So this was my first Black Friday. Black Friday is the term given to the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States, and the mass of frenzied shopping that has come to be associated with it. Most people have the day off from work, and my hat is off to the canny Founding Fathers who decided that a Thursday holiday would mean a four-day weekend, so what else is there to do but eat leftover turkey and go shopping?

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is officially the Christmas season. If you go by the store displays, the Christmas season started in September, but they didn’t ask for my permission before putting them up, so they weren’t official. Next year when the stores start unpacking the Christmas decorations, remind them that the Captain has forbidden all their Christmas displays, their Christmas muzak, and their culturally inoffensive wishes of “Happy Holidays!” until after Thanksgiving. Offenders are to be keelhauled if I’m feeling piratical, or tossed out the airlock if I’m in a science fiction mood. And yes, the weather is very nice on my planet, thanks for asking.

So the combination of the post-Thanksgiving day off, the official kick-off of the Christmas season, and retailers smart enough to recognize when money is aching to be spent has come together to create what is often the best shopping day for many stores.

There are some anti-capitalist fruitjobs who clamor for this crass commercialism to go away, so they can spend the day hugging a tree in peace, but nobody listens to them except other tree-hugging, dolphin-kissing Liberals like themselves. They can take their tofurkey leftovers and march on Buy Nothing Day for all they want, or I care. It’s not going to affect much when 64% of Americans say they plan on going shopping anyway.

I have never participated in Black Friday before. More than anything I might have an opportunity to buy for cheap, I had always enjoyed sleeping in on my day off. Then my wife made the mistake of pointing out bf2005.com to me. [I've been framed! Framed I tell you! --TPK] (The website seems to be down now.) This site posted the Black Friday specials way before the stores sent ads to the newspapers. Some of the stores *cough* Kmart and Sears *cough* objected to having their bargains posted online before their time, and demanded that their information be pulled. But it takes me a few days to decide to buy a big-ticket item; in the end I decided to get out of the house based on the bf2005.com ads and not the Thursday ad inserts.

I was in the market to upgrade our computer monitors, since our current ones were getting very dark. I did a quick search for “LCD 17″ to see all the 17″ LCD monitor offers. Hot dog! There were some really good deals! Armed with this information, I rose early and visited some stores to do my part for the American economy. Here are the three stores I visited on Black Friday, in the order of Suck, OK, and Nicely Done.

Circuit City

It’s official: this store is teh suxx0r! If you plan on going to Circuit City for Black Friday 2006, don’t! There’s a long wait at the Circuit City checkout counter even on normal days, but this was terrible. The store was crawling with people at 5:30am, and it was painfully obvious that not all of them got up early enough to shower that morning. I recognize that Circuit City is not responsible for the hygiene habits of its customers, but the only stinky people I encountered on Black Friday were crammed into this one store. There’s nothing like being stacked cheek by jowl with folks who exude the lovely piquant odor of stale sweat. Eau de Bargain Hunter. Well, more like Eww de Bargain Hunter.

The lines at Circuit City moved with all the pep and vim of an arthritic sloth. While there were plenty of checkout registers open, the computers were maxed out–and the time it took for them to print the yards of receipts and rebate offers reminded me of the old 300 baud modem days. I waited in line for 45 minutes, and moved about 12 feet. When it occurred to me to ask the caffeinated red-shirt to check on the monitor I wanted to pick up, he quickly responded that there were three left in stock. The guy directly in front of me wanted one of those models, too, so I quickly scanned the line in front of me and realized that if even two other people of the 40-50 people in line before me wanted that same monitor, I’d be out of luck. The odds against me were very bad, and my nose was unhappy, so I decided to leave.

All in all, it will have to be a cold day in Hell before I willingly walk into Circuit City again, Black Friday or no Black Friday. All my experiences to date in that store have involved slow service and annoyances, and in my discussions with others who had been to Circuit City’s Black Friday offerings in earlier years, I discovered that my experience was pretty much par for the course.

Purchases: none, and unlikely to be any in the future.

OfficeMax

I went into OfficeMax on a whim at the end of my shopping trip, so I was already tired. However, they had a good advertised deal on a 1 GB USB drive, and I really needed one for work. Since the doors had opened three minutes before, I decided to jump into the fray. There was already a line of customers outside waiting to get in. Rather than dealing with customers madly dashing into the store and trampling others in the process, the OfficeMax managers had clearly thought ahead. Everyone was lined up and organized, and one employee was walking up and down the line handing out copies of the sale flyer and maps of the store. They had spent some time doctoring up the flyer with letters and numbers which corresponded to areas on the store map, making finding those items much easier and faster. The big-ticket items in limited supply were numbered, and as I entered the store, I asked for the number of the item I wanted. I was given a ticket for that item, guaranteeing that I would get the item at the register. So my most important question–”will I get this item?”–was answered as soon as I entered the store.

There were no people rushing through the doors at OfficeMax. This suggests the OfficeMax manager understood how critical it is to maintain order on busy days like this. Any videos you may have seen of mobs pushing their way past newly-opened doors and trampling those who fall demonstrate that not all store managers understand the importance of maintaining discipline and control. The OfficeMax checkout line was orderly, but they missed the possibility of placing some last-minute impulse buy items in displays along the checkout line to tempt shoppers. As I reached the end of my wait, I noticed that several OfficeMax clerks were responsible for collecting the tickets and bringing the items to the waiting customers, and another was directing people to checkout counters as soon as they became available. While I actually had an overall longer wait at OfficeMax than at Circuit City, things were much better handled at OfficeMax, so the wait didn’t feel as long.

Purchases: 1 GB USB drive.

Best Buy

OK, my shopping experience at Best Buy on Black Friday was hands-down the best of the lot. There were no stampedes at the door, and lots of items were available for purchase. The flat-screen monitors I had come to buy were placed in large stacks in the aisles for easy access, rather than locked up as they were at Circuit City. Our local Best Buy opened fairly recently, not far from the Circuit City store, and I believe they will do very well if my experience there is any indication. The store had been carefully arranged so the checkout lines could wind back and forth without blocking the throughways, and there were lots of impulse buy items–batteries and cheap DVDs and games–scattered along the path. I didn’t buy any, but they gave me something to look at since I had forgotten to bring my customary paperback along to pass the time. People waiting outside in the rain for the store to open could get free coffee and donuts from high school volunteers who were soliciting donations for their clubs. I’m not sure whether the high school clubs had proposed this idea to Best Buy or whether Best Buy had instigated the idea, but their presence suggested that the store had considered the comfort of the people waiting in line to get into the store.

Best Buy did a great job of making the wait as painless as possible. A Best Buy employee stood at the end of the line with a huge orange balloon, making it easy to point out the end of the line. Best Buy was able to keep things moving along faster than the other two stores because they had 10-12 checkout counters fully staffed, with clerks directing customers to registers as soon as they came free. And while it looked like they had added some temporary counters, their system was fast enough to handle printing the yards of receipts and rebates without noticeable slowdown of the kind I saw at Circuit City.

If I lose my mind again and decide to do my consumer best to make the economy hum next Black Friday, I will carefully examine the sales at Best Buy. If past results are any indication of future performance, the best shopping experience in 2006 will be at Best Buy.

Purchases: a 19″ LCD monitor for the wife and a 17″ LCD monitor for me.

I am very thankful for the wonderful blessings I have. The top three that I am thankful for are my God, my family, and my country.

I had a large essay explaining these three areas half-written in my mind, but as I sat down to write, I first looked up what I wrote last year. I must not have changed much in the past year since these three subjects are exactly what I wrote last year. I’ll just Ibid and be done for today.

T minus 3 hours. Mmm…… In the meantime, we are watching Saints and Soldiers.

The law says that you are an adult on your 18th birthday. But what really makes you an adult? At 17 years and 364 days you are still a minor, but wait 24 hours and *poof* you are now an adult. Have you changed in any real way in that instant when you turn 18? I don’t believe you are any different on the morning of your 18th birthday from the way you were the morning before, but I don’t believe chronological age is the best way to judge whether a person is an adult.

Why did I pick 18 as the age for becoming an adult? Since I’m an American, I am a product of my cultural background. If I had come from a different culture, the boundary of adulthood I would choose would be different. Jewish boys and girls become adults at 13 with their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Only a few centuries ago European and American society accepted adulthood at a much younger age; it was not uncommon for an 18-year-old to be married, with two or three kids.

In Africa, girls become women when they get their periods, and boys become adults at about the same time. In some African cultures, the boy or girl is taken away from the rest of the tribe by an adult, who carefully explains the aspects and responsibilities of adulthood. The child is thus prepared for the responsibilities inherent in becoming an adult. I would like to see our culture do more of this; instead, it seems that we see adulthood as something that just happens without any effort on the individual’s part.

These examples show that different cultures do not agree on how one defines an adult. Even in our own land with our own standards, the idea that one becomes an adult at 18 is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. For instance, in some states it is possible to become an emancipated minor before one turns 18. But it is more newsworthy when a minor is tried as adult for a serious crime. As I see it, some crimes–chiefly murder and rape–are serious enough that they are considered adult by nature, and anyone who commits them has declared himself to be an adult.

So if age doesn’t make you an adult, what does? I believe that adult behavior is a mixture of mature attitudes and responsible actions, but there isn’t any specific threshold of attitudes or actions that will officially classify you as being an adult. This is part of the problem in determining who is an adult, and why people like linking adulthood with something concrete like a birthday, even though age in itself doesn’t make you an adult.

Does this mean that there are people older than 18 who are not mature and responsible enough to be really viewed as an adult? Yes. A single 40-something guy who still lives with his parents, eats their food and takes their money is not a responsible and mature adult. As a dependent of his parents, he is not responsible for his own life and well-being. A habitual welfare recipient is in the same category. Those who are on welfare for extended periods of time become dependent on the largess handed out by Uncle Sam, as he transfers the money you earn into their open palms. They are not responsible for their own lives, being dependents of the government. Before you write your hate mail, let me make myself perfectly clear. I am not saying anyone who is getting any sort of government assistance is not mature or responsible enough to be an adult. I recognize that people suffer setbacks and troubles, and part of our responsibility as adults is to help others in need. I am focusing specifically on those people who have no desire to care for themselves, and who look first to the government and others to provide everything they need. Sadly, there are now third- and fourth-generation wards of the state who have never known any kind of life outside of government handouts. I’m sorry, but I cannot see these governmental dependents as adults.

I have also heard some people state that they are mature adults because they are sexually active, but I disagree. Sleeping around with anyone and everyone is neither mature nor responsible. That is a sign of a person’s appetites ruling his actions; he becomes a slave to them, not a master. The same can be said of excessive drinking, smoking or drug use. An independent and responsible adult recognizes that some things must be done even if they are not enjoyable or exciting. A father changing his daughter’s diapers would much rather be watching football on TV, but as a responsible adult he is doing what needs to be done. After all, it’s not a job, it’s a doody. Likewise, a mother who works long hours to make the money needed to feed her family and keep a roof over their heads is a responsible adult.

The law will declare you an adult on your 18th birthday, but that age has no bearing on your individual maturity or personal responsibility. You could stand on a park bench and proclaim your adulthood to the world, not recognizing that adulthood doesn’t have to be announced–it’s something that is recognized by the people around you. When I was living in Mexico and learning Spanish, I didn’t tell people that I was an excellent Spanish speaker. My skill, or lack thereof, was obvious to the people around me. Once people stopped asking me to repeat myself, I knew I was getting better–and once they stopped complimenting me on my grasp of Spanish and just talked to me, I realized that I was finally mastering the language. Likewise, it should never be necessary for an adult to demand to be treated as an adult, because people will recognize your maturity and responsibility in how you live and act.

When the adults around you treat you as adult, then you know you have become one.

Professor Steven E. Jones is not a conspiracy theorist because, as Ryan McIlvain writes in Brigham Young University’s NewsNet, “he’s wearing a button-up shirt, dress slacks, matching socks. He’s soft-spoken, polite – the picture of the mild-mannered professor.” But how else could you describe what the Professor is peddling?

Jones published a paper on November 8, 2005 titled “Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Collapse?” He points to the building known as WTC 7, asking why it collapsed when it wasn’t hit by a plane as the twin towers were. He also states that no other steel buildings have been brought down by fire, before or after September 11th.

So what is his theory? Professor Jones believes the buildings were taken down by controlled explosions.

Jones points to small puffs of dark clouds on the sides of the three buildings and compares them to the controlled explosions or “squibs” that demolition experts use to bring down a building. He links to video images of the three buildings collapsing, and points out puffs that he calls squibs. Are these indeed visual evidence of a controlled demolition, or just the random effect that occurs when a building collapses and the compressed air inside it blows out any available opening? I favor the latter idea because it is simpler, and while I am certainly no demolition expert, I normally see more action than a few random puffs of smoke when a building is demolished. The controlled demolition of the Seattle Kingdome is a great example of what exposed squibs look like. Other video clips of controlled demolitions don’t have such visible squibs, but most other buildings were not constructed like the Kingdome. Still, in most of these clips one can see visible explosions, especially in external supporting walls. I would assume that a controlled demolition of the World Trade Center towers would require many more squibs than the visible puffs Professor Jones points out to support his theory.

But what do I know? I’m not an explosive demolition expert. Then again, neither is Professor Jones.

Jones’ specific field of expertise is in fusion and sub-atomic particles. One person debating the merits of Jones’ paper on a 9/11 site pointed out that all the professor’s published papers to date have been on particle physics and muons. Nevertheless, let’s assume for the moment that Jones knows what he’s talking about. Here is some of the “evidence” the professor points out to back up his thesis, as quoted in the NewsNet article:

Pressed about the implications of his hypothesis, Jones leans back in his chair and says, “Okay, let me back up.”

He mentions a few lesser-known details about the Sept. 11 attacks, appending little comments like “and that’s a fact” or “and that’s on tape” at several points along the way:

  • Larry Silverstein, WTC leaseholder, insured the buildings against terrorist attack for billions of dollars less than two months before Sept. 11, Jones says.
  • The towers were loaded with asbestos – “not anymore,” Jones adds, “but they were. There was discussion for a long time: ‘We’ve got to either get rid of the asbestos in these buildings or take them down and start over.’”
  • In the aftermath of the buildings’ collapse, Silverstein said of WTC 7, “We decided to pull it.” Jones says “pull” is a common demolition term. “To pull a building means you initiate the demolition.”
  • Much of the steel from the collapsed towers was shipped to Asia for recycling, Jones says. “This was done over the objections of serious scientists and engineers, saying, ‘Look, you’re destroying evidence. We want to know how fire and damage could have possibly caused these buildings to collapse.’”

“You didn’t know that, did you?” Jones says. He leans back farther in his chair. “We need an investigation,” he says again.

But where is the hard proof supporting Jones’ theory? David Hume famously said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” so where is the smoking gun? Instead, Jones seems to believe an investigation is in order merely because his claim is so serious. Likewise, Democrats called for an investigation into the debunked memos reported on by Dan Rather of CBS. It wasn’t the nature of the evidence that was being put forth (and subsequently debunked), it was the seriousness of the charge that made the Left rush to believe in baseless claims. OK, that’s about as political as I’ll get with this.

It’s probably also worthwhile to point out that the people who are getting most excited about Jones’ paper (which has not yet been peer-reviewed, by the way) would normally not deign to give a BYU professor the time of day. But since his as-yet-unreviewed claims feed their hunger for a conspiracy, their desire for a potential whipping-boy who can take the lion’s share of the blame for 9/11, they rush to embrace his claims and laud him as the hero of the hour. Shared delusion makes for strange bedfellows.

So what are the possibilities? As I see it, there are two options:

A) Islamic nutjobs hijacked four planes with the goal of causing damage. Two of those planes struck the two main World Trade Center towers, causing them–and subsequently WTC 7–to collapse.

or

B) Islamic nutjobs hijacked four planes with the goal of causing damage. Two of those planes struck the two main World Trade Center towers. Shadowy personages with unknown agendas either knew that they were coming and meticulously wired up the three buildings with carefully-placed charges to cause the buildings to implode, or the buildings had been wired up previously to take advantage of an unexpected plane striking the building. After allowing the people to leave the towers, the masterminds behind the planted charges blew up the buildings. They were so cunning that they were even able to detonate charges in locations above where the planes hit, which had been on fire for an hour.

“It is quite plausible that explosives were pre-planted in all three buildings and set off after the two plane crashes – which were actually a diversion tactic,” Jones writes in his paper; apparently he believes option B is more plausible than option A. Such a conspiracy could not be small in scope–indeed, it would have to be appallingly large–but so far, not a single person has come forward to admit that he or she did the wiring or even saw the buildings being wired for explosives. Nearly all widespread conspiracies are brought to light in this way; no large conspiracies have been able to stay so universally close-mouthed for such a long period of time.

I believe Occam had something to say about choosing from two options.

Addendum (11/19/2005): Having done some admittedly limited searches on this story, I don’t find it has much by way of legs. The only large blog that has carried this story I have found appears to be Michelle Malkin from last week.

If you stay on the Internet long enough, you will start to get emails offering stuff that seems just too good to be true. Before you think too much about the offer, if you seem to be getting something for nothing, or for far more than the effort you would put into it, rest assured that it is not a valid offer. Today, I’m going to look at some of these scams and common Internet myths.

“Make Money Fast” chain letters

For decades now, people have been getting chain letters in their mailboxes. With the rise of email, now we are getting these chain letters in our inboxes, too. You’ve seen them before. The message arrives with a list of people, and you are supposed to send some money–usually $5 – $10–to the people at the top of the list. Since most people aren’t going to just send out money like that, the chain letter appeals to your greed by telling you to remove the top name on the list and add yourself to the bottom of the list. Now you email or send out the chain letter to as many people as you know or can find. The idea is that they will send the money to the top people, remove the first name, add themselves to the bottom, and the process continues. Eventually your name will reach the top, and you will get gazillions of dollars sent to you.

Sound too good to be true? It is. This type of chain letter is a scam. Not only is it a pyramid scheme that benefits only the few people who jump on it at the first, it is also illegal, and the post office frowns heavily on such activity. Do you want the local Postmaster to go all postal on you for breaking the law? I’m sure you don’t.

Sometimes these scams will tell you that it’s OK to send cash through the post (it’s not legal), or that they are 100% legal because the money is being sent via PayPal (it’s not legal), or that this pyramid scheme is legal because you’re buying a pamphlet or service from them (it’s still not legal).

I have already written up my feelings about pyramid schemes, but you can read more about the “Make Money Fast” type of chain letter at StopSpam.org, or the funny Make Money Fast Hall of Humiliation where they publicly mock morons who try these illegal scams.

Nigerian 419 Scams

Have you received a letter from some barrister in Africa telling you that someone died there who had millions of dollars in the bank? If you act now, they’ll cut you in for a percentage of the money if you pretend to be the next of kin for this guy. These deals are not honest, but because they appeal to human greed and dishonesty, there will always be a few people who will take the bait. After all, 10% of a $25 million prize is still a good piece of change.

These are often called Nigerian 419 scams because 4-1-9 is the section of the Nigerian penal code that prohibits these advanced fee scams. The U.S. Secret Service explains some commonly used tactics of these scammers:

  • An individual or company receives a letter or fax from an alleged “official” representing a foreign government or agency;
  • An offer is made to transfer millions of dollars in “over invoiced contract” funds into your personal bank account;
  • You are encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction;
  • You are requested to provide blank company letterhead forms, banking account information, telephone/fax numbers;
  • You receive numerous documents with official looking stamps, seals and logo testifying to the authenticity of the proposal;
  • Eventually you must provide up-front or advance fees for various taxes, attorney fees, transaction fees or bribes;
  • Other forms of 4-1-9 schemes include: c.o.d. of goods or services, real estate ventures, purchases of crude oil at reduced prices, beneficiary of a will, recipient of an award and paper currency conversion.

Because appealing to greed is so effective, this scam has spread out from Nigeria and other countries in Africa to different parts of the world. I have seen 419-style scams originating from areas of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. And I only see it getting worse over time.

But not all 419 news is dark and gloomy. There are also people who are doing their best to waste the scammers’ time and money. Among these, 419Eater.com is my favorite. The people on this site convince the scammers to send photos of themselves holding up silly signs or committing silly acts. The two pictures above are from 419Eater.com, showing the scammers being scammed. I also suggest reading some of the letters in the archives, so you can see how much fun people have had messing with scammers’ heads. I recommend The Church of Bread and Wine and The Road to Nowhere accounts from the letters archives as prime examples of scammer-baiting.

“Send this to everyone you know!”

Every so often, I get an email with a bazillion RE: and FWD: tags on it. Inside is some warning about a computer virus or some “cool deal you can’t miss out on!”, and somewhere in the message is the command, “Forward this on to everyone you know.” Before you obediently forward the message to every email address you can find, stop and think for a bit. Is this a message that 100% of the recipients will appreciate or need? And how embarrassed will you be when someone replies with a link to a site that completely debunks the message?

Some of these messages promise lots of money from Bill Gates or free flights from Delta Air Lines if you forward the news to enough people–don’t believe it. Some messages warn about a terrible virus that none of the anti-virus scanners can catch–don’t believe it.

And above all, don’t forward the message to everyone you know.

If you get a message and you suspect that it might be bogus or an urban legend (and those two are not mutually exclusive), the first thing to do is spend a few minutes researching it. A quick Google search will usually turn something up. Or you can go to snopes.com and see if it shows up there. I like to go to the What’s New page every week or so to see what sort of emails are flying around.

Basically, if you see an email exhorting you to forward it to everyone you know, don’t. If you must forward something–and I admit, I like forwarded emails when they are funny–send them to specific people who will enjoy them.

And while I’m giving out free advice: learn how to BCC.

Today is Veterans Day. When I think of our veterans, I think of men like my grandfather who fought in the Pacific theater of World War II, or my father who was a fighter pilot and flew missions over Vietnam. But it recently hit me that my cousin Tom, several years my junior, is now a veteran. My thanks and respect go out to these three, and to the millions of others who have put on the uniform of the United States. I love this cartoon, put together by Cox and Forkum for Veterans Day last year.

Veterans Day -- Thank You

They also pointed to an editorial written by Edwin A. Locke, titled Giving Real Meaning to Veterans Day. Here are some highlights of that editorial:

Because human life is so precious, war should never be undertaken unless our rights are threatened. It is often said that our soldiers must sacrifice themselves for our country. This is precisely what we must not ask them to do. A sacrifice entails the surrender of a greater value for a lesser one. But if a man loses his life on the premise, “I would rather die than live in slavery,” it is a tragic loss — but it is not a sacrifice. Such a man is acting in his own interests, to protect his most precious values.

We must be proud of our soldiers, but it is equally true that they should be proud of the cause they fight for. It is terrible to die in war, but there is one thing worse: to die in a war that has no meaning, a war that offers no reason for risking one’s life.

The best way we can honor our veterans and give real meaning to Veterans Day–aside from ceremonies honoring their past and present dedication and bravery–is to promise that we will go to war only when America’s interests as a free nation are threatened, and wage it in the uncompromising pursuit of victory.

I have often heard people claim to support the troops, but not the war in Iraq. My quick response to that statement is to ask exactly how they support the troops. Are they helping the troops by contributing to projects such as Soldiers’ Angels, Any Soldier or Project Valor-IT? These are very concrete ways of supporting the troops and letting them know how much we value them and their service.

But every time I have asked about truly showing support, these people have admitted that they haven’t done anything for the troops overseas, or they explain that they are doing their part by trying to bring the troops home as soon as possible. I follow this up with a simple question–if they had the power to snap their fingers and instantly transport the troops back to their homes, would they do so? So far, all the people I’ve asked have claimed they would do exactly that if they could.

And what would happen if the troops were to vanish from Iraq? While that nation has seen an amazing amount of progress, with the increasingly competent police force able to keep the peace and the successful ratification of the Iraqi Constitution, if our troops were to vanish tomorrow, the forces of evil still at play in that region would do their best to tear that progress down. I say evil, and I mean it. That is the best word to describe people who think strapping on a bomb and exploding themselves at a wedding is a good and noble idea. These are the people we are fighting in Iraq, and we are winning! If we were to pull out, the deaths of 2,000 brave American men and women would be in vain, and the freedom that 26 million Iraqis now enjoy would vanish.

Remember, two million Vietnamese and one million Cambodians were slaughtered because we left them and the Communists swiftly took over. Is cutting and running the best way to “wage [war] in the uncompromising pursuit of victory,” as Locke wrote?

Do the liberal Leftists in the U.S. really support the troops? Some do, and I can’t deny that. But as far as I can see, the majority of Leftists do not support the troops. They are doing everything they can to distract from the brave actions of the military by calling them babykillers and demanding that more photos be released from Abu Ghraib to fan the flames of their hate.

The Veterans Day celebration in the city of Berkeley, California was canceled because chairman Joe McDonald wanted to have Bill Mitchell as the keynote speaker at the rally. Mitchell, along with shameless media whore Cindy Sheehan, is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. From the Knight-Ridder news article:

“If you want to have an anti-war rally, count me in,” said Linda Perry, an aide to City Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “But not on Veterans Day. It’s neither the time nor the place.”

Edwin Harper, adjutant of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter, which has participated in past Berkeley Veterans Day observances, threatened that his group would pull out.

“They have the other 364 days and 23 hours to make their political point,” he said. “This one hour should be reserved for honoring veterans, period.”

McDonald, backed by other members of the committee, disagreed, saying that not permitting Mitchell to express his point of view would be tantamount to censoring free speech.

Please. Yes, Mitchell is free to express his anti-war views, but Linda Perry had it right–a Veterans Day celebration is neither the time nor the place to air your political grievances. And speaking of neither the time nor the place, “social justice” group CODEPINK is planning to focus, as it always does, on the dead this Veterans Day. Coffins and crosses will represent those who have died in Iraq. I can predict with certainty that there will be many with signs or t-shirts calling for the troops to come home.

Rather than focusing on those who have fallen, this is a day we ought to thank our neighbors and friends for their service to our nation. And to all of you, thank you.

We are in your debt.

Paris is burning. But not only Paris is in flames as the Muslim youth run riot. All across France there are hot spots of unrest and violence. The graphic to the right shows the various places where the rioting is happening. I took that image from this article published by the UK’s Telegraph. Why are the Muslim youth up in arms? I see three root causes for the current tragedy in France; these causes are also visible in other European nations, and the riots may yet spread beyond France’s borders.

Zero Population Growth

Europe, especially northern Europe, embraced the idea of zero population growth, fueled by the belief that there are too many human beings on the planet. These nations voluntarily cut back on their populations by various methods of birth control–and frankly, who’d want to reproduce with a Frenchman when there are strong and virile Americans around? Snide remarks aside, the government of France recognized that its population was not reproducing sufficiently to keep the country running when the current adults were ready to be shipped off to the maison pour les vieux gens. To make up for its lack of workers thanks to the misguided ZPG movement, France started to import people from former French colonies, mainly from Africa. For a nation that freaks out over a single non-French word entering the language, France was remarkably quick to open its borders and allow millions of non-French people to enter the nation for work. At this point, about 10% of France’s population is Muslim–which brings us to the second root cause of this crisis.

Misguided French Ideas

ZPG was only one of several misguided ideas. France is also a nation of socialist government policies. Socialism is a failed economic idea, but that doesn’t stop nations from embracing it with the faith that it will work right this time. Trust us. It will. Really. My wife’s great-uncle in Sweden makes a pile of money from his job, but 90% of it is taxed away from him. He lives in, and pays for, a very nice apartment, but in the same complex is a man who hasn’t worked in decades. Sweden’s socialist government is paying this man not to work, and his income from the dole allows him to live in the same kind of luxury as Uncle Kurt. When society pays people not to work, it’s not surprising to see people take advantage of that setup, until that society grinds to a halt. And since the socialist French needed laborers, they looked to Africa for a source of cheap labor.

France brought in millions of people from Africa to their nation to work for them. Even in a socialist society, someone has to do the work if there is to be bread in the boulangeries. But having brought these people in–not necessarily a problem in itself–the French failed to assimilate them into mainstream French culture. The overriding message to the immigrant African population was “you’re welcome to work here, but don’t think you’re actually French.” These mostly Muslim people settled in concentrated urban zones, kept apart from the rest of the population. And things have not really improved. France has an unemployment rate of about 10%, double our own. And the socialist society there has placed many burdens on workers and their employers. A laborer may only work 36 hours a week, firing someone who is failing at his job is practically impossible, and taxes are punitively high to pay for all the government projects and handouts. Why would an employer take a chance on hiring a street kid with no prior experience or references? What if he turns out to be undependable, and it’s almost impossible to fire him? Under these conditions, it’s no surprise that unemployment in the Muslim areas–especially among the youth–is high.

There are areas in France where it is possible to live your entire life without having to learn a word of French. This is not assimilation. We face a similar issue in the U.S. Our strength as a nation does not come from the fact that we are all different; our strength comes from the fact that we are unified as Americans. To borrow an example, an alloy of metals is stronger because the different metals have mixed together. If you keep the metals separate, they are easy to break apart. This is why a silver-plated vessel will peel apart, but a silver alloy will not. We have the same misguided multicultural ideas in the U.S. as the ones we see in France. But not all cultures are equal. America has proven to be a robust and good culture. People who have chosen to assimilate and take part in the American dream have historically fared much better than those who have chosen to keep themselves apart. And America has shown that you can become part of the greater culture without losing track of your heritage. If we cannot turn the tide of multiculturalism here, we may soon see our own cities burn.

Fragility of Islam

A large part of the outrage that is fueling the fires in France comes from the brittleness of Islam. While it was once a scientific and cultural beacon to the nations around it, the faith of Islam has dropped from its former glory. Can you think of any major philosophical, scientific or cultural masterpiece to come from the Muslim world in the past two centuries? Three centuries? Five? I say Islam is brittle because it cannot tolerate any form of dissent, even from outside the faith. Piggy banks have been removed from banks in England because they may offend Muslims, who consider pigs to be unclean. Notice that the Jewish people considered pigs to be unclean for thousands of years before Islam was founded, but the average observant Jew isn’t freaked out by the possibility of seeing a piggy bank. Nor do Jewish people demand that people not of their faith dress or behave according to Old Testament rules and dictates. I believe the difference between these faiths is that Jewish people have a strong and relatively flexible faith, while most modern Muslims cling to a faith of fragility.

My religious beliefs forbid the consumption of alcohol, but I do not demand that those not of my faith be held to this standard. I recognize that not everyone shares my beliefs, and while I honestly believe that the world would be a better place if everyone believed as I do and actively lived their religion, I do not believe any good could come from forcing my faith on others. One of my church’s Articles of Faith states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” There is no such article of faith in Islam. The Muslim world is divided into two parts: one is either a part of the Dar al-Islam, the “house of Islam” as a Muslim in a Muslim state, or one is part of the Dar al-Harb, the “house of war.”

As I see it, Islam has three possible futures: 1) it may succeed in converting the world, only to destroy itself from within soon after. We can see it now, as Sunni and Shiite Muslims hate and kill each other. 2) Islam may vanish, either because it cannot cope with change or because the world sees fit to remove it. 3) Islam may experience a reformation, changing from the brittle, violent religion of today to a faith that provides the spiritual needs for its adherents without the need to convert by the sword.

Or by the knife, as Nick Berg, Daniel Pearl, and many others have already experienced.

I guess it’s the season for indictments. Recently, Republican Majority Whip Rep. Tom Delay was indicted in Texas, and now Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby, has been indicted by a grand jury in Washington D.C. for two counts of perjury, two counts of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice.

Let me state up front that if Libby is found guilty of these charges, I want to see him serve jail time. And speaking with other conservative types, I find this view is pretty common. I think this is a quality that separates conservatives from liberals. Do you remember the calls to “censure and move on” when President Clinton was impeached on his own charges of perjury and obstruction of justice? The liberals were willing to look away because he was their scoundrel. But we conservatives are willing to hang our people out to dry when they do something wrong. Liberals might call that a weakness, but I call it holding everyone to the same standards.

The Left has been jumping with glee that Libby was indicted. But there is some bitterness that the investigation didn’t shake out some indictments for Karl Rove or Vice President Cheney. Leftists have also been trying to make Libby’s indictment a rehash of the reasons why we originally went to war in Iraq, specifically the search for WMDs. This was brought up specifically during the press conference held by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Here is a question by ABC reporter Terry Moran and the beginning of Fitzgerald’s response:

MORAN: Many Americans are opposed to war. Critics of your administration have looked to your investigation and hoped they might see this indictment as a vindication of their argument that the administration took the country to war on false premises. Does this indictment do that?

FITZGERALD: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment’s not about the propriety of the war, and people who believe furthering the war effort, people who oppose it, people who are — have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel. The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified.

You’d think that response would pretty much put the idea to rest, but it’s insufficient for the Left, who desperately want this issue to be tied to WMDs and the war. So let’s consider why they would want to link the two. This all began during the ramp-up to the war in Iraq, intended to topple Saddam Hussein. Former ambassador Joseph Wilson was given the assignment to visit the nation of Niger in northern Africa and discover whether Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellow-cake uranium from Niger in order to create nuclear weapons. The account he reported to the Intelligence Committee and the account he stated publicly about this trip were strikingly different. In other words, he lied to at least one group. One of these lies was about why he, and not someone else, was assigned to go to Niger in the first place. Publicly, Wilson stated the request came from the Vice President’s office — which the office flatly denied. But when journalist Bob Novak posted his suggestion that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, works for the CIA and therefore could have been the reason Wilson was chosen, the Left went nuts.

Pundits on the Left rallied together to thump their chests and rend their garments. Novak had publicly revealed Plame as a CIA agent, potentially endangering her life and the lives of her fellow agents; this act was intolerable, beyond the pale. Heads must roll! But Bill Bennett shows how this Leftist stance is morally bankrupt:

Moral consistency may never have been a strong virtue of the Left or the Mainstream Media (Am I being redundant?). I suppose, then, we should perhaps thank Joe Wilson for getting the Left and the MSM to finally support and think of the value of the CIA and its agents, even its agents whose jobs are classified.

However, that support for the CIA, and that respect for secrecy in war and intelligence, lasted only as long as they thought it might bring down a high official like Karl Rove. Now they’re back to their old selves.

Item: Dana Priest of the Washington Post writes a front-page story on Wednesday headlined, CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons. Pay close attention to the second sentence of the story: “The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.”

“Secret”! “Covert”! So after the press and the Left make a meal of the allegation that people in the White House might have leaked the name of a covert operative, and after we find out that Plame was indeed not a covert operative under the law, the Washington Post – by its own admission – can print classified information that involves covert CIA activity?

Power Line Blog also demonstrates that The New York Times is guilty of doing exactly the same thing with another CIA operation. And this was a truly clandestine one, not the equivalent of revealing the name of a CIA desk jockey like Plame. The Fitzgerald investigation seems to validate the idea that even if Libby were Novak’s source of information about Plame, it was not a violation of the law because the grand jury did not indict Libby on charges of revealing this information. And yes, I know that’s a rather thin thread to hang from.

Max Boot of the LA Times writes about Wilson’s lies. I’ll close with the tail end of his excellent article:

Pretty much all of the claims that the administration doctored evidence about Iraq have been euthanized, not only by the Senate committee but also by the equally bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission. The latest proof that intelligence was not “politicized” comes from an unlikely source – Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, who has been denouncing the hawkish “cabal” supposedly leading us toward “disaster.” Yet, in between bouts of trashing the administration, Wilkerson said on Oct. 19 that “the consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming” that Hussein was building illicit weapons. This view was endorsed by “the French, the Germans, the Brits.” The French, of all people, even offered “proof positive” that Hussein was buying aluminum tubes “for centrifuges.” Wilkerson also recalled seeing satellite photos “that would lead me to believe that Saddam Hussein, at least on occasion, was giving us disinformation.”

So much for the lies that led to war. What we’re left with is the lies that led to the antiwar movement. Good thing for Wilson and his pals that deceiving the press and the public isn’t a crime.

Addendum (11/7/2005): I found the article by Victoria Toensing that I was looking for. She lists in the Opinion Journal some strange ways the CIA behaved in regard to Joe Wilson.

* The CIA sent her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger on a sensitive mission regarding WMD. He was to determine whether Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake, an essential ingredient for unconventional weapons. However, it was Ms. Plame, not Mr. Wilson, who was the WMD expert. Moreover, Mr. Wilson had no intelligence background, was never a senior person in Niger when he was in the State Department, and was opposed to the administration’s Iraq policy. The assignment was given, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, at Ms. Plame’s suggestion.

* Mr. Wilson was not required to sign a confidentiality agreement, a mandatory act for the rest of us who either carry out any similar CIA assignment or represent CIA clients.

* When he returned from Niger, Mr. Wilson was not required to write a report, but rather merely to provide an oral briefing. That information was not sent to the White House. If this mission to Niger were so important, wouldn’t a competent intelligence agency want a thoughtful written assessment from the “missionary,” if for no other reason than to establish a record to refute any subsequent misrepresentation of that assessment? Because it was the vice president who initially inquired about Niger and the yellowcake (although he had nothing to do with Mr. Wilson being sent), it is curious that neither his office nor the president’s were privy to the fruits of Mr. Wilson’s oral report.

* Although Mr. Wilson did not have to write even one word for the agency that sent him on the mission at taxpayer’s expense, over a year later he was permitted to tell all about this sensitive assignment in the New York Times. For the rest of us, writing about such an assignment would mean we’d have to bring our proposed op-ed before the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board and spend countless hours arguing over every word to be published. Congressional oversight committees should want to know who at the CIA permitted the publication of the article, which, it has been reported, did not jibe with the thrust of Mr. Wilson’s oral briefing. For starters, if the piece had been properly vetted at the CIA, someone should have known that the agency never briefed the vice president on the trip, as claimed by Mr. Wilson in his op-ed.

* More important than the inaccuracies is that, if the CIA truly, truly, truly had wanted Ms. Plame’s identity to be secret, it never would have permitted her spouse to write the op-ed. Did no one at Langley think that her identity could be compromised if her spouse wrote a piece discussing a foreign mission about a volatile political issue that focused on her expertise? The obvious question a sophisticated journalist such as Mr. Novak asked after “Why did the CIA send Wilson?” was “Who is Wilson?” After being told by a still-unnamed administration source that Mr. Wilson’s “wife” suggested him for the assignment, Mr. Novak went to Who’s Who, which reveals “Valerie Plame” as Mr. Wilson’s spouse.

* CIA incompetence did not end there. When Mr. Novak called the agency to verify Ms. Plame’s employment, it not only did so, but failed to go beyond the perfunctory request not to publish. Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.

* Although high-ranking Justice Department officials are prohibited from political activity, the CIA had no problem permitting its deep cover or classified employee from making political contributions under the name “Wilson, Valerie E.,” information publicly available at the Federal Elections Commission.

The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft. It is up to Congress to decide which.