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Monday, December 12, 2005

Iraqalypse Now!

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


Hallmark and IVIC Productions are pleased to bring you the heartwarming holiday hit of the season.... Heartwarming, that is, if you get a warm, fuzzy feeling reading the Book of Revelation. That's right, over in Iraq "it's beginning to look a lot like..... DOOMSDAY!!!!!"

This being the second in my increasingly annoyingly pun-nishly titled posts on Iraq, why not take a stroll down Memory Lane to the post I wrote just after January's elections and see how it holds up today just after the December 15 elections to elect Iraq's first permanent (rather than transitional) 4-year government?

Last February, I wrote that, despite the not-too-bloody elections (only 50-odd people died), we shouldn't get too cocky:

"I'd like to caution against the feeling that any kind of turning point has been reached. We've heard that before. We heard that attacks were sure to decrease after the fall of Baghdad when Bush declared 'Mission Accomplished', after Uday and Qusay were killed, after Saddam was captured, after 'sovereignty' was transferred in June 2004, after we chased the rebels out of Fallujah. Each time, violence only increased, and the insurgency only got smarter, bolder, more sophisticated, more deadly."

What is the reason for my pessimism? As usual, ignorance is bliss and knowledge kindles fear and apprehension. If you're not scared yet, you've not been paying attention.

My Islam professor early on in this semester explained the Iraqi situation in terms of a business paradigm: the "yesable" proposition. (I know, it's awkward and improper English to boot, but that's what it's called.) Basically, it has been proven that a compromise, whether between individuals, corporations, or nations, can only be reached if each of the parties has their minimum demands met. A proposition that can at least satisfy the minimum demands of all parties is the "yesable" proposition that will resolve the dispute. Let's apply this to Iraq, shall we?

Ok, let's see, who are the parties in Iraq? Ah, yes, the Shi'a make up 60% of the population. Let's start with them. What do they want? Well, that actually depends on which Shi'a you ask. First, some background on Shi'a Islamic jurisprudence (it's critically important, I promise!). The main dispute that interests us is over what role religious leaders should play in the political life of the nation? All Shi'a believe that the supreme source of religious and poltical authority is a figure known as the Imam, a descendant of Ali, Muhammad's nephew. Only problem is that most Shi'a in Iraq and around the world are Twelver Shi'a and believe that the Twelfth Shi'a was forced to go into hiding to escape persecution, but he is not dead, merely transferred to some kind of alternate plane of existence and he will return at the end of days. Until he returns, at least some of his powers have been delegated to the Shi'a religious scholars.

Here is where things get tricky, as there are three schools of thought here: the first and most traditional school, holds that the religious scholars can only exercise the religious guidance functions of the Twelfth Imam, and not his political leadership functions. To this first school, for religious scholars to take any part in political life would be to usurp the rightful powers of the Twelfth Imam. We'll call this first school the Islamic Madisonians, as they would preserve a separation of mosque and state.

The second school of thought holds that, in extreme circumstances, religious scholars may get involved in politics, but only to the minimum extent necessary to end anarchy and restore stability, at which point, like Cincinnatus and George Washington, the scholars will retire from political life. This is the point of view held by the most influential man in Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. This is why Sistani has occasionally intervened, such as when he pressed the U.S. to allow the elections Iraq had last January rather than continue under the corrupt and often incompetent rule of Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority. Sistani told Shi'a it was their religious duty to vote in January and has repeated that admonition this time, as well. One also sees his quiet influence at work in the fact that, at least until recently, the Shi'a refused to retaliate to the bloody attacks of the Sunni insurgents. Sistani knew that the only thing worse than having Sunni insurgents killing Shi'a would be for Shi'a to strike back in kind and spark the all-out Sunni vs. Shi'a civil war the insurgents have been trying to create. Civil wars tend to undermine stability, which is the cardinal virtue to Sistani's school.

The real danger comes from the third and most modern school. This school holds that, until the Twelfth Imam returns, the religious scholars have inherited not just the religious but also the political powers of the Imam and that they should use both of these powers to create a perfect Islamic society, a notion abhorrent to the other two schools which don't beleive a perfect Islamic society can be established prior to the return of the Imam. This school was founded by Ayatollah Khomenei who put his ideals into practice in his home country to create the Islamic Republic of Iran. We'll call this school the "Religious Wacko" school. The good news: most Iraqi Shi'a subscribe to the second school. The bad news: a young firebrand by the name of Moqtada al-Sadr is committed to the third school. And al-Sadr has built up a powerful militia, the Mahdi (or "Messiah") Army to replicate the Iranian Revolution in Iraq, making him and his many followers a force to be reckoned with.

Already one sees here a potential problem with nogotiating a solution to Iraq's problems: there is almost no common ground between the second and third schools. The Sistani school will obviously not accept the theocratic rule of the upstart al-Sadr but neither will al-Sadr and his followers settle for anything less.

Moving on, there is also a debate amongst the Shi'a about the role of religion in everyday life. Many, including al-Sadr and Sistani, want to institute some form of Islamic Sharia law in Iraq. Inheritance law according to Qu'ranic precepts should give the male descendants a greater share of the inheritance than the female descendants. The touchy subject of women's rights also falls under this area of Sharia law. Some Shia, such as Sistani, merely want family matters like divorce and inheritance handled in religious courts, with criminal matters handled by the criminal justice system. Al-Sadr seems to want everything to fall under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. And let's not forget that many Shi'a are more secular in their attitutes, subscribe to the first school, and don't want there to be Sharia law or religious courts in Iraq at all. Hmm.... not much room for compromise here, either.

Maybe some common ground can be found with the Kurds, Iraq's most peaceful minority. As I saw it last February:

"The Kurds have long agitated for an independent Kurdistan that would encompass all the Kurdish-majority areas in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. While their population is spread over these 4 nations, they tend to view themselves as Kurds, not Turks or Iraqis who happen to be Kurdish. After the Gulf War of 1991…. They gained almost total autonomy from the central government in Baghdad and want to maintain that autonomy under the new government. At the very least, the Kurds will demand the creation of a 'Kurdish Autonomous Region', almost entirely self-governing, though that might not sit well with the Shiite-dominated central government in Baghdad.

"The situation in the north is compounded by the competing claims of Kurds and Sunni Arabs to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the spiritual capital of the Kurdish people. Saddam uprooted many of the Kurdish families in the area and replaced them with Arab Sunnis more loyal to Saddam. Now, with Saddam out of power, many ethnic Kurds have returned to Kirkuk to reclaim their old homes, which have been occupied by Sunnis in their absence. This has led to conflicts between Arabs and Kurds that have jeopardized local stability..."

So, it looks like the Kurds won't settle for anything less than de facto independence (and some Kurdish factions might not even settle for that and go for the whole enchilada of full independence). Also, they want to regain the city of Kirkuk and the oil fields surrounding it and they want to control the profits from the sale of oil from their region.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention the autonomy faction of the Shi'a earlier! Iraq has large supplies of oil in the north (dominated by Kurds) and the south (dominated by Shi'a). Like the Kurds, the Shi'a want to keep the profits from oil drilled in their region to stay in their region. There is, in fact, a large and growing movement for the heavily Shi'a oil-rich provinces of southern Iraq to band together into a "Shi'a Autonomous Region," like the one the Kurds want in the north. There are also those who want independence for the Shi'a South. Without having to share oil revenues to a national government in Baghdad, which would distribute the profits nationwide, they could secede from Iraq, keep all the profits, and become another rich Arab oil sultanate.

Of course, not all Shi'a like this option. And the Sunnis are predictably outraged. The sad truth is that at least 95% of Iraq's GDP comes from the sale of oil and oil is found only in the Shi'a and Kurdish areas. If oil revenues are distributed equally nationwide, the Sunnis are happy. If the Kurds keep their oil profits and the Shi'a keep their oil profits, the Sunnis are screwed. That is why they are pushing so hard for a strong central government and are dead set against allowing the Kurds and Shi'a to create autonomous areas. It’s in their own financial self-interest. Unfortunately, it also in the financial interest of the Kurds and Shi'a to have control over the oil revenues. When the self-interests of two groups are mutually exclusive, to expect a compromise is to expect too much of human nature.

About those Sunnis: a minority, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his fellow travelers, seems to want a Sunni theocracy along the lines of the Taliban. A larger faction dreams of bringing back the secular Ba’ath party and the days when oil resources overwhelmingly went to Sunni areas. Compromise between those two groups looks almost as remote as compromise between the Kurdish-Shi’a alliance and either of those two groups. Oh, and both groups are armed and have proven themselves willing to resort to the most brutal forms of violence to get what they want. There may be a “silent Sunni minority” with whom negotiation is possible, but even they would balk at Kurdish and Shi’a plans for the distribution of oil wealth.

Stability and Democracy? Ask Again Later.

So, looking into the magic crystal 8-ball of Iraqi politics, what does the future hold? First off, the most recent elections will change the composition of the National Assembly. The Sunnis, after boycotting January's election, were out in large numbers, so they will probably have a share of seats roughly proportional to their share of the electorate, roughly 20%, the same as the Kurds. As no one party is likely to get a majority, the real question is whether religious Shi'a parties like the current ruling party or the party of secular Iraqis from all groups led by former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will gain enough votes to form a governing coalition.

The candidate most palatable to Americans is Allawi. A secular democratic government? Sounds good to us! But will enough Iraqi Shi'a vote for this party to ensure its victory, or will they do as they did last January and vote for the umbrella group comprised of moderate Sistanistas in an uncomfortable coalition with smaller groups including hard-core theocrats like al-Sadr? I'd like to beieve the former, though the latter seems more likely. If the current Kurdish-Shi'a cleric coalition stays in power, it will probably grant some form of autonomy to the Kurds and Shi’a which will have to include keeping a substantial majority of oil profits in those two regions. In addition, it will impose Sharia law, at least in the area of family law. Neither development will suit the Sunnis, and the insurgency will continue and probably grow in numbers and strength.

Remember that Sunni party that swung its support to the Iraqi constitution back in October, helping to ensure that enough Sunnis voted for it to get it passed? Well, according to the Sunnis, they were promised by the Kurds and Shi’a that this supposedly “final draft” was nothing more than a rough draft that will be modified by the new parliament and approved by the voters in yet another election at an unspecified date next year. The Kurds and Shi’a have been remarkably silent on this subject of late, a silence that speaks volumes. What I am afraid happened is that the Kurdish-Shi’a coalition made promises to the Sunnis to get the constitution passed—-promises they have no intention of keeping. When the Sunnis wake up and smell the treachery, all-out civil war will probably result.

Let’s assume that the ruling coalition will keep its promises and that every part of the Constitution will be put back on the table early next year. The Kurds and Shi’a are happy with the document and will object to virtually any change. Assuming they still have a majority, they will have enough votes to block any Sunni proposals they dislike and the old constitution will go into force as is. By this point really angry, the Sunnis will launch a civil war. Alternatively, sweeping changes will be made in the document and the Kurds or Shi’a, having thought the matter setlled, will launch a civil war. All roads lead to disunion.

There is another possibility: Allawi's secular party wins an outright majority. This is the best case scenario. His party (composed of Shia, with smaller numbers of the other groups) wants a centralized government and would likely not allow the creation of autonomous regions. Then the million-dollar question is, will the Kurds or Shi’a resort to violence to monopolize access to oil wealth? If so, again, civil war.

An intriguing alternative could have Allawi form a coalition with Sunni groups (let’s assume those Sunni groups do really, really well in the elections) opposed to creating autonomous regions; a secular/Sunni national government could end up in charge of the new Iraq. As the last thing the traumatized Shi’a and Kurds ever want to see happen is an Iraq ruled again by the Sunnis, this could also lead to--c’mon guess, you already know the answer--civil war! Isn’t geopolitics fun?

Two final scenarios: First, what if the Iraqi Kurds do decide to declare independence? Turkey has already had to put down a Kurdish revolt within its borders at the cost of more than 35,000 lives, and its leaders fear that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will relight the flames of rebellion among Turkish Kurds. Turkish political and military leaders have stated point-blank that the powerful Turkish military will not stand idly by and allow the Iraqi Kurds to gain independence. In this scenario, Turkey attacks Iraqi Kurdistan in what will be a long and bloody campaign, no matter which side wins.

The absolute worst-case scenario is that the situation gets so bad that the Shi’a turn to al-Sadr, the Lenin of Iraq. As I framed it in February, “Sistani has the upper hand now, but the moderates in Russia (Kerensky, et al.) had the upper hand in post-czarist Russia, and as the situation turned from bad to worse, Russians turned to the radicals under Lenin. Similarly, the moderate Socialists in Weimar Germany gave way to the extremists under Hitler as the situation in Germany became increasingly desperate. If the situation under the new Shiite-dominated government doesn't improve, probably sooner rather than later, the Shiites will choose the radicals out of sheer desperation.”

If the Shi’a decide to go with al-Sadr, they will probably turn for help to their big Shi’a neighbor to the east, Iran. The same Iran that sponsors terrorism and has WMD programs, traits it could easily pass on to a Shi’a Iraq. It would be the greatest irony of all if a war that was started because of misguided and faulty claims that an Iraqi regime sponsored terrorism and had WMD, ends up with a regime in place that actually does sponsor terrorism and actually does have WMD programs which it got from its ally in the reconstituted Axis of Evil, Iran. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy!

Should we stay or should we go now?

Is victory still possible in Iraq? It depends on what you mean by “victory.” Victory in a military sense has probably always been impossible. Our troops move into a town and reclaim it from the insurgents. Within a week, the insurgents have set up shop in another town. When we move into that town, they reappear back in the first town we "re-liberated." That is the nature of popular insurgencies. Victory in the "war of hearts and minds", has probably been impossible since at least last year's revelation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Any chance we had to be seen as liberators rather than occupiers was lost back then. Increasingly, America finds itself irrelevant in Iraq. We can pressure the groups to compromise. But we long ago lost control over the process. The Iraqi people have to choose their own destiny, and we can do little but keep our fingers crossed that they choose a destiny amicable to our own and provide the security to allow them to do so.

I think I speak for most Americans when I say that my definition of victory in Iraq has always been the establishment of a strong, central, secular, democratic government that can maintain order and protect the rights of its people. That outcome is looking increasingly unlikely. There are so many factions in Iraq that even if several of those factions agree to compromise, there will still be so many more out there willing to continue the violence that some form of civil war seems inevitable. I hate to say it, but it might even be necessary. Iraq was cobbled together seemingly at random by the British out of three separate provinces of the Ottoman Empire that not previously had an awful lot to do with each other. It should therefore not be surprising that for most Iraqis, ethnic, tribal, or religious loyalty comes far ahead of any sense of nationalism. If compromise is impossible, it may be that it will take a civil war to create an Iraq that is stable, even if that struggle to reach a stable state takes generations and ends up with an Iraq that won’t resemble Iraq as it is now.

For the time being, what should be done about U.S. troops in Iraq? Though anything close to what I would consider victory in this war is still far away, I cannot support either the immediate or the phased withdrawal of troops on a timetable. For once, Bush is right: we can’t let the insurgents know when we’re leaving; otherwise they would lie low until we do and then rise up against the Iraqi government. Though the chance of failure is becoming an increasingly large probability, unless we stay in Iraq until we have trained an Iraqi army to defend itself, we will be dooming the Iraqis to certain failure.

The pro-withdrawal crowd has historical amnesia: in the 1980s, America financed an insurgency against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. As soon as the Russians withdrew, we lost interest, and instead of sending money and personnel to help rebuild the country and plant a strong democracy there, the world turned its back on Afghanistan. The former freedom fighters became warlords and turned on themselves, creating an unstable situation that led directly to the embrace by many Afghans of a regime that could ensure stability-—the Taliban—-and their financial backer, a man by the name of Osama bin Laden. You might have heard of him. We all know how well "Operation Ignore Afghanistan" turned out. As Iraq sits on right in the center of the Middle East's oil fields, the consequences of "Operation Ignore Iraq" will likely prove even more dire. If we withdraw from Iraq, America will appear weak in the eyes of the world and the terrorists will be emboldened like vultures circling a wounded gazelle. Yet, if Iraq degenerates into civil war with 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq powerless to prevent it, we will also look weak and probably wind up fighting on one side or the other and incurring massive casualities, a la Beirut in 1983. We have truly “grabbed the lion by the tail: we can’t let go and it is perilous to hang on.”

There is a moral reason to stay, too. Having gone in and disrupted their society and decapitated their government in Bush's misbegotten war of choice, we have a responsibility to stay until the Iraqis have a government that can maintain stability or until a government elected by the people tells us to leave, whichever comes first. Though my definition victory seems unlikely, and will not be achieved by purely military means, we have to stay for the sake of the Iraqi people and the chance they might soon seize this historic opportunity and build a better Iraq. We owe it to the Iraqi people. It’s the least we can do.

Monday, November 28, 2005

One Year Later

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


Today marks one year since my father was taken from me in a house fire. It feels like just yesterday, yet it also feels as if it happened in a past life. The psychologists tell us that there are phases, stages, levels of grief that you move up like you would steps in a Twelve-Step program. These people have never experienced grief. It doesn't work like that. Any given day can be a roller-coaster ride from denial to acceptance and back again. I can go days without thinking about it, then suddenly a song, a voice, a car, will bring back the memories, bring me face to face with the reality no one would want to face. On one level, I have accepted what has happened; yet on another level, it still doesn't seem real to me. There are (very) occasionally days I cry and days I'm still angry with my father, and with God for taking him from me. Irrational though it is, there are times when I just wish I could go back in time and save my father, times when I curse myself for not trying to find him that horrible morning or the night before. I was in Greensboro for Thanksgiving Break, I could have saved him if only I'd known... I told you it was irrational, but we humans are not rational animals and grief is anything but rational.

I have learned so much more about my father over the past year. Most strikingly, I learned from my aunt Beverly, his sister, that his bad back, which he'd always told me was because of a fall during a nighttime training mission in Alabama soon after he enlisted in the Army, was originally due to a car accident he got into when he was 19. He had to undergo months of recovery and surgery. He'd never mentioned it to me.

If there has been any good that has come out of all this, it is that I have grown much closer to my aunt. As his sister, she has been affected by this at least as much as I have and we have spent many an evening looking over old photographs and talking about everything under the sun. We had never been close before, but now, Beverly (and her daughter Julie in Georgia, my sister Cat, and my half-brother Zachary in Texas) are the only family I've got on the Smith side, and I treasure the moments I spend with each of them.

Time stands still for no one. This year has turned out somewhat better than the last, in that there have been no additional deaths, though I have lost the father figure in my life, and all respect for him, only a year after losing my biological father. I went to Europe to visit my cousin in Paris, truly the best time of my life. I trudge on through exams and finals and the daily grind of "paper or plastic" at work. I have more than enough to occupy myself with than thinking about the past all the time.

I try to go and visit my father every time I'm home. His VA gravestone finally came in only in the last couple of months. It's simple, merely stating his name, the years of his life (May 15, 1959-November 28, 2004), and the branch of the military he served in. My dad always hated long drawn-out goodbyes, and he wouldn't have wanted a large expensive ostentatious gravestone. I like to think he's pleased with it. I know it's "irrational" but I talk to him when I visit the gravesite. Somehow it makes me feel closer to him. I know he can hear what I'm saying. If a psychologist thinks that makes me crazy, or means that I still haven't fully dealt with his death, so be it. I don't intend to stop.

About a month ago, while visting, it struck me that I was angry with God. Well, angry is probably not the right word, more like dumbfounded. I know, as I put in my post last year, that "We may want an answer, but since we are not omnipresent and cannot comprehend the true grandeur of the Lord's creation, neither can we question, or even understand, his motives. 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.' It is certainly not satisfying from an intellectual standpoint. My inner Socrates continually pushes me to boldly challenge every assertion and skeptically examine every aspect of the world around me. But, for today, that answer is enough." Yet, there are days when that answer no longer suffices. Don't get me wrong, I haven't lost faith in God. On one level, I understand and accept as an article of faith. Yet, on another, deeper level, it fails to comfort. I will never know just "why" God chose to take my father at that particular time, so soon after his mother. For that reason, though I have not lost faith in God, there is still a barrier between us, an elephant in the room. Perhaps with time, that will change.

One last thought that struck me the last time I visited: My father owned a cat, Stuey, who died with him and was cremated and buried with him. I visited my father's house five days after the fire. Fire is a strange creature. The kitchen was scorched with flame and the plastic containers were melted, yet the roll of paper towels immediately adjacent was not even touched. It was like this throughout the house, even in the living room, where the fire started. On one bookshelf, the contents of the top shelves had been destroyed, but on the very bottom shelf we found, completely intact, sheathed in plastic bags, Christmas presents for my sister and myself that he had already wrapped and labeled. There were areas of the house the fire did not touch and the smoke did not get too thick, areas like underneath the beds that Stuey could have hid under and survived the fire. Instead, the firemen found him on the living room couch, in my father's arms; unlike my father, Stuey almost certainly died from the flames rather than the fumes. Let no one ever say a cat can't be loyal. It is humbling to think that a cat I never met, a cat who could have hid and saved his own skin, chose to be with my father at the end, even at the cost of his own life. It was highly irrational, but then, what is? It still means the world to me.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Adolescence, the Eternal Struggle, and Bear 4

By: Michael Akerman


**Crickets Chirp**

Well, time to break that silence. I was actually going to hold off on posting until I wrote the next installment of Bear, but the blog is so quiet and cold! So, hopefully the next installation will be soon.

Wait! I just remembered that I do have the next installment done. I thought I had already posted installment four, but I couldn't find it. That'll be at the end of the post.




The (Allegedly) Changing Face of Adolescence



A few weeks ago in sociology, we had to do a sociological journal entry consisting of our thoughts on one of the readings we covered (it's a nice little assignment, because it's essentially what I do for fun on this blog, except I have to punctuate it down to a page). I chose a reading that claimed that understanding a sociological viewpoint of recent times would allow teenagers and parents to understand and cope with the changing, and perhaps exacerbating, nature of teen-parent conflicts. I claimed that the basic premise of the reading was false, because the nature of teen-parent conflicts is not changing in any fundamental manner.

A fundamentally incorrect, yet widely prevalent, trend in social sciences is the assumption that the nature of basic social phenomena and relationships must be re-examined every few years. This is, bluntly, not necessary. Like the laws of physics, sociology merely stretches in almost all cases.

I would venture to claim that the last time a fundamental shift in adult-adolescent relations occurred was the Industrial Revolution, and I think that's on shaky grounds, but more on that later.

It's important to define the use of "adolescent." Adolescence should not be defined by a span of ages, except in the narrow sense of defining the current span of ages that adolescence occurs in. While the standard definition of adolescence is the span between puberty and maturity, this definition is sociologically useless. It is better to define a set of traits: an adolescent is an independently functional person who is not ready for full independence. This is most commonly coincidental to the years between puberty and adulthood, but is not necessarily so.

In the Industrial Revolution, child labor was outlawed, and work moved from farm to factory. This could be considered a paradigm shift, as prior to the Industrial Revolution teenagers were virtually mature, with years of labor under their belt, and a significant possibility of marriage before age 18. So what we call "adolescent" years were essentially adult.

The problem is these teens obviously don't meet the useful adolescent definition, as they were entirely capable of full, mature independent. The children who were working prior to the Industrial Revolution obviously do fit the useful definition: they were immature, yet independently functional.

To give other examples to discredit the age-based definition: what of the people of Venice, circa 15 c., where the girls were often married by age 12? What of the many cultures where the people are married sometimes by age 8 or 9? Can we call them adolescent, with all the connotations, and indeed, denotations, of immaturity when they have already moved away from their parents and taken all the household or farming/hunting tasks unto themselves? Obviously not.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it is fair to say that adolescence commonly occurred at childhood ages, say between 8 and 14. After the Industrial Revolution, the ages merely stretched upward, moving to between about 13 and 18. So, it is evident that the Industrial Revolution was no fundamental shift in adolescence.

This trend in age stretching continues. Now, it is fair to say that adolescence lasts between 13 or 14 to the age of at least 19, although, realistically, it's probably 20 or 21. This is reasonable: average life spans have increased, and a long adolescence better prepares one for a successful adult life; since we can afford the extra years, why not take them? This trend is likely to continue: by the time the young readers of this are 60, we're entirely likely to be complaining that by the time we were 24 we were well into starting our careers.

The real question, then, is whether relations between adolescents and parents have become more strained. It is difficult to find hard evidence prior to the Industrial Revolution, as literacy was relatively low, especially in the then-adolescent years, and children were not to feud with their parents, so any feuding would have been kept tightly under wraps, lest the parents lose the respect of their peers.

There is some useful anecdotal (and popular) evidence. Consider To Kill a Mockingbird. Although the book is post-Industrial Revolution, the situation in the South was still largely agrarian. Even at Scout's young age, she argues with her father over matters of morals and socialization, over who she should be kind to, and over how she should generally lead her life. It is something that, to a large degree, is not seen in the modern day at that age.

One common claim is that rapidly advancing technology has widened the gap between adolescents and adults, as adolescents have an almost uncanny understanding of computers, and adults commonly don't. This is nothing more than an extension of an age-old phenomenon: adults, raised using the old tools, are reluctant to learn new ones. Adolescents, unfettered in this manner, tend to learn the new tools, and they appear to have a wide gap between themselves and their parents. It was, logically, the same way with the onset of the steam engine, the combine, and the automobile: parents may have used the tools, but their children, specifically their adolescent children, understood the tools.

It is also common to point to anecdotal evidence to support the claim that the nature of adolescence has changed. When elderly men comment on adolescents, it is nearly universally a form of reprimand. They claim that they would be punished, usually in the form of beating, for what today's adolescents do freely, and that they "would be working by that age." The punishment claim contains some truth, although it's akin to criticizing modern theaters because they're not segregated. That said, adolescents are punished, more often than not, for misbehavior, although it may not seem like it, as the conspicuous cases are the outliers. The punishments today do not generally include beating, but range from parental, or worse, peer disappointment to a good old-fashioned grounding.

So, it is illogical to claim that the fundamental nature of adolescent-peer relations has changed, as adolescence itself has not changed. It has merely stretched into older age groups, just as the years of reproductive viability have stretched into older age groups.




Good versus Evil



I've been pondering the question of good and evil since my philosophy professor discussed the so-called Problem of Evil. The idea is to disprove God as follows:

1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
2. Since God is all these thing, he must have created the best universe possible.
3. Our universe contains evil, which is not good.
4. Our universe is not the best one possible.
5. Therefore, there is no God.

Granted, this doesn't come close to shaking my belief, because my belief isn't quite so simple. I'm sympathetic with, although not quite a believer in, the Deist view of God as the watchmaker: that is, the belief that God created a universe that runs on its own, with small nudges from Him to fix flaws. I view God as, essentially, a Sims player, and, frankly, universes without conflict are boring. I would not want to be the God running one.

Anyway, I have misgivings with the Problem of Evil hypothesis, and for a while I couldn't pinpoint why (I'm still not sure I can). I've got an intuitive twinge that the reasoning is incorrect, so I aim to explore why.

The first objection I raised was one of comparison: I claimed that for good to exist, there must be evil for comparison. My professor pointed out that I was constraining myself with a limitation of the universe we know. It is possible to conceive of a universe where the inhabitants can contemplate evil without ill-feeling and without ever committing evil. A second criticism to consider (this being raised by other, more famous minds) is that the best universe requires that free will exists, and free will begets evil. This is actually a fair criticism, but does not explain natural disasters, in which innocent lives are lost to nature itself.

It is important here to remind you of the constraints that must be forgotten in this essay. We must consider all possible universes, not just the peculiar constraints of ours. In the above example, disasters are a force that keeps nature in balance. However, one can conceive of a universe in which nature is balanced without killing people every few months.

My contemplations keep coming back to the basics of the comparison argument I raised. My intuitive sense (which is very good. It's why I'm good at physics) tells me that some part of it is correct. The task before me, then, is to manage to sort out what or to give up, whichever outcome comes first.

The most important thing to address, of course, is the retort to my criticism: the claim that a logical possibility is a universe that holds no evil, yet holds the concept of evil. I think the milllion-dollar question is whether that concept of evil is enough to make what should be considered a good act actually good.

Before I move on, defining good and evil is necessary. It is safe, and, indeed, necessary to assume the God would have the same concepts of good and evil as man, if we are to either say that this universe is not perfectly good, or that it is. Furthermore, it is evident that good and evil are on a continuum, rather than a simple binary relationship. For instance, helping an old lady cross a street is good; saving a child from a burning building is better. Hitler was more evil than that con artist down the street.

In a universe with no evil and no concept of evil, it is evident that nothing could be comparatively good. Everything would simply "be," as the continuum breaks down. One could claim that the least good acts would then become the low end of the continuum, but that would logically be the equivalent of evil, and so return us to how our universe currently is. So any argument requires at least a conception of evil to form the low end of the spectrum.

Evil acts are defined by their consequences. Consequences are defined by the emotions evoked. Thus, Katrina caused death, which caused sadness and loss. It is concluded that evil acts are identified because they cause "bad" emotions. So, a tree falling down is not evil (unless you're one of the odd environmentalists who see every dead tree as a personal blow to one's oxygen supply). A tree falling down on one's roof and damaging shingles is, although it's not very evil, assuming no one gets hurt.

It follows that the conception of evil is the conception of things that cause uncomfortable emotions. Without the uncomfortable emotions, they're just occurrences, like a random star going supernova versus our star going supernova. In the alternate universe we're considering, recall that there is no evil, yet one can conceptualize evil.

I hold that this is a logical impossibility. To conceptualize evil requires the conceptualization of uncomfortable emotions. To conceptualize uncomfortable emotions is, as emotions are simply mental concepts, is to experience them. There's no way to even imagine experiencing an emotion without experiencing the emotion on some level. Experiencing an uncomfortable emotion causes an uncomfortable emotion by definition, so considering uncomfortable emotions is evil. Thus, considering evil is evil. It follows that a universe cannot contain good without containing evil.

It is not difficult from here to conclude that our universe, designed by God, would be the one variety that contains the perfect balance of evil to make the "best" good.

I want to remind you that my personal beliefs do not hinge on this in any way, but I wanted to argue it because I felt the Problem of Evil conclusion incorrect.




And finally...




"The Bear of Wolf Creek": Installation 4



Installment 3

Installment 2

Installment 1

"Now that cub was a-bleatin' and hollerin', its leg all bloodied up in that trap. Now, Sue had used those traps afore, and she weren't no stranger to blood. She had et plenny o' critters that had found theirselves in her traps, but this time was diff'rent! She didn' know whether it was 'cause of the compass bear, or 'cause it weren't her trap, or jes because the cub were darned cute, but Big Sue strolled on up to that cub, and, pettin' its back, she pried that trap clean open.

"That cub was overjoyed, I'll tell you! He done near jumped outta that trap, busted leg and all, and ran over to his mama. Sue smiled as the likkle baby bear nuzzled up 'gainst his mama, and walked off, deciding to let the two alone.

"As Sue was headin' back to her camp, plannin' on grabbin' an early supper and fishin' in that crick she found, she started to hear suspicious noises. At first, they was jes some rustling sounds, but then they started gettin' louder. Eventually, she spun around with her knife out, rarin' to fight, an' found herself face-ta-face with the compass bear and her cub!

"Sue, having jes caught her knife mid-swing, done toppled right over, laughing as she landed on her back. As she giggled thar, the likkle bear and big bear plodded over and snuffled up against her face! Big Sue wiped her cheek, an', standin' up, looked at the bears. She says to herself, she says, "Sue, looks like you jes got yerself some new friends!"

"So, she brought the bears on back to her camp for dinner. She cooked up a nice rabbit stew, and let them bears partake jes the same as her. Once the bears had et their fill, and Sue had et 'bout the same amount as 'em, she walked back to the crick she found with her bear-friends. In just a few seconds, Sue had gotten herself a pole rigged up, and cast her line in the water.

"The bears looked confuddled, wonderin' what she was doin' with that string in the water, 'til up came a nice trout from that crick! Realizing what she was doin', those bears decided to help Sue out for the good meal. They walked themselves right into the creek, an' started swipin' at the fish with their paws. Sue was plenny careful to keep her hook away from the bears, an' she was soon wonderized to see a big pile of fish on the bank where the bears was workin'!




More to come in "Bear." Stay tuned. I should be able to post more often now that I've settled into my 18-hour class load.

~By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Monday, September 26, 2005

Priorities

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


Hail to the Chief Justice


Well, William Rehnquist apparently didn't take the hint that it was time for him to leave the Supreme Court, as he had to be dragged from his post kicking and screaming by the Maker of All Laws. Now that I think about it, that sounds like the way to go: knowing your days are numbered but defiantly not letting it slow you down.

Out of respect for the late Chief Justice, the Senate put off hearings for Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement John Roberts until after Rehnquist's funeral. Yet, showing a remarkable lack of taste and respect for the dearly departed, Bush nominated Rehnquist's successor before the Chief Justice had been dead even a day and a half, and several days before he was buried. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, after everything else I've seen from these people in the last 5 years, but... they couldn't have waited just a couple of days out of respect for a man who has been on the highest court in the land since 1971? Not even just two?

Bush's pick to be the next Chief Justice of the United States: John Roberts, the man he had already nominated to fill O'Connor's spot. As Bush is apparently going to wait until after the Senate confirms Roberts before nominating his (probably even more conservative) choice to fill O'Connor's spot, there probably won't be time to confirm her successor before the next Supreme Court session starts at the beginning of next month. So, looks like O'Connor, who announced her intent to retire in June to give time to get her successor confimed, better unpack her bags and settle in for at least the start of another term.

The Constitution doesn't set forth any requirements for the justices, so theoretically, I could be a justice. Realistically, though, a justice should be qualified to judge on the highest court in the land. Roberts is certainly qualified as he has been a lawyer for a number of years (and a rather good one, too, if reports of his earning $700 an hour is anything close to being accurate) and he got the highest grade of "well qualified" from the American Bar Association (as opposed to Clarence Thomas, who barely scraped by with a "qualified"--the only lower grade being "not qualified"--before he was confirmed).

So, I'm not worried about Roberts being unqualified. Nor do I see much of the point in the argument that he is too far out of the mainstream of legal opinion. For one thing, he's so far successfully kept his true beliefs a mystery during the Senate Judiciary Committe hearings (he wasn't paid $700 an hour to sit there and look pretty, unlike some on Capital Hill). For another, Bush did win reelection. His approval ratings may now be the lowest of any modern president at this point in his presidency since Richard Nixon, at or just below 40%, according to the latest batch of polls, and a majority might vote against him today. Unfortunately, they didn't do that last November, and that's all that matters. The American people reelected Bush (technically though, they never elected him in the first place, but I'll let that slide for the sake of argument) and they gave him an increased Republican majority in Congress to confirm pretty much anyone he wants. Anyone who didn't vote against Bush last year has no right to whine about anything he does now. You had 4 years of fair warning.

There are certainly, however, some things that concern me about Roberts. Most troubling to me is whether, like Scalia and Thomas, he doesn't believe that the Constitution contains the implicit right to privacy, an issue central to many of the cases that can be expected to come before the court in the 21st century. One could certainly argue that Roe v. Wade interpreted this right too expansively, but privacy rights are one of the most important of all rights. Why would the Framers have included the Third Amendment, banning quartering troops in people's homes against their will during peacetime if people don't have a right to pretty much exclusive use of their property? Or why would they have included the Fifth Amendment, banning governmental seizure of privately owned land "for public use without due compensation"? The Fourth Amendment's prohibition against "unreasonable searches and seizures"? Or the Ninth Amendment which states that the fact that certain rights aren't specified in the Constitution doesn't mean the people don't still have them? Sure, it never says the people have "the right to privacy", as the First Amendment doesn't include the exact words "separation of church and state". Both are implicit in the document and our founding charter would make very little sense without them. Nor does the Constitution specifically give Congress the power to regulate air traffic. A true originalist would look at the intent of the framers, see that as they never mentioned airplanes, they never intended for the federal government to regulate them, and declare baggage scanning at airports to be unconstitutional. Needless to say, such a verdict, while perhaps correct on a purely technical level, just wouldn't fly (no pun intended).

I'm reassured with his response to a question about Kelo v. New London: he appears to be opposed to it. What most concerns me about Roberts is his recent verdict on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that denying prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay the trials due them under the Geneva Conventions is perfectly constitutional. He was deliberating on this case in which the White House was the defendant at the same time as he was being interviewed by the White House to be nominated as a Supreme Court justice. This raises a number of troubling possiblities: Did Roberts not see the ethical morass he was wading into? Why did he not recuse himself? As Bush announced Roberts as his nominee the day after Roberts turned in a result favorable to the administration, was there quid pro quo involved? Given the above, and Bush's well-known tendency to appoint people based on their personal loyalty to him above all other qualifications (more on that below), how independent a justice will Roberts be? Or does he earnestly believe in transfering more powers to the president? If so, that kind of negates the check justices are supposed to serve on the other two branches. Is his support of expanded executive power a part of a coherent legal philosophy or will he miraculously start trimming the powers of the president the moment a Democrat is inaugerated?

It is really saying something that I have so many questions about Roberts. The problem is that Robert's record is clean--too clean. There is not much of a paper trail and precious little to go on when trying to pin down Robert's judicial philosophy. If I had to guess, I'd say he is ideologically a clone of William Rehnquist, a conservative but a pragmatist, a closet federalist, not one given to unworkable theories like originalism. But no one really knows for sure. His only previous experience as a judge is the past two years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That's all we have to go on. And it's not a lot.

That is the greatest concern I have about Roberts: he is certainly qualified to a justice, but... Chief Justice? Even the most junior member of the current court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, has 11 years of experience on the highest court in the land. I repeat: the only judging experience Roberts has is two years on the D.C. Circuit Court. One would imagine that a better choice would have been to promote one of the current justices (Scalia or Thomas, almost certainly) rather than promote in some new guy from out of nowhere with only two years experience at the appeals level to be the new Chief Justice. Even an appealate judge with, say, 10 or more years of experience would also be acceptable as a Chief Justice. Roberts has what it takes to be a justice. But to be head of the judicial branch in America, one should have a bit more experience at the federal level. John Edwards had more federal-level experience to be president than Roberts does to be Chief Justice! The office of Chief Justice should be held to a higher standard than this.



Failures All Too Human...


And now, time to address the elephant in the room here: the response to hurricane Katrina. Some people say that we shouldn't cast judgement or blame for the response to Katrina, but finding out what failures occured, be they those of individuals (and hence, relatively easy to change) or of institutions (much harder to change), is essential to preventing those failures from recurring. What we saw with Katrina was a product of failures at every level of government.

Of course, the fact remains that it was a disaster of almost biblical proportions. The National Hurricane Center claims that the storm was a Cat 4 at landfall in Louisiana with 140 mph winds and a Cat 3 with winds of 125 when it made landfall along the Mississippi coast. Judging from what I've seen in the media of the total devastation along the Mississippi coast, I find it hard to believe a Cat 3 did that. How could a storm equivalent to Fran cause Andrew-level devastation? I think ultimately, based on the level of destruction it caused, Katrina's strength will ultimately be revised to Cat 5 at initial landfall, just as Andrew was a decade after the fact. Americans are not immune from such megadisasters, I said in my last post. The scary thing is that Katrina could have been far worse. Had it not made that 11th swing to the east, had it not inexplicably weakened at the last minute.... there might not have been anything left of New Orleans to flood when the levees broke. However, despite the storm's natural origin, this disaster was compounded by failures all too human.

First, there was the local response. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, waited until less than 24 hours before landfall of what was then a Category 5 hurricane before ordering a mandatory evacution of a city below sea level. When a Category 3 storm is heading for a city below sea level, that's when you evacuate. When it reaches Cat 5, that's when you evacuate everyone within 100 miles of the coast. There is no excuse for such belated action.

After the fact, there was a mad scramble among politicians to cover their asses. It began a couple of days after landfall when I caught Missisippi Governor Haley Barbour on CNN arguing that he had little warning of the zephyr that devasted his state. His argument was to the effect of "Katrina was a Cat 1 when it hit Florida on Friday. It became a Cat 5 early Sunday morning. We had almost no warning." Of course, he had far more warning than that. Katrina made landfall in Florida on Thursday, August 25, not Friday. Friday, August 26 was the first day the forecast path for Katrina put New Orleans and the Mississippi coast firmly its track. Also early that Friday, due to the warm water temperatures Katrina was about to move over in the Gulf, forecasters predicted that the storm would make landfall Monday as a Cat 4 storm along the Louisiana/Mississippi coast--exactly what happened. The forecasters called it right and called it early, giving the Gulf Coast more than three days warning, despite Barbour's protestations to the contrary.

Also under the category of historical revisionism: Bush's comment on September 1 that, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." That's funny. All I saw on CNN in the days before landfall was how there could be massive loss of life in New Orleans because the levees would fail in a Cat 3 storm or greater, according to the Army Corp of Engineers. I even saw an emergency planner for New Orleans parish on CNN two days before landfall saying that there could be up to 40,000 casualties due to flooding if a Cat 4 hit the city. New Orleans' local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, did an extensive series last year in which they examined exactly what would happen when the levees failed in a major hurricane. I saw a special on the Weather Channel about 4 or 5 years ago in which they showed how there could be catastrophic loss of life in New Orleans if a major hurricane hit the area. That just skims the top of the iceberg of the publicly-available knowledge out there. With the possible exception of "The Big One" on the San Andreas Fault, this was the most anticipated natural disaster in American history. There is simply no excuse for ignorance. Like Condolezza Rice's contention that no one could have predicted 9/11, this one fails to hold any water (again, no pun intended).

The failures on 8/29 were across the board. Katrina was one of those moments of crisis that show what men are made of, that remove the mask people wear and expose their true nature to the world. The most obvious example is, of course, the rampant looting and gang violence that broke out in New Orleans after landfall. More shocking still was the desertion of almost a third of New Orleans police officers. Contrast that with the response of the NYPD officers who rushed into the burning World Trade Centers to help get people out. If the plight of the elderly who were abandoned in their nursing homes and died from the flood waters, the wind, or simply days of heat and no water doesn't jar the conscience of all good Americans, nothing will.

Most appalling of all is the fact that the evacuation plans for N.O. had no provision for getting people out who were too poor to own a car and who rode public transportation. In a major city with a good mass transit system like New Orleans, it is far from uncommon for people to not have a car. Thus 100,000 people stayed in New Orleans, most of them apparently because they had no way to heed the evac orders. If anything good comes out of this, it will be to increase the visibility of the truly invisible in our society, the poor. A community--or a nation--that condemns poor people to fend for themselves in a major storm while the rich and middle class have a way to evacuate is little different from the crew on the Titanic who held the third-class passengers below decks to allow the first-class passengers to escape in the lifeboats.

There were also failures at the state level, though I'm not aware of any especially greivous ones. The only thing I know of is that Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin have a long history of feuding, going back to Nagin's endorsement of Blanco's opponent in last year's election. This probably impeded the recovery effort, as state, local, and federal officials spent too much time squabbling among themselves over division of responsibility and too little doing all they could to provide aid.

Ultimately the federal role is the most crucial one. Louisiana's budget for the current fiscal year is about $14 billion, far less than the amount Congress has already appropriated for hurricane relief in that state. As the feds simply have a greater ability to help, they should shoulder the greatest part of the burden. It also helps that, unlike state governments, the federal government is not required to balance its budget each year, so it can go into deficit spending when disaster strikes.

Of course, as we already have a massive national deficit, it would be better to raise taxes to pay for it rather than go further into the red. Polls have shown that a majority of Americans are willing to accept paying higher taxes to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. But, as after 9/11, when Americans were willing to answer a call for sacrifice, the President has rushed to reassure us that we will be able to pay for the recovery without raising taxes--by trimming spending. What items in the budget bill Bush just signed will get the presidential axe in the aftermath of Katrina? The $231 million to build a bridge to an uninhabited island in Alaska? That particular bit of pork somehow sneaked into the bill, though it might have something to do with senior Appropriations Committee member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska or chairman of the House Transportation Committee Don Young, R-Alaska. Perhaps now might be a good time for Bush to revisit his decision to reduce the $105 million the Army Corp of Engineers asked for last year to fund programs for flood and hurricane relief in New Orleans to a mere $40 million. Reminds me of the cut to the FBI's counterterrorism budget John Ashcroft recommended on September 10, 2001. I know hindsight is 20/20, but is it really that much to ask that our leaders have at least some foresight and be proactive rather than reactive?

Most grievous of all has been FEMA's response. By now, everyone is familiar with the bungles in FEMA's response, such as preventing Wal-Mart trucks from delivering aid to the effected areas, an unaccountably late start to the relief efforts, and the lack of food-drops or airlifts, which has been done after previous disasters to get food into hard-to-reach areas with great success. Then-FEMA director Michael Brown waited until 5 hours before landfall before suggeting dispatching 1000 federal employees to the scene. Foreign aid was delayed for days by FEMA. The U.S.S Bataan, with a half-dozen operating rooms, 600 beds and 1,200 sailors, was kept idling off the coast for days, while hundreds of people died. My favorite FEMA horror story involves the more than 600 firefighters from across the nation who came to Atlanta at FEMA's behest to help out Katrina victims. They spent an entire day in a seminar on sexual harassment, while people were dying in the streets of New Orleans. Finally, they were told the true nature of their mission: to pass out FEMA pamphlets with a toll-free number to call if victims needed actual help.

Perhaps this was inevitable. A major problem hampering FEMA is the fact that it has been subsumed into a vast bureacracy, the Department of Homeland Security. I thought this was a mistake from the get-go. Too many disparate agencies were combined here. True, the Coast Guard does have an anti-terrorism "homeland security" role. Yet, just as important are its roles fighting smugglers, poachers, drug runners, and deterring small Cuban children from swimming to Florida. (Won't someone please think of the children?) One can't help but feel that the effectiveness of these two agencies has suffered from incorporation into DHS. DHS's almost sole focus has been fighting terrorism. That's why it was created. FEMA (and probably the Coast Guard as well) should be returned to its former status as an independent cabinet-level agency.

Yet, it seems apparent that the biggest problems in FEMA predate the creation of DHS. In 2001, Bush chose Joseph Allbaugh, his campaign manager, to be the head of FEMA, and Michael Brown to be his deputy. Upon Allbaugh's retirement, Bush appointed Brown to replace him. Why? At the time, Brown was sold as having been "Assistant City Manager with authority over emergency response issues" in a small town in Oklahoma. It turns out that Brown, a college student at the time, was merely an assistant to the city manager, an intern with no authority over anyone, according to Time Magazine. Brown was also introduced to the public back in 2001 as the head of the International Arabian Horse Association, supposedly an institution affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Committee, according to the White House. What relevance Arabian horses could possibly have to emergency management is anyone's guess. But it gets worse. First, the association apparently was never affiliated with the International Olympic Committee. Second, Brown ran the organization into the ground, forcing it to merge with another group to stay solvent. Time uncovered other "padding" (read "fabrications") in Brown's resume, from his being a political science professor (he was just a student) to being director of a nursing home since 1983(they say they've never heard of him). Seriously, is it really that easy to get a job with this White House? The fact that Allbaugh and Brown were college roommates probably provides the answer to why he was hired in the first place, though if anyone else has a more convincing explanation (or any other explanation at all), I'll take it.

By contrast, Clinton chose as his FEMA head, James Lee Witt, a veteran emergency management official, who turned FEMA into the world's leading emergency management agency. Also, the head of FEMA had a spot on the cabinet, a spot it lost (along with the EPA head) when Bush came to office.

With all this cronyism going on at the top (a number of other top FEMA officials have also been found to have had no disaster experience prior to being hired), one wonders what effect this might have on morale among FEMA's rank and file. Turns out morale is miserable and many experienced professionals have left. Due to the brain drain at FEMA, 3 of the 5 people in charge of disaster preparedness and 9 of the 10 regional directors are only in provisional "acting" positions.

This is symptomatic of the Bush administration since Day 1. John DiIulio, Bush's former head of the faith based initiatives office and the first high-level official to leave his administration has said, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm."

DiIulio's claim has certainly been borne out. When the EPA was about to release a report on the impact global warming was going to have on human health, an appointed political hack at the top of the chain of command watered it down to almost nothing, questioning the validity of global warming (which the EPA's scientists had not done). This was bad science and bad public policy, but good news for Big Oil and other big contributors to the Bush campaign. For a time, women visiting the National Cancer Institute's webpage could read of the horrifying study that proved a causal link between abortions and breast cancer. Of course, this was complete nonsense, but a welcome payback to the constituency that always turns out in the largest numbers for Bush, the Religious Right. I could give many other examples, but the fact remains: political considerations play a far-greater role in determining policy decisions in this White House than in any previous one. And, as Katrina showed with such devastating effect, when politics trumps sound policy, we all lose, and some inevitably lose their lives.

Priorities

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."
-Barbara Bush

I'll close by examining the reactions of senior members of the Bush administration to Katrina. The sentiments expressed by the president's mother speak for themselves; to say more would be too akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
Katrina struck while Bush was on vacation. (Why is it these things always happen when he's on vacation?) It took several days for Bush to wrap up his vacation and get back to Washington after Katrina struck. At first he merely continued on with agenda, mentioning Katrina in passing in one speech, then spending the better part of an hour talking about Social Security reform and Iraq. One of his aids had to compile a DVD of news clips of the disaster unfolding in New Orleans to spur him into action more than 4 days after Katrina made landfall. True, he has made a number of visits to New Orleans since, but compared with his inspiring speech in the ruins of the WTC right after 9/11, it seems like too little, too late.

One Bush photo-op was at a levee in New Orleans in front of what appeared to be heavy machinery and workers hard at work on repairing the levee. The next morning, Lousiana Senator Mary Landrieu flew over the area and saw that all the machinery and workers had been moved--all props for a president more interested in seeming effective than in being effective. His staged photo-ops contrasted with the relief efforts of his 2000 opponent Al Gore, who chartered two jets with his own money to fly refugees to his home state of Tennesee, hacking through a mammoth amount of FEMA red-tape to do so.

In a particulary Marie Antoinette moment, Condolezza Rice was shopping for shoes in New York City and watching Broadway plays on Thursday, 4 days after landfall. Only the concerted efforts of bloggers created enough public pressure to force our National Security Advisor to do her job. At least Condi beat the U.S. Senate's return from summer recess. The Senators were not called back to D.C. until Friday, 5 days after landfall. One can't help but contrast Congress's belated return to Washington for Katrina victims with the speed which these same senators showed in arriving back in D.C. from recess, late on a Sunday night to petition a judge to reconsider his decision in the Terry Schiavo case--a decision he had issued just a few hours earlier. A few hours for a politically-convenient photo-op on behalf of one woman, 5 days for millions of Katrina refugees. What that tells us about the GOP-led Congress's priorities is positively chilling.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Mother of All Storms

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


I am, as I have confessed here before, a hurricane junkie. It is one of my little obsessions, probably owing to the fact that one of my earliest childhood memories is of Hurricane Hugo roaring through the Piedmont. Even when a hurricane makes landfall on the North Carolina coast typically the storm has to travel over more than 200 miles of steadily rising land to reach Greensboro, by which point it is a mere tropical storm, good for maybe a day out of school, but not much more. Hugo, by contrast, came in by way of South Carolina and snuck into the Triad from the south, along an easier road. Thus it still posessed hurricane force winds well into the Piedmont. I remember rain and wind, a tree branch banging on my window, glass shattering. It was so long ago that it almost seems a dream.

A few days later, visiting my aunt at her home in the still mostly-undeveloped Adams Farm area, I saw a hole in the ground where I remembered a tree had been. I found the tree in question, one so big an adult coudn't fit their arms around it, at least a quarter mile away. The winds had been so powerful that they had ripped the massive tree out of the ground and thrown it like a matchstick. That strange fascination with hurricanes has stayed with me in every hurricane season since.

Hugo was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall near Charleston. Last night, when I went to bed, Katrina was a mere Category 3 with winds of 115 mph. The forecasters explained that, as it moved over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it would probably be a Cat 4 by landfall. Imagine my surprise this morning when I turned on the Weather Channel and heard that Katrina was a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph. 175 mph! Category 5! Only three Cat 5s hit the U.S. in the 20th century, and none had winds that high. Though the winds have come down slightly since, to "only" 160 mph, this is still the most powerful hurricane ever to make landfall in the U.S. since we started keeping records. Naturally, it is headed for the worst-possible location (or rather the place where it could do the most damage), New Orleans, a city an average of 6 feet below sea level, surrounded on three sides by water.

The emergency mangagement official for the county New Orleans is in (I'm too lazy to look it up) said yesterday that if a Cat 4 made landfall in New Orleans, we could see up to 40,000 deaths. Even though I'm skeptical of that estimate, the fact remains that we have been exceptionally lucky in recent years. Last year's Hurricane Jeanne killed more than 1,500 people in Haiti. Hurricane Mitch, another Cat 5, killed more than 10,000 in Central America in 1998. The great Cat 4 Galveston hurricane that devastated that Texas city in 1900 killed more than 8,000 people. (Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm is an excellent account of the disaster that reads like first-class fiction, for those who are interested in learning more.)

We've been lucky recently. We've conditioned ourselves to believe that it can't happen here, that hurricanes are minor nuisances, more of an erosion hassle than anything else. As more and more people from other sections of the country move to the Southern coast, the odds that inexperiened people will decide to stick it out in a bad storm increase. If deaths have been relatively low during the last half-century or so, it would be unreasonable to expect that to continue for another half-century. If the most powerful storms on Earth have tended to steer clear of our major cities recently, only a fool would expect that state of affairs to continue. It is not a pleasant thought that Nature does not bend over backwards to accomodate us, that if we get in it's way, we will not get the upper hand. Catastrophes like Katrina are the price we pay for residing on this pale blue dot we call "Earth."

The mayor of New Orleans declared a mandatory evacuation of the city this morning. Yet, as I watch on TV, thousands of cars are still stuck in bumper to bumper traffic heading north. It seems impossible that everyone will be able to get out of harm's way; especially as harm's way has a tendency to move at speeds up to 25 miles an hour on a front more than 200 miles across. More than 10,000 people are said to be waiting out the storm at the Superdome, a designated "safe area." As if any area could be considered safe against winds of 160 mph! This has too much of a "Titanic" vibe. I have an awful sense of forboding about all this....

New Orleans is a city rich with culture and historical meaning. It would be a tragedy almost beyond reckoning if the New Orleans of riverboat gamblers, Mark Twain, and Louis Armstrong were to come to a crashing end tomorrow morning.

Watching the satellite footage of the monster approaching is truly disturbing. To be able to see a God's-eye view, in nice, crisp colors, of the buzz-saw of a hurricane heading for a major metropolitian area, to see disaster approaching and know that there is absolutely nothing you or anyone else can do to avert it: it almost makes one long for the days before satellites, where the first indication of a hurricane was when the winds started to blow. It gives you less time to prepare and evacuate, true (though this storm never gave New Orleans enough time to be fully evacuated, anyway). But to be cursed to be an impotent God strikes me as a worse fate. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

2:23 AM Update: Brendan Loy is staying up all night hurricane-blogging. His site is worth reading for blow-by-blow coverage of the storm. I'm going to try to catch a couple of hours' sleep. I do have classes tomorrow, after all. May God protect the peoeple of the Gulf Coast.

8:50 AM Update: Katrina made landfall at the mouth of the Missisippi as a Cat 4 hurricane with winds of only 145 mph. CNN says at least one levy in New Orleans has failed and flooding is occuring in the city. Oh, and the Superdome is now leaking and the roof is peeling off it, according to CNN. I hate to say I told you so....

5:00 PM Update 8/30: Well, CNN and the BBC are reporting that 80% of New Orleans is under water, in some places up to the rooftops, because two dams have failed. There are at least 54 dead in one county in Mississippi and the toll is expected to raise, possibly into the hundreds. No word yet on casualities in New Orleans, though according to the BBC, "an unknown number of bodies were seen floating in the flood waters of New Orleans.... The American Red Cross has mobilised thousands of volunteers for its biggest-ever natural disaster effort and federal emergency teams are being dispatched to affected areas. Damage estimates of more than $25 billion suggest it could be the US insurance industry's most expensive natural disaster ever."

What bothers me most about all this is the cavalier attitude the media adopted as soon as it became apparent that Katrina was no longer a Cat 5 and that the strongest part of the storm would not hit New Orleans. They immediately started downplaying the danger the hurricane still posed, filling people in it's path along coastal Mississippi and Alabama with a false hope. "Well, it looks like a ray of sunshine for the Gulf." "Things could certainly have turned out a lot worse." I wonder if we'll ever know if their complacency caused anyone to let down their guard and take chances that got them killed.

A final thought: Last night driving home from work, I saw that the price of unleaded at the pump was holding steady at $2.49, as it had for almost a week. Today, the same stations have raised the price to $2.69. A one-day jump of 20 cents at the pump, up to a record high of more than $70 a barrel, due to all the oil production and refinement along the Gulf being shut down.... Sure, it could have been a lot worse. But also certainly could have been a lot better!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Stand back..... or I will blow you up with my condom gun?

By: Ed


Well, planned parenthood golden gate chapter has released a cartoon on choice. Of course I was utterly shocked when I saw how one sided it was. *Sarcasm detector beeps twice*

I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the gross neglect of fact (at least not to this extent) and lack of tact this had.

Click on "Meet PPGG's superhero for choice"

The cartoon starts out with Diana turning into the pro-choice superhero Dionysus (It is apt for them to use a pagan god). Suddenly she comes upon some, apparently high school, students being coaxed into abstinence. Of course the children are prepared for this bad version of a cartoon villains arguments against sex. In response to his crude arguments for abstinence only to prevent pregnancy and std's they say "Well we have contraception and I'm not planning to get an std."

I would love to see the office where that gets planned.
"Well Mr. Johnson we have you down for a 6 o'clock herpes on tuesday"
"Ooo.. um... thats not really good for me. Can I get a 10 o'clock HIV infection Friday?"
"Sure I'll just pencil you in"

Apparently the children still needed Dionysus with their steel trap minds though and so she comes and drowns the abstinence promoter in a trash can of lube. Next we go to an anti-abortion picket line, but not before Dionysus gives the three children a safe sex kit. "Go on now kids and have a good safe orgy."

"Pray for thy sins" is written on picket signs during the next part as these zombie-like protesters come closer and closer to Dionysus. She is careful to point out how they have a right to be there because of our constitution right before she blows the peaceful (though monster looking) protesters up with her condom gun.

Whats next? Why capital hill of course, where a conservative senator is cooking a stew with the Constitution, Bill of Rights and judgement in Roe v. Wade. After a quick cleansing in the stew though the senator decides he was wrong (this was all the stew, not that he was naked on a platter held up by a super hero taking her name from a pagan god).

The whole thing just digsuted me, but I wanted everyone to see it so click the link and let me know what you think.


Ed

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Unnecessary Bomb

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


It was 8:15 during the rush hour commute in the heart of downtown when the bomb exploded. The plot had been years in the making; the bomb designed for maximum casualities. The intended target had been a major bridge over the river; instead, a hospital was at the epicenter of the inferno. In a flash, thousands of people disappeared, shadows on walls all that remained to show that they had ever existed. The culprits themselves escaped in their plane, a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay. Sixty years after the terrorist attack, the survivors of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, have still not recovered.

"But wait a minute," you say. "Hiroshima wasn't a terrorist attack. Even if it was immoral, it ended the war, preempting a bloody invasion of the Japanese Home Islands and, thus, saved more lives than it killed."

That's the standard American excuse for Hiroshima. I learned it in school and believed it for a number of years. Unfortunately it is dead wrong on both counts. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago was not only immoral, not only an act of state-sponsored terrorism, it was also unnecessary. The latter may be the greatest tragedy of all.


The Thin Line


If you'll recall, this issue came up in an earlier post about terrorism. The best definition of terrorism that I can come up with is "an attack on civilian non-military targets," with war being "an attack on military targets." (I'm open to any other distinction between terrorism and legitimate wartime actions.)

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were primarily civilian targets. Each city had tens of thousands of civilian residents and comparatively little military value. The strategy in attacking these civilian targets was to wear down the resolve of the civilian population to continue to support their government's aggression. Make life miserable enough for the common people and they will tire of war. If that rationale sounds familiar, it was the same motive of the 9/11 hijackers and Eric Rudolph.

So, how did it get to the point where the U.S. targeted civilians in wartime? You have to understand the American psyche after Pearl Harbor. Government propaganda of the time portrayed the "Jap" as a sinister type of ape, not even human at all. This often happens in wars: the enemy is "dehumanized", "otherized", (the utlanning is transformed into the varelse, so to speek) so that it is not immoral to do unspeakably bad things to them. As Montesque observed about slaves, "It is impossible to suppose these to be men, for if we suppose them to be men, the suspicion would naturally follow that we ourselves are not Christian." Therefore, they can't really be men.

Remember also what every propaganda poster proclaimed: not "The only good Japanese soldier is a dead one," but "The only good Jap's a dead Jap." "Stay on the job until every Murdering Jap is wiped out!"Not to mention the ever-popular sub-human ravishing a chaste white woman posters. There is no underestimating the effect this kind of thinking had on Americans in the military as well as in Washington.

Add to this Imperial Japan's well-deserved reputation for atrocity (Google up "Rape of Nanking" or "Bataan Death March" for an eye-opening look at how the Japanese treated their defeated foes) and it is indeed not surprising that the military and political leadership had no qualms about targeting Japanese civilians. While no war is entirely a matter of good versus evil, most historians agree that the Axis forces were certainly far worse than the Allies.

Britain and the U.S. started bombing explicitly civilian targets fairly late in the war. By early 1945, residents of Dresden felt safe. Their city had no military value, no defenses to speak of, and had not been seriously attacked thus far in the war. Dresden was the cultural and artistic center of eastern Germany, a city swelled to overfilling with panicked refugees. Most of the city's inhabitants were civilians (the elderly, women and children), concentration camp inmates, and Allied POWs. The rumor that the allies intended to make Dresden Germany's post-war capital contributed to the calm--a calm which was shattered on the night of February 13, 1945 when British bombers dropped "incediaries" on Dresden. The city turned into an inferno as fires consumed most of the city at a cost of at least 25,000 civilian casualities. Kinda makes 9/11 look like the work of amateurs.

The next month, March 1945, saw the world's first major employment of napalm, as American bombers incinerated a quarter of Tokyo. As most of the buildings were wooden, they didn't stand a chance. The firestorm raged for days, completely destroying 15 square miles of Tokyo real estate and killing well over 100,000 civilians. Tokyo had military forces, to be sure, but a far greater number of civilians.

So, when the time came to decide where to drop the atom bombs in Japan, there was no discussion of sparing civilians. That moral line had already been crossed long before. The atomic bomb was simply viewed as acheiving what was acheived at Dresden and Tokyo with only one bomb, rather than thousands. More efficient. Less risk to American pilots. A win-win situation for everyone. Except the Japanese civilians. But they had already been factored out of the equation.

The grim truth is that the war was effectively over before the atomic bombs were dropped. As Doug Long [in italics throughout] reveals, "When Air Force chief General Hap Arnold asked in June 1945 when the war was going to end, the commander of the B-29 raids, General Curtis LeMay, told him September or October 1945, because by then they would have run out of industrial targets to bomb." Think about that for a moment: by September or October the Japanese would no longer have an industrial base. Without an industrial base, they could not continue to fight the war.

"While Japan was being bombarded from the sky, a naval blockade was strangling Japan's ability to import oil and other vital materials and its ability to produce war materials.
Admiral William Leahy, the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and then to President Truman, wrote, 'By the beginning of September [1944], Japan was almost completely defeated through a practically complete sea and air blockade.' Then in May of 1945 the surrender of Germany freed the Allies to focus their troops and resources on defeating the final enemy, Japan." The handwriting was on the wall. Japan's defeat was imminent. No invasion of Japan, with possibly hundreds of thousands of American casualities, would be necessary after all. Admiral Chester Nimitz and other military leaders were adamant that Japan was effectively beaten and that the atomic bombs were pointless.

So, why did Japan wait until mid-August to surrender? The Potsdam agreement, broadcast around the world, stated that the policy of the Allied forces remained to only accept Japan's "unconditional surrender". The Japanese interpreted this to mean they would not be allowed to keep their emperor, whom they worshipped as a god. Japanese Foreign Minister Togo stated in a July 12, 1945 message to Japan's ambassador in Russia that "as long as America and England insist on unconditional surrender, our country has no alternative but to see it through in an all-out effort".

Due to the advanced codecracking capabilities of the U.S., a translation of this telegram was on Truman's desk soon thereafter. Thus, the Americans knew that the Japanese were really just fighting to keep their emperor. If Truman really wanted to end the war early, he would have done it now. But allowing the Japanese to keep their emperor would have meant something less than complete "unconditional surrender." It would have stipulated a condition. Ever since Pearl Harbor, the emperor of Japan had been made out to be the mastermind of all of Japan's aggressions, the byzantine nature of Japanese cabinet and military politics not being as well known then as today. Today we know that when Hirohito finally told his cabinet to accept the Allied terms for surrender, he was overturning all precedent, as the emperor was merely supposed to rubber-stamp the actions of the cabinet. Unfortunately, at the time, Hirohito was viewed in much the same way as Mussolini or Hitler. We hadn't granted those thugs immunity. The American people wouldn't stand for allowing Hirohito to remain in power.

So, to review: 1) the Japanese were willing to surrender before Hiroshima if they could be allowed to keep their emperor, 2) the Allies knew this, but decided to bomb to force "unconditional surrender", 3) the Japanese surrendered after the bombings, but on condition of being allowed to keep their emperor, 4) the Allies had no more nuclear weapons at this point so they wisely decided not to press the point and accepted Japan's "unconditional surrender."

Huh? Maybe I'm missing something here, but the atomic bombings don't seem to have accomplished much of anything beyond killing a lot of Japanese civilians (plus 22 American POWs at a camp in Hiroshima).

There may have been additional reasons for dropping the bombs. Perhaps Truman decided to drop the bombs to intimidate the Russians or stop them from overrunning Japan (though, much like the Germans had a few months earlier, the Japanese would surely have preferred to surrender to the Americans rather the Russians, so they probably would have surrendered before the Russians defeated them. Indeed the Russian entry into the war was so contemporaneous with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is difficult to tell which was the deciding factor in Japan's surrender.)

In the end, only two things seem clear: dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was immoral and unnecessary. It killed far more lives than it saved and Japan surrendered after Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the exact same terms it was willing to before those bombings. That is the sad legacy of Hiroshima: that thousands more people died needlessly in the last chapter of the bloodiest war in the annals of history.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Culture of Organized Panic

By: Michael Akerman


Bombings in a crowded mass transit system; an innocent man gunned down in front of stunned bystanders; discrimination based on income, race, and religion; ultimately, a conscious decision to become evil in an effort to fight evil.

This is a familiar pattern: it sounds, to the uninformed, like something out of one of the despotic theocracies of the Middle East. The system has spiraled in such a way in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, and every other tyranny that has stained the face of this globe. But this is not happening in a dictatorship, this time (or, at least, not as we've known dictatorships to be). No, this is happening in the country with perhaps the closest ties to America, the fatherland of our heritage, and our closest ally. This is happening in a bastion of culture and civilization, a nation that prides itself on its calm rationality and impressive civility, even (or perhaps especially) compared to the United States. It's happening in the United Kingdom.

I wonder often at the tenacity of human social systems when sudden catastrophe so easily causes a shift to reactions of fear and hate. A few days ago, London plain-clothes police officers shot a Brazilian man, who they suspected of being linked to the recent Tube bombings, eight times in the head in front of the stunned eyes of the commuters on the subway. It turns out that man was entirely innocent, guilty only of living in the same apartment complex as a terrorist and getting on a subway. Yet, I'm utterly surprised by the lack of outcry, at least on this side of the pond. There's an inquiry into the "incident," of course, but I've heard nothing that indicates the officers responsible have been stripped of their badges pending the investigation.

It's odd, I think, that this happened in Britain. Their police officers don't generally carry guns: it occurs that maybe they simply weren't used to the restraint a gun requires. At any rate, this is more heinous than most anything you hear of in America (from the police, anyway). When was the last time you heard of someone, who was not confronting the police with a weapon, being gunned down in the street, without a trial, merely on suspicion of being associated with terrorism? I can't recall an incident.

Still, people seem to take it in stride. I think it's despicable. The justification is that the only way to deal with a terrorist is to take his life with a kill shot to the head. That manner of thinking is entirely backwards: to break Godwin's law, though bear with me because my point is valid, Hitler thought that way about the Jews. They're ruining the country and we have to kill them. Anyone we suspect of it is just as guilty. I'm right, you're wrong, shut up.

The police have a duty to protect innocent lives, and they failed utterly. Instead, they have run directly counter to their commitment and taken one, without a trial, without hesitation, without a thought. I'm amazed that no one tried any of the dozens of less-than-lethal methods of taking this fellow down. One wonders why one of the officers didn't simply shoot him in the leg before he reached the subway, and accosted him forthwith. No, they decided it would behoove them to shoot to kill, as the first choice. Soldiers in Iraq don't do this at checkpoints when a car is speeding toward them, if you'll recall the case regarding that Italian journalist!

It's a sad time when we have to live in fear that we will be gunned down merely for wearing a coat and walking out of an apartment building where a terrorist might possibly live. I'm glad I don't live in London.

To be fair, the man who was gunned down (I neither feel like looking up his name, nor do I think it important to my point) apparently ran from the cops. Let me remind you, though, that we're talking about several plain-clothes officers in a subway, waving guns toward you. It's not illogical that one's first thought would be that you are about to be mugged, or that you were standing next to the terrorist, possibly armed with a bomb, that they are pointing the guns at. Wouldn't you run?




San Andreas and the Sims 2



Back in America, we still haven't gotten over the culture of fear, and it's still effecting us in myriad inane ways.

To recap,

Ol' Mrs. Clinton was a merry ol' soul
Who rode on the tails of her hubbie.
She called for a look at a game that took
The morals of the land and made them grubby.

That is to say (considering that that poem was not up to par with most of my poetry), Hillary thought it wise to open an investigation into the Hot Coffee mod for GTA: San Andreas, which unlocked a sex-based minigame. This resulted in an industry first: a revocation of a game's ESRB rating, and a new rating based on mod content. I find this inane on a number of fronts:

  • Hillary is supposedly running as a Democrat. I ask: who is going to be annoyed most by this investigation? Certainly not the moral Republicans, most of whom will support the change, even though it only increases the purchasing age by one year (that is, Mature [17+] to Adults Only [18+]), sheerly because morals are good, thus sex is bad. I don't personally agree, by the way, but that's neither here nor there, so to speak.

  • The game is already GTA: San Andreas. I think that's self-explanatory.

  • The content must be unlocked through modification or otherwise "hacking" the game. Don't you think it's easier for people to Google up a porn site?


Besides, this is a dangerous road. This ruling effectively opens up the danger of every game being rated, and thus designed, based on what mods may come to it. What does that mean to you, the consumer?

Let's take Jack Thompson for instance. He's a lawyer in Miami who specializes in suing the pants off of game developers when someone who played GTA kills someone else. That is to say, he's basically a con artist.

Mr. Thompson, it seems, has extended his crusade to the Sims 2, which is one of the most wholesome games ever. The reason: according to Mr. Thompson, you can remove the censorship blur from the naked sims (which is true), thus opening up the realm of visible naked bodies in all their glory, including nipples, genitalia, etc. That's not actually true, of course. While you can remove the blur, it is something akin to a Barbie doll. The closest to naked you can get is an odd, malformed creature with no sexual details. Just the general shape of a human body.

Someone has, luckily, informed Mr. Thompson of this, yet he stands by his challenge. This is where it gets dangerous, folks. He's changed his crusade against the Sims 2 to include the various modded naked skins, which are, indeed, rendered in highly sexually explicit detail. I have not bothered to look at them, and I won't post a link to a site that has them, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this claim.

The danger in this is that every game is moddable, bar none. I guarantee you, with money or time, I can change any game to include naked bodies. So, if this trend continues, game developers will have to make their games unmoddable, or face litigation. Otherwise, legislation can police the modding community, putting yet another damper on our free expression and the creation of ideas.

It's the culture of fear, folks. It's organized panic. We're all going to die; please stay calm.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman