Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam Is Dead

Saddam has been executed by hanging. This did not bring me any joy. Even for people whom I would have happily read about being shot to death during their capture, I cannot bring myself to be happy when executions are carried out.

I'm always left with the thought that there was a human life, however useless their life might be. And then, through a deliberate act, that person, whom I could have talked to, joked with, hugged, had a debate with, eaten dinner with, and who might have helped me in a time of need, that person is simply dead, no longer here.

Given the focus on life, and how we would all do almost anything to try to save the life of a complete stranger who we saw in trouble, it's just not in my nature to be happy about the opposite taking place, even if it is lawful (religiously and legally) and the result of a deliberative process.

I'm not a rabid anti-death-penalty person. I support the penalty for crimes of murder beyond the SHADOW OF A DOUBT, like for example Mohammad and Malvo (the beltway snipers). I am loath to support it for circumstancial guilt, or for cases where it isn't clear there was a motive to kill involved, etc.

But there's a big difference between having an intellectual position on the death penalty, and the personal response to it's execution.

So for me, there will be no celebration for the termination of Saddam Hussein. A creation of God is no longer, and only God can know whether that was a good or a bad thing.

Updates to my blog list

I've done some cleanup on my blog list. My blog list is NOT a list of blogs I approve of, nor are missing blogs a sign of condemnation. It's just a list of blogs I tend to visit with some regularity.

I have managed to become a "member" of ODBA, at least I might have. I had asked Chad about this before, and he sent me some information about what I was supposed to do, and I haven't done it yet, but I may have made the list anyway.

My point is that I'm supposed to have an ODBA list here somewhere, and I will get around to that hopefully pretty soon, as I figure out how to make that happen. That will be to honor the agreement for being listed in the ODBA, not because of what I read. I'll make that clear when it happens.

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's a Love Fest

There is something profoundly disturbing in that picture. Sorry. If I find that image offensive, does that mean Waldo will censor this post from the aggregator?

At least it hasn't been beheaded -- because Muslims don't run our country yet. If the Muslims from the middle east DO manage to become citizens and take over our country, we won't have to worry about pictures of Beheadings, we'll be able to witness them firsthand.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Santa Claus has left the building


This is the part of Christmas I like the most. Except I didn't get a fire going this year, so my feet are a little cold.

I'm watching my Christmas present, which we never really wrapped and I "opened" quite early. My wife has her "present" already, a rather nice utilitarian aluminum chair which she has craved for some time. I don't get it, but I don't have to.

I'm watching the King's College Choir on Discovery HD. Their heads are bigger than mine, a fact that has my wife watching TV from the kitchen lately. I just noted that it would sound better on the stereo ..... There.

My wife and I used to do this together, starting around midnight or a bit earlier. We had a lot more presents to wrap back in the day -- my extended family is 4 siblings, each with 2 or more children, and for a while we did real presents for all of them.

They are mostly grown now, so money is the most common present. I bought stuff for only 5 children (not including my own), so there wasn't much to wrap this year, and since I started after midnight I sent my wife off to bed and did it myself.

Christmas shopping for my own children was very odd this year. First, they both wanted to buy stuff for their cousins, which is great, but that meant they wanted to go out with me on every trip. Which was just as well, because they knew exactly what they wanted and they made their lists while we walked up and down the aisles, and it was just easier to buy things right then and there.

Consequently, the only real challenge was to find SOMETHING that they would be surprised at. I managed, maybe, one for each kid, nothing big. In fact, this won't be a "big" Christmas for us, although there are lots of presents, just nothing really expensive (the most expensive thing isn't even 40 bucks this year).

Part of that is that they wanted a few more cheaper items, and part is that our family really doesn't need much, and what we desire we pretty much have already gotten. We are a "recycling" family, which means we buy a lot of used stuff. Not only does that save us money, but it helps keep things out of the trash, and is a better use of our resources. But that also means you don't just see something in September and put it on a christmas list, because it won't be there tomorrow.

So when my daughter decided she was serious about skateboarding, which meant the department-store board wouldn't do anymore, my wife took her to the "play-it-again" sports place, and picked up what I'm told is a really hot couple of boards (you need two boards apparently, one fat one and one thinner one or something like that). She's had those for a while now, I guess in a normal family that would have been the big present.

There are always Legos. However, this year we didn't put any under the tree, and in fact I haven't bought a Lego in a couple of months. But that's because I made some major purchases in the summer and fall, and have lots of unopened boxes waiting for our next big project. I had plans for a large christmas train layout, but events overcame my fantasies, and we just have the old small train running around the tree.

So the boxes of Lego sit on the Lego shelves, and some would have been "large presents" I suppose, if I was giving them away. Maybe for birthdays.

So the short of it is there won't be any shocked faces from the family this year, at least from what I know about. Of course, there are some presents from other family members, and my wife always manages to find something interesting in her travels.

When I was young, I remember christmas, but not so much all the presents. I remember it was a big deal to get things -- money has a way of jading you to that simple joy, when you can buy anything you want it's hard to remember the excitement of getting that special something under the tree. I do remember three presents. The first was a "balloon popper" my brother built for me. I don't know if I played with it much, as I don't remember having a lot of spare balloons about, but it was fun. The second was a nice N-gauge steam engine.

The third was a "remote control" robot. Back in those days, remotes were more of a marvel than today I guess, and I remember my Dad had it rigged up so I pushed a button and the robot rolled out of it's box and across the floor. I don't remember playing with it at all after that, but I remember watching the present side pop open.

For my family, christmas isn't as much about presents, and I think that's a good thing. My kids have more than they could possibly play with, and are still bored, but while we open presents and give gifts, Christmas is really more about the act of having Christmas, than what appears under the tree. We journey to my parents, and spend the day with all the relatives, and we have days off together with no real plans, and we will drive around a look at lights.

The world has many troubles, but this is the time to put them aside, at least for a day or two.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dion connected to Community through "his children"

One of the most overused and trite phrases in politics these days has to be "It's for the Children". "Yes, my proposal could put innocent people in jail, but it's for the children", "OK, so it makes it impossible for anybody to have any fun, but hey, it's for the children", "so what if it's pure socialism, it's for the children", "of course we have to curtail your freedoms, it's for the children".

If discussing experience, a candidate should be able to point to actions they have personally taken to advance their causes.

So I found this exchange from the Potomac News today about the Caton's Ridge development interesting. Mike May, asked about Jeff Dion's "opposition" to Caton's Ridge, noted that Dion had done absolutely nothing to voice his opposition or stop the development. Jeff Dion's response was this:

Dion said he is connected to the community though his children, Matt and Elizabeth.

"They've taught me that we all have a duty to make our community better," the 39-year-old Dion said.

BTW, the paper also makes a rather interesting omission, if other stories are to be believed. About Mike May, it says:

May and his wife Amelia live in Lake Ridge and are expecting their first child.

About Jeff Dion, it says:

He lives in Lake Ridge with his children. They attend St. Matthew's Lutheran Church.

But according to this post by BVBL, there's another person living at that house:

What makes this different is that Jeff is now an openly practicing
homosexual who lives with his gay partner.

If so, why doesn't it say that Jeff and his partner live in Lake Ridge? Does the paper think that information is not important?

I'll also note that this isn't the first time Jeff has made his children an issue in the race. In the article which announced his candidacy, we find this gem (remember, Mike May and his wife are just now expecting their first child):

"I'm committed to the Prince William Public Schools for at least the next 11 years," said Dion who is divorced and has lived in Northern Virginia for 21 years.

"I'm the only candidate in this race with children in the Prince William public schools," he said.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What is Christmas all about?

My latest Potomac News column, What is Christmas All About?:

What is Christmas all about?
Potomac News, Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sunday morning, before dawn, I found myself standing near the end of a long line of customers at the local Best Buy. I had no chance of getting the elusive game being sold that day -- that privilege would go to the hardy 20 or so people up front, some of whom probably camped out for days. I had simply awakened early, and decided to take a shot, on the off chance nobody else bothered to show up.

In the back of the line, it seemed most people were good-natured, having only arrived recently and knowing they had no hope. But up the line, it was clear that the tension rose as you got closer to the front. And when the tickets had been awarded there was a mix of disappointment, anger and frustration in many faces.

On my drive home (past an equally long line of hopeful shoppers at Target), listening to Christmas music as the sun rose behind me, I started thinking -- is this what Christmas is all about? Mary and Joseph stayed in a manger, because there was no room at the inn. Now we are sleeping in tents in front of the mall, because there's no PS3 on the shelf. Is that all that the holiday means anymore?

We want more, which is why there are fights over holiday symbols. Christmas is more than a way for companies to end their year with a profit. We want to remember the reason for celebration. We don't just want a "Happy Holiday;" we want to remember why it's a happy Holiday.

But there is so much fear of offending people that, instead of stories of glad tidings, we hear stories of decidedly un-festive behavior, usually by well-intentioned people who, attempting to make sure nobody is offended, usually end up offending everybody.

In Seattle, a rabbi thought it would be nice if the airport included a Menorah along with their collection of "Holiday Trees." He asked if he could provide one, but airport officials, fearing a lawsuit, took down all of the trees. This made a lot of people mad at the rabbi and the officials. Fortunately, the trees have returned.

And in Riverside, Calif., a high school choir was the victim of excessive fear of offense. Olympic skating medalist Sasha Cohen was part of a local ice festival. When the choir started singing a Christmas song, an event organizer asked them to stop, because she though Cohen, who is half-Jewish, might be offended. Sasha was "stunned" when she found out -- "Christmas carols are part of celebrating the holiday season," her mother said.

In 1965, "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz was asked to write a Christmas special based on his "Charlie Brown" comic strip. Schulz accepted, and created the holiday classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas." But the show almost didn't make it on the air, because the CBS executives feared people would be offended by a scene where Linus reads the Christmas story.

Executive producer Lee Mendelson said, "We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television.' " But fortunately for us, Schulz insisted. And rather than being offended, people were moved by the story, and the scripture reading.

The story bemoans the commercialization of Christmas, and shows the Peanuts children fretting about toys, a tree, a Christmas pageant --everything but Christmas itself. After Charlie Brown buys a pathetic Christmas tree, the gang turns on him, and in desperation he asks what Christmas is all about. And Linus answers with the famous reading from the Gospel of Luke:

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Iraq Study Group Answers Wrong Question

My column from the Potomac News last Thursday.

Iraq study group answers wrong question
Potomac News
Thursday, December 14, 2006

Last week the Iraq Study Group (ISG), appointed by Congress to provide "a new way forward", released their report. Their work has not been well-received. Ralph Peters of the New York Post said "The report doesn't offer a plan, but a muddle of truisms and truly bad ideas." Senator John McCain called it "a recipe that will lead to our defeat sooner or later in Iraq." The Associated Press says Democrats "have been slow to endorse the recommendations" of the group. And Senator Lieberman claims it's unrealistic "to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq."

People have taken to derisively calling the ISG the "Iraq Surrender Group". The New York Post labeled Hamilton and Baker "Surrender Monkeys", and ran a picture of two monkeys with the men's faces superimposed. Others called the report "Half-Baked," or "Half-Bakered." One author compared the group's thinking to that of Paris Hilton. Some observed that many recommendations are trivially obvious -- for example, the United States "should remain in close and frequent contact with the Iraqi leadership."

But the bigger problem is not that the report has few answers, but that it asked the wrong question, and sought the wrong goal. Committee co-chair Lee Hamilton, defending the report, said "we want to conclude this war," and "we want to conclude it in a responsible way." The report asks the question "are we winning", and concludes we are losing. It defines the goal as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and seeks to achieve that goal.

But the question is not whether we are winning the war, or even if we can win the war. The real question is why are we fighting at all? What is our goal, what are we trying to achieve, what is our noble cause? Do we have a purpose, and if so, is it worth the sacrifice we are making?

Until we know what we are trying to accomplish, it is pointless to figure out how to accomplish it. Shoot at nothing, and you will hit it every time. Concluding the war is not a goal, it is the result of accomplishing a goal. Bringing the troops home is not a goal, it is what we do when the war is over. And the war should not end until we achieve our goals.

If there is nothing left to finish in Iraq, we should just get out. But very few people think that is true. We still have things that need to be done, which means we're not done yet. So we need to focus on how to win, not how to quit. And "winning" is not found in the recommendations of the ISG, because they did not focus on what needs to be done.

The question is not whether we were right to invade Iraq in 2003. However you feel about that decision, we invaded, and we must deal with things as they are. Iraq is now a democracy, but is racked by violence and is in danger of falling under Iranian influence.

My goals for Iraq would include stabilizing the government, completing the training of troops and police, disarming the militias, and halting the flow of arms and foreign fighters from Iran and Syria -- none of which were things that needed to be done before we invaded.

One thing is certain -- we should not set our goals based on what we "can't do," but rather on what needs to be done. Many times in our history what we had to do seemed impossible -- defeating the British for our independence, and taking back Europe in World War II being two notable examples.

If we had given in to the restriction of what seemed possible, we'd be a failed, second-rate nation today, not the shining beacon and only hope for the world against the forces of evil. We cannot give in to pessimism, self-doubt, and the tyranny of low expectations.

The ISG report is flawed because they focused on what they thought was possible, rather than what was necessary. We need to do what is necessary, to accomplish the impossible, to achieve our goals, and finish the task set before us.

If Only.

This would sure solve a lot of the world's problems:

Saturday, December 16, 2006


From Reuter/USA Today, US Senator Johnson still critical, spokesman says :

WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson's condition remained critical, but he was stable while resting in recovery from emergency brain surgery three days earlier, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The South Dakota senator's progress has heartened fellow Democrats who said on Friday they were optimistic that he will be able to remain in the Senate, and enable his party to retain its narrow control of the Senate when the 110th Congress convenes on Jan. 4.

OK, It's Reuters, so the could be making things up. I'm happy because Tim Johnson is a decent family man who I hope makes a full recovery and lives to a ripe old age.

But according to Reuters, Democrats are happy because they will retain control of the Senate.

If he was brain-dead and being kept alive by a feeding tube, I bet the democrats would reinvoke the Shaivo law to ensure he was well-kept until 2008. And God forbid he decides he could die at any time, and would like to retire and spend time with his family.

Pelosi aims to regulate advocacy spending

Last year, the republican-controlled house and senate never quite acheived results on ethics reform. Part of the problem was the democrat's unwillingness to go along, hoping instead to use the issue (successfully) in the fall election.

But another problem was finding that line between necessary reforms (which mostly needed to be targeted at the representatives) and unwanted interference in the rights of individuals trying to petition government for redress of grievances (part of first amendment that gets short shrift).

A great example is cited by Human Events magazine. It's part of Pelosi's failed legislation from last year, and is expected to be part of her proposal this year.

From the article Pelosi Targets Grassroots Freedom of Speech:

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) has pledged to take up a lobbying reform proposal that would impose new regulations on speech by grassroots organizations, while providing a loophole in the rules for large corporations and labor unions.

The legislation would make changes to the legal definition of “grassroots lobbying” and require any organization that encourages 500 or more members of the general public to contact their elected representatives to file a report with detailed information about their organization to the government on a quarterly basis.

The report would include identifying the organization’s expenditures, the issues focused on and the members of Congress and other federal officials who are the subject of the advocacy efforts. A separate report would be required for each policy issue the group is active on.

This could mean that, if a blog is run by an organization (Raising Kaine?), and they have more than 500 "readers" that aren't part of the "organization", and they write a post that says "Call Representative "X" about this issue", they would fall under federal reporting, supposedly aimed at stopping "corruption" in government.

But this has nothing to do with government corruption:

A coalition of grassroots organizers, including David Keene of the American Conservative Union, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America and Terrence Scanlon of the Capitol Research Center, have written an open letter calling on Public Citizen to renounce its efforts, which they called “flawed to the point of hypocrisy.”

“This bill would apply to those who have no Washington-based lobbyists, who provide no money or gifts to members of Congress, and who merely seek to speak, associate and petition the government,” it said. “Regulating the speech, publishing, association and petitioning rights of citizens is not targeted at corruption in Washington, as Public Citizen and its supporters would believe. Instead, it is targeted directly at the 1st-Amendment rights of citizens and their voluntary associations.”

Also, the law as being proposed would specifically exempt most major organizations, who could communicate to their own members without falling under the law, which would apply ONLY to communications to people OUTSIDE the group's membership:

Under the bill, communications aimed at an organization’s members, employees, officers or shareholders would be exempt from the reporting requirement. That would effectively exempt most corporations, trade associations and unions from the reporting requirements—but not most conservative grassroots groups, which frequently are less formally organized.

Larger, well-funded organizations are also currently eligible for a “low-dollar lobbyist exemption” that Pelosi’s bill does not give to grassroots organizations. If an organization retains a lobbyist to contact lawmakers directly at a cost of $2,500 per quarter or less, or employs a full-time lobbyist at a cost of $10,000 per quarter or less, the organization does not have to report to the government.

This would be a major attack on the rights of people to band together to attempt to influence government policy:

“Right now, grassroots groups don’t have to report at all if they are communicating with the public,” said Dick Dingman of the Free Speech Coalition, Inc. “This is an effort that would become a major attack on the 1st Amendment.”

Who is behind this effort?:

Public Citizen, a liberal “government watchdog,” is taking credit for helping Pelosi craft the legislation and expects the final draft of the bill to closely resemble Pelosi’s Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006, which contains these provisions.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, said the changes would help “streamline” how grassroots organizations are regulated by the IRS and other laws.

Public Citizen is not some small grassroots organization that would be effected by this legislation:

Public Citizen’s public IRS 990 disclosure forms show that it raised more than $3 million in 2005. That year, the group spent $297, 431 on mail and $178,182 on consulting and professional fees.

Ethics legislation should be aimed at keeping money from flowing to the coffers of election committees in exchange for votes. It should stop the pork-barrel spending representatives use to buy support from various organizations and individuals. It should improve public access to information about who is getting money from where.

But too often, "reform" is used instead to punish political adversaries. the 2002 Campaign Finance bill made it a crime for private citizens to spend their own money against a candidate by name near an election. This bill would put onerous reporting requirements on small associations who have an interest in legislation and simply try to get other citizens to let the politicians know how they feel.

I'm sure that members of congress don't like getting a lot of phone calls from citizens telling them how they should do their job. But how is that "corrupting"?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Deck The Halls (and the gutters, and trees, etc..)

The Christmas Lights are up.

Total: 35,411 lights
Amps: 78 Amps
Watts: Too Many.

You will eventually be able to view all the pictures at this location, xmas2006.

Here's a few pictures from the site. First, this is a picture of just about all the lights, as seen from the street.

This is known as my "candy cane". I took some aluminum gas dryer hose, formed it in a half-circle, filled it with spray-foam insulation, and attached it to the top of my lamp. I put a small light in front of my lamp's light sensor to turn off the lamp-light, and wrapped the whole thing with mult-colored lights.

This is the river. At one time, the little blue blog in the center was a very nice tree, which had lots of lights in it. But the tree died, and all that's left is the trunk, which we paint and decorate while waiting to buy a new tree. This is supposed to look like a waterfall, but I can't say it turned out that way. But it flows to a river, and some deer are drinking and jumping.

This is the view from a little bit over from the first picture. The "blue tree" at front right is built from an old TV antenna pole, and some pvc pipe. It has 3800 lights in it, mostly blue with a few purple. The large red-green tree in back right (my daughter says it looks like a filled-up trash bag) has 3000 lights, it was supposed to be 3800 but I just got tired. The tree it's on is dead, so this is it's last year being lighted.

This is in the back yard. The small tree to the right was a "volunteer holly", growing at my mailbox. I dug it up and moved it back here, it's about 4 feet tall and doing well, so I put some orange lights in it (you can't get orange christmas lights, I bought multi-colored lights and pulled all the bulbs and moved them around to make solid blue, green, red, orange, and purple).

The larger "tree" is just 40 strands of multi-50 light strings, wired together at the top with a half-circle rig, which I pull up with a rope over a tree branch. The base is a pvc half-circle with hooks to hold the bottom of the lights.

This is the "bear tree", so named because it sways in the breeze and looks a little like a large colored bear moving back and forth. It's about 15 feet tall, and has 2000 multi-colored lights in it.

My front door. The two trees are artificial trees I bought after christmas one year, and the multi-light wreath up top is new. The wreath ON the door was a gift from a neighbor from a few years ago.

County Can't Stop Most Development

My column from last Thursday, regarding Brentsville Supervisor Wally Convington's moratorium on new rezonings.

County Can't Stop Most Development:

Potomac News
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Corey Stewart, the new chairman of Prince William's Board of Supervisors, opposes new residential development. Wally Convington, Brentsville supervisor, proposes a one-year delay in rezoning requests. Woodbridge Supervisor Hilda Barg supports action to ease overcrowding of roads and schools. Neabsco's John Jenkins wants to find legal ways to slow growth.

But recently, the board approved 1,487 new residential units at Harbor Place. Tuesday they considered 306 new units off Hastings Avenue. The proposed moratorium only covers rezoning requests, and won't stop development under current zoning, or which has already been approved. And nobody really expects to slow new construction.

The sad fact is the county is powerless to stop development. Decisions made years, even decades ago by previous boards opened the floodgates to rampant development, and this board has no legal way to stop it. We want to curtail new development until the roads and infrastructure are ready, but Virginia law does not allow the county to do so. While we provide 40 percent of the tax revenue to the state, we only get an unfair 18 percent back.

So if we want new roads, we have to pass bond referendums and build them ourselves. And if we want to stop development, we can do little more than pass what Jenkins says is a "largely symbolic" plan to send a message to Richmond.

Covington admits as much, saying, "This is something we need to do to get the governor's and the General Assembly's attention." His proposal includes directives to Governor Tim Kaine and the legislature to pass the "Adequate Public Facilities" legislation, which died last year. This legislation would allow the county to deny zoning requests if the current roads, schools, and other facilities can't support it.

Kaine promised this legislation when running for governor, but after Delegate Bob Marshall submitted the bill, Kaine withdrew his support under pressure from developers. Without a new law, the county supervisors can do little more than beg developers to offer donations (called proffers) in exchange for consideration of rezoning requests.

The problem with the proffer system is that, being voluntary, it requires the county to give something of value to a developer in exchange for money to upgrade roads, schools, parks, and other infrastructure. This means approving requests for new residential units. For example, the Harbor Station rezoning was approved because it included $58 million in proffers, none of which would be available without the rezoning.

Unfortunately, the proffers never cover the costs of the proposed developments. But if the rezoning requests are denied, the county gets no money at all. Corey Stewart has proposed increasing the proffer amounts, but since they are voluntary, there's a limit to how much the county can "request" before the developers will turn to the courts. And with our current laws, developers have the upper hand in a court case.

For example, in 2003 Loudoun County passed a restrictive rezoning law. In response, more than 200 lawsuits were filed, and in 2005 the Virginia Supreme Court threw out the law. No county wants to chance a court loss. Instead, they play what amounts to a high-stakes game of chicken, bargaining with developers to extract as much as possible without driving them to court.

This is an insane way to control development in a county with over a third of a million people. It is a travesty that Kaine and the legislature did not pass laws last year to help curb out-of-control growth. It's a shame Kaine is trying to blame this on the lack of a tax increase, which would only help mitigate the harm of growth, not solve the problem.

Our local delegation to the House and Senate support giving the county the power needed to control growth. The governor needs to live up to his promises, and the "good old boys" in the Senate need to stop patting themselves on the back and pass this law, rather than holding us hostage for money for their own pet projects.

Wally Covington has done a good thing putting this issue on the front burner, but now we need the State to do its job and give us the tools we need.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Houston, Wii Have a Problem

Maybe it's just Wii envy -- I know if I found one, it would be sitting under my christmas tree, but still, this looks like it could be a problem.

In fact, it reminded me of the "Optigrab". I hope it turns out better for Nintendo than it did for Navin.

From the site "Wii Have a Problem":

That's not how you are supposed to knock down the pins.

Go to the site, there's a lot more funny pictures of broken TVs, glasses, controllers, windows, walls, and a few bodies.

A Charlie Brown Jihad Christmas

It's not for everybody, but it is funny, in a sick sort of way....

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Democrat's new Intel Chair needs a refresher course.

That's the conclusion of Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein, who had an interview with the incoming chief (and current member) of the intelligence committee, Sgt. Silvestre Reyes , Democrat, Texas.

Turns out Reyes couldn't answer basic questions about Al Qaeda, and he seemed completely unaware of who Hezbollah was (answering the question by asking if he could answer in spanish....)

Anyway, from the article Democrats’ New Intelligence Chairman Needs a Crash Course on al Qaeda:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.
Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots account for its very existence. Osama bin Laden and his followers believe the Saudi Royal family besmirched the true faith through their corruption and alliance with the United States, particularly allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil.

It’s been five years since these Muslim extremists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center. Is it too much to ask that our intelligence overseers know who they are?

Jeff actually gives some kudos to Reyes for knowing more than some of the republicans in the house -- he wanted to be fair to the man. But he recounts this discussion about Hezbullah:

And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...” He laughed again, shifting in his seat. “Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Pocito,” I said—a little.

“Pocito?! “ He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh....”

I apologized for putting him “on the spot a little.” But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East have been front page news for a long time now.

It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed over 200 U.S. military personnel in Beirut, mostly Marines. Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over in Lebanon. Reports say they are helping train Iraqi Shiites to kill Sunnis in the spiralling civil war.

Remember, this was the seat that Nancy Pelosi first wanted to give to Alcee Hastings, the former judge impeached for bribery but now a leader of the Democrat party in the house. The current ranking leader, Jane Harmon, is a qualified person who unfortunately has raised the personal ire of the new Speaker, which apparently disqualifies her from serving in this position, thus giving us a new chair who would rather answer questions in Spanish.

And the sad thing is, Reyes is probably the best (other than Harmon) that the democrats in congress have to offer for this post, which used to be a non-partisan position in a bi-partisan committee before the Democrats won back congress and started implementing their bizarre interpretation of "non-corrupt" leadership.

Unions see Democrat's majority as opportunity to force union membership.

When a group of workers wants to organize into a union, they currently hold a secret ballot election. Often, the union is rejected in such elections.

The advantage of a secret ballot election is that it allows each person to vote they way they really want, without threat of retaliation from either their fellow workers who support the union, or union thugs themselves.

It would be much easier for the unions if they could get rid of this rule, and periodically the unions push for a new rule that would simply require a majority of workers to "check off" a box on a signed card indicating their "desire" to have a union. They claim this would make it easier and less costly to organize, but it is an obvious attempt to bring anti-union voters out into the open where they can be "persuaded" to support the union.

With the new Democrat majority in the congress, the unions are pushing this rule again, and according to the AFL-CIO they have obtained the backing of the Democratic National Committee:

As the end of the 109th Congress approaches and we get set to reintroduce the Employee Free Choice Act, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) today threw its support behind the bill. The legislation would allow employees to freely choose whether to form unions by signing cards authorizing representation.

(Howard Dean says) By removing barriers to organizing unions, the Employee Free Choice Act would help ensure that more American workers are guaranteed their rights. I call on Congress to give bi-partisan support to the legislation and for the President to approve this critical bill.

The party of intimidation would of course want to remove "barriers" like privacy protections which prevent unions from threatening and coercing employees into "approving" their union buddies. The Democrats need strong unions because unions use compulsory dues to fund the DNC as well as providing direct contributions and in-kind advertising supporting democrats throughout the country.

VIrginia is still a right-to-work state, although we just elected a Senator who does not seem to adhere to that principle.

Approving this anti-democratic pro-coercion bill would be a sorry step for a new leadership who so far seems to only pay lip service to ending the so-called "culture of corruption". IT's not surprising Howard Dean supports this measure, he seems to have little love for the democratic system, having this week called for democrats in congress to reject the results of a democratic, duly certified election in Florida.

But what excuse would the rank-and-file democrats elected to congress have to endorse a measure designed to open up ordinary workers to intimidation and threats in order to force unions on them?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Minimum Wage HURTS the most vunerable workers

Don't take my word for it. Before we pass a new federal minimum wage, let's see what's happening where the states have just increased THEIR minimums.

Nevada has learned that, because of the new minimum wage law, some disabled people will lose their jobs. This will cost taxpayers, damage their self-esteem, and is a completely predictable result of forcing employers to pay workers more than they are worth.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Programs get dire news on minimum wage law:

Several Nevada nonprofit organizations received grim news Friday that could affect their ability to offer jobs to disabled people.

Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek told representatives of the nonprofits that he sees no way to exempt them from a new minimum wage law that took effect last month.

The desire to exempt people is an admission that the idea of minimum wage laws is flawed -- the only reason to exempt people is if paying minimum wage is a problem. Of course, it IS a problem, any time you force employers to pay more for a service than that service is worth, it's like taxing them. And if you apply this type of tax, employers will eliminate the workers that are the least valuable (and therefore impose the highest tax) and replace them with workers that are more valuable.

Organizations including Southern Nevada's Opportunity Village and Easter Seals previously have been allowed to pay disabled clients based on the amount of work they can perform in an hour, called piece-work, instead of a set wage. The recent voter-approved boost in the minimum wage, which raises it to $6.15 an hour for employers who don't provide health insurance, makes no exemption for piece-work.

The piece-work rule was already a government-imposed band-aid to the problem of interference in the employer-employee relationship. It would be better for the disabled if employers had the choice of how to pay them in whatever way was best for both employer and employee. Employees might be better off with a real salary, and might even make more than with piece-work, but employers were prohibited from offering salaries if those salaries were not minimum wage.

The new wage could apply to nearly 400 of Opportunity Village's clients, including those who work at the organization's thrift stores. It would cost the organization an extra $1.7 million more a year to pay them the minimum wage, Guthrie said.

Other agencies that could be affected by the new law include High Sierra Industries in Reno, Fallon Industries and Washoe Arc, formerly known as the Washoe Association for Retarded Citizens.

The article seems to support exemptions for these organizations from the minimum wage. But it doesn't explain why these organizations deserve to pay less than minimum wage, while business gets no exemption. If some workers are obviously not worth the miminum wage, than it should be obvious there are others equally undeserving -- and I dare say there are some disabled people who would be worth more as employees than some "normally-abled" people.

"I don't know what we're going to do" if forced to pay minimum wage, said Brian Patchett, chief executive of Easter Seals of Southern Nevada.

Easter Seals also works with people with disabilities and includes a job training center. The new minimum wage would affect 150 to 200 workers at the center who perform tasks such as packaging perfumes and putting together packets for events.

"It's going to end up costing a lot more money or we're not going to be able to provide these programs in the same way," Patchett said. "Somebody's going to have to meet those costs."

He added that he supports the minimum wage increase, but "there needs to be an exemption for people in very specific programs who have serious disabilities."
He said if forced to pay the workers minimum wage from now on, Opportunity Village might have to "seriously retool" its employment program, possibly by cutting workers' hours.

The point is that it is clear to these groups, and to the reporter, that some people will lose their jobs if employers have to pay minimum wage. That will be just as true with a new federal minimum wage.

And what of the argument that the current minimum wage is just too low to be worth it for ANYBODY to work at that wage? That's the argument for increasing the wage, right, that no employee should be paid so little because it's just not enough money to be worth it? Well, the article points out the absurdity of THAT argument as well:

While many of the affected workers make very little, Guthrie said, some less than 20 percent of minimum wage, the money helps them a lot.

"Many of these people live with family ... on a fixed income," he said. "Even if you only make $50 a week, it helps pay for heat, air conditioning, puts groceries on the table or even pays just to go to a movie."

If we pass a new minimum wage bill, some people will make more money. But we'll also read a lot more reports like this, where workers lose their jobs, or lose hours, or companies spend valuable time and money trying to fight the regulations.

I wonder what the Unions think about this?

Danny Thompson, executive secretary and treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, which backed the minimum wage increase, did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Surrender Monkeys, or the Iraq Surrender Group

I may write about this next week in my column, and I might express some opinions here soon, but for now, I'll just say that this picture of the front page of today's New York Post quite well sums up my opinion of the pathetic Iraq Study Group report:

Here are some links to good reports and commentary about the report. I had hoped this group would take their task seriously and work hard to find some real help for our country, but I see my hope was hopelessly misplaced, and the ISG really fell down on the job for which they were well-compensated.

Anyway, here's some links:

Captain Obvious to the Rescue

Must Study Harder

The Counsel of Cowards

And, my favorite, from a sheer snarkiness perspective: Paris' Peace Plan, with this comment:

The nation's capital hasn't seen such concentrated wisdom in one place since Paris Hilton dined alone at the Hooters on Connecticut Avenue.

After all, only genius approaching the level of Paris could have written this sentence: "The Support Group should consist of Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq . . . and, of course, Iraq itself."

Yes, that's some Support Group, what with Iraq and Iraq in it together to support, um, Iraq.

HOAs Only as good as those who serve

I served on my neighborhood board of directors for about 6 years. Before I moved to this neighborhood, I was out more in the country without an HOA. Both ways of living have merit.

A lot of my conservative friends dislike the concept of an HOA, and some have even argued that I can't be a good conservative and live in a neighborhood with an HOA, much less like it.

But I believe that most of the problems with HOAs are simply because of bad people who run them, and indifference among the homeowners. And I think that, in principle, HOAs are very much in keeping with the concepts of limited government and power being wielded at the lowest possible level.

So I wrote about it in my column for LAST week, titled "HOAs as good as those who serve", playing off a recent article about a particulary eggregious move by an HOA out west to fine a homeowner for a christmas wreath in the shape of the peace symbol:

HOAs as good as those who serve
Potomac News
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Most people have a negative opinion of neighborhood Homeowner Associations (HOAs). There are plenty of horror stories about HOA actions, from banning American flags, to shutting down a child's lemonade stand, to fining a homeowner for planting too many roses.

A recent story out of Colorado has once again raised the ire of those who despise HOAs. It's the time of year when people put up Christmas decorations, some more gaudy than others, but most with the intent, if not effect, of evoking Christmas joy and cheer in observers. One family, taking to heart the refrain "Peace on earth, goodwill to man," included a wreath in the shape of a peace symbol as part of their display.

Some neighbors felt the symbol was an attack on the war in Iraq, or maybe a satanic symbol. They complained to the HOA, which threatened to fine the family unless they removed the wreath. The owner denies that the wreath is about Iraq, saying "Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing." The HOA is unrelenting, claiming the peace symbol is "divisive."

I will not defend the actions of this HOA. Even granting the desire to prevent divisiveness, common sense dictates that sometimes a wreath is just a wreath, and that peace is not a bad concept even in a time of war. And as I've said many times, we waste too much time and effort ferreting out things that offend us, and toleration is becoming a lost art.

But that doesn't mean I object to the idea of HOAs. Stories like this paint an unfair picture of homeowners associations, and obscure the valid reasons for their existence. And in most cases, the problem isn't the associations, but the people elected to run them, people elected because the membership doesn't bother to show up to serve or even to vote.

HOAs are an example of good government, putting the power and the control of government at the lowest possible level, within communities of a few hundred to a few thousand people. The key is to have well-defined limits over the power of an HOA. Virginia has good laws setting limits on the power of HOAs, and each association is also limited by its own deeds and covenants.

Within those limits, HOAs let communities decide their own rules. Prince William is a county of over 350,000 people. Why should one set of rules govern all 350,000 of us? HOAs allow each of us to choose how we want to live, and to peacefully co-exist with like-minded individuals.

For example, my neighborhood has rules that are relatively permissive. We can have TV antennas on the roof, and air conditioning units in windows, but we can't park cars and boats on the grass. We must get approval for color and architectural changes, but our elected representatives are reasonable people. We need an HOA anyway to manage our community pool and community property.

Just as I'm happy to live in Virginia, and not Maryland, and to live in Prince William, and not Alexandria, I'm glad I can choose a community that imposes restrictions I agree with, but not a bunch of silly rules that I would find abhorrent.

We all tolerate some level of "community" control over our lives, in exchange for "common good." That is the purpose of federal, state, and local government. We give up some freedom because we don't want every person to do whatever they want. This is in keeping with the ideals of our founding fathers. An HOA provides certain "community" services, and has the limited power to tax the citizens of the community for that purpose. Community members democratically elect board members, and the HOA has a "constitution" (deeds and covenants) that limits and defines its power.

But like any government, it will only be as good as the people elected to run it. If you don't vote, you might end up with a board that bans Christmas wreaths. And if you won't serve, and don't attend meetings to express your opinions, those who will serve can't represent your opinions. So, attend your HOA annual meeting this year.

Those who have monitored my comments at other blogs recently will detect some common themes, as my arguments for HOAs mesh with my arguments for zoning rules and slow growth support.

And I imagine those who disagree with me on those points may well disagree about HOAs as well. That's what makes being a conservative fun, we do not have a laundry list of policy positions we all hold, instead we have a set of principles which, even if rigidly accepted, can lead sometimes to arguments over what policies best reflect those principles.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Being thankful in the midst of war

This was my thanksgiving column.

Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. That was in the middle of civil war, so it got me thinking about how to give thanks when we are in the middle of a war.

Thus, my column, Being thankful in the midst of war:

Being thankful in the midst of war
Potomac News
Thursday, November 23, 2006

It's good to have at least one day dedicated to being thankful. So much of our lives seem focused on the negative, on what's wrong, on our trials and troubles. It is a blessing to take a step back and look at what is right, and good, and encouraging.

Often the adversities of life make it hard to be thankful. But to dwell on the bad is destructive and self-defeating. We cannot ignore our problems, but neither should we let them overtake us. Bad things can have good consequences, and Thanksgiving is our chance to find the "silver lining."

For example, I spent about half this year with back-related pain. Many people have suffered more severe pain than I felt, but it was the worst thing I have ever experienced. However, because of the pain and the medication, I stopped eating. I also went through physical therapy, and started exercising. I'm as healthy as I've been for years, and I've lost fifty pounds. So I am thankful because without my injury, I'd still be just thinking about getting in shape and losing weight.

The popular mythology of Thanksgiving traces its roots to a Pilgrim celebration in 1621. Though the pilgrims had suffered adversity, they had a great harvest, and Gov. William Bradford declared a day of feasting, which turned into a 3-day festival shared with the local natives.

But some suggest our "Thanksgiving Day" descends not from that feast, but from two years later. In 1623, a severe drought struck the Plymouth colony, and the crops were dying. An expected supply ship was months late, and things looked grim. The colonists turned to prayer and fasting, and their prayers were answered. The rain fell, and word came that the delayed ship was not lost. Having survived the adversity, they declared a day of thanksgiving and prayer.

Whatever its origins, our official Thanksgiving Holiday was designated by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, during the dark days of the Civil War. His proclamation finds much to be thankful for: "In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity … peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict … diversions of wealth and of strength … have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country … is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom."

We are once again in the midst of a war, but our circumstance is better than that faced by our brethren in Lincoln's day. Our losses are tragic, but modest compared to historic wars. Our enemy is not defeated, but has not managed to attack our soil in five years. Too many of us can live our lives oblivious to the hardship and sacrifice of our brave men and women on the battlefield. We have the luxury to concern ourselves with more trivial matters like the price of gas, traffic jams, or waiting in line to purchase a PlayStation 3 for Christmas.

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day proclamation was steeped with religious meaning. "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God," to whom we were to give thanks. The Pilgrims also directed their thanksgiving heavenward. Colonist Edward Winslow wrote "another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end; we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us."

For many, Thanksgiving is no longer so overtly religious. But whether or not we acknowledge God’s providence in our lives, we should this day acknowledge the many blessings we experience in the midst of adversity, while, as Lincoln exhorted, commending “to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” from the war “in which we are unavoidably engaged.”

In my column, I only selectively quoted from Lincoln's proclamation, but it is worth reading in full. You can find it on the web here:

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day
October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

I'm still alive

I'm still here, but I've been rather busy with the christmas lights and all, so I haven't gotten around to posting.

I'll try to flush my queue in the next two days, at least to post up my last few columns.

I've also got some interesting information on the corruption of the guy Pelosi picked to head the intelligence committee now that she's been told she can't have her first choice. It's a bad sign for a leader that she is using her personal animus against another female from her own state to make her decisions, but that is how Pelosi is, and we better get used to it.

Hastert wasn't much to look at, but he was a fair and honest guy, and we'll miss him -- and it's too bad, because the democrats HAVE good, honest, fair people on their side of the aisle, but they rarely get to be in positions of leadership because the democrats are still living by the old old rules, rules the republicans threw out years ago, rules honoring seniority over all.