A distinction without a difference

I’ve noted before, based on instinct that, when it comes to substance, nothing distinguishes Obama and Clinton from each other, in that they’re each extremely liberal. That, I said, is why they’ve had to fall back so frantically on their racial and sexual identities. It’s not just the “identity politics” chickens coming home to roost; it’s also the only way you can tell the two apart. My instinct regarding this matter is right on the money: according to the National Journal’s nonpartisan rating of Congress people, both are to the far left politically.  In addition, “‘The policy differences between Clinton and Obama are so slight they are almost nonexistent to the average voter,’ said Richard Lau, a Rutgers University political scientist.”

Also according to the National Journal, McCain has a lifetime rating as a conservative, although he’s grown less conservative with the passage of time.  He is something of a centrist which means, ironically, that if he’s elected, he could be the uniter, which is the mantle Obama currently claims for himself.  That is, Obama speaks unity, but operates at the fringe.  McCain really does seem to function out of the center.

Hat tip: Captain’s Quarters

Weasel Whacked

I freely admit it wasn’t one of my best posts, so I can’t say I’m surprised to have squeaked in with only one vote.  Oh! You want to know what I’m talking about? Last week’s Weasel results, of course. But enough about my rather dismal showing. Let’s talk about the winners:

On the Council side, first place went to Done With Mirrors for Liberal Fascism. In it, Callimachus basically said that he doesn’t like Jonah Goldberg’s book, and then he goes on to rip-roaring discussion about fascism. Since you all know that I really loved Goldberg’s book, I didn’t vote for that post, even though I have to admit that it’s a really good one. Such is the problem of voting with emotions, not intellect (liberals, take heed). There was a seven way tie for second place, with the Watcher breaking the tie and awarding official second place rank to Right Wing Nut House for Grim Choices Confront GOP — a premise and a post with which I entirely agree.

Just so you can see how wildly weird the voting was (and so I feel better about my tie for last place), here’s the ranking (primary voters take heed):

Votes Council link
2 2/3 Liberal Fascism
Done With Mirrors
1 Grim Choices Confront GOP
Right Wing Nut House
1 ‘I Have A Dream’ — The Democrat’s Version
Joshuapundit
1 Hillanomix 101
Wolf Howling
1 The Radicalization of American Politics
The Glittering Eye
1 Di Caprio Lies and Hustles Bucks
Cheat Seeking Missiles
1 Our Out of Control Borders: Who’s Accountable?
The Education Wonks
1 What Is “Freedom”?
The Colossus of Rhodey
1/3 Rose Colored Rudy
Soccer Dad
1/3 The Problem With Obama’s Race
Bookworm Room

Actually, when it comes to divided voting, things really weren’t much better over at the non-Council side — that is, if you don’t count the overwhelming win IowaHawk received for the masterful ByLines of Brutality (a post that I submitted and for which I voted):

4 Bylines of Brutality
Iowahawk
1 2/3 It’s All Israel’s Fault
Gates of Vienna
1 2/3 About the Anarcholibertarians
The QandO Blog
1 1/3 Doctors and Death and Doctors Death
The IgNoble Experiment
1 The Navy’s Failing China Policy
Pajamas Media
1/3 Let’s End the Cold War and Get Rid of Marxist BS Once and for All
Dr. Sanity
1/3 Pondering the Google Slap
Dodgeblogium
1/3 A Relatively Scientific Experiment
Power Line
1/3 Media Lens Tries History, Yet Again
Oliver Kamm

It will be interesting to see what happens this week — if we’ll be able to coalesce around a single leader, or if we’ll again be incapable of coming together.

The media again goes after the military

First, the NY Times announced that American troops were crazed killers. Next, it announced that they were crazed homeless people. The latest salvo the media has launched at the troops to counteract the Surge’s success is that they’re so crazy they are killing themselves in droves:

As many as 121 Army soldiers committed suicide in 2007, a jump of some 20 percent over the year before, officials said Thursday.

The rise comes despite numerous efforts to improve the mental health of a force stressed by a longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the most deadly year yet in the now six-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

Internal briefing papers prepared by the Army’s psychiatry consultant early this month show there were 89 confirmed suicides last year and 32 deaths that are suspected suicides and still under investigation.

More than a quarter of those — about 34 — happened during deployments in Iraq, an increase from 27 in Iraq the previous year, according to the preliminary figures.

The report also shows an increase in the number of attempted suicides and self-injuries — some 2,100 in 2007 compared to less than 1,500 the previous year and less than 500 in 2002.

The total of 121 suicides last year, if all are confirmed, would be more than double the 52 reported in 2001, before the Sept. 11 attacks prompted the Bush administration to launch its counter-terror war. The toll was 87 by 2005 and 102 in 2006.

I’m not quarreling with the numbers for last year, which equal 121 individual tragedies. Nor do I challenge the fact that the number of suicides has been rising. However, I do have a problem with the absence of context. The story makes it appear as if there’s an ever escalating suicide epidemic in the military that sets it apart from the general American population. That is, the article forgot to compare these numbers to society at large. Significantly, it also doesn’t distinguish between active duty, guard and reserve (502,790, 346,288 and 189,975, all of which add up to 1,039,053). As always context makes things interesting.
Here are some statistics regarding suicide in America as of 2004:

Now lets look at Army demographics for the year 2006 (the last I could find):

  • Total number of troops, active, guard and reserve: 1,039,053
  • Total number of active and guard troops (not counting reserve): 849,078
  • Total active duty was 502,790
  • Men make up 86% of active duty soldiers (430,000).
  • Whites made up 61.6 percent of active duty soldiers, or almost 310,000 troops.

I’m not able to find the average age for the Army (I don’t know why), but I’m willing to bet it hovers between 19-24, with the weight at about 20.

Okay, bear with me here, and correct me when I go wildly wrong, but I think one can make a few predictions about what the suicide rate probably would be in the military if it hewed to general American statistics. First of all, if there are an average of 11.05 suicides for every 100,000 people, out of the total army strength of 1,039,053, one would expect a little more than 110 suicides, which is remarkably close to the 121 committed last year. And given that the Army is disproportionately male and that the rate of suicides is disproportionately high amongst men, one would have to expect that the average of 11.05 suicides would have to skew upwards to account for both of these disproportionalities. You then have to add in the fact that the average male soldiers age also places him in one of the high risk suicide categories (youths 15-24). After doing all that, you’d have to slide the rate down a little to reflect the fact that some of these men are minorities, who have lower suicides rates, but that kind of math is utterly beyond me. Any of you who can do math should feel free to chime in here and tell me by how much the suicide rate increases when you have a mostly white, young, male demographic in the military, and mostly white, young, male suicides in the general population. Complicated math or not, my rule of thumb tells me that, compared to the general population, the rate of Army suicides is not out of the ordinary.

Even if one rachets the numbers down from all troops and looks only at active duty and guard troops, the result isn’t that different. The total number of active and guard troops, as I noted above, is 849,078. That means that you could expect an average of 94 suicides per year. And then again, you’d have to do the higher math of factoring in all those young, white men and then factoring down slightly for minorities (who are 38.4$ of active duty troops and 25.5% of guard troops).

Things do get more tragic if one really rachets the numbers down to focus only on active duty suicides, because that would mean a base suicide rate that’s twice the national average. Even adjusting that for the young, white male military population probably wouldn’t offset the differential. I can’t find the report on which this news story is based, though, so I really don’t know which Army population is at issue.

In any event, as you think about all of this, consider that the report says that there are only 89 confirmed suicides, with 32 still being investigated. It’s certain that some of those being investigated will prove also to be suicides, but it’s anything but certain that all will.

Bottom line: It’s all very complicated for a math-phobe like me but, unless one is sure that the numbers in the article apply only to active duty troops, I’m fairly confident that the numbers, while showing 121 personal tragedies, do not prove that our American troops are killing themselves like flies. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) In other words, while the news report, to the extent it gives numbers directly from military sources, is informative, to the extent the report makes it appear that troops are dying in droves as compared to other Americans, it’s misleading.

UPDATEGateway Pundit has an more interesting take on the story than I did, which is the fact that more troops committed suicide during the Clinton years than are now committing suicide.  Perhaps doing ones job, even a dangerous job, is less demoralizing and depressing than being marginalized and denigrated.

The great bloviator

You all know that I’ve been singularly unimpressed with Barack Obama’s rhetorical gifts. To me, he is just throws out platitudes — and he does that in an increasingly condescending manner. John Derbyshire is as unimpressed as I am, and has taken some time to dissect Obama’s language (h/t Paragraph Farmer):

I dunno, I must be missing a gene or two. Everybody, including even some conservatives, is telling me what a fine uplifting orator Barack Obama is. All I see is great gusts of hot air. When he says something that actually has any semantic content, either it is just false, or else it is naked socialism.

I was just looking through Obama’s latest oratorical masterpiece. It strikes me as obnoxious, where it is not just flatulent.

… we’ve got young people all across this country who have never had a reason to participate until now.

The “reason to participate,” for people of any age, is the sense of citizenly duty. This sense didn’t exist before Obama showed up?

We’re up against the belief that it’s all right for lobbyists to dominate our government, that they are just part of the system in Washington.

But lobbyists are part of the system in Washington. It says so in the First Amendment: “… to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Obama wants to repeal the First Amendment?

We’re up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as president comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House.

That’s the conventional thinking? So how did Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush get elected President? None of them had any “longevity in Washington” — not even as much as you, Senator. Sure, I understand, this is throwing some of Hillary’s stuff back at her, but it’s still nonsense.

… real leadership is about … the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

Not just cant, but Leninist cant. We are a republic of free people, not the tools of some “leader” pursuing a historical “purpose.” What is your “higher purpose,” Senator? And what happens to those of us who decline to rally around it?

You should read the rest of Derbyshire’s dissection here.

Interestingly, DQ and I were just talking about Obama’s speech making the other day, and it tracked somewhat along what Derbyshire was saying. DQ harked back to a childhood in the Southeast when people believed that it was okay to be proud to be an American. That viewpoint has vanished from much American discourse, especially on the Left. He thinks that Obama is telling people that they can feel good about themselves. DQ thinks that this means that they can feel good about being Americans.

I think DQ is being altogether too generous. Obama is spouting the same Leftist stuff as always: Capitalism (the American system) = bad. The War in Iraq (America’s active line of defense against Islamic terrorism) = bad. Lobbyists (the American medium of free speech in Washington) = bad. And so on. Dig into what Obama is really saying, and you’ll realize that he wants to change everything and model us on some semi-failed European system. So, when he voices vague phrases about feeling good, he doesn’t sound to me like a patriot; he sounds to me like a cross between Dr. Phil and Oprah. It’s all about meaningless self-esteem cant, with no substance to support it.

The whole thing reminds me strongly of the self-esteem movement in American education, a movement so silly that even Gary Trudeau lampooned it in his comic strip. If I remember the details correctly, California started the whole thing off when it decided to spend lots of money at schools to encourage kids to feel good about themselves. Understand that this did not mean actually teaching students skills that would justify their feeling good about themselves. Instead, it was a fortune in tax payer money to teach kids the Stuart Smalley mantra: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and, doggone it, people like me!” Other school systems quickly followed suit, and now these affirmatives are a constant diet for American students. If you doubt me, just visit any American school and read the posters on the walls.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover that, when someone actually looked at the hard benefits of this approach, there were none. The students raised on this constant diet of meaningless affirmations thought extremely well of themselves, functioned badly, and could not deal with adversity. Frankly, it seems like a bad political model to me, but it’s about the only thing Obama has to offer that sets him about from Hillary (aside from his race, as compared to her sex). But don’t worry. When we’re all completely dysfunctional — but feeling really good about ourselves – the government will be there to help.

UPDATEJames Taranto also catches Obama the Demagogue in the act of saying . . . nothing.

On McCain’s apparent front-runner status *UPDATED*

Compared to Romney, I don’t like McCain. Compared to Obama or Hillary, I adore McCain and would happily vote for him — heck, if I were voting in Chicago (home turf for both Obama and Hillary), I’d vote for him twice, and have my ancestors vote for him too. You dance with them whut brung ya’, and it looks as if McCain may be the Republican dance partner in the 2008 Presidential election.

So, if you’re one of those conservatives who who thinks McCain is too liberal (and, compared to your candidate of choice, whoever he is, I’m sure you’re right), or who worries about the Gang of 14 (although reading this may allay some of your concerns), or who hasn’t forgiven him for McCain-Feingold, or who just plain doesn’t like him — get over it! He may not be the perfect Republican candidate, but he’s so much better than either Hillary or Obama that it really doesn’t matter. If you believe in conservative principles and fear the fall-out from Democratic policies, you have what amounts to a moral obligation to get out there in November and vote for him. Do not, I repeat, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Also, if it makes you feel better about casting your vote, there are some indications that he is truly a winning candidate. That is, you won’t be compromising your principles with a vote that is ultimately wasted. A Rasmussen poll that the Captain discusses has him beating out both Obama and Hillary if an election were held today. Now, that may change when one of the Dems emerges victorious from the primary process, in which case more voters may coalesce around the winner, but it’s still good news for those who feel that it’s as important for a Democrat to lose as for a Republican to win.

And if you think I’m being exceptionally vindictive in devoutly wishing for a Democratic loss, here’s my defense: While I think we as a nation are a robust enough to fix any economic messes the Democrats may cause, I also think that we have a one shot deal to remain ascendant when it comes to the World War that the Islamists are waging against us. If we have a Democrat in the White House, especially Obama who can’t get out of Iraq fast enough, we’ll have wasted that shot.

(I have to admit I’m not pleased with Michelle Malkin for hinting that she’d rather see Hillary win than help out McCain. Hmmm….)

UPDATEBig Lizards has a very compelling post about McCain’s charisma — an important intangible we often overlook.  I have to say that, when I catch McCain’s speeches on the radio, I enjoy listening, which is not something I can say about any other politician’s speeches, including those of my man Romney.

A fun political time-waster

I don’t think it’s very useful, but this new website — Select 2008 — is a rather fun way to while away time examine political issues and seeing from issue to issue where your candidates stand.  Actually, that’s unfair of me.  It may be useful to people who aren’t up on the issues and the candidates the way I, a political junkie, am.  As for me, it simply confirmed that, in my dotage, I’m a conservative, and that McCain will function as my political candidate, although he’s definitely not my top choice.  That is, it reminded me that if McCain does win the primaries, I can vote for him with a good conscience especially since, with an even better conscience, I do not want to see any of the Democratic candidates win.

Just asking….

Is it a bad sign if you have Peanut M&Ms for breakfast because they’re the fastest thing to prepare and have lots of instant energy?

Things here should shudder to a halt in a few hours, and I’ll get to some serious writing then (I hope).  For now, I’ll just chug away, knowing that I’m having a better day than either Edwards or Giuliani (sigh).

More reasons to worry about marijuana

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the societal problems fully legalized marijuana has brought to Holland. Those facts ran counter to the “marijuana is harmless compared to hard drugs” line of reasoning that has been used to justify legalizing marijuana. It now looks as if the “marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes” argument may also be a fallacy:

Smoking a joint is equivalent to 20 cigarettes in terms of lung cancer risk, scientists in New Zealand have found, as they warned of an “epidemic” of lung cancers linked to cannabis.

Studies in the past have demonstrated that cannabis can cause cancer, but few have established a strong link between cannabis use and the actual incidence of lung cancer.

In an article published in the European Respiratory Journal, the scientists said cannabis could be expected to harm the airways more than tobacco as its smoke contained twice the level of carcinogens, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, compared with tobacco cigarettes.

The method of smoking also increases the risk, since joints are typically smoked without a proper filter and almost to the very tip, which increases the amount of smoke inhaled. The cannabis smoker inhales more deeply and for longer, facilitating the deposition of carcinogens in the airways.

“Cannabis smokers end up with five times more carbon monoxide in their bloodstream (than tobacco smokers),” team leader Richard Beasley, at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, said in a telephone interview.

“There are higher concentrations of carcinogens in cannabis smoke … what is intriguing to us is there is so little work done on cannabis when there is so much done on tobacco.”

The researchers interviewed 79 lung cancer patients and sought to identify the main risk factors for the disease, such as smoking, family history and occupation. The patients were questioned about alcohol and cannabis consumption.

In this high-exposure group, lung cancer risk rose by 5.7 times for patients who smoked more than a joint a day for 10 years, or two joints a day for 5 years, after adjusting for other variables, including cigarette smoking.

“While our study covers a relatively small group, it shows clearly that long-term cannabis smoking increases lung cancer risk,” wrote Beaseley.

I’m not using this post to advocate that we keep marijuana classified as an illegal drug.  Indeed, I think it ought to be legalized, since I would place it with alcohol and cigarettes as another socially accepted low-level, mind-altering substance.  However, I do believe that, before we do anything, we have an obligation to examine what marijuana really is, what it does to people who use it, and what it does to the societies in which it is used.  Only in that way can we have (a) an informed citizenry when it comes to its use and (b) reasonable laws to protect the larger society from any fallout associated with the drug.

In this regard, my stance is exactly the same as it is with regard to abortion.  In previous posts, I’ve castigated the abortion rights crowd for arguing the issue as if we’re still locked in the pre-1973 era.  Abortion can be approached honestly and intelligently only if we look at the way things are now, which includes a relaxation in attitudes towards out-of-wedlock (including teen) pregnancies, and increased knowledge about fetal viability and (through sonograms) the essential humanity of a fetus — none of which were issues back in the late 1960s through 1973, when Roe was decided.  It’s telling when advocacy groups feel that they can advance their agenda only from hiding the truth, not advancing it.

The man who is President Bush *UPDATED*

I’ve always liked President Bush, even when I thought I was a Democrat. I liked him even back in 2000, I cast my vote for Al Gore (yes, I did). Then, I was happy to tell people that I’d rather have Bush for my next door neighbor than my President, with the reverse being true for Gore — I could never imagine just shooting the bull with that man.

Now that he has been our President, we can see that Bush has weathered more in the last 8 years than most Presidents and he has consistently comported himself with dignity. He hasn’t attacked his opponents; he hasn’t engaged in scandalous behavior, personal or political; and he has never lost sigh of his goals. I haven’t agreed with all of his goals, although I’ve agreed with most. I think he’s kept his eye on the most important ball, which is world terrorism, while getting confused regarding Israel — a confusion that is the less forgivable given that Israel has always been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to Islamic terrorism. As they are, so shall we be. I also think he made government bigger, rather than smaller (a very un-conservative thing to have done), but I know Gore (or Kerry) would have done the same, only much more so. Indeed, even in those areas in which I disapprove of Bush’s conduct, Gore (or Kerry) would have earned infinitely more of my disapproval. And as for those areas in which I think Bush did well — as to those, I can’t even contemplate a Gore or Kerry presidency.

In any event, given the contumely continuously heaped on someone I believe has been a good President and someone I’ve never doubted is a good man, it was with real delight that I read the Anchoress’s heartfelt homage to President Bush.

UPDATECheck out the last paragraph of this Obama-centric story about the SOTU address to see again what a good person George Bush is.

This is weird — the 9th Circuit issued a correct ruling

The Ninth Circuit, which is the laughing stock of the federal judiciary because it is overruled so often, did something bizarre yesterday: it issued a Constitutionally correct decision. Not only that, the decision meant that a citizens’ group will be able to engage in free speech that is contrary to the type of speech the 9th Circuit prefers. I’m impressed:

An Arizona anti-abortion group’s right of free speech was violated when the state refused to issue specialty license plates with the message “Choose Life,” a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

Reversing a judge’s decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Arizona’s License Plate Commission had approved less-controversial plates for other nonprofit organizations, such as associations of police and firefighters and the Wildlife Conservation Council, before turning down the Arizona Life Coalition.

The commission “clearly denied the application based on the nature of the message,” Judge Richard Tallman said in the 3-0 ruling. He rejected the commission’s argument that it was entitled to control the content of state-issued license plates and said Arizona was attempting to restrict free expression.

Opponents of abortion have been trying for years to get states to let them use license plates as mobile billboards for the “Choose Life” motto. Judges’ reaction has been mixed.

A South Carolina law expressly authorizing the plates was struck down in 2003 by a federal appeals court because the state did not allow similar plates for abortion-rights advocates, but another appeals court upheld a similar Tennessee law in 2006. The Supreme Court has not taken up the issue.

Courts have generally frowned, however, on a state’s singling out abortion-related messages for exclusion from license plates. Monday’s ruling comes five days after a federal judge ordered Missouri to issue “Choose Life” plates, saying state law gave officials too much leeway to reject license-plate messages because of their content.

California has allowed nonprofit groups to ask the Legislature to approve specialty license plates by submitting 7,500 paid applications. The fees, minus state expenses, are used by foundations that promote such causes as coastal protection, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Backers of a proposed “Choose Life” plate in California have failed several times to win legislative passage, but won a federal court ruling in 2004 that declared the entire program unconstitutional on the ground that it gave lawmakers unlimited authority to decide which messages to accept. The judge in that case allowed previously approved plates to remain, however, and the state has not established a new specialty-plate program.

Monday’s ruling set legal standards for federal courts in nine Western states, including California. It stemmed from a 2003 lawsuit by the Arizona Life Coalition, which had applied the previous year for a license plate that would display the “Choose Life” slogan with a picture of two children’s faces.