Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Apologies for Slavery

31.01.2007 (10:49 pm) – Filed under: Society ::

USA Today says that Virginia lawmakers are going on the record as having “profound regret” over the state’s slavery-tinged history. And Polimom, a Houston-area blogger, says:

The truth is that all of those caveats and concerns have nothing whatsoever to do with why there should be an apology. I think the collective American consciousness is sorry… but like Polimom, we’re individually afraid to say so. People want to deflect, or are afraid that an apology will somehow imply personal responsibility, and all this obfuscation and avoidance is making Americans — and particularly white Americans — look petty. Mean-spirited.

There are people who feel that focusing on this country’s historical ills provides a crutch for African Americans — a shelter behind which they can hide their own responsibility for the problems faced by many communities.

Maybe…. but whether black Americans are (or are not) using the country’s history as an excuse doesn’t mean there’s no worth in an apology.

I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I agree with her. And if that sounds barely more than equivocal, well, I guess that’s about right. Logically there is no reason for anyone to apologize for something that happened well over a century ago. And logically an apology shouldn’t make anyone feel any better about their life. Nothing will have changed for either the speaker or the recipient.

Or will it? Most white folks want to get along with black folks and most of us acknowledge that American slavery was one of those Really Bad Ideas that our country would have been better off never having had.

If it will put an end to this part of the racial divide then I’m for it. If it will remove the race card from the game of politics then we should all be for it.

So I say this: I’m white and I’m sorry that we brought Africans here against their will, held them in slavery for generations, and violated virtually every notion of civil rights that we now acknowledge.

If only that would put an end to things. The social inequities still exist, don’t they? Nothing but hard work is going to erase them. We need to leave the past behind and move on.

It’s time to accept that government-sponsored welfare programs and forced integration have not helped erase the cultural differences America faces. Black people are more than capable of making a better place for themselves in America. People of all ethnicities have come here and made good. The opportunities are there for the taking. It’s not always easy but it can be done.

For all Americans the future is uncertain. War, terror, and enemies abound, as they always seem to. One thing, though, is clear: we have more in common with each other than we do with the radicals we’re fighting overseas. This is true whether you’re black or white.

Let’s all leave the Jesse Jacksons, the Louis Farrakhans, the John Birches, and the Earl Ray Joneses of the world behind and look ahead. The past should be respected but it should not make us prisoners. We need to make peace and move on.

Troops on the Border

31.01.2007 (10:10 pm) – Filed under: Immigration ::

In a recent event, American National Guard troops retreated when confronted by what is presumed to be a heavily armed band of drug traffickers near Sasabe, Arizona. No shots were fired in the incident. Neither were any of the intruders detained. From the Washington Times:

Maj. Gen. David P. Rataczak, adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, told the state House Committee on Homeland Security and Property Rights that the soldiers did not abandon or flee their post but “relocated to another site” in accordance with the “mission we were given by the president.”

“We believe that based on what happened that this was a chance encounter with drug smugglers working their way back to Mexico,” Gen. Rataczak said. “We don’t know how many men there were and we don’t know how many of them were armed. But our guardsmen followed procedures to the letter of the law.”

Rep. Ray Barnes, a Republican, asked the general why National Guard troops were sent to the border if they could not engage armed drug smugglers.
“If you’re not allowed to do anything to stop criminal aliens, what’s the reason you’re there in the first place?” he asked.

Good question. According the same article the deployment of the National Guard will cost $760 million before it’s over. This is too much to pay to allow drug runners to have free run of our country. There’s also considerable risk to the men (and women, one presumes) who have been assigned to work the border.

In the Houston Chronicle, T.J. Bonner, president of the Border Patrol agents’ union, said the soldiers sent to bolster his agents are unnecessarily at risk.

“It’s not like some picnic down there,” Bonner said. “Anyone down there enforcing the laws is going to be caught up in the violence.”

Bonner said he worried that the soldiers apparently can only defend themselves “once the bullets start flying.”

As a former governor of a border state, President Bush should understand the problems posed by illegal immigration and by narcotics traffickers who pass through our borders almost as if they weren’t there.

Securing the border with Mexico is a serious business, as this episode demonstrates. The troops working there to make America safer should have their mission defined in such a way as to allow them to make it a success. This should include apprehending illegal immigrants and confronting drug gangs when circumstances allow. The President should, as Republican Arizona state Rep. Warde Nichols said, untie the Guard’s hands and let them do the job they were sent there to do.

Every Child Left Behind

27.01.2007 (9:51 pm) – Filed under: Education ::

I love the federal laws Congress passes: they always have such vivid, meaningful names, names that simply scream, “If you don’t support me you must be a ______”. Just let your imagination fill in the blank. The Patriot Act? You’ve got to be for that. No Child Left Behind? Only the grinch or a Islamic terrorist would be against kids’ education.

The problem is, of course, that these names are pure marketing. The Patriot Act vastly increased the intrusive powers of the Feds while doing virtually nothing to make us safer from terrorism. And No Child Left Behind has done only one thing: make sure that everyone has some sort of mediocrity to manage toward.

In fact, Matthew Ladner, Ph.D., vice-president for research at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute said at FoxNews.com:

In essence, NCLB will require all students to pass all tests, or else the federal government will sanction those schools. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where this is going. To avoid sanctions, states have already begun watering down their tests.

The best way to illustrate this sad phenomenon is to compare state test scores against the long-standing, well-respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP, also know as the Nation’s Report Card, has been given to representative samples of students in all states for decades. It judges the relative performance of states in a variety of academic subjects.

The discrepancy between NAEP and NCLB scores is stark. In Arizona, for example, more than twice as many eighth-graders score “proficient” on the state’s reading test than on the NAEP. For African-American and Hispanic students, the discrepancy is even worse: five times as many of these students score proficient on the state exam as compared to the NAEP.

Ladner goes on the quote some truly sad statistics about how low the standards have become and then blames the problem on the stick-first approach of NCLB: failing students = no money for the school district.

Somehow it seems inevitable that we arrived at this sorry state. Education reform is a complicated business, but it’s not so complicated that ordinary Americans don’t understand that a test like Georgia’s 3rd grade reading exam (on which there were 16 “gimme” questions and only required 17 correct answers to pass) are not what was promised by NCLB and are not what is needed – not by a damn long shot – for American children to compete with foreign students.

Not necessarily. Although he’s come to believe that after seeing the program in action for a few years, Mike Petrilli, formerly of the Bush education team and now back with the Fordham Foundation, recently wrote:

I’ve gradually and reluctantly come to the conclusion that NCLB as enacted is fundamentally flawed and probably beyond repair.

Of course, I harbored doubts about certain specifics from the beginning. You didn’t have to be a genius to see the “highly qualified teachers” mandate as a huge overreach and a probable failure, as it took a reasonable notion (teachers should know their stuff) and tried to enforce it through a rigid rule-based mechanism (second guessing principals who, for instance, hired engineers as math teachers). Nor was it hard to determine that asking all states to reach universal “proficiency” by 2014 but allowing them to define “proficiency” as they saw fit would create a race to the bottom.

That’s the voice of someone who ought to know. And perhaps ought to have known better, as he goes on to say later in the article.

Although both Ladner and Petrilli would radically change its current implementation, neither are ready to give up on NCLB. Despite the current, flawed implementation, neither should Americans be ready to give up on its tenets, which, as described by Petrilli, are:

  • that it’s the education system’s job to make sure they achieve a reasonable level of proficiency in reading and math by the time they turn 18
  • that everyone benefits from having someone looking over his shoulder and that schools and school systems need external pressure — i.e., accountability — in order to improve
  • that good education is synonymous with good teaching…but which today’s education bureaucracies, licensure rules, ed schools, and union contracts too often impede
  • that giving parents choices within the education system has all kinds of positive benefits
  • that improving education is a national imperative, and that the federal government can and should play a constructive role

In a single sentence I’d put it thusly: Our children need to be given the opportunity to keep pace with the rest of the world and we’re losing the race at the moment in most of our schools.

The federal government cannot manage from Washington the daily curriculum and teaching strategies of a nation – this is impossible. Withholding funding is a no-win situation, as described above.

So what is Washington’s role? In my opinion it is to set national standards for academic proficiency, provide funding to local districts, and get the heck out of the way until there’s a train wreck that demands intervention.

National standards should be solely defined by the Feds so that states and local districts cannot lower difficulty levels to suit themselves. This will undoubtedly cause much fear and anxiety at the local level. As unfortunate as this is, the fact is that math is math no matter where one lives in this country. There’s no good reason why there should be a different minimum standard in New York than there is in West Virginia or Alaska.

Funding, it seems to me, should be delivered to local districts to ensure the minimum standards discussed previously are met. Initially this means that poorer schools will have to be given more money so they can acquire the infrastructure they need to do the job. This should not be a permanent entitlement, however. Within a fixed, mid-term period – say 10 years – funding should be distributed on a per-headcount basis.

This funding should never be in jeopardy based on student performance. This is punishing students for the failure of the system and makes little sense. Instead of removing funds from failing districts, the Feds should assume responsibility for failing institutions, either directly or through their proxies. That is true accountability. The message to boards, principals, and some teachers: produce acceptable results or lose your jobs.

Teachers unions would have a fit over this sort of regulation. But there is nothing about the teaching profession that exempts it from the primary law of civilization: produce or die. Virtually every profession and every employee operates under this law; educators should not be treated differently.

Note that this idea imposes accountability on the federal government as well as local districts. When the Feds take over a failing district it is their responsibility to produce results where the previous administration failed. No longer is the Department of Education simply an ivory tower of D.C. bureaucrats issuing vague mandates and obscure, impractical rules. They will be out there in the trenches getting their hands dirty and seeing some or even most of their ideas failing, just like every other educator.

These may sound like radical ideas. But that’s far from the truth. If anything they do not go far enough. There’s no guarantee that these reforms would produce results that are significant enough to be an end-state of NCLB.

But we have to start somewhere. Otherwise this program will continue to devolve – as it is doing now – until it would be more aptly called “Every Child Left Behind.”

State of the Union

24.01.2007 (1:51 pm) – Filed under: Politics ::

Reading through the transcript of President Bush’s speech, I was immediately struck by the urgency of the situation in Iraq and how important it is that we give the Iraqi people one more opportunity to secure their country. Although we do not belong there, should never have gone there, and have bungled the situation there, it is still our duty to support the government that we helped shape until it is clear that they themselves have failed to meet their obligations.

Bush’s words point out the nature of the enemy quite clearly:

In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. And Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon’s legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

And his challenge to the Democratic Congress was, in my opinion, equally compelling:

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.

I and many other people wish the American military was not engaged in Iraq. In a better world, perhaps under better leadership, this would not have happened. But that is immaterial. As W says, this is the fight we are in. The reason why are not of immediate importance, only the way forward matter. And he outlined the appropriate steps:

In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we are deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down terrorists, insurgents, and roaming death squads.

This is what we should have been doing all along: taking the fight to the enemies of Iraq’s people on all fronts. It seems as though the Iraqi government has been blocking us in that objective. Now it is time for them to do what is right and we must give them that opportunity, even at the risk of American lives.

(Although lives, for Democrats, are clearly not a real issue. That inconsistency is, to me, too glaring to overlook.)

In response, Jim Webb’s speech was also very good. While Bush promised a complex-sounding health care/tax relief bundle that I doubt if 5% of the public understands at this point, Webb made a strong, strong point about the ever-growing income gap and the undue influence of large corporations on policy:

When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it’s nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts.

In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table.

The wages, stock subsidies and gifts, options and perqs that CEOs and their cronies receive is quite obscene. Americans know this, regardless of where they live or what party they are affiliated with and it was smart of Webb to bring this issue up. Enron, Arthur Anderson, MCI, Tyco. The list of mismanaged corporations is a long one and it points to bad executive leadership and failed oversight from corporate boards. Even the best of CEOs, Steve Jobs of Apple, is not immune from wrong-doing or the consequences that come from being caught.

An understanding of Econ 101 is all that’s required to see what is happening with the American work force and the stock market. Cheaper overseas labor undercuts them and the jobs go winging over to Thailand; corporate profits hold or increase and almost everybody wins. Everyone, that is, except the poor sap who lost his job and doesn’t have the skills to find another.

Education, we’re told, is the way out of the trap. But as Webb points out, the cost of a university education is rising much more rapidly than wages, particularly for those toward the bottom of the economic pyramid.  It’s certainly possible to save money by attending a junior college; however, the education these facilities provide is generally of lower quality than a 4-year university.  It’s a good policy, I think, that the Dems have enacted legislation that promises to make student loans more affordable.  What point is there, after all, in going to college only to emerge to a $25,000 that you have to pay off?

Webb’s attack on Bush’s Iraq policy was emotional but vague.  It’s also immaterial – we’re there and we owe the Iraqis our best, whether we want to give it or not.

The winner?  Bush, by unanimous decision.

Abortion, the Right to Kill

23.01.2007 (5:40 pm) – Filed under: Society ::

It’s a Liberal Issue

Democrats embrace abortion as a political issue because it’s one that can bring in a high percentage of votes in a particular demographic: the liberal female vote. For Dems it’s a no-brainer – abortion may be the only issue that they have the popular vote on their side. They milk it for all it’s worth, even to the point of supporting so-called “partial birth” abortions in which a viable baby is killed and often dismembered in situ. Anything to get a vote. Or so it seems.

(Fans of this procedure and of “a woman’s right to choose” may well find my choice of language offensive. I hope so; otherwise I’ve failed to communicate. Happily the Bush administration has placed restrictions on this singularly gruesome procedure. The Supreme Court recently held hearings on the subject; a decision is expected this year.)

Many people, myself included, marvel at the logical contortions that liberal thinkers put themselves through to justify their positions on various issues. Nowhere is this more apparent that in regards to the abortion issue. Liberals are against the war in Iraq because it risks the lives of American soldiers. Liberals are against capital punishment because murderers are deprived of their lives and because they might feel several minutes of pain in the process. Yet liberals are nearly 100% gung-ho for abortion rights.

How can this be?

The Situational Arguments

Those in favor of abortion often use the argument that it is necessary to preserve women’s health. This is undoubtedly true in some cases. However, the actual numbers show that this is an argument of marginal validity – only 6% of abortions are performed for health reasons.

Rape and incest is another hot-button argument with the abortionist crowd; yet, only one percent of all abortions are a result of sex crimes.

This leaves us with the overwhelming majority of abortions – 93% – that, to use blunt language again, are performed for reasons of convenience. Understandably those who feel strongly about abortion rights will and do not like this phrasing. But there’s no use in obfuscating the truth, is there?

The “My Body” Argument

Another argument that is often put into play is that of “a woman’s right to choose”. According to the script set forth by female rights advocates, political correctness demands that males play a limited role in the reproductive process – it is the woman who decides when and if to carry a child and, more importantly, it is solely at her discretion whether or not to terminate the child’s life in the womb before birth.

The legally astute – of whom I am not one – will notice a significant gray area in this argument. Leaving aside the largest matter of dubious ethics, the termination of the child (or fetus, for those in denial who insist on splitting definitional hairs), for the moment, consider the male-female relationship and the rights and responsibilities of both parents. Like it or not, it still takes two to tango and to make a baby.

The feminist position is that, because the woman carries the child and makes the most directly significant contributions to the nurturing of the young life during the incubation process, the woman is entitled to make decisions on behalf of the child without input from the male. Hence the terms “a woman’s right to choose” and “my body, my choice.”

Ethically, however, there is no such thing as a woman’s right to choose. Despite playing a different role, the male’s rights to the child are fully as valid as the female’s. Both contributed to the creation of the life and, presumedly, both will contribute to the continuing investment in it.

“But the carrying! The labor! The pain!” The feminists cry in their strident, outraged voices. “It’s my body!”

Yes, it’s true, women bear children. But their demands for total control over the process have no logical basis to rest on. The female does the hard work for the first 9 months of the child’s life. But thereafter the male’s contribution generally becomes primary from the providing and protecting standpoints while the woman handles the secondary roles of nurturing and care-giving. As imperative and important as the woman’s role in creating life is, there is simply no basis for a woman to argue that a male’s right to have his child born should be dismissed because she was inconvenienced for +-270 days.

Feminists rally around the rare case of a woman who wants to abort their child and a man who disagrees. “It’s her body! Why shouldn’t she have the final say?” They shout.

It is an interesting question but, happily, it’s not a complex one. To find an answer, simply reverse the genders and re-analyze the situation. In the more traditional case of a man who is not interested in raising his issue, he is legally obligated to provide child support for said offspring. Therefore, should a man refuse a woman’s demand for an abortion, he should be obligated to compensate her for any financial losses and costs incurred during the pregnancy and care for the child after its birth.

In short, fair treatment under the law requires that both voices be heard with equal volume and clarity when it comes to making decisions about a child’s life. Anything less is a miscarriage of justice.

The Numbers

Consider the post entitled “The Body Count” by The Texas Rainmaker, then look back at the abortion statistics referred to previously. The most potent, distilled fact that this data communicates is that every year more babies, 1.37 million, are “terminated” in the U.S.A. than in all of our foreign wars combined.

Think about the aftermath of WW II and the hundreds of thousands of men who were lost and the millions more that were maimed. Think about the heartache of the greatest generation as, in the prime of their lives, they had to struggle to put the horrors of war behind them, rebuild a country, and then face the Soviets down in the Cold War.

Now consider that American women kill off 1,274,100 babies – 1.37 million * the 93% of abortions not related to rape, incest, or health matters – each and every year, most out of either convenience or laziness.

What sense is there in that?

What must the men and women who fought and gave their all to preserve this country think of the new generation? I shudder to think.

More Numbers

The Liberal Left is 80+% up in arms over the war in Iraq. Why? Their stated reason is that it puts the lives of American troops at risk. This is a valid concern – I am keenly aware of their risks myself – but it does not make sense coming from their mouths.

Approximately 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq. Approximately 100,000 Iraqis have been killed as well, mostly civilians and mostly in internal fighting. This is a tragedy that I wish President Bush had not foisted on us. However, compare these numbers for 4 years of heavy fighting with the abortion stats discussed above.

Why does the Liberal Left carp endlessly about the risks well-trained, heavily-armed American soldiers willingly take on while their social policies kill over a million infants in the womb (or half-born, in the case of their pet procedure, the partial-birth abortion)?

Why do they pull out all of the stops to stymie states that have decided to utilize the death penalty to punish murderers and other capital offenders while just as assiduously promoting and encouraging aborting the one group of people who have no voice?

What logic is there in their position?

I have no answer for it other than party politics. This rather macabre plank in their agenda is there for one reason: the Republicans won’t challenge them for it and the result is a guaranteed block of Liberal Left voters.

It’s a disgusting realization to come to, that the Liberal Left will sell not only their own souls but those of the women who fall victim to their policies simply to gain political advantage. For them I have nothing but disdain.

Conclusion

It should be obvious by now that my view is firmly against the casual, widespread use of the abortion procedure as a means of birth control.

Neither do I accept the “it’s a woman’s choice” argument for two main reasons:

  1. In America, women have free choice as to whether they have sex or not (yes, yes, save for cases of rape and incest). That’s your choice, ladies. Once you’ve made it, you should, at a bare minimum, have the courage to live with the consequences. 9 months is not a lifetime and there is an easy solution to your problem. It’s spelled A-D-O-P-T-I-O-N.
  2. When there’s a dispute between parents about the fate of the unborn, either parent should have the right to say “Yes!” to life. Even a man. Even if the woman would rather kill her baby.

All of that said, I support Roe v. Wade on principle. Why? Because I live in America and personal freedom, within the broadest possible constraints, is our birthright. Personal responsibility is, or was, the watchword of this nation. It is not up to me, the government, or anyone else to make decisions for these women, misguided as they might be.

I would love to believe that these words mean something and that they can convince every reader of this post to believe as I do and that they should vote and act accordingly.

But I will not attempt to force my views of morality down the throats of unbelievers.
In return they should have the same respect for me. But I don’t expect it.

Liberals Responsible for 9/11?

19.01.2007 (12:11 pm) – Filed under: Iraq ::

The L.A. Times, perhaps emboldened by it’s potential re-purchase by the Chandler family, published an interesting opinion piece by Dinesh D’Souza entitled “How the left led us into 9/11“. Here’s the argument:

In considering a funding cutoff for U.S. troops in Iraq, the liberal leadership in Congress runs the risk of making the United States more vulnerable to future attacks, not just in the Middle East but here at home.

The analysis starts with President Jimmy Carter:

[The Ayatollah] Khomeini’s ascent to power was aided by Carter’s policies. Carter came into office stressing his support for human rights. His advisors told him that he could not consistently support the shah of Iran, who had secret police and was widely accused of violating human rights. The administration began to withdraw its support and finally pulled the rug out from under the shah, forcing him to step down.The result was Khomeini, whose regime was vastly more tyrannical than the shah’s. The Khomeini revolution provided state sponsorship for Islamic radicalism and terrorism…

That’s right to the point. The Liberal Left’s policies are, at times, like those of children: they look good on paper and they certainly feel good, so they must be good. Unfortunately there are often unintended consequences for our actions that politicians – of all stripes – fail to consider. Khomeini was a disaster for Iran and Iranians as well as the rest of the world; life would have been better for a lot of people if the Shah had stayed in power. Therefore, logic dictates that Carter should have left well enough alone.

Makes sense. But this somehow seems a bit simplistic. Islam was there as a social force, repressed and therefore under pressure. It was inevitable that they would eventually explode and become a political power. Many of radical Islam’s precepts make little or no sense to Americans. I submit that they make little or no sense at all, just as Marxism/Leninism make no sense in the practical world. But hundreds of millions of people do believe and no amount of denial will change the fact that they will demand to be accommodated.
Later:

Osama Bin Laden saw his theory of American weakness vindicated during the Clinton era.

Still, the 2001 attacks might have been averted had the Clinton administration launched an effective strike against Bin Laden in the years leading up to them. Clinton has said he made every effort to get Bin Laden during his second term. Yet former CIA agent Michael Scheuer estimates that there were about 10 chances to capture or kill Bin Laden during this period and that the Clinton people failed to capitalize on any of them.

D’Souza goes on to point out how accessible Bin Laden was in those days. This can also be seen in the 9/11 commission’s report: the opportunities to assassinate Bin Laden and potentially spare us 9/11 and the Iraq war were there. More than that, these opportunities were definitely do-able. Clinton, however, lacked the political, perhaps more so than the moral, courage to take the risk required to do the job.

Interestingly, in this regard the resulting tragedy could easily be pinned on the Republicans who, in their zeal to impeach or impale Clinton, had the President and the public so focused on Monica L. that the administration was unable to focus on the country’s business. Unintended consequences again.

D’Souza’s conclusion:

Two lessons can be drawn from these sorry episodes. The first one, derived from Carter’s actions, is: In getting rid of the bad regime, make sure that you don’t get a worse one. This happened in Iran and could happen again, in Iraq, if leading Democrats in Congress have their way. The second lesson, derived from Clinton’s inaction, is that the perception of weakness emboldens our enemies. If the Muslim insurgents and terrorists believe that the U.S. is divided and squeamish about winning the war on terror, they are likely to escalate their attacks on Americans abroad and at home. In that case, 9/11 will be only the beginning.

That is true. With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to see that President Bush should have recognized this before going into Iraq. We were divided over that policy and its desirability. If we had been unified he wouldn’t have had to beat the drums of patriotism so loud to get us in line. Now the result… But that’s water under the bridge.

Leaving Iraq doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of desire to win the war with radical Islam. A strong case could be made for using the tens of billions of dollars to carry the fight to them in other ways, both direct and indirect, by:

  • Doing what Clinton failed to do: ID and eliminate the terrorist leaders at the center of their webs of murder and mayhem
  • Insuring our independence from OPEC we would reduce the leverage terrorists have over us in proportion to our success at developing new energy sources
  • Cultivating relationships with moderate Islam we could marginalize the radicals, something that’s very difficult now

I’ve come out in favor of Bush’s new plan for Baghdad and I’ve not changed my mind about that. But if we abandon Iraq as a lost cause the war will not end any more than the Cold War ended when we left Vietnam. In the final analysis, fighting for pride doesn’t make sense – only fighting for victory does.

Found via The Texas Rainmaker – thanks.

Health, Ethics, and Stem Cell Research

18.01.2007 (1:34 pm) – Filed under: Science,Society ::

Everyone wants to live longer, healthier lives, don’t they? Actually, no, most Americans don’t care enough about their quality of life to take the steps needed to maintain and improve their physical well-being. Call it anecdotal evidence if you want to but this claim seems self-evident: people say they care about their own bodies but they do not.

If they did they would:

  • Get more sleep
  • Follow an regular exercise plan
  • Have regular medical checkups
  • Deliberately lessen stress

And they wouldn’t:

  • Drink excessively
  • Smoke
  • Take habit forming drugs
  • Overeat

Americans are known for making bad eating choices. They are also becoming known for being an obese people because of the bad food they consume in too-large quantities and because of their consistent lack of exercise. These are also self-evident facts. Look around. Take it in.

American’s average life expectancy is almost 78 years, far better than most countries around the world. Is it because of their astute dietary insights and demanding exercise regimens? Hardly. It’s a result of the vast medical expenditures that we’re making, expenditures that cannot be sustained over time, expenditures that are bankrupting MediCare and causing insurance premiums to rise astronomically.

The simple fact is that human bodies wear out and the more abuse they are subjected to the faster they deteriorate. Whose fault is it then when an overweight smoker and heavy drinker who has never exercised with anything heavier than a 12 ounce can of Blatz is diagnosed with heart disease or lung cancer? And who should bear the burden of the associated costs?

Furthermore, what steps should be taken to correct the medical problems in his life? Current medical science cannot save this man. For all intents and purposes he’s the walking dead. Are we obligated to save him? At what expense and whose? Thinking on a long-term basis, what types of research are we bound to undertake for the sake of those who fail to care for themselves? Which sorts of experiments are needed and which, if any, should be off-limits?

Today’s debates center around embryonic stem cell research because of the ethical issues involved and the potential for “life-saving” treatments that might be derived from experiments with human embryos.

The thing is that we’re all dying. No life is every saved in any hospital. Life is prolonged, yes, but never saved permanently. To be clear, we’re talking about quantities of time, that’s all.

How these stem cells work and how they might be used to cure diseases and other health problems is not well-understood. We’re at the level of Pasteur, peering into primitive lenses and trying to discern the work of an infinitely more advanced maker. Perhaps we can achieve an understanding of these cells’ function and put them to use. Perhaps not.

The larger question is: Would something be lost in the attempt? What is the value of a human embryo? Is there any?

Yes. With its potential to create a human life, an embryo is inherently worth an indeteriminate value. In 100 years the value of this potential life could be said to be known with some accuracy; however, in the moment nothing is certain. What might, if that embryo is brought to fruition, take residence in the resulting body? Einstein, Hitler, or another Joe Sixpack – only God knows.

As much as I am a proponent of scientific advancement, I cannot advocate the creation of human embryos for the purpose of experimental research. The destruction of even the potential for human life seems somehow fraught with peril. In this I think President Bush is correct – we should not allow this to happen in America as an accepted scientific practice.

The primary opposing argument is that some other, less scrupulous country will simply perform the research in their own labs using their own, perhaps less controlled, techniques. And?

Happily a compromise may be in the offing. Wake Forest University scientists have reported a new discovery indicating that considerable progress can be made without the destruction of human embryos by using amniotic fluid instead. According to the Washington Post:

A type of cell that floats freely in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women has been found to have many of the same traits as embryonic stem cells, including an ability to grow into brain, muscle and other tissues that could be used to treat a variety of diseases, scientists reported yesterday. [ed: January 8th, 2007]

More information can be found here.

This new discovery indicates to me that more study is needed in regards to the ethics of medicine in general and stem cell research in particular. While it is sometimes wrong to wait and obtain a more complete understanding of the facts before taking action, nothing in the field of medical research demands undo haste.

After all, there’s one thing that’s certain about life – no one gets out of it alive.

New Iraq Strategy

16.01.2007 (9:30 am) – Filed under: Iraq,Politics ::

Marc Schulman recently posted a compelling analysis of the “new approach” in which he tenatively supports the change in strategy given that the Iraqi government does its part.

For the most part I agree with his position. One statement I don’t agree with completely is this one in reference to the psychological stress of war:

Clearly, the majority of Americans are now psychologically exhausted. The Iraqi insurgents, as did the Vietnamese Communists, have achieved that objective. It should be clear that all that stands in the way of an insurgent victory is that President Bush has not succumbed to the exhaustion felt by the American public.

Americans aren’t exhausted anymore than our military is. We have, however, had enough of staying on a course that leads nowhere. We grudgingly accepted the need to invade Iraq only to find that we’d been misled (as opposed to mistaken). We were told fighting was over when in fact it hadn’t even started yet. We believed the mistaken idea that we had enough combat strength to secure the country. Now we’re angry that the very expensive effort has achieved so little and rightfully so.

This new strategy is, finally, one that seems to make sense and Schulman articulates the reasons why very well. It’s admirable of Bush to take his position in the face of peer, political, media, and public opinion and I’m proud of him, for the first time in a long time, for doing so.

Questions remain. Will Maliki fulfill his obligations? Can he? Are 20,000 troops enough to secure a city of millions? The answers are far from certain and my instincts are telling me “No” rather clearly. It would be nice to be wrong.

Another interesting question was asked by Joerg in the responses to Marc’s post. It’s the one that, if America’s mental tiredness is real is one of the primary causes of it:

Why has it taken the president so long to shift course?

I think it is too late now. Besides, 20,000 additional troops won’t be enough.

Rather this strategy should be implemented ASAP in Afghanistan, which the US and European governments are neglecting.

I guess, both the US and the European governments will only take Afghanistan seriously when it is in as bad a mess as Iraq is in right now.

But why? Why are our governments soooo slow to realize reality and shift course?

That’s a damn good question. But it’s not too late from a capabilties standpoint. Iraq may still be winnable, so long as Schuman’s premise of psychological exhaustion is incorrect.

Immigration = Assimilation

15.01.2007 (11:51 pm) – Filed under: Immigration,Religion,Society ::

I’ve discussed illegal immigration at great length in my previous blog (from which my posts will, eventually, be extracted and published here). My position is essentially that:

  1. Immigration into the U.S. should be closely managed by our government
  2. The U.S. should provide a clear, orderly process toward citizenship
  3. We should have a well-defined and regulated guest worker program
  4. Illegal immigrants should not receive any kind of governmental assistance
  5. Immigrants who come to the U.S. should plan to “become Americans”

Pope Benedict XVI probably doesn’t agree with point 4, but he recently gave a speech in which he said:

“Only respect for human dignity for all migrants, on one hand, and the recognition by the migrants themselves of the values of the societies which host them, will make possible the proper integration of families in the social, economic and political systems” where they are now living.

That’s not exactly in line with my position. But it’s not an unreasonable position for a religious leader to take and, for a Catholic Pope, that’s about all one can ask for.

Illegal immigration is a burr under the blanket of American society for many reasons, some economic, some social. It’s against the law to come to America without authorization but immigration laws are not consistently enforced. This in itself is a crime of sorts, for it allows these people, some fortunate, some less so, to enter a sort of no-man’s land within the U.S.

The nature of their illegality makes it difficult to assimilate at a reasonable level. Illegals tend toward the company of others like them because the danger (read: “hassle”) of being apprehended and deported is much less than in the general population. They participate, by and large, in a cash economy, with few direct contacts with mainstream America. The language and cultural barriers between them are never broken down precisely because they are here illegally.

Legal immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens of like races and/or ethnicities themselves often exacerbate the problem by failing to assimilate completely. In some ways it’s difficult to blame them. The sight of illegal immigrants who look and speak like you suffering because of their status inevitably brings out the compassion in these new Americans. How difficult must it be for them to deny their former countrymen?

Yet this is exactly what assimilation demands – the cutting of ties with the former mother country and the leaving behind of other loyalties. Immigrants who come to this country and then actively seek to change the laws, values, and norms of their new host country are not participating in that country. Instead, they are subverting it.

This, Pope Benedict says, is wrong. I would like to believe his words would influence the behavior of both legal and illegal immigrants to the U.S, most of whom are at least nominally Catholic. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they will.

Schoolgirl Bullies

15.01.2007 (9:56 pm) – Filed under: Education,Society,Stupidity ::

It’s shades of the Glenbrook Girls all over again, only the new girls from hell are so proud of what they’re doing that they’re uploading the videos to the Internet.

Last month in New Jersey, a girl was stalked and deliberately attacked by multiple female schoolmates and beaten outside a school gym. “It was brutal,” said Detective Jim Ryan. Later, not content with assaulting the girl, the teen queens repeatedly harassed the victim and spread her humiliation through the school by uploading a video of the beating to the Internet.

Only days later, a new gang of schoolgirl thugs got themselves in trouble by assaulting a much younger girl, taping their violent, inane actions, and posting the the event on the Internet.

It’s disgusting to see young girls acting out violent acts unworthy of civilized individuals. With all of the advantages that Americans have – even the poorest of us live lives that most of the world envies – why are these girls acting like brutish little sub-humans?

Perhaps a better question is: Why are we surprised when this happens? Young Americans live in a society where consequences are essentially non-existent.

The perspective of too many American teens:

  • Fail to do your school work and earn a failing grade? It doesn’t matter. You’ll get a pass up to the next grade level.
  • Scream at a teacher and you might, if you play your cards right, get a day’s vacation from school. Great! You’ll be back and just as full of piss and vinegar as ever. The teacher, underpaid and under-appreciated, is probably that much closer to a career change.
  • Get knocked up? Have an abortion. No problem.
  • Jealous of some kid’s sneakers? Knife him and walk off in his shoes while he bleeds. Juvie law’s got your back.

The truth is that it’s our fault, the adults, for not raising them properly. Parents seem to have less and less of an ability to control their kids every day. It’s embarrassing to watch as little Judy screams at her mother in public and the woman who ought to correct the child’s insolence either ignores or tries to mollify the bratty kid.

But what can the mother do? If someone catches her spanking the child it’s she who will be arrested and put on trial, not the misbehaving child. We’ve deified the child, even as we abort and molest their at hideous rates, to the point that parents no longer know how to fulfill their most important responsibility.

We’ve been told and re-told, by newspapers, television, and books that it’s wrong to correct aberrant behavior by punishing the action. Our reward for listening is a generation of children with little or no discipline and no respect for authority. Why should we be surprised by stories like the ones linked to above? It should be expected given our failure to teach them how to be human.