Sunday, December 31, 2006

No Good Things Happening in Iraq?

Justice for Saddam Hussein is One

Critics of the Iraq war are disinterested in such inconvenient things as truth and facts that contradict their perspective, but while so many of the good things that have happened there are kept off newscasts and newspapers in favor of the bad things, only a fool would pretend that no good results have been produced.

The birth of democracy, like human birth, is never without pain, and difficult births are more painful yet. Where on Earth could circumstances exist that are more difficult for democracy to blossom than in Iraq, with its centuries-old culture of antithetical dictatorial repression?

Yet, in three separate elections millions of Iraqis made a clear statement that they wanted to try democracy on for size, risking their safety and their lives to cast their vote. That alone ought to be monumental news, but in the United States, such mundane items do not rate as high as Iraqis killing their fellow Iraqi citizens, or thoughtful essays on the value of a democratic Iraq and the uphill path to get there.

The fledgling government put deposed president/dictator Saddam Hussein on trial for a few of the myriad crimes against humanity he was accused of, convicted him in proceedings televised to the world, sentenced him to death in the fashion approved of by the Iraqi constitution, and shortly after the appeal process ran its course executed him.

Saddam Hussein was not killed by another despot in a bloody coup, he was not assassinated while in office, he was not shot in the head upon capture, any of which are the more likely end of people like him in places like Iraq. No, he experienced the justice he denied rumored hundreds of thousands of people, and that he denied to those 184 people of al-Dujail he was convicted of killing.

If it is not good news and a sure sign of progress that a nation that just three short years ago was under the brutal rule of a murderous dictator has replaced that regime with a budding democratic government with a system of justice that fairly tried, convicted and executed that dictator, then I don’t know what is.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Chronicle of the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein:

Hussein's regime killed, tortured, raped and terrorized the Iraqi people and its neighbors for over two decades.

Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of Saddam's actions.

Saddam had approximately 40 of his own relatives murdered.

1980-88: Iran-Iraq war left 150,000 to 340,000 Iraqis and 450,000 to 730,000 Iranians dead.

1983-1988: Documented chemical attacks by Iraqi regime caused some 30,000 Iraqi and Iranian deaths.

1988: Chemical attack on Kurdish village of Halabja killed approximately 5,000 people.

1987-1988: Iraqi regime used chemical agents in attacks against at least 40 Kurdish villages.

1990-91: 1,000 Kuwaitis were killed in Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

1991: Bloody suppression of Kurdish and Shi'a uprisings in northern and southern Iraq killed at least 30,000 to 60,000. At least 2,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed during the campaign of terror.

2001: Amnesty International report: "Victims of torture in Iraq are subjected to a wide range of forms of torture, including the gouging out of eyes, severe beatings and electric shocks... some victims have died as a result and many have been left with permanent physical and psychological damage."

Human Rights Watch: Saddam's 1987-1988 campaign of terror against the Kurds killed at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds.

Refugees International: "Oppressive government policies have led to the internal displacement of 900,000 Iraqis."

Iraq's 13 million Shiite Muslims, the majority of Iraq's population of approximately 22 million, faced severe restrictions on their religious practice.

FBI: Iraqi government was involved in a plot to assassinate former President George Bush during his April 14-16, 1993, visit to Kuwait.

The Iraqi regime has repeatedly refused visits by human rights monitors.

From 1992 until 2002, Saddam prevented the U.N. Special Rapporteur from visiting Iraq.

(Sources: Office of the White House Press Secretary: Life Under Saddam Hussein: Past Repression and Atrocities by Saddam Hussein's Regime; April 4, 2003,; "Iraq: Crimes Against Humanity," State Department, May 7, 2002,; "Iraq: U.S. Alleges Role in Bush Death Plot," Facts on File May 20, 1993; http:;

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Greeting

With political correctness run amok, the rampant hypersensitivity of the legions of people looking to be offended, it is so difficult in today's world to know exactly what to say without offending someone. But I wanted to express my good wishes to all, so I met with my attorney yesterday, and with his advice and counsel, I wish to say the following:

To all my family, friends and readers,

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the Winter Solstice holiday period, practiced within the most enjoyable tradition of the religious persuasions or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year of 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures, whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only " America" in the western hemisphere) and without due regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, or disability, religious faith or the sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for him/herself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Disclaimer: No trees were harmed, nor any whales saved or harmed, in the sending of this message, however a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced.

Enjoy the season, whatever you call it, if applicable, or not!

Best wishes,

James Shott

Many thanks to Whitesnake for this piece.

Understanding the Minimum Wage

More talk about raising the minimum wage again, and some of the Democrats in Congress are aggressively pushing this initiative. The minimum wage was a bad idea when it first came into being, and raising it again is also a bad idea.

The minimum wage is popular among a fair number of Americans who do not understand how businesses work and who badly misunderstand the details surrounding the minimum wage itself. So much of the support for the minimum wage is emotional, and is based upon the idea that the minimum wage is not a “living wage.” I will stipulate that you can’t raise a family on a single minimum wage job. However, the reality is that hardly anyone who is the sole breadwinner for a family works for minimum wage, so this argument is mostly irrelevant.

It’s easy to support the concept of not only a minimum wage but also of periodically raising it. However, if you own or run a business, you realize that wages have to be based upon some concrete criteria more significant than that a bunch of pandering pols in Washington and the state capital think it is a good idea.

The economics of it are compelling, if people will only take the time to familiarize themselves with the economic principles and understand them. The following explanation by economist Dr. Walter Williams should help.

There are decent people, without a selfish hidden agenda, who support increases in minimum wages as a means to help low-skilled workers, and there are other decent people, with the identical goal, who strongly oppose increases in the minimum wage. So the question is: How can people who share the same goals, helping low-skilled workers, come up with polar opposite means that produce polar opposite results?

It all depends on one's initial premise. It would do us some good to make our initial premises explicit and check them against reality. One initial premise is that an employer needs a certain number of workers to accomplish a given task. That being the case, increasing the minimum wage simply means that all low-skilled workers will enjoy a higher salary and employers will have lower profits and/or customers will pay higher prices. With this vision of how the world operates, the logic of increasing the minimum wage as a means of helping low-skilled workers is impeccable.

Another initial premise is that there is no fixed number of workers necessary to accomplish a given task. Employers might be able to substitute capital for labor such as using dishwashing machines instead of dishwashers, automatic elevators instead of elevator operators, self-service gasoline stations rather than full-service gasoline stations, online reservations rather than reservation clerks or relocating their operation overseas. People who share this initial premise can still have concern for the welfare of low-skilled workers but argue that increasing minimum wages will cause unemployment for some of them and deny job opportunities for others. Given their initial premise, the logic of their argument is also impeccable.

Thus, the question to decide is which initial premise best describes how the world operates. Is it the one that says there's a fixed number of workers necessary to perform a given task, or the one that says employers have flexibility in the mix of workers and capital they use and where in the world they can choose to manufacture? I think the latter description more properly describes how the world operates.

Place yourself in the position of an employer and ask: If a worker costs me, say, $7 in wages, plus mandated fringes such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, sick and vacation leave, making the true hourly cost of hiring a worker $9 an hour, does it pay me to hire a worker who's so unfortunate to have skills that enable him to produce only $5 or $6 worth of value per hour? Most employers would conclude that doing so would be a losing economic proposition.

There are a couple other villains in the piece that force employers to respond to increases in wages that exceed a worker's productivity. If he did hire such workers, he would earn lower profits. Soon, investors would abandon him and put their money where returns are higher.

There's another villain -- the customer. If the employer retained workers whose wages exceeded their productivity, to cover his costs he would have to charge you and me higher product or service prices. I don't know about you, but I prefer lower prices to higher prices, and I'd switch my patronage to those firms who adjusted to the higher labor cost.

Congress can easily mandate higher wages, but they cannot mandate higher worker productivity or that employers hire a particular worker in the first place. Those of us who truly care about the welfare of low-skilled workers should focus our energies on helping them to become more productive, and a good start would be to do something about the rotten education that many receive.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

We Are Marshall!

Diane and I met at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. We both earned two degrees there. Our son Ryan is a junior at MU. Marshall University is a substantial part of our lives.

If those connections weren’t enough, on November 14, 1970, a day that the MU football team was returning from an away game, I was living in Huntsville, Alabama, where I had gone shortly after my discharge from the U.S. Air Force. A friend, David Champagne, had invited me to join him in his hometown to try to get a band going. When I heard the news of the plane crash that claimed all 75 aboard, my thought turned to a cousin, Donna Jean Sutherland, Cokie. Cokie was more than a cousin, she was much like the sister I never had. She lived with us for a few years during high school. Cokie was married to Jim “Shorty” Moss, the offensive coordinator for Marshall, and they had a two year-old daughter, Andrea. I knew Shorty, as he spent some time in our town and at my high school before joining the MU coaching staff. I liked him. He was a great guy. He died in the crash. It was a dark day for her and for me, and for Huntington.

“We Are Marshall” is a movie not about the people who died in the crash, but about how the MU football team rose from the ashes. Ryan, Diane and I saw the movie on Sunday; it was very well done; it was a good story.

I recommend it to everyone.

The Fate of Saddam Hussein

News reports confirm that Iraq's highest appeals court has upheld the death sentence for Saddam Hussein in his first trial and said it should be carried out within 30 days. The sentence "must be implemented within 30 days," Chief Judge Aref Shahin said. "From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation."

The brutal Iraqi leader was sentenced to the gallows for the 1982 killings of 148 persons from Dujail, a Shi'ite Muslim town.

The Iraqi constitution call for the appeals court decision to be ratified by President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's two vice presidents. However, some in the judicial system believe that isn’t necessary. Raed Juhi, a spokesman for the High Tribunal that convicted Hussein, said the Iraqi judicial system would ensure that Saddam is executed even if Mr. Talabani and the two vice presidents do not ratify the decision. "We'll implement the verdict by the power of the law," Mr. Juhi said without elaborating.

An interesting situation, to be sure, and the next few days and weeks will be worth watching.

As an avid supporter for the death penalty in certain limited circumstances, I would normally be in favor of ridding the world of Saddam Hussein at the earliest possible moment. However, in this case, I wonder if a more appropriate punishment for him would be one that allows him to live in a strict, limited and miserable environment for the rest of his life.

Does he not deserve to suffer at least some of the misery he visited upon fellow Iraqis and fellow Muslims? I think so. I am not suggesting torture, although that idea is tempting to contemplate. No, I am suggesting a life in an 8x8 cell, with a basin, a toilet, a cot, a copy of the Qur’an, tasteless meals with water to drink, maybe a toothbrush and toothpaste, … that sort of thing. He should be shackled any time he is allowed out of his cell, such as for exercise, and he should be denied any contact with the outside world, meaning particularly that he never again can speak publicly. We would occasionally be shown photos or video of him, just so we will know that he is still alive, still paying the price for his evil reign.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Blast From the Past

Foster Brooks appearing on the Dean Martin show.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Travesty (Amended)

The illegal immigration problem along our southern border has been replaced in the news lately by insignificancies like Miss USA being forgiven for being a naughty girl, and irrelevancies like the Iraq Study Group report, and other equally unimportant topics, but at some point the issue is going to have to get serious attention from Washington.

Nothing thus far has succeeded in waking George Bush to one of the greatest threats to the U.S. In terms of the economic strain of taking care of illegals’ health problems and sending children to school puts on states; the fact that some illegals are thugs and drug dealers; the very real possibility that terrorists can use the neglected border to enter the country, and other serious ramifications, all that has fallen on deaf ears at the White House.

A recent incident puts a sharp point on just how stupid the United States is being with regard to illegal immigration:

The criminal had 750 pounds of drugs in his van, and was ILLEGALLY in the US. Two Border Patrolmen stopped the van and the illegal ran, at which time the agents opened fire, striking the criminal in the butt.

According to a criminal complaint that led to an indictment, on or about February 17, 2005, a Mexican criminal attempting to flee back into Mexico near Fabens, Texas, was shot at by Agent Jose Alonso Compean , who fired approximately 12 rounds from his service pistol, and Agent Ignacio Ramos fired approximately two times from his service pistol striking the victim in the butt. The two agents have been tried and convicted, and face jail time beginning next month.

For doing their job trying to protect their country, trying to arrest a criminal who entered the US illegally with drugs, these two devoted men are being punished by their own government.

That is outrageous.

I suggest that everyone call one of the numbers below, or fax a letter, or email a letter, or write a letter, and overwhelm the White House switchboards and personnel with demands that these two agents have their convictions overturned, and be awarded a commendation by their country in apology for the absurd circus that their own government has put them through for doing their job.

Comments: 202-456-1111

Switchboard: 202-456-1414

FAX: 202-456-2461

Or write to:

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

[[[New material]]] Also, go to and sign the petition, which already has more than 160,000 signatures.

This travesty cannot be allowed to stand.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Standards? What Standards?

So, if you are a candidate for Miss USA, and especially if you win the contest, you don’t need to follow the rules that the pageant sets out for contestants. Pity those poor saps that actually believed the rules meant something, that there were standards associated with vying for the title of Miss USA, and lived the life that every contestant is supposed to live, but that only some of them actually do live.

Donald Trump today removed any semblance of honor from that contest by giving Tara Conner a “second chance” to show that she is, after all, the symbol of American young womanhood idealized in the Miss USA Pageant, after a series of allegations to the contrary. He said in the news conference today that she had agreed to enter a rehab program, which confirms that Miss Conner had indeed indulged in the consumption of alcohol or drugs to the extent that she is hooked. What else she did we may never know. There were a myriad of allegations, many or perhaps most of which are likely false, but some of them were no doubt true. The point is this: The Miss USA contest advertises rules that govern the behavior of its candidates, and no one ought to be held to that standard of behavior more strictly than Miss USA herself. Of all the people associated with this pageant, the person holding the title of Miss USA should exemplify the image the pageant puts forth.

So, Mr. Trump has essentially removed whatever credibility the Miss USA Pageant previously had, and has supported the general laxity in the country for bad behavior by looking the other way when unacceptable behavior occurred.

What a shame.

Monday, December 18, 2006

'Tis The Season ...

This was an email I received today. It has some funny things in it, along with some bits of truth.

This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar, and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words but, if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper.

If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: "And lo, the gifts were inside 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.
2. They were men.

Men are not big gift wrappers. Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off. This is not just my opinion: This is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know.

One is Rob, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is "if it's such a poor gift that I don't want to be there when the person opens it."

The other is Gene, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift. "No one ever had to wonder which presents daddy wrapped at Christmas," Gene said. "They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs."

I also wrap gifts but, because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court but, when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.)

If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh's body would be covered only by Scotch tape.

On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

My point is that gift wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why, today, I am presenting: GIFT WRAPPING TIPS FOR MEN:

* Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither one of you recognizes it, you can claim that it's myrrh.

* The editors of Woman's Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch. They must be smoking crack.

* If you're giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper! Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it. This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning:

YOUR WIFE: "Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?"

YOU: "It's a gift! See? It has a bow!"

YOUR "WIFE (peering into the trash bag): It's a leaf blower."

YOU: "Gas-powered! Five horsepower!"

YOUR WIFE: "I want a divorce."

YOU: "I also got you some myrrh."

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

~Male Author Unknown~

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jeb Bush Goes PC

(AP) - Gov. Jeb Bush has suspended all executions in Florida on Friday after a medical examiner says the lethal injection of a convicted killer was botched.

The execution of a convicted killer Angel Nieves Diaz took 34 minutes — twice as long as normal — because officials botched the insertion of the needles that delivered the lethal chemicals, a medical examiner said.

Bush responded to the findings by halting the signing of more death warrants until a commission he created to examine the state's lethal injection process completes its final report by March 1.

Okay. A killer convicted of murdering a man in a robbery takes 34 minutes to die a relatively peaceful death instead of a relatively peaceful death in 17 minutes. What’s the problem? Did the murder suffer a little bit? Oh, what a shame. I wonder if he suffered as much as the man he killed for no good reason did? Did if he suffer as much as the family and friends of the man he killed in cold blood?

If he suffered a little: good. If he suffered a lot: better.

Jeb Bush needs to wake up and smell the coffee. This is a non-issue.

Imams Treatment Discrimination?

The righteous indignation of the six imams tossed off a plane a while back seems just a little to righteous, don’t you think? The skeptic in me came to full alert over this incident.

Witnesses said the men prayed in the terminal and made critical comments about the Iraq war, mentioned Osama bin Laden, and three of the men had only one-way tickets and no checked baggage. On the plane, they sat separately, not together as you might expect from people traveling together. They all stood up to pray at the same time. An airport police officer and a federal air marshal agreed that the combination of circumstances was suspicious, and eventually asked the men to leave the airplane, a police report said.

Now, ask yourself: What are the chances that all of this could have been happenstance? I say: Slim-to-none.

Then, ask: Why would a group of Muslim holy men behave in such an attention-attracting manner?

A Muslim in America that didn’t want to freak anyone out probably would not say prayers in public; make a point not to sit with fellow travelers; talk about Osama bin Laden and do other overt things that would call negative attention to himself and raise suspicions of people who suffered a great loss at the hand of people like him.

So naturally, that’s what these guys did. And, afterward they summoned up all the righteous indignation they could muster to complain that they had been targeted, that they are victims of discrimination.

My take: These guys knew exactly what they were doing. They knew how passengers and observers would react to their deliberate and provocative attempts to attract attention. And I believe they knew there was a strong chance they would be removed from the plane.

However, to what end did they stage this confrontational performance? Was it so that they could file a lawsuit and get a fat award to line their pockets and exact financial damage on the airline industry, or perhaps to petition for laws against profiling?


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Media Behaving Badly. Again.

The media’s reaction to the medical problems of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson, who suffered a stroke-like episode yesterday during a telephone conversation with reporters and later collapsed, is disgusting. Sen. Johnson, a Democrat, underwent brain surgery last night.

The media is breathlessly reporting that Sen. Johnson is in “critical condition” and already speculating about what will happen if the Senator cannot continue to serve in his elected post.

It is not uncommon; in fact, I believe it is routine for a brain surgery patient to be classified as “critical” following surgery, but every headline contains this fact, and every story is written as if this is unusual. Not to put too light an emphasis on being in critical condition, because that is indeed a grave condition and something horrible could happen, but does it really deserve the play it is getting?

Next, we are treated to speculation that if Tim Johnson is unable to continue to serve the Governor of South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds, might appoint a Republican to the open position, taking away the Democrats one-seat majority, and splitting the Senate 50-50, leaving the decisive vote on ties to the Vice President, Republican Dick Cheyney.

Two suggestions: 1. We ought to tone down all of this “sharks-in-the-water” coverage until we know Sen. Johnson’s condition, and wish the man a speedy and complete recovery. 2. If Tim Johnson is unable to serve and Gov. Rounds appoints a replacement, he should appoint a Democrat. The people of South Dakota elected a Democrat, and they deserve to have a Democrat in office throughout the term.

As much as I would prefer to see the Senate remain under Republican control, this is the wrong way to achieve that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Changing Times

Scenario: Jack pulls into school parking lot with rifle in gun rack.

1953 - Vice Principal comes over, takes a look at Jack's rifle, goes to his car and gets his to show Jack.

2006 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.

1953 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up best friends. Nobody goes to jail, nobody arrested, nobody expelled.

2006 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won't be still in class, disrupts other students.

1953 - Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by Principal. Sits still in class.

2006 - Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his father's car and his Dad gives him a whipping.

1953 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2006 - Billy's Dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. Billy's sister is told by state psychologist that she remembers being abused herself and their Dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some headache medicine to school.

1953 - Mark shares headache medicine with Principal who has a headache also.

2006 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Mary turns up pregnant.

1953 - 5 High School Boys leave town. Mary does her senior year at a special school for expectant mothers.

2006 - School Counselor calls Planned Parenthood, who notifies the ACLU. Mary is driven to the next state over and gets an abortion without her parent's consent or knowledge. Mary given condoms and told to be more careful next time.

Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.

1953: Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.

2006: Pedro's cause is taken up by state liberal activist organization. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he can't speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.

1953 - Ants die.

2006 - BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary, hugs him to comfort him.

1953 - In a short time Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

2006 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Eric Rudolph Doesn’t Like Prison

Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber, the American domestic terrorist who committed a series of bombings across the southern United States in 1996 that killed three people and injured at least 150 others, is complaining about his prison cell and the facility where he gets his exercise. The room is too small, the mistreated Eric says, and the exercise yard is like a dog pen.

Aaah, poor baby. Prison isn’t all you thought it would be when you decided to kill innocent people? What a shame. I think you have too much room, and I further think you ought to spend the rest of your miserable life in a dog pen. A real one.

Wake up, you self-absorbed boob!

That’s why we have rules about killing people in the United States; you follow the rules, and you don’t go to jail. You should be damned happy you can still draw breath, because if it was up to me, you’d have been put to death years ago.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Stunning Performance

As many of you know, I am a musician and have been for 50 years. I love music; I love great performances, regardless of the genre. That means I like good rock, good jazz, good "classical," good gospel, good country ... well, you get the idea.

The video below is a great performance. I urge you to plug in your good speakers, or put on a headset and listen to this tune. Forget the words; forget the genre. Just listen to a truly great singer accompanied by a truly great pianist.

The tenor is David Phelps and the piano player is Anthony Burger, both outstanding musicians. The performance is from one of the Gaither Homecoming concerts titled "Christmas in the Country."

I invite and welcome your comments.

Iraq: Winning; Losing; or, We Don’t Know?

Almost all Democrats and Liberals believe it. Many Republicans and conservatives believe it. The Iraq Study Group (ISG) believes it: The strategy in Iraq is not working; we are losing the war. Specifically, the Iraq Study Group report says any hope for a strong and peaceful Iraq will require securing peace in the larger Middle East and entails dialogue and political engagement between Israel and Iraq's moderate Arab neighbors. While it is certainly true that the situation in Iraq is far, far from what we would like to see, and while the ISG’s conclusion that we need peace in the Middle East to achieve any satisfactory result in Iraq may be true, perhaps another conclusion is better.

We call the current activity in Iraq a “war,” but the war was over a while back and now the focus is stabilizing the country following the sacking of the Hussein regime and the brutal leader plucked from his underground hideout near Tikrit. After a couple of years of difficulty achieving stability Monday morning quarterbacks the world over blame the evil trio of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld with “failure” and wonder how they could have so badly misjudged what is so obvious to the quarterbacks: the way the Iraqis were bound to react. And to be fair to the quarterbacks, it seems that the Bush administration badly underestimated some things: the determination of the Sunnis to try to maintain power; the degree of enmity between the two major Islamic factions, and the degree to which practitioners of the religion of peace would indulge in killing each other; and the abject fear of democracy of so many Muslims who are mired in a 700 year-old religion-dictated culture.

But the quarterbacks forget to mention some very positive things that have occurred in Iraq, not the least of which is that most Iraqis are not involved in the Sunni/Shiite conflict, and also that millions of Iraqis are glad that the U.S. sacked Saddam Hussein and gave them a chance to develop a democratic nation. Twelve million Iraqis risked their safety to vote in the last election. There were two elections before that one, and in each successive election, there were more voters than the previous one. Schools are open; businesses are operating, most of the 15 provinces are peaceful. For the first time in more than a generation, the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent. More than 600 Iraqi judges preside over more than 500 courts that operate independently from the Iraqi Governing Council and from the Coalition Provisional Authority. More than 170 independent newspapers are in print. Al Iraqia (formerly the Iraqi Media Network) is broadcasting 20 hours per day.

Maybe the quarterbacks don’t mention these things because they don’t know about them, and we can thank the media for being able to keep at least some secrets off of Page One. With the American people so skillfully misled by the media, the bandwagoneering is moving forward apace, and thousands jump aboard with every new negative piece of news. Therefore, the commonly accepted opinion is that Iraq is a disaster and we should just get out while we can.

But make no mistake: George Bush is correct when he says that to pull out of Iraq now would be a catastrophe. Yes, the Iraqi government, the military and the police need to step up to the plate and take charge. However, to have invested the lives and safety of our military and the money and then take some action that will leave Iraq to the radical Muslims to fight over would be a travesty.

On talk radio yesterday an interviewee, who was unidentified while I listened, suggested that the ISG is all wet, and that its recommendations are 180 degrees out of phase with what we need to do. He further suggested that what the U.S. needs to do in Iraq is to pour many thousands more troops in there and wipe out the 20-odd militias that have been allowed to wreak havoc with impunity.

I agree that the ISG is all wet, and its report is a prescription for surrender wrapped in a respectable-looking cover. Proof of this is the reaction of the Arab press, one member of which called it "the end of America."

Good job, Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton. Everyone would do well to ignore this report, most especially the Bush administration.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Looking Back From the Future

Here’s a comment with which I agree completely:

"If the Middle East is ever the home of moderate, democratic politics, Mr. Bush will be remembered for seeing that possibility and seeking to act on it, however difficult it was. And if not, your grandchildren are going to have too much else on their hands to worry over much about Mr. Bush." — Tod Lindberg.

From the “People Are Weirder Than Anybody” Files

Some renters in Tel Aviv have put up a bunch of cardboard cutouts of prostitutes in their neighborhood in an attempt to get their rent lowered.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is It Too Late For a Recount?

I am embarrassed by the boorish actions of the newly elected Senator from my state, Virginia, who behaved like an adolescent in one of his first public appearances since barely winning the November 7th election over incumbent George Allen by less than one percent. James M. Webb shunned the President of the United States in a formal gathering recently in honor of newly elected Representatives and Senators, by avoiding the receiving line, and refusing to have his picture taken with the President. I don’t care who you are, how you voted, or how screwed up your thinking is, that is poor form.

Worse, when President Bush approached Mr. Webb and asked about his son, who is in the military and serving in Iraq, Mr. Webb insolently replied, “That’s between me and my boy.”

Mr. Webb is not the only small person that doesn’t know how to behave in polite company, of course; there are legions of them these days. But he is an elected representative of the people of Virginia, where good manners are still widely practiced, and he owes them a better public face than that. I’m very unhappy that Commonwealth voters chose someone with such an apparent absence of class. I’m betting that if the good people of Virginia had any idea that Mr. Webb would behave so boorishly, George Allen would have been reelected.

Is it too late for a recount?

It’s Been Really Busy Lately

November was a blur. We headed off on our Southern Odyssey on the night of the 7th and returned at 1 a.m. on the 20th. For us, that’s a long trip. It was a great time, but getting ready for a trip of that length is a challenge, and catching up after a trip of that length is more of a challenge.

It was the week of Thanksgiving when we returned, and my regular Tuesday Rotary Club meeting (that I am Program Committee Chairman of) occurred, and that night a Foundation where I serve on the Board had its fund raising dinner with magician Michael Ammar as the entertainment. Michael is a world-renowned magician, and a hometown boy. He was amazing, and that’s a word I don’t use frequently. I also had some online tutoring Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, I had more morning online tutoring, and a meeting Wednesday evening; Wednesday was the easiest day of the week, as it turned out. Thursday, we traveled two hours north to spend Thanksgiving Day with Diane’s mother, who had just moved back to the home where Diane and her two brothers grew up, the first time the family had been together in that house in 26 years. That was very special for them.

Friday, the newsletter for the Rotary club was due to be posted and the Web site updated, and that’s a task that lasts several hours. Then, thank goodness, it was the weekend. That didn’t mean there was nothing to do, but less of it: the Battle of the Leaves in the day, and a party that night. Sunday, the kids headed back to school and then I played a rehearsal for the church Christmas cantata that night.

And then on Monday, the Week from Hell Began. Tutoring morning and afternoon at the college; and in the evening a rehearsal of the jazz ensemble that I’m director of had its second rehearsal before our Winter Concert. Predictably, there were many things not right in the concert hall. Tension. However, the rehearsal went pretty well, and playing music is always fun and therapeutic.

Today, it’s Tuesday again, and in addition to the online tutoring there’s the regular Rotary meeting at 12, and I have a meeting with some folks from Georgia—the country, not the state—for the Foundation at 11, and also a Board meeting for Rotary at the same time. I’ve got to finish setting up an invitation that our family (the big family, not Diane and I) sends out to nearly 900 people and get it to the printer. Tonight, thankfully, there’s our weekly get-together with some friends for dinner.

Wednesday: online tutoring and then cantata rehearsal in the evening. In the afternoon I’ll be setting up the concert program, and I have to get a head start on the newsletter and Web site update, because Thursday is filled.

Thursday: Dress rehearsal for the jazz ensemble concert at 7, meaning a few hours checking out equipment and working out details, and somehow finish and post the Web update material.

Friday: Run off and fold the programs, and take care of final details. A light day.

Saturday: We may have a called cantata rehearsal, otherwise, nothing scheduled, thank the Lord. Maybe work on the leaves again.

Then, Black Sunday: First cantata performance at 10:30. Warm-up for jazz ensemble at 2, and the concert at 3. At 4:30 the second performance of the cantata is scheduled. Problem: the jazz ensemble concert won’t be finished by then, so the two of us involved in both groups will have to get to the cantata as soon as we can, arriving after the performance has begun. But by 5:30 or so, it’ll all be over.

Monday begins a regular week, but after the previous one, it will be a snap.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Advice to Michael Richards

Michael Richards said the “N” word. Over and over again. It was wrong. It was despicable. He apologized. Several times. He is either sincere, or he isn’t. End of story?

Not quite. Not in the USA in 2006, where for nearly every perceived wrong there is a deep pocket to be tapped to make people feel better. Now, two guys who were in the audience, who were heckling Richards, want money because they and other blacks were the targets of Richards’ rant, and the talk is that Richards is considering paying up. He wants to even up. He wants to, by paying these two guys, essentially say to the world, “Okay, now I’ve atoned. I’ve evened the score. Don’t be mad at me any more.”

Now, everyone who frequents Observations knows that my advice is like gold. It is wise, and it is right. Right? Of course it is. And my advice to Michael Richards is: “Don’t pay a dime.” If you do, you might buy two friends, or maybe a couple of thousand, but you aren’t going to buy what you think you are buying, and you aren’t going to buy what you want.

You screwed up, Michael. You attacked black people, and that just isn’t permissible, and it isn’t forgivable. Better to have done what Danny DiVito did and attack George Bush. Had you done that, you would be in the clear. In America today it is okay to insult the president, especially this president. You would have people taking your side. You would have the media on your side, keeping the dumb things you say low-key.

But you didn’t, and now you must pay the piper, which means that you sacrifice your career, because you focused on the wrong target. And as long as your career is in the toilet, why give away your money, too?

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Mind of the Islamic Fanatic, or the Lack Thereof

When you read the following piece by Michael Goodwin discussing the terrorist mind some information from an essay by Mordechay Lewy helps to explain why so much of Islam embraces the murder of innocents as an acceptable form of warfare. Culled from an article posted on Shark Blog , which tells us that the Arab/Islamic world rejects responsibility for its problems and instead shifts blame outwardly, primarily to the West and the United States, there are eight principle reasons why the Arab/Islamist do not, cannot, face reality, five of which (slightly editd) are listed below:

1. In the [Middle East/Islam], one's own guilt and inadequacies are always assigned to others. They rarely (if ever) practice elf-criticism. The ability for self-correction is accordingly limited.

2. In the [Middle East/Islam], the preferred role is that of the victim. They create conspiracy theories to rationalize this behavior.

3. Islam does not have the concept of "original sin" and therefore has no historical tradition of collective guilt.

4. Islam does not promote the formation of free will and individual responsibility. In the Islamic notion of man, free will is subordinate to Allah's all-encompassing pre-ordained plan. 5. In the overt or covert conflict between the two cultures, the West cannot operate with a free hand, by virture of its own self-imposed moral constraints. These self-imposed restrictions will be interpreted as a weakness by the aggressive blame society of the [Middle East/Islam]. These will be exploited in conflict situations, not respected.

Paradise lost

Michael Goodwin
The New York Post
November 26, 2006

It was only a matter of time. Depraved Palestinians first sent young adult men wearing explosives to blow themselves up on Israeli buses and in pizza parlors. Then came the phenomenon of young women doing the same. Now a grandmother has chosen this fiendish way of death.

Fatma Omar An-Najar was a mother of nine and grandmother of more than 30. Her suicide in the Gaza Strip lightly injured three Israeli soldiers, so she failed to take "infidels" with her. But that is of little comfort. The use of a grandmother means more horror is coming.

With teenagers as young as 16 already blowing themselves up, children are next in line to become "martyrs."

Terror masterminds are brainwashing a new generation in Muslim countries. Everything from animated cartoons to educational programs to textbooks urge young people to kill and die for Islam. Clerics preach that the fastest way to get to Paradise is Shahada, or to die for Allah. Those who do are called shahids and children as young as 8 are drinking this murderous Kool-Aid.

Newspapers, television, the Internet and even music videos routinely extol the virtues of a violent death. A show on Palestinian TV involving two 11-year-old girls offers a chilling example. According to a transcript and video clip provided by an Israeli-based group called Palestinian Media Watch, the show, which first aired in 2002, features an interviewer talking with the bright, normal-looking girls.

Interviewer: You described Shahada as something beautiful. Do you think it is beautiful?

Walla: Shahada is a very beautiful thing. Everyone yearns for Shahada. What could be better than going to Paradise?

Interviewer: What is better, peace and full rights for the Palestinian people or Shahada?

Walla: Shahada. I will achieve my rights after becoming a shahid. We won't stay children forever.

Interviewer: Okay, Yussra, would you agree with that?

Yussra: Of course. It is a good [sweet] thing. We don't want this world, we want the afterlife. We benefit not from this life but from the afterlife ....

Interviewer: Do you actually love death?

Yussra: Death is not Shahada.

Interviewer: No, I mean the absence after death, the physical absence, do you love death?

Yussra: No child loves death. The children of Palestine adopted the concept that this is Shahada. They believe that Shahada is very good. Every Palestinian child, say someone aged 12, says, O Lord, I would like to become a shahid.

The spread of the culture of suicide - "martyrdom" to adherents - is the most disturbing trend in the Muslim world. Starting with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s, it has been adopted as a legitimate weapon by both Sunnis and Shiites in numerous nations, especially Iraq.

Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, recently gave a lecture at Manhattan College to document how a celebration of suicide bombers has taken root among Palestinians in everyday life. He told of how one soccer league for 14-year-olds named its teams after suicide bombers. Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber, became a heroine to many Palestinians after she blew herself up and killed an 81-year-old Israeli man and wounded 100 others four years ago.

Marcus, citing a textbook for eighth-graders that says "your enemies seek life and you seek death," called this sewer of propaganda "an impediment to peace."

That's an understatement. For years, conservative Israeli politicians were criticized when they claimed that "we don't have a partner for peace." When grandmothers strap explosives to themselves, and when children are taught to follow, the world must finally understand what they, and we, are up against.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The War of the Leaves, Part II

Well, this is the second installment of my report from the front in the annual fall struggle with nature, although Saturday was the fourth battle in the long, hard slog to clear the multitudinous leaves from the grounds of our humble abode. This time, I have real photos of some of the prisoners taken (the photo at left is not of our house, although we have more leaves than the pile in the picture).

It was a hard afternoon, though it would have been difficult to find a more pleasant one: mid-60s and sunny. But I put in three hours of climbing around moving the leaves into piles and I decided I had earned myself a rest. So, at 4:00 p.m. I was out on the front porch cooling off. There’s something special about just kicking back with a good libation. Corky, our Beagle mix, was cooling it, too, sitting on the edge of the hill overseeing her domain. The squirrels were busy doing whatever it is squirrels do at this time of year. It was very pleasant.

We’ve approached this project in different ways over the five years we’ve been in this house. The first two Diane and I personally took the project on with a rake and trash bags. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had a level yard, or even one with some trees in it. But no, when we bought this house, shortly before the onslaught of the leaves in 2001, we thought being surrounded by trees on three sides was an asset. And they are in the spring and summer when they pretty much shield us from the rest of the world, except on the fourth side, which looks across the street over our neighbor’s roof at the mountain in the distance. But after the leaves fell and we realized how much trouble we were in, it was too late.

The folks we bought the house from, Ray and Lois, were very nice people, and they had built a nice little house on their double lot. The problem is that they had to carve out level land for the house to sit on from a substantially slanted hill and in doing so left a steep bank in the back of the house. Now Ray is an engineer, and he used his skill to design a series of tiers with landscape timbers and rocks to hold that bank, and in those tiers he put every conceivable type of flora that catches and holds leaves in the fall: You name it, Ray put it in. I’ve cursed him every year sometime during October.

Twice we had people come in and do the work for us, but they didn’t do it like we wanted it done, and they were expensive. So this year, it’s up to me and this year I decided to try a new approach. Instead of raking the leaves, a process that takes about 25 hours of work, I bought a new leaf blower/vac. I already had one, a gasoline model, but it just wasn’t up to the task. This new baby is a Black and Decker electric model that produces a 230 mph breeze that moves the deck furniture.

The Big Wind Storm and Small Wind Storm blew through the area in October. The Big one packed winds approaching 60 mph and the Small one packed winds of only 40-45 mph. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of twigs and limbs—some of which are stout ones—were blown down by these storms, and these twigs and limbs get mixed in with the leaves and get caught on things and generally make a difficult job worse. Unfortunately, the wind only blew more leaves into the yeard, and didn't blow many out of the yard. The rain and snow made the leaves wet, compounding/confounding the work to be done.

The process is to get the leaves off the hillside tiers and onto the deck, then off the deck behind the house, and then blow them across the yard and over the hill into the woods. This photo shows one pile of leaves that is behind the house that is about 13 feet long, five feet wide, and 3-or-so-feet deep. That’s the second pile like that I gathered up Saturday, and it’s the eighth one this fall. Say what you will: That’s a lot of leaves! I’ve got at least three more piles that size to go, and then I get to move to the front yard.

Compared to the back of the house, though, the front is a breeze. I knnow that I have everyone's sympathy! The good news is that the war will soon be over for another year.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Good Perspective on Muslims and the West

Wesley Pruden is one of my very favorite writers. Editor in Chief of The Washington Times, Pruden writes a political column twice a week, and in addition to a vibrant and creative style dishes out common sense in large doses with every column.

The one printed below addresses the difficulties we have witnessed involving the clash of cultures between Muslims and the Western social order.

Real respect for Muslims among us

By Wesley Pruden
Published November 24, 2006

Some of our Muslim brothers are eager to resolve their differences with us, and it's not easy. If they're too friendly, they have to be wary of the beheading knife, too. For our part, we must be careful not to pander.

Our holy men of good will, ranging from earnest Pentecostal preachers to beribboned high-church Episcopal prelates, seek out their Muslim counterparts for "interfaith dialogue." Some even travel to the Middle East to "dialogue" on the dark and bloody ground whence comes most of the terror in the world.

Sometimes they abase themselves, as if ashamed of Christ and their professed faith. They seem eager to reassure the Muslims that they don't really believe all that stuff they say they believe. When an interviewer from the New York Times asked the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the newly elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, what she thought of the observation of Pope Benedict VXI that Islam has tolerated a culture of violence, she replied with heat: "So do Christians! [Exclamation mark hers.] They [italics mine] have a terrible history. Look at the Dark Ages."

Her reference to Christians as "they" says a lot, but so, too, her drawing moral equivalence between modern Islam and ancient Christianity, as if the Reformation never happened. (Did the bishop never take a history class?) The pope, on the other hand, seeks interfaith dialogue of a kind likely to do actual good. Benedict travels to Turkey next week, where tension between East and West, the Cross and the scimitar, is an ancient affliction. "He will arrive carrying a different reputation," notes Time magazine, "that of a hard-knuckle intellect with a taste for blunt talk and interreligious confrontation ... when he speaks, the whole world listens."

With its practiced tolerance for all religions, the West makes itself a soft target for religions that merely profess to be religions of peace. Actual faith has been dramatically diluted in the West, where the church is often merely a place for the ruling class to marry its daughters and bury its dead, just as "faith" has hardened into a harsh, intolerant and deadly ideology in the Islamic world. In the West, respect for Islam has been replaced by fear and terror.

Our own holy men could respect their Muslim brothers, as well as their own countries, by showing tough love instead of platitudes of one part goo and one part mush. They could explain to their Muslim brothers why they can't always practice their rituals as Islam is practiced in Islamic countries. The incident aboard a jetliner of US Airways the other day in Minneapolis is instructive. The details are in some dispute, but what is not is that six imams -- Muslim holy men -- were denied boarding after they created an incident and were briefly detained. Other passengers said the imams made a row with a show of praying, punctuated with shouted slogans about how Allah and Saddam Hussein are great and the United States is not. When an airline clerk denied him boarding one imam shouted: "This prejudice. This is obvious discrimination. No one can argue with this."

But arguing with "this" is exactly what we must do if we bring the Muslims under the fraternal umbrella -- of what, in better times than these, was called "the melting pot." The imams should be told, forcefully, that making an intimidating row of rituals is not the American way and won't be permitted. If a half-dozen Catholic priests insist on conducting a Mass aboard an airliner, they will be told to stop it. Six Baptist preachers won't be allowed to conduct a revival meeting amidst either the cheap or expensive seats. Jewish mohels can't perform circumcisions aboard (even for volunteers). We don't do things like that in America, and no apology is forthcoming.

Pandering, whether by bishops or government officials, invites contempt, not respect. Nevertheless, after a Saudi national was convicted in Colorado of keeping an Indonesian nanny as a family slave and sentenced to life in prison, the State Department dispatched the Colorado attorney general to Riyadh last week to apologize to King Abdullah for American justice and the 14th Amendment.

We're an immigrant nation, a source of national strength and pride. But some among us want to turn e pluribus unum -- "out of many, one" -- inside out. We can't tolerate that, and it's time to say so, loud and clear.

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