Right Wing Nut House

12/17/2005

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS

Filed under: CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS — Rick Moran @ 12:09 pm

Calling all bloggers!

You have until Sunday night at 11:00 PM to get your entries in for this week’s Carnival of the Clueless.

Last week’s Carnival, our 25th, was the best yet with 30 entries from both the right and left side of the political spectrum hammering those individuals and groups among us who are truly clueless.

Here’s what we’re looking for:

Each week, I’ll be calling for posts that highlight the total stupidity of a public figure or organization – either left or right – that demonstrates that special kind of cluelessness that only someone’s mother could defend…and maybe not even their mothers!

Everyone knows what I’m talking about. Whether it’s the latest from Bill Maher or the Reverend Dobson, it doesn’t matter. I will post ALL ENTRIES REGARDLESS OF WHETHER I AGREE WITH THE SENTIMENTS EXPRESSED OR NOT..

You can enter by emailing me, leaving a link in the comments section, or by using the handy, easy to use form at Conservative Cat.

12/16/2005

COUNTDOWN TO “24″

Filed under: "24" — Rick Moran @ 8:39 am

Jack is back!

Next January 15 and 16, in a four hour slam bang, red-white-and-blue extravaganza of an opening, our favorite patriot and thug Jack Bauer will once more take on the nastiest, most bloodthirsty terrorists in the world and save the United States of America from certain disaster.

Judging by past experience, I can guarantee several things about the upcoming season of “24:”

* Jack will kill people. A lot of people. (Jack outgunned Chloe last year 44-1)

* Jack will wound hardly anyone. If he does it will be because he wants to torture them to get more information out of them. Otherwise, he will kill a lot of people.

* Jack will fall in love.

* The love of Jack’s life will face mortal danger necessitating a dramatic rescue by Jack - at least once.

* During the course of their relationship, Jack’s love will recoil in horror when she sees him “in action” causing the writers either to kill her off or develop a rival for her affections.

* Jack will face a “Kobayashi Maru Test” - a no win scenario - in which he must either let a good guy die or get information that he needs to save the country. Guess what option Jack will choose?

* Did I mention that Jack will kill more people in 24 hours than Ted Bundy killed in 10 years?

As those of you who followed along with me last year know, this is a spoiler free site. when it comes to “24.” But I can give you a brief preview of some of the characters, both new and old, who will be returning to join Jack in the fun:

1. Carlos Bernard returns from his trip to Japan as - former? - CTU agent Tony Almeida. It is uncertain whether his wife Michelle will also make a return appearance.

2. Sean Astin (Samwise Ganji in LOTR) will appear as CTU agent Lynn McGill

3. Our favorite bitch, Mary Lynn Rajskub returns as Chloe O’Brien.

4, Louis Lombardi playing “Fat Geek Edgar” Stiles - and possible geek love interest for Chloe - will also be back.

5. Roger Cross makes a comeback as CTU agent Curtis Manning - the only man ever to partner with Jack for any length of time and live to tell about it.

6. James Morrison as Bill Buchanan will be running CTU again. Good on ya Bill!

7. Kim Raver returns as Audrey Raines, Jack’s former lover and daughter of the Secretary of State. The dead pool says Audrey gets it in the first 2 hours.

8. Gregory Itzin returns as President “Jellyfish” Charles Logan.

9. Jean Smart debuts as First Lady Martha Logan. At least we’ll know who will actually be running the country.

10. Connie Britton joins the cast as Diane, Jack’s new love interest. Looks hot and I’ll bet she has a head on her shoulders too.

I’ve learned my lesson about speculating about plot twists and the like. The first thing we must realize is that we are all smarter than the writers. The second thing we must realize is that the writers could care less about #1. They will write as if we all all dummies who forget about characters, plot threads, and even what day it is. Because of that, when speculating this season I will refrain from the logical in my speculations and stick with the emotional.

As I did last year, I will be keeping separate body counts for Jack and the show. In case you’ve forgotten, Jack launched 44 souls toward hell last year in 24 hours while the show accounted for at least 237. They never did tell us how many people died when the power plant melted down. All we knew for sure was that Fat Geek Edgar’s dear mother didn’t make it.

So sit back, relax, and strap it down. You can be sure the ride will be bumpy - but we’ll have a helluva lot of fun!

UPDATE

Lori Byrd, a huge “24″ fan (and one of the main reasons Polipundit was a finalist as Best Conservative Blog in the Weblog Awards), speculates on the writers linking the McCain torture amendment to the show.

The writers have been quite topical in the past and I agree with Lori that odds are good some mention will be made of it. However, if we recall the last scene from season 4, Jack is walking off into the sunset after having faked his own death. And with “Jellyfish” Logan still mad at him for making him look like a fool, I don’t think Jack will be working for CTU in any “official” sense.

That said, Jack may turn out to be CTU’s “Ace in the Hole” - a guy they can use to circumvent US law (including the McCain amendment) in order to get the job done. In that respect, maybe they’ll have some nitwit Senator playing a McCain-like character like they had the slimy terrorist-loving lawyer impersonating someone from Amnesty International last year.

12/15/2005

THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN

Filed under: General — Rick Moran @ 2:56 pm

The votes are in for this week’s Watchers Council and the winner in the Council category for best post is The Sundries Shack for “…Have a Great Time Dieing in the War. From, Miguel.” Finishing second was AJ at The Strata-Sphere for “Iran’s Nuclear Game.”

In the non Council section, Seraphic Secret won with “Murderous Peaceniks.” Protein Wisdom finished second for “On Patriotism, Redux (UPDATED).”

If you’d like to participate in the Watcher’s Vote every week, go here and follow instructions.

DISCOVERING “NEW HORIZONS”

Filed under: Science, Space — Rick Moran @ 2:02 pm


NASA’S NEW HORIZONS PROBE IS HEADED TO PLUTO AND THE KUIPER BELT

One of the most amazing things to me, a 51 year old amateur space nut, is that the missions NASA has launched to the planets over the last 40 years have been conducted largely under the radar of press coverage and interest by the American people. This state of affairs will probably be looked on 500 years from now by historians with some measure of astonishment. They will marvel at the fact that mankind’s initial attempts to explore their solar system neighborhood would have been met with a collective yawn by a media that routinely reports every pimple that breaks out on Brittany Spear’s face but can’t find the time or effort to describe the wondrous, almost magical efforts to answer questions that have been asked by humanity since our ancestors were loping effortlessly across the African savannah.

Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?

In a very real sense, NASA’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond will close the first chapter in our quest to solve some of the most fundamental mysteries of the universe. And the fact that this effort has been given such short shrift by our celebrity-obsessed, trivia reporting media reveals much about our manic efforts to remain ignorant about matters so sublime in their implications for adding to the encyclopedia of human understanding that one could actually question the collective sanity of the human race if not for the fact that there are plenty of examples already.

On January 11, 2006, NASA will launch the New Horizons spacecraft toward an expected rendezvous with Pluto in 2015. While there has been much discussion among scientists in the last year or so about whether or not Pluto is a planet, the mission will conclude mankind’s initial effort to photograph and study all nine bodies we have studied and believed to be planetary bodies for 75 years. Recent evidence suggests that there are other icy, rocky bodies even bey0nd Pluto which will probably continue to call into question Pluto’s nomenclature. If so, the value of going to Pluto will be to study an entirely new class of objects in the solar system, a not insignificant goal in and of itself. One interesting note is that last year, the international astronomical body in charge of classifying objects was ready to yank Pluto’s designation as a planet until tens of thousands of school children wrote letters asking them not to. Just goes to show that even scientists can’t resist the importuning of a child.

Pluto is weird. It’s very small – less than 1/5 the size of Earth – with gravity that’s 2 1/2 times less than on our moon. Speaking of moons, Pluto’s satellite Charon is half the size of it’s mother planet! The two bodies do a strange gravitational dance around each other that scientists are still scratching their heads trying to figure out.

Pluto’s orbit is highly irregular. It careens around the solar system like a drunken sailor, passing inside the orbit of Neptune (thus for a time making Neptune the most distant planet) as well as orbiting in the opposite direction than the rest of the planets.

What makes going to Pluto so exciting is that what we know about that impossibly cold, icy world could be written on a postcard. Even the Hubble Telescope can only resolve Pluto into a barely discernible circular smudge. And one of the weirdest of planetary catastrophes may inhibit our observations - the collapse of Pluto’s atmosphere.

Evidently, the farther Pluto gets from the sun and the colder it gets, atmospheric physicists believe that the mass of the atmosphere will completely freeze and become too heavy to remain above the planet. It will thus drift to the surface of the planet or “collapse” thus not only obscuring the surface from our efforts to photograph it but probably make efforts to measure the atmosphere itself problematic:

Pluto has been racing away from the sun since its closest approach in 1989 and scientists do not know how much time remains before Pluto’s atmosphere collapses. Once that happens its atmosphere is not expected to re-emerge for about 200 years.

“Some people think its 20 years off and some people think its five years off,” said Stern. “No one really knows when Pluto’s atmosphere will snow out and collapse.”

As frigid Pluto grows even colder as it travels further from the sun, scientists believe that more and more of its surface will be cloaked in nitrogen-based snow, accelerating the freezing process that causes the atmosphere to collapse. Stern said the New Horizons team cannot be sure that there will still be an atmosphere to study until less than a year from encounter.

Another aspect of this mission that will set it apart from other planetary missions is speed. The Galileo mission to Jupiter took nearly 4 years of space travel, taking a gigantic elliptical path toward the planet after being launched from earth. And the Cassini probe took more than 6 years to reach Saturn after being launched from earth, going around the sun twice (and getting 2 gravity assists from Venus) before swinging by earth for another gravity assist, on the way to Jupiter for another boost until finally settling into an orbit around Saturn.

Because of its relatively small size - about as big as a grand piano - Horizons will be rocketed toward Pluto using a multi stage booster:

[T]he New Horizons spacecraft, which is about the size of a grand piano, will be lifted into orbit atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket equipped with five solid-rocket boosters, a Centaur upper stage and a special STAR 48B solid propellant-fueled third stage that will propel the spacecraft out of low Earth orbit and toward its destination.

About a year after launch, assuming the spacecraft gets off in time for the gravity assist, New Horizons would encounter Jupiter, snapping pictures, making measurements and picking up speed as it slingshots past the gas giant on an eight-year cruise.

How fast will the probe be going? Faster than any spacecraft that has ever left earth:

When launched on its Atlas V rocket in January, New Horizons will be the fastest spacecraft ever to leave Earth, and that speed is crucial. New Horizons will cross the orbit of the moon in just 9 hours-something that took Apollo spacecraft over three days to accomplish after their launch to a speed of 25,000 miles per hour.

New Horizons will then journey to Jupiter for a gravitational slingshot to further speed the journey to Pluto. Whereas the two most recent missions NASA sent to Jupiter-Galileo and Cassini-took 6 and 4 years, respectively, the much faster New Horizons spacecraft will make its trip to Jupiter in just 13 months.

Four billion miles is a long way to go to snap a few pictures and take some measurements. That’s why once the probe swings within 10,000 kilometers of Pluto it will continue on into the mysterious Kuiper Belt where scientists think we will find leftover elements dating to the very beginning of the solar system. The potential gold mine of scientific information is so rich that the National Academy of Scientists put a mission to the Kuiper Belt as the number one priority for exploration this decade.

Outside of our missions to Mars, public interest in planetary probes of this sort is confined to a few fans like me and the scientific community. What does it say about our culture and perhaps even the state of our educational system that this is so? Is it so difficult to inculcate a sense of wonder and curiosity at the universe in our children that they can grow up oblivious to the stupendous achievement inherent in hurling a spacecraft 4 billion miles into the void and having it arrive on target in order to give us a glimpse of eternity?

Perhaps future generations will have more reverence for the efforts of the scientists and engineers who for nearly half a century have enriched our knowledge of the cosmos almost beyond measure with their single minded determination to explore space. Their achievements will be noted as long as humans are writing history.

And the hell of it is, we are a poorer species collectively by virtually ignoring their accomplishments,

TOP TEN MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS OF ALL TIME

Filed under: General — Rick Moran @ 11:17 am

What is it about the end of the year that brings out “listmania” in people? Perhaps it is a general feeling that as the calendar is about to turn over, it becomes time to reflect on the past in ways that one ordinarily wouldn’t do.

That said, I thought I’d take a stab at my own list. Since most people will be doing a “Top 10 Stories of 2005″ or something similar, I thought I’d try something a little different with “The Top 10 Movie Soundtracks of All Time.”

This list will not include any the dozens of wonderful MGM musicals or excellent movie adaptations of Broadway shows. That could be another list. Instead, this list will include what I believe the Academy calls “Original Scores.”

Let the games begin…

10. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - JOHN WILLIAMS

This is the first of three appearances of John Williams on this list and for good reason. Williams is a brilliant composer whose body of work would be astonishing for its volume alone. Already a well established commodity in Hollywood by the time Raiders came out, Williams allowed himself to have some fun with the score as it’s sprightly marches with playful counterpoint demonstrates. Not his best work but, like most of his film scores, it adds substantially to the totality of the movie.

9. GETTYSBURG - RANDY EDELMAN

This score by Randy Edelman, another prolific composer, is noted for the grandeur and emotionally charged overture that has been used many times in sports programming. The two pivotal moments in the movie - the bayonet charge of the 2nd Maine down Little Round Top and Pickett’s Charge - always bring tears to my eyes thanks to Edelman’s majestic accompaniment.

8. THE GREAT ESCAPE - ELMER BERNSTEIN

No list would be complete without a mention of Bernstein, another familiar Hollywood composer. His films have run the gamut from Ghostbusters to The Bridge at Remagen to Leonard Part Six.. It was a toss up to include TGE or The Magnificent Seven but the scoring of Steve McQueen’s motorcycle ride through the German countryside tipped the balance in favor of this one.

7. SILVERADO - BRUCE BROUGHTON

Broughton is known more for his TV work than film credits. But his majestic score for the movie credited with reviving the American western cannot be overlooked. The theme is hypnotic.

6. BEN HUR - MIKLOS ROZSA

The Hungarian immigrant’ scores enriched dozens of movies in the 40’s and 50’s. His unobstrusive style attracted director William Wyler who tapped him to score Hur after several other composers rejected the project. He ended up being nominated for an Academy Award.

5. JAWS - JOHN WILLIAMS

If there is a better combination of music and mood ever scored for a motion picture, I can’t think of it. Haunting is an understatment for Williams’ work here. When the very first notes of a piece of music can generate terror, you know that there is something special about it.

4. BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI -MALCOLM ARNOLD

Many would not place this as high as I have, but I challenge you to watch this movie for the first time and not be humming “Colonel Bogey’s March” by the end of it. I’m being a little facietious but the fact remains that this is another film where the music perfectly captures the mood and spirit of the film. Won the Academy Award for Best Score in 1957.

3. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA - MAURICE JARRE

Jarre’s memorable score to one of the greatest films of all time is a joy, a brilliant symphonic counterpoint to the majesty of David Lean’s masterpiece.

2. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD - ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD

Hollywood would have been a much different place if Korngold had decided to stick with writing symphonies. A child prodigy who attracted the attention of such luminaries as Mahler and Richard Strauss, Korngold emigrated to the US in 1935 to escape the ravages of Nazism. Did Korngold “invent” the orchestral movie score? No, but he perfected it.

1. STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE - JOHN WILLIAMS

The orchestral soundtrack had gone out of fashion in the 1960’s and 70’s. Hollywood was making few epics and the spare, jazzy sounds of Lalo Shiffrin and moody, atonal pieces that graced most of the dramas were consistently uninspiring to say the least. That’s what made Williams raucous, grandeliquent overture so shockingly emotional. The majesty of the score against the background of space will always be remembered. A never to be forgotten theme.

12/14/2005

THERE ARE POLLS…AND THEN THERE ARE POLLS

Filed under: War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 6:19 am

The latest poll from CNN-Gallup confirms what many on the right have been saying for months; that the best salesman for the government’s Iraq War policies is the President himself:

As President Bush prepares to make his final speech on the strategy for winning the war in Iraq, a recent poll indicates that fewer people are opposed to the U.S. presence there, but they don’t think the U.S. is winning the effort.

Forty-eight percent of those polled said they thought it was a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq, as opposed to 54 percent of those polled last month. Fifty percent said it was not a mistake, compared to 45 percent last month.

Despite an apparent surge in approval for sending troops to Iraq, those polled said they don’t believe that the U.S. is winning the war. Of those polled, 49 percent said neither side is winning the war, 13 percent said the insurgents are winning and 36 percent said the United States is winning

Clearly, the renewed effort by the President in the last month to fight the public relations battle for his Iraq policies is paying dividends. This despite a curious attempt by most media outlets to bury the President’s speeches or worse, cherry pick quotes to highlight the negatives. There was the flap over the President’s admission that mistakes had been made in the reconstruction efforts, especially underestimating the strength of the insurgency. The latest tidbit the press has latched onto has to do with the President’s comment following his speech on Monday that “30,000 Iraqis” had died since the war began. Not surprisingly, the press jumped on that number and automatically assumed the President was talking about civilian deaths. Not so. Here’s the question and answer (via Mudville Gazzette):

Q: Since the inception of the Iraqi war, I’d like to know the approximate total of Iraqis who have been killed. And by Iraqis I include civilians, military, police, insurgents, translators.

THE PRESIDENT: How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We’ve lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq.

Several media outlets ran with a story headlining 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, which of course, is not what the President said. Be that as it may, other aspects of the poll were also interesting:

Thirty-eight percent said some troops should be brought home, while 25 percent said troop numbers should remain static. Twenty-six percent said all troops should be withdrawn.

Many of those polled said they believe the U.S. has the ability to win the war, but won’t.

Asked if they thought the U.S. will win the war in Iraq, 46 percent said yes, as opposed to 65 percent who said the U.S. can win.

The 46 percent is made up of 25 percent of those polled who said the U.S. will definitely win the war and 21 percent who said the U.S. probably will win. Forty-nine percent said it would not win.

American ambivalence about our ability to win the war is a direct reflection of the “one dimensional” reporting on the conflict that some in the MSM are finally starting to address. The surest sign of this is a flood of stories over the last 72 hours about the new poll of Iraqis that show a surprising 75% believing that there lives are going well with another 68% believing that things will get better in the next year. The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, and others who in the past have been predisposed toward negativity have actually allowed a ray of hope to seep into their coverage. And the reason for this has to be the attitude of the Iraqis themselves toward the upcoming vote. With many insurgent groups giving grudging promises not to interfere with the vote tomorrow as well as the Sunnis apparently willing to throw themselves with some measure of enthusiasm into the electoral process, these media outlets could hardly do anything else.

Ed Morrissey also notices the slight shift in the tone of coverage and wonders if we’ve “turned the corner” on media attitudes toward Iraq:

When the Gray Lady sees fit to start reporting that even the Sunni of Saddam’s hometown have committed themselves to democracy in the upcoming elections, it might indicate that defeatism has finally jumped the shark…

[;;]

The Sunni participation puts the last of the building blocks in place for the establishment of a consensus democratic republic. The reporting of the Times indicates that the American media might finally start recognizing what will shortly become obvious to all whether they do so or not: that a free Iraq exists, thanks to an administration that steadfastly refused to listen to the Chicken Littles of the opposition and the whiners of the Exempt Media at home. The war may finally have turned the corner in the only place it could be lost — here in America.

Not to put a brake on Mr. Morrissey’s optimism but here’s a survey that appears in today’s New York Times compiled by the government that is a little more sobering in its implications:

DESPITE President Bush’s articulation of a new strategy for victory in Iraq, the American debate remains polarized. An increasing number of critics argue that the war is already lost and that we may as well withdraw, while others claim we are clearly headed to victory, and Americans would know that if only the press would stop emphasizing the negative.

The State of Iraq: An Update Our judgment, based on data compiled by the American government, the news media and independent monitors, is that trends in Iraq do not support either of these extreme views. Things are in a state of continual turmoil, with many hopeful signs but also some deeply disquieting realities. In the good news category, one could place the real, if belated, progress in training Iraqi security forces, the greater availability of telephone and television services, renewed economic growth and more children in school (reading much better textbooks).

On the negative side, electricity and oil production remain below the levels of the Baathist regime, even as Iraqi expectations for improvement soar. Among Sunni Arabs, who stand to greatly increase their representation in Parliament after tomorrow’s elections, passive support for the terrorists is all too common. And the insurgency remains as strong and deadly as ever.

One thing that jumps out of the chart that accompanies the Op-Ed is that fully 80% of the Iraqi people expressed the desire to see the Americans leave “in the near term.” This is consistent with other polls that show the Iraqis want the Americans to leave as soon as possible. What the poll doesn’t do is ask the obvious follow-up question; under what conditions should the Americans leave? Here’s what the ABC News poll found:

Specifically, 26 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should “leave now” and another 19 percent say they should go after the government chosen in this week’s election takes office; that adds to 45 percent. Roughly the other half says coalition forces should remain until security is restored (31 percent), until Iraqi security forces can operate independently (16 percent), or longer (5 percent).

It appears that the Iraqis are as ambivalent about the presence of American troops in their country as Americans are.

And it just goes to show you that there are polls…and then there are polls.

12/13/2005

IRAQIS HOPEFUL ON ELECTION EVE

Filed under: Media — Rick Moran @ 6:08 pm

In an excellent report on the Iraq War last night, ABC’s Nightline correspondent Terry Moran had a fairly balanced and thoughtful take on the state of Iraq on the eve of parliamentary elections this week. The report married up the most recent optimistic Iraq poll numbers with some fascinating man in the street interviews that was so much a cut above the usual network Iraq coverage I felt it worthy to impose on my brother to get me a rush transcript of the show and relay some of the more interesting segments.

What made the report different was the admission up front that network war coverage had been inadequate:

There’s a fascinating poll out today. A poll of Iraqis and the results may surprise you. One thing I learned our our trip to Iraq a couple of weeks ago, it’s not the place Administration officials describe every day from their podiums. Iraq can above all be a complicated place. A place where real people are struggling every day to get by and to build their nation amid terror, occupation, and the wreckage of three decades of tyranny. Much of the media coverage here is one dimensional. Many of our politicians lack all credibility, so listen as we did to the voices of Iraqis themselves.

That results of the recent poll taken by ABC, Time Magazine and other media organs came as something of a shock to those who had become inured to the idea of Iraq as a place where if you stick your head out of the door you’re more than likely to get your nose shot off.:

It was in a tea shop in this village north of Baghdad that we heard something we hadn’t really expected; optimism.

(Questioning patron of tea shop): If today is better than it was last year, why? Why did that happen? What happened?

Because we have elections now. It’s much better, he told me.

And that, it turns out, is how most Iraqis feel. According to the new ABC News poll conducted with Time Magazine and other partners. Get this. 71% of Iraqis say their own lives are going well now. 64% say they expect their lives will improve eve more in the coming year. But how can that be? The bombings. The kidnappings. The beheadings. Isn’t that the reality of Iraq?

Is it any wonder that Senator Lieberman and others who have recently been to Iraq are qualitatively more optimistic than 6 months ago?

There must be something in the air. And listening and watching the Iraqis being interviewed on the segment last night even a blind man could see it; it is hope. Hope born of the recognition that the democratic process is moving forward and cannot be stopped. Listen to this Iraqi doctor who sees the worst of Iraq everyday - bloodstained civilians who are victims of both Zarqawi’s mad suicide bombers and the Sunni insurgency:

(Doctor) We have helped and we think the future for Iraqis will be so good. Now we are, every day, there’s a point from everything. Those civilians still fall down and the blood everywhere on this. I don’t know if that will stop or no. I hope that in the next elections that will be different.

(Reporter) Have you lost hope?

(Doctor) No, not yet.

(Reporter) No? After all you’ve seen?

(Doctor) We have changing to democratic. We have to pay the price. We are paying the price.

As the segment points out, that price is more and more being paid by the Iraqi security forces. On the road to Baquba, the convoy my brother was riding in was attacked by a roadside bomb, killing an Iraqi policeman. Earlier, he interviewed the dead policeman’s Commander who showed him a wall where a handwritten list of the fallen had been placed. There were 41 names on that wall. And that could be one reason why the Iraqi people have so much confidence in their security forces. The poll showed that more than 2/3 have confidence in the police and the military. Not only are the people expressing confidence but I suspect they are grateful that not only so many are willing to try to do a very dangerous job but that their numbers keep growing. The Iraqis are apparently not intimidated that the insurgency has specifically targeted police recruiting stations as well as the police in general.

But there is also trouble with the police force in some areas as the segment points out:

In Anbar, overwhelmingly Sunni - heartland of the insurgency and scene of the fiercest fighting only 1 in 10 said they have confidence in the Iraqi army and only 3 in 10 are confident in the police. They fear the country’s security forces are becoming dominated by Shia militias. In the offices of a Sunni political party we met a man that said he was picked by Iraqi police while walking in his neighborhood. They beat him, burned him, and strung him up by his arms. His crime it seems - he’s a Sunni man out one night and fell victim to a predatory Shia gang operating as a police force.

I posted on this problem with Shia militias here. This is how I described them:

Herein lies the seeds of destruction for the new Iraqi state. Because of the nature of the insurgency and the inability of both American and Iraqi forces to protect the population, dozens of Shia militias have sprung up over the last few years. Some are small adjuncts of tribal and village councils and operate sometimes as death squads, targeting Sunni inhabitants who may or may not support the insurgency. Others like Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army engaged in operations against Americans until soundly defeated last year in Najaf and Sadr City. Al-Sadr has since laid down his arms and several of his followers have joined the new government.

But by far the largest and most problematic militia has been the Badr Brigade (renamed the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development ) which controls large areas in southern Iraq and is closely associated with the largest political party, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The militia dominates police and government offices in several southern provinces where they have attempted with varying degrees of success to establish a strict Islamic code of law.

One of these militias may or may not have been responsible for the death of Stephen Vincent, the National Review journalist who was killed in Basra last summer.

And the other worry is the revelation today by a former Iraqi general that there may be as many as a dozen secret prisons run by militias connected to Iraq Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a former Badr militiaman with close ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. In fact, this article in the Washington Times quotes the general, Muntazar Jasim al-Samarrai, as saying that an Iranian intelligence chief was in charge of interrogations and the insurgent suspects were routinely tortured and killed.

If true, this is extremely worrying for the future of an independent Iraq. It is unclear how much influence the mad mullah’s wield with the SCIRI, the party almost guaranteed to receive the largest plurality of votes in the elections. Their spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali al Sistani is a fiercely independent patriot, a conservative who recognizes that Iraq’s future must be a secular one that embraces all religions and ethnic parties. But some politicians like Jabr may have dual loyalties or could even be working to undermine the new government.

But before the problems with the militias can be solved. Before Iran can be confronted for aiding and abetting the killing of thousands of Iraqis. Before Zarqawi and his Merry Band of Beheaders can be driven from the country and the Sunni insurgency tamped down to a manageable level. Before all this, there must be hope:

All Iraq is struggling to recover from the wounds of decades of war, oppression, and now occupation. One thing you keep coming across, a sense of what is central in that struggle; elections. And in our poll, 76% of Iraqis said they are confident this week’s elections will produce a stable government in Iraq. And nearly everyone we talked to expressed that hope - that these elections will finally set Iraq on course.

I certainly hope the Iraqis are a people blessed with a lot of patience. They’re going to need it.

UPDATE

The Captain links to a New York Times story highlighting Sunni participation in the election and thinks there is a possiblity we’ve “turned the corner” on defeatism at home:

The Sunni participation puts the last of the building blocks in place for the establishment of a consensus democratic republic. The reporting of the Times indicates that the American media might finally start recognizing what will shortly become obvious to all whether they do so or not: that a free Iraq exists, thanks to an administration that steadfastly refused to listen to the Chicken Littles of the opposition and the whiners of the Exempt Media at home. The war may finally have turned the corner in the only place it could be lost — here in America.

PUBLIC EXECUTIONS: LIVE AND IN COLOR?

Filed under: Ethics — Rick Moran @ 9:56 am

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

It is perhaps inevitable that following a high profile execution like the State of California carried out on Tookie William that the debate on making executions a public event should be re-opened. And while the death penalty issue itself is usually reduced to moral arguments or its efficacy in a modern industrialized society, the idea of allowing 300 million people to become living witnesses to another human being’s death causes even many death penalty advocates to squirm uncomfortably in their seats, recoiling at the prospect of watching life leave another person against his will.

Does this say more about our society’s attitudes toward death or does it say something profound about our ambivalence toward the death penalty? This is no small matter for on the answer rests the fate of the death penalty itself.

The last public execution in the United States was in 1936 in Owensboro, Kentucky. But the fight to hide the execution of criminals from public view actually extends back several decades to the turn of the century. The Progressive movement in the United States was all about reform and most progressives believed it barbaric to have people witness the death of a condemned criminal. It called to mind the worst excesses of Rome as well as clashing with Victorian ideas of modesty surrounding death rituals. So beginning in 1890, states began enacting laws that placed the execution of prisoners behind “enclosures” in order to “exclude public view.”

For example, in 1919, the Missouri legislature adopted a statute which required, “the sentence of death should be executed within the county jail, if convenient, and otherwise within an enclosure near the jail.” The Missouri law permitted local officials to give out passes to anyone who requested one in order to become a “witness” to these the executions but this was honored mostly in the breach. In this respect, Missouri’s executions were not “public” because the general populace was excluded by law and the execution itself was carried out behind an enclosure.

Of course, there were still witnesses to executions but these were carefully chosen people whose numbers were kept extremely low. A big reason for this was the manner of execution - electrocution.

There is perhaps no more gruesome way to die than being electrocuted to death. It should go without saying that if an electrocution had ever been televised, public opinion on the death penalty could very well have flipped. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan gave this description of an electrocution he witnessed: (WARNING: GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF DEATH FOLLOWS)

…the prisoner’s eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner’s flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire….Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber.

Clearly, it was in the interests of supporters of the death penalty to keep this grotesqueness from the general public.

Then in the 1980’s there was a series of botched executions where horrible suffering occurred when an electric chair malfunctioned. One such execution in Georgia of Otis Stephens was particularly gruesome:

After the first jolt of electricity failed to kill him , Stephens struggled for eight minutes before a second charge finished the job. The first jolt took two minutes, and there was a six minute pause so his body could cool before physicians could examine him (and declare that another jolt was needed.) During that six-minute interval, Stephens took 23 breaths.

But as more and more journalists began to give graphic (and sensational) descriptions of botched executions in the 1980’s and 90’s, anti-death penalty sentiment began to grow. This led to the adoption of the current method of execution by lethal injection. First proposed in Oklahoma in 1977, lethal injection seemed to fill the bill for death penalty advocates in that it offered a more “humane” way to execute prisoners. The process is simple; three drugs are administered by IV into an inmates veins. The first drug is a strong sedative that induces unconsciousness. The other two drugs stop the heart and respiration.

But even with death by lethal injection, there is suffering that would make televising executions problematic. For example, Tookie Williams execution was marred by a frantic search for a vein in which to place the IV’s. This is not uncommon in executions by lethal injection. Some inmates have had to wait up to 40 minutes (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES OF DEATH) strapped to the chair as poorly trained state employees try and hook up the IV’s. The fact that there are very few doctors and nurses who would break their oaths not to cause a patient harm means that the state must often staff the execution themselves with lay prison workers.

But all of this skirts the real issue of whether or not executions should be televised. Both advocates and opponents of the death penalty have formed an unlikely alliance on the issue - for different reasons of course. Opponents believe that if the American people saw what goes on in the death chamber that their outrage would sweep the death penalty from the books. Advocates are a little more prosaic in their support. They see public executions as confirmation that the state-sponsored death of an inmate is a judgment by society itself and that all should bear witness to what we have wrought. There is also, proponents believe, a deterrence factor inherent in televising executions.

It should be pointed out that there is not a shred of evidence that any deterrent benefit will accrue to society if we make executions public. It is also true that there is no evidence that what would surely be the biggest TV audience in history would be swayed one way or another about capital punishment by witnessing an execution live and in color. What should be the criteria then for deciding whether or not public executions should be allowed?

In many ways, the way a person dies is the most personal and private moment in their life. Watching as life leaves the body has been described as a mystical experience - one moment the person is “there” the next they are “gone.” For this reason, courts have continuously held that prisoners have a right not to be forced into public executions. And of course, it should go without saying that the effect on innocent family members of the condemned who would be watching (or knowing that everyone else is watching) their loved one’s death would be horrible indeed. But when is the personal outweighed by the political? Does society’s compelling interest in bearing witness to an execution outweigh the hardship that would fall on innocent family members?

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh did not formally request that his execution be televised. But he did question the number of witnesses that were allowed to watch him die:

Given the crime for which McVeigh was convicted, it seems logical to assume that his motives in wishing to have his execution televised are simply to undermine the legitimacy of the federal government by broadcasting a horrific act that the government sanctions. However, if the government sanctions such an act, then by definition (at least in this country), the people sanction it. Clearly, if the public wishes to continue to sanction executions, it is going to have to come to grips with the nature of the procedure. It is gruesome. Executions behind closed doors serve one legitimate purpose; that is protecting the privacy and the dignity of the condemned individual. For that reason, courts have rightly held that prisoners cannot be forced into public executions.

But is “the privacy and dignity” of the condemned reason enough to prevent the people’s need to see what the government is doing in their name? Is it our right to know what it’s like to be executed?

These were questions taken up the the North Carolina Courts in Lawson v. Dixon in which a condemned inmate wished to have his execution filmed and broadcast on the Phil Donahue Show. Their arguments settled on Mr. Lawson’s 14th amendment equal protection claims and Mr. Donahue’s First Amendment right to use “the tool of his trade” - a TV camera - to cover the execution. The three arguments put forth by the warden of the prison (Dixon) were:

1) the ban on cameras in the witness room protected the identity of prison employees involved in the execution from angry inmates and an angry public, 2) broadcasting an execution would incite violence in the prison, thereby threatening prison employees, and 3) video cameras could be used to break the heavy glass surrounding the gas chamber thereby threatening the lives of those individuals in the witness room.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dixon, finding that the warden had compelling reasons to exclude video cameras. They also dismissed the claims of Lawson based on the 1st and 14th Amendments. However, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, while not required to address the merits of Lawson’s claim, called into question the validity of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s determination that Lawson did not have any constitutional guarantee to either 1) select those persons whom he wished to witness his execution, or 2) to require that his execution be filmed.

What this means is that it’s possible that public executions in America may become a reality. With the explosion of cable outlets, all it would take would be one tabloid TV show with enough money (and moxie) to convince an inmate to fight for the right to have his execution plastered all over TV. The inmate’s family could be in for a huge payday. This scenario was actually the subject of a 1991 movie entitled Witness to the Execution. And while the story centered on the inmate’s second thoughts of having his execution broadcast on a Pay-Per-View basis and the slimy journalist who coaxed him not to back out, it is not beyond the realm of the possible that such a situation could arise.

Wouldn’t it be better to craft laws that guarantee access to the media in the form of pool coverage? And the biggest question of all; could we actually trust the media not to turn the execution into a three ring circus?

As for the first question, while it may be better to regulate coverage of an execution rather than have it turn into a competitive bidding process, the technical aspects of coverage would be a huge challenge to legislate. However, it has been done before. The law opening up the House and Senate to TV coverage stipulated camera angles and other technical requirements so as not to show lawmakers asleep at their desks or the fact that most speeches are given to a completely empty chamber. Clearly, where there’s a will, there would be a way.

But is the desire really there to televise executions? There is no public clamor at the moment but that may change if an inmate were ever to win a case that would force prisons to open the death chamber to cameras. And that begs the question; how would TV networks handle an execution?

My guess is that it would unintentionally become the biggest extravaganza in TV history. The worldwide audience would be staggering. And no amount of respectful commentary or phony piety on the part of the talking heads would be able to obscure the fact that a human being - cowardly, brutal, and thuggish as he may be - would die right in front of our eyes. “As men, we are all equal in the presence of death” said Publilius Syrus. This is a truth that many Americans may find unpalatable. Would we as a society be able to deal with public executions or would we find the entire exercise so distasteful that the political rationale for capital punishment would evaporate?

We may find out sooner than we are prepared to admit.

TOOKIE EXECUTION OPENS DEBATE ON DEATH PENALTY

Filed under: Ethics — Rick Moran @ 3:41 am

I was going to make this an update to my first Tookie Williams piece but Ed Morrissey’s compelling post called for a separate article on my behalf.

Ed is a rational anti-death penalty advocate:

Again, I oppose the death penalty, primarily on two grounds: religious and practicality. I don’t think the state should take a life unless the person represents a present threat to the safety and security of the public, or a threat to the national security of the US or our allies. I also don’t think that the death penalty saves us any money, and needlessly clogs our appellate courts with frivolous motions and delaying tactics. When we have the person locked up, he should stay locked up — and I mean locked up for good, and none of the Club Fed treatment, either. Three hots and a cot, and anything else depends on how well the prisoner behaves. That to me settles the entire case in a relatively expeditious manner without having twenty years of legal motions keeping the case alive.

Ed’s position holds a certain moral and practical attraction. And it is nothing if not consistent with his Roman Catholic faith for which he should be commended for adhering.

However, there is something deeper, more atavistic involved in society as a whole making a statement that taking a life in the fashion that Mr. Williams took 4 others will, after careful consideration and all due process, result in the forfieture of your own. It is more than justice. It is more than revenge. It is an accounting.

Ed believes that this accounting can be achieved by locking the perpetrator up for the rest of his life - true “life without parole.” I would say that first, this is a pleseant fantasy to believe this could be achieved. Already there is a growing unease among our intelligentsia and legal community that too many people are actually being given life sentences and, well, dying in jail. This New York Times article from 10/2/05 made me spit coffee through my nose when I read the headline:

TO MORE INMATES, LIFE MEANS DYING BEHIND BARS

It turns out that prosecutors and judges have been giving a wink and a nod to criminals when giving them a life sentence; they don’t really mean what they say. Now judges and even prosecutors are upset because mandatory sentencing guidelines have taken so much disgression away from them. Here’s what I wrote back then:

There’s a reason people are sentenced to life in prison. And while there may be a few exceptions to the so-called “Three strike” rule in sentencing (and these should be dealt with on a case by case basis) the fact is that sentencing guidelines are in place because too many judges and prosecutors think like the editors of the New York Times; that criminals are in jail not because they’re horrendously violent sociopathic thugs but because they are misunderstood by society or that they’re the wrong color or that they’ve spent time in jail and have actually “reformed” and gone straight.

This kind of thinking caused crime to skyrocket in the 1960’s – 1980’s. It wasn’t until legislatures and the Congress passed mandatory sentencing laws that crime finally began to drop. Yes judges complain they have little leeway in sentencing anymore. But that decision wasn’t taken in a vacuum. It was because judges routinely abused their positions to foist their ideas about crime and society on the rest of us that those laws were passed in the first place.

The point I would like to make to Ed and other rational anti-death penalty advocates, is that as a practical matter, life in prison is a non-starter. The forces at work to free the criminal and get him back on the street are growing not shrinking. When leading criminologists point out that 10 years is considered a long sentence in Europe, you know we are in trouble.

As for the moral argument - especially one involving doctrine - well, you have me there. But the idea that the death penalty is merely state sponsored murder or even just societal revenge is dead wrong. It is a trap door by which a healthy society rids itself of its diseased parts. This accounting is necessary not to deter crime or to give closure to the families of victims, but because it is a rational way to approach the simple problem of dealing with people who have demonstrated that they do not deserve to enjoy the fruits of living in our society - even Ed’s “three hots and a cot.” Who makes that determination? A jury of his peers, acting on our behalf, finding guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Ed does hit the nail on the head here:

If the celebrities want to do something about the death penalty, I’d suggest trying to convince Californians that LWOP means no release, ever, under any circumstances except innocence. They could start by ending their peculiar practice of promoting the murderers as heroes and ignoring their victims. Once the public no longer has to listen to ridiculous arguments about the brilliance and courage of people who shoot helpless victims in the back and can focus on the issues of the death penalty itself, then perhaps we can convince people that we can live without executions and all the lunacy they entail.

Well said and I would add something I mentioned in my last post; until we can figure out how to level the playing field in the criminal justice system for people of different economic backgrounds (not race), the death penalty should be a rarity indeed. It is a blot on the ideas of liberty and freedom that someone’s guilt or innocence can be gleaned by how high the stack of money they are able to place on the scales of justice.

UPDATE

Michelle Malkin has the react from blogs and MSM. She links to this powerful piece by Baldilocks who echoes some of my thoughts below about what Mr. Williams hath wrought in South Central LA and elsewhere:

Leaving aside those who oppose the death penalty for moral/religious reasons, few of you have seemed motivated to move into my South Central LA neighborhood to see what “Tookie” and his Crip co-founder Raymond Lee Washington (who’s burning in Hell right now) have wrought for the last thirty-odd years. And I know that you won’t be choosing to live here anytime soon. That’s understandable; however, don’t tell me that we should coddle these TERRORISTS like “Tookie” and those he created if you don’t have to put up with them. (Okay, you can tell me, but you can expect a barely polite response and that’s if I’m feeling generous.)

Secondly—and this is especially for people like Jeremy: black people are thinking, functioning humans who, when adult and without some actual mental deficiency that they can’t control, are just as responsible for their actions as are members of any other race of people. We’re not murderers by nature (that is, any more than any other set of humans are). Therefore, we don’t need a separate, lower standard of behavior in any area, whether it’s education, employment or criminal justice.

Holding Mr. Williams responsible for the activities of the Crips gang is something apparently beyond the capacity of the celeberities, apologists, and other Tookie supporters who ignore the role Mr. Williams’ creation has played in the sacking of inner cities.

The Anchoress has some surprising thoughts on coverage of Tookie and coverage of the new pope:

But when I heard on the radio the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson talking about Tookie’s “strength” as though he was some sort of martyr (Political Teen has video) I just couldn’t help thinking to myself…when Cardinal Ratzinger became Benedict XVI, he couldn’t BUY this sort of sympathetic coverage. While tonight we hear about how Tookie “did more good than harm,” all we heard last April was that the new pope was a hardcase - relentless and inflexible and probably mean, too.

When I got home, I said all of this to my husband and he - not a man given to scripture quotation - said, “in those days men will call good evil and evil good…”

That’s a thought.

Indeed.

12/12/2005

NOTE TO TOOKIE: SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL FOR ME

Filed under: Politics — Rick Moran @ 7:07 pm

Good for the Governator:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to block the execution early Tuesday of Stanley Tookie Williams, rejecting the notion that the founder of the murderous Crips gang had atoned for his crimes and found redemption on death row.

With a federal court refusing to grant a reprieve, Williams, 51, was set to die by injection at San Quentin Prison just after midnight for murdering four people during two 1979 holdups.

Williams’ case became one of the nation’s biggest death-row cause celebres in decades. It set off a nationwide debate over the possibility of redemption on death row, with Hollywood stars and capital punishment foes arguing that Williams had made amends by writing children’s books about the dangers of gangs.

But Schwarzenegger suggested that Williams’ supposed change of heart was not genuine, noting that the inmate had not owned up to his crimes or shown any real remorse for the countless killings committed by the Crips.

I’m no big fan of the death penalty but Tookie has got to go. The idea of “redemption” on death row is laughable, something only liberals and people who believe in the tooth fairy can support with a straight face. There is no redemption for someone who has killed 4 people in the manner that Mr. Williams did. The Lord will redeem him perhaps, but please do not ask us to. Laughing and bragging about murdering the innocent is an irredeemable sin. And the fact that he has yet to take responsibility for his crimes and show any remorse whatsoever for not only those he killed but the thousands of dead young people whose lives were tragically cut short either in gang warfare or as a result of being caught in the cross fire bespeaks a breathtaking arrogance that should give the lie to any “redemption” Mr. Williams claims as a result of death staring him square in the face.

The problems with the death penalty have been well documented by people a helluva a lot smarter than I am. Basically, it comes down to a question of justice not of race. It is proven to us time and time again that if you’re rich, you have an excellent chance of either beating a murder rap or at the very least, escaping the death penalty. Poor people are not so lucky. And when talking about justice, how can we in good conscience allow this disparity when dealing with the life and death of a human being?

But I’ll make an exception in Tookie’s case. The wasteland that is South Central Los Angeles and countless other inner city war zones can at least partly be laid at the feet of Mr. William’s creation; the Crips street gang. So much violence and terror. So many destroyed lives. And let’s not forget a culture that glorifies the Tookies of the world at the expense of more uplifting and hopeful role models. Tookie offered a grinning death’s head as a symbol to his followers and admirers. You can’t get much more destructive than that.

UPDATE

React - both sublime and grotesque - from the right.

John Cole:

I am glad he ‘reformed’ after a while in jail, and I am glad he managed to do a few good things after being sentenced to death for his unspeakable crimes- maybe his God will take that into account tonight. But personally, I have a really hard time getting worked up over this case, and think there are far better cases to champion for those who dislike the death penalty than a multiple murderer who still refuses to admit his own guilt.

Ace with some spot-on commentary on reaction from the left:

It’s a strange compulsion of the radical left to excuse the worst of all crimes — murder — simply because someone may have a bit of creative talent or literary potential. Murder is not some penny-ante offense that is outlawed only due to blue laws forced on the country by religious freaks. It is the ultimate crime, the alpha and omega of violations.

Tookie Williams murdered at least four people.

But he wrote a children’s book.

This absolves his sins?

In his gentle, caring way, Misha commiserates with Tookie ’s desire not to have anyone present at the execution:

‘Fraid you don’t have much say in that matter, you perverted, murdering son of a whore. Pardon our harsh language, but we’re still pissed off that all of the tickets to the show were sold out and that we’ll be stuck at home when we should be watching Tookie getting the Juice O’Death, stuffing our face with pork rinds and swilling beer. They do allow beer in there, don’t they?

Um…don’t think so my Emperor but we could try and make an exception in your case.

Thanks to Will Collier for reminding us what Mr. Williams is being executed for.

As usual, James Joyner is thoughtful and succinct:

While laudable that Williams decided that murder and mayhem were bad things while in prison, achieving the moral consciousness of the average 6-year-old does not erase his heinous past. As founder of the Crips, he is responsible for more murders than Charles Manson, Son of Sam, Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and every other serial killer you’ve ever heard of combined. If anyone deserves to die, it’s him.

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