Friday, December 16, 2005

Xmas Cheer: Well, I'm off on my usual two-week Christmas break. There are so many blog items I wanted to write before I left, but I never got around to it. And today seems to be full of news.

  • President Bush apparently ordered domestic spying to find terrorists following the 9/11 attacks. The most shocking part is that The New York Times delayed publishing the story for a year to confirm it through additional reporting. Still, while we all expected the federal government to take additional leeway in finding terrorists, the thought of the NSA snooping on Americans' lives is chilling. We need to investigate to see whether the Bush administration went beyond the limits of the law. Then we need to see whether the law goes beyond the limits of common sense.

  • Bush backed down and endorsed Sen. McCain's torture bill. The legislation is vague and restrictive. But it may be necessary considering all the bad publicity the United States has been getting. I personally haven't seen anything that indicates that the U.S. is crossing the line with any invasive interpretations or out-and-out torture. There may have been a few bad cases, but those are the exceptions. The problem is the torture bill may unnecessarily tie our hands. Don't get me wrong, torture is immoral and it usually doesn't even work. Nobody should want to torture, but we should keep the threat alive. Now the terrorists know they can sit on their hands and wait us out, no matter how harsh the interrogator's voice gets. Remember, these terrorists have broken international law by committing war crimes, targeting civilians, and torturing and beheading their captors. While we don't want to go anywhere near their level (I doubt we ever could), they don't deserve any special protection.

  • Zarqawi might have been caught, then inadvertently set free over a year ago when Iraqi police didn't recognize him. And I was having such a good day today.

  • The House of Representatives voted to create a 698-mile wall between the U.S. and Mexican border. Just great. I wonder where they expect to get the cheap labor to construct this wall.

  • The Iraqi parliamentary elections were a tremendous success. This time the Sunnis even showed up. Unfortunately the major cities had to be held in virtual lockdown to prevent violence in order to facilitate the ballot process. But I think the joy from this small taste of democracy will ensure everyone in Iraq has a very merry Christmas (... er, wait).
That's it for now. Y'all take care. Have a Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas. I'll see you in 2006.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Civic Duty: New Orleans is known for its tours, whether of stately mansions or Ann Rice vampire landmarks. With much of that gone, the tour busses are taking visitors to see the devastated areas in the city. This has caused some controversy, as some residents don't want their personal pain to be on display.

But the tours should go on, not just for the economic boost they could provide, but the opportunity to show people first hand how bad the mess really is. If morbid, thrill-seeking, rubber neckers -- like me -- are going to venture down to gawk at the death and destruction, someone in New Orleans should make a buck off it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

'Tis the Season: Every year we get the same debate over whether we should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" or "Enjoy the Yule". These discussions in the media tend to get more heated each time. I'm afraid someday someone will claim to be offended by "Happy New Year" because the Chinese New Year isn't until the end of January.

I'm a God-fearing Agnostic who celebrates Christmas with my family, most of whom are Christians who never go to church. I still say "Happy Holidays" out of habit. It just makes more sense, and I used to work at a business during high school that encouraged us to use the all-inclusive phrase when talking to customers. This same business gave each of us a $25 gift certificate and a brand new Bible as our Christmas bonus. I still have the Bible, it sits on my desk at work. Haven't quite finished reading it though.

The real issue in this debate is, of course, the extremists.

The Left side of the debate is made up of devout secularists as well as the loudest among those who are religious but haven't accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. For some reason many of them are offended by the term "Merry Christmas". If you are offended by someone uttering the equivalence of "Have a nice day", then you deserve to be offended for being such a prick. If a Muslim said something along the lines of "Happy Ramadan" to me, I would accept it as a nice gesture of his trying to be inclusive and wishing me good tidings. In short, he was just being nice.

Then on the Right side are the Christian nuts who are offended by "Happy Holidays". This is supposedly political correctness running amok. And, according to anonymous conservative friends of mine, political correctness running amok is going to drive this country into the ground. Personally, I think this country is stronger than that.

This issue could be easily settled if people would just realize that Christmas is not a religious holiday. Oh, sure, most of the songs mention Jesus in some way, and both the X in Xmas and the Christ in Christmas are meant to represent the Messiah. But Santa, reindeer, presents, candy canes, Frosty, etc. are all related to our Savior's birth as much as the Easter Bunny is to His resurrection. (And Peter saideth unto Paul, "For lo, I was collecting Easter eggs when what's-His-face showed up in a bunny suit. I thought the Romans killed him a few days ago.")

Christmas is a consumer holiday and a time set aside to spend time with loved ones. It's winter, it's cold, let's relax together by the fire and exchange presents and sing songs.

Plus, Jesus was most likely born during the springtime, according to biblical scholars. The Catholic Church chose the December 25 date as a propaganda tool to convert some German Pagans. The Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice occurs around the same time, which the Pagans celebrated by lighting candles in evergreen trees while dancing naked. Some of those traditions have been passed on, and fortunately others have not.

Obviously, many true Christians revere Christmas. And as a sign of their personal religious faith, they openly celebrate and to display their beliefs. And because the vast, vast majority of this country is Christian, these often turn into community celebrations.

Of course, we should try to be inclusive to other members of our community who don't share the same beliefs as us. That inclusiveness should come not by fretting over whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays", but by smiling and wishing someone a "Happy New Year" in response to whichever way someone else reaches out to you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Whose side are you on?

The state of California just killed an innocent man!
So yelled Tookie supporters who witnessed the execution of Stanley Williams, the founder of the Crips gang. They shouted this in front of the families of people killed by Williams.

Williams was tried and convicted for murdering four people. During the 25 years sitting in California's death row, his conviction has been upheld. Still, some people say that Williams might not have been the gunman.

I'm skeptical of that claim, but even if it were true, Williams is still one of the founders of one of the most deadly gangs this nation has ever seen. The Crips, along with their rivals the Bloods, have wreaked havoc in Los Angeles, and their brand of violence has spread across the nation. Thousands have died, more lives have been ruined, and communities were left in shambles.

In the past quarter century of sitting in prison, Williams did apologize, and he has been publicly active denouncing gangs. And that really is good. But it does not make up for the pain he has caused.

I usually despise such extreme analogies, but in this case the gang warfare in this country is similar to domestic terrorism. And technically, Osama Bin Laden has not killed anyone, that we know of. He didn't fly the planes on 9/11. He was just a spiritual leader. Yet, even if we catch Bin Laden today, and 25 years later he has repented, converted to become a devout Agnostic, and wrote books against terrorism, that does not redeem what he is doing now.

No, Tookie is not anywhere near as horrible as Osama Bin Laden. But Williams has committed crimes worthy of the death penalty, and for that he was rightly punished.

If activists want to carry on the legacy of Stanley Williams, they should not paint him as some victim. Youths need to know that gang activity has serious consequences. We shouldn't point to law and order as the bad guy. Instead we should hold Williams up as an example of what happens when you do terrible things to people.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Just Silly: Leads like this make me laugh.

Killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic, riddled with household chemicals from around the world, the environmental pressure group WWF said on Monday.
What cracks me up is that the World Wildlife Fund sued the World Wrestling Federation over the rights to "WWF" and won. I've never been a wrestling fan, but I still relate WWF with wrestling instead of environmentalism.

So when I read something like that, I end up picturing some 300-pound beefcake wearing spandex and a feather boa while yelling about how the World Wrestling Federation is out to save the whales.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mid-Life Crisis: Mitt Romney is returning to his moderate roots, at least temporarily. He had been scoping out social conservative stances in preparation for his presidential run. But recently he decided to require all hospitals to provide morning-after contraception to rape victims -- denying private Catholic hospitals an exemption that they sought.

I can't imagine such a little gesture would torpedo his chances at the Republican presidential nomination. But even if it does, at least he's doing the right thing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Help Wanted: Something I've wanted to do if I didn't have a job to do, is count the number of "number 3" men in Al Qaeda that have been captured or killed. Apparently there have been four or five already, according to Blogenlust (Hat tip: Slate's Chatterbox).

Dilbert's Scott Adams has a blog and writes a funny post saying that no matter how bad you think your job is, it can't be as bad as being the new Number 3 at Al Qaeda, which has got to rank as the worst job in the world. Scott's nomination for best job? That's the U.S. military guy who gets to snuff out the Number-Threes by firing missiles from computer-operated predator drones.

Insult to Injury: Talk about a crackdown. A 73-year-old man was crossing the street here in DC, got struck by a car, and later died of his injuries. But before he was rushed to the hospital, the police issued him a $5 ticket for jaywalking.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Food for Thought: For the first time ever, I may have been right about something.

A few months ago, I shared with you my secret to a healthy lifestyle. I call it the eat-what-tastes-good diet.

The logic is simple. If it tastes good, it has to be good for you, because our taste buds evolved to enjoy the foods that our bodies need. Mix in some outdoor activity and exercise, and you're living just as well as our evolutionary ancestors (nevermind, Mr. Hobbes, that their lives were generally solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short).

Now academic researchers are touting "intuitive eating". It's a no-diet diet that sets you free to eat whatever you want, with one major caveat -- you're only allowed to eat when you're hungry.

That befuddles me, because I don't understand why people would bother eating when they're not hungry. But then again, I'm always hungry and am well known to be scavenging my office for free food.

Still, it has had some success. Then again, so have the Atkins, South Beach, Slim Fast, Jenny Craig, and Abu Ghraib diets.

The lesson here is that there's no reason to overly restrict your lifestyle. Just so long as you feed your primal urges in -- say it with me now -- moderation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Nevermind the Bollocks: Quote of the day.

When I left Britain twenty-one years ago, there was no question that America led the way in equal rights for gays. No longer.
That's Andrew Sullivan celebrating Britain's decision to allow gay marriage. Legally, the arrangements are called "civil partnerships", but colloquially, everyone refers to them as marriages.

That's something I think we should adopt here in America. Gay partners who have decided to spend the rest of their lives together would be well served to refer to their loved ones as their husband or wife. They should participate in marriage ceremonies, even if their state laws don't recognize their relationships.

I'm not trying to tell gays how to live their lives. And Lord knows gays shouldn't treat marriages the way heterosexuals do -- with an eye toward divorce as an easy out whenever someone changes his or her mind.

But if people around the country get used to gay marriages, and see that there's nothing to be afraid of, then they'll be more likely to support legal recognition of such relationships.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sign On: The Coalition for Darfur is trying to help a Samuel Totten, a University of Arkansas professor who has closely studied attempts at genocide in different countries, collect signatures for a petition to encourage the United Nations to intervene in Darfur.

Please read here for details.

Batting a Thousand: Continuing with America's obsession with big round numbers, the news media has been contemplating the death penalty as we execute the 1,000th criminal since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated.

Opponents are treating this news as a sad event, as if so many people have needlessly died. Am I the only one who looks at the number and think: That's it?

We have had well over 1,000 murders since 1976 -- many times more in fact. We've all heard that statistic that says someone is murdered in the United States every 30 minutes, or about 48 every day. Well, this means someone gets executed for those murders every 15,242 minutes, or about one every 10 days.

The fact that only 1,000 of those killers have been given the ultimate penalty means that we're not overzealous with our use of the death penalty. We're actually using it quite judiciously.

And if we want to compare the number of executions with other big round numbers, there have been more than 2,000 deaths in Iraq since 2003. That means it's many times safer to be on death row than to be in Iraq. I'll let liberals decide how they want to use that one.

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