Saturday, December 25, 2004

My last Christmas rant - I hope

Merry Christmas to all of my (most likely imaginary) readers!

Today was great; gifts with the family, watching Flash give Kobe what for, celebrating our Savior's birth, and relaxing around a fire with the Grandparents. This is what Christmas is all about. Only problem is, most people seem to think it's illegal to admit that the "savior" part is believed or celebrated my the majority of America. In persuance of a humorous lampooning of this situation, allow me to quote parts of James Lileks' recent column in the Strib:

I don't get it. There's this peculiar fear of Christmas that seems to get stronger every year, as if it's the season that dare not speak its name. Check out the U.S. Postal Service Web site: two different stamps for Kwanzaa. One for Eid, two for Hanukkah. Two for non-sectarian "Holiday," with pictures of Santa, reindeer, ornaments, that sort of thing. One for the Chinese New Year. One for those religiously inclined -- it features a Madonna and Child. But the Web site calls it "Holiday Traditional." The word "Christmas" doesn't appear on the site's description of the stamps. Eid, yes. Hanukkah, yes. Kwanzaa, yes. Christmas? No. It's Holiday Traditional.

Am I offended that they name the other holidays by name? Of course not -- no more than I'd be offended if a practitioner of those creeds wished me a happy whatever. This is America. Come one, come all.

This isn't about shoving Christmas down the maws of the unwilling -- it's simply about admitting that the vast majority are celebrating, well, CHRISTMAS, and there's nothing injurious to the public sphere in celebrating that fact. At this rate we will have to rename July 4th The Holiday of Perceiving Nocturnal Airborne Explosives, lest we offend the few who regard the American Experiment as a grievous stain on human history.

Yes, "Merry Christmas" means different things to different people. To those disinclined to follow the creed it represents, it speaks to the cultural traditions of America; to those who take spiritual succor from the season, it means something else. Bottom line in either case: Be happy. And if you're about to throw down the paper and fire off an angry letter to the editor, stop: Think. I wish you a Merry Christmas. I really do. That's all there is to it.

Relax. Have yourself a Holiday Traditional. However you wish.

Okay, I admit there isn't much humor in this part, sorry. If you want his hilarious straw man of an impersonation of a Dayton's clerk, go read the whole thing. You won't be sorry. I just thought I'd better not quote all of it.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas Carol - By WHO?

Here's a hilarious column showing what A Christmas Carol would have been like had it been written by some of our contemporaries. A few of my favorites:

John Kerry: After an unsuccessful presidential campaign, Scrooge is haunted by three spirits. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows him his heroic service in Vietnam. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him a few moments of an unremarkable Senatorial career…and then the Ghost of Christmas Past reappears, and shows his heroic service in Vietnam again! The Ghost of Christmas Future shows him grading the exams of smug grad students at Harvard…and then the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him his heroic service in Vietnam! Again!

Jessica Simpson: Three ghosts haunt Ebeneezer Scrooge. They both teach him a valuable lesson about life.

Ayn Rand: The ruggedly handsome and weirdly articulate Ebeneezer Scrooge is a successful executive held back by the corrupt morality of a society that hates success and fails to understand the value of selfishness. So Scrooge explains that value in a 272-page soliloquy. Deep down, Scrooge's enemies know that he is right, but they resent him out of a sense of their own inferiority. Several hot sex scenes and unlikely monologues later, Scrooge triumphs over all adversity -- except a really mean review by Whittaker Chambers. Meanwhile, Tiny Tim croaks. Socialized medicine is to blame.

The Libertarian Party: It's pretty much the same as the Ayn Rand version, but about halfway through the story, we learn that Scrooge is an alcoholic wife-swapping embezzling weirdo who's wanted for back child support payments in several states. Even readers sympathetic to the Libertarian story throw up their hands in disgust and grudgingly seek out the Republican version.


CBS News: After the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future issue their independent review report, Scrooge grudgingly admits that his remarks about prisons, workhouses, and "the surplus population" were inadequately sourced. Scrooge takes no further action. Tiny Tim dies. Scrooge runs a five-part series on "England's Impending Health Care Crisis."

Jacques Chirac: Scrooge can't understand anything that happens when the Ghost of Christmas Future haunts him. It's all in Arabic.

Okay... Several of my favorites... But I didn't qoute all of them! Go read the rest!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Just Leave Christmas Alone

One more reason I like this guy (Charles Krauthammer); a column in the Washington Post:

"Holiday celebrations where Christmas music is being sung make people feel different, and because it is such a majority, it makes the minority feel uncomfortable."
-- Mark Brownstein, parent, Maplewood, N.J., supporting the school board's ban on religious music in holiday concerts


"You want my advice? Go back to Bulgaria."
-- Humphrey Bogart, "Casablanca"


It is Christmastime, and what would Christmas be without the usual platoon of annoying pettifoggers rising annually to strip Christmas of any Christian content? With some success:

School districts in New Jersey and Florida ban Christmas carols. The mayor of Somerville, Mass., apologizes for "mistakenly" referring to the town's "holiday party" as a "Christmas party." The Broward and Fashion malls in South Florida put up a Hanukah menorah but no nativity scene. The manager of one of the malls explains: Hanukah commemorates a battle and not a religious event, though he hastens to add, "I really don't know a lot about it." He does not. Hanukah commemorates a miracle, and there is no event more "religious" than a miracle.

The attempts to de-Christianize Christmas are as absurd as they are relentless. The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.


Yet more than 80 percent of Americans are Christian, and probably 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. Christmas Day is an official federal holiday, the only day of the entire year when, for example, the Smithsonian museums are closed. Are we to pretend that Christmas is nothing but an orgy of commerce in celebration of . . . what? The winter solstice?

I personally like Christmas because, since it is a day that for me is otherwise ordinary, I get to do nice things, such as covering for as many gentile colleagues as I could when I was a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital. I will admit that my generosity had its rewards: I collected enough chits on Christmas Day to get reciprocal coverage not just for Yom Kippur but for both days of Rosh Hashana and my other major holiday, Opening Day at Fenway.

Mind you, I've got nothing against Hanukah, although I am constantly amused -- and gratified -- by how American culture has gone out of its way to inflate the importance of Hanukah, easily the least important of Judaism's seven holidays, into a giant event replete with cards, presents and public commemorations as a creative way to give Jews their Christmas equivalent.

Some Americans get angry at parents who want to ban carols because they tremble that their kids might feel "different" and "uncomfortable" should they, God forbid, hear Christian music sung at their school. I feel pity. What kind of fragile religious identity have they bequeathed their children that it should be threatened by exposure to carols?

I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.

To insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public so that minorities can feel "comfortable" not only understandably enrages the majority but commits two sins. The first is profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions.

The second is the sin of incomprehension -- a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.

America transcended the idea of mere toleration in 1790 in Washington's letter to the Newport synagogue, one of the lesser known glories of the Founding: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights."

More than two centuries later, it is time that members of religious (and anti-religious) minorities, as full citizens of this miraculous republic, transcend something too: petty defensiveness.

Merry Christmas. To all.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Story from Iraq

I found a touching story from BlackFive (via LGF) that I am posting here in its entirety:


The Heart of America

Via Seamus, this email is a thank you from a Marine Gunnery Sergeant in Iraq. It was sent two days ago:

Just wanted to write to you and tell you another story about an experience we had over here.
As you know, I asked for toys for the Iraqi children over here and several people (Americans that support us) sent them over by the box. On each patrol we take through the city, we take as many toys as will fit in our pockets and hand them out as we can. The kids take the toys and run to show them off as if they were worth a million bucks. We are as friendly as we can be to everyone we see, but especially so with the kids. Most of them don't have any idea what is going on and are completely innocent in all of this.
On one such patrol, our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street. This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following vehicles began to inquire over the radio. The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge. The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.
As the vehicles went around her, I soon saw her sitting there and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that we had handed her a few patrols back. Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, I radioed that we were going to stop. The rest of the convoy paused and I got out the make sure she was OK. The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road.
Immediately a cordon was set as the Marine convoy assumed a defensive posture around the site. The mine was destroyed in place.
It was the heart of an American that sent that toy. It was the heart of an American that gave that toy to that little girl. It was the heart of an American that protected that convoy from that mine. Sure, she was a little Iraqi girl and she had no knowledge of purple mountain's majesty or fruited plains. It was a heart of acceptance, of tolerance, of peace and grace, even through the inconveniences of conflict that saved that convoy from hitting that mine. Those attributes are what keep Americans hearts beating. She may have no affiliation at all with the United States, but she knows what it is to be brave and if we can continue to support her and her new government, she will know what it is to be free. Isn't that what Americans are, the free and the brave?
If you sent over a toy or a Marine (US Service member) you took part in this. You are a reason that Iraq has to believe in a better future. Thank you so much for supporting us and for supporting our cause over here.


Semper Fi,
Mark
GySgt / USMC

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The new military

I finally found someone who agrees with me! At least, on the idea that the "military of the future" should not be structured exclusively to combat terrorism and insurgencies. As Mark Helprin writes in this column from Opinion Journal, we should be keeping our eyes open to the threat already visible on the horizon: China. Their economy, while focused in manufacturing, not information, is growing at least as fast as ours is, and their military and political power is not far behind. This unipolar world will not stay so for long, as China rises to fill the power vacuum left by the Soviet Union. While they may prove to be valuable allies, it would be wise to be prepared for the possibility that they would actively oppose US interests. Hmm... this is a bit disorganized, but I'm tired. Maybe I'll come back and clean it up later...

UPDATE: An interesting rebuttal (in part) to the "our army needs to be able to beat China's" theory from Let's Try Freedom:

Error three is assuming that the way to beat a Chinese army is with an American army. Our advantage against the Chinese will never be that we can field an army capable of beating theirs in a two-masses-collide-on-a-plain battle. It will be that our logistical tail is incomparably better, our command of air, sea and space is unchallenged, and that when we do have to fight man to man, our units are superior. Those are the elements where we need to achieve and/or maintain supremacy. If we end up in a situation where the US Army is fighting the Red Army, we've already lost the war. We sink the Red Army when it tries to deploy, or we lose.


Saturday, December 11, 2004

Deserter

Ouch. Citizen Smash has some harsh words for this recent deserter.

UPDATE: Pablo Paredes (the deserter) responds to Smash here. (And, of course, Smash demolishes the lame attempt at a defense)

Ukranian Election - Yushchenko Poisoned

Yesterday on the AP wire:

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Dioxin poisoning caused the mysterious illness of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, a doctor said Saturday, adding that the poison could have been put in his soup.

The 50-year-old opposition leader first fell ill in September and was rushed to the Vienna hospital. He resumed campaigning later in the month but his mysterious illness had left his face pockmarked and ashen.

Yushchcenko also suffered back pain, acute pancreatitis and nerve paralysis on the left side of his face.

At the very least, it should make you wonder who wanted to poison a candidate...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Dutch ponder euthanasia - with a twist

In a scary turn of events, it comes to light that in the Netherlands, not only is euthanasia legal, but can be performed without the subject's permission: (see here for news article, emphasis mine)

Dutch health officials are considering guidelines doctors could follow for euthanizing terminally ill people "with no free will," includingchildren, the severely mentally retarded and patients in irreversible comas.
Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia -- ending the life of someone suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, with their approval. In recent years there also have been reports of mercy killings of terminally ill babies, and officials at one hospital say a number have been carried out there.
The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) has asked the Netherlands Ministry of Health to create an independent board to evaluate euthanasia cases for each category of people "with no free will." < . . .>
There are no official guidelines for ending the lives of those who are unable to make their own decision, such as in the case of a baby, but Groningen Academic Hospital has conducted such procedures under its own, internal guidelines. Dr. Eduard Verhagen, clinical director of the hospital's pediatric clinic, told NPR in an interview that the babies who had been euthanized were born with incurable conditions that were so serious " (we) felt that the most humane course would be to allow the child to die and even actively assist them with their death." < . . .>
"Eric Van Yijlick, project manager for SCEN (Support and Consultation on Euthanasia in the Netherlands), said the Groningen cases involving newborns should be referred to as "life ending without request" rather than euthanasia, because that term indicates the dying party has requested the procedure. Van Yijlick said that to his knowledge, the killing of newborns is not common -- just a few cases yearly. No official statistics exist on terminally ill children's lives being terminated, he said.
Hmmm... as the Diplomads say, here in the USA, "life ending without request" is referred to as murder. So, to recap, by their thinking killing the handicapped or innocent children is okay, but killing convicted murderers is wrong. This is why I don't buy the "moral superiority" of Europe.
UPDATE: Many in the blogosphere are denouncing this, but here is one of the more scathing and well written ones from TCS: (emphasis mine)
This then, is the common thread that binds Singerian ethics, Dutch medicine, and tyranny of all stripes. The weak exist only at the discretion of the strong. Should the weak become troublesome, then they're fair game, be they defective babies, Bosnian Muslims, or non-Arab Sudanese. We in the West may try to cloak our true motives in the language of science and reason, but it's all of the same cloth. Neonatal euthanasia isn't so much a step down the slippery slope to tyranny as it is a wholesale embrace of it.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Ben Stein

Ben Stein just published an amusing piece on what it's like to be conservative in southern California:

The man at the Christmas tree tent in Malibu kept winking at me and nodding when no one else was looking. I smiled and kept looking at the trees. (In Malibu, we Jews have Christmas trees.) Finally, he motioned to me to come over to is table. He cupped his hand over his mouth and took my hand. "We won," he said. "We won."I knew exactly what he meant. "You can talk about it," I said. "This is America.""Yes, but it's also Malibu and I don't want people yelling at me."

(Hat Tip: Professor Bainbridge)

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Europe may never "get" us

Here's an excellent post illustrating that no matter how much Europe may accuse us of being ignorant of the world, they'll probably never understand us either. One of my favorite parts:

They used to get after me about how Americans dont speak more than one language, until the discovered that I speak French, German and Spanish. Then they changedthe subject and say that as a rule, Americans don't speak but one language. I then ask them how far do they have travel to find people who speak a different language. Most said less than 200 miles.

I told them we could go from the arctic circle to miami and speak nothing but English as our primary language. The fact that many Americans have to travel over 1500 miles just to find someone who doesnt speak english, it was no longer a question of American ignorance that had to be understood, but question of scale and distance that had to be understood by the Europeans.


(hat tip: Non PC in Latte Land)

Who for UN secretary general???

Over at Captain's Quarters, there is theorizing that Annan will either resign or be forced out over the Oil-for-Fraud scandal currently destroying the UN's (limited) credibility (see here, here, here, and here). But the odd part: he wants Bill Clinton to run for the soon-to-be-vacant post! He may have a point, but I'm still a bit skeptical...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Sorry?

About the Election:

Some people are sorry.

Some people are not sorry. But some who are not sorry were apparently threatened by those who are, forcing them into taking down their site.

And some just mock those who are sorry...

I'm sure you know where I fall here.

Problems in the UN

So, I've been bashing the UN a lot lately, and I realize that I need to find other topics of conversation before I bore all of you, but I just wanted to point out a few things:

Senator Norm Coleman, head of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, has been investigating Saddam's $21 billion abuse of the oil-for-food program. In today's Wall Street Journal, he calls for Kofi Annan's resignation, which he believes will aid in rooting out the corruption in the UN.

The Foreign Service officers at The Diplomad are a bit more pessimistic and believe that its self serving nature is inherent in its dependence on beuracracy.

I myself believe the problem with the UN lies in the fact that a totalitarian state has equal rights and voting power as a democracy. More to come...