Instead of a Sportscar...

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Clash of Civilizations

I heard it remarked recently that, since the invasion of Iraq, President Bush has gotten us into a clash of civilizations. Well, if it’s true that there is a war of civilizations, it didn't start with Bush's invasion of Iraq—it started with the attacks by al Qaeda on September 11, 2001 which killed 2982 and injured 2337…

…or maybe on October 12, 2000, when al Qaeda bombers attacked the USS Cole killing 17 sailors and wounding 39…

…or maybe August 7, 1998, when al Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Kenya, killing 291 and injuring over 5000…

…or maybe that same August 7 in 1998, when al Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Tanzania, killing 10 and injuring 77…

…or maybe November 13, 1995 when Hezbollah and al Qaeda bombed an office used by the US military in Saudi Arabia, killing 7 and injuring 60…

…or maybe February 26, 1993, when Islamic terrorists exploded a bomb in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing 6 and injuring over 1,000…

…or maybe October 23, 1983, when a Hezbollah bomber killed 241 US marines and injured 81…

…the list could go on…and on...and on…

The MIPT TKB (Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism—Terrorism Knowledge Base) records at least 16,521 injuries and 6814 deaths from 694 different incidents of Islamic terrorism worldwide—all before the US invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003. While the MIPT database is good, but it is hardly complete.

It bears repeating, because it seems some people still don’t understand this simple truth: our problem with Islamic terrorism didn’t start with Iraq, nor did it start with the presidency of George W. Bush. Islamic terrorism is a threat to people of all nations, races, and creeds—especially Muslims.

Just something to think about.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Is Fascism Left Wing or Right Wing?

From time to time, the term "fascist" gets bandied about, but what is fascism? It's always been difficult to pin down a definition, with some claiming it's a right wing ideology and some claiming it's a left wing ideology--ultimately in hopes of tarring their partisan rivals. In attempting to get to the truth, I decided I needed a more objective test--I decided to use the politics match quiz and plug in the answers based upon what--to the best of my perhaps poor scholarship--I believe to be the fascist position. For comparison, I also plugged in the Democratic and Republican party platforms. Below are tables comparing the positions, with my notes explaining the reasons for the answers I provided for the fascist position.

[Note: the Republican and Democratic parties' platform answers used in the quiz are based upon's work. For an explanation of the Republican answers click HERE. For an explanation of the Democratic answers click HERE.]

Individual rightsRepublicansDemocratsFascists
Abortion is a woman’s rightStrongly OpposeStrongly SupportStrongly Oppose
Require Companies to Hire More Women/MinoritiesStrongly OpposeStrongly SupportOppose
Sexual Orientation Protected by Civil Rights LawsStrongly OpposeStrongly SupportOppose
Permit Prayer in Public SchoolsSupportOpposeSupport

Fascists ideology is anti-abortion since it is a strongly socially conservative and militant belief system--abortion being seen as a crime against the perpetuation of the state and race. While typical fascist ideology isn't wholly against the idea of women working--it helps with the national mobilization--it is clearly against minorities being integrated into society. Fascist ideology is anti-homosexual, since homosexuality is not a traditional value, ans has no value in perpetuating the state by creating new generations. Fascism isn't anti-religion--religion being a part of the tradition of the in group, as well as a useful tool for controlling the population--and can tolerate prayer in school, so long as it doesn't contradict the government's teachings.

Crime and gunsRepublicansDemocratsFascists
Death PenaltyStrongly SupportSupportStrongly Support
Mandatory “Three Strikes” Sentencing LawsStrongly SupportOpposeStrongly Support
Absolute Right to Gun OwnershipStrongly SupportSupportOppose

Since Fascism is a very authoritarian ideology, it is pro death penalty and "three strikes" style laws, as they are seen as strongly maintaining an orderly society. Fascism is anti-gun, because an unarmed populace is a more compliant populace.

Medical/social securityRepublicansDemocratsFascists
More Federal Funding For Health CoverageOpposeStrongly SupportStrongly Support
Privatize Social SecuritySupportOpposeStrongly Oppose

Fascism is a system that relies to a great degree on central planning and the primacy of the state above the individual. For this reason, they are for a nationalized health system and against privatizing social security.

Parents Choose Schools via VouchersSupportStrongly OpposeStrongly Oppose

School vouchers erode the government's central role in maintaining social order and planning the economy, fascists are against this.

Other domestic issuesRepublicansDemocratsFascists
Reduce use of Coal, Oil, & Nuclear EnergyOpposeStrongly SupportSupport
Drugs Damage Society: Enforce Laws against UseStrongly SupportSupportStrongly Support
Allow Churches to Provide Welfare ServicesStrongly SupportSupportOppose

Fascists have historically been surprisingly pre-environment, since the environment is an important part of the in group's heritage--thus they are against overusing polluting technologies like oil and coal. Drugs are seen as unproductive and socially damaging, so fascists are against their use. Since fascism insists on the central role of the government, it is mostly against churches filling a role that is rightfully the government's.

Decrease Overall Taxation of the WealthyStrongly SupportSupportStrongly Oppose
Immigration Helps Our Economy – Encourage ItOpposeSupportStrongly Oppose

Fascism has historically been for progressive taxation and government management of surplus wealth. Fascism is a based on the idea of an in group or race, and therefore is strongly against integrating outsiders.

Support and Expand Free TradeSupportSupportOppose

Fascism is a protectionist ideology, preferring instead to get resources by conquest and colonization.

More Spending on Armed ForcesStrongly SupportSupportStrongly Oppose
Reduce Spending on Missile Defense (“Star Wars”)Strongly OpposeOpposeStrongly Oppose

Fascism is a very militant ideology, and therefore is against any cuts in the military.

Foreign affairsRepublicansDemocratsFascists
Link Human Rights to Trade with ChinaOpposeSupportStrongly Oppose
Seek UN Approval for Military ActionSupportStrongly SupportStrongly Oppose

In any situation where trade with a foreign nation is necessary, fascists would not be beholden to considerations of human rights--since in the fascist world-view the state is superior to the individual. In fascism, the state is first and last, and would not allow its actions to be limited by other inferior organizations.

After plugging in all these answers to the politics match quiz, the answers are plotted out as follows:

Note: the term "populism" is somewhat misleading, for it really means is "authoritarianism"--a large degree of government intervention in both social and economic affairs.

As can be seen from the graph, there is a world of difference between Fascist, Democratic, and Republican ideologies. It would be fair to say that fascism takes the social stance of the right, and the economic program of the left and combines it with more than a splash of racism--to create something that we don't have in America, aren't even close to now, and hopefully will never see.

The Bombs of Bangladesh

At just under 57,000 square miles and over 144 million people, Bangladesh is a country with about half the population of the United States living in a land area about the size of Wisconsin. When one adds to that the fact that up to a third of the country floods annually during the monsoon season, it’s little wonder that the average American’s first thought turns to natural disasters when Bangladesh is mentioned. However, there’s another ongoing disaster in Bangladesh that is less well known to the average American and it’s one entirely of human making—the scourge of militant Islamism. While it’s difficult to say with certainty the exact number of militant Islamist groups—reports vary widely depending on who is doing the counting—some of the same names do turn up with quite a bit of frequency.

Well before East Pakistan seceded from Pakistan to become Bangladesh, before the partition of Pakistan from India, even before India was free from British rule, Islamism found a home in South Asia. Founded in 1941, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) advocates the creation of an Islamic state ruled by a strict interpretation of Sharia. During Bangladesh’s war for independence in 1971, JI fought on the side of Pakistan. Drawn from the ranks of JI and the Muslim League, Razakars (‘Volunteers’) committed widespread atrocities against the civilian population that has been compared to the Khmer Rouge in terms of brutality. After the war, JI created a Bangladesh chapter to further its Islamist agenda.

Also founded in 1941 was Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh’s student wing. Following the example of the Taliban, they wish to change the system of education to stress only strict Islamic values and teachings, thus creating a new generation of Islamists. A large organization with chapters all across Bangladesh, ICS has been implicated in many attacks on campuses and off—including the bombing in Narayanganj of a meeting of the secular political party the Awami League on June 16, 2001 which killed 21 and injured over 100. Police believe it was probably a suicide bombing carried out by three women found at the site of the bombing.

Said to have been started with financial support from Osama bin Laden, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami-Bangladesh (HuJI-B) is another one of the client groups of JMB and has ties to terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Their stated goal is to establish a strict fundamentalist regime by waging holy war. When the Awami League formed a government in June of 1996, HuJI-B intensified efforts to destabilize the government, twice trying to assassinate the then Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina in 2000. They’re also thought to be responsible for a string of bombings in 2001 that killed at least 26 people, as well as the ongoing murder and intimidation of journalists.

Islamic Shashantantra Andolon (ISA) is an umbrella group of several smaller groups who are pushing for the adoption of Sharia in the country. While they are ostensibly a political group, they have shown themselves to be perfectly willing to resort to violence, the worst example of which occurred on September 28, 2002 with the near simultaneous bombings in Satkhira of a cinema and a fair, resulting in the death of 3 and the injuring of 125 others. They have also been implicated in numerous assaults, and have agitated to have certain minority Muslim sects declared un-Islamic.

In April of 2004, an ongoing spree of extortion, intimidation, arson, assaults, bombings, and murder began. The origin of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB)—the group said to be responsible for these incidents—is somewhat murky, with some reports claiming that it is a branch of a larger group, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (‘Party of the Holy Warriors of Bangladesh’), while other reports claim it is a branch of the militant group Harqut-ul-Jihad. Adding to the murkiness is the fact that at times in the past it has gone by other names: Mujahideen Alliance Council, Islami Jalsha and Muslim Raksha Mujahideen Oikya Parishad. What is clear is that JMJB is committed to ending the influence of leftist extremism in northwestern Bangladesh in the short term, with the long term goal of ushering in strict Sharia law.

One minor yet noteworthy group was Hikmatul Jihad (‘Wisdom of Jihad’). On August 21, 2004, an unknown number of men staged a well-coordinated grenade and automatic weapon attack on a rally by the Awami League in Dhaka. Although the target of the attack—League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed—survived the attack, 19 others were killed and at least 200 were injured. The previously unheard of group claimed the attack three days later in an email to the newspaper The Daily Prothom Alo, and threatened further attempts on Sheikh Hasina’s life. The arrest of a young minority Hindu man at an internet shop where the claim of responsibility originated resulted ultimately in no charges, and the investigation went nowhere. It is possible this group was formed from members of another organization for the purpose of this particular attack—and although no further attacks by Hikmatul Jihad were forthcoming, this singular attack is worth noting for its level of sophistication and lethality.

The outlawed umbrella group Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) is perhaps one of the more dangerous militant groups in Bangladesh. Over the course of an hour on August 17, 2005, over 300 small bombs went off in 63 of the country’s 64 districts. Leaflets at the sites of the bombings claimed responsibility. The bombs were small and fairly crude, killing 3 and injuring at least 50. The origin of the group isn’t completely clear, but the leader of the group, Fazlur Rahman, was one of the people who signed Osama bin Laden’s fatwa declaring holy war against the United States. While this was neither their first nor their deadliest foray into the realm of terrorism, the August attack is particularly impressive for its scale and level of coordination.

It becomes clear from reading the reports of these and other attacks that the anti-secular Islamist groups in Bangladesh bear a special level of ill-will towards the Awami League. This is no doubt due not merely to their more secular orientation, but also because they were the primary advocates for independence from Pakistan, which runs directly counter to the militants’ pan-Islamic agenda.

Based on media reports it seems clear that there is a rising tide of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh—and an attendant rise in the scale and sophistication of the attacks. While the attentions of the militants are turned inwards today, they have regional ambitions. When one considers the price America paid for ignoring the Taliban, we can ill afford to sit idly by as Bangladesh becomes a haven for those who espouse the very same ideology.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

ACLU Challenges Profiling

Earlier today Fox News reported that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against behavioral profiling at Logan Airport in Boston. A quick Google search revealed several stories between last November and now mentioning what is, apparently, the same suit. Speculation alert: it may be that the suit has been filed, but no court date assigned.

The profiling is a method of threat assessment based on the behavior of an individual at a checkpoint that has been employed to great effect in Israel. The ACLU's claim is that this sort of profiling will be racial profiling. It seems like an odd position to take, as that the intent is to do away with the need for racial profiling. A person's behavior ought to be a good and valid indicator of threat--much better than using appearance.

If security is to be denied an objective tool like behavioral profiling, then the wait times at airports will continue to be excessively long as the screeners check 80 year old grandmothers from Texas and 2 year old girls from Laos in a ham-fisted attempt to attempt to appear unprejudiced. There has to be a better way without sacrificing security.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Illogic of Either-Or

There’s an argument one often hears employed in arguing against the war in Iraq that goes something like this: if we overthrew the Ba’ath regime in Iraq because it was bad, why don’t we overthrow all those other regimes that are bad in this world. This is an amazingly disingenuous argument, for those who advance it really mean that America should take no actions—not more of them. It is in fact an example of the logical fallacy of bifurcation—presenting two options where there are actually many. While some questions in this world are surely either-or questions, it's equally true some are not.

With regard to the war in Iraq, it was simply not true that we were presented with only two options: overthrow all bad regimes or overthrown none. The reality of the situation is that we cannot act everywhere at the same time, and while sometimes military action is the best—sometimes only—option, it’s not always the best option. When better solutions exist, obviously they should be pursued.

Just for fun, let’s apply bifurcated thinking to some other real-life historical situations:

During World War II, factory owner Oscar Schindler spent millions to save over 1200 Jews from the Nazi gas chambers. He also saved countless allied soldiers’ lives by intentionally producing defective munitions in his factory. He should not have saved any Jews since he could not have saved all of them.

Before the American Civil War, abolitionists created an “underground railroad” to smuggle slaves to freedom in the northern states. Since they could not free all the slaves, they should not have freed any of them.

After the American Revolutionary War, the vote was only extended to a portion of the population. If democracy was not universal to all citizens, then there should have been no democracy.

Absurd, isn’t it? Yet this is the same kind of argument being advanced in opposition to our freeing of 25 million Iraqis from a brutal, criminal dictatorship. In arguing this position, the anti-war crowd is making the perfect the enemy of the good—for while arguing that war is evil, they are effectively siding with the greater of two evils.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Sovereignty and Consent

I’ve argued before about the need to question the source of a nation’s sovereignty to determine the legitimacy of a particular regime. My thesis is that the only legitimately sovereign government is one that derives its power from the consent of the governed and that when a government comes to power, or maintains its power, by force or fraud it is not legitimate.

I’m advancing the notion that the right of a people to grant or withhold sovereignty is a basic, universal human right. It is a natural extension to the right to self-determination inherent in every human being.

This argument ultimately comes to bear in a number of debates about America’s actions on the world stage, and one of the criticisms of this thinking has often been: who gets to determine when a government is legitimate by these standards or not. This is a less artful criticism than it is intended to be, for the answer ought to be a glaring one: anyone can, for the right to free speech is another basic, universal human right.

Now, just because anyone has the right to declare a particular government legitimate or illegitimate, that doesn’t mean that declaration is necessarily true. The standards have to be met: a government that is brought into power by force or fraud isn't legitimate—also a government that cannot be changed by the people with some degree of periodicity would be illegitimate.

That is the true meaning of the empowerment of people—to have a government of their choosing and consent, and to be able to peaceably change that government.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

More on the NSA Controversy

National Review Online has a PDF of a letter from the Department of Justice to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the NSA controversy. In it Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella outlines in very clear language the President’s case for warrantless intelligence gathering.

The letter starts out by stating that the program was aimed at international communications of people linked to terrorist organizations. It goes on to state that the leak was a criminal act and that it has jeopardized our national security by exposing a covert program.

Further on in the letter, it says that the President has the power and responsibility under Article II of the Constitution to protect the people of the United States, and that the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) of September 16th, 2001, as well as the War Powers Resolution recognize the President’s power to act to protect the United States—including the power to order warrantless foreign intelligence gathering within the United States. It mentions several Supreme Court cases that recognized precisely that power in the President.

The letter also discusses FISA’s relationship to other laws, particularly AUMF. It states that the FISA cannot supersede the President’s authority under Article II of the Constitution. It then goes on to discusses issues in regard to Article IV of the Constitution, and states precedence where the Supreme Court has long recognized “special needs, beyond the normal needs of law enforcement”.

The letter closes by saying that Congress had been brief 12 times and that the order had been reviewed every 45 days to evaluate the necessity of continuing the program.

The people jumping to conclusions of criminality on this one would be well advised to follow the link and read the letter in its entirety before going any further out on a partisan limb. One also has to wonder if the same people who howled about the Plame affair will howl just as loudly about the leak leading to this dustup. So far, the silence is deafening.

Not only does is it beginning to look as though Bush exercised full diligence as to his the Constitutional limits of his powers, it also looks as though he exercised full diligence in regards to his Constitutional responsibilities. Add to all the above the fact that Associate Attorney General under Clinton, John Scmidt, has come out in support of Bush’s power to take the action he has and this is looking more and more like a cheap political hit on a sitting President—with our political institutions and intelligence gathering abilities as collateral damage.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Basic HTML in Comments

When writing for or commenting on the internet, sometimes it comes in handy to know a little HTML. HTML stands for “Hyper-Text Mark-up Language”, and it is the code underlying every webpage. Some sites don’t allow HTML in comments, but many—perhaps even most—do.

When making a comment on a site, it is HTML that allows us to underline, italicize, bold, quote, and link—but the actual code is usually hidden from the user by a friendly formatting button. Unfortunately, even on some sites where HTML is allowed, the comment interface doesn’t have the handy little formatting buttons we have all grown so dependent on—but that doesn’t mean you are stuck with a plain, boring, unformatted comment! What follows is a little tutorial in how to spice up your comments with some formatting when those buttons are missing.

The first thing you have to understand is how to make a hypertext “tag”. If HTML is enable in comments, anything between the symbols <> is a tag—an instruction to the web browser to do something—and won’t be displayed. Any tag that you open: <>, must also be closed </> (notice the forward slash here—it closes the open tag). What you put inside the tag determines what it will do.


<i>Your italic text here.</i>

…displays this:
Your italic text here.


<b>Your bold text here.</b>

…displays this:
Your bold text here.


<u>Your underlined text here.</u>

…displays this:
Your underlined text here.


<blockquote>Quoted text here.</blockquote>

…displays this:
Quoted text here.


<a href=””> A shameless plug for Rob’s site.</a>

…gives you this:
A shameless plug for Rob’s site.

I hope some of you find this helpful!

Mr. Bush, Build Up This Wall!

With an estimated 5 million under- or unemployed service workers (source: CIA World Factbook), it's little wonder that the Mexican government is worried about the United States' plans to build a wall along the border. Every year rougly 150,000-200,000 illegal Mexican immigrants (source: sucessfully evade our unmanned and underprotected border. These illegal immigrants find work that, even at a lower wage than American workers, pays better than what is available in Mexico--it is easy to understand their personal motivation in coming. However much we may feel sympathy for the day to day economic hardship of our friends and neighbors in Mexico, our security as a nation should come first.

National security has many different components, one important component is economic security. When an illegal takes a job in America, it increases the tax burden on Americans. Illegal immigrants don't pay taxes (outside of the small amount of sales taxes on the day-to-day items they purchase), yet they use public services: medical care, education, in some cases even welfare. What's more, in a lot of cases they send a good amount of what they earn back to their families still in Mexico (as well as elsewhere). Capital flight weakens the economy.

More unfortunately, it's not just Mexicans that make the journey. An open border means that enemies of the United States can easily make the journey also. For the advocates of an open border, a simple question: how many terrorists crossing our border is an acceptable number? While it is surely true that other routes exist for terrorists to enter, that's no excuse not to close this route.

The issue of illegal immigration is an important one for our legitimately sovereign government. So when Mexico's President threatens to interfere with our plans to build a wall, what he's really threatening is to interfere in a sovereign country's affairs. Will the same critics that claim alleged American imperialism around the world decry this gross violation of our national rights?

So Mr. Bush, build this wall! However, the policy cannot stop there. We must crack down on American companies that break the law and hire illegals, and we need to reform the immigration system to ease the process for legal applicants. This is not a xenophobic, anti-immigration stance--legal immigration is good for the nation--this is pro-law and pro-security stance.

Monday, December 19, 2005

My Take on the NSA Controversy

It seems that you can't escape it--turn on the radio and you hear about it, turn on the TV and you see it, or talk to a relative and they mention it: Bush authorized the NSA to do some spying within America.

Earlier today I had an ordinarily reasonable Democrat tell me that while Bush certainly had the authority to authorize the spying, it nonetheless was illegal. Ponder contradictions in that for a moment--if he has the authority, then by definition it's legal. Now, if someone wants to argue that in fact he does not have the authority, that's at least a coherent position to hold. I'm no legal expert, and I don't particularly plan to become one, but owing to the fact that opinions are like elbows--everyone has a couple--let me advance mine.

First of all, it seems to me that a lot of people are jumping to conclusions with regard to the implications of this. There are so many wrinkles to this, and there's a lot of specifics we don't know. It seems irresponsible to condemn the administration before it's even remotely clear that there was any wrong doing. Frankly, I'm not at all interested in the minute details, I'll leave that to people who understand, and enjoy, the law better than I do. Sooner or later, the truth will out.

I predict that, at the worst, this will end up being a case where modern realities have outpaced decades old legislation--in other words, it was perhaps a grey area of the law. It won't have been the first time the law haasn't kept pace with modern life, and likely wouldn't be the last. From the press reports so far it seems like the Administration exercised a fair degree of dilligence in consulting Congress and the Attorney General--and despite the feverish nature of the reporting, there has so far been no credible suggestion that the easedropping was done arbitrarily.

In the final analysis, the real story that is most likely to come out of this is that someone leaked a top secret government program to the press, and the resulting publication of that program likely hobbles the ability of our government to generate actionable intelligence.

Friday, December 16, 2005

House Passes Iraq Resolution

The house just passed House Resolution 612 "Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to achieving victory in Iraq."

The text of the bill states:
...expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to achieving victory in Iraq.

Whereas the Iraqi election of December 15, 2005, the first to take place under the newly ratified Iraqi Constitution, represented a crucial success in the establishment of a democratic, constitutional order in Iraq; and

Whereas Iraqis, who by the millions defied terrorist threats to vote, were protected by Iraqi security forces with the help of United States and Coalition forces: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That--

(1) the House of Representatives is committed to achieving victory in Iraq;

(2) the Iraqi election of December 15, 2005, was a crucial victory for the Iraqi people and Iraq's new democracy, and a defeat for the terrorists who seek to destroy that democracy;

(3) the House of Representatives encourages all Americans to express solidarity with the Iraqi people as they take another step toward their goal of a free, open, and democratic society;

(4) the successful Iraqi election of December 15, 2005, required the presence of United States Armed Forces, United States-trained Iraqi forces, and Coalition forces;

(5) the continued presence of United States Armed Forces in Iraq will be required only until Iraqi forces can stand up so our forces can stand down, and no longer than is required for that purpose;

(6) setting an artificial timetable for the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq, or immediately terminating their deployment in Iraq and redeploying them elsewhere in the region, is fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory in Iraq;

(7) the House of Representatives recognizes and honors the tremendous sacrifices made by the members of the United States Armed Forces and their families, along with the members of Iraqi and Coalition forces; and

(8) the House of Representatives has unshakable confidence that, with the support of the American people and the Congress, United States Armed Forces, along with Iraqi and Coalition forces, shall achieve victory in Iraq.

Here's how the voting broke down:

Vote # total (Rep/dem/Ind)
279 (218/59/0)
Nay 109 (0/108/1)

Unfortunately, I missed which party the last two 'Yeas' were. My apologies.

What's amazing is that 108 Democrats were against expressing a commitment to victory as stated in this bill. Keeping in mind the 2006 elections, two possibile reasons for this result are that either the Democrats think that Iraq will fall apart in the 9 months or so and they can make hay over the issue, or that Iraq will quickly become a non-issue and the short attention spans of the electorate will be their saving grace. Overall, this doesn't strike me a politically savvy move.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

30,000 Iraqis

Recently President Bush acknowledged 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US lead invasion 3 years ago— that’s an average of 10,000 dead Iraqis per year of occupation. While this number jells with some think tanks’ estimates, as well as the Iraqi government’s own estimates, it’s worth noting that this includes Iraqis killed by insurgent and terror attacks.

Since the United States has overthrown Saddam’s regime, hardly a day goes by without a media story about the death toll—in some quarters of America the outrage over this loss of human life is palpable.

Over a 24 year span, Saddam’s regime was directly responsible, by the most conservative of estimates, for 850,000 Iraqi deaths through war, state-sponsored murder, genocide, and corrupt management of international aid—that’s an average of over 35,000 per year. This is entirely setting aside the equally horrific amount of non-Iraqi blood the Ba’athist regime was responsible for spilling.

Every single year that Saddam was in power was a year where Iraqis died needlessly, and hardly anyone raised the slightest objection—most months a person would have been hard pressed to find even a single mass media story about the death tolls. The silence of those who now claim to be distressed by Iraqi deaths was deafening when Iraqis were dying at a rate more than three times today’s rate.

It has been suggested that one cannot take a tally of the dead under Saddam and under the American occupation, and make a comparison stating one is better or worse. Nothing could be further from the truth—to make such an argument and refuse to make a judgment as to which is worse displays a profound callousness to the welfare of the Iraqi people and a penchant for amorality.

The current selective outrage over Iraqi deaths, not tempered by proper perspective, is nothing short of the placing of ideology over humanity, partisanship over people. It is a sad and shameful thing which ultimately cheapens the worth of all people, and tarnishes the moral force of our entire nation.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Do you..Sudoku?

Perhaps I’m coming late to the party, but a few months ago I got turned onto a different kind of puzzle: Sudoku. It was first created in 1979 by Howard Garns and published by Dell Magazines as Number Place. Not until it was published by the Japanese puzzle company Nikoli did it achieve any great popularity.

It was Nikoli Co. that gave the puzzle its best known name. Sudoku is an abbreviation of the Japanese phrase “suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru”, and can be roughly translated as “single number”. It is also sometimes known by the name Nanpure—Japanese for “number place”.

A Sudoku square is divided into 9 regions, with some squares already filled with numbers. To solve the puzzle, you must fill in all of the empty squares with the numbers 1 to 9—each number used only once within each row, column and region.

For me the attraction of this sort of puzzle is that it is entirely logic based. Each puzzle, with its set of givens, has a unique solution. Unlike crossword puzzles, Sudoku does not rely on a memory for trivia—just a logical and methodical mind. From the puzzle’s simple rules a complex and engrossing game emerges.

For anyone old hands as well as new, here’s a couple of links where you can do Sudoku online:


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Murtha, Kerry, and Chickenhawks

It has been argued recently that Representative Murtha and Senator Kerry have first hand experience in a war—therefore their criticisms about the war in Iraq have added weight. They are, of course, much ballyhooed by those who are anti-war because they are two politicians who are vocally against the war. Does their experience give their opinion extra weight? Should we take their advisements more seriously than other politicians? Before answering those questions, perhaps we should actually find out what the other combat veterans in Congress think.

Senator John R. Warner of Virginia was in the Navy during the closing days of WWII and a ground officer with the Marines in the Korean War. He supports the war and the President’s plan, as he outlined in a recent speech:
“I've got this book right here. It's entitled "Victory in Iraq." And let's have at it. I think it's achievable if, again, we, you know, if we made some mistakes in this thing, and I freely admit in my own shortcomings perhaps as chairman not probing more deeply but we're where we are, and we should be forward- looking.

“And look at the accomplishments that the Iraqi people, with our support, have had: Two elections, a third one coming up in a matter of weeks, establishing a new government, writing a constitution. We are making progress.”
Senator John R. McCain of Arizona who was a Navy pilot in Vietnam and was a POW after being shot down. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross. He has had some disputes with the administration about Iraq, but he supports the war and feels it is important that we win. Recently on meet the press he said:
“I think the president has done a good job. I think he's tried to--and particularly last week at the Naval Academy--given a very articulate presentation on the challenges that we face. I think it would be wrong for me to sit here and say we've done everything right and, you know, this has been unnatural or--you know, accidents that took place. We've made serious mistakes, and I'm frustrated by them, and most Americans are, too, but most Americans, I think, still appreciate that if we had some kind of premature withdrawal, that the consequences would be very severe. And I'd also suggest--and again, I'll probably--I'm not in any way concerned about saying this--that we will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California was an Army Ranger who served in combat in Vietnam. He supports the war. According to CNN, Hunter, whose son currently serves in the Marines, recently said U.S. troops should leave only when, "in the judgment of the war-fighting commanders, Iraqis are capable of defending their own country."

Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas is a 29-year Air Force veteran and spent nearly seven years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam—more than half that time in solitary confinement. Recently he had this to say about talk of withdrawal:
“Any talk – even so much as a murmur – of leaving now– just emboldens the enemy and weakens the resolve of our of troops in the field. That’s dangerous! If you don’t believe me – check out Al Jazeera. This story is on the front page. We can’t do that to our fellow Americans over there.”
The list of doesn’t stop there, for there are other, less prominent and less vocal, combat veterans in Congress.

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was a pilot in China with the "Flying Tigers" of the Fourteenth Air Force from 1943 to 1946 During World War II. He held the rank of First Lieutenant, and received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals, as well as the Yuan Hai medal of Taiwan. He supports the war.

Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen of New Jersey was a combat veteran of Vietnam. He supports the war.

Rep. John Kline of Minnesota was a Marine who saw combat duty in Vietnam and Somalia. He supports the Iraq war.

Rep. Charlie Norwood of Georgia served in combat in Vietnam and was awarded the Combat Medical Badge and two Bronze Stars. He supports the war.

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts served three combat tours in Vietnam and was awarded the Air Medal six times. He supports the Iraq war.

Those are just the Republican combat veterans. The list could get longer were we to add the Democratic combat veteran supporters of the Iraq war (who certainly exist, as witnessed by the recent vote on withdrawal), or were we to add to the list the veterans who were not called upon to serve in combat.

In the final analysis, the argument that we should give Murtha and Kerry’s words added weight doesn’t fly when faced with the reality that their experience is not unique, and their opinions are not widely held by other leaders of similar experience. The other glaring problem with adding weight to their words is that it ignores the opinions of the majority of the current military leadership in theater that are better positioned to make such a judgment. It is, in short, a slightly more clever recasting of the chickenhawk argument, only used to prop up a preconceived narrative in the absence of actual supporting evidence—and wrong for many of the same reasons.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Lesson of Pearl Harbor

Today, December 7th, is the 64th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We, as a nation, commemorate this day not only to commemorate the victims, but also because we must never forget the lesson of that day: we must never let our guard down, for there are always those who wish to harm us.

Up until the attack that December morning, isolationist sentiment was widespread in the United States. The isolationist argument was the same as it always is—if we leave them alone they will leave us alone, it’s just not our problem. American hero Charles Lindberg was a member of the isolationist America First Committee—an organization that at its height was 850,000 strong—and actively campaigned against any foreign involvement. Even as late as November of 1941, only one in four Americans supported involvement in the growing war in Europe despite Hitler’s clear animosity to all Democratic governments. The American government and Japanese government were in negotiations to avoid war.

That all changed in the moment the first Japanese bomb fell. In the blink of an eye the reality that, even in a nation that is not looking outward, trouble sometimes comes calling. Even thought we did not seek it, war was upon us.

We must never forget this lesson. Yet there are those that believe we can placate the ideologies that are inimical to our own—that if we ignore the statements emanating from the other side of the globe, if we contract and present a smaller footprint outside our borders, if we just learn to accept that some cultures are naturally more oppressive—then we will be safe.

Such belief didn’t keep us safe before December 7, 1941. Such belief didn’t keep us safe before September 11, 2001. Such belief won’t keep us safe today. In a world where travel is fast and communication is faster, our great and good nation has very little time to react to those who declare themselves our enemies. By being forwardly projected around the world, our homeland is safer and more able to rapidly react to quickly developing threats. So tonight, and every night, say a little thank you to all who have served, and do serve, to keep us that much safer.

Monday, December 05, 2005


There are those who would claim that in order to support the current war, one must have served in the military, or sign up to serve. Otherwise the would-be supporter is a “chickenhawk”, a member of the “101st Keyboarders”—in other words, a hypocritical coward.

As a veteran, nothing could make me angrier than to hear such language substituted for honest debate on an issue of the gravest national concern.

The chickenhawk argument is a fallacious argument intended to shut down any debate. It’s an outright rejection of logic, framing the debate instead in invective and emotionalism. This is not how important issues should be decided, one side shouting down the other when they have run out of persuasive arguments. War has been, and always will be, an emotional issue—yet the issues surrounding it still need to be address in a rational manner. A rational approach can take into account can take feelings into account as one issue among many; an emotional approach goes no further than feelings, or resorts to feelings when ideas fail or are shown to be corrupt.

Were we to accept the chickenhawk fallacy as a valid argument, logic dictates that it be extended to other areas, too. In a world where only service members have the moral standing to declare the rectitude of a war, then only those who are willing to be police have the moral standing to expect protection from crime, only those who are willing to be a fireman should expect to have their house fire put out, only those who are doctors should expect to have their injuries treated. This, clearly, cannot be.

Ours is a free, market-driven society, which means that labor is divided. Yet all citizens have equal standing in the public arena when it comes to questions of local, state, or national importance. Different people are uniquely suited to their individual jobs and naturally gravitate towards those jobs. Thus, someone who a great cook would not necessarily be a great writer—water finds its own level, as it were. While it is true there are times when one’s expertise does, indeed, add weight to one’s opinion on matters related to that expertise, it is not true that the added weight negates the right of the rest of society to have an opinion and voice. As a society we do not need all members to follow the paths of their convictions—for all occupations have their unique importance. The soldier has a right to an opinion on matters of crime and justice, just as the police officer has a right to an opinion on matters of war and peace.

So to my fellow citizens who are passionately against the Iraq war, let me be the first to say you have the right to your opinion—that’s the beauty of being an American. However, when you frame your opposition to the war in terms attacking its supporters as cowards and hypocrites, you are taking a fundamentally corrupt position—declaring, in fact, that you have run out of ideas.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Profile of a Great American

On December 13, 1887 in a small cabin in Pall Mall, Tennessee, a great American hero was born. Alvin Cullom York was the third of eleven children born to William York. Raised on a farm, Alvin learned to become an expert marksman early, helping to feed the family by hunting to supplement the meager crops they raised on their farm.

At a time and place when education was seen as a hindrance to farm chores, Alvin received a mere nine months of schooling as a lad. As a young man, he took work as a day laborer—his nights less profitably spent drinking and gambling in unlicensed bars known as “Blind Tigers”. He was widely considered to be a young man going nowhere—in fact, a nuisance—when his life took an unexpected turn at the age of 26.

During a bar fight in Kentucky in 1914, Alvin’s best friend Everett Delk was killed. This convinced Alvin that he had better change his ways lest he befall a similar fate. Later that same year, he attended a revival hosted by the Church of Christ in Christian Union. This somewhat redundantly named fundamentalist sect had a rather strict philosophy—no drinking, dancing, movies, swimming, swearing, popular literature, and definitely no violence or war.

These two events conspired to work a very fundamental change in Alvin York, for by all accounts his conversion to this brand of Christianity was complete and unabashed—he ceased altogether drinking, gambling, and fighting. It was through the church that he was to meet his wife, Gracie. His newly found state of grace was not to be untroubled for long.

On April 6, 1917, the US declared war on Germany and a draft was instituted. Receiving his draft notice, he wrote “Dont want to fight.” on it at the urging of his pastor. His case was reviewed, and re-reviewed, but ultimately rejected because his sect was not officially recognized. Having been rejected for conscientious objector status, York reluctantly reported for training at Camp Gordon in Georgia. After much soul searching and debate, York conceded that there were times when not fighting was more a more immoral act than the fighting itself—and with that reluctant concession he was bound for France, and the frontlines.

Before sunrise on October 9, 1918, seventeen soldiers were dispatched to take command of Decauville railroad, including one Corporal York. Unfortunately, the map was in French instead of English, and a misreading of the map put them behind enemy lines. After a brief and confused firefight, a larger German force surrendered to the squad—only to have them un-surrender when it became clear that the Americans were vastly outnumbered. Turning their machine guns around, the German forces pinned down the squad and killed nine of their number. Receiving the order to silence the machine guns, Corporal York did exactly that.

There are varying accounts about what exactly happened next, but the one detail that is not in dispute is that Corporal York’s actions saved his squad, and when the shooting was done twenty-five German soldiers were dead, thirty-five German machine guns were out of the fight, and the squad of eight Americans marched 132 German prisoners back to friendly lines.

Returning to the United States, the now promoted Sergeant York avoided the limelight, choosing to return home to his wife and a quiet life—but this was not to be. Throughout the 1920s, he was an active booster for Democratic politicians and causes, and it was through this activism that he brought many infrastructure improvements to his home county. He also raised money to found York Institute, which helped many youths to get a high school degree.

A dedicated isolationist in the 1930s, Alvin York largely receded from the public’s view. This was not to last however, when the persistent Jesse Lasky finally prevailed upon him to make a film of his exploits—the film, released in 1941, was to ultimately earn Gary Cooper the best actor award in 1942. It was through his relationship with Lasky that York was to once again realize that there was such a thing as a moral war.

With Europe already embroiled in the Second World War, York joined the Fight for Freedom Committee which advocated more American involvement in the expanding European conflict. This stance was to put him at loggerheads with another American icon, Charles Lindberg, until the attack on Pearl Harbor erased all doubt in anyone’s mind about the proper stance for America.

Despite his willingness to join up and fight once again, age and health kept York out of the Army.

Throughout the 1950s, the now destitute York was harassed by the IRS over proceeds from the 1941 movie—a dispute that was only finally resolved by order of President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

On September 2, 1964, York, bedridden since a stroke ten years earlier, finally passed away. He was buried with full military honors in his hometown of Pall Mall. Asked before his death what he wanted to be remembered for, York replied that his promotion of education for rural Tennessee was what he hoped his legacy would be.

US Army Sergeant Alvin C. York was a great American and a good man: warrior in times of evil, advocate for peace, good and active citizen of his community, husband, and father.

Friday, December 02, 2005

About Trixie

I live in a bi-lingual house. My wife is Lao, and we have a two year old daughter, Trixie. It's an interesting challenge raising a bi-lingual child, especially since I cannot speak Lao very well. The problem is that Lao is a tonal language, which means the tone of your voice can change the meaning of the word.

I might think I say "you have a beautiful shirt", but what comes out might very well be "you have a beautiful tiger", or "you noodle believe beautiful".

My understanding of spoken Lao is fair, good enough to get the gist of things anyway. So often my daughter and I have mixed conversations, with her half mostly in Lao--with the odd English word thrown in--and my half mostly, if not entirely, in English.

"Tric-CY bpai hong hein nam!" she might squeal when she sees me put my jacket on.

"No dear, I'm not going to school, I'm just going to the store to buy some bread."

"Seu kowgee boh? Tric-CY bpai shopping nam boh?"

"Trixie boh bpai, it's raining."

Trixie speaks mostly in Lao because until we moved back to America a month ago, she had lived all her life in Laos. Lao was all she heard every day, with the exception of her father--that is to say, me. She understands English just fine, but so far here in America she still speaks habitually in Lao.

She's taken to be quite a little mimic, saying whatever she hears other people saying. It's quite like having an odd little echo. Sometimes when my wife speaks to me in Lao, Trixie will translate it to me in English, assuming that I don't understand.

Although it makes it more challenging for me as her father, I hope that as she gets old she will hold on to her Lao fluency. I believe that her exposure to two languages is making her more fluent in both, for she already has amazing ability to communicate for her age.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dem. Rep. Wants to Lower Drinking Age for Military

This is a summary and editorial of a news article from the Portsmouth Herald, you can read the original article HERE.

Democratic Rep. Jim Splaine has sponsored a bill that would lower the drinking age for military personnel to 18 in the state of NH. Interestingly enough, this is the same Rep. Splaine who sponsored the legislation that raised the drinking age to 21 in the 1980s.

Rep. Splaine feels that the state hasn’t done enough to educate young people about alcohol before they reach the the legal drinking age. He also feels that it’s hypocrisy that as a society we give all other rights and responsibilities to 18 year olds and even send them to war–but we don’t allow them to have a farewell drink with their family. He says he hopes to highlight those shortcomings by sponsorship of this bill, and to open up debate on the issues related to drinking.

This is a good move on the part of Rep. Splaine; at 18 a person has all the full responsibilities of a citizen, yet we set aside this one right. As a society, we need to demystify alcohol and educate our young people about personal responsibility and the risks associated with this drug before they reach the age of use.

Why Not Darfur?

Someone recently asked me, in response to my statement of support for the war in Iraq on humanitarian grounds, then why not Darfur. This is of course an example of fallacious thinking, often intended to shut down debate: if one action is not or cannot be taken in all instances, it is not good or right in any instance. Such an argument is plain wrong, and if acted out in practice would give us a world where in good actions are possible, because all good actions aren't always possible.

However, let me assume good faith on the part of the questioner...why doesn't America take military action in the Darfur region of Sudan?

The UN conventions on genocide authorize military action against a state when a genocide is underway. It is percisely for this reason that governments go to such linguistic and logical leaps to not declare genocide when one is clearly underway. It is percisely this reason that has caused our own government to tiptoe up to the line--but not quite over--where genocide is declared, and this is an unmitigated tragedy.

It's pure politics why we don't: no international backing, and domestic politics--those who feel no intervention is justified.

Time and agin in the 20th century the world has stood by and done little more than talk while the butchers rang up a bloodier and bloodier bill. Cambodia, Rawanda, Iraq...the list goes on.

So in answer to the question of "why not Darfur", I answer "why not indeed?"