December 08, 2001

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This is revolting. Amnesty International, a once proud organization devoted to justice and human rights, has surrendered its credibility. I once gave money to these clowns. Never again. Ever. Will the inquiry they call for include an investigation into when and how the Taliban prisoners planned their rebellion? Will it include a look at how they booby trapped the bodies of their own dead to keep killing Norther Alliance and American fighters during the cleanup? Or will it only smear the dead CIA agent and the others who are fighting for freedom and human rights while Amnesty snipes from the sidelines? I think I already know the answers to these questions. Amnesty International is a disgrace--a poisonous, vile disgrace.
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December 07, 2001

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Godzilla fans, Toho has a new screen saver for your downloading pleasure. This month's GMK movie release looks pretty promising.
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Too freakin' funny. Osama has apparently ordered his wives to stay home in the cave and look after the war while he hightails it to another cave. Let's hope he at least let them doff the burqas, else they're going to have a hard time knowing who to shoot at. He is now officially Wuss of the Year, whether or not Time names him Man of the Year.
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The gun wars are heating up, with Andrew Sullivan arguing that Republicans are committing "political suicide" by protecting gun owners' rights. Meanwhile, some outfit called the Violence Policy Center has issued a typically (for the anti-gun crowd) hysterical press release bashing Attorney General Ashcroft for "protecting the gun rights of terrorists" while putting the average American "at risk." Not so fast, kemosabe. I love this quote from their lawyer guy, Legislative Counsel Mathew Nosuchluck, er, I mean Nosanchuk: "Attorney General Ashcroft has reversed established Justice Department policy, placing the paranoid views of the gun lobby over the safety and security of all Americans." So what's the fuss about? The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee apparently want the FBI to be allowed to use gun purchase records to go after terrorists. That means they'd have to use those records, which the blogger king has already done a good job of demonstrating shouldn't exist once the purchase is finalized, to snoop around after gun owners to find links between them and terrorism. What were the "paranoid views" of the gun lobby? That the government would find some pretext to use gun purchase records to snoop around and find some reason to come after them. Remember, these Democrats on the hill are the same people who've been using the RICO statutes, which were meant to take on the Mob, against pro-life groups to stifle their constitutionally-protected protests. So what happens if an enterprising prosecutor from one of the blue states with his eye on a bigger office finds a gun owner who's also linked to, say, a right-to-life group? Especially after they nabbed the wacko who's been mailing anthrax hoaxes to Planned Parenthood. Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean the world isn't actually out to get you.

As for political suicide, I don't see it. Support for gun rights is on the uptick these days, with most rank and file Democrats running on platforms of gun rights. Ashcroft took a big hit here to be sure, and he should've seen it coming. Somebody in the Administration has got to come to grips with the fact the Democrats, for all their unity talk, still want to take the House next year and still want to oust President Bush in 2004. They'll use any weapon at their disposal, war or no war. They've blamed the recession on him though it was in the offing before he was sworn in. They've tried to fight the tribunals, they've hammered away on the incarceration of a few hundred illegal aliens and material witnesses, and now they've finally found a little traction with guns. But I think that traction is mostly with people like the Violence Policy Center, who hate guns and gun owners in the first place.
Posted by B. Preston at 04:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Neil Young has made up for his dismal performance in the Heroes telethon, where he inexplicably sang "Imagine." I mean, asking the families to imagine there's no heaven and no hell, when the one thing you want to imagine is that your slain innocent loved one is in heaven, and his or her savage murderer is roasting in hell, and you can imagine sending the murderers' helpers there too. Who chose that song? I know Lennon is a demigod to quite a few folks out there, but that song didn't really jibe with the spirit of the moment. Anywho, his new song "Let's Roll" rehabilitates him, in my eyes at least. "Let's roll for justice, let's roll for truth."
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I've already been skewered on another blog. Will Wilkinson says it's up to the pro-lifers to define personhood, and that my tests for personhood are too simple. Personhood was well understood until the pro-choicers came along and defined it down--according to the laws of most states, personhood begins at conception. Now we have fifty different definitions of what it takes to make a person (one of the few downsides of federalism). Pro-choicers based their big case, Roe v. Wade, on a lie, and their victory was so upsetting to the established order that even liberals like Ted Kennedy were initially against them. Over time they changed their rhetoric, from "pro-abortion" to the more palatable "pro-choice," and established themselves via political pressure to the point where a little over half the country is now nominally pro-choice. Nothing wrong with any of that from a tactical point of view (except lying in courts up to and including the Supreme Court), in fact my hat's off to their success. I don't like it, but I'm impressed by it. So it would seem to me that, in that context, the ball's been stripped by the pro-choice side, so fine, knock yourselves out, define a person. But don't expect the pro-life side to just stay mute while you guys debate. As for the simplicity of my personhood test, I wasn't being exhaustive, just tossing out one example of how faith and reason can work together to inform. My faith teaches that we're fearfully and wonderfully made, and the science seems to indicate the same thing, in the form of DNA, reasoning capability, etc. Will does make some good points about children's rights, which is funny coming from someone that seems to live on the left end of the political spectrum. Isnt' the left, in the form of the Children's Defense Fund, trying to basically give children full adult rights in matters of family? (If you're not a lefty, I apologize in advance.) Spontaneous abortions (otherwise known as miscarriages) are irrelevent. We all know that the machinery of life is imperfect, otherwise we'd all live forever. The abortion and cloning questions, though, still come down to personhood (not "life"--that word apparently confuses), and bright lines in matters of personhood seem the most logical way to go. If we leave things the way they are now, that we can essentially pass a law and "POOF! You're a person!" or "POOF! You're not!" without some clear, objective standard, we're leaving ourselves open for all sorts of mischief.

And I'm still agnostic on cloning. I'm not convinced that what ACT was working with would qualify as a person. I'm also not convinced that with cloning you can "grow a new liver," as some suggest, when yours wears out. Maybe I'm just ill informed, but an adult man would need an adult liver, and he'd have to wait around for quite a while for one to grow from a few of his cells in a lab. The potential abuses of cloning are frankly scarry. But even scarrier than the potential abuses of cloning is the fact that Congress will probably end up making the call. That's more frightening than Janet Reno in a teddy.

Anyway, I didn't become a blogger to get into the abortion/cloning debate. Cyberspace is probably not where that spat will be settled. Right now I'm far more interested in the terror war and its effects around the country and the world.
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December 06, 2001

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Well, my 15 minutes of fame have arrived! I've been referenced by the King of all Bloggers, Glenn Reynolds. Of course, the way he writes, by the time I post this the quote will be off his front page. He has to be the most prolific blogger around. Glenn, thanks for the reference, and you have inspired a whole bunch of us bloggers, and in a good way. Your site prompted me to get off my duff and do something about the garbage the big media tends to feed us. Thus, JunkYardBlog was born.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Robert Wright has a smarmy little piece on Slate today opposing the Bush administration’s intent to use military tribunals to try captured terror suspects. His argument is that using tribunals will play into the terrorists’ hands by fomenting anti-American sentiment around the world. That may or may not be, and I’ll dissect his case in a moment, but Wright is obviously a Bush-basher (to borrow and re-aim the rhetoric of the previous Administration’s apologists, of whom Wright was one), from the tone of this passage:

“Since Sept. 11, many observers have credited President Bush with belatedly appreciating that the United
States is part of Planet Earth. This erstwhile unilateralist, we're told, is now a blossoming multilateralist, increasingly aware of America's interdependence with other nations. And it's true that events have moved Bush toward enlightenment. But this secret-tribunal idea is among the evidence that they haven't moved him very far.”

Can you say “personal attack?” I knew you could. Condescension is an ugly trait, even uglier when used to make wrong-headed arguments. Here, he’s condescending when speaking of the President of the United States, which seems to be a habit. Wright also implies that any skepticism of multilateralist approaches to foreign policy is just inherently wrong, without stating why it’s wrong. But he thinks it is, so that should be good enough for you, dear reader.

Wright’s opposition to tribunals is rooted in his belief that their use will help terrorists by fomenting anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world. True enough, tribunals may do that, but isn’t it at least equally possible that tribunals will have the opposite effect—that they will in fact intimidate would-be terrorists and especially their potential supporters? If you’re a terrorist and you have the possibility of facing either an O.J. jury that’s easily swayed into buying lawyerly games or a military tribunal that is, shall we say, less likely to buy into those games, which possibility is less attractive? In one setting, you’ll have the chance to take the stand and rage against your enemy, and in the other you’ll be tried quietly without much fuss. In one setting, evidence that will be used against you will get a public hearing, and that may help your fellow terrorists down the road. In the other, the evidence will be kept under guard, and your conviction will only weaken your brethren. There’s solid evidence that the public trials of the 1993 WTC bombers did in fact expose American evidence-gathering techniques, causing bin Laden to adjust his strategies to compensate. Wright and other anti-tribunal pundits don’t like that point brought up, and never bother to counter it in their articles.

Wright used essentially the same argument to urge caution in retaliating against the terrorists. It’s a variant of the now very tired then-the-terrorists-have-already-won argument, as in “If I don’t get my triple lattle now, then the terrorists have already won." In Wright’s mind, anything the Bush administration favors will actually help the terrorists. Don’t believe me—here’s his take on national missile defense, written just two days after the Sept 11 attacks. In the days leading up to the start of the US air strikes, he argued that attacking them would only make them madder and more likely to attack us. He can be forgiven for that, as it was the conventional wisdom of the punditry prior to the Northern Alliance’s inconvenient victory. Of course, we’ve now seen that attacking the terrorists has not only left them unable to respond, but has quelled the unrest in the too-often mentioned “Arab street.” Where are the protesters of Pakistan, where are their posters of bin Laden? The protesters are staying home, their anti-American posters are still digital files on their Dell desktops. Saudi Arabia, apparently sensing that the US is serious about wiping out terrorism, is suddenly making overtures of support and even allowing its press to express limited pro-US ideas. Retaliation has worked because it has produced victory. Tribunals might work in a similar way.

Wright also manages to smear Army officers (but oddly, not Navy, Marine or Air Force officers, who are just as likely to serve on tribunal juries) as being unable to render a fair judgement. In past, when tribunals have been used to try foreign spies, they have produced an 85% conviction rate, a few points lower than trials held in federal courts. And why the needless slap? That’s another habit of Wright’s, as demonstrated here in this gratuitous shot at Christians. It's in the last paragraph, and his readers obviously took him to task for it.

Taken as a whole, Robert Wright is trotting out a tired argument to sway public opinion against something that he just doesn’t like. It’s fine to express reservations about the use of tribunals, and it’s fine to write about those reservations. But Wright can’t resist mixing the personal with the political, and making his case based on disproven ideas.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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I've just learned an important lesson about Blogger. Never write a lengthy post in the post window. Use a word processor first, then cut and paste to publish. Lesson learned the hard way.
Posted by B. Preston at 03:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Perceived Injustices By Robert Wright
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December 05, 2001

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I'm still struggling to come up with a rational stand on the cloning issue. Yes, the potential benefits can be tremendous, but so can the potential abuses. As a technophile, I should be for it in the general sense, but as a pro-life type, I find parts of the idea disturbing. On both sides of the issue, though, I don't find any arguments that are satisfying. Reading Virginia Postrel's piece on Reason Online, you'd think the only people against cloning are rabid religious types, and that that in and of itself disqualifies their opinion. Likewise, everyone in favor of cloning is a rational, thinking human. There's a lot of spin in that article. I'm a Christian, but my reason for being pro-life is only partly based on my faith. It's also based on science--DNA, the genetic code that determines hair color, eye color and some basic aspects of our personalities, is present at conception. The presence of DNA means that even at the earliest stages the fertilized is destined for birth as a human child. To draw lines of legality at the first or second trimester is, to me at least, an arbitrary solution brought about for political expediency. Nothing wrong with that per se, democracy is founded on the notion that most questions can be settled that way. But we're talking about defining life here, and in my mind it's best to draw clear, bright lines and discourage people from crossing them. There--a rational argument from the pro-life perspective, and not a single quote from scripture. As for cloning, I really haven't made up my mind yet. I'd hate to make it illegal and thereby hamper our nation's ability to keep up with the countries that keep it legal, but the potential abuses are just plain scary. I think I'll wait until Star Wars 2: Attack of the Clones comes out before I decide.
Posted by B. Preston at 07:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 04, 2001

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I have an animation rendering, so I thought I'd take a minute to post.

That's an odd beginning..."I have an animation rendering." Well, that's what I do. I animate for NASA, along with editing, producing, writing and related things. I'm currently working on a piece about NGST, which is a telescope that will replace the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. This explains the "scientific" part of my little saying underneath the title. I live and breathe in the scientific world every day, though I am not myself a scientist. I'm essentially a writer, with the other stuff thrown in so that I can make a living. Doesn't say much for my writing...

It's an interesting place to be for several reasons. I come from "fly-over country"--Texas--but I live near enough to New York and DC to get the vibe that comes from them. They're essentially snobbish in their outlook on the fly-over territory. I deal with it every day, being both from somewhere other than the coasts and being a practicing Christian. That's the other thing that people in this area, at least in this sphere of life, tend to be snobbish about--belief, or specifically, Christianity. You can be anything but a Christian religiously and be perfectly fine, but let people know you actually have faith in Jesus and they take on a look of horror. I love to shock the elitist types by first telling them that I work for NASA and then following up with the faith bit. It's a nasty one-two combination that leaves most of them speechless. Then I can add on to that that I was once in the military. Heads spin, garments are rent, babies cry in the distance.

Just for fun, this year I wore my old Air Force uniform to the staff Halloween party. It was partly to show solidarity with our men and women currently prosecuting the war, and partly to see how people would react. Most people didn't react at all, which is how most sociological experiments actually go, but of those that did, one stands out. Two gentlemen were standing near the window in our cafeteria-cum-happening party spot, chatting about this and that. I happened to walk by on my way to get something to drink. One of the two gentlemen stopped me, saying something along the lines of "Man, that sure looks like a real uniform." He was kidding, it turned out--he'd been in the Air Force himself during Vietnam. He and I chatted for a moment or two about our differing experiences, since I served in peacetime and he during, well, Vietnam. The second gentleman interrupted the conversation to tell the Vietnam vet that his church was holding a silent vigil that weekend to protest the war, and wanted to know if the vet wanted to attend. They obviously hadn't been talking about that before--it took the vet a little by surprise. I kept quiet--I really didn't need to say anything at that point. The vet said "Well if you're looking for someone to protest the war, you've got the wrong guy. I might be willing to protest how it's being prosecuted, though" (this was obviously before the Taliban's collapse). He wasn't angry at all, but I could see a little heat rising on the protester's face. He said "You mean it's okay to kill, that we should be killing people over there? I agree that we should bring bin Laden to justice, but war and violence are never the answer." Or something like that--it's not an exact quote but the meaning is there. That's when I decided to talk. "So how do you suggest that we bring him to justice? Send in the police? And which police--I guess New York or Washington, since that's where the attacks occurred. Do you think that bin Laden will just come out with his hands up? We have to use the military because, if for no other reason, their military stands between us and him." The protester looked dumbfounded, the vet just looked at him to hear what he'd say.

Well, he didn't get the chance to say anything, at least that I could hear. I got called away to take part in the costume contest and that ended the discussion. But what strikes me about all that is the naivete of the anti-war types. I'd say this gentleman is in his fifties or so, and is very well educated. It's just common sense to me that someone holed up in a Third World country on the other side of the planet, and who has as his stated goal in life the destruction of the United States, will never allow himself to be taken by anything less than a full military assualt. Before our bombing and the Northern Alliance chased them away, the Taliban weren't exactly the Branch Dividians. There were about 60,000 of them, and though their strategic skill left a lot to be desired, they certainly wouldn't have folded at the sight of NYPD rolling in. It's foolish, naive and ultimately destructive to look at a real, tangible evil and assume that you can reason with it. You can't--the bin Ladens of the world just don't play by the same rules the rest of us do. You can't threaten it, you can't control it, you can't arrest it. You have to bind it and kill it, both to stop it and send a warning to its followers: mess with us, and suffer the consequences.

Speaking of suffering consequences, in our video lab we're having a little extracurricular fun. I brought in some scorpion habanero peppers, our animator brought in a dehydrator, and we're drying those peppers to use as a spice. Should liven up the soups--scorpions are among the hottest peppers around. We started out the drying process with the dehydrator right in our office, but the fumes brought tears to our eyes pretty quick. We now have them in a secure location that's fairly fume-proof. In two days we'll have a nice little quantity of ground peppers. Gotta love the hot stuff.
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December 03, 2001

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It's been a couple of days since I last posted, so I thought I'd toss out a couple of bits before heading home for the evening.

It looks like the situation in Israel is heating up, something I've been expecting for quite a while now. Arafat's terror groups simply haven't adjusted to the new reality--that the US is finally dead serious about ending terrorism. The Clinton Administration turned a blind eye to Palestenian terrorism, focusing instead on influencing Israel's behavior as a way to bring about peace. The result was a form of appeasement--if the terror groups act up, offer Arafat some new concession in the hope that maybe, this time will do the trick. With violent dictators, such action never works, and Arafat's proven himself finally to be one of two things: either a violent dictator or an irrelevant buffoon. Either he's behind all the violence himself, in which case appeasment will just whet his appetite, or he's irrelevent and unable to stop any violence at all. Either way, his tenure as the leader of the Palestenian Authority seems to have run its course. Two questions now present themselves: what will the Arab countries do; and who will replace Arafat? My guess on the first is that the Arab countries will make a lot of noise but basically do nothing, since the US is building its case to topple Saddam. They must see us right now as the T-Rex of the region--they can keep from getting eaten by us as long as they don't make any sudden moves. But one little shimmer in the wrong direction, and we're liable to pounce. I hope they see us that way. Contrary to what Sen. Biden thinks, we definitely should be seen as a bully right now, if for no other reason than to intimidate any would-be terror sponsors. Terrorists and their sponsors should be aware that we're angry and armed, and able to strike anywhere on earth without notice. They won't love us, but they'll fear us, and that may stop them from attacking us.

If you haven't noticed it, I've added a new link to the right. You can deluge me with love or hate mail if you want. I welcome either.

The football gods haven't entirely turned their backs on Texas after all. The Cowboys beat the Redskins again Sunday, this time in the Skins backyard, and with a healthy and very agile Emmitt Smith leading the way. He looked like his old self yesterday, cutting and running and making tacklers miss him. That makes nine in a row for the 'Boys over Washington, the longest active dominance streak in the league. Now, if they could just win when they aren't playing Washington, they might have something.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 02, 2001

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Don't you just love how the UK's Guardian is covering the war on terrorism. First off, how secret can a plan be if a foreign newspaper can get their hands on it? Most of what they report as "secret" is just common sense--arm Saddam's oppostion and use our own forces where we have to. So "secret" that we thought we'd try it out in Afghanistan first. I also love their description of the coalition as "increasingly shaky." Let's see...thanks to our bombing the Northern Alliance has whooped tail so much that even those courageous French are sending troops. Japan is deploying support troops beyond its land and territorial waters for the first time since WWII to support us, as are the Germans. The Russians are on board, Pakistan still stands, India is helping out, and Britian is as strong a friend as ever--but the coalition is "increasingly shaky." True, Europe isn't on board for expanding the war yet. But they weren't strongly on board with bombing the Taliban into submission until it worked. They'll come around, or we'll go on without 'em. The US makes the tough decisions. The rest of the world benefits.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Jonah Golberg has a lot to say about the Europeans. Dead on. The last good thing to come from the Continent, excepting the Beatles and U2, is the United States of America.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack