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Saturday, August 09, 2003

Saddam's Gold 

This is old news (August 4th) but it totally slipped under my radar and I haven't seen anyone else refer to it either. According to this Washington Post article, an oil tanker was stopped by Iraqi police in a crack-down on black market oil and taken to an impound lot. Three days later, an Iraqi security director got a phone call, offering him $15 million dinar if he would let that tanker go. He refused. The offer went up to $30 million ($30k U.S. Dollars to a man who makes no more than $500 per month) but he refused again. Then he went and looked in the truck and found what is estimated to be $90 million dollars (I'm assuming U.S.) worth of gold bars. Here is what he did next:
The Iraqi got five other government workers and six padlocks. Each had a separate key for each lock so none could open the truck without the others. The next day he drove the truck to the American base in an old pistol factory in Hillah and turned over the truck. Holahan took three of the keys, and left the six locks in place. It would be a join U.S-Iraqi project to count the bars.
This is an incredible development because after decades of bribery and corruption, here is an amazing example of integrity on the part of the Iraqi official. It also shows a tremendous amount of trust in the U.S. Soldiers.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Reality In Iraq 

Here is another must read letter from a soldier in Iraq (From www.DefendAmerica.mil)

Human Rights Watch 

Check out this BBC dispatch: Guantanamo inmate 'wants to stay'
A Russian citizen held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has said he is afraid to return home because prison conditions there are far worse.

'I don't think there is even a sanatorium in Russia that would compare to this,' Ayrat Vakhitov said in a letter to his mother published by Russia's Gazeta newspaper.

'Nobody is being beaten or humiliated,' he wrote.

Pay attention people and get it straight: The Taliban sucked the life from Afghanistan and made the people there miserable. Saddam ravaged the wealth of Iraq and his legacy is being uncovered day by day in massed grave after massed grave. The U.S.A. is determined to see this fight through, but we still treat our most dispicable enemies well.

Retraction 

I was so tickled by the metaphor I found a few days back, that I thought I would be extra clever and submit it as a Metaphor Alert to James Taranto for his daily Best of the Web. I thought it would be a sure thing, but it was not included in the following day's compilation. Then I received the following IM from a friend:
umm...was just reading your blog...and not to be picky...but... your 'Metaphor of the Month' is a simile. (ok...i was being picky)
How devastating. I knew they were close but did not remember what the difference between the two really was. After a little research I learned this:
Metaphor: an implied comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common.
  On the final examination, several students went down in flames.

Simile: an explicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common
  He had a posture like a question-mark.

Thus the metaphor of the month has died a painful death. And my ego, like a cake that fell in the oven, begs me not to bestow any more silly awards.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Quagmire Evidence? 

I was very saddened to read of yet more violence in Iraq, but this time the target was one I would not have expected: The Jordanian embassy in Baghdad. The attack resulted in 11 dead and 57 wounded but no U.S. troops were involved. In fact, the bomb and an attempted stoning of an Jordanian embassy employee were not in demonstration against the U.S. or our forces in the area.
'The target was the Jordanian embassy. People hear about how Iraqis are treated in Jordan and there is hatred,' Jasim of the health ministry said.

Jordan's relations with Iraq have been strained, with Iraqi political parties voicing ire at Amman's lack of action during the war and the decision of King Abdullah to grant asylum to two daughters of Saddam.

This kind of violence is terrible and inexcusable. Yet, it is interesting to note that it is directed against people who did nothing in the war, rather than against those who made a difference.

Water Striders 

Some people call them Jesus bugs, because they walk on water. You know, those water bugs which zip along the top of the water at light speed that you could watch for hours as a kid. (We could probably still watch them for hours as adults, if we had hours to spend watching them.) And after watching them for a while, we would invariably try to make them sink. First small rocks, then larger ones. Maybe by using our hands or trying to push them under the surface with a stick. Yes, it was a boy thing to do. Yes, all the girls would maturely tell us how cruel we were. No, their words had absolutely zero effect on our actions. (At least not until we hit puberty.) However, I cannot recall ever actually killing a water strider. Not for lack of effort, but because they are just too fast.

Today the world knows exactly how fast. Not just that, but we also know how they move across the water. This is because today's Washington Post has an article which describes how a team of scientists spent an undisclosed amount of time (not to mention money) researching how these bugs move across the water. Why? It's called biomimetics - "building devices that mimic the movements of creatures such as lobsters, crabs, scorpions, lampreys, flies or honeybees, and using the devices in applications ranging from mine-clearing to reconnaissance and eavesdropping."

So what did they learn? Well, the first thing they learned is that these insects are fast. They can move 100 times their body length per second (about 40 inches). (For the record, I could have given them this information based upon my 'research' performed as a boy. I would have only charged them a small fee and probably would have saved them millions of research dollars.) But science cannot be dissuaded. The quest for knowledge must move forward, so they spent more research dollars on high speed cameras and microscopic particles and such. (I do think it would be interesting to be a vendor of microscopic particles. You would sell little vials which appear to be empty but really are full of microscopic particles. You just can't see them...because they are microscopic, of course.)

After time, effort and Government funding, another mystery of the Universe had been solved. They found that the water striders move across the water by rowing with their middle legs. Rowing! This is amazing. There are actual real life applications where this research can make difference - like boats for instance. But here is the interesting part. To show "proof of concept", the research team constructed a mechanical water strider with an alumnimum body and stainless steel legs. Water Striders rely on surface tension and water repelling hairs to stay afloat, whereas "RoboStrider" is sprayed with a water repellent to make him float. Does it walk on water? Yes, although it is ten times larger than a normal water strider and considerably slower.

Is there an application for robotic Water Striders? None come to mind...but given the opportunity, I bet I could sink one of these!

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Metaphor of the Month 

An editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune gives us this gem:
"Pandering politicians are a buck a bushel, but Gov. Gray Davis stands out like an eggplant among zucchini."
If you ask me, Mr. Davis is in quite a pickle.

Good News (really) 

Kudos to the New York Post for a great article which shows what is really going on in Iraq. No excerpts from this...you need to read the whole thing: GUIDING IRAQ ON A ROAD TO RECOVERY

California Recall Strategy 

Mickey Kaus gives some insight to the upcoming CA recall election. He points out the difficulty in using negative ads against an opponent, being that they also damage the instigator, especially in the open format of this recall election. But he also points out a very interesting strategy:
The non-obvious solution? Run yet another candidate, a sort of hunter-killer pol whose sole purpose is to spend millions attacking Arianna, or whomever. If the hunter-killer candidate gets condemned and destroyed in turn, so what--he or she is expendable. ... It's easy enough to get such a Terminator politician into the race, thanks to the low entry requirement of $3,500 and 65 signatures. The trick is to make it impossible for the press to trace who put him or her up to the job.
Of course, this could be countered by a Red Herring candidate - someone with known liabilities who will serve as a lightning rod for these kinds of attacks. The most amusing part of this whole thing is that the use of combat candidates could backfire completely. In the circus of an open election without a run-off, there is always to possibility that one of the decoy candidates could actually win. October 7 should be an interesting day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Good News after all 

Yahoo News brings glad Tuesday tidings: Scientists Unveil Low-Calorie Watermelon
Israeli scientists said Tuesday they have developed a low-calorie watermelon, with all the sweetness but significantly less sugar than common varieties of the juicy summer fruit.
First seedless, then square and finally low-cal watermelons. Where will it end? (BTW - I have found seedless watermelons to be seriously lacking in flavor.)

Humor Break 

Traveling by airplane? Be sure to prepare your self with these helpful tips: Know Thy Enemy: Airline Terrorists. (Thanks to InstaPundit for the link!)

Good News! 

Is anyone else getting tired of the fact that most news is negative in nature? Here are a few headlines for today: Depressed yet? I tried an experiment today. I wanted to read some good news. Something that would encourage me. I'm not looking for an escape from reality - just a reprieve. There is good news in the world today...it just seems to be obscured by the subjects of interest. (Primarily things which are morbid, controversial or depressing.)

So I went to Google News and searched for "good news". Did I find good news? Well, I found 12,000 results (in 0.24 seconds). Yet, almost none of the articles I checked actually contained good news or were uplifting at all. In fact most were mentioning a little good news to counter the primary topic of the article which was bad news. If you find any good news, let me know. We could all use a little.

Success Story 

Very touching story in The Hill today about a French taylor who has clothed U.S. Presidents for the last 40 years: The Frenchman who dresses President Bush.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Bin Ladin's Failure 

James Henry penned a very shrewd analysis of Bush vs. Bin Laden that really pinpoints how Osama miscalculated in his attack on the United States. Here is an excerpt:
Now we have pinpointed bin Laden’s fundamental weakness. Being truly ignorant of American history and knowing nothing of the country's political system he made the mistake of drawing the wrong lesson from a narrow range of fairly recent events by interpreting it in terms of his world view: the refusal of George Bush senior to finish off Saddam Hussein, the hasty retreat from Somalia, the successful bombing of US embassies and military bases in Saudi Arabia, the attack on the Cole and Clinton's self-serving pinprick responses to terrorism.

In bin Laden's fantasy America would either respond in a Clintonesque way and so demonstrate to the world its cowardly nature or it would blindly strike out, killing hundreds if not thousands of innocents and so inflame the whole of the Islamic world.

I almost didn't even provide an excerpt because it seemed criminal to clip any part from such a coherent article. This article is a must read in its entirety!

Tolkien's Justification 

Found a very astute quote from an interview with John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in LOTR) which had a real gem in it: John Rhys-Davies Q&A at GenCon 2003
I think that Tolkien is a man living in a particular age of crisis and his life is quite uneventful, really, except for the fact that he's a captain in the First World War. He was at the first battle of the Somme. The British army in the first DAY of the first battle of the Somme I think probably had 20,000 dead and maybe 60 or 80,000 wounded. And that was the first day. You don't go through that sort of furnace without having to ask yourself questions: Why are we fighting? Is the cause we're fighting for a just one? How can I justify the deaths of those men that I'm leading?

And I think that Tolkien found a justification for it. His justification is that there are certain times when your civilization is challenged and if you do not meet that challenge and overcome it, you will lose your civilization. And I think that there's a terrible resonance between that period of time and our period now...

...The resonance between Lord of the Rings and present time is that we need people of courage to take the real challenge to our civilization and meet it head-on and win.

I put stock in opinions I read where I can tell the person has really thought things through (even if I do not completely agree with them). Most social commentary by actors is pretty shallow, but this impressed me tremendously.

Definition of Marriage 

Lately, Andrew Sullivan has brought up the concept of a Federalist, state-by-state approach to defining marriage several times. Yesterday (Sunday, August 3rd) he pointed out a quote from Clarence Thomas which he feels supports this position:
"We have said that Congress may regulate not only "Commerce... among the several states," U.S. Const., Art. I, 8, cl. 3, but also anything that has a "substantial effect" on such commerce... [I]t seems to me that the power to regulate "commerce" can by no means encompass authority over mere gun possession, any more than it empowers the Federal Government to regulate marriage, littering, or cruelty to animals, throughout the 50 States. Our Constitution quite properly leaves such matters to the individual States, notwithstanding these activities' effects on interstate commerce. Any interpretation of the Commerce Clause that even suggests that Congress could regulate such matters is in need of reexamination."
And here are Sullivan's comments:
Thomas' reiteration of the fact that the federal government has no constitutional role in deciding civil marriage is a statement of clear conservative principles. But the theocrats and social conservatives don't give a damn if federalism ends up with results they don't like. That's why they passed the Defense of Marriage Act. They suspect that's unconstitutional. So what to do? Change the constitution!
I disagree with the Federalist approach to this issue. Marriage is a status which has direct bearing upon many federal programs and agencies. A few examples are Federal Income Taxes, Social Security Benefits and FEMA benefits (Federal Emergency Management Agency).

The Federal Government is required to define what constitutes income. It defines what interest income is and then defines it further by classifying it into taxable interest income and non-taxable. It takes great pains to clearly define exactly how we determine the value for each of the 73 boxes on the Form 1040 every citizen must prepare each year. It also has every right to define what marriage is. It is necessary to do this - so that all Citizens are able to properly fill out their tax paperwork.

I do not think the Clarence Thomas quote applies to this issue because define (per Sullivan) does not mean the same thing as regulate (per Thomas). Currently, it is the states which regulate marriage. The Federal Government is not getting into the business of distributing marriage licenses. Different states have the right to grant marriage licenses as well as to set different requirements for granting said licenses (i.e. blood test requirements; waiting periods; minimum age requirements; etc.) The Federal Government enacting a definition of marriage (whatever that definition may be) is not going to affect the regulatory responsibilities of the states.

There are many issues that arise when the power to define marriage is removed from the Federal level and delegated to the states. It would be possible to have 50 different definitions of marriage. If one state should support same-sex marriage while another did not, then how would the IRS determine the filing status of the taxpayers from the different states? Would their marital status depend on the state they are filing from? After the inevitable lawsuits, it is my opinion that the definition accepted by the Federal Government would be that from the state with the broadest (most inclusive) definition. This takes the issue from a 'State's Rghts' issue back to to a Federal definition of marriage issue. The primary difference is that in this case, the legislature of one state would have the right to define marriage for the entire republic.

UPDATE: I previously posted that the entry had been removed because my direct link didn't work. Instead, the issue seems to be a problem with his blog's archive. If you go to his site (link to the right), the post is there. If you look at the archives, it is not included.