Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Still Hate Large Media Outlets

I know we've been over this many times, but I haven't posted in awhile, so I figure this is as good as anything right now. Yesterday I saw a very large number of headlines that all said something like "Bush Defies Commanders, Orders Increase in Army Numbers." I watched the press conference with President Bush yesterday, and while stumbling painfully along as always, he explicitly says (paraphrased) "I'm not going to tell you today what my plan for Iraq is. I haven't made a decision about increased troop levels, but its something I am still considering." To turn that into headlines proclaiming that he has firmly made up his mind -- and "defied" his top commanders -- is silly and misleading. And I hate them for it. I just hate the way the news is distorted to make a more sensational story, as we have discussed before. And this is yet another blatant example. These are the people claiming to deliver the truth and facts to the American people.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I recently read an article in Spectrum magazine about the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. The idea behind most SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) projects is we assume that if there is another intelligent civilization with technology at or beyond our level they might be trying to contact other life (us!) by sending out messages on electromagnetic waves. In the 60's until now these people assumed other civilizations would be using radio waves, and so have been searching radio frequencies with no real success. The article I read says the the search is now moving to optical light, another bandwidth of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a more likely communications tool. I feel like I don't even need to mention the hubris involved in believing that other civilizations will be using the same technologies as us, but apparently I do since the SETI people are putting a lot of time and money into it.

So lets put that arrogance aside and assume that alien cultures are using lasers to contact us. These alien cultures don't know that there is life on earth, or they would be trying to contact us much more directly. So, these laser messages are not going to be sent out to the earth constantly. Again assuming the aliens have the same types of technology as us, these beams will be sent out in the direction of different star systems that these aliens think might have life on them, each star system getting a message at a different time. Now, let's assume that they're sending the messages towards earth at all, which is not a trivial assumption, otherwise the whole issue goes away. So, every once in awhile the laser message is pointed towards our star system. What are the odds that at that time we have a clear line of sight to the alien star system? That some other planet or piece of space junk or the moon isn't in the way? Or the sun, even? Then, assuming that the laser actually reaches the earth, what are the odds that it hits a point on the earth were we have a receiver listening? We're talking about light year distances here, so a change of a few fractions of a degree at the sender translates to huge differences in hit location on the earth. Unless we put receivers all over the earth its almost impossible to believe that we will intercept such a message, if you can even believe that a message will hit the earth at all.

But, lets be arrogant again and assume that we do receive a message. Then it will take us years, if not decades, to even recognize that it is a message. But lets assume that some day we receive a message, realize that it is a message, and even pinpoint where in the universe it came from. What now? What was all this about? I guess it proves that there is other intelligent life in the universe -- probably. But to really prove that, or do anything meaningful with it, we have to contact this life and communicate with it.

So, we need to start beaming messages back to them. This is much easier than their task of beaming them to the entire universe because we know exactly where they are. So we can built a laser-message space craft and put it somewhere in space always transmitting right to their planet. Now, this planet will be at least ten light years away. That means that when we received the message it was already ten years old. When we send our message to them it will take 10 years for them to receive it, assuming that they receive it right away. Then, assume that they recognize our message and send one back. That takes another 10 years. So now its been 20 years since we first detected the message, and we get something back.

Now what? What good is this? We have spent billions of dollars and who knows how many hours and we have proved that extra-terrestrial life exists. What does that matter? What can we do with that? We can communicate with this culture, you might say. Not likely any time soon. Assuming they even have the same concept of language as us, its very unlikely their language will be anything we can understand or decipher without a great deal of correspondence. And considering that it takes 20 years for a single round-trip message, its going to be a long while until we can actually have any sort of "meaningful" conversation with such a culture.

Of course, all this assumes that any other intelligent life is benevolent. You can easily imagine some uber-fascist alien race trying to detect intelligent life in the universe in order to subjugate it. So we spend billions of dollars to build a laser-messaging satellite that is really just a homing beacon for some oppressive overlords to find our little planet. Nice move guys. But, a lot of assumptions have been made to this point, so why not continue and assume these guys are nice?

All of this to say that SETI is one of the biggest wastes of time and money I can imagine. Thankfully, the government stopped funding SETI in 1993. It is a project that makes many, many arrogant assumptions to even make itself viable. Then, assuming all of the assumptions are correct all we get out of it, best case, is the knowledge that there is some other intelligent life out there. Worst case, we become enslaved by some much more powerful race. Nice. I say we wait until we have the technology to visit or communicate more quickly with and hopefully stand toe-to-toe militarily with any alien race before we spend the time and money to try to contact them.

Friday, November 10, 2006


The state Legislature of Massachusetts is avoiding a divisive vote through every loophole they can find. In doing so they are hurting the democratic process in their state and in their country. Proponents of homosexual marriage rights have been relying on tactics like this in many parts of the country to allow their goals to be court ordered and deny the people in their districts the right to decide, much to their shame, in my opinion. I cannot accept that it would ever be better to bypass the democratic process to achieve the realization of a goal unless, perhaps, that bypass saves lives. I assume that they believe that once their desired interpretations of laws are on the books for awhile that people will just accept them. This seems unlikely to me. In the event that the general public does not simply start accepting these new rules, having them imposed without due democratic process only hurts your cause in the long run. This is a short-sighted tactic because although it realizes their goals quickly it cannot mean lasting results, nor can it foster any kind of acceptance by the public. If homosexual marriage proponents want homosexual marriage to be accepted by the country it has to be chosen by the country. It will not happen by force.

The Massachusetts legislators that voted for this recess most likely fall in to two camps: homosexual marriage proponents relying on the tactics I mention above, and politicians without the courage to follow the democratic process if it might hurt their political aspirations. Both positions are reprehensible. It is in the state constitution that the people deserve a vote on this issue since they have met the petition requirements. To deny them that vote for any reason is oppressive and wholly inappropriate for any legislative body.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Eliminating Moderate Representation

I think that Joe Lieberman's resounding victory over Ned Lamont further proves a thesis I have believed for some time now: moderates don't vote in primaries. As I have said before, I believe that the majority of the country is fairly moderate, either left or right. Most people classify themselves as Republicans or Democrats, but few people are far from the middle of the political spectrum. However, politics is shifting further and further from moderate over the last several years, perhaps even decades. The populace remains moderate, but the candidates are increasingly fringe and radical. The best logical explanation for this that I can think of is that the moderates do not take part in candidate selection. Instead the radicals in both parties choose the candidates, selecting like-minded politicians. Then when the time comes for the election most Americans vote straight party line, putting the hard right or left candidate in power because they represent the party the moderate voter has chosen to be part of.

Lieberman was almost an example of this -- one that would have been unprovable had he respected his party's nomination of Lamont. He is viewed by the general public as moderate -- whether he should be or not is irrelevant, that's how he's viewed. The hard left saw him as too far right, and quite a bit too far at that. And they overwhelmingly rejected him in the primary. Had he accepted this we might never have known whether this was representative of most of Democrats in the state. However, Lieberman spurned his party and set off on his own believing, apparently correctly, that the people of Connecticut would favor him over Lamont, even if his party's primary did not. He was right and won easily. The majority of the Democrats in Connecticut did not vote for Lamont, they voted for Lieberman. I believe this is because the majority of Democrats in Connecticut believe themselves to be moderate, and so chose the candidate branded as moderate rather than the one branded as liberal, correctly or not.

I believe that the same scenario would play out across the United States in both parties if moderate candidates had the luxury of a wealth of money and media attention needed to run as independents. Instead most moderates never see general election after a primary defeat. And the result is that the majority of Americans are not accurately or adequately represented by the government. As far as I can tell there is only one way to change this: more people have to vote in the primaries. I don't know how to generate more interest, but we all should do whatever we can to encourage everyone we can to vote in the primaries to promote better representation by our government. That is my wide sweeping and vague charge to everyone in the country. That's all for now, I'll let you know if there's anything else I need you to do later.


I'm afraid about my future after the election last night. Not because Democrats are probably going to control both houses of congress, but because Colorado voted to increase its minimum wage to $6.85. I agree that minimum wage needs to increase, but on a national level. Changing it only at the state level seems disastrous to me. I cannot imagine the rationale behind such a short-sighted decision. Now I have to wait and hope that either the Federal minimum wage requirement quickly is raised to or above $6.85, or that the profit margin is high enough in Colorado that companies feel like its worth sticking it out even though they could be paying their employees less if they moved to a different state. I really hope that this doesn't destroy Colorado's economy, but I really feel like it could. And I doubt there's any chance of the Amendment being repealed in some kind of emergency vote, if there is even a provision for such a thing, now that Democrats hold both state houses and we have a new Democrat governor.

Speaking of the Democrats taking both houses last night, is it just me or were the Republicans of the last six years the worst majority ever? It seems like they still never got anything done, even with a solid majority. Plus the alienated a large chunk of their base, like me, by deciding that they didn't have to appeal to people anymore and sold out to the Evangelical right. Which backfired, since a lot of evangelical groups were talking about not voting to try to teach the Republicans some lesson. I don't know, I feel like they deserved to lose. I didn't vote for any Democrats, but I'm not that upset at their winning. To them I say congratulations, I hope you don't live up to your critics expectations. And please don't make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House. Please.

Monday, November 06, 2006

MS Linux?

Oh good, now Linux is going to be full of security holes and get viruses.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Israel's Current Dilemma

The dilemma currently facing Israel that's all over the news is Palestinian gunmen using women, and sometimes children, as human shields. This as been an alleged tactic of such militants for years, but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that they have used this tactic so blatantly. According to this story, women formed a ring around a mosque to protect gunmen inside, believing that Israeli troops would not fire on women (unlike Palestinian suicide bombers who indiscriminately kill women and children). For once these women were wrong and the troops did fire and killed two of them and wounded several others.

This brings up an important ethical question. What is the right thing to do in such a situation? We have women serving in our armed forces, although never as active combatants at this point. But they are members of the military and legal combatants under international law, none the less. At what point do these Palestinian women cease to be civilians and start to be part of the opposing force? When do they become combatants? If "civilian" men were actively seeking to aid opposing troops in this way would they be valid targets? Is it right or good to treat women differently? What is the right way to respond to stop things like this from happening in the future? This is clearly a violation of the Geneva convention, but that doesn't really mean much to unnamed Palestinian guerrilla fighters. I don't think there is an easy answer to this question. It seems to me a moral dilemma, so I'm looking for input. If women, of their own free will, participate in activities to put themselves between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen -- not "suspected terrorists" or something like that, but men who are shooting at Israeli troops -- should they be valid targets for the troops? Is there some middle ground, where in this situation shooting the women should be avoided but if some get hit while aiming for the gunmen its okay? Or should they be treated as true civilians and be allowed to create no fire zones for militants to escape through? If so, why? Why should they be allowed to actively participate in paramilitary action without being seen as combatants? Where do we draw the line and what guidelines do we follow in such a situation? What should be the standards for our ethics in this situation?

That Pastor with the Homosexual Scandal

Yeah, you've seen the headlines, "Pastor Resigns Amid Homosexual Sex Scandal" and the like. You know what I'm talking about. This is yet another example of media sensationalism that we've become so disgustedly accustomed to these days. To read the headlines you would think that he had been found out as a closet homosexual and resigned in shame. That may be the case in the end, but at this point you have one man making allegations and the pastor denying them, and the stepped down during the investigation by his church. That hardly matches the timbre of the headlines. I was just struck by headline after headline misleading people about this story, and felt it worth mention.

However, this version of the story offers some details that I find laughable. In it they report that the pastor "admitted today that he had purchased the illegal drug methamphetamine from a gay escort in Denver, but denied that he ever had sex with the man." They go on, "said he met with Mr. Jones and bought the drug. “I was tempted, I bought it, but I did not use it,” he said today. He said he threw the drug out shortly after buying it. “I never kept it very long because it was wrong,” he said." But in the end of the article is this, "Mr. Haggard said in a lengthy interview with KUSA that he had never used drugs of any kind and that he did not smoke or drink alcohol."

So... who do you know who has never used drugs, doesn't drink, and doesn't even smoke who would be "tempted" by an illegal drug offer enough to buy from some guy he doesn't know? That seems absolutely ridiculous. So, he may or may not have had sex with this man. I wouldn't be surprised either way. But he is clearly lying here. Well, maybe not. Sometimes people commit absolutely uncharacteristic felonies for no reason, I suppose. But it sure seems like there's a lot more to this story. Not that its any of our business or that it really matters to the vast majority of us. I just thought it was completely hilarious that he would admit to buying illegal drugs from a stranger but then try to play it off like it was just some freak accident and he threw them away and never looked back. Seriously, it made me laugh.

Now Haggard, the pastor in question, apparently now is admitting that he paid for a message from a homosexual prostitute from whom he bought meth. Follow the logic from above with drugs, but instead apply it to messages from a prostitute -- who pays a prostitute for a message, anyway? I don't know why I find this whole situation so entertaining... I guess I'm becoming a typical American.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Where They Come From

It is my opinion that since at least the 90s, probably long before, the average American knows who they are going to vote for years in advance of any election. It doesn't seem to have too much to do with ideology... in fact, I'm not really sure what it has to do with these days: you have big government Republicans and low tax Democrats, you have pro-war Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, and on and on. It doesn't seem like the people who make up the parties are all that different, which is probably part of the reason why most of the country is so evenly split in most recent elections. Charles has a post in which he discusses the possibility that there are a multitude of people who voted for both Bill Clinton and George W Bush. I guess its possible.

Here I'm going to go off on ideas that I don't have data for. It seems to me, despite Charles's post, that most people know who they are going to vote for well beforehand. So the deciding factor in who gets into office is who's party gets the best turnout. That being said, it seems logical for politicians to spend far more time and money motivating their own party rather than trying to convince undecided voters. I think that recent trends, such as incredibly negative campaign ads designed to show voters what a horrible person a candidate's opponent is, reflect this. The politicians try to prove to people that letting their opponent win will be a horrible thing, rather than trying to convince people that they are the better candidate. Since most people won't be changing their minds, its not worth the effort. You just need to sufficiently scare your party into voting to secure a win. And I think that means that politicians have lost their motivation to present themselves as, and possibly become, the best candidate possible. And I think that this is a horrible thing that is hurting American politics. I'm not sure exactly what the best thing is to do about it... and I'm about to go to bed. So maybe I'll think of something good to do about it later.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Marriage Issue

I guess this is as a good a time as any to talk about the marriage issue facing the country today. Let me begin by saying that I do not understand the legal rationale for why the government recognizes marriage. To me it seems like an arbitrary set of rules that has long been desired and accepted by the people of this country. I feel that marriage is a religious institution and the government's recognition of it is strange. My dad, a pretty party-line Republican, says that the government recognizes marriage because its the fundamental unit of government, and he believes this is an adequate explanation. I disagree, cynically believing that there are as many destructive marriages as constructive, if not more. However, that may still have been the motivation of those who made the laws. Fine, that works. Others more pragmatically have suggested that supporting child raising is the motivation for the government's recognition of marriage. To this I say that not all married couples are raising children, and some that aren't married are. So it seems that child-raising status ought to be the measure then, not marriage.

One way or the other, I'm not seeing much hard data on why heterosexual marriages deserve recognition by the government and homosexual marriages do not. It seems to me that if those opposed to homosexual marriage are correct and it violates the reason to recognize marriage or its bad for society that it should be a simple matter to prove their point. This is what I require to be convinced: a plain, rational reason why heterosexual marriages deserve recognition by the government and clear evidence that homosexual marriages do not. Saying that heterosexual marriages deserve recognition because they're "right" or because "that's the way its meant to be" are not good reasons. If someone was trying to get me to live with a law that prevented me from getting treatment I felt I deserved those reasons would only incite anger and resentment in me. I believe that our homosexual citizens, as full and equal citizens under the law as well as fellow human beings, deserve better.

All that being said, I will be voting in favor of an amendment in Colorado that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Sound hypocritical? Here is why: I don't believe that the ends justify the means. I am not convinced that I should support government recognition of marriage at all. However, I do not believe that it should ever be right for a judge to change the law by reinterpreting what it means over a technicality when its obvious what the law originally meant. I firmly believe that the marriage laws that are now on the books were made with the idea that marriage would solely belong to one man and one woman. So my vote says this: "The laws we have on the books now are for marriage between a man and a woman. They may not be right, but we need to know exactly where we stand and those are the laws currently. Now that we've established that, we have the freedom and space to have a real conversation about whether these laws are the way they should be or whether they should be further amended, perhaps out of existence."

Opponents of this amendment are trying to take a short-cut to government approved homosexual marriage by exploiting a lack of clarity in the laws. If they are successful then homosexual marriage may become a part of American government without the people ever getting a chance to debate and and discuss why it should or shouldn't be. It will sidestep all the channels that new laws are supposed to go through, and I feel this will be detrimental to society, perhaps homosexuals especially, in the long run. I believe that whenever we clearly know the intent behind a law, that is what should be upheld, not the letter of the law, so to speak. If a law is wrong in intent then the law should be changed through the correct legal process, which is through the legislature. Not by reinterpreting its meaning to something acceptable through the judiciary.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Firefox 2.0

If you haven't already done so, download and install Firefox 2.0. Besides being faster and more secure it introduces some really nice new features -- most everything from TabMix Plus. My favorite new functionality is the ability to have multiple tabs as my homepage, so whenever Firefox starts I have gmail, google news, and my Baylor email all up. Conveniently, and probably necessarily, Firefox 2.0 will keep most of your old plug ins, so the switch should be nearly seamless. But, best of all, Firefox 2.0 does not suck down obscene amounts of RAM! I would recommend moving to it if that were the only change they made, the rest is bonus in my opinion. Oh, and Firefox 2.0 is ready for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux so no matter what OS you're using you can download and enjoy Firefox 2.0 right now.


Its amazing to me how much of good modern music (Radiohead, Muse, Death Cab For Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters... that sort of thing) you can hear in Queen. It drives my wife crazy that I listen to Queen, and its true that they don't really sound like anything else I listen to -- on the surface. But in their music you can hear so much that wasn't being done by contemporary bands and so much that has been carried over into great music today. I love that about them. I think that it is a testament to their musical prowess. Its always amazing to me to look back at people/groups who were ahead of their time. Radiohead is the same way if you consider their music from the 90's and the way it affects music being made today, like Muse's. I like listening to Queen because I like hearing the foundations of the other music I love today, and its fun music that is unashamed to be ridiculous from time to time -- a distinction that is so uncommon in most music today. Whatever you think about Queen there are a few things I can say with certainty: Freddy Mercury was one of the most flamboyant homosexuals and best rock vocalists ever, and "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a work of genius.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Under God

I was perusing "The Charter and The Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States" when I came across this phrase: "Under God, and for these ends and upon these principles, we do establish and adopt this Charter of the Democratic Party of the United States of America." Now, I'm not a person who really thinks that its that big of a deal that the pledge of allegiance says "under God," but I also wouldn't really care if the phrase were removed. When I found out that the phrase was added in the 1950's to combat Communism I felt that any argument about how it was connected to our founding principles became much weaker, and I pretty much stopped caring. However, many prominent Democrats didn't stop caring. I don't mind that they're upset by it and want it changed, but doesn't it seem logical that if it is an offensive phrase to them they would want it taken out of their party's charter? It just seems odd to me that they're fighting to take it out of a semi-official pledge that most people don't say after they are out of grade school and don't seem to mind at all that its part of the foundational document of their party. I know its different in many respects, but it still strikes me as odd.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Horrible Idea

Frank Lasee, a Wisconsin state representative from Green Bay, is advocating allowing teachers to carry guns at school in light of recent school shootings. Before commenting on the utterly lunacy of this proposal, it should be noted that, according to this interview with forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Smith, "we haven’t had that many particular school shootings. I mean, they’re definitely not accelerating." So we're not dealing with something new this year or looking at an increase in numbers. But even if we were, I cannot imagine an American classroom with an armed teacher. Can you imagine reading Shakespeare aloud in high school English while your teacher has a .45 strapped to her hip? I think it might be a bit of a distraction. How could we feel safe going to school or sending our kids to school if our schools are places where teachers need to carry guns? According to the above mentioned article, Pete Pochouski, Director of School safety, Milwaukee Public School said, "statistically, schools are the safest place for children." If that's true then Lasee's recommendation is even more ludacris. Perhaps even more important is the fact that teachers carrying guns, in my opinion, will be largely ineffective and probably more likely to cause harm than good. Can you imagine a teacher shooting at a student? Probably not likely. So maybe its not for stopping crazy students (the cause of most of school shootings) its just for stopping outsiders who come in like in the recent shootings in Bailey and Nickle Mines. I suppose its possible, but if a shooter grabs a student and uses that student as a shield do you think there are many teachers bold enough to take a shot at the aggressor? Most police officers wouldn't take the risk of hitting the student accidentaly, I can't imagine that it would be a good thing if a teacher did. Finally, adding that many firearms to a school environment in the hands of people whose primary concern is not the firearms is a very bad idea. We have had many cases in the past of police officers being shot with their own weapons. If a police officer can have his weapon stolen then I find it highly likely that the same could happen even to the most diligent teacher. So now you are introducing the possibility of arming an aggressor who might otherwise not have access to a firearm. Brilliant. This type of security at schools should be handled the same way it is everywhere else -- by police officers. If we don't have enough police officers to put enough in every school then we need to raise the pay of police officers so that more qualified people will want the job. If there isn't money to pay the police officers then we need to take some from the glut that is being given to mostly useless school bureaucracy. If there still isn't enough money then we need to raise taxes for it. It should be a priority. The safety of our children is one of the most important things for this or any nation. If the solution is having more guns on campuses then we need to do whatever it takes to provide that protection in the form of police officers.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Please, Don't Encourage Them

I know that people on both sides of the political fence are already talking about this, but I just can't help saying something. This line comes from a campaign ad for Minnesota Democrat Petty Wetterling that I read about here:

"It shocks the conscience. Congressional leaders have admitted to covering up the predatory behavior of a congressman who used the internet to molest children."

I realize that I have very little to say that hasn't already been said, but this particular quote seems incredibly horrible to me. My two problems with it: No one has admitted to covering anything up in regards to the Foley scandal, and Foley, as far as the public knows, never molested anyone. I'm not going to go on a tirade like Dean Barnett or others from the fairly far right about how this shows us something about the nature of Democrats or the left. I am not so partisan to believe that politicians on the right wouldn't do the same type of thing, in the right situation. This doesn't show us anything about the left in particular, in my opinion, but it does show us something about politicians. Its not something new, its just a reinforcement of what we already know. Apparently they will say whatever they believe most benefits them, even when it doesn't involve the facts quite correctly. Furthermore, this tells us something about the American public. Again, its not something new. This shows us once again that the American public, in general, is apathetic. It could not be advantageous for a politician to run an ad like this if the average American paid attention at least to the daily news reports. One doesn't need to dig past the headlines to read the Foley story, and even a cursory read over any coverage will show that at this point in time all we know Foley did is have completely inappropriate conversations over IM and email with teenagers. No molestation. And it doesn't take a whole lot of interest to find that no one is claiming to have covered up anything for him. So, maybe its the Senator's opinion that people covered up for Foley, but claiming that they have admitted so is paramount to slander. Perhaps she has her own definition of molestation that diverges from the normally accepted one, but levelling a molestation charge without any clarification is again disingenuous at best, slander at worst. This is an example of politician opportunism at its worst, and it saddens me and hurts my trust in politicians in general.

On a connected note, it further damages his credibility, with me at least, that Markos Moulitsas links this ad without any mention of its inaccurate accusations. It makes me sad when people, politicians or otherwise, put their party above common decency. It doesn't matter to me if Kos believes that Republicans did cover up for Foley, he still should at least make mention of the fact that the ad goes too far in asserting that they have admitted such. Propogating political campaign lies makes the problem even worse, because now people who read Kos's blog and are somewhat interested, although not interested enough to read the news themselves, will assume that everything in the ad is true because Kos linked it without any cautionary note. It is a politician's responsibility not to lie in their campaign ads or any other time, it ought to be the responsibility of each of us not to propogate such lies when we come across them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Moment of Truth?

What will we, the US, do if it turns out to be true that Pakistan masterminded the Mumbai bombing in India? That would make Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, which, under our current standing doctrine, would make them our enemies. However, there is some truth, although probably not as much as he would like us to believe, in Pakistan's President's words in regards to our "war on terror": "'You'll be brought down to your knees if Pakistan doesn't co-operate with you... Pakistan is the main ally. If we were not to be with you, you won't manage anything. Let that be clear. And if ISI is not with you, you will fail.'" So, what will we do? Will we, once again, allow our political and military needs to trump our stated standards like we did during the cold war when we supported and/or installed "benevolent" dictators? Will we give a free pass to anyone who gives us enough help in whatever we're most interested in at a given time? I don't expect that we will come down hard on Pakistan, and I am sure there won't be an regime toppling by the US there. But what should we do? Is there anything we can do that won't make us hypocrites without severing ties with a seemingly much needed ally in our current conflicts?

Friday, September 29, 2006


Today at 11:30AM I am selling my house. I have had this house listed since March 24th -- almost six months to the day. I hate this house, due in no small part to the fact that it has been on the market for 6 months and I've had to pay the mortgage and maintain it during that time. I cannot express how excited I am to go to closing today. I hope I can refrain from dancing on the table.

In somewhat related news, the Dow Jones, and all other American stocks, has been making tremendous gains lately and is close to its historic high. I have no idea what this really means for the economy, but it sounds very promising. Is this another 90s? Probably too soon to tell, I'd bet. But I really don't know anything about economics except that Adam Smith wrote "Wealth of the Nations" about it and John Nash's "original idea" changed the way the world looked at economics. Can anyone with more insight give me some clue as to how significant the stocks' gains and (relatively) low gas prices (down to $2.09 in Waco!) really are?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

MSM: An Inside Look

I have grown out of using the term "liberal media" because I feel that it oversimplifies and is often a defense mechanism used by religious conservatives to discount anything they don't like on TV or in print. It seems like the kind of thing that can't really be discussed rationally anyway. However, Hugh Hewitt had a very interesting conversation with Thomas Edsall who now writes for The New Republic and was the senior political reporter at the Washington Post, where he worked for 25 years, until recently. He also worked at the Baltimore Sun for 14 years. I think everyone would benefit from reading the entire interview with the extremely honest Edsall. Here are some interesting parts:
HH: A proposition. The reason talk radio exploded, followed by Fox News, followed by the center-right blogosphere, is that because folks like you have been the dominant voice in American media for a long time, and you’re a pretty thoroughgoing, Democratic favoring, agenda journalist for the left, and you’ve been the senior political reporter of the Washington Post for a very long time. And people didn’t trust your news product…not you, personally, but the accumulation of you, throughout the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and they got sick and tired of being spoon fed liberal dross, and they went to the radio when an alternative product came along.

TE: To a certain degree, I agree with that.

HH: And so, why do you think it’s wrong, somehow, for people to want to hear news that they don’t consider as biased? I mean, that’s what it is. It’s just unbiased news is what people wanted. That’s why conservatives like me got platforms, and our blogs get read, and our columns get absorbed.

TE: One, I don’t think it’s unbiased.

HH: It’s transparent at least. Everyone has bias. I agree with that. Everyone’s got bias.

TE: It’s transparent. Okay, that I would agree. And I agree that whatever you want to call it, mainstream media, presents itself as unbiased, when in fact, there are built into it, many biases, and they are overwhelmingly to the left.


HH: ... given that number of reporters out there, is it ten to one Democrat to Republican? Twenty to one Democrat to Republican?

TE: It’s probably in the range of 15-25:1 Democrat.


HH: ...Your newspaper wrote that Evangelicals were ill-educated, and easily led. Remember that one?

TE: That was one of the dumber things that’s been in the paper.

HH: Yeah, but it was in the paper.

TE: It was.

HH: And it got past editors.

TE: The only reason that the reporter who wrote it didn’t get in bigger trouble is that the editor who let it get by was someone of some prominence.

HH: Oh, what was his name?

TE: I’m not going to get into that, but it was someone of some power at the Washington Post, and there was no way they were going to mess with him.

HH: And so, they didn’t really have an early warning system. My guess is, because in the newsroom, and the newsrooms which I have worked, and that’s primarily PBS…

TE: I agree with you on this score, 100%.

HH: It’s very anti-religion, isn’t it?

TE: Well, it…certainly, they would let a quote by that, without, in many cases, without blinking, not recognizing that it was extraordinarily insulting.

Monday, September 25, 2006


In this month's issue of IEEE's Spectrum magazine (I'm a nerd) in an article entitled "Stricter U.S. Gas Standards Stalled," I read this: "E85 is more expensive than gasoline, it provides inferior fuel efficiency, and it yields little if any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions." The article goes on to quote Reg Modlin, director of environmental and energy planning for DaimlerChryselr Corp., saying, "'there is currently little customer demand' for E85 vehicles." No kidding? People aren't demanding cars that run worse on more expensive fuel that is just as bad for the environment and can't be found at most gas stations? I wholeheartedly agree that we need to find an alternative to gasoline and petroleum products, especially in automobiles. However, it does not appear that E85 is a good solution, and I cannot believe that it has so many proponents. The article quotes people blaming Congress for not passing incentives and forcing infrastructure for the general lack of interest in E85. Usually I agree with anyone saying Congress isn't doing their job. In this case, however, I'm thankful that Congress hasn't stupidly signed away tax dollars to something that doesn't sound like its going to help us much anyway. My solution to the oil issue? Nuclear power, especially fusion. If we spent as much money on that as we do researching other alternative fuels we could probably come up with some pretty good ways to keep it safe. And with nuclear energy the power is so cheap that an electric car becomes economically feasible. That's environmentally and economically friendly.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

After Bush?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made a name for himself internationally with his strong anti-US rhetoric and, more visibly, his harsh, off the deep end criticisms of US President Bush. My question is, what will he do after the 2008 elections when Bush isn't the president any more? Defining yourself as the guy who said that George W. Bush is the devil seems like a short-sighted strategy, especially in the late months of 2006. Yes, Mr Chavez, we know you hate President Bush. We understand that you want to stand against the US and believe it is a threat to your country. Is there anything more than that? Are you offering some alternative philosophy or ideology? Do you have some reason that the US is wrong? What will you stand for after the 2008 elections when there is no longer the evil Bush to rely on?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

In a Name

"What's in a name?" questions the now-cliche Shakespeare quote. Not much, as it turns out, for the Emerging Church. Or Emergent Church, or Emergent movement, or simply Emergent -- however you may know it. This movement bears a name that conveys absolutely no meaning about the ideals of the movement. It is by definition an inadequate title, and a completely non-sustainable one. In fact, this title ought not apply to any movement but instead is a category that changes as the times change (the Evangelical Church was once the "emerging" school of thought as well). However, another name for this movement will be hard to come by because the people within the movement are as confused about what it means as the name is ambiguous. We, as a whole, have very little idea what we stand for. We are a group bound together more by name then by creed. Except we know exactly what we are not. We have spent the last decade or so figuring out what it is we don't want to be, what it is that turns us away from less "emerging," more established groups. But this definition by negative cannot go on forever. If this group, this "movement," is going to survive it needs to define itself. If people are going to consider the Emerging Church and consider its merits, they need to know what it is they are considering. If we don't find some way to define ourselves by what we are then I fear what is already beginning to happen will become predominant -- various groups with wildly differing ideas will all claim to be "Emergent" and none will be able to hold a legitimate claim to the title over others. And then the title will lose all meaning what so ever in regards to conveying something useful about the group associated with it.

Tony Jones, the National Coordinator of Emergent, says "Emergent is an amorphous collection of friends who’ve decided to live life together, regardless of our ecclesial affiliations, regardless of our theological commitments. We want to follow Christ in community with one another. In a very messy way, we’re trying to figure out what that means." Sooo, pretty much nothing? I don't want to argue with the National Coordinator of Emergent about what Emergent is, but that description doesn't really convey much information to me. He goes on to say, "But in general, what binds people in Emergent is an eschatological conviction, which is the most everybody in Emergent would rally under the flag of hope. We have hope for the future. We have hope for the Church. We have hope for the kingdom of God to break into the present and transform the present." That's a lot better, and maybe something to work with. However, part of the problem we run in to is that even if this is the definition of Emergent, its not widely enough known to be consistant among groups who claim to be part of the Emerging Church. Furthermore, Jones states "It’s not a denomination... Statements of faith are about drawing boards, which means you have to load your weapons and place soldiers at those borders. You have to check people’s passports when they pass those borders. It becomes an obsession—guarding the borders. That is simply not the ministry of Jesus... For the short duration of time that I have on this planet to do my best to partner with God and build His kingdom, I don’t want to spend it guarding borders." I really do appreciate his ideals and sentiment here. But the problem is that it takes away any meaning of the term. By his definition what does it take to be Emergent? Allowing discussion about opposing opinions in theology as well as politics and culture? So, has Emergent just become a new word for tolerant?

Here is where I think Jones and I diverge and the reason for my desire for more concrete definitions where he feels no need: "Emergent could be very short lived. This whole thing could blow up over politics or theology or broken friendships or whatever. I don’t hold any grand illusions over how long this thing will be around. But as long as it’s around, we’re going to do our best to maintain a relational equilibrium." My vision is not of a short-lived experiment into loving each other. Emergent as the organization that Jones is a part of may well disappear soon. But the Emerging Church is not going to just disappear. All the people who are members of churches that identify themselves this way will still remain. Even if Emergent goes away the Emerging Church will not -- it cannot unless the people who make up this church all die suddenly. And so we must do something that is hard for us: we have to create a definition of what it means to be part of this movement (and maybe we could get a new, more meaningful name?). And that necessarily means drawing some boundaries. It means that there will be people who are part of it and people who aren't. And that is hard for many of us in the Emerging Church. But we're fooling ourselves because this distinction already exists in all of our minds, we're just not ready to voice it for fear that we will become just like everything we are trying to move away from. However, in the spirit that I believe embodies this movement, the purpose of this definition is not to exculde, but to include. Not so that we can identify who is not a part of the group, but so those of us in the group know who we are and what it means to be part of this group. And the definition should reflect that. I'll be writing more about this as I have more ideas. I may try to get input from Tony Jones and David Crowder if either has the time. My express desire is to create a definition to further give life to this movement. Again in the spirit displayed by the movement, I feel this is a conversation that we need to be having in our churches and with those not in our churches and between our churches, and therefore any and all input is not only welcomed but encouraged. Please, tell me what you think whether you love, hate, or don't care at all about the Emerging Church.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Another Route

Why don't we hear any politicians on either side of the aisle talking about something like this? This guy sounds to me like he knows what he's talking about and he seems qualified to talk about it. His proposal would take a lot of time and money, but it seems worthwhile in the short and long term if it could be pulled off. Is he wrong? Or are there politicians talking about it that I'm not aware of? Or are the politicians more interested in politics, and therefore short-term high return 'plans,' rather than finding a viable long-term solution? I think that the politicians and we the American people need to decide if we are really committed to establishing a democracy in Iraq or if we are more interested in seeing our side "win" the political battle that has been established around Iraq. Do we want to see a military victory in Iraq or a quick withdrawal of troops? Or do we want to see Iraq emerge as a stable democracy in Iraq even if it means committing more time and money and switching approaches completely? Furthermore, if we do decide that we want real progress in Iraq and our politicians aren't going to take us there, what do we do? How do we show our politicians that we want a different solution than either side is offering? And I don't believe that the right answer here is voting for one side or another.

Monday, August 28, 2006

No Guilt by Association

Although it has been said in various ways by many different people I think it bears repeating: we must be careful and diligent to remind ourselves, others in our country, and the world that although we are in a conflict with "Islamo fascism," or Islamic radicals who want to destroy the West by force, we are not in a conflict with all Muslims. If our enemies can convince the rest of the world that we are against Islam in general then they will have won support, or at least greater disdain for us, from a large percentage of the world's population. Furthermore, the Muslims in the US need to know that they are not outcasts. We also need to remind those in our country who would seek to harm all Muslims, even other citizens, that we are not a people who desire or tolerate hatred or guilt by association and that, as a nation, we are remorseful for times that we have done so in the past. Muslims and those of Middle Eastern heritage may be under greater suspicion than WASPy types, but they are not guilty just because of their faith or family history. Is it fair that they are under greater suspicion? Maybe not. But I can't think of a better system because, without further investigation, you can't tell an "Islamo fascist" from a peaceful Muslim. If there were a group of white supremacists carrying out terrorist attacks and seeking to destroy our culture I hope that us blond haired blue eyed types would be under greater suspicion than those who are not white at all. But because Muslims are under greater suspicion it is easy to understand why they may feel targeted. And therefore we need to make an extra effort to make sure they know that they are not guilty by association and that we do accept them as countrymen or just as other peace-loving humans. If we allow this sizeable majority in our country to feel isolated and targeted simply by their coincidental association with terrorists then it only becomes more likely that they may one day sympathize with our enemies more than us. And, from a less practical standpoint, we should reach out to those who feel persecuted or outcast because it is harmful for them, as humans, to feel that way. We ought to show compassion and acceptance. Not just for the practical purpose of trying to keep them from becoming resentful, but for the pragmatic purpose of embracing everyone who will be embraced and showing love and compassion to the world. If we do not wholehartedly welcome diversity and allow each person to have their own ideology, as long as it doesn't involve killing us or terrorizing us, then we are worse than our enemies.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sometimes its Obvious

Iran is continuing to develop its nuclear program. Why do the UN and Europe continue to act surprised? Why do they believe that they can really talk Iran out of it? The President of Iran has quite clearly and frequently stated that he believes his country to be at war with the Western world. Furthermore, he has stated that his goal is to destroy Israel and diminish Western power, especially that of the US, to inferior to that of the "Muslim world," which probably really means Iran. What is it going to take for the West to realize that you can't make a deal with someone whose stated goal is your domination? The UN and Europe have been trying to get Israel to find a diplomatic peace with several groups who have a desire to destroy Israel as one of their purposes for existence. I thought that this stupidity had something to do with their feelings about Israel, but now it appears that perhaps they are genuine. Now they too seek to deal diplomatically with an adversary that says it seeks their destruction. Diplomatic peace means compromise. You cannot compromise with a group that wants to destroy you. If they want something else and are willing to destroy you to get it then you can give them that something else to avoid destruction. But when the goal they set forth is your destruction there is nothing to barter with. I guess maybe Europe believes that there is something else that Iran really wants and that a desire to destroy the West is really born from that other desire. I guess that may be true, but I don't see why they would know what Iran wants more than the President of Iran does. He is saying he wants to destroy the West, and I believe him when he says it. The most I can say for Europe is that at least they aren't hypocrites (on this point, anyway). And while Europe keeps trying to appease Iran, Iran continues to string them along without even a pause in their program.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Path of Least Resistance

Michael Yon and probably others have been saying it for awhile, and now it seems that most of our political leaders and generals are jumping on board, too: there is a civil war brewing or under way in Iraq. There are clearly three sides in the war, the Kurds, the Shi'ites, and the Sunnis. These three groups have been at odds since the British lumped them blindly into one country and called it Iraq. Each of these groups has their own culture and belief system and each wants to run their own country with nothing to do with the others. So my questions is, why not let them? Its clear that right now they don't want to exist in a country together, but most of them do want a free independent country (not a dictatorship or theocracy). Why would we see it as a loss to allow them to each have their own country? Right now we have to exert a large amount of military force to try to keep them from ripping each other to shreds -- and we're still not doing that great a job of it. These are three groups that want independence that were forced to be governed together first by colonialism and then by an oppressive dictatorship. Why does it not make sense that part of toppling that dictatorship is to set each of these groups free to govern themselves? It seems to me like we have three choices at this point:
  1. Maintain a vast military presence in Iraq so that the civil war that will be fought will look more like individual acts of aggression by rouge forces. When they eventually learn to get along years, maybe decades from now, then we'll be able to leave.
  2. Maintain current troop levels or decrease them in any amount and watch the country fall into full fledged civil war that either ends in separate countries being made or one or more of the factions being dominated by another.
  3. Set up three separate countries today, maintain our military presence to enforce the borders for some period of time, and call it a victory for everyone.
Now, I know things aren't that simple, but I think that there is going to be conflict between these groups for a long time if they aren't allowed to be autonomous. It seems fully in line with the mission of setting up democracy in the Middle East to allow these groups of people to govern themselves as they wish. Ethnic diversity has "worked" in the U.S. historically because before any significant new ethnic group arrives there is already a stifling majority of nationals who consider themselves "Americans" (meaning citizens of the U.S.). In Iraq you have these three groups trying to coexist with none having a clear majority and all having a different vision. So, let them have three countries. If the unite into one again some day, so much the better. But if we try to keep them as one now, I believe that odds are that they will eventually split anyway. It won't be that much extra government building because each group already has their politicians and some political infrastructure, and at least two of the groups already have trained militaries: the Kurdish militias are probably the best native fighting force in Iraq, and the Shi'ites mostly own the Iraqi Army. In the end I think this is the path we are going to have to go down. Why not go there voluntarily, when we can legitimately claim that it is still victory, rather than waiting for the thousands of lost lives and costly years, in terms of dollars and politics, and what will only look like failure, for the same result? If we make a united Iraq our goal there is no way we can claim victory when it splits, and at this point it looks like an inevitability to me. So it makes sense to split Iraq in terms of lives lost, money spent, and political gain, both at home and internationally.

Monday, August 07, 2006


It seems to me that the ideal purpose of a politician in a democracy is to represent the people in the piece of the country that they are elected from, whether that be an entire state or a single county or city. That means that whether you are Republican or Democrat, if your district is split 49-51%, your voting should reflect more middle of the road trends. If your district is 90% your party, then you should vote with your party almost all of the time.

But that is not what happens in the US today because we have, as a nation, consistently valued party over people. I'm not sure when it happened, maybe its always been that way. However, this leads to massive misrepresentation, in my opinion. Today if your district is split 49-51% then nearly half of the people in your district are misrepresented because most politicians vote party line on most issues.

Now, the argument for the way a party system like this works is that you vote for the party that most represents your views. Then the party that has the majority of the votes in a district will be the party that most accurately represents the people and therefore maximum representation is achieved. But there are only two parties today, and most people do not fall solidly within a given party on every vote. It is my opinion that most people would vote in a range across the middle of the political spectrum if they could vote on every issue. Instead we mostly get votes polarized on both ends of the spectrum and there is never a middle of the road victory.

The motivation behind electing a candidate and not a party is that a candidate from a given district will know the people of that district and be able to accurately represent them. If a politician is only going to vote party line then there is no reason to have him around at all. We need only to establish the bounds of what a party stands for and the vote for the party that will represent your district. Apparently this was not the intent when our system was created because we do, in fact, vote for candidates.

When a great deal of districts in recent elections have been split by less than 10% but most votes by politicians fall squarely along party lines, accurate representation is not happening. It is my opinion that this was not the intent of those creating the system when it was set up, and it is not the ideal situation. If it were a better system I would be willing to forgo the "founders" intent for one that we have found to be better. However, I do not believe that this misrepresentation is better. Rather I believe that it will be beneficial and right for us to encourage a move within our system so that politicians vote to represent their whole district, not just the small majority who elected them, if that is the case. I'm not sure what practical steps we can take, but I know that one thing that will help is getting more people informed and interested during the primaries, because if more people vote in the primary then a more representative candidate will emerge as a contender in the general election. I'd like to hear any practical ways we can move towards more accurate representation in our government today, or any reasons why we ought not to.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


What if this is the truth about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon? Can we really have any idea of knowing who is right and wrong right now? Will we ever know? I've found that on many high profile issues, especially regarding recent military activities, its hard to know what to believe or who to trust. The two sides usually contradict on major points, and both make claims about the other side that are impossible to substantiate but equally impossible to prove false. And both sides have something to gain by lying if what the other says is true. I am left with a lot of "facts" and assertions and no way of knowing who is telling the truth. I suspect that the truth is often somewhere in between the two perspectives.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

An Israeli Perspective

I found this article at that talks about the double edged sword that Hezbollah represents to Israel. The basic point goes like this: Hezbollah attacks Israeli civilians seeking to maximize non-military damage. At the same time they hide their military positions among heavily populated areas so when Israel attacks them they kill civilians. No matter what Israel does it loses, either in its civilian casualties or by inflicting them on Lebanon. The author claims that Israel goes so far as to drop leaflets ahead of their bombing missions to allow civilians time to leave, where Hezbollah intentionally targets civilians. Yet Israel is seen by most of the world as the war criminal. Is this piece propaganda or a repetition of propaganda? Maybe. But it may have some shred of truth in it and it is important to consider amongst some international calls for war crimes charges to be leveled at Israel.

Friday, July 28, 2006


Maybe God feels the same way, more or less, about the person with the cheesey Christian bumper sticker; the person who has a 30 minute "quiet time" every day at 4:30 on the dot; the person who raises their hands and wears a goofy smile while singing in church; the person who refuses to listen to Radiohead and Death Cab For Cutie because they aren't Christian bands; the person who pretends to speak in tongues because they don't understand why they can't but they want to fit in; the person who always ties everything back to "God is in control"; the person who spews Evangelical sound bites but can't quote scripture; the person who believes that the US is the "new Israel"; the person who reads the King James version of the Bible; the person who believes that there are literal treasures and streets of gold in heaven; the person who believes that their dead relatives are in heaven with God and can hear their prayers; the person who uses church as a way to increase their social standing; as he does about me with my bitterness, high-minded theological ideas often based more on what makes sense to me than scripture or meditation, and my self-righteous emergent theology. And maybe that's what this is really all about.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Argentina to China

Standing out in the hall (not the cold) before class today one of my friends brought up the subject of drilling straight through the center of the Earth and coming out in China. Specifically, he was wondering where you would have to start to end up in China. Being the brilliant, almost-Masters-of-Science Computer scientists that we are, we realized that anywhere in the northern hemisphere would place you in the southern hemisphere on the other side, thus missing China. This did not stop us, being the brilliant almost-blah-blah-blah that we are, from theorizing that perhaps you could tunnel from Cuba and that there is a "Communist connection" between China and Cuba through the middle of the Earth through which citizens of these countries can travel. Not long after this thought, one of the Chinese students came by. We asked him where we would have to start drilling from to end up in China and, without even pausing to think, he replied "Oh, Argentina." We were a little perturbed by how fast he answered, so our interest was piqued. And look what we found. All this time, it was just sitting right below our noses. I figure the travel time is so fast because on the way to the center of the earth you are basically free falling, so you'll go at least terminal velocity, if you're unchecked.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Value Size

I've noticed that here in Waco "Value Size" has a different meaning than I'm used to. At the local grocery chain, HEB (local to Texas), I've consistently found that the "Value Size" packages are more expensive than buying the same or more of the same product in its regular sized variety. I, and it seems logical, always assumed that the "Value" in "Value Size" implied that there was some monetary benefit to buying things in larger quantities. Based on the fact that these items still exist, I can only conclude that most people do not compare prices when they buy such things and they assume that the addition of "Value" to the description of the item implies some savings to them, never considering that the added value might actually be flowing in the opposite direction on the free market food chain.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Monday Morning

Michael Yon has a great piece about militant Islam up that I highly recommend. He covers the scope and causes of this scourge and highlights its far-reaching effects around the world.

On a completely separate note, I wish there was an episode of Batman where something about the apocalypse is the theme and Robin, at some point, exclaims: "Holy eschaton, Batman!"

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Israel Situation: My Opinion

I am not opposed to Israel taking military action in response to attacks against it. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to me that they are using "disproportionate" force. It seems to me that they are responding to an act of aggression just like anyone else would. However, I have reservations about the approach Israel has taken in their response. Everyone who would know seems to say that the roots of these attacks are Syria and Iran, not Lebanon. And while the Lebanese government may not be doing enough to prevent action against Israel, it may not really be causing it. So, if I were Israel I would be clear that the war is not against Lebanon, but against the people wanting to harm Israel that may be in Lebanon. Instead Israel is saying the opposite. And I think that is why the Hezbollah aggressors can say, "'Let the Israelis do whatever they want - no military operation will result in the return of the soldiers.'" It is not their country being attacked by Israel. Theirs are not the homes being destroyed. It would be as if Argentinean terrorists attacked the US through Mexico and in response we bomb Mexico City. It may send the message "you need to keep terrorist out of your country or we consider you to be helping them." Which may be a useful and necessary message. But it is not directly striking at the terrorists because they don't care what happens to Mexico. There may be reasons for Israel to hit Lebanon the way it has. For example, they have bombed the airport and major road ways to prevent the Hezbollah militants from moving the kidnapped Israeli soldiers out of the country. This seems like a good strategy with, hopefully, direct results. However, saying that they are going to "set Lebanon back 20 years" may not be the best strategy. My opinion is that if Israel is intent on stopping the attacks they need to go to the root of the cause and attack Syria, which ultimately will lead to a confrontation with Iran. And a lot of considerations need to be made before doing so, considerations that I do not know enough about to comment on. Like the possibility of Iran and Syria having WMDs. Like Iran's true military strength. Like how real the possibility is that China and Russia might back Iran if they go to war with Israel. I hope that leaders in Israel are thinking about these things and making strategies with the US military and other allies to assure that the situation does not get out of hand. What I worry about is Israel deciding to "set Lebanon back 20 years" because it cannot afford to confront Syria and Iran directly and having Lebanon be the only casualty with the terrorist base remaining largely untouched.

For some other interesting opinions check out Hugh Hewitt's page. He has his opinion as well as links to several others. One particularly interesting (although not eloquent) read is Yoni's blog. Yoni is a veteran of the IDF who is now living in the US. I've heard him on Hugh's radio show several times and he offers an interesting insider view on all things Israeli.

This report records Israeli officials speaking in a way that seems much more reasonable to me. Rather than approaching the situation as if they are at war with the nation/government of Lebanon, they now say that they "'want to force the government of Lebanon to take responsibility and that means that they put someone instead of Hezbollah along the border, someone that represents the sovereign state.'"

Cracks Like Spider Webs

Israel claims that it has concrete evidence that the Lebanese militants that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers have plans to transport them to Iran. The US, according to this report, says that it holds Syria and Iran responsible for the kidnapping since they are the main supporters of Hezbollah. The Iranian government warned that if Israel attacked Syria it would be considered an attack on the "entire Islamic world." Meanwhile, the Lebanese government -- the newest democracy in the Middle East -- claims it had no knowledge that the attacks were going to occur, but Israel is holding them responsible anyway and taking out their valuable and necessary infrastructure. Supposedly Bush is promising the Lebanese government that he will press Israel to show restraint. However, the same headline has been running for a few days, and Israel doesn't seem to be showing much restraint. Here is my synopsis of the situation as seen through the media: some Hezbollah militants that are probably part of Syrian forces that were supposed to have left Lebanon years ago and are supported by Syria and Iran attacked Israel and kidnapped two soldiers. Israel responded with overwhelming force and claims they are going to "send Lebanon back 20 years." However, the "fragile" democratic government in Lebanon did not sanction or know about the attacks before hand. So, Israel is responding with harsh force in a way that will probably topple the government of its only neighboring democracy because some people supported by Iran and Syria attacked from that country. And if Israel actually attacks the nations behind the whole thing it will start a huge war that may spark larger conflicts around the globe.

That may not all be true, but that seems to be the picture that is painted by the news reports. I don't know enough about everything going on to speculate on how accurate those reports are. However, no matter how you look at it, the current situation is leaning towards further escalation, not towards a quick resolution. The short term impact here: higher gas prices. The long term impact: it depends on how far this "war" (as Israel believes it to be) reaches and how long it goes on.

Meanwhile, the world seems to have forgotten that Israel still has troops deployed in Palestine (at least they did last time any one reported on it). Maybe that is Israel's strategy -- to engage in a potentially much more harmful conflict, in international terms, so that the world stops watching what it is doing in Palestine. Israel was receiving a lot of flak internationally about its recent activity there, and now that pressure is gone. So now they are free to accomplish whatever their real goals in Palestine are without having to hear protests from the world every time they kill a civilian. I'm a typical center-right American in a lot of ways, so usually I support Israel in the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, I am also a Christian and a decent human being, so I wholeheartedly oppose the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Israel has not shown restraint towards Palestinian civilians at certain times in the past. They seemed to be this time, but maybe that was because of international pressure. Its possible that they are using the Lebanese conflict as a smoke screen to allow them to move decisively and destructively against the Palestinian population in general, and by the time we hear about it, it will be too late to try to stop it. I hope that is not the case, but it is another fear in the current situation.

Under the pretense of Israel's sovereignty, the White House says that Bush will ask Israel to minimize "collateral damage" but he "is not going to make military decisions for Israel." This seems like a lame excuse because Bush has not seemed to have a problem trying to make military decisions for nations we oppose. I think that the truth is that Bush will not ask Israel to stop because he doesn't think they should, for whatever reason. Maybe they are good reasons, maybe not. I don't know enough about the situation to say either way. I guess this sounds better diplomatically -- if anyone believes it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Ice is Getting Thinner

Anyone who pays attention to the news already knows that Lebanon based Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, Israel called it an "act of war," and Israel is currently invading Lebanon, ostensibly to get its soldiers back. This, in my mind, is horrible news. Unless Israel leaves quickly, which they claim they won't, I cannot imagine that Syria will not get involved. On one hand this is not a huge added threat to Israel because the Syrian military is not much better than the Lebanese or Palestinian (meaning Israel's army will have no problem defeating them in any open confrontations). However, it means that more and more of the region is getting involved. In the short run it may actually help the war in Iraq because many radical terrorist types will probably go to fight Israel instead of fighting in Iraq. However, if Iraqis perceive the situation to be the US helping Israel fight other Arab and Muslim countries it could cause greater unrest among the groups in Iraq that are already resistant to the new government there. Furthermore, there is the small (I hope) possibility that Saddam really did give Syria most of his WMD's before the invasion, and they might use those against Israel. No matter how weak their military, that remains a very serious threat and an even greater catalyst for escalation.

I really hope that no matter what happens that Jordan doesn't get involved because in the past several years they have increased their ties with the West and the US in particular, and it would be a shame for all that progress to disappear. Also, it would further turn the conflict into an "all the Arab countries against Israel" type of conflict. And this may lead to what should be our worst fears.

And those fears, of course, are that Iran would get involved. If Iran gets involved the situation may turn into an all out war in the region. This would cause most of the rest of the world to get involved in some way. If things follow the pattern they have in recent years, China and Russia would support Iran while the US, UK, Poland, Canada and Australia support Israel and the rest of Europe talks a lot about the war but doesn't do much. This, hopefully, is an unlikely scenario.

So, by quickly reacting to the instigation of Hezbollah militants with an invasion, Israel has, over night, significantly thinned the ice on which the world is walking in the Middle East. The worst case would involve a significant conflict and change in world politics. The best case... I'm not sure what the best case is. I guess the best case would be Israel getting their soldiers back and leaving Lebanon quickly. No matter what happens, the current escalation is certainly a very bad thing with the possibility of far reaching and long lasting effects.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Plugging the Firefox Leak

You may have noticed that Firefox takes up a lot of RAM. On my laptop, it takes at least 50MB to have even one tab open, and it seems to grow up to 150-190MB when I start opening other tabs. Searching on the web I found this fix that seems to work. I allowed Firefox to have 32MB of memory and it doesn't seem to be exceeding that even when I have several tabs open. And so far it doesn't seem to have slowed down much if at all. If you've been experiencing poor system performance due to Firefox's greediness, try this. Just don't read the comment conversation at the bottom of the linked post -- its pretty painful.

Well, Firefox is taking up more than the allotted 32MB now, but its less than before (~60MB) and I do have 4 tabs open. So maybe that 32MB allottment is per tab or something. It makes sense that it grows as you add tabs because it has to hold almost as much information per tab as it would if you opened a new instance of the browser for each. So, I don't know exactly how it works but this fix still seems to be saving me some memory.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hubcap Gang

There is a nefarious group afoot in Waco, Texas. At first I thought it was an innocent mistake when I noticed that my front passenger-side hubcap was missing. I thought that maybe the shop had some reason to have it off while replacing my timing belt and changing my oil, but it was the holiday weekend so I had to wait until Wednesday to ask them. But then I started to notice it. Car after car missing only one hubcap. All around Waco I've noticed them. All different makes and models, although it seemed more prevalent on the modest price range sedans, like mine. Suspicion grew and theories ran rampant, but there was still lingering doubt. When I got the call back from the shop, my worst fears were confirmed. The shop knew nothing of a missing hubcap -- I had lost it some time after they were done with my car. And there were all those other missing-one-hubcap cars around. There could be no denying it now, Waco is facing a serious crisis. Apparently some deranged group or individual finds pleasure in collecting single hubcaps from local cars. And I have fallen victim. And I can't help but wonder, when that group or person looks at my hubcap, do they remember me? Do they remember the intimate details of my car? Or am I just another chalk mark on the board, another successful conquest? I suppose these, like many other questions, will never be answered. But I can still hope that somewhere out there someone is loving my hubcap as much as I did, and that one day, in this life or the next, we will meet again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Few Quick Questions

Why doesn't Palestine seem to be afraid of Israel at all? Is it the same reason that North Korea doesn't seem to be afraid of the US at all (or the UN or Japan, etc)? Does it matter that the CIA closed its unit dedicated to searching for Bin Laden? Was it doing any good, or just wasting money? Do we still care much about catching him (relatively speaking)? Can Iran keep stalling forever while continuing with its nuclear program unchecked? Is anyone surprised that the Mexican presidential vote is probably going to a recount? Does any one really care about Lil' Kim getting out of jail? Did anyone really believe the stereotype that fat people are all 'jolly'? And what's with politicians always waving their hands in the air?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

One Legged Birds Eat Dead Bugs

I've had two fairly bizarre experiences over the last few days that had nothing to do with me other than the fact that I observed them.

The first begins with miscommunication. My wife needs a job, so we are applying everywhere we can think of. I have a friend who is a manager at the local Barnes and Noble, so I asked him at church on Sunday if he might be able to help us out. He told me we should come by when he was working the next day between 7am and 3pm. I have a class at 9:40am, so in the interest of getting to class on time and looking eager, we decided to go around 7 (my wife can't drive a standard, so she can't drive my car -- yet). Luckily I set the alarm wrong and we didn't get up until after 7, because my friend forgot to mention that, even though he starts work at 7, the store doesn't open until 9. So we got there around 8:30 and waited. While we were waiting I saw a bird swoop down and peck some kind of a beetle. After it had mortally wounded the bug (legs flew off) it grabbed it in its beak and hopped away. While it was hopping I noticed it appeared to be only on one leg, and I wondered if a one-legged dance was some strange victory dance for this species. Then it turned so its back was to me and I realized that it was hopping on one leg because it, in fact, only had one leg. Or rather it had only one foot and a stump leg that ended around the knee. I saw a one-legged bird eating a beetle. That was weird.

The other incident happened while I was walking to work yesterday. As I passed the business school two 30 or 40 something year old men came out and walked right in front of me. The part of their conversation I overheard went something like this:
Man 1: ...and cut the martyr complex right out.
Man 2: Speaking of church problems, did you hear about the PC USA...
Man 1: oh, did they have their convention already?
Man 2: I think that its just about to start, they're getting ready for it. Anyway, I heard that they started, not mandating, but accepting alternative descriptions of the trinity...
Man 1: < groans >
Man 2: the Parent, the Child, and...
Man 1: oh no
Man 2: yeah! And the Womb!
Man 1: What?
Man 2: Yeah, the Womb for the Holy Ghost!
Man 1: < shakes head as they walk away >

I was waiting for Redhurt's Jesus to come talk to them, but he never showed up (before I walked away from them, anyway). Besides the bizarreness of calling the Holy Spirit the Womb, that exchange was really funny to me because they were so... annoyed and condescending about the whole thing. But given the recentness of Redhurt's post I felt like it was rather ironic.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

John Kerry: Still in Denial

John Kerry proposed a plan to pull US troops out of Iraq. The Senate overwhelmingly rejected his plan -- 86-13. Kerry called it a "dramatic step forward." Now, either he sees his defeat as a step in the right direction, or he has reached a very low point. When getting 13 out of 100 votes is a dramatic step its time to rethink your game plan. That's not even half of the democrats in the Senate. What I see here is Kerry trying not to look like a complete loser after being so completely defeated and, as usual, failing. Perhaps he was also referencing a plan put forth by Senator Levin which was defeated only 60-39. I guess going from 13 to 39 is a pretty dramatic step, but its still not even everyone in his own party. In reference to these two votes, ostensibly, Ted Kennedy said "'Democrats have sent a clear message.'" The only clear message I see here is that the Democrats are in big trouble and unless their leadership comes up with something new they can expect to continue in that trouble for another election cycle.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Zarqawi Killed

I don't know why this isn't bigger in the news, but apparently a US airstrike killed Abu Musa'ab al-Zarqawi earlier this week. Here are some links:
link 1
link 2
This is huge news. Zarqawi was probably second only to Bin-Laden on the US most wanted terrorists list. He was in charge of al Qaida in Iraq and hopefully his death will mean a quicker victory against that group. There are probably only a dozen or so people in the world whose death would have the potential to change events so greatly as Zarqawi's.


I'm on my honeymoon right now, so I probably won't be posting anything real for another week or two.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Member, Not a Ruler

A UN panel on torture called for the US to close its Guantanamo Bay detention center and should reform its interrogation process, among other things. I don't know that I totally agree with their conclusion. I think that they are right about many points. For example, I think that it is immoral for the US to "outsource" torture to countries where it is legal. I also think that some interrogation methods we have used, such as sexual humiliation or threatening death, are gray-area at best. I don't know that I would go as far as saying that GITMO should be closed altogether, though. Admittedly I don't have the same information as this panel, and they may be justified in their prescription. However, despite what I or any other Americans think, I believe that the US must take action to comply with the recommendations of this panel. If this panel has made mistakes or overstepped its bounds then the US needs to get the UN to admit such and formally absolve us from the corresponding charge. I think that I share a general disdain for the UN with many Americans. It is an organization rife with corruption and so bogged down by bureaucracy and politics that it rarely accomplishes anything of value. However, we can do nothing to improve the effectiveness and authority of the UN if we do not respect what it says. Furthermore, if we expect other countries (like Iraq under Saddam) to comply with UN directives and respect the body's authority to place requirements and restrictions on any country then we must similarly comply with and respect the UN. The US is clearly a very powerful force militarily, politically, socially, and economically worldwide. As such we have a responsibility, I feel, to use that power to lead other countries to a better future. We should take a leadership role here showing that all countries ought to respect the UN. If the US is willing to comply with the UN it will provide a large impetus for other countries to do the same. Furthermore, it will make us justified in moving against other countries that don't. We cannot use non-compliance with the UN as justification for aggression or political pressure if we don't comply with the UN ourselves. Finally, we ought to do what we can not to stand alone against the world but rather work towards unity and harmony. That is the goal of the UN. If it is broken we should take a leadership role in fixing it. But we need to work from within the system, not as though we are above it. If we comply with this panel it will show the world that the US recognizes the authority of the UN and we are committed to working with other nations to establish lasting peace. If we do not it will show the word that the UN is powerless and that we, the US, believe that we are above its authority and will stand alone unless the other nations of the world agree to do everything on our terms. I think the latter would be a huge mistake.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Better, Stronger, Faster

I live in Waco. Waco has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world, so I see a lot of different churches, and many of these churches have signs out front proclaiming all kinds of trite catchphrases. Right now one of them says, "We don't change the message, the message changes you" Now, its a subtle thing, I know. But I think that there is value in examining it. Shouldn't it say, "We don't change the message, the message changes us"? Whether that is what they meant or not, I think that this reveals a true undertone in American Christianity today... maybe all Western Christianity. It is the idea that those of us who are already Christians are done. We prayed a prayer or were baptized or whatever the particular sect uses as its conversion moment, and now we're done. The Message changed us and we are changed, there is nothing more that Christianity has to offer us until death. Now we exist only to get more people to become Christians. It's kind of like a cosmic pyramid scheme. And I believe that this correlates directly to the decline in church population in the US today, especially among young people. In our generation there is very little social pressure to be an active member of any faith. In the recent past, I believe, many people went to church because it was socially unacceptable not to, not because they felt like they benefited from the Christian faith at all. Today that social pressure is gone and the true state of affairs is apparent: people aren't interested in Christianity. And how could they be if this is all there is to it? Furthermore, if this is all there is why should I continue in faith after the conversion moment? Now, the Arminians among us believe that one's salvation is due to an ongoing faith (to put it simply), not some conversion moment. But we are certainly not the majority. If God is not active in our lives after the conversion, if there is no "life more abundant" on this Earth, if there is no continual movement towards Perfection, then churches should be replaced with drive-thrus. We are not machines that just need fixed and once fixed operate correctly. We live in a world full of pain, sorrow, and suffering. We live in a place that offers nothing but despair on its own. And if all God promised was a better life after this one then that would still be more than we deserved. But if He is offering a better life now, a life more abundant today, then isn't that infinitely better? If Christianity can ease the pain of everyday life, bring you closer to God before you die and allow you to begin living the life we long for now then it has real value everyday. And in that case it cannot be a one-dose solution. It must be something that changes you every day. Something that brings you to a God who reaches out and redeems the damned situations we find ourselves in day after day. My final thought is one that is now becoming cliche itself, so here's the sign I'll put on my proverbial church this week: "Jesus commanded that we make disciples, not converts"