Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Saturday, November 29, 2003

That’s Just Awesome

Cynics and other scalawags be damned. What President Bush did over the Thanksgiving holiday was simply outstanding.

To make a thirty hour round trip, into dangerous territory, just to spend a few hours with the troops on the front lines is the act of a true Commander in Chief. The boost in moral for the men there had to be simply amazing. It probably also twisted the knife in Hussein's guts, to know that his hated enemy
passed into and out of his former country with impugnity.

My respect for the president has just gone up significantly.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The Next Strike, and the Political Aftermath

Like I said before, it's basically inevitable. If there are enough people willing to die to accomplish a mission, they will succeed eventually. There are simply too many ways for a determined man to wreak havok in a free society. It could be car bombs; it could be gas in the subways; it could be a biological or chenical attack in a crowded venue. There's simply no way to anticipate and prevent every possibility while simultaneously maintaining a free society.

It can't be done.

Still, Democrats will surely use these attacks as a means of taking down the President. They will claim that it's all Bush's fault, that as President, it is his responsibility to protect the nation, and that any attacks on American soil prove that he is incapable of performing that role. This argument can be expected to gain a lot of traction, because it seems reasonable. After all, protecting his citizens is one of the top responsibilities of the President. However, given that future terrorist attacks are inevitable, challenging his competence over any attacks is an unrealistic standard. A more appropriate standard, one sure to be applied by Democrats if a fellow liberal sits in the White House in the future, would be, "Did the President take all reasonable actions to prevent a terrorist attack?" That is a valid question, and one which is open for discussion. The difference between a legitimate debate like that and the aformentioned attack is subtle, but critical.

So, how can you tell the difference between a genuinely concerned citizen trrying to further the debate and a partisan hack taking advantage of a tragedy?

Listen carefully to the rhetoric that follows the attack. If it is the usual hand-wringing ("Somebody should have done something!"), or blatantly opportunistic ("See! This is what happens when you elect a conservative! It's all Bush's fault!"), then you're surely dealing with a hack seeking political advantage out of devastation. A distinguishing feature of this style of attack is that the terrorists themselves will be relegated to an afterthought.

Another classic tell is the total lack of any realistic alternative plans. You'll hear statement like "Leave Iraq now!" and "This is a result of our misguided foreign policy!" or "We must open a dialogue with the terrorists." or "Let the UN take over!" or other garbage. (Quick hint: Regardless of past actions and who did what to whom, once the shooting starts (see NYC, Wash. DC on Sept 11, 2001) the time for talk has irrevocably passed. Unless you're talking surrender. That's reality folks. Any plan which doesn't account for that reality is a pipe dream.)

It's easy to complain that the administration failed to do the right thing; it's much harder to determine what the right thing was, even with the advantage of hindsight. And more difficult still to determine the proper course of action for the future. An honest critic will not just find fault; he will present a workable alternative to the present plan.

Finally, listen closely to the critics. Are they working to aggrandize themselves, or make the country safer? Are they trying to strengthen the US, or weaken the President? This is the hardest distinction to make, and often boils down to semantics and tone of voice; the connotations of the speech rather than the denotations of the words themselves. It can be a really close call, made even more difficult by the fact that there are many who believe that weakening the President will strengthen the country.

As for me, well, I believe we are in a global ideological war, one that reaches beyond lines drawn on a map. Radical Islam (which may not be all that radical, although I still hope it is) seeks to destroy everything America stands for. They are being aided by those who should stand with us, but through fear or jealousy choose to sit this one out. They believe that they can appease this enemy simply by isolating America. But the enemy is rabid, attacking any who refuse to join it fully, and they will find themselves under the knife before too long.

This is war "to the knife." There will be no quarter given by our enemies, who view every person, whether man, woman or child, as a legitimate target for death. They aren't fighting to detroy our infrastructure; they're fighting to destroy our will to fight. Militarily, this is a no contest; they don't stand a chance. Their best hope is to break our will to fight, make us want to quit, and it is here that they have their best shot at winning. Bill Hobbs posted that he didn't think that the Islamic radicals were foolish enough to atack us on our turf again. As I said in his comments, I disagree.

Another attack in America is a win for the terrorists. First, the "loyal" opposition, as described above, will immediately begin using the attacks to bring down President Bush. Given that he is the leader of the fight against terror, this is nothing but a victory for the terrorists. Second, how will we retaliate? What country do we strike at next? We're still working on Afghanistan and Iraq; we don't really have the resources to mount another invasion, nor do we have a viable target, except for Saudi Arabia, which, as the home of Mecca and Medina, is untouchable. We can continue the present course, or invade another country. In either case, another win for the terrorists. Third, the UN will do what it always does, sit and talk, and condemn the US, while the French and the Germans sit back and say "I told you so." Should we determine who funded and supported the attacks, you can count on the UN doing everything in it's power to keep the US from retaliating. Another win for the terrorists.

On the other hand, if the terrorists back off, we win. We continue to hunt them down, and they watch as a democratic Iraq begins a chain reaction in the Middle East, as dictators fall, and Sharia becomes a memory.

They have little to lose and everything to gain.

The only question that remains is "Will we give it to them?"

Posted by Rich
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RTB- Takin’ Care O’ Business

A couple of announcements.

First, the RTB has expanded again, with several new additions to the blogroll. Take a moment and check out a few of the new links to the left, including:

Welcome them all to the RTB.

Next, intensive negotiations between SKB and xlrq (Jeff) have resulted in the successfull conclusion of a mutual defense/non-agression pact between the RTB and the Bear Flag League, a group of California based bloggers that includes our own Andrew from Pathetic Earthlings. I've added a link to their page to the left.

Finally, I'm checking on interest in a holiday blogger's bash to be held sometime between now and New Year's Day. If you're interested leave a comment with proposed times and places, or send me an e-mail.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, November 24, 2003

The Key Question in the Middle East

Are the Arabs willing and able to support democracy?

Do they want it? Can they handle it?

Here's how President Bush framed it in his speech in London:
In the West, there's been a certain skepticism about the capacity or even the desire of Middle Eastern peoples for self-government. We're told that Islam is somehow inconsistent with a democratic culture. Yet more than half of the world's Muslims are today contributing citizens in democratic societies. It is suggested that the poor, in their daily struggles, care little for self-government. Yet the poor, especially, need the power of democracy to defend themselves against corrupt elites.

Peoples of the Middle East share a high civilization, a religion of personal responsibility, and a need for freedom as deep as our own. It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it.

I don't know if Islam and democracy can be reconciled; I know for sure that the fundamentalists don't think so. As evidenced by their actions is Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where dozens of Muslims were slain in terror attacks, the terrorists regard moderate Muslims with the same hatred they show Christians.

President Bush points to secular Muslim nations, nations that have successfully segregated religion and government, creating the opening for democracy, but there is another side to the story. In the remaining Arab nations, Islam still provides the basis for the government. There is no separation; the church is the state. Will a people brought up for generations under this system be able to break free?

The President's vision presupposes that freedom and democracy represent the natural state of man, which is a questionable assumption. Democracy certainly is the most successful governing system today; but it remains to be seen whether that is a one time occurance, or a general truth.

However, the Iraqi people should be the ones to make the choice. As many critics before the war mentioned, you can't force democracy on anyone. But what you can do is give them the chance to take it for themselves.

Which brings me to Salam Pax, who provides the best argument that some Iraqi's are not ready for democracy.

He had a letter in the Guardian which reads in part:
You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up.

This reminds me so much of the aging infant at the Clinton-Dole debate who whined that the President should be like a father, and "take care of us."


I've got a message for both of you from a real father. Grow the hell up! Pax, we're not there to clean up the mess Saddam made; we're there to give you the chance to clean it up yourselves. It's called being an adult, nimrod! We did what you couldn't; we're always glad to help out. But now, the ball is in your court. Leave England (you might want to say "Thank you" to Tony Blair on your way out. He helped in your liberation immensely and it's just good manners) and go back to Iraq and get to work. Remake your country into what you want it to be. Take part in the writing of the constitution; work on the provisional government; do something that shows you are willing to take on the awesome responsibility inherent in self rule.

Unless you just like being a subject instead of a citizen.

Posted by Rich
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Dean can win

reps needto take a quick reality check. They see the Dean who's running now as easy to beat in the general election. They say he's too far to the left to capture the center voters.

But it's always been true that to win the nomination, you have to energize your base, which means playing to the fringes. Once the nomination is sewn up, you play to the swing voters to win the general election. After all, your base isn't going to vote for the other guy, so you can move a good way towards the center to pick up the swing voters without alienating your fringe enough that they sit out the election.

You'll know when Dean feels he has the nomination in hand because he'll make a hard turn towards the center.

Posted by Rich
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The Dem’s Dilemma

Oh, the dems are in deep trouble folks. They've boxed themselves into the unenviable task of running away from the very platform they're running on.

As evidence, consider the howls of outrage over the first ad from the RNC.
"It's wrong. It's erroneous, and I think that they ought to pull the ad," Daschle told NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday.

"We all want to defeat terrorism," the South Dakota senator said. But "to chastise and to question the patriotism of those who are in opposition to some of the president's plans I think is wrong."


Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy called it an "attempt to stifle dissent." On ABC's "This Week," Kennedy said "dissent is a basic part of what our whole society is about."

Oddly, the AP article does not give a link to or quote from the ad itself, even though it's readily available. I'm sure it was just an oversight; it's not like they didn't want anyone to check for themselves, right?

Well, I'm always happy to do my part, and if you follow the link, you'll see that both Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy have firmly wedged their heads up their respective (let's hope) keisters. Here are the two statements in the ad that have aroused the ire of the donks:
  • Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists.
  • Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others.

What dissent has been stifled? Whose patriotism has been questioned? The ad simply points out the established dem line of attack on the president. Despite the evidence of connections between Iraq and terrorism in general, and the growing evidence of connections with al Qaeda in particular, dems still hold to the position that Iraq was not a legitimate target in the war on terror. Dems also recite the mantra that the US must allow the UN to take the lead in the war on terror. And since that war is demonstrably vital to our national security, both of the statements in the ad are true.

But the majority of people in this country support both the war on terror and the war in Iraq, and that's the crux of the dem's dilemma right there, folks. If they actually run on what they're running on, they lose. So they attack any attempt to connect them with their platform, and they keep that platform comfortably vague. They're all for fighting terrorism, as long as we don't actually, you know, fight terrorists.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, November 21, 2003

Tales of Creation

Every culture has them, stories about how the world came to be. The Greeks had Nyx, Uranus, and Gaia; the Norse had the Frost Giants and Asgardians; the Chinese had Pan Gu breaking from the egg, the Christians have Genesis and Adam and Eve, and so on.

While these stories vary wildly depending on the originating culture, they all share one feature: They all gloss over how something comes from nothing. One solution is to just start with something existing that acts to create everything else. On the other hand, the other solution is to dodge this problem by seeing everything as a cycle with no beginning or end, as in the Hindu tradition. Neither solution is very satisfying.

But we don't have to rely on myth anymore to discern the ultimate origins of our universe. We have science to find the answers for us, right?

Well, sort of.

The current theory for the origin of the universe involves some rather abstract concepts of complexity, chaos, and quantum mechanics. Basically, it goes like this:

First, there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. But nothing is kind of fuzzy, particularly when you get down to the quantum level. There's this thing called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that tells us we can't know for sure the exact state of anything, not because we can't measure it, but because it is actually indeterminate. As you get to a smaller and smaller frame of reference, that indeterminancy grows, and when you get to nothing, the indeterminancy is large enough that nothing now varies from something to less-than-nothing. Now, this isn't a measurement error, but an actual variance in the real status. Zero, at the quantum level anyway, is an average of all the quantum variations from less than zero to greater than zero. These variations are sometimes referred to as the quantum foam. In theory, our universe is just a BIG variation in zero.

Complicating the situation, these variations do not take place over time, since without space, you cannot have time. So how can you have a variation without a time frame through which to vary? Simple, the variations occur in (I'm not making this up) imaginary time. (No, I can't do that math either. Here is a simpler explanation.) Adding in a little chaos theory, those fluctuations become bigger, and if you use just the right equations, you can get those fluctuations to explode from a quantum scale into the macro, or real world scale.

And now you have a lot of something from nothing. Pretty cool!

Of course, a bunch of something doesn't do much good if it's just laying about randomly like clothes in my kid's bedroom floor. It has to be organized, and organization requires an organizer, right?

Not in complexity theory, it doesn't. Self organizing complex systems are just the ticket to clean up a messy room! Put simply, when you throw lots of small parts together, and hit them with a stream of energy, they may begin to function as a whole. A mathematics to describe the process has been developed, but whether it has applicability to the real world or not has yet to be determined.

But it's kind of neat to mess around with.

So now we have science's answer to creation stories. First, there was nothing. Then, quantum level fluctuations around nothing, taking place in imaginary time, sort of "blew up" onto a macro scale, creating the entire universe, which then proceeded to organize itself in accordance with yet to be discovered mathematical principles.

Yeah, I'm convinced...

Posted by Rich
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Mental Exercise

OK, here's a test for all you anti-war zealots out there. Devise a way to mount a terrorist attack here in the US. Your attack should carry an economic and psychological impact, as well as killing as many people as possible. Remember that as a terrorist, you go after a soft target, one that isn't overly defended, or hard to reach. The target should be fairly prominent for best news mileage.

I'll give you an example. Take the classic "dirty bomb" scenario, but let's make it a little bit easier. The damage of a dirty bomb is not caused by the radiation, which is any case will be fairly minimal, but by the economic impact of the cleanup, and psychological distress caused by the action. A dirty bomb renders a large area unusable until an extensive and expensive cleanup is performed. Low level radioactive waste (LLRW) works just as well as the high level stuff to cause these effects, and it is much easier to acquire. Locating and hijacking a shipment of LLRW wouldn't be that difficult. Add some explosives to the container (or if you want to get fancier, repackage the material for maximum dispersal) drive to the middle of a medium size city, and blow it up.

Now, that's part 1 of the exercise. Part 2 is to devise a counter strategy. Part 3 of the exercise is to repeat part 1 and 2 for every possible scenario you can imagine. Even staying within the constraints of simplicity and economy, any reasonably intelligent person could come up with hundreds, if not thousands of potential attacks. Feel free to focus within your area of expertise. If you're a computer dude, think of internet based attacks; an engineer, look at taking out buildings, bridges, or services. If a tree can knock out power over most of the northeast, think what you could if you really try!

Part 4 is to get your buddy to do the same thing. I'm sure he can think of things you haven't.

Part 5 is to figure out how to implement your strategies without A) busting the budget, or B) totally destroying the freedoms that make America worth protecting, all while facing a "loyal opposition" that has decided verything you do is wrong.

This is called Homeland Security folks. That's the job they have, and it doesn't take a whole lot of thought to realize that it's an impossible task. There's no way to anticipate every avenue of potential attack, react to it, and eliminate the threat without reducing America to a prison state.

It simply can't be done.

The only way to prevent future terrorist attacks is to get rid of the terrorists. Now, there are two approaches to this. You can try to appease them, give them what they want, or you can fight them. Appeasement is simply slow suicide when what your enemy wants is your destruction. They want America dead. They've said it often enough, and I take them at their word.

The only way to preserve our way of life, our freedom and our liberty is to take the fight to our enemies, wherever they may be. Some cry that we shouldn't strike first, that we run the risk of agitating the terrorists. Let me clue you in; they're already agitated. 9/11 didn't come from a calm, peaceful group. Neither did the bombings of our embassies, or the Cole, or the Khobar Towers, or the nightclubs, or any of the other attacks on Americans carried out by Islamic fundies. The first blow has been struck, but it wasn't by the US.

We didn't pick this fight, despite what revisionists want to claim; it was picked for us by a sucker punch from a September sky. Our enemy wanted to hurt us, and he did. Now we have to do what it takes to make sure he can't hurt us again.

Posted by Rich
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You’ve got to set priorities, right?

While 100,000 people marched in London to protest President Bush's war on terrorism, terrorists murdered 27 people and wounded 450 more in a double suicide bombing in Turkey.

There are no protests against the terrorists scheduled.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, November 14, 2003

Why is This Story Flying Under the Radar?

Imagine this scene: A major US company develops and markets an infant formula specifically for African Americans, and sell it in predominantly black neighborhoods. They hype the formula as meeting specific needs of that community. And their product is a big seller, capturing a third of the market.

Then babies start to get sick and die. Some are permanently brain damaged. Others show no apparent damage, but the damage could be hidden, surfacing years from now. The damage is linked to this formula, which, on independent review, is found to be deficient in Vitamin B-1. Further investigation shows that the manufacturer changed the formula to remove the B-1 supplement.

Wouldn't that be a major story? Wouldn't it be front page, above the fold stuff?

Then why isn't it?
Israel opened a criminal investigation on Monday into suspicions the deaths of two babies were linked to a German-made, soy-based formula pulled off Israeli store shelves and found to lack an essential vitamin.

The article goes on:
Humana GmbH — part of the Humana Milchunion collective, Germany’s second biggest producer of milk products — said in a statement it was looking into the matter and suggested the illness “may have had other causes.”
Remedia indicated Humana was responsible.
At a news conference in Herford, Germany, Humana chief Rolf Janshen said the formula recipe was unique to Israel and no other markets were affected.
He said Humana had commissioned independent laboratories to check the formula and “contrary to the Israeli findings, vitamin B-1 has been found.”
Israeli Health Minister Dan Naveh has called on his German counterpart to “get into the picture as soon and as seriously as possible.” Israeli health officials said the formula deviated from its original approved composition.

That was on the 11th. Yesterday, the sang a different song.
Humana GmbH, part of the Humana Milchunion collective, Germany's second biggest producer of milk products, said in a statement that its kosher Remedia Super Soya 1 product did not contain the amount of vitamin B-1 that the product advertised.

Okay, I know that sometimes things just happen, that coincidence is the rule, not the exception, but still, a German company sells a product specifically tailored for Jewish consumption, changes the formulation, and winds up with a product that kills babies...

And that's not worthy of major coverage?

OK, it's only an Israeli problem. That's why it's not getting much coverage, right?

Heinz, which bought 51% of Remedia in 1999, said the Remedia formula isn't manufactured, sold or marketed by any Heinz unit anywhere else in the world. But although Remedia doesn't export the formula, some independent companies may have shipped small amounts to other countries, generally for consumption by families who observe Jewish dietary laws, Heinz said.

So I looked for warnings in America and found this:
The Israeli baby formula was pulled off the shelves during the weekend in seven or eight Rockland grocery stores that cater to the county's Jewish population.

Shopkeepers were asked to remove all varieties of the Remedia brand from the shelves, even though officials believe the problem occurred only in the soy formula.

Local authorities took the step after Israeli officials connected the soy formula to three infant deaths and about 20 cases of brain damage.

The soy formula made by Remedia, an Israeli company partly owned by the Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co., listed vitamin B1 among its ingredients but apparently did not contain the essential nutrient.

Notice anything odd? Try this, the lead paragraph:
The Rockland Department of Health yesterday warned pediatricians and family doctors to be on the lookout for signs of vitamin B1 deficiency in infants who were fed an Israeli baby formula that lacked the essential nutrient.

I routinely blow off most charges of anti-Semitism, chalking it up to the natural cussedness of human behavior, but damn! All of the sudden, it's an Israeli baby formula. The German company isn't even mentioned in this article. Is this just sloppy reporting?

Posted by Rich
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Run over to Peggy's place and check this out.

What a long strange trip...

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, November 13, 2003

Ted Rall on Veteran’s Day

It is no easy thing to shoot or blow up young men and women because they wear American uniforms. Indeed, the soldiers are themselves oppressed members of America's vast underclass. Many don't want to be here; joining America's mercenary army is the only way they can afford to attend university. Others, because they are poor and uneducated, do not understand that they are being used as pawns in Dick Cheney's cynical oil war.

Unfortunately, we can't help these innocent U.S. soldiers. They are victims, like ourselves, of the bandits in Washington. Nor can we disabuse them of the propaganda that an occupier isn't always an oppressor. We regret their deaths, but we must continue to kill them until the last one has gone home to America.

I won't link to the garbage; you can find it if you want to read the rest. But nobody can ever tell me again how the right is meaner than the left.

Not after that filth.

Posted by Rich
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Eventually, they’ll learn.

But for now, we'll have fun.

You see, back in the old days, before the world was wired, nobody remembered what you said yesterday. That was a great thing for newspaper pundits. They had complete freedom to spin with the prevailing winds, and if they contradicted themselves, nobody would notice because their words would be inaccessible in a couple of days, entombed on microfiche in the dry stacks of a musty library, used to line the bottom of a birdcage, or to wrap a particularly smelly piece of fish.

Which brings us to the New York Times.

Andrew Sullivan points out a particularly glaring example of the Times engaging in a particularly egregious case of self contradictory spin.

How embarrassing!

At some point, print media might realize that archiving can now be done at the individual level, and take measures to ensure that these embarrassing little mistakes stop. An optimist would suggest that they'll stop spinning the news, and engage in a little more straight reportage. On the other hand, a realist will assume they'll just make their archives inaccessible.

Or, like the KNS, they'll make you pay to retrieve an article.

Posted by Rich
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Come On Guys, Make Up Your Mind!

Now there's a climatologist who is predicting that global warming will actually cause an ice age. (Link via Cox and Forkum)

Key paragraph:
In the past, the slowing of the Gulf Stream has been intimately linked with dramatic regional cooling. Just 10,000 years ago, during a climatic cold snap known as the Younger Dryas, the current was severely weakened, causing northern European temperatures to fall by as much as 10 degrees. Ten thousand years before that, at the height of the last ice age, when most of the UK was reduced to a frozen wasteland, the Gulf Stream had just two-thirds of the strength it has now.

What's worrying is that for some years now, global climate models have been predicting a future weakening of the Gulf Stream as a consequence of global warming.

Sounds scary, doesn't it? Except that it's all a guess. The author even admits later that there is no direct evidence supporting his theory.

So why publish at all?

Yet again, this highlights the fact that global warming, for which we have only ourselves to thank, is nothing more nor less than a great planetary experiment, many of the outcomes of which we cannot predict.

Oops, your bias is showing. No reputable scientist is attributing all of the recent temperature change to man made sources. In fact, the debate over how much is caused by human activity is on going, and quite contentious.

At least he's honest enough to admit that we have no idea what effect, if any, our activities will have on the climate. In the absence of strong evidence, pieces like this one are just propaganda.

For some real information on the science against global warming, check out this site.

Posted by Rich
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Hate Crimes fall

More good news for America. According to the new FBI report, hate crimes fell dramatically over the last year, including crimes against Muslims.

This represents a clear difference between America and the Islamic extremists we're fighting. We hold the extremists accountable for their actions, not their co-religionists or countrymen. They believe that every American, or American ally, down to the smallest child, is a legitimate target for reprisals.

It's the difference between civilization and savagery. Any attempt to equate our actions in Iraq with those of terrorists ignores this basic fact and is morally reprehensible.

Not to mention just plain stupid.

Posted by Rich
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