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Thursday, December 29, 2005


I hope you are all enjoying yourselves!

I'm still trying to beat this virus, but I had to work this week. So it's work, home, and bed. That strategy seems to be good medicine - I'm beginning to feel almost intelligent.

Back soon! In the meantime, I laughed until I got breathless over The Anchoress' 2006 predictions. Here's one:
John Kerry will make all sorts of noises about running again for the WH, but at the last possible moment, he will declare himself uninterested due to his deep committment to the people of Massachusetts. A quick search through his Beacon Hill garbage will reveal a bloody horse’s head.
And SC&A get serious:
What is about about religion that scares so many people? The vast majority of people who express their faith, do so quietly and in a community of like minded believers. They, like most Americans, hold the concept of 'live and let live,' dear. Most Americans do impose their belief on others nor do they support those who do.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to lump all believers together, regardless of their affiliation. We talk about the 'moderate' right, or the 'moderate' left, but when we talk about religious people the word 'moderate' is never spoken or implied. Religious people, it is assumed, are, well, religious. Enough said.
There is a contingent that appears to equate belief in God with evil.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas And Happy Hanukkah

I am having close to a perfect Christmas, even though I have been ill with a virus. I probably have viral pneumonia, but I got everything done anyway - and I will be better soon.

It seems so appropriate that this year Hanukkah starts today. This coincidence is the perfect Judeo-Christian metaphor - the rededication of the temple to its proper purpose begins as God enters the world. Man does not have what he needs to have to accomplish the rededication, but the deficit is made up by God's power, grace and mercy.

I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone, but I have never been able to understand Judaism and Christianity as separate religions. It's sort of like declaring that your heart has a separate existence from the rest of your body. I think of Jesus as coming to open a new door into the Kingdom rather than closing the old one.

I hope you and your family and friends are having a wonderful time as well. Last night Chief No-Nag and I went to the 8 o'clock mass, and it was wonderful. The Anchoress has been writing that she thought the Catholic church was experiencing a renewal and strengthening, and I kept thinking that I had not noticed that the Catholic church needed this sort of renaissance. Well, after last night I might have changed my mind. There was a different sense to it in some way that I can't describe. It was very grave and solemn and serious, like joy distilled into purpose.

I don't know if you have ever been to a Quaker meeting, but that is the only way I can describe it. We prayed the liturgy in the unity of the Holy Spirit. There is great strength in a liturgy, but of course it does offer the opportunity to go through the motions and say the words without reflecting on them. Well, last night there was none of that.

We prayed for the troops and we prayed for all those suffering, ill, bereaved or alone. We prayed for the world. This time of year is joyous, but being with your family and friends makes you more aware of all those who are suffering or alone. There is such a vast dichotomy between the experiences of those on each end of that continuum. This sense can oppress us into a willful turning away from those who suffer, or it can draw us into a more intensely dedicated effort to reach out to them. Last night we joined the ends of the continuum into a circle in prayer (Sigmund, Carl and Alfred have been writing very strongly and very well about prayer lately). God's coming into the world has purpose, and that purpose is to relieve suffering and to offer hope, consolation, wisdom and guidance through our sorrows and into joy. Salvation is not an empty word.

May the strength and consolation of the Lord be with you today. May the unity of the Holy Spirit be open to you.

And what do I mean by the unity of the Holy Spirit? Last night a strange thing happened. I don't take Communion in the Catholic church because I am not Catholic; during Communion I pray. I had just raised my head and was getting up when a woman in the pew in front of me got up, turned around, and opened her arms with the most radiant smile. She embraced me and said "I hope you will be better soon". I told her that I believed I would be.

I had just been praying for enough healing to do something that I have been asked to do and which I am not presently capable of doing. Chief No-Nag asked me on the way home how I knew her, and he was a bit shaken up when I explained that I had never met her. I am not visibly impaired, and even though I was a bit creaky last night she could not have noticed anything since she was in front of me.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Trimming Tree, All's Right With The World

We do this the old-fashioned way - go out, cut it down and haul it home. But it was pouring yesterday, so I had to wait for the tree to dry off. Chief No-Nag nearly had a cateleptic fit when I tried to guide him toward a decent six-footer, so now I'm trying to put lights on an 8-foot monster. It's a stunningly beautiful tree.

Ilona of True Grit has some great Christmas quotes. I think this is my favorite:
The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others' burdens, easing other's loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas.
--W. C. Jones
Christmas may have begun as a Christian holiday, but the joy and the magic of Christmas belongs to everyone!

Pop Psychology At Harvard

Kobayashi Maru posted about a psychology article he found very interesting. The article is The Vagaries Of Religious Experience by Daniel Gilbert. I thought Kobayshi Maru's post was also very interesting, if at times a little too mystical for my brain-damaged mentality:
Outside of time, what appears to us as happy coincidence from the perspective of a locked and linear flow of time may be simply the brushstroke of the master painter who simply... is.

Outside of time, scientific rules for the behavior of the universe may simply be the rules by which God chooses to use color and line and shading.

Inside time - inside our three dimensional box, flowing through a multi-dimensional universe, our explanations (scientific or otherwise) will always be found wanting. There will be miracles and there will be science. I see room for both - so long as we recognize our limitations and the resulting limits on what we can definitively conclude.
I did read Gilbert's article, and I too found it interesting. However the conclusion offered is a gross violation of scientific principles, which is why I am calling this pop psychology. The basic experiments are fascinating (although one of them is interestingly stacked), but the conclusion can't be scientifically derived from the evidence. Kobayashi Maru's answer, although not fully explicated as he noted, adheres far more faithfully (the pun is totally intended, give me some credit here) to scientific method than the original article.

First, let me direct you to an excellent introduction to scientific method. A couple of quotes:
The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world.

Recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena, we aim through the use of standard procedures and criteria to minimize those influences when developing a theory.
The scientific method requires that an hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. Further, no matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature.... Note that the necessity of experiment also implies that a theory must be testable. Theories which cannot be tested, because, for instance, they have no observable ramifications (such as, a particle whose characteristics make it unobservable), do not qualify as scientific theories.
Like any good scientist, you may question the range of situations (outside of science) in which the scientific method may be applied. From what has been stated above, we determine that the scientific method works best in situations where one can isolate the phenomenon of interest, by eliminating or accounting for extraneous factors, and where one can repeatedly test the system under study after making limited, controlled changes in it.
A good way to summarize science is that it imposes strict limitations upon what we can assume about observable and testable phenomena. By consciously limiting ourselves to what we can assume about circumstances or observations that we can reproduce, we strengthen our ability to derive conclusions about the observable and testable aspects of our cosmos.

Thus, my strongly held belief has no validity scientifically. Nor does anyone else's - and to accept any scientific assertion without strictly examing the evidence and attempting to verify it is a direct contradiction of the fundamental principle of scientific method.

Now on to Gilbert's article, which is an interesting example of basic science misused to misrepresent science in violation of the scientific method. One suspects that this occurred as a result of "personal and cultural beliefs", because the reasoning is muddy, definitions are lacking and the conclusions are not founded on the evidence offered. This is the fourth sentence:
The most fundamental principle of science is that beliefs must be predicated on empirical evidence — things that everyone can see, touch, taste, and measure — and in more than two thousand years of recorded history, no one has yet produced a shred of empirical evidence for the existence of God.
Here is the problem in a nutshell. First, "beliefs" are not the same as scientific theories or hypotheses. Second, empirical evidence acceptable to science may not be "things that everyone can see, touch, taste and measure". Most of modern theoretical physics falls quite outside this limitation. ** See below in the comments. Gilbert is attempting to imply that the only evidence acceptable is that which is directly available to everyone. ** Third, announcing that no one has yet produced a shred of empirical evidence for the existence of God is quite a stretch. What Gilbert should have written is that no one has produced a shred of empirical evidence which can be replicated and observed under scientific conditions. Indeed, he must be aware of this elision, because what follows is an argument that the direct experience of God or the Divine in the minds, hearts and lives of believers is empirically flawed evidence.

Lastly, and most significantly, Gilbert is ignoring one basic aspect of many of the world's great religions, which teach that the Divine is not confined within our world, but has a totally separate existence. Most teach that the Almighty created our universe. You cannot logically expect to determine the absolute existence of a thing by examining a system in which it does not exist. However, most of these religions do teach that God may intervene in our world. Gilbert is trying to provide another explanation for this human experience.

To make his argument Gilbert sets up some rather remarkable conditions and definitions:
God's job is to provide an explanation for experiences that are otherwise baffling and inexplicable. These curious experiences need not involve seeing angels or speaking in tongues, but may instead be of the garden variety.
This may make sense to Gilbert, but it is laughable to most philosophers and theologians. God does not have a "job" bounded by man's needs in religious cosomologies. I think Gilbert should have written that the reason our minds came up with the idea of God was to explain certain experiences. Note also that Gilbert flings a large chunk of religious experience out the door by confining himself to the "garden variety". He goes on to list characteristics of the human mind which would explain this type of religious experience (things working out better than one would expect):
Our tendency to underestimate the power of random processes to create order leads us to seek explanations where none are needed. Our tendency to be satisfied by well-formed utterances that are devoid of content compels us to accept explanations when none are provided.
Luckily for us, the human brain tends to search for and hold onto the most rewarding view of events, much as it does of objects.

Our ability to find and embrace the most rewarding view of the circumstances that befall us is nothing short of remarkable, which is why people adapt so quickly and so well to almost every form of tragedy and trauma.
In other words, people believe in God or the Divine because it makes them feel good. This, of course, is not true. As those who are religious can testify, all too often the experience one has in prayer or while listening to religious teaching is the awful confrontation with one's own misbehavior. You have lied, acted uncharitably, unkindly, abused other people.... Etc, etc, etc. It's a very unpleasant and uncomfortable experience which forces you to abandon rationalizations and the demands of your own ego. Granted, if one throws out the commandments of religion and adopts the progressive type of "I'm okay, you're okay, God is all love and tolerance" religion, Gilbert's assertion would be true. However, this is a rather small subsegment of religious thought even in the United States and those congregations which have adopted this type of theology are collapsing in upon themselves.

But back to Gilbert:
...we are surprised when experiences we once feared and avoided turn out to be much less awful than we had anticipated, and we are deeply surprised when they turn out to be blessings in disguise.
Surprises such as these are curious events, and curious events beg for explanation. The proper explanation is that we have brains that avidly pursue the most rewarding view of things. The other explanation is providence. If there is a God who watches over us, who guides our hand when we are uncertain, who leads us to places we might not otherwise go, then unanticipated good fortune makes perfect sense.
Gilbert then cites an experiment showing that people do tend to attribute apparent good fortune to outward circumstances rather than their own mental perception of those circumstances. To me this particular experiment rather tends to prove that people will accept a logical, seemingly valid assertion even when it is not true. If this is an allegory, it is more an allegory relating to Gilbert's attempted argument. Gilbert's conclusion:
Science rules out the most cartoonish versions of God by debunking specific claims about ancient civilizations in North America or the creatio ex nihilo of human life. But it cannot tell us whether there is a force or entity or idea beyond our ken that deserves to be known as God. What we can say is that the universe is a complex place, that events within it often seem to turn out for the best, and that neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins.
Ah. What seems to be reasonable - that science cannot tell us whether there is a "force or entity or idea beyond our ken that deserves to be known as God" is not. First, Gilbert has elided and artificially constricted the argument by limiting the scope of human religious experience. Second, he assumes the conclusion in writing "beyond our ken". Third, he assumes the conclusion again in writing "What we can say is that the universe is a complex place, that events within it often seem to turn out for the best, and that neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins."

His conclusion would be true if all human religious experience were limited to sorting events in order to be comfortable or satisfied with them, but it is not. As most believers can testify, religious experience is often better described as a rather forcible kick in the conscience-butt. Here in the Bible Belt this is often described as being "convicted", and indeed that is about what it feels like. You stand convicted of your misdeeds before the court of the Almighty. Gilbert has failed to examine the type of religious experience on which most people base their faith, so he cannot scientifically derive his conclusion "neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins". Artificially limiting your evidence is a fundamental scientific error.

Gilbert does not hide the fact that he seeks to convince:
Scientists understand all this piety and faith by assuming that belief in God is one of the many primitive superstitions that human beings are in the process of shedding. God is a myth that has been handed down from one generation of innocents to the next, and science is slowly teaching them to cultivate their skepticism and shed their credulity.
If Gilbert wishes to dethrone God and enthrone science, surely he should do so in a scientifically valid way! Polemics are not convincing and are not scientific. The scientific method is valid, provided one recognizes its inherent constraints. I believe that it is an important epistemological element of our culture, and I hate to see it debased this way. It's a sad irony that I find this article deficient not in faith but in application of the scientific method.

Believers do test their faith, and their faith is tested. I would invite all those who believe to put their faith to a scientific and logical test using genuine scientific method. That Which Is acts in this world largely through our interaction with That Which Is. In my next post I'm going to write about a truly remarkable religious experience which I had less than two years ago.

The MaryHunter has a roundup of TMH's Bacon Bits - The best 2005 posts, and Bad Science, Worse Journalism is particularly relevant:
The arrogance and hubris that can breed bad science maps perfectly onto the MSM. After all, not unlike scientists, journalists are an elite corps, chosen from on high and trained to distribute knowledge and information to the lowly masses. In the case of science, the lowly masses largely don't understand it, and certainly don't have the resources to do research. So the scientists do all the work and we trust and believe them. This trust fills the scientists with a unique power, and sometimes, power corrupts.

As for journalists, the lowly masses trust and believe them because they don't have the time or resources to go get the news facts themselves. Therein lies the temptation and ultimate progression: trust, power, corruption.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Troop Reinforcements Needed

The Anchoress is fighting a medical war on too many fronts at once. Her morale remains high, but she needs some troop reinforcements to bolster up a couple of those fronts. Please join her in prayer.

And don't forget Kobayashi Maru and his family. He lost his brother Ed to leukemia this fall. The first holiday season can be very rough.

It Happened In Valdosta To A Person I Know

This happened in Valdosta, GA to a person I know.

She works in a store. A person was caught shoplifting. When she left work last night, she noticed a bottle under her car. She was going to kick it out of the way, but then she noticed the tape.

It was a car bomb. The police are guessing that it was an attempt at revenge. As far as I know, there has been no arrest yet.

Shades of Lebanon, Iraq etc.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Free Will And Tolerance

Pedro The Quietist has a superb post up about the Polly Toynbee brand of atheism. Just superb - he takes a scalpel of logic and starts carving away at what he calls the "religion of atheism":
The movie depicts Edmund's guilt very poignantly. This is like breaking the first commandment of the atheist religion -- nobody shall ever be made to feel guilty for their choices, no matter what the consequences of those choices are.
We must be tolerant; we must understand that everybody is weak, and nobody should be made to feel bad about their actions...

...except those who insist that people deal with the consequences of their actions. These people are the real evildoers. C.S. Lewis and Aslan and their ilk, who pretend like we are given "choices" in life, that we aren't just robotic/animalistic manifestations that have some degree of control over our lives and actions. The crime for turning on the lights on our comfortable little atheist party? Vehement condemnations by Polly Toynbee and investigation for "hate speech" by a university committee.
By shifting the moral discourse from issues of right and wrong to issues of tolerance and intolerance, evangelical atheists (by which I mean the antireligious types who have a very evangelical-like need to force everybody to agree with them and seek out arguments with religious points of view) have certainly not made us a more "tolerant" people and culture.
Ah, but first we must define the terms of the debate. To Pedro, tolerance means refraining from harassing or doing wrong to others with whom you disagree. To people such as Polly Toynbee, tolerance means acceptance, approval and endorsement. Tolerance means that you may not disagree with other people, because that is hurtful!

Such a vision of a just society is unfree and intolerant by Pedro's standards. What the likes of Polly Toynbee really seek to suppress is human freedom, because human freedom means that we will disagree with each other.

And that is why some "atheists" are in a fury with the concept of God. They are really angry with God for not saving them regardless of their actions. They do not want free will. They would approve of a God who waved a wand and announced that we would be saved, whether we liked it or not. They would approve of a God who did not permit the choice to suffer. They would approve of a God who let us injure ourselves but then removed the pain and the injury itself while requiring nothing of us.

They do not approve of a God who hands us the responsibility for our own destinies and for the destinies of others. They are angry with God not because of his laws, but because he allows consequences for breaking them. They want a nanny-God, a mother-God, and a tyrant God who is ruled by his own helpless love for us ans so rules us and preserves us. God the Father - who sets us on our feet and challenges us to walk on them - is anathema to them.

Pedro ends his post with a prophecy of sorts. I believe he is correct, but you'll have to go over there and read it.

Regarding the issue of personal responsibility, I guessed in my last post that Polly Toynbee would be advocating the destruction of Israel, and said I would google it later. I did so because people who take responsibility for what they do naturally look at Israel's situation and ask themselves what they would do. When people are raving and screaming that your entire people should be killed, no normal human being would open the doors and start throwing flowers. It is only people who are in headlong flight from the idea of moral consequences who can possibly insist that Israel must meekly hold out its own throat for the slaughter.

So I googled "Polly Toynbee Israel", and here's the first article I found:
Why was the Downing Street/ White House tea and sympathy with Muslim leaders of no avail? The crucial missing ingredient was turning on Sharon and Israeli extremists at the same time as the onslaught on the Taliban. What is needed at once is this world coalition to press Israel back inside internationally agreed borders, to shut down the settlements and to establish a permanent UN force along the border with a free Palestine. Then it is for Palestinians to create a non-corrupt government that will not waste the generous aid they need. No doubt horrific suicide bombings of Israelis would try to destroy any peace, but reprisal by Israeli tanks would be forbidden and prevented. The world would again guarantee in blood and money the rights of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine.
Ah. The Palestinians would have the right to bomb Israel and the Israelis would have to sit there and take it? I rest my case. The woman's a freaking fascist guised in liberal clothing. Here's the second article I found (from September, 19, 2001):
This may be war - but the enemy is profoundly unsatisfactory. Osama bin Laden does not fit the bill.
Yes, the act was unequivocally wicked, but once you've said that, what then?
Yet sandwiched somewhere between anti-US ranting and William Shawcross's "We are all Americans now" (as if the only moral course were to park all brains at the US embassy), there is a reasoned position. Military intervention and cruise missiles are justified - but only with a high chance of doing good.
The only place the US can impose a just peace quickly is in Israel.
Fighting a crippling bout of anxious nausea spawned by Polly Toynbee's reasoning - (the US should blockade Israel, while guarding the Palestinians as they send their children off to explode themselves in order to get a pension paid for by the atheists of the west as a response to Muslim terrorism), I wandered over to Sigmund, Carl and Alfred for tea and sympathy. What I got was Polly Toynbee's pedigree - the anti-Semitism must have come along with the family silver.

Oh - try this Toynbee article from 2003. Chopping out the clap-trap, Passionate Polly was deeply grieved that Blair had participated in deposing Saddam. She blamed Blair for Turkey's domestic unrest, while mourning that the nice little plan to blockade Israel and prevent it from defending itself was going nowhere:
So now Turkey has become another case of collateral damage in the spreading calamity of the Iraq war.
Turkey tried to protect itself from contamination with the war by denying US troops access through its land to northern Iraq. But it was a natural target for Al-Qaeda fundamentalists attempting to turn back the clock to an Islamic Dark Age. To them, Turkey’s ever strengthening democracy is a Western abomination.
No sign was given of serious intent to intervene in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The president leaves unabated alarm that the US will cut and run from Iraq to suit the presidential election timetable and not the needs of Iraqis.
Get that? When bombs explode in Turkey, it's a tragedy for which the west is responsible. The attacks against Turkey are because Al-Qaeda hates democracy. It's an unfortunate attempt to destroy peace when suicide bombers detonate themselves in the middle of Israel, and Israel is responsible for that, so the west should prevent Israel with armed force from defending its people.... The attacks against Israel are because Israel is bad. And let's not forget her prediction that George Bush was going to cut and run from Iraq. This woman's a pundit with a terrible record and she is not going to enjoy her first encounter with Aslan. He doesn't approve of abetting destruction.

If you still don't get who and what Polly Toynbee is (discard the liberal rhetoric and look at what she wants to do), try this Common Dreams article from 2001:
As the war progresses in Afghanistan, the quid pro quo must come for Palestine. It will not wait: Afghanistan may not be resolved unless Palestine gets justice at the same time.

When I wrote recently about the need for Israel to withdraw back to its 1967 borders and dismantle its aggressive settlements, a sea of email accusations of anti-semitism swept in from all the over the world.
Why care about Palestine now and not last year? Because it matters now, like the Taliban matters now. There is a right time for dealing with long-running oppressions - Serbia and Kosovo, or East Timor. Whatever the reason, when the chance comes it has to be seized and Tony Blair must urge the president to act loudly and decisively now, so all can see some good come of this.
A one-note mind that hopes that Israel will be destroyed as a response to 9/11. That's who she is.

Polly Toynbee Vs Aslan

Ever since I encountered it, I have been mesmerized by Polly Toynbee's review of the Narnia movie. I had never realized that for some, atheism was less disbelief in God than disapproval of a redemptive God. But she disapproves of God as a concept and most especially of God as a redeemer of human error:
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls.

...the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.

...here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right.

...adults who wince at the worst elements of Christian belief may need a sickbag handy for the most religiose scenes.
Holiness drenches the Chronicles.
Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come.
Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan.
She reserves her pity for Edmund, who she thinks is made to suffer guilt:
Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart.
What she doesn't write about is that the Witch was at the point of sacrificing Edmund when Aslan intervened to save him, nor does anyone make Edmund wallow in guilt. His life is saved and he is restored to his brother and sisters who accept him back with love, and he goes on to become a king in Narnia. So she is lying or missing the point here. I think this is significant. It is the thing you cannot stand to see that tells the most about you.

I think Polly Toynbee objects to C. S. Lewis' rebuttal of her beliefs about what Christianity really is (and for that matter, what Judaism really is). As C. S. Lewis writes him, Aslan insists upon personal responsibility. Throughout the entire series, every time someone encounters Aslan he or she must accept responsibility for the bad thing he or she has done or the good thing he or she has not done. Nor will Aslan tell anyone about the fate of other people; the constant refrain throughout the Chronicles is that Aslan will tell no one any other story than his or her own. This is not the condemnation that Polly fears.

So it's the humanism and redemption of the Judeo-Christian tradition that Polly cannot stand, and it's the acceptance of knowledge about herself that she fears. I have been thinking about this column for several days, because it was a total revelation to me.

Chief No-Nag has never read the Narnia Chronicles. Last night I asked Chief No-Nag about Polly Toynbee's column, and he told me that he thought this type of atheist hated the mere concept of God because they could not stand to accept moral responsibility for their own actions. He said that they feared God rather than disbelieved in him, and that was why the belief of others so upset them. He said that you could not even pray about something without realizing your own bad deeds, bad thoughts, and failure to show kindness to others (which is true!), so these people need to pretend that there is no God in order to escape knowing themselves.

There are, of course, others who simply don't believe in God - but they don't react to the belief of others with fear and anger. There is, I have noticed, a strong correlation between the failure to accept personal responsibility and a hatred of Israel. I haven't read anything else by Polly Toynbee, but I would bet she is an advocate of Israel's destruction. When I get time I will google her. Now I've got to accept my personal responsibility to get to work on time!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Day Late, A Dollar Short

I have been unbelievably busy. A fuse burned out in my car, and the hassle finding new ones and replacing it was ridiculous. Not to mention year-end, which in my business is grim. I even missed the Cotillion, which was especially good this week. I thought Beth's post at MVRWC was particularly good - it embodies her trademark common sense. I live in GA, and it's not a big issue here either.

But I am surviving regardless of car hassles, a huge workload and medical treatment. My mother sent one of those boxes of sausage and cheese. Chief No-Nag picked it up today, and when I arrived home this evening I was treated to an all-out, full blast four act tragedy which should have been entitled "Sausage in Refrigerator; Starving And Freezing Bulldog Cruelly Locked Outside Refrigerator".

The eyes! The staggering - the mournful looks - the deep sighs. Finally there was a fainting collapse on the floor. She was too weak from sausage-deprivation to lift her head. It was all that she could to do roll her eyes dolefully. Now, if you go into the kitchen she comes to life again and arrives with a heaving bosom and agonized,beseeching eyes trained first on the refrigerator door and then on your face.

I'm going to have fun with this sausage. The poor dog has been desperately dieting to get ready for the holidays. She loves attractively wrapped Christmas packages with delicious things to eat in them, and you can leave them under the tree and she doesn't disturb them. She just goes over and asks for something out of one of them. I think she likes both the mooching and the anticipation.

She really does diet all by herself. She skips dinner and exercises. However I think her self-discipline was shattered by the scent of sausage and that she thinks the time for recognition of her extreme self-discipline has arrived.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

R.I.P. Gibran Tueni

Gibran Tueni was the editor of An-Nahar and had been elected as an opposition MP in Lebanon. He was an outspoken opponent of Syria's machinations, and was also known to criticize Hezbollah's violence.

Gibran Tueni was not the first journalist for An-Nahar to meet his death for what he had written; he surely knew the risk he was running. Yet he continued to write. After Samir Kassir's death in June of 2005:
Gibran Tueni, An-Nahar's general manager, linked the killing to the 14 February bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 20 other people and to another explosion targeting an opposition lawmaker who escaped with serious injuries.

"The Lebanese security authorities and the remnants of the Syrian system in Lebanon, and directly the Syrian regime from top to bottom, is responsible for every crime and every drop of blood spilled," Tueni said at the scene.
Newsday/AP published a selection of Tueni quotes:
"The Syrian security regime should know ... that despotic regimes and tyrants who committed massacres against humanity were pursued, prosecuted and collapsed." Dec. 8, 2005, editorial in An-Nahar.
This was a very, very brave man, and I think he wrote his own epitaph. May it also be the epitaph of tyranny in the ME.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


To me, the first and most essential moral choice a human being must make is whether to deal with the world as it is or whether to pretend that the world is what he or she wants it to be. This is a round-up of posts by various bloggers about our problems in doing just that.

First, Dr. Sanity on the movie Narnia:
Basically, it is a story about good and evil. About the choices each of us make in confronting the world and coping with its unpleasant and painful realities. The opening scene of London being bombed and the Pevensie's reactions set the stage for the entire drama. Even sent far away into the calm and peaceful English countryside by a well-meaning and loving parent, the children are still confronted with the reality of good and evil; still have to make choices about which side they belong on and who they choose to love and support.
She also thinks that the agitation against the movie arises from a psychological conflict:
...it occurred to me that the hostile reception of Narnia on the part of many of the "anti-Christian coalition" (see here for example) had less to do with the movie's underlying (Christian) theology/mythology (which I thought was not at all emphasized) than it had to do with what must have been their intense identification with Edmund, whose inner conflicts and whining bitterness with its concomitant desire for power (especially over his siblings) leads him to betray his family and Narnia to a cold and ruthless evil.
I have learned not ignore Dr. Sanity's links, so I clicked on her example and read a hilarious column by Polly Toynbee:
But from its opening scenes of the bombing of their Finchley home in the blitz and the tear-jerking evacuation from their mother in a (spotlessly clean) steam train, there is an emotional undertow to this film that tugs on the heart-strings from the first frames. By the end, it feels profoundly manipulative, as Disney usually does. But then, that is also deeply faithful to the book's own arm-twisting emotional call to believers.
The part that Polly truly hates is Aslan's sacrifice and the guilt that poor Edmund is made to bear. Never mind that he is rescued from the witch by that sacrifice. Polly is all steamed up that Edmund is made to feel bad for abetting evil. She seems even more steamed up by the idea that he is rescued from that evil by Aslan's self-sacrifice. This could explain why the hateful left seems to hate the members of our volunteer Armed Forces so. They don't like their willingness to suffer deprivation and the risk of life and limb for their sakes. The guilt, you know?

Now I'll throw in a bit of Mark Steyn on the Iranian call for the annihilation of Israel:
In Iran, President Ahmaddamytree figures that half the world likes his Jew proposals and the rest isn't prepared to do more than offer a few objections phrased in the usual thin diplo-pabulum.

We assume, as Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax and other civilized men did 70 years ago, that these chaps may be a little excitable, but come on, old boy, they can't possibly mean it, can they? Wrong. They mean it but they can't quite do it yet. Like Hitler, when they can do it, they will -- or at the very least the weedy diplo-speak tells them they can force the world into big concessions on the fear that they can.
If a genocidal fantasist is acceptable in polite society, we'll soon find ourselves dealing with a genocidal realist.
Exactly. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe is certainly feeding this dog, and that is what he is. The people who will not properly rebuke him are cowardly abetters of evil. I just don't think they like to be reminded of that.

The Anchoress writes of the strange phenomenon of what many today do see as evil - voting Republican (as Polly Toynbee did not fail to remind her readers):
I have heard the phrase repeated to me a few times by stunned liberals…”I don’t understand it, you’re a Conservative, but I still find I like you…”
I’d been a Democrat and a liberal all my life and never heard Republicans described, in my family or in my neighborhood, or by my fellow Dems as “evil” until the Clinton campaign of 1992, where all of a sudden right and left no longer denoted differences of opinion, but became absolute, moral judgements.
Really, it’s pretty basic. We’re supposed to treat others as we would like to be treated.
But never speak basic moral common sense - it is out of fashion completely. Ideologies like fascism don't stand the test of time and can't withstand the impact of reality, so fanaticism breeds fanaticism to feed its own self-righteousness. The less we try to grapple with realities, the more we buy into some fanaticism or another. The more we try to deal with realities, unpleasant and elusive of solution as they may be, the more we breed moderation and consensus. One of the reasons I like the Anchoress so much is that she has been pointing that out when she sees it in both camps.

Finally, I'll close with this excellent post of Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's:
A black family learns what it's like to be white while a white family becomes black in the six-part documentary series "Black.White," scheduled for broadcast on the FX cable network in March. Makeup temporarily transforms the two families for the series developed by filmmaker R.J. Cutler and actor-rapper Ice Cube.

"The loud message of the show is that we are a divided nation," said Cutler, who won an Emmy for outstanding reality program for "American High." "But we can come together if we're willing to talk about our differences and work to see the world through the eyes of other people."

Well, tra-la-la-la. As SC&A points out:
While the 'can't we all get along' idiots want to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, the reality is that it will take a lot more than that to overcome racial, religious and cultural differences.
Want to make a difference? Want to make our world a better place? The formula to succeed in those endeavors is not a secret. We need to work harder at reaching into ourselves, to do the best we possibly can. We need to make the necessary committments to make those efforts bear fruit. If we do all that, those changes we seek will come to pass.
This is fake, feel-good compassion instead of the nasty and inconvenient kind which demands we do something about the objects of our compassion. Forcing ourselves to confront the legacy of racism would force us to do unpleasant things like really work at improving inner-city schools and change anti-achievement mindsets. We're not going to come together until we actually resolve to work at solving problems rather than sitting around and announcing our extreme concern and great tolerance. It's types like the ones who make these series that don't want "those people" in their neighborhoods and are more than happy to hire illegal immigrants as maids, gardeners and nannies to take care of them in their gated communities.


Tommy of Striving for Average demonstrates why I don't watch TV news. This is a wild sample of an actual newscast, and it's not made up. Tommy posts clips from the newscast:

Yup. That Bush, always starting wars - and this time he's heading to outer space! This information emerged, of course, from an interview with a senile Canadian. Why the musings of senile Canadians are considered newsworthy I cannot imagine. There are plenty of Canadians who are not senile.

Howard of Oraculations emerges from his dedicated blogging on women with appallingly large boobs (it gives me a backache to see those pictures) to point out that Soldiers Angels has posted a number of ways in which your donation of even $5 will brighten a soldier's Christmas. Another great site is America Supports You. He's also got a good link to a site listing Iraqi construction projects: Truth on Iraq. Also, Howard is coming around to believing that the Iraqis are going to establish a functioning representative democracy:
I have never felt that this would be possible, but reading the blogs from Iraq I am getting the sense that not only is it possible, but probable.
The view of the world from the citizens' eyes is always quite different than the world as seen through the eyes of the US press. My view is that you can bet that people given a choice will pick national independence and a representative government over bombing mosques and bus riders. Then that majority will deal with that minority.

The Shiite/Sunni divide in Iraq has been overbilled in our press, and the Iraqi citizen has been ruthlessly and continuous misrepresented as ignorant, backwards, uneducated and fanatical. The soldiers who have been over there don't have that impression of the broad mass of Iraqis. The only reason the American people do is because of what is being written about them by the "progressives" in the American and European press. The best indication of progress in Iraq is that the candidates are listing their names, whereas before many did not because of security concerns. Read Iraq The Model and State Of Flux for starters. And don't miss Minh-Duc's recent post about the Iraqi economy:
One item that Western media often neglect to mention about Iraq is the state of the economy – or how well the economy is doing. According to Wikipedia, the growth rate (real rate, not nominal) for Iraq in 2004 is 52.3 percent. And the prediction is that the economy will continue to grow. The forecast according to the Economist will be 26 percent for the year 2005-2006.
And no one (whether the Bush administration or the current Iraqi government) should takes credit for the economic growth. The credit belongs to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Iraqi people. There are several thousands new businesses are being registered every year (there are thousands more businesses that ignore the registration rule). It is the new enterprising spirit that allows a 52.3 percent growth in the worsening security environment (2004 is the most violence year since the fall of Baghdad).
Minh-Duc's State Of Flux blog is superb - he's a truly independent voice. The type of people who are capable of starting up businesses like this are more than capable of handling a representative government. The correlation between economic freedom and political freedom is very strong.

In a move that would have been inconceivable only months earlier, Saddam Hussein loyalists are urging Sunnis to vote in Thursday's poll and warning al-Qaida fighters not to launch attacks.

As political and security tensions rise before the parliamentary elections, fighters in the Western al-Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from those loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.
Most election posters back two Sunni politicians, Saleh Mutlak and Adnan al-Dulaimi. Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia and former prime minister who ordered a US-led offensive that devastated Falluja last year, has some appeal, fighters said.
Catch that? Allawi is campaigning on a joint Sunni/Shia platform aimed at uniting the country. Various factions and interests in Iraq are in no way divided into hermetically sealed camps. This is why I think the progressives are getting desperate. The Iraqi people want us out and peace and prosperity in Iraq. The American people want us out and peace and prosperity in Iraq. I'd call that a winning recipe and a union of interests. It can and will be done.

The friggin EU is too wimpy to send election monitors. Cowards. But never mind, the Iraqis have developed a plan to send volunteers from one district to another to ensure that monitoring is independent.

The Feds And The Street On The Housing Bubble

There's an interesting dichotomy between the conventional wisdom on the end of the housing boom and actual experience:
The nation's long housing boom will end not with a bang, but with a prolonged whimper as homeowners suffer through stagnant pricing that could last years.

That was the consensus of economists gathered in Chicago to consider whether a so-called housing bubble will end in a crash. Their (sic) say it won't.
The problem is that rising mortgage rates are putting an end to the easy money that underpinned increasing home prices, said Richard Brown, chief economist of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in Washington.
Bullcrap. Here's some more from NAR:
Homeowners and buyers have been searching for any signs that the nation’s robust housing boom may be going bust – especially in light of recent reports that the market is cooling. But NAR’s chief economist, David Lereah, assures us there is no reason for panic. The housing market may be slowing down, but it’s still strong and healthy.
“Balloons don’t burst,” he says. “You can put air in a balloon and it expands or you can take air out and it shrinks. Various metro markets got real hot over the last four years. Air went into those balloons and the prices went up. But now, air is coming out of the balloons. We’re hearing a hissing sound not a pop…there’s a soft landing ahead.”
And then the truth:
The biggest risk in the housing markets today is speculative buying, according to Lereah. It’s highly concentrated in a few markets like Miami, San Diego and Washington, D.C. “If interest rates continue to rise, those speculators will sell. When these speculative purchases go on the market all at once, there could be a glut and prices could soften considerably,” Lereah says.
The problem is that in some markets over 20% of purchases have been speculative for a couple of years and at least another 20% have come from individuals buying in with interest-only hybrids, and when the music stops the market will be flooded with sellers trying to get out. Nor are these pockets confined to Miami, San Diego and DC. Add the demographics in some markets (older people trying to sell in markets because they need to clear equity and escape high taxes), add potential increases in longterm interest rates and add in forced sales by individuals who are facing sharply increased mortgage payments at the end of their interest only period or at their first ARM adjustment, and many of the inflated markets are going to see large price drops.

As for affordability, increased property taxes and homeowner insurance rates are going to be factors pushing prices down. Some insurance companies have stopped offering insurance in some areas considered high-risk, and many will be raising rates across the board in an attempt to recoup their losses from the storms. The litigation in MS and LA is not helping matters because actuaries don't know how to project risks. In the northern regions, fuel-oil prices and natural gas prices are another adverse factor.

This is what speculation has been like in Loudoun County, VA:
Jim Williams, executive vice-president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Assn., knew the "feeding frenzy" had gotten out of hand when a waiter in a restaurant he frequents confided that he had bought four houses on spec.
People have been able to do this because of the rash of interest-only hybrid mortgages or ARM's with a big step up. Similar activity has occurred in Baltimore and Philadelphia. And in markets like Loudoun, San Diego and Long Island, you are already seeing falling prices:
Bob Semmens, a 60-year-old retired pressman, has heard that sound. After he offered up his 3,000-square-foot colonial, with three acres and a swimming pool, in early July for $759,000, he sat back to wait for the frenzied offers.... But "very few people were even coming out to look," Semmens recalls. After four months, he was about to take the house off the market until next spring. But then he struck a deal -- for $620,000, an 18% price cut.
By October, agents had 2,908 existing Loudoun houses on the market, an increase of 127% over a year earlier. The average time on the market had climbed 62%, to 42 days, since the fall of '04. And in just two months, from August to October, the median sales price for houses dropped from $506,100 to $480,000.
Last summer one of my brothers moved out of San Diego. He had trouble getting a mover - so many people were leaving the area that they were having trouble getting their trucks back into San Diego.

I wrote before about how condos and townhouses are the worst risks. They will be the first to fall and will fall the hardest. Take a look at these figures for San Diego in September 2005, versus September 2004:
Median Prices for Resale Single Family Homes
Central San Diego:
Median (04): $510,000; Median (05): $541,500; Change: 6.2%

East County:
Median (04): $465,000; Median (05): $490,000; Change: 5.4%
North County Inland:
Median (04): $525,000; Median (05): $560,000; Change: 6.7%
North County Coastal:
Median (04): $600,000; Median (05): $620,000; Change: 3.3%
South County:
Median (04): $542,500; Median (05): $571,750; Change: 5.4%

Now look at new Single-Family/Condos for the same period:
Central San Diego:
Median (04): $565,000; Median (05): $463,750; Change: -17.9%
East County:
Median (04): $767,500; Median (05): $443,250; Change: -42.2%
North County Inland:
Median (04): $557,500; Median (05): $471,000; Change: -15.4%
North County Coastal:
Median (04): $737,500; Median (05): $668,500; Change: -9.4%
South County:
Median (04): $536,000; Median (05): $610,750; Change: 13.9%

Developers are cutting their prices sharply to get out. This is the leading edge in most of these previously hot markets and a good predictor. If you are trying to figure out what to do in your area, look at the prices on sales by development corporations.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Paul Martin Suggests Handgun Ban

See, suppose your party (the Liberals in power in Canada) got caught handing money out to ad agencies and charities while requiring that large chunks of it be returned under the table. Suppose it turned out that this had gone on for around a decade, and that very high-level party members were involved. Suppose that there was a vote of no-confidence, causing an election, so the obvious thing for the Liberals to do in the campaign is:
  1. Address the scandal by cleaning house and promise the voters a new way of doing business entirely, or
  2. Announce that the Canadian federal government would address crime in urban areas by banning handguns entirely.
  3. Both of the above.
You guessed it. Paul Martin came up with the brilliant idea of depriving Canadians of their legal, registered handguns locked in gun safes to avoid addressing the problems of urban street crime and killings done with illegal, unregistered guns. Darcey at Dust My Broom. Democratic Underground. CBC has letters running strongly against the policy as does this one:
With regards to Paul Martin's announcement this morning of a ban on handguns; would someone please enlighten me as how this will stop the spree of shootings in Toronto as well as violence in other cities.

Like the long gun registry, this will be another money guzzling fiasco who will make criminals out of already law abiding citizens;not to mention it is an attempt to shore up Liberal votes in the big urban centres of Canada.

The sad part of this whole announcement is not only will it make criminals out of already law abiding citizens; but the real criminals who get caught with illegal weapons will continue to be allowed to walk away from our to soft justice system with a mere slap on the wrist.

—Jason Roy | New Glasgow
That's the majority sentiment, and several people write that the Liberals have lost their vote. However, a few are delighted:
I am proud to live in a country that is intolerant of guns; we set a good example and we live in relative peace and safety. That's more important to me than someone's gun collection. Handguns do not belong in this century. They are archaic and barbaric.

For all the problems that they cause, it is not asking too much to request that those who collect them or play with them simply get a new hobby.
Okay. This lady's objection to handguns is basically a moral one. It makes no utilitarian sense whatsover. Her position is founded on the idea that people don't have the right to play around with something that could potentially take a life. I would wager that most gun control advocates in the US would agree with her.

After I stopped laughing (because I believe this initiative will hurt the Liberals badly), I remembered several passages in arguments that Dingo, Boomer, Carl and I had over legislating sexual morality and their ardent defense of the individual's right to immunity from government interference with their private lives based on the majority's moral judgements. I quote from Lawrence v Texas:
Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence.
For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law.
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution.

The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.
There is a gaping dissonance between the logic used to announce a constitutional right not present in the law at the time of the Constitution's adoption and not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights as a condition of the Constitution and the logic used to argue for gun bans in utter disregard of the Constitution's ban on "infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms". Contrast the reasoning in Lawrence to the reasoning of those who would proscribe the right of a law-abiding person to keep a weapon in his or her home.

There are no utilitarian grounds (except respect for individual liberty, which I do believe is a utilitarian principle that has demonstrable and good effects in society as a whole) for setting forth that the law may not regulate sexual acts between consenting adults while maintaining that the state may take a gun from the home of a person who has never misused the weapon. The truth is that far more people die and are injured from diseases contracted through promiscuous sexual conduct each year in the US than are killed or injured through misuse of firearms. (I do not include injuries that occur to criminals as a result of victims use of firearms in self-defense or officers who shoot in the line of duty.)

It is interesting to note that several of the persons who wrote to CBC protesting Martin's initiative said that they had supported the Liberal initiative to legalize same-sex marriage. There is a definite correlation between the you-go-your-way-and-I'll-go-my-way type of libertarian mindset among many of those who feel strongly about the right of individuals to own firearms and the belief that other people have the right to live their lives the way they wish. This is why the gun forum on DU fascinates me so. Many people are quite consistent in their beliefs - but those who advocate gun control are generally extraordinarily inconsistent.

Dumping The First Amendment In Favor Of The Politicos

A great article in Reason. It is almost entirely a transcript of Bradley Smith's speech back in April about campaign finance reform. The issue is certainly timely.

I hope you'll read it all. Smith goes into great detail about the type of political speech which is being repressed and the type of speech that is being fostered:
In the legislative record there is considerable evidence that many supporters of McCain-Feingold specifically wanted the law to silence criticism of their own performance in office.
You can easily find quotes from across the political spectrum explaining why members of Congress find the speech of these citizen groups distasteful. But for brevity’s sake, let’s focus on Sen. McCain. These groups, he once said, “often run ads that the candidates themselves disapprove of.”
Sen. McCain went on: “Further, these ads are almost always negative attack ads, and do little to further beneficial debate and healthy political dialogue.”
But perhaps most important, campaign finance regulation is based on the notion that government must be empowered to act on and order the lives of citizens without influence or pushback from those very same citizens. The “reformers” believe that politics should be reserved for the folks inside the Beltway who can handle it.
What it comes down to is that the law favors people like George Soros and the well-organized political in-groups (such as lobbyists) and disfavors straightforward grass-roots political organization. The law fosters convoluted behind-the-scenes arrangements such as McCain's "Reform Institute" and prevents you from giving money to the candidate of your choice.

McCain-Feingold is explicitly and unambiguously unconstitutional, regardless of the judgment of the Supreme Court. No dingbat philosophy of "active liberty" can justify the restrictions on the individual's ability to speak, organize and petition the government for redress protected in the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
By turning campaign financing into a big-business type of arrangement, the influence of rich people is magnified and the ability of the private person to easily initiate a grass-roots political initiative is greatly restricted. I will not be voting for McCain for president.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI On Human Freedom

Newsday/AP reporting on Pope Benedict's homily:
"Man nurtures the suspicion that God, at the end of the day, takes something away from his life, that God is a competitor who limits our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we will have set him aside," Benedict said.

"There emerges in us the suspicion that the person who doesn't sin at all is basically a boring person, that something is lacking in his life, the dramatic dimension of being autonomous, that the freedom to say 'no' belongs to real human beings," the pontiff said.
And he suggested that we summon the moxie to "overcome the temptation of a mediocre life, made of compromises with evil." It is God who gave us the freedom to say no, just as we all have the freedom to eat ourselves or drink ourselves to death. The freedom to make the choice does not make such a choice productive or good.

The life committed to a greater purpose and in service of a greater good is far more satisfying and far more adventurous than a life committed to fulfilling our own momentary needs. Anyone who has ever tried to live by ethical mandates has discovered that for his or her own self. Choosing, in freedom, to try to live a life devoting to building rather than destroying, to helping others rather than impairing them, poses a person with so many difficult choices that it is comparable to climbing Mount Everest.

But the confounding thing is that in the middle of all of this we find joy, companionship and great personal satisfaction, whereas a person who only seeks personal satisfaction and his or her own advantage generally ends up lonely, dissatisfied and often depressed. Life may be short, but it is too long to spend solely in your own company.

A few days after I came back from the NE, Chief No-Nag asked me why I had done something. I forget what it was - maybe I had cooked him something special? Anyway, I told him that I didn't want him out there wandering up to women and telling them a sad tale of neglect and abandonment so that they'd take an interest in him. He started laughing very hard, and finally said "But that would be like having the gravy without the turkey, or the dessert without the dinner... It's not the real thing!"

And he was right. Happiness is something you seem to trip over while you are taking care of other people and doing things that need doing, not something you find by seeking it. This is not obvious at all when you are young, and that is why moral guidance and teaching exists. The laws of God (or ethics) are for our own benefit and for our own happiness, not for our diminishment.

The older I get the more I see this rule playing out. People who try to live life to get as much as they can for themselves wind up the poorest in the scale of human happiness. People who care about others and try to do something for other people seem much happier, have better relationships and seem to have more balance and resilience. Such a life is richer, more complex and filled with depth.

This is the real culture gap in this country. It is not between liberal and conservative, religious or agnostic, red or blue state. You can be a selfish miserable conservative or a selfish miserable liberal, and I have met people who use religous doctrine as a cloak for their own self-seeking and ungenerous behavior. The real gulf has opened between those people who believe we have a freely-chosen duty to others and those who truly have bought into the idea so precisely explained by Pope Benedict XVI.

Mover Mike On Katrina Fund Flim-Flam

Courtesy of Senator Cochran, part of the funds allocated for Katrina relief are to be used to pay for a museum celebrating the Army Corps of Engineers.

I read it at
Mover Mike's.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tommy On The Dean Defeat

This is way, way too accurate to be truly ha-ha funny, but it deserves some sort of an award for incisive social commentary. Don't miss Tommy of Striving For Average's coverage of the Democratic talking points agenda on Iraq.

SC&A On Political Reality

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred on the bizarre phenomenon of the national Democratic leadership trying to declare a unilateral defeat in Iraq:
...imagine a weather forecaster that was using 1960's technology and 1960's era understanding of weather and weather forecasting, standing in front of chalkboard (yes, that is how they did it back then), drawing, erasing and making smiley faces along the way.

That particular meteorologist might be regarded as an anachronism from the Middle Ages- quaint, funny and might even be regarded with a touch of nostalgia.

In fact, the mighty 'political analysts' of the left are those 1960 era weather forecasters, more often wrong than they are right.
An interesting analogy. SC&A writes:
Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean are frauds, because Nancy Pelosi and Howard 'Scream' Dean know damn well we aren't losing the war in Iraq. In fact, they know we are winning that war- and if the war ends in victory, defined by a popularly elected, functioning government in Iraq before the end of Mr Bush's second term, the dems can kiss their chances of regaining the White House and majority in the House of Representatives goodbye.
That's what Chief No-Nag thinks. He's revolted. He told me that the Democratics needed to dump Dean if they wanted to have a chance in 2006. It's a bad time to be a Democrat seeking relection to a national office in Georgia, that's for sure.

As for the American people, several recent polls have showed that they basically agree with Bush's comments on the withdrawal strategy. Here's CBS:
Most Republicans support maintaining or even increasing the number of troops in Iraq, but most Democrats and Independents want U.S. troops to be decreased or withdrawn. Among war opponents, 44 percent want all troops removed now. Just 12 percent of those who think going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do agree.

Six in 10 say they would agree with President Bush’s statement that removing U.S. troops from Iraq now would be "a recipe for disaster."
That's a substantially greater majority than Bush had for his reelection. Only 44% of the people who opposed the war in Iraq think we should withdraw all the troops now. This looks an awful lot like a national consensus for pretty much our current policy to me. It also demonstrates that a lot of the people who opposed the war did so on principle, and now feel a sense of responsibility toward the Iraqis. All in all, these numbers demonstrate that the majority of the American people do think for themselves and do take stands based on principle and not self-interest.

It would seem that the American media's love affair with Cindy Sheehan only created a toxic lack of reality in certain circles. Flying in the face of this national consensus, the Democratic national leadership figures seem to be competing for the honor of who can act the craziest and most self-contradictory in public, followed by claims that they don't mean what they say and in fact have no idea what they want to do. Washington Post:
Several Democrats joined President Bush yesterday in rebuking Dean's declaration to a San Antonio radio station Monday that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democratic leader, have told colleagues that Pelosi's recent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal, combined with her claim that more than half of House Democrats support her position, could backfire on the party, congressional sources said.
"What I want Democrats to be discussing is what the president's policies have led to," Emanuel said. He added that once discussion turns to a formal timeline for troop withdrawals, "the how and when gets buried" and many voters take away only an impression that Democrats favor retreat.
Claiming that the Democratic party backs speedy withdrawal would create the "impression that the Democrats favor retreat." But is Emanuel's position any better? He seems to want to carp and complain without offering an alternative. Are the voters going to go for the "Party of Whiners" brand? I don't think so. I'm beginning to think that the national Democratic leadership have a severe case of Kerry syndrome (a mealy-mouthed inability to formulate a credible and self-consistent position)?
"We have not blown our chance" of winning back the House but "we have jeopardized it," said a top strategist to House Democrats, who requested anonymity to speak freely about influential party leaders. "It raises questions about whether we are capable of seizing political opportunities or whether we cannot help ourselves and blow it" by playing to the liberal base of the party.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said that while Pelosi estimates more than half of House Democrats favor a speedy withdrawal, she will lobby members in today's meeting against adopting this as a caucus position.
Which pretty much deprives her of the ability to claim that she is making a stand on principle, doesn't it?

If anyone doubts that the Democratic party's problems are at least partly founded in a fawning media engendering an echo of reality reverberating throughout Washington, try reading PollingReport.com. The media has concentrated with a laser-like focus on Bush's declining poll numbers (now heading back up), but they have somehow failed to report the other half of the story, which is that the American public consistently reports itself as being more supportive of Bush than Congress. According to CBS News, 40% approve of Bush. According to Quinnipiac, only 27% approve of Congress.

Thailand Public Health Doc On H5N1

This is what the doctors in the Thailand are saying about H5N1:

Dr Charoen Chuchottaworn, a bird-flu expert at the Public
Health Ministry’s Department of Medical Services, said doctors concluded after
reviewing the history of the past two cases that both victims presented very
mild symptoms of avian influenza and neither had any physical contact with
chickens or birds.
This left doctors no clues as to where the patients became infected with the H5N1 virus and showed that the avian influenza had moved from causing severe human infection to milder cases.
Signs of possible human-to-human transmission were closely observed in Vietnam, where 10 clusters of probable human transmissions were detected in which the victims had no contact with infected poultry, Charoen said.

Thailand and Indonesia had one official cluster, he said, but the Indonesian cluster showed clear-cut evidence because a child contracted H5N1 without going to an infected area, as her father had.

Not all doctors agree. Some believe the virus is endemic in the environment, so people can get it without direct exposure to birds. That, however, does not explain at all the reports of health care workers becoming ill after treating H5N1 cases.

I am not sure that all of this illness is actually arising from H5N1, however. There are consistent reports of foot and mouth disease in many of the same areas. FMD can occasionally infect humans. The reports of mass illness from Boxun (the ones not associated with infected wild birds) in the summer described one of the symptoms of the disease in humans as skin peeling off their hands and feet. That sounds more like FMD than flu. In 1997 there was a type O FMD that infected humans in Asia.

I wonder if people are ignoring the obvious. The birds may be carrying FMD as well.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

WHO Names The Bird Flu?

If you have been following the H5N1 saga, by now you may be wondering exactly what WHO is doing? On casual inspection they have seemed to be lurching around in circles for the last few months and tossing out press releases nearly at random.

I can now solve that mystery for you. They have been deeply involved in very important meetings to deal with an upcoming crisis. They are working very hard to develop a name for the pandemic that will be politically correct. I am not making this up:
Officials from the WHO and a variety of member countries meeting in Geneva this week will broach the topic of naming the next pandemic as part of discussions aimed at charting risk communications strategies for that eventual outbreak.

The idea is to get out ahead of the media in a bid to ensure that whatever name the next pandemic gets tagged with doesn't leave a historical black mark on the country or region from whence the causative flu virus emerges.

"One of the things we've been worried about is the potential for stigma," Dick Thompson, spokesperson for the WHO's communicable diseases branch, explained Tuesday.

"...I think that we have a responsibility to think through what kind of stigma this might produce and see if we can do anything about that."
Now that Dick mentions it, I can see that the hospital corridors full of gasping, gurgling people (dying because there are no ventilators and oxygen units left) would be much pleasanter places if everyone could gasp and gurgle themselves to death secure in the knowledge that their hometown's or country's reputation wasn't going to be unfairly besmirched. Or maybe not.

Perhaps the WHO could test-market a name over in Indonesia by holding a poll in the isolation hospitals there. If it's this important, I say we should spare no expense. On the other hand, perhaps WHO prefers to meet in more comfortable circumstances than a hospital in which they are actually treating victims. For one thing, there's no open bar or complimentary continental breakfasts in hospital intensive care wards.

I'll admit that I felt a moment of shock on reading this article. I had had the foolish idea that they were holding these meetings in an attempt to craft strategies to prevent people from dying, rather than worrying about crafting the Martha-Stewartishly perfect name for the pandemic. By the way, you pay for this sort of thing. I suspect that quite a few oxygen tents and kidney dialysis machines could have been purchased for the cost of this conference.
If that makes you wince, perhaps the knowledge that WHO staffers are enjoying this mission-critical task will ease your pain:
Thompson has some experience naming diseases. He was among a trio of WHO officials who came up with the name severe acute respiratory syndrome for a disease that is now much better known its catchy acronym, SARS.

Dr. David Heymann convened the meeting that led to the selection of that name.
In 2003, Heymann, Thompson and Denis Aitken, who worked in the office of then-director general Gro Brundtland, batted around a bunch of ideas for about 15 minutes. They were looking for a name like AIDS - something that would stick to the disease, Heymann said.

"It was kind of fun."
Glad to hear it. I guess the local yokels will just have to hold bake sales to buy equipment to staff temporary clinics and the like. In the meantime, we'll know that our tax dollars are in experienced disease-naming hands, hard at work have fun thinking up a catchy, yet non-stigmatizing, name for whatever's going to kill Grandma. We just hope it doesn't take the kids too.

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