September 20, 2002

Friday’s Mailbag.



From our resident Catholic correspondent Kenneth:

“Andrew Sullivan's [see below] comments continue to perplex me: either the US Catholic Church will go into serious schism, OR it will become a miniscule ‘rump’ faction. So if the Church splits, people will flock to it? Family feuds are not attractive. Ask the Southern Baptists, whose membership stalled during the ‘Baptist Wars’ of the 1980's.

“And who is going to lead the schism? From the orthodox side, no one is talking of bolting, that I have heard, and Pope John Paul II has sacked only those people who beg for it. He's ignored a lot of troublemakers. Even when one Archbishop (that's a-r-c-h-bishop) joined the Unification Church and ‘married’ someone chosen for him by the ‘Rev.’ Moon, the Pope had people talk to him endlessly and then invited him to a private audience at Castel Gandolfo. The poor man apparently collapsed in tears and begged forgiveness, which is understandable. I often cry when I think seriously about this amazing Pope. Sullivan does not share that emotion, but, still, who is going to lead the schism?”

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From an exceptionally intelligent friend in Chicagoland, who as we speak is gnashing her teeth as she cuts her garbage up into 2’x3’ squares so the People’s Republic of Oak Park will deign to remove it:

“Well, I read your weblog and um, well, I don't think I'm your target demographic.”

= Her polite way of saying look, I’m not to the right of Attila the Hun, okay? =

“Actually, if you are accepting constructive criticism,”

= I accept any criticism written on the back of a $20 bill. =

“I think you may need to set up some of your pieces a little more to make them accessible to people who might happen by your site. Maybe the people who are in your target demographic”

= i.e. fellow Neanderthals. =

“already have the background, and I don't,”

= Being at least post-Cro-Magnon. =

“but I thought the Andrew Sullivan piece was impenetrable and I'm familiar with Andrew Sullivan and with the Vatican. (Don't take this personally, -- this is a problem I have with a lot of weblogs -- unless you've been there from day one, they're too self-referential for a casual reader.)”

= Well dang it, why doesn’t everyone in the world just do the necessary background it takes to understand me? Seems to me to be the only polite thing to do, really. Clubbeaux: The Annotated Version. =

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From an Australian friend I met during my Istanbul days who’s now back in the Desert of Oz:

“In the spirit of constructive criticism… I'd like to comment on one small article which appeared at the top of your blog when it first loaded:

‘For those of you still under the impression that Arabs are "just like us, really," check out Little Green Footballs and either scroll down to the Saudi Hate Couture article or enter Saudi Hate in the CTRL-F function.’

“I'm still not sure in what spirit this comment was posted. Although I haven't seen you for a couple of years, half of me suspects it was posted sarcastically, but it looked serious. If it was a joke, then it wasn't obvious enough for me, and it appears serious enough that someone could take it seriously. If it is not taken as humour, it is a rather inflammatory comment, that does no one any good. As you probably are aware, the solution to the current problems is not more ignorance, stereotyping, fear, and hate, but understanding, friendship and acceptance.”

While I respectfully disagree with the gentleman from Down Under on the extent to which understanding, friendship and acceptance are part of any workable “solution to the current problems,” his point about the misplaced humor was correct and the necessary changes have been made. Thanks, Joel.

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From a completely unbiased source:

“Here it is after 10 pm, I needed to get to bed an hour ago. Bo showed me your Clubbeaux site and I have really relished reading it all. You certainly are an interesting writer, I really enjoy reading stuff that moves along conversationally but quickly. The Blake item was so good. Now I have just finished the Mennonite thing. Goodness he sounds like a mentally plain person (pun here!). Are you going to send him any personal answer? I guess that would be time wasted. Love, Mom.”

She’s pleased her grandson Blake is doing well. He goes in for surgery on his other eye this upcoming Thursday, and of course any and all prayers are appreciated.

Oh, in case anyone was wondering, the answer is yes. The reissued early Rolling Stones CDs – I just bought Let It Bleed – are worth an upgrade over the previous CD. Even those of us without SACD players notice the difference.

The Last “Free” Speech In Chesterfield County.


Don’t like what they say? Simple: Make ‘em pay.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, some inane racists calling themselves the World Church of the Creator received permission to meet at the Chesterfield County, Virginia public library tomorrow. This correct legal decision caused much consternation and hand-wringing among the county's Board of Supervisors, Citizens For Free Speech Except When We Don't Like It and assorted busybodies, all aghast that the First Amendment in this country applies to people who say things they don't agree with.

Nobody's arguing that the WCC isn't a motley of reprehensible morons. Yet one of the local black activists, Bishop Gerald O. Glenn takes the board to task for allowing American citizens their American rights: "Someone should have taken a stand for us," he admonished the board in an open hearing. "We look to you as our elected officials. I am ashamed."

Elected officials taking a stand on behalf of Virginia citizens against the United States? They tried that in 1861. Didn't work.

I'm not interested in anything the WCC could possibly have to say, but I don't have to listen to it either, do I? At least I didn't until everyone started protesting the WCC, now you can't get away from them. I find it amazing that we're still debating who in this country should have free speech and who should not. To their credit the ACLU threatened legal action if the county had tried to block the meeting.

Yet where there’s a will to censor free speech there’s a way: Buried in the middle of the article is the notation that the board "adopted a resolution that requires future groups to pay for their own security." In other words, to keep from having to allow speech they don't like in the future, the board can simply set the financial bar prohibitively high.

Which is exactly how it will work -- if anyone thinks this provision would apply to, say, hatemonger Louis Farrakhan, should he ever defile Chesterfield County with his filthy racism, that person is sadly deluded. It will be applied to the Ku Klux Klan. It will be applied to the WCC. It will not be applied to any meetings of Muslims, no matter what sort of anti-Jewish, anti-American bile is spewed. It will not be applied to any blacks under any circumstances.

Glenn rebuked the board, saying that frankly he didn’t give a damn if it was illegal to block the meeting or not: “Even if [a lost-cause lawsuit] cost a million dollars, if we lost, at least we would have lost with dignity.” Bishop Glenn, of course, did not offer to actually pay the million dollars in question. And one cringes to think of the reams of free publicity generated for the WCC in winning yet another months-long court case (they've never lost anywhere) and the county schools a million dollars short on their budget just so Glenn can ascend his pulpit and announce "I got dignity!"

The Chesterfield County Democratic Committee has announced that in their bravery and courage they will hold a “stand for unity” outside the library. Exactly how this would accomplish anything except involving more people and more publicity for the WCC at the event was not reported.

It's depressing that all the Concerned Citizens of Chesterfield County can't adhere to the one strategy that really works against such scum: Ignore them. Just ignore them and they'll go away.

Emblematic of all the hopelessly muddled skittering around is Times-Dispatch columnist Ray McAllister, who under the best of circumstances is a few muffins short of a bake sale. His column is truthfully headlined “Racist group would slither off unnoticed – if we let it.” It would. If they received not a jot of protest nor tittle of press they would never return. Publicity – free publicity – is all they want. And it's almost funny, they know their kneejerk opponents in the press and Concernced Citizen Action Committees too well to doubt that they will dutifully give the WCC the sort of publicity it's literally impossible to buy.

“They’ve already gotten what they wanted. Publicity,” McAllister says in his opening, rolling up his sleeves to give them a few hundred more words of publicity. He decries the foul, dirty, underhanded tactic the WCC employs of letting silly newspaper columnists write about them. Of course it doesn’t matter what’s said about them, it’s nothing the group hasn’t heard before and isn’t fully expecting. That’s not the point. Ray McAllister adds nothing to anyone’s understanding of the group, all he does is accede to the WCC’s wishes.

“But why rant and rave? They win.” McAllister says in the midst of his ranting and raving. The WCC couldn't have directed things any better: Announce a meeting in a public place, sit back and let newspaper columnists, Concerned Citizens and local government do your publicity for you. The WCC thanks you, Ray.

Glenn has announced that he will attend the WCC meeting. No doubt he fancies himself very brave and courageous for coming out in public opposition to something 99.9% of Chesterfield County opposes. No doubt he will crow for months to come about the "courageous moral stand" and "risks" he took in attending a meeting where cops outnumbered attendees. No doubt Ray McAllister will write a column about how brave and courageous he finds Glenn's actions, thereby giving the WCC further publicity.

Meanwhile Glenn's thanking his lucky stars for the WCC. They gave him what he couldn't have gotten on his own: His picture and name in the paper associated with such a brave and courageous cause. When he runs for penny-ante local office soon his campaign slogan will be "Standing Up For What's Right." That's part of the tradeoff the WCC makes: Get free publicity, give some local two-bit squeaker free publicity. Oh well, nothing's perfect.

Personally I wish I’d never heard of the WCC or Bishop Glenn. And were it not for what the Soviet Union used to call "useful idiots" like Ray McAllister I wouldn’t have.

Thanks, Ray. The WCC should send you a bouquet of flowers for all you and everyone on East Grace Street have done for them. Bishop Glenn should sign the card too.

September 19, 2002

Thursday Mornings...



For those of you still under the impression that Arab culture is, on the whole, pretty much the equivalent of Western culture check out Little Green Footballs and either scroll down to the “Saudi Hate Couture” article or enter “Saudi Hate” in the CTRL-F function.

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There are so many good lawyer jokes, who’s to say which one’s the best? Here’s a strong candidate:

Q: What is the difference between a lawyer and a rooster?

A: A rooster clucks defiance.

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Heard from a Catholic friend about Andrew Sullivan’s blog this week wherein he claimed that he was "committed to post-Vatican II Catholicism." As Kenneth correctly remarked, “that's like an evangelical saying they are committed to ‘inclusiveness:’ a sure sign they are not orthodox. The documents of Vatican II only allow one interpretation, and that is the most orthodox. It's like the left said, ‘well, they held a council to consider how an ancient Church fits into the modern world, so we can now say whatever we want.’”

He concurred with Sullivan that the next pope will probably be a Third Worlder, and counted this a plus since “they have not been sucked in by the comforts of materialism: the differences between animism and the Risen Christ are rather starker in most of the world than in the salons of DC and NY.”

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Blogs of note: Charles Austin’s Sine Qua Non. Notable for its writing quality and regular scourgings of the Washington Post’s Bedwetter-In-Residence, Richard Cohen.

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Are the Redskins toast? Answer this: How many other 30-point home defeats can you remember in the past, oh, forty years or so? Hint: Stunned-And-Done Steve Spurrier’s already matched Joe Gibbs and Norv Turner’s career totals of 30-point Redskin losses – home or away.

Remind me exactly why the ‘Skins fired Marty again: what was there about an 8-3 kick to finish the season that The Danny didn’t like? And don’t Danny Matthews and Shane Wuerffel make Tony Banks look like Joe Montana about now? Is it time to play Patrick Ramsey? Friends, it's time to play Jon Benet Ramsey.

September 18, 2002

Best Comment On The Blog So Far:


We won't disclose the author of this, but his name rhymes with "Bill Bremmer." Thanks Fwibbit.


"David,

"Well I guess it had to happen sometime. I'm sure there's some esoteric piece you could write on how, frustrated after years of not publishing that novel, you finally resorted to sounding off on the Internet where no publisher could reject you. Or how the blog has become some sort of social institution for blah, blah, blah (you get the idea)."

Profiles in Political Correctness.


It’s probably a stretch to say that political correctness is responsible for the September 11 attacks, but not a big one.

The Associated Press is reporting today that “American intelligence agencies received far more reports of terrorist plotting to use planes as weapons before Sept. 11 than the U.S. government has previously acknowledged,” according to congressional investigators:

“While it was unclear whether any of the reports were in fact signs of the impending attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, investigators said the agencies never looked closely at the potential threat of hijacked airliners flying into buildings. Those assertions came in a 30-page statement by Eleanor Hill, staff director for the House and Senate intelligence inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Sen. Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee claims that “These public hearings are part of our search for the truth – not to point fingers or pin blame, but with the goal of identifying and correcting whatever systemic problems might have prevented our government from detecting and disrupting al Qaida's plot.”

Again, it’s far too easy to sit here in hindsight and say they shoulda seen it comin’, but the “systemic problem” preventing FBI agents from putting two and two together was nothing more than fear of appearing to be politically incorrect.

Many have made the case, Jack Kelly in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made it well last June, about how fears of a PC backlash prevented the FBI from protecting American lives:

“Special Agent Kenneth Williams sent a memo to headquarters in July 2001 about eight Middle Eastern men attending flight schools in Phoenix who were behaving suspiciously.

“In August, [FBI Special Agent Coleen] Rowley and her colleagues in Minneapolis suspected Zacarias Moussaoui, who wanted to learn how to fly an airplane, but had no interest in learning how to take off or land. Rowley knew of the Williams memo, and knew further that French intelligence had reported two of the eight suspects on Williams' list had links to Osama bin Laden.

“The Minneapolis agents wanted to search Moussaoui's computer. But, Rowley said, big shots at FBI headquarters frustrated her efforts to get a search warrant. When Moussaoui's computer finally was searched, discovered on it were the telephone number of the roommate in Hamburg of hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta, and information on weather patterns in New York.

“[FBI Director Robert] Mueller has acknowledged his agency ignored ‘red flags’ which, if promptly followed up upon, might have prevented the 9/11 attacks. That the FBI was negligent is now beyond dispute. It remains to be determined why FBI headquarters frustrated the efforts of field agents to do what needed to be done.”

Actually it’s clear why field agents’ efforts were frustrated: The FBI did not want to be perceived as unfairly targeting people of Middle Eastern descent. Of course with the knowledge they had in hand there would have been nothing unfair about it, but the American PC lobby is so self-righteous, so close-minded and so bitterly anti-American that an outcry would have been all but assured.

How do I know? Look what’s happening today post-9/11. A friend sent me the following recently:

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were massacred by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

During the 1980s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1985 the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked and a 70 year old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1985 TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens, and a US Navy diver was murdered by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1993 the World Trade Center was bombed the first time by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

On 9/11/01, four airliners were hijacked and thousands of people were killed by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In 2001 the United States began to fight a war in Afghanistan against Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

In December 2001 a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40 was caught trying to blow up his shoes during a flight.

In 2002 reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.

Yet stop a male between the ages of 17 and 40 of Middle Eastern descent in an airport and give him an extra-careful shakedown and you’re a racist profiler. In the teeth of more evidence than should be humanly necessary that Middle Eastern males between the ages of 17 and 40 should be given special attention airport security officials, to the glee of anti-American PC activists single out white grandmothers and Al Gore.

A noble gesture, but Gore’s contribution to the 9/11 attacks has already been made. Again from Kelly:

“After Philippine police uncovered a plot to hijack American airliners in the Pacific in 1995, a commission to investigate airline safety, headed by then Vice President Al Gore, was created. The foremost recommendation made to the Gore Commission by security experts was for a passenger profiling system. Had the system recommended been in place on Sept. 11, it is probable that one or more of the Sept. 11 hijackers would have been apprehended before boarding flights. But Gore rejected profiling, for fear of offending civil rights groups.”

Thanks, Al. After all, a few planes blown up here and rammed into buildings there is, in your world, a small price to pay for Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40 not to feel unfairly hassled at airports.

Customer Loyalty On $500,000 A Year.


According to a famous study done by Sears Roebuck, when employee satisfaction rose 5 percent, customer satisfaction rose by 1.3 per cent, which led to a 0.5 per cent increase in the financial performance of the company.

No surprise there: “You cannot substitute [customer service] technology for principled frontline behavior,” agrees customer loyalty guru Fred Reichheld. “All of the companies that achieve superior levels of customer loyalty also have superior levels of employee loyalty.”

And of course the answer, as far as company executives are concerned, is to do Customer Relationship Management, the (correct) idea that loyal customers are what drive business success. How do they obtain loyal customers? Usually by plunking down half a million dollars on a Customer Contact Center or Marketing Analytics software or Contact Management tools. Over half of all such initiatives fail.

So why smoke money on tech in the first place? Let’s see how much employee – i.e. customer – loyalty we could build in a year for a company with a couple hundred employees using their existing $500,000 CRM budget:

· Free refreshing 15-minute massages for each employee twice a week: $150,000.
· Hey, you ten lowest-paid customer-facing people in the organization, you and your families ever seen the Caribbean? No? $65,000.
· Twice a year pick a set of employee car keys out of a giant fishbowl for a Jeep Wrangler upgrade: $40,000.
· Wash everyone’s car once a week: $37,500.
· Happy Birthday! $20,000.
· Merry Christmas! $20,000.
· Jolly “Aw, Why The Hell Not?” Day! $20,000.
· Take your friend to Chez France, it’s on us: $20,000.
· Free beer every Friday afternoon! $18,150.
· Weekly “contests” with 52 unique winners every year: Best Hairdo, Lamest Concert Attended That Month, Most Kids’ Birthdays Missed Due To Work, Worst Hairdo, Most Unwanted Sexual Advances, Best Customer Satisfaction Story, Fewest Unwanted Sexual Advances, Best Drawing Of The Boss, Most Office Supplies Stolen Over The Past Year, etc. $15,600.
· A New Year’s Party to tell the kids about: $6,850.
· A New Year’s Party to tell the grandkids about: $13,300.
· “I’m not going to Disneyland, you are!” $15,000.
· Graduation, wedding, newborn savings bond gifts: $25,000.
· Get a Mohawk, win some cash! $100@ ($200 for women).
· Matching contributions to charities: $20,000.
· That health club upgrade we’ve been jawing about? We’re serious: $9,500.
· Amazon.com gift certificates all around: $30,000.
· Complimentary espresso and cappuccino makers on every floor: $7,000.

Hey, I’d work for you.

Stop Or I’ll Sing!


And today’s reminder that Disney is assuming world dominance comes from… Mexico!

“MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico City police are trading in their bulletproof vests and drab brown uniforms for sombreros and mariachi suits in a bid to draw visitors.”

== “Hey Merle, let’s go to Mexico City instead of Rome this year, the cops are dressed up like those guys who played at Rosemary’s wedding over at the V.F.W. last year.” ==

“Starting Nov. 1, 70 officers will fight crime in Mexico City's historic center dressed in authentic ‘charro’ outfits, the capital's public safety director, Marcelo Ebrard, said Thursday.”

== Ebrard later explained that since the Number One priority of police is now to attract tourists instead of round up desperados, if an officer is having his picture taken with members of a Japanese tour group while a gift shop is being robbed the officer must finish posing for pictures before apprehending the thieves. ==

“Charros are Mexico's original cowboys, and their outfits include spurs, guns and pointy-topped, broad-brimmed hats known as sombreros. The proposal was put forth by tourism officials who believe the costumes will help draw visitors while still allowing them to fight rising crime.”

== There’s the branch of government you want in charge of police: the tourism guys. What do Mexican policewomen wear, authentic original Mexican hooker garb?==

“If the program is successful,”

== As measured in what, tourists drawn or crimes solved? Is a five percent spike in crime an acceptable tradeoff for a 13 percent jump in tourism? ==

“officials plan to increase the number of charro police to 80 officers after two months, then 120 officers at the beginning of next year.”

== One hopes that the “increase” is a total increase in officers, instead of simply an increase in the number of current officers required to dress like the Frito Bandito. What’s next? Denver requiring cops to wear ten-gallon hats and vests with six-guns on their hips? Montréal requiring beat cops to don the red Mountie outfits?

== Or, as a friend of mine e-mailed, "Now that there is precedent for fulfilling stereotypes, do you think the French police would agree to dress up as collaborators in order to attract more tourists?" ==

September 17, 2002

My Night Among The Homeless.


It’s good to be among people who, in the main, aren’t totally like you.

I’ve attended many churches in my life, but few who would have volunteered to be part of CARITAS’s shelter program. My current church does.

It’s a good program here in Richmond. The agency has identified thirty or forty people who are sort of the elite homeless. During the winter months they’re bused from a central pickup location in downtown Richmond to a participating church for a week, and dropped off back downtown the next morning. The church provides a warm room, dinner and breakfast and manpower. CARITAS supplies the bedding.

Rooms are segregated by sex. Anybody caught using drugs or alcohol is instantly banned from the program. There is a waiting list.

As a conservative I am, of course, opposed to government programs which seem to do nothing but perpetuate homelessness, and assume that the homeless are so because they refuse to work like the rest of us. This was always my convenient excuse to avoid actually getting off my ass to help the homeless myself.

So I signed up for a night last winter working at CARITAS the week it was at First Mennonite Church. I don’t know how much the homeless benefited from my presence, but it probably wasn't as greatly as I benefited from theirs.

I arrived at 8:00 in the evening. Somebody else from the church had come earlier that afternoon and helped the CARITAS people set up the cots in the Fellowship Hall. The homeless had arrived, eaten their dinner cooked by church members and retired for the evening.

My job was to prepare breakfast at 5:30 so they could be on the bus by 6:30. I filled the 30-cup coffee pots with grounds and water, checked to make sure that the homemade-according-to-secret-Mennonite-family-recipe breakfast pastry was edible – it appeared to be so, but you never know, so I made sure – and spent the next hour chatting with Jim, a real estate agent from the church I hadn’t known too well but who helped us buy a house a few months later.

Turned in to sleep earlier than I would have at home, as the homeless were quieter than my 3, 2 and sub-1 year olds.

Got up at 5:30, switched on the coffee, helped Jim warm and serve the pastry, two egg-based breakfast dishes, bread, hard-boiled eggs and fresh fruit salad other church members had provided. Arranged an assembly-line breakfast serving area with Jim. The homeless helped themselves to coffee. They carried bundles of belongings but otherwise turned themselves out much like I and my friends would have dressed in college, only the homeless were more clean-shaven.

They processed through our line with more order, patience and decorum than we did through college cafeteria lines, frequently refusing extra helpings of hard-boiled eggs and servings of fruit I was sure they’d gobble. They even left enough pastry for Jim and I could have. The supervisor from CARITAS who travels with the program chatted with the homeless as with friends.

At 5:50 I got into the first conversation I’d ever had with a homeless person. He asked me if that was my ’73 convertible orange Volkswagen Beetle in the parking lot. I replied no, it was my ’72 convertible orange Volkswagen Beetle. He got an expression on his face as if he’d forgotten his mother’s name, and asked how it ran. I told him for the most part it ran fine, except at certain speeds the front end shimmied a little, and new tires aligned hadn’t solved it. He said I should check the front bushings. I did, had them replaced and have never had a front-end shimmy since.

At 6:15 Jim and I handed out church member-provided sack lunches to the homeless. Everybody took only one and nobody tried to sneak an extra. Nobody even took one when I offered the extra bags. They boarded the bus with less hassle than it requires to stuff my kids in a Volvo station wagon. Jim explained that many of them actually worked jobs in Richmond, but were scrambling for housing or short on funds. "Half these people will be off the streets next winter," he said.

A couple church guys arrived to help the CARITAS guys pack up the bedding. We realized someone had left a family photo album. CARITAS has strict rules that nothing left at a site is to be returned to the person. Jay, one of the church guys who’d come to help load up the bedding, quickly took the photo album and spent the better part of his business day tracking down the owner and running it over to him at the next bus pickup.

I tried to remember the last time I’d gotten up at 5:30 to catch a bus to work. I couldn’t do it. I got in my ’72 convertible orange Volkswagen Beetle with the soon-to-be-fixed front end shimmy and drove home with the sunrise.

Good News For Blake



-----Original Message-----
From: David Sims
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2002 9:36 AM
To: Liz
Subject: Good news on Blake

We wanted you to know that Blake's surgery went perfectly, as far as the doctor's concerned. We brought him home at 9:30 this morning, he's resting and we go back tomorrow for the doctor to take the eye bandaging off.

Many, many thanks for your prayers and good wishes, it's amazing how much it helps. He goes back in two weeks from now to have the other eye done -- if we can get him out the door, now that the poor kid knows what he's in for.

Cheers,

David & Sue Sims

Reply: That's great news! I can't believe they are taking the bandages off so soon. Is it too early to see any improvement in his vision?

Liz

Hi Liz,

It amazed me too. Here's how it went:

Got up at 5:45 yesterday morning. Trundled still-groggy Blake out to the bus -- thank heaven for 1978 VW buses with the middle seat ripped out -- the poor kid could sleep on the way to the hospital.

Fifteen minutes later arrive at Richmond Eye & Ear Clinic. Put Blake to sleep on carpeted lobby. First ones there -- yet coffee's made. Sometimes the world is good.

Spend twenty minutes fantasizing about everything that could go wrong. I mean, everything.

Go to personal waiting/recovery room in pediatric ward. Blake's awake by this time, and based on his recollections of the last time he was in such a room with such equipment, he starts vocally questioning his presence there. We reassure him no, we're not with The Enemy, we're really on his side. Message isn't sinking in.

Nurse shows up, does a great job prepping us and Blake for surgery. Start to feel better about whole thing.

Spend ten minutes imaging a child merely blinded for life.

Nine eyedrops applied to eyes of person not all that fond of eyedrops in first place, each evidently more catastrophically painful than the last.

Doctor shows up, through strained yet casual-sounding conversation it's established that we're mutual friends of a doctor in our church. "Good, so you won't mind praying before the operation then," doctor says. We all pray together. Feeling much better.

Spend only five minutes preparing self for death of child through horrible operating table mishap.

Anesthesiologist comes to take Blake into surgery. Last image is that of him gripping door frame with both hands. Pry fingers off door. Listen to him caterwauling down hall into surgery.

Silence.

Read book for hour. Could not today identify title, genre or color of ink in book.

Catch glimpse of Blake's head in arms of nurse being carried to other recovery room.

Doctor comes in to talk to us. Says "Everything went perfectly, I'm very, very happy." More tension than I realized I had evaporates.

Nurse calls us in to room where Blake's sleeping, explains that Blake will be angry and confused upon awakening. Events confirm prediction. Nurse waits in room for stabilization, pronounces his condition satisfactory and gives home care instructions.

At 9:30 Blake fine to travel home. Has bandage over eye, and perforated metal shield over bandage. Commencement of terrifying recitation no doubt mandated by fear of whopping legal malpractice suits, including what to do if blood soaks through perforated metal shield, whom to call if barking breathing indicates swiftly-constricting windpipe due to reaction to breathing tube inserted during surgery, where to go if herd of elephants run across Blake that afternoon, etc.

Once again, thank God for 1978 VW buses with the middle seat ripped out. Go home where grandma's watching Dylan and Zelda.

Blake's novelty status among siblings lasts approximately fifty-one seconds, then it's back to Zooboomafoo. Blake sleeps. Awakens once and tries to rip off eye bandage. Velcro splints applied to arms to prevent elbow bending. Aforesaid procedure remaked upon at length by child.

10:00. Splints removed out of human pity, sod the bandage -- we can put that back on. Yet bandage is never again touched.

Blake (and parents) alternately sleeps and fusses until 4 that afternoon, when invisible switch to normal is flipped. So far has had some Tylenol, cranapple juice and water with no regurgitation. Pretzel sticks next staple food introduced. Go down as smoothly as always.

Blake up and running around as normal -- eye never was much good to him anyway, so not much difference noted. Clamors for Velcro splints to be strapped back on arms to play robot (and hit Dylan).

Normal bedtime.

Eleven o'clock it's noted the gauze bandage and perforated metal shield have come untaped during night. Frantic search. Both located and reapplied.

11:00 this morning child and parents back to RE&E for doctor to remove bandages. That this is actually the second time the bandages have been removed not publicly acknowledged. Doctor examines eye, pronounces himself satisfied and pleased. Blake performs well on eye test.

Nascent euphoria nipped in proverbial bud when doctor says any sharp blow to the head could trigger massive intraocular bleeding. Provision of nifty wraparound shades mollifies fears somewhat.

Dozen doughnuts purchased to reward Blake for good behaviour. Blake gets one.

Arrive home, spell grandma again. Dylan admonished not to even think about looking at Blake's head for next two weeks.

Tiny vial of eyedrops purchased -- $65. Realize we're on the wrong end of that business.

”Anybody But United, Please.”


There are some things certain people just shouldn’t do. It’s not a good idea for a beer critic to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon. My family shouldn’t invite Martha Stewart – assuming she make parole – to dinner. Customer service writers shouldn’t fly United Airlines.

My friend the business consultant Bob Thompson explained to me his strict ABU travel policy: "Anybody but United, please." I don’t travel as much as Bob does – Colin Powell doesn’t log as many frequent flier miles as Bob does – so when I accepted a recent Webcast invitation in San Francisco I forgot about specifying “Anybody but United, please” to the woman making the arrangements.

Flying from Richmond to Chicago went well. Hey, anybody can have an on day, I figured. Chicago to San Francisco went fine – I even snagged an emergency exit seat. Feeling good I sprung for a $4 beer.

The San Francisco to Chicago return leg went as smooth as Glenfiddich. I was beginning to wonder if maybe Bob hadn’t been a tad harsh on United when I realized I had 20 minutes to make my 4:25 connection to Richmond. No problem, we were taxiing to the C terminal, where my flight to Richmond originated. Maybe even duck in the Writers & Artists café for a quick one.

The plane stops. The pilot announces there’s a change of plans, and we’ll deplane in the F terminal instead. My heart sank -- this is O’Hare, friends, the C and F terminal get different weather reports.

I dashed off the plane, scanned the bank of monitors and saw my flight listed as “Boarding." I ran along moving sidewalks, puffed up and down escalators, sprinted past O.J. and panicked when the monitor still had my flight as “Boarding.” I had just forearmed a crippled 167-year old nun into a broom closet when one of those golf carts hove into view. I fell down and clutched my ankle so he’d give me a ride to the gate, tumbled off – whoever found my jacket somewhere between Chili’s and the gate can return it to the address my mother sewed on the label – shouting “Hold the plane! Hold the plane!”

The F Terminal United agent paused her conversation with her co-worker long enough to inform me that oh, that flight wasn’t taking off until 6:30, I had time.

Not sure whether to be angry or relieved, I repaired to the bar, collected myself, and strolled back down to the gate, whereupon I learned my flight would be leaving from C terminal at 8:00. And I’d just like to apologize here and now to Girl Scout Troop #58 from Des Moines who had to witness what followed, I assure you I’m not like that in real life, and no, I have no intention of carrying through with anything I said. For one thing I don’t even know how to make a thermonuclear device.

I trudged back to C terminal, located the flight on the monitor, got to the gate that said “Richmond,” called my sister and told her I’d be late, and checked with the gate agent if we were still going to leave at 8:00. She said “No sir, the flight to Orlando doesn’t leave until 8:30.”

Orlando? “Oh Richmond, no, that’s leaving from [lazy nod] over there,” she said. I collect my things and walk over. Nope, sorry, it’s been switched to Gate 9 down the hall, that agent tells me, and it’s not leaving until 8:30… tell me honestly, does this happen on any other airline?

They passed out $50 travel vouchers to all passengers who boarded. I gave mine to a panhandler when we landed in Richmond – it was only good on United, you see.

Who’s “Mainline” Now?


Hey I attended the only Southern Baptist church in Boston, I’ve got a sense of humor.

As if it’s news anymore Rachel Zoll, the Associated Press’s religion writer reported today that the fresh decennial 2000 Religious Congregations & Membership census of American religions found – brace yourself – that churches who stand strongly for beliefs distasteful to the liberal media elite grow like kudzu, while mainline Protestant social clubs of which Madelyn Murray O’Hair and H.L. Mencken would have approved are withering like Jonah’s vine.

Among Christians the pentecostal Assemblies of God denomination blew everyone's doors off, growing about 19 percent to 2.6 million members. Catholics grew 16 percent to total 62 million members and the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, the erstwhile growth leader increased a robust 4.9 percent to 20 million members.

Even the Mormon cult, which has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity but firmly believes its bizarre menu of beliefs, grew as fast as AOG to number 4.2 million.

Catholic growth can be largely explained by simple demographics – the more Hispanics in America, more people who’ll tell you they’re Catholic and who may drop in on a Mass once or twice a year. A dear friend in Washington, D.C. to the contrary, I know few people who actually convert to Catholicism.

The decline of the liberal Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist et al churches is also easily enough understood. When you abandon the core principles of Christian orthodoxy you’re as adrift in the sea of modern culture as anyone else. It almost seems as if the goal of mainline Protestantism is to blend in with the modern culture. Well, if your goal is to be part of the wallpaper, to be a nonconfrontational “spirituality is everywhere” club with Bach motets you shouldn’t wonder if people don’t find a good reason to get out of bed Sunday morning when they can get the same thing from The New York Times or Robert Schuller's TV show without even shaving.

Evangelicalism is growing precisely because it is a genuine alternative to the prevailing culture. If you’re happy in the culture there’s no reason for church. The only raison d’etre for any church is to provide what the culture does not – there will be no churches in heaven – which is exactly what pentecostals, the sturdier Baptists, my own Anabaptist fellowship do. Which is why we grow.

Ever listened to these nominal "Christians" who convert to Islam or Judaism? Almost always they say something like “Well, at least they believe in something.” It might have been G.K. Chesterton, if it’s not it should have been, who said nobody was ever saved from a life of sin into liberal Protestantism.

And please don’t think evangelical “growth” is only among rednecks and other lowlifes. My own home Bible study group in the Baptist church in Fairfield included the head of IBM’s international division and the guy who invented bulk stock trading on Wall Street – neither of whom, it might be pointed out, were born Baptist.

Mickey D’s Deserves No Break Today.


Surprised at McDonald’s stock hemorrhaging another 13 percent to hit a 7-year low on results released today? Don’t be.

The writing was on the wall – as was a lot of other writing, something you never saw at McDonald’s ten years ago. Way back in January the Nation's Restaurant News, a journal just a swimsuit issue away from being a household name, reported that according to the University of Michigan’s widely respected American Customer Satisfaction Index, McDonald’s scored 59 out of 100. For purposes of comparison, the IRS scored 62.

I earn my bread these days not by writing snotty jejune blogs, but by writing snotty jejune articles for online and print customer service and customer relationship management publications. It’s a truism that if you have loyal customers you have a solid business, and if you don’t you don’t. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? As Arlo Guthrie would say it’s amazing that someone could make a living telling the business world this. But that’s America.

McDonald’s used to have millions of loyal customers. Investing in McDonald’s stock when a child was born was a good way to take care of a chunk of that kid’s college expenses. Now the stock’s tanking. What gives? Isn’t a Big Mac always a Big Mac? They didn’t monkey around with the special sauce, did they?

No. They forgot the customer. When your customer satisfaction rankings leap off the window ledge your business will follow like a feather tied to an anvil. You’d think companies would, well, know this, wouldn’t you? Check out what McD’s brass included in their “series of moves” to right the ship: slowing its rapid expansion pace abroad, where it has been opening an average of three new restaurants a day; focusing on the $1 menu items, restaurant renovations and faster, friendlier service.

Here, I’ll rank those in the order McD’s brass prioritizes them:
Slow expansion;
Focus on $1 menu;
Restaurant renovation;
But really nice renovation;
Finest naugahyde we can get;
Maybe more pictures;
Darker wood coloring;
And lighter trim;

Faster, friendlier service.

I was out of the country for a number of years, returning in 1997. I could not believe how McDonald’s standards had slipped. It seemed almost every one I went to was dirtier than I’d remembered them – much dirtier than the ones in Istanbul where I’d been living – and the service was noticeably worse. Had I owned any stock at that time I would have sold.

You can say McDonald’s still outsells the Burger Kings, Wendys and Taco Bells of the world. Sure, there are more of them. Britain had a larger empire than Belgium in 1911, but look at what’s happened to both of their stock since then.

Bottom line: Earnings fluctuate. The dividend bounces up and down. Quarters are better than others. Sales come and go. But when you start losing the customers, it’s time to sell out.

Goodbye, Patrick.


Got an e-mail this morning from a friend in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“Patrick Ewing announced his retirement yesterday,” he writes. “I remember driving to a high school basketball tournament in Nashua, NH just to see him play. This was Christmas week, 1980 and he was a skinny 7 footer from Cambridge Rindge and Latin with a not so great outside shot. Funny, seems like just yesterday.”

We can’t say that we were ever what you’d call a Ewing “fan,” although there was something poetic about his quest, year after futile year, for a championship. Ewing never seemed like the kind of guy who cared if he retired with a 27.3 as opposed to a 26.9 scoring average, but as the kind of guy who wanted the ring. And that's to be commended.

No, the day in basketball we remember “like just yesterday” was when Ralph Sampson announced that he’d attend the University of Virginia. Great, we thought, there’s a guaranteed pasting of the Tar Heels and Blue Devils for the next four years, plus a couple NCAA championships thrown in for good measure.

Turns out Mr. Jefferson’s university never won so much as an ACC championship during Sampson’s four-year career – it took human sparkplug Ricky Stokes to carry the Cavaliers to the Final Four the year after Sampson left. Ralph knocked around the NBA for a bit then got on with life, and at last report is a successful businessman in Richmond.

Even those of us who recognize Georgetown as The Enemy came to respect Ewing’s career and quest. In his waning years with the Knicks it became clear he wasn’t going to win a championship, and even those of us not particularly Knicks fans came to place Ewing as one of those we’d like to see win a championship at least once, as if they somehow deserved it – you know, like Cal Ripken, Anna Kournikova or Bob Dole.

Ivan Karamazov, Meet Tanya Grotter.


Evidently one man’s plagiarism is another man’s “cultural reply:”

Tanya Grotter and Her Magical Double Bass, according to its Russian author Dimitri Yemetz, is about a schoolgirl taking “lessons in witchcraft and magic at her unorthodox school,” -- but he's not ripping off Harry Potter, he's merely offering a “cultural reply.”

Yemetz was shocked, shocked that anyone would think he had “directly” copied J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter character. Not simply a cheap knockoff in search of a fast buck – er, ruble, his work is much more important: It is the "Russian answer" to Harry Potter.

"The character is a cultural reply rather than plagiarism," said Yemetz, who holds degrees in Russian folklore and literature to today’s The Scotsman. Harry’s Moscow publishers fail to see the question that Yemetz claims needed an answer, and are preparing a response for "serious violation of copyright.”

(We must say a movie where Harry meets this mysterious Russian alter-ego girl toting her double bass in, say, a Vienna jazz club would be considerably more intriguing than the current Harry Potter cinematic fare.)

Heck, at least when the Chinese produced their Harry Potter rip-off Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-To-Dragon, the long-awaited “fifth installment” where Harry turns into a hairy dwarf after a "sour-sweet rain" (no, we are not making this up – how could we?) back in early July, they had the decency not to pretend it was anything but the good ol’ Chinese plagiarism and piracy business as usual. One would have imagined that given the rich and proud Russian literary tradition there would be no need for this sort of shabby knockoff, the literary equivalent of the Guinness Brewery deciding to produce a Miller High Life imitation.

Life is bleak for those of us on the Harry Potter watch these days. Cox News Service’s Phil Kloer reports that the tentative publication date of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has been pushed back to 2003 at the earliest. Of course that’s simply Rowling following her artistic muse, and has nothing to do with the November 15th release date of the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and the estimated replenishment time of the average American kid's allowance.

No doubt the delay’s due to shortage of napkins in Edinburgh coffee houses.

New Light On The Crusades.


Once again, the West uncritically accepts a twisted, blatantly false Islamic "justification" for terror.

With the Muslim contention that the medieval Crusades (b. 1095, d. 1291) are just cause for the mass murder being practiced by Muslims against the West today, and particularly the United States -- which, remind me, sponsored which Crusade again? -- it might be helpful to take a clear-eyed view of the Crusades. Fortunately for us Thomas F. Madden, associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University has done just that. Professor Madden is the author of numerous works, including A Concise History of the Crusades, and co-author, with Donald Queller, of The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople.

That such knowledge is needed cannot be disputed. As Professor Madden points out:

“Osama bin Laden… never fail[ed] to describe the American war against terrorism as a new Crusade against Islam. Ex-president Bill Clinton has also fingered the Crusades as the root cause of the present conflict. In a speech at Georgetown University, he recounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and informed his audience that the episode was still bitterly remembered in the Middle East. (Why Islamist terrorists should be upset about the killing of Jews was not explained.) Clinton took a beating on the nation’s editorial pages for wanting so much to blame the United States that he was willing to reach back to the Middle Ages. Yet no one disputed the ex-president’s fundamental premise.”

Notwithstanding the late, unlamented Equivocator In Chief’s confusion, the myths persist:

“Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins.”

The truth, Professor Madden finds, may justify the idea that today’s war on terror is, in fact, another Crusade:

“So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.”

Traditional Islamic teaching, the poisoned well from which today's Islamic terrorists drink, holds that "Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered." This is, of course, the same rhetoric employed by Islamic terrorists today. As we are today fighting a war of cultural defense, the Crusades were an early means of cultural self-preservation:

"... the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

"That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense."

When The Shepherds Are Led Astray.


Mennonites are such wonderful people, it's too bad their leaders can make the whole lot come off as dunces.

As a contented member of First Mennonite Church of Richmond, my family meets wonderful fellow Christians, is part of a warm community, and has to filter out the political flotsam every Sunday. Witness the following letter from James F. Schrag, Executive Director Mennonite Church USA Executive Board to President Bush, with == my commentary ==:

August 27, 2002

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As leaders and members of Mennonite Church USA we express our opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq by the U.S. military.

== Thereby taking the world by surprise. ==

We believe that war will not sow seeds of peace and security. There are workable

== Key word here, "workable." In order for something to "work" both sides have to want it to work. Remember that. And actually, world history, particularly recent world history, teaches that sometimes war does result in peace and security. For starters, compare 1940 Europe with 1951 Europe. Thank you, World War II. ==

alternatives to war that will increase security in the Middle East and for the United States.

Our Mennonite witness is rooted in a Christian faith that asks us to seek the peace and welfare of all, including our enemies.

== Mennonites have enemies? ==

The Mennonite worldwide community of faith works daily to plant peace and nurture justice in contexts of tension and violence.

== I know I do. ==

These global relationships,

== Sorry, which ones again? The ones with other Mennonites? ==

along with our 475 years of history as a Christian church, confirm our conviction that war is not the solution to our present stormy relationship with Iraq.

We do not offer you vain hope in naïve solutions.

== Yes you do, as will be shown shortly. ==

Rather, history shows that nonviolent solutions can bring substantive change - the civil rights movement in the United States, the changing governments in Poland, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa are just a few examples.

== Civil rights in America was Americans talking to other Americans about something that 97% of the country agreed needed to happen, and was happening, but not as swiftly as it should have happened. The changing governments in Poland and fall of the Berlin Wall were direct results of Ronald Reagan's Cold War hawkishness (duly criticized by Mennonites every step of the way), which Mikhail Gorbachev blamed for the dissolution of the Soviet Union -- he said that quite simply Russia couldn't afford to outspend the United States dollar for dollar on military budgets, so they let it all go. What, are Mennonites still trying to figure out why the Cold War ended and Russia retreated from Eastern Europe? The dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, sad truth be known, has unleashed wave after wave of violent crime in the country. ==

The same God who created the universe has tilted it toward peace and justice for all people.

== This no doubt comes as news to the vast majority of the world’s population. Ah, the unexamined joys of enjoying and prospering in a country where your pacifism is defended by the United States Army. ==

We believe that -

1. War will cause enormous human suffering.

War will make a bad situation worse.

== Or, as in the case of the Civil War, World War II, the Gulf War, our Bosnian action and the war in Afghanistan, make a bad situation better. ==

In the short-term we can expect tremendous loss of human life, including the additional deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi children and civilians as well as significant U.S. casualties.

== The professional hand-wringing set also predicted "significant U.S. casualties," thousands upon thousands of body bags before the Gulf War, yet the actual casualty count was 615 coalition servicemen and women. Of that, 107 Americans (and 22 Britons) were killed by "friendly fire." Similarly it was common knowledge among the liberal blabocracy that American action in Afghanistan would end as the Russian one had -- body counts in the thousands. Coalition casualties were in the low double digits, and again friendly fire accounted for many of the deaths. As of now there is no reason to think another military strike against Saddam will result in the thousands of casualties liberals wrongly predict like clockwork. Thousands of innocent Iraqi children (I love that phrase -- to hell with the guilty Iraqi children then?) and civilians will die? Did they do so during the last Gulf War? Do you think more children -- innocent or guilty -- would die during a military operation than die yearly under Saddam’s heel? ==

In the long-term, an invasion will devastate an already crumbling Iraqi infrastructure.

== The "crumbling" Iraqi infrastructure is a direct result of Saddam Hussein cannibalizing the country's resources for the war machine -- when he's not building palaces for himself. If you want to remove the cause of the crumbling remove Saddam, period. ==

Iraq has not yet economically recovered from the Iran-Iraq war or the Gulf War.

== So why the hell are they spending billions of dollars on offensive weapon capabilities? And how could Iraq be any worse off under anyone else? Removing Saddam helps better the lives of the “innocent children and civilians” liberals love to appear as if they care about but really don’t give a damn about, since they’d gladly consign the entire Iraqi population to blasted lives in Saddam’s hell as long as they get to scribble twee editorials and self-righteous letters about how wrong it would be for America to get rid of him. Iraq’s pitiful economy is because Saddam thinks it's more important to have a biological weapons program than food on the shelves. All Iraq has to do is comply with the U.N.-mandated -- not American dictated -- terms of ending the Gulf War, which they have agreed many times to do yet have never actually done, and the sanctions will disappear. ==

UNICEF statistics show that one in eight Iraqi children die before their fifth birthday and that one in three suffer from chronic malnutrition.

== Leaving aside the inherent unreliability of UNICEF’s numbers on anything, this sounds like as good a reason for removing Saddam as any I can think of. The man clearly does not give a damn about the Iraqi people, he could end their suffering in short order but chooses to flush the country's money on his war toys instead of doing so. ==

In the event of war, CARE International and the Iraqi Red Crescent are planning to divert much-needed development resources to emergency relief. God calls us as humans not to increase the suffering of friends or foes, but to ease their pain and despair.

== God calls us to heap burning coals on their heads. I can't find anything in my copy of the Bible about easing our enemies' "despair," as if our role is to be the world’s therapist. The way I read it turning to God is the only thing that will ease anyone's despair. ==

2. War will not sow seeds of peace and security.

== Ask, say, Dutch or Belgians older than 70 if they enjoyed more peace and security before or after the Allies threw the Nazis out of their country. ==

War will not increase security for the United States and other Middle East countries.

== The destruction of Saddam Hussein will greatly increase both American and Middle East security. Ask Kuwait if it's secure today because of war or not. Ask Israel if it was more secure after Israeli jets bombed Libya -- heck, even Bob Dylan figured that one out. ==

It will increase the already rising tide of anti-American sentiment,

== So? Anyone who thinks appeasement is the way to ensure pro-American sentiment need only consider today's "sentiment" towards Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill. 95% of all anti-American sentiment today, especially in the Middle East, is simply due to jealousy and envy anyway. What do you propose to do to ameliorate that? ==

broaden the divide between the West and the Arab world,

== A consummation devoutly to be wished. If you ask me there's not enough of a divide between us and the Arab world as it is, I'd love one that was a lot broader than it appears to be now. Quick, somebody name a positive contribution Arabs have made to world culture in the past 100 years. ==

further destabilize

== Further destabilize? One can only hope so. The post-1979 Middle East has seen an incredibly bloody Iran-Iraq war as well as any number of other vicious, nasty inter-Arab wars, an unrelenting barrage of international terrorism, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and an American-led war against Saddam; I’m all for destabilizing that status quo. ==

the region by fueling the more radical elements,

== Here it is again, the good old liberal “blame the victim first” mentality. What did we do to "fuel" them the first time, other than protect Saudi Arabia's fat lazy ass from Saddam and offer them flight school training? Notice the pattern here: Nobody hates us in the Middle East more than Saudis do -- 9/11 hijackers were almost exclusively Saudi, Osama bin Laden was Saudi, most of the money funding Islamic terrorism comes from Saudi sources, yet nobody except Kuwait was more benefited by America's action in the Gulf War than Saudi Arabia. ==

and likely amplify divisions among Iraqi ethnic and tribal groups.

== Ethnic and tribal groups, presumably such as the Kurds. Were it not for American and British warplanes violently enforcing the no-fly zone there wouldn't be any Kurds left alive in Iraq. Again, one has to show why there are “divisions” among these groups as it is, and whether American military action has any bearing on them whatsoever. ==

In addition, an invasion will likely put at risk both the minority Christian community in Iraq as well as the minority Muslim community in the United States.

== Oh garbage. Absolute ignorant, viciously prejudiced elitist garbage of the lowest order -- this is exactly why nobody takes people such as Jim Schrag seriously. What happened to the (strikingly successful and prosperous Southern Californian) Iranian community in America after the Tehran embassy takeover in 1979? Nothing. What happened to the Muslim community in the United States after the Gulf War? Nothing except a surge of sympathy. What happened to the Muslim community in the United States following 9/11? All I saw were solidarity marches with non-Muslims, President Bush speaking up for Muslims in America, normal Americans rushing to protect mosques (from mostly nonexistent threats) and speak up for Muslim rights. For months after 9/11 you couldn't turn on a TV without seeing an imam being pitched some softball question like "Most Muslims really don't support terrorism, right?" and "Islam's really not a violent religion, right?" or praying with American politicians or some other such vaudeville. Those who thoughtfully asked why most of the senseless violence in the world was being committed by people calling themselves Muslims in the express name of Islam were hammered into silence. Did anybody ever hear of Muslims in America being killed out of "retribution?" I never did, all I ever heard of was two Sikhs in Texas killed about that time by some lowlife with a criminal past -- which in Texas is a slow murder day.
"But Dave, they felt threatened." The only reason they felt threatened at all was because the entire liberal media told them to feel threatened, that the ignorant rednecks were comin’ to git 'em, which was nothing more than pure ignorant, liberal elitist anti-American snobbery. Lay any and all Muslim community fear after 9/11 at the feet of every vapid newspaper writer, brainless TV commentator and other card-carrying member of the blabocracy who without a single fact in hand other than their unrelenting hatred for common Americans predicted dark days ahead for Muslims in America. None of it was predicated on anything but stunningly irresponsible vicious prejudice against non-Muslim Americans to assume they'd be capable of that sort of thing -- which they proved they weren't, but proof of how wrong they almost always are does little to deter liberals and peaceniks from the next Smug Prediction Of How Badly Americans (Who Don’t Subscribe To The Village Voice) Will Behave. When you hate America as much as they do you’re far beyond analyzing the near-historical record for truth anyway. ==

3. Our practice of Christian faith calls us to overcome evil with good. Wise governments will do the same.

By resorting to the aggressive use of weapons, the United States succumbs to the evil it condemns.

== I have no idea what this means, and I gather Jim Schrag doesn't either. Is he advocating a passive use of weapons? Arguing that defeating evil is becoming evil? By his calculus America’s long since succumbed to evil, so what’s the big deal this time? A favorite liberal trick: When you want America to seem worse than it really is, pretend it had been good all along. ==

In 1990, the United States condemned Iraq for its aggression against Kuwait.

== No, we went in and by resorting to the aggressive use of weapons kicked Iraq out of Kuwait. ==

Now your administration is considering aggressive action against Iraq. The U.S. criticizes Iraq for seeking weapons for mass destruction while it is preparing to develop a new series of nuclear weapons.

== Correct. I suppose we would all sleep more soundly at night knowing Iraq were not being criticized for having weapons of mass destruction and developing nuclear weapons? ==

The United States will abdicate its moral voice to call for nonviolent resolution of other global conflicts (e.g. India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestinian) if it chooses a violent response to address its present grievance against Iraq.

== Wait, let me climb back in my seat here, this is the first time I've ever heard any Mennonite claim America has a "moral voice." Here again the tacit acknowledgement of good in America with the left hand is only for the purpose of slamming America all that much harder with the right -- one gets the image of a boxer tilting his opponent’s chin just so before the punch. You will search Jim Schrag or any other Mennonite commentator’s output in vain for a simple, plain, unvarnished compliment to America. They detest America so much they simply can’t say anything good about the place without the overall point being critical of America.
If Mennonites think America has a moral voice it's in danger of abdicating then why haven’t they been listening to and praising America’s moral voice up until now? And do they really think Iraq listens to "moral voices?" Okay, let's get the Pope, Mother Teresa ("She's dead." "Damn. How about the Dalai Lama instead?"), Muhammad Ali, whomever you want to ask Iraq pretty-please to stop making weapons of mass destruction, please. Let's get all those "moderate" Muslim leaders in America to do so. By the way, have you ever wondered why President Bush has to keep calling on "moderate" Muslim leaders to speak out against terrorism, why they never just do so themselves? Iraq hasn't ever listened to anything the Arab League, EU, UN or any of these presumed "moral voices" has ever said, why would they start now? ==

We urge you to lead our country toward justice:

· demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law (e.g. preemptive strikes are not sanctioned under international law);

== Neither is gassing your Kurdish population, but I must've missed Jim Schrag's letter to Saddam condemning that. As a matter of fact, I seem to have missed any formal public protest Mennonites have ever lodged against Saddam’s brutal, violent regime. Evidently in their eyes America’s more in need of their reproof than Saddam. Everything Saddam's doing is in direct contravention of international law. Let me remind one and all here, the sanctions are United Nations sanctions for Saddam's refusal to follow United Nations terms of surrender after the Gulf War. ==

· cooperate with the community of nations;

== Right, the all-wise community of nations. Sudan, which practices its firm belief in human rights by legalizing slavery currently graces U.N. Commission on Human Rights, a proud grouping which includes noted human rights stalwarts Algeria, Syria, Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Vietnam and soon-to-join Zimbabwe, which is currently in the process of ethnically cleansing white farmers from the country. That's how seriously one should take the "community of nations." ==

use international tribunals to address war crimes;

== Which have proven so effective at bringing swift justice in Rwanda, the Pan Am 103 murders, Srebrenica, etc. Besides, President Bush’s intention is to prevent a large-scale war in the first place, not to sit around sifting through the criminals after one’s already happened. ==

· model democracy, do not impose it;

== We've been modeling democracy for, what, 230 years now? My feeling is if you haven’t gotten it by now you probably never will -- the only Islamic country close to a democracy is Turkey, and the only functioning Middle East democracy is Israel. Besides it’s impossible to “impose” democracy, as worthwhile a goal as that would be: Did America impose democracy on Kuwait after we liberated it? No, we let them keep their squalid, corrupt anti-women dictatorship much to Jim Schrag's delight. Find me a single example of America "imposing" democracy on anyone who didn't want it themselves, I defy you. And then show me why that would be worse than whatever they have now. ==

· demonstrate our concern for human rights and human suffering.

== One way to demonstrate concern is to sit around and write editorials and letters condemning suffering. Another is to use your army to eliminate the root cause of suffering. Guess which one would mean more to the long-suffering Iraqi people about now. ==

4. There are alternatives to war that increase security in the Middle East and for the United States.

== Note that we've dropped the word "workable" by now. ==

Mennonites share your goal of increased security for U.S. citizens and for all the people of the world.

== Increased security for all the people of the world is not President Bush’s goal. Increased security for Americans is. ==

Instead of supporting a military invasion of Iraq, you can

· engage in respectful dialogue that replaces threats and propaganda,

== What, we're going to talk Iraq out of their chemical weapons? Mennonites can't even talk each other into all agreeing on the same church beliefs and they think we can talk Iraq into agreeing with us? ==

· work in good faith to reintroduce UN inspectors as a means to verifiably disarm Iraq and lift economic sanctions,

== Iraq only resurrected the whole UN inspectors discussion once America started openly discussing an attack. Of course the Iraqi move was nothing more than time-saving cynicism. Besides, didn’t Iraq promise to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction “in good faith” after the Gulf War? If they lied then why wouldn’t they lie again? We've seen this movie before. ==

· participate in international tribunals that provide appropriate means for prosecuting those who commit war crimes,

== Which we already do, not that they ever accomplish anything. Amazing that people who don’t think the death penalty in America is a deterrent to mischief think international tribunals are. ==

· support a regional approach to create a Middle East zone free from weapons of mass destruction.

== I'm not even going to comment on this one. If Jim Schrag can think of a way to do this I'll vote for the man for God, until then I'll support a government that chooses to deal with the weapons of mass destruction which do exist today, instead of punting to some ideal world where they don't exist. ==

These peaceful steps can produce positive and stabilizing change for all parties.

== Even though they’ve never been shown to work on this scale anywhere. He would be closer to the truth by adding "for all parties who actually want change" on to the end of that, though. For Schrag to be right Saddam has to want change. Think Saddam wants change? I sure as hell don’t. And short of force what other way is there of dealing with someone who doesn't want to change? ==

Peaceful security is a better change-agent than war.

== No, "peaceful security" is not a change agent it is a result -- frequently of war. ==

We will pray for you in your heavy burden of leadership.

== Cut the hypocrisy. ==

May God lead you, granting you wisdom as you face difficult choices in the weeks and months ahead.

== Amen. ==

Sincerely,

== Unfortunately, probably so. ==

James F. Schrag, Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA Executive Board