Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Swarming the Borders

Bill Quick, inspired by LaShawn Barber, is fulminating about our leaders’ catastrophic failure to control our borders:
     Is that so hard for for the vote-drunk fools who are charged with protecting our borders and our nation to understand?
Do I “expect the government to round up each illegal alien and kick him out?”
Why, yes. Yes, I do. And a heck of a lot more Americans expect the same thing. I suggest we get together in 2006 and start kicking out the politicians who won’t kick out the outlaws. Is anybody with me? Remember: every single member of the House of Representatives, as well as a third of the Senate, is up for election next year. Now is not too soon to start researching your representatives and their records on immigration. If they are unsatisfactory, let’s spread it across the blogosphere. Immigration can be a huge issue, but not if the liberal MSM has anything to say about it. This issue can be the first great issue of the blogosphere.
I am represented by Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and Representative Nancy Pelosi. I’ll take a look at their records on immigration and post the results here. If they aren’t satisfactory, I’ll be pushing hard to knock off Pelosi, who is the only one of the three running next year.
Michelle Malkin also weighs in:
     And here, as elsewhere, while politicians pay lip service to protecting the public, they look the other way as illegal alien gang members get driver’s licenses, go to school (where they freely recruit new members), and congregate at taxpayer-subsidized illegal alien day labor centers were local police are discouraged from inquiring about immigration status or reporting suspected illegal aliens to the Department of Homeland Security.
Blog Swarm!This issue is worth a swarm. Bloggers of like mind: climb aboard!

Our senators are John Warner and George Allen. Warner is past hope, but Sen. Allen wants to be president, and thus may be malleable. Our representative is the Hon. Virgil Goode, a true fiscal conservative. We will soon be finding out where he stands on this issue.

I’ll even mint a new slogan:

The nation which fails to control its borders will fail to control its future.

Stay tuned.

At the Green Place, It's All About Blue, White and Red


Over at Little Green Footballs, on Mr. Johnson’s open thread for Katrina conversation, the lizardoids are discussing which corporations, the red or the blue, are giving more to the rescue operations in the aftermath of the hurricane. Red? Blue? Is this like halal and haram? Kosher foods?

We lead a sheltered life at Gates. Living in the Middle of Beyond, sans media except for the internet and a few magazines (books don’t count as media. They are stacked everywhere. The Baron, who claims he can do anything that requires brains and no skill, has suggested we call someone with both attributes — i.e., a carpenter — to add more bookcases to our collection). Thus, we were not aware of the depth of the political polarization in our good country. The breadth is obvious, but the depth is disturbing. Corporations, it seems, are either Red or Blue.

At, there is an alphabetical listing that lists the colors various companies fly. Some are deep blue, some lighter. Some are blood red, some a bit pink. And still others are white; these evidently are neutral. BuyBlue has a motto: In today’s America there is a more powerful act than voting blue and that’s BUYING BLUE (their emphasis).

This is a fascinating balkanization. Do you remember when Christian groups were ridiculed by liberals for suggesting that Christians should support Christian stores and businesses? Now it seems the Politically Correct thing to do. Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery, doesn’t it?

Things I noticed: my car insurance is deep blue. Geico is blood red. Google, upon whom these words are written, is deep blue — something one can see in their screening of news stories sometimes. If a rival to Goog rose up, would the Vast Right Wing fly off in their direction? Does it make you uneasy that Google is so very friendly with the Chinese government?

There was no need to check Walmart’s color. Just from the invective flecks of foam spuming from the mouths of the progressives (love that new term) one can surmise that Walmart is too, too red for words. Or at least that appears to be the reason for their irrational reactivity regarding Walmart’s very existence. While I don’t shop at Walmart — it’s depressingly large somehow — I do go there online, especially to compare prices. And they deliver by mail.

What do you think? Is the color of a company’s politics a good reason to buy there or to boycott those who support programs you don’t like? Or should you simply continue to go to those places which provide value and service?

What a strange divide. What a strange website. What a wild and wooly country. To BuyBlue I say, bring it on, Blueseys!

Hmmm…I wonder what color my shoe store is? And how did Amazon turn red? Jeff Bezoz, why did I suppose you'd turn up blue and cyanotic like Google?

Spend Florida Cracker’s Money UP to now, there's not been any reason to put up the whole of another blogger’s post on a subject. However, in this case, Florida Cracker is making an offer that only the hard-hearted can refuse.

In the interests of objectivity, Dymphna will admit that animals are not her favorite thing. She is subject to the will of two cats — both strays. Their various ailments have proved pricey, especially the neutered male. And then there is the (mostly) Lab puppy that the Baron’s Boy found in our woods one Christmas Eve; never content with us she has lived for many years at a neighbor’s house while we supply vet care and upkeep. It always seemed that she was a dog who knew where she belonged, and it wasn't here, much to the Baron's Boy's heartbreak. As he said at the time, "How can you expect me to be normal if I grow up without a dog?" How, indeed?

The fact that the neighbor has three other dogs for company might have something to do with Sandy's decision to absent herself. The Baron’s Boy used to pick her up and take her swimming at the river but he’s off to college now so that era has passed.

Meanwhile, Florida Cracker has made this appeal. In the interests of all those poor animals left alive after Katrina's destruction, please consider F.C.'s offer:

     As I've written before, whenever there's a disaster, the Humane Society of the United States sends out emergency response teams. The HSUS holds a formal agreement with FEMA and the Red Cross to provide disaster relief for animals, and works side-by-side with them.
If any of my readers send in a donation HSUS Disaster Fund, the Louisiana SPCA, the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, or the Humane Society of South Mississippi; I'll match it. Just e-mail me the receipt they provide. When it gets to $1000, I'll holler.
The Humane Society of South Mississippi doesn't have a way to donate online, but clearly they couldn't be left out.
Go to her site for the links you’ll need to make your contribution.

Let your conscience be your guide.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

All Right, Everyone, Out of the Boat: Start Walking

They must be holier than we.

The Brussels Journal calls the tax revolution that began in Estonia “walking on water,” but it’s really just doing what your Grandma told you as she thwacked your noggin: “use your common sense, child.”

Here’s what happened: The Estonian Prime Minister in 1992 (who governed for three years and then came back in 1999 until 2002) was Mart Laar. Mr. Laar was not a poliltician. His area of study was Europe’s 19th century national movements. Not being an economist, and figuring he’d better learn something quick, he sat down and read Free to Choose by Milton Friedman. Seeing all these ideas about the benefits of privitization, the abolition of tariffs, the economic advantages of a flat tax was a real eye-opener for Mr. Laar. He also thought that these were reforms already in place in the West.
     It seemed common sense to me and, as I thought it had already been done everywhere, I simply introduced it in Estonia, despite warnings from Estonian economists that it could not be done. They said it was as impossible as walking on water. We did it: we just walked on the water because we did not know that it was impossible.”
So in 1994, Estonia introduced the flat tax with a rate of 26%. What did they have to lose, after all? When Laar took over, Estonia’s inflation rate was over a thousand per cent. The economic growth rate was neagative thirty per cent, and the employment rate was thirty per cent and rising. The government owned just about everything, and virtually all Estonian trade was with Russia.

So how do things look now? We should be so lucky:
     Today, inflation is 2.5%, economic growth is between 6 and 7%, unemployment is low, the government budget is balanced and there is a high level of investment. Moreover, Estonia is leading the world in the field of e-government.
And Estonia is not the only country with a flat tax and a thriving economy. The Brussels Journal lists Lithuania and Latvia, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Georgia and Romania as having implemented versions of the flat tax. They say Iraq is consdering such a move.

Meanwhile, Mart Laar has returned to writing history, this time about the anti-communist partisan fighters in the forests of Estonia. “They saved the soul of my country.” That may well be true, but Mr. Laar saved its bacon. And all it took was common sense.

Okay, everybody — out of the boat, start walking.

Starbucks Slips in the Socialist Shuffle

http://www.toomuchcoffee.comIf you want a latte in Moscow, you’ll have to resort to what we do here in the Middle of Beyond: get your own espresso machine. Meanwhile, Starbucks was less-than-vigilant when it came to guarding its name and got caught with its capitalist knickers down:

    The U.S. coffee giant has been eyeing the Russian market since 1997, when it registered the Starbucks trademark with patent agency Rospatent.
Maybe Starbucks’ attention wandered? An entity calling itself OOO Starbucks has taken over the name and now the case is in court.
     Rights to the trademark first became an issue in 2002, when a Russian company called Press appealed to Rospatent for the rights to the Starbucks name, as it had not been used for more than three years, and later that year sold the rights to OOO Starbucks, which is unrelated to the U.S. company.
Needless to say, what OOO wants is a whole bunch of money and they’ll go away. A “whole bunch” in this case is $600,000.00 — surely not much more than the average New York City daily take at a local Starbucks’ café?
     The U.S. company's position is looking stronger, as it has secured the support of a number of influential figures in Russia, the report says, including Arkady Volsky, the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Volsky is also co-chairman of the Russian-American Commercial Energy Dialog.
Maybe it’s the principle of the thing? Whatever. For the moment, things are up in the air:
     U.S. Embassy spokesman David Foley declined to say whether the embassy was in talks with Starbucks. He added, "If a Starbucks were to open here, it would be in the embassy cafeteria."
Well, there you are. Another luxury posting for the people from Foggy Bottom.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hey, Canada, Listen UP!

The Australians have such style, such finesse:
     Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law should get out of Australia, a senior government minister has said, hinting that some radical clerics might be asked to leave.
Peter Costello is Australia’s treasurer and hopes to replace John Howard when he retires. Looks like he might make it, based on these statements:
     "If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you…”
“I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another the Islamic law, that that is false.
"There's only one law in Australia -- it's the law that's made by the parliament of Australia and enforced by our courts. There is no second law.
"If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practices it, perhaps, then, that's a better option,"
In addition to all this plain speaking, Prime Minister Howard called a meeting of mainstream Muslims, all of whom disowned Osama and pledged to fight Islamic terrorism.

It doesn’t look like there will be any Ottawa-style Sharia courts in Sydney real soon. And don’t hold your breath for the Law schools to start hiring Sharia professors.

Sounds like Australia has made a firm commitment to reality. How refreshing.

Hat tip: American Digest. Look in the Side Notes.

This Isn’t Cricket, But Then They’re not English

BMW JackrollThere’s a new sport in Northhampton, England. It’s an imported game. All it takes are a couple of cars, a little strategy, and some timing.Jackroll Fiat

The timing first: wait for the bars to close. Watch to see which women are alone and lurching home.

Having spotted your prey use two cars to close the street, blocking her getaway.
Then grab the woman and off you go, in caravan, to some secluded spot. Do your business — however many of you there are to have business to do — and then drop her back where you found her. Or not.

This violent pasttime is called “jack rolling” and it’s from South Africa, where apparently it is well-known.
     Jack rolling became notorious in South Africa during the 1990s, when gangs of youths in cars blocked off streets and raped every woman caught in their net.
Three women have been grabbed from the street and raped since July 31, while two more have escaped in a town where “stranger rape” is almost unknown. A climate of fear has taken hold since the latest rape, which came to light when the 30-year-old victim was found with head injuries near a housing estate in the early hours of Monday.
Please note the one important variable: available women.
     Four of the five victims were initially approached in and around Northampton’s rowdy pub and club quarter. Drunk women can be seen drifting home on their own in the early hours of most mornings, according to Helen Grattan, the manager of The Auctioneer’s pub on Drapery.
“I wouldn’t walk around here on my own at night,” she said. “There’s a lot of dark alleyways that girls could be pulled down and a lot of shady people hanging around on street corners.
No doubt about it; this is a vile and violent crime. But ignore the feminists who will scream about “unfairness” and “male violence.” This is limited to a very few criminals, but it is open season on a woman foolish enough to (a) go to a bar alone; or (b) walk home alone in the wee hours, even if she’s leaving Grandma’s after a night of whist with the old folks.

Fear is a normal human response. It is an especially handy survival skill for women to develop. Not fearfulness, but common-sensical appreciation for the probablity factors in any given situation.

Teach your girls that they can’t “have it all” nor should they esteem having everything as a worthwhile goal.

The violence in the world grows apace as the globe becomes a village.

Hmm...why do you think that is?

Hat tip: Mangan's Miscellany

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spam Bots

Gates of Vienna has recently been plagued by comment spam. Regular readers know what I'm talking about:
     Great blog you have here! I’m bookmarking you right now.
If you’re interested, I’ve got a buggy whip-related site which you might be interested in. For buggy-whip related topics, that is. :)
As a result, we have decided to enable “word verification” for comments. That is, commenters will have to type a string of characters based on an image, in order for their comments to be accepted.

It's a pain in the butt, but it keeps out the spam bots.

Hat tip: World History Blog.

With a Little Help from Our Friends, Part I


The Baron’s List: Small Is Beautiful

In the last two years I have gradually switched from news sites to blogs as my way of gathering news on the web. If you stay current on a range of blogs, you will encounter all the news stories that you want to know about, many of which would never show up on CNN, or even on Fox.

At first my sources were mostly the “big blogs”, the reliable and informative ones that perform such a valuable service. But I found that as I spread my net wider, acquiring new contacts through the comments on Gates of Vienna, the “little blogs” can be just as informative and interesting as the big ones.

So today we are celebrating some of the blogs we like to visit, ones that are less well-known than some but still deserving of attention. They feed us a lot of our traffic, and we in turn spend time lurking on their posts, commenting on their threads, and poking around in their archives.

I can’t include everyone on this list, but here is a representative sample:

  • At the top of my list has to be Fjordman, who is performing an invaluable service for the world. He blogs from Norway, so he is living dangerously, since European laws restrict speech for PC reasons, and he is as un-PC as they come. He has a dark view of the European future, so don’t go to him for reassurance. But rely on him for wide-ranging news from all over the world, and not just Scandinavia. He may be taking a sabbatical soon, and we will miss him. So go check out Fjordman while you can.
  • Florida Cracker brings a crusty and eccentric voice to the blogosphere; there is no one else quite like her. She has an eye for strange and whimsical news stories, and her blog will supply you with very interesting links, ones she culls from her careful perusal of the South Florida newspapers. Warning: don’t join in one of her comment threads if you have a sensitive nature, because she pulls no punches.
  • For extensive digests of the news, nobody tops Cuanas. If I just want to find out what’s going on in the world, particularly as it relates to the Great Jihad, I drop in on Cuanas.
  • Indus Valley Rising is a new voice in the ’sphere, looking at the Great Jihad from a Hindu perspective.
  • For pure unadulterated history, the place to go is World History Blog. Miland posts on every historical topic imaginable.
  • El Jefe Maximo, blogging at Kingdom of Chaos, is another history buff. I have to stay on my toes, because I know that if I make a historical error, Jefe will soon appear in the comments to set me straight.
  • The boys at Redneck's Revenge are another important source of Jihad news. In addition, interesting and knowledgeable people turn up in the comment threads there.
  • There are many important milblogs, but one of my favorites is CDR Salamander, who has quirky personality all his own.
  • I also count The Word Unheard as a milblog, even though the Vet is not currently serving. He ranges widely through military, intelligence, and historical topics.
  • Neddy has opinions, and doesn’t mind blogging them. She can be found at two locations: Neddy's Palaver and Kerfuffles.
  • Jamie Jeffords, blogging at Eye of Polyphemus, took up serious blogging after experiencing a host of medical troubles, ones that would have driven a lesser man into terminal despair. He provides informed commentary on many subjects, and can entertain the reader with the medical expertise that he has acquired.
  • Robert Pearson blogs at New Victorian, and is an “unabashed admirer of human freedom and dignity. An unapologetic opponent of those who would take them from others by force. Cultural relativists will be beaten with a logic stick. Finally, if you really believe that ‘A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,’ then don't come around my boy, or you will get the real stick upside the head.”
  • Those of us who have lived in Northern Virginia know that it is a significant front in the American Theatre of the Great Islamic Jihad. Northern Virginiastan monitors the ongoing absurdities and the incipient dhimmitude in the D.C. area.
  • For outrageous satire, don’t miss Point Five. When the Wizbang awards come along this year, I’ll be voting repeatedly for a4g and his accomplices in the satire department.
  • Bill Keezer keeps a wary eye on the world at Bill's Comments. Brief posts with extensive links give the reader access to a wide spectrum of information.
  • Greg at Toe in the Water is a relative newcomer to the blogosphere, blogging extensively on all current topics.
  • Minh Duc is a Vietnamese-American, a former member of the military, and an astute analyst. Read his take on events at State of Flux.
  • Last, but not least, is Neo-neocon. She is a recovering liberal, and speaks eloquently of the difficulties and soul-searching that led her to her new political views. Liberals jolted out of their former place by the Great Jihad are in a thankless position: they are often reviled and repudiated by their former friends and colleagues, and if they work in the federal bureacracy, academia, or the media, they can face ostracism and harassment. The center-right blogosphere is a big tent, with plenty of room for differing views. Stop in at Neo’s place and hear what she has to say; it’s worth listening to.

One other person who should be included here is PD111, known to his friends as “111”. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t have a blog of his own, but he comments widely in the blogosphere; if you drop in on almost any comment thread, he is likely already to have commented there. Virtually everything he has to say is well-written, informative, and worth reading. (PD111, if you are reading this: You need your own blog. Seriously. Dymphna and I would invite you to blog here, if we could obtain an email address for you.)

These are some of the voices that can aggregate to form the perfect swarm I’ve been talking about. Readers are strongly advised to pay them a visit.

UPDATE: I have been taken to the woodshed by Texas Gal, so I now know that I should have said, “The boys ’n’ girls at Redneck's Revenge are another important source of Jihad news. In addition, they are alert and ornery critters.”

Another response was from Donnah, aka Florida Cracker: “‘Crusty and eccentric’? I did not know that about myself. Now show me a picture of the back of my hair.”

More Than One Way to Spell Stupid

I Could Scream: Examining the plight of women under Islam
Remember how Adam was given the power — the permission — to name things? It’s in the story because we deeply understand that naming things bestows a kind of authority on the one passing out the labels. At least this is so if the label sticks, and this one ought to have glue all over it.

By now, we’re familiar with the Islamic idea of dhimmitude. It’s repugnant to the Western ideal of equality and brotherhood. Bat Y’eor has described only too well the dhimmitude of Eurabia. One prays that her predictions are too dysphorically tuned to be correct. Meanwhile…

…in Canada, they have dummitude, a neologism coined to meet the need to address the diminishing wits of our neighbors to the North. Sisu points out the latest hilarity (it’s hilarious if you don’t live in Toronto. If you are one of its benighted denizens, you might consider moving. If there is any safe place left. Ottawa has got another lock on the rapidly shrinking culutural IQ):
     You've heard of dhimmitude -- the denial of equal rights and dignity to infidels under Sharia law. Now there’'s dummitude, the denial of human nature under Canadian law.
Natalie GlebovaAt issue is the presence in Canada of Natalie Glebova, this year’s Miss Universe. A nice coup, no? She’s gorgeous. She’s Canadian. What’s the problem?

Here’s the problem. In the place where feminists and Islamicists meet — and it’s obviously not any place you, dear reader, would want to visit — beauty pageants are bad. Awarding beauty for its own sake is so politically incorrect it makes the peecee meter melt. Thus, while Miss Universe does not yet have to wear the hijab, it is against the law for her to show up at any public function in Toronto wearing her tiara and sash:
     According to a city bylaw, "activities which degrade men or women through sexual stereotyping, or exploit the bodies of men, women, boys or girls solely for the purpose of attracting attention," are not permitted at Nathan Phillips Square.
Glebova could still open the festival, organizers were told, but under strict conditions. She couldn't wear her sash or tiara, and couldn't be referred to as either Miss Universe or a beauty queen.
Instead, organizers were told, they could refer to her as "an individual of note contributing to our community."
Dymphna, not given to using profanity — mainly because it could be an indication of a limited mind — had to leave the keyboard momentarily to go outside and scream “WTF???” before getting out the smelling salts for the more dignified part of her, a part equally upset at this display of dummitude. This is a particular burden since Dymphna was conceived in Toronto and takes its slide into silly irrelevance personally.

How long, Oh Lord, how long?

Hat tip: sisu. Be sure to check out the site. For the sake of brevity, some of her best analysis was left out. This blogger writes with panache; you will also find her point of view fresh and sympatico. “Dummitude” sums it up, though. We shall no doubt have cause to refer to it again.

Sunday Morning Coming Down


From The RP comes your Sunday morning contemplation --

The Saudi Airplane at Prayer:

Prayer Time

He claims no humans were hurt during the making of this piece of art. Of course, I have my doubts as to whom the Religious Policeman considers to belong to this species.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Seeing in the Dark

There’s a buzz in certain pockets of the blogosphere. A buzz that needs to be a swarm.

For a while now, we have been reading Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq, amazed at his pictures and awed by his ability to move with the men he reports about. His readership probably began to reach critical mass when he posted the haunting picture of Major Bieger carrying the little Iraqi girl, Farah, wrapped in a blanket with one bloody ankle dangling from his arms. It was a breath-stopping frame — literally, it was breath-stopping, since Farah died despite the Major’s desperate attempts to save her. And she died from wounds inflicted by terrorists. She was not “collateral damage”, because the terrorists are intent on targeting civilians, including children. It is one of the ways they hope to break the will of the Iraqis and of the American soldiers and the people who support them.

Mr. Yon is an independent journalist. In fact, his singular efforts do much to restore some shine to the once-respected field of “journalism.” Not hunkered down in the safety of the Green Zone, Yon is out there in the midst of the maelstrom armed only with his camera and his gift for words. Both those weapons are taking their toll; they are making inroads into the MSM battle plan strategy to vietnamize this war. It isn’t Vietnam, it never will be. And Michael Yon is one of the generals in charge of making certain you aren’t led down that particular MSM primrose path. Remember that road, the one that ended in perdition and national shame and wasted lives, thanks to the “reporting” by the national press? We won’t go there again, no matter how loud the moonbat Greek chorus urging us to return once again to those days of yore, the 1970’s oh-so-hip self-hatred. Been there, as they say. Done that. Fini. Next song.

Here’s a brand new tune, written specifically for the blogosphere. It’s meant to be hummed, a capella. No Moaning Joanie strums here, just the buzz of the aggregate blogs, humming along till they join in a grand chorus of directed movement and noise. Here at Gates, we call it The Perfect Swarm. It is the wisdom of crowds —the blogosphere crowd — moved to action on the behalf of our country and the individuals who are making a difference.

Michael Yon is one of those individuals. Once you start reading him you have to find out what happens next. I happened upon his site late one night and stayed up in front of the screen much too late, reading the whole month’s dispatches for March. I was hooked. No doubt many of you have similar stories to tell. Rather like stumbling across The Belmont Club a year ago and being gob-smacked by Wretchard’s intelligent and far ranging analysis. They are nothing like one another, but they have the same affect on their readers: a galvanizing sense that this can be comprehended and parsed in such a way that events make sense. We may not always like the “sense” they make, but at least we’re less in the dark than we were. And the excitement generated by simply knowing more than we did before results in an increase in the distributive political intelligence in this country, an intelligence that has been retarded for years by the efforts of the information gatekeepers.

Blog Swarm!Speaking of the dark: Mr. Yon does not say how he manages to support himself in the field. He did acknowledge that Paypal donations permitted him to get a better camera; you could see the improvement in the quality of his photography immediately upon his acquistion of better equipment. Of course, even with the old camera he had an innate ability to compose his shots. And even on the run, the composition of his work is stunning. But he is literally in the dark without the night vision gear the soldiers have:
     Thursday night, a revised plan had me following some Deuce Four soldiers on a midnight raid. They had night vision gear, so they moved quickly. I had only moonlight, so I nearly broke my leg keeping up. Sleeking around Mosul under moonlight, we prowled through the pale glow until we came upon a pond near a farmhouse. Recon platoon had already raided one house and snagged some suspects, then crept away in the darkness to another target close by.
Five soldiers from Recon—Holt, Ferguson, Yates, Welch and Ross—were moving through moon-cast shadows when an Iraqi man came out from a farmhouse, his AK-47 rifle hanging by his side. Suddenly encircled by the rifles, lights and lasers of four soldiers, the man was quickly disarmed. A fifth soldier radioed for the interpreter and together they sorted out that he was a farmer who thought the soldiers were thieves skulking around his property. Recon returned the man his rifle, and started making their way back, umbral and silent across the ploughed fields.
During a halt in some trees at the edge of the field, I overheard the voice of LTC Kurilla, the commander of the Deuce Four battalion, quietly praising one of the soldiers for showing discipline in not shooting the farmer…
As you can see, Yon needs to see; he needs to be able to see at night when he goes along on patrol. Thus, a generous response from the blogosphere to Mr. Yon’s Paypal donations would permit that to happen.

Meanwhile, all you experts out there: where does one go to purchase this kind of thing? Can we get together and buy a gift certificate at Ye Local Battle Geare Shoppe so Mr. Yon can purchase his own night sight kit?

Blog Swarm!But there is a larger need for on-going support for Mr. Yon’s work. Sure, he’s going to write a book someday — provided he survives — and that will provide some income. But who knows when that will be, or when he will get enough aesthetic distance from the immediacy of battle to give us a fuller picture. Meanwhile, he has to live, however simply. It is up to us, those who are grateful for his willingness to go above and beyond the meaning of “journalist” to bring us one person’s invaluable view of things Over There.

Go over to Michael’s site and donate. Make it a regular thing, like paying the bills. Since we here at Gates of Vienna don’t tithe to our cowardly national church any longer we can contribute more than we might have previously. If you’re in same position please consider this as a possibility that it is your work, too: just one more form of spreading the good.

You will notice in Mr. Yon’s sidebar that he is the author of the book, Danger Close. Here’s part of the blurb from Amazon:
    Danger Close by Michael YonIn 1982, one month after graduating from high school, Florida native Mike Yon joined the Army to earn tuition money for college. At that time, President Reagan had begun channeling massive amounts of funds into Special Operations units such as the Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Special Forces in response to the calamitous failure of a U.S. Special Ops attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. For a brief time, writes Yon, "the Army allowed kids straight out of their initial military training to try out for Special Forces"--and Yon jumped at the chance. By July of 1983, at the remarkable age of 19, Yon had survived rounds of grueling training and graduated into the Green Berets. One day later, a bizarre encounter in a Maryland bar landed Yon in jail, accused of murdering a fellow patron with his bare hands.
Reading that, can you resist? There’s another way to support his effort: buy the book.

UPDATE: Mr. Yon is getting big now and he’s had to change the rules. His previous request that his pictures be linked to and not posted was mostly ignored. People have begun to use huge chunks of his posts without their own commentary — lazy blogging — and are dissipating the impact of his stories. So now he has a new and more imperative warning posted:
     This website and blog, and all text and photographs contained herein are Copyright Michael Yon 2005. Any reproduction without authorization will be considered copyright infringement and will be pursued. You may link to this site and excerpt no more than 75 words of one dispatch for identification purposes. Any affiliation, beyond the aforementioned linking and excerpt, of Michael Yon or this website with another website, individual, company or organization will be considered in violation of Michael Yon's rights.
Contact for media and copyright inquiries: John Mason:
I violated this rule, using 212 words. But if it gets that night vision gear on Mr. Yon’s eyes, I do hope to be forgiven in time. Meanwhile, I will have to write and apologize, with a firm purpose of amendment to go and sin no more.
Send money and keep me out of trouble.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Concrete Angel

Concrete angelThe response to An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan was more than I expected. I no longer remember what it was I thought the effect would be on others; it was a cri de coeur, one woman to another. Having now heard her voice a few times, I realize the effort was futile. Had I known that ahead of time, of course I wouldn’t have attempted such an undertaking.

But had I not done so, the letters and comments and responses on other blogs could not have done their healing work on me. I forgot: it is others’ response to our pain which allows us to endure — even to metabolize and process — the unendurable.

So my response in turn is, of necessity, a visceral gratitude. Wonder and gratitude that so many share my experience and were moved to their own epiphany in reading of mine. Words are indeed “the instruments we use to beat out tunes on broken drums…”

All those who have had someone beloved wrenched from them know only too well the nightmare of the first anniversary of that sudden bereavement. It is like another small death in itself; a fist which waits for you in the dark. Even though you know it’s there, you cannot avoid it, you can only wait for it to descend.

Shelagh’s brother, the Baron’s Boy, was a senior in high school when she died. About to graduate, about to receive his Eagle Scout award, the time became a memory deeply etched by his sister’s sudden death. The following year, on that first anniversary, he was a freshman in college in the midst of exams. He paused there, coming out of class, to post his thoughts on his first year without his sister. With his permission, I give you his thoughts on that first anniversary of Shelagh’s death.

Here is that post:

A statue stands in a shaded place
An angel girl with an upturned face
A name is written on a polished rock
A broken heart that the world forgot

Through the wind and the rain
She stands hard as a stone
In a world that she can’t rise above
But her dreams give her wings
And she flies to a place where she’s loved,
Concrete Angel...

Technically, this post should be for tomorrow — but seeing that I just took a test dealing with, among other things, Dissociative Identity Disorder, I figured it was fitting that I do it now.

One year ago tomorrow was Thursday, May 8th, 2003. I woke up to a disorganized househould. It seems that my sister’s boyfriend had called our house, hysterical. She was unconscious and not responding to CPR, and he had already called the ambulance. My mom was in tears and my dad was grim-facedly getting both of them ready to go over to her house. However, I still had to go to school, so I got in my car and started driving.

I don’t really remember what passed through my head on that drive — my sister had had numerous “incidents” before and managed to find her way through them. After 30 years of living with DID I guess she’d had to adapt to crazy situations. However, something changed when this song came on the radio. “You Were Meant For Me,” by Jewel. I’d heard it a lot before and kind of liked it. But then it got to the refrain:

Dreams last so long
Even after you’re gone...

I guess I knew at some level that this was one scrape Shelagh wasn’t going to be able to get of in one piece. And sure enough, around 1:00 that afternoon, Dad and my brother Joe came to pick me up at Fuqua [School]. She had been dead probably before her boyfriend had even made the call.

Before you think I’m making this into a sobfest, let me make one thing clear. I don’t cry easily. I used to a lot in middle school, and through negative conditioning I learned to hold it in. I never cried for Shelagh at her funeral; I guess I was almost happy, in a way, that her pain was over. But I cried for her many times after, because, as my brother Jamie put it, “No one ever understood me like she did.” There have been too many times this year when I felt like I needed to talk to someone and realized that that person was my sister. I know she can still hear me, but one-sided conversations just aren’t the same.

But looking at all of this another way — I’m never going to let anyone, not myself nor anyone that I’m close to, go gently into that good night. If Shelagh could hold on and weather the storms, then so can we. One of her bad days would probably send most of us “normal” people into a depressive tailspin. She lived with demons, both internal and external, that are probably better left undescribed. And yet she kept on, till the age of 40, until, as Thomas Hardy said in Tess,
    “‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with [her].”
Nothing I could have done would have healed her pain. And indeed, not much any of us could have done would have accomplished much. We could only mend as many cracks as we could before the walls came crashing down. But I’ll be damned if I let anyone I love fall victim to a pain like that. No-one will suffer like that on my watch as long as I have my strength.

So here’s to Shelagh. If anyone deserves a happy afterlife, it’s you.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell? Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk-on part in the world for a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year
Running over the same old ground, what have we found? The same old fears,
Wish you were here...

— Will, May 7th, 2004

“This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me —”

Why do you blog? Norm Geras’ interviews are now at the hundred mark. If you read the answers just to this one question, you’ll not find much variety in the reasons. Nor should there be.
    “Oh, OK, the real reason is sheer vanity.”
“It allows me to spout off on all manner of things which interest me. Plus: fame, fortune and the adoration of women.”
“I blog because, basically, I am a big-mouth, and I needed to create a public platform where I could shout about things which matter to me. Also, the writing impulse had to be satisfied.”
“I blog because it's fun. I enjoy the immediacy of it and the possibility of feedback.”
“Emily Dickinson once began a poem: 'This is my letter to the world,/ That never wrote to me —”
So there you are. People blog to connect to others through the medium of words and pictures. We have become a culture of non-connection and blogging — plus comments — becomes one way to transcend our intellectual isolation. And while each person has a slightly different take on his or her reasons for setting up a blog, learning to manipulate the medium, and taking on the challenge of maintaining something which often comes to resemble a voracious mutant time-eater, in the end it’s about connection. Simple human connection. Remember “reach out and touch someone”? Well, guess what, folks? Blogging is simply that, only more nakedly expressed. Be it pictures of your cat, mundane ideas or pre-disgested shorts, it’s merely service to the connection need that exists inside your neurons. Gimme my fix!

Rick Moran at Rightwing Nuthouse thinks of it this way:
1.   It is the nature of the medium to enslave us, bind us and with “tortuous regularity” demand that we follow a particular path.
2.  The nature of the medium is content. Whatever the goal you have as a blogger — and his was to write essays — you must nonetheless put the nickels in the meter in order to keep playing. As he puts it, “I’ve been forced to alter the formula [essays] and simply link to other good blog posts with scant commentary on what someone else has written.” Rick takes himself to task for this, seeing it as “laziness or lack of inspiration.”
Rick also mentions the time consumed in research if one is to write decent historical essays. As wonderful as Google is, you can get lost in the treasure mine of information. Thus a seven hundred word essay ends up taking about three hours to write. It’s not just that we get lost in the tangents of information, though. Rick doesn’t mention — but this is always in the forefront of my mind — that there are “experts” out there who will read your material and take you to task for lacunae in your work that you could fix only by studying the subject for fifty years like they have. And they’re not even academics or “professionals.” They’re simply people in love with the subject you happened to pick. As an example, Rick wrote an essay on D-Day not long ago. Relying on memory, I think he contended that Normandy Beach and beyond was the greatest event of the 20th century. My co-blogger — also a history aficionado — and I disagreed with Rick’s elevation of June 6th, 1944. In our view it was June 28th, 1914. When that day was over, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the town of Sarevjo would come to represent the beginning of WWI. This ignominius day laid the foundation for D-Day, forty years later. Two history lovers with different ideas about the trajectory of history. And both read by a wide (and in some cases, congruent) audience.

Rick says that his motivations for blogging were two: to “reacquaint” himself with his writing skills from years before, and to use his blog as a stepping stone to making a living as a writer. Those are usual goals for ambitious, energetic people. And many other bloggers would express the same sentiments. However, as he says, the former — building one’s skills as a writer — begins to take second place to building one’s position in the ecosystem of the blogosphere. This requires increasing readership, linking, and, as he notes again, choosing the content of one’s blog.
     Ultimately, readers will praise me or condemn me not for the reason I write but for what I write — content. And here’s where the future comes into play in a big way.
How are we going to be receiving content 5 years from now? Ten years? I say “receiving” content because at the moment, we are slaves to others for access to that vital commodity. Will there come a day when content will not be “received” as much as it just simply is? In other words, if we’re not slaves to gatekeepers for the distribution of information, will there come a time when the “message is the medium?”
Here comes the hard part: looking at the present commodity/channel and attempting to foresee the future. Moran quotes Jeff Jarvis’ idea that content is perishable and it can be created by anyone. What was once valuable, i.e., owning a commodity (a medium of information ) becomes of little worth. “Owning the content factory” simply means you have higher costs, while a blogger, possessed only of a PC and a little talent has no deadweight and can win every time.

Jarvis and Moran agree: the old ways, the old economy are difficult paradigms to break: Quoting Jarvis:
    in this new age, you don’t want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You don’t want to extract value. You want to add value. You don’t want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.
Do you see how radical this is? It’s distributive. It’s about a life of intellectual abundance and the death of scarcity. It changes not only how you think, but how you feel. It’s expansive, it grows, it self-corrects. This is the revolution the denizens of the 1960’s only dreamed about. A pipe-dream at that.

Here’s Jarvis’ recommendations:

Forget owning the content. Assist in its distribution and its re-creation as people make choices about which parts of that content they want to save:
1.   In these new economics, you want to stand back and interfere and restrict as little as possible.
2.  You want to reduce costs to the minimum.
3.  You want to join in wherever you are welcome.
Then Rick Moran asks the poignant question:
     But let me whine for a moment; I’m not a journalist. I don’t pretend to be one nor do have any desire to imitate one. Will there be room for a 51 year old opinionated fat man who sees himself in a silly, heroic sort of way as a polemicist, a rabble rouser, someone who 200 years ago would have been posting broadsides on buildings facing the town square? Where does that leave me? How do I participate in this brave new world if I don’t want to climb on board this new media bandwagon?
More questions; what innovations will there be in hardware and software that will affect this new medium? How about changes in the internet itself? Access to it? The portability of it?
These questions go to the root of my problem; how should I approach the future?As Mr. Beecher (whose daughter Harriet was to write the play Uncle Tom’s Cabin) points out, one can either be anxious about the future or have faith in it. At the moment, I’m extraordinarily anxious. I suppose that’s natural for anyone my age whose basic supposition about the way things are is undergoing a radical transformation. I’d like to have faith in the future but wishing won’t make it so. I think the best any of us can do is keep an ear to the ground, watch for trends, and even try to anticipate change wherever possible. Easier said than done. I suppose in the end, having faith in the future means having faith in oneself. [emphasis added]
No, Rick, I disagree: having faith in the future is not the same as having faith in oneself. I have faith in a future that may not contain me, and I have faith in a future that I cannot possibly live to see. Faith, unlike blogging, is free of content.

I believe that the blogosphere is continuing to grow because it meets a need. The need existed before the blogosphere; the ’sphere did not create it. I believe it will change in ways we cannot anticipate, the same way we have been changed by life’s experiences in ways we could not see before those events transpired.

Meanwhile, blog on, my esteemed friend whom I have never met. The future will come to meet you, prepared or not. And I mean that both ways: the future is no more prepared for us than we are for it…

Next time: Who I read and why.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Perfect Swarm

As Bill Whittle might say: relax, get yourself a cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable; this may take a while.

I have written previously about the civil war within the mind of the West, and the crippling effect it has on our ability to fight the Great Jihad. Since the kamikaze Left holds the ramparts of our culture, it will require a mass effort to change the subject and subvert the Left’s dominant memes.

Fortunately, the blogosphere has the capacity to be subversive. With many thousands of blogs and many millions of readers, a conversation has emerged which is not under the control of the traditional gatekeepers of our collective intellect. Yet our political leaders — our elected officials and their subordinate policymakers — have been slow to heed the new voices. On contentious issues such as immigration policy and the straightforward prosecution of the war against the Great Jihad, the politicians have instinctively bowed to the PC shrines at the New York Times and the Washington Post, as if theirs were the only readers that matter.

The chances are that on any given day, more people are reading one of Wretchard’s essays than are reading Maureen Dowd, and more touch base with Instapundit than with Richard Cohen. Yet the nervous nellies of Congress and the Administration dance around the MSM’s talking points like the keepers of the vestal flame.

What gives?

It’s not as if the blogosphere hasn’t proved its efficacy. An examination of its triumphs is instructive.

The first one was the Trent Lott affair. The former majority leader’s ill-considered remarks at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party were, strangely enough, about to be buried by the liberal media. Yet the center-right blogs kept the issue alive and eventually raised the temperature under Sen. Lott’s feet until he was forced out of his position.

Next came the blogs’ greatest success, Rathergate. Led by Little Green Footballs and Power Line, and assisted by thousands of alert readers doing the research, cross-checking the facts, and spreading the word, CBS News and its allies in Big Media were prevented from generating the story they had hoped would torpedo the President’s re-election.

Then there was Eason Jordan. Once again, an issue that would have been buried and forgotten was kept alive by the blogs, forcing a CNN executive to resign.

Numerous other instances of the blogs’ effectiveness can be cited — the Pepsi “finger”, the journalists supposedly targeted by the American military, the Oil-for-Food scam, and so on — and others are in process right now, such as the Able Danger/Sandy Berger affair. Each blog swarm, when roused by its defining issue, has demonstrated its power.

But each of these swarms was essentially reactive. The pattern is this: a politician or media figure commits a verbal atrocity, generates a vile fraud, or engages in some kind of political corruption. The traditional media close ranks and bury the story, but the blogs take action to force the matter to a head. Without a stimulus to act against, the blog swarm does not form.

But does it have to be that way? Why can’t the blogs act in concert to advance memes which they generate themselves?

The variety among the center-right blogs is breathtaking. The spectrum goes from hardcore libertarians through dedicated warbloggers to Christians and social conservatives. We have milbloggers, recovering liberals, crusty commentators, shrinks, and satirists. All of these cacophonous voices are arguing among themselves, shooting spitballs and insulting each other. Yet, when they agree on something, they swarm, and the gates of the citadel tremble!

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Gates of Vienna is a little blog. Oh, we have our loyal readers (and an uncommonly intelligent and literate group they are, too), but what we say here will cause scarcely a ripple in the big pond of opinion journalism. However, if our words line up with thousands of other blogs, if we act in concert with all the other large mammals, marauding marsupials, flippery fish, etc. of the ecosystem, then the aggregate effect has meaning.

So, instead of waiting for the next outrage on the Left, instead of reacting to events, I propose a new practice of proactive swarming. Each of us should keep an eye out for an important idea whose time has come, and then promote it for a swarm. If you have a blog, post the swarm idea. To misquote the Grateful Dead, if you believe it, pass it on.

The success of Rathergate can be repeated with ideas generated within the blogs, and then amplified by them. If this practice is repeated often enough, the politicians will start checking in with Instapundit over their morning coffee instead of looking in the newspaper to discover what it is they think.

As Wretchard has said,
    The longer it goes on the more dangerous the revolution becomes. Someone compared the rise of the Internet to the invention of the printing press. When books were the province of a few you could only come to knowledge through someone else. When books became common, people could learn for themselves, which put quite a few mediocrities out of business. Doubtless there will be those, as happens with people who interpret scripture do-it-yourself, who will get it all cockeyed. But on the whole mass produced books were a good thing.
There are some who are shocked, shocked at the act of a private person musing out loud about what seems like a staged photograph. ‘How dare you, how dare you raise these questions’. Yet to those who grew up on the Internet, this attitude is puzzling in the extreme. It’s as natural as breathing, a wholly different tradition. There must be hundreds of sites out there saying I’m a jerk. So what? This blog is just a meme, that’s all. I am nothing. I don’t even have a name. There must be zillions out there who disagree with my ideas. But so what? If my ideas are wrong they’ll die. If they are right, not even I can stop them. Scary when you think of it.
To that end I have constructed four icons which can be used to accompany a “swarm meme”:

Blog Swarm!    Blog Swarm!
Blog Swarm!    Blog Swarm!

They are designed to flush left or right , and you can use either the opaque or transparent background. Choose the image you want and copy it, steal it, credit me or not; I don’t care — heck, you can hot-link the image and let eat the bandwidth! If the idea is good, spread it and Swarm It!

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

My first candidate for a swarm meme is my old standard; Dymphna will offer her own in the next day or two.

Blog Swarm!

We Are Not Fighting a
“Global War on Terror”
or a
“Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism”.

We Are Resisting
The Third Wave of the Great Islamic Jihad.

It’s been going on since 630 AD, and the defeat at Vienna in 1683 was just a temporary setback from their point of view. It’s high time to call this war by its right name.

If you agree, then… swarm it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Holy Cops!

He’s baaack! Just when it seemed he’d decided that discretion was the better part of valor and closed his site, up pops The Religious Policeman. It seems he’s moved to Britain, leaving Saudi Arabia. Good Lord, does he think it’s safer there or does he figure it’s an easier place to get lost in? Those limeys, they can’t tell one wog from another, right? Of course the latter seem to be intent on killing the former. Nonetheless, the RP is probably correct: the byways of England are summat calmer than the side streets of Qassim.

This blogger is a must-read. He is witty, intelligent, and well-educated. His writing style is by turns wry and caustic. His reports on the passing parade will leave you smiling or shaking your head in wonder at the peculiaties of the human condition.

The Religious Policeman despairs sometimes. Who wouldn’t, with his experiences? His blog is dedicated to the young schools girls killed by others’ fanaticism:
     In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.
His posts are most entertaining. It’s difficult to choose just one, but perhaps this will serve to give you the flavor of his delicious puddings:
     Enough of the heavy geopolitical stuff. I'm starting an Advice Column.
"Dear Alhamedi
My wife won't do what I tell her. What should I do?
Dear "Inadequate from Dammam". The answer is all in the Quran. As it says there
1. Tell her to behave.
...if that doesn't work...
2. Go and sleep by yourself
...and if that doesn't work...
3. Beat her
...because that works every time

No, this isn't black humor, along the lines of Humphrey Bogart's ghost's advice to Woody Allen in "Play it again Sam":
"Dames are simple. I never met one that didn't understand a slap in the mouth or a slug from a forty-five."
Instead it's real life advice, written by Ghada Al-Hori and published in the "Al Watan" newspaper, in 2005 (and that's CE, not BC)
Punishing Disobedient Wives
Skipping some of his most eloquently sardonic lines — e.g., the image of Humphrey Bogart and Hannibel Lecter as Muslim pychiatrists, the RP goes to the heart of the matter. He quotes a whining imam who complains that the Western view of Islam’s treatment of women is just a part of our campaign against them. To which RP responds:
     Here we go again. Its the old "nobody loves us, they're always picking on us, we're the victims, we are the world's one and only true religion but everyone's just horrid to us" moan. You hear it all the time in Saudi but can avoid it in the UK if you choose your mosque carefully, these whingeing imams make you feel you are in a religion for losers. They'll never appreciate that Islam gets a bad press because certain of our "brethren" fly into skyscrapers and blow up trains and chop peoples' hands off and say it's OK to beat women, all in the name of Islam.
Then he does something that is not seen often enough. He lifts an egregious and anachronistic piece of Judeo-Christian scripture and fisks it for our modern sensibilites:
     There is a passage in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, (Deuteronomy 21.18-21) that says:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
The Jewish and Christian religions moved on from this a long time ago, some millenia in fact. You don't see piles of battered corpses of youths in baseball caps and trainers at the gates of Western towns. Their religions have kept the most important parts, and left the historical stuff behind. So have the majority of sensible Moslems around the world. So why do we in Saudi Arabia treat the Quran so literally? And why are we surprised when the rest of the world think we're completely mental?
Is this not a breath of fresh air? Please go visit his site. Read about the women who never, ever, never unveil. Not even in front of their female relatives.

All his stories are good. You can’t say “entertaining” exactly, since he’s talking about real people doing unreal things. But he’s memorable and the fact that he’s out there writing it all down should give us hope.

The Religious Policeman is a Muslim with a brain and a sense of history. Long may his tribe increase.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Protection Racket

Gates of Vienna owes the IRS money. We just found out a few weeks ago: $674, and tomorrow is the deadline. So today I will get out the checkbook and pay up.

We have a tax accountant who does our returns, and he actually got us a refund for this one; now we owe them money. Whoops. Yes, yes, I know; I will have a little talk with him about this one. But it won’t do any good; he says that when the IRS claims you owe them money, it is best just to write the check.

That’s definitely true for $100 or $400, and now I know it’s true for $674. It might even be true for $1000 or $2000; I’ll let you know if, heaven forfend, I ever get dunned for those amounts. But at some point it would become cost-effective to hire the tax lawyer and go through the trouble to fight the bastards. Days off work, trips to the IRS office, signing endless paperwork, showing up in court — maybe $10,000…? $20,000? Readers are invited to offer their own personal opinions on this one.

All I know is that it’s quite a game the IRS has going. Nice little life ya got here — wouldn’t want anything to, like, happen to it, ya know? Pause. Sound of pen scratching on check paper. Tanks. See yez next year!

The IRS has the power to ruin your life. That’s what has made me a libertarian — nobody should have the power to ruin my life without my consent. I didn’t elect those guys in the Treasury building, and my elected representatives have long since lost the masculine wherewithal to rein in those f***ers in D.C. They can extract money from us without due process, guilty until proven innocent, till death do us part, and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it.

If we weren’t so used to it, so numbed by paying up year after year, we would be jumping up and down with outrage, steam coming out of our ears. We would be having coronaries from our fits of rage while writing the check. We would be…

Excuse me — there’s someone knocking at the door…

No, Mr. Field Agent! I didn’t really mean it! I’m sorry! Please… What are you doing with that axe handle?


Monday, August 22, 2005

’Tis Not So Deep as a Well, Nor So Wide as a Church Door...

At last the mystery is solved. And a more knotted, amazing or strange story couldn’t have been made up.

Last week, Gates reported on a story from the Telegraph saying that Steven Vincent had been killed because he was planning to marry his interpreter. The motive for the murders of Mr. Vincent and Nour, the woman who served as his translator during his stay in Basrah was generally thought to be one of vindictive retribution for Vincent’s behavior in shaming Nour. The British military made vague mutterings about Vincent's "careless" security.

So it seemed, on the surface anyway, like a Romeo and Juliet story, except that Juliet lived. But that was merely the surface.

Here is the deeper, more complicated reality, as told by Mrs. Vincent. Given the fact that she knew her husband for twenty three years, she possesses an authority regarding his truth not held by anyone else. Here is her report about the events in Basrah, taken from an email she sent to Juan Cole. She copied that email to Murdoc Online. You will be deeply satisfied to note that she remains civilized while still (one hopes) raising blisters on Mr. Cole’s very thick skin:
     For starters, Steven and Nour were not "romantically involved". If you knew anything at all about the Middle East, as you seem to think you do, then you would know that there is no physical way that he and she could have ever been alone together. Nour (who always made sure to get home before dark, so they were never together at night) could not go to his room; he could not go to her house; there was no hot-sheet motel for them to go to for a couple of hours. They met in public, they went about together in public, they parted in public. They were never alone. She would not let him touch her arm, pay her a compliment, buy her a banana on the street, hyper-aware of how such gestures might be interpreted by the misogynistic cretins who surrounded her daily. So for you brazenly claim that she was "sleeping around," when there is no earthly way you could possibly know that, suggests to me that you are quite the misogynist as well. Cheap shot, Mr. Cole, against a remarkable woman who does not in any wise deserve it.
Mrs. Vincent goes on to explain that her husband did love Nour, but it was not sexual, that his love for her arose from his admiration:
     he loved her for her courage, her bravery, her indomitable spirit in the face of the Muslim thugs who have oppressed their women for years. To him she represented a free and democratic Iraq, and all of the hopes he had for that still-elusive creature. And he loved her for the help she gave him - endangering herself by affiliating with him because she wanted the truth to come out about what was happening in her native city of Basra and the surrounding area. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that it is possible to love someone in a strictly platonic way, but I assure you, it can happen - even between men and women.

Mrs. Vincent is quite correct on that subject. In some ways, Steven Vincent and his companion must have had a bond akin to the filia of soldiers: the bond created under the tremendous pressure of manuvering in a murderous environment. To that extent, he must have felt great responsibility for her well-being; such is soldierly camaraderie and those of us outside that circle can only begin to glimpse its depth.

Mrs. Vincent gives us important, astounding information:
     And yes, he was planning to to convert to Islam and marry Nour, but only to take her out of the country to England, where she had a standing job offer, set her up with the friends she had over there, divorce her, and come back to New York. He had gotten her family's permission to do so (thereby debunking the "honor killing" theory).

If you find this part unlikely then you haven’t been exposed to the necessity for such subterfuge in arranging movement between countries. Even we, in this small backwater in Virginia, know of such arrangements between students, one of whom needs to stay in the country to continue studying. That is not a far-fetched scenario; it is an excruciatingly practical one.

Mrs. Vincent says she gave her permission for this arranged marriage. She and her husband knew that Nour’s life would be “essentially worthless” once he left. As she notes, because he was an honorable man — and a married one — he asked his wife what he ought to do.
     I told him to get her out of the country and bring her here to New York. However, the only way she could have left Iraq was with a family member or husband. Since her family had no intention of going anywhere, Steven was her only recourse, and it would have been perfectly legal for him to convert, marry her, then take her out of Iraq to give her a chance at a real life.
Now that that avenue is closed to her, I have made inquiries to the State Department about the possibility of my sponsoring her in America.

This is a proud and grieving wife. She explains her husband’s work:
     Yes, Steven was aggressive in criticizing what he saw around him and did not like. It's called courage, and it happens to be a tradition in the history of this country. Without this tradition there would have been no Revolutionary War, no Civil War, no civil rights movement, no a lot of things that America can be proud of. He had made many friends in Iraq, and was afraid for them if the religious fundamentalists were given the country to run under shari'a.

Then she describes what they did and what befell them:
     They were on the front lines, risking all, in an attempt to call attention to the growing storm threatening to overwhelm a fragile and fledgling experiment in democracy, trying to get the world to see that all was not right in Iraq…
And for their efforts, Steven is dead and Nour is recuperating with three bullet wound in her back. Yes, that's right - the "honorable" men who abducted them, after binding them, holding them captive and beating them, set them free, told them to run - and then shot them both in the back. I've seen the autopsy report.

Finally, Steven Vincent’s wife explains his fatal slip:
     He had been in Basra for 3 months under incredibly stressful conditions, working every day, and towards the end enduring heat of 135 degrees, often without air conditioning, which could not have helped his mental condition or judgment. He was yearning to come home, as his emails to me made crystal clear. But on August 2nd, two days before my birthday, he made the fatal mistake of walking one block - one - from his hotel to the money exchange, rather than take a cab, and now will never come back to me.
So. Mystery solved. He was tired and careless. Had he gotten a cab, he wouldn’t have been available to his kidnappers. But he didn’t, and for that he paid with his life. The British have been critical of his carelessness regarding security. Perhaps they were afraid of being blamed for his death? That makes more sense now. Besides there has always been that cautious-Brit/brash-American tension between us. This is just another example.

Here is Lisa Ramaci-Vincent’s final poignant gift from her husband:
     I got a bouquet of flowers from him on August 4th, which he had ordered before he died, and the card said he was sorry to miss my birthday, but the flowers would stand in his stead until he made it home. They are drying now in the kitchen, the final gift from my soulmate.

Read her full account, especially her excoriation of the chickendove, Professor Juan Cole. Ah, the karma that awaits the man. It makes one shiver to consider how the mills of God will eventually grind his fate.

It is good to have the full story, or at least as much of it as the remaining person knows. And while this is not Romeo and Juliet -- as I'd first surmised after reading the British press -- Mr. Vincent’s story is no less Shakespearean for that. It is one of the tragic histories and his behavior was truly of heroic proportions.

Mr. Vincent died for his friend. He was not Romeo but Mercutio, a loyal, courageous friend.

Tragedy consists of this: the fatal consequences of heroic behavior.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Two Weeks of Blogging Genius

Watcher's CouncilFamily doings, with college-bound kids leaving and preemie granchildren arriving has backed up the Watcher’s Council voting, which deficit is about to be remedied:

In the August 12th vote, The Education Wonks won handily with a delightfully scandalous story about the great Alaskan pork choke. Our neighbors to the north are raking it in every time many of us fill up for gas.
    Don't pass-up the opportunity to take a look at this very interesting "thank-you" letter written by Alaskan writer Nick Jans. He shows the rest of us just how much largesse that his state is receiving from taxpayers in "donor" states such as Texas, Florida, Michigan, Arizona and California.
The non-Council Winner was a sobering look at how some very fringe-y people think. And act.

The Dawn Patrol’s post on Planned Parenthood’s media campaign must be seen to be believed. It’s a gob-smacking bit of unreality…except you know there are people out there who write this stuff and people who read it. Thanks to Dawn Patrol for being willing to lift up the rocks and report on what she sees. Someone has to do it. Shudder.

Alpha Patriot placed second, writing about the final campaigns of WWII.
     When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
— From the book by James Bradley, "Flags Of Our Fathers", pp 246-7
He and Council member Right Wing Nuthouse posted on similar themes. They are best read together.

Look at everything here, from the man who puts it all together so you can just peruse at your leisure.

The past week’s entries were full of stories about Able Danger. This anchor, tied to Berger’s underwear is eventually going to make him look like the little girl in the suntan lotion ad of years gone by.

Dr. Sanity won first place in the Council match with her clinical assessment:
     it seems to me that if anyone in the Clinton adminsitration knew about Able Danger, it would have been Mr. Berger as National Security Advisor. A revelation that he was behind the decision not to allow military intelligence to pass on information to law enforcement officials about a terror cell that included Atta and other 9/11 murderers provides the first, possibly significant motive for Berger's bizarre behavior in spring of 2004. It would have to be something sensational like this to have made the Clinton official do something that egregiously antithetical to his professional reputation. His actions in stuffing documents into his clothing were those of a person in a state of panic, or high emotion (e.g. fear).
Lots more Berger business this week, too. Be sure to look.

Iraq the Model had a message for Cindy Sheehan in the non-council section. His post won overwhelmingly. Highly recommended for every American to read.

Get all the goodies from the Watcher here.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan

I had to look up your name since I have avoided your story as much as possible. Not out of a lack of compassion for your sorrow, but rather because of my own fragility and the sorrow I carry for my own dead daughter.

Here’s what I know about your story — and when you think about it, to have learned this much despite not having a TV and making an effort to avoid learning about your odyssey, it’s amazing I know as much as I do.

Your son Casey was a soldier and he died in Iraq. At first, you were able to maintain in the face of this catastrophic loss. I believe you even met with the President at one point? See — even I, with no access to regular media and a real wish to avoid your story, even I know these things. Or maybe what I “know” is some garbled version of what has been going on for you in your public grief.

This is a guess — an educated guess from one mother of a dead child to another — but I think things began to unravel as time went on and the reality of Casey’s complete and total and life-long and irrevocable absence hit your consciousness like a fist sinks into a gut. And the bunched knuckles kept coming back to deliver blow after unending blow.

One picture I happened upon in the grocery store showed you on your knees. I presume it was taken in Crawford since someone who didn’t know me well wanted to discuss your story and said you’d gone to President Bush’s ranch. I remember turning away from your face as you knelt there. Yours was a sorrowful visage, a broken face like the reflection from a fractured mirror. My heart twisted for you even though I barely glanced at the picture.

Your grief has served to polarize others. Some say you’re being used, some dismiss you as “crazy” — and tell me what mother of a dead child isn’t crazy? You’ve been cheated of your son; you walk through the valley of the shadow of death and no one comes to greet you. There will never, ever again be a laughing bear hug from this son grown tall and handsome.

When a husband or wife dies, we call the surviving partner the widow or widower. Why do you think it is that there is no one word to describe our condition, Cindy? Mother-of-a-dead-child is the best we can do? The lack of a name gives you some inkling how much our culture avoids the knowledge of this sorrow. If we named it we’d have some power over it. But the condition you and I share is unnamed because since time immemorial parents have dreaded this loss. It is the worst. There is nothing else that can be done to us. A motherless child is a pitiful creature and carries a life-long emptiness he or she tries to fill with other grown-ups. A childless mother is a crazy person and nothing can fill the hole, not if she had a baby a year for the rest of her life.

Do you have other children? I have three. And when people ask me, pleasantly, “how many children do you have?” I look at them blankly. It is all I can do to not to run screaming from the room.

Here is where I liken my experience to what is happening to you: after Shelagh’s sudden death, after the Rescue Squad carried her off and I watched them disappear down the drive, after the Medical Examiner returned her body to us, there was lots to do. The first morning I awoke I heard her say distinctly, laughing, “Mom, welcome to the first day of the rest of your life without me.” I think she was trying to make it easier in her Shelagh way.

There was so much to do. Her children needed clothing for the funeral, there were burial arrangements to make, a minister to call, family visitation to be arranged, a burial service to be created. So many, many people to notify. Elderly grandparents and a large contingent of Irish relatives to talk to and arrange for flights. As the days passed, I thought to myself “I can do this. I can just keep having this whole thing to organize and plan and I’ll be okay. As long as I never have to bury her, I’ll be fine.” Yes, this is crazy thinking. Even then, I vaguely knew that.

ShelaghWhen her body arrived back from the Medical Examiner’s one of her brothers and I wrapped her in a winding sheet. Shelagh could never decide among Catholicism, Judaism, and a local bikers’ church for misfits. So she went to all three. We wrapped her in linen with a small cross embroidered on one end. A priest came to anoint her with oil. Her therapist came very early in the morning and left a small token of their work together, a secret symbol between them (though I knew what it meant). I gave Shelagh some of the lily of the valley left in the garden and her grandmother gave her a rosary. Her children gave her stuffed animals and drawings. She left the room shrouded in fair linen and surrounded by those things we knew she’d loved. The next day she was buried after a funeral in the bikers’ church. Later everyone said it was the most joyful funeral they’d ever been to.

After she was buried, I went back to the church to pay the minister before going on to the hotel to visit with my former in-laws, her father’s family. As I walked into the rest room there, I saw the trash can overflowing with the paper programs from Shelagh’s service. Immediately, I heard my daughter’s laughing voice exclaiming, “Mommm! Don’t these people realize I’m immortal?” She seemed amused and offended at the same time. In an automatic gesture of soothing her, I bent down to pat the overflowing papers… see, we are crazy.

Let me tell you the most important thing, Cindy: none of this matters. Not one piece of it. The only important part, the only piece with any real existence is Casey’s death. He is as gone as though he never existed. And you are so filled with sorrow and grieving you do not see how you will ever turn back from this road of vengeful crying out like some prophet who has wandered in from the desert.

Perhaps you never will. Not all of us come back, and certainly none of us return as the people we were before our child died. We are some other person, a stranger even to ourselves sometimes. But you will be less afraid of death yourself. Your son has gone before you, and that is harder than our own passing. Much, much harder. The lump in your throat will probably never disappear either.

As you’ve no doubt discovered by now, men and women handle their griefs very differently. Shelagh’s father and I split the cost of her funeral. I paid for everything else and he did the flowers (I’m afraid I said “f*** the flowers” — in my mind she had her beloved lily of the valley and what else was necessary or even good?) and he also paid for the burial plot.

Well. When you own a burial plot it is you who decides what headstone will go there. And if you decide there will be no headstone, then no headstone it is. So my beloved Shelagh, despite our entreaties, lies in an unmarked grave and I cannot bear to go visit where she lies there because of that.

For a long time, I considered her father’s behavior simply cruel and evil, but having had these two years to contemplate such a bizarre thing, I have come to think that perhaps it is his way of not having to face her death. No headstone? No dead daughter. It makes a crazy kind of sense, doesn’t it? Anyway, one day her brother called me and said he had a message from his sister. In a perfect imitation of her tossed-off wit, he said that Shelagh had told him, “Tell Mom not to worry about it. I always lived in substandard housing anyway.” It was so exactly her voice and humor that I started laughing. I still smile when I think of it.

For a long time, too, I hated time passing. Each day carried me further downstream away from Shelagh. I resented each holiday, each special occasion, things she would have wanted to be there for — as when, several weeks after her death her youngest brother had his Eagle Scout ceremony. Now, after several years, I have rearranged the furniture of seasonal celebrations. We do different things so that the hole where Shelagh is supposed to be doesn’t show so plainly.

Other bereaved parents tell me that your child will visit you. Some special “thing” you had together. That hasn’t happened for me yet, though the day she died we had terrific tornadoes and blackened skies. They were a greenish-black and the clouds moved with incredible speed over the green fields of May. One thing that does happen to me, like an emotional ‘twitch’ is that when I see a date written down, I automatically parse it: the date is either when Shelagh was alive or it is A.S. — After Shelagh. And the date of her death is like a gong…May 8th, 2003, May 8th, 2003, May 8th, 2003….

I don’t know what kind of hell your loss is creating, Cindy, and I can’t pretend to offer any solace. There simply isn’t any. Some things are unbearable and this is one. Nor will I suggest that you be brave. To hell with being brave. Wail until you can’t make another sound. Then sing this. It was one she used to have her brother play on his guitar:
    You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
In the end, Cindy, we are all stripped bare — nothing we have really belongs to us. In particular, we don’t have our children. Much as we cherish them, they belong to themselves and they belong to God. If you can open your hands and place them together in prayer, rather than bunching them in fists of rage, then you can let Casey go home… just let go.

If you don’t, then Casey can’t come back to you.

With my thoughts and my prayers for all of you who loved Casey,