Friday, May 21, 2004

new good guy

After my Instalanche, I saw that Emigre With Digital Cluebat had added me to his blogroll. I was honored as always, but I don't just hop in and add people to my blogroll because they put me on theirs. First, I have to get around to it. That can take a week, easily. I also have to read enough enough of their blog to classify them as a good guy or bad guy. We metaheros like to keep those things straight. But it's a very good blog, and the author has exquisite taste in other blogs, so welcome to the list, Mr. Cluebat.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

rhymes with "Texas"

In response to my musical endeavors, a correspondent sends the following suggestions for rhyming "Texas":
Check is (as in "the check is in the mail)
Chex is (As in "Corn Chex is still my favorite morning cereal)
Collects his (Big Earl drives to the mall and collects his bratty teenagers)
Gortex is
Inspects his
Directs this
Chest is (her chest is as big as texas)
After he did me the kindness of sending these suggestions, I hesitate to point it out, but it needs saying: this gentleman apparently has a barbarous accent. Otherwise he would have suggested for example, "Inspects us" rather than the repugnant "Inspects his". When he also thinks that "Texas" rhymes with "Lexus", one shudders to think of the implications.

The eagerly anticipated first recording of Don't Bury Me In Texas is now transcribed in Lilypond notation. Lilypond is quite impressive if you think convenient user interfaces are for wussies. I'm not satisfied with the melody though. It needs work. I'm sure some of those notes have to be on the piano.

Note to Donald Crankshaw: please note the capital letter in the caption.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Presbyterians, Methodists, and Plumbers

Glenn Reynolds makes the following joke:
I was raised Methodist; now I'm Presbyterian. Why the shift? I guess it was predestined. . . .
I read it and thought, "I'll bet there's some fact about Methodist and Presbyterian theology that makes that amusing." Possibly it's just that Methodists don't believe in predestination and Presbyterians do, although I hope there's more to it than that because that's pretty lame. Then I see that Donald Sensing, the Methodist minister quotes the joke with a "Heh!". Yes, exclamation point and all. If you know how seldom Sensing posts jokes, you have to assume that with the right background, Reynolds's joke must be a real kneeslapper.

Oddly, I'm reminded of an old Steve Martin bit. He's doing a stage show and says,
I've been told that there's a plumber's convention in town and that a bunch of the guys have come to my show. So I hope you don't mind if I tell a little plumbing joke.
Martin goes into a long, confusing story involving a plumber, his apprentice, a lot of technical terms. He continues
Then the apprentice looks over his should and goes, "It says 'socket', not 'sprocket'" BWAAH HAAA HAAA HAAA. BWAH HAA haah ha... So, are the plumbers here tonight or tomorrow night?
Can anyone explain why the Presbyterian/Methodist joke would remind me of the Steve Martin bit?

talking past each other

Have you noticed how the left and right are talking past each other on the Abu Ghraib prison incident? The left thinks this incident has tarnished the US and put to shame our (meaning the right's) pretensions to moral superiority. The right thinks that this is a relatively unimportant incident and that if anything, it validates the strength of US institutions. Why two such disparate views on a single event? It's not just propaganda; this difference is directly traceable to two different world views. It's the same difference in world views that causes the left and the right to each view the other as morally arrogant and racist.

The difference in a nut shell: the left believes that the measure of a society is how well it produces good people. The right thinks that the measure of a society is how well it controls bad people. To the left, if a society has bad people that need to be controlled, then it is a failure already. To the right, society has little impact on how good a person is, it can only control their more harmful actions.

When a leftist says that American society is no better than, for example, Arab Muslim societies, what he means is that American society does no better at producing good people than does Arab Muslim society. And he's generally correct. If there is less brutality and cruelty in America than in the Middle East, it is only because American law and social customs keep it under control better. It's still there under the surface, and in the right circumstances it comes out. When leftists say that Abu Ghraib is revealing, what they mean is that this demonstrates the existence of that underlying current of evil --a current that exists as surely in America as anywhere else.

Again, the left is correct. What they fail to understand is how utterly obvious that fact is to conservatives. Of course there are brutal and cruel people in America. Of course some of these brutal and cruel people are in the military. Of course even otherwise good people sometimes do evil things. None of this shocks the right, or even seems worth remarking on. That is why conservatives misunderstand what the left is saying. When a person says something utterly obvious, you assume that they mean something else by the remark. If you ask a friend how he likes your new car and he says, "Well, it's red." You assume he doesn't just mean to tell you the color of the car. And when the left constantly points out evil things done by Americans or the American government, the right is inclined to react similarly, looking for the meaning in these obvious and trivial statements.

The left suffers from the corresponding misunderstanding. Conservatives judge societies by what happens in them, not by the goodness of the people in them. Since there is manifestly far less brutality and cruelty in American society than in the Muslim Middle East, this is all the evidence that is necessary to prove that American society is superior. Leftists are shocked by such a judgment because what they hear is that Americans are superior to Arabs. They hear racism and moral superiority. But the very standard that conservative use to judge the two societies presupposes that Americans are not morally superior to Arabs. If they were, then all the differences could be explained by the fact that Arabs are simply more brutal than Americans. Conservatives reject this explanation out of hand, and that is why they conclude that American society is better than Arab society. American society manages to control Americans who are by nature just as cruel and brutal as Arabs, much better than Arab society controls Arabs.

The left, since they think that the goodness of people is controlled by their society, tends to judge groups. The Crusades show how war-like Christians are. Occasional isolated incidents of racism show how racist white people are. A tiny number of abortion clinic bombings show how dangerous fundamentalists are. Abu Ghraib shows how brutal American soldiers are. This sounds extremely bigoted, narrow-minded, and racist to conservatives. Every group is going to have bad people in it and you can't judge a group by it's worst elements. But what the leftists mean, I conjecture, is that the existence of a few bad apples condemns the entire tree because a good tree does not produce bad apples. They don't mean by this group condemnation to condemn all the individuals in the group; rather they mean to condemn the group as an institution. They mean that an institution that produces such people needs to be changed. It's a ludicrous view, but it isn't really bigoted in the usual sense.

The conceit that they can change people is also the reason that the left seems morally arrogant to conservatives. To a conservative, people make their own moral choices for incalculable reasons. And once a man is set on a moral course, no other man is likely to change it. The left doesn't see it this way. To the left, the human mind is a computer that takes inputs and produces outputs. If the inputs are frustration, want, and suffering, they will deliver outputs of violence, cruelty and brutality. Correspondingly, if you want to prevent violent outputs then you simply change the inputs. That's why leftists fear movies about the suffering of Christ or pastors who say that homosexuality is a sin. They fear these inputs will trip a switch in some hapless mind that sets someone to violence.

The right sees these arguments and finds them patently offensive for treating human beings like robots. It seems morally arrogant to always presuppose that you can manipulate others to see things your way. And when the left wants to make violent people happy in order to turn off the "violence switch", the right sees appeasement. But it's not really appeasement, it's just pathetically poor understanding of human nature.

This view of the left is also what compels them to piousness on issues of conflict. If someone is violent, it is because someone failed to adjust the perpetrator's inputs properly. So conservatives act to control the worst elements of human nature and leftists sniff, "Well, just don't have such elements." They always seem to think that if we would only be nicer to criminals, crime would vanish. There is the implicit suggestion that if you would only be nicer to criminals, crime would vanish. When the left asked after 9/11, "Why do they hate us?" it was clear from their answers that what they really meant was "Why do they hate you?", meaning conservatives, capitalists, and Christians -- the three C's of Evil or C3oE. And what they mean is that the C3oE is not on board with the effort to reprogram all those nasty violent people into bucolic Europhiles.

The left sees the intransigence of the C3oE in this regard as either selfish unwillingness to help, or a nasty preference for violence over peaceful reprogramming. What they don't understand is that the C3oE really has an entirely different reason for not going along with the effort: they view the plan as hopelessly naive and useless. The issue is certainly not one of selfishness or preferring violence. If you give C3oE an effort such as the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan that actually might work, they don't mind the expense. And they think it's wonderful that there were so few civilian casualties in those wars.

When the right congratulates themselves for a war with few civilian casualties, the left views them as being callous to the casualties that did occur. But what the left misses is that the right doesn't believe that there were any better alternatives, any solutions that would have led to fewer deaths of the innocent. Once you decide that you can't prevent all tragedy, it is simply reasonable, not callous, to work toward minimizing the scope of the tragedy and to be happy when you do a good job at minimizing it.

I've been pretty hard on the left in some of my postings, but I'm a conservative who doesn't believe that people's moral choices are controlled by society so I also believe that leftists are, in general, as well-meaning as conservatives. Yes, there are a lot of people spewing hatred and bile on the left today, but that's mostly just because they can get away with it. If the Republicans owned the news media the way the Democrats do, they would be just as bad as the Democrats are now. And yes, the left has shown an apparently callous disregard for the people who suffer under brutal dictatorships, but you have to assume that in some sense they think the alternatives would be worse.

So go hug a lefty today. Unless you are both guys; that would be gross.

Monday, May 17, 2004

an extended apology

It's a good thing I never went into promotion to make a living. I've tried occasionally to promote posts that I thought were really good but almost always without results. My two biggest hits came when I wasn't promoting. I once got a Cornerlanche by sending a joke to Andrew Stuttaford at The Corner, with no thought that he would post it. Then I sent a note to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit where, and I say this with some embarrassment, I was really just taking out my anger on him. I never thought he would link to my intemperate tirade.

In the tirade, I railed at the UN, George Bush and the press for doing nothing about Africa. I was really furious about it (still am when I let myself think about it). And I was unsatisfied because I knew none of the guilty parties would ever read it. But Glenn Reynolds, I had his email address. If I could yell at the press for not covering it, I could yell at him for not covering it too. Well, I wrote a polite note that still, in essence, accused him of not caring enough about this tragedy. Sort of a passive/aggressive attack. He wrote back to point out that he has been covering it. He's right. Just because he doesn't yell and throw wild accusations around doesn't mean he doesn't care. And I feel rather guilty for taking out my frustrations on him that way, not because he was nice enough to link to the post anyway, but because it was a cheap shot.

So, Mr. Reynolds, I apologize.

And for you other people who are trying to get an Instalanche, the trick is to accuse Glenn Reynolds of crimes against humanity.

this is why you don't want the left in charge

The New York Times, in an editorial of May 14, is upset that Bush and Rumsfeld seem to have moved on from the Abu Ghraib scandal. Apparently they want to continue wallowing in it. Here are their suggestions for how to "solve" the problem:
Destroy the prison, "a symbol of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror that has become a symbol of American brutality." Because, apparently, what really matters is symbolism. How many millions of dollars would this symbolic gesture cost the American taxpayers?

Don't let intelligence personnel oversee the handling of prisoners because the "overwhelming majority ... have no intelligence value". Who is going to decide whether a given prisoner has intelligence value? This sort of ruling would lead inevitably to a set of rules and roadblocks that intelligence personnel would have to fight through to do their jobs and would make them far less effective.

Ban contractors from American military prisons I have no clue what this is supposed to accomplish.

Take all of the available trained military prison guards and send them to Iraq to relieve the exhausted troops who are doing work for which they were never prepared. Because, apparently, exhaustion and ill-preparation leads to violent physical abuse....

issue new regulations that not only say that prisoners must be treated according to the Geneva conventions. Regardless of whether the Geneva conventions apply, no doubt, and regardless of how many Americans die because of it.

"Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld should also stop trying to dump the blame on the shoulders of America's enlisted men and women, the entire chain of command in Iraq must be part of the investigation." Of course neither man has tried to dump the blame on "America's enlisted men and women", they have blamed the people who did it. The Times wants higher-ups blamed because that is the best way to hurt George Bush.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

somebody do something

From the BBC:
When Arab militias started attacking villages, the inhabitants sought refuge in Kailek, the biggest settlement in the area.
But the horseback militia surrounded the village, effectively holding 1,700 people hostage.

The UN report says that as food began to run out, residents were forced to start paying the militia to leave the village to look for supplies.

Women and girls were raped, children started to die.

The local authorities deny that they colluded in the siege.

But survivors tell a different story.

They are adamant that they saw Government forces working alongside the militia.
From the Daily Telegraph:
...refugees have poured out of the Darfur region of western Sudan, fleeing Arab militiamen mounted on horses and camels who are waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against their black Muslim neighbours.

Many could only watch as members of their families were executed by the Janjaweed, as the militiamen are known. Most lost their possessions when their houses were burned down. All were exhausted after walking for days through the desert.


[The UN] is running an emergency relief programme for Darfur refugees but will not operate on the border, saying it is too dangerous.

Families have been waiting for up to two months, their lives at risk from shelling, cross-border militia raids and water shortages, to transfer to UN camps 20 miles into Chad.

Aid workers from other agencies have accused the UN of inefficiency and perhaps worse.

"What is going on here is very dark," said one western aid worker at a non-UN agency.

"Money seems to have disappeared. Who knows whether it has been stolen or whether it has just disappeared in the UN machine. The inefficiency is astounding."

Refugees cannot walk into the half-empty camps. Regulations demand that they must be turned away if they do.


Mr Abdat was nearly dead when he reached Tine. He had been forced to watch as Janjaweed militiamen took it in turns to rape his 27-year-old wife, Zahara, until she died. He was then whipped until the skin was virtually scourged from his back.
OK, I'm seriously, seriously angry, so if you don't want to read a rant, just skip the rest of this.

Where the hell are you, you hypocritical bastards in the press? Where are the photos to show America and the world what is going on down there? While you are enthusiastically printing photos of abuse by American and British troops (many of them obvious fakes) this actual tragedy is being ignored. While you piously explain that the actions of a few low-level soldiers, quickly corrected by the authorities, have damaged America's reputation, you let the UN's graft and their persistent, institutional callousness to the suffering of black Africans have no effect on theirs.

Where is the coverage? Where is the outrage? Where are the calls for resignations in the UN? Where are the damn photos? This is a true news story. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people are suffering and dying from the deliberate depredations of a sadistic militia. The government of Sudan is either helping, or condoning. The UN is doing nothing more than registering mild objections.

The militias attacked a UN refugee camp and the UN response is to take all of these starving, weakened, often sick people and move them to a new site that is temporarily safer. Look idiots. No place is going to be safe until you kill the bastards that are doing this. And you aren't going to kill them by writing letters. They are murderous savages who are destroying the peace. You are the world organization that is supposed to keep the peace. Or are you finding the refugee game too lucrative to want to upset it? Is that what's going on? These humanitarian crises lead to lots of money flowing through the UN, don't they? And it sure is easy to make some of that money disappear when no one but the UN is keeping track of it. You greedy, depraved, bastards are letting people suffer and die because it makes it easy for you to scam profits, aren't you?

And where are you, George Bush? Yes, I know you are in a fight for your presidency against the entire mainstream press. I know that if you lose the election, it will leave the United States in a dangerous world, commanded by a self-serving, arrogant, moral coward. That would be bad. But that's then and we will deal with it then. This is now and there are people suffering and dying, and you are the only person who can do something who actually cares about the suffering of other people.

Clearly the UN doesn't care. They only care about maintaining the status quo where they get to live lavish lifestyles and take graft while being acclaimed the great hope of the world. Clearly the American news media doesn't care. They only get riled up about atrocities (or minor abuse) when it can be used as a stick to beat a Republican president. Only you, Mr. President can bring this to America's attention.

Or will you wait until the mass starvation starts and then send food? That's too late, Mr. President. By then thousands of people will have been raped, brutalized, and killed. Something has to be done now.

don't bury me in Texas

As soon as you read that caption, didn't it make you think of a country song? That's what I though of the moment I heard a friend say those words in part of a weird story (not weird for that particular friend. Actually kind of tame for him. But weird for normal people). The story went something like this:
My wife told me she had bought us a couple of burial plots in Texas where she's from. I told her, "No, don't bury me in Texas, just donate by body to the University of Arizona medical school. They'll have med students dissect me for practice, and then they'll cremate the remains and give them back to you in a nice urn."
I was entranced. There was pure poetry in the prose. It was a country song struggling to be born. So I went home and wrote it up as lyrics. I invented a tune for it. I sang snatches of it endlessly to my various friends until they told me quite seriously to stop it immediately. It's rather a challenge to rhyme with "Texas", by the way.

Until today, I had the words written down but the melody was all in my head. Now the music is written as well, transcribed by a friend of mine. It doesn't sound quite the same on the piano as it did by voice. My friend assures me that this is because some of my notes are not available on a piano. Oh well, it's still very good if I do say so myself. It's a simple, beautiful, and vaguely haunting melody that wraps itself lovingly around the heart-rending plea of a dying man. And it's funny too.

I know you all are dying to hear it, so I'm going to get it recorded as soon as possible. If you don't have speakers on your PC, get some right away so that you don't miss the debut.

the tenth brother

Of the ten crewmen that John Kerry commanded in Vietnam, nine are working on his campaign and one isn't. The nine working on his campaign all have glowing things to say about him and his heroic service. The one not working on his campaign, Stephen Gardner, says that Kerry was chicken and a poor leader.

Douglass Brinkley who wrote Kerry's biography has finally gotten to interview Gardner. Brinkley has been criticized for not interviewing him for the biography, but I don't think that's really fair. Gardner may well have been hard to find (as Brinkley claims), and in any case, interviewing nine out of ten isn't bad, especially if all nine are consistent.

Brinkley has another problem in this article though, and that is his one-sided scrutiny. He spends a lot of the article detailing Gardner's biases, including the fact that he is a fan of Rush Limbaugh. This is, of course, relevant to anyone wanting to evaluate the credibility of Gardner's story. But by contrast, Brinkley gives no scrutiny at all to the politics and biases of the other nine. You might consider that once he's told us they all work on Kerry's campaign, that is enough, but it isn't. Maybe they were all drawn to Kerry's campaign by their admiration for Kerry, or maybe they were drawn to their admiration for Kerry by Kerry's campaign.

Brinkley doesn't tell us how much the other nine are being paid for their work on Kerry's campaign. That's certainly relevant to their credibility. He also doesn't tell us what their politics were before the campaign. That is also relevant to their credibility. He also doesn't tell us how much time they spent with Kerry and Kerry's staff going over their story before being released to the press. That's highly relevant to their credibility, especially given the curious fact that "Kerry has been extremely lucky that 9 out of his 10 crewmen have almost identical stories" in Brinkley's own words. Didn't he find that remarkable? Didn't he investigate it?

But we don't have to rely on these subtle cues to know that Brinkley wrote this piece as a preemptive attack on Gardner rather than as a new story. He tells us himself:
In Tour of Duty I portrayed the crew of PCF-44 as a true Band of Brothers—it turns out they were a Band of Brothers minus one. ...

After interviewing Gardner for over an hour it essentially boils down to one word: politics. A strong supporter of President George W. Bush, Gardner is sickened by the idea of Kerry as president. “Anybody but Kerry,” he says. “I know what a disaster he’d be.”
Brinkley has already analyzed the situation and found the problem: Gardner's politics. Not Kerry and his happy crew's politics, no, only Gardner's politics. One might be excused for thinking that there is another problem here: the politics of Brinkley and his editor.

But the article was worth it for the very revealing quote we get from Kerry at the end:
When informed of Gardner’s accusations Kerry, campaigning in Texas, simply stated they weren’t true. “He deserves respect because he served our country well,” Kerry says of Gardner. “I left the country thinking well of Gardner and even tried to find him several times. But his stories are made up. It’s sad, but that’s the way it goes in war, and especially in politics.”
Kerry doesn't think it's remarkable that someone would make up stories for political gain.