Saturday, November 27, 2004

vacation blogging

No, this isn't the Belize vacation, it's my Thanksgiving vacation. I'm back in Arizona visiting the folks. For those of you that don't speak midwestern, that means I'm visiting the relatives. No, Arizona isn't the midwest, but that's where my family came from. Actually, that's where the majority of Arizonans seem to have come from.

It's been an on-and-off vacation. My university, Arizona, beat Arizona State in the anual post-Thanksgiving grudge game. Arizona's football team has a really lousy record this year. Somthing like 2 and 8 going into the game, and ASU (also known as the "Scum Devils") is bowl-bound. But we sent them to the meaningless bowl game with a bloody nose. Hah.

Then the basketball team lost the NIT for the first time I can remember. On the other hand, they lost by three points to the number one team in the country, Wake Forrest, so that wasn't as terrible as it could have been.

My dad has a video tape with the title "Girls, Girls, Girls". Hmm. Turns out, it's a barbershop chorus that he joined recently. There is something a bit unsettling about hearing fifty men in their seventies and eighties singing about making love. Mom made the usual great meal but decided that we didn't need pecan pie this year, only pear and pumkin. Pear pie is great, but my brother and I gave her a hard time any way. "Oh, I can hardly wait for the pecan..., oh, I forgot. No pecan pie this year." Great fun was had by all because mom is a good sport. Aunt and sister-in-law helped her out and sister-in-law guilted my brother and me into helping a little too. She didn't say anything, but you know how it goes: "sit down mom, I'll take care of the dishes. You should just take a break and play with your grandkids..." The aunt is too sweet to use those kind of strong-arm tactics, but not the sister-in-law.

One nephew is taller than me now, but I can still beat him up. All of those years of weight lifting are finally paying off. Another nephew just had a birthday last week and thought I ought to give him a birthday present. Yeah, right. Like I'm going to obligate myself to keeping track of birthdays and sending everyone birthday presents now. In his dreams. My third nephew won a hand of 3-11 in on the first round. He was pretty pleased with himself, but hey, anyone can get lucky cards. I try to keep my nephews from getting swelled heads. The fourth one was too shy to talk to me or I'd tell you what grade he's in.

Oh, and I'm working without a spell-checker, so cut me some slack here.

I probably won't be blogging agiain until Tuesday. Until then, happy what's left of Thanksgiving.

God bless.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Storyblogging Carnival P(1,1) is up. Go check out the stories.

Incidentally, P(1,1) is prime-factors notation for 6. I've been trying to get Donald to give up those archaic Roman numerals by showing him all the great alternatives.

wounded prisoners and doing the right thing

Kevin Sites, the man who took the footage of the marine killing a wounded Iraqi, now has an account of the incident up at his blog (from Instapundit). If things are as he described, the marine did, in fact kill a wounded, helpless prisoner and ought to face the consequences.

But Sites's explanation of why he released the film rings hollow. He writes
We all knew it was a complicated story, and if not handled responsibly, could have the potential to further inflame the volatile region. I offered to hold the tape until they had time to look into incident and begin an investigation -- providing me with information that would fill in some of the blanks.
He doesn't say what answer the Marines gave. I expect that if they had said "No, don't worry about it. Go ahead and publish it and inflamed passions be damned!" then Sites would have reported it. Why didn't he?

A careful reading of this quote suggests that Sites actually offered to hold the video for a limited time and then only if he were given some sort of exclusive information on the investigation and potential court martial. If so, the Marines turned down his offer because it made no difference to them if the tape were released the next day or the next month. Either way, it was likely to get more Marines killed. Not to mention civilians.

Am I reading too much into this? Maybe. But the fact remains that Sites remembered Abu Grahib. He knew what was almost certain to happen when he published the tape. In fact, the potential for inflaming the region is exactly what made the tape so valuable to him. He knew it would make him famous.

There was no issue here of exposing a cover-up. By his own account, the Marines were already taking the issue very seriously:
I told the unit's commanding officer what had happened. I shared the video with him, and its impact rippled all the way up the chain of command. Marine commanders immediately pledged their cooperation.
Although the matter was apparently being handled he tells us
Hiding this wouldn't make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.
So what if the facts came out? The Islamists are waging a war of propaganda against the US. Sites is not so naive that he doesn't understand that. And he is not so naive that he doesn't understand how much more valuable to this war pictures are than words.

Sites knew very well that the pictures would have a far greater impact than a mere report of an investigation and possible court martial. What kind of propaganda could the Islamists make out of the fact that an American Marine was being tried for mistreating prisoners? Nothing. For their propaganda coup, they need pictures. Motion pictures showing an American Marine killing a helpless prisoner. Pictures they could show over and over to make it seem like an atrocity had been committed over and over.

Kevin Sites gave them that. And he did it with full knowledge and deliberation.

He knew that what he was doing was wrong. You can see it in his decision-making process
That doesn't make the decision to report events like this one any easier. It has, for me, led to an agonizing struggle -- the proverbial long, dark night of the soul.
Kevin Sites had a choice to make: did he take the action that made him famous and might lead to many deaths of innocent people or did he make the choice to sacrifice this great personal opportunity in order to do the right thing?

Worded like that, of course, any man with pretensions to being a good person would have no choice. So that's when you start inventing moral principles to justify what you really want to do. That's when you come up with rationalizations like this:
In war, as in life, there are plenty of opportunities to see the full spectrum of good and evil that people are capable of. As journalists, it is our job is to report both -- though neither may be fully representative of those people on whom we're reporting. For example, acts of selfless heroism are likely to be as unique to a group as the darker deeds. But our coverage of these unique events, combined with the larger perspective - will allow the truth of that situation, in all of its complexities, to begin to emerge.
You just ignore important questions like how important this emergent Truth is when compared with civilians being kidnapped and brutally murdered. You rely on a higher morality. Something with a fine name like "The Truth". Something so high that it isn't even comparable to worldly considerations of screaming people having their heads sawed off with a big knife.

Kevin Sites found his reasons. He appealed to a higher, if arbitrarily constructed, morality; one that will serve for the moment and then be discarded when it is no longer useful, to be replaced by yet another morality to justify the next awful thing he wants to do.

Or who knows? Maybe his job will be such that this particular principle will serve him well for years as it has other journalists, salving their consciences with high-sounding rhetoric to justify their own self-interested ambitions.

It has worked well for Dan Rather. Why not Kevin Sites?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

introspective adventurers

I've been holding off on saying anything about Donald Crankshaw's story-in-progress now titled Dreams and Visions because I prefer to do a comprehensive review when the story is finished. Partly it's because I don't want to influence the author's thinking about an ongoing story and partly it's because I'm lazy and don't want to do it twice.

But I did want to remark on this section, where one of the heroes is coming to grips with the existence of magic. He takes a very clinical approach to analyzing his experiences. I've always wished authors would do this more because it seems more realistic to me. Sure, there may be moments of wonder or horror at the first experiences of magic, but when it's over and you have time to think about it, wouldn't you try to analyze what had happened? Wouldn't you wonder what sort of laws govern this new phenomenon? Wouldn't you think about experiments you could do to understand it better?

Well I would. Or at least I think I would. Maybe this is just because I'm at the extreme range of introspective personalities, but shouldn't introspective types have adventures too? That seems to be what is going on in Donald's story. I'm really looking forward to what comes next.

regrets of a well-spent youth

I complained recently about not having the motivation to write and Mostly Cajun suggested that I regale you all with stories of my misspent youth. The problem is that I didn't have a misspent youth. I was a good kid. Didn't get into any trouble. Was beloved by pastor and teachers. It's one of the great regrets of my life.

Of course there was this one incident... Oh, and then there was ... Oh, and the time that I ...

Well, OK, parts of it were misspent, but I have to look up statutes of limitations and things like that before I tell any stories about it.

conspiracy theology

A lot of what passes for political essays on the left look a lot like whacko conspiracy theories. I see these things all the time on blogs, but here is a site specifically dedicated to promoting the author's own whacked-out theories about the religious right.

The author pounces on an obscure doctrine called "Reconstructionism". You've never heard of it? Neither had I. This is odd because according to the author of Theorcracywatch, Reconstructionism is the most influential doctrine of the religious right.

Reconstructionism is basically the doctrine that Christians are called to take dominion of the world in this age. There are some serious problems with this view from the point of view of every evangelical church I've ever attended. If someone really wanted to know how Reconstructionism is regarded among the religious right, it only takes a few minutes on google to find out.

But that's not important. A dedicated conspiracy theorist can trace the evil threads of influence. Christians encouraging other Christians to run for office? Reconstructionism. Christians want their kids to be educated in Christian schools? Reconstructionism. Christians think their values ought to be reflected in law and public policy? Reconstructionism.

It's all this underhanded, concealed miasma of that evil Dominionist doctrine, you see. There is no other possible explanation about why people would want to see the government reflect their values. It's not like any other group feels that way, after all.

You can see the signs of conspiracy theorizing in the way that almost all of the detailed quotes to explain the purposes of the religious right are taken from opponents of the religious right. It's too hard to find those wily conspirators convicting themselves in their own words.

The exceptions are usually short and out-of-context, and invariably either 1. from an obscure author, 2. decades old, or 3. followed by an odd interpretation to help you see the villainy in an apparently innocuous passage.

One entire page is dedicated to the technique of guilt by association. George Bush just hasn't given them enough quotes to use in vilifying him, so they tell us portentously, "The Texas Republican Party Platform can be read as a blueprint for Bush administration policies..." and proceed to vilify that. The platform states that the United States is a Christian nation and Theocracywatch thinks they have found the smoking gun, a quote proving that the religious right wants to take over the country.

Apparently they are having problems with verb tense. The platform doesn't say the US will be or should be a Christian nation, or that it is a goal of the party to make the US a Christian nation. The platform just says that the US is a Christian nation. No action is required by this quote, although it implies resistance to the ongoing program of removing all vestiges of Christianity from public life. What Theocracywatch's complaint amounts to then, is a panic that the Republican party will resist parts of the leftists proactive agenda. Big surprise that.

Then of course there are the obligatory completely off-the-wall slanders like this (quoted without support from another source):
They intend to achieve this by using the freedom of religion in the US to train a generation of children in private Christian religious schools. Later, their graduates will be charged with the responsibility of creating a new Bible-based political, religious and social order. One of the first tasks of this order will be to eliminate religious freedom.
or this
One of the tenets of Reconstuctionism is that prisons will be empty because the death penalty will be applied to all capital crimes. Some of the more extreme leaders of the Reconstructionist movement include as capital crimes unrepentant homosexuality, abortion, adultery, blasphemy and even incorrigible children.
He forgot the Arabs. Doesn't he know that Christians want all the Arabs executed too?

Now in all seriousness, I do think some Christians are a bit too aggressive in pressing for a "Christian" agenda. For example although I believe it is valuable to ask God's blessing on the coming day of school, as long as a large portion of the country doesn't agree, I think that insisting on it is a bit tendentious. God does not glory in conflict for its own sake. Even if a majority want it, what Christian value does it serve to force it on the rest? Even to force on them an implicit acknowledgement in the form of an official moment of silence and meditation?

But even so, the hyperventilating response by Theocracywatch and others to such a trivial thing can hardly be explained by mere annoyance at a cultural oddity that they don't like. No, there is something far deeper going on here. The left is proactively trying to stamp out Christianity --or at any rate traditional Bible-believing Christianity-- and they are panicking at the fact that Christians seem to be successfully fighting back.

Besides that the left threw the first punch in the fight. In fact the opposition threw many punches before the religious right roused itself to fight back.

By now, the left has gone full swing into the next phase of the fight: fighting dirty. Lies and slander. And the Theocracywatch website is just one tiny eye-gouging thumb in a melee where there are so many that it seems fruitless to point one out.