Monday, October 24, 2005

United Nations Day

unIt's United Nations Day!

In 1947 the General Assembly of the U.N. passed a resolution:
that October 24 shall hereafter be officially called United Nations Day, and shall be devoted to making known to the people of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations, and to gaining their support for the work of the United Nations.

OK then, the "goals and achievements of the U.N." on this the 54th United Nations Day.

U.N. Then (goals):

To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime, has brought untold sorrow to mankind and
To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
To insure, by acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
To employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples


Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations, and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.

June 26, 1945

Preamble to the U.N. Charter

U.N. Now (achievements):
THE United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

The mistaken release of the unedited report added further support to the published conclusion that Syria was behind Mr Hariri’s assassination in a bomb blast on Valentine’s Day in Beirut. The murder of Mr Hariri touched off an international outcry and hastened Syria’s departure from Lebanon in April after a 29-year pervasive military presence.
But the furore over the doctoring of the report threatened to overshadow its damaging findings. It raised questions about political interference by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary- General, who had promised not to make any changes in the report.

One crucial change, apparently made after the report was submitted to the UN chief, removed the name of President al-Assad’s brother, Maher, his brother-in-law, Assef al-Shawkat, and other high-ranking Syrian officials.

The final, edited version quoted a witness as saying that the plot to kill Mr Hariri was hatched by unnamed “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials”. But the undoctored version named those officials as “Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamal al-Sayyed”.
Mr Annan had pledged repeatedly through his chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, that he would not change a word of the report by Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor. But computer tracking showed that the final edit began at about 11.38am on Thursday — a minute after Herr Mehlis began a meeting with Mr Annan to present his report. The names of Maher al-Assad, General Shawkat and the others were apparently removed at 11.55am, after the meeting ended.

Oct 24, 2005

Excerpt from TimesOnline news story.

THREE CHEERS for the U.N. on United Nations Day! Hip hip! meh...


photo credit

This posting identifies some dots in the connect-the-dots picture that forms the background for my thinking about illegal immigration. I make no claim that these dots, when connected, present a clear or accurate picture of anything in particular. I rather doubt that they do, but they are all that I have to offer.


A number of years ago I returned from a family vacation to Florida on the night train. I had less time-off from work than my wife so she and kids dropped me off at the train station in Winter Haven Florida on Sunday night and a friend from work picked me up at the Raleigh North Carolina station Monday morning.

I called my ride when I arrived and had a bit of a wait until he picked me up. It was a pleasant morning and, since the Raleigh Amtrack station is only so exciting, I sat outside to wait. Across the street from the station was a roadside shelter where day laborers are picked up for odd jobs. Most of those in the shelter appeared to be hispanic (probably Mexican) and they sat quietly until a pickup truck would arrive. The next laborer in line would walk out, talk to the driver briefly and signal back to the rest how many were needed. The required number would get up, climb into the truck and it would drive off.

There was one individual in the shelter who was obviously not hispanic. He sat a little apart from them and he would occasionally go out and talk to a prospective employer too. I couldn't hear the Mexicans but I could hear him. "Sevun dollllars uh hour!" he yelled at one point, obviously drunk despite the early hour, "I don't work for no sevun dollllars a hour!" He would stagger back to the shelter. One or two of the Mexicans would then get into the truck and the drunk would yell abuse as they drove off. By the time I was picked up most of the Mexicans were gone but he was still there.

I don't remember exactly where I was. It might have been I-85 near Atlanta. The traffic was heavy but moving smoothly and quickly. I was trying to move with the flow of traffic which was moving at about 63 miles an hour despite the 55 mph national speed limit the Carter administration had imposed. Looking down the interstate ahead, and in my rear-view mirror, I could see two-, maybe three hundred automobiles on the road including three Highway Patrol Cruisers. Each and every one of them was breaking the law. As was I.

Among my friends and associates, the ones who have the strongest negative feelings about illegal immigrants are themselves immigrants. They have jumped through a number of hoops to enter the country legally and are sputteringly indignant about those who bypass the process. Many of them tell awful stories of the incompetence and callousness of the INS but most of their anger is somehow redirected at the illegal immigrants who never had to deal with the INS.

When I had my house built fifteen years ago the back yard required some contouring to get the drainage right. After the guy with the backhoe had established the general slope a landscaping crew came in to finish the job. The guys with the rakes were all Mexican and, of all the workmen who had worked on the construction they impressed me as the hardest-working. On several occasions I saw them bend down to pick up a rock and throw it into the woods. This doesn't sound like a big deal but when you contrast it with the attitude of most construction workers -- who seem to regard each site as an informal landfill -- it stands out as an unusually good work ethic.

There was a time, years ago when the local post office would be packed on Saturday mornings with hispanics waiting in line to send their pay back to their families in Mexico and Central America. Recently I see fewer of them there. I think this may be associated with signs I see in the windows of hispanic grocery stores. "Envie Dinero a Mexico Aqui. / Western Union." (Send money to Mexico here.) Wiring money costs more but it gets there sooner.

I have heard this flow of money from illegals working in the US to their families in Mexico described as a de-facto subsidy of the Mexican economy. I guess that's a fair statement, but we subsidize the economies of lots of countries. We give hundreds of millions every year, for instance, to Israel and even more to Egypt. I don't remember seeing that many Israelis hanging sheetrock in this country, or laying sod, and I'm pretty sure I don't remember any Egyptians picking up rocks in my back yard.

Immigration has been much in the news lately. Post-9/11 nervousness about our porous borders has made a number of people, myself included, re-examine their stands on immigration law and enforcement. I find myself reluctantly persuaded that we need to tighten up enforcement on our borders. That's where my head is but, I must confess, my heart isn't in it. When I hear stories of people who ford the Rio Grande and hike across forty miles of desert, just to get a job flipping burgers for minimum wage, or nailing shingles in the hot sun, I have trouble being properly indignant. I suppose my impression may be colored by the fact that North Carolina is quite a distance from the nearest border. The illegal immigrants who make it this far are likely to have come looking for work -- not for handouts. Most of them work hard, live cheaply and send most of their pay to their families back home. It may all be illegal but it still seems like enterprize to me.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Spiders have woven a Disney Store around us.

vpoohOOPS. I wasn't paying attention and I seem to have accidentally become a Disney Store. A few years ago when my wife and I unhandily found that we were both unemployed at the same time I put both our resumes up on one of my web sites. We have since both found jobs and I forgot that the page was out there. There was little enough interest in the page back when we were both looking for work and recently the only ones to visit it are internet spiders -- programs that follow random links on the web looking for this and that.

A spider looking for information to go on this list of local disney stores in our area came across my wife's resume, noticed that it contained 1) the words "Disney Store", 2) an address and 3) a telephone number, and put two and two together. Hey! Presto! It made us a Disney Store.

We got a call this morning from a very nice young lady who had done an online search which identified us as the Disney Store in Cary. (Actually, the Cary store closed several years ago and the nearest Disney Store is the one in Raleigh, 20 miles away.) She told me that she had gotten our phone number from the Disney Store's official store-locator site. I was curious about this and tried to do the query myself but I found that all the official Disney web sites do not mention the in-mall Disney Stores at all. A Disney Store in a mall? No such thing! The very idea!! (Disney corporate is quietly phasing out the in-mall stores -- at least most of them -- a fact which they will neither confirm nor deny publicly.)

If you let your search-engine nudge you off the "official" Disney sites and into the Disney-hanger-on'er sites, such as the one I linked to above, you can find mention of the local stores although the information may be a bit dodgy.

When the spiders made me a Disney Store they failed to provide me with any merchandise. In particular, I cannot sell you the friendly, lovable, blood-sucking bear illustrated above. I'm not even sure I could find the page again where I snagged the image. I seem to recall that the prices were in Yen so it may only be available in Japan and it may also not be this years merchandise. [Update: try "Vampire plush pooh" in eBay. ]

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sunnis Discover Horse of a Different Color

differentThe Sunnis in Iraq have decided to support the new Constitution after a few minor last-minute concessions were made. According to an AP news story: "Iraqi negotiators reached a breakthrough deal on the constitution Tuesday, and at least one Sunni Arab party said it would now urge its followers to approve the charter in this weekend's referendum.
Under the deal, the two sides agreed on a mechanism to consider amending the constitution after it is approved in Saturday's referendum. The next parliament, to be formed in December, will set up a commission to consider amendments, which would later have to be approved by parliament and submitted to another referendum.

This is the point in the process where the Sunni leadership can no longer ignore the fact that, as the group with no oil in the part of the country they control, they have a strong interest in keeping the country together and the proposed constitution represents their best shot at doing so. Todays "breakthrough" agreement gives the Sunnis much needed cover allowing them to cave in while saving face. If we can have another referendum in a year, they can say, well then, that's a horse of a different color!

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. The US constitution was ratified after similar last-minute wrangling and we have the Bill of Rights to show for it.

Update 13 Oct 2005:

IRAQ THE MODEL is a good blog to read for an insiders view of Iraqi politics. Click the link for his take on the accord.

Friday, October 07, 2005


cronePeople have been writing that Prez Bush picked Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court because of "Cronyism." That's cold, dude. I mean, like, she's no spring chick -- but I don't think she looks like a crone and I don't think Dubbya picked her just because she is old and wrinkled. She does sorta look like one of my mom's friends at church when I was a kid -- the older lady who always brought the three-bean salad to the Wednesday night pot-luck supper in the parish hall. She was Mrs. Somebody (I don't remember her name) and there never seemed to be a Mr. Somebody around so she might have been a widow, or she might have been divorced, or maybe Mr. Somebody didn't like three-bean salad. I never wondered about it then and its too late to wonder about it now. It doesn't matter. The thing is that in her hair-sprayed, funny-smelling way she was a good person -- and I'm sure Harriet Miers is too.


miersOK, I do know the meaning of the word "Cronyism" and I can see how it applies -- but I must admit I have always thought it to be an overrated vice since it is the opposite of credentialism which is worse. I'll talk more about the Miers nomination in a minute, but first a non-sequitur.
For example, there is one element which must always tend to oligarchy--or rather to despotism; I mean the element of hurry. If the house has caught fire a man must ring up the fire engines; a committee cannot ring them up. If a camp is surprised by night somebody must give the order to fire; there is no time to vote it. It is solely a question of the physical limitations of time and space; not at all of any mental limitations in the mass of men commanded. If all the people in the house were men of destiny it would still be better that they should not all talk into the telephone at once; nay, it would be better that the silliest man of all should speak uninterrupted. If an army actually consisted of nothing but Hanibals and Napoleons, it would still be better in the case of a surprise that they should not all give orders together. Nay, it would be better if the stupidest of them all gave the orders. Thus, we see that merely military subordination, so far from resting on the inequality of men, actually rests on the equality of men. Discipline does not involve the Carlylean notion that somebody is always right when everybody is wrong, and that we must discover and crown that somebody. On the contrary, discipline means that in certain frightfully rapid circumstances, one can trust anybody so long as he is not everybody. The military spirit does not mean (as Carlyle fancied) obeying the strongest and wisest man. On the contrary, the military spirit means, if anything, obeying the weakest and stupidest man, obeying him merely because he is a man, and not a thousand men. Submission to a weak man is discipline. Submission to a strong man is only servility.

The paragraph above is from G. K. Chesterton's What's Wrong with the World, Chapter IV. I had dimly remembered it as supporting a point I wanted to make but, having tracked it down, it is rather oblique for my purposes. Chesterton's prose is always a joy so I pasted it in anyway. My advice would be to follow the link above and read the whole Chesterton book before you finish reading this posting. I'll wait for you and you will be a better person for doing it.
. . .
Back, are we? (Or still here -- oh, well. Your loss.)

What I was looking for Chesterton to say was that the task of calling the fire brigade is merely a job -- that it would be a waste of talent for the best and brightest man in the building to stand by the telephone sniffing for smoke, and certainly that any time spent making sure that the best-qualified man was selected would be wasted effort since anyone who could operate a telephone would do fine. But that's not exactly what he said, so the task falls to me to say it. I have no reason to believe that Harriet Miers is one of the finest legal minds in the country -- she could be, for all I know, but I don't care. Sitting on the Supreme Court is, and ought to be, just a job, and I think that the justices we already have now are too clever by half.

The Constitution is neither a very long, nor a very complicated document, and I am not sure we are well served by having it interpreted by by jurists whose legal theory includes emanations, penumbras, string theory, quantum jurisprudence or relativistic tort-tunnelling at the constitutional event-horizon. I am not saying that intelligence is a bad thing in a Supreme Court justice -- several of them have built considerable structures of legal theory that are firmly rooted in the text of the Constitution -- but that having a bent for advanced legal theory does entail a temptation to build legal castles in the air which, not being firmly grounded, tend to sway and drift with the winds of politics and the passions of the day -- or the passions of the judge.

So the question that interests me is not whether President Bush has picked the best qualified candidate for the job -- using the usual metrics of legal eminence -- but whether he has picked an at-least-minimally qualified candidate who understands the proper limits of the courts. President Bush clearly believes that is what he has done and he very well may, in fact, have done just that. Since Ms. Miers has done very little writing on constitutional law it is difficult to say.

Many of the president's conservative supporters are angry about the Miers pick. They worked hard to put in place the political clout needed to force a showdown on the role of the court, which they (we) feel to be seriously out of whack. The president's choice of a "stealth" candidate feels like a betrayal -- their leader is pulling them back from the verge of victory. Robert Bork -- whose own failed nomination for the Supreme Court perfectly exemplifies the problems faced by a brilliant, outspoken legal scholar with a generally conservative paper trail -- is quoted in an AP story as expressing this frustration:
"It's a little late to develop a constitutional philosophy or begin to work it out when you're on the court already," Bork said on "The Situation" on MSNBC. "It's kind of a slap in the face to the conservatives who've been building up a conservative legal movement for the last 20 years."

There is no one whose opinions of the Supreme Court I respect more than Judge Bork. His book, The Tempting of America, is as good an analysis of the problems with the role of the Supreme Court as you will find anywhere. I share his sense that there is no more pressing domestic issue than correcting the role of the high court and I share his frustration that the Miers appointment does not further the process... and yet, and yet...

And yet Robert Bork is a judge and George W Bush is a politician. It would be wonderful to see a major societal change in which the notion of an activist judiciary is discarded and the virtues of strict constructionalist and originalist interpritation of the constitution are generally embraced -- wonderful, but difficult to accomplish. The chattering set, who rule based on their superior glibness, will fight to the last man, woman, and ambiguously-gendered individual to prevent it. It is not clear to me that that it is a fight we can win, even with the Presidency and a majority in the Senate. That is, we may well lose if we give the gifted talkers among the opposition anything to talk about.

That's why Miers is the perfect stealth candidate. She has very little published (or even known) opinion on constitutional issues and, what is more important, she is not particularly interesting. There's just not much there to talk about. She's a woman. She's a lawyer who has practiced law for decades. Like the President, she is from Texas. She's ... um ... Zzzzzzzzzzzz

The president has known her for many years, believes she shares his views on the role of the court and can put her on the court without much opposition. I imagine that he, too, would like to see a victory on a referendum on the role of the high court, but he doesn't seem to think that the Senate Republicans can deliver it for him so, instead of changing the mind of America about the role of the Supreme Court, he is settling for changing one-ninth of the opinion of the court itself. This is not as good -- in point of fact it is disappointing and frustrating -- but given the lack-lustre performance of the Republicans in the Senate lately it's not at all clear that he hasn't made the best compromise.