Tuesday, December 30, 2003

High Precision at the Associated Press

"JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Indonesian villagers claim to have captured a python that is almost 49.21 feet long and weighs nearly 992.07 pounds, a local official said Monday."

This demonstrates the nonsense of using a calculator to translate approximate metric units to english units for American consumption. The Associated Press would have been better off describing the snake as "almost 15 meters long" and "nearly 450 kilograms" rather than treating us to the faux-precision of their conversions. Alternately, they could have reported "almost 50 feet long" and "nearly 1000 pounds" and conveyed the same information in a less conflicting manner.
Old Haunts

We visited Ridgewood, New Jersey over the holidays. The best part of these trips is going back to some of our favorite places from 20 years (or more) ago. This trip saw visits to McSorley's Old Ale House in New York, the Great Falls in Paterson, and a run on the old "Lower Cross" course, a favorite from high school days.

McSorley's hasn't changed (if it did it wouldn't be McSorley's, I suppose). It was, however, amazingly crowded at 1:00 PM on the Friday after Christmas. I ended up standing at the bar, in a corner by the front window. The ale, onions, and cheese were all just as I remembered. The winter sun, low in the sky, poured in the windows and warmed everyone all the way to the back room. The payphone by the door, which is the only number listed in the phone book, rang occassionally, and a fellow beer-drenched patron in the adjacent seat picked it up and dispensed important information, like hours of operation and directions. I was reminded of the time my friend Jack sat in the same chair and took "reservations" for later that night. He was about to tell the guy that McSorley's doesn't take reservations, when he proudly announced "you'll know me - I'll be the guy with TWO fabulous women." That was too much hubris to take, so Jack promised him a special table in the back at 7:30. We didn't wait around to see the look on his face when he arrived and the bartender surely pointed to the payphone. Happily, in the spirit of the season, the bartender presented me with a free 2004 calendar, commemorating 150 years of continuous service.

The Great Falls in Paterson is a very interesting place. With the second-greatest volume of any waterfall east of the Mississippi, it can be a very impressive sight. Alexander Hamilton considered the falls an industrial opportunity, and had Pierre L'Enfant, the designer of Washington, DC, lay out a water raceway to divert some of the water around the falls. Factories were then built along the raceway, using the flowing water to generate power for manufacturing machinery. Over the years, locomotives, Colt revolvers, and silk fabrics were all manufactured in the area. It has since fallen into disrepair, but a historic preservation group is attempting to restore the area as a tourist attraction.

"Lower Cross," named after the road at the three mile mark, was our most-often run route in high school cross country. The six mile course passes a convent at about 3 miles, and has a steep hill shortly thereafter. Lacking hills in Norfolk, that upgrade was pretty painful. The dash diagonally across the intersection in Hohokus was also more daunting than it seemed 25 years ago. Incidently, I finally discovered that Hohokus was named for the Chihohokies Indians, who lived nearby.

Monday, December 22, 2003


A memo entitled "Christmas Warning" was recently distributed by the Central Michigan University's affirmative action office. In an effort help people "celebrate Christmas without offense," the office offered the following suggestion:
"Good ideas for decorations during this time are snowflakes, snowpeople, poinsettias to give a feeling of winter."
Have we really reached the point where we can't describe an anthropomorphic pile of snow as a "snowman?"
Condition Orange

With the Terror Alert system raised to "Orange," it seems a good time to reflect on what another 9/11 level attack would mean.

Given the level of destruction incurred over two years ago, one could argue that the United States has been relatively restrained in its response. Certainly, we have ventured farther afield militarily than we did during the Clinton administration, but as Senator Hillary said, September 11 gave us a will and resolve that was absent during her husband's years (although I believe a similar will and resolve could have been harnessed after the first WTC bombing in 1993, had the president shown some courage and not treated it as a law enforcement problem).

So far, we have deposed tyranical regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Khaddafi in Libya, having witnessed our resolve to rid the world of terror, has come crawling to the table lest he suffer a similar fate. Still, I believe the world has only seen the tip of the spear. Should another attack of the scale and "effectiveness" of 9/11 occur on these shores, I would expect to see shock and awe of a scale not yet contemplated. The sleeping giant has been nudged, but is not yet fully awake.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Useless UN

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, addressed the United Nations Security Council yesterday and had this to say:
"Settling scores with the United States-led coalition should not be at the cost of helping to bring stability to the Iraqi people. Squabbling over political differences takes a back seat to the daily struggle for security, jobs, basic freedoms and all the rights the U.N. is chartered to uphold. The United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years, and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure. The U.N. must not fail the Iraqi people again.Your help and expertise cannot be effectively delivered from Cyprus or Amman."
So how did the Security Council respond to this call to put aside the petty bickering and actually DO SOMETHING in Iraq?
  • Secretary General Kofi Annan: "Now is not the time to pin blame and point fingers."
  • French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere: "I don't want to comment on the past."
  • Can anyone imagine a more useless, impotent body than the United Nations Security Council? Confronted with a direct challenge to help the Iraqi people, they scramble around covering their own behinds for failing to do so sooner.

    Any suggestion that we need approval from these waffling, unaccountable diplomats to engage in international action is answered by the United Nations' failure to do anything in support of millions of brutalized people.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2003

    The New Religion

    Author Michael Crichton recently gave an interesting speech regarding the environmental movement:
    "I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can't be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.

    "Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

    "There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe."
    Having demonstrated the religious nature of the environmental movement, Crichton goes on to demonstrate its blind faith:
    "You may have noticed that something has been left off the doomsday list, lately. Although the preachers of environmentalism have been yelling about population for fifty years, over the last decade world population seems to be taking an unexpected turn. Fertility rates are falling almost everywhere. As a result, over the course of my lifetime the thoughtful predictions for total world population have gone from a high of 20 billion, to 15 billion, to 11 billion (which was the UN estimate around 1990) to now 9 billion, and soon, perhaps less. There are some who think that world population will peak in 2050 and then start to decline. There are some who predict we will have fewer people in 2100 than we do today. Is this a reason to rejoice, to say halleluiah? Certainly not. Without a pause, we now hear about the coming crisis of world economy from a shrinking population. We hear about the impending crisis of an aging population. Nobody anywhere will say that the core fears expressed for most of my life have turned out not to be true. As we have moved into the future, these doomsday visions vanished, like a mirage in the desert. They were never there---though they still appear, in the future. As mirages do.

    "Okay, so, the preachers made a mistake. They got one prediction wrong; they're human. So what. Unfortunately, it's not just one prediction. It's a whole slew of them. We are running out of oil. We are running out of all natural resources. Paul Ehrlich: 60 million Americans will die of starvation in the 1980s. Forty thousand species become extinct every year. Half of all species on the planet will be extinct by 2000. And on and on and on."
    It is a very interesting speech and worthy of a complete read.

    Monday, December 15, 2003

    Who's Irresponsible?

    I drove to work this morning on Tidewater Drive, a small but direct local four lane road. Along the eight mile route, Tidewater passes through "working-class" (whatever that means) residential neighborhoods, small-scale retail corridors, several schools, a housing project, and a post office.

    As I drove along, moving with traffic at about 45 MPH in the 40 MPH zone, I saw in my rearview mirror a red Honda Prelude, zigzagging and tailgaiting through the traffic behind me. Eventually, the Honda came up behind my Jeep, closed to within a couple feet of my back bumper, swerved to the right, flew past me, zigged left within a couple feet of my front bumper, and sped ahead, continuing to move through traffic in the same pattern. As it passed, I saw three bumper stickers: "Stop the Ecocide," "Liberate Laboratory Animals," and "Say No to Fur."

    Now, I have no idea of the ultimate destination of this idealogue, or the reason for his/her eratic driving. It is easy to imagine, however, the driver of this car pulling into PETA headquarters in downtown Norfolk, running into work (maybe 5 minutes late) and sitting down to write an op-ed piece about the danger posed by people like me, who insist on driving "dangerous" sport utility vehicles.

    Wouldn't it be interesting to see a study (federally funded, of course) comparing the danger posed by responsible, law abiding SUV drivers to that posed by self-important activists racing to work so that they can resume saving the world?

    Thursday, December 11, 2003

    Iraqi Protests

    Dr. Walid Phares, writing for FrontPage Magazine has this description of an Iraqi "protest" in Baghdad
    Almost 20,000 men and women - twice the number reported by al-Jazeera - marched across central Baghdad, while others repeated the move in different cities of Mesopotamia yesterday. The demonstrators, from all walks of life and from all religions and ethnicities of Iraq, shouted one slogan in Arabic: "La' la' lil irhab. Na'am, na'am lil dimucratiya." That is: "No, no to terrorism. Yes, yes to Democracy!" . . .While the underdogs are barking freely in the streets of Baghdad, challenging the Ba'athist shadows and the jihadist terrorists, human rights and democracy groups in the West lack the courage to come to the rescue of their fellow progressive forces in the Middle East. As a group of Iraqi students told me, "Isn't it terrible to see that Western elites came here to demonstrate in support of Saddam against the Coalition, and when we took the streets to demonstrate against the Saddam war crimes, they didn't show up?"
    Meanwhile, Iraqi blogger Zayed had this to say:
    The rallies today proved to be a major success. I didn't expect anything even close to this. It was probably the largest demonstration in Baghdad for months. It wasn't just against terrorism. It was against Arab media, against the interference of neighbouring countries, against dictatorships, against Wahhabism, against oppression, and of course against the Ba'ath and Saddam. . . Some people recognized a reporter from Al-Arabiyah station and they started taunting him. One old man shouted to him "For once, speak the truth".
    Finally, Omar has a list of signs carried at the protest
  • No to terrorism, no to Saddam, yes to peace
  • No to the Ba'athists, no to the terrorists, yes to democracy
  • Dictatorship will never return
  • Bribed Arab channels; shame on you to show terrorism as resistance
  • Sunni and Shia are united to build Iraq
  • Stop using religion and nationalism to justify terrorism
  • Islam is against violence and terrorism
  • Al-Jazeera+al-Arabiya = terrorism
  • Thank you IP (Iraqi Police)
  • How sad that we were not regaled with coverage of this in the West. We are grimly informed of every heinous act by the so-called "resistance," but when 20,000 Iraqis turn out in protest of the insurgents, nothing. How can we, in a democratic republic, form our opinions on US foreign policy without appropriate information? If these brave souls are willing to march through Baghdad in support of a peaceful, democratic existence, aren't we obligated to help them find it?

    Tuesday, December 09, 2003

    Dean / Gore / Clinton / Politics

    It's hard to know what to make of today's Al Gore endorsement of Howard Dean. Certainly the pundits are zooming off in a lot of directions.

    Clifford May thinks Al Gore seeking to wrest control of the party from the Clintons, setting himself up for a position as Secretary of State in the Dean administration.

    Dick Morris agrees with May, adding Dean has pummeled avery Clinton-backed candidate in the field. Morris sees Gore's move as one of opportunity, while May seems to feel it is more calculated than that.

    David Frum thinks Gore is setting up the party for a catastrophic defeat in 2004, setting up Gore as the "go-to" guy in 2008.

    Carl Limbacher posits that Gore intends his endorsement as a slap in the face to the Clintons over bad feelings dating back to Hillary's demand in that the Vice President give his White House office to her. Limbacher thinks Gore might also be trying to set himself up for deal-cutting should the 2004 Convention deadlock.

    Regardless of the underlying politics, it is undeniably a blow to Joe Lieberman, who was informed of the endorsement by the media. After Lieberman waited to join the race, allowing that he didn't want to run against his former running mate, Gore didn't even offer the courtesy of a phone call before aligning himself with Lieberman's opponent.
    A Sad Anniversary

    22 years ago today, Mumia Abu Jamal killed police officer Daniel Faulkner. Today, Abu Jamal is the hero of the bleeding heart left, while Faulkner is nearly forgotten. Next time you read about some celebrity-led "Free Mumia" event consider the following:

    As a member of the Black Panthers, Jamal called for a "black revolution" and stated that "power grows from the barrel of a gun."

    Five eyewitnesses, within minutes of the shooting, gave substantially identical accounts of the incident, and each identified Abu Jamal as the assailant. One eyewitness, less than thirt feet from the scene testified that Abu Jamal knelt down so that he could fire his final shot directly into the wounded officers face from less than a foot away.

    Three of these witnesses personally identified Abu Jamal as the shooter. They didn't just pick him out by appearance, they identified him by name.

    Jamal was apprehended 10 feet from the scene of the shooting. The gun found next to him was owned by Jamal and registered in his name. The gun contained five spent casings identical in brand, caliber, and type to bullets retrieved from Officer Faulkner's brain. The rifling characteristics of the bullets in Officer Faulkner matched the characteristics of Jamal's gun.

    William Cook, Jamal's brother (who Officer Faulkner was trying to arrest at the time), was an eyewitness to the shooting. To this day, he has not testified that someone other than his brother was the assailant, nor has he proclaimed his brother's innocence.

    During his trial, when Officer Faulkner's blood-stained shirt was displayed in evidence, Jamal turned and grinned the officer's widow.

    Free Mumia indeed.

    Thursday, December 04, 2003


    The Washington Post, in a breathless new revelation, has revealed that the turkey President Bush was photographed holding in Baghdad was - get this - merely decorative!

    "But as a small sign of the many ways the White House maximized the impact of the 21/2-hour stop at the Baghdad airport, administration officials said yesterday that Bush picked up a decoration, not a serving plate.

    Officials said they did not know the turkey would be there or that Bush would pick it up. A contractor had roasted and primped the turkey to adorn the buffet line, while the 600 soldiers were served from cafeteria-style steam trays, the officials said. They said the bird was not placed there in anticipation of Bush's stealthy visit, and military sources said a trophy turkey is a standard feature of holiday chow lines."

    This is what passes for news in the Washington Post? I cannot for the life of me imagine a bigger non-issue. Did the Post make an issue of President Clinton arranging rocks he "found" in Normandy into a cross on a beach that has no rocks? Or of Clinton yucking it up and back-slapping on the way to Ron Brown's funeral, only to burst into tears at the sight of a camera? Or of Clinton carrying a Bible out of church on the way back for a tryst with his girlfriend? I would say any of those behaviors are more disingenuous than picking up a decorative turkey.

    Wednesday, December 03, 2003

    Unfortunate Choice of Words

    Ever-opinionated former President Jimmy Carter had this to say concerning the Palestinian / Israel situation:

    "(H)ad I been elected to a second term, with the prestige and authority and influence and reputation I had in the region, we could have moved to a final solution."

    Now, one could argue either side concerning Carter's claims of prestige and influence, which result largley from his "success" with Yasser Arafat (and we all know what kind of peace partner he turned out to be).

    It is undeniably a serious verbal gaffe, however, to propose moving to a "final solution," in a situation involving Israel.

    Monday, December 01, 2003

    Strange (and sad) but True

    The New York Post is reporting that a dozen New York firemen, charged with looking after the widows and children of their fallen comrades, have left their own wives for the widows. Incredibly, experts that studied the effects of the Oklahoma City bombing warned FDNY that this was a likely outcome.

    I imagine that many of these marriages would have broken up anyway, but isn't it too bad that families that escaped a personal tragedy on September 11, 2001, are now experiencing a sort of "hangover" tragedy based ultimately in the same event.