cut on the bias

keeping an eye on the spins and weirdness of media, crime and everyday life

Friday, May 31, 2002

MORAL IMPLICATIONS OF TEACHING EVOLUTION IN SCHOOLS: Evolution and creationism/intelligent design have been a topic of discussion for a while on Transterrestrial Musings (Rand Simberg) and other blogs, notably The Volokh Conspiracy (Eugene Volokh). As often happens, I'm late to that party, but I just sent an email to Rand with some comments about the discussion. Please note that I'm not making any effort to look at the two theories in a scientific way, because that's not my area of expertise and I would only embarrass myself thoroughly. You may think I do anyway, but that's for you to decide.

The headline above, and the email itself, should serve as sufficient introduction:

Rand -

I've read with interest your commentary about evolution vs creationism (I prefer the term "intelligent design"). One of your major objections to the teaching or adherence to a theory of intelligent design is that it limits scientific exploration. You also see it as a weakness of faith, a fairly harsh assessment. While I do agree that blind adherence to a theory can limit a search for truth, and a weak faith breeds fear, I think you are showing your own bias in your discussion, as well as not fully addressing the moral implications of an unchallenged presentation of evolutionary theory.

As long as intelligent design is a valid theory - which I think Volokh argued eloquently is the case - then refusing to consider it as an option is biased and unscientific. It's a theory of origin, not a theory of escapism. While it is inappropriate for someone to say, "Well, it's that way because God made it that way" and thus refuse to explore a question further, it is just as inappropriate to say, "Because eventually this explanation might lead to an irresolvable question, we're going to refuse to accept that this could be the answer even though it fits the facts".

You say:

It is the fact that it [intelligent design] is not disprovable (i.e., falsifiable) that puts it outside the realm of science. It's not simply an uninteresting theory--it is a useless copout (again, purely from a scientific perspective).

Is general evolution in its full manifestation provable? It's not replicable, we don't have historic accounts; it will never be more than an extrapolation from evidence. To assume it is to limit your explorations. Conversely, if someone developed a theory of how things should look if there was an intelligent designer, and set out to test it, would that be bad science? The originating event is not replicable, but its manifestations might be evident. If this scientist found, for example, that man appeared in his current form at one point in history, or other evidence that seem to point more to intelligent design than evolution, would you try to fit it into your own theory, or ignore it, because you don't see intelligent design as a valid theory? Especially given what you say here:

If I were to teach evolution in a school, I would state it not as "this is what happened," but rather, "this is what scientists believe happened."

Belief without proof is called "faith".

But my major objection to evolution being taught in the schools without any reference to intelligent design as an alternative is the social implications of the "religion" of evolution. I've taught both introductory psychology and sociology on the college level, and in every case the texts explained both individual and social behaviors in an evolutionary context, with many attendant moral extrapolations. An example is the "fight or flight" response. I'm not saying humans don't have that response, but the evolutionary explanation given for it is an extrapolation that isn't supported. The development of that response cannot be scientifically tracked or established, given that it happened prior to recorded history and is not still developing, so whence the conclusions as to why it developed? It is assumed that the extrapolation is true, which actually limits exploration rather than encouraging it - we know why it's there, so why look more deeply into its manifestations? Setting it as a trait that developed as an evolutionarily-preferred behavior gives its manifestations, in the eyes of some, an almost moral rightness. You have to go outside science to find reason to stem it in some contexts, when it would not have that moral gravitas to begin with if some evolutionists didn't present extrapolations as truth.

If you've been following the recent discussions of teen sexuality on some of the blogs, you've seen a number of references to "natural" behavior, to evolutionary imperative. That is a moral conclusion arising from evolution-as-religion. It's also used as a reason behind why sexual photographs of teenagers are so desired online - we're evolutionarily hardwired to seek out the best bets for self-perpetuation, thus, youth and attractiveness, so naturally people are drawn to sexual photos of youth. I'm not saying that all the arguments using evolution in their supportive statements would be endorsed by evolutionary scientists, but it is a major source of reasoning for those taking a variety of moral and behavioral stances. It is not a value-neutral, or morality-neutral, scientific theory. It is in our society treated as fact, and many people base their behavior on its extrapolated moral tenets. At the very least, schools should separate fact from those extrapolations.

As for the weakness of faith that belief in intelligent design supposedly indicates, I would posit that a similar weakness of faith exists in a scientific community fearful of incorporating intelligent design in its assessment of information, at the very least as a valid theory of origin until proven otherwise. It is either a fear that intelligent design is true, or an adamant belief that general evolution is law, not theory, despite its lack of full support; in either case the scientific pursuit is polluted by bias. What avenues of exploration are closed because of a belief in evolution similar to the religious closed-mindedness you mention in association with a belief in intelligent design? Why is questioning evolution considered heresy?

My psychology and sociology students were always treated to a lecture on how what you believe about origins has an impact on what you believe about behaviors and morality today. I made my own beliefs on it clear, and did not color my presentation of the class material with my own biases in the balance of the class except in asides offering an alternative extrapolation very obviously my own. I don't see how such an approach would suddenly destroy the foundations of scientific endeavor in this society, nor how intelligent design reasonably presented as an option of origin, in all its advantages, flaws and implications, would do the same. It also is not "promoting religion", if dissociated from the Bible and taught as a valid scientific option - which it is. Religion is about who the intelligent designer is, and different groups have different conclusions. I'm not suggesting we teach in public schools which conclusion is most likely - just as you would say "I would state it not as 'this is what happened,' but rather, 'this is what scientists believe happened.' "

And as a religious person, I'm not afraid of science in full flower, exploring every corner of the universe. I encourage it. I'm fascinated by it. Maybe there is intelligent life elsewhere, although I doubt it. I wouldn't stop scientific exploration for fear it will prove my faith wrong, nor do I deny that many aspects of evolutionary theory offer an excellent structure for scientific study. But I also don't believe evolution and faith are antithetical, or reasonably separated into 'reality' vs 'emotion'. It is that characterization in the face of the moral implications of belief in general evolution that give rise to my desire for intelligent design to be presented in schools as an optional theory of origin.

Thanks again for your thorough exploration of the topic.

susanna cornett

UPDATE: Weary and frustrated, Rand Simberg has nonetheless rolled up his sleeves and taken me apart piece by piece in response to the above email. I appreciate his time and his tone, especially given that he thought he'd already done all that was needed and then here I come, late to the party, and start asking more questions. Since my goal is learning, and not debating for its own sake, I won't extensively answer his post right away. I need to absorb the information, from all his posts, and do some other reading. One thing I know is that I have not spent sufficient time reading the original texts of evolution. This is a topic important to me in part because I hope to be back in the classroom in a couple of years, and some of these implications may arise again. Since my area is criminal justice, the issue of origins and the evolutionary implications for behavior doesn't often come into play, except when the etiology of violent behavior is under discussion, so it's not something I have to know immediately how to address. Rand thinks what I've done so far is wrong. I think he didn't address my central concern - as evidenced by this comment (mine, then his):

[Susanna says] My psychology and sociology students were always treated to a lecture on how what you believe about origins has an impact on what you believe about behaviors and morality today.

[Rand says] If that's the case, then I beg your pardon, but you were misteaching them. Perhaps it does, but it most emphatically shouldn't.

The "perhaps it does" is quite disingenuous, because of course it does, and a scientist saying, 'Well, I can't help it if people misunderstand and misuse my data, and you shouldn't teach something you can't support even though they do rampantly', is not precisely fair.

A few notes from my brother Alan: For centuries scientific advancement was made by people who believed in God - and continues to be, in some quarters - so the two can march together. Also, what would be accepted as "proof" that evolution is false? The theory is never discredited, only modified with the new information. Also, Alan (who occasionally shows up in comments here) says: Philip Johnson points out--and this guy proves - they will always trot out the 'scientific method', pat you on the head and send you away when at the end of the day they have made a philosophical, not a scientific, stand.

...any mention of God is fundamentally dismissed under the guise of 'scientific method' yet if they were scientists worth their salt they would come up with ways to test that theory, too.

If any of my readers would like to tackle this, I will post emails about it (that are reasoned and not just spoutings or attacks) on the writings page and link them here. Also, the comments section is open for business and ACD has already promised compelling argumentation as soon as he finishes his Gould book. If I decide to write more about it, it will also be on the writings page and linked here.

ON THE SEX FRONT: Jane Galt has a good post on the whole teen sex thing which hits a lot of the points I would make, after, of course, making the moral arguments based on religious beliefs that would then be either a) agreed with wholeheartedly by everyone who holds my beliefs or b) dismissed out of hand as silly by those who tend to dismiss as silly any moral arguments based on religion. In other words, I'd be preaching to the choir or to the backs of people walking away, so I've not gone there, this time.

To elaborate a little on what Jane Galt says, getting involved in sexual activity very young isn't the same as, say, wearing makeup at 11 or having your own bank account at 13. It can change your life, and "educating" people about going about it safely is not a panacea. If you want to look at how successful education campaigns are, look at the campaigns to get a high-risk group of adults to protect themselves against a painful disease and the possibility of a sure death through contracting AIDS:

Early in 2000, syphilis had "nearly disappeared" from Los Angeles County's gay population, when an AIDS Healthcare Foundation clinic reported diagnosing about 50 cases among gay and bisexual men. Health officials then launched a $560,000 safe-sex media campaign and "four months later declared the outbreak under control." But this summer, the officials "made a startling about-face," conceding that syphilis -- which often indicates a rise in other sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV -- was endemic among men who have sex with men, "[b]ucking a nationwide trend."

...A CDC official attributed the outbreak to a "combination of denial and incompetence." Investigators have discovered that most of the men who contracted syphilis "shrugged off the lessons of the AIDS epidemic and had unprotected sex."

The article does go on to report successes in other realms as a result of the educational campaign. I'm not saying that it's a useless effort; of course it's not. But it's not all that, either. Who amongst us believes that teens don't routinely dismiss advice in a combination of denial and incompetence?

I can't remember who said it, but someone spoke of the beautiful innocence of two young teens learning sex together. Please. Shades of "Blue Lagoon". In our society, sexual innocence in the sense that you aren't sure what it is or that everyone thinks you should do it is gone by middle school, if it lingers that long, unless your parents are careful about what television and movies you watch. Kids having sex at 14 aren't doing it because suddenly he realized that tab A fit in slot B and hey, this is pretty fun! It carries a lot of emotional weight and peer pressure, even then. Maybe especially then. Someone else said sex is just another form of recreation amongst his crowd - there was that emotional thing, of course, gets a little iffy occasionally, but hey, that's life. No, it's not. That's irresponsibility. How many times have you cried all night because your tennis partner didn't call you to play again? Or said your backhand just doesn't compare to Jennifer's? How many people have anorexia or other dysfunctions because going skiing with them for the weekend was just a way for their skiing partner to stave off boredom?

I'm not convinced by the arguments I've seen of sexual activity amongst today's teens as a "natural behavior" that should be at least left alone and possibly even encouraged. I like most of what Jane Galt has to say about it, and I'm disappointed by the attitude of some others. But it does prove one thing that I always told my students at the beginning of courses in psychology and sociology:

What you believe about the origin and development of the earth - intelligent design or accident - does have an impact on everything you do, on your perception of the world, and on your sense of what's right and wrong.

UPDATE: I have been roundly chided both about my "forgetting" of who mentioned innocent teenagers, and my misrepresentation of the context. I suggest you check out the truth while I have any credibility left.

I TAKE A NAP, AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENS: Bill Quick has a new design! Awesome - check it out.

LIGHT BLOGGING today, since I'm home with a nasty headache that doesn't mesh with computing very well. I hope to post some this evening, however, after the Tylenol and a nap work their magic.


Mariane Pearl, the widow of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, is shown in this handout photo after giving birth to Adam Pearl on May 28, 2002, in Paris, a spokeswoman for the family said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SUBURBAN PRINCESS! The smart, sweet and funny author of Life as a Vole blog turns 17 today. Check out her latest posts, send her an email, and generally let her know that we're very happy the next generation includes people like her.

ANOTHER DISSENTING VOICE: Mike Golby at Page Count doesn't much like the SFSU Blog Burst:

Hosted on Joe Katzman's site, Winds of Change, Blog Burst took place yesterday. The material comprises a barrage of shrill, anti-Palestinian rants…

As far as I know, you either call it a Google bomb or a bunch of good ol' boys acting like ‘eedjits’. I believe these people are seeking publicity and an outlet for their frustration, impotence, and anger…

For myself, I heap scorn on our war bloggers and their 'Palestinian' equivalents. They are baby 'disillusionaries'. Their 'static' renders them useless to anybody, especially the causes or governments they supposedly serve. They are worthy only of derision; nothing else. The going will get tough but they will not stay the pace. Trust me on this. I know these things.

Mike, dear, I return your regard with enthusiasm. Give my regards to Shelley as well. And please, feel free to leave comments on my page any time.

I suggest those of you interested in knowing more check out Mike's post.

It is, after all, a free country. Even for eedjits.

Thursday, May 30, 2002


FUN WITH PHOTOS: Apparently the folks at SF Indymedia need a little help with understanding the meaning of "attacked", so I thought I'd do my best.

First, their photo, caption and text from a Palestinian "peace rally" over the weekend:

After Bridge Protest, cops go crazy and attack child
by A • Saturday May 25, 2002 at 09:36 PM

After the Take It To The Bridge Protest on May 25th, police attacked an eleven year old girl named Sophia, throwing her on the ground and binding her arms together. She was left face down on the ground for over five minutes before they took her away. After all that, they then had the nerve to arrest her older brother Musa for bringing her to the protest. Are the Presidio Park Police so messed up that they must beat up children to feel good about themselves. San Franciscans should be outraged!

Now, let's look at a victim from a suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001:

Let's explore this a moment. An eleven year old girl is placed on the grass on her belly for five minutes after yelling at the cops and giving them the finger. A woman is covered in blood after someone tries to kill her with a bomb while she's eating pizza. Who was the victim of someone "crazy"? Who was "attacked"? If you answered "the girl", you need to look at the photos again and then reconsider the question.

No where in the Indymedia coverage did they mention actual injuries to the child in SF; I'm sure they would have had prominent photos if she had any. The jpgs of the girl are labeled "childabuse" in their files, incidentally.

MAKE MINE A ROAST BEEF ON WRY: Howard Fienberg asks an important question:

If James Carville and Geraldo Rivera were drowning and you could only save one, would you read the paper or make a sandwich?

INSIDE HAMAS: Meryl Yourish analyzes a UPI article on an interview with a leader of Hamas. Some of what he said:

The militant also explained the rules for recruiting or accepting suicide bombers, which he said were increasing rapidly in numbers. He said that the recruit or volunteer "should be a committed Muslim, his parents content with him and loved by his family, that he is not the only son to his parents and nor is he the breadwinner in the family."

"He has to be mature, dependable and strong, and we prefer he is not married. It is important that his martyrdom becomes a model and incentive for others to carry out martyr attacks," Shehadeh said...

He described as a "blessing that the Jews are from every race, color and breed because it makes it easier" for bombers to blend in with Israelis in order to kill them.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: And while you're at it, see what happens to many Israeli bombing victims who don't die.


LEANING IN MY DIRECTION - this cool blog, new to me, is worth a look. A woman after my own heart, not to mention politics.

ARMIES ARE WEAPONS, NOT SHIELDS. We need another Ulysses S Grant. Any suggestions as to who that might be?

(Hint: Powell is a McClellan.)

LINKWHORING AND CRONYISM IN THE BLOGOSPHERE? Kevin Holtsberry has an interesting rant about a recent brouhaha involving Richard Bennett and mixed in with the whole teen sex discussion wending through the blogosphere this week. I haven't followed this much, since I've been out of town suffering the trauma of 28K dialup on a computer with 32MG RAM, so I can't comment on what he says. But he has a number of generally insightful comments about blogging, deification of some bloggers and the warring desires to stand independent yet get linked widely for the sake of hits. This caught my eye particularly:

…I think the real problem is that he [Bennett] said what he believes but did so outside the mainstream - he ventured into areas like lesbianism and sex and didn't have the cavalier libertarian live and let live attitude.

I've noticed that libertarians tend to be "live and let live" until your living interrupts their preferences. I have strong libertarian tendencies myself, tied in with my conservative philosophies, so I keep an eye on the libertarians to see what they're saying. Most of them do have preferences, and do espouse their adoption by various individuals and entities, but I don't often see a unifying philosophy of libertarianism that gives coherence to their ideas. The concept of "do whatever you want as long as you harm only yourself" is a fairly ambiguous idea; what constitutes harm? Who has standing for a declaration of harm - only individuals? Or does that include entities such as society or government? And if I get a law passed in my state that limits you more than you want to be limited, well, I’m not forcing you to keep living here. Why are your wishes more important than mine? I think all of those questions have good answers, and I'd like to see some of the excellent minds in the blogosphere tackle those larger issues alongside the issue-based posting that usually rules.

Meantime, enjoy what Kevin has to say. And this is a freebie - he didn't link me, comment on my blog or send me an email announcement. A link for the blogging purists.

WHAT DOES WAR LOOK LIKE? We see the photographs, we read the papers, we debate amongst ourselves, about what war is and what it means. We see the memorial today at the WTC site as the recovery is ended, and rebuilding begins. The discussion sometimes sanitizes the reality. When you demand war, realize you are demanding death. When you resist war, realize that you aren’t likely to save lives, just changing who will die.

Memorial Day was Monday, a time to remember those who died protecting this country, or the countries of others. Maybe the reasons behind the battles weren’t philosophically what you support, but the deaths were very real and the courage of the soldiers true. Two bloggers have written recently about the USS Stark, shot by an Iraqi jet fighter in 1987, supposedly by accident; 37 soldiers died. Go read the names on Tony Adragna’s site; then go read what they became as a result of that attack, on Doubting Thomas’s site. An excerpt:

In late May, we (my boss, and four other assistants) were ordered to go to Frankfurt to work on identifying and piecing together the casualties from the USS Stark, a Navy frigate that had been attacked by an Iraqi fighter jet. Two Exocet missiles were fired at the ship, and we were told anywhere from 30-50 sailors were killed…

Some genius colonel or general decided, while we worked, to let us watch the Naval memorial service for the Stark that was showing on AFN. Here we were, putting these poor bastards back together, trying to figure out what arm belonged to what trunk, and so forth, and there, right before our eyes, were their grieving families. I am standing in two feet of blood and guts, fried body fat, and all the fingers, feet, eyeballs, and decapitated corpses I wish NEVER to see again, and all of a sudden I see on the screen the family of the boy whose decapitated head I am, right at that moment, holding in my hands…

This dead kid was probably asleep in his rack, dreaming of getting laid or going home on leave, when the missiles struck. Now his head is in my hands, and there's his Mom and Dad, who will never get to see him alive, or (thank God) like this, with no body, just a head, and an expression that still haunts me.

That is what war produces. As we consider escalation, let’s be clear about our goals, deal harshly with those who’s behavior jeopardizes our soldiers, and do whatever we can to make sure as few as possible of our precious fellow Americans end up on a military morgue floor - or in Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island - being pieced together by weeping compatriots.

WANT TO SEE THE DANGERS in anti-hate-speech laws? Go see War Now! While we discuss the rise in anti-Semitism, don't forget the importance of free expression of dissenting views. The problem is not dissension, but threats, intimidation or actual physical harm. Any time you support some type of protectionist law (whether it be speech or behavior or commercial activity), you have to understand the logical extensions of that law, and make sure that the cure isn't worse than the disease. Often abusive behavior with a racist tinge can be addressed with standing laws like terroristic threatening or assault, without instituting protections that can be used to quash honest disagreement.

AN 11 YEAR OLD GIRL HAD A BABY in Connecticut this week, according to the radio news (I haven't found it online yet). The 75-year-old father of the baby says the girl seduced him when she was 10.

So what do you think should happen to the baby's father?

DON'T SMOKE: Archipelago has a plea from a friend who just lost her father to emphysema/lung cancer.

My grandfather rolled his own smokes - Prince Albert in a can - until he got cancer of the larnyx and doctors removed his voicebox. Since smoking would suffocate him because of the permanent hole in his throat from the operation, he switched to chewing tobacco until he died of cancer and emphysema in his mid 60s. He was not my favorite person, but it was an ugly way to die.

I don't smoke, and I don't drink, but I do think sometimes that my current aversion to exercise and predilection for chocolate are comparably unhealthy. Something to think about.

A DISSENTING VOICE: Not everyone particularly cares for the Blog Burst about the SFSU incident and its corollaries:

I am concerned about this so-called Blog Burst. Though bloggers are not Journalists and may express their opinion at will, what do you call a formalized process to gather like minds together, resulting in multiple voices united in expressions of anger, paranoia, and hate?

...The concept of Blog Burst disturbs me. The results of this event disturbs me.

Shelley of Burning Bird blog sounds disturbed, don't you think? I personally think the group that attacked the Hillel students were multiple voices united in expressions of anger, paranoia, and hate. But to each her own.

She also lists quotes from various blogs participating, including mine. I disagree with her, naturally, but as per usual I'm offering you the opportunity to check out her objections yourself, especially since her complaint includes problems with my accusations of "moral equivalency" while she engages in it herself:

In the interests of equal representation I'm also linking to an IndyMedia posted comment representing the General Union of Palestinian Students viewpoint. Note, though, that IndyMedia is not known for being an unbiased publication.

Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman, honey, the problem is not that both sides are presented. The problem is that in the interests of "equal representation", unresearched, unsupported, unquestioned allegations are quoted as equal to proveable harm. Linking around to "he said she said" posts without context, when one side is clearly wrong, does not make you morally superior. It makes you an equivocator.

I personally would be very happy to see an independent investigation into the SFSU incidents, if those doing the investigation are willing to actually say one side was more wrong without feeling the need to "rescue" the side that is wrong from any public disapprobation. And if in fairness the investigation found that some of the Hillel group were instigators, were abusive and threatening, then I would support punishment for them. What I find disgusting, and what I highlight in my Blog Burst contribution, is that in the name of "tolerance" and political correctness, officials and media don't seem willing to roundly condemn vicious behavior because of who did it. I think if the ones attacked were pro-choice and the ones being ugly were pro-life, you'd see no hesitation in condemning it. Ditto if the attacked were black and the attackers white. I don't condone that kind of hateful behavior from any group, especially from ones that I associate with. I am... disturbed... that others seem willing to equivocate when they have sympathies with one side.

Shelley, you might want to read your own blog:

What I am going to say is that those who use moral arguments as axes to chop the world into finer and finer bits, cutting away all who disagree with them, will soon find themselves surrounded only by like minds and like voices. And I wish them joy of it.

If you go visit Miss Shelley, please don't miss the comments section wherein the discussion continues.

I wish you the joy of her.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

DIVORCE IS A DEAD ISSUE: Reader Dave Menke, who's about to be deputized as finder of fascinating stories, manages to further enhance the honor of my home state by sending this article:

Divorce granted to dead husband

NEWPORT [KY] — Tony Steffen has been dead for two years. Nevertheless, he just got divorced.

In a case national experts are calling extraordinary, a circuit court judge in Northern Kentucky has dissolved the 58-year marriage of Mr. Steffen, who was 81 when he died, and his widow, Byrl, now 86.

Behind the unusual ruling is a fight between the couple's adult children over a $1.5 million estate.

The Steffens' son, Roger S. Steffen, and daughter, Susan Pearman, are estranged. Roger Steffen is aligned with his mother, and Ms. Pearman had been aligned with her father.

This is definitely dark humor, but humorous nonetheless. One of those things where you have to laugh to keep from crying. Families can do really awful things to each other in the throes of death and money, which is very sad. In a story I remember from my childhood, a man died and his widow was too ill to attend the funeral. She wanted him to be buried on top of a steep, isolated hill, and their children wanted him buried in a cemetery at its base that was more convenient. Since she didn't attend the funeral, they had him buried in the lower cemetery. They disturbed the ground where she wanted him buried, and later allowed her to have a memorial stone put there without telling her where his body really was. I've always thought that was one of the meanest things I'd heard of.

If this article's characterization of Roger Steffen is accurate, I think we've hit a new low.

PILOTS AND GUNS - NOT THE FIRST CHOICE: Dan drops the Happy Fun and fully engages his inner Pundit in this excellent piece on whether commercial pilots should have guns in the cockpits. I agree with his argument that pilots with guns are not a sufficient protection, and the debate over it has obscured exploration of other ideas. I think pilots should have the option to have guns (and he gives a good model for that), but our freedom has to be protected first and foremost by each individual. There is a happy (fun?) medium somewhere between total government control and anarchy, and we need to find where that is with respect to our safety in this country.

I flew home to Kentucky for the weekend, and since it was my first time in the air since 9/11, and I flew out of Newark International where two of the 9/11 planes originated, I was very conscious of security and the possibilities for terrorism. I went over in my mind the ways I could react if something happened, not in an obsessive way, but in the way that all women will recognize. This is not something familiar to most men, but I've talked to enough women about it to know it's pretty universal with them - we are always conscious of the possibility of attack by a predator with sexual or other intent. Most women are physically vulnerable to the type of men who assault (few PeeWee Herman types become attack rapists or robbers), and from a young age we're taught to "be careful". That works out practically to a constant sense of the environment, of inexplicable or "yellow flag" behavior, of where we'll be when as a factor in how we dress, and so forth. For example, if I'm going to be emerging from the mall with packages late at night by myself, then I'm going to park under a light and as close to the door as possible even if I'm driving my brand new sports car; a man is more likely to park where the dings won't mar his paint job. We're not always smart about it, but it's a thread of lesser or greater strength through the lives of most women. The closest most men get is the awareness of environment while walking down an unfamiliar city street at night - no paranoia, but a consciousness of who's around, where there's movement, who seems to be out of place and what defensive measures are available.

I think we're going to need to develop this sense in regards to potential terrorism, in whatever context. A valuable book that addresses this - for women, but much of the information would be useful to men too - is The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. Basically, he says we already know subconsciously when things "aren't right" - we just need to learn how to listen to our fears, distinguish between inappropriate and appropriate fears, and develop in our minds the outlines of how to respond to various threats. One of the most important aspects is appropriate vs inappropriate - we hear the PC crowd get shrilly hysterical about bias and profiling, but a populace trained to recognize what a real concern looks like is less likely to give in to generalizations.

Ultimately, it's about me and my willingness to protect myself and my fellow citizens. I cede many of those functions to the government, but not completely, and not without demanding accountability and evidence of competence. What makes this country great is ultimately its individualism, and that is what will also make us safe.

A TEENAGER WITH A GOOD ATTITUDE. Congratulations, Valerie. Good luck.

JUST WHAT I NEEDED: A book with all the pertinent info on gun control and gun rights, with one of three authors none other than Dave Kopel of NRO. New, out just in time for Father's Day.

I think I'll buy one for my niece.

WHEN DOES REPORTING BECOME SMEARING? Media Minded has some good thoughts on that, in the context of a Signorile takedown. Worth your time.

PERFORMANCE ART I COULD SUPPORT: Do you think we could get the National Endowment for the Arts to give grants to more of this kind of art?

BRING PEACE TO THE MIDDLE EAST - INVADE IRAQ: David Hogberg at Cornfield Commentary thinks it's past time to take out Saddam, and also thinks that will give the US and Israel the diplomatic freedom to rain full righteous indignation on Arafat and his minions. I don't agree with all he says, but he makes some good points and this is one of the best:

Some will argue that this characterization of Arabs is unfair, that most Arabs are peaceful and abhor terrorism. That is very likely true; it is also irrelevant. Those Arabs are not the ones in charge throughout much of the Arab world. The extremists are.

WILL ADVERTISE FOR FOOD: Tony Woodlief at Sand in the Gears has found an interesting assimilation of the homeless into the market economy.

NEGATION THROUGH MORAL EQUIVALENCE: You’ve all read about the pro-Israel peace rally held at San Francisco State University that turned ugly when pro-Palestinian demonstrators interrupted it with threats, slurs and intimidating slogans such as “Hitler did not finish the job”. Student Benjamin Epstein gives a picture of what it was like to be there; this excerpt describes the end, as the supporters of Israel closed their rally with music and prayers:

My ears were ablaze with sound. Screams. "Zionists off our campus!" "Racists!" mixed with achingly beautiful Jewish music, and voices of a thousand singing. If I turned my head to the left, I saw the angry faces, screaming with rage, waving black and green flags. And when I turned my head to the right, I saw a sea of blue and white, singing people. And I was in the middle…

The descriptions of the event, even in the mainstream media, highlight more aggressive behavior on the part of the pro-Palestinian group than the pro-Israeli group:

As the rally wound down, some pro-Palestinian students crossed the barricades, confronting people on the other side and allegedly yelling such statements as, ``Hitler should have finished the job.'' A pro-Palestinian protester tore down an Israeli flag and stomped on it.

In the face of this information, the efforts at moral equivalence are disturbing. In several articles, newspapers countered descriptions from supporters of Israel with rebuttals and accusations from the Palestinian group. Even an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle stood for nothing because of its moral equivalence:

Whatever you want to call it, anti-Jewish incidents -- and, perhaps to a lesser extent, anti-Arab ones -- appear to be on the rise in the Bay Area, a disturbing trend.

This is a quantifiable thing. Are they both rising to the same extent? The SF Chronicle seems reluctant to say “no”.

Extremists on both sides are trying to censor the other. Zionism is not racism, and all criticism of the Israeli government is not tantamount to anti- Jewish prejudice, any more than opposition to U.S. government policies is anti- Americanism.

There is a difference between yanking down a flag and stomping on it while yelling words that basically mean, “You should be dead”, and calling someone a “camel jockey”. It’s inappropriate to use ethnic slurs, but that is not morally equivalent to wishing someone dead because of his or her race or ethnic origin. This reluctance to call evil “evil” is the same thing that gives Arafat and his homicidal thugs the ability to continue playing both ends in Palestine – targeting innocent Israelis repeatedly while holding up their hands to the world and saying, “I’m just protecting myself” when called on it.

I’m not a Zionist in the sense that I have religious beliefs about Israel’s existence. I do believe that as a protection for the Jewish people, and as a democracy in a part of the world with precious few human rights, it should be supported by the US. But I see this current rash of anti-Semitism, both here and in Europe, as a re-igniting of a sentiment that has lain dormant but has not gone away for decades, or even centuries. The Palestinian situation is an excuse, not a reason. That’s what makes this attitude on the part of the media so disturbing. Their insistence on moral equivalence gives hatred a place to fester and grow under the protection of a misguided application of “tolerance”. Yes, there are some supporters of Israel who have said and done inappropriate or even hateful things. It’s not inappropriate moral equivalence to say that’s wrong.

It is inappropriate moral equivalence to say “camel jockey” is the same as “I wish you were dead because you’re a Jew”.

This post gives my thoughts on what’s going on with the SFSU incident and its aftermath, and it’s part of a larger effort to bring attention to the issue. Joe Katzman of Winds of Change, who organized the “blog burst”, wants you to know this:

This blog can only comment on one or two facets of the travesty at SFSU. Other dimensions of this incident and the alarming trends it represents are detailed in the full SFSU Blog Burst Index at Winds of Change.

I recommend you visit there and check out what others have to say. It’s important to understand. I opened with a comment from Benjamin Epstein, who was at the SFSU rally. Let me close with another:

…this is something I don't think I'll ever forget. And I don't mean remembering for the rest of my life. I mean its something I'd remember in my next life. It's something deep in the residual memory of all Jews, who recall Anti-Semitism. I have seen its face.

Don’t let that face be yours. And don't let the moral equivalence of the media blind you to what's right vs wrong.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

IT'S A GOOD START: A panel investigating the mistakes made in the case of Rilya Wilson in Florida has released its report, with recommendations for changes in the Florida child services department. This is a political hot potato, in this Florida gubernatorial election year, so we'll see what actually happens.

It's apparent from the discussion up to this point that bureaucracy contributed heavily to the mistakes made in Rilya's case; what concerns me is that more bureaucracy is seen as the solution, rather than a streamlining of the entire process. Some of the recommendations - like criminal background checks on foster parents - are so common sense that it's appalling they weren't done before. But I think two factors - one discussed, one not discussed - are at fault too. The one discussed is that the caseworker in charge of Rilya's case had apparently been fired and rehired twice, and had quit prior to the reporting on Rilya's case because of other problems with her work. As a government employee who's been around the civil service system quite a bit (although not until recently a part of it), I suspect this has to do with how that system makes it difficult to get rid of incompetent employees. The "not discussed" part is just the whole govt child care program itself. We have a need to protect our children, and remove them from situations where their safety is at risk, but the bureaucracy that builds up around the laws passed more as a result of good intentions than good research is a frightening and harmful monolith resistent to good sense and change. And, as we have seen in the Rilya case, when a child is truly in dire circumstances that bureaucracy often operates against her interests rather than for them.

We cannot see the Rilya case as support for the sense amongst the cradle-to-grave crowd that children are the state's responsibility and parents can be allowed to raise them only as long as the state thinks they are doing an ok job. The child services monolith needs to be cut back and set on its logical path as a protection for children truly at risk, and that trimming of bureaucracy will allow closer supervision of children like Rilya, rather than the diffuse approach taken now where, truly, little is done well.

And, in the meantime, the question still remains: Where is Rilya? She can't be allowed to become just a symbol. It's likely she's dead, by now, but possibly not. I hope as much effort is being expended to find her as is being expended to point fingers and find new ways to add to the bureaucracy of child services.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

SPEAKING OF MY NIECE, the Saturday Ramble is up. And if you can figure out why I have that section of the photo code visible, let me know how to fix it.

I hope you're having a great weekend.

UPDATE: Several people identified what I had done wrong, and sure enough when I followed through on their advice the problem was fixed. Thanks so much. I knew that when I laid my ignorance out there for correction, I'd not be ignorant for long. And that's a good thing - eventually I'll actually know what I'm doing (at least with html).

I NEED HELP: My teenage niece fell victim to a liberal sociology teacher this past semester, and has been saying things like, "My teacher said that people who own guns are 40% more likely to shoot themselves than someone who breaks into their home", and such. She's decided that hunting is cruel, and people who hunt for sport are just not nice people (that would include her grandfather, dad and brother). Without my cj books in hand and little time to search the Internet, I'm coming up dry for statistics to show a more accurate picture of the issue of gun ownership - why a) it's important to have the right to own guns and b) why hunting is not cruel. I can explain it, but I need the numbers because she's in the grips of teenage "I don't believe adults who I've known since I was spitting up formula" dismissiveness. What I want to do is basically develop a little cheat sheet of pertinent stats, and I figure you all are the ones to ask for help in getting over my brain hiccup. I'll put whatever I get into a compilation post and put it on the "writings" site, for handy reference by anyone. You can post in comments or send email.

It's either that or sign her up for a re-education class. (Or, possibly, introducing her to a really cute firearms instructor.)

UPDATE: I've gotten a lot of good information about this issue, which I will compile and post on writings. Some I've sent along to my niece. And I think I'll investigate firing ranges near her college - lessons would be a great Christmas present, don't you think?

Saturday, May 25, 2002

OK, SO MAYBE THE POLITICS ARE ROUGHER: Reader Dave Menke sent me the link to this comment on the WYMT-TV website. WYMT operates out of Hazard, KY, (in Perry County, for those who looked at the Kentucky map, linked below). If you're really interested, the videos of the ads are available at WYMT's website.

The race for property valuation administrator in Floyd County is getting extremely personal. The candidates are lodging allegations against the others' character. In her ad, Connie Hancock alleges her opponent Glenn David May has been arrested or charged many times for various offenses. She claims he was arrested for assault, and claims he tried to bite another person's ear off.

In his counter ad, May denies ever being charged for DUI, and purports to have an X-rated tape of his opponent, a portion of which appears in his commercial.

Today, Connie Hancock fires back with a radio ad featuring her and her husband denying that she is the person in the video. Though May's campaign consultant acknowledges his spot makes eastern Kentucky politics look like the Jerry Springer show, May is sticking by his commercial and campaign tactics.

Voters in Floyd County are shocked by the personal nature of the commercials, but are afraid things could get worse before the Tuesday primary.

The ads are airing on WYMT. Federal regulations prevent television stations from editing or stopping any ad that is paid for by a candidate and meets FCC rules. Only ads from political parties and special interest groups can be pulled from air if they prove inaccurate.

You can just feel the pain on the part of WYMT that they can't edit or refuse the ads.

Friday, May 24, 2002

GOOD JOB: Jonah Goldberg mentioned one of my favorite places on the Web, JunkYardBlog, in his Washington Times article on blogging Friday. Excellent! "The Blogger", as he is now pseudonymously known, is a gentleman and a scholar, with good thoughts and the ability to articulate them. I recommend you spend some time over at his place.

IMMIGRATION AND ASSIMILATION: Is our culture the only one in the world that doesn't get respect? Scutum Sobieski takes a look, and points out implications of the current attitude in the PC power elite.

LIKE I SAID: This FoxNews article says that Wednesday was the highest alert day since 9/11, especially in the NYC area. I mentioned that below - I was at Liberty State Park that day. It's also Fleet Week, as the article mentions. What I don't say below, because I didn't learn it until afterward, is that the helicopters in the photograph are flying a lost wing formation, in honor of the Jersey City police officer killed in the line of duty last year. The photo captures them in front of the WTC center site which, to me, makes the tribute even more poignant.

JOHN McCAIN: TRUE, KIND, FAIR. The NY Times review of Elizabeth Drew 's book about John McCain gushes about the qualifications of Drew, and approving of her book, for the most part. But one comment was especially interesting:

Although she notes, with understatement, that Mr. McCain is known for his scratchy temper, the reader rarely sees him losing his cool or being anything but true, kind and fair.

Ha. No bias there.

THE LINE IN NEWARK INTERN'L was pretty bad - took me over an hour and a half to get through security. They didn't confiscate my crochet needle (is that a good thing? or bad thing?), but a bomb-sniffing dog checked out the line about an hour before I got to the actual security checkpoint and I saw them going through someone's luggage as I went out the other side. They did random luggage checks in Detroit for the people getting on the connecting flight. The flights were fine, but I got to Newark at 4 and didn't get to Lexington until 10, so it was tiring.

Today will be busy, running around to my niece's music class, going to lunch with my parents, then to my sister's for the night. Posting will happen, but since my brother and sister both have dial-up accounts, I don't think I'll have the patience to post a lot (these slow load rates after having DSL at home and LAN at work is making me nuts). Also, for some bizarre reason, my family seems to think I should visit with them instead of spending time online. Go figure.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

OFF TO THE COUNTRY: I'm heading back to Kentucky for a few days, and I'm scrambling this afternoon to get a few things done before going to Newark Intern'l. Posting will continue, but likely sporadically, during the weekend. Now that I am photo-post expert, look for photographs of my adventures.

SHOOTING FROM THE HIP: Laura Ingraham takes down Mary McGrory's latest column about gun nuts and Ashcroft. Excellent read, via DailyPundit. One thing I found interesting:

One highly-acclaimed antigun scholar, Michael Bellesiles, has already seen his book Arming America (Random House) debunked as fraudulent. When other scholars questioned his data on gun ownership in early America, he claimed his supporting documentation was lost in a flood.

This shows, to me, that the discussion about Bellesiles is really over; all that's left now is whatever formal procedure Emory decides to take in response to his pathetic "scholarship". He has moved his way completely out of the realm of reasonable doubt and firmly into the "liar" column. I keep feeling little twinges of sympathy, because he's fallen so far, so completely. But he was the one who sought fame and ideological furtherence at the cost of truth and academic rigor. And any academic - liberal or conservative - who does the same should be similarly debunked. I'm glad he was caught, and I'm very pleased that it was such a public discussion for two reasons: It warns other academics not to fudge or fake data; and it alerts the public in general that it's not only possible to do, but actually being done.

When you're dealing with guns, speak the truth, or you'll be shot down.

EASTERN KENTUCKY SAGA: There’s truth, and there’s context, which gives bare truth a different look. A primary election is impending in the Kentucky county where I grew up; last weekend, four people who are involved in some way in the election were shot at, none injured. The shootings were covered in the largest daily in the area, the Lexington Herald-Leader, and one of the reporters is a former colleague of mine. I know he knows the area, because he’s from that part of the state. Yet the article has the feel of a bunch of escapees from Deliverance:

The investigator, Billy Rowland Phillips, was one of four Clay County residents involved in the clerk's race, including White, who say they were shot at between late Sunday night and early Monday morning.

Clay County Sheriff Edd Jordan, who is investigating the attack on White on a rural road in the county's southeastern corner, has said it was "politically motivated."

…claims and counterclaims about Sunday night's shooting are flying in this tiny county.

…Juanita Laughran, a clerk at the Family Drug Center in Manchester, said a lot of customers have been talking about the incidents. They're all taking the hoopla in stride, she said.

"People come in and say that's the way politics are," she said, "there's liable to be a killing."

Three of my grandparents and both my parents grew up in Clay County, and so did I. My childhood was typical middle-class America, with two school teacher parents, Partridge Family on the tube when we could get the antenna to pick up that channel out of Knoxville, and Chef Boy r Dee pizza on hectic evenings. We lived on a family farm, my grandparents just down the road, and a lot of our summer meals came literally straight from the garden. I rode my bicycle up and down the road, went to basketball games at the high school and traveled all over the eastern United States on family vacations. We did country things, ate country foods, but that's no different from the family traditions passed down in families all over the United States. How normal is that?

But there was a difference, compared to what others tell me of their childhoods. A cousin of my dad’s was murdered when I was young, and two other relatives were involved in killings themselves. A friend of my sister’s lost her parents and pregnant sister in law to a sniper shooting through the windows of their home; some years after I left home, two murdered drug dealers were found in the trunk of an abandoned car a mile from my parents’ home. When I was in college, I wrote an article on feuds in the county in the early to mid 1900s; my professor wanted me to submit it for publication, but my parents asked me not to for fear that emotions still ran too high in the families of those involved.

Does that make where I come from so very different? I don’t know. I could be blind to it. Sometimes I think it is, sometimes I think every place has its skeletons, its histories, its Amy Fischers and Columbines, its drug killing on the corner or family dispute that ends in death. My brother pointed out one comment from the article:

“…this tiny county.”

Clay County is in the top third in square miles amongst the 120 Kentucky counties, larger than both Fayette and Jefferson counties, the biggest population centers. It does have only 23,000 or so people, but then many counties have fewer. The county seat is fewer than 2,000 in population, but again, many are smaller. Yes, that's fewer people than worked in the WTC, but then, that's NYC, not Kentucky. So in what way is the county “tiny”, given the context? The reporters know all this. I think the “tiny” was an effort to create the impression of small, as in “small minds”; small, as in “hick town”; small, as in “you can’t expect better of these people”.

There is a lot of poverty where I grew up, and a lot of people who could do better if they just tried. There’s a lot of illiteracy, and certainly poor grammar and strong country accents. I don’t see a major quantifiable difference between that and the same conditions in, say, Brooklyn, or Detroit, or LA, or Anywhere, USA. Then again, there are studies that say the South is more violent, more illiterate, more closed.

I think, if I get beyond my defensiveness, that where I grew up is probably more rough-edged than most of suburban America, and maybe one of the reasons we hear about those rough country folk is because all classes and races are mixed in together – when only a few people live in a place, you’re bound to know the families for generations back, regardless of their social status, and usually you’re kin somewhere. That means whenever something like this shooting happens, it’s not a group of people saying “I didn’t see anything”, but rather people saying, “I know folks on both sides, and it’s a shame.” The people speaking are often working or middle class, so they connect with the majority of news viewers. And I think there is a Deliverance factor - this kind of activity supports the preconceptions many have of rural Appalachia, and it's easier to evoke the stereotype than contextualize the actuality.

So, in a country where the rough parts of town are separated from the middle class, and where having lived in a place 10 years qualifies as an old timer, a place like my home county stands out.

I think, ultimately, what I object to most is that stereotype swallowing up the good in a mocking caricature. And I just hate it that someone from eastern Kentucky is the one doing the mocking.

NOTE: For anyone who’s interested, here is a map of Kentucky showing population levels by county. Clay County (lower right) is where I grew up, just northwest of the C; I’ve also lived in Pulaski, Fayette, Oldham, Jefferson, Warren and McLean counties, and lived just across the line from Calloway County, in Tennessee.

NOT THAT I’M PROUD, but that photo below is the very first photo posted on this blog. It’s been community effort, even though one of the community gave yet was unaware of his contribution (doesn't that sound chilling). The Dodd put the photo on the Net for me and sent a great wad of code that didn't quite fit Blogger but contained most of the necessary info, Martin Devon and Henry Hanks each sent me additional code, and I tried to put it all together… with little success. It was user error, definitely. Finally I went looking for a photo on another blog where I could snatch source code, and Jim Treacher unknowingly contributed this valuable part of my raw materials. Studying all this code together, I finally figured out my error and the result is as you see below! Thanks all around, I could not have done it by myself (and that’s not just a throwaway line – it’s the unvarnished truth.)

And if you're wondering... the final holdup was that I was using the html version of the URL for the img src section of the code, when I need to use the jpg version. When I figured that out, I went to Properties on the page with the photo, copied that version of the URL, and pasted it into the img src section. Voila! You can even click on the photo and it will take you to the source page, if you should wish to put the photo on your own site (of course properly attributed to me), and spread my fame as a photographer far and wide.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

THE SOUNDS AND SIGHTS OF SECURITY: The skies were blue, the clouds puffy, the speakers long-winded and the military choppers loud. Dozens of police officers turned out for an awards ceremony at Liberty State Park, a sea of blue beside the Hudson. Both officers and civilians received awards for their work on 9/11 and after, and across the river Battery Park stood sentinel over the hole that was once the World Trade Center.

It's Fleet Week in NYC, so the day was punctuated by the constant buzzing of helicopters - military, NYPD, and EMS. A three-masted Coast Guard ship sailed gracefully by, and toward the end of the afternoon a small aircraft carrier with a helicopter lashed on top eased past the park. The Fuji blimp floated serenely above it all, and a fire boat spraying arcs of water just in front of Battery Park looked like a huge white spider resting on the river.

It was beautiful, and inspiring, and reminded me all over again that the WTC is gone, and we're at war. The Lincoln Tunnel closed a while today, and they were searching all cars endeavoring to cross into Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge. The Statue of Liberty stood with its gold flame against the blue sky, and more ships eased slowly into the bay. What a wonderful country. What a terrifying situation.

These two military helicopters, flying past Battery Park, would have been silhouetted against the WTC this time last year. Photo taken yesterday from Liberty State Park.

WORKING TO IMPROVE YOUR BLOGGING EXPERIENCE: I've spent the last little while setting up some free space I have online to be able to dump photos there, for posting here. Also, I'm in the process of moving the whole shebang over to another server, off Blogger, which will likely occur weekend after this coming. I'll be going Moveable Type, and the Wonderful and Amazing Dodd of Ipse Dixit is making it happen.

Now, if I can just figure out this ftp stuff....

IF YOU WERE HERE EARLIER TODAY, you may notice that while there were no posts actually up for today until almost 3 p.m., the two posts below this are time-stamped 7:30 a.m. and 11:13 a.m. That's because I posted, but Blogger said, "No space available" on that server. I was not happy. That is also part of the reason why there aren't more posts. I just did get back from the ceremony mentioned below, and I will have more to say about it (and a photo) in a little bit.

BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION: There's a terrorist threat here, folks, right here in the NYC metro area. They're inspecting all vehicles going into Manhattan (or so the radio says), which means they're slowing my commute. The Fuji Blimp is patroling the skies (don't I feel safe) and they're also keeping an eye on the Statue of Liberty just in case anyone gets ideas about taking down that monument. Given the tendency of suicidal Muslim extremists to choose either busy markets (Israel) or major monuments with lots of people around (WTC), I'm thinking that a large group of people congregating in, say, Liberty State Park overlooking the Statue, in, say, Jersey City where the 1993 WTC bombers lived and the 9/11 killers had connections, would be a prime target.

So guess where I'm going.


To participate in a large gathering of police officers at Liberty State Park (I'm not police, just there on sufferance).

Of course, if I was really worried, I'd stay home. I'm not. But I'm a bit hinky, and trying to use humor to diffuse that slightly sick sense of wondering if I'm sitting in the open mouth of a lion.

Naturally, to follow up today's adventure, I'm going to fly out of - you guessed it - Newark International Airport tomorrow night for a long weekend in God's Country, aka Kentucky.

Let's all hope that I don't wind up in God's real Country, aka heaven.

(update: at least not, as Quana notes in comments, ahead of schedule!)

DID THEY OR DIDN'T THEY? I mentioned earlier that two Israelis were told to leave a NYC restaurant when the owner learned they were Israeli. The owner has since denied it, and one of the Israelis has reaffirmed her story. I don't know quite what to think; my instinct is to say that it would be a rather bizarre thing to make up. If you're interested, I suggest you check out the latest information:

Renatinha of Balagan blog has the letter from the restaurant owner denying the incident.

Israeli Guy still thinks it's true, and has comments from the journalist who wrote about it originally, and an email from one of the Israeli students, to support his belief.

Dawson has the same information but less surety.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

REASON ENOUGH: Damian Penny watched the video of Dan*el Pe*rl's death. He tells us what he thinks. I agree with him. The excerpt in my earlier post said it best:

Real progress requires that we address root causes, which means putting bullets through the right foreheads

There are righteous deaths and there are unrighteous deaths. Sometimes we are called to bring righteous death to avenge unrighteous death, and this is one of those times.

I'm not a violent person; in fact, if you ask my friends to describe me, "sweet" will be one of the top characteristics. And I believe that meekness and gentleness are traits we should all strive for. But Jesus was sweet, and meek, and gentle, and beyond our ken righteous, yet he drove wicked people out of the temple. Sometimes you have to be aggressive and even ruthless in excising a cancer of hate that, if allowed to spread, will destroy everything.

This kind of viciousness, the kind of hate that could do what was done to Dan*el Pe*rl, cannot be convinced or persuaded or forced out of a person. It has metastasized. And to get rid of it, you kill it.

The sooner, the better.

A PLAINT TOO FAR: Dodd at Ipse Dixit uses the movie A Bridge To Far to illustrate how the intelligence about 9/11 didn't come together in time.

A NEW BLOGWORD AND A PLUG FOR ANOTHER: I received a very nice thank you from Tom Maguire, The MinuteMan, for linking him below. It's always a pleasure to hear from people I link, mainly because that means they came over to see my site and are writing because they liked it. In his email, Tom said he had received a lot of hits from the link (always a good thing to hear), which he doubted was quite on the level of an Instapundit link but nothing to sneeze at. He said,

I can't call it an "instalanche", since I've never had one. Let's say its a "biaslide".

So there you go! Two new blogwords, one coined by Mr. Maguire himself:

Instalanche: The "overwhelm everything in its path" mass of traffic lesser mortals receive when the Blogfather points in your direction. Often overwhelming to first-timers, but addictive. Soon a rating system in the blogosphere (tm Bill Quick) will develop around it. Originally put out there by Jim Treacher, who now posts comments about how it isn't catching on. (And who's site I can't link to because it's in flux.)

Biaslide: The "barely over the banks" wash of traffic that heads in the direction of those linked by moi.

Different sites will have their own link-flood terms as the rating system develops. Conversation at the cybercoffeeshop: "Hey! New here? I'm BigBlogDude, I'm rated at an average 6 Instalanches a month. Her? Oh, that's HotChickBlog. Yeah, she's a 3-a-month Instalancher. HarveyBlog, well, he got a couple of Biaslides recently, and scored a WelchGullyWasher last week, but no Instalanche yet. RitaBlog, she's collecting a bunch - she's had a LayneSlam, a couple of SpleenvilleSplashes and just yesterday a VolokhVaunting. She's an up and comer."

It's just a matter of time.

UPDATE: Hey, I just got linked by DailyPundit - it's a QuickRush!


On February 20, 2002, the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel ("CARP") delivered its report recommending rates and terms for the statutory license for eligible nonsubscription services to perform sound recordings publicly by means of digital audio transmissions ("webcasting") under 17 U.S.C. §114 and to make ephemeral recordings of sound recordings for use of sound recordings under the statutory license set forth in 17 U.S.C. §112. (Read details on proceeding.)

On May 21, 2002, the Librarian of Congress, based upon the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights, issued an Order rejecting the Panel’s determination proposing rates and terms for these licenses. In such cases, the law provides that the Librarian shall issue his final determination within 30 days of his decision to reject the Panel’s proposed rates and terms. The final determination is due on June 20, 2002.

Heads up via

UPDATE: Zem has a more knowledgeable perspective, there in the Comments:

It's not a victory for net radio yet. Note that it's not clear why the recommendation was rejected, or even that the new rates (due June 20) will be lower. There's some useful info in these comments at Politech, and this Reuters article (excerpts here in case the original expires).


OUCH! The Minute Man does NOT like the new Star Wars movie, but he's very funny in the process. He even has predictions for the next movie's main themes.

ABSOLUTELY APPROPRIATE RESPONSE: Moira Breen points us to an article by David Warren that ends:

In the rather shocking words of a British Afghan expert, a man I believe to be deeply humane: "Real progress requires that we address root causes, which means putting bullets through the right foreheads."

WINE AND WHOOPIE: Schamp also gives me the opportunity (not him personally, you understand, but by reason of an interesting link about the topic) to say, "Who are these men, and why are they universally feared by sheep?"

Do you think any of them said, "I only have eyes for ewe?"

(okay, okay, I'll stop.)

HE'S INSIDE MY HEAD: Craig Schamp says all those things I wish I'd said about pilots with guns.

Summary: Lock Fritz Hollings in the cockpit of an abandoned plane and give guns to the pilots of real moving ones.

HOW VERY FRIGHTENING: Nicholas Kristof is now embracing Christian evangelicals:

America's evangelicals have become the newest internationalists…

the new internationalists are saving lives in some of the most forgotten parts of the world…

…we should welcome this new constituency for foreign affairs in Middle America. Just look at AIDS funding: With bleeding-heart evangelicals like Mr. Graham pressing hard, Congressional Republicans are suddenly scrambling to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money to fight AIDS in Africa. Even Jesse Helms is joining in, and that's pretty much proof of divine intervention.

Interesting viewpoint, but notable mostly because Kristof is excited that Christian groups are bringing their money to projects that he considers valuable. And he’s not much interested in Christians spreading their faith:

(…I have my doubts about the Middle East peace plan proffered by the Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy's son: Muslims and Jews alike should try "surrendering their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and having their hearts changed by the Holy Spirit.”)

but he’s fully on board with their money:

Evangelicals are among the most generous donors, for many tithe (evangelical cheapskates donate their 10 percent of incomes after tax). The 15 biggest Christian charities monitored by Ministrywatch .com collect more than $3 billion a year. Even small evangelical funds are booming; World Relief, with 9,000 employees, says its $40 million budget has doubled in four years.

while his arrogance toward and mocking of conservative religious people is intact:

The old religious right led by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, trying to battle Satan with school prayers and right-to-life amendments, is on the ropes…

Evangelicals are usually regarded by snooty, college-educated bicoastal elitists (not that any read this newspaper) as dangerous Neanderthals…A simple-minded moralistic streak often leads them toward sanctions that would hurt precisely the people they aim to help, in Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea and China.

Kristof treats evangelicals as some bizarre throwback cultural phenomenon that’s suddenly discovered a leftist agenda. It’s a quirky article (wherein he says “[e]vangelicals have their quirks), which doesn’t at all address the faith that underlies the actions behind the work these groups are doing. It’s all about taking advantage of their money. He admits to a lessening of his cynicism when he sees a Christian group staying behind to help in dangerous parts of the Philippines when other aid groups pull out, and he likes all that cash (they tithe! Wow!) but that’s about the extent of his admiration, and he can’t resist taking potshots along the way.

I find Mr. Kristof condescending and annoying, but then, maybe that’s just the simple-minded moralistic old religious right Neanderthal in me coming out.

TOFU BASKETBALLS? Well, not quite, but PETA's at it again and Tony Woodlief's pretty ticked about it. While I don't quite get the sports end of the fury, I do find PETA nauseating and the spinelessness of the NCAA distressing. I've been meaning to blog this anyway - my brother sent me the link last week with the words (and I quote): "Blog this crap!" So now I am, and as soon as I save this post I'm going to get some meat for breakfast. And maybe I'll have that steak for lunch.

You will understand, I'm sure, the total depth of my disgust for PETA when I tell you that my dad is a hunter, I grew up eating all sorts of wild game, and I've not to this day seen "Bambi" since my dad when we were growing up wouldn't let us see that "anti-hunter propaganda" movie. What's more, I love meat. And leather. And all those other lovely byproducts of the meat industry.

I say we all chip in and send PETA's corporate offices a leather armchair for its employees to watch the next NCAA basketball season in, and a year's membership for mail order meat.

THE BEAUTIFUL NEW INSTAPUNDIT! Glenn Reynolds has moved his site off Blogger, and it's been redesigned in Moveable Type. Feels kind of 1920s artsy; when I saw it first I thought, "He had Lileks do the redesign?" But no, he's succumbed to the siren call of Vodkapundit's webmistress, as has, apparently, Jim Treacher. It'll take some getting used to, but I like the new Instapundit. Nice graphic too.

While the VP webmistress hasn't come knocking on my door, I've had an offer to move into new cyberdigs complete with an MT makeover, and I'm considering. We shall see. I'm such an html inept that I'm not sure how that would work. It would, however, be cool to have more design input and options. We might even see about a "cut on the bias" graphic...

Oh the dreams, the plans, the wondrous joys of contemplation. Meanwhile, life calls in the form of a grant writing consultation before work this morning (in my Alter Ego as a Grant Writing Consultant) so posting will commence when that is over. I must say, I forget what excellent writers bloggers are, since everyone is it kind of moves to the background, but when I am faced with writing by the typical American I become frightened for our country. But never fear, my trusty red ink pen is busily wreaking its usual havoc.

Monday, May 20, 2002

A GREAT MIND, for media, that is. Media Minded has a couple of great reads.

First, check out his riff on headlines, starting with reference to a post on bias in headlines, but skidding pretty quickly into a funny nostalgia stream on headline jargon.

Second, MM encourages us to spend a little time with the Arcata Eye, famous for hilarious police blotter coverage, and its Anti-Eye, people with their panties in a wad and no sense for web design. They should be cited in the Eye's blotter for offensive use of typeface and web-designing while under the influence of fuchsia.

DOESN’T PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS: The Social Security Agency is handing out over a 100,000 social security numbers a year to non-citizens with no right to them, and many are being used to commit fraud. The SSA has been unconcerned:

For more than three years, Mr. Huse has recommended that the Social Security agency check the records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service before issuing Social Security numbers to noncitizens.

Before Sept. 11, the Social Security agency disagreed with this recommendation and did nothing to carry it out, fearing it would lead to unacceptable delays in issuing Social Security numbers to legitimate applicants.

Of course, as with everything else, 9/11 changed things:

The Social Security agency has since embraced the recommendation…

Well, not everything:

…but has had little success in getting the necessary help from the immigration agency, Mr. Huse said in an interview. The immigration agency issues many of the documents that immigrants use to show they are eligible for Social Security cards…

There might be hope:

Mr. Huse said the two agencies were still working out an arrangement to give Social Security officials access to electronic immigration files on noncitizens.

But the two agencies apparently are getting righteous at each other, never a good sign:

Social Security is also waiting for the immigration agency to incorporate data on certain immigrants authorized to work in the United States.

Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the immigration agency, said: "We are trying to work more closely with the Social Security Administration to reduce the use of fraudulent documents. It's one of our top priorities."

Ahhh… the old “we’re waiting on them to get their act together” while the other agency says it’s “a top priority” (i.e. in our own good time or when hell freezes over, whichever is slower, most likely the former). It looks like agency pouting, where each is blaming the other and neither is making a solid effort to fix the problem. And it’s not as if they don’t know the true seriousness:

…"The tragedies of Sept. 11 demonstrate that the misuse of Social Security numbers and identity theft are `breeder' offenses with the ability to facilitate crimes beyond our imagination," Mr. Huse said in his report.

We have to cut off access to documentation that gives criminals, especially terrorists, the legitimacy to operate in the open setting up bank accounts and such. This kind of “I can’t do MY job because they won’t do theirs!” whining is ridiculous. Someone (Bush?) needs to say, “You will play together. Here is your common goal. This will happen or there will be trouble. Soon.”

Of course I know the problem is bureaucracy and the federal civil service monolith. But the Congress and the President, together, should be able to make any two federal agencies play nice together. If the federal agencies balk and play the civil service stub-up instead, then the President can change who’s in charge. If that doesn’t work, Congress can change civil service to make workers truly accountable. If Congress won’t, then we change Congress. Folks, this isn’t making a car in Detroit or sewing a sleeve on a dress in Iowa. This is whether a terrorist gets legal documentation to set up an bank account so he can kill Americans on his own timetable, at his leisure, in whatever manner he chooses.

The current coverage of the 1990s intelligence goofs that allowed Al Qaeda to launch the 9/11 attacks is evidence of what happens when federal agencies don’t play well together. “We the People” means ultimately it’s up to us to fix it. I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter right now, this minute, “who knew what when”. The time for that finger-pointing is gone because all it does is detract from the “who’s going to fix it now”. The only possible way that it matters is as an indicator of what needs fixing. I’ve seen several calls for a non-partisan “Challenger” like investigation. I say, fine, but only if it doesn’t have 200 people involved and doesn’t take two years to do, as often happens with such groups.

Stop looking backward – look forward. Fix it. Make Social Security and INS play nice. Make the federal law enforcement agencies play nice. And if they don’t, kick butt, take names, send people home and get people in there who DO play nice. I’m sick of this. We’re all sick of this.

We're dying while the government fiddles around.

HARLEY HEARSE: You gotta see it to believe it.

UPDATE: Link updated courtesy of Michael Levy. (Thanks!)

AND YOU THOUGHT YOUR DRIVE WAS BAD: Stefan Sharkansky chronicles his baby son's first trip to Lake Tahoe; the ride home through snow is an exercise in futility and humor. At least, I thought it was funny. I don't think Stefan was amused, at the time. Long, but worth it.

Sunday, May 19, 2002


Thanks to DailyPundit for the link.

LAW, RELIGION AND MEDIA: Friday night the season finale of Law & Order SVU used as its main story line the current abusive Catholic priest imbroglio. In the episode, several young boys are abused while in Catholic school, and years later one of them commits a murder that leads to the revelation of the abuse. As the story unfolds, we follow a priest at first accused of the abuse, then later revealed to have been the one to whom the real abuser confessed his sin. Near the end, a Catholic police officer forces a decision on the priest: break the confessional seal in the hopes of preventing future abuse, or preserving his Catholic vows and in so doing protecting a child molester. We see the priest in tears, then we see him in a garden with the actual molester - a bishop in full robes. The officer accuses the bishop, who in essence admits his guilt by turning to the priest with his own accusation. He says (paraphrased), “You broke your seal. Do you know you could lose your soul?”

The priest replies, “I think I just saved it.”

I was very taken aback (although not surprised) at this conclusion. It reflects the mentality of the writers and producers, and typically the secular world as a whole: When religion and the secular view of human safety/health/happiness conflict, the human side always wins. While on the face of it, this makes sense, it spells danger for religionists and is something we need to address.

Yesterday a Vatican City appeals court judge, Jesuit priest Gianfranco Ghirlanda, released an opinion which states, in partial summary, that a bishop reassigning a priest accused of abuse does not have to inform the new parish of the priest’s abusive history; that if additional abuse occurs, the assigning bishop bears neither moral nor legal responsibility for that; and that even requiring the abusive priest to undergo psychological evaluation is violating his right to privacy. That sounds pretty bad from a secular standpoint, and seems to support the “righteousness” of the Law & Order priest’s decision.

In a vastly different situation, but also one involving an application of religious law in a way Westerners – and some Muslims – strongly denounce, a woman in Pakistan has been convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning after admitting that she was raped by her brother-in-law. According to her, she was raped repeatedly over time until she became pregnant, which, since her husband was in prison, was proof of illicit sexual activity. Her accusation against her brother-in-law was taken as a confession of her guilt; he, on the other hand, was not even charged because four Muslim men of good standing (and all those conditions must inhere) must witness a rape for a Muslim man to be charged. The force behind it is Sharia, the Muslim religious and civil law, and the part dealing specifically with extramarital sex, Hudood. Efforts are underway to moderate or set aside Hudood, by progressives in the region.

Why juxtapose these two obviously unrelated situations? Because I don’t think they are unrelated, philosophically, and a misunderstanding of the connection between the two is where the danger for religionists lies.

Internationally, laws range from those based fully on religious teaching – Sharia, or its cousins – to the fully secular. The United States has something of a mixture; while its laws are not specifically tied to a particular church, many of its approaches are based on the Judeo-Christian tradition and the common law that evolved in societies with that tradition. As we move along the continuum from religious-as-civil mix to purely secular, the teachings of particular groups are increasingly removed from the codified law. The edicts of the religions in those more secular countries are not erased from society, but rather the adherents obey both religious and civil laws.

The problem comes when the two laws come into conflict. In our society, we have a tendency to allow religious beliefs to trump secular law when the impact could be seen as not detrimental to society as a whole – for instance, allowing exemptions to the military draft to those who conscientiously object for religious (and other) reasons, or not forcing an adult of good mind to get medical attention if he or she feels it is against his or her beliefs. However, our society has already decided that there are instances where social good trumps religious beliefs – as in the case of a child refused medical care by parents who believe medical treatment is religiously condemned. Courts have taken children away from parents in those situations, and ordered treatment. But other than cases where immediate harm is not just possible but likely, US society as a whole leaves churches alone in their religious practices. It’s one of our foundational Constitutional rights.

But the fight for the law of our country has become more starkly an issue of religion in the past few years, where those with what are termed “fundamentalist” beliefs pilloried when they even seek office (for example, John Ashcroft). And even before 9/11, the term “Taliban” began to be used to describe any conservatives who referred to their religious beliefs in discussing law or its enforcement. (I use conservative because I’ve yet to see Jimmy Carter or Joe Lieberman referred to as “Taliban”.) And what is the law the Taliban sought to impose? Sharia. While it is at present mostly hyperbole, the connection between Islamic Sharia and Christianity has been made and as with all demonizations (see “racist” and “homophobic” as applied to anyone who objects to affirmative action measures) it is likely to gain more purchase when it shows itself to have political impact.

But what does this have to do with the current Catholic church crisis?

Think back to the Law & Order example. I’ve read several posts discussing the priest’s seal, and why it is reasonable that they cannot be made to break it. The Law & Order writers/producers just expressed their view that righteousness in this case is to break a vow of silence made to God. Next, take a look at the articles about Ghirlanda’s edict – the headlines themselves are inflammatory. That’s the stark interpretation of the secular media, and it is universally condemning, implicitly if not explicitly. But, when viewed through the lens of someone with close knowledge of Catholic history and law – a journalist for the Catholic News Service – Ghirlanda’s analysis makes pretty good sense, within the confines of the Catholic canon, and provides much more protection for the faithful than a reading of the secular media would suggest.

On the face of it – as presented by the secular media – the edicts from the Vatican in the form of this article by Ghirlanda seem to go against US law and certainly cross the line between acceptable and unacceptable religious deviation from law as it has been practically applied in the US. In essence, the media portray this as saying the church is protecting its priests and its reputation first, and the children can lump it because church canon trumps secular law in any instance where the two collide. That’s not really the truth of Ghirlanda’s article, but in my experience few journalists writing on religious issues have a sense for the religious nuance that is revealed in the Catholic News article. I think it is only the vastness of the Catholic reach and the concern for offense to powerful people that has prevented the media so far from comparing it to Sharia. If a split becomes more evident between conservative and progressive elements in the US Catholic church, then I anticipate that comparison will soon follow for those who take a more conservative stance.

I struggle to separate my own religious viewpoint from this analysis of the broader impact of the Catholic church’s response to their crisis. I’m not Catholic, and I have major theological differences with Catholic teachings. But, while I disagree with the theology, I can and do support the Catholic church’s legal right to practice their faith as they see fit. The need I see now is for another dialogue in this society about the lines we draw around the practice of faith, and an acknowledgement from the Catholic church that the way it handles this crisis can damage every faith practiced in the US if it does address just its internal sensibilities and not the broader legal implications of its decisions.

The Catholic church is the largest centrally controlled religion in the word, to my knowledge – other faiths may have more adherents, but they are not bound so tightly to a central governing body as the Catholic church is to the Vatican. (In fact, concern about ties to the Vatican were a feature in JFK’s presidential race, couched in a manner similar to the coverage of John Ashcroft during his confirmation and after.) Thus, the Catholic church has the unenviable task of making decisions that meet the needs of its adherents in a free country such as the United States while not creating problems in other countries with different contexts. In addition, there is a desire to stay with the tradition of the church, to adhere closely to the canon when addressing problems, which is what the article by Ghirlanda is meant to do. In the response so far, there is a tone that says, we were here before you, we speak for God, this is the way it has to be. There is a certain immutability about it, almost a disdain for the rule of law in the United States as it relates to the canon of the church.

But it seems to me that this “holding to the canon” is not all that is going on in the highest levels of decision-making for the church. There are also political realities within the church hierarchy itself, as well as financial considerations (one part of Ghirlanda’s article seems to address the concern of false claims against the church, a valid issue, but in protecting against false claims there appears to be shorter shrift than necessary given to the possibility of genuine claims). The church has vast holdings, which could be jeopardized by widespread revelation of genuine sexual abuse. The same revelations would also diminish donations and threaten the intense bond between the faithful and the leadership. So the church’s approach to this cannot be seen as wholly without earthly considerations. The question is, where do the spiritual concerns end and the earthly concerns take precedence?

This is an important question, because what the Catholic church does will either strengthen or weaken the freedom of religion in the United States. I don’t think it will remain the same, regardless of the church’s decision. If the church chooses to take a hard line that is generally perceived (among the non-Catholics, and likely amongst some Catholics as well) as a move that leaves children at risk for the purpose of preserving the Catholic hierarchy and holdings, there will be a backlash, a further splitting between the religious and the non-religious, a hardening of intolerance already gaining greater voice. If, conversely, the Catholic church not only institutes measures to actively root out abusers within its priestly ranks but also conducts a public relations campaign saying “There was wrong, we’re fixing it, and this is what it looks like” that is understandable to those for whom religion is a foreign language, then it will strengthen the understanding that because religions will police themselves as moral entities, it is not necessary for the government to intervene to protect the populace from the religionists.

I see the impact of a hard-line Catholic response being a shift toward imposing secular law in instances where it conflicts with religious beliefs. For example, the congregation where I attend does not have women ministers as a matter of doctrine. That, of course, violates anti-discrimination laws, but since it is a question of religious practice the laws do not apply. I can foresee a time when a woman wanting to preach at a church like mine sues the leaders of the congregation for not giving her equal consideration, and is allowed civil judgment against it. Likewise, tax exempt status could be threatened for such activities that violate secular law.

The freedom of religion in this country is at a crossroad; our foot is already turned toward the more secular path. The Catholic church will choose whether we go more quickly and decisively in that direction. The wrong choice will damage not only the Catholic faith, but all others, eventually. The ones sitting in judgment on whether the choice is the right one are the same people who see everything right with a priest breaking his vow to God. If the Catholic church wants to preserve that vow, then it must police itself convincingly, in a way that puts righteousness and protection of innocence first - not money, or image, or organizational politics. And it must not allow any comparisons to the abusive nature of Sharia to be in any way valid, as would be the case if it sets up its canon as civil as well as religious law by not affording children the protections US law provides, and resisting the efforts of the US government to step in to provide them. It is always wrong to allow abuse to hide behind the name of God, whether it is Catholicism or Islam that does it.

This country stands to lose a part of its soul. The Catholic church can help save it - or lose it.