Archive for December, 2008

Shoot First, Leap Second

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Since nearly every sensible government views Hamas as a terrorist organization, I was glad to see that Israel rejected France’s proposed cease-fire. Whenever there is a flare-up there involving Israel, I am entertained by the various entreaties for peace, truce, etc. Today’s entertainment is courtesy of Julia Chaitin, a senior lecturer at the Sapir Academic College. Sapir is located near Sderot, Israel, and would be easily within the range of the Qassam rockets launched from Gaza. Chaitin writes an opinion piece in today’s Washington Post titled Darkness in Qassam-Land. It is the kind of piece that one might expect from someone that holds the title of program developer of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. That sounds like real job security, right there.

Ms. Chaitin writes

This war is wrong. It is wrong because it cannot achieve its manifest goals — long-term “normal” life for the residents of the Negev region.

How do we know that it will not achieve the goals? And what is “normal” for the Negev region, anyway?

The war is morally wrong because most of the victims are Palestinian and Israeli civilians whose only “crime” is that they live in Negev or Gaza.

Most of the victims? Certainly the small number of victims in Israel are all civilians because Hamas targets civilians. But the victims in Gaza are nowhere near mostly civilians. It is certainly the case that Hamas has a morals problem because they operate from mosques and other facilities that are literally next to the homes of civilians. Thankfully, Israel employs precision guided munitions or the civilian victims would certainly be greater. And if the civilians of Gaza were responsible for elevating Hamas to power, maybe there is a cautionary object lesson here?

This war is wrong because it is not heading toward a viable solution of the conflict but is instead creating more hatred and greater determination on the part of both peoples to harm one another.

How can anyone with a shred of intelligence suggest that one should not protect oneself against an aggressor because such action would lead to more hatred by the aggressor? Ms. Chaitin should review the Hamas Covenant of 1988.

Hey, It Passed Spellcheck!

Hey, It Passed Spellcheck!

It is wrong because it is leading to stronger feelings that we have nothing to lose by striking further, with greater force.

Stronger feelings? Striking further? Greater force? Um, Ms. Chaitin, that ship has sailed. Don’t you know that Hamas continues to produce new versions of the Qassam rocket, with increased range? And that Hamas now imports the Iranian-made Grad and Fajr rockets with even greater ranges? The Grad and Fajr rockets, by the way, are smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt…the same tunnels that Israel intends to close.

This war is wrong because, even before the last smoke rises from the rubble and the last ambulance carries the dead and wounded to hospitals, our leaders will find themselves signing a new agreement for a cease-fire.

I doubt that any agreement will be signed any time soon. But suppose one were signed soon. What makes it wrong? I would suggest that the war is a success if it merely offers a lesson to Hamas and its supporters that there are consequences to aggressive actions. Far too often, in Israel and elsewhere, there are no consequences. For example, there could have been significant, punishing retaliation for any one of Qassam attacks this year. I think Israel shows remarkable restraint.

Qassam Rockets

Qassam Rockets

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

I agree that the Israel-Palestine conflict will not end with the end of this action by Israel. But I don’t believe that this is actually the goal of Israel in carrying out the action. Certainly, any notion that peace can only come with negotiation with Hamas is a pipe dream; a quick review of the Covenant would show that. As I have said before, there is no reason to feel devastated that a more moderate party was not elected by the Palestinians. Maybe the electorate will remember that elections have consequences the next time they are given a choice.

Earlier today, we were treated to an additional second of time. At 6:59:59 p.m., the clock had to wait two seconds before striking 7:00:00 p.m. I hope that Julia Chaitin put that “leap second” to good use. But if I had to guess, I would say that Ms. Chaitin was probably asleep at that time, dreaming.

Cohen Head

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Today’s Washington Post had an op-ed piece by the inestimable Richard Cohen tagged Reading Into Bush’s Book List. Cohen riffs off of a recent piece by Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal. In the WSJ piece, Rove provides insight into Bush’s reading habits and describes the book-reading competition that the two have waged each year for the past three years. The competition is simple. The winner is the one that reads the greater number of books. Rove won the 2006 competition by a final score of 110 to 95. According to Rove

Bush’s 2006 reading list shows his literary tastes. The nonfiction ran from biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, King Leopold, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, LBJ and Genghis Khan to Andrew Roberts’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900,” James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt,” and Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower.” Besides eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, Mr. Bush tackled Michael Crichton’s “Next,” Vince Flynn’s “Executive Power,” Stephen Hunter’s “Point of Impact,” and Albert Camus’s “The Stranger,” among others.

Fifty-eight of the books he read that year were nonfiction. Nearly half of his 2006 reading was history and biography, with another eight volumes on current events (mostly the Mideast) and six on sports.

In 2007, Rove prevailed 76 to 51. Again, according to Rove

His list was particularly wide-ranging that year, from history (“The Great Upheaval” and “Khrushchev’s Cold War”), biographical (Dean Acheson and Andrew Mellon), and current affairs (including “Rogue Regime” and “The Shia Revival”). He read one book meant for young adults, his daughter Jenna’s excellent “Ana’s Story.”

In 2008, as of the date of the article, Rove was ahead 64 to 40. According to Rove

His reading this year included a heavy dose of history — including David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter,” Rick Atkinson’s “Day of Battle,” Hugh Thomas’s “Spanish Civil War,” Stephen W. Sears’s “Gettysburg” and David King’s “Vienna 1814.” There’s also plenty of biography — including U.S. Grant’s “Personal Memoirs”; Jon Meacham’s “American Lion”; James M. McPherson’s “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief” and Jacobo Timerman’s “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.”

Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.

Cohen’s piece is a classic drive-by, meant for consumption by the simple-minded. Here is Cohen

Rove always won, but Bush had the ready excuse that he was, as he put it, busy being “Leader of the Free World.”

And here is Rove

At year’s end, I defeated the president, 110 books to 95. My trophy looks suspiciously like those given out at junior bowling finals. The president lamely insisted he’d lost because he’d been busy as Leader of the Free World.

Hmm. I detect a difference in tone.

Here is Cohen

…most of Bush’s books have been biographies and histories. Biographies are usually about great men who often did the unpopular thing and were later vindicated. As for histories, they are replete with cautionary tales.

You can see where Cohen is going with this reasoning, right? Here is Rove

Nearly half of his 2006 reading was history and biography, with another eight volumes on current events (mostly the Mideast) and six on sports…in 2007…[h]is list was particularly wide-ranging…from history…, biographical…, and current affairs….in 2008…[h]is reading…included a heavy dose of history.

You see, Cohen wants to imply that Bush has been reading about similarly flawed historical figures. But Cohen, whose intellectual honesty couldn’t stand up to a nematode, can’t bring himself to actually name names.

What Cohen does name is a bevy of books, the absence from Bush’s reading list which causes him no small amount of pique. These books include

Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” Tom Ricks’s “Fiasco,” George Packer’s “The Assassins’ Gate” or, on a related topic, Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side” about “extraordinary rendition” and other riffs on the Constitution. Absent too is Barton Gellman’s “Angler,” about Dick Cheney, the waterboarder in chief.

[Nice dig there on Cheney, Mr. Cohen. Do you mind if I call you Dick?]

I’m sure the authors listed above are fair and balanced and have no particular axe to grind.

According to Cohen

The list Rove provides is long, but it is narrow. It lacks whole shelves of books on how and why the Iraq war was a mistake, one that metastasized into a debacle.

and this

They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks — and sees — vindication in every page. Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.

I find the use of the words “metastasized” and “debacle” particularly interesting. “Metastasized”, as in just about the worst news a seriously ill patient could hear. And “debacle”. Mr. Cohen wouldn’t recognize a debacle if it came up and bit him. A debacle, Dick, is what we would have had if Bush had listened to the small-minds and withdrew from Iraq back in 2007. Do you recall what the prognosis was for Iraq and the Middle East, for that matter, if the US had withdrawn to leave Iraq to a Civil War? Go back and do some reading. The small-minded were willing to throw the entire region into turmoil to score political points. Thank God that Bush was “captive of fixed ideas”, such as the fixed idea that we were going to get it right, that we were going to win. We have paid a very heavy price, no doubt. And speaking of captives of fixed ideas, Dick, is that anything like Obama’s refusal to admit that the surge worked?

You Can Call Him Dick

You Can Call Me Dick

An Insult to Neanderthals?

Monday, December 29th, 2008

John “Chip” Saltsman, who fancied himself a candidate for the Republican National Committee Chairman, has caused a stir when he distributed a CD gift that included a song parody called “Barack the Magic Negro”. Saltsman and others try to defend the parody by pointing out that the LA Times ran an article by David Ehrenstein back in March of 2007 titled Obama the ‘Magic Negro’. According to Ehrenstein

…it’s clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the “Magic Negro” http://canadianviagras.com/pill/kamagra-oral-jelly-canada/.

And more

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. “He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist,” reads the description on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro

There’s plenty more by Ehrenstein in the article and in other articles, cited by Ehrenstein himself in this blog entry. To say that Ehrenstein is not happy with Republicans and Obama is an understatement

As everyone knows Whites feel no guilt about America’s racist history whatsoever. All they care about is the appearance of politesse — the slimy veneer of “good manners.”

Clearly the Republican party (racist to its very core) is “split” over what to do in the wake of having lost so much political capital. Chip and his ilk want to continue making childish attacks. Others in the party seek to turn chicken shit into chicken salad by claiming Obama is the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

And they may well be right. He’s certainly not a liberal. And as he’s made clear through Warrengate, he’s certainly not MY President.

No wonder I didn’t receive an invitation to Ehrenstein’s New Years Party. But I digress.

I hope, and expect, that Saltsman’s future in politics is about as bright as a black dwarf. What on earth was Saltsman thinking by sending out the CD? This seems like a particularly bad time to introduce racist tones into the Republican party and the competition for the RNC Chair, not that there is a good time. Cutting away all of the chafe, it might be interesting to explore the motivations of white voters vis-a-vis America’s history and slavery. But to do so by introducing the “Magic Negro” as Ehrenstein does, and by distributing a song parody whose title includes the same charged term, seems like the work of a Neanderthal. On second thought, that’s not fair to Neanderthals.

Chip Saltsman

Chip Saltsman

Is That You, Chip?

Notice the Similarities?

Peaceful Solutions Are In Contradiction To The Principles

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Israel continues to carry out its tactical plans against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. These particular operations were occasioned by sustained rocket attacks, launched from Gaza, coincident with the end of a six month temporary cease fire, brokered by Egypt in June.

Gaza

Gaza

The total deaths in three days of bombings is approaching 300. The United States refuses to condemn the operations and Barack Obama has only slightly moderated his rather tough talk from earlier this year. The usual suspects have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. And brave Hamas leaders who are living in luxury outside of Gaza have called for what amounts to the third intifada. If an intifada does materialize – and maybe even if it doesn’t – look for Israel to inflict significant punishment in the few weeks remaining prior to Obama’s inauguration. News stories suggest that Israel would not want to be engaged in hostile action at the time of the Inauguration, though this seems like small potatoes compared to the other challenges that Obama will face.

Hamas is an open book. Here is the Hamas Covenant of 1988. There are a total of 36 articles.

Here is Article 8 of the Covenant, also known as “The Slogan of the Hamas”

Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.

Here is Article 13 of the Covenant

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight. “Allah will be prominent, but most people do not know.”

Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?

“But the Jews will not be pleased with thee, neither the Christians, until thou follow their religion; say, The direction of Allah is the true direction. And verily if thou follow their desires, after the knowledge which hath been given thee, thou shalt find no patron or protector against Allah.” (The Cow – verse 120).

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with. As is said in the honourable Hadith:

“The people of Syria are Allah’s lash in His land. He wreaks His vengeance through them against whomsoever He wishes among His slaves It is unthinkable that those who are double-faced among them should prosper over the faithful. They will certainly die out of grief and desperation.”

I remember when Hamas was the surprise victor in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections (winning 76 seats to Fatah’s 43). There were many that viewed the election as a major setback to the Bush administration’s push for democracy. Here is one example from the Council on Foreign Relations. I never saw it quite that way. I saw the convincing victory of Hamas as, foremost, the Palestinian electorate’s endorsement of terrorism. I actually thought this was a good thing, because we know where the electorate stood. The “cost” for terrorism shall be borne by the electorate in this case, as it should. There can be no pussy-footing or hand-wringing in these matters.

Undoubtedly, we will see reports of many “innocent” people among the victims of Israel’s actions. But when a government is chosen for a specific purpose such as jihad (see the Covenant…”Jihad” appears 11 times), and when a government is chosen to carry out terrorism, I have difficultly in applying the term “innocent”. Unfortunately, some victims are truly innocent – the children. Full blame for the death of innocent children rests squarely on Hamas and the Palestinian electorate.

War in Defense of Virginia

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

About 15 years ago, after purchasing 3,000 acres of land, the Disney company gave up plans to put a history-themed park five miles from the Manassas Battlefield. The battlefield is some 35 miles west of the District of Columbia. According to Making Economic Sense by Murray Rothbard (and as serialized on the Ludwig Von Mises Institute website)

Many conservatives and free-marketeers believe that an inherent conflict exists between profits, free-markets, and “soulless capitalism,” and money- making on the one hand, as against traditional values, devotion to older culture, and historical landmarks on the other. On the one hand, we have bumptious bourgeoisie devoted only to money; on the other, we have people who want to conserve a sense of the past.

The latest ideological and political clash between capitalist growth and development, and old-fogy preservation, is the bitter conflict over the Manassas battlefield, sacred ground to all who hold in memory the terrible War Between the States.

The theme park was opposed by two camps. Those that felt that building the park so close to the hallowed grounds of the battlefield as to desecrate the memory, and those that felt that the Walt Disney Company was trying to extract too many economic concessions from Virginia taxpayers (such as about $160 million in road and infrastructure improvements).

Now, 15 years later, we have a continuation of sorts. Only now it is Wal-Mart instead of Disney. And it is the Battle of the Wilderness instead of the Battle of Bull Run. This article in the Washington Post tells of plans that Wal-Mart has for building a new store in Orange, Virginia, near the battlefield of the Battle of the Wilderness. And it tells of the forces arrayed against this aggression. The foes are quick to point out that “it is not Wal-Mart”. They are only concerned about the growth that would be occasioned by the opening of the Wal-Mart. The article cites the efforts of preservation groups and trusts to purchase properties that are historically significant. This is something that I favor. The parcel contemplated by Wal-Mart is currently zoned for commercial development. It seems that the preservation efforts should have been waged to prevent this zoning in the first place. In the difficult economic times of today, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will find it difficult to dictate terms to Wal-Mart.

I am generally sympathetic to the goals of the preservationists, but I would like to see their tactics focused on the purchase of land. And I would like to see them make the case against commercial zoning to the planning and zoning office prior to the need to chase away successful corporations.

Walmart

Wal-Mart in Orange

The Benefits Backlog Beat Down

Friday, December 26th, 2008

I have never been laid off from work, knock on wood. But I have worked with and known many people that have. In the business of consulting, it is frequently the case that timing is everything. Those that suddenly find themselves “on the bench” during a downturn are susceptible to “productivity plans”. And those unable to achieve goals set for them by others may soon find themselves looking for new work. Those that do find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed in Virginia may be facing an unwelcome backlog in the processing of their request for unemployment benefits.

A few days ago, the Washington Post had a brief article about a decision by the Virginia Employment Commission to continue offering Saturday hours at the Customer Contact Center. In making this decision, the VEC cited current and expected demand, and reiterated guidance that the preferred method for making unemployment benefit claims is via the web. While the article did not explicitly say so, it appears to me that the Customer Contact Center serves as a call center for those wishing to apply for unemployment benefits. The high volume of calls, coupled with software problems, has led to a backlog. Hence, the decision to continue operating for limited hours on Saturdays, even in the face of tighter state budgets.

According to this article

Daily, calls to the VEC Customer Contact Center are in the tens of thousands.

… the increased workload comes at a time when there are fewer people to handle the claims.

Back in March, the VEC had to reduce its staff by 250 people because of federal funding shortfall. Nine months later, the impact is still evident.

The staff reductions earlier this year at the VEC have lead to a Catch-22 of sorts. If it were not so serious, especially to those genuinely in need of benefits, it would almost be funny. Almost.

Unemployed

Unemployed

Christmas Stockings

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

There was a feel-good story in today’s Washington Post about a local mail carrier that delivers Christmas stockings to more than 100 dogs on his mail route. Scott Arnold is a 27 year veteran of the US Postal Service and he has been doing this on his route in McLean Virginia for 17 years. According to the article, Arnold packs the stockings with

…rawhide candy canes, dog cookies and rock-hard biscuits, along with an ornament, different each year, that features a photo of the dog taken with Arnold’s 35mm film camera.

Also included in the stocking is a “Santa Paws” newsletter that welcomes new dogs to the neighborhood, acknowledges those dogs that have moved away, and remembers those that have passed on to the “North Pole Kennel”. As might be expected, Arnold has seen many dogs come and go along his mail route. In the cases when the dog dies during the year, Arnold writes a letter to the owner, in the “voice” of the departed companion. Scott Arnold is awarded the Thought Docket Seal of Approval for his kindness.

Scott Arnold

Scott Arnold

Coincidentally, last night, on Christmas Eve, I finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. This book is narrated by a dog named Enzo. Enzo has many human qualities, and is able to relate lessons learned by race car drivers to everyday life.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The book is highly recommended for “dog people” and those with an interest in high-performance driving.

And, speaking of dogs

I am thankful that I have had Tammy, Vicky, Trixie, Alice, Norton, and Ben in my life.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

The news out of Israel and the Gaza Strip has not been good recently. After six months of relative clam, the tensions have been ratcheting up recently. In the past 4 or 5 days, some 60 or more missiles have been launched from Gaza into Israel. And Israel has retaliated with air strikes against the launchers. As Yogi Berra might have said, it’s deja vu all over again.

With the change in administrations, there is the usual hope that some new approach, some new policies, will break the impasse so that a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians might be enjoyed. In an op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius explains Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s three-part “hope” for the Obama administration’s Middle East policy

  1. First, he hopes Obama won’t start “another war anywhere in the world, especially not in the Middle East.” And he trusts that the doctrine of “preemptive war” will end when George W. Bush leaves office.
  2. Second, Assad said, “We would like to see this new administration sincerely involved in the peace process.”
  3. Third, he says he wants Syria and the United States to work together to stabilize Iraq as American troops begin to leave.

I don’t know how to break it to President Assad, but Obama was quite clear about his approach to hunting down Osama bin Laden, vis-a-vis the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan. And, Obama made his position on a nuclear Iran quite clear. According to the Wikipedia article on preemptive war

The intention with a preemptive strike is to gain the advantage of initiative and to harm the enemy at a moment of minimal protection.

I sincerely hope that no American president categorically rules out preemptive war.

Regarding Assad’s second hope, clearly the Bush administration has not been as engaged in that part of the Middle East as much as preceding administrations. I think the Bush administration wanted to try something radically different. What is the popular definition of insanity (provided by Albert Einstein)? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome? Assad seems to be advocating a return to insanity. For decades, the one constant during the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been Yassir Arafat. More recently, we have the election of Hamas as a majority in the Palestinian parliament.  Even the Washington Post refers to Hamas as a “radical Islamic movement”. So, yes, I suppose that the Obama administration will be more engaged than the Bush administration, and nothing would please me more than to see a lasting peace. But, rapprochement seems unlikely.

Regarding Assad’s third hope, well, this seems a little late, now that a stable Iraq seems to be slowly emerging. According to this 2007 United States Institute of Peace report, Syria’s idea of a stable Iraq is not necessarily aligned with our ideas. “We’re from Syria and we’re here to help.” Right. As a major supplier of insurgents during the most trying times in Iraq, Assad was not so interested in stabilizing Iraq.

I say tell Assad to get bent. Only tell him nice, like a diplomat would.

Merry Christmas – Happy Hanukah – Joyous Kwanzaa – Happy Festivus

Highbeams in Hawaii

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

This past Sunday’s Washington Post had an article with the title Despite Agreement, Hawaii Teachers Resist Drug Testing. The article had this lead-in

Hawaii public school teachers signed off on first-in-the-nation statewide random drug testing in exchange for pay raises, but now the state claims the educators are trying to take the money and run.

The teachers approved the pact nearly two years ago, and so far have received about 11 percent in raises. But not a single teacher has been tested. It is claimed that such testing is an invasion of privacy.

The teacher’s union would like to limit random testing to only a subset of teachers: those that accompany students on field trips, those that work with special education students, those with frequent absences, and those with criminal records. The union says it would agree with drug testing where there is a reason to suspect drug use. According to the Executive Director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association

Random testing isn’t going to suddenly increase test scores. This is a huge distraction from how to make our schools better.

I agree. However, the same could be said about teacher pay increases, or an increase in the administrator/teacher ratio, but I don’t hear the teacher’s unions saying this. Random testing is not about improving education; it’s about the public interest, just like it is for Honolulu’s trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers, all of which are subject to random testing.

The article says that only a few districts nationwide have random testing. Kentucky seems to have a high concentration of these programs. One district in Kentucky wanted to test students that participated in extracurricular activities. Someone suggested that teachers should be held to the same standard. Sounds reasonable to me.

West Virginia’s Kanawha County (Charleston) recently voted to institute random testing, but this is being challenged in the courts. The same is true of New York’s Patchogue-Medford School District. The Court of Appeals in the Patchogue-Medford case, in invalidating the district’s plans, stated

…by restricting the government to reasonable searches, the state and federal constitutions recognize that there comes a point at which searches intended to serve the public interest, however effective, may themselves undermine the public’s interest in maintaining the privacy, dignity and security of its members.

But, I wonder, why have the testing programs for Honolulu’s trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers not been invalidated? Is it possible that these workers are in lower socio-economic groups than the teachers, with fewer resources to launch lawsuits? Are their unions less powerful?  Are the trash, water, and grass more precious than our school children? Are trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers simply “suspected” of more frequent drug use than, say, teachers, simply because of their vocation? Does this last suggestion sound unfair or unfounded? It is simply the converse of an argument against testing of teachers, offered by an assistant general counsel for the National Education Association

Few if any teachers test positive, because it’s not something that people who go into teaching do. It’s not part of the teaching culture. It’s an expensive program, and the money can be better spent reducing class sizes or providing needed resources.

Oh, really? The fact that Hawaii had experience to the contrary was the motivation for the random testing program in the first place. According to the article

The showdown over teacher drug testing arose from the highly publicized arrests of six state Education Department employees in unrelated drug cases over a six-month period. One, Leilehua High School special education teacher … pleaded guilty to selling more than $40,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine to an undercover agent.

So, in Hawaii’s experience, at least some teachers were on the bomb squad. For at least some teachers, the first period of the day was wake ‘n’ bake. At least some teachers had a preference for Methlies Quik.

A Teacher Would Never Sell Meth, Right?

A Teacher Would Never Sell Meth, Right?

If trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers are subject to random testing, why not teachers? The union’s arguments don’t convince me. If one, why not the other?

First Shoes, Now Christmas

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Putting spin on the incident occasioned by Muntadhar al-Zaida’s carelessness with his shoes, one might say that it is a sign of progress – of freedom of expression – that was completely missing in Sadam Hussein’s Iraq. Now comes word of Christmas celebration in Baghdad. According to the CNN.com piece

Welcome to the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad, held Saturday and sponsored by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Once thought to be infiltrated by death squads, the Ministry now is trying to root out sectarian violence — as well as improve its P.R. image.

But it is a little bit different celebration than we are used to here

The event takes place in a public park in eastern Baghdad, ringed with security checkpoints. Interior Ministry forces deployed on surrounding rooftops peer down at the scene: a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel; a red-costumed Santa Claus waving to the crowd, an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders; a red-and-black-uniformed military band playing stirring martial music, not Christmas carols.

An Interior Ministry spokesman says that sectarian and ethnic violence killed thousands of Iraqis. He stated further

Now that we have crossed that hurdle and destroyed the incubators of terrorism,and the security situation is good, we have to go back and strengthen community ties.

The story quotes Father Saad Sirop Hanna, a Chaldean Christian priest. Hanna was kidnapped by militants in 2006 and held for 28 days. According to Father Hanna

We are just attesting that things are changing in Baghdad, slowly, but we hope that this change actually is real. We will wait for the future to tell us the truth about this.

The people quoted in the story about this small, guarded celebration, appear to be pragmatic and cautious about the future. Here’s to hoping that our future policies continue to make possible these kinds of significant events during the maturation and mending of Iraq.

Christmas Candles

Christmas Candles

Christmas Banner

Christmas Banner

Iraqi Children Dressed As Santa

Iraqi Children Dressed As Santa