R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. posted his column “An arsenal of cruelest quotes” in the Washington Post today. In this column, he explained how he was once accused by Joe Klein of dealing him “a low blow” in a Wall Street Journal article Tyrrell wrote. Tyrrell’s response was, “But Joe, all I did was quote you.”

Charles Johnson, designer and chief editor of Little Green Footballs, is one of America’s most hated people. He is hated by the Marxist Left, but he is most hated by the Islamic fanatics around the world. He is hated because he shows up the Islamic fanatics for who they are. And he does this by using their own words to testify against them. Charles Johnson is a master of the cruelest quotes, but these are things that were actually said.

President Bush, among others, has called Islam a “religion of peace.” People who post comments on Little Green Footballs often abbreviate this phrase to “RoP.” But this phrase is also derided with comments like “religion of pieces” after Palestinian homicide bombers do their thing. A very common response to the latest act of “peace” by a Muslim is to write “RoPMA,” which stands for “Religion of peace, my ass.”

Obviously I hate Islam and all Muslims, right? Wrong. I do not hate anyone, but just as Tyrrell and Johnson have found out, quoting people’s own words at them is often seen as an attack and prima facia evidence of hate. So if quoting people’s own words now constitutes hate, then I will be guilty of hatred today as I cite several examples of the “religion of peace” in the words of its followers. Ready? Here we go.

First up is a news item from the daily newspaper Al-Jazirah in Saudi Arabia. It reported that 40 people were arrested in that nation for the crime of “performing Christian religious rites in an apartment in the Thaharat Al-Badi’a neighborhood in western Riyadh”:

A Saudi religious police source explained the reason for the arrest: “These people tried to spread the poison and their beliefs to others, by means of distributing pamphlets and [missionary] publications.” He said that all the detainees “had been transferred to the relevant bodies for investigation.”

Nice people, these religious police. They are known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. In the name of preventing vice, these same folks stopped schoolgirls from fleeing their burning school, resulting in the death of fifteen and injuring of dozens. You see, they didn’t have on the head scarves and robes mandated by their beliefs as a way of showing modesty.

One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya.”

In New York, Amina Wadud led a congregation of men and women in prayer, starting up controversy and threats.

Only a handful of protesters showed up outside the event and they conducted a counter prayer service on the sidewalk, led by a young American man who would only give his name as Nussruh. “These people do not represent Islam,” said the clearly furious Nussruh. “If this was an Islamic state, this woman would be hanged, she would be killed, she would be diced into pieces.”

On that cheery note, I’m sure Wadud is glad that America isn’t an Islamic state. Neither is Holland, but that hasn’t stopped the death threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali because of the movie Submission, which she wrote and Theo van Gogh directed. Nor did living in a non-Islamic state prevent Mohammed Bouyeri from shooting van Gogh, cutting his throat, and impaling a multi-page letter in his chest with a knife.

Over in Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei spoke out against the evils of the West and the tools that are being used against Islam:

Khamenei also explained how Iran is viewed globally in the role that it plays within the context of Islam. As the supreme leader of the Islamic republic, he said, that the “country has contributed to the awakening of Muslims and our enemies are trying to compensate for their poverty of thought, and so they have raised the banner of terrorism and are armed with human rights in order to defeat Islam and Muslims.”

Nasty stuff, that human rights nonsense. The next thing you know, women will be taking their head-scarves off, wanting to drive cars, and flaunting their non-burqa limbs at Allah-fearing men. Once that happens, hell can’t be far behind. It’s enough to make a Muslim male ask, How can I train myself for jihad?. The AK-47 on the top of the page puts the lie to the oft-touted explanation that jihad is a spiritual struggle against evil. The physical aspect of jihad is echoed in mosques around the globe. Sheik Saleh Al Luhaidan was taped speaking in Saudi Arabia advocating fighting against the U.S. in Iraq.

If someone knows that he is capable of entering Iraq in order to join the fight, and if his intention is to raise up the word of God, then he is free to do so.

This ideology of hate has also been seen in mosques here in the United States. Apparently America is worthy of contempt because we are not governed by Wahhabi-style Islamic law, and democracy is un-Islamic. And found in print in many of these mosques is a call to shed the blood of anyone who converts to another faith from Islam.

These Islamic words and actions have an underlying theme: they have been pointed out by Charles Johnson on Little Green Footballs, and because he has pointed out their own words and actions, he is often accused of being filled with hate. But it is hard to say Johnson is filled with hate when these are not his own words. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, Johnson has several image galleries on his site. One is listed as Palestinian Child Abuse because of the way children are pushed into jihad. Another contains more graphic images of death: Palestinian Car Swarms. For some reason, Palestinians will gather around a car destroyed by Israeli forces in an attempt to get body parts of the martyrs for relics.

You may think I believe that all the world’s billion-plus Muslims are fanatics and are calling for America’s death. That’s not true, but the voices and actions of the fanatics are loud and hard to ignore. But as Daniel Pipes points out, it is possible to identify moderate Muslims. I only wish there were more.

President Gordon B. Hinckley was once asked what was the symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He responded that “the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”

Likewise, the acts of these fanatical Muslims have become the symbol of their worship.

Religion of peace, my ass.

(With apologies to Shrek)

Donkey: Cause I’m all alone.
There’s no one here beside me.
My problems have all gone,
There’s no one to deride me.
But you gotta watch movies…
Shrek: Stop singing! Why, it’s no wonder you don’t have any friends, if you mangle the lyrics like that.

So the wife has headed out to take advantage of some higher education, leaving me alone again. This means I get to visit the local movie rental store (not Blockbuster) to do some serious movie watching. I love movies, and I seem to get to watch them more when she is gone. In a wild burst of candor, she confessed that the idea of going out to see a movie is not something she is too wild about. But she admitted to enjoying the movies once I’ve succeeded in dragging her there. There is a simple lesson to learn in this — wives should listen to and obey their husbands! [thpbhpthpt. --ed.]

Hah! I’m two states away, so The Pirate King can’t use her trusty cutlass on me. I’m safe! SAFE, I tell you! Well, completely safe until she gets back here. But I think she’ll have forgotten all about this by the time she comes back home, and if she is reading this, I think I can distract her. Hey look! Shiny things! [ooo, shiny! --ed.]

Now that she’s off looking at Swarovski crystals, I can get around to my main point — movies! I picked up four DVDs to watch this weekend, and so far have viewed three. I’ll watch the final one in the next day or so. And so I present the three movies in the order I watched them.

*Spoiler Warning*
(or as the wife says, “Arr! Thar be spoilers ahead!”)

Ocean’s Twelve
Ocean’s Eleven was a successful movie in 2001, and with popularity comes sequels. And when you consider that Ocean’s Eleven is in turn a remake of a 1960 film, Ocean’s Twelve is a sequel of a remake. If Hollywood makes a remake of this sequel, then the circle will be complete. Most of the time, sequels suffer from a technical failing I have termed “sequelitis.” The sequel is never as good as the first movie. But there are a few rare exceptions to this movie malady — Shrek 2, Toy Story 2, and Highlander 2. OK, so the last one stank like last week’s fish. “Highlander 2 — there can be only one. Again.”

But I found I liked Ocean’s Twelve. It had the fun interaction of the players, and the same fast action heists. But I think the main reason I liked this movie was the European setting. Having spent some years in Europe, I’m familiar with the no-word traffic signs and narrow streets. The movie suffers from some jerky camera work in places; it must have been part of the director’s “vision.” I’d call it “bad editing,” but I’m not an Oscar-winning director. Of all the fun cut-scenes, I like the one of Amsterdam best.

I give Ocean’s Twelve 2 and 1/2 stars out of four and a Faberge Egg.

The Punisher
This was a guilty pleasure. Not only is it a movie about a Marvel comic, it is a movie made by Marvel. There was an earlier Punisher movie staring Dolph Lundgren, but I enjoyed the newer movie much more than the earlier, non-Marvel version. After all, in the new version the Punisher gets to kill off John Travolta! How cool is that?!? But this is precisely the type of movie I can’t take my wife to see because of its high “Guy Film” quotient. A movie scores high as a “Guy Film” if it contains the “Three Bs” — blood, bullets and boobs. And The Punisher delivers all three, but with only brief glimpses of the last, you pervert.

With everything going super-CGI for effects, it was very nice to see a down and dirty movie done with down and dirty effects. I think my favorite fight scene is with the Russian, but the best death comes at the end when John Travolta goes up in smoke. Did I mention that John Travolta dies in this movie? I did? Oh, so I did. I know that John Travolta played Terl in the craptastic Battlefield Earth movie, but I haven’t seen it. In the book Terl dies. Could either of you brave souls who watched Battlefield Earth let me know if John Travolta dies in that movie? This information might make it worth watching that polished turd.

I give The Punisher 2 and 1/2 stars and a Francis Ray Ottoman t-shirt.

House of Flying Daggers
This is the third Ziyi Zhang movie I have seen, the first two being Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you enjoyed either of these, you will like House of Flying Daggers, too. Set in ancient China, it is the story of two guard captains and their plan to infiltrate the rebels known as the Flying Daggers because of their skill with Chinese cooking. And if you believe that, I want to sell you your next car.

Like the other two movies with Ziyi, House of Flying Daggers is a very visual movie, and the colors are nicely done. This movie doesn’t have the same saturation of color as Hero does, but it still has some very impressive locations. My favorite location in the movie is the vibrant green bamboo forest, closely followed by the snowy end battle. Eighteen seconds of this film was snipped before it was shown in the United Kingdom. Three scenes of horses falling were removed to comply with animal cruelty laws in the UK, and they were enough to cause a very long IMDB thread on the subject of animal cruelty.

I give House of Flying Daggers 3 stars and a flying Ginsu knife that cuts both throats and ripe tomatoes paper thin!

I haven’t watched Osama yet, but I was intrigued after visiting the movie’s website. It’s the next movie to watch. Time to go make me some more popcorn. Mmm….

[And he can make it as garlicky as he likes, too. --ed.]

Addendum (4/26/2005): I see The Pirate King has been editing this article and putting her touches on it. :)

Humorist and author P. J. O’Rourke, in his book Eat the Rich, summed up the four ways of spending money thus:

  1. Spend your money on yourself.
  2. Spend your money on other people.
  3. Spend other people’s money on yourself.
  4. Spend other people’s money on other people.

If you spend your money on yourself, you look for the best value at the best price — knockoff Pings on sale at Golf-Fore-Less. If you spend your money on other people, you still worry about price, but you may not know — or care — what the other people want. So your brother-in-law gets a Deepak Chopra book for Christmas. If you spend other people’s money on yourself, it’s hard to resist coming home with real Pings, a new leather bag, orange pants with little niblicks on them, and a pair of Foot-Joy spikes. And if you spend other people’s money on other people, any damn thing will do and the hell with what it costs.

Government spending falls into the last two types. This is why the Transportation Security Agency is in hot water for spending so much of other people’s money on themselves, stuff like art and silk flowers. But most of government’s spending is solidly in the last type, and this is why no government branch ever spends less than its yearly budget. It’s not like it’s their money, so they finish spending every bit of the yearly budget before the new fiscal year begins.

As bad as that is, government is guilty of exporting this most wasteful of spending practices to other areas of our lives. At the end of World War II, there were fewer able-bodied men between the ages of twenty and forty than before. In a normal situation, a shortage of a good will cause the price to rise, but the government had placed a cap on wages, so how could the manpower-starved businesses attract workers? As an added perk, companies started to offer medical benefits to their workers. The wages were fixed by law, but the medical benefits were a way around the law. Well, the smaller companies couldn’t compete with the big boys, so they yelled to the government.

The government realized that the wage controls were a problem, so they quickly dropped them. Hah! In your dreams! Instead, the government “fixed” the problem by giving tax breaks to companies who provided these medical benefits to their employees. You will get more of that which you subsidize, so very shortly most companies were offering medical benefits to their employees to compete in the marketplace and because of the tax breaks it provided.

But what is the nature of spending with these health care plans? This is a case of people spending other people’s money on other people. Who cares about the cost? Not the employees. By 1960 70% of the American people had health care coverage, up from about 20% in 1945. With the corresponding rise in people insured, so also rose the cost of health care. Stan Liebowitz wrote an interesting article for the Cato Institute in 1994. The most telling part of the article is represented in the following graph.

Cost rises in Health Care

Medical costs have gone up in direct relationship to how little people pay out of pocket for them. This is the 4th method of spending money in action. By the mid-’60s, the rising cost of health care was an issue for retired people and the poor who didn’t have a company paying for health insurance. They petitioned the government to fix this problem. Rather than backing out of the mess they had created, the Federal Government decided that Medicaid and Medicare would do the trick. This effectively pulled more people away from paying their medical bills directly, and shifting nearly all medical spending into the 4th method. Looking at the graph above, can you predict what happened next? Let’s not see the same hands this time. Yes, you in the back, you’re exactly right — prices did go up.

Fast forward to today. We see the same problems in action. The elderly, who don’t have a company to pay their health care costs, are complaining about the rising cost of medicines. In a politically shrewd but truly dumb financial move, President Bush pushed for a prescription drug benefit for the heavily-registered and commonly-voting AARP crowd. With more spending on prescriptions shifting into the 4th method of spending money, expect the cost of medicines to rise, rise, rise.

Milton Friedman explained one reason why costs have risen in an article entitled How to Cure Health Care from 2001:

Employer financing of medical care has caused the term “insurance” to acquire a rather different meaning in medicine than in most other contexts. We generally rely on insurance to protect us against events that are highly unlikely to occur but involve large losses if they do occur – major catastrophes, not minor regularly recurring expenses. We insure our houses against loss from fire, not against the cost of having to cut the lawn. We insure our cars against liability to others or major damage, not against having to pay for gasoline. Yet in medicine, it has become common to rely on insurance to pay for regular medical examinations and often for prescriptions.

You will get more of that which you subsidize. By removing the majority of the out-of-pocket cost of a doctor visit or of a bottle of pills, there is little downward pressure on using that service. Friedman also covers this problem in his article:

Enactment of Medicare and Medicaid provided a direct subsidy for medical care. The cost grew much more rapidly than originally estimated – as the cost of all handouts invariably do. Legislation cannot repeal the non-legislated law of demand and supply. The lower the price, the greater the quantity demanded; at a zero price, the quantity demanded becomes infinite. Some method of rationing must be substituted for price and that invariably means administrative rationing.

Every time you hear someone badmouth an HMO for the way they deny coverage, you can thank the government’s involvement in the health care industry. Had then-First Lady Hillary Clinton been successful in nationalizing the health care industry, everyone would have health care insurance. Good thing, right? Wrong! Haven’t you been paying attention about how that would shift all health care spending into the 4th method? Did you realize that had Hillarycare been enacted, paying cash for your own medical bills would have been a crime?

Time to hammer home the point. There is one medical cost I can think of that has steadily decreased over time, while at the same time the technology has increased, and that is laser eye surgery. This procedure is not covered by medical insurance, so the money comes from the patient’s own pockets. This is the 1st method of spending, and this means people hunt for a bargan, driving prices down. And doctors compete with each other for the money by improving the technology while also driving down their costs and increasing overall care. If laser eye surgery were to be covered by health care, you could expect to see the cost of the procedure soar to new heights.

So how can we get out of our current situation? Well, it won’t be easy. The ultimate solution is to move from spending other people’s money on other people to spending your own money on yourself. There is a method in place for doing just that — Medical Savings Accounts. Again from Milton Friedman:

The high cost and inequitable character of our medical-care system is the direct result of our steady movement toward reliance on third-party payment. A cure requires reversing course, reprivatizing medical care by eliminating most third-party payment, and restoring the role of insurance to providing protection against major medical catastrophes. The ideal way to do that would be to reverse past actions: repeal the tax exemption of employer-provided medical care; terminate Medicare and Medicaid; deregulate most insurance; and restrict the role of the government, preferably state and local rather than federal, to financing care for the hard cases.

If large companies were to change to catastrophic health insurance, the cost of that insurance would be much less than it is now. They could take some of the savings and place that into their employees’ medical savings accounts, some to go into the employees’ paycheck, and pocket a bit of the leftover savings themselves. It would truly be a win-win situation all the way around: the company spends less money, the employee gets a medical savings account and more money in the paycheck, and there would be a strong incentive to shop around and lower medical costs.

You would benefit. The company would benefit. People on low or fixed incomes would benefit from the dropping medical costs. Heck, even doctors would benefit from reduced paperwork from giant HMOs. So just who would suffer?

On April 19, 1995 at 9:02 am, the Ryder truck parked outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma exploded, ripping the front of the building and slaying 168 people. I remember being at work when the news of the bombing reached me. The large TV monitor that tracked business issues was changed to the local news station, and images of the devastation played while the talking heads commented continuously.

The initial news reports linked the bombing to Muslim fanatics. Since the World Trade Center had been attacked just two years before with the same type of ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb, it is easy to see why the first thought was to suspect a repeat performance. By the second day, the news was no longer looking for Muslim fanatics, and Timothy McVeigh was charged with the bombing. He had been stopped only 90 minutes after the explosion because he was driving without a license plate on his car. He was detained on firearm charges, and as he was getting ready to be released on the 21st, McVeigh was identified and charged. Meanwhile in Kansas, Terry Nichols, McVeigh’s colleague from his army service, surrendered to police.

With the announcement of the capture of McVeigh and Nichols, all the previous speculation about Muslim fanatics evaporated. Over time, people have wondered how or even if the Oklahoma bombing fit into the wave of Muslim terrorist activities during the ’90s, but information is pointing more and more to a real link.

During the initial hours, a call went out for John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2 who were seen leaving the scene in Oklahoma City, but after the announcement of McVeigh’s capture, John Doe No. 2 was dropped from the case. Rita Cosby from Fox News reported the following:

Plus, there’s the fact that more than two dozen people, credible people, whom I have spoken with face-to-face, say they saw McVeigh with someone else. Prosecutors say all these people are mistaken, that McVeigh was alone in the Ryder truck that fateful day.

Rita Cosby expands on this information in another news report:

The FBI quickly identified Timothy McVeigh as John Doe No. 1 — the man who rented the Ryder truck used in the deadly plot. But the FBI discounted dozens of eyewitness statements about a John Doe No. 2. And some ask why.

“The government tried to tell us that there was no John Doe 2 in the truck with McVeigh,” Lawton said. “We got witnesses that saw him in the truck, saw him get out of the truck, walk across the street and get into a brown Chevrolet pickup with two more John Doe 2′s. That makes three.”

A number of eyewitnesses said they saw McVeigh with other men at a variety of locations in Oklahoma and Kansas before the attack. Some accounts put McVeigh with other men on the morning of the bombing — but the FBI has ruled them out.

Jayna Davis points out that an ex-Iraqi named Hussain al-Hussaini was a very close match for the composite John Doe No. 2 image. Al-Hussaini sued Jayna Davis for defamation of character when she broke her story, but that suit was later tossed out. Since then he has vanished from the public eye, just like the John Doe No. 2 that the FBI was looking for so intently during the first hours after the bombing.

But more interesting than al-Hussaini–a probable member of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard–are the phone calls made by Nichols. Before the bomb blast, he made multiple calls to Star Glad Lumber in the Philippines. Star Glad Lumber was owned by a man whose brother and cousin were members of splinter factions of the Abu Sayyaf terror group. Terry Nichols made multiple calls to a home in Cebu City that has since been linked to 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef. Incidentally, the same type of bomb was used in both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and in Oklahoma City two years later.

Yousef’s bomb manufacturing facility in the Philippines was discovered in 1995, and the police found a laptop computer containing three versions of the September 11 plot. One version was a plot to plant bombs in a multitude of airplanes crossing the Pacific, with the bombs timed to explode at the same time. In a second version, the flying bombs were timed to explode on flights over the U.S. In the third version, the plan was to hijack multiple airplanes and crash them into American landmarks. Both the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers were specifically mentioned in this final plan.

According to investigators, Yousef’s uncle Khalid Sheik Mohammed presented the three plans to Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden decided to fund the third version of the plans, which led to the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. When you realize that the first version of the plan called for blowing up a dozen airplanes, the hijacking of only four airplanes seems minor in comparison to what could have happened.

Abdul Hakim Murad was Yousef’s al-Qaida partner in the Philippines. He was being held in prison in New York City on that April day ten years ago. When he heard of the blast in Oklahoma City, he told his guard that both he and Yousef were behind the bomb. This claim was sufficient to bring FBI agents to his cell, and Murad claimed that the bomb was the action of the Liberation Army, a code used by Yousef and al-Qaida for their attacks.

It is completely possible that Murad was simply capitalizing on the bomb in Oklahoma for the sake of attention, but there are enough links between him, Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh to raise some warning flags in my mind. And I have to wonder: why was the FBI so quick to publish information about John Doe No. 2 as a Middle Eastern man, and just as quick to call that search off? Who really was John Doe No. 2, and if it was al-Hussaini, where is he today? When inmates facing the death penalty often spend 20 years or more before their execution, why was Tim McVeigh executed so swiftly–and why did he seem so very willing to die? It seems to me McVeigh had the same readiness to be killed that is seen in many religious martyrs.

Today is April 15th, 2005. Here in the United States, it is Income Tax Day. Ugh.

Well, that’s not over a thousand words, so I’ll blather on a bit more about taxes. Did you that people used to write out the full check to pay for their taxes on this day? Withholding of taxes by one’s company or business didn’t start up until 1943, during World War II. At that point the federal government was desperate to get its hands on the tax money as soon as it could. And even if you ended up getting all of your money back, the government was still able to generate interest off the loan of your money. Nice racket, no?

Do you know that the bottom 50% of wage earners pay less than 5% of all the federal income taxes? Did you know that the top 5% of the wage earners pay over 50% of the federal income taxes? Whenever there is any talk of a reduction of tax rates, it will affect the top 50% of the nation’s wage earners because they are the people paying the vast majority of the taxes in the first place. This is why the Marxists in the Democratic Party love to vilify any tax cuts as being “just for the rich.” Since the top half of the wage earners in the U.S. pay over 96% of all the income taxes brought in, any reduction in taxes will affect the rich by definition.

Neither of these two issues should be news to you if you read my comments from last year. Also mentioned last year was Tax Freedom Day, as described by TaxFoundation.org. Tax Freedom Day was described last year as “the day when Americans finally have earned enough money to pay off their total tax bill for the year.” This year Tax Freedom Day will come on April 17th, up from last year, but still lower than the high point of May 3rd in 2000. Since President Bush’s tax cuts came into effect, Tax Freedom Day has come earlier. Looking at the following image outlining the historic trends of Tax Freedom Day, you can see the last four years are lower than anything since President Reagan’s first term.

Tax Freedom Day over time

There must have been some adjustments of the data with this year’s graph more than the leap year change mentioned, because there are several years that have shifted more than a single day from last year’s graph.

Figuring out taxes is a rite of passage for most American adults. And swearing at the complicated tax forms is commonly a part of this activity. The Drudge Report linked to a news article by Mary Dalrymple saying that Americans will spend 6.6 billion hours this year figuring out their taxes, 1.6 billion of those hours on the common 1040 form. That calculates to over five hours of tax swearing for every American man, woman, and child on just the 1040 forms alone. I don’t know about you, but I find it distressing to imagine the children I know spending five hours this year swearing at a pile of papers.

Time to put this article on pause while I run to pick up dinner — Indian food. Mmm… lamb korma.

Still here? Good. Now that I have some yummy food inside me, I think I can tell you that our bane this year has been state taxes. Filling out the 1040 was easy, but we spent our 5 hours swearing at Utah’s TC-40. We moved from Utah last year, so I knew I’d have to fill out two state income tax forms. Figuring out our new state’s taxes was pretty easy. Enter how much you made this year in the state, subtract the standard deductions, and calculate the tax from the result. The bottom line was a rebate of some of my money, and that was to be expected.

Since I knew how much I had made in Utah, I figured I’d be getting most, if not all, of the state taxes back. We were unpleasantly surprised to find out that we owed over $100 more to Utah. Cue the tax swearing. How the [bleeping bleep bleep] did we manage to owe more to Utah when we made less money there? Time to go through the agony of doing the taxes again, this time manually filling out the Utah forms rather than using TaxCut. Add this, swear, subtract that, swear, carry the 2, swear, look at the bottom line — more swear thoughts! It was exactly the same amount that TaxCut said we owed! Grrr!

OK, time to figure out why this was different. Let’s see — take the amount we earned in Utah, subtract the standard deductions — no wait! We didn’t start with the amount of money earned in Utah. It called for the whole amount we earned last year in both states, then subtracted the standard deduction. That is what Utah considers our state taxable income. Here’s the kicker: this method showed that our Utah taxable income was over $4,000 more than the amount we actually made in Utah. Double-you tee eff?

So TaxCut wasn’t on the fritz; it simply recognized the screwy way that the Utah legislature had written the tax code. With our faith in software rekindled and our poor expectations of government confirmed, we wrote out a check to the bloodsuckers in the capitol building.

I hope they get a paper cut.

Email is an interesting thing. It is so very easy to type up an email to someone, yet very few people ever respond when they read something they like or disagree with. Wright’s Law tells me that for every email I receive, there are 156 people who agree with the emailer, but who are just too lazy busy to write. My sense of honesty forces me to explain that Wright’s Law is expressed as, “42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot,” that it is named for comedian Steven Wright, and that so far, all statistics referred to in this article have been made up. But I felt it was about time to answer some of my emails in a very public way.

“What is the best email you’ve ever received?”

The funniest email I have received in a long time came during the height of the recent Terri Schiavo brouhaha. This pithy gem was only six words long. The meat of the message was the succinct “F*** YOU!” that is the staple of genteel and well-educated pundits throughout the English-speaking world. But what cracked me up was the automatic signature at the end of the message: “Have a great day!” A word of advice to future ranters — don’t dilute your hatred with well wishes. It’s a bit schizophrenic.

“Why do you call yourself Captain Midnight? Are you a real captain? Is your last name really Midnight?”

These questions are addressed in my about me page, but I’ll answer them again here. No, I’m not really named “Captain Midnight,” any more than my wife is really named “The Pirate King.” Believe me, that would look strange on a marriage license, except in Massachusetts. But I do have some captain’s bars from my fighter-pilot father, if that counts for anything. I have used this pseudonym for nearly 15 years; I first borrowed it from the Robert A. Heinlein novel The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. The protagonist of the story sometimes refers to himself as “Captain Midnight,” and my favorite quote comes from page 107 in my copy of the book: “Captain Midnight, undaunted as usual, knew just what to do.”

“Would you write up your views on [some issue]?”

Maybe. Someday. This isn’t your typical blog with multiple small postings each day about whatever strikes my fancy. Instead, I write about stuff that moves me, and my basic goal is to write at least 1,000 words on my chosen subject. [Eh, I've since skipped that requirement -- Captain Midnight] I’m not the speediest of typists, so these articles can take a bit to crank out, especially if I’m called away on some other task. At any given time I have a half-dozen topics that have been buzzing in my head for a while, and one of them will come to the forefront and demand to be released. This often means that I am not in the vanguard of a breaking story, but then I’m not a journalist in the classic “Stop the presses!” sense. I’m merely an opinionated person who thinks that both of the people who read this site would appreciate my take on certain issues. Or should appreciate my take. I told you I was opinionated.

“What are your favorite blogs?”

There isn’t enough time to read all the work of people I would really like to read. I’d have to quit both sleeping and working if I even wanted to begin keeping up with all the good writing that’s out on the Internet. Since I believe in Sturgeon’s Law that “90% of everything is crud,” it is important to avoid the crud whenever possible. The amazing thing to me is how many really good blogs exist; of course, that means a huge amount of crud must be out there as well. Here is a listing of sites that I visit daily to check for new material, in alphabetical order:

There are many others that I will visit once a week or so, but they are too numerous to list here.

“Could you send me some cool links, please?”

Sure. Here you go.

“What is your favorite joke?”

Again, honesty requires me to confess that no one has ever written to ask for my favorite joke, but I wanted to pad this past a thousand words and end with a laugh, so here goes:

There once was a field full of carrots. It was an old field, and it wasn’t so tasty to the carrots any more. One day, a carrot noticed that the field on the other side of the road had been freshly plowed and fertilized. He wiggled out of his hole and hopped across the road to the new field, where he planted himself. Bliss! He waved and called his friends over to the new field.

Thus began the massive carrot migration. Then one day, a carrot was hit by a passing car as he was hopping across the road. His friends rushed his mangled body to the nearest hospital where the finest carrot doctor in the land worked for hours repairing the young carrot. It was touch and go, but finally the head surgeon came out of the operating room to announce that he had both good news and bad news for the anxious family.

“The good news is that he will live. The bad news is that he’ll be a vegetable for the rest of his life.”

Let me set the scene at the southern border:

Freight trains leave each day heading north. At the border “undocumented workers” swarm over the tracks, trying to catch a free ride into the promised land, and it isn’t uncommon for a train to have hundreds of people clinging to it, hitching a ride up north. But not everyone makes it — Hector fell under the moving train and lost both of his legs. Dangerous gangs roam along the border, and violence and prostitution run amok. Immigration officials catch some of the people crossing the river, but many make it past them. The officials and police will send the migrants back, but there are mixed signals being sent here: people from other government agencies patrol the border to advise people about their human rights, often giving them food and clothes. Commissioner Felipe Preciado laments over the Sisyphean nature of the illegal immigrant problem: “It took longer for our buses to turn around at the border than it did for undocumented migrants to re-enter [the country] somewhere else.”

Just north of the border, farmers and ranchers take advantage of the “temporary migrant workers,” paying them less than the minimum wage, and most often ignoring taxes like social security. Paying them in cash means not having to report the money to the government. These workers are often worked hard for a week or two, right up to payday, and then the immigration officers are called in to deport them before the money has to be paid out.

Edwin Morales has been an exile from his native land for almost twenty years now. He fled his home after the abduction and murder of one of his wife’s relatives by security forces. He went north because of the nation’s reputation for tolerance and democracy, but after three weeks in the capital city, he was arrested and detained by security forces. He was later deported to Cuba and told not to return for 10 years. Months later, Morales met up with his family in Nicaragua, and they now live in Costa Rica.

Not everyone is equally distressed over illegal immigration. Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, recently referred to “our wonderful neighbor country that has been so dedicated and interested, that has made such great efforts in respect to the negotiations that are being conducted to achieve peace, [and] that has received and admitted so many refugees and exile[s]…” She said she was willing with “satisfaction and gratitude” not to keep her Nobel Prize medal, but instead to place it in a museum in the “wonderful neighbor country” to the north.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I once stood on a bridge spanning the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. As I stood there, feet straddling the center line of the bridge, I spotted eight people wading across the river and running past the Immigration office. But none of the stories mentioned above took place on the southern border of the United States. They all took place on the southern border of Mexico. Just as the U.S. lures Mexicans who want to work and make money here, Mexico is likewise a shining lure to people living in Guatemala and places further south.

Mexican President Vicente Fox doesn’t like American plans to shut down easy access between the U.S. and Mexico. In a meeting with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, President Fox said, “No country that is proud of itself should build walls. It doesn’t make any sense.” He also said that the new wall going up between the U.S. and Mexico should and must be demolished. If heading north is a basic human right for Mexicans, why doesn’t Sr. Fox feel the same way about Guatemalan nationals who wish to do exactly the same thing? I have previously pointed out that as individuals we would be very distressed to have neighbors and strangers wander freely into our homes at any hour of the day or night. A sturdy fence between the U.S. and its neighbors has the same purpose and function as a fence around one’s property and locks on the doors.

I don’t have a problem with legal immigration, as I have stated before, but I have a serious complaint against illegal immigration. This is one of the few issues where I strongly disagree with President Bush and his plans. And this is why I am in favor of the Minuteman Project.

Right now, hundreds of volunteers are patrolling a stretch of the Arizona border, and they plan on maintaining this patrol throughout the month of April. They are not there to physically stop people from crossing the border. They are there to spot anyone who enters the United States illegally and call in the immigration officials. They are extra eyes for the law, and a helping hand for people who are hungry and thirsty.

But not everyone appreciates what the Minuteman Project is trying to accomplish. Some of the attitudes against the Minutemen seem very similar to sentiments voiced by the ranchers and farmers in southern Mexico, who take advantage of cheap undocumented labor coming over the border. A Reuters article from April 6th echoes this sentiment:

“I had a Salvadoran work for me for six months, and it’s not uncommon for people here to drive a migrant north in their car rather than hand them over to the U.S. Border Patrol,” said cafe owner Charles Lewis.

The fact that these people are in the U.S. illegally doesn’t seem to matter to Mr. Lewis. I wonder if he would be as sanguine if his neighbors were in the habit of escorting people into his own home. Something tells me he would be very uneasy with that idea if it were made reality. But he has no problem with “people” performing a similar act toward his nation.

The article quotes another local’s opinion of the Minuteman Project:

“I’d rather take my chances with the Mexicans than one of these U.S. military type idiots taking part in the patrols,” local truck driver John Porter told Reuters, as he took the sun on a sidewalk table outside the Daily Diner.

“Migrants pay their taxes and I don’t have a problem with them,” he added.

“Migrants pay their taxes…” Do they really? I can’t deny that illegals must pay sales taxes on the things they buy, but how much property tax do they pay? How much income tax? I’m sure Mr. Lewis filled out a W-2 form for the Salvadoran who worked for him for six months, right? And since they don’t have a Social Security number, how could illegals be paying Social Security taxes? The answers to these questions are obvious. Illegal immigrants use our infrastructure, taking advantage of programs paid for with American tax dollars, but they do not pull their own weight because, as undocumented illegals who are usually paid under the table, they are not assessed taxes the rest of us must pay.

There is a much more compelling reason to secure the U.S. border. People exist who hate us, and who want to see us dead. An open border policy does not help keep these thugs away. Just as a fence around the property and locks on the doors are common-sense ideas, so is a secure border. New passport rules are a step in the right direction, regardless of alarmist claims that they will “threaten business relations.” I only wish President Bush would be as serious about securing our own borders as he has been in the rest of the War on Terror, but the sad truth is that he’s afraid to play hardball. Hispanic voters are a growing group, and woe unto the politician who angers a large group of voters in the United States.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are in the news again. If you believe the subject of WMDs is a dead horse that doesn’t need to be flogged any more, then I suggest you read some things in a lighter vein. But for the two of you who plan on reading this, break out your whips. This here dead horse is getting a good whuppin’!

On March 31st, 2005, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction issued a report to President Bush saying that the intelligence agencies were “dead wrong” about Iraq and WMDs and that “this was a major intelligence failure.” Aha! This is vindication for all those people who said we were wrong to go into Iraq, right? Wrong. Mike Talley expressed his opinion that we had reasons to go into Iraq other than WMDs. Talley wrote “Oh Crap, My Intelligence Sucks!” just before the Iraqi elections:

I believe that the Iraq war was the right thing to do for the following reasons: the perceived threat of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s), Saddam’s willingness to work/fund terrorism, the oppression of the Iraqi people, the hope that a democratic Iraq would help change the region and the eroding support for continuing sanctions. I also believe that the world is a better place and that the Iraqi people are better off with Saddam out of power and in prison.

WMDs were never the reason put forward by President Bush for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq; they were merely a reason. But because the idea of an Iraqi nuke going off in New York or some chemical or biological attack at the Super Bowl was so easy to grasp, the press pushed the idea of WMDs as the single best reason to remove Hussein from Iraq. WMDs became such a good reason to invade Iraq because everyone could agree on it. Let me say that again: everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein had plans for WMDs.

My brother, who is in a position to follow and understand numerous governmental issues, doesn’t like the fact that we invaded Iraq and removed Hussein because we haven’t yet found any WMDs there. In his eyes, President Bush is an idiot. Well, if Bush is such an idiot for believing the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, then so are all the other leaders of the world, who likewise were being told by their intelligence agencies about Hussein’s plans for WMDs. Years before President Bush was elected, President Clinton used Hussein’s WMDs as a reason to go before Congress and ask for authorization to enforce the U.N. resolutions passed after Hussein’s defeat in 1991.

So it seems the U.S. intelligence was mistaken, and Hussein didn’t have any WMDs when we invaded. Talley agrees with others that Hussein may not have had WMDs since 1991, but no one on his staff was willing to tell Mr. H that his beloved WMDs were gone. “It seems his scientists and weapons manufacturers feared telling Saddam that they no longer had the capability to produce WMD’s. After all, if you spill the beans that you can no longer do your job, well then, your position is no longer needed,” wrote Talley. Let’s assume for the nonce that Talley is correct, and Hussein was WMD-less when we booted him out of power in 2003. Does that change the need to remove him from power? I say no. Let’s go over the reasoning:

  • Hussein had WMDs.
  • Hussein used WMDs. Truckloads of dead Kurds and Iranians, some caught on videotape, attest to this fact.
  • Hussein wanted more WMDs.
  • Hussein couldn’t be allowed to get more WMDs.

Steven Den Beste wrote extensively about the need to remove Hussein from power during the run-up to the war. He listed four reasons why he believed Hussein should be removed from power, any one of which would be a sufficient reason by itself:

First, we are moved to urgency by the fact that Iraq may be close to developing nuclear weapons. We cannot permit that to happen because of the unacceptably high likelihood that such weapons will eventually be used against us, or that they will support a threat against us. If Iraq has nukes, it won’t be possible for us to apply sufficient influence within that part of the world to begin the process of reform we require to be safe.

Second, we need to conquer Iraq so that we can rebuild it and make it more prosperous so that all the other Arabs around it will see that it isn’t just heathen Americans who can become successful, and that Arabs can do it too. We need to make Iraq a better place, with people who are happier, more free, and more prosperous while still being Arab and Muslim. And in particular, we must free the women of Iraq, to show the women in neighboring nations that they don’t have to be treated as animals.

Third, we need to conquer Iraq to put the “fear of God” (as it were) into governments of all the neighboring Arab nations where the traditionalists still hold sway, so that they will be much more likely to permit the few initial reforms we require from them which will start the process of cultural change moving. When we have substantial military forces right on their borders, it will be much harder for them to say “no” to our demands.

Fourth, we need to conquer Iraq because the “Arab Street” only respects power. We have to prove to them that we actually can do it and that we’re willing to do so. That’s their culture and it’s different than ours, but that is how they think and we have to take it into account. (That, by the way, is the reason there was no rising of the “Arab Street” after Afghanistan; it’s because we won convincingly.)

So although the commission said that Hussein didn’t have WMDs, that doesn’t change the necessity of not allowing Hussein to gather more. The second reason is coming true now, as Iraq has had free elections and women were free to vote in those same elections. Likewise, the “fear of God” has been effective in convincing Libya to change, and it can be seen in how Syria is retreating from Lebanon. And the Arab Street has seen the Taliban spanked out of Afghanistan and the strongest military might in the region crushed within three weeks. The fears of an uprising in the Arab Street have gone unfulfilled.

But I’m still not all that sure that Hussein was completely without WMDs in 2003. There remained enough WMDs for thugs in Iraq to detonate IEDs created from their remains — shells with mustard gas and Sarin in them. Plus there was the foiled bomb plot that came out of Syria, that other nation controlled by the Ba’athist party. I think we may yet find more of Hussein’s WMDs. I just hope that they don’t fall into the hands of people who are willing to use them. But whether he had WMDs in his possession or only thought he did, Hussein had to be removed as a necessary step in President Bush’s War on Terror. Again, Steven Den Beste does a grand job of summing up why:

I can’t explain the reasons for attacking Iraq in a vacuum because Iraq is part of a bigger picture, and the attack there will be one battle in a much longer war. Trying to understand one particular battle without the context of the larger war is an exercise in futility. (By analogy: what excuse is there in 1942 for the US to attack Vichy France in Morocco? Vichy France wasn’t our enemy; Germany and Italy were. Taken out of the context of the larger war, the Torch landings in Africa make little sense. It’s only when you look at the bigger picture of the whole war that you can understand them.)

We must attack Iraq. We must totally conquer the nation. Saddam must be removed from power, and killed if possible, and the Ba’ath party must be shattered.”

Four out of five ain’t bad.