Should We Attack Iraq?

The news has been recently saturated with soundbites and transcriptions of President Bush’s inflammatory speeches regarding Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors under the assumption that Iraq has have been manufacturing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WOMD), and he has stated that he will seek Congress’ approval to take military action against Iraq, and, more specifically, to pursue a “regime change”.

I find it very likely that Iraq has continued the manufacture of WOMD, and was involved with the attacks last September 11. President Bush stated that Saddam “has sidestepped, crawfished, wheedled out of any agreement that he had made not to develop weapons of mass destruction.” The current regime has also violated multiple UN directives, including cooperation with the weapons inspections, and in doing so has increased the hardship of the lives of Iraqi citizens. The country’s military is spread thin, busy defending the North against indigenous Kurdish rebels and the border with Syria, the East against Iran-backed Shiite militants, and the South against Kuwait — leaving Baghdad defended by a mediocre force of 25,000 troops.

Externally, the Iraqi government is rallying for political support not only from Arab and Muslim countries, but from other countries. But internally, the government-controlled media states that the United States will be militarily defeated. Strongholds in both the North and South no-fly zones have electronically targeted coalition planes 34 times since the creation of the zones, resulting in multiple missile strikes and the destruction of radar facilities. Iraq claims that only civilians had been targeted and killed. Iraq is a dictatorship, a pox on world governments, a poison to its people, a threat to freedom.

On the other hand, North Korea faces a similar fate to Iraq. They hold the technologies of all three major types of WOMD: biological, chemical, and nuclear. Undersecretary of State John Bolton accuses them of being “the world’s foremost peddler of ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical expertise” and they have “one of the most robust offensive bioweapons programs on Earth.” North Korea also has rejected proposed visits by international weapons inspectors until the United States complies with a 1994 agreement to build two new reactors incapable of producing weapons-grade material, a project dismally behind schedule. Like Iraq, North Korea puts its own leadership ahead of the populace, John Bolton stating that its “people can starve as long as the leadership is well fed.” I see little in Iraq that could be considered more of a threat than that which is in North Korea. Yet, we do not appear to be imminently at war with North Korea.

Saddam may not be stupid enough to blatantly strike first. Doing so would pre-ordain his death sentence and a massive Western military incursion demolishing Baghdad and much of Iraq, despite their apocryphal insistence of eventual military domination. However, if the United States strikes first, he may deploy internally developed WOMD in retaliation. Anywhere. Both are reason enough for each side to take pause before taking any action — which is the entire reason to have such weaponry. Time will tell whether or not irrefutable evidence surfaces that the Iraqi government was involved in the deadly attack on our homeland. If it is satisfactorily proven to me that the current regime supported the al-Qaeda terrorists in any way, then Iraq has already struck first, and I vote for an immediate invasion.

Cost be dåmnëd.

Author’s Note: The question of whether or not to attack Iraq is long since moot, and any sense of Iraq’s military domination was erased in about a week after the initial invasion. Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the ground in Tikrit in December 2003, and executed three years later in Baghdad.

John Edward, Crossing Palms

Life has not changed much in a thousand years. A millennium or two ago, charlatans and quacks posed as mediums, claiming the ability to foresee the future or speak with the dead, misleading their patrons and robbing them of their fortunes. Today is no different.

John Edward, today’s best-known practitioner of mediumship, falls heavily into the charlatan category according to the Skeptic article Deconstructing The Dead. Michael O’Neill, a New York City marketing manager, experienced firsthand several of the deceptive practices used by John Edward:

“I was on the John Edward show. He even had a multiple guess “hit” on me that was featured on the show. However, it was edited so that my answer to another question was edited in after one of his questions. In other words, his question and my answer were deliberately mismatched. Only a fraction of what went on in the studio was actually seen in the final 30-minute show. He was wrong about a lot and was very aggressive when somebody failed to acknowledge something he said.

Also, his “production assistants” were always around while we waited to get into the studio. They told us to keep very quiet, and they overheard a lot. I think that the whole place is bugged somehow. Also, once in the studio we had to wait around for almost two hours before the show began. Throughout that time everybody was talking about what dead relative of theirs might pop up. Remember that all this occurred under microphones and with cameras already set up.

My guess is that he was backstage listening and looking at us all and noting certain readings. When he finally appeared, he looked at the audience as if he were trying to spot people he recognized. He also had ringers in the audience. I can tell because about fifteen people arrived in a chartered van, and once inside they did not sit together.”

John practices a combination of “cold reading”, “warm reading”, and “hot reading”.

Cold reading is used when the “psychic” know nothing about the subject in advance, and responds directly to the answers provided by the subject. Facial expressions, body language, barely perceptible nods or other visual confirmations, verbal agreements, all are examples of what John looks for when he rapidly fires out dozens of scenarios, questions, dates, diseases, and names. He only needs a few positive strikes out of the myriad of negatives in order to establish a viable link to the subject.

Warm reading requires basic cultural knowledge and experience. As an example, since mourning people often wear jewelry associated with the deceased, it may seem mystical when John asks the subject if they are wearing a piece of jewelry connected with the departed. “Statistically speaking there are only half a dozen ways most of us die, so with just a little probing, and the verbal and nonverbal cues of his subject, [John] can appear to get far more hits than he is really getting”.

Hot reading involves prequalified knowledge about the subject, basically blatant cheating. It’s easy to do a “reading” on your cameraman when you have prior knowledge of his loss.

These psychic swindlers prey on the emotional grief of people. Instead of as famed and revered mediums, they should be viewed instead as simple entertainers, providing a misplaced form of solace to those individuals who are vulnerable enough to believe in their “mystical powers”, offering false comfort to those who haven’t had the opportunity to face their losses head on. “Pretending that the dead are gathering in a television studio in New York to talk twaddle with a former ballroom-dance instructor is an insult to the intelligence and humanity of the living.” So says Skeptic.

Author’s Note:  Is it a coincidence that the very minute I finished writing this that Crossing Over started showing on the SciFi channel in the next room? Oooh! Chills!

Oh, and Sean?! John Edwards already knows about these undisputed truths, and doesn’t need to be notified by email, ok?! Thanks!

The New Millennium

A thousand years ago life was not that dissimilar to today.

Oh, sure, technology has made a major impact on society; computers, airplanes, cars, telephones have all made the world smaller. Information is at our fingertips. Answers to almost any of life’s questions can be revealed in seconds by searching the Internet. But the same basic functions exist today, just in different forms. And perhaps merely sped up.

The great libraries of Alexandria and other legendary repositories of past knowledge pale in comparison to today’s modern libraries, used primarily by those immersed in academia as were the ancient equivalents. Weddings and other festivities in years past lasted one to two weeks, primarily due to the rigors of travel and the pitfalls of communication. Now, since everyone can travel so quickly, the ceremonies last a fleeting day. In the past, only scholars and learned professionals penned plays and other written records. Anyone with a few hundred bucks and an account at Barnes and Noble can create a bound published book for all the world to read. Today’s Toyotas and Hondas replaced yesterday’s horse and cart, their speed, convenience, endurance, and reliability making them indispensable. As a child in Germany, my mom and I walked to the local grocery store as needed, as opposed to now driving the gas-guzzler to the modern supermarket on a weekly basis. Even the supermarkets of today offer foods unheard of a thousand years ago.

Photo © Richard D. LeCour

But they all still have the same purpose and functionality, even thought the methodology has changed. You can still find farmer’s markets on the occasional weekend day, peddlers offering wares to weekly regulars, restaurants, and the odd tourist or two.

Next time you visit one of these open-air markets, picture a shift in time back a thousand years. Change the clothing, remove the cars, alter the façades of the buildings, and replace the pavement with grass, dirt, or cobbled stones.

You are transformed back in history a thousand years — where the musicians of today selling their CDs are the musical entertainers of the past; the ever-present earring-salesmen behind 21st-century, glass-covered display cases were once hawking their handcrafted wares from a rickety wooden cart. You can still see the same stray dogs, the bums looking for handouts, the street performers juggling flaming batons.

Our family is visiting Walt Disney World in Florida over the next two weeks. Instead of waiting for the traveling fair to come to us, modern “conveniences” have made it possible for us to go to them. The rides are safer, the food is cleaner, the sunscreen has been well applied. Those, coupled with the marketing frenzy pushing the icon that is Mickey Mouse, defines the modern festival experience. I myself brought my laptop computer as a carry-on item, now typing by the light of a USB keyboard light instead of the more traditional quill scratches on parchment by candlelight.

Spend some time today looking at your current surroundings. Then activate the mental time warp, hurtling yourself back a millennium. Odds are that if you can filter out the “improvements” of modern technology you’d see that you would probably fit right in unnoticed.