Thursday, November 10, 2005

On Torture

I haven’t talked much about torture here because I came to the conclusion a long time ago that my view of what constitutes torture doesn’t completely match the way others view the topic. Looks like Derbyshire just came to that same conclusion:

After saying my piece & reading the comeback emails, I realized that to a great many folk, “torture” does not refer to the pulling out of fingernails, beating senseless with rubber truncheons, having your infant daughter raped before your eyes, or any of the other things I had always supposed it meant.  To a lot of people, it embraces the merest roughness or unkindness—a shove, a kick, a slap, sleep deprivation, and so on.

I’m sorry, but that ain’t torture, and a person who says it is is either (a) the product of a very sheltered life, or (b) just looking for any old reason to say how horrid GWB and his administration are.

And that’s what I have to say about torture.

Yeah, that’s about the view of it, isn’t it? In my world view, torture is more than merely being a bit mean and rough.

I’m wondering whether that leaves me outside the societal norm or if most people don’t understand that when critics accuse Americans of torture, they aren’t talking about the third world despot’s version involving what I would consider truly inhumane treatment. No professional rapists or surgeons devoted to removing body parts on our payrolls.

But does that average American understand the distinction in the current debate? Keep in mind, 24 is a wildly successful show, but the things that Jack does on a regular basis to extract information from terrorists are often a few steps beyond what someone like Andrew Sullivan seems to be thinking of when he cries “torture.” It seems to me that the people who cheer Jack aren’t going to get squeamish over our intelligence services’ use of intimidation and aggressive persuasion.

There are dividing lines, of course, and I still suggest being very open about what is and is not acceptable. What some people think of as torture, though, wouldn’t even qualify as a bad childhood in my book.

Son of a…But…Godda…Arrrrgh

Okay, so I was writing morning market advice for investors. I was going to talk about the four reasons that today’s market outlook is dismal (fears about heating oil costs, mildly negative jobs data, a much wider September trade deficit forcing lower third quarter GDP growth estimates, and GM’s continued woes--including an accounting oops leading to a restatement of $400 million in profits for 2001).

It was good, and early gains notwithstanding, the market has quickly turned to negative.

It was good.

Of course, my computer ate my freakin’ homework.

Now the benefit of my wisdom won’t be yours as I’m heading off to work. Sorry about that.

Oh, and I should probably note that I’m hardly a market expert. If you take my advice, you get what you deserve.

Update: Which is all sort of okay seeing as the market bumped up big late in the day after an unusually strong bond auction from the Treasury department. Didn’t see that coming. It didn’t hurt that both oil and natural gas eased off today (oil coming in below $58).

The big bump, though, came from the Treasury auction that brought in quite a bit of international attention. With the dollar’s recent advance, it indicates that foreign investors are still betting on the US economy to stay strong.

All of which should mean good things for my mutual funds…

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mr. Answer Also Provides Occasional Translation Services

From an article in the Washington Post:

Top executives of big oil companies on Wednesday defended surging profits at a time of high prices, and warned a Senate hearing that a windfall profit tax could stymie investment and lead prices still higher.


Top executives of big oil companies on Wednesday were forced to apologize for running their businesses in a responsible and profitable manner when consumers became inexplicably cranky about their own purchasing habits, leaving Big Government Politicians happy visions balancing budgets with extra-special Big Government taxes on energy companies.

Of course, between tax breaks, incentives, restrictive policies, and the threat of extra taxes to help balance out energy company profits, I doubt that anyone can figure out how profitable the oil industry would be without the government’s meddling. The dollar cost of a barrel of oil is just an illusion when considering the actual price paid at the end of the day.

Read the story.

Mr. Answer Knows it All (Or At Least Makes a Credible Guess Every Now and Again)

When searches come in that I find interesting, sometimes I’ll take the time to answer the question in hopes that the next time a person searches for the information, they’ll find something more illuminating.

Thus, Mr. Answer makes the world a better place.

Today’s search:

Zombism Exists.

Mr. Answer says:

No it doesn’t.

There may be forms of drug-induced pseudo-zombism (and I have yet to see any convincing evidence of that), but not an actual resurrection of the dead into servants of voodoo witch doctors. No shambling, mindless, brain-eating undead to make the world a scarier place.


But if you want to see a great zombie movie, definitely check out Shawn of the Dead. Brilliant.

Mornin’, Ralph


A Little Reading

This comes from a speech given by Syed Abul ala Maududi in 1939.

It must be evident to you from this discussion that the objective of the Islamic jihad is to eliminate the rule of a non-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule. Islam does not intend to confine this revolution to a single State or a few countries; the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution. Although in the initial stages it is incumbent upon members of the party of Islam to carry out a revolution in the state system of the countries to which they belong, but their ultimate objective is no other than to effect a world revolution. No revolutionary ideology which champions the principles of the welfare of humanity as a whole instead of upholding national interests can restrict its aims and objectives to the limits of a country or a nation. The goal of such an all-embracing doctrine is naturally bound to be world revolution. Truth cannot be confined within geographical borders. Truth demands that whatever is right on this side of the river or the mountain is also right on the other side of the river or mountain; no portion of mankind should be deprived of the Truth; wherever mankind is being subjected to repression, discrimination, and exploitation, it is the duty of the righteous to go to their succor. The same concept has been enunciated by the Holy Qur’an in the following words:

“What has happened to you? Why don’t you fight in the way of God in support of men, women, and children, whom finding helpless, they have repressed; and who pray, “O, God! Liberate us from this habitation which is ruled by tyrants.” (4:75)

Moreover, notwithstanding the national divisions of mankind, human relations and connections have a universal significance so that no state can put her ideology into full operation until the same ideology comes into force in the neighboring states.

This is from a translation provided in the book, Voices of Terror. Highly illuminating.

This war against Islamic terror continues to look (dramatically) like the wars against Communism and Fascism--the drives of the Islamic extremist are the same as the drives of the Communist: to bring liberation to the people of the world through a totalitarian dictate, for their own good, whether they want it or not.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

You Know…

...In case you were curious.

Come the 17th, this story will get just a touch more interesting.

Go Army!

In case you were wondering, I really want to see Army win this (friendly) competition. I mean, who wants to lose to a bunch of jarheads, zoomies, and squids?

Seriously, it’s a good cause and a good way to show support to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have served our country.

Gimme Your Excess Profits

From today’s Rocky Mountain News editorial:

New York Sen. Charles Schumer says the oil industry’s excess profits are running at $7 billion a month and he proposes a 50 percent “temporary” tax. The last temporary levy on the industry, in the 1980s, lasted eight years and is responsible for some of the industry’s problems today.

Republicans, usually in favor of letting big business do its thing, are saying with pursed lips that the oil business needs to explain itself, which the industry will have an opportunity to do at Senate hearings on Wednesday.

Okay, let’s start with the questions:

What is there to explain? That speculators drove the price of oil to ridiculous highs regardless of the weekly supply data? That consumers kept consuming right up until the prices finally hit that psychological $3 tipping point? That when the supply data couldn’t be ignored, the cost of oil per barrel finally started to flutter down and that profits don’t promise to be quite so “excessive” next year (although, as I’ve argued before, I believe that there is a potential for a seasonal speculator swim that will jack prices up annually)?

Or, how about explaining how some of the proponents of higher gas taxes in pursuit of lower consumption suddenly think that higher gas prices (and a temporary softening of consumption) constitute a bad thing. Is it just because when the money isn’t collected by Uncle Sugar it can’t be funneled into their favorite social programs or be used to balance a budget so far out of level that it is truly frightening?

And then there’s the big question: if the oil industry uses these new profits (you know, the excessive ones) to explore for new oil sources, define responsible ways to tap oil shale here in the West, or further refine recovery methods so that oil fields yield far more of the oil that is actually trapped in the ground, how is it that those profits were “excessive”?

Read the Rest...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Re: Terrell Owens (Updated)

Peter King, in today’s Monday Morning Quarterback, says quite a bit about Owens, his relationship with his team, and the likelihood of Owens return to the Eagles. But he really gets to the point of the matter with one of his shortest sentences:

That idiot Terrell Owens.

Blessed with talent and physical skill, a smart guy who knows how to play the game, and the kind of receiver that every team wants (even at the risk of actually having Terrell Owns on the team). That’s the thing about Owens, though, isn’t it? All the praise comes with a giant warning sticker that boils down to this: he never learned to be something other than selfish.

He will rant and rave when someone says the tiniest thing to hurt his feelings, but he never notices how vicious his own words can be. He wants to be the focal point of the team without ever realizing that the team needs more than one player to get the wins. He signs the kind of multi-year contract that comes close to the GDP of some emerging nations and then demands a re-negotiation after just the first year has passed.

Yeah. That idiot Terrell Owens.

Read the story. (The quote is on the second page.)

PS- In the same article comes this quote:

“I can promise you at this game there will be no wardrobe malfunction.’’

--Sheryl Crow, the singer, upon being introduced as the halftime entertainment for the Dallas-Denver Thanksgiving Day game to benefit the Salvation Army.

Which comes across to me as surprisingly endearing.

Update: Speaking of Terrell Owens (Because We Were, You Know):

The tempestuous star receiver won’t return to the Philadelphia Eagles this season — or probably ever — “a result of a large number of situations that accumulated over a long period of time,” coach Andy Reid said Monday.

I think everyone expected this outcome, but the speed of the event is surprising. Read the story.

I Feel So Honored. Sort of.

You know that your past spending habits aren’t what might be considered “responsible” when the good folks from Nieman Marcus make a regular effort to call and let you know about the latest sales.

I mean, it’s nice that they like to keep in touch, but geez…

Anyway, the silence is because I’ve been moving from my cube into my old office today--an odd thing to do a few years after giving up the door and the window. Between that and the remnants of the Killer Avian Bird Flu Thingy, I’m pretty well occupied today.

I’ll try to give a better accounting of myself later in the afternoon.

Cool (And Marginally Useless)

The BBC maintains a portion of its daily news in Swahili. How cool is that?

Admittedly, for me it’s still a bit useless since I don’t know enough to catch more than a few words here and there in the articles, but hopefully that changes over the coming months.

A sample?

Waziri mmoja wa Urusi, Alexander Chekalin amesema mtu atakaye kataa kushirikiana na wanajeshi hao, na awe amebeba silaha, atauwawa.

Yeah, this is going to take some time…

Check it out.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Evil That Eminent Domain Does

Normally by this time on a Friday afternoon, I would already be getting ready to make the long drive across town to see the g-phrase (whose sentimental value to me extends far beyond the dollar value tied to all of her component parts), but this story required a response. This will obviously (and rightly) set off a storm of debate about eminent domain:

Revelli Tire ( search) has been a family-owned business in Oakland, Calif., for 56 years. But if action by the city council remains on course, the tire store will have to find a new home or go the way of the dinosaur.

In July, using the power of eminent domain, the Oakland City Council evicted John Revelli from his store and locked the doors. The council’s argument: One landowner should not impede the progress of a city on the move.

“I am being forced to give up and give away all I have worked for all these years,” Revelli told FOX News.

“It is a compelling story, but it is not correct because we offered far and away more than what the land value was,” said City of Oakland redevelopment director Dan Vanderpriem.

Revelli’s property is located in a block targeted for redevelopment. Not only the tire store but dozens of other parcels have been seized so a private developer can put in condominiums and apartments.

What struck me most--aside from the sense that this was just the sort of unfair and unreasonable maneuver that had to be expected following Kelo--was the assumption from one of the city council members that they had offered far more than the land was actually worth. Quite obviously that wasn’t true: they hadn’t offered more than it was worth to the owner.

What is the value of your belongings? Is it simply a dollar amount covering what it would take to replace the belonging or is it a set of values that might not be tied at all to an actual dollar amount. A while back, when my apartment building caught fire, my worry wasn’t for my computers or my television, but for a simple little bundle of photographs. The sentimental value of the items was far more important to me than the dollar value of the electronics or my hand-me-down furniture.

When my grandpa moved to Arkansas with my parents and they put up the old family farm for sale, I considered selling some of my things and seeing what it would take to buy the land. It was a rundown house and old farm buildings in dire need of work before the city came along and realized the hazard, and it was an old, overgrown yard and mucked up pond surrounded by stone work of dubious value. It was also on the southern side of Colorado Springs while I live on the north side of Denver. For that matter, the neighborhood isn’t precisely posh.

I didn’t want to save the land because it was a good investment or where I really wanted to live; I wanted to save it because most of my good childhood memories are connected to that place. It’s still hard to know that it’s gone.

A family-owned business for fifty-six years, and no one seems to be suggesting that it was a blighted property or otherwise a nuisance. Fifty-six years. Honestly, I can’t even imagine the emotional connection that the owner has to that property.

That he can be forced to sell to make way for condominiums is ridiculous. Making the case that the condos are vital for community interests or that they constitute, in some way, a public need strains credibility to the breaking point. Simple ownership of property has always been somewhat illusory; now the illusion is completely shattered.

Read the story.

This and That While Paris Still Burns

This (and I believe it worth the free registration to read the article):

With cries of “God is great,” bands of youths armed with whatever they could get hold of went on a rampage and forced the police to flee.

The French authorities could not allow a band of youths to expel the police from French territory. So they hit back — sending in Special Forces, known as the CRS, with armored cars and tough rules of engagement.

Within hours, the original cause of the incidents was forgotten and the issue jelled around a demand by the representatives of the rioters that the French police leave the “occupied territories.” By midweek, the riots had spread to three of the provinces neighboring Paris, with a population of 5.5 million.

But who lives in the affected areas? In Clichy itself, more than 80 percent of the inhabitants are Muslim immigrants or their children, mostly from Arab and black Africa. In other affected towns, the Muslim immigrant community accounts for 30 percent to 60 percent of the population. But these are not the only figures that matter. Average unemployment in the affected areas is estimated at around 30 percent and, when it comes to young would-be workers, reaches 60 percent.

Is an extension of that:

...[T]he crux of the West’s problems with militant, fundamentalist Islamists: that a sub-culture could be so twisted as to believe that vicious, mean crimes could be honorable proves that their system of ethics is so completely out of line with ours that their is no way for them to coexist within the same regions and under the same law. For that matter, it proves the lie of cultural relativism.

The expectations of fundamentalist Muslims who emigrate to the West--sometimes from impoverished North African nations, sometimes from wealthy Middle Eastern families--is that the cultures, laws, and expectations of their new hosts will bend to the will of the immigrants. Western expectation is that the newcomers will peacefully bring the best of their own culture, but not in a way that damages the legal and political body of the host.

Instead of peaceful integration, though, what we have is honor rapes in France, the religiously motivated murder of Theo Van Gogh, and the request that Muslim communities have the opportunity to enforce their own religious laws in Canada. In the UK we see Islamic extremists will to live on the dole--that is, on the welfare provided by a generous host--while supporting the London bombings.

Oddly, the US has been spared much of the problem with it’s immigrant base (while being a huge target for attack from outsiders). Is that just luck? Is it just a matter of time before poorer Islamic communities in the US riot in the same way?

Again, that touchy-feely PC belief that if they just got to know us better, if we just communicated more, we wouldn’t have these cultural clashes is proven to be naive. They know us very well, they respect us very little, and they believe that we heretics are fair game for attack and exploitation. Not every Muslim is a potential enemy of their host state, but those that embrace their religious law and culture above the more secular laws of Western developed nations simply cannot rub elbows with the rest of us without undue strain.

We can’t tolerate some of their religious practices (honor rapes again spring to mind) and they can’t tolerate us in a much broader sense.

We have our own problems with riots, of course (think of the riots following the Rodney King verdict), and the problems in France aren’t entirely religious in nature (having a significant economic component). It would be unwise, though, to ignore the cultural and religious element, especially while we engage in a war against Islamic terror throughout the world.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ahh, The Elton John Defense

A woman in the UK who killed her son (a 36 year old man with Downs Syndrome whom she had cared for her entire life) and then attempted to kill herself, was spared a jail sentence. The judge who believed that the extraordinary circumstances that led her to commit murder warranted an extra helping of mercy.

Mr Justice Gross sentenced her to two years’ prison, suspended for 18 months, and told her: “The pressures you faced were extreme.”

He said that, while all human life was sacrosanct, her case had “exceptional factors” and “the merciful and right course” was to suspend her sentence.

“You will be punished as long as you live, in the knowledge of what you have done and what you have lost.”

Sasha Wass, defending, said Markcrow, who had pleaded with the authorities for help with caring for her 16st son as his condition deteriorated, lost her mind last March.

“She was exhausted beyond reason,” said Miss Wass. “Patrick had spent the entire day listening to the same Elton John CD, shouting the word ‘Elton’ repeatedly. She was literally at her wits’ end.

“She was overwhelmed by feelings of despair and she wanted to die, but all the time there was the worry of what would happen to Patrick.”

Ah, yes, the Elton John defense.

Well, that’s alright, then.

Read the story. (Link added with a belated, “Oops.")

Brother, Can You Spare Some Tamiflu?

Nobody in the office believes that I’ve got the Killer Avian Bird Flu Thingy.

Nobody understands my pandemic.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

From The William Shatner School of Singing (Pre-Ironic Understanding of Uncoolness Period)

I just listened to one of the most hideous, horrid, useless, and (of course) hilarious things I’ve ever heard.

But, please God, never again. Never again.

Click on through. You’ll probably regret it, but you’ll regret it through the awkward giggling.

Bush’s Rogue State

From Former Blogger Patrick comes this fun quote from Andrew Sullivan in discussing treatment of captured terrorists and enemy combatants:

Except for rogue states that refuse to abide by even minimal standards of decent treatment. I.e. Bush’s America.

I love it: Bush’s America now constitutes a rogue state.

I have disagreed with our leadership’s current policies (and even had myself labeled a racist for the effort), but for a liberal, representative democracy that has regular power shifts directed by its citizens labeled a “rogue state” just seems kind of goofy. Sullivan is engaging in the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that made Daily Kos such a big site.

Because Real Black Folks Aren’t Conservative. Everybody Knows That. (Updated)

Real black folks don’t vote Republican. They don’t ever speak out against ills in the black community, like that race traitor Bill Cosby. And they don’t work for President Bush, like Condi Rice.

Everybody knows that these are some of the most basic rules for actually being black. Only it would appear that someone forgot to tell Michael Steele.

Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in his bid for the U.S. Senate are fair because he is a conservative Republican. 

Such attacks against the first black man to win a statewide election in Maryland include pelting him with Oreo cookies during a campaign appearance, calling him an “Uncle Tom” and depicting him as a black-faced minstrel on a liberal Web log. 

For daring to believe that skin color does not have to equal political preference, and that personal principles don’t have to hinge on racial identification, Steele is fair game for racial attacks. That is sad and sick. Indeed, if the majority of blacks in America agree with this stance, then, politically, there is something very wrong in the black community at large.

Read the story.

Update: Michelle Malkin has much more on the subject. As does Ace.

Another update: Jeff G, too. Although I have a quibble with this bit:

On one level this is quite frightening, as it signals the mainstreaming of a decidedly anti-American idea (in the Constitutional, rather than a patriotic, sense); But on another level, it is a welcome development—one that allows us to engage with the direct (rather than the implied) arguments of those who would embrace group identity as a political tool.

I think it absolutely does rise to the level of being anti-American in the patriotic sense because it raises racial heritage to a level of importance over national heritage. That is, for a person who thinks that it’s okay to throw Oreo cookies at Steele, their racial heritage and the percieved baggage that skin color carries is more important than the shared American heritage. I can’t see how that is anything other than anti-American in nature.


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