Friday, May 28, 2004

Bush Supports Vouchers

No, not education vouchers: charity vouchers. James Kushiner of Touchstone reports on a meeting between President Bush and "a small group of religious journalists". It isn't clear from the text if Kushiner was actually at this meeting, but I assume so since he doesn't provide a link to a published article:

He also called his “Faith Based Initiative” efforts one of the most important efforts of his presidency. “Government can hand out money, but it can’t put love in peoples’ lives,” he said. Government should help support institutions that get results, whether they are religiously motivated or not. Religious ministries that change hearts are “important part in changing society, one heart at a time.” The latest idea is to provide vouchers to individuals needing, for example, alcohol or drug rehabilitation and et them choose which programs to use, faith-based or otherwise.

There is more to the article, but I found this single idea fascinating. There are several advantages to using vouchers, which are a kind of limited use legal tender, as opposed to direct payments to organizations. This eliminates the issue of government support for religion and also introduces an element of competition among charities, which would tend to make the providers less bureaucratic and more service-oriented. Of course, this latter point assumes that the recipients of these vouchers have enough initiative to seek out charities that provide better service -- not at all a foregone conclusion. But it still seems likely to produce better results than the current system.

One intriguing idea would be if private citizens could purchase these vouchers. These could then be given out, say, to panhandlers. The virtue here would be that individuals (ore even churches who could not afford to actually provide services) could give "money" that could not be used for illicit purposes. Of course, the recipient could try to sell them on the street, but anyone buying them would immediately know that the money wasn't going to food or shelter. I've actually wanted something like this for a long time.

One big drawback that I can see would be that such a system is the commercial aspect that it seems to impose upon charities. Having a voucher would seem to make one entitled to service, whereas most charities would not turn away people without vouchers. Thus it is not quite clear what benefit the recipient would gain from having the voucher, or what incentive they would have to seek one. If I need food or shelter, am I going to be inclined to go to a government agency for a voucher which will not gain me any particular advantage? Or will charities be inclined to give preferential treatment to the "paying" clients at the expense of those without vouchers, who presumably would include those most in need of help?

This seems like a sufficiently serious problem that it might well be a deal-killer. Further exploration might generate a creative solution that I can't see yet. But I like the fact that Bush is putting ideas up for public discourse. This is certainly an approach I hadn't considered before, and I'm not aware that it has been publicly discussed elsewhere.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Partial Peace in Sudan

CNSNews reports:

Two decades of civil war appears to be over in Sudan, where the warring parties have agreed on most of the outstanding issues that had blocked the signing of a final peace deal.

The Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) signed three power-sharing and administration protocols late Wednesday, following two years of negotiation.

I couldn't find the actual protocols online but here is a more detailed description from the BBC:
Much of the wrangling was over the distribution of government and civil service jobs between the two sides.

In the end, they agreed on a 70:30 split of all jobs in the central administration in favour of the government.

The SPLA insisted that the national capital, Khartoum, should not be subject to Islamic law, even though it is in the north.

They also wanted three central areas - oil-rich Abyei, Blue Nile State and the Nuba mountains - to be counted as part of the south, while the government said they were in the north.

In these regions, jobs will be shared 55:45 - again most go to the government.

On Khartoum, a rebel spokesman said that this would be decided by an assembly, to be elected.

Other good sources of information at All Africa and IRIN.

I am somewhat skeptical for several reasons. First, as noted in most of these articles, the deal does not include the more recent problems in Darfur. That isn't particularly unexpected, but it does call into question the seriousness with which the Sudanese government treats the very idea of human rights.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that the Darfur atrocities are mainly being committed against African Muslims by Arab Muslims suggests that the underlying motive is some kind of racial supremacist ideology of which Baathism is another example. If this is the case it is unlikely that any peace will be lasting.

Finally, I question whether the government will seriously pursue democratic reforms. The fact that several factions in southern Sudan have been left out of the negotiations reinforces (although it does not prove) this impression. Time will tell, of course, but short of an independent or at least federally autonomous south, I suspect that this peace will be very tenuous indeed.

Let's hope I'm wrong.

UPDATE: Jane from Armies of Liberation has a similar take.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Snopes Added To Link List

I should have done this a long time ago, but I just added the Urban Legend Reference Page to the Non-Blog link list. I've been a fan of urban legends and conspiracy theories since I first heard of the concept and these folks have done a great job in tracking down the truth behind the rumors.

A Verse You Will Never Sing in Church

David Mills, editor at Touchstone, cites the following gem from John Mason Neale's All Glory Laud and Honor:

Be thou, O Lord, the rider
And I the little ass
That to the Holy city
Together we may pass.

Mills comments:
The image is a perfectly good one, but not an image one could safely sing in church. And that Victorian "little" makes it worse. It might be more safely singable if "little" were changed to "quiet." But probably not.

Assault Weapon Poll at CNN

Eugene Volokh links to this poll at CNN on whether the ban on "assault weapons" should be lifted or extended. He rightly comments:

The poll is of course invalid, because it's based on a self-selected sample -- yet its results will be available on the CNN site, and I'm sure some people will think it's accurate.

I think the assault weapons ban is a bad idea; even Tom Diaz, of the strongly pro-gun-control Violence Policy Center, acknowledges that "If the existing assault weapons ban expires, I personally do not believe it will make one whit of difference one way or another" in "reducing death and injury."
If you agree with me on this, please go here and vote in the "QuickVote" box. (If the results end up being anti-assault-weapon-ban, I certainly wouldn't endorse pushing the results as accurate data, either. But right now they're lopsidedly pro-ban; perhaps if they even out in some measure, neither side will end up making much out of this, and the data will end up being ignored, as it should be.)

I strikes me as kind of sad when the best that conservatives can strive for from the media is to be ignored. Yes, I voted to have the weapons ban lifted so that my views can be routinely discounted. So should you. Speak up so that your voice will not be heard!

Commandments Debate Still Smoldering in Alabama

According to Salon (Edit: actually it's an AP piece, CNN has the same story) the Alabama primary is being cast as a referendum on the Religious Right.

Supporters of former Chief Justice Roy Moore have lined up to run for one congressional seat and all three state Supreme Court seats up for election.
It is unclear whether Parker and other conservative Christians can ride into office on a bandwagon built for Moore, who became a hero to the religious right last summer for defying a federal court order to remove a 2 1/2-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. Moore eventually was thrown off the bench by a judicial ethics panel last November because of his refusal.
"If the Moore faction wins three or four of those seats, and especially if Parker beats Brown, I think the perception will be ... that the church faction of the Republican Party is now more powerful at the ballot box in Alabama than the business faction of the Republican Party," said Jess Brown, a government professor at Athens State University.

But if all four lose, Brown said, "I think you're going to have to conclude that Chief Justice Moore has more political baggage than political advantage, and that his political fortunes in Alabama might not be too good."

As I have said before, I am largely sympathetic to Justice Moore, and I even supported him when the issue was removal of his own personal 10 Commandments plaque from his office. But I think he was misguided in trying to provoke a showdown over an issue that has only symbolic value. I think the real agenda here is to portray conservatives as victims of a creeping left-wing conspiracy -- always a bad move. If his supporters cannot win on the superiority of their policies, they are a liability to the conservative cause not an asset. If they can, there is no real reason to raise the issue at all.

Repeat after me: We beat the left because we are better than they are, smarter than they are and dogone it, it just doesn't matter if they like us.

NOTE: Looking for background on this story, I came across this piece:
The firing of a Hoover Chamber of Commerce employee for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments lapel pin has fueled debate over on-the-job religious speech.

But wait...
"This termination was not about religion or Christopher's particular beliefs in support of Judge Moore, as the chamber is not against religion or Judge Moore," Bolt [the employer's attorney] said. "Rather, Christopher was terminated for making political statements while he was in the course and scope of his employment."

There isn't really enough detail here to make a firm decision, but on the face of it, it sounds as if the conservatives are again picking the wrong fight. What ever happened to being wise as serpents?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Blogs and Postmodernism

My favorite quote from the survey noted below occurs as part of the caveat that these results are not particularly scientific:

But remember also that the blogosphere is all about biases and conversations and boot-strapping and not waiting for some patron -- a newspaper editor or university dean or foundation officer or venture capitalist or government agent -- to tell you something but figuring it out yourself, and, finally, about sharing fragments of imperfect data with peers to arrive at some useful collective knowledge.

That strikes me as very well put more than a little profound. It resonates with themes that I find very helpful: Hayek's (or Burke's) preference for England's common law tradition over France's utopianism; America's can-do mentality versus the UN's quibbling about proprieties; the biblical and medieval focus on wisdom versus the enlightenment's demand for rationalistic proof; in general the superiority of induction over deduction for most of the questions that really matter.

I don't wish to make too much of an off-hand comment, but I wonder if this isn't a key reason that conservatives are more dominant in the blogosphere than liberals. Our proclivity for muddling through to a livable arrangement, in contrast to the left's insistence on abstract principle that can be rationally defined and defended, is more suitable to the free-for-all of competing worldviews in a global marketplace of ideas.

This kind of thinking could properly be called post-modern, if the term had not already been co-opted by the burnt-out-modernists on the far left. But I prefer to avoid the chronological snobbery of the whole premodern->modern->postmodern continuum. I prefer to characterize the distinction in terms of "the reasonable" versus "the rational" (or "rationalistic" if I'm in a bad mood).

Eighty-Two Down...

...Eighteen to go. According to Blogads' Reader Survey "82% of blog readers say that television is worthless or only somewhat useful as a source of news and opinion." Of course they were not asking specifically about TV but about TV news, so they didn't get responses about its worthlessness as a transmitter of cultural values, artistic sensibilities or moral standards. But I'll take what I can get.

UPDATE: I took the extended discussion of the postmodern/traditionalist nature of blogs out and made it into a separate post above.

Gay Marriage: Preliminary Remarks

It looks like the gay marriage issue has begun heating up again. Eugene Volokh has made some trenchant comments on the slippery slope to polygamy

So the Court has been willing to depart from the very core of Griswold's argument (the limitation to marriage) and from the express assurances by the concurrence that the decision in no way affects homosexuality. Why should we have any confidence that the Court — or lower courts or other influential bodies — will feel limited by Griswold's supposed stress on the inherent "binar[iness]" of "intimacy," something that is much less expressly dwelt on by the Griswold opinions? (To the extent the opinions suggest anything about the binariness of intimacy, that comes from their focus on the married couple — a focus that the Court has long abandoned, see Eisenstadt.)
and why he doesn't think it is politically likely.

Andrew Sullivan cites some statistics demolishing the notion that legalization of gay marriage in Northern Europe has led to the decline of hetero marriage:
Stanley Kurtz's argument that marriage rights for gays in Scandinavia somehow led to a decline in marriage rates for heterosexuals or an increase in children born out of wedlock is thoroughly rebutted by M. V. Lee Badget in the current Slate. The evidence, to put it mildly, simply doesn't exist. In fact, heterosexual marriage rates have stabilized and even increased after gays were allowed to marry.

I will respond to all of this in greater detail as soon as I get time to get my thoughts organized (God willing, this weekend). But in the meantime, the formidable Cal Thomas may have saved me some trouble by neatly summarizing my general take on the matter:
"Pro family" groups have given it their best shot, but this debate is over. They would do better to spend their energy and resources building up their side of the cultural divide and demonstrating how their own precepts are supposed to work. Divorce remains a great threat to family stability, and there are far more heterosexuals divorcing and cohabiting than homosexuals wishing to "marry." If conservative religious people wish to exert maximum influence on culture, they will redirect their attention to repairing their own cracked foundation. An improved heterosexual family structure will do more for those families and the greater good than attempts to halt the inevitable. A topical solution does not cure a skin disease whose source is far deeper.

I think the conservative arguments deserve more detailed treatment, but this is the bottom line. We have already lost significant ground on this front and we need to pick our battles more carefully than we have done so far. Otherwise, in the words of my friend Pastorius, we will be only left with a choice of which hill we want to die on.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Todd Aylard, a dear friend has started a new blog The Vessel with the Pestle. He is hereby added to the blogroll.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Above the Law

Iraq the Model has an interesting comment related to the theme of my post below. The whole post is worth reading but my attention was particularly arrested by last two paragraphs:

Those clerics do not sympathies with Sadr out of religious sentiments. They know very well that he’s not a pious guy and they often hate each other as they compete to gain the trust and lead of the common people. This meant huge money in the past and now it means money and power as some of them have entered politics now. Why would they care so much then?
I think the answer lies in one fact. There’s an unwritten law in most of the countries with considerable She’at presence that has always considered the clerics to be immune to the law. This doesn’t apply to all clerics, but only the very senior ones. With time, this law has expanded to protect most popular clerics. Now, Muqtada is certainly not a senior cleric, but his family name and the sacrifices they gave, gave him some holy shape in the eyes of some of the She’at. If this guy was arrested, this law would not be literally broken, but the event will have the same effect. Meaning every cleric will know that he is not above the law. This will be an innovation that will shake all clerics with political ambitions...

This strikes me as completely correct and very insightful. Tyrannies exist precisely because those in power want to be considered above the law; that is more or less the definition of tyranny. Ali, evidently, gets it. He continues:
Hence all this crap about "red lines" winch is no more than a big lie that should fool no one. People will certainly be saddened and some would be outraged if the holy shrines were affected, but their care about their lives and jobs certainly is more. Most She'at Iraqis are sentimental when it comes to religion, but not to that degree. The operation should go on with great care however, and will put all those hypocrites in their right places. No more adventures and no more Mahdi armies. This revolt can actually act as an immunization against more serious ones in the future that is if it was dealt with in the proper way. The patience of the coalition has paid its fruits and Muqtada should be *arrested* but certainly not killed and now, in my opinion, is the right time.

I think he's nailed it.

First Abu Ghraib Court-Martial

Spc. Jeremy Sivits has received a year jail sentence as well as a demotion to private and a bad-conduct discharge in the first of seven courts-martial of the US soldiers involved in the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. According to Reuters

Despite a tearful plea to be allowed to stay in uniform, the 24-year-old military police reservist was also thrown out of the army on a bad conduct discharge. It added up to the maximum penalty, after he had recounted beatings and abuse by soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail, notorious under Saddam Hussein.

A plea bargain means Sivits is now expected to testify at courts martial against up to six members of his unit, three of whom were arraigned on Wednesday on much graver charges.

"We must send a message to other soldiers, to our nation and to the Iraqi people that the American military does not tolerate such behavior," said the prosecutor, Captain John McCabe.

It is a bit confusing how a plea bargain could have resulted in the maximum penalty. Evidently, the bargain involved submitting to a special court-martial rather than a general (and presumably more severe) court-martial, according to CNN.
Sivits' plea, according to the Army, was part of a pretrial agreement, the military equivalent of a plea deal. In return for pleading guilty, Sivits was tried in a special court-martial rather than the more severe general court-martial. In addition, Sivits agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, testify truthfully, and testify in all upcoming proceedings.

This is an important factor to consider because, in general, a plea-bargain indicates a reduced penalty, which does not seem to be the case here. Captain McCabe's comments (quoted above) indicate the seriousness with which the military is dealing with these crimes.

On the other hand, it must be remembered that the exemplary benefit of this trial works both ways. While punishing the guilty parties sends a message to US servicemen not to commit similar behavior, letting the punishment fit the crime also sends an important message about Western justice to the Iraqi people. Returning to the Reuters article:
"It's been an open and fair trial, which is something Iraq has not seen a lot of before," said acting human rights minister Bakhtiyar Amin.

Others were unimpressed: "It's a kangaroo court, set up just to placate Iraqis," said Halla Azzawi, whose son is in Abu Ghraib. "I wish they would get death."

Mr. Amin apparently gets it, while Azzawi does not. The crimes these people committed were foul but they were nowhere near deserving of death. None of their victims were killed or even permanently harmed. It is precisely this culture of blood feud and honor killing which has doomed democracy in the Middle East. If the Iraqi people are going to be an example of self-government to the rest of the region, they are going to have to learn this.

NOTE: It may be that some of the victims are owed reparations, but their own crimes which landed them in Abu Ghraib in the first place would be a relevant factor in answering that question. My guess is that this will not be done, which is perhaps a valid criticism of the US approach to crime in general as well as in these particular cases. But that is the maximum criticism I would be willing to consider. On balance this trial and, hopefully, those of the other six accused, will serve as a useful model of how a civilized society deals with its own malefactors.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Once You Start Smoking...'s really tough to stop. This apparently goes for guns as well as people:

Fox News reports that the Defense Department has confirmed that the shell that partially exploded by the roadside yesterday contained four liters of sarin -- enough to kill thousands of people under the right conditions. The discovery indicates that more such shells will come to light

Captain Ed made a good point yesterday, when the story broke:
[Citing a BBC report]
However, a senior coalition source has told the BBC the round does not signal the discovery of weapons of mass destruction or the escalation of insurgent activity. He said the round dated back to the Iran-Iraq war and coalition officials were not sure whether the fighters even knew what it contained.

If ignorance was at play here, then it means that the shell was plundered from a weapons cache somewhere, probably local to that area.

I don't think it will be too much longer now before we find a whole bunch of these.

Genocide in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's marxist government has evidently become jealous of Islamists' growing reputation as a source of terror and genocide. In a blatant attempt to prove that marxism is still a threat to civilization, they have broadened their recent genocide against the Anuak to include women and children.

A genocide in western Ethiopia that began last December with a massacre of some 400 Anuak tribe members has broadened into widespread attacks by Ethiopian military troops against more than a dozen Anuak villages in the western Ethiopian province of Gambella, according to Anuak refugees and humanitarian aid groups.

Scorched-earth raids carried out from January through April have destroyed a dozen Anuak villages in Gambella, refugees said. The raids have driven more than 10,000 Anuak into refugee camps in neighboring Sudan and Kenya, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

While the December 13 massacre in Gambella town, the capital of Gambella province, was directed only at educated male Anuak, the new phase of the genocide has seen women and children killed, hundreds of Anuak homes and fields burned, and gang rapes of dozens of girls and women, according to Anuak refugees.

The article in question does not give a detailed description of the Anuak so go here for more info.
(Food Chain: Anuak Genocide Watch via Instapundit)

Naked News

Evidently the distinction between news and entertainment is not quite blurry enough for the Canadians. From Reuters:

A Canadian producer is poised to unveil Spanish versions of its Internet and cable television news show, in which anchors deliver the day's top stories in the buff, this week, company officials say.
Naked Broadcasting Network Inc., which has produced "Naked News" in English since 1999, teamed up with Florida-based APA International Film Distributors Inc. for two versions of "Noticias al Desnudo," or Naked News, executive producer David Warga said Monday.

"One version is a fully nude Naked News program dubbed into Spanish," Warga said. "The second version is the exact same but with the pubic area pixilated out for more conservative markets."

I'm so glad they are considering the conservative markets. Would want to think they were unbalanced or anything...
*Sigh* Yet another reason not to watch TV.

UPDATE: Hmph. Maybe Alexandra Kerry could be the anchor? (Warning: Not Worksafe!)

Monday, May 17, 2004

Great Books Meme of the Week

I have actually seen this in several places, but seeing it on Damien's site (see post below) reminded me that I wanted to get in on the band wagon. Of this list of 101 Great Books, the ones in bold are those which I have actually read:

Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Bronte, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily - Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales (Some, not all)
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante - Inferno (But you have to read parts II & III for it to count)
Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers (17th Century Tom Clancy)
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22 (Couldn't actually gag through it, but I started)
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion

Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island

Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden (Another partial read)
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five

Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son

Toronto Star "Journalist" Slams Bloggers

Antonia Zerbisias has waked the ire of Glenn Reynolds by claiming (amid a stream of other incoherences) that "the warblog drums are growing silent". The title of her piece in the Toronto Star is "Insult-happy Web guns fall quiet", which illustrates her own illiteracy in addition to a poor grasp of the facts. Things "fall silent" or "grow quiet", not the other way around. [Correction: Evidently the headline was written by her editor, not Zerbisias herself.] But I digress...

She ends her piece with a quote from blogger Marc Weisblott:

"There seems to be warblogger fatigue setting in," says popcult blogeratus Marc Weisblott ( who has been tracking the phenomenon. "I think this Iraq debacle is exasperating all of 'em.

"And when your whole schtick is rage against (the New York Times') Maureen Dowd or (the Globe and Mail's) Heather Mallick ... or, uh, you, that's only going to carry one so far."

Not that I want to be picky or anything, but how exactly did he come to that conclusion? As a quick trip to the blogs she conveniently links will indicate, the bloggers in question all posted specific reasons for their slowdown in posting which had nothing to do with her fantasy of disenchantment with the war effort.

Why do I care what a second-rate Canadian "journalist" has to say? Well, I don't really, I just wanted to point out the reason that two new blogs have been added to my blogroll: Kathy Shaidle's ReLapsed Catholic, and Damien Penny's Daimnation, neither of which I would have heard of if not for Zerbisias' screed.

UPDATE: I have changed the links to point to the responses to Zerbisias, rather than to the blogs themselves. Seems only fair.

UPDATE: Zerbisias responds via email:
Just for the Record?
It's a headline, not a ''title'' -- and columnists don't write them. Editors do.
Thought you should know since you claim to promote literacy.
Carry on.

Corrections made to my text as noted.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Thoughts on Income Tax Withholding

Since Friday is payday for a large percentage of Americans, Tom Crowe's post titled Income Confiscation Day will probably hit home with a lot of us.

I heard that the Coors brewing company, when it was headed up by the founder, would pay all of its employees in cash. On payday everyone would line up at one window where the cashier would hand the employee their entire gross pay. Then each employee would step down to the next window where that cashier would take back the amount that employee owed the government in income taxes.

Incidentally, though he gets the general point correct, this wasn't exactly what Coors did. This tactic was used by other employers, and was surpressed as noted by the IRS, but what Coors did was give employees their gross pay for two months then take the full three months worth of withholding in the third month. Same point, different approach.

NOTE: Here and here are two sites that document this, as well as making other useful comments about problems with the withholding scheme. Both worth reading in full. (Search for the word Coors to find the discussion of the story noted above.)


INDC posts a classic "interview" with the InstaPundit. Read The Whole Thing.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Namibia Going the Way of Zimbabwe

The BBC reports that the Namibian government has issued "requests" for white farmers to sell their land to the state.

The notices sent to a small number of farms on Wednesday said: "You are cordially invited to make an offer to sell the property to the state and to enter into further negotiations in that regard. In the light of the seriousness of the matter, I shall appreciate it if you would react within 14 days."
Almost half of Namibia's land, including the best arable plots, are owned by about 4,000 mostly white farmers.

The government has been trying to redistribute land to black people to undo the legacy of the colonial era.

Since independence in 1990, the government has purchased 118 farms in a willing-buyer, willing-seller programme.

But Mr Nujoma has said the government will begin expropriating some white farms.

Sanctions Against Syria

This via email from GOPUSA:

President George W. Bush issued an executive order this week which imposes sanctions on the nation of Syria. The president says that Syria's support for terrorism poses a "threat to U.S. national security."

"On December 12, 2003, I signed into law the [Syria Accountability Act] in order to strengthen the ability of the United States to effectively confront the threat to U.S. national security posed by Syria's support for terrorism, its military presence in Lebanon, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and its actions to undermine U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq," Bush said.

The executive order signed by President Bush on Tuesday imposes sanctions on Syria pursuant to the SAA. According to a statement issued by the White House, implementation of sanctions comes after "many months of diplomatic efforts to convince the Syrian government to change its unacceptable behavior."

About damn time...

Darfur: Muslims Killing Muslims

Pastorius sent the following story via email. He asks "If it's true, why is it being ignored by our media even more than they are already ignoring the murdering of Sudanese Christians?"

Before leaving the village, the attackers, driving over 3,000 stolen animals before them, tore up Korans found in the mosque and set the building on fire.

Barely a week later, the horsemen returned with soldiers from the regular Sudanese Army and in a four-day rampage killed 80 more people, including women and children. "The soldiers stayed on the edge of the village," said a 37-year-old man. "But they saw everything."

In the village of Sandikoro, soldiers and horsemen tore up Korans and defecated on them before burning the mosque, with its imam inside. In Kondoli, they killed another imam, Abrahim Durra, as well as a second imam and the muezzin.

Jane at Armies of Liberation also links to this article (originally on Lebanon's Daily Star).

My initial reaction was that I think the reason they are doing it is probably summed up by this line, "Theirs is not the shrill, extremist Islam of the fundamentalist generals who seized power in Sudan in 1989, but a quiet, tolerant Islam that has characterized Sudan for most of its recent history and that still characterizes most of its citizens - Arab or African." Like all fascists, Islamofascists are just as angry at unenthusiastic members of their own group as at outside enemies. The point is control and supremacy and any sort of oposing view is dangerous. I am not sure why the media has failed to notice this. It seems that it would be safer for them to condemn Sudan if it is targeting its fellow muslims because that wouldn't allow people to get the idea that Christians deserve fair treatment.

A search for "Darfur Muslim" on produces the following lone story:
In Darfur, unlike in the broader Sudanese civil war, the conflict is not religious but ethnic: Sudan's Muslim government, made up mostly of Arabs, is accused of backing Arab militias there, who, according to many observers, are trying to push black Muslim tribes out.

A similar search on Reuters produced no results.

The Economist has the following on its subscription site:
Confusingly, Sudan is the scene of two separate but related civil wars. One, between north and south, has been flaring up and down for half a century. The other, in Darfur, started only in February last year. The older war pits an Islamist government in the north against southerners who are mostly pagan or Christian. Darfur's conflict is Muslim against Muslim. In any event, the prime source of Sudan's horrors is political. Since independence in 1956, Sudan has been ruled by a small and undemocratic elite of mostly Arab Muslims. In the hope of crushing the long-standing rebellion by infidel southerners, they have routinely bombed villages, encouraged their militiamen to enslave southerners and deliberately fostered famine. Perhaps 2m people, mostly civilians, have died.

Abu Ghraib and Pornography II

It didn't take long for my prediction to come true:

I have actually thinking about this connection since the pictures first came out. There are many porn/fetish sites on the internet that would love to have acquired these photos before they became public domain. I am sure there are already sites trying to peddle "previously unrevealed" photos, whether legitimate or fake.

Looks like the Boston Globe fell for just such a scam:
Boston residents got more than they bargained for this morning when their copy of the Globe came complete with graphic photographic images depicting U.S. troops gang-raping Iraqi women.

Problem is the photos are fake. They were taken from pornographic websites and disseminated by anti-American propagandists, as first reported by WND a week ago.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Like I Have Time for This

Uggh! While I was composing the post below, Randy Barnett was adding more fuel to the fire. I still have not fulfilled my promise, made weeks ago, to give a full description of my dissatisfaction with conservative arguments in favor of the Federal Marriage amendment. But Professor Barnett has issued a challenge that is just too enticing to pass up:

I also pose the following challenge to those who favor state endorsement of religion at the state level: if you are willing to modify your commitment to the entire Constitution when parts of it get in your way--in order to reach, e.g., private homosexual conduct--can you offer a principled reason why I could not use your interpretive method to evade the original meaning of the Establishment Clause and the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to effectuate a separation of church and state that conflicts with the original meaning of both?

I should start out by saying that I am not sure if I qualify for the target audience. I do favor state-level endorsement of Christianity to a limited degree, but I am not willing to modify my commitment to the entire Constitution to achieve it, and I have no particular axe to grind with respect to homosexuality. However, I do disagree with Barnett that Lawrence v. Texas was rightly decided and I think I can offer an argument that does justice to both his jurisprudential concerns and my principles.

The first issue to be raised is with Barnett's suggestion that
...a commitment to formalism based on original meaning requires one to accept results with which one passionately disapproves--such as depriving legislatures of the power to criminalize homosexual sex in private, i.e. not in public places where even heterosexual "fornication" can be prohibited

But such a commitment does not require any such deprivation. This is not the place to go into a full discussion of Lawrence but it is worthwhile to briefly examine the four basic assertions on which was based the decision to overturn the precedent of Bowers v. Hardwick.

a. The right to a homosexual "relationship" is more far-reaching than merely the right to engage in certain sexual conduct and entails a liberty to "enter upon relationships in the confines of their own homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons".

b. The historical grounds for prohibiting sodomy have not been limited to same-sex relations until recently.

c. Legislative and judicial changes since Bowers v Hardwick was decided as well as developments in other countries, have called the principles of Bowers into question.

d. Moral disapproval is not sufficient for a governing majority to prohibit behavior.

Points b and c might be relevant if society changes its opinions in this regard (and there is some evidence that it is happening) but societal changes should be enacted by legislatures not courts and, in any event, do not affect fundamental rights. Since rights are based in human nature itself, if it is asserted that a given behavior is a right, presumably it always was and so its status is independent of historical opinions. In fact, positive legislation is often enacted specifically to prevent societal changes from affecting these fundamental rights.

Point d, on the other hand, is precisely what the court was engaged to decide, and so cannot serve as a ground of that decision. It is a direct contradiction of the 10th amendment. The Constitution does not prohibit the states from legislating based on moral disapproval so, unless a violation of some other provision (such as the prohibition on religious tests, for instance) can be shown, the power to do so must be presumed to be reserved to the states. The 9th Amendment indicates that there are non-enumerated rights which are retained by the people, but this simply prohibits the legislature from overriding rights that are understood to exist. It does not empower the court to create new rights that were never previously acknowledged.

This leaves us with point a. It is important to note that this case was decided under a Due Process rubric rather than an Equal Protection one. Due process should refer, not to the content of the behavior, but to the means by which the behavior comes to be prosecuted. But what in the above argument distinguishes the private practice of homosexual conduct from, say, a private practice of smoking marijuana? The only difference that I can discern would be an unstated assumption that homosexual behavior attaches to one's person in a way that other behavior does not. This would seem to be hinted at in the phrase "dignity as persons" in Justice Kennedy's opinion for the majority. This would then presumably require a more extensive process than the normal police authorities entailed by search warrants. This is the theory of jurisprudence known as "substantive due process".

But no such concept is given in the Constitution, so one might disagree in principle with the Court while still upholding the commitment that Prof. Burnett desires. Furthermore, if one believes, as I do, that the concept of substantive due process assumed in this decision, along with a string of cases such as Griswold, Casey and Roe, collectively indicate a pattern of usurpation on the part of the Court, one can reasonably consider methods of reigning in such decisions without necessarily becoming a revolutionary.

I admit that so far judicial conservatives have done more complaining than actual productive thinking, but I think there is a good argument to be made for limiting without abolishing the power of judicial review. There are two ways this could be done. The first would be to provide a legislative check, similar to overriding the presidential veto. I have discussed this below with regard to Rep. Lewis' proposed legislation, although I think he would have been better advised to make it a proposed amendment. This has the benefit of being simple, but the danger of descending into mob rule that both Barnett and I have cautioned against.

The second, harder, way would be to specify more precisely the bases on which the courts may interpret the Constitution. For instance, a full description of the "original meaning" principle might be added as an amendment or perhaps a restriction that no court could construe based on "emanations and penumbral" but must restrict itself to actual the actual text. To be sure, such a proposal would have to be very carefully worded, and I do not know of many people currently alive that I would trust to do it. But Barnett's thorough and principled discussion of the first amendment in the post above gives me hope that there are still people who can think clearly about such issues. And I think the exercise might be valuable in that it would at least clarify what judicial conservatives think they mean when they decry judicial activism.

This discussion has somewhat widened beyond my original intent so let me summarize my answer to Barnett for clarity's sake. I believe it is perfectly reasonable for the state to prohibit private conduct which a majority has traditionally believed to be immoral provided that it does not violate other constitutional principles in doing so (e.g. punishment is not cruel or unusual, laws not applied ex post facto, etc.) and that procedural due process is followed. This applies to such activities as homosexuality, abortion and marijuana use that I would not indulge in, but also to such activities as non-procreative sex that I might. But it does not apply to such constitutionally protected activities as religious worship, political speech, etc. Also, it does not apply to traditionally held rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution, such as the right to educate one's children.

I think this is a sufficiently robust view that it can stand up to whatever criticism Prof. Barnett may be inclined to throw at it. But I confess that sleep deprivation may have falsely induced me to believe that what I have written has been expressed coherently, so I reserve the right to clarify any assertions he finds particularly laughable.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Bainbridge's Podiatric Friendly Fire

Steven Bainbridge shoots himself (and other pro-life, judicial conservatives) in the foot in a classic case of not understanding the basis of his own position. Furthermore, (as I will discuss more fully below) he adopts the very principle of judicial activism that he is criticizing.

First, a little background. This is a recent entry in a debate that has been going on between Bainbridge and Randy Barnett of the Volokh Conspiracy. I may have missed some posts, but here is a general overview of the correspondence: Bainbridge, Barnett, Bainbridge, Barnett, Bainbridge, Barnett, Bainbridge, Barnett, Barnett. To summarize all of this, Bainbridge began by arguing that judicial activism is contrary to the original intent of the Constitution, but his argument has shifted to the assertion that the immoral results of that activism would have been deplored by the original authors. Furthermore, although the issue of democratic majoritarianism has been a theme throughout Bainbridge's discourse, it has shifted from being a corrective to putatively illegitimate court activity to serving as a legitimate alternative to the current constitutional order in its own right.

I agree with the substance of Bainbridge's agenda, which broadly speaking is an attempt to hold the line on traditional moral values. But in conflating the jurisprudential argument with the moral one, and compounding this by advocating majoritarianism as an end in itself he has ceased to argue from a conservative position and has begun to advocate revolution.

One of the chief foundations of the conservative philosophy (whether judicial, political or social) is that order is a primary good and that change to an established order, however morally necessary, should only be effected gradually and with deliberation. In the judicial sphere, this principle is called stare decisis and indicates that the any proposed revision of existing law or precedent must meet the burden of both necessity and prudence. This ensures that those living under the law can know in advance what is expected of them and will have adequate time to adjust if those expectations change. This principle is admirably reflected in the US Constitution and in much of its judicial interpretation throughout the history of the Republic. It is against this principle, the sudden change of expectations through judicial fiat, that the practice of judicial activism offends.

But Bainbridge's criticism seems to have moved from the lack of checks on judicial activism, such as:

The founders were very big on checks and balances, but in our time we have ceded a wide range of issues to nine unelected old men and women who decide issues of national import with confidence that they are immune from being held accountable for their decisions.

to an outright claim of legislative superiority in his most recent posts:
The dispute remains - who decides? A judge who agrees with Barnett that a fetus is not a person can effectively take the issue [off] the table, at the very least until turnover on the court produces a majority prepared to reverse that decision. (And, as Casey demonstrated, even the more conservative members of the legal elites cannot be trusted to do the right thing in this area). When a legislature decides to allow abortion, we can try voting them out of office immediately. In a democracy, there is always a risk that immoral laws will be made. I simply prefer to take my chances on legislators who can be held to account through the electoral process than on unelected judges subject to no meaningful checks and balances.

Now it may be that this position has merit, but it is dangerous not to recognize that it is a radical departure from the earlier point. Curtailing judicial activism is an eminently conservative endeavor, but replacing it with unmitigated democracy is not.

As I suggested earlier, there is an even more dangerous theme in Prof. Bainbridge's recent discussion: the silent adoption of the very utopian vision that has inspired most of the egregious examples of judicial activism.
Any legal theory that would validate the murder of over 40 million innocent unborn children raises serious moral concerns, because it likely constitutes material cooperation with evil.

Again, I do not disagree with the content of Bainbridge's analysis. Roe does indeed raise serious moral concerns. But moral judgment does not, in itself, provide sufficient reason for overturning established law because it begs the question "whose moral judgment?" In a society of nearly 300 million potential judges, the presumption of legitimacy must rest with established legal procedures, however repugnant some of the results may be. If it cannot be shown that a given decision is based on illegal processes (and I think both Lawrence and Roe are vulnerable to this criticism) then attempting to trump the legal procedures with moral arguments essentially invites a counter activism that can only lead to chaos. And chaos, as Hobbes and Kirk have both shown, favors not justice but the rule of the jungle.

It would have been far better for Prof. Bainbridge to have stuck to his original argument. For one thing, he could have avoided Barnett's rejoinder that
HIS theory of the Constitution in general, and of the 14th Amendment in particular, would allow abortion--which he considers evil and murder--to continue unchecked so long as a mere majority of the legislature so vote. Indeed, the pro-life forces repeatedly say that they this is an issue properly to be left to the states.

The argument that Roe and Lawrence are a break with both interpretive precedent and actual positive law, and therefore beyond the legal capacity of judicial review, is one that can be readily made. This casts the Supreme Court in the innovative role and lays the groundwork for calls to reign it in. But an appeal to democratic majoritarianism does not merely check the activism of the supreme court, but replaces it with a new activism and invites a descent into civil war carried on by other means. And, as we learned a century and a half ago, those means do not long remain other...

UPDATE: Joel at Calblog makes a good case for one approach I think could work for overturning Roe. Since he also uses the phrase "shot in the foot", I thought it was worth linking, even though he doesn't address the jurisprudential issue discussed above.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Next Evolution of the Dunk Tank

No Comment.

From the Ministry of Obvious Headlines

Newsmax reports: Economic Growth in U.S. Outpaces Socialistic Europe.

Yeah... And?

Religious Land Use Victory

Also in JWR, a court victory for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA):

It should be self-evident. Unless you are on a plane or a boat, religious expression involves some kind of land use. Unfortunately, far too many municipalities are ignoring this fact when applying their zoning laws and religious liberty suffers. In response, the courts have put teeth into the RLUIPA, a young civil rights law designed to restore full religious freedom to the land use context.

This development is necessary as local zoning officials have time and again trampled on the rights of sincere religious believers, and for a variety of reasons. Many municipalities shut the door on houses of worship to prevent real or imagined tax-base erosion. Others listen too closely to the NIMBY fears of activist neighbors who, oddly enough, think houses of worship make bad neighbors. And finally, as hard experience has shown, cities and townships at times use zoning laws as a cover for outright religious bigotry.

As a result, religious expression has slowly been banished and ghettoized; sometimes through supposedly "general" laws, sometimes through impenetrable red tape or impossible conditions, and sometimes by arbitrarily denying permits to the "wrong type" of church or religion. Houses of worship are routinely banished to the far corners of municipalities by being categorized as "inconsistent with the character" of residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural zones in turn (are there any places left?).

Not to be outdone, some municipalities actually amend their zoning laws in direct response to permit applications by religious groups. These religious gerrymanders leave congregations with literally no place to go. Recognizing these threats to religious liberty, the United States Congress unanimously passed RLUIPA in 2000. RLUIPA is robust. It prevents municipalities from discriminating against or "substantially burdening" sincere religious exercise without a compelling reason and, with the help of the courts, is providing a potent counterweight to the discretionary power of local zoning officials.

Jacoby on Education

Jeff Jacoby's article in Jewish World Review highlights an issue that is in danger of being overlooked in all the furor over the war on terror.

Of the roughly 50 million children enrolled in American grade schools, all but about 5 million attend government-run public schools. Of those 5 million, approximately 800,000 attend secular private schools. That leaves just 4.2 million who attend the nation's religious schools — only one American child in 12.

That isn't much, particularly for a country in which more than 60 percent of adults say that religion is very important in their lives. The United States is by far the most religious of the world's industrial democracies. Yet the vast majority of American parents would no more think of sending their children to a parochial school than they would of sending them to an orphanage.

Two Americans who aim to change that attitude are T.C. Pinckney, a retired Air Force brigadier general, and Houston attorney Bruce Shortt. Lay leaders in the Baptist church, they have drafted a resolution — which they hope to bring before the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis next month — urging the denomination's 16 million members to take their children out of public schools and either homeschool them or send them to parochial schools. Their argument is straightforward: Christian parents owe their children a Christian education, not the relentlessly secular and often anti-religious instruction provided in public schools.

Frightening as the prospect of being blown up or gassed while going about our daily lives may be, the true threat to American society is not terrorism but our increasing cultural and spiritual illiteracy. We cannot hope to establish peace in the Middle East if our own value system is based on nothing more enduring than a secularized live-and-let-live tolerance and a gee-whiz fascination with technology and material prosperity. Teaching unbelievers to turn away from the easy dead-end path of revenge and walk the hard road of love and self-sacrifice will require that we ourselves understand that road and are prepared to walk it.

This is a challenge for generations and we must begin with our own all but bankrupt education system. Opposing gay marriage can wait and we cannot allow ourselves to get so caught up in the election cycle that we lose sight of the long-term goal. All of our current social problems are bound up with, if not directly caused by, the growing ignorance of and lack of interest in the robust truths of Christianity.

In the past two and a half years, I have heard no better prescription for winning the war on terror than that uttered in a moment of fury by the lovely but volatile Ann Coulter: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Our government has made a good start on the first point, and has had some success with the second. But the third point cannot be achieved by force of arms or by government activity of any kind. If Islamic culture is to be Christianized, it must be done by persuasion and example. And both are impossible without an educated and attractive Christian culture.

Saddam to be Handed Over to Iraq

This brief note from the AP (via Drudge):

The head of Iraq's war-crimes tribunal said Tuesday that the United States has pledged to hand over Saddam Hussein and about 100 other suspects to Iraqi authorities before July 1, when Iraq assumed sovereignty from its U.S. occupation.

Salem Chalabi told reporters that trials would begin early next year, and that judges would receive "files" on the suspects at the end of this year.

Chalabi is in Kuwait to collect evidence against the suspects.

I am not too thrilled with Chalabi's involvement in this story, but handing over Saddam and other war criminals should be a good symbolic vindication of American involvement in Iraq. This show of good faith on our part, along with the prosecution of those responsible for the Abu Ghraib abuse, may help to ease tensions at least among those who are open to being convinced.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Draft Conspiracy Theory

Much as I hate to disagree with the redoubtable Glenn Reynolds, I think there is an aspect of the draft controversy that he is ignoring:
Quoting James Dunnigan

Talk of reviving the military draft, to supply enough troops for the war on terror, is just that, talk. More accurately, it's clueless and opportunistic politicians fishing for headlines. But the draft "controversy" has become a popular media story in the last few months, even though the military says it has more volunteers than it needs and is even laying off people.

Glenn comments:
And note that there seem to be a lot of "clueless and opportunistic politicians fishing for headlines" these days. It's as if they don't know there's a war on. Or don't care.

I would venture to suggest a third choice to the "don't get it or don't care" alternative. Many people on the left are aware that the opposition to the Vietnam war evaporated at precisely the point that the draft was eliminated. Is it possible that many people who oppose the present war are hoping that reinstating the draft will energize the anti-war movement? That was, after all, a factor in the original proposal:
"One way to avoid a lot more wars to come is institute the draft," Mr. Hollings [author of Senate Bill 89] said. "You will find that this country will sober up, and its leadership, too."

Now, I am not big on conspiracy theories and it makes me feel a little dirty to always be imputing the worst motives to my oponents on the left. But it is difficult not to be suspicious of a group that takes every opportunity to make political capital out of every minor setback or misstep in the war on terror.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Abu Ghraib and Pornography

The Belmont Club links to an article by Donna Hughes in National Review that brings up the connection between the Prisoner Abuse photos and pornography:

    The images from Abu Ghraib are trophy pictures. The sadistic MPs are shown posing, smiling, and gloating over their victims and what they have made them do. Similarly, I found numerous offers on the Internet from pimps for men to bring cameras and video recorders with them to make trophy images and videos of their sexual use of women and girls.

    Why are we shocked by these images from Abu Ghraib, but when the victims are women (or gay men) the images are called pornography or "adult entertainment"? Why can we easily see the violations of human beings in one set of images, but miss it in others? What if the Iraqi men had been forced to smile, could we be convinced that there was a newly formed "publishing and film production" company in Baghdad instead of sexual abuse and humiliation being perpetrated?

I have actually thinking about this connection since the pictures first came out. There are many porn/fetish sites on the internet that would love to have acquired these photos before they became public domain. I am sure there are already sites trying to peddle "previously unrevealed" photos, whether legitimate or fake. And even pictures that don't specifically deal with sexual humiliation and abuse are often obtained from less than willing subjects. There is a kind of trophism even in "softcore" pornography.

The horror we feel at the exposure of US misbehavior is partly from a sense of betrayal (as noted in the Belmont Club post) and partly from sympathy with the victims of this outrage. But I think this reaction highlights the naivete of people who wink at even consensual sexual misconduct. Once we have cordoned off sexual behavior as existing in a private area, unsusceptible to public censure, it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish "freedom as long as no one is hurt" from "freedom to do what ever feels good".

I realize that I am making a sort of slippery slope argument here, which has fallen out of favor in recent years. But why do you suppose the perpetrators have claimed in their defense that there were insufficient guidlines in place? Could it be because standards have fallen so far that there is now no agreed upon presumption of moral behavior? No doubt I am overreacting, but the partisan glee with which some people have tried to make use of this scandal makes me doubt whether our culture currently agrees upon any fundamental truth.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Liars, Damn Liars and Journalists

Timothy Maier's article at FrontPage Magazine points out that Journalists rank just below auto mechanics in terms of ethics acording to a recent poll:

    For two decades polls increasingly have indicated public dismay at the spin and fantasies of the press. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll says Americans rate the trustworthiness of journalists at about the level of politicians and as only slightly more credible than used-car salesmen. The poll suggests that only 21 percent of Americans believe journalists have high ethical standards, ranking them below auto mechanics but tied with members of Congress. More precisely, the poll notes that only one in four people believe what they read in the newspapers. Chicago Tribune Editor Charles M. Madigan may have put it best when he offered this advice: "If you are a journalist, you should probably just assume that you come across as a liar."

    A 2004 study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of Columbia University's storied Graduate School of Journalism, underscores Madigan's observation. "Since 1985, believability of the daily newspaper has fallen by a quarter, from 80 percent in 1985 to 59 percent in 2002," notes the study, which includes data gathered by the Pew Research Center to form its conclusions. The study also points out that there has been a rapid decline in newspaper readership since the 1980s, with slightly more than half of Americans (54 percent) reading a newspaper during the week.

    "The three television network news divisions and local news also saw significant drops from 1985, when they were all above 80 percent for believability," the study reveals. A 1999 survey conducted for the American Society of Newspaper Editors also points out that about 53 percent of the public view the press as out of touch with mainstream America, while 78 percent think journalists pay more attention to the interests of their editors than their readers.

My favorite part of the piece is about two-thirds of the way down:
    "For me, I think it's editorial leadership," says Adam Penenberg, the former Forbes Digital Tool reporter who helped expose Glass. Author of Tragic Indifference: One Man's Battle With the Auto Industry Over the Dangers of SUVS, he says that even "when I worked at Forbes, no one ever gave me a piece of paper to sign about ethics." Penenberg believes an ethics guideline on the dos and don'ts - such as not altering quotes, avoiding use of anonymous sources, not holding positions that could be considered a conflict of interest for a reporter, and not owning or purchasing stock before or after writing about a company - would clear up a lot of gray areas between reporters and editors. Creating an ethics standard of the sort that Fortune 500 companies require of their employees would "put the fear of God" into reporters, he says.

Uh huh. These people are adults, right? Souldn't they already know this stuff without an editor having to spell it out for them? Maybe if they already had a little "fear of God", it might make a difference.

Did the Fallujah Gambit Work?

The Christian Science Monitor reports that civility has returned to Fallujah:

    The eyes of Abbas Aswad shine, as a US Marine lawyer counts out 16 crisp $50 bills, and places them in his hands. The money is compensation to the Mukhtar village, to fix several fragile water lines broken hours earlier by marines, as they set up positions at the nearby Fallujah railway station.
    As this Iraqi front line quiets down - there hasn't been any shooting in Fallujah in days - the payout is part of a concerted American strategy to shift away from war, and to resume the campaign to win hearts and minds. Indeed, perceptions that Iraq is a nation spiraling out of US control began to change this week. Thursday, the US ratcheted up pressure on radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, by seizing the governor's office from his fighters in Najaf. Moderate Shiites and tribal leaders have put forward plans to persuade Mr. Sadr to turn himself in.


    Compensation is not the only means US forces use to connect with Iraqis. An older Iraqi woman living in a trailer hovel adjacent to the rail station says she was beaten by insurgents several weeks ago - accused of being a collaborator - and kicked in the stomach.

    US servicemen evacuated Farha Abed Saad for medical treatment after dark, when her pain became unbearable. "Thank God, you have come here to Iraq and make us free," said Ms. Saad, kissing a soldier's hands. "When I see you, I see my own sons! Thank you, thank you."

Like many conservatives -- and, I think the majority of soldiers with boots on the ground -- I was disappointed at the withdrawal from Fallujah on what seemed the eve of victory. As I posted below, this situation was incredibly confusing and I could only hope that we handled it correctly. Well, the above article seems to suggest that, at least for the short term, the results are positive. I am willing to give the coalition the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, having let the insurgents escape can set a bad precedent and may come back to haunt the fledgling democracy in Iraq over the long term. But ultimately the US needs to turn over control to the Iraqi government so that we can turn our attention elsewhere in the Warr on Terror. I am still not fully comfortable with the situation in Iraq, but we must remember that sometimes there are no easy choices. It seems that the situation is coming back into some semblance of control, which is probably the best we can hope for at this point.

Captian's Quarters Caption Contest

Captain Ed is hosting a contest to caption a picture of John Kerry riding his infamous color-coordinated bike. Personally, I won't be participating because this is actually one of Kerry's less goofy pictures. For once he looks almost human -- more like Gomer Pyle than Lurch from the Addams family.

But the real treat will be that there will be a mystery guest judge. Really? I'm jiggered! I wonder who she could be...

(Actually, as you may have guessed, I think I know who it is. But I have no intention of spoiling the surprise.)

UPDATE: Yep. The mystery guest is Whiskey. She actually told me in an email Thursday, so it wasn't any kind of clever deduction on my part. Welcome back to the blogosphere!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

All About Oil

Looks like Irael has struck it, this time. Two billion barrels or about a 2-year supply.

Was This an Apology?

The AP reports:

    President Bush apologized Thursday for the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, saying the scenes of mistreatment had made Americans "sick to our stomachs."

    A day after he stopped short of apologizing, Bush told Jordan's King Abdullah II: "I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families.

    "I told him I was as equally sorry that people seeing those pictures didn't understand the true nature and heart of America," Bush said, standing in the Rose Garden alongside Abdullah.

This is a good start, but any apology needs to be made to the Iraqi's themselves, preferably in Iraq. And that last sentence makes the word "sorry" sound equivocal. More like an expression of regret than an actual apology.

Still, the message seems to have had a positive effect on King Abdullah.
    For his part, the king said, "We're all horrified by the images" of torture and abuse.

    He said he was confident that American investigations would find the guilty parties. The abuse by some soldiers "doesn't reflect the morals and values" of the United States, Abdullah said.

If other Arab leaders take their cue from the King of Jordan, this may have a largely salutary effect. But that seems a mighty big "if".

In saying he was sorry and promising to bring those responsible to justice, this statement seems to meet at least some of the suggestions made by Andrew Sullivan yesterday.
    He should show true responsibility and remorse, which I have no doubt he feels. I can think of no better way than to go to Abu Ghraib itself, to witness the place where these abuses occurred and swear that the culprits will be punished and that it will not happen again. It would be a huge gesture.

Counting the Unchurched

WorldNetDaily reports on a study which indicates that the number of people who have not gone to church within the last six months has increased dramatically over the previous 13 years:

    Despite a 15 percent rise in the U.S. population, a new survey shows the number of Americans who don't go to church has nearly doubled in the past 13 years, rising from 39 million to 75 million.

More disturbing to me is the following statistic:
    On a surprising note, while about half of the churched population has accepted Jesus as their savior, one of every six unchurched adults (17 percent) has done so as well.

    Interestingly, says the report, if the minority of unchurched adults who are born again were connected to a church, the resulting increase would be nearly 13 million new people – more than have joined the nation's churches in the past decade combined.

Is it possible that half of the people who go to church don't believe that Jesus is their savior? And 13 million who do believe don't go to church? This reinforces in my mind the perception that American Christianity has become dangerously secularized.

CUANAS makes a similar observation, but in the context of multi-culturalism:
    The only people who will remember their history in such a society are religious people, primarily Jews and Muslims, with a few of the more educated Christians thrown into the mix. Religious people will remember their history because they share a collective myth by which to measure themselves in the world. Of course, the power of the myth is made even stronger when it is in written down and it's dispensation is ritualized, as it is with Judaism and Islam.

    (Side note: Christianity's myth is, of course, written down. However, Christianity suffers from the problem that it's only alive and growing branch, the Evangelical branch, is not formally ritualized in it's dispensation of the tradition.)

Blogging for Freedom in Sudan

Jane at Armies of Liberation has issued a call to support the anti-slavery movement. From her blogroll:

    Join the blogsphere uprising in support of the Sudanese victims of kidnapping, slavery, torture. Nearly a million civilians have been driven from their homes as monsoon season approaches. Both aid and monitors have been blocked. Thousands of children seperated from their parents lay dying in the desert tonight.

I have had a link to iAbolish since the advent of this site, but I hereby add and to the list. As well as Armies of Liberation, of course.

I found Jane's site via here comments on the baldilocks post I linked to below. She links to a particular letter crusade by iAbolish that allows you to send a pre-written letter to US and international leaders. (I get these via email, so it never occured to me that they could be linked to externally.) If you have not done so yet, please check out that link.

Letter from US Soldier Condemns Iraqi Prison Abuse

Via Amy Ridenour:

    Everyone is so angry. I mean, angry! It is as if those soldiers hurt us more than the enemies here in Iraq have. I don't think that if that RPG last week had hit and killed us in my hummwv, there would have been any of the damage done to our cause here that those soldiers have done. I remember when I worked for the University of Minnesota Police Department that when one police officer acted wrong and was captured on camera, anywhere in the U.S., it was as if all police everywhere were made the bad guys, blamed and hurt. Now I'm feeling that here.


    As you know, we have done raids and captured some of the top terrorists in Baghdad over the past months. My sister has some dramatic pictures of at least one raid. In all of those, we handled the enemy w/ respect. Our big bosses always pressed us on the Geneva Convention rules before raids, and we have taken many classes on ROEs (rules of engagement) and on the proper treatment of prisoners. There are rosters w/ all our names on them for these classes because dealing w/ prisoners is major concern of our leadership.

    My battalion has caught car bombers, weapons' smugglers, and those laying IEDs to kill us. We've even captured in raids those who fired mortars at our base on Baghdad Island. And EVERY TIME, we treated them w/ respect and took care to give them full medical treatment, food and clothing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Bras and Medals

Taking a cue from Hindrocket, I wandered over to Gabrielle Reilly's page. Far be it from me to feign surprise that a pretty woman is also smart, but... well, she is pretty smart. And therefore, of course, conservative. Just to prove that I really did read the articles, here is an excerpt from her take on Kerry's MedalGate:

    I hate all the media sensationalism about this issue, but I have to say the lack of integrity in throwing someone else’s medals REALLY bothers me. I know if I ever went to a women’s movement protest (which I wouldn’t, because I’m proud of being a woman), I absolutely, in good conscience, could not burn someone else’s Limited Edition, Victoria’s Secret bras. In good faith I could only burn my own bra or not burn a bra at all. At any age, or any era, I know in my heart of hearts that someone else’s Limited Edition Victoria’s Secret bra should be respected with great reverence. It would be a grave character flaw to disrespect that as Senator John Kerry disrespectfully threw someone else's medals.

Whiskey Tango Uniform

Evidently, JAG Wire has left the blogosphere. I don't have any further information except that I emailed Whiskey last week enquiring about possible problems and she hasn't gotten back to me. Hope this is a temporary problem.

I have removed JagWire from the blogroll. Will put it back if the site comes back online, or if I find out where she has moved.

UPDATE: It occurs to me, on reflection, that the title of this post could have an ungentlemanly connotation if interpreted literally. Obviously, that was not any part of my intention. It should have said "JAG Wire Tango Uniform", but that is not nearly as clever. If you do not know what I am talking about, you should read more Tom Clancy novels.

UPDATE: Captain's Quarters has a bit more information on the mysterious disappearance:

    I've received e-mail regarding the sudden disappearance of JAG Wire, a fresh new blog by Whiskey, an active-duty officer serving overseas for her country. I can tell you that Whiskey herself is just fine and that she will soon be back to blogging, although under different circumstances, probably in a week or so. I will post an announcement as soon as she's okayed it.

Cagey on Fallujah

I have not had much to say regarding the military handling of the situation in Fallujah except indirectly in my comments last week about re-baathification. The fact is I have no idea what to think of all this and would rather let more knowledgeable people hash it out. I have been quietly hoping that the Belmont Club was right and Andrew Sullivan was wrong. (In fairness, I should point out that Sullivan is probably hoping the same thing.) The one issue that seemed right about the US's handling of the situation was getting the Iraqi's actively involved, which I prescribed back when the fighting started. But even that seemed to be mishandled by putting an evidently unreconstructed Baathist in charge.

Well, at least we corrected that little goof, and today Instapundit has a roundup of what seems to be overall good news. Money quote:

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Tom Maguire notes that the U.S. move to appoint a former Ba'athist in Fallujah is what brought the Shi'ites into line. Are we that smart? he asks. . . . ("All we were saying was, give peace a chance. And it looks like giving one of Saddam's henchmen a chance to deliver the peace was enough to bring these folks back to the table.") My goodness, I hope so.

I have nothing further to say, and I am saying it.

UPDATE: Well maybe one more thing. In researching this post, I discovered that Glenn had linked to my comments on the prisoner scandal in an update here. Does that guy ever sleep? Thanks, Glenn.

Ignoring Sudan (Again)

Another local paper asks "Are the media missing yet another genocide?" This time it is the Houston Chronicle.

    The international media don't send reporters to cover genocides, it seems. They cover genocide anniversaries.

    We've just finished a spate of front-page stories, television docu-histories and somber panel discussions on "Why the Media Missed the Story" in Rwanda, pegged to the 10th anniversary of one of the most shocking tragedies of last century, or any century. More than 500,000 people were killed in a small African country in only 100 days, and the world turned away.

    But even as the ink was drying on the latest round of mea culpas, another colossal disaster in Africa was already going unreported.

    Nearly a million people have been displaced from their homes in western Sudan; many have fled into neighboring Chad. They say militias working with the Sudanese government have been attacking villages, ransacking and torching homes, killing and raping civilians. These armed forces are supposedly cracking down on rebel groups based in the Darfur region, but in fact they are targeting the population.

I commend Carroll Bogert for attempting to bring this issue to the table, but she is by no means the first to note the resounding silence it has received. In its October 16, 1999 issue, World Magazine had this to say about international recognition of the crisis:
    Trouble in independent Sudan began in 1983, when the government amended the country's constitution in favor of Islamic law. This meant the ruling Arab north could attempt to enforce the Muslim Sharia code on the entire country. Civil war has ensued, with southern insurgents, known as the Sudan People's Liberation Army, fighting the north to a stalemate, in spite of the government's superior military might and air power. The war is one of attrition, however, and observers say it has become one of the ugliest-and most ignored-this century. More than 1.9 million civilians have died, and 4 million have been displaced or carried off into slavery. Sudan's forces have also specifically targeted Christian sites, bombing churches, Christian hospitals, and those involved in church relief efforts.

    Despite the tragic numbers, few countries have taken a stand against the Sudanese government, and it retains full credentials in the United Nations. Activists in the United States saw how quickly attention was mobilized on Kosovo, a conflict of actually smaller proportions, and have since increased their decibels. "Sudan is absolutely the worst humanitarian situation in the entire world," said Roger Winter, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, during airstrikes against Kosovo and the subsequent refugee crisis.

Sadly, and reinforcing Ms. Bogert's point, World is one of the few voices in the media that has consistently been speaking up about Sudan. And with a circulation of about 135,000 they are a fraction of that enjoyed by Time and Newsweek, and not quite as large as National Review.

UPDATE: And it gets worse... (Via Instapundit)

UPDATE: Pastorius at CUANAS links to a related article from the Boston Globe. He also has several related posts about the growing Jihad in Africa, including a link to my post below regarding Nigeria.

Colin Powell not up for another 4 Years?

An article by Wil S. Hylton in GQ purports to show that Colin Powell is tired of working within the Bush administration and will not be continuing as Secratary of State, should Bush be reelected. NewsMax also covers the story here.

Both articles don't amount to much more than second-hand rumors, especially since Mr. Powell's only comment on the issue (from the GQ article) is, "I never speculate on that." This occurs about 3/4 of the way into the article and is not followed up with any other, even indirect, comments by the Secretary. The article concludes with the following exchange with Powell's Chief of Staff, Larry Wilkerson:

    The more I spoke with Wilkerson, the more I understood why Powell's staff had gone to such lengths to set up my interview with him, reminding me that anything Wilkerson said was the same as hearing it from Powell. But if Wilkerson was going to be Powell's voice, if he was going to say the things that Powell wouldn't or couldn't, there was one question I still needed him to answer. Before I left, I wanted a sense of Powell's plans for the future. I was wary of how to phrase the question, though. It seemed safe to assume that Wilkerson had not been dispatched to announce the end of Powell's career in this article, at this particular moment, and if I asked him outright whether or not Powell was planning to quit, I could put him on the spot. He might wind up saying, as Powell did, "I never speculate on that" or "He hasn't announced a decision." So I phrased the question differently.

    "Being inside the building," I said, "is there as much expectation that this will be the end of Powell's tenure as there is outside the building?"

    Eight long seconds of silence.

    "Um," Wilkerson said, "I've known him for fifteen years...."

    I nodded.

    "My considered opinion is that he is..." His voice trailed off. "He's tired. Mentally and physically. And if the president were to ask him to stay on—if the president is reelected and the president were to ask him to stay on, he might for a transitional period, but I don't think he'd want to do another four years."

    Wilkerson fell silent again.

    "He seems tired," he said.

The majority of the GQ piece is devoted to attacks on the Bush administration for its alleged orchestration of a "show of solidarity [... that] must rank among the greatest pieces of performance art in the last half century." Hylton plays up the tension between State Department and Department of Defense. To be fair, Hylton makes some good points about the history of this tension and National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice's refusal to acknowledge it. But he utterly fails to document his suggestion that this issue is causing Powell to rethink his future plans.

One interesting point, not related to Powell's status, is the following observation about the role of US diplomacy in world affairs:
    He started with a long, wandering meditation on chicken exports to Russia and slid from there into a glowing assessment of America's role in the world, saying, "We're trusted not to want anybody's land, not to want to exercise dominion over any other peoples," and then without pause dived into a story about "this little stupid island that I had to deal with about a year and a half ago, off the coast of Morocco, which is as big as two soccer fields. Nobody lives on it. And for some reason, the Moroccans went aboard and claimed dominion over the island—not even an island, it's a rock. It's 200 yards off the Moroccan coast. It belongs to Spain."

    "Why would they want it?" I asked.

    Powell winked. "Because it belonged to Spain, and it's 200 yards off the Moroccan coast. And they've been arguing about it for a couple hundred years. Next thing we knew, it was an international crisis. The European Union immediately said, 'Spain is right,' and the Organization of Islamic Conference—the fifty or so Muslim nations in the world—said, 'No, Morocco's right.' So there you have it. Well, what are you going to do? Take it to the U.N.? No. What are we going to do?" He paused for effect. "Call the U.S. secretary of state on a Thursday night. [Emphasis mine]

Later, Dr. Rice concurs (with apparently more nefarious motives, according to Hylton's editorializing):

    "There is no issue that people honestly believe is not an American problem, and I would say 90 percent of those end up on Colin's desk. And so he will find himself resolving small issues, border issues between small countries that most of us can barely find on a map."

This suggests to me that the notion of an Imperial America is something of a de-facto reality in international circles. But the interesting thing is that it is not the US that is demanding this role, but the international community that is expecting it.

UPDATE: Perhaps this is what Powell is so "tired" about?