Alan K. Henderson's Weblog


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Sunday, June 30, 2002

But What About the Children, Part 2

In Part 1, I expressed wonder if Palestinian mom Umm Nidal was really speaking her mind or buckling to terrorist coercion when she made glowing statements about her son's suicide bombing mission. There's no way to ever know what's really going on in her head, but I imagine that some parents of "martyrs" are strongarmed into spouting the terrorist party line whenever the press shows up on their doorsteps.

Of greater concern is any pressure the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades may be exerting on the suicide bombers themselves. Evidently some of these bombings do involve such coercion, as this story reports. Issa Budeir, a 16-year-old male, and Aren Ahmed, a 20-year-old female, were pressed into a bombing mission at town of Rishon Lezion on May 21. Both tried to back out at the last minute, but after pressure from their handlers Issa complied, killing himself and two Israelis and injuring 40.

Issa's mom Fatiyeh deserves credit for being a sane and rational human being, grieving the loss of her son rather than celebrating it.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

New Additions to the List of Weblog Links

The Kolkata Libertarian. In his bio, site editor Suman Palit was born in Kolkata (Calcutta) and now lives in Chicago and takes cool vacations (you may need to scroll down to see the pictures). He describes the site as "an advocacy site, championing the cause of freedom, free-markets, limited governance, how all of this is the best hope for the [Indian] subcontinent." He recently posted a top twenty list of reasons why he is "in awe of, and a not just a little bit in love with, the people of Israel and the Jewish diaspora all over the world." The post has links to other lists of reasons to admire Israel; all I can add to those are: 1) Israel was the first nation to make kings and subjects equals under the law and really mean it (as illustrated by the numerous reprimands of kings by prophets, including this one); 2) violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was born there and received his early training in Tel Aviv before emigrating to America; 3) waitresses with quick reflexes.

Anne Wilson. Not to be confused with Ann Wilson. Billed as "[c]ommentary on politics, art, and life from the margins of the Red Zone..." In her earliest post (scroll to bottom of page) she describes herself as "a wife and mother living in the epicenter of the Red Zone [St. Louis, Missouri]." Hers is the first blog (other than Jay Manifold's) known to put in a plug for my site. I had sent her an email about one of her posts, which she quoted here. This post is about one of the best letters-to-the-editor ever written.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The Catholic Scandal

With all the rhetoric about the Catholic sex abuse crisis floating out there, one would think that the issue is more complex than it really is. Understanding the situation boils down to addressing three questions:

Who is committing these crimes and why? There are two popular theories as to the root of the problem. One, which is the central theme to this book, is that the the theological liberalism and especially the homosexual activism that are prevalent in Catholic seminaries has dumbed down priestly morality. Andrew Sullivan disagrees (scroll down to the article "Goodbye, Good Logic"), observing that the majority of the implicated priests were ordained prior to the liberalization of the seminaries.

He may have a point here, but many (including Sullivan) jump to the conclusion that the culprit must be "repression," that the inability to keep their vows of celibacy is what drives priests to commit sexual assault. If this were a valid theory, then why aren't girls or adult women - or even adult men - being approached in larger numbers? Why is the overwhelming majority of victims teenage boys?

In the Catholic Church boys are quite involved in official functions - as choirboys, acolytes, etc. (I'm a Protestant, so don't ask me what the "etc." is) - perhaps more than in any other denomination. It's as simple as this: guys who like to prey on boys are predictably attracted to organizations that give them access to boys.

How should the Church react when such crimes occur? If the Catholic Church has a list of vow-breaking activities that do not qualify for automatic expulsion, criminal activities, especially those involving assault, should not be among them. The Church has a moral obligation to protect its members and the public at large when it is capable of doing so; this means defrocking priests who use their office for the purpose of sexual predation and handing them over to the authorities. Those who aid and abet such criminals must be treated likewise.

What should the Church do reduce the risks of such crimes occurring in the future? In any institution, security measures must have two components: screening out high-risk individuals, and contingency measures to minimize the amount of damage that can be done by a predator who manages to circumvent the screeners. The seminaries are the logical screeners; not everybody attending one is going into the priesthood, but if I'm not mistaken, all priests have to have that seminary degree.

Seminaries face a serious obstacle, not only to its ability to screen candidates for priesthood but also to its educational mission in general, is that their faculties are saturated with theological liberals. It is the height of religious intolerance - and intellectual dishonesty - for one to expect to serve as an official in a religious organization or to teach that religion in its seminaries if one disagrees with that religion's central creeds. Aside from that, the religious left overwhelmingly fails to recognize the reality of the sex scandal, agreeing with the crackpot "repression" hypothesis and recommending, among other things, and end to mandated celibacy. Yes, we know that married men never molest children. Uh huh. Right.

So what red flags should the seminary screeners be looking for? I imagine that most religions have on occasion dealt with ex-cons applying for the clergy. Normally, each case should be treated differently, the powers-that-be doing their best to discern whether or not the candidate is truly rehabilitated. But for the sake of the safety of the flock from possible threat - and that of the would-be priest from false accusation - there must be a zero-tolerance policy on those convicted for any kind of sexual abuse.

For the same two reasons the Catholic Church must also bar gay men from entering the priesthood. The Church features an all-male working environment where priests spend intensive amounts of time with boy "apprentices." Rational people have always accepted that, for the sake of avoiding improprieties or accusations of such, an all-boy or all-girl group should be led by people who have no chance in you-know-where of being sexually attracted to their charges. There may be some heterosexual men who can be responsible leaders in the Camp Fire Girls and some homosexual men (who don't buy into theological leftism) who can be responsible priests, but if such doors are opened the few good men will be outnumbered by the wolves who will use such an opportunity to expand their hunting grounds.

Screening processes are never perfect - although getting past the Camp Fire Girls's screeners takes some drastic measures. The Catholic Church needs a few Plan B's to deal with the threat of interlopers who make it past security. The first Plan B is a willingness to punish molesters and those in Catholic authority who aid and abet them (I think the term is "enemy combatants"). The Boy Scouts, so I hear, has a policy whereby no adult is with a child without another adult present; due to such necessary activities as confession and private counseling, this wouldn't work too well in the Church.

I think tha the best contingency would be aggressive communication. Drill it into everyone's heads that they must not keep sexual victimization by priests (or by anyone else) to themselves. Urge children to report any adult sexual misconduct to a parent (or to a priest, if the offender is Mom or Dad). Adults, especially parents, will be informed about the proper channels; if the offender is a priest from Group A, go to this person, if from Group B, go to that person, etc. If the offender is an archbishop, go to the top of the next archdiocese or plan on taking that vacation to Rome early. In the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17 (my apologies to any Catholic readers for linking a NIV translation; I couldn't find an online New Jerusalem Bible), matters should be handled discretely - don't hush up a matter, but don't feed the rumor mill with news of still-pending investigations. If the evidence of misconduct is solid, then defrock the culprit. The parents (or adult victim, as the case may be) ultimately decide whether to file criminal charges. Most would, but there may be some rare cases in which the victim feels that defrocking is sufficient punishment; the Church must respect either decision.

The Nation of Osamastan?

In his most recent FrontPage Magazine column, John Perazzo offers a novel approach to assessing Dubya's speech: everywhere you see the word "Palestinians" substitute the phrase "al Qaeda." The full text of the President's speech is here. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

The Bush Speech

President Bush delivered a speech yesterday concerning the state of affairs in Israel. I'll be quite blunt: the United States doesn't stand a ghost of a chance of doing anything constructive unless our leaders get a better grasp on reality. President Bush isn't as clueless as our State Department, which has a long history of sucking up to ruthless governments and terrorist organizations at the expense of friends like Taiwan, India, and, of course, Israel. (Unfortunately, Colin Powell fits right in with that crowd.)

Dubya is smart enough to figure out that Arafat is not a friend of peace ("Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership...Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing, terrorism. This is unacceptable") - which is more than I can say about a lot of people. Some of his quotes reveal that he still needs to get a few things straight.

"It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation."

In 1967, Israel fought back a "Pearl Harbor" attempt waged by Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. In that war, Israel took the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Israel has all right to territory taken from any nation that tries to rub it out of existence. (Egypt should feel lucky they got back Sinai.) Nobody but Israel has any rightful claim to the "occupied territories."

But Egypt and Jordan aren't trying to get back their pre-1967 land. The Palestinians are Arabs who are former citizens of Egypt and Jordan and current citizens of Israel. Some Palestinians never lived in the West Bank but were expelled from Jordan and at least one other Arab nation (Kuwait) during the 1970s. More on this history can be found here. Palestinians claim a nation that never existed. Arabs living in Palestine (modern-day Israel and Jordan) never had self-rule; theirs was always a backwater province of some empire, up until 1948 when England made two countries out of this possession.

As for the squalor, the Palestinian leadership has only itself to blame. All Arab nations oppress their citizens, economically and otherwise, and the self-declared terrorist rulers of the Palestinians do likewise. Aside from that, people generally don't like to do business with those who have live explosives strapped to themselves.

"I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty."

Not a single Arab nation upholds liberty as a matter of official policy; why should we expect the Palestinians of all people to be the first Arabs to do so?

"Today, the elected Palestinian legislature has no authority, and power is concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few. A Palestinian state can only serve its citizens with a new constitution which separates the powers of government.

So how are they going to get this new constitution? I have a saying which I call the Leaden Rule: he who has the lead makes the rules. Arafat has the power. He has the guns. He has the terrorist flunkies. Palestinians who disagree with him die. Before this new government comes into being, they've got to find a way to take out the old one - and they have to want to. A contingent of Palestinians that a) really wants peaceful coexistence with Israel and does not lust after its eradication, and b) has the military might to overthrow Arafat and his entire apparatus (or can get someone else with that might to do the job for them) has to come into existence. How does President Bush foresee this chain of events occurring?

"The United States, along with the European Union and Arab states, will work with Palestinian leaders to create a new constitutional framework, and a working democracy for the Palestinian people."

Remember what I said about Arabs hating democracy? You want a bunch of petromonarchs (petro=oil, monarchs=medieval feudal lords) drafting a Bill of Rights?

"The United States, the international donor community and the World Bank stand ready to work with Palestinians on a major project of economic reform and development. The United States, the EU, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund are willing to oversee reforms in Palestinian finances, encouraging transparency and independent auditing."

The World Bank and IMF? Aren't these the same outfits that helped to drive numerous Third World countries into deeper poverty by addicting them to loans that they didn't have any capacity to pay off?

"I've asked Secretary Powell to work intensively with Middle Eastern and international leaders to realize the vision of a Palestinian state, focusing them on a comprehensive plan to support Palestinian reform and institution-building."

Bush needs to fire Powell and try to convince Margaret Thatcher to emigrate to the US so we can have a top-notch Secretary of State.

"I have a hope for the people of Muslim countries. Your commitments to morality, and learning, and tolerance led to great historical achievements."

Yeah, but most of those these achievements occurred in one Muslim-majority country: Turkey. And quite frankly I want some of that commitment to learning to be severely restrained, especially in the areas of biological and nuclear science.

Update: The hyperlink in the sentence "Palestinians who disagree with him [Arafat] die" is a dead link. This FrontPage Magazine article comments on Palestinian dissidents:

Over the years, I can attest from personal and professional experience that not all of the Arab stringers showed loyalty to Arafat. Indeed, it was Palestinian Arab journalists who helped uncovered Arafat's secret bank accounts. It was Palestinian Arab journalists who uncovered countless instances of torture, imprisonment and execution of Palestinian dissidents against Arafat. It was Palestinian Arab journalists who filmed the Palestinian Arab Security Services training children for combat. All this took courage, with Arafat's representatives "breathing down their backs."

Monday, June 24, 2002

It's the End of the World As We Know It And I Feel Fine

This week's issue of Time has a feature story by Nancy Gibbs on the growing interest - and expectation - of the End Times within the Christian community. (Not addressed in the article are those end-of-the-world fears that have nothing to do with any concern over Revelation and everything to do with the specter of weapons of mass destruction being proliferated among those Nations That Want Us Dead.)

I'd like to pose a question: does a proper interpretation of Revelation, whether it be pre- mid- post- or no-tribulation, already happened, or pure fiction, influence any decisions that anybody Christian or otherwise must face? The answer is no, for two reasons. First, Christians do not have one set of biblical commands for "most of the time" and another for the Two Minute Warning. Second, any liberty-loving person should be able to recognize the threats posed by those policies associated with the Antichrist: global monarchy (Rev. 13:7), mandated worship of government officials (Rev. 13:12), requirement of government-issued ID for all who buy and sell (Rev. 13:17), and capital punishment for failure to worship government officials and for failure to carry the proper ID when engaging in trade (Rev. 20:4). History is rife with examples of political leaders with identical or similar powers - and the picture isn't pretty.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Movie Review: The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones

If anyone would have told Christopher Lee thirty years ago that one day he would be sword-fighting a muppet...

Last night I went to see the latest Star Wars installment. It was better than The Phantom Menace, a reasonably enjoyable but flawed movie. The high points of Episode I were:

  • Special effects (goes without saying)
  • Decent plot
  • Performances by Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ian MacDiarmid (Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), and Anthony Daniels ad Kenny Baker (C-3PO and R2-D2)
  • Fun aliens, especially Gungan chief Boss Nass, Tatooine junk dealer Watto, and Naboo NASCAR chariot race driver Sebulba - not to mention our old friend Jabba the Hutt
  • Playful jab at Star Trek - the bad guys are the Trade Federation (and the race of aliens running it are the Nemoidians - a play on the name Nimoy?)

The low points were:

  • Annakin's virgin birth (even those who don't find it religiously offensive think it's a stupid plot device)
  • Not enough background on the Trade Federation
  • Not even a hint of Darth Maul's background other than his Sith apprenticeship
  • Queen Amidala (or rather her decoy) out-weirds French fashion
  • Flat delivery by Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Kiera Knightley (Amidala's decoy)
  • Way too much slapstick from amphibious redneck Jar Jar Binks
  • Annakin Skywalker is miscast - he's nine years old but looks six (no, he's not Nicholas from "Eight is Enough")

Clones makes some improvements. Jar Jar is not as annoying, and the slapstick is gone. Samuel L. Jackson's acting is not quite as bland. Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) are more intriguing villains than Darth Maul and the Trade Federation baddies. Hayden Christensen is a more intriguing Annakin than Nicholas Bradfo - I mean Jake Lloyd. As Obi-Wan, Ewan McGregor starts to resemble Alec Guiness more in his mannerisms and even in his voice (I was beginning to wonder if he would ever develop a deep British accent).Clones has one significant fault: the dialogue between Annakin and Amidala. The words are contrived, and Natalie Portman is often as monotone as Sam Jackson was in the previous film.

Plotwise, Clones accomplishes what it needs to accoplish. Palpatine takes his next step toward dictatorship, the Clone Wars (mentioned in the original trilogy) are explained, Annakin and Amidala are (rather clumsily) drawn together, and Annakin takes an important step toward the Dark Side. Overall, Clones is a better movie than its predecessor - not a great film, but a good one.

Episode III will (or should) feature all of the following: Annakin's complete conversion; his murder of the Jedi Knights, probably climaxing in a final battle between him and Obi-Wan which he mistakenly believes to be fatal for his old master; Palpatine's complete dissolution of the Senate (or reducing it to puppet status); the clone army's transformation into the Imperial Storm Troopers; the birth of Luke and Leia and the mission to secretly place them in the care of Annakin's half-brother Owen Lars and Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan, respectively; the construction of the original Death Star; an explanation for Yoda's disappearance from the scene (perhaps Annakin will mistake him for dead); and an explanation as to why it is in Episode IV that C-3PO has no apparent memory that he was built by someone named Skywalker and why he and R2 have no memory of ever meeting Obi-Wan or Luke's aunt and uncle.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

The Latest Supreme Court Ruling

On June 20, the Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits executions of the "mentally retarded." The complete ruling can be found here. I thoroughly condemn this ruling - and I say that as an opponent of capital punishment.

The death penalty debate is actually two debates, not one. The first addresses the question, "Is it constitutional?" Is government duly authorized to execute convicted criminals? According to the Fifth Amendment, yes. The amendment in full reads:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

A capital crime is one which is always punishable by death. If the framers of the Constitution wanted to abolish the death penalty - if they felt that it inherently fell under the Eighth Amendment's definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" - the amendment would begin, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital crime under any circumstances."

We have an Eighth Amendment because some punishments are always "cruel and unusual" and because others are in certain circumstances. The Court ruled that capital punishment of the "mentally retarded" is an example of the latter. The essential flaw in this ruling is that "mentally retarded" is a term that describes a vast array of mental states. It usually refers to anyone with an IQ under 70. (Keep in mind that there is no standard scale for measuring IQ; each of the zillions of IQ tests out there has its own grading scale. A 132 on one equals 148 on another, just as 32 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as 0 degrees Celsius.) Two people at the same level of sub-Gump intelligence can have wildly differing abilities to comprehend their personal actions and the consequences of such. Executing the "mentally retarded" may be unconstitutional in some cases, but not in all of them.

I predict that this ruling will affect all cases against "retarded" persons. One of these days, some shyster out there is going to try to convince a jury that if a "retarded" person can't be held legally accountable for a charge as serious as murder, he or she can't be held legally accountable for anything.

So where do I get off opposing capital punishment? Because of where I fall within the second debate, which addresses the question, "Is it a good idea?" One can accept that the Constitution empowers the government to do something and still consider it inadvisable for the government to exercise that power. (Case in point: the Libertarian demand that the Feds get out of the Post Office business that Article 1, Section 8 authorizes.)

Death penalty supporters will cite one or several of the following reasons for their position: that execution is just payment for murder and is a sufficient deterrent to murder, that imprisoned murderers can kill again upon escape or early release, and that imprisoned murderers can kill correctional officers or other inmates. (Okay, so not all death penalty supporters care about the risks inmates pose to each other.)

People hold numerous reasons for opposing the death penalty. Some simply believe that life imprisonment is a worse punishment than execution. Amnesty International cites three reasons for its stance on the issue: "It violates the right to life. It is irrevocable and can be inflicted on the innocent. It has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments." The first is a statement of faith. The second is statistically true, although the size of that risk is hotly contested. The third statement is a hotly-contested claim itself. Both libertarians and liberals, who make up the majority of death penalty opponents, tend to agree with Amnesty on those points. The latter, relying on dishonest statistics, often claim that executions disproportionately involve minorities and the poor. They will offer as evidence of "discrimination" that of the 100 people executed for a certain crime that 25 come from Group A and 75 come from Group B; if Group B is committing 75% of all instances of that crime, there is no evidence of discrimination.

My position on capital punishment falls in line with that of Amnesty International, with an added feature that seems pretty close to an opinion stated here. The use of lethal force should be used in emergency situations to combat murderous crimes in progress. The military wages war against criminal armies and overthrows criminal governments. Law enforcement uses deadly force to confront immediate deadly threats to the public at large, and armed citizens do so when such threats come right in their faces.

The courts are far too easily politicized and is far too arbitrary to be trusted with such power. Granted, that arbitrariness tends to favor defendants. The political left's worry about discriminatory abuses of the death penalty really is justified, even though it may be deluded as to where such abuses are occurring now. If a court is willing to dumb down the definition of capital murder for the benefit of some people, what will stop it from broadening its definition in order to "catch" others who would ordinarily face a lesser charge?

Friday, June 21, 2002

But What About the Children?

Back in April, Jay Manifold wrote this commentary on the Mideast conflict, which included a noteworthy quote from Dennis Prager:

"The second more frightening aspect of Arab/Muslim Jew-hatred is that many of these haters do not value their own lives."

What brought this to mind is this translation by MEMRI of an interview with Umm Nidal, the mother of a Palestinian suicide bomber (original source: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language daily in London). There are two possibilities: that the woman was parroting lines fed to her by terrorist handlers, or, even more frightening, that she was speaking from her heart.

These lines from the song "Russians," recorded by British rock star Sting during the height of the Cold War, also come to mind:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

Conscious desire for losing one's children to suicide attacks isn't exactly the sort of thing that basic maternal instincts allow one to regard as a loving act. It takes an extreme step away from human nature for a mom like Umm Nidal to make the statements she did in the interview and mean it (assuming she was not under some extreme outside pressure). I won't make any bets as to whether or not they constitute a majority, but I imagine that there's a lot of Palestinian moms who don't want to go along with the human-sacrifice-for-peace program. I hope that some day they will be liberated from their terrorist masters.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

From the Home Office on Ceti Alpha Six

Remember those early radio commercials that featured William Shatner's hammy "rap" versions of popular songs? Some time back (I'm not sure how long ago) he recorded several songs in that style, including "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." He once performed Elton John's "Rocket Man" on television - click here for streaming audio and video. (Not included in the stream is the introduction by Bernie Taupin - the guy who wrote the song.) Leonard Nimoy did a little song recording of his own. The best (?) of his and Shatner's old recordings are combined together on this CD.

Some songs we love so much - or so little - that the idea of William Shatner crooning them is rather frightening. So without any further ado:

Top Ten Songs That William Shatner Should Be Legally Banned From Singing
  1. "Achy-Breaky Heart" (Billy Ray Cyrus)
  2. "Sympathy for the Devil" (Rolling Stones)
  3. "Space Truckin'" (Deep Purple)
  4. "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" (AC/DC)
  5. "Gentle on my Mind" (Glen Campbell - once covered by Leonard Nimoy)
  6. "Stairway to Heaven" (Led Zeppelin)
  7. anything by the Bee Gees
  8. "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Queen)
  9. "Theme to 'Shaft'" (Isaac Hayes)
  10. "I'm Your Captain" (Grand Funk Railroad)


Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Conspiracy Corner

In most issues of plaintext, Mike Antonucci would report the latest conspiracy theories originating from or involving the Middle East. He did this for two reasons. In an early issue he wrote, "First, it enables us to better evaluate the motivations and designs of various players in the U.S. war against terrorism. Second, it exposes those who do not think rationally, and are therefore dangerous - how dangerous depending on the position they hold." In a later issue, he commented on why these theories proliferate. "Conspiracy theories can only thrive through the selective use of information. More information makes such theories less able to withstand scrutiny. That's why in Western democracies conspiracy theorists sit on the fringes, while in despotic states they are in the mainstream."

Some of the more intriguing theories reported in plaintext are:

"Muslims do not feel safe even going to the hospitals, because some Jewish doctors in one of the hospitals poisoned sick Muslim children, who then died…You see these people (the Jews) all the time, everywhere, disseminating corruption, heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs. [Because of them] there are strip clubs, homosexuals, and lesbians everywhere. They do this to impose their hegemony and colonialism on the world." - Sheikh Muhammad Al-Gamei'a, imam of the Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque of New York City, in an interview translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (original Arabic source [Update: is now a dead link]

"At the end of the last century, the Jewish organizations consolidated a hellish plan to take over the world by sparking revolutions or taking control of the keys to governments in various countries, first and foremost the U.S. and Russia." - Abdallah Aal Malhi, in the Saudi daily Al-Watan

"Evidence to be explored suggests that instead, these hijackers could well have been Israeli- sponsored fundamentalist Jewish fanatics (posing as 'bin Laden Arabs') hoping to instigate an all-out U.S. war the Arab world." - Michael Collins Piper, in Arab News; Antonucci describes him as "a well-known conspiracy crackpot last heard claiming the Mossad had a hand in the JFK assassination (along with the CIA and the Meyer Lansky mob)"

"The story of the arms ship [the Karine A, which was delivering arms from Iran to Palestinian terrorists] is but a licensed fabrication by Israel" - an editorial in Al-Akhbar, the Egyptian government daily

"[T]hrough its spying activities, Israel can demand hush money from Clinton, Bush or any other American officials." - Holocaust denier Mark Weber, as quoted in a Tehran Times article

"It is feared that the Indian Research and Analyst Wing (RAW) has staged the episode [the Daniel Pearl kidnapping] to defame Pakistan" - an article in the Peshawar newspaper The Frontier Post; a later issue claims that Mossad (Israeli intelligence) was also involved

French antiglobalization activist Jose Bouvet claims that the spate of synagogue burnings were engineered by Mossad "in order to divert French public attention from Israeli atrocities against Palestinians." The story was picked up by Tehran Times and denounced by ADL.

"Major food companies throughout America actually pay a Jewish Tax amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in order to receive protection" - Ernesto Cienfuegos, editor of La Voz de Aztlan, dredging up an ancient conspiracy theory in a story written for IslamWeb (La Voz de Aztlan is an official online publication of MEChA, an organization that seeks an independent Chicano nation - named Aztlan - to be carved out of the southwestern United States. This outfit is virulently anti-Semitic.) [Correction: La Voz de Aztlan is not affiliated with MEChA. Both organizations support the goals stated in El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán.]

"Israeli loyalists in the United States have tightened their grip on what the American people can hear. They strive to pit the American public against the Arabs, they aim to manufacture a military confrontation between American and the Arab world, and they spare no effort to keep the American public in darkness vis-á-vis the suspicious activities of the Israeli government on American soil. Does that not make a conspiracy?" - Dr. Naseer Alomar, in the Jordan Times (If the media's gushing over Yasser Arafat is part of a Zionist plot, I'd hate to see what kind of press Dr. Alomar would consider to be pro-Arab.)

Finally, in Arab News Bandar ibn Abdullah ties the "Zionist conspiracy" to both Whitewater and Enron. The cited article is here. [Update: The link is now dead. ADL has a large excerpt from that article.]

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Goodbye to plaintext

Mike Antonucci recently announced to his subscribers that plaintext would be discontinued. "Because of my business commitments, plaintext was going on at least a six-week hiatus anyway, so I have decided that now would be a good time to bring it to a permanent close...I can no longer meet the demands of a weekly, self-produced newsletter without affecting my livelihood" - that livelihood (at least in part) being the Education Intelligence Agency.

He graciously included links to a number of news sources that offer a wide range of perspectives relevant to the war on terrorism and Middle East issues in general:

Afghan News Network
Arab News
Arabic News
The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Islamic Republic News Agency
Jerusalem Post
Middle East NewsLine
Middle East News Wire
Palestinian Information Center
Tehran Times

Watergate Graffiti: Where Were You in '72?

 photo Watergate.jpg

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee's offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. The Washington Post, naturally, has a webpage that offers an overview of the scandal. A brief synopsis can also be found here, and this site has a fairly detailed timeline of Watergate and related scandals. The Houston Chronicle commemorated the 25th anniversary here. Those of y'all who have way too much time on your hands can go here to check out the audio and transcripts of the Nixon tapes. Enjoy!

Monday, June 17, 2002

Jerry Vines and Abe Foxman: Symbols of America's Greatness

Which of the following statements is hateful?

"Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives - and his last one was a 9-year-old girl. And I will tell you, Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people." - Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida

"Unfortunately, such deplorable, divisive rhetoric is not surprising coming from the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has a track record of denigrating and delegitimizing other religions." - Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League

Hatred refers to one of two attitudes: 1) an emotional bitterness directed at someone; 2) a moral objection, sometimes involving emotional bitterness and sometimes not, to an object, idea, or action deemed to be inherently destructive. There is a common misperception, especially in some political circles, that hating something necessarily means hating the people who like that something. No one ever applies this rationale universally; for instance, people who excoriate Vines for criticizing religious practices usually praise Foxman for doing the same thing. (Someone should tell Foxman that the prophets of his own faith were famous for "denigrating and delegitimizing" those pesky Canaanite religions.)

Such inconsistency is rooted in the prejudicial notion that there are ideologies so plainly obvious to anyone smarter than an infant that only someone who wishes harm on others could believe otherwise. Vines' remarks are often interpreted as an assault directed against Muslims by people who never consider the possibility that Vines believes that there is sufficient evidence that Islam is an inherently injurious religion and wishes to offer Muslims a respite.

There are those who want government to criminalize so-called "hate speech." Supporters fall into at least two groups: bullies who want to shut up their opposition, and naive utopians who believe that the government's proper role includes forcing its citizens to get along with each other (and that such a goal can be accomplished). Canada is one country where such laws has been successfully enacted. Among the "protected" classes are those of any "race, color, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age." Evidently it isn't broad enough to cover their politicians' routine denouncements of America. Many major universities in America have similar speech codes; Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education offers a pretty good introduction to this and other "political correctness" phenomena.

Speech rights play a significant role in protecting the peace. America has the most peaceful ideological discord on the face of the Earth. Laws protecting speech, even disagreeable speech, guarantee a peaceful outlet for expressing ourselves without fear of government reprisal. The vast majority of Americans cherish the rights of all, including our ideological adversaries, to their physical safety, their property, and their choice of beliefs. We reject that anyone is disposable for having the "wrong" beliefs, and while we may disagree with others on various issues and try to persuade them otherwise, we do not begrudge their legal rights to disagree with us.

If all religious squabbles were like the ones between the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Baptist Convention, the world would be a much safer place.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Spam By Another Name

Have y'all ever received an unsolicited email advertisement with the following disclaimer on the bottom?

"This is NOT SPAM - You have received this e-mail because at one time or another you entered the weekly draw at one of our portals or sites. We comply with all proposed and current laws on commercial e-mail under (Bill s.1618 TITLE III passed by the 105th Congress)."

This is USDA Grade-A Spam. The sender's address is always an invalid email address (at least that's what the Mail Delivery Subsystem tells me). The "weekly draw" either doesn't exist, or it really means "my computer drew your email address during this week's random email search." And S.1618 is a Senate bill introduced by John McCain in February 1998 that never even got out of committee much less passed into law.

I recommend deleting any such emails.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Something From the Humor Vault

Some time back, my ex-roomie Jay Manifold sent me this unique interpretation of the Gettysburg Address. Suffice it to say that computer technology doesn't necessarily improve everything.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Thoughts on the War on Terror

What is a coward? President Bush says that suicide terrorist attacks are cowardly. Bill Maher disagrees, claiming that "lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away" more truly defines the word. Neither one of them is right.

Courage is the act of putting oneself in jeopardy in order to rescue someone. Cowardice occurs when one is in a situation in which that person is reasonably expected to perform a courageous act but is too frightened to do so; the list of situations that do and do not demand courageousness is way to long to be summarized here. Waging an attack from a safe distance in order to rescue someone is just plain smart; you have no obligation to become a martyr if you can beat the bad guys without placing yourself at such risk. (Someone should tell Mr. Maher that the real issue is whether or not any particular missile attack really does hinder or eliminate threats to peace.) There is no word in the English language for what the 9/11 terrorists did - putting oneself in jeopardy (if not committing suicide) in order to harm someone - although we do have a lot of adjectives like "evil" that describe the mindset behind such activity.

Giving peace a chance. A number of celebrities, Richard Gere being one of the more conspicuous, believe that our response to 9/11 should be one of "compassion," not "violence." This "if we will be nice to them, they'll be nice to us" crowd misses several points:

  1. If someone is trying to kill you out of hate, stopping the attempt at murder takes priority over stopping the hate.
  2. Waging violent war against a murderous entity demonstrates compassion toward that entity's intended victims.
  3. We're not starting a war - we're responding to one declared against us.
  4. Arab terrorist organizations fight us not because they think we're uncompassionate but because they think we're the greatest obstacle to Islamic totalitarianism.

I'd like to see a version of The Jackal where the Gere character uses compassion to stop the Bruce Willis character from carrying out the planned assassination.

Our enemies. One of the greatest obstacles to the War on Terror is the lack of consensus on just who the enemy is. An objective analysis identifies our enemies as all nations that aid or abet terrorist organizations that want us dead. We attacked Afghanistan because its ruling Taliban clearly fit the bill. Iraq's role in actually aiding al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks is subject to debate; nevertheless, Saddam Hussein is a malignant enemy of peace and must eventually be taken out. So must the governments of the other two major sponsors of terror in the Middle East - Iran and Syria, without whom Islamic Jihad and Hamas, respectively, would not be as powerful as they are today. Actually, all of the Arab governments need to be taken out. It's been pointed out by a number of people that democracies rarely wage war on each other. Peace will come to the Middle East when the Middle East wants it, and as long as totalitarian dictators call the shots it won't.

I'm not saying that we should declare war on the entire Arab world (unless it should ever openly declare war on us). There's three ways to take out a government: hot war, cold war, and diplomacy. It's going to take some combination of all three to get the Arab world on the side of representative government and individual liberty. Time will tell which of the three should options should be applied to which nations. Maybe some sort of perestroika will sweep the Arab world someday.

Our allies. These nations are the primary reason for the lack of consensus on who the enemy is. Our nominal allies in the Arab are not jumping on the bandwagon for attacking Iraq this time around, although that could change, and there may even be some hope for getting some of them on board for action against Iran someday (but probably not soon). Syria they view as a friend, however. (They like Cuba, too. Go figure.) Europe oohs and ahhs when terrorists win Nobel Peace Prizes and is too scared of its sizeable Arab populations to be all that useful to us; we should accept its help whenever it makes itself available but not take it for granted. (Maybe we should try to get Japan and Korea to help; they don't have Arab immigrant populations to worry about.) Ironically, Russia and some of its former republics, particularly Uzbekistan and Georgia, seem to be helping us out more than our NATO allies.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

EIA and plaintext

I don't quite recall how I came across my first copy of the EIA Communiqué back in September of 1999. Mike Antonucci founded the Education Intelligence Agency in 1997. As you might guess, EIA exists to research education issues. The website has, among other things, the most recent issue of the Communiqué, a complete archives of all past issues, and several reports on various education-related issues. People can receive the Communiqué free in their email by contacting Mike Antonucci at Almost of the articles report on teachers' union activity; those of y'all who are teachers or who have kids in school might want to subscribe or check out the website now and then to see if there's any breaking news about your friendly neighborhood chapter of the National Education Association or American Federation of Teachers.

In October 2001 Antonucci started a new project, a weekly newsletter on the War of Terrorism, relying on, as stated in the first issue, "sources you are unlikely to see in your daily newspaper, television and magazine coverage." Drawing from his background in cryptography, he named the newsletter plaintext after the term which refers to an originally coded message that has been decoded. Antonucci writes on current issues, the latest whacked-out conspiracy theories (mostly of Arab origin), and historical perspectives much neglected by the mass media (not necessarily because of liberal bias but because few people, reporters included, desire to put forth much effort into exploring history). You can subscribe to the newsletter by sending an email to, or you can visit the plaintext site. It doesn't appear that Antonucci has plaintext archives available online at this time.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Who am I? What Am I Doing Here?

My ventures into cyberspace began with the computer bulletin board systems (BBS's, for short) that were prevalent in the '80s and early '90s. A BBS was the "suborbital cyberspace" equivalent of a website. It was run from its owner's own computer, not some anonymous distant fileserver, and anyone with a modem and the appropriate software could dial in. I lived in Corpus Christi, Texas at the time. Most of the "boards" had message forums, often dedicated to some specific topic. A handful had live chat rooms (never liked those). I got a 300 bps modem and started lurking on several locals BBS's under the alias "Squire of Gothos," usually sticking to generic message forums on boards such as "Willow Creek" and "The Pleasure Dome." I upgraded to 1200 bps when I discovered downloadable shareware. (Avast, ye scurvy dogs! Prepare to be boarded!!) It took a whopping 40 minutes to download a 256K file.

I first encountered debate-oriented BBS's when I moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area in 1987. I initially thought that since you never had to worry about being interrupted or yelled at, a BBS message forum was a great way to keep debates from getting overheated. Unfortunately, not everybody in cyberspace shares that perspective. I never did personally witness the worst of online histrionics that was out there, not even on those boards where I was the sole conservative. Others I know do have such stories to tell, though. (If anyone should wonder why I pronounce HTML "hate mail"...)

Some time in the mid-to-late '90s I finally hit the Internet. The two greatest rewards of having an ISP account are email service and the Web's news and opinion sites. If you look hard enough you'll find sites like the ones at the right that offer the in-depth journalism for which TV doesn't have the time and newspapers don't put forth the effort. One such site is FrontPage Magazine, operated by radical-leftist-turned-conservative David Horowitz and featuring various conservative, libertarian, and otherwise politically incorrect columnists - and readers' letters written in response to those columns. One day I pored through the archives to see how many letters I had written since I started visiting the site in February 2001; to date I somehow managed to crank out 70. (Believe it or not, I'm not even in the running for most prolific FrontPage letter writer.)

Responding to op-ed columns is fun, but it's nice to be able to raise new issues now and then rather than always responding to those already raised by someone else. Last December I learned of an Internet phenomenon offering an ideal outlet for the armchair pundit. My ex-roomie Jay Manifold emailed me about his new "blog," A Voyage to Arcturus, named for a BBS he once ran. Some blogs are private, allowing people to limit access to a select circle of friends. Most, like this one, are accessible by anyone on the Internet. Some "bloggers" include professional journalists such as columnist Andrew Sullivan and former Reason Magazine editor Virginia Postrel. Blogs are also popular with amateur opinion writers.

(You might notice a link to another website named for a defunct BBS. Spatula City was a node of Fidonet, a network that made it possible for BBS's in multiple cities to participate in the same message forums. The SpatulaOp, Steve Crager, has provided some valuable tech support for my machine - I still owe him some buffalo wings for that last session - and helped me to get the job prior to my current computer operations stint.)

Readers can look forward to commentary on current news items, essays on various political, social, and religious issues, an occasional book review, links to informative and/or fun stuff I find on the Internet, and anything else I can come up with. Comments and ideas are always welcome. Enjoy.


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