Saturday, August 30, 2008


I've had the same basic description of WATN up for almost three years now, and it was very accurate in the past. As I've changed the format of the blog slightly, it does not apply as closely as it once did and I'd like to put up a new one. However, I'm a bit challenged as to what to change it to.

I no longer focus on comments as much as I once did, and the blog has taken on a more bland and typical content, although possibly more appreciated by readers. I need a new description so I'm putting the request out to my readers: what do you suggest? Any ideas? I want to keep the concept of an international reach and the thought of the internet being large and diverse, I want to promote the learning of ideas and forgotten virtues and principles.

Maybe some of you can help me with this little project, I'd certainly appreciate it.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Remember how South Ossatia claimed they wanted independence? How people defended Russia's attack on Georgia because they were just defending Osatia's desire for autonomy, not being controlled by Georgia? They just wanted their own country, to stand alone!

Yeah. Sure:

President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia discussed this option with his South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, earlier this week during a meeting in Moscow.

Znaur Gassiyev, the Speaker of South Ossetia’s parliament, said the enclave would formally join Russia "in several years" or possibly earlier. This had been "firmly stated by both leaders” during their meeting in Moscow.

Tarzan Kokoiti, the deputy Speaker, predicted: “We will live in one united Russian state.”

This has never been about independence. It has always been about Russian power and control.


"Wow, we were able to help someone and we didn't even have to kill a baby to do it!"

Stem Cells
Since I wrote about President Bush's first veto - of a bill attempting to fund embryonic stem cell research with federal money - much has happened in this area of scientific research. To this date no therapy or successful treatment has been developed involving embryonic stem cells. However, here's the news involving adult stem cell research:

Deaf may hear again:
In tests on mice they showed that stimulating these usually irreplaceable cells to grow resulted in new cells that helped detect noise.

Researchers believe the approach could eventually be used to improve or restore hearing to the 9 million people in Britain classified as deaf or hard of hearing.
New blood vessels:
Stem cells drawn from the blood system of adult humans or the umbilical cord blood of newborns, injected into mice, formed viable vessels that may one day deliver oxygen-rich blood to damaged organs, researchers said.

After one week, the cells spontaneously connected to one another and to the existing blood vessels of the rodents to form extensive networks that continued to transport blood over the next three weeks. The findings from Harvard Medical School were published in the journal Circulation.
Meanwhile, scientists have been working with adult stem cells in other ways:

Wisdom Teeth produce stem cells:
Dr Ogushi's team was able to extract dental pulp from wisdom teeth removed from a 10-year-old girl three years ago and had been stored in a freezer. From that, stem cells with the ability to develop into replacement human organs or nerves can be grown.
Dr Ogushi said that people who have their wisdom teeth removed as youngsters could have them frozen and use them later in life for treatment.
Scientists can get ESR properties out of adult skin stem cells:
Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.

Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It's a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.
Umbilical stem cell breakthrough:
The international researchers who discovered the cells -- called cord-blood-derived-embryonic-like stem cells, or CBEs -- have found a way to mass produce them.

The implication is that CBEs, which are similar to human embryonic stem cells, would be available in large quantities to treat patients suffering from diseases ranging from diabetes and liver disease to multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's, said research leader Colin McGuckin from Kingston University in Britain.
"Bionic" nerve from fat cells:
In a study published in October's Experimental Neurology, Dr Paul Kingham and his team at the UK Centre for Tissue Regeneration (UKCTR) isolated the stem cells from the fat tissue of adult animals and differentiated them into nerve cells to be used for repair and regeneration of injured nerves. They are now about to start a trial extracting stem cells from fat tissue of volunteer adult patients, in order to compare in the laboratory human and animal stem cells.

Following that, they will develop an artificial nerve constructed from a biodegradable polymer to transplant the differentiated stem cells. The biomaterial will be rolled up into a tube-like structure and inserted between the two ends of the cut nerve so that the regrowing nerve fibre can go through it from one end to the other.

This 'bionic' nerve could also be used in people who have suffered trauma injuries to their limbs or organs, cancer patients whose tumour surgery has affected a nearby nerve trunk and people who have had organ transplants.
The number of scientists working with embryonic stem cells is dropping because the research has proved so far to be not just fruitless but actually damaging in some cases. The research into adult stem cells continues to prove valuable and fascinating, with real, actual results that are benefiting real people.

Yet you still will read about how anti-scientific President Bush is for not wanting to encourage ESR and how anyone who disagrees with killing babies to research for sick adults is somehow backward, barbaric, and stupid - and opposed to all stem cell research. Just keep this news in mind when you hear that and consider how ironic such a statement is.


Perhaps in response to the legal challenges it is now facing from angry customers who have been throttled (their up- and download speed slowed significantly, or even stopped), Comcast has announced that they will limit their "unlimited" internet service.
"We've listened to feedback from our customers who asked that we provide a specific threshold for data usage and this would help them understand the amount of usage that would qualify as excessive," the company said in a statement on its Web site.
The cap is set at 250 gigabytes a month, which is equivalent to downloading almost four full length movies a day for an entire month. The average user has about 3 gigybytes of bandwidth a month. For every 10 gig over this limit, Comcast plans to charge $15 additional dollars per month.

As ISP limits go, this isn't as low as many. Cox Communication has caps as low as 5 gig, and Time Warner Cable Inc. is testing caps between 5 gigabytes and 40 gigabytes in one market.

Personally I don't ever use that much internet time, and I'd rather they were up front about it rather than behind the curtains cutting people down or off because they have done too much transferring of data.


"One of these things is not like the other"
-Sesame Street

The most common defense used by Democrats when dealing with Senator Obama's inexperience and lack of readiness for the presidency is to claim that he's just like Abraham Lincoln! Vice president Gore did so in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, and it is rapidly becoming a standard talking point. He's as experienced as Lincoln, and look at how great he was!

Putting aside the differences in education, maturity, and virtue between Lincoln and Obama's time periods, and the fact that President Lincoln was in fact a Republican, there are some problems with that comparison.

Here are Senator Obama's qualifications:
  • 10 years as a community organizer
  • Chairman of the Annenburg Challenge in Chicago (conspicuously left off most of his biographies)
  • One half a term as Senator for Illinois
  • 11 years as Lecturer and fellow at University Chicago law school
  • associate attorney with the law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland for 9 years
  • One term in the Illinois state Senate
Here are Abraham Lincoln's qualifications, as of becoming President of the United States:
  • Captain one year during the Black Hawk War
  • Postmaster of New Salem for 3 years
  • Surveyor for Sangamon County for three years
  • Nominated Governor of Oregon, but declines
  • Judge for five years in Illionis
  • Attorney at law 24 years
  • Elector for the Whig Party four elections
  • Head of the Whig Party
  • Four terms in the Illinois state legislature
  • One term in House of Representatives
Now, even a casual observation of this man's career (leaving out some of the more romantic and spectacular aspects such as navigating a riverboat from New Salem, Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of 22 through largely uncharted wilderness) reveals that Abraham Lincoln was much more experienced and had a much richer, more significant life of service and action than Senator Obama. he had military experience, was offered the job as governor of Oregon, was a judge, a party leader, and elector, served five years as a legislature, and had experience in military leadership.

There's really no comparison between the two. As presidents go, Abraham Lincoln didn't have a very impressive list of accomplishments, but compared to Senator Obama he is significantly more qualified. Just having grown up what was then frontier and made his own way without any political machine or money to speak of sets them apart.

When you add in the fact that even the Boston Globe said Senator Obama's efforts as a community organizer were tepid at best and the Annenburg Challenge was a failure at its goal of bettering education in Illnois, the record looks even weaker. Senator Obama cannot be compared to President Lincoln in any rational sense.
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Quote of the Day

"In action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind.”
-Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
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Thursday, August 28, 2008


"The liberty of the press is a blessing when we are inclined to write against others, and a calamity when we find ourselves overborne by the multitude of our assailants."
-Samuel Johnson

In the 2004 presidential campaign, fellow soldiers from Vietnam who served with and close to Senator Kerry on the river boats during the war brought up some concerns and problems they had with the Democratic presidential candidate. They had been active for years before, particularly in Massachusetts where Kerry is a Senator, but when he became the Democratic nominee, they went into high gear.

Many pundits credit the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth (SVT) for Kerry's defeat, and all believe that these men's actions at least contributed. Democrats and leftists were very disappointed with Senator Kerry's reaction to the SVT, considering it weak. Kerry tried to brush the ads and the SVT commentary aside, newspapers printed dismissive articles and pretended that the matter had been settled, but the SVT kept putting out ads, too many questions were left unanswered, and too many problems were brought up that Kerry could not refute - indeed some he admitted were true.

So now, when Senator Obama's past is being questioned and examined, he has stated plainly that he won't "sit back and take it." In this case, it is not military history but rather community activist history, Senator Obama's formational years as a politician in which he repeatedly is found to be tied to radicals such as Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn. Any mention of these is treated much like the SVT's concerns: dismissal, mockery, and downplaying by the press and the left.
"The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen."
-Tommy Smothers
Yet the issues keep coming up. And the Obama campaign staff has taken swift, decisive action. First, an ad that brings up these ties was released, and the Obama campaign responded by demanding that the department of justice investigate and charge the company behind the ad with campaign finance violations, to shut up the ad and intimidate anyone else who dared run such a thing. Such an action by a sitting Senator and presidential candidate is deeply troubling and a clear attempt to violate the liberties protected by the US Constitution.

Stanley Kurtz began investigating the 1995 Annenburg Challenge and its attempt to help fix education which both Obama and Ayers worked on, and why it failed. The library that has the records and paperwork of this project told Kurtz he could examine them, then informed him that they were private and he could not a few days later. Kurtz managed to get legal pressure applied and some papers (including a list of all documents, which may prove interesting) to examine.

According to Kurtz, the projects that the Obama-led group worked with and sent money to included organizations like the Coalition for Improved Education in South Shore who then founded the "South Shore African Village Collaborative" which is intended to help blacks learn about their African heritage. In theory this will in some way help them with education, using Senator Clinton's "it takes a village" philosophy as their theme. How this will help childen learn to read and do math is unclear, but it did help fund a celebration of Juneteenth (the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclaimation).

The focus of all the funding were ethnic and bilingual organizations (Bill Ayers' organization Small Schools Foundation got quite a bit of funding - including his "peace school"). Organizations such as Chicago Algebra Project and the District 5 Math-Sciences Project, and a project to help Hispanics learn English were all turned down. In essence, the ideologically left and multicultural organizations were funded heavily, and the more traditional education-focused groups were not.

In the end,the Anneburg Challenge Chicago effort spent almost all of the more than $110,000,000 in funding they received and failed to improve education in the Chicago area.

Why the Obama campaign wants this information kept out of Stanley Kurtz' hands is unclear, but there is some suggestion in the materials brought to light so far. For example, unrepentant Weatherman terrorist and bomb maker Bill Ayers was involved in getting Senator Obama to be chairman. Ayers was co-chair of the Collaborative board, Obama the chair of the organization. Ayers and Obama worked together on this, even though Senator Obama has tried to characterize their association as at best distant neighbors in the same area of Chicago.

Ayers also could be in trouble for sending money from the Challenge to his own organizations, typically considered a conflict of interest.

Although WGN asked Obama staff communications officer Ben Labolt from the Obama campaign if they wanted a representative on 720 while Stanley Kurtz was there, the offer was rejected, and according to the show's producer, they eventaully hung up on him. An email and phone storm started before the show had been announced - suggesting the Obama campaign contacted people. This turned out to be the case; the text of this email has been revealed, including these lines:
"WGN radio is giving right-wing hatchet man Stanley Kurtz a forum to air his baseless, fear-mongering terrorist smears."

"He's currently scheduled to spend a solid two-hour block from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. pushing lies, distortions, and manipulations about Barack and University of Illinois professor William Ayers."

"Tell WGN that by providing Kurtz with airtime, they are legitimizing baseless attacks from a smear-merchant and lowering the standards of political discourse."
Milt Rosenburg, the host of Extension 720, read the text of one such email on the show:
I am disgusted that WGN has given two hours to a vicious racist crackpot. Kurt is tied to that vile traitor Bill Krystol [Kristol]. Why are you providing a platform to this character assassin? Do you have a regulator like that FCC where I can provide a complaint about the lack of balance since it is my understanding that there was no opportunity for the Obama campaign to present their correct version of the events. Disgraceful. Please provide the address for a formal complaint.
Stanley Kurtz found the effort ironic, given the various quotes about freedom of the press and free speech etched in stone in the Tribune building lobby, where Extension 720 is recorded, such as these:
"The liberty of opinion keeps governments themselves in due subjection to their duties"
-Thomas Erskine, attorney for the defense for Thomas Paine

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost"
-Thomas Jefferson

"A free press stands as one of the great interpreters between the government and the people. To allow it to be fettered is to fetter ourselves."
-Justice George Sutherland
Its one thing to oppose advertisements and political speech you don't care for. It is another entirely to call for someone to be jailed for making them; particularly when you're in political power. President Bush is continually accused of the "chill wind of censorship" and silencing dissent, people cry the loss of liberty and the freedom of speech, yet without tangible and actual evidence. Those same people are remarkably silent as the Democratic Presidential Candidate actually engages in just such activities in plain sight. Should Senator Obama win the presidency, is it so unreasonable to expect this to not just continue but intensify, silencing all speech that he finds uncomfortable or troubling? If this is what he does with the power he has now, what more may he do with greater power?
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Quote of the Day

Ability will never catch up with the demand for it.
-Malcolm Forbes
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008


"You should see my other car"

Concept cars are a lot of fun, I always love to look at the weird new ideas some company has come up with. They are the dreams of designers who are trying to envision what new things can be done with a car and what the future might hold. Usually they are wrong or just odd, but sometimes they are dead on - cars are finally starting to look like the eggs that designers showed us twenty years ago.

Lacking anything else I want to write about, here's a few images of some unusual concept cars out of Europe:

Beach RunnerFirst up is the Fiat Portofino, a little beach car designed by an Italian who has done a lot of sport models in the past. The flooring is wood, everything is waterproofed, and the back seats fold down for your surf boards and other aquatic fun. It is in essence a chopped down Fiorino van, one of those European Jobs that looks pocket sized and I'd have to fold myself up like Origami to get into. It does look fun to tool around the beaches with, though.

RubiconThe next one isn't so much a concept car as a conversion. Someone took a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and modified it heavily, adding a camper to the rig. The Rubicon is an especially rugged version of the Wrangler, including a small kitchen and toilet with extra storage. This modification adds a roof that opens up like a tent witha sliding section that has the queen size bed in it (counterbalanced by the rest of the car). There's a solar panel on the roof to keep the battery topped off and a furnace, a 25 gallon water tank, indoor and outdoor showers, and a heavy duty winch for those rough spots. This thing takes camping seriously.

VW BoatOur third offering is a Volkswagon, which looks somewhat standard at first glance. Its not until you get around the back that you start to wonder what's up with this thing, and when you climb that inset ladder you see the real concept. It's a boat. Sort of. They took the Caddy MPV minivan and put a wood deck on top like a yacht, with a rail around it. Then they set up the top so that it can be tilted up in front (hopefully latched down securely so it won't pop up while driving) allowing you to lean back on it and enjoy the sun. The truck isn't exactly waterproof so it apparently is meant for beaches only.

VW BoatWho knows, this could be the next surfer truck, an updated Woody, although I suspect it is a bit expensive for surfer bums to buy. This seems like one of those ideas that only makes it to the car shows and not anyone's garage. The wood accents look nice but blue isn't really the right color: white or green probably would have worked better.

FerrariThe last one is really weird. It's a bit difficult to describe, like one of those really odd Manga creations. It looks like a plane, but it doesn't actually fly. It's not possible for a human to drive safely, so a computer actually takes over part of the controls at a certain speed. This is a Ferrari Monza concept car, and it goes 125 miles an hour, in theory. The computers alter the angle of the various surfaces to make sure gusts of wind don't send you literally flying.

This is a one-seater, the wing area (Canard) goes in front. It certainly looks interesting if a bit pointless, and 125 mph is not really all that fast but it is definitely stylish. The interior styling looks very futuristic and stylish as well, clearly this is just an attempt to make something as visionary and unusual as possible rather than any sort of real car. If anything it's more a catamaran motorcycle than a car.

Concept cars are fun because they represent the creativity and enjoyment of car designers more than the business end. Most of them are completely unviable and could not make it onto any real roads or auto sales lots, but they certainly are interesting to look at.
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'The headline from today's L.A. Times: 'Obama is lauded as everyman.'

Temple of Obama?
Senator Obama has an image problem. Well, to be precise, he has several, but his main problem is that people don't perceive him as presidential. They might like him and appreciate his abilities, they might support his policies, but he does not have the experience and qualifications to be president except at the most basic level: he's a politician over the age of 35. In essence, he's the fry cook trying to apply for the CEO of McDonald's. No matter how charismatic or well-spoken he is, he's still a fry cook.

So he's tried a few things to help him seem more presidential: a flight around the world making speeches to huge crowds, a new presidential seal that didn't last very long, and now when he accepts his nomination (assuming all goes as planned), he has a faux White House facade he's going to make his speech in. All to give the impression, the image of presidency. The attempt is to associate Senator Obama with presidential imagery and symbolism so the two become comfortably associated in peoples' minds.

The problem is, the setting also looks like a Greco-roman temple, like some sort of religious setting. Perhaps the intent is to be more like Socrates giving a dissertation but it looks uncomfortably overwrought and pretentious to say the least. It looks somewhat Reifenstahlian to say the worst. This level of packaging and propaganda is unprecedented in a presidential campaign and it begs the question: how much is too much?

We live in a media age where image and presentation matter more than content. Where an ugly but very well-spoken and capable man such as Abraham Lincoln would have no chance at the presidency (incidentally comparisons between Senator Obama and President Lincoln are pretty unequal: Lincoln had several terms more experience in politics and served as an officer in the military - if anything he and Senator McCain are better matched). The effort to present each candidate in the best possible light using sets, actors (or, shall we say, people willing to give a persona with the presidential candidate that makes him look the best), and "photo opportunities" like the infamous baby kissing stunt.

Yet there seems a line past which if a candidate goes, they've become too obvious or at least too presumptuous. That if you go too far people see you as deliberately trying to manipulate them rather than simply trying to present yourself in the best way. That if you go past a certain point you've reached a level of distrust and discomfort with voters. Has Senator Obama crossed that line again? He certainly did in the past with the faux presidential seal. The world tour stunt didn't really help him much even in favorable polls, and many considered it unattractive.

Every presidential candidate reaches out for the middle - they presume that one side or the other of the political spectrum has been locked down by the candidate on that side and thus is unreachable by them. They presume that the side they sit on is safely locked in by themselves. So they try to get everyone else in between those extremes to vote for them, all the people who are not strongly political to one way or another. That's the point of all this posturing and media manipulation, to win votes from this middle ground.
The problem is, the middle ground is fickle - if you annoy them or go too far, you do more harm than good. In the internet age, you can't sanitize something as well as politicians used to, but at the same time, the internet age moves so fast that what hurts you today might mean nothing in a week. McCain's statement about 7 houses ought to have hurt him permanently and certainly comedians are going to spend years hammering that one point - as if every major politician isn't rolling in cash and out of touch with poor people, and as if that's both somehow meaningful and somehow not true about both him and Senator Obama.

Yet in a few days people have more or less forgotten the statement - unless they're hard left and delight in bringing it up over and over in an amazingly unselfaware manner. So the pretention of Senator Obama may not be as harmful as it could be, although people still giggle at the presidential seal and it has been firmly established that he goes past the line between confidence and arrogance. Yet the nomination speech is supposed to be the greatest moment in the convention, the high point that everything has been building up to and launches the campaign with a tremendous surge in popular opinion.

It is possible that Senator Obama will be smart here. There's a scene in my favorite cowboy movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in which a stentorian-toned politician gets up in front of the delegation and looks at a prepared speech, then pointedly crumples it up, noting that he had one written but now wants to speak from the heart (the paper is shown to be blank later). Senator Obama could do the same thing: start up on the temple with glowing lights and soaring music, then tell them to shut it all down and move off the stage, rejecting all that to be the "common man." It might work - if handled correctly. I just don't think he has it in him.

I wonder about something, though. As we move deeper into the internet age, are we leaving the media age behind? Is entertainment moving to the realm of fun more than policy once more, are ideas and policy becoming more important as people become better informed and more interested in ideas and politics? Are we finally transcending the media's control over every aspect of life and entertainment's overwhelming grip on society and personal life, or am I just being a wishful fool?
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Quote of the Day

"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."
-H. L. Mencken
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


"We have learned since that the West has its own propaganda and in some ways it is more powerful because people believe it.”
Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.
That's how the story by Michael Totten on Georgia starts out. Getting the real story out of Georgia has been tough, since the Russians have spent weeks on a propaganda blitz in every possible forum trying to control the message. Read an article on the topic in any major website and chances are several Russians have posted about how its all lies and telling the "real story."

The London Telegraph had a story recently about the news that the Russian people are getting on the subject, Charles Bremner reports:
Russians were told over breakfast yesterday what really happened in Georgia: the conflict in South Ossetia was part of a plot by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, to stop Barack Obama being elected president of the United States.

The line came on the main news of Vesti FM, a state radio station that — like the Government and much of Russia's media — has reverted to the old habits of Soviet years, in which a sinister American hand was held to lie behind every conflict, especially those embarrassing to Moscow. Modern Russia may be plugged into the internet and the global marketplace but in the battle for world opinion the Kremlin is replaying the old black-and-white movie.
Yet this old style propaganda is done in a new way, courtesy some new things they picked up recently:
Moscow is using novel methods to spread a very unsubtle, Cold War version of the Caucasian conflict to the world. Chief among them is Russia Today, a state 24-hour news channel that is fronted much of the time by cheery British and other English-speaking television professionals.

The smiles and studio banter could come from BBC World or CNN but the story is unrelentingly the Kremlin version. Banners flash along at the bottom of the screen saying such things as “genocide” and “aggression” or “city turns into human hell, many people still trapped under rubble”. Recapping the conflict yesterday RT's presenter said that Georgia's “brutal assault” had killed 1,600 civilians in its breakaway province in a campaign that destroyed 70 per cent of the buildings in Tskhinvali, its capital. Russian forces had moved in only to bring peace as Georgian forces killed women and children who were trying to flee, it said. Throughout its rolling cover of alleged Georgian atrocities, there was no mention of the heavy Russian military offensive.

The coverage goes down well in developing countries that want an alternative to CNN and BBC World Service, a Russian official said. “We have learned from Western TV how to simplify the narrative.”
Learned it from the west, eh? Yeah, the propaganda here is more subtle and tricky, and the people are only just now learning not to trust the media. Yet the real story is going to be difficult to pick out of the lies. Who tells the truth in this conflict? Usually both sides lie a little, but you can bank on Russia lying a lot especially with ex-KGB head Vladimir Putin in charge of what amounts to little more than a gigantic organized crime syndicate running a nation.

Back to the Michael Totten story, we get a bit of background on how Russia kept order over such a vast empire of different cultures and divergent societies. According to regional expert Patrick Worms:
“A key tool that the Soviet Union used to keep its empire together,” Worms said to me, “was pitting ethnic groups against one another. They did this extremely skillfully in the sense that they never generated ethnic wars within their own territory. But when the Soviet Union collapsed it became an essential Russian policy to weaken the states on its periphery by activating the ethnic fuses they planted.

“They tried that in a number of countries. They tried it in the Baltic states, but the fuses were defused. Nothing much happened. They tried it in Ukraine. It has not happened yet, but it's getting hotter. They tried it in Moldova. There it worked, and now we have Transnitria. They tried it in Armenia and Azerbaijan and it went beyond their wildest dreams and we ended up with a massive, massive war. And they tried it in two territories in Georgia, which I'll talk about in a minute. They didn't try it in Central Asia because basically all the presidents of the newly independent countries were the former heads of the communist parties and they said we're still following your line, Kremlin, we haven't changed very much.
Ossetia mapRussia used that on Georgia too, pitting the Abkhazians and Ossetians against the Georgians and fragmenting the country. They did it to control and destabilize the area. Russia doesn't care about Ossetian independence. The area called South Ossetia in Georgia is the southern part of a larger area that extends into Russia. These ethnic people aren't being given their own little pocket nation, they're being stirred up and given Russian arms and soldiers to help them cause trouble for Georgia. Ask the Chechnyans how much independence Russia gives ethnic groups. They want control. Putin wants his empire back and he'll do whatever it takes to make Russia important again.

Read the whole article, it's dynamite. You'll have to try a lot to get through because Michael Totten's site is being hammered, but it's got a ton of background information and news you aren't getting anywhere else - typical for his site - and it is an easy read.

Whether the media will buy into the Russian propaganda as it did so often during the cold war or whether it will find out what's really going on and report that remains to be seen. So far it looks like a mix.
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"Proper names are poetry in the raw."

Not Candace
Yesterday at Right Wing News, a discussion came up about Senator Obama's name in an article John Hawkins wrote called The Faustian Bargain At The Heart of Obama's Campaign. A commenter called rrobin pasted part of an article by a man named Jack Wheeler that claimed the senator had a"non-African Arabic surname."

Another commenter named D-Vega pointed out that Obama (the surname in question) is not Arabic in any sense of the word, it is a Luo Kenyan name. He also pointed out how Jack Wheeler claimed that Senator McCain collaborated with the North Vietnamese while a prisoner. I'm no fan of Senator McCain but that's an especially low blow - particularly based on the word of one Communist Russian spy who ran the Hanoi Hilton.

But it was about names that interested me more than this discussion - or even John Hawkins' good point about how being black hurts Senator Obama's efforts to become president at least as much as it helps him and how racism is being used as an ugly club against anyone who dares question or decide they don't care to vote for the man.

Senator Obama's names all have meanings, they are significant beyond simply being sounds that identify the man. Barack, for instance he announced was based on the Hebrew and Arabic word for "blessed" although it's closer to "lightning" in Hebrew. Hussein in Arabic basically means "good" and Obama has a meaning as well (although it is more difficult to work out, it seems to mean "he who is bent or leaning" probably referring to an ancestor with a crooked limb at some point).

Most people's names in America don't have any meaning. Many are just sounds that the parents liked, and some can be insultingly stupid or embarassingly childish like Leaf or Moon Unit. Even more traditional names like Jack or Sally are not picked for their meaning in most cases, but for their relationship with previous people in the family who had this name. Some cultures don't even name a child for three years - often because most children die in that time frame - and pick a name that is descriptive of the child. This is how names like "running deer" and such came about for native Americans, based on characteristics and traits of the child.

My name has a meaning, although it isn't known by most people. Christopher means "Christ-bearer" it comes from a legend in the middle ages about Saint Christopher who carried Jesus across a river. I don't like to be called by Chris because that's not my name, and because I know what my name means. While I don't do a very good job of living up to it, that name gives me a purpose and a goal, something to strive for.

In a way it's sad that names for more civilized people lose their impact. I do know that people often pick baby names at least in part because of their meaning, and most baby name lists will give what a name means - but that's as far as it goes. Unless someone looks it up, they don't know, Candace just means "candy" to them. Shortening the name Candace - meaning several things (white fire, clarity, purity, it was used not only by the Queens of Ethiopia, but Rome) to Candy takes its rich, historical significance and turns it into a sugary treat.

I worked with a girl once who was named Dawn Ford. She thought it was a terribly dull name, but I thought it was beautiful and romantic. It reminded her of a car, it made me think of crossing a shallow part of a river in the early morning, the sun slanting through trees and mist on the ground. A fording at dawn. Names should be more than just titles or jumbled sounds you liked - they say something about you and the more we know that, the richer our relationships and our persons can be.


"I think it is a very humane gesture from society"

Fund Abortion
Australia like many western countries has a problem where parents are just not very interested in having children any more. Too much hassle, too expensive, they take up too much time that could be better used on myself, and so on. Maybe later, some say - and that later never comes. The Australian government decided to try to help with this, by easing the expense and encouraging parents to have children. They send a check for 5000 Australian dollars to new parents, even if the baby is stillborn, in an attempt to encourage other parents to give it a try.

And, at present, there's a loophole in the law: if you abort your baby late enough in the pregnancy, it is considered stillborn and you still get the money. In other words: you get paid for killing your baby. The lawmakers are discussing how to fix this, but some groups claim it's perfectly reasonable and proper. Ben Packham at reports:
National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists chairman Andrew Pesce said there was no legal difference between stillbirths and abortions after 20 weeks.

Dr Pesce said most late-term abortions were prompted by fetal abnormalities.

When it came to women who had a late-term abortion, he said: "I think it is a very humane gesture from society to say, 'You are going through enough already, we're not going to withhold the bonus'."
That's right an association of baby doctors thinks this is just dandy. Sure, you killed that baby on purpose, but that's no reason to not get paid! It would be cruel not to give someone an extra stack of cash that they had no reason to expect before the law was put into place, a law intended to have more babies.

I worked on a comic once that I thought would be an interesting project. It was about a superhero in the near future in a time of super political correctness. It was the early 1990s and PC was going berserk, I wanted a cautionary tale of what the future would look like soon if things were not stopped. They still might - we had only a slight hesitation the beginning of this decade but the PC juggernaut was only slowed, not stopped.

In it, I had businesses next to abortion clinics that would sell stem cells and biological material harvested from aborted babies. You could go in there first, sell your baby for parts, then get it harvested. Why not? There's a lot of money in it and who could say it is wrong to use the remains of parasitical unviable tissue to save lives, right?

There's a lot of science fiction written about that: using the young to assist the old. Harvesting the poor and helpless to benefit the health of the rich and powerful. It is presented as a horror, as the ultimate in oppression: taking the lives of others to extend and enhance my own. That kind of evil was inconceivable in the 1960s except in fiction. It's hotly defended and considered not just acceptable but morally proper and beneficial to society now: if you say you are against embryonic stem cell research even otherwise intelligent and ethical people will call you a brute for not helping Christopher Reeves walk. Who cares if they're unborn babies? They were going to die anyway, right? Let's use them for our benefit? I don't want to grow old, damn you!

At some point society has to stop, take a step back, and reexamine what it means to be human, to understand the value and dignity of human life. We're incrementally eroding the very concept to the point where people shrug at 4000 murdered babies a day and cry real tears over a whale stuck on the beach. Where abandoning a baby in a dumpster gets you the same - or even lower - legal penalties as killing your dog. This is the ghastly result of slowly downgrading the value of human life. Of treating humans as just another animal, as maybe being too populous anyway. Of thinking of human beings as being an alien, damaging imposition on the natural order rather than a part of it.

Where do we go from here? It's up to all of us.
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Quote of the Day

"This is confusing to many pundits, who don’t understand why a far-left, first-term Senator with dodgy mates, no policies, a profound humour deficit and a habit of committing astonishing gaffes isn’t in front by 20 points."
-Tim Blair on US polling data
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Monday, August 25, 2008


“…Not clean. Stale black licorice…”

Wine Pouring
Hey, want to go out and try some fine dining? It's a bit of a commute: all the way to Milan, Italy. Still, it's an award winning restaurant named Osteria L'Intrepido. Wine Spectator awarded the place in 2008 as an "excellent" dining establishment with such fine wines as Amarone Classico 1998 and Barbaresco Asij 1985. The food includes specialties such as Gamberi alla griglia con croccante di melanzane, Pappardelle ai funghi porcini freschi, and Soufflé di Parmigiano-Reggiano al miele.

Sounds impressive, eh? The restaurant doesn't exist. It was created by Robin Goldstein as a website to prove that the awards systems and ranking by different organizations are often completely bogus. As he explains on his blog, Osteria L'Intrepido di Milano was a fiction created to test the award system by Wine Spectator to see if he could win without even having a restaurant. He created a menu he describes as "a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes" and a reserve wine list deliberately containing the worst-reviewed wines in Wine Speculator Magazine. Wines that got reviews like this:
“…Turpentine. Medium-bodied, with hard, acidic character. Disappointing…”
“…Smells barnyardy and tastes decayed. Not what you’d hope for…”
“…Earthy, swampy, gamy, harsh and tannic…”
“Something wrong here. Of four samples provided, two were dark in color, but tasted metallic and odd…”
Now for a long time I've suspected that wine tasting and aficionados were more emperor's clothes than genuine, but since all wine tastes awful to me I am not the most trustworthy judge. Yet despite having no actual restaurant, a dead phone number, and a wine list of crap, after the judging process was done, he'd won their bottom level (one wine glass) Award of Excellence out of 3.

The Wine Spectator magazine website has this information about their judging process:
To qualify for an award, the list must present complete, accurate wine information. It must include vintages and appellations for all selections, including wines available by the glass. Complete producer names and correct spellings are mandatory, while the overall presentation and appearance of the list is also taken into consideration. After meeting these basic requirements, lists are judged for one of our three awards.
They also note that "We cannot visit every award-winning restaurant." Which in this case was literally true. What isn't mentioned is that to enter this contest, you have to send in a $250 fee. Wine Spectator magazine has a circulation of over two million worldwide, and with all the restaurants who signed up for this contest, they raked in more than a million dollars for the contest alone.

As Mr Goldstein says:
While it’s interesting that the reserve list would receive such seemingly little scrutiny, the central point is that the wine cellar doesn’t actually exist. And while Osteria L’Intrepido may be the first to win an Award of Excellence for an imaginary restaurant, it’s unlikely that it was the first submission that didn’t accurately reflect the contents of a restaurant’s wine cellar.

Restaurants, like all businesses, have strong incentives to embellish their images online. We turn to experts and awards bodies to help navigate the chaotic world of information and misinformation that results. If Google, Chowhound, and a couple of unanswered phone calls suffice to verify not just the existence of a restaurant but also the authenticity of its wine list, then it’s not clear what role the critic is playing.
This is not exactly the first time a critical reviewing or award system has been shown to be arbitrary and even corrupt. These guys are treated with all seriousness by the public hoping to find some way to know ahead of time what's going to be worth their money, and yet there's little to no reason to trust any of the reviews. Is that television really better than its rival? Did the reviewer get paid to say that? Or did he just say it because he had a deadline and didn't check either one?

As I've noted in the past, consumer review magazines and organizations are not free from influence, incompetence, sloth, and just personal preference. Many times one product is every bit as good as another, but feeling the need to rank them, choices are made. From games to electronics to movies to music, reviewers are taken very seriously by many and often are at least sometimes if not always untrustworthy. Identical products released by different companies are given different reviews. Sometimes it's so subjective that the reviews are useless ("I had fun" or "I just don't like how it looks"). Good reviews are very difficult to come by and when you can find a reliable, well-written source, it's like a gold mine.

Stereo Review magazine had the best musical reviews in the business, you could trust what they had to say about record releases, at least in the past. How true that is today or if they even have reviews any more I don't know. But it was a wonderful find to see someone who not just knew what they were talking about but was able to express it well and handle the reviews in a careful, detached manner. By comparison, Rolling Stone's reviews are utter trash: they are influenced by who was popular, who had money, and what was happening politically at the time. They are useless for what you want in a review.

It's funny that this guy nailed Wine Spectator so well, the magazine has since pulled his award and he's written a book, but it is also sad. How many people believed their reviews up to this point? What's worse, how many people claimed a lousy place with cruddy wine was superb because the magazine told them it was so? The magazine has a black eye now, a well-deserved one. They were running a scam: send us your money and we'll give you an award. I hope their readers know how well they can be trusted now. Can their wine reviews be trusted? Are they actually researching their articles? Do they even go to the places they write about?

Its not just politics where you can't trust the legacy media, folks.
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I guess I should say something about Democratic VP choice Senator Biden. I get the same feeling about this choice I did about Bob Dole winning the nomination for the GOP in 1996: he's got seniority. That's about it, it was just his time. He's a lousy choice but at this point I don't see Senator Obama winning anyway and the VP candidate doesn't change things much for people.


"No cops, no KKK, no fascist USA"

Recreate '68 and other organizations plan on making the Denver Democratic National Convention into a zoo. They want to stage protests and constantly disrupt activities to the point that Denver had to pass a law that it was illegal to carry large quantities of urine to use as a weapon - because cops found large stores of the stuff just for that purpose. They wanted to throw piss on the cops.

These protesters seem a bit confused and aimless. Here's just one picture to illustrate:

Idiots on parade
Here hapless protesters stand in front of the beautiful and historic Denver capitol building, holding various signs. Check them out:one of them calls for people to "riot 4 peace," having learned to spell from Prince. This is the kind of person who'd claim it was obvious that wars never result in peace, but that riots do, apparently.

The other sign claims that they have to disrupt the DNC because there's no hope in capitalism. What these two things have in common is unclear (although clearly a lot of big businesses have donated a whale load of money to the convention). The crowd is an assortment of the usual suspects, causeheads and hippie-wannabes, the smell of pot, patchouli and unwashed bodies filling the air.

Yet what is their purpose? Other than "whee lets go make trouble!" what do they hope to accomplish? Cindy Sheehan, desperate for attention and significance, is going to be at an anti-war rally in Denver, but what war is she opposed to? The gatherings seem a bit random, here's another picture:

OK here we have No War in Iran, anti-Emigration enforcement, getting the US to leave Iraq, Anti-nukes (very small sign saying "No nukes is good nukes"), Shut Down Guantanamo, Less Oil (?), War Is Not Good For Living Things, No More Imperial Presidency, Vanquish the Occupations, Torture is UnAmerican and other signs which are too small for me to read (I don't have CSI's super computer). I didn't say they made sense, that's just what the signs read.

Cindy Sheehan gave a speech, as reported by Mike McPhee at the Denver Post:
"This convention is sponsored by AT&T. What does that tell you?" she said to wild cheers.

"Denver has partnered with the Democrats to create a fascist police state. Now we have free speech in cages. We are not animals."
The protesters claimed that Senator Obama is "part of an imperialist system," apparently no one measures up to their radical leftist viewpoint.

Events such as a crowd threatening the Fox camera crew so much that the police had to separate them... twice are usually ignored by the press when covering this kind of demonstrations, but this is getting a bit more attention and less favorable coverage. In the end, I expect these guys to be little more than entertainment because the police will show restraint and other than the usual black block window shattering infantilism, they won't be terribly disruptive.

But they should be rather instructive to the American people about the modern left in this country.

*UPDATE: Check out Denver Stuff for a lot more on the conventions, including pictures of the signs and


"Who could have possibly seen that coming?"

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department had a bright idea on how to deal with illegal immigration in the country. They'd gotten a lot of criticism about how heavy-handed and traumatic it was to families to have ICE kick the door down (metaphorically speaking) and drag someone off to the Mexican border abruptly. So they decided that when someone was caught, they would be given 90 days to get their affairs in order and move peaceably to their home nation on their own.

Strangely enough, after 2 1/2 weeks, of the 30 thousand illegals who the program applied to, a grand total of eight complied. Amy Taxin at Kansas has the story:
The program was offered in five cities: Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Phoenix, San Diego and Santa Ana. ICE estimates that 30,000 eligible immigrants live in those areas.

ICE has been steadily expanding the number of agents charged with finding fugitive illegal immigrants. Its fugitive operation teams made more than 30,000 arrests during the last fiscal year, nearly double from the previous 12-month period.

Hayes said that during the time the self-deportation program was going on, the teams made 1,300 arrests.
Get this, the advertising campaign cost $41,000 but the ICE claims that it would have cost them $54,000 just to detain those eight who actually complied. It is estimated that because of porous borders and lack of real efforts to stop illegal immigration, more than 12 million illegals are in the United States at this time - including men like the ones who executed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all in the nation illegally.

Illegal Immigrant advocates (if you can believe it there are just such groups - although they tend to drop the "illegal" out of their title) complain that the ICE is rude to people when they are hauled off and arrested. I expect most criminals could complain about the same thing: murderers, thieves, tax cheats, and Ponzi scheme artists all have families as well who are traumatized by their being arrested abruptly. That's part of being arrested, it doesn't tend to soothe the nerves.

Somehow I find myself less than sympathetic toward these people: if you don't want to be arrested and deported don't break the law. This isn't some random, unpredictable occurrence, it isn't like no one could have possibly predicted such an outcome. You shouldn't do the crime if you can't do the time.

As for this program, I can't believe anyone would seriously expect it to work - I suppose some really naive, well-meaning soft-hearted person who sobs deeply when hearing about how Tzosk Czeczinski is yanked from his American girlfriend's arms and shipped off to Upper Slobovia might think this is a kinder way to appeal to Tzosk's better side. Yet if someone is willing to break the law to be in the US to begin with, why on earth would they go out of their way to obey the law later? Particularly when it is especially inconvenient and traumatic?

I suspect the program was impelemented to give the ICE plausibility. They can say "look, we tried to be nice but people wouldn't play along, this is the way it has to be done." Then again, who knows? Norway has a system in which allows convicted criminals to go home and make arrangements, then show up to prison for their sentence. One out of five simply never show up to serve their time. I'm shocked that 80% do show up, to be honest. Although looking at the picture of the jail cell and knowing Northern European criminal systems it probably isn't all that awful an experience.

Meanwhile, the immigration problem in the US continues to be a problem, with violence a constant reality and death among border enforcement and local police a very real thing. People are killing to get into America - and they sometimes don't stop once they get here.
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Quote of the Day

"I just hope McCain doesn't have one of his 'maverick' moments and decide he'll show his independent streak by also choosing Biden"
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Saturday, August 23, 2008


So what do you think, this look recyclable to you?

DNC main stage
I'm thinking this will require a lot of offsets to neutralize the energy use and construction, don't you? I'll give you a whole year's free WATN if at least one of the speakers doesn't talk about global warming and the need to cut down on energy consumption right on that stage.

Totally unrelated to the Democratic National Convention being held in Denver is this news story, courtesy Ace of Spades HQ:
The Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel, appointed by Mayor John Hickenlooper, voted 5-3 at its Wednesday night meeting to issue a recommendation discouraging police from "arresting, detaining or issuing a citation" to any adult caught with up to one ounce of marijuana during the four-day convention.

"If police expect the taxpayers to cover their $1.2 million in overtime during the DNC, it is only fair that they respect the laws adopted by those taxpayers," said Mr. Tvert, leader of Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation.
That's from the Washington Times.

Friday, August 22, 2008


"Dignify and glorify common labor. It is at the bottom of life that we must begin, not at the top."
Booker T. Washington

Teen Employee
When Booker T. Washington established the Tuskeegee school, he started with a different perspective than most modern educators. He understood that it was important to learn to read and write and to learn the usual schoolroom materials, but that this was not enough. Especially for freed slaves, he understood that these were people who needed to learn the value of work - rather than work being oppression and pain. That they needed to learn a trade and become someone who can do things rather than just know things.

Booker T. Washington knew what seems to elude many people. He knew that success comes from effort, not knowledge. He understood that the theoretical must lead to the practical, and that the practical can only be done if there's something to practice. Tuskeegee's first buildings were built by the students. They learned smithing and carpentry and construction, bricklaying and architecture. They made the classrooms they learned in, and in the end produced students who not only knew what they needed to academically, but knew how to function in the world to make a future for themselves.

Christo Rey (Christ the King) school in Chicago, Illinois is following the same pattern. One day a week, the students must work to help pay for their education. They get schooling four days a week and work one day at different places to gain practical experience, understand the value of work, introduce them to labor and the need to earn a living, and help them gain a feeling of responsibility for their education. What you help pay for, you tend to treat more carefully.
....the Jesuits set about drumming up jobs at Chicago employers. They leaned on Catholic businessmen and then worked their way out through their professional networks. Eventually they found enough positions to place the students who had enrolled in the school for fall 1996. The Rev. John Foley, one of the Jesuits, likes to say that he wanted to “hide under the desk” when he first sent his rather rough new charges out into the Chicago business community. One kid reportedly stood outside a skyscraper for a long time, unable to figure out the revolving door.

But soon employers were calling to compliment the Jesuits on the most eager temps they’d ever seen. “No one quite expected that the kids could perform to the level they were performing in the work world,” Thielman says. “We found tremendous talent and tremendous potential among young people in that neighborhood."
All the money they are paid goes to the school, which in turn handles payroll taxes for the businesses. Those of you who own a business understand how profound this is, but some may not.

The amount of money you are paid by a business is only a fraction of the total amount you cost them. Sure, you look at your paycheck and bemoan the fact that you only get part of your pay, FICA and taxes taking the rest. But the business pays taxes on you, too. I don't know the exact sum but it is a sizable amount, and I'll leave it to a businessman to explain exactly how much in the comments.

What this school has done is offer companies temp work at effectively lower wages than minimum wage for the business. Its only one day a week, but who's going to pass that up? Add to that the fact that temporary workers do not get expensive benefits, and you have a winner for everyone. And the idea is spreading.
The Chicago school began to draw attention both from the news media and within the Catholic Church, and before long other groups wanted to start their own schools based on the same financial model. Soon a $9 million gift from venture capitalist B.J. Cassin enabled the formation of the national Cristo Rey Network, which standardized the process of creating a school. Portland’s De La Salle North Catholic High School opened in 2001. Los Angeles’ Verbum Dei High School, a fixture in Watts, restructured itself to become a Cristo Rey school in 2002. A $9.9 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003 enabled the network to open six schools in 2004, in places ranging from Cleveland to Tucson to New York City. Another $6 million Gates Foundation gift in 2006 provided start-up capital for seven schools that opened in 2007. These included Newark’s Christ the King Prep, which now enrolls 89 freshmen, and will scale up as it enrolls new and bigger classes of freshmen until it reaches 500 or so students in 2012. Three schools are opening this fall, and four other groups, in Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, are undertaking feasibility studies for opening in fall of 2009 or 2010. Foley says the network has a list of about 40 cities where a Cristo Rey school “would be a possibility.”

These start-ups are all committed to enrolling only low-income kids; network-wide, 72 percent of students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. The schools are also committed to sending the vast majority of their graduates to college; of the 318 students who graduated from Cristo Rey Network schools in 2007, 316 were accepted to a two- or four-year college. That’s better than 99 percent. (Nationwide, just 67 percent of students who graduate from high school start college shortly thereafter, and in big cities that figure can be much lower. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley held a press conference last spring to boast that the Chicago public schools had sent almost half of the class of 2007 to two- or four-year colleges.)
I gotta say, this is a fantastic idea not just for the schools in terms of funding but the students in terms of education and work experience, and the businesses who gain this temp work for cheap. Apparently the students work well, the businesses are glad to get them, the students get practical work experience they can put on applications, learn the value of work and the culture of employment, and the school benefits from the money they get.

This is a terrific direction for schools to take, and when you think about it, a rather obvious one. Even in rural areas there are places that young people can do temporary work, and this solves one of the gaps illegals are filling right now: unskilled cheap labor. Displace them with eager young people working for an education and there's one less reason for people to break the law to get into the US.

I'd like to see more of this in the future, and from what I'm reading here, it seems likely. People talk about various government, top-down solutions to education such as vouchers and forcing schools to test better. Far better is an approach like this which doesn't involve the government at all.
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"The fact that America is off course in the 21st century remains unchanged."

Flag Waving
The Olympics are ostensibly about athletics, about young sports and related amateurs competing in a gathering of the world's best. Each person competes to be the best in the world at their particular specialty, and the emphasis is allegedly on the sports and the competitors, not their home countries.

Yet, from the opening ceremonies where each nation parades its athletes in special costumes with their flag to the national anthem played when the gold medal is awarded, the national identity of each athlete is inescapable. Add to that the media keeping track of "medal counts" and even more egregious examples such as most recently China's cheating with gymnast ages and the effort for each country to shine and be impressive through these young people is even more exaggerated.

In 1980 the United States set the pace with thunderous chants of USA! USA! As the US hockey team defeated the Soviet team. From then on national identity has mattered more than ever, and for some it denigrates the entire concept of the Olympics.

For others, it is simply embarrassing or disturbing. Daily Kos blogger kameraDSM expressed this viewpoint recently:
As we continue to celebrate the Olympics with profound pride and patriotism , I wanted to share some disheartening rankings that reflect our country's stark decline relative to the rest of the world. I list these fully knowing this community's cognizance of such issues, but sometimes numbers yield a haunting, and thus effective, reminder. For anyone truly proud to be American, these numbers should anger, motivate, and prompt action.
Following this is a set of numbers intended to show that the US isn't the greatest nation on earth in every possible category by every conceivable metric, so people should stop being so proud.
Of course, if we were to measure our greatness by military might and financial wealth, we'd be No. 1 - no doubt. But what makes a nation truly "great" is its leadership and devotion to social/moral issues. Take seriously the numbers above, and you'll have a hard time finding the tenacity to say we're the "greatest." (To be honest, one should be wary of any person, government or institution that self-proclaims "greatness")
A similar perspective can be found in the UK with Cath Elliott at the Guardian:
In fact, in any Olympic event where a British athlete has been involved, there I've been, on the edge of my seat, bellowing. I even did a little dance of victory around my front-room when Chris Hoy picked up his third gold medal of the games. Is there a feelgood factor to Britain's fantastic success in Beijing? I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but it seems to be working for me.

Of course I'm far too cynical and far too much of a Guardianista to think that this success indicates anything more than that this year Britain's athletes have done really well. I'm not about to announce for example that I think everything in the garden is now rosy, and that after this things can surely only get better, especially the dire economic situation and the desperate state of British politics. But at the same time I've got to disagree with Stephen Moss in Tuesday's Guardian, who responded to the question: "Doesn't it all make you proud to be British?" with: "No, in a nutshell."
The principles being expressed here are similar and odd: patriotism is shameful and unless everything is absolutely perfect, one ought to be ashamed of and worried for one's country, not proud and patriotic.

The closest analogy I can think of is to have a man and wife discussing matters, and the man explaining why he doesn't seem proud of her or loving toward her.

Well, you're only 75% as pretty as your friend Molly, and in overall tests, your cooking is only 15% as good as my mother's and studies show that you have 45% more fat in your thighs than Shawndra down the street. So I can't really be proud of you, you just don't measure up.

It is the fool's metric which declares that unless you are perfect, you aren't good. That if there is any place which anyone could find any flaws, then it's just wrong to be proud of your country. That patriotism is at best suspect and probably dangerous, stupid, and filled with nationalistic fervor that leads to fascism. You wouldn't want to be one of those flag waving NASCAR types, would you? How gauche. Consider Cath Elliot's statement "God knows I'm certainly no patriot, I've made it clear in the past that I don't go in for any of that jingoistic nonsense... The strange thing is that it's only while watching sports that I come over all patriotic and scarily nationalistic. Not enough to make me want to install a flagpole outside the house you understand"

Naturally. Can't have that, people might get the wrong idea and think you aren't constantly miserable and embittered toward where you live.

The Kos piece starts with the presumption that everyone is proud of America and all stirred up by Olympic victories (I haven't watched much and don't care particularly who wins the gold - its like the Little League World Series, I like all the little guys and consider them all winners for just being there). Yet this is tempered with a continual downplaying of America (or in Cath's instance, Britain). Sure, the gold medals are fine and all but look at this horror and that bad thing and these statistics. Just shameful, how can you be so proud?

The overall tone of the Kos piece is in general upbeat but the statistics are uniformly negative - the point of the article to be "lets fix this!" Yet the thrust is "things are terribly wrong and you're an idiot if you think the country is great." It's boilerplate leftist stuff, we're spending too much on war, we should spend it on making sure everyone feels equal, this hate-Bush writer says the country is horrific and these activist organizations say that women's rights are trampled, etc.

The problem is that patriotism isn't about glassy-eyed thinking that your home is perfect and refusing to consider improvement. It is that you love where you live despite its flaws, just like you love your children or your mother or your spouse despite their flaws. Patriotism isn't an ugly or wrong thing, although wrong and ugliness can come from it - like all things. Loving where you live is natural and proper: its your home. It is this fear of or shame for being patriotic that is deeply imbedded into the left which causes such confusion and dismay on the right: what's wrong with you? Why can you not say something positive about your home without feeling compelled to bring up nine bad things?

If the Olympics make you feel good about your country, good for you. You should, at least sometimes, feel good about your home - else why on earth are you living there? Even China should feel good about their nation and people, and those athletes, even the little underage gymnasts who did so well. The governments and policies and failures of a nation don't negate the good it does, this isn't a spreadsheet where you balance things out. The good is still good even if there's a lot more bad out there.

For once, if you are on the left, try saying something unqualified good about your nation. Give it a shot, wave a flag once. Try not to feel guilty, try not to worry about what other leftists walking by will think of you. Just once.

And be honest: when has the nation not been off course, according to you? Will it ever do enough right to be properly on course?
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Quote of the Day

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."
-George Orwell
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Thursday, August 21, 2008


"Thus, and no further"

Interracial Gay Marriage
I'm not a big Ann Coulter fan. She's often funny, but generally bitter, angry, and shrewish. She exaggerates for effect, makes up stories to make her point, treats individuals as a group (x group of radical leftists as the entire Democratic Party, for instance) and generally acts like an angry internet commenter. In a sense, she's the ideal columnist for the internet age, which makes her painful to read at times. At least her spelling is correct.

This week her column is about Senator Obama at the megachurch Saddelback and his little show with Senator McCain. She brings up his weak performance regarding abortion "above my pay grade" and points out a letter his wife sent out in 2004 about the shocking and horrible ban on partial birth abortion that year. Michelle Obama claimed it was "clearly unconstitutional" although the Supreme Court later ruled that it was, in fact, constitutional.

Ms Coulter then segues back to the Saddleback show and recalls Senator Obama's answer to another question:
...when Warren asked Obama if he supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Obama said he did not "because historically -- because historically, we have not defined marriage in our Constitution."

I don't care if you support a marriage amendment or not. That answer is literally the stupidest thing I've ever heard anyone say. If marriage were already defined in the Constitution, we wouldn't need an amendment, no?

Say, you know what else was "historically" not defined in the Constitution? Slavery. The words "slavery" and "slave" do not appear once in the original Constitution. The framers correctly thought it would sully the freedom-enshrining document to acknowledge the repellent practice. (Much like abortion!)

But in 1865, the 13th Amendment banned slavery throughout the land, in the first constitutional phrase ever to mention "slavery": "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

On Obama's "historical" argument, they shouldn't have passed the 13th Amendment because the Constitution "historically" had not mentioned slavery.
Here's the thing: Senator Obama is right, and Ann Coulter is wrong.

See, I'm opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment for exactly the same reason: because it is not an issue that the US Constitution deals with. Marriage is left out of the Constitution because it is not an area that the founding fathers thought that the federal government should have power over. Here we get into an area that a lot of people seem to be ignorant about: what the Constitution is and why it was written.

The Constitution of the United States was not written just to give a framework for the federal government to make laws. It is not a list of general rules to follow.

The Constitution is a document that presumes a shocking starting position (particularly for the time it was written): the federal government has no power; all the power in the United States is presumed to belong to the citizens, the people. The Constitution laid out what powers the federal government was granted by the people in order to do their job and no more. This isn't a list of suggested powers, it is an absolute limit of all power for the government.

The purpose of the Constitution was to protect the rights and the powers of the people and the states, not to empower the government. It is a complete reversal of all governmental structures previous to that point, which is partly why it is such a shocking and singular document in human history.

And this is where Ms Coulter misses the point. See, the US Constitution didn't actually need the 13th amendment; the entire principle of America is that all men are created equal and that no man is property of another. Liberty is a fundamental right, and there was no need for a constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery (except in certain circumstances, if you are interested in more thoughts on this, read my essay on slavery) because the principle was already repellant to the very nature of America. All the 13th amendment did was codify this so that the government was specifically required to protect the right of liberty in this matter.

This was, by the way, the reason the Federalists opposed the Bill of Rights. Not because they believed the rights contained therein were improper, but because they thought they were redundant and obvious: of course those rights are held by the people. The Anti-Federalists, being more visionary, understood that without putting it down on paper specifically and plainly, the tendency of all government is to swallow up and remove rights. Despite the Bill of Rights, the federal government still tries to do so, and has in some areas.

So a rule against slavery is simply a logical and proper extension of the philosophy behind the US and the rule of law in this country. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin (among others) worked to find a way to end slavery under this principle but were not able to find a way to do so that wouldn't tear the fledgeling country to pieces. Granted, both men still had slaves, so their hearts might not have been entirely into the effort. From the country's foundation, however, the concept was there - it's part of why the effort to redefine slaves as being only partly human was undertaken.

Sadly for Ms Coulter, marriage doesn't fit this category. It is not a constitutional issue because it is not a federal government issue. For the founding fathers, it wasn't a government issue at all except for official recognition and some legal aspects. Because marriage is in part a legal contract there's no way the government can be entirely taken out of the equasion, yet it is not a federal issue in the broader sense.

The thing is, putting marriage into the US constitution makes it by law an aspect of life that is now under federal government power. That's an expansion of federal power over something the founding fathers knew about and believed was none of their business. Yes, there were gays back then too. Yes, some wished they could get married, the idea was not entirely alien nor did it somehow appear ex nihilo in the 1990s.

The argument that this is the only way to stop judges is a fool's position. While it may be technically accurate, it also is giving up too much to gain too little. If judges will rule that the US constitution somehow demands that gays be allowed to marry, even though it plainly and inescapably says no such thing, what will stop them from "reinterpreting" the offending amendment, or even worse creating a constitutional crisis by declaring the amendment invalid because it is in contradiction with other parts of the constitution? If judges are so wholly out of control and powerful then your amendment will not stop them.

The proper answer is to get better jurists in place and to get rid of the poor ones. It is a slow, difficult process, but a far better one that does not involve surrendering critical parts of your liberty out of frustration and fear.

Certainly if the people choose to, they can add any new power granted the government into the constitution. It may be unwise and foolish, it may be an increase of government tyranny and a surrender of critical liberty, but the people can do so. The ability to create amendments is open ended and very clearly laid out without restriction. That's why the founding fathers argued we needed a virtuous and well-informed populace or the Republic could not continue.

One final thought. There is an argument against the FMA that is wrong both logically and constitutionally. It goes like this: all of the constitution grants liberties and rights and this would be the only one to restrict it! That's just improper and wrong!

Again, the constitution does not grant rights or liberties it only forces the government to protect them. The entire document is a restriction: a restriction of federal government tyranny. The argument that this somehow would be the only restriction is not only wrong philosophically in this sense, but it's also false in the sense it is intended. The 13th amendment bans people from owning slaves. It is a negative in the constitution, it does not extend rights, it restricts freedom.

To be certain the 13th amendment guarantees the right to liberty, but it also prohibits people from doing something they wish to do - in this case own slaves. The fact that we consider this a reprehensible act and an immoral deed does not make that any less true. And your perception of morality can hardly be the guide of how laws are written or how cultures are formed.

In this case, Ann Coulter is wrong and Senator Obama is right: the FMA would be an improper addition to the US Constitution because it simply does not deal with marriage. Unfortunately for Senator Obama, that also applies to judges attempting to force gay marriage to be legalized as well.

If you'd like to read more about the US constitution, I've written quite a bit on the topic and on rights in general.
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