A Bite of the Apple

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

God is indeed a personal affair. My own journey has taken me past several stops until I finally found one where I was comfortable in what a "relationship" with God meant for me.

The hard part, though, has always been articluating why that separation between Church and State is necessary and more importantly even possible when someone has at least my commitment, let alone much heavier views. Certainly, someone would consult God on their own actions. We see it with athletes, praying for a win. We see it in our troops, praying for peace or not to die or for safe passage.

So it is hard to say to a politician that they somehow have to separate that view. Certainly, giving the benefit of the doubt to some whom are truly spiritual, our Congressional Representatives would pray for guidance on how to treat an especially contentious issue.

In fact, there is nothing wrong with seeking a higher power's assistance with issues that seem too large for us to handle, or too important, or too confusing. That's what we have beliefs for! That's what God wants us to do!

It is in that where I began to understand, then, how a separation between Church and State works, and why. And a short, thought-provoking post from Kun Fu Monkey.

Whether allegorical or absolutely true, Eve bit that apple and so did Adam. And suddenly, bliss became reality. We saw things the way they are, and applied our own interpretation to them. But that became our gift! Reason and doubt became what we got: the ability to understand our universe and the ability to question God and become stronger in our faith because of it. If we weren't going to have bliss, then by God (no pun intended), we'll come to appreciate creation by unlocking its weridest and most complex mysteries rather than just by child-like wonder.

So then how do we get top the necessity of Church and State? It is not in that as soon as you are elected, you have to become blind to faith. Impossible, and unconstitutional (besides for prohibiting establishment of religion, it too prohibits quelling the free practice thereof). The separation is said very well in the post linked above:

Once one side of the political debate claims God, then their opponents are against God. A "good heart" matters more than the facts. To change policy is to reflect doubt in God's plan. To question the mortal, fallible men in authority is to question God himself.
That's it. When one side of the debate claims sole access to God, the other becomes evil.

Moreover, as I pointed out in an earlier post, blind faith causes us to ignore what we see as true right before our eyes. Thus, when the simple fact that someone is faithful supercedes the truth as it is seen and written, we lose.

And worst of all, when one side has claimed God, claims access to truth through simply being faithful and moves Government along those lines, then as it is pointed out above, changing the plan or agenda becomes literally changing the will of God. That is why there is a wall between Church and State, as Thomas Jefferson put it. Not to exclude faith from our daily lives, or even when determining how an individual may act on a policy issue. It is to keep one side from claiming all access to faith, and thus destroying public policy (and lots of other issues) debate because there can be no debate. Public policy is not tied to God, as much as we like to think it is "because we prayed about it." Interestingly, when 10 people pray about one issue, you get several different answers. It is created by men, who are fallible by nature. We bit the apple, remeber, and gained and lost some things because of it. But by having a one-sided debate on an issue that claims sole access to God, we establish one single religion and only one correct viewpoint. Remember what we think was so unpalatable about much of hard-lined, conservative Islam?

Kevin Phillips, in American Theocracy, puts it when when he says, to paraphrase, that not applying reason to an issue because of religion is easy, because you never have to learn anything new. Therein lies the continuation of this thought: there is only one correct viewpoint, and any other ideas become unworthy of consideration. How does that advance public policy? How does that advance civil rights? How does that advance medical research?

It doesn't. Enjoy the bite of the apple we received, and use it to advance public policy.


Don't Believe the Hype - Friday Beer Blog

Friday, October 27, 2006

I decided to give-in to the commercial hype and try some Budweiser Select. My overall impression: absolute boredom. Not disgust, not violent fits of rage, just boredom. Like your least favorite college class, or a staff meeting. Or Anna Karenina. No...worse. Wuthering Heights boring.

The facts:

The beer poured a pale yellow, worse than the pale yellow of last week's post. More like hard-water yellow. Mineral water yellow. Just pale and transparent. It didn't have so much of a head to it as simply lacing on top of the beer. Normally, lacing is reserved for the sides of the glass. Not so with this beer. Consider this beer's head more of a comb-over than a real head.

What did I smell? I think CO2. I think there was ahint of adjunct, like corn. I could not discern any grain. So what did I smell? Nothing, really. I smelled the smell of boredom. Like a house with no cookies in the oven. Like a hospital room.

I could go all-out and include words to describe the taste like "crisp," "sharp," and "bite," but that's all there is. Nothing unique, especially for a mass-produced beer. Honestly, when I compared it to regular Bud, I tasted no difference. Imagine the joy you get out of drinking filtered, room-temperature water. That's the joy I got here. I tasted some roasted corn. I tasted some carbonated water. What I truly tasted is a total lack of character. This beer is that guy at work who doesn't tell jokes and eats cheese sandwiches by himself at lunch. This beer is the person whose idea of a good time is putting together a puzzle of puppy dogs. Rice cakes with no topping.

So they found another way to market really boring beer. This is a total sleeper. It is so boring that I can't even come up with a clever post. It is just plain milquetoast backed by a multi-million-dollar ad campaign. Zzzzz....


One of These Things is Much Like the Other

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I know the whole anger-at-Lieberman thing has taken a bit of a back seat for the time being, but something just occurred to me. Just looking for some input on this. Anyone see the similarities between Joe Lieberman and the Mouth of Sauron? Especially in the mouth-al area?

Have a look.

Holy Joe:

The Mouth of Sauron:

Just me, or similar?


On Staying the Cut and Run Course from Civil War

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First, watch this clip. The current political dialog the White House is trying to have is about how Stay the Course somehow meant a flexible "strategy" in Iraq, and that our Iraq policy has always had in a built-in level of flexibility.

Now go check out a few more clips from this post over at Think Progress from Dan Bartlett, the White House counsel, and some more video clips of Bush repeating his Stay the Course strategy. Bartlett claims that we change our tactics weekly (which I will address in a moment), but that we still won't cut and run. Given that, we still have "never had" a stay the course policy.

Now consider Tim F's comments over at Balloon Juice. A worthy thought from Tim:

I would add that constantly changing strategy is what people do when they have no strategy at all. People strategize in order to anticipate what the enemy will do and build plans to account for it. The fact that this administration plainly acknowledges now that they cannot see one step ahead of our adversaries in Iraq should be taken as nothing less than a total failure...
Yes. Exactly. Our strategy is not a deft change of tactics to meet a sly foe. It is a weekly stab-in-the-dark at how to end the violence and establish a viable government.

This is nothing....nothing....against the troops on the ground and their commanders. See, when they change their own tactics, it is actually indeed a deft response to a sly foe. That's what we train and pay those people for. But they appear to be hamstrung by a complete lack of overall political strategy. When you fight a war, you give your troops an endgame. Since folks in the Administration were recently quite fond of World War II analogies, it's like this: the "strategy" wasn't to run around and whack Nazis wherever until they got tired and wanted to quit. There was a firm plan in place for when and where we wanted to beat them and, more importantly, how Democratization was to be handled in the ensuing power vacuum. Our troops and politicians had a goal.

But our troops right now have no endgame for them to shoot for (no pun intended), save for a snazzy sound bite. Sound bites make horrible endgames.

Here's another quote, care of Balloon Juice:
Let’s be clear – if all we’re doing is maintaining the same level of forces and trying to play “whack-a-mole” with insurgent attacks in multiple cities, then we are not “adjusting to what the other side is doing.” As Philip Carter notes, if we aren’t pushing forces out into the cities under fire, getting our best troops to act as advisors to the Iraqi units, and seriously address the political and economic issues in Iraq, then we’re not going be successful.[John Sigger's Armchair Generalist]
We are forced into a constant series of reactions, which is the weakest position to be in, at least according to such dimwit strategists as Sun Tzu.

So, to sum up: we never had a policy of Staying the Course. We said "Stay the Course" but that meant in more general terms. What we do have is a flexible strategy built around that fun little whack-a-mole game.

Great. So far, so good.

Not really. Consider this soundbite from an NPR report this morning. The refulsal to call the situation in Iraq a civil war is actually hurting us more than the political damage that will be done by calling it civil war. By calling it as such, the United States will be in a stronger position to leverage the neighboring countries into coming toether for a cohesive resolution to the sectarian violence in Iraq and a swifter, more solid reemergence of Iraq. Right now, it's our problem, and they're happy to let us fight it. But as soon as it becomes a civil war, the very term is enough to pressure surrounding countries (Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, et. al.) into tackling the much larger issues that are as yet unsolved: infrastructure, security, government makeup to name a few. The report makes interesting contentions that are really worth taking action with.

Our current strategy of making our troops patrol the same streets over and over, dying at 100 a month, isn't working. That is neither a strategy nor a tactic, from a foreign policy point of view. It is from a military standpoint a tactic. A strategy is what we hope to accomplish through our tactics. But with no discernable strategy, save for Stay the Course soundbites, makes our troops' tactics empty and leaves us nowhere to go. So while our civilian leadership figures out what exactly it is that Stay the Course means and what our strategy (not tactics) should be, it seems perfectly fine to sacrifice our troops until we get to that point. That's just gross.

What we see if an Administration grasping at straws to save face rather than actually figuring out how to win this, which we can. But as we have seen, people who have a plan are admonished publicly or cowed into submission. Consider this reading list on how this Administration has discounted all of the good advice from qualified people in terms of a blind political goal, which itself is even failing, at least in the face of upcoming mid-term elections. Then go have a high-gravity beer. I suggest Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA or Great Lakes Brewing Company Blackout Stout. For those of you on the East and West Coasts, find a big bomber of Stone Imperial Stout.


Friday Beer Disaster...er...Blog

Friday, October 20, 2006

This pretty much sums up this week's selection:

This week, I had the distinct displeasure of sampling Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer.

I provide you with a picture of this beer so that you will know what to avoid. Consider the inclusion of this picture more of a mug shot than a photo. Like when you go to the Post Office, they show you mug shots so you know who to avoid and more importantly, who to report if you see them. Same concept.

There was nothing redeemable about this beer.

It poured a urine-sample yellow; the kind of urine sample that says you're well-hydrated. Pale yellow, little warm ring of fizz around the top. That kind. Strangely, as it poured, it had a slight greenish hue to it, most assuredly from the festering chili pepper slowly rotting in the borttom of the beer. The worm on the bottom of a tequila bottle is macho. The chili pepper rotting in this beer? Offensive.

All I smelled was chili. There was a vague insipid lager smell, but mostly, this was completely overshadowed by the chili. This should have been where I drew the line.

The taste was...polluted. Awful. All redeemable tastes of malt and barley were burned to a crisp by the overpowering chili taste. And by redeemable tastes, I mean like drinking an ice-cold Busch Lite at a tailgate on a freezing morning in late November. That kind of redeemable taste: just glad you can't taste it. Here's where they really get you, though. This beer coats not only your mouth but your entire throat with a burning rage that is chili pepper. Remember how you use beer to put out the flames of, say, a hot bite of wasabi or some toasty Indian curry. Well, this beer is that food and there is simply no hope.

Understand: it's not that it's hot. Hot is fine. It's that this tastes like spoiled cheerios covered in red papper flakes.

This beer is so undrinkable that it is tragically funny. I look back on this disastrous occasion and chuckle about it, the same way I do when I look back on that time an RPG went off over our heads or that time I totaled my car.

Stay away from this beer.

I imagine that in Hell, this is what they serve.


No! I Said She Was F***ing Goofy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Great punchline from a great joke about Mickey and Minnie.

Anyway, check out this article about a little back-room trist with your favorite Disney characters. The mere visual of this had me laughing out loud.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co. on Thursday said it took "appropriate action" against employees at its Paris theme park who were caught simulating sex while dressed as Disney characters in a digital video that has received wide attention on the Internet.
The video shows Minnie Mouse struggling to free herself as she is grabbed from behind by Goofy and then a giant snowman.

Later, Mickey Mouse simulates sex with the snowman and Goofy does the same with either Chip or Dale, the chipmunks, as laughter is heard on the tape.

And thanks heavens for You Tube for supplying the video.


As always, Around the Keg is supplying you with the best, most tasteful entertainment.


Weed Whakers


OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of 10-feet (three metre) high marijuana plants.
One of the funniest parts about the whole story (which is in itself hilarious):
Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those (forests) did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hiller said dryly.
Go read the quote from a soldier right at the end of the article. Too funny.

Thanks, as always, to the guys at LLPN and John Cole's Balloon Juice for the links.


Today you people are no longer maggots. Today you are Marines.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Thanks to the fine people over at Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Nachos, who provided this link from Kevin Drum, I read this fantastic letter from a Marine in Iraq. It's a letter home from an Intel officer and is full of fantastic tidbits from overseas.

What I love most about it is its frankness, expressed in ways that only Marines can express: raw, uncensored, straight to the point.

Some of my favorite tidbits, with my comments in bold:

--Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Midgets are always funny. Midgets and monkeys.

--Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."

--Worst City in al-Anbar Province - Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.

See that? He rarely sees Ramadi in the news. Hmmm...

--Best Piece of U.S. Gear - new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren't exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they've saved countless lives out here.

--Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them.

I remember one thing they told us before we entered combat was that a bullet couldn't kill you if it went straight through you, so if you get hit, keep running and fighting. Sure, there's little truth to it, but it made us feel invincible, and that's all that mattered to us. Call me Superman, and I'll be Superman.

--Most Surprising Thing I Don't Miss - Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.

Someone send this Marine some beer, stat.

--Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.

--Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender - Bill O'Reilly - what a buffoon.

See that? Tell Condi and Rummy to stay away and tell O'Reilly to shut the fuck up.

Go read the whole letter. There are so many more great thoughts in this letter home, some profound, some profoundly sad, some funny. But the best part of all is that it eloquently reflects the thoughts of the people who are actually over there doing the deed. It's Hell (in his opening paragraph, he even describes it as a level of Dante's Inferno), but he's so proud of the effort the Marines put into it. The distinction is that Marines are re-enlisting because they want to be with the other Marines. It's not about a war on terror, as I read the thoughts and apply my own understanding from being a grunt; it's about being a Marine in a brotherhood. The justice behind the war is not the concern. Not leaving anyone behind is the concern.

Semper Fi, Marines. Come home. We don't want to see any more of this:

--Saddest Moment - Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We'll carry it home with us when we leave in February.


Friday Beer Blogging - Turn Out The Lights

Friday, October 06, 2006

Oh, today's beer is a personal all-time favorite offering from the Great Lakes Brewing Company. It is non other than Blackout Stout.


This lovely beer pours black...like Goth black. Opaque. About a finger-thick dark tan head, like what you get on a Cappuccino, rests on top. The lacing, also very cappuccino in its color, is as plentiful as an antique curtain.

The aroma is pure brilliance. Coffee, espresso, dark chocolate, black patent roasted malt, a little whole wheat bread, heavy fruit (like a prune), and a really subtle, mellow hoppiness. Remember how Bugs Bunny was dragged along by an aroma that made itself into little fingers that beckoned him along? Yeah. That's this. What's Up, Doc?

The complexity of this beer upon hitting the tongue is like quantum physics. It all starts right up front with the core taste, the atom if you will, of dark roasted malt. But this atom of bitterness is made up of so many smaller and more complex pieces: espresso, bakers chocolate, brown sugar, walnuts. Oh, but the parts break down even smaller and more complex: sherry or port, potent alcohol. The mildly bitter hops flow seamlessly into the bitterness from the dark roasted malts like string theory. As we go from quanta back to the world as we perceive it, it is about a perfectly-blended mixture of tastes as you'll find, where one is no more strong than the next. Everything plays around one central theme.

Definitely a full-bodied beer, with a slight, tingling carbonation. Slick mouthfeel, slightly oily, but warmed and dissipated quickly by the alcohol.

I fell in love with this beer from the first taste. I could not perceive any off-flavors, and I am impressed with the work that must have gone into this beer. With the delcate blend of otherwise dominant tastes, a lot of love went into making this beer.


"...We Found it In Ourselves..."

Monday, October 02, 2006

I listened to an interesting vignette this morning on NPR from a Jewish gentleman who served in the U.S. Army in World War II. It encapsulated for me what this whole terror/torture bill means, and why I feel so damn betrayed by some of the folks who voted for it.

To set the stage, this gentleman put his service .45 in his holster with the intent to go to the "Nuremburg Trial" and shoot Hermann Goering in the head. But of course, at the doors, the MPs made him check his piece. He recounted his anger at not being able to ultimately exact his revenge; revenge he had held on to until the right time, as if to strike vengeance for his whole people.

But he had a change of heart at the hearing, whereby he couldn't fathom another act of violence as the solution.

He went on in his commentary to describe the despicable acts of Hermann Goering as well as the evidence marched up bit by bit, from pictures to shrunken heads to lampshades made of skin.

And then he starts to get to the key points. Despite how awful these people were:

The U.S. War Department was determined that Goering and the other Nazis leaders would receive a fair trial. At Nuremberg, there would be no secret evidence or closed proceedings. The Allies believed that would betray their ideal of restoring democracy in Germany.
A fair trial. No secret evidence. These would be the things that destroyed the ideal of Democracy, which we were trying to establish in Germany.

Consider, as he went on:
Today, in the midst of a national debate on how to treat captured terror suspects, my mind flashes back to Room 600 at Furtherstrasse 22. We gave Goering and the other war criminals a chance not only to defend themselves but in some cases, preach hate and violence.
The worst of the worst received a fair trial. The evidence was overwhelming. But to me, the commentator's final comment summed it all up more eloquently than I could on my best day:
In a ruined Germany, where so many corpses still lay buried in the rubble, and life seemed so very fragile, we found it in ourselves to give the worst of men due process.
Moving. We found it in ourselves to give the worst of men due process. Read the whole commentary here. It's short, but worth the 2 minutes it will take out fo your day.

That is exactly what is at stake. That regardless of the unparalleled evil of the people we face as a democracy, we offer justice. So the Nazis got to get up and propaganidize one more time before they were found guilty. So what? It justified in all of our minds our correctness; our correctness of their evil and our pursuit and defeat of it, and our correctness in justice, due process and fairness.

Dispicable murderers, killers and rapers of children, serial killers, World War II war criminals: everyone gets a fair shot to defend themselves, even in the light of overwhelming evidence, because that's what type of society we are.

Or were.

Habeas Corpus keeps us from being falsely imprisoned and forces the State to hear us before a court. Or it did. Evidence is thrown in front of our feet if we are wrongdoers, and we have a chance to show we are truly guilty or that the State got the wrong person. Or we did. We had ideals that kept us from tortuing answers out of people because torture would make even the innocent confess. Or we did.

I am so disappointed that I could just melt down. What happened to the rightness of what we are and how we conduct ourselves? Why are we so afraid that we can't honor a concept as old as Western Society? Worse: why are people so cynical as to put an election and fear of a negative attack ad - an easily answerable ad - before our values in Democracy?

One day, when I am really old or passed on, I want my son to hear on the radio as he drives back from his morning workout that in this era of fear and terrorism, of hateful people who want to kill us and destroy our ideals, that we still found it in ourselves to give the worst of men due process. Then, we are a proud people.



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