Mister Pterodactyl
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Okay, I don't have a lot of time today, so lemme toss this out right quick. I DON'T CARE about John Kerry's war record, or whether he threw his own medals (or ribbons, whatever) or somebody else's. I don't care about Bush's service record either. I don't care about Teresa Heinz's taxes. I don't care about the Cheney energy task force thing (I think the Sierra Club and the Judicial Watch are sounding a lot like those Area 51 conspiracy theorists: 'if you don't let us in to see for ourselves you must have something to hide!')

I do care about Fallujah and Najaf. I care about trade, education, and Medicare. I care about Afghanistan and the UN. Could we please talk about those things? Just a little?
Monday, April 26, 2004
It has come to my attention that I’m the only person left in the blogosphere who hasn’t made a comment on the death of Pat Tillman. Very well.

It’s not that Tillman’s life was any more important, or his death any more sad, than any of the other soldiers who have been killed, or indeed any of the Iraqi civilians who have suffered and died. The story is getting attention for several reasons.

One: he was a celebrity, after all. You think Kobe’s the only man facing rape charges right now? Or that Martha Stewart’s the only person being tried for, well, whatever the hell it is? Celebrities attract attention.

Two: in joining up, he didn’t just risk his future potential, he walked away from a sure thing. 3.6 million over three years (astonishing how many people are getting that detail wrong) and all the fame and adulation that comes with being a player in the NFL. And he was a seventh round pick who worked his butt off and made it; he set a team record with 224 tackles in a season; he graduated from ASU with a 3.84 GPA.

Three: it was a great story (NFL player quits to join army in wake of 9-11), and we wanted a happy ending.

There are other stories all over the place. I found Michelle Witmer’s particularly heart-wrenching. But excessive attention on one of them doesn’t mean it’s somehow more important than all the others.

This week’s Sunday paper ran this column by Gregory Stanford. I dislike Stanford; not because of his politics but because he’s so strident and dogmatic (last week’s column complained that the work crew down the street was all-white). But I read them anyway.

This column is in defense of liberal talk radio, but winds up being a criticism of (the rest of) commercial talk radio instead. “It's not so much the content as it is the rant that turns this liberal off to white commercial talk radio.” Note the emphasis (mine) – he uses this phrase three times. Replace ‘white’ with ‘conservative’ and you’ll know what he’s talking about.
He also dismisses the idea that public stations balance things out (I don’t listen to talk radio, so I’ll give him this one) on the grounds that conservative shows are so much more prevalent, and that public radio is not so one-sided. And then…

“Yet my thinking has evolved over the last two years, and I've now concluded that, in a way, public radio is liberal. The tags ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ reflect not just what you think but how you think, I've come to understand.”

“Liberals tend to view the world with open minds; conservatives tend to view the world with closed minds. Liberals like to hear all sides of an issue; conservatives like to hear just their side of an issue. Liberals like discussions; conservatives like rants.
In this context, the conservative charge that newspapers are liberal makes sense. Newspapers perform a liberal activity: namely, reporting all sides of an issue.
Yes, I'm oversimplifying. Some conservatives sport open minds; in other words, some conservatives think in a liberal style. At the same time, some liberals sport closed minds; in other words, some liberals think in a conservative style. What's more, many people think conservatively sometimes and liberally other times.
But as a rough rule, conservatives think conservatively, and liberals think liberally.”

I hear this kind of thing way too often. The people who have open rather than closed minds, the people who like to discuss rather than argue, the people who think the right way, are the ones who already agree with me.

Maybe he should start reading blogs. Of course he can’t do that in the car.

Leaving aside the question of what ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ really mean (perhaps a later post), here’s my problem. When bopping around the ‘sphere, I find a lot more bloggers who are what I would term conservative, and most of them are pretty reasonable. Blogging is a different medium, so maybe that accounts for it, but I’d like to find some liberal bloggers who are equally reasonable. Right now, I’m only aware of people like Kos and the nuts at Democratic Underground. So if you know of any, please pass them along.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Apologies to those of you who come to Mister Pterodactyl first for Packers news. I sleep in the daytime and I completely forgot that the draft was this weekend.

So, cornerbacks with the first two picks. Handwriting on the wall regarding McKenzie? I hope not, but it doesn't look good. About that, a couple thoughts for Mike. First, cornerbacks do not make personnel decisions (I've read that he's unhappy that some coach or other didn't get promoted - unconfirmed). Second, and more importantly, you may believe that your play warrants more money and you may be right. You're a gem; I've thought so since you were a rookie. But you signed a contract. If the team isn't willing to renegotiate, live with it. You'll get another chance.

DT with their third pick. The guy looks good and we could use some help on the line. 6'6", 330 lbs, 5.0 40 yd dash, 32" vertical, benches 510. Showoff.

Fourth pick, a punter. I hate it when they draft punters that high, even when he's the best in the nation (Ray Guy award, 42.2 yd average). He'd better be great.

Finally, no surprise that we got defensive players first. We might have added to our receiver corps or OL; the former came on strong last season but could still be better, the latter is fantastic but won't stay together much longer. But Eli was already gone and so was Lee Evans, and the D needed shoring up. Stay tuned, sports fans.

UPDATE: Another gigantic DT and a center on the second day. Traded away a bunch of picks to move up spots.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
While I'm on the subject (and lemme tell you, it feels good to get back to it), have you noticed that the norks, while saying all the right things regarding negotiations, are nevertheless referring to 'freezing' their nuclear programs? The term currently in use on our side is CVID, or Complete Verifiable Irreversible Disarmament. See the difference?
Further, notice that NK is still using the same language: 'nuclear deterrent,' 'hostile US policy,' etc.

I'm all for negotiations on the grounds that it doesn't hurt to talk. Sadly though, talk is all we're going to do, because what's acceptable to us will never be acceptable to them. And vice versa.

An explosion at the rail station at Ryongchon, in the NW corner of North Korea. Initial reports put the death toll at 3000; later reports are much lower, but you know the norks. Mucho information at NK Zone.

Kim Jong-Il's special train brought him back from China just hours before the explosion. His security routinely plans multiple itineraries to confuse potential enemies. Hundreds of soldiers and schoolchildren were still at the station when the explosion occurred, apparently for a 'welcome ceremony' that would never happen but enhanced the illusion that Kim was still coming.

So, was it an accident, or an assassination?

Mister Pterodactyl has an alibi.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
I got this article emailed to me with the entreaty “dude, fisk this asshole.”
Having read the article, I immediately thought of John Stuart Mill and a quote from the first page of Utilitarianism: “the mere enunciation of such an absurdity renders refutation superfluous.” But hey, let’s give it the old college try.

The warmup: "Here is a tip for President Bush: Next time you endeavor to justify the violent occupation of Iraq, you might want to avoid using phrases like, 'We're not an imperial power. We're a liberating power.'
That was the line the president adopted in the prime time press conference that was organized this week as part of the latest of his administration's uninspired attempts to calm concerns about the killings, kidnappings and related crises in Iraq."

Violent occupation. Uninspired attempts. Everybody see where he’s coming from?

The money shot (early – 3rd graf): "Unfortunately, the old rule applies: When you have to say you aren't an imperialist, you almost certainly are one. And when you have to say that you are a liberating power, you almost certainly are not in the liberation business."
If you say you’re not an imperialist, you’re an imperialist. Got it? [So what if you say you are an imperialist?]

A little follow-up: "And claiming that the occupation of Iraq is not an act of imperialism is as absurd as referring to that occupation as an act of liberation."

From the Oxford American Dictionary (2001):
Imperialism – a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force.
I’m a little surprised at the mildness of this definition. I’ve always associated the word imperialism with the concept of empire-building, and I consider that permanence is characteristic of it. Fair?
You could, if you want to, be really cynical and believe that the administration never intends to fully turn over power in Iraq, that it’ll become a sort of perpetual protectorate (or possession) and not a sovereign state. That would be imperialistic. You might think that Mr. Nichols is just that cynical, but wait:

"Talk about the liberation of Iraq will ring true when Iraqis choose their own leaders and take genuine control of their own affairs."
So he does expect that we’re leaving, eventually. But then:

"Until then, Iraq will remain a country that is under the occupation of an imperialist power. Nothing the president says will make that imperialism any less real nor any less offensive to Iraqis and to thinking Americans."
Hmmm. The Iraqis have not been liberated because their country is under occupation, and occupation is an act of imperialism. Okay then. But have we extended our power and/or influence? If anything, we’ve reduced it, at least for the duration of our imperialistic stay. After that, maybe we have a good ally where there used to be an enemy. That would be something, but it’s hardly certain (and Nichols is right about the French helping us with the Revolution, but less than a decade later President Adams was considering declaring war on them).
While I'm on this, will it still be imperialism after we leave?

Liberate – set someone free from a situation, esp. imprisonment or slavery, in which their liberty is severely restricted.
- free (a country, city, or people) from enemy occupation.
- Release (someone) from a state or situation that limits freedom of thought or behavior.

We’ve already liberated Iraq as per the third definition. But since, according to Nichols, we’re 1) imperialist occupiers, but 2) he expects that we’ll be handing power back to the Iraqis, we’re going to liberate Iraq again under the second definition. Hell, we’re freeing Iraq twice!

I’m having two problems, really. One, I just can’t take this guy very seriously. Two, I worked off a lot of anger ranting about the Scheer column (scroll down). Let me tell you, earlier drafts of that post were a lot harsher.
Scheer had a lot of anger, and it showed through his insulting language (“US-financed quisling local government”) and his citing of other Bush evildoing (it’s all about oil, abandoned the Israeli-Palestinian situation, etc). In contrast Nichols has vague annoyance mixed with moral vanity and some wonderfully soft and fuzzy logic.

There’s no getting around it. I’m going to have to resort to…verse!

You’ve got all that oil underneath your sand
We’ll take all we can carry;
We’ve been your oppressors during our stay
It’s gotten kind of scary;
We came, invaded, occupied your land
But we don’t plan to tarry;
We’re imperialists, but it’s okay,
It’s only temporary!

Phew. The muse is not on her game today.

Monday, April 19, 2004
Just some comments on yesterday’s news:

The local paper runs a Sunday feature with stories about local teachers. The intro starts:
“The notion of having a high-quality teacher in every classroom is regarded by some education reformers as the single factor that would do the most to close the academic gap between white and black, rich and poor, that is such a crucial issue in Milwaukee and across the United States.”I’m all for high-quality teachers, but seems to me what you really need are parents who care about education. If the parents don’t care, the kids won’t care. And if the kids don’t care, how much of a difference can the teacher make?
[I can think of no way for the state to get parents to care, so I guess promoting teaching is the best they can do. Also, I don’t have any kids. Grain-of-salt alert.]

And then there’s this:
“A group dedicated to building the Counter Clinton Library -- a rebuttal to the Clinton Presidential Library -- has been granted status as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.
Counterlibe Corp. of Washington, D.C., received word this month from the IRS that it had received the tax-exempt status to pursue its goal of responding to what it sees as "propaganda" planned for the official $160 million presidential library, which is scheduled to open November 18 in Little Rock.”
I’ve said before that Clinton-hatred was just as virulent as Bush-hatred is. Here’s evidence. This is so stupid I can’t believe I’m wasting my time writing about it. The only reason it’s getting posted is because it’s not worth erasing.

Also, an AP story: “EU criticizes Bush endorsement of Sharon’s plans for Israeli settlements:”
At first I thought they were unhappy because Israel isn’t moving out of the West Bank, or because Bush agrees with Sharon on the ‘right of return.’ But actually the EU foreign ministers are distressed that Israel is unilaterally (there’s that word again) beginning to implement the road map. The map requires Israel to withdraw troops from occupied zones and freeze settlements. In return, the Palestinians are supposed to crack down on terrorist groups. Instead, Israel is partially implementing the first step by removing settlements (granted in only part of the area required). Couldn’t the Europeans and Palestinians view this as a positive first step? Then the Palestinians could reciprocate and at least part of the plan would be in place, for everybody to get used to while other negotiations go on.
Instead, they’re critical because Israel is going ahead and starting without them. I sense that 'internationalism' is getting a little out of hand in Europe. [It also occurs to me that their pique could be due to the fact that the Palestinians will never be able to hold up their end, even assuming they want to.]

Saturday, April 17, 2004
Anybody out there use Bravenet? I'm trying to figure out what some of these stats mean. As of right now, there have been 6 new visitors and 1 'returning' visitor today, but a total of 13 hits. I assume that 'new' means new today, so that one returner didn't visit 6 times already. Can someone advise?

While I'm at it, how can my site be a referrer? Someone going to archive pages? Seems kind of silly.
Friday, April 16, 2004
I think I’ve identified the problem with my war-justification essay. I forgot my first rule: identify first principles. Here, therefore, are the premises my support is based on.

One: I believed then and believe now that Iraq still had WMDs, or at least the ability to produce them. [I’m sure Hussein rid himself of the bulk of them, but the remainder may have been hidden in the desert or smuggled into Syria.] He stonewalled the inspectors for over ten years, and the international will to maintain sanctions was fading. Once the UN finally gave up for good, the heat would be off and Hussein would be back in business. [Since the war started, we’ve learned of the rampant corruption going on at the UN concerning the humanitarian aid programs. This provides another possible explanation for Hussein’s behavior. However since I didn’t know about it a year ago it doesn’t count for my purposes here.]

Two: none of the methods for pressuring Hussein had any serious effect. If there were options beyond sanctions and diplomatic pressure (and an occasional pinprick), they were never tried or even suggested, as far as I know. The UN completely failed to enforce its will.

Three: I believe that Hussein, newly paroled international pariah, would sooner or later have malefacted again. Perhaps this is hard to believe; he has no more in common with Islamoterrorists than with us, and he could very well kick back and enjoy his palaces for the rest of his life. But eventually those WMDs would have, one way or another, found their way into the hands of somebody who would use them. [Consider his support for Palestinian terrorists and his own predilection for torment.]

Four: chasing and killing members of al Qaeda and related groups is fine, but as long as Muslims are living in repressive theocracies (Iran, Saudi Arabia) or fascist dictatorships (Syria, Iraq), or being urged on into self-immolation (the Palestinians, by all their neighbors), there will just be more and more like them. The Islamic world used to be at the forefront of human knowledge and culture. Now it is stagnant (remember Mahathir’s speech?) and as long as that’s true you’re going to see a lot of angry young men with nothing to do but listen to their local clerics. And some of those clerics ain’t preaching truth and love.

By invading Iraq we defanged Hussein for good, forestalled the danger of Iraqi WMDs finding their way onto the int’l market, avenged the paper tiger that is the UN, and (if the reconstruction goes well) planted a seed in the Mideast to encourage democracy and a culture of knowledge and progress.
If you believe that one or more of my premises are false then you might consistently also believe that the war was wrong. If you don’t, then how do you defend your position?

Postscript: I think the first premise is the most likely to be challenged. My defense can be found here: “There was good reason to believe it was there. It was there in 1991. It was still there in 1998, when the inspectors were kicked out. Why should we believe that it was no longer there in 2003? Why would Hussein pretend? Don't tell me there was no proof; it was Hussein's task to provide proof. Why didn't he?” [Note: it is inaccurate to say the inspectors got kicked out; they left on their own after continual resistance from the regime.]

Other Postscript: ‘malefacted’ isn’t a real word.

Apparently, the three Japanese hostages in Iraq have been freed. Outstanding, and by the way congratulations to Prime Minister Koizumi for not faltering.

One question. I read an article yesterday (sorry, no link) that said the youngest of the three, Noriaki Imai, 18 years old, was a recent high school grad who went to Iraq to study the effects of depleted uranium. Now, what is a 'recent high school grad' doing that for? It implies that he's really very bright, but if he was that bright maybe he'd realize that he shouldn't be doing it while a war is in progress.

[Hey, maybe it wasn't the long-term effects on the population he was studying, maybe it was the near-term effects on armor and hardened defensive structures. That would explain it.] Seems like there should already be extensive military studies of that, though. He could have stayed home and Googled it.

In other Asia news, Kim Jong-Il has apparently still not been gnawed to death by rabid weasels. I'm waaaiting.
You know, it doesn't have to be weasels. Ferrets would be okay too. Or how about a hodgepodge of various rodents? No rats though. Cliche.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
I try to check my comments section regularly, but sometimes I miss one. I wish Haloscan had some kind of alert system. This one was pointed out to me. To my post of April 9th (just scroll down), regarding civilian casualties in Iraq, David says:

The Americans will just say what they should say, something like: "We're really sorry if noncombatants were hurt, but we're doing our best." And the terrorists will just lie. In that neck of the woods, I wouldn't trust the word of anyone but the Americans.

I was puzzled at the phrasing, “the Americans,” but the email address indicates that David lives in Australia. I forget that this Internet doohickey is worldwide. So, welcome to my friends from down under, and say hello to Tim Blair for me.

David’s comment gave me a thought: why is it that American officials are trustworthier than our enemies? I’m going to suggest two reasons.
One, while the insurgents aren’t exactly terrorists (based on my own not-so-clear definition), they are using tactics that do not inspire trust. Guerrilla tactics in an urban setting: look like a civilian, use civilians as cover, force your opponent (that is, us) to risk destroying homes and mosques.
Two, and stay with me on this one, the insurgents don’t have anyone to answer to. Their goal is chaos. Their goal is to prevent the creation of a democratic government. They aren’t trying to win friends. American leaders, and the leaders of other coalition nations, do have someone to answer to. They have constituencies. If they get out of line, if it turns out they’re lying to us, if a sufficient number of us believe they’re lying to us, they’ll be voted out (just ask Aznar, and note that Bush, Blair, and Howard all face elections in the next twelve months). Be cynical if you want to, but democracy works. Our foes in Iraq don’t have to worry about that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Got an article mailed to me. Can't link to it, but here are the main points:

A University of Illinois research team is working on turning pig manure into a form of crude oil that could be refined to heat homes or generate electricity.
The thermochemical conversion process uses intense heat and pressure to break down the molecular structure of manure into oil. It's much like the natural process that turns organic matter into oil over centuries, but in the laboratory the process can take as little as a half-hour.
Zhang predicted that one day a reactor the size of a home furnace could process the manure generated by 2,000 hogs at a cost of about $10 per barrel.

So, if pig manure can be converted into oil, what about cow manure? Doggy doo-doo? Those chunks in the litterbox?

I look forward to the day when I get a paycheck from Exxon every time I flush the toilet.
Monday, April 12, 2004
The local paper ran a column yesterday by LAT writer Robert Scheer. Here it is. [registration required but free]

Here’s the thing: I have HAD IT with this. People call President Bush divisive. His presidency may be, but that’s only half of it. There are a large number of very vocal critics in this country who are willing to ascribe the worst possible motives to any action, to declare catastrophe in the wake of any setback, to denounce any accomplishment as unimpressive and over hyped. You know who you are.

The same thing happened to President Clinton, but he didn’t have a photo-finish election followed by a botched recount procedure. He also didn’t have an enormous terrorist attack inside our own borders. Instead he had eight years of post-Cold War, dot-com bubble honeymoon. All he had to do was play get-along with the rest of the world, which is what he did, so his critics couldn’t be so strident. Bush hasn’t had that luxury.

You know who you are. And let me tell you something: you’re the divisive ones. You’re the ones that make dialogue impossible. You’re the ones that reduce politics in this country to partisan mud slinging. Let me tell you one more thing: the only people who care what you think, the only people who are really listening, are the ones who already agree with you. You aren’t accomplishing a God damn thing.
Whew. Just had to get that off my chest.

When you’re blogging, no one can interrupt you.

Last night I checked my blog for new comments and noticed a strange uptick in visits. On a Sunday; unusual. And wasn't there some big deal holiday this weekend? Investigating, I found this.

So thanks to Mr. Den Beste. I'm particularly pleased because, as I've mentioned before, I'm very impressed with his writing. Had I known earlier I would have some new stuff ready to go, however my brain's been all over the place lately and I'm coming up with new ideas faster than I can write them down.
New visitors, welcome. Hey, throw me a little feedback.

While I'm thinking about it, I'd been meaning to add a few new links myself. The Politburo Diktat is a newsblog with a humorous twist. Omni is more of a personal blog, but I enjoy her rants. Also she thinks she has superpowers, but only when she's sleeping. Jonathan Ichikawa is a philosophy grad student who writes whatever he's thinking about (and like me, it's often politics). Sometimes, though, he gets into philosophical stuff that's just a little over my head, which is how I like it. Finally, IMAO is pretty well known and pretty funny.

Finally some company for Old Whig and Hot Abercrombie Chick. These are all blogs that I check in with regularly (that's why they're up there). Enjoy.
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Speaking of Rantingprofs (last post), this still has me chuckling. Go take a look, and let me know who you'd pick. [Make sure to check the comments to see mine.]
From this Slate article:

"This was not a 'threat report,' " [Condi Rice] said. It "did not warn of any coming attack inside the United States." Later in the hearing, she restated the point: "The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says Bin Laden would like to attack the United States."
To call this distinction "academic" would be an insult to academia.

Now imagine the following news story:
“August 26, 2001: A White House spokesman announced today that the United States has invaded the nation of Afghanistan. Early this morning, aircraft from the 123rd Air Wing* stationed in Hamburg, Germany bombed several sites in Afghanistan that are believed to be strongholds of al Qaeda, a terrorist organization that has been under suspicion for several acts of terror in recent years including the African embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole. The bombings were followed by waves of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division, who moved quickly to secure the areas surrounding the camps. Several hundred alleged al Qaeda members are already in custody, including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the group.
In addition, Special Forces troops have seized a dozen al Qaeda members in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, and an undisclosed number of foreign nationals in the United States have been arrested on suspicion of ties to the group.
While answering reporters’ questions, the spokesman quoted intelligence reports indicating that al Qaeda was planning to attack the United States. ‘We have no concrete proof that an attack is imminent or even in the preparation stage, but we do know that al Qaeda would really, really like to hit us on our own turf. We felt that waiting for more evidence was just too risky.’
The White House declined to comment on whether Yemen or the UAE was cooperating with the US, or if Pakistan had given permission for American military aircraft to cross its airspace.”

*Fictional unit

UPDATE: No sooner do I write this than I find somebody else doing it better. Two somebodies, in fact. Via Rantingprofs.
Friday, April 09, 2004
Just a quickie today. I’m thinking about the competing memes running through public discourse these days.
One: Iraqis generally oppose the coalition’s occupation. The steady stream of attacks over the past year is evidence of this, and the current fighting shows that they’re getting fed up. We should leave as soon as possible (‘put an end to this illegal invasion’).
Two: Iraqis generally are happy to be rid of Saddam’s government and support the occupation and rebuilding efforts. The insurgency and recent uprising are the work of Baathist remnants and Shiites trying to block the new government and restore the former regime under a new leader or install Islamist Sharia law.

The other day in Fallujah, insurgents fired on US Marines from a mosque. Unable to draw them out, the Marines called an airstrike and the mosque was hit with either one or two bombs. Witnesses claim up to 40 civilian deaths (there has been no official announcement of the toll).
I imagine the following conversation:
“The rebels were firing from a mosque. Our people are trying to preserve their holy sites, but we can’t if they’re going to do that. It’s their fault.”
“If we hadn’t invaded their country, these things wouldn’t be happening at all. We shouldn’t be there. It’s our fault.”

I return, as I have been all week, to trying to articulate a complete argument defending the invasion. So far I’ve only addressed peripheral issues (two examples). I call them peripheral because they don’t address the main issue: this was something we chose to do, not something we were forced to do. It’s an important distinction.

I guess this wasn’t such a quickie after all. Two final questions:

Of those 40 civilian casualties, how many were noncombatants? How can you tell?

How many insurgents are we actually facing here? How many followers does this Sadr have?

Okay, four questions.

Thursday, April 08, 2004
I don't know about you, but I hate listening to prepared remarks. Condi's got a reputation as a very smart woman, but as she reads this speech I wish she sounded more confident and relaxed.

UPDATE: Much better without the preparation.
Things have been a little too serious around here lately, so let's talk about Star Trek.

I mentioned earlier the DS9 marathon on TV. This has become my favorite incarnation of Trek. Individual episodes tended to be less exciting than the other shows (at least in the early seasons). But as DS9 involved a space station instead of a ship, and therefore required stories to come to it rather than the other way around, it got much more deeply into the cultures and politics of the surrounding planets. First the Bajorans and Cardassians, later Klingons and the various races of the Dominion. It started out rocky, and the story arc of the finale was very disappointing, but in the middle it became some of the best science fiction on TV.

I had a thought while watching that never occurred to me before (maybe it's occurred to some of you). The reason Star Trek was so popular for the 'nerd' set wasn't just the science fiction. It was the fact that, most of the time, it was the engineers or science officers who saved the day. Just in the few episodes I saw over the last couple days, Chief O'Brien was always the guy on the spot and the guy who solved all the problems.

Just tired of doing politics and religion all the time. However Condi Rice just started her statement to the commission. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
No time to post about recent events in Iraq. Old Whig has some stuff.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
No posts the last couple days. Perhaps you’ve noticed. I’ve got stuff in the pipeline, but I’ve been busy watching the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marathon on Spike TV. No time to write.

I did take some time off from watching TV to rent a video. I saw Matrix: Revolutions, finally. When this film came out it got panned big time in the ‘sphere, and I can see why. In the context of the whole trilogy I think this movie works, but on it’s own it lacked the martial arts magic of the others. Instead, endless scenes of machines fighting people with machines. Gimme that Matrix magic. [I have more thoughts, but I’m not gonna ruin it for somebody else.]

Here’s what I’m wondering. Every VHS rental (I don’t have a DVD player) starts with this disclaimer: ‘this movie has been modified from its original version; it has been formatted to fit your screen.’ How do they know how big my screen is?
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Unborn Victims of Violence Act (passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last week): anyone who injures or "causes the death" of a "child in utero" during a violent federal crime will get the same punishment "provided under Federal law for that conduct had that injury or death occurred to the unborn child's mother." The bill defines a "child in utero" as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." Once enacted, the law will double the penalty for anyone who harms or kills a fetus in the course of beating or killing a pregnant woman. Further, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the prosecution … of any person for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf, has been obtained." [Plagiarism alert: every part of the preceding paragraph was lifted from various sections of this Slate article by William Saletan]

Some abortion rights supporters opposed this bill on the grounds that it could be used to chip away at the Roe vs. Wade decision and eventually make abortion illegal. I think that’s a mistake.

Abortion rights supporters always use the ‘language of choice;’ pro-choice (not pro-abortion), a woman’s right to choose, etc. But a woman who is assaulted and beaten and loses her baby as a result did not make a choice. She had it taken away from her.

If it’s immoral to force a woman to have a baby (by denying her the right to an abortion), isn’t it also immoral to prevent a woman from having a baby by forcing her to have an abortion? Isn’t that essentially what’s happened in the assault scenario? Only a pregnant woman can decide to abort her pregnancy. Only a pregnant woman can decide not to abort her pregnancy. [Ideally, of course, there’d be a man and a woman making the decision together. Ideally there’d be no unwanted pregnancies at all and so no abortions either, but we know reality.]

Slippery-slope arguments do not impress me. I fall well within the pro-choice camp, but when a pregnancy is ended by violence (and there have been a number of such cases recently, the Laci Peterson incident is only the most well known) the pain caused goes far beyond that of an assault victim; the grief experienced by expecting parents is the same as that of actual parents who lose a child. While the proposed amendment to this bill, which would merely have altered the wording, not the content, may have been preferable to those Senators who are pro-choice, the bill in either form is a good one.
Saturday, April 03, 2004
Lileks delivers a smackdown to John Kerry. Bigtime. (A right, a left, another left…he’s on the top ropeOOOOOOOH, that’s gotta hurt)

You know, I really hoped that the Democrats would produce someone I could take seriously (see here and here). Someone who was taking the war seriously, so I could make my choice based on other issues. Sadly, that’s not the case.

I gotta wonder if Kerry really believes what he’s saying. I mean, I remember the rush to the left when the Deaniacs started making a fuss. Who knows what Kerry and Edwards might have done or said had Dean not been around to embody liberal anger? Doubtful that it would have been a lot different, but maybe somewhere in the rhetoric (Bush lied, Bush took us into the wrong war, he’s doing it wrong, he’s put America at greater risk, he alienated our allies) there’d be something like “we can not go back to the policies of the past, that emboldened terrorists and enemies of America. We must go forward, and continue to give them and the world notice that if you attack America, America will get you. No matter what we have to do, no matter what we have to endure, America will get you in the end.”

Actually, that’s pretty good. Maybe Kerry needs a speechwriter.

See, it’s the lack of any sort of admission by the Democrats that, while diplomacy and consensus are great, they can’t always be counted on. Our allies can’t always be counted on. Military force, sad as it may be, has to be an option. Especially now. Negotiations aren’t going to interest guys that fly airplanes into buildings, and sanctions aren’t going to deter them.

I desperately wish Kerry knew that. I wish I could believe he knows it. I wish I could at least believe he was lying to impress his base. But I can’t. Vote Bush.

That said, let’s badmouth him a little. I prefer him because I’m basically a one-issue voter this year, but I still have a couple problems.
First, I perceive a lack of candor toward, and trust in the American people from the administration. Every politician spins, but there’s a time when you’ve got to give your people some straight talk, not just demand that they follow along behind you. Gee Dub has missed a few opportunities to do this. Odd, since he’s reputed to be a straight talker.
The second problem actually stems from that ‘straight talking.’ I generally scoff at the accusation that he’s alienated our allies, but there have been times when a little more discretion would have been appropriate. Case in point: the Kyoto treaty would have died a quiet death had Bush simply done nothing (the Lileks column above addresses this too), but he loudly announced that he was scrapping it thus angering pretty much everybody. A small thing, maybe, but also a lack of sophistication.
Finally, something more substantial. I generally find myself agreeing more with the Democrats on some issues, and sure enough: I am greatly disturbed by Bush’s support for a marriage amendment, and by his opposition to abortion rights. On these, though, I think we can weather four more years.
Fixed the permalink problem!
Friday, April 02, 2004
Chock full of new stuff today. I was talking to a guy who made the following claim: we failed to kill Osama (prior to 9-11) partly because whenever we launched a cruise missile, CNN reported the launch before it reached it's target, allowing Osama to see the broadcast and move out before it arrived. I disagreed, arguing that the missile wouldn't take that long. I was wrong about that; there are four types of Tomahawks with ranges between 700 and 1350 miles, and they fly at about 550 miles per hour, so it could have taken 1.5 - 2.5 hours for a missile to hit. I can't verify whether the CNN part is true (seems iffy), but this raises a couple questions for me.
I wrote earlier that one factor in chasing bin Laden was the time required to get a ship into position. In order to be close enough, it would probably have to be near the coast of India or Pakistan in the Arabian Sea. So: was there no way to keep a ship in the area, close enough to Afghanistan to strike immediately (assuming he was in Afghanistan)? If not, why? If there was a way, why didn't we, and what does that say about our commitment to that mission?
Again, this was pre-9-11, when the issue didn't seem as important. Still wondering, though.
The writer, Leon Wieseltier, was in the audience for the Supreme Court hearing for the Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow case.
Reading the article, though, I’d almost think he’d been reading my stuff too. A few highlights:

“But what kind of friendship for religion is it that insists that the words "under God" have no religious connotation? A political friendship, is the answer. And that is precisely the kind of friendship that the Bush administration exhibited in its awful defense of the theistic diction of the Pledge. The solicitor general stood before the Court to argue against the plain meaning of ordinary words. In the Pledge of Allegiance, the government insisted, the word "God" does not refer to God.”

“The distinction between religion and morality was championed by religious thinkers in all the monotheistic faiths, who worried that religion would be reduced to morality. Now we must worry that for many Americans morality is being reduced to religion.”

“It is one of the admirable features of atheism to take God seriously. Newdow's reply [to a question from Justice Breyer] was unforgettable: "I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' which is exactly what I think. I deny the existence of God." The sound of those words in that room gave me what I can only call a constitutional thrill. This is freedom.”

“The argument that a reference to God is not a reference to God is a sign that American religion is forgetting its reasons. The need of so many American believers to have government endorse their belief is thoroughly abject. How strong, and how wise, is a faith that needs to see God's name wherever it looks?”

In case you're wondering, the actual title of the article is "What America Can Learn From It's Atheists." So I'm not just making fun of you.
Thursday, April 01, 2004
You're not gonna believe this one.

WASHINGTON D.C. – The State Department made a startling announcement at an early morning press conference today: the U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, will ask the Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the government of North Korea illegitimate because it’s ruling elite has been replaced by robot simulacra.

State Department spokesman Andrew Scott told reporters that the first hint of something strange came from James L. Chang, professor of East Asian studies at UCLA and North Korea expert. “Every year, the U.S. and South Korea hold joint military exercises, and every year the North Koreans complain about it,” Scott said. “What nobody realized before is that over the last 25 years, the protests from North Korea have been exactly the same, word-for-word, every year.”
Professor Chang had mentioned this in passing to an analyst at the National Reconnaissance Office, who asked not to be named in this article. That analyst, whose job includes scrutinizing satellite images and spectrographic photos of North Korea, had forgotten Chang’s comment until he too noticed something odd.
“The spectrography over Pyongyang was wrong. Human bodies have to eliminate waste products, and like all other mammals those waste products release a certain amount of methane into the atmosphere. The methane traces around Pyongyang were considerably smaller than expected for a city that size.”
At a loss to explain the anomaly, the analyst brought it up at a staff meeting, piquing the interest of a colleague who was acquainted with David Hawk, author of the recent report on North Korean gulags for the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. “He and Dave had been out to dinner, and Dave was telling all these stories he’d heard from refugees. Some of them were pretty wild.” The wildest stories involved mysterious factories where nobody ever entered or left. “They had all kinds of theories about what got built in there. One guy even had pictures. Looked like that assembly line from ‘Attack of the Clones,’” a reference to the latest Star Wars installment.
Other documents produced by recent defectors were more interesting. One man, a former low-level functionary in the Food Ministry, provided partial records showing the distribution of foreign food aid. Those records show that very little of the aid reached Pyongyang. Pages of the report were missing, but the defector was certain that the section regarding North Korea’s largest cities was complete.
“So here you’ve got nothing going into the city, and nothing coming out, and yet there’s all these healthy-looking people walking around.” The NRO stepped up satellite surveillance of Pyongyang. Photographs are classified, but a spokesman described what they showed. “As the resolution gets better you start seeing…oddly shaped limbs, missing limbs, even people sitting motionless in the street and never getting up. But later you’d see the same people and they’d look perfectly normal again.”
The breakthrough came when a smuggled videotape of a rare public appearance by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il reached Seoul. It showed a government official, seated behind Kim, removing and reattaching his own left hand. Wires and metal plating are clearly visible.
“They’re androids.” Said Scott. “It’s absolutely unbelievable. Their human-simulacrum technology may be even more advanced than our own. Here we thought they were making bombs with those nuclear fuel rods, but all the time they were using them to power state-of-the-art robots.”
KCNA, the official news network of North Korea, carried this statement denouncing the U.S. position: “this new lie is merely another attempt by the United States to weaken and dominate the DPRK. We will continue to strengthen our army and enhance the nuclear deterrent in order to counter the American threat.” DPRK is the official name of North Korea.
The South Korean Grand National Party also criticized the U.S. “The hostility of the Bush administration to North Korea is well known,” a spokesman said. “But we will not allow anything, even the revelation that our cousins to the north are robots, to deter us from eventual peaceful reunification.”
Activists for human rights in North Korea took a more positive view of developments, but most of their comments are not printable.

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