua Michah Marshall calls my position the Phase-Out caucus. I only wish it really were a caucus.

UPDATE: Looks like Mr. Hume has also been selectively quoted by Drum. Cassandra at Villainous Company links to the original transcript of Hume's remarks which includes some qualifying material. Here are the relevant portions:
Senate Democrats gathered at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial today to invoke the image of FDR in calling on President Bush to remove private accounts from his Social Security proposal. But it turns out that FDR himself planned to include private investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it.

In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

Last night, Senate minority leader Harry Reid likened the president’s proposal to allow Americans to divert a portion of payroll taxes into personal security investment accounts to "gambling." But in 1999, the Nevada Democrat proposed something very similar on our own "FOX News Sunday" saying, "Most of us have no problem with taking a small amount of the Social Security proceeds and putting it into the private sector."[emphasis mine]
So the point wasn't quite as drastic as Drum (and Al Franken, whom he is evidently echoing) would have us believe. Contra Cassandra, I still think Hume's remarks are irresponsibly misleading, but he clearly wasn't focusing on the specific issue of FDR's original intent. The thrust of his argument was that Democrats are overreacting to Bush's proposal since they themselves have made similar proposals in the past, of which FDR's was a single example.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

US Ambassador to Syria Recalled

Something about this isn't adding up:

The body of Rafik Hariri, the assassinated former prime minister of Lebanon, is being taken on a two-mile journey for burial in a mosque he built in the heart of the capital, Beirut.

[...]

The funeral comes as U.S. pressure mounts on Syria in the wake of the deadly blast in Lebanon that killed Hariri, with Washington recalling its ambassador to Syria.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday Syria was "unfortunately on a path right now where relations are not improving, but are worsening."

Rice did not blame Syria for Monday's bomb attack that, but she did challenge Syria's longstanding claim that its troops were needed in Lebanon to provide security.

"There is no doubt that the conditions created by Syria's presence there have created a destabilized situation in Lebanon," she said.

[...]

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington has "made it clear" it wants Syria, which maintains some 16,000 troops in Lebanon, to use its influence to prevent attacks such as Monday's massive bombing.

"I have been very careful to say we really don't know who committed this murder at this point, but we do know what effect the Syrian presence in Lebanon has," Boucher said.

"And we do know that it doesn't bring security for Lebanese."
Little Green Footballs links to this Ha'Aretz version of the same story:
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said it was still unclear who was responsible for the attack but the United States was consulting with other members of the UN Security Council about how to pressure Syria to leave Lebanon.

"Syria's presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force," McClellan said. "The terrorist attack further underscores the importance of letting the Lebanese people control their future."

The assassination of Hariri, 60, in a car bomb blast on Monday has spotlighted Lebanon's troubled ties with its powerful neighbor and revived memories of the 1975-90 civil war.

Boucher refused to blame Syria outright for the bombing in Beirut Monday. He would say only that it illustrates that Syria's strong military and political presence in Lebanon is a problem and has not provided security in the neighboring country.

"It reminds us even more starkly that the Syrian presence in Lebanon is not good," Boucher said. "It has not brought anything to the Lebanese people."
I am just not getting this. Syria has occupied Lebanon for nearly 30 years (since April, 1976). It has recently begun withdrawing its troops to the borders. So, if we are not ready to blame Syria for the assassination, in exactly what way is it evidence that Syria is a destabilizing influence? Mixed up in all of this is the fact that Hariri resigned in October over conflicts with Syrian-backed president Emile Lahoud, but I do not see how that fits in either until we know more about who is responsible for Hariri's assassination.

I agree with the general points that the Bush administration is making: Syria is a terrorist-sponsoring nation that has occupied Lebanon for far too long. But I see a lot of non-sequiturs in the official statements that I find troubling. If the situation involves information that is too sensitive to be released publicly, I am OK with that. But if you can't say something intelligible, it would probably be better to say nothing.

UPDATE: An hour after I posted this, Wretchard at Belmont Club had a related post. His analysis points in the direction of looking for a casus belli against Syria in the War on Terror:
If as the New Sisyphus argues, Assad has been "gambling for months that he can bleed the U.S. in Iraq at little cost" and that it has been waging "war more-or-less openly on the U.S. in Iraq", the question is what has changed? It is hard to imagine how the assasination of a Lebanese politician could provoke a more drastic response than months of Syrian-supported attacks on US troops in Iraq and harder still to imagine how Washington could have taken the ultimate diplomatic step without implicitly being prepared to go further. Yet it has. Unless Washington is playing a hollow hand, where the conclusion has changed the premises must be re-examined -- the principal one being that America was too hamstrung by Iraq to take anything else on -- not Syria, Iran or North Korea.

The aggressive posture taken by America against North Korea, Iran and now Syria suggests the bonds that held it down in Iraq, if ever they did, may be loosening.
As I suggested above, I am OK with this, but it still doesn't make our diplomatic posture any more coherent. Sending a message to Syria to get out of Lebanon and to clean up the Bekka valley are both laudable goals. But connecting this with the murder of Hariri does not seem to advance that agenda if we are not claiming that Syria was involved. Any stick will do to beat a dog of course, but I would prefer something sturdier bigger than "Syria is a destabilizing influence." That stick is likely to break in our hand.

Model UN -- Too Close to Home

Oxblog has an amusing post on a model UN in Chicago:

An author in the U. Chicago student paper recently reported that,
This past weekend, Model United Nations of the University of Chicago (MUNUC) hosted one of the premier high school United Nations simulations in the country for the 17th year. Some 150 Chicago students sacrificed time and sleep to teach thousands of high school delegates that, unlike the Bush administration’s policies, diplomacy and debate can work.
Maroon Blog responds:
Personally, if there's one lesson that model U.N. conferences have taught me, it's that the U.N. is almost useless. No model U.N. committee I have been a part of has ever done work that can be described as effective and decisive.

But is a "model" UN supposed to be effective and decisive? Or are students expected to behave like actual UN delegates? For that matter, does the Chicago Model UN program teach high school students how to embezzle like actual UN bureaucrats?
Oxblog's links don't seem to be working, unfortunately, so I can't link to the original article.

UPDATE: Thanks to Rosemary at My Newz 'N Ideas for alerting me to the fact that Oxblog's links are now fixed. Here is the Oxblog story and here is the original.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Devaluing the Concept of Apology

La Shawn links to this story about a woman offended by a police officer eating a banana:

Just think of all the ways a man might use a banana to offend a woman.

Then you may imagine why some people leaped to the wrong conclusion when a woman complained about a Columbus police officer eating a banana at the Civic Center as people gathered for a Jan. 15 civil rights march.

The woman was deeply offended, she told police. The police were deeply bewildered.

[...]

Then she called Mayor Bob Poydasheff. He said she just started berating him about the police. He told her he'd heard only compliments about how officers handled the weekend march in which the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other longtime civil rights activists led 8,000 people from the Civic Center to the Government Center.

[...]

Well, it seems that in the context of the march, she took the officer's banana eating to imply an analogous racial slur relating black people to apes.
Pretty silly, you say? But, wait! There's more:
So he called the woman back and explained all this, and added an apology. "I'm sorry you were offended, and let me apologize to you personally," he told her.

"Well, send it in writing," she told him.

So he did. Call it "The Banana Apology."

Dated Jan. 22, it says: "As I said in our telephone conversation, I am sorry you found Columbus police officers eating bananas on the street when you arrived in Columbus for the protest. Let me assure you there was no intent to offend. The officers needed some nutrition after standing long hours on the street and they particularly needed the potassium available in bananas and some other fruits."

Later the mayor writes: "There was no thought of insulting or offending anyone and perhaps this was thoughtless on our part. In any case, let me offer my sincere apology for anything our officers may have done that gave offense to you or anyone else."

Did this satisfy the woman?

"I haven't heard from her," Poydasheff said Thursday. "And quite candidly, I don't care. Our officers did no wrong."
Mr. Mayor, if the officers did no wrong and you don't really care about what the woman thinks, DON'T FRIGGIN' APOLOGIZE! An apology implies an admission of error. This woman owes the officer an apology (along with everyone else whose time she wasted). I can see how a politician might not want to press that issue, but offering a fake apology devalues the meaning of the word and undermines the very concept of courtesy and manners (to say nothing of the weightier concepts of repentance, atonement and forgiveness). Such encouragement of unreasonable grievances and insincere apologies contribute to the coarsening of public discourse.

Pantano Case Hits the Big Time

The Mudville Gazette now has the story, as do PowerLine and Michelle Malkin. Tammy Bruce evidently interviewed 2nd Lt. Pantano's mother and has a link to Defend the Defenders, but since Tammy's page is not dated, I can't tell when this happened. (Her show is on Saturday afternoons in the L. A. area.)

Speaking of Defend the Defenders, they have evidently exceeded their bandwidth... which is probably a good thing in the long run. Remember to donate when the site comes back up. (Does anyone know how to access the PayPal account? Or whatever means they use to take donations. That can be done while the main site is down, right? I know very little about such things. If anyone can suggest a way to get them money for increased bandwidth, let me know via email.)

Prosecutor-by-day John Behan at Commonwealth Conservative expresses his opinion of the legal case (such as we know it):

Okay, it needs to be said that I'm not a military prosecutor. Also, let's acknowledge that there are likely facts that are not related in the few paragraphs above.

However, on the face of this, the prosecution looks absurd, especially when you consider that this young 2d Lieutenant may face the death penalty for these "crimes." Listen, I've charged people with the death penalty, and I've had a jury come back with a death verdict. It's not a Sunday afternoon tea, and it's not an action to take lightly. I can't imagine what aggravating facts could have been left out that would call for a sentence of death. I just can't imagine.

Folks, we're talking about enemy combatants, smack in the middle of a war zone.
I can't imagine either. My natural skepticism tells me there is something more to this story than meets the eye, but I can't figure out what it could be. I would expect the media to suppress or minimize evidence that tended to exonerate a member of the military, but everything that is reported seems to point to his innocence. I am completely at a loss to explain why this man is being charged.

UPDATE: Riding Sun has further remarks (via email).

UPDATE: Paul at Prince Pundit notes
I see that Bill O’Reilly has picked up the story and aired a segment tonight with Lt. Pantano’s Attorney, Charles Gittins. Bill is not happy and he is “troubled” by it and plans to “keep an eye on it.” Bill’s initial reaction is that he does not like what is happening. This will probably generate more buzz in the blogosphere and maybe bring in more MSM.

The Klan and Gun Control

David Kopel (of the Volokh Conspiracy) has a column at Reason Online detailing the relationship between gun control and the post-Civil War South. This may not be news to everyone, but it is a useful reminder nevertheless. Some tidbits:

After the Civil War, the defeated Southern states aimed to preserve slavery in fact if not in law. The states enacted Black Codes which barred the black freedmen from exercising basic civil rights, including the right to bear arms. Mississippi's provision was typical: No freedman "shall keep or carry fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition."

[...]

In areas where the black militias lost and the Klan or other white groups took control, "almost universally the first thing done was to disarm the negroes and leave them defenseless," wrote Albion TourgeƩ in his 1880 book The Invisible Empire. (An attorney and civil rights worker from the north, TourgeƩ would later represent the civil rights plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson.)

[...]

In deference to the Fourteenth Amendment, some states did cloak their laws in neutral, non-racial terms. For example, the Tennessee legislature barred the sale of any handguns except the "Army and Navy model." The ex-Confederate soldiers already had their high quality "Army and Navy" guns. But cash-poor freedmen could barely afford lower-cost, simpler firearms not of the "Army and Navy" quality.
For those of you who don't recognize it, that last point is an ancestor of the "Saturday Night Special" laws prohibiting cheap handguns that we are still living with in most big (i.e. blue) cities.

Kopel concludes with the following, echoing my own sentiments:
That gun control has a very unsavory past does not, in itself, prove that all modern gun control proposals are a bad idea. But it does offer reasons to be especially cautious about the dangers of disarming people who cannot necessarily count on their local government to protect them.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Not the Argument for Vouchers I Would Have Made...

...but I'll take it.

So what to do? It is not the role of public schools to confirm the religious beliefs of their students. Parents who want their children to benefit from the latest findings of science would reasonably be irked if evolutionary biology were expunged from the public school curriculum. There is another way around this conundrum. Get rid of public schools. Give parents vouchers and let them choose the schools to which to send their children. Fundamentalists can send their kids to schools that teach that the earth was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Science geeks can send their kids to technoschools that teach them how to splice genes to make purple mice. This proposal lowers political and social conflict, and eventually those made fitter in the struggle for life by better education will win. At least that's my theory.
This is fine as far as it goes, but in order to get to this conclusion you have to wade through about 1200 words of abuse of Michael Behe's Intelligent Design argument. But the general point is valid: school choice removes education from the realm of public policy, just as journalism and religious worship have always been.

(Via: John Derbyshire at the Corner.)

Update on Pantano

Fellow Southern California blogger, Rosemary from My Newz N Ideas, has more information on 2nd Lt. Pantano:

On April 15, [2004] commanders dispatched Lt. Pantano's men to a house believed to hold insurgents and weapons. The Marines found bomb-making equipment and were removing it when two Iraqis tried to speed away in a [SUV], according to Lt. Pantano's account.

The Marines stopped the SUV by shooting out the tires, apprehended the two and placed them in flexible handcuffs. After setting up a security perimeter, Lt. Pantano took off the cuffs and had the two search the vehicle as he supervised. If it was booby-trapped, the Iraqis, not Marines, would pay the price.

It was at this point that the Iraqis stopped searching and moved quickly toward Lt. Pantano.

"They start talking in Arabic and turn toward him as if they are going to rush him," Mr. Gittins said. "He says, 'stop.' They don't stop and he kills them. He didn't know what they were doing but they weren't listening to him. He was in fear of his life and he killed them."

The lawyer said it turned out that the men were unarmed and there were no weapons in the SUV.
Rosemary also links to this Washington Times article which indicates that the command to stop was issued in Arabic. Despite the fact that these men were subsequently found to be unarmed, this seems like a pretty clear case of justifiable shooting given the fact that these were enemy combatants in a war zone who were ordered to stop. There is a brief line at the end of the Times piece that is suggestive:
"The lieutenant reported it to his chain of command after it happened and they investigated and said good to go. Then three months later a disgruntled enlisted man makes a complaint," the lawyer said.
But without further details, it is difficult to tell if this is significant or just spin.

Rosemary points out in her email that she has been contacting other bloggers trying to get traction on this. Paul at Prince Pundit has a post, as does Sacramento radio talk show host Eric Hogue. I have emailed the link to Captain's Quarters, Citizen Smash and Mudville Gazette, but so far no coverage. Am I missing something important about this story, or has it just not reached critical mass yet?

Free Republic has more:
This NY Times piece seems to be trying to suggest that he is guilty. They are all over the "he was such a nice boy" meme, which is the serial-killer's trademark.

Here is commentary on the original Reuters piece I linked to below.

Several people seem to be aware of the "disgruntled enlisted man" angle, but I cannot find any supporting documentation.

UPDATE: Looks like Captain Ed has more pressing things on his mind, so he is off the hook. Our prayers are with you, Captain. But what's up with the rest of you guys?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Ten Reasons to Support Democracy in the Middle East

In his NRO column, Victor Davis Hanson gives ten answers to the question, "Why Democracy?" (Note: I have listed only the answers. Read his article for his excellent in-depth explanations.)

1. It is widely said that democracies rarely attack other democracies.

2. More often than not, democracies arise through violence -- either by threat of force or after war with all the incumbent detritus of humiliation, impoverishment, and revolution.

3. Democracies are more likely to be internally stable, inasmuch as they allow people to take credit and accept blame for their own predicaments.

4. The democratic idea is contagious.

5. In the case of the Muslim world, there is nothing inherently incompatible between Islam and democracy.

6. Democracy brings moral clarity and cures deluded populaces of their false grievances and exaggerated hurts.

7. We fret rightly about the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But the truth is that we worry mainly about nukes in the hands of autocracies like China, Iran, or North Korea.

8. The promotion of democracy abroad by democracy at home is internally consistent and empowers rather than embarrasses a sponsoring consensual society.

9. By promoting democracies, Americans can at last come to a reckoning with the Cold War.

10. Like it or not, a growing consensus has emerged that consumer capitalism and democracy are the only ways to organize society.
These are, on the whole, valid points and I have urged some of them on this blog and elsewhere. But I do have a minor quibble with point number 5. Here is the full context:
5. In the case of the Muslim world, there is nothing inherently incompatible between Islam and democracy. Witness millions in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Turkey who vote. Such liberal venting may well explain why those who blow up Americans are rarely Indian or Turkish Muslims, but more likely Saudis or Egyptians. The trick is now to show that Arab Muslims can establish democracy, and thus the Palestine and Iraq experiments are critical to the entire region.
I disagree with both the theoretical assertion and the practical examples that Hanson produces. There is a conflict between Islam and democracy. Because Islam is a religion without grace, there can be no fundamental trust among fellow men. Every sinner will be forced to hide the fact of his imperfection and, therefore, to be all the more critical of the imperfections of others. Furthermore, since only an inhuman standard of achievement is worthy of heaven, the cult of the hero is inevitable. This has two distinct but reinforcing anti-democratic effects. First, it tempts people to overlook the flaws in their leaders as long as they are capable of command, because to suspect that a particular man may be imperfect opens up the possibility that perfection is impossible. Second, it tends to make such leaders brutally suppressive of dissent, for obvious reasons. This is why secularization is usually on the lips of those who advocate the advance of democracy in Islamic cultures.

But I suggest that secular government is ultimately without authority. The worst atrocities of history were committed in the 20th century by secular governments: the Nazi concentration camps, the killing fields of Cambodia and Stalin's programs of mass starvation in the Ukraine. Without a moral basis, government becomes hateful to its constituents. Fallen men cannot be trusted with the power of life and death, unless they are subject to a transcendent authority (and not even always then).

This leads me to the "successful" Muslim democracies that Hanson cites: India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Turkey. I have already mentioned the occupation of Cyprus in other posts, but would include oppression of both Kurds and Christians as among Turkey's anti-democratic tendencies. In fact, all of theses countries have problems with religious persecution, although it is admittedly less than in more despotic governments. But the fact remains that Islam has not proven itself capable of tolerance toward non-Islamic religions in any of these places, even in India, where Islam is in the minority. It may well do so, but until then this matter must remain in doubt.

There is, of course, a sense in which all cultures, even those informed by Christianity, are subject to the perfectionist influences that I noted above. This is because even Christians do not fully trust the grace that we profess, and are constantly tempted to justify ourselves. This was visibly the case with the mediaeval Catholic monarchies, but is even evident in the most thoroughly protestant countries after the Reformation. Nevertheless, I think that only under Christianity can democracy prosper.

My support for democracy in Islamic countries is thus diametrically opposite to that expressed by Mr. Hanson. If democracy is only possible under Christianity, it is also true that Christianity has the best chance of thriving, and therefore dominating, within a democracy. Like many real-world processes, the two have a mutually reinforcing feed-back relationship that amounts, absent outside obstacles, to a virtuous circle. It is therefore in order to promote Christianity that I support democracy.

I am well aware that this thesis has yet to bear fruit in history. But that is what makes these times so interesting, hmm?

(Via CUANAS)

Revisionism and Fascism

Heh. Jane points out that this Swedish site has a list of blogs. About 1/3 of the way down is the category Revisionism and Fascism in which both she and I have prominence of place. (I am at the top of the list but Armies of Liberation has some actual commentary: "Pro-bush, pro-imperialism, anti-islam blog. Know your enemy etc.")

You know you're doing something right when the Swedes think you are a fascist. (Although I am not too thrilled to be in company with holocaust deniers and anti-semites.)

But this raises a rather sensitive question. It is my policy to blogroll folks who send me traffic, but what category do I put this under? Hmm...

UPDATE: Oops. Making that category reminded me that there is another blog out there that thinks I'm evil, but has nevertheless blogrolled me. I'm tempted to put him in the Swedish category as well because he doesn't always seem to be speaking English, but I suppose he will have to go in the regular blog list. I should have done this months ago, but I never got 'round to it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Marine Charged with Murder

Via Reuters:

A U.S. Marine has been charged with premeditated murder and could face the death penalty for shooting two Iraqi men during a vehicle search near a weapons cache in Iraq last year, the Marine's attorney said on Thursday.

The Marine Corps released a statement saying 2nd Lt. Ilario G. Pantano was charged on Feb. 1 for his involvement in the shooting deaths of two Iraqi men on April 15, 2004, during combat operations in Iraq.

[...]

Pantano was the commander of a Marine platoon sent to search a suspected insurgent hide-out in an area south of Baghdad on April 15. The Marines found weapons, ammunition and bomb-making material in the building, and saw two men fleeing in a sport utility vehicle, Gittens said.

The Marines shot out the vehicle's tires to force it to a halt, took the two men into custody and ordered them to rip out the seats and the interior of the vehicle during a search for booby traps and secret compartments, Gittens said.

One of the men turned suddenly toward Pantano "as if to attack," and the pair kept moving when Pantano ordered them to stop, Gittens said.

"He (Pantano) thought he was in danger and he fired and he killed them and that's what we do to terrorists who don't listen to orders. ... It's a combat situation, kill or be killed," the attorney said.

Pantano feared the men may have been trying to detonate explosives remotely, Gittens said.

"What's he supposed to do, wait until he's standing in the inferno?" the attorney added.
Based on the limited (and one-sided) evidence presented in the article, the man sounds innocent. But whatever the facts of the case, it is worthy of note that the US is putting a soldier on trial for actions committed during combat. Remind me again how we are no better than the terrorists...

UPDATE: I didn't initially realize there were two pages to the article. Patano's mom has a Web Site:
DefendtheDefenders.org raises money and awareness for the defense of soldiers and Marines whose actions in the heat of combat are being second-guessed.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

August Arrived

Blogger August Arrived of How to be Free (And Save the World ... Eventually) links to my post about the German Brothel story. A fellow former Ayn Rand enthusiast (although I think I retain a higher degree of affection for her writing) he also correctly identifies Prisoner of Azkaban as the best of the Harry Potter movies and Winnie the Pooh as among his favorite books. For the latter point alone he is worthy of the blogroll, but I read through a few posts and found them mostly interesting. (I was reading mainly to find out if it was a he or she, which is hard to tell from the handle.)

For those interested in the Brothel Story, August has more here.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Party of Gun Control No More

This sounds promising:

The expected election of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic National Committee this month will strike a crippling blow to the gun-control movement, lobbyists and political observers say.

Like Dean, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a strong supporter of gun rights. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports gun control but rarely mentioned the issue before the 2004 election.

[...]

Reid has maintained close ties to both local and federal gun-rights groups, particularly the NRA.

On Sept. 22, 2004, [NRA Executive Director Chris] Cox wrote Reid a thank-you note stating, “On behalf of the nearly 4 million NRA members nationwide, I wanted to thank you personally for your efforts in defending the Second Amendment during your tenure in Congress.”
This has been a losing issue for Democrats for a while. In 2000 the NRA claimed partial credit for the defeat of Al Gore, who mistakenly interpreted the popular horror over the massacre at Columbine as a mandate for more government restriction of non-criminal gun ownership. I am glad to see that they may be coming to their senses.

However, in answer to Glenn Reynolds's question, "Is Gun Control Dead?", I would have to say: probably not. As long as there are people who think they should be able to tell you how to live your life -- whatever their motivation -- they will need to take away your guns. The Liberal/Nanny crowd will do it because they want to save you from yourself. The Leftist/Totalitarian crowd will do it because they don't want you to be able to fight back. The issue has receded for the time being and we should take whatever strategic advantage we can from that fact. But the fight goes on.

Friday, February 04, 2005

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

According to the Denver Post, a woman in Colorado has won a lawsuit against two teenagers who were trying to be nice to her:

Two teenage girls decided one summer's evening to skip a dance where there might be cursing and drinking to stay home and bake cookies for their neighbors.

Big mistake.

They were sued, successfully, for an unauthorized cookie drop on one porch.

The July 31 deliveries consisted of half a dozen chocolate-chip and sugar cookies accompanied by big hearts cut out of red or pink construction paper with the message: "Have a great night."

The notes were signed, "Love, The T and L Club," code for Taylor Ostergaard, then 17, and Lindsey Jo Zellitti, 18.

Inside one of the nine scattered rural homes south of Durango that got cookies that night, a 49-year-old woman became so terrified by the knocks on her door around 10:30 p.m. that she called the sheriff's department. Deputies determined that no crime had been committed.

But Wanita Renea Young ended up in the hospital emergency room the next day after suffering a severe anxiety attack she thought might be a heart attack.

A Durango judge Thursday awarded Young almost $900 to recoup her medical bills. She received nothing for pain and suffering.

"The victory wasn't sweet," Young said Thursday afternoon. "I'm not gloating about it. I just hope the girls learned a lesson."
Undooubtedly they did.

(Via Drudge)

UPDATE: For anyone wanting to help (financially or or otherwise), a Nashville radio station has published their address here. Since Mr. Gill is being so nice, I won't mention the fact that he stole my headline! (Via Jonah at The Corner)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Insufficient Scepticism

This story has been generating a fair amount of outrage among conservatives, especially those buy into the "merica Good/Europe Bad" meme. (Full disclosure: I count myself in that category most of the time.)

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.
Sounds pretty bad, eh? Just what you would expect from those degenerate Europeans. In fact I was planning on writing a post pointing out how this is a perfectly predictable result of value-free Liberalism that traces its roots to Enlightenment Rationalism.

Turns out the story isn't quite accurate:
The article in the Daily Telegraph seems to have been cobbled together from several German sources.

The information about the waitress who was told to interview for a job that turned out to be at a brothel was taken from an article on "jungle-world.com," which calls itself a "leftist weekly." That article was posted July 30, 2003 (!!). The 25-year-old waitress was told to contact the company "Reni Massage." The woman found the company's website and figured out that it was a brothel and decided to not get in touch. According to the Berlin employment center, the job posting had been sent to the woman by mistake. The job offer had been for bar staff (not for "sexual services," as the Telegraph article claims) and it hadn't been obvious from the information that the employment center had received that the company was a brothel.

The second part of the Daily Telegraph article contains information also found in an article from the leftist alternative Berlin daily "tageszeitung," filed on December 18, 2004. Both articles quote a Hamburg lawyer called Mechthild Garweg (note that the Telegraph misspells her first name). In the "tageszeitung" article, Ms. Garweg notes that there is nothing in the law regulating unemployment benefits that would prevent an employment center to force a woman to work as a prostitute if she wants to keep her benefits. It is clear from the article that this is merely a theoretical possibility. German employment centers have meanwhile asserted that they would not be passing on job offers for prostitution.
We have learned recently that we shouldn't trust the media to get the story straight. It is useful to note that this rule applies even if the story seems to vindicate our own suspicions. In fact, scepticism in circumstances where we want to believe the story is even more crucial than in cases where we feel insulted or falsely accused. People are not often fooled into believing things that they don't want to. But if a story sounds too good to be true... it probably is.

(Via Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mainstream Media Scammed... Again

It is a tough time to be a professional journalist. Apparently even the terrorists have learned that fact-checking is virtually non-existent on certain kinds of stories (specifically those that can be used to embarrass the Bush administration). Case in point: this AP story about an alleged captured US soldier.

Iraqi militants claimed in a Web statement Tuesday to have taken an American soldier hostage and threatened to behead him in 72 hours unless the Americans release Iraqi prisoners.

The posting, on a Web site that frequently carried militants' statements, included a photo of what appeared to be an American soldier in desert fatigues seated with his hands tied behind his back.

A gun barrel was pointed at his head, and he is seated in front of a black banner emblazoned with the Islamic profession of faith, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet."
The head and the gun barrel are the key points here. Take a close look at the picture. Something look funny about the head? Does it seem odd that the rifle is floating in mid-air without any visible means of support? Without even a shadow of the individual holding it?

Hmm.

UPDATE: CNN is on the story:
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.
"Questions were raised."
Via Drudge.

UPDATE: No scam story is complete without the infamous animated gif.

Via Instapundit.

UPDATE: Now it looks like they got Mr. Bill.