Saturday, February 25, 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

Is this really surprising?

Day-Timers, the outfit that makes the archetypal personal planner books, has conducted a survey of how much people think they're accomplishing on-the-job:
Sixty percent of workers say they always or frequently feel rushed, but those who feel extremely or very productive dropped to 51 percent from 83 percent in 1994, the research showed.

Put another way, in 1994, 82 percent said they accomplished at least half their daily planned work but that number fell to 50 percent last year. A decade ago, 40 percent of workers called themselves very or extremely successful, but that number fell to just 28 percent.

"We think we're faster, smarter, better with all this technology at our side and in the end, we still feel rushed and our feeling of productivity is down," said Maria Woytek, marketing communications manager for Day-Timers, a unit of ACCO Brands Corp.

But is this surprising? Using the standard measure, current year's sales-to-expense ratio vs. the previous year's sales-to-expense ratio, American productivity has accelerated in recent years. According to the Economic Policy Institute, productivity grew an average of 2.5% annually between 1995 and 2000 -- which was about one percentage point faster than in the previous 20 years. Between 2001 and 2004 productivity grew by 4.1% annually.

We're suffering a new form of malaise from being so darn productive on paper but we feel that we're spinning our wheels. Looks like an opportunity for an all-new round of self-help books.

Recent commentary: the Dubai Ports World deal

Should our nation's ports be controlled or owned by foreign interests?

(published 27-Feb-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

First off, that’s like asking whether our nation’s highways should be populated with foreign-made cars. Name a U.S. company that does this kind of work any more. Second, isn’t it odd that the same people who said that terrorism is a “nuisance” now appear to believe Arabs capable of terrorism? Third, what’s curious is that President Bush threatened to veto any legislation blocking the transfer from P & O to Dubai Ports World. He hasn’t vetoed a single bill in five years. Why is his back up now? Might he have his eye on a base of operations for a possible Iran incursion? Finally, do you seriously think that the UAE wants to be attacked? Besides, there aren’t enough virgins to go around in the Islamic heaven to minister to the millions of emirs incinerated in the blast from the atomic weapons of their customers if a U.S. port is destroyed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

'Security Feel Better' vs. birth control

Security Feel Better is a new product made in la belle France. The makers claim that it
stops hangovers and makes alcohol disappear from the blood system up to six times faster than usual.

A French court has ruled that the product may be sold legally so long as its advertisements mention nothing about its effect on blood alcohol levels.

Security Feel Better – love that name, don't you? It's got kind of a new age, poor-Japanese-translation thing going for it – has begun to stir up controversy as you might expect:
its publicity material is already being interpreted in France as implying that it allows drivers to get behind the wheel without fear.

Here's where I think the comparison to birth control comes into play. If a boy and a girl make with the grunting and the moaning then the odds of a baby being born are, shall we say, greater than if there'd been no g-and-m. If a person imbibes a substantial amount of alcohol and gets behind the wheel of a car then the odds of an accident are greater than if he didn't drive. (The parallel erodes somewhat here because accidents also happen to people that haven't had a thing to drink, whereas there's really only one way to make a baby. Full disclosure and all.)

If, however, the boy and the girl use birth control during their g-and-m'ing then they reduce the odds of making a baby. If the drinker has a slug of Security Feel Better before attempting to drive home then the odds of his having an accident on the way are reduced.

Therefore birth control reduces the risk of pregnancy and Security Feel Better reduces the risk of alcohol-related accidents. That's good, isn't it? Apparently some don't think so:
In Britain, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said it had severe concerns about any product that led people to think they could drink and drive, whether or not it was marketed as such.

This will be seen as blocking progress.

It all reminds me of the society in Huxley's Brave New World.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rename the 'Read the Bills Act'?

My letter to the editor of the Post-Crescent described the Read the Bills Act backed by In a blog entry on that site is this commentary:
Maybe we should change it to the Read the Same Bills Act

The Associated Press reports that President Bush signed into law a Medicaid bill that the House didn't actually pass:

"At issue is a provision involving the period of time the government pays to rent some types of durable medical equipment before medical suppliers transfer it to Medicare patients.

"The Senate voted for 13 months, as intended by Senate and House negotiators, but a Senate clerk erroneously put down 36 months in sending the bill back to the House for a final vote, and that's what the House approved Feb. 1.

"By the time the bill was shipped to Bush, the number was back to 13 months as passed by the Senate but not the House."

To be fair, this is a technical error and it appears that 13 months is the intent of both houses of Congress. But the fact is, the House did not pass it as such. Two points stand out:

1. If Congress was subject to the Read the Bills Act, the House negotiators would have noticed the clerical error and corrected it.

2. This law is invalid, because the Constitution requires that the House and Senate pass the same, exactly identical bill for it to become law. Thankfully, as the AP story reports, an Alabama attorney, Jim Zeigler, is filing a suit charging its unconstitutionality.

But what is the reaction of Congress and the White House?

"The White House and House and Senate GOP leaders say the matter is settled because the mistake was technical and that top House and Senate leaders certified the bill before transmitting it to the White House."

Why won't they correct the error? Because the bill passed by the narrowest of margins: 216-214. If the corrected bill was put to a vote, it might not pass.

This is not a trivial issue. It's bad enough that members of Congress often do not know what they vote for. But here is an instance where the President signs into law a bill that Congress didn't even pass. If this isn't corrected, then the government will be rewarded for its own sloppiness and incompetence. And that's just a small step from something far worse. Today's "error" will become tomorrow's deliberate fraud.

This should be stopped in its tracks. Hopefully the federal courts will strike this phony "law" down and force Congress to pass the same bill. It's disappointing, though not surprising, that Congress refuses to fix this on its own.

Letter to the Editor: Read the Bills Act

Published February 19, 2006
Appleton Post-Crescent

Mandatory bill reading would help in Capitol

To: The Editor,

Much has been written about the problems we have with our Congresscritters in Washington. The usual litany of complaints about low-down, two-faced politicians and lots of stuff about kowtowing to special interests, taking graft from big-time lobbyists (Jack Abramoff, anyone?) and hyper-political correctness.

What's missing is even a hint at a solution. But now there's a new approach advocated by that just might work. It's called the "Read the Bills Act" (RTBA).

Under the provisions of the RTBA, every one of our elected representatives would be required to attend sessions where new bills are read to them in all of their mind-numbing entirety.

The point being, so few bills in Congress are actually read by our representatives and senators.

They get summaries from their staffs. There may be public hearings for some bills, but those are simply face time in front of the cameras for our Washington stars.

If the RTBA actually came to a vote, imagine the dilemma your congressman would face. He simply couldn't admit publicly that he doesn't know what he's voting on.

A "no" vote on the RTBA would be like saying, "I think it's unconscionable for me to be required to know what I'm voting on. That's why I've got all these interns, to read the bills for me!"

Now imagine what it would be like if the RTBA were passed. Enormous omnibus spending bills would be history. Who in his right mind would sit through the reading of 1,000-plus pages by even the most exciting reader?

And if we, the lowly voters, got wind of bills containing subsidies, price supports, earmarks and special-interest sweetheart clauses, it's a lot less likely that they'd be passed. Maybe then we would really no longer have "legislation without representation."

The greatest actor in the world...

...(except for Gary Johnston*) has written a thoughtful commentary on the tragic shooting accident involving Vice President Cheney:
Will they go to court? I would imagine if a guy with a few beers in him shoots you in the face on a hunting trip, how could you turn down that opportunity?

Some day I'd love to see an interview of Baldwin in which the interviewer starts out calling him "Mr. Baldwin." Baldwin says, "You can call me Alec," and the interviewer continues with, "Aw right, Arrec."

* The marionette star of Team America: World Police.

If you can't afford a Bugatti...

...then how about riding a rocket into space? Space Adventures, the only operating space travel agency, plans to build a space port in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It will offer the most spectacular "rides" in the world: a jet plane-assisted rocket ride 60 miles above the surface of the earth:
The company said it had already received clearance from the UAE authorities to operate suborbital spaceflights in their air space.

"The close proximity to Dubai, one of the worlds leading luxury tourist destinations, makes (Ras Al-Khaimah) a choice location for spaceflight operations," said Space Adventures president and CEO, Eric Anderson.

"Suborbital flights will offer millions of people the opportunity to experience the greatest adventure available, space travel," Anderson said.

Currently the only operating space tourism agency, Space Adventures first made its name by sending US millionaire Dennis Tito into space in 2001.

Apparently the new space port is budgeted at $250 million. I wonder where the money's coming from? Space Adventures got $20 million from Greg Olson last year to spend eight days aboard the International Space Station; the only others have been just Tito and a South African man who have taken rides into space. The sub-orbital rides are going to cost $100,000 each. How are they going to make any money?

Don't get me wrong, I love the whole idea. It has a flavor of Robert Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon" to it. But a quarter of a billion dollars? Maybe they'll charge admission to watch the launches. But the rockets are going to be dropped from jet planes, so the "take off" won't be visible. And everybody's seen a jet plane take off.

A theme park, perhaps? T-shirts? Maybe they'll form a film company to make blockbuster science fiction movies. Beats me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Consensus is not science

I have had occasion to remark that Jerry Pournelle says some very sensible things on anthropogenic global warming. Michael Crichton, too, has reasonable things to say. The same cannot be said, I'm afraid, for the editors of Scientific American.

In response to a letter written by the editor-in-chief of Scientific American, Pournelle has written one of the clearest expositions I've seen yet on why we should not begin immediately to enact the Kyoto protocol recommendations:
...assume that we put the money into reducing CO2 and it turns out the earth isn't warming; we will merely have wasted the money. But suppose it turns out that global warming is real, but it is caused by solar output. We will have spent a great deal of money, but not on ameliorating the effects of global warming: instead it will have been spent on crippling the economies that might generate the funds needed for a crash program to save lives as the Earth warms.

Tampering with the industrial sinews of the world will have real consequences. It may need to be done, but make no mistake, it will be costly. (Unless you believe that command economies are more efficient than markets; I presume that particular economic canard has been laid to rest?)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My new favorite car

Holy cow! 1,001 hp, 0-60 mph in 2.5 sec., 0-250 mph in under a minute, 250-0 mph in 10 seconds with no hands! At top speed the fuel tank will drain in 12 minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4!

A funny juxtaposition, that's all

On the Drudge Report today was this interesting headline and this interesting picture of Mrs. Clinton.

Yes, it's puerile and beneath my normal standards. Stipulated.

Victim disarmament

Dr. Mary Ruwart, PhD, writes very clearly with a libertarian view of the issues. She wrote yesterday in the latest issue of 'Liberator Online' about how libertarians view gun control. She explained it in her typically lucid way like this:
Firearms, like fists, can be used for offense or defense. Libertarians would not advocate cutting off a person's access to firearms any more than they would advocate cutting off a person's hands to prevent a brawl.

Most people who advocate gun control do so because they believe it lowers the crime rate. In fact, just the opposite is true. Violent crime (rape, robbery, and homicide) decrease dramatically when states pass laws that permit peaceful citizens to carry concealed weapons. In Orlando, when the police publicized a program to train women in the use of firearms, crime dropped almost 90% without a single woman ever firing a shot! Criminals are looking for an easy mark and avoid "victims" who might be armed. Anyone who doubts this might wish to put a sign on their front lawn saying "This house is a gun-free zone" to experience the consequences firsthand.

Gun control is actually "victim disarmament." It exposes the weakest among us -- women, children, and the elderly -- to greater risk of attack. It denies us the ability to defend ourselves against those who would harm us. Since the courts have ruled that the police have no obligation to protect an individual citizen from attack, we have no legal recourse if they fail to do so. Acting in self-defense, armed citizens kill more criminals each year than police do, yet shoot only one-tenth as many innocent people by mistake. Clearly, armed citizens act as responsibly (if not more so) than trained law enforcers.

Libertarians believe that everyone has the right to self-defense. Our founders did too, which is why they passed the Second Amendment. Consequently, libertarians do not support the victim-disarmament laws collectively known as "gun control."

Why even mention it?

The famous shooting, that is. All I can see is that the news media nabobs are in a major snit about it and that they sure sound like they hope Whittington will die. As Limbaugh said, I'd rather go hunting with the Vice President than riding over a bridge with the senior Senator from Massachussetts.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

From a while back but on-target today

Adam Thierrer of the Cato Institute wrote this in July of '02. It's a warning about the potential for each country in the world to impose censorship on the Internet. This anecdote was particularly interesting:
The most prominent example of such international mischief so far has been the efforts by the French courts to force the American-based web portal company Yahoo! to remove, or at least block from the view of French citizens, those portions of its website where Nazi memorabilia was for sale. Although a lower district court in California held last November that the French ruling could not be extraterritorially enforced here in America, former Yahoo! CEO Timothy Koogle, who resides in the United States, could still be convicted, fined $40,000, and face up to five years in prison if he ever sets foot in France in the future. Declining to dismiss the charges against Koogle and Yahoo! the Paris Criminal Court held in February 2002 that the case could go forward and noted that "the French judge is free to adopt his own principles of international criminal jurisdiction to sanction offenses that are completely or partially committed abroad and are likely to threaten national interests" to the extent that "the website's message or contents are made accessible, through the Internet, within French territory."

Under that standard, anything posted anywhere else in the world that was potentially offensive to French "national interests" might be subject to regulation or even criminal penalties by French officials. If such parochial speech controls were enforceable across the globe, "content providers would have no practical choice but to restrict their speech to the lowest common denominator in order to avoid potentially crushing liability," argues Corn-Revere.

This makes the noise over Google and Yahoo censorship in China more understandable.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My kind of guy!

Justice Antonin Scalia is a barn burner of a Supreme Court Justice. In Puerto Rico Scalia delivered a speech opposing the idea of a "living" Constitution. Yes! The story appeared here (quick survey required for access). Here's the full story:
Scalia dismisses 'living Constitution'
2/14/2006, 3:13 p.m. CT
The Associated Press

PONCE, Puerto Rico (AP) — People who believe the Constitution would break if it didn't change with society are "idiots," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says.

In a speech Monday sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society, Scalia defended his long-held belief in sticking to the plain text of the Constitution "as it was originally written and intended."

"Scalia does have a philosophy, it's called originalism," he said. "That's what prevents him from doing the things he would like to do," he told more than 100 politicians and lawyers from this U.S. island territory.

According to his judicial philosophy, he said, there can be no room for personal, political or religious beliefs.

Scalia criticized those who believe in what he called the "living Constitution."

"That's the argument of flexibility and it goes something like this: The Constitution is over 200 years old and societies change. It has to change with society, like a living organism, or it will become brittle and break."

"But you would have to be an idiot to believe that," Scalia said. "The Constitution is not a living organism, it is a legal document. It says something and doesn't say other things."

Proponents of the living constitution want matters to be decided "not by the people, but by the justices of the Supreme Court."

"They are not looking for legal flexibility, they are looking for rigidity, whether it's the right to abortion or the right to homosexual activity, they want that right to be embedded from coast to coast and to be unchangeable," he said.

Scalia was invited to Puerto Rico by the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. The organization was founded in 1982 as a debating society by students who believed professors at the top law schools were too liberal. Conservatives and libertarians mainly make up the 35,000 members.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Now, for an adult viewpoint

Patrick Buchanan is the only adult in the room. This column on the stupidity shown by defenders of a free press, and this one on the consequences of the cartoon war, jerked my attention back to what we're trying to accomplish in the Middle East. For someone who has supported the President in his war effort, I found myself blushing at some of the descriptions of Western reaction to the Muslim nations' outrage. I can chalk it up to my counter-culturalist background, but that doesn't excuse me.

Buchanan puts it this way:
All Muslims believe that to depict the face of the prophet or to ridicule him as Salman Rushdie did is a sacrilege. Why did that Danish newspaper do it? Why have conservatives rushed to show solidarity with the European editor-idiots who plastered these mocking cartoons all over Page 1?

"We believe in the First Amendment!" comes the blustery reply.

But just because the First Amendment may protect the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, or Larry Flynt to publish pornography, or Mapplethorpe to publish photos of himself with a bullwhip protruding from his rectum does not mean we stand in solidarity with Nazis, Larry Flynt or Robert Mapplethorpe – or does it?

Conservatives rage in rebuttal that Islamic nations tolerate cartoons, books, billboards and TV shows far more anti-Semitic and anti-Christian than these cartoons were anti-Islamic.

All of which is true, and none of which is relevant. For this is not a debate over double standards. It is a battle for the hearts and minds of Islamic peoples. And if we are to have any hope of winning that battle, we cannot condone insults to what they hold most sacred and dear: their faith.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Malkin on the difference between us and them

Not only does Michelle Malkin have pithy things to say about the Danish cartoon imbroglio, she also reminds us again about the differences between the West and the Muslim world. She reprints the following story from 2002:
215 Dead in Riots Sparked by Miss World
Sunday, November 24, 2002

LAGOS, Nigeria — The regional governor warned rioters would be shot on sight Sunday as hundreds of people fled the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna after four days of religious violence over the Miss World pageant killed 200 people.

The violence among Muslims and Christians began after a newspaper article last week said Islam's founding prophet would have chosen a Miss World contestant for a wife. The pageant was then moved to London and the contestants packed their gear and flew to the British capital.

By late Saturday, the Nigerian Red Cross counted 215 bodies on the streets and in mortuaries throughout Kaduna, 100 miles north of the capital Abuja, said Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the organization. Previous estimates said 100 people killed.

An unknown number of others killed in the riots were believed to have been buried by family members uncounted, Ijewere told The Associated Press.

No new violence was reported Sunday in Kaduna, a Muslim-dominated city with a large Christian minority. Still, hundreds of people recovered what valuables they could from their destroyed homes and fled in cars, buses and on foot.

Those who stayed attended church services and replenished food stocks at markets, where a few meat and vegetable stalls reopened.

The Kaduna governor, Ahmed Makarfi, told state radio that security forces would "shoot on sight" anyone inciting new violence.

Yakubu Ibrahim, 27, returned to find his home in ruins Sunday after taking refuge at a local army barracks for three days.

"I lost everything except my shirt and my pants. I don't even have shoes," said Ibrahim, whose parents and four siblings were missing after the riots.

The fighting began after the Lagos-based ThisDay newspaper published an article on Nov. 16 saying Islam's founding prophet would have approved of the pageant.

Free speech gets more costly

Another excellent article in City Journal, well worth your time, on the efforts of our Congresscritters to extend the provisions of McCain-Feingold to the Internet (emphasis mine):
Recognizing that McCain-Feingold is out of control, liberty-minded Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling introduced the Online Freedom of Speech Act (HR 1606) in the House last April. (Harry Reid has sponsored identical legislation in the Senate, showing that not all Democrats are lost on the issue.) The bill reinforces the Internet’s current regulation-free status by excluding blogs and various other Web communications from campaign-finance strictures. Brought to an expedited vote under special rules that required a two-thirds majority in early November, the bill—opposed strenuously by the campaign-finance reform “movement”—failed. “Today’s action marks a sad day for one of our nation’s most sacred rights: freedom of speech,” reflected House Speaker Dennis Hastert. “The last thing this Congress should be doing is trying to stifle public debate online.”

The House Democrats torpedoed HR 1606, but they had surprising help from about three dozen Republicans. Why did so many normally staunch opponents of campaign-finance speech restrictions shift camp? One possible explanation, perhaps cynical: it’s hard to unseat incumbents, given their advantages of name recognition, free media exposure, and an easier time raising donations. If they can make it harder for their rivals to speak, which campaign-finance rules help them to do, the challenger’s task gets harder still. (Notably, after Congress began campaign-finance restrictions in the seventies, incumbency rates began to rise.) Once in office, some Republicans may suddenly like McCain-Feingold’s power to shield them from criticism—including on the Web.

This is all a great argument for term limits, don't you think? I voted for Feingold primarily for his opposition to the Patriot Act. But it would do well to remember what he said right after McCain-Feingold was passed:
“It is only a beginning. It is a modest reform. . . . There will be other reforms.”

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I love stories like this XLI

You really have to wonder whether the public school administrators that, well, adminster and execute "zero tolerance" policies around the country ever have second thoughts; whether they ever consider stepping back and taking a larger perspective view of what they're about to do as prescribed by school policy.

Honor student, Michael Boone, has been suspended for a full year for trying to keep his sister out of trouble:
When his sister, Heavenly, realized she'd inadvertently brought a 2-inch pocketknife to school last week, they both knew she'd never get through the metal detector at Newburgh Free Academy. So Michael says he tried to help his sister out by stashing it under some bushes outside.

But a security guard spotted the 10th-grader ditching the knife. Next thing Michael knew, he was suspended for five days.

At a hearing earlier this week, it got worse: His suspension was continued for a full calendar year.

This paragraph of the story is interesting (emphasis mine):
The Newburgh School District issued a statement yesterday that, while not addressing Boone's case specifically, cited state and federal laws that require the district to suspend any student who brings a weapon to school. The district has a zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

James Taranto at had an interesting speculation about this:
The bit about federal laws requiring the suspension is especially amusing. We don't know if such a law actually exists or not, but wouldn't it be satisfying if the Boone kids sued and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, and Justice Sam Alito cast the deciding vote striking down this blatant act of congressional overreach?

I couldn't possibly buy one of these! Never!

This site is selling a t-shirt featuring one of the Mohammed cartoons that have so incensed the Islamic people and nations. Here's a story about it.

This is a handy timeline of events since the fateful publication of the cartoons. In developments around the world, cartoon fallout continues.

[And here is a fabulous site with an exhaustive study of graphic depictions of Mohammed throughout history, some of them by Muslims. As Jack Paar used to say, I kid you not!]

The admonitions by Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, are a tad galling:
"The West should treat Islam the way it wants Islam to treat the West and vice versa. They should accept one another as equals," he said.

Respect for other peoples' beliefs is a hallmark of good manners; however, the Western tradition includes freedom of speech. Our view is that we must tolerate those who speak intemperately in order to maintain that fundamental freedom.

Suggesting that Western nations should muzzle the press is about as bare-faced a slap at Western culture as there could be. Freedom is our faith. Seeing slogans like "Stop all anti-Islamic activities... Do not invite disaster," ain't going to make us think any better of Islam. Nope. Not one bit.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Have the Europeans flipped out?

From Victor Davis Hanson, a fine column on the re-awakening of Europe to the threats against it. An excerpt:
So is Europe now finally at the front or will they retreat Madrid-like in the face of the inevitable second round of terrorist bombings and threats to come?

Americans are not confident, but we should remember at least one simple fact: Europe is the embryo of the entire Western military tradition. The new European Union encompasses a population greater than the United States and spans a continent larger than our own territory. It has a greater gross domestic product than that of America and could, in theory, field military forces as disciplined and as well equipped as our own.

It is not the capability but the will power of the Europeans that has been missing in this war so far. But while pundits argue over whether the European demographic crisis, lack of faith, stalled economy, or multiculturalism are at the root of the continent’s impotence, we should never forget that if aroused and pushed, a rearmed and powerful Europe could still be at the side of the United States in joint efforts against the jihadists. And should we ever see a true alliance of such Western powers, the war against the fascists of the Middle East would be simply over in short order.

It's easier to be a Democrat

From the Drudge Report:
Tue Feb 07 2006 15:49:48 ET

Today's memorial service for civil rights activist Coretta Scott King -- billed as a "celebration" of her life -- turned suddenly political as one former president took a swipe at the current president, who was also lashed by an outspoken black pastor!

The outspoken Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ripped into President Bush during his short speech, ostensibly about the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.

"She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there," Lowery said.

The mostly black crowd applauded, then rose to its feet and cheered in a two-minute-long standing ovation.

A closed-circuit television in the mega-church outside Atlanta showed the president smiling uncomfortably.

"But Coretta knew, and we know," Lowery continued, "That there are weapons of misdirection right down here," he said, nodding his head toward the row of presidents past and present. "For war, billions more, but no more for the poor!" The crowd again cheered wildly.

Former President Jimmy Carter later swung at Bush as well, not once but twice. As he talked about the Kings, he said: "It was difficult for them then personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretaps." The crowd cheered as Bush, under fire for a secret wiretapping program he ordered after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, again smiled weakly.

Later, Carter said Hurricane Katrina showed that all are not yet equal in America. Some black leaders have blamed Bush for the poor federal response, and rapper Kayne West said that Bush "hates" black people.

As an added twist...

...turnabout is fair play, right? That's what the publisher of Iran's most popular newspaper, Hamshahri, said today. Here's the story:
IRAN'S largest selling newspaper announced today it was holding a contest on cartoons of the Holocaust in response to the publishing in European papers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

"It will be an international cartoon contest about the Holocaust," said Farid Mortazavi, the graphics editor for Hamshahri newspaper - which is published by Teheran's conservative municipality.

He said the plan was to turn the tables on the assertion that newspapers can print offensive material in the name of freedom of expression.

"The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons," he said.

Iran's fiercely anti-Israeli regime is supportive of so-called Holocaust revisionist historians, who maintain the systematic slaughter by the Nazis of mainland Europe's Jews as well as other groups during World War II has been either invented or exaggerated.

So European newspapers re-publish cartoons first printed in Danish newspapers and all Jahannum breaks loose. Now an Iranian newspaper dares those same European papers to publish Holocaust cartoons. I guess this is better than a war.

Jerry Pournelle has this to say about the cultural differences:
You may note that a great number of explicitly anti-Christian works including Peter Blume's Eternal City hang in the New York Museum of Modern Art, and have for decades, and we don't seem to be burning cars in the streets over that. Apparently we need some cultural diversity to teach us the appropriate way to behave when our prophets are blasphemed. Perhaps that will be taught in the diversity lessons in our public schools. How to burn flags, torch embassies, overturn cars and burn them: our youth needs to learn diversity and to learn that no culture is superior to any other. What better way than to learn how to imitate what is going on in Syria and Lebanon? Is this not what diversity is about?

And the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web Today has this observation:
What the Iranian newspaper's stunt should underscore is that the closest counterpart today to the Nazi Party is not those who mock the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. It is, rather, the radical Islamists who have used that mockery as a pretext for anti-Semitism and incitement of violence.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Wouldn't this just be ducky if a war started over this?

Several countries, including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, have withdrawn their ambassadors from Denmark. Danish embassies have been burned and Danish citizens have been injured in the rioting in Lebanon and Syria. The Syrians have gone one further, blaming the Danes for the riots:
Syria blamed Denmark for the protests, criticizing the Scandinavian nation for refusing to apologize for the caricatures of Islam's holiest figure.

"(Denmark's) government was able to avoid reaching this point ... simply through an apology" as requested by Arab and Muslim diplomats, state-run daily Al-Thawra said in an editorial Sunday.

Note how many Islamic nations have "state-run" media.

I mentioned war in the headline. I don't want to be alarmist, but why else do nations withdraw their ambassadors?

Victor Davis Hanson has something trenchant to say on the Middle East. Recommended.

Jordanian newspaper editors arrested

More on the Danish cartoon imbroglio: the editors of two Jordanian newspapers have been arrested because they allowed those cartoons to be published. The story contains this interesting sentence:
Any images of the Prophet are banned under Islamic tradition.

I could see such an arrest if there were, indeed, a law against it. But being arrested for breaking a tradition? Is that comparable to those of us in the United States saying "Happy Holidays" now instead of "Merry Christmas"?

The editors are named Jihad Momani and Hisham Khalidi. Mr. Momani published three of the cartoons next to an editorial. According to the story:
Mr Momani's paper, Shihan, had printed three of the cartoons, alongside an editorial questioning whether the angry reaction to them in the Muslim world was justified.

"Muslims of the world be reasonable," wrote Mr Momani.

Apparently they aren't.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I love stories like this XL

Well, my word! Another high school student in trouble for publishing something critical of his high school!

The ACLU has brought suit in federal court against the Hermitage, PA, school district on behalf of Justin Layshock, a 17-year-old senior at Hickory High School. Layshock was suspended for posting a parody of Eric W. Trosch, the school's principal, on Don't bother looking for it; it's been removed.

The school's list of grievances against young Layshock is long:
On Jan. 6, a hearing was held by the school to consider disciplinary action against Justin on charges of disrespect; harassment; gross misbehavior; obscene, vulgar and profane language; and for violating the school's computer policy for using a picture without permission.

At that hearing, the school gave Justin a 10-day, out-of-school suspension and ordered him to finish high school in the Alternative Education Program. He has been told he cannot go to any of his regular classes.

The administration also banned Justin from participating in any school events, including the French tutoring he did for middle school students and attending his own graduation in the spring.

"Is it offensive? Probably. Is it likely to make the principal feel bad? Probably," Justin's lawyer, Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said. "But it's done in his own home, and the school has no business, or no authority to punish the student for this."

Does anyone now doubt that our cultures are not equal?

This isn't the last straw; it's just another log on the fire. But at least it's easy to understand.

In Western cultures -- the ones, by the way, that abolished slavery and enshrined the principles of individual rights -- if an artist depicted, say, a Christian crucifix in a jar of urine or Osama bin Laden as Jesus Christ, he would be publicly castigated for poor taste and such. But he would be lionized by the arts community and garner more grants to continue his "work".

We now have the spectacle of Danish editorial cartoonists in hiding for publishing satirical cartoons featuring the likeness of Mohammed. The cartoons can be seen here.

Of course the demonstrations have started. Danish embassies have been picketed and attacked. The Danish government shrugged off the complaints from the country's Muslims at first, but now ambassadors of dozens of Muslim countries are recommending diplomatic action against the Danes.

The Germans have, so far, stood firm in their defense of the newspapers that published the cartoons. Interestingly, the British government has sided with Pakistan and Turkey in condemning the cartoons' publication. This pusillanimous response reminded me of an interesting article on describing recent British government pronunciamentoes as coming from the "Paris Hilton School of Political Science." Shame on the Brits!

In America we've begun wetting our pants every time a rough word is directed at Islam. There are, as I mentioned above, dozens of "Muslim" nations; but dare to suggest that the United States and Western Europe are (or were) "Christian" nations and the Furies of the Habitat of Old Ned are released!

But doesn't this show that Muslims are really different from us? Western culture champions freedom of the press and the freedom of speech and assembly that those Muslim protesters enjoy. Does anyone see a disconnect here? Muslim countries: official state news, no freedom of assembly, speech, or dissent, no equal rights for women, etc. ... Western countries: well, you get the idea.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Recent commentary: the SOTU address

What did you think of the State of the Union address?

(published 6-Feb-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Did you know that the wife of Bill Young (R-FL) wore a t-shirt to the speech, too? She was booted out and called the policeman "an idiot." But on to the evaluation. INSPIRING: Not a thing. GOOD: Bush's follow-up to the Democrats’ cheer that Social Security reform hadn’t been enacted: “every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse." AVERAGE: The "addicted to oil" reference. Reminded me of Eisenhower’s warning about the “military-industrial complex.” If the Republicans would push alternative fuels and if the Democrats would support oil drilling in Alaska, our foreign oil dependence would soon shrink. SUB PAR: "cut the deficit in half by 2009." If it weren't for the fact that Bush never met a spending bill he didn't like, the deficit wouldn't be nearly as high. No vetoes in five years. Sheesh! Nothing INSPIRING but no RASPBERRIES either. Grade: C.

I love stories like this XXXIX

I guess you just can't control the little darlings no matter what you do! A 7th-grader is in trouble for writing an English essay describing his "perfect day". What might that include?
In addition to the president and Winfrey, the boy wrote that violence should be directed at executives of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart, police and school officials said.

"His perfect day would be to see the destruction of these people," Schools Superintendent David Raiche said.

Since the essay did not include "any detailed, minute-by-minute plan," the boy won't be charged with a felony count of threatening the President.

In an Orwellian side-note to this story, the boy "has been temporarily barred from school, but as a mental health rather than disciplinary precaution."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I love stories like this XXXIV (addendum)

I've been following the Jeff Fraser expulsion story. Fraser is the Carroll High School senior expelled for publishing a "book" critical of the school, its teachers, and its administration. The school is located in Fort Wayne, IN, and I've been checking the Fort Wayne blogs and the Fort Wayne newspaper to keep tabs on Fraser.

Several days ago, Indiana Parley revealed that another blog, Fort Wayne Observed, was going to post "Carroll (The Book): A Student's Guide to Bureaucracy Inaction". That day, Jan. 25th or 26th, I went to Fort Wayne Observed and saw the first four scanned pages of "Carroll". There are a total of 14 pages. Nathan Gotsch, the Fort Wayne Observed blogger, seemed to indicate that he'd post the rest of it soon. I was very interested to see it.

Later posts on Indiana Parley and the Fort Wayne Indiana etc. blogs claimed that Gotsch had, indeed, posted the whole thing. I visited Gotsch's blog with some anticipation, only to find that his blog is gone. The links still work but all you see is the "Blogger" heading. No content. Zilch. explanation. [cue creepy music]

However, Indiana Parley came through with a link to a different site, a PDF scanned copy of the entire book. In addition, I have posted a copy on my web site. Read it for yourself. And here are links to Fort Wayne blogs where you can find "the rest of the story." (as of today, Feb. 1, this link is still coming up empty)