Saturday, March 08, 2003

It turns out that Israel struck back at the leadership of Hamas, and Hamas has vowed revenge. They have promised to start targeting the Israeli "political leadership", and my first thought was, "Wow. You mean that they'll quit targeting children that are quietly nibbling on a slice of pepperoni pizza (with extra cheese)? Or kids sleeping in their beds? Or college kids in the cafeteria?"

I have no doubt that they will try, but the Mossad is almost as good as the United States Secret Service. Besides, once Hamas and Hezbollah lose their funding from the oil-rich countries to their east, they will have nothing to do with their time but look around and ask themself, "Self, how did I get here?" Maybe then they would be willing to actually sit down and talk peace.

Hey, it couldn't hurt...
I'm fiddling a little bit with the set-up, and I think I've been able to apply comments, all relevant thanks to DocumentRoot.Com (the link is in the left column), and if it works, they deserve the credit, and so does my friend Qwerty (who also has his own link in the left column) for pointing it out to me.

I'm also re-arranging things just a little bit, to emphasize some things and de-emphasize others. Now that you can post comments, feel free. Understand, though, that I reserve the right to edit offensive comments and delete heinous ones without further notice. You have been warned. Let's keep this on an adult plane, and have a little fun, M'Kay?

Another medium-long rant about an old Don Henley song coming up... Probably before we go to war, so you know that it's coming quick! Loyal Reader (and HTML-guru) David deserves the credit for the story idea, although any problems with the phrasing is my own damn fault... I blame the public school system... LOL
I'm listening to the morning news programs (on FOXNews - of course) and I hear someone named "General William Nash" (I'm not sure which branch) discussing possible military options and I hear that person opine that "{the Alliance forces in Iraq} are going to awe the Iraqi Army with overwhelming force. 3,000 hits in the first 48 hours."

Or something like that. But that phrase got my mind churning. I wondered "3,000 hits in 48 hours... How does the math on that work out?" (I told you that my mind sometimes goes off on mathematical tangents. I'm weird that way. Get over it.) That's a new target destroyed every 57 seconds for two solid days. If I were the responsibility to draw up 3,000 targets for a similar sized target (say, the state of California) to paralyze that nation/state in its entirety, I'd have zero problem, and neither would anyone who has actually served in the military.

Sites such as radar dome antenna (civil aviation and military), communications nodes (radio & TV station's antennae, military comm centers), military and civilian airport runways (one big cratering bomb where the runways cross and they're all ruined), military planning centers (such as the Pentagon serves for our military), power generation and transmission sites, and military concentrations (the large bases and troops in the field). The rest (water and food distribution) is just cruel to the civilians (and despite what the liberals try to claim, we will not be deliberately targeting civilians), but military convoys are fair game... 3,000 hits? I could probably take out California with less than 2,000.

I'll let you get back to your day now. :-)
I'm beginning to find these ads at the top of this page more than just a trifle annoying. I've been doing some low-level investigating of other options, but two things always seem to get in the way - a credit card or a checking account. Having one or the other seems to be a mandatory requirement, and I don't have either. (Long story, and not important to current considerations.)

I've looked into opening up a "tip jar" to allow me to hire space on a real (ad-free) server, with my own domain name and all the bells and whistles. The benefits would be immediate and obvious. I would be allowed to post pictures, logos, play a little more aggressively with the layout, etc. The downside would be that the bills would be due and payable whether anyone actualy donated to the jar or not. Since I'm on an otherwise limited budget, that could prove problematic from time to time.

Another (long range) consideration is that I have applications in with both the VA (since they finally found my file, I expect a hearing before the end of the year, and a decision shortly thereafter) and Social Security. If either of them comes through with a 'Yes', I would be able to pay the extra costs, since we're only talking about between $100 and $1000 per year for most of them. And, thus the decision would be made much easier...

I would also be able to have a comments section allowing for immediate feedback. Some of you have been really helpful with your comments and points of information sent to me via e-mail (and, as ever, thanks to David for all the HTML assistance), and I appreciate it, but coments would allow you to comment on the story immediately after reading it, without having to go through the hassle of creating and sending e-mail.

So what do you guys think? Would you follow me to my own web site (and be willing to occasionally contribute to a tip jar)? Or can you live with the format and location (despite the pesky ads, whose space taken has doubled within the last week) since this is something I can keep doing indefinitely for free?

It boils down to this... Are you willing to treat my blog like the broadcast channels (such as ABC, CBS, Fox, & NBC), and put up with the garish ads, because they are what keeps me "on the air" (so to speak) for free? Or would you prefer to treat it like HBO (better content, and ad-free, but costs you $3-5 dollars every month)? What do you think? Let me know.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Is it just me, or is it just too obvious a point? Has France completely forgotten that they cannot veto a resolution they have already voted to support? UNSC Resolution 687 was passed back in 1991, and says, quite clearly, in Paragraph 1, that it "Affirms all thirteen resolutions noted above {Resolutions 660, 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, 677, 678, & 686}, except as expressly changed below to achieve the goals of this resolution, including a formal cease-fire". Go back and read those last two words again.

"Formal Cease-fire". NOT a truce, and NOT a peace treaty. It's a cease fire, based on several conditions. The primary condition is spelled out explicitly in Paragraph 8: "8. Decides that Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of: (a) All chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities; (b) All ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres and related major parts, and repair and production facilities".

To permit this to happen quickly and easily, a fifteen day deadline is imposed in Paragraph 9. Paragraphs 10 & 11 urge Iraq to re-affirm its previous commitments to not seek nuclear weapons. And the killer, Paragraph 32, says that Iraq must "not commit or support any act of international terrorism or allow any organization directed towards commission of such acts to operate within its territory and to condemn unequivocally and renounce all acts, methods and practices of terrorism." He was making huge cash payments to known terrorist organizations. Does that sound like compliance to you?

Cuba was the only dissenting voice, and there were two abstentions (Ecuador & Yemen). That means that all five of the Permanent Members voted 'Yes' on this one.

So, we have a cease-fire in place. Iraq has been violating this cease-fire for the last 11 years, 10 months, and 19 days (since April 18th, 1991 - 15 days after it was passed by the Security Council). So why do France and Russia think they can retroactively re-write the historical record?

Why is Bush being accused of a "Rush To War" when he is forcing the UN to stand up on its own feet and support its own words, and Clinton never even asked the UN when we went into Kosovo? When France never asked the UN when it moved troops into the Ivory Coast? When China invaded Tibet? When Russia invaded Chechnya?

Bush went to the UN to protect Tony Blair and John Howard. Full Stop. Not because we needed their imprimatur, but because we needed to be seen making the effort, even though he knew the effort was going to end this way.

We don't need the Security Council to give further approval of any military action against Iraq, because (and this is the point) they already have.
One of my earliest memories was watching a small screen with this flickering image of some guy crawling out of a crazy looking contraption and down a ladder as another man's voice intoned details of these first images of Neil Armstrong about to take that "First Step". Ever since that day, I have had an almost inexplicable urge to want to go to that "Final Frontier, where no man has gone before". Even if it's for just a short visit.

I am giddy when I see some of the achingly beautiful images downloaded by the Hubble Telescope. Which is why I was very happy to find this site. It offers an amazing archive of photographs, including some of our home planet. It's worth a peek.
Good morning to one and all! I was scouting around yesterday and found another awesome post by Steven den Beste. It explains why the disarmament (and subsequent regime change) of Iraq is justified and justifiable, especially when measured against the overall goal of (as he puts it) "World War IV" (which started on September 11th, 2001).

This is the first step in a long conflict, and I shudder to think what might have happened if Algore might have been in charge when the NorKs started rattling nuclear sabers at the same time as the War on Terror. I would have done an Alec Baldwin, but I would have chosen Australia rather than France. (Even though it would have seemed strange to see Santa delivering presents wearing shorts and sandals...)

Here is an interesting page on the truth behind the hatred of Islam, the so-called "Religion of Peace"...

Thursday, March 06, 2003

I found an awesome cartoon over at Cox & Forkum (a definite daily must-read, and one of the links to the left) that just about sums it all up. Check this one out.
My dream version of the meeting of the UN Security Council tomorrow morning...

"Dr. Blix, please answer yes or no, is the Iraqi government now in unconditional and active compliance with Security Council Resolution 1441?"

"Well, I, uh..."

"Just answer 'Yes' or 'No', Dr. Blix, if you please..."

"Then I must report that, No, Iraq is not in compliance."

"Thank you, Dr. Blix, you are free to go, subject to recall at a later date by this council. Given this testimony, I move that sufficient evidence exists that Iraq is not complying with the unanimous Resolution of this Council. All in favor, say, 'Aye'..."



But it'll never happen... {Sigh}.
Loyal Reader Technosapien (from Oakland, CA) has reported the results he got from a boycott of UPS (mentioned in last week's West Wing advertisers list) when he threatened to take his shipping business (appx $160,000 per year) to Fedex because of their advertising on West Wing. As he tells me (via e-mail), "I just got off the phone with my very freaked out UPS rep, ...wow! I was surprised that they would respond that fast- sent the email yesterday after viewing your list. My UPS rep says the corporate PR dudes are VERY concerned about any loss of revenue.
-- Technosapien --


Great job on the assist, Technosapien! You just made my night... And we shall see how they officially respond.

And the rest of you just check those referral pages, because there are a few who have toll-free numbers. The people answering the phones are usually very surprised as to what's going on, and try to be as helpful as possible. Emphasize that you will start supporting them again just as soon as either 1) Martin Sheen shuts his big yap; or, 2) they pull their ads.

Maybe we can affect a few "stars" (which are nothing more than big balls of hot gas, after all), and make them think twice next time. If any of you want to point the companies in my direction as a point of contact, feel free. Just give them my e-mail address (in the left column) or URL (the web address), and preserve your anonymity. I'd appreciate you dropping me a line, though, so I know what to expect.

Thanks again, TS! :-)
Unilateral: Un-i-lat-er-al (adj.)

Def. 2. Performed or undertaken by only one side: unilateral disarmament.

Compare and contrast with the words "coalition" and "multilateral".

Now take a look at the list of nations that are assisting us in this "Battle of Iraq" (aka "Gulf War II"), and decide for yourself whether the U.S. is embarking on a "Unilateral Action" as has been repeatedly alleged (by almost every Democrat in Washington, D.C. and most Hollyweird celebrity pundits).

And people have the nerve to ask me why I'm boycotting these boneheads...
There have been reports that President Bush has requested time for a prime-time press conference (8 pm ET, 5 pm PT) - only the second one he has done. Jennie has hinted that it may be to announce the capture of Usama bin Laden.

If this is the case, then, wow. Who gets the reward ($25 million, last time I heard)?

Again, wow.

UPDATE: Apparently this has been confirmed by the Jerusalem Post... (Jennie's link goes to the updated story)
I've been getting some hits from various places (apparently there are quite a few people who want the cheat codes to Acno's Energizer - if you want 'em, guys, you just gotta ask!), and some hits from other blog site's links. I would be happy to return any links from other blog sites. All you gotta do is ask, but you do have to ask... I can't link to pages I don't even know about.

There was a hit from a New Zealand site, but I couldn't figure out who it was coming from accurately enough to track back. There was a recent hit from this nice lady (striped socks? The last pair of striped socks I owned had little bits for the toes, kind of like gloves), but there seems to be no way to write to her to make this offer in person. If anyone can reach her, let her know, will ya?

There are sites like this Joke site, and a couple of guys here on the West Coast who actually did a search for "Drumwaster".

That last one was unusual. But, then again, so is the name 'Drumwaster'. :-) I'd be curious to know how they found out about me...

A joke for the day: Q: How do you make an elephant float? A: Some root beer, two scoops of vanilla ice cream, and an elephant.

Heh, heh.
Well, it looks like the (Australian) Daily Telegraph has the invasion date information. And they are publishing this information (which can be found here).

I am all for the freedom of the press, but I think that many of the reporters and editors and publishers have never served in the military, because they are either wrong (in which case they are sacrificing their professional credibility) or they are right (in which case they are sacrificing friendly forces by revealing military operational planning). They seem to have created a wholly imaginary "right" in the mind of the public: the "right to know".

If they are right, and if a single soldier dies because of that revelation, I should think they would be (or should be) prosecuted for treason and murder. Just the opinion of a former sailor (who used to hold a VERY high clearance)....

There are going to be occasions when a government must keep some things from its citizens, simply because revealing these things will endanger the survival of the state. Military and intelligence (spying) are two good examples of this. Once the operation is over and no further harm can come from the revelation of facts, I think the "veil of secrecy" should be lifted, but when an operation is pending, or while it is running (such as the War on Terror), I just wish that reporters would remember the World War 2 catchphrase: "Loose Lips Sink Ships". Friendly forces are not the only ones to read these stories...
Good morning, and welcome to Week Two of the boycott. Last night, I may have missed a block of commercials, but I can't be sure, since neither my wife nor I think so, but the list seems much shorter this week.

Last week's list no longer applies, since several of the sponsors did not repeat (only SBC, Verizon Wireless, Xenadrine, and NBC Studios repeated), but here is the list of this week's sponsors of The West Wing, and the associated contact page:

Volkswagen, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Crest Toothpaste (owned by Proctor & Gamble), Verizon Wireless (Click on 'Contact Us'), the Bravo Network (owned by NBC), L'Oreal cosmetics, McDonald's, Mazda, the TNT Network, Honda, Lincoln (Click on 'Contact Us') (Lincoln is owned by Ford, and all comments end up with them), Victoria's Secret, SBC, Xenadrine (owned by Cytodyne), and Mervyn's (owned by Target).

The explanation needs to be strictly about these companies' financial support (sponsoring commercials) of The West Wing, and not about the products they offer.

I would also like to know how many people are supporting this boycott by having them drop me a line. Just put the word "Boycott" in the subject line, and then tell me that you either support it, or that you don't (and why I should try something else instead). Of course, I read everything that is sent, and will respond to most of it.

I hear that John Walker Lindh ("Taliban Johnny") got his ass beat while in prison. (Hey, they may be murderers, rapists and drug dealers, but at least they're not traitors, right? LOL ) He is now in solitary confinement "for his own protection". I hope he enjoys his life... He's got another decade or two to get used to this kind of treatment, too.

Republicans failed in an attempt to put a stop to the Democratic filibuster by a 55-44 vote, five shy of the 60 needed to stop filibusters. I guess Miguel Estrada is not Hispanic enough for the Dims... or is it that he's not liberal enough in his interpretation of the law?

Bush will be popular enough to punish the Dems come the '04 election. Maybe we'll even get a real Senator for the People's Republik of Kalifornia. We can hope...

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Apparently they're going to change the design of the U.S. currency again. The percentage of counterfeiting has apparently climbed to an unacceptable rate. So they're adding color...

I wonder what it's going to look like...
I've got a list of this week's West Wing advertisers, but either I miscounted, or I missed a whole block of commercials, and neither my wife not I noticed it.

Not important. Here is the list: Volkswagon, AARP, Crest Toothpaste, Verizon "Can you hear me now?" Wireless, Bravo (Cable TV network), L'Oreal, McDonald's, Mazda, TNT (Screen Actor's Guild Awards), Honda, Lincoln, McDonald's Mexico, Victoria's Secret, SBC, Xenadrine, and Mervyn's. Contact data will be available tomorrow...
Well, I gave Mozilla a try, but I kept having it fail when opening, so I'm going back to IE. Nothing against it, but I would prefer that the program works when asked, without faulting out because of a DLL (Dynamic Link Library) file failure. I don't mind editing them, but it shouldn't be required in order for a program to be opened. Especially when it was only the second time it had been opened.

Anyhow, I'm still here. Who out there knows a good joke?
I'm surfing around, trying a new browser called Mozilla. Things look a little different, and I have to go through all of my bookmarked pages and re-enter them as bookmarks in Mozilla.

Just like any other new program, this might take a little time to learn, but I've got lots of that...

Any of you who use Mozilla, let me know what your little hints and tips and tricks are. The sooner I learn stuff, the happier I am. So far, so good, though...
Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeyland France has threatened to use its veto to block passage of the new resolution submitted by the United States, Great Britain and Spain. They appear to think that they can actually block the submission of this resolution with such a threat. But what they fail to realize is that nothing they are likely to do or say is going to prevent the United States (and all of its 90+ allies in this "unilateral" action) from enforcing the resolutions that the UN Security Council has already passed. There are many good reasons, any one of which would be sufficient for the upcoming action.

We want them to veto the resolution. Many world leaders have said that the second resolution was completely unnecessary, including the Bush Administration, Great Britain's Tony Blair, and Australia's John Howard, not to mention several Eastern European countries. Previous actions by China, Russia, and France where they used force against another nation or group without asking permission from the United Nations. (China invaded Tibet, Russia is still fighting Chechnya, and France invaded Algeria and the Ivory Coast.) But when they reveal their anti-US stance, we will be internationally justified in ignoring them, and when we find the human rights abuses (that France will have voted to defend) and the massive caches of WMDs (that France will have voted to permit), the United Nations will have revealed itself to be nothing more than an anti-U.S. organization, with France at its head, and we will be free from that anchor, able to act in our own self-interest. Maybe a replacement organization, such as the one others have referred to as a Council of Democracies. I think they use that term to mean "any nation which believes more in the right of the individual over the needs of the government", which is one with which I could agree.

I think that would be a good thing, and I think we all owe France a round of applause and our fulsome thanks for making it so painless (on our part). Maybe if they suck up enough, we'll let the Sixth French Republic into our clique...

We shall see.
Good morning! I had a medium-long rant about Hollywood celebs in general and mentioning the boycott (Day 7, by the way, with a new list of advertisers going up tomorrow morning...). When I tried to publish, my computer froze. I re-booted, and it didn't make it "out of the gate", so to speak, and was never saved by Blogspot. So here is my second try. Over on American RealPolitick, I found a link to this op-ed piece in the New York Post. It shows the inherent hypocrisy shown by the "International Peace Movement", and is my "Must-Read" for today...

Wow.

I'll get back to you on Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeyland France's threatened veto of the new resolution in a little while.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

It's time once again for "This-or-That Tuesday", and so here are this week's ten questions...

1. Soup or salad? Salad. With Extra Dressing
2. Hot or cold sandwiches? It depends on the kind of sandwich. I want hot meatball sandwiches, but normally they're cold.
3. White or whole wheat bread (or rye, etc)? Wheat
4. Pack a lunch for work/school, or buy it? Pack one. I'm a better cook than they are
5. If you eat out...fast-food chain, or mom & pop type place? Fast Food chain
6. Tuna or chicken salad? Egg Salad if it's an option
7. Cheese: Swiss or cheddar (or American, etc)? American
8. Mustard or mayo? A little of both
9. Sandwiches: wrap/pita pocket, or regular bread/roll? regular
10. Sweet stuff: cookie/cake or fresh fruit? Cake. Chocolate. I mean it!


Go pay 'em a visit and see how you would answer the questions...
I just remembered that I have 10Mb of Web storage space through my ISP, so I am going to try to offer links to pictures and some text or music files, as the occasion arises, by hot-linking through their server. We shall see. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: It turns out that using the storage space as storage for another web site is specifically prohibited. I may not (under the terms and conditions) "use {my} allocated storage space on {my ISP's} Sites as storage for remote loading of Information,...". Let me poke around on the web, and I might get lucky. But if anyone knows of a free service that allows such usage, don't hesitate to let me know.
Good morning and welcome to Day 6 of the Boycott. It is also Mardi Gras, which is Cheese eating Surrender Monkey talk French for "Fat Tuesday", and is the last chance for the participants of those celebrations to get the partying out of their respective systems before Lent starts (at midnight tonight). Lent runs for 40 days, and ends on Easter Sunday.

I lived in New Orleans for about 13 months, back in the late 80's, and rented a studio loft in the Cheese eating Surrender Monkey French Quarter, about 2 blocks from Jackson Square. In the famous phrasing, New Orleans was "a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there (again)". It was an interesting year, filled with memories I wouldn't want to trade in, and other memories I would gladly abandon on the side of the road in a burlap sack.

Anyhow, good morning, and I hope you're having a nice day. It is raining here (again), and I'm going to go surf around. The international pace seems to be picking up a bit, so this may be one of the last "days of leisure" for the warbloggers...

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 03, 2003

I've been promising this one for a while now, and I appreciate your patience. I present, for your criticism, your compliments, and your solutions(?), my essay...

History

I think part of the problem with today's world is History. Let me re-phrase that: I think most of the problem with today's world is History.

Before I get all of those History Professors and all of their associated students mad at me, let me explain.

History used to be limited by the number of stories that could be told in a man's lifetime. The farthest back anyone could remember was the "Beginning of Time". Nothing important existed. But History is still marching and events are still occurring whether there are people in that place and time with the leisure to remember it in an organized way or not. (Just ask the dinosaurs.) Oftentimes, in the early years of pre-recorded history, many stories were lost because the ones who could tell the stories were wiped out, root and branch, by invaders. (It is often said that History books are written by the winner. But I'm getting waaaay ahead of myself.)

It was, after all, part of the way the warriors of that era conducted warfare, because they saw it as much easier to be utterly victorious over your enemies without having to watch their backs for vengeful relatives a few years down the road. Even in recent American history, there were cautionary tales of the gunfighter who was suddenly confronted with a gun-wielding teenager, demanding to meet the "Man Who Murdered My Father". In previous centuries, religious invaders pretty much warred back and forth across continents wiping out whole villages - killing all the men, enslaving the women and children and hauling them across thousands of miles to be sold to disinterested strangers. It was, after all, just the way things were done.

In the centuries Before the Common Era (BCE), even the Bible stories show the methods of warfare used by the people of those times. Anyone who has ever attended Sunday School would remember (at least vaguely) the story of the walls of Jericho. Briefly, though: The city of Jericho was protected by walls that were so strong they had never been breached. Ever. They had a good water supply (the river Jordan), an excellent strategic location, good forage and crops, and the home field advantage.

Along comes this tribe of nomads, secure in their belief that they were "Chosen by God", and they lay siege to the city. After some religious ceremonies, and some decidedly non-military maneuvering, the invading force miraculously leveled the walls with sound. They blew their horns, shouted at the top of their lungs, and (as the Bible tells it) "the walls of Jericho came tumbling down". My interest in this story begins at this point. Once the city lay vulnerable to their troops, what did this tribe do with the previous residents of Jericho, whose only fault lie in believing a different religion and just "getting in the way"?

"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword." {Joshua 6:21, KJV}

This was standard operating procedure for most armies, up until fairly recently. Others in the Blogosphere have reported on the concept of "civilian non-combatants", and it struck me that this mentality (that civilians are to be protected in a combat zone) is a VERY recent invention. Only in the past hundred years or so has it been considered uncivilized to target those who were not perceived as a military threat. But it has become so well ingrained in the Western psyche that we have crippled ourselves by allowing our concern for "non-combatants" to influence our military planning, and the "human shields" are attempting to encourage our enemies by offering themselves up as protection for the Iraqi "non-combatants". They were welcomed gleefully, since Saddam knew that nothing else that he had in his arsenal would so much as slow us down for even a moment. It simply wasn't going to happen.

But these human shields are neither "innocent" nor "non-combatants". They just don't happen to be carrying any weapons. The few dozen troops at a SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) site are often armed with nothing heavier than a pistol or maybe a rifle. The General Staff of the Iraqi army are probably not even carrying that much, and their junior staffers and civilian secretaries are guaranteed to be unarmed. No one can conceivably argue that an enemy soldier is not a target, no matter how he may be armed.

But because there is a restriction on the targeting of the innocent, it has been made a crime for military members to hide among civilians. It is so serious a crime that any enemy combatant caught wearing civilian clothing, trying to pass as a civilian, would be subject to summary execution as a spy. Which, as most people are never told, is what happened to this guy. (He was a North Vietnamese officer, found in South Vietnam, pretending to be a civilian. He got caught. Nuff said.)

So since we can accept the idea that enemy combatants don't have to be carrying anything immediately deadly to be considered valid military targets, I will say that these people are miscalculating, based on an incomplete misunderstanding of only a very short period of our nation's history.

History has gotten too good at recording our failures. I mentioned above that the limits of History lay in the ability to pass that history on to the next generation. The cutesy little bumper sticker-like saying "Those who forget History are doomed to repeat it" misses the point that is so deeply ingrained in our understanding of the world that it is like trying to explain water to a fish.

That point is this: humans have the ability to learn from the mistake of others. The catch lies in whether the root causes of those mistakes can truly be understood while the participants are actually living through them as they occur, or whether they only become obvious in retrospect. For example, we dug into our archives and saw, in the harsh blinding spotlight of blame and failure, all the little hints and indicators that added up to the major lapses in security that permitted 19 men to take over four American airliners, and steer those aircraft into three buildings. But who among us would have seriously considered that anyone would attack us on our own soil? To use another Biblical phrase, "Pride goeth before a fall..." That day took us to our knees in grief and pain.

People automatically accept the statement that it was the bravery of the men aboard Flight 93 that caused them to sacrifice their lives for the lives of countless others. That was partly true, but it came about because the men aboard that plane had been given the chance to learn from the mistakes of others. Prior to that September morning, the role of an airplane passenger caught up in a hijacking was to sit back and passively wait to be released, either through negotiation or surprise attack by the "good guys" (such as was done by the IDF at Entebbe).

Because of that History, mistakes were made, with the very best of intentions, by the passengers aboard the two planes that rammed the WTC towers and the one that hit the Pentagon. Through a frantic cell phone conversation, the difference between the price of passivity (being one of many thousands of deaths) and the price of active resistance (being just one of a few dozen deaths) was made clear, and it struck home to Todd Beamer that he had nothing left to lose. He knew that no matter what happened in the next few minutes, everyone aboard that airplane was going to die. He chose to save the lives of people he had never met. He gathered up those around him and chose to take back that aircraft! God Bless Those Brave People.

The passengers that dealt with Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid had also learned that lesson. Richard set out to get past the increased security at international airports with the purpose of destroying yet another airplane. And while he may have succeeded in getting past the still inattentive security forces at the airport overseas, the improved (and much more paranoid) watchfulness of the passengers around him stopped him cold. He got caught. He'll never leave prison again.

But I started this with the intention of explaining how History is the main problem. Let's lay the groundwork for this by explaining the basic stages of History: Pre-Verbal, Verbal, Writing, and Storage.

Pre-Verbal was that period of our history from when our language (or proto-language, if you prefer) was more concerned with "Who" and "What" and "Where", rather than with "Why" or "How". It was only when we started to ask those two questions that we started to figure out ways to explain what people remembered. It leads inexorably to the next stage, Verbal. Any creature physically capable of verbalizing cannot help but do so, with every type of sound corresponding with a different message. Barks, hisses, chirps, tweets, songs, purrs, you name it, it is all intended to convey a message.

Verbal was the time of the Storyteller, the "One Who Remembers". Examples include the Australian Aboriginal "oral traditions" and the Bards of northern Europe. It was the time when the oldest member of the tribe was the most revered for the number of things that they knew, for the wisdom of having already survived some of the trials that the younger tribe members were going to face, and the best way to survive that threat. ("If you use a pointy stick and jab them lots of times, they will fall down dead.") Memories were the only measure of history. Memories became such a treasure to have, that those who could remember all the stories of their father and his father gradually became a prized member of society, and in passing along the "ways things should be done", those men grew to dominate the questions of "why" and "how" with the answer of "because The Great Spirit/God/Allah/Buddha/Jahweh/Jehovah/Isis/Odin willed it to be so."

These were the shamans, the rulers of the non-military side of life, the ones who had learned that when they ground up pieces of plants and mixed them into hot water, those drinks could be used to magically cure headaches. Since many of them realized that anyone could find and use these powders and herbs, they used lots of ceremonies and grand gestures to make it seem more difficult than it actually was.

Today, we might humorously refer to these men as "witch doctors", but they were the scientists of their age and the priests of ours. They read the bones and entrails, foretold the future, and "prayed for divine revelation", attributing what we would consider to be natural phenomenon (lightning, thunder, floods, earthquakes) to the "gods" (and Their children). Questioning their edicts would be cause for punishments (from "curses" and banishment or worse to a ritual death) for committing a "sin".

At about that time, the very first artists started trying to reproduce the world around them, so that they could brag. Scratching images in the dirt may have helped to impress those gathered around that particular fire, but one frustrated warrior might have gotten the idea that if he could find a way to deliberately stain a piece of leather, perhaps with berry juice and animal blood, he could just pull the leather out of his pouch instead of having to work so hard to impress the ladies every night. But leathers wear out and fade, or (not infrequently) just rot away. That was possibly the very first purpose behind painting the walls of caves, so that the warriors could point to a particular image and say, "Here is how our warriors captured and killed the great beast. See how brave we were!"

The shaman then took over the method and used it to tell the tales of the ancestors and how they interacted with the animals and the gods. In the shaman's tales, the warrior could be elsewhere, or even elsewhen, but the images on the wall began ingraining the concept of "image = story" into the common man's mindset. The caves became sacred places of story-telling, as the masks and re-enactments and bits and pieces of the ancestor's belongings (and, eventually, bit and pieces of the ancestors themselves) became a part of the multimedia display that was nothing more than the very first attempt at a permanent version of History.

Civilization had begun. People began to band together in groups larger than immediate families. They became groups that were so large that they could subdivide a bit, and pick the best hunters to do all the hunting, the best gatherers to gather, the best spearmakers to making spears, and so on. The younger people could tend a few herd animals, and help to watch over the very youngest. People began to specialize and look to those who were the best and brightest among them. People also began to trade and co-mingle belongings, safe in the knowledge that if they needed "that really good leather-scraping stone", it was in the next cave over, being used by their grandfather's youngest son's wife's sister.

Mathematics started at about the same time as the alphabet. The idea of trade began when (for the first time) the tribe produced more of a product (food, good wood, strong oxen) than it needed for its own uses. A means was found to trade the tribe's excess for something it may have needed or wanted from a nearby tribe. Some simple means of keeping track of the resulting Commerce had to be found. The concept of "image = symbol" began for the very first time. Add in the realization that almost all alphabets (even English) are nothing more than phonetically based lists, and the idea that "image = sound" becomes an easy mental leap. Once knowledge could be passed as a series of spell-sounds (letters) which combine to make words, written down, it was no longer required to go to the man who knew the story. You could read for yourself about how Igg and Ook had killed the great brontosaurus.

Writing became the ability to transfer information with ease between the generations and to other tribes. It allowed for knowledge to be combined, and built upon, and copied down. Various methods were used to copy this information, from the heiroglyphs of ancient Egypt to cuneiform writing to chiseling into stone, on into using ink on leather and papyrus. Cheaper and longer lasting inks were created. The first things written down were the common myths from the era of the Verbal Tradition. The Legends of Gilgameth and Beowulf. Of how the world was created, and how powerful that tribe's personal Diety was (especially when compared with the other tribe's Diety). Basic rules of polite behavior. Warning tales of morality and virtue. Punishments for various crimes against others. You know, "the care and feeding of civilization" kinda stuff.

The major problem with the collectors of such kinds of knowledge is that the materials used in writing this knowledge were volatile. They were subject to decay, to being devoured by insects, and worse. Only in the past few decades has society taken any serious strides in preserving the printed information in forms that will not decay with time and weather. CD-ROMs. Acid-free paper. Climate-control. Cyclic Redundancy Checks.

Which defines the present stage, Storage. I am under no illusions that this is by any means the "top of the ladder", nor that this is as high as mankind has come in the past. I am perfectly willing to admit that my imagination cannot postulate the shape of the world even so much as fifty years in the future (one I am quite likely to see for myself), never mind 500 or more.

The Information Age means that anyone with a computer has access (more or less instantaneously) to any information or data that has been uploaded to the web. Anything that has ever been added to the sum total of information known to mankind is frozen, perfectly preserved. It's just a matter of finding it.

There is just one problem. Any attempt to go back and study about a culture (even one that is no longer existing) is going to find that the written history will have been biased by the fact that the ones writing it will always portray themselves as "being on the side of the angels", and that any attempt to counter that information will only be looking at it from a differing point of view that is equally distorted, but in another direction. One cannot know about the day-to-day gestalt of ancient Rome without going into trade alliances and military disputes and the worldview of all the subjugated people that actually survived the encounter, and one can't understand them without going into their history and alliances and military, etc., etc., and on to the next ad infinitum.

And just because it might be possible to understand about a small portion of history does not necessarily lead in any logical fashion to the next part of History. Given the conditions that existed when Ronald Reagan left office, it might be easy to see (even though only in retrospect) that the Soviet Union might be on the verge of collapse. But did anyone at that time ever expect that it would take less than four relatively pain-free years later to have reduced a once mighty Empire, that very same Empire made into a friend and trading partner, a divided Germany made whole again, people dancing atop the rubble of the wall that once separated a continent, and NATO expanded to include former members of the Warsaw Pact (that group whose sole purpose was to deter NATO)? Not even the most optimistic of estimates allowed for such a speedy transition.

It has been said that "Hindsight is 20/20." This is true, but because of all the millions of bits of data available to modern man, there is no way to judge the importance of any given piece of information, except after the fact. Most often the importance can only be seen when looking back over decades rather than just a few weeks.

A hundred years ago you might have been made aware of the fact that some guy and his brother had managed to create a machine that could actually get off the ground and fly - just like a bird! - any time it wanted to. The wisest minds of the age had widely proclaimed it a worthless toy that would never be more than a waste of money. How much weight would you have given to claims that this new machine would have an incalculable impact on societies all around the world?

Just over sixty years ago, a team had managed to create the world's first real computer. It was called the 'UNIVersal Automatic Computer', or UNIVAC I. Assuming that you knew of this great-great-grandfather of the modern computer, and with important people saying things like "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers" {Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943}, would you have believed that you would be reading this essay on your own personal computer, having found it on a world-wide network of computers numbered into the hundreds of millions? That was just sixty years ago.

Just thirty years ago, every telephone in the world was attached to a wall plug. Now there are phones with satellite access that can be folded up and stuffed into a pocket. (Shades of Star Trek!) And as recently as ten years ago, the Internet was such a new thing that it was rare to see a company include a web site address on their commercials, and you could thoroughly confuse people by referring to your e-mail account ("Your what?") Now there are people I communicate with from countries and places I've never even been, and large companies simply cannot survive without their IT Departments.

All this information is available to us, but we have to know which parts are important (and which are just passing fads) to know how society will be shaped from today's situation.

Which, finally, bring us to my main point. History keeps us at each other's throats because of that permanent storage. Arabs hate the Jews for reasons that go back thousands of years, to that original assault on Jericho, despite the fact that a careful study of that area's history showed that those citizens of ancient Jericho had invaded and taken the land from yet another tribe, whose name has been lost to history. Archaeological digs in the region show at least three different cultures (and as many as ten in some areas), who were wiped out to the last goat by a new arrival with superior forces, who were only to be wiped out in their turn by the next guy to come along.

The Torah and the Qu'ran show that both religions believe in a single diety, with the difference in names being more a product of the different languages than any philosophical differences. The Muslim believes in Jesus ('Issa') as a major prophet, and the main sticking point between most Christian religions and Islam is that Islam has another prophet, hight Mohammed. A small point, but enough of a difference to permit a distinction between the groups to be made, and each religion (in its Holy Fervor) to declare the other as "apostate heretics" or "infidel unbelievers" (depending on the point of view). No matter what label was used, it was an easy matter to convince the warriors that they were doing "God's Will" for either "destroying the infidels" or by converting him to "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". So, as far as Jehovah or Allah was concerned, they weren't killing him, they were saving his immortal soul. They were doing him a favor, no matter how merciless it might seem.

Which is where we see the influence of the shaman (now called "rabbis", "imams", and "priests") continue to show up. That man who, in the early tribal unit, claimed to have intimate knowledge of the Diety's personal position on such diverse issues as the timing of the planting of the crops and what happens to bad little boys and girls. At least once a week, the faithful were expected to come to a building built by common effort, and pay for the privilege of hearing how buddy-buddy they were with the Almighty, and how much that heathen fellow down the street was going to "burn in hell-fire for all eternity". That last mind-set is the cause of the worst slaughters in recorded history.

Islam was spread "at the point of a sword" (either a village converted to Islam or it ceased to exist), and the Crusades were supposed to be the freeing of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the grip of the apostate, with murder, rape and plundering happening while the bishops cheered them on, all "to the Greater Glory of God". The slightest doubt in the rightness of a religious edict (on either side) usually led to excommunication and (not infrequently) execution for "heresy".

Let's add one other flavor of reality to the mix.

Everything around us affects everything else, in ways both obvious and very, very subtle. There is a theory regarding Chaos that says that a startled butterfly can cause a storm that ravages half of Europe. It's kinda long and somewhat convoluted but its basic premise is that a small change can create a large difference. Add that to one large dollop of Adam Smith's argument that everything is done because of self-interest. Now fold into these the fact that History is being recorded with perfect fidelity (even though it is distorted through the prism of human ideologies).

Can you imagine anything emerging from this recipe that will solve the crises erupting on almost a daily basis around the globe? People in Northern Ireland are killing their neighbors for the Capital Crime of attending a different church, despite the fact that their churches believe in almost exactly the same things. No, it likely started as a perceived insult from a member of one group to a member of the other group, just for being different. A few guys defend their personal religious practices using fists instead of words. Things escalate. A few weeks or months or even years later, things might have blown over, but people were writing stuff down. The newspapers report the story without really getting into the insults involved, so the fight is reported as basically just 'Protestant and Catholics killing each other'. It continues until someone finally says, "What the hell are you folks doing?". People were forced to take a step back and realize that there are more things in common that are different. (That truce is an uneasy one, but it's holding... For now.)

Palestine was brushed aside to give the Israelis a land of their own. Despite the fact that archaeological evidence indicated that Israel had existed here for hundreds of years before the Muslim religion was even conceived, from the time of the original Babylonian Empire (in what is modern Iraq), every Arab nation immediately declares a state of hostility against the "usurpers" and "Zionist invaders". The historical claim that Yasser Arafat uses is based on History, rather than the current state of affairs. The participants cannot take a step back and see the problem from the outside, which is why all Accords (such as those at Camp David and Oslo) are usually made with the efforts of a powerful third party.

Before World War II, the U.S. and many other nations (in a futile attempt to keep the peace) tried to appease Hitler, while the trains into Auschwitz arrived fully loaded and left empty. The stench of those ovens has wafted through the decades and has given us a reason to so faithfully support the Israeli State. We are now (and will be in the foreseeable future) the ultimate guarantor of Israel's safety.

This has been a bone of contention with the Arab world for the past six decades, and even up to today. Why else would Saddam have threatened to lob missiles at Israel? To pick a fight with a nation whose armed forces had never been beaten while still engaged with the largest multinational military force the world had ever seen? To draw the whole Arab world into the conflict when Israel retaliated, and only some fast talking by President George H.W. Bush keeps the Israelis from responding when it happened the first time. Again, it took someone who neither fired the shot nor took the hit to resolve the issue.

Why was there a savage "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia? In Rwanda? In Serbia and Croatia? In Somalia? In China and Tibet and Cambodia and Columbia and Brazil and Indonesia and East Timor and Sri Lanka, and in thousands of villages over thousands of years with a death toll probably into the hundreds of millions? Because the victims were (finally) in charge and in power. They wanted to reduce their enemies/oppressors to the same moral level as the citizens of ancient Jericho. No matter what the original cause was, from the right to feed your goats the grass on the north side of a particular to religious or familial insults ("Yer mudda wears combat boots!"), the stronger imposed his will on the weaker, and now the weaker gets his day in control. "Let's make sure that we never lose this power..." "Of course, El Presidente, but how?"

However El Presidente decides to enforce his edict, you can be sure that it is not one that a disinterested third party would have come up with.

Look back a few thousand years to another Lesson from History: that the best way to eliminate a threat is to eliminate the person(s) who could pose a threat, as well as everyone related to him. Rather than try to solve the root problem, the all-too-human urge to get the best of the other guy (Ego) kept perpetuating the problem. The cost of peace was just seen as higher than the cost of kicking the crap out of the other guy.

History coming around again.

Now, what can we do with this? An attempt was made to force the world into arguing out their differences in a single forum, with specific rules of behavior. The problem is that it was intended that all parties would follow those rules for the greater cause of peace. Peace was seen as the overriding goal of civilization, the ability to take that "step back". But while it takes the efforts of everyone to keep the peace, it only takes one to start a war. The League of Nations went the way of the Passenger Pigeon.

Once that War was over, Mankind tried again to "beat their swords into plowshares", with a similar lack of substantive results. Not a single war has ever been averted by the United Nations, because History and its lessons are everywhere. In the fields of Korea. In the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia. In the internecine warfare between rival gangs for the right to be the only ones who get to hang out at a local bodega. More Historical evidence that violence does solve problems, but only one side's problems get solved...

Human beings are built to handle only so much knowledge of failure and regret before we start to try and fix the failures that got us to the quagmire we currently find ourselves occupying. But that knowledge is at the heart and soul of everything we do as a people, as a nation, as a tribe. from our religion and politics to the colors we choose to paint our houses, and any attempt to correct those issues only shows where your personal (or societal) bias is located. For example, if you think 'Up' is your biggest problem, then you will try to correct that issue by pulling 'Down". So to speak.

But what of the group that believes that 'Upper Left' is the problem? All you've managed to do is pull his problem to the side, without actually fixing it. Any attempt to correct the weave of the Tapestry of Time is just going to cause graver distortions elsewhere in the fabric. We can't go back and correct the mistakes caused by a particular taboo would be inexorably influenced by the most basic knowledge of what a taboo is. The pull would only reveal the distortions perceived by the one doing the pulling, without actually solving the problem.

But that is precisely why History shows us repeating the same mistakes over and over. Not because we cannot learn those lessons, but because the participants cannot separate themselves from the problems while actually going through it. They cannot just step back and see the problem from other than the "Me vs. You" that it always boils down to.

But I've run into my own version of this phenomenon. I can't step back far enough from the problem to offer a solution, no matter how pretty the phrasing might be. Due to (and despite) the depth and breadth of my interests and information, I have always prided myself on being able to conceive a rational solution, even if I were incapable of implementing that solution, but I admit that I cannot solve this one. It's just too big for me.

I am open to suggestions...

Anyone have any ideas?
I do not know how Bill Whittle does it. My brain hurts trying to come up with the perfect phrasing that will explain exactly which shade of gray I am advocating. (I also have no illusions about my ability to produce The Great American Novel. Or lack thereof.)

But you guys have been so supportive (and I want to thank Dave, who got a raw feed version to critique, for suggesting that I write a book, but I gotta say that my wife will get the first copy, but you can have the second), that I don't just want to leave you hanging with no word.

I am chuckling over the traitorous wretches human shields who were told to either station themselves at hand-picked Iraqi sites or leave the country. They weren't banging their drums and tambourines, chanting "No War For Oil", but they left. I'm stunned that Saddam gave them the option in the first place, but the dumbasses pro-Saddam traitors may not realize that they're not out of Iraq yet. Nothing says that Turkey has to let them cross the border again. Nor does Jordan. Nor (if they get that far) does their home country, who does support this war.

We shall see. Being convicted of Treason will really limit a person's job opportunities.

Which reminds me. If Bill Clinton (who is currently part of a jury pool) had to list his previous job of "President of the United States" on his Potential Juror Questionnaire, doesn't he also have to officially disclose that he had his law license suspended for the act of Perjury and Subornation of Perjury? An out-of-work lawyer serving on a jury pool, especially one with a suspended license, doesn't bother the Court Clerks? I'm just curious...
Welcome to Day 5 of the Boycott. Lots of interesting developments over the weekend. Iraq showed that they couldn't possibly have been destroying any missiles (because they didn't know how much effort it actually takes - Laurence raises many of these points in this entry). As he says, "You'd think that the scientist who's overseen the destruction of the weapons would have made a note back in 1994 saying "Sledgehammers don't work… running them over with a Buick doesn't work… little bulldozer doesn't work… aha! Use big bulldozer, praise Allah!" I think they should just stack them in neat rows, then stand well back while we show what an carrier-based ALPHA Strike can do... Whaddaya think? It solves several problems at once. It shows how vicious we can be should we choose, destroys the banned missiles, and both encourages further compliance of the United Nations Resolutions and shows the Iraqi people what Saddam is getting them into, which, in turn, will encourage them to turn his ass over to the nearest US military force, blindfolded, shackled and hobbled.

My first thought is that the Saddam appeasers anti-war activists will claim that "the inspections are working because Saddam is destroying missiles!" But Saddam had originally denied ever having these weapons in the first place... How can he destroy what he never had (despite the fact that the destruction of these non-existant missiles are taking place under UN supervision)?

Pakistani forces manage to capture (and I hear that CIA and FBI agents are "questioning" him even as I type this) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is was one of UBL's senior lieutenants (in terms of our governmental organization, this guy would likely have been Secretary of the Treasury), who will be spilling his guts. Maybe slow, maybe fast, maybe soft, maybe hard, they will wring his ass dry, and then stuff him into a hole to live out the rest of his days. Shove food at him with a loooong stick handled by a deaf-mute, so that no one can hear him or pass along any messages, even inadvertantly.

And Turkey's parliament denied us access to Turkish soil in a 264-251 vote with 19 abstentions. Early thoughts were that the vote was a success, but opponents pulled a legal rabbit out of the hat, and claimed that supporters didn't have an "absolute majority" (because of all the abstentions), so the vote failed, by just four votes. The Turkish parliamentary rules say that the authorization must be substantially changed before being resubmitted (they cannot just re-submit in its original form), and the financial response was swift. The Turkish exchange dropped 14% on the news that the U.S. bribes aid package might not be coming after all - picture the Dow Jones dropping more than 1,100 points in a single day. Ouch.

I also feel that the political fallout will be just as severe. One of the assurances that Turkey wanted was that there would be no attempt at independence by the Kurdish population (which - speaking strictly from an ethnic standpoint - would be made up of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq). Those assurances are now out the window, and they are not likely to be offered again. We may see a major shift in the geopolitical landscape over the next decade, and mapmakers will be kept busy.

Just so you know how weird it is in my mind, I now have that song from 'Yentl' running through my head - "Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map...." Yes, I know that the lyrics actually say "matchmaker", but... oh, never mind. LOL

The USS Nimitz is leaving San Diego today and headed west, across the Pacific. My first thought was that it is about a two-week transit, plus another week to cross the Indian Ocean, even if they don't make any stops along the way. (A nuclear-powered carrier, which the Nimitz is, can rush across in half that time, and would be able to fight, but it would do so at the risk of leaving its conventionally-powered escorts behind.) My second thought is that we have Diego Garcia for the heavy bombers, several small bases in the region for air intercept and helicopter patrols, and no less than SIX U.S. Aircraft carriers already in the area (including the two in the Eastern Med). Each one of those carrier battle groups is the equivalent of every other nation's carrier battle groups - combined. Why do we need a seventh carrier?

Which leads inexorably to the third thought. Another nation that is on the other side of the Pacific is North Korea. Who doesn't have surveillance satellites. And who does want our undivided attention. Like I saw on a T-shirt worn by an Aviation Boatswain's Mate (who worked on the flight deck of a Norfolk-based carrier) once, "ALPHA Strike means never having to say you're sorry!"

I'm going to go do some work on that essay now. Thanks for coming by!

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Incredible as it seems, I'm back! You have no idea how stressful family get-togethers can be, especially when I end up sleeping on the floor the night before. I've been moving as though I'm underwater, but that may have more to do with the pain pill I took when I got home than with the stress of the family.

Earlier today, my granddaughter gave me one of the nicest gifts I had ever gotten. Let me try and explain.

When I was growing up, I never got into using "step-" when referring to family members, because of the five of us (myself, my two brothers and my two sisters) all shared the same mother but a combined total of three different fathers. I have also been married before, and so has my wife. I love her, and we've been together longer than all of my previous marriages combined.

But the children and grandkids I brag of are from her first marriage. Technically, they would be my step-children, and step-grand-children, but I never got into the habit of using that word. So when my granddaughter came up to me and asked me if she could finally call me "Grandpa", well, it was probably the only time I wasn't hurting today.

But I digress.

I'm still working on the essay, and I wish I felt well enough to continue working on it so that you could read it. But I had to wait until I got safely home before I could take a pain pill, and so I'm moving like I was seeing and hearing things underwater. My brain feels like it's encased in peanut butter, and I've been working on these few paragraphs for almost half an hour.

Bear with me, neighbors, it was a good day, but very exhausting. I'm here, but feeling like I just went through a rugby game. As the ball. Thanks for your patience.

Hey, don't forget to rate my page! Just click on the link in the left column, and click on the + or - (plus or minus) to give a positive or negative rating.