No Coal Rush

Here’s a web site that’s apparently trying to prevent more coal plants from being constructed in Michigan and is gathering signatures. They don’t appear to be attempting to stop them permanently. From what I understand, they only want to stop them until some coherent energy policy can be formed.

In short, an energy policy that includes renewable resources.

I’m inclined to agree.

Things I’d Like to See Less of on Reddit (and Why)

1. Ron Paul: There’s no chance in hell I’ll vote for the guy.
2. Atheism: Not an atheist. Just don’t care.
3. Why Bush is Stupid and Evil: I disagree with his administration on Iraq, torture/waterboarding, and various domestic issues. Do I have to hate him too?
4. Yet More Examples of Why Iraq is a Horrible Mistake: I agree. Why wallow in it?
5. Tasers/Cops are Fascists: There are good cops and bad cops. Good cops don’t make the news.
6. Reasons Why Religion is Stupid: I’m religious. I guess I’m too dumb to understand these articles.
7. Reasons Why the Economy will Tank Soon/Environmental Disasters/Other Scary but Unlikely Events: I’m interested in potential problems, but an awful lot of these articles make it sound as if everyone will die tomorrow. In short, too much hype repels me.

Rep. Agema’s Bill to Put Guns in Schools

Before you read what follows, you might want to read the following article:
Will Guns Make Schools Safer?

If it disappears on you (and it likely will after a few days), here’s the gist of it. Michigan State Representative David Agema (R-Grandville) introduced a bill last week that would allow teachers to have
a gun in school.

As an added bonus, it would also allow parents to carry concealed weapons while transporting their children to and from school.

Interestingly, all the school officials and school security guards interviewed are against the bill.

Agema’s reasoning (according to the Grand Rapids Press) appears to be that it will make terrorists and potential school shooters think twice before targeting Michigan schools.

In all honesty, it seems like a horrible idea to me and not just slightly horrible, but actually horrible in a way that tempts me to make hyperbolic statements about Representative Agema.

Rude hyperbolic statements.

I’m not going to do that, however, because from what I understand he’s a decent guy. In this case, however, he’s a decent guy who’s come up with a really bad idea.

If you’ll forgive me, I’ll run through the reasons I think it’s a bad idea:

Teachers are Teachers and Not SWAT Teams: Changing That Will Be Expensive
1. While the article mentions that teachers will receive special weapons training, I can’t help but be curious about the details of that. Simply knowing how to fire a weapon at a target would not be enough.

Off the top of my head, I’d want them to know the following: small unit tactics so that they can coordinate with other gun carrying teachers, enough knowledge of police techniques that they don’t interfere with police efforts, weapons knowledge (of course), and regular refresher courses so that they don’t forget what they’ve learned.

I can’t help but think that this might be expensive. If so, I wonder if the money might be better spent on educating children as opposed to, you know, shooting them.

Mind you, they might not go with anything near as extensive as the sort of training that I’d argue for. In that case, my other objections come out in full force…

Putting More Guns Into the Mix Doesn’t Automatically Improve the Situation
2. Teachers that aren’t coordinating with the police might accidentally get into firefights with the police.

3. Also teachers that aren’t coordinating with each other might get into firefights with each other.

4. Teachers that miss their intended targets might hit students that aren’t involved.

5. The parents who might be carrying concealed weapons to school aren’t required to take any additional training at all. As such, the previous points apply to them as well.

6. Instead of making it harder for students to commit crimes, it might make it easier for them to obtain guns–if they know which of their teachers are carrying them.

Can We Solve an Improbable Situation By Sprinkling Our Schools Randomly With Guns?
7. By encouraging teachers and parents to bring guns to school, it seems that we’re replacing something improbable with a more concrete problem.

Specifically what I mean by that is that terrorist attacks and school shootings (though well publicized when they happen) are uncommon.

By contrast, people do shoot themselves (or others) accidentally while cleaning a gun or even by pulling the trigger too early. During deer season, it seems that someone almost always gets shot instead of a deer.

People also sometimes misinterpret people’s intentions. To put it another way, the more nervous people you have carrying guns and looking for school shooters (or terrorists), the more likely that someone is going to mistake an innocent occurrence for something more sinister.

Police are trained in procedures to follow to determine whether it’s wise to shoot or not (and how to avoid shooting).

The general public is not.

Do you know what? The police still make mistakes despite their training. I’m not excited about finding out whether the general public will do better without it.

‘Cause We All Just Can’t Get Enough Iraq Commentary

Well this has been an odd week with regards to Iraq… We have President Bush telling us the reasons to stay and the House voting to go. Mind you, the House doesn’t have the power to do that without the Senate’s help, making it something of a symbolic vote.

Still, bearing in mind the Republican senators who have recently come out against the war, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the Senate has a majority for pulling out.

Of course, Bush’s inevitable veto of any resolution of that kind means that they’ll have to have more than a majority. They’ll need two-thirds of the Senate to actually succeed.

That’ll be more of a challenge.

Bush’s Characterization of Withdrawal
I found it interesting to listen to Bush’s characterization of the question of withdrawal. He described it as an argument between those who believed we could succeed and those who believed success was impossible.

I can’t speak for everyone who wants to withdraw, but I don’t believe that success is impossible. I believe that success is possible but that the Bush administration has never put in the necessary resources to succeed and that they have no intention of doing so since it would mean tripling the number of troops we’ve currently got there.

Bearing in mind that success is improbable with the resources that they are willing to put in, I’m inclined to think that withdrawal is the better option.

Abandoning Iraq to Al-Queda?
As much as Bush points out that we are fighting Al-Queda in Iraq, it’s worth mentioning that while Al-Queda does exist in Iraq, there’s also an organization called “Al Queda in Iraq.” It’s not directly controlled by Al-Queda and is more of an Iraqi franchise than something controlled by Bin Laden.

So, we’re not really fighting Al-Queda in the classic 911 sense.

What’s unfortunate though is that Bush is right that abandoning Iraq to it’s own devices shows a certain irresponsibility. We’ve made a big mess there and owe the Iraqis help in cleaning it up.

Sadly, our presence there generates a certain amount of violence by it’s very existence. Also unfortunate? The fact that pulling out would remove whatever good effects we’re having there. I’m thinking specifically that we prevent some Sunni/Shia violence and help preserve some semblance of order in places.

The essential horror of the situation to my mind is that neither staying nor going is automatically going to produce a stable society.

A Modest Proposal for Withdrawal?
I sometimes wonder if pulling out might not be the best solution in the following sense:

If we did pull out anything that exists only because we’re there would probably fall apart. Eventually though, some sort of order would come into being (probably after considerable violence). With any luck, it might be a form of order created by Iraqis, something reasonably stable and not supported by outside forces. With a government that has control of Iraq and the support of it’s people, it would be possible for Iraqis to get somewhere.

At that point, the US might be in a better position to do some good in the country–provided Iraqis didn’t refuse our help on general principles.

Of course, if we did pull out I suppose it might be possible that some other country (Iran?) might prop up an unstable government favorable to itself.

No Good Solutions But Maybe a Good Observation…
I’m trying to wrap this post up right now, but I don’t really have a good ending for this. I have no solution to point people to.

All I have is the following thought:
The Bush administration probably thought that bringing down Saddam Hussein by force was a better bet than sanctions or diplomacy. It does have the advantage of being immediate, but it should be obvious now that violent overthrow of a regime you don’t like is just as uncertain as persuasion.

“The Spirit of Soul Food” with Jaye and Jim Beeler

So here’s a strange juxtaposition: A few weeks ago, I attended the ninth annual Summit on Racism. The next day I attended a cooking seminar entitled, “The Spirit of Soul Food.”

Summit on Racism is a little bit of a downer. It’s not supposed to be. It tries to be positive and goal oriented as opposed to concentrating exclusively on what’s wrong with the world. Still, the only reason anybody is there is that our society treats some people badly for no good reason. You can’t expect to come out of something like that cheering.

“The Spirit of Soul Food” by contrast is more of a celebration of the style of cooking that came out of the combination of North American environment, slavery, and African culinary sensibilities.

What sort of food do you learn how to make? Many different sorts of food. A key point is that the food you learn how to make is the sort of food that people make at home everyday. Thus you get things like meatloaf, pork chops in gravy, and macaroni and cheese. There were also a lot of interesting vegetable side dishes (greens) and desserts (sweet potato pie, for example).

Oddly enough, it served to reconnect me with the cooking I grew up with as much as it did Soul Food. Since teaching myself to cook, I’ve spent most of my time cooking Indian, Mediterranean (Italian, Greek, Provencal French, Lebanese), and Southeast Asian (Thai, Malay) food. Occasionally, I also cook a few favorites from my childhood, but not all that many. My kids have seen a lot more basmati rice than grilled cheese sandwiches.

Soul Food doesn’t use curries as often as it does garlic or onion powder. It uses Campbell’s Soup (cream of mushroom) in more than a few recipes. The recipe for macaroni and cheese actually required me to buy Velveeta for the first time in my life.

It’s worth noting that “Soul Food” isn’t a homogeneous entity. It varies by region. In Louisiana, it includes red beans and rice. In places near the ocean, it includes crab cakes. Bearing in mind that Jaye and her father Jim originally come from Kentucky, this particular seminar included a recipe for Kentucky Bourbon Pie (bourbon comes from Kentucky). I tried the pie. It’s good.

Those of us who wanted to could also try a sip of the bourbon. It’s powerful stuff.

The instructors: Jim Beeler is a (semi-retired) self taught cook who worked in restaurants for his professional life. Jaye Beeler is the food editor for the Grand Rapids Press (my local paper). Even beyond learning about Soul Food, the family dynamics were entertaining.

During the seminar, each person was responsible to cook one dish. Despite not liking macaroni and cheese, I chose that one. Why? Mostly because my kids do like it. I thought it might be interesting to know how to make Mac and Cheese from scratch and flavor it with actual cheese as opposed to from a box flavored with Mystery Cheese Powder.

It turned out pretty well. I’ve made it at home since then and my family seems to like it (with the exception of one of my daughters who simply doesn’t like cheese). The same is generally true of the other dishes from the seminar. I’ve been trying to make one or two a week.

Next year they were talking about doing a slightly different seminar–a Soul Food brunch. I’d go.


I didn’t watch the presidential speech about Iraq on Wednesday, but I had a good idea what was coming and figured that I could watch it online or read it if there were anything important that I missed.

So far I haven’t felt the need.

The gist of the plan is that we’re going to put in 20,000 more troops and stabilize Baghdad in an attempt to stop the violence there.

It’s funny. From before we went in I’ve believed that we were going in with too few troops. I should be happy, but…

I’ve got a bit of a problem with this one. I’m thinking that the best case scenario is that they succeed and stabilize Baghdad. Even in that scenario, there’s the whole rest of the country that would not have been stabilized. In the worst case scenario, of course, we’re just going to send more people over there without any change at all.

Er… No wait. That’s not the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is that we send in more people and it actually makes the situation worse. Don’t ask me how that’d happen, but I’m sure it’s possible (just not probable–I hope).

But back to the main point of this post… Basically the whole point of having 400,000 or 500,000 troops in there is that there’s no place for insurgents to go that they can escape our troops. As it is, they can leave Baghdad and start operations somewhere else–which is the major problem we’ve been facing all along.

Also, of course, if troops follow the insurgency to the new problem spot, the insurgents can always move back to Baghdad.

We’ve got enough troops to stop an insurgency in the country. We just don’t have enough to stop insurgencies all over the country and keep them stopped.

Of course, I’ve got to admit that success isn’t inevitable even with with 400,000 troops. There’s just a far better chance then than with 130,000 to 150,000 (plus some 10,000-15,000 coalition troops).

With any luck, the current Congress will find some way to push the Bush administration along. I’ve got to admit though, that I think that unlikely. From what I understand, the power of the purse is a fairly blunt instrument and Bush has the ability to move money around from one place to another.

I deeply suspect that we won’t see an effective Iraq policy until we have an administration that wasn’t involved in getting us into this mess.

UPDATE: Just for what it’s worth, I’d like to clarify that “effective Iraq policy” doesn’t necessarily mean putting in 400,000 troops at this point. It could just as easily mean pulling out, involving other countries in the process as per the Iraq Study Group, or some other new and creative idea that seems unlikely to come out of the current administration.

But If I Did Get Superpowers, I’d Like Flight and Telepathy and Super Martial Art Buttkicking Skills

I don’t know if it happens to you, but sometimes I wonder what happened to people I know from high school. Specifically, I’ve occasionally wondered about Erik Prince, a person with whom I was on the track team. We weren’t close or anything, but I talked to him every once in a while. Also, his parents were wealthy and financed my class’s high school graduation party.

A few days ago, someone told me that he owned a com pany that supplied mercenaries to protect people in Iraq. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “that’s interesting. So that’s what he’s doing now.”

And then today, this:

Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire, right-wing Christian founder of Blackwater, the private security firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq, champions his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. These mercenary units in Iraq, including Blackwater, contain some 20,000 fighters. They unleash indiscriminate and wanton violence against unarmed Iraqis, have no accountability and are beyond the reach of legitimate authority. The appearance of these paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gave us a grim taste of the future.

(From David Brin’s blog, scroll down a bit in the post and you’ll find it in context)

In a science fiction novel or comic book, this would undoubtedly be preparatory to me getting superhuman abilities and lead to a dramatic confrontation in the halls of Blackwater’s HQ. *

In reality of course, superpowers are not forthcoming and it remains very, very strange to find someone you knew mentioned on your favorite author’s blog as a possible source of theocratic dictatorship.

I’ve got to admit though, that I don’t think that either Erik or Blackwater is particularly likely to try to end democracy. The article that Brin pulls the quote from has a certain conspiracy theory quality to it that I can’t quite pin down. It might be that as someone who is a Christian and comes out of an evangelical background, I don’ t know anybody who’d be for a theocracy. In fact, on the rare occasions that I’ve been in Christian bookstores, I’ve been amused to notice multiple Christian, political thrillers in which the presumably atheistic left puts a dictatorship in place.

If nothing else, US citizens of all stripes share a common anxiety.

* Clarification: For those of you who don’t ever read comics or science fiction, it’s worth mentioning that it’s pretty common to have someone that the main character likes turn up later doing something that they disagree with. It’s a good way to ratchet up the tension. It’s kind of overused though.

Election 2006: Robocalls

Those of you who were reading here two years ago, know that robocalls irritate me. This year I haven’t gotten as irritated as other years (I once got 14 on a single day) because the number of robocalls hasn’t been so bad.

I live in a racially mixed area and one that trends democratic.

Thus, I’ve gotten an interesting series of phone calls over the last few weeks. They’re all from someone with obviously African-American speech patterns. Within the first few sentences, she complains that Granholm (Michigan’s governor, a Democrat) has been taking “us” for granted.

In the first call, she encouraged people to split their ticket and vote for DeVos (the Republican candidate). In the next four calls she’s left a number of variations on that message, telling potential voters that:

–Granholm is damaging the public schools
–she’s actually working to send money to suburban schools
–she’s got a Ku Klux Klansman working for her

So far she’s only promoted voting for DeVos (though never by name) and concentrated on convincing people that Granholm is evil.

It’s not illegal, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.