6/21/2002

I've read Owen and Josh's defenses of the alliance between American Christians and the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC) on matters of abortion and gay rights. Owen points out that the OIC is made up of over 50 countries, mostly "moderate" Islamic nations, and has been a strategic ally in the War on Terror. Josh notes that agreement on some points between Christian conservatives and Islamist nations does not imply agreement on all points, and that we're worked and voted with mortal enemies in the UN any number of times in the past when a matter of our national interest coincides with theirs.

The OIC is surely comprised of nations which are mostly at least non-hostile towards us. I suppose this argument would ring less hollow to me were it not for the quote about how Sudan helped prevent abortion rights language from entering a UN statement, or the bit about how US officials conferred with Iranian officials. In other words, if the Christian conservatives were merely dealing with a large organization that happens to include a few bad apples, it would be more believable if they avoided dealing directly with those bad apples.

Then there's the question of which values the two groups actually share. I suppose it was the Moroccan official's use of the term "family values", an expression that can cover quite a bit of territory, that got my antennae humming. The thing about strategic alliances is that you often find yourself going along with things you wouldn't normally in support of an ally, possibly in return for something that ally wouldn't normally do. Will the US officials turn a blind eye to, say, honor killings in order to maintain this alliance? I'm sure any number of OIC nations would file such a thing under "family values".

As for national interest, it's a bitter pill for me to swallow, but when we have a Republican in the White House, opposition to abortion and gay rights are going to be classified as being in the national interest. (And may I pause for a moment here to say once more: Thanks, Ralph!) Fine. I still question the priorities of an administration that would put this agenda ahead of such things as freedom, democracy, and open markets. I still say that working with even a small number of hostile nations in opposition to things that our real allies support undermines our relationship with those allies in the War on Terror. I still say that what we're doing here is objectively wrong.

Finally, apart from the Bush Administration, I question the values and priorities of the Christian activists themselves. As the Bull Moose noted, Sudan practices slavery against its Christian population. In many OIC nations, from hostiles like Iran to "moderates" like Saudi Arabia, Christians are not allowed to openly practice their faith. Freedom of worship is a foreign concept. There was a time when American Chritian organizations concerned themselves with issues like that. I suppose it's more important nowadays to ensure that slowing the spread of AIDS does not include making condoms available. Let's not hear anything more about "moral authority" from this crowd, shall we?

6/20/2002

Travel update, volume IV Today Tiffany and I went off on an adventure to Orcas Island to meet up with Jenny, a college friend of hers. We had stayed at Jenny's house on Bellevue on Sunday, but as Jenny and her kids were on Orcas at the time, we spent the evening with her husband Manu.

Orcas is a small island off the Puget Sound. To get there, we had to drive to Anacortes and take a ferry. There are quite a few ferries that run out of Anacortes, not all of which go to Orcas. We were aiming for a 10:15 AM ferry there and a 7 PM ferry back. In each case, since the next Orcas ferry was several hours after that, we had to make sure we were there early enough to ensure that there was room for our car.

With that in mind, we headed out at 8:30 for the 40 minute drive to the ferry terminal. We had some problems with the Hertz Never Lost, as it didn't appear to have an entry in its database for the ferry terminal. We finally found a ferry terminal and pointed ourselves in that direction. Once we hit town, it became obvious we were headed for a different terminal, and we were able to follow signs to our destination.

Orcas Island is small and largely uninhabited. There are a couple of small towns - East Sound, Orcas, and Olga among them - and one main road that winds a horseshoe path around the bay that juts into the land. We had some directions from Jenny, the kind that go by landmarks because there's nothing else to go by, and we followed the main road because there's nowhere else to go. The Never Lost didn't even list Olga, the nearest town, and cellphone service was spotty at best, but after one or two wrong turns we arrived.

Jenny, her sister and sister-in-law and their combined 6 kids and two dogs were staying in their great-grandfather's Victorian farm house, which was built in the 1880s. It has no electricity or running water - they pumped water from a well, and used either the wood-burning stove or a camp stove to cook. It was a great place for the kids, as there was a ton of open and wooded space to explore. After getting the grand tour of the house, I was shown around the grounds by five-year-old Marina and six-year-old McLean. Other than ten-month-old Peter, McLean was the only boy there, so I pretty quickly became his best buddy. He showed me his Star Wars handheld video game, and we talked about Spider-Man and exploding robots (you had to be there).

We packed a lunch and hiked a well-worn path through some woods to a small patch of rocky shore, where the kids hunted for crabs and threw sticks into the water for the dogs to fetch (the dogs never once got tired of this, and barked if we weren't holding up our end of the game sufficiently). We ate sandwiches and cookies, threw the leftovers to the dogs, collected "beach glass" (pieces of broken glass that had smoothed out after awhile of being beaten on by the tide), and the adults encouraged the kids and dogs to wear themselves out.

After making our way back to the house, this time with most people piled into Jenny's sister's VW Vanagon, we said our goodbyes and drove back towards the ferry, stopping in East Sound for a little shopping (Tiffany has been using opportunities like that to restock the gift closet) and a bite to eat. We had plenty of time to catch the ferry home.

Tomorrow we head off to Vancouver for the wedding. We'll be there until Sunday, when we come back for Vanessa's third birthday party.
Equal time Josh Trevino and Owen Courreges respond to the condemnations of the UN alliance between American Christian conservatives and Islamist states. Both make good points, and I recommend that you read what they have to say.

6/19/2002

Even conservatives agree with me Andrew Sullivan asks why the Bush administration should want to ally itself with Islamist states on issues like women's rights and gay rights. The Bull Moose practically echoes my sentiments:

Haven't these folks heard the President's "axis of evil" speech? After all, they are working with two of the three rogue state miscreants. One of their ranks even stated, "We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document." Hello! Sudan is the notorious state that still practices slavery against its Christian population. Freedom for the unborn, but chains for the born?

[...]

What's next? A strategic alliance with Satan? A religious right conference on Hezbollah family values?

Off the Pine makes a good point that I'd been thinking about but hadn't said:

This issue also gives Dems a golden opportunity to wrest the monopoly on flag-waving currently enjoyed by the GOP. There are a large number of liberal/libertarian hawks who disdain religious fundamentalism but see the Dems as soft on foreign policy. The Dems need to become the party of exporting liberal values (first and foremost gender equality) abroad. The question is whether they will be able to shed their own culture warriors' instinctive relativism to do so.

I can sure imagine an effective ad campaign to take the GOP to task for this. I can't imagine my GOP-leaning friends would be too happy to see such a thing.

All links via Matthew Yglesias.
Travel update, volume III Today after a hearty breakfast of hash browns and eggs, we packed up the minivan and headed off to the historic town of Langley, on the other end of Whidbey Island. Langley is another small older village on the coast of the island which makes a big part of its living these days off the tourist trade. We poked around in more antique and gift shops, had some rather good pizza at the Village Pizzeria (even my folks, who have often complained about the lack of good pizza on the Left Coast, are known to like the pizza at this place), and generally enjoyed the sunshine and beautiful scenery.

After Langley we headed back, stopping at the Greenbank Farm wine seller for a tasting. They offered four tastes for two bucks, which we gladly took them up on. All wines were indigenous to the area. We wound up buying a couple bottles of pinot gris.

It's been a lot of fun spending time with Vanessa, our soon-to-be-three-year-old niece, and Jack, our seven-month-old nephew. They're quite the opposites in many ways. Vanessa was a small baby and is still quite small for her age. Jack is a bruiser - he's only ten pounds lighter than his older sister. Vanessa doesn't like to be picked up, except by her parents. Jack is generally fussy unless he's being held. He doesn't care who holds him, but he fusses if you're sitting down while you're holding him, so most of the time you have to stand up and walk around.

Vanessa is very excited about her birthday party on Sunday. She chatters on about how both sets of grandparents, as well as her aunt Bernadette and uncle Sean, will be there. She loves being the center of attention, but only when she wants to be, for otherwise she can be shy. I suspect if we spent more time around her she'd be more open to us. Sometimes I wish we could all live closer together, but that's the way it goes.

6/18/2002

Travel update, Volume II We took the ferry to Port Townsend for a little shopping and sightseeing this morning. The road signs refer to it as the "Pt. Townsend Ferry", so naturally when I first saw one of them as we were driving in I said to Tiffany "Hey, look! It's the Pete Townsend Ferry!" (Yes, I know that's not how Pete Townshend spells his name. Work with me here.)

Our passports arrived today, thus ending our brush with diplomacy. We can now enter (and more importantly, exit) Canada in a hassle-free manner.
I've gotten some flak in the comments on this post regarding US Christian conservatives and their newfound alliances with fundamentalist Muslim nations over questions of abortion and homosexuality. That probably means I didn't do a good job of expressing why this story so disgusted me. Let's try again.

I'll stipulate that my outrage is kicked up a notch by the fact that the assorted theocrats are ganing up to oppose things that I favor, but that's only a contributing factor. What outrages me is that any US government official would look to countries like Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Iraq for just about any kind of alliance.

During the course of John Gotti's battles with federal prosecutors and again after his death, people (usuallu from Gotti's neighborhood) would talk about how he was a good family man who took care of the people he cared about. That may be true, but when you write up a list of John Gotti's qualities, "family man" and "good friend" should come about 500th, with "murderer" and "thug" being right up front. The most generous thing I can say about someone who would insist on talking about John Gotti's good qualities is that such a person is engaging in an extreme form of moral equivalence. At the worst, such a person is completely morally bankrupt.

I say that talking about Iran and Iraq in terms of their commitment to the traditional nuclear family is the same thing. There are only two things we should be saying to countries like that:
  1. Are you for us or against us in the war on terrorism?

  2. When will you be holding free and open elections?

Doing anything else takes our focus off of what's vitally important to us, now more than ever. Right now the government of Iraq is preparing to give thousands of dollars to the family of the man responsible for this. How can you talk to Iraqi officials, let alone make nice with them, about anything else?

That's what pisses me off about this. Since the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President Bush has equivocated in many ways about his "for us or against us" rhetoric. Some of them were understandable acquiescences to realpolitik. This is not. This is putting one's personal beliefs ahead of the interests of America and its allies, and it's disgusting.

6/17/2002

Wait till next year Sadly, Rice's season has come to an end, thanks to a ninth-inning rally by Notre Dame. Congrats to the Irish for the hard-fought win.

This was a great season for Rice baseball, and it's a little hard to take its sudden end. These things happen, and there's no point dwelling on it. Get 'em next year, fellas. Meantime, football starts in about 10 weeks. Go Rice!
Quality Entertainment Dept. Britney Spears will star in a NASCAR-themed movie, which is currently in development. Here's all you need to know:

"Britney herself has a lot of the values that represent NASCAR and her dad is a big NASCAR fan," said [NASCAR vice president of broadcasting Paul] Brooks. "She is close with her family, she's from Louisiana and represents true Americana."

With such a stellar track record so far in her moviemaking career, I'm sure Britney will make a flick to make NASCAR proud.
Travel update, volume 1 We're here at my brother and sister-in-law's house on Whidbey Island. We landed in Seattle yesterday, hung out there and stayed overnight with a friend in Bellevue, then drove out here this morning. Our rent car has a Magellan "Never Lost" GPS system in it, which has indeed gotten us everywhere we've needed to be. Next time you're on the road in a strange city, pay the extra five bucks a day for your rent car to have it.

Today has been adventurous because of a little problem we discovered late Saturday night. It suddenly dawned on me that later this week we're crossing the border into Canada - the wedding we're attending on Saturday is in Vancouver - and our passports and birth certificates were snug and secure in our bank's safety deposit box. As we were taking off on Sunday, this meant we couldn't get to them before we left. Fortunately, we were able to reach someone at our bank today who faxed us a form to fill out and have notarized that would grant permission for my mother-in-law (to whom I gave a key as she drove us to the airport) to get into the box. I just got a voice mail from her saying that the passports are on their way to us, so we're far less likely to cause a diplomatic incident on Sunday when we return than we were 24 hours ago. Whew!

Today has mostly been about getting reacquainted with our soon-to-be-three-year-old niece Vanessa, and meeting her seven-month-old brother Jack. Vanessa warmed up to us after a half hour or so, and since then has peppered us with questions and demanded lots of attention. It's been loads of fun.

We get to do some touristy stuff over the next couple of days before we head to Vancouver. I'll post further updates as I can.
Disgusting Conservative Christian organizations, with the support of the Bush administration, have hopped into the sack with theocratic and despotic Islamic countries like Iran and Iraq (two-thirds of the Axis of Evil, for those keeping score at home) to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences.

"We look at them as allies, not necessarily as friends," said Austin Ruse, founder and president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a New York-based organization that promotes conservative values at U.N. social conferences. "We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document."

When you're finding common cause with Sudan, you really ought to consider recalibrating your moral compass.

The alliance of conservative Islamic states and Christian organizations has placed the Bush administration in the awkward position of siding with some of its most reviled adversaries -- including Iraq and Iran -- in a cultural skirmish against its closest European allies, which broadly support expanding sexual and political rights.

U.S. and Iranian officials even huddled during coffee breaks at the U.N. summit on children in New York last month, according to U.N. diplomats.

Once again, the Bush Administration's famed moral clarity comes through. If I was ever thankful that these guys for their leadership since 9/11, I officially take it all back.

Story via TAPped.

6/16/2002

On the road again Tiffany and I are leaving this morning for a week in the Pacific Northwest to visit family and attend a wedding. I will have some access to a computer during this time, but expect posting to be light for the week.
The hard way Texas defeated Rice 2-1 yesterday, which means the Owls will have to survive the losers' bracket for a shot at the College World Series championship. They play Notre Dame, a 4-3 loser to Stanford, on Monday for the right to keep playing.
It's a horse race Clay Robison discusses the Kirk-Cornyn matchup, for which early polls show a tight race.
Even the Chron takes a shot at the NYT for the Houston hit piece. The Chron is routinely derided for its Houston cheerleading, but they got it right in this piece. I like they way they wrapped it up, too:

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the world was generous with its support and sympathy for New York. The decision by the editors of The New York Times to publish an article sneering at Houston as it reels from a devastating flood and business reversals in the energy sector betrays an unbecoming, unperceptive snobbery from which most Houstonians -- even the most outlandish residents -- are blessedly free.

Well done.