April 25, 2008

Free speech or racism in Canada

Have you, by any chance, been as fascinated as I have by the doings up North in lovely Canada where people like Ezra Levant are being prosecuted/persecuted for "hate crimes" or violations of Canada's revolting human rights statutes? Mark Steyn is also victim of a complaint brought by some jerk in front of one of the human rights commissions. Ezra's website is a damn good place to go to get some background. He's defending himself from some Islamic organization's complaint that he hurt their feelings by publishing the dreaded Danish Cartoons of Blasphemy.

Anyway, I have been following this, with a sick fascination, for months. I mean, Canadians are so very much like us, we think, only kind of cleaner and nicer and a bit more polite. Toronto v. New York. Mounties v. NYC Cops. You get it, right? So, when I read that they are prepared to accept all sorts of governmental interference with freedom of expression, I am dumbfounded. It is absolutely absurd. I just have not been able to wrap my mind around the concept.

Until now. Now, I get it. I was reading Mark Steyn's recent piece in Macleans when it suddenly clicked for me. Here's the excerpt that brought it together for me:

Last week's letters page included a missive from Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., chief commissioner of the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission, defending her employees from the accusation of "improper investigative techniques" by yours truly. Steyn, she writes, "provides no substantiation for these claims," and then concludes:

"Why is this all important? Because words are important. Steyn would have us believe that words, however hateful, should be given free rein. History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes. That is why Canada and most other democracies have enacted legislation to place reasonable limits on the expression of hatred."

(Emphasis supplied).

It is the bit in bold that triggered it for me. The need for HRC's (human rights commissions) is because the liberal, at his/her base, cannot and will not trust to the fundemental decency of the Canadian. In older times, and perhaps still, at least where I am, I believe that you would see people stand up for victims of hatred at an individual level. I believe that people, individually and en masse, would stand together and say: "No, your behavior is not acceptable when you called that other person a ______". I believe that we, as a people, individually and collectively, would not put up with witnessing blatantly racist behavior and not try to intervene on behalf of the victim.

The people who put the HRCs in place do not share my faith. They think that the only way to protect people from hurtful speech is to proscribe the speech and for the Government to take the place of the People (in loco populi?). They think that no one will protect anyone but them. In consecrating to themselves the rights of a free people to. . . No, the obligations of a free people to stand for themselves and to defend the limits of socially acceptable speech by engaging in spirited debate and in more speech, by saying, "no, no, no, dear people, don't bother, let us, the helpful anti-racist professionals do it", what you do is kill the spirit of the body politic. It is not necessary any more for Canadians to stand themselves and be counted in the face of anti-Canadian behavior. It is only necessary that they pick up the phone and ask the HRC to do it for them. Perhaps anonymously. Can you see how this is practically an invitation to abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen and an individual?

You may hate the image of the cowboy. Chances are, if you are European, you certainly do. But can you imagine a cowboy picking up the phone and not solving his community's problems himself?

To sum up, I hate the HRC because they are animated by the belief that the individual will not protect the weak. I disagree. That is not how I was raised. It is un-American. I bet it is also un-Canadian. But, who can say, maybe the welfare state and the multi-culti types have successfully whittled away at the concept of individual responsibility so well and replaced it with an over-reliance on the State as the beginning and the end of everything that the HRC's and the beliefs they represent will never go away.

I just hope it won't happen here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:22 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 10, 2008

Bye, Gov!

Breaking news (not that this is the first place I would suggest coming for breaking news, but, just the same): Gov. Elliot Spitzer, Democrat of New York, has been caught up in a high-priced prostitution scandal and will be taking some time to deal with the personal issues (you know, the ones where his wife kills him?). He was found on a Federal wire tap placing an order for a call girl while in Washington D.C. That explains why, when the prostitution ring indictments were handed down in Federal Court here in New York, the Assistant United States Attorneys were all from the Public Integrity Unit and not from the regular Criminal Division.

Next step? Resignation from office?

Bye, Gov!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 28, 2007

Medical advice: science or politics?

I guess I have always had some kind of faith in the medical advice doctors have dispensed to me over the years. I have assumed that the advice I have been given has been truthful, that it is the distillation of years of rigorous study, of carefully monitored tests, of repeatedly observed phenomena, that it has all the indicia of truth gleaned from years of practice. I have thought that medicine is truth and that it is derived from good science.

I forgot that medicine, while it may be applied truth, is applied by human beings. Medical professionals bring to the scientific process of dispensing medical advice all of their own biases and preconceptions, all of their own political and social world views, all of their own narrow prisms. These people are just as imprisoned by their tunnel vision as the rest of us.

Scary, isn't it?

What do I mean, you may be wondering at this point?

I have just finished a very short, very compelling, terribly frightening book: Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student .

Go forth, buy it, read it, and give it to your daughters. I am completely serious.

But back to my topic. The book brought me to this realization because it makes terribly clear how ideology guides and informs mental health treatment and risk education for college age, and younger, women.

The bias is this: women are just the same as men. The translation of the bias into action is social activism and is praised by mental health counselors who are hoping to help break gender constructs in an effort to achieve a more just and equitable society. How? By telling girls that having any kind of sexual relationship they want, no matter how casual, is just fine. It is risk free and without consequence, so long as "safer sex" is practiced.

The author of the book makes clear that is ideologically driven and contradicted by medical fact. How? First, venereal disease is not so easily cured by a one day treatment of some wonder drug, as the ideologues would have you believe. There can be grave physical consequences to a woman's ability to conceive later in life. Second, there are serious mental health consequences which appear to be neurologically driven. Oxytocin is a chemical released during breast feeding to promote the bonding between woman and child. It also is released during sex. It means, to boil it down very much, a woman is more likely to bond with a man during sex and thus, when the man blows her off because they were just hooking up for a no strings attached thing, she is more prone to become depressed. These consequences are not shared with women because they might blow away the political agenda -- female equality. Women, as a result of the agenda applied, are not being told that maybe it would be better to wait until they have fallen in love to have sex and then to have sex within a monogamous relationship. It conflicts with the agenda.

Read the book. I could go on. Instead, I am putting it on the shelf until my daughter just about hits puberty, and then I am going to make her read it and discuss it with her. Just so that she can make informed decisions about her own life in the context of knowing that all the facts and further knowing that the advice she may be getting about a healthy lifestyle is coming from a place more concerned about the end result of a political agenda than about keeping her safe.

By the way, the author originally wrote this as "anonymous" out of the fear she had for the consequences for her own career. She has since come out: Miriam Grossman, M.D., psychiatrist in the UCLA health services.

Here's an interesting piece about her and the book.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 22, 2007

In case you missed it: R.I.P. Senator Smathers

I assume you missed the obituary pages this weekend and thus might not have noticed that George A. Smathers, former Senator from the State of Florida has died. Smathers took a lot of very conservative positions regarding Civil Rights and in noting his passing I am in no way endorsing his positions. But he did do two things we should note.

First, we should all be thankful that he insisted that all federal holidays be moved to Mondays. He created the modern three day weekend! Thanks, George!

Second, he said the funniest thing I have ever seen in politics and I reproduce it here. He denied saying it by the way. But, it was reported that in the middle of a contentious race for the Senate, he used to say of his opponent, Claude Pepper, to some not terribly well educated audiences, the following:

Do you know that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.

Politicians were so much more clever in the really not too distant past.

I had trouble not laughing I was re-typing the quote, by the way.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 17, 2007

A simple thought about Jihad

The following may not be exactly an original thought, but then how many really original thoughts exist?

I was musing on the train this morning about the concept of Jihad, which many Islamic advocacy groups have tried to define in the context of a personal battle, a personal struggle to, say, quit smoking or lose weight. This personal struggle meaning of the term appears to be offered to soften the more widely accepted meaning of holy war.

I will note this. I am not fooled. To define Jihad as personal struggle simply brings to mind another personal struggle that came to be written about in a well known book. Perhaps you've heard of it? It was called Mein Kampf, or my struggle.

To me, there appears to be little difference in whether you call a Jihad a holy war or a kampf, the end result is not good for anyone.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2006

The nanny state in Europe taken to a new level

This is just plain weird. Madrid, in conjunction with the fashion shows, has taken it upon itself to ban models who have a body mass below 18. The Wall Street Journal notes that would mean that poor Kate Moss couldn't work these shows. The problem is that the State thinks that employing such models constitutes a terrible influence on women who then, after seeing the spindly legged creatures, develop horrible eating disorders.

Please. As if.

This is the nanny state reductio ad absurdum. The thought that the State is basing permission to work on a person's appearance, all for the greater good, strikes me as so ridiculous, so controlling, so totalitarian, that I could scream.

Madrid's regional government introduced the prohibition on the premise that the fashion industry has a responsibility to promote healthy body images. A Spanish organization that helps anorexics and bulimics had campaigned for the ban, based on the assumption that girls are inspired to starve themselves by what they see on the catwalk.

* * *

The doctor-enforcers who will be on site next week to boot the underweight won't make fashion a kinder, gentler business. Organizers are rejecting models with a body mass index of less than 18, meaning that, for instance, über-waif Kate Moss would not be welcome.

Here's the link to the article, although you may not be able to bring it up.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:56 PM | Comments (14)

May 22, 2006

An important read: The Islamic Imagery Project: Visual Motifs in Jihadi Internet Propaganda

The West Point Combatting Terrorism Center has a fascinating publication out on the web: The Islamic Imagery Project: Visual Motifs in Jihadi Internet Propaganda. It is an analysis of over one hundred of the images the terrorists use to make their case and build support. It is an important and fascinating study.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

The Cult of Secrecy: Where is Cheney in this?

At least two days have passed and there has been no news from the Vice-President's office. Not one word. No interviews, no statements, nothing. And you know what really bothers me? The media is totally complacent and not calling him on it.

Vivi escaped from her cage at the airport two days ago. Despite a massive search, no one can find her.

It was all over CNN this morning like it was an issue of critical national importance.

And yet the Vice-President still hasn't spoken.

And the media still hasn't asked him to.

What is happening to this country?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:35 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 01, 2006

Media biased? Really?

Unless you've been living in a cave, you are aware of the current debate that the media in the United States does not present an unbiased view point when covering, well, just about everything. This is not a secret and should not come as an earth shaking revelation. But whatever. You kind of note it and file it away and move on, most of the time. But sometimes, just sometimes, it jumps off the page at you, or off of the television, and you just stand there, gobsmacked, like I was this morning.

I was watching CNN during my morning perspiration at the gym today and the talking heads were discussing the whole Cindy Sheehan thing -- you know, she got tossed from the chamber before the State of the Union speech, right? Now, I had to go to CNN to get the name of the talking head who said this, because they are kind of all interchangeable for me, but it was Miles O'Brien talking to Soledad O'Brien and here's what happened. Soledad said that Cindy was asked to cover up her shirt and refused and that's why she was escorted out. Miles expressed confusion when Soledad said that and referred to some papers in front of him, saying, "that's not what it says happened on her blog or on the letter she wrote to the Michael Moore website". Excuse me, Miles, Cindy's blog and Moore's webpage are supposed to qualify as authoritative news sources? Are you kidding me?

Who says that the media ain't biased? I'd rather believe that they were biased than that they were just this fuc*ing stupid, ok?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:43 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

Shh! They might hear you!

Am I the only one who, upon hearing that the US Government has been engaging in surreptitious listening in on our conversations, immediately started singing: "They're tapping phone lines, you know that that ain't allowed"?

The Talking Heads, ahead of their time.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:31 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 28, 2005

U.S. Out of the Arts! Or something.

Of late, I have stopped reading the NY Times in the morning. That may have something to do with my reduced output here, no doubt. But, as a result, I have begun to wonder if I am somewhat less informed than I used to be. I read the Times with catholic interest, reading just about everything, or at least the beginnings of everything, and, thus, was probably broadly well informed. I stopped reading it when I stopped my weekday subscription. They just couldn't get it to my house early enough for me to read on my usual 5:27 a.m. train into the city.

I read it this morning, though. Happily, I see I have not changed and they have not changed. My little epiphany came during the reading of an article concerning a $100 million gift to the Yale School of Music which will result in free tuition for all graduate students. Evidently, the scale of the gift bothered those with more delicate social conscious who felt, inter alia, that $20 million would have done the trick just fine and the rest could have gone to a greater social good somewhere else, to alleviate pain or suffering, or just to provide someone in the less developed world with soft serve ice cream. Ok, I made that last bit up. Sue me.

In any event, as I settled back to read the music critic's chipper and spirited (sort of) defense of this gift, both as a music critic and as a self-identified proud Yalie, I read the following little passage:

Those raising ethical questions about the gift to the Yale School of Music should first put the dollar amount in perspective. Private and corporate donors in America have to compensate for the government's negligible support of the fine arts.

And I thought, gee, no, not really. You see, Yale-boy, the government is under no real obligation so far as I can tell to provide any support for the fine arts. It, uh, ain't in the Constitution, as best as I can recall. The government isn't supposed to be in the business of supporting art, of picking some art that it likes better than other art, of allowing some art to thrive while other art withers on the vine for lack of a governmental purse. I know that the government does provide subsidies to the arts, but my view is totally opposed to our friend from Yale, the critic.

I don't think that the government should provide any support to the arts, other than allowing taxable deductions to be written off against income tax. I don't accept the premise that the arts require support.

I certainly don't think that any private corporation has the obligation to support the arts. The corporation has, primarily, an obligation to its shareholders, not to the starving artist, unless the business of the corporation is art.

I think that to permit strong funding of the arts leads to bad art, if not corrupt art or lazy art. I think that artists, if they wish to be artists, either need to be possessed of independent means or be good enough to be self-supporting. If the artist receives support no matter how jejune the art, well, you see where I'm going with this.

Once again, I disagree with the NY Times. Quelle surprise.

I await your dissent with great interest. Assuming you have some.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

And another good word bites the dust

I was reading the NY Times this morning on the train on the way into the City, not an unusual activity for me, and I was happily browsing through one of the weekend sections and skimmed an article on Montgomery, NY. The article was about how Montgomery is a good place for a weekend home. I am not, emphatically not, in the market for a weekend home but, having never heard of Montgomery, read the article anyway. The following sentence, appearing in the "cons" section of the article, practically jumped off the page at me:

The community lacks diversity; according to the 2000 United States Census, the village of Montgomery was more than 90 percent white.

According to Wikpedia, "Diversity is the presence of a wide range of variation in the qualities or attributes under discussion". I thought that was pretty well put actually.

Although, from the NY Times perspective, diversity as a word has bit the dust and no longer means anything close to that. In the new lexicon, diversity means non-white. Diversity, the word, has been reduced to a rather simple concept meaning any person or culture not white.

Pardon me while I retch or mourn, I'm not sure which. Either way, I think the Times was insulting.

Why? Well, it seems to me that the assumption implicit in the Times' use of the word diversity in this fashion is that the 90% white residents of Montgomery present a united and homogeneous front, allowing for no divergence of thought, experience, education, viewpoint, national origin, religion, social class or you name it, all the things that contribute to a rich and vibrant community tapestry. I bet if you picked five random Montgomery residents, they wouldn't necessarily agree on anything. Indeed, that's what makes a horse race.

Under the Times' use of the word, you can only have a horse race if the horses are all different colors. I cry foul.

Mind you, I don't really blame the Times for this (for once). I think that the Times is merely reflecting a broader cultural elite sense here. And so, another good word bites the dust.

Except for here, because I am not bending on this one. Diversity means more than race. At least, it ought to, anyway.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:27 AM | Comments (4)

April 13, 2005

The End of the Rule of Law in Britain

The Rule of Law, that which has elevated out of the Hobbesian version of life being nasty, short, and brutish, has collapsed in England. I base this on anecdotal evidence, the best kind really. I find this truly shocking when you realize that England is the home to what we consider the start of real civil liberties.

So, before we dive in, let's consider for a moment what is meant by the Rule of Law ("RoL") and the role of the Government in that scheme. At its base, the RoL will preserve the security of private property, both from invasion from abroad and from invasion from within. The RoL will make sure that you are safe in your property -- safe from intruders, perhaps from fire, safe in your title to it as you are protected from false and adverse claims to your ownership, and safe and secure in your castle, as the old saying goes. At its base, without that assurance of security, your willingness to participate in society, and perhaps your ability to do so, is fatally compromised. How do I support that? Easy. If your overriding concern is protecting your property from threats, you have no time to do anything else -- to grow food, to vote, to travel to local markets, to worship with your neighbors, to do practically anything except stand guard. You pay for this protection through taxes levied on your property and that is a rather acceptable convention and compromise. The RoL is not free but you can expect, most of the time, it will work and it will work to preserve property and thus preserve the social order.

But what if it stops working? Let me posit the following scenario. You own a second home, a vacation home. You own it free and clear, no cloud on your title, no mortgage, no adverse claims to possession. You can do with it as you please, assuming no wet lands or town ordinances restricting you. It is walled completely by a 10 foot high brick wall. One weekend, going out to the place for a little relaxation, you discover that your house has been broken into to and taken over by a group of squatters who proclaim their intention to live there.

What do you do and what do you expect to be done?

* * * *

Didn't have to think for long, did you?

You'd invoke the basic protections of the RoL and call the police and tell them to get out here and expel the intruders, right? Of course you would.

And you'd expect the police to go ahead and do just that, right? Again, basically yes. It might be more complicated than that but somebody would get arrested and rehoused in jail and someone else might be handed off to social services and rehoused in a shelter, but you'd probably get your house back. The RoL would have been vindicated.

Anything shocking about this scenario to anyone?

Yes? Well, then, my guess is that you must live in England where a person's home is no longer a person's castle.

I just read a little piece in the property section of the Telegraph that impels the conclusion that England has withdrawn the forces of the Government from supporting the RoL. Apparently, in a factual situation practically identical to the one I posited, a family has been forced to rent the vacation house to the squatters at a rent of £1 a week and an agreement to vacate the premises on three months notice. No word on how or who can enforce the agreement to vacate.

But what prompted my little tirade here was the statement put out by the police, and it is no exaggeration to say I found it shocking (“travellers”, below, are basically squatters):

Inspector Martin Elliott, chairman of Thames Valley Police Federation, (0845 8505 505), comments: "The whole subject of travellers and the law in the UK is a complete mess. Legally, trespass is not a criminal offence but a civil tort. All of the public signs that herald that 'trespassers will be prosecuted' are therefore inaccurate, and should read 'trespassers may be subject to civil litigation'. Obviously, this does not carry the same punch and would probably deter no one.

"The Government attempted to strengthen the law in relation to invasions of land a number of years ago, and created legislation that basically required there to be more than 12 vehicles and the land-owner to demand that they quit within a reasonable time.

"Then, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister intervened and issued guidance to police forces and councils, which laid the grounds for a 'holistic' approach. This guidance suggests that a problem-solving approach is taken, with councils, police and land-owners working together to encourage travellers to either settle in a locality, or act more responsibly when moving around the UK.

"This is fine for large invasions of land, but what about when three or four vehicles turn up, as in this story? I would suggest that, in these circumstances, there is very little that the police can do."

Did you get that? Very little the police can do to enforce your right to occupy your property without interference.

As I started this post, I end it: The Rule of Law in England appears to be dead.

And by the way, I would think, as an aside, that this kind of thing should well and truly kill the secondary property market in England. After all, would you go to the trouble of buying a second house only to house some stranger? Not me, mate.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:26 AM | Comments (3)

March 03, 2005

Color Photographs from World War I

Color photographs exist from World War I. The French took many of them and I came across this link to a small collection. They are spell binding. Especially, to me, the scenes of the semi-destroyed buildings.

Hat tip: Secular Blasphemy

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:11 AM | Comments (2)

Education never hurt me none

I dislike riding the bicycle at the gym. It is boring, it never feels like a workout, and did I mention its boring? The only good thing about riding the bike is that you can do it in place of a real workout if you have a cold (guilty) and if you are too tired to run (again, guilty). Besides, you can read on the bike. That is another grand redeeming virtue. So, I was pedaling away yesterday morning on the recumbent bicycle at the gym and catching up on last week's issue of the Economist when a particular sentence in an otherwise forgettable article on British educational reforms captured my attention so completely that a friend had to touch me on the shoulder to bring me out of my reverie long enough to acknowledge his hello.

Context: Certain people want higher standards , more choice and more competition in the British educational system (hereinafter "BES"). The offending sentence:

That sort of thinking is anathema to people who think the country's main educational task is to use taxpayers' money to eradicate class privilege.

At first, I thought if that is what the BES is concentrating on, no one should invest in the British economy because it will lack trained and educated workers. But that seemed like a very short sighted response on my part and I blame that on the fact that I was reading the Economist at the time and that may have colored my reaction.

But I moved beyond it and, after my first blush reaction that the BES is beyond help, wondered, what is the purpose generally of an educational system?

Is it really to create a class less society and break down class barriers? I'm doubtful.

I think, and here is where I step gingerly out onto the limb, that very broadly the purpose of an educational system is to generally equip a person with: the skills they need to navigate the working world after they are on their own (Commerce); the ability to enrich their own lives after school through the appreciation of literature, music, art, etc. (Art); the tools required to take an active part in the body politic, even if that only means voting (Polis); and, the ability to conduct and participate in civilized discourse with their neighbors (Discourse). Please note the absence of the need to teach children to pull down the structure of beliefs their parents may have. Let me expand on my thinking about the need for education to be about Commerce, Art, Polis and Discourse and what I mean by that.

First, Commerce. You need to live after school is over. You need to be able to pay your bills and earn money, inherited wealth to one side. You need enough education to figure out who to, hopefully, invest what remains after you’ve paid your bills. You need skills and I don’t mean technical skills. I mean analytical skills. An education ought to equip you with the analytical skills to get a job, hold a job, and perform to the best of your abilities in the world of Commerce.

Art. You need not only to feed your body by the money you earn, you need to feed your soul. You need to be educated enough to appreciate art and music, etc. You need this for a lot of reasons, actually, more than I could possibly come up with in the short amount of time I am stealing from my Commerce. So, let’s take it as a given, ok? If not, you know where the comment board is.

Polis. You need to be equipped with the skills and education necessary to be involved in the life of the body politic, to participate in making informed decisions in your community, your state, and your country. You need an education to do that. You don’t need to be taught how to eradicate class differences to get there. Again, a given, in my book.

Discourse. You need to be able to speak to others, to build relationships, to interact. Freedom is constructed from a web of interlocking relationships formed by people sharing a similar commitment to upholding certain traditions and values. I know values is a loaded word, but I’m using it anyway, even though I hesitated. But, if you have not been educated so that you share these common values (e.g., freedom of expression), you can’t have discourse, you just have screaming. Some of this, by the way, is where Art comes in.

Indeed, all of my distinctions are artificial constructs created for my own purposes. In the end, all of these things are interrelated.

Part of me can see why the Brits, or some of them, may feel the need to eradicate their class system. It has been much more static and resistant to change than ours. In our system, people can rise, or fall, on their own merits and the country is full of self made men and women. After all, where you start from in the United States is not guarantee of where you are going to end up. In England, I'm not so sure that is true. Social mobility is still higher in the United States than in England, I think.

The part of me that wanted to laugh at this sentence was quickly sobered when I remembered that we have the same problem in the United States under the name of diversity. King Banion (a great read, by the way) found the following job posting. Tell me this doesn’t smack of the same thing as the British one:

The Campus Climate Coordinator is responsible for facilitating programs that will improve the campus climate and diversity awareness. The candidate will be required to communicate and provide education programs for multiple constituencies. ...The Campus Climate Coordinator will: * Conduct needs assessments and make programmatic recommendations to the University units for campus climate improvements; * Coordinate ongoing diversity efforts generated by the comprehensive plan for faculty, staff, and students in the area of cultural competency and nondiscrimination; * Assist in the creation and development of a Diversity Resource & Curriculum Infusion Center which will focus on diversity training and research for the UW-La Crosse campus; * Develop, promote, and deliver educational programs and training in areas related to diversity awareness (race, gender, disability, homophobia, sexual harassment, etc.) for an increasingly diverse workforce (building individual and team skills)

Once again, not education. Instead, it strikes me as re-education. Welcome to the re-education camp where we eradicate class distinction, which will be important later in life when you are homeless because you have no skills. None at all.

In the end, it strikes me that if you really want to eradicate class distinctions, give somebody the best education you can and watch them ascend to the heights of success so rapidly that it will make class distinctions relevant only to those who can’t profit from their education.

Teach someone to read, write, and think analytically. That is the ultimate in subversion.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:26 AM | Comments (6)

January 31, 2005


Also posted over at Muniviana:

I read this weekend in the NY Times that Qatar may put up for sale its wholly owned television news network, Al-Jazeera. For sale. The whole network which is internationally known for anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.

Who's up for pitching in with me, forming an investment syndicate, and buying the whole thing? Can't you just see it: Al-Munuvia. Forget Google news, we'd be our own news channel. I bet we could get some kind of government loan, too.

How cool would that be? Who's in?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:35 AM | Comments (4)

January 28, 2005

Today's outrage

Today, I am shaking my head over the decision in Rhode Island to cancel the spelling bee because it would violate the spirit, I gather, of the No Child Left Behind Act. What, are they kidding me? They actually said:

"No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards," [Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda] Newman said. "It’s our responsibility to find as many ways as possible to accomplish this."

The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.

"It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind," Newman said.

A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers."

As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement," Newman said.

Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. That’s why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.

The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.

"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners," she said. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."

A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.

What a big, steaming pile of horse shit. Self esteem is built by accomplishment, by failure and success, by trying and winning, not by only being told you should have it. "Sends a message". I hate that phrase. The only thing missing here is that Ms. Newman doesn't claim to be "speaking truth to power" by her actions.

Do we need to say, by the way, that she's flat out wrong? NCLB addresses schools, not events like this. Don't cancel the event, make your damn school better.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:52 AM | Comments (10)

January 27, 2005

Well, crime may not pay, but you should still keep your receipts

The Dutch kind of crack me up. My dad sent me this article about a bank robber in Holland who was permitted by the Court, with the encouragement of the prosecution, to deduct from the amount of restitution he had to pay to the vicitm of his crime, the cost of the handgun used in the commission of that crime because it was a "legitimate business expense". Ok, sit back down now. Really, its true.

And the prosecution had this to say:

"You can compare criminal acts to normal business activities, where you must invest to make profits, and thus you have costs," explained Leendert de Lange, a spokesman for the national prosecutor's office.

De Lange went further to state that drug dealers could also deduct the cost of vehicles used to make deliveries of illicit substances — within reason.

Asked whether a very successful drug kingpin could cite the cost of a Ferrari, de Lange replied: "No, he would have to prove that he needed the car to transport the drugs around, and I hardly think he would transport them in a Ferrari."

No word on the logical question of whether the gun was deducted at full cost or whether the bank robber had to eat the depreciation. Also, how did he treat it on his tax return?

Seriously, can you believe this?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:41 PM | Comments (6)

January 20, 2005

The Inauguration

I have been too busy today to pay any attention to the swearing in down in D.C. Fortunately, Mark, over at Irish Elk, has put together a great re-cap with a look back at some memorable and some not-so-memorable Presidential speeches. Go check out the Mencken quote. Hilarious.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

December 02, 2004

Zimbabwe -- Let the Children Eat, what, cake? Nothing?

Mugabe is in the process of running out of Zimbabwe all foreign aid organizations. We have discussed previously how it has become a criminal offense to accept foreign money in connection with any electoral monitoring and we have also commented on the exclusion of the foreign press and the enhanced criminal penalties authorized for those who "tell falsehoods" about government. So I should not be astonished to learn that a charity responsible for giving 90,000 the only hot meal that they eat in a day has been kicked out of the country. Medair, a Swiss organization devoted to food distribution, had this to say:

It is with real sadness that after 2 years Medair has this week left Zimbabwe. The final move which forced the decision was the refusal by the Zimbabwean government to issue work permits for our 2 remaining senior expatriate staff members.

This follows months in which we had seen our temporary registration to continue our school feeding programmes in Gokwe North and Mudzi districts expire and not be renewed despite our best efforts, and all remaining expatriate staff refused work permits. Unable to work and consequently to fund our continued presence, we were left with no choice but to finally withdraw from the country.

The timing of this decision is all the more significant because of the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation within the country. On the 15th of November the Famine Early Warning System Network for Zimbabwe (FEWS) reasserted their prediction that 2.2 million rural households would require food aid before the end of the year. Indeed, earlier this month World Food Programme (WFP) reported falling school attendances in Mudzi district as parents took their children out of school to work in the fields or find food. This was highlighted as a direct result of the halting of the Medair school feeding programme in August after our registration renewal was refused by the government.

‘We’d really hoped to continue the school feeding programme in partnership with WFP, but instead we found ourselves prevented from distributing, and so the food has sat deteriorating in the warehouses since August. It’s been so frustrating not being free to work and now we leave knowing the increasing food insecurity that faces those primary school children and their families’, said Mark Screeton, Medair Desk Officer for Zimbabwe.

At this time of great need our thoughts remain with the beneficiaries we have tried to serve in Zimbabwe over the last 2 years, and with our great local staff who have worked tirelessly, and who now find themselves unemployed at a time of national economic crisis.

Mugabe is a terrifying dictator in the worst of the authoritarian tradition. Children will starve as a result of his personally wrecking his country's economy.

I wonder if it will end in some form of armed uprising.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:17 AM | Comments (6)

November 30, 2004

AIDS and Africa, again

I have written on AIDS and Africa, before, and discussed the horrifying impact of this syndrome on that continent. But, there were a couple of articles this weekend in the NY Times that brought it all back again. A team of reporters spent 5 weeks in Lavumisa, Swaziland, a small town in South Africa. They interviewed scores of residents. The reporters also recorded their observations. The story is hard to put down. But, primarily, it is a newspaper article. This means it has heart rending human suffering details with hard facts about the impact on the society. I am interested in the facts, here, although I read the human suffering details in the article and found them quite moving. No, my interest is primarily in the huge dislocative effects on society writ large. The disease is destroying society and in Africa and turning the clock back on decades of social and economic progress. As the article asks:

Epidemics typically single out the aged and young - the weak, not those at society's core. So what happens to a society when its fulcrum - its mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses, farm workers, bookkeepers, cooks, clerks - die in their prime?

No one will be able to forecast with any great degree of certainty how this will play out, but we can extract some nuggets from the article just the same, which I do in the extended entry:

Across the region, AIDS has reduced life expectancy to levels not seen since the 1800's. In six sub-Saharan nations, the United Nations estimates, the average child born today will not live to 40.

Here in Swaziland, a kingdom about the size of New Jersey with one million people tucked into South Africa's northeast corner, two in five adults are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Life expectancy now averages 34.4 years, the fourth lowest on earth. Fifteen years ago, it stood at 55. By 2010, experts predict, it will be 30.

Today, Lavumisa's schools are collapsing. Crime is climbing. Medical clinics are jammed. Family assets are sold to fend off hunger. The sick are dying, sometimes alone, because they are too many, and the caretakers are too few. Much of this is occurring because adults whose labors once fed children and paid school fees and sustained families are dead.

At Lavumisa Primary School, a beige L-shaped building of concrete classrooms clumped around a red dirt yard, enrollment has fallen nearly 9 percent in five years, to 494 students, as children drop out to support families. One in three students has lost at least one parent.

Mr. Shiba can state that at the beginning of this year, Ndabazezwe High had 40 students who had lost at least one parent. Nine months later, there were 73, 20 of whom had lost both father and mother, nearly all of whom are desperately poor. A decade ago, Mr. Shiba said, the school had perhaps five orphans, none of them needy.

Both the primary and the high school are staggering under the burden of feeding and educating a growing army of orphans who, by and large, cannot pay the school fees. The state has pledged to pay to educate orphans, but so far it has picked up but half the Lavumisa primary-school fees. Mr. Shiba said the high school was getting a mere $15 of the $100 a year it costs to educate each orphan.

Ndabazezwe High School is now deeply in debt by Swazi standards. It owes $275 for electricity; $200 for water; $260 for books and hundreds more for office equipment. The security guards have not been paid in two months. Borrowed money bought the woodworking and home-economics materials needed for final exams. Even school lunches are hit-or-miss.

Mr. Shiba and Stephen Nxumalo, the headmaster at Lavumisa Primary, reluctantly intend to carry out a resolution adopted in May by the nation's main teachers' organization. Starting in January, students who do not pay their fees - currently about 100 in the primary school, 258 in the high school - will be barred from classes.

When a family loses a parent to AIDS, public health experts here say, the household production of maize quickly falls by half; the number of livestock owned by nearly a third. It is the equivalent of draining the bank account.

Lavumisa and other towns like it are windows into the crisis that has beset Swaziland. AIDS kills an estimated 50 people here and H.I.V. infects 55 more each day, erasing hard-won economic gains of the last 20 years, according to the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

"It is the most efficient impoverishing agent you can find; it just sucks out the resources," said Dr. Derek von Wissell, who directs Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on H.I.V./AIDS, the agency charged with stemming the epidemic.

Until the late 1990's, when AIDS began to hit with force, Swaziland seemed a society on its way up, making strides in health care, education and income. No more.

Economic growth and agricultural production have slowed. School enrollment is down. Poverty, malnutrition and infant mortality are up. By 2010, the United Nations forecasts, children who have lost one parent or both will account for up to 15 percent of Swaziland's one million people.

The adult H.I.V. infection rate, 38.8 percent, now tops Botswana's as the world's highest. The death rate has doubled in just seven years.

"Swaziland is frankly beyond the threshold of what we thought could happen," said Duncan Earle of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who oversees $48 million in AIDS-related grants to the kingdom. "Ten years ago, we thought the peak infection rate would be 20 to 25 percent. This stretches the imagination."

A long-promised flood of antiretroviral drugs financed by the Global Fund and other donors could help stem the carnage. But like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, Swaziland is starting slowly. Only about 4,000 of the 26,000 who need drugs get them. Perhaps 8,000 will have them by the end of 2005.

In 16 months, the Global Fund has disbursed $5.1 million in AIDS grants to Swaziland. Yet not until this month did the overwhelmed Health Ministry hire its first two doctors to work on H.I.V. programs. Some $2.8 million earmarked for orphans' education is locked in the Treasury, even as the government this year spent $600,000 on the king's 36th birthday party.

To the United Nations envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, it is hard to fathom the consequences awaiting a nation with a vanishing middle generation.

"I resist an apocalyptic scenario," Mr. Lewis said. "But I have to admit, in the middle of the night I ask myself: 'How are these societies going to survive?' "

Virtually all the Swazis dying today were infected in the 1990's, when the infection rate was far lower than it is today. Those who are just now infected will not fall gravely ill until about 2012 - a tidal wave of illness and death that is still eight years away.

How Lavumisa and other similar towns will cope with that is anyone's guess. "Nobody has ever walked that road," Dr. von Wissell said. "Nobody."

I think we can all agree that there are certain horrible issues we can draw from the above quotes.

One, if the next generation is not educated, if they cannot go to school, there is limited hope for the future of that country. Where are the next doctors to come from? Or teachers? Or computer programmers? Or engineers? Or even bureaucrats to administer the foreign aid programs?

Two, as the family structure breaks down, and there is no mention, I note, of any organized religion, who is going to teach the tradtional morals and values to the next generation? This has long term society altering consequences, too.

Three, what happens to the economy. People are growing less corn and thus have less to sell. They will then have less money to spend on goods and services. They move to a barter system, perhaps. There are no taxes paid to the government on that system! How can the government run programs to help the people with no tax base?

Four, crime has picked up already. Who is paying the police to combat that? How are they paying them?

Five, how can this country ever attract foreign investment if you need to hire three people for every job because two of them are going to die?

Six, how much worse can it get?

The NY Times also, in the Week in Review section, ran another piece about Africa and AIDS and this one just infuriated me. Here was the offending bit of politcally correct, don't blame the victim, it isn't their fault, it is all down the racism bit:

The troubles are easy to enumerate: perhaps one million South Africans already dead from AIDS, from four to five million people infected with H.I.V., a tiny fraction of those receiving antiretroviral medication, and women now about three times more likely than men to become infected. A report issued last week by the United Nations said women now account for 60 percent of all infections in sub-Saharan Africa.

The sexual behavior - unprotected sex with multiple partners in sordid settings - is less easy to elucidate. This is post-apartheid sex, as dictated by lingering poverty, violence, the vulnerability of young black women with scant prospects, and the prevalence of migrant black male laborers uprooted from wives and homes.

In places like Guguletu, where unemployment is about 60 percent, it is clear enough that the fight against AIDS in Africa is also a fight against the continent's painful legacy of exploitation, racism, corruption and waste. Medicines help, but they resemble armored divisions in the fight against terrorism: they will win some important victories, but they will not take you to the root of the problem.

I have a problem with the bit I bolded above. I think and believe that AIDS is a problem that can be fought with a little piece of latex, among other things. Use a condom. Control your risk. Failure to do so is a personal choice at the end of the day. It cannot be a legacy of racism or exploitation or corruption. Unless it was rape, you make the choice about what goes into your body and whether you are protected. To write otherwise, absolves the actor of all personal responsibility for their choices. I hate that. It seems more racist to me than anything else because it removes the human element. I believe that people can make choices and that they must. Otherwise, as we have talked about before, Africa will be a dead zone. No one can seriously want that.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:40 AM | Comments (3)

November 29, 2004


The place to go to follow the election crisis in Ukraine is to King's blog: SCSU Scholars. King worked in Ukraine and brings a terrific focus to the crisis. Very good stuff, indeed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

Zimbabwe: New Oppressive Measures

I never lack for material on Zimbabwe. I know it may not be a matter of great interest to many of my visitors (I can tell by the lack of comments), but it is of great interest to me. Mugabe, the dictator-in-chief of Zimbabwe, has introduced new legislation to curb critics by providing for jail time of up to 20 years if you "publish or communicate a falsehood".

The latest law, which comes among a rush of new Bills, ahead of elections next March, makes it an offence to publish or communicate "to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention of realising that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety or, adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe: or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service," that person "shall be guilty of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both."

Critics have condemned the slack phrasing of the bill. "The question of what is a falsehood will depend on which judge hears the case," said Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer.

Mr Coltart said one clause in the new bill also makes it an offence for any citizen, either in Zimbabwe or outside the country to make an "abusive, indecent or obscene statement" about President Robert Mugabe, "even if it is a true statement", he said.

Let's be clear about how bad this law is.

David Coltart, legal secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: "The section relating to crimes against the state in this bill embodies the most fascist legislation this country has known, far worse than the most draconian laws passed by the Smith regime. The sentence of up to 20 years amounts to a death sentence in Zimbabwe's prisons."


I assume that stories like this, about children forced into prostitution, will be called "falsehoods". Put the situation into context:

Food shortages in Bulawayo have claimed the lives of more than 160 people in the past year, according to Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, the city's mayor and a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Although the government announced a "record harvest" in May and ordered the World Food Programme to stop distributing aid, a Zimbabwe parliamentary committee gave warning this month that the country would run out of food before April.

Mr Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms have led to the collapse of a once-thriving agricultural economy. Zimbabwe used to be able to export food to drought-stricken neighbours in southern Africa. Now, the plight of its people is worsened by the spread of Aids - at least one in three of Zimbabwe's population is HIV positive. Despite the terrible risks, Linguile and hundreds of other girls who sell their bodies are prepared to have unprotected sex to make more money.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:35 AM | Comments (1)

November 17, 2004

Zimbabwe, yet again

I know that most of the world is uncaring about Zimbabwe. It is certainly not a hot topic among the blogs. However, and knowing even that it will not particularly draw a lot of comments, I feel compelled by my sense of outrage to write about recent events in Zimbabwe where Mugabe has suspended the country's constitution.

Mugabe is tightening his grip on this poor country. He has "suspended Zimbabwe's constitution to drive a batch of repressive new laws through parliament".

The key provisions will ban any foreign funded human rights organizations from operating in the country, will prohibit any foreign-funded organisation from providing any kind of voter education (cause it is easier to repress people if they are kept stupid), will create a "Zimbabwe Electoral Commission", composed of 5 commissionsers all appointed by Mugabe, to run elections, and, for the first time, members of the Zimbabwe National Army, the police and prison services will be permitted to serve as election officials.

This is a recipe for disaster and for further consolidation of power. I feel quite bad for the people of Zimbabwe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2004

Why Universities Scare Me

This article at Front Page Mag. details the adventures of a journalist who infiltrated the "no press allowed" workshop sessions at the recent Duke University sponsored hate fest known as the Palestinian Solidarity Movement and smuggled in a tape recorder. Go and read it. It is, well, horrifying. It is also very long and very detailed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:56 AM | Comments (8)

October 07, 2004

Spain and Columbus Day

The Spaniards have disinvited the United States to their Columbus Day celebration, according to the guys at Diplomad, in favor instead of inviting French troops to take part. Their take on it was pretty damn funny.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:51 AM | Comments (1)

Uganda -- pity the children

I write, from time to time, about Africa. Indeed, I ought to give it its very own category, I suppose. From a safe distance removed, it is impossible not to find Africa compelling and fascinating, scary and sad.

The NY Times has written this morning about Uganda and the boy king. This is a far from gripping article about the 12 year old boy who sits the throne in Uganda. His name is King Oyo. It is a typical puff piece about young royalty thrust onto the throne at 3 1/2 and how he wishes he could be just like every other normal kid. He runs with his dogs and goes to school and his mother tries to resist the attempts of Parliament to remove him as king. *Yawn* The piece does note that Uganda is very poor but after we make our expected obesiance to that inconvenient fact, we move on the the leopard covered chairs and the business class plane trips.

Now, if you are the typical American reader (whatever that means) you will have turned the page in your NY Times, secure in the fact that Uganda, while poor, is a happy place where everyone loves their boy king. You can now turn your attention to the more interesting sports section.

But wait a second. What if you happened to read the NY Sun last night on the train home? Maybe you'd have a different take on Uganda. Maybe you'd be forced to ask yourself if the NY Times has even the barest beginnings of a glimmer of a clue about Uganda.

Uganda is a basket case. The Sun reproduced an article from the Telegraph, entitled, Broken Lives of the Twlight Children. Don't follow this link unless you need a good cry, ok? This is seriously horrible stuff.

Uganda's children are not all playing with dogs and running around with leopard skins. Some of them, over 20,000 children, have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, and forced to become soldiers in the "Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Africa's most brutal rebel group led by a self-styled prophet called Joseph Kony." Here is some information about the LRA.

Since the onset of his campaign 18 years ago, the LRA has kidnapped 20,000 children, brainwashing and enslaving them for use as soldiers and sexual playthings. More than 10,000 have disappeared in the last two years.

Kony targets children, devoting his messianic energies towards the abduction, indoctrination and often murder of as many as possible.

The catastrophe inflicted is almost without parallel. At least 1.6 million people - virtually the entire rural population - have fled their villages for squalid refugee camps. The number of refugees has trebled since 2002 and exceeds the 1.2 million in Sudan's war-torn Darfur.

The conflict has being going on for 18 years. Where is the much vaunted United Nations in this? More people have been displaced here than in Darfur, which is getting a lot of press and attention. The UN is nowhere, instead suggesting that other NGO's do a little more.

[T]he UN has passed five resolutions in as many years on the protection of children in armed conflicts, including specific calls for action in Uganda, but the rate of abductions is higher than ever. "While the extreme abuses of children in northern Uganda are well documented and widely known, the international community has failed to find an effective way to protect them," it adds.

It says the 18-year conflict has cost the country £725 million. More than 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA, made to kill their parents and forced into bondage as child soldiers, sex slaves and weapons porters.

Two million people are living in squalid and cramped camps for the homeless and malnutrition among displaced children is up to 21 per cent in some areas. "Many international appeals were made to the UN and world leaders, Ugandan children addressed the UN. "Each time their stories shocked audiences, each time they went home with hope. Their hopes turned to despair," the report says.

Denis McNamara, the UN special adviser on displacement, rejected charges that the UN has offered "too little, too late" suggesting instead that groups such as World Vision should increase their own staff in the countryside.

Once again, the UN rides to the rescue. By the way, I've left out a lot of the gruesome details, like about the boy who was forced to kill his own family by setting fire to their hut. It pains me to even write that last sentence. Go see for yourself, if you can.

The article in the Telegraph starts by telling you about a child named Simple who walks six miles into town to sleep on the concrete outside by the hospital to avoid being taken by Kony's army. The little girl is 12 years old. Can you imagine what it must be like to have to send your child out of your house for her own protection? And then not know if she was safe until she came back the next day?

And King Oyo wants to be just like a normal kid. He doesn't mean the kids who have to sneak into town to sleep, does he?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:42 AM | Comments (2)

October 06, 2004

The Debates: V.P. Edition

Well, I am keeping with my practice of giving my views on this before looking at any newspaper or other blog. My view is that Cheney won last night and I'm not sure that it was particularly close. Remember, if I'm changing presidents in the middle of a war, I need a good reason. Edwards did not give me a good reason last night, although I really liked what he had to say about Israel. To my surprise, I thought Cheney was a stronger supporter of gay marriage than Edwards was. Cheney seemed to have a better handle on the facts and figures and if he was wrong, well, he at least sounded confident and in command. Who would I like to see one heart beat away from the oval office? Last night, it would have to be Cheney.

By the way, I am going to go check out the factcheck.org or .com site he spoke about in relation to Haliburton.

Advantage: Cheney.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:45 AM | Comments (4)

October 05, 2004

Australian Politics

Before I got involved with blogging -- both reading and writing -- I knew next to nothing about Australian politics. Now I am just slightly farther along on the continuim after reading people like Yobbo, Simon, Michael, and Chrenkoff. First of all, what the hell do they feed these people in Australia in order to produce such articulate political commentators? Where can I get some of that and it better not be Vegemite?

Now, you may think to yourself, "Self, why should I care?" You should care because Australia is a critical ally and partner in Iraq and in the WoT (War on Terror) generally. It is headed, at the moment, by John Howard and he is in quite a fight with Mark Latham, head of the Labour Party. I'd turn here for more of an explanation: Decision Time, an excellent piece.

I admit that I am finding the Australian campaigns to be much more interesting, or at least more entertaining, than the American one. The reason? We're not getting quotes like this one in our campaign (Mark Latham on John Howard):

Mr Howard and his government are just yes-men to the United States. There they are, a conga line of suckholes on the conservative side of Australian politics. The backbench sucks up to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister sucks up to George W. [...] In my book they are not Australian at all. They are just the little tories—the little tory suckholes.

I am not informed enough to have an opinion, unlike the blogger I took the above quote from, but I must admit I wish we had a more colorful campaign going on over here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

October 01, 2004

Ghurkas: An Update

I saw this misleading little blurb, buried in the middle of the NY Times this morning and wanted to highlight it:

BRITAIN: GURKHAS GAIN CITIZENSHIP Gurkhas, who have served with the British Army for nearly 200 years, won a court battle to settle in Britain and become citizens. The soldiers, recruited in Nepal, are continuing to demand equality in pay and conditions with their British Army counterparts. The right to settle in Britain is restricted to those who left the army after July 1, 1997, when the Gurkhas were rebased from Hong Kong to Britain. The Home Office estimates 230 soldiers and about 800 dependants will settle in Britain each year. Gurkhas have served in the army since 1815 when a peace agreement was reached by the British East India Company after it suffered heavy casualties during an invasion of Nepal. From a peak of 112,000 in World War II, their numbers have dwindled to about 3,400.

Why is it misleading? Because the Ghurkas who served in Hong Kong, while they may be permitted to settle in Great Britain, are excluded from citizenship (link has lots of pop ups so I reproduce relevant bits below).

Former Nepalese-born Gurkha soldiers who helped defend Hong Kong under British rule are fuming at London's decision to exclude them from a new law giving the crack fighters British citizenship, a spokesman said Thursday. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that serving and retired fighters of the army's famous Ghurka Brigade would be allowed to settle in Britain.

But the law applies only to those demobilised after July 1, 1997, the day Britain disbanded its Hong Kong regiment and returned the city to Chinese control.

"The law has been stacked against Hong Kong's Gurkhas, they have been deliberately left out," said Hem Thapa, an agent at Gurkha International, an employment agency that finds work for former Gurkhas who still live here.

"Those who went back to Nepal will definitely be making some noise about this -- many were definitely counting on Britain offering them citizenship."

Why can't the Brits treat these men properly?

UPDATE: Predictably, and I should have looked before posting the above, Simon has a great post on this subject.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:28 AM | Comments (3)

The Debates

I stayed up past my bedtime last night with my wife to watch the debate. I was not impressed overly much although, on the whole, I liked Bush better. I am keeping in open mind, despite the oft quoted danger of having my brain fall out, but I know that I am going to need a reason to change presidents in the middle of a war and I was anxious for John Kerry to give me that reason. He didn't. You see, I'm still not really sure what he stands for. I know what he's against -- Bush. But what is he for? Lehrer asked him several times to give specifics about how he would handle things differently from Bush. I actually moved physically to the edge of my seat when he was asked this question because I didn't want to miss a single word. I sat back disappointed when he concluded his answer. There was no substance to the reply, it was just another attack on Bush. Kerry referred us to his website for the "details". Go see it yourself. I did, last night. I looked up the homeland security platform and walked away with no greater understanding than I had after the debate. Basically, it says on the website that they'll identify sensitive targets and do a better job guarding them. That doesn't make me feel safer.

Advantage last night: Bush.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:20 AM | Comments (1)

September 30, 2004

A thought about the debates tonight

I am seriously looking forward to the Presidential debates tonight if, for no other reason, than because I am finally going to get to see the candidates square off against each other with no help from spin squads, partisan p.r. flacks, and web hit-men. No intermediaries to explain the positions. I am hoping for pure, unadulterated content straight from the horse's mouth. I want a hard hitting, no punches pulled debate. I do not want mealy mouthed equivocation or cheap shots. I want to know what each candidate's position is with no filter in place.

I am bound to be disappointed but a boy can dream, can't he?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:13 AM | Comments (4)

September 22, 2004

Coerced to Vote

Can you be coerced to vote? Should voting be a requirement for an English Lit. class? One professor seems to think so over at Drew University in New Jersey. Appalled by the low voter turnout among college students, Prof. Skaggs has made it a course requirement that her students enter the voting booth. Of course, once they go in they don't have to vote and non-U.S. citizens are exempt from the requirement. This requirement has provoked, according to the article, a lot of controversy. Care to guess where I come out?

Not in favor. I believe it is contrary to our system of government to require a vote. It is clear that sometimes a decision not to vote is a protest and is as much an expression of free speech as a decision to vote. In other words, we have the option of abstaining if we don't like either candidate and we want to send a message that a candidate may win, but that candidate lacks the popular mandate necessary to bend Congress to his or her will. That can be a powerful and important message and you send it by staying home from the polls. I think that this professor, will coming from crunchy good motives, lacks an appreciation of this aspect of our system.

What do you think?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:00 AM | Comments (6)

September 09, 2004

Jakarta Bombing

I want simply to refer everyone to Simon's site today, Simon World to go check out the analysis and collection of links he has posted regarding the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta. If, for some reason, you lack the time, let me post this photograph here because, at the end of the day, it tells you all you need to know:


Their flag looks quite proud, still.

My deepest condolences to the Australians and to the Indonesians.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)

August 31, 2004

Rudy Giuliani

Did anyone stay up late last night and watch Rudy's speech at the Convention? No? I missed it, too. That's why I was just listening to it at the NY Times website. It was wonderful and smart and clear. It was a powerful speech because it was so personal. Rudy lived it. He didn't have to be at the Convention speaking. He's not running for anything and no one claims he will be anytime in the near future. He came, I think, to thank the President for his support in those very dark days after 9/11 and to re-affirm that, in his view, this President is the best hope for maintaining national security. You don't have to see it Rudy's way, although I more or less do, but you have to admit it was a powerful speech.

You can find the text and video links here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:04 AM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2004

Zimbabwe v. Kenya, a different approach to land

It seems to me that I write so much about Africa that I ought to have it as a category. But it is such a fascinating topic. Zimbabwe is a country of great interest to me and I have written about it's slow motion train wreck of a system of government and civil society at length.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in Zimbabwe's standard of living and hard currency reserves and general economic malaise is the manner in which the government has handled the redistribution of land held primarily by white farmers before. This land was the source of the main exports -- coffee; flowers; and tobacco. To raise these crops for international markets required a high level of sophisticated technical expertise. The people the government resettled on these farms had no such technical knowledge and, to cut this short, the economy has been devastated with the effects reaching beyond the export to the internal chemical industry (pesticides not needed any longer for farms not growing anything) to the heavy machinery industry (who has money now to buy farm equipment or to have existing equipment serviced?). The effects ripple and are bad.

Kenya is now faced with demands for the redistribution of land which was settled during colonial times and according to treaties of dubious character. Kenya, however, has taken lessons from Zimbabwe and has gone the other direction. According to the article in the NY Times* this morning, the Kenyan government is forcibly resisting the Masai squatting and land invasions. They are arresting and relocating the squatters.

Kenyan officials have no intention of following Mr. Mugabe's example. Uprooting the ranchers, government officials said, would be disastrous for the economy, which relies heavily on Western assistance and on tourism, a major source of hard currency.

On top of that, acceding to the Masai might encourage similar demands by the scores of other ethnic groups in Kenya, many of which have historic grievances of their own, officials added.

The government has adopted a cautious approach to land reform. A new constitution that is being drafted proposes that the long leases granted to some wealthy ranchers, some of which exceed 950 years, be reduced to 99 years. When those leases expire, Mr. Kimunya said, it is possible that the land may be reallocated.

A small round of applause for the cautious Kenyans and their sensible approach. They may yet avoid the calamity that has befallen Zimbabwe.

* Should you go read this article, please ignore the exceptionally stupid whitewash -- "But while President Robert Mugabe backed - and even encouraged - the forced redistribution of land in Zimbabwe as a way of righting colonial wrongs" -- of the land redistribution as Mugabe's one great chance as an historical reformer. Mugabe was trying to hold onto power and he did it through land redistribution. That is the reason, no matter what protestations to the contrary you may see in the press. This kind of off handed treatment of Mugabe just drives me nuts.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

Nepal, continued

Eagle eyed readers of this blog may recall that I wrote, last week, about the blockade of Katmandu by the Maoist rebels. That entry garnered no comments so I don't really know if anyone, besides me, is interested in the topic. But, nevertheless, there is a follow up. The rebels have announced that they have lifted the blockade after appeals from humanitarian groups. As you may recall, the capital was running out of food and cooking fuel. The rebels have not, however, moderated their demands for the release of rebels held prisoner by the government.

As I said before, if the rebels hold the rope and can tighten it into a noose around the capital at will, this rebellion might be all but over.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:25 AM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2004

One Quick Thought

In the area of things that I find outrageous is this portion of a job announcement I found from the University of Toronto for a classics professor:

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community. The University especially welcomes applications from visible minority group members, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, members of sexual minority groups and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

I am particularly bothered by, inter alia, the implicit assumption that, ipso facto, a member of a minority group will necessarily "contribute to the further diversification of ideas" (like how I threw all that Latin in there?) just because of their minority status. I am also troubled by the assumption that "further diversification of ideas" is something that should be an end in and of itself, that is to the extent I even understand it. In any event, who is this "other" of whom they speak?

I have no great love or respect for diversity "studies" or "scholarship" (dig the scare quotes).

Here endeth the rant. Please continue with your normal activities while I sit here and mumble to myself.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:09 PM | Comments (7)

August 19, 2004

John Kerry: Priceless

My dad just sent me this. I've been sort of trying to stay a little above the fray, but this just totally cracked me up and I wanted to share it here. Enjoy!

John Kerry: Priceless (View image)

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:51 AM | Comments (7)


Do any of you keep up with the insurgency in Nepal? It is one of my particular interests. If you don't let me give you a little background. There is a maoist insurgency, patterned after the Shining Path insurgency in Peru, operating in Nepal since the mid 1990's. Their aim, of course, is to bring down the monarchy in Nepal and replace it with a government patterned on the teachings of Mao, probably because that's been such a success everywhere else it has been tried.

The Shining Path is not a good model for anyone to follow, as the Council on Foreign Relations reports:

Shining Path, established in the late 1960s by the former university professor Abimael Guzman, is a militant Maoist group that seeks to install a peasant revolutionary authority in Peru. The group took up arms in 1980, and its ranks once numbered in the thousands. Experts consider it one of the world’s most ruthless insurgencies; Shining Path often hacked its victims to death with machetes. The group, which now has only several hundred members remaining, operates mainly in jungle areas.

While this conflict in Nepal receives sporadic coverage in the American media, today was an exception. There was an article in the NY Times this morning that made me think that the insurgency in Nepal is, for all intents and purposes, over and the rebels have won. The upshot of the article is that the rebels have called for a blockade of the capital, Katmandu. All traffic has been prohibited from entering the capital. And you know what? The drivers are listening and obeying. The rebels have isolated the capital with a single proclamation. Not one gun or bomb was needed, they are so feared in Nepal.

Immediate consequence:

Planes - which are too expensive for most people in this impoverished nation - and roads are the only way to travel in the Katmandu Valley, and its 1.5 million people depend on trucks to bring in fuel, food and other goods. Many store owners said they would run out of vegetables and other food if the blockade lasted for more than a few days.

Iswor Pokhrel, the minister for industries, commerce and supplies, said the city had a few days' supply of kerosene for cooking. Officials at the Nepal Oil Corporation, the country's sole petroleum distributor, said its supply of fuel for cars and buses would last about two weeks.

See why I think the insurgency is basically over but for the actual handover? The government has lost the ability to provide food and fuel for the capital. The people fear the rebels more than the they trust that the government will be able to protect them. It is starting to look like nothing more than a strong breeze will knock this government over.

Or, since this was reported in the NY Times, it's all bunch of shite. Still, the Times has to get it right sometimes, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:17 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2004

Debasement: An Update

I am not going to be updating this theme on a regular basis because it would never end. But this one, from an article I read at Little Green Footballs, just jumped off the page at me. It was contained in this Yahoo news article about Rep. Lantos who was very critical about the failure of the Egyptian government to shut down the tunnels the Palestinians are using to smuggle weapons in. Here was the bit that got my blood pressure moving:

[Lantos] added: "I am strongly and irrevocably opposed to arming terrorists," referring to Palestinian militant groups.

Holy shit. We now need an explanation of what a terrorist is? A terrorist is not a militant. We don't need the reporter to translate this. It was clear to us all. Or it would have been before this reporter and his colleagues watered down the meaning of the word until no one knows what anyone is talking about any more.

Pardon me, I have go throw up now.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (4)

August 17, 2004

I assumed this was a joke

I get a decent amount of junk mail at the office. Often, solicitations from publishers who want me to buy expensive treatises. Today's solicitation was, all appearances to the contrary, not a joke. I was offered the opportunity to buy:

Digest of Commercial Laws of the World


They have laws? For international commercial transactions? Really? If I was doing a transaction there, I would be specifying ICC arbitration in Geneva or Paris with a choice of law clause that was somewhere other than Iran or North Korea.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:32 PM | Comments (2)

Debasment is not another way to say da cellar in Brooklyn

[Warning: The following was composed primarily between the hours of 2 and 2:30 this morning and I have decided to publish it before I have any coffee.]

No, debasement is tradtionally something you do to currency. In Roman times, if I recall my Roman Law class from law school correctly, to debase currency meant melting a pure metal coin down, adding lead to the melted bit and reminting it in order to make more coins. Lead was a base metal. It had the effect of devaluing the entire currency and causing people to lose confidence in the monetary system. Under Roman Law, I seem to recall it was punishable by death.

Debasement is also something that the clever alchemists at Reuters and the A.P. and other "news agencies" (dig the scare quotes) are doing to the English language. How so? Let's take some examples, one at a time.

Instead of saying terrorist, we hear: rebel; militant; militia; or, my personal favorite, activist.

Terrorist means or meant (all definitions adapted from Dictionary.com): a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities.

Rebel means or meant: To refuse allegiance to and oppose by force an established government or ruling authority. To resist or defy an authority or a generally accepted convention.

Militant means or meant: A fighting, warring, or aggressive person or party.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin mlitns, mlitant- present participle of mlitre, to serve as a soldier. See militate.]

Militia means or meant:An army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers. A military force that is not part of a regular army and is subject to call for service in an emergency. The whole body of physically fit civilians eligible by law for military service.

Activist means or meant: advocating or engaged in activism, n : a militant reformer.

These words, all perfectly good words with their own distinct meanings, are being debased, being melted down in a large Reuters kettle and, weighted down with lead, being reminted and contorted into the shape of the word terrorist. Soon, if not already, they will be read to be mere synonyms of the word, terrorist. And then our language will be rendered poorer and the readers will, if they have not already, begin to lose confidence in the whole system of reporting "news" (sorry about the scare quotes again, I can't help it). Why? Well, if activist is a word you might normally associate with someone trying to unionize apple pickers and then you start seeing it turn up in connection with a fellow who's activities include, say, firing an AK-47 at a school bus full of children, your view of that activity is warped by your perception of what an activist really does, or did before Reuters got ahold of the word. See it enough times and your brain, which is more sensible, will start to substitute the word terrorist for activist or, maybe, you will start to lose the meaning of the word activist which you had fixed in your brain. Everything just sort of melts down. And eventually, you distrust the messenger just as much as the message and you are not sure what anything means any more in any context.

I won't advocate a death sentence for these terribly earnest editors who, in their haste to avoid making some kind of value judgment about the activities of our hypothetical "activist", as the Romans might have, but I am open to suggestions for an appropriate punishment for those who continue to debase and contort this beautiful language and deprive it of all absolute meaning until everything is relative and not one word means anything until they tell you what they want it to mean.

One final thought, maybe we should just call the terrorists, freedom fighters, since by and large, they are fighting freedom all over the globe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:21 AM | Comments (8)

August 15, 2004

Political Satire

Thanks to Emma, who found it at Ace, for this link to MoveOnPlease.org, an excellent satirical send up of the neo-stalinist, MoveOn, by the bright young things at National Lampoon.

And there was much laughter.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:50 AM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2004

Job Opening

I came across the following job posting today:

UNITED STATES SENATE EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION ATTORNEY The Office of the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment (SCCE) is seeking two Employment Law litigators to defend the offices of United States Senators and officers in Title VII, ADEA, ADA and other employment cases. The SCCE is an in-house defense team of lawyers. Unique opportunity to combine employment law and constitutional law and to develop the jurisprudence with respect to the Congressional Accountability Act. Responsibilities also include advising Senate offices of their employment law obligations. Must have experience defending employers against employment discrimination claims, knowledge of Title VII, ADEA, ADA and FMLA. Excellent research and writing skills required. Strong academic credentials required; main law review membership preferred. Fax resume and law school transcript to: 202/228-3603. No telephone inquiries. Equal opportunity employer. Position open until filled.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to defend some of these Senators when they've been accused of, say, sexual harassment?

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:15 PM | Comments (5)

August 12, 2004

Zimbabwe, yet again

Regular visitors will have noticed that I am fascinated by Zimbabwe. It is sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You just can't look away. That same elusive creature, the regular reader, might also have noticed that I am also very concerned about the impact of AIDS in the developing nations of the world. Well, today, the NY Times brought both of these topics together in an article about AIDS in Zimbabwe. As is my habit, I extract for you here those bits from the article which caught my attention. But first, a quick review of the thrust of the article.

The article is a snap shot of the effects of bad governance on AIDS. Briefly, people in Zimbabwe are suffering from AIDS at an enormously high rate but international organizations are reluctant to assist Zimbabwe because one, the present government will likely divert or steal the aid money and two, manipulate the aid for political ends. No one trusts the government, no one wants to throw money into that pit of despair.

Here are some of the statistics that stood out:

*In Zimbabwe, where 1.8 million people are H.I.V. positive and 360,000 need life prolonging antiretroviral drugs, virtually the only ones who get them are the 5,000 who can afford them. Relief workers here estimate that fewer than 1,000 Zimbabweans receive antiretroviral drugs free through government or charitable programs, with little hope of expanding that number.

*Zimbabwe, where roughly one in four adults is infected with H.I.V. and more than 2,500 people a week die of AIDS.

*The plight of this nation of more than 11 million people is evident at Harare Central Hospital, where workers say just 23 patients are receiving antiretroviral treatment and no more can be started until next year because of lack on money. It is obvious at the Parirenyatwa city hospital, where, local news reports say, the morgue reeks of bodies of AIDS victims whose relatives cannot afford to bury them. And it can be seen at one seven-year-old cemetery south of Harare, where more than 14,000 people have already been buried just 18 inches apart, and workers say they dig about 25 graves each day.

It is a hell of a situation. The only question left to ask is: when do you think that entire society will disintegrate?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

August 09, 2004

The Right to Vote

The right to vote is a central incident of citizenship, that and the right to serve on a jury. There is a movement afoot to grant the right to vote in local elections, but you know it won't stop there, to non-citizens. I could not be more opposed.

The NY Times covered this issue this morning, in a typical NY Times friendly way.

The arguments advanced in support of this position in the article fall into three groups: one, they pay taxes; two, history permitted it; and three, diversity requires it. These arguments are all garbage.

Argument One:

"It will happen,'' said Tamrat Medhin, a civic activist from Ethiopia who lives here. "Don't you believe that if people are working in the community and paying taxes, don't you agree that they deserve the opportunity to vote?''

Calling for "democracy for all," immigrants are increasingly pressing for the right to vote in municipal elections. In Washington, the proposed bill, introduced in July, would allow permanent residents to vote for the mayor and members of the school board and City Council.

Actually, no, I don't believe that. Simply put, I believe that voting is a right best restricted to: those who have agreed to be bound by our shared system of beliefs and interests; to those who have foresworn allegiance to a foreign monarch or state; those who are committed enough to this society that they choose freely to take an oath to defend it and support it and sustain it; and, finally, those who intend to stay here and live out there lives here as fellow citizens. I don't want and don't believe it is in the best interests of our society to have people vote on important issues who might just pack it in and go back to their native Ethiopia, for instance, when it comes to retirement. Are these people who may have no intention of residing here long term going to be able to be counted on to make hard decisions about local bonds and borrowing? Are they going to say, don't matter to me none, I'm not going to be here in 20 years when that bond comes due?

You want a voice, take the oath. Simple as that.

Argument Two:

They also note that the United States has a long history of allowing noncitizens to vote. Twenty-two states and federal territories at various times allowed noncitizens to vote - even as blacks and women were barred from the ballot box - in the 1800's and 1900's.

Concerns about the radicalism of immigrants arriving from southern and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led states to restrict such voting rights. By 1928, voting at every level had been restricted to United States citizens. Today, some argue, those rights should be restored to noncitizens.

"They're paying taxes, they're working, they're contributing to our prosperity,'' said Jim Graham, the councilman who introduced the bill here. "And yet they're not able to exercise the franchise. "This is part of our history. A lot of people don't know what the history of this nation is in terms of immigrant voting; they don't understand even that localities can determine this issue. It's a very healthy discussion.''

Jimbo, you ain't reaching far enough back in terms of history to understand the importance of the decision of restricting the franchise to those who vote. Let's reach back a little farther and consider the public debates held during the period when the Constitution was adopted, from 1774 and on.

The debate, as best as I can recall it, centered on the issue of property ownership. One side wanted to restrict the right to vote to those citizens who held a certain amount of property. It was felt that these citizens would likely be less inclined to approve flighty measures and more inclined to support the long term good of society because of their stake in it. The other side disagreed. The other side, obviously, won. However, it took years and at no time was it thought that the right to vote should be extended to those who have no formal stake in society. I will have to go back and re-read some of the debates, it's been 20 years since I looked at this, but they were fascinating.

If you go back far enough, it was clear that the right to vote was meant to be given only to citizens.

Moreover, let's consider, at least anecdotally, the change in character of immigrants. Immigrants who came to this country in the period Jimbo is talking about came to stay, to make new lives in a better place. They were not going back. First, travel was difficult and expensive. Second, the places they left were not very free or nice. All that has changed. My impression, and I don't have the time to do any research to back this up, is that the character of immigration has changed from those looking to make a life long change to those looking to stay for several years and then return, richer, to their countries of origin to retire, aided by greater ease of travel, among other things. So, why would it be desirable to give these economic, short-term immigrants the right to vote? I could see how a long time immigrant might have the stake in society we would want to see, but a short termer who may lack the long term horizon and point of view? This is not your grandfather's immigrant.

In my view, history does not provide the justification they are looking for.

Argument Three:

"A lot of communities are not represented by representatives who reflect the diversity in their communities and are responsive to their needs,'' said Ron Hayduk, a professor of political science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and an advocate for immigrant voting rights. "It raises basic fundamental questions about democracy.''

Ron, you are wrong on so many levels. First, diversity is not a constitutionally enshrined right. It is not a requirement that a representative "reflect the diversity" of his or her constituents. It is asinine to suggest that it is a requirement. You want a voice in the selection of your representative? Take the oath. Otherwise, assume that your representative will represent your community's concerns as a whole. If not, form a lobbying group or a neighborhood association and go to the representative. Tocqueville stresses this as one of the great strengths of American democracy. Second, Ron, we have a republic and not a direct democracy. The difference is that in a republic we are one step removed from the legislative process by way of legislators who we elect as opposed to all citizens directly voting on every law. Third, basic and fundamental are kind of the same thing. Just cause you say it twice, doesn't make it so.

The right to vote is a precious thing. It is a bright-line test, too. Are you a citizen? Were you born a citizen or did you take the oath? If not, no vote. Can you imagine the administrative nightmare it will be to figure out who among the non-citizens should be permitted to register to vote? I shudder at the thought. No, this whole proposal is misguided.

You want to vote? Join me in my citizenship, there's plenty of room.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:58 AM | Comments (11)

August 06, 2004

AIDS and Personal Responsibility

I think about AIDS a lot. I have no personal connection to this disease. I know no one who has it or has died from it, to the best of my knowledge. So, that's not why I care. No, generally, I am concerned about the impact AIDS has on developing societies. I am fascinated by how this modern day plague is devastating the African Continent, how social norms appear to be in the process of being rewritten as a result, how prevention and treatment are advanced and thwarted, how Asia is responding in general and China in particular, and how this might effect the world beyond the borders of those countries and continents most particularly affected. Whole generations are being more than decimated and the impact of such a reordering of population norms may not be felt for years.

However, I never really thought much about the impact on US society in the same way, since it seems like the US has AIDS under much better control. I guess I was wrong, at least with respect to the black community here. And, if it concerns such an important segment of our society as a whole, it ought to concern everyone.

The NY Times today had an article on the spread of AIDS in the black community in small, Southern cities: Links Between Prison and AIDS Affecting Blacks Inside and Out. Again, as is my wont, I'll extract some of the statistics that caused my mouth to drop open on the train today:

*Blacks now account for more than half of all new H.I.V. infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women account for 72 percent of all new cases among women. During the decades that the AIDS epidemic has spread, the number of people incarcerated has also soared, to nearly 2.1 million, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of that total, more than 40 percent are black.

*In North Carolina, African-Americans make up more than 70 percent of all existing H.I.V. and AIDS cases, and about 60 percent of the state's roughly 35,000 prisoners.

*The prevalence of confirmed AIDS cases in prisons is three times as high as it is in the general population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. H.I.V. cases are harder to count, because only 19 states conduct mandatory H.I.V. testing of inmates. But many researchers believe the number of prisoners with H.I.V. to be far higher than the 1.9 percent most recently documented by the justice agency.

I'll put the rest of my observations below in the extended entry section.

One thing missing, that I’d be curious to see is what percentage of babies born HIV positive are black. If you go to the CDC website, though, you can look at some statistics through December 2002 which might give you an idea about how children, those under the age of 13, acquire HIV. Of the 9,300 children in the US with HIV, fully 8,629 of them became infected as a result of “mother with or at risk for HIV infection”. If it is true that black women account for 72% of all new HIV infections among women, then I assume that the number of children born with the HIV infection will also rise and the black community, and society as a whole, will be afflicted even worse.* (*see update below).

Here's the kicker for me. I've been chewing this article over all morning in the back of my mind and I went back now to re-read it. I am troubled by the rise of AIDS in the black community, but that's not what I mean by the "kicker". No, what also troubled me here was that nowhere in this very long article does anyone embrace the concept of personal responsibility, that just maybe you have an obligation to avoid engaging in high risk behavior that might get you infected.

The doctors conducting the study avoid the topic, instead seemingly cast blame on the "system" that incarcerates large numbers of convicts.

"H.I.V. is an opportunistic disease that thrives on disruptions of social networks," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina, where several studies on the subject are under way. "You can hardly get more socially disruptive than removing double-digit percentages of men from communities for extended periods of time."

Why are double digit percentages of men removed from communities? First of all, that phrase is neutral and suggests no culpability on the part of those "removed". It's not their fault they've been "removed". No, blame the system. It's like that stupid phrase seen of late, "hate the game, not the player". No, these men are removed by the criminal justice system and sentenced to serve time in prison because they have been convicted of, or pled to, committing crimes in these very "communities" they've been removed from. Is the criminal justice system racist, as we’ve all seen suggested? Maybe. Probably not from where I’m sitting.

The article focuses on ways to keep released prisoners from spreading AIDS in their "communities" when they get released. I wonder if that's not the wrong place to concentrate all the efforts.

Maybe the key to AIDS prevention starts at first with turning around at risk teens, to convincing them that college and the pencil is a better choice than the State Pen. Maybe we acknowledge that there is at least one or maybe more generations we cannot help and we concentrate our efforts and our societal resources on the youth who are not yet criminally or sexually active and we try to save them. Is that heartless, the suggestion that we write off a generation? Maybe. But I'd sure hate to see us turn into a developing nation again and maybe we can save the next generation.

With a full-time job as a security guard, she is hoping to save enough money to pay for cosmetology school. Her current boyfriend was briefly in jail, but he has a good job in construction and a house, which they share. He knows she is H.I.V. positive, she said, and he is very supportive.

After a moment of hesitation, Louise admitted that they do not always use protection.

"He says if he gets infected he'll just deal with it," she said with a shrug of her shoulders and a raised eyebrow that hinted at disbelief.

The thing is, though, if he gets infected it's we as a society as a whole who will have to "deal with" the consequences of his outright rejection of the concept of personal responsibility.

Rant endeth here.

UPDATE: I went over to the National Institute of Health who had this statistic:

The estimated rate of adult/adolescent AIDS diagnoses in the United States in 2002 (per 100,000 population) was 76.4 among blacks, 26.0 among Hispanics, 11.2 among American Indians/Alaska Natives, 7.0 among whites, and 4.9 among Asians/Pacific Islanders.

The statistical breakdown presented there is chilling.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:36 AM | Comments (6)

July 29, 2004

South Africa and AIDS

I've posted before about the impact of the AIDS virus in Africa. About how 2-3 people have to be hired to perform the same job in middle management in South African companies because chances are statistically very good that only one of them will be around to get the job done. Or maybe I haven't posted about this. I have certainly harangued my wife about it. (By the way, the poor dear deserves your sympathy entirely because before I discovered blogging, she was the sole "beneficiary" of my rants.)

There was an article in the NY Times this morning about AIDS in South Africa. Its lead in was about how graves have to be recycled in Durban because of the high number of deaths and the small amount of cemetery space. It included some shocking statistics and I want to bring them out here so that all my readers, all eleven of you (and you know who you are), can share my concern:

*51 of the 53 municipal cemeteries are officially filled to capacity

*"Five years ago, we used to have about 120 funerals a weekend, but this number has now jumped to 600," Thembinkosi Ngcobo, who heads the municipal department of parks and cemeteries, said in an interview this week. "In order to cope with the current rate of mortality - we hope it is not going to increase - we will need to have 12.1 hectares every year of new gravesites." That is nearly 30 acres.

*Roughly one in eight South Africans is H.I.V.-positive

*in Durban, South Africa's third-largest city with about 3.5 million people, a survey two years ago of women at pregnancy clinics found about 35 percent were infected with H.I.V.

This is tragic. I just never contemplated the effects of the deaths vis a vis funerals and cemetery use. I'm glad that the NY Times brought these facts out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:58 AM | Comments (5)

July 28, 2004

He stole the election!

Until today, if someone said that to me, I'd assume that they were talking about Bush/Gore, dismiss them as either a lunatic or a sore loser and I'd try to back slowly out of the room, keeping my hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. Until today, I thought that this was the first time such an accusation had been levied at the presidential level and such a series of events had taken place in US history. Well, shame on me for being ignorant.

Let's jump into the history way back machine for a sec and revisit, in the extended section: The Hayes-Tilden Presidential Election of 1876.

In, "Mornings on Horseback", David McCullough describes the election, where the popular vote and the electoral vote went to different candidates, thus:

At first it seemed Tilden had [been elected president]. Tilden had swept New York and nationally held a clear majority. But the votes in four states - Oregon and three in the Deep South [me: Florida was one of them!!!] - were in dispute, states that, if carried by the Republicans, would swing the electoral vote to Hayes. Republican "statesman" rushed south to confer with election boards. Through February a special committee met daily in Washington to appraise the conflicting tallies, and outraged Democrats from all walks spoke of violence should the Republicans try to steal the election. In Columbus, Ohio, somebody fired a shot at Hayes's house as he sat down to dinner.

Tilden, in the end, did not dispute that Hayes won by a single electoral vote.

HarpWeek put together the most fascinating website about this controversy: Hayes v. Tilden. If you are interested in the subject, go check it out. It offers a day by day time line and analysis, historical essays, cartoons, the whole shooting match. I have nothing of any great value to add past this site.

Hayes was an interesting character who ran as a reformer, determined to root out corruption and cronyism in government and civil service. He insisted that appointments be on merit, not as a reward for political favor or party affiliation. There is a good biographical sketch about him on the White House website.

In the end, a disputed election that could have torn the country apart. Someone even shot at Hayes or at least his house. And a 120+ years later, who remembers? That points to the strength of this system and our citizen's deep commitment to it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2004

Bitterly Partisan

The heat's getting turned up here in July. People are growing increasingly shrill and bitter. We once discussed the existance of the "moderate" on this blog (by the way, I still can't quite get over the fact that I have a blog, that people come read it, and that people seem to enjoy it, it's just astonishing to me). I think us "moderates" are few and far between these days. This presidential campaign is so ugly already with people so polarized that I begin to despair. I get emails from friends on the right questioning every last thing about John Kerry and emails from friends on the left accusing George Bush of having committed every kind of crime known to man, all to further line someone's pockets. Basta! Enough already! Turn down the rhetorical heat, please, before most of us are driven from the political kitchen!

Here's the thing. I am a registered Republican simply because I have felt for a long time that there is no place for me and my views in the Democratic Party. That said, no candidate has ever been able to count on my vote simply because of his or her party affiliation. I tend to vote issues and positions, not (r) or (d). I suspect I'm going to vote for Bush come November, but I want the chance to reflect on it and chat about it. I want some civilized discourse. I want some adult conversation and reflection. I sound like a chick, don't I? I want romance, seduction, etc. No, what I want is for everybody to stop yelling and stop spinning.

At the end of the day, I suspect it will not matter who I vote for or who gets elected president. I expect strong disagreement on this point, but I'll take my chances. I am a believer in the theory that presidents will rise to the occasion. I believe that if there is a national emergency, our president will handle it, no matter which party he's from. I also believe that our country is internally strong enough to resist the effects of four years of bad rule. So, if the candidate I don't like gets in, I think it will probably be ok in the end.

That said, I think that there are significant problems facing us as a country and we might be better off with the Bush approach than the Kerry approach. But I'm going to wait and see a little bit and try my hardest to separate the substance from the spin. I just hope tempers cool a bit by November.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:13 PM | Comments (4)

July 26, 2004

Speaking of Kerry

I am highly amused by the spectacle of Mrs. Kerry telling a reporter to "shove it", shortly after delivering a speech exhorting her fellow citizens to return civility to politics. Whatever you may think of the relative merits of Mrs. Kerry v. Mrs. Bush, Mrs. Kerry appears to be more entertaining. Watch the fun as the Kerry campaign deals with this little issue.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:22 AM | Comments (4)

July 25, 2004

NY Times is liberal!?!?

Hold the presses: The NY Times has admitted that its coverage is liberal and unbalanced. At least, up to a point, they admit it. They note that they are a walking advertisement for gay marriage and never present the dissenting point of view about it. They note that they present too much by way of diversity issues on the sports page. I am shocked they admit it and shocked that they didn't push it as far as they could have. For instance, the "public editor" who wrote this column wants to leave the political issues of the campaign out of this column and wait until the fall until he can tell for sure. Please. Most of us don't feel the need to wait.

The really interesting thing I take away from this is that the complaints about how one sided the Times' coverage is must be forcing some response. Finally. Stay tuned to see if it ever changes, not that I really expect it to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2004

Thanks for the award

Thanks to One Ordinary York Student (who does not have any contact info on his/her site so I can't email him/her) for giving me:

The terrorism-is-not-okay award (for my post on "root causes").

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (2)

An extraordinary article

I happened across an extraordinary article this morning in the Spectator, an English weekly magazine, entitled: The triumph of the East (registration may be required). It is extraordinary to me because I don't often see articles like this in mainstream publications. The premise of the article is that we in the West are deluding ourselves about Islam's expansionist and imperialist aims. Reassuring ourselves with our bland pablum of multi-culturalism, our fevered insistence that we are all the same with the same interests and the same needs and motivations, we are blind to the fact that the conquest of the West is a central topic urged on the main Islamic media sources. It is a central topic of discussion in the most prominent mosques and it is ignored in the West.

The most popular tactic is immigration. I must admit that this sentence jumped off the page at me: "In Brussels, Mohammed has been the most popular name for boy babies for the last four years." I don't know if it's true, mind you, but it startled me.

Contrast this with the upbeat article that the NY Times ran today on how woman are agitating, albeit with no organization, for more rights to pray in the mosque. This is a "feel good about Islam" article that the Times likes to run from time to time. However, someone gave us an interesting juxtaposition by running this article right under the picture in this article of six kidnaped civilians in danger of having their heads chopped off by the three hooded terrorists, whoops, I mean "insurgents", in front of them (scroll down to see the picture). Like I said, interesting juxtaposition.

At some point we are going to have to confront the fact that not all people want the same thing in the West, that even those who immigrate here don't necessarily share our values or even respect them, and that we are in a conflict of cultures. I hope we do it soon. I for one do not want my daughter to wear a veil except on her wedding day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:38 AM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2004

Life Insurance

I beat the NY Times up all the time, but sometimes they get it right. There has been an interesting series on the sale and marketing of inappropriate financial products, including but not limited to life insurance and mutual funds, to soldiers. Apparently, for as little as $1500, you too can buy congressional intercession on behalf of your sleazy business practices. The first article is here and the second one, run today, is here. Go read the second one to understand my comment about how cheap it is to buy access.

This practice, by the way, stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the most prominent Americans during the Civil War. I have been reading, at night, the McCullough biography of Theodore Roosevelt, called, "Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt". The President's father, during the Civil War, was instrumental in creating the Allotment Commission. I find nothing of any consequence about it after a Google search, but let me explain.

The men went off to fight in the Civil War and left their familes and women behind, often made destitute by the lack of income after the men left their civilian jobs. Roosevelt, and others, conceived of the Allotment Commission. They presented it to Lincoln and secured his agreement. What was it? Simple. It was a mechanism by which Union soldiers could allot some portion of their pay to be subtracted from their pay check and transmitted directly back home. No one else had ever thought of this. Roosevelt traveled to practically every encampment and preached to the men the value of this service. Many signed up and many millions of dollars were sent home. This was a selfless act on Rooselvelt's part.

We dishonor the memory of the men who toiled on behalf of the common soldier, without recompense, by permitting these scum to prey upon our soldiers. It is just shameful.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

Further on "root causes"

A little more on the "root causes" post of yesterday. I closed by asking whether we could unite this country and face, together, the threats and powers arrayed against us. Thanks to Frederik Norman, a Norwegian who founded the "Norwegian Friends of America" group in Norway, I have discovered the Committee on the Present Danger. This is a bi-partisan group who, well, let's let them tell it in their own words:

In times of great challenge to the security of the United States, Republicans, Democrats and Independents have traditionally joined to make an assertive defense of American interests.

Twice before in American history, The Committee on the Present Danger has risen to this challenge. It emerged in 1950 as a bipartisan education and advocacy organization dedicated to building a national consensus for a strong defense against Soviet expansionism. In 1976, the Committee on the Present Danger reemerged, with leadership from the labor movement, bipartisan representatives of the foreign policy community and academia, all of whom were concerned about strategic drift in U.S. security policy.

In both previous periods, the Committee’s mission was clear: raise awareness to the threat to American safety; communicate the risk inherent in appeasing totalitarianism; and build support for an assertive policy to promote the security of the United States and its allies and friends.

With victory in the Cold War, the mission of the Committee on the Present Danger was considered complete and consequently was deactivated..

Today, radical Islamists threaten the safety of the American people and millions of others who prize liberty. The threat is global. They operate from cells in a number of countries. Rogue regimes seek power by making common cause with terrorist groups. The prospect that this deadly collusion may include weapons of mass murder is at hand.

Like the Cold War, securing our freedom against organized terrorism is a long-term struggle. The road to victory begins with clear identification of the shifting threat and vigorous pursuit of policies to contain and defeat it.

It is led by Senators Kyl and Lieberman and chaired by the Hon. James Woolsey. It is, to me, a reason to hope just a little bit more.

I still deeply regret Joe Lieberman's withdrawal from the Democratic primary. He was the only one in that Party who I could have voted for.

UPDATE: Go you and check out the many articles these guys have published. This is very cool.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2004

"Root Causes"

This one may take me awhile, so if you plan on reading the whole thing, grab a pew, missy (as I tell my daughter when I want her to sit down and as she delights in repeating back to me). If you don't plan on reading this one, that's ok, I bet someone else is writing about this in a better way than I am.

The Root Causes. Everyone seems to think that we need to understand the root causes of terrorism, the root causes of ceaseless anti-American hatred, the root causes of anti-Semitism, the root causes of _______ (fill in the blank, how about obesity?). The world faults us for failing to understand the root causes. They want us to ask: why do they hate us? What did we do wrong? The media drumbeat on this point, in our own newspapers and from our allies, is as relentless as it is nonsensical and downright contemptuous.

You can see how silly this is here, in the words of British "journalists" (dig my scare quotes?):

Why is there no coverage in America given to the root causes of terrorism? We try to understand why Palestinian people feel driven to take such extreme measures as suicide bombings. I understand why Israel is building a wall to stop terror, but terrorists only flourish if they have grievances to exploit.

The root causes of terrorism are hatred and fear, not economic. The suicide bombers are not motivated by issues such as fair trade and labor regulation. As others have noted, the World Trade Center bombers were from the highest socio-economic classes their society had. They were not protesting American influence on foreign exchange rates. No, they hated us. They still hate us and we are to ask why, if you believe the pundits. What impels the hatred?

The hatred, I believe, stems from fear. They fear our freedom and our liberalism because the freedom to decide for yourself is not compatible with their vision of a society subservient to the dictates of Islam as they understand them. We are seductive and corrupt. We will infect their youth and destroy the power they hold over their women. We are a disease that must be halted. This is not hard to understand. They hate us because our values are so different from their values. They hate us because they cannot fathom how they are righteous and we are not and yet we are successful (so, add jealousy to the volatile mix).

In other words, while I am prepared to ask the question why, I reach a conclusion different from that urged by those who constantly stress the necessity of its asking. I conclude that the fault lies not within us, Horatio (nor within the stars), but within them.

There. I asked why, I answered it and I feel so much better now.
Well, not really. Now I want to ask about the root causes of another problem (no, I don’t mean stomach issues experienced after too much spicy Indian food, although I am curious to know why Indian food and why not Thai): Western anti-Americanism. You know the kind I mean, the feelings and beliefs expressed by our allies, by Europeans, among others, who believe that America is evil and the greatest threat to world peace but who stop short of flying planes into our buildings or bombing our Naval vessels (the USS Cole). This question is one I’ve been exploring of late and I don’t have a real good answer for it. How is it that a book in France which hit the best seller list there and was taken seriously when it asked whether the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were faked. I really don't know. But I can send you to some of what I’ve been reading to help me understand it and maybe these works will help you (assuming you share my confusion).

First of all, I’ve been reading Jean Francois Revel’s book, Anti-Americanism. I cannot excerpt any of it here. It is too tightly woven for me to pick apart any of its arguments here. I think it is a must read. I seldom urge people to pick up a book, but I do so now.

Second, I just read Bruce Bawer’s essay in the Hudson Review: Hating America. This is also a great read. Dr. Bawer is an American living in Norway.

Third, I’d send you to Robert Kagan’s slim book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. It seeks to explain how and why America and Europe have taken such different paths.

If you have other recommendations, I'd be pleased if you'd share them with me.

What does it all come down to? Europe resents the Pax Americana, at its base. Europe lacks the capacity or ability or will to project power beyond its borders and, while enjoying the fruits of a free society protected by American servicemen and women, is unhappy about it at the same time. At the end, I perceive that nothing can be done about it.

So, where does that leave us? Where are we now that we’ve asked the questions about the “root causes”?

We are at the same place we were when we started (although you didn’t know that). We are at my cousin’s funeral. I attended my cousin's funeral in the days after 9/11 and her death at the top of the World Trade Center. It was a funeral held with an empty coffin. There is space enough in her plain wooden box to fit the questions of why do they hate us and what did we do wrong. I’d like to bury these fucking questions there and get on with the business of uniting our country to oppose a common foe who seeks our destruction.

Of course, that won’t happen, but I can dream, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:57 AM | Comments (12)

July 18, 2004

The NY Times and my blood pressure

I read the paper at the table this morning and it pissed me off for the whole morning. One of these days, I'm going to check my pressure before breakfast, not have any coffee (as a control), and check it again after reading the Times.

Roger Cohen is a _____ (supply your own appropriate word here, my choices don't make the cut since, while they are all heartfelt, they probably make me look less and less like an adult). His article/editorial (hard to know which since it wasn't on the op/ed piece but it certainly wasn't reporting), was an unmitigated horror of moral relativism which places a lower value on the lives of Jewish children killed by suicide bombers than it does on the consequences to the Palestinians because of the wall. I will explain.

The article starts with some facts which one senses Mr. Cohen disapproves of. "If Israelis are going to the beach and to clubs again, and if bombings have become rare, it is thanks in large part, they insist, to these ditches and guard towers and coils of barbed wire and miles of wire fencing that separate two peoples, demarcating the gulf between them." Meaning, the wall has allowed Israelis to lead normal lives with less fear of someone strapping on a belt of explosives with a package of nails dipped in rat poison in their pockets, and blowing up a bus or a nightclub. Cohen seems to me to minimize the importance of everyday normalcy by choosing the most frivolous possible examples to illustrate the larger point that the wall is taking away the fear. The ever present, grinding you down, fear. By putting it in this way, Cohen trivializes it and makes it seem ridiculous.

But let's continue, shall we? Cohen notes that while there is no one single explanation for the sharp decline in the number of suicide bombings, everyone agrees that the wall plays an important role. Cohen then contrasts the high tech nature of the wall monitoring center with the Palestinian condition on the other side of the wall and writes:

"What often seems to be missing from these Israeli musings is any grasp of the life of the Palestinians on the other side of the barrier. On those war-room screens the most common sight is a Palestinian in a donkey cart trundling along a dirt track. The contrast between the high-tech Israeli cameras that deliver these images and the abject existence of the Palestinians photographed provides an apt summation of the divergence of the societies: a first-world Israel forging ahead as best it can, a third-world Palestinian society going backward."

Neat juxtaposition, no? By choosing to put these concepts next to each other in his arti-torial, Cohen leaves you with the impression that the reason for the plight of the blameless Palestinian is the wall. What else could be to blame for their society going back to the Third World standard? He goes on to outline the effects of the wall on the Palestinians compared to life for the Israelis -- dirt tracks v. highways, donkeys v. cars. The impact is clear for Mr. Cohen. The wall is a disaster for the Palestinians.

Here, I ask myself, so? I don't believe that the wall is to blame for Palestinian economic disintegration. Their economy imploded when they turned to violence from negotiation. The Intafada killed it, not Israel. The most basic human right that any society needs to provide to its citizens is freedom from death from outsiders. Israel is doing so now with a non-lethal barrier. Israel has no real choice -- build a barrier and separate or watch its buses blow up all over the country. This is not an option. Palestinians have to stop trying to kill Israelis and have to stop teaching their children to hate. Or else, they should not be permitted access to the First World on the other side of the wall.

I started by saying Cohen's arti-torial was an exercise in moral relativism and I'm not sure I made my point. My fault, of course. Let me be clear, by comparing the inconvenience of the Palestinian farmer and his donkey who have to wait for the Israeli soldier to let him through to his orchards with the freedom of the Israeli to lead a life free from the fear of an explosive device, he has elevated the one concept of the Palestinian right to convenience to the level of the moral right of the Israeli to live at all. It elevates the one while diminishing the other. Even if it is the freedom to go to the beach, that is still the freedom to live without fear. If that inconveniences someone else, well, so be it. To put these two concepts on the same level, is the basest kind of relativism.

Mr. Cohen, you should be ashamed of yourself for adding your pen to this cause at this time.

I really hate the Times.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:57 PM | Comments (3)

Not a Michael Moore fan

I am not a fan of Mr. Moore. Frankly, when it comes to describing him and his destructive influence on the nation's political debate, words fail me.

Fortunately, words don't fail the author of this site: Centigrade 9/11: Alternative Views of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11". This site is a collection of the factual errors and corrective essays concerning Moore's fatuous film.

Hat tip to Powerage for the link.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2004

Nursing Shortage in Africa

Today, in the NY Times, there was heartrending article about the nursing shortage in Africa. In a nutshell, it appears that all of the nurses are setting off to practice their art back in Great Britain. Result? The health and medical systems of Malawi are on the verge of collapse. It is becoming a total ruin and a crisis.

The blame and the remedy are where the NY Times and I part company. The position of the author is right out in front: "It is the poor subsidizing the rich, since African governments paid to educate many of the health care workers who are leaving." Well, the blame is clear. It's all the fault of the prosperous Western regimes. The remedy proposed? Set up some system which will make it more difficult for these women to emigrate, to get out of Africa, to get out of hospitals where it is assumed, for instance, that "any woman they examine may be H.I.V. positive", where "a quarter of public health workers, including nurses, will be dead, mostly of AIDS and tuberculosis, by 2009, according to a study of worker death rates in 40 hospitals here".

Instead of setting up some bureaucratic Berlin Wall to keep these women slaving away for overtime pay of 20 cents an hour, let's turn the focus on corrupt regimes which are killing their people. We cannot force these women to stay. That is immoral if they can get out and especially if they can support themselves elsewhere. No, this is the free market of people -- the movement of people from bad regimes to comparatively better ones. The trick is to make it possible for these women to want to stay in their home countries, not to coerce them into it. That is where the hard work comes in. How to improve African countries. No one wants to focus on that when the easier and more politically attractive explanation is that it is all the fault of the West. Cheap blame will solve nothing.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2004

More on Moderates

Just a quick post to call your attention to the discussion Mark is continuing about political moderates. He makes a lot of good points and is clearly got way more to say about this than can fit in a comment on my blog. Thanks to Mark for continuing the discussion in such a thoughtful way!

And if you haven't checked out his blog generally, get thee hence!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

Tort reform? No, courtesy reform.

I do not intend to weigh in at length on this emotional and complicated subject. I write now only to make a limited observation based on my own personal experience.

As some of you may know, I am a lawyer. I practice almost exclusively complex commercial and corporate litigation and do some ancillary corporate work for clients who trust me and think I can't possibly screw up their work as badly as the last lawyer who got them into all the trouble they needed me to solve through litigation. Is that a ringing endorsement, or what? I got a referral for a personal injury claim the other day. I don't do PI work. Not my specialty. But, as a courtesy, I listened to the fellow's problem and agreed, at the end of his presentation, that he had a claim. I was about to type the details of his claim, but thought better of it. Even if he did not retain me, I would feel wrong about going into detail. Suffice it to say his wife was injured at a hotel they were staying at. I asked this fellow, at the conclusion of our chat, did anyone at the hotel offer to waive the bill, reverse the charges for the service than injured her, or even apologize. And he said, no, not a thing. This brings me to tort reform. I am beginning to think that a lot of tort cases are brought because the defendant acted like an asshole. If the manager of the hotel had acted like a gentleman, I doubt this fellow would have been on the phone to me looking for compensation.

Maybe this post isn't about tort reform at all, now that I re-read my scribbles to this point, maybe it's really just a continuation of the discussion we've been having about moderates and courtesy. Maybe the real point is not that we need tort reform but that we need courtesy reform. Stop treating each other like idiots, apologize promptly when something's your fault, be sincere, and I am willing to bet the number of lawsuits would go down.

I know that someone might comment, if they feel moved to do so, that the manager of the hotel could not have apologized because it would be seen as an admission of responsibility and an invitation to a suit. I disagree and I'll explain why. If the manager were my client, I'd advise him that he was going to get sued anyway since it took place in his hotel and due to actions by his employees who were acting within the course and scope of their duties as employees. Of course the hotel is a target and saying you're sorry will not make it any less of a target. So, I would counsel the manager to apologize promptly, send flowers, comp them to the room, pick up the medical bills, and make whatever other nice gesture he could think of. At best, he might just avoid a suit and pick up some nice good will out of it. At worst, well, he's probably going to get sued anyway. But, by not apologizing, the idiot has absolutely bought himself an all expenses paid visit from the process server.

So, my personal experience leads me to think: more courtesy, fewer law suits!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Zimbabwe, again

Long time readers may recall my post some time ago concerning Zimbabwe and the horrible political and social and economic situation there. I wrote about my disgust with the other African governments and their failure to even attempt to deal with this problem. Well, I came across this today in the NY Times: African Leaders Failing Zimbabwe, Prelate Says. Want to know why he said that?

Mr. Mugabe scored a diplomatic victory last weekend when the 53-nation African Union, meeting in Ethiopia, voted to table a sharply worded critique of Zimbabwe's civil-liberties record prepared by a committee on human rights. The report, which was leaked last week, accused the government of "failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law" and of tolerating arbitrary arrests and human-rights violations.

Apparently, by the way, this report dates from 2002!

What a disaster.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

Hope for the moderates

I posted a question yesterday: what happened to the moderates? I have been concerned for a long time about the coarsening of political discourse, not to mention simple every day discourse, and as I said in that post, Michele at A Small Victory wrote a great item about this lack of civility.

Well, I think we found the moderates. They were here on my comments board and I'm going to reproduce them for the general readership who doesn't look at the comments (and if that's you, you are missing some very good and thoughtful writing).

Amber writes:

I'm always afraid to attach myself to any single label for fear of putting myself in a box. I have voted both Democrat and Republican. I would call myself a conservative/liberal or liberal/conservative too.

I'm all over the place on the issues. No one party suits me, since I'm strongly for the death penalty and strongly for abortion rights. And I'm that way about all the issues.

I don't like the term "moderate" because I feel it's such a tame word...and I'm *passionate*. That's what I am: a Passionate! *grins*

I wish we didn't have a two-party system, I know that.
Amber | Email | Homepage | 07.07.04 - 2:42 pm | #

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

No slots at NY racetracks

As reported this morning in the Times, a New York appellate court has tossed out the law which permitted slot machines at NY ractracks. If you are curious, the 52 page opinion can be found here. This is a good thing. As the article reports, the Governor planned to use the revenues from these slot machines to make up for the imbalanced school aid provided to the public schools in New York city. Another court found the formula by which school aid was provided to be unconstitutional. So the State needs to find more money.

Let me be unambiguously clear about this, something I normally hesitate to do, I loathe the idea of lotteries and gambling being used to fund any State program or purpose. Such a thing is merely taxation by other means, indirect taxation if you will. Yes, I know that it is the choice of the participant to play and thus be taxed and if I don't play then I escape that tax. Still, that means nothing. Why? Because revenue raised this way is objectionable for at least two reasons. First, the unfair impact on those who pay. Second, I think that this form of indirect taxation defeats accountability by allowing the government to disguise the true costs of services it provides.

Unfair Impact: Who buys lottery tickets, for the most part? I believe I have read that it is the working poor and lower middle class. How do they buy them? With after-tax dollars, of course. So, if you agree that this is an indirect tax, then you will have to agree that those who purchase these tickets, and pay this tax, are doing so with money which represents a greater proportion of their after tax earnings than, say, my after tax earnings. $10 spent on lottery tickets is going to mean more to the person from a lower economic group than it will to someone in a higher economic group. I am certain that this is recognized by the politicians yet they do not care that the group least able to afford to dispose of their income in this fashion is doing so. And the politicians are abetting it. This is unfair. If taxes need to be raised to support a program, then doing it indirectly and on the backs of those least able to pay for it is unfair. And that leads me to point two.

No Accountability: I said above, "if taxes need to be raised to support a program. . ." If you fund a program from lottery or gambling monies, then you effectively remove from the public forum any reason to debate the need for the program or its funding level. Why talk about, after all, if the taxpayer isn't paying for it? I think of it as the governmental equivalent of an off balance sheet vehicle like Enron used. The result is that no one has to talk about it so no one will discuss whether what the government is doing is right. I think that governments abuse power when the possibility of open review is removed. We are supposed to have government in the sunshine and with freedom of access to information. Laws have been passed to that effect. If we as a people permit the government to sweep a program under the rug by financing public programs with tax money raised indirectly from those who can least afford to pay it, then I submit that we have a problem. Also, if there is no one to complain that the money raised is coming out of their pocket, who is going to complain that the money is not being well spent, which is an issue apart from whether the money should be spent. This system changes the oversight mechanisms built into our participatory democracy and I don't like it.

Finally, governments are like crack addicts -- they can't stay away from the cheap money. Once they go to that well, they'll keep going back. And no one will care enough to make sure it's proper. Well, my thanks today go to the Appellate Division, Third Department, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, even if they did it for a reason other than the ones I've enunciated here.

Here endeth today's rant.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

What happened to the moderate?

What follows is a draft thought I had been kicking around for awhile and never got much further with:

Did he or she disappear? Is the moderate an endangered species? This is a question I have been pondering, off and on, for a long time. I have no answer but I have formed some thoughts I'd like to jot down about political culture and identity.

Identity. First off, I have identified myself before on this blog as a South Park Republican -- someone who combines the belief in the need for "a hard-ass foreign policy", is "extremely skeptical of political correctness”, but also is socially liberal on many issues. That's me. Not a true Republican and not a true Democrat. Somewhere in between. Perhaps a Liberal conservative. Or a conservative Liberal.

* * *

I was going to come back to this and write about the political culture side and expand on the identity section, but Michele at A Small Victory has done so today in a post that is just so good that I urge you to go check it out: A Social Civil War.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

Chivalry's dead? I didn't even know it was sick. . .

I was thinking, off and on this weekend, about a letter I read in the Westchester section of the Sunday NY Times. A woman wrote in to complain that no one would give up their seat for her on a morning train going into the City when she was rather visibly 9 months pregnant. She closed her letter by asking whether chivalry was dead. Is it? Should it be? Should she have had any expectation that she would have been treated differently because of her sex? My answer is yes, it is dead and no, she should not have any expectation of more favorable treatment because of her sex.

Putting to one side the issue of the pregnancy, because I happen to believe that is not an issue open to discussion. Simply, she should have been given a seat because of her physical condition, just like you give your seat to a person with a cane, for example. That is based on disability. That said, I can recall numerous instances of offering a seat to a pregnant woman on a City bus or subway only to have them decline the offer. And, there is another school of thought that says you do not ask or suggest a woman is pregnant unless you are actually seeing them give birth. As in, what if you're wrong about the pregnancy? But enough, let us return to the chivalry question.

chivalry, at its beginning, was a code of conduct according to which Knights and the nobly born aspired to live their lives. There is plenty of information floating around about it on the internet and some of it might actually be correct. It included within it, the Courtly Love tradition, which had various rules for courtship and marriage and taking lovers. Chivalry has come to mean, I think, a manner of treatment of women by men. Women are exalted by virtue of the fact of their being female. I think that this is meant to memorialize the belief that women were the weaker sex and were to be treated accordingly, better really than the way men treated other men. So, we come back to our question: is it dead?

Yes, I think it is and it ought to be. First, the belief that women are the weaker sex is obviously false. They do not need better treatment out of weakness. Second, I think that the social contract has been redrawn over the last 30-40 years in the US. The playing field is much more level. Yes, I know that there are still glass ceiling issues and pay parity issues, but just the same, I think that women are competing fairly evenly with men now in the workplace, in school, on the athletic fields (at least since Title IX), and every where else. Such competition precludes any claim to chivalrous conduct. I think that it is somewhat a question of having your cake and eating it, too. I think that pregnant women does not deserve a seat on the train because she is a woman. Indeed, if she was not pregnant, she would have no right to complain. Her claim to that seat based on some outdated notion of chivalry rings false.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2004

Ethics Czar?

I saw someone reading a newspaper on the train this morning and the headline caught my eye: Soon-to-be-governor names special ethics czar. What is an ethics czar? I don't approve of the use of the word czar by our government. The definition from dictionary.com includes, besides the Emperor of Russia, the following: "A person having great power; an autocrat". I don't know when this first started, this trend towards naming government officials after the title once held by Peter the Great, but I don't care for it. How is an autocrat, no matter who styles him that, compatible with our system of representative government? It ain't. It's silly and I wish they'd stop naming people czar.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

"A Global Power Shift in the Making"

This article, A Global Power Shift in the Making, caught my eye today. Most of the time, I think that I have been more concerned about the threat to our way of life posed by the Islamisist movement and the idea of global economic realignment has been flying a bit under the radar for me. This article brought it out into the open for me very well by examining growth rates and Asia-specific tensions. I had all of the pieces floating around in my head, but the author brought them all together for me. I don't know that I agree with all of his assertions, but it is a thoughtful and interesting essay. Let me know what you think.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Mural desecrated in France

A mural, painted by Jewish children deported by the Nazis during WW II was desecrated in France. This makes me sad. First, the Nazis took these children from their parents and sent them to a transit camp. While at the camp, I gather, the children painted a mural. They made a record of their existence on this planet. They set their hands to the wall with paint so the world could remain, however mute, a witness to their suffering. Then, I assume, they were killed. The mural remained. The French put up bars around it to preserve it. Then someone came along and, again I am assuming, motivated by hatred tried to wipe out the memory of their lives and their passing. This person killed them again, it seems to me. What else can you call the attempted eradication of memory? Murder by proxy. Denial that these children existed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:06 PM | Comments (0)

Borrowed time in Spain

Borrowed time in the botellon, by Michael Carlin, a Fulbright Scholar living in Spain is a rather savage indictment of Spain, Spanish society, and the Spanish response to the tragedy of 3/11. At heart, his view is that another 3/11 is inevitable and that Spain, such as it is, is rotting from within. I don't have enough background to know whether I agree, but I thought it was an interesting read.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2004

EU, USA and the growing economic gap

Came across this article about the growing gap between the EU and the US economies. It references a Swedish study which has some fairly startling results. Apparently, according to the study, "Europeans are at a level of prosperity on par with states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia", not exactly the leading US economic powerhouses among states.

This leads to the question, also posed by Robert Kagan in his book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, which was an expansion of his essay here, if you don't feel like buying the whole book, which is: Can Europe afford to play the heavyweight in international affairs? Mississippi certainly cannot.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

The Berkeley Intafada?

This was an interesting and thought provoking look at anti-Semitism on the UC Berkeley campus: The Berkeley Intifada.

I would consider reading that in conjunction with this article, which is a long piece from the NY Observer about the rise of modern anti-Semitism. This is a very well written and terribly sobering piece.

You may ask yourself, why should I care about this? You may think, I'm neither Jewish nor Israeli and it's a world away. Someone much more clever than I once said that the Jews are like the canary in the coal mine for the world. When the atmosphere turns poisonous for the Jews, it's only a matter of time for everyone else.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2004

Cultural explanation for achievement gap?

A press release from Penn State recently came to my attention. It seeks to explain, in part, why black children are performing less well on achievement tests in schools than white children.

Parenthetically, I think that the achievement gap is an issue that should concern us all. We as a society need to encourage all of our children to reach their highest potential because we all benefit.

The explanation tendered by Penn State is certainly controversial. It suggests that the answer is to be found in black v. white family dynamics: "recent research points to differences between African-American and White family interaction when children are very young."

According to the study, the problem is that there is a major difference in how often black parents speak to their children and how often they vary their vocabulary. I don't know where or how these figures were obtained, and you'll notice that all of a sudden the press release stops breaking the figures out in terms of race and uses socio-economic class instead, but: "[b]y the age of three, professional parents had spoken an estimated 35 million words to their children, working- and middle-class had spoken about 20 million words, and lower-class parents had only spoken about 10 million words."

The release picks back up on the racial difference later on: "'By 18 to 20 months, the vocabulary growth trajectories of the children of professional parents had already accelerated beyond those of other children,' Farkas adds. According to his research, there seems to be both a social class, and controlling for class, a Black-White difference in children's oral vocabulary growth from infancy to adolescence. Preschool vocabulary knowledge is a strong predictor of reading performance in early elementary school, and early elementary reading performance is a strong predictor of later school performance generally."

The study found that "greater verbal interaction between parents and young children improves students' performance on standardized tests". In other words, if you talk to your children a lot, and use a varied vocabulary, you are likely to have children who do better in school than their peers who did not have the benefit of the same interaction.

The study offers no explanation for how or why black family dynamics are different from white family dynamics. I know very little about family sociology. But, I wonder, did the authors control for whether the families they studied were single parent families? I understand, anecdotally from the NY Times over the years, that there are more single parent households among black families than white families. If this is wrong, feel free to correct me. If so, that would automatically halve the number of adults around to speak to the children. Further, a single mother (or father) is going to have less energy to spend with a child to begin with. Also, the more children you have the less time you can spend with any single child. Did the study look at multiple children families? Would that make a difference?

I spoke to my daughter, my first born, a lot. With both of my children, I use adult vocabulary and try to vary my vocabulary as possible. I do this partly because I love the English language and delight in its rich vocabulary, partly because I abhor baby talk in adults, and partly because I like nothing more than delivering a good monologue! My wife loves to tell the story of how she came out of the shower one morning to find me and the then under three month old daughter on the bed discussing evolution with me saying to my daughter: "vestigial, can you say vestigial?" Before she could speak, I treated her to the monologues on some of the following subjects: the rise of the merchant class in mediaeval Europe; social stratification in feudal Japan; and, the differences between English and French Renaissance landscape architecture. That last one, delivered while my little one was in the baby bjorn and we were standing in front of a florist's window looking at topiary garnered more than a few quizzical looks from passers-by. According to this press release, I have been doing exactly the right thing. My wife does the same thing, only she does it in Norwegian.

So, where am I going with all this? I'm going here: all the money in the world spent improving schools and paying teachers more and wiring schools up to the internet won't significantly overcome a lack of sustained, intelligent parental attention. You can pass all of the No Child Left Behind laws you want, but if you don't fix the problem at home, you may not be able to help the child catch up. We need these children to catch up, if for no other reason than the selfish reason that they will be paying our social security and pensions. But it sounds like first, we need to fix the family. How do you do that? I have no idea. Do you?

By the way, feel free to comment on this. I'm very curious about your reaction to this press release and this post.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2004


What to believe about Iraq? Well, one thing that the war has done is thrown up into stark relief the fact that I am significantly less trusting of the major news organizations. None of them seem to report the news without attempting to score a point, one way or the other. For awhile, I was more comfortable with the Fox approach because it seemed that there was no conservative point of view being communicated and, while I might not automatically trust/distrust one point of view over another, I liked having the choice. Best is when I could compare points of view by getting both the Fox side and the NY Times side of the same issue. But that gets old and besides, who has time every day? 9/11 was a major turning point for me and the American news system. I started to turn more to the web as I think many others have. I still read the NY Times on a daily basis, but I find I trust it almost not at all. I tried to read the Christian Science Monitor every day for a three month period, but I perceived that they had a huge anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian point of view and the reporting was slanted. I cancelled that subscription. I tried the NY Post, more conservative with a better editorial page, but ultimately less interesting than the Times. So what do you do if all you see in the media are tales of defeat coming out of Iraq? You turn to primary sources, as you were taught to do in historiography classes in college. And you seek out letters from soldiers in Iraq to find that their view of what's happening in Iraq is very different from the editorials passed off as news articles you get in the press today here. I found that letter to be very interesting and much more hopeful than the "news" (as I borrow the scare quotes from Reuters).

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2004

Giuliani heckled

Members of 9/11 families attending the commission hearings being held in NYC heckled Rudy Giuliani yesterday when he gave testimony. I understand their pain. I lost family in the Towers that day -- my cousin died there. I don't understand heckling Giuliani. He was the best thing that happened to the city that day. I watched every news conference he held during the days following 9/11 and he helped me a lot as I waited for news about my cousin and my friends and my neighbors, some of whom did not come home that night. Giuliani was a great man under exceptional circumstances. I wish he'd run for President.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:09 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2004

Have I found my political niche?

This resonated with me (sorry, I forgot to get the link):

"Andrew Sullivan dubs the fans of all this cable-nurtured satire “South Park Republicans”—people who “believe we need a hard-ass foreign policy and are extremely skeptical of political correctness” but also are socially liberal on many issues, Sullivan explains. Such South Park Republicanism is a real trend among younger Americans, he observes: South Park’s typical viewer, for instance, is an advertiser-ideal 28."

I'm a bit older, but the rest may fit pretty well. By way of illustration, I support the rights of gays to marry and of women to choose freely concerning abortion. I also support a strong military and a foreign policy that does not depend on or require the permission of France or the United Nations before we take actions in our interest. So, clearly I would not be at home in either of our two tradtional political parties. But I do have a home in South Park, I suppose.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2004

You need a license to own a dog, right?

At what point do advocacy groups lose sight of the forest? At what point do they become so myopically focused on their issue that they forget that or refuse to acknowledge that there may be limits on whatever right they feel requires a passionate defense?

I am talking here about women's reproductive rights advocates. To be clear, I am not talking about a woman's right to have an abortion or receive reproductive counseling (things which I support).

A Judge in upstate New York has ruled that a couple may not have any more children until they show that they are capable of doing so by regaining custody of the four children of theirs who are currently in the care of the state. Each child, all born since 1998, has tested positive for cocaine at birth. The Judge ruled that this was too much of a burden on the state to continue to care for the children this couple was having. I was surprised to note that the women's reproductive rights groups immediately denounced the decision and vowed to do something about it.

I think the Judge was right and the groups were wrong. One, I do think that the state has the power to regulate behavior. That concept is really beyond cavil. This behavior has an impact on the state, the other children in the state system, and sucks up resources (state and medical) that could be used elsewhere. The state, it seems to me, has a compelling interest in regulating this behavior. Two, what about the children? Studies have shown that children born to mothers who abuse cocaine face significant problems in their lives: lower birth weight; cognitive issues; and physical/health issues. Why don't these groups take into account the lives these future children will face if born to a cocaine abusing mother?

I think you can push the concept of rights just too far. If the judge can fine me for having a dog without a license . . .

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:24 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2004

Freedom of the Press in the EU

Journalist arrested for investigation into fraud. It appears that there is a vast scandal brewing in the European Union over fraudulently diverting Commission money into private hands. Classic corruption. Here, in the United States, a journalist who exposed such a scam would be heading for the Pulitzer Prize. In Europe, he's gone to jail, had his lap top seized, had his records taken, and had his bank statements reviewed. No such treatment has been meted out to those accused of the fraud. The crime this journalist has committed? Insufficient fervor in support of the EU and giving ammunition to the anti-Europeans (read: British). The thing that got me, among others, was the bit about the television station called Euronews. The author of the article, a British MEP (member of European Parliament) had this to say about Euronews:

"[W]hen it reports directly on the EU, impartiality goes out of the window and we are treated to Soviet-style items about millions of workers waking up to higher standards thanks to the Commission. I found the contrast suspicious, so I put down a written question asking Romano Prodi [EU President] whether he gave Euronews any money. His reply was beyond parody. Yes, he said, he did give it grants, but such grants 'in no way restrict the editorial freedom of the beneficiary, who must, however, respect the image of the European institutions and the raison d'etre and general objectives of the Union'." (emphasis added)

I have always had strong views about state funded media. This just confirms them. Remember Prodi's response, please, the next time you read a European newspaper attacking the United States press for being a tool of the administration. Remember that the journalist may have filed that attack while on his or her way to the bank to deposit his or her check from the EU administration.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:08 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2004

Germany following Israeli lead on terrorism?

I guess everyone who reads newspapers is aware of the typical European government reaction when Israel assassinates a terrorist leader. The Europeans freak out and say that such extra-judicial actions are illegitimate and threaten the peace process. So, how is this for hypocrisy then:

"The German interior minister, Otto Schily, has expressed strong support for new measures, saying in recent interviews that the German police needed ways to deal with people who present what he called "a massive threat" to Germany.

Mr. Schily caused a stir when he told a German magazine, Der Spiegel, last week that in cases in which there was a direct danger of terrorism it should be possible to take a suspect into preventive custody, or, under extreme circumstances, to carry out assassinations.

"Is there not a right of self-defense against terrorists who plan mass murder?" he asked. "That leads to the question whether in extreme cases it is justified to kill that person in self-defense."

So, it's ok when Germans do it but not Israelis? By contrast to the state of affairs in Israel, I can't recall a single major terrorist action on German soil since the 1972 Olympics.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:19 AM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2004

Didn't see this in the US Press: "Bloody Day in Muslim Province in Thailand"

Le Monde.fr : Bloody Day

If you read French, the above is an interesting article on what's happening in Thailand where, "combat between the forces of order and the separatists has resulted in about 95 deaths, according to official estimates."

I saw nothing in the U.S. press about this. According to the article, this has been going on since January where, in this underdeveloped province, "majority muslim and where the tenants of radical islam are rapidly gaining ground", "policemen, village leaders, buddhist priests, civil servants, and tourists are the targets of the separatists".

This is wild (to me). I always thought Thailand was a relatively stable democracy with strong royalist traditions, to the extent I thought about it at all. Even the author of the article thinks this sudden violence is inexplicable.

However, it is interesting that there were multiple "coordinated" attacks. Is this the start of something bigger in Thailand?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2004

BLACKFIVE: Taking Chance Home

BLACKFIVE: Taking Chance Home

This made me, if not quite cry, certainly choke up. We live in a wonderful country and are fortunate to have men and women like this in our armed forces.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)