Thursday, June 17, 2004

on whether Bush is conservative

Andrew Sullivan posts the following screed against Bush. Now, anyone who reads my blog knows I'm not a Bush fan. I didn't vote for him, and if the Democrats had put up any kind of reasonable candidate, I would likely have voted against him this year. But really, this list of complaints is so off-the-wall that someone has to respond to them:
Could it be that Bush has not governed as a conservative in critical ways - and hasn't even governed competently in others? Let's list a few: the WMD intelligence debacle - the worst blow to the credibility of the U.S. in a generation;
How is the WMD intelligence debacle an instance of Bush's poor governance? He inherited the intelligence services from former administrations. The intelligence he received was common to most intelligence services in the world. Is he supposed to be omniscient?
Abu Ghraib - a devastating wound to to America's moral standing in the world;
First, George Bush bears no responsibility for what happened there. Sullivan once again is demanding god-like powers from the president. Second, to the extent that this has wounded America's moral standing in the world, you can blame the American press for working so hard and so deliberately to ensure that it did so. Third, it really didn't wound America's moral standing very much. Many will pretend it did, but almost no one who didn't already despise America thinks anything of it.
the post-war chaos and incompetence in Iraq;
It never ceases to amaze me that people are surprised to find chaos and violence in a country that has just been defeated in a war, just had its government largely replaced, has a history of violence, and has several wealthy neighbors who have a strong interest in seeing chaos there. If at the beginning of the war, Bush had told everyone the occupation would be as easy as it has been, everyone would have laughed at him. Yes, Bush could have done a better job by being more forceful, but he was working against two enemies, the terrorists and the Democrats, and he felt (wrongly, I believe) that he had to make compromises in his war against the terrorists in order to keep from being destroyed by the Democrats.
to an explosion in federal spending with no end in sight; no entitlement reform; a huge addition to fiscal insolvency with the Medicare drug entitlement;
OK, Sullivan finally mentions some actual problems with the Bush administration.
support for a constitutional amendment,
How is that supposed to be non-conservative? Surely Sullivan isn't going to go along with that old idea that conservatives are characterized by a resistance to change. That hasn't been true of American conservatives for half a century at least.
shredding states' rights;
Sullivan has argued that the marriage amendment is counter to a states-rights view, but very few conservatives find the argument at all persuasive, so again, that's not an anti-conservative point.
These last two points are really "I hate Bush because he hates gays." Sullivan is entitled to this perspective, but it is dishonest to try to slip it in among a list of things Bush has done that are supposed to be anti-conservative or incompetent. Especially since it is one of the most conservative parts of Bush's philosophy.
crusades against victimless crimes, like smoking pot and watching porn;
Sullivan seems to be confusing conservatives with libertarians.
the creeping fusion of religion and politics;
This isn't a consequence of anything Bush has done, it is a consequence of the fact that more and more religious people are allying to fight against the anti-religious movement in this country.
the erosion of some critical civil liberties in the Patriot Act.
This might be more convincing if Sullivan could say how the Patriot Act is doing this.

the UN sex-for-food scandal

Just found this is my drafts, and thought I would post it now even though it's a bit dated.

I've been avoiding Africa lately because I got so furious over it last time. I really had to stop thinking about it because I couldn't take it. I don't know why it hit me so hard. I think it was a long buildup of awful things that have happened lately, like that Israeli mother and her four kids who were slaughtered. Add the fact that so many people can't seem to work up any anger for terrorists or genocidal monsters but are in an absolute frothing fury over the 2000 elections, the defeat of Saddam, and Israeli defense policy and it just sent me over the edge.

But I think it's worth making a comment about a recent story making its rounds through the blogosphere (original hat-tip to Instapundit). The story is that there is a refugee camp in the Congo that is staffed by UN peace-keeping forces. These peace-keeping forces are having sex with girls in the refugee camp (some as young as 13) and paying them with food.

At the risk of being viewed as callous, I'd like to point out that prostitution is a nearly universal accompaniment of troops. The phrase "camp followers" sometimes specifically refers to prostitutes (and almost always includes them). These UN soldiers are acting no differently than any other soldiers in history, including American soldiers.

If there is a real horror here, (and I emphasize "if") it is that these girls are being so poorly fed at the refugee camp that they are forced into prostitution for a banana or other small bit of food. But I'm skeptical of even that. From the article, it seems that these girls are all former victims of sexual slavery. That is, it seems that they were all kept prisoner and raped repeatedly, by many men, over a long period of time before they got to the camps. And they came to the camps with babies conceived by those rapes.

It isn't uncommon for women to react to this sort of treatment by losing most of their sexual reticence. It's a way of maintaining their sanity under horrendous conditions. Furthermore, these girls are already viewed by their neighbors as no better than prostitutes, so they have no social reasons not to actually be prostitutes. Add to that the fact that their child is probably the only person they have left, and they want to do anything they can for it. So I propose that these girls under these circumstances don't have to be starving to do what they are doing.

By all accounts, these girls are going over to the camp voluntarily --even passing a security fence to do so. It's a sad situation, but probably (I say probably because I don't really know the whole story) no worse than all the other sad stories of prostitution around the world --girls sold into prostitution by their fathers, women selling their bodies to buy drugs, mothers whose husbands leave them with two small kids and no way to feed the kids except prostitution.

These are all sad stories, but somehow I don't think they belong in the same category as brigands going around murdering entire villages. Maybe I just feel that way because I see a simple solution to the second problem: kill the brigands. This solution is something the UN is capable of doing if it only chooses to solve the problem. The other problem just doesn't have any solution that a secular governmental organization can implement.

More importantly, it would be a shame if these relatively victimless crimes took any of the heat off of the real horrors going on in that area.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

the adventures of Doc (Crocodile Hunter) Rampage

The following is a true story. Mostly. The names have been changed to prevent law suits. The dialog has been changed to make the story interesting.

It all began on a deceptively peaceful Saturday afternoon in the misty depths of my office building. The air was cool and dry. The indoor-outdoor carpeting reflected the fluorescent lighting with a surly glow. The office was scattered with chairs, desks, cubicle partitions and other potential ambush spots. In the background was the ever-present howling of the computer fans and the crying of the air conditioner. I was wending my way cautiously through a recursive query, so accustomed to the environment that my unconscious filtered most of it out. My coworkers were each quietly going about their own hunting.

Suddenly the air was rent by a horrible shriek. I could only make out a few of the words: "... be careful, don't come down ... there's a ...". It was Cato, a coworker, who like me was imprisoned in this hell hole on a Saturday afternoon. My first thoughts were to go to his aid, or at least go and ask him what he was shouting about, but I was at a critical point in my search, and didn't want to be interrupted. I presumed that if his encounter was not fatal I could ask about it later. And if it was, there would no doubt be other ways to find out what had happened. So supposing, I resumed my interrupted work.

Bare minutes later, Cato arrived in person, bearing tidings. I was moderately relieved to find him still in good health. "Go not down the stairs!" quoth he, in something of a tizzy, "For there be monsters there!"

"Monsters?" I enquired skeptically, "How could they survive the linoleum environment of the great Downstairs?"

"Tis a great and horrible serpent!" Insisted Cato, "A most fearsome and puissant creature, I mistake me not!"

"Indeed," quoth I, "Tis an interesting tale you tell, my friend Cato. I shall repair to the downstairs forthwith to behold this great spectacle. A serpent in the Land of Linoleum." And so speaking, I rose from my repose and began to descend the stairway to the land below.

"Nay!" cried Cato, "You must alter your plan! For if you descend by this stairway, thou shalt surely die!"

"Die, I?", asked I.

"Die, thee", quoth he.

"Die, how?" I now.

"Because," said Cato, rudely breaking the rhyming dialog, "The serpent is even near the foot of these very stairs."

I was rather startled and not a little bit dubious about this assertion. That the snake in question was so formidable as to pose a danger to an alert adult in an open area. But at Cato's insistence I ventured down the other stairs. In the Land of Linoleum I found that a great hero, Robin by name, had already pinned the great serpent to the ground with the aid of a great sponge mop. The serpent writhed and struggled futily against the great strength of Robin and his magic weapon.

"Well done!" cheered Cato, "You have dealt the evil serpent a great blow!"

"It can't be more than twelve inches long." I pointed out. "How was this going to be a danger to me if I went down the other stairs?"

"Who knows what corrosive venom yonder beast may wield?" asked Cato mysteriously.

"It's, like, twelve inches long." I stated. I knew I was repeating myself but I felt the point needed to be made. "I could walk faster than that little thing could move."

"Tis not so!" insisted Cato, "For it moves like lightening and it strikes like thunder!"

"When I was a kid, we used to catch snakes like this by the tail and keep them in a bucket." I offered.

"A bucket you say?" asked Robin.

"A bucket," I confirmed. "Have we a bucket?"

"I think not." answered Robin.

Adapting instantly to the new situation, I fetched from the pantry a coffee pot. However the neck was a bit narrower than a bucket and I recalled from my childhood that snakes tended to squirm a lot when you held them by the tail. Too much perhaps to guide one quickly into the narrow neck of the coffee pot. And sometimes they could raise their head up high enough to bite, which somewhat limits the time one has with which to dispose of them. So, adapting yet again, I held the coffee pot before the vainly struggling serpent. "Release the beast," I commanded the valiant Robin, "and it shall flee into this receptacle.

The brave Robin then released the serpent which immediately turned the other way to escape the trap. Clever girl! But not clever enough to escape the lightning sponge mopping of the great hunter Robin, who immediately plunged his implement of doom back upon the serpent, trapping it once again.

"Drat!" shouted I in frustration. "Foiled by a reptile! A beast with a brain the size of a BB." But I was not yet defeated. I considered the matter carefully and at length constructed a Theory. My Theory was to the effect that the serpent could see me and the others through the clear glass of the coffee pot and was frightened thereby. What we needed was an opaque trap. Putting theory to practice, I fetched from the pantry a plastic ice-tea pitcher. An opaque container. Tall and narrow. "This," I explained to my companions, "Shall seem to the serpent to be place of refuge. A place of concealment. A place of safety. The serpent will flee into this trap of her own free will. Brain the size of a BB, you know. Yes, it shall think to find refuge but shall instead find its DOOM! BWAH HAH HAH HAH!" I felt the situation called for an evil laugh, you see.

And so I held the pitcher up before the snake which a few seconds later was actively trying to flee into it. Just according to plan. Hah. Snakes are dumb. "Release the serpent!" I cried.

"No." said the brave Robbin. "It has no top."

"It has no what? Let the snake go." I repeated.

"No." said the brave Robbin. "It has no top."

"It has no what? Let the snake go." I repeated.

"No." said the brave Robbin. "It has no top."

I began to sense one of those time loops and knew I had to break out of it somehow. "What do you mean, 'it has no top'? Just let the snake go!"

"I cannot." said the brave Robbin firmly. "There is no top."

Now subsequent reasoning has led me to believe that what Robbin meant was that the pitcher was an open container without a lid to trap the snake inside. I didn't grasp his concern at the time because, quite frankly, it never occurred to me that the snake could climb out of a plastic pitcher that was nearly as tall as the snake was long and was tappered inward (narrower at the top than the bottom). The snake would have had to climb up, not just a verticle wall, but one actually sloping backward. In other words, it never occurred to me that Robbin suspected the snake of having Spiderman-like powers. Consequently, I failed to see the key to unravelling the time loop. "I can't hold it still much longer!" I said, "and if I move it, the snake may get spooked. Right now it wants to go in, let it go!"

"I cannot." said the brave Robbin firmly. "There is no top."

At this point the valiant Cato joined in, "Let it go, Robbin!"

Then another subhero, Shaggy joined in, "Let it go!"

"I cannot." said the brave Robbin firmly. "There is no top."

Soon we were all chanting, "Let it go! Let it go!" and finally giving in to peer preassure, Robbin surrendered and raised the sponge mop, freeing the snake and leaping backward for safety. The snake fled into the pitcher. I upended the pitcher and the monster was well and truly caught. Or was it?

"Take the beast to the wilderness!" suggested Shaggy.

"Yes," aggreed Cato, "Set it free in the great wilderness!"

Robbin, concerned that the container had no top, had retreated to the upstairs.

"Wilderness?" I asked. "Where?"

"There's a ditch just outside where water flows to the bay." Shaggy pointed out.

"I knew that." I answered, "I was just testing you."

And so saying, I began the long trek to the ditch, followed by Shaggy and Cato. At one point I turned to make some comment and the two remaining subheros reacted with apoplexy, "Watch the snake! Watch the snake!"

I turned back toward the subject of their panic. "Yes, what about it?" I asked.

"Watch it so that it doesn't escape!" warned Shaggy.

"Yes, don't let it crawl out." added Cato.

"But, it's like twelve inches long and it's in a twelve-inch-high pitcher. How is it going to get out?" I asked.

"Just watch it," suggested Cato.

"Yes, indeed, keep an eye on it." agreed Shaggy.

If I had been more alert, I would have looked back at the pitcher and then screamed with alarm in an attempt to get Shaggy or Cato to scream. But, alas, I wasn't in top form at the time. It is one of those regrets that I will always carry. So, to make a short story no longer than it already is, I released the snake into the wilds of the ditch outside our office and it vanished into the underbrush. I sang a quick rendition of Born Free and I swear, Shaggy, who had followed me out to see the end of the matter had a tear in his eye. He confided later that he is a music lover and that he had never experienced anything so painful as my rendition of Born Free. After that, I really regretted not pulling the "Oh no, how did it escape" trick on him.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

background checks for college admissions

Mike Adams is one of my must-read authors on Townhall, but his latest article demanding criminal checks for applicants to his university is way off base. He starts the article by describing two recent murders of university students by other students with criminal records. He argues that the murders could not have happened if such background checks had been done and the students were rejected. But what then? The two men were running around free; isn't it likely that they would have killed other women if not the two students?

Such a policy would only have two effects: it would send dangerous people off to victimize non-students, and it would discourage people with criminal records who really want to change their life around. Is moving crimes off-campus really such a great goal as to override the goal of giving former criminals another chance in society? Would it really be better if all colleges refused to admit former felons so their only employment opportunities were low-wage jobs and their only victims were low-wage women? Adams really needs to rethink this one.