Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Are we at finally at the 'Gates' of racial harmony?

Note: A version of this appeared as the weekend op-ed.

In the late '90s when I was living in Bulgaria, I met a man named Kyril in the capitol, Sofia. (This has something to do with Professor Henry Louis Gates, bear with me.)

Kyril heard me and a Polish girl speaking Polish and English, approached us and addressed us in better Polish than mine, and excellent English. It turned out he was a multi-lingual translator.

Kyril invited us to dinner with his family, where we learned some of his life story. He'd been interned for five years in hard labor camps in the '70s, for the crime of having foreign visitors. His neighbors, who still lived in the same apartment building, had turned him in to the secret police.

He was beaten regularly in the camp, and showed us the dental bridge where he'd had his teeth knocked out. (Thanks bud, I used to think of you every time I was detained in some Eastern European police station for "Your papers please!")

But Kyril's real grievance was against the Greeks. Bulgarians and Greeks hate the Turks, because both were oppressed by the Ottoman Empire for centuries. But they also hate each other.

Kyril told us about a war fought between the two countries. After the war, they negotiated a prisoner exchange. The Bulgarians sent the Greek prisoners home in good faith. The Greeks blinded 14,000 Bulgarian prisoners, with only one in a hundred left with one eye to lead the other 99 home.

Kyril was literally pounding his fist into his palm and shouting about those blankety-blank Greeks, when it dawned on me he was talking about the Byzantine Greeks. Which meant this happened about a thousand years ago. (In 1014 to be exact.)

This long term grudge-holding is not at all unusual in Europe. One of the great things about America is, mostly we don't do that.

If you doubt it, tell me where else could you have a hideously destructive civil war that killed more Americans than all our other wars combined, and sectional animosity as tepid as ours a mere 145 years later?

Up here in Yankeeland people sometimes make fun of my accent when it slips out. I am quite confident it would never occur to anyone to kill me for it. In former Yugoslavia or Northern Ireland, you could get killed for your accent.

Within the memory of living men, African-Americans were arrested, beaten, and murdered for lipping off to cops or just speaking impertinently to white people. But all that changed with what seems breathtaking speed, to those who know the history of the Old World.

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, one of the highest-paid academics in America, got himself arrested for disorderly conduct for dissing a cop. Did his now-admittedly obnoxious behavior rise to the level of disorderly conduct under the law, or was it just “contempt of cop”? Rather than explore that question in court the charges were dropped.

Professional grievance-monger Rev. Al Sharpton immediately cried “racist America!” - like we didn't know that was going to happen. The mayor of Cambridge, governor of Massachusetts, and President of the United States all weighed in with their comments on American racism.

But wait, aren't they all African-Americans? Wasn't one of the arresting officers African-American?

And pay close attention, the undisputed fact is an African-American man heaping verbal abuse on heavily-armed police officers got no more than a kid-gloves arrest and a brief confinement, whatever you think of the validity of the charge.

You can almost see the dawning awareness in the distinguished professor, mayor, governor and president. In America, history is not destiny. We don't believe people are uniquely privileged or uniquely guilty for what their ancestors, or people of the same race, did to each other before they were born. And we have little patience for dwelling on ancient wrongs as long as we have a future to build.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tameshigiri on YouTube

This is an experiment with embedding a YouTube video on my blog, so have patience and bear with me.

This is me doing tameshigiri, straw mat cutting with a samurai sword.

The mat was bought at a garage sale, the sword is a Masahiro cheap katana bought at eBay for less than the price of the shipping.

It occured to me after the embarassment of knocking the mat off the stand that I might have tied the base tight.

At any rate, see here:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Gates affair, three takes

Of course by now everyone knows about the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates. What would have been a local news event got covered nationally because, 1) the black man in question was a Harvard professor who was, 2) a friend of the President of the United States who, 3) made a public statement on the subject of his friend's arrest.

The three takes on this, exceprted below come from a writer at the generally liberal Slate on-line magazine, the conservative Mark Steyn, and the libertarian-conservative Larry Elder.

I know Ford only from this piece. Steyn and Elder are among the authors whose laundry lists I'd read.

My views are well-known to my readers. IMHO the Ford article contains a number of fallacious assumptions, which I will comment on. The Steyn article is full of the brilliantly witty sarcasm he's justly famous for. Elder did his homework the best of all and dug deeper than either of the other two.

Ford's piece is fairly moderate. I know I could have found a number of "It's the racists pig-state of Amerikkka!" articles on the subject. What I wonder is, is this a crack in the foundation assumption that charges of racism are always valid? Have we been burned too many times at last? Did the Duke "rape" case teach us something after all?

And with the election of an African-American president, has the mainstream America Ford views in such a patronizing light finally gotten to the point of saying, "All right, if this doesn't satisfy race-grievance mongers then nothing will"?

I urge readers to follow the links to the full articles. I will have more to say about this in the next post.


The Depressing Cycle of Racial Accusation
The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. is about neither racial profiling nor playing the race card.
By Richard Thompson Ford

The president got it right: There's no plausible justification for the arrest. It was worse than stupid—it was abusive. And that raises the suspicion that it was racially motivated. But there's really no evidence that the police officer involved was a racist rather than a bully with a badge or a decent cop who made a bad call in the heat of the moment.

Let's take the charge of racial profiling first. Strictly speaking, there was no profiling here: Sgt. James Crowley did not assume that professor Gates was a burglar because he fit some generic stereotype of a black criminal; he was responding to a 911 call. But racial profiling has become a sort of catchall term: If the police consider race in any way, it's profiling. The claim here is that once the police arrived, they treated Gates differently than they would have treated a white person Was this racist? The witness who called 911 said that two black men were breaking into the house, so it wasn't outrageous for Crowley to suspect that the black man he saw inside the house had just broken in. If there was racial profiling, it began with the neighbor who described the burglary suspects in terms of race (or the 911 operator who probably prompted her to do so). But that's a normal part of a suspect description: Like sex, height, and weight, race is a convenient way to identify a person. Asking police to ignore race in a description of a specific suspect takes colorblindness way too far...

Observe the "strickly speaking" qualification. From the outset Ford seems to be hedging his remarks. Then "If there was racial profiling..."

This just doesn't make sense. The neighbor gave a description of two men, with the most obvious characteristic one could see from a distance in bad light. The only purpose of the "If" clause is to cast doubt on the entirely reasonable passage following.

It's clear that Sgt. Crowley, who arrived at Gates' home last Thursday, treated Gates as a suspect: He demanded that Gates step outside, and when Gates said he lived there, the officer demanded identification...

In fact, it is not clear that Crowley treated Gates any differently than anyone at a possible crime scene at all. A policeman treats everyone at a scene with a certain amount of suspicion.

Ford uncritically uses "demanded" twice, rather than "asked" or "requested."

And even racial profiling in the sense of using race as a part of a generic composite of a typical criminal isn't necessarily racist. It's a tragic fact that blacks as a group commit a disproportionate number of certain types of crime. The trouble is that racial profiling—even if it's based on accurate generalizations—imposes a disproportionate share of the costs of law enforcement on innocent blacks, like professor Gates. Let's face it: It's hard to imagine that police would have presumed that a middle-aged white man who walks with a cane was a burglar...

Another assumption. What occured to me immediately, perhaps because I cover a police beat, and am familiar with procedures for clearing buildings etc (though it also occured to my wife right away) was this: you ask someone at the door to step outside, even when you know full well he/she is the lawful resident because you need to make sure this is not a hostage situation.

I don't know whether Crowley arrested Gates because he was angry that an uppity black man dared to question him or whether this was just a tense misunderstanding that escalated out of control. What's clear is that neither the overused notion of racial profiling nor the trope of a black malcontent playing the race card gives us any real purchase on this controversy. Gates has said he hopes to use the incident as a teaching moment. But if we are really to learn anything from it, we'll have to look deeper. We need to ask why so many police officers of all races suspect the worst of racial minorities. (I wonder what the black Cambridge police officer pictured in the photo along with Gates after his arrest would say about all of this if he could speak candidly.)

If the author didn't know if Sgt. Crowley was angry with "an uppity black man" one wonders why he never mentioned the detail which emerged in the news coverage, that the officer teaches racial sensitivity to fellow police officers?

If the back story on this is that a bigot is in charge of teaching cops to avoid giving the impression of bigotry, surely that merits deeper treatment than a casual aside?

"I wonder if...?" is the Michael Moore tactic of offering a speculation without owning it. I wonder if anyone notices it's a sneaky and cowardly chickenshit rhetorical device...?

Decades of blatant and pervasive racial discrimination, poor urban planning, and failed labor policy have left blacks disproportionately jobless and trapped in poor ghettos across the United States. Faced with few opportunities and few positive role models, a disturbing number of people in those neighborhoods turn to gangs and crime for money, protection, and esteem...

Now we're back to the background assumptions on the Left. People from protected minorities and working class backgrounds are helpless victims of circumstances entirely beyond their control that the larger society has done nothing to ameliorate- i.e. people have no free will. Evidently only white people with Ivy League degrees do.

And this assumption isn't classist and racist?

Rather than improve those neighborhoods and help the people who live in them join the prosperous mainstream, we as a society have given police the dirty job of quarantining them. Frankly, we should expect that a disproportionate number of power-hungry bigots would find such a mandate attractive. And an otherwise decent and fair-minded officer, faced with the day-to-day task of controlling society's most isolated, desperate, and angry population, might develop some ugly racial generalizations and carry them even to plush and leafy neighborhoods such as those surrounding Harvard Yard.

Psychologizing, the poor officer is just a victim of his envrionment - a nice way of libeling a man you can back away from.

It looks to me like Ford wants it both ways - or maybe he's afraid. Like he wants to say it really wasn't a case of racist cops, but knows if he says so, he'll be crucified in his circle of friends and colleagues.

Steyn focuses more on President Obama's putting his foot in the mess.

I'm inclined to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Like Ford, he's a friend of Gates, and it's natural to reflexively take a friend's side.

I will say it upsets my notion of federalism a bit that the President of the United States should concern himself with a local police matter that doesn't appear to involve a question of constitutional law.


Obama knows 'stupidly' when he doesn't see it
By Mark Steyn

The president of the United States may be reluctant to condemn Ayatollah Khamenei or Hugo Chávez or that guy in Honduras without examining all the nuances and footnotes, but sometimes there are outrages so heinous that even the famously nuanced must step up to the plate and speak truth to power. And thank God the leader of the free world had the guts to stand up and speak truth to municipal police Sgt. James Crowley.

For everyone other than the president, what happened at professor Gates' house is not entirely clear. The Harvard prof returned home without his keys and, as Obama put it, "jimmied his way into the house." A neighbor, witnessing the "break-in," called the cops, and things, ah, escalated from there. Professor Gates is now saying that, if Sgt. Crowley publicly apologizes for his racism, the prof will graciously agree to "educate him about the history of racism in America." Which is a helluva deal. I mean, Ivy League parents remortgage their homes to pay Gates for the privilege of lecturing their kids, and here he is offering to hector it away to some no-name lunkhead for free.

As to the differences between the professor's and the cops' version of events, I confess I've been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose,'" he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.

As it happens, "My luv's like a red, red rose" was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet: What's the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case. Certainly no journalist reporting Gates' testimony was boorish enough to point out the misattribution...

And I certainly sympathize with the general proposition that not all encounters with the constabulary go as agreeably as one might wish. Last year I had a minor interaction with a Vermont state trooper, and, 60 seconds into the conversation, he called me a "liar." I considered my options:

Option a): I could get hot under the collar, yell at him, get tasered into submission and possibly shot while "resisting arrest";

Option b): I could politely tell the trooper I object to his characterization, and then write a letter to the commander of his barracks the following morning suggesting that such language is not appropriate to routine encounters with members of the public and betrays a profoundly defective understanding of the relationship between law enforcement officials and the citizenry in civilized societies.

I chose the latter course, and received a letter back offering partial satisfaction and explaining that the trooper would be receiving "supervisory performance-related issue-counseling," which, with any luck, is even more ghastly than it sounds and hopefully is still ongoing.

Professor Gates chose option a), which is just plain stupid.


HWB - Home While Black
By Larry Elder

Here's what happened.

Gates, "one of the nation's pre-eminent African-American scholars," writes The Boston Globe, was arrested about 1 p.m. at his home near Harvard Square by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. "The incident," says the Globe, "raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling."

"Friends of Gates," writes the Globe, "said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver's license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours." The Globe posted redacted arrest reports on its Web site. But for reasons unknown, the Globe removed them less than a day later.

Now Elder is being disingenuous, we know damned well why the Globe removed them. They were about to get caught doctoring the news and realized it just in time.

The Cambridge Chronicle, however, still posts the reports on its Web site. The Chronicle's article also mentions a few things the Globe omitted — including that "during the incident, Gates accused Cambridge police officers of racism."

The Chronicle writes: "A witness had called police when she saw a black man, apparently Gates, wedging his shoulder into the door, trying to gain entry, according to the arrest report. ...

"In the arrest report, police said Gates initially refused to step onto his porch when approached by (Cambridge Police Sgt. James) Crowley. He then allegedly opened his door and shouted, 'Why, because I'm a black man in America?'

"As Crowley continued to question Gates, the Harvard professor allegedly told him, 'You don't know who you're messing with.' When Crowley asked to speak with him outside, Gates allegedly said, 'Ya, I'll speak with your momma outside.'"

Crowley's report, as well as that of another responding officer, describe Gates yelling repeated accusations of racism while asserting that the officer "had no idea who (he) was 'messing' with" and that the officer "had not heard the last of it."

After initially refusing to produce any identification confirming his residence, Gates finally supplied a Harvard ID. By that time, a crowd of officers and passers-by was outside. In front of the house and "in view of the public," Crowley states he twice warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. But Gates' yelling and "tumultuous behavior" continued, causing "surprise and alarm" in the citizenry outside. Crowley then placed Gates under arrest.

Crowley "asked Gates if he would like an officer to take possession of his house key and secure his front door, which he left wide open." Gates said "the door was unsecurable due to a previous break attempt at the residence ." (Emphasis added.)

OK, the cops overreacted. Cops' training involves dealing with verbally abusive citizens. They could have walked away, written a report and allowed the prosecutor to determine whether to file charges. But Gates overreacted, too.

Last week, about 2 p.m., while driving a nice car, I got stopped by a police officer about a block from my home in Los Angeles. The officer asked for license and registration. "Yes, sir," I said, handing him my license. Before I could retrieve the registration, he said, "Mr. Elder, do you still live at this address?" I said I did. He said: "OK. I stopped you because you rolled through a stop sign. Two pedestrians saw you, and they gestured to me, as if saying, 'Are you going to do something about that?' So I felt I had to stop you. I'm not looking for area residents. I'm looking for people who don't live here who might be committing crimes. You're fine."

I did roll through the stop sign. He could have ticketed me. Rather, he responded to my politeness with politeness. Besides, don't we want a proactive police department that, within the law, doesn't just react to crime but also tries to prevent it?

Cops routinely deal with conflict, angry citizens and quite often the worst of the worst — while going to work every day willing to take a bullet for someone they don't even know.

Even Henry You-Don't-Know-Who-You're-Messing-With Gates should understand that.

OK, now we've got some detail that didn't get as widespread circulation as it should have. Detail that tends to support what is so far only a rumor: that Gates is known to seek confrontation with authorities, perhaps to bolster his "angry black man against the racist power" cred.

(Sarcasm alert; I just used the Ford technique I've been 'deconstructing.' And I just left myself the same kind of chickenshit out as well. My, my, a twofer.)

Next, some thoughts and personal anecdotes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ricci v. DeStefano

This appeared as the weekend op-ed in the Times-Record.

At the end of its term on June 29, the Supreme Court decided the lawsuit, Ricci v. DeStefano 5-4 in favor of the 17 white and one Hispanic firefighter who claimed they were denied promotion on account of their race by the city of New Haven, Conn.

The firefighters had all passed the test for promotions. City of New Haven officials threw out the test results and promoted no one, because no African-American firefighter and few Hispanics had passed the exam.

City officials said they feared a lawsuit. They got one anyway. The firefighters who sued claimed they were denied the promotions because of their race, that in fact it was they who suffered discrimination.

The Supreme Courts decision reverses a previous decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel, on which Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor sits. This marks her sixth reversal in eight cases that have gone before the Supreme Court.

Just because this case has been decided doesn't mean the issue is going away anytime soon.

On one side of this issue are those who believe society owes everyone only a fair chance and a level playing field to succeed - or fail, by their own efforts and help freely given.

On the other side are those who claim that unequal results are proof positive the playing field is not fair. The odd thing is that these are the people most likely to trumpet the value of “diversity” in society, education and the workplace. Evidently we will never have true diversity until every group is exactly the same in all respects except ancestry.

That individuals differ in abilities and aptitudes, is no secret. That groups also differ... is a subject that bringing up can end your career in certain fields.

In America and around the world, certain groups tend to be disproportionately represented in certain professions. Sometimes because of early colonization of the profession by group members who recruit friends and relatives as more jobs become available, sometimes for reasons that defy explanation.

In Germany, “Polish plumber” is now as much a stereotype as “Irish cop” or “Italian fireman” is in New York.

But these things are not set in stone, they change over time. New York cops say the new Irish cop, is a Puerto Rican. Japanese once dominated produce farming in southern California. Jews and Italians once ruled the sport of boxing.

There's been a lot of argument about whether the test is “fair,” though New Haven hired an outside contractor to design the test for that very reason.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her dissent, “Relying heavily on written tests to select fire officers is a questionable practice."

Ginsberg cited a 1980 decision from St. Louis, (a fire officer's job) "involves complex behaviors, good interpersonal skills, the ability to make decisions under tremendous pressure and a host of other abilities -- none of which is easily measured by a written, multiple choice test."

However, New Haven previously ruled out recommendations from candidates' superiors, who might know a thing or two about those qualities, for fear of accusations of bias.

The New Haven Independent quoted an anonymous reader, identified as Hispanic, that the test favored "fire buffs"—guys who read fire-suppression manuals on their downtime and pay test-manual writers to come to New Haven to speak.

Oh heaven forbid, surely not! You mean the test favors guys who actually have an interest in how to put out fires?

What's next, favoring doctors who show an interest in curing the sick?

Two things show how seriously weird things get when government goes from insuring fairness of opportunity to equality of result. Ginsberg has never gone into a burning house to suppress a fire or rescue a victim, and has reportedly never hired an African-American law clerk over her entire career.

But I'm sure if she ever finds herself slung over the shoulder of a fireman exiting a burning building, she'll have penetrating questions about his ethnicity and people skills.

Monday, July 13, 2009

And speaking of swine...

I just got a call from my wife at noon - that would be at night, her time in Warsaw.

She just spent the day with an old friend from high school, Klaudyna: sweet, very intelligent, artistic, raven-haired (somewhat unusual for Poles), very pretty (not at all unusual for Poles.)

One of the things that convinced me my lady and I were compatible for the long run, in spite of obstacles like a generation's difference in age (I'm her mother's age - and mother-in-law is a stone fox by the way), was her friends.

I know more than many, that hormones can warp your judgement about True Love and compatibility. But my lady had a group of friends she'd known for a long time who were just super. The fact that they thought I was super cool, and we together were the hippest couple in town just confirmed my judgement of their good judgement.

When we had our first kid, they were all really happy for us. I think the first sound our son heard in the womb was the scream of delight from our friend Kasia, the first friend my lady told about her pregnancy. But of course, she and they drifted a bit apart afterwards. It's not that the friendships cooled, they didn't. It's that married people with kids keep different schedules than singles and couples without kids.

So it was with some delight we heard that Klaudyna had been courted, very romantically, by an older man. My lady met him on her last visit to her family in Poland, and thought he was great too.

When Claudina had a baby girl we were ecstatic. And Klaudyna told my lady how close she felt to her, now they were both mothers.

My lady called to tell me the sod had dumped her.

I'm livid.

The bastard was "thinking things over" for a couple of months, then told her he'd fallen in love with another woman.

Oh, and he thinks she's a wonderful mother but he's not going to be tied down by a baby.

He promised to support her - until her maternity leave is up. He made some vague noises about supporting the baby.

Wanna start a betting pool about how long that's going to last?

You godrotting sod. You left a wonderful girl in the lurch with a beautiful baby.


If you just had to get you some strange, did you have to pay for it with your honor?

And to you, unknown lady who won his heart, someday maybe you'll learn that a woman who gets a man who abandons the mother of his children, gets a man who abandons the mother of his children.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

MoDo and Sarah, Femina lupa femines

Like sharks in a feeding frenzy, they're at Sarah Palin again. But that red you see in the water is Maureen Dowd's hair.

Palin resigned the governorship of Alaska, and everyone is aghast, right and left.

Maureen has yet another column devoted to the woman she loves to hate, the second in as many weeks.

After this one, dated July 4: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/opinion/05dowd.html?_r=1

"Sarah Palin showed on Friday that in one respect at least, she is qualified to be president.

"Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy."

She gives us this one, dated July 7: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/08/opinion/08dowd.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

"Sarah Palin's secret diary."

Less hysterical, but in their own way equally as vicious, were Sally Quinn's two consequtive columns questioning Palin's qualifications as a mother.

The logic on the left side of the fence seems to be: we savage your children, joke about your 14-year-old daughter being raped (Oh, Letterman meant the 18-year-old? Well that's quite all right then), publish unspeakable comments about your Down's Syndrome baby - and then call you a bad mother for exposing your kids to all this.

Yeah, sounds about right to me.

Palin's family has a half-million dollars in legal fees to pay down from ethics complaints pretty obviously frivoulous - except that there's nothing frivolous about corrupting the justice system to destroy political opponents.

The state of Alaska is on the hook for a few million investigating same.

Palin's resignation puts into office the Lt. Governor who is philosophically compatible, and will have the advantage of incumbancy when the next election rolls around.

Is there a problem with this? I think it's fraking brilliant from the viewpoint of Alaska politics! The attack dog machine doesn't know this guy and will have to switch directions in mid-leap.

Ohhh I bet they're pissed.

The motive for attacks on Sarah from elite women, some of them on the right, are obvious enough and have been commented on by more than one pundit.

Sarah has it all: a business of her own, kids, a life outside politics, and a loving and supportive husband who's such a mensch Bill Clinton has a man crush on him.

In short, Sarah would be the posterchild for feminist utopia if it weren't for the facts that she's a believer, she didn't abort her Down's baby, and she doesn't have the required opinions.

And most unforgivably, that mensch she married quite obviously had nothing to do with her success in politics.

Sarah is despised by powerful leftie women like MoDo and Sally who, though intelligent and talented enough, didn't exactly not sleep their way to the top. Her success is a reproach to them which they will never forgive.

I urge you to go over Maureen and Sally's articles, and see if you can find anything substantive. Sally's approach is sweet-reason-and-I'm-really-doing-it-out-of-concern-for-your-kids.

Maureen is just her usual whinny unpleasant self, "I can't get married and all my boyfriends dump me because I'm successful and intelligent."

No Maureen, you boyfriends dumped you because you're an unpleasant, self-obsessed person. They wanted to prong you because you're a looker, but now that you're on the cusp of losing that advantage, all that's left is the unpleasant, albeit snarkily witty self-obsession.

And BTW, Catherine Zeta-Jones is a better looker, intelligent, funny, and by all evidence a great mother - an accomplishment invariably beyond that of the self-obsessed. You think Michael Douglas dumped you because he was turned off by highly accomplished women? I'm not buying it.

And by the way, though you've got a way of turning a phrase, you actually don't seem all that bright, nor can you fashion a coherent argument. (Vis-a-vis your description of Sarah's speech as "rambling and incoherent.")

"She refuses to succumb to the “politics of personal destruction.” It’s no fun unless she’s the one aiming those poison darts, as she did when she accused Barack Obama of associating 'with terrorists who targeted their own country.'"

Hint Mo: the reason she "she accused Barack Obama of associating 'with terrorists who targeted their own country.'" is that he did. That is not the “politics of personal destruction” it's an established fact.

Of course, on the Left bringing up established facts is considered a foul.

If I ever ran for public office (not possible, but let's speculate) I'd have to face questions about the fact that I too have associated with and had friends among, real criminals, sexual deviants, and people at least marginally associated with the Ayers-Dohrn wing of the Weathermen.

What can I say? I've had interesting friends, not all of them the kind you'd bring home to meet mother. The legitimate question is, "Have you ever worked at common purposes with them?"

And that was a close call...

What I haven't seen comment on is what a close call the Palin famiy has had.

They almost had that swine Levi Johnson for a son-in-law.

Folks, being a single mother sucks, and I have that from a lot of single mothers I know who are doing a truly heroic job.

But it's better to have a bastard in the family, than a bastard like that in the family.

Did anyone else notice that Levi posing in his shirtless hunkiness for magazines, his possible book deal, and whatever else he may reap from his closeness to the Palin family is only made possible from a devil's bargain to savage that family for the amusement of his new masters on the celebrity Left?

Enjoy your 15 minutes Levi. You're still a wuss who knocked up a nice girl and bailed on her and the kid.

Well! I don't know about y'all, but I feel better. I didn't call this blog Rants and Raves for nothing.

Note: Any Latin scholars out there? Did I get the inversion of the classic quote right?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Anybody notice this?

This is the Doonesbury strip from July 1.

Mother Boopsie says, "See how many female protestors there are? That'd be impossible in most Arab societies. Images like that are incredibly empowering to gals all over the Middle East."

Daughter remarks, "Arab girls need empowering."

First of all, let me say that I agree whole heartedly.

It almost makes me regret what I'm about to do to Gary Trudeau.

I've been following Doonesbury on and off since near the beginning. More off than on these days I'm afraid. Since Gary Trudeau became more a social commentator than a cartoonist he's been preachy, snide, and to put it baldly - either a liar or woefully ignorant of history.

He recently identified waterboarding as the same torture practices used by the Spanish Inquisition and the Japanese in WWII - a lie. Whether you excuse the practice of waterboarding by American interrogators or not, the fact is the torture techniques used by the Inquisition and the Japanese are similar only insofar as they use water.

But the worst sin of all is - he's not funny anymore. At least not as much or as often as he used to be.

As an Okie, I still treasure his hilarious take on the Oklahoma county commissioners scandal, lo these many years ago.

"Say, you're Emma Doonesbury's boy ain't you? Well, we just want you to know your Uncle Henry is a good 'ol boy who always took care of his people."

"Thanks, I appreciate that," Uncle Henry replies.

"Say Henry, do you think you could do my driveway afore you goes to jail?"

So it's with a certain "gotcha" feeling that I have to point out to Mr. Trudeau, IRANIANS ARE NOT ARABS YOU TWIT.

And furthermore, I am gobsmacked that anyone who has been so loud about his opinions on the war on terror (silly term though it is) and the Iraq strategy thereof, wouldn't know that.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tea Party, July 4

I went to the nearest Tea Party I could find on the Fourth, which happened to be Jamestown, North Dakota, pop. 15,527, about 30 miles west of me.
Oddly, I didn't find any mention of one in Fargo - though there was a Hot Air Tour there on June 23. As far as I know, I was the only media person at that one. I did get there about a half-hour after it started, so some might have come and gone by then.

See: http://hotairtour.org/

There were at my count about 77 people at the Tea Party, including the kids. One of the organizers told me there was more interest than that, but a lot of people were out of town on the Fourth.

There was a fair amount of cars and bikes passing by honking their horns and waving.

As the march started shaping up I got a call from a friend in Oklahoma City. He said he was at the OKC Tea Party in front of the state capitol building, with about a thousand other people.

Folks, something is happening in this country. Jamestown impresses me even more than the much larger demonstration in OKC. When ordinary people start gathering to demonstrate in significant numbers in small communities (as opposed to marginalized fringoids gathering in major urban areas) it means something.

Now let's see what kind of media coverage the Tea Parties around the country get. When the MSM is made uncomfortable the sequence goes:
1) militantly ignore
2) ridicule
3) slander

They went from 1 to 3 pretty quickly on this phenomenon, which itself ought to tell us something.

Now here is something interesting about the Tea Party movement. Google "Tea Party" on the Internet, and you'll find a number of different sites, with different URLs. The various sites have state-by-state lists of planned Tea Parties - which to not coincide completely.

This suggests to me a movement so decentralized it has not yet developed a coordinating center, much less a national leadership. The hackneyed and much-abused term "grass roots" springs to mind.

I've sat in on meetings in Washington where a "grass roots" conservative revival was being organized within the Beltway from the gilded ghettos of D.C. think tanks, where there was nary a hint that anyone appreciated the irony of it all.

This could be the real thing, and if it can remain based in "flyover country" and avoid being taken over by a central committee with a Beltway office, maybe...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Defense of Ft. McHenry/The Star Spangled Banner

Note: A shorter version of this appeared as an op-ed in the July 4 weekend of the paper.

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

On the night of September 13-14, 1814, a 35-year old American lawyer and amateur poet stood on the deck of the Royal Navy ship HMS Tonnant, as it took part in the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in Baltimore harbor. Francis Scott Key was moved to write the poem, which set to music became the national anthem of the nation founded on July 4th, 38 years earlier.

In 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain which, still smarting under the humiliation of losing half its North American empire, had been blockading U.S. trade with its enemy France, impressing American seamen into the Royal Navy, and supporting Indians on the Northwest frontier attacking American settlements.

The British felt keenly that America had betrayed their common kinship by aiding Napoleon, the greatest threat to England in centuries.

“Now that the tyrant Bonaparte has been consigned to infamy, there is no public feeling in this country stronger than indignation against the Americans,” declared the London Times, demanding Britain, “not only chastise the savages into present peace, but make a lasting impression on their fears.”

Key was on board the Tonnant to negotiate the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes of Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Beanes, a part-time sheriff, was taken prisoner after arresting some rowdy British stragglers, who according to some accounts were caught robbing a chicken coop.

After receiving testimonials the British prisoners were well-treated, Major General Robert Ross and Admiral Alexander Cochrane agreed to release Beanes. But because the delegation had seen the strength of the naval forces ready to besiege Baltimore from the sea, they were detained through the night, though treated as guests.

The naval bombardment began in coordination with a land attack on the city by the British Army, flushed with success after invading and burning Washington almost unopposed. The Royal Navy had to attack at night when the tide was full, and sail out of the harbor shortly after dawn, or be left stranded and vulnerable in the shallows at low tide.

Key and the others could do nothing but watch the bombardment by naval guns and Congreve rockets.

And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

In the morning as the smoke cleared, and one has to have some experience with black powder firearms to appreciate how much smoke they generate, Key could see an American flag waving from the battlements of the fort.

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Key wrote the poem on the back of a letter. It was later set to the music of a popular English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Why that particular tune is anyone's guess. It is very difficult to sing, as it goes higher and lower than most people's vocal range. It actually works better as a poem in the later verses, which are so little known to Americans that author Isaac Asimov once wrote a humorous short story about catching a German spy by getting him to reveal that he actually knew the third verse!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Key died in 1843 after a long and distinguished career in the law. Ironically, his grandson was interned in Ft. McHenry during the Civil War for pro-Southern sympathies.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered "The Star-Spangled Banner" be played at official occasions, but it was not actually declared the national anthem until a law was signed by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

It beat out “America the Beautiful” for the honor, which still has its advocates among the squeamish who feel “The Star Spangled Banner” is embarrassingly warlike.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!