2/19/2005

New Address For Disintegrator

I have given up on Blogger and switched to using Movable Type. Thus, Disintegrator can now be found at http://www.disintegrator.net. Please update your links accordingly.

This Blogspot site will remain here for some time for trackback/archival purposes.

2/16/2005

Disintegrator Broken

Blogger broke my blog on Tuesday and can't seem to fix it. Please go to the new Disintegrator page from now on.

2/15/2005

Blogger Problems

Blogger is having issues, which is why Disintegrator looks a mess. Hoping they get it fixed soon.

Blogger Bugs

Blogger is having technical issues today, so blogging will be light.

Pope-a-Dope

Inspired by Martini Pundit...

The Pope pulled through his recent hospitalization, much to the the chagrin of Las Vegas books...

With odds against the pope?s survival set as high as 12-1, Las Vegas? biggest sports books took a massive financial hit last weekend when the ailing pontiff pulled off a huge upset against his heavily favored archrival, death.

?No question, it?s a catastrophic loss,? said Bally?s sports book director Tony Silvestro. ?You?ve got a frail and gaunt 84-year-old man with massive health problems and he finally gets the flu. It?s like a gift from God for oddsmakers. I?ve never been more confident of a betting line.?

Death opened as a whopping 16-1 favorite, but early betting on the pope gradually lowered the line to 12-1. A few lower-tier casinos dropped the line until it began attracting equal dollars from death and pope bettors, but the normally cautious big casinos felt death?s victory was such a sure thing that they allowed themselves to become overextended.
There's something darkly humorous about people in Las Vegas betting against the Pope. How'd you like to have to answer for that at the Pearly Gates?

St. Peter: It says here that you put five large on JP2 going down early.
Me: Well, yeah, but the Pats didn't cover the spread and I was behind.
St. Peter: You will be put to the flame. E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!

Anyhow, word on the street is that the Pope is in stable health, albeit very frail. The images of the Pope that are common today, slumping in his chair and mumbling inaudibly, are at odds with the images of his early papacy. John Paul was an avid skier and outdoorsman, as Lisa Ann Auerbach points out in "Pope on a Rope Tow"...
Pope John Paul II is widely known and revered by millions the world over as the spiritual guide and shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church. What is less well known is his history as a trailblazing two-planker. The Man in White ripped the Polish pow from the time the papacy was just a gleam in his eye until his mature years as the toast of the Vatican. In his younger days, JP2 was known as a megahiker, an avid kayaker, and a camper nonpareil. He preached in the woods, ate watery pudding for sustenance while surfing the backcountry, and repeatedly lost his prayer book in the wild. When asked, "Is it befitting a cardinal to ski?" his reply was, "What is unbefitting a cardinal is to ski badly."
JP2's term - twenty seven years - is the third-longest in the history of the Catholic Church, and he was the first Italian selected in over four and a half centuries. Rumors of his impending death to the contrary, he continues to defy (and impoverish) oddsmakers and has outlived just about everyone ever selected alongside him in a dead pool.

Five days after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, and while the attention of the world was focused on that tragedy, Mother Teresa quietly slipped out of life's back door. I believe that she chose that moment as a good time to go, sensing an opportunity to depart when her death would not become a spectacle. I always thought it was a classy exit, and in keeping with her character.

Part of me wonders if John Paul isn't waiting for a similar opportunity; leaning back on the ropes, letting Death punch himself out, and waiting for a moment of his own choosing. I'd like to think so. If anyone can take Death the distance, it's John Paul II.

You can bet on it.

2/14/2005

The Most Busted Name In News

Hat tip to BradBlog for spotting this one...

In a February 12th piece entitled "North Korea rallies support for Kim", CNN ran this photo, captioned "An aerial photo of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear plant outside of Pyongyang." It's the third image in the slideshow on the left side of the page.



Three days earlier, CNN ran a piece called "Kay, Carter urge caution on Iran" which featured this photo, captioned as "Satellite image of a suspected Iranian nuclear-related facility."



Now, I'm no expert on nuclear facility design, but what are the odds that nuclear facilities in two different nations would be laid out in identical fashion, down to the color of the terrain?

BradBlog looks at this and sees conspiracy...
Who is the source for these photos? Was it the same person in both instances? Were they supplied by someone who may have an interest in ginning-up fears over the two so-far unconquered players in Bush's "Axis of Evil"?

Or will it be another CNN staffer who steps forward again to take the fall for this one?

And finally, a question that has been asked all too frequently here over the past year: What the hell has happened to the media in this country? Are there simply no national media organizations left who know how to do the job of reporting accurately, responsibly and in such a way that doesn't send us to war again due to their utter failure to do their jobs correctly?! (Yes, Judith Miller of The New York Times, we're talking to you...but you're not the only one).
Now, where Brad sees government conspiracy, I see media incompetence. Brad seems to think that Bush's cronies fed these photos to the media to drum up support for the war, and CNN fell for it. I think that some CNN staffer looked at two photos that weren't identical and assumed they were of different facilities. If I put on my "I hate the media" hat, I could be convinced that some staffer intentionally cropped the photo to make one appear different from the other; perhaps because no photo of the real facility could be found.

What's funny about this is that regardless of whether Brad is correct or I am, CNN comes out looking like dopes. CNN wants to be "the most trusted name in news" but doesn't appear to spend much time fact-checking the information they're dispensing as news.

This is no scandal, to be sure, but it's an example of how sloppy the mainstream media can be.

2/12/2005

Eason Jordan Resigns

Eason Jordan's slander against the U.S. military appears to have caught up with him.

The red-faced news chief of CNN, Eason Jordan, resigned yesterday after making outrageous claims that American troops deliberately tracked down and killed certain journalists in Iraq.

Jordan put his foot in his mouth two weeks ago during a panel discussion at a world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland.

He startled his listeners when he said he believed that several journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq had been deliberately targeted.
This story's been percolating in the blogosphere ever since Mister Jordan initially made his remarks. It went under the radar of the mainstream media for quite some time until Howard Kurtz broke the silence in his Washington Post column. CNN tried to spin his statements, and the organization that hosted the event refused to release a videotape of his remarks.

Mister Jordan was probably just trying to score a few points with what he thought was an audience that would be receptive to such remarks. Indeed, some of the people who were at the event said that some members of the foreign press congratulated Mr. Jordan for his "bravery". In pandering to the audience in the room, Mister Jordan apparently never considered that someone might repeat his comments to a wider audience.

I think it's important to differentiate between what Mr. Jordan did and the dustup over Ward Churchill. It's appropriate that Mr. Jordan step down as head of CNN, because he presented his assertions as facts - he claimed to have specific knowledge of the U.S. military deliberately targeting journalists. A news organization's primary currency is credibility, and Mr. Jordan damaged his organizations credibility. Ward Churchill, on the other hand, was expressing an opinion. It was a repugnant opinion, to be sure, but I think that universities should be places where you hear opinions that don't necessarily dovetail with your own (it would be nice conservative opinions were given a warmer reception on campuses, but that is a rant for another time).

In short, Mr. Jordan lied, while Mr. Churchill merely said something that I disagree with. I don't hold either of them in high regard, but I will begrudgingly defend the latter while gleefully kicking the former down the stairs.

*boot*

2/11/2005

World Press Photo Contest

World Press Photo has announced the winners of its annual photo contest.

Some of these images are not easy to look at, but I encourage you to examine them all.

Another Bite of Sausage

There is an old quote that warns against watching politics or sausage being made. The same warning should apply to opinion polls; I worked in market research for a decade and it left me with an inherent distrust of opinion polls.

Still, when The Economist publishes one, I tend to suspend my disbelief. Being the best damn magazine on the planet carries a certain weight with me.

The survey in question is on American social attitudes. It seems to suggest that America is not lurching to the right, as some folks would have us believe:


The data is graphed a bit differently from most of the other presentations of such data I have seen, and it took me a moment to get my head around the visual representation. The two most interesting points are pointed out in the Economist piece:
By a huge 42-19% margin, Americans think they are more liberal than their parents. And this is borne out by most of the questions in panel 3. Set alongside the replies to an identical set of questions asked by Gallup in 1995-97, Americans seem less supportive of the death penalty and more tolerant of both marijuana and homosexuals. On economic issues, they look less favourably on trade unions, but the number who think they pay too much tax has dropped from 66% to 56%.
...
For some conservatives, these numbers may cause a fear which coincidentally provides their movement with much of its impetus: that, though they are winning elections, they are losing at least some of the culture wars. After all, gay marriage was not even a political issue ten years ago.
If we throw caution to the wind for a moment and take these numbers at face value, it presents a vexing paradox: Americans have moved to the left in the past ten years, yet the Republicans have secured control in a majority of state legislatures, governorships, the House, the Senate, and have won the Presidency twice.

I suspect that the answer is that there will always be a group of voters who vote against their general sociopolitical preference if there is an issue of significant importance at stake. In this most recent election, national security was probably that fulcrum; I don't think that John Kerry successfully made the case that he would be as hawkish on national security as many would like him to be.

In any event, general attitudes seem to be sliding leftwards over time. This should appear as a silver lining to those liberals watching with trepidation as the Republican stormfront thunders forward. Winning hearts and minds today means winning elections tomorrow.

Just One Thing...

Blogging will be light today, but I couldn't resist passing this along...

Citizens United has rented a billboard near where the Oscars will be taking place:



The billboard includes the text "4 More Years ... Thank You Hollywood!" It features pictures of Michael Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Affleck, Chevy Chase, Martin Sheen, Barbra Streisand and Sean Penn.

2/10/2005

A Correction

Several days ago, the blogosphere voiced it's dismay over the story of an unemployed woman in German who was faced with the choice of working in a brothel or losing her unemployment benefits.

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.

The waitress, an unemployed information technology professional, had said that she was willing to work in a bar at night and had worked in a cafe.
Not true, says Snopes, the internet premiere debunker of urban legends. Snopes details where the story originated and how it got mangled.
We were initially skeptical about the literal truth of the version reported in the English press, however, because the issue seemed to have received scant attention in the German press. In fact, the origin of this story was evidently an 18 December 2004 article published in the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung (also known as TAZ) which did not report that women in Germany must accept employment in brothels or face cuts in their unemployment benefits. (Although it claimed there had been "isolated cases" of such, it did not provide any source or documentation to back up that statement.)

The Tageszeitung merely presented the concept of brothel employment as a technical possibility under current law; it did not provide any actual cases of women losing their benefits over this issue. The article also quoted representatives from employment agencies as saying that while it might be possible for employment agencies to offer jobs as prostitutes to "long-term unemployed" women, they (the agencies) could not require anyone to work in a brothel. (The agencies noted that brothels used "other recruitment channels" anyway.)
I'm relieved to hear that it isn't happening, but I'm disappointed that my BS filters are so poorly calibrated that I didn't immediately recognize this story as hogwash. The Telegraph was the first English-language publication to carry the story, and I made the mistake of assuming that they wouldn't run with a story about a government program that was patently and completely false.

I stand corrected.

Hat tip to Big Sexy Kyle Beckley...

Border Patrol, Shmorder Patrol

The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday on President Bush's shameful retreat from the promise of 10,000 border agents required by the National Intelligence Reform Act.

Officially approved by Bush on Dec. 17 after extensive bickering in Congress, the National Intelligence Reform Act included the requirement to add 10,000 border patrol agents in the five years beginning with 2006. Roughly 80 percent of the agents were to patrol the southern U.S. border from Texas to California, along which thousands of people cross into the United States illegally every year.

But Bush's proposed 2006 budget, revealed Monday, funds only 210 new border agents.

The shrunken increase reflects the lack of money for an army of border guards and the capacity to train them, officials said.
The problem is not, as the Chronicle so generously puts it, a "lack of money." Rather, it is a misplacement of priorities. Perhaps we could get more people on the borders of our country if we weren't spending $100 million on the Polish military:
President Bush told President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland on Wednesday that he would ask Congress for $100 million to modernize the Polish military, part of a program of support for a new NATO ally that has more than 2,000 soldiers in Iraq.

The $100 million for military modernization was hinted at by the new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, during a brief stopover in Warsaw a week ago. "I don't get to write the checks in the American system," Mr. Bush cautioned. "The government - the Congress does that. But I get to put out requests."

Mr. Kwasniewski said the money was not a quid pro quo for Poland's troop presence in Iraq. But clearly, returning home with financial commitments from Mr. Bush will help him in a parliamentary debate about how long to remain in Iraq, at a time when opinion polls show that a clear majority of Poles want an end to the troops presence.
Of course, rooting out ludicrous budget items like the $100,000 for the Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog Weather Museum would probably shake loose quite a bit of money for border patrol agents as well.

President Bush, never one to forget Poland, is right to do what he can to help our allies. But there are times and situations in which America and her security must come first. Immigration in general is one of the weak points of this administration, and this latest development further serves to underline just how big the President's blind spot is on this issue.

One For the Gipper

RightPundit reminds us that yesterday was the first day of issue for the Ronald Reagan stamp pictured below:


I first started taking an interest in politics in the early years of Ronald Reagan's first term. Though I was far too young to have a sophisticated understanding of politics, I enjoyed listening to Ronald Reagan speak. He talked simply, directly, and confidently. In middle school, I was a fan of Ronald Reagan much in the same way that kids are fans of sports teams or rock stars.

It was Reagan that turned me on to politics, an interest that is with me to this day as this blog will attest. While I disagree with some of my conservative colleagues that Reagan's face should be on Mount Rushmore, I believe that Reagan was a very good president. I think he would not be displeased with the picture on the stamp.

2/09/2005

Damning With Faint Praise

A short piece in the Village Voice describes how Democrats are having a hard time getting...excited...about Howard Dean's impending coronation as DNC chair...

Democratic pols are trying to get it up for Howard Dean, but they are very confused when the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate says he "admires" Newt Gingrich more than Bill Clinton, and that Christian-right big Ralph Reed "created a real success" with the right, and how "Clinton led the Dems into complacency and defeat."
Check out these stellar endorsements from big names in the party.

Nancy Pelosi: "We look forward to whoever the members of the DNC choose."

Joe Lieberman: "He wasn't my first choice....if it's Howard, I'll go along."

John Kerry: "He's going to be a spokesman in certain ways. Obviously the chairman has to go to the Jefferson-Jackson dinners and other things."

Then there's this piece in The Hill, where House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggests that Dean not talk about policy matters.
“I don’t believe it is the party chair’s role to set the policy of the party. That is the role of the elected officials,” Hoyer told reporters yesterday.

“I think his job as party chairman is to ensure the party is organized well and ready to, in every district, contest the Republicans, every congressional district in America, every county and state and city in America, and that we raise sufficient finances to compete effectively.”

Acknowledging that he had some policy disagreements with the former presidential candidate, Hoyer nevertheless congratulated Dean on his impending election.
The excitement is palpable.

Empowering Parents to Snoop

Via Overlawyered...

The mother of a 14-year-old girl was concerned about a phone call that the girl got from her 17-year-old boyfriend, so she listened in on another line. The boyfriend talked about a robbery he had been involved with, and the mother called the police.

In December, the Washington Supreme Court threw out the boy's conviction because the mother's eavesdropping violated her daughter's privacy.

This judicial nonsense is being addressed by the Washington legislature:

Parents would be allowed to eavesdrop on their children's phone conversations or intercept their mail under a bill that went before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.

The law is being proposed in the wake of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that a mother violated Washington's privacy law by eavesdropping on her daughter's phone conversations.

Under House Bill 1178, a parent would not break the law by snooping on a child's phone calls and information a parent gleaned from the intercepted communications also could be used in court. Some critics have expressed concern about the bill.
Who could possibly oppose such a notion? Why, Democrats, of course.

House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Patricia Lantz (D-Gig Harbor) said that "We have a right of privacy that ought not be taken from a child unless you meet an extremely high burden, that the parents' violation of that right meets some greater good. How are we going to measure that?"

Committee Vice-Chair Brendan Williams (D-Olypmpia) questioned the need for parents to record their children's conversations, asking "Is that part of good parenting, part of a healthy family? Is it not a sign perhaps that the parent-child relationship is irretrievably broken some way?"

Then again, many Democrats oppose requiring minors to notify their parents before obtaining an abortion. If nothing else, we can admire them for being consistent in their position that parents have no business raising their own children.

What strikes me as "irretrievably broken" is the notion that parents have no business prying into their children's lives. Parental snooping is a tradition as time-honored as that of teenage boys shoving Playboy under their mattresses. Kids don't always tell their parents what they're up to, and it's a parent's responsibility to know. Parents should raise their children to be honest, trustworthy, and to keep their nose out of trouble. Blindly assuming that you've been successful in this regard is naivete' that borders on negligence.

Ronald Reagan said "Trust - but verify." He was talking about nuclear arms reductions, but it's sage advice for parents as well.

A New Source of Stem Cells?

Via The Corner...

The Toronto Star reports that researchers have found a new and fairly abundant source of stem cells.

The source: a region of the umbilical cord that holds an abundant supply of connective-tissue stem cells — the basic building blocks for the body's bone, fat and ligament tissues.

Known as mesenchymal cells, the bone-building brand of stem cells is the progenitor of all the body's connective tissues, which also include cartilage and some muscles.

They can be found in concentrations of about one in 10,000 cells in the bone marrow of young children, and one in 100,000 in adult marrow.

But in the umbilical cord jelly now being mined by the UofT team, the concentration is one in 300. Known as Wharton's Jelly, it surrounds the three umbilical cord blood vessels connecting the fetus and mother. The jelly helps prevent the vessels from kinking — much like a garden hose might — as the embryo floats about the womb.

The U of T team used donated cords from full-term pregnancies.
Obviously, the potential of these cells remains to be determined. Still, it's an encouraging sign that a plentiful source of these cells appears to be available and that harvesting them won't require the destruction of embryos.

Although I can't help but wonder if Kansas State University didn't beat them to the punch.

2/08/2005

Flight 93 Memorial Finalists

Via BlackFive...

The finalists have been selected for the Flight 93 National Memorial. There are five designs online for viewing, and I agree with BlackFive that design #4, "The Crescent of Embrace", is the best of the bunch. But take a look and decide for yourself.

I still haven't been to Somerset, but I think that I should like to go there before a memorial begins construction. I'd like to be able to remember it how it is today.

Sweet Sweet Litigation

I was on the Atkins diet for a while, and while I was on it I stopped using sugar in my coffee and started using Splenda. To me, and apparently to many other Americans, Splenda tastes better than sugar. Well, the sugar industry can't have that - the U.S. Sugar Association is suing Splenda's manufacturer.

This latest lawsuit, filed in December, hinges on “deceptive and/or misleading representations”, made by the sweetener firm in “advertisements and marketing terminology” to consumers, says the association.

Merisant, the US maker of tabletop sweetener Equal and NutraSweet and a competitor to Splenda, alleged in November that the product’s marketing slogan, “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar,” had mislead consumers into thinking the artificial sweetener was “natural.”

But McNeil Nutritionals asserts that sucralose starts off as pure cane sugar, and is then chemically altered in the manufacturing process to create a new compound with zero calories and 600 times sweeter than sugar.
The Sugar Association's website points out that Splenda is "created with chlorine and other chemicals" without mentioning that table salt is also created with chlorine. But, since salt doesn't compete with sugar, this isn't important.

Time was that sugar substitutes only competed with each other for market share, because none of them were particularly good. Sucralose, the sweetener in Splenda, is very good; so good that it's used in over 3,500 products and is cutting into sugar's market share. Hence, the lawsuit.

A Splenda spokesperson, had this to say: "From our perspective, whatever the outcome of the litigation, sucralose will still be made from sugar, and still taste like sugar."

2/07/2005

Senators Confirms Eason Remarks

Via Michelle Malkin...

Eason Jordan's accusation that the U.S. military is assassinating journalists was heard by two people whose credibility is not in doubt: Senators Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd.

I guess we won't need that transcript after all.

Who Said It?

Now here's a gem of a quote from 2002...

If you don't like privatizing Social Security and I don't like it very much, but you want to do something to try to increase the rate of return, what are your options? Well one thing you could do is to give people one or two percent of the payroll tax, with the same options that Federal employees have with their retirement accounts; where you have three mutual funds that almost always perform as well or better than the market and a fourth option to buy government bonds, so you get the guaranteed social security return and a hundred percent safety just like you have with Social Security.
Why, that's President Clinton, addressing the Democratic Leadership Council on December 3rd, 2002. Not a bad idea, Bill. Maybe someone will pick it up and run with it!

The full text of President Clinton's comments are at The Clinton Foundation.

Shut Up and Shovel the Money

Yahoo's political piece entitled Some Dems nervous as Dean resurges" has some interesting tidbits from ranking Democrats. Specifically, they seem to have some misgivings with regard to Howard Dean being the public face of the party:

"We're not looking for a spokesperson in the chairmanship," 2004 nominee John Kerry said on NBC.

Terry McAuliffe, current DNC chairman, says he gave Dean a two-hour presentation on what a party chairman does. "Your job is to raise money and do the mechanics," he said in an interview. "It is not your job ... to set policy."

In recent TV appearances, Dean offered his opinion on two Cabinet votes and disagreed with Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada on whether Antonin Scalia would be tolerable as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Reid later noted his constituency is "much larger" than the 447-member DNC. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said she thinks Dean "would take his lead from us."
While any political organization would be happy to have Dean's organizing ability, fundraising credentials and zealous supporters, all of these wonderful things come at a price - Dean's mouth. It's not clear to me that Dean would be willing to play the role in the manner that folks like Pelosi and Kerry seem to want him to - behind the scenes shovelling cash into the furnace.

Dean knows that his rise to national prominence has been the result of the cult of personality that sprang up around him in the run-up to the Democratic primaries. That cult requires regular red meat in the form of policy pronouncements and withering attacks on business-as-usual. If Dean takes a back seat to Reid and Pelosi - or allows that perception to take hold - the Uruk'Hai that emerged from the bowels of the earth to wage war in his name are likely to return to the depths from whence they came, waiting for the summons of yet another white-haired old man promising to re-make the world.

Link Whorage

As you may or may not already be aware, members of the Watcher's Council hold a vote every week on what they consider to be the most link-worthy pieces of writing around... per the Watcher's instructions, I am submitting "Retreat" for consideration in the upcoming nominations process.

Here is the most recent winning council post, here is the most recent winning non-council post, here is the list of results for the latest vote, and here is the initial posting of all the nominees that were voted on.

Retreat

Inspired by a post by RightThinkingGirl...

The International Herald Tribune revisits a notion that got a lot of play in the days immediately after the election: packing up and moving to Canada.

In the Niagara of liberal angst just after Bush's victory on Nov. 2, the Canadian government's immigration Web site reported a surge in inquiries from the United States, to about 115,000 a day from 20,000.

"The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

"We're still not talking about a huge movement of people," said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Montreal. "In 2003, the last year where full statistics are available, there were something like 6,000 U.S. citizens who received permanent resident status in Canada. So even if we do go up threefold this year, we're only talking about 18,000 people."
In the emotional days after the election, when people I consider friends were calling me a Nazi because I voted for Bush, my response to this was "Don't let the border hit you in the ass on the way out!" With the passage of time and the soothing of some of the raw nerve endings, my take on this is markedly different.

There are some on the right who seem to think that liberalism is indistinguishable in any form from socialism or communism. I don't think that's true. To me, liberalism in it's truest sense is the notion that we owe something to more than ourselves; the idea that a certain degree of sacrifice for the benefit of others is not only moral and just, but necessary for the survival of a moral and just state. This is not the sort of ethos that reasonable people can disagree with unless they've read too much Ayn Rand.

It is with this notion of liberalism in mind that I don't take any joy in seeing liberals fleeing the country, even if it is in terribly small numbers. To me, packing up and leaving the country is the height of selfishness - the very antithesis of liberalism. Where is the sacrifice for the greater good in retreat?

Now, despite what the BUSHITLER crowd would have us think, our country is not on the road to fascism. We're not rounding up people into camps, and tanks don't roll through the streets unless it's Chicago and a local team has won a championship. The people selling their Volvos and heading to the Great White North are not fleeing oppression or persecution.

So what are they running from?

To me, it looks like they're trying to escape one of the linchpin of liberalism: obligation. Proponents of liberalism will often talk of our obligation to help our fellow man. Welfare, unemployment, and affirmative action - with reasonable boundaries - are all examples of society's attempts to live up to this obligation. Funding these notions with public money spreads the obligation to every taxpayer, and rightly so; we all benefit from reductions in poverty and advances against injustice, so we should all foot part of the bill.

This idea of liberals running away to Canada is like arguing that we should split the dinner check evenly and then running out without paying. It's the notion that sacrifice for the common good is noble and just so long as it's not you doing the sacrificing. For what it's worth, I don't think that this sort hypocrisy is common among rank-and-file liberals (although some of my fellow conservative bloggers would disagree on that point). To the degree that it is happening, liberals who are taking their money and running to Canada are doing their brothers-in-arms a disservice.

Shame on them.

A Monday Morning Chuckle

Of course, I'm already chuckling about the Eagles losing the Superbowl. But still...

2/06/2005

Cookie Girl Update

At this point, everyone has probably heard about the two girls who made cookies for their neighbor and got sued for their trouble. I sent an email to the family of one of the girls to express my support last week, and I received this reply today.

In regard to the outpouring of sympathy and support for my daughter Taylor and Lindsey. I want the express to you a heart felt thanks and sincere appreciation that you, and so much of America and Canada, have shown them. This alone more than makes up for the stress and worry they have experienced the past six months as well as the big disappointment of the trail ruling.

For any letters or anything else that you wish them to receive we have set up a post office box for them. It is:

Taylor Ostergaard
Lindsey Zellitti
P.O. BOX 2528
Durango, CO 81302

We're not out of the woods yet as we understand there may be another case building against our families on this.

Be sure and include your address and e-mail address as they hope to return a Thank you and I would like to send a short Bio,/History of each of these girls so that you again might understand how great they are. We so appreciate the extended gesture of friendship to each of you and truly hope that this finds you healthy. May your smiles be many and come easily. If you're ever in Durango, give us a holler.

Sincerely Yours
Richard F. and Jill Ostergaard
Another case? The email offers no details as to the particulars of what that case might be, but I'm going to speculate that is has something to do with this woman's reputation being ruined in her hometown. Never mind that she ruined it herself.

Anyhow, if anyone is interested in helping out this family, I encourage you to send a small donation ($5, $10) to their post office box:

Taylor Ostergaard
Lindsey Zellitti
P.O. BOX 2528
Durango, CO 81302


Why donate? Well, I can think of two reasons:
  1. They've already incurred legal expenses for their good deed, and it looks as though more may be on the horizon.
  2. This rotten woman obviously wanted to punish these girls. Nothing would circumvent that desire more than to have these girls actually reap some benefit from the entire episode.
There's no indication that these girls did anything other than try to perpretrate a random act of kindness. If the case is as it appears to be, this woman should be ashamed of herself.

And so should her lawyer.

2/04/2005

New Layout

I have gone with a new layout for Disintegrator; something that isn't one of the standard Blogger templates. This layout is derived from The Orange, a layout graciously made available for free at Open Source Web Design by its author, papab30.

Please let me know if this hurts your eyes. :)

Don't Stand So Close To Me

The topic of overpopulation came up in a conversation with my wife this morning, and I thought that it would make for an interesting break from the red-meat political blogging that usually occupies this space.

First, the basic number: 6,416,705,711. This is the estimate of the current world population according to the The United States Census Bureau Population Clock. That number constantly updates, so it will be a little bit larger by the time you read it. For simplicity, we'll use 6.4 billion as our working number.

Our planet certainly has enough real estate to hold this teeming mass of humanity. In fact, you could fit the entire world's population nicely within our own borders. The United States' total land area is 9.1 million square kilometers, or 2.2 billion acres. That's three people per acre. The entire population of the world could fit - comfortably - in the United States, leaving the combined land mass of Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia available for agriculture and wildlife.

Living space is not a problem.

So, what about food production? Certainly there can't be enough food to go around to feed all of these people. According to the United Nations, there is. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is an organization whose primary goal is monitoring and working to end world hunger. In 2002, they published a report entitled "World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030". From 1990-1999, the number of people in the developing countries suffering from undernourishment went down by almost 40 million. By 2015, it is projected to drop another 160 million. The FAO report says that "there will be enough food for a growing world population by the year 2030."

Available food is not the problem.

So, what causes famine? Why do people starve? In many cases, the answer is simple: human evil. The 1984 Ethiopian famine which inspired Band Aid, USA For Africa, and Live Aid was a tragedy that was primarily caused by that country's government. Embroiled in a civil war, the Ethiopian government bombed crops, destroyed markets, and set up roadblocks to prevent the movement of food into rebel-controlled territories. It was famine as military weapon. What's worse is that 90% of all of the money raised by the international community for famine relief was given to the Ethipoian government - the same government that was starving its own people.

The Chinese famine of 1959-1961 is regarded by many as the largest famine in history, killing somewhere between ten and forty million Chinese. As part of Mao's "Great Leap Forward", all of China's farmers were collectivised into 26,000 communes, each overseeing about 25,000 people and appropriating all their land. Grain output declined from 200m tons in 1958 to 160m tons in 1960, Yet, each commune continued to over-report their grain production so as not to face retribution from the government. As a result, grain that was thought to be surplus was sold abroad, leaving little for the domestic population.

The fact of the matter is that while the Earth's population continues to grow, the rate at which it is growing is slowing down:

Year

Population
(millions)
Absolute increase
(millions)
Percentage
increase
19502,556-------
19603,03948318.9
19703,70766822.0
19804,45474720.2
19905,27882418.4
20006,08280415.2

(source:Overpopulation.org)

So, in summary:
  • Global population growth is slowing.
  • There is enough land to go around.
  • There is enough food to go around, and food productivity is rising.
There is hunger and poverty and suffering in the world; there can be no argument. But, this suffering is not the result of too many people or too few resources. Sadly, it's all too often the result of incompetence, indifference, or evil intentions.

2/03/2005

Nepal Muzzles Its Press

King Gyanendra of Nepal, having sacked the civilian government and declared a state of emergency, has now imposed total censorship on the country's media.

Reports critical of the state of emergency declared on Tuesday have been banned for six months, according to a notice in the main daily newspaper.

Phone lines and internet links remain cut, so news of a strike call by Maoist rebels has not reached the public.
The Nepalese system rests upon a political tripod - a most unstable of structures:
  1. King Gyanendra, who assumed the throne in 2001 after his brother was killed in a massacre at the palace,
  2. The nation's political parties, who want a return of parliamentary government, and
  3. Maoist rebels, who have been fighting a civil war since winning only 9 out of 205 seats in the parliamentary elections of 1996.
Each of the three is wary of the other two uniting against it, and equally as wary of exhausting the patience of the Nepalese people. None of the three has proven capable of imposing their own solution to the three-way struggle for power, with the result being this seemingly unending string of incidents and episodes as each of the major players tries to improve its position against the other two.

With the press muzzled and communications in and out of the country severely limited, King Gyenandra has something of a free hand for the time being. He has promised to name a new cabinet and begin reconstructing a civilian government; if he dallies, he may join his brother.

Vicarious Liability, Revisited

Via Overlawyered...

I've talked about vicarious liability laws before. These are the laws that make car rental companies responsible for whatever drivers do in their vehicles. Budget Rent-A-Car is the latest victim of this nonsense:

A Manhattan pedestrian, paralyzed in an accident caused by a driver of a rental car, has been awarded a $20 million judgment against Budget Rent-A-Car, the victim's lawyers said yesterday.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling awarded 29-year-old Ethan Ruby $20.3 million after he was crippled while walking crossing Delancey Street at Orchard Street on Nov. 29, 2000.

The driver of the Budget rental car had run a light and hit a van that then careened into Ruby, leaving him crippled and in constant pain.
One of the effects of these laws has been to squeeze out smaller rental companies. According to the New York Sun, there were about 400 such companies three years ago; that number has dwindled to less than 50. Some say that the larger companies don't fight these laws too aggressively in the past because it's been an effective deterrent to competition.

Trial lawyers love it because it's a fast route to companies with deep pockets; all you need to do is prove ownership, document the rental, and prove damages. In a state where the Assembly is led by trial lawyer Sheldon Silver, the situation is not likely to improve.

Eason Down The Road

This story is all over the conservative blogosphere, but I have a number of readers who won't go into that neighborhood; I won't feel too guilty about re-hashing it here.

You may remember Eason Jordan. He's the CNN honcho who confessed that CNN deliberately underreported stories of Saddam's atrocities.

Mr. Jordan is now embroiled in something of a larger dust-up. In a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum, Mr. Jordan asserted that he had specific knowledge that the U.S. military had targeted and killed 12 U.S. journalists. A second blogger who was in attendance has corroborated the story - and she is a woman who used to work for Eason and who received several promotions from the man.

CNN is on the defensive. They called the PowerLine (the blokes at the forefront of the Rathergate debacle) guys to try and spin the story, but wouldn't speak on the record. Requests to CNN are being met with a garden-variety "out of context" response:

Many blogs have taken Mr. Jordan's remarks out of context. Eason Jordan does not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists. Mr. Jordan simply pointed out the facts: While the majority of journalists killed in Iraq have been slain at the hands of insurgents, the Pentagon has also noted that the U.S. military on occasion has killed people who turned out to be journalists. The Pentagon has apologized for those actions.

Mr. Jordan was responding to an assertion by Cong. Frank that all 63 journalist victims had been the result of "collateral damage."
Jordan has a habit of accusing the U.S. military of attacking reporters. In a November 19, 2004 article in The Guardian, he had this to say:
"Actions speak louder than words. The reality is that at least 10 journalists have been killed by the US military, and according to reports I believe to be true journalists have been arrested and tortured by US forces," Mr Jordan told an audience of news executives at the News Xchange conference in Portugal. (emphasis mine)
No transcript or recording of the panel discussion has yet been made available. Rebecca MacKinnon, another blogger at the forum, asked Eason to clarify his comments and got an email response.
Here's what's important. First, I stressed insurgents are to blame for the vast majority of the 63 journalist deaths in Iraq. Second, when Congressman Franks said the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were the unfortunate victims of "collateral damage," I felt compelled to dispute that by pointing out journalists in Iraq are being targeted -- I did not say all journalists killed were targeted, but that some were shot at on purpose and were not collateral damage victims. In response to a question about whether I believed the U.S. military meant to kill journalists in Iraq, I said, no, I did not believe the U.S. military was trying to kill journalists in Iraq. Yet, unfortunately, U.S. forces have killed several people who turned out to be journalists. In several cases, the U.S. troops who killed those people aimed and fired at them, not knowing they were shooting at journalists. However tragic and, in hindsight, by Pentagon admission, a mistake, such a killing does not fall into the "collateral damage" category. In Iraq and Washington, I have worked closely and constructively with U.S. military and civilian leaders in an effort to heighten the odds of survival for the courageous journalists in Iraq.
The solution to this problem is, of course, transparency - let's see the transcript. If Mr. Jordan's comments were, in fact, taken out of context, there will be a long line of people in the blogosphere that will owe him an apology.

2/02/2005

Athwart the Tracks

Martini Pundit cleverly invokes William Buckley as he talks about rumors that Senate Democrats might filibuster the nomination of Alberto Gonzalez.

The filibuster is well within the Senate’s purview as a procedural means of fulfilling its ‘Advice and Consent’ function, and equally within the purview of the Senate leadership to restrict or even abolish it. It’s utility as a tool which protects the minority senators can be debated, but its supra-majority requirements are not in accord with the checks and balances instituted by the Founding Fathers who used separate but equal branches of government and a bicameral legislature to accomplish those ends. The filibuster is nothing more than senatorial courtesy - which is thing as nonexistent as John Kerry’s mission to run weapons to the Khmer Rouge.

It’s time the business of the American people stopped being beholden to one bloviating senior Senator from Massachusetts who had the unmitigated gall to discuss drowning with Judge Gonzales. The voters have spoken in two elections now to stop Democratic obstruction - it’s high time the Senate Republicans listened.
I don't necessarily think that Senate Republicans should try and eliminate the filibuster - that's too much ammunition to hand to the media who would be all too willing to portray it as an "evil power grab."

Better, I think, to force the hand of Senate Democrats. If they want to filibuster, let them do it. Tom Daschle was run out of office because of his obstructionism. If more senators want to risk their seats by satisfying their infantile desires to thumb their nose at the president - let them. The voters will remember.

Did Bush Win Wisconsin?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting appalling discrepancies in the voting results for that city.

Record-keeping surrounding the Nov. 2 presidential election in Milwaukee is so flawed that in 17 wards there were at least 100 more votes recorded than people listed by the city as voting there.

In two wards, one on the south side and one on the north side, the gap is more than 500, with fewer than half the votes cast in each ward accounted for in the city's computer system, a Journal Sentinel review has found.

Such gaps were present at different levels in nearly all of the city wards and could hamper the investigation launched last week by federal and local authorities into possible voter fraud by giving an incomplete or inaccurate picture of who actually voted.
Here's the graphic from the Journal Sentinel showing the wards and the discrepancy in each:


(Sorry about the width of the graphic - I know it's wider than the well behind it.)

John Kerry won Wisconsin by 11,813 votes - because he so thoroughly thumped Bush in the city of Milwaukee. The question now is whether or not this widespread more-votes-than-voters problem is simply the result in incompetence, negligence, or if it's an indication of something more sinister.

It's entirely possible that every single overvote in Milwaukee was for George W. Bush, and that a fair an accurate count would double Kerry's margin of victory. No matter what an investigation of the discrepancies uncovers, it won't change the outcome of the election. That does not mean we should simply shrug our shoulders and forget about it.

Vote fraud hurts everyone, not just the candidate on the receiving end of the electoral shaft. It undermines faith in the process, it breeds division and polarization, and it discourages people from taking part the next time around. Why would anyone stand in line for hours to vote if they think there's a fair chance their vote won't count anyway?

Barbara Boxer's tears might have some credibility if she could shed them for every stolen vote, and not just for the ones of which she approves.

2/01/2005

NAACP Refuses To Comply With I.R.S.

In July of last year, NAACP president Julian Bond attacked President Bush in his keynote speech at the group's 95th annual convention:

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond called on members of the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization to boost voter turnout to help oust President Bush.

During his keynote speech at the group's 95th annual convention Sunday night in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bond also assailed the Bush administration and the Republican Party, accusing the GOP of "playing the race card in election after election."

The party appeals "to the dark underside of American culture, to the minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," Bond said. "They preach neutrality and practice racial division."
At the NAACP's 2001 convention, Bond said the following:
"[President Bush] "selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."
Not a big deal, really. Lots of people have criticized the president. However, as The Washington Post points out, the NAACP isn't supposed to do that.
The NAACP is organized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, covering many charities, educational institutions and religious organizations. The IRS said the group is "prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign." The IRS said the group cannot endorse a candidate, contribute to a campaign, raise money for a candidate, "distribute statements for or against a particular candidate," or become involved in activity "beneficial or detrimental to any candidate."
So, you're the NAACP. You've broken the rules that allow you to operate with a tax-exempt status and now the IRS is asking questions. What do you do?

You refuse to cooperate:
The nation's largest civil rights group is refusing to turn over documents for an Internal Revenue Service investigation into allegedly improper political activity, claiming the probe is politically motivated.

In a letter sent to the IRS Friday, the NAACP cited what it contends is evidence that the agency launched the audit before the November election because of political pressure. The group provided a copy of the letter to USA TODAY.

IRS Commissioner Mark Everson wrote to two congressional Democrats in November, saying that his agency began investigating several dozen nonprofit groups based in part on complaints from two members of Congress, whom he did not identify. The IRS is prohibited by law from identifying the subjects of audits.
Of course, the NAACP is claiming that they are the victims of a political vendetta. What seems telling to me is that no one is trying to say that Bond's words were "misinterpreted" or "taken out of context." They don't even seem to be hiding it. search of the NAACP website reveals all sorts of organization documents opposing Bush and his policies.

If the NAACP wants to send a positive message to the millions of African-Americans it purports to represent, it could do so by playing by the rules - and by accepting responsibility for the consequences of breaking them.

Emergency in Nepal

Caught this on NPR as I was driving in to work this morning, and CNN is also reporting on the state of emergency in Nepal.

King Gyanendra says he has dissolved the government of Nepal and has declared a state of emergency as he takes control of the Himalayan kingdom.

Speaking on state-run television, the king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and restoring peace in the country.

It is the second time in three years the monarch has taken such a drastic move.

The monarch, who is also the supreme commander of the 78,000-strong Royal Nepalese Army, said security forces would be given more power to maintain law and order.
Understandably, I am suspicious when a national leader dissolves the government and more or less puts the military in control. However, the particulars of this situation bear more scrutiny.
  • The king has been pressing the Prime Minister to hold elections.
  • The PM has deferred them several times.
  • The Maoist rebels have promised massive violence if the elections are held at all. Some 11,000 people have already died in the Nepalese People's War.
Nepal is nestled in between India and China (map here), and thus is of strategic interest to both of those nations. It doesn't take much thought to conclude that China would like to see the rebels succeed and may even be supporting them.

As an old-school Cold Warrior, my reflex is to support any move that opposes communism; doubleplus so if it specifically opposes China's communist tyrants. However, we must take a dim view when any person declares himself "maximum leader" and sacks the civilian government, no matter the motivation.

The king appears to genuinely want elections; it remains to be seen if his actions will bear that impression out.

Trust In Action

Marine Corp. photographer Cpl. Trevor Gift snapped this photo on January 30 in the Iraqi city of Nasarwasalam:


Mom goes to vote; in addition to guarding the voting station, the masked Iraqi Security Force soldier performs the new duties of holding and guarding her baby who, all bundled-up and without a care in the world, rests peacefully in his arms. You can see the full-size photo here. (Photo is HUGE).

There's something visceral about the image of a soldier carrying a baby. Perhaps it's the juxtaposition of power and vulnerability; the idea of a man (or woman) who has been trained in the business of killing being placed in the position of nurturing an infant, even if only for a moment.


This is a Russian spetsnaz trooper carrying a small child after the Beslan hostage crisis. Spetsnaz were (and are, in all likelihood) some of the most dangerous men on the planet - the Soviet Union's version of our Green Berets. Hard men trained to do the unthinkable. The soldier's face - so stoic as to be unreadable - testifies to the will of the man beneath. How do you carry a child out of the horror of Beslan and not weep?

The answer: Because you have to. Because when you put on the uniform, you tacitly accept the fact that those around you will always look to you as an icon of strength.


Even when you feel as though you have none.

The three men in these photos - Iraqi, Russian, American, - have certainly never met and discussed what it means to be a soldier. There's a very good chance that they don't even speak each other's languages. Yet, they share a common experience and a common character that makes them, well, uncommon. Extraordinary, in fact.

The next time I see one of those "God Bless Our Troops" magnets, I'll make sure I pray for all the troops - not just "ours".