Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Allan Nairn, Indonesia's special forces, and the Obama administration

Third World countries whose militaries brutalize their own people are a sad but familiar feature of the geopolitical scene. American administrations which deem it necessary to be friendly with such regimes are equally sad, equally familiar. From time to time, the exigencies of international diplomacy enable us to take the high road. Case in point is Indonesia:

Indonesia's National Armed Forces (TNI), especially its thuggish Kopassus Special Forces Command, has a long, sordid human rights record, including political killings and massacres of hundreds of thousands of civilians in East Timor, Aceh, Papua, and elsewhere in the country.

In response to the November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz cemetery massacre of over 270 demonstrators in Dili, East Timor's capital, Congress restricted Indonesia's TNI from receiving International Military Education and Training (IMET).

These restrictions were eased in the George W. Bush administration, so that blog post says. Now the Obama administration wants to resume stateside training of a notorious Indonesian special forces unit, the Kopassus. Enter investigative reporter Allan Nairn.

Nairn recently detailed how the Indonesian military's special forces, Kopassus, continued to be involved in illegal activities, including murdering civilians. His report comes at a time when the US is considering renewing direct support for Kopassus, after having banned working with it more than 10 years ago.

US President Barak Obama says that the US military should resume full military to military co-operation with the Indonesian armed forces, the TNI, as a result of their reform. Military contact was broken off in 1996, following the 1991 Dili Massacre in which 300 or more people were murdered by the Indonesian military. Nairn was in Dili during the massacre and was himself seriously beaten by TNI members.

And just today, Indonesian time, his scheduled appearance on that country's TV One was canceled, on a flimsy pretext. No mention if he is in any danger of arrest. If the Obama administration does reverse course and cancel the training arrangements, it might be well for him to get out of Dodge. Searching the White House's website, I don't immediately see anything addressing this issue. The President plans to go to Indonesia and Australia in June, so maybe we'll hear something official by then.

Meanwhile, I'm at a loss as to why this isn't stirring up the Birthers. "Sekrit Muzlim Obama Protects Homeland's Thug Army!!!!" Hope I haven't given them any ideas.

The toughest thing about Employee Appreciation Day?

It's that it has a way of turning into Employee Appreciation Day Planning Committee Appreciation Day. If people don't want to go, they don't want to go. Why browbeat them about it?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama signs healthcare reform

One thing I'll concede: After this, no one can say that Obama doesn't have any experience managing or leading anything. This is huge.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Borrow, borrow, borrow...

Look at this colorful graph. Especially, look at which of those colors has been growing, percentage-wise, over the past decade.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Halal Hippies"

You know political correctness in Sweden is out of control when even National Public Radio is tut-tutting over it.
Pernilla Ouis at the University of Malmo says the deafening silence from most Swedes regarding the Vilks case goes to the heart of the Swedish self-image.

"If we take a strong stance for freedom of expression then we ... could be accused of being racist," says Ouis, who teaches social workers how to work in cross-cultural situations. "We want to protect ourselves, [show] that we are good people, we are not racist, so we don't take that position. So we sacrifice Vilks' freedom of expression for that."

Ouis says that Swedes are very nice people, but also that they are painfully politically correct. She says the PC brigade has acquired a new nickname — "halal hippies" — and she says it applies to almost all Swedish politicians, who tend to have a blind spot to the problems of Islam.

She says halal hippies are critical of one's own society — in her words, have "the white man's guilt" — and they embrace and defend "the Other" so much that they can't see that the other community has oppressive structures of its own.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie

Good flick! Almost had to watch it through my fingers, though. Some of the jams the little fellows got themselves into were painfully familiar. My elementary school kids, who read all the books, really laughed a lot.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The signs of the times as presented through children's conversations

Daughter: "Papa, I want to be a wrestler when I grow up."
Me: "...!!!...Women don't wrestle!"
Daughter: "Sure they do! Duh..."
Son: "Women don't wrestle. They box!"
Daughter: "Well, I can box too if I want to."


Say you open the newspaper, flip on the tube, or click to your go-to news source. You see the opposition up to something which disgusts you. "Those people are idiots!", you think to yourself.

Question: What would they be like if they weren't idiots?

If your response is along the lines of "Well, then they would stop saying X and doing Y," then all well and good.

But if your response, whether articulated or pre-verbal, is "If they weren't idiots, they would be more like me," then, you're an idiot.

The ACLU: Progressistes sans frontières

Someday, the war in Afghanistan will end. Someday, the Taliban fighters will be reconciled with the government, and peace, uneasy or otherwise, will descend upon this volatile land. Someday, some of the fighters will become intrigued with the land of their erstwhile enemies, the Americans. Some of them will become so intrigued that they emigrate to America, as so many pursuers of liberty and opportunity have done before them. In time, some of these newcomers will become citizens. They will proudly, maybe tearfully, swear the oath of allegiance. They will go to register to become that most privileged class of citizen, voters. We may also suppose that Americans who have run off to join The Jihad will lay down their arms and come home, too.

But! Maybe they will encounter unjust resistance. Maybe some bigoted jurisdiction will have imposed barriers to registering them. Literacy tests. Nit-picky identification requirements. Maybe the new Americans will be disenfranchised. We can't let this happen! Who will help them?

The ACLU, of course. They'll file suit to preserve their rights. They'll force the jurisdictions to obey the equal rights laws. Just as they have done in years gone by.

But before any of this happens, those Taliban fighters must survive the present war. And the ACLU is right there to help with that, too. How? By making sure the Taliban fighters don't get blown up before any of this happens, by demanding compromising disclosures of the Predator drone programs, by concern trolling about legalities in a war they have always been iffy about. Because when you're fighting for truth, justice, and the liberal American way, there's no such thing as overreach.

Idiots. If they had intruded themselves into the Pacific war, the entire Marine Corps would have been jailed.

via Protein Wisdom

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Texas textbook standards wrangling

This bit from the fight over whose narrative goes into the state's history textbooks is an example of why we're having this fight in the first place.

It also approved an amendment that deletes a requirement that sociology students “explain how institutional racism is evident in American society.”

Language like that is just an attempt to fit students for liberal hairshirts.

Require them to study if institutional racism is evident in American society? A worthy thought experiment.
How institutional racism was evident in American society? Fine.
How institutional racism is evident in American history? Of course.

But presenting the students with the conclusion, and requiring them to argue their way to it, is underhanded. I fully understand the feelings of the parents who refuse to let their children be indicted with that kind of original sin.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Playing with fire, or putting out the fire

Allan Bloom would weep, at the enfeeblement of spirit that this living arrangement evidences.

Mixed-gender dorm rooms are gaining acceptance

Their room, which shares a tiny bathroom with two men next door, has the usual collegiate trappings of beer bottles and political posters. The only unusual sight is women's clothes in one closet and men's in another.

The pair seem to have a warm brotherly-sisterly friendship and, while they try to be respectful, they say they are not inhibited about being in underwear or even nude while changing clothes in the room. They insist their living situation does not interfere with romantic relationships with other people. And although they have not been teased on campus, they face curious questions from relatives and friends.

"I definitely think it's generational," said Eland, 20, of Seattle. "For my grandparents, living with someone of the opposite sex, if he is not your serious boyfriend or husband or brother, would be very strange."

Men and women are equal because they are not different anymore.
-- Eric Hoffer

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Filth masquerading as news, from a toad masquerading as a man

A couple of years ago, about two hours up the interstate from me, a young hiker was abducted and murdered. Her killer was caught, convicted & is serving life.

Now Larry Flynt wants to get the crime scene photos of her, to run in his publication under the guise of a news story. The courts and the GBI are fighting the porn king's FOI requests, but may not succeed. If they lose, I hope some intern goes into the evidence files and burns the photos in the dumpster.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Moderate Islam: Western Ally or Western Myth?

Daniel Pipes and Wafa Sultan debated the issue at a synagogue in Canada, in a gathering organized by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. Sultan led off with a zinger:

I am used to debating with a Muslim imam, not with a dear friend like Dr. Pipes. The best part of our debate is, I know for sure at the end of this debate, he's not going to call me kaffir (unbeliever) or to issue a fatwa against my life.


It’s incumbent upon us to help the moderates, those who want to integrate, who want to be patriotic citizens, who want to live under our system, our beliefs and customs, rather than according to the Shari’a.... We need to encourage them, we need to fund them. We need to help them, not the Islamists.


So what is the essence of Islam? The underlying foundation of Islam is to rule the world and submit it under Islamic Shari’a. [...] Many in the West argue that these accounts should be viewed in the context of history, that life then was cruel and that the Bible is also rooted in violent stories.... While other religions have had their share of violent history, theirs are merely history stories that happened in the past. On the other hand, Islam is a doctrine codified in Shari’a law for Muslims to follow at all times.

So who won? It doesn't say, although the Tribune gives the lion's share of the quotes to Sultan. Including another zinger:

Asked, “What is the closest, best role model of the Islamic state?” Dr. Sultan drew laughter and applause when she replied, “I say France. I mean it, because a year ago I gave a speech in France and I thought I was in the Gaza Strip. Seventy-five per cent of my audience were Muslims, shouting and cursing and going crazy, so let’s hope France will be the best role model.”

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Adam Smith's On The Wealth Of Nations

On this date in 1776, Adam Smith's On The Wealth Of Nations was published. Back during the days of the free market in our nation, it was a very influential book. If it's too forbidding a tome for you, you may enjoy P.J. O'Rourke's introduction to it, from a few years ago. Here are some fair-use quotes:

Leftist critics of free markets assume that there is a fraudulent aspect to capitalism. They're right. We tricked the feudal powers into setting us free, and we remained free by continuing to bamboozle them. We used chicanery and sharp dealing to found our cities, become rich bourgeoisie, and supply ourselves with creature comforts. We left the barbarian aristocrats in their drafty castles throwing chicken bones on the floor.

Later economists, such as, in the early nineteenth century, J. B. Say, felt that Smith undervalued the economic contributions of service. And he did. The eighteenth century had servants, not a service economy. It was hard for a man of that era to believe that the semi-inebriated footman and the blowsy scullery maid would evolve into, well, the stoned pizza delivery boy and the girl behind the checkout counter with an earring in her tongue.
Smith emphasized the "private frugality and good conduct of individuals" and "their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition." He argued that it was "this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty...which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement." But since England "has never been blessed with a very parsimonious government...[it] is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people."
Before totalitarianism had ever been tried, Adam Smith was prescient in his scorn for it:
"The man of system [...] is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.[...] He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board."

Barbed wire always seems to be needed to keep the chessmen on their squares.

Adam Smith did a lot of thinking about taxes, eighty-odd pages worth. He began with four sensible maxims of taxation: taxes ought to be inexpensive to collect, be levied when taxpayers are best able to pay them, be proportionate to the revenue that taxpayers "enjoy under the protection of the state," and be "certain, and not arbitrary."
The last maxim is the most sensible and therefore the least observed. The boggling complexity of tax law and the ceaseless fiddling with taxes, even by legislators who would lower them, violate Smith's principle that "a very considerable degree of not near so great an evil as a very small degree of uncertainty."
It's a principle that applies to practically everything, as anyone who is in love or waiting for a check in the mail knows.

Doing right by the children

So. It's only less than one short decade until the first child starts college. And they will both overlap for most of their time in school. I don't have a college fund for them yet. Although I'm solvent--no credit card debt, and my home & vehicles are paid for--we still live rather tightly. I dropped an unexpected $2500 on vehicle repairs over the past three months, and I'm looking at having to get rid of one of them this year. I'll buy used, because even though we keep our cars until we drive them into the ground, and don't want to borrow trouble, I don't want to have any car payments.

My situation is far from desperate, and probably doesn't even sound very difficult, to some. But it was at this juncture that I decided to look to the far horizon, and sock away a couple of grand each for my kids in an S&P Index mutual fund. I got it out of their savings accounts, which I and kind relatives have been funding monthly since they were toddlers. My hope is that the market will continue its pattern of returning an average of 10% yearly, if they hold these into middle age, probably past my clock-out time. If they let it ride, and we're not all pulling rickshaws for the Chinese by then, they ought to have a tidy cushion to help them buffer the buffets of middle age.

I won't let them thank me, if I'm still around and it pays off. I owe them this. I owe them this, and a thousand other things I haven't done for them. I just hope they gain financial wisdom earlier and in fuller measure than I did.

Happy 100th birthday, Samuel Barber

NPR has been digging deep into his oeuvre today, but this is what he's most famous for, The Adagio for Strings.

"I am called Habit"

Some good advice from Dave Ramsey, which I really need to take to heart:

I am your constant companion,
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag your down to failure.
I am at your command.
Half of the tasks that you do you might just as well
turn over to me and I will do them quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed,
you must merely be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done;
after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great people and
alas of all failures as well.
Those who are great I have made great,
those who are failures I have made failures.

I am not a machine, but I work with all the precision
of a machine, plus the intelligence of a person.
Now, you may run me for profit or
you may run me for ruin.
It makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me,
and I will lay the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I? I am called Habit.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Christopher Hitchens rewrites the Ten Commandments

The kicker:

It’s difficult to take oneself with sufficient seriousness to begin any sentence with the words “Thou shalt not.” But who cannot summon the confidence to say: Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color. Do not ever use people as private property. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature—why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them? Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife. Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us. Denounce all jihadists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form.

I do hope that Christopher Hitchens is not going to become one of those acerbic types who, as he enters old age, becomes violently bitter and sour because the passing parade just doesn't seem that funny to him anymore. This piece seems jocular enough, but I'm just wondering...

Here's his argument in shorter if more flippant terms:

Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality: they are the perfect duties. If your morals make you dreary, depend on it they are wrong. I do not say, "give them up," for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better men.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson

The only thing about which I feel strongly enough to dispute with him is his take on the Sabbath. It isn't intended to be simply a day of inertia, but to be kept holy. Here are some quotes about the Sabbath from some famous people:

The longer I live the more highly do I estimate the Christian Sabbath, and the more grateful do I feel to those who impress its importance on the community.
--Daniel Webster

I feel as if God had, by giving the Sabbath, given fifty-two springs in every year.

He who ordained the Sabbath loves the poor.
--James Russell Lowell

To that in men which is secular and animal, Sunday says "Rest"; to that which is intellectual, moral, and social, "Grow."
--Henry Ward Beecher

I think the world of to-day would go mad, just frenzied with strain and pressure, but for the blessed institution of Sunday.
--Brooke Herford

Sunday is like a stile between the fields of toil, where we can kneel and pray, or sit and meditate.

If the Sunday had not been observed as a day of rest during the last three centuries, I have not the slightest doubt that we should have been at this moment a poorer people and less civilised.

Yes, the rest is welcome. I don't even like to go shopping on Sundays, so much do I pity the people who have to work on that day. I work some Sundays, and resent it. But a "lazy Sunday" is not the only kind of Sunday there is. The day can be quite fruitful for the spirit, if you cultivate it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Chilean Tsunami and Twitter

I watched a video feed of local Hawaiian news on UStream, with a Twitter feed in the side frame. My verdict: Twitter spam flashing past near the posts-per-second barrier is no substitute for news. Twitter's a fine service, and they've done good in finding lost children and rallying the Iranian opposition and everything. But in this instance it was useless as a news source.