Thursday, January 31, 2008

Praise! Update on Dasia.

You might remember my post before Christmas about Dasia Atkinson, the little girl who wanted Christmas cards from all 50 states for Christmas. Well, thanks to the efforts of her CaringBridge friends and the blogosphere, she received all the cards and more.

I'm pleased to report that her doctor says she is cured! Dasia was diagnosed in 2005 with a Pontine Glioma (tumor of the brain stem), which is usually fatal.

Miracles do happen, people, and the Lord surely is at work in the world. God bless you, Dasia.

Breaking: Ann Coulter to vote for Clinton! Update: Video Added!

If the Republican nominee is John McCain, that is. Video, via HotAir:

I've been half-listening to Hannity and Colmes, and just heard Colmes wring this confession from Ann Coulter: that if John McCain is the Republican nominee, she'd actually vote for Hillary Clinton. I missed the exact reasoning, I was nearly as flabergasted as Colmes was, though I'd hesitate to call it an endorsement. But it's no secret that her candidate of choice is Mitt Romney (she admitted as much on the O'Reilly Factor months ago).

(I've been preparing some thoughts on the presidential race as it stands now that my man Fred has dropped out, and it seems that a two-man race is shaping up. I'll share them once I've gotten them into fairly coherent shape.)

Now, I'm no big fan of Ann Coulter, but I think it's interesting that stalwart conservatives are in such dire straits.

[Apologies for the Drudge-like headline. I just thought it was so funny I'd try to drum up a little traffic. Back to sanity next time.]

An Unsung Hero.

If you've studied American history at all, you've seen the iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal of the Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII. Raising the second American flag, I should say.

"The first flag-raising occurred a couple of hours earlier - shortly after
Marines had gained the top of the mountain after hard fighting. This flag was
deemed too small to be easily seen from the base of the mountain so a second,
larger flag was raised."

Ray Jacobs was part of the group that raised that first flag. His account of it can be read here. Mr. Jacobs passed away today. He was 84 years old.

(h/t The Corner)

History Link.

This has been sitting in my bookmarks for a while now. I came across it while Stumbling, and I thought it was pretty interesting. Some of the comments at the site I found it on are interesting as well. Here is a link to the original source.

Exit Question: The map's purpose is to address the question, "How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars?" Did religion itself spark the wars, or were there other factors? Do you think this map shows a bias in favor of or against a particular religion? If so, which one, and why do you think so?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Disgustingly Cute Video.

So cute it will make you sick. Posted here for your viewing pleasure, two and a half minutes of fuzzy goodness.

Monday, January 21, 2008

News Flash: It Might Not Be Global Warming...

...that's melting the Antarctic, at any rate.

"Western Antarctica "is losing ice to the oceans, and the volcano could be
contributing to that effect.""

But don't get too excited, kids:

"Global warming is still the main culprit behind the overall
loss of ice from western Antarctica
, researchers say."

Of course, the reality of what is going on in Antarctica is murkier than that, and these news stories seem intended to fan the flames of climate change alarmism. I'll accept that the climate changes (it's an inherently dynamic system, after all), but I'm not convinced that human beings are the cause of it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How Many Apply To You?

If you need a distraction from the S.C. Primary coverage, consider this it. How many geek types apply to you? I'm in at 22.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday Stupid.

I'm tired of blogging about serious stuff, so here's something completely silly, just for your viewing enjoyment. Incidentally, there are a couple of people I work with who sound just like this.

(h/t Shiny Sink)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Underground Update.

It seems that I jinxed myself by starting my fantasy fiction site, Jezla's Underground. Having posted the intro and a short character sketch, I promptly succumbed to writer's block and have been stuck ever since. I've had some ideas, but they all are little more than Dungeons and Dragons fan fiction, which I want to try and avoid. I'm listening to lots of Celtic music, hoping to get a little inspiration!

In order to do something with the Underground, I dug up an old pencil drawing and posted it. Click the link above to see it, and thanks for visiting!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Our Big Mistake In Iraq.

Once again, the media (and most of the rest of the world) ignores the plight of Christians in Iraq.

As evident in my post on the Petraeus and Crocker report to Congress, I'm a supporter of our current strategy in Iraq; however, I have not written at length about my views on the War as a whole. As an American, I support the military and want them to succeed, and I feel that having a democratic state in the Middle East that is friendly to us is in our interest.

I don't worry overmuch about whether President Bush's stated reasons for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein were valid or not. I don't know if there were WMD's or what happened to them if there were; my opinion was and is that we were doing what should have been done in 1992.

However, I think that we made some serious mistakes in 2003-4 that are being blithely ignored now by proponents and defenders of the surge. One of those, and the most serious, is to allow language like this to get into the Iraq Constitution:

"Article (2):
1st — Islam is the official religion of the state and is a
basic source of legislation:
(a) No law can be passed that contradicts the
undisputed rules of Islam.

(b) No law can be passed that contradicts the
principles of democracy.
(c) No law can be passed that contradicts the
rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.
2nd — This
constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people
and the full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of creed and
religious practices."[Emphasis added.]

This gives Islamic Law precedent over the laws of the state, effectively making the declaration of religious freedom worthless, in theory now, possibly in practice later. So far Maliki is giving lip service to that freedom, but the danger remains.

As a Christian, I'm dismayed that our country dropped such a big ball at the outset, no matter how our military strategy has been successfully revised. I think this mistake could come back to bite us in the future. Unfortunately, Christian persecution is nothing new, but statements like this bother me as well.

"Msgr. Sako is not discouraged and guarantees: “One thing remains absolute and
unshakable for our community here in Kirkuk, we will persevere with dialogue to
build and strengthen peaceful coexistence”."

I hope the Gospel is part of that dialogue. I get nervous when church leaders talk about "dialogue" and "coexistence" with Islamists, because it usually is code for appeasement.

Remember our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who suffer in His name. Pray that they keep strong in their faith, and that God will deliver them.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Only Certainty. (Updated)

The new year is upon us and the holidays are over. Most people are looking beyond the remaining winter months to the coming spring, with its glorious explosion of color, life, and 1040s.

Now that I've brought your wistful reverie to a screeching halt, let's talk taxes. This is the time of year when most Americans start turning out their file cabinets and old shoe boxes (don't smirk, you know you have 'em), compiling the precious bits of evidence they'll need to protect their hard earned dollars from the grasp of Uncle Sam, or rather, with which to persuade him to return some of our hard earned income that he's been squandering for us the last twelve months.

Fittingly, The Christian Science Monitor has an article today about the Presidential Candidates' tax policies. It's a fair rundown of the differences and similarities of each camp's ideas, and pretty predictable: the Democrats, to a man (and woman) want to raise taxes, the Republicans (generally) want to lower them.

Then there's Huckabee and (gasp!) Paul. They favor something called the Fair Tax, and that is my major point of contention with this article.

The Fair Tax, simply put, goes back to the Constitutional requirement that all taxes should be equally applied. It entails eliminating the current tax code, income, business, FICA, etc, and doing away with the IRS. In order to raise revenue for the government, a 23% inclusive tax is set on all new goods and services, including food. This tax should not affect prices, since the Fair Tax theory assumes that with corporate income and other taxes abolished, the taxes that are embedded in products' prices (which all consumers pay) will no longer factor into the price of consumer goods. To ease the sting of paying taxes on necessities like food, the Fair Tax plan allows for a "prebate," mentioned in the article. Basically it is an advance reimbursement from the government to each household to cover the taxes they would pay on bare necessities, according to income level. All of this is spelled out in the 2005 book, The Fair Tax, by Neal Boortz.

Since reading the book I've become pretty interested in the Fair Tax, especially in light of the tax troubles we've been having here in Indiana. I feel that government must have some income to fulfil its duties to citizens and build infrastructure, but I have come to feel more and more displeased with our current tax system. As it is, our tax code punishes the middle-class heavily, and is often used as a means of income redistribution (see 'Earned Income Credit'). It seems to me that the only fair means of taxing people in this day and age is a tax on consumption. The Fair Tax fits that bill rather nicely.

The problem is that the media doesn't like it, or at least, mis-characterizes it as a sales tax. A sales tax is a surcharge added onto a product at the point-of-sale. The Fair Tax is inclusive, meaning the price on the tag is what you pay; it's also not a VAT, which is added incrementally at each step in the production and distribution process. This list of complaints in the article is pretty standard:

But other economists point out that some of those deductions, such as the
one for interest paid on home mortgages, are enormously popular. Sales taxes are
regressive – that is, they affect the poor, who must spend a higher percentage
of their income to live, more than the rich.

And there is debate over whether a 23 percent national sales tax,
as called for by Huckabee, would raise enough money to replace the taxes lost.
Some economists say the rate would have to approach 50 percent, particularly as
Huckabee's plan also calls for a "prebate" cash subsidy for poor taxpayers.

Let's address them a little. Firstly, the deductions are popular because they allow people to recover more of the taxes they've paid out of their paycheck the previous year. Under the Fair Tax plan, there is no income tax, so people already have the money, to spend or save as they wish.

Secondly, that sales taxes are regressive, and impact the poor unfairly: the poor may have to spend a higher percentage of their income to live, but the rich also buy more, and more expensive products. There's also this: with a tax on consumption, there's a simple way to avoid it. Don't buy anything. Let's have some personal responsibility, people. If you're poor, do you really need 18" rims on your car or the latest cell phone? In addition, the Fair Tax is only applied to new goods and services. Eschew the new car for a used one, on which the taxes have already been paid.

Lastly (and my favorite), revenue replacement: this is typically used by government as a dodge. We're hearing it now in Indiana. "We can't abolish property taxes because replacing the revenue would mean raising other taxes to prohibitive levels." What about addressing the real problem and cutting spending? That's why taxes are so high in the first place. Besides, eliminating the IRS means there's less revenue needed anyway.

I'm no shill for the Fair Tax, even though everything I've said is pretty much right out of the book. I think it places a little too much faith in manufacturer lowering prices when they no longer need to transfer their corporate tax costs onto consumers. I don't quite understand how it will be phased in, so that we're not paying the inclusive tax on top of the embedded taxes. I also am not sure how it will coexist with current state tax codes. Here's the rest of the story. I do know, however, that our current system is badly broken, and adding new exemptions and credits just makes the problem worse. Raising taxes on businesses just drives them offshore, taking jobs with them. Taxing property is an affront to the principle of ownership, and income taxes amount to government theft.

Nothing may be certain but death and taxes, but one needn't lead to the other.

Update (1/5/08): Ramesh Ponnuru poses an interesting question at the Corner:

"The notion is that getting rid of income taxes will cause prices to drop
to offset the impact of the new sales tax. My question in response: If this
theory of how the economy works is valid, then shouldn't wages drop 23 percent,

A very valid question. My feeling is that yes they would, however, that yes should be qualified by the statement that wages have been fairly stagnant for a while now. I know of people who have not gotten a raise in three years, and my own company's annual raises are nowhere near what is needed to keep up with cost of living. So, they probably wouldn't drop, per se, but the stagnation of wages would probably get worse.

Also, I should add another concern I have about the Fair Tax, and that is the so-called 'prebate,' designed to offset taxes a family would pay on necessities. The idea is that in order to keep the tax fair, you cannot allow exemptions for things like food. If one product was exempt, other manufacturers would demand exemptions, leading to a mess similar to what we have now. I'm not sure I agree. State sales taxes (in Indiana at least) exempt food, and I can't think of any other manufacturers clamoring to get their products exempt. Plus, I'm mistrustful of receiving money from the government for any reason, particularly on a regular basis.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Use The Force.

An eleven-year old in England demonstrates that guts and Jedi are not extinct.

"Police said the boy hit the man with his toy after the man had punched and
verbally abused his mother as she approached her car."


As predicted, commentators of all stripes are hastening to raise Benazir Bhutto to political sainthood.

"Sipping tea with her was an experience I shall never forget. She knew the
risks of returning to Pakistan, but accepted them because, "I love my country
and my people." That's something else we don't see much of today: patriots.
There are many politicians who, for reasons of ego and a need to satisfy their
own narcissism, seek power, but hide their hunger with bows toward more noble
objectives. Like all politicians, indeed like all humanity, Bhutto was flawed,
but she was less flawed and more principled than many others in her country.
Women with a husband and children don't jeopardize comfortable and relatively
safe lifestyles for what awaited her in Pakistan. True heroism is to know the
risks and to take them in spite of danger."

She has been compared to the Aquinos of the Philippines for her determination to return home in the face of danger. The comparisons continue now that the inevitable assassination has happened. But the comparison doesn't hold water:

"Sytangco, who was also Aquino's spokeswoman when she was still president,
recalled that both Aquino and Bhutto came to power in 1986 as first women
democratic leaders.
She said that while Aquino did not make any state visit
to Pakistan when Bhutto was still prime minister, both leaders met twice --
first in 1989 when they attended the centennial of Paris and in Manila when
Bhutto paid a visit on Aquino after attending a conference here.

"They both
had similarities except that Aquino was never charged with corruption," Sytangco
[Emphasis added]

Further evidence comes from those who knew her, such as David Warren:

"She was my exact contemporary, and I met her as a child in Pakistan, so let me
jump on this bandwagon. I remember her at age eight, arriving in a Mercedes-Benz
with daddy's driver, and whisking me off for a ride in the private aeroplane of
then-President Ayub Khan (Bhutto père was the rising star in his cabinet). This
girl was the most spoiled brat I ever met."

Such testimony paints her less as a crusader for democracy than as a crusader for her own power. This is bolstered by the dynastic succession of her party's leadership.

The resistance to Marcos by the Aquinos was fueled by genuine democratic fervor and religious conviction, and change was largely peacefully. Saint Bhutto? I don't think so.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

For those of you who like blogs better than parties, allow me to offer you this:

The Recipe For Jezla

3 parts Nonconformity

2 parts Inspiration

1 part Wisdom

Splash of Savvy

Finish off with a squeeze of lime juice