31 December 2007

Thanks

I wanted to take a moment and say thanks to the folks who have taken the time to read my blog over the past year and a bit. I hope that you've found it interesting and thought provoking. I've had a fine time writing it, especially because writing is a craft which is never really perfected.

If you have any thoughts on this blog in general - where it has been, where you'd like to see it go - or you'd just like to say hello, please leave a comment here or drop me an email here.

Thanks again, and I hope that you and yours have a happy and prosperous New Year.

30 December 2007

Thompson’s Refreshing Non-Ambition, Thoughtfulness

Senator Fred Thompson is eager to get out one message before the Iowa caucuses: he’s not running for president to fulfill personal ambition. That message was loud and clear on Fox News Sunday this morning, and he apparently delivered the message at a town hall meeting as well.

In a campaign where some candidates have had arguments about how young their adversaries were when contemplating a run for president (see Clinton v. Obama), it is more than a little refreshing to have a candidate state simply that he’s doing it because he and others think that he would govern well. I would tend to agree.

Another interesting comment Senator Thompson made was that “Nowadays, it's all about fire in the belly. I'm not sure in the world we live in today it's a terribly good thing that a president has too much fire in his belly.” Again, I would tend to agree. Where other candidates pop off about this or that (Obama would, theoretically, invade Pakistan; Huckabee isn’t sure about much on foreign affairs; Clinton would “take those profits” and has no rudder on illegals and driver’s licenses), Thompson appears to calmly consider things.

His only downside on FNS this morning was his overuse of “um” during the interview. Where that may come across on television poorly, on closer examination (and in comparison with other candidates) it shows consideration of a question in lieu of launching into a memorized answer that may or may not relate directly to the question posed.

I hope that Senator Thompson is still in the picture when the Texas primaries finally roll around. According to the pundits, the race may be all over by the time I get to vote.

29 December 2007

Thoughts on Pakistan

Over the past two days, there has been much fallout concerning the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Much has been written about the matter, must reported on television, and yet there seems to be little in the way of clarity. From what I’ve read about the history of the region, no one should be surprised by that. Trying to impose our (Western) logic and order on the situation is to depart from reality.

Al Qaeda reportedly has claimed responsibility for the attack, but there is more than a little dissent concerning that claim. Regardless of the truth, I don’t think there is much doubt that al Qaeda benefits from the chaos in Pakistan. Just as Sunni versus Shia violence worked to destabilize Iraq, so will pitting rival political parties against each other destabilize Pakistan. As is oft noted, a destabilized – or worse, Islamofascist controlled – Pakistan is a serious concern given the location and weapons capabilities therein.

That being said, one wonders if the elections in Pakistan scheduled for January 8th ought to go on as planned or postponed. Holding them as planned might lend some stability to the situation if Musharraf wins. Given the amount of blame flowing toward him from within Pakistan, that’s not a given.

The most clear and concise point I’ve read yet about the situation comes from Andrew Walden at American Thinker:

Western-friendly Pakistani governments are just a billion-dollar veneer with mostly theoretical control over the Pakistani military and its nukes. With Musharraf out as army chief, his control becomes even more theoretical. Pakistani reality is not so dissimilar to that of pre-9-11 Afghanistan, Iraq before the surge, Somalia, Gaza, Chechnya, Sudan, or other failed Islamist states. The only difference is that the state has not yet failed. If the PPP is knocked out of the picture, the end is a lot closer than many realize.
Indeed.

Senator Clinton Wants International Investigation

Senator Clinton, Breitbart.com reports, wants “a full, independent, international investigation” of the Bhutto assassination. She wants this because she “[doesn’t] think the Pakistani government at this time under President (Pervez) Musharraf has any credibility at all.”

Nothing like a presidential candidate attempting to undercut the regime of an important – or at a minimum, a necessary – ally against Islamic terrorists. Somehow I think that involving the international community would politicize an investigation more than simply allowing the Pakistanis to do it themselves. Ironically, Pakistan is probably no less dysfunctional than the “international community” is.

28 December 2007

Stand By for More Bad News

The murder/homicide bombing of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is a rude reminder of just how ugly the motives of some highly motivated folks really are. In the closing moments of a year when it appeared that the fight against the barbarity of Islamic fascists turned a corner, Ms. Bhutto’s death presents a new complication, a new, open front in that war.

I’m no expert (obviously), but nothing good will come of this in the short or medium term. In the long term, perhaps this one act will open up for attack the tribal areas in Pakistan which need some serious “spring cleaning”.

But for the time being, I’m braced for more bad news to come from Pakistan. I hope and pray that our trusted government leaders have, as is reported, long ago taken steps to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – though that program is not be something that I would want “exposed” by the New York Times or 60 Minutes. Securing that arsenal, in my opinion, is the most beneficial thing the U.S. can do in the short term to assist the rest of the world as Pakistan goes through the necessary convulsions following Ms. Bhutto’s assassination.

26 December 2007

Governor Huckabee’s Written Words

Two sentences from Governor Huckabee’s essay in the January/February 2008 edition of Foreign Affairs has gotten a lot of attention. While the reader might be able to take them with a grain of salt if they were only written once in the introduction summary, they cannot be ignored when Gov. Huckabee repeats them, though swapping the sentence order, in the second paragraph of the essay. The sentences, in the order presenting in the summary, are:

“The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.”
While I’m not sure what an “arrogant bunker” is, I would have predicted these statements from one of the Democratic candidates. Perhaps Governor Huckabee is attempting to perform a shock-differentiation between his potential foreign policy and that of President Bush. However, his rhetoric sounds like gratuitous divisiveness; it is more than a bit over the top.

That out of the way – both for the Governor and the reader – he divides up what remains of the essay roughly into five sections: diplomacy, use of force, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. While I won’t go through all of the sections here, each section is worth reading so as to understand Governor Huckabee’s ideas and point of view.

One thing that Governor Huckabee is an advocate for is a full explanation of what jihadists believe and why they want to kill Westerners. He rightly says this is something that the Bush administration should have been doing for a long time, but has not – probably because of the flawed belief that doing so might either offend some group or that the American people would not fully understand the explanation. Both of these are erroneous.

At that point, though, Governor Huckabee’s ideas concerning diplomacy break down for me. He says that “we cannot export democracy as if it were Coca-Cola or KFC,” but he also says that we should “do the right thing to improve life in the Muslim world,” which would include improving “education, jobs, a free press, [and] fair courts”. Three of the four of those are foundational to democratic nations. How would that not be seen as exporting democracy?

Governor Huckabee introduces the idea of making the military and civil forces more robust, though he does not go into detail concerning what the civil force would look like. He advocates adding more troops to the military, boosting defense spending to 6% of GDP, but does not discuss the civil side of his build-up.

On the topic of Iraq (opening statements notwithstanding), Governor Huckabee shows clarity on some points while seeming deluded on others. His contention that bottom-up reconciliation will end violence faster is a good thing is spot on. His view of Turkish use of force against the PKK seems as ill-informed as he claims President Bush is on the matter. Why does Governor Huckabee think the Turks would trust Kurds to fight Kurds? Does the governor really think that the Turks have not been conducting operations against the PKK for some time? Why would they need our “actionable intelligence”?

But it is on the subject of Iran where Governor Huckabee really loses me. He would seemingly simultaneously re-establish diplomatic ties with Iran while encouraging the EU and other international players to strengthen sanctions against Iran. Governor Huckabee also makes contradictory statements concerning Iran. He says in a very straight-forward manner that “Many Iranians are well disposed towards us.” This statement comes on the heels of his contention that the U.S. invaded an “imaginary country” (Iraq) created from “information that was out of date” and “longtime exiles” who provided erroneous accounts of the Iraqi state. How is it, then, since we have not had an ambassador in Iran for 30 years that we can be sure of the attitudes of the Iranian people? Governor Huckabee also claims that the U.S. should be ready with incentives for a non-nuclear Iran. He then lists the same kinds of incentives that were tried in North Korea.

But one wonders why, again, Governor Huckabee would be deluded to think that Iran is a rational actor. While he claims in his essay that his potential administration would stand by Israel, he would become friends with a pre-nuclear, vocally anti-Semitic Iranian regime.

Perhaps one thing that leads Governor Huckabee astray is his choice of analogies. Twice in the article, he equates international diplomacy with interpersonal relationships. But the U.S. is not a “top high school student” who is looked on kindly when he helps other, less fortunate students. Diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran is not akin to a family spat. These kinds of false analogies can lead one astray, away from reality.

In the final analysis, while I appreciate Governor Huckabee’s sober comments on certain topics (bottom-up reconciliation, open and frank explanations on the true nature of jihadism), his lack of specifics and use of false analogies indicates a need for him to spend more time developing his foreign policy plan. The capper, though, comes at the beginning. The U.S. does not, in my opinion, need to “open up and reach out.” The U.S. needs to stick to its guns, stand as a beacon of liberty for the world, and build strength upon strength, continuing the fight against those who would destroy the West.

24 December 2007

Senator McCain’s Written Words

If Senator Clinton’s essay in Foreign Affairs is long on bombastic rhetoric and short on specific plans, Senator McCain’s is its antithesis. He spends little time gratuitously reviewing the past and instead focuses on specific plans, policies and directions he would take American foreign policy if he were to be elected.

One of the most interesting and possibly most transformative ideas in the essay deals with reorganizing civilian and military coordination, presumably between the departments of State and Defense. Senator McCain wants “a civilian follow-on to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which fostered a culture of joint operations within the military services.” This would not be small potatoes, nor would it be accomplished quickly. The long term upside is increasingly better coordination, something which was reportedly horrible in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

One thing of note here is that this is a big, far reaching idea which aims at a goal that will probably not be realized during a McCain presidency; probably not even a two term McCain presidency. Nevertheless, Senator McCain puts the idea out there, and it is certainly not the only one.

Senator McCain would also initiate a “League of Democracies” to “compliment” the United Nations. This is an idea which I feel is long overdue. The United Nations is overrun with less than democratic members who do not hold the same values as Western democracies.

He would also increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps by 150,000 troops. Again, this is a long-term project; a fact which he admits to in the essay and says “must be done as soon as possible.” Another project would be the creation of a “Army Advisory Corps of 10,000 soldiers to partner with militaries abroad”. A third would be the recreation of the U.S. Information Agency “with the sole purpose of getting American’s message to the world”.

Throughout the essay, one gets the idea that Senator McCain has put a great deal of thought and consideration into his foreign policy plan. Nothing in the essay feels half-baked or off the cuff. He sees and delineates clearly between allies (democracies), outright enemies (Islamic terrorists), not-so-nice actors (Russia), and those which could lean either way (China). Even regarding the environment, he makes what is an ultra-sane statement: “I will also greatly increase the use of nuclear power, a zero-emission energy source.” He immediately follows this statement up with a defense of free market development of future energy sources: “Given the proper incentives, our [American] innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, and workers have the capability to lead the world in achieving energy security; given the stakes, they must.”

While I may not agree with Senator McCain on many domestic issues, particularly illegal immigration, I feel pretty comfortable with his positions on foreign policy as described in the essay. There has been some talk that if Senator McCain does not win the Republican nomination that he would be a shoe-in for Secretary of Defense. Perhaps a better spot for him would be at the Department of State, where a lot of heavy lifting will have to be done. Either spot would allow Senator McCain to lean on what I consider his strong suit: foreign policy.

23 December 2007

Cheap Oil: Just Add Hillary

Reported in the New York Daily News this afternoon:

When the world hears her commitment at her inauguration about ending American dependence on foreign fuel, Clinton says, oil-pumping countries will lower prices to stifle America's incentive to develop alternative energy.

"I predict to you, the oil-producing countries will drop the price of oil," Clinton said, speaking at the Manchester YWCA. "They will once again assume, once the cost pressure is off, Americans and our political process will recede."
I would have never guessed that making a speech about being serious about not being energy dependant would possibly have such an effect! Given this new, revolutionary phenomenon, perhaps President Bush will try this on Christmas Eve. What a Christmas present that would be: energy independence and low oil prices – all at the cost of words alone. With this revelation, perhaps I should now reconsider points of view regarding negotiating with terrorists and their supporting countries – since words alone are the cure. Or serious words, I should say. Or words uttered by Senator Clinton.

I was thinking last night, after re-reading my previous post on Senator Clinton’s Foreign Affairs essay that perhaps I had piled on a bit much regarding her “words without plans” tendency. Then this gem pops up, solidifying my previous thought that this woman will say anything, no matter how outlandish, to play to the masses and gain the election. I believe, however, that the American people are not so dim as to really believe her claims about oil or other matters.

22 December 2007

A Free Dominion Against the HRCs

A Free Dominion Against the HRCs

This short post is in reference to the HRC case against author Mark Steyn. A bit ago, I wrote a short piece on it.

Please make an effort to at least sign the above petition and/or write an email to the HRC regarding the issue. Again, you can reach the HRC though this link. Here is another link to a blog about the matter.

Again, please make some sort of noise about this matter, lest free speech - and intellectual debate - suffer a serious defeat at the hands of "the offended ones."

Senator Clinton’s Written Words

In order to spur myself into reading and writing more during the Christmas break, I thought I would pick up something that I would probably disagree with – Senator Clinton’s essay in the November/December edition of Foreign Affairs. Disagreement is a good way to stir thought.

Senator Clinton ends her essay with the claim that if the nation is lead in her way that “we can make America great again.” This statement implies that America is currently not a great country. Her reasoning has everything to do with President Bush. In her mind, he has driven America away from allies, waged war unilaterally and neglected diplomacy entirely. Her statement also implies that just before G.W. Bush became president, the country was great. Her husband, of course, was president then.

And it is through that lens that I read Senator Clinton’s essay. Her current aspirations and plans (what there is of the latter) cannot, and should not, be separated from her two-term husband.

Senator Clinton claims that America’s “unprecedented course of unilateralism” with reference to the Iraq war was detrimental primarily because we “diverted” energies (military and otherwise) better spent in Afghanistan. She leads that paragraph with the statement that America “refus[ed] to let the UN inspectors finish their work in Iraq.” One must remember that it was President Clinton who oversaw eight years of no-fly zone enforcement, including an air-ground conflict which began in December 1999 and ended only with the invasion of 2003.

Truth be told, America had more allies with it during the 2003 invasion than it did during the no-fly zone years, particularly after the French stopped playing in 1999.

But in an attempt to at least try to let her statements stand alone and not tie everything to her husband, here’s a list of glib statements which receive no thoughtful consideration or give the reader a real understanding of how they might be achieved (my comments in italics):

1. “Make international institutions work, and work through them when possible.”
Make them work? Is she going to ask nicely, say pretty please and hope?

2. “…a rapidly growing China that must be integrated into the international system.”
I thought they were a part of the international system, with a seat on the Security Council and all.

3. “…we will have to replenish American power by getting out of Iraq…”
This statement is so counterintuitive that it makes my head spin. While Senator Clinton does later spell out a sort of plan of withdrawal, it will probably happen without her influence because of the dropping level of violence in Iraq. But saying that withdrawal equals power is a suspension of disbelief that I can not make.

4. “As we redeploy our troops from Iraq…I will order specialized units to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq… These units will also provide security for U.S. troops and personnel in Iraq…”
Why can’t U.S. troops provide security for U.S. troops in Iraq? Why should “specialized units” exclusively do this?

5. “Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process…”
No, it won’t. Just as getting out of Saudi Arabia didn’t change a thing about how al Qaeda or others feel about America or Americans.

6. “That means doing a better job of building counterterrorist capacity around the world…and implement more stringent border controls, especially in developing countries.”
Somehow I don’t think she’s referring to the U.S. – Mexico border here, which is a shame.

7. “…if Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives.”
That a pretty long “if” list. Should we really prepare for these things, or should we rather apply economic pressure on Iran? What am I thinking – if we just use diplomacy, all carrot, no stick, we can talk the Iranians into changing their trajectory.

As the reader can tell, I’m not impressed by Senator Clinton. She’s long on anti-Bush rhetoric – regardless of how it plays with the history of her husband’s time in the Oval Office – long on seemingly thoughtful, counterintuitive statements, and short on how. But I suppose inevitability can trick a person into thinking that the how doesn’t matter so much.

In her closing, Senator Clinton says, “We must draw on all the dimensions of American power and reject false choices driven by ideology rather than facts.” Indeed. And for that reason alone I reject Senator Clinton’s ideology of “trust me, I’ll do a great job – because I’m not Bush.”

21 December 2007

More Dissent on Climate Change

Long after the debate was supposed to be over, but not long since Mr. Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize, there appears to be growing, published dissent on the idea that man is pushing the planet to a warmer future.

The obvious retort from Mr. Gore’s camp is that “25 or 30 of the scientists may have received funding from Exxon Mobil Corp.” Never mind who funds the Al Gore/IPCC point of view. Certainly that can’t be nearly as important as an evil, evil oil company spending money on research.

The response, per the article, provides a much more salient point:

"Recycling of that kind of discredited conspiracy theory is nothing more than a distraction from the real challenge facing society and the energy industry," he said. "And that challenge is how are we going to provide the energy needed to support economic and social development while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions."

Indeed. Time to lose the pseudo-religious ideology of Global Warming / Climate Change and develop – or revive – the idea of conservation, the careful utilization of a natural resource in order to prevent depletion (source – dictionary.com).

18 December 2007

Of Information and Single Issue Voting

As the presidential race (finally) begins to lean towards meaning – in terms of votes – there is going to be increasing volume concerning the candidates. Unfortunately, this volume doesn’t necessarily equate to usable information.

To get a better picture of each candidate, it’s useful to get information directly from them. Foreign Affairs has an excellent series of extended essays written by the candidates themselves. In them, the reader should get a fuller picture of what America might be like if (insert name here) were to be elected. I’ve read through most of them and commented on a couple. I hope to read the rest of them over the Christmas holiday. The only (now) serious candidate that hasn’t written an essay for the magazine is Mike Huckabee, but I think that will be published in the Jan-Feb 08 edition.

Which brings me to another point – single issue voting. While I don’t think it is my place to tell anyone what to do, especially with reference to voting – there is one mistake that I think perhaps too many people make, and that is single-issue voting. The idea that candidate (insert name here) doesn’t have lock-step views with me on (insert single issue here) so I will never vote for him/her is quite small-minded in my opinion. Leadership is not about single issues. Leadership is about vision, veracity and tenacity.

Decisions as important as a vote should not be made without the best information, a good understanding of positions (as many of them as possible), and full consideration. In what seems to be a sound-byte world, making a decision is a difficult task. But it is one required of us should we wish to maintain our form of government.

13 December 2007

gendercc - More Global Warming Nonsense

Just when I thought that the global warming / climate change discussion could not get any stranger (or pointless), I read about the gender aspects of climate change. I found it on Neal Boortz’s site first, and could not resist reading the press release myself. It reports that:

The women meeting in Bali with gendercc demand that a future climate regime be designed in a framework of gender equality and sustainability guidelines, instead of being driven by dominant economic factors.
Ulrike Roehr, presumably with gendercc, states:
“We need to question the dominant perspective focusing mainly on technologies and markets, and put caring and justice in the centre of the measures and mechanisms.”
One thing to notice here is that these two statements would purposefully replace more measurable things (economic factors, markets and technology) with feeling-based aspects (gender equality, caring, and justice – which I think probably is meant as social justice, a term of hydra-like definition). The bottom line of this kind of thinking is why should people attack a problem in measurable ways when feeling through them might make a group of people…feel better? What claptrap!

But what this is really about it money. One of the bullet points from the gender advocates (though one wonders why they use the word gender…one must suppose that women are the only sex with gender) states quite clearly what is at stake:

Allocate 20% of all donor funds to be earmarked for activities and projects addressing women and designed and implemented by women and gender experts.

Or, in the words of a Bali participant, "Don’t rely on the carbon market! Women have not benefited from it."

See, when it comes right down to it, the gendercc really wants the money that is being thrown at other “solutions,” like carbon trading and offsets. And they’re not asking for all of the money, just 20 per cent.

My question to the gendercc-ers is: how did you offset the carbon emissions you dumped while traveling to the Bali conference? Or will that be done, in some gender-friendly way, after you get your 20 per cent?

11 December 2007

Al Gore, Please Be Quiet

At the behest of my wife, I read the Al Gore statement while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize which appeared in The Nation. I really shouldn’t have. Those are minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. But, seeing as they’re gone, I might as well write a bit about it.

Amid his opening invoking prophets and a not so veiled comparison of Bush to an appeaser of Hitler (left-wingers love those Nazi comparisons of any flavor), Gore pops out this gem:

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency--a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst--though not all--of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.
The plot line for a special effects extravaganza from Hollywood, indeed. But it goes on, and it gets better. By anthropomorphizing the planet as either ill, our unwilling enemy or the victim of mankind, Mr. Gore attempts to gather all of his anecdotal evidence (storms threatening, droughts, species dying) under the face of the suffering earth entity. Woven within this sympathetic anthropomorphic waxing is another metaphor – the fight against Nazism and Fascism. Mr. Gore would have us believe that the earth (again, with human qualities) bears the brunt of collateral damage resulting from our greed.

And what would Mr. Gore have the world do? As one might guess, it has to be universal and comprehensive.

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multi-fold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.
“Spontaneously” is my favorite word in the above sentence. There’s nothing spontaneous about principles, values, laws or treaties.

But the crowning statement of the speech is the following:

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step "ism."
Mr. Gore is the architect of the lock-step “-ism” known variously as environmentalism, global warming, and climate change. It is lock-step as far as Mr. Gore is concerned. He is the one who has trumpeted time and time again that the debate is over, that global warming is real – or climate change is real – and that humans are the cause. If those beliefs do not create a lock-step “-ism,” I don’t know what does.

If one wants a truly funny and accurate portrayal of Mr. Gore, I highly suggest watching the South Park episodes “Man-Bear-Pig” and the “Imaginationland” trilogy. They are a decent representation of how Mr. Gore probably sees himself. I won’t ruin it for the reader… have a watch.

10 December 2007

Targeting Mark Steyn

One of the most notable Canadian columnists, in my opinion, is Mark Steyn. His articles provoke thought – and many times laughter, however wry – about serious topics. His book, America Alone, is one to be read. I read it about a year ago and I think I ought to read it again, though this time I should look for some serious human rights abuses.

I say this after reading online that Mr. Steyn and Maclean’s (a Canadian magazine) have had complaints filed against them by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) – Steyn for his book, Maclean’s for reprinting an excerpt of it in October 2006. According to the article in Maclean’s, the CIC called the Steyn excerpt "flagrantly Islamophobic."

The pity here is that freedom of speech will be a casualty, no matter what the outcome of the hearing before the Canadian Human Right Commission. As David Warren, another great Canadian writer, points out, these commissions are more about the hearing than the outcome. Mr. Steyn and Maclean’s will be required to defend themselves against (gasp) claims of offense. The CIC wins by filing the complaint. Mr. Steyn and Maclean’s can, at best, hope for public support to rally behind them.

But really, the act of filing a complaint against offense is repugnantly offensive. Anyone offended by Steyn’s book does not have the mind to consider it on its merits; the offended person would be just as put off by cartoons, the naming of teddy bears and intellectual speeches by eminent theologians. The goal of these offended people is to silence.

If you choose to not be silent, if you want your voice to be heard (or at least have the potential to be heard), you can contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission here.

05 December 2007

Thoughts on Thoughts About the NIE

I have not read the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) thoroughly yet, but there sure has been a lot about it on the television and on the internet. Whether or not Iran has the capability, capacity, or impetus to continue a nuclear weapons program – once a certainty – is now in doubt. It really is amazing what a few pieces of paper can do to opinion.

What should not be in doubt is the nature of Iran’s theocracy. It is a real theocracy; not like the one supposedly being built in the US according to some folks on the left fringe. Iran supports active terrorist organizations. Iran ships arms into Iraq which are used against US, Iraqi and Coalition troops, with civilian casualties, no doubt. Iran, like Hamas, has openly and repeatedly declared the removal of Israel as a state goal.

None of the above has anything to do with nuclear arms.

So, the NIE with regard to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear arms is either good news (they really aren’t pursuing them), or bad news (that won’t be figured out until after something bad happens). Either way, the “revelation” about Iran’s nuclear program does not change the nature and goals of Iran’s theocracy. It does not mean that the Iranian theocracy is a rational actor. Folks who use the NIE to reach these conclusions delude themselves, potentially to dangerous ends.

03 December 2007

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Health Care

Some statements are just too obnoxious for to ignore. I found the following comment by Senator Clinton about health care while reading a George Will article on Real Clear Politics. I decided to Google it to make sure I could find it other places. That was easy. The tough part is picking my jaw up off the floor. Senator Clinton said:

“We can no longer tolerate the injustice of a system that shuts out nearly one in six Americans. Ultimately this is about who we are as a people and what we stand for. We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But what does all that mean to a mother or a father who can't take a sick child to the doctor?”
My ears ring with the brave new world slogan from the revamped Superman – defending "Truth, justice and all that stuff." How silly I am to think that the American way (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) could ever trump something like funded health care, or all that stuff.

To use Senator Clinton’s own words, I don’t think that the system can be, essentially, just or unjust. If something is just, it is honorable and fair. A system that is based on payment to gain services, as the health system is, really isn’t fair or honorable. It costs money. The parents who “can’t take a sick child to the doctor” should read that they cannot afford to take the child. Their money is tied up elsewhere. Hence, government mandated health care – paid for so the parents supposedly do not have to worry, at least about the money end of it.

Regardless of what some folks seem to push concerning “universal health care,” it will cost. That money must come from somewhere. If costs are paid by the government, that means they are really paid by taxpayers. This push then for “universal health care” is not a push for better health care. Rather it strives to establish equality of service. Our tax dollars will be the vehicle.

There is nothing in life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness that demands equality of health care for all. What “all that” – all that trivia at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence – means, what “all that” is the foundation for is something that Senator Clinton does not seem to understand.

Pair health care with life, and one might come up with the Hippocratic Oath. Pair health care up with the pursuit of happiness, and one might consider preventative health care as one of the primary means of living a long life. Pair health care up with liberty, and one would most certainly come up with choice, personal responsibility and little or no government interference.

02 December 2007

Centralization or Decentralization

When thinking about domestic change, there appears to be an appetite for full-press, universal cures for big issues. From both the right and the left, to different degrees on different topics, there is pressure to adopt one or another slam-dunk cure, most of which require federal intervention in some way or another.

Given the nature of the union that is the United States and the wide ranging attitudes – sometimes found in pockets of strong opinion – across the land, it seems that the slam-dunk cure, the universal solution is exactly the wrong way to solve complex social issues.

For instance, as the 2008 presidential campaign drones on, the issue of abortion bobs above the surface from time to time. As might be expected, those on the far edges of both the right and left have drastically different views concerning abortion. Yet instead of allowing for wide variation of law between the states, Roe v. Wade has essentially set a standard from which the idea of “freedom of choice” has come into being with regard to “abortion rights.”

But when a more appropriate approach is suggested by Republicans, specifically repealing Roe v. Wade, right-to-lifers cry out that it would be capitulation. Any solution other than banning most, or all, abortion is anathema to them, it seems. However, as some have rightly pointed out, allowing states to implement their own abortion laws would more accurately reflect the character of those states and would probably result in more stringent rule regarding abortion.

All of the people can’t be pleased all of the time. Indeed, when the whole of the US population is taken into account (making it the “all”), it can never be completely pleased. So on complex social issues, like abortion, education, etc, the “all” should be leveled down so as to comprise a smaller group. This would make something like a consensus on issues more achievable. And what is more, if folks end up not liking the local rules regarding sensitive issues, they could move to a place where they would feel more at ease, more in step with the community. Now that would be a closer approximation of true personal freedom.

Instead of local level governance, what we’re most likely to see as time goes on is more centralizing of well-meaning social programs. These social programs are and will continue to be “franchises” of federal bureaucracy set up ostensibly to help the public. In reality, they are bastions of centralized power that grow over time and, in general, end up serving most those within the apparatus itself.

30 November 2007

CNN/YouTube “Debate” as Entertainment

There’s lots of new around the last two days about question plants, lack of investigation and deleterious motives with regard to the show passed as a debate on Wednesday. Thankfully, I didn’t watch. There was a far more entertaining hockey game on at the same time (the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Lightning, 5-1), and I was hoping to be entertained.

If I had only known that the CNN/YouTube debate would actually be staged theater, I might have gotten more entertainment from watching it – though that is doubtful.

It is highly suspect to allow folks to ask pointed questions and not ask them about their political affiliations. And it’s not that I care what those affiliations are. They do not matter so long as they are out there in the open. It is only fair to the debaters and the viewers, because not only should the answers be weighed and judged, but the questions as well. If folks know that a question comes from an operative of a political foe, that question can be handled and considered differently by both the debater and the audience.

But in the end, it seems that the CNN/YouTube debate has finally caused the primary debates to “jump the shark” into pure entertainment. The issues do not matter nearly as much as the sparing, jabbing, and upper-cuts delivered in the political cage-match of the entertainment debate. And it’s all to the detriment of our political process. It is no wonder that “[n]early two-thirds of Americans do not trust press coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign, according to a new Harvard University survey.” (Editor and Publisher article.) It is not news, after all; it’s entertainment!

28 November 2007

Bill Clinton “Opposed Iraq”…Really?

Having just read that former President Bill Clinton "opposed Iraq from the beginning," according to the Washington Post, I have to shake my head and wonder under what Commander in Chief I served from 1998 to 2000. During that period of time, I (and countless others like me) made more than a few trips to the Middle East to enforce the No-Fly Zones over Iraq. While absolutely nothing of note happened during my early trips there, from December ’98 onward, it was a different story.

During President Clinton’s time in office, both the northern and southern No-Fly Zones became much more like war zones. Almost daily, Iraqis shot at Coalition (Brit and US) aircraft. In response, Coalition aircraft dropped ordinance on Iraqi facilities, particularly air defense facilities. (For more detailed information, see fas.org and its timeline, by year and month.) The exchanges began in December 1998 when Saddam Hussein kicked out the UN inspectors (again). In response, Operation Desert Fox was launched. 1999 was a particularly “busy” time in the No-Fly Zones, and the back and forth whet on, to some extent, until March 2003.

So when folks read that the former President Clinton is stumping for his wife to become the next President Clinton, folks should remember that a lot of history comes with that family. Where Senator Hillary Clinton says she would (eventually) get US troops out of Iraq, it is instructive to remember that her husband, now opposed to Iraq, got US airmen far more involved in Iraq during his tenure. When folks take the time to remember his actions, the former President’s current words ring hollow.

26 November 2007

A Better, Shorter Answer

Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Fred Thompson an odd question. Mr. Wallace asked if a President Thompson would allow states to enact laws regarding abortion that he does not personally agree with. He asked this not long after asking two straight yes or no questions, if life begins at conception and if abortion is the taking of life, and getting a straight yes to both questions.

Mr. Thompson’s answer to the states question, however, was not as forceful as it could have been. What Mr. Thompson could have come out of the chute with on the states question is something akin to, “The President is not a dictator. He should not, must not, and cannot simply force his will upon the people.” This would have been especially appropriate because, in framing the question, Mr. Wallace quoted Mr. Thompson as saying that “people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even [Fred Thompson] disagrees with; that’s what freedom is all about.”

While Mr. Thompson got the message out that states should have more autonomy regarding abortion in a way, he should have been more forceful about it. In the end, the viewer/listener is forced to use a quote from Mr. Thompson that Mr. Wallace uses in his framing of the question to really flesh out what Mr. Thompson believes in the matter.

Mr. Thompson did, however, give a convincing argument about how, if Roe v. Wade were repealed, then states could institute more restrictive laws regarding abortion. This, in Mr. Thompson’s estimation, would be more realistic than going after a Constitutional amendment regarding abortion because an amendment would probably never pass.

In the end, Mr. Thompson’s answers were fairly convincing, though muddled with back-and-forth and not as forceful as they could have been. He did his best when he stuck to explaining his beliefs and convictions; he wasted time talking about other candidates' records and positions.

24 November 2007

Howard Out as Aussie PM

A long-awaited election has come and gone in Australia, and John Howard and his Liberal (read: conservative) majority is out, Kevin Rudd and his Labour (read: liberal) majority is in. Mr. Howard may not even keep him seat in Parliament. The mandate, if public opinion which has been fairly steady since before I left Australia in August is to be believed, is for change. Mr. Rudd represents that change.

But it seems to me, as has for some time, that this election veered toward “change for the sake of change” rather than change for some specific reason. Mr. Howard has been PM for more than eleven years and has overseen a long run of economic prosperity in Australia. But at some point, I suppose, the citizens of Australia (or the majority of them, anyway) got tired of seeing the same face as head of government, hearing the same message, voting for the same man (or party). So there will be change in Australia.

According to reports, the election was mainly run (and lost, for Mr. Howard) on domestic issues. Internationally, Mr. Rudd plans on signing up to the Kyoto treaty. It will be interesting to see how that effects the booming Australian coal export economy, most of which goes to China. Mr. Rudd also plans on “negotiating” with the US for the removal of all Australian combat troops from Iraq. This will also be interesting, as Australian and US servicemen have fought side by side in every major war since WWI.

But for folks in the US, it may be a sign of things to come – the “change for the sake of change” vote. If that is the case, it’s a great time for it simply because there is so much choice for “change”. Outside of Senator Clinton, none of the names running for President have a legacy in the White House. With the exception of one candidate, any person elected will bring change in the sense that the Bush/Clinton cycle will end. Thankfully at this point, Americans have more choices than our Australian allies did. For us, it is a choice among many; for them, it was either, or.

Not Reproducing

I just couldn’t help writing a little something about the article in the Daily Mail from the 21st about a woman, Toni Vernelli, who refuses to reproduce and is very proud of it. She reportedly had an abortion the one time she thought she was pregnant and then had herself sterilized thereafter. This all happened about eight years ago. (Which makes me wonder just why it is in the news now.)

My initial reaction to reading the full article was a mix of disgust and desire to write something quite mean in reply. But then it hit me: this type of person will take care of herself. By not reproducing, this woman and those like her will mark the end of their own beliefs. The only way to keep the vision of not reproducing alive (so to speak) is to recruit others to the cause. It is remarkable to think how much self-loathing must be present in a person to convince himself or herself that putting an end to the family tree is a goal to be pursued. And pursued, no less, to save something that cannot be enjoyed after the saving act. All other things aside, at least the Jihadist has the belief that something better awaits him in the afterlife. Mrs. Vernelli and those like her will never enjoy the thing they are attempting to save. Some folks might think this as the pinnacle of selfless acts. I see it as the height of self-hatred.

As Mark Steyn reminds us, “demography is destiny.” At some point, Mrs. Vernelli and those like her will wilt and wither. The key for those of us who do not share her method for stewardship of the planet is to ensure that she and those like her have as little influence as possible on public policy.

22 November 2007

A Quick List of Things I’m Thankful For

Just a few quick thoughts fitting the day.

- I’m thankful to be an American, and back in the US. Being in Australia was great, but being home is something else.

- I’m thankful for my wife, my life and my health.

- I’m thankful that my wife and I have a house to call our own.

- I’m thankful for my family and my wife’s family.

- I’m thankful to have a job (or two).

I hope everyone has a great day this Thanksgiving.

21 November 2007

My 2¢ on Education Reform

And it may be worth less than that, but I couldn’t help but to take another read over Senator Obama’s education plan, which appeared again today in the news (link here). I won’t go over the whole thing again, if only because it doesn’t seem to differ from that of John Edwards all that much. There are references to universal pre-kindergarten education, increased federal funding of state college tuition, and creating some sort of accountability for teachers, though the measuring stick for this is oddly missing. Senator Obama says, according to the article, “Failing teachers would be moved from classrooms and replaced with ones who are competent.” I suppose that means a federally mandated teacher appraisal system. But I’m getting side tracked here.

The main point where Senator Obama seems to diverge from his fellow Democrat presidential candidates is with regard to parental involvement. Again, from the article, he says, “We can spend billion after billion on education in this country. We can develop a program for every problem imaginable and we can fund those programs with every last dime we have. But there is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child's education from day one.” Indeed, and I might add “until graduation from high school.” And even more, “an advocate for the education, not the comfort, of their child.” In my opinion, parental involvement is an overlooked aspect of why children fail in school.

What follows is just my opinion. I may be right or wrong. I’m happy to take any reasoned criticism; doing so will help me refine my thinking.

If I could change two things about education, they would not be teacher pay and instituting an ever-earlier start to a child’s public education. One would be a return to, and mastering by the student of, the fundamental elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic during the first eight years of school with continued testing of that mastery through graduation. The second would be relieving micromanagement of classroom teaching by instituting end-of-course exams over stated objectives (mastery of the above mentioned fundamental elements with regard to subject matter) and letting the teacher decide how best to reach that destination.

Return to a basic, fundamental, non-“fluffy” curriculum throughout the K-12 cycle. Reading, writing and arithmetic must be the foundation for higher level thinking. Too often, educators either aspire or are told to aspire to hit the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy as much as possible. The result, in many cases, is that students may be able to think creatively, or they may feel really good about themselves, but they lack the fundamental tools of language, self-control and reasoning to get anything meaningful out of their heads. Or, on the other side of the scale, students may be despondent because they aren’t very creative; they can’t operate on the high end of Bloom’s because they don’t have those basic, fundamental skills. In either case, expecting students to operate on the high end of Bloom’s while hoping they pick up the rote, lower end skills (sentence structure, fact memorization, multiplication tables, and basic reading comprehension) is simply madness.

It is madness as well to dictate what and how a teacher presents to his or her class and simultaneously expect that teacher to individualize teaching to each child in the room. Yet all too often, this kind of doublethink is practiced – or at the very least, given serious lip service. The fear, I feel, is that schools will have teachers who just don’t clear the bar with regard to curriculum but who can’t be fired because of legal or contractual entanglements. The solution is to mandate a curriculum and teaching technique so that if something fails, it is a thing, not a person. Curricula can be changed with relative ease. The downside, which is substantial, is that mandating the what and how of teaching is actually professionally offensive to teachers who do care, who are competent, and who believe in a team approach toward education. For those competent educators, a list of objectives, a text and support from administrators and fellow teachers are the starting place for success, not a script to read from.

Those things being said, parental advocacy for education (again, not student comfort) is a great help for teachers and students alike. So maybe I’ve expanded to three things: parental advocacy, mastery of fundamental skills and individual teacher-driven curricula toward stated objectives. Now just how the federal government mandates or influences those things is another question.

20 November 2007

Selective Statistics, Hate Crimes and USA Today

A story from the 20 November edition of USA Today, headlined “FBI: Hate crimes escalate 8% in 2006,” is curiously selective in its reporting. What is quite interesting is the singling out of Muslims, homosexuals and Hispanics as groups experiencing “larger spikes in attacks” during 2006. This is done in the opening paragraph of the online article. The numbers, including those printed in the text of the article, make me question why these three groups were held up as examples.

For instance, the article reports: “Attacks on Muslims increased 22% to 156 last year. Attacks on Catholics increased by almost a third to 76. Almost seven in 10 were crimes against Jews, which were up 14% to 967.”

Based on those numbers, saying that Muslims experienced a “larger spikes in attacks” than Catholics or Jews is curious. “Almost a third” is larger than 22%. That would mean that Catholics experienced a greater percentage increase in crimes labeled as “hate crimes” than Muslims. On sheer numbers, Jews were the targets of “hate crimes” more than six times as often as Muslims. Why, again, were Muslims singled out in the opening paragraph?

The homosexual reference in the opening paragraph I thought was odd because I did not think that there would be another group to compare statistics with. I was wrong. According to the 2006 FBI report, there were 26 anti-heterosexual incidents logged during 2006. The way that the report sorts the data, there are five sexual preference-based categories, four of which involve homosexuality at some level. It is curious that the USA Today article does not mention this at all.

Finally, there is the reference to Hispanics. For the “Ethnic / National Origin” category that Hispanics fall into in the report, there is only an “other” category for comparison. The FBI report shows 576 “hate crime” incidents against Hispanics, a rise of 10.3% from 2005. To get any sort of comparison, one has to compare Hispanics with another category in the report. In the “Race” category, the FBI report shows 2,640 “hate crime” incidents against blacks and 890 “hate crime” incidents against whites. That’s an increase of .4% and 7.5% respectively. While Hispanics did experience an increase percentage-wise in incidents labeled as “hate crimes,” the number of incidences is dwarfed by the number reportedly experienced by blacks. Again, it is very curious why the USA Today article does not mention this at all.

The article did, however, take two paragraphs to mention the Jena incidents, particularly the noose hanging incident. That the noose hanging was not reported as not a “hate crime” only leads to a paragraph on how many noose hangings were investigated by the Justice Department (more than 40).

Obviously, there’s more to the USA Today story than the reader would be lead to believe from reading the first paragraph. Sadly, the reader has to go elsewhere to get more in-depth information – information that would not have required more column inches.

[Note: it seems that the AP - American Thinker blog here - has taken the same tack as USA Today with regard to the FBI report.]

19 November 2007

CBS and Vet's Suicide Rate

This past week, one of my classes had some free time at the end and one of my students asked a question. (I always encourage them to ask questions about anything when we have the time.) He said that on the news the previous night, the reporter said that “half of the guys coming back from Iraq are committing suicide.” I was more than a little taken aback. Recognizing that a large part of this statement was teenage hyperbole, I asked the class to do a little math-in-public with me (teaching across the curriculum, you know). Using a rounded number of 140,000 troops in Iraq, I asked all of the students if more than 70,000 Iraq war veteran suicides would be more of a news story. Given these numbers and this reasoned thinking, the students recognized that the story – with these exaggerated numbers – was clearly bogus.

Then this morning, I read of the New York Post site that the “news” report was actually aired. My student got the percentage all wrong, but the exaggeration of actual statistics was certainly there. Here is a quote from the CBS report, via the Post:

"One age group stood out," it said: "veterans age 20 through 24, those who have served during the War on Terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age."
The Post goes on to debunk the numbers, based on information from a variety of sources. And as any person who has been in the military can tell you (from his or her yearly suicide prevention training), incidences of suicide within the military community is generally lower than the civilian population.

But that’s not what CBS would have my students believe. Here’s the message that teenagers get from this “news” report: If you, young person, go to and make it back from the quagmire of Iraq alive, you just might decide that life is too horrible and off yourself. Better to stay home and see the world through our eyes. It is much safer and you won’t be bothered to think for yourself.

I think all of us, and most importantly our young people, deserve accurate information to consider rationally and thoughtfully, not the sensationalist, emotive tripe that CBS has in this case delivered.

18 November 2007

Politicized Science and the IPCC

-- Originally posted on American Thinker --

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the IPCC has delivered another warning of impending doom. This time, it has to do with the world's oceans' ability to absorb carbon dioxide. While I am not qualified to get into the science of this, I think it is instructive to dissect how the message is being delivered to the masses. For this, I'll use the Drudge-linked article from The Independent, a newspaper from the UK.

As might be expected with any article, the headline attempts to grab the reader's attention. In this case the headline reads, "A world dying, but can we unite to save it?" The "we" does not mean to imply that all the people of the UK should unite. This is a global vision; the "we" is global. The mission is messianic -- save the world -- which is all fine and good as long as the reader, or the believer, truly understands the intent of such an outlook.

In brief, the point of the IPCC's warning is that as the oceans soak up carbon dioxide (the article claims 500 billion tons since the industrial revolution), they become more acidic. In doing so, the life forms therein must adapt or die, and therefore the crisis.

Just like previous reports, this one was "[d]rawn up by more than 2,500 of the world's top scientists and their governments, and agreed last week by representatives of all its national governments." That means this is really not just science, but politicized science. It is the pursuit of "truth" so long as the agreed upon "truth" fits into the political machinations of the signatory governments. To mistake the IPCC reports with pure science is, by the reports' own admission, to only read half of it.

The political aspect of the IPCC report is clearly spelled out in the article itself. It "is designed to give impetus to the negotiations" which will happen in Bali in December. Again, the report is a premeditated attempt to push parties toward some sort of restrictive program with regard to carbon dioxide emissions. By having its end in sight, presumably before the writing, the IPCC politicizes its science. Whatever happened to the disinterested pursuit of the truth?

Most of the rest of the article is a whirlwind tour of the effects of carbon dioxide-saturated oceans. All of them are alarming. They are meant to be. They are designed to be.

The most curious of these points are the continent-specific predictions, which are saved for the knock-out punch at the end of the article. It claims that the "Greenland ice sheet will virtually completely disappear" and sea levels will rise "by over 30 feet". Bangladesh, which may already be in the reader's mind from the recent typhoon, is posited as a place which would disappear because of this. The Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef will both be destroyed. The farmlands of the US will dry up. And in Europe, the most curious outcome, "[w]inter sports suffer as less snow falls in the Alps and other mountains." All of this will happen, according to the article.

Though I am not a scientist -- far from it -- I have to wonder why all of the scare-mongering, shock-value numbers and political sign-offs are necessary. If the science really proves beyond a reasonable doubt that we are indeed headed for a climactic apocalypse, then the science should speak for itself. It should not be "designed" or packaged to influence politicians or the public. It should do so of its own merit. By allowing political influence into the equation, and in abundance at that, reports like this one taint and jumble the common person's view of both scientist and politician.

15 November 2007

Moving

Meaning that I'm, or rather we're, moving, not the blog. Getting ready to unpack things from storage that we haven't seen in nearly two years. It's Christmas in November.

I'll be back on Sunday or Monday.

11 November 2007

Thoughts on Veterans’ Day

My first Veterans’ Day since returning has come and gone now. I can’t say that I did anything special. The only military-like event today was talking with the son of a friend about ROTC. The school where I teach is having an assembly for Veterans’ Day, but I’m not too sure of the content there. All in all, it has not been a very special day.

And I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but the way that Veterans’ Day is recognized by the wider public doesn’t say much about the importance of the day or the men and women honored. There is no standard ceremony, no point in the day when we are all asked to stop, remember, and give thanks.

On ANZAC Day, Aussies and Kiwis have that moment – sunrise ceremonies.

Without doubt, it is easier for the ANZAC tradition to be encapsulated into one moment, one ceremony. The landings at Gallipoli were, if I remember correctly, the first of many brave operations over the horizon for the ANZACs.

Perhaps instead of having Veterans’ Day take the place of Armistice Day (the end of World War I), we should move it to June 6th and recognize the day – on the day, not the following Monday – when US troops, along with the UK and the Canadians, landed on the continent. Sunrise ceremonies would be quite appropriate for such a day.

Perhaps that day, that moment could give folks something to rally around. Not a slogan, not an ideology, not a sound byte. A time, a space to stop, remember, and give thanks. I could be, it should be a chance to consider again what it means to be an American, a free person, a community, a nation.

09 November 2007

Bali: Hub of Climate Change

Just in case there wasn’t enough hypocrisy involved in the “climate change” storyline, here’s some more to pile on. The UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Bali in December. Not wintery New York – or what could be expected to be a wintery New York – but sunny Bali.

As others have pointed out, it is more than a little hypocritical for “climate change” true believers to hop jets and fly (and most likely in business class at least) half way around the world to have a rah-rah for saving the planet. What carbon offsets will the UN by buying for this junket?

It underscores what a charade the “climate change” gurus are perpetuating. It is not about saving the planet; it is really about money and lifestyle. I’m obviously not talking about a “green” lifestyle, either. If the UN Climate Change Conference truly wanted to show its concern for the planet, then perhaps it would hold a massive video teleconference. How much carbon would that save?

But in the name of “saving the planet,” these yahoos (and I mean that in the true Swiftian way) will travel across the planet just to sit down and simultaneously wring hands and congratulate each other. It’s a scam. Indeed, these folks will live as richly as possible for as long as they can soak others for the bill. But what else should be expected out of the UN?

07 November 2007

Thinking Energy

Chasing ghosts is much easier, and probably more fun and exciting, than tackling real, tangible problems. That’s why, I think, there’s so much attention being paid to the idea of “global warming” or “climate change.” There are carbon offsets being sold, talks of capping, taxing and trading carbon emissions, and “green” events of various flavors – from concerts (not so green) to week-long news themes.

But somehow I just don’t think that these movements will amount to much when it comes to meaningful change. Sure, they make noise. They also make a whole lot of money. And most of all, they don’t change behavior. Just tonight, I watched a blurb on a news channel (FoxNews, I think) about how Gov. Schwarzenegger and Rep. Pelosi paying hundreds of dollars per private jet trip to “offset” their carbon output. A little money will wash away this spot, to paraphrase Shakespeare. But note, there’s not really a change of behavior, only money changing hands.

So it makes me wonder just what would cause change. Perhaps there are events going on right now that will nudge the country toward changing energy consumption and charge the smart and entrepreneurial to come up with new, varied and realistic solutions.

It appears that market forces are in place, or if not there, nearing that point. Oil will reach $100 a barrel soon, it appears. Gas is steadily climbing in the US. I can only imagine what it’s like in Australia at this point. It appears that the world will demand more and more oil – along with other sources of energy. But at some point, the cost will begin to outweigh the benefits of using the energy.

And then there’s Pakistan and Iran. Not that geopolitics has ever pushed oil and gas prices into the stratosphere (and I don’t think they’re there yet).

It’s not that I want all of these things to create chaos in the world. Living in interesting times is not something I care to do. But if the times do get even more “interesting” (and now that I’ve used that term, I’m not sure I like it all that much), there should be some clear vision about where we’re going. That vision shouldn’t center on how much the ice caps will (or won’t) melt in a given location or how much carbon we’re allowed to exhale from our activities. The vision has to be about how to preserve our way of life in a way that negates energy dependence as much as possible.

06 November 2007

Musharraf's Pakistan

If there’s one issue to watch over the next week or two, it is the developing situation in Pakistan. President Musharraf’s resent dissolution of the Supreme Court and crack down on political opposition is not a good sign for where the country is headed. That Supreme Court was, incidentally, about to rule on the legality of his recent re-election.

While according to reports there isn’t a major uprising, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be one. Sometimes these things take a few days to grow, to spread. I honestly hope that they do not.

I hope I don’t sound – how to put it – anti-freedom. Just from my horribly limited Western view of Pakistan, it’s Musharraf’s country. Not ideal at all, but given the alternatives, I think that a strong President Musharraf, with a dynamic political body underneath, is a good thing, at least for the rest of the world. One of the alternatives would be the Talibanization of Pakistan, which would be horrible for Pakistanis, not to mention more than a little scary for the rest of the world. We can at least be fairly sure that President Musharraf will not use the nuclear weapons Pakistan possesses.

01 November 2007

NAME and the Multicultural Classroom

Just when I think that I’ve read the height of multicultural drivel, something comes along to prove me wrong. I found this morning’s wakeup call on Neal Boortz’s site (linking to a Baltimore Sun article). It concerns the national conference for the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME – event site here). Some of the conference’s events appear, to say the least, to be loaded with ideological jargon and indoctrination. Both the Boortz and the Sun articles cite the same list:
- "The Unbearable Whiteness of Being: Dismantling White Privilege and Supporting Anti-Racist Education in Our Classrooms and Schools."
- "Talking About Religious Oppression and Unpacking Christian Privilege."
- "Beyond Celebrating Diversity: Teaching Teachers How to be Critical Multicultural Educators."

I’d add two more from the event brochure:
- “Teaching For Social Justice In Elementary Schools”
- “Math, Media and Multiculturalism”

Based on NAME’s goal statement, it seems strange to me that there appears to be so much racial, religious and social bias packed into the above events. One of NAME’s stated goals is “to eliminate racism and discrimination in society.” If that is so, why are there explicit assumptions that Christians and whites are oppressors?

Is there a need, in some strange, twisted way, to create another victim class of white Christians? Does this group need to self-flagellate because of who they are, regardless of their intents or motives? It would appear so, based on some of the conferences listed above. But it would take a lot of time and space to “unpack” – to use the multi-culti term – the intents and motives of groups like NAME.

And more to the point, it appears that there must have been some hubbub over a few of these events. The “Christian Privilege” and “Unbearable Whiteness” conferences were canceled, according to the NAME event site, along with two other conferences. The others I’ve listed above, all with more insidious names, all appear to still be on the slate.

How multiculturalism comes into play in the math classroom baffles me. 2+2=4. There’s nothing racial about that whatsoever. Word problems…fine. Change the names and the objects being counted. Big deal. Next thing I expect to see is “number discrimination” – making 2 the victim of 3 because it is defined it as one less.

Why anyone would want to push social justice, which the Baltimore Sun article points out is a term which defies definition, in an elementary school defies logic as well – unless for ideological indoctrination.

One bright spot, one could hope, is that the obviously racist and anti-religious conferences were canceled. Perhaps folks could read exactly what those conferences were about and rejected those ideas either by direct complaint or by simply not registering for them. Either way, it is a welcome sign that some ideas just don’t hold water when put out in the light. If the other ideas can have additional light shone on them, perhaps folks will see them for the ideologically driven clap-trap that they are.

31 October 2007

Thoughts on a Classroom Discussion

I had a talk with some students – and I think they’re pretty average students – about the meaning of the word “freedom.” We had some time at the end of class, and it seemed like a good, educational time filler. When asked what freedom means, the initial answer was something like, “being able to do whatever you want.” It was expected (though not universal).

Anyway, we then had a little talk about what anarchy might really be like, if it were sustainable. The flow of the conversation from the idea of freedom to that of anarchy was natural. I make a great effort to not direct discussions like this too much. Once on the idea of anarchy – or what I posed to them as completely unbridled personal freedom – was fleshed out a little, I think they had a better idea of freedom and responsibility. The nice thing is, I didn’t have to say much at all. The students got it, mostly by themselves.

Now, I understand that they can’t always live up to the standards of behavior they are able to discuss in class. They’re not there yet. But since they can talk about ideas like freedom and responsibility, and do so quite well, then they can certainly be held accountable for their actions with regard to them.

An interesting concept, that: teach, discuss, hold accountable for the material.

28 October 2007

Dare I Say?

Former senator John Edwards jumped on the “give something back” in the name of “economic equality” bandwagon this week. His latest plans are to create a “West Point for teachers” and create “a universal pre-K program to get kids ‘on track.’” He also said he would create a “college for everyone” program, whereby students who take preparatory courses and stayed out of trouble would have their first year paid for. It is, after all, all about the children.

But there’s something about universal programs – as anyone who has read this blog before will know – that strike me as just plain wrong, and lazy as well. Mr. Edwards’ plan would have kids in government run schools earlier. Note the pre-K program would be universal, which probably means that the curriculum would be standardized and attendance would be compulsory. What’s more, his plan of “college for everyone” would keep “everyone” in school longer. And just what will all of these children (or men/women-children by the time they get out of college) do for their 21-22 years of education?

If that doesn’t smell like a hyper-extended adolescence, I don’t know what would. The giveaway is that Mr. Edwards wants to fund these things federally. The pre-K and one year of “free” college, one could reasonably expect, would be extended over time. If I, as a student, don’t have to pay for college, then college becomes cheapened. It turns into a “right.”

And how might this educational machine keep moving? Well, the engine would be the “Education West Point” idea. No better way to standardize, check-list-ize, and sterilize the art of teaching than by creating a central educational training facility. There’s something about this that smells of – dare I say – communism. I’m not saying that Mr. Edwards is a communist, not by a long shot.

What I am saying is that with Mr. Edwards, as well as with the other major Democratic nominees, there is a noticeable tendency toward dishing out programs and benefits at the expense of realized capitalistic drive and ambition. That, in my estimation, is socialism leaning toward communism. Remember, it was Marx who said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” Tax the mean, nasty rich; give to the masses. It is a plan to power.

27 October 2007

Random Dylan Thought

Lately, I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Dylan while at work; it is pretty school-friendly music. A few songs aside (Rainy Day Women #12 & 35), few folks could object to the lyrics.

I’ve had the lyrics for “Slow Train” going through my head for most of the day. The album by nearly the same name (Slow Train Coming) came out in 1979, but the lyrics for "Slow Train" seem to be timeless. Dylan croons about oil, ambition, deceitfulness and delusions, and it all feels so current, even nearly 30 years later.

Perhaps that’s a reason to feel some comfort. Perhaps the world really doesn’t change, fundamentally, as much as we’re led to believe. The same fallacies are out there, with different masks and different proper names – but there nonetheless. And the same hope is out there. Strong fundamentals, I think, can unmask and overcome the changing face of falseness. (And I’m not talking about fundamentalism…far from it.)

25 October 2007

Another Call

It's been over six years since military operations started in Afghanistan in response to the 9-11 attacks. The war in Iraq is nearing the end of its fourth year. Both wars were, and are, fought on the ground by infantry, mechanized infantry and armored troops. Air and sea power are very important, but it's the boots that hold the ground.

I've said this before, but it needs to be said over and over - the US must increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. 100,000 is a conservative number.

This increase, if started today, would be six years behind schedule. An increase of this magnitude cannot happen overnight, or over a year for that matter. It takes time to recruit, train and field troops. It also takes skilled, experienced instructors - those who have learned the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq - to train troops.

However "politically impossible" it might be to think long term in an election year (now there's a wicked paradox), increasing military manpower is an issue that needs attention now. For all the claims that our military is "overstretched," there is a palpable lack of a solution outside of "bring them all home now."

But much like enforcing immigration law, I'm sure that addressing military manpower will fall by the wayside until the next president is in office. Or not. In January 09 there will probably already be talk about the mid-term elections. Then increasing military strength, addressing illegal immigration, reforming public education, reforming Social Security, and a litany of other "hot button" issues will be shelved as "too sensitive" or used as "wedge issues" while these problems linger and grow.

22 October 2007

From Edwards to Dawkins

Just surfing around and doing a little reading this morning when I came across a quote on Townhall:
How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods? Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought out?

John Edwards? No, that's a quote from Richard Dawkins, author and atheist.

The wonderful thing about Dawkins' - and Edwards' - point of view is that while arguing that children should always be allowed to think things out for themselves, they willfully neglect how to achieve the basic instruction of children on how to think.

But there is little doubt that for Mr. Dawkins there is no separation between how to think and what to think. The method is the answer; think in this manner and the answer is self evident. How that passes for free thought and free will baffles me to no end.

18 October 2007

Further Thoughts on Inclusion

In response to a comment on Fear, Parents, and Schools.

Anonymous,

Perhaps my opening paragraph did not adequately focus in on the specific students I intended to. As I look back, and with the helpful eyes of my wife, I can see how you could interpret what I wrote as desiring to exclude all special needs students. I apologize for not being more specific, more clear with my words.

I intended to focus on students who are both highly disruptive and have some way to blame the behavior on some malady or another - or some social situation or another, for that matter.

By no means did aim to suggest or imply that all special needs, special education, physically disabled or emotionally disturbed students should be removed from classrooms without question.

I have had some wonderful experiences working with students who experience some of the above problems. They have worked hard, given their best, and I have done the same. Some solid learned was achieved both in the core subject and in the realm of life lessons.

The students I intended to place front and center in my writing are those who - for whatever reason - decide to reject their chance at an education by continually disrupting the classroom. Many times, their behavior is blamed on some mental or physiological disorder, thus making the child blameless. It’s a tricky piece of subjectivity in some cases to decide what a student should or should not be able to do or control. But many children (and I mean any child here, not just those with special needs) quickly learn what they can do without consequence and what they cannot. For students who pole vault the behavioral line repeatedly, holding them blameless for their behavior does not prepare them in any way for the outside world that awaits them after school. Additionally, allowing those students to become serial classroom disruptors is a violation of the liberty of the rest of the students in the classroom. (For more on ideas concerning liberty and equality, I highly recommend Charles Fried's Modern Liberty.)

All students are not equal. To claim that they are - and I'm not trying to be offensive - is simply delusional. Students come with a wide variety of skills, potential and stick-to-itiveness. To expect uniformity, equality, among them is hoping for the impossible. And again, I’m talking about all students.

However, without doubt, all students deserve an equal opportunity to get the best education available. Education is not, however, an entitlement in the sense that all deserve an education without condition of proper behavior or responsibility. Two of the most important lessons any student learns are how to control him or herself in a formal situation and how to bear personal responsibility for his or her actions. All students must learn these things. Those who choose not to should not be allowed to take the opportunity away from those who strive toward them.

I hope this clarifies my thoughts on the matter. Thanks.

Right, Wrong and Mr. Edwards

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that fathers – or to be more inclusive, parents – should teach their children the difference between right and wrong. They should also reinforce it consistently with reasoned discussion when able and with strict enforcement whenever it is deemed necessary. This, I believe, is how children learn the difference between right and wrong.

Not so for John Edwards. In response to a question whether or not he would be comfortable with a teacher reading a story “celebrating same-sex marriage” to second graders, Mr. Edwards responded:
"Yes, absolutely. I want my children . . . to be exposed to all the information . . . even in second grade . . . because I don't want to impose my view. Nobody made me God. I don't get to decide on behalf of my family or my children. . . . I don't get to impose on them what it is that I believe is right."
And this man wants to be president? If he honestly believes that he cannot impose his own view of right and wrong in his own house, why should the American electorate allow him to wind-sock in the White House? By an extension of Mr. Edwards’s own logic, citizens would be able to choose on their own, without regard to law or custom, what is right and wrong under his administration.

Obviously, Mr. Edwards is not a leader in any way, shape or form. His conscious admission that he cannot decide what is right or wrong in his own house negates any claim he may have had that he could be president of this great country.

17 October 2007

Fear, Parents, and Schools

Originally posted on American Thinker - 17 October 2007.

While I agree with Chrisopher Chantrill's article "Fear is the Missing Ingredient in Government Schools" for the most part, I think that perhaps he's missing an important point in the tale: that parents are, at least to some significant degree, guilty of pushing an agenda of "you must accommodate my student." Governments, from the local to the federal level, are guilty of bowing to this pressure. Never mind what problems the student may have - emotional, psychological, behavioral, or educational. What matters more is inclusion in a "normal" classroom regardless of the fact that students with considerable versions of the above mentioned problems have a tendency to disrupt entire classrooms on a regular basis.

It truly is the lowering of the bar to the lowest denominator, one that is not even common.

And what's more, the rules on weeding out students who do not belong in the general population of a school are so wickedly restrictive that, short of actually committing an offense like the horrific one seen in Ohio, it is nearly impossible. In some states, it takes a violent felony committed on school grounds (if memory serves correctly) for expulsion to be considered. Not on school grounds? Not a problem. No metal detector or special program can solve that issue.

The solution requires rethinking of what education is in our society. Is it a right or a privilege? Is it a state or societal responsibility or a family and a personal responsibility? Is the accommodation of the "special" student more important than the true education of the majority of students?

Put more bluntly, when should the one trump the many? How far should the bar be lowered before there is a recognition that the liberty of the majority is being trampled upon?

Without a doubt, the solution to education problems in the US has many facets, and I think that Mr. Chantrill hits on one key vehicle of change: fear. But teachers should not be the only ones who fear for their positions. Students must feel fear of being expelled for serial violations of rules. Parents must fear the consequences of what they will do with their children should they be expelled. Those children who demonstrate that they cannot operate effectively in a standard learning environment must be taught elsewhere, and that is a parental responsibility, not a state responsibility.

The ones who should be without fear, akin to the example of the patient in a hospital, are the students who follow the rules and work diligently at their studies. They are the ones who are all too frequently being left behind. They are the ones who deserve safe, orderly classrooms, professional teachers who push them to their best, and parents and administrators who guard the schools from those who do not choose to participate in learning - be they teachers or students.

Creating a Brave New World

The following is an installment of the creation of a Brave New World. The Portland Press Herald reports:

Students who have parental permission to be treated at King Middle School's health center would be able to get birth control prescriptions under a proposal
that the Portland School Committee will consider Wednesday.

The proposal would build on the King Student Health Center's practice of providing condoms as part of its reproductive health program since it opened in 2000, said Lisa Belanger, a nurse practitioner who oversees the city's student health centers.

The news here is twofold. First, it removes the responsibility of parents to truly oversee the health and well being of their children. All they have to do is allow the student to be treated at the school health center (why not just “the nurse’s office”?) and, willingly or not, they’ve turned over responsibility for the child’s sexual activity. Mom and Dad may never know what medication their child has been prescribed…all in the name of “reproductive health.”

Second is that middle-schoolers are being tacitly encouraged to have sex for fun while being “protected” from the most obvious and common down-side of promiscuous sex – becoming pregnant. If this doesn’t just scream Huxley, I don’t know what does.

Life without consequence. Sex without responsibility or repercussion. Entertainment at every corner. And no real ambition to excel, to create something more meaningful. A little soma, anyone?

A Brave New World, indeed, but is this what we want to offer our children?

16 October 2007

LtGen. Sanchez and the Media

Headlines last week shouted what retired LtGen. Sanchez said in a speech to military journalists about how President Bush handled the war. From the little that I read about it last week, it appeared that LtGen. Sanchez took the opportunity to blast the Bush administration for the usual list of grievances concerning Iraq: poor planning, not enough troops, and interagency fighting.

And then, this morning, I read a column by Jack Kelly and found out more of the story. Seems that LtGen. Sanchez spent more time and words addressing how the media reports on the war, and he was not too happy about it. I have to agree with him – reporting on the war is abysmal and needlessly politically driven.

There appears to be much more coverage, in drive-by style, of sensational singular occurrences than of the overall situation, let alone the strategies and such being pursued. It’s another instance of the American people being judged as too dumb to understand the overall situation in Iraq and what the strategy is. Or perhaps it’s an extreme instance of, as LtGen. Sanchez says, “corrosive partisan politics” propagating itself through new and old media to drive an ideology instead of reporting without bias.

Either way, and as has long been claimed by some, the American public has been and is being taken for a ride by most of the media; political bias is in the driver’s seat and emotionalism is the copilot. Rationality and common sense have been left behind.

12 October 2007

Ignoble Nobel

For many folks, awards such as the Grammies, the Oscars, the Golden Globes and a host of others, have become empty vessels of predictable PC nothingness. In my opinion, Nobel has in some instances become the same thing. Take Jimmy Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize nod in 2002. Carter hadn’t been the engineer of anything rationally peaceful since Sadat and Begin signed, and lived up to, a peace treaty. Or take Yasser Arafat’s win in 1994 for supposedly building peace with Israel. Intifada anyone? And then there are the wins by Kofi Annan (2001) and Mohamed El Baradei (2005). Perhaps ElBaradei’s is somewhat legitimate, but Annan, as head of the United Nations, did more to keep unstable, even volatile, peace than to build lasting peace. At least he let people make a pretty penny in the process.

So this morning’s news of Al Gore’s Nobel Prize wasn’t all that much of a shocker for me. By his own admission, he is saving the planet. We are in grave danger, you know. Everything is melting, the seas are rising, hurricanes are a continual hazard, pestilence, famine, etc. So for Gore, the best way to fight this foe is to…make a movie. And not just any movie, but one which must now be “accompanied by materials explaining the film's inaccuracies” when shown in British schools (Wired News). And that by court order.

But Mr. Gore did not only make a movie, he also promoted it tirelessly. In doing so, he added to the “problem” of CO2 emissions by flying hither and thither to save the planet. But it’s all in the name of “educating people” and he really did it “for our children’s children’s children.” Never mind the facts here – he’s saving the planet, man.

And then there’s the whole carbon trading thing, which brings to mind Papal indulgences of long ago.

So of course Mr. Gore is the perfect candidate for Nobel this year. His “plan” will get the planet nowhere, but at least he’s making a boat-load of money in the process, much like Arafat and Annan (though at least Annan only let others make boat-loads of cash that we know of). The difference, I suppose, between the three is that Arafat took his money out in the open, and from governments (which is, by extension, from the people of Western countries). Annan allowed a sort of money recycling through the oil-for-money scam.

Gore is swindling millions and doing so right out in the open, in a personal manner. He’s a huckster selling the idea of “saving the earth” to millions of poor, misinformed, self-interested people who need direction, who need a monumental cause to believe in. Gore’s choice of “global warming” or “climate change” is a perfect fit because it fights against a largely invisible foe with weapons that make money – for some people, at least. What’s more, the fight will never end, and that too is by design. Climate changes. That is a simple fact. Therefore fighting the change can go one endlessly. For ever and ever.

Which brings me to my final point. In creating the cult of “climate change,” Mr. Gore has in effect created a secular religion. It has its own dogma, its own hierarchy, its own commandments. It also, now, has its own true believers. There’s nothing peaceful about a mob of true believers.