Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day

This is a day when we stop and reflect on the sacrifice so many men and women have made to protect America. Of course, for most of us now, the meaning of the day gets lost in the feverish activities of a three day weekend. Somehow, getting the entire race in before the rain hits is more important that actually pausing to consider what these folks have sacrificed, and even more importantly today, what they've made that sacrifice for.

Over the last few years, as I've watched the news, listened to talk radio, read weblogs, listened to politicians, and talked to folks I work or play with, I've become more and more concerned over the irrational anger and hatred that divides us. America is in the process of tearing herself apart, and today, I am convinved that this division is the single greatest enemy we face, far more dangerous than any WMD al Qaeda can come up with. Unless we can find a way to heal this rift, our foreign enemies won't have to do anything to destroy us; we'll take care of that ourselves.

And it may already be too late.

For eight years, we watched the opposition tear into a president they hated, taking every opportunity to attack him and his policies, even as he lead the country into one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in its history. He was vilified by the opposition, even as he advanced initiatives they proposed. Despite nearly non-stop criticism by the press, and the utter loathing of the opposition, he was re-elected to a second term, and retains great popularity with the party faithful today.

Which President am I talking about?

Your answer probably depends a great deal on your politics, since the above description applies equally well to either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. There exists such a divide in our political consciousness today that the same man can be hailed as a hero or condemned as the worst president ever, depending on the political affiliation of the observer. How can any single entity survive such a radically diverging view of reality? The answer is it can't. There was a time when we could afford this national schizophrenia, when partisan gridlock worked to keep an already over-reaching federal government somewhat in check, but that time ended on the morning of September 11, 2001. That morning was a clear signal that the world's scavengers had sensed a terminal weakness in America's spirit, and struck a savage blow, targeting our economic and political heart.

The results of that blow, echoing over the past 32 months, have shown just how accurate their perception was. Instead of rallying together, emphasizing our common interests over our differences, America is more divided today than she was then, and like a flawed diamond, one more blow, applied with a jeweler's precision, may shatter our nation forever.

Liberals take deliberate aim at the President, heaping scorn and derision on everything he does, deserved or not, all in the attempt to win power for their party, at any cost, and by any means necessary. Conservatives are no better, attacking the presumed Democratic candidate just as viciously, and with as little basis in fact. Liberals hold President Bush accountable for every failure, while giving him no credit for any successes. They distort reality, painting a bleak picture both here and Iraq, refusing to admit that anything is going well. Of course, this is nothing new; conservatives did the same with former President Clinton; and before him former President Reagan was given the same treatment. This leads inevitably to hypocrisy, since the instant their candidate is in office, the standards change 180 degrees.

Both parties are guilty of playing this game, and the excuse, "They started it" is just as weak and childish today as it was in a kindergarten sandbox. We need to be better than that.

This is not to say that there are not legitimate points of contention between liberals and conservatives, or that we must bury those differences in some patriotic fervor, only that the increasingly nasty partisanship on both sides leads to national paralysis at a time when we can ill afford it. A healthy debate is vital to the survival of a republic, but when that debate is dominated by specious claims of falsified military records and claims of unfulfilled military obligations, it is anything but healthy.

The reason I bring this up today, when we honor those who've given their lives to protect our country, is that it would be a damn shame if their sacrifice was wasted because we were too busy fighting each other to defend ourselves. Historically, democracies have not fallen to outside invaders; instead, they quietly rot from within.

Is that the road we want to travel?

I hope not.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, May 28, 2004

A few more personal notes, for those who are interested.

My unemployment is nearly over. During the last two months, I've been working feverishly to get a new venture off the ground and running, hopefully not into a brick wall.

Things have progressed well, and Tuesday will see an announcement here of my next big production. It's closely tied in with blogging, and even if I never get rich at it, if I can make a living, I'll be ecstatic.

So, stay tuned for that.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally bought a gun for carry. After a lot of research, that included reading several magazines, talking to knowledgable shooters, and test firing several guns at the range, I decided to get the Springfield Armory XD-40. I'd test fired the XD9 at the range, and was impressed with its comfort, and ease of operation. I still consider myself a beginning shooter, but even so, I could see the improvement in my groups using the XD. I went with the .40 over the 9mm based on conversations with several people, who told me to go for the increased stopping power of the .40.

I shot the new gun at the range the day I bought it, and then again, with Les and SayUncle last week. Altogether, I've put almost 200 rounds through it with absolutely no problems whtsoever. Cleanup was a breeze as well. All in all, I'm very pleased with this gun.

Finally, I took the plunge and got satellite radio. I bought the unit at WalMart, signed up when I got home, and had it installed in less than half an hour.

And it's wonderful.

I liked it so much, I went ahead and bought the boombox attachment so I can listen to it in my office at home. We listened to it all the way from Tennessee to Massachusetts without losing the signal. from blues to comedy to NASCAR to 70s to urban to contemporary; XM has it all.

(I even listened to Air America for awhile. Don't tell anybody, OK? I'll lose my secret VRWC wingnut decoder ring.)

OK, after midnight now, and time for me to call it a night.

It's good to be back on the air.

Posted by Rich
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OK, several hours later…

...everything seems to be running well. I guess the bugs will start popping out later. I took the opportunity to go through and eliminate most of the comment spam that's been plagueing my site for the last month or so, and banned the IP's that most of it came from.

Unfortunately, the reason I upgraded was to install MT Blacklist to get rid of that garbage more efficiently. Only now do I discover that MT Blacklist doesn't work with MT 3.0.

Bummer.

So, I'm trying the moderated comments feature of MT 3.0 and will see how that works. If it's still too much trouble, then I may have to consider an alternative comment scheme.

Posted by Rich
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MT upgrade

Sorry for the silence folks. I upgraded to MT 3.0 last week and haven't been able to get into the blog until now.

I'm still not sure if everything is working, but so far so good...

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, May 20, 2004

A True Story

I slent last weekend in Massachusetts at my son's graduation ceremony from Simon's Rock College of Bard.

The Address was given by the Dean of Simon's Rock, because he was retiring.

The following is as exact a quote as I can remember:

I've listened to many a speaker at a Commencement over the last 18 years, and I've come to realize something very important.

I can't remember anything they said. (polite laughter)

At my graduation, we had a conservative gentleman, Mr. William F. Buckley, give our commencement address. As you know, Mr. Buckley has an archaic...chuckle... I mean arcane vocabulary, and after he spoke, I realized I had no idea what he had just said. (more laughter)


So much for the value of a liberal education, eh?

I made that comment sotto voce* which led to a sharp glare from a moderately attractive woman sitting in front of me, who, based on the "Dean For America" bumper sticker she plastered on the back of her folding chair when she arrived, tended toward the liberal side of the political landscape.

*For the Dean of Simon's Rock, that means "in a soft voice."

Always happy to help out, that's me!

Posted by Rich
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Comment Spam

Doggone! I leave for a few days, come back and find 875,236 e-mails in my inbox.

Out of that outrageous number, 875,233 were offers for Viagra, Cialis, or other products designed to enhance my life, left as comment spam.

Have you ever tried to delete 875, 233 e-mail messages?

Not the most enjoyable way to spend an hour.

I've downloaded MT blacklist, and once installed, it should take care of the problem.

Now, if I can just install it without crashing the whole site, we'll be in business.

Speaking of business, expect a major new announcement here within a week or two.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, May 14, 2004

Outta Here for the Nonce.  Back in a Jiffy.

I'm heading up to Great Barrington Massachusetts in the morning to see my son get his degree from Simon's Rock College of Bard. I'm leaving early in the morning, so there will be no Friday entry.

Except for this one.

But just because I'm on the road, don't let that stop you from heading over to Medb's place to check out the latest VTP.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A Simple Answer

Define torture.

It's funny how often the simplest questions are so hard to answer.

Most of the folks I've talked to define torture the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined obscenity. They aren't really clear on what the definition should be, but they know it when they see it.

Except they don't; not really. There's a tremendous range of actions that some call torture, and others call acceptable.

In this case, the word torture was being thrown around when all we really knew about was abuse no worse than your average fraternity hazing. Can we really use the same word to describe beating a man to death as we use to describe keeping him awake for an extended period of time?

[break]

I wrote the above Monday night, setting the framework for a discussion on the line on just what torture meant. However, today's events have changed everything, making that discussion irrelevant. The animals of al Qaida have given us a stark lesson in the difference between unsanctioned abuse and systemic torture.

A poor quality videotape on the site showed a man bound to a white plastic chair in a bare room, then kneeling on the floor with five masked men behind him.


The masked men then pushed him to the floor and shouted "God is greatest" above his screams as one of them sawed his head off with a large knife, then held it aloft for the camera.


The Web site said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a top ally of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was the man who cut off the man's head. The statement in the video was signed off with Zarqawi's name and dated May 11.

For all the weak-minded, pathetic fools who claim that the abuses in Al Ghraib prison make us no better than our enemy, you've just been proven hideously wrong. Nothing we've done, proven or alleged, comes near to the sheer inhuman brutality of what happened to Nick Berg.

It's not even close.

Any rational person can clearly see the wide chasm separating our behavior, even at its worst, from their routine actions. Islamofascists routinely act in ways that seem inhuman to Western mores. They are willing to kill dozens of innocents, even their own people, if it means killing one enemy. And this isn't a new developement, following the revelations of abuse at al Ghraib prison. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered well before we had invaded Iraq; the 4 contractors were torn to shreds and the Italian had his throat slit long before Al Ghraib became public; suicide bombings and random mortar/rocket attacks have killed hundreds of Iraqi citizens. Any claim that Berg's murder is simply a result of Al Ghraib is sheer nonsense and nothing more than a pathetic excuse for weaklings and cowards to attack the President and his policies. They would play politics with a man's murder.

Let's keep it very simple, in deference to those brain-dead apostles of appeasement.

The responsibility for this outrageous act lies solely and entirely with the men who ordered it and carried it out.

For those who aren't convinced yet, let's compare and contrast these two events.
  • Nobody was beheaded by US forces in Al Ghraib prison.
  • The videotapes in Al Ghraib were not taken for public display. They only became public after they were used to launch an investigation into the abuse, an investigation initiated by the US armed forces. The videotape of Nick Berg screaming as his head was sawn off was sent directly to the press by al-Zarqawi, as a PR gambit.
  • The leader of the US forces did not personally carry out the abuse. In fact, she may have been unaware that it took place at all. al-Zarqawi was the man that wielded the bloody knife.
  • The people involved in Al Ghraib are being investigated and those found guilty will be punished. al-Zarqawi and his men will be rewarded for their actions.
  • The leader of the US has strongly condemned the actions in Al Ghraib and elsewhere, and vowed to put a stop to it. al-Zarqawi called on Muslims to commit more murders and atrocities.
  • The leader of the US has apologized to those who have suffered abuse, and to the Arab people in general. al-Zarqawi is proud of what he did.
  • The leader of the US has said this will happen no more. al-Zarqawi has called for more murders.
  • The pictures and videos from al Ghraib have been shown unedited on all the major media. The Berg video is heavily edited due to its content: it's too gruesome for public display.


All of this leads me to a very simple and practical definition of torture. If you can show it on the front page of a newspaper, or on the evening news, it's not torture.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, May 10, 2004

Antinomy

The election coming in November is crucial, and not just for the United States, but for the world; all sides agree on that. Will America stand against terror, or will we step back, and leave it to the UN? Are we a sovereign nation or a vassal of a global government dominated by thugs, thieves, and spineless bureaucrats?

Based on the above, I'm sure you know which side of the question I come down on. I don't like or trust the UN. They're remarkably ineffective, woefully inefficient, amazingly corrupt, and fundamentally inept. I am convinced that if it is left up to them, the war on terror will end with the terrorists victorious. America will go from being the last superpower to an impotent supplier of men, material, and money to support whatever wild ass scheme the UN comes up with.

Based on what he's said, this is the future John Kerry wants for America. He wants America to be a part of the global community, not a leader of it. He envisions a community of nations, working together to solve global problems, led by a community of equals. It's a philosophy as attractive and ultimately empty as Rodney King's lament, "Can't we all just get along?" It presupposes that the UN's best interests and the US's best interests will coincide, and that when they do not, that the UN's should be paramount. It assumes that the UN is somehow better equipped to act in the best interests of the United States than we are. Ultimately, it assumes that the UN is actually a body capable of world governance, an assumption clearly not borne out by its past record. It's an idea that runs counter to everything we know about human nature, and the history of man.

But this is the ultimate result of a vote for John Kerry, making it clear that my vote in November should be, must be cast to prevent him from winning the election.

On the other hand, there's this quote from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. we're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience.

He was talking about American torture of Iraqi prisoners.

American torture of Iraqi prisoners.

And from the sounds of it right now, it wasn't an isolated occurence either. At the very least, the organized abuse and humiliation of the detainees appears to have been a tactic ordered, or at least encouraged, by military intelligence officers as part of an aggressive interrogation technique. Whether those tactics, distasteful as they may be, rise to the level of torture is arguable. But Rumsfeld and Graham have told us that it gets worse, including rape and murder. Whether these additional acts were carried out with the same level of direction and approval is unknown right now. What is also unknown is how widespread these acts were.

But here's what I do know. The abuse at Al Ghraib could not have been the work of a few, isolated soldiers. There was too much of it, and it was too systemic. At the very least, the base commander knew what was happening, and more than likely, the directives came from even higher up. The suggestion that this abuse was limited to a few soldiers under the command of military intelligence officers or contractors while possible is not very likely. Somebody gave orders for these prisoners to be abused as a part of their interrogation, and that somebody needs to be held accountable.

More problematic is the admission of actual torture, rape and murder. It is more probable that these acts are the result of a few bad apples, but in the current environment, I can't make that assumption without a full, transparent investigation. If there's any hint of anything less than full exposure of the extent of the problem, then the Bush administration will lose all credibility, and deservedly so.

And if that happens, I will not be able to vote for him in November.

Even if that means that Kerry wins, with all that I believe that entails, how could I vote for a President that covers up or condones torture?

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, May 09, 2004

I Knew It!

I knew somebody would win the lottery last night!

Want to know how I knew?

Because I forgot to buy the winning ticket last night.

Damn the luck!

Posted by Rich
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Friday, May 07, 2004

And the Answer is…

Earlier this week, I posted on an article dealing with the strength and growth of the US economy, and attributed that strength and growth to the Bush tax cuts.

Today, we got more good news. Despite analysts expectations of 180,000 new jobs, the labor report released today showed 288,000 new jobs. Even better news, the estimate for last month, already a robust 308,000, was adjusted to 337,000. And even better, manufacuring jobs are beginning to comeback as well, showing a gain of 21,000 jobs.

By the way, unemployment is now down to 5.6%.

Are there any liberals left who really think that Kerry should run on the economy?

UPDATE: As of Friday, the economy has created 867,000 new jobs. If job creation continues at this rate for the rest of the year, we'll see 2.6 million jobs created in 2004.

Why is this important? Well, back in February, the Bush administration predicted job growth of 2.6 million jobs by the end of the year. At the time, there were some who claimed that was impossible, just pie in the sky propaganda.

It doesn't seem quite so outlandish now, does it?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Oldest Profession

My daughter got a traffic ticket for speeding a couple of weeks ago, and I went to court with her today. She went before a judge who put her in a diversion program. Pay $50 bucks, don't get a ticket for 6 months, and her speeding charge would be dismissed. We were in court a grand total of 2 minutes.

The only other profession that can rake in that kind of money that quickly is prostitution.

Maybe that's why it's illegal; bureaucrats don't want the competition.

Posted by Rich
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Hobbsian echoes

Bill Hobbs usually takes care of the economic blogging for the RTB, but this story is simply too good to pass up.

The 2004 federal budget deficit, which is forecast at $477 billion by the Congressional Budget Office and $521 billion by the Office of Management and Budget, could come in at $370 billion, or 3.1 percent of gross domestic product, according to a new Citigroup forecast.

The Treasury confirmed its improving fiscal position yesterday when it announced plans to borrow a net $38 billion in the April-to-June quarter, half the amount estimated three months ago.


That's a 29% decrease in the projected deficit if the Citigroup forecast is correct. And to what do the analysts attribute this 180 degree turn in the economic forecast?

The decrease in borrowing is due to higher receipts, both from lower refunds and higher payroll and individual taxes, lower outlays, and higher State and Local Government Series net issuances,'' the Treasury said in announcing its second-quarter borrowing requirements.

Actual borrowing in the January-to-March quarter was about $30 billion less than anticipated, "largely attributable to lower tax refunds and higher payroll taxes,'' Treasury said.


But haven't the liberals been telling us for years that cutting taxes would decrease revenues? How could this be?

What liberals won't tell you is that historically, when you cut taxes, revenue collections increase. It's happened every time. Why would something so counter-intuitive be the case? Because the economy is not a zero sum game. Unlike energy and mass, wealth can be created, and reducing the tax burden puts money into the hands of the people best equipped to create wealth; the entreprenuerial class. If you lower the marginal rate, and as a result, people can earn more money, you collect more taxes. It seems like magic, but it has worked every time it has been tried.

But the news gets even better.

In the last two months, "withheld receipts jumped 12.5 percent annualized,'' Wiegand said. "The message is, there is no way that you can see withheld income taxes rising unless there's a decisive turn in labor market conditions, including payrolls, hours and compensation.''


Either more people are going back to work or the people with jobs are working more hours, or they're getting paid more. These are the only possibilities to explain an increase in withholding receipts at a lower marginal rate. This certainly lends credence to the position that unemployment has been drastically overestimated, and that the Household report is the more accurate picture.

This type of move suggests something real is happening on the labor front,'' Wiegand said. "And you need high wage jobs to see this type of upturn in the tax base."


No matter which estimate you believe, if withholding receipts are up, that means there's more money in the hands of the workers, a conclusion born out by the data:
Personal income rose 4.9 percent in the year ended March compared with the recent low of a 1.55 percent annual increase in January 2002. After-tax income adjusted for inflation rose 4 percent in the past year compared with a 0.7 percent increase in June 2001.


Of course, the liberal spin on all of this good news will be that the tax cuts that they claimed would bankrupt us were actually too small to do us any good. Except that fails to explain why unemployment is down, no matter how you measure it, the economy is growing at a strong rate, and personal income is increasing at roughly 4 times the rate of inflation.

So, who do we have to thank for this economic turn around?

All Together Now:"I Blame the Bush Tax Cuts!"

Posted by Rich
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Thank the Liberal Media!

Ted Rall just spat on the memory of a good man, and many folks (only conservatives, judging by the blogosphere and blogdex) are outraged.

Why?

Did you expect anything different from this guy? This is the same jerk who slammed the families of 9-11 victims; why are you surprised about this? Isn't hateful ignorance the standard MO for a fringe lunatic type?

What does bug me though, is that he still gets national exposure in the so-called mainstream media. Let's face it folks, whether you are liberal or conservative or in between, you know without a doubt that if a conservative like Limbaugh had spewed equivalently hateful garbage, he'd be gone.

There's no question about it.

Limbaugh was fired from ESPN for making comments that brought up the issue of racial bias in the sports media. Yet Rall gets a pass from everyone.

A quick check on the liberal sites and blogs shows the usual silence produced by the left when one of their own steps in it big time. Usually, you have to prod at them to get even a mild disclaimer. Compare that to conservatives, who move quickly to censure one of their own. Remember Trent Lott?

So why is it that you can count on a conservative to speak out against his own when they are wrong, but not expect the same from a liberal?

My guess is that we have the mainstream media to thank for conservatives' willingness to to self police their more radical elements. Conservatives have long known that the liberal bias of most reporters and editors would ensure that thier transgressions would receive the utmost scrutiny, and have developed the defense mechanism of doing it first. There's no great moral superiority in this; it's just simple political expediency, like a University sanctioning it's sports program in an effort to avoid worse sanctions from the NCAA.

Liberals, on the other hand, have, by and large, not had to face such a level of scrutiny before. In the past, their fringe elements been given pretty much a pass by the press. But not anymore. Two trends have emerged that will make it exceedingly difficult for liberals to continue to gloss over the more radical elements of their party.

First, in part because of the long standing and relentless pursuit of conservatives, political journalism has become a blood sport. It's no longer as important what the politics of the person are; once the press smells blood in the water, they go into a feeding frenzy. Liberals are beginning to feel the effects of the same treatment the press has given to conservatives for decades; Bill Clinton was only the first victim.

Second, the media, both old and new, are now more than ever driven by the demands of the public. Where the news business once held itself separate from the people, providing information that was needed rather than wanted, for better or worse, it's now all about ratings, which means they give the people what they want, not necessarily what they need. And that has led directly to a political balkanization of the media. Instead of providing the basic facts to everyone, each media outlet caters to a target audience, and slants its coverage accordingly.

And that means that it's always open season on someone. If NPR isn't going after Bush, then Fox will be going after Kerry. Unfortunately for liberals, conservatives have benefited from bitter experience, and know how to minimize the effects of an attacking press corps. Liberals will learn eventually, but until they catch up, conservatives will have a decided advantage.

And it's all due to a liberal media. It's positively darwinian.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, May 03, 2004

A little absurdity to start off your week…

I was grocery shopping last weekend and my daughter had asked for some conditioner for her hair. Not just any conditioner mind you, but a certain special kind of conditioner that you leave in your hair.

So there I was, in the hair care products aisle of the Super Walmart, looking for conditioner that you leave in your hair. Naturally, this led to me actually reading the labls on some of the products to find out whether or not they were to be left in or rinsed out. And in the course of this reading, I discovered that women are strange. I know, big surprise, but I wasn't aware of the extent of their strangeness until I started reading the ingredients that go in to some of this stuff. One product in particular caught my eye because the principle ingredient was animal placenta extract.

I'll pause for a second and let that sink in.

Running through my head, I now have the indelible image of millions of American women standing in the shower rubbing raccoon afterbirth into their hair.

You know, I want my hair to look good too, but damn! There are limits, you know?

The funniest part was that the labeled declared that this product was not cruel to animals because there was no animal testing involved, which begs the question, how were the placentas collected?

There's an ugly job for you, animal placenta collector. I bet that's one that doesn't come up very often during career day at school. Can you imagine the job interview?

"So, Mr. Hailey, what are your qulifications for collecting animal placentas?"

"Well, sir, I've had a long interest in biology, and my road kill collection is the most extensive in the state, if not the country. I have it fully indexed by species, collection location, and, where possible, make and model of the vehicle involved."

"Excellent! That means you can also help us out with our new shampoo line, Gee, Your Hair Smells Like Roadkill!"

Simply amazing.

Posted by Rich
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