Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is it wrong for me to hold a grudge against the French for this long?

The question is, "What is it that orbits around the earth?"

My six year old just asked me what I was doing. I asked her if she knew the answer to the question. She did. Then she asked me again what I was doing.

"Mocking the French," I said.

"OK, Daddy. When you're done, can you read me a story?"


At some level, she understands.

I don't care what the standardized tests say; American kids are alright.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Pigs, Iraqi-Style

CNN reports that the Iraqi Police Dept. is toejam, "dysfunctional and sectarian." Well, duh.

The headline trumpets the failure of the Iraqi police, but the article goes on to indicate that the reformation of the Iraqi army is somewhat less than a disaster. The problem of the police has been noted by any number of journalists on the ground for months and months now---the people trust the army somewhat as even-handed and pan-Iraqi; the police are no more than local militias, and often allied with the Shi'a radical Moqtada al-Sadr.

If we withdrew, would the army collapse? I think so---they only cohere when US troops fight alongside them.

If we withdrew, then, what of the police? Likely, these militias would move against their enemies even more openly than they do. Right now, they fulfill some police function by safeguarding their own. In their spare time, they function as death squads, eradicating their counterparts on the other side.

Now, we see "civilian" bodies pile up, but how many of them are bad guys killing each other? This is a question I don't hear asked.

(Based on the news coverage, I have absolutely no idea as to how much of the murder in Iraq is bad guys killing bad guys. But I confess such murders wouldn't upset me. Sorry.)

What we do know is that it's al-Qaeda in Iraq that targets civilians almost exclusively and indiscriminately---the real civilians, woman and children. If the Iraqi army dissolves with a US withdrawal, and it likely would IMO, only the tribes would battle al-Qaeda, but only piecemeal, and only if they thought they might win. Afghanistan is a nation of proud and courageous tribes, but the greater organization of the Taliban left them only with the option of living under their boot to perhaps fight another day. Piecemeal can't get it done against an organized oppressor, as much as we admire the French Resistance, such as it was.

And so, the police problem of right now as a constant in the equation, stay or go. As always, I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Ecce Homo

I've never had a problem with those who question the decision to topple Saddam, or those who question the Bush Administration's competence, whether in Iraq or New Orleans.

But those who have questioned what's in the president's heart, his very humanity, as if it were all about oil or a disdain for black people, they've crossed the line of their own humanity by anointing themselves worthy to judge him as a human being.

Bush tells biographer: 'I do tears'
Associated Press Writer
Bush Biography

A tear runs down President Bush's cheek as he takes part in a Medal of Honor Ceremony for Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham of Scio, N.Y., Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Bush granted journalist Robert Draper several extended interviews in late 2006 and early 2007, as well as unusual access to his aides, for the book "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush," which went on sale Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007.

Under that famously self-confident exterior is a president who weeps---a lot.

President Bush told the author of a new book on his presidency that "I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve" or show anything less than steadfastness in public, especially in a time of war.

"I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch me," he said. Yet, he said, "I do tears."

"I've got God's shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count, as president. I'll shed some tomorrow."

Monday, September 03, 2007

Deus In Machina

Recently an odd sort of duel was fought in the American Spectator; not with pistols, but epistolary.

The combatants were that Derbyshire fellow who writes for National Review with a sort of weighty weary wisdom that recalls pre-20th Century intellectualism, and Tom Bethell, perhaps the most courageously open-minded magazine writer of our time, thirty years and counting on the front lines of the culture wars from his trench at the aforementioned Spectator.

Mr. D was grunting through a barely suppressed yawn (think Nero Wolfe) that anyone with an evolved mind knows that the "irreducible complexity" of small cells is a bogus argument against evolution, one only advanced by that killjoy cabal of clerical types who would twist any premise to confirm their preconceived conclusion of Creation.

Mr. B countered - with vivacity - that even the most minute constituent cell of a living organism was equipped with complex circuitry like a computer, and the idea that such an "active ingredient" could have evolved from simple undesigned matter is the sort of absurdity only a pompous pseudo-intellectual could sell himself and try to sell the world.

It won't surprise anyone, I hope, that Bethell's approach impassions me while Derbyshire's draws an answering yawn.

But what I find most fascinating in all skirmishes of this type is how both miss a key point. Let's skip for a moment the question of whether the cell's being like a computer proves design. Computers themselves prove the world is designed; why get locked into cells?

The idea is simple. The theory of evolution says there is no mechanism to create right things in the world, there is only a way of eliminating wrong things. There is no trial and error, there is only error, with the result that a trial occurs by default only. Bad things can't survive, what remains is the self-sustaining, which we then define as good. Fine. Such a system could exist but it could not have within itself potential creative systems. If anything it naturally tends to spawn spontaneous and arbitrary properties, more likely to be troublesome by a factor of zillions to one.

The fact that the forces and properties existing in the world can be rearranged via human intervention to form a computer indicate a designer who anticipated that arrangement. To assume that all the parts for something so amazing were present for no purpose at all and a human mind could discover that possibility as a coincidental reconfiguration of reality is monstrously absurd.

The Larry Craig Affair (and not much of one---he didn't even get any)

In this day of live-and-let-live---which, mind you, is largely a good thing---we still prohibit things like sex on the sidewalk. We all draw our lines, the only question is where.

Former US Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) attempted something like having sex on the sidewalk in the restroom of a major metropolitan airport, and has paid for it with his career. That should be the end of it, but it's not.

Because there is an aspect of homosexuality to all this, and necessarily so: if heterosexually-inclined men could get some action simply by tapping a foot in a public toilet, even the Super Bowl would play in front of a helluva lot of empty seats. Most of the guys would be in line outside the crapper.

Now, experts in gaydom have opined that cruising public men's rooms is largely amateur hour for the bi-curious or almost-fully repressed, and that seems logical; gay bars are usually far more tastefully appointed than the airport loo, although you still have to listen to disco either way. Still, if a person wants to be closeted, most people are willing to honor that, including most gay folk.

It's a fact that there are many people in the closet who hold ranking posts in the GOP, and even the straight people they're surrounded by have some functioning level of gaydar. They're dimly aware of it, and that's how they like it, with the emphasis on "dim," not "aware."

Are you now or have you ever...? Ehh. Been there, done that.

So we might say Larry Craig's sin was in getting caught, which makes it a legal/prudential issue, not a moral one. Stupid. Sex on the sidewalk. Geez, get some self-control, man. At least hire a professional, who's paid not for the sex but for the confidentiality. Don't chase your bliss on the cheap. What do we pay you people so much for?

Republicans stand on their heads to avoid sexual-preference McCarthyism. They'd heard the rumors about Larry Craig. He was on the downlow, but it hardly seems proper that the party should gather rumors, investigate, and kick out anyone who's suspected of being on it. Mark Foley's closet was half-open, but what would have been the hue and cry if the GOP had made an issue of his improper advances?

We know the answer to that: "anti-gay," heads or tails. You lose.

So they let the Foley rumors slide, and it might have cost the control of Congress in the 2006 election. But what can ya do? To be seen as persecuting him as a gay man would have been even worse, nor was there any genuine enthusiasm for it. (His real sin against the republic and the polity was in trying to diddle the help, but outrage at sexual harassment seldom leads to anyone being removed from office, as we discovered a decade or so ago. It's a perk, not a crime.)

No, what's clearly disgusting about this whole (non-)affair is that in some circles, it's not being gay, but being "anti-gay" that justifies taking the gloves off. But what is "anti-gay?"

I can't find much that Craig said or did politically except his opposition to gay marriage (with an apparent openness to civil unions) and objections to entering sexual preference into hate crimes legislation. This brings down the pejorative "anti-gay," a hideous term of art, on the order of "baby-killer."

If one is "anti-gay," then, is he fair game for "outing," by opposition activists and even "journalists?" Apparently some people think that's A-OK, including the Idaho Statesman, a newspaper that admitted investigating if not stalking him.

That's the disgusting part, folks.

They might have had a point if Larry Craig had been an advocate of overturning Lawrence v. Texas and restoring anti-sodomy laws, which do indeed extend to the private bedroom. But the issues of gay marriage and of hate crimes legislation are entirely ones of public policy.

Larry Craig may have stepped over the line between public and private, but if there was ever any line between public and private, it was they who obliterated it.

Now, it turns out that some of the Democratic presidential candidates don't support gay marriage either. And at least one has been the subject of, um, rumors which do not bear repeating.

What shall be done with them? Has the Idaho Statesman assigned a reporter to the beat?

More questions to which we already know the answers.