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Hawks who learned nothing Print E-mail
by Matt Duss    Mon, Jan 2, 2012, 03:17 PM

This month, after almost nine years that left 4,484 American soldiers and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead, the U.S. war in Iraq came to an end. As the troubling recent reports indicate, the new Iraq will continue to struggle with enduring political tensions and serious security challenges for years to come.

As my colleague Peter Juul and I noted in our recent report on the war’s costs, The Iraq War Ledger, the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future. But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy.

While these questions will doubtless continue to be debated into the future, the holiday season and the New Year are an appropriate time to move beyond the rifts that so divided our country over this war.

But before we do, let’s take a moment to remember some of the people who got the Iraq War completely wrong. This is important not only as a historical matter, but also because many of these same people are now calling for escalation against Iran, from the same perches and sinecures whence they helped get our country into Iraq. And, as former general Anthony Zinni said in regard to the consequences of a war with Iran, “If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re gonna love Iran.”

It’s worth noting that a lot of people got various things wrong about Iraq at various times. This writer is no exception. But the following critics are particularly notable not only because they were completely and catastrophically wrong about the costs and benefits of the Iraq War, and more generally about the capacity of American military power to determine outcomes, but also because they tended to go about it in the most condescending way possible. They have also suffered no apparent penalty for it. Going forward, our country will be safer and more secure in inverse proportion to the amount of influence these people have.

Bill Kristol,  Editor, the Weekly Standard

It tells you a lot about the neocon Don that “Sarah Palin as John McCain’s VP” is not the dumbest thing he’s ever advocated. Kristol’s ability to be consistently wrong on the most important issues of the day is matched only by his refusal to ever cop to it (though the fact that he shut down the Project for the New American Century — the neocon letterhead most closely associated with the Iraq debacle — and rebooted it in 2009 as the Foreign Policy Initiative at least shows that he recognized that he had a branding problem).

It’s probably impossible to catalog all of Kristol’s incorrect assertions about Iraq, but surely one of the most representative is this dismissive response to war critics in 2003: “I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime.”

Soon after, of course, Iraq exploded into a civil war driven by Sunni and Shia militias trying to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime.

Kristol has been calling for escalation against Iran since at least 2006. Indeed, Kristol is so hot for Iran that President Bush reportedly mockingly referred to Kristol and fellow neocon Charles Krauthammer as “the bomber boys.” When even George W. Bush considers you too trigger-happy, it’s time to take stock.

Charles Krauthammer, columnist, the Washington Post

In April 2002, Krauthammer responded to critics who noted the absence of Iraqi WMDs, “Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.” Indeed. April 22 is now observed as “Krauthammer Day,” on which Americans are encouraged to pause to consider his credibility problem.

Krauthammer responded angrily to the U.S withdrawal, declaring that “Obama lost Iraq,” a claim impressive for how effectively it mocks itself.

As for Iran, in July 2004 Krauthammer asked, “Did we invade the wrong country? One of the lessons now being drawn from the 9/11 report is that Iran was the real threat. The Iraq War critics have a new line of attack: We should have done Iran instead.” This is funny, because Iraq War critics have never actually ever said this.

Reule Marc Gerecht,  senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Gerecht likes to joke that he talks about bombing Iran so much that “even my mother thinks I’ve gone too far,” which is funny because thousands of people will die.

Back in 2002, Gerecht dismissed as “unfounded” the idea that a war with Iraq could compromise America’s war on terrorism. “Self-interest and fear of American power, not feelings of fraternity and common purpose, are what will glue together any lasting international effort against terrorism,” Gerecht wrote. “It should be obvious that if the Bush administration now fails to go to war against Saddam Hussein, we will lose enormous face throughout the region.”

Gerecht’s understanding of the workings of power in the Middle East hasn’t gotten any more complex in the intervening years. If the Israelis “can badly damage Iran’s nuclear program, the regime will lose enormous face,” he wrote in the Weekly Standard last year. “While there is no guarantee that an Israeli raid would cause sufficient shock to produce a fatal backlash against Khamenei and the senior leadership of the Guards, there is a chance it would.” A magazine actually published this.

Gerecht has also claimed that bombing Iran could actually help Iran’s democracy movement. “If anything can jolt the pro-democracy movement forward, contrary to the now passionately accepted conventional wisdom, an Israeli strike against the nuclear sites is it.” Unmentioned by Gerecht is the reason why the conventional wisdom is so “passionately accepted”: Because Iranian pro-democracy activists have said repeatedly that an attack on Iran would devastate their movement.

Danielle Pletka, vice president, the American Enterprise Institute

An early backer of Iraqi confidence man Ahmad Chalabi — whom Pletka accused the U.S. of “betraying” when it was revealed that Chalabi had passed classified information to his friends in the Iranian government — Pletka helped make AEI into a key player behind the Iraq invasion.

When the war went bad, Pletka classily blamed … the Iraqis themselves, for not appreciating freedom enough. “Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well,” Pletka wrote in 2008. “I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties.”

Pletka declared herself in agreement with recent Iranian propaganda that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq represents a “golden victory” for Iran. In reality, of course, Iran’s “golden victory” was the U.S. invasion that removed Iran’s biggest foe, Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t the first time she’d been caught echoing Iranian talking points in an effort to build up Iran as an enemy. On a panel last February at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel, Pletka dismissed former Israeli Mossad chief Efraim Halevi’s assertion that the U.S. and Israel were winning against Iran. “I understand the propaganda effect of saying we’re winning,” Pletka said, “but if Iran is losing, I’d like to be that kind of loser.”

“What I’m saying is not propaganda,” Halevi shot back. “The danger is in believing the propaganda of others.”

Max Boot,  Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies, Council on Foreign Relations

“The debate about whether Saddam Hussein was implicated in the September 11 attacks misses the point,” Boot wrote — on Oct. 15, 2001. “Who cares if Saddam was involved in this particular barbarity?”

Once Saddam was  removed, Boot continued, “We can impose an American-led, international regency in Baghdad, to go along with the one in Kabul. With American seriousness and credibility thus restored, we will enjoy fruitful cooperation from the region’s many opportunists, who will show a newfound eagerness to be helpful in our larger task of rolling up the international terror network that threatens us.”

Initially a huge fan of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “New American Way of War,” Boot scoffed at those who suggested that “the war could last months and result in thousands of casualties” or “that Rumsfeld had placed the invasion in jeopardy by not sending enough troops.”

Years later, Boot lamented the size of the force that had been sent into Iraq and Afghanistan, blaming Clinton-era defense cuts which, in his newly revised view, “practically dictat[ed] that the forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq would be too small to pacify two countries with a combined population of nearly 60 million.”

Urging President George W. Bush not to be swayed by antiwar protests in 2003, Boot wrote, “When the demands of protesters have been met, more bloodshed has resulted; when strong leaders have resisted the lure of appeasement, peace has usually broken out.”

Similarly railing against appeasement of Iran recently, Boot deployed the most overused historical reference in foreign policy, asking, “Why did the West do so little while the Nazis gathered strength in the 1930s?” As if the adoption of some of the most stringent multilateral sanctions ever, successfully supporting the appointment of a special UN human rights monitor for Iran, and unprecedented defense cooperation with regional allies was “doing little” to confront Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent, the Atlantic

Goldberg wins the award for the single most condescending/most incorrect claim by an Iraq War supporter. In a Slate symposium on Iraq in 2002, Goldberg dismissed opponents of the invasion by claiming, “Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected.” Well, not so much.

In regard to Iran, Goldberg has stressed that he’s “opposed to either an Israeli or an American strike against Iran, especially at this moment.” But, he continued, “I’m all for creating the impression in Iran that Israel or America is preparing to strike.” (Interestingly, former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently warned that this is precisely the sort of thing that could convince the Iranians that they need a nuclear capability “as quickly as possible.” But perhaps Dagan is just another one of those inexperienced, naive folk.)

Harold Rhode, senior advisor to Hudson Institute

A lesser-known player in the lead-up to the Iraq war (he worked in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment), Rhode recently authored a piece for the Hudson Institute in which he claimed that “there would be no reason for this Iranian regime not to use -– or threaten to use — [nuclear] weapons against the Sunni Muslims and their oil fields, and against Iran’s non-Muslim enemies in Europe, the US, Israel and beyond” because, according to Rhode, Iranians believe “their Imam would come and save them.”

As I’ve written elsewhere, the idea that the Iranian regime, by virtue of its Shiite ideology, is uniquely immune to the cost-benefit calculations that underpin a conventional theory of deterrence is one unsupported by evidence. But Rhode’s claim is not out of character when one considers that he was also a supporter of perhaps the single most bizarre idea about how to handle post-invasion Iraq, which is the reason why he’s included here. As George Packer reports in his book “The Assassin’s Gate,” Rhode subscribed to the idea–first promulgated in the infamous “Clean Break” memo –”of restoring the Hashemite Kingdom in Iraq, with [Jordanian] King Hussein’s brother Prince Hassan on the throne and [Ahmed] Chalabi as prime minister.”

A bit of history: the British installed the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq in 1921, during the post-World War I League of Nations mandate era. Never regarded as legitimate by Iraqis, the monarchy was overthrown in 1958, with the Ba’ath Party eventually taking power in 1968. In other words, while some Iraq war boosters may have been content to figuratively repeat the mistakes of the past, Rhode wanted to literally repeat the mistakes of the past.

In order for America not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq, it’s important to reexamine the erroneous claims that helped get us there. As a response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Iraq War was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits. Those who continue to suggest that the maintenance of American “credibility” requires launching new and more expensive military adventures should be reminded of this constantly.

 

Originally appeared in Salon.com.

 

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Can the Gospel Survive the “Social Justice” Fad? Print E-mail
by Michael Giere    Mon, Jan 2, 2012, 03:08 PM

Like Crocus in the spring, “social justice” seems to be in vogue in the broader Christian community in recent years, popping up where you least expect it. Largely a conceptual assertion confined to “progressive” or politically leftist religious circles in post-war America, the renewed interest in the catch-all concept of “social justice” has jumped the tracks and landed in the wider evangelical movement.

This was recently evident in the “Occupy” protests where a surprising number of evangelicals joined leaders of the mainline churches to lend support, even if tacitly, to the “Occupy” movement. The language of “social justice” and “justice” peppered the discussions explaining the rationale for the protests, as though there was a specific Biblical warrant which called Christians to be sympathetic to the occupier’s demands. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope gave oblique endorsement to the protests based on non-defined assessments of “justice.” (All of this in spite of the virulent anti-Semitism and organizational efforts provided by various Socialist and Marxist groups – all of which was extensively documented at the events.)

In addition to the “Occupy” protests and a number of books in recent years, the apparent ground swell of interest in “social justice” as the animating feature of “real” Christianity received a big boost within evangelical ranks with Dr. Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice published last year. Dr. Keller is the hugely successful author and nationally known pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

It is a surprising book following the other writings of Dr. Keller. The enormously engaging preacher has a large following among evangelicals (even though he is personally dismissive of them and does not identify himself as one) for his defense of Biblical authority and his preaching that tailors Biblical truth to the rough and tumble of modern community life. But in Generous Justice, Dr. Keller bites into the apple of politics, transporting the vagary of “social justice” to an unsuspecting, and perhaps, ill prepared audience by page 14 of his book.  

Generous Justice, some have noted, may be a reflection of the Reformed idea of a “cultural mandate” percolating to the forefront with Dr. Keller, who taught in a Reformed seminary. Indeed, he has said that, “the primary purpose of salvation is cultural renewal, to make the world a better place.” In Generous Justice,  Dr. Keller goes further, comingling the concept of unmerited salvation by Grace, with the idea that “[i]f you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.” Identifying a single trait that confirms our faith is risky business, of course, as the Book of Galatians informs us.

Dr. Keller also asserts in Generous Justice that self-indulgent materialism must be replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need; in “doing justice,” and in “permanent fasting," which he explains is to “work against injustice, to share food, clothing, and home with the hungry and the homeless.” This, he say flatly, is the real proof that you are a Christian. To others it might suggest that the assurance of our salvation is an open question.

But whatever the origins or motivations for Dr. Keller’s embrace of “social justice,” the term and its working out in society has a long, ignoble history that cannot be simply ignored, as it is in Generous Justice.

The amorphous concept dates to the early nineteenth century and the Catholic reform movement. However it was quickly picked up and welded to Marxist language and idioms (and has remained a fundamental precept in the radical left for over 100 years) by the Socialist International and other radical groups, because it fit the Marxist model perfectly; it was a nebulous concept by which every perceived ill of society could be corrected; and how could anyone be against something that sounds so noble and caring?

Dr. Keller follows others that have set out to “rescue” (their words) the term from the radical left, but do no better than others in the last 100 plus years to bring definition to the concept.  

(Surprisingly, Dr. Keller accentuates this reality when he rewrites Psalm 33:5 in Generous Justice. The original text in the NIV reads; “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Dr. Keller’s version reads; “The Lord loves Social Justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” He takes a perfectly understandable sentence and renders it senseless.) 

The Catholic philosopher and writer Michael Novak captured the inherent ambiguity of “social justice” this way: “This vagueness [of the concept of “social justice”] seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, ‘We need a law against that.’ In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.”

So it is for Dr. Keller. He seems to advocate both spiritual and official coercion, while employing little Biblical or real-world perspective.

It’s ironic that Generous Justice takes a subject about which there should be no argument, and turns it into an argument. How many of us - not being theologians or pastors -  didn’t realize that there was no dichotomy between being a Christ-follower and having a deep concern for the poor, the oppressed and those who struggle with real injustice? It seems perfectly obvious in Scripture that we are to be the hands and feet of our Lord, and that clarity is why so many lay believers act on those Biblical truths. It is also the reason why the charity of the believing community is unparalleled on any level.

There is also inherent in the “social justice” movement a perspective which is somewhat juvenile in outlook. For example, Dr. Keller talks about “practical” things a congregation can do; such as pressuring police to “do justice” to the poor, as they do to the rich, and to demand regulations for high cost loans in poor communities. But what does this mean? There is no actual context to the recommendations. Policing in one community with one set of values and citizen cooperation can be very different from another community. A police officer’s life can be at great risk in one, and not in another. Likewise, is a lender taking the same risk of non-repayment with one economic group than another? And if further regulation drives lenders out of a poorer community, who suffers? The very people Dr. Keller wants us to help.

Also implicit in Dr. Keller’s book is the sense that America and the American experiment as a Constitutional Republic is no more worthy than any other culture or government. Perhaps this is unintentional, but it’s such a pervasive critique of the left, that it’s hard to think it isn’t his belief.  The only problem with this thinking, of course, is that everything Dr. Keller writes about in Generous Justice is made possible in the modern world by the God-ordained concept of liberty and individual responsibility. The American economy has not only enriched the average citizen beyond any in the world, it has literally fed the world, saved the world at least three times from totalitarianism, and financed the spreading of the Gospel around the world. The world without American leadership would be a dark place; and immeasurably poorer both spiritually and financially.

Finally, and most importantly, does the new home for “social justice” in the evangelical church have room for the orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ? While the case for good works and fundamental justice is simply a plain reading of Scripture, the call from Christ is for a personal, individual and life-changing perspective change – from us to Him; with charity of heart and a charity of acts. If the church takes its collective eye off the Risen One; if it does not hold the Cross of Christ high for all to see and proclaim the only Way, then does any amount of good works or justice matter?

If Christians are to take the throttle of political power, as seems intrinsic in what Dr. Keller and others of the “social justice” mindset propose, does that suggest a top-down, authoritarian state that defines what is best for the poor, or disadvantaged? Perhaps this explains why there is such an affinity for Socialism and Marxism in the church. What does that do to liberty, which in the end is the great gift of Grace from the Holy One? 

 

[Michael Giere lives in Northern Virginia and has been widely published on politics, public policy, and foreign affairs. He served in both the Reagan and Bush Administrations and is a member of The Falls Church (Anglican) in Falls Church, VA.]  

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Politics of Character Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Mon, Jan 2, 2012, 03:01 PM

            It has always been a mystery to me how some folks could think character does not matter—or rather, that it doesn’t matter enough to demand particularly high standards of our elected officials.  It was the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who instructed us that character was the defining qualification for a ruling class.  A study by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia sheds light on America’s strange ambivalence.  “The Politics of Character” survey was based on 1,200 telephone interviews drawn from a national probability sample representative of the adult civilian population, eighteen years and older, living in private households in the United States.  The survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent.  Basically, the study found that most people do think character is important (90%), but the same people aren’t exactly sure what constitutes character or how it remotely relates to politics or to public policy.  Character is popular, but the concept is bereft of content!  The study found our country’s commitment to character is pretty shallow—and probably inertial, a function of our history.

Indeed, character and conviction were once conjoined and esteemed.  The Founders were adamant about character’s importance.  Christian faith and traditional Western values supplied its content.  No one doubted that people should and would choose leaders of character, and that good representatives are indispensable to good government.  George Washington said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”  Thomas Jefferson said, “A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of [a republic’s] laws and constitution.”  Alexis de Tocqueville wondered how America should escape destruction, “if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed.”  And James Madison, Father of the Constitution and author of its most famed checks and balances said, if there be no virtue among us, “we are in a wretched situation.  No theoretical checks—no form of Government, can render us secure.  To suppose that any form of Government will secure liberty or happiness without any form of virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”

            The architects of this Republic knew the importance of character and the high moral qualities that comprised it.  Taken together, this was a basic article of democratic faith.  Today’s democratic faith is laced with confusion and contradiction.  The majority of Americans believe that “all views of what is good are equally valid” (72% agree) and that “everything is beautiful—it is all a matter of how you look at it” (69% agree).  On the other hand, the majority (77%) also believes “we would all be better off if we could live by the same basic moral guidelines.”  By wide margins, the majority believes that both “obeying those in positions of authority” (92%) and “following your own conscience” (81%) are important to character.  They also believe “sacrificing your own interests for the good of others” (88%) and “protecting your own interests” (88%) to be important to character.  Likewise, the majority believes that “sticking to one’s principles no matter what” (95%) and “enjoying yourself” (92%) are essential.  Similar contradictions continue, when respondents are asked about specific moral issues.  In terms of holding officials accountable, just 46% insist the president (a high symbolic representative of the people) needs the same virtue as the people, in order to govern effectively.  Americans have become rather indiscriminate it seems, and that’s not fuzzy math—it’s fuzzy thinking.

____________________

Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford.  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC).  This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium available on-line at www.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .  

 

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Oh, What A Year It Was Print E-mail
by John Browning    Thu, Dec 29, 2011, 06:55 AM

As 2011 draws to a close, I would like to look back at some of the legal system’s less than shining moments during the year.  For starters, let’s begin with one of my favorite subjects—the “benchslap.”  For the uninitiated, a “benchslap” is when a judge delivers some stinging criticism, usually directed at one of the parties, their lawyers, or a position taken by either of the above.  This time, however, the “Tell Us How You Really Feel” award goes to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for a benchslap directed at some fellow federal appellate judges.  In a speech at Rutgers School of Law (Newark), Justice Alito bemoaned the poor quality of judicial opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, saying:

          “If Learned Hand’s opinions are like the products of a bespoke tailor, the opinions coming out of the Ninth Circuit are like the products of a factory that is staffed by machines and menial workers who are overseen from afar by a handful of overworked managers.”

Ouch!

The “It Couldn’t Happen To a Nicer Guy” honor goes to the Steven J. Baum law firm, a New York foreclosure “mill” that—according to one legal analyst—filed more foreclosure proceedings against New York homeowners than any other lawyer in state history.  Baum’s firm allegedly used such shady tactics as robo-signing to overwhelm already besieged homeowners, and in October 2011 paid a $2 million fine to settle a federal lawsuit’s allegations of filing deceptive paperwork in order to accelerate foreclosures.  That same month, Baum and his law firm got more unwelcome attention, when the New York Times published a former employee’s photos from the firm’s 2010 Halloween party.  In a remarkable display of callousness and bad taste, a number of Baum’s employees dressed up as homeless people, even holding up cardboard signs referencing the law firm’s efforts at tossing the foreclosed out of their houses.  The ensuing firestorm of bad publicity led to mortgage giants like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae dropping Baum’s firm.  By late November, Baum announced that his law firm was shutting its doors for good.  That’s karma for you.

The “Are You Serious?” award goes to European Union officials who have instituted a law forbidding drink bottlers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.  Defying both science and common sense, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA)—after a 3 year investigation, no less—concluded that labels on bottled water could not include the claim that drinking water helps avoid dehydration.  In 2008, the same EFSA officials were ridiculed for banning “bent” bananas (I foolishly assumed that all bananas are curved, but what do I know?).  Bottled water producers who defy the EU’s new regulation can face up to 2 years in jail.  Critics of the EU were incredulous.  “This is stupidity writ large,” said Conservative MEP Roger Helmer.  The United Kingdom’s Department for Health’s spokesman also ridiculed the new law, saying “Of course water hydrates.  While we support the EU in preventing false claims about products, we need to exercise common sense as far as possible.”  Denying the right to say what is both scientifically correct and a matter of common sense?  With reasoning like that, it’s no wonder the EU is falling apart.

The “Let’s Go to the Videotape” distinction goes to Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams.  The disturbing 2004 video of Judge Adams beating his then-teenage daughter with a belt and cursing at her went viral last month after the now 23-year old woman uploaded it to YouTube.  As a result, Judge Adams was engulfed in controversy, with CNN, the Associated Press, and other national media outlets picking up the story.  Judge Adams admits the incident took place but insists that “it’s not as bad as it looks on tape.”  Besides the public outcry, multiple official investigations are underway prompted by the footage.  Judge Adams went on paid leave in early November, and by late November, the Supreme Court of Texas had temporarily suspended him as well.  The suspension, in which Judge Adams makes no admission of “guilt, fault or wrongdoing,” is effective while the State Commission on Judicial Conduct pursues an inquiry into the jurist.  I cannot imagine what Thanksgiving was like at the Adams household, but I’ll bet cellphone cameras were not welcome.

Finally, nothing says more about our litigation-obsessed society than the “You Mess With the Bull, You Get the Lawyer” award.  If you have ever admired the thrill of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain after reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but wanted a less dangerous alternative, then consider promoter Phil Immordino’s Running of the Bulls event in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix, Arizona.  Ten years ago, Immordino organized several “bull runs” in Nevada and Arizona that were patterned after the famous Spanish tradition during the San Fermín festival, but had to abandon the events due to the high cost of liability insurance.  But now, with ample lawyering, he has figured out a way to conduct an American version that reflects our liability-conscious culture.  First, the bulls’ horns are duller than those in Spain, and they are a less aggressive breed than their Spanish counterparts.  Then there are the paramedics standing by, the rodeo clowns poised to step in and distract the bulls, and the strategically-placed escape routes along the quarter-mile course that allow runners to evade those bulls that get a little too close for comfort.  And, of course, since this is America, everybody involved is insured to the hilt.  Immordino’s company carries $1 million in coverage, the owner of the land where the course is located has another million, and the owner of the 1,500 lb. rodeo bulls that will be used also has liability insurance.

Then, of course, comes the waiver of liability that each of the bull run participants is required to sign before he can pay his $25 and indulge his inner Hemingway.  According to Immordino, “We have a seven-page waiver, and they need to initial every paragraph and every page.  It says you, your neighbor, your cousin, and your cousin’s brother can’t sue anybody about any of this.”  While no one has ever been gored or made a claim stemming from Immordino’s events, the organizer has learned that legal trouble is never far away; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) threatened a boycott of the Cave Creek bull run.  It’s just like Pamplona, only you run more risk of being gored by a lawyer than a bull.

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New Year’s Auld Lang Syne Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Tue, Dec 27, 2011, 08:18 AM

Old times and ‘the good old days’ of one’s youth, etc., is what is meant by the Scottish phrase auld lang syne.  It has been a custom, probably as long as the years have changed, to run over in one’s mind the things of the past and to consider one’s hopes for the upcoming year.  The custom of auld lang syne involves fond sharing of memories with friends, usually around a table with some convivial drinking—and as the New Year rings in at the stroke of midnight New Year’s Eve, to lift a toast to the future and wish each other well, and the very best part, to share a memorable kiss with the one you love.  It’s a good and healthy custom if you have your designated driver and adhere to moderation, or celebrate at home.  The purpose isn’t a drunken stupor or blackout after all!  Instead, the occasion—as the old year wanes and the new one starts, as Father Time figuratively leaves the scene and a baby takes his place—is all about fellowship, about sharing laughter, about enjoying a little levity.  Which is ironic, because memories sometime involve pain and regret, if nothing else because ‘time stands still for no man’ and every succeeding year brings changes—including the change of getting older.  But Father Time doesn’t just drop off a cliff.  Like an old soldier, so to speak, he doesn’t die—he just fades away.  The sound of the song “Auld Lang Syne” is sad, but the customary indulgence of those notes is not a long cry in your beer!  Rather, it is to quickly dry your tears if you have any, and to accept the inevitable moving on from the past.  The rationale is this, no matter what your situation: life ain’t over til it’s over—and I ain’t given up yet!  The American is a boxer by nature and by choice, a scrapper in the field of dreams.  Hence, the American custom of auld lang syne is ultimately an accentuation on the positive, an appraisal but an optimistic one: taking stock good and bad, but making every plan for progress and doing better next year.  The goal is around the next bend; we’ll have it someday for sure, and we’ll understand every single pothole in the sweet bye and bye.  

When I was a youngster, I recall the adults on one occasion shortly after Christmas looking at the coins in their pockets.  They would read the date off a penny or nickel or dime and try to recall what that year had meant to them—where they had been, what they had accomplished.  “I remember the man whose head is on this dime—FDR led us so well and gave us renewed hope—I always think of him like a man on horseback riding at the front of a column, bringing us out from the desert of despair and Great Depression into the Promised Land!”  “Kennedy’s half-dollar is so beautiful—I wish he’d been able to accomplish all he wanted—oh God, I remember where I was November 22nd, 1963 like it were yesterday, don’t you?”  “Oh this was the year we attended the World’s Fair in New York City and had so much fun.”  On and on, I heard the grown-ups talk about years fifteen and twenty years removed, dates before my birth—times for which I had very little understanding, times for which the backs of pennies and nickels were sometimes different.  Their descriptions helped me build my mental impressions of the olden days.  But the reality of time before one’s own experience is always a leap of faith.  I mean you know it must have been, but you weren’t there.  Likewise, the future is a leap of faith.  The sun will come up tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar.  I reckon you could lose that bet, however, and millions of years from now somebody will but what the hey!  Auld lang syne is about taking those leaps of faith, backwards and forwards, and reminding ourselves there’s continuity in this universe and in our lives.  Continuity implies purpose and design, and there’s a comfort knowing as we look behind and yonder, the pathway lies forever.  Possibilities are endless and crooked paths made plain.  A line from horizon to horizon curves to form a cosmic smile in the distance, with all the colors of a Rainbow.  Happy New Year, and Godspeed.

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Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford .  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC).  His newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium is available on-line at www.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .  

 

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