Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On Halloween

Okay, so my original plan for my big Halloween post was to make fun of a Jack Chick tract. More than 100 illustrated ChickTracts in (he claims) more than 100 languages warn good Christian boys and girls against the dangers of drugs, adultery, abortion, suicide, homosexuality, witchcraft, Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, evolution, secularism, and calling Jesus a sissy. The best, though, have to be the Halloween tracts, which warn us that Halloween is not fun, but is, in fact, the day that witches and Satanists in black, hooded robes put drugs and razor blades in candy to win innocent little child-souls for the Dark Prince. The challenge of snarking a ChickTract, obviously, is that it does a pretty good job of that by itself.

Instead, I decided to put a slightly more timely spin on the traditional tract, juicing it up with current events that concern us all. No truly scary Halloween would be complete without those most evil and threatening of Halloween goblins, courtesy of our uniter-not-a-divider President himself: Democrats.

Feel free to print it out, fold it up, and hand it out to trick-or-treaters who come in search of candy; they're guaranteed to return later tonight to thank you with several dozen eggs and a bunch of toilet paper. Happy Satan's Birthday to all.

Monday, October 30, 2006

On big, round, bitter, uncoated pills of pride

Okay, so on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday, Ben Stein, whom I love as an actor and detest as a political commentator, said something that I really, really liked. Who knew?
Times are very tough in Iraq and if I was still a speechwriter for the President, like I was for Mr. Nixon and Mr. Ford, this is what I would suggest he say:

My fellow Americans, I have some sobering news. It is my duty, above all, to protect the nation. I sincerely believed I was doing that when I ordered the invasion of Iraq. I still believe Saddam Hussein was the most dangerous man in the world. But it is clear to me now that things are not working out well in Iraq. Despite the incredible confidence, bravery and sacrifice of our men and women on the ground there, Iraq is still a violent, largely out of control nation. We may be making more terrorists than we destroy. "Quagmire" comes sadly to mind. It is clear that change must be made. Therefore, I have this morning accepted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation with sincere thanks for his service to the nation. He will be replaced by a truly heroic American, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Despite my best intentions, I made mistakes in Iraq and mine is the responsibility. Good men and women died and hard-earned tax money was lost. Fine young men and women are crippled and disabled, which is a tragedy. It is time for a change. Therefore, I am convening an official, national, bi-partisan, blue ribbon commission composed of Democrats, Independents and Republicans, civilian and military, to start meeting at once and give me a recommendation in one month as to what our Iraq policy should be. All options are on the table. All.

I want to close with this thought. I am just a man. I have no miraculous powers. I have no special pipeline to God. Like all presidents from Jefferson and Lincoln onwards — and believe me, I know I'm not in their league — I make mistakes and sometimes good people die because of them. I am deeply sorry. As we re-examine our policy, I would ask that you all pray for us to make the right decision. May God continue to bless us all. Thank you.

I think that sums it up nicely. I do think that Bush thought he was doing the right thing when he ordered the invasion of Iraq. I still don't know what it is he thought he was doing, and we now know that he wasn't doing the right thing, but I'll accept that he thought he was doing the right thing.

Here's why I don't think it'll fly, though.

The first reason is that Bush is incapable of admitting he's made a mistake. This is a man who's claimed his biggest misstep was saying "Bring it on" at the beginning of the war (that is, of course, when he can think of any mistake he's ever made). Despite his onetime claim that the buck stops with him, he's never been reluctant to push the blame off on a lower-level functionary, staffer, or occasional member of the armed forces. When life hands him lemons, he just rewrites the rules, or rewrites history, until he comes out on top. So the chances of him uttering the words "I made mistakes in Iraq and mine is the responsibility" without choking on them are right up there with the chances of him pronouncing "nuclear" correctly.

The other reason is that he doesn't think he's "just a man." He doesn't think he "has no miraculous powers." This is a man who talks to God and claims that God talks back. He's a man who thinks the Constitution gives him power to suspend civil liberties, ostensibly in the interest of national security. He calls himself a president and has claimed for himself the powers of a dictator, and he insists that such cowboy bravado and unitary executive power are necessary to keep the terr'ists in their place. He thinks that humility is a sign of weakness. He thinks that restraint is a sign of impotence. And that's why we're in this situation in the first place.

Friday, October 27, 2006

On Chuck Norris: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so Chuck Norris has a column at WorldNet Daily.

That is all.

No, it's not, but isn't there something bizarrely right about that? For some reason that I can't really define, it seems fitting that Chuck Norris and WorldNet Daily should come together in this way.

What's even better is his inaugural column, in which he alerts the InterWebs to an little-known phenomenon he recently discovered known as "Chuck Norris facts." Examples of such facts include:
Chuck Norris grinds his coffee with his teeth and boils the water with his own rage.

Chuck Norris invented the bolt-action rifle, liquor, sexual intercourse, and football-- in that order.

Chuck Norris doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

Chuck Norris doesnt wear a watch, HE decides what time it is.

Chuck doesn't mind that these facts are floating around. He seems like a fun guy who doesn't take himself too seriously at all and would be an absolute blast at a party.
Being more a student of the Wild West than the wild world of the Internet, I'm not quite sure what to make of the craze of "Chuck Norris Facts." It's quite surprising. I do know that boys will be boys, and I neither take offense nor take these things too seriously. I'm so grateful for my fans. Who knows, maybe these one liners will prompt some one to seek out the real facts about me and the beliefs that have shaped my life and my career.

But, responsibe man and sensei that he is, he would be remiss in not using those facts as a teaching tool.
While I have as much fun as anyone else reading and quoting them, let's face it, most "Chuck Norris Facts" describe someone with supernatural, superhuman powers. They're describing a superman character. And in the history of this planet, there has only been one real Superman. It's not me.


Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures.

Which explains why God always has a beard in all those pictures. But underneath that beard isn't a chin - it's another fist.
Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad he never cries. Ever."

There was a man whose tears could cure cancer or any other disease, including the real cause of all diseases – sin. His blood did. His name was Jesus, not Chuck Norris.

If your soul needs healing, the prescription you need is not Chuck Norris' tears, it's Jesus' blood.

But if you've got cancer, you might want to try chemotherapy.

And that's why this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten is dedicated to Chuck Norris: because of his humility and honest in reminding us that although some people joke about Chuck Norris having super powers, the real truth is that he doesn't actually have them. And that evolution doesn't exist.

The Ten:
1. Cypress Hill, "How I Could Just Kill a Man"
2. Velvet Chain, "Strong"
3. Lauryn Hill, "When It Hurts So Bad"
4. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
5. Dido, "White Flag"
6. The Police, "King of Pain"
7. Mandy Moore, "Crush"
8. A Tribe Called Quest, "Can I Kick It?"
9. Busta Rhymes, "When Disaster Strikes"
10. Tom Jones, "Sexbomb (Peppermint Disco Mix)"

Your Ten, or your favorite Chuck Norris facts, or whatever, go below

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the bitter brew that is "I told you so"

Okay, so I'm not one to say "I told you so," but, well... I did. I told you, told you, told you, toldyoutoldyoutoldyoutold. You. So:
There's one more concern that I haven't seen raised yet, and it's got Potential National Security Crisis written all over it. This might be merely the result of my near-obsessive "Law & Order" and "NCIS" habit, but I have to ask: what can be done with evidence obtained illegally? Say the NSA's secret program turns up evidence that an American citizen is plotting with al Qaeda to commit terrorist acts within the US. He's arrested, which is a good thing, and brought to trial, which is another good thing. Then the judge is forced to throw out the evidence obtained by the wiretap, because we're all obliged to follow the law even if the president isn't, and the law says that you have to have a warrant to wiretap. The government is forced to let a terrorist go free because they couldn't be bothered to get a warrant before tapping his phone. How have we been made safer when this guy is back out on the street, fat and happy on the knowledge that he managed to pull one over on the federal government?

That was me, way back in December, arguing that using illegal techniques to collect intelligence seems like a fine way to get everything thrown out in court and let a potentially guilty man go free. Now, this is MSNBC, two days ago:
In interviews with MSNBC.com — the first time they have spoken publicly — former senior law enforcement agents described their attempts to stop the abusive interrogations. The agents of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force, working to build legal cases against suspected terrorists, said they objected to coercive tactics used by a separate team of intelligence interrogators soon after Guantanamo's prison camp opened in early 2002. They ultimately carried their battle up to the office of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who approved the more aggressive techniques to be used on al-Qahtani and others.

Although they believed the abusive techniques were probably illegal, the Pentagon cops said their objection was practical. They argued that abusive interrogations were not likely to produce truthful information, either for preventing more al-Qaida attacks or prosecuting terrorists.

And they described their disappointment when military prosecutors told them not to worry about making a criminal case against al-Qahtani, the suspected "20th hijacker" of Sept. 11, because what had been done to him would prevent him from ever being put on trial.
[emphasis mine]

Unfortunately, this kind of thing takes the fun out of a "told you so" dance. The detainee in question, Mohammed al-Qahtani, is suspected of being the fifth hijacker on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, bringing the total number of 9/11 terrorists to a nice, round 20. Of all of the people detained by the US government, this man is one of the very few who can be connected to the 9/11 attacks with any amount of certainty, meaning that his trial and conviction would be an actual chance at actual justice for the nearly 3,000 lives lost. But that's probably not going to happen, and why? Because the US had to use illegal interrogation techniques.
The Qahtani interrogation was a success, the Pentagon has said. Al-Qahtani admitted he had been sent to the United States by Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohamed, that he had met Osama bin Laden several times, that he had been trained at two al-Qaida camps, that he knew the shoe bomber Richard Reid, and that 30 other detainees he identified had been bodyguards for bin Laden.

The law enforcement investigators, however, say the interrogation produced little new. "I will just say that most of what we knew, we knew before," Col. Mallow said. "A lot of the intelligence 'successes' that have been touted were a result of much earlier disclosures made by detainees to our agents."

Of course, al-Qahtani now repudiates those statements. And many experts (including several at the Pentagon) have argued that intelligence gained through torture is rarely accurate. If, however, al-Qahtani's statements were true, the US is holding one of the 9/11 terrorists at Guantanamo Bay - and will never be able to bring him to trial because of what has been done to him.
The cops who directed the investigation, Col. Mallow and Fallon, said they were told several times by prosecutors in the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, as the military trials are known, not to keep bringing forward a case against al-Qahtani, that there would be no case.

"The techniques made some detainees unprosecutable," Fallon said. "It would provide the defense counsel a tremendous advantage at trial to sway the presiding officer and members, as well as it would have disclosed those techniques to the public."


Al-Qahtani's lawyer says she believes he'll never face trial, that eventually the government will have to transfer him back to Saudi Arabia.

When I made my case against torture a few weeks ago, this is one thing that I neglected to mention. Giving in to the desire to take out our frustration and rage on detainees now lessens our chance for actual justice later on. It's a weak satisfaction, and it's a greedy one. Vengeance may be enough for the one person doing the waterboarding, but justice is for everyone. And if terrorists end up going free because the Pentagon was so enamored of "nontraditional interrogation techniques," that is something that they are taking away from us. They're taking away our safety by letting killers back onto the streets, and they're taking away our right to face down those who have wronged us and say, "You don't get to hurt anyone else ever, ever, ever again."

George W. Bush has said over and over again that it's his job to protect us, to keep us safe. Setting aside the fact that his job is to protect and uphold the Constitution, any responsibility to ensure our physical safety is not served by letting terrorists go free on a technicality. It's time for Bush to realize that the rules he's expected to follow were written by men far wiser than he, for reasons of which his primitive lizard brain is unable to conceive. His flippant cowboy attitude and blatant disregard for the Constitution do nothing to keep us safe.

On retractions

Okay, so as does happen on rare occasion, we at Practically Harmless must hang our heads and issue a retraction. Yesterday, we reported that Rush Limbaugh apologized for his medically-uninformed accusations about Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease.

We have misled you. Although he did say that he would apologize if it turned out that Fox wasn't faking, Dr. Limbaugh has since clarified his diagnosis:
I stand by what I said. I take back none of what I said. I wouldn’t rephrase it any differently. It is what I believe; it is what I think. It is what I have found to be true.

The editorial staff at Practically Harmless apologize for any confusion this reportage may have caused. We are assuming that Dr. Limbaugh used the same medical technology that allowed Bill Frist to diagnose Terri Schiavo via video and proclaim her ready to run the Boston Marathon. Moreover, we encourage Limbaugh and Frist to share this breakthrough technology with the medical community to the potential benefit of millions.

Again, our deepest apologies.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On stupid things Rush Limbaugh says, Part 10,968,233,145

Okay, so much has been said about the recent ad for Missouri Senate candidate Claire McCaskill featuring a very shaky Michael J. Fox.

For instance, Rush Limbaugh said that Fox was faking the effects of Parkinson's.
"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act. . . . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."


"This is the only time I've ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has," Limbaugh said. "He can barely control himself."

I suppose that Limbaugh might look at the sheer volume of prescription narcotics in his own medicine cabinet and think that he's a doctor, but he is, in fact, no more a physician than Dr. Pepper. In light of that, he did issue a grudging retraction later that day, saying, "I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act," but it all rings kind of hollow if you actually watch Limbaugh mocking Fox's symptoms during his show.

The other comment frequently heard about that ad is that Michael J. Fox is being manipulative and trying to use his disease to sway opinion toward supporting stem cell research. And my response would have to be, "Um, yeah?" Who better to advocate for research than someone who is truly desperate for a cure? That's not manipulation; that's letting people stare into the face of a disease and decide exactly how interested they are in curing it. And if that feels weird, it's supposed to.

Largely unrelated update: None of that means, however, that you have to suffer from Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's Disease or diabetes to be an advocate for a cure. Sometimes it's enough to be someone who might get them eventually:

(H/T TBogg)

Isn't that little girl possibly the cutest little girl ever to stand in front of a camera? Won't someone give that cute little girl a TV contract? Seriously.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On tasty news nuggets

Okay, so busy day today, but not too busy for a few newsy tidbits:

U.S. to Hand Iraq a New Timetable on Security Role:
The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, senior American officials said.

Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

Because national stability and sectarian violence definitely aren't things you'd want to address before you go and invade a country.

(Thx Kevin Drum.)

In other news:

U.S. diplomat apologizes for remarks:
“We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq,” [Alberto Fernandez] said.

You rang?

(Thx TBogg.)

And in other other news:

Bush says he uses "the Google."

(And Barack Obama is, apparently, the Antichrist.)


Monday, October 23, 2006

On the resistance of memory

Okay, so during his interview on ABC's This Week yesterday, President Bush insisted to George Stephanopoulos, "We've never been 'stay the course,' George!"

Except in August:
BUSH: We will stay the course. [8/30/06]

And in July:
BUSH: As a matter of fact, we will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course. [7/11/06]

And August of last year:
BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. [8/4/05]

And April a year before that, like, a lot:
BUSH: And we'll stay the course. [4/20/04]
BUSH: And that’s why we’re going to stay the course in Iraq. And that’s why when we say something in Iraq, we’re going to do it. [4/16/04]
BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We’ll stay the course. [4/13/04]
BUSH: You know, I told the [Spc. Chris Hill's] family how much we appreciated his sacrifice -- he was killed in Iraq -- and assured him that we would stay the course[...]. [4/5/04]
BUSH: And so we’ve got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course. [4/5/04]

And the March before that:
BUSH: And I believe there's no doubt that if America stays the course and we call upon others to stay the course, liberty will arrive and the world will be better off. [3/12/04]

And the January before that:
BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done[...]. [1/23/04]

And the December before that:
BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course. [12/15/03]

And, well, a whole lotta times:
BUSH: I was able to assure them that we were going to stay the course and get the job done[...]. [11/27/03]
BUSH: And we will stay the course in order to achieve this objective. [10/27/03]
BUSH: This nation will stay the course until Iraq is free and peaceful and prosperous. [10/8/03]
BUSH: We will stay the course. [10/3/03]
BUSH: We're going to stay the course. [8/22/03]
BUSH: And I told him and assured him that the United States would stay the course[...]. [7/14/03]
BUSH: And it's very important for us to stay the course, and we will stay the course. [7/10/03]
BUSH: And we're going to stay the course until the job gets done. [6/5/03]
BUSH: It doesn't matter how long it takes, this country will stay the course[...]. [12/3/02]
BUSH: When it comes to the defense of our freedoms, we will stay the course. [11/4/02]
BUSH: However long it takes, this country of ours will stay the course. We will stay the course to protect America, and we will stay the course to promote the peace. [10/18/02]

What say you, Scott McClellan?
MCCLELLAN: But it's important that we stay the course and finish the job -- and that's what the President has continued to say[...]. [11/13/03]

Scott seems to agree.

So here's the question that's burning in the minds of many: WTF? I can think of three possibilities.

1. Bush has completely forgotten that he said that. Ever. Slipped right out of his mind. He's been under such stress lately that he was sure he'd never said that. Heh! Go figure.
2. When Bush said, "We've never been 'stay the course,'" he didn't mean that he's never said it. He just meant that they've never actually stayed the course.
3. Bush is a lying liar who lies. Unchallenged(?!). On national television.

Your votes go below.

Update: Dan Bartlett lies, too! (H/T MediaMatters)

On another schmuck in the Middle East

Okay, so reality TV has never been a favorite of mine, particularly the shows where everyone is stabbing each other in the back, or people are eating rotten squid testicles, or skinny women are making asses of themselves over some prince who ends up being a construction worker-slash-aspiring model. But The Amazing Race is not only tolerable to me, but enjoyable. It's the only one I watch (when I do watch it), and it's the only one I'd ever want to take part it (and I do).

Here are a couple of highlights from last night's episode:

This is Sarah, the girl with the prosthetic leg, climbing one of the Kuwait Towers as her boyfriend lounges in the sun on the ground below, soliloquizing to the camera about how strong she is.

This is Peter, the boyfriend, who has spent the entire race yelling at Sarah (the girl with the prosthetic leg) to hurry up, now yelling at her for not being able to read their Arabic road map, not being able to speak Arabic, and not being able to magically teleport them to the camel yard where their next task will be.

This is Peter and Sarah as they get the news that they've been eliminated, at which point Sarah reveals to Peter that she's dumping him because "he is a very strong go-getter," but he's also a total asshole.

So not all reality TV is bad.

Friday, October 20, 2006

On old, rich, white men: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so I mentioned before that this hasn't been a particularly good campaign season for Republicans as far as Asians go. Or blacks. Or Hispanics. Or gays. Or women. Or parents of politically-minded teenage children in the DC area. It seems like every time the GOP wants to look out for you, or look out for your illegitimate children, or come up with an affectionate nickname for you, it ends up blowing up in their faces. What's a well-meaning racist Republican to do? It's just not fair.

And that's why this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten is dedicated to J. Patrick Rooney, Tan D. Nguyen, George Allen, and all of the other Republicans out there who would love to see minorities in the voting booth, as long as they pull for Republicans and then go finish washing my damn car.

The Ten:

1. The Rolling Stones, "Paint It, Black"
2. David Bowie, "Golden Years"
3. Nina Simone, "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair"
4. Annie Lennox, "Whiter Shade of Pale"
5. Johnny Cash, "Man in Black"
6. Dido, "White Flag"
7. Hank Jones, "Black Butterfly"
8. Van Morrison, "Brown Eyed Girl"
9. Serge Gainsbourg, "Black March"
10. Counting Crows, "Colorblind"

Your Ten go in comments.

On the racism trifecta

Okay, so some of the slimier Repubs have been showing their true colors lately, and when I say "colors," I should say "shades ranging from bisque to golden beige," because brown, apparently, doesn't qualify as Grand Old Pigmentation:
BLACK MAN #1: "If you make a little mistake with one of your 'hos,' you'll want to dispose of that problem tout suite, no questions asked."
BLACK MAN #2: "That's too cold. I don't snuff my own seed."

BLACK MAN #1: "Maybe you do have a reason to vote Republican."

That is a transcript of a new ad targeting black voters in ten battleground states this election season. The ad was financed by J. Patrick Rooney, a white billionaire, with money funneled through America's PAC, the group founded by Republican consultant and Intelligent Design proponent Richard Nadler (who produced an ad for school vouchers in 2000 in which a white parent declared that his child's school "was a bit more diversity than he could handle").

So, all of you black men out there, if you're concerned for the safety of the illegitimate children you conceive with the multiple "hos" that Rooney knows you have, and you're prone to throwing the occasional French phrase into your conversations, be sure to vote Republican in November.

Of course, say you're not black, per se. Say you're just fairly tan. If that's the case, the GOP doesn't want you voting at all:
Be advised that if your residence in the United States is illegal or if you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in incarceration, and possible deportation for voting without the right to do so. …

Not like in Mexico, here there is no benefit to voting. In the United States there is no registration card to vote. Therefore, it is useless and dangerous to vote in any election if you are not a citizen of the United States.

Do not pay attention to a politician who may try to tell you otherwise. They only care about their own interests.

That letter was sent to 14,000 Hispanic Democratic voters in Orange County, California. Let me highlight my favorite part:
Do not pay attention to a politician who may try to tell you otherwise. They only care about their own interests.

Stay away from the polls, naturalized citizens who are registered to vote! And don't listen to any Democrat who tells you otherwise! They'll just lie to you to protect their own interests! The California Secretary of State is on it.

And while this isn't anything new, never forget that Asians are always welcome in the New World.

So when you hit the polls in November, don't forget: The Republican party loves black people, and black people love them.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

On your rights as a potential unlawful enemy combatant

Okay, so it's long been argued that the terr'ists hate us for our freedoms. Unwilling to see his people in danger, our brave and steadfast president has wisely taken steps to protect us by officially signing away those freedoms. On Tuesday, Bush proudly signed into law the Military Commissions bill, also known as the Won't Someone Save Us From Our Own Freedoms Act of 2006.

Now, as anyone knows who knows me and/or reads my blog and/or happened to be in Southside Birmingham on the evening of Thursday, September 28, this bill makes me sad. It makes me sad for a lot of reasons, but the most sad-making reasons have to be the revocation of habeas corpus and the president's shiny new power to declare anyone, even an American citizen, an enemy combatant, and thus deny them any protection whatsoever under the Geneva Conventions.

Following that Friday's post, I received an e-mail from a person I know who will remain nameless because he's involved in both law and government, and he's a good person and doesn't deserve to have his good name dragged into this. Regardless, the e-mail said, "You seem to be interested in the issue of 'unlawful combatants' and related matters" and was accompanied by an article from the Virginia Journal of International Law on, shazzam, "Unlawful Combatants and the Geneva Conventions."

Before I actually get into the issue of "unlawful combatants" themselves, I wanted to throw out a little primer on the Geneva Conventions. Allow me to remind you - I'm just a caveman. Your world frightens and confuses me. But I've interpreted the Conventions as best as my lacking-a-law-degree mind can, and I welcome correction by thems that have studied these things.

The Geneva Conventions consist of four Conventions, signed in 1949, and two Protocols, signed in 1977. Under the Supremacy Clause (Article VI, paragraph 2) of the United States Constitution, the US is required to adhere to any international treaties to which it is a party, so any argument that "it's not US law, so the president doesn't have to follow it" is bunk. The debate here is not whether or not the US has to follow the Conventions, but whether or not the people who've been declared "enemy combatants," the ones we've got detained and the ones the president can detain with his new powers, are protected by the Conventions. My argument is that they are.

Convention I addresses "the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field," laying down protections for those who are, well, wounded. Or sick. In the field. Convention II extends similar protections to wounded and sick members of naval forces. Convention III, one of the most debated and most cited of the conventions in our current debate, addresses designation and treatment of Prisoners of War, and Convention IV addresses the treatment of civilians (Protocols I and II deal with victims of international armed and un-armed conflict, respectively, and won't really come into this argument).

Article 4 of Convention III outlines six categories that qualify for prisoner-of-war status:
(1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict, as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

(2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions: (a) that of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) that of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) that of carrying arms openly; (d) that of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

(3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

(4) Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces[...].

(5) Members of crews [...] of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict.

(6) Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

That bolded passage lays out the four requirements for militia members and volunteers to be granted prisoner-of-war status; those four requirements explain why insurgents hiding in alleys and attacking US troops wouldn't qualify.

The debate comes when we ask what the insurgents are, if they're not prisoners of war. And, moreover, what about the numerous detainees who have been picked up not for attacking Coalition interests, but just for (allegedly) knowing something or knowing someone who knows something? President Bush has identified them all as "unlawful enemy combatants," a status that doesn't even exist in the text of the Conventions, and denied that any protections apply. Do they really not qualify for any protection whatsoever?

I'll admit that at first, my objection to the concept of "unlawful enemy combatants" was fairly basic and reliant on logic: Why would the drafters of the Geneva Conventions go to all of this trouble to define various classes of detainees, and then outline specifically what could and could not be done to the different classes, if they intended to leave a loophole that would leave one discrete group to be tortured at will? If they're concerned about the treatment of captured uniformed soldiers, and they're concerned about the welfare of civilians, clergy, the injured, and even spies and saboteurs, why leave a small, specific group of people out to swing?

Unfortunately, I'm still unsatisfied as to the "why" or even the most basic "whether". While the nonbinding ICRC Commentary accompanying the Conventions seems to follow my reasoning, the Final Record of the Conventions tends to contradict it, and references to the little-mentioned Stockholm Convention would appear to support the Final Record. While we don't know for sure whether some unlawful combatants must be excluded, we can determine that delegates were divided over whether or not they would be excluded, so the idea that they might be excluded does hold. Jason Callen, author of the VJIL article in question, interprets this as "strong evidence" that such combatants must be excluded. I reject his interpretation.

The big question comes up in Convention IV, the Civilian Convention. Most previous conflicts to which the US has been a party have involved uniformed armies and tanks and people with flags on their uniforms that tell you what country they're from. In the past, it's been easy to identify those protected under the Convention IV as "pretty much everyone I didn't just mention in the last sentence." The conflict in Iraq is different, though. Once Saddam Hussein's own army was dissolved, parties to the conflict fell into the categories of "uniformed Coalition forces" and "pissed-off guys hiding in alleys with IEDs." Furthermore, a guy who was happily living as an actual civilian one minute could very easily pick up a gun and become a combatant the next; all it takes is the wrong bullet hitting the wrong child.

Article 4 of Convention IV begins as follows:
Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.

Good start; kind of broad, though. Let's keep reading. Article 5 of that Convention says:
Where in the territory of a Party to the conflict, the latter is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention as would, if exercised in the favour of such individual person, be prejudicial to the security of such State.

Where in occupied territory an individual protected person is detained as a spy or saboteur, or as a person under definite suspicion of activity hostile to the security of the Occupying Power, such person shall, in those cases where absolute military security so requires, be regarded as having forfeited rights of communication under the present Convention.

So, if the detainee is suspected of activities that would put the US in danger, the US isn't required to extend rights to them that would further endanger the US. Sounds fair; I mean, I don't want the US guaranteeing communications rights to some terr'ist who's just going to send a message to his friends, right? But exactly what rights are likely to further endanger the US? I mean, what can the US do to a detained terrorist in the interest of national security?
In each case, such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention. They shall also be granted the full rights and privileges of a protected person under the present Convention at the earliest date consistent with the security of the State or Occupying Power, as the case may be.

Oh. Okay.

Part III of Convention IV goes on to outline provisions of civilian detainees: respect for their honor/families/religions, protections against rape or forced prostitution, protection against murder/torture/scientific experimentation/other brutality, protection from collective punishment, and provision for anyone from outside the territory to the conflict to be allowed to return there (unless it's contrary to the security interests of the detaining state). All good things.

But it still doesn't determine whether our detainees qualify for those protecions under the Civilian Convention, since they aren't lawful combatants, but they're not uninterested parties, either.

The Military Commissions bill defines an "unlawful enemy combatant" as
a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces)

(or whoever the president or secretary of defense say is one), and Callen, in his article, makes a distinction between two types: regular unlawful combatants, such as spies and saboteurs who operate behind enemy lines and who do receive protection under the Civilian Convention, and "battlefield" unlawful combatants, who fight directly on the battlefield but don't meet those conditions to be considered prisoners of war and can, arguably, receive no protection at all.

Quick recap: As far as detainees go, we've determined that:
- any qualifying uniformed members of a regular army or militia receive full Geneva protections as prisoners of war, that
- any civilians picked up for any reason (say, the taxi driver who knows someone who knows someone but hasn't taken an active part in the hostilties) receive full Geneva protections as civilians, and that
- certain "enemy combatants," specifically those who work in occupied territory and don't venture out onto the battlefield, are afforded limited Geneva protections as civilians and must be treated humanely, be given a fair trial, and have full protections restored as soon as they are no longer a threat to the US.

And we've yet to determine:
- if any of the US's detainees would qualify as "battlefield enemy combatants" and thus be exempt from any kind of protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Moving on.

What about "battlefield unlawful combatants"? What are they, anyway? For that matter, what's the battlefield? At present, there is no real "front line" in the Iraq war. Fighting is taking place in the streets and the marketplaces, pretty much anywhere insurgents are able to attack each other and/or Coalition troops. Does that mean that the entire country is a battlefield? Or does it mean that the entire country is "the territory of a Party to the conflict"? If it's the former, then it could be argued that nobody captured in Iraq would be afforded any protection under the Civilian Convention.

But I think that President Bush feels differently. In May of 2003, Bush climbed into a flight suit and declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." He had a great big "Mission Accomplished" banner and everything. At that point, Iraq became occupied territory. Where do you find a "battlefield" unlawful combatant in a country without battlefields? His aircraft carrier photo op was enough to afford protection under the Civilian Convention to the very detainees he argued weren't subject to the Geneva Conventions.

I'll accept Callen's argument that the Geneva Conventions were written to exclude certain groups. I don't like it, but he made his case, so never let it be said that I can't be convinced. I'll even accept the reasoning behind it: When combatants disguise themselves as civilians, both civilians and uniformed troops are put at risk.

However, I don't accept the argument that detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay don't receive protection under the Geneva Convention. Some of them are civilians, flat-out. Some of them are unlawful combatants aiding terrorists and insurgents behind the scenes. Some of them are unlawful combatants acting as spies, saboteurs, and worse in "territory of a Party to the conflict." But as bad as many of these guys are, the circumstances of their capture affords them some protection under the Geneva Conventions, even if it's just minimal: protection against torture. Protection against being shot out of hand. Protection against the use of force or coercion to obtain information. Protection from extraordinary rendition. Right to a fair trial. Humane, legal treatment.

Just because President Bush writes himself a little loophole declaring that "unlawful combatants" aren't subject to the Geneva Conventions don't make it so. I could declare unilaterally that I'm engaged to Michael Bublé and we're going to produce two gorgeous, musically talented little babies, but that doesn't make it the case. The reality is that no matter how angry we are at what these detainees are allegedly doing to our country, we have to treat them humanely and legally. Because back in 1949, we promised. And none of Bush's compromise bills, executive orders, or signing statements can undo that promise.

Monday, October 16, 2006

On collections

Okay, so this open letter/rant is inspired by my dad, who wants to know if someone won't think of the children.

Dear Madonna (et al),

This is Malawi:

This is an animal shelter:

Cambodia and Ethiopia:

Animal shelter:

Aww, munchkin.

I wanted to point that out to you to make it clear that Malawi isn't an animal shelter. And more importantly, little African children aren't pound puppies. I'm very happy that you're using your millions to improve the lives of others, rather than just expanding your shoe collection, but children in third-world nations aren't pets.

For some reason, ethnic babies seem to be this season's teacup chihuahua. Angelina Jolie picked one up when she was in Cambodia filming Tomb Raider and liked him so much that she adopted another one in Ethiopia a few years later. And when it came time to give birth to her own kid, she chose to do it in Namibia. Meg Ryan traveled to China in January to adopt a little girl. Penelope Cruz is looking to adopt a kid from India. And most recently, Madonna spent time in Malawi browsing little boys until she found the one she wanted to take home.

These children in developing nations are absolutely in need of good, stable, safe, healthy homes, and there's no reason that a millionaire celebrity shouldn't use those millions to provide those homes. A child in Malawi or Cambodia or China is no more or less needy than the "undesireable" nonwhite and/or drug-addicted babies that American orphanages have such a challenge placing. But any child, American or European or Asian or African, deserves to be a much-wanted addition to a loving family - not a new, trendy accessory.

Now, I'm sure that Meg Ryan loves her Chinese baby very much. I'm sure Madonna (or her nanny) will take excellent care of her kid from Malawi. And Angelina seems quite fond of her imported tots. But when you're traveling the world with the expressed intention of collecting a kid from every continent and creating your own "rainbow" family, when you're ready to pick up another'n and you just have to decide "which race would fit best with the kids," you're not a parent - you're a hobbyist, and kids deserve better than that.

Absolutely, if you have the resources to adopt, do so. There are kids all over the world in desperate need of good homes, and a lot of them are right here in the US. Some of them aren't the "cool" kids that look way different from you and make you immediately identifiable as a Doer of Good Deeds. Some of them are scratched and dented and have special needs. But they're all people, human beings, not a kinkaju you can dress up in a little sweater and cuddle for photo ops. It's great to use your celebrity to bring media attention to developing countries, and Angelina has done great things as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, but anyone with the desire to adopt and the wherewithal to travel needs to remember that it's a kid, not a political statement.

Much love,

On tweaking the message

Okay, so a $200-million-a-year contract with a major ad agency has produced the Army's new recruiting slogan, to be launched November 9: "Army Strong."

Anonymous sources with the DoD report that the previous slogan had to be abandoned as recruiting numbers remain weak and an "Army of One" becomes a very real possibility.

Army Strong! Army SMASH!

N/B: None of this is to say that the actual execution is anything short of pretty freaking majestic, but to paraphrase my professor waaaay back in ADPR3110, if it takes you a two-and-a-half-minute-long video with John Williams score to explain your tagline, it's time to rethink your concept.

Friday, October 13, 2006

On Big Denny Hastert: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so Unofficial Practically Harmless Legal Counsel has advised us to hold comment and "wait for the sworn facts" on the Foley scandal and subsequent Hastert coverup. Well, we did, and well we did, too, because we now know for sure and for certain that
[f]ormer Rep. Mark Foley's one-time aide, in the House ethics committee, didn't waver Thursday from his contention that he told the speaker's chief of staff about Foley's approaches to male pages at least three years ago, the witness' lawyer said.

Whew, is that ever a load off! I mean, how embarrassing would it be if, say, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) got up today and is inconsistent in his statement that
...he and then-House clerk Jeff Trandahl confronted Foley in his office last fall after hearing from Hastert's aides about the e-mail. Shimkus said he told Foley to cease all contact with the Louisiana teenager.


If you're interested in the skinny, though, be sure to check out this Media Matters Special Report, where they debunk many of the myths of the Foley scandal, myths like Hastert not knowing about the e-mails until September 29, like Hastert being the one to ask for Foley's resignation, and like Democrats orchestrating the entire scandal as a dirty political trick.

Now, I've said before that I won't be pitching snark about the Foley scandal because I don't think such terrible abuse of authority is a laughing matter. And I still don't. A self-righteously virtuous House Speaker lying like a lying liar and getting called on it? I find hilarious. Especially now that he and Bush are going to be campaigning together.

And that's why this Friday Not-Even-Random-Ten is dedicated to Dennis Hastert. Pants. On. Fire.

But hey, at least they're on. The Ten:

1. Evanescence, "Lies"
2. Howie Day, "Covers"
3. Sting, "Big Lie, Small World"
4. Carmen McRae, "How Long Has This Been Going On"
5. OMD, "Secret"
6. Ohio Players, "Fire"
7. Evelyn "Champagne" King, "Shame"
8. Guster, "Bury Me"
9. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, "Deep Cover"
10. Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, "Time to Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro)"

Your Ten (or whatever) go below.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On unrest in the feminist blogosphere

Okay, so I had a post all prepared (I start so many posts that way, don't I? I just need to start getting these things up as soon as they're written) in response to a current controversy among a few of my favorite feminist blogs, and now it really seems to have gotten beyond me and turned into something big and broad and kind of messy and unpleasant to watch. You know, like Rush Limbaugh.

It all started with this post at Feministe, where Jill quotes Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy. Twisty asserts that the trappings of femininity (marriage, fashion, makeup, the nuclear family, etc.) are merely coping mechanisms that women use to make it through the day in a society dominated by the patriarchy. The passionate discussion thereafter led to this post, wherein Jill defends her position as a "fun feminist." Thus arises what seems to be the biggest and longest-running controversy within the feminist community: Are you still a feminist if you accept some of those patriarchally-imposed trappings of femininity? Jill says you can be.

Over at Pandagon, Amanda questions whether that actually is the case, defining "femininity" as "whatever marks you as a trophy for a man" and therefore identifying it as universally negative, which shifts the argument somewhat from "is it good or bad" to "is it okay that women have yet to throw off the yoke of femininity after all of the progress that has been made". She follows it up with this post about what will happen as women find more and more equality, and whether the burden of femininity will ever really be cast off, and if men becoming more high maintenance is as positive a step as women becoming less high maintenance.

Meanwhile (isn't this starting to sound like a soap opera?), this chick is roudly condemning Jill for being so blatant about her "fun feminism," insisting that she, too, is fun, even without the bikini waxing, and saying that as role model, Jill should be ashamed for promoting the idea that a woman can be a feminist and, at the same time, feminine. Jill responds with this post denying that she is, actually, any kind of a feminist role model and wondering why she should have to forgo her makeup just to look, outwardly, like the feminist her actions prove her to be.

Are you exhausted yet? I am.

All I can think about is Sneetches. They have to have stars. No, now it's better to not have stars. The plain-bellied Sneetches are going through McBean's machine to get stars on, and as soon as the star-bellied Sneetches see that, they're going through to get their stars off, and they end up going around and around and around until nobody knows who had stars to begin with, and McBean takes off, and what have they accomplished? Nothing.

Because what's the advantage to having stars or not having stars? Nothing.

Sweet leaping Jesus. Is this really what we need to spend our time worrying about? Seriously? Is the state of Jill's pubic hair worth this many angry words? On the grand cosmic list of patriarchal oppression thrust upon women throughout the ages, are makeup and high heels enough to risk some kind of schism within the movement? Will we soon have to start identifying ourselves as "Schick Feminists" and "Fuzzy Feminists"?

A few things that are yet to be resolved:
- The gender wage gap, which still exists
- Reproductive freedom, which women have yet to secure
- Honor killings in Turkey
- The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan
- Violence against women in Darfur
- Effective, accurate sex education
- Or maybe we could just sit a spell and talk about the recent assassination of writer Anna Politkovskaya.

But no. You're right. It doesn't matter whether or not women live in poverty and can't afford shoes, as long as when they manage to steal a pair, they're not high heels.

Allow me to give some advice to my feminist sistren: Go put on some makeup. Or don't put on makeup. Shave your legs, or alternately, don't shave your legs. Put on a dress, or some pants, or some men's jeans, or a kilt, or a tablecloth with a hole cut out of the top for your head. Wear heels, or flats, or go barefoot. Straighten your hair, or wear it curly, or curl your straight hair, or braid it, or loc it. Blow dry. Don't blow dry. Tattoo or don't tattoo. Get something pierced. Remain unpierced.

But for the love of God, don't go around thinking that the outfit you have on your back makes you a feminist.

Feminism is about your thoughts and feelings and actions. Campaigning for a Congressional candidate who is knowledgeable about and active with women's issues? Awesome; that's feminism. Donating money to feminist organizations? That's feminism, too. Speak to young women about your work in a male-dominated career. Show your daughters - and sons, too - that it's not okay for Daddy to talk down to you or smack you around. Babysit for a single mother so she can go to night classes. Teach your sons (or other people's sons) that women are equals and should be treated as such. Coach girls' soccer. Encourage your math-oriented daughter. Teach Sex Ed. Be a Big Sister. Take your daughter to work. Take someone else's daughter to work. Teach a guy to cook. Fuzzy Feminist? Teah girls that that's okay. Schick Feminist? Use those benefits you gain by conforming to the patriarchal standard and do something good for everyone.

The women in my life have been an incredible influence. My mom wears makeup and skirts. One aunt doesn't do the makeup, but loves a dress. One aunt doesn't do the makeup or the dress. My grandmother does not only the skirt, but the lacy blouse, too. But all of them have taught me about feminism, because all of them are strong, smart, capable women. My mom has worked, but now stays at home to raise my father (which, bless his heart, is a full-time job). Looking at her in a dress and cute little heels, you'd never know how well she can sling a sledgehammer to put up a barbed-wire fence. My grandmother is accepted as an expert in the field of military medical history. My one aunt is a hydro-freaking-geologist, and my other aunt is more tech savvy than most of the men I know (and gets paid for it). I feel really blessed to be able to look to these as my example of how to be a woman.

But it's not because of what they wear.

I realize that for those women who choose to eschew traditionally "feminine" things, who don't shave and don't wear heels and don't primp, life would be easier if the rest of the women in the world did the same. I don't want to seem unsympathetic, but honestly, that's your choice. I congratulate on doing what feels right to you, and I condemn anyone who would treat you differently because of it. But now I'm doing what feels right to me. I'm not asking that anyone else do it. I'm not even asking that anyone else be happy about it.

What I am asking, though, is that people quit freaking bitching about it when there are so many other important things to do.

I promise, when the world is free of oppression and women everywhere have access to education and healthcare and jobs and compensation the same way that men do, then you can start lecturing me about my makeup. I might even listen.

On being big and strong and oh, so manly, and can I touch your bicep? Oh! It's huge...

Okay, so I find myself, from time to time, poking my head into the AJC's "Woman to Woman" column to see what Shaunti Feldhahn and Diane Glass are arguing about this week. It's been a while, though, and I can't believe I managed to miss this when it came around at the end of September: Should men still be expected to protect women?

The column itself is nothing new or profound ("Men are warriors and genetically predisposed to help women!" "Not so much, Blanche DuBois!"), but I thought it fit quite nicely with a post over at Feministe referencing comments at a post by Dawn Eden (to whom I'm loathe to link, because the girl makes my skin crawl). The commenter asserted that feminists have conspired to take the manliness out of men and the fatherliness out of fathers, and good men are predisposed to protect women, and something about boys having to pee sitting down, and that's why girls got shot up in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

He went on to add:
Women, as a rule, are weaker and smaller. Many of them also want to “do it on their own and not be protected by some patriarchial man”. That’s well and good, but bad men exist. Bad men prey on unprotected women. Women have a couple of choices to live with this reality.

1. Get a gun, a permit to carry concealed, learn how to use it. I like to see all women armed like this.

2. Stop disuading good men from giving into their protective instincts and allow them to help you.

This male chauvanist pig will jump to the defense of any woman who is in trouble. If I come across someone attempting to rape a woman, I will immediately try and help her, putting my safety and possibly my life on the line.

However, if a woman wants to act like a man, I will treat her like a man. Basically meaning that I will not insult her by getting involved in something she can handle herself without being asked.

I write, on occasion, about the subtle impositions of the patriarchy on women in modern society, but rarely are we given so explicit an ultimatum: Act the way a good girl should, or go ahead and get raped and see if I help.

First of all, allow me to confront the assertion that men are simultaneously genetically programmed to protect women and so fragile in their own masculinity that the sight of a woman in pants is enough to send them on a Falling Down: Find a middle ground. I'm not comfortable with the idea of a world full of men who either see me as a delicate flower who must be carried across puddles or as a moving target. It's my experience that both extremes are symptoms of "little man" syndrome - and I'm not talking about Napoleon. Men who truly are secure in their masculinity generally don't need to engage in ostentatious shows of chivalry, nor do they harbor any kind of seething resentment against an entire gender. Usually, they show women the kind of respect that any human being, man or woman, rightly deserves.

"if a woman wants to act like a man, I will treat her like a man" is just another sign of this false dichotomy. The commenter offers as the only two options being a man and fitting into his ideal of a woman (that being the aforementioned delicate flower). And he further seems to indicate that someone who happens to be a man is therefore unworthy of his help or attention. You kind of get the idea that if he were out with friends and one of his buddies got jumped, he'd just stand by watching, and say afterward, "Man, I was all about to jump in there, but I didn't want to get in your way."

Here's an idea, and it may be just crazy talk: Help anyone who needs it. Man, woman, feminist, effete, straight, gay, giant, midget, anyone. If you see a woman getting raped, don't stand there a moment, trying to determine if her choice of pants rather than a skirt is a sign of her personal politics - do something, dummy! If you see a guy being robbed and beaten down in alley, don't pause to wonder, "If I go and help him, will he consider it a slur against his masculinity?" Do something, dummy! If you see someone struggling with an armload of packages so tall that you can't even tell if it's a man or a woman, just open the damn door already, because the person obviously doesn't have a free hand to do it for him/herself.

I'm a capable person. I'm fairly tall, as women go, and my build is definitely more of a Kate Winslet than a Kate Bosworth. I can lift heavy things, solve moderately difficult math problems, drive stick, and handle a samurai sword with reasonable competency. I live alone, walk at night on occasion, and feel fairly safe doing so. Yes, I could, for the sake of those Manly Men who want women to fit their dictates for appropriate femininity, choose to live at home, or I could have married young so that I would have a protector around. But why should I be expected to give up my sense of self-reliance just so that they don't get all teeny-peeny at the thought of an independent woman? And why should that sense of self-reliance make me any less worthy of help than a man in a similar situation?

Shaunti cites, as a sign of men's natural instinct to protect they women, the "women and children first" rule on the Titanic. Sure, only 20 percent of the men survived, as opposed to nearly 70 percent of the women. But the survivors were making it out in half-full lifeboats full of rich people, whereas three-quarters of the folks in third class were Jackcicles. I'm sure they would have appreciated some "natural protective instincts" as they watched the rich people float away (which they wouldn't have done, obviously, because they were dead already).

I would never expect help from anyone, man or woman, but I always appreciate the offer. If someone says, "Let me get that for you," and I can get it myself, I'll usually say, "Oh, thanks, but I've got it." When someone holds a door for me, I don't mind, because I generally hold doors for other people. It's the polite alternative to letting it slam closed and break their nose. It has nothing to do with who's bigger or stronger; it's simply a matter of being polite and everyone doing what they can to look out for everyone else.

Here's the solution to this entire mess: Men, please, please, pleasepleasepleaseplease develop a sense of masculinity independent of the corresponding femininity of the people around you. Seriously, it has to stop. If your fragile man-ego depends on some little girlie-girl cooing around to make you feel like a big swinger or some MGD-fueled bar brawl, you will spend your entire life pretending to be a man. Or, alternately, a two-term president of the United States.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On justice and forgiveness

Okay, so I spend as little time wallowing through the slag heap that is Townhall as I can. TBogg, however, is a braver man than I, and what a stink he's tracked back into the house:
Undeserved forgiveness
By Jeff Jacoby

“There was not one desk, not one chair, in the whole schoolroom that was not splattered with either blood or glass. There were bullet holes everywhere -- everywhere.”

That description is from Janice Ballenger, a deputy coroner in Lancaster County, Pa. She was among the first to enter the West Nickel Mines Amish School after Charles Roberts murdered five girls and severely wounded five others there last week. One of the bodies she examined was that of Naomi Rose Ebersol , a 7-year-old who had been shot more than 20 times. "Kneeling next to the body and counting all the bullet holes," a shaken Ballinger said, "was the worst part."

How do civilized human beings react to such an atrocity? With horror? Anger? Hatred?

Not the Amish.

Asked by a reporter if the community was angry about the killings, one Amish grandmother, Lizzie Fisher, was adamant. “Oh, no, no, definitely not,” she said. “People don't feel that around here. We just don't.”


Confronted with such premeditated malevolence, what decent person wouldn't seethe with fury and revulsion? What parent or grandparent wouldn't regard such a massacre as not only unspeakable, but well nigh unforgivable?

The Amish wouldn't.

“I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive,” one Lancaster County resident was quoted as saying. “We don't need to think about judgment; we need to think about forgiveness and going on.” Many townspeople announced their forgiveness of Roberts directly to his wife and children.


To voluntarily forgive those who have hurt you is beautiful and praiseworthy. That is what Jesus did on the cross, what Christians do when they say the Lord's Prayer, what observant Jews do when they recite the bedtime Kriat Sh'ma. But to forgive those who have hurt -- who have murdered -- someone else? I cannot see how the world is made a better place by assuring someone who would do terrible things to others that he will be readily forgiven afterward, even if he shows no remorse.

There are indications that the killer in this case may have been in the grip of depression or delusion -- he left suicide notes that spoke of unrelenting grief over his infant daughter's death, and of being tormented by dreams of molesting girls. Perhaps it was madness more than evil that drove him to commit this horror, in which case forgiveness might be more understandable.

But the Amish make it clear that their reaction would be the same either way. I wish them well, but I would not want to be like them, reacting to terrible crimes with dispassion and absolution. “Let those who love the Lord hate evil,” the Psalmist writes . The murder of the Amish girls was a deeply hateful evil. There is nothing godly about pretending it wasn't.

Or, in other words, "The Amish can't really care about those kids, or else they'd be more pissed off. Why do the Amish hate America?"

Now, I, like Jeff Jacoby, admire the Amish (or, judging from that column, I probably admire them a little bit more than he does), and similarly, I recognize that I could only aspire to living like that. They devote their lives to nonviolence and forgiveness. I try to forgive, and I'm less violent than I used to be, and I'm more likely to sit home and plot elaborate and protracted revenge scenarios than I am to actually go out and engage in even the simplest. But I realize that their philosophy is an ideal.

The reason that Jeff Jacoby doesn't dig the Amish is that they reject the one thing that the country is drinking like nickel PBR right now: revenge. They don't do it. They don't even do self-defense, which may or may not be a philosophy for the rest of the world, but they certainly don't do revenge. They do do punishment, in their own nonviolent way, but they recognize a difference between punishment and revenge, and they don't do revenge.

Now more than ever, Americans love revenge. We've got our system of justice all set up, and we're going to juice it from "punishment, correction, and rehabilitation" all the way up to "you're going to rue the day you stepped over the line and you're going to wake up screaming," and it's going to be sweet! We like torture. We're holding on to the death penalty with both hands and most of our teeth. You're not just going to pay for your crime, you're going to pay for your crime, boy, and it's gonna be with skin.

Isn't that really what's going on in the Middle East right now? We were attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11, and the country (for the most part) rallied around plans to go into Afghanistan, find the guys who did it, and take them out, one way or another. And that's justice, right? I think it is; it's no more than the police do in response for a murder.

But then Afghanistan started getting boring. Osama And Friends were really hard to find. We were hungry for justice, but our meal was still back in the kitchen. So we kept ordering drinks, ate as much bread as we could stomach, and finally got up and went next door to... Iraq.

Iraq was hot, fresh, and ready to go. We went in there with shock and awe, brushed off the distinct lack of flowers and candy, arrested some folks, destroyed some infrastructure, pulled Saddam Hussein out of a spider hole, and expected to be satisfied. But we weren't, why?

Because that wasn't justice.

Justice was next door. Justice involved finding those responsible for repeated attacks on our country and our country's interests, assets, and people, and we hadn't done that. We'd gone and torn things up in a country that, don't get me wrong, wasn't doing any good for the rest of the world. But Iraq wasn't justice. It was just being pissed off, seeing that guy who'd bugged you all through high school, and beating him down because you already had the baseball bat and you happened to be in the neighborhood. And all that does is get you really bloody and bruised with your original goal still unmet.

The Amish know that. They know that holding onto anger and hatred only makes you an angry and hateful person, particularly when the object of that anger and hatred is dead and outside the reaches of worldly justice. Forgiveness isn't about anyone but us. It doesn't mean that what the other party did was okay, and it doesn't mean that the other person isn't subject to justice; it just means that we won't let it turn us into people we don't want to be.

How does this translate to the situation in the Middle East right now? Well, we sure as hell don't want to forget what happened on 9/11. Remaining "hungry for justice" in that respect is undoubtedly a good thing. And far be it from me to call on anyone else to forgive; that's the sort of thing that happens in its own time, unique to every situation, and I certainly struggle with it myself.

But we need to remember that we're there for justice, not revenge. Obviously, we went into Iraq for the wrong reasons, but we're there now and have to stay until it's reasonably fixed (or definitively unfixable). If we're really there to fix things, our approach and our outcome will be significantly different than if we're there to show the little camel jockeys that they can't fuck with the U-S-of-A. As Iran starts trying to present itself as a potential nuclear threat (currently somewhat overshadowed by North Korea in that respect), our approach, and our outcome, will be different if our goal is to neutralize them as a threat and secure our own safety than if we're looking to teach Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not to flex nuts.

In Afghanistan (well, we're actually thinking more in Pakistan at this point), our goal could be catching Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the first place. I'm just throwing out ideas here.

The Amish have a philosophy that works for them, but wouldn't necessarily translate well to the rest of the industrialized, modernized world. But that doesn't mean that we can't (or shouldn't) try to learn from them. Asking us not to defend ourselves and each other is... much. It's human nature and animal instinct. But what we can do is approach that self-defense from the perspective of utility, of doing what is necessary to keep us safe and bring things into balance without letting hatred and vengeance turn us into the same kind of people we're fighting against.

Friday, October 06, 2006

On the Georgia Bulldogs: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so I realize that Doug got there first, and I do want you to make it over there for his views on Saturday's Georgia-Tennessee game. I think it's going to be a corker, and I firmly believe (and I'm not an optimist, now) that Georgia can pull it off as long as they really commit to playing football in the first second of the first quarter, rather than napping/slacking/screwing up through the entire first half and then scrambling like mad to make up.

Come on, guys. Doug only has so many expandable appliances.

Doug has some good advice for the Dawgs, namely for the defense to keep doin' what they doin' and for the offense to get in the freaking game already, and for Coach Richt (may his towels always be soft and fluffy even when he forgets the fabric softener) to have a little more consistency with his QBs. I personally would like to see Mark (may he find a twenty in a pair of pants he hasn't worn since last fall) calling things a little less conservatively; if you're worried about the strength of T3's arm, give him linesmen who'll give him time to set up, and if you're worried about Stafford's lack of control on long balls, give him a receiver who'll be under the ball when he throws it long. It's a cliche, I know, but expect great things of these guys, and you'll get great results, 'cause they're cool like that.

Now, for the record, I'm just a caveman. Your world frightens and confuses me. But everyone is entitled to their own backseat coaching once in a while, so here's mine:
Give JoeT3 a big hug and send him out onto the field. Line him up with Daniel Inman and Ken Shackleford, and tell them that their future with the team depends on the number of orange helmets they're able to bring back to the locker room. Put Martrez Milner and Danny Ware out where Joe can see 'em, then give the ball to Kregg Lumpkin.

I like the strategy to give him a half and a possession to really find a rhythm. Should that rhythm not be forthcoming, I'd want Matt Stafford overthrowing to someone who can overrun him, and to me, that means Thomas Brown or A.J. Bryant. Ideally, though, I'd say give the ball to Kregg Lumpkin.

Ginger Joe Cox, bless his heart, I'd pump full of beta blockers and tell him to give the ball to... Well, you get it.

And while I'm here, can I just say that the brilliant idea of shortening games by starting the clock as soon as the ball is marked for play after a change of possession is brilliant on the scale of New Coke and "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire"? Call me crazy, but an ideal way to shorten a football game is probably not so much to spend less time playing football but maybe - just maybe - to quit stopping the game so viewers at home can hear this very special message from Papa John's.


Anyway, for a game like this one, a Bonus Friday Not-Even-Random Ten is in order, and this one is dedicated to the 2006 Georgia Bulldogs and to Coach Richt (may his Vegas exploits forever remain in Vegas). Sniff. I love y'all! Tear their heads off, guys.

1. The Charlie Daniels Band, "The Devil Came Down to Georgia"
2. Lo-Fidelity Allstars, "Battle Flag"
3. Q-Tip, "Go Hard"
4. Big Audio Dynamite, "Rush"
5. Gorillaz, "Rock the House"
6. Cake, "The Distance"
7. Queen, "Don't Stop Me Now"
8. 311, "Strong All Along"
9. Guster, "The Prize"
10. Kaiser Chiefs, "I Predict a Riot"

Your Ten, your weekend football predictions, your whatever go below.

On the Alabama state legislature: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so just as I start pondering the vagaries of Alabama law regarding, ahem, "personal massagers" and the like, Amanda over at Pandagon brings us this humorous and funny segment from The Dildo Diaries addressing Texas blue laws. As you watch, enjoy the clever asides by Molly Ivins, the distinction between someone with "intention to distribute" and a "hobbyist," and the wide available varieties of "educational models" and "personal masssagers."

Be sure to watch to the end to see why this is illegal in the state of Texas:

Anyway, this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten is dedicated to those hard workers who look out for our immortal souls by restricting us to fewer than six "personal massagers" at a time.

The Ten:

1. Hank Jones, "First Came Woman"
2. Norah Jones, "Turn Me On"
3. Busta Rhymes, "Ill Vibe"
4. A Tribe Called Quest, "Electric Relaxation"
5. Skunk Anansie, "Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good)"
6. Paul Oakenfold, "What It Feels Like for a Girl"
7. Duran Duran, "Come Undone"
8. Snoop Doggy Dogg, "What's My Name"
9. 311, "Come Original"
10. The Temptations, "Treat Her Like a Lady"

Honorable Mentions:
Annie Sellick, "Comes Love"
Save Ferris, "Come On Eileen"
Sting, "Fill Her Up"

Your Ten go - Wait, on second thought, I don't even want to know.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On six girls

Okay, so there's been plenty of coverage lately (up until Dennis Hastert's job started looking endangered, anyway) of the recent school shootings in Colorado and Pennsylvania. Discussions of school safety dominate the conversation, the news media ponder what causes a person to snap, comparisons to Columbine are made (the father of one of the Columbine victims was even invited to speak during CBS News's nightly "Free Speech" segment, during which he blamed the recent shootings on abortion and evolution), and as is so frequently the case, patterns are completely ignored.

The shooter in Colorado, a homeless man named Duane Morrison, singled out the girls and molested several before killing one of them and then committing suicide; he had approached a student at the school on the day of the attack and asked about the identities of some of the female students. In Pennsylvania, a milk truck driver again released the boys and adults and tied the girls up in front of the blackboard before shooting them and then killing himself; in a note he left for his wife, he said that he had dreamed of reenacting a molestation he had committed twenty years before, and items he brought to the schoolhouse indicated that he might have been planning to do just that.

These shootings weren't Columbine. The shooters weren't teenage outcasts in trench coats taking out their frustrations on the classmates that they blamed for their misery. And they didn't line up adults at the blackboard, or molest male students. The killers were grown men, and whatever psychosis or personal issues they were dealing with, they took them out on girls. They gathered weapons and restraints, entered a school, released the boys and adults, and then did horrible, awful things to girls.

If anything, these shootings seem to follow more closely the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Marc Lepine, a 25-year-old man, was denied admission to the engineering school at the École and blamed his rejection on feminists. His suicide note mentioned "the feminists who have ruined my life"; in revenge, he took the lives of 14 women and injured nine more, along with four men.

On the surface, it's easy to understand why girls, specifically, would be victimized. Traditionally, girls have been considered weaker, more delicate, and less likely to fight back, and a killer hoping to make a point or draw a lot of attention by attacking these archetypically innocent victims. But that's not the only, or at least not the entire, explanation. In Montreal, Lepine blamed felt that he'd been wronged all his life - but rather than focusing his anger on those who he believed had wronged him, he took his revenge on women as a gender, whatever women he could get his hands on. In Pennsylvania, Charles Carl Roberts apparently recalled a molestation he'd committed when he was 12 (an incident which neither of his purported victims remembers) and chose a schoolfull of young Amish girls to relive the memory.

I've mentioned in the past about how women don't always have the luxury of a sense of unique personhood. So frequently, the actions of a woman as an individual are criticized for their potential effects on women as a gender and on the cause of feminism, and debates about "choice feminism" and "bowing to the patriarchy" rage. Past weeks and years have underscored that as individual women bear not just the weight of their own actions, but now the burden of every perceived sin that a woman has ever committed against a man.

In the Pennsylvania shootings, we're assured repeatedly that the killer had nothing against the Amish. In the Colorado shootings, we're assured that the killer had no connection to the high school. In both cases, the killers segregated and victimized girls, and it's never addressed beyond a passing mention. We can talk about school safety, about gun control, about a culture of violence and Godlessness and disrespect for life. But when the most blatant misogyny imaginable stares us in the face in the form of six dead girls, it barely warrants mention.

On abuse of authority

Okay, so I deal in snark. It's my stock in trade. But I get the feeling that my propensity for snark has diluted the message somewhat on a recent post, and I wanted to make things perfectly clear.

Former Representative Mark Foley has admitted to sending sexually explicit e-mails and IMs to a page under his authority. When those exchanges started, the page had not reached his 18th birthday. Additionally, Foley's toward pages - pages, plural - has been going on for three years, if not longer.

Let me further clarify: If Mark Foley were sending sexually explicit e-mails to female pages, he would still be sending sexually explicit e-mails to teenagers. And not just that, but sending sexually explicit e-mails to teenagers under his authority.
"We will make you successful," Foley promised, "as long as you don't mind me grabbing your [deleted] once in a while."

This. Is. Not. Okay.

It is not okay for a 52-year-old member of Congress to send sexually explicit e-mails to teenaged pages. Period. Full stop. I don't care what gender you are, I don't care what party you are. If you are in a position of authority, you do not send sexually explicit messages to teenagers under your authority. While many aspects of this scandal are open for debate, that one is unequivocally not. And one more time, just for those of you who might have missed it:

It is not okay for a member of Congress to send sexually explicit e-mails to teenaged pages.

If you disagree with the above statement, you need to find another blog to frequent, because we have nothing to talk about.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On the fundie-mentals of reading: an update

Okay, so just when you thought it was safe to go back in the library, Loganville fundie mom Laura Mallory is back, now bitching to the state Board of Education that Gwinnett County won't let her parent everyone else's kids.

For those of you unlucky enough to live outside the range of the all-loony-all-the-time coverage since September of 2005, Mallory is a Gwinnett County mother of three who is outraged that her childrens' school won't remove all Harry Potter books from the media center just a-'cause she said so. Although she hasn't actually read any of the books in question, she's, like, totally heard a ton about them, and she knows they promote witchcraft and will give her kids the ability to cast spells on her and stuff, because books can do that, and you don't even know.

J.C. Magill Elementary opted to keep the books despite the obvious threat to the immortal souls of the students there, a district-wide media panel and then the Gwinnett County school board acted with similar disregard to their students' moral code, and should the state Board of Education prove thusly irresponsible, Mallory does have the option of appealing to Gwinnett Superior Court. Which I really hope she does. Because the scourge of children reading books and using their imaginations and thinking thoughts must stop now.

Won't someone think of the children?

On the fundie-mentals of reading
On Laura Mallory: This Is Your Soundtrack
On offending me with your mere existence
On the reintroduction of rational thought
On not leaving well enough afreakinglone