Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

My thoughts exactly: Give up and pull the plug on the U.N.

I try to be careful and informed in choosing which private charities and organizations I donate to. I don't want my contributions wasted, and I don't like being duped. I want my funds to go in directions where they will do the most good.

I would never choose to donate to the United Nations as it is today. Not one red cent.

Simi Valley Sophist posts about the latest U.N. scandal (there are now too many to list besides the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, the U.N. sex crimes in the Congo scandal, and the ongoing inability of the U.N. to enforce its own resolutions). He sums up with this:

When will the American public wake-up and rid itself of this corrupt and deleterious organization? The original concept was good but good has gone down the drain because the organization has been hijacked by thug nations. Since the U.S. is the only remaining superpower, we are consistently required to carry the heavy load to the benefit of the remainder of the world. Enough is enough. We are paying the price, we should start making the rules.

Throw the U.N. out of our country, and start a new organization in the same facilities comprising cooperative countries with values consistent with those of our own. The remainder of the world should be welcome to come and plead their cases, but they should not be allowed to be voting members.

The whole U.N. procedure is ignorant. It’s like inviting the mafia and local street gangs to be members on your city counsel. Then you go and make the leader of one of the gangs your mayor. How stupid is that?

I agree. In the wake of its track record of miserable failures around the world, now is the time for the U.S. to kick this misbegotten and hijacked body out of our sovereign nation and out of our national pocketbook. It is time for us to lead the way in founding a better international coalition to bring about positive, ethical diplomatic and democratic change in the world. Come on, can we admit and renounce our own bureaucratic inertia and blaze a new path?

It is to our national shame that we are still affiliated with this organization, let alone still funding it with taxpayer dollars. Mr. Bolton, President Bush, and our august Congress--can you provide some leadership here? Or do you just intend to keep bilking the American taxpayer to fund this cesspool?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

National shrines

With my kids now back in school from summer vacation, back to studying spelling, science (goodbye, Pluto!), history, etc., the thought of our national shrines popped into my head. Schoolkids often take field trips to national shrines. It occurred to me our country has a lot of them, though not all of them are always thought of in the context of being "shrines."

Here are some national shrines I've visited:

The White House (outside)
U.S. Congress Building
Washington Monument
Mt. Vernon
Jefferson Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
Ford's Theater
The Grand Canyon
The Liberty Bell
Mount Rushmore
Arlington National Cemetery
The Empire State Building
Harper's Ferry
The Alamo

Here I some I have not yet seen, but would like to:

The Statue of Liberty
The White House (inside)
Valley Forge
Lexington and Concord
Fort McHenry National Monument "and Historic Shrine"
Pearl Harbor
Ellis Island
The New York City Tenement Museum

Feel free to suggest some I've forgotten. I am not sure if the World Trade Center site could yet be called a "shrine," though it is certainly hallowed ground. This leads me to wonder what in fact does constitute a "national shrine." Does a shrine have to be man-made (hence, disqualifying Nature's biggest awe-inspiring spot in the U.S., the Grand Canyon? Or how about Niagara Falls?) How historically insignificant does a man-made monument have to be before it's no longer a national shrine? Is it a matter of relevance--popularity--or remembrance? Just wondering.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Conversion at the point of a gun

It is a relief and a happy ending, to hear this morning that Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig have been released by their Gaza kidnappers. Michelle Malkin as usual has the full roundup. Their sham "conversion" to Islam, made under threat of death and then videotaped, will inspire some interesting reactions in different parts of the globe.

Here's mine:

The "conversion" ploy was obviously a laughable and face-saving move on the part of the kidnappers who were ultimately pressured by bigger thug-fish to let the journalists go. The "conversion" at the point of a gun is a "childish and intellectually stunted" show not to be taken seriously by any but the most delusional of Islamic fundamentalists (of which there seems to be no scarcity). To Westerners it offers an object illustrated lesson of the nature of one of Islam's primary jihadist goals: conversion at the point of a gun.

Since 9/11 it has become a nagging question in my mind: Is Islam really a religion of peace? Certainly Islam is not monolithic, and many of the so-called "moderate" Muslims are peaceful people who, at various times and places have coexisted amiably alongside and among those of other faiths with no warlike violence. Since 9/11 I have been trying to educate myself on Islam and its history, to try and answer that question for myself: how can some Muslims claim their religion to be peaceful while others claim their religion grants them a moral right to murder?

As an American of German heritage, I have felt particularly sensitive to the idea that individuals should not be unfairly tarred with a prejudicial broad brush of persecution, as many Germans in the U.S. were, during the two World Wars. It is impossible (and foolish, I concede) not to view a member of the enemy group without suspicion during a time of war, but I think the majority of Americans have become "nuanced" enough thinkers since the time of Franklin Roosevelt to realize at a gut-level that, just as not all the "Japs" and "Krauts" among us were inevitably America's enemies then, so it is today that not all Muslims in the U.S. are "Islamofascists" waging or sympathizing with terrorism and jihad. In fact I think that Western society's pendulum may have swung so far to the other extreme today that a sense of not wanting to seem insensitive or politically incorrect hinders us in being effective or prepared in cases where we should by rights be more honestly rigorous.

But the key question to me until recently has been: Which is Islam, in truth--a peaceful or a warlike religion? Which factions of it are getting their interpretations wrong (or trying to pull the wool over the Western world's eyes)? Do we have a right to hope that "moderate Muslims" are or can ever be the "true face of Islam?" Can Islam co-exist with democracy, with other faiths, and with universal human and civil rights? Or does the very essence and heart of this religion rest on "conversion at the point of a gun" to its own tenets and non-democratic values?

I have learned over the past five years that those Muslims who believe the Koran to be the literal word of God (the fundamentalists, you might say, in comparing them to fundamentalist Christians who believe in literal interpretations of the Bible as the word of God) are thereby justified in lying, stealing, using deception and murder against non-believers in the name of armed jihad to spread Islam as a conquering force across the entire globe. For this is the literal message contained in the Koran and the traditional Islamic sources for those who ascribe to this faith. Those who criticize or leave the faith are guilty of "apostasy" and are to be killed. Those who are not Muslim and resist conversion to the faith are to be subjugated as an underclass, or killed. Any Muslim who takes a literal view of his or her religion cannot argue with these dictates coming directly from Allah via Mohammed.

And those who do not choose to take a literal view of Islam become apostates in the eyes of the literalists.

Robert Spencer's website, Jihad Watch, has a good roundup of this topic (scroll down to read "Frequently Asked Questions"). About jihad, he writes this:
Jihad (in Arabic, "struggle") is a central duty of every Muslim. Modern Muslim theologians have spoken of many things as jihads: the struggle within the soul, defending the faith from critics, supporting its growth and defense financially, even migrating to non-Muslim lands for the purpose of spreading Islam. But violent jihad is a constant of Islamic history. Many passages of the Qur'an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad are used by jihad warriors today to justify their actions and gain new recruits. No major Muslim group has ever repudiated the doctrines of armed jihad. The theology of jihad, which denies unbelievers equality of human rights and dignity, is available today for anyone with the will and means to bring it to life.
It pains me to say mean things about another religion, when I was raised, as an American, to respect all religions, to "live and let live," and to revere the freedom of thought of the individual. I think Americans, perhaps more than anyone else on earth, have a very difficult time grasping how not just intolerant, but murderous, adherents of a religious faith can be. The very concept is totally foreign to us, who have lived in a society steeped in religious freedom and respect for equal rights for all people. But I cannot deny where my study of Islam has led me over the past five years.

When I look at the "conversion" video of Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig and I see what I now know so many in the Muslim world would like to see: I see myself, converting at the point of a gun.

UPDATE: Here's further interesting discussion (read the comments, too) of whether or not Muslims can be assimilated into America and whether or not Islam is essentially incompatible with freedom of religion (via Instapundit).

UPDATE: Bookworm Room doubts the reality of so-called "moderate muslims."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Journalists still missing

Here in the United States the saturation news coverage of the man who has claimed to have killed JonBenet Ramsey has gone far beyond absurdity. The fact that he hadn't even returned to the U.S. from Thailand yet did not stop the radio and television news media from broadcasting breathlessly hour upon hour all weekend and yesterday, including from Denver, Colorado (where the murder took place years ago). Back in the 1960s people used to read "The National Enquirer," "Midnight," "The National Examiner," and other tabloid scandal sheets to get all the racy, scummy, creepy details of such "news." Now cable TV fills that voyeuristic need to the point of making one gag.

Meanwhile, it has now been a week since Fox News Channel reporter Steve Centanni and freelance cameraman Olaf Wiig were kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza by unknown terrorists, and very little media attention has been paid to this story. If journalists can gin up news from no news in Denver, surely they can generate a little media heat to help bring two of their own home safely.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What did Mahoud Ahmadinejad know and when did he know it?

It's been impossible to ignore the continuing threats eminating over the last several weeks from the alleged nattily-dressed Iranian leader Ahmadinejad. One wonders what's up, and if perhaps the foiled plot to blow up British-U.S. airliners was lurking in the back of Ahmadinejad's mind.

Now it seems I am not the only one suspicious of the recently wandering Egyptian students at large in the U.S. who couldn't find Bozeman, along with all the late-night Muslim cellphone shopping sprees. Bookworm Room pointed me to this essay at The American Thinker, attempting to connect the dots on what might be a possible evil plot afoot. Meanwhile, it is most ludicrous that Mike Wallace in his much-touted "60 Minutes" interview, neglected to press the President on a few hard-hitting, journalistic, "the public needs to know" type questions.

Sorry, free speech is not entirely free

Here in the U.S., "There's something about freely expressing your opinions that makes people want to kill you" (via Neal Boortz). Even on supposedly enlightened college campuses, we have a little problem with unhinged nutcases acting out against diversity of thought.

Meanwhile, in the public sector, people are now forbidden by the Federal government to express their political opinions 60 days before an election (thanks to the Constitutional abomination known as the McCain-Feingold "incumbant protection" act; via Instapundit).

Of course, if you are unfortunate enough to live in, say, Cuba you will be put in jail for doing what I do here every day: expressing my opinion (via Michelle Malkin's site).

Totally free speech is still an ideal and not a reality (less in some places, more in others)--but it is still an ideal worth struggling for. Today I just want to take a moment and praise the bravery of those who take risks, stand up, and dare to speak out against the status quo.

Friday, August 11, 2006

View from the American street

As the terrorist plot (Islamist jihadist terrorist plot, let's be clear) to incinerate several commercial airliners full of men, women and children flying between the U.S. and England was revealed yesterday, I found myself growing more and more angry, with the kind and strength of anger I rarely experience in ordinary daily life. With great relief and gratitude I learned that the plot had been foiled, but I think it could be called a kind of rage I felt at being so vividly reminded that these Muslim terrorists ("Islamic fascists," as President Bush so aptly termed them) want to kill us--us ordinary Americans of all ages, genders, races, religions, and stripes--just because we are "infidels." These terrorists are still actively working on doing just that.

Of course this fact is not really "news." But seeing thousands of travelers targeted and inconvenienced in airports in Britain and the U.S. was certainly a hard-to-ignore reminder.

Was I the only one who found it wrong and enraging that everybody should have to give up their carry-on luggage and be stripped of possessions and comforts because of a gang of Muslim bullies?

Little old me, a wimpy middle-aged American housewife, with steam coming out of her ears. I wondered how many other Americans were having a similar reaction to the biggest news of the day. What was the American street saying to all of this?

Lileks with his usual insouciant humor and pith, let out with this:

I had many things to discuss, but at the end of the day they all seem obvious. Terrorists = bad. People who think the arrests were a PR move = foolish. Likelihood substantial portions of the business fliers will subconsciously adopt the nuke ‘em from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure posture after learning they can’t take their laptops on the flight = high. Seriously, when I learned that they were confiscating books today, I had a vision of a plane full of people all staring straight ahead, hands in their laps, waiting, waiting, waiting for it all to be over. No books. Because, you know, they might overwhelm the cockpit crew with a dramatic reading.
By late afternoon I had fired off an email to a friend, which I think may have crossed a line, but nevertheless illustrates how I (and maybe others) was feeling:

I hear from my friend in London that Heathrow is a nightmare; and they had to cancel their [vacation] trip....No hand-luggage allowed... [At the airport in my town] the line to go through security is "snaking out the door" into the heat and humidity, according to the radio. People have to dump out or surrender all liquids, gels, lotions, chapsticks, and their car key remotes.... Frankly, I wish they would just PROFILE the evident bad guys--Arabs--this time and let the obviously innocent people alone for now. As somebody said (rather cynically), if enough innocent Muslims get held up at security gates, they may start to realize they need to take a stand against their murderous co-religionists who are giving them a bad name, instead of the entire population of the U.S. and England having to take the brunt of the hassle and inconvenience, out of political correctness. We need the active and strong support of peaceful, moderate Muslims who need to come out of the closet and stand up. So did the German-Americans have to search their souls and decide where they stood, through the two World Wars--they became Americans and lost the hyphen and helped America win the wars.

My friend, bless her kind heart, wrote back the obvious:

...I think being a muslim must be very difficult now, and if I was muslim I'd be mad as hell at evil people hijacking my religion. Still, racial profiling should be illegal, and is un-American. And I believe that if that were actually the policy, the jihadists would easily find some white-looking suicide bombers to work for them--they're quick and adaptable, like viruses....

She's right on both counts, of course, and especially from a practical standpoint. But I still think I'm right that it's wrong for an entire population to be hassled and scrutinized more closely than Muslims and especially young Arab men when it comes to airline flights and other suspicious venues. It is a complicated issue, but at the very least I think my reaction mirrors a growing widespread disgust with pro forma, knee-jerk political correctness when life and death are at stake. None of us wants innocent, peaceful Muslims hurt, persecuted, or bullied. But it is past the time to point out that those very Muslims themselves are being hurt, persecuted, and bullied all over the world, along with everybody else, by this sick Islamic jihad.

We are the most tolerant nation ever when it comes to respecting different cultures and tolerating different religions, including those that want to and are actively trying to kill us and wipe out our tolerant society. The absurdity and unfairness of us therefore being targeted precisely because of that, and exactly through that, makes me just see red.

Update: Powerline advocates more profiling of airline passengers and points to what CAIR should do (at Joe's Dartblog) as opposed to what it did do.

Update: Summarizing the foiled plot on Betsy's Page:
How scary that the airport employee had an all-area access pass. And next time the Muslim charities complain of heightened surveillance of what they do, remind them that one of their employees was in a plot to kill thousands of people.

Update: Michelle Malkin says "Thank you" for profiling.

Update: And they are quick and adaptable like viruses--and also willing to kill their own women and babies to avoid profiling.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ruminations on simpler times

As we live through and experience "interesting times" (the traditional Chinese euphemism for strife, disorder, chaos, and upheaval) there is always that human tendancy to look back at Grandma or Grandpa's life as being simpler times, the "good old days" when life had a slower, easier pace, and people had time to breathe, commune with one another, enjoy life, and live on simpler, less stressful terms.

The wonderful historical writer, David McCullough, refutes this delusion in his lecture delivered earlier this year at Hillsdale College. He spoke about Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States:

Something I always like to emphasize is that there never was a simpler past. We hear often, "Oh, that was a simpler time," but it's always wrong. Imagine Abigail's life. Up in the morning at about 5 to light the fireplace that served as the kitchen, call to the children to come down, cook the breakfast, tend the stock, try to keep the farm solvent during the whole war with her husband gone and with inflation and with shortages of everything. Schools were closed, so she had to educate the children at home. Her day didn't end until 9 or 10 at night when the children would go upstairs to their bedrooms, where it could be so cold that the water in the bowls that they used to wash their faces was iced over. And then she would sit down at the kitchen table with a single candle and write some of the greatest letters ever written by any American.

In one plaintive letter, she writes: "Posterity who are to reap the blessings will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors." And we don't. We don't know what they went through--epidemics of smallpox or dysentery, which could take the lives of hundreds of people just in the little town of Quincy, Massachusetts. It was by no means a simpler time. They had to worry about things that we don't even think about any more, and suffer discomforts and inconveniences of a kind that we never even imagine. We have little idea of how tough they were. Imagine John Adams setting off in the middle of winter to ride nearly 400 miles on horseback to get to Congress. Try riding even 40 miles sometime. John and Abigail were separated, in all, more than ten years because of his service to the country.

They had to worry about things that we don't even think about any more.

I remember that one of the "Aha!" moments of my life came while I was watching the PBS television series, "1900 House." It was one of the first "reality" television shows, and the first one I'd ever seen, anyway. I was enthralled by the premise, and by each episode as it unfolded. The series showed the experiences of a modern-day English family who volunteered to take up residence in a house furnished and stocked as it would have been in 1900, and their task over several weeks was to attempt to live life the way a family would have lived it there in 1900.

At first I didn't think of 1900 as being very far from the present. Surely a Victorian household, while backwards in some respects, was neither rustic nor spartan. But the adjustments for the modern family were huge, and no more so than for the wife and mother of the family. To her fell the chores of cooking, cleaning, laundering, doctoring, and managing the household with only the antique tools and appliances. The burden of her work, just to achieve clean clothes for her family, or to keep her children nourished by way of an antiquated kitchen, was phenomenal.

Nothing else has so dramatically, immediately, or emotionally demonstrated to me how much the condition of women (especially housewives and mothers) has changed with the advent of the washer and dryer, the vacuum cleaner, modern miracle drugs, and electricity. These technological advances have done more for women than all the feminists combined.

On my worse day I can always comfort myself now with the thought that I have so much personal power, autonomy, and freedom at my command. My lifestyle is a miracle compared to women born earlier or living now in other places around the world--a miracle I, personally, have done relatively little to deserve. If I awake bored, stressed, or depressed, at least I don't have a dayful of exhausting physical labor ahead of me just to keep body and soul together for one more day. I do not have to scrounge for a needle, candles, or soap, as Abigail Adams did. I can hop in the car and go get a cappucino or a smoothie if I want--shallow of me, perhaps, but what freedom that small luxury represents, that we so utterly take for granted.

Instead of heading down to the local river to beat my family's clothes against a rock, I can go to a library, supermarket, bookstore or art gallery, visit friends or do more rewarding work. I have the leisure to read a book, watch TV, garden (not plow), surf the internet for entertainment or instant world news, and write down my thoughts. I am free to have a life of the mind, to create or recreate. And instead of having buried several children or died in childbirth as many mothers did in earlier days, I can obtain near-immediate and effective medical care for myself and my family. We are not wasting away from diseases or parasites now forgotten.

And so what are we masses of American kings and queens of such middle-class splendor doing with all of this unprecedented free time, physical comfort, and autonomy?

John and Abigail Adams would be incredulous to see the wealth of blessings showered today on their posterity, in large part thanks to their own sacrifices. I wonder, though, what they would say about our character and our purposes. How much have Americans changed since 1776, and is the change for the better or for the worse, do you think?

Which indeed are the simpler times? I do know this much: I wouldn't swap.

BACKGROUND: See my previous post on conservative guilt.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reuters caught manipulating the news

Michelle Malkin has the latest round-up of the faked, manipulated, staged, and miscaptioned Reuters photos.

Powerline puts it succinctly:

It is now obvious that this is a major scandal, and that Reuters has allowed itself to be used as a vehicle for publishing the crudest forms of Hezbollah propaganda.

Meanwhile, is "Reuters' Hijacking Lebanon's Answer to the U.N.?" (via Little Green Footballs)

The moral of this story is: you can't trust the old news sources with the venerable, established names the way you used to. Don't believe everything you read, see, or hear in the news without critical analysis of your own. You take in clues and evaluate, judge, and make distinctions among people to survive and succeed in life--well, you have to do the same with your news sources.

You have to assume there is a bias, and you have to consider the source. (Bookworm Room points out that the Associated Press is not free of bias either.) Never expect one source of news (wishful thinking for the 1960s and Walter Cronkite) to tell you "the truth" anymore. In this Age of Information, you need to read/listen widely and evaluate all sources for their biases (and you even have to stay informed and educated to do that). You have to become a critical and even skeptical news consumer, evaluating media outlets and their stories the same way you evaluate websites, distinguishing between the trustworthy and authoritive and the blarney-filled and looney.

The bad news is, that's more work for you, the consumer. The good news is, the world is getting smarter and more sophisticated as information proliferates.

And finally, never underestimate the power of the blogosphere to uncover lies and liars. It's potentially the biggest editorial board in the universe.

UPDATE: "There is no other word than 'negligence' to describe this kind of editing. The only reasonable alternative is 'complicity.'"

UPDATE: For the record, Zombietime summarizes and analyzes all the shifty and suspicious photojournalism coming out of Lebanon (via Bookworm Room and Powerline).