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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Glory 

Palestinian terrorists are embracing the movement toward roots martyrdom, in which suicide is the focus and the deaths of innocents are taken out of the equation. It seems to be a trend lately.

Brigadier-General Gadi Shamni, commander of Israeli forces in northern Gaza, said the incident began when a Palestinian car exploded at the heavily guarded Erez crossing.

Hamas called it a suicide bombing and said the driver was killed. Shamni said no Israelis were hurt.

Soon afterwards, two jeeps painted in Israeli army colors raced to the scene, as if they were responding to the blast, and a Palestinian gunman in the lead vehicle began firing at soldiers, who shot him and its driver dead, Shamni told Reuters.

The second jeep, also disguised as an army vehicle, then exploded near a Palestinian police post about 100 meters (yards) away, killing the driver, the general said by telephone.
Bravo, gentlemen. Unfortunately there is no Darwin Award in the Gaza Strip because, well, there's no Darwin.
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Friday, March 05, 2004

Ashcroft hospitalized 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the compassionate left.
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Thursday, March 04, 2004

Pay inequality 

I noticed a very lively thread on Democratic Underground, which asks "How are women discriminated against?" A lot of the discussion revolves around the pay disparity--widely quoted statistics show that women earn 78% of a man's pay in similar jobs, on average.

I'm glad this came up somewhere, because I've been looking for a reason to bring up a Kiplinger's interview I read yesterday. It is titled "It pays to haggle for that first check," and it's in the April issue of the magazine. The interviewee is Linda Babcock, a Carnegie Mellon economics professor and author of Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. I have not read the book, but in the interview, Dr. Babcock says,

In my study of Carnegie Mellon graduates with master's degrees, I found that 57% of men had negotiated their first salary compared with 7% of women. On average, men who bargained were able to increase their salary by 7.4%.
She goes on to say that with a lower starting point, even if percentage increases in pay are the same as men's, women will, of course, earn less over a lifetime. Beyond that, senior managers may assume that someone earning a lower salary is less qualified for promotion, and the effect of the initial lack of negotiation would ripple through a woman's career.

Granted this is a small sample, consisting of graduate students from one university. But is there something about Carnegie Mellon students in particular that would make these figures differ very much from the ones you would find at other schools or across the nation as a whole? I don't know the answer to that question, but I doubt a national study would find that men and women negotiate their salaries in equal proportion.

And I don't know nearly enough about this to conclude anything, nor do I think that salary negotiations explain the whole problem. But it's certainly an intriguing place to look.
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Pen gun terror 

The FBI says that terrorists may have pen guns containing chemical agents.

As terrible as such a weapon would be to the victim (I say "the" because it's a single-shot weapon), a pen gun is a far cry from multiple hijacked airliners. If terrorists really have decided to go that small-scale, I consider it an unqualified victory in the war on terror.
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Terrorist free 

Why was this man released from Guantanamo? I hope it wasn't because of pressure from Canada.

A Canadian released from Guantanamo Bay has admitted he is a member of al-Qaeda - and so are most of his family.

Abdurahman Khadr said he had been "raised to become a suicide bomber" by his father, who was killed in a Pakistani military operation last year.
He says his family is "Canada's al-Qaeda family." Wonderful.
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Neighbors, Europe say terror threat worse (subtitled: Shut up, France.) 

The Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism, say majorities in Mexico, Canada, and five European countries.

Yeah, now that I think of it, there has been that huge wave of terror attacks in North America and Europe that started right after the Iraq war... Oh... Wait a second...

It's easy to say that an abstract "threat" has increased, in the absence of any facts to support or refute that conclusion. But objective facts show that nothing major has happened since the Iraq war started. If there is an increased threat, we're doing a pretty damned good job of addressing it, I'd say.

A lot of it, of course, boils down to that mean man Bush. Four out of five people in France, for example, have a negative view of Bush's role in world affairs.

"Bush has a lot of work to do if he wants to be popular in France," said Edouard LeCerf, director of opinion research for Ipsos France.
Yeah, maybe if his foreign policy were more moral like France's, the French would like him more.

Sorry, I couldn't resist that last part. I'm reading Philip Gourevitch's outstanding book, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families right now, and France's share of the blame for the 1994 Rwandan genocide is absolutely staggering. Simply put, they armed the genocidaires, and didn't stop arming them when the killing began. The French army even gave them direct military support. It's completely disgusting to read about France's complicity in the deaths of 800,000 people. People who were easily selected for death because France shot down an earlier American initiative to do away with ethnic identity cards. I'm fairly pissed at France as I read the book, and frankly I think they should just keep quiet about morality in world affairs. If THAT is what passes for European "nuance" and "sophistication," then to hell with it.
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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Islamic Republic of Hamas 

The possibility of the terrorist group Hamas becoming the de facto power in the Palestinian territories is rapidly increasing. Infighting within Arafat's Fatah movement, Israeli withdrawals, and a spiraling security problem are boosting the role of Hamas in Palestinian society. This part is pretty scary to me:

A December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that Hamas has overtaken Fatah as the most popular political grouping in the Gaza Strip. The poll, with a sampling error of 3 percent, gave Hamas 26 percent of popular support compared to 24 percent for Fatah. The largest group was unaffiliated at 33 percent. In the center's last poll before the intifada, in July 2000, Fatah tallied 42 percent and Hamas 11 percent.
It's good news, I guess, that a third of the people consider themselves unaffiliated, but when a terrorist group tops the popularity poll, alarm bells go off.

Hamas is winning student council elections. It is sweeping the vote in professional societies. Will Hamas be content with those victories, or will it fight, violently if necessary, for a political role in the Palestinian Authority? Will it try to replace the PA altogether?

The ascendency of Hamas leaves Israel in an uncomfortable position. If Hamas gains too much influence, Israel will have no choice but to reoccupy the territories. As much as Likud dislikes Arafat, they hardly want Ahmed Yassin to replace him.

In case you're wondering what's so bad about Hamas (besides suicide bombings), here are some highlights from the organization's charter:

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. "

"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."
Without Israeli intervention or very wise maneuvering by Arafat, this philosophy could become that of the leaders of the Palestinian people. It's already the most popular one.
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China instituting property rights 

AP:
BEIJING - Communist China is changing its constitution to embrace the most basic tenet of capitalism, protecting private property rights for the first time since the 1949 revolution.

China's parliament is meeting in an annual session starting Friday to endorse the change, already approved by Communist Party leaders who tout privatization as a way to continue the country's economic revolution and help tens of millions of poor Chinese.

It will bring China's legal framework in line with its market-oriented ambitions by providing a constitutional guarantee for entrepreneurs, once considered the enemy of communism but now pivotal in generating jobs and wealth.
I'm not sure why this is news today... I blogged about a similar article before Christmas. I stand by my earlier comments, as there really isn't anything new to the story.
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The Martian flood zone 

Once upon a time anyway. NASA announced today that the rover Opportunity has found clear evidence that Meridiani Planum was once awash in liquid water.

"Opportunity has landed in an area of Mars where liquid water once drenched the surface," NASA associate administrator Ed Weiler told a news conference. "Moreover, this area would have been good habitable environment."
This is huge news--it validates all the work that has gone into every Mars mission leading up to the present one. NASA scored a very luck break when Opportunity bounced to a stop near that rock outcropping. Now... how about plans to go back with a rover designed not to look for water, but for signs of life?

UPDATE: It looks like it might be a while... Beagle 2 was supposed to look for chemical traces of life, but it went missing upon entry into the Martian atmosphere. And none of these future missions are going to look for life, but instead focus on looking for surface water and habitable environments, along with analyzing the geology and returning samples to earth.
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Secession 

Killington, Vermont has voted to pack up its bags and move to New Hampshire.

Cool. Maybe someday I can ski at Killington tax-free.
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Assault weapons 

The Senate has passed a measure extending the ban on rifles that function like every other semi-auto rifle, but look different.

UPDATE: DOA. Never mind...
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Monday, March 01, 2004

Water world? 

Yesterday I posted about a SPACE.com article which speculated about what the Mars rovers are finding, and which said that a major press conference was rumored for this week.

Well, it is no longer a rumor:

"Significant findings" about water on Mars will be announced by the US space agency on Tuesday in Washington DC.

Nasa has called a press conference at which the lead scientist on its Red Planet rovers will reveal the mission's most important discovery to date.
The briefing is in DC instead of at mission headquarters at JPL in Pasadena, a sign, the BBC says, of the announcement's importance.

UPDATE: I predict that any truly big announcement about Mars will be assumed, by the usual suspects, to be timed to help Bush in the polls, or some nonsense like that. Even though the rover mission was announced in August, 2000.
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Shi'ite moderation 

An aide to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, has some welcome words about the future:

"We don't want to put pressure on the people. Everyone was born free," Seyed Ali Abdul-Karim al-Safi al-Musawi, al-Sistani's representative in Basra, told The Associated Press. "Personally I would like an Islamic state, but it should only come about if the people vote for it."

But, even if the majority of Iraq's people sought such a state, it wouldn't mean the repression of minority beliefs.

"People must be free to do what they want," including consuming alcohol or women not wearing a veil, al-Safi said, adding that al-Sistani agreed.
Good. That should reduce fears that Iraq could become another Iran. After yesterday's interim constitution agreement and this interview with al-Safi, that outcome is looking pretty unlikely.

And I like the way this guy thinks:

"We Shiites are different from others when it comes to elections," he said. "We study a person for years, sometimes 40 years. People choose him because he is honest, he doesn't lie. But if he says 'elect me,' we don't."
If Iraqi Shi'ite politics is half as ego-free as al-Safi makes it out to be, that's really something.
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Maine's creative city leaders 

You've got to appreciate this out-of-the-box thinking:

There's beauty in simplicity. That must be the opinion of Bangor officials who've come up with a formal name for its waterfront. The name is... well... the "Bangor Waterfront."
Yep, that's "simplicity" all right.

The name will appear on vertical monuments planned for the waterfront's main gateway at the intersection of Main and Railroad streets.
Just in case the river doesn't clue you in, I guess.
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Oscars honor Hitler's propaganda filmmaker 

I've been meaning to mention this since last night, when I saw it. Every year, the Oscars honor people from the film industry who have died in the past year. It's a touching montage with snippets from the people's careers. Well, last night, during the montage, the Academy honored Leni Riefenstahl.

She heard Hitler speak at a rally in 1932 and offered her services as a filmmaker, because she was mesmerized by his powers as a public speaker. In 1933 she directed a short film about a Nazi party meeting. Then Hitler asked her to film the Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg in 1934. Initially she refused, suggesting that Hitler have Walter Ruttmann film it instead. Riefenstahl later consented, and made Triumph of the Will, a documentary film glorifying Hitler and widely regarded as one of the best pieces of propaganda ever produced, even though Riefenstahl herself claims she had intended it solely as a documentary. She went on to make a film about the German Wehrmacht.
I can't imagine that the Academy was unaware of this part of Riefenstahl's past. So why honor her? Does Hollywood have a low to which they won't stoop?

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Leni Riefenstahl used gypsies from a concentration camp in one of her films. What a lovely person, worthy of being honored on the movie industry's largest stage, eh?
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Syrian WMD 

This, of course, has nothing at all to do with what happened to Syria's neighbor:

DAMASCUS: Even if Israel considers the removal of WMD we are ready for a just and comprehensive and lasting peace and to remove WMD under the supervision of UN." Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara told a news conference with his visiting Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda.
Nope, Iraq isn't a factor. Syria just decided on this approach out of concern for international law. Just like Libya.
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Aristide kidnapped 

Aristide Tells U.S. Contacts He Was Abducted

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ousted as Haitian president on Sunday, told U.S. lawmakers and other contacts by telephone on Monday that he was abducted by U.S. soldiers and left his homeland against his will.

Washington immediately denied this, saying Aristide had agreed to step down and leave his country. "It's complete nonsense," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
Most of us know that the U.S. government isn't nearly stupid enough to do something like that. I mean, if a government abducts the leader of another country, do you think it would hand him a phone so he can tell everyone? Unfortunately, a lot of other people in the world probably believe it's standard procedure for us evil Americans.

UPDATE: The Associated Press saw a videotape of Aristide's arrival in the Central African Republic:

Government ministers greeted Aristide – who arrived appearing exhausted, but with his tie still tightly knotted – as he disembarked with his wife at the main airport in Bangui, the capital of this impoverished, coup-prone nation. The arrival was closed to the public; The Associated Press exclusively viewed an official videotape of it.
No mention of gun-toting American thugs keeping him in line, oddly enough. And he then made a radio address.

"In overthrowing me, they cut down the tree of peace," he said on state radio soon after landing. "But it will grow again, because the roots are well-planted."

Aristide thanked authorities here, and saluted Africa and its people – "because Africa is the father of us, Haitian men and women."
Funny, no mention of being abducted there, either. Together with his several phone calls, he's not doing a very good job of playing hostage. Which, obviously, he is not.

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Gay marriage 

It's not just for Frisco any more:

Saudi investigators are grilling some 50 people for allegedly attending a gay wedding in the city of Medina, a newspaper reported on Monday.

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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Iraqi interim constitution 

The AP reports that an interim Iraqi constitution has been agreed upon. I didn't think I would be seeing that headline so soon. Ahmed Chalabi is the source for the article, so take it with a grain of salt. (Or not... I'm lifting the grain of salt requirement.) But if the Iraqi Governing Council really has agreed on an interim constitution to be signed this week, it's a remarkable sign that the various factions can reach the compromises that are needed to make Iraq work as a country. If the story is true, it sounds like a few contentious issues were left for another day, such as Kurdish self-governance and the role of Islam. Those things will have to be fully dealt with when the final constitution is drawn up, and there's no reason to expect that agreement will be reached as quickly when that happens. But this is a promising, and significant, first step toward a democratic and sovereign Iraq.

UPDATE: Cox & Forkum are a little more sanguine:

Apparently the Iraqi draft constitution does not enshrine Islam as explicitly as did the Afghan constitution. But if no law can be passed that "violates the tenets of the Muslim religion," then it might as well. If Islam is the moral standard of the law, then all secular, western legal principles deemed anti-Islamic can easily be overruled. Property rights. Women's individual rights. Freedom of speech. All are at risk.
Or they might not be. Other Arab nations, with quite modern societies, have similar clauses in their constitutions. The constitution of Bahrain (pdf), for example, gives a central role to Islam. Article 2 states, "The religion of the State is Islam. The Islamic Shari'a is a principal source for legislation." That kind of language is not incompatible with modernity. Bahrain is as Western a country as you'll find in the Arab world. The Iraqis could do worse than to follow Bahrain's example. From the constitution's preamble:

The amendments to the Constitution proceed from the premise that the noble people of Bahrain believe that Islam brings salvation in this world and the next, and that Islam means neither inertness nor fanaticism but explicitly states that wisdom is the goal of the believer, wherever he finds it he should take it, and that the Qur'an has been remiss in nothing.

In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that we listen and look to the whole of the human heritage in both East and West, adoping that which we consider to be beneficial and suitable and consistent with our religion, values and traditions and is appropriate to our circumstances, in the conviction that social and human systems are not inflexible tools and instruments which can be moved unchanged from place to place, but are messages conveyed to the mind, spirit and conscience of Man and are influenced by his reactions to the circumstances of his society.

Thus these constitutional amendments are representative of the advanced cultural thought of our beloved nation. They base our political system on a constitutional monarchy founded on counsel [shura], which in Islam is the highest model for governance, and on the people's participation in the exercise of power, which is the foundation of modern political thought.
That sounds like a good balance to me. Bahrain's Shura council, by the way, has a Jewish member. Like I said, Iraq could do worse than to follow this example.
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Mare Meridiani 

Is the Mars rover Opportunity finding evidence of water, or even life? SPACE.com thinks that it might be:

PASADENA, California -- Evidence that suggests Mars was once a water-rich world is mounting as scientists scrutinize data from the Mars Exploration rover, Opportunity, busily at work in a small crater at Meridiani Planum. That information may well be leading to a biological bombshell of a finding that the red planet has been, and could well be now, an extraterrestrial home for life.

There is a palpable buzz here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California that something wonderful is about to happen in the exploration of Mars.

There is no doubt that the Opportunity Mars rover is relaying a mother lode of geological data. Using an array of tools carried by the golf cart-sized robot -- from spectrometers, a rock grinder, cameras and powerful microscopic imager -- scientists are carefully piecing together a compelling historical portrait of a wet and wild world.

Where Opportunity now roves, some scientists here suggest, could have been underneath a huge ocean or lake. But what has truly been uncovered by the robot at Meridiani Planum is under judicious and tight-lipped review.

Those findings and their implications are headed for a major press conference, rumored to occur early next week...
I will wait and see if this rumored press conference materializes, and if it does, exactly what is said. I'm hoping for something big, and not really expecting it. But you never know...
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Backward, anti-Semitic, popcorn munching Christians 

Writer J.P. Devine of the Kennebec Journal (Maine) doesn't even bother to hide his contempt for viewers of The Passion of the Christ:

They came in all sizes, ages, sexes. The first group was led by a fat man in a red T-shirt that said, "Darwin Lied..."

How many, I wondered, were Jewish? Contrary to the Pat Robertson-Billy Graham school of ethnicity, that would be impossible to tell.

Were there any anti-Semites in the crowd? It wasn't long before one man approached us and tried to start up a conversation. It was clear he had his mind made up and wanted a scrap. "It's time," he said, "they started making more Christian movies. ... I mean like this, movies for Christians, about Christians, you know?"

I was tempted to remind him that the characters in the film were all Jewish, but I held back. He finished with, "It's all the Jews down there in Boston, you know. ... That's where the money is coming from." OK. One anti-Semite.

But the biggest shock was yet to come. Customers started appearing at the ticket box holding giant bags of popcorn, candy bars and supersized soft drinks. Who would actually sit and munch buttered popcorn, pop Milk Duds and suck up soda while watching the murder of their savior? Unimaginable? Not at all. Before I had to go in and claim my seat, I counted 23.

Indeed, one of these patrons sat directly behind me to the left. This is not an exaggeration: He munched continuously through the garden scene, right up to the last beating. I watched from the corner of my eye as this soul, whose religion of choice is unknown, kept shoving popcorn into his mouth as the Roman actors pursued their torture.

He seemed to stop as the nails were driven into actor James Cavazeal's hands. Maybe he had finished the bag. Give him that.

Moments later, I heard someone to the right of him draw a long mouthful of cola through a straw with a sound that indicated an empty cup. This was about the time that Jesus' mother, Mary, had arrived at the foot of the cross. Unimaginable...

I stood in the parking lot for a few moments to catch the mood of the crowd, most of whom did not stay to read the endless credits with all the unpronounceable names. I watched as they came out. Most did so slowly, mutely, as if leaving a funeral.

Some hugged one another. Some were giggling, that nervous kind of giggle that relieves tension. The big man who had finished his popcorn came out last and stretched in the late sun. The front of his sweatshirt still festooned with his Ash Wednesday feast. I hope he at least gets acid reflux.
I don't think I need to comment, other than to say that Maureen Dowd might object to Mr. Devine ripping off her style. This trash speaks for itself.

UPDATE: This is interesting. Same column, different headline.
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God hates a lot of things 

Glenn Reynolds posted a link to a site which conclusively shows that God hates shrimp.

Well, it turns out God hates figs too. And bacon.

And sometimes, God just plain hates. Period.

Bummer.
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Tanker explosion 

Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard launched a massive sea search Saturday for 18 missing crew after a chemical tanker carrying 11,000 tons of industrial ethanol exploded off the Virginia coast, killing three.
Eighteen souls are either alive and desperately hoping for rescue, or lost to the deep tonight. As one who knows the sea, I can somewhat imagine what it must be like, in an abstract way. The ocean is big, dark, and empty, and I've always thought that watching your ship slip under the waves on a cold, dark night must give rise to the loneliest of human emotions.

But I also know that the will to live can do amazing things. A family friend was a tugboat captain, and about 13 years ago, on a trip from Boston to the boat's home port in Maine, the boat sank 30 miles off the Maine coast on a cold January night. He and the two other men aboard fought to stay alert and alive in the freezing water and subzero air and they were eventually rescued.

And I know that seafaring people take care of their own. The tugboat crew was rescued by fishermen from a nearby island who, hearing the distress call on their marine-band radios, got up from their family dinner tables and went to sea on that brutal night in search of three strangers in need.

I know, too, that sometimes salvation comes from above. When the tugboat sank, a wooden ladder floated free of the deck, giving the three men something to hold onto for flotation. Their rescue was ultimately the result of an odd twist of fate. One of the men had gotten a flashlight from his daughter for Christmas, not even a month earlier. In the chaos of the boat's sinking, he had forgotten about the flashlight, but it somehow became frozen to the side of his glove, and as the three men clung to the ladder, the light shone straight up into the sky. That flashlight provided a beacon that guided a trio of fisherman to find the men and rescue them from the cold sea.

The flashlight might just be a lucky coincidence, but I'm inclined to believe otherwise. Especially since the man who brought the flashlight was a late addition to the trip, after another man declined an invitation. The coincidences are piled too high for me to think they are just coincidences.

What does this have to do with the tanker that sank off Virginia tonight? Well, men are in trouble at sea, or at least I hope they are in trouble, and not already dead. Others are out there in the darkness looking for them. And I pray that luck, or providence, or whatever you wish to call it, will see them through to safety.
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