Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, December 31, 2004

Greens and Tsunami: Put Earth First

First, I'll share the good thing about trolling through greenie and leftist blogs for their take on the tsunami disaster: Their desire to help parallels ours, with links to donation sites and challenges to contribute.

Some of the targets of their contributions, though, are troubling: Red Crescent instead of Red Cross, and eco-sensitive charities like one that provides insecticide-permeated mosquito nettings as an answer to malaria, so DDT might not be used. There are two problems with that: First, people only spend eight hours a day under mosquito netting and 16 hours not under it. Second, the environmental harm posed by DDT has been challenged and, many would say, dismissed as a hoax.

But the greens soldier on, putting earth first, people second.

Fish First

WorldChanging, a site that bills itself as "Models, Tools, and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future," leads this charge. Within days of the disaster, it had posted a lengthy, link-laden paper on the possible impact of the tsunamis not on people, but on fish. "How many fish were washed ashore? How many reefs were damaged?" it asks. How can their minds even go there when the human suffering is on such an incomprehensible scale?

The conclusion of the article is shocking: Until we know what impact the tsunamis had on local fish populations and their ability to re-establish themselves, "the fishing industry may have to be suspended to allow for the sea life to adapt and adjust."

Perhaps the authors have never been to Asia and witnessed the importance of seafood in the diet. It is, unquestionably, the most important protein source to these billions of human beings. In suggesting eliminating this source of protein, the ecologists are saying they are willing to risk even more human death and malnutrition while they study Mother Earth.

If you question the wisdom of removing fishing and a fish-based diet from the region, especially at this time, they have a response: "New livelihoods and sources of food may have to be found." As if the reconstruction facing the region is not already daunting enough; they want to introduce a new economy as well!

This is a common thread running through the environmental movement -- the desire to put the study of nature above the needs of man, coupled with the need to change man to suit their view of how we should live. The other common thread is to blame natural disasters on humans, not nature.

Mangrove Madness

WorldChanging adds its voice to whose who blame the loss of life on development, not nature. The culprit is, of course, capitalism; this time, it's form is resort developers and operators. The charge is they removed mangrove swamps that protected the coast, opening the population to devastation.

To drive this point home, they quote Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN), who says (here):

"What has made this a disaster is that people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn't have occupied," he told AFP in a telephone interview from Paris. "Fifty years ago the coastline was not densely occupied as now by tourist hotels.

"The hotels did not replace traditional villages because the villagers built inland, McNeely said.

This is hogwash on so many levels it boggles the mind; yet it was dutifully reported as truth by the greens' toadies in the MSM.

First, the traditional fishing villages were not built inland. I toured Southeast Asia extensively in the late 1960s, before the tourist hotels arrived, and villages hugged the coast throughout the region even then, as they have for thousands of years. (It's one reason why the death toll from the eruption of Krakatoa was so high.) Seafront fishing villages are what you'd expect in a fishing-based economy, but McNeely decided to just lie instead, and his lie was published unchallenged.

Second, the alleged decimation of mangrove swamps has not been documented; rather MSM is accepting enviro statements as truths. Enviros always overstate habitat loss, and I'm certain that when things have settled, we'll find that it was overstated here, as well.

Third, McNeely ignores the fact that human societies strive to evolve towards better places, even though he no doubt encourages just such activities among critters. In the towns with tourist economies, there is more work, more money, more medicine and, yes, more environmental protections (like sewage plants) than exist with the earlier sustanance-based fishing villages.

Fourth, the greens emphasize the relatively few areas where development occurred and ignore the much more massive tragedy elsewhere. For every mangrove-deficient tourist town hit, hundreds of tiny villages were hit. In these villages, there were mangrove swamps, yet there was death and destruction on a similar scale.

My take-away from this is not reassuring. The UN will be in charge of much of the relief effort, and this sort of green-think is prevalent among UN aid agency bureaucrats. I fear they will use the disaster as a means to further eco-socialist restructuring of societies, which will not only further the immediate suffering of the people, but ensure their long-term suffering as well.

For more examples of enviroploitation of the tragedy, see the Steven Milloy's Junk Science opinion piece on Fox News.

Another Take on Greens & Tsunami

Greenie Watch has an interesting post (here) that takes a different angle than my post above -- he shows how some greens see the disaster as evidence than man is trying to do "too much" and should just back off in the face of nature's dominance.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Greenies, Lefties and the Tsunami

I've been surfing the leftist and environmentalist blogs looking for their take on the tsunamis. Here are some cullings:

From Daily Kos:
This unimaginable, horrible catastrophe, had the potential to demonstrate the "compassionate" side of the United States and reap goodwill in the Muslim world (much like Clinton's Kosovo liberation did for some time.)

Instead, we just handed Osama Bin Laden a PR bonanza. And you better believe Muslim charities -- many run by radicals like Hamas -- will fill the void and fan the flames of discontent.

As I mentioned before this appears to be a natural disaster, however the conspiracy portion of my brain wonders if this natural disaster wasn't so natural.
Here's an interesting scenario to nibble on: The Bush junta is tired of explaining itself to the media. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice are sick of the liberals in this country pointing out how many American lives are being lost in and his cronies devise a cunning and dastardly plan. In order to take people's minds off of Iraq why not create a natural disaster?
We've done underwater nuclear weapons tests before (see Bikini Atoll) and they have a significant seismic effect. Is it then possible that the Bush regime detonated a large nuclear device on the ocean floor off the coast of Indonesia? After all, a natural disaster of these proportions certainly takes your mind off Iraq...
Love Mother Earth. She's the only one we got. And if we piss her off, there will be a price to pay. She can be a mean, nasty landlady. Remember the old commercial about fooling Mother Nature? Don't try it.

From Swami Uptown:
As someone struggling with the most basic concepts of Buddhism, I never really get past the first fact of life: The ground is not solid. Things change. Without any apparent reason.

[This is one of the reasons I so loathe George W. Bush and his inner circle-- their absolute certainty. And then they cover their smug sense of rightness with religion, which only makes them more ridiculous. Where in the New Testament is it written that Christ confers unerring confidence to those who believe?]

From Maggie Thatcher's Underpants:
There's something truly sickening about the condescending 'relief' efforts that rich, powerful Western nations mount whenever a natural disaster hits a poor part of the world. Contrast the billions spent on the fraudulent 'War on Terror' and Iraq invasion with the paltry, insulting, shameful amounts pledged to the people deeply affected by the Boxing Day Asian Earthquake.
Perhaps it's too much to ask - after all the Indian Ocean Tsunami is only one the of the biggest natural disasters to hit the world in the last century - but where's Tony Blair when some real leadership is needed? I'll tell you where; still on holiday in Egypt. So while 75,000 lie dead with as many again predicted to be found buried below the rubble, and more than 5m now homeless, Tony tops up his suntan.

From PSoTD:
As specific incidents of sheer human loss, the earthquake/tsunami toll is much, much greater [than 9/11]. It remains to be seen if the priorities of the wealthiest nations on the earth, in policy and expenditure, will accurately reflect that human cost in future decisionmaking. If the past is any indicator, it's unlikely.

From Iddybud:
"There are mysterious forces out there that are not fully understood by our oh-so-rational selves. I am reminded of the strange signs and omens that historians recorded before calamities: for instance the rain of frogs in Vietnam preceding the cataclysmic war. Or the odd celestial signs that preceded the death of Julius Caesar.

It is said that the very elements can be affected by the mystical powers of sages who have acquired superhuman powers through meditation and sadhana. I think we should all tread carefully, for now we are treading on things we do not know."--Rajeev Srinivasan

From That's Going Too Far:
George Bush is once again at his Texas ranch clearing brush, according to White House aides. The greatest natural disaster in modern times is unfolding in Southeast Asia, and he is moving bramble around on his godforsaken patch of dust like Sisyphus in a Stetson. How much brush can there be to clear? And what the hell is he “clearing” it away for? Is he planning to build a landing strip on the lower 40? Create the world’s largest ball of brush?

From The Daily Crow:
I mean, what the ****? 50,000 people killed from a **** earthquake and tidal wave fiasco?! Wow! That is truly stunning. I wonder if this is the start of very dramatic, much more dramatic, Mother Nature activity. There could certainly be more plate shifting, earth quaking activities. Scary, scary stuff.

Hearts go out to those poor folks. Mine sure does. It’s a good thing our lives are in “His” hands, and this is just a big part of “His” big plan for christians proving their love to “Him”. So, if you’re up there... **** You God!!!

From Informed Comment:
As John F. Harris and Robin Wright of the Washington Post cannily note, US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).

Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.

From Ken Sain:
I mean, seriously, anyone who has looked at how [Bush] has spent the U.S. taxpayers' money cannot call the man stingy. He never saw a dime or nickel that our great, great grandchildren might one day have that he didn't want to spend.

World Weeps, Kofi Skis

Amid criticisms of Bush for being in Texas and Blair for being in Cairo (see post below), was anyone wondering where Kofi Annan was?

It turns out he was skiing in Jackson Hole and opted to stay there for three more days after the tsunami hit.

We may not hear this mentioned much in the MSM or liberal blogs -- but really, it makes little difference where Bush, Blair or Annan were or what they did in the days after the tsunami. They are leaders (well, maybe not Annan), and they have staffs for these sorts of things (well, maybe not Annan).

Refugee Photos Damn Arafat, Arabs

The fourth photo-essay on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by LA Times photographer Rich Loomis is a ringing condemnation of Arafat and the Arabs.

One cannot look at the pictures of desolation and hopelessness and not think of the hundreds of millions of relief dollars Arafat and his cronies spent on themselves rather than their people.

One cannot look at these pictures and not think of the Arab nations so quick to condemn Israel and so slow to help their Palestinian "brothers."

One cannot look at these pictures and not think of the UN, which has passed so many resolutions to condemn Israel, but has done so little to help the Palestinian people.

Falloujah Doom-Writing

The vultures are descending on Falloujah, and they're carrying reporter's notebooks.

Today's LA Times piece by Edmund Sanders (here) is a case in point. Sanders asks how there can be an election in 30 days, given the chaos of Falloujah, then he illustrates the point with tales of destroyed homes, broken infrastructure and heavy security restrictions on the population.

I'm sympathetic to the families who are returning to see their homes destroyed. Perhaps it would have been better for them to cooperate with the new Iraqi government instead of allowing and even supporting terrorist insurgents in their midst.

Sanders fails to point out a few things:
  • No one was offering a Democratic election in Falloujah when Saddam Hussein was in power.
  • In nearly all the rest of Iraq, none of his concerns apply, since 15 of the country's 18 provinces are stable.
  • Perhaps rubble in the streets of Fallujah is better than beheaded bodies in the streets of Fallujah and blood-stained rape and torture chambers off the alleys of Fallujah.

Did Tsunamis Wash Away God?

Australia is a largely secular country on the doorstep of the terrible tsunami tragedy. Thoughtful Aussies are trying to sort out the meaning of the disaster, perhaps even more earnestly than we are. One such attempt, authored by Dr. Edward Spence, an Australian philosopher at Charles Sturt University, appears under the headline, "Waves of Destruction Wash Away Belief in God's Benevolence." (here, registration required; hat tip Real Clear Politics)

Spence's thesis is this: Perhaps, though omnipotent, He is not benevolent. That might explain why, although it was within His power to stop the tsunami, He simply chose not to: God has His own reasons and we are not to ask why. However, this answer will not suffice since by definition God is perfect. Being perfect, He must of necessity not merely be omnipotent but benevolent as well.

To be proved valid, Dr. Spence's thesis must survive this analysis: Would the characteristics of a non-benevolent God explain the nature of life on Earth?

The answer is clearly no. If one looks at the universe, Earth is a uniquely hospitable place, and it took an insurmountable amount of chance (from an evolutionary point of view) or an incomprehensible amount of care and effort (from an intelligent design point of view) to make it so. Christian astrophysicist Hugh Ross writes of this extensively (here), describing the exquisite fine-tuning required to provide a temperate atmosphere, fresh water, modest seasonal change, just the right amount of night and day, radiation protection and more, without any one of which Earth would be just another frozen orb floating in a hostile universe.

Human creation is by definition a benevolent act, so the Creator must be a benevolent creator.

Spence also fails to consider the question of God's sorrow, which helps to explain disasters. He accepts, then rejects because it offers no comfort, the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the said the gods were simply indifferent to human joy and sorrow. This conflicts with a bio on Spence, which describes him as "a moderate Epicurean."

Neither moderate nor full-blown Epicurians can answer this question: How do we know that God isn't weeping benevolent tears of incomprehensible sorrow in Heaven as he watches this tragedy? Because he did not act to stop it does not prove God is not benevolent, it merely proves that for some reason we don't understand, he didn't intervene. Not couldn't, but didn't intervene.

Like most whose faith is challenged by disasters large and small, Spence fails to consider that God exists in a different time continuum than we do. For them, these deaths are final; for God they are a slightly quicker end to a short span of human life, after which eternity beckons. But, some might ask, if another day or week or year were granted a certain person swept away in Indonesia or Sri Lanka, might they have accepted Christ, been saved by grace, and had a different eternity?

Don't you think an omniscient God who lives outside our time would know that person's heart? Besides, none of us knows when our end will come, whether by speeding truck, clogged arteries or waves of destruction. How could He give them more time and not give us all more time?

Spence can't figure out his conundrum and concludes still confused about the nature of God: Ultimately, the problem of evil confronts us not as a puzzle to be solved but as a mystery to be experienced. How confused Secularists can become. It's all quite clear to me, but then I didn't even know people could be categorized as "moderate Epicureans" and would probably be considered horribly unsophisticated by most university philosophy professors.

Greenies: Oil Companies Caused Earthquake

You read it right: Some in the environmental movement have found a "link" between the Southeast Asian earthquake/tsunami disaster and that mean old internal combustion engine and the companies that feed them. I found this via a couple link click-throughs at Environmentalist Whackos:

Now I dont claim to be an expert on seismic activity, but there has been a series of events which led up to the 9.0 earthquake of the coast of Indonesia which can not be ignored. This all could be an enormous coincidence, but one must look at the information and choose for themselves whether there is anything to it.

On November 28th, one month ago, Reuters reported that during a 3 day span 169 whales and dolphins beached themselves in Tasmania, an island of the southern coast of mainland Australia. The cause for these beachings is not known, but Bob Brown, a senator in the Australian parliament, said "sound bombing" or seismic tests of ocean floors to test for oil and gas had been carried out near the sites of the Tasmanian beachings recently. ...

A great deal of interest and seismic testing has been taking place in this area, as the government of Australia has given great tax breaks to encourage the oil exploration.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

America the Stingy?

"It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really," said Jan Egeland, the Norwegian bureaucrat who heads up relief efforts for the United Nations of the US' initial promise of $15 billion in aid.

Jonah Goldberg expertly dissects the UN budget and US giving in his Town Hall column. (here) Hat tip Real Clear Politics. Besides detailing the hard costs, he analyzes the soft, like how much value we provide the world by keeping the sea lanes clear, deterring North Korea from taking over South Korea, and so on and on.

And he summarzies:

Meanwhile, American citizens, partly thanks to those stingy low taxes, send some $34 billion in private aid around the world every year. That's 10 times the United Nations total budget. America's Christian ministries, private foundations and agencies all do far more in direct charity and aid than the United Nations. But bureaucrats - some who've grown fat on oil-for-food money - measure stinginess in terms of support to the bureaucracy, not to the constituency the bureaucracy was intended to help.

Tsunami Detection Explained

Opinion Journal has a greatly informative article on the hows/why/why nots of tsunami protection and education (here). Hat tip Real Clear Politics.

Volker Clouds Oil-for-Food Issue

Former Fed Chair Paul Volker says the $10-$20 billion figures being tossed about in MSM and the blogsophere as the price tag for Saddam's exploitation of the UN oil-for-food fromgram -- under the UN's "watchful" eyes -- is an overstatement. (here)

"Without question, (there were) problems in the oil-for-food area," Volcker said. "But when you look at those US$10 billion figures, or US$20 billion figures, most of those numbers are so-called smuggling, much of which was known and taken note of by the Security Council, but not stopped."

Volcker refused to speculate on why the council didn't stop the smuggling, but indicated the issue would likely be addressed in his reports. An initial report is expected in January and a final report in the summer, he said.

Volcker stressed that his inquiry is focused on "what went wrong or right inside the U.N." in managing the oil-for-food program.

If this is true, it raises two questions: First, why did the UN allow the smuggling to go on, even though the Security Council was aware of it?

And second -- much more important for the long term -- if Volker knows this now, why isn't the scope of his study being expanded to include both oil-for-food and smuggling? What good will it do if he focuses on only half, and possibly the smaller half, of the overall scandal?

Why God Allows Earthquakes

77,000 dead, and officials say the death count could double once post-tsunami disease takes its toll. "How does a loving God allow such a tragedy?" I asked yesterday. A number of good, well-thought answers to this question came in overnight.

From Adrian Warnock:

Jesus' reply to a disaster of his day.......
We must not fall into the age old trap of thinking that the recent disaster was
a specific judgement of God on either the victims or the world. Jesus made it very clear his view on that when asked about a disaster of his time. In fact he made us realise that the reality is far worse- we are all under threat of death and "perishing". That threat is commuted every day. God said that on the day that Adam sinned he would die. In a way God never kept that promise, and the fact he didn't is grace. Every breath, the fact that we werent swept off a beach somewhere, food, a home, a job, a family, it is all grace. We have no rights. Our first sin took them away. Maybe God allows events like this to shake us from the lie that we are immortal here on earth. The bell will toll for me one day. What will they say at my funeral?

I thank God for second (and third, fourth, fith etc....) chances, and that the gospel really is good news to the hopeless.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
ESV Bible Online: Passage: Luke 13

And a hat tip to Anne at Palm Tree Pundit, this from Krista at Theology Mom:

Good God, Cruel World?
I have been deeply saddened by the reports of the devastation from the recent earthquake/tsunami disaster. The death toll is over 59,000 now. That boggles the mind.I was particularly struck by this quote in today's AP news wire store: "Why did you do this to us, God?" wailed an old woman in a devastated fishing village in southern India's Tamil Nadu state. "What did we do to upset you? This is worse than death."It raised the theological question in my mind: Are natural disasters and disease the result of God's divine judgment? Jesus answers this question quite clearly in the negative on at least two occassions.

Tower of Siloam – Luke 13:1-5 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Man born blind – John 9 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

My boss, Hugh Ross, also makes an interesting observation. A more sadistic God could have created a planet that would have been devastated by such natural disasters of this magnitude, or worse, on a daily basis. In fact, Mars is a great example of this which has hurricanes which never cease. Instead, God graciously fine-tuned the earth to undergo a minimum number of natural disasters. Here are a couple of articles on the topic (sorry, an annoying registration is required to view the articles):

Hurricanes bring more than destruction," by Hugh Ross
"Good God, Cruel World?" by Krista Bontrager

None of my comments here should be in any way construed as to diminish the tragic loss of life that our Asian friends are suffering right now. The world, especially Christians, have a responsibility to rally to their aid.

Krista's right, not just on her theology, but also on her conclusion. Here's a link to a good place to contribute: World Vision.

Media Bias: Bush Social Security Plan

The Washington Times warns us to be wary of news coverage of the Bush Social Security reform plan that excludes words like "voluntary," "bonds" and "diversified mutual funds." (here)

The WashTimes is not just speculating about biased coverage that could happen; its crosstown rival provided the perfect example of real, here and now distortion:

The Washington Post ran a story on its front page Wednesday based on a poll conducted Dec. 19 that asked people if they would support or oppose a plan that lets workers put part of their Social Security payroll taxes "in the stock market."

The poll said that a majority of 53 percent agreed and 44 percent opposed the idea. The poll also asked if people would support such a plan if "the stock market went down." That's about as loaded a question as you can imagine. In response to this question, the Post reported, "62 percent said they would not participate in such a program if it meant their retirement income would go up or down depending on the performance of their stock picks --- which is the essence of Bush's plan."

Well, that's not true. The essence of Mr. Bush's plan is far broader than this, though the Post chose not to mention it in their story or in their polling. Mr. Bush's proposal would allow workers, if they choose, to invest a small part of their payroll taxes in stock or bond funds or a combination of the two, through balanced, broad-based, highly diversified mutual funds. These are the same kind of funds that tens of millions of Americans at all income levels invest in now. These are the same kind of funds that federal employees are allowed to invest their pension contributions in now, including many members of Congress in both parties.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Why Does God Allow Earthquakes?

Martin Kettle doesn't try to answer the religious questions raised by the earthquake and tsunami in his Guardian column (here, hat tip Real Clear Politics), but he certainly poses them.

The earthquake, he points out, was a "mindless natural event, which destroyed Muslim and Hindu alike." Science can explain mindlessness without a hitch, but how do we reconcile our belief in a compassionate God with such events? Here, Kettle does a good job of posing all the questions:

What God sanctions an earthquake? What God protects against it? Why does the quake strike these places and these peoples and not others? What kind of order is it that decrees that a person who went to sleep by the edge of the ocean on Christmas night should wake up the next morning engulfed by the waves, struggling for life?

From at least the time of Aristotle, intelligent people have struggled to make some sense of earthquakes. Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur. Europe in the 18th century had the intellectual curiosity and independence to ask and answer such questions. But can we say the same of 21st-century Europe? Or are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things?

It's easy for me to see even the horrific death of an innocent child at the hands of an incompetent surgeon, a drunk driver or an abusive parent as the act of a fallen world. But how do you reconcile something like 42,000 dead from an earthquake with a compassionate God?

I am certain that God is compassionate about the horror He sees unfolding, just as I am certain that this disaster offers ample opportunity for people to see the good works of the good people of God. I also know that every one of the people now dead in Southeast Asia would have died anyway at some point or another, and that their time here on earth is a speck in the timeline of eternity.

But in tragedies of this scope, I would like to see an explanation that provides more comforting answers. If you have one, please share it.

Hanukkah and Democracy

ItsComeDown2This has a thought-provoking article and poll drawing parallels between the story of Hanukkah and the proposed planting of democracy in the Islamic world.

Think about this point he poses -- We can claim that the western world is only bringing the sweet aroma of democracy to the region. However, there are problems with that if a people desire a comingling of government and religion. The reality is that democracy may not be the best way to run a religion and by extension a religious government. Then take the poll.

A Chance for the UN to Shine

The UN has proven its inability to serve as a peacekeeping force, but now it has a chance to prove that it can provide a great service to mankind as a distributor of relief.

The incomprehensibly widespread and tragic consequences of the tsunamis are an opportunity for the UN to be a strong, united international organization with a clear mission. It should be able to solicit, manage and speed food, medicine, clothing and materials to countries along the Indian Ocean.

Of course, the UN got off to a bad start, accusing the US, the largest contributor of aid funding to that organization, of being greedy. See the Washington Times piece, here.


When I went to meetings at the US Fish & Wildlife Service office in Carlsbad CA on behalf of land developers a few years ago, there was a car in their parking lot with the bumper sticker, "Developers, Go Build in Hell!" After my clients and I protested, the head of the Carlsbad office laid down the law, requiring that Service employees not engage in such public displays of their personal prejudices.

Now a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit is pushing this point further, charging a husband and wife US Forest Service team of conspiring with a local environmental activist to stop a project proposed on land adjacent to their home. They counter that it's an illegal SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit.

The owner of the property in question, Irving Okovita, bought 12.5 acres near the town of Fawnskin on the shore of Big Bear Lake, a popular resort destination in Southern California. He hopes to build condos and a marina there. The Forest Service employees, Robin (a biologist) and Scott (a botanist) Eliason live near the property and are members of the anti-Okovita group Friends of Fawnskin.

Okavita alleges the Eliasons and their supervisor, Gene Zimmerman, worked with Friends of Fawnskin activist Sandy Steers to stop the project, and provided government information to Steers for that purpose.

Usually, developers can strike a compromise with regulators, sustaining a palatable economic loss (a smaller development) in return for permission to build. In this case, Okavita faced Forest Service employees who were, in fact, activists with a vested economic interest in the outcome of the planning process.

Federal employees should be prohibited across the board from joining groups engaged in areas they are responsible for regulating, be that group the Building Industry Association or Friends of Fawnskin. It's required of judges, it's even required of journalists.

I'm hoping that soon it will be required of the Eliasons and others like them, no matter what the merits of Okavita's case. I'll be following this case.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Hugh on Hugh's New Book

Hugh reports that his new book, Blog, is breaking through the 200's on Amazon, even though it's still nearly three weeks before it hits the streets.

Now that he's talking about it (here), I'll share with you what he said about the book a couple weeks back when he spoke to the Orange County chapter of the Public Relations Society of America on the subject of blogging and laid down a plug or two for Blog.

Given the audience, he spoke a lot about the applicability of blogs to PR, and when you think of it, that's all we've been doing for the last year -- using blogs to communicate, to influence opinion, to inform. You can count on the book to detail the history of the emergence of the blogsophere with detailed analysis of the Trent Lott, Swiftboats and Rathergate stories -- and since his talk was no doubt a much abbreviated version of the book, the detail will be magnificent.

Hugh spoke at length about how bloggers become believable (by earning it on an individual basis) and countered this with how MSM have become believable (by riding a wave that's been rolling for 100 years or more). He relayed the self-correcting mechanisms of blogs and contrasted them to the late, grudging and often nonexistent correcting mechanisms of MSM.

The book will be, in short, a true believer's apologetic about the blogsophere.

What will be interesting and different to most of us political wonk bloggers will be the amount of thought Hugh has put into positing the potential of blogs for sales and marketing. For example, if it were your job to make Pampers continue to outsell Huggies, wouldn't you create "momblog" as a communications tool? Of course. It's not altogether too different from starting a blog called ... say, Kerryspot ... to influence an election.

In the Q&A, we enjoyed a discussion about blogs as a replacement for daily media, complete with reporting, opinion and advertising. An example is LBReport, a one-man show that serves as a daily paper in Long Beach CA. While still a web site, not a blog, it looks and acts more like a reported blog every day. Around the audience, people knew of several other "small city dailies" of the blogosphere. The cost of entry into the media just dropped considerably, since printing presses and newsprint are no longer mandatory.

Hmmm ... I've always wanted my own newspaper....

Hugh's book will inspire thinking like that, so place your order now, or plan to keep the doors of your (blogging) perception closed.

Photos from Israel

A dramatic photo essay by Rick Loomis in today's LA Times answers a question posed in the cover article: Are suicide attacks "A scourge upon innocents or a brutal equalizer in an unequal war?"

Those who don't buy into moral equivalency arguments will answer the former, and the photos make a compelling case for that, with powerful images of the aftermath of homicide bomber attacks. The repression and disruption of Palestinian life caused by Israeli security efforts may be significant, but the targets largely earned what hit them; that is clearly not the case with the bombings that initiate the security concerns. They target innocents. There is no moral equivalence.

Still, with journalistic objectivity, the photos show the resulting impact of Israeli force in surrounding Palestinian towns, and it's not pleasant. But the other photos, of the bombings are much more than simply "not pleasant." Several more essays in the series will follow; let's hope the LA Times can maintain objectivity.

An Exit Poll To Believe In

Yushchenko heads for win in Ukraine

Three exit polls yesterday showed pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko ahead by double digits in a replay of an earlier election in which his Moscow-backed opponent prevailed through massive vote fraud.

The Uniformity and Excellence of America

All three Incredible Daughters and I strolled from our hotel over to the Fresno International House of Pancakes yesterday morning. After giving our names to the host, I walked back to the restroom, knowing just where to go because the restaurant is exactly the same as the one we breakfast at after church back home, 280 miles away.

This struck me, so I paid attention. The tables were full of people who looked just the same, and talked about just the same kind of subjects, and dressed just the same as those back home. Home is the third most dense and, I think, third most affluent county in the US. Here in Fresno, it's much less urban, with a still strong agricultural base and a less go-go economy. Yet the clothes, the appearance and the permiating good, confident nature were the same.

The standardization that is McDonalds, Home Depot and Borders may be chilling for some, but it also represents not just the perfecting of a concept far above what the world has ever expected, but also the ability to successfully replicate it.

Things like standardization and abundance drive my Internationalist mother and brother nuts. I remember my brother saying, "Who needs 35 kinds of cupcakes?" as a damning indictment of all things American after he was overseas for a number of years. Well, we Americans seem to, and the fact that we can choose between Ho-Ho, Moon Pies, Twinkies and Snow-Balls is as American as 12 apple pie choices.

These thoughts were confirmed by the start of a new Washington Times series this morning under the headline, "America enjoys view from the top." (here) David R. Sands starts the article with a quote from the former head of the Australian Film Commission: "A country that makes a film like 'Star Wars' deserves to rule the world."

It's a great piece, full of quotes and stats you'll want to remember, particularly if your life includes a few Internationalists like mine does. Just a couple appetite-whetters for you:

"You cannot imagine the impact of the American election in Europe," Italian religious philosopher and politician Rocco Buttiglione says during a recent Washington visit.

"America is modernity, and what takes place in America today will take place in Europe in 10, 15 or 20 years," he says. "The Europeans, all of a sudden, had to discover that America is religious, that ethical issues are relevant to politics." ...

The Internet's early partisans saw it as a global leveler, giving equal access and voice to users in the most remote corners of the globe.

But the Web became yet another expression of U.S. dominance, cementing the status of English as the globe's universal language. Although Americans aren't the most numerous users of the Internet, a recent survey found that the estimated 115 million U.S.-based Web sites dwarfs that of second-place Japan, home to 13 million sites. ...

In matters of faith, the United States remains distinct from other industrial powers. America has more churches, synagogues, temples and mosques per capita than any other country on earth, U.S. News & World Report recently noted. That's about one house of religion for every 865 persons. ...

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Islamification Moving Fast, But To Where?

The Islamification of Europe was featured last week in a Washington Times four-part series that included both a troubling view of increased fanaticism, and a passive view that it's just an economic issue and not all that much cause for concern -- "they do the jobs no one else will do." (here)

In Europe and here the question of how established societies will respond to a growing, terror-tinged population of Arabs and Muslims will test our principles and our security.

The European immigration is now over 50 years old, having started with waves of North African immigrants who came to help rebulid Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. It's entrenched, multi-generational, and large: In a few years, the Muslim population of Europe will be equal to the black population in America on a percentage basis, and by mid-century, they will constitute 20 percent of the continent's population.

Like American blacks, European Muslims tend to be concentrated in older urban neighborhoods and are not enjoying the same degree of economic prosperity as the majority of the white population. Politicians will rally them, champion them and use them, and the results will likely frustrate a great number of young Muslims, who have access to mentors in violence that are far more sophisticated than the Black Panthers ever were.

A Chicago Tribune piece, run in today's OC Register (here) looks at this powder keg situtation in detail. Here's a typical passage:

From the Paris suburbs 25 years ago, Shiite Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini planned a revolution that ultimately overthrew the Shah of Iran and, in turn, helped inspire a global Islamic revival. The fallout is easily visible today as the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants in Europe increasingly embrace religion. In France and England, polls show greater commitment to daily prayers, mosque attendance and fasting during Ramadan than there was a decade ago.

Unlike earlier immigrants, who were bent on returning home flush with cash, more-recent arrivals have been deterred by the turmoil in their homelands and stayed, building families that are larger than those of their graying ethnic European neighbors. The effect is amplified by the decline of European Christianity. The number of people who call themselves Catholic, the continent's largest denomination, has declined by more than a third in the past 25 years.

The results are stark. Within six years, for instance, the three largest cities in the Netherlands will be majority Muslim. One-third of all German Muslims are younger than 18, nearly twice the proportion among the general population.

With that growth, and the deepening strains between the U.S. and the Islamic world, radical Muslim clerics have found no shortage of adherents. A 2002 poll of British Muslims found that 44 percent believe attacks by al-Qaida are justified as long as "Muslims are being killed by America and its allies using American weapons." Germany estimates that there are 31,000 Islamists in the country, based on membership lists of some federations.

Our Muslim population is growing as well, with the same sort of split in the population between secularists, reformists and fundamentalists, so Europe is proving to be an interesting Petri dish for us to observe. But it will be like observing global warming: The systems are so complex, there are minute trends and mighty events to be observed, there are conflicting information points, slow change and flash points.

It seems like all we can count on is that we'll know how it all turns out when it all turns out -- and that's not good enough.

LAT Editorial Kicks Up Some Dust

An LATimes editorial on, of all things, dust provides some chuckles and thought provocation. (here)

The premise is a new theory that planets come from matter the Endust apparently left behind. Pulled across the universe, it gradually collects around new stars and becomes new Earths, but, as the editorialist points out, "without the traffic or billboards."

Haven't heard this theory yet? The LATimes has the answer:

Because these discoveries had nothing to do with murder or sex and concerned something as trivial as the origin of the universe and all life, the news was not widely distributed on Earth. Not even on "Entertainment Tonight." It made Page 28 of this newspaper.

And, in a rare moment of acceptance of the foolishness of trying to explain the creation of the universe without using the word "divine," the editorialist admits,

Dust is even more ubiquitous than pet hairs, once thought by many to be the foundation of all matter.

Funny stuff.

Picking on Pikas

Here's one you might have missed in today's LATimes. Most sane people would.

Pika Rodent Numbers Decreasing in the West

Populations of the American pika, a hamster-like rodent unable to survive in warm climates, continue to decline in the West, apparently due in part to global warming, researchers said.

Local populations of pikas are extinct at more than one-third of 25 sites surveyed since the mid-1990s in the Great Basin region, according to the study conducted by a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey.

What a fantasy! This is about as realistic as a story reading, "Northern Ohio Democrats, unable to survive in warm climates, were unable to reach polls, evidence that global warming re-elected the president."

Global warming, to the extent it exists, is a long-term trend, and temperature differentiations in the Great Basin over the last five years have not been significant, if even measurable as a trend of change. What has been going on in the Great Basin over the last five years is a drought, and population drops of one-third can be expected during droughts. Pika, like all species, will decrease in number in response to drought (or floods, or cold winters), and increase in easier years.

Doomsayers will simply counter that the drought was caused by global warming, I suppose, but that's as hard to prove as the original position, implied by the LATimes, that temperature change is creating this havok.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Matlin Gives a Good Christmas Eve Read

Michelle Matlin has a great column at Town Hall (here) that goes beyond our country's really somewhat petty bans of things Christmas and describes the much more real persecutions Christians are suffering around the globe. Hat tip Double Toothpicks.

It's thoughtful reading on this Christmas Eve. Enjoy the freedom to celebrate the wonder of Christ's birth, and pray for our brothers and sisters in much less tolerant lands.

UN Does Something in Africa!

The UN actually fired some shots in an effort to bring normalcy to areas of Africa, the New York Times reports with some surprise in an article headlined "Novely in Congo: UN Investigates a Massacre." (here)

Here's a look at life in the Congo village of Ndrele:

Theft was commonplace when the militiamen from the Armed Forces of the Congolese People ran Ndrele. A woman selling fruit says she had to give some to whichever armed man came by. At the end of the day, other guerrillas would insist on a portion of her profits. They called it taxation.

The men would beat or kill anyone who dared to resist. Rape was a constant danger. One activist, Sofi Aromborac, has a list of 282 girls and women who have been raped over the past two years. "Even if you were an old woman like me, you could be raped," she said.

Concerned about the rising abuses, United Nations peacekeepers, most from Nepal, surrounded the militia base on the hill overlooking the town in early December and ordered the fighters to surrender. When they refused, the two sides exchanged fire, with the guerrillas eventually breaking through the soldiers' line and retreating.

It was the largest military engagement involving Congo peacekeepers since they were deployed here in 2000, United Nations officials said. It was followed by a raid on another militia camp 12 miles away, in Mahagi. In that case, the militias retreated even more swiftly.

There you have it. After years of beatings, killings and 282 rapes by renegade forces, and we get Nepalese troops firing some shots in "the largest military engagement" by the UN in Congo in four years. Obviously, the UN shares the world's lack of commitment to do something really effective in Africa.

Injudicial Reporting at LA Times

Is it just extremely lousy reporting or an extremely lousy heart? Probably a little of both, as the LA Times launches its first shot in what may just be CSM's next "Scoundrel Chronicles" list of media bias: The Bush judicial nominations. (here)

It starts with the headline:

Bush to Revive Failed Judicial Nominations

Hmm. Maybe "filibuster" is just too long a word for a headline. (It really isn't, as you'll see later in this post.) There are a couple passing mentions of filibusters in the Times story, but the emphasis of the article paints a picture of the nominees FAILING to win Senate approval, when in fact they were never given the opportunity to face a Senate vote.

And don't you think there just might have been a better photo than this one of Judge Janice Brown, which was prominently displayed in the article and the LA Times web site:

The photo is an example of photo editing as media bias. There are not a ton of Janice Brown photos on Google, but all of them are better than this one, which seems to show a major judicial nominee on the point of tears. Surely the LA Times photographers had numerous images more complimentary than this one for their editors to select from.

Meanwhile, the OC Register quickly dispenses with any chance it would repeat the LATimes' foolishness. (here) Compare this headline to the LA Times hed:

Bush resumes judge battle with filibustering Democrats

No mention of "failing" in the Senate and a clear mention of filibustering. And the Register's second paragraph more clearly defines the story than the entire LATimes story did:

The list includes seven of the 10 candidates whose nominates failed during Bush's first term because of Democratic filibusters that blocked Senate confirmation votes.

There. Was that so hard? Apparently it is, if you are the agenda-driven, extremely anti-Bush LATimes.

Against all the hand-wringing over the meaning of the "morality vote," the LATimes story shows MSM still can't stomach the key elements of the conservative agenda: right to life, Constitutionalism and small government. As the nominations proceed, it's unlikely they'll be able to moderate their bias, even with the knowledge that they do so at the risk of further alienating their already shrinking reader/viewer base.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Tacky, Tacky Times

The LA Times could not resist a real bottom-feeder of a swipe at the Bush Administration today, buried deep in an article on proposed changes to forest management rpotocols. (here)

The last four paragraphs of the 28-paragraph article detail the contributions made by representatives of the timber industry to the president and other GOP candidates in the 2004 campaign. The amount was not insubstantial: $1.7 million.

That's a chunk of change, but it is nothing compared to the amount of "green" greenbacks that went to Kerry and the Dems in 2004. Do you think for a minute the LATimes would include a paragraph of environmentalist contributions to the DNC, had Kerry been elected and began turning back some of the progress towards environmental balance achieved by Bush?

In fact, most MSM cannot apply the concept of "balance" to environmental policy; it's an all or nothing proposition for them. No amount of protection is too much, and there's always an environmentalist with a quote when something less extreme is proposed.

But the facts are different. The Clintonistas pushed environmental regulations far beyond what Congress ever anticipated and a correction is due -- a fact you'll never see the LA Times admitting to.

President Puts Christ Back In Christmas

Here is the text of President Bush's Christmas Message. Apparently many Bush-haters are riled up about the first paragraph. Sigh. Oh, come, all ye tolerant: Just give us Easter and Christmas; you can have the other 363 days. We'll even give you 364 in leap years.

Presidential Christmas Message, 2004

For 2,000 years, Christmas has proclaimed a message of hope: the patient hope of men and women across centuries who listened to the words of prophets and lived in joyful expectation; the hope of Mary, who welcomed God's plan with great faith; and the hope of wise men, who set out on a long journey guided only by a slender promise traced in the stars. Christmas reminds us that the grandest purposes of God can be found in the humblest places. And it gives us hope that all the love and gifts that come to us in this life are the signs and symbols of an even greater love and gift that came on a holy night.

The Christmas season fills our hearts with gratitude for the many blessings in our lives. With those blessings comes a responsibility to reach out to others. Many of our fellow Americans still suffer from the effects of illness or poverty. Others fight cruel addictions, cope with division in their families, or grieve the loss of a loved one. Christmastime reminds each of us that we have a duty to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves. By volunteering our time and talents where they are needed most, we help heal the sick, comfort those who suffer, and bring hope to those who despair.

During the holidays, we also keep in our thoughts and prayers the men and women of our Armed Forces -- especially those far from home, separated from family and friends by the call of duty. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, these courageous Americans are fighting the enemies of freedom and protecting our country from danger. By bringing liberty to the oppressed, our troops are defending the freedom and security of us all. They and their families are making many sacrifices for our Nation, and all Americans are deeply grateful.

Laura joins me in wishing all Americans a Merry Christmas.

Incredible Daughter #1 prepared this new masthead for my blog. What do you think? We're trying now to move it into the masthead without destroying the blog. Pray for us!

Let There Be No "Hotel Sudan"

Let there be no "Hotel Sudan." That's the concluding thought of an op/ed in today's LA Times by Margaret Carlson on the film "Hotel Rwanda," the awful situation in Sudan, and the inability of the UN and the world to do anything about it. (here) It's good reading, illuminating why so much goes so wrong on that continent.

Here's the conclusion of Carlson's piece:

War is God's way of teaching Americans geography. Few of us even know where Rwanda or Mogadishu or Sudan are unless, by chance, some American gets caught in the crossfire there. Who can sort out the Tutsis from the Hutus or make an educated guess as to what beyond blood lust, revenge and despair they are fighting over? The Middle East we care about. Africa, we don't.

Bush's appointment in June of former Sudan envoy John Danforth to be U.N. ambassador offered the country a ray of hope, at least until he quit just six months later. A day after announcing his resignation, he publicly denounced the failure of a motion that (mildly) criticized human rights violations in Sudan. "One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this. One wonders if there can't be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle. Why have this building? What is it all about?"

As Christmas neared, Save the Children, one of the last relief organizations left in Sudan, announced that renewed fighting made it impossible to stay. The White House tossed the ball back into the United Nations' court, telling Secretary-General Kofi Annan that it was up to him to go there and reopen peace talks.

Let no one be dragged in years to come to "Hotel Sudan." That's a sequel no one should have to see.

The Man Who Would Not Be King

Today's LA Times runs an op/ed by Stanley Weintraub, author of "General Washington's Christmas Farewell," about, well, Gen. Washington's Christmas farewell. (here) Weintraub tells the story of Washington's decision to decline an invitation to be king, and instead, return to Mt. Vernon. He formalized the announcement on this day in 1783, and on Christmas Eve, he returned to Mt. Vernon.

Here's the set-up:

We don't associate George Washington with Christmas Eve, or Christmas itself, yet the most significant Christmas Eve in American history occurred in 1783, when Gen. Washington, then 52, headed home to Mount Vernon after nine years at war — and turned his back on ruling the states like a king.

The American Revolution effectively ended at Yorktown in October 1781, but in the fall of 1783 the defeated British still held a few positions as bargaining chips for negotiating the peace. Although a treaty acknowledging American independence had been signed, ships carrying the documents were still at sea when Washington gathered up his remaining troops in November at West Point and headed for New York City, to take over as the last Redcoats embarked for Britain.

Equally important to Washington was his desire to have Christmas dinner with Martha, to bring yuletide gifts to his wife and his step-grandchildren (he had no children of his own) and to return to being "a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac … under the shadow of my own Vine and my own Fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life."

That his imagery recalled the biblical book of 1 Kings is an irony he may not have recognized. He was renouncing the idea raised by his admiring countrymen — who had long lived under monarchs, the common form of rule everywhere — that George III be replaced by their own George I.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Assassination Photo Raises MORE Questions

The bloggers smell a rat with AP's photo of the assassination of Iraqi election workers. Belmont Club has a post with multiple comments (here) that support the argument that AP's photographer may well have had advance warning, just as Eddie Adams did when he was invited by ARVN Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan to the summary execution of Vietcong commander Bay Lop on a Saigon street.

The bloggers' main argument is that the photo appears to have been taken by a photographer who was standing upright, despite reports that grenades and rifle shots preceded the execution. They are right on the perspective; a prone photographer (and that's the position I'd be in with bullets and shrapnel flying!) would have produced a very different photograph.

But I'm not ready to buy the Belmont argument. Maybe the assassins aren't connoisseurs of the finer points of photojournalism, but look at the two photos - which is the more dramatic? If the assassins didn't seem to care if anyone saw their faces, and if they wanted to really scare off election workers, why did they position the photographer so far away? If the photograph was indeed staged, they could have done a much better job of setting it up.

In any case, I think the larger point -- and a point Belmont hasn't made yet -- is what happened to the photo after it hit the AP photo editor's desk. Zooming in on the photo (digitally or by cropping) would have increased its impact. But he ran a shot that is uncharacteristiclly long. And photojournalists don't shoot just one shot of something like this -- is this the best he could do? Was there really not a single frame that showed the fear of the victims more? Probably.

They almost certainly could have made the photo much more impactful, but they chose not to. I think it's evident that the photo editors at AP did all they could to relate a story of chaos in Iraq without going so far as printing something as impactful as Eddie Adams' photo.

Kofi's Press Conference

Here's everything Kofi Annan had to say about Congo in the prepared comments preceding his Dec. 21 press conference:

A word on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the DRC, the Transitional Government has overcome some important challenges, with the help of the United Nations. But there must be a sustained effort to bring the whole country and the population together -- particularly in Eastern Congo, where conflict continues. It is also important to improve relations between the DRC and its neighbours. Peace in the DRC, as we all know, is crucial to stability in the entire continent.

Say what you will, Annan apparently doesn't have child molestation and rape on his mind. He wasn't able to dodge, however, because a reporter raised the issue of the abuse of underage girls by UN Peacekeepers in Congo:

Question (interpretation from French): The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has indicated that some members of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are responsible for sexual harassment. Is the head of UNHCR still responsible and capable of the post? There have also been a number of charges levelled against blue helmets concerning sexual abuse. How can you reassure people in Africa that this kind of thing will not happen?

The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): Indeed, there have been accusations. There has been an inquiry. And we stated our view that Mr. Lubbers is working as the High Commissioner for Refugees. He works very closely with the other members of his team, and I believe that he will continue to do his job properly.
With regard to the situation in the Congo, it is a situation that does cause me great concern. We have already dispatched some people there, including military personnel. I believe that there is another individual being detained in his country. There was an OIOS inquiry, and the report will come out very soon. There is a second team that I have sent to the field, working with United Nations troops and with my Special Representative. But we are not going to leave it there. We are now preparing a plan which will enable us to control this kind of situation. I had a meeting with 19 States that have contributed troops to this United Nations operation to discuss this kind of problem: how can we discipline troops and how can we prevent this kind of situation from arising and really tackle the matter in depth? I hope that with all those efforts we will be able to improve the situation. I am really shocked by these accusations in the Congo.

Kofi believes an individual is being detained in his country. Readers of CSM know a French citizen is in jail awaiting resolution of charges that he raped and photographed underage girls. Great. One down. But there are 150 alleged sexual acts by blue-helmets against underage girls in Congo.

So there are meetings, investigations and discussions. No doubt reports will follow. But when you get right down to it, Kofi didn't answer the question, and he cannot assure the people of Africa (or Kosovo, Timur and numerous other places where raped girls are part of the UN Peacekeeping process) that this sort of thing will not happen again.

There's a lot of interesting reading in the transcript about Iraq, UN-US relations and oil-for-food. Here's your link.

The Jokes of 16-Year-Olds

Incredible daughter #2 told me two jokes the other day. I've never shared jokes with you before ... so, lighten up!

What did the cat say into the cell phone?
Can you hear me meow? [Read it out loud if you don't get it.]

Two muffins are in the oven.
One says, "Boy, it's getting hot in here!"
The other says, "YIKES! A talking muffin!"

That Confusing Morality Thing

It's been seven weeks since Ohio was declared for Bush and Democrats started trying to figure out what was wrong with the god within them. Some of them are starting to shake off their rants and wails and are looking to the God above us.

Writing solidly for that group today is NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, in a column titled "When the Right is Right." (here)

Kristof has looked behind the boogeyman -- that belief many on the left have that conservative Christians are hate-mongers -- and has discovered that we own the human rights issue today. He mentions sex trafficking, Dafur and the Sudan, North Korea and "immigration reform, prison reform, increased funds for AIDS and malaria, construction of an African-American history museum and even an apology to American Indians" as areas of conservative Christian leadership, speaking specifically of the work of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS).

Brownback's position may not always align with the majority of Republicans, so if you're inclined to remove any of those items from your "support" column, you can also add China, the UN and the war on terrorism to the list.

By realizing that America is a liberal democracy founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and that those who believe in the fundamental truth of those principles also understand God's desire that we reach out to the oppressed, Kristof is starting a rough pencil sketch showing Democrats how they might embrace the entire morality vote issue. He urges them to "hold their nose and cooperate" on issues that are about both human rights and morality, and concludes:

Frankly, Democrats aren't going to accomplish much on their own over the next four years, but by working with the likes of Mr. Brownback they might register real progress on sex trafficking, an African-American history museum, malaria and immigration reform. That would be a much better use of the next four years than sulking.

On the way to that conclusion, though, he wades through some muck. His slams on Christian conservative positions on abortion and AIDS are straight old-school rhetoric, and avoid a lot of compelling reality. For example, he pushes the tired and deathly "condoms stop AIDS" argument, ignoring the only success in Africa on AIDS, Uganda's "abstinance and monogamy stop AIDS" solution.

It's evident that the Democrats are still at the pencil sketch stage, and have a ways to go before they build a bridge to the morality vote.

Europe and Immigrants: Part 3

The third part of the Washington Times series on Europe's difficulties grappling with immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, is linked here.

This article focuses on Switzerland and highlights the "we need them for work no one else wants to do" side of immigration that is so familiar here in the US, rather than the fear of terrorism angle covered to a great degree in the first article (on Holland) and a lesser degree in the second article (on Italy).

9/11 Lawyer Sues Arab Bank

Ronald L. Motley, who brought a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia on behalf of 9/11 victims, has sued the Arab Bank on behalf of 700 victims of attacks in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and their relatives.

You gotta love this quote, from the LA Times article:

"We are striking back nonviolently with the most powerful weapon we have — the U.S. courts," said plaintiff Iris Almog Schwartz, an Israeli whose parents, brother and two nephews were killed in an October 2003 suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa, Israel. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

Motley's 9/11 lawsuit uncovered quite a lot of information about the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and was criticised for making it public. The complex and often difficult relationship between the two countries is one of those "hold your nose and move forward" arrangements, where having a relationship is much more valuable and justifiable than not having one -- in other words, it is far too nuanced for exploitation by lawyers.

But this lawsuit is different because it will probe the relations between a leading Arab bank and terrorist groups. The lawsuit alleges Arab Bank provided funds used by terrorist groups to compensate (perhaps "reward" is the better word) the families of homicide bombers.

Interestingly, Arab Bank's response was from a US attorney, Kevin Walsh, not a Muslim from Arab Bank, or anyone from CAIR.

Laugher Headline of the Day

Laugher subhead in today's LA Times:

Bush and Mfume discuss ways to defrost chilly relations between the GOP administration and the nonpartisan group

The IRS wonders about the NAACP's partisanship, but the LA Times apparently doesn't. They mention Bush administration policies the NAACP doesn't like, but fail to mention little things like NAACP-funded mailers that painted Bush and the GOP as old-time Old South white (Democratic) racists.

(Beware of the link -- you might get a Fahrenheit 9/11 pop-up ad like I did. Michael Moore's marketers are apparently well aware of the biases of the NAACP even if the LATimes isn't.)

Putting the [Blank] Back In [Blank]mas 9

I'm happy to report that Christmas won out last night at the mall. Every single sales clerk -- and there were a lot of them -- concluded our transaction with a "Merry Christmas!" Not a single "Happy Holidays" to be heard.

Too bad our schools cannot be so open to the real reason for this holiday. The secularization of Christmas by schools made the front page of the LA Times today (here), in an article loaded with examples of "Jingle Bells" replacing "Silent Night," and outlines what educators call "the December Dilemma." Says Lucy Arajuo-Cook, spokeswoman for Santa Ana (CA) Unified School District, "People do get super-paranoid about this time of year, and, over the years, we have neutered the holidays. Schools are so fearful that they will be attacked … that they'd rather stick to singing 'Jingle Bells' than risk a problem."

The result: Religion becomes advocacy instead of belief (One official even renames Christmas carols: "What are we doing here if we load up our assemblies with Christian advocacy songs?")

The article lists the Anti-Defamation League as the leading fearmonger. As usual, the group sent letters to every school district in at least California if not the nation, warning them to keep Christ out of Christmas. ADA claims they're just looking for balance and inclusiveness, but that is hardly the result of their effort. Reports the Times:

Sometimes, however, efforts to strike that balance lead to unusual results. Two years ago, for example, the United States Justice Foundation sued McNear Elementary School in Petaluma on behalf of a parent who said students should not be allowed to celebrate "El Dia de los Muertos" — the Day of the Dead — because the holiday was religious.

Richard Ackerman, attorney for the foundation and president of the Pro-Family Law Center based in Temecula, said the woman he represented was upset because the school supported the Day of the Dead celebration even as it forbade Christmas programs.

A Sonoma County Superior Court judge ruled that Day of the Dead was acceptable to celebrate as a cultural event. "In the end," Ackerman said, "Christmas got banned, and Day of the Dead went forward."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Meanwhile, the TSA Frisks Grandma

Pragmatic people that we Americans are, we told Cornell University pollsters (here) that many of us would like to see restrictions on the people most likely to be terrorists. (Disclaimer: Generalization is bad; not all Muslims are terrorists; not all ACLU lawyers are hopeless jerks, there's reportedly one nice one in Cleveland.)

Some survey participants are pretty darn tough:
  • 27 percent of respondents support requiring all Muslim Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. (Sorry, that's a bit too much like Star of David arm bands for me.)
  • 22 percetn favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. (Count me in!)
  • 29 percent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising. (Sounds reasonable.)
The most surprising finding in the survey,though, is that more respondants (48%) think Muslim Americans should face no restrictions of any kind, while only 44 percent favored at least some kind of restrictions. (Arabs are less than one-half of one percent of the US population, so the "no restrictions" group would have won with or without Arab-Americans respondents -- and we can't assume all Arab-Americans polled would say "no restrictions.")

Who are these people? After 9/11, Madrid and the bin Laden tapes, it is hard to imagine that people would think that all Muslims are above suspicion. Certainly, there are many who see America as a completely hassle-free zone where individual rights far outweigh society's safety. They're called the ACLU.

It's obvious that you can't ask these questions without a lot of people getting the topic confused with Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act. Political compartmentalization, combined with PC thinking has led half of our country down a trail where they would rather by shredded by shrapnel than be judgmental.

So if you're travelling this Christmas, just remember that you're in the minority if you think it's incredibly stupid to frisk four year old blue-eyed blondes and just say "Happy Holidays!" to the young Muslim males as they pass through.

Continuing WashTimes Euro/Islam Series

The second part of the Washington Times' excellent series of Europe's struggle with Islamic encroachment focuses on Italy. Read it here.

Putting the [Blank] Back In [Blank]mas

MSN's home page has a link to the "Top Ten Holiday Events." Take a look, here.

It seems that despite the headline, MSN missed the memo saying we're supposed to be taking the Christ out of Christmas. I'm not familiar with all the events, but several are definitely Christian or have a decidedly Christian look to them, like the Glory of Christmas at the Crystal Cathedral and Black Nativity by Langston Hughes.

Burundi UN Sex Scandal: More Questions

The Associated Press provides more news (here) on the rape of underage girls by Ethiopian UN Peacekeepers in Burundi:

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) -- A police investigation has concluded that two United Nations peacekeepers from Ethiopia sexually abused underage girls in Burundi.

The findings were sent to local U.N. officials and a copy was filed at a court, said Anatole Ntukamazina, commander of the public security police. No charges were immediately filed.

The two Ethiopian peacekeepers were arrested Dec. 11 in the northeastern Muyinga province on suspicion of having sex with underage girls who were found in their hotel rooms, Ntukamazina said.

Ethiopian soldiers account for the largest contingent of troops in the 5,476-member U.N. force helping to monitor a peace deal between the government and Hutu rebels that ended Burundi's 11-year civil war.

The two peacekeepers have been suspended and transferred to the central province of Gitega to await the results of a separate U.N. investigation, said Adama Diop, a spokesman for the U.N. mission.

"There will be severe and exemplary military sanctions if investigations reveal that they are guilty," Diop said. "We received clear instruction from the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that we should never tolerate abuses."

Diop is just blowing smoke. There is no way he can make such a claim, because there aren't UN military tribunals and there are just too many gaps in the existing investigation and prosecution system, as shown by another AP dispatch:

The [Burundian police's] findings were sent to local U.N. officials and a copy was filed at a local court, [Burundi police commander Anatole] Ntukamazina said. No charges were immediately laid.

The United Nations implores nations to discipline their peacekeepers for sexual abuse and other misdeeds, but it has little power to enforce the rules.

There are too many things that can wrong with that approach, and too much time to sweep it all under the carpet for Diop to claim that the pedophile rapists will ever receive justice -- or, for that matter, for Annan and the UN to effectively deal with this problem.

And again, there's no mention of anything being done to help the underage victims of this crime.

Thin Prisoner Abuse Story Hits Page 1

I am mostly unmoved by the latest war prisoner scandal, which is flared across the front page of today's LA Times. (here) It reports what the ACLU found out about the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Cuba via a Freedom of Information lawsuit.

The story is confusing and poorly reported, blurring (deliberately or otherwise) the line between witnessed incidents and detainee allegations that must be held to a high level of scrutiny. It is also predicated on FBI agents who compain that FBI policies for prisoner interrogation aren't being followed.

Perhaps they shouldn't be. Agents in the FBI office in Omaha, interrogating someone suspected of insurance fraud, need different guidelines than interrogators in Guantanamo, who are working with hardened fanatics who would love to die if it meant taking out a few agents of "the Great Satan" with them.

The ACLU and their friends in the media have a bad habit of reporting harassment as torture. The two are not the same. Here are a few examples cited as torture in the article; clearly, they are far removed from the favored methods of Uday Hussein:
  • sleep deprivation
  • stress positions (being handcuffed in uncomfortable positions)
  • loud music
  • yelling at subjects
  • hoods on heads
  • and, earning special recognition with multiple mentions, being forced to sit with an Israeli flag drapped over the shoulders.

Trying once again to make a case out such meager lists of wrongdoings is not beating a dead horse; it's beating a dead gerbil.

I said at the beginning I was "mostly unmoved." There are some troubling items in this story, including reports that an under-age boy was raped at Abu Ghraib. The story is unclear whether there was one such case or two, and said a "contractor" was the perpetrator, but did not give the nationality of the contractor. I wonder why an under-age boy would be in Abu Ghraib in the first place, and would like more information about the investigation and prosecution of this case, because we must have a higher standard than UN Peacekeepers.

The story also included reports of burning with cigarettes and beatings. Again, the paper is not always clear about whether these incidents were witnessed by FBI agents or alleged by detainees, but if they did occur, the perpretrators need to be investigated and disciplined.

The larger question in all this is whether such techniques, if indeed they are used, hamper the gathering of intelligence from detainees. The Times says they do, and I think they're right. Torture's limited success comes from its diligent application; half-way measures that are more degrading than painful, like those explained in the article, probably only steel the reserves of the detainees.

Blair in Iraq

Go Tony! Reminding us that we're fighting a war in which Democracy is fighting to overcome terrorism, Blair said in Baghdad, "If we defeat [terrorism] here, we deal it a blow worldwide. If Iraq is a stable and democratic country, that is good for the Middle East, and what is good for the Middle East, is actually good for the world, including Britain." More here.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Netherlands and Muslims

Spain's awful terrorist attack on its train commuters notwithstanding, the Netherlands has become the lens through which Europe's increasing struggle with "Islamification" should be viewed.

Theo Van Gogh's execution and the many other death threats by Islamofascists first turned our attention to Holland's increasingly hot confrontation between European tradition, Islamic immigration and European jihad and job fears. (Pym Fortuyn, the populist anti-immigration politician who was killed two years ago, was assassinated by an animal rights extremist of ethnic Dutch origin.)

Now, anti-immigration rhetoric, specifically directed at Muslim immigation, is a growing force in Holland's politics. The Washington Times reports today (here) that Parliamentarian Geert Wilders is heating up the rhetoric big-time, going to a universe far, far away from President Bush's drumbeat that Islam is "a religion of peace." Here's a sample:

Mr. Wilders calls mosques "houses of terror and recruitment" for jihad. He describes Islam as "dangerous" and "fascist," articulating the fears of many.

He says that Muslims beat their wives and children, and occasionally kill a daughter who wishes to marry outside the faith. He says that imams preach that homosexuals -- even in a society where same-sex "marriage" is legal -- should be executed.

Unpleasant rhetoric to say the least. Wilders' party, the deceivingly named but conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, didn't care much for it and booted him from the party earlier this year. Still, events propelled Wilders forward:

But [the negative effects of being expelled from his party] changed with the Nov. 2 slaying of Theo van Gogh, the anti-Islamist crusader and social provocateur, gunned down and then slashed with a knife by a Dutch citizen of Moroccan descent in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street.

Within days, at least 19 other members of the Netherlands parliament were supporting Mr. Wilders -- at least on immigration issues.

Wilders is playing a dangerous game, not just because he's now a target for beheading by Islamofascists, but also because he uses wordplay to make people think Islam's extremes are the norm. So now we have growing support for hot heads on the right and intense fear of heartless murderers on the left, all swirled together in a typically European low-birth-rate/high-social-spending society.

We'll be keeping our eye on how the Dutch respond to all this.

Photo of Assassinations Raises Questions

Eddie Adams It Ain't.

Hat tip to Belmont Club for getting me thinking about this with their reference to Eddie Adams' famous photograph of the execution of Vietcong Captain Bay Lop by South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. As Belmont points out, Adams was invited to the execution by Gen. Loan and had the opportunity to ready himself for the shot ... well, two shots: Gen. Loan's with a gun and his with a camera.

This was not the case with this photo of the assassination of election workers in Baghdad, but I still wonder about the news judgment involved in publishing it. As shocking as the photo is, it could have been much more shocking.

Zooming in would help, which could have been done by an editor as well as it could have been by a photographer.

Presumably, the next frame would have shown the execution, not the moment before the execution. Another frame might have shown the face of the person about to be executed. Either would have had much more impact than this photo.

Adams' photo was used to fuel anti-war sentiment, even though Bay Lop deserved his fate. It seems as if photo editors just may have decided they didn't want to fuel an anti-insurgent sentiment, so they muted the impact of what might have been a very powerful photo.