The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Friday, September 23, 2005

When you play with fire...

Expanding the Abortion Debate

From the Spectator ...

By Brian Wagner

September 23, 2005

The abortion debate has grown increasingly tiresome over the years, as discussion has narrowed to revolve exclusively around two oversimplified camps. On the one hand, there are those who religiously defend the right of a woman to choose, and on the other hand, there are those who exalt the right of a fetus to live. This debate is a lie, because we have declared everything except the most basic partisan rhetoric to be too controversial to openly discuss.

That is where University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt comes in. Levitt is best known in mainstream circles as the author of the bestselling book Freakonomics, which seeks to examine large data sets to answer questions that have thus far been seen as settled by “common sense.”

The book is an amazing example of the power of properly collected and examined data: Levitt argues that sumo wrestlers cheat, swimming pools are a greater danger than guns, and that most crack dealers don’t make money.

But the most important part of the book is derived from a 1999 paper Levitt co-authored, in which he explained how the legalization of abortion in the late 1970s was the single greatest factor in the massive drop of crime that occurred across the United States in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Essentially, Levitt has developed a strong set of correlations indicating that the greatest crime-fighting tool of the last 20 years has been abortion. Forget the juvenile arguments we’ve been stuck on in the media, we need to chew on this. Levitt’s findings have held up even when confronted with every other major variable during that period, including the crack cocaine epidemic, broken window policing, and aging of the population. His research provides quantitative support for the idea that when a woman who is unready to have a baby has an abortion, she actually contributes to a better society.

To understand Levitt’s findings in their entirety, it is necessary to read his paper, “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime.” But in short, he found that while urban crime was increasing at a dizzying rate in the 1990s and politicians were warning about “super predators” who were dispossessed urban youth, a sudden change occurred. In the second half of the decade, crime plummeted everywhere. Why?

Levitt argues that the steep increase in abortions in the late 1970s, occurring at a rate of one for every two births, removed from the nation hundreds of thousands of unwanted young men who would have otherwise been the highest risk group to begin committing crimes as they came of age in the mid-1990s. But they were never born, and the generation of urban predators that President Clinton warned about, born to families that didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them, never developed.

Levitt, in his paper and later works, convincingly dispels notions that any other cause, like the end of the crack cocaine epidemic or good policing, could have been the largest factor in the lowered crime rate. Abortion removed many people at high risk to be criminals from the world. Why were they most likely to be criminals? Among other reasons, they would have been born to mothers who weren’t prepared, mentally or financially, to care or provide for them.

No important debate should be restricted to only a few basic issues. Levitt’s findings could transform abortion from what some people call the most selfish of acts into a community-minded decision that is the hallmark of a woman who understands that motherhood entails responsibility. It is irresponsible of us to not confront abortion as it really is—a hugely complex decision that entails considerations of the meaning of life, the rights of the unborn, the responsibilities of motherhood, and the costs of unwanted babies.

The abortion debate should be wide-ranging and free of public censorship; the narrow focus on the status of the unborn for such an important subject is specious. We should use Levitt’s controversial findings as a jumping point to broader debate that encourages discussion instead of stifling it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Maxing out your credit card

"'Adversity builds character,' goes the old adage. Except that in America today we seem to be following the opposite principle. The worse things get, the more frivolous our response. President Bush explains that he will spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the Gulf Coast without raising any new revenues. Republican leader Tom DeLay declines any spending cuts because "there is no fat left to cut in the federal budget."


"Whatever his other accomplishments, Bush will go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible chief executive in American history. Since 2001, government spending has gone up from $1.86 trillion to $2.48 trillion, a 33 percent rise in four years! Defense and Homeland Security are not the only culprits. Domestic spending is actually up 36 percent in the same period. These figures come from the libertarian Cato Institute's excellent report "The Grand Old Spending Party," which explains that "throughout the past 40 years, most presidents have cut or restrained lower-priority spending to make room for higher-priority spending. What is driving George W. Bush's budget bloat is a reversal of that trend." To govern is to choose. And Bush has decided not to choose. He wants guns and butter and tax cuts."

Yes, Fareed Zakaria is being himself again; amazingly concise and pointed.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

President Clinton's sexy words

God help me, there is nothing sexier than President Clinton laying the smack down. All his evils are momentarily forgiven in my mind when he goes on the warpath; you just can't help wishing he was back in office. Call it the "JFK halo effect", where the abilities of a former president seem to suddenly increase to Zeus-like levels once they are dead or years out of office.

On "This Week" on Sunday, he says what everyone has been saying, but with the authority of a man who could have whooped poor Al Gore and John Kerry in a primary.

"Former US president Bill Clinton sharply criticised George W. Bush for the Iraq War and the handling of Hurricane Katrina, and voiced alarm at the swelling US budget deficit.

Breaking with tradition under which US presidents mute criticisms of their successors, Clinton said the Bush administration had decided to invade Iraq "virtually alone and before UN inspections were completed, with no real urgency, no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction."
"On the US budget, Clinton warned that the federal deficit may be coming untenable, driven by foreign wars, the post-hurricane recovery programme and tax cuts that benefitted just the richest one percent of the US population, himself included.

"What Americans need to understand is that ... every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts," he said.

"We have never done this before. Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a conflict, military conflict, by borrowing money from somewhere else."

Clinton added: "We depend on Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Korea primarily to basically loan us money every day of the year to cover my tax cut and these conflicts and Katrina. I don't think it makes any sense."

U.S. Deploys Slide Show to Press Case Against Iran

"U.S. Deploys Slide Show to Press Case Against Iran," Washington Post, 14 September 2005 by Dafna Linzer
The US is passing around secret power point presentation to its allies on Iran, indicating the dangers of WMDs.
They sent it to India- not interested. They are planning a huge oil pipeline from Iran through Pakistan. Good luck there.
They sent it to Japan. Do they realize how dependent japan is on Iran for their energy needs? apparently not...
Uhh...China! Yeah China!. Oops, didn't they just sign a big oil and gas deal with the aforementioned WMD state?
Ahh well. Someone's gotta be out there that doesn't depend on tehran for oil. Oh? Saudi Arabia you say? Well that seems like such a nice country doesnt it?
It seems to me that we are so focused on preventing Iran from getting nukes, we aren't looking into why exactly they want nuclear technology. Could it be that they simply want to advance their energy system to another level? Would they truly be moving so lethargically if they were looking to weaponize? Their potential for nuclear weapons does concern me. But can we realistically threaten Tehran and prevent them from progressing technologically? This seems to go against all of those principles of free trade that I hold so dear. Plus the prospect of invading Iran is not one that augers well.
So what say you? Let them have nuclear power, and risk the start a new age of deterrence and MAD with Iran, N Korea, and Israel as stakeholders, or masterfully inhibit Tehran through economic sanctions and risk the start of a violent US ground war with an opposition infused with islamic religious idealism ?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Of automobiles and iPods

I stumbled across a fabulous quote from the 1979 NY Times in Kenneth Jackson's book, Crabgrass Frontier. Writes McDonald Harris:

"The human animal has two profound and conflicting impulses; he wants to be safe and warm, snug, enclosed, 'at home.' And he wants to roam the wide world, to see what is out there beyond the horizon. The automobile is a kind of house on wheels, but it will take you anywhere you want to go. You can conduct your sex life in it, you can eat and drink in it, go to the movies, listen to Vivaldi or the Stones, and you can dominate others, if you have more power and are adept with the gearshift lever. It is a whole existence. Or it is till the gas runs out."

Now, we don't really use cars in the Big Apple, though I'm sure we often look out the window of our room and wistfully dream of driving through Greenwich, CT at high speeds while really really rich farts hug the sidewalk to avoid us. But here, we (I, at least), have the subway. Not quite the same, but I think an argument could be made to echo Harris' point.

My take: "The subway traveler is the most modern of men, trying to get from location to location with the least amount of delay or interaction. In the subway, you can eat and drink, watch your mini-DVD player, listen to Vivaldi or the Stone Temple Pilots on your iPod, and you can read your newspaper so as to completely avoid ever having to look at the guy across the way. Human interaction, oh if we could only avoid such awkward interactions. When the doors "woosh" open, we rush from the N to the A as those who are most adept at threading Times Square foot traffic dominate others. The travel is your whole existence, and you desperately attempt to recreate the conditions of a car on an open road by immersing yourself in distractions in order to convince yourself that you are in your own private world, even while you share a sticky metal pole with a Hungarian midget and a beat-boxing Hispanic boxer. It is a whole existence. Or it is till the Metro Card hits empty."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The military: an arm of the Republican Party?

I've previously written, in other forums, about the conservatization of the military since the Vietnam War. If you haven't seen the studies of previous years, among them ones carried out by Duke U. and the Army Times, approximately 60% of military officers consider themselves conservative, while only 5% report as Democrats. That, while partially explainable by the changes wrought by the transition from a conscripted force to an all-volunteer force (Republicans in general see the military as a more justifiable and noble tool for policy), is still a discrepancy on par with the massive reporting differences between Dems and Repubs in journalism and academia.

Just like those two fields, it is hyperbolic to assume that such numbers mean that Democrats or Republicans exert THAT much more influence proportionally--instead, you tend to see the dominance of the field by the moderates of one party or the other. But, just as conservatives seek to increase their numbers in journalism and academia (and I don't mean by legal measures), it would serve liberals--and the military--well if Ivy League schools and others who have banned ROTC reconsider their policies, hopefully sooner rather than later. For as Lucian Truscott, an author who has extensively written on the military ethos, argues, his contacts in the military are convinced from their own personal experiences that many of the 35% independents in the officer corps are conservative in belief. Unlike the media or academia, liberals in this case cannot start their own military corps or endowed chair to draw attention to their position a la Fox News. Thus, the only way to moderate the influences WITHIN the military is to enter its service.

I myself considered Navy ROTC for a few years, and in the end decided against it not because of any dislike of the military, but because I was a) too blind to fly an airplane and b) I realized that I hated being told what to do. Not the best personality for the military. Wake up before reveille? Go shove it in your arse lieutenant.

I don't fear or distrust the military. But I fear the potential for one-sided decision-making in a military dominated by officers with similar mindsets who are often, according to Truscott, operate under the mindset that, "If you're not a member of the Party in the Armerican military today, you will not be promoted, and in some cases, will be dismissed as unworthy of service."

He adds, "If you have any doubts about whether or not these highly-politicized senior "leaders" of our military are political hacks occupying empty uniforms, please try to recall how much dissent against the criminal bumbling of the CPA among the senior military -- generals in Iraq and stateside both -- you read about in 2003-2004. How much dissent did have register against Rumsfeld's "war on the cheap" planning in the run-up to the war? What happened to the single senior general (Shinseki) who dared to deviate from the Approved Script for war on the cheap? How many have dissented since the war began, especially with respect to the obvious lack of a sufficient number of troops for a proper occupation of Iraq?"

All good questions, which there should always be dissenters within an organization to ask. Maybe there are, and we aren't hearing about it. But at this point, the best policy prescription I can see is to continue to push for ROTC at the prominently liberal schools. (though I realize there are the additional issues of Bush, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, etc, which keep liberals away. But who is going to address them from positions of power if the whole military is an echo chamber?)

Truscott's comments, reprinted by Mark Kleimann

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On intelligent design

Here is my problem with intelligent design. It is not science. This issue goes beyond just separation church and state (and this is coming from a guy who is a devout Catholic, believes "In God we trust" should remain on the dollar bill, and thinks the school voucher system to be quite acceptable). As someone who went to a Catholic high school, I am very familiar with ideas similar to those presented within intelligent design. Why? Because I learned them in THEOLOGY class! Darwin's theory of evolution and the Creation story have long been reconciled by the church. Those who espouse intelligent design have the basic gist of it, though Vatican scholars, bishops with PhDs in Biology &c, have gone into far more depth in addressing the specific data that has been shown to support the evolution theory. The question as to whether there is some intelligence behind the way in which the universe was created and has subsequently unfolded is a question to be considered by priests, philosophers, and theologians. Science is based upon the discovery and recording of EMPIRICAL DATA. I have yet to see any empirical, measurable data that supports the claim that the Universe was created by God. I still believe it to be so, wholeheartedly. This is why it is called faith. In fact, intelligent design, in its role as an attempt to "prove" the existence of God, erodes this concept of faith. This, then, damages our relationship with God, which is so dependent upon our ability to have faith in Him. Evangelicals often deride the theory of evolution because, as they say, it is only a theory and one with many holes in it. Further they believe it to be an attack by those godles scientists against the beliefs of a godfearing public. Theory is a very difficult word to work with, because it implies doubt. The theory on the movement of the planets by Copernicus or the Bohr theory of the Atom are also theories. They are broad models with which science works, and the scientific community may tweak if new evidence comes to light. But, though the models may not be absolutely perfect (motion, for example, is relative), the data supports them so well that they are not in danger of being thrown out (at such low speeds as the motion of the planets the effects of relativity are negligible). Evolution, like these models, fits so incredibly well with the data that no alternative theory can be produced to usurp it. None has as of yet - including ID. Belief in ID, in the minds of evangelicals, implies that if you are a Godfearing citizen you cannot accept the theory of evolution no matter how much scientific data supports it or how much we can learn from it. I understand the problem of reconciling evolution with a literal interpretation of Genesis - it completely counteracts their religious beliefs. Theologians and scholars of my religion, after "coming to grips" with science (we shall ignore that they didnt apologize for the excommunication of Galileo until the 1980s...), had to reevaluate their understanding of the Bible as a religious document. I think, eventually, many of the other Christian religions will be forced to do the same - though this process is hampered by the lack, especially among evangelicals, of central academic institutions through which they can really examine these issues and ideas. But I digress...The concepts presented in ID certainly deserve the attention of a theology class or philosophy class. In fact, and this may cause some consternation among some, but I would argue that religion should be taught in school to mature high school students. As an academic course, an elective, not to be taught as doctrine but as a serious study of the belief system of a particular group. But for one's OWN religious education, the responsibility lies with one's parents and religious community, not the school system. A science teacher's responsibility is to teach science. And as I said in the beginning, ID is not science. The evangelicals have their right to their beliefs, and the parents have every right to teach their children that what they are learning is wrong. But they do not have the right to impose their opinions onto the established scientific community and deprive the rest of our children of an accurate view of what SCIENCE says about the beginnings and development of life.

Oh no!...He's a Catholic?!

I was watching c-span reruns yesterday of the hearings on Roberts (because the Yankees wre decimating TB and I can only enjoy a slaughter for so long) and something came up that really bothered me. Over the course of the questioning, Roberts was asked repeatedly about his Catholic faith and whetehr it would influence his rulings on the court. I took the liberty of looking through testimonies of a number of protestant supreme court nominees and nowhere does the question of their episcopalian faith or presbyterian faith ocome up. In politics, it seems, Catholics (and on many occasions Jews as well) are confronted with the misguided assertion that their faith, whose sacred geographical center happens to not exist in the United States, somehow equates to a loyalty to a separate nation or to a set of laws that are above the laws of the state. If anyone thinks that prejudice and bias against Catholics no longer exist in this country, these Senators should cause you to think otherwise. This came up back when Kennedy was running for President. It is mind-numbing to think that it still comes up today.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God that which is God's. I learned that in SUNDAY SCHOOL. Oy.

Oh, NYC politics is a beautiful thing....

So Close...

It seems that Ferrer might have only won 39.949% of the vote in the Democratic Primary, just short of the 40% he needed, and that he may now have to have a run-off competition with Anthony Weiner, who has been gaining steam.

Where was that 0.041% when he needed it, eh? Classic.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

It aint Venus and Mars people - how to get along with the other side

There has been much talk of late about the ever increasing divide between liberals and conservatives, and the voracity and hatred with which they oppose the other side. Honestly, politicians have always done this and I believe the seemingly grave increase in hateful rhetoric is a product of politicians and political activists alike taking advantage of the internet and 24/7 cable news networks. In any case, the main populace need not get sucked into the polarization vacuum, as much as those in Washington want you to (since it keeps them in their jobs). Here is my advice on how to get along with the other side.

First, stop making assumptions. We have a tendency to immediately identify someone as "republican" "democrat" or "liberal" "conservative" and then ascribe to them all of the views that are expressed by the party. This is very limiting. A few days ago I had a conversation with a liberal and politically active feminist who also happened to be completel against abortions. You may say that one cannot be a feminist and be Pro-Life, but I suspect after speaking with her you would be convinced too. On the flip side, I know many Republicans on campus, and many more in my homestate of Florida, who are entirely for gay marriage - their reasoning being any promotion of monogamy and reduction in promiscuity (whether perceived or actual) is a good thing for this country. One of my closest friends campaigned for Jeb Bush and is very much a card carrying member of the Republican party - he is both gay and completely against the death penalty. You must get to know the individual - understand why he or she ascribes to a certain political view. This will allow you to find common ground.

Second, stop going straight for the divisive issues. Obviously any discussion about, for example, the issue of abortions is going to factor in a great deal of emotions and probably very little logic or basis in scientific or legal fact in the end. Separation between church and state is another harrowing issue. Just don't go there - at least not until you have a base of understanding elsewhere. Go for broader issues - dealing with healthcare and the state, use of the military during disaster situations, reducing bureaucracy (something washington never wants to discuss, whether liberal or conservative, and something the citizenry should really consider...)

Third, learn to compromise. Some say that this is the job of the politicians, but in truth, in order to temper political extremism and indeed redefine politics as it exists among the citizenry, we must learn to look at the issues from the point of view of the opposition and consider ways in which both sides can prosper. The vitriol and violent speech is a product of politicians trying to convince us that we cannot think for ourselves, and instead that we should entrust them to fight for the proverbial cause. We must look at all candidates critically and consider whether THEY are looking at the issues in the right way. Blindly fighting for a particular endstate that would be agreeable to only one segment of the population may be far more harmful than considering all sides of an issue. The politicians, by definition of their jobs, must take a side. When we consider a particular issue, however, we must consider our neighbors as well and think critically about whether either of the two endstates that the parties propose are indeed the best course of action.

Kurt Vonnegut and the Daily Show

If you missed the Daily Show tonite, be sure to catch a rerun. Kurt Vonnegut was the guest, and as Jon Stewart said jokingly, "I'm sorry to see you've lost your edge."

While not declaring that, under the wise plan of democracy we have in Iraq, we should expect slaves to be freed in 100 years and women to gain the vote in 150 years, he was doing his damned best to steal Stewart's audience.

The absolute highlight (horribly paraphrased), giving his opinion on evolution:

"I believe that evolution is being controlled by an intelligent creator of some sort. I am compelled to believe that someone or something is guiding us, and that everything that happens to us goes according to his or her plan. That is why we have the hippopotamus, the giraffe, and the clap."

That interview wouldn't have been aired on network television.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Gaza: A Prelude to what's next?

Imagine the following headline: "Israelis move into Jerusalem, burning Mosque." How do you think that would go over?

Well, the New York Times had an interesting article under a similar headline today:
"Palestinians Move Into Gaza, Burning Synagogue." As the first paragraph read, "KISSUFIM CROSSING, Gaza Strip, Sept. 12 - Palestinians moved into the former settlement of Neve Dakalim today after Israel ended its 38-year presence in the Gaza Strip, setting fire to the main synagogue and ripping out aluminum window frames and metal ceiling fixtures. The Palestinian flag and the flag of the militant group Hamas flew from the synagogue roof."

This seems to cap off the ungraceful manner in which Palestinians and Palestinian leadership have treated the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. With no concessions from Palestinian leadership in terms of combatting terror before hand, Israel's unilateral pull out could have been an amazing opportunity for Palestinians and Palestinian leadership to demonstrate attitudes of cooperation and tolerance.

Instead, Palestinians have demanded more withdrawals without offering anything in return. And in the meantime, they revel in burning and looting synagogues left behind.

Of course, the good part in the story (if there can be said to be a "good part") is that there were no Jews in the synagogue at the time. Being Judenrein as Gaza now is, at least burning a synogague will not bring harm to congregants. After all, this is not the first time synagogues have been destroyed by Palestinians under their rule. Before even the end of British rule, for instance, Palestinian massacres in Hebron had made that city -- whose name relates to "Hebrew" and which had, until then, been inhabited by native Jewish residents continuously for thousands of years -- Judenrein and Synagogue free as well. And in 1948, Jordanians and Palestinians destroyed all of the synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem -- most of them dating back centuries.

Israel, for its part, not only does not attack Mosques within its territory, but even protects them from extremists on the Israeli right who might try to harm them.

What I find incredible is that in this day and age, more than 60 years after Hitler's defeat, any group of people can insist upon -- and receive international backing for!!! -- an "ethnically pure" state. That is not to say I don't support a Palestinian state alongside Israel; I do. Yet, for all those on the left that label Israel an "Apartheid state," how many have spoken out about how Palestinians treat religious or ethnic minorities within their territories. In the Palestinian territories, for instance, Jews cannot be citizens by law; muslim residents in Israel proper, by contrast, have full citizenship and political rights. Who is the Apartheid state again?

I'm usually an optimist, but anyone who thinks that any future Palestinian state will be a tolerant one is simply ignoring the facts. Instead, Palestinians will insist that their state is Judenrein, and the international community will have no problem with that at all. (Conversely, can you imagine the uproar if Israel would even suggest expelling Muslims within ITS territory?) In case you ever needed another reason to be cynical of the international community and its dedication to human rights regardless of race or religion...

Pearls O' Wisdom: Part I

After a long talking session with my dear suitemate Erin, I've decided to lay out some of my basic beliefs for discussion:

Context is everything. This seems an obvious point, but in many discussions of political, social, and economic issues today, we see instances where mistakes are made and misunderstandings created due to a lack of context provided. When we hear that the military took a city in Iraq, do only opponents of the war point out that we took the city two times previously? That kind of fact's inclusion or omission can completely change how one reads a newspaper article.

A painting seems straightforward. It sits there, and you look at it. But when you look at a painting knowing nothing about it, the most you can understand is that there are characters represented, and that they are pursuing actions. But with context providing the story behind the painting, you are able to imbue characters with personalities and explain actions through narratives. In short, you need to know where someone sits to understand why they are standing where they are.

One of the great strengths of debating and discussion, as opposed to modes of communication that rely on attacks and echo chamber speeches, is that you cannot escape giving context. A lack of context is only helpful when you are trying to best represent yourself to the uninformed; those who are likely not to know better can be manipulated by a silver-tongued speaker with a selective memory. The beauty of a give-and-take form of exchanges, though, is that the goal is to convince the opposite speaker, and any audience, that when held up to the light, your argument is better. Attack modes arrange ideas into orders of the "good" and the "bad," which is highly misleading in a world where there is no wise man on a hill holding an envelope which contains the "right" answers. Debates and arguments array themselves as presentations of two ideas, one of which is "better" than the other. Such forms infuse public exchanges with a healthy liveliness and open-mindedness that we sorely lack today.

I for one, am sick and tired of not knowing whether I can trust my own party representatives to be providing me with all the relevant information, as opposed to all the favorable information. I believe that progressive ideals will eventually triumph because they are better, in many cases, than conservative notions. But that is a case of "better." What we hear about today is "right" and "wrong," or in the 2004 Oklahoma US Senate race, "good" and "evil." The great weakness of campus liberals today (though everyone is quite guilty of this) is that they seem to think that they can win by shouting down the opposition. But shouting down those you disagree with empower them by making them more attractive to all those who are disaffected with the majority opinion and behavior. The only way to truly win and own a debate is to make a case that is stronger when held up in comparison; you can't own an issue when all cards are not laid on the table from the beginning.

This is part I in my thoughts from a discussion I had tonite with a very intelligent and lovely young lady who is, as of yesterday, the newest captain of the Columbia field hockey team.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Imagine this in an English accent ...

from OxBlog, a list of announcements London Tube train drivers have made to their passengers...

1) "Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologize for the delay to your service. I know you're all dying to get home, unless, of course, you happen to be married to my ex-wife, in which case you'll want to cross over to the Westbound and go in the opposite direction."

2) "Your delay this evening is caused by the line controller suffering from E & B syndrome: not knowing his elbow from his backside. I'll let you know any further information as soon as I'm given any."

3) "Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The good news is that last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. The bad news is that there is a points failure somewhere between Stratford and East Ham, which means we probably won't reach our destination."

4) "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay, but there is a security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore Stuck here for the foreseeable future, so let's take our minds off it and pass some time together. All together now.... 'Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.....'."

5) "We are now travelling through Baker Street... As you can see, Baker Street is closed. It would have been nice if they had actually told me, so I could tell you earlier, but no, they don't think about things like that".

6) "Beggars are operating on this train. Please do NOT encourage these professional beggars. If you have any spare change, please give it to a registered charity. Failing that, give it to me."

7) During an extremely hot rush hour on the Central Line, the driver announced in a West Indian drawl: "Step right this way for the sauna, ladies and gentleman... unfortunately, towels are not provided."

8) "Let the passengers off the train FIRST!"(Pause .) "Oh go on then, stuff yourselves in like sardines, see if I care - I'm going home...."

9) "Please allow the doors to close. Try not to confuse this with 'Please hold the doors open.' The two are distinct and separate instructions."

10) "Please note that the beeping noise coming from the doors means that the doors are about to close. It does not mean throw yourself or your bags into the doors."

11) "We can't move off because some idiot has their hand stuck in the door."

12) "To the gentleman wearing the long grey coat trying to get on the second carriage - what part of 'stand clear of the doors' don't you understand?"

13) "Please move all baggage away from the doors." (Pause..) "Please move ALL belongings away from the doors." (Pause...) "This is a personal message to the man in the brown suit wearing glasses at the rear of the train: Put the pie down, Four-eyes, and move your bl**dy golf clubs away from the door before I come down there and shove them up your a**e sideways!"

14) "May I remind all passengers that there is strictly no smoking allowed on any part of the Underground. However, if you are smoking a joint, it's only fair that you pass it round the rest of the carriage."

Security Council woes... again.

The above article is just the latest in a series of events showing how badly the United Nations needs reforms to address the serious issues that threaten global security today. For years, not days or weeks or months, the U.S. has sought to bring suspicious Iranian nuclear activities to the world body's highest council, thus far unsuccessfully.

The irony of the article above, however, is that it shows that the U.S. is wrangling with Russia, China, and India not over the issue itself, but rather over whether the Security Council should consider the matter at all. With "France, Britain, Germany, and the leadership of the European Union all favor referring the issue to the Security Council" -- and repeatedly expressed concerns from IAEA officials themselves -- it is clear that Iranian nuclear proliferation is one of the greatest threats to worldwide stability today. Even "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he agreed that Iran needed to be kept from making nuclear arms but added that it was premature to take up the matter at the United Nations." Perhaps Putin would prefer taking that step after the Iranians test their first bomb.

Of course, this doesn't stop with Iran. The reason that the Security Council has not done anything particularly significant in regards to the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, stems from the same problem -- in that case, China's refusal to consider the matter there. China's dependence on certain resources mined in the region, it seems, is enough reason for the world's highest body to ignore one of the worst human rights situations on the planet.

Then again, the Security Council would never take up the issue of China's political prisons, which hold an estimated 4-6 million political prisoners in forced labor conditions, either.

And you wonder why diplomats typically become drinkers?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When Two Become One

California, the vanguard of the nation, has proved its provincial powers to excercise equal rights is unmatched anywhere else in the country. By the slender vote of 41 to 35 a great leap was taken forward for gay marriage.

Many believe that Arnie will take out the ax and chop the dream away, but to come this far, it is cause for celebration, speculation and something else..ation.

This post is mostly aimed to get some feedback: what do y'all think is going to happen, not happen. I can post my strong preferences for equal rights, but I think that is better served at another time. For now: we have a present that is waiting for an answer.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Loss of trust

David Brooks writes that while life in America is good, recent events, including 9/11, Iraq, and now Katrina, have shaken our confidence in institutions. It is an interesting idea, but he ends on a weak note, summarizing:

"Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.

Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970's. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change."

Nothing special, more of a regurgitation of basic ideas that have been tossed around over the last year when things go badly in Iraq and attempts to reform Social Security and Medicare are opposed because public perception is that they don't really help anyone but the politicians.

Brooks seeks to burnish his progressive/conservative credentials that have allowed him to have his cake and eat it too, in the past. While I often enjoy his writing, I think he should take a page from Frank Rich's book and avoid ambiguously oriented columns that try to seem important while saying little. We have enough of that from untalented writers; Brooks has a lot of talent, and seeing him use it for more insightful writing would be welcome.

Link here

Friday, September 02, 2005

Support Hurricane Katrina relief efforts

There are many worthy organizations out there helping in the Gulf Coast region. I personally gave to Mercy Corps, as it has an international track record for effectively translating donations into actions. But there are many groups out there that can use your money, including the Red Cross.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Dr. Crack Coffee, or, How I learned to stop playa hating and love the Starbucks

I don't normally drink Starbucks' blend of "crack coffee." In fact, unless I can kick back and relax in a coffee shop, I just brew my own strange brew. But I must say I'm quite interested in stopping by Starbucks now that they are being attacked by a group of "concerned" women for a supposedly pro-gay stance.

The point of contention is Starbucks' new coffee cups, on which they've included quotes by famous Americans in order to encourage and further discussion and debate. But they made the mistake in including a quote from a gay man. Big uh oh. Among the quotes is one from Armistead Maupin, who chronicled the 1970s and 80s SanFran gay community. "My only regret about being gay is that I repressed it for so long. I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short."

Does it foster debate? Quite assuredly. Does it promote a homosexual agenda, as the Concerned Women for America allege? If talking about homosexuality is a crime, then yes. Welcome to the wacko world of anti-gay activists; their solution to the gay problem? Ensure no one talks about it. I hope that no one who reads this site, at least, would fall prey to accepting such baseless attempts at freezing debate. Question homosexuality? Be my guest. Refuse to discuss it? No thanks.

But beyond Maupin's quote, there are a lot of interesting choices that CAN further debate over a cup of coffee, a thoroughly American practice. From the grab bag of quotes: "Everywhere, unthinking mobs of 'independent thinkers' wield tired cliches like cudgels, pummeling those who dare question 'enlightened' dogma. ... Cliches begin arguments, they don't settle them." (any idea who said that? or what his political views might be?)

Controversy brews with twice the caffeine

The Right Reverend Fred Phelps of Kansas

I have always thought Fred Phelps, who previously was in full-assault mode against fags across the United States and is now occupied by protests at GI funerals, was a wacko. His traveling circus of fanatics parked in front of my high school about 4 years ago with a giant billboard of a fetus to protest abortion. Unfortunately for them, they didn't receive a great response. Students tossed Cheetos and sodas at the protestors who utterly disrupted the school day, and the local news media skewered the underwhelming effort. Rev. Phelps himself, after much hype, chose not to show up in the town President Bush Sr. called "Little Beirut."

But LeanLeft has a profile of Phelps that, while not challenging the image of him as being so far out of the mainstream that he is drowning in a side current, does make one think about the automatic assumptions we make in regards to extremists like Phelps. It turns out that, before Phelps found the Lord at 17, he was accepted into one of the military academies. And much more shockingly, he was a radical civil rights advocate who was a Democrat until the early 1990s, when he suddenly quit the party and began railing about the fags who were destroying our nation. Say what?

I'd highly recommend Lean Left's post--it is well-written while not avoiding the issues of Phelps' bigotry.