Thursday, March 29, 2007

Your Life is Better Than 59% of All People

Your life is pretty average, with lots of normal ups and downs.
You're on the way to having a better life, as long as you focus on what's really important.
Remember to take the time to do the things that you like best, and let the little things slide.
No one on their deathbed ever wished that they spent more time worrying or complaining!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

(copyright AP)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - University of Florida President Bernie Machen said Friday he was “tremendously disappointed” with the school’s Faculty Senate vote to deny former Gov. Jeb Bush an honorary degree.

The Senate voted 38-28 Thursday against giving the honorary degree to Bush, who left office in January.

“Jeb Bush has been a great friend of the University of Florida,” said Machen, adding that the Senate’s action is “unheard of.”

Some faculty expressed concern about Bush’s record in higher education. “I really don’t feel this is a person who has been a supporter of UF,” Kathleen Price, associate dean of library and technology at the school’s Levin College of Law, told The Gainesville Sun after the vote. Bush’s approval of three new medical schools during his tenure has diluted resources, Price told the newspaper. Bush has also been criticized for his “One Florida” proposal, an initiative that ended race-based admissions programs at state universities.

Machen maintains, however, that Bush has benefited the university, such as by providing the funding to attract nationally recognized faculty. Machen also pointed to Bush’s First Generation Scholarship program, modeled after a University of Florida effort to help high school students at risk of not making it to college.

University officials said they could not recall any precedent for the Senate rejecting the nominees put forth by the Faculty Senate’s Honorary Degrees, Distinguished Alumnus Awards and Memorials Committee. The committee determines whether nominees deserve consideration according to standards that include “eminent distinction in scholarship or high distinction in public service.”

“The committee endorsed him,” Machen said. “It is unheard of that a faculty committee would look at candidates, make recommendations and then (those candidates) be overturned by the Senate.”

Friday, March 23, 2007

I Heart Spring!

Especially since Spring lasts only a couple of weeks here. We have to take advantage of it while we can because the heat will be unbearable soon.

Today, Scruffybutt helped me plant flowers in containers on the front porch:

She did good!
(I heart porches, too.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Meanwhile, in Civilization...

Lords support gay equality laws
(copyright BBC News)

The draft regulations are being debated in the Lords. Peers have backed the government over gay equality laws at the centre of a row with the Catholic Church. They voted against an amendment to throw out the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, brought by Tory peer Baroness O'Cathain. She argued that they were "seriously flawed" and would lead to litigation, but was defeated by 168 votes to 122. Among implications are that Catholic adoption agencies would be forced to place children with gay couples.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which outlaw discrimination against gay people by businesses and service providers, and have already been approved by MPs, will now come into force on 30 April. But they have proved extremely controversial.

The Catholic Church has said it will be forced to shut its adoption agencies, which handle some of the most difficult-to-place children, rather than act against church teachings. Some backbench Tory MPs have complained that the draft regulations were being "rail-roaded" through Parliament with "unseemly haste".

Several hundred peers turned up for the debate in the Lords on Wednesday. Conservative peers were allowed a free vote as it was an "issue of conscience". Lady O'Caithain told peers: "I believe the regulations are seriously flawed.

"The Commons has had no opportunity to debate them, other than in a hastily arranged committee off the floor of the House.

"This surely is not acceptable. The government is rushing headlong into the incredibly sensitive area of a clash between gay rights and religious freedom and doing so by secondary legislation that does not allow for amendments and permits only very limited debate."

But Baroness Andrews, for the government, asked peers to reject the amendment. She said: "This has been a long journey to us recognising the rights of people irrespective of sexual orientation. It is a historic step forward towards dignity, respect and fairness for all."

At prime minister's questions earlier, Tony Blair said critics were effectively backing discrimination. Tory MP Bill Cash told him: "You have given more preference to those who stand for gay rights than those who are concerned with conscience, with family and with religion." But Mr Blair denied the equality laws were being "rail-roaded" through Parliament, saying there had already been much debate.

The government has refused to grant Catholic agencies an opt-out, but will give them a 21-month transitional period to prepare for the new laws. The hope is that extra time would allow expertise and knowledge to be passed onto the secular sector, rather than being lost altogether. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales, has said it "remains to be seen" whether the church will cooperate.

Forty-two lay members of the Church of England's General Synod had written to bishops in the Lords asking them to oppose the measures in Wednesday's debate.

The Equality Act is due to come into effect in England, Wales and Scotland in April.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Man of Honor Dies Rather Than Serve Another Day in a Dishonorable War

Today marks the beginning of the fifth year of the war in Iraq. Pause a few moments to read about this honorable man. Read it all the way through, including his suicide note at the end, obtained through The Freedom of Information Act.

Suicide Was the Only Way Out of Iraq for Col. Westhusing

By Robert Bryce, Texas Observer. Posted March 16, 2007.

Writing in his suicide note, "I am sullied -- no more," U.S. Colonel Ted Westhusing, father of three, chose death over a life of lies and corruption in occupied Iraq. Tools

Ted Westhusing was a true believer. And that was his fatal flaw.

A colonel in the U.S. Army, Westhusing had a good job teaching English at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was a devout Catholic who went to church nearly every Sunday. He had a wife and three young children.

He didn't have to go to Iraq. But Westhusing was such a believer that he volunteered for what he thought was a noble cause. At West Point, Westhusing sought out people who opposed the war in an effort to change their minds. "He absolutely believed that this was a just war," said one officer who was close to him. "He was wholly enthusiastic about this mission." His tour of duty in Iraq was to last six months.

About a month before he was to return to his family -- on June 5, 2005 -- Westhusing was found dead in his trailer at Camp Dublin in Baghdad. At the time, he was the highest-ranking American soldier to die in Iraq. The Army's Criminal Investigation Command report on Westhusing's death explained it as a "perforating gunshot wound of the head and Manner of Death was suicide."

He was 44.

In the ever-expanding tragedy of the second Iraq war, the tragedy of Ted Westhusing is just one among tens of thousands. Four years of warfare have decimated Iraq. Its economy and infrastructure are in ruins. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis are dead. Hundreds of thousands more have fled the country. More than 20,000 American soldiers have been wounded, and more than 3,000 killed. Yet among all of those tragedies, amid all the suffering and heartache, Westhusing's story stands out. It shows how one man's life, and the fervent beliefs that defined it, were crushed by the corruption and deceit that he saw around him.

The disillusion that killed Ted Westhusing is part of the invoice that America will be paying long after the United States pulls its last troops out of Iraq.

Some 846 American soldiers died in Iraq in 2005. Of those, 22 were suicides. Westhusing's suicide, like nearly every other, leaves the survivors asking the same questions: Why? And what was it that drove the deceased to such despair? In Westhusing's case, the answers go far beyond his personal struggles and straight to the heart of America's goals in Iraq.

When he was in Iraq, Westhusing worked for one of the most famous generals in the U.S. military, David Petraeus. In January, Petraeus was appointed by President Bush to lead all U.S. forces in Iraq. As the head of counterterrorism and special operations under Petraeus, Westhusing oversaw the single most important task facing the U.S. military in Iraq then and now: training the Iraqi security forces.

All the goals set out by Bush and his band of neoconservative backers -- a democratic Iraq, a safe and secure country that can support and govern itself, a country able to rebuild itself with its vast oil wealth, a place governed by pro-Western secular rulers who can provide a counterweight to Islamic extremists in the region -- depend on America's ability to "stand up" the Iraqi army and police force. Without a dependable security apparatus, none of those goals is achievable.

When he arrived in Iraq, Westhusing discovered that just like the rest of Iraqi society, the Iraqi military and police are riven by religion. Religious hatred, Sunni versus Shiite -- combined with the corruption that permeates Iraqi society -- made his job impossible.

Two years before Westhusing left for Baghdad, he had finished his doctoral dissertation in philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta. The focus was on honor and the ethics of war. Westhusing wanted to understand arete -- the ancient Greek word meaning virtue, skill, and excellence. His quest for understanding the concept was, he believed, a central part of his existence. "Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not just for philosophical reasons, but for self-knowledge," he wrote.

Westhusing did not find excellence or virtue in Iraq.

That fact is evident in a two-inch stack of documents, obtained over the past 15 months under the Freedom of Information Act, that provides many details of Westhusing's suicide. The pile includes interviews with Westhusing's co-workers, diagrams of his sleeping quarters, interviews with his family members, and partially redacted reports from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and Inspector General. The documents echo the story told by Westhusing's friends. "Something he saw [in Iraq] drove him to this," one Army officer who was close to Westhusing said in an interview. "The sum of what he saw going on drove him" to take his own life. "It's because he believed in duty, honor, country that he's dead."

The officer said that "strength of character was Ted's defining characteristic. It was unflinching integrity." That integrity, he said, was also Westhusing's great flaw. "To be a true flaw, the personality has to have great strength. And that characteristic caused his downfall."

Westhusing was born in Dallas, one of seven children. He went to grade school in La Porte, near Houston, until the seventh grade, when his family moved to Tulsa. He was an outstanding student. He was the starting point guard on the basketball team at Jenks High School, a National Merit Scholar, and a devout Christian. He was a hard worker. He was so devoted to basketball that he would shoot 100 jump shots each morning before school. His work ethic, grades, and reputation gave him his pick of colleges. He was accepted at Notre Dame and Duke. He chose West Point. Westhusing's father had served in the Korean War and had later been in the Navy Reserve.

Westhusing got to West Point in 1979, a time of major upheaval. The academy was still going through the aftershocks of a major cheating scandal. There was a tremendous emphasis on ethics and truthfulness. Westhusing loved it. As an underclassman, he was his company's honor representative on the cadet committee. In 1983, during his senior year, he was selected as the honor captain for the whole school, a position that made him the highest-ranking ethics official within the cadet corps. In that position, Westhusing helped adjudicate all of the honor violations that came before the committee. That year, he graduated third in his class.

From West Point, he went on to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division. He went to Ranger and Airborne schools and did stints in Italy, South Korea, and Honduras. He learned to speak Russian and Italian. And he continued his quest for intellectual excellence. In 2000, he went to Emory for a master's degree in philosophy. In 2002, he moved to Austin to take a six-week class in classical Greek at the University of Texas. Westhusing and his Greek teacher at UT, Thomas Palaima, worked as consultants on a television documentary about the Trojan horse.

At West Point, Westhusing was comfortable in his teaching job. He had no reason to do anything else. He was at the pinnacle of his profession and doing a job he loved. But in late 2004, he got a call from a former commander in the 82nd Airborne Division asking if he wanted to go to Iraq. Westhusing didn't hesitate before saying yes. Westhusing's father, Keith Westhusing, would later tell T. Christian Miller, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, that his son wanted to go to Iraq to "obtain verification." Going would make him a better soldier, his father is quoted as saying in Miller's recent book about corruption in Iraq, Blood Money. A stint in Iraq would "lend authenticity to his status, not only as a soldier, but as an instructor at West Point."

A fellow officer who worked with Westhusing at West Point said in an interview that prior to leaving for Iraq, "Ted never swayed in his belief that the Iraq mission was both just and being performed correctly; he told me personally that he would stay longer than the assigned six months if necessary. Before leaving, he was engaged in intense debate with the senior philosophy professor in the department. Ted believed in the mission, while his counterpart had several questions as to whether Operation Iraqi Freedom met the standards of a just war."

Westhusing's wife, Michelle, later told investigators that her husband believed "going to Iraq would make him a better professor when he taught cadets who would likely be going over there. ... He thought we were doing a great thing in Iraq."

The first stop on Westhusing's deployment was Fort Benning, Georgia. He went through his medical exams, collected his equipment, and worked on his shooting skills. After so much time in the classroom, those skills were not sharp. According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Westhusing scored just 170 on the combat pistol range when he was tested on January 15, 2005. If he had scored just 20 points lower, he would not have qualified.

Nevertheless, Westhusing's first few weeks in Iraq were, he wrote to a friend, "high adventure." His formal title was director, counter terrorism/special operations, Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. He liked working closely with his Iraqi counterparts and seemed to get along well with the contractors from Virginia-based U.S. Investigations Services, a private security company with contracts worth $79 million to help train Iraqi police units that were conducting special operations. (The owners of USIS include the Carlyle Group, the powerful private equity firm whose investors formerly included George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.) In another message to a friend back home, he said that "if you are not of strong character and know right from wrong, you will leave this place devastated in personal esteem and priceless human beings will be harmed."

Westhusing worked under the supervision of two army generals: Joseph Fil, a major general (two stars) and Petraeus, a lieutenant general (three stars). Petraeus was impressed with Westhusing. By 2005, Petraeus had become a darling of the U.S. media thanks, in part, to his success in helping stabilize and rebuild northern Iraq. Petraeus liked what he saw in Westhusing and promoted him from lieutenant colonel to full colonel. In a March 2005 e-mail, Petraeus told Westhusing that he had "already exceeded the very lofty expectations that all had for you."

While the promotion was important, Westhusing was increasingly isolated. He did not have, as his fellow officer from West Point put it, a "battle buddy," a person who "looks out for his friend both physically and psychologically." The lack of personal support began to wear on Westhusing. His friends in the U.S. began seeing his mood darken. His e-mails became less frequent and more ominous. Westhusing began having increasingly contentious conflicts with the contractors from USIS. There were ongoing problems with USIS's expenses, and Westhusing was forced to deal with allegations that USIS had seen or participated in the killing of Iraqis. He received an anonymous letter claiming USIS was cheating the military at every opportunity, that several hundred weapons assigned to the counterterrorism training program had disappeared, and that a number of radios, each of which cost $4,000, had also disappeared. The letter concluded that USIS was "not providing what you are paying for" and that the entire training operation was "a total failure."

Westhusing was devastated. Even if the charges were accurate, there was little that could be done. Iraq had no functioning judicial system, and there were questions about jurisdiction in case the contractors were indicted. Westhusing wrote to his family, telling them about the problems with the contractors, and said he needed to talk to a lawyer about the issues he was handling.

By late May, Westhusing was becoming despondent over what he was seeing. Steeped in -- and totally believing in -- the West Point credo that a cadet will "not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do," Westhusing found himself surrounded by contractors who had no interest in his ideals. He asked family members to pray for him. In a phone call with his wife, Michelle, who was back at West Point, Westhusing told her he planned to tell Petraeus that he was going to quit. She pleaded with him to just finish his tour and return home.

Westhusing quit exercising, started chewing tobacco, and was increasingly withdrawn. His co-workers noted that he was fidgety. On the night of June 4, one of the female contractors who worked with Westhusing said he appeared "very tired, almost like he hadn't been sleeping," and was "out of sorts" and scratching his legs "quite a bit." The same person said that Westhusing had begun to "play/examine his weapon" and that he seemed "mesmerized" by his pistol. The same contractor mentioned that Westhusing talked about an ongoing problem with the Iraqis coming into the counterterrorism training program. The program was always at risk of being infiltrated by members of Iraqi militias, criminal gangs, and other elements. Westhusing asked the contractor for her thoughts about "vetting the students prior to the course." The contractor said that after the conversation, Westhusing sat in the office and would "say aloud that he didn't know how to solve the problem with the vetting issue. ... Only once did he address me directly. He said, 'I just don't see a way to resolve this problem.'"

A few minutes later, the female contractor said Westhusing "stood up and started to examine his weapon again" for about five minutes. The next morning, on June 5, Westhusing had one meeting at Camp Dublin with the contractors and another with government personnel. At the second meeting he expressed his disgust with "money-grubbing contractors" and said he "had not come over to Iraq for this." Westhusing was slated to leave Camp Dublin after lunch. When he did not show up for a meeting, one of the contractors went looking for him. At about 1:15 in the afternoon, Westhusing was discovered in trailer 602A. Near his body was a note addressed to his commanders, Petraeus and Fil. Written in large, block letters, it read:

Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name] -- You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff -- no msn [mission] support and you don't care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied -- no more. I didn't volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live this way. All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. Death before being dishonored any more. Trust is essential -- I don't know who trust anymore. [sic] Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness? No more. Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it.

COL Ted Westhusing

Life needs trust. Trust is no more for me here in Iraq.

-Austinite Robert Bryce is an Observer contributing writer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How Many More?

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of this stupid war that never should have been started in the first place. Every day that counter over there on the left goes up a little bit more. Today, seven were added to the body count. (And of course that doesn't include the thousands of Iraqis killed in this war that, thanks to Bu$hCo, has become a civil war, and the hundreds more Iraqis who have been killed by al-Qaeda, thanks again to Bu$hCo, because prior to this insane invasion by the U.S., there was NO al-Qaeda presence in Iraq.)

7 U.S. troops die in Iraq violence
(copyright AP)

BAGHDAD - The U.S. military on Sunday announced the deaths of seven more troops in Iraq, including four killed by a roadside bomb while patrolling western Baghdad — the latest American casualties in a monthlong security crackdown in the capital.

A U.S. official, meanwhile, blamed al-Qaida in Iraq for chlorine bomb attacks that struck villagers in Anbar province earlier this week but said tight Iraqi security measures prevented a higher number of casualties.

Read full article HERE.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Last Closet

Humanists Praise Pete Stark for “Coming Out” as a Nontheist
(copyright American Humanist Association)

March 12, 2007
(Washington, D.C., March 12, 2007) The American Humanist Association today applauded Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) for his historic decision to come out as the first openly nontheistic member of Congress. "Pete Stark joins the company of millions of other nontheistic Americans, including humanists, many of whom have long kept their views secret for fear of discrimination in their communities," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "With Stark's courageous public announcement of his nontheism, it is our hope that he will become an inspiration for others who have hidden their conclusions for far too long."

Stark affirmed his nontheism in a response to an inquiry from the Secular Coalition for America, of which the American Humanist Association is a member organization. The inquiry was part of a unique and original campaign by the Secular Coalition for America to locate politicians who were open about their nontheism. In response, the American Humanist Association has launched an advertising campaign congratulating Stark. The first of the ads will appear tomorrow in the Washington Post.

"Nontheistic Americans, including humanists, are the group most likely to be discriminated against for their convictions," said Fred Edwords, director of communications for the American Humanist Association. "Recent polls show that fewer than 50 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist presidential candidate, even if that candidate is well qualified. The fact that Pete Stark's public avowal of nontheism is controversial reinforces this point. Americans still feel it's acceptable to discriminate against atheists in ways considered beyond the pale for other groups."

"By contrast, such an announcement by a politician wouldn't be news in Europe, where the public has embraced secularism to a degree not seen in the United States," Edwords continued. "Clearly, when it comes to American religious prejudice, we still have a lot to overcome."

Few politicians have openly acknowledged holding nontheistic worldviews, and no president or member of Congress has been among them. This is because the public isn't bound by Article VI, section 3, of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Unfortunately, when voting, the people often have exercised this prejudice that is not granted to public office holders.

"A candidate's theological viewpoint should have no bearing on her or his perceived fitness for public office," said Speckhardt. "Candidates should instead be judged on their political attitudes and their character. Moreover, there's no necessary connection between nontheism and politics, any more than there is between theism and politics. Disagreement exists within both groups on the best way to run the country."

Pete Stark has been the representative of the 13th district of California since 1973. He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chair of the Health Subcommittee. He is outspoken on issues of healthcare, the economy, and the environment, and was one of the most vocal opponents of the war in Iraq. He is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Most humanists will now regard him as one of their own.

To learn more about nontheists in public life click here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Last December, I planted the tulips from this package:

And these are what just came up:

Kind of disappointing, but ...

When I put them all in a vase along with a couple of daffodils, it wasn't so bad.

Monday, March 12, 2007

This is why I'm not at jury duty today. No, really.

How do you feel about jury duty?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Bush Twins Are SO Available

Pentagon struggles to find fresh troops

(AP)WASHINGTON - Military leaders are struggling to choose Army units to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan longer or go there earlier than planned, but five years of war have made fresh troops harder to find.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Joshua Generation

You can see the speech now in its entirety (in two parts) on the Obama website.

In Selma, Alabama, Barack Obama tells the Joshua generation: Be strong and have courage.
This may be one of the great speeches of all time. C-SPAN will rebroadcast it tonight about 8:30 CST. Click on the link above for the full text.

If anyone wants to display a nifty button for The Obama Book Project like the one I have here on the left, email me for the code (at the address in my Profile.) Thanks!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I Love These Guys

And now there's word that they may get their own television series!

The Obama Book Project

"Unfortunately, too often in our national debates we don't even get to the point where we weigh these difficult choices. Instead, we either exaggerate the degree to which policies we don't like impinge on our most sacred values, or play dumb when our own preferred policies conflict with important countervailing values. Conservatives, for instance, tend to bristle when it comes to government interference in the marketplace or their right to bear arms. Yet many of these same conservatives show little to no concern when it comes to government wiretapping without a warrant or government attempts to control people's sexual practices. Conversely, it's easy to get most liberals riled up about government encroachments on freedom of the press or a woman's reproductive freedoms. But if you have a conversation with these same liberals about the potential costs of regulation to a small-business owner, you will often draw a blank stare."
[p. 57, The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama]

This passage is one that Tomcat, my hubster, was particularly impressed with. He just started reading The Audacity of Hope, and I told him to be prepared because there's so much more to come as he reads on, especially when the Senator gets into specifics about the issues, such as healthcare, trade, and foreign policy.

So many times all we know about a candidate comes from media soundbytes, press releases from the candidates' campaign people, and, too often and especially in the case of Sen. Obama, vicious rumors and deliberate distortions from extremists.

But this time we have another resource, the book the man wrote, that shows us exactly how he thinks. He's not some flash-in-the-pan inexperienced lightweight.

* He has more years' experience in elective office than Sen. Clinton

* He is a youthful looking man, but is in fact in his mid-forties - if elected in 2008, he would be one year older than JFK and one year younger than Bill Clinton at inauguration

* He has a Harvard law degree, was the Editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, and he taught Constitutional Law.

I was looking at some blogposts over on MyBarackObama* this morning. Someone suggested buying a few copies of The Audacity of Hope to pass on to others, and a guy from Austin said he had already come up with a website, The Obama Book Project, where people could track the progress of the copies they gave out by looking at the Guest Book. The site is still under construction, but I hope he gets it going soon because I'm going out today to buy copies of the book and start them circulating! Basically, you sign the book "To: (someone), From: (you)" and include the URL for The Obama Book Project. Then you give the book to the (someone) with the proviso that when they've finished reading it, they sign the Guest Book, then pass the book on to someone else with the same instructions.

It's a great way to get the word out so that people can learn who Senator Barack Obama is and what he thinks.

* I have a blog there, called O-Peeps. If anyone would like to have access to it, email me (at the address shown in my Profile) and I'll send you the link. Better yet, sign up yourself at BarackObama and create your own blog - let me know about that, too, so I can lurk! :)